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Understanding the Charismatic Experience

Bolinas, CA, August, 16, 2006

By Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks)

(copyright 2001 to 2006 all rights reserved)

Today there are many people having difficulties with their spiritual awakening.  The spiritual awakening is typically associated with the experience of various charismatic phenomena. It is this charismatic phenomena that people tend to call today "kundalini."  It is often difficult to understand this phenomena, especially when it is dismissed by the medical, psychiatric and religious community, and mystified by the new-age or yogic community.

I had my Kundalini awakening in the mid 70s.  Then, I was directed to read the book “Kundalini” by Gopi Krishna.  At that time I found Gopi Krishna's book was too narrowly focused upon the psycho-pathological and neuro-pathological side of kundalini, so I did not find reading Gopi Krishna particularly useful.  Since then I have not found the literature on kundalini has improved much, because it continues to emphasize the pathological side of the experience without much understanding of the purpose of kundalini.  This is why I started the Jhana Support Group and took over leadership of Kundaliniheat to present the larger picture of Kundalini as nothing more than an aspect of the spiritual awakening.

Historic references to kundalini:

What is called kundalini these days, since Gopi Krishna, hardly constitutes what used to be called kundalini before him in the earlier literature.  In the literature prior to Gopi Krishna, kundalini was a powerful religious experience in which the contemplative felt a shock wave of energy shoot up the spine, which was most often in association with the practice of meditation.  Now it is very often thought of as some kind of neuroses.

The term ‘kundalini’ is a Sanskrit term of a mystical reference in some schools of yoga.  It typically refers metaphorically to a serpent that remains coiled at the base of the spine.  This serpent is considered to be feminine in the Shivait cults, and is called by them ‘Shakti,’ after the female consort of their male deity, Shiva.  Shakti is said to be the power of Shiva. The myth of kundalini is that during the process of spiritual awakening the kundalini can be uncoiled so that it ascends up the spinal column through the seven chakras (spiritual centers) to the crown of the head at the moment of enlightenment.

The word has entered English because of widespread interest in yoga and occult power. The Sanskrit word kuNDalini is the feminine form of kuNDalin 'coiled', from the word kuNDala 'ring, coil'. Some say Sanskrit got the word and the concept of coiling, as of string coiled into a ball, from Tamil, however, I am more inclined to believe it came from the Greek who have many snake references in their mysticism, such as the caduceus of Hermes, and they are inclined to use terms that begin with a hard ‘k’ sound, whereas Sanskrit has few terms that begin with the hard ‘k’ sound, which further suggests this borrowing. 

While the Sanskrit term ‘kundalini’ may not sound even close to the Greek term ‘caduceus’ they are sufficiently close linguistically to suggest common origins, and certainly the iconography of both concepts are almost identical, including the representation of a snake rising up a shaft in alternating coils.

The snake iconography could very well be of Harappan origins, because there are images of a man in a meditation posture as well as images of coiled snakes found in Harappan archeological sites dating back to 3800 BCE. It is not known what language the Harappan spoke; however, the educated guess is that it was Dravidian related. The worship of Shiva, Shakti and Kali are recorded in the Vedas, which are the earliest form of Indian literature.

It might be worth pointing out that Sanskrit is of Persian origins, and most probably came to India along with the Aryan invasion around 2,000 BCE.  At that time the Vedas may very well have been translated from an earlier language into Sanskrit. The Aryans were ancient Persians and most probably the primary conduit of cultural references between India and the Mediterranean.

The most significant terminology in support of the snake in early Brahmanic and Vedic literature is to the Naga, which was apparently a tradition of naked ascetics, who continue to exist in India today.  The Sanskrit term 'naga' means 'snake' and since the human nagas are seen as ascetics, and mystics, we can certainly extend that to the concept of kundalini and take that all of the way back to the Mahabharata and possibly earlier literature wherever the term 'naga' appears. However, with the exception of the naga term used for the naked ascetic we find little other reference in support of snake imagery being associated with charismatic phenomena in early Brahmanic and Vedic literature and art. 

It should be pointed out that there are numerous references to snake iconography in the earliest literature of the Mediterranean. Most notably the snake appears in the book of Genesis, in the Hebrew Bible, where a snake temps Eve, the female consort of Adam, the "first" man.  The story does not, however, relate the snake to charismatic phenomena, but associates women to the snake, which could have been purely a phallic association, or possibly the demonizing of women by associating them with the terrible. One could argued that women were associated with the charismatic and demonized for that association, but that would be quite a stretch.

The Cretan civilization of the Minoan, who date to 3000 to 1100 BCE, had numerous snake representations in their art. It was the Aegean civilization of Mycenaea who used snake imagery extensively in effigies of women, however, they may have acquired their iconography and even some of their religious beliefs and metaphors from their neighbors, the Minoan. The Mycenaen (1580 to 1120 BCE) who spread its influence from Mycenae to many parts of the Mediterranean region, used the snake in their religious iconography as far back as 1580 BCE.  It is these effigies that are in fact the origin of the medusa mythology.  It maybe worth noting the noun medusa comes from Greek Mythology, and refers to a Gorgon who was killed by Perseus. The term comes from Middle English 'Meduse', which comes from Latin Medusa, from Greek Medousa, and from the feminine present participle of medein, to protect, or rule over.

