Chakra are various focal points used in a variety of ancient meditation practices, collectively denominated as Tantra, or the esoteric or inner traditions of Hinduism.
The concept is found in the early traditions of Hinduism. Beliefs differ between the Indian religions, with many Buddhist texts consistently mentioning five chakras, while Hindu sources offer six or even seven. Early Sanskrit texts speak of them both as meditative visualizations combining flowers and mantras and as physical entities in the body. Some modern interpreters speak of them as complexes of electromagnetic variety, the precise degree and variety of which directly arise from a synthetic average of all positive and negative so-called "fields", thus eventuating the complex Nadi. Within kundalini yoga, the techniques of breath exercises, visualizations, mudras, bandhas, kriyas, and mantras are focused on manipulating the flow of subtle energy through chakras.
EtymologyLexically, cakra is the Indic reflex of an ancestral Indo-European form *kʷékʷlos, whence also "wheel" and "cycle". It has both literal and metaphorical uses, as in the "wheel of time" or "wheel of dharma", such as in Rigveda hymn verse 1.164.11, pervasive in the earliest Vedic texts.
In Buddhism, especially in Theravada, the Pali noun cakka connotes "wheel". Within the central "Tripitaka", the Buddha variously refers the "dhammacakka", or "wheel of dharma", connoting that this dharma, universal in its advocacy, should bear the marks characteristic of any temporal dispensation. The Buddha spoke of freedom from cycles in and of themselves, whether karmic, reincarnative, liberative, cognitive or emotional.
In Jainism, the term chakra also means "wheel" and appears in various contexts in its ancient literature. As in other Indian religions, chakra in esoteric theories in Jainism such as those by Buddhisagarsuri means a yogic energy center.
HistoryThe term chakra appears to first emerge within the Hindu Vedas, though not precisely in the sense of psychic energy centers, rather as chakravartin or the king who "turns the wheel of his empire" in all directions from a center, representing his influence and power. The iconography popular in representing the Chakras, states White, traces back to the five symbols of yajna, the Vedic fire altar: "square, circle, triangle, half moon and dumpling".
The hymn 10.136 of the Rigveda mentions a renunciate yogi with a female named kunamnama. Literally, it means "she who is bent, coiled", representing both a minor goddess and one of many embedded enigmas and esoteric riddles within the Rigveda. Some scholars, such as David Gordon White and Georg Feuerstein, interpret this might be related to kundalini shakti, and an overt overture to the terms of esotericism that would later emerge in Post-Aryan Bramhanism. the Upanishad.
Breath channels are mentioned in the classical Upanishads of Hinduism from the 1st millennium BCE, but not psychic-energy chakra theories. The latter, states David Gordon White, were introduced about 8th-century CE in Buddhist texts as hierarchies of inner energy centers, such as in the Hevajra Tantra and Caryāgiti. These are called by various terms such as cakka, padma or pitha. These medieval Buddhist texts mention only four chakras, while later Hindu texts such as the Kubjikāmata and Kaulajñānanirnaya expanded the list to many more.
In contrast to White, according to Georg Feuerstein, early Upanishads of Hinduism do mention cakra in the sense of "psychospiritual vortices", along with other terms found in tantra: prana or vayu along with nadi. According to Gavin Flood, the ancient texts do not present chakra and kundalini-style yoga theories although these words appear in the earliest Vedic literature in many contexts. The chakra in the sense of four or more vital energy centers appear in the medieval era Hindu and Buddhist texts.
OverviewChakra is a part of the esoteric medieval era beliefs about physiology and psychic centers that emerged across Indian traditions. The belief held that human life simultaneously exists in two parallel dimensions, one "physical body" and other "psychological, emotional, mind, non-physical" it is called the "subtle body". This subtle body is energy, while the physical body is mass. The psyche or mind plane corresponds to and interacts with the body plane, and the belief holds that the body and the mind mutually affect each other. The subtle body consists of nadi connected by nodes of psychic energy called chakra. The belief grew into extensive elaboration, with some suggesting 88,000 chakras throughout the subtle body. The number of major chakras varied between various traditions, but they typically ranged between four and seven.
The important chakras are stated in Hindu and Buddhist texts to be arranged in a column along the spinal cord, from its base to the top of the head, connected by vertical channels. The tantric traditions sought to master them, awaken and energize them through various breathing exercises or with assistance of a teacher. These chakras were also symbolically mapped to specific human physiological capacity, seed syllables, sounds, subtle elements, in some cases deities, colors and other motifs.
