BESIDES keeping alive the physical vehicle, the force-centres have another function, which comes into play only when they are awakened into full activity. Each of the etheric centres corresponds to an astral centre, though as the astral centre is a vortex in four dimensions it has an extension in a direction quite different from the etheric, and consequently is by no means always co-terminous with it, though some part is always coincident. The etheric vortex is always on the surface of the etheric body, but the astral centre is frequently quite in the interior of that vehicle.
The function of each of the etheric centres when fully aroused is to bring down into physical consciousness whatever may be the quality inherent in the astral centre which corresponds to it; so, before cataloguing the results to be obtained by arousing the etheric centres into activity, it may be well to consider what is done by each of the astral centres, although these latter are already in full activity in all cultured people of later races. What effect, then, has the quickening of each of these astral centres produced in the astral body?


The first of these centres, as has already been explained, is the home of the serpentfire.
This force exists on all planes and by its activity the rest of the centres are aroused. We must think of the astral body as having been originally an almost inert mass, with nothing but the vaguest consciousness, with no definite power of doing anything, and no clear knowledge of the world which surrounded it. The first thing that happened, then, was the awakening of that force in the man at the astral level. When awakened it moved on to the second centre, corresponding to the physical spleen, and through it vitalized the whole astral body enabling the person to travel consciously, though with only a vague conception as yet of what lie encountered on his journeys.
Then it moved on to the third, that corresponding to the navel, and vivified it, thereby awakening in the astral body the power of feeling-a sensitiveness to all sorts of influences, though without as yet anything like the definite comprehension that comes from seeing or hearing.
The fourth centre, when awakened, endowed the man with the power to comprehend and sympathize with the vibrations of other astral entities, so that he could instinctively understand something of their feelings.
The awakening of the fifth, that corresponding to the throat, gave him the power of hearing on the astral plane; that is to say, it caused the development of that sense which in the astral world produces on our consciousness the effect which on the physical plane we call hearing.
The development of the sixth, that corresponding to the centre between the eyebrows, in a similar manner produced astral sight - the power to perceive definitely the shape and nature of astral objects, instead of vaguely sensing their presence.
The arousing of the seventh, that corresponding to the top of the head, rounded off and completed for him the astral life, and endowed him with the perfection of its faculties.

With regard to this centre a certain difference seems to exist, according to the type to which men belong. For many of us the astral vortices corresponding to the sixth and seventh of these centres both converge upon the pituitary body, and for those people the pituitary body (Fig. 8) is practically the only direct link between the physical and the higher planes.
Another type of people, however, while still attaching the sixth centre to the pituitary body, bend or slant the seventh until its vortex coincides with the atrophied organ called the pineal gland (Fig. 8), which is by people of that type vivified and made into a line of communication directly with the lower mental, without apparently passing through the intermediate astral plane in the ordinary way. It was for this type that Madame Blavatsky was writing when she laid such emphasis upon the awakening of that organ. Dr. Besant also mentions this fact that the starting-point of development begins at different levels with different persons, in the following passage from A Study in Consciousness:

The building of the centres and the gradual organization of them into wheels, can be begun from any vehicle, and will be begun in any individual from that vehicle which represents the special type of temperament to which he belongs. According as a man belongs to one typical temperament or another, so will be the place of the greatest activity in the building up of all the vehicles, in the gradual making of them into effective instruments of consciousness to be expressed on the physical plane. This centre of activity may be in the physical, astral, lower, or higher mental body. In any of these, or even higher still, according to the temperamental type, this centre will be found in the principle which marks out the temperamental type, and from that it works “upwards” or “downwards”, shaping the vehicles so as to make them suitable for the expression of that temperament.*

* Op. cit., p. 252.


