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Kundalini is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning either "coiled up" or "coiling like a snake"; there are a number of other translations usually emphasizing a more serpent nature to the word—'serpent power' or suchlike.

It is a term in yoga referring to the mothering intelligence behind yogic awakening and spiritual maturation. According to Yogic phenomenology a large part of this awakening is associated with the appearance of bio-energetic phenomena that are experienced somatically by the yogic candidate. This appearance is also referred to as Pranic Awakening. Prana is interpreted as the vital, life-sustaining force in the body. Uplifted, or intensified life-energy is called pranotthana and is supposed to originate from an apparent reservoir of subtle bio-energy at the base of the spine. This energy is also interpreted as a vibrational phenomena that initiates a period, or a process of vibrational spiritual development (Sovatsky, 1998). According to the Yogic tradition Kundalini is curled up in the back part of the root chakra in three and one-half turns. Quite a number of western translators interpret the energetic phenomena as a form of psychic energy, although the western parapsychological understanding of psychic energy, separated from its cultural-hermeneutic matrix, is probably not the same as the yogic understanding. Yogic philosophy understands this concept as a maturing energy that expresses the individual's soteriological longings. Viewed in a mythological context it is also sometimes believed to be an aspect of Shakti, the goddess and consort of Shiva.

Two early western interpretations of Kundalini were supplied by C.W. Leadbeater (1847-1934), of the Theosophical Society, and the Analytical Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961). Jung's seminar on Kundalini yoga, presented to the Psychological Club in Zurich in 1932, has been widely regarded as a milestone in the psychological understanding of Eastern thought and of the symbolic transformations of inner peace. Kundalini yoga presented Jung with a model for the developmental phases of higher consciousness, and he interpreted its symbols in terms of the process of individuation. (PsycINFO abstract: C.G Jung - "The psychology of Kundalini yoga". Princeton University Press, 1999).

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Kundalini and Thelema

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Kundalini rising

According to Yogic terminology the force of Kundalini is supposed to be raised through meditative exercises and activated within the concept of a subtle body, a body of energy and finer substance. This process has been explained in detail in the book "Theories of the Chakras" by Hiroshi Motoyama (see Chakra), who bases the bulk of the Kundalini raising practices listed in the book on the notable Swami Satyananda Saraswati, as well as on personal experience in helping people in various stages of Kundalini awakening. As the Kundalini raises from the root-chakra up through the spinal channel, called sushumna, it is believed to activate each chakra it goes through. Each chakra is said to contain special characteristics, and although the opening of higher chakras are believed to mark advanced spiritual unfoldment, it is important not to measure spiritual growth solely by the opening of higher potentials. According to this view chakras might be under- or overdeveloped, and lower chakras are thought to be just as important as higher. In raising Kundalini, spiritual powers (siddhis) are also believed to arise, but many spiritual traditions see these phenomena as obstacles on the path, and encourages their students not to get hung up with them (Kason, 2000).

Spiritual literature also describes instances when Kundalini can be initiated. Initiation of kundalini activity is usually considered to take place by a form of 'laying on of hands', or shaktipat, where physical contact to the body or the forehead of the subject by the guru or initiator is supposed to cause an experience of Kundalini that later may persist or grow with continuing practice, or fade away if practice is neglected. Eye contact during satsang with the guru is also supposed to cause this experience. Within the context of spiritual literature inadvertent kundalini experiences have also been reported to take place when subjects physically contacted powerful gurus, such as Meher Baba, by accident.

Kundalini in the world's religions

Kundalini as a spiritual experience is thought to have parallels in many of the mystical traditions of the world's great religions. Many factors point to the universality of the phenomenon. The early Christians might have referred to the concept as 'pneuma', and there are some recent parallels in contemporary Christian charismatic 'Holy Ghost' phenomena. Religious studies also note parallels in Quakerism, Shakerism, Judaic davening (torso-rocking prayer), the swaying zikr and whirling dervish of Islam, the quiverings of the Eastern Orthodox hesychast, the flowing movements of tai chi, the ecstatic shamanic dance, the ntum trance dance of the Bushman, Tibetan Buddhist tummo heat as practiced by Milarepa, and the Indically-derived Andalusian flamenco (Sovatsky, 1998).


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