Chakras Pt1 East Or West

November 26, 2008 by  

Despite everything you may have heard or read about chakras, there is no unified theory or explanation of exactly what the chakras are and what they do. Unfortunately much of the information on chakras is simply a repeating of what has been said or written elsewhere and the basis of it is only it’s repetition. Very often components from different theories become mixed together adding to the confusion and misunderstanding.

Perhaps the biggest confusion is between the yogic or Tantric concept of the chakras and western or new age concepts. In the yogic/ Tantric philosophies the chakras are subtle centers of consciousness, but have no energy-status of their own. While in the Western/ new age theories the chakras are seen as energy vortexes connecting each of the subtle bodies and the physical body.  From this view the chakras are energy/consciousness transformers, linking the various subtle bodies (the etheric body, the astral body, the mental body, etc) to the physical, by stepping down the frequency of the consciousness-energy of the higher body, so it can be received by the lower one. It was CW Leadbeater of the Theosophists who first proposed these ideas in the early 20th century.  Subsequently this idea became mixed with ideas largely derived from Sir John Woodroffe’s The Serpent Power, a very technical work based on a translation of two sixteenth century Bengali texts, first published in 1919 under the psuedonym Arthur Avalon.

The big difference between these two  concepts of the chakras is this. In the yogic/ Tantric concept the  chakras are latent dimensions of consciousness to be awakened and activated in the process of spiritual evolution. In the Western/new age concepts  the  chakras are dynamic energy centers and energy portals that have a direct impact on each level of our being from the physical to the spiritual. it is clear then that the two concepts do not exclude each other,  and should be viewed and understood separately, to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. For example, many of the books, charts and diagrams of the chakras use the Sanskrit names and descriptions from ancient texts, while at the same time allocating colors, crystals and all manner of attributes and activities,  derived from the Western/ new age concepts.

Common among many of the different concepts is the number of the primary chakras being seven. Exactly where they’re located is another matter. But here too we can broadly differentiate between the two primary groups of thought that I am discussing. The main difference between the two is the location of the second and third chakras. In the yogic/ Tantric view the second chakra  is located in the lower abdomen at the ‘root of the genitals’ and the third chakra at the navel. From the Western/new-age view the second chakra is at the navel and the third at the solar plexus.

The  Sanskrit names are, from top to bottom:
Sahasrara – crown
Ajna – brow
Vishuddha – throat
Anahata – heart
Manipura – navel
Svadhisthana – genitals
Muladhara – base of spine

According to the traditional Tantric teachings, the seven chakras are strung like pearls or jewels along the brilliant thin thread of the sushumna nadi, which is the primary nadi in the body in the center of the spine.  On either side of the sushumna are the two main secondary nadis: the white moon-like ida on the left, containing descending vitality (apana), and the red sun-like pingala on the right, containing ascending vitality (prana in the narrow sense of the term).  The tantric yogi aims to direct the subtle ‘airs’ from these two primary side channels into the central sushumna nadi, and so activate the dormant Kundalini energy.  This then ascends piercing each of the chakras in turn, and when it reaches the top of the head, the six lower charkas are unified as one at the crown.

The Tantric texts describe the chakras as stations or centres of pure consciousness (chaitanya) and consciousness-power.  They are focal points of meditation; iconographic structures within the  "subtle body".  Apart from the Sahasrara, each chakra is described by means of a whole array of symbolic associations or representations.  In the later Upanishads more is added, each chakra, as well as having a specific position in the physical body, element, mantra, and deity, also has a particular number of "petals", each associated with one of the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, a corresponding colour, shape, animal, plane of existence, sense-organ, mantric sound, and so on.

As is usually the case with intellectual esoteric systems, many of these correspondences are arbitrary, for example, smell and feet with Muladhara, taste and hand with Swadhishthana, sight and anus with Manipura, etc.  The number of petals  too seems to be more a device for visualisation in meditation than representing the actual reality. After some time of visualising these forms at specific locations in the body, they would naturally form in the subtle bodies.

The now almost universal application of the rainbow colors to the different  chakras, was introduced by Christopher Hills in the early 1970s. Hills  model of personality types based on the  chakras that accompanied the rainbow colors is largely forgotten but the rainbow had an irresistible appeal and became fundamental in future presentations of the chakras and another flavor in the mix.

In part 2 I will look in detail at the Western dynamic concepts of the charkas.


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2 Responses to “Chakras Pt1 East Or West”

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