by Peter Holleran
The kundalini is a widespread yet 'mystifying' topic. Many speak of it, but few can say with precision exactly what it is, what must happen with it, or what a would-be spiritual aspirant must do with it. Are we to be as "Clark Kent Ji, mild mannered sadhu for a great metropolitan ashram, able to leap tall chakras at a single bound...", or may we be unconcerned with the whole thing?
[Note: this article was written in stages, rambles more than a little bit, and still needs editorial work; keeping that in mind, and reading all the links, we feel it nevertheless contains enough food for thought that it may prove to be of value].
Some sages and traditions say that for spiritual realization the kundalini or 'serpent power' must 'awaken', ascend up the spine and reach the sahasrar chakra at the top of the head and merge therein. Others teach, no, the sahsrar center is only the beginning
of a much higher ascending path where kundalini is left behind. Still others argue that the kundalini and the mind must then also descend from the sahasrar back down into the formless heart on the right. Finally, there are those who say that the kundalini or shakti or life energy, potentially or actually, ascends and descends within the body-mind in a circle, and one needs to cultivate it, or alternatively, nothing need be done with it or to it within the confines of the body-mind in order to realize prior consciousness itself, the source of a greater or Maha-Shakti, of which kundalini is a stepped-down emanation. Finally, others interpret kundalini in a variety of additional ways, and view it as an inevitable, if secondary, part of a greater spiritual process. In this article we will examine these different views and try to make sense out of many seeming contradictions. Links are provided herein to other articles that add much to the discussion. This essay covers a lot of ground and tends to ramble - we acknowledge that it still needs a lot of work - so please read with both kindness and discrimination. More theoretical aspects of kundalini are given in the first half of this article, with practical recommendations and common manifestations being described more towards the end.
We will start out by way of what may be considered to be an atypical version of traditional kundalini, that of Lakshmana Swamy, who was believed by some to be a Self-Realized devotee of Sri Ramana Maharshi. His point of view on the kundalini or serpent power is, not surprisingly, similar to that of the sage, but radically different from that taught in most yoga paths. His view that the mind must die in the heart is quite opposed to those schools that teach the kundalini must merge in the sahasrar for realization to occur. Lakshmana has taught that the life force or attention must descend via a terminal pathway from the sahasrar into the causal heart center for realization of the Self, which Ramana originally said was felt intuitively from the bodily point of view to be on the right side of the chest, 'two digits from the midline.' As will be shown, however, this view is not exactly the same as that of Ramana in his full maturity, nor that of most contemporary non-dualist teachers, who do not teach that full inner trance absorption in the heart on the right or anywhere else is required for awakening or enlightenment. Also, it must be distinguished that the retraction of the soul or its emanant, the attention, up to the crown and then down into the heart, is not the same as saying the kundalini energy itself must do the same. The two are different processes. It is entirely possible for attention to be absorbed with the life energy remaining as it is, keeping the life in the body going naturally. Further, while there does seem to be an inherent logic to a polarization of energy and attention -and purification or subtlization towards the crown, in any one case the opening of chakras and their purification may or may not happen, and in any order, depending on various factors.
After we have discussed the life and realization of Lakshmana Swamy we will offer a brief life sketch of Swami Sivananda, as an example of one who disseminated the traditional yogic view that the kundalini must reach the sahasrar for realization. With small modifications, this general view is similar to that taught by Swami Muktananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, at times Ramakrishna, and also Swami Shiv Dayal Singh of the Radhasoami school.
As a child Lakshmana never had any interest in either school studies or religion, although he did have an aptitude for line drawings. He was active in sports at school, yet liked to spend much time sitting quietly by himself. His schoolmates were very fond of him because of his keen sense of humor and ability to make everyone laugh.
At the age of seventeen Swamy had an experience which dispelled his scepticism of spirituality. He felt an "evil force" descend upon him, like a weight crushing his chest. He spontaneously began to repeat the Rama mantra ("Rama, Rama"), which had the effect of dispelling the force. After this he made it a habit to rise at 3 A.M., go for a swim, and engage pranayama (breathing exercises) and japa (mantra repetition) until 5 A.M. He grew increasingly dispassionate, and resisted all efforts by his family to get him married and settled into a normal life. He entered college, but after his first year he had a spiritual experience in which he saw a "sudden flash of light within. The divine light shone in its full magnificence.” (1) Swamy tried to repeat the experience but was not successful, and he felt more and more the need of a human guru for further guidance and grace.
Swamy heard of Ramana Maharshi from one of his college professors, who was a disciple of the sage, and after twice failing his second year exams he began to intensify his meditations. In 1948 he met Ramana at his abode in Tiruvannamalai, and shortly afterwards experienced the permanent death of his 'I"-thought in Ramana's company.
"There was 'a lightning flash and a flood of divine light shining within and without.' Sri Ramana' s face was smiling 'with more radiance than that of innumerable lightning flashes fused into one. In that ineffable bliss tears of joy welled down in unending succession, and they could not be resisted.' Finally, the 'I'-thought went back to its source, the picture of Ramana Maharshi disappeared and the Self absorbed his whole being."
Lakshmana spent the next year in trance samadhi most of the time and let his body waste away for want of attention. Finally he moved near his family in order that his physical needs be taken care of. For two or three years he spent most of his time in the hut provided for him, eating little and speaking less. People heard that he was a great ascetic and began gathering around him, and he eventually consented to give his darshan, first only once a year, then, from 1951-1972, twice a year. In 1974, Swamy met Mathru Sri Sarada
(1959- ), a young girl whom he had seen in a vision twenty years before. Within four years, she, too, according to their report, realized the Self, and during the period of her sadhana Swamy was much more available for darshan. The story of Sarada' s realization contains an account of an interesting phenomenon, one which may be unique in the literature of the spiritual traditions.
"Just before Sarada realized the Self her 'I '-thought tried to escape by breaking her skull. If I (Swamy) had not been present the experience would have killed her. The 'I '-thought would have broken her skull and escaped to the higher regions where it would have been born again."
Sarada said that this was like an axe trying to split her head open from the inside. She put her head on Swamy's feet in surrender and her 'I'-thought "subsided forever." It was a year after this before she was able to function normally in the world again, as she had lost all interest in it and was continually on the verge of dropping the body. It was only her love for Swamy that brought her back to the world. At the present time she helps Swamy look after devotees.
Whatever one is to make of Sarada's realization experience, it is certain that the peculiar dramatic nature of it is rare. Neither Ramana Maharshi nor Lakshmana Swamy felt the 'I'-thought threaten to break their skull in its flight from the Heart. Others, however, have reported experiences of pain and pressure in the head due to the force of the kundalini energy, and these accounts are worth examining.
Two points must be made regarding the nature of the kundalini phenomenon before proceeding further. One, as mentioned in numerous places in this book, the testimony of the ancient sages who authored the Vedas and Upanishads is that the primary locus of spiritual realization is associated with the heart, and not with the sahasrar as claimed by contemporary exponents of kundalini yoga and other similar yogic traditions. Secondly, many yogis mistake the trance states associated with the ascension of attention to the ajna chakra (the center behind the eyes in the brain core) for the passage of attention, to the sahasrar (which is above the brain core). They explore the “sky of mind” in the braincore, the blue pearl of Muktananda, or the cosmic blue of Yogananda, etc., and do not pass to egoic dissolution at the heart or at the sahsrar.
If Sarada had been directed towards yogic ascent she would have followed the (apparently) awakened kundalini (in her case) to the crown of the head and, indeed, experienced her 'I'-thought being reborn into further destiny on the subtle planes.
with the help of her guru her 'I'-thought became "cauterized" in the heart, thus providing her with the right foundation for true and radical ascent at some future
time. Her tendencies for ascent were strong, as evidenced by the fact that even after her heart-realization she had difficulty staying in the body. This may be the remnants of a karmic liability, or it may illustrate a common disposition in those newly self-realized. Many individuals spend significant time after initial self-realization in states of internal absorption. This was the case with Sarada, Swami, Ramana Maharshi, Meher Baba and others.This is because the first awakened Self tends to assciate the manifest realms with bondage, but until the Self is realized under all conditions true lasting and full realization is not achieved.
In other words, the very revulsion or turning away from experience that accompanies the intuitive awakening of Self-Realization is a tendency that could delay entry into the ultimate stage. It is not clear if Swamy or Saradi have made this transition, despite their concession to continue living in the world.
It appears, in the case of Sarada, that, perhaps, due to her young age, brevity of sadhana, and other reasons karmically unique to her, that a dramatic and painful transition occured, during which she was fortunate to have had the immediate help of her guru. Yet this does not necessarily have to happen. Heart-communion with the master can enable one to avoid many of the dangers and obstacles, as well as 'shoals and sandbanks' in the sea of spirituality. However, sometimes it is the inherent character liabilities of an individual that prevent that transmission of the heart or hridaya-shakti of a sage or master from being effective and sufficient. An example of this is found in the practice of Ganapati Muni, a famous disciple of Ramana Maharshi, who experienced rare and remarkable yogic phenomena, yet was not successful in attaining Self-Realization. Ganapati Muni met Maharshi after twenty years of fruitless spiritual efforts, and inunediately recognized that he was no ordinary man but rather a great sage of the highest type. It was Ganapati who gave him the name Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi and became his most ardent supporter. He chose to do much of his spiritual practice away from Ramana's direct company, but after two years he returned to Ramanasramam to be with the sage. Along the way he experienced a spontaneous, forceful awakening of the kundalini-shakti (which he confessed was not caused by any intention on his part, but, rather, was the "result of the grace of his Guru and God"), and which began a strenuous, two-week ordeal in which he endured the yogic phenomenon known in the Taittirya Upanishad as vyapohya sirsha kapale
, or "the breaking of the skull". Ganapati began to experience a flood of energy through his body at all times, with a stream of bliss piercing his head making him completely intoxicated He felt totally out of control of his body and went to Maharshi for guidance. The sage blessed him with a pat of the hand on his head and said not to worry.
"That night Ganapati suffered terribly. There was an unbearable burning sensation throughout his body...It looked as though his head would break into pieces at any time. He suffered unbearable pain. Suddenly a sound was heard, something like smoke was seen. The Kundalini had caused an aperture at the top of his skull... After that experience for ten days something like smoke or vapour was found emanating from the orifice at the top of the skull. By that time the burning sensation subsided. The play of force became bearable. The long story of suffering, pain and agony ended. The body was filled with the flow of cool nectar of bliss. The face of the Muni reflected an ethereal splendour. His eyes bore the effulgence of the supernatural. After this extraordinary experience of kapalabheda, the Muni lived for fourteen years.... "
This event awed the disciples of Ganapati Muni, who were knowledgable about the practices of kundalini yoga but were unprepared for such a rare and unusual phenomenon. There are few references to the "breaking of the skull" in the traditional literature, and it is essentially unknown in the teachings of contemporary yogis. What references there are, particularly in the Tibetan tradition, usually mention that such an experience can happen to a yogi only at the time of death.
