The Swami and the Serpent - A Non-Dualist's Encounter with Kundalini (2018) - full transcript

A respected meditation teacher confronts his guru's criticism of kundalini yoga by exploring its origins and personally undertaking its practice. He experiences kundalini yoga's power and discovers a hidden reason for its popularity.

An astonishing energy, known as kundalini, is
said to lay coiled at the base of the spine,

dormant, like a sleeping snake.

This serpent energy can be woken from its
slumber by the practice of certain yoga postures,

breathing exercises,
and mantras.

Aroused by these practices, kundalini surges
upwards through an invisible network of nerves,

and pierces six lotus-like chakras,
releasing waves of ecstasy.

When it reaches a magnificent, thousand petalled
lotus at the crown of the head, kundalini

is said to merge into pure consciousness and
endow the practitioner with enlightenment.

What is this extraordinary yogic
practice and its so-called serpent energy?

And where did these
esoteric teachings come from?

My name is Swami Tadatmananda.

From 1981 onwards, I studied under a traditional
Indian guru, Swami Dayananda, who ordained

me as a Hindu monk.

I'd like to invite you to join me for this
unique exploration of kundalini yoga.

We'll seek out the roots of this tradition
and explore the intricacies of its practice.

We'll examine certain
controversies and misconceptions.

And I'll share my own personal
experience of practicing kundalini yoga.

For almost 30 years, I've taught the profound
spiritual truths of Advaita Vedanta, the complexities

of Sanskrit language,
and meditation.

Because meditation helped me so much, I developed
a great love for leading others to discover

its benefits.

Over the years, I learned that that no single
meditation technique is equally effective

for all meditators.

Every person is unique.

For this reason, I teach a wide
variety of meditation techniques.

But somehow,
I've never taught kundalini yoga.


There are two main reasons.

First of all, my guru strenuously warned us
about a problem he called 'experience seeking.'

He said that conventional life is driven by
the never-ending pursuit of new and better


People love to watch new movies, dine at trendy
restaurants, and travel to exotic places.

But experiences like these can never
lead to perfect peace and contentment.

As a young man, Swami Dayananda observed the
problem of experience seeking when he lived

in Rishikesh, a sacred town in
the foothills of the Himalayas.

In the 1960's, he was sought out by American
and European hippies, who had indulged in

sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and now,
they wanted to experience meditation!

But, if meditation is just another experience
to be enjoyed, then it's not so different

from sex, drugs,
or anything else.

In this way, some practitioners of kundalini
yoga might merely be seeking exciting new

instead of seeking spiritual growth.

It's easy to fall into the trap of experience
seeking, especially when this yogic practice

seems to hold the promise
of bliss and ecstasy.

The other reason I've avoided teaching kundalini
yoga is that I'm completely turned off by

the way it's been distorted and
misrepresented by contemporary Western yogis.

I'm tired of seeing dazzling, rainbow hued
chakras and bodies emitting fountains of light

from every pore.

Images like these portray a practice that has
virtually nothing in common with its ancient


Yet, people seem drawn to glitzy
illustrations and trendy new-age beliefs.

On the other hand, kundalini yoga is an authentic
spiritual tradition whose roots go back at

least two thousand years.

In ancient India, the holy sages, known as
rishis, sought enlightenment by exploring

within their bodies and minds to discover
the supreme divinity hidden deep inside.

Their remarkable insights and the special
techniques they devised were recorded in Sanskrit

scriptures called upanishads.

A total of 108 upanishads are included in
the Vedas, the main scriptures for all Hindu

religious and
spiritual practices.

Twenty of those upanishads are dedicated to
the theory and practice of kundalini yoga.

Those yoga upanishads are the ultimate source
for the entire body of teachings on kundalini


The separate tradition of Advaita Vedanta, which
I follow, is based on twelve other upanishads,

which are focused on gaining spiritual
knowledge rather than yogic practice.

All 108 upanishads contain the sacred revelations
of the rishis, so it seems hypocritical for

me to study only the twelve vedantic upanishads,
and to ignore the twenty yoga upanishads,

as I have for decades.

I had to admit the narrowness of my studies,
and this led me to begin a research project,

a project that developed into
the film you're watching now.

This project has two parts.

First, to thoroughly explore the teachings
of kundalini yoga, relying exclusively on

the 20 yoga upanishads, and studying them
in the original Sanskrit, along with their

Sanskrit commentaries.

By setting aside all yogic teachings that
evolved later, I can focus on what the rishis

themselves taught.

The second part of the project is to personally
undertake the practice of kundalini yoga,

exactly as the
rishis conceived it.

When I began this venture,
I wondered, what will I discover?

Will I hear celestial sounds and see
inner visions like some practitioners?

More importantly, I wondered if my inquiry
would confirm or contradict the teachings

of Advaita Vedanta
I've followed for so long.

Right now, I don't know what the outcome of
this experiment will be, but, that's the whole

idea of an experiment, isn't it?

This is the book I've been studying
in preparation for this project.

It contains all 20 yoga
upanishads and their commentaries.

It will serve as a travel guide for
the path we're about to explore.

I haven't started my formal practice of kundalini
yoga yet, but when I do, I'll share those

experiences with you.

Kundalini yoga became well-known in the West
largely as the result of a 1967 book in which

Gopi Krishna described his
amazing experiences of kundalini.

Gopi Krishna was a government employee from
North India whose intense meditation had awakened

his dormant kundalini with astonishing
and sometimes harrowing results.

His book reached the shores of America just
at the time when the hippies had taken great

interest, both in Hindu mysticism and in psychedelic
experiences from hallucinogenic drugs like


Gopi Krishna's mind-bending encounters with
kundalini seemed to resemble the LSD experiences

of the hippies, and this perhaps,
attracted them to kundalini yoga.

As a rebellious teenager, I also experimented
with LSD way back then, but I didn't read

Gopi Krishna's
book until years later.

When spiritual teachings leave the lands of
their origin and are retold in different cultures

and in different languages, they're subject
to being revised or altered in various ways.

Some changes are necessary, like the
translation of Sanskrit scriptures into English.

But other changes can muddle or
distort the meaning of the original texts.

And, all too often, spiritual teachings become
totally corrupted when they're misinterpreted

by people whose perspectives
are utterly foreign to the originals.

For example, a famous book on the seven chakras
written by C.W. Leadbeater was filled with

Western occultism and doctrines of the Theosophical
Society of which Leadbeater was member.

Carl Jung, the famous psychoanalyst, gave
a seminar on kundalini yoga as a method for

individuation, which is a special
therapeutic process he devised.

More recently, Yogi Bhajan brought his highly
personalized version of kundalini yoga from

India to the United States, replacing its
traditional Sanskrit mantras with others from

his own Sikh religion.

Swami Muktananda also introduced kundalini yoga
to Westerners, teaching a version extensively

adapted by the Kashmiri Shaiva
tradition to which he belonged.

Now, I don't mean to imply that all
these derivative teachings are useless.

Many spiritual seekers
have benefitted from them.

I myself meditated with disciples of
Swami Muktananda as a young man.

But, these modern spin-offs are not at all
in alignment with what the ancient rishis

taught, and as a result,
something of great value has been lost.

As kundalini yoga became more and more integrated
into Western culture, it began to lose its

original identity, and eventually, it was
totally reshaped through the process of cultural


When a native American war bonnet is donned
by a famous model, or when bindis, which are

sacred to Hindus, are worn by a popular singer,
these cultural forms are appropriated and

adapted, without due respect
for their time-honored traditions.

The original meanings of these cultural forms
are stripped away, and replaced by current


Kundalini yoga has also fallen
prey to cultural appropriation.

Westernized versions of the chakras present
them in hues of the rainbow instead of their

traditional colors, and associate them with
emotions, which the rishis never intended.

Chakras even get mixed up with other cultures,
like this Greek symbol and this ancient Egyptian


The New Age movement has commodified the chakras,
using them to advertise crystals, colorful

stones, scented oils,
and self-improvement seminars.

On a more serious note, a very damaging adaptation
of kundalini yoga has arisen due to the problem

of experience seeking
we discussed before.

There's an interesting
story about this.

Years ago, my guru asked me to drive him to
an ashram in New York State to meet an elderly

swami who taught kundalini yoga.

We were invited into a large room where the
guru and his students sat in meditation.

After several minutes of perfect silence,
one of the meditators suddenly shrieked, and

her body jerked violently.

Swami Dayananda was so startled,
he almost fell out of his chair.

Over the next half hour, several
other meditators had similar reactions.

After our visit,
I asked Swami Dayananda about this.

He said, these students were taught that whenever
a chakra is pierced, kundalini will produce

spontaneous vocalizations
and body movements.

This isn't taught in
the yoga upanishads.

But when students are led to believe that
occasional shrieks and jerks are sure signs

of progress, a suggestion is planted in
their minds that can trigger reactions later.

Psychologists say that suggestions like
these work in the same way as placebos.

A patient's trust in a doctor enables a
placebo to actually produce desirable effects.

Similarly, student's trust in a guru enables
meditation to produce reactions like those

we observed.

Swami Dayananda was highly critical of the
way kundalini yoga is usually taught, and

he put the blame on the
problem of experience seeking.

He said, many modern gurus put far too much
emphasis on gaining spiritual experiences,

and not enough emphasis
on gaining spiritual wisdom.

All experiences are temporary,
including experiences of kundalini.

After a powerful spiritual experience comes
and goes, you might remain utterly unchanged,

unless you actually learn
something from that experience.

That's exactly what happened to me when I
experimented with LSD as a reckless teenager.

I had transcendent experiences and a
sense of complete oneness with the cosmos.

