Diksha: Four Categories of Initiation

This article elaborates upon the four categories of initiation in the Samaya Tradition.

The Sanskrit word diksha is loosely translated into English as "initiation." Like most Sanskrit words diksha has various meanings. "Diksate" is the verb and means "to consecrate, dedicate oneself to, to initiate, to make ready, to prepare." Diksha is also related to the root "daah" which indicates a desire to burn.

What is Diksha?

The common understanding of diksha is just the imparting of a mantra. But diksha is far more than just giving and receiving a mantra. Diksha is the direct interaction between teacher and student. The deep relationship of trust, love and respect that develops over years cannot be described. We can describe the various mantras and the different categories of initiation, but a sincere student who wants to understand what diksha (initiation) really means must focus on developing and nurturing an honest and open relationship with the mentor. Diksha is agreeing to enter into such a relationship and can be compared to being reborn. It is an act of grace.

These days the deep and profound meaning of diksha has been completely forgotten, even misunderstood. Many students do not want a close relationship with their mentor, instead only wish to collect mantras. These unprepared students end up using mantras out of books. They use the mantra without guidance or a deeper understanding of mantra vidya. At best this is a waste of time, in worse case incorrect mantra practice can cause blockages in the pranic vehicles.

Who can give Diksha?

Tradition distinguishes between a shiksha guru and diksha guru. "Shiksha" means "learning." A shiksha guru imparts scholarly knowledge or academic learning. A diksha guru communicates mystic power that brings about intuitive and all encompassing wisdom. He imparts sacred words that have a supernatural influence possessed of extraordinary weight (mantro guruh punarastu so asmai). His guidance is considered indispensable because he protects the student from impediments to the continuing power of the mantra by his vigilance and grace. Initiation involves this sustained influence of the master, this includes specific instructions such as method of practice, dietary restrictions and general lifestyle.

Diksha can come in different forms: 

  • "Sparsh" or touch is the lowest form of diksha
  • "Vag" or imparting the word or sound is a higher form of initiation
  • "Drik" or initiation through a mere glance is still higher 
  • "Vedha" the highest form of initiation is the penetration of the very being of the seeker. This is called "purnaabhisheka." This initiation leads to the awakening from the deep slumber of avidya (ignorance).

When a student seeking Self Realization goes to a guru, he takes a bundle of dry sticks called "samithpani." With reverence and love he offers this to the teacher. That indicates that he is surrendering himself with all his mind, speech, and action with a single desire to attain the highest wisdom. The guru burns those sticks and says, "Now I will guide you and protect you in the future." Then he initiates the student on various levels and gives him the disciplines to practice. The burning of sticks is symbolic for burning all the samskaras in the fire of knowledge. This powerful ritual should not be taken lightly.

Four broad categories of Diksha

These are not levels of initiation. While there is a general order in which these dikshas are given, there are exceptions. A rare student may receive Sambhavi diksha initially, this removes obstacles and awakens him to reality. This only means he has prepared himself in a previous life. This was the case with Lahiri Mahasya, who received such a "reminder" from Mahaavataar Babaji, as narrated by Yogananda Paramahansa in the classic "Autobiography of a Yogi."


Yoga diksha is an initiation into awareness. In Yoga diksha you are made aware that you have a body, but you are not body alone. You learn “Deha devalaya proktaa, jeevodeva sanatana. You are the shrine of the Lord.” The first awareness is that the Divine dwells within you.

Repeatedly the teacher creates that awareness that the Divine within and the external world are one and the same. The Divine dwells within you and where you find the presence of Divinity, that is called temple, shrine or church, the house of God. In Yoga diksha the teacher explains that the body itself is the house of God. Thus, you should not neglect this house of God. The day you have this awareness that the Divine is within, and that your body is a shrine of the Divine, you have accomplished something. The teacher explains that you did not search for the Divine outside. The Divine is everywhere and it is within you. How can you be excluded? So you learn to look after your body. The body cannot help you on the path of enlightenment, but it can create obstacles for you. Therefore, Yoga diksha expands body awareness through right ahara (diet), vihara (recreation), achara (lifestyle) and vichara (attitude). 

First of all you are initiated in yoga vidya. Mastering yoga vidya or the science of yoga means you master the process of systematic meditation, from external to internal, from gross to subtle, from many-pointedness to one-pointedness. This includes initiation in Sushumna Kriya and Sandhya Kriya. In Yoga diksha awareness is also strengthened using the right method of practicing the Gayatri mantra and the Mahamrithunjaya mantras. The guru explains how the mantra is used. They are a must. These two mantras are not guru mantras given specifically by the guru. 




When the teacher or guru sees a block, anything that creates a barrier for the student and makes the student miserable, then Upayoga diksha — that mantra or method is given to free the student from the block. Upayoga diksha is given for this specific purpose. Upayoga diksha is not a must. It is given only when a sincere student has a block. If the student is not practicing the sadhana he has been given sincerely or does not have a block, Upayoga diksha is not required.

A part of this guidance is initiation into a specific mantra called guru mantra. The science of mantra is one of the definite methods which is introduced by the gurus. Through mantra the sincere student shall be led to the inner experience of the highest state of awareness. Through initiation into a chakra, a center of integration, the blocked channels of subtle energy (nadis) can be opened and the spiritual energy of that center can be awakened. This cannot be generally accomplished by the aspirant on his own; it is possible only through the initia­tory power of a guru, who is a channel for the power which flows down the long line of gurus, dating back many thousands of years. The guru imparts a word or sound: "Remember this word. It will be an eternal friend to you. It will come forward in times of need." Then he explains how to use the mantra. There are advanced stages of initiation beyond this, one following the other, until the aspirant reaches full realization of his divine nature. 

