Joseph Campbell


In the normal course of a well-favored human lifetime the unfolding of the body's vital energy transpires through marked stages of transformation which in the pictographic lexicon of India's yogic schools are represented as controlled from separate spinal centers known as cakras (pronounced "chakras," meaning "circles, wheels"), also as padmas ("lotuses"). These are pictured and experienced as ranged in ascending order along an invisible spinal nerve or channel called sushumna ("supremely blessed, rich in happiness") (see Figure 3). The first and lowest of the series, described as situated between the anus and genitalia, is known as muladhara ("root base") and identified as the motivating center of that simple, primal holding to life which is of infancy and early childhood. The body's urgency at this stage is to feeding and assimilating, which, as noticed in our Prologue, is the precondition of all animal life, which can exist only by consuming lives. The second bio-energetic station, svadhishthana (energy's "own, or especial, standing place"), is of sexuality, awakened during adolescence. And the third, known as manipura ("city of the shining jewel"), at the level of the navel, is then of the will to power, mastery, and control, which in its healthy, positive aspect is of power achieved, with a sense of pride in responsibility; but in its morbid, negative form it appears as an insatiable will to conquer, plunder and subjugate, converting everything and everybody within reach into one's own or one's like.

In the normal course of a lifetime, according to this yogic psychological schedule, the biological urges generated from these three pelvic spinal centers mature naturally in succession as the body develops through it first three and a half decades. These, and these alone, have supplied the motivations of historical man, his effective moral systems, and his nightmare of world history. They are the centers of the basic urges, furthermore, that mankind shares with the beasts namely, (1) to survive alive by feeding on other lives, (2) to generate offspring, and (3) to conquer and subdue. Unrestrained by any control system, these become devastating, as the history of the present century surely tells. For as declared in the Indian Arthasastra, "Textbook on the Art of Winning": "When uncontrolled by virtue (dharma) and the big stick (danda), men become wolves unto men."

The elevation of the human will to aims transcendent of this bestial order of life requires, according to the yogic model, an awakening that will not be of the pelvic region, but of chakra 4, which is of the heart. The name of this transformative center, anahata, has the curious meaning "not hit," which is interpreted as signifying "the Sound that is not made by any two things striking together." For every sound heard by the physical ear is of things rubbing or striking together. That of the voice, for example, is of breath on the vocal cords. The one sound not so made is the great tonic, or hum (sabda), of the creative energy (maya, sakti) of which things are the manifestations, or epiphanies. And the intuitive recognition of this creative tone within a phenomenal form is what opens the heart to love. What before had been an "it" becomes then a "thou," alive with the tone of creation.



Figure 3. Figure seated in the yogic Lotus Position (padmasana), illustrating the distribution of subtle Lotus Centers (padmas, or cakras) along the subtle spinal nerve or channel known as sushumna. Two interlacing lateral nerves, ida (here dark) and pingala (light), carry the vital breaths of the left, respectively, and right nostrils to the lowest center, where they may be brought to enter the sushumna.

Each Lotus resounds to a special syllable and is endowed with symbolic features: 1. muladhara (situated between the anus and genitals), of the element Earth, having four crimson petals and a yellow, rectangular interior bearing the sign of the syllable lam; 2. svadhishthana (region of the genitals), of the element Water, with six vermilion petals and a white interior containing a crescent moon and the sign of the syllable vam; 3. manipura (region of the navel), of the element Fire, with ten smoky-purple petals and a fiery triangle within, resounding to the syllable ram. These lowest three are centers of basic physical energies and urges.

4. anahata (region of the heart), of the element Air (breath, spiritus, prana), having twelve red petals and an interior showing a six-pointed star composed of two opposed triangles, one downward, the other upward turned, within which a golden lingam-yoni symbol connoting a subtle spiritual rapture resounds to the syllable yam.

Just below this Lotus of spiritual birth there is a minor center with eight petals, as a vestibule of meditation upon one's "chosen guardian deity" (ishta-devata). There the "Wish-fulfilling Tree" (kalpatara) is found, set upon a jeweled altar (manipitha).

The uppermost three centers are of increasingly sublimated spiritual realizations: 5. visuddha (region of the larynx), of the element Space (akasa, often translated "ether"), having sixteen smoky-purple petals (same color as 3), a white triangle within (at 3 it was red, here clarified), and resounding to the syllable ham. This is the center of spiritual effort, leading to 6. ajna (at the forehead, between and above the eyes: compare in Figure I the place of the Jinas, the "Victors"). The Lotus here is of two petals, white and radiant as the moon, supporting a supreme vision of the Goddess, or of a God-with-Form, from which the tone is to be heard sounding of the syllable OM; beyond which there is, finally 7. the Lotus of a Thousand Petals, sahasrara, inverted over the whole crown of the head, representing a rapture beyond any god known as of a name or form.

