All the other “All the times”

All the other “All the times” 

Having covered Sauca and Santosha, three niyamas (or personal observances- the nitaram “all the time”s) remain. These three niyamas are actually their own particular system presented at the beginning of the padah with the subject of Kriya Yoga. So before we look at these from the perspective of ashtanga yoga let’s first look to kriya yoga: a practice for all.

Kriya yoga is the first stage of practice presented in the Sadhana padah according to Patanjali. The impetus for kriya yoga is to dig up the seeds causing dukha…in some way we are all in a cycle of pain. Kriya yoga, or the yoga of selfless action is a dedicated path to overcome that pain or as Patanjali says:

  • heyam: to be avoided
  • dukham: pain
  • anagatam: future

“Future pain should be avoided”

When we hear avoidance, the word denial or aversion may come to mind. Yet the intention here is clarified by the name of the practice “KRIYA” which means action. So pain is avoided not by burying our problems but by taking appropriate action to process and dettach our identity from the source of that pain.

This pain (as we’ve discussed previously) comes from missasociations in our citta akasha (mental space) known as samyogah…

  • drastr: Purusha (the seer)
  • Drsyayoh: Prakriti (the seen)
  • samyogah: mixed up, bound
  • heya: avoid
  • hetuh: cause

“that which is to be avoided is caused by the mixing up of Prakriti and Purusha.”

Prakriti appears (incorrectly) to have consciousness/this body appears to be who we are. Purusha appears (incorrectly) to have form/ who we are appears to be this body. This is due to their proximity to one another. Because of this proximity our mind looks for a link and makes one willingly. The rub is, that there was never a link to begin with. All that is seen is merely for the experience of the Seer and the only thing keeping us bound is our mental projection. In fact this is the crux of Vedanta and Yoga: YOU ARE PURE AWARENESS. This awareness makes you the subject and not the object (body/mind complex). As we see in Chandogya Upanishad when the body decays and falls away 

“…the atman remains. It is the Truth. It is never afflicted by sin. It is free from old age. It is deathless, free from all sorrow, hunger, thirst. It is desired by those who aim to know the ultimate truth. In this world things come and go, but the Atma doesn’t change.” (8.1.5)

So the question then deepens. Even knowing this (intellectually). Why are we bound? What is the root. Well first, prakriti is many while the purusha is one (you may re-read the reading on the gunas as a refresher). The mind prefers variety so it continues to run around with prakriti taking in the show. To be more specific Patanjali points us towards 5 afflictions known as kleshas. It is these afflictions that are the root cause leading one to engage with prakriti through particular actions and resulting consequences (karma). They are:

  • avidya: ignorance
  • asmita: egotism
  • raga: desire 
  • dvesha: aversion
  • abhiniveshah: fear of death
  • klesha: these are the afflictions

Of these 5 (ignorance, ego, desire, aversion and fear of death) Patanjali says that one reigns supreme…

  • avidya: ignorance
  • ksetram: the breeding ground
  • uttaresham: all the other
  • prasupta: dormant
  • tanu: sprouting
  • vicchinna: interrupted
  • udaranam: manifested

“Ignorance is the breeding ground for all the other afflictions. It can be dormant, sprouting, or fully manifested.” Ignorance therefore is the parental control for all of the other kleshas. It is the fuel for excessive ego, clinging desire, aversion and fear. The aim therefore of kriya yoga is to address the kleshas by addressing ignorance -or- by “raja deepti” throwing light on the darkest recesses of the intellect so we can stop allowing the seeds of ignorance to grow. We have to go a little deeper than what has already fructified. We have to go to the seeds. (Heyam Dukham Anagatam) 

My husband and I recently purchased some land. Part of our project in land conservation and clean up has been to remove an invasive species of vine known as Kudzu. Finding the roots of this vine is no small task. It grows several feet a day and then winds and knots it’s way in to a blanket covering everything. Some people around here call it the “mile a minute” plant because it grows just about that fast. Several passes in to the removal process we are still “knee deep.” It is an act of perserverance and patience for sure. And so it is with ignorance….it tends to grow quickly, rooting deep using the soil of desire- even the honest desire to figure everything out and to know who we are. It gives us false information as it spreads and even when we have recognized that it is an invasive species, it takes a LOT of intentional and enthusiastic effort to weed out. We can’t just rip out the vine, we have to go to the roots and the seeds.

