Kriya, awareness and ethics

The following article on Kriya, Awareness and Ethics appeared on Kriya Yoga Journal in 2021. It addresses the questions what are the distinct cultural values and virtues of Yoga and why they are so necessary to transforming our human nature and fulfilling our potential.

Kriya awareness begins with knowledge of ethics

What are ethics? Ethics can be defined as the study of human behavior which proposes for consideration the supreme good of summum bonum of human life, and which formulates the judgments of right and wrong and good and evil. It is derived from the Greek ethos, which also means character. A synonym of ‘ethics’ is ‘moral philosophy,’ which is based upon the Latin word mores, meaning habits or customs. Ethics proposes those principles which make our conduct moral or right.

The word ‘right’ is derived from the Latin word rectus, meaning ‘straight’ or ‘according to rule.’ Rules are the means. But what is the end? We can answer this question only when we analyse the word ‘good,’ which is derived from the German word ‘gut.’ ‘Gut’ means anything useful or serviceable for some end or purpose.

If we accept this meaning of the word good, and regard ethics as the science of good conduct, we arrive at the conclusion that ethics is concerned with the end or goal of life. Not an individual’s personal goals, but with the supreme goal or ultimate end to which the entire life is directed, the supreme good.

What is Supreme Good?

In Western ethics, this supreme good has been referred to variously. Hedonism regards happiness as the supreme good. Perfectionism considers self-realization as the supreme good. Rationalism takes reason as the supreme good. In recent decades, Western materialism largely subverted the lofty aims of ethics to what I call applied ethics, for example, the Geneva convention treatment of prisoners, medical ethics, codes of ethics for lawyers, financial advisors, psychiatrists, even registered Yoga teachers! Even Facebook and Google employ ethicists to determine policies with regards to privacy. Ethics in Christianity and Judaism begin with the Ten Commandments. Each sect of these two religions has developed various ethical principles which support their own ecclesiastical aims and interpretations of the Bible. They are legalistic religious belief systems, rather than philosophic systems, where God is believed to be the source of law, judgment, and reward or punishment.

Almost all Indian systems of Indian philosophy, including classical Yoga, agree that Moksha, or liberation is the supreme good, which includes the removal of the sources of suffering, while differing on the means and results of acquiring it.

Ethics is also a normative science

A science may be defined as a systematic, methodical, and exhaustive knowledge of a subject. A science can be naturalistic or positive when it describes what a subject is and expresses factual judgments. It observes facts, classifies them, and proposes natural laws about them. A normative science adopts some standard or norm and pronounces value judgments of propriety or appreciation about its subject matter and how it ought to be. For example, logic is a normative science of thought which tells us what our thought must be to be valid, true, or consistent. When we say that ethics deals with the right and wrong, and the good and the evil of conduct, what we mean is that it gives appreciative judgments of conduct. While logic may be an abstract theoretical and formal science of thought, ethics is concerned with the behavioral activity of the individual.

Ethics requires knowledge, capacity, and volition.

Knowing right from wrong does not make a person good. A moral or virtuous act has been chosen voluntarily. One is inspired by goodwill. One must voluntarily act according to one’s knowledge of moral principles.

My own embrace of Yoga was in part motivated by doubts regarding some ethical teachings in Christianity. When I was about 9 years old, I asked my Lutheran minister “what happens to the souls of good people after death if they do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior?” My minister told me that their souls would go to eternal suffering in hell. This appeared to be inconsistent with Christianity’s teaching that God loves you. It prompted me to begin searching elsewhere for answers to questions such as this. After ten years, I found what I was searching for in Babaji’s Kriya Yoga.

Yamas (social restraints) and Niyamas (virtues)

The yamas are social restraints, or controls of some activity or impulse, without which moral behavior is not possible. There are five:

  1. non harming, ahimsa; which includes thought, word and action, and to be possible, requires universal love and brotherhood;
  2. truthfulness, satya, a restraint on the indulgence in falsehood, including exaggeration;
  3. non-stealing, asteya; respect for the property of others;
  4. chastity, brahmacharya; literally, moving with aspiration towards the absolute;
  5. greedlessness, aparigraha; limiting one’s wants and possessions, simple living and high thinking, as avarice leads to attachment, anger, delusion.

