The System of the Chakras
In some Hindu and Buddhist forms, certain energetic centres of the body have an important role to play in occult physiological practices. Traditionally, there are a great number of chakras in the human body. A total of 88,000 are mentioned in literature, and of course nobody can know them all. In Hinduism, seven are of particular importance (in Buddhism there are four), and are associated with specific colours which, naturally, can vary from
In some Hindu and Buddhist forms, certain energetic centres of the body — the chakras or cakras — have an important role to play in occult physiological practices. Traditionally, there are a great number of chakras in the human body. In Buddhism, four are of particular importance, while in Hinduism there are seven. These seven chakras form the basis of the illustration. Because their association with certain colours can, of course, differ from
First appearing in the Vedic literature of circa 2000 B.C., the term chakra comes from the Sanskrit and effectively means «wheel» or «disk». Chakra also signifies the lotus flower. In Indian religions, when ready to create the universe, the cosmic waters will produce a lotus flower of pure gold with a hundred petals, radiant like the sun. This is the door, the opening: the uterine opening of the universe. Like the flowers, the chakras can also be opened and shut, either blossoming or folded to reflect the inner consciousness of man.
In Tantrism, the Buddhism of the Middle Ages in which Buddhist and Hindu ideas blend, the chakras provide the structure of a mystic physiology and anatomy. Mircea Eliade wrote in his work on yoga that the basic meaning of the chakra system can be revealed in its dual function — both magical and concrete: on the one hand the believer realises a «cosmologisation» of his own body by bringing it onto the heavenly plane; on the other hand, in the abolition of the cosmos per se, he achieves the union of opposites.
The seven chakras coincide with the seven most important nerve centres — the perineum (between the anus and the external sexual organs), the area of the sacrum (abdomen), the solar plexus, the heart, the throat, the forehead and the top of the skull. Of particular significance are: the lowermost bodily centre called muladhara, numbered 1; and the sahusrara, numbered 7, the uppermost centre located in the skull near the fontanel. The muladhara incorporates a mysterious divine potency which permits the individual-aided by yoga — to ascend from one chakra to another in order to find enlightenment on the highest level: the sahasrara. Beginning within the space-time world of bodies (matter), the end is reached in the spiritual world of knowledge and consciousness. The Goddess Kundalini enacts the same movement, accompanied by the chakras. Like a snake, Kundalini winds herself three and a half times around the first chakra, climbing up to the next chakra at each waking until she reaches the seventh, final and highest.
The small circular figure in the centre reminiscent of the Chinese Tai Chi symbol is here to be interpreted as a graphic representation of the possible relationships between the three Guna (Rajas = R, Tama = T, Sattwa = S). It shows how the seven colours of the chakra ladder are formed and mixed from the three basic colours: red, yellow and blue, and their four combinations. If the three basic colours are each ascribed to a guna, we can see how matter (tamas) and energy (rajas) occur in motion (orange), how energy and spirit (sattwa) enable relationships (green) to unfold, how matter and spirit lead to the light of awareness (indigo), and how all are united again in enlightenment (violet).
In the chakras, the body of the believer is pervaded by a stream of energy. This same stream permeates the cosmos, the gods and the «subtle bodies». A network of channels (nadi), portrayed in the Indian tradition as tubes, veins or nerves, links the various chakras, the vital centres of the mystical anatomy. The number of nadi is infinite. The channels and centres relate to astral, divine, elementary and mineral harmonies, so that a wide palette of congruences between the seven chakras, the elements, the streams of energy, the parts of the human body, the seasons, geometry, precious stones and colours can arise.
A certain degree of freedom can be permitted when allocating and portraying colours. There is no clear pattern in the Indian tradition, and it is anyway hardly possible for those brought up in the Western way of thought to understand this system of chakras in its full depth. Each chakra is characterised by a coloured lotus flower with a specified number of petals, with each petal being allocated a letter (see illustration): the first chakra is mulhadara (the support). It sits in the region of the perineum. Most connections stem from this point of most diversified sensations where the physical cravings can also be found. It is portrayed by a red lotus flower, and the element earth can also be assigned to it. The second chakra, svadhisthana, which sits in the abdomen, takes the form of a red-orange lotus flower with six petals. This Hindi word svadhisthana means pleasant or sweet, and refers to the sexual feelings. The associated element is water. Manipura (the shining precious stone), found in the solar plexus, is yellow and represented by a lotus flower with ten petals. The third chakra corresponds to fire. The fourth chakra, anahata (the uninvolved) has its seat in the area of the heart and is shown as a green twelve-petalled lotus flower; air is assigned to the anahata. The name of the fifth chakra is vishudda (cleansing). It is located in the throat, in the area of the larynx, its azure-coloured lotus flower has sixteen petals, and its element is clay. The sixth chakra ajna (perception) is linked to the forehead and portrayed by an indigo-coloured, two-petalled lotus flower corresponding to light. The seventh, highest and final chakra is sahasrara, a thousand-petalled lotus flower of violet or white. All possible combinations (20 x 50) of the Sanskrit alphabet are inscribed on its petals; sahasrara represents thought or consciousness. The triangle — depicting the union of shakti and shiva, and also where the goddess Kundalini opens out — can also be found at the centre of all seven lotus flowers, along with various symbolic shapes specific to each chakra. The highest phase of the Tantric work, which is of sexual significance, is realised at this point and constitutes one of the fundamental Tantric techniques, namely the retention of sperm.
If the ascending sequence of chakras are labelled according to Western culture, then words like matter, movement, energy, relationships, vibrations, light and knowledge can be chosen. The two arrows associated with the six lower chakras show their contrarotation, their spinning — a result of the two contrarotating streams ida (sun) and pingala (moon). By giving their energies a direction, the portrayal explains the potential of each chakra. The various circles permit a visualisation of the interactions between the different chakras or chakra groups. Both the thickly drawn circles incorporate the physical world on the one hand and the world of consciousness on the other. To signify this exchange, the colour green is placed at their intersection. In addition, the chakras can be connected with three intersecting, interacting groups of three (dotted circles) — one group for action, one for interaction and one for perception. This circle reconfirms that chakra means «wheel» or «disk» in Sanskrit, and that the derivative expression, chakravartin, means «the ruler of the world» — the turner of the wheel to create the ascending and descending streams.
Bibliography: B. Walker, Hindu World, London 1968; C. W. Leadbeater, Chakra, Triest o.J.; Katya Walter, Chaosforschung, I Ging und genetischer Code, Diederichs, München 1992; H. Zimmer, Indische Mythen und Symbole, Diederichs, München 1984.