The Concept of Chakras or Energy Centers Of The Human Body
The Sanskrit word chakra or cakra has multiple meanings. It is most commonly used to denote a wheel such as that of a carriage, a potter, any sharp, disc shaped weapon such as that of Vishnu (chakradhara), a circle or a ring, the shape of the sun and the moon, realm of an emperor (chakravarti), a province or district, military formation (Chakravyuha), a whirlpool or a whirlwind (chakravaatam) and the name of a bird (chakravakam). It is pronounced as chuck+rah (cha as in church and kra as crust).
In the ritual and spiritual traditions of Hinduism, chakra is used to denote any phenomenon which has a cyclical or circular motion or aspect to it. For example, it is used to describe the wheel of Time (kala chakra), the wheel of Dharma (dharma chakra), the wheel of life (jivana chakra) and the wheel of creation (srishti chakra). All these are cyclical in nature.
In the Svetasvatara Upanishad, the highest God, Brahman himself is described is described as a wheel (Brahma chakram) because he is the source of order and regularity or the rhythm of things (rta). Kram means order. Chakram denotes the orderly progression of a thing or phenomenon. Therefore, very aptly it symbolizes the idea of Rta or the order and regularity of creation, which is enforced by a set of divine and moral duties, which are collectively known as Dharma.
The significance of Kundalini Chakras
Chakra is also used to denote the energy centers in the spinal region of the body and the mystic diagrams (yantras) which are used in ritual worship. Some traditional sources describe five or seven such chakras and others eight. The Kundalini chakras are described as being aligned in an ascending column from the base of the spine to the top of the head. In new age practices, each chakra is associated with a certain color. In various traditions chakras are associated with multiple physiological functions, an aspect of consciousness, a classical element, and other distinguishing characteristics. They are visualized as lotuses with a different number of petals in every chakra.
It is believed that the chakras vitalize the physical body and influence the physical, emotional and mental movements of the mind and body. They are considered to be the loci of life-energy (known as prana, shakti or chi), which also flow through them along pathways called nadis. The main function of the chakras is to draw in the prana by spinning around their own axes and hold it in their respective sphere to maintain and balance the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of the mind and body. The idea of energy centers in the body has parallels in other culture. For example, the traditional Chinese medicine also relies on a similar model of the human body as an energy system containing the life force called chi.
The sources of knowledge
The New Age movement has led to an increased interest in the West regarding chakras. Many in this movement point to a correspondence between the position and role of the chakras and those of the glands in the endocrine system. Some people in New Age also claim that other chakras, besides the above, exist — for instance, ear chakras — and have described many more chakras than made reference to in traditional texts. Frequently references are made to the chakras in the New Age "sacred sexuality" or neotantra movement.
The chakras are described in the tantric texts the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancaka, in which they are described as emanations of consciousness from Brahman, an energy emanating from the spiritual which gradually turns concrete, creating these distinct levels of chakras, and which eventually finds its rest in the Muladhara chakra. They are therefore part of an emanations theory, like that of the kabbalah in the west, lataif-e-sitta in Sufism or neo-platonism. The energy that was unleashed in creation, called the Kundalini, lies coiled and sleeping at the base of the spine. It is the purpose of the tantric or kundalini forms of yoga to arouse this energy, and cause it to rise back up through the increasingly subtler chakras, until union with God is achieved in the Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head.
Apart from this primary text from India, different Western authors have tried to describe the chakras, most notably the Theosophists. Many New Age writers, such as the Danish author and musician Peter Kjaerulff in his book, The Ringbearer's Diary, or Anodea Judith in her book Wheels of Life, have written their opinions about the chakras in great detail, including the reasons for their appearance and functions.
The seven chakras are said by some to reflect how the unified consciousness of humanity (the immortal human being or the soul), is divided to manage different aspects of earthly life (body/instinct/vital energy/deeper emotions/communication/having an overview of life/contact to God). The chakras are placed at differing levels of spiritual subtlety, with Sahasrara at the top being concerned with pure consciousness, and Muladhara at the bottom being concerned with matter, which is seen simply as crude consciousness.
