Relax. This isn’t an article about the practice of Kundalini Yoga. (Even I know my limits.)
In 1932 Carl Gustav Jung delivered a series of four lectures on the philosophical and psychological meaning of Kundalini; it is Jung’s reflections in those lectures and in a couple of supporting essays (1930, 1950) that will concern us here.
Symbolically, Kundalini is a snake curled up at the base of one’s spine. It is wrapped around a linga which is siva-bindu, the diety Shiva reduced to a single point.
The process of enlightenment begins when Kundalini awakens and begins its journey up the spinal cord, through a succession of ‘cakra’ (Jung’s spelling), to the ‘crown’ where it triggers the blossoming of the ‘1,000 petal lotus’…nirvana.
At its base, Kundalini intersects the spatio-temporal plane (‘our world’) but as it travels up the spinal column, it moves in a direction perpendicular to our familiar spatial and temporal dimensions. While Kundalini intersects space-time, the intersection is precisely a point. As we shall see later on, Kundalini evolves outside of space and time.
Although in origin Kundalini Yoga is probably unique to the Indian sub-continent, the notion of a dimension perpendicular to space-time is found in many other mythological systems. Jung might describe it as an archetype of the collective unconscious.
A close parallel may be found in Norse mythology. Here the universe consists of a series of cakra-like ‘homelands’ each inhabited by different creatures and characterized by different fundamental properties. Midgard (Middle Earth), for example, is the homeland allotted to human beings. These Norse homelands are connected by Yggdrasil, the world tree, that, like Kundalini, runs perpendicular (think vertical) to the homelands themselves (think horizontal).
Likewise, the European idea of an axis-mundi that runs through the earth, determines the precession of the equinox, and is ultimately grounded in a constellation of stars parallels Kundalini.
In his reflections on Kundalini, Jung discusses the world from two aspects:
- The Sthula Aspect – things as see them.
- The Suksma Aspect – things as we understand them.
The Sthula Aspect is rooted in sense-data. It is allied with Impressionism in art and Empiricism in philosophy. In this collection of essays, the notion of sthula pops up as Whitehead’s ‘Eternal Objects’, Kant’s ‘Phenomena’, Parmenides’ Doxa. It is the purely personal side of life.
The Suksma Aspect is rooted in concept. It is allied with Expressionism, even Cubism, in art and Idealism, or even Transcendentalism, in philosophy. It pops up as Plato’s ‘Forms (Eidos)’, Whitehead’s ‘Actual Entities’, Kant’s ‘Noumena’, Parmenides’ Aletheia. Suksma is the supra-personal side of life.
“To look at things from a supra-personal standpoint is to arrive at the suksma aspect. We can attain this standpoint because in as much as we create culture, we create supra-personal values, and when we do this we begin to see the suksma aspect…”
Two essays in this collection, the Problem of Good and How the World Works, propose that the existence of objective, normative values testifies to a dimension of reality that must exist outside the space-time continuum. Jung would apparently agree. As Einstein taught us so well, within space-time everything is ‘relative’.
“The suksma aspect is the inner cosmic meaning of events…The awakening of Kundalini would then be similar to the conscious understanding of the suksma aspect.”
But we neglect the sthula aspect of life at our peril. “Without personal life, without the here and now, we cannot attain to the supra-personal. Personal life must be fulfilled in order that the process of the supra-personal side of the psyche can be introduced.”
“…It is utterly important that one should be in this world, that one really fulfills one’s entelechia…Otherwise you can never start Kundalini…For you should leave some trace in the world which notifies that you have been here…if you leave your trace, then the impersonal process can begin. You see, the shoot must come out of the ground, and if the personal spark has never gotten into the ground, nothing will come out of it…”
According to Jung, the origins of world according to Kundalini are very similar to the origins according to Genesis. It all begins with klesa, the principle of dividing and of discrimination and the instinct for individuation. Now Siva-bindu is pictured in the embrace of his feminine emanation, sakti-kundalini. Sakti gives rise to maya, the world of ego-consciousness, appearance and individuation.
Now recall the opening lines of Genesis: “In the beginning…the earth was without form or shape with darkness over the abyss…Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light…God then separated the light from the darkness.” Klesa lies at the root of the phenomenal world (maya).
