2.1, Created May 1996, modest update 2014.
Copyright Kurt Keutzer, 1996, 2014 (email@example.com)
The author grants the right to copy and distribute this file, provided it remains unmodified and original authorship and copyright is retained. The author retains both the right and intention to modify and extend this document.
This FAQ gives an overview of Siddha Mahayoga. The Kundalini Yoga FAQ:
is introductory material that is good to read before reading this FAQ.
Two other articles are strongly related:
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
``Kundalini'' literally means coiling, like a snake. In the classical literature of hatha yoga kundalini is described as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine. The image of coiling, like a spring, conveys the sense of untapped potential energy. Perhaps more meaningfully kundalini can be described as a great reservoir of creative energy at the base of the spine. It's not useful to sit with our consciousness fixed in our head and think of kundalini as a foreign force running up and down our spine. Unfortunately the serpent image may serve to accentuate this alien nature of the image. It's more useful to think of kundalini energy as the very foundation of our consciousness so when kundalini moves through the sushumna and through our cakras our consciousness necessarily changes with it.
The concept of kundalini can also be examined from a strictly psychological perspective. From this perspective kundalini can be thought of as a rich source of psychic or libidinous energy in our unconscious.
In the classical literature of Kashmir Shaivism kundalini is described in three different manifestions. The first of these is as the universal energy or para-kundalini. The second of these is as the energizing function of the body-mind complex or prana-kundalini. The third of these is as consciousness or shakti-kundalini which simultaneously subsumes and intermediates between these two. Ultimately these three forms are the same but understanding these three different forms will help to understand the differerent manifestations of kundalini.
First we need a few concepts: In yogic anatomy the sushumna
is the central channel and conduit for the kundalini
energy that runs along our spine and up to the crown of our head. Along this
channel are placed additional channel networks called cakras.
These cakras are associated with major aspects of our
anatomy - for example our throat, heart, solar plexus, and in turn these
aspects of our anatomy are related to aspects of our human nature. According to
the literature of kundalini yoga our experience of
these centers is limited due to knots which restrict the flow of energy into
these centers. Three knots are particuarly important.
The knot of Brahma which restricts the center at the base of the spine.
The knot of Vishnu which restricts the heart center and the knot of Rudra which restricts the center between the
eyebrows. These knots form an important framework in yogic thinking and the
stages toward enlightenment are articulated in terms of breaking through these
knots in the yogic classic the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
as well as in some of the yoga upanishads.
Specifically, four stages of progress are described:
Arambha is associated with breaking the knot of Brahma and the awakening of kundalini. Ghata is associated with breaking the knot of Vishnu and and with internal absorption. Parichaya the absorption deepens and in nishpatti the knot of Rudra is pierced and the kundalini may ascend to the center at the crown of the head. In this state transcendence is integrated and, according to the yogic liteature, the yogi has nothing more to attain.
Putting these elaborate physiological decriptions aside, the goal of kundalini yoga is the same as the goal of any legimitate spiritual practice: To be liberated from the limited bounds of the self-centered and alienated ego. In kundalini yoga this is associated with internal manifestations of the kundalini but the external manifestations should be similar to any other legitiimate spiritual practice. .
Putting these elaborate physiological decriptions aside, the goal of kundalini yoga is the same as the goal of any legimitate spiritual practice: To be liberated from the limited bounds of the self-centered and alienated ego. In kundalini yoga this is associated with internal manifestations of the kundalini but the external manifestations should be similar to any other legitiimate spiritual practice.
Indirectly kundalini can be awakened by devotion, by selfless service, or by intellectual enquiry.
Broadly speaking there are two radically different direct approaches to awakening kundalini. One approach requires initiation by a guru and relies upon a technique called shaktipat, or ``descent of shakti.'' It is variously called: Siddha Mahayoga, Kundalini Mahayoga or Sahaja Yoga (Spontaneous Yoga). These approaches are treated in the Siddha Mahayoga FAQ. The other approach uses intentional yogic techniques . The styles using intentional techniques include Mantra Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Laya Yoga or Kriya Yoga. These approaches are treated in the Kundalini Yogas FAQ .
Fundamentally the approach of Siddha Mahayoga and the Kundalini Yogas are different. In Siddha Mahayoga the guru awakens the kundalini and after that the core of the practice is the inactive and non-willful surrender to kundalini. In Kundalini Yogas the will is used to awaken the kundalini and to guide its progress. Clearly these are different approaches. Nevertheless, elements of the each approach occur in the practices of the other. Siddha Mahayogins may use asanas, pranayamas and other hatha yoga practices. On the other hand gurus in Kundalini Yoga may give infusions of shakti to their students to help them at particular points in their practice.
