Initiation is like that extra burst of energy which is required to propel you into the infinite space between you and the self
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati
The Sanskrit word diksha comes from the root diksh, which means 'to dedicate oneself, and is actually derived from a combination of two roots, diks, which means 'to consecrate' or 'dedicate', and daks, which means 'to grow', 'to become strong' or 'to expand'. It could therefore be said to mean 'to expand (one's consciousness) through a process of dedication (to discovering one's own self)'. Diksha involves both giving and receiving - giving of one's self, and receiving from the guru.
Diksha also means 'to see', and when one takes diksha one receives the power by which one can begin to 'see' the goal or path of inner life. It makes the spiritual path visible by casting internal light. We 'see' with the 'inner eye' due to the awakening and discovery of spiritual energy and the self. Diksha is directed towards that discovery. The more we can dedicate ourselves to the inner quest, the more we shall see.
The English equivalent for the word diksha is 'initiation', which is defined very comprehensively in the Oxford Dictionary as follows: "Begin, set going, originate, admit (a person), especially with rites or forms, (into office, secret, in mysteries, etc.)." In fact, diksha has a large spectrum of meaning and implication. It spans many levels of understanding, from the external, formal ceremony, which takes place on the gross level (and which is mainly symbolic of the inner process), to the infinitely more subtle dimension of transmission or shaktipath, which can be given by the guru to the shishya or disciple in many different ways, according to the spiritual advancement and thirst of the disciple.
Initiation, whether formal or subtle, has been used throughout the world in all great civilizations. In ancient Greece, for example, the word for diksha was musierion, which means 'dedication and knowledge that cannot be divulged'. Thus diksha was an essential part of the ancient mystic societies, 'The Mysteries'. In Latin, the word for diksha is sacramentum, which means 'that which binds'. This binding is not related to any external obligation. Rather, diksha or initiation binds one to the search for a deeper understanding of one's own inner self. It has therefore the same implications as the word 'sacrament', which is used in Christianity.
The word 'diksha' carries the same type of implication as the word 'yoga'. Yoga is also a process of re-uniting or merging with one's true being. Even if you do not wish to commit yourself to the spiritual path, diksha will still help you gradually in your ordinary day to day life in the same way that yoga does. It will also help to keep you balanced mentally and emotionally, and will give a centre and focus to your existence. Of course, it will provide a basis for your spiritual life later on if you decide to dive into your unknown self. Always remember that diksha is not restricted to the laws of time and space, but is an ongoing process which awakens the vast potential lying dormant within every aspirant and non-aspirant alike.
Diksha is like turning the key to ignite the car, but unless the disciple is strong, powerful and firmly committed to his guru and his goal, the car will not move. It will simply be a waste of petrol. That is the case with many people. The disciple needs the guru in order to learn how to manipulate the gears and move. In other words, the guru bestows grace through diksha. He tells the disciple,
'This is the station and this is the frequency,' but the tuning into that frequency is up to the disciple.'
- Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
The 'adi' or first guru is the divine source from which the power of diksha and guidance descends to a line of gurus. The adi guru of our tradition is Shankaracharya, and the line has come down to Swami Niranjanananda via Swami Sivananda and Swami Satyananda. Prior to diksha at Rikhiadham, all the gurus in the line of Adi Guru Shankaracharya are invoked through Sanskrit mantras. Diksha is then given by Swami Niranjanananda in the name of this great parampara, or tradition, and, therefore, it carries immense power behind it. Unless one receives diksha from a qualified guru one cannot progress in sadhana, for it will not bear fruit without the guru's grace. Diksha or initiation is the guru's formal acceptance of an aspirant. The guru is the motivator; he gives the initial boost to the seeker to start the quest, the great adventure towards discovering who he really is. He ignites the flame of our inspiration, which we must keep alive by constant and continuous abhyasa, or practice of the sadhana he gives us at the time of diksha, according to our level of spiritual unfoldment and readiness. Or you could say that he turns the key so that our car can move forward.
According to Sri Swamiji, "The inner link between guru and disciple which is formed through initiation, works as a transmitting line of spiritual flow, of spiritual awareness and of spiritual energy." During diksha the guru transfers his spiritual energy to the initiate, and that energy comes directly from the source, which is the Adi Guru Shankaracharya. Once you have found a guru from such a tradition who has the power to uplift you and propel you along the spiritual path, and have been initiated, you should try to develop a deeper and more abiding link with him on all levels. Only then can he guide you to the maximum benefit, and only then will you be able to receive the most out of the wonderful gift of the diksha you have been given.
The use of the mala prevents the practitioner from introverting too quickly, because it can be difficult to handle the experiences which can take place.
- Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
During diksha the initiate is presented with a sacred gift from the guru in the form of a mala, which is specially charged by his spiritual energy. This mala should only be used for repetition of the mantra given by the guru and never worn or seen by anyone other than the initiate. It should be kept carefully and reverently out of sight in a specially made mala bag, and placed in the sadhana area.
The English equivalent of the word mala is 'rosary', and every spiritual tradition uses a type of rosary for the repetition of mantras. However, in the yogic tradition the sadhus or spiritual seekers discovered that each type of wood, stone or seed emits a particular type of vibration which helps bring about a peaceful and positive state of mind in the sadhaka, or practitioner. There is a wide variety of malas, but the three most common are tulsi, rudraksha and crystal.
The tulsi mala is made from the wood of the tulsi tree (basil), which has many medicinal properties. The vibration emitted by tulsi is very passive, soothing and balancing. Kirlian research has shown that tulsi emits a well-balanced, well-proportioned blue aura. Use of the tulsi mala requires the practitioner to partake of a vegetarian diet. The rudraksha mala is made from the seeds of the fruit of the rudraksha tree. Those seeds influence the cardiovascular system, lower the blood pressure and correct any type of heart problem, both physically and mentally. They also help to maintain the harmony of the internal organs. Rudraksha is therefore very important for those practitioners who sit for long periods in meditation. Those who use the rudraksha mala are not required to be vegetarian. The crystal mala holds the energy and vibrations within it. It also intensifies and purifies these vibrations. It is used in particular for Devi mantras.
The mala is used to break the monotony of concentration, so that you do not lose your awareness while repeating the mantra. Rather, you must remain alert, and drashta bhava, the attitude of witnessing, should be maintained. When you come to the tassel or sumeru in the mala, the awareness is alerted and you have to turn around and start once more. This prevents you from introverting too quickly. Ideally, one should be neither fully introverted nor extroverted, but in between the two. With constant practice the mala will become powerfully charged, and as soon as you take it in your hand it will prepare your mind positively for commencing your sadhana.
Along with the mala, the aspirant is presented with a dhoti or piece of unstitched cloth. Like the mala, it should also be considered as a sacred gift from the divine hand of the guru and kept clean and carefully in the place of sadhana or spiritual practice. Ideally, it should be worn only at the time of sadhana to maintain its heightened vibration. Like the mala, it will become charged with your psychic vibration, and as soon as you put it on it will have a peaceful and soothing effect upon your mind. It also reminds you of your spiritual identity and of your inner purpose.
The vedic tradition, which is based on karma (action), jnana (wisdom) and upasana (worship) or acknowledgement of a higher reality, accepted white, yellow and geru to denote the level of spiritual advancement of the seeker.
According to Swami Niranjanananda, those who laid down the dress code of spiritual life did not actually consider the vibrationary aspect of the different colours. The choice was more in keeping with the moral and spiritual ideals they supported. Each colour has a very special significance.
White represents purity. The novice, whether householder, brahmacharya (celibate), student or one involved in society and worldly life, wears white which represents sincerity and earnestness of desire to know the spiritual truths. When you take mantra diksha, you are a new beginning, like a white sheet of paper on which nothing has yet been written, so you are presented with white cloth. The guru has given you your first initiation; what you write upon it is up to you.
Yellow represents a step higher than white, where the aspirant is already established on the spiritual path. It is the traditional colour worn by aspirants of sannyasa and spiritual life. Yellow is the colour of mental phenomenon and wisdom. It is also widely associated with death. Thus the yellow robe helps the jignasu to renounce material desires and die to the old way of life.
Geru symbolizes peace and harmony and has a soothing effect on the personality. The geru colour also represents vitality and dynamism, and provides inner strength. It is indicative of the fire by which the aspirant burns off, or is in the process of transcending, the manifest nature of personality, and merging his awareness with the divine. A person wearing geru glows like a fire, which helps ignite the spiritual flame within people with whom he comes in contact. However, it should be very carefully noted by the aspirant in any stage of spiritual life that the colour of the robe one wears, whether white, yellow or geru, is not so important as the inner attitude of the wearer, and the dignity and reverence with which he wears it.
There is no specific time to progress from one stage of spiritual life to the following stage, or from one colour to the next. This depends on the calibre and sincerity of the aspirant. The only condition is that the urge, motivation and desire for spiritual unfoldment, for discovering and walking the inner path, has to be there. One has to have a clear direction in life, along with the practical understanding of one's path and aim, and to know exactly for what one is aspiring.
Mantra is so powerful that it can change your destiny, economic situation, physical structure, etc. If you want the mantra to change the whole structure of your life, you must practise it regularly, every morning and evening.
- Swami Satyananda Saraswati
According to Sri Swami Satyananda the etymological meaning of the word mantra is "by repetition of which the mind becomes free from external experiences." Mantras are not simply syllables or words but mystic sounds that were revealed to rishis or seers while in deep states of meditation. These mantras have been handed down from guru to disciple for thousands of years. "Such mantras," says Sri Swamiji, "can completely explode the whole personality and open the gates to higher awareness."
In the yogic tradition, diksha has been limited to three areas of evolution in spiritual life. The first is mantra diksha, initiation into mantra by a guru, which is taken when the aspirant decides to investigate the mental dimension. Mantra diksha is for every aspirant who has even the slightest aspiration towards spiritual growth. Even a little sincerity, a strong curiosity, is enough for one to decide to have a mantra and a guru. So, mantra diksha is for everyone. There is no commitment to anyone but oneself and one's inner unfoldment through sincere and constant practice of the mantra, as instructed by the guru who gives it.
