By Dr. Tan Kheng Khoo
The seeker who dares to awaken the kundalini power without the grace and guidance of a guru might become insane, succumb to diseases, or even die. This is because he does not possess the necessary knowledge, steadiness of mind, or patience required for this difficult undertaking.
I have been teaching Buddhist meditation for about 23 years. Being a doctor who is interested in psychiatry, I have always wondered whether prolonged and excessive meditation could produce mental imbalance. In these 23 years of running two courses per year, in every course the question of “zou hou ru mo”,走火入魔, inevitably turns up. It means “fire wild, devils enter”. In other words, “does one go mad with meditation?” In my 23 years of teaching, I have not encountered a single case of psychosis arising from my method of meditation practice amongst my students.
However, about 20 years ago a monk came to me complaining to me about a student in a meditation retreat he just organized. This is a ten-day retreat conducted by a few Burmese monks. The retreat consists of sitting and walking meditation for about 16 hours per day. After 3-4 days, a 25 year-old student started to pick up his food from the air. Not being in direct contact with the student, I am unable to determine whether the student had a meditation psychosis or was he a schizophrenic to begin with and the retreat brought on the symptoms. This is not an uncommon outcome if the organization does not screen the students for mental disorders.
About ten years ago, a middle-aged man stood up at question time and proudly announced that he has just completed a ten-day retreat with a group of monks. With great pride, he told the crowd of five hundred people that he had resigned from his job after the retreat. Then I asked how was he going to feed his family. Happily he retorted that because of this inability to feed them, his wife had divorced him and took his children away from him. From the way he spoke, I gathered that he was not in touch with reality, and he seemed quite pleased with himself. Retreats are intensive and with lay people the practice is excessive.
About eight years ago a man of 39 years old approached me for healing. He attended a course of kundalini meditation in Vancouver. The teacher was a Hong Kong Chinese who obviously knew very little of kundalini. This man found that his kundalini was stuck at the chest, the 4th chakra. I was able to bring the blockage down only to his 2nd chakra and no lower but he felt better. He then went to England to take up law studies. He is a very intelligent man, but the studies in UK were too stressful and this brought on his 4th chakra blockage again. He came to me a year ago with much worse symptoms of shaking all over the body and convulsing while I heal him. He has now suffered for 15 years after being taught to raise his kundalini wrongly.
Another middle-aged woman came to me with a stuck kundalini at the chest. Another teacher, who knew very little about kundalini, also wrongly taught her. Again I tried to bring down the blockage. But I was only partially successful. This lady also took the trouble of attending my course in meditation. She left me feeling better, but not totally cured. However she has now maintained a steady meditation practice and is leading a comfortable life.
There have also been many lay people who had the inclination to go to the jungle monasteries in Thailand to practice for a period of two weeks to a few months. Normally it is for a few months. In this context they practice as monks or nuns, keeping to the rules of the Theravada Buddhism. This includes not eating after midday and keeping to the 5 or 10 precepts. These novices are often ardent and they tend to overdo their meditation practice. Consequently, some of them suffer from visual and auditory hallucinations with intense fear. Shaking, convulsion and feinting do also occur. All these side effects of excessive and ill-guided meditations will disappear when they stop meditating, especially when they return to their homeland.
Now with the knowledge of all these cases and my commitment to teaching meditation, it behooves me to do some research on kundalini and qigong psychosis.
Kundalini is interpreted as a three and half times coiled serpent sleeping at the base of the spine. It signifies creative potential energy, which when awakened will move up along the spine upbraiding and purifying the 6 chakras on the way up to the crown chakra. It is the working of the energy of the glandular system combined with the nervous system to awake the brain towards total clarity. Some people interpret the culmination of this yoga of awareness as enlightenment. This kundalini needs the concentrated life force or prana to activate it. Prana is equivalent to Qi or Holy Spirit. Prana is the universal life force.
In order to awaken the serpent, prolonged internal meditation is required to release the vast mass of energy stored up in it. Other methods will be mentioned later. The aroused kundalini will then travel up the sushumna as well as the smaller channels, ida and pingala (see Fig. below). No matter how the kundalini is aroused, either a lot or a little, it can bring out abnormal reactions in the body and mind. In order for the full awakening to be achieved the aspirant must be guided by an accomplished teacher, who himself has succeeded in total awakening. On the way up, the purification of the chakras can cause much bizarre physical symptoms, some of which are distressing to the yogi. During this sojourn all the nadis (subtle nerves) around and along the chakras and nervous plexuses are opened up. In order to understand kundalini more clearly, we must go into the concept of kundalini yoga and bring in the terms Shiva and Shakti.
