The glyph of the Tree of Life, the Otz Chum, is a picture of the aspects which life takes during its journey out of the unmanifest or undifferentiated state, into manifestation, and back again into the unmanifest. When active within an individual, this force is called Kundalini by the Hindus. The closest approximation of this that we have in the West is libido, a term used in psychology and psychiatry, but which is usually limited to mean psychic energy, and specifically sexual energy. Technically, the "Life force" as referred to by the Qabalists is closer to the concept of pure energy as it is used by modern physicists-a "something" which pervades everything. Physicists would qualify this energy by its temporary vehicle of manifestation, such as "chemical energy," "mechanical energy," "electrical energy," and so on, but never forgetting that any one type of energy is equivalent to any other type. This is roughly the way that Qabalists would think, in speaking of the energy of Hod, or the energy of Chesed, etc. They, like physicists, do not arbitrarily distinguish between the energy of the macrocosm and the microcosm, considering (quite properly) that they are really one and the same anyway. Thus to a physicist, chemical energy as it may occur in reactions within a star and chemical energy that is liberated in the human body when blood sugar turns to alcohol, is still chemical energy.
Kundalini, as the Hindus think of it, is primarily limited to the energy system of man, or an individual man, though they do posit a "universal Kundalini" that, in their terms, does not describe energy as it is defined by Western physicists. This is not meant to be a commentary on any limitation of either point of view, because to the Hindu Kundalini acts the same in the body of Brahma as in the body of man, and to the Western physicist energy acts the same in a star as it does in the body of man. The only real difference is that the Hindus have believed, for centuries, that man can learn to control this force in his own body to’ further his own evolution, whereas in the West this same energy in the human system can only be sublimated to the benefit of the culture. Due to Freud’s influence, however, even sublimation of energy is considered to be unnatural and neurotic, but this sublimation is tolerated as long as it benefits the culture, i.e., building the Church, business, or the college football team. If, on the other hand, we choose to direct this energy for our own interests, then we are classified as narcissistic on top of being neurotic. Only recently, through our investigations into bio-feedback, are we beginning to have the slightest inkling of understanding for the Yogin’s ability to control his own energy. We could not even grasp this however, until we had built a machine to do it for us! By the time we have built this machine we still are not interested in the "higher life" because we see bio-feedback only as a means to improve our bodily health, by helping to relieve headaches or relieve stress on the heart. We are so material that we built an electronic machine to improve the physiological machine, which is compounding materialism on top of materialism.
In the East (until recent times) their primary interest was in individual destiny (dharma). The believing Hindu would say, "Why worry about all those stars and suns when they are within me anyway. If I think about my own Kundalini I will know about all those stars." The oracle at Delphi points us in the same direction, "Man know thyself and you will know all." Sad to say, however, Western technology is fast being absorbed by the East so that today we see jeeps and military tanks parked in front of the Potala in the Sacred City of Lhasa! And in the West today we see businessmen, politicians, and bureaucrats taking off to Big Sur for the weekend to practice Transcendental Meditation. All this means is that the group mind of the East is making an exchange with the group mind of the West. The spirits of nations reincarnate even as individuals do.
Kundalini is the psycho-physiological energy of a man in its integrated aspect. Generally in dissertations on Yoga Kundalini is treated as energy that is unavailable to average man, but which, if roused by Yoga practice, may be utilized for spiritual development. Or, if accidentally aroused, it may lead to spiritual enlightenment, or to physiological and/or psychological suffering. No one seems to pay much attention to the Kundalini which makes the legs move or which lends inspiring quality to the voice in lecturing, though technically these are also aspects of Kundalini. Our concept of libido is roughly equivalent to the psychological portion of Kundalini. Why we do not also include the physical aspect, and treat them as an integrated unit, is probably due to the fact that body doctors and head doctors have only recently agreed to agree on the relationship between the mind and the body. Psychosomatic medicine has not come of age yet, and aside from the Jungian school, none of these camps recognizes the psyche as a real part of the human being. True as it may be, according to the Alchemists, that the soul is an Epiphenomenon of matter, medicine at any rate, missed its opportunity to discover this when the theories of Paracelsus were rejected by the profession.
