REALITY SANDWICH IS PSYCHEDELIC CULTURE

Esoteric Energy Systems: Kundalini Yoga, Taoist Alchemy, and the Pineal Gland

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The inquiry is not to be approached in a spirit of conquest or arrogance with the intent to achieve victory over a force of nature, which has characterized man’s approach to the problems of the material world, but rather with humility, in a spirit of utter surrender to Divine Will and absolute dependence on Divine Mercy, in the same frame of mind one would approach the flaming sun.


There is no other way save this open to man to arrive at the solution of an otherwise impenetrable mystery of creation, no other way open to him to find out what path has been aligned for his progress by nature, no other way for him to know and recognize himself, and no other way to save himself from the awful consequence of conscious or unconscious violation of the mighty laws which rule his destiny.


This is the only method to bridge the gulf at present yawning between science and religion, between warring political ambitions and idealogies, more deadly than the most virulent disease and more awful than all the epidemics combined, between religious faiths, races, nations, classes, and finally between men.


This is the immortal light, held aloft by nature from time immemorial to guide the faltering footsteps of erring humanity across the turns and twists, ups and downs, of the winding path of evolution, the light which shone in the prophets and sages of antiquity, which continues to shine in the men of genius and seers of today, and will continue to shine for all eternity, illuminating the vast amphitheatre of the universe for the marvellous, unending play of the eternal, almighty, queen of creation, life.

~ Gopi Krishna, Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man, 250.

Traditions
of Esoteric Energy Systems

Many
spiritual traditions, particularly those of the East, have attempted
to create synthesized systems that incorporate aspects of biological
fact and aspects of religious belief regarding “subtle” or
“astral” bodies into a functional system of medicine and health.
The most well known of these today is the Chinese tradition of
acupuncture,
qi,
and energetic meridians. Also well known are the systems of
chakras
and
pranas
in Hindu Ayurvedic medicine. Both of these remarkably comprehensive
and detailed systems predate what we would consider modern medicine,
and both Eastern systems are still being used today. The basic, yet
extremely important, distinction between Ayurveda and Chinese
medicine and contemporary Western medicine is that the theoretical
system of Western medicine does not include a component of energy in
the human being beyond what is materially visible in the body
and its electrochemical reactions.

Both
Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine are based on the
theoretical premise that there is an energy component of the human
body that transcends, yet is intimately linked to, the physical body.
In Ayurveda and Kundalini yoga the idea is that
prana,
(which can be though of literally as breath, but also metaphorically
as life energy) flows through energy centers called
chakras
and
nadis
points or
nadirs,
and that health is based to a large degree on the proper flow of
prana
through the body (
1).
Yogic exercises are used to promote the healthy flow of
prana.
In Chinese medicine we also find the idea that there is a
non-physical energy component of the human body, which they call
qi,
that

can be regulated by acupuncture and exercises like martial arts and
Qigong
(
2).
Both of these traditions, whether in Tantric ritual texts or in Taoist
scripture, teach that this spiritual energy (which may or may not be
easily equated with literal internal and sexual fluids) must be
conserved for the spiritual development and health of the individual
(
3).

Intriguingly,
both of these spiritual medicine systems also focus on parts of the
head — particularly the space between and slightly above the eyes,
and the place at the top of the head — as focal points of these
“subtle energies.” Modern anatomical science has located the
mysterious pineal gland as being close to the center of the brain,
making it the gland nearest in proximity to the top of the head (
4).
The pituitary gland is nearest to the location of what has been
iconographically identified as the “third eye” in Hindu
traditions (
5).
By investigating these physical and energetic locations described in
religious texts as a basis of comparison we may analyze and compare
these Eastern medicine systems with known facts about human
neurobiology to see what connections may be found.

This type of inquiry has been
complicated in contemporary scholarship by the complexity of everyday
cultural exchanges (including misunderstandings and appropriations)
which occur at various levels of social and religious communication.
Ancient religious traditions have come to be interpreted and
re-expressed through various critical lenses of modern theory:
psychology, sociology, phenomenology, history, etc. The views of
science on ancient religions may or may not be valid; it could be
that a phenomenon such as mystical Taoism cannot be fully understood
or defined by the protocols of scientific analysis. Some “new
religious movement” or New Age groups have also complicated things
by adopting parts of these ancient traditions into highly syncretic
forms which do not always resemble the historical religious practices
that the contemporary practices are based in.

