When it comes to kundalini, how are we going to talk about it? With Saraswati, of higher levels of power in the nervous system, of a “wider range of human activity”, of a “heightened awareness and capability”, of “entering the spiritual dimension”? With the excellent Hiroshi Motoyama, of a gradual ascent through physical and mental, and beyond, overcoming the limitations of each level? Shall we talk about biology, psychology, and all the attendant phenomena of energy, health and bliss?
We could, but what is it all? When we talk about kundalini or about ‘enlightenment’ of any kind, we do seem to be talking about the great human quest. What can we say about it that catches the soul, the way the soul needs to be caught? Aren’t we talking, after all, about something that should call to everyone? What?
The idea that comes to my mind is found in Plato’s Symposium, his greatest artistic achievement, and crucially a work that concerns love. Its most important contributions are from a woman — the mysterious seeress Diotima of Mantinea, one of the few speakers in all of Plato who shows Socrates a thing or two, and the only one to school him so thoroughly. Socrates claims to have learned from her the ‘true philosophy of love’.
What she unfolds to him is the universal pattern of eros. Beginning with the love of a physical partner, it finds a truer love that communicates on a soul level. From this beginning it progresses searchingly through higher forms of eros, to worldly achievement, to artistic and scientific understanding, and eventually comes in pure contemplation upon the proper object of eros, the true and divine Beauty, unalloyed and pure, of which all other forms of love were a mere foretaste, and which always existed behind them all.
Diotima also extends our discourse by giving a reason for this search, and that reason is immortality. This, she implies, is deeply implanted in us as an instinct. Immortality causes us to love our children, for we see our continuance in them. An apprehension of immortality drives people to do deeds which will be sung after they are dead. It leads people to try and discover underlying truths about life and reality, which have the character of something eternal. And the ultimate, the ne plus ultra of this erotic quest, which is revealed to those who have travelled it all in due succession, is a “nature of wondrous beauty”, “the final cause of all our former toils”, “a nature which is everlasting.”
In making immortality the object of eros, Diotima involves us in the matter of death. The final goal, she says, has no ‘waxing and waning’ in it, no fair and foul, simply everlasting beauty without change. By contrast, all of us know the fundamental facts of the other varieties of love — they do change, and whatever we love apart from this ultimate will be bound to be impermanent. And here is something we can all comprehend, that does indeed call to us all. Here is the human quest. On some level, we seek immortality by instinct, cannot seem to help doing so. Much of the psychology that does any good simply amounts to this. No lesser love can suffice.
My subconscious flashes up to me the famous interview that Melvyn Bragg did with the writer Dennis Potter, not long before the latter’s death. As television, its power seems universally acknowledged, commanding respect even from YouTube commenters. I haven’t watched it recently, but as he attempted to explain the consciousness of childhood, I recall Potter talking about the extraordinary pungency of thinking, as a young boy, “I’ve lost my pen.” As he said (you’ll correct me on the wording I’m sure), “the penness of that pen, the lostness of that lost…” That is the truth of eros — I had it, the love seemed real, but now it is gone. I had a relationship with it, but now I am alone again. On some level, we seek love that is immortal, but the loves we do find seem to trick us.
And that is the great quest, the quest of kundalini. Yes, we can lay out very cleverly all the psychological ramifications, but in the end, it’s all about love. We can talk about false self-concepts that must be destroyed — they’re only loves of ideas of ourselves we try and fail to make immortal. Or projection and concretization — just the attempt to make our fantasies of immortal love physically real by ignoring the nature of those around us. All results from love of things other than the absolute formless reality which, all kundalini lineages seem to concur, underlie all else. All love you have experienced is just a dim reflection of the underlying Truth. The bitterness of loss leads you to contemplate life, in an attempt to discover that which can’t be lost, and that can only be discovered by giving up what is a mere reflection.
Some part of us knows what it is to be immortal. Some part can never be happy without it. That’s the message of Plato by Diotima. The Platonists take it forward, but it exists also earlier in Greek philosophy, in different forms — recall the great Empedocles, the ‘exile from the gods’, the wonder worker who consciously foresaw his return to immortality. And in more eastern terms, is it any wonder that the excellent Stuart Sovatsy sees in yoga “overwhelming ecstasy, effulgently enlightened consciousness, pathway to an endless eroticism…”, even when he writes so eloquently of celibacy? Let’s not beat around the bush, there is an actual lovemaking with the divine being talked of here. In my experience it is perfectly literal. The Sufis speak of god as a lover. The Taoists are not shy of claiming real immortality, by the combination of yin and yang which make love and give birth to the immortal child. Ask Teresa of Avila about the eroticism of her divine experiences, not shirked in the depiction by Bernini:
We are not speaking about metaphors here. It won’t be long into any real practice before you get the idea: the love and immortality involved are not mere “ideas” in the sense we normally use that word — if so, there would not be so much emphasis on removing thoughts, and right at the beginning of the process. We have had it upside down: the metaphor is not in the divine world, it is our physical world that is in some sense merely symbolic and only the pale echo of something incomparably greater.
It’s this quest that meditation and energy work of the kind I talk about on this humble blog reveals to the aspirant. This is the human quest, the quest for a love that transcends death. (Did you really think all those hermits had no fun at all? ^_^) Is it any wonder that Saraswati talks of these heightened powers, Motoyama of this gradual transcendence? We are speaking of human beings who seek to re-establish themselves in the divine, and the divine in themselves.
Having understood all that, it’s only natural to ask: why? How do we human beings find ourselves in such a position, constantly looking around us for a love we can’t find, and having to quest for it, to unwrap the veils covering it?
Here, unfortunately, we have to take leave of philosophy. The only answers to this question that human beings have managed so far are mythic. Not that we should spurn the mythic either — Plato certainly didn’t, and I value it greatly — but there is never any way to confirm the understanding given by myth. It becomes merely a question of tasting the flavour of it, of seeing whether it can apply. We don’t know.
The myth I’m thinking of is found in the Corpus Hermeticum, that wonderful collection of tracts arising out of the spiritual ferment of Hellenistic Egypt. Its first text is a revelation by a being named Poemandres (an aspect of the universal mind) who amongst many other things gives a mythic account of human origins. Apparently it was all a question of love, right from the beginning. We as immortal beings fell in love with Nature, and she with us, and we became lovers. But because of this, we subjected ourselves to fate and became mortal although still also immortal. We loved ‘not wisely but too well’, as we still do, all of us, and bound ourselves up in a world that operated as a permanent distraction from the Truth that, within, still motivates us.
One of the best lines of Poemandres is translated in the more modern version of Copenhaver using the word ‘desire’, but the Greek original says eros, and I prefer the older translation of G. R. S. Mead, which is still a valid reading I think:
Let him [that is, us, humanity] learn to know that he himself is deathless, and that the cause of death is love, though Love is all.
Could there be any better description of the human condition? Love causes death, yet is also the answer to it if its form can be transmuted — to something far beyond what the ordinary person experiences.
That this transmutation can actually take place is what is attested in all the spiritual traditions I’ve mentioned, and indeed in everything I’ve been trying to write. We have never been dealing with anything other than this. The version of the quest given by Poemandres is more esoteric than Diotima’s, but with its journey through seven spheres to re-emerge in the realm of Heaven, it may well remind us in some way of the journey through the chakras that Glenn laid out, following in his turn so many others. In any case, there is surely a sense in which all of these quests are the same. I encourage all those who choose to undertake any version of the quest. May you find the love that does not die.