Saturday, August 14, 2010
CROSS-CULTURAL ASPECTS OF KUNDALINI
Katz (1973) writes of the !Kung people of the Kalahari Desert in Northwest Botswana, Africa, who dance for many hours to “heat” up the n/um so that the !kia state can be attained. He notes that n/um is analogous to the kundalini state. !K•ia is the state of transcendence. It is more than a peak experience of going beyond the ordinary self; !kia is like Satori, participation in eternity. Education for transcendence teaches the adept the way to stir up the n/um and how the threshold of fear can be crossed into the !kia state. The n/um is said to reside in the pit of the stomach. As it warms up, it rises from the base of the spine to the skull where then !kia occurs.
According to the report of a tribesman:
You dance, dance, dance, dance. Then n/urn lifts you in your belly and lifts you in your back, and then you start to shiver. N/urn rnakes you trernble; it’s hot. Your eyes are open but you don’t look around; you hold your eyes still and look straight ahead. But when you get into !kia, you’re looking around because you see everything, because you see what’s troubling everybody...Rapid shallow breathing, that’s what draws n/urn up...then n/urn enters every part of your body, right to the tip of your feet and even your hair.
In your backbone you feel a pointed sornething, and it works its way up. Then the base of your spine is tingling, tingling, tingling, tingling, tingling, tingling, tingling...and then it rnakes your thoughts nothing in your head.
The !kia is an intense emotional state. At its height the n/um master practices extraordinary activities such as curing the sick, handling and walking on fire; a master has X-ray vision and may see over great distances, but does not even attempt such activities in his ordinary state.
One master said that when he is in the !kia state, “I can really become myself again”, implying that these unusual activities are the natural right of a person.
Transcending himself, a master is able to contact the super- natural realm and combat the ghosts that cause illness. The struggle with the ghosts is at the heart of the n/um master’s art, skill, and power. Just as at the moment of transcendence fear of dying is overcome so that rebirth may occur, so at the moment of healing the battle with sickness is won.
The sole criterion for determining who becomes a n/um master is the process itself. Every person who experiences n/um and is able to !kia is automatically a n/um master. The more emotional you are and the richer your fantasy life the more apt you are to !kia (transcend). Over half the tribe members can attain this state and !kia seems to run in families.
!kia is painful, fearful, and unpredictable each time it occurs. As in many close Guru relationships the idea is that the teacher puts n/um into the student. The Guru also controls the process so that the excessive fear does not prevent the occurrence of !kia Though originally from the gods, n/um now passes regularly from person to person.
Katz points out that the !Kung seek !kia not only for their own personal enrichment, but to help others. Nor is it cultivated as a long term condition. A tribe member must soon return to an ordinary state and the usual responsibilities. An extended !kia is not seen as a state of grace but as a mistake .!kia is for entering the religious dimension, receiving its nourishment, sharing it in healing, and then to return and live this truth with one’s fellows.
Katz says that there are few teachers among us in the West who can help others toward transcendence, being relatively incomplete beings ourselves. We are at a further disadvantage, operating as we do, without a context that exists culturally to support the idea of education for transcendence.
In the Christian Tradition
Saint Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897) is reported to have undergone sufferings similar to those we have observed (Rohrback, 1963). She was from a middle class French family with happily married parents and four sisters. When she was ten she became a student at a nearby Carmelite convent. A few months after she enrolled she began to have constant headaches. Three months later as she prepared for bed one evening, she began to shiver uncontrollably. These spells continued for a week and were uninfluenced by any treatment. She had no fever and once the shivering was over, it never returned.
A few weeks later she was stricken with a “strange mélange of hallucinations, comas and convulsions”. She appeared to be in delirium, crying out against unseen and terrifying creatures. She tossed violently in bed hitting her head on the bedboards some strange force were assailing her. These “convulsions”, which sometimes resembled the actions of a gymnast, were occasionally so violent that she would be thrown out of bed. There were rotary or tumbling movements of her whole body of which she was incapable when she was
well. For example, she would spring from her knees and stand on her head without using her hands.
