Kundalini Yoga and How to Practice It
There are many forms of cultivation practice which involve concentrating on a single point or esoteric structure within the physical body in order to attain samadhi. For instance, Taoism, yoga and some Western cultivation schools suggest concentrating on the region of the third eye in order to open up the jen-mai (front) and tu-mai (back) chi channels. This spot is also the location of the "Ajna" chakra, which is the top entry point of the sushumna, ida and pingala channels of the esoteric schools. Naturally, this accounts for its popularity as a focus point in meditation. By focusing on this region of the third eye, the various cultivation schools hope to bring chi into the body's central channel, and to melt various jing essences in the head (called subtle drops, bindus, thigle, bodhicitta or bodhimind substances) which bring about the states of physical bliss which accompany the various samadhi.
Some schools suggest alternative points for the focus of concentration: the top of the head, the soles of the feet, or the tan-tien lower belly region called the "hara" in Japanese (females, however, should avoid concentrating on this area). In all these places, practitioners are told to imagine a silvery bright point of light, a shining moon or sun, or tiny radiant flame, and to focus all their concentration upon this image. The tinier you make and more clearly and radiant you visualize your image, the easier it will be to draw the energies to the point. So all these images have the purpose of massing the chi at some particular point of concentrated focus; you focus your mind on a point, and then the chi follows. After the chi is drawn to a point and becomes massed within a small area of concentrated focus, it's natural for this state of intensified compression to give birth to a condition of warmth and light, just as the ignition of a flame can occur from the process of friction. So this condition of concentrated massing produces a stage of inner luminosity and inner warmth, which is described in many cultivation schools.
The Tao school says that when "chi sufficiently masses to a point, the inner light will be revealed". It also says that your chi will transform into shen, which in a coarse way is akin to light. Speaking for the Hindu schools of classical yoga, Patanjali says that "through pranayama, the covering concealing the inner light disappears"; by cultivating the breath, a physical inner light will appear as well as the beginnings of spiritual knowing. Tsong Khapa of the Tibet school says that "when meditative stability has been achieved, then the radiance of the light from the inner fire will illuminate the inside and outside of one's body, as well as one's dwelling place and so forth, rendering them transparent." Shakyamuni Buddha described this attainment as breaking through the skandha of form, whereby you'll be able to see within your own body, as well as distances far away.
The Zen school doesn't bother with all these details, but simply says that this internal light is brought about as a result of the friction between the physiological and psychological states. So when you sufficiently mass the chi into a small region through the practice of concentrated focus, such as in visualization practices, you can give birth to an internal flame which gives off heat and light. This is the basis of the kundalini yoga practice, which is cultivating the warmth element of the body. First you cultivate your chi and mai, or the wind and water elements of your physical nature, and then you can cultivate the warmth (heat) element of the body which corresponds to the kundalini phenomenon. But you only do this because it will lead to yet other higher transformations, not because it is an end-in-itself.
How do you get to this state, which also occurs when you master the skeleton visualization technique? By cultivating your chi so that it doesn't leak, and then throwing yourself into a visualization practice which focuses on a bright point within the body. What's the best image to focus on to bring this about (assuming your mai have already been cultivated, and you haven't been losing your jing through sexual activity)? A brilliant tiny flame, or a dazzling moon, shining silver symbol, tiny deity of lightening brilliance, or whatever other silvery, flame-like image can help bring your concentration to a point. What's the best spot to use as a location of focus for your visualization? Since you can only achieve samadhi if your chi enters the central channel, then the top or bottom entry points of the central channel (the third eye, for instance), or chakra locations within the central channel, make logical points of focus. You don't want to focus on the sexual organs, for the warmth that arises will enervate your jing and stimulate sexual desire, and then you'll likely to leak your vital substances through sexual activity. Hence the best area in the lower region of the body corresponds to the tan-tien region of the abdomen, which contains the navel chakra of transformation responsible for the tumo fire.
This tumo fire is a concentrated focus of chi which will give rise to warmth and inner light, and the warmth will melt the various subtle drops, or jing substances, that produce physical bliss within the body. That's just the way the process works, so there's no use arguing about it. The esoteric schools don't tell you this, but the state of bliss comes about because hormones are secreted in the body, and they appear when the body experiences the inner warmth brought about through kundalini cultivation. In other words, the heat element will enervate the water elements of life (our jing, ojas, hormones, bindus, bodhicitta, etc.), giving rise to the sensations of physical bliss. This physical bliss is important because it helps engender concentration, so the purpose of the tumo fire is to activate the substances which create bliss, and from within this bliss you must generate samadhi. When you have both the samadhi of non-conceptual emptiness and physical bliss conjointly, you want to blend the two realizations. With continued proficiency in this practice and ever higher levels of achievement, you'll be able to eventually see the Tao and enter the path.