The noun Gorgon is from Greek Mythology and refers to any of the three sisters Stheno, Euryale, and the mortal Medusa who had snakes for hair and eyes that if looked into turned the beholder into stone.  It means a woman regarded as ugly or terrifying. The term comes from Middle English, from Latin GorgÅ, Gorgon-, from Greek, from gorgos, terrible.  However, since there is no clear association to the charismatic and little is known about the Mycenaean, nor has their writing system been deciphered, which was an archaic dialect of Greek written in the Linear B script, We cannot, therefore, conclude that their use of the snake was in association to the charismatic.

Troy (also Ilion or Ilium) was an ancient city of northwest Asia Minor near the Dardanelles River, which was originally a Phrygian city dating from the Bronze Age. It was the legendary site of the Trojan War and was captured and destroyed by Greek forces c. 1200 BCE. The Homeric epic, the Odyssey, depicts this Trojan War though the myth of Laocoon, who was said to be a Trojan priest of Apollo who, the myth says, was killed along with his two sons by two sea serpents for having warned his people of the Trojan horse. This myth may very well have been a literary reference to the kundalini.  And, through the sacking of Troy, the Greeks could very well have come into contact with the snake as a religious icon.

The snake also appears as a prominent iconographic theme in the epic poem Aeneid by the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BCE.). The epic tells of the wanderings of the survivors of the fall of Troy. In this epic there are frequent appearances of Hermes with his caduceus bestowing blessings upon Aeneas, the central character, thus the snake is clearly in association with the charismatic.  There are references to snakes throughout the book as well. There is also a very lucid chapter in that book that reveals Aeneas' descent into hell, which is a classic representation for the Dark Night of the soul, which is a common precursor to the arising of charismatic phenomena. 

A statue commemorating the mythology of Laocoon and his sons was unearthed during the Renaissance.  It reveals a man entwined by two serpents and was executed in the Classical Greek style and very probably is of Roman origin and may date to the first century BCE.  While the story of Laocoon does not involve charismatic phenomena it does relate to religion and can thus certainly be used as a metaphor for charismatic phenomena.  Also, if we recall the caduceus is typically represented as a shaft, staff or sword that was entwined by two snakes, then we can see that the man in the statue, who is entwined by two snakes, becomes a stand-in for the shaft of the caduceus, which is typically entwined by two snakes. If we take a Hindu interpretation for the two snakes in the Laocoon statue, then the snakes represent the ida and pingala, which are two psychic channels that terminate at the left and right nostrils. 

I believe the best, clearest and earliest representation of the snake in association with the charismatic is in the caduceus, which was a herald's wand or staff and was commonly represented by a winged staff or sword with two serpents twined around it, and was most often revealed in Greek art carried by Hermes.  The term 'caduceus' is of Latin origin 'cEduceus', which is an alteration of the Greek karukeion, which comes from karux, which means 'herald.' Thus it is very possible that the caduceus of ancient Greek Mythology finds its origins with the Mycenaean, who used snake imagery extensively. 

The association to the charismatic in the use of the caduceus is in its association with Hermes, who was the Greek god of commerce, invention, cunning, and theft, who also served as messenger, scribe, and herald for the other gods, and most notably he was also the god of healing and thus the healing profession.  This is why the caduceus was used in ancient Greece, as a symbol of medicine and the reason the caduceus is used today by western medical professionals.  Through the shaman, healing has been associated with the charismatic in every culture, thus we can conclude the caduceus is clearly associated with the charismatic. Also, the Greek caduceus reveals close symmetry to the kundalini iconography of India.

Epic journeys, such as the Aeneid and the Iliad and the Odyssey, have been acknowledged as metaphors for the spiritual quest by scholars, such as Joseph Campbell. Notably the Odyssey also reveals a descent into hell. However, other than Odysseus' encounter with a Medusa there is no other snake imagery in the Iliad and the Odyssey. In support of the premise that the descent into hell is a metaphor for the Dark Night of the soul we have the story of the Buddha's night of enlightenment, as well as Jesus of Nazareth's both of whom reported encounters with demons just prior to their enlightenment experience.  We also have of course Saint John of the Cross, who coined the term "Dark Night of the soul" and wrote a book by that title.

From this multicultural walk through history, art and literature we find the origins of snake iconography in relationship to the charismatic may originate in the Mediterranean and not in India, because the best, clearest and earliest representations of the snake in association with the charismatic is in the ancient Greek use of the caduceus.

Kundalini in Indian Literature:

While the term 'kundalini' seems to figure prominently in contemporary Hindu and Yogic literature, I believe to argue that it is of ancient origins within the Brahmanic and Vedic traditions stands on thin ground.  The term 'kundalini' appears to postdate Siddhartha Gotama, Patanjali, and the authors of the Vedas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata because the term does not appear in that literature. However, that literature appears to have used related terms.  The related terms that appear in that literature are Naga (Sanskrit), 'viriya' (Pali) and 'vîrya' (Sanskrit). Naga is a Sanskrit term that appears in almost every early literary reference. It means ‘snake’ and was very often used to refer to a people who may have been either mentally ill, shaman or wonderers in the wilderness.  There is also the term 'viriya' (Pali) and 'vîrya' (Sanskrit). Linguists say the Pali and Sanskrit terms 'viriya' and 'vîrya' respectively are related to our term 'virility' and is most often translated in Buddhist literature as 'energy.'  The typical Sanskrit translator will very often interpret this term as 'kundalini.' According to the Buddha 'viriya' was so much a component to the process of enlightenment that he called it "sambojjhanaga," which is commonly translated as a "Factor of Enlightenment." (Please see the chart below “Seven Factors of Enlightenment.”)

