Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Lawrence Edwards. Lawrence Edwards is the president of the Kundalini Research Network as well as the founder of a Kundalini support website, kundalinisupport.org. Lawrence has practiced and taught meditation for over 40 years and is a board-certified neurotherapist, a licensed psychotherapist, and has been on the faculty of New York Medical College since 1998.
With Sounds True, Lawrence has created a new audio program called Awakening Kundalini: The Path to Radical Freedom, where he teaches that Kundalini reveals the divine nature of the entire universe and every being within it and he shows us our true capacity for limitless compassion, connection, and love.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Lawrence and I spoke about common advice for people who may be experiencing fear associated with the Kundalini awakening process. We also talked about the role of the ego mind in Kundalini awakening. We talked about his own experiences with Swami Muktananda and the importance of respecting the energy of transmission in spite of a teacher’s human flaws. And finally, Lawrence introduced to us an empowered mantra and how to work with it as part of the Kundalini awakening process. Here’s my conversation with the very gifted teacher Lawrence Edwards.
Lawrence, one of the ways you talk about Kundalini is you say that Kundalini could be considered “the face of God.” I thought that was quite a strong statement. To begin, can you tell us what you mean by that?
Lawrence Edwards: Yes. The notion of Kundalini as the face of God actually comes out of the yogic tradition. The analogy is that just as we know somebody or recognize somebody by their face, in the same way, we come to know and recognize the divine, God, through the power of Kundalini.
TS: So that’s a very powerful analogy, and so where I want to go with this is: let’s say somebody is asking themselves, “Have I had a Kundalini awakening? How would I know? Do I know this face? Have I seen this face? Can I say these are the eyes, the nose, the mouth of this face, of a Kundalini awakening?” What do you think would be the litmus test?
LE: Well, I’m asked that question all the time, almost every day—because I get emails from people saying “I think I may have had an awakening. Here’s what I’ve experienced. What do you think?” And there isn’t any one particular experience that says “This is Kundalini awakening.” What there is is they get the sense that there are a number of ways in which—again, Kundalini as the power of the divine to reveal itself—there are a number of ways in which the divine can reveal itself to an individual.
That can be anywhere from feelings of inspiration, feelings of a new sense of energy, intuition, a connectedness, a profound connectedness to a person’s own source, their own sort of inner source, the divine within, connectedness to all of life, all beings. These kinds of experiences that begin to open the door to what’s possible for us to know beyond the confines and limitations of the ego mind, our ordinary reality. Those are the ways the divine begins to reveal itself and that the workings of Kundalini can be felt.
So sometimes, they’re very subtle to begin with. Sometimes they are profound. People have these extraordinary visions and dreams and real, kind of, in-your-face experiences and say “Oh my gosh. I’ve come to know something that I never knew before and wouldn’t have even thought was possible.” Those kinds of dramatic experiences—it’s easier to see that that’s the working of this innate power to know who and what we are beyond the ego mind. But it’s the subtler ones that are often there, that are sort of pre-telling what’s going to unfold, and it’s the subtlety of that that people start to notice, and that’s what gives them the sense of “Something’s shifting. Something’s happening. What is this?”
TS: Well, traditionally, at least in my understanding, Kundalini’s described as this serpent, the metaphor of the serpent coiled at the base of the spine, and the serpent awakens and climbs up in front of the spine and up out the top of the head. It makes it seem like—if that is a metaphor for Kundalini—that there would have to be some energetic dimension, some felt dimension, not just an insight of knowing, of interconnection. Do you think that’s true, that there has to be some energetic dimension?
LE: Well, I think there’s always an energetic dimension, but what we think of when we think in our ordinary terms of what an energetic dimension is, we forget that in the yogic and the consciousness disciplines in general, the mind is energy. It is Shakti. It is at root the same energy that Kundalini is.
So when we talk about what the movements of Kundalini can look like and how they can be experienced, and when we talk about and read, you know, the—this is a highly symbolic, metaphoric map that the yogic tradition has passed on with the idea of what’s represented by this coiled serpent, this snake, what’s represented by the chakras and the whole system of nadis, channels of energy and consciousness.
These all range from very gross levels of energetic manifestation, sensations, bodily movements, shaking, quivering, all kinds of things that are a very physically manifest sense of energy to the much more subtle and refined energy that has to do with shifts and states of consciousness, shifts in understandings, intuitions.
So it’s understood that the movement of Kundalini is going to manifest on all those different realms, and which one it manifests first—that’s its choice, in a sense. Where it begins working, how it begins revealing itself to the individual, varies from one person to another to another.
TS: Can you give me, just to illustrate this, examples of Kundalini awakenings that seem quite subtle, that maybe are happening more as you’re describing now, at the level of a breakthrough in one’s thinking process, but you’d say “Yes. That was a Kundalini awakening”?
LE: Sure. One that comes to mind that I’ve heard variations of from a number of different people is they began a practice, and typically it’s a practice that is related to yoga or meditation, and before they had any kind of energy sensations or anything like that, they began to notice their ability to understand things that they had read in the Eastern traditions—for instance, reading Sir John Woodroffe’s translations all about the Kundalini and the subtle body system—that is a very abstruse kind of text and hard to get.
