Tummo (Tibetan: gtum-mo; Sanskrit: caṇḍālī) is a form of Yoga, particularly one of the methods of the Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. This practice of meditation may be best known for its alleged ability to produce body heat – the Heat of the Mystic. The other effects of this practice, according to the mahasiddhas, is an intensely blissful feeling.
The Tummo practices were first described in writing by the Indian yogi and Buddhist scholar Naropa, although the Tibetan Buddhist tradition holds that the practice was actually taught by Shakyamuni Buddha and passed down orally until the time of Naropa. The Tummo practice is also found in the Tibetan Bön lineage.
Tummo is called gTum mo in the Wylie transliteration, also spelled Tumo, or Tum-mo. The Sanskrit word is caṇḍālī. Kundalini is etymologically linked to candalī, in other words the practise of Tummo produces controlled kundalini experiences. The Six Yogas of Naropa describe the next steps after producing the kundalini experience and in most respects, Tummo is just a stepping stone on the path to more intense experiences.
This said it is an essential stepping stone, as without the ability to control the energy and direct it, people can become extremely ill.
Psychiatric literature notes that since the influx of eastern spiritual practices and the rising popularity of meditation starting in the 1960s, many people have experienced a variety of psychological difficulties, either while engaged in intensive spiritual practice or spontaneously. Among the psychological difficulties associated with intensive spiritual practice the authors mention uncontrolled kundalini awakening
There are some very odd things said by westerners about Tummo, for example
The yogin learns how to conserve the energy that may under normal circumstances be dissipated in the superficial pursuit of pleasure’! [Which is a rather coy way of saying sex - it was written by a Christian woman] “This energy generates warmth as it accumulates and becomes an inner fire or inner heat that burns away the dross of ignorance and ego-clinging”.
In actuality, it appears to do more for your health than your ignorance and ego, getting rid of toxins and other nasties. Another reason why this practise is an essential stepping stone. Not only is the yogin practising how to control the process of directing flows, but he or she is also getting themselves fit enough to withstand the next round of experiences. Viruses do not like heat, nor do parasites or bacteria and sweating can release toxins, so the practise is essentially practical.
Practically all the systems that are based on kundalini energy aim to find ways of conserving energy ready for more fundamental and important exercises. In Chinese TCM based systems this reservoir of energy has a name - Dan Tien – in the various yoga disciplines the energy is said to accumulate roughly at the base of the spine, level with the navel chakra, four fingers widths below the navel itself. In effect, the same place.
In Tibetan Buddhism the primary purpose of tummo is to gain control over subtle body processes as a foundation for very advanced mystical practices analogous to Completion stages of 'highest yoga tantra' (Anuttarayoga Tantra). Such refined internalized yogas are practices to support entry into the highest contemplative systems, for example the Dzogchen or Mahamudra systems.
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