The Tradition of Dakshina

An Exposition on the Siddha Yoga Practice of Dakshina

An Exposition by Ami Bansal

Think of India. What comes to your mind? The very first thing that comes to my mind is how ancient it is—how rich and storied its culture, how profound its philosophies, how ingenious its inventions, and how unending its creativity. In India there are myriad religions, a multiplicity of customs and languages, and many facets to the wisdom and traditions that undergird day-to-day life.

One aspect of this ancient wisdom that students in India learn is the significance of making offerings to a Master from whom they have received knowledge. I specifically want to focus on the spiritual path—a disciple approaching the Guru to receive the wisdom of the Self. The sacred texts of India give instruction to those longing for knowledge of the Absolute in how to approach the Guru. A disciple is to come before the Guru with humility, devotion, a willingness to serve—and their arms laden with the best offerings they can make. These offerings made by the disciple to the Guru are called dakshina. Since time immemorial, offering dakshina has been the dharma of all disciples.

The Sanskrit word dakshina has many wonderful meanings. In the traditional etymological analysis of the word, the syllable da means “offering” and “giving,” the syllable kshi means “to abide or dwell in,” and the syllable na indicates “knowledge.” Dakshina, then, is an offering made by a student to the teacher through which the student becomes established in the knowledge that has been imparted.

This dharma of making an offering to the source of knowledge is paramount on the path to God-realization. The Upanishads, which distill the transcendent essence of the Vedas, convey teachings about the disciple’s dharma, essential duty, to make offerings to the Master who imparts the sacred knowledge—the knowledge of the Self. The scriptures describe how these offerings were made in many forms—such as gold, silver, cattle, grains, clothing, a plot of land, or other material goods. Each disciple offered according to their means.

The Upanishads also speak of the bhava with which students yearning for knowledge should make their offerings. Bhava describes a person’s state of being, their inner reality, their innate disposition. Everyone is born with their own unique bhava. That said, a seeker on the path to divine knowledge can, through Shri Guru’s grace and guidance and through their own tapasya—their devout discipline—cultivate the bhavas that are uplifting and supportive to their endeavors. They can develop the bhava of giving, the bhava of selflessness, the bhava of respectfulness, of sagaciousness, and so on. They develop any of these bhavas, which are pure and altruistic, by making a conscious effort to become established in that pure state of being and to see to it that their thoughts, words, and actions flow from that space. The more someone cultivates a bhava, the more intrinsic it becomes to their character. And in time, it has the potential to become their sva-bhava, their own natural, unique, and effortless state of being.

The Taittiriya Upanishad teaches the following about the bhava of giving:

श्रद्धया देयम् । अश्रद्धयाऽदेयम् ।
श्रिया देयम् । ह्रिया देयम् ।
भिया देयम् । संविदा देयम् ।

śraddhayā deyamaśraddhayā'deyam
śriyā deyam hriyā deyam
bhiyā deyam saṁvidā deyam

Give with faith. Never give with nonbelief.
Give in plenty. Give with humility.
Give with utmost reverential awe.
Give with a heart that brims
with shimmering Consciousness.

Abiding by the inspiring principles in the Taittiriya Upanishad, the students in ancient India who sought knowledge from a Master would give to the Master with utmost sincerity. There are many stories in the Indian scriptures and epics that illustrate how a disciple would make offerings of dakshina to the Guru and how, as a result, a divine alchemy would take place. For example, there is the classic story of Satyakama Jabala from the Chandogya Upanishad.

In this story, Satyakama Jabala, a young seeker from a family of modest means, approached the great sage Gautama and asked to be accepted as his student. Satyakama yearned to learn the knowledge of Brahman, the Absolute. The Guru graciously accepted Satyakama. Before imparting the teachings on Brahman, however, the Guru gave Satyakama four hundred lean and weak cattle and instructed him to take good care of them.

While leading the cattle away to the forest to graze, Satyakama promised himself, “I shall not return to my teacher until these cattle number one thousand.” For Satyakama, these additional cows represented the wealth that would arise from his efforts and the potential to offer dakshina to his Guru, the source of grace and wisdom.

For years, Satyakama lived in the forest, lovingly tending the cattle. Because Satyakama cared for them so faithfully and attentively, the cattle grew strong and healthy and they multiplied, eventually reaching one thousand in number. One day, when Satyakama was seated under a peepal tree, keeping an eye on the cattle and remembering his Guru, an older bull of the herd addressed him: “O Satyakama, there are now a thousand of us. Lead us to the house of the Guru.” Satyakama thanked the senior bull. Much to his astonishment, the bull then proceeded to expound upon one aspect of Brahman, the Absolute.

As Satyakama undertook the journey back to his Guru’s ashram, each day natural elements and creatures would elucidate a different aspect of Brahman. First a small fire explained the all-pervasive God to him—then a wild goose, and then a waterfowl. To his continuing amazement, Satyakama received profound teachings all along his route about the radiance and infinitude of the Absolute.

When Satyakama arrived back at his Guru’s ashram with the thousand cattle, he shone with the light of his attainment. And he embodied, in equal measure to the knowledge he possessed, incredible humility. Satyakama’s entire being reflected the presence of quietude.

Sage Gautama beheld the marvelous transformation of his disciple, and the expression in his eyes was one of knowing and distinct pride. He said to Satyakama: “You shine like a knower of Brahman. Who gave you these teachings?”

Satyakama replied with great reverence. “I received the teachings on Brahman from everyone and everything around me—the plants, the animals, the elements. However, my beloved Guru, I still yearn for the complete knowledge of the Absolute. Please, will you instruct me?” Sage Gautama smiled at Satyakama and proceeded to impart to him the remaining teachings, thus completing Satyakama’s understanding of the Absolute.

Every time I have read this Upanishadic story and heard Gurumayi Chidvilasananda tell it, I have found much to glean. This story and other teachings in the scriptures about dakshina have helped demonstrate for me the value of this sacred practice for sadhana. And from the conversations I’ve had with fellow seekers and scholars, I know that this is true for many others as well. Whenever anyone has the opportunity to read or hear this story, they find that it lucidly explicates the significance of offering to Shri Guru—of giving to the one who embodies the knowledge of Brahman and imparts this knowledge to us.

These stories and scriptural teachings help to further illustrate what we have learned from the Siddha Yoga Gurus: that it is in giving that the disciple receives and becomes established in the Truth.