But after the drug wore off,
I found myself no wiser than before.

I failed to learn anything
from those experiences.

For this reason, the ultimate goal of spiritual
practice is not to produce short-lived experiences,

but rather, to reveal the true divine
nature of the consciousness within us.

According to the ancient rishis, our true
nature is divine... it is eternal, limitless,

and untouched
by worldly affliction.

If that's so,
why are we still subject to suffering?

The problem is... the inner divinity is covered
by a veil of ignorance that obscures it and

prevents us from
recognizing its nature.

The goal of spiritual practice, then, is to
remove that ignorance and discover the innate,

ever-present divinity within.

Look at this passage from the Yoga Tattva
Upanishad: Suffering is due to ignorance.

Spiritual knowledge
frees you from suffering.

And that knowledge is to discover the true,
divine nature of your own consciousness.

Enlightenment is the personal
discovery of your innate divinity.

This discovery takes place when
the veil of ignorance is removed.

And removing that ignorance requires spiritual
knowledge, because knowledge alone destroys


But then, where does kundalini
yoga come into the picture?

If enlightenment is gained through spiritual
knowledge, then what's the point of raising

your kundalini and
piercing your chakras?

To answer this, we have to discern two distinct
factors that are required to accomplish anything,

factors the rishis called primary
cause and secondary cause.

If you want to make rotis for lunch from flour
and water, the primary cause is fire, since

a fire's heat can bake bread.

A stove and pan are also needed, but they
don't produce heat, so they're considered

secondary causes.

For any goal, primary and secondary causes
are both necessary; without a fire, stove,

or pan,
you won't have any rotis to eat.

This demonstrates an important point: Spiritual
knowledge is the primary cause for enlightenment,

because it can remove the veil of
ignorance and reveal the divinity within.

But yoga is the secondary cause.

So, without yoga,
enlightenment is impossible.

Both spiritual knowledge and yoga are required,
as the Yoga Tattva Upanishad says: Without

yogic practice, how can spiritual
knowledge free you from suffering?

Without spiritual knowledge, how can
yogic practice free you from suffering?

Both are required
for liberation.

Many kinds of yogic practices can help you gain
enlightenment, including karma yoga - selfless

service, raja yoga - meditation, bhakti yoga -
devotion, hatha yoga - postures and breathing

exercises, and of course,
kundalini yoga.

Another important yogic practice, closely
related to kundalini yoga, is pilgrimage,

traveling to a sacred place.

The goal of pilgrimage is to be blessed by
the deity residing in a sacred place, usually

inside a special temple.

Yet, the rishis taught that the divinity residing
in each temple also resides in you, inside

your own body.

And they envisioned sacred places in the body
to be visited through an inner pilgrimage.

This inner pilgrimage is a meditation practice
in which you deliberately imagine particular

deities and sacred
places within your body.

The Darshana Upanishad says,
The Himalayas are at the top of your head.

Lord Shiva dwells
on your forehead.

The sacred city of Varanasi
is between your eyebrows.

Kurukshetra, where the Mahabharata
war was fought, is in your chest.

Prayaga, where sacred Ganga and
Yamuna rivers meet, is in your heart.

The practice of kundalini yoga
is a kind of inner pilgrimage.

It begins at the muladhara chakra at the base
of your spine, and concludes at the sahasrara

chakra at the
crown of your head.

During this pilgrimage, you are to meditate on
the deity residing in each chakra and receive

the blessings needed
for your onwards journey.

Long before modern medical science, the rishis
mapped out the life-force in our bodies using

their powers of intuition.

Their pre-scientific model called this life-force,
prana, and identified five kinds: prana, in

the heart, apana, in the trunk of the body,
vyana, pervading the body, udana, in the throat,

and samana, in the stomach.

These five pranas circulate throughout the
body following specific routes called nadis.

Nadi is often translated as nerve,
but it's not a physical tube or conduit.

The nadis and pranas are not material
in nature; they're subtle, non-tangible.

Your brain is tangible; it
weighs about two pounds.

But your mind is not tangible;
it has no size or weight.

In the same way, the nadis and pranas are
non-tangible, subtle, unlike the nerves and

blood vessels in your body.

There are three main nadis, the sushumna which
rises inside your spine from its base to the

crown of the head, the ida, which terminates
at your left nostril, and the pingala, which

terminates at
your right nostril.

There are many other
nadis in your body.

They're said to number
72,000 altogether.

The sushumna nadi
links together all 7 chakras.

Chakra means wheel, but they're
usually described as lotus flowers.

According to the Yoga Cudamani Upanishad,
The muladhara chakra at the base of the spine

has four petals.

The svadhishtana chakra
above it has six petals.

The manipura chakra at
the navel has ten petals.

The anahata chakra at
the heart has twelve petals.

The vishuddha chakra
at the throat has 16 petals.

The ajna chakra between
the eyebrows has two petals.

