Chakras – a Christian interpretation
The chakras are energy centres in the body. They can be activated to produce extraordinary results. They have many meanings. There are many names and versions. Here is an Christian interpretation of the significance of these centres.The human body is wonderful:
“It was you … who put me together in my mother’s womb …I thank you for the wonder of my being ….” (Ps. 139.)
The body in all its aspects is the primary context of prayer.
Introduction: The word “chakra”
In the original Sanskrit the word ‘chakra’ means simply a ‘wheel’ or ‘circle’. (In the Romanistation of the original Sanskrit it is written cakra. In modern english it is written as chakra.) A wheel consists of outer rim and spokes and hub so that the word ‘chakra’ can also mean a radiation from a centre or conversely a vortex, which draws everything to itself. It can also mean a discus, the weapon used in battle. It can mean a wheel, which cuts like the circular saw. It can refer to a group, like a ‘reading circle’, a set of people gathered for a common purpose. All these meanings are attached to the word ‘chakra’, which thus has a dynamic sense. It is a source of influence, which radiates out; or conversely it is a centre into which all are drawn. It cuts, it creates, it makes, it breaks.
There are many centres in the body, which influence the way we think and feel. Our purpose is to look at these various centres and to bless them with the mantra and with the breath, for the mantra is not just a coat hanger, a means of distracting ourselves from distracting thoughts. It is a word of power, an inspired word, a word of blessing, a word which saves and heals and empowers. Our mantra is a version of the Word through whom all things were made and to which all are drawn. Likewise the breath is a symbol of the Spirit given to us and has the power of the Spirit in it, to sanctify and empower, to regenerate and transform.
For that reason the mantra and the breath can be placed on those sensitive and multidimensional areas called ‘chakras’. This is done by others in the sacraments such as baptism and confirmation. It can be done by us to ourselves in times of meditation. It can be done by one to the other in times of group meditation or by intention even when others are absent.
The first (root) chakra (mūlādhāra): part a:
The first chakra is located at the base of the body, at what is called the ‘perineum’, or ‘the pelvic floor’ whose importance in medical terms is increasingly being understood. It consists of a criss-cross of muscles located between the anus and the sex organ.
This root chakra is usually imagined as square and earth coloured. It is the solid base and is associated with the earth for a number of obvious reasons. In India and indeed in most of the world, people sit on the ground. It is the place of connection with the earth forces etc.
The first step in this meditation is to sit, to be as stable and firm as a rock, motionless and relaxed, content to simply be there. It means being calm and tranquil, still as stone.
By sitting in this way not only is the body stable but the mind too becomes quiet, the fluctuating emotions and the prancing thoughts become still. It is possible then to go into the depths of one’s being, and that is the point of this meditation. By going into the depths, to the ground of one’s being, beneath the ego, the desires and the fears, the meditator comes to their essential truth, to what they really are. It is a place of complete honesty and humility. By silence and stillness the meditator comes to their real self and gets in touch with whatever gift, great or small but real, has been imparted to them. It is the point where the depths of one’s own spirit meet the depths of the Spirit of God. It is the place of complete faith, of utter darkness. It is the place from which the waters flow, the rock, which Moses struck. It is the deep well from which the fountain of life and every development will spring up.
The focus is now centered on the perineum. It may help to contract the pelvic floor slight in order to feel where this point is. The meditator touches this point with the breath, breathing in and out from this point, as it were, and placing the empowering mantra there.
After a while the meditator will feel a great stability of character and will become a rock of faith on which other can depend. From that point, at a later stage, the Spirit will be felt to arise and make a journey through all the other chakras to reach the goal, the high destiny. That is the journey all must make.
The first chakra (mūlādhāra): part b:
A rock rests on the ground immobile, quiet, stable and likewise the meditator sits solid as a rock, not tense but firm, not loose but compact. On the rock of Peter’s faith the whole structure of the Church has been built, and the meditator likewise sits in faith, secure in the inarticulate knowledge that comes from grace. To sit quietly is to have faith while to be restless and vacillating is to lack certainty. So the first step is to sit quietly.
