Welcome to Scribd, the world's digital library. Read, publish, and share books and documents. See more
Download
Standard view
Full view
of .
Look up keyword
Like this
3Activity
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
The Spinal Serpent

The Spinal Serpent

Ratings: (0)|Views: 48|Likes:
Published by Benjamin Hoshour

More info:

Published by: Benjamin Hoshour on Feb 17, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less

07/08/2013

pdf

text

original

 
93 
6
The Spinal Serpent
1
Thomas McEvilley 
In the
Timaeus,
Plato describes what he calls lower soul—the appetitive part of a personality, obsessed with bodily pleasures—and higher soul—the spiritual part whose ambitions transcend the bodily realm. Somewhat surprisingly, he does notcount sexual desire as among the appetites of the lower soul, but as a degenerateform of higher soul activity. The higher soul desires only to be reunited with the World Soul; this, Plato says, is the true and pure form of 
eros.
When, however, theembodied soul becomes subject to external influences through the channels of thesenses, a degenerate form of desire for the One, and for immortality in the One,arises. This is, on the one hand, desire of the individual to merge with the species, which, through the bewilderment of existing in time, the soul now mistakenly seesas the One, and on the other hand, desire to attain immortality through offspring.Other factors enter also, such as seeing, in a sex object, the shadow of the Idea of Beauty, and mistakenly seeking the Idea in the shadow that stimulated memory of it. Thus the true
eros 
—desire for supreme knowledge, freedom, and eternality—istemporarily replaced by a false
eros 
—sexual desire.Plato proceeds to describe the physiology of sex (
Timaeus 
73b ff., 91a ff.).Soul power, he says, resides in a moist substance whose true home is in the brain,the seat of the higher soul. The brain is connected with the penis, and along the way, with the heart, by a channel that passes through the center of the spine andconnects with the urethra. Under the stimulus of false
eros 
the soul fluid in thebrain is drawn down the spinal passage and ejaculated from the penis in the formof sperm, which is able to produce new living creatures precisely because it is soul-stuff. It may be inferred, though Plato does not speak directly to this point, thatthe practice of philosophy (which requires celibacy except for begetting children)involves keeping the soul-stuff located in the brain, that is, preventing it fromflowing downward through the spinal channel. This inference is implicit in thePlatonic doctrine, which holds that the philosopher gets beyond false
eros 
to thetrue celestial
eros.
Since the false
eros 
draws the seminal fluid down the spinalchannel, the transcendence of false
eros 
must end this downward flowing. What will be obvious at once (though it has never been remarked on in antext that I have seen) is that this description applies to the Hindu doctrine of the
ku 
¸
¸
dalin¯ı 
as well as to Plato’s doctrine in the
Timaeus.
In the Hindu version too,
6
The Spinal Serpent'
Thomas McEvilley
In the Timaeus, Plato describes what he calls lower soul the appetitive part of apersonality, obsessed with bodily pleasures—and higher soul the spiritual partwhose ambitions transcend the bodily realm. Somewhat surprisingly, he does notcount sexual desire as among the appetites of the lower soul, but as a degenerateform of higher soul activity. The higher soul desires only to be reunited with theWorld Soul; this, Plato says, is the true and pure form of eros. When, however, theembodied soul becomes subject to external influences through the channels of thesenses, a degenerate form of desire for the One, and for immortality in the One,arises. This is, on the one hand, desire of the individual to merge with the species,which, through the bewilderment of existing in time, the soul now mistakenly seesas the One, and on the other hand, desire to attain immortality through offspring.Other factors enter also, such as seeing, in a sex object, the shadow of the Idea ofBeauty, and mistakenly seeking the Idea in the shadow that stimulated memory ofit. Thus the true eros desire for supreme knowledge, freedom, and eternality istemporarily replaced by a false eros sexual desire.Plato proceeds to describe the physiology of sex ( Timaeus 73b ff., 91a ff.).Soul power, he says, resides in a moist substance whose true home is in the brain,the seat of the higher soul. The brain is connected with the penis, and along theway, with the heart, by a channel that passes through the center of the spine andconnects with the urethra. Under the stimulus of false eros the soul fluid in thebrain is drawn down the spinal passage and ejaculated from the penis in the formof sperm, which is able to produce new living creatures precisely because it is soul-stuff It may be inferred, though Plato does not speak directly to this point, thatthe practice of philosophy (which requires celibacy except for begetting children)involves keeping the soul-stuff located in the brain, that is, preventing it fromflowing downward through the spinal channel. This inference is implicit in thePlatonic doctrine, which holds that the philosopher gets beyond false eros to thetrue celestial eros. Since the false eros draws the seminal fluid down the spinalchannel, the transcendence of false eros must end this downward flowing.What will be obvious at once (though it has never been remarked on in anytext that I have seen) is that this description applies to the Hindu doctrine of theku1:1(talini as well as to Plato's doctrine in the Timaeus. In the Hindu version too,93
 