Shiva and Shakti
The word kundala means coiled. The root shak means to have power. Kundalini then signifies a serpent with coiled-up power resting at the base of the spine. Tantric yoga posits that the entire universe is a manifestation of pure consciousness. This pure consciousness divides into two poles, neither of which can exist without the other. One aspect is shiva, identified as unmanifest consciousness, which is masculine and static. It is a state of formless being-consciousness-bliss (sat-chit-ananda). It is aloof and not interested in the affairs of the world. It cannot ‘become’ or change. One can reach this shiva consciousness only through deep meditation. Out of this void everything in the world may arise.
The other polarity is shakti, which is dynamic, creative and energetic. This mother of the universe gives birth to all things in the universe---matter, life and mind.
These two polarities are united, but in the manifest universe maya causes an illusion of separation. Shakti is a projection of shiva, but maya veils the latter. This illusion is a process of involution, consciousness folding over itself. After many eons, the shakti will draw up all forms, when the universe is dissolved. This is evolution, when consciousness is no more interested with its manifestations. Energy always exists in two forms as 1) dynamic and 2) potential power at rest. In the universe manifestation a small part of shakti is involved in its manifestation, but the greater part remains dormant. The dynamic part is shakti in specific differentiated form, whilst the primal power remains as the coiled-up kundalini at the base of the spine. Shiva resides at the crown chakra. Ordinarily, only small amounts of the shakti energy is used for the normal functioning of the chakras and nadis for daily purposes. This latent power of the shakti can be conceived as the unlimited power of the unconscious. This latent force can be transformed to be an active one through appropriate means. Many methods have been described. This transformation is called the awakening of the kundalini.
The coiled serpent of shakti has to be awakened and carefully guided up the nadis of ida and pingala but mainly along the central shusumna. The snake then has to climb up to the crown chakra by going through the ascending six chakras (see Fig): (1) Muladhara at the coccyx, (2) Svadhisthana at the sacral plexus, (3) Manipura at the solar plexus, (4) Anahata at the cardiac plexus, (5) Vishuddha at the thoraxic plexus and (6) Ajna at the pituitary. The 7th is the crown chakra, which corresponds to the pineal gland. The awakening and the purification process of churning through the chakras are always attended with varying degrees of physical and psychological signs and symptoms. The peak experience, bliss and widening of consciousness may accompany the physical symptoms of heat, vibrations and even convulsions. All these are due to the release of powerful energy from the shakti kundalini. Union with God in Western Mysticism is equivalent to this tantric yoga (yoking union) of uniting of the kundalini shakti with shiva (pure consciousness). With this union the aspirant becomes fully conscious and awakened. Sir John Woodroffe says:
When Kundalini Shakti sleeps in the Muladhara, man is awake to the world; when she awakes to unite, and does unite, with the supreme static Consciousness, which is Shiva, then consciousness is asleep to the world and is one with the Light of all things.
When the serpent is asleep, the man is awake to the world. When the awakened shakti has united with shiva, man is asleep to the world, but fully awake to the transcendent realm where no objects or forms are visualized. The universe is dissolved in the yogi, whilst he is in this pure consciousness of no form, no thought and no emotion. The body has still enough energy to function and to carry on with the ordinary duties of man, but his mind is with the Gods. Not all yogins can arrive at this final goal. Partial awakening is much more common, and partial awakening normally will generate lots of symptoms.
How to awaken the Kundalini?
The preliminary preparation of withdrawal of worldly pursuits and purification of self are necessary because the flood of shakti energy may disturb, confuse and disorient the student. This preparation also includes physical and mental celibacy. The Hindus and the Taoists share this same view that the vital force of the semen must be retain and sent upwards towards the crown. The physical union between the male and female is forsaken and instead the internal union of the male (shiva) and female (shakti) takes place. Otherwise the outburst of energy can be of danger to the student. This sudden and massive release of awareness and energy can unbalance the student psychologically.
Methodology of awakening the kundalini
Although tantric yoga taught by an awakened teacher is the most potent and trust-worthy method, many other spiritual practices (sadhanas) may also partially awaken the serpent. The usual practices in India are firstly to withdraw from the external world and to purify oneself with pure thoughts, diet and proper exercises. Then he may indulge in one of the five forms of yogas: (1) hatha, (2) bhakti, (3) karma, (4) nana and (5) raja. Kundalini may be partially awakened even if all these methods are improperly or incompletely done and also because of past life practices. To an uninitiated student, the symptoms may frighten him. His practice will come to an abrupt stop, but with an experienced teacher or guru, the latter will guide him along gradually. The student must not force the issue or over do the practice.
This yoga is par excellence in raising the kundalini. It centers on worshiping the Shakti, the mother of the universe. Tantric yoga does not mean sexual relationships only. In some forms of tantra a male-female relationship may be involved, but the genuine participants take it up to the realm of energy and consciousness and do not remain in the physical realm. They are now embodiments of shiva and shakti and are not physical bodies. In a purer form of tantra, Shakti is worshiped through meditation and mantra so that he is in direct relationship with the shiva and shakti within himself, and he unites them within himself. The practice is of course much more elaborate than what is described here and is totally guided by the guru.
