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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.



Sadhana: Kundalini and Jnana



SADHANA is a Sanskrit word for spiritual practice. On this page I have reconciled the great sadhanas of Kundalini Yoga and Jnana Yoga.

Kundalini Yoga

After I visited Swami Muktananda in 1981, I came back to Australia with a peculiar sensitivity to music. I obtained a job, and at lunchtime I would drive to a quiet spot, eat my lunch, then turn on the radio, tuned to a classical music station, and go into a light trance.

I would sit with a straight back and feel the music "going into" the point between the eyebrows, or Ajna chakra. By consciously suggesting that the consciousness should ascend the spine, it did, and the boundary of my body became inside the head only. I felt a delicious peacefulness.

Our consciousness flows into the body in the normal waking state, and we feel our personal boundaries to be the tips of the toes, fingers, and top of the head. Beyond that we consider to be "outside" the body. I discovered that the boundary is variable (in both directions). Certain schools of Kundalini and Kriya yogas aim to contract that boundary by consciously withdrawing the flow of consciousness up the central column of the spine (sushumna).

When my consciouness-boundary was within the head, the rest of my body felt "external." A phase beyond that is that body-awareness is totally lost, yet the person remains aware -- the practitioner is thus intensely focussed within a boundary close to the "source" of consciousness, or Self. This is samadhi as described by the classical yoga books, in which bliss and boundlessness are experienced but there is no physical awareness.

When the practitioner comes back to physical awareness, the samadhi is gone. Yogis claim however that repeated practice will gradually bring Self-awareness regardless of where the consciousness flows or how many thoughts occupy the mind.

I am very ordinary and had no spiritual or psychic abilities beforehand. In fact I had an awful handicap of physical tension and irregular breathing from my days with Self-Realization Fellowship. I developed the above-described capability after staying just five weeks at Swami Muktananda's ashram -- and I lost it some weeks after leaving. I gained the special sensitivity to music, in which a note from a musical instrument would sound extremely attractive and would penetrate through what I think is my ajna chakra. I think that this came about mostly from swadhaya, which is recitation of scripture (it is sung to a classical tune, known as a raga) and singing of ancient Hindu chants.

(I must emphasise the importance of these ragas. Many new-age groups sing spiritual songs, including traditional Indian ones, but use their own tunes or rhythms. They don't know what they're missing, which is a great pity.)

As my focus was at the ajna chakra while reciting the scripture, it seems that this centre got activated. While chanting loud and fast I also experienced the sound resounding in the pit of the stomach.

There are many yogas involving sound, sight, and chakras, but classical Kundalini Yoga as I have described above is to reverse the flow of consciousness and become focussed on the Source, or Self. This flow is also referred to as the shakti or prana.

The jnani (knower of the Truth) tells us that the only thing that keeps us from experiencing our true nature is that we are always "looking out" and differentiating between perceived objects. In deep sleep we are no longer looking out nor are we differentiating, but we are not conscious either (or rather have no recollection of consciousness). The raising of the Kundalini in the classical sense I have outlined above, is like going to sleep, except awareness is retained.

The practitioner is consciously aware of the centre of one's being, without distraction of the five "outer" senses. This essentially is what the practitioner of Self-enquiry, or jnana yoga, also aspires to -- that is, to have undistracted Self-awareness.

The problem for me is that my sadhana was very haphazard, and I never was able to stabilise the ability to consciously raise the Kundalini. I got it back a few times, then it was gone again. I ended up feeling very frustrated. I would dearly love to meet someone who can stabilise me in this practice. I wish to take this sadhana to its end.

I have seen Kundalini and Kriya Yoga practitioners after 30 years of practice fail to awaken the Kundalini. Many have woken it in a fitful fashion, not permanent. Most have some experiences that soon fade. Muktananda sometimes referred to old devotees as "old shoes." A major question then, is, having once stirred the Kundalini, how is the flame fanned ever higher?

Jnana Yoga

A person who decides to follow the sadhana of Self-enquiry, also described as a "non-path" or a path without teaching or teacher, or a practice in which there is nothing to attain, listens to words of Truth as spoken by a jnani, dwells on them, and becomes aware of the Self directly.

The cunning teacher of Advaita (non-dualism) may tell you that you are "already realised." The intention of this is to stop your mind, but it is also a mental trap. The teacher is actually playing with the meanings of words, and the subtlety of this escapes most people. The true jnani realises that there is no such thing as non-realisation or ignorance, but there is the experience or appearance of ignorance. We say that we are ignorant; the Advaita teacher says that we are not. But, you are being fooled by this play on meaning -- you are ignorant in your day-to-day experience.

You went into the satsang thinking yourself to be ignorant, and you came out dazzled by the teacher's logic, convinced now that you're realised! The "dazzle" of this non-dual logic may amaze you, and satori (temporary) experiences may happen. Maybe you too will get on the guru bandwagon! But, maybe you're just spinning subtle ideas around in your mind. Maybe you mistake an emotional high for a genuine spiritual breakthrough. Maybe there's the occasional satori experience, which is a momentary breakthrough. In time though, the gloss will fade.

I recently listened to a teacher of Advaita say that karma does not exist, and also that personal spiritual experiences such as seeing lights are worthless. Again, if the experience of the non-existence of karma is carried to you by the power of the teacher, or you are ripe enough to immediately recognise the Truth, then well and good. However from the average person's standpoint such a teaching may not be helpful.

