F A Q
What is kundalini?
“Kundalini” literally means coiling, like a snake. In the classical literature of Hatha yoga kundalini is described as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine. The image of coiling, like a spring, conveys the sense of untapped potential energy.
Perhaps more meaningfully kundalini can be described as a great reservoir of creative energy at the base of the spine.
It’s not useful to sit with our consciousness fixed in our head and think of kundalini as a foreign force running up and down our spine. Unfortunately the serpent image may serve to accentuate this alien nature of the image.
It’s more useful to think of kundalini energy as the very foundation of our consciousness so that when kundalini moves through our bodies our consciousness necessarily changes with it.
The concept of kundalini can also be examined from a strictly psychological perspective. From this perspective kundalini can be thought of as a rich source of psychic or libidinous energy in our unconscious.
In the classical literature of Kashmir Shaivism kundalini is described in three different manifestions.
The first of these is as the universal energy or para-kundalini.
The second of these is as the energizing function of the body-mind complex or prana-kundalini.
The third of these is as consciousness or shakti-kundalini which simultaneously subsumes and intermediates between these two.
Ultimately these three forms are the same but understanding these three different forms will help to understand the differerent manifestations of kundalini.
What is the difference between prana and kundalini? What is the difference between qi (or chi) and kundalini?
First let us try to relate to concepts from the same tradition – prana and kundalini. Prana has been translated as the “vital breath” and “bio-energetic motility”; it is associated with maintaining the functioning of the mind and body.
Kundalini, in its form as prana-kundalini, is identical to prana; however, Kundalini also has a manifestations as consciousness and a as a unifying cosmic energy. One could ascribe these same aspects to prana as well so past a certain point these become distinctions without differences.
From the subjective standpoint of an individual actually experiencing the awakening of kundalini I have found three completely different opinions:
The first opinion is that a pranic awakening is only a prelude to a full kundalini awakening. Tibetan yogins that I have encountered consider the activation of prana (Tibetan: rlung) as merely a prerequisite for the activation of kundalini (Tibetan: gTummo). What’s attractive about this viewpoint is that it explains the difference between the experience of simply having pleasant sensations in the spine and the much more powerful experience of having a “freight-train”-like full kundalini experience.
The second opinion, espoused by Swami Shivom Tirth for example, is that prana and kundalini are absolutely equivalent and that it is not meaningful in any way to describe a difference between kundalini rising and prana rising. When posed with question as to how to distinguish between pleasant sensations that show some pranic-activity in the spine and the much more powerful experience Swami Shivom Tirth said that the difference is not in the nature of the activity but in the consciousness that observes it. If the consciousness that experiences the pranic activity is seated within the spine (or more correctly, the central channel, known as the sushumna), then the experience is felt much more powerfully.
The third opinion, espoused by the modern hatha yogin, Desikaran, is that pranic awakening is the true experience to be aimed for and kundalini is actually an obstruction. Desikaran sees the kundalini as a block in the central channel and thus the kundalini must be “killed” to make way for the prana. This is the most unusual view of the three.
The Chinese concept of qi (or chi) can be safely identified with the Indian concept of prana.
If all this seems confusing – don’t worry, you’re in good company. My conclusion is that these are all different terminologies for dealing with a common set of experiences. Any one of these viewpoints is adequate for describing the full range of experiences. What is probably more relevant is to distinguish two different experiences which are often confused.
In one an individual experiences some pleasant energizing electric energy running along the spine. This experience itself brings about a wide range of experiences and results in vitality and sensitivity.
Another very distinct experience is the experience of kundalini entering the sushumna and rising up the spine. As soon as kundalini enters the sushumna this experience will completely overwhelm ordinary waking consciousness. From the moment that kundalini enters the sushumna there will no longer be a distinction between the subjective consciousness which experiences and the object of experience. This experience much more profoundly transfigures consciousness.
If kundalini is universal, why do some kundalini yogins seem to have more kundalini-energy than others?
It’s an intriguing question. If an individual’s kundalini is viewed as simply a personal reservoir of a cosmic energy then why would one person appear to have more of a reservoir of kundalini energy than another? Nevertheless, this does appear to be the case. This is probably another advantage of the viewpoint that prana (or qi) is the same as kundalini.
Some Chinese texts distinguish between “innate qi” or “pre-natal qi” that one is born with and “cultivated qi” that can be developed. Clearly some people simply have more “innate qi.” This manifests as a stronger more resilient body and greater general vitality.
