When all nadis and cakras that are completely impure become purified, then the self-controlled Yogi retains (his)
vital breath within
— Translation by Manorama
The urge to transcend self-conscious selfhood is a principal appetite of the soul
— Aldous Huxley
The Sanskrit word chakra means “wheel.” A wheel rolls, turns, and by means of cyclic or circular movement, takes one on a journey. This journey occurs in space and time, and thus it is eventful, but it also may propel the traveler beyond the limits of time and space. Who is this traveler we speak of? Consciousness is the traveler. Kundalini is a Sanskrit term meaning “coiled snake” and refers to this consciousness. The spiritual evolution of the individual soul, the jiva, occurs when consciousness travels through the doors of perception, which are the chakras. Kundalini is awakened from sleep and moved from a dormant state by life’s experiences. The desire for experience propels the soul. Like the flames of fire, this journey moves upward. The soul is always moving toward superconsciousness, or the enlightened state, whether it is aware of its destination or not. But awareness can accelerate the awakening. The various levels of cognition that kundalini goes through to develop her consciousness are referred to as chakras. With the ascent of consciousness, perception expands. The journey is an ever-evolving one: as each new level of awareness is gained by kundalini, the chakras continue to function and expand. Consciousness lies dormant at the root center, or base of the spine. This is the site of muladhara chakra. Mula means “root.” The priority here is physical preservation. When you perceive reality from this level, you are concerned mainly with the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, and safety. Money is a prime interest. Grounding in the material world is necessary if you are to move upward toward full spiritual realization. Once the basic needs and responsibilities are taken care of, consciousness evolves toward sexual and creative expression, which is what the second level, svadhishthana chakra, is concerned with. This creative expression can be in the form of art and/or procreation. After there is creative experience, then comes the identification with ego and the quest for power, which is the concern of the third chakra, manipura. This force can manifest itself as the quest for acknowledgment or worldly success through the acquisition of wealth or fame, or by trying to control others or the environment. Most souls spend their entire lives without ever evolving their consciousness past these first three chakras, or levels of awareness. But those who do so are motivated by a desire to be of benefit to others. When consciousness resides in the heart, or the anahata chakra, the soul begins to perceive the interconnectedness of being. Other-centeredness, not selfishness, guides their lives. Compassion fuels consciousness at this level of awareness. Many saints live in the heart; it is a very elevated level of consciousness. When consciousness continues its ascent upward, it moves into the vishuddha chakra, the place of purity, where the poisons of negative emotions are neutralized. From this place, higher wisdom, the wisdom of harmony and alignment with the Divine Self are expressed. The voice is pure and sweet and speaks truth. All thoughts, words, and actions are motivated by good intention and a desire to embody peace and to express the highest potential of life. From this place of eloquence, consciousness evolves by means of humbleness to the abode of transcendental joy, the ajna chakra, or third-eye center. In this place of clear perception, duality is transcended and Oneness is perceived. The Divine Self is seen everywhere in all beings and things. From this perception of Oneness, consciousness ascends to the sahasrara, or crown, chakra. This is the thousand-petaled lotus, the ultimate reality of continuous ecstatic unfoldment, where senses are merged into the very source from which all senses originate and become divinely transcendental. The lover and the beloved meet in love. This is superconsciousness or awareness of the Divine, and it brings about mukti, or liberation from avidya, resulting in samadhi, the reconnection of the soul with God. It is the highest joy.