Kundalini in Non-dual Shaivism
Generously written and contributed to SOFB blog by Shreeram Iyer
Many people have heard the term kundalini,and awakening of kundalini,both in the east and west. Over the last few decades so much has been written about kundalini,and every occultists and spiritual aspirants seems to know about this concept really well. Kundalini the feminine creative energy in us. Kundalini arising in the spine like fire. These are some of the few things that a person will commonly hear,when it comes to kundalini. But what exactly is the kundalini? Is it really a serpent energy coiled in the coccyx? Or is it something else entirely? In this small article,i will try to explain the concept of kundalini from an experiential as well as scriptural point of view. In order to understand kundalini,we need to have a brief idea about some of the basic concepts of Shaivism. Shaivism is a system of spiritual philosophy and practices which developed in the Indian subcontinent over centuries. The purpose of this chapter is to address the concept of Kundalini from non-dual Shaivite perspective,which developed in the Kashmir valleys of the northern part of India.
The Supreme Reality
Within the system of Shaivism,the supreme metaphysical or ontological principle is called as Para Shiva. This Para Shiva is called by different names,in order to denote different attributes assumed by this ultimate principle. He is called as Para Samvid or the Supreme consciousness,Svachanda owing to the fact that he alone has the sovereign power to manifest any object which includes the cosmos. The nature of Para Shiva is Chit or consciousness,but consciousness is not the right occidental word for Chit. Consciousness in a common term refers to the awareness of the objective world,which is in the form of a distinction between the subject and the object. But in the case of Chit a distinction between subject and object does not exist. It is above all dualities and relations,Chit is the ultimate changeless principle,the supreme I or Purna Aham which acts as the matrix for the manifestation of cosmos. It is the highest changeless ontological principle which brings the cosmos into light with its own power called as Swatantra.
That being said,one may wonder what is the nature of the supreme subject? since it has already been said that the supreme self is consciousness,the consciousness is with total awareness,in other words it is self aware consciousness. It is aware of its inherent infinite potential and the sovereign freedom to do anything. In the scriptures Para shiva is said to be Prakasha Vimarshatmaka,means Para Shiva is of the nature of light and reflection. The word Prakasha refers to the light of consciousness and the Vimarsha refers to the luminosity,reflection or the self illuminating property of light.
Light is never devoid of illumination,it is always self luminous, in the same way the light of consciousness is with awareness. Awareness is the fundamental nature of consciousness,this awareness in the form of Supreme I is called as shakti. This is why Shiva is said to be always one with Shakti, Shiva is the light and Shakti is the self luminousity.
Shiva and Shakti are the nature of Para Shiva. As such Shiva or Shakti can not exist independent of each other,without awareness consciousness is inert or dead and can not do any activity of creation etc. While in the absence of consciousness awareness can not exist,owing to the fact that luminosity can not exist in the absence of a light. So it has to be understood that the pure self aware I is the sole reason for the manifestation preservation and the dissolution of the immanent world.
The awareness of the Chit manifests as Chit Rupini Shakti when scires itself to manifest the cosmos,it is this Chit Rupini Shakti which creates a sense of schism in the supreme I,which initially manifests as 'I AM' and as 'I Am This' successively,'THIS' being the cosmos manifesting from the subject 'I'. Yet again we have to understand that the 'I' and 'THIS' are one and same. It is the knower who manifests as known.
Five powers of Shiva and the Cosmos
Unlike certain vedantic doctrines,which proclaims that the supreme is devoid of any qualities and is inert,shaivites opine that it is the nature of Para Shiva to manifest the cosmos,and he manifests it in his own image. The supreme is dynamic and throbbing with self awareness, and is always expressing itself by bringing the objective world into light,by manifesting the immanent cosmos. The cosmos is the exalted will of the supreme ontological principle in Shaivism. What kind of a supreme god can be called omnipotent if it can not even manifest the cosmos? If it is devoid of any qualities,it is not consciousness but Jada or corpse. So the entire universe is nothing but the Supreme subject experiencing himself as the object.
