In some Indian religions, a chakra (Sanskrit cakra, "wheel") is thought to be an energy point or node in the subtle body. Chakras are believed to be part of the subtle body, not the physical body, and as such, are the meeting points of the subtle (non-physical) energy channels called nadi. Nadi are believed to be channels in the subtle body through which the life force (prana) (non-physical) or vital energy (non-physical) moves. Various scriptural texts and teachings present a different number of chakras. It's believed that there are many chakras in the subtle human body, according to the tantric texts, but there are seven chakras that are considered to be the most important ones.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 Characteristics
- 4 Use in Eastern traditions
- 5 Western interpretations
- 6 Description of each chakra
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Sources
- 11 External links
The word Chakra (चक्र) derives from the Sanskrit word meaning "wheel," as well as "circle" and "cycle". It's described by many as a spinning wheel of light. Of the many chakras within the human body, seven have been identified as major.
- "Circle," used in a variety of senses, symbolising endless rotation of shakti.
- A circle of people. In rituals, there are different cakrasādhanās in which adherents assemble and perform rites. According to the Niruttaratantra, chakras in the sense of assemblies are of 5 types.
- The term chakra is also used to denote yantras (mystic diagram)s, variously known as trikoṇa-cakra, aṣṭakoṇa-cakra, etc.
- Different nerve plexuses within the body.
Breath channels (nāḍi) of yogic practices are already mentioned in the classical Upanishads, but hierarchies of chakras are introduced in the eighth-century Buddhist Hevajra Tantra and Caryāgiti.
The texts and teachings present different numbers of chakras. Also, different physical structures are considered chakras. David Gordon White thus emphasizes:
"In fact, there is no "standard" system of the chakras. Every school, sometimes every teacher within each school, has had his own chakra system."
The following features are common:
- They form part of the body, along with the breath channels (nadi), and the winds (vayu).
- They are located along the central channel (sushumna/avadhūtī).
- Two side channels cross the center channel at the location of the chakras.
- They possess a number of 'petals' or 'spokes'.
- They are generally associated with a mantra seed-syllable, and often with a variety of colours and deities.
- There are believed to be 7 major chakras.
Use in Eastern traditions
David Gordon White traces the modern popularity of the "Hindu" seven chakra system to Arthur Avalon's The Serpent Power, which was Avalon's translation of a late work, the Satcakranirupana. In actuality, there are several models and systems present in Hindu tantric literature, as White documents. Kundalini is a feature of Hindu chakra systems.
Chakras play an important role in the main surviving branch of Indian Vajrayana, Tibetan Buddhism. They play a pivotal role in completion stage practices, where an attempt is made to bring the subtle winds of the body into the central channel, to realise the clear light of bliss and emptiness, and to attain Buddhahood.
The Vajrayana system states that the central channel (avadhūtī) begins at the point of the third eye like of lord Shiva, curves up to the crown of the head, and then goes straight down to the lower body. There are two side channels, the rasanā and lalanā, which start at their respective nostrils and then travel down to the lower body. The apāna vāyu governs the lower terminations of the three channels. The lower end of the central channel ends in the rectum. The lower end of the lalanā ends in the urinary tract. The lower end of the rasanā channel emits semen.
The side channels run parallel to the center channel, except at locations such as the navel, heart, throat and crown (i.e. chakras) where the two side channels twist around the central channel. At the navel, throat and crown, there is a twofold knot caused by each side channel twisting once around the central channel. At the heart wheel there is a sixfold knot, where each side channel twists around three times. An important part of completion stage practice involves loosening and undoing these knots.
Within the chakras exist the 'subtle drops'. The white drop exists in the crown, the red drop exists in the navel, and at the heart exists the indestructible red and white drop, which leaves the body at the time of death. In addition, each chakra has a number of 'spokes' or 'petals', which branch off into thousands of subtle channels running to every part of the body, and each contains a Sanskrit syllable.
By focusing on a specific chakra (while often holding the breath) the subtle winds enter the central channel. The chakra at which they enter is important in order to realise specific practices. For example, focusing on the subnavel area is important for the practice of tummo, or inner fire. Meditating on the heart chakra is important for realising clear light. Meditating on the throat chakra is important for lucid dreaming and the practices of dream yoga. And meditating on the crown chakra is important for consciousness projection, either to another world, or into another body.