One result of this, in a somewhat
ironic way, is that the original practices (as practiced by people in
the lineage of that tradition) are sometimes changed and
re-interpreted based on the influence of modern scholarship and
religious syncretism as mentioned. This is important to keep in mind
when studying a tradition like Kundalini yoga, which has been
popularized, reinterpreted, and sometimes misunderstood, in the West
over the past half-century. However,
to the
academic,
along with this caveat should also come the challenge of interpretation and
comparison: that we can attempt to understand another culture’s
religious beliefs and practices by a careful study, by making
relevant comparisons, and orienting religious information within a
larger sphere of contemporary knowledge.

Kundalini

Kundalini
yoga is a term referring to a set of ritual practices mainly in
Tantric Hinduism, involving a set of physically based meditation
exercises designed to utilize the human body as a means of spiritual
enlightenment. Kundalini yoga is a form of
laya
yoga

as described in the
Yogatattva
Upanishad

(
6).
Mary Scott writes in
The
Kundalini Concept: Its Origin and Value
,
“Tantric science and therefore also its yoga was, and still is, a
body-affirming system. Unlike yogas advocating its denial and seeing
bliss and enlightenment as involving the transcendence of physical
limitations, the Tantric yogi seeks to raise up the quality of
natural forces so that enlightened states can be [experienced] within
the body” (Scott, 2). The culmination of this practice is the ability to move the Kundalini energy (a form of
shakti) “coiled”
at the base of the spine upwards through the seven, or twelve major
chakras
and eventually up and out of the body through the “crown” at the
top of the head. This process is an extreme physical and energetic
act which, if not properly guided, can produce disastrous physical
and mental results, sometimes causing a state resembling psychosis
(
7).
But according to the Tantric texts, with proper preparation and the
support of a guru, the flow of Kundalini force through the
chakras
can lead to supreme bliss and mystical revelatory experience (
8).

Kundalini
yoga was popularized in the West largely by contemporary Hindu
mystics such as Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramana Maharshi, and Gopi
Krishna. In his 1970 autobiography,
Kundalini:
The Evolutionary Energy in Man
,
Gopi Krishna
describes
his own initial energetic awakening which occurred after sustained
meditation:

I
had read glowing accounts, written by learned men, of great benefits
resulting from concentration, and of the miraculous powers acquired
by yogis through such exercises. My heart began to beat wildly, and I
found it difficult to bring my attention to the required degree of
fixity. After a while I grew composed and was soon as deep in
meditation as before. When completely immersed I again experienced
the sensation, but this time, instead of allowing my mind to leave
the point where I had fixed it, I maintained a rigidity of attention
throughout. The sensation again extended upwards, growing in
intensity, and I felt myself wavering; but with a great effort I
kept my attention centered round the lotus. Suddenly, with a roar
like that of a waterfall, I felt a stream of liquid light entering my
brain through the spinal cord.

 


Entirely
unprepared for such a development, I was completely taken by
surprise; but regaining self- control instantaneously, I remained
sitting in the same posture, keeping my mind on the point of
concentration. The illumination grew brighter and brighter, the
roaring louder, I experienced a rocking sensation and then felt
myself slipping out of my body, entirely enveloped in a halo of
light. It is impossible to describe the experience accurately. I
felt the point of consciousness that was myself growing wider,
surrounded by waves of light. It grew wider and wider, spreading
outward while the body, normally the immediate object of its
perception, appeared to have receded into the distance until I
became entirely unconscious of it. I was now all consciousness,
without any outline, without any idea of a corporeal appendage,
without any feeling or sensation coming from the senses, immersed in
a sea of light simultaneously conscious and aware of every point,
spread out, as it were, in all directions without any barrier or
material obstruction. I was no longer myself, or to be more accurate,
no longer as I knew myself to be, a small point of awareness
confined in a body, but instead was a vast circle of consciousness
in which the body was but a point, bathed in light and in a state of
exaltation and happiness impossible to describe (Krishna, 13).

Gopi
Krishna then goes on to debate about what his experience was,
wondering if what happened to him was a hallucination or a genuine
mystical experience. He eventually came to place his experience
within the tradition of Kundalini ascension which was described in
ancient Hindu texts. A later book called
Serpent
of Fire: A Modern View of Kundalini

(1995) by Darrel Irving features interviews with Gopi Krishna, and
attempts to scientifically analyze the phenomenon of Kundalini.
Several scholars have written books on the subject, including Sir
John Woodroffe’s 1974 text
The
Serpent Power. The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga
,
Mary Scott’s 1983 book
The
Kundalini Concept: Its Origin and Value

and a collection of lectures from 1932 by Carl Jung called
The
Psychology of Kundalini Yoga

(published in 1996). There are numerous other books in the New Age
literature which mention Kundalini in various ways, usually by
showing the
chakras.

