The sushumna is a symbolic passage (nadi) which connects all the main chakras. That is, sushumna is regarded as connecting all the different levels of consciousness. It is a symbolic passage through which the kundalini rises on its ascent from mooladhara to sahasrara.
The etymology of the word sushumna is not certain. A voluminous Sanskrit dictionary that we have in our library defines it as ‘something very gracious and kind, and one of the seven principal rays of the sun, supposed to supply light and heat to the moon’. This is open to many interpretations, but it is significant that number seven once again occurs (the six chakras plus sahasrara). The sun may possibly represent the sahasrara which provides light (consciousness) to man (the moon). Also sushumna is indeed gracious for it facilitates the ascent of kundalini and the resulting bliss and knowledge.
In the Shandiliya Upanishad the sushumna is called the royal road (rajapath). The meaning of the word taro in the tarot (taro) cards is believed to be derived from the two Egyptian words: tar meaning ‘road’ and ro meaning ‘royal’. Therefore, it seems that the meaning of the tarot is ‘the royal path’ and that the purpose of the cards is to tread the royal path. This path is the sushumna – the road to knowledge and bliss.
The sushumna is far more subtle than the physical body. However, for the purpose of yogic practices, it is regarded as being located in the centre of the spine, from top to bottom. The tantric scriptures make this very clear. In the Sammohana Tantra it says: “The sushumna extends from mooladhara chakra to the abode of Brahman (sahasrara). It is located inside the spine and is the very means to all knowledge.” (6:5-6)
The sushumna is the central pathway between the ida and pingala nadis1. The ida and pingala have vast implications. They represent the internal and external aspects of existence. Sushumna implies the balance between them. That is, the kundalini arises when there is perfect harmony between the outside and inside worlds.
The sushumna is regarded as a hollow tube in which there are three more concentric tubes. Each is progressively more subtle than the previous tube (nadi) and contains the previous tubes within it. These represent the three aspects (gunas) of nature: tamas, rajas and sattwa; and consciousness.
The tubes or nadis are as follows:
- Sushumna – signifying tamas
- Vajrini – signifying rajas
- Chitrini – signifying sattwa
- Brahma – signifying consciousness
In short, tamas indicates ignorance, laziness and negativity; rajas indicates passion and activity; and sattwa represents purity, harmony and knowledge. The three aspects interplay throughout nature, in plant life, mineral life, animal life and the life of man. In an individual, any one of these aspects tends to predominate at a particular time. To raise levels of awareness tamas must be transmuted into raising of the kundalini through the central and most subtle passage, the brahma nadi.
The sushumna is regarded as being closed at its base near the mooladhara chakra. This is called the Brahma dwara – the gate of Brahman. This is the first gate that must be opened in order to ascend through the chakras. Yoga practices open this door and allow the kundalini to rise upwards through sushumna.