the seven Chakras
The Landscape of Subtle Energies.
Siva Samhita: Verses 1-5.
In your body is the mountain Meru,
A Brief Introduction.
Chakra is a sanskrit word meaning wheel. A wheel spins on its own axis; it can turn slowly or rapidy. Like the coloured disks which children spin on a length of thread, a chakra spins in relation to the degree of energy in the system. The wheel itself is a powerful symbol representing the many cyclic patterns of life. It is rather curious to find this ancient and foreign term now fully integrated into the modern western vocabulary. What appears to some as 'new age', is in fact a universally recognized phenomenum of 'all ages'. We can study any esoteric tradition from any culture of the world, and we will probably find reference to the chakras.
Chakras are also called lotuses or padmas. This beautiful symbol tells us a great deal about the nature of the chakras as a living force. The lotus, which is not unlike a water lily, grows widely throughout Asia. The exquisite flower blooms upon the water, but its roots are deeply buried in the mud far below the surface. It has come to represent the human condition. It is rooted in the mud and darkness of the depths but ultimately it flowers under the light of the sun. Just like a lotus, the chakra can be closed, in bud, opening, or blossoming, active, or dormant.
The chakras evolve naturally over a long period of time as part of the development of the whole person. Some spiritual systems seek to educate the whole being, knowing that the chakras will change accordingly. It is also possible to quicken the pace of opening and to accelerate this evolutionary process. Other spiritual systems seek to awaken the chakras, knowing that this will accordingly effect the whole being.
Where are the chakras, these wheels, or lotuses? They are to be found within each of us. Just as everyone has a physical body, we also have a subtle body. The chakras serve as a bridging mechanism between physical matter and subtle matter
We find information about the chakras most notable in Hindu canonical literature, starting with the Upanishads. Four texts in particular deal with the chakras; the Shri Jabala Darshana Upanishad, the Cudamini Upanishad, the Yoga-Shikka Upanishad and the Shandilya Upanishad. These texts describe the location of the chakras and provide symbolic descriptions for each of them.
In the tenth century, the Gorakshashatakam was written by the Guru Goraknath. He was widely thought of as a saint in his own time. He set out practical knowledge for the benefit of his disciples. His text gave new information concerning the powers that accompany the awakening of the centres. He also established the connection between chakra awakening and the practice of meditation.
We find the most detailed and comprehensive study of the chakras in the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana (Description of and Investigation into the six bodily centres). This is the sixth chapter of a major work composed in the sixteenth century by Purananda Svami called Shri-Tattva-Cintamini and it includes detailed descriptions of the chakras, with illustrations. The text also identifies the powers that accompany the awakeing of the chakras and describes the practices which the disciple needs to master. In modern parlance, this text has all the qualities of a workbook.
The Hindu tradition is a rich source of information and inspiration. It furnishes us with descriptions, representations, and practical techniques for chakra work. The spiritual initiates of this tradition worked extensively with these energies and left a rich heritage of paintings, symbolic images, cosmograms, meditations, and texts.
We find teachings concerning the chakras in many other major spiritual traditions. Within Tibetan Buddhism, knowledge of the chakras is thoroughly integrated into practice. The centres are called channel wheels. They are used extensively in certain significant visualisations by the practitioner. Taoist yoga is a complex discipline based upon the control and circulation of vital energies. The western alchemical tradition had a deep understanding of the chakras. Metals and planets were assigned to the chakras in an elaborate system of correspondence that formed the basis of the alchemists approach to the quest for spiritual transformation. With the decline of the alchemical arts, codified knowledge about the chakras faded in the west.
Interest in the chakras re-emerged with the appearance of the Theosophy movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Theosophists were especially interested in a wide range of eastern metaphysical concepts and brought many key ideas to western minds. The Theosophical Publishing House produced several volumes on the chakras, the most notable of these being The Chakras by C.W.Leadbeater. More recently still, we have the collected works of Alice Bailey to draw upon. She was in telepathic communication with the Tibetan master, Djwhal Khul, for some thirty years. The Tibetan gave few personal details during this long period. He vouchedsafed only what is given in the preface to each volume; namely that he lived on the borders of Tibet and defined his task in the following way, "My work is to teach and spread the knowledge of the Ageless Wisdom wherever I can find a response." Their fruitful collaboration produced a vast storehouse of esoteric teaching, including a wealth of information on the chakras. We find broad agreement throughout these widely-differing cources concerning the location, nature, and function of the chakras.
