Consciousness, Kundalini Yoga & Body Development
by Stuart Sovatsky, PhD
Presented at Brain, Consciousness, Neuroscience Conference
Chennai, India, March 9, 2001
(this scholar’s work was sponsored by the Infinity Foundation, Princeton, NJ)
That is called [Yogic developmental] action of the body in
which reason takes no part and which does not originate as
an idea springing in the mind.
To speak simply, yogis perform actions with their bodies,
like the movements of children.
Jnaneshvar, 1987, p.102
ABSTRACT: In this paper I hypothesize that the so-called “practices” of sahaja (“innately-arising”) Kundalini (“ultimate creatrix” originating at the spine’s sacral base) Yoga (and cross-tradition similars, e.g., Judaic davvening, Tibetan tumo heat, Chinese tai chi, Islamic zikr, Quaker “quaking,” the whirling of the Dervish, etc.) constitute auto-developmental movements and bodily maturations consistent with those of intrauterine gestation, infant movements, and teen-aged puberty. Although these “practices’ are typically learned by rote mimicry of “standard” Yoga poses, breathing exercises, moral guidances, or meditation techniques, according to the tradition and contemporary clinical reports, they can emerge endogenously-animated by prana or Kundalini, as it were–as the 13th century adept, Jnaneshvar notes above. I assert that these Yogic kriyas or “developmental actions” (and cross-tradition similars) constitute what might credibly be termed “postgenital puberties” of the neuroendocrine system and, thus, the matured embodiment of citta, the “light” of consciousness itself in various yogically-defined energies and secretions: ojas, virya, auras, amrita.-soma (the substance of primary worship in the Rig Veda) among them.
As such, Kundalini Yoga provides another context in which to consider consciousness-body interactivity through future GSR studies of the activated spine, and perhaps even the biochemical analysis of body fluids of Kundalini yogis, in keeping with those already undertaken by McClelland & Kirshnit 1987; Rein & McCraty 1994; Rein, McCraty & Atkinson 1995 on salivary immunoglobin A, as well as “rejuvenation” melatonin studies by Pierpaoli (Klatz & Goldman, 1996, p. 29), and the National Institute on Aging (US) “Nun Study” on reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases attributed to the spiritual lifestyle of this population.
According to the theory of human development proposed in Kundalini Yoga, Kundalini is the name for the guiding impetus in embryological development that quickens its activity as the neural groove forms the rudiments of the spinal cord as blastulization and gastrulization of the fertilized egg manifest. In contemporary terms, it might be termed, a “meta-DNA.” When the fetus is fully-formed, Kundalini,–which is traditionally given a “mothering” appellation–sequesters Herself at the posterior node of the fetal spine (the muladhara chakra, the “root center”) and becomes dormant. Thereafter, the more general life energy of prana is said to guide human physiology and maintenance-level growth. When growth is especially rapid, prana enters a heightened condition called pranotthana (“uplifted, intensified life-energy”), as is visible in the glow of infants, pregnant women, the purported glow of saints, and during genital puberty as pranot-thana matures the individual into his or her own fertility and thus, “adulthood,” in the biological sense.
Yet, Kundalini Yoga claims that further stages of human development, affecting the neuroendocrine system (and consciousness) in particular, are our natural birthright, but will only manifest when the individual’s life activities-his or her ways of expending bodily energies-are in alignment with “dharma.” In this so-empirical of body-inclusive spiritual traditions, the positive results of one’s Yogic practice implies that one has been living a “dharmic” way of life. Yet, as we shall see, such positive results, like pregnancy or teenaged puberty, engender difficult maturational challenges as part of one’s progress. As physician and yogi, Lee Sannella noted in his book, Kundalini: Psychosis or Transcendence?
- Tissues are torn, blood vessels severed…the heart races…there is moaning, crying…A severe injury? No, only a relatively normal birth. The description sounds pathological because the symptoms were not understood in relation to the outcome: a new human being.
- [A man’s] body is swept by muscular spasms. Indescribable sensations and [even] pain run from his feet up his legs and over his back and neck…Inside his head he hears roaring sounds… suddenly a sunburst floods his inner being…He laughs and is overcome with bliss.
- A psychotic episode? No, this is a psycho-physiological transformation [Kundalini], a rebirth process as natural as physical birth [this time] the outcome [is, however,] an enlightened human being. (Sannella, 1976, p. 1)
And just as Freud chose to name the fundamental developmental force “libido” or “yearning,” so too does Chapter 7, v. 11 of the Bhagavad-gita–as personified in the words of Krishna, “Dharmaviruddho bhutesu kamo ‘smi bharatasbha.” (“I am the passion [kamo, desire, yearning] in beings that is aligned with universal law.”) According to Freud, this yearning is experienced as food hungers, eliminative urges and foremost, sexual desires based in genital puberty, the hallmark of biological adulthood. Kundalini Yoga merely reopens the matter of human development whereby the spine, hypothalamus, hypoglossus, pineal and cerebral lobes are seen as capable of undergoing “puberties” with all the alterations in physiology, identity, and existential life purpose and even mortality itself, that were attendant to genital puberty, but now with a more spiritual emphasis.
In its efforts to be culturally-inclusive, the American Psychiatric Association now includes the Chinese correlate to Kundalini activity of “qi-gong psychotic reaction” and disorders of dhat, jiryan, sukra prameha, and shenkui (various spiritual/endocrine maturation disorders which, according to medical-psychiatric theories in the subcontinent and in China, relate to [in my terms,] the postgenital puberty noted below) in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual -IV Appendix I.
These postgenital puberties, as I term them, are, specifically, the internal mudras (“delight-gestures”) known as khecari, shambhavi, and unmani mudras, and related Yogic processes, such as pranotthana, Kundalini, urdhva-retas, (postgenital maturation of endocrine secretions), anahata-nad (“spontaneous developmental utterance”) and shakti chalani (“movement of charismatic force.”) Thus “postgenital” kama or desire can be understood as the yearning for “truth,” “God,” “love,” “enlight-enment,” etc., while the internal mudras are the physiological manifestations of progress or maturation toward such aspirations, when dharmic life supports the body enough to engender such manifestations, or perhaps via a kind of sudden triggering via a dramatic life event (near-death experience, extreme grief, inspiring moments, etc.) or shakti-pat (“charismatic influence,” “Baptism by fire” in Christian terms), an interpersonal energetic effect of the so-matured on others.
As we shall see, viewing the psycho-physical phenomena of Kundalini Yoga as puberties helps resolve various dilemmas in transpersonal developmental theory, particularly regarding the relationships between sexuality and spirituality, the body -consciousness nexus, and between the ego (what Freud explicitly called the “genital primacy” ego) and the Self (or Buddhist no-constant-self, or Soul). For, in the long and challenging “prepubescence” that follows genital puberty, and particularly in midlife–with its wonderments about a true identity and any purpose to life beyond personal survival, wealth, and sexual pleasure–spirituality can deepen or, for some, is born for the first time. Thus, the concerns of the adolescent of sex, career, affiliation, and identity, are often replicated at another level of sophistication, from midlife on.