In general, single-minded concentration on any part of the body can lead to one-pointedness, and concentration on a specific location will send chi to that region because the chi and mind are interconnected like a rider and his horse. However, although you can practice mental focus on a variety of spots to bring about the calm abiding of samadhi and various states of body bliss, it doesn't necessarily mean that your chi will have entered your central channel. To attain the highest samadhi, you actually want to produce a state of warmth which will melt the bodhimind substances inside the channels which produce ecstasy, and from this state of ecstasy or bliss will arise a state of beyond-conceptuality consciousness which we call emptiness or samadhi. That's the point of mental cessation, and it comes about when the body is experiencing physical bliss. Thus the esoteric school claims people should focus on the top or bottom of their central channel in their visualization practice, or the chakra locations in between (such as the throat or heart chakras). The reasoning is that if you focus at the top or bottom of the channel, it will draw chi into the central channel, and if you visualize the chakra locations along the channel from within it's inner diameter, this will also draw the vital energies into the channel.
Now as a background, concentration on any part of the body will definitely give rise to the sensation of internal wind at that location, which most everyone mistakes for chi. But the real chi of the body is not this internal wind, rather it is the prenatal energy warmth which we call kundalini or shakti in its coarsest form, and which can ascend through the body's energy channels giving rise to samadhi. You can't actually force the kundalini to arise, you can only bring about a state of mental cessation and quiet wherein it will rise automatically and naturally, for the extreme of yin (stillness) will give birth to yang (the kundalini force will awaken). Hence the real purpose of visualization practice is to bring about the one-pointedness of samadhi concentration, rather than to specifically awaken the kundalini. Generating kundalini is not the end in itself, it is just a convenient means of practice.
Of course the "awakening of the kundalini", or cultivation of the body's warmth element, happens naturally as a result of the process of cultivation, but people get mixed up about what they're trying to do, and take the production of phenomenal realms as the purpose and point of the path. They don't view these realms as transient scenery which have no ultimate significance in themselves. Hence these phenomenal forms and stages too easily become a focus of misguided fixation whereas the guidelines of cultivation tell us to abandon any fixation with form, including the illusion of possessing a body or identifying with experiences. Unfortunately, most people who use these practices lose sight of this principle and end up clinging to the various phenomena they produce. That's a major problem inherent within the esoteric schools, so take heed of this warning.
Now the technique in the Hindu and Tibet schools is to try and generate this cultivation stage of the warmth element, or kundalini fire, directly. Thus they tell meditators to first visualize the physical body as being hollow, or like an empty shell. Next you must visualize the body's central channel, known in Sanskrit as the "sushumna", in Tibetan as the "avadhuti", and in Chinese as the "zhong mai", in order to encourage the wind to enter inside. The concentrated visualization will produce a massing of chi, and then heat and light, and you're concentrating on the region most relevant to the arising of samadhi. So the purpose of visualizing the channels has the intent of quickening the cultivation path by drawing the energies into these channels rather than to let the process happen naturally. Thus we can say this is an artificial path, or forceful path, rather than a naturalistic path--it knows the results of what should happen through the process of cultivation, and tries to bring those results into the causation process itself to speed up the entire path of transformation. This can be either good or bad, because it can either quicken your progress, or bring poison into the path.
In the one-pointed visualization techniques you might employ for this purpose, the left channel is always envisioned as white, the right channel is envisioned as red, and the central channel is envisioned as radiantly blue. During kundalini yoga visualizations, however, the central channel is visualized with the color of a brightly burning flame. This brightness encourages an corresponding increase in the intensity of the fire element, and also encourages the bodhimind substances to melt and descend within the channel width. When the substances melt because of the tumo heat, then you experience the blisses of the samadhi. As to the emptiness realms of samadhi, these are all states of one-pointed concentration, and so you can only achieve the relevant channel visualizations if you master these stages of "emptiness".
Once again, the entire purpose of these yogic techniques is to draw the chi into the central channel because from a biophysical point of view, if the chi doesn't enter the central channel, then you cannot attain samadhi. On the other hand, if you do succeed in bringing the chi into the central channel through visualization and breath retention exercises, then you will experience a profound samadhi. Hence one of the ways of describing the preliminary path of cultivation is to speak of the goal only in terms of bringing the chi into the central channel, and in essence this is what the form-based esoteric schools do.
