Tapah svadhyaya Isvarapranidhanani Kriya yogah
English Translation: Austerity or Self-Discipline, Self-study through study of scriptures and Complete surrender to Ishvara (God) is Yoga of Action (Kriya Yoga)
Sage Patanjali outlines an alternative method of Yoga where the practice of these three elements, Tapa, Svadhyaya and Ishvara Pranidhana leads to what he terms as Kriya Yoga.
Tapa has various meanings, but in this context, we will take it as Self-Discipline through Austerities. Tapa can be done at three levels: Kayik (Bodily), Vachik (In Speech) and Manasik (Mental).
Svadhyaya means Self-study that is Self with the capital letter S. What does that mean? It means understanding the true nature of Self or Consciousness. Hence, a scripture which leads to understanding the difference between our conditioned self and our true Self is the correct Svadhyaya. It also means repetition of sacred mantras
It means complete surrender to Isvara or God. Patanjali has defined Ishvara in Chapter 1 as the perfect role model. Hence, we can interpret Isvara as God or Consciousness or any form of Higher Reality whose universal presence we acknowledge as superior to ourselves. Ishvara Pranidhana means the complete surrender of our actions or the surrender of the desire for the fruits of the actions.
Objective of Kriya Yoga is to help the intermediate student (madhyam adhikari) experience trance consciousness (samadhi) by reducing Kleshas
The primary purpose of Yoga is to reduce the kleshas. Kleshas are the structural defects of the mind.
How does this work? Lets take an example. Suppose you get angry quickly and you have realized that this is not good.
Yoga tells us that Anger comes from the feeling of hatred (Dvesha) towards something or someone.
Kriya Yoga hence tells us that you need to reduce Dvesha if you need to reduce the times you get angry.
If your habitual reaction is to yell and scream, the first step would be Tapa. Here, you may decide to keep quiet before reacting immediately. This keeping quiet is called mauna (silence)
As one keeps quiet, first you hear your own angry thoughts eg “how can that person speak like this? how dare they do these things?” etc slowly you realize that you are not the thoughts. You are just observing the thoughts. This gives you a glimpse of being an “observer”. Maybe you notice your state of mind and say “this is peaceful vs where I was just a few mins back” Maybe you say “what is it like to be permanently in this state?” These observations, reflections and hopefully the realization of being an observer is Self Study or Svadhyaya.
Kriya Yoga urges us to take the next step and surrender the fruits of this observation to Ishvara or God or Higher Reality. The rationale is that if you don’t, it may lead to the wrong conclusion that all that you achieve is solely due to your efforts when the reality is that so many have played their part in making you successful. This surrender is Ishvar Pranidhan.
While Sage Patanjali suggested Kriya Yoga to the intermediate student, I find its application even to beginners provided they are ready to act with faith.
Do you feel you can apply this in your life? If yes, where would you? Do share in your comments.
If you want to make understand more about Yoga Sutras, I have an online course where every week I uncover one sutra at a time and discuss its application in daily life. Click on link here if you are interested -> (Yoga Psychology)