Later, while at Mass, she had a more severe attack which terminated upon her praying earnestly. In all, this whole illness lasted less than two months. Later, two more incidents occurred; fainting and rigidity which lasted for only a few moments. Throughout all this, Therese said she never lost awareness, even during the “fainting”, but that she had no control over her actions.
She was attended regularly by a competent physician who was unable to help her and frankly admitted to being confused by her symptoms. He was very firm in his statement that “it was not hysteria”.
Heat Manifestations in Different Cultures
Heat is one of the more easily observed and measured manifestations that may accompany an active kundalini state. Two examples from the Sufi literature are worth noting (Bhavan, 1971).
Then the saint came to take a meal, and the girl was pouring water on his hands. She noticed that so intense was the fire of separation burning in him that immediately the water would fall on his hands it would pass into vapor.
By troth I see, as the physician tries to touch my hand, his hand is burnt and patches and swellings immediately appear on it. Such is the heat of the fire of separation. He alone knoweth my condition who hath endured such pain cheerfully when it fell to his lot.
Tony Agpaoa (1974), a Phillippine psychic surgeon who has received much notoriety, said that he learned to ignite fires by mental means as part of his training as a healer. Swami Muktananda (1975) said that this ability is part of the training in certain yogic disciplines. The widespread tradition of objective heat manifestation adds credence to similar manifestations in our own cases.
In recent times many instances of paranormal spontaneous combustion have been well documented. There are many cases in the literature. I will note one of these, and report my own experience. H. Andrade (1975) reports that many fires occurred spontaneously in a case he investigated and that some of them were witnessed by police officers.
I spent two years investigating a poltergeist case where fires broke out frequently (Morris, 1974). The situation was emotionally and religiously complicated. It involved a Jewish and a Catholic family with intermarriage between them. When a son was born to the young Jewish man and Catholic woman, the poltergeist activity started with the events centering around the baby, symbols of the marriage, and religious artifacts.
Soon the young man decided to convert to Catholicism. This, together with the poltergeist activity itself, threw the families into great turmoil. All the family members of four generations and
several other people experienced the movement of objects, their disappearance, and spontaneous fires. The young couple suffered sensations of being struck, shaken, scratched, and choked. The mother was struck and knocked unconscious one evening and had to be hospitalized.
There were a number of spontaneous fires witnessed by family member and by several investigators. My first experience occurred one evening when the grandfather went into the bedroom to check on the baby and found the curtains ablaze. He and I burned our hands slightly in putting the fire out. I was present when several other small fires broke out.
This is a possible example of how pent-up energy can express itself objectively at a distance. After the young man converted to Catholism, avidly invested his energy in the Church, and secured an official exorcism, the phenomena ceased.
In the Orient
In the Chinese Taoist tradition (Luk, 1972), after one has learned to achieve stillness of mind, hitherto dormant excellent qualities will manifest themselves. The vital principle, prana, now sufficiently accumulated in the lower belly, bursts out and begins to flow in the main psychic channels of the body causing involuntary movements. Also, eight physical sensations are produced: pain, itching, coldness, warmth, weightlessness, heaviness, roughness, and smoothness.
The vital element is hot, and not only spreads its warmth to parts of the body, but may even become bright and perceptible to the meditator. In exceptional meditators it causes illumination of a dark room perceptible to others. When the vital principle flows into obstructed psychic centers it is quite unpleasant, causing feelings of roughness, cramping and pain.
Luk reports Yin Shih Tsu as writing in 1914 that he felt heat
going from the base of his spine to the top of his head, then down over his face and throat to his stomach. His whole body turned and twisted and he saw a variety of internal lights. He had headaches and one time his head felt swollen. The upper part of his body seemed to stretch so that he felt ten feet tall. This is spoken of as the Great Body in Buddhist scriptures.
Yin Shih Tsu said that he did not feel all these things at one time but a few at different times in his meditative experiences. Sometimes the circulating heat felt more like vibrations following the described path. Once, for a period of six months, he experienced nightly involuntary yogic postures that occurred in an orderly sequence.
In the Korean Zen experience this same progression of sensation is reported. Seo (1974) said that the chi energy travels up the body, especially the back, then over the top of the head to the face, finally passing down through the throat to terminate in the abdomen.
In one modern esoteric school, Arica, the uroboros, or snake swallowing its tail is an exercise in which energy is seen to be generated in the lower abdomen directed by the breathing. On inhalation one focuses on the perineal area, first sensing, then directing the energy up the spine to the back of the head. Then it curves over the skull, and with the expired breath begins its downward path. I goes through the center of the head to the forehead where it splits at the eyes and goes down the sides of the nose and upper lip to meet at the chin. (A similar splitting occurs in the Korean Zen teaching and in the ancient Egyptian symbol of the eye of Osiris.) From the chin it continues down the front of the throat through the breastbone to end in the lower abdomen. The purpose of the exercise is to “see” a light in the head.
Some Classical Yoga Accounts
Swami Narayanananda (1960) reports on the experience of kundalini:
There is a burning up the back and over the whole body. Kundalini’s entrance into Sushumna (the central spinal canal) occurs with pain in the back One feels a creeping sensation from the toes and sometimes it shakes the whole body. The rising is felt like that of an ant creeping up slowly over the body towards the head. Its ascent is felt like the wiggling of a snake or a bird hopping from place to place.
The translator of Ramakrishna’s biography, Nikkhilananda, describes the experience in strikingly similar words. In Joseph Campbell’s (1974) book, A Mythic Image, we read on page 306:
Now there was in the last century a great Indian saint, Ramakrishna (1836-1886), who in the practices of this yoga was a veritable virtuso. “There are”, he once told his devotees, “five kinds of samadhi;” five kinds, that is to say, of spiritual rapture.
In these samadhis one feels the sensation of the Spiritual Current to be like the movement of an ant, a fish, a monkey, a bird, or a serpent.
Sometimes the Spiritual Current rises through the spine, crawling like an ant. Sometimes, in samadhi, the soul swims joyfully in the ocean of divine ecstasy, like a fish. Sometimes, when I lie down on my side, I feel the Spiritual Current pushing me like a monkey and playing with me joyfully. I remain still. That Current, like a monkey, suddenly with one jump reaches the Sahasrar. That is why you see me jump up with a start. Sometimes, again, the Spiritual Current rises like a bird hopping from one branch to another. The place where it rests feels like fire. Sometimes the Spiritual Current moves up like a snake. Going in a zigzag way, at last it reaches the head and I go into samadhi. A man’s spiritual consciousness is not awakened unless his Kundalini is aroused.
The great work by Swami Vishnu Tirtha (1962) builds an excellent bridge between the classicists and moderns in the yoga tradition. In one small volume this holy man categorizes the signs of an early awakening in a most personal and picturesque fashion. All of the different sense systems are covered as well as the motor and other manifestations also. The more intimate personal accounts of Gopi Krishna and Muktananda seem to spring naturally from his fresh approach.
Also in the kundalini yoga tradition, Swami Muktananda (1974) has recently published an autobiography rich in description of sensations, involuntary movements, flows of energy through the body, unusual breathing patterns, inner lights and sounds, formed visions and voices, and many other extraordinary experiences.
He says, “My body was heated up and my head became heavy...the spinal base was rent with pain.
He assumed involuntary yogic positions and his body became stiff as a board. He smelled perfumes during meditation, and he tasted nectar. He heard sounds of ocean surf, thunder, brook murmurs, the crackle of fire, drums, conch shell sounds, bells, and bird calls.
In describing one important process he writes, “My eyes gradually rolled up and became centered. Instead of seeing separately,...they saw as one.”
The entire progression, which lasted several years, finally culminated when, he says, he passed beyond all such experiences to become permanently established in the absolute equanimity of the transcendental state.
From a clinical standpoint it is important to note that in the early stages of his kundalini awakening he was often confused and fearful, having no control over his wild body movements, awkward postures, or dazzling lights he saw in his head. At times he believed he was going insane. It is easy to imagine the diagnosis if he had approached a psychiatrist instead of his Guru for help. And yet now these experiences have spontaneously culminated in a state in which he functions very well and is able to help many who come to him.
Another living practitioner of kundalini yoga, Gopi Krishna (1971), has also published an autobiography containing similar kinds of observations.