Symbolism of the Chakra system of Kundalini Yoga

Carl Jung gave a series of lectures in 1932 where he explored the
symbolism of the Chakra system of Kundalini Yoga, and compared it to
stages of psychological/spiritual development. I think the parallels are
very compelling, and consistent with advaita at a higher level.

Here are some excerpts from a book, “The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga”,
edited by Sonu Shamdasani, that documents these lectures.

“You know, it is sometimes an ideal not to have any kind of convictions
or feelings that are not based upon reality. One must even educate
people, when they have to cross from manipura to anahata, that their
emotions ought to have a real basis, that they cannot swear hell and
damnation at somebody on a mere assumption, and that there are absolute
reasons why they are not justified in doing such a thing. They really
have to learn that their feelings should be based on facts.

But to cross from anahata to visuddha one should unlearn all that. One
should even admit that all one’s psychical facts have nothing to do with
material facts. For instance, the anger which you feel for somebody or
something, no matter how justified it is, is not caused by those
external things. It is a phenomenon all by itself. That is what we call
taking a thing on its subjective level[…]

If you have reached that level, you begin to leave anahata, because you
have succeeded in dissolving the absolute union of material external
facts with internal or psychical facts. You begin to consider the game
of the world as your game, the people that appear outside as exponents
of your psychical condition. Whatever befalls you, whatever experience
or adventure you have in the external world, is your own experience.

For example, an analysis does not depend on who the analyst is. It is
your own experience[…]When he really begins to see it as his own
experience, then he realizes that Dr. Jung, the partner in the game,
is only relative. He is what the patient thinks of him. He is simply a
hook on which you are hanging your garment; he is not so substantial as
he seems to be. He is also your subjective experience.

If you can see that, you are on your way to visuddha, because in
visuddha the whole game of the world becomes your subjective experience.
The world itself becomes a reflection of the psyche. For instance, when
I say that the world consists of psychical images only–that whatever
you touch, whatever you experience, is imagined because you cannot
perceive anything else; that if you touch this table, you might think it
substantial, but what you really experience is a peculiar message from
the tactile nerves to your brain[…] and your brain even is also only
an image up here–when I say such a heretical thing I am on the way to
visuddha. If I should succeed–and I hope I shall not–in taking all of
you up to visuddha, you would certainly complain; you would stifle, you
would not be able to breathe any longer, because there is nothing you
could possibly breathe. It is ether.


That is only the fifth chakra, and we are already out of breath–literally
so–we are beyond the air we breathe; we are reaching, say, into the
remote future of mankind, or of ourselves. […] Therefore it is rather
bold to speak of the sixth cakra, which is naturally completely beyond
our reach, because we have not even arrived at visuddha. But since we
have that symbolism we can at least construct something theoretical
about it.

The ajna center, you remember, looks like a winged seed, and it contains
no animal. That means there is no psychical factor, nothing against us
whose power we might feel. The original symbol, the linga, is here
repeated in a new form, the white state. Instead of the dark germinating
condition, it is now in the full blazing white light, fully conscious.
In other words, the God that has been dormant in muladhara is here fully
awake, the only reality; and therefore this center has been called the
condition in which one unites with Siva. One could say it was the center
of the unio mystica with the power of God, meaning that absolute reality
where one is nothing but psychic reality, yet confronted with the psychic
reality that one is not. And that is God. God is the eternal psychical
object. God is simply a word for the non-ego. In visuddha psychical
reality was still opposed to physical reality. Therefore one still used
the support of the white elephant to sustain the reality of the psyche.
Psychical facts still took place within us, although they had a life of
their own.

But in the ajna center the psyche gets wings–here you know you are
nothing but psyche. And yet there is another psyche, a counterpart to
your psychical reality, the non-ego reality, the thing that is not even
to be called self, and you know that you are going to disappear into it.
The ego disappears completely; the psychical is no longer a content in
us, but we become contents of it. You see that this condition in which
the white elephant has disappeared into the self is almost unimaginable.
He is no longer perceptible even in his strength because he is no longer
against you. You are absolutely identical with him. You are not even
dreaming of doing anything other than what the force is demanding, and
the force is not demanding it since you are already doing it–since you
are the force. And the force returns to the origin, God.