Under the guidance of a guru
Without proper guidance by a guru, the partial awakening is not repeatable at will, although blissful experience of ecstasy and illumination may be encountered. However with the tutelage of an experienced guru, kundalini yoga may be guided to initiate the arising of the serpent. The supervision must be close and gradual. The mind must be purified first. What is a pure mind? A pure mind has no personal desires nor has it an inkling of revenge. It does not take advantage of the weakness or need of another person. A pure mind does not exploit the emotional dependence of another person. A pure mind does not result from simply being a vegetarian.
When the student is ready, he is given a ‘seed’ mantra to concentrate on. This initiation is practiced conjointly with spiritual and physical exercises together with mental disciplines to prepare the student. Then more difficult forms of meditation are taught in order for the student to be sensitive to the force within, and be ready to channel up the force when it arises. All this falls within a systematic scheme of things.
Then in further progression a higher initiation called shaktipat diksha is given. This involves the guru to transmit energy directly to the initiate to remove the final obstacles so that the serpent can be awakened for its upward journey. This can be done through a touch, a glance or a thought. Thence the guru’s power can be transmitted to the student immediately. Temporarily, the student may be transported to a higher divine consciousness, which may last for an hour or a few days. After this the serpent returns to its abode at the base of the spine. He is now transformed because he has experienced directly the awakened state, although he did not achieve it through his own effort. Some of his creativity has been kindled, and spiritually, morally and intellectually he has been elevated. However, now he has to practice himself and intensify his efforts for many more years so that the serpent may repeated be awakened and guided correctly up the spine.
Special cases of kundalini arousal:
Swami Muktananda (died in 1983) described the usual heaviness of the head, sensations of heat and pain at the base of his spine. He had involuntary movements due to energy flows through the body and unusual breathing patterns. There were inner lights and sounds, visions and voices. Then the most unusual experience is this repeated sexual excitement that he described with great agony: “Every day brought new kriyas and new experiences. One day, my body and senses became possessed by sexual desire….I was meditating in my hut at Suki, and in meditation I was seeing the red light. I was happy. Then, in the middle of my meditation, came a kriya that was utterly humiliating…All the love and intoxication I had felt in meditation left me… Instead, in their place came a powerful sexual desire… I could think of nothing but sex! My whole body boiled with lust, and I cannot describe the agony in my sexual organ. Whether my eyes are open or shut, a beautiful woman would appear to entice me. The naked woman pursued me, finally standing in front of me. She began to torture me excruciatingly with only one apparent objective: she wanted no other sacrifice save my sacred vow of celibacy.” He traveled to Ghrishneshvara to a sadhana hut in Nagad. In this hut while doing his sadhana, he was asked to read a book in the cupboard. This book explained that this sexual desire is due to the piercing of the 2nd (Svadhisthana) chakra. This process is the turning of the flow of the seminal fluid upwards towards shiva. The naked, beautiful damsel was actually the Goddess Kundalini! After reading the book his progress was without obstacle.
Gopi Krishna (1903-1984)
Gopi Krishna was born in Kashmir and later lived in Punjab. He was an Indian householder, who after 17 years of unsupervised meditation, at 34 years old experienced the awakening of kundalini during his morning meditation. He was doing fine in an exercise of concentration on a lotus. In his own words: “I suddenly felt a strange sensation below the base of the spine, at the place touching the seat, while I sat cross-legged on a folded blanket spread on the floor. The sensation was so extraordinary and so pleasing that my attention was forcibly drawn towards it. The moment my attention was thus unexpectedly withdrawn from the point on which it was focused, the sensation ceased. Thinking that it was a trick played by my imagination, I fixed my attention on the lotus at the top of head, again the sensation occurred. This time the sensation went upwards and was so intense and extraordinary… My mind went towards it, and at that very moment it again disappeared.” The sensation came and went, until with a ‘roar like a waterfall’, he became ‘all consciousness’ and ‘immersed in a sea of light.’ “ The days that followed had all the appearance of a prolonged nightmare…. The keen desire to meditate, which had always been present during the preceding days, disappeared suddenly and was replaced by a feeling of horror of the supernatural…. I could not bear to have a light in my room after I retired to bed. The moment my head touched the pillow a large tongue of flame sped across the spine into the interior of my head. It appeared as if a stream of living light continuously rushing through the spinal cord into the cranium gathered speed and volume during the hours of darkness. Whenever I closed my eyes I found myself looking into a weird circle of light, in which luminous currents swirled and eddied, moving rapidly side to side.”