A result of energetic imbalance among the chakras is an almost continuous feeling of dissatisfaction. When the heart chakra is agitated, people lose touch with feelings and sensations, and that breeds the sense of dissatisfaction. That leads to looking outside for fulfilment. When people live in their heads, feelings are secondary; they are interpretations of mental images that are fed back to the individual. When awareness is focused on memories of past experiences and mental verbalisations, the energy flow to the head chakra increases and the energy flow to the heart chakra lessens. Without nurturing feelings of the heart a subtle form of anxiety arises which results in the self reaching out for experience. When the throat chakra settles and energy is distributed evenly between the head and the heart chakras, one is able to truly contact one's senses and touch real feelings.
Chakras, according to the Bon tradition, influence the quality of experience, because movement of vayu cannot be separated from experience. Each of the six major chakras is linked to experiential qualities of one of the six realms of existence.
A modern teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, uses a computer analogy: main chakras are like hard drives. Each hard drive has many files. One of the files is always open in each of the chakras, no matter how "closed" that particular chakra may be. What is displayed by the file shapes experience.
The tsa lung practices such as those embodied in Trul khor lineages open channels so lung (the Tibetan term for vayu) may move without obstruction. Yoga opens chakras and evokes positive qualities associated with a particular chakra. In the hard drive analogy, the screen is cleared and a file is called up that contains positive, supportive qualities. A bīja (seed syllable) is used both as a password that evokes the positive quality and the armour that sustains the quality.
Tantric practice is said to eventually transform all experience into bliss. The practice aims to liberate from negative conditioning and leads to control over perception and cognition.
Qigong (氣功) also relies on a similar model of the human body as an esoteric energy system, except that it involves the circulation of qi (氣, also ki) or life-energy. The qi, equivalent to the Hindu prana, flows through the energy channels called meridians, equivalent to the nadi, but two other energies are also important: jing, or primordial essence, and shen, or spirit energy.
In the principle circuit of qi, called the microcosmic orbit, energy rises up a main meridian along the spine, but also comes back down the front torso. Throughout its cycle it enters various dantian (elixir fields) which act as furnaces, where the types of energy in the body (jing, qi and shen) are progressively refined. These dantian play a very similar role to that of chakras. The number of dantian varies depending on the system; the navel dantian is the most well-known, but there is usually a dantian located at the heart and between the eyebrows. The lower dantian at or below the navel transforms essence, or jing, into qi. The middle dantian in the middle of the chest transforms qi into shen, or spirit, and the higher dantian at the level of the forehead (or at the top of the head), transforms shen into wuji, infinite space of void.
Indonesian and Malaysian metaphysics
Traditional spirituality in the Malay Archipelago borrows heavily from Hindu-Buddhist concepts. In Malay and Indonesian metaphysical theory, the chakras' energy rotates outwards along diagonal lines. Defensive energy emits outwards from the centre line, while offensive energy moves inwards from the sides of the body. This can be applied to energy-healing, meditation, or martial arts. Silat practitioners learn to harmonise their movements with the chakras, thereby increasing the power and effectiveness of attacks and movements.
Western adaptation of Hindu yogic chakras
However, it was only in 1927 that the shakta theory of seven main chakras, that has become most popular in the West, was introduced, largely through the translation of two Indian texts: the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana and the Padaka-Pancaka, by Sir John Woodroffe, alias Arthur Avalon, in a book titled The Serpent Power.
This book is extremely detailed and complex, and later the ideas were developed into the predominant Western view of the chakras by C. W. Leadbeater in his book The Chakras. Many of the views which directed Leadbeater's understanding of the chakras were influenced by previous theosophist authors, in particular Johann Georg Gichtel, a disciple of Jakob Böhme, and his book Theosophia Practica (1696), in which Gichtel directly refers to inner force centres, a concept reminiscent of the chakras.
A completely separate contemplative movement within the Eastern Orthodox church is Hesychasm, a form of Christian meditation. Comparisons have been made between the Hesychastic centres of prayer and the position of the chakras. Particular emphasis is placed upon the heart area. However, there is no talk about these centres as having any sort of metaphysical existence. Far more than in any of the cases discussed above, the centers are simply places to focus the concentration during prayer.
In Anatomy of the Spirit (1996), Caroline Myss describes the function of chakras as follows: "Every thought and experience you've ever had in your life gets filtered through these chakra databases. Each event is recorded into your cells...". The chakras are described as being aligned in an ascending column from the base of the spine to the top of the head. New Age practices often associate each chakra with a certain colour. In various traditions, chakras are associated with multiple physiological functions, an aspect of consciousness, a classical element, and other distinguishing characteristics. They are visualised as lotuses or flowers with a different number of petals in every chakra.
