Community as Spiritual Practice

Community Members Hiking
September 22, 2021

Shambhavi talks about the Trika concept of “kula” and how community helps us to recognize all of manifest life as kula or family. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Welcome, everybody to satsang. Please just tell me what to do. Tell me what to talk about. Wind me up. I like to follow, so if you give me instructions I’m happy to follow.

I'll put something out there. I was wondering whether you could talk about community, because I think that very often when people use the word community it’s used quite loosely.

Community is something that is considered to be an incidental occurrence. I read recently how community is a practice, which really resonates with me, and I was wondering if you could speak to that.

Sure. So that's exactly how I've described community over the many years Jaya Kula has been a community—as part of our sadhana, as a vehicle for sadhana.

Let's think back to the word for all of manifest reality in Trika, which is kula. So, you know, the name of this community is Jaya Kula, which means loosely victory family. And kula means a collection, an intimate collection—let's just put it that way.

So in a narrow sense, kula could just be an ordinary word meaning an ordinary family.

But in Trika Shavism, it has several non-ordinary meanings. One of them is the group of students working closely with a teacher who become, in essence, the family of the teacher.

And then in the biggest sense, what we're doing when we're working with a teacher and being a kula of practitioners is that we're learning how to enter into mahakula, into the big family, which is feeling intimate and connected to all manifestations of life.

So this community is, in essence, training wheels for being able to discover that feeling of intimacy and wanting to support and be involved with all manifestations of life.

Obviously, that's not going to happen really quickly, but kula is a practice on that level because Ma said her devotees would say, how can you tolerate being so close to everyone? If you often see pictures of her she's in a big crowd and everyone's touching her and reaching out to her, people are throwing themselves in her lap, and she's never really just alone.

She's always got you know, a lot of people around her. And so sometimes her devotees would say, “Ma, why do you let all these people stay around you? Why do you let all these people touch you?”

And she said, “Well, because they're just my own self. It's like if I touched my own arm, would that bother me? No,” she said, “this doesn't bother me.”

So that is not where we are going to end up. We're still going to be bothered by some things, but we should have that as our beacon. We should have that as our beacon so that we don't get stuck anywhere.

I understand from Ma’s example that when you are more fully enlightened or very enlightened, like she was, everyone feels like your very own self and you want to be around people. She loved being around people, playing with us. As she said, she came and plays with us.

So even though we all, including myself, don't always feel that, I hold that in my heart as the desired way to be, if I should ever be so lucky to be that realized.

And so first of all, a spiritual community like this one—we have some ways that we're working together, and we have in common, many of us that, we're doing a certain amount of sadhana every day.

This is really the nutrient substrate that holds this community together, from my perspective, is that everyone who wants to be my student, who isn't just hanging around, or sort of here now and then, or wanting to be here all the time but not really wanting me to meddle in their business, that's really fine.

Everyone is welcome to be here in whatever condition you're in and whatever you're doing.

But if you want to actually relate to me as a teacher, then you're doing a minimum of an hour of sadhana a day—seated practice. That's the only requirement. And in addition, I don't work with people who do recreational drugs. But that's really it.

So that substrate of everyone who decides to stick around and be here has taken the foundations course, so we have some similar language. And we have this substrate of people doing practice every day. And then from there, we can host all of the variety that shows up here in all the various conditions that people are in.

When we're in a community like this, we haven't chosen these people. I mean, sometimes people invite their friends or their love partners stick around or something, but in general, people are here, but they're not necessarily the people you would have chosen to be this intimate with. And that is a big step.

That is a big step to take that you make this leap into becoming intimate, and very often on a daily basis via Slack or coming to teachings, we have gatherings very often, even more so when COVIDs not happening—you take this leap to form intimacies in a special way with people that you didn't choose.

This is huge sadhana, and it's a huge step forward to learn to be intimate, to love, and to want to care for people that you didn't choose. Because basically everything in the world is like that other than your immediate family.

So we're really just being in a community like this, we're widening our sphere of who we care about, who we are concerned with. And of course, Lord Shiva cares about and is concerned with everyone. And again, that's a beacon.

That's a condition we will never be in, most of us. But it's where we want to understand that we're headed so that we don't get stuck, for instance, thinking “My spiritual community, it's such a great community. It's so much better than so and so spiritual community.” And, you know, we don't want to get stuck in a place like that.

We want to understand that, like every collection, there are open gates all around us. If we think of the figure of the Yantra, it's a figure of a city. It has four gates, open gates. So we always want to be open, and we're learning not to congeal around the concept of Jaya Kula or spiritual community or my teacher or whatever it is.

We are learning to open, not to congeal.

So this is very much my vision of a spiritual community. It's like a mini universal city where we're learning to be open and to relate to all kinds of people. And of course, in that relating there’s friction, inevitable friction.

So the other thing about this kind of community, in a Tantrik community, is that we're not hiding the friction.