This is the way of seeing things that is of mythology and of what in Chapter 3 is discussed as "The Way of Art": an awakening (metaphorically) to a New World (the Promised Land) and to Life in the Spirit (the Virgin Birth). In the way of nature one may experience, from time to time, glimpses of the world in this light after the pelvic bio-energetic commitments have been honored and fulfilled, so that, freed from the dictatorship of the species, one is released to live as an individual (some little time, say, after the age of about thirty-five). The disciplines of yoga and devotional religion are meant to facilitate and ensure attainment of this revelation. However, as every chronicle of war and peace unquestionably demonstrates, it has simply not been within the power of our historical religions to open the hearts of congregations beyond their own recognized horizons: which at this historic moment is unfortunate, since (to repeat the argument of our Prologue) with the populations of the planet now on the point of becoming one, there are in fact no more horizons beyond which to project upon aliens the malice of God's un-sublimated product, historical man. Apparently, the words of Christ, "But I say to you Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44), have today to be taken seriously, even by monotheists.

The transformation of character that is prerequisite for living in the light of a transformed world is symbolized in the imagery of the yogic lotus ladder by a final triad of chakras numbers 5, 6, and 7 which are of the head and mind pursuing aims and ends beyond range of the physical senses. The first of these, visuddha ("cleansed, clarified, perfectly pure"), is pictured at the level of the larynx (the seat of abstract speech), and the work to be accomplished there is a clarification of the senses, to the end of Blake's already quoted dictum: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite." The required method to this end is known as the turning about of the energy, which is to say, simply, an application of all the available malice and aggression of Chakra 3, not outward to the correction of the world, but inward, upon oneself; as in Jesus' thought: not removing the mote from one's brother's eye, but casting out the beam from one's own (Matthew 7:3-5, abridged). The Indian pictorial metaphor is of a wrathful deity in demonic form, wearing necklaces of severed heads, kilts of severed arms and legs, flourishing weapons and trampling down human shapes underfoot. This demon is a manifestation of one's own impulse to aggression turned back on oneself, the vanquished shapes underfoot representing attachment to physical desires and the fear of physical death.

The next and last two stages of the ascending lotus series are then of the two ways of experiencing what is known as "God," either as "with form" or as "without." The lotus at Chakra 6, known as ajna ("authority, order, unlimited power, command"), is situated within the head, above, behind, and between the eyes. There it is that the radiant image of one's idea of "God" is beheld, while at Chakra 7, sahasrara (the lotus, "thousand petaled") which is represented as an inverted corolla covering the crown of the head, "bright with the brightness of ten million suns" both the beheld image and the beholding mind dissolve together in a blaze that is at once of non-being and of being.

In a sermon entitled "Riddance," the great Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1328), declared; "Man's last and highest leave-taking is leaving God for God." And the Indian saint Ramakrishna (1836-1886) is reported to have remarked, "At the break of day He disappears into the secret chamber of His House." Dante (1265-1321), in the culminating canto of his poetical account of his own spiritual ascent in vision up the metaphorical scale, from Hell, through Purgatory and the ranges of Heaven, to the Beatific Vision beheld in a blaze of eternal light, declares that there, within the profound subsistence of that light, there appeared, besides the triune image of his God, three circles of three colors and one magnitude. And "I wished to see," he states, "how the image conformed to the circle and how it has its place therein; but my own wings were not sufficient for that, save that my mind was smitten by a flash wherein its wish came to it."

There is a Hindu tantric saying, nadevo devarn arcayet, "by none but a god shall a god be worshiped". The deity of one's worship is a function of one's own state of mind. But it also is a product of one's culture. Catholic nuns do not have visions of the Buddha, nor do Buddhist nuns have visions of Christ. Ineluctably, the image of any god beheld whether interpreted as beheld in heaven or as beheld at Chakra 6 will be of a local ethnic idea historically conditioned, a metaphor, therefore, and thus to be recognized as transparent to transcendence. Remaining fixed to its name and form, whether with simple faith or in saintly vision, is therefore to remain in mind historically bounded and attached to an appearance.

In the vocabulary of yoga, the two modes of realization, at Chakra 6 and Chakra 7, are termed, respectively, of saguna brahman (the "qualified absolute") and nirguna brahman (the "unqualified absolute"), while the two related orders of meditation are, respectively, savikalpa samadhi ("discriminating absorption") and nirvikalpa samadhi ("undifferentiated absorption"). "But this," said Ramakrishna in discussion of the latter, "is an extremely difficult path. To one who follows it even the divine play in the world becomes like a dream and appears unreal; his I also vanishes. The followers of this path do not accept the Divine Incarnation. It is a very difficult path. The lovers of God should not hear much of such reasoning."(14)


The Inner Reaches of Outer Space