In spite of the unusual nature of Ganapati's transformation, Maharshi affirmed that he had not attained enlightenment. When asked whether the Muni was realized after his death, Ramana replied, "How could he? His sankalpas
'(inherent tendencies) were too strong." In other words, in Ganapati Muni's case the overwhelming awakening of the kundalini was yet not sufficient to unlock the "knot of self" that was still alive at the heart. He had not yet realized the causal heart or the all-pervading, formless Self.
Another disciple of the Maharshi reported the awakening of the kundalini with radically different results, including the awakening of his heart center. See: Nothing Existed Except the Eyes of the Maharshi
by By N. R. Krishnamurti Aiyer
J. Krishnamurti wrote of a process of several decades in length during which he suffered intense pain inhis head and spine, yet he, apparently failed to complete the full course of yoga. In his case, he repudiated his early yogic experiences, arguing principally for what he termed "choice less awareness", and in so doing confused (at least for his listeners) the profundities of advanced practice of identification with the Witness consciousness with a basically cognitive exercise in releasing the conceptual mind.
Many teachers have warned about the dangers of the premature awakening of the kundalini energy. Great heat can be created in the body, with possible damage to the brain and nervous system. In order to be prepared for the circulation of spiritual energies in the body-mind, the aspirant must be purified of ego, and equipped with the enobling virtues of humility and self-surrender. This is accomplished through self-understanding or clear seeing and the accompanying opening of the feeling being. Then the energy can move freely without obstruction generated by false identification with the ego.
The teaching of Iakshmana Swamy is very similar to that of Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Three points in particular, however, are arguable. One, Lakshmana Swamy holds that a living guru is essential for liberation. He maintains that without such a teacher
the most one can hope to attain is mental concentration, or an "effortless, thought-free state" (perhaps similar to that proposed by J. Krishnamurti), but in order for the mind to be "pulled into the Heart and die there", a living guru is necessary. The current non-dualists would disagree here on the point of the mind needing to be pulled into the heart, in a yogic sense, in order to die. They say there is no need for the mind to die, but only for clear seeing to arise. Nothing needs to be changed, and no experience is required for awakening. Nor is a guru necessary n all cases. If the experience of the "death of the mind in the Heart" is not had while your guru is alive, however, according to Swamy, then one will need another guru to accomplish it. Swamy gives the example that, in his own case, he had experience of the Self briefly through his own efforts but needed a guru to make it permanent. He does allow that there may be a few rare exceptions to this, such as his guru, Ramana Maharshi, who apparently became realized without the help of a human guru, but he maintains that in most cases it is not possible. There are others, however, who do not agree with Lakshamana Swamy on this point. Paul Brunton asserted that a human guru is required until the disciple transcends the gross personality, but that at a certain point ones individual Overself takes over and bestows its grace, leading attention across the threshold into the Heart. Kirpal Singh taught that once a disciple is initiated by a true Master that even if that Master should die he would still help the individual and be his gurudev once the disciple was capable of transcending body-consciousness, and that he would still help the disciple in many ways even if the latter did not know it. He held that the company of another Master would be useful for spiritual development but was not necessary for initiatory purposes. Sant Darshan Singh has said, however, that in such a case where a guru has passed on his successor may have to take on some of the disciple's karmas, if that is necessary, for to do so requires a body. (5)
A second distinguishing feature of the teaching of Lakshmana Swamy is the notion that a jnani (self-realized sage) could not continue to exist after death on the subtle planes because his 'I'-thought is dead, and since it is the 'I'-thought which takes on a new form, it would not be possible for the jnani to do so. This was also Ramana Maharshi's view, at least on one occasion. Clearly, however, the testimony of other sages is that just as a Realizer, can assume physical form in order to do spiritual work, so can he take on (or retain) subtle 'bodies' for the same purpose. Furthermore, it is not quite correct to say that the mind has to die for realization to be the case, but only that identification of the conscious Self with the mind must cease. It is a potential limitation of the practice of the jnana paths to assume that complete cessation of the mind is necessary for (or the equivalent of) realization. The Tripura Rahasya ( a favorite text of Ramana Maharshi) argues that cessation of the mind is only the case in the middle class of jnanis, but not in the highest. (6) The highest stage the “hidden teaching beyond yoga” position, allows for more creativity than that which dwells on the Witness position, even "allowing" creation (or manifestation) itself to be as it is. Annihilation is not required, only realization. Nothing need be annihilated except ignorance.
Thirdly, Lakshmana’s viewpoint on kundalini differs markedly from that of the common yoga tradition. This is discussed fully in the section below on Swami Sivananda. In brief, Lakshmana says that “kundalini is the mind” and as such arises from the Heart and not from the muladhara chakra at the base of the spine as is most commonly supposed. This view is perhaps understandable if “kundalini” is here equated with the more general term, “shakti”, which is the manifest power of prior consciousness, or “shiva”, which is not limited to the energies within the gross body-mind. Ramana also said something similar to Lakshmana when he remarked, “it is wrong to say the Self is down here (the muladhara) or up there (the sahasrar); in other words, to think is not your nature” (Talks
). He often stated that the chakras and worlds are ultimately 'in the imagination' and therefore not the way to realization itself. This is perhaps somewhat overstated and incomplete as an explanation of this vast subject.
The Russian and Eastern Orthodox contemplatives (see St. Seraphim of Sarov and Theophane the Recluse in Those Amazing Christians
) spoke more often on a descent
of the spirit or grace, as opposed to the kundalini traditions of India which emphasize the ascent
. Father Paissos wrote:
"One night, as I was standing there praying, I felt something come down from above and totally encompass me. I felt such joy and exultation as my eyes shed tears like water gushing from two faucets. I physically saw grace and felt it...The experience was so intense and powerful that it supported me and kept me going for ten years, until, in Sinai, I experienced even greater states in a different way."
This can be understood if one allows for a full circle of conducted energy in the body-mind. The Taoist sages taught this full circuitry. Baha u'llah also spoke of a descent of grace:
"During my days I lay in the prison of Tihran...I felt as if something flowed from the crown of my head over my breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitated itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain. Every limb of my body would, as a result, be set afire. At such moments my tongue recited what no man could bear to hear."
The force or blessing, as reported by these mystics, is felt and described as coming more from "without", as a form of baptism, than from "within", as in common yogic experience. How to reconcile this? Well, for one thing, as PB stated, "the Overself's without is our within
." Thus, the Divine Shakti both comes from outside the separate self and also manifests within the individual body-mind. Similarly, in the school of Sant Mat (to be discussed shortly), while it is said that the practitioner is to ascend via the Light and Sound current via concentration at the ajna chakra, it is also said that the Divine Grace descends
into the very pores of the body and envelops one in a feeling of warmth. Thus there appears to be a natural non-dual result on this path - although such wholistic experiences vary depending on the prior disposition, understanding, and maturity of the individual practitioner. And in fact, the permutations of the divine energy are myriad: a descent of grace can actually be felt as a cooling
and a relief, as contrasted to the more burning of the kundalini energy manifestation. And it appears that I am not alone in wondering about this dual process: the ascent of shakti and descent of grace
. (See this interesting talk by emerging teacher Igor Kufayev).
Further, as Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche writes:
"In the last analysis, the division of existence into internal and external is based on a false view formed by the conceptual mind regarding the dualistic condition. In the true condition there is no distinction between internal and external since the same empty space gives rise to internal and external existence alike, just as the air inside and outside a jar is the same."
One awakened and standing in the transcendant witness position, moreover, having already undergone a "second birth," will find such energetic experiences safer and less deluding as they may then be experienced from a more impersonal, non-separate point of view, beyond or apart from the sense of encasement in the body-mind. There is also then less chance of "getting fried" due to egoic interference with the intense energy release, as many unprepared practitioners sometimes have reported. PB writes:
"Those who have previously made satisfying spiritual advance often find themselves pulled up and unable to go further, sometimes for years. This is because the undeveloped and imperfect parts of their natures offer obstruction to further progress. If the higher forces were to descend on them while they are purified only in parts and developed only in some faculties, these forces would prove harmful instead of helpful. Consequently, these parts are brought up by events to the surface of his life in order that they may be dealt with."
(Vol. 3, Part One, 3.120)
None of these transformations must
visibly happen, in this or any one life; it is just that they do
happen, and these are some of the possibilities thereof. Again the reader is referred to a talk by Kufayev on the energetic internal re-wiring
that may occur. [Note: this is not an endorsement of Kufayev, as a guru, just a reference to one who is talking about this process]. It may also be that often the transformation for many is more mundane and prosaic, beneath the surface, as a general maturation of the being, without high yogic drama.
John the Baptist, a prophet and according to others also Jesus' initiatory guru, said:
"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire."
In this instance, it can be assumed that "water", a universal symbol for the emotional nature of man, represents the purification of baser feelings and animal passions. This is the necessary conversion of heart to prepare the individual for the baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire, which generally have been said to represent the initiation by the higher process of kundalini-shakti, or spirit-power, as is common in the yogic traditions of the East, and which was presumably the province of Jesus the Christ (or such a one as he). PB hinted at the different stages of this baptismal process when he stated:
"There is, further, a difference between the baptism by the Holy Ghost and the baptism by fire. The baptism by the Holy Ghost arouses and awakens the potentialities of the dynamic Life-Force, raising its voltage far above the ordinary. This process is usually accompanied by thrills, ecstasies, or mystical raptures. it represents the first awakening on the spiritual level as it filters through the partially cleansed emotional nature. Baptism by fire represents the next and highest stage after this event, when, the thrill of the new birth has subsided and when, in a calmer and steadier condition, the intelligence itself becomes illuminated in addition to the feelings, thus balancing them."
Thus the archtypal stages of purification are emotional (i.e., kenosis and metanoia), followed by energetic (kundalini), and intellectual-intuitional-insight (jnana). [However, depending on one's past-life background the ordering may be different. That is, a glimpse may come first, and physical-emotional-energetic purification later. But then it is assumed one had done the groundwork previously]. 'Fire', then, for PB means the higher illumination of the intelligence at the buddhi level and beyond. Kundalini as such would be limited to purification of the three lower bodies (physical, emotional, mental, or physical, astral, and causal, depending on schema) and not satori or the revelation of consciousness per se. This may be confusing because traditionally the term 'fire' has been used for the preparatory kundalini manifestation. The Rig Veda declares:
"He tastes not that delight (of the twice-born) who is unripe and whose body has not suffered in the heat of this fire; they alone are able to bear that and enjoy it who have been prepared by the flame."