94 Thomas McEville
the natural or proper place of the
ku 
¸
¸
daliı 
(soul-power) is at the very top of thebrain; when it is in this position the yogin is in the state of union with the divine(quite as Plato said of the philosopher). In an unpurified person, however, the
ku 
¸
¸
dalin¯ı 
descends through the spinal channel and expresses itself, not as divineunion, but as the drive to sexual union: it is expended through the penis inejaculation. The practice of yoga causes the descended
ku 
¸
¸
daliı 
power to bedrawn back upward through a channel in the center of the spine. There are sevenseats, or
cakras,
which the
ku 
¸
¸
daliı 
may occupy, that at the base of the spine, thatat the top of the brain, and five in between, while Plato mentioned only two, thethroat and heart. As in Plato’s version, the
ku 
¸
¸
daliı 
power is especially embodiedin semen, and descends in semen from the brain to the penis through the spinalchannel. Various practices are recommended for forcing the semen upwardthrough the spinal channel until it resides in the brain again;
2
there its life-giving force can express itself through giving spiritual life rather than physical.
3
This correspondence is already so remarkable as to invite interpretation; butthere is more. The Indian texts distinguish many “subtle” channels in the body.The foremost is the channel through which the
ku 
¸
¸
daliı 
passes up and down thespine (
su 
¸
sumn¯ a-n¯ 
¸
ı 
); nearly as important are two channels that pass along thespine but outside it (
¸
d¯ 
and
 pi˙ ngala 
). These two surrounding channels conformthemselves to the icon of the entwined serpents. Between their origin in the upperbrain and their termination at the base of the spine they cross one another fivetimes, that to the right passing to the left, and vice versa; their points of intersec-tion are the five intermediary 
cakras.
Plato also, in the
Timaeus 
(77c. ff.), knows of these two veins (which physical anatomists cannot find) that pass along the sides of the spinal column and cross one another an unknown number of times (Platomentions only the crossing at the throat). In Plato, as in the Indian texts, thesesubsidiary veins are secondary carriers of the soul-power. Finally, the parallelextends to the imagery of the serpent. The spinal marrow was associated with theserpent by Aelian (
de Natura Animalium 
I.51) and others, as in the
ku 
¸
¸
daliı 
tradition. There the
ku 
¸
¸
daliı 
power is described as a serpent that, when awak-ened, slithers up the spine; according to Aelian, the spinal marrow of a man leaveshis body as a serpent when he dies.That these ideas which neither the study of cadavers nor mere theorizing  would arrive at should occur in both Greece and India demands special investiga-tion. A rudimentary form of this occult physiology is attested in India as early asthe
Ch¯ andogya Upani 
¸
sad,
which says (VIII.6.6): “A hundred and one are thearteries of the heart, one of them leads up to the crown of the head. Going upwardthrough that, one becomes immortal.”
4
(And compare
¸
rhad¯ ara 
¸
nyaka Upani 
¸
sad 
IV.2.3.) The somewhat later
Maitri Upani 
¸
sad 
specifies (IV.21) that the name of this channel is
su 
¸
sumn¯ a,
and that the goal of yoga is to cause the
 pr¯ 
¸
na 
(spirit-energy) to rise through that channel to the crown of the head. (And compare
Pra´sna Upani 
¸
sad 
III.6.) The much later
Brahma Upani 
¸
sad 
asserts that there arefour seats of 
 pr¯ 
¸
