It's no-one's fault that so many myths about meditation, chakras and the like are propagated as they are, the whole field is a co-dependent web of half-truths and wrong meanings that will deceive most people who don't have the opportunity to research the facts.
The 'third eye' is a perfect example; yes, it's certainly written about, particularly here in the West, but it doesn't have any history at all in Buddhism or Hinduism – the traditions that the idea is meant to have been taken from - and it's actually a Western invention, conceived within the last hundred years. There are, of course, many meditation methods that do focus on the brow chakra (Ajna), and these work very well, but it's never called the 'third eye' in authentic traditions, and it's not a requirement that you must open it before you can reach enlightenment.
In traditional texts, chakras aren't associated with the wealth of character information, sounds, emotions, auras, or hardly anything else that New Age literature, now claiming to divulge 'ancient methods', says about them. There are no incenses, emotions, planets, crystals or metals associated with them; there's no 'opening' chakras, and nor is the third eye found in Aikido or karate, as is often claimed; and although again the Ajna is sometimes used in Zen, it isn't the 'third eye' or the main focus of practice. In fact, Zen places the 'vital energy centre' (the Hara) in the abdomen, which is considered to be the seat of the heart-body-mind.
There's certainly a lot of symbolism regarding this point on the forehead in the East, though none of it relates to a 'third eye'. In Buddhism, some statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from the second and third centuries wear an 'urna', a concave circular dot sometimes shown as a jewel, which is an auspicious mark made by a whorl of white hair on the forehead between the eyebrows of an enlightened being.
The closest we can get to opening anything is in Shivaism, one of the earliest Indian denominations, dating back to the first centuries BC. Here at least we find reference to an eye, as the Shivaite term 'Udvamanti' literally means 'opening of the eye', as a name for the emergence of infinite consciousness in a meditator, gained by his or her focus on their inner consciousness, recognising the two to be one and the same. But, ask any traditional practitioner of Shivaism about the pineal and the idea of opening a third eye and he will no doubt laugh heartily.
So where did the 'third eye' concept first begin?
The eighteenth-century philosopher Rene Descartes spent many hours studying the pineal gland, trying to deduce its effects, and he called it 'the seat of the soul', a point of connection between mind and body. His reason for believing this was that he saw it as being unique in the human brain, in that it didn't appear to be duplicated in its right and left sides. However, with the aid of modern microscopes we can see that it is in fact divided into two hemispheres.
Probably the first person to use the term 'third eye', and also to use it in reference to the pineal gland, was the scientist Nils Holmgren, in 1918. Holmgren coined the term after examining the pineal glands of frogs and dogfish sharks (but not people) and discovering cells on the tip of the gland that looked like retinal cone cells, which is in no way saying that the organ had any kind of a spiritual connection as a 'third eye'.
However, a few years before Holmgren the Victorian 'Theosophical Society' had decided that the pineal gland was not just important, as Descartes had thought, but that it was the key to spiritual awakening. All well and good - but for anyone not familiar with Theosophy, it's worth bearing in mind that its co-founder, H.P.Blavatsky, is the source of many of today's 'occult' myths, such as Ascended Masters, astral travel, the aura, seven planes of reality, the evolution of consciousness, the third eye, the Akashic Record, remote viewing, the 'silver cord' in OOBEs, Atlantis, Lemuria ('Mu') and a whole host of other things which she claimed to have been told by her very own 'Ascended Masters', via letters that floated down from heaven onto the tables around which she held seances.
Sadly for Blavatsky, an over-eager aide at one such seance opened a secret panel in which the pre-written letters, later to be revealed, were placed, thus giving the game away – and all in the presence of paranormal investigators who were there to scrutinise her dealings. Blavatsky was an opportunistic fraud and not a very good one.
Although Blavatsky claimed that her work was, in large part, channelled from great spiritual masters (such as Jesus) in the beyond, it is unfortunate that they didn't seem as interested in peace and tolerance as we would have expected, but instead seemed to support Theosophy's racist ideals. Blavatsky's book, 'The Secret Doctrine', uses a variety of derogatory terms for Africans and other ethnic groups, such as the “degenerate descendants of the Atlanteans”; saying that the, “yellow, red, brown, and black races are abject and savage”, whereas “the Aryan race” represents “the apex of physical and intellectual evolution.” Other Theosophists who came after Blavatsky were also keen to promote its racist, anti-Semitic thrust, in part to help justify Europe's brutal colonisation of Africa, India and the Far East.
