Carl Jung’s Exploration of Chakras and Kundalini

It perhaps comes as little surprise that psychologist Carl Jung – the forefather of analytical psychology and creator of Jungian psychotherapy – was the first westerner to explore Kundalini, a part of yogic philosophy which denotes a form of “corporeal energy”.
In 1932, Jung presented a series of lectures on Kundalini to the Psychological Club in Zurich. These lectures would go on to form the basis for Jung’s book, “The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga”, in which he combined the concepts of Kundalini with his own ideas (Jungian psychology).

Jung viewed his scientific role as being that of a “phenomenologist”, an individual who remains at all times open to the ambivalent and the multifaceted, ambiguous intrusions of the unconscious mind into the conscious ego. Jung saw this ego as being attached, like the tip of the proverbial iceberg, to the vast impersonal realm of the Self—a realm which Jung would later come to see as being the only objective and fundamental reality human beings can connect with. Jung therefore believed that the Western fixation on mastering externals has produced a sort of widespread psychic dysfunction, as the values of internal reality have been neglected.

Jung listened to Indian thinkers and noted that they spoke not of Personal/Impersonal, Subjective/Objective, but instead focused on the ideas of personal consciousness and Kundalini, neither of which were deified. Jung ascribed to their belief that it was necessary to live through, and establish, a presence of stable consciousness within the world before one could develop the detachment needed to permit the other objective reality to meet in true connection with one’s conscious mind.

Jung’s various journeys to Africa and India aided him in developing and validating his own experiences of the unconscious. This is evident in his description of how, in the myths of the Pueblo, the conscious first emerges from a dark and obscure beginning, then moves through a series of caves, ascending from one to the next, until reaching a state of full awakening on the surface of the earth, enlightened by the light of the sun and moon. The system of chakras described in Kundalini Yoga mirrors this same process in basic essence during the development of the impersonal life.

Carl Jung's Exploration of Chakras and Kundalini

Jung had no doubt reviewed existing texts on this subject, such as Arthur Avalon’s translations from Sanskrit to the Chinese Taoist guide ‘Secret of the Golden Flower’. The latter was translated by Richard Wilhelm, a close personal friend of Jung’s, who was renowned for his extensive knowledge of Chinese esotericism.

Jung’s study of the aforementioned texts no doubt enabled him in developing the various core concepts of psychology, among them the theory of synchronicity (a sequence of events ultimately linked by a single meaning).

Jung’s interpretation of the process of Kundalini did not, however, arise from written theories, but rather from observation—notably of his patients. He saw in them the movement within the psychic life that eventually gives rise to the impersonal life of the collective unconscious. He also became deeply aware of the dangers of the ego becoming inflated by the stirrings of unconscious contents, which, if left unchecked, may lead to a total psychic imbalance. Jung theorized that certain conditions, such as schizophrenia, arose from a prolonged identification with the ego.

Jung also used real experience gathered while treating his patients—watching the careful unravelling of their psychic lives—to validate his ideas regarding the various levels of the chakras. Jung described his patients’ journey towards the impersonal self as the process of individuation, and believed that it was during this process that the Kundalini manifested, leading the patient through the various levels of the chakras (each of which Jung treated like an entire world in itself).

Jung believed that the level of Muladhara, for example, is the earth, the conscious realm—but it is one where instinct and desire are mostly unconscious. This realm is more ephemeral than many realise; the power of reason is limited, and storms of emotion or external upheaval (e.g. war) can sweep everything that seemed permanent away. The strange accumulation of weapons in the modern world is seen by Jungians as no more than an attempt to mitigate or destroy the threat of impulses from the lower centres, one which ultimately ends up expressing those centres.

Jung also observed that the stages of individuation of his patients were rife with dream and symbol, exemplified by common rituals like baptism. He viewed baptism as a reflection of the perilous journey of analysis itself, of drowning to usher in the beginning of a new life.

Jung realised that in order to stimulate the activity of Swadistana, the Kundalini itself had to be aroused, but he also realised that such cannot be forced (i.e. through the dangerous practices of Tantrism), but rather it must unfold naturally.

While Jung never practised any form of organised meditation himself, he saw its value, and felt it could guide one into deeper levels of being through invoking the motion of the unconscious self through Kundalini awakening, and through encouraging the motion of anima, which aids in reaching the depths of the unconscious.

Jung often related the various symbols surrounding the chakras to his own system. He noted that the Muladhara (the Hindu Ganesha, represented by the image of the elephant) has a fourfold structure of psychic functions, just as the chakra has four petals, and as such is related to the world of consciousness. The heart, symbolized by the dear, brings to mind a lightness of being, a feeling of swiftness and elevation.

To Jung, the awakening of Kundalini was a profound experience, one which opened a gateway to the eternal; indeed, he felt that to do so is to “start a world which is totally different from our world: it is infinity.”


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