When I’m asked to define Kundalini Yoga in simple terms, I usually ask the questioner to start by investigating “energy.” When do you use the word? What do you mean by it?
We can think about energy in ordinary terms. You have probably seen big dams with power stations, where rivers are regulated and their power is used to produce electricity. This electricity travels through cables to various places—from tiny villages to towns to huge metropolitan areas.
Yet, wherever you are, you cannot access the electricity until you request it for your individual house. If you decide to hook up, you probably know why you want the electricity—for light, for cooking and heat, and for running your electronic equipment. How does the energy move from outside to inside? A big converter outside the house directs the electricity into the house and into every room. You can even decide where you want your power outlets.
Now let’s take the same illustration to a cosmic level. In this case, you cannot see the power station; you may have just a feeling that there must be something else—a source. If you look at yourself, you know that you have a nervous system with electro-chemical charges—positive and negative. So power must be located in your body somewhere.
Think about the spine and how the nerves extend out from this centre to different areas of your body. If you look at an anatomy book, you can see that the brain makes billions of connections, and these connections result in your ability to think and perceive and function. Just as the power station on a big river in the country eventually leads to a small place like your house, it is the same within you—there is a beginning place and there is a destination. And if you follow this path, you will see that all along the way you are involved in a marvelous and complex process.
You may begin to ask questions. What is the difference between mind and brain? When my brain dies, what happens to the energy? Physicists tell us that energy cannot be destroyed. Energy manifests through many different shapes and forms, and provides power for action. But for what purpose? As a human being, I am powered by something. How did the power get there?
There are various theories about our origin, and while they cannot be scientifically proven at this time, there are indications. If the universe started from a Big Bang, as astronomers hypothesize, it would be difficult to accept that human beings suddenly existed with fully developed brains. Certain religious groups are convinced that this is true and believe that human beings are a special creation of God. Then we would have to ask, “What is God?” If human beings are the special creation of the greatest power we can conceive of, it would be a sad state of affairs that we aren’t more perfect.
It is a more adventurous hypothesis to think that evolution takes place, and that we move toward a perfection that already exists within ourselves, but which—like truth—we have to discover. And we do that in stages. For some people, it is easier to accept the hypothesis that there is a cosmic intelligence rather than a single God directing this course of evolution, because everything that is created has a certain intelligence. Just think of the fruit fly with an entire digestive system, a whole perceptual system and a pair of wings, all within its tiny body. In the life span of a single human being we cannot witness the whole course of evolution, but if we take a long-range view we can see how evolution must have taken place—right back to the point of a single cell splitting.
And today we find nuclear physicists in the same neighborhood as people who can’t read and write. How is this possible? Perhaps it is a mistake to believe that all people evolve together. But even if they did—and we shall never rule out any possibilities—how would it be possible to observe that process in the short span of a human life?
We evolve spiritually through our own personal efforts to understand the power that keeps us alive, the power that makes our minds work. As we grow in awareness, we start to understand more of that cosmic power. In India the name given to that power is Kundalini. In Greece it is called the “soul.” Nobody has seen either. We can’t always see everything, but just as in physics, we can see the traces. By starting to get to know ourselves and tracing the events of our lives, we will begin to see ourselves on a different scale than we are used to. Hereditary and environmental influences are not denied, but does that mean we have to limit ourselves to those influences or think that we are just the product of something?
Ask yourself many questions, and always be willing to challenge your own answers. How does a mind— which itself cannot be found and seen—function? What makes the mind work? Where does the mind get its power? These could be the first questions to pursue. And as you become stronger at looking at possibilities, you may accept the challenge of discovering the mystery deep within yourself of that innate power that some people call Kundalini.
Electricity is a neutral power: it can be put into service or it can electrocute. It has to be understood that the cosmic power is also neutral. We are responsible for how we allow our power to manifest. We cannot just run wild. You don’t know how much power you have in your mental world until you allow this power to manifest properly. You may eventually discover that there are many different powers connected to mind. Intelligence is just one power and it manifests in varying degrees—from a faint glimmer to the enormous power of the genius, yet it is still the same energy.
