By Swami Rama
According to the science of tantra, the human being is a miniature universe. All that exists in the cosmos exists within individuals, and the same principles that apply to the universe apply to the individual. In this ancient philosophy, the entire universe is a manifestation of pure consciousness. And yet, consciousness seems to be divided into two aspects—one that is unchanging and unidentified with the manifest world, called shiva, and another aspect of consciousness, shakti, which is the subtlest of the created things.
Shakti means power or potential. This aspect of consciousness is creative, dynamic, and energetic, and it brings forth the entire manifest world from itself. However, only part of the energy of shakti is involved in the creation of the manifest world, while the other, greater part, remains dormant. Thus both in the universe and in the individual, energy exists in two forms—dynamic and latent.
In the human being, the latent energy of consciousness is called kundalini shakti, or “that energy which is coiled.” This latent energy, which is not used to maintain the human being, is symbolically described as a coiled up, resting serpent. Kundalini energy is said to rest at the base of the spine. And this dormant, sleeping energy supports the body and all its other energy forces. In other words, all the energy of the entire body evolves from kundalini shakti.
The first, most basic form of this energy is called prana, which literally means the “first unit of energy” within the human being. Pranic energy is broken down into five main aspects, which control five kinds of physical functions. Prana is described as flowing like a current through a series of subtle pathways called nadis, which help to keep the mind and body functioning together in a coordinated
The energy of shakti is also organized around seven special centers in the body, called chakras, which are like intense vortices of energy. The chakras energize, control, and influence regions of the body, although the chakras themselves cannot be perceived on the physical level. While the chakras are not physical centers, they definitely affect the physical body, each having a specific area of correspondence. The chakras are said to be arranged along the midline of the body, in correspondence with the spinal column, from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.
The chakras determine the level of consciousness present in a human being. Energy is usually focused most in one center, with less energy available in other centers. The differences between how this energy is focused account for our differences in personality, energy, and level of consciousness.
The study of the chakras is very intriguing and profound; however, as with the concept of kundalini, much of what is said or written about the chakras is in accurate, distorted, or misleading. A complete and accurate description of the system of the chakras would require another article, and even then, one does not really understand the chakras until their influence is experienced.
However, of the seven chakras, the lowest six are easiest to describe. The first two chakras; one at the base of the spine, and the second at the genital area, reflect the lowest level of consciousness and the most primitive ways of experiencing the world. These chakras are related to the instincts for physical survival and preservation of the species. From a spiritual point of view, these chakras and their energy have a quality of heaviness, inertia, and ignorance of pure consciousness. When these chakras predominate, there is little awareness of, or interest in, higher spiritual evolution or consciousness.
The next two chakras, located at the navel and heart centers, create more energy, movement, and active involvement. They relate to the issues of autonomy, self control, power, and our sense of self, as well as to our abilities to love and empathize with others. These two chakras reflect somewhat more evolved “human” issues, as opposed to the more primitive and instinc tive “animal” issues of the first two chakras.
The next two chakras are located at the throat and brow regions. The quality of these chakras is much more highly evolved. Their influence is one of creativity, serenity, intuition, and wisdom.
The Ultimate Goal
Although there are other subtle centers above the brow center, the final center is located at the crown of the head, and is said to be the final “abode of consciousness” within the individual. Usually, a human beings energy is divided, with the energy of pure translucent consciousness at the crown of the head, while the dormant power of kundalini shakti rests or sleeps at the base of the spine.
Very little of this kundalini energy is activated and is expressed in the function ing of the chakras or the nadis. Instead, in most human beings, the vast, unknown power of kundalini energy simply lies latent and unexpressed. However, in every era and civilization there have been those who somehow, consciously or unconsciously, tapped some part of this infinite reservoir of energy. Those individuals have been the geniuses and dynamic forces throughout hu man history.
When this transformation takes place, and the individual activates some of this infinite potential, we say that his or her kundalini is awakened. Usually, this takes place gradually, with small bursts of energy and shifts in consciousness, although sometimes such awakenings are intense and sudden.
In the modern time, many of the dramatic phenomena that are attributed to the awakening of kundalini are actually the result of nervous or emotional releases, rather than higher spiritual experiences. Certainly, unusual spiritual experiences can take place, but in the present day, when there is such a level of misunderstanding, sensationalism, and exploitation of the term “kundalini,” it is important to differentiate genuine from false experiences. Many people who are not physically, mentally, or emotionally balanced attribute their experiences to some higher energy, rather than to their other imbalances or difficulties.
The authentic practice of yoga involves awakening the kundalini shakti and leading her systematically through the chakras to the crown chakra. When this takes place, the union of shiva (pure consciousness) and kundalini shakti occurs, and the individual becomes fully conscious, awakened, and illumined. Then, one attains the highest state of samadhi. This state is the ultimate goal of yoga practice, but few achieve it. Most commonly, the student of yoga may awaken kundalini shakti and lead her only part of the way to the crown chakra.
How Does One Awaken Kundalini?
The system of yoga has developed many techniques to help students awaken the dormant force of kundalini. An authentic teacher chooses the most appropriate method to help a student to awaken the force within. This method must be carefully selected according to the individual students abilities, tendencies, and level of attainment. However, not all those who claim to be teachers have the level of realization required to be able to guide students systematically, so students should be careful in selecting a teacher.
