May/June 2015 Issue
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Chakra, Kundalini, Folk Tales, and Renaissance Art
This article was written by Dr. Jonn Mumford (Swami Anandakapila Saraswati)
posted under Chakras & Energy Work
The basic psychic anatomical Tantric map of humans has been eagerly espoused in the West. Many people believe this is a unique and new perspective. However this knowledge has existed in the collective worldwide unconscious probably since the inception of Homo sapiens.
The Seven Chakras and their associated major three channels comprise a transcultural phenomenon that shows up everywhere.
Photo courtesy of Ananda AshramLet us start with the main, or central pillar, Sushumna. Sushumna is an Etheric counterpart of the spinal column which houses a bowel of fire (the Kunda) together with a female force tending it (Kundalini) disguised as a coiled serpent.
Pondicherry South India. February 2002
When Kundalini awakens, the quiescent cosmic fire erupts up the Sushumna, rather like a chimney fire into the heavenly crucible. At the microcosmic level, this receptacle physically manifests as the Skull Chalice. Two subsidiary channels exist on either side of the Sushumna: the left hand tube of lunar energy called “Ida”, and the right hand pipe of ”Pingala” conveying solar force.
The sanitized Fairy tale "Cinderella" evolved through the European tradition of storytelling. In this tale, Cinderella (the lady of the cinders) obediently serves by the fireplace at the command of her two stepsisters. Dr Swami Gitananda Giri of Ananda Ashram maintained that, in the original German, the sisters were named "Ida" and "Pinga." I will leave you to contemplate the rest as Cinderella meets the prince and awakens to her full potential as "Kundalini."
When we turn our attention to the seven chakras, the universal motif of hidden centers deep within us turns up again in folklore. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is a wonderful paradigm of Chakra and Kundalini. You can guess who Snow White really is, who under the good auspices of her kind stepmother, was awakened by Shiva. Shiva disguised as the prince who pushes his way through the tamasic brambles to discover her. This universal allegoryalso evident in the parallel “Sleeping Beauty”has fascinated Freudian analysts. These analysts sometimes interpret the overgrown “bramble bushes” as “pubic hair," implying both emergence from pre-pubescence and a much more literal “kiss of consciousness” than exists in versions suitable for bedtime reading.
The seven dwarfs (seven chakras), of course, work busily away in subterranean depths, getting about their work, regardless of the attention or non-attention we give them.
A particular artist that fascinates me is the "Leonardo" of Germany, Albrecht Durer (1471-1528). This genius was the first commercial artist in history who immediately realized the significance of the "Black Art" with the invention of the Guttenberg Press and the potential therein to distribute his engravings and woodcuts across Europe.
Image from the private collection of Dr. MumfordIn this Durer woodcut, notice the central Tree Trunk (reminiscent of Sushumna); Eve to the left (Ida); Adam to the right (Pingala); and the Serpent half way up the trunk (Kundalini awakening)all frozen into the moment before "awakening" of consciousness to Good and Evil.
The cluster of animals in this image represents the medieval personality typology of the Four Humors, or temperaments, which are aligned with the elements:
• The Melancholic Elk symbolizing Earth (Muladhara Chakra?)
• The Phlegmatic, clumsy Ox representing Water (Swadhishthana Chakra?),
• The fiery Choleric Cat (Manipura Chakra?)
• The fleet Rabbit incarnating the principle Air and the restless Sanguine (Anahata Chakra?) character.
(see Magical Tattwas (Llewellyn Publications, USA, 1997) "The Five Elements," Chapter One, for a full discussion of personality typology and the elements)
During the 1950s, when I was studying with Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj (Mahasamadhi Dec 29, 1993 ), he frequently made the analogy of Christ on the cross with the thieves to Christ's right and left as representing Pingala, Sushumna, and Ida. In his view, Pingala (Solar heating energy) and Ida (Lunar cooling Energy) represented channels that "steal" energy that could be channeled into Sushumna (the Crux) thus achieving "Krishna (Christ) Consciousness." I did not take this analogy seriously until I encountered Albrecht Durer's Crucifixion depiction while working on my Magnum Opus, A Chakra & Kundalini Workbook.
Image from the private collection of Dr. Mumford I immediately included Albrecht Durer's portrayal in my book and commented: Allegorically, Sushumna is said to represent the channel of "Christ Consciousness" in us all which is kept vacantor "crucified"by the emotions running rampant in Ida and Pingala (the two thieves hanging on either side of the crucified Christ).