Belief in the chakra system of Hinduism and Buddhism differs from the historic Chinese system of meridians in acupuncture. Unlike the latter, the chakra relates to subtle body, wherein it has a position but no definite nervous node or precise physical connection. The tantric systems envision it as continually present, highly relevant and a means to psychic and emotional energy. It is useful in a type of yogic rituals and meditative discovery of radiant inner energy and mind-body connections. The meditation is aided by extensive symbology, mantras, diagrams, models. The practitioner proceeds step by step from perceptible models, to increasingly abstract models where deity and external mandala are abandoned, inner self and internal mandalas are awakened.
These ideas are not unique to Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Similar and overlapping concepts emerged in other cultures in the East and the West, and these are variously called by other names such as subtle body, spirit body, esoteric anatomy, sidereal body and etheric body. According to Geoffrey Samuel and Jay Johnston, professors of Religious studies known for their studies on Yoga and esoteric traditions:
Contrast with classical yogaChakra and related beliefs have been important to the esoteric traditions, but they are not directly related to mainstream yoga. According to the Indologist Edwin Bryant and other scholars, the goals of classical yoga such as spiritual liberation is "attained entirely differently in classical yoga, and the cakra / nadi / kundalini physiology is completely peripheral to it."
Classical traditionsThe classical eastern traditions, particularly those that developed in India during the 1st millennium AD, primarily describe nadi and cakra in a "subtle body" context. To them, they are in same dimension as of the psyche-mind reality that is invisible yet real. In the nadi and cakra flow the prana. The concept of "life energy" varies between the texts, ranging from simple inhalation-exhalation to far more complex association with breath-mind-emotions-sexual energy. This prana or essence is what vanishes when a person dies, leaving a gross body. Some of this concept states this subtle body is what withdraws within, when one sleeps. All of it is believed to be reachable, awake-able and important for an individual's body-mind health, and how one relates to other people in one's life. This subtle body network of nadi and chakra is, according to some later Indian theories and many new age speculations, closely associated with emotions.
Hindu TantraDifferent esoteric traditions in Hinduism mention numerous numbers and arrangements chakras, of which a classical system of seven is most prevalent. This seven-part system, central to the core texts of hatha yoga, is one among many systems found in Hindu tantric literature. These texts teach many different Chakra theories.
The Chakra methodology is extensively developed in the goddess tradition of Hinduism called Shaktism. It is an important concept along with yantras, mandalas and kundalini yoga in its practice. Chakra in Shakta tantrism means circle, an "energy center" within, as well as being a term for group rituals such as in chakra-puja which may or may not involve tantra practice. The cakra-based system is a part of the meditative exercises that came to be known as yoga.
Beyond its original Shakta milieu, various sub-traditions within the Shaiva and Vaishnava schools of Hinduism also developed texts and practices on Nadi and Chakra systems. Modern Hindu groups including the Bihar School of Yoga and the Self Realization Fellowship utilize a technique of circular energy that works based on the chakras known as kriya yoga. Although Paramahansa Yogananda claimed this was the same technique taught as kriya yoga by Patañjali in the Yoga Sūtras and by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Satyananda of the Bihar school disagreed with this assessment and acknowledged the similarities between kriya and taoist inner orbit practices. Both schools claim the technique is taught in every age by an avatar of god known as Babaji. The historicity of its techniques in India prior to the early twentieth century are not well established. It believed by its practitioners to activate the chakras and stimulate faster spiritual development.
Buddhist TantraThe esoteric traditions in Buddhism generally teach four chakras. In some early Buddhist sources, these chakras are identified as: manipura, anahata, vishuddha and ushnisha kamala. In one development within the Nyingma lineage of the Mantrayana of Tibetan Buddhism a popular conceptualization of chakras in increasing subtlety and increasing order is as follows: Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, Dharmakaya, and Mahasukhakaya, each vaguely – yet by no means directly – corresponding to the categories within the Shaiva Mantramarga universe, i.e., Svadhisthana, Anahata, Visuddha, Sahasrara, etc. However, depending on the meditational tradition, these vary between three and six. The chakras are considered psycho-spiritual constituents, each bearing meaningful correspondences to cosmic processes and their postulated Buddha counterpart.
A system of five chakras is common among the Mother class of Tantras and these five chakras along with their correspondences are:
- Basal chakra
- Abdominal chakra
- Heart chakra
- Throat chakra
- Crown chakra
According to Geoffrey Samuel, the buddhist esoteric systems developed cakra and nadi as "central to their soteriological process". The theories were sometimes, but not always, coupled with a unique system of physical exercises, called yantra yoga or 'phrul 'khor.
