The concept of chakras features in tantric and yogic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Chakras are believed to be centers of the body from which a person can collect energy. They are connected to major organs or glands that govern other body parts. Its name derives from the Sanskrit word for “wheel” or “turning”.
Chakras correspond to vital points in the physical body but are generally understood as being part of the “subtle body” which cannot be found through autopsy. While breath channels of yogic practices had already been discussed in the classical Upanishads, it was not until the eighth-century Buddhist Hevajra Tantra and Caryāgiti, that hierarchies of chakras were formally introduced.
Bhattacharyya’s review of Tantric history says that the word chakra is used to mean several different things in the Sanskrit sources:
- “Circle,” used in a variety of senses, symbolizing endless rotation of shakti.
- A circle of people. In rituals there are different cakra-sādhanā in which adherents assemble and perform rites.
- The term chakra also is used to denote yantras or mystic diagrams, variously known as trikoṇa-cakra, aṣṭakoṇa-cakra, etc.
- Different “nerve plexus within the body.”
In Buddhist literature the Sanskrit term cakra (Pali cakka) is used in a different sense of “circle,” referring to a Buddhist conception of the Cycle of Rebirth consisting of six states in which beings may be reborn.