Esoteric science is a necessary factor of all viable spiritual traditions: those that truly open the way to higher consciousness, which is the essence and the purpose of evolution. A major part of that science is the knowledge of our spiritual anatomy, our subtle energy levels through which spiritual consciousness can be invoked and expressed. Those levels are like rungs on a ladder leading to higher degrees of consciousness when understood properly.
Yoga, the supreme esoteric/spiritual science, speaks of special channels and centers of life energy in our subtle anatomy. This knowledge is a major factor in the spiritual life and attainment of the yogi. The ancient yogic seers, including the Nath Yogis who claim that Jesus was one of their most revered gurus (see The Christ of India), taught that these channels and centers are means of spiritual realization. The greatest of these yogis, the greatest yogi of all time, was Gorakhnath. Gorakhnath asked his teacher Matsyendranath: “How can a yogi have meditation that goes beyond the physical?” The answer was most relevant to the subject we are considering: “He should meditate within his body to rise above the body” (Gorakh Bodha 99, 100). Later Matsyendranath told him: “To destroy deception or duality one should reside within” (114).
The sole purpose of the cosmos is evolution, and this is especially true of the human body. Though frequently mistaken for an obstacle or distraction by spiritual seekers, the body is a perfect evolution machine when its components are known and worked with. At the same time it is essential for us to know what is significant and what is not, otherwise we can become lost in the complexity of the several energy systems that comprise the human organism. And frankly, although hints of these subtle aspects can be found in several traditions, only the Yoga system is complete in knowledge, understanding and the practical ways of working with them.
The yogic sages have explained the subtle anatomy of a yogi’s bodies which he must refine and evolve to assist in his ultimate liberation. In the twelfth chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda wrote about his guru Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri: “Master numbered many doctors among his disciples. ‘Those who have ferreted out the physical laws can easily investigate the science of the soul,’ he told them. ‘A subtle spiritual mechanism is hidden just behind the bodily structure.’” The internal alchemy of yoga is a process that occurs when the entire internal mechanism (antahkarana) is perfectly synchronized. Then the transmutation is inevitable and the internal mechanism opens the way into the kingdom of heaven: limitless consciousness.
Just as God is embodied in the multilevel manifestation we call creation or the universe, manifesting himself as the physical, astral, and causal cosmos while yet transcending it, in the same way each sentient being is embodied in a universe of his own, exteriorly finite but interiorly infinite. Neither God (the Paramatman) nor the individual spirit (the jivatman) evolve, for they are eternally perfect and unchangeable, but their “bodies” do evolve over ages beyond calculation. The evolution of the cosmic cosmos is consciously intentional, but the evolution of the individual cosmos is subliminal and therefore unconscious until it reaches a point where the individual spirit can comprehend and take charge of it consciously–in other words the point at which it becomes a yogi.
Yoga of both body and mind
There are many Sanskrit words with which the yogi must become conversant. Two are Samskara and Vasana. Samskaras are impressions in the mind, either conscious or subconscious, produced by previous action or experience in this or previous lives. They are propensities of the mental residue of impressions–subliminal activators; prenatal tendencies. A Vasana is a bundle or aggregate of similar samskaras manifesting as subtle desire. It is a tendency created in a person by the doing of an action or by enjoyment which induces the person to repeat the action or to seek a repetition of the enjoyment. A Vasana is a subtle impression in the mind capable of developing itself into action, and is the cause of birth and experience in general–the impression of actions that remains unconsciously in the mind.
One of the most renowned yogis of the twentieth century was Swami (“Papa”) Ramdas of Anandashram (Kanhangad, Kerala). In Gospel of Ramdas he says the following regarding the body, yoga and vasanas.
“Vasanas may be driven out of the mind. But they persist in the body. One whose mind is free from vasanas is said to have manosiddhi; one whose body is free from vasanas is said to have kayasiddhi. One who has kayasiddhi is said to have completely eradicated all his vasanas both from his mind and body. That is perfection in yoga. Some jnanis stop at eradicating the vasanas from the mind and do not care about their ejection from the body. But there are some siddhas who have perfected the body also. By so doing, they say they are divinizing the body. They make the light of the atman permeate the body to such an extent that every particle of the body is made holy and shines with the divine radiance” (p. 374).
