Caring, Becoming Fully Human, and the Impermanence of Fate

December 21, 2022

Shambhavi talks about caring that has no cause, doing this thing called human more fully, and how the strength of habit patterns is not fate. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

I have heard you talk about doing what we feel is best and not giving so much weight to disapproval of other people. If we decide that something is best, we want to try and follow wisdom if it feels like that is this wisdom that is telling us something. But there's another a way that I've heard this expressed, which is sort of like I'm going to do whatever the fuck I want, and I don't care what anybody thinks.

The way that you frame both of those questions is just sort of the nice version or the asshole version of the same thing. So whenever you say I decide or I don't care, we're still in the realm of I'm deciding and I'm not caring.

And there's a limited sense of self in there that is making decisions and thinks that it's self-willing and self-propelling and is defining itself against other people or for other people. But whatever way, it's still a very self-defining way of being in the world.

And with this fiction of being self-propelled in one way or another, whether it looks nice or it looks mean, it's kind of the same thing on one level. In terms of wisdom, there's no such thing as not caring.

And this is a way that some people hear spiritual teachings from these kinds of direct realization traditions, that we're going to recognize that there's only one self here or only one awareness here. And so others don't exist in the way we think they do, there is no other, so it doesn't matter what we do, and I just don't have to care about anything.

This is a perspective entirely from an unrealized person who still thinks they are a separate entity and has no idea what the nature of wisdom is or what—you could call it God, you could call it wisdom, whatever you want to call it—no idea about that.

One of the words for reality in Dzogchen is Samantabhadra, and Samantabhadra means the all good. And then one of the names for reality in Trika is Shiva, and Shiva means all auspiciousness or the auspicious, also the all good.

So the way that we are looking at reality and this question of caring and not caring is not from the perspective of small I, it's from the perspective of all of reality, the totality of everything. And that the totality of everything, at its base, is this sweetness or goodness or auspiciousness that has no opposite.

So sweetness doesn't have sour as an opposite, goodness doesn't have evil or badness as an opposite, auspiciousness doesn't have inauspiciousness as an opposite. The pairs of opposites that we operate with are all at the level of limited karmic realm vision, all of it.

And when we get actually in touch with essence nature, then we taste that sweetness, we taste that goodness. We feel that auspiciousness of everything, which cannot be explained through the lens of good and evil, sweet and sour, auspicious and unauspicious. It cannot be understood by a mind still trapped in those binaries.

How could everything be good if there's still evil in the world? This is a question, maybe one of the most frequent questions that I get. And the question isn't how can there be good? The question is how can I discover this goodness for myself?

And then I need no didactic arguments like that about it. There's no contradiction there when we have an embodied experience of that. There's no question of not caring.

There's also no question of caring in the way that we normally care—I care about this because... I care about you because... I care about this, but I don't care about that. I don't want to care so much. I want to care more. All of these formulations are from the perspective of a self that is still experiencing itself as separate and is still trapped in these binaries. Which is fine.

So from that perspective, not being thrown off course so much because of other people's opinions about you or criticisms of you or praises of you. People get thrown off by praise too. How many of us get a kind of a high when people praise us? The high is only the harbinger of the low.

There's no equanimity in those highs and lows of oh, I love being praised and oh, I dislike being criticized. So the idea— and it's good, even from a limited perspective, if we can be less thrown off balance by any of those things.

So, for instance, when I was in my teens, I was very depressed. And part of it was just because I was eating gluten and didn't know I had a gluten allergy, but part of it was for other reasons. And one of the main reasons was I had a devil and an angel on each ear.

My father was always criticizing everything that we all did, and my mother was hyperbolizing, saying everything was so wonderful and extraordinary. And so between those two, I was like bouncing back and forth. And that kind of creates depression.

But when I just did a self-evaluation about how I actually felt about myself, then I could walk a more middle path, right? Not get so bounced around. And that's good. That helped a lot of that depression to lift. But it's still in the realm of that limited self. It's still working in that realm.

So when we talk about wisdom, first of all, we're not talking about I decide anything. We're talking about following. And when we're talking about discovering that sweetness, that goodness, we're talking about feeling it, listening to it, and following it. And the more we go along doing that, the less of any kind of decision making actually happens.

Ultimately, there would be no decisions made except to follow wisdom spontaneously arising.

That's a long way off. But I'm just saying there would be no sense of I'm going to decide this. There would also be no question of caring or not caring because compassion, tenderness, sweetness, wanting the best is built into reality.

It's not something that we cultivate or we decide. We can't make more of it, and the only thing we can do is shut ourselves off to it, just due to various ways that we're formed when we get here.

