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Pranayama and Bhakti

Post Author: Swami Gaurangapada    Date: 2007-03-13 10:50:42
Shall we just happily apply other methods if we experience that doing Reiki or "just follow your breath" type of meditation (shamatha), yoga, pranamayama etc. is conducive to our sattvic state of mind and God consciousness?

Answer by Swami Gaurangapada:

Reiki and other new age stuff is not recommended in the Vedic scriptures before doing japa but pranayama is.

Pranayama is recommended in Hari Bhakti Vilasa by Shrila Sanatana Goswami to stabilize our mind in japa is required.

Shri Hari Bhakti Vilasa, Eighth Vilasa, Volume One:

Text 422

atha japah
japasya purato krtva
pranayama-trayam budhah
mantrartha-smrti-purvam ca
japed astottaram satam
mulam lekhyena vidhina
sadaiva japa-malaya

"Now Japa: After performing three pranayaamas and remembering the purpose of the mantra, one should, following the regulations written in scripture, chant one's japa mantra 108 times regularly."

Text 423

saktau 'stadhika-sahasram
japet tam carpayan japam
pranayamas ca krtva trin
dadyat krsna-kare jalam

"If one is able, one should chant the japa
mantra 1,008 times. After performing three
pranayamas one should offer water to Lord
Krsna's hand."

Text 424

tatra cayam mantrah
guhyati-guhya-gopta tvam
grhanasmat-krtam japam
siddhir bhavatu me deva
tvat-prasadat tvayi sthite. iti.

That Mantra: "O Lord, You are the protector of
the most confidential secrets. Please accept my
offering of japa. O Lord, by Your mercy may I
attain spiritual perfection."

The exact process of Raja (Astanga) Yoga which the great Vaishnava Yogi babaji performed to get entry into the mellows of rasa is beautifully described in Prema Pradipa by Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura (Please note Yogi dasa babaji performed Hatha Yoga earlier and rejected it because it was not so conducive for achieving success in bhakti yoga but he stated that Raja Yoga is surely helpful):

Yogi Babaji explains raja-yoga- the eight processes of raja-yoga. Rising early in the morning they performed their morning duties and sat at the base of the pancavati.

Mallik Mahasaya inquired about raja-yoga, and Babaji began to explain, "Samadhi is the main process of raja-yoga. In order to attain samadhi one first practices yama, then niyama, then asana, then pranayama, then pratyahara, then dhyana, and then dharana. One must practice these processes. If the sadhaka is of good character, religious, and pure, however, he then first practices asana. If he has faulty character or any impure mleccha habits, then he must certainly first practice yama and niyama. The philosophy of Patanjali is the sastra of the yoga system. I will explain raja-yoga based on Patanjali's statements.

He says: yama-niyama-pranayama-pratyahara-dharana-dhyana-samadhayo 'stavangani (Pd. 2.29)

TRANSLATION = (1) Yama, (2) niyama, (3) asana, (4) pranayama, (5) pratyahara, (6) dharana, (7) dhyana, and (8) samadhi-these are the eight processes of raja-yoga.

(1) Yama-five kinds such as nonviolence and truthfulness

ahimsa-satyasteya-brahmacaryaparigraha yamah (Pd. 2.30)

(A) Ahimsa, nonviolence; (B) satya, truthfulness; (C) asteya, refraining from theft; (D) brahmacarya, celebacy; and (E) aparigraha, freedom from possessiveness-these five are yama. Those who are violent should carefully give it up.

(A) The desire to kill other living entities is called himsa. Yavanas, as well as Aryans who are influenced by tamo-guna or rajo-guna, should practice ahimsa before taking instructions in yoga.
(B) Those who are liars should practice speaking the truth.
(C) Those who steal other's wealth should practice asteya.
(D) Those who are fond of sex should refrain from that habit.
(E) Those who desire other's wealth should subjugate that desire.