Philosophically,
Kundalini occupies the somewhat curious metaphysical position of
being a non-physical force which is located or mapped onto the
physical body. In this sense, the system of Kundalini and the
chakras
is a scientific — but bodily subjective — process of exploring how
energy interacts with matter. This practice is associated
mythologically and cosmologically with the figures of the god Siva
and goddess Shakti as the two necessary and balancing vital spiritual
forces which combine to create material reality. Thus the Tantric
worldview could be described in the context of Western philosophy as
an Idealist view, wherein the immaterial energies of Shakti and the
underlying structure of Siva, although themselves non-material, as
thought to construct and give birth to the material world (
9).
According to some interpretations, Taoist alchemical practices were
functioning according to similar philosophical assumptions (
10).
In
Serpent
of Fire: A Modern View of Kundalini
,
Darrel Irving describes how “etheric” or “subtle” energy may
be thought to interact with the human body in the philosophy of
Kundalini.

The
kundalini process occurs in what is sometimes called the
etheric
or subtle (nonphysical) body, although as will be demonstrated in
chapter 4, this etheric body may actually be physical, composed of
atoms and cells just like all other parts of the body. This subtle
body is comprised of nerve fibers not visible to the naked eye. For
the sake of visualizing this system, therefore, imagine these fibers
as looking like all the nerves and ganglia of the nervous system,
some as thin and spindly, others as thick and clustery, all of them
radiating light, and branching out through the entire body, thousands
of them. Their overall appearance in the body might be likened to
the grid of electric lights one sees above a city at night. These
nerve fibers are actually conduits. They are called
Nadis;
some are major, some are minor, and their function is to conduct
currents of energy called
prana,
or vital force, throughout the body. Not only does this prana
animate the body, but it is this force that can be controlled by the
Yoga adept through various exercises, described below, to activate
the kundalini (Irving, 10).

The
kinds of exercises that Irving mentions involve cultivating breath
control techniques, trance states, body postures, visualizations, and
other elements of yoga. However, there are documented cases of people
outside of the tradition of yoga or Hinduism experiencing something
which can be interpreted as a Kundalini awakening (
11).

Another
aspect of the Kundalini energy that is important to understand is the
fundamentally sexual nature of the Kundalini. The Kundalini energy is
conceived as a generative force which carries some of the same
connotations of the Freudian psychological concept of libido energy.
When interpreting ancient religious ideas it may be difficult to
discern between the elements of a texts that may be describing
something literally, or metaphorically, or both. Certainly, though,
the Kundalini energy has been interpreted as being closely associated
with the material sexual fluids, most obviously male sperm (
12).
Thus non-ejaculation and redirection of sexual energy internally
(also referred to as “reversal of sexual energy”) is one of the
most crucial teachings of Kundalini sexual practices (
13).
The full development of Kundalini through the
chakras
is only possible if the sexual energy that arises is contained
within, and not spilled in the form of external ejaculation. Spilling
the sexual fluid is thought to result in a hastening of death and
degeneration of the vitality of the subject (
14).

Taoist
Alchemy

Taoist alchemy, like Tantra and
Kundalini yoga, is a term that describes a wide variety of practices
that occurred over different eras of time. Also like Tantra, Taoist
alchemy was an esoteric religious worldview as well as a set of
ritual practices. The combination of philosophical and physical
preparation—philosophically in the interpretation of ritual texts,
and physically in the form of “elixirs” and physical
exercises—facilitated the internal process of alchemical
transformation resulting in a mystical state of awareness. This state
is described in various ways symbolically and literally in the Taoist
texts, often involving an illuminating light radiating from the head.

In
the chapter entitled “Gathering the Microcosmic Inner Alchemical
Agent” from the book
Taoist
Yoga: Alchemy and Immortality
,
author Lu K’uan Yu describes the alchemical process of gathering
energy and breath internally which culminates with a “fire” which
will “soar up to the brain” and manifest as a bright light
between the eyes.