Para Shiva is said to possess mainly five types of powers of shaktis,through which he conducts five metaphysical actions,they are :-
Chit shakti – This is the power of being self aware as I,it is this power which helps Para Shiva to shine as the supreme light of consciousness. This is represented by the upward face called as Ishana.
Ananda Shakti – Ananda is roughly translated as bliss, this is the awareness in the form of absolute sovereign power to manifest the universe. This is the aspect of what we call shakti or self luminosity which is represented by the second face of Tatpurusha.
Icha Shakti – Icha means will. This is the pure unadulterated will of Para Shiva, the will is oriented towards creation. This aspect is represented by the Aghora Vaktra or face called as Aghora.
Jnana Shakti- Jnana means knowledge. The knowledge is in the form of multitudes of the limited object which constitutes the universe. This is the aspect which guides the will to bring the objective reality into light. This aspect is represented by the face of Vamadeva.
Kriya Shakti- This aspect is the actual act of creation. Whatever that has been there in the awareness of Para Shiva now manifests as thee gross objective world with multitudes of the objects which constitute the cosmos. This power is embodied by the face of Sadyojata.
During the manifestation, Para Shiva himself manifests as the limited cosmos. He is the subject and the object,the universe shines in his awareness. When he contracts himself as the limited world,the result is a loss of his unlimited awareness,a nescience occurs in the individual,resulting in a forgetfulness of his real self,this stage marked by the nescience of self is called as bondage. This nescience is the sole reason for the differentiation of subject and object. Due to the nescience the individual thinks that the subject and object is distinct. In this state the unlimited will,knowledge and action becomes limited in nature. The unlimited subject becomes limited in nature.
Kundalini and liberation
Liberation in kashmir shaivism is termed as recognition of the self,but not dissolution of identity in the supreme. The dissolution of the limited self happens,as a result of recognition of the self as the supreme subject.
Normally three functions are attributed to god in every culture viz creation,preservation and destrutction. These three activities are conducted with the help of icha ,jnana and kriya shakti respectively. Shaivism has identitifed two more ontological functions for shiva, one is revealing or called as anugraha and the other is concealing or nighraha. Concealing nature refers to the obscuration of his real nature when he manifests as the limited cosmos,while revealing is the grace of Shiva which helps the empirical limited individuals to recognize their true nature or identity with the supreme subject. The three powers of will,knowledge and action manifests as the subject,cognition and object respectively during the evolution of cosmos.
Kundalini literally means coiled,is the manifestation of Shakti. Now we have known what Shakti is,and the relationship of Shakti with Shiva and the supreme principle,let us get to the concept of Kundalini now. Kundalini is nothing but the existence of Shiva or the self luminous light. The nature of this power is always revealing in nature,to put it in simple words the existence of Kundalini is self evident. It manifests in us as our inherent self,viz self aware consciousness. We have to understand that Kundalini is not an object of contemplation or imagination. But it is the agent through which the objects of imagination and thoughts comes to light in our mind. The light of knowledge of the external world around us,which are perceived through the five sense organs are illuminated by this fire of consciousness. Without Kundalini the micro cosmos will cease to exist. Now Kundalini on a cosmic scale is nothing but the Shakti of Shiva,or the power of Shiva which brings the cosmos into light,it is the very Shakti through which he conceals and reveals himself,he creates and destroys the universe. Kundalini is nothing but the Swatantra Shakti of Shiva. It is not an object of contemplation but it is the agent through every object manifests in the universe. Now the metaphorical language used to describe Kundalini as power which arises through the spine has created numerous confusions among people.
The rising of the Kundalini is a symbolic depiction of the evolution of the empirical individual from the lesser subject to Shiva,there are seven subjective states accepted in Shaivism. First one being the gross state of subjectivity called as Sakala,which is characterised by a complete nescience of self,and a complete distinction between the subject and the object. The subject is in a state of ignorance where he tries to identify himself with relation to the objects. The most transcended being the Shiva state of subjectivity,which is characterised by the complete annihilation of all sorts of duality,the object residing in the subject. The Shiva subjectivity is far beyond the descriptions of human language,it is the sensation of the supreme I,the cosmos appears as the supreme I. There is not even a single grain of objectivity in it,it is pure state of subjectivity. So the ascension of awareness from the gross state of objectivity to the pure state of subjectivity is symbolically represented as the penetration of the serpent through the six mystical wheels or Chakras, finally reaching the seventh one with thousand spokes called as Sahsrara.
