by Marinus Jan Marijs
The idea that there are non-physical energy centers called chakras is a central theme in the philosophy of yoga.
With a certain degree of mystical development, one becomes aware of the presence of a number of concentrations of energy located at certain points just outside the body, where one feels a circulating movement. These are the locations of the chakras. Some mystics have visually perceived these chakras and written down their observations.
In India, the idea of the chakras was first described in the Upanishads, dating from 1000 BC to 500 BC. More detailed descriptions appeared in India in the 10th century in the Gorakshashatakam, and in the 16th century in the Sat-chakra-Nirupana. These writings were not translated from Sanskrit into English until after 1850.
In the yoga philosophy, a system of seven chakras is described. The word chakra comes from the Sanskrit meaning ‘wheel’. These chakras are situated at different places at the human body and are connected to the spinal column.
The German mystic Jakob Boehme (1575-1634), who lived in Görlitz Germany, mentioned seven wheels (chakras) in his book Aurora” [Jakob Boehme; “Aurora”. 1620.]:
“One sees always all seven wheels and the one hub in the middle of it in a straight line, and nevertheless cannot understand how the wheel has been made. One is always amazed about the wheel, because the rotation is very marvelous, while the wheel remains always at its place.”
This description is reminiscent of the chakras: the spokes of the wheel stand still, but the energy moves through it.
“…It rotates around itself as a wheel which is made by means of seven wheels in each other. From that turning and rotating a sound or tone arises” (Boehme, “Aurora”)
Here again there is a reference to seven wheels.
Another German mystic, Johann Georg Gichtel (1638-1710), who was born in Regensburg, Bavaria, first published the complete works of Jakob Boehme, being himself deeply influenced by Boehme’s philosophy. Gichtel made a drawing of the seven chakras and their location on the human body [Johann Georg Gichtel; “Theosophia Practica”, 1696 -1710.].
Henri Corbin, who was a professor at the Sorbonne University in France as well as at the University of Teheran, and who is considered to be the most prominent expert on Islamic mysticism, mentioned in his writings [Henri Corbin; “The man of light in Iranian Sufism”, Shambala Boulder & London. 1978.] that the Persian mystic Alaoddawleh Semnani (1261-1336) who lived 200 km east of Teheran, described the human body as a temple of light with its seven centers which he called the “Latifa” (Arabic: refined, subtle).
His description of the function of the Latifa corresponds with the chakras as centers of consciousness and extra-sensory perception, as recorded in Buddhist and Hindu texts.
There is some correspondence between the location of the Lataif (singular: Latifa) and the chakras in Indian philosophy:
- The Latifa-e-Nafsi is located at the navel and corresponds with the Manipura chakra.
- The Latifa-e-Qalbi is located in the left of the chest and corresponds with the Anahata chakra.
- The Latifa-e-Khafi is located on the forehead and corresponds with the Ajna chakra.
- The Latifa-e-Akhfa is located above the head and corresponds with the Sahasrara chakra.
In 1963, Frank Waters published an anthropological study called “Book of the Hopi” [Frank Waters; “Book of the Hopi”, Ballantine Books, INC 1969.], treating the history, mythology and rituals of the Hopi Indians in Arizona, North-America. Their village Oraibi is the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the United States.
Waters describes how the Hopi Indians believed that there were several vibrating centers along the spinal column. The first center is on top of the head, and was called Kopavi, the ‘open door’. Through this center one received one’s life and communicated with the creator. It is striking that the Hindus call this center Brahmârandhra, the door of Brahma (the creator). Beneath the Kopavi is the second center, connected with thinking. The third center is situated at the throat, the fourth at the heart, where one can feel life itself. And the last of the major centers is at the navel.
Further on in the study, Waters mentions that the lowest chakra is connected with an energy that is related to a snake. This is reminiscent of kundalini, the serpent power of Hindu philosophy with its seat at the lowest center.
Mircea Eliade, a historian of religion wrote in his book “Yoga, Immortality and Freedom” about monks who lived at Mount Athos (a peninsula in Macedonia, northern Greece).
“…according to some authors the Hesychastic tradition distinguishes four “centers” of concentration and prayer”
(1) the cerebrofrontal cranial center (located in the space between the eyebrows);
(2) the buccolaryngeal center (corresponding to “the commonest thought; that of intelligence, expressed in conversation, correspondence, and in the first stages of prayer”
– A. Bloom. “L’Hésychasme, Yoga chrétien?” pp.185ff.);
(3) The pectoral center (“situated in the upper and median region of the chest.”
