Hinduism - When the serpent force rises
by Harleen Kaur
Are you having a kundalini experience?
How do you know you are a candidate for kundalini awakening? See if the list of symptoms listed below match with what you have ever experienced.
• Pranic movement or kriyas. The
A useful breathing exerciseSwami Sivananda Saraswati re-commended this pranayama in his book, Kundalini Yoga:
When you practise the following, concentrate on the mooladhara chakra at
Fringe benefits of kundaliniAs the kundalini moves higher into each chakra, the brain would start registering different experiences and one would attain siddhis. However, if one gets caught in
"During one spell of intense concentration, I suddenly felt
a strange sensation below the base of the spine, at the place touching
the seat. The sensation was extraordinary and pleasing. Suddenly with
a roar like that of a waterfall, I felt a stream of liquid light entering
my brain through the spinal cord.
The illumination grew brighter and the roaring louder. I experienced a rocking sensation and then felt myself slipping out of my body, entirely enveloped in a halo of light. It is impossible to describe the experience accurately. I felt a point of consciousness that was within myself growing wider, surrounded by waves of light.
It grew wider and wider, spreading outwards while the body, normally the immediate object of its perception appeared to have receded into the distance until I became entirely unconscious of it.
I was now all consciousness, without any outline, without any idea of a corporeal appendage, without any feeling or sensation coming from the senses, immersed in a sea of light, simultaneously conscious and aware of every point, spread out in all directions, without any barrier or material obstruction.
The light I had experienced was internal, an integral part of enlarged consciousness. It is a surpassing state of pure cognition, free from the limitations of time and space."
This is the description of his kundalini experience by Pandit Gopi Krishna, a government clerk at the time living in Kashmir, India. Kundalini, the book he wrote, is credited with popularizing the concept in our time. Now there is a spurt in reports of kundalini awakenings.
Gangaji, a foreigner living in Rishikesh, a religious place in India has posted her account on the Net: "During the time of manifestation, I felt as if I would spontaneously combust, the heat being so intense… the nervous system felt as if it was short-circuiting everywhere at once, there were spontaneous mudras and kriyas that happened, energy moved through the body uncontrolled; at one time it felt as if ice-cold water were poured into the heart area-there were dreams of fires and snakes, the mental modification included extreme depression, followed the feeling of the pain of the world and the ability to heal pain. People like you and me too are going though the experience."
Says Neeta Kapoor, a meditator in Mumbai: "After I began regular meditation, I was lying down one day when I felt a rope lift its head and dance up my spine. That was the beginning of the kundalini awakening. After a while my chakras started opening. It took my manipura chakra three months to open up, and there was a feeling of an engulfing fire in the belly. Then it went up to my heart where it was stuck for five months."
"I used to feel tremendous heat and also cool currents going through me. It was as if I had my own internal generator and air-conditioner. But when my heart chakra opened up, a real sense of love and compassion filled me. My visuddha chakra opened up very quickly and now my energy is at the ajna chakra. Today the energy flows freely through every cell 24 hours of the day and there's a tremendous sense of bliss."
Seed for spiritual evolution
What is this strange, mysterious force called kundalini that has so many in its thrall? A word that even among seasoned seekers conjures up visions of fear, awe and diffidence in quite the same way that tantra does. It is a word soaked with esoteric connotations, of arcane practices, of the unleashing of a tremendous force, of the acquisition of supernatural powers. It smacks of the occult, even of black magic.
Search the Net and you will find 13,000 references to kundalini. There is even a support group to help people cope with spontaneous kundalini awakenings. Here in India, we have gurus such as Mata Nirmala Devi, Avdhoot Baba Shivananda and others who claim to do mass kundalini awakenings.
The Shaktipat school, in which the kundalini is directly awakened by the touch or look of a realized master, has a well-established place in the annals of traditional spiritual thought. The siddha yoga lineage of Baba Nityananda-Swami Muktananda is an illustrious example.
Kundalini is considered to be the basis of evolution and development of personality. It is believed to be the secret origin of all occult doctrines, the master key to the unresolved mystery of creation, the inexhaustible source of philosophy, art and science, and the fountainhead of all religious faiths, past, present and future. For the seeker of truth, love and the brotherhood of mankind, kundalini can at first sight seem too rich a brew.