Thus these centres to some extent take the place of sense-organs for the astral body; yet without proper qualification that expression would be decidedly misleading, for it must never be forgotten that though, in order to make ourselves intelligible, we constantly have to speak of astral seeing or astral hearing, all that we really mean by those expressions is the faculty of responding to such vibrations as convey to the man’s consciousness, when he is functioning in his astral body, information of the same character as that conveyed to him by his eyes and ears while he is in the physical body.
But in the entirely different astral conditions specialized organs are not necessary for the attainment of this result. There is matter in every part of the astral body which is capable of such response, and consequently the man functioning in that vehicle sees equally well the objects behind him, above him, and beneath him, without needing to turn his head. The centres, therefore, cannot be described as organs in the ordinary sense of the word, since it is not through them that the man sees or hears, as he does here through the eyes and ears. Yet it is upon their vivification that the power of exercising these astral senses depends, each of them as it is developed giving to the whole astral body the power of response to a new set of vibrations.
As all the particles of the astral body are constantly flowing and swirling about like those of boiling water, all of them in turn pass through each of the centres or vortices, so that each centre in its turn evokes in all the particles of the body the power of receptivity to a certain set of vibrations, and so all the astral senses are equally active in all parts of the body.
But even when these astral senses are fully awakened it by no means follows that the man will be able to bring through into his physical body any consciousness of their action.


While all this astral awakening was taking place, then, the man in his physical consciousness knew nothing whatever of it. The only way in which the dense body can be brought to share all these advantages is by repeating that process of awakening with the etheric centres. That may be achieved in various ways, according to the school of yoga which
the student is practising.
Seven schools of yoga are recognized in India: 1. Raja Yoga; 2. Karma Yoga; 3. Jnana Yoga; 4. Hatha Yoga; 5. Laya Yoga; 6. Bhakti Yoga; 7. Mantra Yoga. I have given some account of them in the second edition of The Masters and the Path, and Professor Wood has described them fully in his book Raja Yoga; the Occult Training of the Hindus.
They all recognize the existence and the importance of the chakras, and each has its own method of developing them. The plan of the Raja Yogi is to meditate upon each in turn and bring them into activity by sheer force of will - a scheme which has much to recommend it.
The school which pays most attention to them is that of Laya Yoga, and its system is to arouse the higher potentialities of the serpent-fire, and force it through the centres one by one.
That arousing needs a determined and a long continued effort of the will, for to bring that first chakra into full activity is precisely to awaken the inner layers of the serpent-fire.
When once that is aroused, it is by its tremendous force that the other centres are vivified. Its effect on the other etheric wheels is to bring into the physical consciousness the powers which were aroused by the development of their corresponding astral chakras.


When the second of the etheric centres, that at the spleen, is awakened, the man is enabled to remember his vague astral journeys, though sometimes only very partially. The effect of a slight and accidental stimulation of this centre is often to produce half remembrance of a blissful sensation of flying through the air.
When the third centre, that at the navel, comes into activity, the man begins in the physical body to be conscious of all kinds of astral influences, vaguely feeling that some of them are friendly and others hostile, or that some places are pleasant and others unpleasant, without in the least knowing why.
Stimulation of the fourth, that at the heart, makes the man instinctively aware of the joys and sorrows of others, and sometimes even causes him to reproduce in himself by sympathy their physical aches and pains.
The arousing of the fifth, that at the throat, enables him to hear voices, which sometimes make all kinds of suggestions to him. Also sometimes he hears music, or other less pleasant sounds. When it is fully working it makes the man clairaudient as far as the etheric and astral planes are concerned.
When the sixth, between the eyebrows, becomes vivified, the man begins to see things, to have various sorts of waking visions, sometimes of places, sometimes of people. In its earlier development, when it is only just beginning to be awakened, it often means nothing more than half-seeing landscapes and clouds of colour. The full arousing of this brings about clairvoyance.
The centre between the eyebrows is connected with sight in yet another way. It is through it that the power of magnification of minute physical objects is exercised. A tiny flexible tube of etheric matter is projected from the centre of it, resembling a microscopic snake with something like an eye at the end of it. This is the special organ used in that form of clairvoyance, and the eye at the end of it can be expanded or contracted, the effect being to change the power of magnification according to the size of the object which is being examined. This is what is meant in ancient books when mention is made of the capacity to make oneself large or small at will. To examine an atom one develops an organ of vision commensurate in size with the atom. This little snake projecting from the centre of the forehead was symbolized upon the head-dress of the Pharaoh of Egypt, who as the chief priest of his country was supposed to possess this among many other occult powers.
When the seventh centre is quickened, the man is able by passing through it to leave his body in full consciousness, and also to return to it without the usual break, so that his consciousness will be continuous through night and day. When the fire has been passed through all these centres in a certain order (which varies for different types of people) the
consciousness becomes continuous up to the entry into the heaven-world at the end of the life on the astral plane, no difference being made by either the temporary separation from the physical body during sleep or the permanent division at death.