Dr. Jung took a considerably different attitude toward libido than most psychiatrists do, and particularly the Freudian psychiatrists. We are all more or less familiar with the Freudian theory about libido, but Jung sees it as the all-inclusive life force, serving not only sexuality, but nutrition, growth, and many other vital functions in the psycho physiological organism. Any of the major schools of psychology holds that libido is a basic energy, in the sense that it is the drive behind the primal urge to live. But we see in Jung’s theory that libido is total psychic energy. This idea of libido would equate it more closely with the concept of Kundalini.
In Kundalini Yoga it is this energy that, in its deeper layers than needed for ordinary life, is aroused and directed to developmental ends. In Qabalistic terminology this energy that we call libido and the Hindus call Kundalini, is known as the Serpent Nechushtan, with his tail in Malkuth and his head resting in the sphere of Chokmah. Nechushtan on the Tree will yield to consciousness the same realization that may be derived from meditation on a like symbol in any other system. Nechushtan crosses every path on the Tree, so we see that, as Jung avers, libido is total psychic energy. This strange statement that "Nechushtan crosses every path on the Tree," also shows a student of the Qabalah that this energy can be used in the development techniques ("the way of life") of any path, any Yoga method. We do know that it is awakened quite easily with Mudra Yoga, which the Greeks had perfected independently of the Hindus. Being total energy it must of course come into play in any Yoga discipline, East or West.
It would behoove us then, as students of the Western Mysteries, to try to learn as much about this energy as the Eastern students do. We have to go far a field of even Dr. Jung’s findings about libido, however, to understand it in its broader aspects. I will venture to say that many people in our insane asylums are there not because they are psychotic (what is psychotic?) but because they brought over some of the deeper layers of this energy from past lives dedicated to working with this energy. But here in our Western culture nothing is known about this static electricity (and that is exactly what it is) just as little is known about reincarnation, except in its more popular sense which applies only to the ego, so our psychiatrists grow rich because we are a nation of metaphysical illiterates.
Where psychology is concerned, however, Western man responds best to something he is paying for. That is one reason why modern psychology works best for him. I have been on both sides of this fence and as a result I am convinced that the teacher or psychologist who does not charge money for his services, serves best. When we have to take into consideration the patient’s ability to pay, we find ourselves in the position of a house divided against itself. Jung refers to those psychologists who brag that the transference comes to an end when the patient runs out of money. Dr. Jung carried the patient’s treatment on until the conflict was resolved, regardless of whether the patient could pay or not. That certainly puts him in line with the very best schools in Eastern tradition.
But in the West money is our magic talisman, so he who charges most is known to be best. Money is, in fact, libido crystallized, as even the most ordinary psychologists recognize. That is, through working at a job, we transform some of our energy (physical, mental, emotional) into green paper, which we then trade for goods (the product of someone else’s energy). Freud’s attitude toward payment was that money, as a token of libido, represented the patient’s commitment of his energy resources to health, and to the psychoanalytic process. The stock phrase in psychoanalytic circles is "Well, if you really wanted to get well you would have no trouble raising the money for treatment. To say that you cannot afford it is just a rationalization of your suppressed desire to remain ill." Etc. All of which may be true, or may not be true. That is one kind of answer, and it holds for one kind of patient. But what of the person who actually wanting and needing treatment and not having the money for it, should be tempted to rob a bank? Would that really contribute to that person’s health? Nor is this as farfetched as it may seem. There are those certain types of people who have gone to every length to obtain the money for therapy.
There are other ways of payment than that which orthodox medicine requires. There is payment in other services rendered, like the maid I knew who did the musician’s laundry in exchange for music lessons. There is payment through pure love alone, which is what the good Hindu teacher prizes above all else. And there is payment in kind, the vow to give comparable service to another, as you yourself were helped, as is exemplified in Alcoholics Anonymous. By refusing all of these other forms of payment, of dedication if you will, orthodox psychiatry has limited its clientele to one particular kind of patient: the person with money, and the person who values money-that is, who has a money psychology. To be so limiting is not bad in itself; Alcoholics Anonymous limits its clientele to those with alcohol problems; Synanon specializes in drug problems. But neither of these organizations pretends to be more than what it is, and as a result, ironically, each is greater than what it claims to be. Studies have shown, incidentally, that the types of problems encountered and the results of analysis are far different when the money obstacle is removed. Many of the classical statistics of psychoanalysis (such as percentage of neurotics who come from broken homes, etc.) have been proved invalid because the study only represented the people under paid treatment (i.e., the wealthy) and therefore did not represent the population as a whole.
