In an earlier post, I discussed how the Sāńkhya notion of manifest and unmanifest matter addresses some fundamental problems related to perception and realism. In a later post, I discussed how the unmanifest becomes manifest through several stages—para, pasyanti, madhyama, and vaikhari. We also talked about how the agency to cause this manifestation is prāna, which acts as the “force” of nature, under the control of free will, time, karma, and God. This description leads to a natural doubt: is prāna an objective entity by itself, or is it simply a combined effect of other entities (soul’s choice, time, karma, and God)? This post discusses how prāna is an objective entity called kundalini in yoga philosophy, but it is not objective in the sense of material objects.
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Three Kinds of Possibilities
The world exists as a possibility but there are many forms of possibilities. In one form, possibility is a desire to do something. The existence of the desire makes something possible, but not real. In another form, possibility is an ability to do something. The existence of the ability makes something possible, but unless that ability is actually employed, the action is not real. In yet another form, possibility is an opportunity to act; the opportunity can be converted into a reality, it is not yet reality.
These three kinds of possibilities are called māyā śakti, kriya śakti, and bhūti śakti. The desire to do something is māyā śakti. The ability to do something is kriya śakti. And the opportunity to do something is bhūti śakti.
Each of these three śakti is material, in the sense that desires, abilities, and opportunities are temporary. And yet, they can carry over from one life to another. For example, the desires we develop now will be present in the next life as well. The actions we perform now will create opportunities in the future. And the skills we acquire in this life will continue to exist in future lives.
What is Ability?
Many of us are born with hidden talents. Some people are born artists or musicians, some are writers and poets, some are great speakers and thinkers, while yet others have an uncanny ability to motivate and inspire other people and organize them into purposeful activity. If you look at just the present life, you might often not find anything special that these people did in this life to acquire an extraordinary ability. The most rational explanation of their abilities is that they had them right from birth.
The abilities exist in our bodies as possibilities that have to be realized. It is not necessary that you know of all your abilities at the moment; there are countless abilities that each person has, but they are simply unaware of their existence. A good leader is able to extract these talents by engaging people in activities that they may not have done earlier, and those who are so engaged may not even believe in their own abilities. In a sense, these abilities are hidden even from those who have them.
Ability is an objective material reality that can exist even if we are unaware of its existence. And since it can exist objectively, it must have been acquired in the past through practice, although just as we are often unaware of our past desires and actions, we can be unaware of our abilities too.
Different Levels of Abilities
What modern science calls “energy” is the ability to do work or bring about changes. When this change is devoid of meaning, it simply reduces to motion, and we cannot distinguish between various kinds of abilities. However, when energy is given meaning, then it represents abilities that can cause different kinds of actions. There is, hence, not one monolithic “energy”. There are instead innumerable kinds of abilities that can cause different kinds of changes. In essence, energy has many forms.
These forms are organized hierarchically into chakra or lotus which is a metaphor for space, such that each spoke in the wheel or each petal in a lotus represents a unique type or dimension.
At the lowest level lies the ability to manipulate material objects—e.g. to accurately set the value of a property (e.g. temperature). Higher is the ability to perceive new sensations or tanmātra—e.g. to perceive new properties such as momentum or energy. Higher than that is the ability to use the senses in new ways—e.g. to run like a horse, to swim like a fish, or to smell evil like a dog. And successively higher than the senses are the abilities to manifest ideas in the mind, judgments in the intellect, intentions or goals in the ego, and morals and happiness in the mahattattva.
Kundalini Gives Mystical Powers
The material body exists as possibilities but to use them we require power. Even if the ability exists in you, you still have to acquire the power of using it. This is the role of the kundalini. It is the power to use the ability, and it converts the ability into action. The successive levels of abilities become accessible to the living entity as the kundalini “rises” but the height here is not physical distance. It is rather rising through higher kinds of abilities. Lots of things we today consider commonplace (e.g. airplanes, telephones, computers) would have been considered magical a few centuries ago. Similarly, there are many other abilities called anima (becoming smaller than the smallest), mahimā (becoming larger than the largest), laghimā (becoming lighter than the lightest), garimā (becoming heavier than the heaviest), etc. which currently lie outside our current technology and ability, but can be attained if the kundalini rises through successive levels.
Kundalini is not spiritual. It is a material energy that can be used to create new material phenomena or used to transcend these phenomena. The body, the senses, the mind, intellect, ego, and happiness we feel can all be transformed by this material energy; this energy can be used to achieve great feats, and many yogis have done that.
