Swami Kripalu’s Inspiration for Yoga Teachers
by Shobhan Richard Faulds
Swami Kripalu (1913–1981) was a remarkable man, a bridge between the traditions of ancient India and contemporary Western society. A yoga master renowned in India for the intensity of his spiritual practice and the depth of his compassion, Swami Kripalu came to America in 1977 and spent the last four years of his life in residence at the original Kripalu Center.
Maintaining his schedule of 10 hours of Kundalini Yoga meditation per day, Swami Kripalu taught a small number of close disciples, including Yogi Amrit Desai. He also made weekly public appearances that catalyzed the growth of the Kripalu Yoga community. In these ways, Swami Kripalu played an essential role in the transmission of a spiritually potent tradition to a large community of Western practitioners.
An articulate speaker and talented musician, Swami Kripalu had a genuine love for people that set him apart. His singing stirred deep feelings of devotion within the hearts of his listeners. Discourses were peppered with captivating stories, eliciting tears of sorrow and peals of uncontrollable laughter. A prolific writer, Swami Kripalu wrote books of practical spiritual guidance uplifting the lives of his many devotees. He radiated a palpable energy of compassionate love and spiritual power, and few came into his presence without being touched, moved, or changed in some way.
Swami Kripalu returned to India in 1981 and died shortly thereafter. He was held dear by a multitude of Indians and Westerners, and his death was honored as the passing of a humanitarian saint. His teachings on yoga practice and supportive lifestyle still form the basis of the Kripalu Yoga approach. The following quotes were drawn from a number of sources and convey a small portion of his guidance to yoga students. While remaining true to Swami Kripalu’s original teachings, they have been edited and in some places paraphrased to make their meaning more accessible.
On the Need for Practice
To read uplifting books or listen to spiritual discourses is good. But to practice even a little is of the utmost importance. The profound meaning of yoga is understood only by those who study it through regular and systematic practice. The day you start to practice, your true progress will begin.
Accepting the truth proclaimed by the scriptures does not produce knowledge. Real knowledge is only obtained through personal experience. For experience, practice is indispensable.
Through various yoga experiences, a seeker goes on intensifying his faith, courage, knowledge, zeal, and devotion. In this way, he progresses on the path of yoga, gaining the knowledge of yoga through the practice of yoga.
Do not give up virtuous conduct and self-discipline, even in the face of death. Keep unflinching faith in the Lord and continue to practice mantra repetition, chanting, meditation, pranayama, postures, observing holy vows, fasting, moderation in diet, scripture study, and other disciplines. I extend my blessings to everyone.
On Yama and Niyama
The scriptures of all the religions have given attention to the principles contained in yama and niyama. By genuinely pursuing yama and niyama, anyone can prosper materially and spiritually. The success achieved by influential men and women in their various fields is founded upon the practice of these principles. I can confidently state that anyone who ignores yama and niyama is clearly stunting his or her own development.
Yama and niyama build a person’s character so thoroughly that by sincerely practicing them one ceases to be an animal, grows into a real human being, and can even transform into the Lord. Although their practice is arduous, fear is unwarranted because we are required to practice yama and niyama to the best of our capacity.
By firmly grasping the flower of a single virtue, a person can lift the entire garland of yama and niyama.
On Hatha Yoga
The body is stimulated by proper exercise, which both strengthens and relaxes. We all must travel a long distance in this physical body. If we do not care for it, how can we reach our goal?
The body benefits most when the postures are performed consciously and with full understanding. It takes time to accomplish difficult postures. Avoid forcing the body into them prematurely. Work into them gradually. Otherwise, the body can be harmed.
Pranayama is the king of all exercises. Under conditions of heightened respiration, the heart, arteries, capillaries, veins, and lungs perform many days’ labor in only a few hours. As blood circulation increases, basic nutrients are distributed to all the tissues in the body. Waste products accumulating in the cells are eliminated into the veins. Indeed, one can comprehend the significance of all forms of exercise by understanding this process alone. The body parts are moved merely to churn and stimulate the respiratory process.
Kripalu Yoga is the most advantageous practice for a person living an active life in society. Success in life requires both mind power (chitta) and life force (prana). Chitta and prana usually work independently. While waking, chitta is dominant and controls the body. While sleeping, prana is dominant and controls the body. While practicing Kripalu Yoga, a smooth flow of attention is maintained on the body while gracefully passing from posture to posture. Through regular practice, prana awakens. Chitta and prana become friends of equal strength who cooperate closely with one another.
The uniqueness of Kripalu Yoga is that postures, breath regulation, introversion, concentration, and meditation are all happening simultaneously. In the beginning stages, the practice of postures is primary and the other aspects of yoga are secondary. In the final stage, meditation is the primary experience.
Asanas performed with a deep sensitivity to the breath are ten times more beneficial than those without breath awareness.
The cause of all agitation is the constant modification of mind. The mind easily becomes concentrated and one-pointed through the practice of yoga. When control of the mind is obtained, the kingdom of peace is established.
