There are many ways to do bhuta shuddhi. The method I describe here is drawn from different schools of yoga and tantra, and includes the best techniques for inner purification.
Sit in a comfortable meditation posture, with your head, neck, and trunk in a straight line. Close your eyes and focus your attention at the muladhara chakra, the abode of the earth element, at the base of the spine. Visualize a yellow square surrounded by four petals. In the center of this yellow square, visualize the kundalini in the form of a sleeping serpent. Its body is as brilliant as a thousand flashes of lightning.
Now create a root lock by squeezing the anus muscles and pulling them upward. Allow your mind to reach the central point in the region of the root lock. While mentally repeating the sound “hum,” feel as though you are awakening the dormant kundalini shakti. Then mentally repeat “lam,” the bija (seed) mantra of the earth element, not less than sixteen times, while focusing your mind on the kundalini shakti that resides at the muladhara.
Next, visualize the kundalini awakening and traveling upward until it reaches the svadhishthana chakra, the abode of the water element, just above the root of the genitals. There, visualize an ocean-blue circle with a white crescent moon in the center. The circle is surrounded by six petals. While you maintain this image, mentally repeat the bija mantra of the water element, “vam,” not less than sixteen times.
Now visualize the kundalini traveling upward toward the manipura chakra, the abode of fire, at the navel center. Here, visualize a red triangle pointing upward. This triangle is enclosed in a circle of ten petals. Mentally repeat the bija mantra of the fire element, “ram,” not less than sixteen times.
Continue to move with the upward-traveling kundalini until you reach the anahata, the heart center, which is the abode of air. Here, visualize two smoky-gray triangles, one superimposed upon the other, encircled by a twelve-petaled lotus. In the center visualize jiva, the individual soul, in the form of a flame. At this stage mentally repeat the bija mantra of the air element, “yam,” not less than sixteen times.
Next, visualize the kundalini shakti, in which the individual consciousness has dissolved, traveling upward until it reaches the vishuddha chakra, the abode of ether at the base of the throat. There, a sky-blue circle is surrounded by a sixteen-petaled lotus. The presiding force of this chakra is contained in the bija mantra of the space (or ether) element, “hum,” which you mentally repeat not less than sixteen times.
Now visualize the upward-traveling kundalini shakti reaching the ajña chakra, the center between the eyebrows. This is the realm of mind. This chakra consists of a yellow triangle surrounded by a circle. A bright white flame is enclosed in the triangle. Outside the circle are two petals. Mentally repeat the mantra “so hum.”
Still moving upward with the kundalini shakti, reach the sahasrara chakra, the thousand-petaled crown center which is the abode of the primordial spiritual master—pure consciousness.
At this center all colors, forms, and shapes dissolve, for this chakra is beyond the realm of mind and therefore beyond the realm of imagination. When you experience this center, it consists of countless rays of white light. However, it is most often visualized as a thousand-petaled lotus with a pinkish aura so that the mind can conceive of it. Here repeat the mantra “hamsah.”
Keeping your consciousness at the sahasrara chakra, begin three cycles of pranayama. These pranayama cycles require you to retain your breath after the inhalation—normally the breath is retained four times longer than the inhalation and twice as long as the exhalation. If you have not yet mastered breath retention but still want to do this practice, retain your breath only to your comfortable capacity and disregard the ratios given here.
The First Cycle of Bhuta Shuddhi
Close the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril while mentally repeating “yam,” the bija mantra of air, sixteen times. Then close both nostrils and retain the breath. While holding the breath, repeat “yam” sixty-four times. Then, while closing the left nostril, exhale slowly through the right nostril, repeating the mantra thirty-two times.
While inhaling during this cycle, visualize a smoky color in the left nostril. During retention, imagine that your whole heart region is filled with the air element, drying up all the toxins and impurities in the body.
The Second Cycle of Bhuta Shuddhi
Close the left nostril and inhale through the right nostril while mentally repeating the bija mantra of the fire element, “ram,” sixteen times. Close both nostrils and retain the breath while repeating “ram” sixty-four times. Then close the right nostril and slowly exhale through the left nostril, repeating the mantra thirty-two times.
During this second cycle visualize a bright, flame-like light in the right nostril during the inhalation. While retaining the breath, imagine this light consuming the impurities dried up during the first cycle. During exhalation, visualize the light as emanating from the heart region and exiting through the left nostril, taking all impurities with it.
The Third Cycle of Bhuta Shuddhi
Close the right nostril and inhale through the left while mentally repeating “vam,” the bija mantra of nectar (also the seed mantra of water), sixteen times. After completing the inhalation, retain the breath and concentrate on the ajña chakra, feeling the nectar showering from this chakra in the form of all the mantras you have employed (they carry the subtle power of the divine force), and filling your body. During retention, repeat the mantra “vam” sixty-four times. Then exhale through the right nostril, repeating the mantra thirty-two times.
When you have finished these three cycles of pranayama, let your consciousness descend toward the lower chakras. Remember, the kundalini shakti has swallowed all the elements, energies, and issues associated with each of the chakras as it traveled upward. Now, as it travels downward, those elements and energies re-emerge, purified by the kundalini shakti. The mind is left at the ajña chakra; the space element is left at the throat; individual consciousness and the air element return to the heart; the fire returns to the navel center; water returns to the pelvic center; and the earth element returns to the base of the spine. Finally, the kundalini shakti rests again at the muladhara chakra.
The Realm Beyond
The type of bhuta shuddhi practice just described comes from kundalini yoga. Its purpose is to help you make a smooth transition from general yoga practices to more advanced disciplines. Generally this process takes place only in the imagination, but when a competent master bestows shaktipata (the direct transmission of spiritual energy), then the kundalini is actually awakened and bhuta shuddhi becomes a living experience. The student who receives shaktipata transcends all sense of solidity and weight as the kundalini rises above the muladhara center, and at the same time such a student also attains freedom from fear of death, insecurity, and anxiety. When the kundalini rises above the ajña chakra all thoughts vanish, and the mind is left behind. What remains is only the awareness of pure consciousness.
According to the scriptures, attaining a direct experience of pure consciousness takes a long time. Shaktipata—the direct transmission from master to student—is the quickest and surest way. However, it is better to practice bhuta shuddhi sincerely and to your fullest capacity than to wait passively for a realized master to bestow shaktipata. Such masters are rare, and even if an aspirant finds one, few students are prepared to receive such a high degree of initiation. Self-effort is the force that draws divine grace and moves the guru spirit to light the spark that may result in shaktipata.
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