Through training those that have relatively weak “innate qi” may surpass those who have strong “innate qi” but do not train. There are many stories in the Chinese literature of Qi Gong about people who took up Qi Gong in order to improve their poor health became powerful martial artists or great qi gong masters. Of course those that have strong “innate qi” and also train their qi may develop the strongest qi of all.
What does kundalini have to do with spiritual enlightenment? What is the goal of kundalini yoga?
First we need a few concepts: In yogic anatomy the sushumna is the central channel and conduit for the kundalini energy that runs along our spine and up to the crown of our head.
Along this channel are placed additional channel networks called cakras. These cakras are associated with major aspects of our anatomy – for example our throat, heart, solar plexus, and in turn these aspects of our anatomy are related to aspects of our human nature.
According to the literature of kundalini yoga our experience of these centers is limited due to knots which restrict the flow of energy into these centers. Three knots are particularly important.
The knot of Brahma which restricts the center at the base of the spine. The knot of Vishnu which restricts the heart center and the knot of Rudra which restricts the center between the eyebrows.
These knots form an important framework in yogic thinking and the stages toward enlightenment are articulated in terms of breaking through these knots in the yogic classic the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as well as in some of the yoga upanishads. Specifically, four stages of progress are described:
Arambha is associated with breaking the knot of Brahma and the awakening of kundalini.
Ghata is associated with breaking the knot of Vishnu and and with internal absorption.
Parichaya the absorption deepens and in
Nishpatti the knot of Rudra is pierced and the kundalini may ascend to the center at the crown of the head. In this state transcendence is integrated and, according to the yogic literature, the yogi has nothing more to attain.
Putting these elaborate physiological decriptions aside, the goal of kundalini yoga is the same as the goal of any legimitate spiritual practice: To be liberated from the limited bounds of the self-centered and alienated ego. In kundalini yoga this is associated with internal manifestations of the kundalini but the external manifestations should be similar to any other legitimate spiritual practice.
So does everyone agree that kundalini awakening is necessary for enlightenment?
The view that kundalini awakening is necessary for enlightenment is held in the diverse literature of Kashmir Shaivism and in other Hindu Tantric literature. It is found in the literature of the Hatha Yogis and the Nath Sampradaya.
You will find similar views in many Buddhist Tantric works. In addition this view is held by recent spiritual figures such as Shri Ramakrishna, Swami Sivananda, Paramahamsa Yogananda and Swami Vivekananda and of course by contemporary kundalini yogins themselves.
Nevertheless there are some dissenters from this view. These include Sri Chinmoy, Da Free John and Gurdjieff. Dissent can take a number of different forms. For Gurjieff kundalini is associated only with a binding force that leads us to be more attached to the world. Such a view of kundalini is not entirely inaccurate but only reflects the functioning of kundalini in the lower energy centers.
For Sri Chinmoy kundalini is an amplifying function that may make an individual more powerful but not more enlightened. From my perspective this also only addresses the impact of kundalini while it operates in the lower energy centers.
Da Free John (born Franklin Jones, a. k. a. Da Love Ananda) has a much more fundamental criticism of kundalini. As far as I understand his position, for him enlightenment cannot be the result of an experience; it is a cognitive transformation.
Kundalini may evoke a wide variety of experiences but these are not in and of themselves enlightening. This is an interesting perspective but it seems to assume that the raising of kundalini is an experience in which an ego-consciousness experiences a separate object known as kundalini.
Again, this view is consistent with the experience of kundalini in the lower energy centers in which the ego is detached from the movement of kundalini and kundalini experiences are precieved as separate from oneself.
However, I would argue that as kundalini rises the ego-consciousness becomes infused in a more fundamental consciousness of cit-shakti-kundalini and this experience does in fact produce a fundamental cognitive change.
Finally, there are many other spiritual practices, such as Zen, Vipassana meditation that consider kundalini irrelevant. Some practitioners or even teachers of these paths, such as Jiyu Kennet, may have kundalini experiences but generally kundalini is not a pivotal part of these paths.
Can I use kundalini yoga simply to improve my health?
Yoga exercises which were traditionally used to purify the body in preparation for awakening the kundalini can also be used simply to improve the health. To practice techniques aimed at actively awakening kundalini with the goal of simply improving your health seems to be a misuse of these powerful techniques.