Now in kundalini yoga, you try to visualize the central mai and ignite the inner heat at the navel chakra. Then you attempt to control the vital energies you arouse by visualizing tiny flames, bright points, moons, etc. envisioned within the central channel at various chakra locations. If your practice and merit are sufficient, this will bring the energies into the central channel and arouse the experiences of physical bliss. As we stated, the tinier you can envision the flames, and the more clearly (radiant presence) you can do so, the easier it will be to draw the energies inside the sushumna channel. Then the experience of physical joy and bliss will arise, together with a mental realm that appreciates emptiness during these states, and together this will transform the body and lead to profound states of mind. When the energies enter into the central channel, you experience samadhi and give rise to prajna wisdom, which the Tibetan schools call the innate wisdom of Mahamudra.
As we saw in the Zhunti Buddha visualization procedure, the entire process is based on a definite, logical sequence of generation. As in the Zhunti sadhana, first there is a great universal wind which gives rise to a great universal fire, and this great cosmic fire gives birth to the water element. As the Taittiriya Upanishad of Hinduism says, "From space [emptiness] came air [wind]. From air, fire. From fire, water. From water came solid earth. From earth came living plants." So as an analogy, if you cultivate the chi (wind) correctly, the kundalini fire (state of hsi) will be initiated, and from the wind element we'll have the fire element arise. Next the activation of this heat element will cause the hormones or jing (water element, or bodhicitta, bindus, etc.) of the body to descend, and you'll be able to experience the various blisses of the different samadhi. As the Tao school says, "If the jing doesn't descend, you cannot experience bliss."
Thus the purpose of meditating on the inner heat yoga is to induce special blisses; you give rise to a special type of internal heat which melts the jing substances (activate special hormones), and they descend to produce the sensations of bliss. As the Hevajra Tantra would symbolically say, "Candali [the kundalini] blazes at the navel, Ham [the bija sound seed of the crown chakra] is burnt and the moon [bindus, or endocrine secretions producing bliss] melts." Orthodox Buddhism talks of four different blisses which transpire corresponding to the four dhyana, and classical yoga has the vitarka-samadhi, vicara-samadhi, ananda-samadhi and asmita-samadhi blisses. These are all the same thing. The Tibet school also has four bliss states, but its own description of these blisses differs slightly from those found in these other schools. That's because it wants to establish a special type of practice: it wants you to generate the four blisses of the four dhyana and mix them in conjunction with the four formless absorption attainments; you generate the Form Realm blisses of the four dhyana, and the samadhi of the Formless Realm, and let the mind rest for as long as possible in the experience of bliss from one realm conjoined with the prajna wisdom attainment of the formless realm. That's it's special form of practice which it tries to separate from the other schools which generate these two series in sequence.
After your meditation period, you try to consciously cultivate mindfulness of this union of emptiness and bliss, and stamp all the events and objects which occur with this seal of emptiness-bliss. The various cultivation schools don't say this clearly, but this is the meaning of the world appearing in the form of a dream. Everything that appears will seem to arise with the presence of an illusion because it's both blissful and empty. If you can keep to this state in your daily activities, your samadhi will become strong and stable, an even greater bliss will be aroused, and you'll create a strong foundation in your practice. That's the practice of co-emergent emptiness and bliss, and if you can't bring it into your everyday experience, then it's just a meditative achievement with no ultimate importance other than being a profound experiential realm.
Following the descriptions of Tibet esotericism and Indian yoga, when the heat of the tumo fire cultivation melts the bodhicitta substances, and the chi is brought to the top of the head at the crown chakra, this generates the first bliss known as the "bliss". When the substances continue flowing and descend to the region of the throat chakra, the second bliss known as the "supreme bliss" is aroused. When the substances continue flowing and collect at the heart chakra, the third bliss called the "special bliss" arises. When the substances (chi and bodhicitta) flow to the navel and collect there, the fourth bliss known as the "innate bliss" arises. The Tibet school says that these "four Joys", "four Blisses" or "four Ecstasies" should be produced and matched with "four empties". These are formless samadhi, or emptiness attainments, which actually correspond to the four formless samadhi concentrations we find in orthodox Buddhism. The esoteric school doesn't tell you this clearly, but this is what it's actually doing.
All the methods of the Tibet school are based on mastering the tumo fire of kundalini as the foundation for this process of transformation, but mastering the kundalini heat is just a "generation stage" yogic technique corresponding to the prayogamarga (preparatory) practices in Mahayana Buddhism. It doesn't mean you've actually seen the truth path of cultivation, or have "seen the Tao". The kundalini phenomena isn't anything significant in itself, just a convenient means of practice which corresponds to purifying the body's fire element, and certain sequences of transformation continue onwards from there. So it's still a very low stage of attainment, and is simply a preparatory practice in the path rather than the path of cultivation itself. You have to be particularly clear about this point, and the overall relevance of the kundalini yoga; it's simply a technological tool that you use in the quest for higher mental attainments. To progress in this form of practice, you have to give rise to the kundalini after cultivating your chi and mai, but you must never become attached to the various phenomenal realms produced.
