The Corona Radiata
The Severing of the Sahasrar
by David Todd
Vision Mound Magazine, Vol2, No 8, 1979
The Journal of the Religious and Spiritual Teachings of Bubba Free John (Adi Da Samraj)
The Corona Radiata
The corona radiata (Latin: “sunburst”) is the white matter connecting the centrum semiovale superiorly and the internal capsules inferiorly
“The final goal of the Kundalini Yoga is the top of the head, known as the hole in the skull. It is the place of final bliss (brahmananda). It is situated above the end of the susumna. Because it is a lotus of 1,000 petals it is called sahasrara. Here is experience of final union where the bond of attachment with the world is cut and the bliss of release is enjoyed.”
George Weston Briggs. Gorakhnath and the Kanphata Yogis (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1973).
Of all the Oriental spiritual paths, the path of “kundalini yoga” is probably most familiar to Westerners. Most of the swamis and yogis who have migrated to the United States from India have come to teach some form of meditation or spiritual practice founded on the principles of this yoga. Most simply described, kundalini yoga is a method of concentration on the subtle energy and energy centers of the body. This energy, called “kundalini” (and also the “Shakti”) in Sanskrit, is said to lie dormant in the lowest energy center or terminal of the body, at the base of the spine. Through control of posture, breath, and attention, the kundalini is aroused and made to pass up the spine, awakening each of the primary psycho-physical centers or “chakras” arranged vertically in the body along the spinal line. The highest of these centers is the “sahasrar” describee in the quotation above. Here the individual consciousness or self, the ego, is said to merge and dissolve into the universal consciousness. So the kundalini tradition considers this experience to be the ultimate goal of spiritual practice, the final realization of God- Consciousness.
A spiritual tradition is not a single, rigidly determined set of principles. As practitioners add their experience and insight, as well as their failures of experience and insight, to the lore of the tradition, it comes to represent a complex amalgam of related literature, doctrine, legend, and actual practice. Thousands of people in India, and now in the West, have experienced at least partial awakening of the kundalini energy through intentional practice of yogic methods, and others have had more spontaneous realizations, usually in the company of yogic adepts, or advanced practitioners. A handful of these have experienced “nirvikalpa samadhi” (formless absorption), the trance state held in highest esteem by some representatives of the kundalini tradition. Nirvikalpa samadhi is said to occur when the individual becomes lost in “the void of pure consciousness” in which no objects, physical or mental, are perceived. Some practitioners assert that this experience arises when the kundalini rises to the Sahasrar, and that it is thus the ultimate spiritual realization.
This description of God-Realization however, is a degeneration of the original spiritual teaching of India as expressed in its ancient scriptures, the Upanishads and Vedas. First of all, these sources, as well as the testimony of God-Realized Adepts in more recent times, reveal that the ultimate spiritual realization is associated not principally with the sahasrar, as the kundalini tradition and many other yogic and saintly traditions have come to assert, but with the heart. Secondly, those who recommend a method of internal concentration and ascent and claim that their ultimate experience represents the awakening of the sahasrar are misinterpreting the phenomena they witness. They mistake the trance states that arise as attention moves to the brain core or “ajna chakra (the sixth energy center located below the true sahasrar) for the actual awakening of enlightenment. In fact, they may experience a formless samadhi or trance absorption as a natural expression of the concentration of attention in the brain core, or ajna chakra. but such a formless samadhi is generated in the upper extremity of the brain core, not in the sahasrar, which is above the brain core. It is a remarkable and profound experience of absorption in the primal energy of the central nervous system but it does not represent total enlightenment.
This article discusses the experiences of two men in our own century who passed through remarkable transformations involving the kundalini and the higher yogic centers of the brain. These two are Vasishtha Ganapati Muni, a disciple of the Indian Sage Sri Ramana Maharshi, and Bubba Free John, the American-born Spiritual Master. By examining the spiritual experiences of these two men, we can discover some of the essential matters that distinguish partial spiritual illumination from complete enlightenment. Their reports can serve as a guide to our understanding of the esoteric and evolutionary processes hidden in our own psycho-physical anatomy.