Before this is done, however, the man may have many glimpses of the astral world, for specially strong vibrations may at any time galvanize one or other of the chakras into temporary activity, without arousing the serpent-fire at all; or it may happen that the fire may be partially roused, and in this way also spasmodic clairvoyance may be produced for the
time. For this fire exists, as we have said, in seven layers or seven degrees of force, and it often happens that a man who exerts his will in the effort to arouse it may succeed in affecting one layer only, and so when he thinks that he has done the work he may find it ineffective, and may have to do it all over again many times, digging gradually deeper and
deeper, until not only the surface is stirred but the very heart of the fire is in full activity.


This fiery power, as it is called in The Voice of the Silence, is in very truth like liquid fire as it rushes through the body when it has been aroused by the will; and the course through which it ought to move is spiral like the coils of a serpent. In its awakened state it may be called the World’s Mother in another sense than that already mentioned, because through it our various vehicles may be vivified, so that the higher worlds may open before us in succession.
For the ordinary person it lies at the base of the spine un-awakened, and its very presence unsuspected, during the whole of his life; and it is indeed far better to allow it thus to remain dormant until the man has made definite moral development, until his will is strong enough to control it and his thoughts pure enough to enable him to face its awakening without injury. No one should experiment with it without definite instruction from a teacher who thoroughly understands the subject, for the dangers connected with it are very real and terribly serious. Some of them are purely physical. Its uncontrolled movement often produces intense physical pain, and it may readily tear tissues and even destroy physical life. This, however, is the least of the evils of which it is capable, for it may do permanent injury to
vehicles higher than the physical.
One very common effect of rousing it prematurely is that it rushes downwards in the body instead of upwards, and thus excites the most undesirable passions - excites them and intensifies their effects to such a degree that it becomes impossible for the man to resist them, because a force has been brought into play in whose presence he is as helpless as a swimmer before the jaws of a shark. Such men become satyrs, monsters of depravity, because they are in the grasp of a force which is out of all proportion to the ordinary human power of resistance. They may probably gain certain supernormal powers, but these will be such as will bring them into touch with a lower order of evolution with which humanity is intended to hold no commerce, and to escape from its awful thraldom may take them more than one incarnation.
I am not in any way exaggerating the horror of this thing, as a person to whom it was all a matter of hearsay might unwittingly do. I have myself been consulted by people upon whom this awful fate has already come, and I have seen with my own eyes what happened to them. There is a school of black magic which purposely utilizes this power for such purposes, in order that through it may be vivified a certain lower force-centre which is never used in that way by the followers of the Good Law. Some writers deny the existence of such a centre; but Brahmanas of Southern India assure me that there are certain yogis who teach their pupils to use it - though of course not necessarily with evil intent. Still, the risk is too great to be worth taking when one can achieve the same results in a safer way.
Even apart from this greatest of its dangers, the premature unfoldment of the higher aspects of kundalini has many other unpleasant possibilities. It intensifies everything in the man’s nature, and it reaches the lower and evil qualities more readily than the good. In the mental body, for example, ambition is very quickly aroused, and soon swells to an incredibly inordinate degree. It would be likely to bring with it a great intensification of the power of intellect, but at the same time it would produce abnormal and satanic pride, such as is quite inconceivable to the ordinary man. It is not wise for a man to think that he is prepared to cope with any force that may arise within his body; this is no ordinary energy, but something resistless. Assuredly no uninstructed man should ever try to awaken it, and if such an one finds that it has been aroused by accident he should at once consult some one who fully understands these matters.
I am specially refraining from any explanation as to how this arousing is to be done, nor do I mention the order in which the force (when aroused) should be passed through these various centres, for that should by no means be attempted except at the express suggestion of a Master, who will watch over His pupils during the various stages of the experiment.
I should like most solemnly to warn all students against making any effort whatever in the direction of awakening these tremendous forces, except under such qualified tuition, for I have myself seen many cases of the terrible effects which follow from ignorant and illadvised meddling with these very serious matters. The force is a tremendous reality, one of
the great basic facts of nature, and most emphatically it is not a thing with which to play, not a matter to be lightly taken in hand, for to experiment with it without understanding it is far more dangerous than it would be for a child to play with nitroglycerine. As is very truly said in The Hathayoga Pradipika: “It gives liberation to yogis and bondage to fools” (III, 107.).
In matters such as these, students so often seem to think that some special exception to the laws of nature will be made in their case, that some special intervention of providence will save them from the consequences of their folly. Assuredly nothing of that sort will happen, and the man who wantonly provokes an explosion is quite likely to become its first victim. It would save much trouble and disappointment if students could be induced to understand that in all matters connected with occultism we mean just exactly and literally what we say, and that it is applicable in every case without exception. For there is no such thing as favouritism in the working of the great laws of the universe.
Everybody wants to try all possible experiments; everybody is convinced that he is quite ready for the highest possible teaching and for any sort of development, and no one is willing to work patiently along at the improvement of character, and to devote his time and his energies to doing something useful for the work of The Society, waiting for all these other
things until a Master shall announce that he is ready for them. As I have already said in the previous chapter in another connection, the old aphorism still remains true: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”


