Techniques of transmission - L. Silburn

Lilian Silburn
Of all the Indian philosophical systems, the monistic system of Kashmir most thoroughly and profoundly explains the various influences of the spiritual master.

Even before the 7th century in Kashmir flourished several mystical traditions—Trika, Kula, Kraraa, etc.—each possessing its own lineage of venerated masters (sampradaya).
Abhinavagupta, who lived in the late 10th century, had as gurus the greatest masters of his age, and was initiated by them in these different traditions. Thus did Shambhunatha, who had restored the Kula system, reveal the Self to him and teach him the practices of initiation.
Abhinavagupta commented upon certain treatises and descriptions of these systems. The compendium of these teachings is to be found in his voluminous Tantraloka (The Light of Tantra), concerned with paths of liberation and composed in Sanskrit verses.
The materials which have served in the preparation of this article have been taken from the Tantraloka; they thus form a part of the teaching of Abhinavagupta, himself a famous master with numerous disciples.


The relationship between teacher and disciple can only be understood if we are sensitive to the nature of this relationship. Abhinavagupta perceived two classes of humanity: those who are touched by grace and all others. The issue of teacher and disciple only arises for the former and then, as a function of grace: "The supreme Ruler who forever projects the world in his own energy, is grace; he emanates the world and reabsorbs it. He is supremely free." (Trikanridaya).

According to this monistic system, Siva, by his impetuous, free play, first veils his true nature by dissimulating himself in his energy's ever-renewed forms, and from his own freedom becomes limited and enslaved. With equal freedom it is He who dispenses his grace and reveals himself in his true essence. Whether he mystifies or bestows his grace, Siva's essential nature is nothing but grace. He is the only master, universal Consciousness, the absolute I. His supreme energy — Grace — is perpetually awake in all conscious subjects and constitutes the true relationship between teacher and disciple.
It is the same Consciousness which poses questions in the form of the disciple and responds to them as teacher. As the former, He is imperfect and unclear consciousnesss, full of doubts and uncertainties (vikalpa). As the latter, He is intense and lucid, bringing an end to all doubts (I, 233 and 253 sl.).

The appearance of teacher and disciple in two different bodies, being a construction of the imagination, disappears when the single, same Knowledge of liberation illuminates the one and the other.
It matters little that the lineage of teachers stretches infinitely in time, for the Guru is one; when he liberates his disciple, it is in truth himself that he liberates (235).
Siva, the first guru, assumes the form of many masters, divinities, sages, supermen and men alike; to each corresponds a disciple from the category immediately below. Thus Siva's disciple is Sadasiva, barely distinct from himself, and at the other end of the scale is the teacher and his disciple, both human beings. But everywhere and always, the supreme relationship must be regained at each level: even if the guru is a roan, he must be considered to be Siva and oneself, Sadasiva (I, 273).

In this relationship, grace is critical because it permeates a human being and transforms him into a teacher, determining as well various techniques of mystical transmission. The term 'guru' signifies 'heavy.' It is used because the weight of grace draws out the disciple's important and enduring qualities.

Without grace, there is no genuine guru. One Tantra declares that if Siva does not grant his grace, the guru in spite of all his efforts cannot instruct the disciple and, even if he could, the disciple would lack vigilance and would not retain that which he had received; or, if he did retain it, that he would lose its benefits by becoming attached to fleeting joys which would consequently halt his progress.
Siva bestows or withholds his grace without regard to the merits or faults of men nor to their knowledge or ignorance. It may be objected that some make efforts to purify themselves or to show themselves worthy, but in fact the desire to purify oneself is already a sign of grace.

Although the Essence is one, it is called Grace inasmuch as it is gratuitous, a living force which encites the heart and spirit, causing vibrations of sound, light and the like. It is also designated by the name pratibha,  spontaneous illumination. This term is essential to Trika, and emphasizes grace's radiation, the brusque awakening of divine power which lies dormant within the human heart. In reality every conscious being is eternally immersed in this beneficent energy, but he hoards it up and utilizes it for profit; in so doing he separates it from its source and deprives it of its efficiency, limiting it, isolating it, orienting it towards the external, subjugating it to particular desires and feelings. The single energy disperses itself into multiple energies, the cosmic body into distinct bodies, the supreme vibration /spanda) into limited movements, and life (prana) into vital breaths. Thus the energy of the Self, infinite and undifferentiated—Absolute I—appears fragmented and dependent.
But as a human being is never really separate from his true essence (which consists of grace), he can regain consciousness of the Self and recover his original liberty. To bring this about, his dissociated energies must join at their center, the Heart.
The guru's duty is to encourage this return to the source by instilling himself in his disciples through various procedures; he joins his breath with theirs, awakening the forces which lie dormant in them and allow them to rejoin the undifferentiated breath which returns them to the total life. The guru may permeate a disciple's heart, enciting vibrations of the universal heart; or, merging consciousness with consciousness, he may render his disciple capable of recognizing the Self. Such are three aspects of the return to unity: merging the breaths, awakening the life force (kundalini). and illumination.