Ganapati Muni was a remarkable individual, greatly gifted as a scholar and poet, as well as a spiritual aspirant. These gifts emerged after a miraculous healing that occurred in his boyhood. As a child Ganapati did not speak and was prone to epileptic fits. His parents and doctors tried various remedies, but all failed to ease his plight. Then, when he was five years old, they brought him in desperation to a mendicant, who touched him with a glowing branding iron. He was instantly cured. After that time he displayed remarkable verbal talents. By his early teens he was fluent in Sanskrit, and by the age of twenty he was an acknowledged scholar and religious poet. He became famous throughout India for his inspired extemporaneous songs in praise of the Divine. He was bestowed the title “Muni,” or “Sage.”
From an early age Ganapati was possessed with the desire to uplift himself and all of humanity through spiritual means. He gathered a number of followers in his self-proclaimed mission to save the world. They would meet together to recite special mantras (sacred sounds or Names of God) that supposedly could influence great numbers of people through their subtle powers. But after twenty years of these efforts, the Muni found himself at a dead end. No great spiritual transformation had occurred in the world—or in himself.
When he met Ramana Maharshi, Ganapati was approaching middle age, and he was full of despair. Nevertheless, he hoped to learn new mantras and yogic techniques from the Maharshi. Ramana was relatively unknown. He was yet only twenty years old, and he was still called by his given name, Venkataramana. When the two met, the Muni immediately recognized that
Venkataramana was no ordinary ascetic but a great Sage of the rarest calibre. Here was a man who had realized his identity with the Self or God. The Muni renamed him Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi and became his most outspoken disciple. (“Bhagavan” means “Lord,” “Maharshi” means “Great Sage.’’)
Ganapati chose not to remain at Ramana’s ashram (spiritual hermitage). Instead he felt compelled to pursue his spiritual practice and social work while wandering throughout India. At times his family and devotees traveled with him, but more often his whereabouts remained unknown to anyone. Even so, he wrote to his Spiritual Master throughout his periods of absence. After having been away from the Maharshi for two years at one point, Ganapati was found by one of his disciples, while recovering from a serious illness. He quickly regained his strength and set off to see the Maharshi. During the journey to the ashram, his disciples noticed what they called “a new power in the Muni.” Ganapati confided to them that the “kundalini shakti” had become forcefully active in him and was spontaneously taking him through many levels of yogic experience and knowledge. These changes, he confessed, were not generated by any intentional yogic practices but were “the result of the grace of his Guru and God.”
Upon reaching the ashram, Ganapati received the Maharshi’s blessings. Then he retired to his favorite cave near the ashram to meditate. Suddenly, as he stepped into the recesses of the cave, he was overwhelmed by the surging force of the awakened shakti. This was the beginning of an incredible ordeal that lasted for two weeks. It was described in The Mountain Path, the journal of the Maharshi’s ashram:
“A flood of energy coursed through the body all the time. Two or three disciples who were by his side were struck by the supernatural effulgence of his person. The Muni was in deep tapas [the heat of spiritual concentration] throughout. He did not see the difference between night and day; neither did he see the distinction between his inner state and the outside world. … He felt as though his head was being pierced and a stream of bliss shot forth from there making him completely intoxicated. His body was not in his control.
“Somehow the next day, with great difficulty, the Muni proceeded to Skandashrama and narrated the whole thing to the Maharshi. The Maharshi, full of compassion, heard everything with rapt attention, affectionately passed his hand over the head of the Muni and told him not to worry. The Maharshi advised the Muni to anoint the crown of his head with castor oil before bath and apply almond oil after bath.
“That night Ganapati Muni suffered terribly. There was an unbearable burning sensation throughout his body. It was just like some poison quickly spreading through the whole system. The Muni was not able to place the head on the ground. He could not lie down on his side either. It looked as though his head would break into pieces at any time. He suffered unbearable pain.
“Suddenly a sound was heard; something like smoke was seen. The Kundalini had caused an aperture at the top of his skull. Muni’s wife and daughter who were not very far from him saw the whole thing. The devotee Kondayya held the body of the Muni from falling. Fortunately, a detailed authentic version of what exactly happened has been made available to posterity by K. R. Krishnaswami who was at that time serving the Muni.