“Jnanis stop with the experience of nirvikalpa samadhi and they consider the body and all the universe as illusion or non-existent. Even after the experience of nirvikalpa samadhi, though the mind is free from vasanas, the body is not. Of course, jnanis do not care about it as the body and everything connected with it is unreal. But the yogis are not satisfied with this realization. They make the body also pure and illumined. That is Purna [Full, Complete] Yoga. Then every particle of his body is radiant with spiritual splendor. Now the yogi has attained perfection of the body also, the grandest spiritual experience” (pp. 595, 596).
Chakras and adharas
Just as the outer universe is a complex of many interrelated points such as suns and planets, in the same way the material and subtle bodies of the yogi–which reflect and react on one another–are a network of life energy points known as chakras. Chakras are points in the bodies into which the universal life force (vishwaprana) flows. Without that constant inflow the bodies would become dormant and disintegrate–would die. The chakras are both entrances and exits for the cosmic life power, and points of intelligent direction of the power. There are many subsidiary satellites of the chakras called adharas. Adharas are reservoirs of pranic energies, storage units for the energies that flow into the subtle bodies through the chakras, and therefore can be (and often are) mistaken for a chakra.
In the Bhagavad Gita the human complex is sometimes spoken of as “the city of nine gates” (5:13) referring to the nine major chakras. The Nath Yogi tradition also teaches that there are nine major chakras:
- The Muladhara, located at the base of the spine
- The Swadhishthana, located in the spine a little less than midway between the base of the spine and the area opposite the navel.
- The Manipura, located in the spine at the point opposite the navel.
- The Anahata, located in the spine opposite the midpoint of the sternum bone.
- The Vishuddha chakra, located in the spine opposite the hollow of the throat.
- The Talu chakra, located at the root of the palate (opposite the tip of the nose).
- The Ajna chakra, located at the point between the eyebrows–the “third eye.”
- The Nirvana chakra, located in the midst of the brain: opposite the middle of the forehead, directly beneath the crown of the head.
- The Brahmarandhra chakra, located at the crown of the head.
The nature and function of the nine chakras
1) Base (Muladhara) chakra. The Muladhara chakra deals with the purely physical, atomic structure of the body. Therefore its energies deal with healing, correcting and empowering the very cells and organs of the body. Positive energies of this chakra manifest as insight into all material phenomena and independence of them; negative energies manifest as totally material perceptions and impulses toward avid attachment to material things and disbelief in anything higher than matter.
2) Swadhishthana chakra. The Swadhishthana chakra deals with neurological energies, emotions and desires, including sex/lust. It involves all that is self-centered and egotistical in a person. Through its purification are corrected those areas of our physical and emotional life. It also deals with the fluids in the body including the lymph and blood when there is an abnormality there. Positive energies of this chakra manifest as gentleness, sensitivity to others’ feelings, helpfulness and even self-sacrifice; negative energies manifest as negative emotions such as anger, resentment, hatred, jealousy, envy and–most of all–lust.
3) Navel (Manipura) chakra. The Manipura chakra deals with the metabolism and the assimilative powers of the body. It, too, relates to desires, especially the desire to acquire, control and encompass. It relates to the digestive system as well. So those are the aspects of a person that correction of this chakra can affect. Positive energies of this chakra manifest as strength of will and purpose and a highly developed sense of order and right conduct; negative energies manifest as greed, possessiveness, negative ambition and materialistic involvements.
4) Heart (Anahata) chakra. The Anahata chakra deals with metabolism and controls the cardio-pulmonary system. It too deals with feelings, but feelings of higher affection and altruism. (It is still in the lower levels, so do not mistake its movements for true or spiritual love or devotion to God.) It also deals with the faculty of sight and therefore basic perception as well as lesser intuition. It has a lot to do with the immune and circulatory systems and controls the thymus gland in the center of the chest. Positive energies of this chakra manifest as loving-kindness, generosity, and unselfish actions for the benefit of others; negative energies manifest as the desire to dominate others and to use them for selfish advantage.