Now let us look at the classical analogies, it is usually assumed that when the breath enters or polarises the ida and pingal nadis which are the left and right veins respectively the sleeping power of Kundalini awakens through the central channel called Sushumna. In Suta Samhita,an important classical treatise on spiritual exercises or yoga
Idayaam chandramaa nityam charatyeva mahamuneh
pingalayam ravistadvanmune vedavidam vara
Idayah kundali sthanam yada pranah samagatah
somagrahana ityukta tadaa tatvavidam vara
Tatah pingalayah pranah kundalisthaanamagath
yadaa tadaa bhavetsurya grahanam munisattama
(Suta Samhita 2/11)
The above verses taken from Suta Samahita further clarifies the concept of Kundalini. It says that the moon always moves in the Ida or the left channel,while the right channel or the Pingala always carries forth sun.
When the Prana enters the left channel and reaches the Kundalini,it is called as lunar eclipse. While the Prana when it moves through the right channel and reaches the place of Kundalini,it is called as solar eclipse.
Now let us look at the meaning of the moon,sun and fire viz Ida,Pingala and Sushumna.
It has again been said in Suta Samhita that,the moon is Vishnu, sun is Brahma and the fire is Rudra or Ishwara. In many texts and Puranas like Devi Bhagavata,the commonly accepted triune Brahma,Vishnu and Rudra are considered to be the Kriya,Jnana and Icha shakti of the supreme Brahman respectively. Even in Shaivite scriptures Brahma and Vishnu are considered to have evolved from the faces of Sadyojatha and Vamadeva respectively. The doctrines have reaffirmed this concept in several instances,to make sure that the novice makes no mistakes in his practice. In other words the moon is the object,sun is the act of cognition and the fire is the subject,which are represented by the Ida,Pingala and Sushumna respectively. They are represented by the trinity Brahma,Vishnu and Rudra. Rudra is always represented with fire,Vishnu with moon and sun interchangeably,and Brahma again with sun or moon. The reason for difference in opinion will be made clear shortly.
Moon represents the objective reality which is nothing but a reflection of luminous light of the sun,which signifies the cognition process of the subject. The fire which signifies the subject is the last of the trinity. The yogi has to meditate as the external object and the act of cognition rises from the self or the subject,in order to realise his true nature and oneness with the universal subject.
In Kashmir Shaivism Brahma has been attributed to objective reality as the creator,while Vishnu with cognition as the sustainer, and Rudra as the destroyer which signifies the Icha shakti of Para Shiva,and is related with the subject. The fire or Rudra is concerned with destruction,not because he destroys the universe,but his actions leads to the annihilation of the distinction of subject and object,or destruction of the ignorance in empirical individuals. Brahma and Vishnu are interchanged with moon and sun,owing to the fact that, moon is just a reflection of sun,and the sun and moon are one with the subject with no distinction whatsoever. So more importance has been given to the state of subjectivity, than for cognition or state of objectivity.
Now the Kundalini or the coiled one is said to reside in the lowest of Chakras in a three and half turns. What does the three and half turns represent here ? It represents the object cognition and the subject, the half turn is called as Prami or it is beyond the notion of subject and object,it is the pure 'I' consciousness without even a single sensation of 'AM' and 'THIS'.
The so called Prana in Patanjali Yoga Sutras is considered to be the breath or in certain other contexts it has been identified with Vital Force,Biological Energy,Bio Plasmic Body etc. In the doctrines of Shaivism,Prana is considered to be an inherent nature of the chit or consciousness, Prana is the power of Shiva to bring the cosmos into manifestation. To be more precise Prana Shakti is the creative potential of Shiva. This Prana Shakti is nothing but the Vimarsha or the power of reflection in the supreme lord. Prana Shakti is the creative awareness which manifests or reflects in the form of Phoenemes or the fifty letters in Devanagiri. The entire universe is considered to be an emanation of the 50 letters. So the Prana is nothing but the reflecting nature of the light of consciousness,it is the awareness which manifests as the letters. Previously we saw that, Suta Samhita opined that the flow of prana through ida and pingala is said to be the eclipse of moon and sun,and later we also saw how the three coils relates to fire,sun and moon or how it is related to subject, cognition and object.
