The Recipient Of Shaktipat

The Recipient Of Shaktipat

Ibn al-`Arabi gives us a hint as to how such an elevating influence feels to the disciple when he is transformed. In the following passage, he describes what happened to him early in his mystical career while he sat face-to-face in tawajjuh with Abu Ya`qub al-Kumi. He reports two effects, a conscious experience of trembling and a revelation from his dream that the shaikh's power emanated from the brightness of his heart chakra:

I saw him in a dream on one occasion and his breast seemed to be cleft asunder and a light like that of the sun shone out from it. . . . When I would sit before him or before others of my Shaikhs, I would tremble like a leaf in the wind, my voice would become weak and my limbs would shake (Ibn al-`Arabi, 1971: 70).

The American initiate of Tibetan Buddhism, Tsultrim Allione,  describes even more vividly the effect upon herself when, in her first interview with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, they sat face-to-face in silence for forty-five minutes. At first she waited in puzzlement for him to speak. Then it began to dawn on her that something of quite a different order was occurring. It was only much later that she grasped what it was:

Now I realize that what happened was some kind of mind-to-mind transmission, but at the time I only knew that I had experienced something that was completely beyond words and form. . . . It was an experience of space [8] that extended outward without any reference back. This space was luminous and bliss-provoking, a release, similar to, but beyond, sexual orgasm (Allione: 1986: xvii-xviii).

The German initiate of Tibetan Buddhism, Lama Govinda Anagarika, describes his own experience of receiving shaktipat through a light touch from the hand of his guru. Govinda perceived "a stream of bliss" traversing his whole being which he felt vividly in his body, "so that all that one had intended to say or ask, vanished from one's mind like smoke into blue air" (Govinda, 1988: 33). Some years later he experienced an analogous elevating influence from the Great Hermit at Gomchen, who had refused to meet him. He was told to wait overnight at some distance from the hermitage in a "horribly cold and draughty wooden rest-house":

But before I could fall asleep a strange thing happened. I had the sensation that somebody took possession of my consciousness, my will-power, and my body -- that I no more had control over my thoughts, but that somebody else was thinking them -- and that slowly, but surely, I was losing my own identity. And then I realized that it could be none other than the hermit . . . due to the power of his concentration and my own lack of resistance in the moment when I was hovering between the waking and the sleeping state (Ibid., 101).

The eighteen-year-old Narendra, who became Ramakrishna's favorite disciple, was frightened and repelled at his first meeting with the forty-five year-old saint. Ramakrishna raved and wept in "anxious desire" and claimed that Narendra was the reincarnation of the ancient sage Narayana. Narendra concluded that Ramakrishna was a "monomaniac." In his second meeting, however, Narendra received shaktipat:

As I was thinking [Ramakrishna was about to create another embarrassing scene], he quickly approached me and placed his own right foot on my body, and immediately I had an unprecedented experience at his touch. As I looked, I began to see that all the things in the room, with the walls themselves, were spinning wildly and dissolving into somewhere. . . .terrible fear . . .this itself was at the threshold of death. . . . [Finally Ramakrishna relented] and said, "Then enough now, the work doesn't have to be done all at once. It will come about in good time" (Kripal, 1995: 211).

An American student of yoga, D. R. Butler, describes his own first experience of shaktipat, which took place in Upstate New York in 1973 when Butler was in his mid-twenties and had already been studying yoga for five years. At a week-long yoga retreat, Yogi Amrit Desai, who until that moment had been completely unknown to the group, led them in a meditation.

The first thing I noticed was a wave of euphoria softly permeating my being. I felt intensely happy. I didn't know the reason for the wonderful feeling but I determined to relax and enjoy it.

Suddenly surges of energy -- like electrical charges -- streaked up my spine. These gradually evolved into a steady current of hot energy flowing from the tip of my spine to the top of my head. . . .

Brilliant colors swirled inside my head; I thought I would burst with happiness. Nothing had ever felt so good! Suddenly a scream burst from the back of the room, then another. In a few moments the place was a madhouse (Butler, 1990: 185).

Only after an extended outbreak of pandemonium did Desai halt the demonstration and explain to the uninitiated students that what they had felt was shaktipat. Those who wished could leave the room. About half did so. Then Desai resumed his transmission with even greater intensity.

My body was filled with a brilliant white light and I allowed myself to be absorbed in it. I felt that my life as I previously had known it literally came to an end. My ego identity became meaningless; there was no time; past and future did not exist. All that existed was pure light and pure bliss. I was content to remain in this state forever.

When I opened my eyes again I noticed that my body had bent forward; my forehead was touching the floor (Ibid., 187).

Muktananda's reception of shaktipat from his guru, Nityananda, is described in too much detail to be summarized (Muktananda, 1978: 64-71). Suffice it to say that it included all the elements we have seen, including the transferal of a cloak and pair of sandals from the guru's own body. Muktananda describes with greater economy several instances in which he conferred shaktipat on someone else. There is an intriguingly inadvertent element in each of them. In one case an airline officer begs to be allowed to clean Muktananda's bathroom. His request having been granted, the officer had hardly begun when he fell into a stillness and sat in meditation for four hours. Subsequently, the officer reported, people who entered his own meditation room would enter immediately into unexpectedly deep states of meditation (Ibid., 144).

Nityananda intended to initiate Muktananda; Amrit Desai deliberately created chaos among unprepared students; and Ramakrishna, despite his tendency to spend extended periods of time completely out of his mind in divyonmada, knew exactly what he was doing in conferring shaktipat on the ambivalent young Narendra. Nevertheless, it is clear that not a few instances of elevating influence occur autonomously, quite to the surprise and amazement of the individual through whom the conferral takes place. In the following example Swami Rama makes it clear that, in his experience, a genuine shaktipat initiation originates from an impersonal source over which he himself has no control.

One day [my master] told me that a swami would come the next morning and that I was to touch him on the forehead, thereby initiating him in shaktipat diksha. I protested, saying that I had no such power to arouse the kundalini in another person. But he said to me, "Don't you know, it is not you acting. You are just the instrument of a higher power. Let the power work through you."

. . . Suddenly I found my arm being raised. It was not at all under my control. I touched the swami and he remained in samadhi for several hours. . . . There may be someone to whom I wish to impart this experience, but nevertheless I cannot. Yet with a few rare individuals I feel such a strong impulse that I cannot resist (Rama, 1990: 41).

Guy Claxton, an English disciple of Irina Tweedie (whose spiritual autobiography will be discussed shortly), inadvertently conferred shaktipat on a neighbor who had been hounding him for instruction in the techniques of meditation. Claxton refused him six times before deciding the man was serious. However, he got no further than the initial instructions for relaxing the body when: I felt a rush of psychophysical energy seemingly enter my body from beneath and explode out toward him. My speech became slurred and my eyelids got heavy, but I kept my eyes focused on him. As the wave of energy hit him, he visibly jerked back, looking at me fearfully. Then a second wave passed through me, and again he startled. By the time a third rush of energy reached him, he was in deep meditation. I felt a force field connecting our bodies, and while I stayed in meditation, he too remained meditating (Feuerstein, 1991: 133). [9]

   Date: Thu, 25 Mar 2004 01:56:17 -0000
   From: "hermeticscience" <>
Subject: Shakti Pat


To be a savior and win disciples rather than perpetrators is founded upon the reality of mutual participation. Sanskrit has a word for the mutual influence which elevates: shaktipat. Shakti-pata means "descent of power" and refers to the "transmission of psychospiritual energy (shakti) from the adept to the disciple" (Feuerstein, 1990). Shaktipat may be conferred by a touch, the bestowal of an article of clothing, a word, a glance, or even a thought. Often it is used in the phrase shaktipat diksha, "initiation (diksha) by the descent of power." Yeshe initiated the seven rapists through the act of intercourse they believed they were forcing upon her when the energy of her raised kundalini elevated their lust and opened their higher chakras through the inductive force of shaktipat.

