Chapter 5: Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality
Phil St. Romain: “Kundalini energy” is a term that will likely not be found in writings on Christian spirituality prior to the end of the 20th century. It is also difficult to point to a conceptual or even experiential equivalent in the classical Christian literature on the spiritual life. Although one will surely find, there, reports of energy phenomena of all kinds (inner light, sound, heat, pressure in the brain, etc.), these are usually considered phenomena concomitant to contemplative experiences or inner transformation. It quite likely that the process we are describing in this chapter as “kundalini” was experienced by a number of Christian mystics (e.g. St. Teresa of Avila), but that they understood it in the context of deepening union with God and so didn't study it any further.
Increasing contact with Eastern spiritual disciplines through the 20th century brought to the attention of Westerners are wide array of practices that we were unfamiliar with. Some of these - such as the Hindu/yogic traditions emphasizing kundalini - have elaborate, detailed descriptions of what we might call our metaphysical anatomy. Teachings describing subtle bodies with their unique energy passageways (nadis, meridians) conducting the primal life force (prana, chi, ki) inform practices whose aim is to unblock these passageways, thus enabling the life force to more fully energize all the levels of our humanity. That is what is meant by the awakening of kundalini. Retreats, workshops and books on this topic are now widely available.
But what is going on, here? Kundalini teachers often state that what they teach is just another way of baptizing one in the Holy Spirit. Some Christian groups would beg to differ, holding that kundalini is a demonic force and so one ought to stay away from any teachings that speak of awakening kundalini, opening the energy centers (charkas) and so forth. In this chapter, we address some of these concerns, and attempt to provide an understanding of the kundalini process in the light of a traditional Christian anthropology and attempt to assess its place in the spiritual life.
Jim Arraj: The word kundalini is often used in a somewhat general and undefined way in order to describe various upheavals of psychic energy. This prompted one person to write:
“I am not happy with your indiscriminate use of the word kundalini. This word has a history and a background. It is the serpent power that lies dormant at the base of the spine and can be awakened. It is related to sexual energy. It is a mysterious power. I am not sure that it is a good idea for a Christian who begins to experience energy (and I know what it is like and experience it myself) to immediately call it kundalini. Is it not enough to call it energy? And then we can begin to dialogue with kundalini. There is a lot of energy and light and fire in St. John of the Cross. I would not call it kundalini.
“Something similar can be said about Zen. If a Christian practices Zen under a recognized teacher, then he or she can claim to be practicing Zen. But for anyone who sits in the lotus in absence of thought - for such a one to say that he or she is practicing Zen is not a good idea. The Zen people don’t like it. And perhaps (though I cannot state this dogmatically) the kundalini people would not like us to claim that our kundalini is awakened. Is it not better to stick with dialogue until we find out what is what?”
Fair enough. Let’s try to get a better idea of just what kundalini is and how it relates to Christianity. Our first contribution comes from a person who experienced an awakening of kundalini energy before becoming a Christian, and has spent a great deal of energy searching the world for information on how to cope with this awakening.
A Story of Kundalini Struggles
In 1969, when I was initiated into transcendental meditation, I felt tremendous peace and heard a soft snapping sound in the crown of my head. I now believe this was a knock at the door through which kundalini would eventually enter into my life.
A little over a year later, after a series of unusual inner experiences, an unimaginably brilliant white light burst upon my being. I was startled and sensed I was on the verge of merging with the universe and leaving behind forever everything in the world near and dear to me. I jolted out of the medi-tative state and, trembling, phoned the local TM center. I made an appointment that day to see a TM teacher with the hope of finding some answers for what was to me an otherworldly and confusing occurrence.
When I arrived at the center I described what had happened to me to the teacher. “That’s nothing, just celestial perception,” he said. Inwardly I had to laugh. Here I was having had the most astounding spiritual experience of my life and he says, “That’s nothing, just celestial perception.” Looking back this was probably the best response I could have received; it dismissed the anxiety and reduced the awesome encounter into merely a glimpse into the heavens.
The next day, in the midst of activity, kundalini energy began to stream slowly up into the crown of my head as it had in the past during meditation, and as I closed my eyes at night before falling asleep. In the following days it flowed up continuously. I knew I had reached a point of no return - I felt I was entering into a permanent state of higher consciousness. It was a little unnerving, yet at the same time extremely exciting.
With the passing of a few years, many of the advantages of kundalini flowered in the garden of my spirituality. I often had sensations of almost unbearable joy. Peace beyond belief sometimes seeped into my awareness. On occasion, expansions in consciousness seemed to reveal “the heaven within.” Along with these enjoyable, but fleeting experiences disadvantages began to emerge: when I attempted to do extensive reading or studying, too much of the current would build up in my head, causing me to awaken throughout the night and be exhausted during the day. Physical exercises done daily had the same effect. I also had to drop out of college due to overpowering amounts of the energy surging into my head from all the necessary hours of reading and concentration to complete the courses. Had I attempted to persist, the relentless intensity of the energy would have led to a mental breakdown.
I was deeply disappointed at this unexpected turn of events. It ran contrary to all I had read and been told about meditation enlarging the capabilities of the mind. In my case it had stunted my intellectual growth and the opportunities higher education could have afforded me.
After 20 years of meditation, and no cure for my kundalini condition, I left TM and took initiation with a highly respected guru, Dr. Rammurtimishra, who had helped people with kundalini problems. I had some extraordinary spiritual experiences under his guidance and, for a while, the upward flow appeared to be balanced, but after 2 months away from him, the problems resurfaced. If I had been able to visit him on a weekly basis, the current may have remained stable, but this was not possible.
Two years went by and after a never-ending plane flight, I started wondering what would happen to me when I died. Who or what would be there for me? I began to long for the comfort of a personal relationship with God as opposed to seeking oneness with an impersonal being. I was also disturbed at the increasing accounts of prominent gurus in America sexually abusing their students. I had read the spiritual histories of some of these adepts and by their inner experiences, they seemed to have attained full enlightenment - a state where according to their scriptures, “sin would avoid an enlightened being as deer would avoid a burning mountain top.” At this time I read books by Christians (Death of a Guru, Lord of the Air, etc.) which reinforced my discontent and introduced me to the Lord of Love.
In some of these Christian writings, I read of people steeped in Eastern mystical experiences who, upon conversion to Christianity, had all the effects of their practices delivered out of their minds and bodies by the power of the risen Christ. I began to believe Christ would do this for me, and the thought of meeting him one day at the doorway of death touched me in the deepest recesses of my heart. A devotion I did not think I was capable of began to grow and blossom within me. It grew so strong and undeniable that one day I fell to my knees, confessed my sins, and invited Jesus Christ into my heart. I did not feel His presence; there were no “celestial perceptions.” I just felt elated and in the caring hands of a loving God.
I ceased my Hindu meditation practices; attended Church; read the Bible, and prayed daily. Although the conversion had not removed the kundalini energy, I had faith Christ would take it away in time.
This was not to be. Prayer began to activate the energy. Reading the Bible intensified it like reading the writings of spiritual masters whose subtle energies flow out of their written words. This was incomprehensible to me. From what I had read in the Christian literature, I expected reading the Bible would either quiet down the current or have no effect on it. Instead, it increased it to such a degree that daily Bible reading became impossible - too much energy began to build up in my head with the attendant limitations.
Reading the books of some “spirit filled” Christians with national healing ministries highly stimulated the energy. Prayers to the Holy Spirit charged it up even more. Once while praying to the Holy Spirit in Church, I felt subtle energy gently pouring into me from above my head. That night when I went to bed, I closed my eyes and kundalini energy erupted like a volcano, though accompanied with reassuring feelings of peace and joy. This lasted two more nights as I slept little, but enjoyed the blessing. This episode perplexed me, however. Why had prayer to the Holy Spirit ignited kundalini energy? According to some Christians, it should have driven the energy out of me. Yet, here it was supercharging it like a guru’s shaktipat (energy transmission).
As I continued in my Christian walk, kundalini became as unmanageable as it had been prior to my conversion. Minimal prayer or Bible reading created excessive energy increases and the sleeping difficulties. I was frustrated at not being able to spend more time in devotion to God. Every day I prayed to Jesus to remove the kundalini current and lift the limitations from my life. I prayed to Mary and the saints for intercession. I visited local shrines. I wrote to national Christian healing ministries. Anointed Christians laid hands on me and prayed for my deliverance. I pleaded the blood of Christ. I surrendered it to God, etc., etc., all to no avail.
Then I started coming into contact with Christians in whom kundalini had awakened purely within the Christian tradition. This flew in the face of all the Christian writings that referred to kundalini as a demonic force - a serpent-like spirit that needed to be cast out by the power of Christ.
How, then, I asked myself, could kundalini arise in devoted Christians under the love and protection of Christ? Does this energy exist in everyone and is it the driving thrust behind all impulses toward God, as some spiritual adepts claim? These and other questions simmered in my psyche until my doubts about the nature of the energy gradually dissolved in the light of reason.
Today, 4 years into my Christian journey, I still struggle with kundalini symptoms, but have come to the conclusions that: (1) it is a natural spiritual energy in all of us; and (2) it will ultimately bring me closer to my Creator and, in some way, enable me to be of greater service to others. In the meantime, I await the day when at the doorway of death I will meet Jesus Christ, not as a mystic, but as an individual who attempted to lead a life of love.”
An Interview with Philip St. Romain
After the publication of his book, Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality in 1991, Philip St. Romain heard from people around the country, many of them Christians, who are trying to understand the nature of their own kundalini-like experiences.
Jim Arraj: Could you say something about your own kundalini experience?
Phil: All day and all night now, there is an energy pushing “upwards” in my system. Its course runs through the heart, which it fills with bliss and good-will toward all creation. From here it flows through the throat, then along the sides of the face, pushing through the ear pinnae, where the most extraordinary sensations of pressure and release are experienced at times. After pressing through the ears, its streams from both sides of the head converge in the middle of the brain, creating a most pleasant “knot” of pressure in the center of the forehead. A new way of seeing is possible from this center. When, for a number of possible reasons, the passageways through which the energy flows become blocked, there is pressure in this area, and a gnawing away by the energy until the block is removed. If I do not consciously cooperate with the “intent” of the energy to work through the block and flow freely, the pressure and pain become so intense that I eventually do cooperate. These are very real experiences to me, now a common occurrence in my everyday life. I have forgotten what it was like to live without this energy, its blocks, its gnawings and breakthroughs. To ignore the reality of this energy would be more difficult than to ignore the reality of my body. It is just that real!
