The Fire of Truth: Kundalini and Kundalini Yoga
If you’ve spent much time in a yogic environment, you have undoubtedly heard the word, and perhaps some attempt to define or describe it. Kundalini: the serpent power, the sleeping fire at the base of the spine…
Often spoken of but rarely understood, this mysterious force is none other than the full expression of our being, the vibration of Consciousness itself, and the impetus behind our spiritual evolution.
She is the power of manifestation and absorption, the mother of yoga, the grace through which Oneness is revealed.
What Is Kundalini?
The word Kundalini derives from the Sanskrit word kundal, meaning “coiled up.” Kundalini is the fundamental life force, the evolutionary energy that is said to lie dormant in muladhara chakra. In Tantra, Kundalini is an aspect of Shakti, divine female energy, and the inseparable lover of Shiva, universal Consciousness.
As stated in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (3:1): “As the chief of the snakes is the support of the earth with all the mountains and forests on it, so all yoga practices rest on the Kundalini.”
Kundalini is generally defined as an essential potentiality of our being that, upon awakening, opens us to a cosmic, non-personal dimension of energy and produces profound transformations that ultimately lead to spiritual realization.
Some yogis say that Kundalini is a flow of prana along sushumna nadi. They consider that it is part of the network of the pranic body and that there is no anatomical counterpart. Others try to relate their perceptions of Kundalini to the flow of messages along the nerve fibers in the physical body.
However, most yogis agree that the experience of Kundalini is a unique spiritual-psycho-physiological event that centers in sushumna nadi, in connection with the spinal cord. Some try to identify the flow of Kundalini Shakti through sushumna nadi with the cerebrospinal fluid that passes within the spinal cord, thus bringing altered states of consciousness.
A much more profound and comprehensive understanding of Kundalini Shakti appears in the Kashmir Shaivite tradition. This is the vision embraced in Hridaya Yoga, as we will describe in this article.
There are many references to Kundalini’s power, grace, and importance in the traditional yogic texts.
According to treatises such as the Shiva Samhita, the Gheranda Samhita, and Yoga Kundalini Upanishad, the awakening and ascension of Kundalini that results from yogic practice are essential for reaching liberation — the Oneness revealed through the unification of Shiva and Shakti.
The Three Types of Kundalini
While the common understanding mainly refers to an energetic phenomenon, this is a limited perspective, missing that recognition of sacredness that is so essential in approaching Kundalini Shakti.
Tantra divides Kundalini into three types according to the fundamental levels of consciousness and existence — Shiva (absolute consciousness), Shakti (universal energy), and nara (the limited human being identified with the personality). The three corresponding aspects of Kundalini are known as Para Kundalini, Chit Kundalini, and Prana Kundalini.
Para Kundalini represents the state of absolute unity. Para refers to the Supreme and constitutes the absolute freedom and will of Shiva. At the metaphysical level, it represents the essential nature of the Absolute. Upon manifesting, Para Kundalini transforms herself into a sleeping snake, and this aspect of her is known as Kundalini Shakti. It is as Kundalini Shakti that para Kundalini is said to be the source of the light of consciousness (prakasha), the power by which consciousness reveals itself and that upon which its light falls.
Para Kundalini, because of her transcendence, is not experienced as long as the laws of the body bind us. At the time of physical death, we can have the experience of Para Kundalini. When we experience Para Kundalini, we experience her through the revelation of ourselves being one with the world.
Chit Kundalini is the aspect of shakti that makes beings conscious. Chit means “Pure Awareness.” The center (madhyama) as the “void” (shunya) represents the unimpeded freedom of the Absolute. By meditating deeply on this center, we become so inwardly focused that we ultimately experience Chit Kundalini. Therefore, in such a Kundalini awakening, it is not the energetic sensation through the spine that is emphasized but a state of pure neutrality, a balance between polar energies.
Speaking about Chit Kundalini, Swami Lakshmanjoo affirmed:
“One moment you are inside experiencing the bliss of the rise of Chit Kundalini and then the next moment you breathe out and your eyes are open and you are experiencing the world filled with ecstasy. This process of coming out and remaining in continues and each time it occurs, it is filled with more and more ecstasy. This process is called krama mudra.