na,
then appears to relate two different traditions, first naming 
94 Thomas McEvilleythe natural or proper place of the kulydatini (soul-power) is at the very top of thebrain; when it is in this position the yogin is in the state of union with the divine(quite as Plato said of the philosopher). In an unpurified person, however, thekulydatini descends through the spinal channel and expresses itself, not as divineunion, but as the drive to sexual union: it is expended through the penis inejaculation. The practice of yoga causes the descended kulidatini power to bedrawn back upward through a channel in the center of the spine. There are sevenseats, or cakras, which the kul.idatinimayoccupy,thatatthebaseofthespine,thatat the top of the brain, and five in between, while Plato mentioned only two, thethroat and heart. As in Plato's version, the kulydatini power is especially embodiedin semen, and descends in semen from the brain to the penis through the spinalchannel. Various practices are recommended for forcing the semen upwardthrough the spinal channel until it resides in the brain again;2 there its life-givingorce can express itself through giving spiritual life rather than physical.3This correspondence is already so remarkable as to invite interpretation; butthere is more. The Indian texts distinguish many "subtle" channels in the body.The foremost is the channel through which the kulydatinipasses up and down thespine (su,sumna-nadi); nearly as important are two channels that pass along thespine but outside it (kb and pingala). These two surrounding channels conformthemselves to the icon of the entwined serpents. Between their origin in the upperbrain and their termination at the base of the spine they cross one another fivetimes, that to the right passing to the left, and vice versa; their points of intersec-tion are the five intermediary cakras. Plato also, in the Timaeus (77c. ff.), knows ofthese two veins (which physical anatomists cannot find) that pass along the sides ofthe spinal column and cross one another an unknown number of times (Platomentions only the crossing at the throat). In Plato, as in the Indian texts, thesesubsidiary veins are secondary carriers of the soul-power. Finally, the parallelextends to the imagery of the serpent. The spinal marrow was associated with theserpent by Aelian (de Natura Animatium 1.51) and others, as in the kwidatinitradition. There the kulidatini power is described as a serpent that, when awak-ened, slithers up the spine; according to Aelian, the spinal marrow of a man leaveshis body as a serpent when he dies.That these ideas which neither the study of cadavers nor mere theorizingwould arrive at should occur in both Greece and India demands special investiga-tion. A rudimentary form of this occult physiology is attested in India as early asthe Chandogya Upani,cad, which says (VI11.6.6): "A hundred and one are thearteries of the heart, one of them leads up to the crown of the head. Going upwardthrough that, one becomes immortal."4 (AndcompareBrhadaralgakaUpani,cadIV.2.3.) The somewhat later Maitri Upani,cad specifies (IV.21) that the name ofthis channel is sup,anna, and that the goal of yoga is to cause the pralia (spirit-energy) to rise through that channel to the crown of the head. (And comparePraMa Upani,cad 111.6.) The much later Brahma Upani,cad asserts that there arefour seats of pralya, then appears to relate two different traditions, first naming
 
