The Cakras

chak·ra: (n.) One of the seven centers of spiritual energy in the human body according to yoga philosophy.

[Sanskrit cakram, wheel, circle.] [American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edn.]

Introduction

In ancient Indian physiological theory, the human body is composed of two systems, the physical system and the energy system. The physical body is filled with skin, muscles, tissue, and bones. Alternatively, the human energy body system is filled with physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental layers (Feuerstein 139-140). These energy systems are called cakras [Chakra is a transliteration format of the word to help Western pronunciation. The formal transliteration from Sanskrit is cakra]. Cakras are the centers of spiritual energy nodes in the human body and are fundamental to spiritual systems of yoga practiced in the Hindu culture (Radha 18) [Yoga is also practiced by many other religious cultures, especially the Buddhist, and many New Age movements that have adapted it through Western influence]. The cakras are associated with the interaction between the physical and mental nature. The cakras are a form of life energy (prana) (Mangla 39), which moves through a series of pathways (nadis)(Saraswati 303). Each of the seven main cakras is aligned along the spine in an ascending order, and each possesses many distinguishing characteristics (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). The alignment of the cakras reflects an individual’s present state of consciousness and their desire to reach Sahasrara [Considered to be pure consciousness].

History

The cakras are thought to have origins in the later Upanisads (Mookerjee 24), specifically the Brahma Upanisad and the Yogatattva Upanisad. The earliest Upanisads originated in the eight century BCE, with over 100 different “lesser upanisads” being written over the following several hundred years (Mangla 249). These writings influenced both Tibetan Buddhism in Vajrayana theory (Feuerstein X), as well as Hinduism through the Tantric Sakta theory of cakras (Radha 25-28). The Sakta theory of the cakras is the primary form that is understood by most western cultures due to the work of Sir John Woodroffe, who went by the alias Arthur Avalon. In 1919, Woodroofe wrote The Serpent Power, a translation and commentary on two primary Indian texts, the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana and the Padaka-Pancaka.

Cakras comes from the Sanskrit, meaning wheel or circle, and is derived from the Aryan’s word for the wheel of their chariots (Feuerstein 47). It represents balance, and often refers to the “wheel of life” (Dharmacakra), as in the Mahabharata’s Aswamedha Parva (Section XLV). The Mahabharata [longest epic in history], an influential text in Hindu culture, was thought to have originated between 200 BCE and 200 CE. It tells the many stories of India, including what Swami Satyananda Saraswati explained as the “wheel of life” (Kumar 9) [“The whole process occurs in continuity, each stage fusing into the next and transforming in a very graduated way. This seems logical when you consider that it is the same consciousness which is undergoing the experience…” “From Mooladhara up to Ajna Chakra, the wareness is experiencing higher things, but it is not free from ego. You cannot transcend ego at the lower points of awakening. It is only when Kundalini reaches ajna chakra that the transcendence begins. This is where the ego is exploded into a million fragments and the ensuing death experience occurs. At this point Savikalpa ends and Nirvikalpa begins. From here, the energies fuse and flow together up to Sahasrara, where enlightenment unfolds.” (Kumar 9)]. When Sat-Cakra-Nirupana and Padaka-Pancaka were written, they explained the cakras as an emanation of consciousness from Brahman. The energy of Brahman comes down to create the specific levels of the cakras, and settles in the Muladhara Cakra until union with Brahman is achieved in the Sahasrara Cakra.

Each cakra has many unique characteristics that make them different from the next. Each level is like a hierarchy that can only be reached by following a path through each cakra. The cakras represent different locations throughout the body. Each location rises up from the next until it reaches the head and above. The cakras also depict any relations to nature and the benefits that this must bring. Each of the individual cakras will be explored on an individual basis in the following sections.

Muladhara

The first cakra is the root or base. It is found at the base of the spine, as it is the foundation of all cakras. Muladhara represents the earth and an orientation towards self-preservation (Woodroffe 115). The relationship between the earth and energy leads to the hypothesis that this region is responsible for the survival instincts (Radha 34). The connection that is created between the individual and their bodies helps to bring health, prosperity, security, and dynamic presence. The Muladhara region is also thought to be the region that controls ejaculation in the sexual act (Johari 51).

