Sri Sri Ravi Shankar lovingly called as Guruji, the founder of Art of Living Foundation through which He relieves the stress at individual levels, thus reducing violence, sufferings and conflicts and spreading the love, harmony, peace throughout the world in various societies.
Q: What are Chakras? How can we cleanse the Chakras?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Chakras are the nerve centres seen in our body. There are 1,72,000 Nadis (channels of metaphysical energy or life-force) in our body, and there are various nerve centres for these 1,72,000 Nadis. The human body actually has 109 nerve centres, but among those, nine centres are important, and even in those nine, seven centres (Chakras) are of primary importance. And when energy (kundalini) or consciousness flows through these nerve centres, there are different emotions, feelings or sensations that one experiences.
Muladhara Chakra: The base of spine or the sacrum is the location of the first centre called the Muladhara Chakra. When the Muladhara Chakra is activated, what happen? One experiences enthusiasm in life. When it is dormant, then one experiences dullness and inertia. One does not feel interested in anything. This is the first Chakra.
Swadishthana Chakra: The same energy moves upwards to the second Chakra which is located behind the genitals and it manifests as procreation or creation – meaning in the form of any creative activity or as sex drive.
When you are obsessed with sex, then you do not do anything creative. You forget about creativity entirely. When you are engaged in any creative activity, then lust does not trouble you. People who are obsessed with sex are not very creative. When the same energy manifests itself as creativity, then sex moves to the background. So here the energy could manifest as a creative or procreative tendency. You need not label the energy as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. That is just how it is.
The human body actually has 109 nerve centres, but among those, nine centres are important, and even in those nine, seven centres (Chakras) are of primary importance.
See, it is the same energy (Kundalini) that is moving through the nerve centres. Kundameans ‘pot’ in Sanskrit. The body is like a pot, and the energy in this body is called the Kundalini. In the earlier days, this subtle energy was portrayed as a coiled serpent, and was also called as ‘Snake Power’. This does not mean you should go searching for a snake inside your body. Nor do you need to look for a lotus. No, these are actually subtle sensations in the body when the consciousness manifests at certain points.
Manipur Chakra: The same energy moves upwards to the navel region and manifests in four forms or feelings. What are they? They are jealousy, generosity, joy, and greed. When people feel jealous they feel some sensation in the stomach region. Isn’t it so? You must have seen Santa Claus, the Laughing Buddha, or a Seth Ji (a wealthy businessman) – they all have a big stomach. So - jealousy, generosity, joy, and greed are the four flavours of consciousness that manifest in the third Chakra.
The base of the spine is associated with the Earth element. The second Chakra is associated with the Water element. The third Chakra is associated with the Fire element. But it is the same Kundalini energy that is manifesting itself in these different nodes. Here the energy is represented by a four-petal flower.
Anahata Chakra: From the navel region, the energy moves upwards to the heart region. Here, from a four-petal flower, the energy is represented by a three-petal flower. What do the three petals signify? They represent fear, love and hatred.
When people feel hatred or fear or love, the sensation is felt in the heart region. When someone’s heart is broken, it means that the love has become sour and turned into hatred. Love, fear and hatred are all the same.
When there is love, there is no fear. When there is fear, there is no love. At any point of time, only one of the three emotions takes the front position while the other two go in the background. It is not that they disappear entirely. People who feel fear also have love. When love is predominant, then there is no fear or hatred. When hatred takes the front seat, then love and fear are gone to the back. This is what happens to people. When they are so full of hatred, they have no fear at all and they have no love at all.
Vishuddhi Chakra: When the same energy moves to the throat Chakra, what is the sensation you experience? You feelgratefulness, and you have a sensation in the throat region when you experience grief. When you are grieving, your throat chokes. And when you feel very grateful, then also your throat chokes.
Ajna Chakra: When the consciousness moves to the centre of the forehead, it manifests as anger, awareness or alertness. Knowledge and awareness are depicted by the sixth Chakra. The same point is also the seat of anger, and is also said to be the region of the mystical Third Eye. You must have read or heard the story of how Lord Shiva opened His ‘Third Eye’ and burnt Lord Kamadeva into ashes.
