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The word chakra in Sanskrit means wheel; and according to the
Theosophical tradition, the chakras are "a series of wheel-like
vortices existing in the surface of the "etheric body."
The etheric body is part of the human aura closest in proximity
to the skin. It is sometimes referred to as the health aura, and
I think can be equated to the electromagnetic field of the body
or the bioplasma without doing injustice to the Theosophical system.
The chakras actually extend out beyond the etheric body to the
more subtle parts of the aura-such as the astral body. While normally
invisible, some individuals perceive the etheric body as a faintly
luminous mist extending slightly beyond the body.
1927, the Reverend Charles Leadbeater wrote a book on the chakras
based largely on his own psychic perceptions:
quite undeveloped they appear as small circles about two inches
in diameter, glowing dully in the ordinary man; but when awakened
and vivified they are seen as blazing, coruscating whirlpools,
much increased in size, and resembling miniature suns....If we
imagine ourselves to be looking straight down into the bell of
a flower of the convolvulus type, we shall get some idea of the
general appearance of a chakra. The stalk of the flower in each
springs from a point in the spine.
these wheels are perpetually rotating, and into the hub or open
mouth of each a force from the higher world is always flowing....
Without this inrush of energy the physical body could not exist.
also has uncovered descriptions of such vortices, similar to his
own, in the works of the seventeenth century German mystic Johann
Georg Gichtel, a pupil of Jacob Boehme. Gichtel assigned an astrological
planetary influence to each of the seven centers in his system.
It is uncertain to me whether he was influenced by the Sanskrit
tradition. However, on the title page of his book, Theosophia
Practica he claims to be presenting...
exposition of the three principles of the three worlds in humanity,
represented in clear pictures, showing how and where they have
their respective Centres in the inner person; according to what
the author has found in himself in divine contemplation, and what
he has felt, tasted and perceived.
Los Angeles at the Higher Sense Perception Research Foundation,
Dr. Shafica Karagula, a neuropsychiatrist, has for many years
made clinical observations of individuals gifted with extraordinary
of her subjects, whom she calls "Diane," reported the
ability to visualize vortices of energy, like spiral cones, which
seemed to be in remarkable agreement with Leadbeater's descriptions.
She described the etheric body as a sparkling web of light beams
in constant movement "like the lines of a television screen
when the picture is not in focus." There were eight major
vortices of force and many smaller vortices. Seven of the vortices
seemed to be directly related to the different glands of the body.
Diane was able to successfully diagnose various diseases by noticing
disturbances in the vortices. Karagula tested this ability by
taking Diane to an endocrine clinic of a large New York hospital
and having her read the auras of patients selected at random in
the waiting room. Then Diane's observations were checked against
the medical case records.
claims she was amazed at the accuracy of Diane's diagnoses over
a large number of cases. However she provides no exact figures
in her book or in her published reports and we are not informed
if independent judges and experimental controls were used., It
is difficult to ascertain the extent to which Dr. Karagula or
her subjects may have had their perceptions colored by the Theosophical
tradition. Many other psychic individuals I have been acquainted
with report an ability to visualize chakras. However, I know of
no tested psychics who have indicated the ability to perceive
chakras prior to any occult training.
When it comes to making any physiological sense out of the chakras,
the whole matter is filled with confusion. One widely quoted approach
equates the first chakra with the reproductive system. Others
associate the second chakra with sexuality and reproduction. Sometimes
the sixth chakra or third eye is associated with the pineal gland,
sometimes with the pituitary. The third chakra is sometimes associated
with the solar plexus, sometimes with the spleen, and sometimes
with the digestive system. Sometimes the second chakra is associated
with the spleen. Sometimes all of the chakras are associated with
nerve plexus, sometimes they are all associated with the endocrine
glands. In the Tibetan system, the sixth and seventh chakra --
the third eye and the "thousand petalled lotus" are
thought of as one. The Cabalistic system divides the body into
ten centers. Ironically, all these systems will go into great
detail in specifying the circuitry -- often called nadis -- connecting
the chakras together. I find it easiest to confront all of these
paradoxical interpretations with a certain curiosity and humility
(although I tend to think some writers masked their lack of understanding
with dogmatic assertion). Paradoxes of a comparable sort are not
uncommon in the physical and natural sciences, and generally exist
on the frontiers of knowledge. Most researchers tend to ignore
these uncomfortable, and poorly substantiated, reports.
One ingenious hypothesis was developed by Dr. William Tiller at
Stanford University. Tiller was impressed with the apparent relationship
of location and function between the chakras and the endocrine
glands. He wondered how these so called "etheric" organs
might interact with the glands. Drawing from concepts used by
electrical engineers, he suggested this interaction could be analogous
to a process of transduction. Imagine great energy streams flowing
through space and passing through our bodies, unabsorbed and unnoticed.