As long as Western Man does have that peculiar belief that "it is only good if it costs a lot" then he will be unable to receive the free gifts of the spirit. We are psychologically conditioned to believe that if it is for free it isn’t any good, and at the same time we are always looking for something for nothing! This schizoid -attitude toward money must be very confusing to an outsider looking at our culture. The trouble is that we have a long list of well-defined items which are either free or to be paid for. For example, it is not proper (in some locales not legal) to give a person a free ride. Rides must be paid for, in taxis or buses or trains. A hitchhiker (one who has the audacity to ask for a free ride) is a low form of life. But sex is supposed to be for free. A person who tries to charge for sex is a criminal. If a woman suggests to a man that he should pay first in case of fire, he is horrified; she should be "immoral" for nothing! It is all very confusing. The minister who comes to your house to comfort you after a death in the family is supposed to do this service freely, for love of God and you, but the psychiatrist, who provides the exact same comfort, must be paid. It makes no sense at all. So it is that we criticize visiting Hindu missionaries if they charge money from their devotees, but we think highly of the American philosopher because he "is so good he charges $25 a seat for his lectures."
But what has this to do with Western occult teachers, one may ask. An example could be the minister of a parish: he cannot serve his parishioners full time and still work eight hours a day to earn his own living. This exemplifies the position of any occult or Hindu teacher, too. And there is the matter of scholarship also. We understand why an attorney or a medical man may charge for what he has given many years and a great deal of money to learn. But beyond scholarship and time, servants of the spirit cannot be expected to serve well if they are concerned about payment. "Where your attention is, there will your heart be also."
We see, then, that none of this is as irrelevant as it may seem, because in speaking of libido (Kundalini), money is the aspect of it which Westerners understand the best. They certainly spend more time worrying about it, loving it, making it and spending it. To try to resolve some of our attitudes toward money is to ferret out some of our feelings toward sex, spiritual values, and toward life in general. Money is the semen of the society, the symbol of its energy concentrated into a tangible object, the medium whereby energy is transmitted one to another and from generation to generation. It is the pentacles of the Tarot, the Earth element. It is the key to the function of the culture and is central in the same way that bread was to ancient agrarian societies. Reread the Old Testament references to bread with this in mind, remembering that bread to them was their money, their sustenance, their only hope to survive another day.
Money is therefore central in any discussion of Kundalini, representing as it does the root, the source of power. Our attitudes toward money are carried with us onto the path, and influence how we treat each other and ourselves. Are we savers? Will we try to hoard our spiritual gains until we die from the pressure of forces our bodies cannot bear ("Prove me now if I will not pour you out a cup until there is not room to receive it.") Are we spenders? Will we take our spiritual potential and blow it all on some useless trinket before we have a chance to get anywhere at all? Or do we try to be good husbandmen, saving in bad times and spending in times of plenty? The wise man will do the opposite, saving during times of plenty to tide him (and others) through the lean years.
Regarding the spirit, old John D. Rockefeller’s advice to his children is probably very useful. As he gave them their 15c allowance, he told them it was 5c to save, 5c to spend, and 5c to give away. How many of us had parents who so wisely guided us in the handling of money matters? We all know parents who teach their children to save and also to spend carefully, but how many teach their children to share one third of their "spending money" with others?
If we cannot understand libido in terms of pure energy, which it really is, perhaps we can grasp it in its Earth-form. As with the money we have, so it is with energy. We inherit a sum of energy. We earn a sum of energy, and some we get free. But, as mentioned before, at the same time that we are looking for something for nothing, we are convinced that anything that is for free isn’t any good. A wise teacher who hopes to be of real service to his pupils, must fit himself somewhere between these two stools. If he gives his time and the benefit of his scholarship without charge, neither his time nor his teachings will help the student. If he charges for his time and his scholarship, he will be classified with the commercial movements that serve spirituality in the West. I know a very great teacher who granted interviews to anyone requesting to see him. Eventually the curious took all of his time that he could have been giving to the worthy, so he decided to charge $3.00 an hour just in order to weed out those who only wanted someone to talk to. He was immediately accused of having become commercial. How $3.00 an hour can be considered to be commercial I do not know! Three dollars an hour is not enough to pay for the most menial labor.