5) Throat (Vishuddha) chakra. The Vishuddha chakra deals with intellectual development and the power of speech. The thyroid is controlled by it also. The will is also involved to some extent. Higher intuition comes into play here to some extent, as well. Positive energies of this chakra manifest as wise, uplifting and healing speech, words that have the power to manifest what is being spoken; negative energies manifest as foolish, meaningless words, lies, manipulative and negative, harmful speech.
6) Talu chakra. The Talu chakra is a kind of switching station as on a railway. Subtle transmuting energies and the Kundalini move up the spine from the Muladhara to the Vishuddha chakra. Then they need to move forward and reach the Ajna chakra. In the centuries since knowledge of the Talu chakra was almost lost, sadhakas throughout India have expressed frustration with the fact that the energies rise to the Vishuddha and will not move to the Ajna. This is because the way the subtle bodies are constituted the Talu chakra must be prepared and activated before the energies can move forward to the front of the head. But that has usually not been known. I personally have heard of several people making this complaint and known one man who sought advice from many renowned yogis over the years but received no help.
7) Third eye (Ajna) chakra. The Ajna chakra controls, coordinates and partakes of all the functions of those beneath it. It particularly deals with spiritual intuition and spiritual will. Positive energies of this chakra manifest as clear intuition, spiritual perceptions and spiritual will power; negative energies manifest as chaotic or negative psychic experiences as well as whimsical, capricious and negative applications of will.
8) Nirvana chakra. The Nirvana chakra is the center in which liberation (moksha) is attained and experienced. Without knowledge of this chakra there is a problem in the liberating energies moving from the front of the head back and upward to the Brahmarandhra chakra through which the yogi’s spirit rises to merge with the Absolute. Like the Talu chakra, the Nirvana chakra must be prepared and activated before the energies can so move. The Nirvana Chakra is also called the Jalandhara chakra. Jalandhara means “Holder of the Net” in the sense of perfect mastery of both the subtle energy network of nadis and chakras and of samsara itself, the “net” in which all sentient beings are caught until the Nirvana Chakra is reached in full awareness. Jalandhara also means: “holder of the aggregation,” as it also controls the seven chakras beneath it.
9) Brahmarandhra (Crown) chakra. The energies of the Sushumna crown chakra are purely spiritual and unconditioned by any influences other than our finite spirit and the Infinite Spirit from which we derive our very existence. So there is never any trouble there. It need only be reached and empowered by the Kundalini to establish the precedence of these holy powers over the lower levels of our existence.
These nine chakras are the actual nine gates of the body spoken about in the ancient scriptures (see Bhagavad Gita 5:13), not the nine openings found in the body. The nine chakras are major factors in the subtle energy system of a human being, the ruling power centers, though there are a great number of minor chakras throughout the gross and subtle bodies of each one of us.
I have presented all the foregoing so you will know that the Nath Yogis are very conversant with the chakras, and if you experience any of them, or the adharas, you will understand what your are perceiving. However there is no need to work with any of them, because during the practice of Soham Yoga, every chakra and nadi are affected and glow with subtle light. As the process continues, they increase in brightness and begin to develop as a seed does when exposed to heat and light. The same is true of every cell and every atom in the yogi’s being on all levels, physical, astral and causal.
The Sahasrara Chakra
According to the Nath Yogi tradition, however, the supreme chakra is the Sahasrara chakra, which contains the ajna, nirvana and brahmarandhra chakras, and corresponds to the astral and causal brain, and is the center of Soham Yoga practice.