And yet, whatever yogic path you may be following, and whether you are aware of it or not, kundalini awakening is part of the process of spiritual growth.
Says M.L. Dudhat, a retired judge of the Bombay High Court and a teacher of a meditation practice called Mental Physics: "Kundalini is a barometer that measures a person's conscious unfolding. As he evolves and goes beyond the narrow concerns of the self to focus on the happiness of others, the kundalini will rise to give him a different quality of energy."
K. Kunhikrishnan, managing trustee of Pranic Healing Foundation, New Delhi (also a school for arhatic yoga) remarks: "There is nobody in whom the kundalini is not awakened. People might not be aware of it; you can consider this state of unawareness as an unawakened state. The moment they do something, any sort of spiritual practice, they can be called awakened. It is simply a difference of awareness."
The great sage Swami Vivekananda had noted: "Wherever there was any manifestation of what is ordinarily called supernatural power or wisdom, a little current of kundalini must have found its way into the sushumna…what thus man ignorantly worships under various names… the yogi declares to the world to be the real power coiled up in every being, the mother of eternal happiness if we but know how to approach her."
Plainly put, kundalini is the motive energy that keeps us going. As prana, it courses through our body and takes care not only of our metabolic functions but fuels our every thought, word and deed. But that is only an infinitesimal quantity of the energy at its disposal. The rest is stored as potential, to be used only for the purpose of self-realization. In its role as a storehouse of cosmic energy, kundalini is identified with Shakti, the active feminine principle behind the Shiva-Shakti tatva.
According to tantra philosophy, of which kundalini is an intrinsic part, Brahman, the ultimate source, created the universe by dividing into two polarities. One is Shiva, which is the masculine and unmanifest energy that is the source of creation. The other is Shakti, his dynamic feminine component who manifests and supports creation. These dual forces are also present in the human body.
Shiva has his abode at the crown of the head, in the sahasrara chakra. Shakti, the life force, takes her place at the base of the spine, at the mooladhara chakra, where as Devi Kundali sleeps, curled in three-and-a-half coils.
Kundalini literally means 'that which is coiled' and she is often likened to a serpent, particularly since the ascent up the spine can often appear to be like the sinuous movement of a snake. For the human being to attain union with Brahman, the two polar aspects of Brahman, Shiva and Shakti, must meet. As long as the two are separate, the psyche cannot be whole and the unhappiness of the human condition will prevail.
According to Tantra, enlightenment is achieved when the sleeping goddess awakes and hastens to meet her lord, high up in the crown chakra. To understand the process of awakening and ascent, it is necessary to know the network through which kundalini moves. Kundalini and its components exist at what is known as the etheric or subtle level, which means that they have no existence at the level of the physical body.
The movement of kundalini is facilitated by a network of 72,000 nerve fibres called nadis, which crisscross the body, bearing prana to each and every cell. These nadis congregate at certain spots or plexes, running up the spine, which are known as chakras.
The chakras influence, vitalize and control corresponding regions of the body. They also determine the quality of consciousness. For instance, if the swadhisthana is the most active chakra, the individual will be concerned with sexual pleasures.
The energy points
Though there are many chakras, there are seven principal ones. The mooladhara (coccyx), the seat of the kundalini, is the lowest of the chakras and is associated with basic security issues. Moving up, the swadhisthana (sacral plexus) is associated with sexual aspects. The third is the manipura (solar plexus) associated with the digestive systems of the body. These three are the lower chakras which alone function as long as the individual remains at the level of the mundane.
TThough there are many chakras, there are seven principal ones. The mooladhara (coccyx), the seat of the kundalini, is the lowest of the chakras and is associated with basic security issues. Moving up, the swadhisthana (sacral plexus) is associated with sexual aspects. The third is the manipura (solar plexus) associated with the digestive systems of the body. These three are the lower chakras which alone function as long as the individual remains at the level of the mundane.
For a safe passage
The observation of a strict moral code, such as the one outlined in the yamas and niyamas of the yoga sutras, is a perfect framework with which to begin the process of kundalini awakening. The five niyamas are saucha (cleanliness, internal and external); santosha (contentment, to be satisfied in whatever situation you are); tapas (penance); swadhyay (study of scriptures); and ishwarapranidhana (surrender to the will of God). The five yamas comprise satya (telling the truth); ahimsa (non-violence); bramacharya (celibacy); asteya (non-covetousness); aparigraha (non-acquisition).
