I am a child of the 60’s. Born in 1951, my early explorations began with Allan Watt, then J. Krishnamurtti, and eventually to Hinduism and the Gita in my late teens and early 20’s. In my 30’s I began to practice yoga, and found the chakras to be very useful in Yogic meditation.
So my question, based on my own ignorance…is why didm Buddha, wtih his discussions on physical composition, disregard or reject the concept of the Chakra?
Thanks in advance, and may you all be well and free from suffering.
The Buddha used Hindu terms but with different meanings as a means of inculcating his new religion in the populace, using terms they were already familiar with. The Buddha had a reactionary attitude to Hinduism and there are many suttas refuting Brahmin beliefs:
" The Buddha used numerous religious terms which are also used in Hinduism, though he often used them in different and novel ways. Many terms which Buddhism shares with Hinduism carry a different meaning in the Buddhist tradition. For example, in the Samaññaphala Sutta, the Buddha is depicted presenting a notion of the “three knowledges” (tevijja) – a term also used in the Vedic tradition to describe knowledge of the Vedas – as being not texts, but things that he had experienced. The true “three knowledges” are said to be constituted by the process of achieving enlightenment, which is what the Buddha is said to have achieved in the three watches of the night of his enlightenment."
Anapanasati with its focus on the breath and then the entire body is the closest Theravada comes to the chakras. In the in-breath and out-breath’s influence on the body, energies should be explored. Thanissaro’s method explains this. Some thoughts (such as food) have their basis in parts of the body, and these are activated with the arising of that thought, and it’s possible to have an over-reliance on certain thought/body patterns. Anapanasati recommends focus on the breath (air element) thereby activating associated upper organs*. Majjhima Nikaya 118 refers to the breath as ‘a body among bodies’ meaning when breath focus is attained it constitutes a different body than say, that accompanied by food thought.
The ancients saw the positions of elements in the environment as earth (below), then water, air, and fire (sun) in ascending order. Therefore the air element had a superior and desirable quality over lower elements.
The main reason he didn’t talk about the idea of chakras as psychospiritual vortices in the body is that the very idea did not exist in his time. The chakra theory developed much later, like a thousand years later. They are first found in tantric literature as far as I know.
Old ideas are painful and cry out to be released, replaced by a ‘new skin,’ which requires work:
“Just as the serpent does not hesitate to fulfill the biological “law of its kind” in shedding its old skin, so right renunciation will not waver or shrink from those acts of giving up which right understanding of reality demands. Just as the serpent does not mourn over the loss of its worn-out slough, so right renunciation has no regrets when it discards what has been seen as void of value and substance and replaces it by something new and more beautiful: the happiness of letting go, the exhilaration of the freedom won, the serenity of insight and the radiance of a mind purified and calmed. It is the growing strength of this new experience which will gradually clear the road to final emancipation.”
Here from 41 min. Bikkhu Bodhi in response to a question, discusses the correspondence between the yogas and the Buddhist five spiritual faculties, mentioning Hatha yoga which deals with breath:
In Theravada breath meditation expanded into the body is prescribed in the first tetrad of the Anapanasati sutta, where energy channels should be explored. The sutta also refers to the breath as “a body among bodies:”
" The important chakras are stated in Hindu and Buddhist texts to be arranged in a column along the spinal cord, from its base to the top of the head, connected by vertical channels. The tantric traditions sought to master them, awaken and energize them through various breathing exercises or with assistance of a teacher. These chakras were also symbolically mapped to specific human physiological capacity, seed syllables (bija), sounds, subtle elements (tanmatra), in some cases deities, colors and other motifs.
Belief in the chakra system of Hinduism and Buddhism differs from the historic Chinese system of meridians in acupuncture. Unlike the latter, the chakra relates to subtle body, wherein it has a position but no definite nervous node or precise physical connection. The tantric systems envision it as continually present, highly relevant and a means to psychic and emotional energy. It is useful in a type of yogic rituals and meditative discovery of radiant inner energy (prana flows) and mind-body connections. The meditation is aided by extensive symbology, mantras, diagrams, models (deity and mandala). The practitioner proceeds step by step from perceptible models, to increasingly abstract models where deity and external mandala are abandoned, inner self and internal mandalas are awakened."