When the Prana or awareness is in the state of objectivity or external world or in the moon,it is in the first coil of Kundalini. When the awareness moves to the cognitive state or to the sun,it is attached to the second coil. When the awareness moves towards the fire or the subjective consciousness of the I,it is in the third coil. These three constitute the triple emanation of Shakti. The last half coil of kundalini is called as Prama or Prami. Even in the state of subejctivity the I identifies the outer world,and is recognised as abiding in him,slight traces of objectivity still exist in this phase. The state of Prama is characterised by a complete dissolution of the final traces of objectivity. Prama is the Pure I,with no trace of objectivity in the form of 'AM' or 'THIS'.
That being said,let us see the manifestations of Kundalini in a lesser subject,owing to the fact that shiva contracts himself when he becomes the lesser subject,the contraction occurs in the Kundalini as well. Kundalini is basically called as Kauliki Kundalini. Kundalini Shakti is most celebrated among Kaula practitioners, the secret techniques of Shadanvaya Shambhavi of Sri vidya, directly works with the universal forces of the seven states of subjectivity within and without.
Kaula the word is basically associated with sexual rites and the Pancha Makara rites using Wine,fish,gestures,paddy and meat. These are just symbolic representation of the internal processes which is beyond the scope of this article. Let me just explain briefly what the term Kauliki represents. Abhinava Gupta in his Para Trishika Vivarana has given many explanations for the term Kauliki. We will see the important ones among them. As per rules of sanskrit grammar, kaula is an adjective of the word kula.
The first interpretation of Kula as per PTV is gross and subtle manifestation. It includes gross,subtle and transcended manifestations. Gross refers to the body,sense organs,vital breath etc. It is called Kaula because the objective world is an expression of the transcended consciousness,object manifests from the subject and object always abide in the subject. Without the self luminous light,objective world can not be actualised. So kula is nothing but the very awareness which brings objectivity into light. It is the power of the subject to manifest the object.
The second interpretation roughly describes that the Kaulika represents the experience of the subjective and objective phenomena, 'I and THIS'. While 'THIS' represents the objective reality consisting of multitudes of objects and subject 'I' being the one who perceives the object,the self which is nothing but consciousness. Simply explained this refers to the limited awareness of the individuals which is nothing but the manifestation of the Shakti herself.
The third interpretation says that it is the form of Shiva-Shakti or the self luminous light in everyone,which most of us are not aware of. This interpretation says that the kauliki is the power which brings about the liberation in every empirical individual,which points to the Anugraha or grace of Shiva,another function of Kundalini.
The fourth interpretation is that the Kula is the power or delight through which the cosmos of multitudes of objects manifest. It is the bliss of Para Shiva,when he manifests the cosmos from himself,the self luminous light or the self aware consciousness bringing the cosmos into light is called kula shakti.
The above descriptions of kauliki is quite clear, now that we understand why it has been said Kauliki Kundalini, Kundalini is the power through which Shiva manifests the cosmos. As such Kundalini is not the objective world,she can not be known as the objective world,she transcends the objectivity,she is the cause of objectivity,she manifests the objectivity in the gross states of existence. The nature of Kundalini is self revealing, ascend of Kundalini is nothing but the ascend of consciousness, from the field of objectivity to pure subjectivity.
Now let us look at the different manifestations of Kundalini.
Shaivite doctrines classify Kundalini into three major forms, viz Para-Kundalini,Chit-Kundalini and Prana-Kundalini. The Shakti manifests as this triad of Kundalini. Para-kundalini is the most transcended aspect of shakti,where there is no distinction of the subject and object . It is also this Para-Kundalini which evolves to give rise to the cosmos in its phase of emanation,this is also called as the power of Visarga,Visarga is represented by two dots arranged vertically,representing Shiva and Shakti, Shakti the lower dot as the reflection of upper dot Shiva.