(2) Niyama-five kinds such as cleanliness and satisfaction

saucha-santosa-tapah-svadhyayesvara-pranidhanani niyamah (Pd. 2.32)
`Sauca, cleanliness; santosa, satisfaction; tapa, austerity; svadhyaya, Vedic study; and isvara-pranidhana, meditation on the Supreme Lord-these five are niyama.' The body should be kept clean. Learn to keep the mind satisfied. Learn to tolerate all kinds of difficulties. If one has committed many sins, one should learn to repent for them. One should acquire knowledge by studying the Vedic literatures. One should learn to engage his mind in the Lord.

(3) Asana-Out of thirty-two kinds, padmasana and svastikasana

(tatra) sthira-sukhamasanam (Pd. 2.46)
All the asanas I previously mentioned in the description of hatha-yoga are accepted in raja-yoga also. Padmasana and svastikasana are famous in raja-yoga. For example, padmasana is described as follows:

urvoru-parivinyasya samyak padatale ubheangusthau ca nivadhniyat hastabhyam vyutkramat tatha

Placing the soles of both feet on the thighs and holding the big toes with the hands (is called padmasana).' And svastikasana is described in these words:

janurvorantare yogi krtva padatale ubherjukayah samasinah svastikam tat pracaksyate

Placing the soles between the knee and thigh and sitting straight is called svastikasana.'

(4) Pranayama-Perfection by recaka, puraka, and kumbhaka

tasmin sati svasa-prasvasayor gati-vicchedah pranayamah (Pd. 2.49)

'After mastering asanas, pranayama in the form of moving and stopping the incoming and outgoing airs should be practiced.' When the air is exhaled through the nostrils, that is called recaka or svasa. When the air is inhaled through the nostrils, that is called puraka or prasvasa. When the air is retained, that is called kumbhaka. By recaka, puraka, and kumbhaka one becomes perfect in pranayama.

People who have perfected yama and niyama and mastered asanas should practice pranayama. Three rules in the practice of pranayama: (A) relating to place, (B) relating to time, and (C) relating to number

(sa tu) bahyabhyantara-stanbhavrttir desa-kala-sankhyabhih paridrsto dirgha-suksmah (Pd. 2.50)

`In the practice of pranayama, while inhaling, exhaling, and retaining air, there are a few rules relating to the place, time, and number.'

(A) The rules regarding place are as follows: The sadhaka should go to a sacred, level, undisturbed place where the body, mind, and intelligence can remain fixed. Sitting on a seat of kusa grass covered with deerskin and soft cloth, the sadhaka should practice pranayama. Nearby there should be a transparent reservoir of water. The room should be clean, and the air should be healthy. Light foods which are pleasing to the sadhaka should be easily available nearby. There should be no disturbances from snakes, animals, and mosquitos. The place should not be far from one's native land, but it should also not be one's own house.

(B) The rules regarding time are as follows: The best time for practicing pranayama is at the beginning or end of winter. Pranayama may be nicely practiced in the morning, midday, afternoon, and late night. Pranayama should not be done on an empty stomach or just after eating. The sadhaka must take light food. Intoxicants, meat, and fish are forbidden. Sour, dry, salty, and spicy foods are also forbidden. Slightly sweet and fatty foods, especially sweet rice should be taken from time to time. Irregular activities like early morning bath and late night eating are forbidden.

(C) Rules regarding number are as follows: Being seated, one should mentally chant bija mantra sixteen times while inhaling through the nerves ida, or candra. That air should be retained while chanting upto sixty-four times. Then that air should be exhaled while chanting upto thirty-two. After that one should inhale through the nostril called surya, or pingala, while chanting sixteen times, retain while chanting sixty-four times, and exhale through ida chanting thirty-two times. Again one should inhale through the ida and, after retaining, exhale through the pingala while chanting as before. By doing this three times, one matra, or unit, of pranayama is complete. The left nostril is called ida, or candra, and the right is called pingala, or surya. The retention cavity is called susumna. According to other opinions recaka is done first. In either case the result is the same.