There are some cases in which the inner layers of this fire awaken spontaneously, so that a dull glow is felt; it may even begin to move of itself, though this is rare. When this happens, it may cause great pain, as, since the passages are not prepared for it, it would have to clear its way by actually burning up a great deal of etheric dross - a process that cannot but engender suffering. When it thus awakes of itself or is accidentally aroused, it usually tries to pass up the interior of the spine, following the course already taken by its lowest and gentlest manifestation. If it be possible, the will should be set in motion to arrest its upward movement, but if that proves to be impossible (as is most likely) no alarm need be felt. It will probably flash out through the head and escape into the surrounding atmosphere, and it is likely that no harm will result beyond a slight weakening. Nothing worse than a temporary loss of consciousness need be apprehended. The really appalling dangers are connected not with its upward rush, but with the possibility of its turning downwards and inwards.
Its principal function in connection with occult development is that, by being sent through the force-centres in the etheric body, as above described, it quickens these chakras and makes them more fully available as gates of connection between the physical and astral bodies. It is said in The Voice of the Silence that when the serpent-fire reaches the centre between the eyebrows and fully vivifies it, it confers the power of hearing the voice of the Master - which means in this case the voice of the ego or higher self. The reason for this statement is that when the pituitary body is brought into working order it forms a perfect link with the astral vehicle, so that through it all communications from within can be received.
It is not only this chakra; all the higher force-centres have presently to be awakened, and each must be made responsive to all kinds of influences from the various astral subplanes.
This development will come to all in due course, but most people cannot gain it during the present incarnation, if it is the first in which they have begun to take these matters seriously in hand. Some Indians might succeed in doing so, as their bodies are by heredity more adaptable than most others; but it is really for the majority the work of a later Round
altogether. The conquest of the serpent-fire has to be repeated in each incarnation, since the vehicles are new each time, but after it has been once thoroughly achieved these repetitions will be an easy matter. It must be remembered that its action varies with different types of people; some, for example, would see the higher self rather than hear its voice. Again, this connection with the higher has many stages; for the personality it means the influence of the ego, but for the ego himself it means the power of the Monad, and for the Monad in turn it means to become a conscious expression of the Logos.


It may be of use if I mention my own experience in this matter. In the earlier part of my residence in India forty-two years ago I made no effort to rouse the fire - not indeed knowing very much about it, and having the opinion that, in order to do anything with it, it was necessary to be born with a specially psychic body, which I did not possess. But one day one of the Masters made a suggestion to me with regard to a certain kind of meditation which would evoke this force. Naturally I at once put the suggestion into practice, and in course of time was successful. I have no doubt, however, that He watched the experiment, and would have checked me if it had become dangerous. I am told that there are Indian ascetics who teach this to their pupils, of course keeping them under careful supervision during the
process. But I do not myself know of any such, nor should I have confidence in them unless they were specially recommended by some one whom I knew to be possessed of real knowledge.
People often ask me what I advise them to do with regard to the arousing of this force.
I advise them to do exactly what I myself did. I recommend them to throw themselves into Theosophical work and wait until they receive a definite command from some Master who will undertake to superintend their psychic development, continuing in the meantime all the ordinary exercises of meditation that are known to them. They should not care in the least whether such development comes in this incarnation or in the next, but should regard the matter from the point of view of the ego and not of the personality, feeling absolutely certain that the Masters are always watching for those whom They can help, that it is entirely impossible for anyone to be overlooked, and that They will unquestionably give Their directions when They think that the right time has come.
I have never heard that there is any sort of age limit with regard to the development, and I do not see that age should make any difference, so long as one has perfect health; but the health is a necessity, for only a strong body can endure the strain, which is much more serious than anyone who has not made the attempt can possibly imagine.
The force when aroused must be very strictly controlled, and it must be moved through the centres in an order which differs for people of different types. The movement also, to be effective, must be made in a particular way, which the Master will explain when the time comes.


I have said that the astral and etheric centres are in very close correspondence; but between them, and interpenetrating them in a manner not readily describable, is a sheath or web of closely woven texture, a sheath composed of a single layer of physical atoms much compressed and permeated by a special form of vital force. The divine life which normally descends from the astral body to the physical is so attuned as to pass through this with perfect ease, but it is an absolute barrier to all other forces - all which cannot use the atomic matter of both the planes. This web is the protection provided by nature to prevent a premature opening up of communication between the planes - a development which could lead to nothing but injury.
It is this which under normal conditions prevents clear recollection of what has happened during sleep, and it is this also which causes the momentary unconsciousness which always occurs at death. But for this merciful provision the ordinary man, who knows nothing about all these things and is entirely unprepared to meet them, could at any moment be brought by any astral entity under the influence of forces to cope with which would be entirely beyond his strength. He would be liable to constant obsession by any being on the astral plane who desired to seize upon his vehicles.
It will therefore be readily understood that any injury to this web is a serious disaster.
There are several ways in which injury may come, and it behoves us to use our best endeavours to guard against it. It may come either by accident or by continued malpractice.
Any great shock to the astral body, such for example as a sudden terrible fright, may rend apart this delicate organism and, as it is commonly expressed, drive the man mad. (Of course there are other ways in which fear may cause insanity, but this is one.) A tremendous outburst of anger may also produce the same effect. Indeed it may follow upon any exceedingly strong emotion of an evil character which produces a kind of explosion in the astral body.