One can enter grace in three ways: 1) by oneself, without intermediary, when it is awakened spontaneously. This process is denoted by the term pratibhijnanin. the gnostic, master by illumination; 2) through the intermediary of scriptures, wherein a man takes from the scriptures a formula which guides him to liberation; 3) with the help of a teacher.

If Reality is always present, and if grace resides in all beings and can manifest spontaneously, why does Siva reveal himself through teachers and scriptures? Abhinavagupta responds quite simply that this is his wish. He reveals himself both as guru and disciple, both as the facilitator of the awakening and the awakening itself. The teacher does not manifest Reality, he simply frees the student from his ignorance and his misconceptions of duality.

vikāsaṃ tattvamāyāti prātibhaṃ tadudāhṛtam |
bhasmacchannāgnivatsphauṭyaṃ prātibhe gauravāgamāt || 

"With the sword of initiation, sever the bonds which were once attached to me; immediately Reality shone forth, just as a smoldering fire furts into flame when the ashes are poked." (XIII, 175).

Among the masters themselves, we can distinguish the initiate — trained by one or many masters— from the  pratibho guru who has received illumination without intermediary. But insofar as the disciple is concerned, each may be called sadguru. an authentic master.

Pratibho guru. the master through illumination

Such a master has experienced an intense grace which, pouring over him, has immediately dissolved his ignorance. He absorbs himself into the divine energy and of his own accord understands the nature of bondage and liberation. He then resolutely attaches himself to the supreme essence, losing himself in Siva and identifying with Him. Liberated while alive, his only task 'here below' is to deliver others.

This illuminating intuition which acts as an inner teacher springs from the depths of the Self and depends neither on scriptures nor an 'outer' guru. From the start, it must be held onto. One must disregard all other knowledge, just as one extinguishes a lamp when the sun rises (XIII, 179). In effect, it alone permits the absolute certainty which ends the doubts which are inseparable from duality. Of what importance is it if this jnanin has not been initiated in the regulations? He possesses true mastery, having received the initiation from his own inner energies when they all converged effortlessly at their center and plunged into undifferentiated Consciousness (1-1).

It behooves this eminent master to accept the help of another master or to re-examine the scriptures so that he might become still more perfect and more certain of his own convictions. He is thereafter called truly accomplished because of the fullness of his triple illumination—the spontaneous illumination joined with the illumination born of his scriptural study together with that of his teacher, with which he finally identifies. In the course of deep samadhi. he has first of all diligently exerted himself, joining his guru's wisdom with his own. Following his teacher through a complete range of mystical experiences, he inherits the vast knowledge accumulated over the centuries by a lineage of qualified masters (IV, 76-77).

But if illumination is instantaneous, how is it that it can also be developed? In fact, illumination's depth and breadth vary indeed, and it does not always occur in precisely the same manner. Sometimes it strikes like a brilliant flash and never returns. Or, initially vacillating, it may become stronger by degrees, with or without the help of a teacher. Sometimes it appears definitively right from the start, making its "possessor" a pratibho guru.
Thus all masters do not exercise the same sphere of influence: illumination surges forth in some only enough for their own liberation; it permits others to liberate a small number of disciples; it renders a few rare individuals capable of liberating a multitude of disciples. A universal master liberates all of humanity. One can compare them, respectively, to a glow worm which shines only inwardly for himself, to a jewel, to a star, to the moon, and to the sun (XIII, 159 and IV, 139) .
One can recognize this pratibho guru by specific signs of which the most important is an unshakeable devotion to Siva. Master of the mantras and the powers which they contain, he also dominates the elements, finds success in all his enterprises, possesses a poetic gift, and understands all the scriptures.
These various powers surge forth when intuitive discrimination reveals itself. His organs and his thoughts purified (and thus perfectly conscious), he can hear and see at a distance. But he ought not to use these powers except to encourage faith and certitude in his disciples. In this way he will inspire in them the confidence which will aid in their liberation. (XIII, 183).

