Tantra & Kundalini: Uncoiling the Sacred Snake of Sex & Liberation.

Via on Oct 19, 2011

Are we humans hardwired for sex, sadness and liberation? According to Tantric yoga, yes we are!

In the book Gods of Love and Ecstasy, Alain Danielou links the spiritual hearts of the Indian God Shiva with the Greek God Dionysus. In these two Divine characters of magic and transcendence, East and West meet, both literally and symbolically.

When mystical labyrinths appeared in the earth of Crete some four thousand years ago, Shivaism (Tantric Yoga) had already existed in India for thousands of years. “Since its remotest origins, Shivaism has been inseparable from Yoga,” writes Danielou. He also claims that Shivaism as a sacred, yogic culture stretched over a vast area—from India way into Greek and Celtic Europe.

Perhaps that is why we see sculptures of naked women in lotus pose in ancient France and a Viking yogi on the so-called Buddha Bucket from an 800 AD Viking ship in Norway.

In other words, the inner labyrinth of Yoga, the kundalini, which is a coiled up snake of creativity, sex and spiritual liberation at the bottom of our spines, also manifests as exterior labyrinths of the earth, as symbolic representations of the inner journey of yoga. And Danielou believes these shamanic and yogic snakes crawled to the West from India and can be found in caves and earth circles from the Ganges to England.

When you walk a labyrinth counterclockwise, you symbolically unwind the cosmic coil of kundalini, you liberate yourself from the earth cave of the Muladhara chakra. And this spiritual uncoiling from the inside is the awakening of Shakti, the kundalini, so that she can unite with Shiva in the Sahasrara, the crown chakra.

This whole inner enterprise of uncoiling the inner labyrinth is what we call yoga. And its an enterprise that’s been going on for a few thousand years longer than the world’s oldest yoga mat, since when people did their asanas on dirt, sand and rock, since when people did their meditation naked in rain and frigid weather in the Himalayas.

All energy is lodged in this first chakra, the abode of the Shakti. Indeed, there are four fundamental vrittis, or human longings, associated with this chakra:

Dharma—psycho-spiritual longing

Artha—psychic longing

Káma—physical longing

Mokśa—spiritual longing

In other words, the first chakra is not the “lowest” chakra, it is actually the seat of our spiritual longing for both liberation and Dharmic action. Indeed, our thirst for both physical and spiritual love comes from this inner labyrinthine cave. Thus, according to Tantra, we are hardwired for spirituality, for dharma, for bliss. We are hardwired for lust, as well, but even as much for liberation, for spiritual union, for yoga.

“There is no fulfillment without the body. Hence obtaining the wealth of the body, engage thyself in works of merit.” –Kularnava Tantra

That’s why in India, you will see people worshiping vaginas and penises made of stones. The vagina, the yoni, or Shakti, is the earth labyrinth, the energy from where everything is created. This coiled female energy surrounds the male phallus, the linga, or Shiva, the self-born consciousness erect and alive in all things.

That is why in India, you will see people worshiping snakes as they represent the coiled inner serpentine, the kundalini Shakti, in nature, in the body, and in the cosmos.

As you can see, Tantric yoga was not created by puritans, nor by the faint-hearted, but also not by the purely hedonistic. For these yogis of old, they knew that above the first chakra, there were numerous challenges ahead. These challenging vrittis, including hatred, deceit, possessiveness, cruelty, fear, and arrogance, and many more, are located in clusters of six, ten, twelve, sixteen and two, around the other chakras.

As you can see, most of these vrittis are more psychologically challenging than the four primary ones located in the Muladhara chakra. But there are also positive ones, including hope, effort, discernment, and perhaps the most important of all, the love vritti located in the heart chakra.

Furthermore, there is the human capacity for awakening spiritual knowledge, the famous para vritti located in the ajina, or eyebrow chakra.

The Tantric science of kundalini, chakras, and vrittis—and how these esoteric, inner expressions are awakened, balanced and alchemically tuned by hatha yoga and meditation—is complex and beyond the scope of this short blog. But the heart of this science is reflected in both the coiled labyrinth of the earth and the coiled kundalini of the body.

