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Aug 12, 2012 | Leaflets

The Chakra System and Modern Levels of Development Part 1

The chakra system describes the energetic structure through which we organise our life force. There are all sorts of ways to understand and demarcate human development and there are therefore different kinds of stage conceptions. All of them are useful depending on what you want to keep track of in growth and development. In the chakra system there are 7 major stages or levels of consciousness. Jean Gebser, the famous anthropologist, uses 5: archaic, magic, mythic, rational and integral. Certain Western psychological models have 8, 12 or more levels of development.

Ken Wilber (who I am following here) notes that stages of “development” are also referred to as “levels of development”; the idea being that each stage represents a level of organisation or a level of complexity. He clarifies by saying that in the sequence from atoms to molecules to cells to organisms, each of those stages of evolution involves a greater level of complexity. Hence the word levels is used to indicate the important emergent qualities and not delineate rigid boundaries. (K.Wilber Integral Spirituality).

Both Anodia Judith and Ken Wilber include chakra awareness in their discussion of developmental psychology, bringing it in line with modern western psychology. Ken Wilber outlines Carol Gilligan’s developmental stages of moral development as: Pre-Convential, Convential, Post Convential and Integral. (These are slightly different in women and men until stage 4).

The pre-convential stage or level can be called egocentric. In the second stage moral development is centered on us, to include other human beings of my group (ethnocentric, traditional or conformist). At the third stage of moral development, my identity expands once again to us and all of us and is called world-centric (no longer just my family, my tribe or my nation but all of humanity).The final stage is integral (to be explained).

If you have seen a caduceus: the symbol of the medical profession, it is a staff with 2 serpents crisscrossing it and wings at the top of the staff. The staff itself represents the central spinal column. Where the serpents cross represents the individual chakras, moving up the spine from the lowest to the highest and the serpents themselves represent solar and lunar (or masculine and feminine) energies of each of the chakras.

That is the crucial point. The 7 chakras, which are simply a more complex version of the 3 simple levels or stages of moral intelligence, represent 7 levels of consciousness and energy available to all human beings. At the 7th chakra the masculine and feminine serpents both disappear into their ground or source, masculine and feminine meet and unite at the crown- they literally become one.
Gilligan found the same in her stage 4 moral development: the 2 voices in each person become integrated, so that there is a paradoxical union of autonomy and relationship, rights and responsibilities, agency and communion, wisdom and compassion, justice and mercy, masculine and feminine. (K.Wilber p.14). 

Here the healthy masculine principle tends toward autonomy, strength, independence and freedom. If this principle becomes pathological, its autonomy can become alienation, its strength domination and independence can mean fear of relationship and commitment. The unhealthy masculine principle does not transcend in freedom, but dominates in fear.

Similarly we can link chakra development with psychological development looking at the healthy feminine principle which tends toward flowing, relationship and compassion. In an unhealthy relationship the feminine principle tends to get lost in it, loosing its boundaries. The person can be dominated by the relationship they are in. This can be characterised as a fusion rather than a connection or a panic state rather than a flow state of give and take; not communion but a meltdown. Here the unhealthy feminine principle becomes chaos in fusion rather than finding fullness in connection.

Many yoga traditions view consciousness as emptiness or openness. Consciousness is not anything itself, just the degree of openness or emptiness, the clearing in which the phenomena of various degrees of development appear. Consciousness is not itself a phenomenon, it is the space in which phenomena (such as cognition) arise. Since consciousness itself is without specific contents, how can we refer to its degrees or levels? What do we refer to in the psyche half way up the ladder (spine) or the base or top as a level of consciousness?

The great wisdom traditions started with the chakra system approximately 3000 years ago and they used the colours of the natural rainbow, which they arranged in their natural order of red to orange to yellow to green to turquoise to blue to indigo to violet and clear light and void.
So Ken Wilber uses the ancient tradition and uses the rainbow as the y-axis representing increasing levels of development in general, as altitude up the mountain (spine).

He compares them with cognitive psychologists such as Piaget for the lower levels, Michael Commons and Francis Richards for the intermediate levels/stages and Aurobindo for the higher stages in that line.
He brings in a host of others, e.g. Kegan’s orders of consciousness, Graves, Kohlberg, Loevinger and suffice it to say that he links it to modern developmental research of stage levels of various lines of development.
So often chakras are taken as fixed concepts or phenomena from the ancient texts and not integrated into our post modern reality.

I have not begun to do justice to the chakras as yet precisely because I wanted to place them in some context. There is a wider evolutionary context which I will elaborate upon next time as well as the better known qualities of the chakras.

I have tried to integrate the concept of chakras according to Ken Wilber as outlined briefly in his: Integral Spirituality. A startling new role for religion in the modern and post modern world. (2007)

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