There are those that teach kundalini yoga principally emphasizing its benefits on health without much discussion of the spiritual benefits. This is how hatha yoga has been taught in the west for some time. The affect of this approach depends on the attitude of the student.
There is certainly nothing wrong with trying to improve your health but there is a tension between awakening an energy that will ultimately burn up the ego and trying to shape that energy to simply fulfill an ego-oriented motive.
Is there any scientific basis for kundalini and the cakras? Do I really have to believe that all these cakras physically exist?
Research on kundalini is especially spotty. There is no compelling work to show that the system represents insights into actual human anatomy. But it’s important to understand that kundalini and its network of channels and cakras is simply how yogins have chosen to explain their experience and that yogins from many cultures have arrived at similar, though not identical, concepts.
The true physical mechanisms underlying these experiences may be very different from those described. Izaak Benthov has proposed a model to explain kundalini in terms of micro- motion in the brain. In this model experiences are associated with parts of the body, such as the heart, because the part of the brain associated with that part of the body is stimulated by micro-vibrations.
His model is treated in “The Kundalini Experience” by Sannella. From a practical perspective the key thing is our subjective experience and that the roadmap of these subjective experiences has been mapped out.
Is Chinese qi gong a kind of kundalini yoga?
If there is any contemporary teaching that is even more diverse in approach than kundalini yoga it must be qi gong. As a result it is hard to compare kundalini yoga to qi gong. From my limited exposure to qi gong it is clear there are many qi gong practices that are identical to kundalini yoga practices.
What is also clear is that may qi gong practitioners have reported experiences that are identical to those of kundalini yogins. In so far as each of these practices aims at eliminating blocks to the qi/prana energy then they share a common ground.
What about Tibetan Buddhism - has kundalini been known in Tibet?
Kundalini yoga in the Natha Sampradaya and Vajrayana in Tibetan Buddhism both take their origin from the Mahasiddhas who were active in India from the 8th century to the 12th century.
Kundalini yoga practices formed the core of the teachings of a number of these Mahasiddhas and are strongly represented in both Tibetan Buddhist practices and contemporary kundalini yoga practices.
Kundalini yoga was spoken of as “Candali yoga” by these Mahasiddhas and became known as gTummo rnal ‘byor in Tibet. Candali yoga was a key practice of the famous Tibetan yogin Milarepa.
Are there any other traditions that show awareness of kundalini?
If you believe that kundalini is at the basis of spiritual progress then every valid spiritual tradition must have some awareness of kundalini. Christianity (especially Quakerism and Pentecostalism), Sufism, Qabalistic mysticism, alchemy and magick all have literature which demonstrates some awareness of the kundalini process but these traditions are not, to this author’s awareness, so open in their exposition of the techniques and so it is hard to judge the depth of understanding latent in these traditions.
Nevertheless, the imagery is so unmistakable in these traditions that each must have, at least at one time, been conversant with the movement of kundalini.
So how do I awaken kundalini?
Indirectly kundalini can be awakened by devotion, by selfless service, or by intellectual enquiry. In these paths the blocks to the awakening of kundalini are slowly removed. Occasionally, individuals on these paths will experience a sudden awakening of kundalini but generally because the blocks are slowly and gently removed kundalini-like experiences evolve slowly in these paths.
Broadly speaking there are two radically different direct approaches to awakening kundalini. One approach requires initiation by a guru and relies upon a technique called shaktipat, or “descent of shakti.”
It is variously called: Siddha Mahayoga, Kundalini Mahayoga or Sahaja Yoga (Spontaneous Yoga). These approaches are treated in the Siddha Mahayoga FAQ. The other approach uses intentional yogic techniques . The styles using intentional techniques include Mantra Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Laya Yoga or Kriya Yoga. These approaches are treated in the Kundalini Yogas FAQ .
Fundamentally the approach of Siddha Mahayoga and the Kundalini Yogas are different. In Siddha Mahayoga the guru awakens the kundalini and after that the core of the practice is the inactive and non-willful surrender to kundalini. In Kundalini Yogas the will is used to awaken the kundalini and to guide its progress. Clearly these are different approaches.
Nevertheless, elements of the each approach occur in the practices of the other. Siddha Mahayogins may use asanas, pranayamas and other hatha yoga practices. On the other hand gurus in Kundalini Yoga may give infusions of shakti to their students to help them at particular points in their practice.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using effort, in kundalini yogas, as opposed to the grace of the guru, in siddha mahayoga, to awaken kundalini?
