“Kundalini” literally means coiling, like a snake. In the classical literature of hatha yoga kundalini is described as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine. The image of coiling, like a spring, conveys the sense of untapped potential energy.
Perhaps more meaningfully kundalini can be described as a great reservoir of creative energy at the base of the spine. It’s not useful to sit with our consciousness fixed in our head and think of kundalini as a foreign force running up and down our spine. Unfortunately the serpent image may serve to accentuate this alien nature of the image. It’s more useful to think of kundalini energy as the very foundation of our consciousness so that when kundalini moves through our bodies our consciousness necessarily changes with it.
The concept of kundalini can also be examined from a strictly psychological perspective. From this perspective kundalini can be thought of as a rich source of psychic or libidinous energy in our unconscious.
In the classical literature of Kashmir Shaivism kundalini is described in three different manifestions. The first of these is as the universal energy or para-kundalini. The second of these is as the energizing function of the body-mind complex or prana-kundalini. The third of these is as consciousness or shakti-kundalini which simultaneously subsumes and intermediates between these two. Ultimately these three forms are the same but understanding these three different forms will help to understand the differerent manifestations of kundalini.
Awareness of kundalini
If you believe that kundalini is at the basis of spiritual progress then every valid spiritual tradition must have some awareness of kundalini. Christianity (especially Quakerism and Pentecostalism), Sufism, Qabalistic mysticism, alchemy and magick all have literature which demonstrates some awareness of the kundalini process but these traditions are not, to this author’s awareness, so open in their exposition of the techniques and so it is hard to judge the depth of understanding latent in these traditions. Nevertheless, the imagery is so unmistakable in these traditions that each must have, at least at one time, been conversant with the movement of kundalini.
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Kundalini yoga simply to improve health
Yoga exercises which were traditionally used to purify the body in preparation for awakening the kundalini can also be used simply to improve the health. To practice techniques aimed at actively awakening kundalini with the goal of simply improving your health seems to be a misuse of these powerful techniques.
There are those that teach kundalini yoga principally emphasizing its benefits on health without much discussion of the spiritual benefits. This is how hatha yoga has been taught in the west for some time. The affect of this approach depends on the attitude of the student. There is certainly nothing wrong with trying to improve your health but there is a tension between awakening an energy that will ultimately burn up the ego and trying to shape that energy to simply fulfill an ego-oriented motive.
Kundalini signs and symptoms
Many individuals whose Kundalini has been unexpectedly unleashed DO NOT KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING, and the prevailing social ignorance about this multidimensional transformative process makes it hard to find medical or alternative health practitioners or spiritual advisors who recognize the symptoms, particularly when they are strongly physical. Many people know that the risen Kundalini flings open gates to all sorts of mystical, paranormal and magical vistas but few realize it can also dramatically impact the body. A large percentage of our old Shared Transformation newsletter subscribers reported long bouts of strange illness as well as radical mental, emotional, interpersonal, psychic, spiritual and lifestyle changes. Over and again we hear stories of frustrating, sometimes desperate visits to doctors, healers, counselors, etc. who neither understood nor were able to help with the myriad pains and problems catalyzed by raging Kundalini.
The kundalini spiral
We began the exploration of the subject of prana by discussing the spiral movement of energy in cosmic consciousness. We mentioned that there is a stress point that arises in consciousness which causes a particle of energy to go out into orbit. We said that if the particle returns to the source, the circle is complete, and the movement can no longer be erratic, and you have pure consciousness, what people call “God, ” or the “Divine. ” We also mentioned that the word “Kundalini” is merely another name for the cosmic life force, which is all pervading. The cosmic life force, or, prana, passes through certain fields of consciousness. When it does so, there is movement. Why the movement misses its starting point, and spirals out and away from its center is something that I cannot know. It happens. That’s all that can be said.
People may ask: “What is my relationship to the Kundalini?” Perhaps they would do better to ask: “What does the Kundalini have to do with the individual?” These two are different questions, because the “individual” and “me” are different also. If one has an accident in which there is much brain damage, there is no “me” left, but only an “individual. ” This difference is enormous. The “individual” is “indivisible duality”, something which cannot be divided. The ‘me’ is division itself!