The powers of the mind are awesome. We can use these neutral powers to understand the mind’s own workings and how its powers are acquired. Energy, by whatever name we call it, is neutral. It is the responsibility of the individual how the power is used. Who judges if the energy is used rightly or wrongly? Your own conscience. When our innate love is overruled, problems begin.
The study and practice of Kundalini Yoga can help us develop all of our potential and make us free and independent. At first, though, we need help because we don’t have enough discrimination and awareness to use this power wisely. We are like sleepwalkers who need to wake up. In ordinary life we often do not notice the succession of happenings that lead to a result, but yogis, by their sense of observation, see that nothing happens without due preparation. Part of the training in Kundalini Yoga is to train the mind and the emotions to accept the facts as they are, without the emotional coloring that wants to see them differently.
Most people carry around the heavy burdens of emotional pain—resentment, dashed hopes, revenge, bitterness—emotions that have not yet been purified. These emotions are a dangerous starting point. With Kundalini Yoga we have to lay a foundation in our lives; otherwise we become confused. The mental and emotional garbage has to come to the surface and be dealt with. This is the process of character building, which is essential for any spiritual path, no matter what name you give it. The first chakra is pure energy: What are you going to do with it? You have to learn to use your own thinking power to the best advantage.
People often reject discipline without realizing that success in any field demands hours of practice. Without discipline in spiritual pursuits, the central nervous system doesn’t have a chance to adjust and grow with the increased demand. It would be like putting a high voltage into a small bulb—it is bound to explode. In unusual Kundalini manifestations, there is often a strong element of self-will. Without a foundation in character building, the power can become a curse instead of a blessing. If you are learning to fly an airplane you have to learn how to take off and, just as importantly, how to land safely. It is the same with the path of Kundalini. Training is needed to learn to focus attention, sharpen discrimination and practice recall.
In the original Kundalini texts, the powers of the chakras are described in ways that may sound exaggerated and fantastic to people living in our time—for example, the power to render oneself invisible, the power to enter another’s body, the power to create and destroy worlds. But these powers do indeed exist.
To become invisible, the first step is to see your own insignificance. You have to overcome the desire to be the centre of attention. This means overcoming self-importance and the desire to project a particular image out to others. When you are not caught up in the need to be seen and heard, that energy can come back to you to be used differently.
Entering another’s body means entering the body of knowledge of another, the world that the person has created for himself or herself. When we are not self-centered, we can listen without interpreting their words through our experience. To do this, we need self-control in speech and the ability to keep silent.
Creating and destroying worlds: Think of the worlds you create by sweet talk or harsh talk, critical talk or coarse talk. By the same power you can destroy those worlds and create new ones. The power of speech to create and destroy worlds is of great importance. When you refine your expression, you can cultivate the right kind of desires and begin to express divine thoughts that will benefit others.
The Kundalini system is a very straightforward and direct path that expresses eternal truth; it is alive now. Chakra means “wheel” and wheel implies movement. So you want to move from the position where you are now in your personal development to something more elevated and intense. You can do this by reflecting on how you have learned in the past and what you could do differently. Where do you want to go? What do you want to achieve?
One of the greatest powers we have, although it is often not recognized, is the power of choice. With our mental power, we can choose to be kind, understanding and helpful, or jealous, envious and destructive. We can choose to give or to steal. The polarity is within us, and we first have to recognize it and then take responsibility for both the positive and negative ways we handle our power.
So ask yourself: What power am I engaging? What power am I loosening? If you have no control over it, what good is it? You have to go through life with awareness, thinking things through. Self-discipline and foresight are needed. The yogic exercises in Kundalini Yoga for the West* teach people how to develop their power in a step-by-step approach. If you want the power of Kundalini, you have to think it through. How do you use the powers you already have? Only you are responsible for your actions.
*authored by Swami Sivananda Radha, Timeless, 2004
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Editor: Travis May
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