We are not faking it ‘till we make it.

We are not obeying precepts that tell us how we have to behave.

We are being how we are and trying to work with that.

So if you've been around for a while, you'll notice that people sometimes just behave in not a very good way, and that circumstance becomes something that the whole community gets involved in in a certain way and that we work with together so that we can try to reintegrate people. If they don't want to be reintegrated, that's their decision.

But there's no sense that people are going to be ejected because they don't conform to certain ways of being that are required of them. And again, this is part of learning how to be in the world with all different kinds of people. It's not about just being here.

And then spiritual community, in this sense, is also accompaniment.

We are doing something that is, by and large, for most of us, not really normal in the society that we're in, those of us that are in the United States. This is just not normal to be doing what we're doing. And so it really helps us to be around people who have a similar direction and can share things even while we're not trying to have a closed society.

And again, we're not congealing or closing around the special language that we use, or hopefully, if we are feeling superior, then we're hopefully getting some friction around that and not holding on to that.

So community is a practice in all the ways that I just said.

Jaya Kula, this is not an ashram tradition. This is not an renunciate tradition.

And yet if we want to have any significant realization, we have to reorganize our body, energy, and mind. So we have to spend time together. We have to spend time with the teacher and time with the teachings and time in practice.

Myself as a teacher and a practitioner, I am interested in people having a chance to realize as much as they possibly can in this lifetime, to experience as many of the benefits as I have experienced, or even more if they can. And that's what I want.

That's why I'm doing this.

I like having different kinds of people around and being in the mess of that. And I don't expect everyone to have the same level of commitment by any means, and all of that is fine.

But I am interested in helping people to actually have some realization by doing the practices and being around each other and working with me in a way that is a little more concentrated and concerted than you find in the average American spiritual non-renunciate tradition. The general sort of come once a week, or once a month, or practice 20 minutes a day.

I'm fine when people do that at Jaya Kula. You're welcome to participate in any way you want.

But what I'm trying to do is gather energy for people to practice every day and work together a lot and work with me as much as they're willing to do, so that they can have some actual change, some actual transformation, have more freedom in their lives and be more openhearted, which is really the fruit of it all.

So, I'm interested in working with people long term, more intensely, more intimately, perhaps, than your average Buddhist, come and do 20 minutes or an hour with us once a week kind of thing.

Again, I think that stuff is beneficial. It's just not what I'm really interested in. Because I just feel so in love with the tradition and the fruits that I've had.

And I'm here to share this with you guys, whoever wants to share with me. That's what I want to do most. So it's sort of not an ashram, but also not “spiritual community-light.” It’s somewhere in between.

And as I like to say about the group of students who have committed themselves to this path at least enough to do an hour of practice every day and participate and be in the community more than now and then, that we're living our lives together.

We're householders living our lives together, going along together, even though we live in different houses and participate in lots of other different things. We have a sense, or I would like us to have a sense, that we're living our lives together in a more kula-like way so that people can have fruits of the practice.

Can I ask one more follow up question to that?


I mean I heard you talking quite a bit about how your students participate in the community, practicing for an hour a day. I just wanted you to talk about what is our accountability to each other within this community.

I don't dictate that. How can I?

I mean, people are in so many different conditions and some people are very self-referential and self-centered, and some people are more openhearted. So I can't dictate how people behave towards each other. I just work with what shows up.

On the other hand, I try my best to model openheartedness for everybody. So I think that has had an impact on how people in the community relate to each other. I think that a lot of people in the community are trying to be more openhearted in a real way and to give each other real support, not just like thoughts and prayers. [laughter]

So, I mean, really, what else is there? How we treat each other? What else is there? That's how spiritual fruit shows up. It shows up and how we treat each other. I try to give 200% and keep my heart open as much as I possibly can, even though I'm not fully enlightened by any means. I just do my utmost.

And I just hope that everyone else sees that or that some people see that and are inspired by that and not just inspired, like seeing someone else do it, but recognizing that they want that. If you see my openheartedness, you want that for yourself.

And then you'll find your way.

You'll find your way to that through your sadhana and the teachings and other experiences that you have. There's nothing that's more important to me then opening to the free flow of compassion that I experienced through Ma.

Nothing. It's the source of everything.

So there are no rules, and yet I think there is a possibility of experiencing something that would be a beacon for you if you wanted it. If that's what you want.

Everything is run by desire. Creation, maintenance, and destruction doesn't just come out of the sky and smite us.

We are actually the active principle and all other beings, and the Earth itself. Everything here is an active principle. And we are actually embodying that creation, maintenance, and destruction. So how are we going to do that, right? How are we going to do that?—is the question.

Ma gave me a really profound experience of her nature, the nature of God. And ever since then, that has been my beacon. And that's what I want people in this community to be able to experience and embody to the best of everyone's ability.


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