Saturday, 18 January 2014

Chakras - A Practical Map to the Human Mind

By Swami Gyan Dharma

Most yoga practitioners have a fascination with the chakras, with the mystical aspect of yoga. The whole subject of the chakras is big and rather complex, but apart from titillating our mystical curiosity they are also a very practical map of the human mind. 

Sw Gyan Dharma in the gardens at Mandala Yoga Ashram

It is often difficult for us to see beyond the mental and emotional state we find ourselves in at any given moment, to see other, and higher, possibilities inherent within us. We tend to be bogged down by the narrowness and constriction of our habitual mental and emotional states. It is important for us to try and remember that our current state of mind is not the only possible way of perceiving; indeed higher spiritual experience is something that is within reach of all of us. The chakras remind us that there are infinitely many more possibilities than simply what we are experiencing in this moment. This can be an important encouragement - a guiding light when   things get a little dark.

We often have the idea that we have to transcend the lower chakras in order to access the higher ones. However it is important to understand that the chakras are an integrated system and that each one of the chakras has a part to play in our lives: we cannot live by the higher chakras alone but we need the lower chakras as well. The process we go through when we begin to open up the chakras is not so much a process of transcendence but more a process of balancing and harmonising.

It is the negative aspects of the chakras that create suffering in our lives. Therefore it is important to understand what work we need to do. For example, the problems we face in the mooladhara chakra are related to insecurity, anxiety and fear.
Mooladhara is symbolised by a red lotus
 Therefore the process of harmonising and balancing this chakra is about finding a way past our fears and insecurities so that they no longer rule, dominate and direct our life. In the swadhishthana chakra the problem we face is our addiction to pleasure and distraction. All the chakras present us with different challenges and opportunities to grow into a bigger version of ourselves. In a well balanced mooladhara we acquire the power to provide ourselves with the necessities of life, like food and shelter and clothing. A person who has harmonized the energy of this chakra is free from insecurity, fear and anxiety.

The most important thing to understand when we are working with the chakras is that they are interdependent. They do not operate in isolation. So we are not trying to leave the lower chakras behind in order to reach the higher ones. We are trying to make use of all the chakras in an integral and intelligent way. They each have something to contribute to a purposeful spiritual life. For example, without the basic necessities of life there is no spiritual life. Without the capacity to enjoy that radiates from the swadhishthana, there is no spiritual life. Without the capacity to create and to manifest projects, which is made possible by the manipura chakra, there is no spiritual life. Without the energy of the anahata chakra and the power of devotion, there is no spiritual life.

In the process of chakra regeneration the two cornerstones we need to focus on are devotion and awareness. They should be the rulers of our lives. For a smooth and healthy awakening of the kundalini (primal energy) we first have to put in the effort to cultivate these two attributes. So firstly we awaken the anahata so that devotion expresses in our life and then we awaken the agya to balance devotion with awareness. When that has been done we can restore the equilibrium of all the chakras and prepare ourselves for higher awakening.

Chakras - Gateways to Insight

By Madhuri

Mooladhara Chakra
The Mooladhara Chakra speaks of the earth element, of substantiality, of that mysterious process whereby the subtle takes on a physical form.  It is the gateway for reflection on my own embodiment.  On the spiritual path we are often encouraged to withdraw our attention from the body and it’s changeability in order to contact that which is unchanging.  However for a balanced awakening to our spiritual nature we need to enter fully into our physical embodiment. Suzuki Roshi said that if it isn’t paradoxical it isn’t true (To Shine One Corner of the World.  Shunryu  Suzuki.  Broadway 2001). So I work with this paradox, with the ability to embrace the body and let it go with equal compassion, purposefully dwelling in the body, yet insightfully knowing, when the time and place is right, that I will willingly withdraw from it.  As I reflect back on my spiritual journey I am aware of some of the pitfalls and misconceptions that have lead me astray. For example, at one time spiritual idealism created a subtle apathy towards my body and I understand now that aversion blocks wisdom.  Life has given me the gift of endometriosis, a condition that produces regular pain and extreme fatigue. Despite this, my physical discomfort encourages me to reflect deeply on my condition and to move on from indifference to my body to loving and appreciating it, even when it does not do what I want it to do. 
To embrace physical form, despite its shifting and unreliable nature, allows me to engage with life more fearlessly. If I cannot withstand the changing nature of my physical body, then I cannot develop meditative calm.  I have also mistakenly imposed spiritual ideals onto the body which does not allow for its natural changeability.  The Mooladhara Chakra has helped me to be less fearful in my contact with form so that I can more easily accept the body on its own terms.  I can find a blessing in physical exhaustion in that it forces me to be rather than do.  I am being liberated from the compulsive doing mode that our society seems to so much value. Swami Gyan Dharma regularly encourages us to not wish for some other body and mind, or some other life, but to love the life that we have.