Regardless, the kundalini as it arises from the Muladhara center is really, from the awakened point of view, only an apparent movement, perceived to ascend (or descend), only after body-identification has already been assumed. According to some sages, moreover, such as Ramana, the truly significant 'arisal', if you can dualistically call it that, of kundalini, life-energy, and mind is at the heart-root, prior to body-consciousness, and it is to that locus, if any, that one's attention needs to be directed, not to its apparent extensions in the circuitry of the body-mind. And in the highest stage, even this locus, conceived objectively, as an exclusive site of realization, is transcended: kundalini, or all energies and manifestations arise out of the heart of infinity,not a particular place.
For one who is involved in a kundalini practice or experiences, Paul Brunton has written these words of instruction and warning, pointing out the need for preparation and purification:
"Why did so many primeval cultures in Asia, Africa, and America worship the serpent? A full answer would contain some of the most important principles of metaphysics and one of the least known practices of mysticism - raising the force symbolized under the name of the "serpent fire." The advanced occultists of Tibet compare the aspirant making this attempt to a snake which is made to go up a hollow bamboo. Once aroused, it must either ascend and reach liberty at the top or it must fall straight down to the bottom. So he who seeks to play with this fiery but dangerous power will either reach Nirvana or lose himself in the dark depths of hell. If a man seeks to arouse kundalini before he has rid himself of hate, he will only become the victim of his own hatreds when he does raise it from its sleeping state. He would do better to begin by self-purification in every way if he is to end in safety and with success...The intense fire of love for the higher self must be kindled in the "mystic" heart, kindled until it also shows a physical parallel in the body, until the latter's temperature rises markedly and the skin perspires profusely. Deep breathing is an important element in this exercise. It provides in part the dynamism to make its dominating ideas effective. The other part is provided by a deliberate sublimation of sex energy, through its imaginative raising from the organs in the lower part of the body to a purified state in the head."
"The strange phenomena of a mysterious agitation in the heart and an internal trembling in the solar plexus, of sex force raised through the spine to the head in intense aspiration toward the higher self accompanied by deep breathing, of a temporary consciousness of liberation from the lower nature, are usually the forerunners of a very important step forward in the disciple's inner life. A twofold trembling may seize him. Physically, his diaphragm may throb violently, the movement spreading like a ripple upward to the throat. Emotionally, his whole being may be convulsed with intense sobbing...The agitation of his feeling will come to an end with the calm perception of his Soul. The kundalini's activity being primarily mental and emotional, the diaphragmatic tremors and quivers are merely its physical reactions. The necessity for keeping the back erect exists only in this exercise, not in the devotional or intellectual yogas, for such a straight posture permits the spinal column to remain free for the upward passage of the "serpent fire." The latter moves in spiral fashion, just like the swaying of a cobra, generating heat in the body at the same time. If the trembling continues long enough and violently enough, a sensation of heat is engendered throughout the body and this in turn engenders profuse perspiration. But all these symptoms are preliminary and the real mystical phenomena involving withdrawal from the body-thought begin only when they have subsided. This exercise first isolates the force residing in breath and sex, then sublimates and reorients it. The results, after the initial excitement has subsided, are (a) a liberating change in his consciousness of the body, (b) a strengthening development of the higher will's control over the animal appetites, and (c) a concentration of attention and feeling as perfect as a snake's concentration on its prey. It is a threefold process yielding a threefold result. In those moments when the force is brought into the head, he feels himself to be liberated from the rule of animality; then he is at the topmost peak of the higher will. Power and joy envelop him. The attainment of this state of deep contemplation and its establishment by unremitting daily repetition bring him finally to an exalted satisfied sense of being full and complete and therefore passion-free and peace-rooted."
This aspect of kundalini as purificatory is found in all traditions. An episode in the life of Dodrupchen Jigme Thrinle Ozer, an advanced Tibetan Tulku, illustrates this phenomenon from another angle. On a three-year meditation retreat he experienced a terrible ordeal:
"After a month or so, a great shaking up (Lhong Ch'a) arose in him. It became hard for him to stop the turbulent waves of thoughts, emotions, and illusions. He now started having disturbances of the life-force energy (Srog rLung), symptoms that brought him to the brink of insanity. All appearances arose as enemies. He even saw fearful animals in his teapot. He felt he was involved in fighting with weapons. One night in a dream he heard a frightening shout, and he felt that it almost split his heart. Even after he awoke, he kept hearing the same cry and then saw a pillarlike dark light linking the ground and the sky. His body was trembling violently. He felt an unbearable terror and feared that the sky and earth were being turned upside down. But then in an instant, all the disturbing appearances dissolved into himself, the "I," which was merely projecting and experiencing all those appearances. Then the concept of "I" was also gone beyond any elaboration. The fearful mind and the objects of fear all had merged into one taste, the taste of ultimate nature, the total openness."
The author of the book from which this biographical account was taken explains:
"Just before reaching a high realization, it is normal for many meditators to experience the final mental, emotional, and habitual struggles in various forms or degrees of temptations, fearful illusions, threatening sounds, or painful feelings. Many great masters have had the same kinds of experiences just before they entered high states of realization. If you do not succumb to these kinds of last-minute disturbances created by hidden subtle habits and get beyond all those final encounters by remaining in the realized nature, like shaking the dust from a rug for good, you will attain total freedom from mental and emotional obscurations with their traces. A person having a so-called smooth meditative experience might think, "I am doing so well that I have no shaking-up experiences," but the truth could be that he has not yet destroyed his mental and emotional defilements and their habits from the root."
For a traditional yogic view on the kundalini we may look at the life and teachings of Swami Sivananda
(1897-1963). He was born, by his own confession, into a family "of saints
and philosophers". He was a very mischievious boy whose pranks often brought angry hearts of embittered villagers to reconciliation. He was an excellent gymnast and would frequently arise at three or three-thirty in the morning and sneak out of the house to pursue his training. He admitted that he could fool his parents, who did not look too favorably on his gymnastics, by putting a pillow on his bed and covering it with a blanket to make it appear as if he was still asleep.
Sivananda studied at Tanjore Medical Institute, and, in his own words, "was a tremendously industrious boy" at the school. He spent all of his free time learning from the doctors and professors, and at the end of his first year he had admittance to the operating theater and was able to answer questions that even senior students could not. After graduation he traveled to Malaya and was the manager of a hospital on a rubber estate for seven years, and subsequent to this he worked three more years at the Jayore Medical Clinic. Sivananda was well-liked by his patients, but his mind wasn't on business and he often forgot to charge for treatment or medications [that’s my kind of guy]. He started a popular medical journal called The Ambrosia which he ran for four years. In order to maintain it at a high quality he let his own financial reserves dwindle, but Sivananda didn't care: his overruling passion was to disperse knowledge that would aid the sick and needy.
Medical work drove home to him the fact of pain and suffering in this world, and, remembering the verse, "the day on which one gets vairagya
(dispassion), that very day one should renounce the world," in 1923 he left Malaya for India and began a rigorous life as a wandering mendicant. Through hot sun, cold rain, bare-headed and
bare-footed, sometimes with food, sometimes without, Sivananda went from place to
place in search of a spiritual guide or true Guru. He met many yogis. and sadhus on
his journeys, including the sage, Narayan Maharaj at whose ashram he spent a
few days (Narayan Maharaj was said to have enlightened Upasani Baba
with a piece of food, and was one of five allegedly perfect masters that worked with and prepared the way for the 'avatar' Meher Baba
). Sivananda arrived at Rishikesh in 1924 and took initiation from Viswarananda Saraswati of the Sringeri Math of Sri Sankaracharya. He stayed in Rishikesh and practiced intense austerities and meditation, even though his Guru moved elsewhere. Sivananda considered moments spent in idle pursuit and without purpose as time highly wasted. Throughout his life a favorite motto of his was "Do it now!"
Along with a life of strict austerity (tapas), Swami Sivananda was very active in service to the sick, the poor, and other sadhus in his vicinity. On the advise of another mahatma in the area, he opened a medical dispensary for just that purpose. He tended the deathly ill without fear of contagion, taking no special precautions and not even bothering to wash his hands after treating a diseased person. He was a fearless servant of mankind.
For his personal sadhana he maintained a rigorous, exacting daily schedule. To ward off the spiritual aspirants who came to him in ever-increasing numbers he had a barbed-wire fence erected around his hut, and he locked the gait. He also had the ever-increasing number of personal disciplines that he assumed recorded in a notebook which he called "The Whip". He was a strong man and kept up a daily routine of physical exercise as well as up to sixteen hours of meditation. In 1936 he started the Divine Life Society to spread yoga teachings throughout the world. He went on a tour of India and Ceylon in 1950, and in 1953 convened a World Parliament of Religions. He was a friend of Sant Kirpal Singh who continued such endeavors. Overall he wrote more than three hundred books, often published at phenomenal spead: up to three two-hundred page books a month! Sivananda was a highly respected guru, perhaps because he gave out a pure, undiluted yoga teaching, with little accompanying dogma, and also because he demanded much of his students.
Sivananda was an outstanding example of a karma yogin as well as a supreme realist:
"Service gives me joy, I cannot live without service even for a second."
"I never said or did anything to tempt people with promises of grand results like Mukti (liberation) from a drop of Kamandala water, or Samadhi by mere touch. I emphasized the importance of silent meditation for a systematic progress in the spiritual path. Invariably, I asked all aspirants to purify their hearts through selfless service to mankind."
The specifics of his sadhana in his own case are not clear; apart from mentioning that he spent alot of time in meditation, and served the general community of renunciates where he lived, his autobiography gives few details of what actually occured spiritually during the years 1924 to 1929, when he achieved his realization. His writings provide, however, a complete elaboration of yoga philosophy and practices. The book, Kundalini Yoga
, in particular, presents his view on realization:
“If he reaches the spiritual center in the brain, the sahasrar chakra, the yogi attains Nirvikalpa samadhi or (the) superconscious state. He becomes one with the non-dual Brahman. All sense of separation dissolves. This is the highest plane of consciousness or supreme Asamprajnata samadhi. Kundalini unites " with Siva. The yogi may come down to the center in the throat to give instructions to the students and do good to others (Lokasamgraha)."
“Brahmarandhra” means the hole of Brahman. It is the dwelling house of the human soul.
This is also known as “Dasamadvara,” the tenth opening or the tenth door. The hollow place in the crown of the head known as anterior fontanelle in the new-born child is the Brahmarandhra. This is between the two parietal and occipital bones. This portion is very soft in a babe. When the child grows, it gets obliterated by the growth of the bones of the head. Brahma created the physical body and entered (Pravishat) the body to give illumination inside through this Brahmarandhra. In some of the Upanishads, it is stated like that. This is the most important part. It is very suitable for
Nirguna Dhyana (abstract meditation). When the Yogi separates himself from the physical body at
the time of death, this Brahmarandhra bursts open and Prana comes out through this opening
(Kapala Moksha). “A hundred and one are the nerves of the heart. Of them one (Sushumna) has
gone out piercing the head; going up through it, one attains immortality” (Kathopanishad).