That one in particular stands out because I remember somebody telling me they had read that and didn’t understand it at all. They received what they considered shaktipat from using an empowered mantra, and nothing in particular happened. They had just a vague sort of sensation. But not long thereafter, they went back and opened up that book to try and discover more about it, and it read with a lucidity and clarity that they knew their mind wasn’t capable of before because they had tried.
TS: That’s wonderful. That’s a good example. And you made an interesting point that I just want to underscore and have you circle back on a bit here, which is to underscore that what is happening in our mind is also considered this manifest realm, that we’re not only dealing with what’s happening in the body.
So when people think of Kundalini awakening, and they think of “Oh, I’m doing physical postures, and suddenly I’m sitting up quite alert, and I have this experience running in front of the spine”—you’re saying that Kundalini could also break through our thinking process and that we have to understand the mind in a different kind of way. Can you just clarify that a little more for me?
LE: Sure, because I think it’s one of the most beautiful ways that Kundalini Shakti manifests for people. Another one of her names is Saraswati Devi, the goddess of learning and poetry. And there are people who will have experiences of suddenly they’re writing poetry. Suddenly they’re having sort of a reawakening or awakening of creativity, discovering they can draw.
I just got an email recently from a woman in Costa Rica who received sort of a spontaneous awakening of Kundalini, had some kind of energy experience with it, not that dramatic, but what she noticed was she wanted to draw something that she had seen and remembered from years before, and though she had wanted to just try and capture it as a sketch, she found herself being able to draw it in detail, with beautiful shading and everything, and it was a talent she’d never had before.
So opening up the channels that go with what we are as this extraordinary being that ranges from—symbolically, in the map of the chakra system—from the Ajna Chakra, the seat of the subtlest levels of mind, down to the Muladhara, the root chakra of our sort of earthly existence, there are all these forms of energy that go with all the levels of consciousness that we as humans are capable of, and they are all—every single one of them is a throb, a pulsation, a manifestation of Kundalini Shakti.
TS: And then this classic metaphor of the snake. Why a snake? Why is that a fitting metaphor for Kundalini?
LE: Well, for a number of reasons. And it goes back to some of the ancient symbols of the divine feminine. One of the most ancient is of the snake itself, and we see this in myth and religious symbolism around the world. The snake was connected with the divine feminine because as a symbol, it showed the ability, like the snake, of being able to shed its skin and be reborn, become fresh and anew.
And connected to that is what happens, symbolically, with Kundalini awakening, is this complete shedding of the old skin of our ordinary ego mind and this refreshed feeling throughout the whole system—physical, mental, spiritual—of coming alive in new ways because now there’s new energy, this power of consciousness that was lying there dormant.
Also part of what’s symbolized in that coiled snake resting in the root chakra, in the earth domain, is that sense of a coil like a spring, that there’s a potential energy that’s going to be aroused and released and open. And so, that combination.
It’s an extraordinary symbol that is rich in its complexity because there are different layers to it, both in terms of the potentiality that it has and its connection to the divine feminine and this sense of being reborn and shedding what’s old and we’re done with. And all of that is connected to what happens with Kundalini awakening and its unfolding.
TS: And what’s the connection between the divine feminine, the feminine nature, and Kundalini awakening?
LE: Well, Kundalini is honored, certainly in the Eastern traditions, as a goddess, as a figure of the divine feminine. And what’s important, when we’re looking at that, is to go to where that whole process starts from, and that’s this transcendent domain where in a sense, the feminine and the masculine, symbolized by Shiva and Shakti in the yogic tradition, are forever united and are completely inseparable.
But the power to give birth, meaning the power to give form to the formless, that’s viewed archetypally as divine feminine across many, many traditions and cultures. You can see those symbols of the divine feminine showing up in Eastern European, European, African cultures. The divine feminine, the goddess in her many forms, has to do with this power to give birth, in other words to give form to that which was formless.
So in the Eastern traditions, Shiva is the formless one, the transcendent. But the imminent side of nature, of creation, of taking on forms, is seen as all the work of that facet of the divine that’s the divine feminine.
And it’s Kundalini, then, that creates everything, from—below the Saraswara, from the top, infinite, transcendent level on down is all Kundalini. Everything about the body, even our normal physical body, is seen as—every facet of that, every working of every cell, every nerve, every muscle fiber is all Kundalini. Everything about the mind and how it works, every thought, every intuition, every image is Kundalini Shakti manifesting that.
But that’s the active component of Kundalini in its sort of mundane existence. What gets the focus in the yogic traditions is the component of Kundalini—after it creates this entire universe, this beautiful being that each and every one of us is, with all the capacities that this complex map of the chakras provides—then there’s a component of it that goes dormant, and it’s that component that has the power to once again reveal the unbroken unity that all aspects of the Shakti has with its source, the infinite.
TS: So, I think what I’m wanting is to kind of nail down a definition of Kundalini that’s not metaphoric and that’s very clear. How would you do that, Lawrence? What would you say if you had to just put it into a phrase or a sentence?
LE: Kundalini is the power of revelation and transformation.
TS: So that power, when it awakens in us, we know our unity, and we know our creative and revelatory force? We know both?
LE: Exactly. Not immediately; it’s a process. Awakening and unfolding are processes. But the power, the unbounded power that allows us to have complete, direct access to knowing ourselves as the infinite, as the divine: that power is Kundalini.