Charging for time and scholarship has a lot to do with the tradition one represents, however. In the tradition I inherit one may not charge for services rendered. In one way or another we must provide for ourselves and still give time to teaching those who seek to know. This is more difficult to achieve than can be imagined by those who have not tried it. However, "the mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine." Anyone who has been put through the mills of the gods, will realize the benefit to be derived by passing through the mills again with a friend, just for the sake of that friend. And if he is not your friend when you enter the mills with him, he will be when you come out with him on the other side. That is to say, he will be if you can get him to go all the way! Too many turn back and blame you when the mills begin to grind doubly hard. But there is no other way. "All paths that have been or may be, pass somewhere through Gethsemane." I know, too, that there are those who teach that this is not necessarily so, that there is a way around Calvary. But for Westerners, at any rate, the biblical Christ said, "I am the way shower, after this manner follow thou me" and he went that way! The great teachers of our times, including my own, all point the way to Calvary for the personal ego. As with the biblical Christ, our great teachers "do not bring peace, but a sword." And while I know that this is a hard saying to those who have not as yet come under the training of a Great One, still, someone has to say it for the benefit of those who may be able to profit by the effort of "intentional (conscious) suffering." Nothing, absolutely nothing is to be gained by taking the easy way out.
So libido (Kundalini) while a joy and a delight to the egoless man, can also be a terror it not understood, precisely because of its power and autonomy. Rising suddenly in one who has no referent for it can (and usually does) lead to tragic results. Where, where indeed, does the man in the straight-jacket get that super-human energy that cannot be restrained by his caretakers? A river in spate is not demonstrating its own natural flow of water power. Nor is the madman or the saint demonstrating his own quota of power.
Dr. Jung says that we "grow in all dimensions integratively," meaning that libido flows backward and forward from conscious to unconscious, and that both are illuminated as a result of this rise and fall of energy. (Outpouring and withdrawing of energy.) This is also borne out in the psychological application of the Tree of Life and also, graphically, if we think of Nechushtan the serpent which passes over all the paths. This view is also held by the great teacher Gurdjieff, as by many others who teach that libido (Kundalini) sets the cycle of growth and expanding life. Whether it is flowing forward from the unconscious to the conscious mind, or in reverse, does it enhance the function of these two levels of the mind.
The normal flow of libido is progressive, both in its forward and reverse flow, and if a restraint in its course persists too long it will result in a complex or neurosis, and eventually even damage to the physical body. If any of the deeper layers of this energy (those layers called the Kundalini fire) start to flow forward and one is not aware of what is occurring or has no understanding of these deeper layers, the opposite situation may occur, and there will be the appearance of neurosis, or even of psychosis, because there is no arrest in the progressive flow. The distinction may seem subtle, but this is because ordinary psychology does not see a difference. Hindu Yogins can detect such a difference, which may only prove that their ancient psychology is not as crude as ours. If one in this latter state is treated in the usual Freudian manner, no cure will be effected. The patient’s condition will only worsen. After all, the analyst is trying to remove some blockage, when the man’s problem is that he doesn’t have enough blockage (i.e., control).
Our culture has suffered from repression so long that it believes that uncontrolled freedom is the only answer. But we do not give our bowels complete freedom. Diarrhea is no cure for constipation; it may be worse. Kundalini can and does rise spontaneously in those who least expect it, in fact in some people who know nothing at all about it and, ironically, one of its peripheral effects is diarrhea! A Yogin would expect the Kundalini power to cause all the glands (including the endocrines) to be over-activated and to oversecrete. This might be a "physical" explanation for the extraordinary powers sometimes exhibited by the Yogins- that the adrenals are over-active. My teacher thought so at any rate, and said that an overactive Kundalini caused any one, or any combination, of the following: involuntary diarrhea, urination, ejaculation, crying, or sweating. He also contended that such symptoms might indicate that the person is not suffering from "common" neurosis or blockage of the energy, usually typified by constrictive symptoms: constipation, an inability to cry, etc. These are of course only physical symptoms, occurring in tandem with a host of psychological effects that cannot really be separated. The man is a unit being, after all. This of course represents only the unusual case, involving the awakening of layers of Kundalini beyond what is normally functional.
