Session 12 of the Raja Yoga training at the Ananda center. Q&A session.
Ananda’s Raja Yoga course covers more than I have described here. These are my personal highlights — the things that were, for me, either new, especially interesting, or especially illuminating. As they mention in the very first session, what they teach in this course is not unique to Ananda. Raja Yoga is an ancient science that belongs to the world. It is the “kingly” (raja) Yoga in that sense that it spans many different branches of Yoga practice — organizing them and devoting resources (your time and energy) to each in turn, for the good of the whole (you).
Sat, 11 Nov: Session #12 – Q&A
Requirements of Discipleship
There was a long discussion about what the Kriya Yoga sequence is, and why “discipleship” was a requirement. As for the sequence:
- Kriya Prep I
- Takes about 6 weeks.
- It covers “energization exercises” — with affirmations, of course. (I can’t say I’m wild about those, though.)
- Not sure what else is covered.
- Kriya Prep II
- Covers the AUM technique (where God is perceived as sound in all things, and you practice hearing it)
- The Discipleship course (and taking of vows) is required for this one.
- Kriya Prep III
- Covers the process of learning to treat students of the technique as individuals.
- Not sure what else it covers.
In all, the three Kriya Prep courses plus the discipleship course (with breaks between them) take about a year. Now earlier, I found out what discipleship entails (a sense of devotion and commitment, do the techniques as taught, do them twice a day, don’t share them with others).
Today’s discussion was about why it’s required — prompted mostly by Shanti’s admission that the previous class in this newly re-arranged version of the course found the prospect somewhat scary and off-putting. Personally, I had to agree with those students. It’s one thing to intend to, and to make a best effort. It’s quite another to take a vow to do so.
Some of the reasons given for the requirement was to ensure that people have a practice, and they’re ready for it. In response, I shared the following:
It seems to me that in the tradition embodied by this lineage, the process was more organic. Devotees would demonstrate their commitment over time, and it was possible to tell when they were ready — for some it might be a matter of minutes. For others, it would take years. But reifying the rule as a policy takes away all flexibility in the matter, so the process is no longer organic.
Reify is a cool word from A/I that means “to make real”, as in RE(al)-IFY.
A Quasi-Guru Solution?
Who knows? Given that we’re not the first group to have such a reaction, perhaps the policy will be revisited at some point. But it was also noteworthy that one of the explanations was, “Lacking a guru, we’re doing what we can, the best way we know how.”
That makes sense. And one of the things I like about Ananda is that it is a “guru-free zone”. But therein lies the dilemma! Without a guru, you wind up needing policies that are necessarily problematic, because no one size ever fits all. (As one of the Kriya Prep III students mentioned, in fact, one of the things they learn in that series is the importance of treating students as individuals!)
By the same token, having a guru who can vary policy to match circumstances comes with its own set of problems — invariably starting with the fact that there is no perfect human being on the face of the earth, and that whoever the fearless leader is, they have skeletons and muddy feet and 10 kinds of baggage!
What’s needed, I expect, is someone like Bodhi (founder of Ipsalu Tantra Yoga) who instructs teachers that they don’t have to pretend to be perfect, and that they shouldn’t carry on that kind of pretense in any case!
That’s on the one hand. On the other hand, I saw my martial arts master do a lot of good because people believed in her. And because they believed her, they accepted her faith in them, and would do things she told them they could do, that they most definitely did not believe they were capable of, on their own.
So again, no easy answer! On the one hand, pretending to be perfect can be pretty damn corrosive — especially if you start to believe it! On the other hand, a belief in a teacher’s infallibility seems to be an important requirement for some people — especially when they’re dealing with something that conflicts with their inner sense of who they think they really are!
Something else that needs meditating on!
The Kriya Yoga “Stool”
Tandava described Kriya Yoga as a stool based on tripod of three legs:
- AUM technique from Kriya Prep II
- Hong Sau breath meditation from Raja Yoga
- Energization Exercises
That was an interesting summary. I’ve got better energization exercises (I think), and the Hong Sau meditation has evolved in spectacular ways (covered in the book). That just leaves the AUM technique. I’ll have to investigate that!