The Authentic Teacher (Sadguru)

The teacher deserving of this name should have perfect Self- knowledge (atman) and should be identified with Siva. Abhinavagupta defines such a teacher beautifully when he describes him as having "ardent vigilance."

In different to the opinion of others, he shuns all ostentatiousness, unlike the hypocrite who presents himself as an illuminated master all the while lacking knowledge of the Self. And the deluding energy of which the hypocrite is victim is produced, like grace, independent of merit or fault. In this, Siva, through his freedom, totally disimilates his own nature and ridicules his proper role; he could not go further in this play! An awakened being, because of his free consciousness, may comport himself publicly like an ignoramus since he scoffs at social convention. Likewise, an ignoramus under the influence of divine energy may act like a guru in a most serious manner, even if he feels only scorn for his comportment. For neither does he confuse himself with his role. His lack of sympathy for his own behavior condemns he who has not received grace (XIV, 6-8).

Further, it is necessary to distinguish carefully a true guru from jnanins and yogins who have not overcome tendencies towards duality and for this reason, do not constitute true masters. There exist gnostics filled with knowledge but lacking in mystical experience, and there are yogi technicians skilled in experience but without knowledge. According to the Kashmir Shaivites, yoqins and jnanins are roughly divided into four groups: to the first group belongs the theologian who is concerned only with theory and can teach the revealed texts which he has studied and understood. Similarly, the yoqin initiated in yoga devotes himself to various practices. From the second group arises the gnostic who has a living experience of the treatises, having understood them in their deepest sense through intuitive discrimination (cinta). Since his well-exercised intuition permits him to know the Self, he becomes a zealous yogi who pursues the yogic path with ardor and dedicates his life to it.
But only the gnostic of the third group is a true master, for he possesses the complete mystical experience which at its summit rejoins unwaivering illumination, the essential knowledge of the divine. Even if he has not read the treatises, he knows them instinctually. He is, furthermore, a master in samadhi. from which derives his name, siddhayogin. "the accomplished yogin." Though he has rejected all duality, he retains enough awareness of the distinction between guru and sisya to accomplish his work of liberation. From this order arises a potent master capable of giving numerous disciples knowledge of the Self as well as supernatural yogic powers. Abhinavagupta is perhaps the finest example of such a master.
There exists still another group of yogins and jnanins. but nature very perfect (susiddha). Since they live in undifferentiated samadhi without interruption, for them everything is absolute fullness. They perceive neither bondage nor liberation and cannot, consequently, assume responsibility for disciples (XIII, 328).

A scripture defines the guru's fundamental task "'O Beloved,' declares Siva to the Goddess, 'he who, from the scriptures or from the master's words discovers what water and ice are, has no further tasks to accomplish, this birth will be his last.'" The guru, in melting the heart of the disciple, returns to their fluid state the parcelled and hard ice blocks of his thoughts. The disciple in confidence allows himself to be carried by the waters of undifferentiated life, following the guru's and Siva's subtle instigations. Both confidence and surrender are on his part indispensible. He cannot participate in mystical knowledge and in the guru's power if he does not absorb himself totally in the guru. This surrender leads first to identification with the master, then with Siva. By the grace of the Self, one's artificial personality is utterly destroyed. Nevertheless, the disciple does not become a slave; he obeys only that which is his essential nature and discovers freedom in the very heart of his most complete surrender.

Methods of Transmission

The Tantras distinguish three kinds of grace; intense, average and weak, each of which is in turn divided, according to its intensity, into three more types (Ch. XIII).

Upon grace depends desire; the aspiration of one's entire being to destroy one's bonds or finally, the desire to liberate oneself while continuing to enjoy until death the pleasures of this world. According to the intensity of this desire, the adept will encounter a very potent guru or a simple yogin. Absorbing himself in his teacher, he arrives at a spiritual level corresponding to his consummate inclination. The immersion of the disciple's consciousness into the teachers's vaster consciousness is precisely that which enables the initiate to break through his own limitations. We will thus study the various ways in which transmission from guru to sisya occurs, according to the co-penetration of divine grace in master and disciple upon which this transmission depends.