To speak about the lotus of the thousand petals above, the sahasrara
center, is quite superfluous because that is merely a philosophical
concept with no substance to us whatsoever; it is beyond any possible
experience. In ajna there is still the experience of the self that is
apparently different from the object, God. But in sahasrara one
understands that it is not different, and so the next conclusion would
be that there is no object, no God, nothing but brahman. There is no
experience because it is one, it is without a second. It is dormant,
it is not, and therefore it is nirvana. This is an entirely
philosophical concept, a mere logical conclusion from the premises
above. It is without practical value for us.

Question: Do you think the idea is to experience those cakras, which
one has gone through, simultaneously?

Dr. Jung: Certainly. As I told you, in our actual historical
psychological development we have reached anahata and from there we
can experience muladhara, and all the subsequent centers of the past,
by knowledge of records, and tradition, and also through our
unconscious. Suppose somebody reached the ajna center, the state of
complete consciousness, not only self-consciousness. That would be
an exceedingly extended consciousness which includes everything–energy
itself–a consciousness which knows not only “That is Thou” but more
than that–every tree, every stone, every breath of air, every rat’s
tail–all that is yourself; there is nothing that is not yourself.
In such an extended consciousness all the cakras would be
simultaneously experienced, because it is the highest state of
consciousness, and it would not be the highest if it did not include
all the former experiences.”

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  • Symbolic Chakras

    The psyche is a rich and complicated aspect of a human being, full of thought, feeling, memory, perception, and imagination. To Jung, these cognitive functions make impressions on both our conscious level, which we are aware of, and our unconscious level, where they remain hidden (Coward, 2002). Yoga philosophy indicates that our unconscious is made up samskaras, or the traces of memory left from the accumulation of an individual’s past lives (Coward, 2002). Rather than receiving memory from reincarnation, Jung believed in the collective unconscious, a collection of memories and intuition from our human ancestral history. The collective unconscious, which may influence individuals without them being aware of it, is brought forth to the conscious in the form of archetypal symbols (Coward, 2002). These symbols bring with them wisdom to the conscious level (Coward, 2002).  Thus, symbols can relate an individual to a society at large and through different eras of time. We relate to symbols by personally identifying with them and viewing them as an aspect of our immediate life. This is our psyche’s way of processing our experiences and relating them to the big picture of things (Coward, 1985).  Symbols are images that one allows to speak from all parts of the self, engaging the parts of the collective unconscious that the mind doesn’t always have access to. Symbols form from the opposing forces- the positive and negative aspects- of one’s nature (Coward, 1978). Jung’s theory of the chakra system viewed chakras as symbols of part of the highly complex psyche. Similar to the Yogic idea that chakras are centers of energy where the ida and pingala mix, Jung sees chakras as symbols where opposing forces of the psyche can be held (Coward 1978). 

    Jung saw psychic tensions, or opposing forces and urges of emotion, feeling, and memory, which influenced the personality of each individual (Coward 1978).  Eastern thought incorporates pairs of opposites, called dvanda. Overcoming the conflict of opposites and rising above the opposing forces is the Eastern path toward liberation. Yoga is a practice of balancing and uniting opposing forces to create a harmonious being. Westerners, who are highly theoretical and caught up in the intellect, lack the balance found in Eastern practice. The Westerner’s common split of conscious, intellect, and mind from the unconscious, feelings, and body experiences leads to psychosis. Jung believed Westerners could be more healthy harmonious beings if they adapted some Eastern values. Jung saw that in Western culture, contemplation and self reflection were not valued. Self knowledge is judged worthless, whereas external documentation and activity is prized (Coward, 1978). Jung says that “the East teaches us another broader, more profound, and higher understanding- understanding through life” (Jung, 1947, p. 84). The practice of Yoga could connect the Western person back to his intuitive spiritual side. This balance not only brings harmony and understanding to the individual, but as Jung says, “When the opposites balance one another…that is a sign of a high and stable culture” (Coward, 1978, p.342).