“The heat grew every moment, causing such unbearable pain that I writhed and twisted from side to side while streams of cold perspiration poured down my face and limbs. But still the heat increased and soon it seemed as if innumerable red-hot pins were coursing through my body, scorching and blistering the organs and tissues like flying sparks. Suffering the most excruciating torture, I clenched my hands and bit my lips to stop myself from leaping out of bed and crying at the top of my voice. Flesh and blood could not stand such strain. There was dreadful disturbance in all the organs, each so alarming and painful that I wonder how I managed to retain my self-possession under the onslaught. The whole delicate system was burning, withering away completely under the fiery blast racing through its interior.
He could not eat. Neither could he sleep. He felt like dying. The heat was awful, scorching his throat, which was parched. When he got out of bed, he was unsteady on his feet, trembling. He was also on the verge of madness and self-violence. Then a miracle of thought came into his mind: “….burning in every fiber, lashed as it were by a fiery rain of red-hot needles piercing my skin. At this moment a fearful idea struck me. Could it be that I had aroused Kundalini through pingala or the solar nerve, which regulates the flow of heat in the body and is located on the right side of sushumna? If so, I was doomed. I thought desperately and as if by divine dispensation the idea flashed across my brain to make a last-minute attempt to arouse ida, or the lunar nerve on the left side, to activity, thus neutralizing the dreadful burning effect of the devouring fire within. With my mind reeling and senses deadened with pain, but with all the will-power left at my command, I brought my attention to bear on the left side of the seat of Kundalini, and tried to force an imaginary cold current upward through the middle of the spinal cord. In that extraordinarily extended, agonized, and exhausted state of consciousness, I distinctly felt the location of the nerve and strained hard mentally to divert its flow into the central channel. Then, as if waiting for the destined moment, a miracle happened.
There was a sound like a nerve thread snapping and instantaneously a silvery streak passed zigzag through the spinal cord, exactly like the sinuous movement of a white serpent in rapid flight, pouring an effulgent, cascading shower of brilliant vital energy into my brain, filling my head with a blissful lustre in place of the flame that had been tormenting me for the last three hours. Completely taken by surprise at this sudden transformation of the fiery current, darting across the entire network of my nerves only a moment before, and overjoyed at the cessation of pain, I remained absolutely quiet and motionless for some time, tasting the bliss of relief with a mind flooded with emotion, unable to believe I was really free of the horror. Tortured and exhausted to the point of collapse by the agony I had suffered during the terrible interval, I immediately fell asleep, bathed in the light and for the first time after weeks of anguish felt the sweet embrace of restful sleep.”
Lee Sannella classify all the above signs and symptoms of kundalini arousal into four categories:
1. Motor---- any manifestation that can be independently observed and measured.
a) Automatic Body Movements and Postures. These kriyas are spontaneous, although the devotee may inhibit them. They can affect any part of the body. The movements may be smooth, sinuous, spasmodic and jerky, or vibratory. They range from muscle twitching to prolonged trembling to the automatic assumption of otherwise difficult and maybe even impossible yogic postures (asanas, mudras, etc). The person may not know these practices beforehand, and if one is not conversant with them, dating these practices maybe impossible. These may include spontaneous crying, laughing, screaming, and whistling.
b) Unusual Breathing Patterns. The yogin aspires to control the flow of prana in order to harmonize his bodily energies and increase his vitality. This is to prepare for the awakening of the kundalini. Pranayama comes from ‘prana’ meaning life force and ‘ayama’ meaning “extension, lengthening”. This word then means “breath control”, which also means controlling the life force. Therein lies the danger. Therefore rapid breathing, shallow breathing, deep breathing, or extended breath retention may come about in the manifestation of kundalini awakening. If these phenomena are spontaneous they may cause a great deal of anxiety. The masters warn against using pranayama to accelerate the kundalini’s ascent.
c) Paralysis. Sometimes during deep meditation, one is locked in certain postures. As these partial paralyses are worrying, one can explain away these changes by emotional support and rational explanation to the devotee. The paralysis maybe a secondary manifestation of a primary underlying organic weakness stimulated by the arising of kundalini energy.
2. Sensory Phenomena
a) Tickling Sensations. There is tickling, itching or vibrations of the skin or underlying tissues. They may extend as a deep ecstatic tickle and orgasmic feelings. These feelings emanate as a ‘bullock cart’ wheel: starting from the feet, up the legs, pelvis and moving up the back to the neck and the crown of the head and then down the forehead, the face, the throat, and the abdomen, where they terminate.
b) Heat and Cold Sensations. Temperature changes quite often occur to either part or whole of the body. They may also move through the body but mostly without any pattern.
c) Inner Lights and Visions. A variety of light experiences do occur amongst the yogins. The light may be white, red or blue. There maybe white and black spots in them. They can cover the whole body or localize to certain parts or organs of the body. Rarely, the whole room is illuminated, and if other people see this, this is the surest sign of the realization of the cosmic realm. Further concrete proof is the visible aura or halo of the enlightened person seen by other people.
d) Inner Sounds. A variety of sounds or noises such as whistling, hissing, chirping, and roaring may be heard. These are very common. They vary according to the type of meditation practice. The typical transcendental sound is that mystical one called “OM”.
e) Pain. Pain may be felt in the head, the eyes, spine and other parts of the body. They may appear abruptly and disappear just as fast. It may last for seconds or hours. The explanation is that the yogin may be subconsciously resisting the arising of the kundalini or the kundalini energy is purifying the chakras as it ascends the spine. Some tension headaches are said to be due to partial awakening of the kundalini.