- The psychoanalytic reduction of spirituality to the ambiguous product of “sublimation” must certainly be questioned if spirituality is to be seen as rooted “naturally” in the body. The Jungian view of a purely psychically transformative “alchemy” under-appreciates the role of the body and must also be referred to deeper endogenous roots if spirituality is to escape the terminology of “processes” and “techniques.” Even the Yogic and meditative “practices” must be rescued from such superficial enframements. In Kundalini Yoga, spirituality is considered a “natural,” body-positive aspect of human development, not a derivative of sexuality, a set of techniques, practices, or mere doctrinal beliefs. However radical the bodily phenomena of Kundalini may seem at first, they provide us with a way to substantiate such a claim. And, although transpersonalist Michael Washburn concludes in Transpersonal Psychology in Psychoanalytic Perspective that,
No one knows [my emphasis] for sure why the first half of this journey [egoic maturity] is completed by almost everyone and the second half [ego transcendence and spiritual-power embodiment] by only a few…. The path of transcendence may be a path that is still “under
construction.” It may, that is, represent the future of the species, a future into which only a
minority of individuals have ventured. (Washburn, 1994, p. 318)
a quick sampling of those commonly believed to have walked the “second half” of this path, including: Buddha, Mahavira, Buddhaghosa, Christ, Thirumoolar, Nagaarjuna, Socrates, Pythagoras, Plato, Eckhart, John of the Cross, St. Francis, Theresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, Rumi, Gandhi, Lao-tzu, Mirabai, Patanjali, Ramana Maharsi, Ramakrishna, Ananda-maya-ma, Irina Tweedie, Dalai Lama, Shri Aurobindo and The Mother and innumerable yogis and yoginis, reveals one commonality: they have each achieved a transformed sexuality, a “postgenital puberty,” as I term it.
But try to move “full maturity” much beyond the “ground” of the fifth and final psychoanalytic stage of genital puberty, as many transpersonalists do, and psychoanalysis (and the vast majority of all people) warns we walk onto thin air. Extend the physical ground synthetically, and the psychedelic mysticisms of McKenna, Leary, and the shamanic and Yogic alchemists take root, perhaps even Prozac. Make of them what you will. Consider Yoga (or, for example, tai chi) as merely healthy exercises lacking in developmental import, and much is lost. If seen as credibly endogenous, however, the vast range of Kundalini Yoga bodily phenomena reveals the gradually steepening physical ground of the “more spiritual” stages of development, thus finishing the “construction” of Washburn’s path and adding flesh to the more meditative spiritualities and archetypal psychologies which have underwritten the transpersonalist’s advances thus far.
Furthermore, if these slow-developing Yogic maturations are innate, yet unaccounted for, the consequences could radiate throughout our current model of the developmental span and its entire her-meneutic economy, and not just pertain to some eccentric “transpersonal level.” For example, gaining “backbone,” a metaphor for gaining character, might now be considered the literal physio-spiritual maturation of the spine, part of its “puberty.”
And, perhaps, as Gopi Krishna, author of numerous popular books on this subject maintains, Kundalini is on an evolutionary developmental scale. Furthermore, as Aurobindo, Nietzsche, Teilhard, Neumann, Gebser, Wilber, and others described, such evolution might be far more of a spiritual nature than mere Darwinian adaptation would permit. Yet, even within Darwinism, evolutionary theorist Donald Symons conjectured the following regarding the origins of how genital puberty sexuality was first decoupled from fertility cycles for early homo sapiens:
- If one views the matter in terms of ultimate causation, and assumes that permanent group-living is adaptive for some reason, then, all other things being equal, selection [Darwinian natural election] can be expected to favor the most economical of the available mechanisms that results in perma-nent sociality. One possible mechanism is for a formerly episodic reward to become permanent, but in terms of time, energy, and risk this seems to be a very expensive solution if the reward is sexual activity. It is [would have been, but still is?] much more economical [from a biological perspective] to alter the reward mechanism of the brain itself, so that the sight, sound, or smell of familiar conspecifics [members of the same species] come to be experienced as pleasurable. (Symons, 1979, p. 102)
As we shall see, the hypothalamus (which monitors hunger, thirst, sexual desire, aggressive urges, and blood oxygen levels)–the Symonsian “reward mechanism of the brain”–is the loci of several Yogic puberties. Following from Symons, these puberties could be on an evolutionary scale and congruent with Darwinian principles whereby a “sense perception sexuality” emerges, as described in many religious traditions, and in great detail in Tantra-Kundalini Yogas.
Perhaps even Kundalini Yoga itself must be wrested from its own indigenous tangle of competing views which have come to depicting it too as a system of mere techniques, more than as awesome phenomena of Nature (or “Supernature,” for those who prefer superlative, but confusing differentiations) that they are. For, in spiritually-preoccupied India (and various other mysticisms), the descent further into the body has held mixed interest, with the recent exception of Shri Aurobindo and the Mother’s image of both descending and ascending developmental forces, and the nondualistic yogis whose esoteric interpretations I now approach.
Recovering the Sahaja-Endogenously Arising Yoga
In order to view Yoga and meditation as just as endogenous to our development (and as awesome) as gestation once was, as taking one’s first post-umbilical breath, as adolescent puberty, we must deconstruct the over-formalized pedagogical edifices that have grown around it. Both indigenously over the ages, and in their translation and importation into the West, the “innately- arising” (sahaja), panentheistic, “dionysian” (in the Nietzschean sense) origins of Yoga and meditation have been shaped and over-shaped into “apollonian” pedagogical constructs, cosmeticized or leveled for mass appeal, sterilized for upper-class gentilities, or otherwise tamed and over-tamed to avoid real or imagined dangers.
The moral sentiments (yama and niyama) and their mercies often became mere rules of the rigid-mandatory, or lip-service varieties. The grace of sequence and consequence of karma was typically mechanicalized into an arch-law, in contrast to more merciful teachings regarding a “grace” that is independent of “karmic laws.” The mysterious flow of lineage stiffened into the rigidities of caste, also in contrast to the dionysian rejection of caste prejudice and the “crazy wisdom” traditions that ridicule it.
The reverentially ecstatic “Dance of Siva, Lord of Yogis,” became stylized in public rituals, “classical” music and dance, and in the Yogic asanas themselves, or withered in the severe asceticisms of the fakir. By the second century A.D., Patanjali’s dualistic, “classical” Yoga-sutra had formalized an over- separation between Nature (prakriti) and Ultimate Subjectivity (purusha), thus “rejecting the idea that the world is an aspect of the Divine” (Feuerstein, 1982, p. 412).
Thus the shamanic or dionysian Yoga and its bond with mystical phenomenology maintained in the living moment through oral transmission in the hoary past (and still, with all manner of attendant difficulties), arose and then fell into evermore secularized, scriptural fundamentalisms and dilutions. The sequence of its fall from “only-happening-now” time and in-the-moment-utterances into formalized theories and “histories of events” might be as follows:
- (1) the spirit-in-time revealed as a superlative, private bodily experience (ecstasy or enstasy),
- (2) emergent publically as pre-semantic ecstatic-catalytic utterances and dancing-swaying movements, then
- (3) languaged orally as sheer descriptions of the experience, then
- (4) memorized and scriptured into an orthodox text or externalized liturgical commemoration (Yoga and meditation as teachings; the movements classicalized as ritual forms),
- (5) its lessons fableized for charm (the ancient myths), then
- (6) in search of a genteel purity, its sparkling and sensual phenomenology put into disembodied descriptions of “heaven- realms” or sheer “higher states of consciousnesses,” and
- (7) as texts and practices exported into the West, formulized for mass pedagogical ease (the contemporary Yoga books and aerobics-like classes, stress-reduction courses, and other holistic applications or “new age” appropriations),
- (8) made abstract or “symbolic” of something else, or “primitivized” by scholars for learned discourse (the transpersonalist’s synthesizing schemas), 4 and, at all junctures,
- (9) suppressed or championed by religio-political forces; eroded by sectarian rivalries and scandals; desiccated as the legalistic, purely academic word, or scorned as mere superstition.
Thus the Yogic textual metaphors which paint accurate pictures of various phases of the inner experience of certain neuroendocrinal maturations–of, for example, “fluids raining down from the heavens” and “sacrifices made into further sacrifices,” referring to the transmutation of subtle melatonin-like pineal secretions as they appear (to the rishika, “the seer who sees the described referent actually happening”) with his eyes closed in ecstatic witness to their flickering precipitations in the ever-spiraling-higher [“sacrified and further sacrificed”] into the ever-spiraling higher center of the cathedral-domed cranium-were transposed to the externalized space of the firmament and, ironically, buried within the homologous brahmanic sacrificial rituals (or myths) which were meant to be subservient pointers to the inner hormonal developmental experiences. The “higher and higher heavens” became abstractions, instead of aesthetic descriptions of how it floatingly actually feels when the cerebral puberty unfolds meditative glimpses of the infinity of love-space-time. For, what are all pubescent hormones but the “sacrificial” materializations of the infinite? And what are these sacrifices, except givings-to-physical-humans of the sensual path to their own highest joys and matured clarities. (N.B., the above and the next run-on sentences are poetic, literary devices that attempt to induce some version of the experience described therein.)
Via further translations into the modern pragmatic- scientific vernacular, instead of an inner awe of wonder and delight, we now speak of “spiritual practices,” “visualization techniques,” Yogic “states of consciousness” and quasi-Newtonian “spiritual energies.” Instead of a well-mapped, but dynamic, esoteric phenomenology of marvelous fluttering, whorling, meditative experiences of cerebral-hormonal “flowing-juices” (soma) and “brilliant sunlight” (“savitri,” a Vedic term for Kundalini illuminating the mind and for which Elizarenkova counts more than fifteen verbs denoting its “brilliance” in the Rig Veda), we have the dry brahmanic (Indian or Western) abstractions or translations depicting only exoteric ritual libations, “transrational” evolutionary schemas, tantric visualization practices, and theonyms for sun-worship. The “Burning Bush,” whether Western or Eastern, as aptly describing the overwhelming, experienced glow of Kundalini in the cerebrum, is lost in its own metaphor. But sometimes not, as Allama Prabhu, the tenth century dionysian bhakti yogi sang:
- Looking for your light [of hope],
I went out [into meditation]:
it was like a sudden dawn [a breakthrough of inner luminescence]
of a million million suns,
a ganglion of lightnings [the cerebral puberty]
for my wonder.
O Lord of Caves [Hearted Flesh-bodies],
if you are light,
there can be no metaphor [an experience beyond words].
(Ramanujan, 1973, p. 168)
And why Kundalini is called serpentine should not rest upon its coiled shape or as a “symbol” of the infinite, but to convey the charm of its mercurial irridescence when it is actually seen or felt: the inexplicable glimmer of human developmental detail, down to each glittering bone-cell or mitochrondrial fibril-thrill as the incessant resurgence of creation. To hear a life-long yogi choked up, unable to speak in daunted admiration for his predecessors while describing their inner maturations: perhaps this memory of one of my interviewees conveys my point.
For Kundalini names those degrees of our own potential that, like conception and birth, the shimmerings of the surf, or the unpredictiblity of Brownian movements, exceed the leveling grasp of too-formulaic developmental models, narratives, or measurings. Thus, the complexity of Indian classical music and the greater complexities beneath it: the dhun (chant) and din resolving to Aauummmm and returning to Maaaaaaa. What else could enrapture us to the point of climax for eternity but the marvel of the never- before, forever? What else could wean us of every selfishness, vengefulness, and even the fear of death? Such is the next puberties: the rebirth into soul-Time that all religions point to.
Yes, by imitating others’ endogenously originated movements, heartfelt utterances, righteous actions or rapt concentrations, we can go through the back door (literally via a ventral [“front door”] or “Eastern” bodily channel) into the same depths of wonder, wisdom, and delight. And, by motionless meditation, too, one can enter. Thus, we have numerous helpful Yogic texts, new and ancient, and a proliferation of Yoga and still-meditation classes. But when Kundalini is reintroduced (via the “Westernly” and more body-involving spinal channel) to our understanding of Yoga and meditation, something deep and primordial ripples through the viscera and Yoga or meditation “practices” can no more be considered mere “teachable techniques” than gestation or puberty can be. For Kundalini Yoga surfaces from the same bodily depths as gestation, the first breath, adolescent puberty, and now, beyond.
At a mundane level, the scientific verification of a Yogically attained, “theoretically impossible” interaction between the conscious will and the autonomic or primordial physiologies first occurred in 1926, as documented by V.G. Rele,
- In the year 1926, under the auspices of the Bombay Medical Union, Deshbandhu demonstrated certain phenomena…with the chestpieces of our stethoscopes on his heart, we listened to the stopping [sustained fibrillation] of his heart. (Rele, 1927, p.xxii-xxiii)
and has been followed up by numerous successive laboratory experiments and measurements. In some mysterious way, egoic intentionality and the “involuntary” nervous system had formed a cooperative (perhaps ecstatic) union. The subsequent interest in “stress reduction,” visualization healing, biofeedback, and other psychosomatic or autogenic health practices proceeded, in part, from verified similar Yogic attainments.
Yet, as profound a depth of knowledge of the life-force and the body as this ability would seem to indicate, what remains to be revealed of Kundalini Yoga could have far more profound consequences. For where this bodily control or, rather, intelligence, comes from and where it can ultimately lead to has remained obscure, in spite of theories of hypnosis, auto-suggestion, or biofeedback or even of a “collective unconscious.”
For while “health” is a function of “normalcy,” both must be contexted developmentally, that is, both must be understood temporally as what quality of embodied life next becomes possible as a result of such “health” or “normalcy.” And, then, from that basis, what quality of life next becomes possible, and so on. As Sartre mused, the meaning of things is to be derived destinally or by where, finally, they tend toward. Thus, “the normal” could be attuned to “the Absolute,” if we but knew what the Absolute was, and then dedicated ourselves to it as the discovered, most matured possibility for homosapiens sapiens. In this case, let us consider that to be “homosapiens Kundaliniens.”
I am aware of the rhetorical impact of making such grand word choices–“postgenital puberties,” “the Absolute” “homsapiens Kundaliniens.” I know that, in this day and age, I risk provoking a dismissive skepticism by hoisting a claim for ultimate truth and a teleological evolutionism. Yet, even the highly sophisticated postmodern project of laying bare the hypothesis of metaphysical closure (that the constructs of reason might eventually exhaust their explanative effectiveness) and the insubstantiality of the authoritative subject does not guarantee its own finality. A consequence of noncynical, profound doubt regarding all received wisdom can be that within it something utterly new or “foreign” might be noticed and granted credibility by the community of experts (or by any individual.)
In a state of radical doubt or openness we must no longer dare to assume that answers to the timeless questions must easily fit in with established theory, nor that they must originate within traditional Western research institutions or discursive methods. The strange discipline in Western academic philosophy and psychology of seeking answers primarily, if not exclusively, within the established Western canon can seem like working with one hand tied behind the back, or worse.
The sectarian approach to spiritual truth is another unfortunate and at times tragic limitation. That the search is best done in chairs, with the eyes fastened to books and the ears to discourse, or in a lab where the researcher does not change, or even in motionless contemplations with no attention to the glands, interior vibrations, the spine, and the rest of the body, will seem from within the Yogic methodologies to be overly formalistic and distinctly restrictive.
However, only a scientifically verifiable new discovery concerning human possibility would be compelling enough to foment a “re-worlding” (after Heidegger’s verb, “to world” a world) breakthrough beyond the postmodern shifting play of words, time, and ideologies of difference; for example, repeatedly measurable alterations of endocrine secretions resulting from the serpentine intelligence of Kundalini Yoga.