Albrecht Durer, generally acknowledged as the greatest of German Renaissance artists, has a magnificent portrayal of the Crucifixion, with the thieves hanging on either side of Christ. The Sun (Pingala) is above the thief on the right, while the Moon (Ida) crowns the thief hanging to the left."
(A Chakra & Kundalini Workbook 4th Edition, Page 75, Llewellyn Worldwide, USA.)
A later woodcut by Albrecht Durer carries the theme further in a way that would be instantly interpreted by a Tantric as a true substantiation. The thieves have been transformed into angels (with the Sun and the Moon still hovering over their heads) collecting the precious blood from the dying Christ in the throes of illumination. (See below.)
Image from the private collection of Dr. MumfordI am not suggesting Albrecht Durer consciously understood the concept of Chakras and Kundalini; however, I am suggesting the pattern is ingrained into the Collective Unconscious of all humans. From a Tantric viewpoint, the angels in this image are the transmuted channels of Ida and Pingala, now positively serving the Sushumna energy. Sushumna is transmitting the Kundalini into the Sahasrara (hence the radiation from Christ's head), while Ida and Pingala recycle the Ojas (or fine prana) by catching the blood in chalices.
As startling as this image may be, and as unusual as you may find my interpretation, we must remember that Albrecht Durer and his contemporaries were deeply imbued with the Alchemical symbology and Neo-Platonism bursting upon the Renaissance dawn of the 16th century. My insights are sourced from Tantric Tradition. Examining the original folk tales upon which the famous Grimm Brothers versions were based, we discover a much less antiseptic world in which real issues of being a human incarnate are explicitly depicted. (For a wonderful analysis of the universal messages within "fairy tales" peruse Professor Samuel Denis Forhr's "Cinderella's Gold Slipper." Dr. Forhr is a professor of philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford and his approach is more from a Vedantic and Samkhya viewpoint while my approach is a Tantric perspective.)
In the original Grimm Brothers manuscript (circa 1800), Cinderella's wicked stepsisters were punished with having their eyes pecked out by pigeons. This is the transmutation of Ida and Pingala, in which the lure of the outer world is blinded (forced "Pratyahara" or sensory withdrawal) so that the inner alchemical work of Kundalini uniting with Shiva may take place. Ida and Pingala no longer dissipate energies into the material earth, but rather extract the gold of realization.
A Transcultural Alchemical Allegory
"At the base of the spinal cord (Sushumna) is the conus medullaris: an inverted witch's hat containing a cone of astral power. Here sleeps Shakti (Sleeping Beauty) awaiting Shiva (Prince Charming). Shiva's kiss of consciousness can release her from trance, allowing them to ascend into the medulla oblongata ("oblong cube" or Mason's "Ashlar"). They consummate within the cranial nuptial chamber (termed by anatomists "thalamus" which is Greek for "bed chamber").
Shakti is a widow (Isis), and also a virgin (Snow White - served by the seven chakras, "dwarfed" in the unawakened).
Shakti is the bride Cinderella ("Lady of the Cinders") whose latent alchemical fire is tended at the fireplace (Kunda), ever ready to ignite as Kundalini blazing up the chimney (Sushumna).
She is the lady of the lake, constantly bathing her hair (cauda equina) in a cistern of alchemical water (cerebrospinal fluid), and one day she will thrust up Excalibur to be received by Arthur. This is both a reference to the ancient Vedic horse sacrifice and the secret contractions of the Yogi.
Shakti is a widow, a virgin, and a bride but also a wife, mother, and divorcee. Humankind has forgotten the Athanor within the sacred sacrum foundation of the body temple. This microcosmic furnace extracts gold from sulphur, silver from mercury, unites (yokes) the sun and the moon, the red rose and white rose, distills the tincture from the principles, the quintessence from the elements, and gently heats the "Philosophers Egg" within the alembic of the skull, ultimately manifesting the Lapis Philosophorum."
(A Chakra & Kundalini Workbook, 4th Edition, Page 82-83, Llewellyn Worldwide, USA.)
Folk tales and Art express perennial themes concerning the mystery of the dance between matter (mater) and energy (élan), Shakti and Shiva, Purusha (consciousness) and Prakrit (manifestation). This thread of continuity is not something noticed just by moderns; indeed it represented a source of fascination for 19th century Scholars.
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