Through purification of the nerves by `matra,' pranayama's kumbhaka is performed

By practicing pranayama from one to twelve matras, adhama-matra is done. If one can do sixteen matras it is madhyama-matra. By practicing twenty matras, uttama-matra is accomplished. All matras are done five times-morning, midday, afternoon, after dusk, and midnight.
After three months of practice in this way the nerves are purified. After the nerves are purified, pranayama's fourth part, kevala-kumbhaka is completed.

Patanjali has stated:
bahyabhyantara-visayaksepi caturthah (Pd. 2.51)

'Pranayama is performed without recaka and puraka in the fourth kumbhaka (called kevala).'

If kumbhaka is performed well, two great fruits are obtained. First, the mind's covering of external perception is reduced. Second, one's mind becomes eligible for dharana.

(5) Pratyahara
svavisayasamprayoge cittasya svarupanukaraivendriyanam pratyaharah (Pd. 2.54)

`When the senses are not fully engaged in their respective sense objects but are restrained within and simply superficially touch the sense objects, that is called pratyahara.' When one practices to gradually engage the act of seeing within, that is called pratyahara of the eyes. Similarly, when all the senses are withdrawn, the mind is gradually controlled and hankering for sense gratification diminishes. Only a sadhaka can experience how this happens. I got special benefit by practicing this system.

(6) Dharana
desa bandhas cittasya dharana (Pd. 3.1)

`When the mind is fixed on some place like the navel or nose this is called dharana.' The ultimate result of dharana is obtained with the help of dhyana and the awakening of samadhi. But, during the practice of dharana many powers are acquired. I don't think it's necessary to mention them here. It should be known that those who are seeking the ultimate truth don't look for powers. Although many powers are present while practicing dharana, the Vaisnavas don't accept them. What the yoga philosophers call dharana is called mudras in hatha-yoga.

(7) Dhyana
tatra pratyayaikatanata-dhyanam (Pd. 3.2)

`In the place where dharana is executed, the harmony of jnana is called dhyana.' For example, when dharana is fixed on Krsna's lotus feet, that state of harmonious knowledge or conviction is called carana-dhyana, or meditation on the Lord's feet. If dharana is not fixed, then undisturbed dhyana is not possible.

(8) Samadhi-In raja-yoga one can relish prema while practicing raja-yoga in the state of samadhi

tad evartha matra-nirbhasam svarupa-sunyam iva samadhih (Pd. 3.3)

`When the object obtained by dharana remains manifest in dhyana, but it appears devoid of identity, that state is called samadhi.' Those impersonalists who achieve samadhi no longer note the characteristic called visesa, or variety. That sort of samadhi is attained in the final stage of hatha-yoga. In the state of samadhi in raja-yoga, truth beyond material nature is realized. In that state one can taste unalloyed love. That subject cannot be described by words. When you attain samadhi, you can understand that state. Anything more than what I've instructed cannot be expressed in words."

Mallik Mahasaya's eagerness to learn raja-yoga

Yogi Babaji spoke until here and then stopped. During the explanation, Mallik Mahasaya wrote down a little summary of each topic. When the instructions came to samadhi, he fell at Babaji's feet and said, "Prabhu! Be kind on this servant and teach me yoga practice. I'm selling my life at your holy feet."

Babaji picked Mallik Mahasaya up, embraced him, and said, "Yoga practice is done alone. You can start tonight." Being pleased by Babaji's scholarship and gravity, Naren Babu and Anand Babu humbly bowed their heads and offered their respectful obeisances to Babaji.


The conclusion about using pranayama in devotional service is given by Shrila Pandita dasa babaji to Shrila Yogi dasa babji in Prema Pradipa:

Showing the inferiority of the yoga path:

"The domination over material nature attained in the practice of yoga is only a temporary result. In that position the ultimate result may be far off and time and again impediments are observed. In the path of yoga there are hindrances at every step. First, at the time of practicing yama and niyama, religiosity is awakened, and as a result of attaining this insignificant result one becomes known as religious-minded, even though no attempt has been made to achieve prema. Second, during the long period of practicing asana and pranayama one achieves a long life free of disease by controlling the breathing. But if there is still no connection with prema, then one's long life free of disease becomes a source of trouble. Third, although by the process of pratyahara one achieves control of the senses, if prema is lacking this is called dry or insignificant renunciation. The reason is that for attaining the ultimate goal, enjoyment and renunciation give equal results. Useless renunciation simply makes one stone-heartd. Fourth, during dhyana, dharana, and samadhi, even if material thoughts are removed, if prema is not awakened the living entity loses his individuality. If the understanding, `I am Brahman' does not awaken pure love, then that results in destruction of his existence. Therefore, please consider: the ultimate goal of yoga is excellent, but the path is full of difficulties. You are a Vaisnava as well as a yogi, therefore you can understand my words without bias."

Before Pandita dasa Babaji even finished his statement, all the Vaisnavas exclaimed, "Sadhu! Sadhu!"

Though pleased, Yogi Babaji advocates the usefulness of yoga over devotional service in the matter of sense control.

Yogi Babaji said, "Babaji, your conclusive statement is excellent, but there is one thing I would like to say. I had properly practiced the ninefold process of devotional service, beginning with hearing and chanting, previous to learning yoga. But frankly I tell you that in every activity I used to look for sense gratification. I could not free my heart from false designations as described in Vaisnava instructions on conjugal rasa. I was able to taste conjugal rasa only after practicing pratyahara, and now I have no desire for sense gratification. My nature has completely changed. There is arrangement for pranayama in the path of arcana, so I feel that pratyahara practice is also seen in the instructions of bhakti-yoga. Therefore I feel that yoga practice is necessary."

By dry speculation or practice the sadhaka will certainly fall down if the limbs of bhakti are used as fruitive rituals for sense gratification.

After hearing Yogi Babaji's statement, Pandita dasa Babaji thought for a while. Then he began to speak, "Babaji, you are blessed because you did not forget rasa-tattva while practicing pratyahara. In many cases one falls down due to dry speculation and dry practices, for the soul is by nature full of bliss, it can never appreciate dryness. The soul is always in love or attached, therefore the conditioned soul who falls down from his proper position develops love or attachment for another inferior object. For this reason there is hardly any possibility of self-satisfaction, and therefore material sense gratification becomes prominent. When the soul, who is lord of the senses, realizes his eternal rasa, his natural spontaneous attraction awakens and his material affection diminishes. The path of devotional service is the discussion of love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In this path as one's attachment thickens the endeavor to gratify the senses naturally diminishes. I feel that when you began devotionl service, you didn't have the association of genuine sadhus. That is why you didn't relish the sweetness of devotional service. You executed the ninefold processes of bhakti as if they were dry or selfish fruitive rituals. As a result you were unable to relish even a little transcendental bliss. I think that's why your hankering for sense gratification increased. In that case there is possibility of benefit in yoga practice. It is necessary for the practicing devotee to relish bhakti-rasa in the association of devotees. Even though a devotee enjoys all types of material sense gratification, that enjoyment does not produce hankering for more enjoyment. Sense enjoyment is the main cause of a devotee's renouncing the desire for material enjoyment."


If a practicing devotee does not have association with advanced devotees and is not able to immediately relish the pure superior taste and higher levels of bhakti and his or her senses are becoming agitated, then the practice of pranayama and pratyahara (yoga) surely helps one to control the senses and gradually progress of path of understanding the pure mellows of bhakti provided the spiritual aspirant continues to perform the nine forms of devotional service as the main sadhana and activity.

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