On Struggle and Difficulties
In the entire world, there is not one human being who is free from pain. Even in favorable conditions, a person encounters struggle. The external form of struggle appears to be cruel. Some describe it as a horrible demon, but its nature is not malicious. Struggle keeps us from being sluggish. It keeps us aware and in the end bestows true knowledge. Struggle is actually an angel and the well-wisher of everyone.
It is proper to welcome struggle. Its arrival is always auspicious. Struggle changes a sub-human into an ideal person. It transforms an ordinary human into a spiritually awake person respected by the world. Struggle is a subtle sculptor who shapes the life of every great spiritual master into a unique and unparalleled work of art.
Difficulties are bound to come. Just sitting still, difficulties appear all around you. Difficulties get in the way when you act. If there were no difficulties, you would never realize your inner strength. Strength is always within us, but it only comes out when difficulty appears. When difficulties arise, do not stop. Instead, continue on your way by having faith in God.
Seekers who believe they must practice yoga only in the meditation room are under a great illusion. They must practice yoga in society as well. Practicing yoga in the meditation room is easy because there are no external disturbances. But one encounters many disturbances while practicing yoga in society, which makes it very difficult. The true yogi is one who can successfully protect his mental steadiness while in society.
On Purification and Growth
Physical waste products are often not excreted completely. They go on collecting in the body. In the same way, negative ideas accumulate in the mind. Purifying the body and the mind is not as easy as one might think. It is necessary to be very patient.
A significant number of earnest spiritual seekers take up the practice of yoga. Unfortunately many stop because exactly the right things happen.
Growth can only be gradual. The seed that is sown today does not sprout into a tree the next day. It does so only in the course of time, at its own pace, and by its own order.
Do not wrestle with a fault that you want to remove. Wrestling increases the disturbance of the mind and allows the excited fault to lift you up and slam you to the ground. Unable to pull yourself up to fight again, you will eventually give up the fight forever. The best way to remove a fault is to practice its opposite virtue. Practicing virtue decreases mental restlessness and increases happiness. Eradicate your bad character traits by strengthening good character traits.
The highest spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment.
Self-observation cannot be done perfectly right away. It takes time, as you have to pass through stages and learn it gradually. When performing actions, allow a part of the mind to observe yourself objectively. At first you see only your faults and lower qualities, which is why you must always do your self-observation with love. Gradually you begin to recognize there are good qualities also. By letting go of lower qualities, higher qualities naturally come in and go on increasing. One must sincerely want to see his faults and increase his good qualities. As long as that determination is not firm, self-observation is not possible.
Self-observation brings us closer to truth. When the mind is steady, we can see a little truth. When the mind is disturbed, we can’t see anything. Growth allows a portion of the mind to remain an objective witness even in a disturbed state. The witness is always there, if one can keep a wakeful attitude in one’s self.
Truly, the wise proclaim that love is the only path, love is the only God, and love is the only scripture. Only love can bring unity and remove the separation between all living beings. Only love purifies the body and mind. Love is not far away; it is as close as your heart. You can find it living there without walking a single step. Love is my only path. I am, in fact, a pilgrim on the path of love.
We can love no matter where we are. We can love under any circumstances, whether we have our arms and legs straight, or we are lying down, whether we are sitting or walking. We could be doing anything. The only thing is that we simply have to keep our mind attuned to God. There are two things which help love to increase and those are self-control and good character or right behavior.
The major characteristic of love is the absence of conflict. When conflict is born and increases daily, true love gradually diminishes. Where conflict finds fault, love sees virtue. When love increases daily, its flower blossoms fully, spreading its sweet fragrance everywhere.
The highest religious principle is Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: the whole world is one family. No matter what religion we are following, if we cannot love others then we are not following religion but the illusion of religion. Where there is no unity, no love, no harmony among each other, how can there be religion?
Love is the seed, surrender the bud, and service the fruit. Serving others is such an effective method for attaining personal growth that it excels any other means that may be employed.
Serve with a full heart. By making others happy, you make yourself happy. The key to your heart lies hidden in the heart of another.
The nectar in the heart of an individual is not for himself. It is for others. As we serve others this nectar, its flow into our own heart goes on increasing. Our family and friends are thirsty for love. If we do not offer them our cup of love, the reservoir of our heart will become an impure and a poisoned reservoir. Go on giving love to your loved ones until they are fully satisfied. Then they also will never leave you unsatisfied.
Swami Kripalu always ended his public discourses with a blessing such as the one that follows:
May everyone here be happy.
Compiled by Danna Faulds and edited by Shobhan Richard Faulds.
For more wisdom from Swami Kripalu: Sayings of Swami Kripalu: Inspiring Quotes from a Contemporary Yoga Master, compiled by Shobhan Richard Faulds.
See Swami Kripalu on YouTube in Bapuji: The Path of Love, Part I.
Read more from Shobhan Richard Faulds in the Kripalu online library: “A Pilgrim on the Path of Love: The Sadhana of Swami Kripalu.”