Since every practitioner brings his own unique inclinations and obstacles to the practice of yoga it is very hard to generalize on this point. In terms of actually awakening kundalini gurus of Siddha Mahayoga claim that the kundalini is more easily and reliably awakened by the grace of the guru than by individual effort. In my limited experience I would agree. with this assertion.
While not every long-term student of either practice necessarily shows signs of kundalini awakening it is amazing how many people have had instant awakenings of kundalini through initiation from siddha gurus.
In terms of encountering difficulties along the path the siddha gurus would also claim that fewer problems due to kundalini awakening, such as mental imbalance, are encountered by students of Siddha Mahayoga.
Here I think the results are mixed. It seems to me that the guidance of the teacher in either Siddha Mahayoga or Kundalini Yoga is more a determining factor than which style of kundalini practice is employed.
Generally speaking each style of practice has its strengths and weakness. The strength of Siddha Mahayoga is the ease with which it awakens the kundalini. The weakness is that because the kundalini is so easily awakened by the guru students of Siddha Mahayoga often have completely undisciplined personal meditation practices.
Time is spent instead to trying to recreate some of their initial experiences by following the guru around hoping for his or her grace Some people spend 20 or more years in this manner without ever developing an inner core of practice or experience.
The strength of the family of Kundalini Yogas is that the progress is at least apparently more under the control of the student of the yoga. These students seem more likely to have disciplined personal practices and more of an understanding of how the practice relates to their own experience.
Unfortunately for some students this leads to a fairly egotistical approach to their practice and ultimately the kundalini energy is used to bolster the ego rather than to merge the ego in bliss.
What are the signs of an awakened kundalini?
Briefly, according to classical literature the signs of an awakened kundalini can be grouped into: mental signs, vocal signs and physical signs. Mental signs can include visions that range from ecstatically blissful to terrifyingly frightful.
Vocal signs can include spontaneous vocal expressions that range from singing or reciting mantras to make various animals sounds such as growling or chirping. Physical signs include trembling, shaking and spontaneously performing hatha yoga postures and pranayamas.
From a more subjective perspective the more pleasant experiences associated with a kundalini awakening may include: waves of bliss, periods of elation, glimpses of transcendental consciousness.
The less pleasant experiences associated with a kundalini awakening may include: trembling, sharp aches in areas associated with the cakras, periods of irrational anxiety, sudden flashes of heat.
Are these methods of awakening kundalini dangerous? What about Gopi Krishna's books?
If we take the psychological perspective and view kundalini as the power latent in our unconscious then it is easy to understand that awakening this force is going to bring a greater amount of unconscious material into our consciousness.
Even in the best of circumstances this is likely to be uncomfortable and if an individual is barely coping with his unconscious even under normal circumstances then awakening kundalini may push the individual over into psychosis. This phenomenon has been documented many times.
Forceful methods of awakening kundalini pose additional dangers. Because quite forceful methods can be used to awaken kundalini these techniques themselves are potentially physically and mentally disruptive.
An individual named Gopi Krishna awakened his kundalini by doing unguided meditation on his crown cakra. His life after awakening was both blessed by ecstatic bliss and tormented by physical and mental discomfort. Eventually his experience stabilized. He wrote down his experiences in a recently re-released autobiography entitled “Living with Kundalini.”
Gopi Krishna’s autobiography appears to be an honest representation of his experiences but it is only one extreme datapoint in the panorama of experience on kundalini yoga. It represents dangers in forceful unguided practice but it is not representative of a typical practitioner’s experience.
But even if kundalini is dangerous, isn't it a faster way to enlighenment?
First of all it may be useful to observe that there is no technique currently known on earth that appears to be rapidly catapulting large number of individuals toward enlightenment. Because kundalini yogas deal so directly with a powerful enlightening force it seems natural that they would be “faster”, but there appears to be alot of tortoise and hare phenomena at work with newbie kundalini yogins. Many people begin kundalini yogas, have strong initial experiences and then become frightened. Many who persevere through this initial phase become distracted by the energy and focus on temporal and phenomenal applications of the energy.
If my kundalini is awakened will I need to change my lifestyle?
It’s hard to have your cake and eat it too. If you awaken kundalini in order to change and enrich your life it’s reasonable to expect you may need to change your lifestyle as a result. The recommendations of both classical literature and experience is that sleep and diet will need to be moderated otherwise severe discomfort may arise.