“After that experience for ten days something like smoke or vapour was found emanating from the orifice at the top of the skull. By that time the burning sensation subsided. The play of force became bearable. The long story of suffering, pain and agony ended. The body was filled with the flow of cool nectar of bliss. The face of the Muni reflected an ethereal splendour. His eyes bore the effulgence of the supernatural. After this extraordinary experience of kapalabheda, the Muni lived for fourteen years. . . .
“Naturally it took all by surprise that a person when alive should have the experience of his skull being broken. Vasishtha Muni explained the phenomenon to his intimate disciples and cited the authority of the Taittiriya Upanishad which talks of the breaking of the skull, vyapohya sirsha kapale. In a yogi when the Kundalini Sakti wakes up, it passes upwards through the Sushumna channel, breaks the skull and gets attuned with the Cosmic Energy. This was exactly what happened to Vasishtha Ganapati Muni.”2
2.“The Muni and the Maharshi,” Part III, The Mountain Path 14, no. 3 (July 1978), pp. 147-148.
Even though the Muni’s family and disciples were familiar with the principles and practices of kundalini yoga, they were utterly awed by the event. Ganapati could only quote the Taittiriya Upanishad, an ancient source that seemed to corroborate his experience. None of the contemporary yogis or yogic texts referred to such an occurrence. In researching this article I have found occasional references to the piercing of the skull, but such experiences are commonly believed to occur only at death. In the death process the life-force may exit from the physical body in a number of places, and in some traditions the top of the head is considered the most auspicious. In some Tibetan schools when a monk dies the attendants ceremoniously crack the top of the skull to allow this passage through the head to take place. I have not found, however, any mention of this process occurring prior to death.
Thus, Ganapati Muni experienced an extraordinary awakening of the kundalini that stands outside the descriptions of modern spiritual literature. It may correspond to the experiences of more ancient yogis whose experiences have not been openly acknowledged or duplicated for centuries. (For instance, traditional pictures of Siva, the legendary Yogi of ancient times, often show a jet of white nectar shooting out of his skull and streaming in all directions. This is a representation of the Awakened Life-Current.) Although this experience does not represent true, radical God-Realization, it does serve to illustrate two distinct and significant points:
The modern tradition of kundalini yoga is a degeneration of the comprehensive esoteric science that may have existed at the time of the ancient Vedas. Ganapati Muni’s experience, for example, is not accounted for in the modern descriptions of kundalini phenomena, and yet is a genuine example of the superphysical phenomena that may be generated when the kundalini force or Life-Current is forcefully stimulated and polarized toward the higher brain.
Perfect God-Realization is not only extraordinary, but radical—even extremely rare and dramatic yogic experiences such as that of Ganapati Muni cannot be equated with God-Realization or with Truth. The very magnitude of Ganapati’s experience may lead people to assume that he was enlightened, but we must learn to discriminate relative to such matters.
The extraordinary yogic experience of Bubba Free John illustrates even more conclusively the first point about the limitations of modem yogic doctrine. In early 1970 Bubba endured an extremely painful yogic transformation, which he has referred to as ‘‘the severing of the sahasrar.” As will be seen, it bears a certain similarity to Ganapati Muni’s experience. Like the Muni’s, Bubba’s experience extends beyond the phenomena commonly described in the surviving literature of the kundalini tradition, and it offers us evidence that expands our understanding of the kundalini force and the awakening of the sahasrar in particular. But unlike the Muni, Bubba has fully described his experience and interpreted its nature and import in relation to the broader literature of the kundalini tradition and to traditional spirituality as a whole. Bubba’s experience not only produced a dramatic change in the energy processes of his body, but it also profoundly confirmed his radical understanding of the true spiritual process. The following quote is from Bubba’s early autobiography, The Knee of Listening:
Sometime in February, I experienced a remarkable revolution in consciousness. As a result of the long course of my experience with Rudi and Baba,3
3.Rudi (Albert Rudolph) and Baba (Swami Muktananda) were Bubba’s spiritual teachers in the early stages of his practice. See The Knee of Listening and The Enlightenment of the Whole Body for a complete description of Bubba’s spiritual practice and lessons during his time with these teachers.certain kind of seeking.