This
chapter discusses the method of using the microcosmic inner fire that
passes through sublimating phases at the cardinal points D and J
(see
figure
2

on page 13) to produce the (microcosmic) inner alchemical agent,
which method is also called ‘inner copulation’ (nei chiao kou)
meaning that after you have gathered enough of the (microcosmic)
outer alchemical agent, true vitality, driven by ventilation and
fire, will soar up to the brain; you should then roll your eyes from
left to right in a complete circle in order to push vitality up and
down so that the vital breath in the brain unites with the nervous
system. At this stage the brain will develop fully and a bright
light will manifest (between the eyes); you should now gather the
(microcosmic) inner alchemical agent, this is commonly called the
preparation of the golden elixir. This bright light is the
mysterious gate (hsuan kuan) about which it is said: Your mouth
cannot explain what appears before you; Seeing it you will be
relieved of all concern (Yu, 63).

Lu
K’uan Yu is translating the work of a contemporary Taoist master
named Chao Pi Ch’en, a scripture originally titled
The
Secrets of Cultivating Essential Nature and Eternal Life

(
Hsin
Ming Fa Chueh Ming Chih
).
In the preface he notes that he has translated the words
lead
and
mercury,
alchemical terms, into more accessible religious terms
vitality
and
spirit,
an
act of textual re-interpretation
(15).
Like Kundalini, ancient Taoist rituals have sometimes been
reinterpreted and re-imagined in contemporary practice.

According
to Livia Kohn in her book
Internal
Alchemy: Self, Society, and the Quest for Immortality
,
“internal alchemy has been the dominant system of Daoist spiritual
practice since the Song dynasty, when it was first defined as the
complex integration of multiple forms of Daoist self-cultivation”
(Kohn, 1). This included many different highly experimental
practices, sometimes involving the ingestion of dangerous chemicals
like mercury (
16).
When the elixirs were successful, the individual would often feel
strange sensations and spiritual exaltation in a physiological
experience not unlike modern descriptions of experiences with
hallucinogenic drugs (
17).

Like
other methods of occult or magical practice, Taoist alchemy was a
highly individualized pursuit and did not adhere to a single regimen
or program, but rather a multitude of experimental methods were
refined over time by individual practitioners. As Kohn writes, “the
actual practice, moreover, actively combines the various forms of
Daoist self-cultivation: guiding the
qi,
visualization, absorptive meditation, operative alchemy, and
cosmological speculation (for conscious reorientation). However, this
does not occur in a linear fashion, one after the next. Instead,
adepts weave an intricate network, using the different modes in a
spiraling, twisting, and ever turning movement” (Kohn, 1). This
pursuit, like Western alchemy, occurred mostly at high levels of
society and the practitioners were learned religious scholars. Many
of the emperors themselves became quite enthusiastic about the idea
of possessing immortality, and hired alchemists to come to court and
try to extend the life and fortune of their dynasty. However the
decline of the alchemical age came about at least partially as a
result of the deaths of several emperors who drank (probably
unintentionally) poisonous elixirs (
18).

Taoist
alchemy, like Kundalini, is based on the idea that there is an
energetic or subtle component of the human body which can be
manipulated in various ways. Like Kundalini, Taoist alchemy organizes
the schemata of the energy body according into several sections which
have various properties that can be related to the physical body. In
Creativity
and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry
,
by Dr. Chang Chung-yuan, the author relates one Taoist method of
breath technique that bears some notable resemblance to the Hindu
techniques of
prana.
Again, the idea is that by controlling internal energies such as
breath and sexual fluids, an individual can capture and cultivate
spiritual energy within themselves.

After
a certain time and a degree of practice he may feel the circulation
of the “breath” as a heat current. This heat current is set into
motion by the technique of concentration. The practicioner may focus
his attention on any one of the twelve centers to start the current.
The chosen center may be
ch’i- hai,
or the sea of breath, below the navel, or
wei-lu,
the tip of the spine, or
ming-t’ang,
the hall of light between the eyes, or any other. It is common
practice for men to concentrate on
ch’i-hai,
while women usually concentrate on
t’ang-chung,
the center of the chest.
Ch’i-hai
is the most important center, known as the regular field of the
elixir. It is the lowest of the three fields of the elixir on the
path of the grand circulation. The middle field of the elixir lies
lies in the region of the heart, and the higher field of the elixir
in the top of the head. It is said to be located in the middle of the
nine sections of the brain and is known also as
ni-wan
or Nirvana. The region between the middle and the lower fields is
named the yellow court, or the center of the Earth (Chung-yuan,
146).