The sacred and advanced practices of kundalini yoga have been popularly distorted and misrepresented, particularly by teachers who claim to be able to raise this energy by their presence or touch. Then, rather than raising the students level of consciousness, what is raised is the students level of emotional or imaginative experience, such as those created by suggestion or hypnosis. This is not at all the path of spiritual enfoldment. In order to attain spiritual enfoldment and the awakening of kundalini, the sincere student must first prepare himself or herself on all levels. This cannot be done by another, but only by the genuine and motivated student. First, the physical body needs to be purified and strengthened, especially through practices such as hatha yoga, breathing exercises, and maintaining a correct diet. Even on the mere physical level, a sudden increase and release of kun dalini energy can cause disturbances or imbalance.
This is like a situation in which a high voltage electrical current is channeled through a weak and inadequate wiring system. Only when the physical system is strong, balanced, and prepared, can it safely assimi late the energy of kundalini. On the mental and emotional level, too, the sincere student must prepare himself or herself, learning the basic practices of yoga required to balance the emotions, coordi nate the mind, and channel the higher energy involved. Such preparation is crucial because a sudden increase of this latent power can disorient and disrupt the functioning of a person who has not yet become calm, balanced, and able to integrate the higher energy level.
Because of this, authentic teachers never teach advanced practices for the awakening of kundalini to unprepared students, but use the methods of yoga to help train students to prepare themselves. It is this period of preparation for the awakening of kundalini which is the most important in the entire training process. Preparation The system of yoga includes several techniques that are specifically intended to help prepare the student. These include:
- Hatha yoga, which strengthens the body, and helps to prepare it for the increase in energy. Traditionally, hatha yoga is used in combination with purificatory processes, such as washes, which cleanse and refine the body and nervous system.
- Pranayama (breathing practices) that allow the student to learn how to channel the pranic energy and eventually raise kundalini. Pranayama exercises also affect the balance of the nervous system and help to create a calm, quiet mind. By creating a state of mental clarity, the student is able to direct his or her mind. Generally, the mind is preoccupied with the stimulation it receives from the external world via the senses, but once this energy is focused within, the student is able to alter the minds scattered tendencies. The breathing exercises help the student to raise and channel energy through the central pathway, sushumna. In this manner, kundalini is drawn upwards.
- Concentration and meditation practices that promote concentration and meditation on certain chakras. These practices also help to shift consciousness from the body and its physical functions, to an inner state. Meditation on a chakra may help to raise kundalini to that chakra.
- Practices of higher tantra that involve physical and mental celibacy. This energy is elevated to a higher level by meditating on the union of shiva and shakti within.
- Kundalini can also be awakened by those who raise their energy through intellectual study of the philosophical scriptures, or by those who are intensely devotional.
The Teachers Role
In all of these advanced practices, the guidance and supervision of an authentic and experienced teacher are necessary. Up to a certain point, the student of yoga can prepare himself or herself, but beyond that point, guidance is required. A teacher who guides as part of a lineage or tradition can help a student to systematically advance. This may take place in a series of important steps, the first of which is the students initiation, in which he or she receives a mantra a word, phrase or sound on which to concentrate.
Usually, the student is practicing several steps concur ently—for example, the student may be performing asanas and breathing practices, as well as meditating with the use of a mantra. As the student evolves and learns to become skilled at managing and being aware of increasingly fine energies, he or she may also be given other advanced practices. Eventually, these practices may lead to a step in which the teacher provides a higher initiation, helping the student to awaken kundalini and guide her upward by sharing some of the teachers own energy.
However, even for this to take place, the student must already have refined and purified his or her body, mind, and personality so that the student can respond to the teachers assistance. This higher initiation is called shaktipat, and when it occurs, the students consciousness is elevated to a higher level that is joyful, transcendent, and serene. This state may last for various periods of time, but the energy of kundalini usually returns to its latent state after some time, since most students cannot maintain this higher level of consciousness independently and consistently.
Such an experience may transform and change his or her life, leading to an increased creativity, energy, and vitality, and inspiring the student to work systematically to raise and channel that energy. In guiding such students, the teacher does not act on his or her own behalf, but represents a tradition of teachers and masters, who guide the progress of the prepared students. Indications of Kundalini
There are certain valid signs and symptoms of the awakening of kundalini.
These include specific sensations, movements, and sounds. A realized teacher will have no difficulty in distinguishing between the authentic signs of kundalini and the symptoms of emotional, physical, or psychological imbalance in an unprepared student. When the student experiences the union of shiva and shakti at the sahasrara chakra, he or she experiences the highest state of consciousness. It is important for the student to be aware that this experience generally is attained only after prolonged study, self purification, and preparation. This includes basic practices, such as learning how to maintain a healthy body and to control mind, action, and speech. The student may observe silence and other physical and mental disciplines.
When the student makes prolonged, sincere efforts, he or she raises the ascending force, and then the descending force called grace will also dawn. It is most important that a student be steady and systematic in practicing, and not undertake rash, intense practices or indulge in emotional outbursts. Gradually and steadily the student will expand his or her capacity and such constant sincere effort brings the most rapid, consistent progress. Sloth and laziness are great obstacles on the path, for unless the student sincerely prepares, no teacher can help him or her with the final steps.
One of the greatest yogis, teachers, and humanitarians of the 20th century, Swami Rama is the founder of the Himalayan Institute and of Yoga International. Under the guidance of his master, the Himalayan sage, Bengali Baba, he traveled throughout India and the Himalayan region, studying and practicing with adepts from a variety of traditions.