It is my own personal belief that changes in group-consciousness will bring about a re-evaluation of the chakras and their significance for us individually and as a group. We are entering an age where spiritual values are taking on a deep significance for everybody. The chakras represent the spiritual blueprint that many will turn to in the quest to find themselves.
The Chakras And Subtle Anatomy.
The chakras themselves are part of a greater network of subtle energies. We cannot isolate them without violating holistic principles. Our physical make-up is well researched and documented through the many body-based sciences. Our subtle make-up can only be explored through quite different means: involvement rather than clinical detachment, and a holistic frame of reference. However, the physical and the non-physical aspects of being are two aspects of the same whole; they cannot really be seperated. We cannot study one without reference to the other. We cannot study subtle anatomy without seeing its relationship to physical anatomy. Equally, physical anatomy without knowledge of subtle anatomy is incomplete.
The idea that living cells, whether human, animal, or vegetable form, radiate an invisible presence has been an enduring concept. The development of Kirlain photography has now revealed the reality of life energy for the first time. It is possible to see energy flows and emanations from simple cell structures such as plants and even vegetables, we can only wonder what intricate energy patterns conscious and complicated human beings might radiate.
Simple aggregations of living tissue generate a luminescence. It is therefore likely that more specialised groups of cells arranged into physical organs will give rise to more organised energy patterns. Stop for a moment and list the body's major systems. Your list will probably include cognition, respiration, circulation, digestion, reproduction, and excretion. Their equivalents are the six chakras of awakening. The brain, not suprisingly, has an additional centre giving a total of seven major chakras. The locations are shown in the diagram below.
The Chakras And The Physical Body.
Each chakra corresponds to certain physical systems and the related organs.
There is a direct relationship between the condition of the chakra and the corresponding physical organs. A chakra can be overvitalized, under-vitalised, or in a state of balance. It can be open or blocked. Dysfunction, for example, of the reproductive system will usually manifest with obvious physical symptoms such as disrupted menstruation. The physical symptoms will be mirrored by dysfunction within the related energy network and the chakra itself. Creating change to restore the related energy system to a state of balance will create change at the physical level.
The chakras function as transmuters of energy from one level to another, distributing pranic energy to the physical body. This is done in part through the glands, which regulate different systems within the body.
Traditionally, each of the chakras is also related to a major gland. The base chakra is related to the adrenals. The sacral chakras is related to the ovaries in women and the testes in men; the solar plexus chakra relates to the pancreas; the heart chakra is related to the thymus and the throat chakra is related to the thyroid and the parathyroid glands. The brow chakra is most often assigned to the pituitary gland, sometimes to the pineal, and the crown chakra is most often assigned to the pineal gland, although sometimes to the pituitary.
The endocrine glands play a vital role in the everyday health and well-being of the body. The hormones released directly into the bloodstream by the glands govern all aspects of growth, development, and daily physical activity. Dysfunction by any of the endocrine glands will have serious physical consequences. Physical malfunction is itself the result of a breakdown that becomes lodged within the energy network of nadis and chakras.
The number of chakras sometimes varies from on tradition to another. This is not a cause for disagreement but rather a question of accounting. There are two subsidiary centres allied to the heart and the throat chakras. Some authorities do not include the centre at the top of the head as a chakra, treating it instead as a unique centre of consciousness. The number of chakras given can therefore vary from six to nine. The number most often given is seven; the six chakras of awakening and the crown chakra at the top of the head.
The Sushumna, Ida, And Pingala Meridians.
Just as the physical body is far more than just a collection of organs, the subtle vehicle is far more than a collection of chakras. The physical organs are connected as part of a greater whole, and the chakras are also connected as part of a greater whole. The body has other vital systems without which it could not function: it has a complicated network of nerves, centralised in the spinal column, highly developed senses and a vitally important system of hormone regulators.
The subtle vehicle also has other vital systems: there is a network of interconnecting energy channels called meridians or nadis (the word "nad" means to flow). There are a number of major channels also called meridians and a vast number of increasingly finer minor ones. The Siva Samhita states in verse 13 that "In the body of Man there are 350,000 nadis; of them, the principal are fourteen."
Within the physical body, the spine is of great importance, and the spine also has a vital part to play in the circulation of subtle energies. The sushumna, which is the most important of the nadis, rises within the base chakra following the spine. The Siva Samhita tells us in verse 16 that "Sushumna alone is the highest and beloved of the Yogis. Other vessels are subordinate to it in the body". It terminates at the crown chakra, the Gate of Brahman. The sushumna nadi is also known as the channel of fire or Sarasvati, one of India's sacred rivers. Sushumna itself is threefold in nature, containing finer forces arranged one within the other. The innermost of these is citrini, "The Heavenly Way, this it the giver of the joy of immortality". This current is equilibrating by nature.