The suksma aspect also has Judeo-Christian parallels. Consider the words of Proverbs, traditionally attributed to Solomon, regarding Wisdom (Sophia) personified: “The Lord begot me, the beginning of his works, the forerunner of his deeds of long ago. From of old I was formed, at the first, before the earth…When he established the heavens, there was I…When he fixed the foundations of the earth, there was I beside him as artisan. I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing over the whole earth, having my delight with human beings…whoever finds me finds life…”
Then consider opening lines of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life…”
Logos does mean ‘word’ but it also means ‘syntax’ or ‘net’ or ‘weir’. Logos is the pattern of the world and what comes to be through Logos is not mere sense data but concept, Plato’s Eidos (Ideas or Ideals) for example. Logos is ‘the inner cosmic meaning of events’, how things work together, hold together. Logos is the Suksma Aspect.
According to Kundalini Yoga, the process of enlightenment takes place as Kundalini rises through a series of cakra, each one symbolizing the whole psyche, indeed the whole world, from a unique cosmic standpoint.
“The symbols of the cakra, then, afford us a standpoint that extends beyond the conscious. They are intuitions about the psyche as a whole…They symbolize the psyche from a cosmic standpoint. It is as if a super-consciousness, an all-embracing divine consciousness, surveyed the psyche from above.”
We begin with the Muladhara Cakras, literally “root support”. Muladhara represents the world, ‘a 4-cornered mandala’, ‘the squared circle’. This is the ‘here and now’, the ‘facticity’ of Sartre and Heidegger. Each cakra is associated with an element, an animal and a region of the body. Muladhara’s element is earth; its animal is the elephant (support); its ‘seat’ is the perineum.
In muladhara, the gods (Siva) are not dead (Nietzsche et al.); but they are very much asleep. They have no effect. Do the gods even exist? We can’t say for sure from the standpoint of the muladhara cakra. We can detect no evidence of divinity here…but then again, we wouldn’t expect to. The most we can hope to detect is a spark, a germ, a pure potentium that could make possible a totally different conception of life. Muladhara is where all things start, a sort of universal incubator.
In the muladhara cakra, the sthula aspect reigns completely. Here, the measure of the spatial and temporal dimensions is infinite (or at least unbounded) while the measure of the perpendicular Kundalini dimension is infinitesimal (bundi).
To awaken Kundalini is to awaken the gods (Siva), to separate the gods from the world so that they become active in founding the ‘other order of things’. “And when you succeed in the awakening of Kundalini, so that she begins to move beyond mere potentiality, you necessarily start a new world, which is a world of eternity, totally different from our world.”
Next comes the Svadhisthana Cakras. This is the unconscious element in our lives. The unconscious is non-personal. It is objective and therefore it is collective.
Svadhisthana’s element is water; its animal Leviathan (makara, monster); its seat is the pelvis. The elephant (support on the surface of the earth) becomes Leviathan (danger in the depths). The germ, the seed, the spark of muladhara now confronts the real risk of its own extinction.
This is our trip down the birth canal, the Christian rite of Baptism, the setting of the sun in hopes of a sunrise to follow; it is Kierkegaard’s Leap in the Dark. But it is also the only route out of muladhara.
This then is the fundamental crisis of faith, the dark night of the soul. No matter how convinced we may be of the certainty of eternal life, we can never silence the faint whisper, “But what if you’re wrong?” According to Christian belief, faith is not faith if it is certainty and certainty is not ‘justifying’.
This is also the fundamental existential crisis faced by all things. Without a drop of gnosis, the germs of muladhara must ‘decide’ to pursue ‘actuality’ by immersing themselves in the dangerous waters of svadhisthana. We have to assume that the overwhelming majority of potential events never make that ‘leap of faith’ and remain still-born in muladhara. Others may have had the will to take the plunge only to be gobbled up by Leviathan.
To achieve existence in the Kundalini dimension is probably an extremely rare phenomenon. The ratio of potential events to actual events may be astronomically large. So congratulations! If you are reading this essay, “somewhere in your youth or childhood you must have done something good (Sound of Music)”.
The Manipura Cakras is the realm of light, jewels, activity, sunrise and passion. Its element is fire; its animal the ram; its seat is the navel. Now the elephant appears as a sacrificial animal. We are reminded of the sacrifice of Isaac…and of Jesus. In the language of Kundalini, this is where we’re called upon to sacrifice our passions (our attachments) before moving on.