Hanumān, the great devotee of Lord Rama, demonstrated all these mystical abilities. For instance, when Surasā tries to capture Hanuman, he continuously grows his body just as Surasā expands her mouth to swallow him. In the process, both demonstrate mahimā. Then Hanumān suddenly becomes very small, enters Surasā’s mouth, and exits quickly, showing his mastery of the power called anima. Hanumān demonstrates laghimā when he flies for great distances (e.g. to fetch Trikūta Mountain), and shows garimā when Bhīma is unable to move his tail because it has become extremely heavy.
The Vile Pursuit of Material Power
Many people are currently enamored by the promise of rising kundalini to obtain new powers. The risk in such endeavors is that kundalini rises from bottom to top, which means that a person can obtain sensory skills without the necessary mental, intellectual and moral development. If the mental, intellectual and moral development preceded sensual skills, there would be no risk in the process. There is considerable risk if the sensual skills are obtained without the necessary mental development.
Again, the example of Hanuman is quite pertinent. As a child, Hanuman had the ability to fly in the sky, and once he flew towards the Sun considering it to be a red ripe fruit ready to be eaten. He would sometimes shake trees causing the sages who were meditating in those trees to fall off the branches. Considering that Hanuman was still a child and did not have the maturity to use his powers properly, the sages cursed him to “forget” about his powers, until he was reminded of them later.
Ramāyāna narrates how Jāmavanta—the leader of the search party sent to search for Mother Sītā—reminded Hanuman about his latent powers after the vulture Sampāti mentioned to them that Mother Sītā had been abducted by Rāvana to a place across the ocean and while Sampāti could see Mother Sītā sitting in a forest, he could not fly there himself because Rāvana had cut off his wings. It is only after being reminded by Jāmavanta that Hanuman jumps from a mountain and flies to Lanka.
The key point is that the mystical powers are not supposed to be used except for a higher purpose, and only upon the instructions of a superior being. Extraordinary power needs extraordinary safeguards. Those who use this power whimsically—e.g. Aśvatthāmā, who launched the weapon Brahmāstra without the skill to recall it—cause great suffering to others, and eventually to themselves.
God’s Power Exists in Everyone
Most proponents of yoga today teach that the self is the goal of yoga, and because true knowledge and power lie hidden from us, they teach their students that we are all God and that we have forgotten our true nature. This is a mistake because if indeed we are all God, then why am I not always aware of the truth, and why do I have to endeavor to realize it? And when I have forgotten the truth, how can I remember it except through external reminder, which means that my being God is a construction of another? These are essential questions that most advocates of yoga in modern times never answer.
The answer is that knowledge and power are not our property, but God’s property, who never forgets His power although we do. When we understand God, we can also understand His power. Through that type of understanding, we also become aware of His abilities and how they are used. That awareness then gives us some powers. Our power is dependent on the extent to which we understand God. We might not recognize that understanding as God, because we just try to understand the power and not its original proprietor. That approach, however, limits the powers themselves. The awakening of the kundalini is an illusion if we think that we have discovered our latent power. The awakening is true when we understand that kundalini is God’s power that has been hidden from our vision because we do not know God.
The proponents of yoga try to make the practice impersonal and decouple it from questions of God, in an attempt to separate it from conventional “religion”. And yet, it is precisely that separation that leads to a variety of misconceptions about kundalini: (1) that it is a “spiritual” power when it is, in fact, material energy, (2) that it is “our” power when it is actually God’s power, (3) that by awakening this energy we become God when this awakening only gives us new ways to serve God, and (4) that when we understand how kundalini is God’s power and used to serve Him, the material energy becomes spiritual. Therefore, “material” means separated from God, and “spiritual” means attached to God. In a separated state, the energy appears and disappears, which means that we remember and forget its existence. In the conjoined state, remembrance is eternal, and therefore our power is also eternal. But it is still God’s power use to serve Him.
This ability to use God’s energy for God’s service is called yoga and yajña. The process of yoga is symbolized in the act of offering a river’s water into the river. The idea is that everything is God’s energy, and therefore we cannot offer to God anything other than His own creation. In so doing, we are not giving God that which He did not already own. However, in the act of offering God’s creation back to Him, we renounce our sense of proprietorship and acknowledge God’s ownership. That is real yoga.