Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

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spoke
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Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by spoke »

Hello all,

I wanted to ask about some developments that have occurred in my practice recently, and which have left me excited, intrigued and confused about how to proceed.

I've been practicing in different traditions (Zen, Vipassana, Gurdjieff) since around 2001. About a year and a half ago I attended my first ten-day Goenka vipassana course, and found it to be the most intense and rewarding practice of my life till that point. About halfway through the course, I began having (what I subsequently learned are known as) kundalini experiences, specifically:

- A rush of energy up my spine and out the crown of my head, including the sensation that this flow was trying to pull me "up and out" through the crown.

- The ability to focus my attention within the body in a way I had never experienced before, as a sort of beam of attention “lighting up” any part of the body on which I chose to focus, with distinct, tingling physical sensations being felt on that part. This beam could also “pass through” different parts of the body, so that, for example, if I shone the beam of attention from my heart area to the neck, I would feel it both on the neck and on the chin, as it passed through the neck to the chin.

- The sensation that this flow of energy was painfully collecting and uprooting little "hooks" embedded throughout my entire body, and then carrying them up and out through the crown. This created both physical twitching sensations in the areas that were being cleared out, and a feeling of continuously having to burp as the hooks flowed up the throat area to the crown.

- After these hooks were cleared out, the area of the body from which they were removed was left feeling very clear and airy, with the exception of my navel. Once the hooks started getting pulled out from there, they just kept going and going, in a painful and seemingly endless flow.

At first I was very excited and intrigued by all these developments, and actually spent a good part of the last few days of the course exploring and experimenting with them. At a certain point however I also became quite anxious about all this, specifically at around two in the morning on the last night of the course, when the painful flow of uprooted "hooks” coming out of my navel and up through the crown wouldn't stop, and all I could do was just lay there and try to find a position that would allow the stream to flow as openly and painlessly as possible. If I was in the wrong posture, these hooks would either create a lot more pain in the navel area, or would fail to go up and out through the crown, but instead get collected elsewhere inside the head, creating pressure and pain there.

A couple weeks ago I went on my second Goenka retreat and had pretty much the same experiences, except for the anxiety, as described below.

I asked two assistant teachers in the tradition about these experiences, and their answer was basically to let the flow of energy come if it comes, and don't fret if it doesn't, and above all maintain equanimity in all cases. In other words, basically that it's just another sensation to be aware of and equanimous towards – don’t get caught up in it and start wondering what it is, what it’s doing, what I should do about it. This advice helped, and there was a lot more equanimity and acceptance of the flow, including its painful aspects, on the second retreat.

However, I can't seem to drop these major questions of: What is this energy? What are these painful hooks getting pulled out? Is this process the physical manifestation of the sankharas being uprooted, as Goenkaji describes? And what about the endless hooks getting pulled out from my navel – the only theory I could come up with is that this is the store of accumulated sankharas from previous lifetimes? What is the place of all this in vipassana, and in the Buddha's teachings in general (because it's not mentioned anywhere in either Goenka or Mahasi style vipassana from the little I know of)? All I know is that it's too fascinating, exciting, powerful, frightening, loaded and mysterious for me to just let it alone and observe it as if it were like all the other, ordinary sensations. (And it’s not like all the others – it’s a sensation that comes in and sweeps the others away!)

Recently, in search of answers to these questions, I've come across material about kundalini energy, and have found that descriptions of it line up with my experience quite precisely.

But kundalini is a concept from yoga, and yogic practices such as pranayama which are intended for work with kundalini are specifically mentioned by Goenkaji as something that should not be mixed in with vipassana.

On the other hand, from what I've read about kundalini, what I've been experiencing represents the awakening of a whole latent system of energy, spiritual development, etc. I also read that meditating on your crown and allowing yourself to flow up and out of it - a pull which I experienced very vividly before reading about it – can lead to enlightenment. I also recently read this blog post, in which the blogger describes his experience of attaining stream entry, in which he described the same experience of getting pulled up and out of the crown by this energy.

So I'm sure you can understand why I find it quite difficult to simply put this experience aside, observe it equanimously if comes, and nevermind if it doesn't :-).

I have also found in the last couple weeks that if I keep my attention on the crown the same sensations begin to a lesser degree, and I am quite confident that if I were to keep it there long enough I could reproduce the experiences I had on the retreat. This leaves me confused about how to proceed – should I continue dedicating practice time to focusing on the crown, in order to continue practicing with this energy flow, which I have read is so beneficial? Or just continue regular vipassana practice as usual, as advised by the AT in the course, and pay no mind to the energy flow? And if the latter, wouldn’t I be missing out on something huge?