The spiral, because of its consentience with a certain consciousness, sankalpa, functions as an individual. The Kundalini energy is not my energy. There is no such thing as “my Kundalini. ” The Kundalini has nothing to do with my being, it’s purely of being! The notion of “free will” has nothing to do with the Kundalini. You cannot take a certain yoga posture, and will the Kundalini energy to rise. The ego-sense, with all its comrades are the obstructions, or veils, that make the Kundalini apparently dormant. You’ve no doubt heard someone talk about the “dormant Kundalini” or the “sleeping Kundalini. ” The Kundalini can never be asleep! Energy can be static, but never asleep. It’s not even possible, not even hypothetically. To suggest, for example, that light is ever dormant would be absurd. Light can be eclipsed, or, one may not be able to see it with the naked eye for one reason or another, but is not capable of being dormant. In the same way, the Kundalini, by virtue of its definition as cosmic energy, cosmically manifest in infinite ways and in infinite places, can never become dormant.
When the Kundalini energy misses the first full circle, it becomes lost. The individual assumes: “I am lost.” The Kundalini begins to look for its own completion, and the apparent individual consciousness assumes: “I am looking to find completion!”, but, unfortunately, moves farther and farther away from completion all the time. And as it goes on spiraling, however, there is, at the same time, a constant pull towards the center.
Take the simple analogy of a lake. A lake is made up of water. The lake water evaporates from the lake, and goes up into the air. If, for example, the weather is suitable and the vapor becomes rain, it comes back to the lake immediately, and the circle is completed without any problem. On the other hand, if the vapor gets carried to a nearby mountain, and conditions turn it into snow, the mountain might hold the water for some time. However, sooner or later, the sun will warm up that snow, and it is bound to melt. It will start to dribble down the mountain, drop by drop, slowly becoming a stream, and it will eventually find its way back to its source.
The Kundalini spiral is like the water from the lake. Despite its erratic movement, there is a constant pull towards the center that will eventually bring it back to its point of origin. It is one of the most vital messages of yoga. Namely, that there is no such thing as eternal damnation. It may take you one hundred years; it may take you one hundred lifetimes, but having left the source, the constant pull towards the center will bring you back.
The constant gravitational pull towards the center (not the return, but the pull) is not exerted in a straight line; it’s that of a spiral. As the energy spirals, it moves down pathways that form the spiral from the top of the head to the base. These “channels” are themselves the psychic nerve-current which the yogis call the “nadis.” The nadis are like radio waves in the sense that they are not visible to the eye. “Nadi” is often translated as “nerve, ” but the root meaning is simply “motion. ” A nadi is simply energy in motion. The energy (prana) is in motion, and the streams of energy in motion themselves are the nadis.
How many nadis are there? Some have suggested that there are seventy-two thousand nadis. Others put the count at three hundred and fifty thousand. The nadi being sheer energy in motion, I doubt if there is any way to determine how many there are. Yogis say that all of the nadis come together at certain points in the human body. What is meant by that? All that can inferred is that the waves of energy keep pouring through the body, and that as they crisscross, the waves of energy meet each other at certain major junctions in what we have agreed to call the solid human body.
Is the body solid? How solid is it? X- rays pass through it. Perhaps it is not really solid, but only an apparent modification of energy. The apparently solid human body, they say, is permeated by thousands of nadis, thousands of pourings of energy. of them, one hundred and one are thought to be major, but only three are thought to be principal. These are: the Ida nadi the pingala nadi, and the sushumna nadi .
The prana can take a central route which yogis refer to as the sushumna. Normally, the prana is not able to flow through the central channel but must crisscrosses it from left to right and from right to left. As the energy spirals to the left, prana is said to be flowing in the Ida nadi. The ida nadi is also regarded as the “chandra nadi” or “moon nadi” because when flow is on the left side, the lunar force is considered to be dominant. When spiral comes around to the right, the energy is said to flow in the pingala nadi; regarded as the “surya nadi” or “sun nadi” because when on the right, the energy is considered to be dominated by the solar force.
Hatha yoga is the “coming together” of the solar and the lunar forces. When the division between the “Ha” or “moon” and the “Tha” or “sun” disappears; all distracted movement ceases; all wastage of energy ceases, and the prana is able to flow through the center channel, the sushumna. When this happens, the prana has discovered the direct path back to its center, and can return directly to its source. The movement of energy then ceases to be multidirectional. Its movement is unto itself, which is really no movement at all.