I had firmly identified myself, the structure of my real being, with the various instruments of the “chakra” system. That pole of energies with its various centers, high and low, seemed to me to be the foundation structure of every living being as well as the creative source of every existing form or universe. My experiences in India seemed to demonstrate this as a fact. Thus, although the Truth of real consciousness seemed to me to be one of radical understanding and ‘‘no-seeking,” the conscious enjoyment of an eternally free and unmodified state, I could not on the basis of this identification with the chakra system see how life could be performed without a certain kind of seeking.
The chakra system and the philosophy it implied demanded a conscious, intentional purification and ascent toward concentration in the highest center and in the subtlest vehicle of being, the supra-causal body. Thus, spiritual life seemed ultimately determined by this goal of ascent. And, indeed, all of the religions and spiritual paths of the world, even where there is no conscious and sophisticated knowledge of Shakti and the chakras such as it appears in the Indian and Tibetan sources, rest in this basic philosophy of purification and ascent.
In February I passed through an experience that seemed to vindicate my understanding. For several nights I was awakened again and again with sharp lateral pains in my head. They felt like deep incisions in my skull and brain as if I were undergoing an operation. During the day following the last of these experiences, I realized a marvelous relief. I saw that what appeared as the sahasrar, the terminal chakra and primary lotus in the head, had been severed. The sahasrar had fallen off like a blossom. The Shakti, which previously had appeared as a polarized energy that moved up and down through the various chakras or centers producing various effects, now was released from the chakra form. There was no more polarized force. Indeed, there was no form whatsoever, no up or down, no chakras. The chakra system had been revealed as unnecessary, an arbitrary rule or setting for the play of energy. The form beneath all of the bodies, gross or subtle, had revealed itself to be as unnecessary and conditional as the bodies themselves.
Previously, all the universes seemed built and dependent upon that prior structure of ascending and descending energy, so that values were determined by the level of chakra on which consciousness functioned, and planetary bodies as well as space itself were fixed in a spherical or curved form. But now I saw that Reality or real consciousness was not in the least determined by any kind of form apart from itself. Consciousness had shown its radical freedom and priority in terms of the chakra form. It had shown itself to be senior to that whole structure, dissociated from every kind of separate energy or Shakti. There was simply consciousness itself, prior to all forms, all dilemmas, every kind of seeking and necessity.
Implicit here is a profound criticism of the conventional yogic doctrine of ascent. Not only was the mechanism of ascent released or transcended in Bubba’s body-mind, but the very motivation toward such ascent was undermined as well. Also, even though his experience surpassed all conventional yogic processes, Bubba did not mistake it for full God-Realization or Enlightenment. This is extremely significant. In the description of the experience of Ganapati Muni that we quoted above, the author interprets the Muni’s experience as a final and conclusive Realization of God. Such misinterpretations also form the basis for some of the principal limitations of modern kundalini yoga. In distinguishing his dramatic and remarkable “severing of the sahasrar” from radical Enlightenment, Bubba Free John demonstrates the critical perspective that must be brought to all study of these esoteric traditions. Only by distinguishing what is false from what is genuine, and what is partial from what is radically full, can we come to a realistic appreciation of our own evolutionary potential, our present and radical responsibility to be happy in God, and the mortal destiny we are tending to realize instead.
As Bubba’s spiritual practice continued after the severing or radical opening of the sahasrar, he came to realize perfect, whole bodily Enlightenment. And that Realization was not associated principally with the sahasrar, as conventional kundalini yogis assume, but with the heart. In that Realization, Bubba’s sense of separate existence dissolved forever in its prior condition at the heart—the psycho-physical seat of the Free soul or Self.