"Sahasrara Chakra is the abode of Lord Siva. This corresponds to Satya Loka. This is situated
at the crown of the head. When Kundalini is united with Lord Siva at the Sahasrara Chakra, the
Yogi enjoys the Supreme Bliss, Parama Ananda. When Kundalini is taken to this centre, the Yogi
attains the superconscious state and the Highest Knowledge. He becomes a Brahmavidvarishtha or a full-blown Jnani."
This is the traditional yogic view where the highest realization takes place in an ascended form of samadhi (Nirvikalpa); however, it is generally the case that when an individual returns to bodily consciousness from this samadhi he feels a sense of limitation, depending on his background. Some yogis, therefore, as Sivananda mentions, only allow their consciousness to descend as far as the throat center, where they are able to communicate with others while still feeling relatively free of the body. If they were not already feeling identified with the body, however, they would have less need to ascend to regain or maintain their realization, so say the sages.
Thus the urge towards ascent is motivated by identification with the body-consciousness,
in most cases.
Interestingly, in spite of this teaching, Swami Sivananda, like a fair number of great yogis, became a Vedantin in his later years, suggesting a change of perspective regarding realization.
Compare this position of Swami Sivananda with that of Ramana Maharshi; Lakshmana Swamy, and even Shiv Dayal Singh: none of them would agree that the kundalini unites with Siva (Divine Consciousness) in the sahasrar, but for different reasons.
Shiv Dayal Singh (and the path of Sant Mat, or surat shabd yoga) holds that the sahasrar is but the first of many ascending inner stages on the path to Self and God-Realization. It is, according to them, definitely not
Satya Loka, which is far above it, although it might be said to have a correspondence with it, as all chakras seem to have their correspondence with the various planes of manifestation. Sant Mat maintains, however, that even the realization of advaita only takes one to the second plane of Brahm or universal mind, beyond which are Par-Brahmand and Sat Lok, and that there are various lower regions that are faint reflections of higher and truer ones, such as Sat Lok. This obviously contentious in yoga circles, which does not mean it is not true. An interesting point is that many so-called kundalini yogis, as well as Kriya yogis (and even H.P. Blavatsky in her book, The Voice of the Silence), speak of the internal sounds that often accompany kundalini as getting more and more subtle as it rises through the chakras, until finally it fades out when it reaches the crown. Thus, in Kriya yoga, for instance, they meditate on the big bell sound in a lower chakra, where to the Sants the bell sound is a higher sound that pulls one up from the ajna center to the sahasrar, with a fade-out into the 'true wordless state' not occuring until one traverses the intermediate planes and reaches the higher dimension of Sat Lok referred to as Anami Lok. The Sant Mat answer to this contrasting phenomenon is that the yogis only hear lesser sounds, or reflections of the true sounds, and the shabd is a higher manifestation of the divine shakti than the kundalini. It gets somewhat confusing; an expanded discussion of this issue is found through accessing sections six and seven of the Sant Mat: Part One
. It is about twenty-five pages long and I have not had time yet to integrate it within this article, but it is important supplementary material.
Sant Darshan Singh summarized this view as follows:
"If we compare the different yogic systems we find that some begins their concentration, their meditation, at the lower chakras in the body. There are six chakras, the lowest being at the juncture between the legs and the trunk, which is the center of the kundalini. Those who practice kundalini yoga begin their concentration at that point. Their sensory currents begin to withdraw from the toes and legs, and those portions become numb as at the time of death. But during meditation and at the time of death, the process of withdrawal does not stop with the kundalini center. When the sensory currents come above the kundalini center, the kundalini stops functioning and itself becomes numb, but the man is still alive. During the further withdrawal from the body, the currents next come to the navel center. Other yogas begin their concentration here; they generate a deep sound from the navel
[i.e., kriya yoga]. Yet when someone withdraws above the navel, that center also becomes numb and stops functioning even though the man is still alive. By this time the death of the kundalini is past history. Then the sensory currents withdraw to the heart center, the gullet and the tongue; each one in turn becomes numb and ceases to function, yet the man is still alive. Many practices begin their point of concentration at the tongue, where the repetition of holy mantras goes on. But when the withdrawal of the currents continues, this center also stops functioning. Next, the currents withdraw above the nose and come to the eyes. Finally, the sensory currents reach the last point before transcending the physical body. This center or chakra is between and behind the two eyebrows, and is called the center of the soul. It is also referred to as the still point, the third eye or single eye, the tisra til, shiv tetra, divya chaksu or the tenth door. When the currents reach this point the pupils first turn upwards, and then downwards, and we say at that time the soul has finally left the body."
"Now, we can see for ourselves that the kundalini center, and the other lower centers, stop functioning long before the man has left the body. It is not the lower center, but the point between the two eyes which is the last center our soul passes through before leaving the body."
"If we start meditating at the kundalini chakra and then slowly go from one chakra to the other, before rising up to the point where we finally transcend the body, it is a long process. It requires a great amount of time and effort to rise from the lower centers to the center of the soul. In this short span of life of about fifty to seventy years, we can hardly expect to reach our goal. So the saints off modern times, instead of starting at the very base, and then working their way up, start with the highest point - the third eye or single eye. The basic requirements remain the same, but by changing the center from the kundalini to the eye-focus, the saints have clearly given us the shortest possible way. They tell us we should make the jump to the center of the soul......to the highest center, the point between and behind the two eyebrows. It is at this center that the real heart of the mystics exists. If we read Hafiz, Attar, Shamas-e-Tabrez or Maulana Rumi, we will find that according to them the real heart of the mystic is the center of the soul. It is not the lump of flesh the size of one's fist. It is a much vaster expanse because this is the fountainhead of love in the physical body. The saints always teach a method of meditation which involves concentration the attention at this center."
What this path teaches does seem to be different than most others. Sant Mat differentiates between the sensory currents, attention or surat
, and the motor currents, or pranas (and presumably kundalini). The former is the attention or outer expression of the soul, and is said to have its source much higher than the latter, as well as the that of the mind. Thus, they differ markedly from the teaching of traditional yogas. So what do the yogis such as Ramakrshna and others mean when they say kundalini does in fact rise to the sahasrar? Are we to suppose they mistake the further rise of the kundalini beyond the navel for the continued rise of the sensory currents alone? I am sure I am not the only one who is confused on this point.
One apparently doesn't, then, according to the saints, have to have kundalini ride in the traditional fashion in order for the soul to have experience of higher dimensions; nor, say some of the sages, does the kundalini have to rise and descend into the heart for the consciousness to do so either. So what then is the purpose of the kundalini movement? It must be largely one of psycho-physical purification, and it takes many forms other than the classic one - but here we get ahead of ourselves.
Other modern sages generally have testified that the separate ego-consciousness must, at least provisionally, trace a course from the sahasrar down, via the terminal course of the sushumna nadi, to its root in the Heart (intuited from the bodily point of view to be on the right side of the chest; but in itself, as Ramana said, all-pervading) for true Self-realization to occur. In that case the realization must remain after one comes out of his samadhi.
Lakshmana Swamy interprets the kundalini-shakti in a rather unique manner, as mentioned above. He says that it is actually equivalent to the mind, which arises from the Heart and ascends to the brain through the channel called the amrita nadi ("current of nectar", or "current of immortality"). By this interpretation, Siva and Shakti, or Siva and the kundalini-shakti, do not unite in the sahasrar when said kundalini rises; rather, the kundalini-shakti (or mind) must return to its source (or its original locus relative to the bodily self) , which is the heart centre, and die there. Kundalini-as-the-mind, according to Lakshmana Swamy, arises from the heart, therefore, and not from the Muladhara chakra at the base of the spine as yoga maintains. The arising of kundalini through yoga practice is only apparently such; it is actually a mental or imaginary phenomenon, only appearing as substantial to the non-Heart-realized individual. Swamy's use of the word "imaginary" is interesting and it was similarly used by Ramana Maharshi. It simply means, "in consciousness", or "Mind". Paul Brunton used the philosophic term "mentalism" to the same effect. It is not meant to obliterate the distinction between gross and subtle phenomena, although that may in fact be the intention of some teachers, but its basic meaning is that all phenomena arise in consciousness (or to and as consciousness), and the true vision of things is generally not had without the transcendence of the ego in the heart. This can be, as stated above, attained with the provisional descent of the mind into the heart, or simply through clear seeing that all is mind in ordinary life (i.e., outside trance).This grants the true understanding of the kundalini energies as well.
"The kundalini tradition is not speaking from the highest standpoint because it does not teach that the mind must go back to the heart for the final realization to occur. When you speak of the kundalini rising to the sahasrar you are speaking of a yogic state which is not the highest state. At the moment of realization the 'I' -thought goes down the channel (amrita nadi) and is destroyed in the heart. After realization neither the amrita nadi nor-the heart-center are of any importance. The jnani then knows that he is all-pervading Self.”
[Here he does acknowledge a higher point of view, although he insists that the Witness position attained by samadhi in the heart must be achieved first. Simply said, all sages are not in complete agreement on the necessity of this experience].
It has been said that the kundalini-shakti is a profoundly transformative process - and potentially disorienting process if activated in the unprepared. That it serves not just to yogically repolarize the energy and attention to the crown or sahasrar, but, more basically, to purify obstructions to clear vision and understanding. And its free movement might also be said, more desireably, to be a byproduct of an essentially foundational moral
purification of the individual. Such purification is not without drama, but it need not be 'yogic fireworks' as imagined in the traditions.
While we prefer to see it all as one seemless interwoven process, according to some sages this energetic activation is chiefly preparation for the forms of inquiry that lead attention to its root in the heart space (the 'witness self'), or its eventual 'dissolution' or 'abidance' in the unlocalizable Heart or Self that is prior to all dualistic conceptions or perceptions of the mind. These mental conceptions include time and space, in which case the notion of a 'Heart on the right' may be seen to be a relatively arbitrary or at least a provisional structure in consciousness. And in fact Ramana did not repeatedly place much emphasis on this, often saying things like, 'why wander in all this maze, just be who you are', although some of his lineage successors (notably those from his ashram, such as Lakshmana Swamy, but not teachers such as Papaji, Mooji or Gangaji) made a big deal of it. Ramana in fact seems to be the only one in history to mention this specific locus. In the Sufi tradition they mention 'Sirr'
, or the deep heart, behind any heart chakra or bodily center, and traditional Hindu sources make similar reference to the initial place of realization of the inner Purusha, but not a heart on the right. Paul Brunton, an influential disseminator of Maharshi's presence and teachings to the Western world, did not mention the 'heart on the right' in his own writings. Nor did Sri Nisargadatta:
"He had enormous respect for both his
[Ramana's] attainment and his teachings. He once told me that one of the few regrets of his life was that he never met him in person...With regard to the teachings he once told me, ‘I agree with everything that Ramana Maharshi said, with the exception of this business of the heart-centre being on the right side of the chest. I have never had that experience myself.’
