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on 12 August 2017
This is a book in a very unusual category, now out of print, and still sought by connoisseurs desiring an alternative to the versions of kundalini found elsewhere in varied media. In many respects, the book is a warning, not the enthusiast outpouring often associated with the subject. The cover refers to a content of ‘highlighting the potential hazards and counterfeit experiences induced by illicit Kundalini arousal.’

In 1977, Kate Thomas (1928–2017) experienced a long-duration kundalini episode that changed her life and mental perspective (the episode is on record elsewhere). One outcome was The Kundalini Phenomenon, a book revealing the pronounced differences between her approach and other versions, including those fostered by the Western ‘new age’ of purported spirituality.

Thomas planned to write a second book on the same subject, but she eventually decided against this prospect. She referred to an extensive lack of comprehension in contemporary circles influenced by popular interpretations. Her supporters lament the lost sequel and a widespread situation of chronic misinformation. The subject of kundalini is vulgarised on commercial media.

The Amazon review by Sagara, dating to 2010, is symptomatic of the confusion about which Thomas complained. This opposing item emphasises the belief that ‘a plethora of respectable non-dual spiritual traditions’ contradict emphases of Kate Thomas. This belief reflects an assumption about fashionable forms of supposed non-dualism. The theory of Sagara is that sexual practices are legitimate in a spiritual context. ‘Human sexuality … is not different to the transcendental.’ This is a dubious theme of new age capitalism, and quite ridiculous in relation to the genuine Indian non-dual tradition known as Advaita Vedanta (which Sagara does not mention).

Advaita Vedanta was monastic and ascetic over many centuries, following a celibate code that is imponderable to affluent Western preferences for erotic sensation. Pseudo-advaita is now a global affliction. There is also the question of diverse Tantric traditions, certain of which did favour asceticism. The celibate Nath Yogis made reference to chakras; they eventually became a caste within Hinduism. Thomas is critical of eccentric Tantric sects, but does not mention the Nath Yogis. The medieval Tantric Shaivism of Kashmir has been described in terms of non-dualism, but different views exist on this point (cf. Thomas, pages 178–180, who is sceptical about the proficiency of Tantric ‘masters’).

The opposing reviewer urges: ‘In principle then sexuality cannot be dismissed out of hand as a means to the transcendental.’ Sagara quotes Thomas as referring to ‘rules for evolutionary development’ (page 123), and interprets this phrase in terms of prohibited sexuality, a misextrapolation revealing the lack of familiarity with content. Thomas is actually referring to tumo (‘psychic heat’), a belief found in Tantric Buddhism.

Sagara also quotes Thomas as saying: ‘Sexual desire is not concomitant with spiritual disciplines.’ No page citation is afforded. However, restraint is definitely a feature of the Thomas exposition. Sagara asserts: ‘There is no support for this argument’ (meaning the division between spiritual discipline and sexuality). Nevertheless, Sagara adds: ‘One may agree with her conclusions.’ This form of evaluation has proved confusing. A textual support is not necessarily requisite for elementary distinctions.

The ‘non-dual’ confusions in the West (and East) include Adi Da Samraj, Ken Wilber, Andrew Cohen, and many others. Kate Thomas departs from fashionable deference to such confusions. Such exponents now have many critics. Thomas is also clearly resistant to new age capitalism passing muster as spirituality. Numerous critical references in her book, to diverse techniques and beliefs, afford some sociological interest. Storming heaven, by obsession with kundalini exercises, is evidently not her priority.

Sagara is averse to the critical approach, a resistance which is no proof that the critique is invalid. The reviewer accuses Thomas of making ‘unfounded dogmatic statements.’ Yet she gives reasons for her themes, which are very frequently original, and not copied from any popular new age digest.

Thomas did not refer to non-dualism, because kundalini is not a component of Advaita. She was not writing a book on Advaita Vedanta, much less the supposed plethora of non-dual traditions. The opinion of Sagara, that non-dualism has an equivalence to transcendent sexuality, is a completely irrelevant argument to either Advaita or the Thomas treatise.

An implication of Sagara is that ‘convictions, beliefs and experiences’ of Thomas are merely subjective, in contrast to ‘a reasoned argument.’ The argument of Sagara is misleading, not a feat of reasoning. The insights of Thomas are frequently argued in a more coherent manner than numerous rivals have achieved.

Thomas argues consistently for the relevance of spiritual aspiration as distinct from techniques for forcing growth. This is surely not a subjective approach. In her closing chapter, she refers to techniques such as ‘breathwork and deliberately induced trance states’ (page 246). Those exercises ‘can also induce alarmingly negative experience which is incomprehensible and traumatic to the individual concerned, the effects of which can be similarly long-lasting’ (ibid). She also refers to ‘yogic techniques’ as a hazardous factor (page 247). There was no due perception of her approach amongst some new age Yoga partisans in America, who chose mistakenly to believe that Thomas was Christian in orientation.