The rock is just a rock, the most inert and earthly of the elements, and the meditator accepts to be of earth, of this time and place, real and unspectacular. There is no glam or glitter about meditation except that the meditator is led to it by grace. A person cannot sit still in meditation unless they are led to that spot and are called nowhere else for that period of time.
The rock is quiet and the meditator is not engaged in thought. Their knowledge is an awareness deeper than thought.
In this way the meditator becomes a quiet rock of faith at the deepest level of their being which the base of the body symbolizes. The focus is therefore brought to the centre of the seat, which is the pelvic floor or perineum. To focus on this area is to acknowledge one’s physicality, one’s limitation in this time and place; it means coming to the ground of one’s being, to the depths of one’s spirit.
Moses struck the rock and out gushed the water, which gave life to the Israelites and their cattle. The meditator focuses on the rock-like base of their being and strikes it, not with a staff but with the breath and its mantra. With each exhalation of the breath and recitation of the mantra, this place is struck, not harshly but confidently, with assurance and not hesitating like Moses who did not enter the Promised Land because of his doubt. The place is struck with the knowledge that water will flow and irrigate all the other chakras making them flower, each in turn.
All this is possible only with faith. By faith a person sits still. By faith the meditator concentrates on the pelvic floor and contracts its slightly in order to assist the concentration. By faith the mantra and the breath are placed there.
As a result the meditator becomes very quiet and reliable, secure in themselves. But also the spot will start to vibrate and throb and from it energy will arise and begin to fill the whole body. This throbbing is to be noted and allowed. It is a sign and is to be welcomed but not sought. What counts is the faith that led to the breaking open of the fountain. What counts is the fountain of grace released in the body and the effects that will flow in joy and vitality.
The second chakra: the lap (sexual organ)
The base chakra is concerned with the very foundation of the one’s being, the source of all. The foundation of the spiritual life is faith so that the root chakra is particularly associated with the rock of faith.
The second chakra is located in the lap. The location of this chakra is, like the location of any chakra, not very precise. It is not so much an anatomical spot as an emotional or symbolic centre, which can vary somewhat from individual to individual.
The lap is where children love to climb and nestle. Icons of Mary show her holding the Child on her lap as on a throne, presenting to the world the Saviour to whom she gave birth. It is the place of blessing and fruitfulness. ‘Give and there will be gifts for you. A full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap’. (Luke 6:38)
It is a place particularly associated with the sub-conscious. The journey from the base chakra to the highest chakra is a journey of grace. If the seat is associated with faith, which is the start of the spiritual journey, the lap is associated with the subconscious, which psychologists say is very powerful in forming one’s personality. The subconscious is a place of great sensitivity and can be considered more significant than the conscious. In Sanskrit it is called ‘the place of the self’ (svādisthana). The significant impressions of childhood and indeed of the whole family, of culture as well as of life, are stored in the subconscious and in the lap and passed on to the next generation. Our mental impressions and the lives of our forbears leave their traces there, our fundamentally painful and pleasant experiences are held there. It is also the place of the one of the most powerful instinctual drives.
At times in the past, in the so-called ‘Victorian era’ for example, the lap and its significance were passed over with unfortunate consequences since all the chakra s need to be admitted and given their rightful role in public as well as in private.
The purpose of meditating on this chakra is to acknowledge and assent to it, to bless it and give thanks for it and all it means. The centres of the human psyche are brought into right balance when they are attended to with calm openness. The pure light of conscious thanksgiving has ‘healing in its rays’ (Mal. 2:20) and we can heal any disturbance that might have occurred there. The blessing of grace empowers and vitalizes this important dimension of our being.
Accordingly the method of this meditation is to focus the attention as well as the mantra and the breathing on that place and so heal it and bless it.