So I would really love some guidance about what's going on, how all this fits specifically into Buddhist and vipassana practice, and how to incorporate it in a way that will facilitate my spiritual progress in the best, most effective, most skillful and beneficial way possible.


Any advice offered would be very much appreciated!

Many thanks and metta,

Gadi
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Ben
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by Ben »

spoke wrote:So I would really love some guidance about what's going on, how all this fits specifically into Buddhist and vipassana practice, and how to incorporate it in a way that will facilitate my spiritual progress in the best, most effective, most skillful and beneficial way possible.
I think you've received some excellent advice from the assistant teachers. But perhaps you need to work out what you want to do...Kundalini as per your understanding, Vipassana mediation as taught by SN Goenka, or something else. And a word of caution - the word of anyone who claims to be an ariya, however convincing and interesting their story - should be taken with a boulder of salt.
kind regards

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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gavesako
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by gavesako »

I have heard from a number of people who have had similar (and even stronger visual) experiences on Goenka retreats, as a result of deepening samadhi. Usually the ATs did not know what to do about it and advised them to stick to the technique as instructed. But these things have their own energy and are difficult to stop.

I would recommend looking at some meditations teachings of Ajaan Lee which incorporate the samadhi element together with vipassana:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/lee/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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manas
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by manas »

Hi spoke,
my experiences with that energy you speak of are much more limited and fleeting than what you describe. But from my readings in it, there are two schools of thought in how to deal with it. One is to allow it to rise up as far as it likes, up through the crown chakra etc. This method can have unpredictable results, so I've heard... The other way is to recirculate this energy, by bringing the tongue to the roof of the mouth (in either of three places), so that a 'circuit' is created, and skilfully drawing the energy back down again, down to the navel, where at the end of the meditation it can be safely 'stored' without unbalancing the whole system. As I said, although Ms Kundalini Shakti hasn't visited me to nearly the extent she has you, nevertheless I have felt that what little I've experienced is better kept within this body - but in a location where it won't 'overheat' our brains.

Whatever I have learned about the benefits and risks of working with this energy, was from Mantak Chia, and I recommend his advice:

http://www.universal-tao.com/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

I don't see a problem with remaining a Buddhist, and working safely with this energy (please seek qualified instruction, though). Mantak Chia does warn against letting it 'blow you away' as he says; this can be too much for some, who can become 'bliss ninnies' so to speak - blissed out, but not very wise. That's why he (and many others) recommend letting it flow back down again, creating the 'Microcosmic Orbit' which conduces to both bliss, health AND calm.

Good luck, and safe travelling. And don't forget - it's impermanent! :namaste:

EDIT: M.Chia himself is Christian by faith; he doesn't regard working with the energy as a religious affair, but as an aspect of Nature. He says that you don't have to become a Taoist, or anything, in order to work with it (kundalini shakti). Just so you know. :smile:
To the Buddha-refuge i go; to the Dhamma-refuge i go; to the Sangha-refuge i go.
SamKR
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by SamKR »

Hi Spoke,

If I were in your situation, I would try to follow what Goenkaji or his ATs say -- observing every sensation with the understanding of impermanent nature of these sensations so as to maintain equanimity.

I think the following sayings of Goenka ji clarifies his position about chakra experiences:
Chakras
1. What is the effect of Vipassana on the chakras ?
Chakras are nothing but nerve centres on the spinal cord. Vipassana takes you to the stage where you can feel activity in every little atom of your body. Chakras are just a part of that. This activity can be experienced in the entire body.
Source: http://www.vridhamma.org/Question-and-Answers" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
In response to a question on Kundalini, Goenkaji explained that after the Buddha's practical teaching was lost in India, there was still talk about some of the experiences one has in Vipassana. There was some talk about sensations. So new practices started in an effort to get sensations. These attempts could enable them to feel sensations only on certain points, called chakras, on the spinal cord where one feels sensations easily. But there was no understanding of the impermanent nature of these sensations and no effort to maintain equanimity. Therefore these practices did not eradicate the saṇkhāras, rather they reinforced the conditioning of craving.
Source: http://www.vridhamma.org/en2002-07" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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Ben
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by Ben »

