While many New Age believers cite the belief in chakras as a surefire science of body and spirit, they usually don’t realize that chakra theories vary significantly among different Asian religious traditions.
Texts and teachings present different numbers of chakras. Also different physical structures are considered chakras. David Gordon White thus emphasizes:
The chakras are, in the most general sense, ‘wheels’ or alleged centers of power located along the spine, beginning at the anus/base and ending at the crown of the head.
Spiritual energy is said to travel in a channel (nadi) upward along the spine, homogenizing at each chakra much like floors along an elevator route. Individuals at various stages of spiritual development focus on and identify their consciousness with respectively different chakras (energy centers). The anus/base chakra is said to contain the lowest and crudest of spiritual energies, while the crown/top chakra is associated with ultimate spiritual awareness, beyond the confines of desire, the body, space and time, etc.
In this regard, Hinduism outlines a variety of spiritual tantras (rules, disciplines, theories). Although those outlined in the Kubjikamata Tantra became more or less standardized, with chakras specified at the anus, reproductive organs, navel, heart, throat, between the eyes and the ‘thousand-petalled lotus’ at the crown of the head.
In Hindu mythic belief raw power (Shakti) resides at the anus/base. Once awakened she rises, serpent-like, energizing each chakra as she passes upward, ultimately to unite with Siva at the crown chakra. At this point the aspirant allegedly experiences absolute bliss by virtue of linking personal consciousness with absolute reality or God.
By way of contrast, some Buddhist Tantras mention only four chakras, located at the navel, heart, throat and between the eyes/crown of the head.
Again, some people seem to accept one chakra theory as the gospel truth. In reality, however, there are many competing theories. The tendency for some to hold fast to a single chakra theory might have something to do with the human desire to understand and control. Rather than humbly acknowledging our human limitations concerning ultimate reality, some suppose they’ve got it all figured out with a manmade theory. Ironically, this narrow-minded, closed off attitude may hinder an experience of the mystery and grace of God.
Another sad possibility is that vulnerable people with a bit of money but not much knowledge are hoodwinked by manipulative, sham gurus and cheesy New Age teachers who’ll do anything they can to keep their wealthy clients on the hook.
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Once awakened through meditative exercises such as pranamaya (i.e. controlled breathing), the kundalini serpent apparently rises through seven chakras.
Both the kundali and the chakras are often described as actual realities instead of symbolic interpretations of psychosomatic and numinous experiences.
Indeed, the kundalini and chakras are variously constructed and interpreted among different schools of thought, a fact sometimes overlooked by zealous New Age fundamentalists who adhere to and advocate just one interpretation.
Also rarely taken seriously among New Age fundamentalists is the valid question as to whether or not awakening the highest chakra in a given system really represents the highest, purest and holiest possible spiritual experience one may encounter. Along these lines, the Lutheran scholar Rudolf Otto, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, and several others talk about various forms of the numinous, ranging from the healthy, heavenly and holy to the demonic, dreadful and destructive.
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The Sanskrit word yoga derives from the root yuj, which means ‘yoke,’ ‘bind together’ or ‘union.’
Hatha yoga is a set of bodily postures as well as breathing and mental exercises designed by Patanjali that ultimately aim to connect the ego and soul with God.
Although this yoga is popular in the West, there are other important Hindu yogas and the entire concept of yoga runs far deeper than fashionable stretch suits and inflatable balls.
Generally speaking, yoga for the Hindu means any technique or practice that links individual volition to the Divine Will.
The Bhagavad-Gita outlines four different but related types of yoga.
- Jnana yoga is the yoga of divine knowledge.
- Raja yoga is the yoga of right rule.
- Karma yoga is the yoga of sacred duty or action.
- Bhakti yoga is the yoga of pure devotion to God.
Depending on where the aspirant ‘is at,’ so to speak, in their spiritual journey, these four different yogas intermingle in various degrees and combinations.
For example, a hard working businesswoman (karma yoga) does puja in the morning (bhakti yoga). On returning home after work she meditates on spiritual lessons learned from the day’s activities (jnana yoga). At night she participates in a women rights group that works to eradicate sutee (raja yoga). In addition, she may also practice the bodily and contemplative postures of hatha yoga.
Another aspect of yoga relates to Tantricism and, depending on the particular path, is variously championed or denounced among the Hindu faithful. This type of yoga is generally called kundalini yoga.
Kundalini yoga involves awakening the spiritual ‘serpent power’ said to reside at the base chakra. Usually through intense and prolonged training with a spiritual master (guru), one eventually learns how to channel this power up the spinal column so it resonates within each of the seven chakras, in a balanced way among them.
The most noble chakra is believed to be located at the top of the head (crown chakra). When this chakra activates and is properly balanced with all the other chakras, one is said to be in a state of samadhi–i.e. complete and perfect union with God.
» Aurobindo (Sri), Ahimsa, Bhakti yoga, Caste, Chakras, Eliade (Mircea), Faith and Action, Jnana yoga, Karma yoga, Raja yoga, Rama, Shakti, Tantra, Yogi, Yogini
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Yantras are also variously used in ritual worship, temple rites, astrology and to enhance one’s paranormal powers.
Concerning paranormal powers, the yanta may be used as a good luck charm, to exorcize evil spirits and avoid calamities.
Yantras are usually drawn, printed (as on note paper), painted or engraved on rock or metals.
In architechture an entire Hindu temple may take the structural form of a yantra, thus representing and emboding the sacred powers it was built for. Many Hindu temples themselves are based on archetechtural manuals that advocate the yantra design.
Perhaps the essence of the yantra is found in Oscar Wilde’s notion that
Truth in art is the unity of a thing with itself: the outward rendered expressive of the inward; the soul made incarnate; the body instinct with spirit.”
Cited in Peter Fingesten, “Spirituality, Mysticism and Non-Objective Art,” Art Journal, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Autumn, 1961: 2-6), p. 2
Primary Sources and Further Reading:
- The Encyclopedia of Religion. Eliade, Mircea (ed). New York: 1987, Collier Macmillan, Vol. 15.
- Fischer-Schreiber, Ingrid. The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion : Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Zen. Boston : Shambhala, 1994, c1989.
- #14 Sri Yantra Mandala SHANKAR originally uploaded to flickr.com by shankar gallery Richard Lazzara » http://www.flickr.com/photos/shankargallery/148979213/
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