And the sahasrara chakra at the
crown of the head has 1000 petals.

Since the chakras are like flowers, they're
actually turned upwards, not outwards.

Lotus flowers symbolize purity.

Even though they're rooted in the slimy, stinking
muck at the bottom of a pond, their pristine

beauty remains untainted.

And even though chakras are located inside an
impure human vessel, their sanctity remains


Before we examine the seven chakras in detail,
there's an important question we have to consider.

Do chakras and nadis actually exist inside our
bodies, or are they just concepts envisioned

by the rishis long ago?

When addressing this question, many scholars
and practitioners fall into the trap of treating

nadis and chakras identically: either
both are real, or both are imagined.

this assumption turns out to be incorrect.

First of all,
nadis belong to a pre-scientific model of

the human nervous system, but the seven chakras
are not part of that model, because chakras

are not involved in channeling
prana throughout the body.

Nadis direct the flow of prana, not chakras,
which serve a very different purpose.

To understand how chakras are different, consider
this: Nadis are widely referred to in all

108 upanishads, but chakras are
mentioned mostly in the 20 yoga upanishads.

This shows that that chakras have a more specialized
role than nadis, a role specific to the practice

of kundalini yoga.

What is that role?

Chakras are richly symbolic forms that have
been envisioned by the rishis and deliberately

superimposed on the body for the sake of meditation,
like the deities and sacred places in the

body imagined during the
practice of inner pilgrimage.

Deliberate superimposition, of this sort,
is widely used, like when we superimpose the

God of the cosmos on statues standing barely
three feet tall, or when we superimpose monetary

value on little bits of paper.

Such symbolism is powerful and useful, as
it is in kundalini yoga, when chakras and

their associated deities are deliberately
superimposed at locations along the spine

to serve as focal
points for meditation.

Now we can see the difference
between nadis and chakras.

Nadis are part of a model for the human
nervous system, which obviously exists.

Chakras, on the other hand, are deliberately
superimposed on the body, and are to be visualized

during meditation.

To explain this difference, scholars
say we have to differentiate between

descriptive statements
and prescriptive statements.

Descriptive statements describe the nature of
existent things, whereas prescriptive statements

prescribe or specify what
we should or shouldn't do.

When we interpret scriptures, it's crucial
to correctly determine which statements are

descriptive and
which are prescriptive.

But, it's not always obvious.

One upanishad says, The human body is a leather
sack filled with stinking pus, urine, and


This is not a descriptive statement because
its intent is not to give a factual description

of the body.

This is a prescriptive statement because its
aim is to prescribe detachment towards our

bodies and those
of our loved ones.

When the rishis portrayed the seven chakras,
their intent was not to describe objects that

actually exist in the body.

Rather, they prescribed a practice in which
chakras, deliberately superimposed on the

body, were to be visualized
for the sake of meditation.

Of course,
not everyone agrees with this.

Many modern practitioners believe that
chakras truly exist inside their bodies.

Fortunately, this belief is extremely
helpful in the practice of kundalini yoga.

To believe in the divinity of a three-foot
tall statue on an altar helps people pray.

To believe that these little bits of
paper are valuable helps us buy things.

And to believe that chakras truly exist
inside the body helps practitioners meditate.

All these beliefs are helpful.

The value of a belief is not in its
veracity, but in its ability to help us.

Beliefs are not right or wrong;
they are helpful or harmful.

And to believe in the existence of chakras
is an exceedingly helpful belief, one that

need not be
challenged or dismissed.

The word kundalini means coiled
and shakti means power or energy.

The rishis prescribed visualizing kundalini
shakti as a powerful serpent coiled up at

the base of the spine.

Why a serpent?

Because they're powerful: without arms or
legs, they move swiftly and strike fiercely.

snakes are deeply revered in Hindu culture.

After shedding their skin, they're figuratively
reborn, and therefore associated with the

rebirth of human souls.

Serpents also play important roles
in many popular mythological stories.

Kundalini shakti is best understood
in its philosophical context.

The creation of the universe is said to result
from the union of Shiva, the masculine principle,

and Shakti,
the feminine principle.

Here, Shiva and Shakti are not the
four-armed deities familiar to Hindus.

Shiva is the fabric of reality that gives
existence to everything, like clay gives existence

to pots and bowls.

Because clay is inert, a separate creative
force is needed to transform it into various


Similarly, Shiva lacks the creative
force needed to produce the universe.

Only when Shiva is accompanied by Shakti's
infinite creative power can the universe arise.

Shakti infuses everything in the cosmos with
energy, including every atom in your body.

In this way, Shakti is present within you,
and it is this inner presence that is called

kundalini shakti.

If kundalini shakti is dormant, sleeping at
the base of your spine, then, how is it to

be awakened?

The Yoga Kundali Upanishad says: The sleeping
kundalini is awakened by agitating it, like

hitting a snake with a stick.