Need for Physical Practice
One young, fit classmate mentioned that he found exercise to be important — but Ananda wasn’t giving him much guidance about what Yoga practice to do, or what energization exercises to do. He was pretty much left to his own devices to figure out what he needed to do!
Naturally, I used the opportunity as a springboard to launch into an “elevator summary” of the book — how it uses Yoga asanas that are specifically focused on developing the strength and flexibility needed to sit in meditation position, so you can meditate.
I also made two suggestions based in Ananda’s practice that he might find useful:
- Spend at least as much time in meditation after an asana as you spent in it.
That’s important, because it’s a great time to begin connecting to your inner intuition. It will tell you what asana or meditation practice to do next and, in time, your practice will evolve.
- Make the asanas more dynamic.
The tense/relax technique we learned in the Session #1 practicum is one way to do that. I cover other ways to do it in the book, but since that particular technique was motivated by that very practicum, it only made sense to share it!
(For more, see the description of the AUM technique, below.)
Emotional Reactions to Talk of “God”
Another student was kind enough to share how negatively she reacts when people start talking about “God”. How I understand that! As someone raised in what where mostly harmless, but still essentially misguided forms of Christianity that were less helpful than harmful to the psyche, I could so understand her reactions and misgivings.
Shanti was great about emphasizing that common ground, before describing what her understanding had evolved into it. (I learned from that.)
I leaped straight to my understanding (totally skipping the enormous length of time and the struggle it took to get there):
God is all — everything that is, was, and ever will be.
If God is like the ocean, then I am like a straw. I understand the ocean, to the extent that I can perceive what runs through the straw — just a teeny, tiny little part.
Hinduism is the only major religion that really understands that concept. (I love it for that.)
It was only later I realized that in skipping to the end, I had essentially minimized her reaction saying, in effect, “just think of it like this…” As though it were that easy! (Fortunately, I had her email and was able to correct the oversight.)
Lots of Sharing
In all, I wound up sharing a lot. Partly, that was because my questions were pretty deep and esoteric. So I had them as a low priority in a group setting, when many people are experiencing their initial exposure to the practice! Then, too, a lot of the questions led to long answers that filled my head with other things to share!
So I spend a lot of time sharing. Not sure how it was perceived. May have done a bit too much, for the comfort of the others in the room! I did try to be as quiet as I could, though, and spend as much time listening as possible! Hopefully, I got the balance right.
Shanti’s example did show me that have more to learn about how to answer a question, and that I need more practice doing it, but it was equally clear that I have a lot of insights worth sharing! (As if that wasn’t abundantly clear…)
Advantage of Going to Bed Early
Went to bed before I was really sleepy, in order to be sure I would be up in time for the Saturday session. I noticed that since I was mostly awake, it was a great time to work on energy flow practices!
Plus, I was up early Saturday morning, and was able to get in a good hour of productive writing before I went off to the session!
From the Ananda page on the subject:
Sound is one of the eight aspects of God mentioned in the path of yoga (love, joy, peace, wisdom, calmness, power, light, and sound) and actually is said to be the best and most effective way of all the eight to reach God.
Ok. Color me intrigued. I definitely want to learn more.
Echoing Tandava’s words, the page goes on:
The AUM Technique as taught by Paramhansa Yogananda is the third technique in the path of Kriya Yoga. The first and second are the Energization Exercises and the Hong-Sau Technique. Once you have learned and practiced these first two techniques for about six months, it will be time for you to learn and add in this sacred technique to the first two techniques.
At Ananda we ask that you learn the AUM technique in conjunction with taking Discipleship Initiation. The reason for this, as Swami Kriyananda has explained, is that for many spiritual teachers in India, the AUM technique is taught as the highest and most powerful techniques of meditation (inner communion).
Got it. Ok, if you were starting from square one, that kind of timing would make sense. Of course, I’m starting from square 51, or so.
Of course, I have no doubt that in taking the prescribed sequence I will learn something useful every step of the way! Something I learned in my volleyball career and reinforced in my martial arts practice, and which has been further reinforced by the Raja Yoga experience: Attention to detail makes a big difference — especially when it comes to mastering the basics — and there is always something else to learn!
