Sahaja Yoga

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Sahaja Yoga
Founder Nirmala Srivastava (aka Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi)
Established 1970
Practice emphases
kundalini awakening, meditation, self-realization[1]

Sahaja Yoga is a new religious movement founded by Nirmala Srivastava, more widely known as Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi or as "Mother" by her followers, who are called Sahaja yogis.[2] According to the movement, Sahaja Yoga is the state of self-realization produced by kundalini awakening and is accompanied by the experience of thoughtless awareness or mental silence.[3][4]

Sahaja Yoga is not only the name of the movement, but also the technique the movement teaches and the state of awareness achieved by the technique.[5] The movement teaches the belief that self-realization through kundalini awakening is a transformation which results in a more moral, united, integrated and balanced personality.

History[edit]

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi
(Nirmala Srivastava)

Sahaja Yoga started in India and England (where Nirmala Srivastava moved in 1974) and there are now Sahaja Yoga centres in almost 100 countries world-wide.[6] Srivastava charged no money, insisting that her lesson was a birthright which should be freely available to all. "There can be no peace in the world until there is peace within," she said.[7]

The word 'Sahaja' in Sanskrit has two components: saha meaning 'with' and ja meaning 'born'.[8] A Dictionary of Buddhism gives the literal translation of Sahaja as "innate" and defines it as "denoting the natural presence of enlightenment (bodhi) or purity."[9] and Yoga means union or yoking and refers to a spiritual path or a state of spiritual absorption. According to a book published by the movement, Sahaja Yoga means spontaneous and born with you meaning that the kundalini is born within us and can be awakened spontaneously, without effort.[3]

The term 'Sahaja Yoga' goes back at least to the 15th Century Indian mystic Kabir.[10] and has also been used to refer to Surat Shabd Yoga.[11]

In 2000 the term 'Sahaja Yoga' was trademarked in the United States by Vishwa Nirmala Dharma.[12]

Beliefs[edit]

Sahaja Yoga beliefs are seen by the organisation as a re-discovered ancient knowledge[13] that should be treated respectfully and scientifically, like an hypothesis[14] and if found by experiments as truth, should be accepted.[15]

Advanced concepts are not generally taught until a beginner is understood to have gained enough knowledge of their own subtle system through actual experience. Without direct experience of the meditation, some people have reported difficulties understanding or proceeding to the more advanced material. Sociologist, Judith Coney, for example, reported facing a challenge in getting behind what she called "the public facade".[n 1] She described Sahaja yogis as adopting a low profile with uncommitted individuals to avoid unnecessary conflict.[17]

Sahaja Yoga also states that spreading Sahaja Yoga techniques should be free for everyone.[18]

Judith Coney observed that the movement tolerates a variety of world views and levels of commitment with some practitioners choosing to remain on the periphery.[19]

The Subtle System – Chakras, Nadis and Void[edit]

Chakra Kundalini Diagram

Sahaja Yoga believes that in addition to our physical body there is a subtle body composed of nadis (channels) and chakras (energy centres). There is no biomedical evidence of chakras.[20] Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar writes that Nirmala Srivastava's additions to this widespread traditional 'tantric' model include giving it a scientific, neurological veneer, an elaboration of the health aspects and an introduction of notions of traditional Christian morality.[n 2] Nirmala Srivastava equates the Sushumna nadi with the parasympathetic nervous system, the Ida nadi with the left and the Pingala nadi with the right sides of the sympathetic nervous system.
The chakras as theorized in Sahaja Yoga are listed as follows:

Chakra Location in body Quality Associated deity
Mūlādhāra, मूलाधार (Also Mooladhara) Base of spine Innocence of an eternal child, holiness of mother, purity, wisdom, auspiciousness, magnetism, spontaneity (Sahaj), power to raise the kundalini Ganesha, Kartikeya
Swadhistana स्वाधिष्ठान Lower abdomen Pure knowledge, creativity, aesthetics, intellectual perception, pure attention, pure source of thinking Brahmadeva, Saraswati, Fatimah Zahra, Ali ibn Abi Talib
Nabhi/Manipura मणिपूर Solar plexus Contentment, the Ten Commandments, ethics, honesty, center of seeking, generosity, household qualities, respect for others Vishnu, Lakshmi
Void Stomach area Guru principle, self-mastery, discipline Janaka, Abraham, Lao Tse, Zoraster, Sai Baba of Shirdi, Moses, Socrates, Confucius, Mohammad, Guru Nanak
Anāhata, अनाहत Heart Self confidence, fearlessness, protection, development of anti-bodies, love, joy, to be the spirit, responsibility, divine aspects of fatherly and motherly qualities Shiva, Parvati, Durga, Rama, Sita
Viśuddhi, विशुद्ध (Viśuddha) Throat Collective consciousness, divine diplomacy, playful witness, omnipresence, purity of brother-sister relationship, self-respect, self witness, sweetness in sound, words, thoughts and behaviour Krishna, Radha, Vishnu Maya, Vitthala Rukmini
Agnya,आज्ञा Brain Thoughtless awareness, forgiveness Jesus Mary, Mahavira, Buddha
Sahasrāra, सहस्रार Fontanelle (top of head) Integration, collective consciousness, silence Adi Shakti, Holy Spirit, Mahdi, Kalki

The three Nadis(channels) with their respective deities and qualities are as follows:

Nadi or channel Quality Associated deity
Central Channel or Sushumna Nadi Being in the present, balance, morality Mahalakshmi
The Moon(left)Channel or Ida Nadi Pure desire Mahakali, Bhairava, Archangel Michael
The Sun(Right)Channel or Pingala Nadi The power of action Mahasaraswati, Hanuman, Archangel Gabriel

Kundalini, Self-Realization and vibratory awareness[edit]

Sahaja Yoga believes that the chakras can be balanced by awakening the kundalini in the sacrum bone, which is conceived of as a normally dormant 'mother' energy. Nirmala Srivastava has said that the kundalini is the reflection within us of the Holy Spirit or Adi (Primordial) Shakti. She has said that kundalini "is the desire of God.... and the desire of God is the Shakti"[22] and that yoga is impossible without kundalini awakening.[23] As the kundalini rises through these centres, the qualities of the chakras are said to begin manifesting spontaneously. Most illnesses are said to be a result of damage to the chakras, and kundalini is said to repair them.[22]

According to Sahaja Yoga, once the sahasrara (topmost) chakra is pierced by the kundalini, a person will feel a cool breeze on top of their head and/or on their hands.[24] The chakras and nadis are believed by Sahaja Yoga to have associated places on the hands. Sensations of heat or coolness in the hands, head and/or body are used to make purported diagnoses of imbalances in the different chakras and nadis.[25][26][27] These sensations (referred to as 'vibrations') are interpreted in Sahaja Yoga as indicating Self-Realization or an "encounter with Reality."[28] The vibrations sensed are believed to be an objective divine energy that can even be caught on camera.[29]

A Sahaja Yoga belief is that upon self-realization, the practitioner may also experience thoughtless awareness (Nirvichar Samādhi).[4]

Practices[edit]

According to followers, the practice of Sahaja Yoga results in spontaneous Self-realization[30] which, according to the official Sahaja Yoga website, can even be obtained online as one sits in front of one's computer.[31]

Practitioners are encouraged to regularly practice techniques which can strengthen the experience of self-realization. These include meditation and chakra cleansing techniques, as well as rituals found in other religious traditions such as prayer[32][33] and havan.[34] Practices by Sahaja yogis, rather than being just rituals, produce an actual experience of spiritual vibrations through the body.[35] Sahaja yogis emerge from these experiences in a pleasurable state, reporting feelings like increased mental clarity, being "blissed out" or filled with overwhelming love. Relief from pain or tiredness are also noted.[35]

Meditation[edit]

Sahaja Yoga meditation was developed during the 1970s[19] by Nirmala Srivastava, and is followed and promoted among and by the Sahaja Yoga movement. The practitioner's aim is to enter the state of "thoughtless awareness" – a state of relaxation and clarity.[36] Nirmala Devi has said that the establishment of thoughtless awareness in one's meditation is necessary before divine connection and spiritual growth can take place.[n 3][verification needed] According to the Sahaja Yoga website, meditation is not thinking "about your problems at all, whatever chakras you have, anything", rather it "means exposing yourself to God’s grace."[38]

In her Diwali talk in 2002, Nirmala Srivastava said that those who do not meditate cannot get the full advantage of Sahaja Yoga.[citation needed] Judith Coney wrote that practitioners who decide to leave the movement generally do so after not meditating for 6 months or more.[19]

The practice has been taught to prisoners in Italy and the United States, such as at Rikers Island as a form of prison contemplative program.[39] Nirmala Srivastava has said that the younger children practice meditation the better.[40]

Research on effects[edit]

Sahaja yoga meditation features a state called "mental silence" or "thoughtless awareness" (an aspect often not included in other meditation techniques). Users of this meditation have been shown to achieve clinically and statistically significant better levels of mental health, emotional health and general health when compared with the general population,[41][42] in work related stress, depressed feelings, and quality of life as compared to users of common stress management programs,[43][44] and to relaxing, listening to music or taking a short nap.[45][46] Sahaja meditation was also found, in comparison with a control, to have limited beneficial effects on the impact of asthma.[47]

Manocha et al. used temperature readings to verify that coolness experienced on the palms of the hands resulted from the Sahaja Yoga meditation technique.[48][unreliable medical source?] In a study of meditation the degree of skin temperature change correlated strongly with the meditator's self-reported experience of mental silence.[49] A small (n=59) 2002 randomized controlled trial found limited beneficial effects for some measures of the impact of asthma.[50]

There is no good evidence that Sahaja yoga, or any type of yoga, is effective in treating epilepsy.[51]

Organization[edit]

Vishwa Nirmala Dharma (trans: Universal Pure Religion, also known as Sahaja Yoga International) is the organizational part of the movement. It is a registered organisation in countries such as Colombia,[52] the United States of America,[53] and Austria.[54] It is registered as a religion in Spain.[55]

The organisation is governed by the World Council for the Advancement of Sahaja Yoga (WCASY), proposed in 2003 and formed the following year.[56][57]

In addition to directly promoting Sahaja Yoga, the council promotes Sahaja culture, runs schools, a health centre, a youth movement, and a project for the rehabilitation of "destitute women and orphaned children".

Schools[edit]

  • The International Sahaja Public School in Dharamsala founded in 1990, teaches around 250 international students annually and has accepted children from the age of 6.[58] India is said[by whom?] to be free from harmful Western influences, and children benefit from what is considered[by whom?] to be a more favourable environment.[8]
  • The Shri P.K.Salve Kala Pratishthan is an Indian Classical Music and Fine Arts academy that was founded in Vaitarna, India, in 2003.[59]
  • The Cabella Primary School in Italy will open in September 2008, with the children attending the local village school in Rocchetta Ligure.[60]
  • An international kindergarten was opened in Borotin, Czech Republic.[61]
  • A small kindergarten and primary boarding school was opened in Canajoharie, New York in 2004.[62] As of 2006 it had an enrolment of fourteen students from pre-kindergarten through grade 3.[63]
  • There has been a Sahaja Yoga school in Rome.[64]

Judith Coney wrote that the Sahaja Yoga school in Rome[64] accepted boarding infants from the age of 2.[58] Coney also reported the allegation that "when Swiss parents protested to Sri Mataji about their children going away from the age of three, thinking that the command to send their offspring came from the national leader rather than her, she personally reinforced his orders and, moreover, ordered them to have no contact with their children for at least a year."[58]

Health center[edit]

The organisation runs the International Sahaja Yoga Health and Research Centre in Mumbai, India, which uses Sahaja Yoga methods.

On 9 May 2007 a conference called Towards Sustainable Global Health was held. The conference was organised by the United Nations, UNESCO-UNEVOC and the University of Bonn. Sahaja Yoga was presented at a conference symposium by doctors from the Sahaja Yoga Research and Health Centre, Mumbai, India, Prof Katya Rubia, King’s College, London and others.[65]

Yuvashakti[edit]

Sahaja Yoga's youth movement is called "Yuvashakti" (also "Nirmal Shakti Yuva Sangha"), from the Sanskrit words Yuva (Youth) and Shakti (Power).

The movement is active in forums such as the World Youth Conference[66] and TakingITGlobal which aim at discussing global issues, and ways of solving them.

The Yuvashakti participated in the 2000 "Civil Society & Governance Project"[67] in which they were "instrumental in reaching out to women from the poor communities and providing them with work".

Vishwa Nirmal Prem ashram[edit]

The Vishwa Nirmala Prem Ashram is a not-for profit project by the NGO Vishwa Nirmala Dharma (Sahaja Yoga International) located in Noida, Delhi, India, opened in 2003. The ashram is a "facility where women and girls are rehabilitated by being taught meditation and other skills that help them overcome trauma".[68][69]

Funding[edit]

The methods for practising Sahaja Yoga are made available free of charge to those interested. According to the official Sahaja Yoga website there is a fee for attending international pujas to cover costs and voluntary dakshina.[70]

According to author David V. Barrett, "Shri Mataji neither charged for her lectures nor for her ability to give Self Realization, nor does one have to become a member of this organisation. She insisted that one cannot pay for enlightenment and she continued to denounce the false self-proclaimed 'gurus' who are more interested in the seekers' purse than their spiritual ascent". However, the movement had been criticised because of encouragement of its members to make donations to pay for Mataji's trips and "expensive properties".[71]

Cult allegations and refutations[edit]

The Parliamentary Commission on Cults in France included Sahaja Yoga on the list of groups it considered to be cults.[72]

A 2008 court case in Brussels ruled that Sahaja Yoga had been wrongly labelled as a cult by a Belgian state authority and awarded the group compensation.[73][74][75]

In 2013 De Morgen reported that the Belgian Department of State Security monitors how often politicians are contacted and lobbied by organisations it considers dangerous. The list of organisations includes Sahaja Yoga, as well as Scientology and The Muslim Brotherhood.[76]

In 2001, The Evening Standard reported that Sahaja Yoga has been "described as a dangerous cult" and "has a dissident website created by former members". The reporter, John Crace, wrote about an event he attended and noted that a Sahaja Yoga representative asked him to feel free to talk to whomever he wanted. He remarked, "Either their openness is a PR charm offensive, or they genuinely have nothing to hide." He proposed that "one of the key definitions of a cult is the rigour with which it strives to recruit new members" and concluded that there was no aggressive recruitment squeeze.[77]

Judith Coney found that most people who leave the movement voluntarily, still had positive things to say about it, and described a discussion she attended regarding the level of secrecy within the group in which Sahaja yogis discussed the ways in which some of their beliefs were disguised when in contact with non-members as "frank and revealing".[n 1][78] A smaller group of ex-members have made complaints against the movement which have been reported in the press. In 2001, The Independent reported that certain ex-members say "that Sahaja Yoga is a cult which aims to control the minds of its members".[79] In 2005, The Record reported that some critics who feel that the group is a cult have started their own websites.[80]

A 2001 INFORM leaflet says that the emphasis on complete devotion has led to problems and controversy. There is a culture amongst a minority of Sahaja yogis to believe that those who deviate in particular ways may be possessed by 'negativity' or may be said to be mentally abnormal. Those who fight the pressure to follow the Guru's suggestions and radically change their lifestyle risk being expelled. It is claimed that this may bring problems for those who still believe in the power of the Guru and fear 'losing vibrations'.[8] This expulsion is not enforced but is something understood socially and other yogis are not expected to change the way they react to those who have been expelled. It is also not a permanent expulsion; there have been cases of returning Sahaja yogis following brief periods 'out'.