It then stands erect and enters the sushumna
nadi, like a snake entering its burrow.

To awaken kundalini shakti, the yoga upanishads
prescribe a variety of asanas, pranayamas,

and muscle contractions
known as bandhas.

It's interesting that a method known as shaktipaat
is not discussed anywhere in the upanishads.

Shaktipaat is a special blessing from a guru -
like a mantra, or even a mere touch or glance

- that is said to immediately
awaken your kundalini.

The use of shaktipaat is widely accepted by
modern teachers, even though the rishis never

mentioned it.

Once kundalini shakti has been awakened and
starts its ascent, some practitioners, like

Gopi Krishna, report having amazing experiences
...mystical visions, celestial sounds, ecstasy.

But, if the chakras and kundalini serpent
were deliberately superimposed by the rishis,

and don't truly exist,
then how could these experiences arise?

For practitioners who strongly believe that
the chakras and kundalini serpent actually

exist inside their bodies, the mind's marvelous
power of suggestion is certainly capable of

producing such experiences.

The practice of kundalini yoga reaches its
climax when kundalini finally ascends to the

sahasrara chakra.

The Yoga Kundali Upanishad says: Having pierced
the six chakras, kundalini shakti merges with

Shiva at the thousand-petaled
lotus at the crown of the head.

That is the supreme state.

That is the cause
for liberation.

This verse is easily misinterpreted, unless
we bear in mind our earlier discussions.

Some contend that kundalini yoga is a self-sufficient
means for liberation or enlightenment.

But, all forms of yoga, including kundalini
yoga, are secondary causes for enlightenment.

To get enlightened through kundalini yoga
alone is like making rotis with a pan and

stove, but no fire.

The primary cause for enlightenment is spiritual
knowledge, which removes the veil of ignorance

and reveals your true nature.

Kundalini yoga helps you gain that knowledge by
leading you to a state of meditative absorption

known as samadhi.

Samadhi is the goal of many meditation
techniques, and for good reason.

In that state of absorption, all distracting
mental activities are removed, and all that

remains is you, your true nature,
stripped of everything that's not you.

After emerging from samadhi, you have an opportunity
to grasp a life-changing lesson from that

unique experience... that your true nature
is pure consciousness, utterly independent

of your body, mind,
and the world around you.

In this way, the state of samadhi produced by
kundalini yoga can be a gateway to enlightenment,

as the the Trishikhi Brahmana Upanishad says:
A yogi whose mind is absorbed gains liberation

as effortlessly as a fruit
already in the palm of his hand.

We've just completed a
rather complex inquiry.

Next, we'll focus on the actual
practice of kundalini yoga.

So far, we've been studying the guidebook
for the inner pilgrimage mapped out by the


Now, it's time for us to begin the actual
journey, and follow in their footsteps by

practicing kundalini yoga as
they themselves conceived it.

This is where I
meditate every day.

I usually start with prayer and devotional
meditation, which help balance the lofty Vedantic

meditations I practice next.

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to set aside
this routine and focus exclusively on the

practice of kundalini yoga.

You can join me in this practice by
using the teachings that follow as a guide.

I'm eager to begin
this new adventure.

But when I reflect on my guru's negative comments
about kundalini yoga, I feel a bit uneasy.

If he were still alive,
I might not have undertaken this project.

Our inner pilgrimage begins with the
muladhara chakra at the base of the spine.

Mula means root, and this chakra is the
root or starting place for this practice.

Each of the lowest five chakras represent
one of the five elements known in ancient

times - earth, water, fire, air, and space
- from the most gross, earth, to the most

subtle, space.

Inside the muladhara chakra, the element
earth is represented by a yellow square.

It's interesting that the yoga upanishads
specify colors for each of the five elements,

but they say nothing about
the color of each chakra.

The colors used here are
based on later scriptural traditions.

You'll often see Sanskrit letters adorning
the petals of each chakra, but these letters

aren't mentioned in the yoga
upanishads; they were a later addition.

The yoga upanishads do specify mantras, not
for the chakras, but for each of the five


Lam is the mantra
for the element earth.

Chakras are often depicted with these mantras
drawn inside, but mantras are for recitation,

not for visualization.

Each chakra is the abode of a particular deity to
be meditated upon during one's inner pilgrimage.

For the muladhara chakra, the deity is Brahma,
God in its aspect as creator of the universe.

So, the muladhara or root chakra is associated
both with the element earth, the root of all

matter, and with Brahma,
the root of existence itself.

In meditation, Brahma is to be visualized
according to the scriptures: seated on a lotus,

with four arms and four heads.

I've just finished
my first meditation.

For many years, I focused my attention between my
eyebrows, so it wasn't difficult to concentrate

on the base of
the spine instead.

With my attention fixed there, I visualized
the muladhara chakra while reciting the earth

mantra, lam.

I reflected on how the element earth is the
basis for my physical existence, for every

atom in my body.