Svadhisthana

The second energy along the spine is represented by the element water, which is related to emotional identity and a need for self-gratification (Mangla 183). The energy aids in the connection between individuals through feeling, desire, sensation and movement. The overall fluidity of life is increased by the development of Svadhisthana (Woodroffe 118). This is the first rise in energy in the flow through the cakras.

Manipura

Manipura is the power cakra that is located in the abdomen near the adrenal glands. This cakra is responsible for keeping individuals healthy (Johari 59). It works by representing fire and the need to orient oneself to better achieve success. Manipura allows for the energy required to stay spontaneous and effective. Patanjali argued that this was the cakra that was responsible for the knowledge of the orgasm because this is the cakra of the life force (Mookerjee 40). This control is important, as it is the base of all of the cakras and the origin of all life.

Anahata

The fourth cakra is one of balance and integration (Mangla 185). Anahata is represented by air and self-acceptance. The fourth cakra is considered the heart cakra because it is at the centre of the body’s energies. Anahata is related to love and is responsible for the unity of mind and body, male and female, persona and shadow, ego and unity (Radha 163). Anahata uses its strong positioning to develop along the spine to achieve an elevated level of consciousness. Like the heart is the center of the physical body, Anahata is the center of the cakras.

Visuddha

The fifth cakra is located just prior to the mouth, in the throat. It is responsible for many of the creative steps required to improve the status of a specific individual (Mookerjee 42). There is an overall feeling towards the vibrations that help to orient one’s self with their creative identity or self-expression (Johari 71). These vibrations are also responsible for the production of language and sound that can be used for Mantras.

Ajna

The sixth cakra is the eyebrow cakra. It has light as a symbol in order to help guide the way to a self-reflection (Saraswati 114-122). It works on the skills required to see both physically and intuitively. It allows for an increased level of communication with the God’s, as well as an overall bigger picture to see how to improve the current situation. This is the first level of cakras that is involved with abstract thought and the ability to look back at one’s self (Mookerjee 44).

Sahasrara

The final cakra is the crown cakra, which is considered to be like pure consciousness. It is required to have a high level of awareness, thought and universal identity (Mangla 89-95). By supporting the development of consciousness, the cakra is bringing new knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual connections (Woodroffe 138). This is the location where the paradoxical act of transcendence occurs by passing beyond samsara (Mookerjee 44).

Western Culture

Since the original versions of the Upanisads were written in India, there have been many different adaptations of Indian practices that have been brought to the western world, including the cakras. People have continually attempted to reach higher levels of consciousness through meditation, prayer, and overall lifestyle choices. The presence of higher levels of consciousness, or energy, continues to be found throughout the world. The impact of Indian culture and their traditions is becoming mainstream and is starting to be found in American pop culture (Sharp 84). By gaining an understanding of the history behind these traditions, people can be aware of the impact that these references have on them.

Figure 1: Cakra table depicting the many different aspects of the central body energies. Taken from Kundalini Tantra (Saraswati 401-403)

Cakra

Nature

# of Petals

Color

Location

Gland

Dhatu

Muladhara

root lotus

4

Deep red

Root

Perineal body

Bone

Svadhisthana

one’s own abode

6

Orange-red

Genital

Gonads

Fat

Manipura

city of jewels

10

Yellow

Navel

Adrenal

Flesh

Anahata

Source of unbroken sound

12

Blue

Heart

Thymus

Blood

Visuddha

Center of nectar

16

Purple

Throat

Thyroid

Skin

Ajna

Center of command

2

Clear or grey

Eyebrow

Pineal

Marrow

Sahasrara

Thousand petalled lotus

1000

Red or multi-colored

Crown

Pituitary

Semen (the essence of all others)

Figure 2: Cakra table further depicting the different energy nodes of the body (Meadow 3)