``Shakti'' is another word for kundalini and ``pat'' means to descend. Shaktipat is a method by which an individual's kundalini is awakened by the direct intervention of a guru. There are several varieties of shaktipat depending on the facility of the guru and the receptiveness of the disciple.
It is probably not useful to try to resurrect the nine or more classifications of shaktipat used in the classical literature here. Practially speaking shaktipat is known by its results: the awakening of of the student's kundalini.
There are also a variety of mechanisms for conveying shaktipat. These include: by glance, by word or mantra, by touch or simply by intention.
Regarding the question as to how a guru is able to overcome the karma of a disciple, some classical scholars have argued that the ability to receive shaktipat is the result of something of a neutralization of positive and negative karmas. On ther other hand, Abhinavagupta examines the paradox inherent in attempting to determine the causal conditions for the descent of grace when it is essentially an act of freedom on the part of the Supreme Lord who is the source of grace. (Thanks to Boris Marjanovic for pointing out that in earlier versions of this FAQ I confounded Abhinavagupta's views with those he was refuting.)
Another question is:
``If shaktipat is a manifestation of grace then why would anyone person experience shaktipat more deeply than another?''
These questions deserve deeper enquiry. Although I would claim that what
follows reflects the view of any of the aforementioned traditions, I personally
find a couple of analogies helpful:
Ordinarily it takes a long time to create a fire by rubbing sticks together but if someone else already has a fire then that fire can be used to ignite another fire. Similarly to make a magnet naturally may require thousands of years but if one already has a magnet then a metal can easily be magnetized using the magnet. Each of these analogies points out that the process of conveying shaktipat depends on both the qualities of the siddha guru (the fire or magnet) and the disciple (the wood or iron). If the siddha guru is more powerful, then the qualities of the disciple may be less. If the siddha guru is less powerful, then the qualities of the disciple must be greater.
To continue the analogy, in theory ``anyone on fire'' can give shaktipat, i.e. anyone who's kundalini is already awakened. The more relevant question is: ``Who should give shaktipat?'' There are many opinions on this but at the very least the conveyer of shaktipat should be aware of the movements of shakti in his own body and in the body of the disciple. Giving shaktipat is a science and it is helpful, if not essential, to be instructed in that science. The classical works of Abhinavagupta and the living oral tradition of contemporary masters, such as Swami Shivom Tirth, both indicate that improperly practiced shaktipat initiation can be dangerous both to the disciple to the guru and to the disciple. Using the analogy again, it is easier to light a fire than to light it in such a way that it has a carefully managed burning.
Therefore, it is desirable that the guru be empowered to give shaktipat by his own guru and has been trained in an unbroken lineage back to a great master who was fully aware of the science of shaktipat. In this way some quality control is maintained.
There are even more opinions on this. Some gurus take an attitude of: ``Initiate them all and let shakti sort them out.'' Traditionally teachers were quite selective about who received shaktipat. Sometimes shaktipat was only given to one or two disciples in a generation. Among gurus these days you can see these two extremes of opinion and many other gradations in between. What is clear that some people who have received shaktipat from well-known gurus have apparently only manifested greater neuroses and unhappiness in their lives as a result. See the questions regarding kriyas below ( What are kriyas?>).
There are many ways of classifying shaktipat initiations but a method used by Swami Vishnu Tirth is very simple and clear. In shaktopaya initiations the kundalini shakti of the disciple is awakened by the guru. In shambhavopaya initiations the kundalini shakti of the disciple is awakened and led up through the bodies energy centers bringing a glimpse of the highest realization. Due to the current state of disciples, and contemporary gurus, almost all initiations can be termed shaktopaya initiations.
Some contemporary yoga teachers and gurus lump a wide variety of phenomenon under the term ``shaktipat.'' For example, I have seen teachers of Kriya Yoga infuse their students with their shakti at various stages of the student's practice with the purpose of eliminating blocks in the student's channels. These teachers called this practice ``shaktipat initiation.'' According to the tradition of Siddha Mahayoga such infusions are not considered ``shaktipat initiations'' because neither their aim or their result is to awaken kundalini. Moreover, the resulting practices are not Siddha Mahayoga because after these infusions of shakti the student returns to their original practice, such as Kriya Yoga.