(Remembering Nisargadatta Maharaj, by David Godman).
So one may reasonably conclude it is not altogether a necessary experience. However, this is how one questor described it:
"First came an experience where I thought I had been shot by a gun in the chest and could feel what I thought was blood pouring out of my chest, to which my response was to sit bolt upright in bed (as I had been deep asleep) and race to turn on the light, only to discover that I could not 'see' anything although an excruciating pain continued for perhaps 10 minutes with the feeling of something wet pouring out. After this, I began to detect a 'second' heart beat on the right side of the chest (one that beat entirely different from the physical heart) and it was noticed that there would be a throbbing of compassion at even things so dumb as a Folgers coffee commercial followed by a sensation of molten candle wax dripped from the crown of my head until it reached the feet, wherein I would burst into flames and be fairly nonfunctional for a couple hours in what felt like a narcotic stupor."
Ramana Maharshi and Lakshmana Swamy speak of the amrita nadi as arising out of the Heart and projecting to the sahasrar above, and then simultaneously to the body-mind as a whole. In realization, Lakshmana, as mentioned, speaks of attention or mind as going down the channel of amrita nadi into the heart, after which he says that the Self is reached, and the heart and amrita nadi are then more or less superfluous. In Ramana's case, one gets the feeling that in the realization of sahaj, the amrita nadi, after realization of the transcendental Self in the Heart, reappears as a regenerated pathway of the Heart and its Light, forever known as inseparable.
This causal pathway is generally not acknowledged in the yoga schools. A modern exception to this, however, is Swami Yogeshwaranand Saraswati. He argues:
"A stream of rays pertaining to the life-force arises from the bliss sheath (The causal body in the heart) and goes to the astral body (manomaya and vijnanamaya koshas in the brain) and from there to the physical body."
Even among the Greeks one finds this view:
"Aristotle regarded the heart and not the brain as the thinking or control centre of the body. He also spoke of certain very fine thread-like tendons that went from the heart to all the larger tendons of the body as in a marionette. Hence the notion of one's "heart-strings' being tugged."
said "You doctors say that the heart is at the left side of the chest. But the whole body is the heart for yogis. Jnanis have their hearts both within and without."
A devotee of his, Ranaky Matha, claims to have had her liberation under Bhagavan's grace when her kundalini rose to the sahasrara, after which she realized the One, Universal, Transcendental Self as Heart-Light and Amrita Nadi as a "pillar of light", rising up to the sahasrara and above, as sometimes described by Ramana. She once almost had the experience of Ganapati Muni of the kundalini trying to break out of the top of the skull but it subsided when she cried out to Ramana. Maharshi said of her that she was born realized, that he was only the causal (karana) guru for her. See Sri Janaky Matha
for an inspiring account of this bhakta devotee of Sri Bhagavan.
For advanced Tibetan Buddhists, kundalini practice can be both preparatory for non-dual realization, or part of the progressive, fully integrating stages of such realization leading to attainment of the Light Body or Rainbow Body whereby the practitioner reduces the physical body into the subtle essence of its elements, leaving nothing behind but the hair and nails, considered to be impurities. In this tradition, such is considered to be a sign of Total realization. Such phenomena are not due to conventional yogic siddhi, but rather transmutation due to radical non-dual realization wherein even the physical body is so resolved. [For more on this and additional comments on the kundalini see Step By Step To The Temple of Total Ruin: Lessons from Milarepa
on this website.
On the other hand, most non-dual philosophies, such as Advaita, teach that there is nothing to attain but the ever-present Self or consciousness. Kundalini-Shakti may appear to rise, or the devotee may appear to ascend through the chakras, but really this is only an appearance, or even a play of attention. However, this appears to overly minimize the reality and significance of the movement of the life-force within relativity. The average aspirant is in no way equipped to deal with the full and sudden activation of kundalini, and is usually, in his best interests, advised against such motivated pursuit. Fortunately or not, the average hide-bound and mind-ridden aspirant is also not in a position to experience this, so it is largely an unnecessary worry!
The ascending motion, for Taoists, Kriya Yogins, and perhaps especially Tibetan Buddhists, is part of a greater process, including descent, ascent, and non-dual identification with consciousness itself. For the general devotee it is enough to understand and that whatever it is that ascends, or what the process of ascent is altogether, can only be observed or known properly from the point of view of consciousness. The ego-soul may appear to ascend and descend, but such is only an illusion based on identification with the bodily self. This insight is an advanced one, known to the realizer. Such identification is undermined through spiritual insight into the all-pervading, formless Soul - or Self - which is realized as empty-fullness of Reality. If the ego-soul is an illusion, therefore, based on mistaken identity, how can it really be said to ascend? Yet strangely, it can (or it appears to), as ascension is one of the functions of the emanated soul), and right and proper in its time and place in a total spiritual process. Moreover, as PB writes:
" 'Give yourself to the Overself' is simple to say, but one must descend and ascend through a number of levels before its full majestic meaning is realized."
And what this all implies in the final analysis is that kundalini awakening is God's business, not that of the humble aspirant, whose basic task is not the willful attempt to manipulate or pursue the experience of subtle energies for their own sake, but, rather, through profound self-transformation, self-understanding, and self-surrender, to permit consciousness itself and its divine spirit-current or shakti, itself inseparable from consciousness, to dissolve all exclusive
, fixed, limited identification with the body-mind. A brief illustration may suffice for our purposes. A learned monk came to the Athonite holy man, Elder Paissos, having read book after book on noetic
prayer, or the various mystical states and stages. After expounding on how 'in this spiritual state, this takes place, and in that state, that takes place', he asked Father Paissos what state he was in. Paissos recounts:
" 'In what state?' I repeated, ' In no state.'
" 'So what are you doing out here?' he asked.
"What am I doing? I ask God for self-knowledge. If I know myself, I'll have repentance. And if repentance comes, so will humility, and then afterwards, grace. That's why I'm seeking repentance, repentance, and repentance. God will send His grace afterward."
The summary point in this discussion is that the apparent ascent or
descent of consciousness and/or kundalini in the chakra system is part of a larger spiritual process, and is not the immediate concern, or necessity, of the separately identified, unawakened individual.
Adyashanti seems to concur on this basic point (although he also recognizes that it is almost inevitable at some point for energy to be liberated in the body-mind as one's conscious awareness deepens):
"Awakening is just here. You don't need to bring it backwards or up or down or behind something to be essentially free of what's arising. It already is free. It doesn't need to back up. Only the little me thinks it needs to back up or get away."
(p. 217 Emptiness Dancing
It needs also be said that it is possible that the purifying activity of the kundalini or spirit-energy on the chakras may cause them to open in any order, from below-upwards, or above-down, depending on the stage of the individual and his/her karmic history/requirements. For example, one may have opened at the level of the heart or throat, but need to 'go back' and integrate the energies/emotions of the second (sexual/desire) or third (solar plexus/will) chakras. So one need not then be fixated on the notion of a mysterious force shooting straight up the spine in every case. What we are essentially talking about - with difficulty - is the Spirit, Soul, or Overself moving more freely in its association with its own bodily vehicle, and causing 'friction' when it meets with obstructions.
Ramana considered the following to be the essential point:
"The seeker's aim must be to drain away the vasanas from the heart and let no reflecting consciousness obstruct the light of the Eternal Consciousness. This is achieved by the search for the origin of the ego and by diving into the heart. This is the direct path to Self-Realization. One who adopts it need not worry about nadis, brain, sushumna, kundalini, breath control and the six yogic centers. The Self does not come from anywhere or enter the body through the crown of the head. (17a) It is as it is, ever-shining, ever steady, unmoving and unchanging. The changes are not inherent in the Self for the Self abides in the heart and is self-luminous like the sun. The changes are seen in its light."
Ah, yes: just "drain away the vasanas from around the heart
." This must be the understatement of the century - does anyone have an idea how profound an ordeal that is? The ego could and would never do such a thing - the 'I'-thought will defend itself until the bitter end. Properly speaking, only a master could do it, of course with the disciple's cooperation.
Bhai Sahib, guru of Irena Tweedie, spoke of in his Sufi tradition the master activating the heart chakra of the disciple, letting the heart then open all the other centers through its own inherent wisdom-process:
"By our system it [kundalini] is awakened gently...we awaken the 'King', the heart chakra, and leave it to the 'King' to awaken all the other chakras."
Victoria LePage elaborates:
"By this method man's natural state of purity is regained not by meditation or ascetic disciplines
[per se], or by any abstraction of the senses, but in full consciousness; ideally by a spontaneous union with the pure consciousness of the guru."
In other words, realization, as well as activation of energy, is a result of a process of infused contemplation by grace, and not the strategic efforts of an individual. The individual has removed himself from all concern for the process, and is in a state of surrender. This is the safest way, and in some sense the easiest and also the most difficult.
[Bhai Sahib also made an interesting statement worth pondering, that "new chakras are discovered all the time..there is not enough time in a lifetime to awaken them all."
It has been said that there are really not 'two things': Spirit and matter are one, kundalini and the soul are one, and thus one can appreciate that ultimately kundalini is not separate from our own self. It is quite a paradoxical affair, but it may be said one that has its own logic within relativity. In advanced Dzogchen ultimately the energies are non-dually resolved into their essences. The lights and sounds perceived within or moving in the body are finally known as manifesting from our own primal essence. But of course, from within relativity there seems to be a process.
And, again, which has its own logic, which must be respected. "Getting fried" is a real possibility. The annals of spirituality are filled with cautions about premature awakening of the centers, which can lead to bodily and psychic ruin, madness, etc.. The Cypriote mystic Daskalos, as reported by Kyriacos Markides in his book Homage to the Sun
, taught that the chakras, or what he called the 'sacred discs', at birth begin to rotate in a clockwise manner, and are largely under the control of the Holy Spirit as the infant develops. Stress, agitation and arisal of evil propensities can temporarily reverse this flow. In maturity, the discs at the head (primarily the ajna and sahasrar), which govern our self-consciousness, may be developed through our efforts at right thinking and discrimination, while the discs at the heart and solar plexus remain under the aegis of the Holy Spirit. An aspiring mystic can open any of these discs through raja yoga type of practices, but the safer way is the aforementioned process of right living and thinking, without flooding by opening the gates of the subconscious. The reason, in part, is that there is a close connection to mental illness or madness and an unstable relationship between the solar plexus and the brain. When these are unable to handle the intense vibrations of our subtle body a breakdown can occur. It takes time to prepare the channels properly. Which is why most masters advise a gradual devotional and intellectual development a supposed to a concerted yogic effort to propel us towards exotic inner experiences. Daskalos states:
"Violent vibrations in themselves do not lead to madness. Madness is the inability of the material brain and the solar plexus to express the inner conditions of the psychonoetic body
[i.e., subtle bodies]. Sometimes you will notice, for example, that before an individual gets into these fits of madness he may begin to feel pain in his stomach, bend down and start vomiting. The vibration that gets him off balance may start from the solar plexus."