The chakras are thought to vitalize the physical body and to be associated with interactions of a physical, emotional and mental nature. They are considered loci of life energy or prana (which New Age belief equates with shakti, qi in Chinese, ki in Japanese, koach-ha-guf in Hebrew, bios in Greek, and aether in both Greek and English), which is thought to flow among them along pathways called nadi. The function of the chakras is to spin and draw in this energy to keep the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health of the body in balance.
In his book on Japa Yoga (Himalaya Press, 1978), Swami Sivananda states that a yogi that practices Japa only with the Om and is successful at Mahasamyama (oneness with the object —in this case, a word being meditated on—) becomes a direct disciple of the Om, the most holy of all words and syllables (the same as the word of creation as recognised by the Torah, although this is not professed or quite possibly not even recognised by those of secular authority in either Judaism or Christianity). Thus, the yogi who achieves this feat needs no guru or Sat-guru to achieve any spiritual goal (an archetype or an Ascended Master —a Krishna, a Rama, a Jesus, a Nanak, a Buddha...—). Swami Sivananda mentions that this yogi has a path that is, in all recognisable ways and manners, reverse of that of other yogis or spiritual aspirants and their paths, in that this spiritual aspirant then works through the chakras, mastering them from the crown down. Satprem explains, in page 67 of his book Sri Aurobindo, or the Adventure of Consciousness (ISBN 81-85137-60-9), that, in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's Integral Yoga, the practitioner experiences a "descent" where the Grace and Light works through and enlightens the chakras from the crown chakra downwards.
Another interpretation of the seven chakras is presented by writer and artist Zachary Selig. In his book Kundalini Awakening, a Gentle Guide to Chakra Activation and Spiritual Growth, he presents a unique codex titled "Relaxatia", a solar Kundalini paradigm that is a codex of the human chakra system and the solar light spectrum, designed to activate Kundalini through his colour-coded chakra paintings.
Some system models describe one or more transpersonal chakras above the crown chakra, as well as an Earth star chakra below the feet. There are also held to be many minor chakras (for example, between the major chakras).
Rudolf Steiner considered the chakra system to be dynamic and evolving. He suggested that this system has become different for modern people than it was in ancient times and that it will, in turn, be radically different in future times. Steiner described a sequence of development that begins with the upper chakras and moves down, rather than moving in the opposite direction. He gave suggestions on how to develop the chakras through disciplining thoughts, feelings, and will.
According to Florin Lowndes, a "spiritual student" can further develop and deepen or elevate thinking consciousness when taking the step from the "ancient path" of schooling to the "new path" represented by Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom.[note 1]
Chakras and their importance are posited to reside in the psyche. However, there are those who believe that chakras have a physical manifestation as well. Gary Osborn, for instance, has described the chakras as metaphysical counterparts to the endocrine glands, while Anodea Judith noted a marked similarity between the positions of the two and the roles described for each. Stephen Sturgess also links the lower six chakras to specific nerve plexuses along the spinal cord as well as glands. C.W. Leadbeater associated the Ajna chakra with the pineal gland, which is a part of the endocrine system. These associations remain speculative, however, and have yet to be empirically validated.
Spectrum of light
A development in Western practices dating back to the 1940s is to associate each one of the seven chakras to a given colour and a corresponding crystal. For example, the chakra in the forehead is associated with the colour purple, so to try and cure a headache a person might apply a purple stone to the forehead.
Mercier introduces the relation of colour energy to the science of the light spectrum:
As humans, we exist within the 49th Octave of Vibration of the electromagnetic light spectrum. Below this range are barely visible radiant heat, then invisible infrared, television and radiowaves, sound and brain waves; above it is barely visible ultraviolet, then the invisible frequencies of chemicals and perfumes, followed by x-rays, gamma rays, radium rays and unknown cosmic rays.
Understanding existence and physical form as an interpretation of light energy through the physical eyes will open up greater potential to explore the energetic boundaries of color, form and light that are perceived as immediate reality. Indian Yogic teachings assign to the seven major chakras specific qualities, such as color of influence (from the seven rays of spectrum light), elements (such as earth, air, water & ether), body sense (such as touch, taste, and smell), and relation to an endocrine gland.
Description of each chakra
There are believed to be seven major chakras, which are arranged vertically along the axial channel (sushumna nadi). David Gordon White traces the modern popularity of the seven chakra system to Arthur Avalon's The Serpent Power, which was Avalon's translation of a late work, the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana. Below is a description of the seven chakras, with various associations. Each of these chakras also has its elemental deity (Vasu), demigod of its material element.