Origins and development of the concept of chakras
The earliest known mention of chakras is found in the later Upanishads, including specifically the Brahma Upanishad and the Yogatattva Upanishad. These Vedic models were adapted in Tibetan Buddhism as Vajrayana theory, and in the Tantric Shakta theory of chakras.
It is the shakta theory of 7 main chakras that most people in the West adhere to, either knowingly or unknowingly, largely thanks to a translation of two Indian texts, the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancaka, by Sir John Woodroffe, alias Arthur Avalon, in a book entitled The Serpent Power.
This book is extremely detailed and complex, and later the ideas were developed into what is predominant western view of the Chakras by the Theosophists, and largely the controversial (in theosophical circles) C. W. Leadbeater in his book The Chakras, which are in large part his own meditations and insights on the matter.
That said, many present-day Indian gurus that incorporate chakras within their systems of philosophy do not seem to radically disagree with the western view of chakras, at least on the key points, and both these eastern and western views have developed from the Shakta Tantra school.
There are various other models of chakras in other traditions, notably in Chinese medicine, and also in Tibetan Buddhism. Even in Jewish kabbalah, the different Sephiroth are sometimes associated with parts of the body. In Islamic Sufism, Lataif-e-Sitta ( Six Subtleties ) are considered as psycho-spiritual "organs" or faculties of sensory and suprasensory perception, activation of which makes a man complete. Attempts are made to try and reconcile the systems with each other, and notably there are some successes, even between such diverged traditions as Shakta Tantra, Sufism and Kabbalism, where chakras, lataif and Sephiroth can seemingly represent the same archetypal spiritual concepts. In Surat Shabda Yoga, initiation by an Outer Living Satguru (Sat - true, Guru - teacher) is required and involves reconnecting soul to the Shabda and stationing the Inner Shabda Master (the Radiant Form of the Master) at the third eye chakra.
The seven basic chakras
The traditional model as described by Sir Arthur Avalon in his book, the Serpent Power, presents a seven chakra system along spinal column, from the anus to the head region. The following is a description of each chakra, associated psycho-spiritual importance and presiding deities.
Sahasrara, the Crown Chakra
Sahasrara or the crown chakra is the source of the highest intelligence (prajnanam). Located at the tip or crown of the head, it is said to be the chakra of pure consciousness, the master chakra that controls all the others, and the destination of the rising Kundalini where upon one enters the state of Samadhi or unified consciousness without the distinction of subject and object. Its role would be very similar to that of the pituitary gland, which secretes hormones to control the rest of the endocrine system, and also connects to the central nervous system via the hypothalamus. The thalamus is thought to have a key role in the physical basis of consciousness. Symbolized by a lotus with a thousand petals.
Ajna, the Third Eye Chakra
Ajna or the third eye is the source of intuitive or psychic knowledge and linked to the pineal gland. It represents, the syllable AUM and the dual state of Shiva as Shiva and Shakti. Hence, it is said to be presided over by Ardhanarisvara. Ajna is the chakra of time and awareness and of light. The pineal gland is a light sensitive gland, that produces the hormone melatonin, which regulates the instincts of going to sleep and awakening. It has been conjectured that it also produces trace amounts of the psychedelic chemical dimethyltryptamine. Symbolized by a lotus with two petals. (Some argue that the pineal and pituitary glands should be exchanged in their relationship to the Crown and Brow chakras, based on the description in Arthur Avalon's book on kundalini called Serpent Power or empirical research.)
Vishuddha, the Throat Chakra
Vishuddha or the throat chakra is the source of sacred speech and related to communication and growth, growth being a form of expression. It is presided over by the fivefold Shiva (Panchavaktra Shiva) who performs the fivefold functions of creation and represented by the syllable HAM. Shakini is his associated Shakti. This chakra is paralleled to the thyroid, a gland that is also in the throat, and which produces thyroid hormone, responsible for growth and maturation. Symbolized by a lotus with sixteen turquoise petals encircling a triangle with a silver moon inside.
Anahata, the Heart Chakra
Anahata or the heart/emotions chakra is related to love, equilibrium, and well-being and acts as the source of emotional intelligence. It is related to the thymus, located in the chest. This organ is part of the immune system and the endocrine system. It produces T cells responsible for fighting off disease, and is adversely affected by stress. Symbolized by a lotus with twelve green petals called the heart-mind, which encircles a yantra of two intersecting triangles, forming a hexagram, symbolizing the union of the male and female. It is represented by syllable YAM and said to be the seat of emotions and passions.
Manipura, the Stomach Chakra
Manipura or the solar plexus chakra is related to metabolism, energy, assimilation and digestion, and is said to correspond to the roles played by the pancreas and the outer adrenal glands, the adrenal cortex. These play a valuable role in digestion, the conversion of food matter into energy for the body. Symbolized by a lotus with ten petals with a downward triangle at the center. It is presided over by Bradda Rudra, with Lakini as his Shakti, and represented by the seed syllable RAM. It is the source of physical and mental power, will and resolve.
Swadhisthana, the Sacral Chakra
Swadhisthana or the sacral chakra is located in the groin, and is related to emotion, sexuality and creativity. This chakra is said to correspond to the testicles or the ovaries, that produce the various sex hormones involved in the reproductive cycle, which can cause dramatic mood swings. Symbolized by a white lotus with six petals and a crescent moon inside. With Brahma as its presiding deity and Rakini as his Shakti, it is represented by the syllable VAM. As the charka which empowers the reproductive organs, it is the source of creative and reproductive power.
Muladhara, the Base Chakra
Muladhara, the base or the root chakra is related to security, survival and the basic human potentiality. This center is located in the region between the genitals and the anus. Although no endocrine organ is placed here, it is said to relate to the inner adrenal glands, the adrenal medulla, responsible for the fight and flight response when survival is under threat. In this region is located a muscle that controls ejaculation in the sexual act. A parallel is drawn between the sperm cell and the ovum, where the genetic code lies coiled, and the kundalini. Symbolized by a lotus with four petals encircling a rectangle, with an inverted triangle in it. Ganesha is its presiding deity, with Dakini as his Shakti. LAM is the seed syllable.
The eight Tantric Chakras
The Tantric and Shakti traditions identify eight basic chakras instead of seven. The seven chakras are the same as mentioned above. In addition, they identify the Bindu chakra as the lowest, below the Muladhara. The eight chakras are listed below.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- The History, Practice, Benefits and Types of Yoga
- The Vedangas- Siksha, Chhanda, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Jyotisha and Kalpa
- Buddhi Yoga - The Yoga of Intelligence
- The yoga techniques and practices
- About the yoga sutras and Patanjali
- Patanjali Yogasutras
- The Concept of Atman or Eternal Soul in Hinduism
- The Problem of Maya Or Illusion and How To Deal With It
- Belief In Atman, The Eternal Soul Or The Inner Self
- Brahman, The Highest God Of Hinduism
- The Bhagavad Gita Original Translations
- The Bhagavadgita, Philosophy and Concepts
- Bhakti yoga or the Yoga of Devotion
- Hinduism And The Evolution of Life And Consciousness
- Why to Study the Bhagavadgita Parts 1 to 4
- Origin, Definition and Introduction to Hinduism
- Symbolic Significance of Numbers in Hinduism
- The Belief of Reincarnation of Soul in Hinduism
- The True Meaning Of Renunciation According To Hinduism
- The Symbolic Significance of Puja Or Worship In Hinduism
- Introduction to the Upanishads of Hinduism
- Origin, Principles, Practice and Types of Yoga
1. The Wikipedia article "Chakras"
2. Woodroffe, John (1919–1964). The Serpent Power. Madras, India: Ganesh & Co.