In manipura, you begin to identify with the gods; “you are already a part of that which is no longer in time.” But manipura has nothing to do with divine bliss; it is more like ‘the harrowing of hell’. Odysseus needed to visit Hades in order to complete his journey home to Ithaca. Jesus “descended into Hell” before his Resurrection. Dante climbed down the rungs of Inferno before turning upward through Purgatory to Paradise.
Manipura is a rite of passage. If svadhisthana is Baptism, perhaps manipura is Confirmation.
The Anahata Cakras is the realm of air, wind, pneuma, spirit, breath. Its element is air; its animal the gazelle (or unicorn); its seat is the heart. This is the realm of the human being. It corresponds to Midgard in Norse mythology. Here, “…Individuation begins. Individuation is not that you become an ego…Individuation is becoming the thing that is not the ego…For the ego is always far down in muladhara.”
Regarding anahata, Jung wrote: “…The self is just the thing which you are not.” One cannot help but recall a similar statement from the eminent French Existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre: “You are not what you are and you are what you are not.” This is the condition of the yogi in anahata.
Following the shedding of attachments in manipura, anahata is the realm of lived detachment: “…You will buy as if you did not buy; you will sell as if you did not sell.”
In manipura, you began to identify with god; anahata takes that identification to a totally new level. Here you get your first glimpse of atman and the yogi says, “I am it.” Here you come to the realization that “there is a being in me who is not me and in whom I am contained”. This the same realization that every Roman Catholic affirms (or should affirm) when she receivem communion during Mass.
The Visuddha Cakras is home to all abstraction and mythical thinking; it is ‘the objective standpoint’. It is only because of Kundalini that we have the potential to adopt a standpoint outside of space and time from which we can observe and judge.
“…You have the possibility of another point of view, so that you can criticize and judge, recognize and understand. For when you are just one with a thing you are completely identical – you cannot compare it, you cannot discriminate, you cannot recognize it…We could not possibly judge this world if we had not also a standpoint outside, and that is given by the symbolism of religious experiences.”
Visuddha’s element is the ether. The ether pervades everything but is in fact no-thing. Less intuitively, visuddha’s animal is the elephant again. The elephant resumes his supporting role but now he is supporting spiritual realities rather than purely physical ones. “…Psychical facts are the reality in visuddha.”
Visuddha’s seat is the neck, the larynx, the organ of language. This is the realm of Wisdom, Sophia, and Word, Logos, products of ‘the objective standpoint’.
Finally, the Ajna Cakras. Here we find the mirror image of creation (klesa). Ajan has no element because all duality (e.g. light and dark) has now been resolved. The “paired opposites”, whose conflicts make up the ego, are all resolved now as mere contrasts in a universal harmony.
It has no animal because “…the white elephant has disappeared into the self…You are absolutely identical with him.” Its seat is in the ‘3rd eye’ (on the forehead between the eyebrows).
“The original symbol (linga)…is here repeated in a new form, the white state. Instead of the dark germinating condition, it is now in the full blazing white light, fully conscious. In other words, the God that has been dormant in muladhara is here fully awake, the only reality.”
Paul’s 1st Letter to Corinthians offers a Western parallel: “…then comes the end when he (Christ) hands over the kingdom to his God and Father…for he subjected everything under his feet…When everything is subjected to him, then the Son (Christ) himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.”
In visuddha, the ‘world’ is psychical; but in ajna “…you are nothing but psyche.”
“The ego disappears completely; the psychical is no longer a content in us, but we become contents of it.” Sacramentally, this reality corresponds to the Catholic Eucharist. As noted about, in that sacrament you ingest the body and blood of Christ but in doing so, you become a member, a part of Christ’s ‘Mystical Body’.
Ajna is the gateway to the Sahasrara Cakras. “In ajna there is still the experience of the self that is apparently different from the object, God. But in sahasrana one understands that it is not different, and so the next conclusion would be that there is no object, no God, nothing but brahman.” Sahasrara is the home of the 1,000 petal lotus whose blossoming is synonymous with pan consciousness, nirvana, One, Brahman.
And guess what? It’s now time for the lotus to blossom!