Skip Sub-navigation

KYTA Home Page

The Path to Tantra:
The first in a series of articles on
the evolution of Kripalu Yoga

Summer 2001

by Shobhan Richard Faulds


Writing a Bantam book on Kripalu Yoga aimed for national distribution has required me to stretch considerably beyond my comfort zone. Like any deep stretch, it has brought both agony and ecstasy. On the one hand, I'm grateful for a precious opportunity to ponder life's most profound questions and the wisdom flowing from our yoga tradition. On the other, I've struggled long and hard with the paradoxes spanned by our tradition, searching for ways to express its wisdom in simple terms that can speak to a diverse audience. My writing sadhana is far from complete, but I want to begin sharing some of the information and insights that have been meaningful to me and helped to deepen my practice.

The Kripalu tradition can be traced back 5,000 years to the sage Vishvamitra. Vishvamitra's life story symbolizes the transformative power of self-discipline. A king and member of the warrior caste, Vishvamitra embarked on the path after his entire army was defeated by a single Brahman holy man. Seeking revenge, Vishvamitra practiced austerities with an intensity that is said to have caused smoke to waft from his ears. As anyone who has engaged the power of self-discipline knows, Vishvamitra's practice initiated a deep purification process that slowly but surely began to transform his body and character.

Vishvamitra was far from perfect. Along the way, he succumbed to each and every one of the temptations that test all seekers. But despite his lapses, he just kept practicing. In the later stages of his sadhana, the Gayatri mantra was revealed to Vishvamitra in meditation. Practicing mantra yoga, Vishvamita's meditation deepened and he attained self-realization. He is recognized as one of the seven sages whose collective wisdom established the Vedic culture we know as Hinduism, and the only one who was not born a Brahman!

The life of the next influential figure in our tradition symbolizes the power of surrendering the very willpower that Vishvamitra cultivated. Legend has it that Lakulish was "born divine." As an infant, his parents were amazed to see him crawl out of his crib to perform complex ceremonies and rituals. Shortly thereafter, he entered a profound trance and realized his true identity as prana, the life force of the body. When the holy men of his time recognized him as an incarnation of Shiva, a thriving city grew up around Lakulish and thousands of people came daily for his audience. Lakulish instructed many worthy disciples in the path of surrender yoga. Awakening the life force through the transmission of spiritual energy, he guided them to surrender their will and allow the free flowing energy to do the work of spiritual purification.

These two stories symbolically express the evolution of Indian spirituality over thousands of years. Through ascetic practices, early yogis like Vishvamitra realized the one Spirit underlying creation. The momentous power of this realization, coupled with the intensely ascetic means employed to attain it, led them to affirm the existence of Spirit while rejecting the material world as unreal and the life of the body as a distraction. Their path to realization was neti-neti, the way of negation, literally translated as "not this, not this." These early yogis negated the world through a practice of stating what they were not: "I am not this body and its sensations. I am not this mind and its thoughts and desires. I am not even intuition or insight. I am pure Spirit." This view still informs many of today's yoga traditions, which see the material world as an illusion and human embodiment as a fall from grace in which Spirit became trapped in matter. The goal of these approaches is to drop the body and leave the world behind.

Lakulish was one of the earliest yogis to expound the worldview of Tantra. The word tantra means, "web" or "woof." Like threads in a tapestry, Tantra views the universe as a seamless whole in which Spirit and matter are inextricably woven together. Tantric yogis developed a very different worldview and practice from their ascetic predecessors. While the Tantric yogis also realized the oneness underlying creation, they went an important step further. Observing how the material universe naturally flows out of oneness and is always co-existent with Spirit, they affirmed the unity of matter and Spirit. The words to a chant from our Kripalu tradition express the Tantric view well: " All is God. These thoughts are God. These memories are God. These feelings are God. This body is God. The world is God. The relationships among these are God. All is God." In Tantra, Spirit is in the world and the yogi embraces the whole of life as the outward manifestation of the invisible Spirit.

Kripalu Yoga is a practical form of Tantra that integrates the value of willful yoga practice. Its goal is to help us regain our sense of wholeness by experiencing the unity of matter and Spirit, reflected within us as body and mind. As you enter a posture, you breathe and relax to stimulate the flow of energy and sensation through the body. Next you feel, focusing the mind on the flowing sensations. Watching, you observe your inner experience as a witness, developing concentration and entering the state of meditation. The final step, allow, is the essence of Tantra. You accept your experience as it is, dropping the need to change it in any way, and realize the truth that, just like Lakulish, you were born divine.

Shobhan Richard Faulds, Kripalu’s former president, now serves as chair of the Board of Trustees. He is the author of the upcoming Bantam book Kripalu Yoga: A Guide to Practice On and Off the Mat. Shobhan will co-direct this year’s KYTA Conference, Oct. 24-27, and will also offer a workshop at the conference, Going Deeper Through Informed Practice.

Complete list of articles by this author:

Kripalu's Non-sectarian Approach to Yoga

The Path to Tantra: The first in a series of articles on the evolution of Kripalu Yoga

The sadhana of Swami Kripalu: The second in a series of articles on the evolution of Kripalu Yoga

Yogi Amrit Desai, originator of Kripalu Yoga: The third in a series of articles on the evolution of Kripalu Yoga

Professionals with Heart and Soul: Teaching Yoga in the "Yoga Boom"

Eastern tradition meets Western disciples: Co-creation in Kripalu's resident community

The yoga of communication: Leading groups the Kripalu way

Kripalu Yoga: A path of transformation

What distinguishes Kripalu Yoga?

Facets of transformative teaching

Looking back to move forward: The guru-disciple relationship

Students, mentors, midwives: A model for transformative teaching

The journey from known to unknown: The first in a series of articles on yoga's transformative process

Purifying body and mind

A Kripalu Yoga definition of enlightenment: The last in a series of articles on yoga's transformative process

Mastery in teaching

Swami Kripalu’s Inspiration for Yoga Teachers

Back to the KYTA Home Page

Back to the KYTA Bulletin Highlights

Back to the KYTA Bulletin Archive