Still, it would be less than truly honest if I did not report that I am ready to learn the AUM technique — right now, today!
Interestingly, this page reports that the practice requires to be held up — which gets tiring after a couple of minutes. So he ordered an AUM Board to support the elbows. Ok. Now I understand why I saw that strange device in the Ananda bookshop. I wondered what it was for. Now I know.
Apparently you hold your arms out in front of your body, in a similar fashion to the way you would in a Taiji “empty stance” meditation, with arms at shoulder height, index fingers and thumbs forming a triangle.
Whether the finger-position mudra is similar, I don’t yet know. But I do note that the 20-30 minutes recommended for meditation practice is the same amount of time recommended for cardiovascular exercise — and that the back, abdominal muscles used in standard meditation, the leg muscles used in Taiji and meditation, and the arm and shoulder muscles involved in the Taiji or AUM technique meditation certainly qualify as “exercise”!
So a good, thorough cardiovascular workout has a lot in common with a meditation. Coincidence? (I think not.)
This video suggests focusing on hearing the sound even a little bit, which can take a while, and then asking “What is behind it?”.
This page gives instructions for sitting, breathing, and chanting AUM, with a focus on the silence that comes after it. That makes some sense, it would have a lot in common with the Hong Sau technique, that way. That recommendation is repeated here, but neither of those pages or the video says anything about an AUM board, or has any directions that would require one.
Combining those two suggestions would make sense, as well.
Aha! This page, How to Contact God Through Meditation apparently records a talk given by Yogananda. It gives the technique in full! (I’m quoting most of it, in case the page disappears!)
Go to your spiritual temple and prepare to practice the Om Technique of Meditation. You will need a small table, about as high as your chest when you are seated, and a straight chair covered with a woolen blanket that extends down under your feet (to insulate you from earth currents) . Lay a pillow on the table. Then seat yourself and place your elbows on the pillow. The elbows should be just high enough so that you have no difficulty in reaching the ears with the thumbs; the spine and head must be held straight at the same time. This matter of position is very important, as the spine must be erect. You will have to experiment, adding more pillows to the table if necessary, until the right height is reached for maintaining the proper position in comfort.
Ok. That’s starting to sound like Shambavi Mudra, where you use your fingers to close your ears and your eyes. (Interestingly, we learned it as the “Bee Buzzing” technique in one of the practicums.) The page goes on:
With your eyelids, you close your eyes and shut off distractions during meditation; God has also given you “earlids” to shut off mind-diverting sounds during deep concentration. These are the cartilaginous flaps (called tragi) at the external ear openings. With your thumbs push them gently in so that they close the ear holes, serving as stoppers to shut out outer sounds.
When you have placed your thumbs gently over the ear openings, place your little fingers over the lowered eyelids, at the outer corners. Very gently press against the eyeballs so that they do not move restlessly. Place the other fingers of both hands on the forehead. Turning the eyeballs upward and inward, converge your gaze at the central point in your forehead above and between the eyebrows. Practice will make it easy. This practice is beneficial to the eyesight…
By learning to focus your eyes in this way and by concentrating on any light that you see, you are preparing to see the astral light of the spiritual eye — luminous sun, with a dark round spot inside it and a star inside the dark spot.
With your eyes fixed in this position — (focused) on the astral light that will appear through practice — mentally chant, “Om, Om” (making no sound, nor any movement of the tongue) . Keep listening in the inside of the right ear to any vibratory sound you hear. Reverently be one with the vibration. You may hear in the beginning the purely physical vibratory sounds caused by the heart, lungs, diaphragm movement, circulation, and so forth. Go deeper. As you continue to listen, your concentration will deepen of itself and you will begin to hear the musical vibratory sounds of the subtle astral centers in the spine.
Concentrate with the greatest intensity of mental effort on any sound vibration that comes to you, and be one with it.