There are many methods for getting the kundalini "tumo fire" to ignite, but it will never happen unless you first cultivate the chi and mai, or wind and water elements of the body. If you think you can immediately jump into cultivating this state of hsi (kundalini arousal) at the beginning of your cultivation, you're just kidding yourself. Hence all the schools have various preliminaries to this stage of attainment, such as a moral foundation of merit and various other purification exercises. Pranayama is a particular adjunct to this practice, because the forceful retention of the breath can often lead to the initiation of an inner warmth similar to the kundalini phenomenon.
After you've purified the body to some preliminary extent, which means you've transformed your chi and mai (energy channels), and the warmth element starts to arise in the area of the tan-tien (perhaps through mantra practice, anapana, or other methods), then you can imagine the chi entering the central channel with some degree of success. If a practitioner's mai (the nadis) are already clean to some degree, perhaps from nine-step vase breathing practices or one-pointed visualization exercises, then this exercise may produce some positive results. But one must be wary of form attachments which may arise through this type of practice, or in believing that thought visualizations can actually open the chakras and mai as is mistakenly assumed in chi-gong and the New Age schools.
Now kundalini yoga is a practice of inner focus and imagination to get the chi to collect and thereby arouse the inner heat element (tumo fire, kundalini or shakti) so that it fiercely blazes with strength. To get a proper hold on arousing the inner fire, you can start by visualizing the hollow central channel, which is thinner than the thinnest hair imaginable. You visualize that it stands brightly shining in the center of the body, stretching from the perineum to the top of the head, and you imagine that it blazes with a brilliant dazzling light. Of course there are many variations of this basic practice, such as envisioning the left and right channels on its side, and their points of intersection, and of changing the color of the central channel to that of a brightly burning flame. These are all variations which you have to try yourself. The most important site at the start of the practice is to place your awareness at the point in the region of the central channel where the ida, pingala and sushumna join, which can be at either the third eye or the lower opening in the abdomen of the body. Then one can visualize the four chakras, or four chakras with little flames, and fix your mind on this visualization until you can see them clearly. The idea is to concentrate until they appear stable and radiant, for this is establishing one-pointed concentration.
A practitioner can always modify the meditation, after some proficiency, by imagining the central channel as lengthening to the farthest reaches of the universe, becoming as thick as a column, or having energy swirling around inside it clearing blockages, like a twister or tornado climbing upwards. These are all designed to help clear and draw energy into the central channel, but you have to meditate only from within the center of the channel, otherwise the vital energies will not be drawn in. At the same time, to the basic visualization you must remember to add the image of tiny, concentrated brilliant flames in the region of the heart, throat, head and tan-tien (navel chakra), which should be especially envisioned as containing a fierce blazing fire within. Sometimes you focus on imagining a blazing fire in the region of the tan-tien to arouse the inner heat so that it can enter the central channel, which enables the bodhimind substances to melt and descend. Other times you can focus on the third eye, or the heart chakra to help loosen its restrictions.
When you're doing visualizations at the various chakra locations, you envision the brilliant tongues of fire at the center of the central channel, because that's what draws the energies into the heart chakra and gives rise to the realms of samadhi. Rather than use little flames, some schools suggest using various Sanskrit syllables, Buddhas, or deities at the chakra locations. Whatever you use, it's just a provisional focus of skillful means without any aspect of holiness. Whatever works for you, use it!
Various types of heat will in time be produced through this process. For instance, there's the inner heat which arises within the central channel and the heat which arises outside the central channel, there's the heat produced within the depth of the body or near the surface of the body, inner heat which arises slowly and tumo heat which arises quickly, inner heat which seems thick and inner heat which seems thin. In all these cases, the first type of experience is superior to the second. So in time these visualization practices on the chakras and mai, if you are also proficient at forceful vase breathing techniques and have some degree of discriminative emptiness (one-pointed concentration, or mental halting), will cause the inner tumo heat to arise within the body, which will coincide with various physical transformations and the appearance of various experiential realms.
This is the basic practice of kundalini yoga, as well as the relevant theory behind this cultivation practice. It's not the only road of practice, nor is it the foremost road of practice. In fact, the Zen school doesn't believe in following this artificial method of practice because if one simply relaxes the body, watches the breath, and allows the mind to unite with the breath, the central channel will open naturally giving rise to samadhi! It's true! Unfortunately, this method is so simple that most people don't believe it, yet this is the quickest way to open the sushumna central channel. If you practice following the breath, you'll also experience all these stages, but the path will be fraught with less trouble and danger. In trying to force these things into manifestation, there's always the danger of over exertion which can lead to certain mental and physical imbalances. So never push yourself with this type of practice.
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