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The Tantric tradition in Hinduism has proposed the existence of an invisible and subtle human anatomy that both parallels the human body and exist in its same space. That subtic anatomy consists of an energy system that flows through the human body much like the system of blood vessels or nerves. The primary channel runs along the spinal column, from its base to the top of the head. The primary channel is punctuated with seven essential psychic centers called chakras (also spelled charkas). It is believed that a storehouse of cosmic energy exists as latent potential in most individuals and that this energy called kundalini, can be awakened in various ways, can travel up the spine awakening the various chakras as it moves, and upon reaching the crown chakra as the top of the head, can bring enlightenment. Belief in the Tantric anatomy, kundalini energy, and the chakras was brought into Theosophy in the late nineteenth century, and permeated the groups of the Western Esoteric tradition throughout the twentieth century.
As developed within Hindu and Esoteric thought, chakras have come to represent different attributes and activities associated with human life. For example, if a person’s lower chakras are activated (apart from the higher ones), the individual is believed to operate from lower motives — the sex drive, gluttony, avarice, and selfishness. the Fourth chakra, associated with the heart, is seen as the most active chakra among religious people, accounting for a variety of actions flowing from compassion and devotion. Spiritual healing is usually seen as an artifact of the heart chakra.
The sixth chakra, better known as the third eye, is said to be located in the center of the forehead and is associated with a range of psychic abilities. After closing one’s eyes, one can usually see pictures at what appears to be a screen on the inside of the skull below the forehead. This phenomenon is commonly suggested to be a demonstration of the third eye. Attention to images that spontaneously appear on this inner screen while one is in a relaxed state (meditation) is an early step in most psychic development processes.
Some gurus (spiritual teachers) are credited with the ability to initially awaken the kundalini, a process called shaktipat. Those who teach kundalini yoga will also advise different activities, including various forms of controlled breathing that will further encourage the rise of the kundalini. Many practitioners of kundalini yoga claim to feel the rise of the energy during yoga exercises, and there are apocryphal reports of the sudden rise of kundalini doing physical damage to the body (though none of these stories have been verified). Among the prominent twentieth century teachers of kundalini yoga was Padit Gopi Krishna (1903-1984), who claimed that kundalini was a biological force that could be studied scientifically. While this initially interested some people with scientific training, no research results have been published that offer to prove Gopi Krishna’s claims about kundalini.
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