Origins of Chakras
The concept of chakras, while not believed to date back to the very beginning of Tantra, have now become an integral part of the Tantric philosophy. Chakras are the spiritual energy centers, or cores, that are present in every body. Although some gurus were said to be able to actually see the chakras, they are generally regarded as a symbolic entity, like an aura. Think of them as spiritual fields, each of which is associated with special traits and characteristics. The chakras run directly down the center of the body, located along the backbone, and correspond to parts of the endocrine system and nervous system.
Chakras and Their Roots
It is believed that the idea of chakras may have originated from the concept of a vital force (known as a prana) that was described in the earliest Upanishads (sacred written texts) dating back to eighth century B.C. But it wasn't until a few hundred years later that chakras were specifically mentioned in the sacred texts. Throughout the years, the chakras (in various forms) were mentioned in many different texts and published works.
The word chakra is Sanskrit for “wheel” or “disk.” The wheel is also symbolic for the sun, which is of course the most powerful energy source in the universe. Sometimes the term chakra is also used to mean a gathering of Tantrics.
As Tantra evolved into more modern incarnations, the chakras were accentuated by specific colors, element symbols, and other characteristics that were assigned to each chakra. As a result, later texts provide much more detailed and intricate descriptions of chakras, including shapes, colors, number of petals found on the lotus representing each chakra, etc. However, many Tantra gurus advise students to focus on the main elements of each chakra, to avoid getting distracted or overwhelmed by all of the minute details.
Chakras in Written Texts
Chakras have been described in many accounts appearing in modern Western literature. Many of these references were in works by Charles W. Leadbeater, who in the late 1800s became one of the founding members of the Theosophical Society. Leadbeater was most famous for his claims of being a clairvoyant and having occult powers.
Charles W. Leadbeater received notoriety for accusations that he had improper sexual contact with some of his young students. He claimed that he was simply explaining the practice of masturbation to boys so they would understand the topic and not feel shame if they engaged in masturbation. Leadbeater died without ever being charged with any illegal offense.
Leadbeater wrote about the chakras in great detail in the early twentieth century. Several other authors from around the same time also covered the topic in detail, often by commissioning translations of early Hindu texts. Unfortunately, it is believed that somehow much of the original points got “lost in translation.” As a result, many people believe the modern description of chakras differ greatly from the way they were originally depicted in ancient texts. For one thing, the earliest texts reportedly only referred to four main chakras: those at the heart, throat, head, and navel. (The chakras that fall below the waist were viewed as more of a physical entity than a spiritual force, so they were grouped into a special, separate category.)