In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali began his chapter on practice with a simple three-step plan for the attainment of enlightenment called Kriya Yoga: Discipline, Study, and Devotion.
Like the word karma, kriya is derived from the Sanksrit root kr, which means action. Karma means any action, while kriya means actions taken specifically for purification purposes. Kriyas are cleansing actions that you can take to purify your life and set it on the path to God realization.
Patanjali’s three-step plan is very straightforward. He simply states, in this sutra, that the hard physical work of spiritual practice must be combined with scriptural study and motivated by devotion. Patanjali tells us in this yoga sutra that the perfect action is one that meets three criteria: tapah (austerity), swadhyaya (study of the Self), and Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to God):
- Tapah means to burn.
- Swadhyaya means study of the higher Self.
- Ishvara Pranidhana means to devote or give up all the actions of your life to God.
How can you infuse your sadhana with these three elements?
Our spiritual practices should transform us in the flames of their difficulty and light a fire within us that burns away selfishness. Your practice is tapasic when you practice consistently over a long period of time.
The principal methods of svadhyaya are the study of scripture and chanting the names of God.
The third component of kriya yoga is devotion to God. Without devotion your yoga practice becomes self-serving and binding.
Patanjali realized that his three-step plan for Kriya Yoga, might be too difficult. That’s why he also included a more detailed, expanded, eight-step plan in the Yoga Sutras called Ashtanga or Raja Yoga.
Kriya Yoga is a method for eliminating obscurations to your happiness. If you want peace, joy and happiness, perform actions that bring about peace, joy and happiness for all. When we devote all of our daily activities arduously toward harmony, we are performing Kriya Yoga.
Excerpt from Chapter 9, Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon & David Life