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment (bojjhanga, sambojjhanaga)






Investigation of the way





viriya, vîrya/ Kundalini





2nd jhana




7th fold of N8p




3rd jhana




1st jhana




Jhana/samadhi 1-8

(DN 22, n.689, 33.2.3(2); MN 118

Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118) “Mindfulness of the breath”

"Monks, I am content with this practice (his Noble Eightfold Path and Sati, his meditation methodology). I am content at heart with this practice. So arouse even more energy (viriyaü) for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unachieved, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. I will remain right here at Savatthi [for another month] through the 'White water-lily' month, the fourth month of the rains."

"[3] In one who examines, analyzes, and comes to a comprehension the way with discernment (dhamma-vicaya), energy – (viriya) is aroused. When energy is aroused in one who examines, analyzes, and comes to a comprehension the way with discernment, then energy and persistence as a factor for awakening (Viriyasambojjhaïgaü) becomes aroused. One develops it, and for this one goes to the culmination of development…

"[4] In one whose energy (viriya) is aroused, a pleasure (piiti) that is not-of-the-flesh (bliss) arises. When a pleasure not-of-the-flesh arises in one whose energy is aroused, then pleasure as a factor for awakening (Pitisambojjhaïgo) becomes aroused. One develops it, and for this one goes to the culmination of development.

The Sanskrit term 'vîrya' appears in only two places in the Yoga Sutras, so we cannot assume that it was a central theme of Patañjali’s but important enough to mention.

The Yoga-Sûtra of Patañjali

1.18 Diligent practice is required to still the perceptions and storehouse of latent impressions (samskara).

1.19 Upon death if one is bonded to a sense of body, identity and perceptions one is likely to be reborn.

1.20 Otherwise wisdom is preceded by faith, energy (vîrya), mindfulness and meditative absorption (samadhi).

1.21 Those who are intense in their spiritual practice are very near (to enlightenment) (Dhammapada 372).

1.22 One’s nearness depends upon whether one’s spiritual practice is mild, moderate, or intense.

2.30 1- External discipline (Yama) is: not harming, truthfulness, not stealing, celibacy, no greed.

2.31 This great vow is a universal.  It is not limited by class, place, time, or circumstance.

2.32 2- Internal discipline (Niyama) is: purity, contentment, intensity, scriptural study, and surrender to the divine.

2.33 Cognitive spiritual development (bhâvanam) is paying attention (vitarka) to wholesome thoughts and repelling unwholesome thoughts.

2.34 When the attention (vitarka) is drawn to violence, etc., whether acted upon, instigated, or approved of, either slight, moderate or extreme, are always preceded by greed, anger and delusion and produce endless suffering and ignorance, thus cultivate (bhâvanam) the opposite.

2.35 Hostility is abandoned in one who is firmly established in non-violence.

2.36 The fruit of selfless action (kriya) is based upon truthfulness.

2.37 Wealth comes to the one who is established in not stealing.

2.38 Energy (Vigor/vîrya/kundalini) is acquired through a practice that is based upon celibacy.

2.39 Insight and understanding into one’s birth come to one who is not greedy.

2.40 Through purification one develops detachment from one’s body and that of others.

2.41 And, the capacity for self-realization is based upon sattva, purity, gladness one-pointedness and mastery of the senses.

2.42 From contentment unsurpassed joy is acquired.

2.43 Intense discipline decreases bodily and sensory impurities and increases occult powers (siddhis).

2.44 Through study of the scriptures we commune with the sacred.

2.45 Through devotion to the sacred meditative absorption (samadhi) is attained.

Considering that the Sanskrit for the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad-Gita and the Pali of the Discourse of the Buddha do not reveal a single use of the term 'kundalini' nor snake imagery in relation to the charismatic, we can thus conclude the term 'kundalini' is most probably not of ancient Indian origins. We can also conclude since 'vîrya' and 'viriya,' which relate to male virility, were used in the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad-Gita and Sutta Pitaka, then these terms were most probably the common terminology for kundalini used in the ancient literature of India. 

What is kundalini:

The term "Kundalini" means nothing more than the spiritual awakening. And, in its narrower definition is simply an aspect of the spiritual awakening.  The spiritual awakening is a psycho-physiological transformation that a contemplative undergoes. There are various aspects of that experience, and every culture has a reference for this experience.  Since the popularity of the Yogas in the 70s the term "Kundalini" has taken over the earlier terms that have been in use in European culture for this phenomena.  The earlier terms in this culture for various aspects of the spiritual experience were, bliss, rapture, ecstasy, charism, Saint Vitus' Dance, etc.  For more on the language of gnosis please read this essay:

The Language of Ecstasy (October 15, 04)

While the early Buddhist and Hindu literature did not use the term 'kundalini,' I have found that the concepts surrounding ‘jhana’ and ‘samadhi’ are consistent with many of the concepts surrounding the broader idea of kundalini theory.  And, I believe by examining how other traditions articulate their ecstatic contemplative experience we might be able to deepen our own understanding of the experience gnosis.