Says Sri Shankarachaitanya of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in Delhi: "Well, the process is initiated when you start doing the asanas. However, you should practise the basic asanas for a year before attempting intensive exercises. Discipline in terms of asanas and pranayama, specific diet, following the yamas and the niyamas has to become a part and parcel of your life before you move into intense practices."
Which brings us to the crucial question: How does one awaken the kundalini? There are many methods to do so but the time-tested ones are hatha yoga, tantra and shaktipat. Hatha yoga uses a combination of advanced asanas, energy locks and seals called mudras and bandhas, and pranayama. This combination disciplines and tones the body and mind, and helps redirect the prana from moving outward, connecting the mind with the senses, to move upward through the chakras.
Almost any form of yoga or breathing exercise has the potential to awaken the kundalini. For instance, mental physics (or brahma vidya) is a series of breathing exercises and affirmations which have awakened the kundalini of many of its practitioners.
However, Justice Dudhat would not advocate the conscious awakening of the kundalini. "If in the course of the exercises the kundalini awakens, that is all right. But I would not suggest awakening it. The energy should be the consequence. If you reverse the process, you could continue to remain in delusion."
Tantra revolves around the worship of Shakti. While tantra has sexual connotations (and many practitioners do simulate the union of Shiva and Shakti at the physical level), it is more often transformed from the physical level to the sphere of energy and consciousness.
Here Shakti is worshipped through meditation and mantras so that the aspirant comes into a direct and conscious relation with the Shiva and Shakti within himself and unites them.
Shaktipat enlists the services of a realised siddha or master who, through a look, a touch or a gesture, transmits his own power to the aspirant, directly arousing the sleeping serpent and sending it shooting to the sahasrara. This is usually a temporary phenomenon, but it can often leave a transformative effect on the aspirant who has tasted the bliss of union and will not rest until it is his for keeps.
Swami Muktananda, who started the worldwide Siddha Yoga movement from Ganeshpuri in Maharashtra, was one of the best-known practitioners of this form of initiation. The number of people he transmitted shaktipat to is legion.
Here is an account by a writer named Paul Zweig: "With no transition, I seemed to be seeing my life from a new angle... Great clots seemed to be floating loose in my mind. Shapes so old that they had come to seem part of the landscape were breaking up, and through the cracks in their ruin tears poured, like an imprisoned element set free… Muktananda had done this, but what had he done and how? We hadn't talked much and he had hardly looked at me."
Mata Nirmala Devi, of the sahaja yoga fame, also practises shaktipat at a mass scale. Her description of kundalini and its manifestation is vastly different though. According to her, it manifests itself in cool currents radiating from the crown chakra and the two hands.
Her organisation teaches a form of meditation complete with affirmations and bandhas that apparently send the kundalini soaring up the spine each time it is practised. She says that kundalini is an infinitely benign force, free from all the disturbing elements that others seem to find in it.
But K. Kunhikrishnan disagrees: "In a mass gathering, the energy levels can become very high. People who participate in such events would have different energy levels, so it might cause disturbance or injury to some. Moreover, as they would not know how to handle themselves, the risk involved is higher.
There is another aspect. Complete faith in the guru is the first requirement for this practice and that is unlikely to be present in a mass gathering. Also there would be no check-back facility for people who want to be guided throughout their process. There might not be anybody available to correct the proceedings when required."
Other ways to awaken the kundalini include the use of mantras, austerities, kriya yoga, raja yoga, meditation, even bhakti yoga. A few blessed ones may even be born with an awakened kundalini. When awakened, she unleashes the full quantity of her concentrated prana upon the system, creating tremendous upheavals.
Even those who have mercifully gentle awakenings such as Santosh Sachdeva, who wrote a book on her experiences called Conscious Flight Into the Empyrean, report disconcerting occurrences such as a bowl of fire rotating within her abdominal region and moving up with an uproarious sound, or of the energy erasing grooves on her brain and creating fresh ones.
The proper awakening requires control over vital functions and organs coupled with a strong will and excellent condition of body and mind to prevent the brain from giving way under the strain. It also requires the presence of a guru well-versed in kundalini awakening.