Specifically avidya leads us to the following result:

Led by ignorance we see the body as the self

  • khyatih:understanding
  • avidya: ignorance

having the following qualities of the non-self governed by avidya

  • anitya: impermanent (refers to the body)
  • ashuci: impure (it is never clean)
  • dukha: full of pain
  • anatmasu: this is the non-atman

and not seeing the qualities of Atman/Purusha as our true nature

  • nitya: forever, eternal
  • suci: totally pure and unaffected
  • sukha: happy
  • atma: this is the true self

Kriya yoga is the first line of defense against these kleshas and their fruits. Through three married practices we take out the vine (manifested), dig up the root (sprouting) and destroy the seeds (dormant).

So back to Kriya yoga

  • Tapah: to heat up, austerity
  • Svadhyaya: self study and reflection, study of spiritual texts
  • Isvarapranidhana:  Isvara puja, surrender to the unique purusha
  • kriya yogah: the yoga of selfless action

Kriya yoga is three practices joined: These three practices together create a defense and offense against avidya and it’s cohorts. 

Tapas or the physical austerities of yoga help to purify the body/mind complex so there isn’t a lot of soil for the kleshas to root into. In Kriya yoga tapas refers to two specific practices: 1st is mitahara (which we have seen before in Yajnavalkya’s list of yamas) or moderation in consumption specifically related to taste (food). Eating moderate amounts of easily digestible food so our mind is clear and the sense of taste is not distracting the mind. 2nd is mitabhasyam. or moderation (mita) of speech (bhasya) -or- speaking only what is true and non-harmful (remember ahimsa and satya). Words have power to uplift and destroy- through conscious speech we minimize the impact of rajas and tamas on the mind and therefore lessen the fuel for avidya.

Svadhyaya or Self reflection through the study of scriptures helps us to use our pramana capability wisely. Through Svadhyaya we read and reflect on what the teachers of the great tradition have to say for the benefit of all. Svadhyaya simultaneously helps us to open our mind and release what doesn’t serve our development. It must be a consistent practice. I recently listened to a podcast with Glennon Doyle. Her sister likened our inner voice to song writing. Sometimes the voice sounds like us, the words are the same, the tune might be too but it’s just a little off- like a bad cover of the original. If our ear isn’t listening well then we may not be able to hear the difference. Through yoga we get really clear on what is original song and what is a bad cover. Svadhyaya helps us to make that distinction by giving us testimony to return to, reflect on and bring in to our own lived experience.

Isvarapranidhana Isvara is defined by Patanjali in the Samadhi Pada as a “vishesa purusha” or a unique purusha. Isvara is the same as all of us at the root but has no proximity to prakriti and as such appears seperate. This means it isn’t easy to get it’s identity mixed up with prakriti. For Bhakti yogis Isvara is the divine or some form of God. Another approach may be to consider an original painting. Often times an artist will make many copies in Giclée of the painting to sell. These prints are distributed far and wide and mixed up in homes and collections everywhere. But the original stands alone, in the studio or in a museum to visit and wonder over. It is the only one and while it is not really different (for the sake of the metaphor) people KNOW it is the original because it is not in our living rooms. Isvara is that original. And so Patanjali says one way to settle the mind for those who have (as Ramaswami puts it a little tongue-in-cheek) “bhakti DNA” is to meditate on Isvara and surrender all through faith and devotion or “Isvara Puja.”  

Kriya yoga’s aim is to pave the path for deeper practice. For those who are infirm or have special considerations that prevent them from initially diving into the 8 limbed path, kriya yoga is an exceptionally beneficial system as it does not require us to use our body through Asana or pranayama etc. It is more simplistic and approachable for all aspirants. It helps the wavering of the mind through austerity, reflection and devotion and as Patanjali says…

  • samadhi: enlightenment
  • bhavanarthah: conditioning the mind 
  • klesha: affliction
  • tanukarana: reduced significantly
  • arthasca: the goal

“If one’s practice (of kriya yoga) is aligned with the aim of yoga (samadhi), the afflictions on the path (kleshas) will disappear and one will eventually reach the goal. “ 

Patanjali doesn’t promise that kriya yoga alone will bring one to samadhi but he says that the path will be set. So if nothing else. We can all begin here. And as we gain more clarity of mind and peace in our heart the path is laid to go further. Eventually with sound body and mind we can then take up the path of Ashtanga Yoga keeping these three practices close to our heart as part of the niyama (personal ethical observances).

And so with devotion and consistency we continue on the path asking …

Lead us from untruth to truth

Lead us from darkness to light

lead us from the fleeting to the everlasting

Om Peace, Peace, Peace

~Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 

See you tomorrow,


a prayer before interacting with “others” : Ahimsa Satya Asteya Brahmacharya Aparigraha Yamah

a prayer as we take care of ourselves: Sauca Santosha Tapas Svadhyaya Isvara Pranidhani Niyamah


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.