You can find the italian version of this article at this link.
When Luca Vincenzini contacted me asking me to write an introduction on shaktipat for the reprint of his book, I felt flattered because I know that Luca is perfectly aware of what shaktipat is and how difficult it is to talk about this topic. And because I am no saint. Only a Siddha, a perfectly enlightened being, is capable of transmitting the highest form of Grace.
As we will see, in fact, there are 9 types of shaktipat or degrees of divine Grace.
I also felt flattered because I don't think there is anything more delicate, difficult and important to talk about when it comes to Tantra and to spirituality in general. So I will try to do my best, aiming for a balance between technical nuances and practical nuances so that it can be enjoyed by more people, but I already warn the reader that whatever I am going to say cannot even be a reflection of what shaktipat is and, above all, of what it does. Why? For a very simple reason: shaktipat is the pure and direct Grace of the divine. Consequently, it is easy to understand that no text and no saint can come close to expressing Grace or the effects of Grace through language.
In the book, all Sanskrit terms are transcribed in iast. Here instead, at times, I will use terms in the english version to facilitate the reader. The following article is protected by ISBN on "Rudra's Tantra, philosophy of India in dialogue with neuroscience, quantum physics, astrophysics, depth psychology and metaphysical logic". Book that you can buy here at this link.
Śaktipāt, śaktipāta or shaktipat is a term composed of "śakti" (shakti) which translates as "energy", "power", "potency", but can also be translated as "grace", and "pāta or nipāta" which means "fall", "descent". So its literal meaning is precisely "descent of energy or Grace". What energy are we talking about? The only energy that underlies every phenomenon, that is the energy of the infinite ecstatic consciousness of which everything is made, whose sole purpose is to awaken the divine that is present in each of us. The concept of shaktipat may seem very esoteric, however it is a natural and yet ancient form of "spiritual practice" that can be found in śivaism, śāktism and buddhism. It refers to the transmission of "spiritual energy" from one person (a teacher, a guru) to another (a student-śiṣya, a devotee-bhakta) by means of gaze, touch, mantra or will (saṅkalpa) of an initiate. To be even more specific, we can say that it is the transmission of the energy of kundalini, by those who already embody this energy actively, in order to awaken it also in the one who receives it.
Kundalini is a very dangerous term to use nowadays as, being often misunderstood, it is misused in its meaning. Unfortunately we hear all kind of nonsense about kundalini awakening, without the slightest awareness and competence on the part of those who should awaken it, or claim to do so. Therefore it is necessary to say a few words about it, so as to offer some clarity. It should be remembered that kundalini is awakened only by divine grace (kṛpā), that is the dormant kundalini is awakened by the active one, there is no human intervention in this process. Any attempt to force its awakening through esoteric substances or techniques (perhaps aimed at collecting siddhi, spiritual powers and abilities of various kinds), does not lead to anything good and, indeed, it is risky because it would be like trying to get a tank inside the house from the front door. What is wise to do instead is to create favorable conditions, to make the soil fertile so that Grace can run its course more easily. Kundalini is a sanskrit term used to indicate an aspect of divine energy, Shakti (Śakti), present in the human body in a quiescent form, it lies coiled like a snake at the base of the spine, in the first cakra, mūladhāra, or bulb of the root. It is therefore symbolized by a snake, a symbol of knowledge and transformation since ancient times also in other traditions. In the Hindu tradition it is said that the snake is Śakti, the feminine, dynamic and manifest aspect of the divine who created everything, which one wants to reunite, starting from the lake of nescience (Manasarovar), with the other side of the coin, Śiva, the male, silent and unmanifested aspect of Consciousness, that is the summit of Mount Kailāsa. Kundalini Shakti in the form of Citi Śakti, or the energy of Divine Mother, is the creative force of the universe. It is this energy that manifests itself, of its own free will and for fun (vilāsa), like this entire universe in all its diversity (bahutā). The world is the play of the power of the Universal Consciousness. The Goddess is the source of our life force, she is the energy that literally gives life, the "electric current" that makes the heart beat, sends the brain impulses, circulates the blood, allows the child to form in the womb of the mother, it is the same energy that gives life to the whole universe. In the average person it remains almost stationary, dormant, until the moment of death and then returns to the source, or until she is awakened to life. Awakening can occur slowly and gradually or rapidly and explosively.
