Kundalini and the Chakras
Excerpts from ‘The Mythic Image’ By: Joseph Campbell
The mind is likened to the surface of a pond rippled by wind…. The idea of yoga is to cause that wind to subside and let the waters return to rest. For when a wind blows and waters stir, the waves break and distort both the light and its reflections, so that all that can be seen are colliding broken forms. Not until the waters will have been stilled, cleansed of stirred-up sediment and made mirror-bright, will the one reflected image appear that on the rippling waves had been broken, that of the clouds and pure sky above, the trees along the shore, and down deep in the still, pure water itself, the sandy bottom and the fish. Then alone will that single image be known of which the wave-borne reflections are but fragments and distortions. And this single image can be likened to that of the Self realised in yoga. It is the Ultimate – the Form of forms – of which the phenomena of this world are but imperfectly seen, ephemeral distortions: the God-form, the Buddha-form, which is truly our own knowledge-form, and with which it is the goal of yoga to unite us.
[Kundalini]… the figure of a coiled female serpent – a serpent goddess not of “gross” but of “subtle” substance – which is to be thought of as residing in a torpid, slumbering state in a subtle centre, the first of seven, near the base of the spine. The aim of the yoga then being to rouse this serpent, lift her head, and bring her up a subtle nerve or channel of the spine to the so-called “thousand-petalled lotus” (sahasrara) at the crown of the head…. She, rising from the lowest to the highest lotus centre, will pass through and wake the five between; and with each waking the psychology and personality of the practitioner will be altogether and fundamentally transformed.
Chakra 1, [RED], Muladhara, the “Root Support”, is located at the base of the spine. The world-view is of uninspired materialism, governed by ‘hard facts’… and the psychology, adequately described in behaviouristic terms, is reactive, not active. There is on this plane no zeal for life, no explicit impulse to expand. There is simply a lethargic avidity in hanging on to existence; and it is this grim grip that must finally be broken so that the spirit may be quit of its dull zeal simply to be….
The first task of the yogi then must be to break at this level the cold dragon grip of his own spiritual lethargy. And to release the jewel-maid, his own shakti, for ascent to those higher spheres where she will become his spiritual teacher and guide to the bliss of an immortal life beyond sleep.
Chakra 2, [ORANGE], Svadhisthana, “Her Special Abode”, is at the level of the genitals. When the Kundalini is active at this level, the whole aim of life is in sex. Not only is every thought and act sexually motivated, either as a means toward sexual ends or as a compensating sublimation of frustrated sexual zeal, but everything seen and heard is interpreted compulsively, both consciously and unconsciously, as symbolic of sexual themes. Psychic energy, that is to say, has the character here of the Freudian libido. Myths, deities, and religious rites are understood and experienced in sexual terms.
Chakra 3, [YELLOW], Manipura, “City of the Shining Jewel”, is located at the level of the navel. Here the energy turns to violence and its aim is to consume, to master, to turn the world into oneself and one’s own. The appropriate Occidental psychology would be Adlerian of the “will to power”: for now even sex becomes an occasion, not of erotic experience, but of achievement, conquest, self-reassurance, and frequently, also, revenge.
All three of these lower chakras are of the modes of man’s living in the world in his naive state, outward turned: the modes of the lovers, the fighters, the builders, the accomplishers. Joys and sorrows on these levels are functions of achievements in the world “out there”, what people think of one, what has been gained, what lost. [These chakra energies are those that we share with the animals. Editor.] A religion operating only on these levels, having little or nothing to do with the fostering of inward, mystical realisations, would hardly merit the name of religion at all. It would be little more than an adjunct to police authority, offering in addition to ethical rules and advice intangible consolations for life’s losses and a promise of future rewards for social duties fulfilled.
Chakra 4, [GREEN], Anahata, meaning “not hit”, is at the level of the heart. It is the beginning of the religious life, the awakening where the new life begins, and its name refers to the sound that is not made by any two things striking together. All sounds that we hear are actually made by two things striking together. It is the sound of the energy of which the universe is a manifestation.
The heart chakra, then is the opening of the spiritual dimension: all is metaphoric of the mystery… When you reach the upper chakras, you don’t do without the first three: survival, sex and power. You don’t destroy the first three floors of a building when you get to the fourth.
Chakra 5, [BLUE], Vishuddha, “Purified”, is at the level of the larynx [throat]. This is the chakra of spiritual effort to hold back the animal system from which the energies come. One has gone through the lower chakras to get to here, but the pelvic chakras have not been rejected. They now have to be turned to a spiritual, rather that physical, aim.
Chakra 6, [INDIGO or PURPLE], Ajna, the lotus of “Command”, located between the eyebrows, is what we would call the chakra of heaven, the highest chakra in the world of incarnate forms… When the Kundalini has reached this point, one beholds God. Any god you have been meditating on or have been taught to revere is the god that will be seen here. This is the highest obstacle for the complete yogi… Meister Eckhart said, “The ultimate leave-taking is the leaving of God for God.”… At Chakra 7, you go past God and are in the transcendent: “Brahman without characteristics”. [The impersonal God, or Great Mystery. Ed.]
Chakra 7, [VIOLET or WHITE], Sahasrara, “Thousand Petalled”, is the lotus at the crown of the head. At this chakra there is no person to be conscious of God. There is only undifferentiated consciousness: the silence [out of which all life comes and returns]. When you hit Chakra 7, you are inert. It is a catatonic knockout, you might say, and you are reduced simply to a thing.
Now as I see it, if you come back down to the heart, to Chakra 4, where spiritual life begins, subject and object are together. Chakra 1 corresponds to 7. The inertia from Chakra 1 sets in when you have hit Chakra 7. Chakra 2 corresponds to 6. Chakra 3 corresponds to 5. You are then able to take the war energy from Chakra 3 and practice self control in Chakra 5. So you can bend things at Chakra 4.
For example, through the experiences of Chakra 2, if they are of love, you are really experiencing the grace of God in Chakra 6. You transmute the lust energy of Chakra 2 into love. If there has been no experience of the discipline of Chakra 5, you’ll never get an inkling of what it is you are to be experiencing through the physical [act]. If in your physical love, you can realise that what you are touching is the grace of the divine in its proper form for you, this is a translation of carnal adventure into the spiritual, without the loss of the carnal. The two are together. You are then beholding the god as in Chakra 6 and experiencing the beloved as a manifestation of that divine power, that love which informs the world.