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 inaccurate, 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 being’s 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 functioning 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.
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.