What is Kundalini?
This “mystical”word has always remained an enigma even though so much has been written about it! One gets the impression that if one knows about it then one is already enlightened! On the other hand, being ingnorant about it is tantamount to being unintelligent, so to speak. Those who do not talk about it are wary of it and scared of venturing into anything to do with it. One thing is very clear, though….it should not be taken lightly! It may, perhaps, be wise to let it lie as it is!
Yogis have been talking about it since time immemorial. At the outset, we need to understand that “yoga” basically means “union “, and here the union is with the Supreme Being. Yoga, as we know it, comprises of many disciplines and actions, which ultimately culminate into meditation leading to “Samadhi” and it is the last two which lead to the union we are talking about. This happens with the opening of the ‘third eye” leading to the atma travelling up through the “tenth” door, at the top of the head, to ultimately merge with Parmatma through some more stages.
Yogis believe that the Kundalini is our individual manifestation of the larger Shakti which is the creative force of the Universe. This larger shakti has also been called Mahakundalini by some (Mary Scott, “Kundalini in the physical world”). It is regarded as a stabilizing agency, whether at the physical or Cosmic level. It is part of the Universal Spirit present inside us, but about which we are not normally aware. It is tremendously powerful, borne out of the fact that it has given birth to us.
The role of the kundalini is to see that all the multiple energy based processes occurring inside our bodies are held firmly together in accordance with the patterns commensurate with our destiny and life’s purpose, while Mahakundalini appears to be similar to Tao, as described by the Chinese, who have conceived it “as a vast all-embracing terrestrial energy not subject to gravity or electromagnetism but modifying them as they operate within the Earth’s field”(Mary Scott)
To understand what kundalini is,one needs first to delve into the process of Creation. Our ancient rishis have understood that, for this entire universe to be created the One has to manifest into many. Based on the tantric philosophy, Shiva brings about consciousness which blends with shakti in order to create human life. This creation occurs through the blending of the Five Elements or Tattvas. Akash or Ether first appeared out of nothingness or the void and is the first of the Five Elements and is considered the medium through which sound is transmitted and it was this sound which initiated creation (Shabd, Aum, Hum, Holy Ghost….). Since this shabd has brought about our creation, it has the power to take us back to the One also. It is this shabd which continues to create and is manifested everywhere.
From Akash, arises the second element, Vayu or Air as swirling masses of gaseous matter, which then combust forming heat and light, whereby giving birth to the third Element, Tejas or Fire. The residues then pool, and moisture appears forming the liquid Element, called Apas or Water. Finally, crystallization and solidification occurs and we have the Earth or Prithvi. (Dr Rudolph Ballentine, “Radical Healing’). This is so very similar to the “Big Bang” theory of evolution as proposed by Science.
Yogic teaching has been that we take birth through what is known as pranashakti or life force which, descends down the medulla and the cerebro spinal axis to finally come and rest at the base of the spine or the muladhar (Coccygeal) chakra where it lies dormant. As this creative force descends down it gets transformed into energy centres or “chakras” which are responsible for the physiological functioning of the organs they are in proximity with as well as the endocrine functions of those physiological structures and our various emotions or feelings. They also represent the Elements or Tattvas as mentioned above. Pranashakti enters through the Sahasrar Chakra at the very top of the head, travels down to the Agya Chakra, in between the two eyes at the forehead (which is actually a command centre for the entire human structure). This is followed by the Vishudhi Chakra in the throat and representative of the akash tattva, below which is the heart chakra associated with the Air or Vayu element. The Lumbar chakra is associated with the Fire Element while the Svasthisthan (Sacral) chakra represents Water and the Muladhar, Earth. We, therefore, see that even though the kundalini is lying dormant, it is not inert, however, since it is controlling so many functions in the body through thousands of nadis.