Jim: Just what is kundalini energy?
Phil: It is easier to say what it is not than what it is. Quite frankly, I don’t know what it is. What it feels like, however, is pure life energy, uncolored by emotion or passion. This life energy is of a strange quality, however. Unlike emotional energy, which I know most definitely belongs to me, the energy I have been describing does not seem to belong to me. There is an impersonal quality to it which at first seems quite strange, but later becomes most satisfying. In saying that it is impersonal, I do not wish to imply that it is anti-personal. It is not. It seems to be completely non-subjective, that is all. How to describe the reality of life energy that is neither personal nor antipersonal is most difficult.
Jim: What are some of the physical consequences of awakening this energy?
Phil: Here are some of the most basic ones:
1. Inner vision illuminated when the eyes are closed, especially during times of prayer and meditation. Visual background turning blue, purple, ultraviolet, gold, silver, or white, sometimes forming circular, amoeboid, or tunnel-like patterns. 2. Sensations of heat and/or cold in different parts of the body, especially the shoulders and the top of the head. 3. Tingling sensations in the brain, ears, forehead, spine, and other parts of the body. Feeling like an electrical current is shooting through these places, often snapping or popping through nerves. 4. Sensation of a warm, energized fluid slowly pushing its way around the brain and/or up the spine. 5. Perception of inner sounds – ringing, chirping, buzzing, ringing in the ears. 6. Strong compulsion to close eyes tightly, especially during quiet prayer. 7. Alteration of breathing patterns – sometimes slow and shallow (especially during meditation), short and choppy, or deep and smooth. Growing preference for abdominal breathing. 8. Sensations of electrical energy rippling through reproductive organs. 9. Sensations of gaseous bubbles arising from the area of the reproductive organs. 10. Compulsion to move facial muscles and bodily limbs in yoga-like postures. 11. Sense of an inner eye seeing with the two sensory eyes. Sense of warmth and strength emanating from the center of the forehead.
Jim: What about the psychological consequences?
Phil: The first is the healing of emotional pain. There is no longer a background of anxiety, shame, guilt, and resentment in my consciousness. With the healing of emotional pain has come a stabilizing of my moods.
The second major psychological consequence is the diminishing of my false self ego. Something of my self experience was once acutely attuned to the emotions of shame, anxiety, guilt, and resentment. This dimension of my self experience was inherently defensive and controlling, intent on making my life meaningful by doing the right kinds of things. It made me restless and desirous, robbing me of the beauty of the NOW. Since it was a compensation for emotional pain, this dimension of ego was lost when emotional pain was healed.
Jim: What is the goal of this process?
Phil: The healing of emotional pain, the diminishment of the false self ego, and the purification of the body are all beneficial. They are not the real goal of this energy process, however. The goal seems to be the awakening and embodiment of the true self. The consequences described above are prerequisites for this awakened embodiment.
Listed below are a few phrases from my journals which attempt to state some of the most characteristic features of the true self.
1. A direct, non-conceptual realization “That I am.” 2. Non-interpretive attention, awake to the fact of self as the subject of attention (not the object, as is the ego.) 3. Being awake to myself prior to any thought, act of will, or movement of my consciousness. “Before I think I am, I am.” Knowing this. 4. Knowing without a doubt that “I am here,” looking out of my eyes. 5. Knowing that the “I who am” is one with all that is, and feeling this in the heart.
The body center in which the true self awakens is the center of the forehead, sometimes called the third eye in occult literature. When the energy flows freely into the third eye, the true self is realized. As the energy flows to the top of the head and beyond, the cosmic dimension of the true self is seen. Without making intellectual judgments, one can clearly see that there is a level from which all things arise, and all things are one at this level. Although the senses continue to perceive the distinct separateness of things, the intuition of oneness can be so strong as to eclipse the information of the senses. When the cosmic sense is strong and I gaze upon an object, I feel its existence in my heart as though it is somehow within me. This holds true even when gazing at people, although with people and higher animals, I am intuitively aware of the existence of another freedom separate from myself.
It is my belief that the realization of the true self is the goal of our human development. I see the energy process we have been talking about as directly related to this goal. Indeed, it may well be that this energy is none other than the energetic dimension of the true self, and that the awakening of this process signals the dawning of the true self.
Jim: If kundalini is such a central human reality, why is it that many people who appear integrated and devoted to the interior life don’t seem to experience it?
Phil: This may be explained in a number of ways:
1. The energy has risen to the 4th or 5th chakra, but not much higher. They would certainly be moved at these levels to do many great works, but they would not be experiencing the fireworks that come with a fuller awakening. 2. They laid such a good foundation that the fully awakened energy was hardly noticeable to them. 3. They are moved by extraordinary graces to do these works, but it has not resulted in personal transformation. They have not integrated their own body-mind with these movements of the Spirit through them. As we know, some of our Catholic saints seem to be of this type: not much personal integration, but lots of willingness to be used by God. 4. The awakening has been so gradual that it was imperceptible. 5. Elements of all of the above, in combinations.
Kundalini: The Hindu Perspective by Philip St. Romain
Previously I attempted to convey the raw data pertaining to the experience I eventually came to call kundalini. Because I perceived that this process was related somehow to the deepening of my experience of Christian prayer, it was only natural that I would search my own Catholic mystical tradition for some kind of understanding and validation. This search was fruitless. Although I felt close to the writings on “dark nights of the soul” and other references to psycho-spiritual transformation, there was very little to be found in the Christian literature concerning energy, energy centers, and the physiological implications of spiritual transformation. Experienced spiritual directors did not know what to make of my experience. This was disappointing, for the process had been awakened in the context of Christian faith, and I had hoped to find some account of it in my tradition.
On several occasions, I was told by priests and nuns with experience in contemplative prayer that my searching for an explanation of some kind was an attempt on my part to force the experience into some kind of conceptual framework, and so try to control it. That was not the purpose of my inquiry, nor is it my purpose in writing.
At a practical level, I was learning how to cope. But at an intellectual level, I was confused, and it was entirely inappropriate to be told that such understanding was unimportant, or even harmful. Maybe understanding would not change my response on a practical level, but it was nonetheless important for me to know what was going on in my life. Toward this end, I found something of what I was looking for in the Hindu literature on kundalini. It was there that I found my experience described, and so came to an intellectual understanding of the process that facilitated deeper acceptance and serenity.
From the Hindu literature, I learned that what I was calling the true self, they called enlightenment, advaita, or Self-realization (sat-chit-ananda). This awakening is the goal of Hinduism, and the various kinds of yogas are disciplines to lead one to realize this goal. I came into contact with a very deep, holistic understanding of human nature and its various systems of energy and intelligence which helped me to understand myself better. Hinduism teaches one how to work with these various levels to come to the experience of enlightenment. This is the over-arching context for grasping the Hindu understanding of kundalini. What follows will be a brief presentation of the Hindu teaching.
We begin with the yogic understanding of the soul. My primary source will be Swami Vishnu-devananda, whose book, The Complete, Illustrated Book of Yoga, has served to introduce thousands of Westerners to Hindu ideas and disciplines. About the soul, he writes: “Spirit or soul as such is the whole without any division. Mind and bodies, being the active power of the spirit which springs from it and brings individual consciousness, are parts of that whole. Thus consciousness or spirit, while remaining unchanged in one aspect, changes in another aspect into active power, manifesting as mind and body. In the final stage, the spirit becomes aware again of its real nature through the negation of the veiling principle, the mind-body.”
From this teaching we learn that the soul is one spirit with various dimensions of manifestation, which the Hindu calls bodies. These bodies or sheaths contain different intensities of soul energy, enabling the soul to be manifest on different levels. Swami Vishnu-devananda describes these levels as follows:
1. Gross Level (Stula)
This is the material body, contained by the food sheath (annamaya kosha). Its energy and intelligence is governed primarily by genetic factors. The experiences of earthly, sensate existence, birth, death, change, sickness, and decay belong to this level. The gross body decomposes after death.
2. Astral Level (Sukshma)
a. Vital Sheath or Etheric Body (pranamaya kosha). This sheath includes etheric particles and energy called prana, or life force. This body animates the food sheath and is responsible for governing the physiological processes. It is sensitive to hunger, thirst, heat, cold, and other physiological experiences. It can partially separate from the material body, but it is not immortal. After death, it may linger near the corpse for awhile, visible to those with clairvoyance; eventually it disintegrates.
b. Astral or Lower Mental Sheath (suckshma sharira, manomaya kosha). In this body is the energy and intelligence of emotional life and desire. It also includes lower mental processes related to emotional desire and sensory life. After death, it decomposes.
c. Intellectual Sheath (vijnanamaya kosha). Rational consciousness and the experience of thinking belong to this level. Here we find the Mental Ego and its powers of discrimination and decision- making. This level is considered immortal.
3. Causal Level (Karana). This is the bliss body, the source of our experiences of joy and happiness. Its intelligence is purely spiritual and intuitive. This body transcends the knowledge of the intellectual ego, being more cosmic.
Some writers refer to even higher, spiritual bodies which infuse the causal. Most agree, however, that the lower sheaths issue from the higher, rather than vice versa.
In speaking of these different levels as bodies, the yogis intend to express the integrity of these different levels of energy and intelligence. Each has its own domain of governance, but not in isolation from the other levels. According to the yogis, these bodies interpenetrate and influence one another. The interpenetration is possible because each body is of a different energy frequency, increasing in intensity from the gross level to the causal. Therefore, the energy of the vital level is capable of existing within the frequency of the physical body even while it transcends this frequency. The same relationship exists between the astral and vital, intellectual and astral, and causal and intellectual levels. The higher frequencies exist within the lower, but also transcend them, emanating beyond the physical body in such a manner as to create an aura of energy around the body. Many people are capable of seeing this energy field and its levels of emanation.
Because the various bodies interpenetrate, they are capable of occupying the same space and directly influencing each other. Generally, the influence is most noticeable between two “adjacent” levels. For example, alterations in the functioning of the etheric body have the greatest effect on the physical body, and, to a lesser extent, on the astral. Emotional desire in the astral body influences the functioning of the etheric body, and, to a lesser extent, the intellectual. A higher level is capable of influencing the operations of a lower level, but the converse it also true. If the etheric body is filled with disharmony, it will affect the higher levels. This is why practitioners of hatha and kundalini yoga pay great attention to the health of the physical and emotional levels. If the spiritual consciousness of the causal level is to be realized in this life, then the intellectual, emotional, physiological, and physical levels must be prepared to receive this energy and live in harmony with it.