Says Sachdeva: "Without a guru, there should be no kundalini awakening." Gopi Krishna too faced innumerable problems after the power was unleashed in him-improperly. He had to face this terror on his own, without the help of any guide.
Cautions Shankarachaitanya: "Imagine there is a river. The river-bed is full of debris-rocks, dirt. Suddenly, you open up the floodgates, and water gushes down the river. If the bed is clear, the water would be able to flow straight through, but when there is debris, the water will flow in all directions, and flow over the banks."
He continued, "Likewise, when the kundalini force rises like the river, if the sushumna is not properly opened, it will move in all directions through different channels. There is absolutely no control on the energy, and this can result in severe mental, emotional and physical problems."
Though the teacher will give you the information, the actual knowledge will come with practice and experience. But the teacher should always be there to guide you through. Says Razia Rangwala, a student of mental physics under Dudhat, who underwent a kundalini awakening in 1999: "When the energy first began to move within me, I used to feel both very sleepy and very energetic.
The movement was particularly intense at night, when even the bed used to get hot. When the pain was unbearable I would invoke Guruji, and it always helped. Although he never said anything directly, he always knew what was going on within me."
Her husband, Abdul Ali, also a student of mental physics, even hears the direct voice of the guru, admonishing him to wake up at 3 a.m. and to meditate. And if sleep gets the better of him, he is even advised to have a cup of tea! Delhi-based Avdhoot Swami Shivananda, a practitioner of siddha kundalini yoga and spiritual healing, says: "Nature has its own path and when you are ready, it will open its door to you, so the moment you are ready, either the guru will come to you or you will come to the guru."
The appeal of kundalini
Even knowing that the passage of kundalini is often stormy, the attractions to awaken it are many. The most important reason, of course, is the promise of enlightenment. The other tantalizing prizes are the many siddhis (psychic powers). These include clairvoyance, the ability to communicate with spirits and to see visions.
These powers can often be a trap to the unwary, for unless the mind is purified, they can again become a cause for pride, for the exercise of power over others or to make money. This is why true masters and saints advise against being tempted to acquire siddhis and to keep the focus steadfastly on enlightenment instead.
The kundalini, once awakened, carries the limited human consciousness to transcendental heights, bestowing wisdom, peace and joy.
A noteworthy change by the awakening would be the change in the individual's perception: he is capable of grasping that the 'knower', the 'known' and the 'whole process of knowing' are one and the same thing. The understanding of the Self, the Divine and its omnipresence becomes clear.
In the words of Swami Sivananda Saraswati: "Awakening the kundalini means that your vibratory level has increased, visions appear before the mental eye of the aspirant, new worlds with indescribable wonders and charms unfold themselves before the yogi, planes after planes reveal their existence and grandeur to the practitioner and the yogi gets divine knowledge, power and bliss, in increasing degrees."
Avdhoot Baba Shivananda adds: "Modern psychologists claim that a person uses only 6 per cent of the potential of his mind; once the kundalini is awakened, only 6 per cent remains unutilised." Transformation happens, inevitably.
Reveals Razia Rangwala: "My physical problems such as arthritis, and frequent headaches and sore throats have left me. My perspective has changed. I no longer feel fragmented. I feel whole. My mind is peaceful and calm. I can forgive and forget easily. I have great faith in the Almighty. Today, our financial condition is not good, but I am very detached. Earlier I used to worry about the future."
For Abdul Ali, the transformation is even more drastic. A heavy drinker who spent all his money on material pleasures, he once had an out-of-body experience in which he saw himself as dead. On being told that it was not yet his time, he returned transformed. His spiritual search has today left him a changed man.
Says he: "I had problems such as blood pressure, slipped disc and rheumatism. They have all gone. Earlier, I used to be very lethargic. Today I can do any amount of work. Mentally I feel so strong that I can plan out my action meticulously from beginning to end. I had so much fear earlier. All that has also gone. Today, I feel the higher influence wants my help in helping humanity. I feel that unbeknownst to me, my energy is being used to create love and harmony in the world."
The more the kundalini travels upwards, the yogi advances towards the goal of spiritual perfection. Once the kundalini is completely awakened, he becomes liberated, one who is completely aware of the trans-migratory nature of existence and who can then show others the path towards such liberation.