There is no doubt that shakti is contagious. The mere presence of a single being whose shakti is strongly active can awaken the shakti of those around him. Similarly being in the presence of many people whose shakti is awakened to some degree can awaken one's own shakti.
The unique perspective of Siddha Mahayoga is that because kundalini is an intelligent force it will, upon awakening, naturally direct the practice of the student. All that is required is that the student completely surrender to this force. As a result of kundalini's unfoldment spontaneous purifying movements, called kriyas will occur. In addition the practices of Hatha, Laya and Raja Yoga will naturally manifest. Because all other yogas naturally manifest as a result of kundalini awakening this yoga is called ``Mahayoga'' or ``great yoga.'' Because the kundalini awakening is induced by a perfected individual or ``Siddha'' this yoga is called ``Siddha Mahayoga.'' Because all other yogas and their results occur spontaneously (``sahaja'') and without effort this yoga is also called ``Sahaja Yoga.''
Even to reach the point of simply surrendering to shakti takes some practice for people. Some aids in cultivating surrender are chanting and selfless service. These practices open the heart and make one more susceptible to the influence of shakti.
Kriyas, literally ``activities'', are spontaneous movements that occur after kundalini awakening. These include bodily activities such as trembling, shaking and spontaneous yoga postures; vocal activities such as yelling, or spontaneous chanting and mental activities such as visions. These kriyas eliminate the blocks to kundalini rising within the spine or central channel.
Blocks, known as samskaras or impressions, do not just obstruct kundalini, but they embody attachments, conceptions and other mental afflictions that limit the freedom of our consciousness. Left unattended these attachments lead to actions which only reinforce the attachment. For example if we have impressions of anger then we will manifest anger in our activities which only reinforce our impressions. As kundalini rises it will purify the anger and as a result of the purification process the kriyas will occur. Speaking of kundalini as an intelligent force which manifests its intelligence in particular activities, such as spontaneous yoga postures, to purify the blocks to its progress may sound a little mystical but there is a less mystical way of understanding what that means.
In our common language there are many colloquial phrases which allude to the natural state of our body-mind as being ``straight'' or ``upright'' and the unnatural state being ``kinky'' or ``entangled.'' We say positively: ``He's an upright individual.'' ``She's as straight as an arrow.'' We say negatively: ``He's too kinky. He's all tangled up in himself.'' ``She's tangled up in knots.'' There seems to be some subtle awareness of the value of straightness. So it seems to be a good metaphor to view our mind-body continuum as a garden hose and the kundalini as water running through it. If you have a moderately tangled garden house a simple way of making it straight is to increase the pressure of water through it. As you do so the hose will naturally flip around to straighten itself. To an observer it might seem as though the hose itself were intelligent in the way it straightens itself and in fact because the motion of the hose is governed by physical laws it does reflect a deep intelligence.
In the same way we don't need to think of the kundalini as an independent autonoumous force cogitating as to what asana, pranayama or verbal activity might purify a block inside us. It seems more useful to think of kundalini as a natural intelligent force whose natural movement untangles the knots which limit its expression.
The garden hose analogy makes another point clear as well. Imagine what happens if the hose is very tangled. Turning up the water pressure may be a very dramatic and perhaps even counter-productive process. This seems to be what is happening in a number of cases where individuals, after receiving shaktipat, may have severe mental breakdowns. Thus it does seem to be important for individuals to have a certain level of stability and preparation before receiving shaktipat initiation.
This yoga is at least 1000 years old and is documented in the Kularnava Tantra and in the works of the great Tantric scholar Abhinvagupta and particular forms of kriyas can be found there. Some popular yogis and scholars have doubted the authenticity of this path but none who have done so show any familiarity with the classical literature of this tradition. This approach has gone under many names such as siddha yoga, sahaja yoga, mahayoga or siddha mahayoga. Similar phenomena to kriyas also occur among some Qi Gong students. Spontaneous trembling, shaking, verbal noises, and body movements are common there as well.
Nevertheless gatherings of siddha mahayoga practicioners share many of the same characteristics of any other group gathering. Some people will try to fit in by emulating the behavior of those around them. There is no doubt that some people may feel the need to affect kriyas and others will accentuate kriyas that they have. This may not even be conscious behavior. Gurus of this yoga must try to maintain a balance between interfering with the activity of the kundalini as manifested in the kriyas and encouraging the affectation of kriyas because kriyas are seen as ``progress.'' Ultimately the validity of any spiritual tradition rests in its ability to transform the beings of its followers. The real value of siddha mahayoga is in transforming the minds of those who practice it.
