Quantum physics has recently advanced the theory that there are a profound wealth of energetic dimensions that make up what we think to be reality, all within a possibly infinite space filled quite less densely than we’d like to imagine with extremely tiny vibrating particles that are seemingly responsive to human thought.  We now know that in most objects that we take for granted as being completely solid, there is more empty space than matter, and there is constant change and movement on an energetic level that seems to participate in unexplainable ways with an observer’s conscious awareness (Arntz, W., Chasse, B. & Vicente, M., 2007).  Interestingly enough, this is a concept that was already brought to us many thousands of years ago by Yogic sages and developed within Samkhya Darshana philosophy, something that Western scientists and philosophers such as Bohr, Einstein, Pauli, Heisenberg, Von Neumann, Schrodinger, Seife, Schopenhauer, and Wigner later rediscovered and reinterpreted from the perspective of mystical quantum physics (Marin, 2009).  The very basic theory is that energy and consciousness are imbued within and affect physical reality in exciting and almost unimaginable ways.

There are so many layers of possible reality that the human senses do not have the capacity to even register it; it’s almost unfathomable (Journeau, 2007).  We have begun to develop machinery that can sense these things for us, and translate it back to us in an understandable manner, but all we are receiving as of yet is an interpretation by a machine that does not nearly begin to describe or present the full picture.  Add to that the reality that humans sense and interpret things individually and differently as well (Naini & Naini, 2009), and you have a blurry picture at best.  Although modern science is exploring these realms of existence outside of normal human perception with its tools and sensors and computers, the humble mind explorers of millennia past have already explored its boundaries using meditation, contemplation, imagination, intuition, and the odd entheogen.  These other layers, dimensions, particles, and energies (as they relate to the human being) that we typically cannot yet sense completely ourselves are referred to as the subtle energies in Yoga philosophy.  The electromagnetic and energetic reality of the human organism was well-known to the incredibly sensitive sensorial abilities of master Yogis, and they actively engaged in and developed practices to connect with, visualize,  and control these layers of their own being.

There are
myriad books, teachings, and medicinal healing practices that incorporate the
subtle energies from many different cultures (Chiasson, 2013).  Each one has its own explanation of what
these energies are and how they relate to the human mind, body, and spirit.  However, most agree that there are various
layers to the human being: the physical, subtle, mental/emotional, and the
causal.  One of the most intricate and
well-explored philosophies of metaphysics as it relates to the subtle energies
of the human being is that of Tantra Yoga, and the most famous system having
come from that milieu is what we in the West have come to know as the Chakra (Sanskrit:
Cākra) system.  This is only one aspect
of the extremely diverse and complex philosophies of Tantrik Yoga.

The words
Tantra and Chakra (Cākra) evoke some fairly strong presuppositions, not all of
which are well-informed.  The most
important thing to realize about these words is that there is one definition in
the Sanskrit etymology as related to classical Eastern belief systems, and then
there is another modern Western definition and usage that means something fairly
different.  Commonly, the historical
Indian-origin Tantra is now referred to as Classical Tantra, and the more
modern New Age version is referred to as Neo-Tantra, and it is important to
differentiate the two.  Classical
Tantra “identifies the peak period of the Tantrik movement (800-1100 CE) and
distinguishes [it] from the later Hindu Tantra and haṭha-yoga
traditions (both 1100-1800), and also from modern American neo-Tantra (started
around 1905 by Pierre Bernard)” (Wallis, 2015).

In other
words, when a Classical Tantrik scholar uses the word Tantra, he or she is
referring to an initiatory and often esoteric belief system hugely popular in
India during the medieval period, which spread to Nepal,
Pakistan, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia that still
appears largely unchanged in some Vajrayana Buddhist lineages today.  This was most often an oral and secretive
tradition passed directly from guru to student after a necessary initiation to
the lineage, incorporating deity worship, mantra and yantra meditations, active
ritualism, and the more well-known aspects of the subtle body system (cākras,
energy channels, and prana). Not all lineages taught the same material, but
most viewed reality as a loving and complex interplay between Shiva (Consciousness)
and Shakti (Power or Manifested Reality).

Now, the word
Tantra as it refers to modern Neo-Tantra, is a belief system loosely influenced
by some Classical Tantrik teachings, but is mostly an amalgamation of Western
Occult theory, Theosophy, modern psychology, New Age religion, and the
practices of “Sacred Sexuality.”
Neo-Tantra has very little to do with Classical Tantra, and what it does
share has been removed from context.  For
example, the difference between the Sanskrit cākra systems (over 1000 years
old) and the Western Chakra (roughly 100 years old), and the sexual practices
that are a large and recognizable part of Neo-Tantra today that were arguably
non-existent in the Classical form.

What most
people recognize as the Western Chakra system (pronounced shah-krah) is a
system of 7 spinning wheels, ranging in rainbow colors from red to purple and
ascending from the pelvic floor to the crown of the head along the center-line
of the body in fixed locations. In the Western system, these wheels spin
clockwise or counter-clockwise and are closed or shut dependent on their
“balance and function,” have psychological associations, crystal and mineral
associations, and even essential oil and herb associations, all of which can be
used to “align” these vortices of energy (Judith, 1996).  Being more “aligned” signifying being more
spiritually advanced.  However, this was
never the case in Classical Tantra.  In
Classical Tantra, the cākra (Sanskrit: pronounced chuck-rah) systems varied
dependent on the lineage you were initiated to, on which deity you were devoted
to, and what end you were looking to achieve with your practices.  They were psychological constructs, movable,
personal, descriptive and not prescriptive.
They varied in number from 3-cākra systems to sometimes dozens, and were
located throughout the subtle body sometimes outside the range of the physical
body as well.  Their main purpose was to
serve as a location for mental focus and for the installation of deities,
Sanskrit syllables, and mantras into the subtle body.  They could not be unbalanced, affected by
outside influences, or misaligned (Wallis, 2016).

As you can
see, there is a major difference here not only in philosophy but in usage and
practice. This is not to say that one is more powerful or meaningful or “right”
than another, as both have very interesting and useful perspectives.  But it is to say that there is a lot of
confusion about these spiritual systems.
The seeker of knowledge must always be well-informed so that he or she knows
what is really being practiced.  Our
rituals and practices have little meaning if we are uninformed as to their
context, origin, and effect.

These are
only some examples of the differences that we will be discussing in our
upcoming workshop on the subtle body systems of Classical Tantra and Hatha Yoga
at La Buena Vibra Yoga and Mindfulness School.
If you have ever wondered where the popular Chakra system that we have
all seen so many times comes from and what it really means, and whether or not
it really is an “ancient” yogic system designed to elevate your consciousness,
then please do consider joining us July 20-21st 2019.  We will be discussing all of this as well as
the historical context and practices of Tantrik Yoga, the subtle body and metaphysics
of Tantra and Hatha Yoga, how the subtle body systems of Tantra evolved through
the practices of Hatha Yoga and the New Age association, what the kundalini is,
as well as the koshas, the “aura,” and some practices by which we can connect
with and interact with these systems in our own practice.

References Arntz, W., Chasse, B. & Vicente, M. (2007).  What the bleep do we know!?: Discovering the endless possibilities for altering your everyday reality. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc. Chiasson, A.M. (2013).  Energy healing: The essentials of self-care.  Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc. Journeau, P. F. (2007).  Evolution of the concept of dimension.  AIP Conference Proceedings, 905(1), p 153-156. DOI: 10.1063/1.2737004. Judith, A. (1996).  Eastern body Western mind: Psychology and the chakra system as a path to the self.  Berkeley, CA: Celestial. Marin, J.M. (2009) Mysticism in quantum mechanics: The forgotten controversy. European Journal of Physics, 30(4), p. 807–822. Wallis, Christopher Hareesh (2016). The real story on the Chakras. [Website Blog] Retrieved from https://hareesh.org/blog/2016/2/5/the-real-story-on-the-chakras Wallis, Christopher Hareesh (2015). What is Tantra?: Setting the record straight. [Website Blog]  Retrieved from https://hareesh.org/blog/2015/8/2/what-is-tantra-setting-the-record-straight