The
elixir fields are also called “cinnabar fields” after the element
cinnabar which was used in alchemy, or
dantian
in Chinese. In this passage we witness the fascinating way in which
Taoist religious exercises were encoded with a sense of cosmological
meaning; the outer world, including geography, and the larger realms
of cosmic and mythological meaning, are understood to be reflected
internally within the human body. Lao Tzu advised his students to
imagine themselves as Mount Kunlun. There Taoist are paintings of
Mount Kunlun esoterically mapped with internal aspects of the human
body, like a diagram (
19).

Taoist
alchemy has been a tradition in Chinese religious culture for the
past thousand years. Chinese alchemy certainly rivals the tradition
of European, and even Middle Eastern alchemy, in terms of the
proliferation of texts, physical substances, beliefs, and rituals.
Some practices and aesthetics of alchemy are still in use, as we see
in texts like
Taoist
Yoga

by Lu K’uan Yu and some modern Chinese meditative spiritual and/or
physical exercises like Qigong. Now that a basic understanding of
beliefs and practices of Taoist alchemy and Kundalini yoga have been
established, we may attempt a brief comparison based on textual
sources.

Similarities
Between Taoist Alchemy and
Kundalini
Yoga

Both
systems philosophically present a balanced duality of feminine and
masculine energy as a symbolic structure of reality. In Taoism the
symbol of yin and yang, is understood metaphorically to refer to yang
as positive vitality and yin as negative entropy, which wax and wane
and fluctuate as a person ages, “thus his positive (yang) vitality
decreases gradually while the negative counterpart (yin) grows in
proportion so that he becomes a mortal worldling (Yu, 18). Yes it is
understood that these forces are balanced in the ultimate sense,
which is represented visually in the familiar yinyang symbol called
Taijitu.
In Kundalini Tantra the duality of feminine and masculine energies is
presented in the symbol of the god Siva and the goddess Shakti. Siva
is thought to represent the unformed, unmanifest space or
superstructure of reality, and Shakti is the energizing, animating
force of energy which moves through and animates space in individual
parts. Symbolically, this is represented in images of sexual union of
the gods. One of the purposes of Tantric practice is to understand
this seemingly dual, yet ultimately unified, esoteric symbolism.

Both
systems present a knowledge of the human being, and human
consciousness, as the result of a conjunction between an invisible
energetic body or grid, and the outwardly visible material body. In
Taoism this is represented with the three
dantian
or cinnabar fields, the meridians of energy, and the various
locations which are described in the Taoist texts: the abdominal
cavity, the navel, the tip of the spine, the center of the chest, and
the regions behind the eyes in the center of the brain, and at the
top of the head are of the most interest which are encoded with
symbolic names like “the three Passes,” “the Yellow Court,”
“the Yellow Chamber,” “the Gate of Destiny,” and “the
Crystal Palace” as they have been alternately translated in texts
(
20).
In Kundalini yoga the system of describing the human energy field is
based on the
chakras,
the
nadir
points, and the movement of
prana
through the body in its proper circulation governed by breath
techniques and yoga exercises. Coincidentally or not, the same areas
which are of importance for the Chinese are generally regarded as the
areas of chakras: the lower abdomen is
Muladhara,
the space below the navel is
Svadhisthana,
the lower chest is
Manipura,
the heart is
Anahata,
the throat is
Visuddha,
the brow or space behind the eyes is
Ajna,
and the top of the head is
Sahasrara,
as we see in John Woodroofe’s translation of the texts
Sat-Cakra-Nirupana,
and the
Padaka-Pancaka
in his foundational academic work
The
Serpent Power
.

Both
systems strongly encourage the spiritual practitioner to conserve
their subtle energy and/or sexual fluids. In Kundalini the
conservation of sexual fluids is involved with the process of raising
the Kundalini. However, sexual fluids, when excreted, are used in
some Tantric rituals as transgressive objects (
21).
Taoist alchemy, and the larger tradition of Taoism on the whole,
stresses the conservation of sexual energy and fluids as a major
reason for a practitioner to be celibate (
22).

Both systems involve the use of
substances, in Tantra this is in the form of five forbidden
substances which are ritually used. In Taoist alchemy many chemical
substances and the resulting elixirs are used. In both cases the
substances are generally thought to be a physical means of inducing
mystical experience.