The ultimate Consciousness, which had been obscured, can illuminate itself anew with or without an intermediary: the highest degree of communion between master and disciple is present from the start, translating itself into pure beatitude. Three other kinds of communion utilize various intermediaries, ranging from a simple effort of the will to strenuous practice. The efforts of guru and sisya increase proportionally as grace lessens and their communion becomes less perfect. The first of these is peculiar to Siva, and has as its sole support the will. The second, dependent on the divine energy, has recourse to intuitive knowledge; and the third involves the sense organs, the entire body, the breath, and the mind.

Immediate Communion

In truth, Siva transcends the initiator, the initiated and even initiation itself. How then to speak of the co-penetration of teacher and student? Who other than himself could penetrate into Siva, the single Reality? We must with Abhinavagupta envision this question from a relative point of view, so that obstacles disappear spontaneously according to the intensity of the grace received:

1. Crushed by the most powerful force of divine energy, the chosen being attains identity with Siva-Bhairava, but forthwith dies or, if he survives a while longer, he, struck by inertia, cannot serve as a guide.
2. When grace, still intense, although to a lesser degree clearly establishes itself at the onset and is assimilated by the body, the ardent devotee of Siva accedes to the state of genius master of which we have already spoken. He instantly discerns the resplendent Reality overflowing with joy, that is to say, the I in which all is reflected.
This grace can also be transmitted by a master who, unmoving at the center of the energy, works by simple spiritual radiation. One who benefits from such grace must be animated by great fervor, unattached to all but the essential, Siva. Two conditions must be met: he must first possess a Self that is very pure, which understands instinctually that to know Consciousness in all its fullness, nothing is required — neither yoga nor concentration nor any particular activity. In effect, since Consciousness shines spontaneously, the only means by which it can be known is simply by its own brilliance. Beyond this certainty that Consciousness is self-luminous, the student must also be convinced that his guru bathes in this ineffable Reality and can confer grace heart to heart without intermediary (anupaya) "as we light a lamp with another lamp." This conviction or intuitive vision (darsana) is essential, for it is by this and this alone that the disciple can accede to the state of his teacher.

These conditions met, the sisya must now hear the words of his teacher (perhaps a simple allusion to Siva or of his own identity with the Self) for this knowledge to be reflected in him as in a mirror; but he must be intensely conscious of his identity with Siva. In this way, after achieving complete identification with his guru, he is absorbed in undifferentiated Consciousness. He rests in the beatitude whose taste remains the same throughout. Such is the best of disciples who, according to Abhinavagupta, "tastes continually complete happiness."

Here the teacher wastes neither advice nor instruction, for a disciple deserving of this ineffable transmission needs no explanation. If he is an inferior disciple, ignorant of the subtleties of mystical life, the guru's function is to silence his "lies," all speech being lies in comparison to the Real.
Grace, still intense even if diminished, proceeds from divine will; it arouses in him who receives it such a desire for liberation that this desire soon leads Him to the perfect teacher (sadguru). And this meeting occurs naturally, whether he discovers him on his own or through friends. It is also this grace which incites him to leave an incapable guru for the rewards of a true guru equal to Siva.
Having recognized the Self, the mystic liberates himself (immediately or gradually) and becomes free while alive; he will not be reborn. Since in this case liberation depends upon perfect knowledge, the guru must be a gnostic who possesses complete mastery of the literature and of the categories of reality; a simple yogin would be of no help here. This jnanin may be an illuminated teacher or an initiated teacher. Like the master of the preceding initiation, he transmits divine favor in an ineffable manner. Let us, however, note a difference between the teacher's attitude and that of the disciple. The guru is no longer entirely inactive? he examines the disciple attentively in order to judge whether he, purified by grace, is deserving of immediate communion. For his part, the disciple is unaware that the master is at the center of Reality, free of ways and means, his personal  conviction thus no longer playing a preponderant role. Moreover, the transmission itself presents slight differences: according to one Tantra, the master acts on the disciple like a serpent which by its look alone ejects its venom into the distance.

