Spiritual Names

January 31, 2007

For some reason, this week several readers have asked about the meanings of “Shambhavi.” Let’s talk first about spiritual names in general. Why do we have them? What are they for?

A spiritual name is given to a person by a teacher. Some people choose their own spiritual names, but that is not what I am talking about now.

It is also the case that some teachers and lineages do not give spiritual names. Transmission occurs in many ways and forms. A name is not a necessity.

However, a spiritual name given by a qualified teacher is a profound initiation that will alter a person’s life forever.

Usually, when we describe and analyze a person, we want to “hit the nail on the head.” We use descriptions and analysis as nails to build a container for that person, or for ourselves.

The names of the deities, adepts, and states of consciousness that are used to form spiritual names often embody personality styles of the natural state. They are natural personality expressions. Personality is a capacity of Reality. So, we use this capacity to help us enlarge our ability to participate in the expressivity of the cosmos. We identify with the personality of the name instead of with our more limited self-concept.

A spiritual name has a certain style or flavor that expresses the particular path of a particular person. However, a spiritual name indicates the possibility of a person to Self-realize, that is, to consciously embody infinite potential. All spiritual names lead “out of the box” to infinity.

A spiritual name is a gateway, not a container.

People have many kinds of reactions when they first receive a spiritual name. Your reaction–happy or sad, confused, grateful, or mad–is your first sadhana with your new name. From this first reception onward, the transmission of a spiritual name is already reorienting your life away from tension and contraction and toward expansion, discovery, and deeper relaxation.

A spiritual name is not a badge of belonging to a club, or an accessory like a hip piece of jewelry. And it doesn’t matter whether you love your spiritual name or hate it. As a diligent practitioner, you will always find that your spiritual name has some aspect of being a little bit threatening or frightening. This happens when you really begin to recognize what your name is asking of you.

A spiritual name points out and demands. But ultimately, a spiritual name provides supreme guidance. The wisdom beings, meanings, and stories called forth by spiritual names are our teachers and may indicate specific sadhanas to be followed.

“Shambhavi” is a word that many of you have likely heard in some other context. Most commonly, it is the name of a famous mudra, descriptions of which are readily available.

I was given the name during an initiation that was a transmission of the “Shambhavi state.” This can be pointed toward, but not described in words.

Since that time, I have learned some of the many meanings of “Shambhavi.”

  • that which gives rise to ananda (bliss)
  • the wife of Shiva
  • a name for Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati
  • a Tantrik initiation
  • a mudra
  • the path of direct realization

The giving of a spiritual name sets in motion a powerful alchemy that enables a person to let go of limiting View and discover a deeper surrender to Reality. If you are given a spiritual name, recognize that the giving is a transmission. As with any transmission from a teacher, the job of the student is to work to consciously discover and embody that Reality over time.

OM Shanti,