    Jung’s view of the Seven Chakras

                Jung saw the chakra system used in Kundalini Yoga as system of emerging states of impersonality which developed the separation of the non-ego from the conscious ego (Jung, 1932). The ego is the part of the self that is aware of only conscious personal experiences. Yoga develops these steps of awareness, taking unconscious material and making it conscious. Yogis develop an extremely heightened sense of awareness, to the point that their awareness feels less rooted in conscious material and more rooted in the unconscious. Jung calls this state a suprapersonal consciousness (Jung, 1932). Easterners work to attain higher consciousness by moving upwards. Westerners seem to travel down to awaken the unconscious from below. Although this puts the chakra system a bit upside down, Jung thought it was necessary to look at it this way to accommodate the chakra system to the Western mind. He found it important to maintain a Western way of thinking. Jung was very cautious of abandoning Western mentality and adopting the very alluring Eastern ideas, for this would inhibit the development of our own psychology (Coward, 1985).  

    The muladhara is the lowest chakra, also known as the root chakra. In Eastern thought it is said to influence the excretory and reproductive organs and is related to our most basic animal instincts (Muktibodhananda, 2012). Jung saw the muladhara as our daily routine world where we act in response to our instincts, impulses and unconscious. We remain oblivious to life deep inside ourselves and simply function with little control of what goes on (Coward, 1985). Westerners stayed rooted in a life of routines, work, and meetings. So, Jung would actually imagine the root chakra at the highest level because it is what we are consciously aware of in the world. But, Jung says “a Hindu is normal when he is not in this world…They have the unconscious above, we have it below. Everything is just the opposite” (Jung, 1932, p. 16).  Although Jung believed Easterners and Westerns have developed different perceptions of reality, he does believe that the same unconscious processes are taking place. He believes that the moments when we feel urges that there is something more to life than our daily routine, we are traveling to the next chakra, svadhisthana (Coward, 1985).

     Svadhisthana is where self-discovery, or individuation, begins. We dip down into the dark waters of our unconscious and separate a bit from the ordinary constraints of the mind (Coward, 1985). This chakra is considered the baptismal front and is associated with water. Jung had a client who continued to dream of traveling towards water which Jung viewed as a symbol of moving to the second chakra. However, to Jung, these glimmers of the unconscious “might not be down in the belly but up in the head” (Jung,1932, p. 17). Jung’s interpretation demonstrates how he views the chakra system as a theory of the psyche, and not a physiological process that occur in the body (Jung, 1932). However, the chakra system is used in acupuncture which is based on the knowledge of chakra locations and is “a proven technique for healing throughout the world” (Nelson, 1994, the chakra system section, para. 1).  In traditional text, the svadhisthana is associated with the deeper personality, but it is low in the body and is connected to the sacral plexus, urinary and reproductive organs (Muktibodhananda, 2012). According to Jung, if the second chakra is baptism into the unconscious, then the third chakra is where we are reborn (Jung, 1932).

                Kundalini traveling to the third chakra would be a spark of interest or excitement that leads us to continue on an adventure to the unconscious. In Jung’s terms, this spark is the psychological force of the animus, or shadow side, which gives us glimmers of unconscious feelings lying dormant (Jung, 1932). In the third chakra, manipura, one discovers “the fire within one’s true self” (Coward, 1985, p. 388). One feels deep rooted emotions flare up. Fire is associated with this chakra to symbolize the flames of desire that we are tempted with (Coward, 1985). In Yogic text, it is said that the manipura influences digestion and sight. One is still immersed in a more basic, bodily level of existence and deals with sensualities, ambition, and greed (Muktibodhananda, 2012). The solar plexus is where we feel emotions such as old wounds, trauma, and memories that may have been covered up but still are painful when uncovered (Jung, 1932). Jung believed that these desires must be faced to move to reach the next chakra, Anahata (Coward, 1985).

                Anahata, the fourth chakra, is commonly called the heart chakra. We rise above desires and instinct and reach a heightened level of impersonal experience (Coward, 1985). We rise above worldly passion and can reflect on the self by separating from emotions and urges. You discover that you are not these urges, in other words, you are not your ego. By disconnecting from these urges you can identify with your real self, which is viewed as “below” these distractions in the West. In the Eastern chakra system, the fourth chakra is connected to the heart and is responsible for love, hate, compassion and cruelty (Coward, 1985). Jung writes that “the contact with the sun in manipura lifts you up off your feet into the sphere above the earth” (Jung, 1932, p. 37). This demonstrates that in anahata you are above emotions and are able to reflect on emotions rather than feel their wrath. You are aware that you are not your emotions, so you discover the self.  This is the process that Jung describes as individuation (Coward, 1985).