The third chakra: the solar plexus
The journey of the human energies or of the Spirit is a growth in consciousness whereby a person comes to the fullness of the Truth. In some people this growth can be accompanied by spectacular displays of intense emotion, blinding light etc., depending on their character. What counts is the growth itself, which may occur in a quiet unspectacular way. Indeed, greater importance attaches to the unspectacular than to the spectacular.
The first chakra is the ground and source of our being, the hidden coil where all the energies are present in unmanifest form. The so-called kuṇḍalinī, which means a ‘ring’, lies here like a coiled serpent. In the inspired person it is the place of the Spirit, the rock from which the waters of grace flow, the place of faith.
The second chakra, in the lap, or the sexual organ, is concerned with the sub-conscious and with the powerful instinctual drives.
The third chakra is located in the navel and is concerned above all with the will. Ordinary language, indeed uncouth language, which is often more revealing than polite talk, shows this. We speak of someone having ‘guts’, meaning that they have courage; or of a person being ‘yellow bellied’, meaning that they are cowardly. People experience ‘butterflies in the stomach’ when they are unsure. Someone may ‘have no stomach’ for an action which they do not wish to perform. The stomach is the place of the will.
In yogic terms it is called maṇipura, ‘jewel city’.
A meditation, which focuses on the stomach, can develop the sense of will.
The fourth chakra: the heart
The heart is very much the place of the emotions. Thus we speak of someone being ‘cold-hearted’ or ‘warm-hearted’. The heart means more than emotions, of course. Indeed there is a whole vocabulary of the heart. It is the place of relationships. It refers to the very centre of one’s being from which all derives: the ‘heart of the matter’; the place of mystery: the ‘cave of the heart’.
The previous chakras lead to the heart. The heart involves the whole being and the whole being leads to the heart. Faith, the sub-conscious and the will lead to a heartfelt attitude. If one of them is lacking a person will not have a lasting and entire commitment. Love springs from the deepest level of one’s being: if it does not it will not last. If there is no emotion in the love but only decision, it will be unconvincing. Thus all the chakras must come into play in their due order if a person is to love adequately.
A person speaks ‘from the heart’, spontaneously, without duplicity or calculation. It is the place of the ‘unstruck sound’. In yoga this centre is called anāhata, which in Sanskrit means ‘unstruck’.
A meditation on the heart chakra is recommended for those who are hurting in the heart or who wish to develop their essential commitment.
The meditation is done in the usual way we have been using in these meditations on chakras: to breathe in that at that spot and to place the mantra there.
The fifth chakra: the throat
From the heart, the energy moves to the throat. It is natural for the heart and all it contains, to declare itself. Thus the fifth chakra is called viśuddhi, ‘purification’, ‘clarification’. This fact is shown by ordinary language. The love a person has for another is revealed and confirmed in speech. We talk of someone ‘speaking from the heart’. A person ‘cries from the heart’. We all know how what a relief there is in ‘getting it off one’s chest’. And a person who speaks from the heart ‘speaks freely’. The act of faith, which justifies a person, is a profession made from the inmost heart. By contrast the lie is a conflict between heart and speech. Thus the third fifth chakra is the chakra of revelation and purification.
The sixth chakra: between the eyebrows (bhrūmadya)
The centre between the eyebrows, the ‘’third eye’’, is the place, which the bishop anoints at Confirmation. He places the oil of chrism there and says ‘’be sealed with the gift of the Spirit’’. That spot is chosen because it is naturally disposed to the gifts of the Spirit. It is by nature the place of ‘’wisdom and insight, counsel and power, knowledge and reverence’’. (Is.11:2) The bishop seals the place with the Spirit because the Spirit is already present there in some way. If the Spirit, who hovered over creation at its beginning, were not already present the Spirit could not be received. By virtue of the Spirit, that place is open to the imparting of the Spirit. Spirit welcomes Spirit.
This meditation involves mentally placing the mantra and the breath, the Word and the Spirit, at the centre of the eyebrows. If it helps, touching it with the finger can sensitize that place. Then with full confidence, indeed with the power of the Spirit and in union with the Word made flesh, the mantra said placed there and the breath is imparted.
