Kurt Keutzer (keutzer@Synopsys.COM) 17 Aug 1994 writes:
In alt.meditation, alt.magick and other newsgroups there have
been recurrent discussions about kundalini, kundalini yoga, Siddha
yoga and other related topics. I personally find FAQ's and pointers to
references the most useful aspect of netnews so I hope some find some
use in this FAQ. Please feel free to post and send me feedback. I
especially enjoy additional tidbits on kundalini. If this FAQ is
successful I'll let loose a couple others on Siddha Mahayoga and
intentional forms of Kundalini Yoga.
KUNDALINI: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS AND SELECTED REFERENCES
Version 1.0, August 1994
Copyright Kurt Keutzer, 1994 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The author grants the right to copy and distribute this file,
provided it remains unmodified and original authorship and copyright
The author retains both the right and intention to modify and extend
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1. What is kundalini?
2. What does kundalini have to do with spiritual enlightenment?
3. Does everyone agree that kundalini awakening is necessary for
4. Is there any scientific basis for kundalini and the cakras?
Do I really have to believe that all these cakras physically exist?
5. Is kundalini the same as prana or qi? Is Chinese qi gong a
kind of kundalini yoga?
6. What about Tibetan Buddhism - has kundalini been known in
7. Are there any other traditions that show awareness of
8. So how do I awaken kundalini?
9. Are these methods of awakening kundalini dangerous? What
about Gopi Krishna's books?
10. Some approaches to kundalini yoga say there is no danger in
their approach - are they misrepresenting themselves?
11. But even if kundalini is dangerous, isn't it a faster way to
12. There have been many scandals among kundalini yoga teachers
- particularly sexual scandals. Is there a correlation between
sexual scandals and kundalini yoga practice?
13. If my kundalini is awakened will I need to change my
14. Where can I learn more?
I bow to the vibrant source of my innermost bliss.
What is kundalini?
``Kundalini'' literally means coiling, like a snake. In the classical
literature of hatha yoga kundalini is described as a coiled serpent at
the base of the spine. The image of coiling, like a spring, conveys
the sense of untapped potential energy. Perhaps more meaningfully
kundalini can be described as a great reservoir of creative energy at
the base of the spine.
From a psychological perspective kundalini can be thought of as a rich
source of psychic or libidinous energy in our unconsicous.
What does kundalini have to do with spiritual enlightenment?
First we need a few concepts: In yogic anatomy the sushumna is the
central channel and conduit for the kundalini energy that runs along
our spine and up to the crown of our head. Along this channel are
placed additional channel networks called cakras. These cakras are
associated with major aspects of our anatomy - for example our throat,
heart, solar plexus, and in turn these aspects of our anatomy are
related to aspects of our human nature. For example we have many
everyday associations with the heart that do not make sense relative
to our physical heart. We say: `` I don't have the heart to tell
him.'' ;``Take heart.'' ``She's so kind hearted.'' All of these allude
to some sort of subtle functioning associated with the heart area.
In many systems of spiritual practice enlightenment is precisely
correlated with the kundalini awakening from its slumber at the base
of the spine rising through the sushumna and ultimately reaching our
crown. When the kundalini is permanently fixed in the crown then
enlightenment is achieved.
It's not useful to sit with our consciousness fixed in our head and
think of kundalini as a foreign force running up and down our spine.
Unfortunately the serpent image may serve to accentuate this alien
nature of the image. It's more useful to think of kundalini energy as
the very foundation of our consciousness so when kundalini moves
through the sushumna and through our cakras our consciousness
necessarily changes with it.
So does everyone agree that kundalini awakening is necessary for
This view is held in the diverse literature of Kashmir Shaivism and in
other Hindu Tantric literature. It is found in the literature of the
Hatha Yogis and the Nath Sampradaya. You will find similar views in
many Buddhist Tantric works. In addition this view is held by recent
spiritual figures such as Shri Ramakrishna, Swami Sivananda,
Paramahamsa Yogananda and Swami Vivekananda and of course by
contemporary kundalini yogins themselves.
Nevertheless there are some dissenters from this view. These include
Sri Chinmoy, Da Free John and Gurdjieff. Then there are many other
spiritual practices, such as Zen, Vipassana meditation that consider
Is there any scientific basis for kundalini and the cakras? Do I
really have to believe that all these cakras physically exist?