These two powers are the concealing and revealing nature of Para Shiva as well. The ability to contract himself as empirical individuals,and the ability to realise his true identity are a result of this Para-Kundalini. Some scholars opines that the Para-Kundalini Can not be experienced in a living body,and can be experienced only during the time of physical death, but the most potent Shaktipath (grace) that comes from Para Shiva can help us realise this Kundalini with a physical body. The cosmos appears as abiding in the awareness of the supreme subject,and total identification of the lesser subject with supreme subject occur here. After reaching this stage,a yogi may voluntarily shed his body,or may work towards anything of his choice in the physical world,with this recognition.
This Para-Kundalini during her manifestation phase is called as Shakti-Kundalini,owing to the fact that shiva contracts himself with his shakti and manifests the limited cosmos. This Para-kundalini is always identified with the will aspect of the supreme lord,as the will to create is always one with the awareness of Para Shiva. When Para-Kundalini transforms herself into Shakti-Kundalini,she manifests as the Pramana Tejas or the light of consciousness,the light refers to the knowledge gained through the five sense organs in the form of sound,touch,images etc. The Para-Kundalini is usually experienced when the Yogi meditates on the indeterminate state which precedes before a thought construct arise in the mind,a yogi meditating on this indeterminate state realises his true self by becoming aware of the ever pervading consciousness, which is the manifestation of the Chit Shakti of Shiva. Another way to recognise this Kundalini is to contemplate the five actions of Shiva within ourselves.
Next one is the Chit-Kundalini,this is the power which makes us conscious. The manifestation of the unlimited consciousness as lesser consciousness is possible due to this aspect of Kundalini. This Kundalini in an individual is recognised when the individual becomes aware of his inner nature. This is recognised through various means,one is by meditating on the interval between inhalation and exhalation,which is called as sandhi. Sandhi means gap or interval between two breaths.
This can also be achieved by concentrating on a single thought,and by being aware of the gap when the next thought form arise in our mind, here the person has to be aware and contemplate on the interval between two thought forms. This is possible only when a person is able to pay very close attention to the thoughts that arise in his mind,by becoming aware of every though forms that arise in his mental dimension. Now in Shiva Sutra Vimarshini second Ahnika it has been explained that the supreme mother is called as Kundalini,and she can not be awakened by any force or imagination.
The only way to awaken her is to meditate on the supreme 'I'. This is done by enkindling our consciousness,by becoming aware of it,this is possible only when a person can banish all sort of limited objects of thoughts from his awareness,then he becomes aware of his inner self. The yogi has to withdraw his awareness from the external objects and should become aware of internal self by adopting Vikalpa kshaya (Vikalpa means limited though constructs,(Kshaya refers to destruction). This can be achieved by continuously paying attention to the thoughts that comes in our mind. The step one of Initiation Into Hermetics of Franz Bardon concentrates on achieving Vikalpa Kshaya. It is also said in Shiva Sutra Vimarshini that the individual, once he churns his inner self by inserting sparks of awareness, he realises his oneness with the Virya or the potential of Shiva,or the supreme Shakti,this Virya is wrongly interpreted as the sexual energy or semen,but in this context, it refers to the creative power the supreme lord.
Now the third one is the Prana-Kundalini. We have already seen that Prana is the awareness in the form of Mantras. There are different levels of manifestation for this Prana Kundalini,but we will stick to the important aspect of this form. In the doctrines of Shaivism,Devi or divine feminine is called as Malini (garlanded with letters), also there are eight categories of letters in Sanskrit,which are embodied by eight female goddesses called as Ashta Matrikas,the awakening of the Mantra Virya or the potential of Mantras in an individual is the result of recognition of Prana-Kundalini. Yet again in second Ahnika of Shiva Sutra Vimarshini,it is said that all the mantras are one with letters, and all the letters constitute the heart of Para Shiva,heart here refers to the center of awareness or to his Shakti,that is why the letters are associated with Shakti,and it manifests as Prana-Kundalini.
The Para,Chit and Prana makes up the triple emanation of Kundalini. With that being said,i hope I have depicted the basic concepts of Kundalini in a lucid manner.