Comparison of Kundalini Yoga with Jnana Yoga: By Berit Ellingsen, M.Sc.
Berit Ellingsen is a long term member of the HS community and was the Editor-In-Chief for Volume III of the HS E-Zine. She worked with great patience and creativity to bring the best out of every article that she edited and often added beautiful graphics to enhance each author’s contribution. Berit lives in Norway. She has a degree in biology from the University of Bergen, Norway. This particular article by Berit Ellingsen appeared in Volume I of the HS E-Zine in the Winter of 2001.
Self-Realization in Jnana, Kundalini, and Tantra Yogas
Kundalini-Shakti, in traditional Indian spiritual sources, is described as the energy that propels man to liberation. Thus, awakening this energy in the body(mind) of the practitioner is central in some liberation teachings, most notably, the Kundalini Yoga systems and the Tantra Yoga systems. As the energy moves in the central channel in the body from its resting place and source in the Muladhara Chakra to the Sahasrara Chakra, and enlivens the passive element of the mind, liberation is said to ensue.
Jnana Yoga, the “yoga of knowledge”, the type of yoga most commonly associated with Advaita Vedanta and the non-dual perspective, does not have the body and its energies as the main focal point for spiritual development, but the mind itself. Jnana Yoga uses the individual consciousness as a tool to learn about the true self and thus attain liberation.
One method of Jnana Yoga is Sri Ramana Maharshi’s method of self inquiry, atma-vichara. In asking oneself “who am I ?” one centers the individual consciousness onto its source. Thus, by focusing the conscious mind on the still point, the witness, to witness the very act of witnessing, the barrier between the perceiver and the perceived vanishes.
Awakening the power of Kundalini-Shakti alone and manipulating this energy is not seen as a prerequisite for attaining liberation, and Kundalini-Shakti does not have a central place in the texts of Jnana Yoga. The method of atma vichara alone is enough to bring about liberation (“Be As You Are, The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi”, edited by D. Godman, p. 142 and p. 146).
Is there nevertheless common ground between Jnana Yoga and Kundalini Yoga ?
From a non-dual perspective, Kundalini-Shakti is but one form of the Self. Kundalini-Shakti is the Self, pure energy and pure Being (Be As You Are, The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, edited by D. Godman, p. 145). The human mind with its consciousness is also a form of energy, of consciousness and Self.
Kundalini and Tantra Yoga
In Kundalini Yoga and Tantra Yoga, Kundalini-Shakti can be influenced by other energies such as sound (mantra), light and darkness combined into symbols (yantra and mandala) and movements of the physical body (asanas). In Kundalini Yoga, concentration on these energies and on various psychoenergetic centers, the chakras, is said to bring the Kundalini energy to these centers to break through the seven veils (chakras) that stand between union of the individual soul, Atman, with Shiva (or the non-dual consciousness, the Self).
To become strong enough to break through the seven veils of consciousness and reach the Sahasrara Chakra, the Kundalini energy must purify the body and mind in a process which may take many years. In this process, the energy will not always stay in the central channel, but spread out from the Muladhara Chakra in a broad fan that may include the entire lower body or torso in a process that can be complex.
The common denominators in manipulating the Kundalini-Shakti to attain liberation are concentration and focus. Where the mind and individual consciousness, the individual thought energy, is moved and focused on, there Kundalini-Shakti in the individual mind-body also moves. Thus, it makes sense to move consciousness not only onto energy centers, chakras, in the individual body, but instead directly onto and into its own source.
During the practice of atma-vichara, where the consciousness turns inward onto its own source, not to repress any thoughts or concentrate on any subject apart from the act of witnessing itself, the Kundalini-Shakti will automatically become concentrated into a fine beam. It will easily be led back to its source by rising upwards in the central channel with a force strong enough to break through the one true veil between man and liberation, the very idea that the individual consciousness is separate from the Self. The energy of consciousness, the Kundalini-Shakti, in this way is used as a laser beam to melt a single window instead of as a ram to bring down seven gates. No conscious piercing of the Sahasrara or any other Chakra on behalf of the individual mind is needed.