Chakras, according to the Bon tradition, enable the gestalt of experience, with each of the five major chakras, being psychologically linked with the five experiential qualities of unenlightened consciousness, the six realms of woe.
The tsa lung practice embodied in the Trul khor lineage, unbaffles the primary channels, thus activating and circulating liberating prana. Yoga awakens the deep mind, thus bringing forth positive attributes, inherent gestalts, and virtuous qualities. In a computer analogy, the screen of one's consciousness is slated and an attribute-bearing file is called up that contains necessary positive or negative, supportive qualities.
Tantric practice is said to eventually transform all experience into clear light. The practice aims to liberate from all negative conditioning, and the deep cognitive salvation of freedom from control and unity of perception and cognition.
Qigongalso relies on a similar model of the human body as an esoteric energy system, except that it involves the circulation of qì or life-energy. The qì, equivalent to the Hindu prana, flows through the energy channels called meridians, equivalent to the nadi, but two other energies are also important: jīng, or primordial essence, and shén, or spirit energy.
In the principle circuit of qì, called the microcosmic orbit, energy rises up a main meridian along the spine, but also comes back down the front torso. Throughout its cycle it enters various dantian which act as furnaces, where the types of energy in the body are progressively refined. These dantian play a very similar role to that of chakras. The number of dantian varies depending on the system; the navel dantian is the most well-known, but there is usually a dantian located at the heart and between the eyebrows. The lower dantian at or below the navel transforms essence, or jīng, into qì. The middle dantian in the middle of the chest transforms qì into shén, or spirit, and the higher dantian at the level of the forehead, transforms shen into wuji, infinite space of void.metaphysical theory, the chakras' energy rotates outwards along diagonal lines. Defensive energy emits outwards from the centre line, while offensive energy moves inwards from the sides of the body. This can be applied to energy-healing, meditation, or martial arts. Silat practitioners aim to harmonise their movements with these chakras, thereby increasing the power and effectiveness of attacks and movements.
The seven chakra systemThe more common and most studied chakra system incorporates six major chakras along with a seventh center generally not regarded as a chakra. These points are arranged vertically along the axial channel. According to Gavin Flood, this system of six chakras plus the sahasrara "center" at the crown first appears in the Kubjikāmata-tantra, an 11th-century Kaula work.
It was this chakra system that was translated in the early 20th century by Sir John Woodroffe in the text The Serpent Power. Avalon translated the Hindu text Ṣaṭ-Cakra-Nirūpaṇa meaning the examination of the six chakras.
The Chakras are traditionally considered meditation aids. The yogi progresses from lower chakras to the highest chakra blossoming in the crown of the head, internalizing the journey of spiritual ascent. In both the Hindu and Buddhist kundalini or candali traditions, the chakras are pierced by a dormant energy residing near or in the lowest chakra. In Hindu texts she is known as Kundalini, while in Buddhist texts she is called Candali or Tummo.
Below are the common new age description of these six chakras and the seventh point known as sahasrara. This new age version incorporates the Newtonian colors that were unknown when these systems were created.
|Image of chakra||Name||Sanskrit||Translation||Location||No. of lotus petals||Modern colour||Description|
|Sahasrara or Sahastrar||सहस्रार||"Thousand-petaled"||Crown||1000||Multi-coloured or violet||Highest spiritual centre, pure consciousness, containing neither object nor subject. When the feminine Kundalini Shakti rises to this point, it unites with the masculine Shiva, giving self-realization and samadhi. In esoteric Buddhism, it is called Mahasukha, the petal lotus of "Great Bliss" corresponding to the fourth state of Four Noble Truths.|
|Ajna or Agya||आज्ञा||"Command"||Between eyebrows||2||Indigo||Guru chakra or third-eye chakra, the subtle center of energy, where the tantra guru touches the seeker during the initiation ritual. He or she commands the awakened kundalini to pass through this centre.|
|Vishuddha||विशुद्ध||"Purest"||Throat||16||Blue||The Vishuddha is iconographically represented with 16 petals covered with the sixteen Sanskrit vowels. It is associated with the element of space and has the seed syllable of the space element Ham at its centre. The residing deity is Panchavaktra shiva, with 5 heads and 4 arms, and the Shakti is Shakini. |
In esoteric Buddhism, it is called Sambhoga and is generally considered to be the petal lotus of "Enjoyment" corresponding to the third state of Four Noble Truths.