Yet, in a theological, political, and then in a pre-potent semantic sense, Western science is prevented from exploring spiritual matters not so much by the grossness of its methods as by a lingering dualism which has long minimized the spirituality of the physical world. “If science can or has studied it, then it probably should not be deemed spiritual ” is the syllogism preempting the intermingling of these “two” domains, finally, of spirit and body. DNA may be profound, but it cannot be “spiritual” because it is (merely) molecular. For the limitations of dualism to be obviated, we must grant spiritual import to the body. But, to avoid a too-facile nondualism, we will have to look much more profoundly into the body.
Postgenital Stirrings: A Spiritual Prepubescence
The long-developing, “prepubescence” ramping toward the Kundalini spinal puberty is known as pranotthana (“intensified, uplifted life-energy,” perhaps emergent within cellular mitochondria). This is clearly the same force of quivering uprightness active in Quakerism, Shakerism, Judaic davening (torso-rocking prayer), charismatic Holy Ghost phenomena, the swaying zikr and whirling dervish of Islam, the quiverings of the Orthodox hesychast, the Goddess-worshipping circle dance, the Dionysian revel of the Greek mystery schools, the flowing movements of tai chi, the ecstatic shamanic dance, the Yogically-derived Andalusian flamenco, the Middle-Eastern “belly-dance,” and the orgonic quivering-streamings of bioenergetics (which Reich deemed as beyond sexuality). Poetically, Rumi personified this way of vibrational spiritual development that calls beyond one’s current level of maturation toward the more distant puberties.
- Drumsound rises on the air,
its throb, my heart.
- A voice inside the beat says,
“I know you’re tired,
but come. This is the way.”
(Rumi, 1995 p. 122)
The Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhist and raja Yoga focus on the straightened spine (uju-kaya) is merely an intentionally- taming approach to the same spinal puberties (an uprightness that, too, emerges endogenously as the tumescence of the awakened spine), as are other erect-back Western sects. Here the “straight and narrow paths” obviate the complexities of the bodily awakenings in pursuit of the transcendental, plain and simple.
Pranotthana is also vividly apparent in the developmental movements and perpetual stretchings of infants and in the maturational glow of children and energetic zest of adolescence. As the thirteenth century attainer of the final maturations, Shri Jnaneshvar stated,
- 51. That is called [Yogic-developmental] action of the body in which reason takes no part and which does not originate as an idea springing in the mind.
- 52. To speak simply, yogis perform actions with their bodies, like the movements of
children….(Jnaneshvar, 1987, p. 102)
The various willfully practiced asanas of Hatha Yoga are, more accurately, apollonian formulations of their dionysian originary emergence as sahaja Yoga, or as the yearning, quaking, shaking, davvening, throbbing, swaying and bodily tumescences of various other traditions. “Hatha” as meaning “forceful” grows ambiguous. Is it that a force, a divine shakti, compels the yogini to worshipfully stretch and develop her own body, beyond her own will’s choices and dictates into further maturation? Or does hatha refer only to her own willful storming of the heavenly gates? Or is there a point of humbling recognition where even that leeway of freedom called “the will” is seen as yet another expression of the Goddess, more or less attuned to the rhythms of the postgenital pubescent stirrings?
All such movements, vocalizations, and emotionalities are Yogic to the degree they foment the neuroendocrine transformations which comprise urdhva-retas (“refining maturation of bodily essence”) grasped rudimentarily as “sublimation” by Freud, thinly as psychological “alchemy” by Jung, and externalized with uncertain results in medicinal alchemies. Urdhva-retas ripples through all religions, sexual liberations, and love relationships which sense there is “more to sex (or, rather, eros) than sex itself.” Thus, the conflictual history of “sex” and “spirituality” is merely the confusion attendant to the transitions of any puberty.
The Postgenital Pubescent “Alchemies”
Known in Vedic times as shamanica medhra (releasement beyond genital puberty, and from which the term, shamanism is likely derived), the essential alchemy of urdhva-retas is the distillation of thesecretion-radiance of ojas (subtle glycogen or health-energy radiance) such that desire-based love (the alchemical “lead” or “mercury”) begins to mature into ever more unconditional love (the alchemical “gold,” or the “nectar” of endless love).
Via the sahaja actions of body, breath, sentiment, and the utterly-allured concentrations known in the apollonian formulae as meditative “stages,” various hormonal secretions (felt as evermore poignant longings and gratitudes) undergo the alchemical maturation. These once-distilled secretions, (“elixirs,” soma, “philosopher’s gems”) are then reabsorbed into the body as a kind of nourishing “fuel.” So uroborically nourished, the body grows in the “Yogic direction” to next time issue slightly “higher octane” radiance-secretions, whose hyper-vitalities are distilled into still higher octaned secretions, and so on. In the first line of Hymn VII.5 of theAtharva-veda, this quintessential distillation process is described: “By sacrifice the gods sacrificed to the sacrifice.” The “gods” are, of course, the finest points of origination of the scintillations of these inwardly seen radiances, and the series of inner alchemical distillations, their “sacrifices to sacrifices.”
At some point, the glowing radiances and “dharmically libidinous” longings resulting from a longstanding urdhva-retas foment an opening of hymen-like granthis(knots) along the spinal sushumna. Kundalini awakens and enters. Thus, the long, spinal prepubescence of pranotthana enters its puberty and one hears of Yogic “disidentifications” with the body and the ego and reidentifications with the soul within its temple-body. Later there will be identifications with the Womb-Void and Eternal Body, or even the disidentification with all word-forms, denoting that other puberties have begun.
The Traverse From A Genital- To A Post-Genital Developmental Psychology
Wilhelm Reich came close to the Yogic perception of an energetic, psychophysical developmentalism in declaring that:
- [T]he act of desiring had to be grasped in a much deeper way than analytic psychology
was capable of doing. Everything pointed to a deep biological process, of which the
“unconscious” desire could only be an expression.
(Reich, The Function of the Orgasm, 1973, p. 66)
But as Foucault was the first to point out in his groundbreaking The History of Sexuality, Reich could not think beyond the “deployment of sexuality” of his times and equated “desire” with sex-desire, as his title denotes. Lacking information regarding the vibrant energetics of Kundalini Yoga, he, as did Freud, misconstrued and pathologized Yoga as a “killing of the instincts.”
- One may…hope to be freed from a part of one’s sufferings by influencing the instinctual
impulses….The extreme form of this is brought about by killing off the instincts, as is
prescribed [sic] by the worldly wisdom of the East and practiced by Yoga. If it succeeds,
then the subject has, it is true, given up all other activities as well–he has sacrificed his
life; and, by another path, he has once more only achieved the happiness of quietness.
(Freud, 1961 , p. 26)
Through its pathologizing concepts of “self-stimulation,” “somatic cocooning,” and “auto-hypnotic states,” psychoanalysis continues to obscure its view of Yogic phenomena. Even Winnicott’s “self-soothing” misses the spiritual depths from where this “internal mothering” emerges and what further nurturance it is fully capable of providing. As well, the more bodily-oriented therapies of Reichian orgonomy and bioenergetics focused its therapies exclusively on orgasm-like emotional “releases” or catharses to increase energetic flow. Characterized as a mere “bio-electrical energy,” the motherly force lost more of her nurturing powers. As Reich’s innovator, Alexander Lowen asserts with confident authority:
- When growth has reached its natural limits, some other use must be made of the excess
[sic] energy that is being produced….In the higher animals, the excess energy is
discharged in the sexual function, as Wilhelm Reich showed. Maturity means that the
energy that was formerly needed for the growth process is now available for discharge.