Given such a view of multiple, interpenetrating bodies, one is led to inquire about how these bodies communicate with one another. After all, the chemical energies of the physical body are one thing, the etheric life force another, emotional energy different yet, and so forth. How does emotional energy affect intellectual life and etheric energy, for example? The answer to this question is that the different bodies communicate through energy transformation centers called chakras. A chakra is a “wheel” of energy roughly corresponding in location and function to the nerve plexus regions on the spinal cord and brain. There is general agreement among the yogis that the etheric, astral and intellectual bodies each have their own systems of energy vessels, which converge on seven major chakras in each subtle body (I have never seen references to chakras in the causal and higher spiritual levels). These seven chakras interpenetrate each other, making it possible for the energies in one level to influence the energies in another. Chakras are also said to act as centers in which energy is stepped up or down.
Psychologists do not know what a thought is, nor do they understand how thought influences emotional states and the physical body. Yogic anthropology explains this common experience in terms of the operations of the various bodies through the chakras. Thoughts arising from the intellect move through the mental chakras into astral, etheric, and physical energy centers, influencing each level depending on the kind and strength of the thought. Hence, a thought is capable of impacting the emotional, physiological, and even cellular systems. Energy is also capable of being transmuted from the lower to the higher levels through the chakras. Food energy can affect thoughts and emotions, for example.
The chakras are also considered centers of consciousness. What this means is that a particular motive of attention seems to infuse more energy into one particular chakra than it does others. A thought about sexuality, for example, will more significantly affect the second chakra than any other. The chakra system explains how it is that we have different bodily experiences of different states of attention. Some of our most common sayings reflect this insight: “I had butterflies in my stomach.” “I didn’t know what to say; I had a lump in my throat.” “My heart went out to her.” “He gives me a pain in the neck.” “She turns me on.” Each of these sayings attests to the reality of body centers associated with different motives of attention.
Characteristics and attentional motives associated with the seven chakras are described below following Swami Vishnu-devananda and Dr. Richard Gerber:
3. Manipura Chakra
4. Anahata Chakra
5. Visudha Chakra
6. Ajna Chakra
It should be noted that many other characteristics are associated with the chakras, such as endocrine functions, numbers of lotus petals, sounds, and bodily organs. Variations exist from author to author. Hindu writers also associate the powers of various spiritual guides with each chakra. A detailed presentation of all this information is not considered relevant to this discussion on Hinduism and kundalini, however.
What we find described in the literature on multiple bodies and chakras is primarily a kind of metaphysical physiology which attempts to lead to and account for various states of consciousness. The practice of yoga--Hatha Yoga in particular--is designed to help the individual become more aware of his or her own various energies and chakras, and to facilitate a safe, conscious assent up the chakras. It may well be that the various characteristics associated with each chakra have more to do with spiritual formation than with subtle anatomy per se. Indeed, this seems to be the intent of such writers as Swami Radha Sivananda. Her discussions of the chakras are designed to encourage students to develop their many human powers and so to grow, step by step, unto the higher states. Without denying the reality of metaphysical anatomy, Swami Radha discusses the chakras as developmental stages, each of which has its own issues which must be mastered before the next stage can be safely experienced. This treatment is also popular among New Age writers.
Given the very brief treatment of the yogic views on multiple interpenetrating bodies and the chakras described above, we are ready now to reflect on the nature of kundalini awakening.
The Awakening of Kundalini
The standard teaching that one will find is that the energy called kundalini lies dormant in the first, or Mooladhara chakra, coiled three and one half times therein around a lingam. When awakened, the kundalini energy uncoils and begins to rise through the chakras, transforming the subtle bodies as it does so, bringing more energy, awareness, and understanding to the recipient.
The various kinds
of yoga attempt to awaken this energy, each in its own way. Some, like
Hatha yoga, work directly with the chakras and subtle bodies, and
attempt to awaken the energy through yogic postures, breathing
exercises, and mantra meditation. Others, like Raja and Jani yoga, work
primarily with the intellectual and causal levels; as these higher
levels are developed, the lower are transformed accordingly so that the
kundalini is drawn up spontaneously when the obstacles to its awakening
To bring some order to the discussion, it will be helpful to distinguish between a full-blown kundalini awakening and a kundalini arousal. The latter, as John Selby writes, is experienced by everyone at some time. “Jogging, for example, recently became an extremely popular way to regularly shift into higher levels of kundalini consciousness. Pleasureful walking with the mind at rest accomplishes the same end.” Selby also recognizes singing, chanting, alcohol, and drugs as gateways to kundalini experiences, however distorted they may be. Similarly, Swami Vishnu-devananda acknowledges that yogic meditation can result in kundalini arousals where the energy rises to the top, then eventually falls back into the lower centers. Most likely, kundalini is the energy at work in what Maslow called peak experiences. In all of these cases, the experience is short-lived. For a few moments or even hours, a door is opened unto higher states of consciousness, only to close again. An imprint of some kind remains in the memory, but for the most part, life returns to “normal.”
Not so with a full-blown awakening of kundalini: people who experience this will never again know normal, everyday consciousness presided over by the intellectual ego. In cases of full-awakening, the energy is constantly at work, pushing its way toward the top of the head. This was what I described before. Another description of kundalini awakening may be found in Gopi Krishna’s autobiography, Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man. In such cases, the subtle bodies become transformed to manifest the consciousness of the causal and higher spiritual levels, and this is what “normal” comes to mean. The intellectual ego must learn to cooperate with this process, and this can be most painful indeed! In those who experience the awakening of kundalini, the intellectual ego can no longer claim to be the privileged center of consciousness.
Kundalini awakenings can happen spontaneously, as the fruit of living the spiritual life. They can also occur as the result of deliberate ascetical practices, drug experiences, or shaktipat transmissions, as mentioned above. It is generally acknowledged that spontaneous awakenings are easier to integrate, for the very fact of the awakening attests to a level of preparedness and receptivity in the subtle bodies. If the subtle bodies have not been properly prepared, however, the strength and power of this energy can bring such severe disturbances as to result in mental, emotional and physical illnesses. This is the great danger in using ascetical practices and drugs to force the energy out of its dormancy into the higher chakras. Kundalini is an energy that is to be respected. Indeed, it is even reverenced and worshipped by many Hindus.
Kundalini and Hindu Theology
But what is kundalini? Is it the energy of the higher spiritual bodies breaking through into the lower levels?
According to the yogic literature, it is at least that, and much more. Kundalini is none other than Shakti, the female consort of Shiva, who is one with Brahmin and Vishnu in the Hindu trinity. Hence, kundalini is considered a divine energy, and its awakening is interpreted as awakening to the divine. Small wonder Hindu writers see this energy as the counterpart to the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit! About this matter we shall have much more to say later in this work, but for now, let us examine more closely the ideas on Hindu divinity described above.
In the Hindu trinity, Brahmin is usually considered the creator and source of all that is. Vishnu is given the attributes of preserver, as exemplified in his incarnations as Krishna, Rama, and Buddha. Shiva, on the other hand, is accorded many attributes, the most common of which are destroyer, yogic ascetic, and pure consciousness. What Shiva destroys, however, is not the really real, but all that is false, illusory, and subject to corruption and rebirth. The active energy by means of which Shiva accomplishes this work is to be found in his wife, Shakti. Like Shiva, she has two faces, one as destroyer, exemplified in her work as Kali, and the other in her role as divine mother and nurturer of the really real in all that is.
Kundalini, then, cannot be discussed apart from Shiva, for the two are inseparable. The problem in most individuals, however, is that they are separated. It is believed that in the individual, Shiva resides in the seventh chakra as pure consciousness itself. Shakti, on the other hand, lies dormant in the first chakra. The divine consciousness of Shiva is not known in the individual because it is alienated from its active power or energy, which is Shakti/kundalini. When the energy awakens and rises through the chakras, Shakti unites with Shiva, and the individual lives in the unitive embrace between the two. The nature and power of their divine consciousness is known by the individual, who realizes his or her Atman, or spiritual soul. Atman is not separate from Brahmin; indeed, it is none other than Brahmin itself, manifesting as the individual soul. All illusions of duality and separateness begin to fall away with this realization, and the Atmanic condition called advaita (non- duality) begins to grow.
The awakening of kundalini, then, is considered a very special grace in Hinduism. It represents the beginning of the realization of the life of the divine as the essence of the soul itself. Nevertheless, the aspects of Shakti and Shiva as destroyer also attest to the painful purifications which accompany this awakening. Everything in consciousness which is ignorant of the Atman will be burned away-- especially the false notions of individuality. In the end, however, the realization of the Atman as being, knowledge, and bliss (sat, chit, ananda) will more than compensate for the pain. Such is the hope which sustains the Hindu.
Personal Reflections on Hindu Anthropology
I found all of the above most helpful in understanding the meaning of the transformation process which had been awakened in me. The account of the soul and its multiple, interpenetrating bodies, chakras, and energies gave me a new understanding of the manner in which spirit and matter come together. The advaitic consciousness of the atmanic state also validated my experience.
As reassuring as this validation was, it nonetheless left me with many questions which I have found impossible to set aside as irrelevant. What, for example, would be the Christian equivalent to the Hindu explanation? Here are a few related issues:
1. Does the Hindu
experience of Shakti correspond to the Christian idea and experience of
the Holy Spirit?
It took centuries to integrate Christian theology and Greek philosophy, and so I have little hope that this present work will conclusively respond to the questions raised above. I believe these issues to be among the most important facing Christian spirituality today, for East and West are coming together, and there is no reversing the process of encounter.
Significant challenges, however, stand in the way. Take, for example, the distinctions between personal and impersonal. For some, personal refers to anthropomorphism, and so they reject this in favor of impersonal language regarding the divine. Any mature Christian must know that there is more to it than that, however! In Christianity, the word personal refers primarily to the realm of relational, intentional being. When we say that God is personal, we mean that God is intentional Being, and not merely a static force underlying all things. The encounter between the human and God is, then, understood to be an encounter between two Freedoms who can mutually affect one another. Christian faith is the means by which a human becomes open and receptive to encountering the personal God. In the context of prayer, this encounter may be mediated through words, images, ideas and emotions (kataphatic prayer), or it may take place in the emptiness of deep, somewhat arid silence (apophatic prayer). Frequently, one begins with words and moves into silence; eventually, the silence prevails. In either case, Christian faith enables and mediates the encounter with God by holding the Christian in an attitude of loving surrender and receptivity to the intentional God. We say that this faith is a gift from God precisely because it sustains in us an orientation to God in spite of our ignorance and selfishness.
