What is shaktipat?
“Shakti” is another word for kundalini and “pat”‘ means to descend. Shaktipat is a method by which an individual’s kundalini is awakened by the direct intervention of a guru. There are several varieties of shaktipat depending on the facility of the guru and the receptiveness of the disciple.
It is probably not useful to try to resurrect the nine or more classifications of shaktipat used in the classical literature here. Practially speaking shaktipat is known by its results: the awakening of of the student’s kundalini.
There are also a variety of mechanisms for conveying shaktipat. These include: by glance, by word or mantra, by touch or simply by intention.
How does shaktipat work? If kundalini awakening is so important how can someone else do it for you? How could a guru overcome my karma?
There is a rich literature exploring this point but a couple analogies may help more. In the classical literature, such as the works of tantric scholar Abhinavagupta, shaktipat is seen as able to occur when one’s positive and negative karmas reach a sort of equilibrium.
Regarding the question as to how a guru is able to overcome the karma of a disciple, the Indian scholar Abhinavagupta argues that the ability to receive shaktipat is the result of something of a neutralization of positive and negative karmas. He also investigates the common phenomena that some individuals experience shaktipat more deeply than others. One might naturally further ask: “If shaktipat is a manifestation of grace then why would anyone person experience shaktipat more deeply than another?”
These questions deserve deeper enquiry but I personally find a couple analogies helpful. Ordinarily it takes a long time to create a fire by rubbing sticks together but if someone else already has a fire then that fire can be used to ignite another fire. Similarly to make a magnet naturally may require thousands of years but if one already has a magnet then a metal can easily be magnetized using the magnet.
Who can give shaktipat?
To continue the analogy, in theory “anyone on fire”‘ can give shaktipat, i.e. anyone who’s kundalini is already awakened. The more relevant question is: “Who should give shaktipat?” There are many opinions on this but at the very least the conveyer of shaktipat should be aware of the movements of shakti in his own body and in the body of the disciple. Giving shaktipat is a science and it is helpful, if not essential, to be instructed in that science. The classical works of Abhinavagupta and the living oral tradition of contemporary masters, such as Swami Shivom Tirth, both indicate that improperly practiced shaktipat initiation can be dangerous both to the disciple to the guru and to the disciple. Using the analogy again, it is easier to light a fire than to light it in such a way that it has a carefully managed burning.
Therefore, it is desirable that the guru be empowered to give shaktipat by his own guru and has been trained in an unbroken lineage back to a great master who was fully aware of the science of shaktipat. In this way some quality control is maintained.
Who can receive shaktipat?
There are even more opinions on this. Some gurus take an attitude of: “Initiate them all and let shakti sort them out.” Traditionally teachers were quite selective about who received shaktipat. Sometimes shaktipat was only given to one or two disciples in a generation. Among gurus these days you can see these two extremes of opinion and many other gradations in between. What is clear that some people who have received shaktipat from well-known gurus have apparently only manifested greater neuroses and unhappiness in their lives as a result.
Are all shaktipat initiations the same?
There are many ways of classifying shaktipat initiations but a method used by Swami Vishnu Tirth is very simple and clear. In shaktopaya initiations the kundalini shakti of the disciple is awakened by the guru. In shambhavopaya initiations the kundalini shakti of the disciple is awakened and led up through the bodies energy centers bringing a glimpse of the highest realization. Due to the current state of disciples, and contemporary gurus, almost all initiations can be termed shaktopaya initiations.
Some contemporary yoga teachers and gurus lump a wide variety of phenomenon under the term “shaktipat.” For example, I have seen teachers of Kriya Yoga infuse their students with their shakti at various stages of the student’s practice with the purpose of eliminating blocks in the student’s channels. These teachers called this practice “shaktipat initiation.” According to the tradition of Siddha Mahayoga such infusions are not considered “shaktipat initiations” because neither their aim or their result is to awaken kundalini. Moreover, the resulting practices are not Siddha Mahayoga because after these infusions of shakti the student returns to their original practice, such as Kriya Yoga.
Can one receive shaktipat just by being in the presence of those with awakened shakti?
There is no doubt that shakti is contagious. The mere presence of a single being whose shakti is strongly active can awaken the shakti of those around him. Similarly being in the presence of many people whose shakti is awakened to some degree can awaken one’s own shakti.
Authors Details: Kurt Keutzer Email: keutzer[at]eecs.berkeley.edu