More and more people are beginning to inquire into Kundalini practices such as Tantra and Kundalini Yoga as paths to Spiritual Evolution and Enlightenment. As the pace of technological innovation and life in general seems to be increasing exponentially, there is a desire among those seeking to balance their worldly and spiritual lives for increasingly efficient tools to achieve that all too elusive balance. Studying and practicing the Kundalini arts holds such a promise.
What is Kundalini?
Physicists recognize that the universe is constructed of energy bundles known as quanta. We laypersons can think of these in one sense as particles with an electrical charge. Particles can be either positive, negative, or neutral. All energy or material phenomena observed by our senses are based on the interplay of these particles. In the esoteric traditions the positively charged energies are known as Shiva (solar, male, heavenly); the negatively charged energies are called Shakti (lunar, female, earthly); and the neutral is Kundalini. In the Tantric cosmology, all the myriad forms in the universe are created through the union and interplay of the god Shiva and the goddess Shakti. With the balance achieved in their unity, Kundalini is freed.
In the human realm Kundalini can be thought of as the primal energy of the body. We all have some degree of Kundalini activation or we wouldn't be alive. However, the degrees of activation and the consciousness of this energy can vary widely. Kundalini practitioners are seeking to consciously connect with and amplify their basic life force for the purposes of improving physical health, strengthening the body, and achieving enlightenment through transcending Karma or self-limiting patterns.
What is Karma and enlightenment?
In physics it is well known that for every action there is an equal reaction. This is the basic precept of Karma: what goes around, comes around. Our actions, thoughts, and emotions create effects within and around us. Sometimes these effects are dramatic, sometimes subtle. They can be manifested immediately, or sometimes take many years to make someone become angry. The energy of this anger may at first affect your thoughts and emotions, then rapidly it creates physiologic effects. Your body produces adrenaline, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, your stomach begins to churn. If you "stuff" these feelings, the energy is driven deeply into your core, creating emotional and physical illness. If you seek to vent this emotion indiscriminately, other people around you begin to feel the effects of this energy which creates reactions within them. In a chain reaction, this "karmic event" can be spread far and wide from its source, affecting many people, thoughts, emotions, physiologic response, perceptions and actions.
In considering a larger cosmological view of this process, consider that all functions with a connection to the physical body (including thoughts and emotions) have an electrochemical aspect. Associated with these electrochemical processes are electromagnetic waves (such as radio frequencies, etc.). These waves produced by our bodies travel without limit, at the speed of light, through the entire universe. Modern physics acknowledges that in actuality our very material bodies are composed of structured energy. We are dense, focused energy interacting with and exchanging energy with this cosmic energy "soup" we call The Universe. Each thought, each emotion, each bout of indigestion creates it own particular frequency of electromagnetism which will travel the entire universe for all eternity! It is not too difficult, from this perspective, to recognize the link between the individual and the universal. In our own way, great or small, for good or ill, we are Creators.
Enlightenment is sometimes regarded as the goal of the spiritual path. In actuality, it is a process, an evolution towards increasing awareness of our awesome responsibility for our actions, thoughts and emotions. This is in contrast to the prevalent social consensual reality, where we attempt to externalize and project responsibility on to others. We do others and ourselves a disservice by adopting this view, in that we perceive that the external world controls our lives. While it may, at first, feel comfortable to blame others for our circumstances, we are de facto abdicating our empowerment, our very control over our own lives. Conversely, by bringing our unconscious mental, emotional and behavioral patterns into the light of full awareness and responsibility, we reclaim our power as co-creators of our world. Once we own the tremendous power of self-responsibility, we can begin to create what we want rather than what we fear. In Tantra it is often said that if we want to invite ecstasy into our lives, we must be willing to abandon the security and comfort of our pain and fear.
OK, I want enlightenment, empowerment and ecstasy in my life - how do I get there? Enlightenment is not so much a final destination as a continual exercise in cleaning up our perceptual filters and the resultant judgements and actions that derive from assumptions based on our perceptions. It is more like routine maintenance. One cannot expect to clean one's house once and have it remain clean forever - dirt will eventually seep back in. The tricky part is that our perceptions are based on our senses, nervous system, and past experience, including social conditioning. Our experiences are received by our perceptions. A neat cosmic Catch-22, eh?
"Does a dog have a Buddha nature?"
- Zen Koan
One might question whether enlightenment and true objectivity is possible given the limitations of our human state and social conditioning. Wars have been fought over the definition of the "One True God". From individual relationships to spiritual communities, to entire nations, we have clashed over what is proper ethical conduct. We indoctrinate ourselves and our children in what we believe as true. We anthropomorphise our perceptions of the divine. We arrogantly assume we know what is right, proper, and desirable, and this varies from culture to culture! From the inside, it doesn't look good. Yet, if we entertain the concept that humanity is created in the image of the Divine, that everything from the smallest sub-atomic particle to the largest galaxies are connected by a nexus of energy, cause and effect, even consciousness, then it might appear that the sky is the limit! In our continual process of clarifying and expanding our consciousness and self-definition, we can move ever closer to reclaiming ourselves as the Divine.
The vehicles we can use for this journey are numerous. It has always been the intent of all religions and spiritual paths to bring the individual seeker into harmony and consciousness of the Divine. The tools used vary greatly from era to era and culture to culture. It might at first be difficult to see the similarity of Castaneda's Don Juan, Lao-Tze, Christ, and Buddha, yet the truth within each tradition remains eternal. (Moreover, these guys probably get together occasionally, have a beer, and chuckle over our insistence on there being One True Path, all others being inferior or wrong. To a higher entity, we must seem like a religious version of the Keystone Kops: policing our dogma with a great sound and fury, and continually running blindly into each other and falling down!) The question is: what path is most efficient for a given culture and time. This question is becoming more urgent as we insist on moving through our lives at ever-greater speeds.