All your concentration should be on listening to the different vibrations you will hear, first the physical and then, as you listen more deeply, the astral. There will come a time when you can hear the Om sound, which is like the roar of the ocean. If by chance you hear the ocean-roar sound first, you won’t have to concentrate on any other sound. Listen intently to Om and feel your consciousness expanding with its vibrations, like an ever enlarging sphere, into eternity. You may be content that you are making progress toward hearing the real Om sound when you hear in the right ear the sound of a great gong or bell emanating from the dorsal center in the spine, opposite the heart.
Variations of the Om sound emanate from the various cerebrospinal centers. All of these sounds will come to you by and by, through regular, deep practice of the Om Technique of Meditation.
That last part gets back to the Inner Sounds that are said to emanate from the difference chakras, discussed in Session #6. It goes on:
The vibratory activities of each center produce a characteristic sound. In meditation the yogi may hear first the hum, as of a bumblebee, emitted by the earth or coccygeal center at the base of the spine. The water or sacral center has a flutelike sound; the fire or lumbar center a harplike sound; and the air or dorsal center a bell-like sound. The etheric or cervical center, at the base of the neck where it joins the spine, emanates a sound as of rushing waters; and at the medulla oblongata the deeply meditating yogi hears the symphony of all sounds together — the oceanic roar of the Cosmic Om Vibration. It is this symphony of sound that you are striving to hear, above all
After you have practiced listening for the Om, you may put forth active mental effort once or twice to see the light of the spiritual eye in the forehead. By practicing faithfully you will be able always to see the light with closed eyes, while hearing the vibrations with closed ears. It takes long practice to be able to see the light at will with open eyes. When one can do that, it shows distinct spiritual advancement. However, listening for Om is the most important, more important than seeing the light. This cosmic sound, expression of the Cause of creation, is omnipresent; hence by being one with it, one acquires the same quality of consciousness.
Listen to the various sounds with ears closed, employing the techniques described in this Lesson. As you develop, you will be able to hear the Cosmic Sound of Om with open ears in a quiet or even a noisy place, by the use of a little concentration. However, even though you can hear the Cosmic Sound with open ears, do not forget to practice the technique regularly with ears closed, as you have been taught in this Lesson.
Practice this technique for ten to fifteen minutes during your meditation in the morning; twenty to thirty minutes or longer when you meditate before bed. Bow mentally to God when you are through. Both intensity of mental effort while practicing and duration of practice are needed to reach higher and higher states of concentration.
If time allows, listen for the Om sound longer than the period suggested. Aside from the inner experiences of astral sounds, there also arises a great calmness. Hold to that calm during and after meditation as long as it is possible for you to do so. Apply that calmness in the practical situations of life — in dealing with people, in studying, in business, in thinking, in controlling yourself, in getting rid of any fixed mental or physiological habit or condition that you consider unnecessary or harmful, and so forth. Whenever situations demand discrimination and wise action, recall immediately the calmness felt during and after concentration; fall right into that mood, and meet situations from that calm center.
While practicing concentration, deep intensity of mind is necessary, but there should be no feeling of physical or mental strain. Practice with reverence and feel that in calmness, and in listening to the vibration, you are contacting the Great Spirit who is present within you as Soul, and whose expression is Cosmic Vibratory Sound — the vibration of Bliss. You will positively feel results after faithful practice. Even in the beginning the earnest student will get the valuable results of calmness and joy. Calmness you will certainly have. Deep intuitions come after prolonged practice.
Further, this technique will put you, by and by, in touch with the unexplored reservoir of soul power. Do not be impatient. Keep on! Make study and application of the lessons part of your regular routine, as much a part of your day as eating or sleeping. The most beneficial effects flow silently over the whole mental and physiological constitution.
As in everything else, highest results cannot be attained in one day. Practice — practice and apply! This Lesson is founded on tried and proven experience, from the time of India’s Golden Age down to the present day. Students all over the world write to us, telling about their contact with the One Spirit as a result of their faithful practice of this technique. Everyone can have the same glorious experience if he(she) perseveres. Without regular practice, which brings these changes in the inner consciousness, the student will not realize his(her) goal. But with faithfulness in daily meditation, the bliss of Om will come.
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