When you are established in the process of krama mudra, you experience that ecstasy in action. When you eat, you are in that bliss. When you talk, you are in that bliss. When you walk, you are in that bliss. Whatever you do, you remain in that Universal state. This is the state of jivanmukti, liberated in life. This state is experienced not by ordinary yogins, but only by great yogins. This is the real state of Chit Kundalini.”
Finally, Prana Kundalini refers to Kundalini related to the breath. In Prana Kundalini, the emphasis is on energy (prana) and not on awareness (even though awareness is still present). It represents the lower form of Kundalini, and it is the one to which common Kundalini experiences most often refer.
Upon the emergence of the breath of life, Prana Kundalini comes into being and remains as a latent force in the human body as the coiled serpent. The yogic practice aims to awaken Prana Kundalini from her slumber. It is said that yogis who seek liberation will raise Kundalini to the level of brahmarandhra, the aperture at the crown of the head, where she merges with Supreme Consciousness.
The Purity of Intention
When beginning Kundalini practices, it is important to be aware of the purity of our intention. While the partial rising of Prana Kundalini may lead to the awakening of psychic powers, we should maintain the aspiration to complete the union between Energy and Awareness, the communion between Shakti and Shiva, in our being.
When this aspiration is firmly maintained, the rising of Kundalini can remove all obstacles.
WHAT KUNDALINI AWAKENING IS & WHAT IT IS NOT
Kundalini Shakti is the Universal Sacred Power, even though it is connected with the finite body-mind. Kundalini is sometimes misinterpreted as meaning mere “force.” But, as Arthur Avalon (Sir John Woodroffe) noted long ago, Shakti is Power, and as such is Bliss (ananda), Pure Awareness (chit), and Love (prema).
Therefore, in some sense, the phrase “Kundalini energy” is a misnomer because it suggests energy as a neutral physical force. The term shakti, by contrast, connotes something far more positive and creative. Kundalini Shakti is the very energy of consciousness, which, when aroused, brings higher states of awareness, including samadhi.
Through Self-Inquiry and the practice of the Kundalini techniques of Hatha Yoga, we can harness this divine creative power for spiritual evolution. By regulating the flow of prana, we can mobilize potential energy, and openness to Universal Power appears, resulting in Kundalini arousal.
Thus, in Chit Kundalini and Prana Kundalini, prana is used to stir the dormant Kundalini energy into action. The situation is analogous to bombarding an atomic nucleus with high-energy particles, which destabilizes the atom and releases tremendous energy.
Once awakened, Kundalini Shakti travels up sushumna nadi, activating the chakras in succession. When Kundalini Shakti rises to sahasrara, it joins with Shiva, the expression of Pure Awareness, and brings enlightenment.
This unification of Shiva and Shakti (the unification of Pure Awareness and Pure Energy) is equated to the conjunction that occurs between a couple in sexual intercourse, and the resultant bliss is called “the celebration of Supreme Union” (mahamelapa). This bliss is of the nature of amrita (the Spiritual Heart’s divine nectar of immortality), and, in drinking this immortal nectar, the yogi reaches the ultimate freedom.
By repeatedly raising energy to the crown, yogis can succeed in having Kundalini rest permanently there, in the seat of Shiva (Pure Awareness), and begin to think, act, and feel very differently, free from fears, desires, and other personal limitations.
“When the sleeping goddess Kundalini is awakened, through the grace of the Guru, all the chakras and the bonds are readily pierced through and through.” (Siva Samhita, 4:13)
The Difference between Kundalini and its Manifestations
Kundalini has been described as liquid fire and liquid light.
The power of Kundalini is enormous. The phenomena associated with it vary, and include unexpected physical sensations and movements, pain, clairaudience, visions, brilliant lights, super-lucidity, psychic powers, ecstasy, bliss, and transcendence.
However, the physical phenomena associated with Kundalini awakening should not be confused with Kundalini itself.