In other words, the spiritual energy labyrinth inside us, the kundalini, is reflected in the sacred revelation of the earth labyrinth. As inside, so outside.

Our spiritual practice, our yoga, helps us uncoil and liberate the kundalini labyrinth and thereby free us from its containment in the earth chamber of the first chakra.

 “The rush of bliss that ensues upon the meeting of the Pair, the Supreme Shakti and the Self (Shiva) above, is the real Congress. All else is mere copulation.” –Kularnava Tantra

 

 

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes was born in Norway and lived for nearly three years in India and Nepal learning directly from the masters of tantric yoga. He has written extensively on tantra, yoga, culture and sustainability, and his articles have appeared in books and numerous magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US. His forthcoming book on Tantra will be published by Hay House India soon. He is currently contributing editor of New Renaissance and a columnist for Fredrikstad Blad, a Norwegian newspaper. He lives in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Visit his blog here: Eight Fold Path. His book Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit: A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra can be purchased here.

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28 Responses to “Tantra & Kundalini: Uncoiling the Sacred Snake of Sex & Liberation.”

  1. eunice says:

    Thank YOu,For such great prespective, of the TanTra Yoga, and the kundalini. Much apreciated. NamasKar

  2. integralhack says:

    A very nice explanation of Tantra Yoga in relation labyrinths, kundalini and chakras (and Greek myth)–thanks, Ramesh! I am intrigued by the counterclockwise unwinding discussed in your statement "you walk a labyrinth counterclockwise, you symbolically unwind the cosmic coil of kundalini, you liberate yourself from the earth cave of the Muladhara chakra."

    The exercise of the "Whirling Dervishes" as well as the first exercise of the "Five Tibetans" involves counterclockwise movement, as you may know, so this type of exercise as a means toward liberation fascinates me.

    • Ramesh says:

      IntegralMatt: the reason is that the kundalini is coiled clockwise and you unfold it counterclockwise through the practice of mantra repetition, by evoking the energy coil with the sound of the mantra. This is a compex science and will require another article.
      Some words from Anandamurti on the kundalini:
      The kula in the compound word kulakuńd́alinii (coiled serpentine) comes from the word ku. According to Kálacakrayánatantra, the last bone at the bottom of the spine carries the weight of the entire upper portion of the spine. This bottom piece of bone is therefore called kula, that is, the la that holds ku or the solid factor. According to Tantra, the sleeping divinity is lying in this kula in the shape of a coiled serpentine. This seed that holds the solid factor is called la; in other words, la is the acoustic root of the solid factor. This coiled serpentine moves upward through mantrabodha, mantrágháta, mantracaetanya [ideation of mantra, mántrika striking or stirring of the kuńd́alinii, mántrika consciousness], with the help of the acoustic sound huḿ, and unite with Parama Shiva seated on the thousand petalled lotus in Sahasrára cakra. This is the highest form of meditation. This elevation of the coiled serpentine is called kulasádhaná. One who performs this spiritual practice becomes famous as kulasádhaka or kaola (kula + ań). This process or path of Tantra sadhana is known as kulácára. Lord Shiva, the founder of this Tantra, is therefore called mahákaola or ádi kaola [the pioneer kaola]. And the guru who teaches this sadhana is known as kulaguru.

  3. fivefootwo says:

    More teachings please. You have been missed, welcome back.

  4. Priscilla says:

    Agree with fivefootwo, haven't read you in a while, more please. Also, I think you actually answered a dilemma I've had for weeks now. Thanks!

    • Ramesh says:

      Thanks so much for the appreciation…to both you Priscilla and fivefoottwo!! I have been doing more workshops lately and that takes time away from the writing time, but will be back again soon!

  5. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Ramesh, thank you so much for your point of view, your wisdom and your inspiration! Awakening our inner expression…beautiful.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  6. nimitta says:

    "When mystical labyrinths appeared in the earth of Crete some four thousand years ago, Shivaism (Tantric Yoga) had already existed in India for thousands of years. “Since its remotest origins, Shivaism has been inseparable from Yoga,” writes Danielou. He also claims that Shivaism as a sacred, yogic culture stretched over a vast area—from India way into Greek and Celtic Europe.