The word chakra means “wheel” and has the void at its centre, like the hub of the wheel. If the hub is obstructed the wheel cannot turn. After focusing on the eye-brow centre by touching it or placing the chrism there, the meditator reflects on it as the void, as a space, a hole. The place has been marked by the Spirit and takes on the character of the Spirit, a freedom beyond words, something real but intangible, beyond time, spacious, open, wide as the sea. The breath of the Spirit is felt at this point, moving freely in and out, not forced, full of peace, pleasurable, enjoyable. There may also be a slight contraction, which occurs naturally, as though wishing to feel the friction of the breath more intently.
From the centre, like spokes from a wheel, the energies move out, as so many gifts: wisdom, counsel, right judgment, reverence, awe and wonder. Allow the energy to radiate from that point into the very centre of the head where the pituary gland is located which governs all the other glands, Allow the Spirit to flow into your whole person, bringing tranquility and balance, strength and energy to every corner of the body.
If this skill is mastered, the whole person becomes very calm and acquires a natural authority. The conflicting passions are put to rest and an equanimity results, which copes with both good and bad knowing that the transcending Spirit overcomes all obstacles. The strength of a good conscience gives vigour and assurance. The sight becomes clear and the eyes acquire a luster and a penetration because they see beyond the perceptible. The eye of faith opens further and things unseen become evident. In fact, so wonderful is the sight of things unseen that glitter and glamour hold little attraction and the inner quality of things becomes apparent.
It is important therefore to develop this chakra by the means of the Spirit. By the power of the Spirit we presume on the power of the Spirit. This presumption is mind-boggling and goes hand in hand with a natural modesty and humility. The truly greathearted person has no ego.
The sixth chakra is the command chakra, the place of insight and authority. It shows the wider dimensions of the act of faith. Thus St Paul speaks of those who are spiritual having the right to ‘judge’ the value of everything (I Cor. 2.15), that is, to understand and to bring wise counsel to bear. This chakra was emphasized at the start.
In meditating on the chakras, attention should be paid first of all to the chakra located between the eyebrows, the chakra of wisdom, because all the energies and power must be brought under the command of wisdom.
It is recommended that a definite level of experience be attained at the eyebrow centre. It is the place of insight and wisdom, of authority and reverence and provides a suitable guide for the power, which is unleashed in all the other centres. After all, it is centre where the Spirit is placed by the bishop who is the centre of the diocese.
The Spirit who hovers over the deep at the very origin and who calls out with the Bride, “Come Lord Jesus” at the very end of the Bible, the same Spirit is located at the place of the “third eye”, the eye” of perception which sees beyond the visible to what no one has seen or imagined, “things beyond the human mind”.
The seventh chakra: the crown of the head
The seventh chakra is on the crown of the head. Here the priests and kings and prophets of old were anointed with chrism, as still happens in the baptism of infants and the ordination of bishops. A person who has developed this chakra ‘walks tall’ and is not bowed down by the troubles of life. It is the place of sacred authority. It is the boundary between the earth, as symbolized by the body; and heaven, as symbolized by the space above. To meditate on this chakra is to make the bridge between heaven and earth.
In yogic anatomy it is called brahmarandhra, the ‘aperture of Brahma’.
The ultimate chakra: above the head
The ultimate chakra is located some twelve finger-widths above the head. It is the place where the Spirit is depicted as hovering in artist’s representations of the baptism of the Lord. It is the place where the Spirit, the gift of the Father, dwells. It corresponds to the first chakra and is its ‘octave’ so to speak. When the Spirit has made its journey, so to speak, from the lowest chakra, at the very base of one’s being, to the highest chakra, above one’s head, then paradise has been attained. All power in heaven and on earth has been given. The finite being has reached transcendence so that the happiness of heaven itself is experienced.
In Kashmir Shaivism it is called dvadaśānta, ‘end-of-twelve’.