The basis of spiritual life is the mantra, which vibrates with the energy of cosmic sound and which is a vehicle for spiritual transcendence. Mantra japa is considered to be the foremost sadhana in the Kali Yuga. When the mantra is imparted, it is registered on the atman, or soul. Through mantra repetition the gross mind becomes more and more subtle and refined. Mantra is used to create a state of harmony between external and internal life and unfold the psychic personality. Repetition of the mantra also gives relaxation, tranquillity and equipoise. A mantra can be obtained in three ways. It can be revealed to psychic people, it can manifest itself in dream, or it can be received from a guru.
One's personal mantra should only be received from one who has attained mantra Siddhi, perfection in the mantra through constant and unbroken practice over a long period of time. Mantra is the seed or energy spark planted by the guru in the depths of the disciple's consciousness. The heart, mind and consciousness of the seeker are already like fertile soil just ready to receive the spark or seed. As with any seed, it needs regular attention and care. Regular and constant watering through repeating the mantra awakens its potential. From a seed it becomes- a tiny sprout, then a small shoot. After some years of constant practice, it grows into a strong plant. At last the buds begin to appear, and then finally it bursts forth into a beautiful flower. It is up to the initiate to explode the hidden power of his mantra through his own effort; the guru can only plant the seed.
Mantra is our link with the deeper mysteries of our inner and outer universe, because in actual fact the whole universe is contained within our own selves. Through constant mantra japa the psychic body grows into a living experience, because mantra belongs to the realm of the unconscious and subconscious mind, the causal and subtle bodies which constitute our psyche. That is the realm of awareness which an aspirant has to unfold before he can advance in sadhana. The mantra unlocks the door to this psychic realm.
Mantra initiation is therefore given according to our psychic personality. Only an enlightened guru can penetrate this psychic world into which we have no entry. The more the mantra is practised, the greater the impact on the psyche, until it reverberates in every cell, and the whole consciousness is thereby transformed. It is there that it becomes a potential force. Mantras represent the pulsation of psychic energy, whose visible form is contained in the nucleus of the atom. Therefore, a mantra should be understood to be a most potent tool for, and a concentrated symbol of, realization.
After initiation, a special place should be prepared for the spiritual practice. Ideally, it should be a separate room where no one but the initiate enters. It can even be kept under lock and key to increase and protect its sanctity. However, if this is not possible, a corner of the room can be kept aside for this purpose. That room or area should be kept spotlessly clean by the sadhaka or spiritual practitioner. No one else should clean it or touch anything there because this will interfere with the psychic field being created by the practitioner. Through daily repetition of the mantra the energy will be built up, and it will become pervaded by the mantra and the psychic vibration of the sadhaka.
Lighting incense will help create the right atmosphere for meditation and mantra japa (repetition of the mantra) and will relax the mind. The chanting of prayers, stotrams (hymns) or bhajans (devotional songs) will also have a very powerful effect. A chanting tape can also be played. The mala and dhoti, or any other spiritually charged objects like a yantra, a picture of the guru or ishta devata, a statue, cross or shiva lingam can also be kept there if desired. This will help focus the mind and awaken the right bhava or attitude for sadhana. The mala and area will become so charged that when you sit down you will easily slip into the practice.
The spiritual name links the mind with our inner soul.
- Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
The next stage of diksha is the receiving of a spiritual name. The shastras, or traditional scriptures, state that the name of the spirit is satchidananda, which is made up from the words 'sat', 'chit' and 'ananda'. Sat means 'truth', chit means 'consciousness' and ananda means 'bliss' - the experience of truth and bliss which is experienced in the state of a fully awakened consciousness. However, until we have this experience we need a spiritual name of our own, which will give us a new spiritual identity and help awaken the essential nature hidden within us.
The spirit lying deep within is given a name so that the initiate becomes aware of its nature. The experiences we gain through spirit are different from those attained through the mind or the body, and our social name is associated only with the body and mind. The spiritual name denotes one's invisible structure and unseen bodies, one's homogeneous being or the deeper aspects of one's inner nature. The guru, through his viveka or discernment is able to 'see' the underlying nature of the aspirant and gives a name accordingly. Once you have a spiritual name, constantly hearing it reinforces your new spiritual identity and awakens your true essence, which is what the name represents. As we advance along the spiritual path, the gross and negative aspects of our personality begin to fall away, and we become a living embodiment of the name give to us by the guru.
Swami Satyananda states in his book Karma Sannyasa: "A change of name has a definite effect on one's destiny, because a name has a particular vibration, and when it is changed the vibrations are reorganized and rearranged as far as the individual is concerned. If it is chosen properly (by a qualified guru), this new name is bound to create a new system of vibration which will affect the karmas positively. Therefore, the name which belongs to you (to your spirit), which is your real nature, indicates your destiny."