We have an idea that the so-called Western civilization has something to do with intelligence, that people today are more intelligent. In fact, this is not true. The classic studies of ancient India represented a depth, a grasp of fundamentals, with which we are still catching up. You have heard about the chakras and kundalini yoga. These are defined as an inner space voyage. The chakras represent whirling vortexes of energy at the linking points between the mind and the body - what we would call in Western medicine, psychosomatic points. When kundalini yoga is begun, when the kriya yoga, which is passed on by our order through Swamiji, is commenced, those chakras begin to awaken or ripen. Each chakra is characterized by an element. I think most of you here are familiar with the concept of earth, water, fire, air and akasha or ether. In order to relate to those chakras or centres, one need only look at the five fingers of one's hand, and you have a mnemonic device.
In Samkhya philosophy, when the ancient Indian mind talked about earth, water, fire, air and ether, it was not talking about earth that you can run your hands through, or actual water that you drink; these were concepts that were to stand for eternity. In our Western science we have something called the table of elements. We talk about hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, and so forth, and we keep on adding new elements. I think we're up around the hundred mark. The Samkhya classification broke all manifest existence down into five elements: earth, the principle of solidarity and cohesiveness; water, the principle of anything liquid, for example mercury, which as a liquid aspect to it; fire, the principle of incandescence or heat, anything which produces heat automatically is lumped into this category; air, the gaseous principle, involving the concept of motion; and finally, ether which belongs to what Western science would call the entire electromagnetic spectrum and is beyond the normal range of untrained human senses. It doesn't matter what you think about, you can allot to one of these categories anything you can grasp, anything that is tangible. If it is solid and concrete, it must be earth; if it is fluid and liquid, it must be water; if it is incandescent and heat producing, it is fire; if it is gaseous, it is air; and if it belongs to the whole range of cosmic radiations, which normally we don't experience, then it is ether. So this is a category for all time.
Each one of us represents a microcosm, or a little being inside ourselves. We have within us these very elements. When Swamiji talks about awakening the chakras, in one sense he is also talking about gaining control of these elements inside, releasing their power, for each one is related to a specific centre.
In any of the BSY publications produced by the swamis of our order, you will find a listing of the chakras and their attributes. When you look at a chakra diagram, it is an information storage and retrieval system. It is a condensed filing system, like a computer tape. If you know how to read that yantra or mandala, then information just pours out. The elements relate, so that earth is the element characteristic of mooladhara chakra, water of swadhisthana, fire of manipura, air belongs to anahata, and akasha or ether to vishuddhi. At this point you might ask, 'So what? What has this got to do with you and me seeking the spiritual path?' Spiritual life, in Swamiji's system, begins with kriya yoga, with the awakening of the chakras. When they are awoken, the human being learns to control the input and the output. Both are increased.
In ancient India they had a viewpoint of man that was completely behaviouristic, completely mechanistic. They saw man as a black box, like some modern psychologists do. What is this black box? It has an input cord running into it, and an output cord. What we call a stimulus and a response, and the human being is a mysterious black box in between. If you stick a pin - the stimulus - in me, I jump - the response. What goes on in between is a black box. The ancients allotted a system in which the chakras were linked up to a sensory input, and an action output. This allotment proceeds very logically and very simply. The first five chakras, the five fingers of the hand, are the only ones we will discuss here.
The mooladhara chakra has its sensory path, or organ of sense, the nose, the sense of smell. So any of the kriyas that involve the nose and the sense of smell are automatically going to allow that earth element, mooladhara chakra, to open up. Why? The sense of smell is man's most primitive sensory avenue, and it short circuits straight through to the brain in a very special way. The sense of smell is related to the primal sexuality of the human being. Perfume is a sexual signal related to the mooladhara chakra, and we are reminded of Freud's famous case about a middle-aged man who fell hopelessly in love with his wife's maid. The maid was anything but attractive, and they couldn't work out why he was suddenly absolutely in love with her. Freud finally discovered that she wore the same perfume as the man's mother had. What he had actually fallen in love with was his mother! And this love was triggered off through his mooladhara chakra. So this chakra is powerful, very powerful. Perfume, incense, smell is the mooladhara trigger, and the legs are the output. The process of walking, of ambulation. Once you are upright you move from the infantile state of crawling on all fours to an erect position. Then your physical evolution is ended, and there is only spiritual evolution left.
In swadhisthana chakra the sense of taste is the sensory avenue or input. In tasting we use the hands, which are the motor output of swadhisthana, to take food to the mouth, and to drink. There is a very interesting relationship between the sensation of taste, the sexual fluids of the body and the awakening of swadhisthana chakra. How do you think we got the expression, 'She's a dish!' or 'He is good enough to eat?' This swadhisthana chakra controls the water element, and twenty-five hundred years ago the Hindu scientists worked out empirically that there is no sense of taste unless the water element is present. This is true. The taste buds will not function without the water element being present. If your mouth is dried up, and I blindfold you and plug your nostrils, you can't tell whether you're eating apple or onion.