Excellent post, Sam!
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Monkey Mind
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by Monkey Mind »

Talk with enough people who have been on meditation retreats, and I think you'll learn that these are fairly common experiences. Best not to exaggerate their importance.
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

Sutta Nipāta 3.710
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Monkey Mind
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by Monkey Mind »

I decided to personalize my last comment. For about 15 years now, I've asked meditators "What is the strangest meditation experience you have ever had?" I've met several people who thought they had reached nibbanna, many who experienced "kundalini", even a few who thought they were possessed by angels or demons. I personally have had hallucinations, and yes I thought I had achieved ariya or nibbanna.
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

Sutta Nipāta 3.710
Freawaru
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by Freawaru »

spoke wrote: I have also found in the last couple weeks that if I keep my attention on the crown the same sensations begin to a lesser degree, and I am quite confident that if I were to keep it there long enough I could reproduce the experiences I had on the retreat. This leaves me confused about how to proceed – should I continue dedicating practice time to focusing on the crown, in order to continue practicing with this energy flow, which I have read is so beneficial?
I do not recommend it. Kundalini can be quite a dangerous experience, especially if one forces her.
Or just continue regular vipassana practice as usual, as advised by the AT in the course, and pay no mind to the energy flow? And if the latter, wouldn’t I be missing out on something huge?
"Observing with equanimity" does not mean to pay no mind. By the practice of mindfulness (Pali: sati) one learns to separate from the mind-and body processes by observing them in a detached way. That does not mean that there are no emotions or even pain but that one does not identify with them. The sensations are there - but one is not ONE with them. It is a bit like watching TV - you see everything on the screen but what happens on the screen is not you or even yours.
So I would really love some guidance about what's going on, how all this fits specifically into Buddhist and vipassana practice, and how to incorporate it in a way that will facilitate my spiritual progress in the best, most effective, most skillful and beneficial way possible.
I second Ven. Gavesako's advice. Refrain from the energy rising techniques for a while and do samatha (concentration) and sati (mindfulness) practice. It is safer that way. Kundalini will still be there and awake and rise and descend once you can watch her in the detached way.
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by Sanghamitta »

Monkey Mind wrote:Talk with enough people who have been on meditation retreats, and I think you'll learn that these are fairly common experiences. Best not to exaggerate their importance.
Quite so. Or as Ajahn Munindo said " Someone told me that they had a kundalini experience, my response was, so what. "
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spoke
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by spoke »

Sanghamitta wrote:
Monkey Mind wrote:Talk with enough people who have been on meditation retreats, and I think you'll learn that these are fairly common experiences. Best not to exaggerate their importance.
Quite so. Or as Ajahn Munindo said " Someone told me that they had a kundalini experience, my response was, so what. "
Well, I guess that pretty much sums it up :-)

Thanks to all for the many responses. I think the near-unanimity of the answers provided - especially those quotes from Goenkaji posted by Sam - pretty much answers my question. I thought until now that when Goenkaji was speaking of "the sensations game" which he warned students not to get caught up in, he was referring to pleasant, subtle sensations, but from this I gather that he was also referring to the type of experiences I was having.

To clarify, what threw me for a loop here was not simply the fact that I was having new, extraordinary experiences, but specifically the fact that those experiences seemed to be a direct and literal expression of the practice instructions given by Goenkaji. He speaks about sankharas appearing on the body as sensations, and then getting uprooted and eradicated - and then this flow comes and quite literally uproots and removes sensations. He begins the vipassana instructions on day 4 at the crown, and has students stay there for a prolonged period as he goes into a chant - and then that's the exact spot from which I experienced the source of this flow. He talks about the dissolution of gross sensations into uniform, subtle sensations - and that's pretty much exactly what this energy flow caused as it passed through my body. He talks about how very deep-rooted sankharas will come up on the surface only after gross sensations have dissolved throughout the body - and indeed, only after the rest of the body was cleared out, and I had subtle sensations throughout, did I start getting a continuous stream of painful sensations getting pulled - out of the navel, of all places. It seems to me that if there were any physical location in the body connecting a person to their former lives ("very deep rooted sankharas"), the navel would be it.

This is what had me so confused - the fact that it seemed to be a direct and very literal, experiential manifestation of his practice instructions, while at the same time it very clearly shifted my efforts from equanimous observation towards attempts to pursue, understand and manipulate this energy, which is without a doubt directly opposed to the practice instructions. Looking for and playing with energy flows has nothing to do with observing the three characteristics of phenomena - and this was my conflict, because it seemed to be such a literal manifestation of the practice as described, while at the same time it also clearly got me off track.