Most spiritual paths evolved in simpler, slower times. To reach the highest spiritual attainment, one removed oneself from society to live a solitary or monastic life. The purpose of this was to remove oneself from the unconscious reactivity due to constant external stimuli bombarding our senses. Spending hours every day in contemplation and spiritual ritual limited the amount of stimulus taken in by the seeker and allowed for adequate time to internally process one's Karma under the guidance of a master. It is easy to see that our Western, externally-focused culture doesn't exactly support this. When was the last time you put rice in the bowl of a penniless sadhu standing on a street corner? How many of us have ever taken off a few months, let alone years, to claim our birthright of clarity, peace, and joy? We are increasingly driven by our careers, status, family obligations, and material desires, and we are expending more and more time, energy, and peace of mind to maintain this.
So, it would seem that for most Westerners, there is a conflict between our desire to live a worldly life and the rigors of a traditional spiritual inquiry. Yet, if we recreate our world daily, we can create a middle path that allows us access to both worlds easily, even simultaneously, by utilizing some of the more powerful Eastern and Western techniques.
Tantra and Kundalini Yoga
These are sciences which use various exercises, breathing patterns, and visualizations to activate, balance, and transmute our primal energies. As the polar energies (Shiva/Shakti, heavenly/earthly) come into balance, Kundalini begins to flow much more powerfully. Typically visualized as a coiled serpent residing at the base of the spine, this energy begins to rise and activate each Chakra in turn. There is a tendency for this energy to be attracted to whatever needs to be healed emotionally and physically. As we heal our fear, pain, and anger, we begin to experience more abundance, pleasure, and empowerment. Our bodies become stronger, our minds live in more peace and bliss. As Tantra enrolls the enormous power of our senses and sexuality in this process, this requires some delicacy in fine tuning the practices for the individual. Too much energy too fast can emotionally and physically unbalance the practitioner. I have even seen some teachers of these arts, particularly those who adopt aggressive cathartic techniques, damage their bodies, emotions, and relationships permanently. On the other hand, with judicious and sensitive energy management, these traditions remain among the most effective technologies for transformation that we have.
When we include T'ai Chi, the various form of Qi Gong, and Taoist Sexology, this tradition encompasses all of the important Tantric techniques while adding grounding technology. Grounding gives us access to the tremendous strength and stability of the planet. It allows us to become a spiritual warrior, affording us the empowerment to deal with our own internal demons and external stresses. We can have our cake and eat it too: becoming able to reach the heights of spiritual bliss while walking in the world.
Taoism does differ greatly with some teachers of Tantra in its approach to processing Karma. While some Tantra techniques encourage cathartic emotional release, Taoism recognizes that this approach has little long-term benefit for most people, and can actually be harmful. Aggressive energy stimulation for catharsis is predicated on:
1.Activating primal energy and directing it towards emotional patterns, 2.Fully releasing this energy physically, emotionally, and mentally, and 3.Being able to hold "Witness Consciousness" to observe yourself re-experiencing a given pattern and how it has affected and controlled your life.
This is a tall order and unlikely for the practitioner to be truly successful at. Although the catharsis can feel effective, even blissful immediately afterward, the patterns tend to re-assert themselves over the long haul. If you have one unit of ability to release and witness, and you activate three units of emotional trauma, you have effectively reinforced the karmic pattern by a factor of two. Recognizing that often "less is more," Taoism tends toward working on grounding and strengthening empowerment while allowing karmic patterns to rise into consciousness more gently and naturally. The BodyMind can then more easily witness and integrate this experiential knowledge without the potential perils of a more aggressive energetic assault.
Originating with Alexander Lowen, and based on the work of Wilhelm Reich, Bioenergetics contains aspects of both Tantra and Taoist practices. Like the masters of the East, Reich identified the primordial energy that resides within us and links us to the cosmos and called it "Orgone." As fascinating a character as you'd ever want to meet, Reich was able to concentrate the Orgone and use it for everything from healing cancer to making it rain. He once ticked off Freud by claiming that one's analysis wasn't complete until one was able to have a full body orgasm.
Reichian based techniques are similar to Tantra in recognizing the central role played by activating and amplifying these core energies, however they differ in the order of opening the various components of the BodyMind to these energies. Many Tantra teachers aggressively stimulate sexual energies and Kundalini then attempt to have them rise safely up through the body's Chakras to the head and outward into the energy bodies. Reichian traditions start with cognitive work, gentle energy channeling and lots of grounding positions to fully prepare the practitioner for increasingly higher amperages. Generally, the bodywork aspect begins with the head, while pelvic and sexual work comes later in the process. This order of release opens the body's channels gently to prepare oneself for the safe rise of Kundalini and the efficient release of somatic and psychic blockages.
So, to properly equip our evolutionary "vehicles" for this spiritual roadtrip, each traveler must select the correct options for that individual's comfort and safety. Then, sit back and enjoy the ride!
Rev. Keith Hall has studied, practiced, and taught Tantra, Taoism, and meditation for over 25 years. He has studied at the Arica Institute, and with Professor Yung-ko Chou, Ma Premo, Sunyata Saraswati, Dyanyogi Mahasudandas, Margot Anand, and others. He is the Director of the Jade Garden Tantra and Learning Center.
© 1998 Keith E. Hall. All rights reserved.