"Suptā guruprasadena yadā jagarti kuṇḍalī tadā sarvāṇi padmāni bhidyante granthayo'pi", "When the sleeping kuṇḍalinī is awakened by the grace of the master, then all the lotuses and also the knots are open", Haṭhapradīpikā, translation Diego Manzi. Shaktipat is, then, that same vital energy transmitted from the teacher to the student. Here, in this perspective, the role of the teacher becomes crucial. If kundalini is the power of life, shaktipat or kundalini shaktipat is the switch that turns it on, the alarm that wakes it from its sleep, so as to allow the soul to evolve spiritually until it recognizes its true nature as sat-cit-ānanda or existence-consciousness-bliss, an ocean of unconditional love without beginning and without end. When she is awakened, the process of becoming aware, devoted and humble, the process of union with the divine reality, gradually begins. With kundalini shaktipat it is not the individual who meditates, but it is the divine who meditates through him/her, giving only what one needs and, above all, exclusively only what can be sustained, in terms of intensity, in that precise moment. It could not be otherwise since it is a perfect intelligence. Through its awakening, the process by which a human being recognizes the love, intrinsic and unlimited, which dwells in one's heart as in any other form of life, is initiated: it is that ecstatic love that reveals the secrets of existence and manifests the experience of unity with the Whole. Obviously this is not the magic wand of fairy tales, and although the mind of a seeker may suggest to sit on the couch after receiving shaktipat, one should instead intensifies his/her practices so as to invest, and not squander, the treasure that has been donated. In other words, when the inner fire has been kindled, or reinvigorated if it is not the first time, it is a question of continuing to feed it with authentic practices (abhyāsa).
It is important to understand that shaktipat is not a technique or some form of meditation, but a real act of Grace. An injection of energy that activates/facilitates, in different forms and intensities, the unfolding of kundalini in the student. By doing so the seeker's journey of spiritual evolution is made more concrete and complete because he/she can finally meet closely the side of the coin relating to Śakti, the loving dynamic energy of the Absolute, not only the silent and unmanifest meditative aspect of Śiva. The apparent pair of opposites Śiva-Śakti, yin-yang, yab-yum (father-mother), śūnya-rūpa (void-form), nirguna Brahman-saguna Brahman (Absolute with or without substrates), simultaneously expresses unity on one hand, duality on the other, unity and duality together, and neither one. Although apparent, these two sides are both necessary to form the coin. So if one is missing, that is if the seeker does not integrate both, the Truth (satya) can’t be recognized.
At this point one may wonder what are the effects of shaktipat and above all what the effects depend on. Because if it is true that we are all made of the same substance (ekarasa), it is also true that each of us has a unique body-mind-spirit system and we are at different points of the journey. Shaktipat is like going to the source of the river. There is always an inexhaustible amount of water there, but it depends how large is the container used to collect water. The effects thus vary from recipient to recipient. In general, the recipient's body-mind-spirit system is impacted by a wave of well-being and great spiritual energy, which acts at a subtle level to dissolve the original contraction (ādi mala), and the related blocks connected to it, caused by the erroneous identification with a separate "I" to which the soul clings desperately, despite being the cause of all suffering and in itself illusory (mithyā), non-existent (anātman). It can be imagined as a process of erosion (at different speeds) intended to remove all the ignorance that obscures the Truth: the incessant flow of ecstatic consciousness. During the transmission may arise some kriyā, involuntary movements dictated by divine intelligence, aimed at carrying out a purification. The manifestation of the energy’s effects are different: there are those who do not feel anything during the transmission (and perhaps enjoy the effects after it); those who live in a state of deep meditation; those who perceive heat or chills or ecstatic bliss in one or more parts of the body or spread everywhere; who enters samādhi; who has involuntary body movements; who laughs and/or cries; those who hear sounds, smell perfumes or have visions of various kinds; those who live experiences of expansion and so on.
