The word "mandala" is from the classical Indian language of Sanskrit. Loosely translated to mean "circle," a mandala is far more than a simple shape. It represents wholeness, and can be seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself--a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.
Describing both material and non-material realities, the mandala appears in all aspects of life: the celestial circles we call earth, sun, and moon, as well as conceptual circles of friends, family, and community. 
"The integrated view of the world represented by the mandala, while long embraced by some Eastern religions, has now begun to emerge in Western religious and secular cultures. Awareness of the mandala may have the potential of changing how we see ourselves, our planet, and perhaps even our own life purpose."
The mandala pattern is used in many religious traditions. Hildegard von Bingen, a Christian nun in the 12th century, created many beautiful mandalas to express her visions and beliefs.
In the Americas, Indians have created medicine wheels and sand mandalas. The circular Aztec calendar was both a timekeeping device and a religious expression of ancient Aztecs.
In Asia, the Taoist "yin-yang" symbol represents opposition as well as interdependence. Tibetan mandalas are often highly intricate illustrations of religious significance that are used for meditation.
Both Navajo Indians and Tibetan monks create sand mandalas to demonstrate the impermanence of life.
In ancient Tibet, as part of a spiritual practice, monks created intricate mandalas with colored sand made of crushed semiprecious stones. The tradition continues to this day as the monks travel to different cultures around the world to create sand mandalas and educate people about the culture of Tibet.
The creation of a sand mandala requires many hours and days to complete. Each mandala contains many symbols that must be perfectly reproduced each time the mandala is created. When finished, the monks gather in a colorful ceremony, chanting in deep tones as they sweep their mandala into a jar and empty it into a nearby body of water as a blessing. This action also symbolizes symbolizes the cycle of life.
A world away, the American Navajo people also create impermanent sand paintings which are used in spiritual rituals–in much the same way as as they are used by Tibetans. A Navajo sandpainting ritual may last from five to nine days and range in size from three to fifteen feet or more.
From Buddhist stupas to Muslim mosques and Christian cathedrals, the principle of a structure built around a center is a common theme in architecture.
Native American teepees are conical shapes built around a pole that represents the "axis mundi" or world axis.
Buckminster Fuller expanded on the dome design with his famous geodesic dome structures. The dome structure has the highest ratio of enclosed area to external surface area, and all structural members contribute equally to the whole--a great structural representation of a mandala!
Representing the universe itself, a mandala is both the microcosm and the macrocosm, and we are all part of its intricate design. The mandala is more than an image seen with our eyes; it is an actual moment in time. It can be can be used as a vehicle to explore art, science, religion and life itself. The mandala contains an encyclopedia of the finite and a road map to infinity.
Carl Jung said that a mandala symbolizes "a safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness." It is "a synthesis of distinctive elements in a unified scheme representing the basic nature of existence." Jung used the mandala for his own personal growth and wrote about his experiences.
It is said by Tibetan Buddhists that a mandala consists of five "excellencies":
The teacher • The message • The audience • The site • The time
An audience or "viewer" is necessary to create a mandala. Where there is no you, there is no mandala. (from: You Are the Eyes of the World, by Longchenpa, translated by Lipman and Peterson).
Maṇḍala (मण्डल) is a Sanskrit word meaning "circle." In the Buddhist and Hindu religious traditions their sacred art often takes a mandala form. The basic form of most Hindu and Buddhist mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the shape of a T. Mandalas often exhibit radial balance.
These mandalas, concentric diagrams, have spiritual and ritual significance in both Buddhism and Hinduism. The term is of Hindu origin and appears in the Rig Veda as the name of the sections of the work, but is also used in other Indian religions, particularly Buddhism. In the Tibetan branch of Vajrayana Buddhism, mandalas have been developed into sandpainting. They are also a key part of anuttarayoga tantra meditation practices.
In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts, as a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction. According to the psychologist David Fontana, its symbolic nature can help one "to access progressively deeper levels of the unconscious, ultimately assisting the meditator to experience a mystical sense of oneness with the ultimate unity from which the cosmos in all its manifold forms arises." The psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw the mandala as "a representation of the unconscious self," and believed his paintings of mandalas enabled him to identify emotional disorders and work towards wholeness in personality.
In common use, mandala has become a generic term for any plan, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically, a microcosm of the Universe from the human perspective. 
Kolam The term Kolam normally refers to Hindu contexts and practices, while maṇḍala normally refers to Buddhist contexts and practices. Yet the terms are also used interchangeably, and maṇḍala is sometimes used as a cross-over term in Hindu contexts.
A yantra is a two- or three-dimensional geometric composition used in sadhanas, or meditative rituals. It is thought to be the abode of the deity. Each yantra is unique and calls the deity into the presence of the practitioner through the elaborate symbolic geometric designs. According to one scholar, “Yantras function as revelatory symbols of cosmic truths and as instructional charts of the spiritual aspect of human experience"
Many situate yantras as central focus points for Hindu tantric practice.Yantras are not representations, but are lived, experiential, nondual realities. As Khanna describes:
Despite its cosmic meanings a yantra is a reality lived. Because of the relationship that exists in the Tantras between the outer world (the macrocosm) and man’s [sic] inner world (the microcosm), every symbol in a yantra is ambivalently resonant in inner-outer synthesis, and is associated with the subtle body and aspects of human consciousness.
Note: maṇḍala is also the term used to describe any of the ten books of Rig Veda, a sacred Vedic and Hindu scripture (sruti).

Early and Theravada Buddhism

The mandala can be found in the form of the Stupa and in the Atanatiya Sutta in the Digha Nikaya, part of the Pali Canon. This text is frequently chanted.