That the heart is the seat of the Self-nature was well known to the most ancient Indian teachers. The Upanishads, which are among the most ancient philosophical texts of India, directly point to the heart as the place or seat of the true Self, or Infinite Consciousness.In the Mahanarayana Upanishad we find: “One should meditate upon the Supreme—the limitless, unchanging, all-knowing cause of the happiness of the world, dwelling in the sea of one’s own heart, as the goal of all striving.” And from the Katha Upanishad: “Smaller than the small, greater than the great, the Self is set in the heart of every creature. The unstriving man beholds Him, freed from sorrow.” In modern times, two individuals in particular, Sri Ramana Maharshi (in all the texts by and about him) and Swami Yogeshwaranand Saraswati (in such texts as Science of Soul) corroborate Bubba Free John’s placement of the Self at the heart.
What was most significant in Bubba’s realization was not simply anatomical but spiritual in the most profound sense. In order for God-Realization to be true, the separate self-sense, or attention itself, must dissolve in the heart’s all-pervading Conscious Life. In the case of the traditional yogi, attention merely ascends to the subtlest regions of the brain core. Here he may experience the most delicious forms of vision, heavenly sounds, and blissful trances, but he is still experiencing them. The separate self persists, only temporarily distracted by these exquisite forms of experience. Understandably, such yogis are tempted to assume that they have become enlightened—but they are still only experiencing light. Enlightenment is true only of those rare individuals who pass beyond the blisses of the brain core into the radical dissolution of attention in the heart. Then the whole being is pervaded or transfigured by All-Pervading Radiance.
In The Enlightenment of the Whole Body, Bubba Free John describes in detail the processes of the brain and associated centers of energy that produce yogic trances. He shows clearly that the yogic process is not the ultimate process of the body-mind and even that the ascent to the sahasrar claimed by the yogis is not in fact their actual experience. Attention may ascend directly only as far as the brain core, the sixth (“ajna”) center, from which position attention seems to contemplate the God-Light in the direction of the sahasrar, while the current of bodily energy remains focused in the brain core. But in order for the Current of Life to move into the sahasrar itself, there must be the radical dissolution of attention in the heart. The following passages from The Enlightenment of the Whole Body explain this distinction quite clearly:
Yogis or Mystics in the fifth stage of life direct the differentiated attention and Radiant Life of the soul inward and upward. The Life-Current and attention are focused in the brain core, and from that position (the station of the conscious mind) the subtle or higher mental phenomena are viewed, in the general direction of the crown of the body. (This is the reverse of the mental tendency of ordinary men and women in the subhuman stages of adaptation, who chronically direct the differentiated attention and Radiant Life of the soul outward and downward, from the position of the brain core, but toward the lower vital organs and outlets.) In the ascending yogic manner, the atomic soul, still deluded by identification with psycho-physical phenomena, attempts to shoot upwards from its latent or bound and fixed position in the center of the body and the world. Thus, it seeks to pass upwards, toward the crown of the body, and, ultimately, to exit, via the “brahmarandhra,” associated either with the notch or hole in the top and slightly to the rear of the skull, or else with the fontanelle, the larger surface of the skull, analogous to the corona radiata of the brain. The soul thus released enters the “Sky of Mind,’1 the Cosmic Blue. (In fact, the brahmarandhra, which is the same as the sahasrar, cannot be penetrated by the acts of attention. The “Sky of Mind” is simply the subtle mind in the realms of experience contacted via the brain core, or ajna chakra. Only the dissolution of attention in the heart permits the Life-Current to pass beyond the limits of the body-mind via the brahmarandhra and the body-mind as a whole. . . .) [pages 477-478]
Therefore, mystical processes lead attention above the verbal-intentional mind, via the Life-Current in the spinal line, culminating in the structures at and above the upper extremities of the brain stem. But attention cannot go higher than the deepest profound of subtle objectivity in the brain core. Thus, mystical interiorization cannot penetrate to Infinity. Attention cannot pass from the “third eye” to the “sahasrar.”
