Despite everything you may have heard or read about chakras, there is no unified theory or explanation of exactly what the chakras are and what they do. Unfortunately much of the information on chakras is simply a repeating of what has been said or written elsewhere and the basis of it’s authority is only it’s repetition. Very often components from different theories become mixed together adding to the confusion and misunderstanding.
Perhaps the biggest confusion is between the yogic or Tantric concept of the chakras and western or new age concepts. In the yogic/ Tantric philosophies the chakras are subtle centers of consciousness, but have no energy-status of their own. While in the Western/ new age theories the chakras are seen as energy vortexes connecting each of the subtle bodies and the physical body.
From this ‘dynamic’ view the chakras are energy/consciousness transformers, linking the various subtle bodies (the etheric body, the astral body, the mental body, etc) to the physical. They serve to step down the frequency of the consciousness/energy of the higher bodies, so it can be received by the lower ones.
It was CW Leadbeater of the Theosophists who first proposed these ideas in the early 20th century. Subsequently his ideas became mixed with ideas largely derived from Sir John Woodroffe’s The Serpent Power, a very technical work based on a translation of two sixteenth century Bengali texts, first published in 1919 under the psuedonym Arthur Avalon.
The big difference between these two concepts of the chakras is this. In the yogic/ Tantric concept the chakras are latent dimensions of consciousness to be awakened and activated in the process of spiritual evolution. In the ‘dynamic’ concept the chakras are fluid energy centers and energy portals that have a direct impact on each level of our being from the physical to the spiritual. it is clear then that the two concepts do not exclude each other, and should be viewed and understood separately, to avoid confusion and misunderstanding.
Confusion comes from many of the books, charts and diagrams of the chakras using the Sanskrit names and descriptions from ancient texts (mantra, deity etc), while at the same time allocating colors, crystals and all manner of attributes and activities, derived from the various dynamic concepts of the chakras.
Common among many of the different concepts is the number of the primary chakras being seven. Exactly where they’re located is another matter. But here too we can broadly differentiate between the two primary groups of thought that I am discussing. The main difference between the two is the location of the second and third chakras. In the yogic/ Tantric view the second chakra is located in the lower abdomen at the ‘root of the genitals’ and the third chakra at the navel. From the ‘dynamic’ view the second chakra is at the navel and the third at the solar plexus.
The Sanskrit names are, from top to bottom:
Sahasrara – crown
Ajna – brow
Vishuddha – throat
Anahata – heart
Manipura – navel
Svadhisthana – genitals
Muladhara – base of spine
According to the traditional Tantric teachings, the seven chakras are strung like ‘pearls’ or ‘jewels’ along the central thread of the sushumna nadi, or energy channel, in the center of the spine. On either side of sushumna are ida and pingala. The six yogic chakras below Sahasrara, are located vertically at specific intervals along Sushmana where Ida and Pingala cross it as thery weave upwards.
The tantric yogi aims to direct the subtle pranic ‘airs’ from the feminine Ida and masculine Pingala into the central Sushumna nadi. This activates the dormant Kundalini energy coiled dormant at the base of the spine. Kundalini then ascends piercing each of the chakras in turn as it rises up sushumna. When it reaches the top of the head, the six lower chakras are unified as one at the crown and the ‘union’ of yoga is attained.
The Tantric texts describe the chakras as stations or centers of pure consciousness (chaitanya) and consciousness-power. They are focal points for meditation; depicted as iconographic structures within the “subtle body”. Apart from the Sahasrara, each chakra is described by means of a whole array of symbolic associations or representations. Each chakra, as well as having a specific position in the physical body, element, mantra, and deity, also has a particular number of “petals”, each associated with one of the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, a corresponding color, shape, animal, plane of existence, sense-organ, sound, and so on. The texts also describe fantastical powers and abilities that are gained as each chakra is pierced.
As is usually the case with complex esoteric systems, many of these associations are quite arbitrary, for example, smell with Muladhara, taste with Swadhishthana, sight with Manipura, etc. The number of petals too seems to be more a device for visualization in meditation than representing any actual reality. After some time of visualizing these forms at specific locations in the body, they would naturally form in the subtle bodies.
The now almost universal application of the rainbow colors to the different chakras, was introduced by Christopher Hills only in the early 1970s. Hills model of personality types based on the chakras that accompanied the rainbow colors is largely forgotten now, but the rainbow had an irresistible appeal and became fundamental in future presentations of the chakras and another flavor in the ongoing mix of their representation.