This blog seeks to speak about the Chakra system and the science behind it as expounded by spiritual traditions within the broad ambit of South Asia: Shaivism, Tantrism, Shaktism, Buddhism and Yoga. Apart from introducing the subject, I attempt to see how this tradition fits within the modern scientific worldview and thus the potentials for incorporating this ancient knowledge into our daily lifestyles.
It would be imperative to clarify at the onset that the science behind chakras and Kundalini Shakti (Life Force) have not originated from one place or text. Neither has it been formulated and irreversibly coded in one point or phase in time. Even today individuals are adding essential aspects to its theory as well as practice. It is a science that is constantly reified and contested within circles of spiritual practitioners in South Asia. The system of Chakras and Kundalini is a highly complex and multi-modular science linking various centres within the physical body to natural elements, astrological alignments, emotions, patterns of thought and various aspects of our surroundings. By understanding this synchronicity and developing practices towards harmonious balance, its practitioners believe that one could eradicate physical and mental disorders/ illnesses, suffering and the list could go on and on.
Even though numerous spiritual traditions have a science behind Chakras and its corresponding set of practices, they vary only so slightly in their application and uses. This is to say that these practices did not originate in isolation in different corners of South Asia, but rather through cross-cultural dialogue between spiritual practitioners. Nor is it possible to pin its origins onto one group of people originating from a particular place as the science and its related practice essentially originated over a time span of numerous generations. Even today, the science is incomplete and a number of practices and theorizations continue to emerge that either build on or challenge conventional views on the matter. I feel that trying to draw clear boundaries between different traditions; between the buddhist, aghora, and yogic is fallacious (especially in the Himalayan region). Though differences do exist, many of these practitioners themselves do not draw rigid boundaries between their practices and that of practitioners from other traditions. One can see this clearly when reading first-hand accounts of experiences of sadhus and monks who journey in the Himalayas. For instance in “Living with the Himalayan Masters” by Swami Rama, it is clearly visible that he doesn’t define himself or his practices by any one spiritual tradition. Also, in his initiation to becoming a sage, he learns different practices and philosophies from different sages at different points in time that are from varied backgrounds (some aghora, some buddhist, some more puritan and some less so, etc.). Its almost like for the initiate, an extensive spread is laid out and you then go on to pick and choose whatever suits your cosmological worldviews, comfort levels, body type, etc.
To end, i what like to bring to light a blurry distinction that lies in my thinking of spiritual traditions in South Asia as having evolved very differently from those in Europe. In Europe, the emergence of an organised religion in the form of Christianity completely wiped out its real spiritual practitioners (the “druids and witches”) and replaced them with priests that were preoccupied with upholding the status quo and aiding the elite to gain superior power and monetary advantage over others (Both within national boundaries and outside of it). In South Asia on the other hand, though organised religion did emerge with the Brahmanisation of institutions; they nonetheless allowed for spiritual practitioners to exist alongside them. Thus, though there is no clear distinction between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ practitioners, it is possible to segregate religious dogma from spiritual practice when one sees the involvement of money (commercial activity within sacred space) and extreme fame attributed to one single person.