"The disc at the heart begins to revolve simultaneously with the movement of the disc at the solar plexus. It begins revolving while the infant is still in the womb. The two discs, that of the solar plexus and of the heart,are responsible for offering us the phenomenon of life. After birth the disc at the heart is also responsible for energizing the movement of the lungs."
"The sacred discs of the heart and the solar plexus are completely independent of the present self-conscious personality. They are under the direct and omniscient supervision of the Holy Spirit which sets these two discs into motion, making possible the functioning of the physical body."
"The two discs at the head are responsible for the development of the personality and offer us the potential of self-consciousness...The [disc over the head] begins to move very slowly right at birth and it gradually develops as the child learns how to concentrate and reason...Now, it is possible that a person may sop end a lifetime with the disc over his head never moving in a normal and harmonious manner. This may happen when the person is over focused on and overdetermined by earthly material existence. I have noticed that for a lot of people that disc hardly moves. I said "hardly" because in reality that disc always moves at least a little for all persons regardless of their mental and spiritual development. However, for threes earthly people the disc remains atrophied. It maintains the size it had when the person came into the world."
The development of this sacred disc will depend on the person's self-consciousness, the way the person thinks, the way he handles noetic
[i.e., mental] substance. It starts to grow and move harmoniously when the person makes proper use of the power of thought."
He makes the following point:
"The disc over the head can develop through appropriate meditation exercises of concentration. But it can also develop without the individual consciously trying to develop it. Sometimes this may be a more preferable way. There have been people who through virtue, reason, powers of observation and through self-discipline managed to develop the disc over their heads without ever learning of its existence, and never consciously trying to open it and develop it. On the other hand, there are Researchers of Truth
[i.e., a term given to aspirants in his mystical circles] who learn about these centers on the etheric-double by reading books from the Orient. Through practice they may begin to move that sacred disc rapidly and open it up. But unless they also develop their characters, they will not accomplish much. In fact they may prematurely open their sacred discs,which could be damaging to their present personalities. The safest method of developing this disc is through self-analysis, reason, and the right way of living."
: there is much more to Daskalos teachings; as this is so different than advaita and other oriental philosophies, for further study the reader is directed to the trilogy by Markides (The Magus of Strovolos, Homage to the Sun, Fire in the Heart
), as well as "The Idea of Man" on this website and its imbedded links ]
Perhaps the following may offer another clarifying perspective. Swami "M", in Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master
(2010), writes of a time as a young teen (!) when he was conflicted by contrasting accounts by these various masters over the location of the heart center, i.e., was it at the crown center, the ajna, or the right side of the chest. While spending the night at the samadhi site of Sri Ramadasa Swami, a strange man spontaneously appeared to him and said, "Don't fear...So you have a problem, yeah? Don't know where the heart lotus is, yeah? It is everywhere, here, there, everywhere. Ha ha, manifested in different centers for different people. No controversy."
He then tapped him in the middle of the chest and said, "Yours, right here, anahata, you stick to it, Babaji's order."
A violet light he never saw before then filled his heart center which he saw even with open eyes. He was later given another practice by one named Dadaji:
"I was given the sixteen letter (Shodasakshari), the Sri Vidya mantra belonging to the Lopamudra category with the starting sound Ka. "While kriya yoga clears up the central spinal pathway for the kundalini energy," said Dadaji, "the sound vibrations of the Sri Vidya help activate the cerebrospinal centers, and prepare them to receive the serpent power as it begin to ascend. I have come to teach you Shiva Raja Yoga, Thirumoolar's teaching, seven more centers in the brain."
[My how things can get complicated! This is likely part of the appeal of Advaita. But truth is truth, so let us not judge how it shall be, but continue our investigation.The point of interest here is regarding numerous centers in the brain. Perhaps in this we there may be found a reconciliation between the above-mentioned teachings of yoga and Sant Mat regarding Sat Lok and the Sahasrar?]
Several years later with his own guru he had a more definitive shakti opening which coincided with the falling away of his sense of separate self:
"A searing pain shot up my backbone, and such heat was generated that I felt that my whole body, especially my heart, was on fire. I almost thought that this was the end, and that I might not come out of it. Suddenly, a roaring sound, that quickly transformed itself into a soothing hum entered into my consciousness. It was as if someone with a Jim Reeves voice was chanting a long drawn "Om." The convulsions ceased, the heat subsided and a warm glow, like the comforting warmth of a fireplace on a winter night, suffused my body and soul. From the crown of my head, a secret elixir began to flow down my spine, and from head to toe, I experienced a wondrous, blissful ecstasy. I opened my eyes and looked around. Everything was fresh, new, and pulsating with life energy. I was a new person; resurrected from the old that seemed to have vanished and died. I was no longer an isolated self. The center of consciousness was everywhere from the humble dust to the Milky Way. All boundaries were broken. When I saw Babaji, it was as if I was him, looking at me. Babaji said, "Yes. Now, you are reborn. This is the real meaning of Dwija, born again. Rise slowly, for it will take some time to come to terms with your new self. Like a newborn babe, you'll have to crawl, then sit up, and finally walk with faltering step, until practice gives you the steady, confident stride of a full-grown being."
There is, of course, much more that can be said on this topic, we have but scratched the surface.
For instance, a number of questions remain. 'When and why and how did the kundalini get 'coiled' at the base of the spine?' Some speculate that it actually had something to do with the evolution of the race and a 'Marduk disaster' (a cosmic planetary collision that, according to some, formed our earth eons ago; see Markides, Fire in the Heart
). And, "what exactly is
the kundalini? Is it the pranas
, what the Sant Mat teachers refer to as the 'motor' or life currents, or a variant or emanation thereof? or is it also related to the 'sensory' currents, part and parcel of the soul or consciousness itself?" "Does the kundalini only have to rise to the sahasrar once to achieve what its proponents claim, or are multiple such ascensions necessary?' [A final link to a talk by Kufayev
on this idea]. And, "must it be felt to arise at all?" As we have seen, opinions on this vary, as do definitions of what kundalini actually is. Ultimately, it has been said that there is only One stuff (18); that this Divine Mind, in which the Soul is said to be rooted or from which it is derived, is also Its own Substance and Energies. So what, then, is kundalini really? Is it apart
from us? In what way? What is going on here? This is something to ponder over.
Some summary reflections on the above discussion are now offered. First, there is a need to distinguish between concentration or interiorization of the mind or attention (surat), and its apparent movement in the sushumna and/or to a bodily center, whether in the spinal line or to the heart, and the movement of the soul's energy
in such a manner. Kundalini is generally mentioned in reference to the latter.
Second, Lakshmana Swamy and other Ramana descendants often seem to confuse the two, when saying "the mind is the kundalini, and must descend into the heart and die," etc.. One can have a mystic transport or feeling of leaving the body, or ascending up the chakra line,or descending into, or abiding as, the heart without the kundalini as such awakening. And vice versa. Or both. Further, the consensus is that it is not necessary for all aspirants to have any of these 'movements' to become self-realized, although some variation on these themes is probably relatively inevitable and natural in the context of existence as a human being. This is because, it is said, there are multiple simultaneous, non-separate streams emanating from the Divine/Soul/Overself, i.e., Consciousness, Life, Energy, which are all One yet also experientially distinct.
Third, it may be possible to bypass the lower kundalini energy by meditating on the shabd, or light and sound current, as the Sants say, but it may or may not be possible to achieve full integration within the lower vehicles without some variety of "lower" kundalini activation. Many of the Sant masters have in fact had transformation of both kundalini opening and shabd absorption. In addition, both kundalini and shabd may be considered forms of shakti. As my co-writer expressed:
"The sound current, in my experience, only has an upward 'pulling' effect when listening to it in the ajna chakra or head area, as this energizes it's ascending nature. One practice Paramhansa Yogananda suggested, on the other hand, was listening to the nada as vibrating throughout the whole body, which suggests it is not limited to higher planes, but can be experienced as the underlying vibration of all the planes, bodies and chakras. Actually, this is not entirely foreign to some Sant Mat schools. Another practice he suggested was learning to hear it spread throughout the whole universe, beyond one's own body, and certainly not limited to higher planes. So there is definitely different ways to experience the nada, and 'pulling' is only one way, in my experience."
"The reason that I asked [whether I was hearing the sound without closing the ears during a time of intense energetic purification - i.e., a very painful period] is that the ascending sound current as the Word or Logos, Shabda Brahman, the Music of the Spheres, and so on is understood in different ways in various traditions; one aspect that most Sant Mat teachers have not emphasized so much is that in tantric/kundalini traditions like Tibetan Buddhism and certain Hindu schools, the sound current is considered to be a manifestation of kundalini (Shabda Brahman being the 'Shakti' or dynamic/creative energy of God or the Transcendent). Swami Rama, for instance, says that 'kundalini manifests as subtle light and sound (nada)'. And nada yoga is a key component of Laya Yoga, which is what kundalini yoga used to be called before the 20th century. I mention all this by way of explaining why I asked the questions. It is, to me, a sign of the kundalini being active if a person hears the sound current, even if only periodically. Most people I have asked do not hear it at all, though many do. My intuitive studies have lead me to feel that it is one of many clear signs that the kundalini is 'moving'. This means that one is, without a doubt, 'on their way home'. So, just another confirmation of things we have been talking about for years."
And fourth, while the Overself may be said to be rooted in the heart while incarnated (some try to pinpoint this to the sino-atrial node, and hence 'on the right', but 'deep in the heart' is good enough for most traditions), at some point one also transcends the idea of the Overself or Soul being related to any bodily center, be it the head (pineal gland or sahasrar) or the heart. Brunton writes:
"From this ultimate standpoint, space is regarded as being merely an idea for the mind whilst the mind itself is regarded as being outside both position and distance. Hence the philosophic meditation seeks to know the Overself by direct insight into its timeless, spaceless nature and not indirectly by bringing it into relation with a particular point in the physical body."
"Whether the divine power is looked upon as being inside or outside oneself - and both views will be true and complementary - in the end it must be thought of without any reference to body and ego at all."
And at this point one knows the shakti, shabd and/or kundalini, as the form and energy of one's own self, and not leading
to that self. There is then nowhere to go, and nothing to do.