Furthermore without moderating sexual activity and physical work it will be hard to experience much success with kundalini. The extent that these elements of your life need to change depends on the nature of the individual.
While genuine mental imbalances arising from kundalini are rare nearly every kundalini yogin will find periods when one needs to be especially sensitive to needs for sleep, quiet and diet.
What is shaktipat?
“Shakti” is another word for kundalini and “pat” means to descend. Shaktipat is a method by which an individual’s kundalini is awakened by the direct intervention of a guru. There are several varieties of shaktipat depending on the facility of the guru and the receptiveness of the disciple.
It is probably not useful to try to resurrect the nine or more classifications of shaktipat used in the classical literature here. Practially speaking shaktipat is known by its results: the awakening of of the student’s kundalini.
There are also a variety of mechanisms for conveying shaktipat. These include: by glance, by word or mantra, by touch or simply by intention.
How does shaktipat work? If kundalini awakening is so important how can someone else do it for you? How could a guru overcome my karma?
Regarding the question as to how a guru is able to overcome the karma of a disciple, some classical scholars have argued that the ability to receive shaktipat is the result of something of a neutralization of positive and negative karmas.
On the other hand, Abhinavagupta examines the paradox inherent in attempting to determine the causal conditions for the descent of grace when it is essentially an act of freedom on the part of the Supreme Lord who is the source of grace.
If shaktipat is a manifestation of grace then why would anyone person experience shaktipat more deeply than another?
These questions deserve deeper enquiry. Although I would claim that what follows reflects the view of any of the aforementioned traditions, I personally find a couple of analogies helpful:
Ordinarily it takes a long time to create a fire by rubbing sticks together but if someone else already has a fire then that fire can be used to ignite another fire. Similarly to make a magnet naturally may require thousands of years but if one already has a magnet then a metal can easily be magnetized using the magnet. Each of these analogies points out that the process of conveying shaktipat depends on both the qualities of the siddha guru (the fire or magnet) and the disciple (the wood or iron). If the siddha guru is more powerful, then the qualities of the disciple may be less. If the siddha guru is less powerful, then the qualities of the disciple must be greater.
Who can give shaktipat?
To continue the analogy, in theory “anyone on fire” can potentially give shaktipat, i.e. anyone who’s kundalini is fully awakened and established. The more relevant question is: “Who should give shaktipat?” There are many opinions on this but at the very least the conveyer of shaktipat should be aware of the movements of shakti in his own body and in the body of the disciple. Giving shaktipat is a science and it is helpful, if not essential, to be instructed in that science. The classical works of Abhinavagupta and the living oral tradition of contemporary masters, such as Swami Shivom Tirth, both indicate that improperly practiced shaktipat initiation can be dangerous both to the disciple to the guru and to the disciple. Using the analogy again, it is easier to light a fire than to light it in such a way that it has a carefully managed burning.
Who can receive shaktipat?
There are even more opinions on this. Some gurus take an attitude of: “Initiate them all and let shakti sort them out.” Traditionally teachers were quite selective about who received shaktipat. Sometimes shaktipat was only given to one or two disciples in a generation. Among gurus these days you can see these two extremes of opinion and many other gradations in between. What is clear that some people who have received shaktipat from well-known gurus have apparently only manifested greater neuroses and unhappiness in their lives as a result. See the questions regarding kriyas below
Are all shaktipat initiations the same?
There are many ways of classifying shaktipat initiations but a method used by Swami Vishnu Tirth is very simple and clear. In shaktopaya initiations the kundalini shakti of the disciple is awakened by the guru.
In shambhavopaya initiations the kundalini shakti of the disciple is awakened and led up through the bodies energy centers bringing a glimpse of the highest realization. Due to the current state of disciples, and contemporary gurus, almost all initiations can be termed shaktopaya initiations.
Some contemporary yoga teachers and gurus lump a wide variety of phenomenon under the term “shaktipat.” For example, I have seen teachers of Kriya Yoga infuse their students with their shakti at various stages of the student’s practice with the purpose of eliminating blocks in the student’s channels.
These teachers called this practice “shaktipat initiation.” According to the tradition of Siddha Mahayoga such infusions are not considered “shaktipat initiations” because neither their aim or their result is to awaken kundalini.
Moreover, the resulting practices are not Siddha Mahayoga because after these infusions of shakti the student returns to their original practice, such as Kriya Yoga.
Can one receive shaktipat just by being in the presence of those with awakened shakti?
