In the fashionable search for sameness in all religions, Holy Spirit in Christianity is often equated with Shakti or Kundalini in Hinduism. However, these terms represent different, even incompatible cosmologies
The Early Vedic literature describes a supreme being whose creative power (Shakti) manifests the universe. Shakti is subsequently systematised as the Universal Goddess with sophisticated theology and worship. She is the matrix and primordial material substance of the universe, its consciousness and power, and the agency differentiating all forms.
In Christianity, though the Holy Spirit is also ‘within’ the human, there is a strong emphasis on the descent from above or outside. Furthermore, unlike Shakti, the Holy Spirit is not seen as the essence of human selfhood (‘soul’) or the essence of the cosmos.
Christianity assumes an inherent dualism between God and creation. This necessitates historical revelations along with prophets, priests and institutions to bring us the truth. But Shakti, being all-pervading, obviates dependence on these; its experience can be discovered by going within through yoga. Since the universe is nothing but Shakti’s immanence, nearly every Hindu village worships its own form of the Goddess as the deity.
Shakti is always available to be experienced in our physical body as a series of currents, with seven focal points called chakras. A powerful concentration of Shakti known as Kundalini lies dormant at the base of everyone’s spine. Numerous spiritual techniques can arouse kundalini and channel it upward through the chakras, awakening one into unity consciousness. In Hinduism, the guru helps awaken the disciple’s Kundalini and integrate the experience into ordinary life. The experience is not interpreted through a specific history as in Christianity. Kundalini-like manifestations have occurred sporadically among Christians, but mainstream churches treat them as aberrations and even as the work of the devil. Those who have such experiences are conditioned to doubt their own sanity and are often regarded as mentally ill and even institutionalised.
In Hinduism, there is no evil spirit or demonic Shakti. Rather, Shakti encompasses all polarities, being simultaneously one and many, light and dark, supportive and violently transformative; both sides of such pairs must be integrated in spirituality. Shakti is explicitly feminine and has myriad representations. The Holy Spirit has also at times been conceived as female, yet, Christianity’s most prominent female figure, the Virgin Mary, is not identical with the Holy Spirit.
Many cross-cultural experts draw a parallel between Kundalini awakenings and the phenomena associated with Pentecostal worship. Unlike Shakti, the Holy Spirit is not experienced as one’s inner essence manifesting through personal yoga but as an external and
transcendent force invoked by communal prayer. Pentecostals are especially alert to the danger of evil spirits, and warn against any spiritual experience coming from a non-Christian, making a Hindu guru especially suspect. Many Westerners have appropriated aspects of the Hindu Goddess to address issues within Christianity, in particular its patriarchy, institutions, weak ecological base and absence of yoga. The
authentic acceptance of Shakti and kundalini by Christians is much more daunting and would entail rejecting centuries of Church inquisition against pluralistic manifestations of the divine. It would involve reinventing Christianity with the Goddess accessible directly as the Supreme Being. This would rekindle memories of paganism, polytheism and chaos.