David V. Barrett wrote that some former members say that they were expelled from the movement because they "resisted influence that Mataji had over their lives". According to Barrett, the movement's founder's degree of control over members' lives has given rise to concerns.[71] The Austrian Ministry for Environment, Youth and Family states that "Sahaja Yoga" regards Nirmala Srivastava as an authority who cannot be questioned.[81]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Judith Coney wrote in her book Sahaja Yoga: Socializing Processes in a South Asian New Religious Movement, "Finally, throughout the study I faced the challenge of getting Sahaja yogis to let me get behind the public facade. This was achieved with varying degrees of success. On one fortunate occasion, for instance, I attended a national puja, after which there was an extremely frank and revealing discussion of why Sahaja Yoga had been seen as a cult in a particular press article and of the level of secrecy in the group. There I listened to a number of speakers talk about the ways in which they disguised some of their beliefs when in contact with non-members."[16]
  2. ^ Sudhir Kakar wrote in his book Shamans, Mystics and Doctors, "Essentially, Mataji's model of the human psyche is comprised of the traditional tantric and hatha yoga notions of the subtle body, with its 'nerves' and 'centers,' and fuelled by a pervasive 'subtle energy' that courses through both the human and the divine, through the body and the cosmos. Mataji's contributions to this ancient model are not strikingly original: as a former medical student she has sought to give it a scientific, neurological veneer; as a former faith healer, she has elaborated upon those aspects of the model that are concerned with sickness and health; as someone born into an Indian Christian family she has tried to introduce notions of traditional Christian morality into an otherwise amoral Hindu view of the psyche."[21]
  3. ^ Nirmala Srivastava said in 2002, "Main thing is your connection with the Divine is only possible when you meditate and become thoughtlessly aware. That’s the point where your mind works, it helps. It comes to your help in such a way that you don’t know how you have achieved it. So thoughtless awareness is the first point all of you should achieve – very important. After that, we can achieve something else, but the first step is thoughtless awareness. It’s very important to become thoughtlessly aware because then there are no thoughts coming from the left or the right, from the past or the future. Just in the present you are there. It’s something you all have, it’s not that I’m saying that to you, but all of you have this, but steady yourself. You have to steady yourself at thoughtless awareness. How long – that’s not the point. The point is once you’ve touched it, you’ll go on touching it." [37]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Srivastava, Nirmala (1997) Meta Modern Era, (Vishwa Nirmala Dharma) ISBN 81-86650-05-9
  • Pullar, Philippa (1984) The Shortest Journey, ISBN 0-04-291018-8
  • Coney, Judith (1995). "'Belonging to a Global Religion': The Sociological Dimensions of International Elements in Sahaja Yoga". Sociological Analysis 10 (2): 109–20. doi:10.1080/13537909508580732. 
  • Rai, Umesh (1993) Medical science enlightened: new insight into vibratory awareness for holistic health care (New Delhi: Life Eternal Trust) ISBN 81-900325-0-X
  • Descieux, Flore (1995) The Light of the Koran: Knowledge through Sahaja Yoga (Paris: La Pensee Universelle, 1995; English translation: New Delhi: Ritana Books, 1998) ISBN 81-85250-02-6
  • Apte, Arun (1997) Music and Sahaja Yoga (Pune: NITL)
  • de Kalbermatten, Gregoire (2003) The Third Advent (New York: daisyamerica, 2003; Melbourne: Penguin Australia, 2004; Delhi: Penguin India, 2004) ISBN 1-932406-07-7
  • Powell, Nigel (2004) Meditation: The Joy of Spiritual Self Knowledge Through Sahaja Yoga Meditation (Corvalis Publishing) ISBN 0-9548519-0-0
  • List of research papers, conferences and publications relating to the Sahaja Yoga research and health center.

External links[edit]