Both
systems describe that the ultimate culmination of spiritual progress
involves a release or transmutation of internally gathered spiritual
energy through the top of the head. In Taoist alchemy this happens
when the
qi
energy moves upward through the “Gate of Heaven” or “Crystal
Palace” and illuminates the area behind the eyes, and then is
partially released or gathered at the top of the head (
23).
In
Kundalini yoga, the Kundalini energy moves up through the
chakras,
resting in the various
chakras
as meditative power and concentration progresses, finally resting in
the space behind the eyes, the
Ajna
chakra,
and then being released out through the
Sahasrara
or crown
chakra.

Differences
Between
Kundalini
Yoga and Taoist Alchemy

Kundalini, as it is situated in
the larger realm of Tantra, is involved with intentionally
transgressive acts. The use of the five forbidden substances in
Tantra is done in a ritual setting, with the idea that transgressing
against social norms of behavior will help a yogi become liberated
from the realm of illusion while alive. In Taoist alchemy there is
not so much a sense of social transgression, as there is a sense of
experimental curiosity.

Socially, alchemy was a lot more
respectable than Kundalini Tantra. Emperors and wealthy people were
very interested in alchemy, whereas the folk magic of Tantra is
traditionally seen as a fringe activity in Indian social circles.

The
iconographies and symbolism of each tradition are different. In
Taoism Lao Tzu tells the Taoist adept to imagine themselves like
Mount Kunlun and the
yingyang
(
24).
In Kundalini, the focus of symbolism is more on the figures of the
two gods, Siva and Shakti, and the two original people, Purusha and
Prakriti (
25).

The tradition of Kundalini yoga
is probably older, and may be based on the earlier Vedic society.
Chinese alchemy was developed later, and was
probably influenced by Middle Eastern alchemy
rather than Vedic civilization.

The
practices and techniques vary greatly. For example the Taoists do an
advanced visualization meditation about reversing the aging process
and putting spiritual energy into the formation of an “immortal
fetus” (
26).
Taoists were more interested in chemical substances than the
Kundalini yogis. Taoist rituals were more abstracted, and
intentionally encoded with symbolism to make them esoteric, which is
less true of Kundalini.

A Biological Basis for Mystical
Experience: the Pineal Gland?

This
comparison leaves us with a brief impression of some of the
similarities and differences between Hindu yoga and Chinese alchemy.
If we judge the phenomenological experiences of the rising of
Kundalini through
prana
control, and the focusing of
qi
energy with meditative breathing, to be exceptionally similar in some
important ways, we may further ask what sort of basis there might be
that could explain this similarity. Obviously one area to look is in
the makeup of human biology. A few authors have explored this
subject, although it remains at the level of tentative comparative
theory.

For
example, medical doctor Rick Strassman, who conducted controlled
studies of dimethyltriptamine (DMT) and the interaction of the pineal
gland with the religious mystical experience, in
DMT:
the Spirit Molecule

he writes:

Western
and Eastern mystical traditions are replete with descriptions of a
blinding bright white light accompanying deep spiritual realization.
This “enlightenment” usually is the result of a progression of
consciousness through various levels of spiritual, psychological,
and ethical development. All mystical traditions describe the
process and its stages. In Judaism, for example, consciousness moves
through the
sefirot,
or Kabbalistic centers of spiritual development, the highest being
Keter,
or Crown. In the Eastern Ayurvedic tradition, these centers are
called
chakras,
and particular experiences likewise accompany the movement of energy
through them. The highest
chakra
is also called the Crown, or the Thousand Petaled Lotus. In both
traditions, the location of this Crown
sefira
or
chakra
is the center and top of the skull, anatomically corresponding to
the human pineal gland (Strassman, 58).

Strassman
goes on to explain what the pineal gland is. The pineal gland has the
unique distinction of being the only part of the human brain which is
not dualistically paired. There is a right and left hemisphere, right
and left cerebrums, etc. but the pineal gland is un-paired. It is
interesting, then, to consider that the Hindu iconography
representing the “third eye” of the gods (Siva, for example, was
also called Tri-lochana, meaning three-eyed) emphasizes the third
eye’s unification of sight, beyond dualism into a single vision, the
truth burning away illusion. Strassman, however, in his analysis
would equate the pineal gland with the
Sahasrara
chakra

rather than the
Ajna
chakra. Strassman’s theory is that the pineal gland produces DMT, a
powerful psychoactive chemical which can cause intense
hallucinations. This might help explain why mystics of various
traditions have been so interested in that particular region of the
interior body and have described visionary experiences when that area
of the body is activated.