TS: Now, in your new program with Sounds True on awakening Kundalini, it seems to me that there are really a couple of different main audiences that might be drawn to such a program. One are people who want this kind of breakthrough—you know, “I want Kundalini awakening.”
And then others are the kind of people you were describing, who call you in your role of running the Kundalini support group or website and other people who contact you in your role of helping people with Kundalini awakenings—people who are reaching out for some reason. What’s the main reason people call you because they’re saying, “I’m having trouble understanding this”—what’s going on for those people?
LE: The people who are typically reaching out who are experiencing some challenge by Kundalini are asking what are the ways that, if this has happened, either spontaneously or through doing some practices—but the energy of awakening, Kundalini, challenges our ordinary ego mind and experiences.
We may say we want Kundalini awakening. The tradition was “Be careful what you ask for” [laughs] because then you’re going to have to deal with it. When you start to awaken to what is your nature beyond the ordinary mind, and experiences come like that, that’s a challenge to the ego mind of how do you integrate those things? How do you make sense of them? How do you go about living your ordinary life with, you know, family and friends and relationships and job responsibilities while now there’s this entire other process going on that is opening the doors of perceptions to things that—the ego mind has to then figure out what to do with it.
So challenging experiences can be anywhere from visions to—and those are part of a larger class of experiences called kriyas. Kriya just means movement and movement of the energy of Kundalini. But kriyas can happen on a mental-emotional level; they can happen on an energetic level; they can happen on a physical level. So people will often be contacting me, saying “I’m having this kind of kriya” or “this kind of movement,” or “I’m not sure what to even call it, but this is what’s happening. How can I better deal with that? How do I integrate these things?”
TS: And do you have, if you would say, your top few pieces of advice that you give people who are in that situation—kind of most common advice that you give?
LE: Well, I usually get something from—a person will be sharing what component or something about their life because it’s happening in the context of their whole life. And there are a lot of things that will affect this energy unfolding. And the yogic tradition has looked at many of those things. So, things related to diet—but the range of what’s a healthy diet for somebody going through the intense energy of Kundalini can be very different than the diet of a strict vegetarian.
There are times, even when I was studying with Muktananda, who was a world-renowned Kundalini master—and he would tell people to eat really rich foods because if they weren’t eating that—he used to say if you don’t feed the Shakti, if you don’t feed the Kundalini, it can eat you up. And people would get almost emaciated at times of intense energy awakening and movement because they weren’t eating enough to really feed that energetic process, and they had to shift their diet to make it richer.
There are other times when people have to change their physical kinds of activities, what’s going on. Emotionally, many people have to deal with patterns related to anger and fear. Anger and fear are probably the two biggest emotional reactions that cause problems for people energetically and in Kundalini especially—because they’re rooted in the ego mind’s reaction to the world.
And part of what Kundalini is radically remaking is what the ego mind is all about and how it views the world and how it’s going to shift from being almost like an inner master—I mean, most people, before they have a sense of the presence of spirit or the divine within themselves, the ego mind is what’s in charge. And so the ego mind is what runs everyday life, from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed. Anything else is an intrusive bother.
So now, when you get this power of consciousness going that has a different agenda than the ordinary ego mind might, there can be clashes, and those clashes can be irritating and anger-provoking to the ego mind. They can be scary to the ego mind. So getting an understanding that helps root out those kinds of reactions is really important.
TS: Let’s talk a little bit more about fear because I have met people who have been involved—undergoing what I would consider to be an intense Kundalini awakening process, and fear does seem to be one of the big responses. They’re afraid that there’s too much energy running through their body, and what are they going to do? What are they going to become? Are they ever going to be able to go back to work? How do you help people in that situation?
LE: Right. Yes. Those instances overall are rare, but the people who experience them, they’re very intense. And so I’m often contacted by individuals going through those kinds of things. There are a number of ways that that needs to be approached. One is what kind of concrete practices they can be doing to help build the container of the mind.
Now, in the yogic tradition, there are lots of practices that help to build the container for energy awakening. In a sense, the esoteric goal of all yoga traditions, all different yoga practices, was awakening of Kundalini. But many of the practices help to form a solid container so when the energy awakens, it’s held in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming and threatening.
One of the foundational practices that helps to do that for the mind and helps to stabilize the mind, a foundational practice that’s a root practice for yoga and Buddhist traditions, is mindfulness, or vipassana, or witness consciousness—building that capacity of mind to step back from whatever the content of the mind is and be able to watch that unfolding from a place of equanimity.
That root practice needs to be done every day for increasing lengths of time, especially for people going through Kundalini processes, because it builds that kind of stability of the mind to contain experiences and to be present with them without feeling like it’s going to be overwhelmed.
So that and other practices that can help steady the mind, that can help steady the body—I mean, depending on what a person’s going through. Another support is also individuals. When Buddha talked about the three jewels and the importance of the three jewels for a person’s unfolding sadhana, their practices, one was the sangha, the group of likeminded seekers, because they help support people through processes.
A lot of people going through Kundalini processes that I hear from feel very isolated, very alone, and they don’t have other people to talk with who understand and see—they’ve gone through similar things and come out the other side. “It’s okay. Here’s a hint from what I went through.” Somebody else might share another thing. But finding supports in a community that will help a person through is very important.