    Perhaps that is why we see sculptures of naked women in lotus pose in ancient France and a Viking yogi on the so-called Buddha Bucket from an 800 AD Viking ship in Norway."

    And perhaps not. Among the many historians and thinkers I've studied who have examined the growth of tantra, Alain Danielou is among but a small minority who accept such fantastic notions of antiquity. The idea that tantric yoga had already existed for "thousands of years" in 2000 BCE is appealing but very unlikely, at least based on archeological and linguistic evidence. Artifacts like the French sculptures and the Viking cup do seem to reflect some kind of yogic sensibility, but are thousands of years more recent and impossible to trace to the implausibly ancient and interconnected spiritualities envisioned by Danielou.

    This is a fascinating article, Ramesh. Let's not lose sight of the fact, however, that the mesmerizing tapestry of Indian wisdom seamlessly weaves the ancient and more recent. Thus, it is especially susceptible to anachronisms which will often mislead us.

    Two unrelated examples of misleading anachronism which might be familiar to Elephant readers: 1) the notion that the 2000 year old Yoga Sutra concerns 8th century hatha yoga; and 2), the 5th century Buddhist commentary, Visuddhimagga, accurately reflects the meditative teachings of the Buddha a millennium earlier. Both of these ideas are widely accepted but extremely improbable. As such, they create confusion and deprive modern seekers of the teachings more likely to have been intended by Patanjali and Gotama.

  7. Ramesh says:

    Nimitta, thank you for your thoughtful letter. Alain Danileou is not the only one claiming Tantra is much older than the middle ages. In my over 10 years of research into this, I have come across many writers who claim the same. Swami Satyananda Sarasvati, Prasad Lalal Singh, N. N. Bhattacarya, Shri Anandamurti, and several others. While these may be in a minority, their voices are compelling and important and need to be heard. Mainly because they write from the point of view of Tantra, from a point of view that has been greatly underrepresented in the Western academia and the Western yoga community. I have made it my goal to balance the biases held by those who claim yoga hails form the vedas. It is common in history to believe that the majority view is the "correct view". But in this case, I disagree.Moreover, in my upcoming book on this, I am suggesting an integrated view that takes into account both schools of thought–that yoga is the integration of the vedic and tantric traditions and that Tantra supplied the practices and at a much earlier date that previously believed.

  8. Ramesh says:

    Nimitta wrote: "Two unrelated examples of misleading anachronism which might be familiar to Elephant readers: 1) the notion that the 2000 year old Yoga Sutra concerns 8th century hatha yoga;…"

    Correct, but it is equally common and mistaken to assume that hatha yoga stems from the late Middle Ages in India because that is when these practices were written down. That 's like suggesting shamanism is only as old as the first book on shamanism. No academic anthropologist would ever suggest that. But that is what yoga academics suggest. India is and was primarily an oral tradition, and in order to understand and date yoga history one cannot dismiss thousands of years of oral history, much of which has been recorded in various
    Puranas.
    In other words, it is hardly unlikely that all Patanjali meant by the third limb was to sit in padmasana or sidhhasana… yogis were practicing asanas of a much greater variety during his and earlier time. We have statues to prove that fact…..

  9. nimitta says:

    "I have made it my goal to balance the biases held by those who claim yoga hails form the vedas."

    Onward and upward! I share your goal, Ramesh, and would say that the proto-tantra contributed far more to evolution of the early yoga than the Vedic cultures did. I would be extremely cautious about regarding oral traditions as 'history', though – history as we regard it today was neither their method not intent. None of the South Asian oral transmissions is free of later edits, revisions, interpolations, or downright fictions – not the Vedas nor the Puranas, nor the Pali suttas, nor those of the Jains, nor the commentaries ad vertigum. When we explore them it is all too easy to see what we think we're supposed to see. That doesn't mean one shouldn't explore them – it means one should examine them ever more closely.