It is profound to acknowledge that whatever arises can be an aid to awakening.  My spiritual journey is helping me to fall in love with the world of form. My heart burst open when I saw an old man walking along with an old dog.   Both are shuffling and limited to a slow pace.  On one visit to the hospital I became suddenly aware of the strange beauty of forms as they disintegrate and break down. 
Beauty in decay
This arose when seeing an old man pushing his even older brother along in a wheel chair.  Life presents us with these extremely beautiful and tender moments.  Spiritual practice supports us in embracing physical form in all its aspects and the Mooladhara Chakra is a gateway to this.  Spiritual life has pushed me to open my mind to both the pleasurable and unpleasant aspects of having a body, to be content with good health and to accept ill health, and most importantly, to contemplate life and death. Every Tuesday at Mandala Yoga Ashram we chant the mrityunjaya mantra (the chant of victory over death) fifty four times for those who are suffering. To go deeper in our understanding, it is necessary to make efforts to move out of the cycle of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain; as a practice, this helps us break free of a narrow engagement with life.  During this chant we turn towards pain and deliberately expose ourselves to it.  This softens the heart and helps us to cherish life as it is. I see the yellow square of the Mooladhara dissolve into light as I find that the body is a gateway to spiritual insight.

Swadhishthana Chakra
The Swadhishthana Chakra speaks of the depths of the subconscious mind which is represented by water; these watery depths contain all our desires and fears.  This chakra is a gateway for reflecting on the nature of my desires and fears and how they create a sense of self which is unreliable and always changing like the phases of the moon. Indeed, partly for this reason, this chakra is symbolized by the moon. Desire can burn when sitting in meditative silence.
Madhuri at a Havan
(fire ceremony)
 In these moments I smile because smiling definitely helps – i remember the countless mediators, now and in the past, who have also been trapped, just like me, in what feels like an endlessly agitated mind state.  Then I notice that the desire shifts and changes and feels like some divine hand has lifted me out of the fire and placed me on a high cliff in a cool breeze.  It is an awesome feeling to sit there with these desires when they arise in full force.  I reflect on how much meaningless activity, destructive habits, shallow consumerism would simply cease on this planet if more of us could just stay still on this hot seat, to stay fully present with desire and not be pushed into action or repression. 

I have experienced tracing desires back to the deeper energy from which they arise. This energy is radiant and full of potential.   It does not contract around an object but feels like the creative force out of which objects arise.  In meditation, I have flashes of Life’s desire to continually re-create itself in order to celebrate its awesome potential. Life looks through my eyes and admires her own exquisiteness. Sri Nisargadatta explains that desire is built into the fabric of existence, and that it is Life itself creating the urge to grow in knowledge and experience (I am That, Sri Nisargadatta Maharai). 
Sri Nisargadatta Maharai

I have found it enormously helpful to trace thoughts back to their roots as either desire or fear.  It simplifies the mental landscape in which I roam.  Through this simplifying process I have come to recognise more subtle desires; the desire for meaning, for inspiration, and the desire to be somewhere else.  The energy of the swadhishthana provides us with the opportunity to investigate how desire can put us more deeply to sleep or wake us up.  Swami Gyan Dharma gave some very good advice on working with desire and fear, likes and dislikes.  In relation to sadhana (practice) he said: “Give yourself no choice” – that is, the consistency in yoga practice exposes the preferential mind with its constant likes and dislikes.   I see the crescent moon of the Swadhishthana dissolve into the light as I see that my desires are a gateway to insight.