    The visuddha chakra, the fifth chakra, is the occurrence of experiences that are abstract or outer worldly. The world is no longer interactions of the ego with external objects. Instead, the world is a reflection of the psyche. It is more psychic than physical and one may connect with the collective unconscious and archetypes. It is an understanding of the self and seeing the world in one’s own individual way. This is the last chakra that Jung feels can be assimilated to Western thought (Coward, 1985).

    Jung views the sixth chakra, the ajna chakra, as a psychic union of the self with the divine. Yogic text describes the disappearance of the ego, which Jung believed to be impossible for human experience (Coward, 1985).  Jung wrote that “the ego disappears completely; the psychical is no longer a content in us, but we become contents of it” (Jung, 1932, p. 57). In the seventh chakra, which Jung could hardly imagine, there is no psychological substance. He believed it was complete Eastern intuition which led them to formulate this chakra. Clearly the liberation that is the goal of Yoga seemed impossible to Jung, who believed that humans will constantly remain in a state of life tensions. There can be balance of these tensions, but they do not cease to exist. In Yoga, escape and liberation from these tensions is the ultimate, yet attainable, goal (Coward, 1985). Jung believed that the idea of one making conscious all of the unconsiocus material, becoming aware of the totality of the world and seeing things for what they truly are, is not a true state but a projection of Eastern experience. He believed that it is not possible to lose the self because when there is something observed there is always an observer (Coward, 2002). Therefore, Jung believed that once you have awakened your kundalini, or in other words, discovered your unconscious, it is important not to try to identify with it. Rather, one should just observe what takes place (Jung, 1932). If the observer is lost, Jung believed that the Western person would potentially delve into a state of craziness. He said “it is wise not to identify with these experiences but to handle them as if they were outside the human realm. That is the safest thing to do—and really absolutely necessary. Otherwise you get an inflation, and inflation is just a minor form of lunacy, a mitigated term for it. And if you get so absolutely inflated that you burst, it is schizophrenia” (Jung, 1947, p. 83). Jung indicated that outer worldly experiences could lead the Westerners to madness due to an inability to remain balanced.



    Jung did not believe that human psychology could be completely understood with empirical evidence. He himself had experienced events that were beyond empirical facts and moved into outer realms of the spirit. He admired Yoga as a science of experiential based evidence and Jung himself had experiences that seemed out of the realm of human experience. (Coward, 1978). Yogis may have “spiritual gurus”, which Jung was astounded to find, because he himself had dreams of a figure that brought him ideas and insight. This gave him evidence that his experiences were part of the human experience, rather than personal delusions or fantasies (Coward, 1978). Jung seems to be influenced by some of Yoga’s ideas, such as karma, which his theory of archetypes in the collective unconscious seems to indicate. His belief that memory is greater than the experiences of one’s present life is a great leap from the previous Western psychological idea that humans are born with a blank slate, or tabula rasa (Coward, 2002). Although Jung believed the psyche was at times out of the grasp of empirical evidence, he did place limits on the Westerner’s ability to understand the psyche from a Yogic perspective (Coward, 1978).  