Ascetical practices that move toward impersonal experiences are lacking in this kind of faith. One might make use of a non-theistic mantra, count breaths, observe thoughts as from a distance, rest in the silence between thoughts, etc. When such practices are utilized outside of a relational faith context, they generally give rise to the kinds of experiences people call impersonal. These experiences are also frequently called natural, existential, or metaphysical, since we can achieve them through ascetical practices. This is not to say that God is not encountered, only that the nature of the encounter with God is different from the kind of experiences that develop in a personal faith context.
As the reader can see, the deciding factor in this discussion on personal vs. impersonal, or natural vs. supernatural mysticism, is the kind of faith held by the mystic. Although the same God is surely encountered by all mystics, Christian faith enables one to “tune in,” as it were, to the love-intentional heart of God. The bhakti tradition in Hinduism opens one to similar experiences, as do the devotional aspects of Buddhism, Judaism and Islam. Faith in an intentional/personal God usually develops in a tradition that communicates a revelation of God as personal/relational. Although the fact of our own intentionality suggests an intentional God, human experience does not let on that God’s will is Love itself. This we see most clearly in the life of Christ.
Having made these distinctions, we can now say something about the experience of emptiness and non-duality in prayer. This is most common for those who are drawn into apophatic prayer, so much so that many Christian mystics have actually wondered whether God disappeared (or they disappeared). The perdurance of faith, however, enabled them (usually with the help of a spiritual director) to recognize that this emptiness is actually a very deep state of union with God. The reason one no longer experiences God as an-Other is because the human and divine intentionalities have become one. Intellectually, we know that two freedoms still exist, but experientially, we do not feel any separateness at all. Such a one might feel closer to Buddhist or Hindu descriptions of non-duality than to the devotional expressions of Christian meditators. One might even feel tempted to say that, at this level, all religions are the same, or that the differences between them are merely semantical. This is where matters seem to be “stuck” in many dialogues between Christian contemplatives and mystics of other traditions.
The critical question, it seems to me, is whether or not Christian faith contributes anything to one’s experience of God aside from it being a dynamic that leads to nondual states of consciousness. From the foregoing discussion, I have stated that I believe it does because it promotes a receptivity to God as Love-become-present to us in the person of Jesus Christ. The intellectual dimension of faith also leads to a recognition of unity-in-duality, or two-become-one. This is an interpretation, to be sure, but it is one that is integral to faith itself. Without something like Christian faith, it is easy for nondual experiences to become interpreted in pantheistic terms. The consequences of this are many, none the least of which is a devaluation of the reality and uniqueness of the individual. Christian faith, on the other hand, promotes individuation even while leading to deeper and deeper experiences of union.
It is simply a truism, then, to say that the different expressions of mystical experience among the world religions are a matter of semantics, or interpretation. This position does not get at why different expressions and interpretations are used, and tends to minimize the significance of the kind of faith motivating the different mystics. My sense is that it is precisely the different faiths among the mystics of the world religions which account for the differences in not only their expressions and interpretations, but in their experiences, as well. Because these different faiths also have much in common (openness to mystery, surrender of self, etc.), we should not be surprised to find similarities in both experience and expression.
To emphasize the pivotal role of faith in relation to mystical experience is not likely to be a popular position these days, however, for to speak of faith is to invoke religious language. The awakening and formation of faith is also the responsibility of religious traditions, and there are many today who seek mystical experience while holding themselves apart from a religious tradition. Although the God of the mystic does, indeed, go beyond the dogmas and rituals of religions, the intellectual, affective, and volitional dimensions of the faith of the mystic are both nurtured and supported by such beliefs and practices. Indeed, it is doubtful that mystical experience can flower and be integrated apart from the wisdom of religious traditions. (The New Age and Transpersonal mysticisms, for example, generally degenerate into pantheism.) On the other hand, it is easy to understand the disgust with which many today view religion, especially in the West. Apart from a mystical tradition, the exoteric dimension of religion makes little sense, producing instead ideologies, liturgists and dogmatists. This is not true religious faith, however, only a counterfeit. Many Churches are more aware of political developments in the world than of the mystical aspect of Christianity, which is frustrating to those who seek spiritual growth. The best situation, of course, would be for the Church to view mystical union as the goal of religion itself, and to provide formation for all unto this end. This day is coming, but we’ve a long way to go.
Jim Arraj: Some Psychological and Philosophical Reflections on Kundalini Energy
After these two discussions of kundalini, it is time to ask about the relationship between Christian spirituality and kundalini energy. Is a Christian understanding of kundalini energy possible? I think that it is not only possible, but necessary. As more Christians begin to experience this process, it becomes more and more crucial that a renewed Christian spirituality help them understand what it is, how to deal with it in practical terms, and how to integrate it into their Christian practice. This is obviously a tall order, but one that definitely belongs to the future of Christian spirituality.
Let’s begin to sketch the approach that a Christian spirituality could take. First, two extremes have to be avoided. It is not appropriate to immediately write off kundalini as some sort of demonic or alien force that Christians should exorcise from their lives. This is not only insulting to our Hindu brothers and sisters, but it is simply not true if - as the experiences recounted here indicate - kundalini is a naturally occurring energy of the soul.
Nor does it seem correct to demand that we immediately and without discussion identify kundalini energy with the Holy Spirit as if any other solution would be an insult to Hindu sensibilities, and the erection of some kind of two-tier system of mysticism with Christians inhabiting the upper regions.
The discussion of what kundalini is and how it can be related to Christian mystical experience is not identical with the question of who is holy or close to God. As a Christian I believe that God calls every human being to divine union. This is a concrete call, present in the depths of the heart of every person regardless of their religion or lack of it, and we respond to this call by our love. It is entirely possible that someone who is without any conscious religious belief is closer to God than we as Christians are. It is even more possible that Hindus who have devoted their lives to seeking the Absolute - whether they wish to call it God or not - would be just as close or closer to God than devout Christians. The exercise of kundalini yoga in such a situation would become the means by which they draw closer to God. But even if we grant this, and I do, it does not mean that we have to identify the awakening of kundalini with Christian contemplation. Let’s say, then, that every person is in the same existential context called to the same supernatural destiny, but responds to this call in and through the concrete circumstances they find themselves in.
Ah. I have used the word supernatural. I don’t think that we as Christians should automatically flinch when the word supernatural comes up despite the misuse it has suffered at the hands of Christian theologians. It is a perfectly good and even vital word that points to a fundamental distinction that I would not want to try to do without. In essence it says that God’s nature is not the same as my own. I have been created. There are two fundamentally distinct ways in which I can be united to God. In the first I am united to God by the very fact that God has created me, and sustains me in existence moment by moment. In this case, the more I become myself and realize the potentialities of my own being, the more I am united to God Who is the author of my being. My very existence is the bond that unites me to the source of existence. At the very center of my soul, or heart, there is a point where God touches me by sustaining me in existence. We could call this a natural union with God.
In actual fact, as Christians we believe that God has from the beginning destined us for a supernatural end, or union, in which we will share in God’s own life and nature. But this kind of union must be a free gift of God because it is above - but not opposed to - the capacity of our created natures. If it were not above our own capacity, that would mean we would already be God by nature. This supernatural destiny, or union, doesn’t take away the natural union we have with God, but transforms it.
When I read accounts of the awakening of kundalini, they don’t sound the same as the accounts of the Christian mystics, and I don’t think that this divergence can be ascribed simply to differences of language and culture. The Hindu experience of kundalini seems to lead to an experience of union with God as the intimate author and sustainer of our existence in the depths of our being. It appears to be a natural energy of the soul that is meant to lead us, both body and soul, to the center of our being that is in contact with God. While at first glance the experience of kundalini and the way it is described seems alien to a Christian world view, I believe that a Christian philosophical and theological explanation will eventually be fashioned, and I will simply indicate some of the elements that I feel belong to that kind of explanation.
1. The Hindu system of chakras, or energy centers, that stretch from the lowest and most material center at the base of the spine to the highest and most spiritual one at the top of the head are a reflection of their understanding of the different levels of the soul. Christian philosophy, following Thomas Aquinas, has developed a similar picture in which the human soul contains vegetative, sensitive or animal, and spiritual dimensions.
2. The awakening of kundalini is a process of transformation by which the energy that was in the lower centers moves up to higher ones, and is transformed, causing a spiritualization of the personality.
For Christian philosophy the vegetative and animal dimensions of the soul are rooted in the spiritual dimension. The soul is not in the body, but the body is in the soul. The soul is not hindered by having a body, but the body is the way in which the soul becomes activated and fulfills its spiritual potentialities. Therefore, the activation of the vegetative and animal levels of the soul are the way the spiritual dimension realizes itself. Seen in this light kundalini looks like a conscious awareness of this natural process of spiritual activation.
3. But what is most important in all this is an understanding of the goal of this process. In kundalini the energy reaches the highest center and causes union with the Absolute. How this is described varies according to different Hindu schools of philosophy. Some are more theistic, while others, like the Advaitan school, identify the soul with the Absolute.
Christian philosophy in the person of Jacques Maritain has begun to develop its own explanation of this kind of union. It is as if we were to voyage to the center of the soul, and there encounter the point where God is pouring existence into it. Then we would experience the substantial existence of the soul as it comes forth from the hand of God like a powerful spring of fresh water. We would experience God in and through the existence of the soul. Therefore, we could call this experience a natural union with God, or even a natural mystical experience, or an experience of the Self, meaning an experience of the existence of the soul as it comes forth from God, the source of existence.
4. But why, then, do some Hindu schools of philosophy identify the soul with the Absolute? The way in which we travel to the center of the soul is by putting aside all limited ideas, feelings, sensations, and so forth. But when we arrive at the center in this way we experience God in and through this emptiness which was the means we had to take to come to this center. Therefore, it becomes very easy to identify the existence of the soul with God as the source of existence and with the existence of all things, for they are, indeed, experienced in a night that does not allow them to be distinguished. From a Christian point of view, however, they are distinct.
5. This kind of mystical experience should be of the highest interest to Christians because it is a foretaste of what appears to be the natural goal of the human spirit, and it can teach us about the nature of the soul and what its destiny would have been if it had not been elevated by grace. This kind of understanding is a wonderful foundation for grasping the nature of Christian mystical experience. This does not make this kind of mystical experience identical with Christian contemplation. The one could be called a natural metaphysical mysticism, and the other a supernatural interpersonal mysticism. But ideally they should both go hand in hand, and this, indeed, seems to be happening more and more as Christians seriously undertake various kinds of Hindu and Buddhist kinds of meditation.