When there is no movement at all, there is no sense of space. If you go back to what we said about the very first arc of the spiral, you will remember that it was mentioned that energy has the power to move, and that by a process of expansion, there is the notion of a sense of space. It’s a bit tricky to understand this properly. In pure consciousness, there is no space! Space is only brought into being by movement. In deep sleep, for example, there is no space at all. Likewise, when there is total quiescence, or oneness, space does not exist at all. It is not that the first movement of energy creates space; the first movement of energy in consciousness is space! That first movement, itself, is space!
As the spiral gyrates, the elements are brought into being. It is not difficult to understand how this comes about. The first movement itself is space. The next movement, which brings it to the second arc, is movement in space. What is movement in a specific combination of hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, but merely a field, a field of “something” which the yogis have space? Movement in space is movement in air; not the air which is conveniently called “air. ” This is the very simple reason why the yogis say that the element “air” has been created at the second arc, or chakra. The creation of the next element is equally easy to understand. As the expansion of the spiral, as it moves in space, faces inevitable collision (various gases, etc. ), and the collision itself brings about friction which creates heat and, therefore, fire. This is why the yogis say the spiral brings about the element of f ire at the third chakra. Further movement of the spiral brings further collision, and a reaction very much like one in a chemical laboratory when, say, hydrogen and oxygen are mixed to explode into combination, and water is formed. The water element begins to precipitate, and in the next chakra forms ice, a solid. That solid water, in a manner of speaking, becomes the earth element.
The same spiral of energy gyrates, and brings about all these elements. And so, it is not appropriate to suggest that all these elements, earth, water, and air are separate, and only to be found in separate locations and nowhere else. Very much like switching on a transistor radio, tuning it to one station that receives Vancouver, then to another that receives Seattle, and realizing that one antenna is able to receive all stations, and further that the radio wave energy is laden with all these frequencies (the difference only being the tuning), the difference between the earth element and the water element is not truly a spatial difference; it is one of dimension, and that both elements are, in truth, the same.
In Vedanta, you will find the word “tanmatra. ” It expresses a theory which is rather difficult and complicated to explain. In brief, the tanmatra is the word for the basic element. The tanmatra is as yet undifferentiated, and so it cannot be seen. According to this theory, water is not water; it has, in addition to its qualities as water, some solid substance in it. They would also say that water has heat or fire in it, as well as air, as well as space, that, in fact, it occupies space. In other words, there is no such thing as pure water element; pure water element is only a concept. The same would be true of earth. Earth is only a vibration, a movement of energy, a certain form of energy which is experienced on a certain dimension. The same energy looked at from another dimension “becomes” water, and so on.
In Hatha yoga, you are asked to contemplate each one of the chakras. It is therefore important to remember that each one of the chakras are not fixed physical factors, like fixed ganglia, but are also spiritual in nature. They are psychic centers, and each one represents not only one of the elements, but, in turn each element can be interpreted cosmologically, metaphysically, and even psychologically. There is a lot of symbolism connected to these chakra centers.
Before we proceed with the study of the chakras, something further need be said. As we proceed, and you find yourself confronted by a discrepancy between what you hear and what you have already heard ( “He says one thing, and she another. ” –that kind of thing–) don’t get frustrated and give up. Someone may say that the second chakra is located near the sexual organs, while another may say it is near the spleen. What’s the difference? It’s somewhere down there, forget about that. The third chakra is called the manipura, but you will find some very respectable yoga texts claiming that the second chakra is the manipura.
Again, what’s the difference? I need not lose all respect for this just because one person calls it one thing, and another person calls it something different. Instead, realize that we are talking about something which is beyond description. Only the description will vary; the truth cannot. You are attempting to discover something with the senses that is beyond the senses. Naturally it will elude you! Instead of calling your quest rubbish and dropping the whole thing, enter into this spirit:
“Ah, I see that my mind is struggling, because it cannot find an adequate expression for this. All right, I will reach out beyond expression in order to see this truth.