Regardless of the antiquity of the idea of gnosis, in general there is still a great deal of mystery surrounding Kundalini, as well as the ecstatic contemplative experience. The reasons for this are I am sure many, but it is at least in part due to romantic ideas regarding the experience, as well as the idea being utterly dismissed by the academic, medical and psychiatric communities.  And, this is in a great part why I started the Jhana Support Group and took over ownership of Kundaliniheat, so that through the weight of our personal experiences we can begin to wipe away the mist of ignorance obscuring the ecstatic experience (kundalini) making it seem mysterious.

impurity theory:

Some theorize that kundalini and other manifestations of ecstasy are caused by "impurities."  But, I do not believe all of the various manifestations of the ecstatic experience can be explained away by the impurity theory.  I do however accept the manifestation of sudden releases through the limbs that cause a jerking, that are characteristic of the phenomena called 'kriya,' can easily be explained by the blockage or impurity theory.  As I see it the kriya seems to be a sudden release of energy that had been blocked due to tension or stress caused by grasping or aversion.

But, I do not believe the gentle arising of energy up the spine, and the sudden rise of massive energy up the spine, characteristic of the two types of Kundalini experienced, are effectively explained by the impurity or blockage theories.  I like to use the Buddha's choice of words "giving rise to energy" as one of the seven enlightenment factors, as his way of indicating the necessity of engaging the kundalini in one's contemplative experience. 

But, I believe too often people reach for a materialistic interpretation of kundalini in requiring a pursuit of physical health, thus giving rise to the Hatha Yoga model.  While I maintain a healthy body through wise and thoughtful choices of food and beverage, and I resort to regular exercise, both aerobic (cycling) and stretching, as in Hatha Yoga, I find these practices are not essential for the Kundalini experience, they simply improve the odds and the quality of the experience.  I have found what is most central to the causing of the rise of energy (kundalini) in my ecstatic contemplative experiences has been a regular dedicated meditation practice that is based upon frequency, duration and depth in which I seek meditative absorption.

While my personal experience has convinced me that kundalini (giving rise to energy) is a key component to the absorption experience (jhana/samadhi), I do not believe it is the rising of the kundalini that produces absorption.  I am sure the issue is a chicken and egg concept, but it appears that absorption arises in my practice first, and then kundalini arises and deepens the absorption. 

This issue I believe is at the root of the conflict between Yoga theory and Buddhist theory.  In Yoga theory, yogis tend to be focused on giving rise to the various manifestations of the ecstatic experience, such as kundalini, kriyas and chakras, at the risk of ignoring the essential contemplative practice.  Where as the historic Buddha seemed to emphasis the contemplative practice with the express purpose of arriving at meditative absorption as stated in his various Sati Suttas. If you have not read the Buddha's four discourses on meditation (Sati), I have recently rendered a few improvements in their translation and they are available at these URLs:

Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118) “Mindfulness of the breath”

Kayagata-sati Sutta (MN 119) “Mindfulness of the Body”

Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10) Larger Discourse on the Four Paths of Mindfulness”

Maha-satipatthana Sutta (DN 22), “Larger Discourse on the Four Paths of Mindfulness” updated 10-27-04

The classic kundalini Experience:

I feel the term "kundalini" has been greatly misused by western contemplatives in the last 30 years. The classic kundalini experience is reported to be a rush of energy, like a " big jolt" of electricity up the spine.  It is this energy of kundalini that is traditionally called Shakti in the Shivait cults. Shakti is the name of the female deity, who was originally Shiva's consort.  In the mythology it is Shakti who is considered Shiva's source of energy or power.

Where the terms "Shakti," "Kundalini" and "Kriya" come together are in the understanding that the term kriya literally means to move.  We then need to ask what it is that is moving, well the body is moving and the movements are spontaneous, and those spontaneous movements are said to be Shakti moving, thus during a kriya it is kundalini that is causing the moving.

Two modes of Kundalini:

While the Buddha and Patanjali did not use the term 'kundalini,' I have found that the concepts surrounding jhana are consistent with many of the concepts surrounding kundalini.  And, I believe by examining how other traditions articulated their ecstatic contemplative experience we might be able to deepen our own understanding of the experience.

In my personal experience of kundalini I have found it to have two basic modes.  The first and most common mode is a fairly gentle power source that generally works to improve one's health and gives one inspiration and strength to endure the rigors of a contemplative life. The slow mode of kundalini is very nice, because it provides the wakefulness one needs to remain in meditation even late into the night. It also allows one to sit for long periods without any pain whatsoever. I have found this mode of kundalini is a kind of cruse mode that can remain active for months, years and even decades as long was one learns to live a skillful contemplative life. The gentle mode of kundalini is generally a product of the lower four stages of meditative absorption, which was called “savikalpa-samadhi” by Patanjali and jhanas one through four by Siddhartha Gotama.

This slow or gentle mode of kundalini is the general mode that most people report having trouble with on the various kundalini lists.  From reading their descriptions I find they have trouble most commonly because they have not learned skillfulness in meditation and the contemplative life. 

Kundalini in its active or aggressive mode typically arises at the 4th stage of meditative absorption (savikalpa-samadhi or fourth jhana).The "fast" or "powerful" mode of kundalini is what is needed to enter the non-material absorptions (arupa-jhanas or nirvikalpa samadhi).  The nonmaterial domain is where the final layers of self identification are rather rudely stripped away.  It might even be likened to being raped by the divine, because one has little hope of resisting this force. And, certainly to avoid any harm to oneself, one really should submit wholly to it. 

The more one submits to the powerful surge of full kundalini awakening the deeper into the nonmaterial absorptions one goes, and thus the greater one's enlightenment is.  One should remember enlightenment is often described in terms of surrender, submission, cessation and letting go.

