Shaktipata, the transmission of spiritual energy, is mysterious. When it happens, we are awestruck. We become an integral part of the experience—while it is occurring the “I” as such does not exist; we are not able to experience the experience objectively. Later, much of it fades, and what remains is difficult to capture in words.
Although the dynamics of shaktipata are indecipherable, the scriptures mention some of the better-known methods and processes through which spiritual energy is transmitted from master to disciple. These include touch, gazing, thought, mantra, or contact with tangible objects such as herbs, gems, mala beads, and so on.
When shaktipata is transmitted through touch, it is known as sparshi diksha. The student is instantly absorbed in a state of bliss with one single touch from the master. At that instant the master is an embodiment of love, compassion, and wisdom, and the shakti intrinsic to her flows into the student. When a student and master live together, they naturally touch each other from time to time, but shaktipata does not occur in each such instance. For example, during the years that Swami Rama and his master lived together, Swamiji touched his master’s feet many times and his master put his hands on Swamiji’s head many times, but it was only when Swamiji was in such despair about his sadhana that he was ready to jump into the Ganges that his master gave him sparshi diksha. (See the story in the first post in this series.) Then, when his master touched his forehead, Swamiji was transported into an indescribable state of bliss.
When shaktipata is transmitted through touch, it is known as sparshi diksha.
Sometimes shaktipata is conferred by thought rather than by touch. Just by thinking, a master may push a stumbling block out of the student’s way. This is called manasi diksha. In manasi diksha time and space are not barriers—a master can help a student who is on the other side of the globe. Sometimes students are aware of receiving this invisible and unspoken grace; at other times they simply notice that a long-standing obstacle has vanished and their practice is moving forward smoothly.
Another form of shaktipata is conferred by intense gazing. This is chaksushi diksha. By fixing her gaze on the student, an adept yogi can transmit spiritual energy directly into the student’s mind and heart. There have also been incidents in which, instead of gazing directly at the student, the master gazed at an object. In one instance that I know of, the master gazed at a glass of water, then told the student to drink it and go home. A couple of hours later the blessing took effect, and the student, who was unfamiliar with Sanskrit, spontaneously uttered a mantra. As he did so a wave of joy emerged from the sound and swept away his ordinary consciousness. When he returned to normal awareness the mantra again flowed from his mouth, and he was swept away once more. Knowing this would happen, the master visited the student’s home and found him on the floor. He covered him with a shawl and reassured the people around him, “Soon he will assimilate the experience; then he will be all right.”
The scriptures also mention a kind of shaktipata known as nirvana diksha, in which the master burns all of the student’s karmas in an instant. As a result the student attains freedom from bondage, but drops the body immediately or soon after. Nirvana diksha is conferred only when the master realizes that the student’s prarabdha karmas (active karmas that motivate us to be reborn) are finished. And by giving nirvana diksha, the master burns sanchita karmas (accumulated karmas which lie dormant in the unconscious mind) once and for all. Those who receive nirvana diksha have pure hearts, but have been stuck with a messy body, a scattered mind, or worldly circumstances that are not conducive to sadhana. The Tantraloka describes an even more startling form of shaktipata, known as mritoddhari diksha, which is conferred after the student is dead.
There are also instances of grace descending by itself, as the result of intense longing, intense devotion, and self-surrender.
The experience of Swami Rama Tirtha at the end of the nineteenth century is an example. Before becoming a swami, Rama Tirtha was a professor of mathematics, but when he reached the point at which the world became too little for him he began studying, contemplating, and seeking out teachers. Nothing gave him any solace. His spiritual yearning became so intense that he lost his appetite and his ability to sleep. Finally, one day he left for the Himalayas in search of Truth. Within two years he returned to the world as an enlightened sage.
A clear understanding of the truth described in the scriptures, a firm belief in it, and the act of reshaping our entire mental landscape in accordance with that knowledge invites divine grace. Ramana Maharshi, a saint who lived in the first part of the twentieth century, focused his mind one-pointedly on the question “Who am I?” As a result of his constant self-inquiry, spiritual wisdom unfolded, granting him the knowledge “I am That.” His mind was so deeply occupied with this awareness that he had no time for any thoughts to the contrary, and this one-pointedness led him to receive divine grace and to retain it so completely that peace and tranquility emanated from him. People received answers to their questions as they sat quietly in his presence. Similarly, intense vairagya (non-attachment) and intense tapas (austerities) also open a channel through which shaktipata may descend.
In exceptional cases grace may descend suddenly and we undergo an instant transformation for no discernible reason. According to yogic scriptures this may happen to the aspirants known as bhava pratyaya yogis—those who had completed a substantial portion of their spiritual journey in their last life but did not quite reach the final destination before the body dropped away.
These bhava pratyaya yogis are usually born into an environment that contains all the resources for completing the remaining part of their spiritual journey. Their previous samskaras (subtle karmic impressions stored in the mind) begin to manifest at an early age, making them extraordinary children. The stories of the childhoods of Buddha and Shankaracharya, for example, clearly illustrate the samskaras that these saintly souls brought with them from the past.
In exceptional cases grace may descend suddenly and we undergo an instant transformation for no discernible reason.
In other cases, past spiritual characteristics manifest suddenly and an instant transformation occurs. Sri Aurobindo is an example. He was born into an aristocratic Indian family. Educated abroad in the British style, he had little interest in philosophy and spiritual practice. After completing his education, he went to Calcutta to begin a professional career. But destiny had an entirely different plan for him. A powerful thought poured into his mind and he was lost in it. He emerged from that deep and involuntary contemplation a philosopher. Instead of settling in Calcutta, he turned his energy to spiritual pursuits. Eventually he established an ashram in Pondicherry, where he spent the rest of his life. Mahatma Gandhi is another well-known example of such instant transformation.
Bhava pratyaya yogis are like travelers walking toward their destination. When they stop to rest under a fruit tree they yawn, and a luscious fruit drops into their mouth. This doesn’t happen to all travelers who stretch out to rest under a tree, only to those with good karmas.
History holds many examples both of the gradual unfoldment of divine grace and of the sudden and complete revelation of the highest truth. One example of the latter is what happened to the hate-filled Saul, who was struck blind by the light of heaven on the road to Damascus and immediately became Paul. The notorious robber Valmiki was so transformed by the presence of Narada that he was able to receive the tutelage of the sapta rishis (seven sages) and eventually gain the highest knowledge of Brahman, thus becoming a brahma rishi. Another notorious cutthroat, Anguli Mala, was transformed into Ananda by the sight of Buddha.
How to Retain the Fruits of Shaktipata
Endless arguments can be made about whether or not such incidents are accidental or are the product of good karma, intense practice, prayer, or deep meditation. Whatever the cause, it is clear that after they received the grace of God, these blessed ones invested their time and energy in keeping the company of wise people, doing their practices, and maintaining an attitude of non-attachment toward the charms and temptations of the world. This is a clear indication that we, too, must commit ourselves to the two pillars of spirituality: practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya). These are the means of digesting, assimilating, and retaining the spiritual joy and illumination of divine grace. We may not understand at a conscious level how a sincere commitment to practice and non-attachment becomes the major force behind the assimilation and retention of grace, just as we may not know exactly how our food is digested and the nutrients assimilated.
Most of those who receive shaktipata are committed to their practice prior to the event, and afterwards they usually engage in their practice with renewed sincerity and force. The problem lies with non-attachment. We often fail to incorporate this principle into our spiritual life, and as a result, even when the grace of God showers upon us, its effect either drains away or is diluted by fear, anxiety, and attachment to worldly obligations. The experience of one of my guru-brothers is a case in point.
In the summer of 1983, Swami Rama was busy transforming the land around his cottage into a garden. One day, when scores of residents were working alongside him in the rain, picking up rocks, digging roots, moving boulders, spreading sod, and planting trees, my guru-brother asked him, “How do you maintain the state of turiya (the transcendental state) in the midst of all these activities?”
Swamiji said, “Why not?”
“Only after sitting with my head, neck, and trunk still and straight for an hour or two do I experience even a thousandth of the joy that you gave me during initiation,” my brother replied. “How can you possibly stay in that state while you are so active in the external world?”
“How long did you stay in that state when you were initiated?” Swamiji asked.
“Not very long.”
“That is why you do not have easy and effortless access to that inner joy which still lies within you,” Swamiji replied. “I was in that state for eleven months. My master took care of me.”
Later I asked my brother, “Did you come out of that state because you did not want to stay in it, or was there something that prevented you from staying there longer?”
He replied, “It began with a very simple memory of myself as an individual being. Then came a fear of losing myself in that universal unitary blissful awareness. As Swamiji had instructed me to do during such moments, I looked at a ring he had given me. My fear vanished and again I found myself experiencing boundless bliss. This happened several times. Then I started remembering more specifics of myself: I’m married, I have a wife and children, I teach at the university. And suddenly, a thought came, ‘If I stay in this state forever, how will I teach my students? Who will support my family?’ As these thoughts became clearer and stronger, the intensity of the inner joy became weaker. A couple of hours later the actual experience of the divine bliss was almost gone. Only the alluring memory remained.”
As this experience illustrates, the wealth that the master bestows through shaktipata can be retained only if it rests on the firm ground of vairagya (non-attachment). Without vairagya we cannot assimilate grace. We are like barren rock—no matter how much it rains, the water runs off.
Non-attachment has nothing to do with abandoning the world and our worldly duties. It is a matter of transforming our attitude toward the world. The essence of non-attachment is knowing that because everything in this world is short-lived and the goal of life is to attain immortal bliss, we should not place much value on loss and gain, success and failure, honor and insult in our day-to-day existence. This knowledge keeps our mind pure and unaffected amid the turmoil that always accompanies the stream of life. Embracing the principle of non-attachment gives us time and energy for our spiritual pursuits. Those who have cultivated non-attachment can easily commit themselves to self-discipline and self-training, while those who have not are easily distracted and keep straying from the path of self-discipline.
Self-observation and self-analysis are required, however, to help us avoid using the principle of non-attachment to escape from our duties. It is not uncommon for someone who is emotionally disturbed and disappointed by some frustration or failure in his worldly endeavors to think of retiring from the world. This is running away. Only ruthless self-analysis will keep us from confusing running away with non-attachment.
Methodical practice and non-attachment are the two wings of spirituality. If either wing is weak, we cannot soar. By gathering knowledge, keeping the right company, studying genuine scriptures, and most importantly, by being honest with ourselves, we enable both wings to grow in a balanced manner. This much is in our hands. Shaktipata is in the hands of God, which are always open and extended toward us.
Source: The Power of Mantra and the Mystery of Initiation by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait