Techniques of Transmission in Kashmir Saivism

by Lilian Silburn

Based on the works of Abhinavagupta (AD 950–1016)

Siva seated, statue

4. The Initiations

[Portions of the following appear somewhat fantastical; the author is giving her enthralled interpretation of 1,000-year-old writings.]

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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, [a] so as to be no longer anything but one with Him.

[a. As stated in the earlier chapter, the guru and Shiva are one and the same, so penetration is merely a figure of speech reflecting a change in his state of mind.]

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), [b] 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."

[b. ]

Let us add another example from the Kaushitaki (II, 15): [c] "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).

[c. ]

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 its 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 [its vibration]. [10] Capable of entering the median pathway, it forms the rising breath (udana) designated by the term kundalinl. When the breath is purified, the guru introduces himself into the disciple in the form of kundalini energy.

All endnotes appear in a separate page: endnotes.htm   Brief endnotes are reproduced in the text as footnotes. Where suggested, click on the blue link to see the full endnote on the Endnotes page.

[Endnote 10. Svasvarupa can also be translated as "one's own essence" but here it has to do with the Superessence, the intimate (sva) form (rupa) of the intimate (sva).]

The methods of this transmission, called vedhadiksa, are described briefly by Abhinavagupta (Ch. XV). [d] They were kept secret over the centuries and conserved in Tantras such as the Srigahavara, the Impenetrable.

[d. The author (Lilian Silburn) describes this "penetration" or "piercing" (by prajna, mantra, kundalini, consciousness) in another book, Kundalini The Energy of the Depths, part 2, chapter 1, pages 87-99. The guru releases his consciousness from the body to infuse it into the consciousness or chakras of the student. Link opens a 242-page Pdf: Archive.Com.]

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. [e] 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.

[e. Silburn likens this to penetration by a demon. Op. cit. pages xiii, 69, 92, and 95.]

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 they bathe in full love; the enslaved man disengages himself from his bonds and rejoices in ultimate knowledge as well as in supernatural powers.

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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.

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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.

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This process culminates in the initiation of the so-called erect or serpent energy. [f] 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.

[f. Bhujanga veda, the fifth way kundalini rises, as also described by Ramakrishna. See reference, "Various Ways in which the Kundalini Rises" at this blog post on Kashmir Shaivism.]

The kundalini leaves its place of origin, from which it flashes like lightning and attains, without interrupting its movement, the seat of brahman, [11] where it remains forever. In this manner does it enter into the body, just as it penetrates into the Self.

[Endnote 11. Samavesa: Textually, copenetration or interpenetration. ]

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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 (abhieska)

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 bear 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, purificatons... 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 [g] formula; like a flame this has the ability to melt duality, calming all forms of agitation.

[g. In medicine, to destroy tissue by electrical current.]

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 heart. The mantras that the initiate will give to his disciples in turn will be likewise potent (Ch. XXIII) .

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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 of 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.

For Kashmir Saivism, Reality is Essence or Light (prakasa), absolute and ineffable Consciousness brilliantly shining from the force of its own light. The nature of this reality is bliss (ananda), awareness and complete freedom, and, as such, it constitutes the source of all dynamism and all activity. It further constitutes the manifestation of the universe, which manifestation is presided over by an energy known as sakti, an energy that is, purely and simply, the overflowing of divine bliss:

"A king reigning over the entire earth, feeling the joyous exultation of his power, might, in play, engage in the activities of a foot soldier. It is just in this way that the powerful Lord, in the exuberance of; his Joy, pleases himself, assuming the different forms (of the universe)."

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