Hints of Chakra Doctrine in the West

The Platonic Tradition

No complete chakra-doctrine developed within the Western spiritual and esoteric traditions the way it did in India, Tibet, and China.  Instead, we find numerous hints and tentative starts, which developed for a while, then died out.  It was only with the coming of Theosophy, with its orientalist emphasis, that the Shakta-tantra model was adopted and given a unique direction.

Plato

The Greek philosopher Plato (5th century B.C.E.) taught that the psyche or soul could be divided into three levels or grades: Desire (epithymia), corresponding to the stomach and to the masses of people; Spiritedness or righteous anger (thymos) which corresponds to the chest and the soldier or warrior class; and Mind and Reason, (Nous or Logos), which alone is able to contemplate the Spiritual Forms or archetypes, and which corresponds to the head and to the philosopher class.  Here we have a theory of human nature very similiar to that of the Indian Vedas, were where it is said that the four basic human types sprang from the four parts of the body of the primordial Divine Man (Purusha).

But Plato went no further than this in presenting an occult model of consciousness.  However his own psychology was soon supplanted by that of his more scientific-materialistically-orientated successor Aristotle, but the possibility of an esoteric psychology was carried on by the Middle and Neoplatonists.

Neoplatonism

The Neoplatonists, such as Plotinus (204-70) and his successors, postulated a whole range of levels of consciousness, beginning with the One or Absolute and going down to formless matter (hyle).  Here we see a psychology - a gradation of levels of consciousness - very like that of the Indian Tantrics, and especially Kashmir Shaivism.  There even seems to have developed among the later Neoplatonists some intimation of the chakras themselves.  R. T. Wallis tells us that concerning the unity between the human soul (or consciousness) and the One,

"the later Neoplatonists have various terms, their  favourite being the "summit" or "flower" (anthos) of Intelligence [Nous]; elsewhere a yet higher principle, "the flower of the whole soul", is distinguished.  It is this principle, at the core of our being, that we attain by unifying our mind and through which we contact the divine." [p.153]

It may or may not be coincidence that in the Indian system the chakras are also refered to as padma or "lotus-flowers", whilst the highest chakra, the Sahasrara, wherein the yogi realises the Divine consciousness, is technically not a chakra at all (it is only in modern writings on the subject that is defined as such), although it is a lotus.


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web pageThe Parts of the Soul - A Greek System of Chakras, by John Opsopaus

This essay resulted from an attempt to find a Greek system of "energy centers" corresponding to the chakras of Eastern philosophy. Such a correspondence would help illuminate Greek mysticism and reveal some of the foundations of the Western Magical Tradition.




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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 20 May 1999, last modified 29 July 2004