Ramana Maharshi spoke of personal experiences such as visions and lights as useful in that they provide encouragement. Other than that they are mostly a distraction and should not be given any inflated importance. Some experiences may be a "marker." You have the experience of feeling hungry when your body needs food -- this feeling is a marker, or an experience that tells you that your body has reached the stage of needing food. Similarly, a blue light or a golden circle may manifest as a marker to indicate a degree of inner awakening.

Papaji spoke about the listener "getting it," while Ramana spoke about the "knack" or the "current" felt within. The knack is when it suddenly clicks in your mind that the only thing that exists in your whole universe is your Self. The problem is though that the mind has not been killed, and it comes back, and back, and back. So, "getting it" is only the first (but very important) step. Then it's practice, practice, practice -- no, there is no instant enlightenment, unless you are already "ripe."

(Note that when I use the word "killed," I don't mean that the mind is gone. This is a very subtle point. There is a phase of sadhana in which thoughts may be gone, but ultimately it does not matter. The mind is killed when it is relegated to an automatic process. That is, it functions like your liver, automatically. More to the point, you have separated from thoughts and you are not bound to them. You could still create thoughts, but for entertainment value only.)

I've seen people practice "Jnana Yoga" for years, but they're not any different than Muktananda's "old shoes." So, how does the jnana yogi, having recognised the "I," hold it and plunge into it without falling back into the mind and its tired old mental patterns?


I would like to further clarify Kundalini versus Jnana yogas.

In Self-enquiry, the Self is the "Watcher." Although the Watcher directs its attention, which is likened to a flow of energy or shakti, to the five senses, the Watcher never actually leaves the Source, which is why the direct approach of the jnani works. If you become aware of the Watcher, the "outward" flow is cut off, resulting in the realisation that the Watcher is all that exists and a possible loss of body awareness.

In Kundalini Yoga, the yogi treats the shakti as real and behaves as though there is an energy or divine power that has to be returned to the Source by some process. The perceived outward-flowing energy flow is reversed, removing the illumination of the five senses, and redirected to the source, thus illuminating the Source. This backward process is likely to exhibit a multitude of symptoms of emotions/visions/sounds at the various levels of the return process.

The end result is the same. Many people do not "get" this idea of the Watcher, but they can get the idea of the attention flowing to the five senses. Therefore, for many people, the tackling of this energy is the best approach.

The Kundalini and Jnana yogis will both experience withdrawal of the outward-flowing energy. Classical Kundalini Yoga describes complete loss of outer awareness, though this need not necessarily happen. Some yogis have experienced a "distancing" of their awareness from the physical world. Jnanis also have been through phases of complete body unawareness or partial separation. There are also similar reports of lights and sounds, and in particular a changed perception of the world.

I would like to finish this section with a quotation from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, article 398:

The yogis attach the highest importance to going up to sahasrara, i.e., the brain centre or the thousand-petalled-lotus... They point out the scriptural statement that the life-current enters the body through the fontanelle and argue that, viyoga (separation) having come about that way, yoga (union) must also be effected in the reverse way. Therefore we must by yogic practice, gather up the pranas and enter the fontanelle for the consummation of yoga. The jnanis point out that the yogi assumes the existence of the body, its separateness from the Self, and therefore advises effort for reunion by the practice of yoga.

In fact, the body is in the mind which has the brain for its seat, which again functions by light borrowed from another source as admitted by the yogis themselves in their fontanelle theory. The jnani further argues: if the light is borrowed it must come from its native source. Go to the source direct and do not depend on borrowed resources. Just as an iron ball comes into being separate from the mass of iron, gets fiery, in fire, later cools down giving up the fire, but must again be made fiery to re-unite with the original mass, so also the cause of separation must also form the factor of re-union.

Again if there is an image reflected there must be a source and also accessories like the sun and a pot of water for reflection. To do away with the reflection either the surface is covered up corresponding to reaching the fontanelle according to the yogis or the water is drained away which is called tapas... That is to say, the thoughts or the brain activities are made to cease. This is jnana-marga

All these are however on the assumption that the jiva [individual soul] is separate from the Self or Brahman. But are we separate? "No", says the jnani. The ego is simply wrong identity of the Self with the non-self, as in the case of a colourless crystal and its coloured background. The crystal though colourless appears red because of its background. If the background is removed the crystal shines in its original purity. So it is with the Self and the antahkaranas [mental functions].

Still again, the illustration is not quite appropriate. For the ego has its source from the Self and is not separate like the background from the crystal. Having its source from the Self, the ego must only be retraced in order that it might merge in its source. 

Copyright 2000 Shunya Muni.




Shunya Muni's Website
More articles and a short autobiography by Shunya.

Jnana Yoga
Our main page on Jnana Yoga with additional links on that subject.

Our main page on Kundalini, including Kundalini Yoga, with additional links on that subject.

Ramana Maharshi
Our main page on Ramana Maharshi with additional links on that subject.


by Sri Ramana Maharshi
This is the most comprehensive single volume of Ramana's teachings: 668 pages of transcripts of talks he had between 1935 and 1939 with visitors who traveled to south India from all over the world to ask for advice from the man whom many regard as the greatest realized teacher of the twentieth century. The English (translated here from the three Indian languages used by Ramana) is slightly stilted but nonetheless lucid, direct, literate, and pleasant to read. Part of it is on the web here.


This page was published on May 5, 2000 and last revised on May 8, 2000.



Copyright 2001 Realization.org. All rights reserved.