There is no need to caught up with any particular ideology. It is unfortunate that many consider the chakras merely Hindu theology. Actually many Hindus do not believe in what we are discussing. And while it is true that the majority of the material on the chakras shows a Hindu influence, it is not necessary to get caught up in Hindu theology in order to contemplate the chakras.
All of this can be seen in a more neutral perspective, a perspective that is not entirely ideological, neither entirely psychological, nor entirely physiological, but a composite of the total truth. When such is your perspective, the chakras are able to act as a window. Seeing through that window does not, in itself, show you the whole truth; the view is definitely limited. Yet, the view out a window can let you see the sky, even if it is only a portion of that sky. Once you have seen what the sky looks like, it might be possible to climb out of the window, and seeing it in its entirety, be at one with the sky.
Although the chakras are considered to be in the central most pathway, the “channel” where we located the sushumna, the chakras are, in effect, located only in certain planes. They are not necessarily associated with certain organs of the human body though they have been associated or identified with some organs. Each one of these centers may be seen as a point on a radio receiving dial which puts the whole receiving set in tune with a certain broadcasting station.
What makes this possible is that the spiral of energy touches me at one point, where the microcosmic arc is formed, and the entire universe at the point of contact, the macrocosmic arc. Since the microcosmic arc is connected to the macrocosmic arc, the spiral envelops the entire cosmos at each arc formed. When each element is encountered, it is encountered on both on the microcosmic and the macrocosmic level. By contacting this particular principle in chakra meditation, one can get in tune with the entire universe. The chakras are windows on the cosmos.
In this way, each one of these centers takes you beyond the ‘me. ‘ This does not happen in me; it is the macrocosmic arc, which at one point seems to touch the microcosmic arc. As we have said, it is not “my Kundalini. ” The very expression is absurd. Kundalini is cosmic power, which functions on seven cosmic planes. The individual is just one small speck of dust, floating in space. Since this speck of dust happens to be part of this cosmic being, the Kundalini is relevant to it also.
Let’s look at the way yogis have described these centers, and examine some of the symbolism. The first chakra, the muladhara, located near the point where the body comes into contact with the earth is called the earth center. Simple enough, and yet people make such big fuss over the name “earth center. ” Drawings of this chakra show petals or radii, which represent the four directions a very good symbol for meditating upon. As with all of the chakras, there is also a geometric pattern that is meant to represent the particular element, in this case, earth. A yellow square represents the earth element (Don’t ask why it is a yellow square. If there is a mystic significance, please find it out yourself!).
Each chakra has a sound, a mystic syllable called a bija mantra associated with it. The bija for earth is’ lam’, which sounds like “land. ” I hope you find it interesting that here we have two different languages, one ancient and one modern, both using the same sound symbol: “lam” or land
The bija “lam” has all sorts of meanings ascribed to it, but it is hardly necessary to go into it when your most meaningful one is “land. ”
Each chakra has also an animal associated with it. The muladhara, is associated with a elephant. The reason is obvious. An elephant is strong, sturdy, and firm, unmoving. You are meant to sit there, and feel: “Ah, I as firm and unmoving as the elephant! ” Drawings of the chakras also have a god and goddess in them, so that you can meditate upon them, and their deeper significance, each chakra having a different god and goddess to represent it. It’s interesting to note that you will find different versions of what gods and goddesses belong with the various chakras .
Arthur Avalon, for example, in his book Serpent Power, one of the few as well as one of the best texts on Kundalini, ascribes some different deities, and some tantric texts, give yet another version. The variance as to what god and goddess presides should denote that the truth regarding its significance is to be discovered by you.
Some of you may wonder how you are going to remember all the details that are mentioned, and how you are going to avoid leaving these out of your visualization and contemplation. The answer is simple. Don’t start off trying to visualize everything. In the beginning, take just one aspect, and try to visualize that. You can draw upon this wealth of detail a little at a time, and add to your visualization as you continue. Visualization is a great aid to concentration. If one learns the art of concentration, which is the power to focus the attention (not the mind, but the attention), then complete attention can be focused in one of these centers.
What I find of particular interest in chakra meditation is the so-called psychological aspect, because it seems that there already is, in each one of us, a built-in conditioning resulting from an already established association of ideas. For instance look at the chakra element itself. What do you associate earth with? The earth element has both a positive and negative associations. On the positive side, earth is associated with firmness, determination, and perseverance.
