2.1 – Self-discipline, self-reflection, and surrender to Awareness is the way of kriya yoga.

तपः स्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि क्रियायोगः ॥१॥

tapah svadhyaya ishvara-pranidhana kriya yogah

  • tapah – self-discipline; heat; fire; warmth; austerity
  • svadhyaya – self-study; self-reflection; to recite; repeated recitation; recitation of sacred texts; recitation of mantras
  • ishvara-pranidhana – surrender to Awareness; devotion to God
  • kriya – action; activity; work
  • yogah – to yoke, to bring together; union; samadhi

In chapter one, Patanjali described unity-consciousness (samadhi). Now he moves on to the training methods we can use to stabilize that state.

In this first sutra, he gives us the powerful practice of kriya yoga. Kriya means “action,” and yoga means “union.” Taken together, kriya yoga is the path of action that leads to the recognition of unity. It’s a threefold process of tapas (self-discipline), svadhyaya (Self-reflection or Self-study), and Ishvara-pranidhana (surrender to Awareness).

The word tapas means “to burn” or “to heat.” Just as fire removes impurities in metals, we use the fire generated from self-discipline to burn through the impurities within our field of consciousness. We break those impurities down and transform them into a more refined energy that can rise and expand.

In the esoteric sense, this is an alchemical process that converts earth into water, water into fire, fire into air, air into space, and space into that which is beyond all elements and all time. In other words, it transmutes the heavy contracted condition of our lower nature into infinite light.

Tapas is the fire of self-discipline that burns away our resistance to spiritual evolution. Every living being is heading toward the same place. We are all participants in the natural evolution of consciousness. We’re all destined for Self-realization.

We can choose to resist that evolutionary flow, or we can resolve to cooperate with it. Resisting it leads to further suffering and bondage. Cooperating with it involves aligning our lives with the natural process of spiritual growth.

Our cooperation requires two things: 1) the burning desire for liberation (another definition of tapas) and 2) self-disciplined action.

Self-disciplined actions can include:

  • Carving time out of our day to sit in deep meditation
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating nutritious foods
  • Getting sufficient exercise
  • Refraining from activities that drain our energy (over-socializing, overeating, watching too much TV, etc…)
  • Avoiding the consumption of drugs and alcohol, which weaken the body and dull the mind
  • Working to establish a steady flow of income to support us and those we’re responsible for

In other words, tapas includes cultivating the things that expand our consciousness and avoiding the things that contract it. All straightforward, commonsense stuff, right? The problem is most of us have a lifetime (or lifetimes) worth of conditionings and habits (samskaras and vasanas) we must work through that prevent us from living in alignment with nature’s flow.

Those patternings in consciousness form our karma and sense of self. They entangle us in the sticky web of Maya (illusion). To break free of her spell, we’ll need a will strong enough to wield the three-pronged sword of kriya yoga. Any half-hearted approach will inevitably fail.

The next principle of kriya yoga is svadhyaya, often translated as “self-study” or “Self-study” with a capital ‘S.’ I also like the phrase “Self-reflection” because while svadhyaya can include the study of sacred texts, the core of this practice involves observing the reflection of the light of Awareness within us.

Svadhyaya includes the practice of meditation and Self-inquiry. First, we direct our attention away from the senses toward a chosen focal point. Then, once our awareness is steady and internalized, we can begin to inquire into the nature of reality. We do this by asking deeply inside ourselves questions such as What am I? and What is my relationship to the infinite? We peel away layer after layer, mask after mask, until finally arriving at what the Zen Buddhists call our “original face.”

Our original face is that timeless Awareness beyond all qualities or attributes. Some call it the Self, God, the witness, or the seer. Svadhyaya is reflecting on That. It’s about noticing how the part of us which sees and experiences is unchanging and eternal. It also involves watching how the ego-mind functions, how it clings to temporal, changing conditions, and creates a story around them which it then identifies with.

No one has ever reached a conscious awareness of Awareness through book study alone. No teacher can impart it. The only way to realize it is through direct perception.

Having said that, a deep exploration of metaphysical principles found in sacred texts and the guidance and teachings of an awakened guru can be life-altering. They can provide us with a worldview in alignment with our evolutionary path. It’s just important not to mistake intellectual knowledge for spiritual realization.

“Read a little, meditate more, think of God all the time.” ~ Paramahansa Yogananda

The third method of Patanjali’s kriya yoga is Ishvara Pranidhana, surrender to Awareness. Surrender was discussed in chapter one as a way to experience samadhi. And it is the highest form of detachment (vairagya) which Patanjali earlier coupled with yogic training (abhyasa).

Without surrender, there can be no recognition of unity, no realization of truth. The false-self will always be standing in the way, blocking our view. True surrender is the offering of that false-self into the fire of Awareness. It’s sacrificing everything we believe ourselves to be for that which we truly are.

Surrender is the key to the whole yogic journey. It’s letting go into the deepest and highest part of our being and trusting it will guide us home. In truth, we lack the power to take a single breath or to think a single thought without the support of that infinite intelligence.

We think our ego-mind is in control, but all actions arise from the Power of Awareness. In fact, this is another translation of the word kriya. The first part of the word, kri means “action,” and the second part, ya means “soul.” Awareness acts, not the body, mind, or personality.

At this moment, if we could surrender fully to Awareness, the whole intricate matrix of our false identity would unwind. We would need no other practice. But for all but a few of us, this depth of sincerity ripens over time. As our tapas and svadhyaya mature, so does our ability to drop more and more of our story.