Then, I imagined Brahma residing in the chakra,
and I settled into a deeply prayerful mood,

feeling God's divine
presence within me.

The ability to become deeply absorbed in devotion
is one of the many benefits of regular meditation.

I find this prayerful state
very nurturing and healing.

In that state, I sought Brahma's blessings
for success on the journey that's just begun.

In order to proceed, we have to consult the
Yoga Chudamani Upanishad which says, Within

the muladhara chakra is a yoni,
and within that yoni is a great linga.

The words yoni and linga often denote the
female and male sex organs, but here, yoni

means kundalini shakti, the feminine principle
we discussed before, and the word linga signifies

Shiva as pure consciousness,
the masculine principle.

In the muladhara chakra, kundalini shakti
is depicted as a powerful serpent.... and

Shiva is depicted as a rounded
linga encircled by that serpent.

Intimate contact between the serpent
and linga is said to generate heat or fire.

According to the rishis, certain yogic practices
can kindle that fire until it becomes hot

enough to wake up the dormant kundalini serpent
and drive it out of the muladhara chakra,

upwards, into the sushumna
nadi which emerges from the top.

To kindle the fire in the muladhara chakra,
the yoga upanishads prescribe several asanas,

pranayamas, and bandhas.

One, is mula-bandha which entails
contracting the muscles at the anus.

Another, is a type of pranayama known as bhastrika,
which involves rapid, forceful exhalations,

together with pulsations
of the abdomen muscles..

These techniques are said to force prana into
the muladhara chakra, fanning the flames,

so to speak, to produce enough
heat to force the kundalini upwards.

In tomorrow's meditation,
I'll try these techniques.

While meditating today, I visualized a roaring
fire inside the muladhara chakra as I practiced


After each inhalation, I briefly retained my
breath and contracted the sphincter muscles.

After a while, those muscles got tired,
so I switched to bhastrika pranayama.

It's often called bellows breath,
because of its vigorous exhalations.

Bellows are used to force air
into a fire to raise its temperature.

Bhastrika pranayama certainly raised
my temperature; it's very energizing.

With each exhalation, I also pulsed my abdomen
muscles, which shook the organs inside the

trunk of my body,
where the muladhara chakra is located.

This shaking is said to help
wake up the serpent sleeping there.

Have you ever noticed how sensations like
itches, hunger and thirst become stronger

when you focus your
attention on them?

That's due to the power of suggestion, which
can actually be used as an valuable tool for


Long ago, I found that by concentrating my
attention anywhere in my body, like between

my eyebrows,
I could produce various sensations there.

Today, as I visualized a fire blazing away
in the muladhara chakra, I began to feel a

sense of warmth at
the base of my spine.

This physical sensation arose due to the combined
effects of mula-bandha, bhastrika pranayama,

and the power of suggestion.

Since kundalini yoga is based on chakras that
have been deliberately superimposed, the power

of suggestion is crucial
for its effectiveness.

Skillful meditators intentionally
wield this power in their practice.

For those meditators who believe that chakras
truly exist inside their bodies, the power

of suggestion works unconsciously, and, it's
actually strengthened by their beliefs, making

their practice more effective than for someone
like me who doesn't share their beliefs.

Such is the nature of
the power of suggestion.

Each day I practice, the sense of warmth at the
base of my spine seems to grow more intense.

So today, I shifted the point of my concentration
upwards, away from the muladhara chakra and

towards the svadhisthana
chakra above it.

Not surprisingly, the sense of warmth at
the base of my spine also moved upwards.

Could this modest experience be
the initial ascent of kundalini shakti?

Shouldn't it be
something more dramatic?

Some practitioners report having intense, and
even tumultuous experiences when kundalini

begins its ascent.

But every
practitioner is different.

Besides, what rises from chakra to
chakra is energy, like heat, not a snake.

The snake is a deliberate superimposition
of the rishis who prescribed that meditators

should shift their point of concentration
upwards, from one chakra to the next.

Yet, for many practitioners, kundalini seems
to begin its ascent spontaneously, and continue

to rise without any
deliberate effort whatsoever.

All such experiences could certainly be brought
about by the mind's power of suggestion.

Today, I began to meditate
on the svadhisthana chakra.

Since my kundalini has apparently begun its
ascent, there's no need to kindle the fire

in the muladhara chakra anymore, so I stopped
practicing mulabandha and bhastrika pranayama.

Instead, I visualized the svadhisthana
chakra, also known as the sacral chakra.

Svadhisthana means the seat of existence,
and this chakra is fittingly located at your

seat, the sacrum.

It has six petals and is associated with the
element water, which is represented by a white

crescent moon.

Vam is the mantra
for the element water.

The deity abiding in this chakra is Vishnu,
God in its aspect as sustainer of the universe.

Just as the element water sustains life,
Vishnu sustains the world.

Vishnu is generally depicted
with blue skin and four arms.

