The mysterious third eye, blinking open in the forehead of Shiva or Buddha. The unforeseen intuition and deeper understanding that seems to arise out of nowhere like a flash of lightning. What is the reality of the ajna chakra, the sixth and highest chakra, that gateway to mystical experience reflected in the middle of the forehead?
The third eye: perceiving the world beyond duality
Ajna chakra is often referred to as the “third eye,” though this is a symbolic description more than a translation. The actual meaning of “ajna” is “mental command center,” as from this point you can understand and control the energies of all the other chakras. The mind is the forerunner of all things, as the Buddha said; as the tree is contained within the seed, so the entire manifestation is contained within this primordial capacity of perception.
This is the cosmic mind, the universal principle of intelligence, a wisdom beyond the limits of the individual intellect.
From the point of view of ajna, you can see clearly and connect all the dots. Insights and understanding come directly, like a complete download. Everything makes sense and everything fits together in such a vast web of interconnectivity it could only have arisen from the mind of God.
A person with strong ajna has an incredible power of concentration. “Single-pointed concentration”—the capacity to set the mind on a chosen object without wavering for an extended period of time—is the hallmark of an activated sixth chakra.
This fearsome power of the mind can accomplish anything, but from a spiritual perspective, its most valuable function is its capacity for discernment. The vision of ajna pierces to the essence of things and can distinguish the unreal from the Real. In this capacity, it truly is the eye of wisdom.
The world of ajna can have a certain dryness. This sharp clarity brings a lot of detachment, a radical cutting through of everything that seems important on a relative level. Yet here there is also compassion and in fact a very profound and all-embracing compassion.
The Tibetan Buddhists describe wisdom and compassion as two wings of a bird. True wisdom, the recognition of Oneness, inevitably ends in compassion, and true compassion in itself leads to a natural blossoming of wisdom.
The third eye is the eye that sees beyond duality. If the two ordinary physical eyes gives a perception of multiplicity, a world of discrete forms separated from each other and from the one perceiving them, the vision of ajna chakra sees the underlying unity of all existence. It is the point where the energetic polarity inherent in human nature resolves into a simple binary and is ultimately transcended.
Misconceptions about ajna chakra
The sixth chakra has a certain mystique around it, and as it’s somewhat removed from the domain of common life, there are some misconceptions around it that you might encounter frequently.
MYTH: Reaching ajna chakra is enlightenment
The energy of ajna chakra relates to a very high level of consciousness, but it is still a specific energy, a particular filter through which to view reality—not the totality itself.
MYTH: Mental agitation results from an overactive ajna chakra
“I already have too much energy in ajna, I need to bring it down.” The mind in ajna is not the chattering, obsessive, anxious mind that bothers you in meditation! When your energy is really in ajna, the mind becomes incredibly clear, quiet and single-pointed: you can set it on anything you want and it will effortlessly hold that focus.
MYTH: You can activate ajna through diet or essential oils
Ajna is an extremely refined subtle structure directly connected to the perception of our true divine nature. Eating a balanced sattvic diet will certainly support your yoga practice in general, but there’s no special food that will “nourish” ajna chakra—only a strict diet of meditation!
MYTH: Activating Ajna chakra is dangerous
Especially in New Age circles, you might hear that “opening your third eye” can result in nightmares, hallucinations, paranoia, chaotic behavior or a number of other symptoms. This is mostly dramatizing. People easily confuse being extremely yin (energetically receptive and open to subtle perceptions in a passive way) with the mental power of ajna chakra.
It’s true that strong activation of ajna takes you outside the paradigm of conventional reality, which can be very frightening when you’re attached to that paradigm and can include experiences that are far beyond what most people would consider normal. Still, remember that ajna represents the power of discernment. It brings clarity, lucidity and depth of insight that brings you closer to reality, not farther from it.
How to activate ajna chakra
Fitting for the highest chakra, most practices that develop ajna are quite subtle, often working directly with the mind itself. There are some yoga asanas for ajna chakra, but a strong ajna practice will more involve concentration techniques, visualizations, mantras, etc.
Trataka, the famous yogic technique of concentration on a dot or candle flame, is a classic practice for ajna, as is nadi shodana pranayama (alternate nostril breathing), easily the most well-known pranayama in the West.
Essentially any technique of mental concentration will increase the power of ajna, which can have a profound ripple effect through your entire being.
Going deep in meditation can in itself bring an opening of ajna chakra. Touch the primordial wisdom of your being, the sense of light, the intuition of oneness beyond the fluctuations of the ordinary mind. From this taste, everything will follow.
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