The Kundalini Phenomenon is over 260 pages in extent, cites from many books, and has a bibliography and index. There are 40 lines per page, and a text width of over four and a half inches. These features contrast with some very inadequate offerings, of more limited dimensions, in this field of interest. Thomas is not merely expressing opinions, as Sagara mistakenly implies. The usual run of ‘kundalini experiences’ are not particularly inspiring, and can easily be copied in mediocre format by lacklustre writers. This is not the case with Kate Thomas, who contributed a unique book challenging the confusing appetites of new age audiences.
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on 25 January 2000
Kundalini is the Sanskrit name given to the energy of the primordial undifferentiated Absolute Consciousness which, as a result of the evolutionary process of creation, becomes limited in each living being. Symbolised as a coiled snake lying dormant inside the lowest chakra in the area of the base of the spine in all humans, kundalini, once safely awakened in the prepared individual, expands the limited nature of human consciousness towards a totality of knowledge and experience that embraces the cosmos and climaxes with the ultimate evolutionary consummation termed Self-Realisation, or Union with God.
The early stages of this process can often bestow certain abilities generally regarded as "miraculous", such as an interior perception of things not normally cognizant and the power to heal. Because of these, and more sensational paranormal attributes, and the desire to possess them by sensation seekers and pseudo spiritual teachers, it was long ago discovered that kundalini could be forced into premature awakening by untoward means: which include sexual practices, magical rituals, psychotropic drugs, yogic exercises, and breathing techniques. Having experienced a profound kundalini awakening in 1977, it is the author's conviction that the question of what constitutes spiritual authenticity can only be answered by highlighting the potential hazards and counterfeit experiences induced by illicit kundalini arousal.
In this work Kate Thomas has researched a wide variety of books on Kundalini, and has utilised a selection by persons considered authorities on this subject (including Gopi Krishna, Hiroshi Motoyama, Swami Radha, Irina Tweedie, and Swami Muktananda) for critical review. This treatment, plus autobiographical material containing first-hand accounts of this process, should enable both reseachers and the general public to approach this highly controversial subject in a much more comprehensive and objective manner than in the past.
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on 16 December 2010
Kate Thomas applies a polemic critique of various teachers and traditions who are concerned (albeit sometimes rather loosly) with the Kundalini phenomenon. The book explores some interesting themes, it has however, in my opinion some serious flaws. She addresses some good questions - to name but a few: how important is preparation...and following a path of regular steps on a spiritual path? What are the consequences in not doing so? Also, what are the dangers of various 'breakthrough techniques' ?

However, it seems incumbent on Kate Thomas in discussing a subject such as 'The Kundalini Phenomenon: The Need for Insight and Spiritual Authenticity' to define the basis and the principles upon which her understanding of the kundalini phenomena, insight and spiritual authenticity proceed. This is especially important in a book which is a relentless series of critiques of various spiritual schools and teachers. While I have sympathy with some of these criticisms and think in many instances she is probably right to be critical. However her arguments in support of these criticisms are seriously flawed.

Kate Thomas does not disclose her foundational framework of understanding. Her polemic argument counters the supposed faults of other teachers and traditions and their practices, not by a reasoned argument, or references to schools, teachers, traditions and their underlying principles which support her own position, instead she makes a series of unfounded dogmatic statements.

To give but one example picked at random of the many which pepper the book: on pg 107 she states 'persons with unmonitored active kundalini are in fact walking pollutants, their overspills affecting all in their contact, whether wittingly or not'. Without sighting references or evidence in support of such a claim (after all, how does she know?) Repeated statements of this kind, result in seriously weakening her book.

Very occasionally she qualifies her statements, by prefixing them with 'in my opinion'. One feels relief when she does so. I sense that Kate Thomas's opinions are the real centre of gravity of this book. One starts to feel that while the book presents it self as a rigorous objective critique of a great many teachers and traditions, a deeper analysis one realises this is a book based on Kate Thomas's deeply held subjective convictions, beliefs and experiences. This does not seem to be a very credible basis on which to establish a foundation of insight and authenticity which she claims in the books title. I wonder if Kate Thomas, has made the mistake of overgeneralising from her own experiences. She presents her self, her views, and experiences as benchmark of orthodoxy and normality and those who deviate from this supposed norm are in some way deviant.