In the "normal" case, libido flows back and forth, in and out of layers of the mind (the Worlds of the Qabalah). Dr. Jung says that it is according to which direction this energy usually flows, that determines whether an individual will be an introvert or extrovert. So the differences of temperament influence the course of libido, too, and therefore analytical psychology must include "type" psychology if it is to understand and reach the needs of human nature.
Libido, then, is the energy of human activity in all its aspects. As used by psychiatry, it is usually limited to mean psychic energy, and is habitually identified with the sex instinct, which is really only one of its aspects. Freud even expanded his definition of sex to include a great deal more than the common experience thinks of as sex, as his psychology finally forced him to broaden his thinking. But common thinking prevails, and common followers of Freud still become caught in their own snickering interpretations of libido. Fortunately, Kundalini has seldom been subjected to similar value-reduction of its meaning, and is therefore more adequate as a term. But popular concepts of Kundalini still refer mainly to an individual organism (person). The cosmic aspect is called prana in Hinduism. This is the great ocean of Cosmic Energy. The Hindu tativas are the tides in this ocean that rise and fall in man, as they rise and fall in cosmos. The different aspects of man-his body functions, his mind, his emotions-are ruled by these tides. But Hindu cosmology is even more abstruse than Qabalistic cosmology, if that is possible, so we have to see life as it functions in Atziluth before we can clearly grasp the philosophy of Hindu metaphysics.
The Qabalistic Ruach Elohim (the Breath of God) is the same as the Hindus’ prana. The Qabalah maintains the concept of an essential unity (Yechida) within the cosmos, and that this "Life Energy" flows through and activates all things. It is through it that all things are indeed One; they are made One; they can never be separated so long as the Breath continues to flow back and forth, in and out of Creation. Primal energy it is, energy it will always be, and it can never be contaminated by qualities which we may choose to ascribe to it. It cannot be "dirty sex" or even "beautiful sex," or evil or good. It can only be just exactly what it is.
Using the glyph of the Otz Chum, we could say that if the spheres are lights like Christmas-free bulbs strung about, then the Ruach Elohim is the electricity which flows through and lights them all, pretty and ugly colors alike, but providing their only reason for being. For what good is an unlighted bulb? To the Qabalists. the spheres are the qualities, the aspects under which we observe the Am Soph Aur (the limitless light). (We cannot see electricity, for example. We can only see the light generated by it.) Sex is but one of these aspects, and to consider it as the only one is just constrictive to our own thinking. The Qabalah helps us to keep these aspects, the Sephiroth, in nice order, without permitting us to identify any one aspect with the force or energy which activates it. If we can utilize such a concept wisely, then we can have a much broader and more sensible attitude toward psychology. To see libido as pure force or energy, not confined to any peculiar manifestation, helps to clarify many psychological concepts which otherwise are confusing. It also permits psychology room to grow. For example, it makes possible a psychology which is valid for angels, who may have no sex at all! (But then, the Bible doesn’t say that angels don’t have sex; it just says that they don’t get married!)
Libido as energy, Kundalini as energy, is that ultimate force which drives everything. The energy dynamics of interpersonal relationships, for example, are much clearer when we see that social intercourse (conversation) and bodily intercourse differ only in degree and not in kind. Psychology deals mainly in the charting of the course of flow of this energy. Esoteric systems such as Yoga or the Alchemical Qabalah deal mainly with the diversion of this energy to specific goals. How it functions is preliminary information: the roadmap, the theory, the cosmology, like psychoanalytic theory. How to apply this knowledge to achieve ends, specifically the achievement of satori, samaddhi, Union with God, or psychological Integration, constitutes the main application of the theory. As such, it amounts to turning Life back in upon itself, the Uroboric serpent eating its own tail.