There is no doubt that shakti is contagious. The mere presence of a single being whose shakti is strongly active can awaken the shakti of those around him. Similarly being in the presence of many people whose shakti is awakened to some degree can awaken one’s own shakti.
So what happens after shaktipat? What's the practice of Siddha Mahayoga?
The unique perspective of Siddha Mahayoga is that because kundalini is an intelligent force it will, upon awakening, naturally direct the practice of the student.
All that is required is that the student completely surrender to this force. As a result of kundalini’s unfoldment spontaneous purifying movements, called kriyas will occur. In addition the practices of Hatha, Laya and Raja Yoga will naturally manifest.
Because all other yogas naturally manifest as a result of kundalini awakening this yoga is called “Mahayoga” or “great yoga.” Because the kundalini awakening is induced by a perfected individual or “Siddha” this yoga is called “Siddha Mahayoga.” Because all other yogas and their results occur spontaneously (“sahaja”) and without effort this yoga is also called “Sahaja Yoga.”
Even to reach the point of simply surrendering to shakti takes some practice for people. Some aids in cultivating surrender are chanting and selfless service. These practices open the heart and make one more susceptible to the influence of shakti.
What are kriyas?
Kriyas, literally “activities”, are spontaneous movements that occur after kundalini awakening. These include bodily activities such as trembling, shaking and spontaneous yoga postures; vocal activities such as yelling, or spontaneous chanting and mental activities such as visions.
These kriyas eliminate the blocks to kundalini rising within the spine or central channel.
How do kriyas purify one's consciousness?
Blocks, known as samskaras or impressions, do not just obstruct kundalini, but they embody attachments, conceptions and other mental afflictions that limit the freedom of our consciousness.
Left unattended these attachments lead to actions which only reinforce the attachment. For example if we have impressions of anger then we will manifest anger in our activities which only reinforce our impressions.
As kundalini rises it will purify the anger and as a result of the purification process the kriyas will occur. Speaking of kundalini as an intelligent force which manifests its intelligence in particular activities, such as spontaneous yoga postures, to purify the blocks to its progress may sound a little mystical but there is a less mystical way of understanding what that means.
In our common language there are many colloquial phrases which allude to the natural state of our body-mind as being “straight” or “upright” and the unnatural state being “kinky” or “entangled.”
We say positively: “He’s an upright individual.” “She’s as straight as an arrow.” We say negatively: “He’s too kinky. He’s all tangled up in himself.” “She’s tangled up in knots.” There seems to be some subtle awareness of the value of straightness.
So it seems to be a good metaphor to view our mind-body continuum as a garden hose and the kundalini as water running through it. If you have a moderately tangled garden house a simple way of making it straight is to increase the pressure of water through it. As you do so the hose will naturally flip around to straighten itself.
To an observer it might seem as though the hose itself were intelligent in the way it straightens itself and in fact because the motion of the hose is governed by physical laws it does reflect a deep intelligence.
In the same way we don’t need to think of the kundalini as an independent autonomous force cogitating as to what asana, pranayama or verbal activity might purify a block inside us. It seems more useful to think of kundalini as a natural intelligent force whose natural movement untangles the knots which limit its expression.
The garden hose analogy makes another point clear as well. Imagine what happens if the hose is very tangled. Turning up the water pressure may be a very dramatic and perhaps even counter-productive process.
This seems to be what is happening in a number of cases where individuals, after receiving shaktipat, may have severe mental breakdowns. Thus it does seem to be important for individuals to have a certain level of stability and preparation before receiving shaktipat initiation.
Are these kriyas some sort of self-hypnosis or some sort of New Age phenomenon?
This yoga is at least 1000 years old and is documented in the Kularnava Tantra and in the works of the great Tantric scholar Abhinvagupta and particular forms of kriyas can be found there.
Some popular yogis and scholars have doubted the authenticity of this path but none who have done so show any familiarity with the classical literature of this tradition.
This approach has gone under many names such as siddha yoga, sahaja yoga, mahayoga or siddha mahayoga. Similar phenomena to kriyas also occur among some Qi Gong students. Spontaneous trembling, shaking, verbal noises, and body movements are common there as well.
Nevertheless gatherings of siddha mahayoga practicioners share many of the same characteristics of any other group gathering. Some people will try to fit in by emulating the behavior of those around them. There is no doubt that some people may feel the need to affect kriyas and others will accentuate kriyas that they have.