    M.G Satchidananda wrote about these extensively elsewhere, and space is limited here, for more on the yamas see the references at the end of this article.

The niyamas are virtues which the Yogi necessarily must develop to form good habits and a personality which is integrated with the soul, to infuse spiritual aspiration, and accelerate removal of the causes of suffering: ignorance of one’s true identity, egoism, attachment, aversion and fear of death.

They reflect Indian ethics’ insistence upon giving a premium to love and humanitarian feeling over self-aggrandizement and economic gain. They are:

  1. Purity or sauca, keeping the body clean and the mind filled with love, brotherhood, compassion, kindness and meekness; Patanjali tells us that “by the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities dwindle away, and there dawns the light of wisdom leading to discriminative discernment.” – Sutras II.28. “Moreover, one gains purity of being, sattva, joy in the mind, one pointedness, mastery over the senses and fitness for Self-realization.”- Sutra II.41. The inclusion of purity of the mind by the cultivating of benevolent habits, fellow-feeling, love and compassion, is ethically significant, especially in the modern age of economic culture, where personal and industrial competition, hedonism, pornography, and political partisanship which have led to their disappearance. ‘Being pure, the Seer, through the power of merely seeing [directly] perceives thoughts.’ – Sutra II.20
  2. Contentment, santosha, means not seeking overenthusiastically the pleasures of the world and being satisfied with whatever one gets, as a result of one’s honest labors. “By contentment, supreme joy is gained.” – Sutra II.42. Contentment is an inner poise, which implies harmony, delight in oneself and inner love, wherein one is untroubled by difficulties around oneself. Whether anyone feels it, or not, it is due to his or her openness to it. It becomes an ethical practice, not only a virtue, when you share your contentment and joy with others, but not your discontent; when you practice seeing the best in others, not their faults.
  3. Austerity, tapas, voluntary self-challenge; any intense or prolonged practice for Self- realization which involves overcoming the natural tendencies or resistance of the body, emotions, and mind. It includes forbearing patiently the vicissitudes of life, with its ups and downs, being equal minded in the face of success and failure, loss and gain, fame and shame.
  4. Self-study, svadhyaya is not the mere study of sacred texts but includes the observation of one’s own behavior as well as the psychodynamics of the mind. This may take the form of recording of our experience in a journal, which permits transformation of what was a subjective experience into an objective one. As a result. we become aware of what remains, the Seer, or Witness, and gradually we cease to identify with the Seen, sensory objects, the personality, the sum of mental movements and habitual reactions. Self- study brings discrimination and self- mastery. The Siddhas like Patanjali aspired not simply for transcendence but also transformation of the lower human nature.
  5. Complete surrender and constant meditation on the Supreme Being, or the Lord, referred to as Isvarapranidhana. The Lord, referred to as Isvara, is a compound of two words: Siva and the special self. Devotion or surrender to the Supreme Being includes the cultivation of unconditional love for the Lord, as well letting go of what disturbs. Equanimity follows ultimately. You “let go and let God”. Self-surrender to God, indicating the theistic aspect of Yoga, is transformed into the path of love and devotion. Anbu Sivam, Love is God, say the Siddhas. To love and serve man is to love and serve God and raises ethics to the highest level. Love for the Lord makes manifest what was previously only potential, one’s own Divinity.

Sincerity is doing what you intend to do

Yogi Ramaiah, my teacher, often repeated “Sincerity is the only currency of any value in Babaji’s Kriya Yoga.” Sincerity is doing what you intend. In other words, the power of good will, volition, when applied to the knowledge of the values, virtues and methods of Yoga will enable you to overcome your bad habits, the flaws in your character and in human nature, and the resistance to transform them.

You cannot purchase happiness with money. You must overcome the limitations of your nature which now control you and which are the cause of your suffering. Knowledge of the values and virtues, the yamas and niyamas of Yoga is a necessary condition, but sincerity is the sufficient condition for continuing towards siddhi or perfection of our divine human potential.

References from Babaji’s Kriya Yoga Publications on the Yamas:
Opposite Doing: The Five Yogic Keys to Good Relationships, (eBook)
The Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Siddhas, by M. Govindan

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