Ultimate purpose

Some say that the ultimate purpose of yoga, is to facilitate the awakening of kundalini. From a certain viewpoint, this is true, and from other perspectives it is not. So what is kundalini and what is yoga’s relationship to it?

Vedic philosophy, in particular the school of Tantra, sees Kundalini as the link between the human body and cosmic Divine consciousness, responsible for creation. Kundalini is a potent seed of this force lying dormant at the base of the spinal column in every human body. According to Vedic and Tantric texts it is coiled around the base of the spinal column in three and a half spirals. Hence the ancient sages of India called it kundalini, the one coiled like a snake, and a snake has been symbolic of kundalini ever since. Kundalini is considered manifest aspect of the Divine – the Divine Mother – ‘Shakti’ (Power or Force). She is seen as the aspect of the Divine present in the manifestation and animation of the physical/material world.

The ancient Rishsi (seers) described an intricate network of 72,000 nadis, an energetic vein-like system spread throughout the human body, very much like the meridians of far Eastern systems. The three most important of these nadis spiral upwards from the base of the spinal column all the way to the crown of the head and the seventh yogic chakra called Sahasrahara. The middle pathway, considered the most important of all, is called Sushumana. The other two major nadis on either side of Sushmana are called Ida (the feminine/moon channel) and Pingala (the masculine/sun channel). The six yogic chakras,centers of consciousness, are located vertically above one another at specific intervals along Sushmana where Ida and Pingala cross Sushumna. This complete web of nadis and system of chakras exists, in a subtler dimension of our being. It remains unknown to science of today as it’s subtle form is undetectable to current technology.

When kundalini is awakened, it begins to rise through sushmana ultimately to reach sahasrahara, uniting with Param Shiva, the eternal unmanifest masculine aspect of the Divine. As it spirals upwards through sushmana, kundalini enters the network of nadis and ascending opens the chakras/cakras one by one as it rises.(NB:The chakras of the Indian yogic tradition do not correspond to the chakras as they have been understood and popularized in contemporary times – I will write a separate article on this subject)

It is here that we can see clearly the relationship between yoga and kundalini. As outlined through the eight limbs of yoga, yoga as a spiritual practice is a process of ‘purification’. This purification can be seen as preparation for the awakening and rising of kundalini. Essentially the more purification has been achieved, the faster and more easily kundalini will ascend .

There are many differing ways for the kundalini to awaken and rise. Probably the rarest is when the kundalini rises directly to the crown of the head ‘sahasrahra’. For such a rising of the kundalini to take place a great deal of ‘purification’ must already have taken place, as spiritual practice in the current or other lives. Unfortunately this is often how kundalini awakening is thought of, and without proper understanding seems highly desirable. More commonly the process takes many many years, and may not even complete in the same lifetime that the rising began. In such an instance the process will begin again and continue in another life, sometimes beginning as early as childhood.

Ideally a person has a well-established and integrated spiritual practice prior to, and initiating kundalini awakening and rising. Even more ideally they have the guidance and protection of a Sat Guru or perfect master. If not, my advice would be to find one, and satisfy yourself that they are indeed a fully liberated being. Each individual experiences this opening in a unique way and there are no set pathways. There are lots of common experiences, but each person moves into this awakening on a path of their own. Only a perfect master will be in a position to help guide someone with a kundalini rising.

The Kundalini force in rising, initiates irreversible spiritual purification as it moves through the subtle channels of the body. This cleansing process manifest in the body as yogic ‘Kriyas’. Kriyas are involuntary body movements that occur mostly during meditation or even relaxation. Swaying of the body, rapid movements of the head, twitching and jerking in the body and limbs, are typical of these ‘Kriyas’. Sometimes kriyas take the form of yoga asanas, with people performing them involunatrily . From the onlooker kriyas may appear strange or even alarming when we don’t understand what is happening within the person. For the person experiencing them they do not cause any bodily harm and can even lead to states of deep absorbtion. ‘Kundalini’, being an energy of Divine consciousness, is aware of what is the appropriate step in the process, making the practitioner perform ‘Kriyas’ that are specific to this end.

Often of greater challenge are the mental and emotional dimensions of this transformational process. Our vasanas*, samskaras* and karmas are held, or stored, in the subconscious. The body in turn holds, or stores the subconscious. We can liken the nadis to the subtle energy storage structure of the subconscious in the body. This means that all experience from our past, that is unhealed, unresolved, or incomplete, is transmuted by the kundalini in it’s movement upward through the body towards the crown of the head ‘sahasrahra’. This subconscious material, feelings, emotions, and accompanying beliefs invariably consists of trauma, pain, and fear. In the process of its transformation the egoic mind can experience depression, darkness, and emotional pain, sometimes so deep and inexplicable it seems unbearable. Obviously this can be deeply distressing, not only to the person, but also those close to them. This is exacerbated if there is no awareness of kundalini as the cause, or spiritual process.

Yogic texts elaborate how the kundalini piercing the different consciousness centers (chakras/cakras), can equip the practitioner with siddhis (powers) such as, clairvoyance, the ability to see the past and future, and perceive the existence of subtle planes of existance (among the least dramatic). The vivid and colorful descriptions of the siddhis can be another misguided motivator to pursue awakening the kundalini, in fact these can be quite an unhelpful diversion. When the Kundalini reaches Sahasrahara, and the entire system is ‘purified’ the human spiritual journey is complete as nothing now remains to create the illusion of separation from the Divine and True Nature. This final condition, when all vasanas, samskaras and karmas have been dissolved, is the state known as Moksha. Moksha is then the condition of complete liberation. This differs from enlightenment which begins with the end of identification with mind and reaches it’s final conclusion only with Moksha. Until Moksha is attained, the ‘enlightened’ can still become once more identified with mind, it’s vasanas, samskaras and karmas.

If we make an examination of mystical literature and traditions in cultures outside India we find that kundalini, called by various names, seems to have been a universal phenomenon in esoteric teachings for at least three thousand years. Kundalini-type descriptions or experiences are found in esoteric teachings and symbolism of the Egyptians, Tibetans, Chinese, some Native Americans, and the Kung bushmen of Africa. Kundalini has been interpreted from the Bible as “the solar principle in man,” or possibly the concept as ‘pneuma’, and is referenced in the Koran, the works of Plato and other Greek philosophers, possibly as well in alchemical tracts (the philosopher’s stone), and in Hermetic, Kabbalistic, Rosicrucian, and Masonic writings.

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