I still don't know what all this is, what it means, what those hooks were, and what was going on in my navel, and I'm still really curious, but I think I'm pretty clear at this point, from all your responses (including one from the blogger I mentioned, who also agreed that such experiences are just side effects of the practice), from Goenkaji's quotes, and also from the fact that my interpretation doesn't fit in at all with Mahasi-style vipassana either, that from the perspective of this practice kundalini in whatever form is a tangential experience, and certainly not something to be pursued and develop craving for. I will try my best to observe it equanimously if and when it does arise in the future - if it comes then it comes, and if not then it doesn't, and any learning there is to be done about it can just be gained through the same equanimous observation of the three characteristics which the teaching says to apply towards any and all experience.

Thanks also to gavesako for the post to Ajaan Lee's teachings about integrating samatha and vipassana practice - this is also an area that I would like to clarify in my practice, even regardless of the current topic.

So thanks again to all who responded - this thread has been very helpful to me in clarifying the place of these experiences in vipassana. I hope I'll be able to incorporate this skillfully into my practice and proceed with more understanding, and less confusion.

Metta to all :-)
Gadi
rowyourboat
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by rowyourboat »

I'm having second thoughts about responding..but here goes- when I was doing the body scan a lot of pain around my heart was felt and with it associated images of all the spears, javelins, swords, missiles that had gone through my heart ..in apparently previous lives, floated to the surface, as well.

It is known that in psychotherapies that use the body, many traumas can be stored up/manifest as bodily sensations.. :shrug:

with metta

Matheesha
With Metta

Karuna
Mudita
& Upekkha
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Ben
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by Ben »

Greetings Matheesha,
rowyourboat wrote:I'm having second thoughts about responding..but here goes- when I was doing the body scan a lot of pain around my heart was felt and with it associated images of all the spears, javelins, swords, missiles that had gone through my heart ..in apparently previous lives, floated to the surface, as well.

It is known that in psychotherapies that use the body, many traumas can be stored up/manifest as bodily sensations.. :shrug:

with metta

Matheesha
I'm sure I don't need to tell you that all sorts of stuff comes up during Vipassana practice. Some of it is stuff that we remember, some of it is stuff that we have either fabricatd in the past or in the present moment some of it relates to what we want or don't wnt in the future. Personally, I don't think its a good idea to assign any value to anything that "comes up". Its all just sankhara, all composed, all arising to pass away. And of course in Vipassana the object is to merely observe. Whatevr comes up - just observe.
kind regards

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..
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kirk5a
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by kirk5a »

Ben wrote:And of course in Vipassana the object is to merely observe. Whatevr comes up - just observe.
kind regards

Ben
And if it comes up - it is dukkha. So we focus on dukkha, on and on, dukkha dukkha dukkha, this dukkha that dukkha, body dukkha, mind dukkha... So how do we observe the end of dukkha?
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
rowyourboat
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Re: Kundalini experiences on a Goenka retreat

Post by rowyourboat »

Ben wrote:Greetings Matheesha,

I'm sure I don't need to tell you that all sorts of stuff comes up during Vipassana practice. Some of it is stuff that we remember, some of it is stuff that we have either fabricatd in the past or in the present moment some of it relates to what we want or don't wnt in the future. Personally, I don't think its a good idea to assign any value to anything that "comes up". Its all just sankhara, all composed, all arising to pass away. And of course in Vipassana the object is to merely observe. Whatevr comes up - just observe.
kind regards

Ben
Hi Ben,

I agree with you on principle - but the Buddha's dhamma, respectfully, is a bit more than just that - there is Right view- mundane or supramundane, which needs to be developed before practicing vipassana.
you should purify what is most
basic with regard to skillful mental qualities. And what is the basis
of skillful mental qualities? Well-purified virtue & views made
straight.
Then, when your virtue is well-purified and your views made
straight, in dependence on virtue, established in virtue, you should
develop the four frames of reference... Then, when in dependence on
virtue, relying on virtue, you develop the four frames of reference,
you will go beyond the realm of Death.
— SN 47.16
This is why somethings cannot be just ignored, especially if they pertain to Right view (and virtue).

with metta

Matheesha
With Metta

Karuna
Mudita
& Upekkha
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