It is worth going into these matters in more depth.
A Jungian View of Kundalini
The basic elements of the Hindu view of kundalini, that is kundalini energy itself, pictured as a serpent coiled sleeping at the base of the spine, chakras or energy centers strung like beads along the spine, the energy channel through which the energy ascends and the ultimate goal at the crown of the head towards which this energy tends, find counterparts in C.G. Jung’s psychology. He, too, knows of a fundamental energy that he called psychic energy, centers of psychic activity that he named archetypes and a final goal of psychological development that he described under the heading of individuation. Let’s look briefly at each one of these Jungian concepts in order to better compare it with kundalini.
Jung, following the physical sciences, conceived of the psyche as a closed system endowed with a fixed amount of psychic energy. The energy in one part of the soul did not differ qualitatively from that in another part, but the psyche as a whole possessed a definite quantity of energy that flowed through both the conscious and unconscious. After carefully observing the psyche Jung framed what he called the law of equivalence. Since there is a fixed amount of energy in the psyche, if energy is expended or disappears from one area of the psyche, we can expect it to appear somewhere else. If, for example, I was to devote my energy to a form of meditation in which the discursive mind is quieted, that energy would flow elsewhere and I might find myself suddenly daydreaming about the dinner I was going to have when my period of meditation was over, or it might give rise to the kinds of illusions that are familiar to Zen meditators. The important point is that this energy is never destroyed, but flows throughout the psyche activating now this part and now another.
Jung founded his natural science of the psyche on an intensive observation of psychic images and the energies attached to them, and this intensive observation led him to what he called archetypes. He noticed that all over the world, whether in ancient myths or modern dreams, certain basic patterns seemed to organize different images in similar ways. The actual images were different but the pattern was the same. For example, I might dream of climbing the stairs in a tall building, another person might be climbing a mountain, and an ancient shamanistic ritual might call for the shaman to ascend the pole of his tent. Yet all three sets of images could have the same underlying meaning. This pattern Jung called an archetype and compared it to the axial system of a crystal which somehow guides the formation of the actual structure of the crystal. Put in another way, the hypothesis of archetypes allowed Jung to begin to describe the underlying structures of the soul. The myriads of psychic images that he examined were not simply random debris cast off by the psyche, but point to the very nature of the psyche that gave birth to them. The psyche, then, could be said to be in some way made of archetypes.
But these archetypes are not simply static parts of the psyche. Psychic energy flows from one of them to the next and the more energy that an archetype possessed the more it attracts our interest and attention. Further, both archetypes and psychic energy aim at a goal that Jung called integration or individuation. In simplest terms this meant that the whole personality, both conscious and unconscious, has to be given its due. Consciousness or the ego is not the only part of ourselves and not even the center of our psyches. Our real center, which Jung called the self, manifests itself in a dialogue between the conscious and the unconscious. The self is the realization of the whole being of the psyche.
It is tempting to identify Jung’s psychic energy with kundalini energy, the archetypes with chakras, and individuation with realization. Both psychic energy and kundalini are depicted as energies intrinsic to the soul, and they both have a built-in sense of direction and purpose. Archetypes and chakras have close affinities, as well. They are the articulations of the soul and manifest its structural complexity. Although less overtly than chakras, archetypes invoke the different dimensions and layers of the soul and body. In fact, on occasion Jung identifies the farthest reaches of the unconscious with the body. Both are the focal points where energy gathers and is transformed. Both the chakras and the archetypes are interconnected among themselves and form purposive energetic systems.
Could these similarities be accounted for by Jung’s knowledge of Eastern thought and kundalini in particular? It is certainly true that Jung was well acquainted with kundalini. In the fall of 1932, for example, he gave a series of seminars on kundalini. But these notions did not play a formative role in the creation of his psychology. What Jung does in regard to Eastern thought is to create a Jungian-style interpretation of it. The convergence we see is that of two very different and independent ways of thinking about the deeper aspects of the psyche, and all the more eloquent for that. Despite these deep analogies I really don’t think it is possible to identify the two systems. The process of individuation is intimately connected with kundalini realization which appears to be a form of enlightenment, for they both are fundamental processes taking place in the depths of the same psyche, and there is no doubt they strongly influence each other. But when we read modern accounts of kundalini awakening and similar ones of the journey to individuation it just doesn’t sound like they are talking about identical experiences in different vocabularies. Growth in individuation is not necessarily accompanied by the arousal of kundalini energy in the classical sense even though it is surrounded by powerful transformations of psychic energy. The attainment of some degree of enlightenment can coexist with serious psychological problems, and thus a lack of integration. Nor is there any immediate correspondence between the chakras and their rather precise localization and the various Jungian archetypes.
This lack of identity in no way diminishes the important role that Jungian psychology can play in our understanding of kundalini energy. This can happen in two ways. In the first there can be a dialogue between Jungian psychology and Eastern thought, and in fact this dialogue began with Jung and has continued to today. The other possibility for dialogue is much less known but potentially very fruitful for a Christian understanding of kundalini. In it the philosophy of nature of St. Thomas enters into dialogue with kundalini and is aided in this process by its attempts to understand Jung’s psychology in the light of St. Thomas’ teaching on the soul. Any progress that can be made in understanding Jungian psychology in this way will help our understanding of kundalini because of the close interrelationship between them.
A Philosophical Explanation of Kundalini Energy
God and the intuition of being. St. Thomas Aquinas saw with an exceptional clarity into the very depths of things, into the heart of their being, and this insight Jacques Maritain, one of his greatest followers, later called the intuition of being. We are intimately familiar with the differences among things. We say, “This is an apple.” or “This is a rose.” And we tend to take these differences as the deepest level of things, for they make things be what they are, or so it seems to us. But St. Thomas saw that it was possible to probe deeper. There was another fundamental aspect of things which was the very fact of their existence. No matter how different things are, they all exist. He saw that the very differences, or whats, of things were certain capacities to be, to receive existence. Existence revealed itself to him as richer and denser than how it appeared in this or that thing. It was as if both the apple and rose manifested different faces of what it meant to exist. They existed but with a limited existence which was limited by their very nature which made them to be what they are, and these natures or essences could be seen as certain capacities for existence.
Once Thomas saw this, the very depths of things became transparent to him, and shimmering in those depths was the mystery of Existence itself. Existence as received and limited demanded Existence unlimited and unreceived. All things pointed by their very being to Existence as uncontracted by this or that limited capacity for existence which makes a thing to be what it is. This fullness of Existence transcends all the limited things of our experience, and in this way it is no thing, not in the privative sense of nothing, but without the limits that come from being the existence of this or that thing. This intuition of being became the heart of St. Thomas’ metaphysics, and it leads to a metaphysical contemplation in which all things point to the abyss of Existence that we call God.
God as Creator and End. Therefore all things are partial reflections of existence itself. They are a rainbow of creatures that come forth from the fullness of existence and are meant to find the fullness of their meaning and purpose by returning to God. How do we return? By becoming what we are most fully, for our deepest natural bond with God is our very being. The more we are ourselves the more we are united to God. God did not create us for God’s own benefit, for God was already the fullness of existence. God did it for our sakes so we could enjoy existence: our own, that of all creatures, and God’s. It takes the whole of creation to express as fully as possible the mystery of existence, and all creatures have as their deepest goal to return to God by achieving the full development and activation of their natures.
The ladder of being. Let’s imagine, in a somewhat anthropomorphic way, God at work creating the universe. God decided it would be fun to see all the different kinds of things that could be made, starting with those closest to God’s own nature, which would be the highest of purely spiritual beings. To be a pure spirit means to have an interior transparency of being that expresses itself in self-awareness and choice. As soon as God created these purely spiritual beings they immediately grasped themselves in knowledge and love. Their whole nature was present to them, and this was so true that God discovered that it was not possible to create more than one being at each rung of the ladder of being for each of these beings, because each one was purely spiritual, filled up completely that certain kind of possibility so that there would be nothing to differentiate it from another creature of the same kind. Purely spiritual beings could only be one of a kind.
However, since spirit is very deep and rich, God was busy for a long time filling these spiritual rungs. But finally God was done, and since the process had been so enjoyable God looked around to see what to do next.
The human soul and the material universe. What to do next was a real puzzle. Was if possible to make something that was not spiritual? And even if it were, what would be the point, for it would not truly know it existed and could not blossom in knowledge and love. God pondered this for a long time and then the inspiration came for a bold experiment. It was true that every rung in the ladder of spiritual beings was filled, but what if it were possible to use the bottom side of the lowest rung? The result would not be an active spiritual being - all those places were filled - but a new sort of spiritual being, one in potency to become a spiritual being. It would not have an immediately fully activated intellect, but a passive one that had the capacity to become activated. This idea created even more problems. What could activate it? It could not be the higher spiritual beings, for it did not have the capacity for such rich messages. It could not be itself for it was starting off in potency. God thought and thought and finally discovered a way out of this dilemma. What if the ladder of beings could be extended so that there could be an entirely new kind of being which was not spiritual, but found an ultimate expression in knowledge and love, not in itself, but in virtue of its relationship with this new kind of spiritual being in potency, and this spiritual being, in turn, would be nourished by these other kinds of beings so that it could activate itself.
Whew! This posed a whole new set of problems. If a creature was not spiritual, then that meant its very essence or nature was such that it was not transparent to itself. It could not immediately become what it was meant to be, and it could never reach spiritual awareness. God saw that below the threshold of spiritual beings, then these new material creatures would have a new kind of fundamental capacity to lose their existence and become something else. Their natures or forms were too weak to immediately express and activate themselves. This was no longer the fundamental capacity that all things had by the fact that their natures were certain capacities for existence. This was a new kind of capacity, a capacity we can call matter.
Matter, space and time. All this was very puzzling. God saw that creating this lowest spiritual being in potency was going to be quite a complicated task. If it were to be stimulated in order to activate itself, it would need some sort of stimulus that was as active as possible and as close as possible in nature to it, something as digestible as possible, as it were. It would need the highest and most active form of this whole new class of non-transparent beings. Unfortunately, this highest material form could not exist if it, in turn, were not aided to full development by the next highest form, for it, too, was very much a being in potency to become what it was. And this next highest form demanded the one immediately below it, and so forth down the whole new ladder of material beings. So God saw that it was necessary to start at the very bottom rung of this ladder and create the most elemental forms of this new kind of material being.