During this second kind of darsan. the disciple is seated face-to-face with the guru, upon whom he is contemplating, and establishes himself easily in the supreme Reality. The illuminated consciousness of the master passes into that of the sisya by the intermediary of speech, during the explanation of a scripture, or by means of a mystical formula (mantra) which is the intuitive understanding of I, the greatest formula. The guru may still enter his disciple's breath, as we will later explain. Finally, he confers upon the student a liberating initiator which at the moment of death separates him from his vital breaths; his slightest attitudes and words are charged with spiritual force.

By one or more of these initiations, he manifests the potency of I to the disciple whose devotion and faith have given total satisfaction; for what is essential is the constant love which joins guru and shishya.

Let us note still a third form of darsana without intermediary, this one also due to intense grace. Certain privileged beings perceive in dreaming or during samadhi accomplished men and women called siddhas and yoginis. Having received from them dicta to execute remarkable acts requiring great courage, they absorb themselves into the inexpressible Reality as soon as they have obeyed.

Communion with Siva

If the disciple cannot penetrate immediately into the luminous Essence merely by the presence of a great master, he must, to soar towards the Absolute, serve as the springboard to his free energy. Rejecting then all that is not Siva, he loses himself in Him. This "via remotionis" gives him access to the cosmic plane wherein the Self, resplendent in its original majesty, is identical with Siva, the source of all energies.

So perfect a communion of Siva, master, and disciple cannot occur except in a sisya who is vigilant, without desire, purified of dualistic thought (nirvikalpa) having a guru who is gifted with illumination. The guru indicates to the disciple that the universe, as divine energy, reflects itself in Siva, universal consciousness, and has no reality but in Him. Thus perceiving the world as a reflection of his own consciousness, the disciple is no longer its slave but its support. The master uncovers other connections between the I and the Universe, whether the I emanates it by means of phonemes or whether it reabsorbs it at the moment when all mantras contract into a single one, aham. the absolute I, identical to universal and quiescient Bhairava.

Communion of Energy

Immediate or divine communion is rare. In general, even with the great mystics whose number, according to Abhinavagupta, is extremely small grace, still strong, is firmly established, but reveals its power gradually over the course of his life.

The merging of divine Energy, master, and disciple must necessarily continue to deepen, and consciousness must be continually experienced. It is thus with the aid of all the energies carried to their maximum that the initiate will liberate himself from his bonds, attaining first illumination and, later, identification with Siva.

On the path of the energy where knowledge plays an essential role, the guru is irreplaceable. For the guru dissolves the obstacles between disciple and Reality: imagination, doubts, lack of confidence. In addition, he reinforces his faith and his conviction. Subtly, he acts upon the disciple's thoughts and unconsciousness, purifying them of their tendencies towards duality. He transforms misconceptions — ideas of enslavement —  into their opposite: e.g., certainty of the identity of the Lord (whose body is the Universe) and the Self (its consciousness). Shorn up by the constant practice of contemplation (bhavana), such a conviction eliminates the doubts and the fluctuations which impede adherence to Reality.

The guru encourages in the sisya proper discrimination (sattarka), the power to discern between the essential and the superfluous. Thus, the initiate learns to recognize the characteristics of sound teachings, those of a true master gifted with intuitive knowledge (pratibha). Similarly, the guru teaches the uselessness of indirect means taken from yoga (control of breath, postures and other techniques) given that on this path all that is necessary is the luminous understanding which issues from penetrating discrimination.

In order to exorcize the phantoms of pure and impure,  as well as the moral, social and religious prescriptions or interdictions, the master clarifies what the inner comportment of a yogi should be: every action, even the most humble, serves as an uninterrupted opportunity for consciousness of the Self, taking the place of prayer. Whatever crosses his mind: this is his meditation. To reel about, drunk in the excess of divine grace: this is the mystic attitude par excellence. The offering of all things to the Lord and to him alone: this is true sacrifice. The offering of the differentiated world into the fire of Bhairava consciousness: this is oblation. To perceive the equality of all things: such is his most perfect wish and an intense reflection on his own Essence, the true yoga.

The master further transmits to the initiate the potent formulas (mantras) and makes the energy (kundalini) rise within him. Finally, with the aid of certain postures (mudras). he teaches him to equilibrate his internal experience — that of the Self — and his external experience — that of daily life (Ch. IV).

Communion of the Limited Being

With the path of energy, as we have just seen, discursive thought becomes purified under the power of discriminating intuition. The disciple attains the state of divine energy when knowledge manifests itself to him. But as grace weakens, the ordinary man proceeds slowly by a roundabout path; the purification of thought then depends upon limited means. Master and disciple will have to work on the level of yoga and of knowledge. The guru is no longer necessarily a jnanin or a sadquru - a yogin suffices for the task. A simple instrument of grace, he transfers it with the help of mantras and the laying of of hands, thus imparting a philosophical and religious teaching directed to the sisya as a whole person. The guru employs various means, of which the highest is meditation. We will mention elsewhere the breath's rising upward, a process which awakens the vital force (pranakundalini), as well as numerous forms of initiation.


Initiation of the Spiritual Son

If external initiations have as a point of departure the lower level of the individual path, they soon progress to the divine path of Siva. We will give only a glimpse of such preliminary worship.
The guru begins by honoring the lineage of ancient masters, the yoginis, the Goddess of speech, and the guardians of the cardinal directions. He next affirms his authority (by Siva) to celebrate the rite. He meditates next on the sacrificial circle, the objects to be used in worship (a vase, etc.), the fire, and the Self as forming a whole. After casting the offerings into the fire, he addresses Siva: "You who have consecrated me master, O Lord, accord Your grace to the disciples present here in order to incite the divine energy. Bless them directly Yourself by initiating them in a dream or through the intermediary of a master." Then the guru invites Siva to penetrate into him, so as to be no longer anything but one with Him.

He purifies himself next while reciting a mantra associated with a laying on of hands from the feet to the top of the head. Then he concentrates on the universe within his body; he thus attains the spiritual height that he seeks. Before granting initiation, he places the disciple in front of him, examining the student's dispositions and tendencies. Initiation is granted according to the effects which grace has had within the disciple (XV, 20), for the effects of the ceremony correspond to the common intention of both the initiator and the initiated. It would seem then that the disciple's intention is critical in determining the initiation's outcome, for the same initiation given to several disciples satisfies the desires of those who search for happiness here on earth and procures Self-revelation for those who aspire to liberation (XV, 20-23).

Next comes the most interesting part of initiation, the penetration of the guru's illuminated consciousness into the student's obscured consciousness; this penetration can be understood if we recall that there reigns one single Consciousness, "this great ocean, the infinite domain of illumination."

In an ancient Upanishad, the Brihadaranyaka (I, V, 17), one finds a description of the transmission (samprati) of breath from a dying father to his son: "When he departs from this world, he penetrates with his breath (his senses and his faculties) into his son. Through his son he keeps a support in this world and the divine breath, which is immortal, penetrates into him." Let us add another example from the Kaushitaki (II, 15): "When the father is about to die, he calls his son. Having strewn the house with fresh herbs and laid a fire....the father lies down, dressed in new garments. When the son arrives, he lies next to him, touching with his sense organs the sense organs (of the father). Or the father may make the transmission, (the son) seated in front of him. He transmits to him in this manner: 'I wish to transmit to you my voice,' says the father. — 'I receive in myself your voice,' says the son. 'I wish to put into you my breath,' says the father. — 'I receive into myself your breath,' says the son..." He goes through the same for sight, hearing, taste, actions, pleasure and pain, bearing, spirit, etc., and his son receives each in turn.
The initiation of the spiritual son takes it£ inspiration from this ancient transmission, for through it, the initiate inherits the person as well as the mystical gifts of his master.
The guru cannot awaken the vital force (kundalini) of the initiate-to-be without having purified his disciple's breath. Towards this goal he makes his own breath enter a point on the median pathway, where exhalation and inhalation balance and subside. Then he infuses this outgoing breath, pure and full of energy, into the incoming breath of the disciple. Next, taking back in his own breath the breath of the disciple, he purifies it and continues this process, often automatically and without the disciple's perceiving it. A purified breath may be recognized by its vibrating. Capable of entering the median pathway, it forms the rising breath (udana) designated by the term kundalini. When the breath is purified, the guru introduces himself into the disciple in the form of kundalini energy. The methods of this transmission, called vedhadiksha, are described briefly by Abhinavagupta (Ch. XV). They were kept secret over the centuries and conserved in Tantras such as the Srigahavara, the Impenetrable.
A sage who possesses the theoretical knowledge of treatises is not necessarily competent to confer such initiations. It would be dangerous if the kundalini took a descending course instead of rising through the centers. It is therefore critical that the guru be prudent, an expert in yoga, and most perfectly proficient at diving into himself then regaining contact with the outside world.

Fully aware of his identity with the universe and of the universe's identity with Siva, the guru causes his divine being to pass into a disciple whom he loves like a son: breath into breath, thought into thought, heart into heart, this process thus permitting the student to become identified in turn with Siva. First, the guru raises his own kundalini from the lower to the higher centers, piercing in succession the radical center (at the base of the spine), the navel, the heart, the throat, the top of the palate, between the eyebrows, and the top of the head. Next, by methods which vary according to the form of the transmission— mantra, resonance, the rising of breath or of energy or love—he acts upon the disciple seated before him in such a way that their breathing becomes synchronized. The master's kundalini and that of the sisya rise by degrees in total harmony. At the summit, they bathe in full love; the enslaved man disengages himself from his bonds and rejoices in ultimate knowledge as well as in supernatural powers.

Initiation by Sound (Nadavadha)

In this initiation by sound, the master makes rise his kundalini  which then starts to resonate. This resonance becomes increasingly subtle in proportion to the rise in energy, its apogee coinciding with Self-consciousness. This resonance penetrates into the initiate's heart and, from there, descends to the lower center, then rising again to the higher center. This descent of energy is not at all dangerous, for it is the action of a yogi in samadhi whose vital force has penetrated the median pathway; what is more, the descent which takes place at the beginning of the practice is quickly followed by an ascension.

The resonance is produced at the same instant in the median pathways of both the guru and the disciple, both vibrating to the same rhythm, harmonious like two vinas playing concertedly but at the same time conscious of themselves and of their accord.
In the course of another initiation called binduvedha. the guru arrests his kundalini at the center called bhru. between the eyebrows. Having made it flame-like, he illuminates the initiate, making it penetrate into him at the corresponding center if this is purified, or otherwise to the heart. This practice awakens only the centers situated between the eyebrows and the higher center.
In contrast, penetration by the energy is a complete path: all the centers are animated by an intense spiritual force. As the kundalini passes through these centers, they vibrate and turn like wheels, hence their name, cakra. The initiate thus comes to know his various centers intuitively and certainly, rejoices in their various joys and comes to have full power over them. If he comes to be a guru in his own right, he will at that time awaken them in his disciples as well.

Abhinavagupta explains this obscure practice briefly: by means of the breath's upward movement to the higher center, charged with energy (uccara), the initiator becomes identified with Siva, master of the cosmic energy, and takes hold of this energy. The guru stimulates an analogous impetus in the lower center of the initiate, where the energy; still undifferentiated and wound upon itself, unwinds. The divine energy then penetrates into the entire universe effortlessly and automatically.


This process culminates in the initiation of the so-called erect or serpent energy. The universal and supreme energy, hitherto coiled up, unfolds in a cosmic love, as a cobra whose quintuple hood stretches itself out completely, all the modalities of the universe fully unfolded. The kundalini leaves
 its place of origin, from which it flashes like lightning and attains, without interrupting its movement, the seat of brahman, where it remains forever. In this manner does it enter into the body, just as it penetrates into the Self.


As long as the initiate remains conscious of a process, we may speak of penetration, but in the supreme initiation this impression disappears. Duality and the central pathway (for spiritual energy) disappear. The omnipresent spiritual force no longer passes from one center to another. The various modalities, organs, breaths, knowledge and knower fall unconscious, as does the mind, to make a place for the supreme, unique, undifferentiated love. The disciple having lost the feeling of his body, of his ego, no longer distinguishes himself from this universal co-penetration where he attains the cosmic. Such is the highest initiation (XXIX, 237-254).

Anointing of the Spiritual Guide (abhisheka)

The true guru is he who gives full consecration, rendering others capable of initiating and of dispensing grace. By this consecration, the disciple will be crowned sovereign in company of the Queen (Energy, Sakti), and will possess not only the illumination that permits him to escape from the cosmic forces but, further, the divine power by which he will become the cosmos master.
The guru renders investiture only to him who is worthy, who has made vows of obedience, who possesses highly developed intuitive knowledge, and who wills himself wholly to the adoration of Siva. This initiation is open to all, women, even eunuchs, independent of caste, lineage, etc. It is refused only to them that attach themselves to exterior signs of piety, e.g., to the Shaivite ascetic who covers his body with cinders; this initiation remains the privilege of him whose saintliness remains secret.

The new initiate must beat all men love and compassion, be generous in their regard, explain the scriptures, and initiate without hesitation those who have received grace. Only when he has trained a guru and thus transmitted his power can he, without incurring blame, cease to perform the rites of initiation himself. The anointment being purely internal, it dispenses with ceremony: offerings, pur ificatons... The sadguru accomplishes it therefore without intermediary (anupaya) : it suffices for him to identify himself with Siva then to contemplate the disciple as identical with himself for the latter to become identified with Reality. He prays to Siva to bless the disciple and to put him in touch, by his grace, with the divine energy: it is this which consecrates him guru.

Having received the anointment, the initiate is again obliged to acquire the power of the mantras and to identify himself with the guru, both in the efficiency and in the knowledge. For six months he breaks these last ties and seeks to become imbued with the efficiency of the mantras (mantravirya), which identifies him with the divinity whose power he wishes to acquire. This done, he returns to his teacher and receives one final initiation. A subtle essence comparable to a soft sound issues from the heart of the guru in a straight line which rises (erect kundalini) to a crystal white ambrosia. The guru makes this essence rise by the central pathway up to the higher center and, from there, the energy of breath in its plenitude fills the heart of the disciple with this essence. He then recites a fulgurating formula; like a flame this has the ability to melt duality, calming all forms of agitation. The mantra, set on fire and at the apogee of its power, penetrates directly into the heart of the disciple, whereupon the guru takes it back and then introduced it again in a constant back-and-forth movement from heart to heart. When the mantra has worked its effect on the heart of the disciple, he experiences the energy, very subtle, (in the supreme state) rests in the superior center where it joins with Siva. At this stage it permeates the cosmos.
Finally, the master, puts the inverse process into operation and returns the energy into his own héart. The mantras that the initiate will give to his disciples in turn will likewise potent (Ch. XXIII).

Initiation of a Dying Person

In this initiation, the disciple leaves his body and at the same time attains liberation. Such an initiation is especially appropriate for a man who, having been consecrated to the service of an insufficiently advanced guru, has failed in life. In this case, if grace favors him at the moment of his death, his family or his friends appeal to a great master — for an exceptional guru is necessary to give this kind of initiation. After being assured that the man has come to the end of old age or that he is mortally ill, the master gradually purifies all the portions of his body by a special laying on of hands, called "night of universal destruction," which is actually done not with the hands but with a sharpened dagger. It is compared to the fire of the final destruction, for it consumes the disciple's entire body.
The guru, concentrating on the fire, must enter with his breath into the body of the sisya by his big toe and not by the nostrils; then by the aid of meditation alone, he disconnects his joints and vitals. The death of the disciple should coincide with the moment of completion of the oblation which closes the ceremony (Ch. XIX).
The extraordinary powers of the grand master appear to know no bounds: he can, it is said, take back grace inadvertently given to a partisan of a dualistic system. His action transcends time and space. He can initiate one who is absent or even deceased if the latter died expresssing a wish to be initiated. The guru avails himself to the "big net" method and catches him wherever he resides: heaven, earth, hell, among the dead, among the various spirits or in some form he will assume in his rebirth (man or animal), and the guru liberates him immediately (XXI).
To convince a liberated disciple that he will not be reborn, the guru performs certain rites: in his right hand he evokes a triangular figure (mandala) representing a fire with resplendent flames. At its center the letter R, the seed of fire, fanned by the wind, symbolized by the letter Y. He takes in his left hand a fistful of grain, which he throws onto the triangle. Reciting the formula PHAT so as to consume their generative power, he enters several times into the heart of the disciple, then returns to his own grain-filled hand, focusing upon the grains which he considers as having been burned by the fire of consciousness. Finally placing his hand on the head of the disciple, he declares him liberated while alive. To prove it to him, he plants the grains in good soil;  guru and sisya may then attest that they do not germinate. In like manner the initiate will have the certainty that the residues of his previous acts will no longer bear fruit.
The initiation of weight (tuladiksa) tends toward a similar end. The disciple, having been entirely purified, mounts one of the scales of a balance and the guru puts a corresponding number of weights on the other. Then, after the initiation, he replaces these weights with a garland of 27 flowers. If the scales remain in equilibrium, it is because the acts of past lives of the "liberated" have lost their weight.
These last two rites are still currently practiced in Kashmir.

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