This Third Eye is the seat of anger as well as the seat of knowledge and awakened wisdom.
When the consciousness moves to the centre of the forehead, it manifests as anger,awareness or alertness. Knowledge and awareness are depicted by the sixth Chakra.
Sahasrara Chakra: When the Consciousness moves to the top of the head, then one experiences only bliss. There is nothing else. You no longer feel any duality, any sense of conflict or separation. You feel totally connected and one with everything. You feel so blissful.
See this flow the other way around. When there is no joy in our life, then we come a step below and experience anger. From anger springs hatred and aversion. This further leads to a sense of fear. Fear as it grows gives rise to jealousy and envy, which in turn gives rise to lust, feverishness and obsession. And lust and obsession bring us into the trap of inertia and negativity. This is the downward flow of the same consciousness or Kundalini energy. It is called Adhogati(retrogression or degeneration). The opposite of this is Urdhvagati (upward rise or progression). What is the pattern of Urdhvagati? You experience enthusiasm, then creativity blossoms, there is generosity and contentment, which in turn give rise to love. Love takes you to gratitude, which helps to bring awareness and wisdom (Prajna) and ultimately leading you to Bliss.
This upward or downward flow of energy keeps on happening very naturally and spontaneously in life all the time.
Every Chakra is connected with a specific element or principle in creation. For example, the Muladhara Chakra is connected with the Earth element. The Swadishthana Chakra is connected with the Water element. The maximum amount of water resides around the Swadishthana Chakra. The Manipur Chakra is connected with the Fire element. The digestive fire here helps in digestion.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna has said, “Aham Vaishvanaro bhutva praaninam deham ashritaah. Prana-Apana-samayuktah paachami annam chatur-vidham.” Lord Krishna says, “I am manifest as the hunger in the bellies of all living beings. I am the digestive fire that helps to digest all food which is consumed”.
The Heart Chakra is connected with the Air element. Where is the greatest proportion or presence of air in the body? It is present in the lungs, in the chest region. Next we move upwards to the Vishuddhi Chakra. This Chakra is connected with the Space element. Moving upwards into the Ajna Chakra, the consciousness manifests as wisdom and awareness. Ultimately the energy moves to the top of the head into the Sahasrara Chakra. Even scientists today accept and agree to this fact.
These seven Chakras or seven nerve centres are connected with different glands in the body. In scientific terms you can say thyroid gland, or the adrenalin glands, pituitary gland, pineal gland, etc. Science also agrees how these glands are responsible for experiencing various emotions. This is something our ancient Rishis knew since thousands of years ago. They mentioned all this in the scriptures.
When the Consciousness moves to the top of the head, then one experiences only bliss. There is nothing else. You feel totally connected and one with everything. You feel so blissful.
They depicted each of the seven Chakras in the forms of a lotus or different petal flowers. Why is this so? This is because when you go deeper in meditation, the consciousness becomes very subtle, and your mind becomes fresh like a flower. It becomes fresh, alive and soft. In such a delicate state of consciousness, you experience the rise of energy in the system.
Lightness is connected with subtlety. Grossness is connected with inertia and negative sensations; negative feelings. When you are negative, when you are rude or rough in your behavior, there is a certain inertia, a certain heaviness in the system. When you feel all the positive sensations, you feel a sense of lightness. When the energy moves upwards, then from inertia it transforms into enthusiasm, then creativity. From creativity wells up joy. When you are happy, you are naturally generous. Then the energy moves up further into the heart chakra where you only feel love for everybody around you. When you feel so much love, you feel so much gratitude and from gratitude comes alertness. It brings total awareness, and this awareness leads you to bliss.
But do not misunderstand this and try searching for some snake or some kind of flowers. People make so much effort to find something that they try to imagine something or the other to achieve this, and they go crazy in doing so. You should not do all that. For God’s sake, do not try awakening your Kundalini by force. It is a natural phenomenon.
You can meditate only when your Kundalini is awakened. Whenever you meditate, you find that scintillating energy flowing all over your being. That is what Kundalini is. When you do the Sudarshan Kriya, every cell becomes awake and alive. The awakening of energy happens very naturally. We should go through the natural manner only. Do not try all this by force, otherwise you lose sleep.
If someone approaches you and tells you, “I will help you awaken your Kundalini Shakti” , simply thank them with respect and move away. See, when a banana ripens on its own without any outward force, then it is naturally sweet. Isn’t it? If someone forcefully tries to ripen the banana, then it no longer remains fit for eating. Got it? So if someone tries to awaken the Kundalini Shakti by force, there are high chances that one may lose their mental balance. Only those who have years and years of practice of Yoga and deep knowledge about this are able to really practice these techniques properly without any side effects.
Unfortunately, today people do not follow this sanctity. Someone or the other learns a few techniques from here and there and they start teaching it to others. They try to awaken the energy by these techniques but it does not help; rather it creates more problems. Someone loses their mind, they become deranged; or they are unable to sleep. Such people are no longer able to function properly in society. We should not do such things at all. It is like how the fuse blows up inside a bulb (due to excess and unchecked surge of energy).
When you go deep in meditation, the consciousness in you becomes very subtle, and your mind becomes fresh like a flower.
Today morning itself, a lady approached me and told her story. She had visited some sage or some mystic who told her to do certain things. When she did all that, she experienced a lot of difficulty and it became very horrible for her. She experienced great discomfort. She told me, “Gurudev, I am not able to go to the temple and my body is not in my control”. It should be the opposite way around. Even the involuntary system comes into our control when you do Sadhana. When you do wrong Sadhana without proper authenticity, or by just reading books and other materials, then even the voluntary and involuntary system get messed up. So, you should be careful about this. The key word is proper guidance and effortlessness.
The energy should be awakened very naturally and effortlessly. When energy rises naturally and through the proper technique, one experiences so much enthusiasm, joy, total belongingness. All these are signs of a true awakening of the Shakti (energy). It anyway happens spontaneously when you do the Sudarshan Kriya. Do you not feel as if every particle of your body has become so infused and full of energy? This is what the awakening of Kundalini is. There is no serpent or lotus flower as such within our system, so do not go looking or imagining such things foolishly.
The lotus flower is only depicted as an example, as a means of symbolism. In the olden times, one of the names of the Lord used to be Kamala-Nayana : means having eyes like a blossomed lotus. Now just imagine what it would be like if someone really grew two lotuses in the place where the eyes are. Everyone else would get scared and run away from them. See, this is just a symbolic example. In the same way, the energy has been symbolically compared to a serpent.
In the mythological stories, it is said that the Mother Earth rests upon the hoods of the serpent Shesha Naag. What does this actually mean? What does the Shesha Naag mean? It symbolizes the centripetal force and the centrifugal force. Our Earth is supported by two kinds of forces. These forces do not act in a linear direction. These forces act in a circular fashion. A snake also never travels in a straight line. A snake also coils in a near-about circular manner as it moves forward. The movement of the serpent is propelled by centripetal and centrifugal forces.
The Shesha Naag symbolizes the two forces that the Earth is supported by. It does not literally mean that the Earth is resting upon the hood of some giant serpent. No, it is not so at all.
India has recently completed the trip to Mars using the Mangalyaan space vehicle. There are so many artificial satellites around the Earth today. So there is no scientific evidence in favour of the Earth resting upon the hood of a giant serpent. This is a symbolic story. The Shesha Naag here is not some actual living being, it is actually a giant supportive force or power. No one today can refute the fact about these two kind of forces: the Centripetal and Centrifugal forces exist. It is these two forces that sustain the Earth in its revolution around the Sun. This same truth was expressed in the ancient days by our wise ancestors using such symbolism, and through the example of the Shesha Naag. This is a really important and unique aspect of our scriptures, and our heritage.
In the same way, when we say that there is a lotus flower within us, it means that when the mind blossoms and becomes soft and supple, when the mind becomes refined, only then can we experience the subtle consciousness in us. When the mind is stuck in inertia, then we cannot experience any energy or power in us. That is why our scriptures advocate the practice of Mittaahara – meaning exercising balance and restraint in eating food. They advocate proper rest for the body. Then the body becomes tuned and conducive to experiencing this subtle phenomenon.