(Lowen, 1967, p. 57)
Repeatedly, conventional developmental theory is delimited by its unfamiliarity with any postgenital maturational stages–stages that require the very energy that is otherwise construed as having no other purpose than its availability for discharge, perhaps lovingly, perhaps not. Anyone who differs with this view was to be seen as naive, repressed, and perhaps even insane, as was Freud’s pronouncement while ostracizing Jung for asserting that the life-force was a “psychic” and not a sexual energy. And Western religions’ garbled understanding of the postgenital puberties often depicted genital puberty as a sinful, barely tolerable state. Its severe guidances on how to continue the maturational traverse has soured the whole affair for most all Westerners for centuries. Thus, the Church and its suffering Saviour were an easy mark for the too-confident, psychoanalytically-based ideologies of “sexual liberation.”
Yet, in this postmodern era, Foucault grasped the historicity and narrowness of what he called the medico- psychoanalytic “deployment of sexuality.” For, in this near- allegorical history, psychoanalytic sexology wrote itself in as delivering a final and complete “erotic liberation” from the age- old grip of centuries of religious/cultural “repressions” and “unnatural sublimations.” Foucault noted that although many social gains have occurred, a mandated and specifically formulaic and inherently limited sexuality, a scientia sexualis, had been deployed.
One limitation was guaranteed by the rebellious thrust of this scientia sexualis, a rebellion against spirituality that defined the new “science.” Yet, Foucault went on to differentiate this conflict-forged, bio-medical scientia sexualis of Western sexological science and psychoanalyis from the radically different ars eroticadeveloped by various Indo-Arabic cultures under very different circumstances:
- In the erotic art, truth is drawn from pleasure itself, understood as a practice and accumulated as experience; pleasure is not considered in relation to an absolute law of the permitted and the forbidden, nor by reference to a criterion of utility, but first and foremost in relation to itself, it is experienced as pleasure, evaluated in terms of its intensity, its specific quality, its duration, its reverberations in the body and the soul. Moreover, this knowledge must be deflected back into the sexual practice itself, in order to shape it as though from within and amplify its effects. In this way, there is formed a knowledge that must remain secret, not because of an element of infamy that might attach to its object, but because of the need to hold it in the greatest reserve, since according to the tradition, it would lose its effectiveness and its virtue by being divulged.… The effects of this masterful art, which are considerably more generous than the spareness of its prescriptions would lead one to imagine, are said to transfigure the one fortunate enough to receive its privileges: an absolute mastery of the body, a singular bliss, obliviousness to time and limits, yhe elixir of life, the exile of death and its threats. (Foucault, 1984, pp. 57-58)
The several thousand year old Eastern somatic spirituality of Kundalini Yoga and its expansive developmental path belong to this Foucauldian ars erotica where spirituality and philosophical pursuit–along with the body’s vast capacities to move and to feel–cohere together as a unitary whole. As Marcuse noted in his critique of psychoanalysis, Eros and Civilization, “the instincts are to be understood spiritually.”
Indeed, that these ars erotica ways yielded “an absolute mastery of the body, a singular bliss, obliviousness to time and limits, the elixir of life, the exile of death and its threats” has an additional purport: We must wonder whether the extent to which eros can liberate us has been dramatically underestimated by the deployers of the scientia sexualis. As Ken Wilber quipped, “God-consciousness is not sublimated sexuality, sexuality is repressed God-consciousness,” and Patanjali: Bodily asana “becomes perfect…when [the mind] makes the idea of its infinity its own content [anantasamapattibhyam]” (Eliade, 1958, p. 53.)
The obvious question would seem to be: How could maturational phenomena worthy of such a genetic characterization as I assert be so unknown and rare? Part of the answer lies in:
- 1. The psychoanalytic retrospective distortion depicting meditative states as autistic “regressions to the womb”; its pathologization or minimization of “sublimative” eros, what Marcuse called a “hyper-repressive desublimation” of human spiritual imports, and what Foucault noted as the “mass deployment of sexuality” which has anchored Western culture paradigmatically at the level of a conclusive and inherently gratifying genital puberty; as Foucault mused ironically,
- [W]e need to consider the possibility that one day, perhaps, in a different economy of bodies and pleasures, people will no longer quite understand how the ruses of sexuality, and the power that sustains its organization, were able to subject us to that austere monarchy of sex…. (Foucault, 1980, p.159)
- 2. The limited exploration of the positive role of the body in spiritual development by various world religions and their missed appreciation of any continuity of genital puberty with “spiritual rebirth” and their consequently short-sighted and, thereby, often repressive moralities and dry monasticisms; the inherent richness of genital puberty and sex which can obscure the existence of any further bodily awakenings and any interest in cultivating them.
- 3. Centuries of Western biases against “animism,” “vitalisms,” and “heathen religions” and, more recently, in the developing third world against its own “superstitious backwardnesses”. (The cross-cultural sensitivities noted throughout the DSM-IV are a significant improvement, in this respect.)
- 4. Misinterpretations of Hindu relics and texts that result when researchers are deprived of the Yogic bodily referenced hermeneutic. For example, the “Ganges River” is to be understood homologously as the main flow channel for certain maturational radiances; references to “dancing in the sky (ethers)” or “cow worship” esoterically refer to the tongue (the “cow”) giving up its articulations of words in khecari (khe: “sky,” cari: “dance in”) mudra to stretch upward nonverbally into a vibrationally churned, subtler, “milky-buttery,” (the cowherd Krishna’s quintessential delight) sensational-endogenous medium of truth;
Natural elements (diamond body, mercury, gold, moon- or sunlight) as the phenomenal lustre of internally-sensed hormonal distillates; the “heaven-realms” as the eyes-closed cranial-vault space (replicated universally as cathedral domes) in which the flickering nonverbal truth-nectars of infinite time-light-sound- bliss flow; while the proverbial “mountainous ascent” describes what the spinal puberty of Mt. Meru, Mt. Olympus, Mt. Moriah, Mt. Kailash, or Mt. Carmel feels like and its glorified bodily locus.
- 5. The many gurus who came to the West and breached their spiritual vows and numerous exposed religious scandals and ensuing cultural cynicisms. War, bloody religious crusades, inquisitions, sect rivalries, and other social devastations that erode faith in the existence of any true saints or spiritual Absolutes.
- 6. The unfortunate association of Yogic Sanskrit terminology (chakras, Kundalini, mantras, etc.) with the superficiality of “new age” rhetoric; the highly circumscribed “exercise Yoga” taught widely in the West and in India and the obvious marketing problems in promoting “sublimative Yoga” in the West; thus, the widespread misfitting of tantric Yoga into a genital puberty context, instead of the reverse.
- 7. Yogic archival and cult tendencies to exaggerate, mythologize or conceal in metaphors the spiritual practices and attainments of Yogic saints; the formulization of Yogic phenomena into teachable, willful practices, as Patanjali devised in his Yoga-sutra and by many others that marginalize or miss the endogenous quality of sahaja (“spontaneous”) Yoga or kriya-vati: “spontaneous maturation-movements”;
- The tendency of intensive spiritual lifestyles to become remote from mainstream culture, and thus “esotericized” while secularized lifestyles which dilute the teachings proliferate as exoteric “churches” or “religions”; the arising of misleading fanaticisms in esoteric groups and in mistaking licentious debauchery for the dionysian spontaneities and ecstasies resulting from careful cultivation.
