..The Intuitive Times
Ask the Intuitive


What are Chakras?

Back | Next | Contents | Home

Dear Intuitive Times

What are Chalkras?

Samantha H, Charlottetown

Dear Samantha

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.

In 1927, the Reverend Charles Leadbeater wrote a book on the chakras based largely on his own psychic perceptions:

When 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.

All 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.

Leadbeater 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...

A short 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.

In 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 perception.

One 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.

Karagula 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.

An 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.

Sanella 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."

Do 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.

Dr. 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.

Examining 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 individuals.

Certainly 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.

According 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.

Lama Govinda

Lama Anagarika Govinda, an Indian National of European descent belonging to a Tibetan Buddhist Order, describes this process quite succinctly:

"Thinking 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.

Taken from "The Roots of Consciousness" by Jeffrey Mishlove, Ph.D. with permission.


Back | Next | Contents | Home