Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": DIKSHA, AN INDIAN INITIATORY RITUAL

HINDUISM


The Diksha must be performed by anyone who is preparing the soma sacrifice. The Rig-Veda seems to know nothing of the diksha, but it is documented in the Atharva-Veda. Here the brahmacarin- that is, the novice undergoing the initiatory puberty rite-is called the dikshita, 'he who practices the diksha.' Herman Lommel has rightly emphasized the importance of this passage (Atharva-Veda, XI, 5, 6); the novice is homologized with one in the course of being reborn to make himself worthy to perform the soma sacrifice. For this sacrifice implies a preliminary sanctification of the sacrificer-and to obtain it be undergoes a return to the womb. The texts are perfectly clear. According to the Aitareya Brahmana (1,3; 'Him to whom they give the diksha, the priests make into an embryo again. They sprinkle him with water; the water is man's sperm. . . . They conduct him to the special shed; the special shed is the womb of the dikshita; thus they make him enter the womb that befits him. . . . They cover him with a garment; the garment is the caul. . . . Above that they put the black antelope skin; verily the placenta is above the caul. . . . He closes his hands; verily the embryo has its hands closed so long as it is within, the child is born with closed hands. . . . He casts off the black antelope skin to enter the final bath; therefore embryos come into the world with the placenta cast off. He keeps on his garment to enter it and therefore a child is born with a caul upon it.'

The parallel texts emphasize the embryological and obstetrical character of the rite with plentiful imagery. 'The dikshita is an embryo, his garment is the caul,' and so on, says the Taittiriya Samhita (1, 3, 2.). The same work (VI,2, 5, 5) also repeats the image of the dikshita-embryo, completed by that of the hut assimilated to the womb-an extremely ancient and widespread image; when the dikshita comes out of the hut, he is like the embryo emerging from the womb. The Maitraiyatni- Samhita (III, 6,Ii) says that initiate leaves this world and 'is born into the world of the Gods'; the cabin is the womb for the dikshita, the antelope skin the placenta. The reason for this return to the womb is emphasized more than once. 'In truth man is unborn. It is through sacrifice that he is born' (III, 6, 7). And it is stressed that man's true birth is spiritual: 'The dikshita is semen,' the Maitrarayanit-Samhita adds (III, 6, l) that is, in order to reach the spiritual state that will enable him to be reborn among the Gods, the dikshita must symbolically become what he has been from the beginning. He abolishes his biological existence, the years of his human life that have already passed, in order to return to a situation that is at once embryonic and primordial; be 'goes back' to the state of semen, that is, of pure virtuality.


M. Eliade, Birth and Rebirth (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), pp. 54-5

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