About Kundalini

The phenomena of kundalini awakening is a concept derived from Tantric yoga and is part of a rich theory describing what is usually termed the "human subtle anatomy". The idea of "subtle anatomy" is that there are aspects to human anatomy that are not physical and that cannot be perceived with the physical senses. Included here are ideas of chi and prana (also called "vital energy" or "etheric energy" by Western authors [1] ), meridians (which are the basis for acupuncture [2] ), nadis, chakras and kundalini. Kundalini is a component of the human subtle anatomy [3] . According to Tantric theory, and bodies of thought derived from it, there is within the subtle body, in a region corresponding to the base of the spine, a latent "energy" - the kundalini- that, when brought into manifestation confers both enlightenment (i.e. mystical experience) and a variety of psychic powers to the aspirant [4] .

The idea of kundalini is almost always discussed in the context of the chakra system. The chakras are revolving vortexes, depicted as flower-like in appearance, at specific locations along the spinal axis within the subtle body [2,4]. For our purposes here it is enough to say that awakening of the kundalini means the progressive ascent of the kundalini through each of the chakras, heightening the activity of that chakra and conferring expanded abilities (i.e. psychic powers and states of health) associated with that chakra. The topic of the chakras, their description, anatomy and functions is complex and the interested reader can consult a number of valuable references on chakras and kundalini [1-4] for further information.

The manifestation of the kundalini is called the "awakening" of the kundalini to stress that it is latent and must be made active. The traditional means by which kundalini is awakened involve a variety of yoga exercises passed down through the centuries including specific breath exercises and purificatory rites [5, 6]. However, it is also known that acts such as falling or getting hit on the head may trigger spontaneous kundalini awakening [4], and as well, certain drugs are known to mimic aspects of the kundalini experience [4]. This idea that drugs may mimic kundalini is of course the central thesis of this report.

The phenomenology of awakened kundalini is listed in Table 1: Effects of Kundalini [based on White (1990) and Mookerjee (1986)]. Kundalini awakening encompasses the whole gamut of personal human experience: there are alterations at physiological, sensory, emotional, cognitive and spiritual levels. The changes produced by awakened kundalini are so drastic from our usual states of consciousness that it is reasonable to say that a person undergoing awakened kundalini is experiencing an altered state of consciousness (ASC). The person is undergoing a variety of physiological alterations including sensations of shivers or tremors moving up and down the spine, displaying spontaneous motor movements in the form of dance, hand gestures, or asañas (sitting postures practiced in Hatha yoga), experiencing spontaneous alterations in breathing, may spontaneously cry or laugh (usually unassociated with emotional reactions) and is also experiencing alterations in perception of body temperature. At the sensory level, both audio and visual hallucinations or visions are prominent including visions of extremely beautiful and dynamically moving geometrical figures. Also, kinesthetic and somesthetic sensations (i.e. sensations of body motion and body position, respectively) may be altered such that the person perceives themself as very large or very small. Emotionally, the person is experiencing extremes of emotions: usually either pure bliss and ecstasy or extreme fear. Empathy with others is substantially enhanced. Drastic cognitive alterations also occur. The mind and thought process accelerate greatly, the scope and depth of the thought process expand tremendously and even ordinary objects and events are perceived to have tremendous scope and consequences. Direct intuition completely supersedes ordinary logical thinking and questions that come into the mind are directly answered with clarity and conviction through heightened intuitive processes. As well, a variety of psychic powers may potentially manifest including visions of past lives, clairvoyant visions (which could be classified as visual hallucinations), and clairaudience (audio hallucinations), amongst others.

Finally, the supreme manifestation of kundalini awakening, and the formal and proper goal of the practices leading to kundalini awakening, is the experience of enlightenment, also called satori, cosmic consciousness, or the mystical experience. Enlightenment is a direct apprehension of the unity of the cosmos, a direct apprehension and identification with the transcendental essence of life and consciousness. Its essence is a "direct knowing" and a clear comprehension into "the scheme of things". Enlightenment has been an aspect of Eastern religious thought since the beginning of known history and plays as central a role in Tantric theory as it does in any other aspect of Eastern thought.

The list in the Table: Effects of Kundalini presents a broad overview, or composite, of the phenomenology associated with kundalini awakening. It is important to point out that not all of these effects will necessarily be experienced by one undergoing kundalini awakening, and that the effects that do manifest are highly dependant on the internal psychological and emotional needs of the individual.

It is clear that the awakening of the kundalini is not a series of a few small alterations in consciousness, but involves a global transformation of the entire person. The resulting state may be properly called one of hyper-awareness. As such, the fact that the kundalini experience exists at all indicates that we are dealing with an emergent property, or quality of consciousness, that results from a hyper-activation of all the systems of the body and mind. This is not a state familiar to most people. It is not even a state familiar to most people who practice kundalini yoga. We are thus dealing with an altered state of consciousness that occurs relatively infrequently. The implication here is that, if indeed the kundalini experience is a hyperactive state of awareness, then we cannot rightly judge it by criteria used to ascertain our normal and usual states of awareness. In other words, to attempt to understand the kundalini experience, we are forced to go beyond our ordinary notions of consciousness and human nature. If we do not, then we miss the most significant aspects of the kundalini phenomena.

It should be explicitly stated that the stages leading up to kundalini awakening, as well as the experience itself, may potentially be very painful and even harmful to the individual. All texts on kundalini yoga warn of these dangers [3-6]. The purificatory rites and practices are considered an essential aspect of kundalini yoga and cannot be lightly dismissed. The logic of Tantra is that the body, emotions and mind must be properly purified before attempting to awaken the kundalini, for if not, the unpurified body and mind of the person present obstacles to the kundalini itself when it is awakened. The kundalini however will "burn" through these obstacles if present and cause severe pain to the individual at either physical, emotional or cognitive levels. Thus, as enticing as the kundalini experience may sound, it is not something one can casually seek out unless the necessary preparation is undertaken, or unless one decides beforehand to be prepared to suffer the consequences that may come with attempting to tap into the kundalini. As we will see below in tying together kundalini with hallucinogenic drug effects, such consequences usually manifest as the exposure of deep seated emotional scars and the psychological catastrophe of having ones cherished beliefs destroyed before oneself , and possibly, the destruction on one's sense of self (ego loss). In all of these cases, the circumstance is cathartic and related to the kundalini burning away unnecessary residues from consciousness. Though painful, such experiences in the long run are highly therapeutic.

Now, certain Western thinkers, most notably Carl Jung,[7] have looked to these ideas of subtle anatomy, including kundalini, as aspects of the unconscious mind, and as symbolic representations of aspects of the human psyche [8] . Other Western authors have taken the opposite tact and seen Tantric claims of kundalini in purely physical terms. Models have been put forth to explain kundalini in purely physiochemical terms, as for example Bentov's model of "physio-kundalini" [9] (more about this idea in the Discussion section).

Valid as such lines of thought are, they detract from the literal nature of Tantric descriptions. The Tantric teachings are not intended to be symbolic, nor are they describing only physical realities [5]. This author takes a more middle of the line approach and suggests we accept Tantric claims at face value before judging them as either merely symbolic or purely physical phenomena. When we take Tantric claims at face value, and compare these to the known effects of psychedelic drugs, it becomes obvious that the Tantric claims are indeed quite literal. Whether the effects of kundalini (and by extension, psychedelic drugs) are 100% caused by the action of the nervous system remains to be seen.

References for Background/Kundalini Section

1. Powel, A.E. The Etheric Double. Wheaton IL. Quest Books (TPH), 1969.

2. Motoyama, H. Theories Of The Chakras: Bridge To Higher Consciousness. Wheaton, IL: Quest, second printing, 1984.

3 Arundale GS. (1938). Kundalini: An Occult Experience. Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar India.

4. Leadbeater, C.W. The Chakras. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 4th Quest edition, 1985.

5. Woodroffe, Sir John. (1974) The Serpent Power. Ganesh & Co., Madras India.

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

7. Speigelman, JM, and Vasavada AU, (1987). Hindusim and Jungian Psychology. Falcon Press, Phoenix Ar, USA.

8. Mendal A. (1982) DreamBody. Sigo Press, Santa Monica CA.

9. Itzhak Bentov (1990) Micromotion of the body as a factor in the development of the nervous sytem. In : John White (Ed). Kundalini Evolution and Enlightenment (revised ed.). Paragon House. New York.

10. Ajit Mookerjee. (1986) Kundalini The Arousal of the Inner Energy, 3rd ed.. Destiny Books, Rochester Vermont.

11. John White (Ed). (1990) Kundalini Evolution and Enlightenment (revised ed.). Paragon House. New York.