In
the self-published book
The
Biology of Kundalini: A Science and Protocol of Spiritual Alchemy
,
author Jana Dixon speculates about the role of the pineal gland in
Taoist and Tibetan practices.

The
main function of the pineal gland is its role in mediating circadian
rhythms of the animal through the production of the hormone
melatonin, from its precursor amino acid tryptophan. The pineal gland
is most active in early morning hours… hence meditation is often
undergone at this time. The pineal gland is the only singular organ
in the brain and is located near the upper end of the spinal cord,
which ends or terminates in the oldest anatomical region in the
brain. Taoists call the center of the brain between the pineal and
the pituitary “the Crystal Palace.” It’s between the old
brain at the back and the new brain at the front of the head,
between the left and right hemispheres, sitting above the two wings
of the mysterious ventricles. It rests between the two large
cerebrums at the anterior end of the cerebellum. The cerebellum is
one of the oldest features of the brain, involved in coordinating
muscular activity in the body. It’s said that when the pineal gland
is activated it becomes illuminated like a thousands suns. The sense
of white light flowing within and without may be when the pineal
gland is highly activated producing DMT type chemistry during the
height of the peak (
Dixon).

There
are other traditions which might also be involving the same
biological processes. Daniel Pinchbeck’s book
Breaking
Open the Head

describes an initiation in which some African tribes drill a hole
into the very top of their heads, which in their tradition is
supposed to allow for a greater spiritual experience (27). According
to some modern interpretations of Zoroastrianism, the turban worn by
ancient Zarathustrians was worn for the specific purpose of shielding
the pineal gland, called
Aipi.

There
is a constant friction near the pineal gland, on account of the
incessant onslaught of the cosmic rays, which enters at various
points of the astral body, one of them being near the first Centre or
Chakhra. Thus there is an unending clash of vibrations around the
pineal gland, if one’s head is uncovered. If the head is covered
preferably with a headgear, made of white cotton, the friction is
reduced to a minimum and the Aipi remains unpolluted. The pineal
gland power is developed by Kharenangh (aura, glory) which is the
product of spiritual acts (prayers, participating in religious
ceremonies), contribution to social and religious activities and
Practicing (Tarikats) tenets of our religion in daily life (
Bhadha).

Could it be that such traditions
are similar in their descriptions of the “third eye” or this area
at the top of the head because they are relating the same basic
spiritual biology, a fundamental metaphysical energy system of the
human body? Obviously such a brief study does not prove any
conclusive assertions, but it is interesting nonetheless to consider
these possibilities in light of what is known about modern science,
and the biological curiosity of the pineal gland in forming human
perception.

Conclusions

Taoist
alchemy and Kundalini yoga, in their respective ways, are religious
traditions based on an imperative of rational, yet creative,
experimentation with the relationship of the internal body to objects
in the outside world, and the relationship of human physical energy
with the abstracted realms of religious symbolism and ontological
beliefs. Both systems present a picture which is not entirely
comprehensive by the methods and assumptions of modern science. Yet
these types of traditions may have something useful to teach us, if
we can analyze their beliefs and practices within the historical and
cultural context in an effort to understand them as they were, and as
they are, within their individual cultural framework. Scientific
methods such as neurobiology can give us some insight into the basic
underlying causes of human experience, yet will never be able to
fully explain the phenomenological idiosyncrasies of religious
ritual. With this in mind, we can apply the knowledge of modern
science to the study of ancient religious in a responsible and
realistic way.

Notes

1.
Scott,
Mary.
The
Kundalini Concept: Its Origin and Value
.
Fremont, California: Jain Publishing Company (2006) 107.

2.
Kohn,
Livia.
Taoist
Mystical Philosophy: the Scripture of Western Ascension
.
Albany, New York: State University of New York Press (1991) 92.

3.
The esoteric sexual symbolism of tantra is described in the
introduction to
The
Psychology of Kundalini Yoga
.
Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press (1996).
A
Taoist view of sexual fluids is given in
Kohn,
Livia and Wang, Robin R., ed.
Internal
Alchemy: Self, Society, and the Quest for Immortality
.
Magdelena, New Mexico: Three Pines Press (2009) 6.

4.
Strassman,
Rick.
DMT
the Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the
Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences.

Rochester, Vermont. Park Street Press (2001) 59.

5.
Irving,
Darrel.
Serpent
of Fire: A Modern View of Kundalini.

York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser Inc. (1995) 66.