95 The Spinal Serpent 
navel, heart, throat and head, then eye, throat, heart, and head.
5
The
Ha 
¸
nsa Upani 
¸
sad 
mentions a full list, loins, belly, navel, heart, neck, and eyebrows.
6
It isnotable, however, that none of these passages mentions the spine, and those thatrefer to a channel or vein rising from the heart seem to mean the heart itself, notthe heart level of the spine.The
´ S¯ andilya 
and
Dhy¯ anabindu Upani 
¸
sads 
describe the central channel andthe two subsidiary channels, and mention the anus and navel
cakras.
7
The
Ha 
¸
tha Yoga Prad¯ıpik¯ 
knows of the arrangement of the three channels, and mentions thethroat and brain
cakras 
(III.50, IV,75, 79).
8
Matsyendra, in his
Kaulaj˜ n¯ ananir- 
¸
naya,
summarizes the system, giving anus, gentials, navel, heart, throat, spot-between-the-eyes, and crown of the head as the
cakra 
points.
9
The
´ Siva Sa ˙ mhit¯ 
spells out the entire system of the three channels and seven
cakras 
(V.56–103).
10
The relative chronology of these texts is not certain, but may be more or less in theorder in which I have mentioned them. If so, then the pattern with which thesystem emerges into articulation suggests, though it does not require, that thedoctrine either entered India in stages or that it underwent indigenous develop-ment in a series of stages there. Of course, all of these texts contain materials fromdifferent ages, so no conclusion on these matters is available at present. It is equally possible that there were different versions of the system extant or that differentteachers purveyed it with different emphases.The Greek belief in the
Timaeus 
can be traced to a period before Plato; thetrail leads to the Sicilian and South Italian schools of medicine, which wereconnected with the Pythagorean and Orphic presences in the same area. Theseschools taught that semen comes from the brain and is of one substance with thespinal marrow, by way of which it travels to the genital organ through the spinalchannel, called “the holy tube.”
11
This was explicitly taught by Alcmaeon of Croton (DK 14A13). Croton, of course, was the center of the Pythagorean broth-erhood, and though Alcmeon seems not to have been a member, he shared many views with the Pythagoreans.
12
In fact, the doctrine of the sperm descending through the spinal channel seems to have a special connection with thePythagorean tradition; it is found in Alcmaeon, in Plato’s most Pythagorean work,the
Timaeus,
and in Hippo of Samos (DK 38A3 and 10) in the fifth century 
.
.
.,
probably also a Pythagorean.The association of the spinal marrow with the word
aion,
“life” or “life-span,” in a fragment of the (at least partly) Orphic poet Pindar, affirms theOrphic, as well as the Pythagorean, associations of the teaching. Pindar wasinfluenced by West Greek mystery cults, and Aion, according to later writers, wasan Orphic name for Dionysus, the divine element expressed as sexual power.
13
Heraclitus, himself very influenced by Orphism, seems also to have taught theretention of semen and a qualified sexual abstinence.
14
Diogenes of Apollonia (DK 64B6), living probably on the Black Sea in the fifth century 
.
.
.,
had thedoctrine of the spinal channel with the two surrounding “veins” and of theconnection between the spinal channel and the testicles.
15
Plato, as we have seen,
The Spinal Serpent 95
navel, heart, throat and head, then eye, throat, heart, and head.5 The Hausapani,cad mentions a full list, loins, belly, navel, heart, neck, and eyebrows.6 It isotable, however, that none of these passages mentions the spine, and those thatrefer to a channel or vein rising from the heart seem to mean the heart itself, notthe heart level of the spine.The Sandilya and Dhyanabindu Upani,cads describe the central channel andthe two subsidiary channels, and mention the anus and navel cakras.7 The Hat.haYoga Pradipika knows of the arrangement of the three channels, and mentions thethroat and brain cakras (111.50,1\1,75, 79).8 Matsyendra,in hisKaulajliananir-uaya, summarizes the system, giving anus, gentials, navel, heart, throat, spot-between-the-eyes, and crown of the head as the cakra points.9 The Siva Sathhitapells out the entire system of the three channels and seven cakras (V56-103) .1()The relative chronology of these texts is not certain, but may be more or less in theorder in which I have mentioned them. If so, then the pattern with which thesystem emerges into articulation suggests, though it does not require, that thedoctrine either entered India in stages or that it underwent indigenous develop-ment in a series of stages there. Of course, all of these texts contain materials fromdifferent ages, so no conclusion on these matters is available at present. It is equallypossible that there were different versions of the system extant or that differentteachers purveyed it with different emphases.The Greek belief in the Timaeus can be traced to a period before Plato; thetrail leads to the Sicilian and South Italian schools of medicine, which wereconnected with the Pythagorean and Orphic presences in the same area. Theseschools taught that semen comes from the brain and is of one substance with thespinal marrow, by way of which it travels to the genital organ through the spinalchannel, called "the holy tube."11 This wasexplicitlytaughtbyAlcmaeonofCroton (DK 14A13). Croton, of course, was the center of the Pythagorean broth-erhood, and though Alcmeon seems not to have been a member, he shared manyviews with the Pythagoreans.12 In fact,thedoctrineofthespermdescendingthrough the spinal channel seems to have a special connection with thePythagorean tradition; it is found in Alcmaeon, in Plato's most Pythagorean work,the Timaeus, and in Hippo of Samos (DK 38A3 and 10) in the fifth century 13.C.E.,probably also a Pythagorean.The association of the spinal marrow with the word aion, "life" or "life-span," in a fragment of the (at least partly) Orphic poet Pindar, affirms theOrphic, as well as the Pythagorean, associations of the teaching. Pindar wasinfluenced by West Greek mystery cults, and Aion, according to later writers, wasan Orphic name for Dionysus, the divine element expressed as sexual power.13eraclitus, himself very influenced by Orphism, seems also to have taught theretention of semen and a qualified sexual abstinence." Diogenes of Apollonia(DK 64B6), living probably on the Black Sea in the fifth century 13.C.E., had thedoctrine of the spinal channel with the two surrounding "veins" and of theconnection between the spinal channel and the testicles.15 Plato, as wehave seen,

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
scribd
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->