Of particular interest to Thomas is an abhorrence of sexual practices, as a means to spiritual growth. She dismisses these practices out of hand as against 'rules of evolutioary development ' (pg 123) or 'Sexual desire is not concomitant with spiritual disciplines'. As usual there is no support for this argument. While one may agree with her conclusions I can not accept the method by which she arrives at them. There are a plethora of respectable non-dual spiritual traditions, of which anyone discussing this subject should at least mention is passing. There are so many of these traditions. Kate Thomas shows no knowledge of them. My understanding of these tradtions is that from a Non-dual perspective the sacred and the profane are not two. Human sexuality, according to this perspective is not different to the transcendental. In principle then sexuality can not be dismissed out of hand as a means to the transcendental. This contradicts Thomas' claims mentioned above. However, it must be mentioned that this non dual reality is the perspective of someone of an a highly realised state and therefore is not of access to an individual dwelling in a dualistic state of mind, which means that very few people would find practices of this kind of any spiritual benefit. Although this arguement arrives at the same conclusion, it is arrived at without making the problematic statement mentioned above.
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on 19 February 2010
According to Kate Thomas, it was Sir John Woodroffe, a British official and barrister who served in the Indian court system as a judge, who first introduced the phenomenon of Kundalini to a Western readership. Writing under the penname of Arthur Avalon, Woodroffe produced in his book The Serpent Power (first published in London, 1919) an influential study of Kundalini yoga, translating the texts of two tantric treatises (the Shat-Cakra-Nirupana and the Paduka-Pancaka). Though intended as a serious scholarly work, the book stimulated "an experimental interest amongst an enthusiastic general readership of theosophists, esotericists, occultists, and would-be Western yogis". Later the book "came under the scrutiny of the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, who linked the concepts of the chakra system and the dramatic symptoms of Kundalini with his own psychoanalytic theory on what he termed the process of individuation". Since the 1960s, the Kundalini phenomenon increasingly became part of a Western countercultural interest in Eastern mysticism, and has more recently found expression within transpersonal psychology (e.g. the therapist Stanislav Grof "notes that the experiences of many transpersonal LSD sessions bear `striking resemblance' to phenomena recorded in various schools of Kundalini yoga") and the New Age Movement, with the latter producing a plethora "of questionable books on how to arouse the Kundalini force" (The Kundalini Phenomenon, pp. vii, ix-x).

"Kundalini" is a Sanskrit term, literally "coiled", which in Indian yoga is conceptualised as an unconscious universal force (Shakti), and symbolised as a sleeping serpent coiled in a state of potency at the base of the spine, hence the descriptive term "serpent power". Tantric and Yogic exercises are seen as both preparatory to, and activating methods for, the awakening of Kundalini, which is progressively linked (theoretically through a formulated system of subtle energy points known as "chakras", said to correspond to physical locations along the spine and culminating at the top of the head) to the development of consciousness - the aim being Self-Realization. A function of the yogic exercises is to purify and strengthen the body and nervous system, otherwise the awakened (or more likely, partially awakened) Kundalini can cause severely disruptive, or even disabling, physical and psychological effects.

It was the scholar of the history of yoga, Georg Feuerstein, who noted that, "In view of the fact that the kundalini experience is claimed to depend on universal structures of the body [Yoga envisions the human body as part of a complex hierarchic system of interconnected "sheaths" (kosha), each vibrating at a different frequency], we must assume that it was encountered by mystics throughout the ages" (Encyclopedic Dictionary of Yoga, 1990, p. 189). Thus the Kundalini phenomenon extends beyond tantric and yogic conceptual schemes and "can be discerned as a fundamental potency in the spiritual process" (ibid.).

Kate Thomas confirms the above observation, as she had experienced the Kundalini phenomenon as a spiritual process at first-hand - an experience that appears to have occurred naturally, without any recourse to tantric or yogic exercises, and in the midst of everyday life in the West. Of interest to the reviewer is, in the light of that experience her subsequent approach to the Kundalini phenomenon proves both cautionary and critical. Her concern is with the potential hazards and counterfeit experiences of forced and premature Kundalini awakening, as well as with those who exploit others in the name of spirituality. The rational/mystical approach of Kate Thomas exposes flaws and distortions in the writings of many accepted "authorities" on the subject of Kundalini.

The chapter headings "Potential Hazards to Spiritual Growth", "Dysfunctional States of Consciousness", and "Incomplete Forms of Enlightenment" provide a fair indication of the content of the book. Thomas's comprehensive survey includes a critique of sexual, magical, shamanistic, psychotropic, yogic, and breathwork practices, and her review of well-known (and lesser-known) literature on the subject of Kundalini could prove uncomfortably discerning to those who prefer sensationalism to realism. As the tantric experimenter Charles Breaux rightly observed, the mere awakening of the power of Kundalini "does not automatically insure spiritual perfection. This primordial power may indeed be venomous, activating unconscious contents which may cause severe psychological imbalances ..." (quoted in The Kundalini Phenomenon, p. 154).

I recommend this book as essential reading to anyone interested in the Kundalini phenomenon and the spiritual process; and to those who are not afraid to make a revaluation of, and think more clearly about, what actually does constitute spiritual authenticity. But I leave the last word to Kate Thomas:

"People are frequently dazzled by the spurious - by the purported experiences of well-known [gurus and spiritual teachers] and their apparent knowledge and expertise. They cannot discriminate between the lesser and the greater, the counterfeit and the genuine, the half-baked and the fully-fledged, and therefore ingest indiscriminately the distorted concepts proffered them by fakes and ignoramuses" (ibid., p. 187).
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on 26 January 2002
..Kate Thomas in her books to date has served a very valuable service to those of us who take spiritual development seriously....she has no time for the easy, egotistical, nirvana without effort characteristic of the New Age movement..this book explains the manifest dangers and delusions that such "lazy occultism" can engender...really excellent book and so readable...
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