Quick Reference

A consecration undergone by an individual that both marks and facilitates the passage from one state of being, or stage of life, to another. Underlying this is the understanding that the ‘one who has been ordained’ (the dīkṣita) has been reborn through the generation of a new body. The paradigmatic dīkṣa is that of the yajamāna (the śrauta sacrificer) in the Vedic agniṣṭoma ritual—an initiation that enables the dīkṣita to be transported, for the duration of the rite, to the world of the gods. From an early date in Vedic history the most crucial dīkṣa was that of upanayana, a saṃskāra (‘rite of passage’ or ‘transformative ritual’) through which a young male, born into one of the upper three varṇas, was initiated, and thus ‘reborn’, into both the Veda and Āryan society. In this way a permanent change was effected in both his ritual and social status. In a wider sense, formal entry into any religious order or sampradāya usually requires dīkṣā by a guru. This may take a wide variety of forms, but typically involves the transmission of mantras from teacher to pupil. In a similar fashion to Vedic dīkṣā, this kind of initiation acts as a saṃskāra on the initiate, equipping and qualifying them for their new life. As is the case in some forms of Śaivism, the act of initiation itself may be thought to engender or guarantee liberation.

Subjects: Hinduism.

Reference entries