Research on kundalini is especially spotty. There is no compelling
work to show that the system represents insights into actual human
anatomy. But it's important to understand that kundalini and its
network of channels and cakras is simply how yogins have chosen to
explain their experience and that yogins from many cultures have
arrived at similar, though not identical, concepts. The true physical
mechanisms underlying these experiences may be very different from
those described. Izaak Benthov has proposed a model to explain
kundalini in terms of micro- motion in the brain. In this model
experiences are associated with parts of the body, such as the heart,
because the part of the brain associated with that part of the body is
stimulated by micro-vibrations. His model is treated in ``The
Kundalini Experience'' by Sannella referenced below. From a practical
perspective the key thing is our subjective experience and that the
roadmap of these subjective experiences has been mapped out.
Is kundalini the same as prana or qi? Is Chinese qi gong a kind of
There is ongoing debate among scholars as to the precise relationship
between prana and kundalini. Kundalini may be defined such that it
subsumes the concept of prana. Alternatively prana may be defined such
that is subsumes the concept of kundalini.
What is probably more relevant is to distinguish two different
experiences which are often confused. In one an individual experiences
some pleasant energizing electric energy running along the spine. This
experience brings vitality and sensitivity. This experience may be due
to the activity of kundalini moving at the base of the spine but it is
not the same as kundalini rising up the spine. It is often
characterized as a movement of prana or qi. Another very distinct
experience is the experience of kundalini entering the sushumna and
rising up the spine. As soon as kundalini enters the sushumna this
experience will completely overwhelm ordinary waking consciousness.
This experience much more profoundly transfigures consciousness.
What about Tibetan Buddhism - has kundalini been known in Tibet?
Kundalini yoga in the Natha Sampradaya and Vajrayana in Tibetan
Buddhism both take their origin from the Mahasiddhas who were active
in India from the 8th century to the 12th century. Kundalini yoga
practices formed the core of the teachings of a number of these
Mahasiddhas and are strongly represented in Tibetan Buddhist
practices. Kundalini yoga was spoken of as ``Candali yoga'' by these
Mahasiddhas and became known as gTummo rnal 'byor in Tibet. Candali
yoga was a key practice of the famous Tibetan yogin Milarepa.
Are there any other traditions that show awareness of kundalini?
If you believe that kundalini is at the basis of spiritual progress
then every valid spiritual tradition must have some awareness of
kundalini. Christianity, Sufism, Qabalistic mysticism, alchemy and
magick all have literature which demonstrates an awareness of the
kundalini process but these traditions are not, to this author's
awareness, so open in their exposition of the techniques and so it is
hard to judge the depth of understanding latent in these traditions.
Nevertheless, the imagery is so unmistakable in these traditions that
each must have, at least at one time, been conversant with the
movement of kundalini.
So how do I awaken kundalini?
Indirectly kundalini can be awakened by devotion, by selfless service,
or by intellectual enquiry.
Broadly speaking there are two radically different direct approaches
to awakening kundalini. One approach requires initiation by a guru and
relies upon a technique called shaktipat, or ``descent of shakti.''
The other approach uses intentional yogic techniques . The yoga style
using shaktipat is variously called: Siddha Yoga, Mahayoga,
Sahaja Yoga (see Siddha Mahayoga FAQ - to be released). The styles
using intentional techniques include Hatha Yoga, Laya Yoga and
Kriya Yoga (see Kundalini Yogas FAQ - to be released).
Are these methods of awakening kundalini dangerous? What about Gopi
If we take the psychological perspective and view kundalini as the
power latent in our unconscious then it is easy to understand that
awakening this force is going to bring a greater amount of unconscious
material into our consciousness. Even in the best of circumstances
this is likely to be uncomfortable and if an individual is barely
coping with his unconscious even under normal circumstances then
awakening kundalini may push the individual over into psychosis. This
phenomenon has been documented many times.
Forceful methods of awakening kundalini pose additional dangers.
Because quite forceful methods can be used to awaken kundalini these
techniques themselves are potentially physically and mentally
disruptive. An individual named Gopi Krishna awakened his kundalini by
doing unguided meditation on his crown cakra. His life after awakening
was both blessed by ecstatic bliss and tormented by physical and
mental discomfort. Eventually his experience stabilized. He wrote down
his experiences in a recently re-released autbiography entitled
``Living with Kundalini.'' Gopi Krishna's autobiography appears to be
an honest representation of his experiences but it is only one extreme
datapoint in the panorama of experience on kundalini yoga. It
represents dangers in forceful unguided practice but it is not
representative of a typical practicioner's experience.
Some approaches to kundalini yoga say there is no danger in their
approach - are they misrepresenting themselves?
These approaches typically do not try to awaken the kundalini directly
- at least not for some time. Instead they focus on purifying or
``magnetizing'' the central channel without awakening kundalini. One
sign of such approaches is that no breath retention is used.
But even if kundalini is dangerous, isn't it a faster way to
First of all it may be useful to observe that there is no technique
currently known on earth that appears to be rapidly catapulting large
number of individuals toward enlightenment. Because kundalini yogas
deal so directly with a powerful enlightening force it seems natural
that they would be ``faster'', but there appears to be alot of
tortoise and hare phenomena at work with newbie kundalini yogins. Many
people begin kundalini yogas, have strong initial experiences and then
become frightened. Many who perservere through this initial phase
become distracted by the energy and focus on temporal and phenomenal
applications of the energy.
There have been many scandals among kundalini yoga teachers -
particularly sexual scandals. Is there a correlation between sexual
scandals and kundalini yoga practice?
There have been scandals regarding the teachers of many paths, both
spiritual and non-spiritual ; however, it is probably fair to say that
kundalini yogins have had more than their share. An advanced kundalini
yogin is typically a powerful charismatic individual who has the
ability to directly influence the minds of others. Westerners often
mistake this power as a sign of enlightenment and allow such teachers
liberties as a result.
In addition it is quite common for kundalini yoga to temporarily
accentuate the sex drive. This period requires extra discipline.
Finally, kundalini yoga is closely associated with tantrism and sex is
often used in conjunction with tantric practice. Where sex is used
there is of course the opportunity for misuse or abuse.
If my kundalini is awakened will I need to change my lifestyle?
It's hard to have your cake and eat it too. If you awaken kundalini in
order to change and enrich your life it's reasonable to expect you may
need to change your lifestyle as a result. The recommendations of both
classical literature and experience is that sleep and diet will need
to be moderated otherwise severe discomfort may arise. Furthermore
without moderating sexual activity and physical work it will be hard
to experience much success with kundalini. The extent that these
elements of your life need to be change depends on the nature of the
individual. While genuine mental imbalances arising from kundalini are
rare nearly every kundalini yogin will find periods when one needs to
be especially sensitive to needs for sleep, quiet and diet.
Where can I learn more?
Here are some references for further reading. They may not be the
easiest books to find but they are currently in print and are very
good in their categories. Note that by definition no reputable book on
kundalini will tell you how to awaken your kundalini. Either by effort
or by shaktipat initiation, practicing kundalini yoga requires the
instruction of an experienced teacher. Some introductory practices for
cleansing the channels can be learned from books.
Good introductory survey:
White, John (Editor) (1990). Kundalini - Evolution and
Enlightenment. New York: Paragon House.
Svatmarama (1985). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Swami Muktibodhananda
Saraswati, Trans.). (First ed.). Munger, Bihar: Bihar School of
Silburn, L. (1988). Kundalini - Energy of the Depths (Jacques
Gontier, Trans.). Albany, NY: State University of New York.
Contemporary Kundalini Yogins:
Chetanananda, S. (1991). Dynamic Stillness. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Rudra Press.
Muktananda, Swami (1989b). From the Finite to the Infinite (First
ed.). Volumes I &II, South Fallsburg, NY: Siddha Yoga Dham of
Tirtha, Swami Vishnu (1980b). Devatma Shakti (Fifth ed.). Rishikesh:
Yoga Shri Peeth Trust.
From Tibetan Buddhism:
Gyatso, Geshe Kalsang (1982). Clear Light of Bliss. London: Wisdom
Psychology and Pathology of Kundalini:
Greenwell, Bonnie (1990). Energies of Transformation . Shakti River
Press: Cupertino, CA.
Sannella, Lee (1987). The Kundalini Experience. Integral Publishing:
Lower Lake, CA.