By Michael Winn
Although Hatha Yoga became known in America in the 1930's, it was not until the late 1960's and 70's that attention began to focus on the higher stages of yogic development in which a phenomenon occurs known as "awakening of the kundalini". The kundalini is the sudden release of vast untapped reservoirs of creative energy that transports an ordinary human being into states of higher consciousness and bestows upon him or her unique creative pow ers. A person who has attained full command of this cosmic energy is said by the Hindus to have attained a state of "samadhi". The Buddhists call it "nirvana", while the Chinese refer to it as the "Tao". In the west it might correspond with what Freud alluded to as an "oceanic feeling", but among the prophets of the New Age it is known as "superconsciousness". None, of course, agree as to the best path to achieve this awakening, but the parallel among them is distinct.
In India, the kundalini is symbolized by a serpent awakening from a deep slumber and rising up from the base of the human spine in a spiralling motion through the seven energy centers (chakras) of the body, purifying and unblocking the powers of each center as it rises. For millenium this same serpent has been a universal symbol for wisdom and healing. Nearly every Egyptian pharoah is depicted in statues with a serpent emerging from the third eye in the forehead.
Today, modern western doctors wear on their white laboratory coats the Greek symbol of healing energy, two serpents spiralling up a staff. The Taoists in China revered the snake as a wise animal, but symbolized the Tao more abstractly, with the yin and yang symbols spiralling into each other. It is important to note the Taoist yin and yang spiral was contained within a circle, while the traditional Hindu kundalini serpent spiralled vertically up to the crown chakra atop the head.
The Taoists referred to in this essay, are the masters of Taoist Esoteric practices, whose traditionally secret methods were studied by Master Mantak Chia. This is not to be confused with the Taoist religions, whose priests combined elements of Buddhism, Esoteric Taoism, and Chinese culture (folk beliefs, confucianism) in order to maintain a popular base.
The symbolic difference translates into a real difference in terms of the meditational approach aimed at awakening the release of this cosmic energy. The Hindu yogis emphasized raising the kundalini energy up to a higher transcendant level, while the Taoist masters emphasized harmonious circulation of this energy between chakras. The Taoist emphasis was on achieving perfect balance between yin and yang forces within the body rather than on leaping beyond human form into divine states.
It was not enough for the Taoist masters to simply know that the Tao, the highest state of oneness existed; the problem was how to gain experience of it in a safe, systematic, verifiable, and useful fashion. Chinese pragmatism worked its way into Chinese metaphysics. One did not raise up one's consciousness toward Heaven without rooting it equally deep in the Earth. This need for "grounding" defined the development of Taoist yoga. Tai Chi Chuan is nothing more than a walking yoga with self-defense and healing applications. Unlike Indian yoga, one's feet never leave the ground, increasing one's "rootedness" in the earth energy and safeguarding against excessive kundalini energy in the head.
It is this excessive energy in the head that often leads to illusions of spiritual advancement, also known as spiritual egotism. It is not unlike an intellectual who spends all his energy arriving at conceptual solutions to the world's problems, but ignores the messages from his own body about its poor health or finances. In a similar vein, Wilhelm Reich once complained that yogis would often drive energies into their head chakras without removing the "body armor", or tension, plated about the lower body. He argued their heads would pulsate with higher energy, giving the illusion of cosmic serenity, but progress to full circulation of the cosmic energy would remain blocked.
The Esoteric Taoist system guards against this danger by beginning with the very lowest chakra energy, the survival needs, and constantly reintegrating it with the higher energies that are developed. The Microcosmic Orbit is a perfect example, as it circulates past all seven chakras in the body. Likewise, the Taoists don't advocate sudden abandonment of all one's ego. Depending on the individual, a secure job and loving family may supply the best grounding for spiritual growth.
The Taoists advocate moderation, not asceticism. They teach that if a desire is destructive, it will drop away naturally as the body's chi flow comes into balance. The goal is to bring the body, mind, and spirit into harmony with the world, not to escape from it. Tradition has it many Tao masters would spend decades moving among the common people. Only after teaching them how to balance their anger with love, how to live more harmoniously, would they disappear up into the mountains to work on a very high level of meditation that required deep absorption in nature.
