The Transformative Cycle of Giving and Receiving

The Transformative Cycle of Giving and Receiving

An Exposition by Mark McLaughlin

On the Siddha Yoga path, the month of Gurupurnima is a time to honor and worship Shri Guru, to reflect on the bounteous blessings Shri Guru bestows, and to express gratitude for all the ways Shri Guru’s grace manifests in our lives. Integral to the celebrations during Gurupurnima month is the offering of dakshina.

Dakshina is the practice of making a monetary offering to the Guru, and it is a core practice on the Siddha Yoga path. When students offer dakshina regularly, they participate in a powerful cycle of giving and receiving.

In creation we find many examples of the cycle of giving and receiving. The water of rivers, lakes, and oceans evaporates into clouds, and the clouds pour that water back as life-giving rain. Plants receive carbon dioxide from the air and give back oxygen; animals breathe in that oxygen and give back carbon dioxide, sustaining life on this planet. A farmer puts forth effort to cultivate the land and make it more fertile, and the land in return yields crops of food; that food then nourishes the farmer and the surrounding community. Everywhere we look, we perceive the cycle of giving and receiving, and we see how this cycle sustains itself while nourishing the activities of life.

In ancient times, the Vedic seers sought to align the yajnas or fire rituals to the cycle of giving and receiving. In a yajna, the officiating priest makes offerings, often called ahutis (oblations), to a sacred fire—a symbol of the light of Consciousness that is present everywhere in creation. Because a yajna is an act of worship, priests offer only the best ingredients—milk, ghee, honey, grains, sesame seeds, rice, and other symbols of nature’s bounty. Those who offer the yajna understand that whatever bounty would come from their ritual is not theirs to choose—that is in the realm of the Divine to determine. Their dharma, their duty, is to give, to make generous offerings.

The sages who formulated the practices of yoga drew inspiration from the principle of giving and receiving that is at the foundation of the yajna. In many ways yogic practices mirror the ahutis of the Vedic rituals. They guide the spiritual student to offer of themselves to God—to offer their thoughts, speech, and actions. In meditation practices recommended by scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita1 and the Vijnana Bhairava,2 one conceives of the light of the Self as a fire to which mental activities and the objects of sense perception are offered so that these may dissolve into Consciousness. Another example is the chanting or reciting of mantras; one offers one's full voice in praise or invocation of the Divine. And in seva, one offers actions in selfless service to the Guru.

The practice of dakshina, likewise, evolved from this sacred tradition of giving of oneself. Dakshina is a form of worship, a way to present the fruits of one’s work to the light of the Divine. One of the traditional meanings of the Sanskrit word dakshina is “an offering that a student makes to a teacher.” Through this act of giving, the student honors the Guru, who imparts the highest knowledge.

Like all spiritual practices, dakshina yields the deepest attainment when it is performed selflessly and with dedication and right understanding. When a disciple regularly practices dakshina, they nourish the inner transformation that the Guru’s grace has set in motion—until, ultimately, the disciple becomes established in the state the Guru embodies. The Guru has attained pūrṇatā, the fullness and perfection of the supreme Self, which is beautifully represented by the full moon. When offering dakshina, a disciple understands that the recognition of the fullness and perfection of their own Self, which is the fruit of sadhana, lies in the illuminating benevolence of Shri Guru’s grace.

A story in the Chandogya Upanishad beautifully illustrates the power of dakshina.

One day, Satyakama Jabala, a young seeker from a humble family, approached the Guru, Gautama, and asked to be accepted as his student. Satyakama wished to learn the knowledge of Brahman, the Absolute. The Guru 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 could arise out of his efforts, and the potential to offer dakshina to his Guru as a result of his work.

For years, Satyakama lived in the forest, lovingly tending the cattle. Because Satyakama cared for them so faithfully, the cattle grew strong and healthy and they multiplied, eventually reaching one thousand in number. One day the bull of the herd addressed him: “O Satyakama, there are now a thousand of us. Lead us to the house of the teacher.” Much to Satyakama’s astonishment, the bull then proceeded to expound upon one aspect of Brahman.

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

When Satyakama arrived back at his Guru’s house with the thousand cattle, he glowed with the light of his attainment. Pleased, Gautama said, “You shine like a knower of Brahman,” and asked, “Who gave you these teachings?”

Satyakama replied, “Those other than human beings conveyed these teachings to me. However, my revered Guru, I still yearn for the complete knowledge of the Absolute, so please instruct me.” Gautama then imparted to Satyakama the remaining teachings, perfecting Satyakama’s understanding of the Absolute.

This story contains several significant lessons about dakshina. Satyakama Jabala had a strong yearning to know God, so he sought a Master who could impart that knowledge to him. As he led the lean cows into the forest to graze, Satyakama set an intention and promised to return with dakshina for his Guru. And because Satyakama remained true to his intention of offering, he was able to perceive the Guru’s grace and knowledge pouring forth all around him. Fire, animals, birds, and the precious cattle themselves showered Satyakama with the insights of yoga and kindled the flame of inner knowledge. The story superbly illustrates the importance of giving in the cycle of giving and receiving that lies at the heart of a disciple’s relationship with the Guru.

When offering dakshina, when participating in this cycle of giving and receiving, it is important for a disciple to maintain the focus on giving. Much like offering ahutis, the oblations in a yajna, the act of giving oneself in sadhana frees a disciple from their limiting notions and restores them to their true nature. As implied in the story of the Chandogya Upanishad, a disciple trusts that the fruits of sadhana will come at the right time.

This is why the offering of dakshina, like other yogic practices, is to be performed without expectation. By offering to the Guru with a selfless attitude, the disciple cultivates virtues such as generosity and gratitude, and grows more able to experience their own innate purity. By honoring the one who bestows grace and true knowledge, a disciple becomes one with that knowledge—one with the bliss of the Self.


1Bhagavad Gita 4.27.
2Vijnana Bhairava v. 149.