On the negative side, there is coarseness, grossness. The water element is associated with that which is life giving, adaptive. It can also be associated with that which takes the path of least resistance, and therefore, that person who is not capable of standing up for anything. Fire also has its own built in psychological associations: either zealousness or impulsiveness, either warmth, as in the positive warmth of our relationships, or great heat, as a temper that is destructive. The air element is also freely associated with that which is life giving. Air also has the ability to blow dust, dirt and any impurities away. The same wind can blow hither and thither. This is associated with aimless wandering, and being flippant and unstable. Is your life like this?
Obviously there are going to be traits that you wish to augment, and traits that you would like restrained. The attention can be focused upon each chakra, and you can work upon these psychological qualities one at a time. At the very least, you can become aware of these qualities in yourself, be they noble, or not so noble, and that in itself is significant.
We have discussed the maj or principles of the chakras. You have the opportunity to investigate these further. Let’s recapitulate the symbols, associations, and qualities of the muladhara, attempting to include some details that we may have overlooked. Then we will move on to list the symbols and characteristics of the remaining chakras.
The muladhara is located at the mouth of the sushumna below the genitals, and above the: anus, in the perineum. It has four blood-red petals with the letters yam, sam sam and sam on them. It contains the symbol of earth which is the yellow square, and the 1 ines which constitute this square end in a trident. Within this is the red seed-syllable (the bija mantra) ‘lam’. The baby creator of the universe, Brahma, dwells in it; he has four arms and four faces and rides an elephant. His color is of the rising sun. In it also dwells the goddess Dakini who has red eyes: she is the bestower of the highest knowledge.
About an inch above this is the terminal of the vajara-nadi. In it there is a triangle with the svayambhu-linga, the symbol of life associated with procreative energy. It is here that the Kundalini-shakti dwells with her three and one-half coils wound around the linga, and her mouth closing on the bramha-nadi. The second chakra, the svadhisthana, is located in the region of the genitals. It has six petals of vermilion color, and on them are the six letters of the Sanskrit alphabet with the character m superimposed upon them, i. e., bam, bham, mam, yam, ram, and lam. The symbol for the water element is a crescent moon, white in color, and in it is depicted the crocodile carrying the bija mantra ‘vam’ which is also a symbol for water, and is, in this case, a symbol for immortality in that the water of the svadhistana is also associated with the genital area and the sexual reproductive process. The presiding deity of this center is the protector Vishnu, blue-bodied and clad in yellow, with four arms. The presiding female deity is Rakini, who is also blue in color. (Some have mentioned that he who meditates on this chakra can be freed from the ego-sense.)
Above the svadhisthana, in the navel region is the center known as the manipura. It is of the dark color of a rain cloud. In its ten petals are found the letters dam, dham, nam tam, tham dam, dham, nam, pam, and pham. The element of fire is represented by a radiant triangle of the color of the rising sun; within the red triangle a ram (the animal), and on it is inscribed the bija mantra ‘ram’. The presiding deity is Rudra, who is vermilion color with ashes smeared over the body. He has three eyes, and his hands symbolize the boon of fearlessness that he grants to his devotee. The female deity is the four-armed, dark-complexioned, yellow-clad Lakini. Examples of the positive psychological attributes of fire are: vireo determination, ardency of affection and fiery speaking powers. The negative association is a fiery temper.
The anahata chakra is in the heart-lung region. It is red in color, and on its twelve petals are the letters kam, kham, gem, gham, nam, cam, cham, jam, jham, nam, tam, and tham, In the center of the chakra, the element of air is represented by a smokey hexagon. The smokey hexagon may also symbolize the coming together or meeting point of the divine and the human in which human aspiration meets divine grace. Above this smokey hexagon is the sun with the radiance of “ten million lightning flashes. ” The bija mantra for air, ‘yam’, is seated on top of a black deer. The presiding deity is the three-eyed Siva who holds his two hands in a gesture of granting boons and dispelling fear. The female deity is the four-armed Kakini of a golden color.