[In shaktipat diksha] the master directly transmits his energy to the student to remove the final obstacle, awakening the sleeping serpent and leading her upward. One who is functioning on a higher level may sometimes unconsciously influence those around him in the same way that a magnet influences metal objects in its proximity. . . . As a magnet influences a particular metal, such a teacher influences those who are prepared. . . . In shaktipat the influence is conscious and extremely intense. Through a look, touch, or thought the master transmits his own power to the aspirant, who is suddenly transported into a realm of blissful divine consciousness (Rama, 1990: 39).

Generally the transmission of shaktipat is understood to take place through the heart chakra of master and disciple, for the anahata is above all the locus of sublime unity between individuals. The transmission inspires expansion, love, and the sense that one stands above "the surface of the earth." It is a "spiritual" transferal, but it takes place "from body to body" (Silburn, 1987: 87). It "enhallows" (Feuerstein, 1989: 27) the disciple along the three dimensions of mystical experience we have emphasized: physiology, emotion, and imagination. Sometimes the recipient enters directly into dhyana or samadhi and remains there for an extended period of time. "After shaktipat, meditation becomes natural, and takes place without strain or striving" (Desai, 1990: 75). It is often described as a "divine" transmission, for it is based in the guru's capacity for becoming one with the cosmos, "the infinite realm of illumination" (Silburn, 1987: 87). The disciple experiences the master "as a spiritual reality rather than as a human personality" (Feuerstein, 1989: 26).

As might be expected, Vimalananda has a number of provocative things to say about shaktipat, and many of them suggest a reciprocity between master and disciple not emphasized elsewhere. Indeed, he implies that shaktipat is but a spiritual and elevating form of the mutual influence which obtains between all individuals, even in profane consciousness. True shaktipat requires genuine connection with and solid experience of impersonal, divine realities. Because the guru will be an expert in this field, the burden of converting mutual influence into an elevating transmutation of the disciple lies with the master. For example: "A guru always wants to make his disciple into his own guru. The Self, the Absolute Reality, is the true guru" (Svoboda, 1994: 279). This implies not only that the guru has to be able to see beyond appearances and is not fooled by the disciple's personal and neurotic limitations. The disciple, too, is an embodiment of the divine -- analogous, perhaps, to the saying of Jesus, "As you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40). Elsewhere Vimalananda suggests that the mutual influence which elevates the disciple can also diminish the saint's spiritual power. This claim, too, is reminiscent of words ascribed to Jesus when a woman afflicted with a hemorrhage was healed upon touching the hem of his garment: "And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, `Who touched my garments?'" (Mk 5: 30). Vimalananda's statement is more sobering:

A true saint is the embodiment of his deity and the energy emanating from him is the energy of that deity. By touching a saint's feet you collect a little of that energy, which purifies your own consciousness and makes it more subtle. The saint loses some of his own peace of mind by this which is uncomfortable for the saint; this is how many saints go bad (Svoboda, 1997: 262).

Because mutual influence works both ways, the one who is elevated may diminish the more spiritually advanced. On a more ordinary level, I have encountered this phenomenon in some of my patients who are "energy healers" and massage therapists. They often find themselves depleted or made ill by patients who seem to leave their offices in an improved state of bodily and mental health. I have also found that the level of my own consciousness can be lowered and my habitual sense of having a coherent self temporarily fragmented by an interaction with a poorly integrated patient who clearly seems to have benefited from our exchange.

Finally, Vimalananda suggests that if we pay attention to how the presence of another person subtly changes our consciousness, we can arrive at an assessment of the other person's spiritual state. This is particularly helpful when we find ourselves before a naked Sadhu who has all the trappings of spirituality but may be a charlatan:

Sit quietly and don't say much; listen, and try to keep your mind blank. If when you sit near him you find yourself forgetting the things of the world and becoming more peaceful, then he is a good saint; his halo is quieting your mind. If not, run away! (Svoboda, 1994: 267).

Muktananda emphasizes the sexual foundation of shaktipat when it dawns on him that the reason he had to struggle with a bewildering and humiliating manifestation of overwhelming sexual desire was to turn him into an urdhvareta, [4] one in whom the "sexual fluid" rises and becomes "the source of the power to give Shaktipat" (Muktananda, 1978: 32, 99). Sexual arousal, transmuted on the subtle plane to kundalini, makes one an initiate by transforming his own being and giving him the power to transform "other beings, indeed, the entire universe, through his limitless powers" (D. G. White, 1996: 272). D. G. White summarizes the Tantric doctrine of shaktipat as it appears in scriptures written between the tenth and fourteenth centuries. Here we encounter a magical flavor, even a literal physicality, which many later sources eschew.

The guru, having entered the body of his disciple (whose kundalini has been awakened) unites with that kundalini within the disciple's body and subsequently raises it from the disciple's lower abdomen up to his cranial vault. The form the guru takes as he courses through his disciple's body may be that of a drop (bindu) of seed or speech. In many descriptions of this operation, the guru is said to exit the disciple's body through the mouth and thus return back into his own body through his own mouth (Ibid., 312).

White makes it clear that this is fundamentally a sexual process, albeit with gender "polarities reversed": "given that it is a feminine kundalini which awakens, stiffens, rises, even rushes upwards towards the cranial vault, the cavity that is the place of the passive male Siva" (Ibid., 320).

Although the Hindu doctrine of shaktipat is distinguished by the fullness of its descriptions, the reality of mutual influence is also well known in Sufism, where elevating influence is often described as "perfecting" an "imperfection" in the disciple. Probably the most common practice is that the shaikh who recognizes such an opportunity for elevating a disciple invests himself with a special article of clothing, the mantel (khirqa), and by meditation places himself in the mystical state of consciousness he wishes to induce in his disciple. Then he ceremoniously removes the khirqa from his own body and places it on the body of the disciple, transferring the desired state at the same time (Wilson, 1993: 144). In her biography of Ibn al-`Arabi, Claude Addas cites several references from "The Greatest Shaikh" attesting to the "immediate transformation" that is produced in the disciple by means of the khirqa (Addas, 1993: 145). A passage from Ibn al-`Arabi's Revelations at Mecca [5] is very explicit:

So it is when the masters of spiritual states perceive some imperfection in one of their companions and wish to perfect that person's state, they resort to the custom of meeting with the person alone. The master then takes the piece of clothing he is wearing in the spiritual state he is in at that particular moment, removes it and puts it on the man whom he wishes to guide to perfection. He then holds the man closely to him -- and the master's state spreads to his disciple, who thereby attains to the desired perfection (Addas, 1993: 146).

Jalaluddin Rumi's practice of baring his breast when in an ecstatic state of divine love and pressing it against the chest of a disciple (Schimmel, 1978: 217) not only dispenses with the article of clothing as a necessary element but also seems implicitly to acknowledge the Hindu doctrine that mutual influence is in some sense a bodily transfer with sexual implications and that the bodily locus of mutual influence is associated with the heart chakra. Rumi speaks of the saint who knows with the heart and leads the disciple with his heart:

[The gnosis of the heart [6]], is one of the distinguishing features of the mystical leader. He is a lion, and the thoughts of others are like a forest which he can easily enter. . . . [H]e discovers in the unpolished stone the wonderful figures which people see in the polished mirror. That is why he can show the novice the path which leads him best towards self-realization and approximation to God, calling the figures out of the stone "heart" (Ibid., 315-6).

Sufism also speaks of the intense concentration of master and disciple upon one another [tawajjuh] that brings about "spiritual unity, faith healing, and many other phenomena" (Schimmel, 1975: 366). By tawajjuh, the master "enters the door of the disciple's heart"; and through his "knowledge of things that exist potentially in God's eternal knowledge, he is able to realize certain of these possibilities on the worldly plane" (Ibid., 237). From the side of the disciple, it is said that he "passes away" or that his ego-personality has been "annihilated" in the master (fana' fi'sh-shaikh), who, in his turn has already been annihilated in the Prophet Muhammad. By this means, the shaikh "becomes the Perfect Man and thus leads his disciples with a guidance granted directly by God" (Ibid., 237). This doctrine of the passing away (fana') of one's ego so as to discover one's greater self (baqa') through the relationship with one's shaikh, directly parallels the Hindu notion of shaktipat, whereby ego gives way to atman through the transforming influence of the guru. [7]