3. Interpretive Phenomena
a) Unusual or extreme Emotion. In the awakening, feelings of ecstasy, bliss, peace, love, devotion, joy, and cosmic harmony may occur. On the opposite side, intense fear, anxiety, confusion, depression, and even hatred may also be felt. The first set of positive feelings tends to be present more in the later stages of the awakening.
b) Distortions of Thought Processes. Thinking may be speeded up, slowed down, or altogether stopped. Thoughts may seem off balance, strange, or irrational. The person may feel that he is going mad. He may go into trance states, or he may become impulsive, alienated or confused. In deep meditation (as in vipassana), the myriad of thoughts in their subtlety and complexity tend to bewilder the meditator to a great extend. This is the stirring up of the unconscious, some of which is very unpleasant to the yogin. These fantasies can knock the unstable yogin off balance.
c) Detachment. The individual feels that he is an independent observer of his own thoughts, feelings and sensations. He has become a ‘seer’, but not aloof. His normal daily function is unimpaired.
d) Dissociation. When there is deep psychological disturbances, fear, confusion, or social and other environmental pressures present, the above detached seeing may lead to hysteria, akin to a schizophrenia state. Or he may become egotistical as he has been chosen ‘for a great a mission’.
e) Single Seeing. The eyes of the yogin do not distinguish the object from its background. Both are seen as one. Turning the eyes inwardly, both inner and outer landscapes are seen at the same time. Many direct and indirect references have been made to single seeing or the ‘one eye’ to depict an advancement of spirituality. In Luke 11:34; “the light of the body is the eye; therefore when thine eye is single thy whole body is also full of light”.
f) “Great Body” Experience. Sometimes in deep meditation or in the ascent of the kundalini, the body feels much larger than normal. There is an exaggerated sensation of the ballooning out of the physical body, which also seems heavy, like lead.
4. Nonphysical Phenomena
a) Out-of-body Experiences. This phenomenon is rare amongst meditators. However they do occur.
b) Psychic Perceptions. Clairvoyance, telepathy and predictions do occur with individuals who have succeeded in awakening the kundalini. Again, these paranormal experiences are sporadic and are not constant. Most of these abilities do not arise on demand.
All the above signs and symptoms may arise after awakening the kundalini. But they may also come about in people who meditate constantly and regularly, without the arousal of the kundalini.
Kundalini versus Psychosis
From the above signs and symptoms, one must differentiate psychosis from arising of the kundalini. This is not easy, especially if the therapist or psychiatrist has not heard of kundalini. The awakened person can diagnose partial awakening in another subject. The psychiatrist can diagnose schizophrenia easily, but give him a case of kundalini arousal, he may fumble and label the yogin with partial awakening as pure psychotic. However, there are certain signs and symptoms which occur are more in one and not the other:
· Sensations of heat are much more common in kundalini states but are rare in normal psychosis.
· Vibrations or fluttering, tingling, and itching that move in definite patterns all over the body. These patterns may be irregular if the arousal is atypical.
· Bright lights are seen internally in kundalini arousal.
· Pain, especially in the head may come suddenly and it may also disappear as suddenly. It comes during a critical period of the arousal.
· Unusual breathing patterns are common in kundalini.
· Mudras such as automatic movements, gestures as in prayers and even dancing are almost exclusively due to kundalini arousal.
· In kundalini cases noises such as whistling and chirping are heard, but not negative intrusion of voices. In psychosis, voices give negative instructions to the patients to do harm to self or others.
In guided and systematic kundalini arousal, the symptoms will disappear spontaneously over time. This is because it is a process of purification, and the process must be self-limiting. It is also therapeutic as they remove pathological elements in the body. The kundalini energy is always positive and creative if it takes its own gradual course and not forced. At the end of the kundalini process, the individual is usually at peace, and he is now able to handle much greater stress than before. The best course to take is to find a guru who himself has successfully awakened his kundalini and let him guide you to fruition. Without proper preparation, the individual is bound to deem himself psychotic when mental and emotional symptoms arise. There may well be many a patient in mental homes who are not psychotic, but merely has accidentally awakened his kundalini partially. The institutionalization of the man alone may drive him crazy!
Therefore in assessing a patient, the psychiatrist (and not merely a GP), must be very cognizant of the kundalini process. With the above distinctions enumerated and his ability to ‘smell’ out a schizophrenic he may then come to a correct diagnosis. Without this knowledge all GP’s and most psychiatrists will diagnose them as psychotic. If the patient is sent to an awakened master, the guru will be more likely to tell the difference.
Must spiritual life begin only through the kundalini?
Gopi Krishna and some schools of thought avow that spiritual life and therefore enlightenment is dependent entirely on the awakening of the kundalini. This cannot be the case because there are many traditions (Buddhists, Taoists, Sufis and Christians) and other Hindus whose members attained enlightenment without the arousing of the kundalini. The adept, Da Love-Ananda (Da Free John), put forward the same idea as the Vedantists and Mahayana Buddhists that authentic spirituality is the transcendence of the ego, the body-mind and all experiential states. Enlightenment means there is no separation from Transcendental Reality (The Absolute). He said:
You have been contracted upon yourself with emotional force, and no amount of thinking, considering, experiencing, desiring, exploiting, and manipulating yourself in the world can affect that contraction. No awakening of the kundalini touches it. It has nothing to do with the kundalini. You can have kundalini experiences until you are yawning with boredom, yet you will not have touched this emotional recoil at all.
Seeing that it is the ego that prevents enlightenment, spiritual practice consists of consistently going beyond the wall of the ego, and reaching out and embracing all life beyond fearlessly, with an open heart. In an unpublished talk dated July 8. 1978, Da Love-Ananda remarked:
The lust for the kundalini in the brain is exactly the same as the lust for the kundalini in the sex center. It is using that mechanism in a different direction. But neither direction is towards God…Attachment to the brain through inversion of attention in the kundalini, or the Life-current, is traditionally promoted as the way to God. This is an error that has crept into the spiritual traditions. The way to God is not via the kundalini. The awakening of the kundalini and becoming absorbed in the brain core is not God-realization. It has nothing to do with God-realization. It is simply a way of tuning into an extraordinary evolutionary mechanism. The way to God-realization is the one by which that mechanism is understood and transcended completely.
Da Love-Ananda has had many experiences of completely raising the kundalini himself. He advocates the ‘Way of the Heart’ as the means to enlightenment. It begins and continues as taking responsibility of one’s own emotions: one’s lovelessness, distrust, moods, sense of conflict and fear. One then has to transcend the negative and the positive emotions and all psychic and paranormal experiences. The fire is in the heart and not in the perineum or in the brain!
The Dangers of Arousing of the Kundalini
Swami Kripalvananda in his Science of Meditation followed the advice quoted in the preface with two more paragraphs:
Many seekers are found wandering here and there in search of a guru who will awaken their kundalini…. Although thousands may claim that they know kundalini and that their kundalini is awakened, it is doubtful if even one of them really had such knowledge or experience.
To awaken the kundalini power is one thing, but to make it move upward into the passage of the sushumna is something else. In the beginning, as the kundalini is awakened, the seeker feels a lot of enthusiasm. But as he advances in (meditation), he begins to encounter various menaces of kundalini. Only one with great courage can cope with these menaces; it is simply not possible for all to do so.
Sri Chinmoy reckons that there are two ways of arousing the kundalini: (1) the tantric process and (2) the vedantic process. He warns that the tantric approach is systematic and elaborate but quite dangerous. The vedantic method is simple, mystical but safe and no less fulfilling. The tantric method is dangerous because it deals with the lower vital and emotional life. It is also dynamic and courageous, but one has to be strong internally to conquer the vital forces of the kundalini energy. The vedantic method is safe because he purifies himself and expands his consciousness first before he deals with the obscure, impure lower forces of the kundalini. Further awakening of the kundalini does not mean God-realization. God-realization is much more superior, and at that moment all one’s chakras are automatically opened.
According to Alice Bailey one needs to have ordered meditation of no more than 40 minutes per day. One’s development must take years with service. A normal and quiet life is imperative. Purification of mind and body and suppression of volatile emotions must accompany all this. One must not indulge in meditating for hours or arousing of any particular chakra. There should not be any fanatical dieting or curtailing of sleep. Together with these last two habits an intense interest in psychic power will inevitably end in ‘psychosis’. Pranayama or other breathing exercises should not be undertaken without expert guidance.
Qi is life energy. It is the animating power or prana that enervate all things. A living person has this life force: a healthy person has more qi than an ill person. A dead person has no more qi left and thus there is no more warmth. To be healthy, the qi must be clear and unpolluted. It should not be turbid and it must be flowing smoothly and not blocked.
Gong means work. Qigong means working with this life force, and learning to control and distribute the qi to improve the health of mind and body. Qigong is a whole system of exercise and meditation. The exercise includes postures, movements, massage and breathing techniques. Qi is accumulated and stored in the body. In disease, the polluted qi is cleansed into pure healing qi. Impure qi is eliminated by proper breathing techniques.
Qigong is a practice because it is a daily exercise of 20 to 40 minutes. It is an enjoyable exercise. It requires only some time and hardly any money. There are techniques for every body of any age and physical condition. No equipment or large space is necessary. It can be practiced with standing, sitting or supine methods. With slight modification the handicapped can also practice some of the techniques.
Categories of qigong
It is generally divided into active (dong gong) and passive (jing gong):
(1) Dynamic (active) qigong means movement of postures as in a dance or if a posture is fixed movements of the arms. Dong gong is yang and active concealing the passive ying. Movement is the external appearance, but internally the mind is quiet and tranquil.
(2) Passive (tranquil) qigong is meditation with the body being still. Qi is controlled by concentration, visualization and breathing techniques. Jing gong is passive yin externally, but internally the mind is alert and actively yang. With the body still the breath moves the qi.
Although dynamic dong gong is movement and passive jing gong is meditation, there is no rigid line drawn between the two. To balance yin and yang, in movement there must be stillness in the mind. In restful meditation, the mind must be aware with attention.
In its application, qigong can also be divided into:
a) External Healing Qi. This is similar to cosmic healing.
b) Meditative or Spiritual Qigong (Jing Gong). This is meditation (jing gong) which is practiced as a complement to the active dong gong (yang), the commoner or popular qigong. There is a tendency to subdivide it as Buddhist and Taoist, but whatever classifications the essence is to attain ‘a sound mind in a sound body’.
c) Healing qigong is the major movement nowadays. Complemented with meditation, the active part includes stretching, deep breathing, low impact conditioning, and isometrics. This practice increases stamina and improves coordination.
So basically one learns qigong in order to establish medical and health benefits. The remaining types of qigong should not interest us. The most popular type of easy daily exercise nowadays is Taiji Quan. A smaller number of people would go to a teacher for proper and graduated training for physical and mental health and this is now generally called qigong.
Dangers of qigong
Although most qigong techniques are innocuous especially when guided by an expert teacher, dangers may be encountered if one is too impatient or eager and does not follow the teacher’s guidance.
Kenneth S Cohen coined the terms qigong psychosis and qigong psychotic reaction in late 1970s. These are direct translation of the Chinese expression zou huo ru mo, 走火入魔, “fire wild, devils enter”. In 1994, the “Glossary of Culture-Bound Syndromes” of the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association states:
Qigong psychotic reaction: A term describing an acute, time-limited episode characterized by dissociative, paranoid, or other psychotic or non-psychotic symptoms that may occur after participation in the Chinese folk health-enhancing practice of qigong. Especially vulnerable are individuals who become overly involved in the practice.
More is not always better. The lesson here is that the individual should not overwhelmingly go overboard to practice qigong, both active exercises and passive meditation. Kenneth Cohen cites two cases of a Taiji Quan teacher and a Buddhist master. Both were teachers of qigong, but both were out of touch with reality. The Taiji Quan teacher, after ten years of practice, is hallucinating about his ‘third aura’, which is non-existent in any spiritual practice. He was told to stop teaching and to do 20 minutes of standing meditation every morning. After one year his delusion disappeared.
The Buddhist master after spending 25 years of qigong is out of touch with reality. He was constantly talking to God by invoking deities, but he could not carry on a normal conversation with his friends.
In 25 years of teaching qigong, Kenneth Cohen had met 5 or 6 qigong teachers and at least 50 qigong students who developed similar problems after excessive practice of going too fast ignoring proper instructions. Dr. Zhang Tongling, professor of psychiatry at the Beijing Medical University, runs a clinic for the obsessive qigong practitioners. In a series of 145 patients she found that hallucinations emanating from excessive practice of qigong without guidance is common. The advice given here is: proceed gradually step by step. Do not overload your qi circuits by trying to do too much too soon. Do not neglect the joys of life. Relax and not to be obsessed with qi all the time.
Bruce Kumar Frantzis was fully trained in mainland China by one of this century’s greatest Taoist masters. He has written a book called ‘Opening The Energy Gates Of Your Body’. In the Appendix C of this book he described a few cases that went wrong:
Case 1: Too much Qi is painful.
This case concerns a man who was taught the basic ‘Hsing I Nei Gung’ practice of sinking the qi to the lower tantien (hara) in Amoy. After two years of practice the student became very powerful. When his teacher left for another city, this man began learning secret techniques from other teachers. He practiced these new techniques diligently. The combination of the new with the old ended in forcing the qi below the tantien into his genitals. He literally broke the barrier between the lower tantien and the genitals, emptying the tantien of qi. This resulted in mental and physical problems including involuntary semen emissions and hallucinations. His masters took three years to bring him back to normal.
Case 2: Vibrating Qi
In many qigong practices, there is a desire to deliberately trying to vibrate qi in the body, bones, tissues, brain etc. The breathing becomes rapid. The untoward aspects of this practice are that power usurps compassion. Symptoms of hallucinations and megalomania may also induce a mental illness. The shaking, the shutting and opening continue even after the practice is stopped, and this can damage the internal organs. This is like the partial awakening of the kundalini. Cancer patients when they practice this method tend to worsen their disease, because the primary cancer will send secondaries elsewhere.
Fukien White Crane
Psychosis will result when the enhanced qi goes up to the brain. This is quite common in the ‘Fukien White Crane’ type of practice. The madness starts with arrogance and breaking of bones due to the power. Some of the other symptoms are (1) Hallucinations with out-of-body experiences, (2) Things are moving much faster then they actually are, (3) Stiffening of the internal and external body, (4) Thirst for power, (5) Feeling constantly active and restless and unable to calm down. 6) Experiencing involuntary movements and body spasms. The remedy is to drain and re-pattern the vibrational qi.
A personal case of qigong psychosis
This is a good friend of mine. He was 64 years of age and retired from his profession. He started to practice qigong under a teacher. Everything was fine for a year. Then he started to feel strong and powerful. He used to tell me that he was so healthy and strong that he carried his own golf clubs and did not require a buggy to ferry him about. Then a few months later, he told me that he was radiant and light, and that he can put his arms up towards a tree and receives white light and energy from the tree. This sounded a little odd to me then, but there were no other symptoms. Suddenly one evening his son rang me up to say that his father was psychotic. He was meditating almost the whole night and then suddenly he began to shout vehemently. He was paranoid and insisted that there were evil spirits in the house. Then he began to cut round holes out of the carpet where he was meditating. Then he also put his hands around the wife’s neck trying to shake off or blow off the evil spirit in her. When I spoke to him on the phone, he seemed to confide knowingly that there are spirits around his house and he did not want to elaborate as he might anger them. I told the son to stop him from practicing qigong straightaway and to ask the psychiatrist to prescribe a certain drug. He slowly improves from then onwards. In this case he practiced only for 18 months. However, in the last few weeks he overdid it and even tried to meditate the whole night.
From the descriptions of the above two methods of spiritual paths, one can discern that psychosis may develop if the student over meditates, say several hours at one stretch. If the meditation is too intensive and the focus is on one or two chakras, then ill effects may arise. It is not so much the active part (dong gong) of the practice, but the meditative exercise that can go awry. In jing gong it is also the partial awakening of the kundalini that is to blame. In tantra yoga, it is not the physical exercise of hatha yoga that causes trouble. It is the meditative portion of the tantric practice that can go very wrong, especially when too much and too intensive energy is expended in the meditation. Generally, any form of meditation can give rise to psychosis. It need not be kundalini or qigong. A friend of mine had a skin disease twenty years ago. He was doing Buddhist meditation (samatha) in a stupa, in which urns of ashes of deceased people were kept. He thought he could self-cure himself if he meditated as long as he could in the stupa. He probably went into para-jhana, where his Buddha-mind or consciousness vacated his body. He was in an ‘empty’ state. After two months of meditating in the stupa, he became totally unhinged. Apparently three different types of entities took over his personality: he spoke in three different languages through out the day. He remained possessed in this fashion for many years. Many lay people in the Far East would like to go to Thai monasteries and be monks for a month or so. There are no radio, television or books to read in these monasteries. They meditate about 8-10 hours a day and stop eating after midday. This monastery practice can drive quite a few crazy, especially if they are not guided. Most of them are not properly guided. So the answer is not to meditate unguided for long periods of time.
1) Kenneth S. Cohen. The ways of Qigong. A Ballantine Book. 1997.
2) B.K. Frantzis. Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body. North Atlantic Books. 1993.
3) Krishna, Gopi Kundalini, The Evolutionary Energy in Man. Shambala. Boston and London 1997.
4) Krishna, Gopi. The Awakening of Kundalini. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1975
5) Edited by John White. Kundalini, Evolution and Enlightenment. Paragon House. St. Paul, Minnesota. 1990.
6) Lee Sannella, M.D. The Kundalini Experience. Integral Publishing 1992.
7) Arundale, G.S. Kundalini: An occult Experience. Wheaton, Ill, Theosophical Publishing House, 1970.
8) Chinmoy, Sri. Kundalini: The Mother Power. New York: Chinmoy Lighthouse Publishing, 1974.
9) Kripalvananda, Swami. Science of Meditation. Gujarat, India: Sri Dahyabha Hirabhai Patel, 1977. Available through the Kripalu Yoga Ashram, Sunnytown, Pa.18084.
10) Woodroffe, Sir John. The Serpent Power. Madras, India: Ganesh & Co., 1974