This may not even be conscious behavior. Gurus of this yoga must try to maintain a balance between interfering with the activity of the kundalini as manifested in the kriyas and encouraging the affectation of kriyas because kriyas are seen as “progress.”
Ultimately the validity of any spiritual tradition rests in its ability to transform the beings of its followers. The real value of siddha mahayoga is in transforming the minds of those who practice it.
Haven't a number of well-known teachers criticized kriyas? Don't they say that kundalini is a force that needs control?
Some teachers do speak that way. For example the well known kundalini yoga teacher, Yogi Bhajan, apparently called the process of experiencing kriyas “jerk yoga.”
Tibetan practicioners of gTummo yoga, Indian practicioners of kriya yoga and other noted authorities on the kundalini yoga process have clearly emphasized to me the importance of carefully controlling the kundalini process and not allowing the kundalini to act uncontrollably. Their sincere words cast doubt on my practice for many years.
So why do these teachers say these things?
To be an adept of kundalini yoga practices does not imply that you are omniscient. All the information that people like Yogi Bhajan are really conveying is that in their experience in their style of practicing kundalini yoga the kundalini is controlled.
I do not believe that they have special insight into other alternative ways of approaching the practice of kundalini yoga. Some people have quite frightening movements in meditation and without prior experience of kriyas the natural reaction is that such a person will almost certainly become physically or mentally unstable.
Experienced masters of Siddha Mahayoga, have seen it all before and their simple counsel is: “Do not resist kriyas in any way.”
For the individual who does surrender to the kriyas of kundalini shakti the perspective is radically different from the view espoused by teachers such as Yogi Bhajan.
For the individual who spontaneously and effortlessly performs kriyas such as intricate pranayamas, asanas and bandhas during their meditation the intentional exercises of the Hatha yogin are a merely a clumsy mockery of the subtle activity of kundalini.
In fact some claim that the entire corpus of Hatha yoga, as well as many of the Qi Gong exercises are simply imitations and classifications of the spontaneous movements of the Siddha Mahayogin.
What is the philosophy of Siddha Mahayoga?
Perhaps its best to say that contemporary forms of Siddha Mahayoga have a core of underlying tenets but not a philosophy.
These tenets include: the central role of kundalini in the manifestion of the universe and the evolution of the individual and the culmination of the evolution of the individual in a state of complete unity.
Different teachers have exposited Siddha Mahayoga in different ways. Swami Muktananda drew on a wide variety of Indian literature but principally relied upon the Shiva Sutras, the Spanda Karikas and other literature of the Trika school of Shaivism.
Swami Shivom Tirth has also relied up on the Shiva Sutras to define the different stages of evolution. Both Swami Shivom Tirth and Swami Kriplavananda have used Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras for their elucidation of the states of samadhi.
All of these teachers are quick to note that the use of these scriptures does not imply that Siddha Mahayoga is a form of Hinduism. Instead the emphasis is that each of us has the force of kundalini within us and having awakened the kundalini our life and religious practice will be enriched.
There are really only a few tenets of the practice of siddha mahayoga. The first is that the process begins with shaktipat initiation by the guru.
This initiation may begin with a formal request from the disciple and culminate with a formal initiation ceremony or it may occur informally through a impromptu manifestation of the guru’s grace in intention, glance, word or touch.
Through the initiation the kundalini shakti is awakened and begins to move in the disciple’s body. The practice then consists of deeply surrendering to the spontaneous manifestations of kundalini shakti, as described above.
What is the precise role of the guru in Siddha Mahayoga?
The role of the guru is laid out in the text the Shiva Sutras where it says “gururupaya”; the guru is the means.
Because it is the guru who awakens your kundalini the guru is given great reverence in this tradition. The awakening of kundalini that many people struggle, with effort and danger, to accomplish in a lifetime a true guru can accomplish in a few seconds.
Nevertheless the role of a guru is to awaken the kundalini within you; then the practice takes place between you and your kundalini.
The guru is a facilitator in the process of awakening kundalini not an ongoing intermediary between the disciple and kundalini.
With respect to the guru the classical Shaivist literature takes an especially pragmatic attitude. Classical literature of Shaivism, such as the Shiva Purana, states that if after one year the disciple has not arrived at some direct inner experience through the agency of the guru then there is no fault in seeking another guru.
What I read from this is that this path is not one of years of wondering : “Is something happening?” but a practical approach in which one should, through the grace of the guru, be brought into direct experience of kundalini.
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