Next comes vajra; its nature is active and forceful. The outer channel is sushumna; its natural tendency is towards inertia and inactivity. The chakras are rooted upon citrini but opn upon the surface of the appropriate energy field. Alice Bailey describes the sushumna as being composed of the forces of life, consciousness and creativity. It bears a remarkable resemblance to the governor vessel meridian which rises at the tip of the coccyx, travels up the centre of the back and passes over the back of the head to finish at the upper lip. This is a major meridian in acupuncture.
In addition to the sushumna there are two other important channels; ida and pingala. Ida is also called chandra, the moon, or the Ganges River, while pingala is also known as surya, the sun, or the Yamuna river. The pingala nadi emerges from the right side of the base chakra and travels up the body in a series of curves crossing back and forth over the sushumna. The ida nadi emerges from the left side of the base chakra, travels up the body, creating the other half of the symmetrical pattern. Ida, pingala, and sushumna meet at ajna chakra, the brow centre between the eybrows, and form a plaited knot of energies. From here the three rivers Ganges, Yamuna, and Sarasvati flow as a single current. The pattern they make has been likened to a pair of intertwined serpents. Some authorities indicate that ida and pingala form a pattern that passes around the chakras. Other authorites, including Swami Saytananda, indicate that the chakras emerge at the junctions where ida and pingala cross sushumna.
The spiral pattern created by ida and pingala is not mirrored in any ot the traditional meridians used in acupuncture. However, Hiroshi Motoyama, a modern researcher and practitioner of the spiritual science, sees a strong correspondence between the second line of the bladder meridian of acupuncture and the ida and pingala nadis. The bladder meridian originates near the bridge of the nose, flows over the head and then courses down the back, dividing into two branches. The second line flow down the back about 4.5cm on either side of the spine. This meridian is especially important, having points which regulate all the internal organs. However, ida and pingala do not pass over the top of the head and are always represented upon the front of the body. They commence at the base chakra and terminate at the brow.
The left and the right side of a healthy body produces clockwise and counter-clockwise flows of energy. This effect seems to be connected to the polarity of the body, which is primarily established through the two hemispheres of the brain. The chakras fall upon the central line of the body and rotate in various clockwise and counter-clockwise combinations.
Ida and pingala are the polar forces which are generated by the two hemispheres of the brain. This network is anchored at either end of the circuit at the base and brow centre.
The Kundalini Experience.
The Divine power, Kundalini shines
like the stem of a young lotus;
like a snake, coiled round upon herself,
she holds her tail in her mouth
and lies resting in half sleep
at the base of the body.
Yoga Kundalini Upanishad (1.82)
The spinal network of energies is a vital part of the subtle anatomy of the human individual. The chakras are strung upon the inner column of sushumna like jewels on a necklace. It is this central column which unifies the seperated chakras into a whole. It is possible for high levels of energy to rise up from the base chakra through the spinal nadi and dramatically affect all the chakras simultaneously. This force is latent but can be simulated by work which awakens the chakras individually.
The Kundalini force is like a coiled spring. In fact, Kundalini is most often depicted in a coiled form as a sleeping serpent. Kundalini shakti can rise and retreat again many times before completing the journey to the top chakra. We cannot understand the chakras individually without considering them as a unified whole, as aspects of a single power.
When the latent power awakens, the ensuing experience takes amny forms dependent upon the consciousness of the practitioner. It can be frightening, bewildering, dramatic and disturbing, hardly ever gentle. The full Kundalini experience brings reconstruction of total being. It can be likened to a living second birth with all the accompanying birth trauma. I like to think of it as a quantum leap. I once had a dream in which I saw Kundalini symbolised as a supernova which was described as "the soul going critical".
Gopi Krishna's experience of Kundalini was traumatic and devastating. At times he came near to death, at other times he felt that he was losing his sanity. His autobiography, "Kundalini, The Evolutionary Energy in Man" is compelling and reveals a great deal about the individual chakras. Having taken up Yoga in his quest for truth, he says, "I longed to attain the condition of consciousness, said to be the ultimate goal of Yoga, which carries the embodied spirit to a region of unspeakable glory and bliss." After many difficult years he attained his goal, experiencing both glory and bliss. His work is probably the fullest contemporary account of Kundalini's rising. He concluded, "I am irrestibly led to the conclusion that the human organism is evolving in the direction indicated by mystics, prophets, and men of genius, by the action of this wonderful mechanism located at the base of the spine."