- 8. Centuries of Yogic pedagogical secrecy and the often unassuming humility of many spiritually matured, inconspicuous yogis. The safety that reclusion promises for those with spiritual powers otherwise beseiged or even feared and not uncommonly harmed by others.
- 9. The slow progress in Western science to measure instrumentally subtle bodily phenomena such as “energy” and the lack of biofeedback research on the spine’s role in meditation.
- 10. Foreclosure on the possibility of reincarnation when the matter should be left as merely, if even highly, uncertain.
- 11. The glib use of such terms as “Realizing Your True Self,” “In one’s Beingness,” or “Core of Being,” in popular psychology that depict advanced stages of spiritual maturation as reachable in a few years, or during a few weekends. This includes popular and academic works in transpersonal psychology where Kundalini, being the only Yogic energy term known in those circles, is commonly misused in naming the vast expanse of precursor states (pranotthana), rendering the happy, democratically-appealing, but false sense that many people have “awakened” Kundalini.
- Furthermore, Kundalini has become a catch-word at this early time in its entry in American culture (it first appears in the third edition of the American Heritage Dictionary in 1992: “Energy that lies dormant at the base of the spine until it is activated, as by the practice of Yoga, and channeled upward through the chakras in the process of spiritual perfection”) and attracts those with unspecified, chronic neurological/psychiatric complaints in search of an explanation for their symptoms; the use in the West of Gopi Krishna’s problematic Kundalini experiences as a standard giving the awakening a reputation as more dangerous than it is.
- 12. The popularization and simplicity of “straight-back” meditative paths which tend to marginalize or eliminate bodily movements, emotional utterances, etc., from the spiritual path.
- 13. The numerous hours per day in Yogic worship that development toward this physical-spiritual Absolute comes to consuming, as the fundamental purpose of life, time, and the body seems to be to enact the Yogic cultivations and then to contribute to one’s community; the developmental importance of initiating Yogic practices before the age of 35, in keeping with its bio-genetic basis; and even then, the inherent difficulties affecting appetite, sleep cycles, and the Promethean temptations of hubris which can short-circuit the completion of the path and generate false accounts of its requirements.
- 14. The time and energy demands–a kind of repressive back pressure or cultural inertia–of contemporary world structures that exist only if these stages do not unfold except perhaps rarely. In a vicious-circle fashion, this “wheel of worldly life” includes the dramatic and real need for extensive altruistic service to address the extreme deteriorations of society and the environment ironically resulting from missing these endogenous joys and then compensating by over-using the outer world. (I am reminded that in the 1970’s when Burmese farmers were taught modern ways to triple their crop yield for cash export purposes, many chose to work one-third as much and to instead increase their meditation time.)
With these conjectures noted, let us continue toward those little-known lands of the Yogic postgenital puberties.
Patanjali’s “eight-limbed” ashtanga apollonian formulization of Yogic maturations can serve as our starting point:
- YAMA characterological trait observations
- NIYAMA characterological trait cultivations
- ASANA bodily development through postural movements (the popularly known “postures” of hatha Yoga)
- PRANAYAMA breath or vital-energy development
- PRATYHARA perception and inward attention-span development
- DHARANA inward concentration-understanding development
- DHYANA meditative-knowledge development
- SAMADHI enstatic-wisdom-liberation development
In keeping with our approach which views Kundalini Yoga as endogenous, we must strip away this formulaic structure and look at the stages as if they could be seen as fitting in a generalized way into the following ontogenetic developmental schema:
BEGINNING Sperm-ovum fertilization: zygote, blastula, and gastrula stages develop;
FIRST MONTHS Starting at the embryonic spinal base, Kundalini energy-intelligence guides the
formation of the neural groove, the evolutionary fundament of all evermore complex vertebrate bodies, from amphioxus on; gill- slits, tail and other “ontogeny phylogeny recapitulation” vestigial phenomena emerge and vanish; organs form, heart beats as ananda-maya kosha (causal body), vijnana-maya kosha(reflective-mind body), mano-maya kosha (neuroendocrine-based mind/emotion body), prana-maya kosha (mitochondrial-meridian vital energy body) and anna-maya kosha (food-eating or “ordinary” fleshy body) develop;
MIDDLE MONTHS Jiva (“the one who lives”) enters the causal
LATE MONTHS body; continued gestation of the fetal body toward fragile sufficiency by the sixth or seventh month as Kundalini completes its formation of the body and recedes into dormancy at the spinal base; the more generic “life energy” of prana of the prana-maya kosha (udana, samana, apana, prana, vyanacircuits of head, gut, elimination, respiration, and circulation, respectively) continues as the flesh body’s (anna-maya kosha’s) sustaining force, as nourished with earthly foods and oxygen via the umbilical connection to mother;
BIRTH First breath, umbilicus cut, eye contact,
FIRST HOURS Reaching, anahata-nada (polysignificant neuroendocrinal developmental utterances that are related to the Yogic developmental breathing of pranayama–a “crying” that can be over-associated with adult anguish); psychomotor developmental movements akin to sahaja Yoga asanas and hand and finger mudras emerge; nursing;
FIRST DECADE Teething, walking, play; glandular secretions underlying character-building sentiments of yamas and niyamas begin to fructify within the child’s social and family context; language appropriates mind, tongue and psychosomatic enculturation occurs; prepubescent pranotthana (“intensified life energy”) sustains the child’s growth, visible as “the glow of childhood”;
SECOND DECADE Childhood pranotthana intensifies, fomenting genital puberty/fertility as the embodiment of infinite future human possibilities (the basis of the “endless impermanence” or survival of the species); hormonal- temporal urgencies quicken as gender-oriented desires; intermediate puberty of yama and niyama neuroendocrine secretions emerge, with emphasis upon developmentally sublimative brahmacarya (first ashrama, or “neophyte-learner” stage of “following the Telos”); basic prepubescent asana and pranayama emerge in willful and minimal sahaja or “spontaneous” forms, further maturing sapient embodiment toward Kundalini embodiment;
THIRD DECADE Karma Yoga, the life of responsible action and character maturation; the mind matures beyond childhood’s scattered vitality toward pratyahara, the capacity for sustained perceptions and careful attention; second ashrama of “householder” family-creation of pravritti path or the solitary mystic nivritti path is entered; diverse worldly involvements are varyingly dharmic or aligned (aligned, as in re- ligion) with the endogenous maturational process; the maturations known as the “mensch,” “good neighbor” or “well-balanced person” emerge; if pranotthana continues to intensify via dharmic life, the postgenital puberties of urdhva-retas quicken.
FOURTH DECADE Dharana begins: the dawning of awesome awareness of/as endless impermanence and soteriological radiance-secretions of tejas (“brilliance-radiance” of spiritual zeal) and virya (“virtue-secretion/ radiance”) emerge; advanced asanas, mudras, bandhas (inner yearning-contractions) and shaking mature the body for more intensified energies; dhyana begins: devout and unwavering appreciation of the flow of endless impermanence and the poignant grace of life; the puberties of the linguistic anatomy (tongue, larynx, brain centers) underlying further meditative/mental maturations begin: simha-asana (tongue-extended “lion-pose” seen in certain goddess images) and nabho mudra (inward-turned tongue, “heaven-delight gesture”) precursors of khecari mudra (tongue curls back in delight above the soft palate), initiating the puberties of the hypoglossal-larnyx, hypothalamus, pituitary and pineal; anahata- nada, known rudimentarily as “speaking in tongues” and resounding in the sacred chantings of numerous cultures, emerge;
FIFTH DECADE The desire-self identity matures toward the immortal soul-self identity; soteriological radiance of auras (halo-auric glow of spiritual maturity) emerges; continuation of khecari mudra, culminating in the (subtle pineal?) secretion-radiance of soma or amrita (“immortal-time essence,” revitalizing melatoninlike, endorphin-like hormone), the uroboric embodiment of endless impermanence; Kundalini awakens, initiating the puberties of the six chakras and the inner shamanic heat; shambhavi mudra, the puberty of the eyes and the pineal leading to inner vision of the soul’s (melatonin-like) radiances and the matter-time-space-scent-taste- light-bliss continuum emerges as a phenomenon of embodied eternal impermanence; unmani mudra, the “delight-gesture of free consciousness” cerebral puberty emerges; internal or breathless respiration in the akashic-ethers emerges; grand-children emerge for householders and then the third ashrama of retirement and the fourth ashrama of worldly renuniciation; great-grandchildren emerge for householders.
