Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Paper on Mormon Doctrine and Kundalini Yoga (Part 1): Introduction and the Root Chakra

The Baptisms and the Chakras: A Comparison of 2 Nephi 31:13 and Kundalini Yoga (Part 1 of 7)

The thirteenth verse of 2 Nephi 31 reads as follows:
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism--yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel." [1]

This verse is doctrinally significant for several reasons. On the one hand, it offers a basic “to-do list” for salvation, effectively saying that if one does this and this, she can do that and thus gain salvation. However, this verse contains a hidden significance, one that can only come about with deep investigation. I specifically mean that it offers not only a “to-do list,” but also a roadmap of both the road to exaltation and the structure of the eternities. And this has everything to do with bodies and temples.

Scripture repeatedly asserts that human bodies are “temples of God.” What does this mean, especially when considering the many things Latter-day Saints have learned about temples through revelation? For instance, is the body a “site” for sacred ordinances? Is it, like the temple, a microcosmic representation of the universe and the soul’s progression toward God? Though it may sound odd, many spiritual thinkers both outside the Church and within it have claimed exactly these things about the human body. For instance, the Swedish visionary Emanuel Swedenborg (with whose doctrines Mormons share not a little in common) declared that the human body is a microcosm of heaven, and that the parts of the body exist in an exact correspondent relationship with parts of the spiritual world. Moreover, Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland says in his talk “Personal Purity” that “ physical intimacy [that is, the bodily act par excellence] is not only a symbolic union between a husband and a wife—the very uniting of their souls—but it is also symbolic of a shared relationship between them and their Father in Heaven.”[2] Finally, the spiritual practice of Kundalini Yoga teaches that human bodies contain a series of “chakras” (centers of energy) along the spine, which also exist in a correspondent relationship to spiritual realities.

I mention all of this because the elemental imagery in the above verse symbolically resonates with precisely these chakras in Kundalini Yoga, and as such 2 Nephi 31:13 not only offers a site for comparative study between religions, but also allows us to let these traditions illuminate each other. Namely, the baptisms of water, fire, and the (Holy) Spirit (which in Greek is “pneuma,” a word synonymous with air), correspond to the second, third, and fourth chakras, respectively. Moreover, the “tongue of angels” mentioned immediately afterward reminds one of the fifth chakra, specifically associated with the throat, the mouth, and speech in general. If one is to regard the conceptual framework of Kundalini Yoga as valuable (which many do [explain who]), this comparison suggests that the above verse portrays not just a list of spiritual concepts, but rather describes a progression to God in various stages.

For the rest of this paper, I will follow that progression step-by-step, from one chakra to the next, all the while explaining the significance of comparing the conceptual frameworks of Kundalini Yoga and Mormon thought. I will utilize the writings of commentators in this process, specifically relying on the writings of Carl Jung, James Hillman, and Mormon author Felice Austen to explain the symbolic and comparative implications of the chakras. In doing so, I hope to show how the doctrine of a foreign spiritual tradition can enlighten Mormonism’s own doctrines, even revealing things in our own system of thought that most pass over.

Muladhara (The Root Chakra)

Though the muladhara chakra, as the chakra corresponding to the earth, doesn’t appear per se in 2 Nephi 31:13, that doesn’t stop earth symbolism from popping up quite often throughout the Book of Mormon’s text. Especially relevant is the symbolism of dust. I quote here from several passages in the work:
“Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent…”[3]
“And it shall be as if the fruit of thy loins had cried unto them from the dust; for I know their faith. And they shall cry from the dust…”[4]
“But the book shall be delivered unto a man, and he shall deliver the words of the book, which are the words of those who have slumbered in the dust…”[5]
“I speak unto you as the voice of one crying from the dust: Farewell until that great day shall come.”[6]
“And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth.”[7]
“And they did humble themselves even to the dust, subjecting themselves to the yoke of bondage…”[8]
“…those saints who have gone before me, who have possessed this land, shall cry, yea, even from the dust will they cry unto the Lord…”[9]
“Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying form the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?”[10]
Evidently images of earth such as these are very important to the text, since several of these verses (specifically those in Nephi’s and Moroni’s farewells) come in places crucial to the Book of Mormon’s rhetorical purposes. One might also find earth imagery in Alma 32’s declaration that the Word is a divine seed which can be planted in one’s heart, as if I as a living, thinking, and feeling person am a type of soil. Finally, one could tie all of these threads together by recalling the Book of Mormon’s origin story, one which Joseph Smith poetically paraphrased in the following quotation:
"Let us take the Book of Mormon, which a man took and hid in his field, securing it by his faith, to spring up in the last days, or in due time; let us behold it coming forth out of the ground, which indeed accounted the least of all seeds, but behold it branching forth, yea, even towering with lofty branches and God-like majesty, until it, like the mustard seed, becomes the greatest of all herbs. And it is truth, and it has sprouted to come forth out of the earth, and righteousness begins to look down from heaven, and God is sending down His powers, gifts, and angels to lodge in the branches thereof." [11]

