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A pilgrim on the path of love:
The sadhana of Swami Kripalu
The second in a series of articles on
the evolution of Kripalu Yoga

FALL 2001

by Shobhan Richard Faulds


Swami Kripalu was a remarkable man, a bridge between ancient India and the contemporary West. A gifted musician, prolific writer, and dramatic storyteller with a contagious sense of humor, Swami Kripalu radiated a tangible energy of compassionate love and spiritual power. Few who came into contact with him for even a short time left him without being touched, moved or deeply changed. In addition to his artistic talents, Swami Kripalu was a scholar and yogi whose teachings form the foundation of the Kripalu approach. Understanding the life in which these teachings arose is crucial to both the depth practice and teaching of Kripalu Yoga.

Swami Kripalu was born into a large and devout Brahmin family in 1913. The death of his father when Swami Kripalu was seven plunged his family into poverty, but despite many hardships, they remained close and loving. At the age of 19, Swami Kripalu encountered a nameless and enigmatic guru. Invited to attend satsanga at the guru's prosperous ashram, Swami Kripalu was thunderstruck to be introduced by the guru as his foremost disciple. For the next 15 months, Swami Kripalu was personally schooled in the scriptures and taught the basic practices of yoga. After completing a 41-day water fast, he was formally ordained a yogi and told that one day he would be among the world's greatest yogis. Shortly thereafter, the guru abandoned his ashram and left Swami Kripalu's life as mysteriously as he had entered it.

After eight years as a musician and playwright, Swami Kripalu took formal vows of renunciation in 1942 and began traveling on foot from village to village throughout western India. Teaching, singing and turning hearts to God, he quickly gained a reputation as an articulate speaker and inspiring musician. More than eloquence or talent, it was Swami Kripalu's genuine love for people that set him apart. Seeing the purity of his service, followers were moved to give large donations that Swami Kripalu used to establish village temples, libraries and schools. Living simply in accord with his vows, Swami Kripalu was held dear by those he served and highly respected by social leaders as a humanitarian saint.

At the age of 38, Swami Kripalu had a vision of his guru in which he was told that it was time to begin intensive yoga practice. The next day he began with three one-hour sittings of alternate nostril pranayama per day, gradually increasing these sittings to an hour and a half. Experimenting with his lifestyle, he observed that a moderate diet and periods of silence supported his practice. He soon experienced the awakening of prana and was amazed to witness his body spontaneously dance and perform hundreds of yoga postures, mudras and kriyas. Dropping all other practices, he surrendered to this process of spontaneous movement and believed that he had rediscovered the long-lost yoga of Lakulish. Increasing his practice to six and finally 10 hours a day, Swami Kripalu embarked on what would become 19 years of total silence. For the rest of his life, he ate one meal a day and spoke sparingly, generally writing replies to questions on a chalkboard. Shunning publicity, fed and housed by devotees who respected his need for solitude, he devoted his life to the practice, study and teaching of yoga.

Totally surrendering to the awakening of kundalini, Swami Kripalu passed through the stages of pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. But enlightenment was not his ultimate goal. Based upon encouragement he received in visions from his guru and bolstered by his exhaustive study of the scriptures, he believed that he was close to attaining a divine and immortal body purified by the fire of yoga. This pursuit became his obsession. Embracing the traditional Hindu view of birth as a fall from grace and human life as samsara, an endless cycle of birth and death that leads only to suffering, Swami Kripalu sought to leave this world behind through his sadhana. It is noteworthy, however, that he continued to serve humanity-rebuilding the Kayavorahan temple to house the stone idol of Lakulish, teaching a handful of disciples, writing inspirational books and occasionally making brief public appearances.

It's important to understand that although Kripalu Yoga is founded on Swami Kripalu's experiences and teachings, it is not a renunciate path based on the sudden and total surrender of the will to awakened energy. Kripalu Yoga was designed for people living an active life in the world. In Kripalu Yoga, the tools of yoga are employed willfully to purify and strengthen the body, release psychological tensions and awaken the flow of prana in the body. As prana awakens, an evolving dance of will and surrender begins and we activate a natural process that slowly but steadily leads to physical healing, psychological growth and spiritual awakening. During this awakening process, we remain active in the world.

Unlike most agrarian cultures of the past, we do not view the world as fixed in an endless and repeating cycle. We see that this circular movement has the potential to evolve and spiral upward in positive change. Unlike traditional Orthodox Hindus, we do not see birth as a fall from grace but rather hold human life as a precious opportunity to awaken. Our intention is not to leave the world behind but rather to live fully, radiating love, serving humanity and acting as catalysts to help transform our planet into a more conscious and compassionate place. As our practice of Kripalu Yoga matures and our awakening stabilizes, we are each empowered to embrace the divine mystery, expressing it in ways unique to us and appropriate to each of our lives. In the final analysis, Swami Kripalu was a bhakti yogi whose pure devotion to God and heartfelt service to humanity set him on a profound path of yoga sadhana. It's only fitting to end an article on Swami Kripalu with his words on love, taken from a discourse in 1980:

Truly, the wise proclaim that love is the only path, love is the only God, and love is the only scripture. Love brings unity by healing the painful split between the body, mind and heart. When these unite, one merges with the soul like the countless rivers and streams merge into the vast ocean. Whether the scripture you hold in your hand is the Vedas, the Bible or the Koran, it is trivial without love. Love is God's only envoy, the only worldwide religion, everyone's well-wisher and the true guru. Love is not far away. Love is as close as our hearts. We 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.

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

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