Manipura chakra - the navel centre, the fire centre - is related to the element heat, incandescence, and its sensory avenue is sight. Without light we can see nothing. Also, when we are warm and jovial that is manipura chakra giving forth the warmth of human contact.
Anahata chakra, the heart centre, has as its sensory avenue the element of touch. It is perhaps the most beautiful centre in all traditions. If you meditate on anahata, it is something very special. In tantra, the heart centre is opened through the sensory element of touch. It is an area that represents the deepest psychological significance. We say, 'I am touched' or 'I am moved'. The element of the area is air; its sensory avenue is touch. Its motor output or organ of action is the procreative action, the act of reproduction, but that reproduction can take place in the mind as well as the body. In tantra and kriya the movement of consciousness, the rotation of consciousness around the body, is a tactile experience in which you create your own sensation of movement, heat, cold, pressure. Yoga nidra is an opening up of anahata chakra through learning to experience the tactile sensations of heat, cold, touch, pain, light pressure, deep pressure; all these sensations are deliberately activated. In this Western society we are out of touch. We are afraid of touching for to touch is to be involved. We don't even know how to focus our tactile sensations. There is an interesting experiment you can do that relates to anahata chakra. Reach out to the person next to you and have a brand new tactile sensation, by a very simple manoeuvre. Touch forefingers. Stroke from below to above with your forefinger and thumb, and your nervous system will have a new tactile experience. Stoke gently.
In tantra it says that you should reject nothing, you should integrate everything. One of the things we do with human sexual experience is that we take it and integrate it. We say that it is not necessary, or it may come as a holy sadhana, and then there is joy, there is bliss, it becomes a spiritual experience. The rabbit is better off than the human being. There is a little philosophical problem that goes, 'Why are there more rabbits than people?' The answer is, 'Because rabbits have more fun than people'. Then it goes on, 'But why do rabbits have more fun?' Answer, 'Because there are more rabbits'.
So we go to the throat, vishuddhi chakra. The sensory element is hearing, and its motor output is talking, the tongue. There is a relationship between what we hear and what we say. Hence we have the saying 'deaf and dumb'. In order to be able to speak, one must actually first have heard. You cannot speak that which you have not heard. There is the relationship between input and output again.
These chakras, these centres, represent an input and an output system, which is awakened through the practice of kriya yoga, beginning at mooladhara, and ending in the throat at vishuddhi. There are many subtle things, which I will leave you to think about. These chakras all interrelate between the sensory avenue and the motor avenue. For instance, we used to have a saying many years ago in England that somebody gets 'vapours', meaning they get dizzy or faint. If you over breathe you will alter the circulation of the blood to the brain, and you will produce fainting. Or, if you don't breathe fully enough you will faint. It has something to do with the 'vapours'. That is how the popular saying arose. When somebody gets the vapours and faints, smelling salts are pressed upon them. The sense of smell is stimulated, mooladhara chakra is awakened. Then they are grounded; they are earthed, and they come to.
There are all kinds of interesting relationships that can be thought about. The five fingers of the hand represent the chakras; thumb - mooladhara; index finger - swadhisthana; middle finger - manipura; fourth finger - anahata; little finger - the most subtle, vishuddhi.
I would like to think that each of us is a living altar. What is the purpose of an altar? The word comes from the root, which means 'something on high'. When we worship before an altar, we should get high. In fact, you only have to replace the second 'a' in altar with 'e', and you have an altered state of consciousness. That is what an altar should be. A place where you alter your consciousness.
Remember these five vital centres in your body, which must be prepared before you go to the guru centre, ajna chakra. On your altar you can represent the five elements thus: incense for mooladhara, smell; fruit for swadhisthana, liquid, water; candle flame for manipura, sight; cloth for anahata, touch feel; a bell for vishuddhi, hearing. This is a tantric altar before which devotees can alter their consciousness.
However, there is only ultimately one sure way, one safe way, one super way in which that consciousness can be altered. If you took a voyage on a ship, and discovered that there was no captain, no navigator, very few crew, none of whom knew what they were doing, you'd freak. I would. But how many people do we know who go through life in exactly that way? You know what the word guru means? It means 'dispeller of darkness', and to go through life without a guru is as silly as to be at sea without a captain or navigator. It is no good to curse the darkness when life seems dark. Get up and light a candle! That candle is the guru. Without the guru nothing can be accomplished.