Cakra

Element

Symbol

Altar Offering

Sense

Animal

Deva

Granthi

Muladhara

Earth

Yellow square

Fruit

Smell

Elephant

Ganesa

Brahma

Svadhisthana

Water

Silver/white crescent moon

Water

Taste

Crocodile

Visnu

Manipura

Fire

Red inverted triangle

Flame

Sight

Ram

Rudra

Anahata

Air

Smoky six-pointed star

Incense

Touch

Antelope

Isa

Visnu

Visuddha

Ether

White circle

Flower

Hearing

White Elephant

Sadasiva

Ajna

Mind

Clear/grey circle

Mind

Mind

Paramsiva

Rudra

Sahasrara

Beyond

Beyond

God

Beyond

Siva

Jyotir


References and further reading

Eden, D and Finklestein D (1998) Energy Medicine. New York: Penguin Putman Inc.

Edson, Cynthia (1991) Kundalini: Is it Real? in Journal of Religion and Psychical Research. Vol. 14: No. 1.

Feuerstein, Georg (1998) Tantra: the Path of Ecstacy. New Delhi: Princeton University Press.

Johari, Harish (1987) Chakras. Bombay: India Book Distributors.

Kumar, Ravindra (1994) Journal Back Home-IV: Personality Transformation with Chakras in Journal of Religion and Psychical Research. Vol. 17: No. 4.

Mangla, Dharam Vir (2003) Kundalini and Kriya Yoga. Delhi: Geeta International Publishers and Distributers.

Mazak, Arlene (2002) Animating the Insentient Universe: The Hindu Tantric Yogin as Thaumaturge in Journal of Religion and Psychical Research. Palo Alto: EBSCO Publishing.

Meadow, Mary Jo (1993) Yogic Chakra Symbols: Mirrors of the Human Mind/Heart in Journal of Religion and Health. Vol. 32: No. 1.

Mookerjee, Ajit (1982) Kundalini: the Arousal of the Inner Energy. Delhi: Clarion Books.

Rhada, Swami Sivananda (1978) Kundalini Yoga for the West. Spokane: Timeless Books.

Saraswati, Swami Satyananda (1996) Kundalini Tantra. Munger: Bihar School of Yoga.

Sharp, Michael (2005) Dossier of the Ascension: A Practical Guide to Chakra Activation and Kundalini Awakening. New York: Avatar Publications.

Wauters, A (2002) The Book of Chakras, Discover the Hidden Forces Within You. London: Quatro Inc.

Woodroffe, Sir John (1989) The Serpent Power: Being the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana and Paduka-Pancaka. Madras: Ganesh and Company.

Related Topics of Interest

Muladhara

Svadhisthana

Manipura

Anahata

Visuddha

Ajna

Sahasrara

Prana

Nadis

Brahma Upanisad

Yogatattva Upanisad

Mahabharata Aswamedha Parva

“Wheel of Life”

Tantra

Kundalini

Mantra

Shakti

Woodroffe, Sir John

The Serpent Power

Sat-Cakra-Nirupana

Padaka-Pancaka

Avalon, Arthur

Buddhism

Vajrayana Theory

New Age

Endocrine System

Medulla Oblongata

Spine

Theosophists

Hinduism

Sanskrit

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Noteworthy Websites on the Topic

http://www.sivanandadlshq.org/download/kundalini.htm

http://www.sanatansociety.org/chakras/kundalini_yoga.htm

http://www.cs.utk.edu/~mclennan/BA/JO-TEP.html

http://www.kheper.net/topics/chakras/chakras.htm

http://www.hinduism.co.za/wheelof.htm

http://www.hindunet.org/mahabharata/

http://www.kheper.net/topics/chakras/chakras-Shakta.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakras

http://www.indhistory.com/hinduism.html

http://web.utk.edu/~jftzgrld/MBh1Home.html

http://www.sacredcenters.com/chakras.html

http://www.eclecticenergies.com/chakras/chakratest.php

Written by Aaron Doyle (Spring 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.

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