Although undoubtedly most psychic and mystical phenomena have a physiological basis, beyond such physiological manifestations lies the mysterious realm of Kundalini as Awareness-Bliss.
The Unification of Shiva and Shakti
The perseverant practice of Kundalini Yoga involves awakening Kundalini and systematically leading it through each of the chakras to sahasrara. When this unification between Shiva and Kundalini (Pure Awareness and Pure Cosmic Energy) is fulfilled, yogis become fully and blissfully aware of their infinite nature and of universal Energy.
In his book Shakti and Shakta, Arthur Avalon says:
“When Kundalini Shakti sleeps in the muladhara, man is awake to the world; when she awakes to unite, and does unite, with the supreme static Consciousness which is Shiva, then consciousness is asleep to the world and is one with the Light of all things.”
Temporary spiritual experiences can be seen as micro-manifestations of Kundalini.
Kundalini and the Consciousness of Oneness
Kundalini energy tears us away from duality, unifies, universalizes, and transfigures. This is the defining feature of the Kundalini experience: bringing together the scattered elements of ordinary consciousness and merging them in the Oneness of the original vibration, spanda.
This is obtained by bringing a sense of balance, centeredness, and universal expansion in all the successive planes of existence until the conscious energy moves freely from level to level, without imbalance or duality.
With the ascent of Kundalini, we experience the mysterious upstream course thanks to which worldly energy turns into all-pervading consciousness, as Shakti and Shiva are fused. As Kundalini rises through sushumna nadi, the intensity grows from chakra to chakra until they merge into one neutral reality, duality dissolving in Oneness.
Kundalini Shakti does not eradicate any plane or aspect but interiorizes them one by one to permeate them with Pure Awareness.
When this state is reached, the individual, Energy (Shakti), and Awareness (Shiva) are One. The personality and the Universe are witnessed on a background of Supreme Consciousness. Cosmic energy expands freely through the chakras, infusing them with the bliss of Consciousness. The individual organs function in such an impersonal manner that any form is seen as an expression of Oneness.
Raising Kundalini through Centeredness and Absorption
This understanding (jnana) is revealed through Self-Inquiry meditation or, traditionally in Tantra, through the help of a spiritual master. In this case, through the power and subtlety of their divinized energy, the teacher gradually interiorizes and centers the scattered energies of the disciple, whose Kundalini they awaken, just as a stringed instrument transmits its vibration all around.
Striking their Kundalini like a tuning fork, the master gives the keynote, transmitting the “right frequency.” Thus attuned to and by the master, the disciple’s Kundalini rises from chakra to chakra, moving up the scale toward the more subtle harmonics of spanda.
The spontaneous awakening and rising of Kundalini becomes possible by maintaining an underlying state of recollection that has nothing to do with a dry mental concentration: we should not concentrate mentally but be naturally “centered” (in the Heart — which in this context does not mean just in the Heart Center, but also in sushumna nadi or in any chakra that gives the sense of being centered and unified).
Even though the lower forms of Prana Kundalini can be aroused in the initial phases by visualization, trying to make Kundalini ascend just with the help of thought would be a paradox, as this awakening occurs when mental activity has vanished.
When we withdraw into the state of dhyana, Chit Kundalini can rise to the throat. But, to get her to ascend to the head, we must have the ability to remain in a deep and continuous state of absorption.
The Perspective on Kundalini in Kashmir Shaivism
According to Kashmir Shaivism, Kundalini is the very expression of the Center, the absolute essence of a human being and the Universe. Therefore, Kundalini is the upright axis at the innermost center of a human being and of the Universe. It is the source of humanity’s might, drawing and unfolding all its energies in the cosmic dimension.
However, rather than dwelling on the extraordinary powers acquired through Kundalini, the followers of the schools of Kashmir Shaivism emphasize the peace and the living harmony she bestows.
Although Kundalini may be experienced with great intensity and bring about remarkable effects, she cannot be completely grasped or described by the intellect. And yet, to those who experience her, she is as simple as Life. Better still, she is the very source of all life.