The personal experience of kundalini:

In 2003 I had attended a 10-day meditation retreat in New Mexico, where I had entered into the fourth stage of meditative absorption during the morning meditation session mid-retreat.  I had sustained the depth of absorption continuously for about an hour.  Around the end of that hour a rush of kundalini in its intense mode occurred and I decided to see just how far it would take me and how long it would remain up.  The force of the wave front of kundalini energy pushed my awareness into a non-material domain in which I felt my awareness expand to infinite dimensions (5th samadhi).  I allowed the energy to keep going and it eventually collapsed every layer of the psyche such that I was sure the body was dead and the ego identity was no longer existent, however, awareness remained.  When the energy finally abated I found my awareness domain once again inside the body, which I had thought was dead.  When I looked at the clock I found about 3 hours had passed from the beginning of that meditation session to the end.

The fast or powerful mode of kundalini is usually rather short lived and comes extremely intensely.  There is a contemplative in Bishop who I saw pop his kundalini up like toast.  When he did that I saw that he had learned to cause his kundalini to give a little burp of fast mode. He told me he had been doing this little parlor trick for decades.  He has been a devotee of Yogananda for over 30 years, and for that whole time he has been kundalini "active" mostly in the slow, or “cruse-mode” giving rise to the occasional “burp-mode.”

When I told him that I had taken a ride on the kundalini in its intense mode all of the way to its end several times, and had that up for about 2 hours, then his mouth fell open in surprise and he said, "You rode that hurricane all of the way to the end for two hours?  I have only been able to endure it for a few minutes."  He was surprised because he knows just how intense the full jolt of kundalini is.  I found the experience to be nothing more than complete annihilation of the self. 

During that kundalini event I had very intense kriyas during the whole 2 hour event.  Those intense kriyas left the muscles along the back so warn out that for the next few days the back ached as though I had put it to intense work. The Christian contemplative terms ‘ecstasy,’ ‘rapture,’ "slain in the spirit" and “communion with the Holy Spirit” were traditionally used in Christian mysticism to describe this experience.

Is Kundalini just a case of mental projection?

Since the phenomena of meditative absorption typically occurs in the absence of mental activity we can conclude it is self-arising phenomena that is a product of an altered state of consciousness.  It is during meditative absorption, which is an altered state of consciousness, that the cognitive processes, or ‘skhandas’ (khandas) as they are known in Buddhism, come to rest in cessation (nibbana). Thus the phenomena of meditative absorption, such as kundalini, are not a product of mental projection (Sankhára).

Also, since the phenomena of meditative absorption can, and often does, persist after the experience of meditative absorption, then we can conclude that the phenomena of meditative absorption is self-arising phenomena, and is thus not subject to change, because it is not a mental projection  (Sankhára).

Other Energy Theories:

There are other energy theories, most notably the Taoist the “microcosmic orbit” of Mantak Chia, the Acupuncture model and the chakra model of Hinduism.  From the case histories and from personal experience the energy of the acupuncture meridian system is something that a contemplative can become aware of and learn to control.  The kundalini in its calm mode seems to be the same thing as the acupuncture meridian system, and the aura and chakras seem to be layers on top of that. 

In my experience of the quiet mode of Kundalini it seems to rise through all of the upper chakras, heart, throat, forehead and crown.  But, I have never experienced this concept of it coming back down and circulating as in the “microcosmic orbit.”  While quiet kundalini doesn't seem to do loop-d-loops in my physiology doesn't mean It doesn't in someone else's, so I wouldn't go so far to say it does or does not in everyone’s case.

Spontaneous Awakening of Kundalini:

The term “spontaneous awakening” is applied if one has not entered into a contemplative life prior to the experience of kundalini. While "spontaneous awakening" of the kundalini is a common belief among people in the West who use the kundalini terminology, it does not seem to be the way Yogis originally intended that terminology. The original intension of the concepts behind kundalini is that it was a product of leading a rigorous contemplative life.  Arguably there are people who have had a few spontaneous experiences of OOBs or raptures, however, those OOBs and raptures are rarely a regular feature of their life prior to leading a contemplative life.

In my experience, while there was most certainly an aspect of spontaneous awakening to the phenomena of kundalini that I experienced, it was very much more related to me taking up a rigorous and skillful contemplative life.  Thus I believe this experience is available to anyone who leads a rigorous and skillful contemplative life; however, certainly some people come to the experience spontaneously.

I lived with and negotiated what is often called the "kundalini awakening" for over 4 decades.  I started spontaneously with the awakening when I was a child. It was not until I was 21 and had been engaged in a rigorous contemplative life for about 6 months that I had begun to understand the process sufficiently to function in the world.

Kundalini and energy work:

Originally kundalini was understood as a phenomena that was associated with religious activities, such as meditation, however, many people may have been engaged in behaviors that they did not realized stimulated kundalini. Any spiritual behavior or aspiration will stimulate kundalini, such as prayer, contemplation, meditation and yoga.  Also, many health modalities stimulate kundalini in both the patient and the therapist.  With the growth in body work therapies many people have reported charismatic phenomena being triggered by giving or receiving various body-work modalities.

In favor of the "energy workers" who do not have a meditation practice, but nonetheless claim that they are having kundalini experiences: There does indeed seem to be a clear association of charismatic phenomena with their healing practice, so it would seem that there might be an aspect of energy work that is sufficiently like the practice of meditation as to produce charismatic phenomena. 