 Tibetan Vajrayana

Chenrezig Sand Mandala created at the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on the occasion of the Dalai Lama's visit in May 2008
A kyil khor (Tibetan: དཀྱིལ་འཁོརWylie: dkyil 'khor), Tibetan for mandala in Vajrayana Buddhism usually depicts a landscape of the "Buddha-land", or the enlightened vision of a Buddha, which inevitably represents the nature of experience and the intricacies of both the enlightened and confused mind, or "a microcosm representing various divine powers at work in the universe." Such mandalas consist of an outer circular mandala and an inner square (or sometimes circular) mandala with an ornately decorated mandala "palace" placed at the center. Any part of the inner mandala can be occupied by Buddhist glyphs and symbols, as well as by images of its associated deities, which "symbolise different stages in the process of the realisation of the truth."
Kværne (1975: p. 164) in his extended discussion of sahaja, discusses the relationship of sadhana interiority and exteriority in relation to mandala thus:
"...external ritual and internal sadhana form an indistinguishable whole, and this unity finds its most pregnant expression in the form of the mandala, the sacred enclosure consisting of concentric squares and circles drawn on the ground and representing that adamant plane of being on which the aspirant to Buddha hood wishes to establish himself. The unfolding of the tantric ritual depends on the mandala; and where a material mandala is not employed, the adept proceeds to construct one mentally in the course of his meditation."
Mandalas are commonly used by tantric Buddhists as an aid to meditation. More specifically, a Buddhist mandala is envisaged as a "sacred space," a "Pure Buddha Realm," and also as an abode of fully realised beings or deities. While on the one hand, the mandala is regarded as a place separated and protected from the ever-changing and impure outer world of samsara, and is thus seen as a "Buddhafield" or a place of Nirvana and peace, the view of Vajrayana Buddhism sees the greatest protection from samsara being the power to see samsaric confusion as the "shadow" of purity (which then points towards it). By visualizing "pure lands," one learns to understand experience itself as pure, and as the abode of enlightenment. The protection that we need, in this view, is from our own minds, as much as from external sources of confusion. In many tantric mandalas, this aspect of separation and protection from the outer samsaric world is depicted by "the four outer circles: the purifying fire of wisdom, the vajra circle, the circle with the eight tombs, the lotus circle." The ring of vajras forms a connected fence-like arrangement running around the perimeter of the outer mandala circle.
The mandala is also "a support for the meditating person," something to be repeatedly contemplated to the point of saturation, such that the image of the mandala becomes fully internalised in even the minutest detail and can then be summoned and contemplated at will as a clear and vivid visualized image. With every mandala comes what Tucci calls "its associated liturgy...contained in texts known as tantras," instructing practitioners on how the mandala should be drawn, built and visualised, and indicating the mantras to be recited during its ritual use.
As a meditation on impermanence (a central teaching of Buddhism), after days or weeks of creating the intricate pattern of a sand mandala, the sand is brushed together and placed in a body of running water to spread the blessings of the mandala.
A mandala can also represent the entire universe, which is traditionally depicted with Mount Meru as the axis mundi in the center, surrounded by the continents. A "mandala offering" in Tibetan Buddhism is a symbolic offering of the entire universe. Every intricate detail of these mandalas is fixed in the tradition and has specific symbolic meanings, often on more than one level.
The mandala can be shown to represent in visual form the core essence of the Vajrayana teachings. In the mandala, the outer circle of fire usually symbolises wisdom. The ring of 8 charnel grounds represents the Buddhist exhortation to always be mindful of death, and the impermanence with which samsara is suffused: "such locations were utilized in order to confront and to realize the transient nature of life." Described elsewhere: "within a flaming rainbow nimbus and encircled by a black ring of dorjes, the major outer ring depicts the eight great charnel grounds, to emphasize the dangerous nature of human life."[26] Inside these rings lie the walls of the mandala palace itself, specifically a place populated by deities and Buddhas.
One well-known type of mandala, in Japan is the mandala of the "Five Buddhas", archetypal Buddha forms embodying various aspects of enlightenment. Such Buddhas are depicted depending on the school of Buddhism, and even the specific purpose of the mandala. A common mandala of this type is that of the Five Wisdom Buddhas (a.k.a. Five Jinas), the Buddhas Vairocana, Aksobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi. When paired with another mandala depicting the Five Wisdom Kings, this forms the Mandala of the Two Realms.


Whereas the above mandala represents the pure surroundings of a Buddha, this mandala represents the universe. This type of mandala is used for the mandala-offerings, during which one symbolically offers the universe to the Buddhas or to one's teacher. Within Vajrayana practice, 100,000 of these mandala offerings (to create merit) can be part of the preliminary practices before a student even begins actual tantric practices. This mandala is generally structured according to the model of the universe as taught in a Buddhist classic text the Abhidharma-kośa, with Mount Meru at the centre, surrounded by the continents, oceans and mountains, etc.

Shingon Buddhism

The Japanese branch of Vajrayana Buddhism -- Shingon Buddhism—makes frequent use of mandalas in its rituals as well, though the actual mandalas differ. When Shingon's founder, Kukai, returned from his training in China, he brought back two mandalas that became central to Shingon ritual: the Mandala of the Womb Realm and the Mandala of the Diamond Realm.
These two mandalas are engaged in the abhiseka initiation rituals for new Shingon students, more commonly known as the Kechien Kanjō (結縁灌頂). A common feature of this ritual is to blindfold the new initiate and to have them throw a flower upon either mandala. Where the flower lands assists in the determination of which tutelary deity the initiate should follow.
Sand Mandalas, as found in Tibetan Buddhism, are not practiced in Shingon Buddhism.

 Nichiren Buddhism

The mandala in Nichiren Buddhism is called a moji-mandala (文字曼陀羅) and is a paper hanging scroll or wooden tablet whose inscription consists of Chinese characters and medieval-Sanskrit script representing elements of the Buddha's enlightenment, protective Buddhist deities, and certain Buddhist concepts. Called the Gohonzon, it was originally inscribed by Nichiren, the founder of this branch of Japanese Buddhism, during the late 13th Century. The Gohonzon is the primary object of veneration in some Nichiren schools and the only one in others, which consider it to be the supreme object of worship as the embodiment of the supreme Dharma and Nichiren's inner enlightenment. The seven characters Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, considered to be the name of the supreme Dharma, as well as the invocation that believers chant, are written down the center of all Nichiren-sect Gohonzons, whose appearance may otherwise vary depending on the particular school and other factors.

 Pure Land Buddhism

Mandalas have sometimes been used in Pure Land Buddhism to graphically represent Pure Lands, based on descriptions found in the Larger Sutra and the Contemplation Sutra. The most famous mandala in Japan is the Taima Mandala, dated to approximately 763 CE. The Taima Mandala is based upon the Contemplation Sutra, but other similar mandalas have been made subsequently. Unlike mandalas used in Vajrayana Buddhism, it is not used as an object of meditation or for esoteric ritual. Instead, it provides a visual pictorial of the Pure Land texts, and is used as a teaching aid.[citation needed]
Also in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, Shinran and his descendant, Rennyo, sought a way to create easily accessible objects of reverence for the lower-classes of Japanese society. Shinran designed a mandala using a hanging scroll, and the words of the nembutsu (南無阿彌陀佛) written vertically. This style of mandala is still used by some Jodo Shinshu Buddhists in home altars, or butsudan.

In historical, social and political sense, the term "mandala" is also employed to denote traditional Southeast Asian political formations (such as federation of kingdoms or vassalized states). It was adopted by 20th century Western historians from ancient Indian political discourse as a means of avoiding the term 'state' in the conventional sense. Not only did Southeast Asian polities not conform to Chinese and European views of a territorially defined state with fixed borders and a bureaucratic apparatus, but they diverged considerably in the opposite direction: the polity was defined by its centre rather than its boundaries, and it could be composed of numerous other tributary polities without undergoing administrative integration. Empires such as Bagan, Ayutthaya, Champa, Khmer, Srivijaya and Majapahit are known as "mandala" in this sense.

Yantra (यन्त्र) is the Sanskrit word for "instrument" or "machine". Much like the word "instrument" itself, it can stand for symbols, processes, automata, machinery or anything that has structure and organization, depending on context.
One usage popular in the west is as symbols or geometric figures. Traditionally such symbols are used in Eastern mysticism to balance the mind or focus it on spiritual concepts. The act of wearing, depicting, enacting and/or concentrating on a yantra is held to have spiritual or astrological or magical benefits in the Tantric traditions of the Indian religions.


Yantra is a Sanskrit word that is derived from the root yam meaning to control or subdue or "to restrain, curb, check". Meanings for the noun derived from this root include:
  • "any instrument or machine" (i.e. that which is controlled or controls. For instance the body is said to be a yantra)
  • "any instrument for holding, restraining, or fastening" (for instance a symbol which 'holds' the essence of a concept, or helps the mind to 'fasten' on a particular idea)
  • "a mystical or astronomical diagram" (usually a symbol, often inscribed on an amulet) sometimes said to possess mystical or magical powers.
-tra is an indoeuropean suffix meaning ' instrument', found in Latin aratrum and in tantra and mantra. A yantra depicts both macrocosmic and microcosmic forces acting together - the movement towards and away from the centre - "control" and "liberation" within the one device. Mantra plus yantra creates tantra. In some disciplines of Tantra it is said that a focused, controlled gaze upon a particular yantra may lead to liberation.

Symbols employed in yantras

Shapes and patterns commonly employed in yantra include squares, triangles, circles and floral patterns but may also include more complex and detailed symbols, for instance:
  • The lotus flower typically represent chakras, with each petal representing a psychic propensity (or vritti) associated with that chakra
  • A dot, or bindu, represents the starting point of creation or the infinite, unexpressed cosmos
  • The shatkona (şaţkoņa) (Sanskrit name for a Hexagram) composed of a balance between:
    • An upwards triangle which according to Tantra denotes energy, or more specifically action and service (seva). It may also denote spiritual aspiration, the element of fire, or Shiva. It is also said to represent the static substratum of the cosmos.
    • A downwards triangle which according to Tantra denotes spiritual knowledge. It may also denote the creative power of the cosmos, fecundity, the element of water, or Shakti
  • A swastika represents good luck, welfare, prosperity or spiritual victory
  • Bija mantras (usually represented as characters of Devanāgarī that correspond to the acoustic roots of a particular chakra or vritti)
Geometric element meanings:
  • Circle = Energy of the element water
  • Square = Energy of the element earth
  • Upward-facing Triangle = Energy of the element fire; energy
  • Downward-facing Triange = Energy of the element water; knowledge
  • Diagonal lines = Energy of the element air
  • Horizontal line = Energy of the element water
  • Vertical line = Energy of the element fire
  • Point = Energy of the element ether

 As an astrological device

Yantra may be used to represent the astronomical position of the planets over a given date and time. It is considered auspicious in Hindu mythology. These yantras are made up on various objects i.e. Paper, Precious stones, Metal Plates and alloys. It is believed that constantly concentrating on the representation helps to build fortunes, as planets have their peculiar gravity which governs basic emotions and karma. These yantras are often made on a particular date and time according to procedures defined in the vedas.

 Philosophical context

Yantra function as revelatory conduits of cosmic truths. Yantra, as instrument and spiritual technology, may be appropriately envisioned as prototypical and esoteric concept mapping machines or conceptual looms. Certain yantra are held to embody the energetic signatures of, for example, the Universe, consciousness, ishta-devata. Though often rendered in two dimensions through art, yantra are conceived and conceptualised by practitioners as multi-dimensional sacred architecture and in this quality are identical with their correlate the mandala. Meditation and trance induction that generates the yantra of the subtle body in the complementary modes of the utpatti-krama and saṃpanna-krama are invested in the various lineages of tantric transmission as exterior and interior sacred architecture that potentiate the accretion and manifestation of siddhi.
Khanna (2003: p. 21) in linking Mantra, Yantra, Ishta-devata, and thoughtforms states:
Mantras, the Sanskrit syllables inscribed on yantras, are essentially "thought forms" representing divinities or cosmic powers, which exert their influence by means of sound-vibrations.
Yantra is an aniconic temenos or tabernacle of deva, asura, genius loci or other archetypal entity. Yantra are theurgical device that engender entelecheia. Yantra are realised by sadhus through darshana and samyama. Yantra, or other permutations and cognate phenomena such as mandala, rangoli, kolam, rangavalli and other sacred geometrical traditions, are endemic throughout Indian religions. Some Hindu esoteric practitioners employ yantra, mantra and other items of the saṃdhyā-bhāṣā (Bucknell, et al.; 1986: p.ix) in their sadhana, puja and yajna.

Namkha (Tibetan: ནམ་མཁ nam mkha "sky", "space", "aether"," heaven"), also known as De; (Tibetan mdos (མདོས) ) is a form of yarn or thread cross composed traditionally of wool or silk and is metonymic of the Endless knot of the Ashtamangala. In certain rites, the Namkha becomes a pure land abode or temenos (Sanskrit: vihara) of a thoughtform. In other rites it becomes a snare for demons as it was used by Padmasambhava after his Vajrakilaya Dance during he consecration of Samye. (Pearlman, 2002: p. 18)[3] It is a form of intentional process art. Weavings of a similar nature are called "God's eye" in English folk art.
In the Bön and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions, a namkha is constructed as the temporary dwelling, or temenos, for a deity during ritual practice. The structure of the namkha is traditionally made with colored thread symbolic of the elements (blue, green, red, white, and yellow; space, air, fire, water, and earth respectively ), the sequence, and the shape of the namkha differing for each deity or yidam. The namkha is placed on the practitioner's altar or shrine and an image of the deity may be placed beneath. The namkha is often accompanied in rites and ritual workings with the tantric and shamanic tool, the phurba. Pearlman (2002: p. 18) states how Padmasambhava consecrated the land for the building of Samye Monastery by the enactment of the rite of the Vajrakilaya dance which employed namkha to capture malevolent spirits and thoughtforms.
Namkha may also be made by practitioners for purposes comparable to the Native American dreamcatcher.
Ngak’chang Rinpoche comments: "These threads symbolise the ‘thread’ that is the literal meaning of the word ‘tantra’ and describe the manner in which each point in time and space is the warp and weft of the loom of experiential / existential emptiness."

The concept of chakra originates in Hindu texts and features in tantric and yogic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Its name derives from the Sanskrit word for "wheel" or "turning" (cakraṃ चक्रं [ˈtʃəkrə̃], pronounced [ˈtʃəkrə] in Hindi; Pali: cakka चक्क, Thai: จักระ, Telugu: చక్రo, Tamil: சக்கரம், Kannada: ಚಕ್ರ, Chinese: 轮, Tibetan: འཁོར་ལོ་; khorlo).
The chakras are believed to be a number of wheel-like vortices which, according to traditional Indian medicine, exist in the surface of the subtle body of living beings. The chakras are said to be "force centers" or whorls of energy permeating, from a point on the physical body, the layers of the subtle bodies in an ever-increasing fan-shaped formation. Rotating vortices of subtle matter, they are considered focal points for the reception and transmission of energies. Different belief systems posit a varying number of chakras; the best-known system in the West has seven chakras.
It is typical for chakras to be depicted as either flower-like or wheel-like. In the former case, "petals" are shown around the perimeter of a circle. In the latter, spokes divide the circle into segments making the chakra resemble a wheel (or "chakra"). Each chakra possesses a specific number of segments or petals.
Texts describing the chakras go back as far as the later Upanishads ( Thai: อุปนิษัทฺส์), for example the Yoga Kundalini Upanishad.

Although there are various interpretations as to what exactly a chakra is, the following features are common to all systems:
  • They form part of a subtle energy body, along with the energy channels, or nadis (Thai: นาฑีส์), and the subtle winds, or pranas (Thai: ปราณส์).
  • They are located along a central nadi, Sushumna (Thai: สุษุมฺนา), which runs either alongside or inside the spine.
  • Two other nadis, Ida (Thai: อิทะ) and Pingala (Thai: ปิงฺคละ), also run through the chakras, and alongside Sushumna. They occasionally cross Sushumna at the location of the chakras.
  • They possess a number of 'petals' or 'spokes'. In some traditions, such as the Tibetan, these spokes branch off into the thousands of nadis that run throughout the human body.
  • They are generally associated with a mantra seed-syllable, and often with a variety of colours and deities.
Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda describes a chakra as:
...[a] powerhouse in the way it generates and stores energy, with the energy from cosmos pulled in more strongly at these points. The main nadis, Ida, Pingala and Shushumna (sympathetic, parasympathetic, and central nervous system) run along the spinal column in a curved path and cross one another several times. At the points of intersection they form strong energy centers known as chakras. In the human body there are three types of energy centers. The lower or animal chakras are located in the region between the toes and the pelvic region indicating our evolutionary origins in the animal kingdom. The human chakras lie along the spinal column. Finally, the higher or divine Chakras are found between the top of the spine and the crown of the head.
Anodea Judith (1996: p. 5) provides a modern interpretation of the chakras:
A chakra is believed to be a center of activity that receives, assimilates, and expresses life force energy. The word chakra literally translates as wheel or disk and refers to a spinning sphere of bioenergetic activity emanating from the major nerve ganglia branching forward from the spinal column. Generally, six of these wheels are described, stacked in a column of energy that spans from the base of the spine to the middle of the forehead, the seventh lying beyond the physical world. It is the six major chakras that correlate with basic states of consciousness...
Susan Shumsky (2003, p. 24) states a similar idea:
Each chakra in your spinal column is believed to influence or even govern bodily functions near its region of the spine. Because autopsies do not reveal chakras, most people think they are a fancy of fertile imagination. Yet their existence is well documented in the traditions of the Far East...
Chakras are described as energy centers along the spine located at major branchings of the human nervous system, beginning at the base of the spinal column and moving upward to the top of the skull, through which, believers assert, pass 3 major energy channels, Sushumna, Ida and Pingala. Chakras are considered to be a point or nexus of biophysical energy or prana of the human body. Shumsky asserts that "prana is the basic component of your subtle body, your energy field, and the entire chakra system...the key to life and source of energy in the universe."
The following seven primary chakras are commonly described:
  1. Muladhara (Sanskrit: मूलाधार, Mūlādhāra, Thai: มูลาธาระ) Base or Root Chakra (last bone in spinal cord, the coccyx)
  2. Swadhisthana (Sanskrit: स्वाधिष्ठान, Svādhiṣṭhāna, Thai: สฺวาธิษฺฐานะ) Sacral Chakra (ovaries/prostate)
  3. Manipura (Sanskrit: मणिपूर, Maṇipūra, Thai: มณีปูระ) Solar Plexus Chakra (navel area)
  4. Anahata (Sanskrit: अनाहत, Anāhata, Thai: อนาหะตะ) Heart Chakra (heart area)
  5. Vishuddha (Sanskrit: विशुद्ध, Viśuddha, Thai: วิศุทฺธะ) Throat Chakra (throat and neck area)
  6. Ajna (Sanskrit: आज्ञा, Ājñā, Thai: อาชฺญา) Brow or Third Eye Chakra (pineal gland or third eye)
  7. Sahasrara (Sanskrit: सहस्रार, Sahasrāra, Thai: สหัสฺราระ) Crown Chakra (top of the head; 'soft spot' of a newborn)
In addition, a number of other chakras are postulated. B.K.S Iyengar asserts that between the navel and the heart are the Manas (mind) and Surya (sun) chakras, and that at the top of the forehead is the Lalata chakra. The Tibetan tantric tradition has the Fire Wheel between the heart and the throat, the Wind Wheel on the forehead, and below the navel, instead of Swadhisthana and Muladhara, they have three chakras; the Secret Place Wheel is located four fingers below the navel, the Jewel Wheel is located on the sexual organ, and the very tip of the sexual organ is the very last chakra, where the central channel ends. Other traditions, such as the Bihar school of yoga, add Bindu chakra, which exists at the back of the head, and is where the divine nectar or Amrit is stored, place Lalata chakra in the roof of the mouth, and place Hrit chakra below the heart.
Many traditions posit a number of higher chakras in the head, which from lowest to highest are: golata, talu/talana/lalana, ajna, talata/lalata, manas, soma, sahasrara (and sri inside it).

The study of the chakras is a part of many philosophical and spiritual traditions, as well as many therapies and disciplines. In eastern traditions, the theory of chakras is a central part of the Hindu and Buddhist tantra, and they play an important role in attaining deep levels of realisation. Yoga, Pranayama, Acupuncture, Shiatsu, T'ai chi and Qigong focus on balancing the energetic nadis or energy meridians which are an integral part of the chakra system.
In the West, the subtle energy of the chakras is explored through practices such as aromatherapy, mantras, Reiki, hands-on healing, flower essences, radionics, sound therapy, colour/light therapy, and crystal/gem therapy.

Hindu Tantra

Thousand Petalled Crown Chakra, Two Petalled Brow Chakra, Sixteen Petalled Throat Chakra (Nepal, 17th Century)
In Hinduism, the concept of chakras is part of a complex of ideas related to esoteric anatomy. These ideas occur most often in the class of texts that are called Āgamas or Tantras. This is a large body of scripture, most of which is rejected by the traditionalists. The chakras are described in the tantric texts the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancaka, in which they are described as emanations of consciousness from Brahman, an energy emanating from the spiritual which gradually turns concrete, creating these distinct levels of chakras, and which eventually finds its rest in the Muladhara chakra. They are therefore part of an emanationist theory, like that of the Kabbalah in the west, lataif-e-sitta in Sufism or Neo-Platonism. The energy that was unleashed in creation, called the Kundalini, lies coiled and sleeping at the base of the spine. It is the purpose of the tantric or kundalini forms of yoga to arouse this energy, and cause it to rise back up through the increasingly subtle chakras, until union with God is achieved in the Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head.
There are many variations on these concepts in the Sanskrit source texts. In earlier texts there are various systems of chakras and nadis, with varying connections between them. Various traditional sources list 5, 6, 7, 8 or even 12 chakras. Over time, one system of 6 or 7 chakras along the body's axis became the dominant model, adopted by most schools of yoga. This particular system may have originated in about the 11th century AD, and rapidly became widely popular.
The central role of the chakras in this model is the raising of Kundalini, where it pierces the various centers, causing various levels of realisation and resulting in the obtention of various siddhis or occult powers, until reaching the crown of the head, resulting in union with the Divine. The methods on how to raise kundalini are generally secret, but a number of methods have been published, for example the Bihar school of yoga begin with a number of preparatory practices such as asanas and pranayama to purify the nadis, and then a number of practices and meditations specific to each chakra, and finally the raising of the kundalini through special kriyas, which terminate in the vision of ones causal self

 Vajrayana (Buddhist Tantra)

The Tibetan theory of chakras plays an important role in all the Highest Yoga Tantras. They play a pivotal role in all Completion stage practices (as opposed to Generation stage practices), where an attempt is made to bring all the subtle winds of the body into the central channel, to realise the clear light of bliss and emptiness, and to attain the 'illusory body' of a divinity .
The Tibetan system states that the central channel begins at the point of the third eye, curves up to the crown of the head, and then goes straight down the body to the tip of the sexual organ. The two side channels run parallel to, and without any space in between, the central channel, but they begin at the two nostrils: the lunar channel ends in the sexual organ, and the solar channel in the anus. Along the central channel are positioned 10 chakras, of which usually four or five are expounded as being important. They are located in the following positions:
  1. The crown wheel on the top of the head
  2. The wind wheel on the forehead
  3. Third eye between the eyebrows
  4. The throat wheel
  5. The fire wheel between the throat and the heart
  6. The heart wheel
  7. The navel wheel
  8. The secret place, four fingers below the navel
  9. The jewel wheel on the sexual organ, near the end
  10. The tip of the sexual organ
The channels run parallel through them, but at the navel, heart, throat and crown the two side channels twist around the central channel. At the navel, throat and crown, there is a twofold knot caused by each side channel twisting once around the central channel. At the heart wheel there is a sixfold knot, where each side channel twists around three times. An important part of completion stage practice involves loosening and undoing these knots.
Within the chakras exist the 'subtle drops'. The white drop exists in the crown, the red drop exists in the navel, and at the heart exists the indestructible red and white drop, which leaves the body at the time of death. In addition, each chakra has a number of 'spokes' or 'petals', which branch off into thousands of subtle channels running to every part of the body, and each contains a Sanskrit syllable.
By visualising a specific chakra, the subtle winds (which follow the mind), enter the central channel. The chakra at which they enter is important in order to realise specific practices, for example, meditating on the syllable 'Ah' in the navel chakra is important for the practice of tummo, or inner fire, the basis of the six yogas of Naropa. Meditating on the 'Hum' in the heart chakra is important for realising the Clear Light of bliss and emptiness. Meditating on the throat chakra is important for lucid dreaming and the practices of dream yoga. And meditating on the crown chakra is important for consciousness projection, either to another world, or into another body.
In general, the higher tantras, starting with the Guhyasamaja tantra, are very uniform in their descriptions of the chakras, channels and drops. The Kalachakra tantra has a slightly different system, which relates the chakras with astrology.
A result of energetic imbalance among the chakras is an almost continuous feeling of dissatisfaction. When the heart chakra is agitated, people lose touch with feelings and sensations, and that breeds the sense of dissatisfaction. That leads to looking outside for fulfillment.
When people live in their heads, feelings are secondary; they are interpretations of mental images that are fed back to the individual. When awareness is focused on memories of past experiences and mental verbalisations, the energy flow to the head chakra increases and the energy flow to the heart chakra lessens. Without nurturing feelings of the heart a subtle form of anxiety arises which results in the self reaching out for experience.
When the throat chakra settles and energy is distributed evenly between the head and the heart chakras, one is able to truly contact one's senses and touch real feelings.


Chakras, as pranic centers of the body according to the Himalayan Bönpo tradition, influence the quality of experience, because movement of prana cannot be separated from experience. Each of the six major chakras are linked to experiential qualities of one of the six realms of existence.
A modern teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, uses a computer analogy: main chakras are like hard drives. Each hard drive has many files. One of the files is always open in each of the chakras, no matter how "closed" that particular chakra may be. What is displayed by the file shapes experience.
The tsa lung practices such as those embodied in Trul Khor lineages open channels so lung (Lung is a Tibetan term cognate with prana or qi) may move without obstruction. Yoga opens chakras and evokes positive qualities associated with a particular chakra. In the hard drive analogy, the screen is cleared and a file is called up that contains positive, supportive qualities. A seed syllable (Sanskrit bija) is used both as a password that evokes the positive quality and the armour that sustains the quality.
Tantric practice is said to eventually transform all experience into bliss. The practice aims to liberate from negative conditioning and leads to control over perception and cognition.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche teaches a version of the Six Lokas sadhana which works with the chakra system.

 Western derivative models and interpretations

Recent Western traditions associate
In Western culture, a concept similar to that of prana can be traced back as far as the 18th century's Franz Anton Mesmer, who used "animal magnetism" to cure disease. However it was only in 1927 that the shakta theory of seven main chakras, that has become most popular in the West, was introduced, largely through the translation of two Indian texts: the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancaka, by Sir John Woodroffe, alias Arthur Avalon, in a book titled The Serpent Power. This book is extremely detailed and complex, and later the ideas were developed into the predominant Western view of the chakras by C. W. Leadbeater in his book The Chakras. Many of the views which directed Leadbeater's understanding of the chakras were influenced by previous theosophist authors, in particular Johann Georg Gichtel, a disciple of Jakob Böhme, and his book Theosophia Practica (1696), in which Gitchtel directly refers to inner force centers, a concept reminiscent of the chakras.
Due to the similarities between the Chinese and Indian philosophies, the notion of chakras was quickly blended into Chinese practices such as acupuncture and belief in ki. The convergence of these two distinct healing traditions and their common practitioners' own inventiveness have led to an ever-changing and expanding array of concepts in the western world. According to medical intuitive and author, Caroline Myss, who described chakras in her work Anatomy of the Spirit (1996), "Every thought and experience you've ever had in your life gets filtered through these chakra databases. Each event is recorded into your cells...", in effect your biography becomes your biology.
The chakras are described as being aligned in an ascending column from the base of the spine to the top of the head. New Age practices often associate each chakra with a certain colour. In various traditions chakras are associated with multiple physiological functions, an aspect of consciousness, a classical element, and other distinguishing characteristics. They are visualized as lotuses/flowers with a different number of petals in every chakra.
The chakras are thought to vitalise the physical body and to be associated with interactions of a physical, emotional and mental nature. They are considered loci of life energy or prana, also called shakti, qi (Chinese; ki in Japanese), koach-ha-guf (Hebrew), bios (Greek) & aether (Greek, English), which is thought to flow among them along pathways called nadis. The function of the chakras is to spin and draw in this energy to keep the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health of the body in balance. They are said by some to reflect how the unified consciousness of humanity (the immortal human being or the soul), is divided to manage different aspects of earthly life (body/instinct/vital energy/deeper emotions/communication/having an overview of life/contact to God). The chakras are placed at differing levels of spiritual subtlety, with Sahasrara at the top being concerned with pure consciousness, and Muladhara at the bottom being concerned with matter, which is seen simply as condensed, or gross consciousness.
Rudolf Steiner (one-time Theosophist, and the founder of Anthroposophy) says much about the chakras that is unusual, especially that the chakra system is dynamic and evolving and is very different for modern people than it was in ancient times, and will in turn be radically different in future times. In contrast to the traditional eastern teachings, Steiner describes a sequence of development from the top down rather than the bottom up. This is the so called 'Christos Path' which has not always been available to humanity. [This is also revealed by Swami Sivananda in his book on Japa Yoga, Himalaya Press 1978. In which the Swami states that a yogi that practices Japa with only the Om and is successful at Mahasamyama {oneness with the this case a Word being meditated on} becomes a direct disciple of that, the OM, the most Holy of all words/syllables { the same as the word of creation as recognized by the Torah, although this is not professed or quite possibly not even recognized by those of secular authority in either Judaism or Christianity} thus the yogi achieving this feat needs no Guru or Sat-guru* to achieve any Spiritual goal {*Archetype / Ascended Master i.e. A Krishna, a Rama, a Jesus, a Nanak a al.} and Swami Sivananda mentions that this yogi has a path that is, in all recognizable ways and manners, reverse that of other Yogis or Spiritual aspirants and their paths and those include all Christian ascetics, in that this spiritual aspirant then works through the chakras, mastering them from the crown down.
Whereas every other well known path and all major religions start by trying to master the chakras starting with the 'Svadhisthana Chakra' {Sex}, these Yogis aren't expected to renounce sex or certain foods, and by virtue of this they do not need to remove themselves from the world of temptations and become monks or recluses. They can stay in the world of men and live what appears to be a normal life that observes whatever local custom{s} there may be. Trevor Ravenscroft also mentions this spiritual goal and achievement in his book, "The Cup Of Destiny", and says that these practices and achievements were known and the most highly regarded and desired by the Templar Knights of old.]
He also seems to ignore the Thousand Petalled chakra at the crown of the head and instead cryptically mentions an eight-petalled chakra located between the Ten Petalled and the Six Petalled ones. In his book How to Know Higher Worlds Steiner gives clear instructions on how to develop the chakras safely into maturity. These are more like life disciplines than exercises and can take considerable time.

7 Chakras
New Age writers, such as Anodea Judith in her book Wheels of Life, have written about the chakras in great detail, including the reasons for their appearance and functions.
Another interpretation of the seven chakras is presented by writer and artist Zachary Selig. In the book Kundalini Awakening, a Gentle Guide to Chakra Activation and Spiritual Growth, he presents a unique codex titled "Relaxatia", a solar Kundalini paradigm that is a codex of the human chakra system and the solar light spectrum, designed to activate Kundalini through his colour-coded chakra paintings.
Some chakra system models describe one or more Transpersonal chakras above the crown chakra, and an Earth star chakra below the feet. There are also held to be many minor chakras, for example between the major chakras. Chakras are also used in neurolinguistic programming to connect NLP logical levels with spiritual goals on the crown, intellectual on the forehead and so on.

 Endocrine system

The primary importance and level of existence of chakras is posited to be in the psyche. However, there are those who believe that chakras have a physical manifestation as well. The author Gary Osborn, for instance, has described the chakras as metaphysical counterparts to the endocrine glands, while Anodea Judith noted a marked similarity between the positions of the two and the roles described for each. Stephen Sturgess also links the lower six chakras to specific nerve plexuses along the spinal cord as well as glands. C.W. Leadbeater associated the Anja chakra with the pineal gland, which is a part of the endocrine system. Edgar Cayce said that the seven churches of the Book of Revelation are endocrine glands. However, these associations have never been scientifically verified.

 Spectrum of light

A development in Western practices dating back to the 1940s is to associate each one of the seven chakras to a given colour and a corresponding crystal. For example, the chakra in the forehead is associated with the colour purple, so to try and cure a headache a person might apply a purple stone to the forehead. This idea has proven highly popular and has been integrated by all but a few practitioners.
Mercier introduces the relation of colour energy to the science of the light spectrum:
"As humans, we exist within the 49th Octave of Vibration of the electromagnetic light spectrum. Below this range are barely visible radiant heat, then invisible infrared, television and radiowaves, sound and brain waves; above it is barely visible ultraviolet, then the invisible frequencies of chemicals and perfumes, followed by x-rays, gamma rays, radium rays and unknown cosmic rays.
Understanding existence and physical form as an interpretation of light energy through the physical eyes will open up greater potential to explore the energetic boundaries of color, form and light that are perceived as immediate reality. Indian Yogic teachings assign to the seven major chakras specific qualities, such as color of influence (from the 7 rays of spectrum light), elements (such as earth, air, water & ether), body sense (such as touch, taste, and smell), and relation to an endocrine gland.


Tantric chakras

Seven chakras in particular are described in the Shakta Tantra tradition that was brought over to the West. Below is a description of each of them, with Eastern and Western associations.

 Sahasrara: The Crown Chakra

Sahasrara, which means 1000 petalled lotus, is generally considered to be the chakra of pure consciousness, within which there is neither object nor subject. When the female kundalini Shakti energy rises to this point, it unites with the male Shiva energy, and a state of liberating samadhi is attained. Symbolized by a lotus with one thousand multi-coloured petals, it is located either at the crown of the head, or above the crown of the head. Sahasrara is represented by the colour white and it involves such issues as inner wisdom and the death of the body. Its role may be envisioned somewhat similarly to that of the pituitary gland, which secretes hormones to communicate to the rest of the endocrine system and also connects to the central nervous system via the hypothalamus. According to author Gary Osborn, the thalamus is thought to have a key role in the physical basis of consciousness and is the 'Bridal Chamber' mentioned in the Gnostic scriptures. Sahasrara's inner aspect deals with the release of karma, physical action with meditation, mental action with universal consciousness and unity, and emotional action with "beingness".
In Tibetan buddhism, the point at the crown of the head is represented by a white circle, with 32 downward pointing petals. It is of primary importance in the performance of phowa, or consciousness projection after death, in order to obtain rebirth in a Pure Land. Within this chakra is contained the White drop, or Bodhicitta, which is the essence of masculine energy.

 Ajna: The Brow Chakra

Ajna is symbolized by a lotus with two petals, and corresponds to the colors violet, indigo or deep blue. It is at this point that the two side nadis Ida and Pingala are said to terminate and merge with the central channel Sushumna, signifying the end of duality. The seed syllable for this chakra is the syllable OM, and the presiding deity is Ardhanarishvara, who is a half male, half female Shiva/Shakti. The Shakti goddess of Ajna is called Hakini. Ajna (along with Bindu), is known as the third eye chakra and is linked to the pineal gland which may inform a model of its envisioning. The pineal gland is a light sensitive gland that produces the hormone melatonin which regulates sleep and waking up. Ajna's key issues involve balancing the higher and lower selves and trusting inner guidance. Ajna's inner aspect relates to the access of intuition. Mentally, Ajna deals with visual consciousness. Emotionally, Ajna deals with clarity on an intuitive level. (Note: some believe that the pineal and pituitary glands should be exchanged in their relationship to the Crown and Brow chakras, based on the description in Arthur Avalon's book on kundalini called Serpent Power or empirical research.)
In Tibetan Buddhism, this point is actually the end of the central channel, since the central channel rises up from the sexual organ to the crown of the head, and then curves over the head and down to the third eye. While the central channel finishes here, the two side channels continue down to the two nostrils.

 Vishuddha: The Throat Chakra

Vishuddha (also Vishuddhi) is depicted as a silver crescent within a white circle, with 16 light or pale blue, or turquoise petals. The seed mantra is Ham, and the residing deity is Panchavaktra shiva, with 5 heads and 4 arms, and the Shakti is Shakini. Vishuddha may be understood as relating to communication and growth through expression. This chakra is paralleled to the thyroid, a gland that is also in the throat and which produces thyroid hormone, responsible for growth and maturation. Physically, Vishuddha governs communication, emotionally it governs independence, mentally it governs fluent thought, and spiritually, it governs a sense of security. In Tibetan buddhism, this chakra is red, with 16 upward pointing petals. It plays an important role in Dream Yoga, the art of lucid dreaming.

 Anahata: The Heart Chakra

Anahata, or Anahata-puri, or padma-sundara is symbolised by a circular flower with twelve green petals. (See also heartmind.) Within it is a yantra of two intersecting triangles, forming a hexagram, symbolising a union of the male and female. The seed mantra is Yam, the presiding deity is Ishana Rudra Shiva, and the Shakti is Kakini. Anahata is related to the thymus, located in the chest. The thymus is an element of the immune system as well as being part of the endocrine system. It is the site of maturation of the T cells responsible for fending off disease and may be adversely affected by stress. Anahata is related to the colours green or pink. Key issues involving Anahata involve complex emotions, compassion, tenderness, unconditional love, equilibrium, rejection and well-being. Physically Anahata governs circulation, emotionally it governs unconditional love for the self and others, mentally it governs passion, and spiritually it governs devotion.
In Tibetan Buddhism, this centre is extremely important, as being the home of the indestructible red/white drop, which carries our consciousness to our next lives. It is described as being white, circular, with eight downward pointing petals, and the seed syllable Hum inside. During mantra recitation in the lower tantras, a flame is imagined inside of the heart, from which the mantra rings out. Within the higher tantras, this chakra is very important for realising the Clear Light.

 Manipura: The Solar Plexus Chakra

Manipura or manipuraka is symbolized by a downward pointing triangle with ten petals, along with the color yellow. The seed syllable is Ram, and the presiding deity is Braddha Rudra, with Lakini as the Shakti. Manipura is related to the metabolic and digestive systems. Manipura is believed to correspond to Islets of Langerhans, which are groups of cells in the pancreas, as well as the outer adrenal glands and the adrenal cortex. These play a valuable role in digestion, the conversion of food matter into energy for the body. The colour that corresponds to Manipura is yellow. Key issues governed by Manipura are issues of personal power, fear, anxiety, opinion-formation, introversion, and transition from simple or base emotions to complex. Physically, Manipura governs digestion, mentally it governs personal power, emotionally it governs expansiveness, and spiritually, all matters of growth.
In Tibetan buddhism, this wheel is represented as a triangle with 64 upward pointing petals. It is the home of the Red drop, or red bodhicitta, which is the essence of feminine energy (as opposed to the Shakta system, where the kundalini energy resides in Muladhara). It contains the seed syllable short-Ah, which is of primary importance in the Tummo inner fire meditation, which is the system by which the energy of the red drop is raised to the white drop in the crown.

 Swadhisthana: The Sacral Chakra

Swadhisthana, Svadisthana or adhishthana is symbolized by a white lotus within which is a crescent moon, with six vermillion, or orange petals. The seed mantra is Vam, and the presiding deity is Brahma, with the Shakti being Rakini ( or Chakini ). The animal associated is the crocodile of Varuna. The Sacral Chakra is located in the sacrum (hence the name) and is considered to correspond to the testes or the ovaries that produce the various sex hormones involved in the reproductive cycle. Swadisthana is also considered to be related to, more generally, the genitourinary system and the adrenals. The key issues involving Swadisthana are relationships, violence, addictions, basic emotional needs, and pleasure. Physically, Swadisthana governs reproduction, mentally it governs creativity, emotionally it governs joy, and spiritually it governs enthusiasm.
In Tibetan buddhism, this is known as the Secret Place wheel. Below this point the Shakta tantra and Vajrayana systems diverge somewhat.

 Muladhara: The Root Chakra

Muladhara or root chakra is symbolized by a lotus with four petals and the color red. This center is located at the base of the spine in the coccygeal region. It is said to relate to the gonads and the adrenal medulla, responsible for the fight-or-flight response when survival is under threat. Muladhara is related to instinct, security, survival and also to basic human potentiality. Physically, Muladhara governs sexuality, mentally it governs stability, emotionally it governs sensuality, and spiritually it governs a sense of security. Muladhara has a relation to the sense of smell.
This chakra is where the three main nadis separate and begin their upward movement. Dormant Kundalini rests here, wrapped three and a half times around the black Svayambhu linga, the lowest of three obstructions to her full rising (also known as knots or granthis). It is the seat of the red bindu, the female drop (which in Tibetan vajrayana is located at the navel chakra).

The seed syllable is Lam (pronounced lum), the deity is Ganesh, and the Shakti is Dakini. The associated animal is the elephant.
There is no chakra that exists in this position within Tibetan buddhism. Instead, below the secret place wheel, there are two other wheels, the "jewel wheel", which is located in the middle of the sex organ, and the wheel located at the tip of the sex organ. These wheels are involved with tantric consort practices.

 Minor chakras

In addition to the 7 major chakras, there are a number of other chakras which have importance within different systems. For example, Woodroffe describes 7 head chakras (including Ajna and Sahasrara) in his other Indian text sources. Lowest to highest they are: Talu/Talana/Lalana, Ajna, Manas, Soma, Brahmarandra, Sri (inside Sahasrara), Sahasrara. In addition, the chakra Hrit known as the wish-fulfilling tree is often included below the heart, which may be the same as a chakra known as Surya located at the solar plexus. Some models also have a series of 7 lower chakras below muladhara that go down the legs.

 Hrit chakra or Surya chakra

This chakra is a minor chakra located just below the heart at the solar plexus, and is known as the wish-fulfilling tree. Here, the ability to determine your destiny becomes a reality. It is also known as the Surya chakra. It supports the actions of Manipura chakra by providing it with the element of heat, and is responsible for absorbing energy from the sun.
In Tibetan Buddhism, a similar chakra called the Fire Wheel is included in the scheme, but this is located above the heart and below the throat.


A chakra known as Lalana is situated in one of two places, either in the roof of the mouth, between Visuddhi and Ajna, or on the forehead, above Ajna. The Lalana chakra on the roof of the mouth is related to Bindu and Vishuddhi. When the nectar amrit trickles down from Bindu, it is stored in lalana. This nectar can fall down to Manipura and be burned up, causing gradual degeneration, or through certain practices it can be passed to Visuddhi and purified, becoming a nectar of immortality.


A chakra known as Manas (mind) is located either between the navel and the heart, close to Surya, or is located above Ajna on the forehead. The version on the forehead has 6 petals, connected to the 5 sense objects plus the mind. In Tibetan buddhism, the chakra located on the forehead is called the Wind wheel, and has 6 spokes.

 Bindu Visarga/Indu/Chandra

Bindu visarga, is located either at the top back of the head, where some Brahmins leave a tuft of hair growing, or in the middle forehead. It is symbolised by a crescent moon. This chakra secretes an ambrosial fluid, amrit, and is the seat of the white bindu (compare with the white bodhicitta drop in the crown chakra in the Vajrayana system).


In some systems, Sahasrara is the chakra that is on the crown of the head. However, other systems, such as that expounded by Shri Aurobindo, state that the real Sahasrara is located some way above the top of the head, and that the crown chakra is in fact Brahmarandra, a sort of secondary Sahasrara with 100 white petals.


This is a minor chakra located slightly above the top of the head. It is an upward facing 12 petalled lotus, and it is associated with the Guru, that higher force that guides us through our spiritual journey.

 Lower chakras

There are said to be a series of seven chakras below muladhara going down the leg, corresponding the base animal instincts, and to the Hindu underworld patala. They are called atala, vitala, sutala, talatala, rasatala, mahatala and patala.
This chakra is located in the hips, it governs fear and lust.
Located in the thighs, it governs anger and resentment.
Located in the knees, it governs jealousy.
Translated as 'under the bottom level', it is located in the calves, and it is a state of prolonged confusion and instinctive wilfulness.
Located in the ankles, it is the centre of selfishness and pure animal nature.
Located in the feet, this is the dark realm 'without conscience', and inner blindness.
Located in the soles of the feet, this is the realm of malice, murder, torture and hatred, and in Hindu mythology it borders on the realm of Naraka, or Hell.


There are said to be 21 minor chakras which are reflected points of the major chakras. These 21 are further grouped into 10 bilateral minor chakras that correspond to the foot, hand, knee, elbow, groin, clavicular, navel, shoulder and ear. The spleen may also be classified as a minor chakra by some authorities despite not having an associated coupled minor chakra.

 Criticism of the chakra concept

The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience points out that there is no agreement about the number of chakras. Also, "The chakra system... has no proven relationship with the anatomy or physiology of the human body. Nothing resembling the energy of the chakras has ever been detected, despite the exquisite sensitivity of modern instruments."

 Comparisons with other Esoteric traditions

A number of other mystical traditions talk about subtle energies that flow through the body, and identify specific parts of the body as being subtle centres. There are many similarities between systems, however, none of these traditions developed in isolation; the Indian mystical traditions had contact with the Chinese and Islamic mystical traditions, and they may have mutually influenced one another. Similarly, the Jewish and Islamic mystical traditions shared a great deal in common, especially during the Islamic occupation of Spain, and Jewish mysticism in particular had influence over Christian mysticism.

 Qigong, the Dantian

Qigong also relies on a similar model of the human body as an energy system, except that it involves the circulation of qi (ki, chi) energy. The Qi energy, equivalent to the Hindu Prana, flows through the energy channels called meridians, equivalent to the nadis, but 2 other energies are also important, Jing, the sexual energy, and Shen, or spirit energy.
In the principle circuit of qi, called the Microcosmic orbit, energy rises up a main meridian along the spine, but also comes back down the front torso. Throughout its cycle it enters various dantians (elixir fields) which act as furnaces, where the types of energy in the body (jing, qi and shen) are progressively refined. These dantians play a very similar role to that of chakras. The number of dantians varies depending on the system; the navel dantian is the most well-known (it is called the Hara in Japan), but there is usually a Dantian located at the heart and between the eyebrows. The lower dantian at or below the navel transforms sexual essence, or jing, into qi energy. The middle dantian in the middle of the chest transforms qi energy into shen, or spirit, and the higher dantian at the level of the forehead (or at the top of the head), transforms Shen into wuji, infinite space of void.
In Japan, the word qi is written ki, and is related to the practice of Reiki, and plays an important role in Japanese martial arts such as Aikido.

 Sufism: Lataif

Many Sufi orders make use of lata'if, subtle centres in the body which are between four or seven in number and relate to ever more subtle levels of intimacy with Allah. But although some lataif correspond in position to the chakras, there are also some big differences in position and meaning.
One six lata'if system positions the Nafs, or lower self, below the navel, the Qalb, or heart, in the left of the chest, the Ruh, or spirit, to the right of the chest, the Sirr, or secret, in the solar plexus, the Khafi, or latent subtlety, in the position of the third eye and the Akhfa, or most arcane, at the top of the head. They are frequently associated with a colour as well as a particular prophet.
Unlike the Indian and Chinese system, the emphasis is not upon these subtle centres performing a kind of inner alchemy upon the energies of the body, such as kundalini awakening, and they are not considered like organs for the subtle body; instead, they represent more abstract, philosophical concepts, representing ever greater degrees of closeness to Allah.

 Christianity, Hesychasm

A completely separate contemplative movement within the Eastern Orthodox church is Hesychasm, a form of Christian meditation. Comparisons have been made between the Hesychastic centres of prayer and the position of the chakras. Particular emphasis is placed upon the heart area. However, there is no talk about these centres as having any sort of metaphysical existence. Far more than in any of the cases discussed above, the centres are simply places to focus the concentration during prayer.
Other mystical traditions exist within Christianity. The Renaissance saw the birth of 'Christian Kabbalah', which had its roots in Jewish kabbalah.


Bhattacharyya's review of Tantric history says that the word chakra is used to mean several different things in the Sanskrit sources:
  1. "Circle," used in a variety of senses, symbolizing endless rotation of shakti.
  2. A circle of people. In rituals there are different cakra-sādhanā in which adherents assemble and perform rites. According to the Niruttaratantra, chakras in the sense of assemblies are of 5 types.
  3. The term chakra also is used to denote yantras or mystic diagrams, variously known as trikoṇa-cakra, aṣṭakoṇa-cakra, etc.
  4. Different "nerve plexus within the body."
In Buddhist literature the Sanskrit term cakra (Pali cakka) is used in a different sense of "circle," referring to a Buddhist conception of the four circles or states of existence in which gods or men may find themselves.
The linguist Jorma Koivulehto wrote (2001) of the annual Finnish Kekri celebration having borrowed the word from early Indo-Aryan. Indo-European cognates include Greek kuklos, Lithuanian kaklas, Tocharian B kokale and English "wheel."
Cognates of "chakra" still exist in modern Asian languages as well. In Malay, "cakera" means "disc," e.g. "cakera padat" = "compact disc."


  1. ^ Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda, The hidden power in humans, Ibera Verlag, page 54. ISBN 3-85052-197-4
  2. ^ Charles Webster Leadbeater. The Chakras. p. 1.
  3. ^ John Cross, Robert Charman. Healing with the Chakra Energy System. pp. 17–18.
  4. ^ Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda, The hidden power in humans, Ibera Verlag, page 54, ISBN 3-85052-197-4
  5. ^ Exploring Chakras, Susan G. Shumsky, The Career Press Inc., 2003, p.37.
  6. ^ B.K.S Iyengar. Light on Yoga
  7. ^ Woodroffe, The Serpent Power, pp.317ff.
  8. ^ Flood, op. cit., p. 99.
  9. ^ a b c d e Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Kundalini Tantra.
  10. ^ Tarthang Tulku. Tibetan Relaxation. The illustrated guide to Kum Nye massage and movement - A yoga from the Tibetan tradition. Dunkan Baird Publishers, London, 2007, ISBN 978-1-84483-404-4, pp. 31, 33
  11. ^ Woodroffe, The Serpent Power, Dover Publications, pp.317ff
  12. ^ C. W. Leadbeater, Gichtel and Theosophia Practica, Chakra, Adyar, 1927
  13. ^ Chakras Caroline Myss website.
  14. ^ Helena Blavatsky (1892). Theosophical Glossary. Krotona.
  15. ^ Selby, Jon and Selig, Zachary. (1992) Kundalini Awakening, a Gentle Guide to Chakra Activation and Spiritual Growth, New York: Random House, ISBN 978-0-553-35330-3 (0-553-35330-6)
  16. ^ WEL-Systems: New Paradigm for NLP
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  19. ^ Wheels of Life, Anodea Judith
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  21. ^ The Chakras, CW Leadbeater
  22. ^ Interpretating the Revelation, John Van Auken
  23. ^ The Chakra Bible, Patricia Mercier, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd., 2007, p. 12. ISBN 978-1-84181-320-2
  24. ^ The Chakra Bible, Patricia Mercier, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd., 2007, p. 28
  25. ^ The Chakra Bible, Patricia Mercier, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd., 2007, p. 302
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  27. ^ The Chakra Bible, Patricia Mercier, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd., 2007, p. 233
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In the Tibetan tradition, all religious works of art are collectively referred to as sku gsun thugs rten. rTen literally means "support," and in religious terminology it signifies a support for one of the three "bodies" of enlightenment. sKu rten are "body supports," or images of the Buddha, deities, or saints in the Buddhist pantheon, such as the images painted in thangkas [see Jackson, Tibetan Thangka Painting, 1984]. gSun rten are "speech supports," or scriptures such as sutras and tantras, or commentaries on these. Thugs rten are "mind supports," of which mchod rten, or "stupas," are examples. Another object in this category of "mind supports", or representations of the spiritual embodiment of the Buddha, are dkyil khor, or mandalas. The word dkyil khor means "center-circumference," and describes both the essential geometric structure and ritual significance of mandalas. As one commentary clarifies [Wayman, Introduction to the Buddhist Tantric Systems, p. 270, n. 1]:
As for the center, that is the essence.
As for the circumference, that is grasping, thus grasping the essence.
This essence is the "heart" of the Buddha. In his enlightened form, the Buddha is no longer in this world. As one of his epithets indicates, the Buddha is tathagata, or "thus-gone," and in the absence of his physical body, the mandala represents his "body of enlightenment."

Mandalas are used in the rituals of tantric initiation. They are constructed at the beginning of the initiation, out of grains of colored sand carefully placed on a specially prepared platform. Thus mandalas, like Vedic altars, are temporary structures built of impermanent materials. But while the mud-bricks of altars are simply abandoned after the ritual sacrifice, mandalas are deliberately destroyed, their sand swept up upon completion of the initiation and and poured into a nearby stream or river.

All monks at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are required to learn how to construct mandalas as part of their training. The learning process is two-fold, including the memorization of texts that specify the names, lengths, and positions of the primary lines that define the basic structure of mandalas, as well as the manual techniques of drawing and pouring sand. These texts, however, do not describe every line, nor every detail of each mandala, but rather serve as mnemonic guides to the complete forms of mandalas that must be learned from the repeated practice of construction under the guidance of experienced monks.

The central square of 8 x 8 proportional units is shown by the gray area in the figure above. Note that in the east-west direction, drawn vertically here, the furthest extent of the construction lines is proportionately equal to that of the Vedic altar. Once the construction lines have been completed, guide-lines for the final representation of the mandala are drawn:

These guide-lines include representations of a square wall, each side of which contains an opening, or 'door' surmounted by a 'gate', and enclosing circles that define the limits of physical space. These guide-lines are traditionally drawn with chalk, and serve as a base for the final rendering of the mandala with colored sand. In the completed mandala, the colored sand completely covers the construction lines, resulting in the following form:

In addition to their constructional similarities, altars and mandalas share a significant ritual similarity as well: both are impermanent structures. Just as the Vedic altar is abandoned after the completion of the sacrificial ritual, the sand of the mandala is swept away after the completion of the tantric ritual, and then poured into a nearby stream or river.
The mandala represented above is known as Guhyasamaja, one of the five proportional classes of mandalas given in the Vajravali tradition. The iconographic details of mandalas may further vary within each proportional class. In the iconographic study by Loden Sherap Dagyab, for instance, three different iconographic variations are given for the Guhyasamaja mandala:

fig. 4: Mi bskyod pa; fig. 5: Mar lugs mi bskyod pa; fig. 6: Gsan hdus rdor.

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