In the fifth stage of life, yogic mysticism raises attention into the extremities of subtle experience—or the heavens of ascended knowledge. But Liberation in God is not Realized at that stage or by such means. In order for the Life-Current to cross the Divide between the “third eye” and the “sahasrar,” or between the body-mind and Infinity, the gesture of attention and the illusion of an independent conscious self must be utterly Dissolved in the true Self, [page 422]
This clearly illustrates how the experience of Ganapati Muni cannot have been the “fulfillment” claimed for him by his followers. He obviously enjoyed a yogic experience of the rarest and most extraordinary kind, but it did not amount to radical God-Realization. Ramana Maharshi, the Muni’s acknowledged Spiritual Master and a true Sage who had realized the radical dissolution o’ self at the heart, was asked after me Muni’s death if he had attained supreme Enlightenment. “How could he? responded the Sage. “His ‘sankalpas’ (inherent tendencies) were too strong.” He was referring to Ganapati’s surviving self-orientation, his worldly ambition and his interest in spiritual attainment. The awakened kundalini moved so forcefully that it broke this man’s skull, but even that was not enough to undo the knot of self that persisted at the heart.
Although the tradition of kundalini yoga in its present form does not represent a complete system of spiritual practice and realization, it was originally based on a more inclusive teaching that did provide for true practice. Such true practice is founded on the primal or prior disposition of the heart and includes the full awakening of all bodily centers and functions. In the final stage of spiritual practice, which Bubba Free John calls the Way of Radical Intuition, the true blossoming of the sahasrar occurs. Prior to this point all of the experiential possibilities of the brain core and of all the lower centers of the body have been inspected and transcended. Attention itself has been allowed to rest in the disposition of the heart. In that process all sense of separation and limitation dissolves. When the heart is awakened, the bodily current of Life passes to Infinity via the sahasrar and releases all the nerve ends of the body, and thus all previous and deluded identification with the psycho-physical form.
Therefore, in the Way of Radical Intuition, the Bodily Life-Current is Released from its structural association with the body-mind. This only occurs when the root of the body-mind, which is the gesture of attention, is re-cognized or Dissolved in the Heart. It is not that attention, or the mind, passes up with the Life-Current, through the crown or fontanelle, beyond the gross body, into an astral body and astral realms of experience. Rather, the mind is itself Dissolved in the Heart, the Divine Self. Therefore, the Life-Current of the body-mind is Released from the structural destiny of the covered soul. In this manner, the “sahasrar” is not merely Illuminated in itself, but the Bodily Life-Current is Identified with the universal All-Pervading Radiance of the Heart, the true Self. Therefore, the Life-Current does not itself pass up and out through the crown, but it is Diffused Universally in the Heart, via the body-mind as a whole.
Such is the mechanism of Whole Bodily Transcendental Enlightenment. It is Perfected only in Ecstasy, or utter Transcendence of the structural limits of the body-mind and the independent subjectivity or differentiated self of the inward soul.
The Enlightenment of the Whole Body [pages 424-425].
In the sixth stage of life, the upper dimension of the heart is Awakenea * m own Root, the Foundation of the body-mind, prior to extended or experiential awareness. It is the stage of exclusive Self-Realization, or the Awakening of Consciousness while the body-mind sleeps.
In the seventh stage of life, the upper dimension of the heart is Awakened beyond qualification, in its Free State, wherein no conditions of experience (or the body-mind) are either excluded or demanded. Thus, in the seventh stage of life, the whole and entire body-mind, extended between the sahasrar and the muladhar [the lowest terminal of energy in the body associated with the perineum], is Emghtened by the Radiance of the totally Awakened heart, head to toe The heart Shines in all directions. Therefore, since the heart epitomizes and indeed is the body-mind, the body-mind itself is entirely Illumined by the Radiance of the heart. And as that Radiance intensifies, through Transcendental love, or Heart-Freedom in Bliss, the body-mind is gradually Outshined. At last, that Shine is felt only between the upper right of the heart and the extreme terminal of the sahasrar, or the crown of the head and brain (since the upper terminals of the heart and the head naturally correspond to one another). Then, in sudden Ecstasy, all conditions Dissolve in Love-Bliss, the Radiant Sea of Divine Glory in which the body, the heart, the mind, the brain, and the Infinite World of Experience are floating forever—undifferentiated and unknown, unless there is the illusion of noticing. [pages 409-410] ♦
The Corona Radiata
The Severing of the Sahasrar
by David Todd
Vision Mound Magazine, Vol2, No 8, 1979
The Journal of the Religious and Spiritual Teachings of Bubba Free John (Adi Da Samraj)