Seven hundred years earlier the author of the mystical treatise, The Cloud of Unknowing, said as much in the following passages:
"...the intention in the depths of our spirit. Which is the same as the 'height' of our spirit, for in these matters height, depth, length, and breadth all mean the same."
[and] Since it had to be that Christ should ascend physically, and then send the Holy Spirit in tangible form, it was more suitable that it should be 'upwards', and 'from above', than it should be 'downwards and from beneath', 'from behind, from the front, or from the sides'. Apart from this matter of suitability, there was no more need for him to have gone upwards than downwards, the way is so near. For, spiritually, heaven is as near down as up, up as down, behind as before, before as behind, on this side or that! So that whoever really wanted to be in heaven, he is there and then in heaven spiritually. For we run the high way (and the quickest) to heaven on our desire, and not on our two feet. St. Paul speaks for himself and many others when he says that although our bodies are actually here on earth, we are living in heaven. He is meaning their love and their desire, which is, spiritually, their life. Surely the soul is as truly there where the object of its love is, as it is in its body which depends on it, and to which it gives life. If then we will go spiritually to heaven, we do not have to strain our spirit up or down or sideways!"
And further, lest one on any path be concerned that he has not had the 'required' experiences, the following story of Ramana Maharshi should allay his worry once and for all:
"In 1942, a Tamil scholar had a lengthy and detailed discussion with Bhagavan on the amrita nadi, believed to be the nerve associated with Self realization. Bhagavan showed interest in the discussion and answered all the pundit?s questions, giving a detailed description of the functions of the amrita nadi. Nagamma felt out of place as she did not know anything of the subject matter. After the pundit left, she approached Bhagavan and began to ask him about what was discussed. Before she could complete her sentence, Bhagavan asked, “Why do you worry about all this?” Nagamma replied, “Bhagavan, you have been discussing this for four days; so I thought I should also learn something about it from you.” Bhagavan answered, “The pundit was asking me what is written in the scriptures and I was giving him suitable replies. Why do you bother about all that? It is enough if you look into yourself as to who you are.” Saying this, Bhagavan smiled compassionately at her. After another two days or so, there was once again another dialogue on the same subject. This time Bhagavan said that it was only a notion, a mere concept. Nagamma intervened to ask whether all matters relating to the amrita nadi were also only concepts. Bhagavan replied emphatically, “Yes, what else is it? Is it not a mere notion? If the body itself is a notion, will that not be a notion as well?” Bhagavan then looked at Nagamma with great kindness. That very moment, all her doubts were laid to rest. In narrating this incident, Nagamma wanted to make known how important it is to go back to the source when spiritual doubts arise."
(from Ramana Periya Puranam)
So here Ramana appears to be agreeing with Sri Nisargadatta that all but the Absolute are concepts. In which case it does not matter which way one proceeds, the 'I'-thought or ego can be tamed, transcended, or made irrelevant on any path or via any center.
Also in Ramana Periyam Puranam is found this quote from Ramana:
"The Self alone is to be realized. Kundalini shakti, visions of God, occult powers and their spell binding displays are all in the Self. Those who speak of these and indulge in these have not realized the Self. Self is in the Heart and is the Heart itself. All other forms of manifestations are in the brain. The brain itself gets its power from the Heart. Remaining in the Heart is realizing the Self. Instead of doing that, to be attracted by brain oriented forms of disciplines and methods is a sheer waste of time. Is it not foolish to hold on to so many efforts and so many disciplines that are said to be necessary for eradicating the non-existent ignorance?”
Clearly, for Ramana the kundalini force was not of much importance as compared to the primary realization of the heart or consciousness itself.
An interesting description of kundalini is given in the Spandakarika
, a translation with commentary by Daniel Odier of the ancient tantric text by Vasagupta, which speaks of a "spherical kundalini that unfurls from the heart, permeating the totality of space, and which is absolute love" - by contrast which the chakras and spinal kundalini movement are more or less imaginary. This book is highly recommended.
There is an interesting section in PB's Notebooks on kundalini
that may help tie up some loose ends on this topic. Among the most intriguing entries are the following:
"What the Hindus call kundalini, meaning the "coiled force," is really a manifestation of [the] power of the Overself. It does not have to appear in the case of every progressing disciple."
"It is really nothing other than the soul's Energy, the dynamic aspect of the still centre hidden deep in man."
"It is the original life-force behind all human activity - mental and physical, spiritual as well as sexual - because it was behind the very birth of the human entity itself."
"This force is originally derived from the sun. It is universal, living, conscious, and like electricity in its dynamic potential."
"He who brings to the attempt a sufficient degree of informed spiritual development and mental-emotional self-control need have no fear. But he who does not - and such a type is in the majority - may find the solar plexus pouring out the force unrestrainedly through his nervous system, inducing permanent insomnia by reason of its pressure upon his brain, until his mind becomes unhinged."
The latter is a warning regarding the premature and incomplete awakening of this force in unprepared individuals, whose many internal blocks - largely of a moral nature - prevent its full, unhindered circulation. Best, then, to leave to God the working out of this dimension of the spiritual process, while one humbly increases his devotion and understanding. deCaussade gives one example of this from a Christian mystical perspective:
"That which you experienced in Retreat was a slight increase of your ordinary state , resembling the paroxysms of a fever
[kundalini?]. This increase of trouble cannot have been very salutary for you from the moment you accepted it ...God leads you, His grace works in you, although in a severe and crucifying manner , as is experienced in all violent remedies. Your spiritual maladies had need of remedies such as these; let your good Physician act as He best knows how; He will proportion the strength of the remedy to the power of the malady. Oh! how ill you were formerly without being aware of it! It is then that you ought to have taken the alarm, and it now when your convalescence is secured.”
Finally, my co-writer puts this entire process in a broader context:
"Beyond simply its 'serpent power' aspect, one might say that kundalini can be considered as a way of talking about an expression of transmission/grace/stimulation that can come from any number of sources: spiritual practice, directly from the Holy Spirit, Sat Purush, the lineage/guru, or one's own Soul. Kundalini, or more broadly, Shakti, is often used when wanting to emphasize the energy/bodily aspect of the spiritual process, which, of course, can, when activated, lead to a clearing of karmas and energy blocks referred to in different ways in different contexts, such as : 'kriyas' (Muktananda), 'spontaneous body movements' (Yan Xin), or burning/purifying (U Ba Khin). All of these sources and many others each have their own list of the potential symptoms that can arise when the 'kundalini is active'. These include:
- spontaneous mudras, asanas, pranayama
- psychic openings
- sensations in the spine
- experiencing inner lights and sounds
- distorted body image
- strange emergence of various physical sensations with no apparent pathology or outer cause
- cathartic eruption of emotions
- patterns of stress and tension moving through the body
- chakras opening
- sensation of body vibrating
- sense of misalignment of 'inner nature' and the body
- dissociation from the body
- numbing, deadening, dulling of senses
- heightening of senses
- shutting down of emotional sensitivity
- hyper-emotional sensitivity
- deeper intuitive insights
- feelings of suffocation, pressure, crushing, or bands of tensions in the body
- rapture, bliss, love, contentment, peace
- intensive negative emotions - fear, anxiety, sorrow, anger, existential despair, alienation
- laughing, crying, coughing, sneezing
- strange sensations of dismemberment, head disconnected from body, paralysis
- dizziness, loss of appetite, confusion
- vision problems, hearing problems, chronic headaches
- sudden emergence of diseases that then quickly pass without treatments such as pneumonia, fever, bad headaches, allergies
- lethargy, tiredness, loss of motivation, low vitality
Intensified episodes, then, could be called 'clearing karma', 'the scrubbing process' (Sant Darshan Singh), 'perinatal/transpersonal process' (Stanislov Grof), 'the path of purification' (Theravada Buddhism), 'diseases of the mystic', 'shakti fever', 'pranic disorder' (Wilber), 'dark nights of the soul' (see this extensive article for many examples of such purification and transformation), etc.. All this may loosely be put under the umbrella of a 'kundalini' (or more preferably, 'shakti' or energy aspect of the spiritual process)."
Yes, it can be very harrowing. St. John of the Cross describes graphically an extreme of this process:
“The soul must needs be in all its parts reduced to a state of emptiness, poverty and abandonment and must be left dry and empty and in darkness."
"All this God brings to pass by means of this dark contemplation; wherein the soul not only suffers this emptiness and the suspension of these natural supports and perceptions, which is a most afflictive suffering (as if a man were suspended or held in the air so that he could not breathe), but likewise He is purging the soul, annihilating it, emptying it or consuming in it (as fire consumed the moldiness and rust of metal) all the affections and imperfect habits which it had contracted in its whole life. Since these are deeply rooted in the substance of the soul, it is wont to suffer great undoing and inward torment, besides the said poverty and emptiness, natural and spiritual...For the Prophet says here that, in order for the rust of the affections which are within the soul to be purified and destroyed, it is needful that, in a certain manner, the soul itself should be annihilated and destroyed, since these passions and imperfections have become natural to it."
"Wherefore, because the soul is purified in this furnace like gold in a crucible, it is conscious of that complete undoing of itself in its very substances, together with the direst poverty...If He ordained not that, when these feelings arise within the soul, they should speedily be stilled, it would die in a very short time....”
Nor is this a cookie-cutter or entirely predictable process, as it is the Divine, after all, which is in charge. In Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ
, Madame Guyon writes:
“Of, how many times the gold is plunged back into the fire - far, far more times than seem necessary. Yet you can be sure the Forger sees impurities no one else can see. The gold must return to the fire again and again until positive proof has been established that it can be no further purified.”
My co-writer summarizes:
"In general, then, most people with active kundalini do not experience the majority of these symptoms, but only a handful, at any given time or even over a pretty long period, and, further, most do not experience much in the way of the more exotic symptoms, such as OBEs, fire up the spine, chakras opening, and so on. Instead, the process is usually more subtle, gradual, and less dramatic. Subsequently, many more people have active kundalini than realize it, and more often than not, they experience mostly what may be called the 'negative' or less dramatic symptoms, as these are the result of clearing negative physical and emotional karma, and mostly take the form of strange physical sensations, disturbance of vitality and motivation, and passing through a lot of difficult emotional spaces."
"At times one may have an 'over-active kundalini', which means that sometimes this process is proceeding somewhat forcefully, and so the symptoms are fairly difficult to live with. In some historical cases this has been terrifying, or even life-threatening.