I visualized the svadhisthana chakra while
reciting the water mantra, vam, and reflecting

on how water sustains my life.

Then, I imagined Vishnu residing in the chakra,
and once again, I settled into a deeply prayerful


Today, after visualizing the svadhisthana
chakra as I did yesterday, I became aware

of the sense of
warmth at my sacrum.

The sensation grew stronger
when I focused on it more intensely.

And when I shifted my attention upwards, towards
the manipuura chakra, the sense of warmth

also climbed upwards.

I'm a bit surprised to progress from chakra
to chakra so quickly, but it's likely that

all my prior meditation
practice has helped me a lot.

For the past two days, I've been
meditating on the manipura chakra.

Manipura means abode of gems.

It's also called nabhi chakra, because
it's located behind the nabhi or navel.

It not accurate to call it solar plexus chakra,
because that plexus is located well above

the navel.

The manipura chakra has ten petals and is
associated with the element fire, which is

represented by a red triangle.

Ram is the mantra
for the element fire.

The deity abiding in this chakra is Rudra,
a fierce aspect of Shiva, usually depicted

as a warrior or hunter.

In meditation, I visualized the manipura
chakra and recited the fire mantra, ram.

When I reflected on the element fire, it became
obvious how the expression, fire in the gut,

made its way into
the English language.

This region seems to be associated
with power, will, and assertiveness.

I could sense these qualities
with my attention focused there.

It's no surprise that a powerful deity
like Rudra abides in the manipura chakra.

For me, meditating on Rudra is like watching
a violent thunderstorm that evokes great awe

and respect,
mixed with a little bit of fear.

In today's meditation, after visualizing the
manipura chakra, I focused on the sense of

warmth behind my navel.

As before, the more I observed it,
the stronger it grew.

Then, I shifted my attention upwards, to the
center of my chest where the anahata chakra

is located.

The sense of warmth rose from the navel
and gradually expanded, filling my chest.

For three days now, I've been meditating on
the anahata chakra, the so-called heart chakra,

located along the
spine at chest level.

Anahata means that which cannot be struck,
injured or killed, referring to one's soul.

This chakra has twelve petals and is associated
with the element air, aptly so, being near

the lungs.

The element air is represented by a smoky,
six-pointed figure.

Yam is the mantra
for the element air.

The deity abiding in the anahata chakra is a
beneficent form of Shiva, depicted as looking

in all directions simultaneously,
to bless everyone.

Shiva is often called god of destruction,
but it might be more accurate to call him,

god of transformation, purification, and growth,
since all these depend on the destruction

of a prior condition,
so a new and better state can arise.

When I visualized the anahata chakra, my attention
was drawn to the air passing into and out

of my lungs.

Air is constantly in motion, and it's this
movement of air that fills us with life.

When I meditated on Shiva, I felt deeply grateful
for the gift of life we receive with each

and every breath.

In today's meditation I focused on
the sense of warmth that filled my chest.

Once again, it grew stronger and rose when I
shifted my attention upwards, to my throat,

where the vishuddha
chakra is located.

I've completed two more meditations, focusing
on the vishuddha chakra, located at the throat.

Vishuddha means pure, untainted.

This chakra has sixteen petals and is associated
with the element space, which is represented

by a transparent circle.

Ham is the mantra
for this element.

The deity abiding in the vishuddha chakra is
the bi-gendered form of Shiva, whose right

side is male and
left side is female.

This form of Shiva reminds us that none of
us are exclusively male or female; nature

is exuberant in its diversity and
avoids such absolute divisions.

Meditating on this form helped me accept feminine
qualities which are as much a part of me as

the masculine ones.

In today's meditation, I observed the sense
of warmth in my throat, and as before, it

moved upwards when I shifted my attention
to the ajna chakra, between my eyebrows.

Ajna means a command or order, which shows
this chakra's association with the mind, our

so-called command center.

Even though the ajna chakra is located
between the eyebrows, to call it third eye

chakra is problematic, since the yoga
upanishads make no references to a third eye.

The ajna chakra is completely
different from the others.

It's not associated with a particular
deity or any of the five elements.

And since it's not associated with an element,
it has no mantra, although later traditions

associate it with the mantra,

The ajna chakra stands at the threshold between
the five elemental chakras in the body below

and the transcendent
sahasrara chakra above.

From muladhara upwards, each chakra has an
increasing number of petals, but the ajna

has only two.

The yoga upanishads are curiously silent
about symbolic meanings for these petals.

In fact, the rishis provide surprisingly
few details about any of chakras.

Many of the details and the elaborate symbolism
that exists today was established by later

generations of yogis, and compiled into Sanskrit
texts, like the famous sixteenth century work,

Exposition of the Six Chakras.

The rishis seem to have deliberately left many
details up to the imagination of practitioners,

and this suggests that the rishis' creative use
of deliberate superimposition could legitimately

be used by later
practitioners as well.

