‘Yoga of action is the action of yoga, but above all, yoga within action.’
kriyā yoga, which is mostly translated as ‘the yoga of action’, is a process brought to life by three viewpoints: discipline, listening to what lies deep within us, and trust in Life.
Far from being a simple ‘know-how’, kriyā yoga is an attitude, an engagement, putting oneself into play without submission, stepping out of our habitual patterns and finding a freedom of choice in the action, by using three supports, three points of view, in interaction.
An adventure into the unknown, an invitation to step out of a narrow way of looking at ourselves and at life; a path to freedom to be undertaken by body, head and heart, putting ourselves into play.
Sanskrit text and translation
tapaḥ - svādhyāya - īśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ
discipline self- reflection surrender to īśvara yoga of action
Discipline, self-reflection (and) surrender to īśvara (constitute) yoga of action.
tapas svādhyāya īśvara-pranidhāna kriyā
tapaḥ - svādhyāya - īśvarapraṇidhānāni (composite word in the nominative plural)
tapas: discipline, warmth, ardour, practice
√tap: to heat, to cook, to burn
sva-adhyāya: to come close to oneself, self-reflection
sva: the self, oneself
adhyāya: to come close, to go into something, reading
√i: aller, venir to go, to come (the ‘i’ becomes ‘y’)
ā°: close, up to, to go or to return
īśvara-pranidhāna: a īśvara surrender to īśvara, to orientate towards īśvara
īśvara: ‘master’, supreme god, Life
√īs: to be master of, to reign, to be able to + √vr: to choose
pranidhāna: surrender, inclination, deep meditation
pra-ni√dhā: to put/to place, to place before [something/something], to approach, to consider
pra°: towards the front, to engage [in]
ni°: towards the bottom, within
kriyā-yogaḥ (composite word in the nominative singular)
kriyā-yoga: yoga of action
kriyā: activity, to set in motion a process which cleanses and transforms
√kr: to make or do, to act
yoga: the act of linking, union
√yuj: to link, to unite, to join, to meditate
« tapas, svādhyāya (and) īśvara-pranidhāna (constitute) kriyā-yoga »
Reading the sūtra
Stepping away from a co-dependent relationship with ourself, opening up this relationship… kriyā-yoga suggests three external supports to investigate, discover and enter into an unknown territory: tapas, svādhyāya and īśvarapraṇidhānā.
The first aspect is concerned with the quality of the action.
To practise tapas is to act, not in order to do something, but to learn how to act differently, without being trapped, and to discover a range of choice within the action.
Giving myself to the practice, staying with it and letting myself cook (tap), be shaken up, confronted and transformed by it.
The second support examines knowledge of ourselves.
The practice transforms me, and so it’s possible for me to come closer to myself, not to fall into introspection, but so that I can recognise what is living within the deepest part of myself, put it into the world, embody it, and see what that means for me and for the world.
The third aspect is an enquiry into the meaning of life.
īśvara is the LIFE of the world, the carrier of all living and free relationships, at the source of all knowledge and all teaching.
Surrendering to īśvara implies not only a non-attachment to the fruits of the action and not focussing on the result, but also, and above all, trusting in what lies beyond me, in what's the source of Life, beyond all the forms of my life.
It is not necessary to pursue all three at once but, by following one thread, to allow it to lead me towards the other two and to nourish little by little that which makes me free and complete (whole).
Interpretation and commentary
To move towards yoga, by means of yoga…
The action in yoga described in this aphorism can lead us towards the state of yoga, or, how I can, with what I am, be with what is.
kriyā yoga is a process of transformation, of reorganisation within the body, the breath and the mind, in order to move into new territory, body and soul.
Acting puts us into the world, weaves our relationship with the world and it is the quality of our action which determines if the weave imprisons us, or if it sustains the state of yoga.
By acting, we learn: practising the yoga of action is to act in order to learn, and to act differently…
Acting differently changes our way of seeing, and this way of seeing determines, in a virtuous circle, a new way of acting…
This is to takes support on a discipline, to take seriously a support outside of ourselves, without submitting to it, remaining free in relation to it.
This kind of discipline, if we work with it, and really live it, ‘cooks’ us, transforms us, clarifies, simplifies the confused relationships at work within us. In this way, we can let go of preconceived experiences and received ideas.
If the practice addresses itself to an innocence and a freedom already present in us, tapas opens the way into the unknown of ourselves, beyond an already-established saṁyoga.
This is travelling solo, taking an internal support seriously, coming close to oneself, listening out for what is emerging from the source of Life at the most intimate level of ourselves. It is to reflect on the meaning of our own life, of our deepest desires, beyond all analysis or explanation.
It’s not a matter of exploring all our secret gardens, but of listening to what we feel like doing and responding: acting, putting what we discover within us out into the world. Taking small steps and seeing what that means for ourselves and the world.
It is a relationship of freedom with ourselves: a listening which is ready to discover the carrier of life in us, beyond any saṁyoga, which can reveal us to ourselves and carry us from the inside.
A mystery, coming to help us.
This is trusting in Life which carries all living relationships.
It is a way of being which allows me to look at my life in accordance with the meaning of Life, from the point of view of eternity.
Stepping away from my self-preoccupation, no longer cut off from the world; stepping back from my saṁyoga, I have the objectivity needed to experience the first two aspects of the yoga of action and to have a wider perspective on Life.
‘Allowing my locked fortress to be broken into, letting myself be frisked by life and by what is deep inside me. The two form a pair and are mutually clarifying.’
‘Bending before Life which surpasses the life in me is to trust in the carrier of all living relationships – that which allows my life to unfold. It is a trust in that which can carry and give meaning to the relationship between what is deep inside me and what I encounter in my life on the outside.’
īśvarapraṇidhānā is a deep acceptance of my humanity; it is a rediscovery of who is within me. It is not simply being aware that something transcends me, but to give my life to Life.’