God created this kind of being and was amazed at what it was like. By nature it had no capacity to be present to itself like spiritual beings did. It simply lacked the necessary ontological density. Therefore if it could not be partless, it had to express itself in part outside of part. It had to exist as a material body. And since it could not be all at once fully what it was meant to be it could not completely fill this lowest rung of the ladder of being. It needed other beings of identical nature to try to express what it meant to be this particular kind of thing. Thus was born a multiplicity of bodies, and the relationship between these bodies is what we call space. And all these bodies in virtue of their common nature were dynamically bound together and interacted and moved each other to realize their potential, and this change and motion are what gave rise to time. In this way God created the material universe, and inscribed in it was a primordial urge to reach up in ever greater complexity toward consciousness, which was its own way to return to God.
Stages in the journey. Naturally St. Thomas in the 13th century did not know about evolution, but if he had I doubt he would have been disconcerted. He would have plotted the main stages of that journey something like this. First came the basic elements which arranged themselves into systems of greater and greater complexity, and after a very long time they reached the threshold of vegetative life. This life could not be the simple outcome of a random association of minerals, but demanded, according to Thomas, a life principle or soul. He reasoned that life was more than being a body, for not every body is alive. There must be a vital principle that makes something be alive and organizes and directs that life. This new vegetative life had within it its own instinct to develop in the direction of greater self-awareness, and finally it reached the threshold of animal life with its motion and sense knowledge, rooted in an animal soul. Animal life, too, continued the long ascent toward genuine spiritual consciousness until it had reached the very threshold of the lowest of spiritual creatures. There was no way a material being could cross this threshold and give rise to spirit, for it was a different kind of being, but its own inner instinct had brought it to a peak of receptivity, and when this happened God infused in it the lowest of spiritual beings which is the human soul.
The union of body and soul. Finally, all the rungs of the ladder of being were filled. The creation of the lowest of spiritual beings had demanded the creation of the whole material universe. The human soul was at once the crown of this material universe and the recipient of all its riches which it needed in order to activate itself. And it would be wrong to imagine that the human soul was somehow added to a physical body, a vegetative soul, and an animal soul as one more principle of organization or life. Its union with the universe was much more intimate than that. Thomas insisted that the human soul took up in itself and virtually contained these other principles. They were now contained within it in order that the unity of the human being would not be impaired. They became dimensions within the higher density of the spiritual soul and thus were present to it from within to help it activate itself. Our bodies then in all their richness of elemental forms, vegetative life and animal awareness, do not contain the soul, but rather they are contained in the soul.
As human beings we straddle the very boundary that divides the universe into pure spirits and material beings. We possess the material part of the universe within us and it stimulates us to become aware of our spiritual natures, and the bond of being that unites us with all material things. The human soul is one of the strangest of creatures. It is spiritual but it is meant to be united with the whole universe through the body, and since it starts out as spiritual being in potency and is so united with material creation, one soul does not fill its rung in the ladder of being. A multitude of human beings are necessary in order to express what human nature is really like. And because all human beings are partial expressions of this same human nature, we are drawn to each other and are meant to help each other find full expression of what it means to be human.
Enlightenment. We are now in a position to begin to create a philosophical explanation of kundalini energy. The first step is to examine the nature of enlightenment itself, for kundalini appears to be a particular kind of enlightenment, a direct non-conceptual seeing or awareness that I am and that all things are, that we all exist. It is an experience of the unity of things that they have in virtue of their existence, their common isness. In enlightenment there is an almost overwhelming sense of the oneness of things and our interior bond with all creation. Yet there is no explicit awareness of God as separate from this experience.
What is enlightenment from a philosophical perspective? It is the counterpart to the intuition of being. If St. Thomas’ metaphysical insight starts with the essence face of creation, the sense of the profound differences among things, and then works its way to their common isness, enlightenment bypasses this conceptual process. It is a direct perception of the existence face of creation. Everything is perceived just as it is with a vibrant richness and depth of being that comes from the very fact that it exists, and this face of existence is the bond of unity among all things.
In the intuition of being we go conceptually from an understanding of essence as the source of difference to essence as a capacity for existence, and the beings around us as limited and received existence to unlimited existence. We don’t have an experience of this unlimited existence, but we see that all things in virtue of their very being demand its existence. In enlightenment, non-conceptual means are used to experience the existence of things more deeply and directly. Everything is seen with the freshness with which it has come forth from the hand of God, but since there is no reasoning present, there is no explicit pointing to the existence of God. Rather, each thing shines from within with the infinite mystery of existence, and since this happens in a non-conceptual way it does not lend itself, in the experience itself, to reflection about the distinction between God and creatures.
While awareness of and reflection on the experience of enlightenment is new to Christians, the intuition of being opens the way to do it. Enlightenment is the culmination of a natural process of development in which we experience our true natures as sharers in the mystery of existence, and as such it is a precious part of what it means to be a human being. It can only enrich Christianity and allow it to enter into deeper dialogue with those religions of Asia that hold this experience so much to heart. Enlightenment allows us to experience the wondrous mystery of existence that embraces all things, and as such it must be seen as the flowering of that instinct that is in all things to return to God by becoming what they were meant to be, and in the case of the human soul this instinct has blossomed into a spiritual experience of the highest intensity.
Kundalini as an Integral Form of Enlightenment
Kundalini is meant to lead to enlightenment but it does so in a highly distinctive way, for it is a thorough-going activation not only of the mind but the body as well. From the Thomistic perspective we have just reviewed, is it possible to make sense of this energy? Does such a process of development contradict what St. Thomas had to say about the union of soul and body? Not at all. Rather, they can mutually illuminate each other. Kundalini is that fundamental energy or instinct of the soul that is inscribed in its very being which urges it to become fully alive and activated so that it can be and see its own existence and that of all things, and experience in them the radiant mystery of existence that we call God. But if the human soul contains within it all the riches of elemental, vegetative and animal levels of existence, then this fundamental soul energy is animating all the levels of the human organism from within. But this presence of the soul is in some sense dormant, lying like a seed in these depths. In order to realize itself it must realize each and every level of its being. In short, the human soul is the inmost animator by which these levels exist and by which they become activated. In a certain way each of us contains the whole evolution of the material part of the universe, and our physical, psychological and spiritual growth is the activation of that heritage. Kundalini is not some strange freakish force coming from without, but it is a striking visible manifestation of an energy that is ceaselessly at work in all of us, both unconsciously and in our conscious strivings. Kundalini is the bursting forth of that soul energy that urges us to fulfill our destiny, but now becomes visible to us either because of our particular temperament or certain psychological gifts or traumas, or as a natural response to some supernatural gift of God’s grace. The whole purpose of this energy is to make each level of our being, starting from the most elementary, fully alive and fully nourishing of the next highest level so that at the end of the process the deepest intuitive powers of the soul are awakened and we can see who we really are and that we are. Kundalini can appear as an impersonal energy because it is not something under the control of the ego. It is very personal in the sense that it is an energy of the soul, but this energy must activate those levels of our being which are far from our conscious control. The human soul is present to the entire body, for it gives it existence. But its lower operations operate through various parts. The Hindu chakras and their associated nerve plexuses are fitting symbols of different levels that exist within the human soul. The traditional picture of kundalini lying dormant in the lowest chakra at the base of the spine is a symbol of the human soul as a being in potency that needs to awake, and this is an awakening that proceeds from the bottom upwards, for the activation of the lower levels is necessary for the activation of the higher. And the activation of each level is the intensification of the powers belonging to each level and their orientation and transformation so they can best serve the human soul, which soul is deeper in them than they are in themselves, for it is what gives them existence. Further, in a highly analogous way, just as the soul is at the heart of these lower levels, God is at the heart of the soul giving it existence. Therefore, the more the soul experiences its own existence the more it is united to God even if in the actual experience the word God may not be used, for the experience happens non-conceptually. God is present in and through the existence of the soul which God constantly sustains.
Proceeding in this way, it would be possible to try to explain some of the other phenomena that are part of the kundalini awakening. If this energy is thwarted in its ascent by physical or psychological blocks it can cause physical pain and psychological disturbances. Its very activation will slow the mind’s constant desire to conceptualize, preparing it for non-conceptual ways of seeing. The whole physical organism is activated in a new way leading to altered patterns of breathing and spontaneous gestures. And the psychological level of the soul is being transformed, as well, with alterations of the flow of psychic energy, the loss of affective memory, and so forth. And finally, the spiritual level of the soul, itself, is activated, leading to the kind of seeing that is called enlightenment.
If these reflections are correct, at least in their general direction, then we stand at the beginning of a fascinating dialogue between the philosophy of St. Thomas and the natural phenomenon of kundalini, and through kundalini with those traditions which have studied it for so long. Thomistic philosophy can only be enriched by such a dialogue which would awaken it to its own resources which, in turn, could shed a new light on kundalini.
Conclusion. The key points for understanding kundalini from a Thomist perspective are the nature of the human soul as a spiritual being in potency which needs to be united to the material universe in the body in order to activate itself, and how the human soul contains and animates these lower levels of material being. We can sum up this perspective in the following questions and answers.
What is kundalini?
It is a fundamental energy of the soul that activates all the levels of the soul, from lowest to highest, fitting it for enlightenment.
If kundalini is such a fundamental energy, why don’t more people experience it?
I think we have to distinguish between this energy in a general sense which all of us have and which is operative in our development, from kundalini in a dramatic and manifest form which is limited to a few people. This fundamental process moving us toward enlightenment can take place even if we are not consciously aware of it, but kundalini in its manifest form gives us an invaluable picture of what is at stake.
How important is this kundalini form of enlightenment? Doesn’t Buddhism aim at enlightenment without dealing with it?
Certain schools of Tibetan Buddhism have a very deep understanding of this energy and its physical embodiment, and detailed programs to awaken and direct it. Even Zen puts great importance on breathing and a posture in which the spine is straight, even though it doesn’t emphasize the physical underpinnings of enlightenment.
Isn’t it misleading to equate the outcome of the kundalini process with enlightenment, for one comes from Hinduism while the other comes from Buddhism?
Though there are great differences between these two traditions it is possible to argue that they both aim at the same core experience. David Loy, in his Nonduality, has made this case quite well in regard to the Advaitan school of Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism.
It still seems strange that you would call kundalini, which seems so physical, an energy of the spiritual soul.