A variety of effects may occur after receiving kundalini shaktipat, which can be immediate or gradual, temporary or permanent, including: non-identification with external thoughts, emotions and circumstances; great peace and inner fulfillment; opening of the heart with consequent increase of compassion, empathy, love, devotion and surrender to the divine; decrease in the amount of thoughts; dissolving of anxieties, fears and sufferings; bliss or ecstasy with closed eyes (during the state of meditation) and/or with open eyes (during the waking state); deeper meditations; removal of thought and behavioral patterns, and emotional-energetic blocks, etc. In a nutshell: the “ordinary” state of consciousness is enhanced. This does not mean that it is all downhill, indeed this energy can bring up many things that need to be processed and let go. However, it acts as an accelerator, especially since the effects do not wear off in a few days, but the divine energy continues to accompany the seeker in a latent way. It goes without saying that if one does not continue to nourish one's consciousness through spiritual practices and reception of other shaktipat transmissions, or if worse, one's energy is wasted through unhealthy habits, sooner or later, its influence will run out, at least in this lifetime.
Well, what do the effects in the recipient depend on? The short answer is that there are a myriad of influencing factors making it impossible to think of what determines what. The slightly less short answer is that everything depends on one's karma and therefore, from a more technical point of view, on how much the individual consciousness is "resolved". The more it is, the more our system is able to sustain the flow of Pure Consciousness (parasaṃvid) and Infinite Bliss (nityānanda) always present in creation.
Speaking of effects, in the Tantrasāra, Abhinavagupta talks about nine types, nine intensities of shaktipat. Svāmī Lakśmanjū takes them up in his book "Kashmir Shaivism, The Secret Supreme". In the first two only the grace of Śiva is required and nothing else, in the remaining seven there is a need for a physical Guru:
1. tīvra-tīvra-śaktipāta: "Supreme Supreme Grace", produces immediate identity with Śiva and liberation; due to the extreme intensity of this grace, the physical body dies; such a being becomes a Siddha master and bestows grace from his abode (Siddhaloka), directly into the hearts of deserving aspirants;
2. tīvra-madhya-śaktipāta: "Supreme Intermediate Grace", such a being becomes liberated by himself, relying directly on Śiva, without the need for initiation or instruction from other embodied gurus. This is facilitated by an intense awakening of divine intuition (pratibhā) which guides the seeker from within and soon eliminates ignorance. Abhinavagupta, in the Tantrāloka, distinguishes two sub-levels: those whose intuition is firm; those whose intuition is hesitant, who need more practice to stabilize and therefore can follow a guru, study the scriptures or practice yoga;
3. tīvra-manda-śaktipāta: "Supreme Lower Grace", the person who has received this grace strongly desires to find an appropriate guru. However, he/she does not need instructions, but a simple touch, a glance is enough, being in the presence of his/her master is enough to trigger the state of enlightenment in him/her;
4. madhya-tīvra-śaktipāta: "Higher Intermediate Grace", a disciple who receives this grace wishes to receive instruction and initiation from a perfect guru, over time becomes enlightened, yet is not totally absorbed in this state while in life and receives a permanent state of fusion with Śiva only after the end of his life.
5. madhya-madhya-śaktipāta: "Intermediate Intermediate Grace", such a disciple receives initiation from his/her guru and has an intense desire to attain liberation, but at the same time still has the desire to enjoy various worldly pleasures; after the end of his/her life, he/she continues to enjoy it in the otherworldly paradises (svargaloka) where he/she fulfills all his/her wishes. After which he/she does not descend again into this world, but receives the final initiation from the master while he/she is still disembodied and thus realizes permanent union with Śiva;
6. madhya-manda-śaktipāta: "Lower Intermediate Grace", it is similar to "Intermediate Intermediate Grace" except that in this case the aspirant desires worldly pleasures more than union with Śiva, he/she needs to reincarnate again as a spiritual seeker to achieve liberation;
7-8-9. manda-tīvra-śaktipāta; manda-madhya-śaktipāta; manda-manda-śaktipāta: "Greater Lower Grace", "Lower Intermediate Grace" and "Lower Lower Grace", for those who receive this "gentler" level of grace, the aspiration to be united with Śiva is present only in moments of anguish and suffering. Their tendencies are mainly oriented towards the world and worldly pleasures. In that case the grace of Śiva needs to work in these souls for many lifetimes before liberation takes place.