To bring about full liberation, Sri Ramana Maharshi recommended to continue to clean out the vasanas (the contents of the body-mind which keeps the Atman identified with the body-mind) which may be present even after the identification with sat-chit-ananda has been experienced in the first Nirvikalpa Samadhi (“Be As You Are, The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi”, edited by D. Godman, p. 66-67). After the first Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Kundalini-Shakti may manifest spontaneously, or where already present, the energy may increase the strength and efficiency of its manifestation. The Kundalini energy will then bring more of the vasanas (latent tendencies) to the attention of the conscious mind.
As a result of the knowledge experienced in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the mind will ask itself “to whom did these events happen ?” and the true nature of this mind content is seen and disidentified with. In this process, the Kundalini energy brings the vasanas to the conscious mind where they eventually evaporate like water in sunlight.
Thus, Jnana Yoga and Kundalini Yoga may share common ground in the effect of the Kundalini-Shakti in the body-mind, both prior to the first Nirvikalpa Samadhi as well as afterwards. The difference between the two yoga systems lies primarily in the view of how this energy should be employed, either directly, as in Kundalini and Tantra Yoga, or indirectly, as in Jnana Yoga.
You posted an excellent essay. When I first got into Kundalini Yoga some 30 years ago, I thought much the same thing, regarding the close relationship between Tantra and Kundalini, as well as the Chinese Tradition of Qi or Chi. And I recognized the somewhat opposite traditions of Vedanta or Jnana Yoga. I’m glad to see that someone else has been thinking along those very same lines.
But there are several things that I might add, coming from my practical experience with the Kundalini. First, it is not necessarily a linear process – starting from the bottom before one can go to the top. Indeed, in many of the Shaktipat Traditions, where the Kundalini Energy is passed along by a Guru to the new Initiate, it is easier to simply open the Forehead Chakra. Yes, without all the lower chakras below being open, as well as the entire central channel, the effects won’t be quite so spectacular, but neither will they have the danger involved that we often hear about regarding the Kundalini practice.
Secondly, while it is easiest to acquire an initiation from a Shaktipat Guru, from whatever branch or school, it really isn’t necessary. I once read in a translation of one of the Upanishads that “in the presence of a God or Saint, the Agna Chakra will blossom”. Well, it does. If it opens in a very big way, by the concentrated efforts of a very good Guru, one will experience a certain amount of bliss and light. But if one simply walks into the same room as a person who already has their Agna Chakra open, then one will feel a slight pressure in one’s own Agna Chakra, that is, in one’s forehead, a bit above the brows and about an inch inside the head. In most every case, where the person is not looking to feel this sensation, the sensation is dismissed as an incipient headache, and the feeling is ignored until it goes away. However, if one is searching for such an experience, and then latches onto the feeling and concentrates upon it, then the attention given to that ‘feeling’ will serve to fix it so that it may take root in one’s energy system.
Of course, the Shaktipat Gurus have a great deal of experience to impart, but the problem there is that they often charge more money than is easily affordable, and so the aspiring Initiate may feel obliged to take his ‘Initiation’ for free as detailed above.
Well, once the self-made initiate feels the energy in his forehead, then how should he or she proceed? For the first few days one should concentrate on that energy spot very often. Rub the spot with one’s finger. One can use the simplest and best of all ‘pyramid powers’, that is, any pointy object, ballpoint pens work the best, and point them into the chakra. Magnets are also good. Also, reading inspirational spiritual literature or poetry will serve to energize one’s higher centers.
But after a week or two, the Chakra may acquire so much energy that it gives one a headache. Many unexplained migraines may indeed be this very thing. In this case, one should discontinue thinking of one’s forehead and rather think it down to one’s tailbone, the very bottom of one’s spine. A simple visualization may help in doing this – one can take a drink of water and as the water goes down one’s throat, one can imagine that the energy is going down with it, to the bottom-most tailbone. If one can leave the energy down there, then the danger of these headaches will discontinue.