Although there are numberless chakras, only one, the Sahasrara Chakra, the Thousand-petalled Lotus in the head, need occupy the Soham yogi’s attention, because according to the Nath Yogi tradition all the chakras beneath it in the body are only subsidiary reflections of the subtle chakras located in the Sahasrara itself. The Sahasrara chakra contains reflex points that control every aspect of the yogi’s physical, astral and causal makeup. Consequently the yogi’s attention is naturally and spontaneously oriented toward the Sahasrara by the japa and meditation of Soham.
Since we are essentially consciousness, authentic yoga deals directly with consciousness. And when we speak of consciousness we do not mean “consciousness of spirit,” as though spirit were an object and consciousness of spirit only a condition of awareness, but we mean spirit itself which is consciousness, the eternal subject. In yoga treatises we frequently encounter the term “Chidakasha,” which means “the Space (Ether) of Consciousness.” This is the level of existence and consciousness so pure and subtle, so interwoven with Spirit, that it is indistinguishable from Spirit, which is why the yogis say that the spirit-Self dwells in the Chidakasha and is the Chidakasha.
The Sahasrara Chakra is the place where individual consciousness and Cosmic Consciousness meet and are one. Everything is there. The individual complex of each person originates in the Sahasrara, and the Sahasrara itself is a map or miniature of the cosmos–physical, astral, and causal. It is the dwelling place of Pure Consciousness: Spirit, both individual and cosmic. Consequently, liberation is experienced in the Sahasrara. The process of Soham meditation takes place throughout the body, but predominantly within the Sahasrara since it is the seat of the spirit-Self. For this reason, even though in Soham meditation we do not usually deliberately put our attention on any particular point in the body, at the beginning of meditation, and sometimes during meditation if our attention drifts, it is good to make ourselves gently aware of the entire brain area for the space of a few Soham breaths, and then let it go and proceed to meditate in the usual manner. We can also do the same outside meditation, as well.
It is the Paradise from which we fell into material consciousness and to which we must be restored through yoga. The Sahasrara is the true Sukhavati, the Pure Land, the abode of the Buddha of Infinite Light (Amitabha), a personification of the Chidakasha. This is why Gajanana Maharaj said that when through Soham the mind is turned inward, “all ideas become merged in the Sahasrara.” That is, the yogi’s entire consciousness becomes centered there. Gorakhnath described it as when “the current of consciousness comes to dwell in the Sahasrara lotus and is illuminated with the radiance of the Self.” In the esoteric writings of both Hinduism and Buddhism we find references to “the jewel in the lotus.” The lotus is the Sahasrara and the awakened consciousness of the yogi is the jewel. As Blavatsky wrote in The Secret Doctrine: “Each of us has within himself the ‘Jewel in the Lotus,’ call it Padmapani, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, or whatever name we may give to our Divine Self.”
The Bhagavad Gita says in the beginning of the fifteenth chapter that the entire field of relative existence is like a tree whose roots are above and whose branches and leaves are below in the material world. This is not only true of the macrocosm, but also of each one of us that are microcosms–reflections of the macrocosm. Our “roots” are in our brain, the Sahasrara, and our body, limbs, and senses are the trunk, branches, and leaves. The indwelling consciousness of the Sahasrara is literally the taproot into the Infinite, the gateway of higher consciousness, both ascending and descending. The subtle energies of the higher planes flow into the Sahasrara, and through it into the entire body, making it the origin and seat of all supernatural experiences and abilities as well as the point of communication with higher planes and higher consciousness.
Awareness of the Sahasrara is spiritual consciousness itself. From the enlivened Sahasrara the sacred light and power of Spirit will flow into every cell of every level of our being.
Soham is the bija (seed) mantra of the Sahasrara Chakra, and directly awakens and develops it. Therefore by intoning Soham in time with the breath we activate literally thousands of channels in the physical and subtle bodies known as nadis, causing the life force to spontaneously, effortlessly, flow upward into the thousand-petalled lotus of the brain (Sahasrara Chakra) and merge into the Divine Light within the Sahasrara that is the essence of Soham. This all happens naturally and spontaneously when we intone Soham in time with the breath. As just said before, it can be helpful to sometimes intentionally put our attention on the brain area, the Sahasrara, and feel and hear our intonations of Soham vibrating there. But it must be a very gentle and light attention, because any strain might cause a headache, and after a few breaths, it is good to go back to simple awareness of the breath and the sound of inwardly intoning Soham after a while.