As you can see, there are different degrees through which Grace works and this is evident when people are seen reacting in different ways to shaktipat. Previously I said that each of us is at a different point on the path, with a different degree of ignorance, of karma to be disposed of, of cleansing and of open-mindedness. This obviously also reflects one's resistances, the degree of will, humility, faith, the predisposition to understanding, the intensity of the desire to unite with the divine and so on. It is essential to keep in mind, as Muktānanda once said, that: "The grace of the student is equal to that of the guru who transmits shaktipat", because the opening of the receiver shapes the experience that one will live. As usual, the sides of the coin are always two: Grace (anugraha) and personal effort (śrama). This is why it is sometimes said that shaktipat is not given by the teacher, but it is "stolen" by the student (see the example of the hemorrhage woman of Capernaum). All this may sound strange to a layman, but it is the same mechanism by which: "when the student is ready, the teacher appears", as a famous oriental saying goes. Only if the student is sufficiently mature, humble, open, eager, that is, only if the container with which one goes to the river to collect the water is empty, then it is possible for Grace to operate in a profound way. On the other hand, when you think you know everything or when you take as a reference the amount of years practiced or the fact that you have met the "master X" or have had the "experiences Y", then you cannot bring home a lot of water because the container is already full, there is no room for anything else. Until there is yoga, or complete union with our true divine nature, it is essential to remember that we are all on the first day of school ("Zen mind, beginner's mind").
As I said at the beginning though, the state of consciousness experienced by the person who gives shaktipat also counts. All things being equal for the recipient, if the transmitter is a teacher with a high degree of realization, a Siddha or a Mahāsiddha, or an advanced but unrealized teacher (adhikārin), things change a lot because the less realized is the one who transmits, the less the transmission will be effective and "clean", free from the teacher's mental impressions (saṃskāra). Although the ways of the Lord are infinite, we know that in general it is not possible to transmit something higher than what one experiences.
The most important difference is that the transmission of shaktipat by a Siddha or a Mahāsiddha does not have an effect limited only to this life (like that of the adhikārin), but also accompanies the one who receives it in subsequent lives because the intention (saṅkalpa) of the Siddha is perfect. Surely the action of Grace, of whatever intensity it is, is always an added value to the path of a seeker, since without it nothing is possible.
Regardless, you are never wrong if you continue to do your part every day by cultivating desire of the divine and, at the same time, surrender to the divine. These are the two forces present in the path of a seeker. Our task is to move in the middle way, to avoid the risks of extremes and to enjoy the benefits of both forces.
I once heard from a master a phrase that has stuck with me, as true and practical as it is controversial: “Kundalini Shakti is for people who are not satisfied in realizing the divine; Kundalini Shakti is for those who want to feel the divine (in the body) ”. Except the union with God, which by definition is the highest desirable for anyone, what is better than the Infinite Grace of being able to feel Grace in all its ecstatic bliss through us? Who wouldn't want to immerse, melt, unite forever in an ocean of bliss without any separation?
Shaktipat is just about that, it gets straight to the point.
I conclude by quoting a sentence from Swami Muktananda (photo at the top of the page), a Siddha who lived in the last century, who had the incredible merit of meeting and being a disciple of Bhagawan Nityananda (pictured above), a Mahasiddha who played an essential role in reviving shaktipat and which still bestows great blessings even today despite not being physically present. A phrase that in my opinion is as wonderful as it is wise and that should make a seeker think a lot, whatever the point of the path in which he is or the tradition to which he belongs:
"Love is the true nature of God, which the authors called supreme bliss, sat chit ananda. It exists in all its fullness within human beings. Even if we don't experience it, it is there. A blind man who has never seen the light, when he hears about it he might say: “There is no light. I've never seen it. I don't know what it is." Yet light exists. It is him who does not have eyes. Likewise, whether you experience it or not, love exists. If you have not followed the path of love, if you have not tried to find it, how can you reach it?" (Play of Consciousness, Swami Muktananda)
I thank from the bottom of my heart every single teacher I have met physically and not physically. Without their Grace I could not take a step and I would not have been able to meet the divine love that I was desperately looking for. May Grace continue to accompany every seeker until union for eternity.
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