The malpractices which may more gradually injure this protective web are of two classes - use of alcohol or narcotic drugs, and the deliberate endeavour to throw open the doors which nature has kept closed, by means of such a process as is described in spiritualistic parlance as sitting for development. Certain drugs and drinks - notably alcohol and all the narcotics, including tobacco - contain matter which on breaking up volatilizes, and some of it passes from the physical plane to the astral. (Even tea and coffee contain this matter, but in quantities so infinitesimal that it is usually only after long-continued abuse of them that the effect manifests itself.)
When this takes place in the body of man these constituents rush out through the chakras in the opposite direction to that for which they are intended, and in doing this repeatedly they seriously injure and finally destroy the delicate web. This deterioration or destruction may be brought about in two different ways, according to the type of the person
concerned and to the proportion of the constituents in his etheric and astral bodies. First, the rush of volatilizing matter actually burns away the web, and therefore leaves the door open to all sorts of irregular forces and evil influences.
The second result is that these volatile constituents, in flowing through, somehow harden the atom, so that its pulsation is to a large extent checked and crippled, and it is no longer capable of being vitalized by the particular type of force which welds it into a web.
The result of this is a kind of ossification of the web, so that instead of having too much coming through from one plane to the other, we have very little of any kind coming through.
We may see the effects of both these types of deterioration in the case of men who yield themselves to drunkenness. Some of those who are affected in the former way fall into delirium tremens, obsession or insanity; but those are after all comparatively rare. Far more common is the second type of deterioration the case in which we have a kind of general deadening down of the man’s qualities, resulting in gross materialism, brutality and animalism, in the loss of all finer feelings and of the power to control himself. He no longer feels any sense of responsibility; he may love his wife and children when sober, but when the fit of drunkenness comes upon him he will use the money which should have brought bread for them to satisfy his own bestial cravings, the affection and the responsibility having apparently entirely disappeared.


The second type of effect is very commonly to be seen among those who are slaves of the tobacco habit. Its effects are obvious in the physical, astral and mental bodies.
It permeates the man physically with exceedingly impure particles, causing emanations so grossly material that they are frequently perceptible to the sense of smell.
Astrally it not only introduces inpurity but it also tends to deaden many of the vibrations, and it is for this reason that it is found to “soothe the nerves”, as it is called. But of course for occult progress we do not want the vibrations deadened, nor the astral body weighed down with poisonous particles. We need the capacity of answering instantly to all possible wavelengths, and yet at the same time we must have perfect control, so that our desires shall be as horses guided by the intelligent mind to draw us where we will, not to run away with us wildly, as does the tobacco habit, and carry us into situations where our higher nature knows that it ought never to be found. Its results after death are also of the most distressing character; it causes a sort of ossification and paralysis of the astral body, so that for a long time (extending to weeks and months) the man remains helpless, supine, scarcely conscious, shut up as though in a prison, unable to communicate with his friends, dead for the time to all higher influences. Is it worth while incurring all these penalties for the sake of a petty indulgence? For any person who really means to develop his vehicles, to awaken his chakras, to make progress along the path of holiness, tobacco is undoubtedly to be sedulously avoided.
All impressions which pass from one plane to the other are intended to come only through the atomic sub-planes, as I have said; but when this deadening process sets in, it presently infects not only other atomic matter, but matter of even the second and third subplanes, so that the only communication between the astral and the etheric is when some force
acting on the lower sub-planes (upon which only unpleasant and evil influences are to be found) happens to be strong enough to compel a response by the violence of its vibration.


Nevertheless, though nature takes such precautions to guard these centres, she by no means intends that they shall always be kept rigidly closed. There is a proper way in which they may be opened. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that the intention is not that the doors should be opened any wider than their present position, but that the man should so develop himself that he can bring a great deal more through the recognized channel.
The consciousness of the ordinary man cannot yet use pure atomic matter either in the physical body or in the astral, and therefore there is normally no possibility for him of conscious communication at will between the two planes. The proper way to obtain that is to purify both the vehicles until the atomic matter in both is fully vitalized, so that all
communications between the two may be able to pass by that road. In that case the web retains to the fullest degree its position and activity, and yet is no longer a barrier to the perfect communication, while it still continues to fulfil its purpose of preventing the close contact between lower sub-planes which would permit all sorts of undesirable influences to pass through.
That is why we are always adjured to wait for the unfolding of psychic powers until they come in the natural course of events as a consequence of the development of character, as we see from the study of these force-centres that they surely will. That is the natural evolution; that is the only really safe way, for by it the student obtains all the benefits and
avoids all the dangers. That is the Path which our Masters have trodden in the past; that therefore is the Path for us today.

The Chakras - A Monograph

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