6.
Scott,
Mary.
The
Kundalini Concept: Its Origin and Value
.
Fremont, California: Jain Publishing Company (2006) 128.

7.
Irving,
Darrel.
Serpent
of Fire: A Modern View of Kundalini.

York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser Inc. (1995) 83.

8.
Scott,
Mary.
The
Kundalini Concept: Its Origin and Value
.
Fremont, California: Jain Publishing Company (2006) 2.

9. Ibid., 22.

10.
Chung-yuan,
Chang.
Creativity
and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry
.
New York: Julian Press (1965) 65.

11.
Irving,
Darrel.
Serpent
of Fire: A Modern View of Kundalini.

York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser Inc. (1995) 35.

12. Ibid., 148.

13.
Ibid.,
149.

14. Ibid., 152.

15.
Yu,
Lu K’uan.
Taoist
Yoga: Alchemy and Immortality
.
York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc. (1973) xii.

16.
Kohn,
Livia and Wang, Robin R., ed.
Internal
Alchemy: Self, Society, and the Quest for Immortality
.
Magdelena, New Mexico: Three Pines Press (2009) 18.

17. Ibid.,18.

18.
Ibid.,18.

19.
Kohn,
Livia and Wang, Robin R., ed.
Internal
Alchemy: Self, Society, and the Quest for Immortality
.
Magdelena, New Mexico: Three Pines Press (2009) 43.

20.
As found in
Yu,
Lu K’uan.
Taoist
Yoga: Alchemy and Immortality
.
York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc. (1973) and Kohn, Livia and
Wang, Robin R., ed.
Internal
Alchemy: Self, Society, and the Quest for Immortality
.
Magdelena, New Mexico: Three Pines Press (2009).

21.
Jung,
Carl.
The
Psychology of Kundalini Yoga
.
Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press (1996) xxiii.

22.
Yu,
Lu K’uan.
Taoist
Yoga: Alchemy and Immortality
.
York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc. (1973) 8.

23.
Kohn,
Livia and Wang, Robin R., ed.
Internal
Alchemy: Self, Society, and the Quest for Immortality
.
Magdelena, New Mexico: Three Pines Press (2009) 37.

24.
Kohn,
Livia and Wang, Robin R., ed.
Internal
Alchemy: Self, Society, and the Quest for Immortality
.
Magdelena, New Mexico: Three Pines Press (2009) 43.

25.
Scott,
Mary.
The
Kundalini Concept: Its Origin and Value
.
Fremont, California: Jain Publishing Company (2006) 65.

26.
Yu,
Lu K’uan.
Taoist
Yoga: Alchemy and Immortality
.
York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc. (1973) 151.

27.
Pinchbeck, Daniel.
Breaking
Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary
Shamanism
.
New York: Broadway Books (2002).

Bibliography

Bhadha,
Hoshang J.
“Effect
of Wearing Cap on Zarathustri Urvaan.” Tenets of Zoroastrianism.
May 5, 2010. Web. <http://tenets.zoroastrianism.com/topi33.html>

Chung-yuan,
Chang.
Creativity
and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry
.
New York: Julian Press (1965).

Dixon,
Jana.
Biology
of Kundalini
.
May 5, 2010. Web. <http://www.biologyofkundalini.com/>

Irving,
Darrel.
Serpent
of Fire: A Modern View of Kundalini.

York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser Inc. (1995).

Jung,
Carl.
The
Psychology of Kundalini Yoga
.
Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press (1996).

Kohn,
Livia and Wang, Robin R., ed.
Internal
Alchemy: Self, Society, and the Quest for Immortality
.
Magdelena, New Mexico: Three Pines Press (2009).

Kohn,
Livia.
Taoist
Mystical Philosophy: the Scripture of Western Ascension
.
Albany, New York: State University of New York Press (1991).

Krishna,
Gopi.
Kundalini:
the Evolutionary Energy in Man
.
Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala Publications (1967).

Scott,
Mary.
The
Kundalini Concept: Its Origin and Value
.
Fremont, California: Jain Publishing Company (2006).

Strassman,
Rick.
DMT
the Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the
Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences.

Rochester, Vermont. Park Street Press (2001).

Woodroofe,
John.
The
Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga.

London: Dover Publications (1974).

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Lu K’uan.
Taoist
Yoga: Alchemy and Immortality
.
York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc. (1973).

Image by Nathan Jogewaard, courtesy of Creative Commons license.

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