Pictured from left: Swami Niranjanananda, Swami Amritananda, Swami Satyananda, Swami Vivikenanda, Swami Shantimurti (turning around)
What is Initiation? by Swami Shantimurti Saraswati.
Initiation is what one does or experiences when they have reached a level of development within themselves that allows them to adopt, or absorb further teachings and possibly particular lifestyles.
Forms of Initiation
There are many forms of initiation pertaining to the different groups and organizations that promote it. In regards to the Hindu and Yogic traditions there are three basic initiations, receiving a spiritual name, a mantra and possibly a symbol is the first one. Being given a sadhana (spiritual practice) is another and then being initiated into sannyasa being the third.
Traditionally sannyasa is adopting a life style of renunciation but even within the yogic scene there are variations on this depending on who you are involved with. There are other levels as well but it is not usual for these to be readily available. But if you think about it, initiation is an ongoing thing whether it’s done through people or organizations and groups.
A person may be initiated into a particular system, then experience the different levels within that system, but the reality is that initiation of any sort is part of the process of becoming attuned to your inner nature. Sooner or later, as that person begins to experience the refined levels of consciousness, they receive initiation into further states of being from an internal source of inspiration. Then the outer forms become symbolic – stepping stones.
Of course quite a lot of organizations and people who initiate use this as a means to hold onto people, to manipulate them, to impress them. This is very unfortunate but we do get what we deserve.
Alternative Forms of Initiation
In fact there have been many people who have received initiation through dream, direct attunement or simply realizing they have achieved a known state. This is the case with Sri Ramana Maharshi – a great sage of South India – who had no external initiation or guru. Many people were initiated simply through his darshan (silent presence) – such as the Danish mystic Sunyata.
One of my dearest friends, Vasudeva, who was very knowledgeable on all aspects of yoga, being a Sanskrit scholar, a proficient kirtanist, an authority on Ayurveda and lots more, experienced initiation into sannyasa though a dream.
He dreamt that his guru Swami Krishnananda from the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh appeared to him and gave him initiation into sannyasa. Krishnananda had passed away some years prior to this. Vasudeva had lived in the Sivananda Ashram for many years before coming to New Zealand. His one main desire was to take initiation but his guru wouldn’t give it.
At a time when Vasudeva was just two years away from passing on he had this experience. Vasudeva and myself used to discuss why he wasn’t initiated quite a lot particularly as I had received initiation, through another guru, and he being more knowledgeable had not.
On the day after he had the dream I was moved to visit him and had a strong urge to take one of my spare dhotis (traditional Indian clothing). He immediately relayed his experience as it meant so much to him and on hearing this I gave the dhoti I had with me. We were both overwhelmed as it is tradition for the guru to give the disciple a dhoti on initiation into sannyasa. Not that I am suggesting that I was his guru. The gift of the dhoti was conveyed through me as I was the closest sannyasin at that time who had a spare dhoti.
There are many beautiful stories of people’s initiations in many different ways within many groups. Initiation has been with us from early times when human kind began to realize and experience that there was more.
Quote from Swami Atmalokananda
One of my favourite comments on initiation is from Swami Atmalokananda – known as Atma – a director of Ashram Yoga Ltd:
“Initiation feels like a very personal transformation for me, not a big leap but a solid step in a very positive direction and a deep feeling of an inner quality that is now ready to blossom. Rather exciting and I thank those who inspire me along this path!”