We tend to think of our bodies and souls as two separate things, with our soul somehow in our body. St. Thomas took a very different approach. When, for example, the spiritual soul is created by God and infused in the human embryo it is not somehow in the body, but it becomes the very principle of life by which the whole human being lives. The animal soul of the embryo is rooted in the spiritual soul and receives its existence from it, and the other lower levels of being, as well. This unlocks the mystery of kundalini from a philosophical point of view, for it allows us to see that the spiritual soul is present to every level of our being, and its own full activation in enlightenment demands the activation of all these levels of being.
Shalom Place Discussion Forum on Kundalini Energy and Spiritual Emergencies
Phil St. Romain: Introducing the topic
1. There are two
“directions” that interplay in the spiritual life:
2. It seems to me that Eastern religions build upon the dynamism of the human reaching for God, while the Judeo-Christian-Islam traditions emphasize God reaching for the human. These are generalizations, of course, but I think they have merit.
3. The kundalini experience of an energy latent in most people, which becomes awakened/ignited, opens the metaphysical energy centers (chakras), and culminates with union with God in the 7th center is a superb expression of the Eastern dynamism. The kundalini process is an “ascent” from almost sub-human levels of concern and intelligence to “super-human” levels. As such, it has been called an “evolutionary energy” by Gopi Krishna and others, who view kundalini as the key to awakening and developing the fullness of our human potential and awakening us to a sense of cosmic consciousness and union with God and creation. The essay by Jim Arraj on a Christian philosophical understanding of kundalini explores this line of thinking much more fully and proposes kundalini to be a form of enlightenment, or natural union with God.
4. The Christian description of the Holy Spirit is of a “descent” from above mediated by Christ, Who gives the Spirit to transform a person unto his own Blessed consciousness. As one of the Persons of the Trinity, this Spirit is also present in all of creation, flowing through the Word and returning to the Father, and so it is present in all the world religions and responsible for the fruits of the Spirit wherever they are manifest. Flowing through Christ, the Incarnation of the Word, the Spirit works to build a new humanity in the likeness of Christ.
5. The intermingling of the human evolutionary spirit of ascent (kundalini) and the descending Spirit of blessing (Holy Spirit) are sure to intermingle in Christians who are eager for growth in the Spirit. We shouldn’t be surprised to find an ignition/awakening of the kundalini dynamism in Christians who generously open themselves to grow in the Spirit through charismatic prayer, centering prayer, and other prayer forms that invite the Spirit to work.
6. It is possible at times to be in touch with the kundalini dynamism without sensing much of the Spirit. The converse is also true. Obviously, both are often experienced together, and can be mutually complementary. But in my experience, at least, there is a difference between the two that is possible to discern.
7. The gift of the Spirit might be viewed, then, as a means by which the kundalini process is awakened in some Christians, and the Intelligence by means of which the kundalini dynamism is integrated so that the Christian grows into the fullness of his/her evolutionary destiny in Christ. This can be experienced in the life of individuals, to some extent, but more so in the human family through time.
8. Therefore, it is easy to see how Christians who experience kundalini process during the course of their growth in the Spirit can often conclude that kundalini and the Spirit are one and the same.
9. However, one must note as well that there are many who evidence kundalini awakening without manifesting the fruits of the Spirit, and others who manifest the fruits of the Spirit without kundalini awakening.
10. Christians have much to learn from the yogic traditions on kundalini in Hinduism concerning how this energy works and how to integrate it. Care must be taken, however, to avoid viewing the differences in teachings on the Spirit and kundalini as merely semantical. As tempting as it is to equate the Hindu teaching on Shakti with the Christian teaching on the Holy Spirit, for example, such a conclusion might not be accurate. One key criterion is to ask whether the other tradition would agree with one’s assessment: e.g., would a Hindu agree that the way Christians describe the Spirit is the same as their understanding of kundalini? Would Christians (the Church) agree that the ascent of Shakti through the chakras and central channel to union with Shiva above the head is a good way to understand the working of the Spirit in a Christian’s life? Clearly, more dialogue between these traditions is needed before these questions can be answered.
Marilyn: I think the analysis you’ve provided is very astute, but I can only approach this conundrum from an experiential standpoint. In wrestling with seven painful years of an imbalanced kundalini awakening and its aftermath, all I can say is that I’ve never felt much similarity between the Holy Spirit and the spiritual energy of the various eastern paths I’ve experienced. Over the years, I’ve been in small prayer groups with leading Christian and Catholic charismatics as well as in small meditation groups (including prayer and chanting) with renown eastern spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama, Songyal Rinpoche and Guru Maya. Since my kundalini awakening has left me incredibly energy sensitive, I do seem to have the ability to discern the energies much like the noises made by instruments in an orchestra. (I’ve had confirmation of my insights by others, so I’m not saying this of pure egotism.) Keeping with that metaphor, I’ve found the vibratory quality of the Holy Spirit beyond anything, for humans, the equivalent of a dog whistle which we can’t hear, with a healing frequency so high that it can’t even be discerned, except for the sweetness that almost everyone feels and sometimes white lightening quality that is the gift of some Christian healers. I truly feel as if, through the Holy Spirit, we are linked to a community of saints in some incredibly higher realm, truly dimensional. The eastern energies, which vary, seem much denser and stickier in comparison, sort of like an obo, and also with a more metallic feel than the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is the density of the eastern path of humans reaching up to God, as in your analysis, versus the Christian analogy of God reaching down.
This is why it is also dangerous to mix the energies of the various paths through following a mish mash of practices and rituals. The subtle energy centers in most people’s bodies won’t be able to handle it.
I know that the politically correct position is that there are many paths to God, which is true, i.e. Matthew Fox’s “One River, Many Wells.” But Mother Mary has told the Medjugorje visionaries that while that is true, some paths led us closer to God than others, with Christ bringing us closer to God than ever.
True Christians are sealed by the Holy Spirit. I don’t think they need to even think about an upward rising kundalini experience. For those of us who have had to wrestle with the kundalini, there are all kinds of reasons why this other energy has come into our lives, egotism, I believe, a common factor on our spiritual path being one reason. For me, the kundalini has been a form of punishment. I look fondly back on the days when I was sealed and not dealing with any of the purification elements I am forced to deal with now.
Phil: There was a time in my life when I was involved in charismatic renewal, and that’s when I developed some of my own understanding of how the Holy Spirit works in Christianity. One of our big struggles in renewal was to not give the message that we were the only way Christians could experience the Holy Spirit even as we invited people to “come and see.” I ran into some good teaching in renewal, and some very bad ones, too. Some, as you know, are quick to condemn all things Eastern, but that seems extreme, and it’s not even what the Church (Catholic) teaches.
Marilyn, it sounds like you’ve had a rough time with kundalini and that you’ve come to some experiential distinctions between kundalini and the Holy Spirit. Do you think some of your Hindu/ yogic friends would agree with these distinctions--especially with kundalini being more “sticky” and “dense”? It seems to me that there’s a lot written about White Light in the kundalini literature, which resonates with your description of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the energies you’re calling “dense” and “sticky” are some lower vibrational forms of chi, or prana, which have been intensified by the kundalini process, but not yet integrated? Just a thought.
I’m not sure what you mean by “egotism” being a reason why some Christians have had kundalini awakenings. As others have expressed, it’s been a great blessing to them. Others like myself who’ve experienced kundalini as a “mixed blessing” have not gone looking for it and didn’t know a thing about it for quite awhile. Perhaps you can tell us more about this.
My sense, Marilyn, is that if you have been sealed by the Spirit, then that seal remains, even if there are other energies to wrestle with. God is with you in your struggles.
Marilyn: Yes, Phil, other yogic practitioners have also described the energy of various eastern traditions as more dense or “sticky,” very much a part of the group energy, lower chi, etc. that may be a part of it. However, in the smaller, meditation sessions that I’ve described with various eastern teachers, I’ve noticed that the energy is still very different than my experience with the Holy Spirit. The color “white” of the light has very little to do with it; it is the frequency or vibratory rate of the energy (which, by the way, is quite the rage in western medicine right now, studying the vibratory rates of the body and diseases and various treatments.) I have watched, and then discussed with some eastern practitioners, how the frequency of the energy coming into them and the group changes, and how it impacts their own body and consciousness. I have also discussed this with two charismatic Catholic priests who regularly conduct healing masses and are conscious of how the energy changes running through their body as they recite mass. I saw the changes in the energy around them at specific points during the services and made notes and then discussed it with them afterwards and our results concur. All I can say is that the eastern and western traditions are very different in the vibratory rate that I’ve experienced. And when you talk about the lower chi, just think of your average healing mass, with the sick and elderly. Not exactly a high chi rate, for the most part, or boasting participants following the physical purification that the eastern traditions stress? Yet, I’ve seen the higher frequencies sustained easier and longer during those masses, and with more miraculous results, than I’ve ever seen in any eastern group.
Re the ego issues - frankly, and I’m not being politically correct again (and may I remind anyone reading this board that I’m a professional journalist, and spoken to medical and spiritual leaders around the world re kundalini), I think we’re rewarded according to our efforts. Our culture in particular is particularly willful in our attempts to become more spiritual, almost obsessive in some sects. That can result in unhealthy ritual and practice that can lead to an imbalanced kundalini awakening. Mine was a result of ignorance, being exposed to shaktipat and never being told that I was actually asking a new energy into my life, and that the purification process would happen, without my consent. I was never told to practice any form of spiritual protection, ritual or renewal. That, combined with a traumatic physical event, triggered the kundalini and I was not given good advice or spiritual guidance in the beginning months or years, I should add. (I’m not sure it was there to be found outside of a Sanskirt mantra and some light yogic positions), which made the situation even worse. As a result, I was spiritually, physically and mentally unprepared for a kundalini awakening. I completely disagree with you Phil about the sealing of the Holy Spirit no matter what. Of course, God and higher guidance are always with us. But when the etheric body becomes unbalanced and the kundalini shoots through various pranic pathways, you get all the weird and sometimes painful imbalances that are described in other message boards on your site. I know, I’ve experienced both the bliss and the hellish aspects. I’ve rarely read, except for some of the medieval Christian mystics, of someone with a Christian “Born Again” charismatic experience going through such physical and emotional trials. I suppose the only counterpart in the Christian tradition has been recounted in “The Dark Night of the Soul.” I believe - and have seen - the Holy Spirit as a seal that works healing through the mind body and spirit in a much more balanced and loving way than the rising kundalini.