In other words, the Book of Mormon itself was planted in the earth, and it could only “grow” enough to be fruitful by being interred in the ground for so long.

One can find all of this imagery and more implicit in the muladhara chakra’s symbolic associations. This chakra—commonly called the “Root Chakra”—is the lowermost of its siblings, and it is located around the area of the buttocks. As the chakra of the earth, it symbolizes the terminating point of the uppermost chakra’s “presence” or emanation of itself; the ultimate, universal “Self” or Brahman of Hinduism corresponds to that uppermost chakra as it exists in itself, though this Self also dwells in lower chakras. Though I shall explain more on this point in its own section, I will equate this “Crown Chakra” with pure intelligence or being as it is in itself, and as such insist that my true self “lives” there. As for the muladhara or Root Chakra, however, it corresponds less to my true self as to my physical body or, less literally, to the “natural man” who is to be tamed. Carl Jung explains this point well when he says: “Muladhara is characterized as being the sign of the earth….Then the name muladhara, meaning the root support, also shows that we are in the region of the roots of our existence, which would be our personal bodily existence on this earth.” [12]

As the “root support” of my bodily existence, that which grounds me, supports me, and lets me stand up with a confidence in my own footing, the muladhara chakra not only represents my physical body but also, less literally, the condition that roots me to this world and its realities. As such it has both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, the Root Chakra represents embodiment and the blessings it brings in the plan of salvation, but with such groundedness can come worldliness—the sin of being not only in the world, but also of it. Carl Jung expresses a similar sentiment when he says that the muladhara chakra “is a place where mankind is a victim of impulses, instincts, unconsciousness, of participation mystique [a state of unconscious identification with an outside entity], where we are in dark and unconscious place. We are a hapless victim of circumstances, our reason can do very little.” [13] A person thus trapped in the Root Chakra would drift along helplessly with the world, satisfying every hunger and living out every instinct, fantasy or passion—the image par excellence of the Book of Mormon’s “natural man.”[14]

However, the Root Chakra need not be a source of evil; it is only so when it serves as an end in itself, an idol to the light shining from the higher chakras resonating within it. Let us, then, go along with this elemental symbolism by imagining that our intelligences—which were “also in the beginning with the Father”[15]—are seeds of divine light that can only grow into their fullness by rooting themselves in the earth’s (or the muladhara chakra’s)  matter and solidity. The divinity which exists in us as latent potential can here become actualized; the earth would thus be the matrix which allows intelligences to grow and blossom into “trees (of life).” One should also not overlook the feminine symbolism inherent in this idea. As Mormon scripture indicates, the earth is the “mother of men.”[16] We can take this as more than poetic flourish if we remember that the classical imagination saw the earth—as what receives seeds and allows them to grow—as a correspondence of the womb, which receives the man’s “seed” and allows it to grow. The earth would then be our mother in a very real sense, for it/she nourishes our intelligences with the matter[17] that lets them grow into the fullness of their being. Nor would this necessarily rule out this mother’s personal nature, as several religious traditions speak of ways in which the earth—less as the physical planet than as our current level of existence—can “emanate” from a personal being.[18]