When we are looking at the chakras individually we need to bear in mind the unity represented by the sevenfold nature of the process.
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The five senses serve the physical self sufficiently well. Yet esoteric traditions have long taught that both the five senses and the physical form are limited and incomplete expressions of total reality.
The physical body is surrounded by an ovoid emanation. It is made up of different bands of energy which each reflect an aspect of being. The innermost band follows the outline of the body.
This is the etheric body. Beyond this is a band of finer substance which reflects the emotional nature. It is usually called the astral body or sometimes the desire body.
Beyond this still, lies the mental body, a level of emanation which reflects the mental nature.
Together these bands of energy form the aura, the mirror of being.
The aura can be seen through clairvoyant vision in terms of colour, brightness, clarity and definition.
The Etheric Field.
The belief that we are not purely physical beings is universally held within living spiritual traditions. Such a belief is intimately connected to a wider view of reality. Accordingly the physical form is viewed as one manifestation of total being. It is regarded as the most dense vehicle of consciousness, composed of matter vibrating within certain frequencies. As Kirlian photography has shown us, living cells generate a non-physical luminescence or emanation which interpenetrates and surrounds the organic whole, whether it is vegetable, plant, animal, or human. This is the etheric vehicle, sheath, body or field, depending on terminology. It is very easy to feel this energy field through quite basic exercise. This level of vibration is sometimes referred to as the health aura or vital body, as patterns of disease appear first within the etheric form. The physical and etheric levels serve as a unified whole.
The physical sheath is called "annamaya kosha" in the Upanishads. The etheric vehicle is called "pranamaya kosha". Together these two levels are called the atma purl, the city of the soul. Both the physical and the etheric vehicles need prana for the maintenance of health and vitality. The physical body draws mainly upon the gross prana provided by food and the air. It also draws upon some degree of subtle prana. The etheric form transmutes subtle prana from more refined levels and transmutes it via the chakras. The etheric level, in contrast to the physical, is highly sensitive to thought pattern, and so the surrounding etheric double can be expanded through visualisation and directed breathing.
The Astral Field.
Next, we encounter what is commonly called the astral or emotional body. This is also called the desire body, as this level reflects our true desires. This band of emanation extends some distance beyond the physical body in all directions. We might also like to think of it as a system of personal antennae. When we meet someone for the first time, or find ourselves in a strange place, the astral field picks up and transmits sensations to us.
We can feel uncomfortable or ill at ease in what appears to be a perfectly acceptable situation. We can sense something about another person long before we are able to confirm this. When two people are attracted, the two energy fields blend or merge by extending toward each other. Conversely, anger or strong feelings of dislike create barriers between the fields: there is no merging or interaction; the two energy fields remain closed.
There is a constant play of energies as the astral field mirrors all changes of mood and responds to the moods and vibrations of others. Human emotions generate specific patterns of energy: hatred, lust, greed, desire, anger, love, devotion - each possesses different vibrations. The astral form reflects the interplay of emotions like a mirror. Its clarity and quality directly reflect the emotional responses. Those with clairvoyant vision indicate that brightness and light accompany the selfless range of emotions such as compassion and altruistic love. The astral sheath can be dark, leaden and even distorted, mirroring persistant ugly emotional states.
The magic mirror is a favourite image in fairy tales. It symbolises the living astral mirror which truthfully reveals desires. The astral field mirrors without discrimination. In children, because the mental field is undeveloped, the astral field opens directly onto the outside world. Adults who have not brought the emotions under mental control remain polarised at this level. If the emotional field is to be aligned to spiritual purpose, a quiet mind, self-awareness and spiritual aspiration need to be nurtured to counter the bias of subjective feeling and the reactive response.
Buddhism lays great stress on the development of equanimity as a means of countering the extreme and unbalanced feelings produced by the unrestrained play of emotions. Personal desires and motives are brought into consciousness and raised to their highest expression through all-embracing compassion. The astral field becomes the mirror for the highest emotions when the emotions that feed the small self have been stilled.
The Mental Field.
The mental sheath constitutes the outer and least dense aspect of the aura. It appears to commence at the edge of the astral field, although in fact if interpenetrates all astral, etheric, and physical substance. This band of energy reflects the mental nature and develops with the ability to use the mind in certain ways. The range of mental activities which our society requires through education and work rarely stimulates development at this level.