If kundalini awakening is a necessary pre-requisite of enlightenment, do all aspirants, no matter what their path, feel these physical manifestations? The answer is no. The physical manifestation of kundalini will occur to those who have chosen a physical route to spirit through yoga and breathing. The bhakti and jnana yogis approach spirit through the higher centers of love and discrimination. For them, the awakening is smooth and imperceptible.
Says Santosh Sachdeva: "The jerks and visions arise because of the impurities that act as hurdles to the free passage of energy. In the case of the bhakti and jnana yogis, their focus will be on purifying their mind, their emotions, feelings and thoughts, hence the energy will flow freely."
Santosh believes that unlike in the past when the aspirant was made to severely discipline his body and mind for several years before attempting any meditation practice, today's aspirant goes directly into meditation, for which he may not be internally prepared.
Agrees Swami Rama: "I was trained to study body anatomy first and to have control over the four appetites (food, sleep, sex and self-preservation). I was told to have a healthy body and to discipline myself in mind, action and speech."
Swami Sivananda Saraswati says: "If you want to rouse kundalini shakti, to enjoy the bliss of union of Shiva and Shakti through her and to gain the accompanying powers (siddhis), it is obvious that this end can be achieved only by kundalini yoga. But if liberation is sought without desire for union through kundalini, then, such yoga is not necessary."
He continues, "Liberation may be obtained by pure jnana yoga through detachment, the stilling of the mind, without any rousing of the central bodily power at all. Instead of setting out in and from the world to unite with Shiva, the jnana yogi, to attain this result, detaches himself from the world. Samadhi may also be obtained on the path of devotion (bhakti) as on that of knowledge. Indeed, the highest devotion (para bhakti) is not different from knowledge. Both are realization."
Says Acharya Ram Mohan, a teacher of Vedanta: "The powers that come from kundalini are finite. But the jnana yogi is looking for the infinite, the union with God. Therefore, he does not pay much attention to kundalini. Even if in the process of meditation he has a kundalini experience, he is advised not to pay attention to it."
With the worldwide popularity of yoga and other meditation exercises, there have been many instances of spontaneous kundalini awakenings in the West, which lacks the context to handle them and bring the individual out of the situation safely. Too often, the dramatic visions and experiences that a person may go through along with the temporary disorientation have been labeled as psychotic, with the individual condemned to a lifetime of medication.
In an article called 'Kundalini: Classical and Clinical', published in the book, Kundalini, Evolution and Enlightenment, psychologist Lee Sanella observes: "We must speak of the many creative people who are now suffering because of mistakes that we in the (psychiatric) profession have made in the past. We have a special obligation to make every effort to correct these mistakes."
An American web journal called Shared Transformations which connects people undergoing kundalini experiences as a supportive measure, has been contacted by 700 people since it first started in 1993.
Psychologist Christian Grof underwent a spiritual awakening when she gave birth to her son. "Powerful and unfamiliar energies were released unexpectedly and began streaming through my body. I started to shake uncontrollably. Enormous electrical tremours coursed from my toes up my legs and spine to the top of my head. Brilliant mosaics of white light exploded in my head, and instead of continuing the Lamaze panting, I felt strange involuntary rhythms taking over. It was as though I had just been hit by some miraculous but frightening force and I was both excited and terrified."
Today she spearheads the Spiritual Emergence movement which seeks to support all those goings through spiritual experiences and to distinguish their treatment from that given to sufferers of mental illness. The beginning of divinity What happens next? What does this union result in? This is just the beginning. Divinity having been accessed, now comes the whole enterprise of establishing oneself in it, deepening it, and living its truths in day-to-day life.
After Shiva and Shakti meet, they stay like that for a while and then they descend. Why they do so is not known. At the time of descent Shakti repossesses the lotuses, which droop and close their petals at her departure, until she assumes her original dormant state at the base of the spine, bringing down with her the liberated consciousness and literally returning the spirit to the body.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati, founder of the Bihar School of Yoga, says: "Shakti rules the matter and Shiva rules the consciousness, and when they descend to the gross plane, Shakti continues to rule the matter and Shiva, being consciousness, gives an understanding to the whole world."
When Shakti descends with Shiva in a self-realized person, the life the person leads may be normal, but with a transformed consciousness-liberated, living lightly like the proverbial lotus, waving and dancing in the wind.
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