So no one who has anything to do with a spiritual tradition like this and understands the view decides not to care so much or thinks that not caring is something to do with enlightenment. The earnestness of I care, [feigns earnestness] of course, is going to go along the way.

The boundaries of caring—I care for you, but I don't care for you, I care for something because... And I don't care for something else because... There no longer is any because happening.

There's just wanting the best and being an expression of that compassion, which can look like many, many, many different things. Doesn't look like our ideas of nice all the time. So all of these things just go by the wayside as we keep practicing.

Anybody who says I don't care in such a way is just very shut down. The less you're able to love, the less you're able to feel compassion for others, the less you're able to be in exchange with others, in intimacy with others, the less realized you are.

So part of what happens is that teachings are given and then they get processed through ordinary mind, and then they get rewritten and re-situated in what is more familiar. And this is part of the reason why we have to keep coming to teachings, if we want to hear the teachings clearly.

This is just normal, this isn't a criticism. This is just how things are. If this wasn't happening, you wouldn't need any teachers.

But we hear things in a certain way, and we have to start hearing them with more of a freshness, without so much karma in the way. Otherwise they come back in a form that is sort of a medley of received ordinary ways of thinking about things and the teachings themselves.

And then the other thing to remember is that the teachings are all based on direct experience. Anything that I am talking about, I've experienced and you also can experience. We have the same essence nature.

I don't know what timetable you'll experience it on. That's different for everybody. But there's nothing at all different in our essence nature between me and you.

And everything that I'm telling you I've either discovered for myself or has been gifted to me or discovered through working with my teachers. Through direct experience, through practice or just gifts—gifts of wisdom that just come as we live. So I know that you have this capacity too, and it's just a matter of time.

I'm having this really bizarre experience where I feel like the more that I am awakening to my essence nature as pure love and pure consciousness, I'm feeling more and more strange about having a personality. I feel like I'm walking around as awareness, but not as a human. I wonder if you might speak to that.

The aversion to being human really rings some bells for me about spiritual concepts. Concepts about what it means to be spiritual. That somehow we're going to identify with pure consciousness and pure love, and we're going to be less identified with being human.

What you're saying sounds almost like a kind of a transcendental script that you have internalized and are embodying, having a real experience of, but that really comes from some concepts that are just kind of floating around out there in different kinds of spiritual traditions.

So what I would say from the perspective of this tradition is that you are never going to have an experience of pure consciousness or pure love that is disembodied or that is separate from your humanness.

And what we are talking about here is really more fully doing this thing called human. Understanding that we have shown up as human and as long as we have these bodies, we really are never going to be nonhuman unless we get possessed, which is not something we are looking for.

So from that perspective, one of the things that was taught by Swami Lakshmanjoo, a 20th century teacher of Trika Shaivism, was that we can be more like Lord Shiva or we can be more like something called totally enlightened or totally realized, but we can never really be that fully. That as far as we can go is as far as we can go.

But we're always going to be enjoying our greater openness to wisdom through the lens of being human beings.

And in fact, in terms of our personality, we could talk about personality in two different ways. One way we could talk about personality is as habit formation.

So we have aspects of our personality that we identify with very strongly that are really part of our karma. And there are these patterns that repeat in time that are somewhat limiting, and some of those are going to go away as we practice, that's true. And we're going to become less identified with those limiting patterns.

But then there's something else that a different teacher has called a personality display. Something that just arises very spontaneously and is less bound than these habit patterns that we have.

Every teacher that I've had that I think of as being highly realized has had huge personality and huge sense of humor, and really absolutely delightful to see in their display of whatever their personality is. But their personality was not like stuck in one mode. It kind of flashed forth in these different modes.

Recognizable—for instance, I had some teachers who were just full of hijinks and humor and high-handed kind of playfulness and also very tender. But then I had other teachers who their main thing that they were communicating was really kind of humility or modesty of some sort. Teachers that are more serious or less serious in the way that they present themselves, etc.

But there are things that will fall away that will start to feel more groundless because we don't have the ground of those ways that we define ourselves. I'm always this, I'm never that. This is the way I do things, I don't do things this way.

All of these kinds of ways that we construct a sense of self that we feel is our ground. Those things will start to erode, and then we can feel a sense of spaciousness or groundlessness. Which can be very weird, as you're discovering. It can feel very weird.

But it doesn't mean we're becoming less human, or it doesn't mean we have to reject being human. It just means we're going to do human in a different way with more of a sense of spontaneity and freedom of self-expression.