To acquire greater control over this energy, then one should find the key location for just such control, that is, the swivel point at the top of the spine, inside one’s head, just up and behind one’s pallet. It is easy to locate that swivel point simply by swiveling one’s head around and noting the point in one’s head where the swiveling occurs. Then one should focus the energy in one’s Forehead Chakra and visualize that energy coming back, along the roof of the mouth, to that swivel point. At first the Swivel Point will energize and feel about as large as a large grape, but it really must be focused upon until it is much smaller. It won’t take long, but just only a few minutes, concentrating on the energy as though one is peeling off the layers of an onion until one is at the very central point of the Swivel Point Center. It will be as small as a housefly and you will feel it pulsating, about in time with your heartbeat. Once you can feel that, then you have the Key to your body’s energy system, and you can send the energy up to your Crown Chakra, or even up over your head to create halos for yourself, or you can direct the energy down through your body. The remarkable thing, at this point is that you become aware of your body as an energy system. Before I could do this, I was conscious only of feeling in my skin, or within my body only when there was a pain, or in certain other regions when there was some stimulated pleasure. But for the most part the volume of my body was a void in regards to sensation and feeling. But once one had gone through the Swivel Point Chakra, then one becomes aware of all of the various energy flows.
Regarding this point, once I was able to discern energy flows, I was able to develop an easy and effective exercise. I had read of Huong Po’s ‘one finger’ exercise and tried to research it out, but couldn’t find a thing about it, but in my experiments I found that by rotating my thumbs, one clockwise, the other counter-clockwise, for only a few minutes, until they got tired, then, once the thumbs were stilled, the energy would flow into the central channel and rise up into the head.
Now, we are accustomed to hearing wonderful stories of bliss and light. Well, unfortunately, as far as I know, such experiences, for the most part, are reserved for those in deep trance, or in dreams. Once when I was dreaming, a Dream Guru told me that a few seconds of meditation in a dream was worth thousands of hours of waking meditation, and he was right. What in waking is felt as a slight pressure will be experienced in a dream as Bliss and Light. It is as though the sensations of the waking self and the dream self are placed along a continuum, with the Dream Self being much more sensitive to those things. And so it is that one should encourage oneself to do one’s meditations during one’s dreaming. Every morning when one wakes up, if one did not meditate during one’s dreams, then it is sufficient to simply note that one regrets the fact and to take a moment to resolve that one will remember to meditate the next time one is dreaming. Eventually it will have its effect, and one will have a dream of blissful meditation with white light and all that. Now, remember that this is not all imagination, and that dreams are more collective than many materialists would wish to admit, and that one’s dreams, no matter how well planned, will come with surprises from some Higher Source.
Oh, and this reminds me of a dream I had in which my deceased father came to me and showed me a spiritual trick, that if one hisses out one’s breath, making what one supposes is a noise very similar to the ‘white noise’ sound, then what in fact happens is that one’s brain lights up with the actual spiritual White Light. If one is sensitive to such things, then it also works during one’s daily meditations, though instead of feeling the White Light, one simply feels the sensation throughout one’s cranium.
Well, that should be enough for now.
I have been practicing yoga for over 5 years now getting influences from Jnana and Mudra. My problem used to be focusing on facets of society that I honestly have no business with giving so much of myself to (i.e. money, dating, gorging over food, etc.). Through this discipline, I have learned to focus my energy through equilibrium of mind and body. When it all comes down to it, the type of instruction one receives within Yoga is internal and personal. Putting that aside, I believe that our place in this world with borrowed time should be embraced day after day. To me, the practice of going to my class 5 days/week keeps me focused in anything I do with the rest of my day (work, family time, wife time). I am sensitive to many things in this world and I constantly see myself either meditating for a few minutes at my desk or engaging in various breathing exercises (currently using high breath) as I even type this. Many blessings and thank you for posting this. Take care.
having been in practice for years, i still consider kundalini as the most powerful form of Yoga there is!
Kundalini Shakti is the inherent power of consciousness. It is associated with various forms of yoga and meditation.The ultimate goal of all the practices is to attain peace. Peace that is beyond understanding. True meditation is to experience the quiet stillness that is our nature. See the following article.
Hi Leovolont. Your comment on Swivel Chakra got me thinking. From what you say I assume that Kechari Mudra is practicsed to activate exactly this chakra.
I would like to hear more about your experience and also the tips that you can share. How can you be contacted?