As a final note to my comments on this topic, could we perhaps take Joseph Smith’s above comments on the Book of Mormon as a suggestion that it also germinated in the earth’s womb, that it too grew from a kind of seed-like intelligence? Maybe then we could read phrases like the “great things the Father hath laid up for you, from the foundation for the world” [19] less as a comment on literal treasures than as evidence that the intelligence of truth, knowledge, revelation, etc. can also germinate in the earth’s womb, to come forth (read: be born) at a later time. Thus, when Paul says that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor until the now—and not only the creation, but we ourselves also, having the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan in ourselves, eagerly longing for sonship, the redemption of the body,”[20] we can suppose that the earth has been continually “groaning in labor” with “the things the Father hath laid up” for us, until the time when she rests, when the labor is done. Going along with the Pauline comparison, I hypothesize that this time will be in the earth’s exalted state, when the record of all things will be “read upon the house tops,” [21] when the earth will become as translucent as glass to the glory that shines through her.[22]

But notice that I am not saying this mother is identical with the muladhara chakra; instead, I suggest that she merely dwells there. This has considerable precedent in Kundalini Yoga itself, for the word “kundalini” refers to “a microcosm or representation of the primordial Energy, or Shakti [the Hindu name for the Divine’s feminine principle, especially when personified].[23] According to the conceptual framework intrinsic to Kundalini Yoga, Kundalini as the bodily incarnation of Shakti dwells in the muladhara chakra, coiled like a serpent at the base of the spine, and the various exercises of this yogic school exist entirely to raise Kundalini up the various chakras in the spine until she rejoins her divine “husband” Shiva in the upper chakras. [24] Such an idea recurs in other spiritual traditions as well; in many Gnostic systems, it is said that Sophia (the feminine principle of God) was cut off from God the Father and “trapped ” in the world’s matter.[25] Though such ideas may strike the Latter-day Saint as odd, we may glean from them important truths, namely the observation that if we are a “bride” to a divine “bridegroom,”[26] the act of ascension to God is essentially one of reuniting a separated divine couple.

Moreover, if Kundalini Yoga is correct in its conviction that Shakti or Kundalini should be raised from muladhara to the higher chakras, then such spirituality would necessarily involve removing the identification of divinity with matter, for one can only free a God trapped in the earth if one can tell the two apart. Perhaps this is the true meaning of the commandment warning against idolatry: that idols imprison Kundalini in physicality, preventing the divine mother from giving birth to the treasures hidden in our unenlightened, opaque perception of the world. Maybe when Nephi and Moroni “cry from the dust,” the dust from which their cries resound is really the obfuscation of our idolatry, our unwillingness to “see through” the matter of the world to the divinity, intelligence, and seeds of light latent within it.

[1] 2 Nephi 31:13
[2] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Personal Purity”
[3] 2 Nephi 1:14
[4] 2 Nephi 3:19-20
[5] 2 Nephi 27:9
[6] 2 Nephi 33:13
[7] Mosiah 4:2
[8] Mosiah 21:13
[9] Mormon 8:23
[10] Moroni 10:27
[11] Smith, Joseph. Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 11
[12] Jung, C. G. The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga: Notes of the Seminar given in 1932 by C.G. Jung. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999, 23-24
[13] Ibid 15
[14]Mosiah 3:19
[15] D&C 93:23
[16] Moses 7:48
[17] The word “matter” is actually  a cognate of words meaning “mother,” such as “maternal,” “matriarch,” etc.
[18] See Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, by Henry Corbin.
[19] Ether 4:14
[20] Romans 8:22-23 (Translation from For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope)
[21] 2 Nephi 27:11
[22] D&C 130:7
[23] Feuerstein, Georg. Yoga: The Technology of Ecstasy. Wellinborough 1990., 264
[24] Jung, C. G.. Op. cit., xxv.
[25]Von Franz, Marie Louise. The Golden Ass of Apuleius: The Liberation of the Feminine in Man. Rev. Ed., 1st Shambhala ed. Boston: Shambhala, 1992.,104.
[26] See, for instance, Matthew 9:15

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