Each of these chakras also has a presiding deity. For example, Lord Ganesha is the guardian of the coccygeal chakra, Lord Vishnu of the Sacral, Lord Shiva of the Manipur or lumbar chakra. Each of these chakras also have their own independent sounds which can be heard when meditating individually on any of these chakras. These sounds are somewhat different from the ones “heard” during meditation on the “Shabd”. Opposing forms of energy must unite in order for the whole to form. So also, the kundalini, being part of the Spirit must move up the spine to unite with Consciousness to become One again. Unfortunately, the kundalini, after giving birth to us, lies dormant at the base of the spine, the muladhar chakra. It remains asleep because so much of our energy is expended and drained out owing to our preoccupation with our deep seated habits based on fear and insecurity ( the function of the root or muladhar chakra is to keep us “grounded”, owing to the Earth Element, but this grounding very often does not take place because our senses keep getting fuelled by external material pleasures, and our actions revolving around “me and mine” leading ultimately to feelings of fear and insecurity).The dormant kundalini becomes a source of insatiable lusts by feeding our senses, leading to wastage of so much of energy preventing this very powerful force to ascend up to its correct seat, the Swathisthan chakra and manifesting its true power of expanding our consciousness. It is only when the yogi, by connecting to “shabd’ or aum, can bring about its awakening which is needed for human liberation. The kundalini is, therefore, “the ultimate shaker and mover”(Dr Rudolph Ballentine) as a result of which it can burst through, breaking all barriers and can transform an ordinary being into one full of life and creativity by stirring up feelings and emotion.
The yogi, by his meditation on the shabd, reverses the searchlight of intelligence, mind and life force inward and the kundalini rises through the central passage in the spine, called the sushumna nadi, up from the sacral chakra, to the swadisthan, the lumbar, anahat and vishudhi chakras to the spiritual eye finally up to the sahasrar chakra. The material man is busy with his body and the external world while the yogi’s consciousness is basically engaged within. When the yogi has been able to bring his consciousness to the agya chakra he can experience the feeling of bliss once he reaches the sahasrar chakra.
The kundalini shakti is actually a manifestation of the feminine force in the universe and is not just the nurturing and receptive aspect of the feminine. This has been so very beautifully brought forward by my spiritual brother, Dhairyananda, quoting Sri Yoganand Paramhans in “God speaks to Arjun”. The five energy centres in man are also symbolised by the five Pandavas. The Muladhar, the Earth element is represented by Nakul, the Swadisthan or Water element by Sahadeva, the Fire element or Manipur by Arjun, Anahat or Air Element by Bhima, while Yudhisthir represents the Akash Element or Vishudhi chakra. Draupadi represents the kundalini.
Draupadi is the daughter of Drupada, symbolic of extreme dispassion and represents the spiritual power or feeling of kundalini. When the kundalini is lifted upward it becomes “wedded “to the five pandavas and gives rise to five sons which are the five manifestations of the opened spinal centres, the various lights and sounds characteristic of each centre. “
The coiled kundalini is, however, not the same as Shabda since shabda is operative at all levels of matter while the kundalini is a limiting power which confines the activities of shabda within physical limits. This is very important to understand.
According to yogis Kundalini awakening is, therefore, the first and most important step towards spiritual progress. In other words, this is the first step towards self realization. Only when one has been able to draw one’s attention away from one’s material surroundings and desires that attention will turn inwards. Kundalini awakening has often been confused with the feeling of so called “bliss” during the union of the male and female but this is momentary and the true purpose is to get this energy chanelled up through the spinal centres.
A word of caution here. There is an erroneous impression among most people that they can awaken their kundalinis themselves by various methods which have been described and are being practiced. I think we should all understand that trying to awaken our kundalinis by ourselves should never be practiced! If at all we are keen to do so, it should only be done under guidance from a guru who is well versed in it since premature awakening can lead to disastrous complications. Unless and until our body has become tuned to handle the sudden spurt of energy, awakening should never be tried. There is so much truth in the saying, “when the student is ready, the guru appears”. Nowhere is this more true than here. When a stage has come when spiritual awakening is to take place, it will….due to certain circumstances, contact with people, incidents etc which will take one forward ultimately bringing one in contact with the right guru. It is, therefore, clear that perhaps it is a good idea to let the kundalini lie till the time is ripe!
