Religious experiences reveal what comes across as definitive and absolute sense of reality. Therein lies the danger of the experiencer taking the cultural and socio-historic context, in which the experience happens, as absolute and authentic. This in turn gives rise to monopolistic expansionist tendencies which form the core of proselytizing religious systems.
Beyond the forms, there is a core experience. Swami Vivekananda points out that when this core experience happens to a seeker in an accidental or haphazard way and gets mixed up with the cultural-historical context where it happens, then the result could be beautiful mystic poetry or murderous fanatical zeal for spreading the religion, resulting in invasions, wars and human misery even though the core experience is one of bliss.
Throughout the world, there have been traditions which understood this. But in India alone has this system been systematized, elaborated and nurtured with all its diversity. It is not easy. This is a system that defies temporal power structures. One of the reasons why Hindu spirituality emphasized more on the saints than on the rulers is this. India nurtured the science of Kundalini. That is the reason why Savarkar wanted the coiled serpent incorporated in the flag of India – Kundalini being the recognition of the innate possibility of every self-aware species to attain the highest bliss of non-duality.
In Sri Lalitha Sahasranama, the names 109 to 111 reveal Her as ‘Mahasakti, Kundalini, Bisa thanthu thaniyasi’.
Sri Bhaskara Raya, the celebrated commentator, immersed ever in the bliss of Her consciousness, explains Mahasakti this way: Maha meaning - celebrations and Sakti has the meaning of tejas attached to it. Wherever there is festival, celebration with tejas, She is there.
Then comes the name Kundalini. The commentary reads:
Kundala means coiled and hence the name Kundalini, which is coiled. Its own form is like a coiled serpent. The Tantraraja says, ‘The shining (Tejas) vital energy (Jivasakti), which is the manifestation of life (Prana) is called Kundalini, which resides in the centre of the flames of fire of Muladhara. She is sleeping like a serpent, having three (and half) coils, radiant, she is ever hissing in the centre of Sushumna where she resides, in the head of maya. …’ The Yogavasishtha in the story of Chudala says, 'Recognise Kundalini in your Self, which is the very life of the mind which is also called Puryashtaka, like the scent in the flower.' …
And on. Then comes the name, Bisatantutaniyasi - She who is fine as the fibre of the lotus stalk. This too is a name related to Kundalini.
In his commentary Bhaskara Raya quotes the Vedic text to illuminate that She is 'fine as the point of an ear of rice, saffron coloured, radiant, and like an atom.' Then he quotes Sukasamhita –
'May Kundalini whose movements are secret and who by the blaze of the fire, by the illumination of the sun, and by the brightness of the moon, causes the ambrosia to flow through the seventy two thousand channels make us contented.
In fact, the names from 90 (Kulamritaika Rasika) onward to this name make a group, of which the last three names (109,110,111) form a crescendo. In the name 91, She is the protector of this sacred knowledge from being misused or abused.
She is hidden and She protects the sacred knowledge (name 91). She is as subtle as the finest thread – that of the lotus stalk. Yet, She is universal.
So, if Kundalini is indeed the universal spiritual energy that forms the innate nature of consciousness of all existence, then it should manifest in all human cultures and with a well-developed system of Yogic psychology we should be able to recognise its manifestation.
It would be quite interesting if we could identify and witness Kundalini manifesting herself in a totally unexpected place, right?
And indeed we do.
Let us leave aside those exotic commentators who read Kundalini hidden in Cinderella. After all, fairy tales are for interpretations and the good ones deepen themselves as the children grow.
But what do we know is that there has been a transmission of knowledge that appears to resonate with Tantric-Yogic wisdom through various channels in subterranean Europe for centuries, even as a jealous, exclusivist, male sky deity took over Europe.
The most important of these transmissions might have been to the Hermetic tradition with its strong neo-platonic elements which in turn have interacted and fertilised themselves with Hindu-Buddhist inputs.
However, after institutional religions of monopolistic dogma took over, whenever the Hermetic tradition surfaced, it was ruthlessly put down as in the case of burning of Giordano Bruno in 1600 CE.
Yet the very same Hermetic wisdom would manifest itself in the very architecture of the religious establishment that burnt down Bruno.
Bruno was influenced by a Cardinal Nicolas of Cusa. Nicolas tried to synthesize Christian theology with Neoplatonism. Given the period he lived in, Nicolas did come dangerously close to breaking the monopolistic creed of Christianity. Nicolas himself was influenced by, and borrowed from, a mystic non-dualist, Meister Eckhart. Eckhart had escaped from being condemned as a 'heretic' only because he died a year before his articles were decreed as heretical.
What one witnesses in all these, is that the sacred traditions lost to Europe were not totally lost. They appeared to the surface in different places spontaneously; or through subdued presence, they kept the quest going.
Beyond speculations, we also have a quite interesting solid instance also.
Nigen Pennick, a marine biologist turned seeker of mystic traditions, has written quite a lot of books on esoteric and mystic wisdom encoded in the otherwise secular or even Christian architecture of Europe. He points out that in the tradition of Nicholas of Cusa came the famous Italian architect Francesco Borromini (1599-1667), who was influenced by the former.
Francesco Borromini constructed a small church of St. Ivo. It was at the place that would become ‘the seat of the University of Rome and later still of the Italian State Archives.’
Pennick points out:
This was designed on a plan of a Solomon’s Seal, two interpenetrating equilateral triangles. The ground plan is embellished by developing the alternate vertices of the seal into simple semicircular bays and closing the others off halfway by convex features. ... Externally, St Ivo echoes the hexagon of the interior. A cupola surmounted by six buttresses rises to a central finial which is an anticlockwise spiral of three and a half turns, an echo of the ancient ziggurats of Babylon. ... The three and a half turns of the spiral finial are paralleled in the number of turns of the inner serpent Kundalini of Indian Tantric Buddhism. Borromini shows himself here as in receipt of arcane knowledge handled in a truly modern manner.Sacred Geometry: Symbolism and Purpose in Religious Structures, Turnstone Press Ltd., 1980, p.129
We can leave aside characterising a very Hindu-Vedic Kundalini as ‘Tantric Buddhism’. But what is important is Her manifestation.
One can note that the intersecting triangles - the famed Solomon's seal- is also a very Hindu symbol. It denotes the divine marriage. It is connected with inner alchemical transformation. The appearance of this symbol has rich documentation during the renaissance period Europe. The marriage of the alchemical king and queen was a well known mystical theme in the occult-alchemical circles.
Bhaskara Raya in his commentary on the name 'Bisatantutaniyasi' points out that Kundalini is closely connected with the Divine marriage as well:
arise, O Bharatas, do not delay, desire the fire in tHe pericarp of the Svadhishthana: with the help of the sun, having liquified (the moon's disc in Sahasrara) be contented (by the flow of nectar caused by the union) of the king (Siva) who is with Uma ... in the marriage of the female serpent (kundalini), fire alone was the companion.All passages of Sri Lalitasahasranama-Bhaskararaya commentary: Trans: R.Ananthakrishna Sastry, 1925
What are the chances that a seventeenth century Italian architect had employed in the design of a church two symbols related to the Goddess as Kundalini?
Here there is no need for speculating a direct Hindu connection. The connection is neither formal nor historical. But deeper and more spiritual.
This is no new-age fantasy.
Mathematician Isabeau Birindelli and Renata Cedrone in their 2012 paper point out the connection:
Francisco Borromini's mathematical and geometrical knowledge is well documented, and deeply related to his deep religious belief. He repeatedly used geometrical concept to embody his quasi mystical faith and in particular Sant’Ivo’s spiral suggests an elevation towards infinity, in the research of Sapienza (knowledge) and God. It is important to mention that this vision of the “spiral” is not only an occidental vision since in the Hindu philosophy the powerful generating 'Kundalini' force, is by definition “coiled” in the spine and so is define through a variation of the term 'Kundala' which means spiral in Sanskrit.
Why should an architect incorporate in the design of a church a conceptualization which, if discovered by authorities, would cost him his life?
The urge to manifest the Goddess symbolism seems to be universal. It is the urge to go beyond the names and forms and anchor oneself with the experience of the Divine.
This is naturally a problem for monopolistic religious institution. Yet, even in their confinements, the process takes place continuously, slowly and steadily. India having systematized the wisdom of Divine Feminine through the ages, through sacred texts, rituals and celebrations, has the key to understand this universal process.
Then, what we have here is the Kundalini as the basis for understanding religious experiences that goes beyond names and forms. This is the Hindu way. But applying this Hindu way, the way of the Goddess, shall help humanity understand, use and experience their own religious culture to obtain the highest bliss of non-duality, that is the birthright of every sentient organism.
Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.
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