The kundalini - which I’ve heard some practitioners actually coin as a “nuclear” force - can trigger wild pranic energy that actually can tear through the chakras, destroying the protective screens over those subtle energy bodies. (These configurations are recounted in various books. I refer western readers to “Vibrational Medicine” by Gerber, a western MD on the cutting edge, as one source.) This is the reason behind the imbalances and well as emotional and physical blocks and the pounding of the kundalini energy through the pranic pathways, known as nadis. There’s over 600,000 of them in the body, so this accounts for a lifetime of various symptoms. I refer you to past issues of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, which recounts plenty of cases where people with kundalini awakenings have ended up in straight jackets in mental hospitals. This is not a benevolent energy if it isn’t guided correctly. Do you ever think of the Holy Spirit as anything other than benevolent?
Yes, it can be a grace if you have been steadily preparing for a kundalini rising, or, taking a different tact, if that grace is part of your karma. More power to anyone for whom that is the case. For many of us (particularly I think of discussion groups I’ve attended at various KRN conferences where people have described enduring years of horrendous physical and mental symptoms as a result an imbalanced kundalini awakening), the kundalini results in a complete upheaval and is far from a blessing most of the time as far as our earthly existence goes. Sure, I’ve probably picked up some bonus points on the soul level, but day to day, this has been a complete struggle that has challenged my well being on every level. And the biggest problem is so little is really known, particularly in the west. I found reading Gopi Krishna’s account one of the most depressing times of my life. This is what I was going to have to live through?
Nor am I living proof that complete allegiance to the Christian path is the healing one. It is currently taking the joint inputs and efforts of a Tibetan Buddhist holy man who practices with the Dalai Lama, a charismatic Catholic priest who has been trained in Rome, and a well regarded kundalini yoga teacher to get me through this. I have been forced to embrace elements of all traditions, no answer lies in just one from my experience.
Phil: Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with us. As I don’t have your experiences working with Eastern traditions, it’s difficult for me to comment on the density and “stickiness” of various energies, but, as I indicated in my opening post, I do discern a difference between the blessing of the Holy Spirit and the movements of pranic energy associated with kundalini awakening.
The Christian mystical tradition abounds with examples of people struggling with a wide variety of energy phenomena, many of which strongly suggest kundalini arising/awakening. I have a chapter in my book Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality on this, but would be happy to provide specific examples, if needed. I bring this up because such struggles are by no means indicative of a lack of being “sealed by the Spirit,” at least as I understand the term in sacramental theology. It means that one is claimed for Christ and given to share in His Spirit. This sealing does not by any means shield us from the sufferings of this world, whether self-induced or otherwise. People sealed by the Spirit suffer like anyone else – including those with unbalanced pranic energies – only we do so with the assurance that God is with us and that, in the end, all things will be made new! This assurance is claimed through faith, and doesn’t depend on whether or not we feel so good. That’s all I meant.
I can certainly understand why people raise the question about distinguishing between kundalini and the Holy Spirit. As I noted in one of my points in the opening post on this thread, for some the two blend so imperceptibly that it’s probably impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. Others like myself and Marilyn have shared that there are times when we can distinguish a difference between the two.
In some of the conferences I’ve been to on kundalini, where I gave talks on this from a Christian perspective, I was chided by the audience and even some of the conference leaders for suggesting a need to be careful about jumping to quick conclusions about whether these are the same.
Consider, for example, the following:
1. Some of the radical differences in how people who have kundalini awakenings describe their experiences compared to people who receive the Holy Spirit in Christianity.
2. The witness of
Taoism, which works with this same energy, only in a thoroughly
de-mythologized and de-personalized context. There are no references to
Shakti, Shiva, devas of all kinds, and other features which are so
present in the Hindu descriptions. Yet can we really doubt that the
Taoists and even Buddhists are working with the same energy process? I
don’t. But there is nothing in their descriptions which tell of a deep
love relationship with God and reverence for Christ as always
accompanies the gift of the Holy Spirit.
3. There is the testimony of many who’ve gone deeply into Eastern religions and discovered something there radically different from a God of love. The Spiritual Counterfeits web site describes some of these experiences. The site is somewhat fundamentalist, but it meets a need. Some of these stories also come out of the TM movement, and even from students studying Zen. This is not to deny that many also find God on these Eastern pathways. Obviously, that is the case.
4. The issue of mediation. Eastern teachers on kundalini stress the importance of having a Master, and in some yogic branches, receiving shaktipat or energy touch from a guru is considered a very important way to awaken and integrate the energy. In Christianity, mediation of the Holy Spirit comes through Christ, and so has a reference to Him. Some Christians who have studied under Eastern masters and received shaktipat from them attest to a profound disordering of their energies--almost a conflict between the movements of what they had discerned as the Spirit, and what they are told is kundalini.
All these and many other factors raise questions for me about the wisdom of saying these are the same things. I’m open to exploring the issue in the interests of discernment, and am baffled, quite frankly, by the resistance I find among Christians on the one side, and Easterners on the other hand to do so. Sure, it would be simple to say that these are all the same things, just using different terminology. But is that really true? That is my question.
Kristi: Within me there is a refusal to believe that the kundalini process has to be a painful/traumatic experience...
Phil: That’s the ideal, for sure. Same with Dark Nights of various kinds. Sometimes it’s our “kicking against the goad” that makes things worse.
In the case of Christians with awakened kundalini process, some like myself have benefited greatly from the Eastern wisdom concerning this energy. It has helped me to know about the chakras, how the energy flows, how to cooperate with it, what kinds of ordeals people usually face, etc. When I came upon the teaching that you needed some kind of kundalini master to help you integrate it, however, I never could go there, even though some of the literature promises calamities of all kinds for this omission.
Since then, I have come to know several Christians who did go on to work with kundalini masters. Some reported benefits, especially since the masters (a yogini in one case) respected their Christian faith and did no shaktipat. In other cases, however, where shaktipat was given, it didn’t go so well.
All of which leaves me questioning, wondering, thinking . . . What’s really going on here?
Marilyn: I was definitely a victim of a kundalini yogi who wasn’t in the Holy Spirit, and the result has been a disaster, so I agree with you there. It’s taking years to unwind the damage he did. Moreover, in regard to some of the Sanskirt mantras and positions that have been recommended by another kundalini yoga practitioner whom I respect to balance my kundalini, I’ve noticed after taking that advice, they have had some weird consequences energetically. I know what the mantras mean (and this isn’t a personal mantra only assigned to me, but a series of phrases used with specific poses, the sound of which is supposed to help balance certain nadi/electromagnetic centers and knit back together, supposedly, the damage in my subtle energy bodies), and in themselves aren’t anything particularly anti Christian or ungodly, but I didn’t like the energetic impact at all. Very different than if I recite, for example, the full rosary or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Those kinds of “round” prayers have indeed a mantra effect and for me, are very calming to the kundalini, particularly if they are combined with the typical prayer hand pose where the palms are pointed upward and the fingertips are touching and are combined with abdominal breathing. Moreover, bending at the knees is a pose in the yogic tradition that opens the crown chakras, so adding that really does open the body to the Holy Spirit.
In short, I think the Christian church, as it developed, kind of integrated things well all along through the centuries. There’s so much we don’t know and a lot of those traditions, i.e. even kneeling, aren’t observed well enough today to help people bring the Holy Spirit more into their physical beings.
That isn’t to say that I think the eastern traditions are in any way Satanic. As Mother Mary said, there are many paths to God. In my experience, chanting in Sanskirt for hours on end, added to yogic poses, is a lot harder work on that path than any ritual offered in traditional Christianity. (I refer anyone to Romans - St. Paul, I’ve discovered through my kundalini process, was more right than I ever suspected prior to this, given my own doubts about how the Bible has been edited through the ages by church councils.) Of course, my kundalini imbalance has settled down a lot compared to the early days, when I experienced a lot of the really weird stuff, like clairaudience described on one of the other message boards, as well as much more discomfort in parts of my body (like my brain!) than I do now. I don’t know if reciting the rosary, etc. would have helped at all at that point.
What a journey.... but I would personally discourage any Christian going through kundalini to readily embrace any of the eastern rituals without skepticism and a healthy period of trial and error. What works in one tradition doesn’t necessarily bode well in another. As I posted in a prior message, each tradition, even within specific sects, boasts a different energy frequency and it can be very dangerous to the subtle energy bodies to mix those energies and various ritualistic practices.
Phil: Marilyn, we’ve both been to Kundalini Research Network conferences and heard some of the stories from people there, you know you’re not alone in what happened to you.
Lest you think that Christian mystics have not shared in some of these woes, however, I can assure you that the literature has many examples of them undergoing severe struggles with energy ordeals. They didn’t have the compounded problem of a disordering through shaktipat from another spiritual master, however, so there’s not much we can learn from them about how to deal with that. It sounds like you’re working on that as best you can and even making some progress.
Then there is the question of what could be called an “overflow to the senses,” or something like that. This resonates with something the great Catholic mystical writer, William Johnston, S.J., told me a few years ago when he came to Wichita. We were taking a nice long walk, talking over kundalini (he knows the experience) and other issues, and he stated that he thought it was an overflow of spiritual energy into the senses. “Senses,” here, in the classical view which Fr. Bill knows so well, means the physical body. What he was saying is that the spiritual part of our nature becomes so highly stimulated that it affects the other levels of our being (emotional, intellectual, etheric, and physical), accounting for the emotional unloading that takes place, the increase of pranic flow, and the sensations we notice in the body.
I can go along with that: we know it’s true that when we overly stimulate the emotions, the mind and body are effected, so why not the spiritual (causal body) level affecting the others as well?
Of course, this brings us back to our question concerning the source of this stimulation to the causal body/spiritual soul? We can trace it to that level, and sometimes beyond to the Holy Spirit as the cause, but could it not be that the vibration might originate in the Causal Body/Spiritual Soul itself? Once this level is awakened and seeks full embodiment could this, too, not account for all this energy movement? And given the disorders in the various levels of our being because of sin, could it not be that these are the reason why some of us experience such discomfort? Shaktipat from others could affect the manner of vibration of this level, further influencing the flow of energy.
This view leaves the question of the Holy Spirit and kundalini open, recognizing that the causal body/spiritual soul can be vibrated for any number of reasons, and that this vibration will have a profound effect on the “lower” levels of our being. I’ve been inclined toward it from the beginning as it seems to be able to account for all kinds of experiences--positive and negative. It’s the best explanation I’ve been able to come up with, thanks in no small part to Jim Arraj. But I’m not attached to it as ideology and would certainly entertain other viewpoints.
Part III (Continued)
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