And I was just wondering if you can help me shed some light on the boundary between when we need to take accountability for when we might have a harmful impact, or like a really positive impact, on somebody versus what that person might be bringing in their reception of our actions or our words. Like whether they might be oversensitive or really receptive to compliments. And I'm just wondering whether you might be able to help me kind of, like, navigate our own responsibility and accountability in that.

Well, we're only accountable for ourselves. And I don't know what you're working with, but what I'm working with is letting people be and just looking for opportunities where I can share what I feel is of value, whether those opportunities be large or small.

If someone isn't receptive to wisdom, that means opportunity is low, and the only possible response to that is to back off. When I was younger, I used to charge ahead, try to, like, force an opening.

If we are in a relationship with somebody, and we have a lot of stake in that relationship continuing or in that relationship being a certain way, then we often put too much pressure on other people to change.

But the older I get, the less pressure I want to put on people to change and the more sensitive I want to be to looking for real openings when people are more receptive. And the more I want to be skillful in backing off when people aren't receptive.

And I have a strong desire for people to realize more and working with that in myself, holding myself accountable for that rather than holding other people accountable to realize faster, which I think I did when I was younger.

In more ordinary relationships, of course, we have this paradigm. And maybe it's partly a psychological paradigm or a self-improvement paradigm. Or we consider some people that we're involved with to be fixer uppers, and we're, like, very busy trying to fix them and make them into someone that we could stay with because we want security.

In terms of how people receive things or how they respond to things, how you respond to things, you're only responsible for yourself and how you respond to things and how you receive things.

And then in terms of other people, in the best possible circumstance, I think, we would be only offering people help or advice or praise or anything when we think there's a chance that it's a skillful moment to do that and that things will be of use or be helpful.

It's very hard sadhana and kind of tapas to just let people be how they are even though you wish so much more for them. And maybe I'm just speaking for myself as a teacher, but I think that's true in other kinds of relationships too.

I have a question about the difference of the six realms teaching and personality typography systems like Enneagram. What do you see as the difference or the limitations of those compared to more ancient teachings or even things like divination? How is it different?

It's very different from Enneagram, and it's actually something that I do address in that teaching. So in Enneagram, you have a number and then you have a wing. And the teachings that we had said you're always this, you never can change your number or get rid of your number.

And so it's some sort of fixed personality type. You can work with it but you can't change it. And I used to joke around that I was the number that didn't want a number or whatever number that was. [laughs]

But in any case, the six realms are completely fluid. It's not a personality typing system. And in fact, as it's taught, the main characteristic of the human realm is that human beings actually like to play in all the realms, so move around more fluidly between the realms.

You might be more embodying one kind of karmic realm vision than another, but you would never only be stuck with one kind of karmic realm vision or one and a wing or something like that. And it's definitely not a life sentence. In fact, if we have the same idea as Enneagram that you are a realm and you could never get rid of being that realm, that would undermine the entire idea of self-realization.

I mean, self realization is about freeing oneself from these karmic realm patterns, karmic realm vision. So if we said oh, you're a hungry ghost and that's it, baby, don't even bother trying to get rid of it, we'll just try to make you more of a comfortable hungry ghost, that's the best we can do, the whole rest of the teaching would be invalidated.

This is something that's hard to impress on people that this is not a personality typecasting service. This is a way of understanding oneself that helps us to move out of these realms and move into the openness of the center, where there are no karmic patterns. Or where they're just for play and not serious.

As for divination, that's— the nature of this alive, aware reality is freedom of self-expression. And we are aspects of that alive, aware reality. So there is absolutely no way that we could be 100% tied to something that we call faith.

So this is a teaching that's not universally given this way, but from the perspective of the disciplines that I've studied, like astrology, Jyotish, and divination and Trika and Dzogchen, that what we call fate is simply patterns that have more momentum. They're just stronger patterns.

So they feel like fate because they're harder to ameliorate, they're harder to unwind. But all karmas are unwindable at some point, maybe not in this lifetime, but they are all aspects of impermanence. All patterns are aspects of impermanence.

Anything that forms eventually goes away into the ocean of consciousness and energy. So there's absolutely no fixed fate anywhere, not a speck of it. There are just stronger patterns that in our experience of human time, human linear time, feel like something we might call fate.

Now, it's not an all-or-nothing proposition either. So it's not like we have a karma and then it goes away and then we're done with it. That happens every now and then. Some kind of grace operates and gets rid of something for us. But most of the time, we're just chipping away at these things.

So patterns, even very strong patterns, can become weaker over the course of a lifetime. They might become much weaker, or they might only become a little bit weaker. They might they have to go through multiple, multiple lifetimes in order to really unwind and run out of steam.

So we have, again, strong patterns, but there is no fate, not in the way people talk about it.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.