Many yoga teachers also have stressed that one should not attempt to raise the kundalini by meditating on individual chakras as it could be dangerous, perhaps not even correct to do so. Those who have an insight into the functioning of the Atma in man, feel that it wakes by itself once we have developed the qualities and attitudes which are conducive to its arousal.
Sri Aurobindo,has introduced the concept that the awakening kundalini power is both a descending as well as ascending one. He too feels that the chakras cannot be “willed” to open but open by themselves by the descent of the force. According to him, they open from below upwards in accordance with the tantric discipline but his concept is that they open from up downwards. One can, therefore, infer that it may not be wise to try to manipulate the kundalini.
Swamiji, Sant Kabir, Guru Nanak and some other God realized Gurus, etc consider the “hearing” of the Shabd being of paramount inportance for the opening of the “third eye” rather than having to do anything with the kundalini since they feel that a proper union can only take place after one has been able to bring one’s consciousness to the area between the two eyebrows, after which the atma then can travel up after some more stages. This can happen only through guidance from a god realized guru. They feel that anything to do with the chakras and the kundalini is basically concerned with the human body and its physiological functioning. This is because when you are meditating on any of the chakras(the five lower ones) you are actually meditating on the deity controlling that particular chakra and you would probably hear the sound related to that chakra and perhaps gain some powers(ridhis and sidhis) because of the deity. These powers are actually “by products” which are not of much consequence to a real Sadhak, seeking union. Spiritual advancement actually means going beyond all this so that one can attain union with the Parmatma beyond Creation and this advancement occurs only when one has an open third eye so that one can journey beyond. The purpose of human life is to finally go back to our true abode which is with the Supreme Being. In other words, reaching a stage of ‘turia avastha’ or enlightenment, is the real thing.
Intuitively, I feel that connecting to shabda, through meditation as taught by a fully realized guru is by far the best route, perhaps the only route to enlightenment and that whatever other route or routes there are ultimately get connected to shabda somewhere along the line. It is not difficult to see that there are examples of many, who, may perhaps have never practiced yoga but have “united” with the supreme spirit! Practicing all the eight limbs of yoga are still very important, though,since in a way one is actually “living” the “ten commandments”(Yam/Niyam), managing to remain physically and mentally healthy(Asanas and Pranayam) and at the same time progressing spiritually by meditation, but the method of meditation should be such that it leads to the opening of the “third eye’, essential for further spiritual ascent and happens through listening or appreciating the shabda. Sri Aurobindo feels that “when the soul is ready we are prompted to meditate”
The opening of the “Third Eye’ has two manifestations, one that of being able to hear all the subtle sounds and also seeing various types of visions. This is called “surt’. Hearing subtle sounds is by far the commoner of the two while seeing visions happens due to Divine grace and is a simply wonderful experience which cannot be described!
When the third eye opens, one’e atma travels higher to go beyond the Sahasrar dal kamal or the “tenth’ door and it is then that actual “sant mat” commences. This means that one can then venture into other realms at will. When this happens one can travel in the astral and the causal realms depending upon one’s spiritual progress. Yogis and Budhists believe that our connection with the Divine is through what is called the “Antahkaran’ or the “silver chord” which is attached to our Sahasrar chakra. This chord remains intact as long as the atma inhabits the physical body but gets snapped at the time of physical death. During astral travel, this chord remains connected with the body.
During one’s sojourn in the astral, one may have wonderful experiences, of happiness and bliss. The visions of the Divine, other “mukta“ atmas, god realized souls etc become more and more frequent, and ultimately a stage may come when one merges with divinity with the breaking down of one’s physical, astral and causal bodies to unite with Him and become One or Whole! All along this beautiful journey, one’s guru is always there, in front, like a beacon of light, guiding one along, meandering through the indescribable but serene and luminous world inducing feelings of profound happiness and bliss. The guru, the Almighty and the self all merge in that soothing divine light! The final stage of scintillating brilliance is supposed to be so beautiful and blissful that even Sant Kabir has not been able to describe it fully!