If we examine the most common body-work modalities that are associated with charismatic phenomena, then we will see that in almost every case that modality is an energy work practice, especially the modalities that produce deep relaxation for both the patient and the therapist, such as acu-therapies, like acupuncture, pressure, Reiki, Jin Shin Jitsu, and/or Polarity Therapy; Cranial Sacral work also seems to produce charismatic phenomena.  What links all of these modalities together is the method in which they are typically expressed, which is a calm and still method of touch therapy in which the practitioner is most often sitting quietly with his or her hands on a client for extended periods of time.

It is in this quiet and still and calm methodology that makes these modalities rather like the practice of meditation.  And, when we consider that a therapist who practices one of the above modalities can give as many as 4 to 8 one hour-long sessions a day, that we can see these practitioners are essentially meditating that many hours each day.  Anyone who meditated 4 to 8 hours a day can easily discover charismatic phenomena by "awakening the kundalini."

There is yet one more trigger for the charismatic (kundalini) experience.  Many people reporting “spontaneous awakening” of the charismatic (kundalini) experience were vary often regular or even intermittent users of psychedelic substances.  We have found both from personal experience and through studying case histories that psychedelic substances can in deed stimulate charismatic or kundalini experience.

Kundalini Crackup:

All of the unpleasant side effects of kundalini can fall under a single category, which was coined by the 16th century Spanish Christian mystic, Juan de la Crux, or John of the Cross. He called this phenomena the "Dark Night of the Soul."  In the literature of gnosis it is also called the “Decent into Hell.” I highly recommend the books of John of the Cross as a guide through this phenomena. His books reveal the psychological aspects to the dark night of the soul.  It is through self-reflection and executing the personal inventory that we can negotiate that dark night, which is an internal crisis. 

Dark Night of the Soul, John of the Cross (pg 61 p 2).

“The first purgation of the night is bitter and terrible to sense…for it is horrible and awful…”

Dark Night of the Soul, by St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) translated by E. Allison Peers, Image Books, Garden City, New York, 3rd addition, 1959

In the almost 50 years I have been undergoing the process of spiritual awakening I do not believe anyone can ever say that they have "safely passed through" the process of kundalini or spiritual awakening, because I find it is an ever changing and opening process that seems to produce new and wonderful things all of the time.

(The Buddha’s Dark Night of the Soul)

Mahaasaccaka sutta (MN 36)

Aggivessana, then it occurred to me, what if I practiced stopping the in-breaths and the out-breaths?… air entering through the ears made much noise. It was like the sound that came from the bellows of the smithy… a lot of air disturbed the top of my head. Like a strong man was carving the top of my head with a sharp blade… I felt a lot of pain in the head...Like a strong man giving a head wrap with a strong turban… I felt a lot of pain in the stomach. As though a clever butcher or his apprentice was carving the stomach with a butcher’s knife… I felt a lot of burning in the body. Like a strong man taking a weaker one, by his hands and feet was burning and scorching him in a pit of burning charcoal… My effort was aroused repeatedly, unconfused mindfulness established, the body was not appeased owing to the difficult exertion. Aggivessana, even then these arisen unpleasant feelings did not take hold of my mind and settle.

The only balance this contemplative has found is in utterly giving up to the process of awakening and engaging in a rigorous contemplative life, and retreating from the world into the wilderness.  I have found many of the unpleasant side effects of kundalini are simply a product of increasing sensitivity, which is one of the effects of the kundalini awakening.  This sensitivity makes living in the city and around humans very difficult.  That is why I now live in the wilderness, so that I can get as far as I can away from the "negative vibes" that humans are saturated with.  Living in the peace and quiet of the wilderness I find few negative vibes, other than my own, which I have found have diminished considerably.  I do not expect to return to the city, other than briefly and infrequently to give lectures and council people. You may find the following articles of use on that subject:

Commitment as a Refuge, Dark Night of the Soul in Buddhism (January 1, 2003)

Understanding the Unwholesome States, The Darkness of the Dark Night

Virtue, Understanding What is a Wholesome State

Jhana and the Houses of God, Flooding the Dark Night of the Soul with

Wholesome States

buyer be ware:

While many claim they can "balance" a kundalini that is "one sided" or "out of balance" this practice seems to be a myth.  There are many "bad gurus" and charlatans out there praying on people, so remember "buyer be ware." This means web-based gurus as well. I am a contemplative and have followed meditation within both the Yoga sutras and the Buddha's discourses.  While spending a number of decades studying those suttas/sutras I have found they are very often misinterpreted and miss-translated.  I spent the winter of 2003 in the Asian collection at the University of Arizona exposing translator bias in Asian literature.  I used the Dhammapada as the evidence for that article, because it was the first piece of Asian literature to be translated by a European scholar, and ever since it has been one of the most frequently translate pieces of Asian literature.  You can read that article at this URL:

Exposing translator bias in the Translation of the Pali Canon and other

Asian literature (updated 11-10-04)

I would also caution anyone in looking for useful information from either the el Colie site or the Gopi Krishna site.  In both cases they emphasized the neurotic side of the spiritual awakening and never seem to provide useful information on the positive aspects of the awakening, which would imply that in both cases these people did not successfully negotiate the spiritual awakening. However, I would say understanding the dark night of the soul from some one who has been through it and come out the other side would be useful.

It might be of some interest to the reader that el Colie was the founder of kundaliniheat, which the GWV now manages.  It was one of the first listservs made available to people who are undergoing the spiritual awakening. el Colie committed suicide a few years ago, and the site passed through the leadership of Laura Paxton before the GWV accepted responsibility for it in early 2005.


In itself the charismatic phenomena is not a cause for concern, or a medical or psychiatric problem.  It is in fact a spiritual gift.  However, one must learn how to relate to this "spiritual gift," or one may have some difficulties.

One of the skills that one with kundalini must learn is simply how to relax, and reduce stress and anxiety at all costs.  In fact I believe most of the causes of kundalini related difficulties are almost always related to anxiety and stress.

One may also want to begin to actively cultivate a meditation practice as a means of smoothing out the conflict that can arise for one who inadvertently arrived at the charismatic through practicing a healing art, such as Reiki. If one has not begun a meditation practice then I highly recommend reading the following sutta, which details the practice rather well.

Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118) “Mindfulness of the breath”

To prepare for the “fast” form of kundalini requires a deep level of submission.  To do this one engages in self effacement, surrender, cultivation of tranquility, letting go, patience, tolerance, humility, equanimity, etc.  Through regular and rigorous cultivation of self-effacement one reduces one's self-identification. 

The Buddha has a particularly well articulated method of reducing self-identification.  Most of this is revealed in his discourse on Dependent Origination.  It is summed up in these three phrases that one repeats, almost mantra like, in the encounter of all sensible objects, "This is not me. I am not this. This is not mine." To prepare for the “fast” form of kundalini one would also of course be engaged in meditation that produces meditative absorption (jhana/samadhi).


There are a wide range of descriptions of the charismatic experience in the religious literature of the world, however, that wide range does not always represent the authentic religious experience of gnosis and its associated charismatic phenomena, but most often represents myths that have been preserved unquestioned often for thousands of years.  So, for us to get at the truth of the experience of gnosis we must examine the body of case histories available to us, and unpack the various descriptions of the experience of gnosis that is preserved in the literary record of the various religions, as well as question the translation of those descriptions.

Not every one seems to experience “energy” rising up the spine.  Some people experience other charismatic phenomena, which would imply that the experience of gnosis might be rather broad.  I believe the reason why the experience of gnosis appears somewhat differently from person to person is the charismatic phenomena occurs in one or more senses.  And, not everyone experiences gnosis either in all of the senses or in the same sense.  So, while there are different sensory experiences of gnosis, there are only 7 senses, so there are basically 7 classes of the experience of gnosis.  We have also found that one experience of gnosis is not necessarily superior to another.

Kriyas, or spontaneous movement, is another charismatic experience that is reported by contemplatives. Kriyas are known in a Christian contemplative context as Saint Vitus’ Dance, or quaking and shaking, which is why the Quakers and Shakers were called that.

Chakras, are the feeling of the subtle energy centers, most notably the heart, throat, forehead and crown of head.  The hands and feet are also commonly reported by contemplatives here, which is otherwise known as stigmata within a Christian contemplative context.  These sensations would be associated with charismatic phenomena of the tactile sense field.

Charismatic sound, or Clairaudience is known as Nada, in the yogas. It is another charismatic phenomena that is associated with meditative absorption.  It is called “dibba-sota” in Pali Buddhism. It is a chirping, rushing, or ringing sound that occurs in conjunction to the practice of meditation.  It is of course associated with the auditory sense.

Clairvoyance is charismatic visions. It is called “dibba-cakkhu” in Pali Buddhism. These are of course associated with the visual sense.

The Out-of-Body experience (OOB) is another charismatic experience that has been frequently reported here.  It is known in Buddhism by the Pali term “Manomaya” which means "Mind-made body."  It is the hyper-real experience of leaving the body and flying bird-like.  In Christian mysticism this is called a “rapture.”  The OOB is associated with the kinesthetic sense. There is also charismatic smell and taste.

Considering that the Sanskrit for the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad-Gita and the Pali of the Discourse of the Buddha do not reveal a single use of the term 'kundalini' nor snake imagery in relation to the charismatic, we can thus conclude the term 'kundalini' is most probably not of ancient Indian origins. This means the term ‘kundalini’ is rather new to the Sanskrit language, most notably post dating Patanjali and Siddhartha Gotama.  It is also worth noting that snake imagery, in association to the charismatic, is also rather new to Indian literature.  On the other hand the caduceus of ancient Greek origins actually pre-dates the arrival of the term ‘kundalini’ and its associated iconography in Indian art and literature, so it would seem that kundalini and snake iconography in regards to the charismatic is most probably of European origins, not Indian. Also, the caduceus reveals close symmetry to the kundalini iconography of India.

Even though the ancient literature of India did not use the term ‘kundalini,’ the concept of the charismatic in the form of the Sanskrit terms vîrya and naga are most probably early Sanskrit references to the charismatic. Thus we can conclude that to Siddhartha Gotama and Patanjali vîrya was what is called ‘kundalini’ today and was called ‘ecstasy’ by the Christian mystics.  The experience of energy rushes up the spine is a clear and definite aspect of the enlightenment experience as expressed by every genuine mystic who recorded their religious experiences.

