Theosophy on Kundalini: The Serpent Power and Mystic Fire

The chances are that you have already heard of Kundalini. In the ancient Sanskrit language of India, the word “Kundalini” relates closely to “burning,” “spiral,” “coil,” and “serpent.” It’s spoken about very frequently in the New Age Movement and often in a very casual way, with no real sense of the sacredness of the subject.

As far as we are aware, H. P. Blavatsky – who was the main founder of the Theosophical Movement in 1875 – was the first person in the West to draw attention to the subject of the Kundalini and provide explanations about it. But does this mean she told people how to raise their Kundalini or encouraged them to try doing so or that she recommended following instructions from tantric Hindu or Buddhist texts on the matter? No, not at all, for that would be inappropriate, unwise, and risk causing serious psychological, psychic, and even physical, damage or injury to people. The Brotherhood of Masters, Adepts, and Initiates – of whom HPB was the Messenger and Direct Agent in the world – do not ever promote or recommend anything that could do harm. Ahimsa, or harmlessness, is Their standard.

HPB made no secret of the fact that even the huge mass of teaching, knowledge, and information she was making available to the world was still only a small fragment of THE Secret Doctrine or Esoteric Science or Occult Philosophy itself and that “it will take centuries before much more is given from it.” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, Introductory, p. xxxviii) What has been given to us is, for us, a complete system, and more than enough to be getting on with for lifetimes, plural.

But the more one studies Theosophy, the more one becomes aware of how many things have been deliberately and carefully kept silent about or left obscure in their details. Again, this is not from any malign wish to keep people ignorant but rather because the Masters of Wisdom see that humanity is by no means truly ready yet for such further knowledge. And there are some subjects which are so powerful in terms of the occult forces involved that it could perhaps take thousands of years before it is deemed suitable to render them public and exoteric, by which time it is hoped that humanity will be ready and able to handle it in the right spirit and with true maturity and responsibility. One of such subjects would be the true and proper way to awaken, direct, and use, Kundalini. We see from the Theosophical literature that the importance of the subject is by no means minimised or depreciated but that it is often accompanied by cautions and warnings, rather than step-by-step directions.

In the original Theosophical literature, there are only several direct overt statements and references to Kundalini, though there may be many more veiled or indirect statements which do not use that specific word. Here are H. P. Blavatsky’s words, starting with “The Voice of the Silence,” her translation of extracts from a secret esoteric Yogacharya Buddhist text known as the Book of the Golden Precepts:

“Let not thy “Heaven-born,” merged in the sea of Maya, break from the Universal Parent (SOUL), but let the fiery power retire into the inmost chamber, the chamber of the Heart and the abode of the World’s Mother.

“Then from the heart that Power shall rise into the sixth, the middle region, the place between thine eyes, when it becomes the breath of the ONE-SOUL, the voice which filleth all, thy Master’s voice.

“’Tis only then thou canst become a “Walker of the Sky” who treads the winds above the waves, whose step touches not the waters.”

She adds in explanatory comments on these passages that the “chamber of the Heart” spoken of is “The inner chamber of the Heart, called in Sanskrit Brahma poori.” As for “the fiery power,” the “Power,” and “the World’s Mother,” these are all synonyms of Kundalini:

“The “Power” and the “World-mother” are names given to Kundalini – one of the mystic “Yogi powers.” It is Buddhi considered as an active instead of a passive principle (which it is generally, when regarded only as the vehicle, or casket of the Supreme Spirit ATMA). It is an electro-spiritual force, a creative power which when aroused into action can as easily kill as it can create.” (original 1889 edition, p. 9, 76-77)

Those who are unclear as to what is meant by the Buddhi principle within us and about Atma are encouraged to read our explanatory articles Atman – The Higher Self and The Buddhi Principle.

The inner chamber of the heart is the true abode or home of Kundalini, according to this. But that doesn’t mean it is already there. For the disciple (“The Voice of the Silence” is “Dedicated to the few” and “FOR THE DAILY USE OF LANOOS (DISCIPLES)” and those who aspire to become such, although certainly anyone can benefit to some extent from the book, sometimes in a big way) is instructed to be careful not to let his or her “Heaven-born” end up breaking away from the Universal Soul but rather to let or allow that fiery power of Kundalini to “retire into” the heart’s chamber.

And then, once it has taken up its abode in the heart, it will rise from there to a still higher point within the body, “the place between thine eyes,” and then that Kundalini power is what “becomes the breath of the ONE-SOUL, the voice which filleth all, thy Master’s voice.” In this context, “thy Master” would be the inner Master, rather than one of the individual Masters of Wisdom or Mahatmas, as a few pages earlier HPB explained that “The “great Master” is the term used by lanoos or chelas to indicate one’s “Higher Self.” It is the equivalent of Avalokiteswara, and the same as Adi-Budha with the Buddhist Occultists, ATMAN the “Self” (the Higher Self) with the Brahmins, and CHRISTOS with the ancient Gnostics.” (p. 73-74)

So to truly and fully hear and experience the voice of the One Universal Self of All in the way that the great enlightened ones do, the Kundalini must have risen progressively upward, in stages, to a certain point within the head, where the final connection is made. In light of what Theosophy reveals about the pineal gland, also known as the Third Eye, it is likely that “the place between thine eyes” has reference to this, rather than to what Hindus and some New Agers call the Ajna Chakra.

So Kundalini is an absolutely crucial, vital, central part and necessity of all that any sincere Theosophical aspirant is striving towards. But are we told exactly how to do what we just read about? When the time comes and we are much further ahead in our inner development and have already earned the right of contact and training under the care of the Masters, then we will no doubt be informed of the specifics of the intricacies involved. But experience has shown that those who believe and insist that they are already at that point are usually very far away from it.

But we are given helpful hints, which the careless might easily overlook or not even notice. One such is the explanation that Kundalini “is Buddhi considered as an active instead of a passive principle.” Does this not tell us that we can start and progress in the practice here and now by endeavouring to activate Buddhi within our lives and consciousness? For Kundalini IS activated Buddhi. As our Buddhic nature becomes more and more active, developed, and energised, so must the Kundalini fire within us rise towards the heart and then beyond, without us needing at our present stage to know any of the detailed technicalities involved.

We recommend again the careful reading of The Buddhi Principle but here is a simple and helpful piece of advice from Robert Crosbie, the founder of the United Lodge of Theosophists:

“There is plenty of material, as well as help, in the devotional books to the realization of the heart doctrine, for they are designed to awaken the Buddhic faculty – that of Intuition, the only means by which light can come to you or anyone. . . . You may remember that in The Voice of the Silence there are two doctrines mentioned. The Doctrine of the Eye is that of the brain consciousness, composed largely of external impressions. The Doctrine of the Heart is of the spiritual consciousness of the Ego – not perceived by the brain consciousness until right thought, and right action which sooner or later follows it, attune certain centers in the brain in accord with the spiritual vibration. It might be well to read The Voice over and meditate on its sayings. You have had much of the intellectual side; there should be as much of the devotional; for what is desirable is the awakening of the spiritual consciousness, the intuition – Buddhi – and this cannot be done unless the thoughts are turned that way with power and purpose.” (“The Friendly Philosopher” p. 9, 13)

There is much more to Buddhi (which in Sanskrit literally means “Wisdom”) than its relation to the spiritual intuition but in the passage just quoted we see the recommendation to make use of a well defined group of books which are often referred to as the “devotional books” and which includes “The Voice of the Silence.” There is a short article on this site naming some of the others and talking more about them. Contemplative meditative reflection upon the content of these books can be a major factor in helping the Buddhi to be an active rather than latent part of us, especially when combined with an ever increasing endeavour to live one’s life as compassionately, altruistically, and selflessly as possible.

“The Voice of the Silence” mentions Kundalini again on p. 12:

“Before the “mystic Power” can make of thee a god, Lanoo, thou must have gained the faculty to slay thy lunar form at will.”

At the bottom of the page, HPB explains: “Kundalini, the “Serpent Power” or mystic fire.” And as just said, the Kundalini is what makes a man or woman a god. It may also be remembered that in esotericism the serpent is very often a symbol for, and even an exact synonym of, wisdom. So being the “Serpent Power,” Kundalini could also be termed the “Wisdom Power,” and thus the “Buddhi Power.” Yet if this is so, it is also called the “Serpent Power” for more objectively descriptive reasons:

Kundalini is called the “Serpentine” or the annular power on account of its spiral-like working or progress in the body of the ascetic developing the power in himself. It is an electric fiery occult or Fohatic power, the great pristine force, which underlies all organic and inorganic matter.” (p. 77-78)

To understand what is meant by “Fohatic,” please read Fohat: The Cosmic Electricity. As we read here, the Kundalini power is a Fohat type of power and is present everywhere, not just within human beings, for it “underlies all organic and inorganic matter.”

So there is a human Kundalini, or rather an individual Kundalini, and a cosmic Kundalini, or microcosmic and macrocosmic. The ascetic develops the Kundalini power within himself (or herself) and it progresses in a way comparable to a spiral.

In her “Notes on The Gospel according to John,” HPB speaks of “Atma-Buddhi, of which Kundalini, or the sacred fire, is a Siddhi or power; it is the serpentine or spiral force, which if misused can kill.”

In “The Secret Doctrine” HPB quotes, with occasional very minor alterations, some definitions by Indian Theosophist T. Subba Row of the Shaktis, the “six primary forces in Nature (synthesized by the Seventh),” the seventh being Daiviprakriti, “the light of the LOGOS.” They are listed (Vol. 1, p. 292-293) as Para Shakti, Jnana Shakti, Itcha Shakti, Kriya Shakti, Kundalini Shakti, and Mantrika Shakti. Kundalini Shakti (“Shakti” literally means force, power, or energy) is defined there as:

“The power or Force which moves in a curved path. It is the Universal life-Principle manifesting everywhere in nature. This force includes the two great forces of attraction and repulsion. Electricity and magnetism are but manifestations of it. This is the power which brings about that “continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations” which is the essence of life according to Herbert Spencer, and that “continuous adjustment of external relations to internal relations” which is the basis of transmigration of souls, punar janman (re-birth) in the doctrines of the ancient Hindu philosophers.  A Yogi must thoroughly subjugate this power before he can attain Moksham [i.e. full liberation and emancipation from the cycle of rebirth].

The deeper meaning and significance of Shakti and the Shaktis is explored in an article here.

The only other place HPB has written on the subject is in “The Theosophical Glossary.” It offers some further illumination:

Kundalini Sakti (Sk.). The power of life; one of the Forces of Nature; that power that generates a certain light in those who sit for spiritual and clairvoyant development. It is a power known only to those who practise concentration and Yoga.” (p. 182)

The last sentence implies that the non-meditator will never know nor have cause to experience or detect the presence of the Kundalini power within. Kundalini inevitably plays an important role in the real esoteric Raja Yoga system (and which is not the same as the Raja Yoga of Patanjali’s Sutras, though there are numerous aspects in common) of the Masters’ Brotherhood and Raja Yoga chiefly comes down to cultivating pure unfaltering concentration, not only during times of meditation but all the time and in everything that we do. Only a little has been disclosed or made clear of the esoteric Raja Yoga endorsed by the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood but as can be seen from The Theosophical Guide to Meditation it is indeed plenty to be getting on with.

And finally, a “Theosophical Glossary” entry for “Agni Dhatu Samadhi” says that this phrase is the name for “A kind of contemplation in Yoga practice, when Kundalini is raised to the extreme and the infinitude appears as one sheet of fire. An ecstatic condition.” Historically, Agni Dhatu Samadhi has been taken to be a spontaneous combustion, in which the yogi’s physical body literally explodes into flames and burns up under the fiery influence of the Kundalini. While such thing might be possible, that is perhaps an overly literalistic exoteric misunderstanding.

It is common knowledge nowadays among many spiritual seekers that the Kundalini’s natural resting position – in the person who has not elevated or raised it – is somewhere in the region of the base of the spine and that it lies there like a coiled serpent and more or less latent and dormant. That would be the case for the unenlightened person but, as we saw earlier, its proper and ideal abode is the inner chamber of the heart.

Theosophy agrees with this, although it does not disclose to the public the real reason as to why exactly it is presently positioned there, around the genitals and lower functional organs, of all places. That occult “centre” at the base of the spine is referred to by many as the Muladhara Chakra. HPB, however, has criticised those who focus on or think it right to direct their thoughts and spiritual focus and energies towards that chakra. In fact, other than simply asserting that there are chakras within the astral body (the subtle unseen “double” and underlying blueprint or energy body of the physical) Theosophy says very little indeed on the subject.

What it does say can be found in the article Chakras – The Centres in The Astral Body. Two of the valuable statements included there are from William Q. Judge, HPB’s closest colleague and co-founder of the modern Theosophical Movement:

“And just as one may injure his body by ignorantly using drugs or physical practices, so can the finer currents and nerves of the inner man be thrown out of adjustment if one in pride or ignorance attempts, uninstructed, to deal with them.” (“Replanting Diseases for Future Use” article)

“I advise you to discontinue concentration on the vital centres, which again may prove dangerous unless under the guidance of a teacher. You have learnt, to a certain degree, the power of concentration, and the greatest help will now come to you from concentration upon the Higher Self, and aspiration toward the Higher Self. Also, if you will take some subject or sentence from the Bhagavad Gita, and concentrate your mind upon that and meditate upon it, you will find much good result from it, and there is no danger in such concentration.” (“Letters That Have Helped Me” p. 115)

One may read this and then say, “So I should find an instructor or teacher to guide me in opening my chakras and raising my Kundalini and so on.” There is no shortage of people who will gladly offer to give you such instruction and guidance and we cannot stop anyone from pursuing such a path. We can only offer three points for serious consideration and reflection:

(1) If such a course of action were truly beneficial, important, or necessary, wouldn’t HPB and her Teachers have given it to us? Remember what we read earlier that They declared it will be centurieS (plural) before much more at all is even permitted to be disclosed from the Gupta Vidya or Esoteric Doctrine. The thousands of people – whether Hindu yogis, gurus, New Age teachers, online bloggers, or your local yoga instructor – offering to teach you how to do such things, or writing about it in books, are not divulging anything from the genuine esoteric system of those who Theosophists call “The Masters.” The information and instructions they provide are usually from a range of Hindu Hatha Yoga and Tantra scriptures or from the personal trials and errors of the instructor’s own experience. Yes, something may well happen to you but it is not likely to be either safe or desirable, even if it may feel blissful and wonderful to begin with.

(2) Remember the repeated warnings from HPB that the Kundalini power can very easily kill if misused. It could potentially kill others but the first and most likely victim is the person misusing it. Misuse can take various forms but any attempt to force it to awaken or rise, whether through Pranayama or other methods, is misuse and, as we have hopefully made clear, absolutely unnecessary. When the time is right and your real inner progress and development has reached the corresponding level or stage, that mystic fire will awaken and arise, naturally and of its own accord. Making Buddhi active is the key to doing that but the motive involved should not be “raising the Kundalini” or “getting enlightened” but rather to simply become the better able to help and serve humanity. There are Two Paths open to the earnest spiritual seeker and the Bodhisattva Path is the one Theosophy recommends and promotes. The word “kill” doesn’t necessarily always mean physical death; misguided dealings with Kundalini have caused psychic damage and distress to many people around the world, as well as debilitating physical health issues, and sometimes permanently so. Even mainstream psychiatrists are now beginning to note the increasing number of people becoming seriously mentally ill, often with schizophrenia or similar psychotic conditions, as a result of trying to awaken their Kundalini. The term “kundalini psychosis” has been coined and is now often used in discussions and support forums between schizophrenic and other patients who recognise that their condition was brought on by their attempting to do things to their Kundalini.

(3) The psychic is not the spiritual. The majority of apparent “success” that people may have in Kundalini Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Pranayama, and all sorts of other practices, is of a psychic and astral character and that is very far from the spiritual. One test that can often be applied is the old saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospels: “By their fruits you shall know them.” In our article The Psychic is not The Spiritual we said:

“It is relatively easy for a person to have psychic experiences. Some carry such propensities over from past lives, while others develop them in the present lifetime, often unintentionally and as a result of engaging in harmful spiritual practices such as trying to awaken the Kundalini, trying to make contact with beings in other realms, trying to open the Third Eye, or undisciplined meditation, etc. The psychic realm is only one level above the physical realm and in fact interpenetrates it to a large extent. . . . In using the term “psychic,” we don’t simply mean those who bill themselves as psychics and offer (or sell, as is more often the case) their “psychic services” to others, although of course such people are included under the term. But a psychic is anyone who is prone to having experiences of a particular type and nature. These are generally marked by (a) their highly fantastical, sensational, sentimental or dramatic quality and content, (b) their emphasis and focus on the supposed spiritual importance, greatness, or high nature of the one having the experience, and (c) peculiar sensations such as feeling “the touch of angels” or receiving apparent visitations from the likes of Jesus, Buddha, or the Virgin Mary, or hearing voices which are thought by the individual to belong to spiritual or divine beings. . . . True genuine clairvoyance, clairaudience, and so forth, is not psychic but spiritual. The difference between the two is as the difference between daylight and dark. It would be safe to say that those highly advanced souls who are in possession of true spiritual clairvoyance invariably keep quiet about it and work silently, wisely, and intelligently for the good of humanity, without ever drawing attention to themselves in any way. They know that they are working in the pure realm of the spiritual and avoid the muddied waters of the psychic like a plague.”

William Judge in his article “The Closing Cycle” sums the matter up well:

“We have to do as Buddha told his disciples: preach, promulgate, expound, illustrate, and make clear in detail all the great things we have learned. That is our work, and not the bringing out of surprising things about clairvoyance and other astral matters, nor the blinding of the eye of science by discoveries impossible for them but easy for the occultist. The Master’s plan has not altered. He gave it out long ago. It is to make the world at large better, to prepare a right soil for the growing out of the powers of the soul, which are dangerous if they spring up in our present selfish soil. It is not the Black Lodge that tries to keep back psychic development; it is the White Lodge. The Black would fain have all the psychic powers full flower now, because in our wicked, mean, hypocritical, and money-getting people they would soon wreck the race.”

So let us be patient, content, and grateful, and attend to our true spiritual and ethical progress, for the good and upliftment of all.

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