[The strange episode of Ganapati Muni mentioned earlier comes to mind]. More often, however, this rapid clearing may simply be inevitable, as the natural course of our spiritual growth combined with our karmic situation leads to some accelerated working out of much 'shadow material'. But it can also be the result, at least in part, of extra stimulation so that the intensity is more than is necessary or even desirable or integratable. This extra stimulation can result from doing energetic exercises (chi gong, pranayama, etc.), or having done them in past lives, or even just from a lot of any spiritual practice, or drugs, exercise, giving birth, etc.. So if the kundalini is already active it becomes important to try not to let it, or cause it, to get over-stimulated. As Jack Kornfield wrote in A Path with Heart, it is sometimes necessary to 'find the brake' and slow down the process of purification so it may be assimilated. One student having a very difficult, painful time was told by her forest master not to do vipassanna as that only stimulated her pain, but rather, to simply concentrate on the good for a while. The reader also shall note the incident of Ramdas with Neem Karoli Baba when his and others' kundalini spontaneously started to rise, and the saint stopped it by putting his hand on their heads."
Ramakrishna Paramahansa said this of the kundalini process that began after his initial dramatic spiritual awakening:
"No sooner had I passed through one spiritual crisis than another took its place. It was like being in the midst of a whirlwind...Sometimes I would open my mouth, and it would be as if my jaw reached from heaven to the underworld...An ordinary man couldn't have borne a quarter of that tremendous fervor; it would have burnt him up. I had no sleep at all for six long years....I got frightened and said to the Mother, "Mother, is this what happened to those who call on you? I surrendered myself to you, and you gave me this terrible disease." I used to shed tears - but then, suddenly, I'd be filled with ecstasy. I saw that my body didn't matter - it was of no importance, a mere trifle. Mother appeared to me and comforted me and freed me from fear."
Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee, who served under Sufi teacher Irena Tweedie, author of Daughter of Fire
, writes of his own experience of this phenomenon in his early years of spiritual practice:
".. but my physical body and psychological states were still giving me problems. I was highly stressed and could not eat very much. I had a very limited diet at the time and still found it very difficult to digest anything. I tried homeopathy and acupuncture to no effect. I knew the importance of natural methods of healing. I knew that this was the right spiritual approach, but what could I do? One day in despair I asked Mrs. Tweedie. I expected some spiritual advice, but she responded, "Try valium. I often use it and found it very effective." I did what I was told, went to my family doctor, and was given a prescription. The valium calmed down my body, relaxed my tensed nerves...However [after some time], while the valium had calmed my nerves, I was encountering another problem: lack of sleep. For months, however tired I was, I could not sleep more than a few hours. I had left my mother's house and was living alone in a small room that seemed always damp and cold. I would go to bed exhausted at ten or eleven, only to sleep two or three hours. There is nothing more depressing than waking at two in the morning to a cold, damp room, knowing that you cannot go back to sleep, and also knowing that you will be exhausted for the whole next day. Night after night, week after week, this torture continued. I tried taking sleeping pills but they did not work. I would still awake, exhausted, at two in the morning. Lying awake while half-sedated with the effect of a sleeping pill is particularly unpleasant. I limped through each day, always tired, not knowing what to do."
"I prayed, I cried, I asked. What was this about? I had always slept so well before. Sleeping had never been a problem. Now the focal point of each day was how I would sleep that night. I was always allowed to sleep just enough to keep me from breaking apart, but no more. Life was truly miserable - it was like being dragged through the mud. Suddenly, one morning in the underground train going to work, I knew what was happening. I was being ground down, being told quite definitely that my life was no longer my own. My Sheikh was in control. I needed to know soon after I met the path that I was in the hands of another. Like a horse in the hands of a horse trainer, I was being broken in."
"The lack of sleep continued for about two years. Often it would be the kundalini energy that awoke me and I found that I could only go back to sleep after going for a run. At two or three in the morning, whatever the season or weather, I would jog through the streets. I was once stopped by the police who thought I was running away from nearby burglary. I became almost used to living a life of tiredness combined with intense energy. Then one day I noticed that it was over, that I had slept through the night, that I could live a 'normal' life. But by then I also knew that I belonged to someone else, that my life was not my own."
Another example of a version of this process, which began after many years of practice, is told in the autobiography, Mystical Awakening
, by William Johnston, a Jesuit monk who studied Buddhism in Japan for years. It is especially noted that he did not experience the classical ascent of energy in his spine, but nevertheless did have many experiences commonly associated with kundalini or energetic opening, including prolonged sleeplessness:
"One night, when I was in a deep sleep, something within, like a spring of water, came sizzling up inside of me. It seemed to come from my belly (I prefer the Japanese words hara or tanden) to the surface of my consciousness and I woke in fear and trembling. What had happened to me? This swish! And I could not go back to sleep. I lay awake for the rest of the night...On reflection I saw that I had felt something of this inner energy for quite a while, but I was able to repress it in my waking hours. When I was fast asleep it could uninhibitedly come to the surface. But what was it? And why was I filled with anxiety?...[A] Jesuit who I met in Ireland saw it as something very valuable. "Throw away your sleeping pills and even your rosary," he said, "and attend to this inner fire."
"I spent a terrible sleepless night plagued by anxiety. In the morning I was desperate...My problem was sleep. I could not sleep! The sizzling energy that had awakened me in Baguio, spiraling to the surface of my consciousness during deep sleep, grew and continued to irritate me. It was like a buzzing in my head. Eventually it irritated my whole body. Call it kundalini, the serpent power. Call it the fire of love. Call it the life force. Call it what you will. Whatever it was, it kept me frightened and awake and I kept swallowing sleeping pills....One night I was laying awake in bed. I was looking up at the ceiling, when suddenly a column of smoke came down from the ceiling and struck my breast very violently with the tremendous clang of a bell. It was not just a symbolic experience; I felt deep physical pain and I shouted out,"Oh! Oh! Oh!" Then I lay awake. What was happening?
"After some years I came to see this incident as an awakening of my true self which, hard and brittle, had to be broken open violently with the crash and the clang of the bell. The smoke, I now see, came from a fire that came to burn within me. The smoke seemed to come down from above but perhaps it was like the serpent power rising up from below. The fire came to burn gradually. Only after some time could I call it a fire. Eventually, however, it became very strong and moved from my breast to my head and back again to my whole body. It kept me awake. It was not at all pleasant."
"St. Philip Neri experienced heat all over his body and laughed at the young men who were afraid of the cold
[note: see "Those Amazing Christians" on this website for an account of Philip Neri, Seraphim of Sarov, and many other such mystics]. And St. John of the Cross..writes poetically of "the living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center." When he writes this poem, the living flame of love is a tender and beautiful fire, but he hearkens back to an earlier time when the flame was oppressive."
"My prayer went on, and I continued to give retreats, but a new area of my psyche seemed to have opened up...I lay awake all night, night after night...I could not sleep and I could not take sleeping pills. It was as though my being rejected sleeping pills and told me that I must remain awake."
"A new dimension of energy or a new level of consciousness seemed to awaken, yet I did not toss around in bed. I lay in utter and deep silence. It was an experience of nothingness, a dark nothingness at the depths of my being. I was terrified at the thought of getting no sleep...My inner being continued to say, "You must be awake! Do not sleep! Do not take those sleeping pills!"...This was the advice I had received from [a] Chinese sister in Hong Kong at the beginning of my crisis. "Let the process take place," she had said. "Let God act! Don't fight against God! And this was wonderful advice. Gradually, over a period of years (altogether it was five years), I began to sleep, at first with sleeping pills and then quite naturally."
The writer goes on to say how he later met many other people, both priests and laymen, who experienced this inner fire, with sleepless nights, terrible fears including fear of not sleeping, thinking one was going insane, convinced one was going to hell, being labelled as 'sick', experiencing apparent breakdowns, and going to doctors to no avail. All of which illustrates the respect and sensitivity one ought to bring to such experiences, if and when they do happen.
In conclusion, it is hoped that this article has been of some use to the reader in presenting the kundalini phenomenon from a number of different perspectives. And it is certainly hoped he does not find himself more confused than ever!
1. David Godman, No Mind, I Am The Self
(Nellore District, A.P., India: Sri Lakshmana Ashram, 1986), p. 10
2. Ibid, p. 18
3. Ibid, p. 4.
4. "The Muni and the Maharishi," Part III, The Mountain Path 14, No.3 (July 1978), pp. 147-148
5. Darshan Singh, Spiritual Awakening
(Bowling Green, Virginia: Sawan Kirpal Publications, 1982), p. 261-262
6. Sri Mungala S. Venkataramaiah, Tripura Rahasya, or the Mystery Beyond the Trinity
(Tiruvannarnalai, S. India: Sri Rarnanasramam, 1962), p. 167-16, 172
6a. Hieromonk Isaac, Elder Paissos of Mount Athos
(Chalkidiki, Greece: The Holy Monastery "Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian"), p. 71-72
7. Baha u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf
(Wilmette, Illinois: Bahai Publishing Trust, 1953), p. 22
7a. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Wonders of the Natural Mind
(Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2000), p. 146
8. The Notebooks of Paul Brunton
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1988), Vol. 12, Part 1, 5.39-40
9. Ibid, Vol. 4, Part 2, 2, KUNDALINI
9a. Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles: Lives of the Great Buddhist Masters of India and Tibet
(Boston: Shambhala, 1999), p. 140-141
10. Swami Sivananda, Sadhana
(Shivanandanagar, India: The Divine Life Society, 1978), p.
11. Swami Sivananda, Kundalini Yoga
(Shivanandanagar, India: The Divine Life Society, 1980), p.
12. Swami Sivananda, Kundalini Yoga
, p. 32-33
12a. Darshan Singh, op. cit., p. 24-27
13. David Godman, op. cit. p. 98-100
14. Yogesh Satyeswaranand Saraswati, Science of Soul
(New Delhi, India: Yoga Niketan Trust, 1987), p. 238
15. Benjamin Walker, Encyclopedia of Esoteric Man
(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977), p. 120
16. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 1, 6.5
17. Hieromonk Isaac, op. cit., p. 378
17a. Although some argue that something, i.e., an eminent of the soul or Self, appears
to do so.
17b. LePage, Victoria, Shambhala
(Varanasi: Pilgrims Publishing, 1996), note 1, p. 279
18. Then again some have maintained, strictly speaking, that it is not permissable to say there is just One stuff!
"If I say it's one, it isn't so;
If I say it's two, it's slander.
Kabir has thought about it:
As it is
So it is."
19. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 4, Part 1, 1.218
20. Ibid, Vol. 16, Part 3, 2.38
21. Clifton Wolters, trans., The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works
(Penguin Books, 1978), chapter 37, 60
22. Swami Chetanananda, ed., Ramakrishna As We Saw Him
(St. Louis, Vedanta Society of St. Louis, 1991), p. 15
23. Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee, The Face Before I Was Born
(Inverness, California: The Golden Sufi Center, 1997/2009), p. 38-40
24. William Johnston, Mystical Journey: An Autobiography
(Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2006), pp. 177-178. 184-185, 190-191