You’ve heard of the seven chakras mentioned in the Yogic texts. They are energy centers along the spine often depicted as wheels.
I hesitate to bring them up because, well, the topic gets a bit touchy-feely and new-agey. Suffice it to say that one does, during pranayama (breath control) and the higher four of the eight stages of Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga concentrate intensely on these chakras, perhaps visualizing them in their rainbow colors.
In this post I will not try to prove or disprove that the chakras exist. Instead, I would simply like to point out that Western culture seems to have the same concepts, especially if one views them more metaphorically than literally, as more mythos than logos.
Compare the hierarchy of chakras in the human body to the left to the hierarchy of needs as described so famously by the American psychologist Abraham Maslow to the right. Remarkably similar, aren’t they?
I believe the idea is the same.
In the yogic vocabulary, the root chakra above the anus (essentially in the male prostrate) and the sacral chakra just above it (near the female ovaries) govern our most basic drives: individual survival (eating, excreting etc) and genetic survival (sex).
Maslow lumped these together in his ‘physiological’ needs at the bottom of his pyramid. He believed that if somebody is choking you and you are not getting oxygen, breathing is the only need you care about. Once you can breathe again, you may notice that you are thirsty. Once you have drunk, you may notice that you are hungry. Once you have eaten, you may notice that you desire. And so on.
The next chakra (going upwards) is the yellow solar plexus just below the navel. In the yogic conceit, this governs our will to power. (So I sometimes think of the sacral chakra as Freud and the solar plexus as Nietzsche.) Maslow calls these “security” needs, but you notice that they involve what we consider the trappings of power: money, property, status, and so on.
Now we get into the higher or ‘nobler’ chakras.
In the yogic vocabulary, the first of these is the green heart chakra, which governs deep, selfless, non-sexual love (not Aphrodite but Hestia, if you will). Maslow calls these the ‘love and belonging’ needs for friendship, family and intimacy. Even the color corresponds. (Which is interesting: Green = envy in the West but love in the East.)
The blue throat chakra in Yoga governs intellectual clarity, the ability to communicate, creativity and so forth. This is where artists, scientists, writers and orators draw their inspiration. Maslow calls these ‘esteem’ needs, which is the reward of such things.
Yoga then distinguishes between two more chakras: the third eye behind the brow which is indigo and the source of inner peace and meditative calm; and the crown (depicted in the Western tradition as a halo) just above the head which is the area that is energized during enlightenment (ie, very rarely for most of us).
Maslow lumps them together under “self-actualization”, which is arguably the goal of life and the definition of success. Maslow studied biographies (as I did for my book), and developed a theory about what sort of qualities people have who self-actualize. Perhaps that’s why they called his approach “Jewish Buddhism” at Esalen. 😉