“Stability of thought, already manifestly colored by a thymic element, is much greater than in the preceding cases, but it is still thought that defines the emotional coloring and that is modified by it”– ibid.);
(4) the cardiac center (situated “near the upper part of the heart, a little below the left breast,” according to the Greek Fathers; “a little above,” according to Theophanes the recluse and others. “It is the physical site of perfect attention”– ibid.).
However next to these Eliade’s “Yoga, Immortality and Freedom” mentioned another center:”…fixing the eyes on the centre of the abdomen (in other words, the navel)” [Ibid, p.63.], and “…direct in the eye of the body and with it all your mind upon the center of your belly – that is upon your navel” [Ibid, p.65.].
These Hesychastic centers of prayer correspond with the chakras:
- the cerebrofrontal cranial center corresponds with the Ajna chakra (eyebrows),
- the buccolaryngeal center corresponds with the Visuddha chakra (throat),
- the cardiac center corresponds with the Anahata chakra (heart),
- the last mentioned corresponds with the Manipura chakra (navel).
The Chinese philosophy of Taoism has the concept of “tan tien”. The basic presumption is that the lower tan tien contains a certain amount of vital force.
Three tan tien are mentioned:
- the lower tan tien, near the navel, which corresponds to the Manipura chakra,
- the middle tan tien at the heart, which corresponds to the Anahata chakra,
- and the higher tan tien at the head, which corresponds to the Ajna chakra.
The aim of Taoist practice is to internally activate this energy, to increase it, and to let it circulate throughout the body. As it circulates through the different tan tien, the energy becomes refined. This refinement process continues until eventually the internal energies are refined and increased. The Taoist practitioner can then circulate the vital force, harmonizing the polarities of yin and yang. Achieving this, one realizes ‘emptiness’ and returns to the Tao. The balancing of yin and yang seems to correspond to the balancing of the Ida and Pingala, nadis in Hindu philosophy.
‘Centers’ or ‘chakras’ are mentioned by:
- Hindu and Buddhist mystics in India;
- Sufi mystics in Persia;
- German mystics in Europe;
- Hopi Indians in North America;
- Eastern orthodox Christian monks in Greece, and;
- Chinese Taoists.
These independent descriptions of the chakras, coming from different areas of the world, separated by thousands of miles and hundreds of years, is supporting evidence for the existence of chakras. One can see the great geographical spreading of these people who gave these descriptions, by looking at a world map (see the world map here above) This map shows the different places where the descriptions have their origin.
In addition there is the remarkable fact that the emotions are localized near the stomach and in the heart area.
The Dutch philosopher J.J. Poortman wrote that this location of emotions could be related to the chakras [J.J. Poortman; “Vehicles of consciousness”, Theosofische Uitgeverij, Utrecht 1978.]
See: Bodily maps of emotions
Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari K. Hietanen
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
PNAS January 14, 2014 111 (2) 646-651; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1321664111
See illustration here bellow ↓
click on image to view larger image
The patterns found for basic (top) and nonbasic (bottom) emotions associated with words. The body maps show regions where activation increased (warm colours) or decreased (cool colours) when feeling each emotion.
Common speech has many expressions – e.g, “cold feet” or “a broken heart” – that associate emotions with parts of the body. In a remarkable study, Lauri Nummenmaa of Aalto University in Finland and colleagues asked online participants to report their bodily sensations by colouring human silhouettes in response to emotional words, stories, movies or facial expressions. The responses were digitized on a map of a body represented by 50,634 data points. The survey was conducted as five experiments on 701 participants.
The analysis revealed statistically separable body maps associated with different emotions, from anger and anxiety to sadness and surprise. The results were highly concordant across West European and East Asian samples, suggesting that emotions are felt in the body in universal ways.
In several cultures we find the idea that there are seven subtle energy centers in the human body called chakras.
It is possible that the Menorah, the seven-branched candelabra, could be a symbol for this chakra system. Comparing the chakra system with the Menorah, reveals a great number of similarities. See the following table. ↓
The colours and the structure of the seven chakra’s (colour correction M.J.M.)
Three-dimensional structure of a chakra
The left first figure shows the throat chakra and next figure shows the channels behind the throat chakra. The chakra is in front of the nadis, and so the chakra drawing should be superimposed on the nadi drawing for a three-dimensional impression.
© Marinus Jan Marijs