    In Jung’s opinion, Europeans have not passed down ideas of the unconscious and so we have not accepted mystical ideas. The East, however, has been working on the practice of Yoga for centuries with Sanskrit texts that describe it in detail. They understand it because it is how they are raised and part of their history; it is not foreign to them (Jung, 1932). In the West, we view life in terms of staying sane, rational and stable. Going to work and appearing like a productive member of society is very valued to us (Jung & Shamdasani, 1932). Part of what Westerners consider intellect is our ability to classify and explain things with empirical evidence. Some Western thinkers believe that “Western psychology accepts and includes these first five stages of consciousness [the first five chakras] and, in many ways, characterizes them more precisely” (Nelson, 1994, Vishudda section para.12). The fact that Nelson considers our ability to describe the chakra system better than the East is far-fetched, and implies that Westerners have a better indication of what reality may be. We should consider that other cultures may not view the ability to classify knowledge into words as a true indicator of knowing. Perhaps this is why kundalini is often described with metaphors, such as a “coiled snake” (Edson, 1991). An Eastern thinker named Vyasa said “when the speaker has neither perceived nor inferred the object…the authority of agama [the process of verbal transmission] fails” (Coward, 2002, pp.13). Thus, descriptions of kundalini, by those in the West who have not experienced it, will not accurately portray its’ knowledge. Jung argues that Yoga is not appropriate for Westerners because we already have a highly developed psyche and the Yogic discipline will further enhance this mentality (Coward, 2002). It would be a mental leap for people in the West to attempt to consciously integrate ideas that they cannot experience intuitively. Instead of seeking understanding of the unconscious from outside sources, such as Yoga, Jung argues we should seek it within. An active imagination would be a better way for Westerners to come in contact with the unconscious, argues Jung (Coward, 1978). Jung sees the study of Yoga practices and beliefs, such as chakras, as compliments to his own perspectives of psychology. Jung believes that the west will perfect its own system that explains the unconscious (Coward, 1978). So, although Jung admires the chakra system, he takes it with a grain of salt. He interprets it in a way fit to his own belief system thus losing faith that the Westerner can fully comprehend and integrate it into their life and losing his own potential to understand it fully.




    Coward, H. (1978). Jung’s encounter with yoga. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 23(4), 339-357. Retrieved from

    Coward, H. (1985). Jung and kundalini. Journal Of Analytical Psychology, 30(4), 379-392. Retrieved from

    Coward, H. (2002). Yoga and psychology. Albany: State University of New York Press.

    Douglass, L. (2007). How did we get here? International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 17, 35-42.

    Edson, C. (1991). Kundalini: Is it real? The Journal of Religion and Psychical Research, 14, 27-40. Retrieved from

    Judith, A. (2004). Eastern body, western mind: Psychology and the chakra system as a path to the self. Berkley: Celestial Arts.

    Jung, C. (1932). The psychology of kundalini yoga: Notes of a seminar by C.G. Jung.  S. Shamdasani (Ed.). Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

    Jung, C. (1947). Commentary by C.G. Jung. In W. Richard (Ed.), The secret of the golden flower: A Chinese book of life (p. 77-139). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.

    Muktibodhananda, S. (2012). Hatha yoga pradipika. (4th ed.). Munger, Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust. 

    Nelson, J. (1994). Madness or transcendence? Looking to the ancient east for a modem transpersonal diagnostic system. Revision, 17(1), 14-24. Retrieved from http://ebscohost .com/academic

    Yoga Glossary. (n.d.). Yoga Magazine. Retrieved April 14, 2013, from s.shtml

    Jung's interpretation of the chakra system
            Carl Jung’s Interpretation of the Chakra System                Xena Dreyfuss Yoga: Theory Culture ...
  • "The doubtful should meet the faithful. Human slowly advances and becomes mature when he accepts his contradictions.” Shams Tabrizi -

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  • Great read, M, I hadn't seen much of Jung's thoughts on the chakras before, so I read it with interest.

    Just in passing, re one point mentioned...

    One must even educate
    people, when they have to cross from manipura to anahata, that their
    emotions ought to have a real basis, that they cannot swear hell and
    damnation at somebody on a mere assumption, and that there are absolute
    reasons why they are not justified in doing such a thing.

    There is the teaching of the Ananda Kanda, a psychic space between Manipura and Anahata, where the Chintamani, or Wish Fulfilling Tree (or gem, sometimes) is ''housed'', and because whatever one wishes in this space comes true, it is cautioned that the emotions and motivations must be clear and pure at this stage, so as not to cause any harm. This seems to be similar to what Jung is saying about this ''space''.

    Also, just on the ''observer'' which Jung cautions must remain, re the contents of the subconscious,  I  do believe that this is encouraged traditionally as well, that is to say the Sakshi (seer presence) is vital. 

  • Depth Psych
    Pioneered by William James, Sigmund Freud, and Carl Gustav Jung, Depth Psychology is the study of how we dialogue with the Unconscious via symbols, dreams, myth, art, nature.




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