History of the Chakras
Hindu model of Chakras:
In Hinduism, the concept of chakras is part of a complex of ideas related to esoteric anatomy. These ideas occur most often in the class of texts that are called Agamas or Tantras. This is a large body of scripture, most of which is rejected by orthodox Brahmins. There are many variations on these concepts in the Sanskrit source texts. In earlier texts there are various systems of chakras and nadis, with varying connections between them. Various traditional sources list 5, 6, 7, or 8 chakras. Over time, one system of 6 or 7 chakras along the body's axis became the dominant model, adopted by most schools of yoga. This particular system may have originated in about the 11th century AD, and rapidly became widely popular. It is in this model where Kundalini is said to "rise" upward, piercing the various centers until reaching the crown of the head, resulting in union with the Divine. This is the conventional arrangement cited by Monier-Williams, where the chakras are defined as "6 in number, one above the other". The Hindu sadhana of Laya yoga works with the chakra system.
Tantric model of Chakras:
The chakras are described in the tantric texts the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the 'Padaka-Pancaka , in which they are described as emanations of consciousness from Brahman, an energy emanating from the spiritual which gradually turns concrete, creating these distinct levels of chakras, and which eventually finds its rest in the Muladhara chakra. They are therefore part of an emanationist theory, like that of the kabbalah in the west, lataif-e-sitta in Sufism or neo-platonism. The energy that was unleashed in creation, called the Kundalini, lies coiled and sleeping at the base of the spine. It is the purpose of the tantric or kundalini forms of yoga to arouse this energy, and cause it to rise back up through the increasingly subtler chakras, until union with God is achieved in the Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head.
The Tantric sadhana of Laya yoga works with the chakra system.
The tantric chakras
Tantra (Shakta or Shaktism) describes eight primary inner chakras:
Muladhara (Sanskrit: Muladhara) tip of the tailbone, spiritual potential
Swadhisthana (Sanskrit: Svadhi??hana) tailbone, unconscious emotion or desire
Manipura (Sanskrit: Ma?ipura) navel, dynamism
Anahata (Sanskrit: Anahata) heart, love based decisions
Vishuddha (Sanskrit: Visuddha) neck, discrimination and wisdom
Ajna (Sanskrit: Ajña) eyebrow, mind
Bindu (Sanskrit: Bindu) a dot at the back of the head, prayer and Aum
Sahasrara (Sanskrit: Sahasrara) top of head, higher consciousness.
Vajrayana and Tantric Buddhist model of Chakras:
According to contemporary buddhist teacher Tarthang Tulku, the heart chakra is very important for the feeling of existential fullfilment. A result of energetic imbalance between chakras is an almost continuous feeling of dissatisfaction. When the heart chakra is agitated, people lose touch with feelings and sensations, and that breeds the sense of dissatisfaction. That leads to looking outside for fullfilment. When people live in their heads, feelings are secondary, they are interpretations of mental images that are fed back to the individual. When awareness is focused on memories of past experiences and mental verbalizations, the energy flow to the head chakra increases and the energy flow to the heart chakra lessens. Without nurturing feelings of the heart a subtle form of anxiety arises which results in the self reaching out for experience. When the throat chakra settles and energy is distributed evenly between the head and the heart chakras, one is able to truly contact one's senses and touch real feelings. The kye-rim (Tibetan) and dzog-rim (Tibetan) stages work with the 'chakra' (Tibetan: khorlo).
Bön model of Chakras:
Chakras, as pranic centers of the body, according to the Himalayan Bönpo tradition, influence the quality of experience, because movement of prana can not be separated from experience. Each of six major chakras are linked to experiential qualities of one of the six realms of existence. The tsa lung practices such as those embodied in Trul Khor lineages open channels so lung (Lung is a Tibetan term cognate with prana or qi) may move without obstruction. Yoga opens chakras and evokes positive qualities associated with a particular chakra. In the hard drive analogy, the screen is cleared and a file is called up that contains positive, supportive qualities. A seed syllable (Sanskrit bija) is used both as a password that evokes the positive quality and the armor that sustains the quality. Tantric practice eventually transforms all experience into bliss. The practice liberates from negative conditioning and leads to control over perception and cognition.
Chinese model of Chakras:
Traditional Chinese medicine also relies on a similar model of the human body as an energy system, except that it involves the circulation of qi energy, rather than a simple ascent as in kundalini yoga. In the circuit of qi, called the Microcosmic orbit, energy also comes back down the front torso channel (equivalent to the nadis of Hatha yoga), and enters the tan tiens: when it returns to the heart (and cycles down and reascends to the head) further meditation/contemplation or union with deity develops. In Macrocosmic orbit the qi is also guided through the main channels in the limbs. With the front tan tiens (autonomic plexuses to organs/glands) branching from cerebrospinal chakras) and two levels of a vitality triangle on/in the back (spleen and behind a 'belly chakra/tantien', and by the arm-nadi branch) on the back, there are 7 (or 8) chakra spots outside the cerebrospinal nadis.
Common currency and popular models
The chakras are described as being aligned in an ascending column from the base of the spine to the top of the head. In New Age practices, each chakra is often associated with a certain color. In various traditions chakras are associated with multiple physiological functions, an aspect of consciousness, a classical element, and other distinguishing characteristics. They are visualized as lotuses/flowers with a different number of petals in every chakra. The chakras are thought to vitalize the physical body and to be associated with interactions of a physical, emotional and mental nature. They are considered loci of life energy or prana, also called shakti, qi (Chinese; ki in Japanese), bios (Greek) and aether (English), which is thought to flow among them along pathways called nadis. The function of the chakras is to spin and draw in this energy to keep the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health of the body in balance. The New Age movement has led to an increased interest in the West regarding chakras. Many in this movement point to a correspondence between the position and role of the chakras and those of the glands in the endocrine system. These ideas first appear in the writings of theosophical authors like C. W. Leadbeater, who wrote a book on the Chakras. The seven principal chakras are said by some to reflect how the unified consciousness of humanity (the immortal human being or the soul), is divided to manage different aspects of earthly life. The chakras are placed at differing levels of spiritual subtlety, with Sahasrara at the top being concerned with pure consciousness, and Muladhara at the bottom being concerned with matter, which is seen simply as crudified consciousness.
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