From the top down, they are thought to be:
|Sahasrara (Sanskrit: सहस्रार, IAST: Sahasrāra, English: "thousand-petaled") or crown chakra is generally considered to be the state of pure consciousness, within which there is neither object nor subject. When the Kundalini energy rises to this point, it unites with the male Shiva energy, and a state of liberating samadhi is attained. Symbolized by a lotus with one thousand multi-coloured petals, it is located either at the crown of the head, or above the crown of the head. Sahasrara is represented by the colour white and it involves such issues as inner wisdom and the death of the body.
Its role may be envisioned somewhat similarly to that of the pituitary gland, which secretes hormones to communicate to the rest of the endocrine system and also connects to the central nervous system via the hypothalamus. According to Gary Osborn, the thalamus is thought to have a key role in the physical basis of consciousness and is the 'Bridal Chamber' mentioned in the Gnostic scriptures. Sahasrara's inner aspect deals with the release of karma, physical action with meditation, mental action with universal consciousness and unity, and emotional action with "beingness."
In Tibetan Buddhism, the point at the crown of the head is represented by a white circle, with 33 downward pointing petals. It is of primary importance in the performance of phowa, or consciousness projection after death, in order to obtain rebirth in a Pure Land. Within this state is contained the White drop, or Bodhicitta, which is the essence of masculine energy.
Corresponding deity for material element of this state is Dhruva.
|Ajna (Sanskrit: आज्ञा, IAST: Ājñā, English: "command") or third-eye chakra is symbolised by a lotus with two petals, and corresponds to the colours violet, indigo or deep blue, though it is traditionally described as white. It is at this point that the two side nadi Ida (yoga) and Pingala are said to terminate and merge with the central channel Sushumna, signifying the end of duality, the characteristic of being dual (e.g. light and dark, or male and female). The seed syllable for this chakra is the syllable OM, and the presiding deity is Ardhanarishvara, who is a half male, half female Shiva/Shakti. The Shakti goddess of Ajna is called Hakini.
Ajna (along with Bindu), is known as the third eye chakra and is linked to the pineal gland which may inform a model of its envisioning. The pineal gland is a light sensitive gland that produces the hormone melatonin which regulates sleep and waking up, and is also postulated to be the production site of the psychedelic dimethyltryptamine, the only known hallucinogen endogenous to the human body. Ajna's key issues involve balancing the higher and lower selves and trusting inner guidance. Ajna's inner aspect relates to the access of intuition. Mentally, Ajna deals with visual consciousness. Emotionally, Ajna deals with clarity on an intuitive level.
|Vishuddha (Sanskrit: विशुद्ध, IAST: Viśuddha, English: "especially pure"), or Vishuddhi, or throat chakra is depicted as a silver crescent within a white circle, with 16 light or pale blue, or turquoise petals. The seed mantra is Ham, and the residing deity is Panchavaktra shiva, with 5 heads and 4 arms, and the Shakti is Shakini.
Vishuddha may be understood as relating to communication and growth through expression. This chakra is paralleled to the thyroid, a gland that is also in the throat and which produces thyroid hormone, responsible for growth and maturation. Physically, Vishuddha governs communication, emotionally it governs independence, mentally it governs fluent thought, and spiritually, it governs a sense of security.
In Tibetan buddhism, this chakra is red, with 16 upward pointing petals. It plays an important role in Dream Yoga, the art of lucid dreaming.
Corresponding deity for material element of this chakra is Dyaus.
|Anahata (Sanskrit: अनाहत, IAST: Anāhata, English: "unstruck") or heart chakra is symbolised by a circular flower with twelve green petals called the heartmind. Within it is a yantra of two intersecting triangles, forming a hexagram, symbolizing a union of the male and female. The seed mantra is Yam, the presiding deity is Ishana Rudra Shiva, and the Shakti is Kakini.
Anahata is related to the thymus, located in the chest. The thymus is an element of the immune system as well as being part of the endocrine system. It is the site of maturation of the T cells responsible for fending off disease and may be adversely affected by stress. Anahata is related to the colours green or pink. Key issues involving Anahata involve complex emotions, compassion, tenderness, unconditional love, equilibrium, rejection and well-being. Physically Anahata governs circulation, emotionally it governs unconditional love for the self and others, mentally it governs passion, and spiritually it governs devotion.
|Manipura (Sanskrit: मणिपूर, IAST: Maṇipūra, English: "jewel city") or solar plexus/navel chakra is symbolised by a downward pointing triangle with ten petals, along with the color yellow. The seed syllable is Ram, and the presiding deity is Braddha Rudra, with Lakini as the Shakti.