Theosophy and its beliefs spread quickly, not just amongst the American and English ex-patriots in India, but also to a variety of Indian thinkers; and sadly too, to a variety of charlatans who wanted to get in on the popularity that the Hindu faith and all things Eastern were accruing in the West, where support for Blavatsky was easy to court. It was good business sense for Theosophical beliefs to be taken on by local teachers - and ancient Hindu knowledge, gained over thousands of years of insight and direct experience, was left behind for much more attractive (and easier to practise) forms of spirituality and meditation; which, sadly, were invented by Blavatsky, Olcott and others, mere months before. The respected Swami Sivananda, for instance, read many Theosophical works, and its terminology is found throughout his writings as the alternative translation of Sanskrit words, giving Theosophy a provenance that it does not deserve.
According to Blavatsky, after man developed through a series of 'Root races' over some 3 billion years (including stages where he was variously boneless, four-armed, three-eyed, or even one-eyed) his 'third eye' retreated into the lower centre of his brain, resulting in the loss of his spiritual capabilities.
"...The “deva eye” exists no more for the majority of mankind. The third eye is dead, and acts no longer; but it has left behind a witness to its existence. This witness is now the pineal gland..."
"...The double-faced became the one-faced, and the eye was drawn deep into the head and is now buried under the hair. During the activity of the inner man (during trances and spiritual visions) the eye swells and expands.
Trying to sum up Blavatsky's entire, tortuous explanation of the growth and loss of our 'third eye' would take far more room than I'd like to give it here so, for those interested parties, take a look at HPB's 'Secret Doctrine', Volume 2, pages 289 to 298 for more details
Leadbeater and Chakras
One of Blavatsky's followers, an English clergyman called Reverend C. W. Leadbeater, is responsible for a good deal of the distorted ideas about chakras that we now have in the West. Leadbeater claimed not only to be able to enter the so-called 'astral plane' at will, but also to have suddenly one day gained the ability to examine every one of a person's 'former incarnations' in detail - without, as he said himself, having any previous experience of doing so before. Leadbeater also claimed that not only was he himself an incarnation of the legendary King Asoka of India (who was responsible for the adoption of Buddhism in India in the second century), but also King Gashtasp of Persia, who “upheld the mission of the Zoroasterian religion.”
But, surely those academics of the time who were aware of the real chakra systems were up in arms about Leadbeater's invention and were quick to decry it? Absolutely: in his book, 'Kundalini, The Mother of the Universe' (1930), Rishi Singh Gherwal writes:
"...The harm to Yoga philosophy that has been done by misinformation thru the "Theosophist" Rev. C. W. Leadbeater is indeed very great. Most readers of Theosophical and Occult literature believe Rev. Leadbeater to be a friend to the Hindus, but after reading his books, "The Inner Life" and "The Chakras", I am forced to say by the information he has given, he is the greatest enemy of Yoga philosophy, and has given a bad name to Yoga."
Despite this and other protestations over the last hundred years or so, Leadbeater's system survives and still influences New Age authors the world over today.
The final 'proof' of the third eye concept was given to us in the 1950s by Lobsang Rampa. Rampa was allegedly a Buddhist monk, whose book 'The Third Eye' gave post-war Europe a whole new interest in the occult and meditation, with his stories of life in a Tibetan monastery. Sadly, eventually it was discovered that the author was in fact one Cyril Henry Hoskin, born in Devon, England, the son of a plumber. When confronted with the truth Hoskin wasn’t at all phased, but claimed that although he may have been born Cyril Henry Hoskin, his body had been taken over by Rampa’s spirit. So, according to him, all the information he had written was true .
Obviously, in light of the above we all have to be very careful when we read modern accounts of subjects like the above and accept them as true .
Excerpts from 'Cannabis & Meditation - An Explorer's Guide' (second edition) by Simon Jackson.