The visuddha chakra is at the base of the throat. It has sixteen petals of smokey purple color on which are inscribed the sixteen vowels of the Sanskrit alphabet: am, am, im, im, um, us ra, rm, lm, lm, em, aim, om, aum, a, h. The bija mantra ‘ham’ is given for the element of space, and it sits in the middle of a pure white full moon. The moon shines even though it is surrounded by total darkness. The presiding deity is Sadasiva seated upon a bull; he has a hermaphrodite form, with half his body as white as snow, and the other half golden. He has five faces and ten arms. He is clad in tiger skin, and his body is smeared in ashes. He wears a garland of snakes. The female deity is the white Sakini, four-armed, five-faced and three-eyed, clad in yellow. This chakra also has an elephant upon which the space mantra ‘ham’ sits. The elephant symbolizes the fact that no one can move space. Space is firmly rooted, established, immovable.
The last chakra is the ajna chakra. It is located in the forehead. Color cannot exist here; there is only bright light, which the texts say is like lightning. There are two petals upon which the letters ham and ksam appear. The animal associated with this center is not an animal as such; it is the mind, consciousness. The mantra for this chakra is the sacred monosyllable ‘om’ . There is only a female deity, Hakini, who is also white, and has six red colored faces, each with three eyes. She has six arms and is seated upon a white lotus. Above her is a triangle which gives off the light which is like lightning. Above this, in another triangle, is the self, in whose luminosity everything from the muladhara right up to the crown of the head is visible. It is not possible for the human to ascend or even aspire beyond the ajna chakra . When one reaches the ajna chakra, when the energy has been withdrawn into it, then it is offered up to the Supreme to be taken over.
This process is called “laya” or “return to the source, ” and by this, that which has gone out into orbit has returned to its source. The yoga texts have some beautiful descriptions of this. Since we have already described each chakra, we can briefly go over the process also. Starting off, one enters meditation on the muladhara. There, one finds the mantras that are inscribed on the petals. One goes on in contemplation of these sound symbols until they become withdrawn into the bija mantra for the muladhara: ‘ lam’.
When that happens, the yogi shifts his attention to the svadhistana-chakra. There the yogi contemplates the entire earth (not just this silly Earth, but all earth everywhere), having been dissolved into water. The water element has six petals, and six mantras. One contemplates them in the same fashion as before until there is nothing but pure water, and all merges in water’s own mantra: ‘vam’ When this is complete, the radii rest in the center.
This is the process by which the energy ascends towards its source. There are ceremonies, which are meant to be followed also. One repeats at every stage, “I worship the god in this chakra. ” Why does one do that? One does it to be reminded that it is not your will that makes this happen, but the Divine alone that does all this. Thus, the ego-sense is kept in check at every step in the process. One offers oneself to the deity knowing that guidance and grace are necessary.
From the svadhisthana, one ascends to the manipura. There one contemplates all the mantes, the colors, the symbols, until consciousness is completely and totally merged into the bija mantra for fire: ‘ram’. When the consciousness ascends up to the next stage, it spreads out into the twelve petals of the anahata chakra. One goes on in contemplation there. When all consciousness is merged with the “air” bija mantra ‘yam’, then one hands oneself to the Divine power in order to ascend to the vissudha chakra.
If you add up all the petals, including the final two in the Ajna, you get fifty radii in all. These compose the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. Fifty multiplied by twenty is one thousand. Why multiply by twenty, you ask? Why not? You can multiply by fifty if you like. There is really no rhyme or reason as to how they come up with that figure.
The seventh center, the Sahasrara becomes “the thousand petaled lotus” which rests above the six centers. The Sahasrara is the lotus, white in color, and has its face downwards. Deep within it is a huge triangle within which is a great void. It is the bindu or the blue pearl which grants liberation. In it is the Supreme Being, the self of all. Therefore, the Sahasrara is neither considered to be a chakra nor a center of consciousness; it is beyond; it is the beyond! No one talks about it.
This is the process of laya, where all the elements are withdrawn and absorbed. Some have suggested that you can omit contemplation of the lower two chakras. Others say that this would be ineffective because that would be ignoring vital operative elements of our being: “What is a human being, after all, if not these bottom three chakras? Are humans detached from eating, or sex, or other aspects of earthly existence? ”
And yet, if you are caught up in these, you will be expending your energies there, and not have any left with which to look towards the Divine. On the other hand, there is no sense in suddenly trying to jump into this process at the Anhata-chakra.