Manipura is related to the metabolic and digestive systems. Manipura is believed to correspond to Islets of Langerhans, which are groups of cells in the pancreas, as well as the outer adrenal glands and the adrenal cortex. These play a valuable role in digestion, the conversion of food matter into energy for the body. The colour that corresponds to Manipura is yellow. Key issues governed by Manipura are issues of personal power, fear, anxiety, opinion-formation, introversion, and transition from simple or base emotions to complex. Physically, Manipura governs digestion, mentally it governs personal power, emotionally it governs expansiveness, and spiritually, all matters of growth.
Corresponding deity for material element of this chakra is Agni.
|Svadhishthana (Sanskrit: स्वाधिष्ठान, IAST: Svādhiṣṭhāna, English: "one's own base") or sacral chakra is symbolized by a white lotus within which is a crescent moon, with six vermilion, or orange petals. The seed mantra is Vam, and the presiding deity is Brahma, with the Shakti being Rakini (or Chakini). The animal associated is the crocodile of Varuna.
This chakra is located in the sacrum and is considered to correspond to the testes or the ovaries that produce the various sex hormones involved in the reproductive cycle. Svadhishthana is also considered to be related to, more generally, the genitourinary system and the adrenals. The key issues involving Svadhishthana are relationships, violence, addictions, basic emotional needs and pleasure. Physically, Svadhishthana governs reproduction, mentally it governs creativity, emotionally it governs joy, and spiritually it governs enthusiasm.
|Muladhara (Sanskrit: मूलाधार, IAST: Mūlādhāra, English: "root support") or root chakra is symbolized by a lotus with four petals and the color red. This center is located at the base of the spine in the coccygeal region. It is said to relate to the gonads and the adrenal medulla, responsible for the fight-or-flight response when survival is under threat. The seed syllable is LAM.
Muladhara is related to instinct, security, survival and also to basic human potentiality. Physically, Muladhara governs sexuality, mentally it governs stability, emotionally it governs sensuality, and spiritually it governs a sense of security. Muladhara also has a relation to the sense of smell.
This chakra is where the three main nadi separate and begin their upward movement. Dormant Kundalini rests here, wrapped three and a half times around the black Svayambhu linga, the lowest of three obstructions to her full rising (also known as knots or granthis). It is the seat of the red bindu, the female drop (which in Tibetan vajrayana is located at the navel chakra).[clarification needed]
Hridhiya chakra (also known as hrid chakra) is measured from center of Anahata chakra, two fingers to the left and continue with two finger down, whereby the heart beat can be felt. Talu chakra is located at behind of Reticular Formation at Fourth Ventrical before beginning of spinal cord. There are said to be 21 minor chakras which are reflected points of the major chakras. These 21 are further grouped into ten bilateral minor chakras that correspond to the foot, hand, knee, elbow, groin, clavicle, navel, shoulder and ear. The spleen may also be listed by some authorities as a location for a minor chakra.
There are said to be three chakras that are beyond the physical and the spiritual. They are called Golata, Lalata, and Lalana and "located on the uvula at the back of the throat, above the Ajna chakra, and within the soft upper palate". According to Robert Svoboda they defy description in the sense of the above seven and can only be experienced once Kundalini has fully awakened.
Minor chakras below Muladhara
Atala — Located in the hips, it governs fear and lust.
Vitala — Located in the thighs, it governs anger and resentment.
Sutala — Located in the knees, it governs jealousy.
Talatala — Translated as "under the bottom level", it is located in the calves and represents a state of prolonged confusion and instinctive willfulness.
Rasatala — Located in the ankles, it is the centre of selfishness and pure animal nature.
Mahatala — Located in the feet, this is the dark realm 'without conscience', and inner blindness.
Patala — Located in the soles of the feet, this is the realm of malice, murder, torture and hatred, and in Hindu mythology it borders on the realm of Naraka, or hell.
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- Shyam Sundar Goswami, Layayoga: The Definitive Guide to the Chakras and Kundalini, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.
- Leadbeater, C.W. The Chakras Wheaton, Illinois, U.S.A.:1926—Theosophical Publishing House—Picture of the Chakras on plates facing page 17 as claimed to have been observed by Leadbeater with his third eye
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- Florin Lowndes, 'Enlivening the Chakra of the Heart: The Fundamental Spiritual Exercises of Rudolf Steiner' ISBN 1-85584-053-7, first English edition 1998 from the original German edition of 1996, comparing 'traditional' chakra teaching, and that of C.W.Leadbeater, with that of Rudolf Steiner.
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