The teachings and the practices are the other two jewels. And they help develop the understanding. A lot of people come in and start having these kinds of transcendent, transpersonal experiences. They transcend the personal, individual ego mind. And the ego mind’s first reaction often to such things can be that it’s threatening. That’s scary.
So it has to be reassured over and over again by a teacher, by teachings, by practices, that it’s okay—in fact, it’s more than okay. The underlying energy behind this is grace. It’s the power of revelation and transformation, and it’s going to give the mind access to extraordinary states of joy, of ecstasy, of creativity, of connectedness, and that’s what the process is working towards.
TS: Now, it’s interesting you use this word “container,” and I’m curious about that. What exactly do you mean by—I mean, are we containing? Are we a vessel? What do you mean by that, in terms of relating to Kundalini energy?
LE: Right. Well, it’s the notion that the ego mind itself, the ego mind that we have, is a container. It’s a small container, a container for a part of our consciousness that’s identified with the body and identified with thoughts and feelings and the things of the mind. So ordinarily, everybody goes through life with this sense of an ego self, and that contains their experience.
Now, when we invite a process, or it happens spontaneously, or it’s generated through practices that we were doing that we didn’t quite understand—gets a power of consciousness that is innate, that’s—Kundalini’s innate; it’s nothing outside or foreign. But when that starts to generate experiences that are beyond the familiar container of the ego mind, that’s what feels overwhelming. That’s what feels overwhelming for the mind.
So we build a stronger container in a number of different ways, one of which has to do with the stability of even the limited mind to simply be present with experiences and not be awash, not be flooded by them. And so, practices like witness consciousness or Vipassana or mindfulness help to build that steadiness of even the ordinary mind.
But the larger process that’s going on by the generative power of Kundalini is it’s expanding that container. It’s saying, “You’re not just this little mind. You’re not just this little body. There is so much more to who and what you are.” And in fact, bit by bit, it’s going to reveal and transform the vehicle of the mind and body to be able to be present with the experiences of greater and greater expansion.
There’s the sense that when it starts to open up experiences of unity consciousness, that’s unity with everything. That’s unity with the entire universe and all beings within it. Well, for the ordinary ego mind to start with, that can be tremendously scary. And archetypally, I mean, that’s represented in the Bhagavad Gita.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna—sort of the main character is one of the warriors leading the battle—and his charioteer is Lord Krishna, who’s the guru. He is the power of revelation. And when Arjuna finally starts to wake up that “Oh, this is the nature of Krishna”—that he’s this divine being—Arjuna asks to be able to see the divine, see Krishna in his real form, in his real essence.
And Krishna, in a sense, it says in the Bhagavad Gita, opens his eyes to that. And Arjuna starts to have the experience of Krishna, of the divine, in its infinitude. He’s so overwhelmed he falls to the ground and starts to beg Krishna to please stop. “Stop—it’s overwhelming. Give me back my ordinary vision.” And Krishna does.
But it’s an example of what happens when the ordinary mind has an encounter with the divine and is overwhelmed and then has to go back and do the sort of yogic processes, go through what Kundalini’s going to do stage by stage, to prepare the mind and body to have those kind of encounters and to be able to integrate them and serve as an expression of that infinitude in the moment, in your life, in your relationships, in your work, in all those different ways.
TS: So I’m wondering, not to get too obsessed with this word “container,” but do you think that the process of integrating Kundalini energy in our life is a process of the container getting larger and larger and larger such that there’s no top and bottom to the container, it’s not a closed system, it’s no longer a container, but it’s a—other metaphors that might work better? Do you know what I’m saying? A hollow vessel, something—what would be the accurate metaphor? The container becomes …?
LE: Well, there’s two things. One is the container gets strengthened, and by that I mean the container of the ego mind—because the ego mind still remains the ego mind, but now it’s got to serve, and—but what it finds is that it is now in this ocean of consciousness, and the doors to being able to perceive that aren’t limited to the doors of the ego mind.
See, to begin with, we start out thinking that what we perceive is just what the ego mind is capable of perceiving through the limitations of the senses. We are so identified with the body and the senses and their physical capacities. But when energies of consciousness that transcend that start to open, the ego mind thinks it’s going to take all of that in.
That’s not the job of the ego mind. The job of the ego mind is to serve in this domain, in this reality. There’s an ancient story of Saint Augustine. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this. He’s standing by the ocean, and he sees a little boy, and the little boy is standing there with a cup, and the boy is weeping. And Augustine goes up to him and says “What’s the matter?”
And the boy said, “I can’t fit the ocean in my cup.” And it was a moment of revelation for Saint Augustine. It’s said that after that, he never wrote another thing—because he realized he was trying to fit the ocean of the divine into the little cup of his mind.
However, if you throw that cup into the ocean, then there’s ocean inside, ocean outside, ocean all around it. And it’s waking up to that reality. The ego mind can remain a strong container of what it is, but now we know we’re floating in this infinite ocean of consciousness, that we also have the direct access to be able to be aware of how the divine as our own self perceives the universe of intimate connectedness, of fundamental unity unbroken by anything.
TS: Now, when you say that the proper role of the ego mind is to serve, can you be more specific about that? Serve in what way?
LE: Oh, sure, because I think it’s part of the profound transformation that is wrought by Kundalini in any tradition—because Kundalini, as a power of grace, of revelation, of transformation, operates through every great tradition.
But the transformation of the ordinary mind—the ordinary mind typically is at the service of however we’ve been brought up to pursue whatever the desires we think are important. It’s the conditioned mind. In the yogic system, it’s about the bottom three or four chakras.
So it has to do with the ego mind functioning to make sure that we can survive, that we have what we need, that we have possessions, that we can be procreative and in relationships for that, that we can exercise our willpower and our power to dominate things and get what we want.
So it’s—the ego mind—the structure is at the service of those capacities of our consciousness, and for most people, that’s their whole life. In fact, when you look at it across lifetimes, as the Eastern traditions do, that’s what the ego mind does lifetime after lifetime after lifetime, pursuing whatever its desires are, creating the karmas, the consequences of its actions that it will then live out in the next lifetime, and that will go on and on and on and on forever until somebody or unless somebody begins to wake up, awaken to that there’s a higher reality, a higher way of knowing, and a higher way of being and acting in this world.
That’s where, in a sense, the soul’s journey across lifetimes, it’s that time of awakening that is also seen as the time for awakening of Kundalini—because that’s the power that then is engaged, that transforms the ego mind.
So now it begins to wake up and realize that “Well, there are other things that can drive this system, this vehicle of body-mind. There’s compassion. There’s love. There’s kindness. There’s the joy that comes from serving the highest in the moment by caring and loving and being there for other beings.
So now the ego mind, rather than being self-serving, limited to its own tiny perspective and what it desires and where that came from culturally or familialy or peer groups or whatever it might be that help to shape and mold what those desires may have been and ambitions in life—now it’s being infused by a knowledge of the divine.
And it may start out to be an external sense of that, but gradually it’s going to become more and more internal, and it’s going to see that then the highest function of the ego mind is to know and to serve—to know the divine and the presence of that within and without and to serve it with every breath, with every moment of one’s life, and that all the energies of our consciousness, of the actions of our bodies, of the stream of thoughts and fantasies through the mind can all be directed towards service of the divine, bringing that love and that consciousness into this world.
TS: Now, one of the things I hear from people more and more these days is a view that Kundalini awakening is becoming more prevalent, that more and more people are having these types of awakenings. Is that your perspective?
LE: I certainly hear from many more people. I think there’s a number of things that are happening with that. The understanding of awakening in general or beginning to perceive what’s beyond the ordinary mind and the confines of the ordinary mind is having—more and more teachings are being more and more disseminated.
People are hungry; they’re spiritually hungry. Our cultural materialism has left people spiritually hungry, and now they’re becoming seekers. And so they’re waking up. Not all experiences of awakening are Kundalini awakening, but there’s generally much more interest in it.
TS: Now, can you explain that comment: “Not all experiences of awakening are Kundalini awakening”? What did you mean by that?
LE: Right. Well, in other words, people begin to have experiences that—there’s no exact test that says “This is a Kundalini experience, and this isn’t.” What we know from energetic experiences, from how prana and the science of yoga looks at things, there are many ways that prana, again, an energy of consciousness that is a product of Kundalini—Kundalini produces that—can be moving through the body and creating energetic experiences that aren’t Kundalini awakening, that can even be creating shifts in consciousness that aren’t Kundalini awakening.
Part of the hallmark of Kundalini awakening is that it is ongoing and self-sustaining. So one of the differences between some of these initial awakenings—they happen, and then they’re gone, and nothing else comes of it. Or they happen in relationship to a set of practices; the person stops the practices, they go away.
Because what’s happening is they’re moving prana, and people are discovering that there’s a tremendous power to prana, to moving energy yogically through the various asanas, pranayamas, breath exercises, focusing kinds of exercises that will have an impact on our mind and our consciousness and our body, but they don’t have the innate self-sustaining process that Kundalini awakening does.
So, Kundalini awakening will engender the same kinds of transformative movements in prana and energy in the body and the mind, but it’s doing it and will continue to do it no matter what the individual is doing, in a sense. But when it’s happening just in relationship to a practice, then as a person stops the practice, very often that stops. So does that make it clearer?
TS: Yes. That does. Thank you. And so you were saying that yes, more and more people are having awakenings of all kinds, including Kundalini awakenings. We know that’s true. You were answering my question about “Is there some increasing number of awakenings happening in the world today?”
LE: So, as a part of that—many more people are doing hatha yoga exercises. Now, for many people, for a long time, when I was teaching hatha yoga back in the 1970s and early 80s and it was a part of, you know, YMCA classes, nobody even knew that hatha yoga was related to meditation. It was just another exercise that felt good, and people were doing it.
So, people were engaging these practices that were taken out of context, that are powerful psychospiritual practices and can lead to spontaneous awakenings, even if that wasn’t one’s intent. Now, with that—now, if you drive around, there’s hatha yoga studios everywhere. They’re almost, you know, as numerous as Starbucks. They’re everywhere.
So people are having experiences that then come with that. The other thing from the yogic tradition that has been written about in the yogic texts for hundreds and hundreds of years is the notion that somebody who starts a yoga process, starts a sadhana in one lifetime, will continue it afterwards, that in a sense, the good karma, the good actions, whatever was built by the practices of yoga in one lifetime will then be available to the person in a next lifetime.
So we can see that many people have been doing yoga, and that’s increasingly happening, both in the moment in this life and that there’s a growing number of people over lifetimes who have been doing yoga. More and more are reaching that point of real Kundalini awakening. That’s a real turning point even in dedicated yoga practice.
TS: Now Lawrence, I want to talk a little bit about your own experience with Kundalini awakening. One of the things you seem to be emphasizing in our conversation is both that it’s an ongoing process but that also it has a certain momentum kind of all of its own that takes over in your life at a certain point.
So I’m curious to know: was there a point in your life where it was definitive—this momentum started manifesting in your life in some uninterrupted way? And then, what is that process like over the course of your life, as you’ve gotten older? How does it keep unfolding? What keeps changing?
LE: Sure. That’s a big question. My experiences—though I didn’t recognize them as such, I recognized them as extraordinary—started when I was very little, like three, four years old. And I was having visions of being visited by what as a child I called the lady of light and talked to my mother and my father and my brother and sister about the lady of light who came to me in the middle of the night, this glowing, radiant being.
And I talk about that in my book The Soul’s Journey. But that was an experience that led to other experiences later in childhood, then other experiences of the return of that presence in early adulthood, my late teens when I started doing yoga and meditation. It came back and then was accompanied with the beginning of the feeling of this real energetic presence. Then when I met Swami Muktananda in 1976, there was kind of a quantum leap of opening around that.
And it’s gone through a number of different phases, some of which had to do a lot with changes in what was going on with my body and physical health and strengthening, many experiences that were on the level of mind and building a strong mind and discovering the power and energy of the mind and being able to do things that I never would have thought possible, even when I had started doing yoga and meditation practices in college.
I was working a full-time job, and I was going to school full-time, and I wound up in three and a half years graduating magna cum laude with a 4.0 cumulative—that came from an energy that I didn’t have when I was in high school and I wasn’t doing yoga and meditation [laughs]. I attribute that completely to the power of yoga and meditation, and the root power of that is Kundalini—to build those kinds of strengths of body and mind, to be focused and productive and energetic and effective. One of the classic definitions of hatha yoga is “skill in action” because it empowers us in so many different ways.
TS: Well, let’s zero in. As you reflected back to me, it was quite a big question that I asked. But I’d like to zero in on your experience of meeting and studying with Muktananda. And you said that was a sort of quantum leap in your own personal unfolding. What do you think happened in those experiences with Muktananda?
LE: What happened in meeting Swami Muktananda was a—when I say a quantum leap—it made that energy presence within myself much more accessible because he gave empowered practices. What was important to me was both what happened because he was kind of a radiant powerhouse himself, but that was less important than the practices that he gave to me and, you know, tens of thousands of others—there was nothing unique about that—that I then made use of, and so it radically changed things in my everyday life.
I saw them radically change things in people’s lives that I then passed those practices on to—in every conceivable context, from doing programs in hospitals and universities to, for some years, doing programs in prisons and federal penitentiaries and seeing inmates who were serving sentences, one, you know, serving a sentence of life without parole—be completely transformed by engaging in the practices of meditation and empowered mantra and having a Kundalini awakening experience and unfolding experiences in prison.
So I knew that the power of these practices was extraordinary. That’s why I then did my doctoral research on Kundalini and these practices and people doing them in a variety of contexts: householders, people living in ashrams, and monks, swamis who were completely dedicated to these practices. Because it was the power of transformation, the Kundalini behind those practices that then brings it into every moment. There’s no separation. There’s no “I have to be in this sacred place” or “with this sacred person.” You’re with the sacred presence of the divine within you, within yourself, within your life, within all of reality around you. And that’s what it opens us up to.
TS: Now, a couple times, you’ve used this description of a mantra: an empowered mantra. So what does that mean? What makes a mantra empowered?
LE: Well, the mantra tradition, when we talk about empowered mantra—it stands, then, in contrast to a mantra that’s not empowered. And there are ways to empower a mantra. There are what are called the Mantra Shastras that are the scripts or the texts that go with the form of yoga that’s called mantra yoga—that will prescribe, you know, how many repetitions with how much focus and attention one has to do to kind of awaken the energy of a mantra. That’s one way of empowering a mantra or having it be empowered.
Another way of empowerment comes from the individual who is a part of a lineage, who has experienced the awakened power of that mantra and then passes it on. And then the individual receives it as an empowered mantra, may be empowered to pass it on himself, also realizes the power of the mantra themselves. And so that’s, in a sense, passed on.
And that’s the difference between an empowered mantra that comes through that kind of lineage and set of practices and a holder of that power as compared to one where it might not have come through that.
TS: So can you offer an empowered mantra yourself, and could you do that right now, as part of our conversation?
LE: Oh, sure. The mantra that Baba gave to me and gave to many and told me, empowered me, to give to everybody was Om Nama Shivaya. Om Nama Shivaya is both one of the great ancient mahamantras, but it’s also a mantra of many different lineages, that’s been empowered to awaken Kundalini and awaken the experience of the divine within.
TS: And your suggestion for how someone might work with that empowered mantra?
LE: The key is becoming absorbed in the mantra. Becoming absorbed in the mantra means that we dissolve the barriers between our self and the mantra and the source of the mantra. You know, if I’m saying Om Nama Shivaya, I might simultaneously be thinking of myself as who I am, sitting here saying this mantra, and then there’s the mantra Om Nama Shivaya, and then the mantra’s connected to this infinite—the divine in all its expansiveness.
But to start out with, those three things: the divine infinitude is separate from the throb of mantra is separate from this person sitting here. To get the most from the mantra means that we consciously begin to dissolve that set of boundaries, that as we’re repeating it for meditation and going inside with that, we become the mantra.
We enter into the consciousness of the mantra and holding with that the awareness that the mantra is a throb, a vibration of the infinite. And so, start to allow those boundaries to dissolve between our self, the mantra, and the source of the mantra—until all there is is that throb, that pulsation, that source.
That’s what draws us into the transpersonal experience of who and what we are beyond the mind as well as who and what the mantra is beyond a set of words or sounds. The sound body of the mantra, Om Nama Shivaya, those words: that’s like the gross form of the mantra. Mantra has different levels that it exists on in the same way that we have different levels that we exist on.
So to follow the mantra back from that start, with it being a gross form that we can think about, we can say out loud, and then can start to get a sense of it just repeating itself, Om Nama Shivaya, which is—the sound of it starts to take on its own life as we get more and more absorbed into it—until it will even dissolve that form of the words Om Nama Shivaya. It won’t even have those sounds necessarily anymore. There will just be a continued sense of awareness of mantra.
That root awareness is a subtler form of mantra itself. That too will dissolve because that awareness has certain boundaries to it. It seems like that awareness is contained in certain ways. There are limits to that awareness. But as that awareness and the boundaries around it dissolve, that’s when we start to merge into the infinite awareness that is the divine, that pervades everything at all times, in all places. So becoming completely absorbed in the mantra means becoming completely absorbed in that infinite awareness that holds all that is.
TS: Very beautiful. Thank you. Now, I do want to circle back to—you were talking about Muktananda, and you said that it was really the empowered practices, the mantras that you worked with, et cetera, that were the most important to you and that yes, he himself was a kind of powerhouse of energy, but for you, that maybe wasn’t the most important thing. I think for probably many people, they might not have said that. They would have said it was his presence that really was the big, transformative force. Do you think that’s true?
LE: I think that is true. And that’s where they then encountered the infinite, the divine, radiating through the guru. That happens in many traditions. It could happen to somebody meeting the Dalai Lama. But if we just leave it out there as in that other person and then don’t take what they’re giving as the means to know that directly, then we’re not receiving all that they’re trying to give.
TS: Do you think that when you’re around somebody like that, that through the phenomenon of resonance, something just happens in many people, that they’re—
TS: And how would you explain that?
LE: Well, because we as beings—when we think of ourselves, we’re often so concrete about our identity connected with the body. The Eastern traditions look at the body as manifested by the more subtle and more powerful energy that creates that, that energy of consciousness that creates the subtle body. That’s all the chakras and all the nadis.
And that’s created by the causal body, which is an even more powerful and even more subtle phenomenon that we experience in deep sleep, though unconscious of it. And it’s a throb of consciousness, a vibration of consciousness that creates all of what we are, from the subtlest levels of being to the grossest manifestation in our physical body. It’s this throb, this vibration of consciousness.
So when we’re in the company of somebody whose consciousness is, in a sense, pulsating, vibrating on such a higher level of energy and awareness, it impacts us. There’s a transmission that happens as a part of that.
TS: And then, one of the questions about Muktananda that I do feel I really want to ask you, Lawrence, is, you know, at the end of his life, he became quite a controversial teacher. Quite a number of scandals were reported in terms of his sexual activities with young girls, and—how do you personally make sense out of that?
LE: Well, having been with him through that period and even after he died, after he took mahasamadhi, and literally spending time with Baba as he was—after a great being takes mahasamadhi, as Baba was, ritually, he was then still seated in a lotus posture in his bedroom for several days after he had died, his body had died.
And I was given the privilege of sitting and meditating with him alone in his room. And his body was still as radiant and extraordinary as it was when it was alive. It was one of those yogic mysteries and miracles that is mind-boggling.
So I look at him as somebody who was here and gave—following his dharma to transmit and put out energy and practices to as many people as possible, which he did, and that he also had certain aspects of his personality or his actions that had flaws in it. To me, they didn’t—one didn’t negate the other.
And when I became more aware of that, which wasn’t until much later, and saw some of the outcomes of those things and also what happened with Siddha Yoga later on—that’s where I parted company with that tradition.
So, there was an undeniable power, access to the infinite, to the divine, that came through him and uplifted thousands and thousands of people. That to me is extraordinary. I don’t know all the details and didn’t pursue trying to—you know, who did what with whom, on that level of what happened with the end of his life, so that, I—you know, I don’t have any response to the details or anything like that because I wasn’t informed of that.
But I knew what he was. I knew what came from that. I knew what doing those practices myself and passing them on and the importance of that, and I think there’s an importance around, on a bigger picture, dharma.
This is an age where dharma, meaning “living with right action,” across the board, the dharma of the teacher, the dharma of the student, the dharma of the seeker, is so important. Kali Yuga, this Dark Age, is a time when it’s seen that dharma is most challenged. And so it’s also a time when it’s most important to be dedicated to dharma and to living dharma with as much dedication as possible.
And we see that there are fallen yogis. There are fallen Buddhist teachers. There are fallen priests and ministers. And it all speaks to what goes on in Kali Yuga, in terms of the challenge of people staying with their dharma. And it also has to do with what’s the dharma of the seeker to be informed of that, and when you become informed to make decisions then based on that because it wasn’t just Muktananda. You know, there have been things recently. John Friend and the whole yoga tradition that he was trying to get going with hatha yoga. And what happens when a person leaves their dharma? Things crumble.
TS: Now, I understand you leaving Siddha Yoga and being formally associated with them in any way and—but did it change your sense of reverence or devotion in relationship to Muktananda?
LE: Uh … I don’t think so. But I think I had a different perspective on Baba than a lot of the practitioners that I knew who made a god of him in a way that I never did. I saw the guru in my studies and understanding of the guru principle and the importance of a guru. It was contained in a certain way. I held it with a certain kind of understanding that for me, fortunately, gave me both the access to the profound teachings and the power of those teachings and practices that I, in a sense, I will probably forever, on some level, feel indebted for—extraordinary gifts of those things.
But at the same time, I always knew Baba was a human being. And, you know, I think part of that was my Jungian training prior to meeting him and while meeting him. There’s a shadow side. There’s a shadow side to individuals. There are shadow sides to organizations. To be awake and aware means to be vigilant about seeing those things and seeing through those things and understanding that they’re there even sometimes when you don’t see them, so not to be surprised when they show up.
TS: And just one final question about Muktananda. Do you feel him still working with you in any way, and even as you teach awakening Kundalini, do you feel his energy somehow as a part of what you’re doing?
LE: Well, I feel the energy that came through Baba, but I never gave him ownership of that energy. That energy is Shakti, is Kundalini. That’s not owned by anybody. And what I appreciated Baba for was he was an open faucet through which it just absolutely poured. But it was a faucet that turned out to have some flaws. But what flowed through was extraordinary and flawless and the power of grace.
And so I certainly feel that same power coming through practices, coming through rituals and retreats that I’m running that I felt when I was around Baba. And I’ve even had people who have been with retreats with Baba who have been in some of the retreats that I’ve run and said, “Oh my God! It’s the same Shakti!”
I said, “Yeah. It is the Shakti.” That’s the whole point. It’s—there’s only one Shakti, regardless of who the vehicle was that it moved through—there’s just this one extraordinary power of grace and revelation and transformation, and that’s what I honor.
I’ve worked with old Siddha yogis who are trying to find their way through that and are very conflicted about what happened, what happened with Baba, what happened with Gurumayi, what happened with some of the other teachers in that lineage. And it’s the same. I also get contact with people who have been molested by priests or violated by shamans. It’s not different.
But there’s a larger group, I guess, that I’ve been contacted with because of Siddha Yoga. And for them to separate out and understand the power of the grace, the power of the Shakti that came through there, that’s inviolate. That is pure. Sad to say that what it moved through—that faucet has its flaws.
But you know, if you’re dying of thirst, you’re dying of thirst, you’re in the desert, you come into a little cabin, you open up a faucet, and you get this wonderful, life-giving drink of water, you don’t start doing a puja to the faucet. You love the water. But somehow, when it’s a human being, we want to always attach it to the form of the human being. That’s our vulnerability.
TS: Mm hmm.
LE: And that’s something—that’s a part of the development of discrimination that’s so important—is to differentiate those things. And that helps set us free.
TS: Well, Lawrence, just to end our conversation here together, I want to be vulnerable and let you know that what I notice in talking with you is that I feel quite stirred up in a certain kind of way. I feel quite a bit of electricity running through me, more so than normal, and I think it’s a combination of your energy and just talking about the topic of Kundalini and even just hearing the word Kundalini, what it stirs up in me.
And my final question to you here is if a listener is having that type of experience, where they feel somehow more—a type of glittery sense of their connection with everything, just as they’re listening to this conversation, what do you suggest, in addition to the mantra that you offered, for somebody to deepen in that experience and not turn away from it in any way?
LE: Approach it, receive it with reverence, with gratitude. The Shakti that comes through me as it comes through teachings, that is welling up inside of you, that will well up in who may be listening to this, has untold gifts to give. And if we’re present with an openness and a reverence and a way of celebrating with thankfulness all those different gifts, from the tiniest movement of energy to the loveliest little insight or the fresh air that moves through the mind and just clears away a cloud that may have been lingering there, all those are gifts of, to me, the Shakti wanting to open and expand our experience and invite us to participate in the vision of the universe that we can have, the direct vision of being that creative power and all the beauty and the love and the compassion and the patience and the kindness that unfolds with that. So welcome it, over and over again.
TS: Wonderful. I’ve been speaking with Lawrence Edwards, and he has published with Sounds True a new, six-part learning program, Awakening Kundalini: The Path to Radical Freedom. It’s a comprehensive guide for safely experiencing the potent and transformative energy of Kundalini.
Lawrence, thank you so much for being with us on Insights at the Edge.
LE: Oh, thank you for having me.
TS: You’re a great teacher. I hope lots and lots of people learn of your work.
SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.