Based on this, modern adaptations, like rainbow-hued
chakras, could certainly be considered acceptable,

so I have to reconsider my earlier condemnation of
what I called, distortions and misrepresentations

of contemporary Western yogis.

If a particular adaptation is truly helpful for
practitioners, then it need not be criticized.

But we can't be naive; not
all adaptations are helpful.

Some might even be detrimental, like modifications
introduced by unqualified teachers or by gurus

with ulterior motives like those
who charge a fee for shaktipaat.


Let's return to the ajna chakra.

Even though the rishis don't specify a deity
for this chakra, they do prescribe visualizing

a linga of light, by which they mean a form
of Shiva as pure consciousness within the

ajna chakra.

I'm back on familiar ground now, because meditating
on pure consciousness is central to advaita


But there's a misnomer here - you can't actually
meditate on consciousness because as the meditator,

you are that very consciousness.

You can only meditate on objects in your mind
which are illumined by the light of consciousness.

So, in Vedanta, to meditate on consciousness
means to meditate on the meditator, that is,

to reflect on your own essential
nature as pure consciousness.

Today, while visualizing the ajna chakra between
my eyebrows, I reflected on how my mental

image of a two-petaled lotus can be observed
by me because it's illumined by consciousness,

the same pure consciousness
which is my true nature.

That consciousness is utterly independent
of the mind, body, and world; it transcends

them all.

Having reached this lofty perspective, I think
I'm ready for the final stage of practice,

when kundalini shakti ascends
to the sahasrara chakra.

Sahasra means one thousand, which is the number
of petals in the sahasrara chakra at the crown

of the head.

The rishis give no further
details about this chakra.

In fact, in many texts, the sahasrara
is not considered a chakra at all.

It lies beyond the chakras, outside the body;
it's usually depicted on the outer surface

of the head, not within it.

In Hindu scripture, the number one thousand
stands for infinity, suggesting that the sahasrara

chakra is infinite in height and breadth,
infinite in brilliance, infinite in splendor.

When kundalini shakti finally reaches this
limitless expanse, it's amazing journey is


According to the rishis, after ascending to
the sahasrara chakra, kundalini shakti merges

into pure consciousness and
loses its individuality altogether.

But, the rishis say little about the meaning
and symbolism of this climactic event, because

its significance is best understood through
meditation itself, not through words.

I began today's meditation by visualizing
the ajna chakra and focusing on the sense

of warmth between my eyebrows.

I allowed that sensation to grow stronger,
and then shifted my attention upwards, towards

the top of my head.

As before, the sense of warmth moved upwards,
but while rising, it changed into a brilliant

light that seemed to fill my head and body,
and radiate beyond as well.

Then, almost immediately, that light
faded and my mind became profoundly silent.

I fell into a state of absorption, samadhi,
just like I had many times before using other


Samadhi is somewhat like being blissfully
immersed in deep sleep, except that you remain

fully awake.

When you wake up from sleep, you know you
slept; when you emerge from samadhi, you know

you were absorbed.

Anyone who experiences samadhi for the
first time will find it a great achievement.

And anyone who discovers their true nature
to be pure consciousness, utterly independent

of the mind, body, and world, will find this
recognition to be absolutely life changing.

Without doubt, many practitioners of kundalini
yoga have reached these great heights and

were blessed by their efforts.

But my prior practice has already blessed me
in these ways, so my experience of kundalini's

triumphant ascent seemed to lack the tremendous
intensity that other practitioners describe.

Also, I have a hunch that if I firmly believed in
the actual existence of chakras, my experiences

might have been
far more intense.

But then again, the ultimate goal of this
practice is not to produce rapturous experiences,

but to support the attainment of
spiritual knowledge, enlightenment.

I've learned a lot
from this experiment.

I've discovered how advaita vedanta and kundalini
yoga are actually complimentary to each other.

I've learned to be less critical of modern
adaptations like rainbow colored chakras.

And I've made friends with
this often misunderstood serpent.

Will I start teaching kundalini
yoga to my students now?

I don't think so.

This technique is rather complex, so it
needs lots of time to learn and practice.

More than that, kundalini yoga seems like a
difficult way to gain a state of absorption

that can more easily be
reached through other techniques.

But then, if there are easier paths to samadhi,
why is kundalini yoga so widely taught?

Its popularity is very likely in response
to the problem of experience seeking.

The pursuit of worldly experiences can
prevent people from seeking spiritual growth.

But, if kundalini yoga promises them exciting
new experiences, they might consider practicing


Then, their practice could lead them to realize
that something far more valuable than exciting

experiences is within reach.

Such a recognition could wean them away from
experience seeking, and incline them to pursue

enlightenment instead.

This so-called bait and switch approach might
have lead many practitioners to find perfect

peace and lasting contentment.

If so, the ability to convert worldly experience
seekers into genuine spiritual seekers could

be the most extraordinary
feature of kundalini yoga.