Manipura Chakra
The Manipura Chakra is a gateway for reflecting on my actions and my sense of self in relation to these actions.  The insight that deeply altered my understanding of our actions occurred to me one day when I was out walking. The perception was that things could not be manifesting in any other way; that no matter what my thoughts are or my preferences, the unalterable reality of this moment is the way it is and all there is.  Swami Nishchalananda frequently reminds us that insight can come at any moment; regular meditation helps us to be more sensitive and available to these mystical moments.  This experience that I had altered how I contact and relate to the present moment.  
In asana (yogic posture) practice when I notice that if I am only half there, I shift and start to greet life fully with a depth of heart and a longing to see the only moment there is.  Knowing this makes an arm movement an entry into mystery; that simple gesture becomes the entirety of my life, because it is all there is.  I feel the mystery of it; could I possibly have brought all these elements together, this floor, this air, this space, this motivation, myself?  So how can I say that “I” am doing it? Even the idea seems absolutely absurd! An almighty concordance of factors so breathtakingly beyond my control or imagination have come together to allow whatever is happening to transpire. 
Swami Nishchalananda practicing
Vajrasana in India
Therefore this moment deserves my utmost attention. An arm movement in an asana can take on an unknown, limitless quality.  The moving arm feels like it is traveling through an unknown galaxy, through a universe of space, leaving behind a luminous trail of light like a shooting star.  It is impossible in that moment to label it “arm” –it is a gesture of all-consuming loveliness.  The observer floods the moment with joy.  Every subtle shift in the movement becomes a universe of sensation to be witnessed.  When the “arm” meets the “ground,” I feel an explosion of joy as one miracle meets another miracle.  The substantial flows out of the insubstantial and back again.  
After this kind of experience I watch the mundane mind return; it is a profoundly different lens through which to perceive the outside world and it awakens a thrill of how life wants to act now, practically and within time.  The Manipura Chakra reveals the many different levels in which action can take place.  I see the red triangle of Manipura dissolve into the Light as I witness how engaging in action can be a gateway to diverse aspects of my being.

The Anahata and Agya Chakras
The Anahata speaks of the subtlety of air and I become aware of what I need to surrender in order to enter into the lightness and refinement of the spiritual Heart. I am profoundly interested to see whether this heart of mine is capable of love outside the normal stereotypical roles and definitions. I have found that connection with a teacher fosters a love utterly different from the egoic flattering that I have foolishly understood as love in the past.  Swami Gyan Dharma says that love is the genuine wish to see another grow. I deeply appreciate this definition.   The love which connects a teacher and student fiercely forces me to drop the weight of conditioned understanding. It helps me to become less; this is the lightening that allows movement within the fineness of Anahata.
Part of a mandala created at the Ashram,
with Om the symbol of Agya
I found it interesting to question why Anahata isn’t the pinnacle of the chakra system.   Why isn’t love the end of our search?  In my journey I have seen that love without being matured with awareness leads to a feeling of being overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the suffering in life.  Awareness and insight are needed to embrace things the way they are. Swami Gyan Dharma says that the two pillars of spiritual life are devotion and awareness.  There is an image used for this: for a bird to fly through the air, it needs two wings and to fly in spiritual life we also need two wings, one wing is compassion or love and the other is wisdom. Here the energies of Anahata and Agya support a wise and loving perception of reality.  Linked to this, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj has the most succinct summation of reality which challenges the heart, which points to the profound alchemy of the energies of the Agya and Anahata.  He says:  “Love says: ‘I am everything.’  Wisdom says: ‘I am nothing.’ Between the two my life flows”  (I am That, Sri Nisargadatta Maharai).

I recently read something that showed these words in action.  Chogyam Trunpa was determined to enlarge his monastery in Tibet even though the communist regime was taking over his country and it was likely to be destroyed.  At the level of understanding of the Mooladhara, this attitude would not make sense as the physical form (the building) would be a needless venture which would soon be destroyed. But at the level of the heart nothing can be lost.   Here we witness the intent of the heart to build because it is motivated and inspired to do so, even though it may amount to nothing tangible.  He appears to have embraced the understanding that his actions are everything and nothing and therefore he could act decisively without fear and attachment.  The sense of nothingness can deepen our ability to act with love. The interaction of these two chakras can also help prevent equanimity turning into indifference. I see the six pointed star of Anahata and the two petals of Agya dissolve into light as I recognise that love and awareness are gateways to deepen spiritual life.

Vishuddhi Chakra
The Vishuddhi Chakra speaks of spaciousness as it is linked to the element ether.  Since is located at the throat, it points not only to speech but also to the silence out of which sound arises and returns.  Swami Nishchalananda has given us the incredible gift of reflecting on spaciousness.  He encourages this quality in meditation, helping us discover that we are much more than the body and the mind, and that the body and mind when mellowed with spaciousness become pointers to the Mystery that lies behind them.  

If one spends enough time with Swami Nishchalananda it is impossible to fix a solid understanding behind words: words take on a transparency which leads to contemplation. It is been a blessing to be guided through the chakras by Swami Nishchalananda. He encourages contemplative questioning of each one which instead of filling the mind with more concepts, leaves a silent space out of which deeper understanding can arise, helping each chakra be a gateway to insight.

Hari Om Tat Sat