As cited in the previous chapter, Swami Muktananda Paramahansa wrote: “[The Guru Gita] speaks of a mantra in the Sahasrara, at the crown of the head. Inside there is a triangle [trikuti] and there are two syllables, So and Ham, and the mantra Soham arises from there. Right in the center of this triangle the guru dwells” (From the Finite to the Infinite, p. 307). The trikuti is also called “the feet of the Guru” who is God, So and Ham being the two feet. There he also said: “The Guru is always immersed in Soham. When the disciple becomes that Soham, he is a true disciple” (From the Finite to the Infinite, p. 285).
Various texts inform us that both Soham and the breath arise directly from our spirit-consciousness. For this reason in Soham Yoga we join intonations of Soham to the breath. Experiencing our inmost consciousness to greater and greater degrees within meditation is the the beginning of Cosmic Consciousness. The more we meditate, the higher and higher and further and further we penetrate into the Infinite Consciousness of which we are an eternal part. Those who through Soham Yoga continually attune and merge their consciousness in this way with the Sahasrara will in time become totally identified with the individual spirit-Self and with the Supreme Spirit. In time every single intonation of Soham vibrates throughout our entire being, within each atom of our existence.
Ida, Pingala, Sushumna and Soham
In the spine there are three major passages or nadis through which life energy and the Kundalini move upward and downward. The one on the left of the spine is known as the Ida, the one on the right as the Pingala, and the one in the center is the Sushumna. Life force, the prana, moves downward in the Ida and upward in the Pingala. Kundalini, however, moves upward in the Sushumna.
We do not awaken Kundalini–it awakens us. In the same way we need not open the Sushumna, for if the Sushumna was not open we would either be a vegetable or dead. Neither is there a need to deliberately “raise” the Kundalini, because the evolving life force of Kundalini always moves upward in the Sushumna, though in many people it is so minimal and slow that it has very little observable effect. But whenever there is creativity or intelligence manifesting in a human being–and most of all when there is spiritual inspiration or insight–it is being produced by the upward flow of the Kundalini in the Sushumna.
The rate of ascent and the volume of the Kundalini’s rising is according to the evolutionary development of the individual and the condition of his bodies, gross and subtle. We accelerate the function of the Sushumna and Kundalini through the repetition of Soham in time with the breath. When So is mentally intoned, the Pingala, the nadi to the right of the Sushumna, is stimulated, and when Ham is intoned the Ida, the nadi to the left of the Sushumna, is stimulated and the subtle life force flows through them continuously. The continual repetition of Soham, even outside meditation, causes these two channels to flow smoothly, fully, and in harmony. When they are in perfect synchronization, the flow of life force in the Sushumna is greatly enhanced and unhindered–so much so that the Yoga Shikha Upanishad says that Soham “is chanted in the Sushumna…. This chanting of the mantra ‘Soham’ is called Mantra Yoga.” Although Soham affects the Ida and Pingala, its main effect and purpose is the stimulation of the Sushumna and the increase of Kundalini activity within it. There is no need to imagine or try to produce or feel or increase the stimulation, because it occurs automatically at the inner intonations of the mantric syllables.
Gorakhnath wrote about it this way: “The Sun rises in the Sushumna, and the current of consciousness comes to dwell in the Sahasrara lotus and the bhramargufa [Sahasrara] is illuminated with the radiance of the Self.”
Kundalini and Soham
“The life-sustaining gayatri [Soham] is born from the kundalini. He who knows this knowledge of the life force, the great science, is a knower of the Vedas” (Goraksha Paddhati 1.46). “This cosmic Shakti exists in the individual bodies of all breathing creatures (Prani) in the form of Kundalini (Kundalirupa)” (Arthur Avalon, The Garland of Letters, p. 113). According to various scriptures and writings of master yogis, Soham is inherent in all things as the force–the KulaKundalini–that points them to the Goal and moves them along toward the Goal. We intone Soham to put ourselves and our bodies back into harmony with the innate evolutionary impulse of the universe–with Soham–and attune them to the Kundalini that flows in response to our intonations of Soham in time with the breath. In this way we clear the pathway for the rising Kundalini from the Muladhara to the Brahmarandhra.
