Kundalini: The Vital Force Within

By: Swami Khecaranatha

The goal of spiritual practice is to live in a permanent state of Divine Presence. We must become a new person if we want to live in that state. Every one of us has to ask, has my life worked? Have I filled myself with Divine Presence? The answer falls in a spectrum from “yes, maybe, I don’t know, I’ll know when it happens,” to “absolutely not, I live in misery.” But ultimately, where we start is not important. To recognize our own Divinity is to leave every pattern, contraction, and rationale behind, and to open into a new place within.

If we haven’t found that Divine Presence where we have been looking, why not look somewhere else? There is a Sufi saying, “Haven’t we been stoned long enough? Try something new, surrender.” What happens as soon as we start asking ourselves these questions is, that a whole litany of reasons, excuses and causes pops up to explain why we haven’t yet found that Presence. Then we get tense, and start to identify with why this particular thing was the reason, or that circumstance, or that person…and none of it is important. Yet, we all accept these reasons as being a valid explanation of why we haven’t become a new person and allowed Divine Presence to fill us.

The Buddha said, “Life is suffering,” but I believe an important addendum to that statement is, “it doesn’t have to be.” To live beyond suffering, we must become filled with extraordinary joy, unbounded consciousness, and unconditional freedom. We are going to be freed of our ego—our misunderstanding that we are separate from the God within us—and this means letting go of the part of us that suffers. When we peel away all the excuses, the reason we continue suffering is that we choose to do so.

We live in a state of duality in which we think there is “me” and there is “the world out there.” But this conception is fundamentally flawed. Our outer life is an expression of our inner self. Even the most challenging people in our lives are an expression of some part of us that we need to learn to love. How we relate to them is dependent on where we live within ourselves. The world is just a reflection of that inner place.

We are completely loved by our own source at all moments, but if we can’t tune into that, we look for love everywhere else. And although we will find love in other places, it will not sustain us if we don’t have it in ourselves. We have to love the Divinity within. Then, from that place, when we find outer love in our lives, it will have much more joy and much more meaning.

The miracle of Grace is that in spite of all of our efforts to reject it, Divine love is always there, available to us. To allow Divine Presence to be revealed, we must open up to receive it. This, of course, requires that we are prepared to sacrifice our own unwillingness to open, to let go of our attachment to suffering. People are multi-dimensional. We have different needs on different levels. Living in a state of Divine Presence does not deny our own humanity, but if we want to be filled with God, we have to empty ourselves of our small self, over and over again. We do so by opening our hearts and surrendering.

Each of us has an extraordinary opportunity to find a fulfillment beyond our imagination. The choice to live a spiritual life is one of choosing a higher vibration, resonance and awareness. We perpetually want to think that at some point we will stop suffering—because external life will change and suddenly life will be utopian. We have believed that lifetime after lifetime. The reality is that the dynamics of our life may not fundamentally change, but we can transform our experience of life.

The reason it is possible to become a whole new person filled with Divine Presence is that when we make contact with it, Presence itself obliterates everything we are holding on to, that we mistakenly think of as “ourselves.” What we need to discover is that we can let go of all the things that keep us separate from God—that we can empty ourselves of everything we are filled with, so that we can be filled with something higher.

The process of creating this changed awareness happens through Grace, inner practice, and having a relationship with a teacher, who serves as our connection to a living spiritual force. Transforming our inner awareness starts by tuning in to our source and this is one of the definitions of meditation. Sitting regularly and beginning to bring our attention back inside connects us to higher consciousness—and this is what transforms our lives.

In the Tantrik tradition, it is focusing on awakening the Kundalini—the vital force within—which brings about the transformation of our consciousness. Kundalini is the energy of life, or the Divine, as it is experienced in the individual. It is the energy and power of consciousness, the vital force, which gives life to the universe. We are not separate from or different from that source. Kundalini is traditionally represented as a “coiled serpent” in the chakra at the base of the spine. The three coils of the serpent represent:

  1. Prana-Kundalini the energy that gives life to the physical body
  2. Chitta-Kundalini the energy of our mind and emotions
  3. Para-Kundalini the energy of our spiritual Self

When we speak of the Kundalini existing in a dormant state at the base of the spine, we are referring to the highest level of the Kundalini—the energy of our spiritual Self. The Chitta and Prana levels are always functioning, giving life to our bodies, thoughts and emotions. What is hidden from us is the understanding that we are not different from our Divine source, and that profound realization is what lies within the sleeping (Para) Kundalini.

The spiritual Sadhana, which has been practiced since ancient times to awaken the sleeping Kundalini Goddess (Para), is Kundalini Maha Yoga, which comes to us through the Tantrik Shaivism tradition. It is a yogic system aimed at transforming our understanding of the three elements of our existence: body, mind, and spirit. Essentially, it explores Kundalini and awakens the awareness of this energy to such a point, that it may be grasped not only as the power of the individual self, but also as the fundamental power of the infinite Self, which is the source of everything.