This harmonizing of the forces that fuse man, society, and nature together is evident in Chinese classics such as the I Ching. Written by esoteric Taoist masters, it simply expresses in poetic form the subtle changes in the balance of chi energies they observed in themselves, others, and nature. The proper approach to understanding the I Ching at its deepest level is to train oneself using Taoist esoteric yoga to read the changing elements within oneself.
In the higher levels of Taoist meditation the practitioner grounds him/herself in the body by channeling higher energies into the acupuncture meridian system, and circulating them throughout the entire body after refining the energies into a digestible form. The practitioner has a detailed map of the body's subtle nerve system into which he guides the released energy. He also is given precise methods for transforming his physical, emotional, and mental makeup at different stages of growth using this new energy. Each individual must tailor this "internal technology" to his specific needs and problems. Esoteric Taoism doesn't solve ego-created problems by demanding the surrendering of one's individuality to a larger group of guru.
The only devotion it demands is a disciplined committment to leading a healthy and harmonious life. Taoist Esoteric yoga is compatible with any religious belief. The language of Taoism is not defined by any set of mental "beliefs", but by the "experience" of increasingly subtle and powerful forms of chi energy. No mythological entities or divine symbols are evoked. But if someone chooses to identify this chi with the Christian notion of the Holy Spirit, it will not adversely affect the Taoist method of chi transformation. This holds true at the very highest levels of practice. This same Christian could draw accurate parallels between the Biblical ascent of Elijah on a flaming chariot into Heaven with the Taoist formula for the seventh stage meditation, "Reunion of Man and Heaven". Similar parallels could be drawn with Buddhist Hindu, or Qabalist symbols of spiritual advancement. The point the Taoist masters were making is that the pattern of chi flow and balance is similar in all men, regardless of interpretive belief about their religious experiences.
Taoist yoga is a theologically neutral method for preparing the dense physical and mental body to consciously receive a more powerful dose of cosmic yin and yang energies. Imagine the average human being is accustomed to functioning on 110 volts. He cannot suddenly absorb into his conscious mind the kundalini energy, which is powered by the subatomic nuclear energy that binds the universe together and is made visible in the radiant heat and light of the sun. To even double the received voltage to 220 re quires considerable conditioning of the body. The more accessible form of Kundalini power is human sexual energy. But to absorb anything above your accustomed voltage is dangerous, like being struck by lightning without a ground wire to the earth. The Taoist system of circulating chi, from the Microcosmic Orbit up to the level "reunite Man and Heaven", is a grounding rod for Kundalini energy.
Modern researchers into spiritual phenomena see the Kundilini as a possible mechanism to describe radical leaps in the evolution of human consciousness. The form in which it spontaneously occurs (i.e., without special yogic training) in nature would produce, in successful cases of evolution, creative genius and in the unsuccessful, madness. The classic account is Gopi Krishna's autobiographical "Awakening of the Kundalini' (Shambhala Press).
Gopi Krishna was an Indian railroad official who in 1937 experienced abrupt, dramatic physical and psychic changes as a result of his yoga practice. Energy began dancing and coursing powerfully through his body, but his initial wonderment and bliss soon faded. He was nearly incapacitated by it as the energy would not stop, sometimes leaving him tormented and sleepless for day on end. Only after twelve years of this nightmare existence was he able to learn how to balance the energy within his body and use it in a newly discovered creative life as a poet and author of a dozen books.
The Kundalini Research Institute in New York City reports worldwide over a hundred cases each year of individuals who cannot explain the uncontrollable release of energies in their body, often accompanied by days of sleeplessness, ringing and hissing noises in the ears and flashes of light inside the body. Some are students of yoga or meditation whose teachers abandon them after seeing they are powerless to diagnose or help the condition.
For this reason kundalini-oriented practices have earned a reputation as dangerous, radical, and unsafe for most westerners seeking what they falsely perceive as the fastest path to enlightenment.
A number of students suffering from kundalini-like side effects of different meditational practices have come to Mantak Chia for advice. Usually after doing the Microcosmic Orbit or simply putting the tongue to the palate and thinking down, these unpleasant symptoms disappear.
But the Chinese esoteric system is not limited to therapeutic uses. Practitioners of other techniques, sitting, mantra, pranayama, can achieve a high level of awareness and a balanced experience of kundalini-like energies. But several have come to Master Chia and privately complained that they don't know what to do with all their energy, or how to transform it to an even higher level. One yogi wrote Master Chia that even after doing yoga for 18 years, 12 of them in an advanced practice of kundalini yoga, he had never felt such a "pure and distilled energy" as he experienced in the Microcosmic Orbit and first level of Fusion of Five Elements. He plans to integrate the Taoist yoga into his daily sadhana.
Another high level Zen meditator told Master Chia he felt alienated from the masses of unawakened human beings and depressed by the mechanicalness of their living only to eat, work, drink, and sleep. Master Chia taught him how Taoists harmonize with larger forces outside of the self.
At the very highest level Esoteric Taoist yoga has techniques to awaken the kundalini energy to such a level that consciousness is thrust beyond the body for the purpose of doing spiritual work in subtle realms of consciousness. According to Master Chia, the Taoist masters modified a crucial aspect of the kundalini yoga techniques learned from Indian masters who travelled to China. The Taoists detected a practical problem with the Indian method, which unites the human mind with its higher spirit by literally ascending out the crown chakra above the head.
If one ascended out the crown chakra prematurely, there were grave physical and psychic dangers. But if one took too long there was also the danger of physical death before one had completed the process of transforming mind and body energy into spiritual energy. The Taoist masters resolved this problem by incorporating their knowledge of subtle anatomy of chi flow. The result is that in Taoist esoteric yoga one does not focus energy on a single chakra, such as the heart, third eye, or crown chakra, with the intention of using that energy center as the gateway to higher consciousness. It is possible to open one or several higher chakras and still have their power undermined by physical or moral weakness in the lower energy centers. This can block progress to the highest levels if the practitioner denies or ignores this imbalance.
The Taoists avoided these problems by absorbing higher energy, whether from outside sources or sexual resources and cir culating it continuously through all the centers. The goal was to build a solid and powerful energy base, self-contained within the human form, before the final transormation of the mind (or "soul") into spirit was effected. They would so thoroughly master their chi flow within the body that they could consciously circulate this chi outside the body as preparation for a safe pathway on which this soul could follow.
Master Chia thus describes the Taoist approach to kundalini awakening as the body and mind "parenting" the rebirth of its own soul into the next dimension of consciousness. One does not expect a human infant to fend for itself immediately after birth; that is the parent's responsibility. The reborn soul, ascending out the crown chakra and arriving as an infant in a confusing new world, would have "adult" guidance in the form of a powerful field of balanced chi energy protecting it from malevolent astral forces.
Because the full transformation of all physical and mental chi into spiritual chi energy normally takes many years, there is a danger of premature physical death before the process is finished. This danger becomes more acute with practices that accelerate the inrush of kundalini energy, as the body and glands must adjust to radical changes in metabolism. The Taoist masters circumvented this by mastering the act of physical longevity, chronicled widely in Taoist literature as the quest for physical immortality. The collective genius of the Taoist masters evolved an esoteric spiritual system designed to simultaneously awaken the kundalini and function as a healing system applicable to the whole gamut of daily stresses and illnesses.
The attraction of the Taoist yoga system is that it is as safe and methodical as climbing a ladder. You climb only as high as you can safely maintain balance and still keep the ladder rooted. The Taoist masters emphasized staying in harmonious balance on each step was more important than getting to the top of the ladder; trying to jump ahead increased the risk of falling. The goal was not to leap into some transcendent pie-in-the-sky, but to arrive with the graceful surefootedness of a Tai Chi dancer.
Awakening of the kundalini energy does produce a transcendent state of consciousness, but with Taoist Esoteric methods it is only achieved when the ever changing and opposing forces of yin and yang are first identified and then continuously, even automatically, brought into harmonious balance by the individual. It is a pro cess available to anyone anywhere with a functioning mind, whether he/she is rich or poor, a cripple or an athlete, a housewife or an executive, a criminal in prison, or a sailor alone at sea.
This internal feeling of expanding harmony is the highest freedom available to human beings, but unfortunately is rarely sought for lack of vision or discipline. Taoist Esoteric Yoga is an ancient system that has proven its worth over many thousands of years in aiding seekers to awaken awareness of that highest harmony.
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