Today, we can find almost everything on the internet, including Kriya Yoga teachings and meditation practices. While some of that may initially satisfy curiosity, provide some guidance, and help a seeker get started on the path, those interested in all that Kriya Yoga has to offer will seek a qualified teacher.
After study, practice, and initiation into the techniques passed on through a lineage of Kriya Yoga masters, the next step for a sincere practitioner is discipleship. While discipleship is not a requirement for practicing Kriya Yoga, it is the traditional way of learning it—receiving guidance, inspiration, and the transmission of energy that supports steadfast dedication and spiritual realization.
Here are some frequently asked questions about discipleship on the path of Kriya Yoga:
What is discipleship? What is it to be a disciple? What's a guru or a spiritual master? What role does that person play in our life? What is the purpose of having a spiritual teacher? Why would we need one? Or do we really need one? What is the nature of that relationship? What does it offer to us? What does it require? And importantly, how does the way of discipleship arise?
Let's explore the way of discipleship and how it arises.
What is Discipleship?
Think of discipleship as the journey we make back to ourselves—back to the realization of our divine Self, our essential nature.
Discipleship is a response to a divine calling that arises within. It's a pull towards awakening and fulfillment—a yearning to wake up. It is a desire to know God, to realize our essential nature, and be restored to wholeness. At the core, it is the desire that we feel at some point in our life to overcome the alienation from our divine Self, which is the source of great sorrow that causes us to feel like something's missing in our life. When we follow that urge, we discover that what is missing is our connection to our Self. Seeking that conscious connection is the basis of the spiritual life, the path of Self-discovery.
There's a beautiful story in the Upanishads about a great rishi, the sage Narada, who goes to the wise teacher Sanatkumara and asks if he will teach him. Because Sanatkumara is a wise teacher, he first says to Narada, "Well, let us begin with you telling me what you have already studied. What is it that you already know?"
Narada begins to tell Sanatkumara everything that he has studied. And it turns out that Narada is a master of the arts and sciences. He knows astronomy. He knows astrology. He knows medicine. He knows music. He knows the fine arts. There is nothing that he hasn't studied and learned, including the Vedas, all the ancient scriptures. So, the question remains, what is it that he wants to know?
Sanatkumara asks him that. "You have studied all of these things. What is it that you want to know?" And Narada says, "With all of this wisdom and knowledge I have acquired, I still have this great sorrow. Can you help me?"
The source of his sorrow is that everything Narada has learned has been external knowledge. All the wisdom he has acquired, including the wisdom of the scriptures, is known as apara vidya or lower knowledge. Now he is looking for para vidya or higher knowledge—realization of the true Self. He is seeking truth, reality, and the connection with his essential Self. This shift in emphasis indicates the time of entering the path of discipleship.
A Role of Discipleship
Discipleship is a way of spiritual awakening found in some form in all the world's religions, mystical paths, and wisdom traditions. It's a universal way of spiritual awakening. Culture, environment, or time may influence the outer expression of what it is to be a disciple in that tradition. But the essence of discipleship is ever the same. It is a role that is eternal and archetypal.
Think about such archetypes as father, mother, healer, king, or warrior. Archetypal roles occur in cultures over time, and they also have psychological and inner significance to us. They're human prototypes. This is also true of a disciple, student, or shishya, in Sanskrit, and a master or guru, the teacher. They also are archetypes of human mythology that signify the inner way of spiritual development. The disciple and the master, or the guru and the shishya, are components that both live within our psyche.
How Does the Way of Discipleship Arise?
Like two sides of the same coin, the archetypes of master and disciple are connected. When we feel ready for discipleship, our potential for mastery is also awakening.
Two things are common to everyone. We all have our origin in the same source, which is called God or Ultimate Reality, and we all have the destiny to realize that source of our being. Discipleship arises as the way to fulfill that destiny to awaken.
When we feel that soul yearning to know the truth about ourselves and the truth about life, interest in spirituality becomes more urgent. It changes from being an occasional interest to occupying the center of our attention.
Universal Step Onto the Path of Discipleship
Often, that juncture in our spiritual life comes when we recognize that the way we have been living is not bringing the happiness or fulfillment we want. We realize we're looking for something that the world hasn't provided and cannot give us, but we're not quite sure what it is. Something is missing, and we don't know where to find it. We don't know where to turn. We know it cannot be found in all the places we have looked externally.
From that insight, we start to reorient our attention. We begin an inner search.
In my spiritual tradition, when I read the life story of Paramahansa Yogananda, as he shared in his inspired book, Autobiography of a Yogi, the yearning he had for a guru and the central role that relationship played in his spiritual journey is evident. We see it not only in his life but also in that of the other yoga masters. The timeless, essential relationship is highlighted.
Yogananda was raised in a very spiritual family. His parents were disciples and shared Kriya Yoga with him, but he still yearned for the teacher who would directly reveal the way of realization to him. Much of the story in Autobiography of a Yogi concerns his relationship with his guru Swami Sri Yukteswar.
And then, I look at my guru, the American yoga master Roy Eugene Davis, who read Paramahansa Yogananda's book when he was just 18 years old. He was so inspired about the life of awakening that is Kriya Yoga that he immediately knew it was his path. He also recognized that Paramahansa Yogananda was his guru, his spiritual teacher.
Following that knowing, Roy hitchhiked across America from the Midwest to California, where he met with Paramahansa Yogananda and asked to be accepted as a disciple for training. Fortunately for me and so many others, he was welcomed into discipleship training by Paramahansa Yogananda.
Stepping onto the Path of Discipleship
The mystic poet Rumi writes, "Soul receives from soul that knowledge, not by book, nor from tongue." What we are looking for is not intellectual knowledge. It is not something that can be expressed in words. The spiritual knowledge we yearn for is beyond words and thoughts. So there comes a time for us in our spiritual journey when we're ready to fully dedicate ourselves to that quest to the higher wisdom of spiritual realization.
It's an auspicious time.
We come to that juncture, and we say, "Wait a minute, you know what? The way I've been living, what I've been doing, something is missing here. I'm looking for something deeper, something that will satisfy my soul." And that's a time when that yearning for liberation becomes the predominant urge and focus of our life. We are ready for discipleship.
We become intent upon spiritual liberation. We are ready to learn, follow a path of awakened living, and take up a life of spiritual discipline. Wanting to know the truth about ourselves and about life, we become receptive to guidance.
This intentionality signifies a tremendous shift in our focus from self-will, "I'm going to do it, I'm on my own. I'm going to make it happen," to surrender. We begin to release the false sense of being a separate self. Now our prayer becomes, "Not my will, but Thine be done. Show me, Lord, show me the way to live. Show me the way to find happiness. Help me wake up."
We want a conscious relationship with the Infinite. We develop this relationship by taking the step of discipleship, entering life with a pure intention to learn from it. The real meaning of disciple is a learner, one who will follow discipline in order to learn.
A prayer from Sister Gyanamata, one of the primary disciples of Paramahansa, signifies the way of discipleship. When she encountered a challenge, she prayed, "Lord, don't change my circumstances; change me." That is the crux of discipleship. We're learning how to cooperate with the Infinite and allow our divine potentials to express. There is no greater way to freedom and the soul's innate joy.