Kundalini Maha Yoga focuses on the raising of the Kundalini from the chakra at the base of the spine to the chakra in the crown of the head. This awakens a powerful transformative energy, which has the capacity to wash away our deepest tensions, eliminate our misunderstandings about our true nature, and expand the flow of creative energy and consciousness within us. We experience the blissful dissolution of dualistic consciousness into the awareness and experience of unity.

In order to activate the rising of the Kundalini, we must deeply open our hearts, inviting higher energies into our chakras or psychic mechanism. Gradually, we develop a conscious flow of spiritual forces within. Flow is at once the breath, the underlying energy of that breath, and the emergent resonance we feel when all of the chakras are opened and the spiritual energies within them are released. Flow is energy in motion when we are completely open. When sound moves through the atmosphere, it does so through energy that is projected ahead of it, creating the pathway on which the sound travels. In the same way, flow purifies the psychic channels within us, which enable the Kundalini to rise. It is the energetic highway on which our awareness travels.

In the practice of Kundalini Maha Yoga, we use our breath to take our attention inside—that is, out of our mind, emotions, and the problems we have in life. We consciously attach our attention to our breath and bring it into our heart. We cannot feel our heart from anywhere else but the heart. We cannot feel it from our mind. Therefore, the purpose of spiritual practice is to train our awareness and develop the capacity to go inside and open our hearts. It takes sitting down on a cushion every day and bringing our attention inside.

Kundalini Yoga, as a spiritual practice, also gives us the capacity to draw in nourishment from life around us and we begin to have this energy dissolve the blocks we have in our psychic mechanism. The flow is the resonance of the chakras opened, and flow is what washes away all tensions, ego, all victim-consciousness, and all the worries about “What’s going to happen to me?”

We can think of that dormant vital force within as being like the water behind a dam. There is a powerful pure potential there, pulsating, ready to move. If you look at any great reservoir of a great dam, the water is tremendously deep. While it looks still, there is a subtle, yet powerful energy moving against the boundary, just waiting to be released. When the floodgates are opened to release the water, there is enormous power and movement, or flow, which begins to fill the river.

Reservoirs are rivers that have been dammed up. And so it is with the power of the Kundalini—that dormant force within us is an extraordinary power and potential that is just waiting to be released. The release, the opening of the gates, is the opening of the psychic body. As that energy begins to release, its force washes away anything which blocks its path. Like the power of a river, it clears out all impediments in its way. A dammed river is never diminished in its capacity or its power. It is just held back, which is what happens in us as humans. As we consciously open the gates, the flow begins to move all that potential and express itself as a whole new vibrancy.

The wonderful part of this analogy is that all great rivers flow into the ocean. As we release this power of the Goddess Kundalini within us, it releases all barriers and all wisdom, and ultimately re-emerges into the ocean of consciousness, located in the sahasrara (crown chakra). This is the essence of the practice of Kundalini Yoga—the process of merging Shakti (energy) and Shiva (consciousness), which brings us Realization, living in Divine Presence.

So what we are really doing when we create this internal flow within, is tapping into that which is bigger than us and consciously drawing that energy inside. By tuning into that flow we begin to awaken the highest aspect of the Kundalini. That energy moves up through our subtle body, piercing the chakras and granthis—the “binding gnarls” which are the three major psychic knots within us. These knots are crystallized contractions—conjunctions of lifetimes of tensions, psychic trauma and ego. They coalesce around the chakras in the base of the spine, the heart, and the center of the head, blinding us to the intrinsic consciousness within. We cannot actually “find” these knots, nor do we need to. Instead, we focus on the flow of the vital force within, which ultimately reveals the Divine Presence within us.

That transformation is completely palpable and definable in terms of our individual experience. In Tantrik practices the goal is the transformation of individual experience and awareness, from the mundane to the Divine, from duality to unity. This is expressed in the progression of our individual experience which starts with diversity (duality), moves to understanding the unity within the diversity (duality), and finally to complete unity.

The breaking of the knots corresponds directly to the stages of our experience:


The duality in which we experience ourselves as separate from the Divine. Until the knot in the base of the spine is broken, we live completely in a dualistic experience. Our life force is projected completely outward. Once that knot is broken, we begin to have glimpses of life other than the limited, “there is me and there is everything else” experience.

Unity in Diversity:

When the knot in the heart dissolves, we experience the Divine. Our experience shifts from the limited perspective of duality to recognizing the oneness of life. Our life force turns within. While we still experience all of the diversity, we understand that diversity to be a part of a larger whole. We experience life as a flow.

Complete Unity:

When the knot in the center of the head is broken through, we are completely immersed into the Divine. In that state of awareness, all of life, although multi-faceted, is experienced as an expression as of a dynamic stillness consciousness and energy. Our experience in and of life is one of witnessing complete harmony and unity.

While it is possible for a person to have an instant awakening, it is much more common for realization to come gradually. Disciplined inner work, practiced over time, gives us ever deepening glimpses of our own Divinity—thereby transforming our experience and consciousness. By opening our hearts and cultivating a conscious flow, we are awakening the vital force within. This force, the Kundalini, rises up, allowing our true nature to reveal itself. When the Kundalini is fully awakened, we experience the complete unity of life. We live from love, gratitude, and devotion. We live in Divine Presence.

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