The word chakra literally means ‘wheel’ or ‘circle’. A better translation in the context of yoga is ‘vortex’ or ‘whirlpool’. The chakras are vortices or whirlpools of pranic energy at specific areas in the body which control the circulation of prana permeating the entire human structure. They are beyond the realms of normal perception. Chakra is also widely known as padma – ‘lotus’.
Meaning of the chakras
The chakras are an indication of the fullest potential of each and every person. They indicate that man can transcend his individual limitations. Science has generally accepted that man uses very little of his potential and the chakras are clear indicators of this fact. The lowest of the human chakras, the mooladhara, represents the level of man where there are severe limitations both in knowledge and the ability to act. The higher chakras show how man can progressively transcend current limitations and go beyond himself, or rather, go beyond present conceptions of himself. The higher chakras represent higher levels in the range of understanding, harmony, bliss, identification and knowledge.
The chakras represent the powers of consciousness that lie within the range and reach of every human being. They show that the reality of the macrocosm exists within the microcosm of man according to the well-known maxim from Vishwasara Tantra: “That which is here is there; that which is not here does not exist.”
The chakras depict the expansion of the ‘I’. At first the word symbol T is severely limited to body identification. This is the level of the mooladhara chakra. As one becomes more conscious, that is, as the higher chakras are awakened, so the understanding of T expands. One’s ego identification begins to encompass more and more. The ultimate expansion of T occurs in the void of totality of sahasrara, which is beyond the chakras.
The chakras define the path that each person must tread to realize his or her fullest potential. They are, in a sense, a blueprint or guideline for the opening up of the mind at all stratas.
It is impossible to explain man’s progressive flight into higher consciousness in terms of logic or the intellect. The process is alogical. That is, it is neither logical or illogical; it transcends both of these terms. Therefore, the ancient rishis, saints, yogis, sages, tantrics, seers, wise men, whatever name you wish to use to describe these illumined people, formulated the ascent into higher and higher states of consciousness in the form of symbolic diagrams of the chakras and sahasrara. Though still severely limited, these diagrams convey much more than words. And moreover, in this form they are less likely to cause confusion and useless intellectual speculations. Added to this, the symbols themselves can be used as points for focussing one’s attention during yogic practices. That is, the symbols can be utilized to help awaken the actual chakras that they represent and raise the level of consciousness. This is the case with kundalini and kriya yoga.
The path of yoga is a series of stages. The progressive awakening of the chakras corresponds to these stages. In the Shiva Satra it says: “… the successive stages of yoga are full of wonders.” The opening of the chakras is indeed full of wonders.