Apart from a guru mantra, the teacher may prescribe other means to release the block.


The third category of diksha is jnana diksha, which is only given to renunciates. Renouncing the world means knowing that anything you consider yours, is actually not yours. You renounce the attitude: "This is mine, this is mine, this is mine." When you were born, you did not bring anything with you. When you leave this plane of existence, you cannot carry anything with you. Those who renounce the idea that "this is mine, this is mine, this is mine," are called renunciates. This internal renunciation is called vairagya. It leads you to attain intuitive knowledge and liberation.

Jnana diksha is also given to monks (sannyasis) who have renounced externally (tyaga).

Jnana diksha is a course of contempla­tion that is divided into four parts. These are actually four stages of sadhana based on the mahavakyas. 

In the first stage, the student is made aware of the transient nature of the phenomenal world—Brahma satyam jagan mithya (The universe is unreal; Brahman is real). When a student has "sees" that the world of forms and names is illusionary because it does not exist of its own, and that Brahman alone is Truth, then he attains the next step.

The second step of contemplation is based on the knowledge of Brahman as the Absolute Truth behind all transient phenomena, and the student realizes unity in diversity—Ekam-evadvitlyam brahma (There is only one Brahman without second). He "sees" that there is only one absolute Truth, which exists everywhere.

In the third stage, he contemplates on the Absolute Reality within himself—Aham brahmasmi (I am Brahman) and now knows that he is Brahman.

In the fourth state, he realizes that there is only one Absolute Truth, which is self-existent and all-pervading, within and without both—Sarvam khalvidam brahma (All this is Brahman). It is self-evident that his individual Self and Brahman are one and the same and he remains firmly established in this truth.

When one carefully studies these statements and ponders over their meaning, one comes to know that these are contemplative and attainable states of sadhana. The profundity of these mahavakyas cannot be comprehended by mere debate or discussion. Only direct experience can lead to the inner state of wisdom. 


"Sambhavi" means "complete" or "perfect." Sambhavi diksha means complete transformation. Sambhavi diksha is also known as Shaktipata. Shakti means "energy" and "pata" means "descent". Shaktipata is the descending grace that removes obstacles for students who are prepared.

In Sambhavi diksha, according to the scriptures, Shiva himself gives diksha. Shiva is Pure Consciousness or Atman. Shiva is the Lord of yogic sciences and giver of Sambhavi diksha. In this case, Shiva does not refer to a god of the Hindu Pantheon.

All great persons have somehow got Sambhavi diksha or complete transformation. It is not mere change; it is complete transformation. Your thinking is different, your feelings are different, your knowing is different. Your whole life concept is different after Sambhavi diksha.

A teacher gives diksha according to the ability of the student and circumstances. But Sambhavi diksha is given by Shiva himself — it is a direct and transformative experience. Sambhavi diksha is that great awakening in which you meet yourself.

An advanced meditator (siddha) or an adept (paramsiddha) unconsciously influences those around him in the same way that a magnet influences metal objects in its proximity. It should be understood that while a siddha may inspire many, he only exerts an influence over those who are prepared. A siddha is able to transform the consciousness of his closest disciple into a blissful state. No real master ever gives such an initiation to unprepared students. In shaktipata the influence is experienced in a fully conscious and extremely intense way. Shaktipata removes the last stumbling block of samskaras and thus hastens the process of awakening the latent force. The siddha is not alone in dealing with this powerful force; he has behind him the long lineage and tradition of the sages, of which he is only a representative. When a student has done his sadhana with all sincerity, then the subtlest obstacle is removed by the master. Those who do not believe in discipline should not expect enlightenment. No siddha can or will give Shaktipata to a student just because he wants it. 

Shaktipata is only possible with a disciple who has gone through a long period of discipline, austerity, and spiri­tual practices. Shaktipata on a mass scale is suspi­cious. Many innocent and some desperate seekers erroneously believe that Shaktipata can be bought.

Sambhavi diksha leads to a blissful state that may last for an hour or a few days. Typically the aspirant is not able to maintain the awakened state and after some period of time kundalini returns to her abode. The awakened energy becomes latent once again. But now the aspirant’s faith is strengthened, for he has directly experienced the awakened state. The student is completely transformed. He has glimpsed Divinity, and although the experience is not yet completely integrated, it continues to influence him at all levels of his being for the rest of his life. As a result of such an experience, many latent abilities are awakened. The student becomes dynamic, creative and talented in all aspects of life. He is elevated spiritually, morally and intellectually. But he must also guard against an inflated ego. He must work systematically, perhaps for many years, to learn how to awaken and guide that energy within himself. 

This experience of Shaktipata is typically not repeated many times, for it takes considerable time for the student to integrate what he has experienced. If the siddha does not proceed slowly and cautiously in working with the student, the student could become disoriented and unable to function in the world. In the lesser known practice called Shaktichalana the student is led gradually and to some extent unconsciously, through transformations in which he becomes more and more able to integrate and handle the awakening Shakti.

On reading about the different categories of diksha, some of you may be disappointed, "Oh, I have such a long way to go, I have only got Yoga diksha." The purpose of this article is not to discourage sincere seekers, but to give you an overview. Yoga diksha and Upayoga diksha are the foundation of sadhana (practice), without these Jnana diksha and Sambhavi diksha are not possible. Once the foundation has been laid, the house is built quickly.