    As for the Yoga Sutra, the idea that Patañjali was referring to anything but sitting meditation leading to samadhi simply cannot be found in the text, let alone actual meditative experience based on his teachings as I understand them. And about those marvelous statues: they prove that ancient humans were like us, and developed beautiful ways to move their bodies – ways that are today associated with yoga. Nonetheless, I know of no evidence whatsoever – none! – that proves or even suggests that these movements had anything at all to do with what Patañjali called 'yoga'.

    Let's give the ancient sage of yoga the last word(s):

    yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah

  10. Ramesh says:

    Nimitti, just a few words about Patanjali and his Yoga Sutras: YS is mainly philosophy not practice. Why? Because the practice of yoga, which is essentially Tantric has been oral, from guru to disciple. Not only does he not teach asanas in YS, he also does not teach us how to do pratyahara, pranayama, dharana and dhyan, what to speak of samadhi. Point is, you will not find any practical tantric or yogic teachings in YS. I have been taught all these lessons by my tantric teachers, and if you do not have such teachers YS becomes rather abstract. These practices existed during Patanjali's time, the asanas, the pratyahara, the dharana, the pranayamamas, etc, but he did not teach any of it because it was an oral tradition. That is the proof. So why just point at the missing asanas when all the yogic practices of YS are missing in YS. That is the point and that is why yoga studio teachers will teach YS intelectually but not practically, because very few people know these practices; they are not taught in books. Except, to some extent in the books by the Bihar School of Yoga, but is is much better and safer to learn from a living, competent teacher.

    The Pashupatinat seal from the Indus Valley (3500 BCE) of a yogi in gorakasana, a v ery advanced bandha is ample proof that yoga existed thousands of years before patanjali. There is also a statue of a yogi doing a yogic gaze that is nothing but dharana with bilva leaves as a dress. These leaves are used to venerate Shiva, the socalled King of Yoga. According to Tantra, Shiva invented yoga, not Patanjali These are some of the many clues about the antiquity of yoga in India. But one needs to look carefully and with both an open and discerning mind. Even in Mehrgarh, a proto-tantric urban area of India, dating from 7000 BCE,, there are signs of yoga in various figurines. .
    According to tantric oral teachings Shiva taught astahnga yoga, not Patanjali. Patanjali built on Samkhya,, which is tantric and ayurvedic philosophy, which is based on Shaiva Tantric teachings hailing from prehistory. So the YS build on much earlier teachings… the threads are there….

  11. nimitta says:

    Ramesh, there are so many things ‘off’ about this last note above that I don't know where to start.

    "YS is mainly philosophy not practice…You will not find any practical tantric or yogic teachings in YS…”if you do not have such [Tantric] teachers [like mine] YS becomes rather abstract”.

    If you sincerely believe this I can only conclude that you have never experienced what Patañjali is teaching. The yoga of the YS is entirely experiential, and the YS describes this experience much as a roadmap confirms each stage of the journey. The YS also touches upon a particular metaphysics that had evolved by his time from the samkhya, but such elements are provided as context only and are distinctly secondary to the practical task of guiding the yogin to the highest samadhi attainments, as a platform from which to let go into cessation/nirodha and to know kaivalya – the nature of the purusa/prakrti relationship – directly for oneself.

    Sad to say, your teachers may be quite unaware and undeveloped regarding this dimension of yoga, Ramesh, if you're saying they've taught you that it is possible to cultivate dharma-megha-samadhi by means of the dog pose, or that the pranayama unfolding in the fourth dhyana, referenced at II.51, is achieved via ujjayi. I'm only being a little facetious here: these are later tantric practices, and can even be counterproductive to the cultivation of the asana-pranayama explained at II.46-53, for example. I grant that you may never hear that from a contemporary tantric teacher, though.

    Even the first significant line, yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah, is an immensely practical teaching, and is not philosophical in any sense of the word. Likewise, the final sequences in Pada III & IV are some of the most detailed practical maps of the nirodha process ever offered by a South Asian teacher, as far as I’ve encountered, and there I would include Siddhattha Gotama. Really, I'm astonished by your statements, and have never ever heard anything comparable in all my years of practice, study, and teaching.

    As for the IVC seal you mentioned, Ramesh, you show your bias at once. Calling it the ‘Pasupati seal’ 'outs' you as a true believer, for the seal is not so labelled by its indigenous culture as far as anyone has been able to tell. The epithet was given to the seal by Sir John Marshall in a moment of inspiration that now seems premature if not outright naive. Furthermore, the figure is believed by most who’ve studied and thought about it to be a three-faced god, not a man. The point is, we simply don’t know.

    I really think your confidence is misplaced about all this. There is no indication that this figure is involved in yoga at all, since his primary activity seems to be communion with several impressive creatures perhaps meant to convey the panorama of animal life. It is simply unwarranted to call this a human ‘yogi’ just because his posture resembles one that has come to be known as a hatha yogasana. There are also features that disqualify it, like that pesky erect penis.

    I hope you can see the irony in calling this posture Goraksasana, after the legendary progenitor of hatha yoga, and reminding us that it is “a very advanced bandha”, despite the fact that there is no evidence of bandhas until thousands of years after the IVC disintegrated. If not, do you believe that Goraksa live some five thousands of years ago? Don’t the oral traditions you valorized above hold that he and Matsyendra lived something like one thousand years ago, give or take a few centuries? In other words, perhaps 1000-1500 years after the evolution of the meditative samadhi yoga culminated in the teachings eventually collected by Patañjali and others around the turn of the millennium. You are very definitive about your legends regarding the innovation of yoga by Shiva, but the legends of hatha yoga’s provenance are much more numerous and point to figures who seem to have lived far more recently than the familiar figures of the IVC. In other words, there probably aren’t any “missing asanas” when it comes to Patañjali, just liberation teachings that evolved during the beginning and middle centuries of the 1st millennium BCE.

    Let’s be very clear: I have never heard anyone claim that Patañjali invented yoga, because he couldn’t have. But also know this: there is little evidence of either an open or a discerning mind in your last note. I see a string of speculations, framed by your tantric creds, intended as a response to someone you apparently imagine to have little more than a scholarly interest in yoga and tantra. You couldn’t be more wrong.

  12. Ramesh says:

    Dear Nimitta,
    I am not imagining anything about you, only responding to your writing, my friend! The name of an asana is not the point here as they change over time and many asanas have different names. Georg Feuerstein and others as well as myself have concluded that the pose is likely Gorakashasana. I will write a separate article on this: The Archeology of a Pose

    I am not disputing the importance of YS as contemplative practice, but. it is not a substitute for initiation into the higher lessons of yoga sadhana. Reading and contemplating philosophy is complimentary to but different from inner sadhana. Reading about dhyan and contemplating dhyan is not the same as practicing dhyan. They compliment each other but are not identical. One cannot practice pranayama by reading about it. That was the distinction I wanted to make.

  13. Ramesh says:

    In other words, the descriptions of Pranayama in YS iI.50 onwards does not constitute the practice of pranayama, does not give instruction in the practice of pranayama. There are so many forms of pranayama practice, such as the various hatha yoga pranayamas, raja yoga pranayamas, rajadhirajayoga pranayamas. To read about pranayama in YS is not the same as practicing any of these. That's all.

  14. Ramesh says:

    No disrespect to Patanjali and his Yoga Sutras and all those who study these texts diligently and derive much wisdom from them. BUT, my point above was that texts are not substitutes for practical experience, actual meditative introversion using the tested and proven esoteric tools from the yogic and tantric toolbox. No one has said that better than Kabir. Here in the words of Robert Bly:

    "There is nothing but water in the holy pools,

    I know, I have been swimming in them.

    All the gods sculpted of wood or ivory can't say a word,

    I know, I have been crying out to them.

    The Sacred Books of the East are nothing but words,

    I looked through their covers one day sideways.

    What Kabir talks of is only what he has lived through.

    If you have not lived through something, it is not true."

  15. Jiiva says:

    Quote from Traditional Yoga Studies by Georg Feuerstein, "next to the Bhagavad Giita, the most significant materials on Yoga in the Mahabhara'ta are found in the Moksha-Dharma Section. ….>>>. Beside the orthodox brahmanical schools represented by Vedanta, we encounter several other traditions, notable Pancaratra religion (an early form of Vaishnavism), the Pashupata religion (a form is Shivaism), Pre-Classical Samkya and Pre-Classical Yoga (skipping ahead…>>>>)…

    The liberation gospels present in the Moksa Dharma give us important clues expecially about Samkya and Yoga in their "epic" forms prior to their sytematization in the hands of Ishvara Krsna (300-400 CE) and Patanjali (c.200 CE) respectively. What emerges from the careful study of the Moksa Dharma notwithstanding, that these two traditions were already distinct similarities between Samkya and Yoga notwithstanding, that these two traditions were already distinct and independent developments at the time of the final composition of the Mahabharata.

    This is epitomized in the following statement, "The method of the yogias (i.e. yogins) is perceptions, [whereas] for the samkyas it is scriptural tradition."

    "These are not the same," as the epic affirms two verses later. The distinction is made between the pragmatic experimental approach of the yogins (called yogas), and the reliance of traditional revelation (accompanied by the rational inquiry of human existence) that typifies the followers of Samkya. But epic pr pre-classical Yoga is not characterized simply by practice, nor Samkya only by Theory. Both traditions have their own specific theoretical framework and psychotechnology.

    Pre-Classical Samkya arose out of the Upanishadic speculations about the levels of existence and consciousness as they were disclosed by the penetrating mediations of the sages. By the time of the Moksha-Dharma, Samkya and Vedanta have become distinct traditions, Like some schools of Vedanta, however, Pre-classical Samkya espoused a form of non-dualism. this is also true of the epic schools of yoga. What distinguishes epic Samkya and yoga from Classical formulations, is above all, their theistic orientation. The atheism of Classical Samkya and the curious theism of Classical Yoga must be understood as deviation from a strongly theistic base, reflected in the Upanishads.

    …. The epic schools of Samkya and yoga gave rise to the Samkya-yoga syncretism (combining different beliefs)… For the student of yoga it is important to know that Patanjali's Yoga Sutra WAS PRECEDED by CENTURIES of lively experimentation and thought about the great matter of self-transcendence. Patanjali's work, impressive as it is as a concise statement of yoga philosophy and practice, scarcely betokens the immense ingenuity and spiritual creativity on which it was build." (p. 198 Traditional Yoga Studies).

    Pre-Classical Samkya taught about the unity between individual Self and universal Self( (jiiva and Atman). Pre-classical Samkya and epic yoga also had the notion of non-dualism in common, whereas Patanjali's Sutras. There was an original panentheism (in panentheism, the whole is in the Supreme") from which Patanjali's Yoga Sutra differs. This According to Georg Feuerstein there was a need to respond to the logical and rational challenges which Buddhism brought force and they tried to systematize Samkya and yoga along rationalistic philosophical lines which set the individual apart from the whole. This was one of the reason Patanjali's Yoga Sutra were not that much respected as it went against the Vedantic notion of radical non-dualism later on (p. 198 Traditional Yoga Studues)

    The Moska Dharma teachers knew much about breath control, the five types of life force, meditations of introversion (pratyahara) etc… this knowledge sure did not come over night. It must have taken a long time to cultivate it in such a form that it finally got written down. Hence, we can conclude that we may not know what was taught orally but with people in India who still know the entire Mahabharate by heart plus still even today memorize all of the four Vedas it becomes clear that some instructions and initiations into meditations must be thousands of years old (and that may very well include tantric dikshas… (as we have seen have much to do with the ultimate union between Individual self and Universal Self. This meditation which leads to unions can definitely be regarded as a most subtle and sublime form of Tantra and it may very well be taught even today. :-)

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  17. Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

    Thanks to Nimitta, Ramesh, and Jiiva for the interesting debate.

  18. Ramesh says:

    Thanks, Carol, for reading and finding it interesting!

  19. jiiva says:

    Made a couple of typing errors… sorry for that… Namaskar!

  20. Ramesh says:

    No problemo. Thank you so much for sharing Feuerstein's work with us.

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