Some teachers do speak that way. For example the well known kundalini yoga teacher, Yogi Bhajan, apparently called the process of experiencing kriyas ``jerk yoga.'' Tibetan practicioners of gTummo yoga, Indian practicioners of kriya yoga and other noted authorities on the kundalini yoga process have clearly emphasized to me the importance of carefully controlling the kundalini process and not allowing the kundalini to act uncontrollably. Their sincere words cast doubt on my practice for many years.
So why do these teachers say these things? To be an adept of kundalini yoga practices does not imply that you are omniscient. All the information that people like Yogi Bhajan are really conveying is that in their experience in their style of practicing kundalini yoga the kundalini is controlled. I do not believe that they have special insight into other alternative ways of approaching the practice of kundalini yoga. Some people have quite frightening movements in meditation and without prior experience of kriyas the natural reaction is that such a person will almost certainly become physically or mentally unstable. Experienced masters of Siddha Mahayoga, such as Swami Shivom Tirth, have seen it all before and their simple counsel is: ``Do not resist kriyas in any way.''
For the individual who does surrender to the kriyas of kundalini shakti the perspective is radically different from the view espoused by teachers such as Yogi Bhajan. For the individual who spontaneously and effortlessly performs kriyas such as intricate pranayamas, asanas and bandhas during their meditation the intentional exercises of the Hatha yogin are a merely a clumsy mockery of the subtle activity of kundalini. In fact some claim that the entire corpus of Hatha yoga, as well as many of the Qi Gong exercises are simply imitations and classifications of the spontaneous movements of the Siddha Mahayogin.
Perhaps its best to say that contemporary forms of Siddha Mahayoga have a core of underlying tenets but not a philosophy. These tenets include: the central role of kundalini in the manifestion of the universe and the evolution of the individual and the culmination of the evolution of the individual in a state of complete unity.
Different teachers have exposited Siddha Mahayoga in different ways. Swami Muktananda drew on a wide variety of Indian literature but principally relied upon the Shiva Sutras, the Spanda Karikas and other literature of the Trika school of Shaivism. Swami Shivom Tirth has also relied up on the Shiva Sutras to define the different stages of evolution. Both Swami Shivom Tirth and Swami Kriplavananda have used Patanjali's Yoga Sutras for their elucidation of the states of samadhi. All of these teachers are quick to note that the use of these scriptures does not imply that Siddha Mahayoga is a form of Hinduism. Instead the emphasis is that each of us has the force of kundalini within us and having awakened the kundalini our life and religious practice will be enriched.
There are really only a few tenets of the practice of siddha mahayoga. The first is that the process begins with shaktipat initiation by the guru. This initiation may begin with a formal request from the disciple and culminate with a formal initiation ceremony or it may occur informally through a impromptu manifestation of the guru's grace in intention, glance, word or touch. Through the initiation the kundalini shakti is awakened and begins to move in the disciple's body. The practice then consists of deeply surrendering to the spontaneous manifestations of kundalini shakti, as described above.
The role of the guru is laid out in the text the Shiva Sutras where it says ``gururupaya''; the guru is the means. Because it is the guru who awakens your kundalini the guru is given great reverence in this tradition. The awakening of kundalini that many people struggle, with effort and danger, to accomplish in a lifetime a true guru can accomplish in a few seconds. Nevertheless the role of a guru is to awaken the kundalini within you; then the practice takes place between you and your kundalini. The guru is a facilitator in the process of awakening kundalini not an ongoing intermediary between the disciple and kundalini.
With respect to the guru the classical Shaivist literature takes an especially pragmatic attitude. Classical literature of Shaivism, such as the Shiva Purana, states that if after one year the disciple has not arrived at some direct inner experience through the agency of the guru then there is no fault in seeking another guru. What I read from this is that this path is not one of years of wondering : ``Is something happening?'' but a practical approach in which one should, through the grace of the guru, be brought into direct experience of kundalini.
In Transcendental Meditation practice individuals are given a mantra. If one believes that this mantra, through the preliminary puja, is``awakened'' or infused with consciousness then this technique is precisely the same method that is used by some teachers to initiate their studentsinto the practice of kundalini yoga. The idea as exposited by these kundalini yoga teachers is that the consciousness of the mantra resonates with the the slumbering kundalini and awakens her. This is not the same as the exposition of the Transcendental Meditation practice nor is it straightforward to resolve these two models of mantra meditation.
In practice many TM practicioners experience kundalini awakening. Some experience it quite violently. Survey books on kundalini experience, such as Sannella's _The Kundalini Experience_ contain many such case histories although these case histories are not comprehensive enough to indicate whatother factors might have led to the kundalini awakening. Through checking notes and Teacher Training Courses TM checkers and teachers are minimally prepared for the possibility of kundalini awakening. So while not entirely outside the range of TM practice one would assume that a strong kundalini awakening is not central to TM practice or a high probablity result.
In the use of the flying sutra in the TM Sidhis program it is much more the norm to have kundalini related experiences. Many, perhaps most, Sidhas will experience a wide range of activities, technically know as kriyas during the practice. The mechanism by which the flying sutra actually awakens the kundalini is unknown to me. I'd be interested to hear any explanations.
The technique of Siddha Mahayoga is taught in a number of ashrams and centers in India, the United States and around the world. The following is a list of known centers in the United States and each of these serves as one of the principal seats of the teacher. Not every teacher who employs shaktipat in their teaching is listed here; this list is limited to those who teach the practice of Siddha Mahayoga as outlined in this FAQ.
In prior versions I tried to add a bit of personal perspective. Unfortunately, some interpreted this as a kind of “guru rating.” What I’ll try to do this time is simply name some of the major traditions of Siddha Mahayoga that I have encountered or am aware of. This list is by no means exhaustive.
The Tradition of Bhagavan Nityananda and his successors:
I was fortunate to receive shaktipat from Swami Muktananda in 1974. One of Swami Muktananda’s closest western disciples was Swami Shankarananda. Swami Shankarananda has been an inspiring mentor figure for me, and has graciously welcomed me into that lineage. Swamiji also served as something of a “good-will ambassador” for all the lineages of Siddha Mahayoga that have descended from Bhagavan Nityananda. Swami Shankarananda has put together an informative website that serves as a directory for teachers in the lineage of Bhagavan Nityananda.
The Tradition of Swami Rudrananda and his successors:
I was fortunate to meet Swami Rudrananda and Swami Chetanananda in 1973 and I went on practice sporadically with Swami Chetanananda over the next 25 years. Another one of Swami Rudrananda’s direct disciples is Swami Khecaranatha. Swami Khecaranatha has been a dear teacher for me, and I have practiced with him regularly since he arrived in Berkeley in 2000. Swami Khecaranatha has created a website exclusively for the branch of Bhagavan Nityananda that passed down through Swami Rudrananda.
Swami Chetanananda has opted not to actively participate in the website above. Swami Chetanananda’s own website may be found at:
The Tradition of Swami Gangadhar Tirth and his successors:
In 1992 I had the good fortune to meet Swami Shivom Tirth and I was able to go into retreat with him each year until his retirement from active life a few years later. Swami Shivom Tirth was a descendent in the tradition of Swami Gangadhar Tirth. I am not aware of a single website that seeks to include all of the current lineage masters of the tradition of Swami Gangadhar Tirth.
A website that gives a number of lineage masters, but principally focuses on descendants of Swami Shivom Tirth may be found here:
There are many teachers of Siddha Mahayoga who have a lineage connection to Swami Gangadhar Tirth that are not mentioned at the site above. These include Swami Shiv Mangal Tirth, Swami Nardananda, and Madan Gautam.
The Lineage of Shri Dhyanyogi Madhusudhanandaji
I came to know of the lineage of Shri Dhyanyogi Madhusdhanandaji through his disciples Pravin Jani and Kusum Sheth. Both Pravin and Kusum would come to sit with Swami Shivom Tirth. Inspired by their demeanor I sought out Shri Dhyanyogi’s successor, Shri Anandi Ma. In fact, Pravin Jani is the father of Anandi Ma. Unfortunately, I have only had the opportunity to meditate with her once.
The list of websites above is not meant to be comprehensive list of the lineages, but merely lists some of the lineages that I have met over these years.
Good introductory survey:
White, John (Editor) (1990). Kundalini - Evolution and Enlightenment. New York: Paragon House.
Selected works by the teachers mentioned. These are available from the respective centers. (I am aware that each of these teachers has published numerous works):
Chetanananda, S. (1991). Dynamic Stillness. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Rudra Press.
Madhusudanasji, Dhyangyogi (1978). Light on Meditation.
Muktananda, Swami (1989b). From the Finite to the Infinite (First ed.). Volumes I &II, South Fallsburg, NY: Siddha Yoga Dham of America Foundation.
Tirtha, Swami Vishnu (1980b). Devatma Shakti (Fifth ed.). Rishikesh: Yoga Shri Peeth Trust.