SABIJA-SAMADHI and NIRBIJA-SAMADHI: fully matured origin-consciousness with, and then without, future waverings emerge;
REPEAT 25 TO 50 INCARNATIONS Divya sharira: exceedingly rare full maturation of the ensouled body as “divine light body” and moksha: complete maturation of all soul-body potentials; ultimate liberation into eternal being-in-time.
Also, consider this brief description of the successive passions involved in the unfoldment of the psychospiritual puberties as they emerge within the chakra subtle-energy system along the Jacob’s Ladder of the spinal axis: muladhara (root): passion of survival and locus of latent Kundalini; svadhishthana (pubic): passion of genital puberty; manipura (navel): passion of willfulness and of urdhva-retas “heating”; anahata (heart) passion of longing and love; vishuddha (throat) passion of expressed longing, gradually nearing union; ajna (midbrow, hypothalamic-pineal) unitive fulfillment and dispassion.
In sahaja Yoga, specific mudras and asanas emerge in conjunction with each chakra. Yoga mudra, spinal twist, back- stretching, fish pose, reverse pose, and cobra pose, respectively, is one possible correlation of chakras and asanas. Here, we also have the basis for a “chakra developmental psychology,” which bears some resemblance to the psychoanalytic psychosexual oral, anal, latency, phallic and genital stages of maturation.
From Worded Truth to Wordless Gnosis:
The Puberties of Khecari, Shambhavi, and Unmani Mudras
Khecari Mudra: Linguistic Transcendence
and Hypoglossal Maturation
The rediscovered meditation practices of both Eastern and Western spiritualities have bequested transpersonal psychology an appreciation for the “wisdom-beyond-language.” Psychologies of meditation now abound. Yet, when movement during meditation is kept within apollonian forms, as is commonly taught, further maturations of the body can be inhibited. Thus, the postgenital puberty of the tongue and hypothalamus known as khecari mudra (“the sky-dancer delight-gesture”), so supportive of the meditative maturations of consciousness, is little known. (I am not referring to the intentionally contrived practice of lengthening the tongue, but the mudra that emerges spontaneously via pranotthana.)
During this puberty, the anatomy underlying speech and linguistic-knowing outgrows the “grip” of language and its limitations and passes through all manner of maturational longings and sacred utterance in which semantic purport, somatic auto-developmentalism, and ecstatic worship converge. Thus, the impact of the khecari puberty is wide-ranging. It spiritualizes the voice, distills mental energies to a quivering stillness, and revitalizes the body. Subjectively, longing (kama) arises throughout the body and into the pharnyx and the hypoglossal nerve. The tongue literally moves beyond its linguistic-enunciating function into an esoteric “vocabulary” of tumescent archings and developmental “delight-gestures”–mudras–and panlinguistic utterances.
As the tongue leans fore- and backward in graceful or empassioned, movement, whatever theological discourse hopes to achieve, is arrived at by purely somatic means. The articulative mechanics of utterance become the sonic and fleshy props for this oral-spiritual ascent. Here, the gap between words and wordless meditation, or body and spirit, is filled in exquisite detail, like the warbling lark at dawn.
These particular swaying, arching, and yearning tongue, and other bodily movements and soundings–moreso than all those of the logico-semantic ilk–unfold now a somatic-aesthetic way to the truth. Guided inwardly by the alluring scent, glow, taste, cool then heat, and eternally beckoning yin-yang whorl of the subtle-pineal’s heavenly portal, the tongue takes on this postlinguistic purpose. The central nervous system, with its elaborately beautiful structural and energetic subtleties, becomes its own highest thought and proprioceptive feeling, and the tongue its now-silenced and prostrate devotee.
Comparative anatomy reveals that homosapiens has the most elaborately ennervated tongue of all lifeforms. That this anatomical fact should be interpreted by sociobiologists as an evolutionary advantage or selective adaptation whose purpose is precise verbal articulations is cast into the background of a far more profound bodily potential, in the light of khecari mudra. The unusually complex hypoglossal nerve gives the tongue the sensitivity and muscular-articulating capacity to stretch back toward an inner-calling, thus stimulating the brain/mind in its maturation beyond language-knowing toward deeply embodied, meditative gnosis.
Embryology as well suggests that khecari mudra is part of a developmental continuity from the earliest to this most advanced stage of bodily manifestation. For we find that the timely secretion of sweet-tasting mucopolysaccharides causes the proto-tongue to lick itself away from its embryonic contact with the hypophysis (the rudiment of the hypothalamus and pituitary) and out of the then-forming cranial cavity and into the just-developing oral cavity. It is interesting, then, to find that after years of pranotthana, other sweet-tasting brain secretions (soma, amrita) will again draw the tongue toward further bodily maturations in khecari mudra. This time, the sweetness guides the tongue back behind the soft palate proximal to the hypothalamic “appetitive-drive satiety center” and the pituitary developmental “master gland.” The breath-less “hermetic” meditative episodes that occur during its arousal quicken the maturations of this puberty.
For, during certain breathless meditative passages that emerge during the mudra’s hypoglossal tumescence, a “psychic membrane” opens, certainly related to the hypothalamic monitoring of blood oxygenations. Through this permeable boundary between psyche and soma, an internal respiration, known as kevala kumbhaka, begins to gasp sustenance. The yogini becomes like the first amphibious fish who risked crawling ashore breathing no longer through gulps of water, but now of atmospheric oxygen. She finds a motionless way of breathing life into her body from the “lungs” of the akasha, the glowing pranic ethers of her own endless mind. This motionless inspiration feels interminably deep, going to the source of life itself, and even without khecari is common to many meditative paths. For here the mind-brain, which is, in part, based in pranic vibration, deepens its meditative maturation and the meditator begins to identify with such wordings as “The Self,” “Atman,” “Space,” or with the Ineffable of “not this nor ‘not-not’ this.”
Shambhavi Mudra: The Inner-Outer Visual Puberty. The expanse between shambhavi (“delight-gesture of divine knowing-seeing”) and unmani mudras (“no-mind mind delight- gesture”) tracks visual attentiveness from the outer seeing to the inner, esoteric visions and finally, into the enstatic samadhis of the fully matured ensouled body.
In popular parlance, a “soft-focus” of the eyes into the space in front of one’s face is a way into shambhavi, as are the various interpersonal gazing meditations of tantra. The clinical eye movement techniques known as “EMDR” (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) derive from the release of ocular tensions while focussing mentally on traumatic memories moreso than on the openness of perception that just then emerges as ocular tensions have been released. Thus, gazing or abreactive techniques, however helpful, can divert us from the more endogenous depths where the beauty and poignancy of seeing into sheer-space-in-time can catch our attention. Whatever chronic tensions there may be, and whatever memories one might associate with them, we can still become naturally allured and spellbound by the now-emergent simplicity: the innate blossoming-open of the eye-mind-heart complex.