|Anahata||अनाहत||"Unstruck"||Heart||12||Green||Within it is a yantra of two intersecting triangles, forming a hexagram, symbolising a union of the male and female as well as being the esoteric symbol for the element of air. The seed mantra of air, Yam, is at its centre. The presiding deity is Ishana Rudra Shiva, and the Shakti is Kakini.|
In esoteric Buddhism, this Chakra is called Dharma and is generally considered to be the petal lotus of "Essential nature" and corresponding to the second state of Four Noble Truths.
|Manipura||मणिपूर||"Jewel city"||Navel||10||Yellow||For the Nath yogi meditation system, this is described as the Madhyama-Shakti or the intermediate stage of self-discovery. This chakra is represented as a downward pointing triangle representing fire in the middle of a lotus with ten petals. The seed syllable for fire is at its center Ram. The presiding deity is Braddha Rudra, with Lakini as the Shakti.|
|Svadhishthana||स्वाधिष्ठान||"Where the self is established"||Root of sexual organs||6||Orange||Svadhisthana is represented with a lotus within which is a crescent moon symbolizing the water element. The seed mantra in its center is Vam representing water. The presiding deity is Brahma, with the Shakti being Rakini. |
In esoteric Buddhism, it is called Nirmana, the petal lotus of "Creation" and corresponding to the first state of Four Noble Truths.
|Muladhara||मूलाधार||"Root"||Base of spine||4||Red||Dormant Kundalini is often said to be resting here, wrapped three and a half, or seven or twelve times. Sometimes she is wrapped around the black Svayambhu linga, the lowest of three obstructions to her full rising. It is symbolised as a four-petaled lotus with a yellow square at its center representing the element of earth.|
The seed syllable is Lam for the earth element,. All sounds, words and mantras in their dormant form rest in the muladhara chakra, where Ganesha resides, while the Shakti is Dakini. The associated animal is the elephant.
Other chakrasMany systems include myriad minor chakras throughout the body. Talu, bindu, manas, and dvadashanta chakra are close to and associated with Ajna chakra. Situated just to the left of Anahata chakra is Hridaya chakra. Lalance chakra is situated at the base of the mouth and is associated with Vishuddha chakra. In some Shaivist traditions there are 114 chakras out of which 112 are present inside the body.
Reception and introduction into the WestIn 1918, the translation of two Indian texts—the Ṣaṭ-Cakra-Nirūpaṇa and the Pādukā-Pañcaka, by Sir John Woodroffe, alias Arthur Avalon, in a book titled The Serpent Power—introduced the shakta theory of seven main chakras in the West. This book is extremely detailed and complex, and later the ideas were developed into the predominant Western view of the chakras by C. W. Leadbeater in his book The Chakras. Many of the views which directed Leadbeater's understanding of the chakras were influenced by previous theosophist authors, in particular Johann Georg Gichtel, a disciple of Jakob Böhme, and his book Theosophia Practica , in which Gichtel directly refers to inner force centres, a concept reminiscent of the chakras.Eastern Orthodox Church is Hesychasm, a form of Christian meditation. Comparisons have been made between the Hesychastic centres of prayer and the position of the chakras. Particular emphasis is placed upon the heart area. However, there is no talk about these centres as having any sort of metaphysical existence. Far more than in any of the cases discussed above, the centres are simply places to focus the concentration during prayer.Caroline Myss describes the function of chakras as follows: "Every thought and experience you've ever had in your life gets filtered through these chakra databases. Each event is recorded into your cells...". The chakras are described as being aligned in an ascending column from the base of the spine to the top of the head. New Age practices often associate each chakra with a certain colour. In various traditions, chakras are associated with multiple physiological functions, an aspect of consciousness, a classical element, and other distinguishing characteristics. They are visualised as lotuses or flowers with a different number of petals in every chakra.
The chakras are thought to vitalise the physical body and to be associated with interactions of a physical, emotional and mental nature. They are considered of life energy or prana, which is thought to flow among them along pathways called nadi. The function of the chakras is to spin and draw in this energy to keep the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health of the body in balance.
Rudolf Steiner considered the chakra system to be dynamic and evolving. He suggested that this system has become different for modern people than it was in ancient times and that it will, in turn, be radically different in future times. Steiner described a sequence of development that begins with the upper chakras and moves down, rather than moving in the opposite direction. He gave suggestions on how to develop the chakras through disciplining thoughts, feelings, and will.
According to Florin Lowndes, a "spiritual student" can further develop and deepen or elevate thinking consciousness when taking the step from the "ancient path" of schooling to the "new path" represented by Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom.