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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 29-33

The chakra system as a bio-socio-psycho-spiritual model of consciousness: Anahata as heart-centered consciousness

Department of Psychology, University of West Georgia, USA

Date of Web Publication21-Dec-2013

Correspondence Address:
Robert Beshara
Melson Hall, Room 124 1601 Maple St, Carrollton, GA 30118
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2347-5633.123289

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Today, to most scientific materialists the seat of consciousness is the brain. According to the dominant strand of this reductionist monist view, consciousness - and naturally the mind of which it is a part - is an epiphenomenon of the brain. This is a metaphysical assumption and as far as I know, there has not been any proof as of yet to support such a claim (aka the hard problem of consciousness). According to scientism, the mind is an illusion, albeit, a useful one from an evolutionary standpoint. This illusion - which strangely enough is not too different from the Hindu notion of maya - has helped us not only survive for thousands of years but also adapt more quickly to our environment. Even though our holographic-like representations of physical reality or the noumenal world are not accurate they are close enough to the-thing-itself that we have succeeded to control and abuse the planet and its resources while dominating other species along the way, to say the least. Why is this the case? Are we too much in our heads? Are we too caught up in our emotions? Clearly, there is an imbalance within and without us for which we are primarily responsible; the results of this global imbalance are such things as threats to biodiversity, war, poverty, and health issues to name but a few. We are using the wrong lenses metaphysically speaking and that is partially why we have been distorting reality, be it monism or dualism. The contributions of science ever since the Scientific Revolution are immense and grateful to them we are, especially in terms of their technological application. However, the dark side is that industrialization has made us more dehumanized and social media has made us more disconnected in the real world. The argument here is not whether technology is good or bad, but rather the question is how can we create eco-friendly technologies (from our cars to our cities) that are harmonious with nature in the ultimate or nondual sense. So what is missing? Perhaps the will is. Maybe we have been blinded by our selfishness to the extent that we cannot see beyond our desires. The paradigm shift hinted at here is one that is reminiscent of the Buddhist concept of the Middle Way, the goal being global coherence through individual transformation, which cannot happen unless there is balance in the first place and the key is balancing the heart.

Keywords: Anāhata, balance, coherence, heart-centered consciousness, transformation

How to cite this article:
Beshara R. The chakra system as a bio-socio-psycho-spiritual model of consciousness: Anahata as heart-centered consciousness. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol 2013;1:29-33

How to cite this URL:
Beshara R. The chakra system as a bio-socio-psycho-spiritual model of consciousness: Anahata as heart-centered consciousness. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol [serial online] 2013 [cited 2024 Feb 22];1:29-33. Available from: https://www.ijoyppp.org/text.asp?2013/1/1/29/123289

"Now here is my secret, very simple: you can only see things clearly with your heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye."

The fox from The Little Prince

Apparently, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has been somewhat misread, for most of us have been taught only one half of the theory which has to do with competition, but the truth is more along these lines, "'Cooperation is a fundamental principle of evolution,' Nowak says today. 'Without it, you don't get construction or complexity in life. Whenever you see something interesting, like the evolution of multicellular creatures or human language, cooperation is involved'". [1] One possible reason as to why the cooperation aspect of the theory had been overlooked for years may have something to do with how we have been conditioned by capitalism to have a competitive mindset, which is akin to the concept of discrimination in Buddhism. To get a wider perspective on reality (i.e., one based on nondiscrimination or nonduality), I have chosen to propose a bio-socio-psycho-spiritual model of consciousness adaptively based upon the chakra system which is a very useful descriptive metaphysical model that stresses the interbeing-to use Thich Nhat Hanh's term-between the individual and society in the largest sense of the word.

The chakra-Sanskrit for circle or wheel-system is a multimodal approach that can ultimately lead us to nonduality if we manage to balance all of our chakras, but that is a hard task for it requires consistent training and checking over a lifetime; in other words, it is a never-ending process, but it can possibly get easier and more enjoyable the more we do it just like developing any new skill. However, this may be one of the most important life skills to acquire: How to think, how to feel, how to act; in other words, how to live or how to be. The seventh chakra or sahasrara in Sanskrit symbolizes enlightenment as a mode of consciousness: When one is no longer separate, when one is completely open to all that is, or when the concept of ''one'' is no more. That may be of interest to a number of people, but I find that goal to be overly ambitious for the rest of humanity not because they are lesser individuals but because they are struggling through the first three modes of consciousness symbolized by the first three chakras: Muladhara, svadisthana, and manipura. Before we get into the details of the chakra system, let me provide a very general overview of the seven modes of consciousness in terms of selfish and selfless tendencies.

Imbalance in the lower three chakras (from 1 to 3) symbolizes the highest tendency toward selfishness with the first chakra representing most selfish and the third chakra representing least selfish. Those lower three chakras also primarily deal with the physical realm (e.g. eating, drinking, sleeping, sex, etc.), where dualistic notions are most prevalent. Balance in the higher three chakras-visuddha, anja, and sahasrara-(from 5 to 7), which primarily deal with the spiritual realm, symbolizes the highest tendency towards selflessness with the seventh chakra representing most selfless (and hence, nondual) and the fifth chakra representing the least selfless. The fourth chakra (anahata, which means unstruck) is a special case because it is situated exactly in the center of all seven chakras, so it symbolizes overall balance between all modes of consciousness and the ultimate potential for individual and global transformation. Since most individuals and societies are stuck at the lower three chakras, I suggest that we put all of our efforts to open up the heart chakra and make sure that it is balanced by any mean possible so there could be greater health, happiness, and peace on both the individual and societal levels. On the basis of this understanding of the two general tendencies of selfishness and selflessness, we can group the seven chakras or modes of consciousness into three broad categories: Volition (chakra 1-3), affection (chakra 4), and cognition (chakras 5-7), which we shall call triune consciousness. [2] We will also set an ideal goal for each category: Volition (health), affection (happiness), and cognition (peace). The interdependence between these categories in triune consciousness captures the notion of interbeing. In order for us to be happy as individuals, we need to be emotionally balanced. Before we can take any action, we must be physically healthy. And finally, in order for societies to reach peace within themselves and with one another, first there is a lot of unlearning that must take place so one can then see with greater clarity through a beginner's mind the nondual nature of reality.

Before we go any further, let me introduce the concept of the two hearts. Simply, there is an anatomical heart and a metaphysical heart that we will be referring to. However, emphasis will be put on the metaphysical heart especially since not only can it have an effect on the anatomical heart, but also it can have an impact on our bodymind as a whole, especially given its central location in the chakra system, so as a mode of consciousness one of its major qualities is balance. Additionally, I would like to point out the importance of the heart as the seat of consciousness in ancient times across the world as Richard E. Lind noted, "In all ancient cultures there was a consensus that the 'heart-mind' (e.g. heart-soul) was the experiential location of subjectivity and of all the mental functions currently attributed to the brain". [3] If we go back in time to one of the earliest civilizations, we will discover that, "For the Egyptians, the brain (being bloodless in death) was not important and was generally ignored the heart was the power of life, and the source of good and evil. Thus, in their funerary literature, the Book of the Dead, the heart was weighed, against feathers, to determine the balance of good and ill at death". [4] I am not proposing that we ignore neuroscientific findings that suggest that the brain and consciousness are correlated or causally connected, but I am absolutely questioning the metaphysical assumption that the brain is the seat of consciousness. The brain or more appropriately the mind is one of the seven modes of consciousness (anja) but the rule is that imbalance through overactivity or underactivity in any of the seven modes of consciousness is not recommended. Instead of being too much in the mind (intellectually) or too much in the body (emotionally), why not balance out our bodymind via the heart chakra?

So what are chakras exactly? "The word chakra means ''wheel'' in Sanskrit, and the idea of the chakra system entered India's sacred texts between 1800 and 800 B.C. According to the yogic sages who first described the system, a set of seven invisible energy centers animates each person's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual body. These vortexes are not physiological, though they correspond to specific locations along the spine and are associated with particular physical as well as emotional functions". [5]

Why chakras? I completely agree with Dr. John E. Nelson's answer to this question, he said, "So when I came across the ancient Tantric teachings concerning the chakra, I found them to be an ideal metaphor to characterize the way we expand our consciousness as we progress through life. I was delighted, for it matched my deepest intuitions derived from my own spiritual practice". [6]

Why seven? There is no satisfying answer to this question; however, the historical explanation is that most Western models and interpretations, including this one, are based upon-knowingly or unknowingly-Arthur Avalon's (aka Sir John Woodroffe) The Serpent Power: The Secrets of Tantric and Shaktic Yoga. [7] Certainly, I side with the skeptics (lead by Michael Shermer) regarding some of their criticisms toward the chakra system when it comes to the number of chakras involved and the neurophysiology of chakras. It may be arbitrary that there are seven modes of consciousness and not six, eight, or any other number for that matter. Our model is based upon the consensus among many scholars of chakrology that mainly there are seven chakras. However, our model is not set in stone and it is only a working model that is primarily helpful symbolically but that also has practical implications given the importance of symbols in psychological life. But I want to expand this further and ask: Why are there seven days in a week? Why are there seven colors in a rainbow? And why are there seven notes in the traditional Western diatonic scale?

Regarding the neurophysiology of chakras, there is a growing field called energy psychology, which tries to investigate such things as ''subtle energy'' that supposedly moves through the chakras, but that is not the route I take. I am not opposed to research into the neurobiology of chakras [8] and I find that jumping to the conclusion that it is pseudoscience is harsh; however, my approach as stated previously is to regard chakras metaphorically as modes of consciousness. [9]

So what are modes of consciousness? Modes of consciousness are modes between which we can oscillate. If all of our chakras are balanced metaphorically speaking then we can move seamlessly between the seven different modes of consciousness. These modes symbolically signify our awareness (or lack thereof) of the different levels of reality starting with the physical all the way to the spiritual. It has been argued that Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs was probably based upon the chakra system. [10] However, Maslow-the godfather of the Psychology Department at the University of West Georgia-was not the only psychologist to have been influenced by the chakra system, for the list includes: Carl Jung, Timothy Leary, Ken Wilber, and Richard Barrett among others who came up with their own maps of consciousness.

Why metaphor? Because even though there is not enough physiological evidence for the subtle energy that supposedly passes through the chakras, working with chakras as metaphors can be useful in many ways, whether theoretically as a way to better understand reality through the symbolic modes of consciousness or practically in therapy or healing through meditation, yoga, massage, and so on.

Heart-centered consciousness is special for a number of reasons, so let us look at some of the positive qualities associated with the anahata mode of consciousness to understand why it is so special. Those include: Direct knowing and ego-transcendence, [11] intuition, [12] compassion and wisdom, [13] synchronization and coherence, [14] direct cognition, [15] integration, [5] intentionality, [2] balance, [16] healing and empathy, [17] self-acceptance, [10] universal love, [6] and transformation. [18]

Just to clarify that what is being promoted here is balanced heart-centered consciousness, let us list some of the negative qualities of an imbalanced heart chakra. When anahata is overactivated, we may experience ourselves being codependent, sentimental, smothering, inordinately responsible, and given to overdoing it and burning out; however, when that mode of consciousness is underactivated, we may experience ourselves being hard-hearted, stingy, uncaring, thoughtless, callous, greedy, and calculating. On the contrary, when our heart-centered consciousness is in balance we may feel generous, compassionate, sensitive, showing unconditional positive regard for others, and caring of self and others. [5] Therefore, the three potential stages that any chakra can be in are underactive, balanced, or overactive. Through certain techniques mentioned later we could balance our chakras.

Now, we shall investigate the importance of a heart-centered consciousness biologically, socially, and psychospiritually. Then we shall end this article by proposing some ways with which we can activate our heart chakra in a balanced manner, on the individual and global levels.

Biologically, ischemic heart disease-usually due to coronary artery disease-is the number one cause of death worldwide amounting to 7.25 million deaths in 2008 according to the World Health Organization. [19] Clearly, we have shifted our focus toward the anatomical heart at this point, but only to understand the connection between the two hearts (the metaphysical and the anatomical), which is an area that has been heavily researched at the Institute of HeartMath (IHM) in California. One of their most radical findings is that "[t] he heart's electromagnetic field-by far the most rhythmic field produced by the human body-not only envelops every cell of the body but also extends out in all directions in the space around us. The cardiac field can be measured several feet away from the body by sensitive devices. Research conducted at IHM suggests that the heart's field is an important carrier of information". [20] In the Science of the Heart (2001), they have concluded that:
"Scientific research now tells us plainly that anger, anxiety, and worry significantly increase the risk of heart disease, including sudden cardiac death. Landmark long-term studies conducted by Dr. Hans Eysenck and colleagues at the University of London have shown that chronic unmanaged emotional stress is as much as six times more predictive of cancer and heart disease than cigarette smoking, cholesterol level or blood pressure, and much more responsive to intervention."

Their core tools for increasing the heart's psychophysiological coherence, as outlined in the same book, are such techniques as: Freeze-Frame (which stops stress by shifting perception in the moment), Heart Lock-In (which establishes increased physiological efficiency, mental acuity, and emotional stability as a new baseline), and Cut-Thru (which extinguishes recurring, intrusive thought patterns, and emotions). To revisit the notion of triune consciousness, volition was the physical dimension that grouped the lower three chakras. Volition may have to do more with selfishness and competition; however, balance in the lower three chakras would signify improved general health.

Socially, Richard Barrett came up with his own model of consciousness indirectly inspired by the chakra system via Abraham Maslow; he calls that model The Seven Levels of Societal Consciousness, to him "[t] he level of growth and development of consciousness of a society depends on the ability of the leaders and the government to create an economic and social climate that meets the needs of its citizens". [18] Clearly, the fourth level in his model that is equivalent to anahata is the most important one for it lies at the center and is called transformation; in other words, this is a level not only of balance but also of transition if a paradigm shift to take place at a local, regional, national, or global level. The connection between individual, social, and global coherence is well-articulated in the Global Coherent Initiative, a project by IHM. The hypothesis is that:
"When enough individuals and social groups increase their coherence and utilize that increased coherence to intentionally create a more coherent standing reference wave in the global field, it will help increase the global consciousness.

This can be achieved when an increasing ratio of people move towards more balanced and self-regulated emotions and responses". [21]

Let us remember that capitalism emphasizes competition while ignoring the other side of the evolutionary coin: cooperation. [1] Now, it becomes clear we have been conditioned to accept a simplistic and incomplete version of evolutionary theory, which partially explains why there is so much imbalance in the world, at least way more than what is necessary or natural. The second dimension of triune consciousness is affection, which corresponds with anahata or the transition from selfishness to selflessness via a balanced heart-centered consciousness. The result of such a heart-centered approach to consciousness socially would unsurprisingly be peace.

Psychospiritually, there is a variety of transpersonal applications in terms of therapy and healing that are focused on the anahata mode of consciousness. We can apply some or all of these heart-centered techniques of healing with a clinician or on our own (if possible):

  • Breathing through the energy centers, centering through the heart, chakra meditation sequence, and so on. [22]
  • Meditation as the key to the Eightfold Path and compassion as a Zen principle of psychotherapeutic value 29
  • Bhakti yoga and chanting through the chakras [17]
  • Prayer of the Heart [24]
  • The symbolic act of incense altar offering [9]
  • Breath work: mindfulness of breathing or Anγpγnasati[13]
  • Synchronization and coherence of body systems and biofields through sustaining states of positive emotion and relaxation [14]
  • Balancing exercises include chest openers in yoga (Cobra, Camel, backbends), mentally examining our relationships, and volunteer work [5]
  • The Arch Exercise [16]
  • Self-love [25]
  • Quick coherence technique [26]

To revisit the notion of triune consciousness, when the higher three chakras that are categorized under cognition are balanced we get selflessness or nonduality. The result of a heart-centered approach to this third and last (spiritual) dimension of triune consciousness is happiness.

  Conclusion Top

Before we can transform the world, we ourselves must first balance our anahata mode of consciousness so we can experience health, peace, and happiness, within and without. The key to balancing out and transforming our (individual and global) triune consciousness lies in heart-centered consciousness, wherefrom we can clearly see the interbeing of volition, affection, and cognition.

  References Top

1.Ohlson K. The cooperation instinct. Discover 2012;13:34-77.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Tallon A. Head and heart: Affection, cognition, volition as triune consciousness. New York: Fordham University Press; 1997.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Lind RE. The seat of consciousness in ancient literature. Jefferson: McFarland and Company Inc Publishers; 2007.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Gregory RL and Zangwill OL. The Oxford companion to the mind. Oxford, Oxon: Oxford University Press; 2007.  Back to cited text no. 4
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26.The quick coherence technique for adults. (n.d.). Available from: http://www.heartmath.org/free-services/tools-for-well-being/quick-coherence-adult.html. [Last accessed on 2013 Oct 13].  Back to cited text no. 26

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