Arguably there is a considerable amount of charismatic phenomena that occurs in association with the practice of meditation and healing, and it is this charismatic phenomena that now days falls under the banner of kundalini.  And, since much of that phenomena is reported to be associated with the feeling of energy, then I am sure it seemed reasonable to Gopi Krishna, et al, that it should be called "kundalini." I find the English term "charismatic" is a better term for this phenomena than the Sanskrit term "kundalini."  However, now the term ‘kundalini’ is often used in reference to the symptoms and manifestations of other aspects of the charismatic experience which may be related to a hypothetical “subtle body,” which are often mistaken for the kundalini experience. Therefore, I argue that the term 'kundalini' really should be reserved for the classic ecstatic experience of feeling a rush of energy rise up the spine.

While my personal experience has convinced me that kundalini (giving rise to energy) is a key component to the absorption experience, what is most central to the causing of the rise of energy (kundalini) in my ecstatic contemplative experiences has been a regular dedicated meditation practice that is based upon frequency, duration and depth in which I seek meditative absorption.

From personal experience, as well as from examining the many case histories on the Jhana Support Group and Kundaliniheat, with meditative absorption we find that the classic rising of energy up the spine is a byproduct of meditative absorption (jhana/samadhi).  It is from personal experience and from examining these case histories that we have found that the chakras "open" on their own as one enters the 3rd stage of meditative absorption.  It is here where kriyas often occur as well. These case histories also reveal that the kundalini rises on its own in its fast mode once one enters the 4th stage of meditative absorption. Thus we have found it is completely unnecessary to "open" the chakras and "raise" the kundalini, as if they were separate functions from meditative absorption (jhana/samadhi).  In fact to think one can do those things through willing them through practicing a cognitive meditation practice is completely erroneous thinking and only reveals a complete lack of understanding of the process of spiritual awakening.

Chakras, OOBs, Kriyas, Samadhis and Kundalini are the ecstatic side of the contemplative experience, and they are the product of a life-long and all consuming contemplative practice. If one can enter into meditative absorption (samadhi) and cause the kundalini (ecstasy) to rise repeatedly, then I believe it is productive to do so, and to do it as often as one can, because I have found it is a tremendous aide in awakening. Thus anyone claiming to be enlightened who rejects the term “Chakras, OOBs, Kriyas, Samadhis and Kundalini,” or rejects the experiences that are described by these terms, must either not be enlightened or so misinformed about the experience of the sacred that their enlightenment is irrelevant because they are unable to articulate their enlightenment within the context of the language of gnosis that is in common use today.

The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila,

Pg 93) “As I write this, by the way, I can’t help but wonder what’s going on inside my own head.  Those noises I told you about in the beginning are getting so loud that it’s almost impossible for me to obey the order to write this. It sounds like there are a multitude of rushing rivers inside my head, their waters cascading downward, surrounded by many little birds and other whistling sounds.  This is all unfolding not in the ears but the upper part of the head, where they say the higher part of the soul resides.  I have spent long periods in these regions.  The spirit seems to push its way upward with great power and speed…all of this turmoil doe not hinder my prayer or interfere with what I am trying to say.  Instead, my soul is whole within its quietude, its love, its longing, and its clarity of consciousness.”

translation and introduction by Mirabai Star. Riverhead Books, Published by the Berkley Publishing Group a division of Penguin Group USA Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York NY 10014, 2003


Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118) “Mindfulness of the breath”

Commitment as a Refuge, Dark Night of the Soul in Buddhism (January 1, 2003)

22) Dark Night of the Soul, by St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) translated by E. Allison Peers, Image Books, Garden City, New York, 3rd addition, 1959

Exposing translator bias in the Translation of the Pali Canon and other

Asian literature (updated 11-10-04)

29) The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila, translation and introduction by Mirabai Star. Riverhead Books, Published by the Berkley Publishing Group a division of Penguin Group USA Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York NY 10014, 2003

Jhana and the Houses of God, Flooding the Dark Night of the Soul with

Wholesome States

Kayagata-sati Sutta (MN 119) “Mindfulness of the Body”

The Language of Ecstasy (October 15, 04)

Maha-satipatthana Sutta (DN 22), “Larger Discourse on the Four Paths of Mindfulness” updated 10-27-04

Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10) “Larger Discourse on the Four Paths of Mindfulness”

Understanding the Unwholesome States, The Darkness of the Dark Night

Virtue, Understanding What is a Wholesome State

32) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Translation by Jhanananda


Charismatic Movement, Kriyas (April 23, 2004)

Clairaudience or the Divine Ear and meditation induced tinnitus (May 9, 2004)

The Fruits (Phala) of the Contemplative Life (September 13, 2004)

The Great Western Vehicle Archive of Gnosis, Jhana, Samadhi, Kundalini, Ecstatic Meditation (Jhana/Samadhi) and Ecstatic Buddhism

7) What is Jhána? Jhána as defined in the Buddha's Discourses, Brooks, Jeffrey S,, (October 13, 2005)

The characteristic manifestations of absorption, Jhana-Nimitta (October 1, 2004)

13) The Experience of Meditation, Brooks, Jeffrey S., Great Western Vehicle, July 23, 2004

The Proto-Contemplative Life, Lucid Dreams and Out-of-Body Travel (August 1, 2004)

Rapture in Buddhism, Manomaya, the "mind-made body." The Buddha’s Discourses on the Astral Body and Out-of-Body (OOB) experiences (updated November 09, 2004)

A Chart of the various stages of absorption, Samadhi Chart

Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2) “The Discourse on the Fruits of the Contemplative Life”

6) The Great Western Vehicle master directory of translations of the TIPITAKA, The Earliest Buddhist Canon of Literature

A Proposed Unified Theory for the Experience of Gnosis


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enlightened in this very life-time,

Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)

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