Yet, technically, shambhavi mudra covers concentrations only so far as the eyes remain open, and somewhat downward in focus. As the eyes enter a kind of tumescence, they raise slightly. This indicates the beginning of unmani mudra, described below.
Unmani Mudra: Puberty of Cortical-consciousness. In the next puberty, unmani mudra, the cerebrum-mind further outgrows the grip of semantic processing. This “no-mind mind” correlates with various stages of Buddhist and other meditations, whereby the originating Source of moment-to-moment consciousness is lived into with sustained, fully consumed concentration, thus pre-empting any “later” generations of thoughts, recalled images, or comparative multiplicities of any sort (smritis). This is the mental puberty otherwise known as “enlightenment,” continuous flow of shruti (revealed truth) develops in the silent hush of this womb of consciousness: “The uninterrupted news that grows out of silence” (Rilke, 1963, p. 25); Or, as J.D. Salinger put it in his story, Teddy, “God pouring God into God.”
The expanse of these maturations of consciousness begin with pratyahara, the capacity to focus attention to the degree that this focusing itself can be felt and attend to. Next emerges dharana, such focus sustained to the level of a flow of concentration hovering in sheer impermanence itself. Dhyana next emerges as impermanence is continuously embraced as the temporal nature of the on-flowing of attention, on and on and on and on.
Thus quickens the consolidation of truths: being-in-time, quiddity, the love-bliss of pristine creation as first, sabija- samadhi, constant knowing of the Source, beyond the need for explication, yet with the “seeds” of thought; and then nirbija- samadhi, constant knowing of the Source so convincingly as to extinguish all “seeds” of hankering.
After many lifetimes of Yogic “gestation” at this advanced level of maturation, so it is said, the body, enters its fully matured status of divya sharira (“divine light body”). Thus, Kundalini Yoga logs maturations beyond the meditative absolute of the “enlightened mind” which correlatively fructify in the body as its regenerative rebirth.
Complete maturation: divya sharira and ultimate possibility: the body become one with the immortal soul. Thus, in the spinal paths, after some thirty to fifty lifetimes of dedicated postgenital cultivations (Kripalvanad, 1979), the entire body more and more partakes of this fundamental deathlessness, as body, mind, and eternal soul become a fully integrated whole. The term “embodied spiritual truth” leaves the realm of metaphor or vague adjectival and becomes as concretely literal and remarkable as a newborn baby.
Although exceedingly rare and seemingly outlandish, the “divine body” (divya sharira) is held to be no less or more miraculous or unnatural than the matured pubescent body which supports progenitive immortality and the awe of conception, gestation, and childbirth. (Here I am offering a heightened way of looking at “ordinary” reproductivity.)
On the one hand, taking a stand for the legitimacy of divya sharira invites a dismissal that might totally unwind my credibility from the perspective of a wide-range of thoughtful readers. From the Yogic perspective it is just such disbelief in any, ever, supernormal spiritual attainments that must also be inspected for its limitations. Such conclusive skepticism and the range of life pursuits that can ensue form the essence of a “worldliness” warned about in many spiritual traditions. It is just such a worldly attitude that, one at a time, can pre-empt the concerted involvement in the Yogic path for each individual.
The last recorded attainment of divya sharira in 1874 is described in Pathway to God Trod by Saint Ramalingar (Vanmikanathan, 1976), and describes the Saivite yogi, Ramalinga of Mettukkuppam, Tamil Nadu, whose body purportedly dematerialized into a florish of light. The next previous attainment was in the 13th century by the South Indian Saint Jnaneshvar, author of the Jnaneshvar-gita, a Marathi commentary on the Bhagavad-gita from the perspective of Kundalini Yoga and ofAmrita-Anubhava, “Experience of Immortality” and the devotional Abhanga. In the latter he writes, “Love throbs; I have seen the intensive form of God. He is full of sound and light” (Ranade, 1994, p. 195). The most recent appearances of a saint of this maturity (at the turn of the century and in the early 1950’s) I have come across were documented in the book Hariakhan Baba: Known and Unknown by Baba Hari Dass, a life-long Indian yogi residing in Santa Cruz, California. Other references to this Babaji, or perhaps to his guru, appear in Govindan’s Babaji, and Satyeswarananda’s Babaji.
Known by various names, Satyeswarananda and Baba Hari Dass maintain that Hariakhan Baba (literally, “the holy man of Hariakhan Forest”) is the several thousand year old “Babaji” who initiated Neem Karoli Baba, known as Richard Alpert’s (Ram Dass) guru, and the lineage of Paramahansa Yogananda, one of the first yogis to come to the West at the turn of the century. Yogananda attained additional esteem after his death in 1952 when his corpse showed no signs of decomposition, even after some twenty days. According to Los Angeles Mortuary Director, H.T. Rowe’s notarized statement:
- The absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramahansa Yogananda offers the most extraordinary case in our experience….No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death…No indication of mold was visible on his skin, and no visible desiccation (drying up) took place in the bodily tissues. This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one…No odor of decay emanated from his body at any time…. There is no reason to say that his body had suffered any visible physical disintegration at all. (Yogananda, 1977, p. 575).
According to the late Vinit-muni of Pransali, India, Hariakhan Baba/Babaji is also Lakulisha (150 a.d., born in Kayavarohan, India; organizer of the Pashupata sect) who initiated Swami Kripalvand (whose corpse showed no signs of rigor mortis during the two days before his burial [Kripalu, 1982]) in the early 1950’s, (and perhaps many other unknown yogis). His image remains embossed in the Elephanta Island carvings (dated 500-600) near Bombay which purport the “practicing [of] Yoga as the origin and culmination of all life.” (Collins, 1988, p. 48).
To help Westerners grasp the significance of these carvings, Indologist James Forbes ranks them with the Pyramids of Egypt; I would also include the mound at Golgotha and the Darwinian Galapagos Islands research. The Vayu Purana, the Kurma Purana and the Linga Purana discern Lakulisha (or “Nakulisha”) as the 28th incarnation of this immortal embodiment, known first as Shiva, Lord of Yoga. The upright club or staff he carries (for which he is also named) represents urdhva-retas, the full evolutionary maturation of homo erectus via his spinal flowing Kundalini.
According to the Pashupata Sutra and the Ganakarika Sutra (Collins, 1988, p. 137-38), the Lakulisha sect practiced an ecstatic ritual including wild laughter, sacred singing, “dancing consisting of [all possible] motions of the hands and feet: upward, downward, inward, outward and shaking motion,” a sacred “sound produced by the contact of the tongue-tip with the palate…after the dance when the devotee has again sat down and is still meditating on Siva,” an “inner worship,” and prayer.
The Pashupata sect which spread throughout Hindu, Buddhist and Jain India for some 600 years (and orginating the Yogic lineage of Gorakhanath and Matsyendranath and all modern hatha yogis) was noteworthy in Indian history in its scorn of the caste system and its belief in a diety capable of bestowing forgiveness and redemptive grace beyond the mechanistic dictates of karma. They believed that, as homeless forest-dwellers they transformed the enmity of city-dwellers who derided them by never striking back and instead blessed them. Given the open-heartedness, the breadth of emotionality inclusive of anahata-nada out-pourings and shamanic, animal-like dancing within the Pashupata Yoga, I conjecture that this sect functioned not only as a sainted-spiritual community, but, for some few, as a psychiatric haven, drug and criminal rehabilitation center, and homeless shelter. As with the appearance of many other saints, heaven lived on earth, and those within its fold were, for a time, redeemed into fully dharmic and joyous life.
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