Tiller suggests that perhaps the chakras can be tuned in to couple
with this power source and transduce some of its energy from the
astral or etheric levels into the glands. One can think of the
chakras and glands as electrical transformer loads that will deliver
maximum power if they are balanced with respect to each other.
Transduction of etheric force through the chakra into the bodily
force within an endocrine gland
(courtesy William Tiller)
One might say ideas are speculative in the extreme. While such
ideas have little or no scientific merit, they serve the function
of providing a modern metaphor for ancient teachings.
interesting approach to the chakras has been taken by Lee Sannella,
MD. He noticed that the classic literature of yoga refers to a
process of psychic awakening known as the rising of kundalini.
This is pictured metaphorically as the rising of a coiled snake-like
energy from the base of the spine to the top of the head. As the
kundalini rises, it energizes or awakens each of the chakra centers.
encountered many cases of individuals who reported symptoms similar
to the classic descriptions of kundalini rising. These include
many strange bodily sensations of vibration and heat, combined
with visionary experiences and apparent psychic awareness. He
suggests that the classic yoga descriptions may be more appropriate
than the medical tendency to label such experiences as "psychotic."
chakras have some objective existence, or are they are the creations
of minds who claim to observe them? The same problem is actually
encountered in all fields of human knowledge. Do atoms exist?
Are quarks real? Where is humor? Such concepts serve as maps to
guide us through our experience; or, to use another metaphor,
they are menus. We would be foolish to confuse the map for the
territory or the menu for the meal or the metaphor for that which
is denoted by it. Sometimes, however, by a subtle consensus of
agreement, this is exactly what we do.
Hiroshi Motoyama of Tokyo is a student of raja yoga who has attempted
to give a literal interpretation to the chakra metaphor. In addition
to wearing the hats of medical researcher and psychiatrist, Motoyama
is also a Shinto priest. Using his intuitions, and those of several
observers, Dr. Motoyama divided a yoga class of 100 members into
three groups: (A) the yogi group in which the chakras had been
clearly awakened; (B) those in whom the chakras had been slightly
awakened; and (C) those in whom the chakras had not yet been awakened.
The chakras are often visualized as lotus blossoms that when fully
awakened appear in full bloom. In this case, no controls seem
to have distinguished between "awakened chakras" and
skill in practicing yoga. A number of investigations were then
made to determine if there were physiological differences between
these three groups.
the "disease tendency" of the different internal organs
corresponding to chakras, such as the heart, the digestive system,
the genitourinary system, and the nervous system, Motoyama found
significantly greater instability of these systems in class A
and B subjects. Acupuncture points associated with these organs
were stimulated and measurement of skin current values were made
on the palms of the hands before and after stimulation. Again
the highest level of response was found in the A group. Motoyama
also measured differences in the current of the fingertips and
toes on right and left sides. This time greater imbalances were
found in the A group of "yogis" with awakened chakras.
From these studies, he concluded that the nervous system and the
autonomic functioning of individuals with awakened chakras shows
a much wider range and flexibility of response than with ordinary
the study as reported could be criticized. One might easily suggest
that Motoyama was drawing inferences from random data in order
to fulfill his own expectations. Perhaps the findings seem cogent
and consistent with other studies in which yoga and zen masters
are able to dramatically vary heartbeat and brainwave measurements.
A safer interpretation is simply to suggest that quasi-scientific
work of this sort, while it contributes almost nothing to our
scientific understanding, serves to perpetuate psychic folklore
and polish it with the gleam of seeming scientific approval.
to yogic tradition, the chakras themselves are not to be confused
with any actual physical organs of the body. Dr. Rammurti S. Mishra
-- endocrinologist, Sanskrit scholar, and yogi -- in his translation
of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states that the seven chakras
are purely psychological classifications adopted as focuses of
concentration in yoga. He also added that through the chakras
mindstuff is able to operate upon the anatomical parts and physiological
activities. You might say chakras are important parts of the software
programmed into our biocomputers. As one becomes deeply involved
in yogic meditation, one is taught practices associating particular
sounds or mantras, images, and mythological patterns to each chakra.
Thus, to an extent the chakras are brought into awareness by a
creative thought process, acting upon the unformed substance we
can loosely call the human aura, bioplasm, consciousness, or imagination.
Anagarika Govinda, an Indian National of European descent belonging
to a Tibetan Buddhist Order, describes this process quite succinctly:
is making," this is the fundamental principle of all magic,
especially of all mantric science. By the rhythmic repetition
of a creative thought or idea, of a concept, a perception or a
mental image, its effect is augmentized and fixed (like the action
of a steadily falling drop) until it seizes upon all organs of
activity and becomes a mental and material reality: a deed in
the fullest sense of the word.
from "The Roots of Consciousness" by Jeffrey Mishlove,
Ph.D. with permission.
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