What is Kundalini? Actually, it is quite a simple thing: it is the evolving power inherent in the universe and in all forms of life: Soham. It is the Kundalini that functions in the chakras and the subtle channels that connect them known as nadis. It is only the mode of movement that varies in them. Kundalini in no way “sleeps” and does not need awakening–only a clearing of the way for its perfect functioning. It pervades everything and is active in everything. Ultimately it is seen to be the universe and that which transcends the universe.
Kundalini is not energy in essence, but consciousness. However, when consciousness moves it is seen as energy. As Gorakhnath explained at length, Shakti (Energy) is really Shiva (Consciousness) acting in a dynamic way. This is a profound and essential truth which must be grasped by the yogi. Kundalini is the Living God in whom we live, move, and have our being. The essential sound-form (vachaka or mantra) of Kundalini is Soham. As the Yoga Chudamani Upanishad says: “This Ajapa Gayatri which rises from the Kundalini supports the soul. This is the greatest among the sciences of the soul” (Yoga Chudamani Upanishad 35). Ajapa is the natural japa (mantric sounds) made by the breath as it flows in and out: Soham. Gayatri is a mantra invoking the powers of evolution and enlightenment.
Soham is the original extension or emanation of Kundalini, which is both mula prakriti, root-energy, and mula chaitanya, root-consciousness. Therefore Gorakhnath says in the Goraksha Sataka: “The [ajapa] gayatri is sprung from Kundalini and supports the breath [prana]. Knowledge of the breath is the great knowledge [mahavidya]. He who attains the knowledge of this ajapa-gayatri is truly the knower of yoga. Wisdom equal to this, japa equal to this, knowledge equal to this, have never been and will never be” (46). This is in contrast to those who consider the breath to be an obstacle to realization and the cause of restlessness. It is not the breath itself but the breath in a state of distortion and disharmony that produces the trouble. Certainly, without the breath nothing can be accomplished by the yogi. Correction of the breath through Soham is a fundamental step in yoga practice.
The rising of Kundalini is a matter of consciousness and not energy. When the Kundalini rises the consciousness expands, unfolds, and evolves. Soham japa and meditation remove all blockages in the subtle channels (nadis) of the subtle bodies, and cause the bodies themselves to vibrate to Soham as their fundamental frequency. Just as Soham pervades the physical, astral, and causal creation, so the vibrations of Soham pervade all our bodies, awakening and evolving them. Soham Yoga is Kundalini Yoga, pure and simple.
As already stated, during the practice of Soham Yoga, every chakra and nadi is affected and glows with subtle light. As the process continues, they increase in brightness and begin to develop as a seed does when exposed to heat and light. The same is true of every cell and every atom in the yogi’s being on all levels, physical, astral and causal. Consequently we may experience these changes in meditation, but we should let awareness of them arise and subside spontaneously during the japa and meditation of Soham. Otherwise we confine and limit their effects within us.
Chapters in the Soham Yoga, the Yoga of the Self:
- Preface to Soham Yoga
- Chapter One in Soham Yoga: Yoga
- Chapter Two: The Practice of Soham Yoga Meditation
- Chapter Three: Soham According to the Scriptures and the Masters of Yoga
- Chapter Four: The Yogi’s Subtle Anatomy
- Chapter Five: Points For Successful Meditation and Its Purpose and Philosophy
- Chapter Six: The Foundations of Yoga
- Afterword: It Can Be Done
- Appendix One: Spiritual Wisdom of Sri Gajanana Maharaj
- Appendix two: Breath And Sound In Meditation
- Appendix Three: Jesus, a Nath Yogi
- Soham Yoga Meditation Glossary
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