Alice Bailey outlines the types of activity that sharpen the mental aura. She claims that the individual needs to develop the ability to think clearly "on all matters affecting the race". This seems a tall order, but it raises all the fundamental questions that most people seek to avoid, and sets the level for abstract thought. The mind has to be focused through the practice of concentration, comprehended through the practice of meditation and raised to its highest through contemplation.
With the development of the higher mental faculties, new abilities quicken. These include the ability to receive inspirational thoughts and intuitive ideas from a pool which invariably appears in an external form. Telepathy and other mental phenomena are also more likely to appear under conscious control. It is in such ways that the development of the higher mind refines the mental sheath.
The Causal Field.
The causal field is grounded in spiritual reality. It interpenetrates the individual mental field and also rest in the universal field. This energy serves as a bridge between levels of unity and duality. Human experience is invariably dualised into "me" and "not me". In the classic mystical experience there is an overwhelming sense of oneness. The distinction between "me" and "not me" simply does not exist.
The world of matter, intertwined with etheric energies, is a plane of effects. What we see about us does not originate upon this level but results from certain laws. The Qabalah portrays the process of manifestation as a series of emanations. This is very similar to the idea of a hierarchy of increasingly refined and subtle states. The causal level, as its name implies, is a plane of origination, not of manifestation.
The individual human being has little awareness of this level. As we live upon the material plane it would be very difficult for us to maintain this degree of consciousness. Those mystics who have briefly touched this level are often ill-at-ease within the illusions of matter. Nevertheless, it is sufficient for us to know that we are rooted into the universal life through the causal field. The causal body is called the anandamaya kosa, or body of bliss.
The subtle energies are just as complicated as the physical form. The key to working with these energies is simple in essence but difficult in application. The subtle energies respond most readily to applied thought. As in the esoteric saying: "Energy follows thought", our subtle energies reflect our mental state for good or ill. The axiom also means that habitual attitudes produce equally engrained patterns of energy, which in turn affect our health and well-being. If we wish to create change, we have to take charge of ourselves by changing our patterns of consciousness.
The relationship between the physical and subtle energies is complex. The subtle levels of our being indicate hidden levles of potential within us all. If we each possess seven major centres of awakening, it is certain that the vast majority of us have not yet explored the potential that these represent. Our condition can be likened to a person who sits motionless, having yet to discover the functions of physical limbs.
Becoming conscious of our own true nature is a difficult and often painful process. It requires a commitment, freely given, to follow the path towards our own enlightenment. It necessitates working with consciousness and with our own depths. The process requires that we slough off old levels of identification as many times as is necessary. This is the ageless Quest for Ultimate Reality. It takes many forms and is the heart of all true spiritual practice.
The Tibetan reminds us of the difficulty of the path: "No glamour, no illusion can long hold the man who has set himself the task of treading the razor-edged path which leads through the wilderness, through the thick-set forest, through the deep waters of sorrow and distress, through the valley of sacrifice and over the mountains of vision, to the gate of Deliverance."
Fortunately, should we set out on the quest, we will no travel empty-handed. The way has been mapped out by the previous quest-seekers, who have bequethed their treasure; the Yoga of the east:
Yoga of the West: The Qabalah.
The Qabalah means "from mouth to ear", indicating that is was originally an oral tradition. Like all esoteric traditions, its followers were subject to persecution. The Judaic tradition, however, created an image, a symbolic picture to serve as the focal point for the transmission of its teachings. This is the Otz Chim, the Tree of Life.
This uniques symbol functions at many levels simultaneously. It is depicted as a series of ten spheres, with an additional veiled eleventh sphere and twenty-two interconnecting paths which are like branches. Together the spheres, which are called sephiroth, and the paths describe the universal forces of the macrocosm and the microcosm.
Maps of the quest, like any decent guide book to a new country, provide the traveller with a route, a method, instructions for protection, knowledge of certain landmarks along the way and possible dangers that might be encountered. The vital difference is that you are both the traveller and the path, the journey and the goal. The value of such maps is beyond measure. Spiritual knowledge is sometimes described as treasure.
Discovering The Etheric Field.
Position your hands so that they are facing but not touching each other. You may need to experiment with the distance as there is definitely a critical point at which the energy centres in the palms interact with one another. Begin to move your hands slowly in and out from each other in a bouncing movement. You might already begin to feel something at this point. When the two palm centres interact you will feel what can best be described as a magnetic force between your hands.This is quite different from the experience of general body heat. When you discover this sensation, which cannot be mistaken, you can begin to move the hands slightly further apart. Eventually the contact will be broken as you move beyond the reach of your own energy field.