Consciousness, Doing vs Not Doing, and Avoiding Conflict

November 29, 2023

Shambhavi and the Jaya Kula community gather for satsang and get real about all the questions we humans want answered. Intimate, courageous, heartfelt spiritual talk about pretty much everything. So happy you are here! A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

I was wondering, how does consciousness work? What's up with that? [laughter]

Consciousness is one of those words that gets flung around a lot. I've said many times that when I was first studying in the tradition of Trika Shaivism, there was a lot of words like that floating around about the ubiquitousness and this consciousness and energy that was filling everything.

And all of those words seemed rather clinical to me. And I didn't really know why I should care about it, at the time. And then I practiced for a long time, maybe fifteen or twenty years, and I realized that the nature of God is wisdom and what I call wisdom virtue.

So the most important thing to know about this word "consciousness" as relates to what's actually going on here is that there is a self-aware subjectivity, feeling everything or being everything. So it's not just like consciousness.

It's a self-awareness that is made of compassion and playfulness and intelligence and clarity and even a sense of humor. So I call all of this the wisdom virtues.

But if you delve deeply enough into any of the traditions from Tibet or any of the traditions like Trika Shaivism and the direct realization traditions, when you get past these words, they all eventually say that wisdom is the real nature of existence.

Things are actually made of wisdom, this self-aware wisdom, which we can contact directly. I know that because I discovered this before I read it in any book or got this teaching from any teacher.

This is really just something that happened in the course of doing sadhana that I encountered what actually god is. To say god is consciousness and energy is pretty yawn-iferous. It's not really anything that elicits any devotion or real feeling. To me anyway, it's kind of clinical.

But when I really did encounter what is going on here in a more direct way, I discovered the supreme Self. It actually has the same qualities we have but unconstrained and unbound. So you can relate to it. You can feel yourself as it.

There's this wonderful hymn by Abhinavagupta where he says, Shiva shower grace without any restraint. And thus there is always the presence of the supreme reality everywhere at all times.

And again, we can say that but what is that really? It's just this encounter with this incredible intelligence and compassion and mercy and dazzling clarity and beauty that cannot actually be captured by all of these words.

But when I encountered that, when Ma gave me that experience, this is what god is. This is why we even call this "god", why it even deserves that name.

So, consciousness, I would just throw that word away and use the word self-awareness instead. There's a word for that, in Trika Shaivism, vimarsha, and it's the origin of all of this. It's the origin of all of our ability to experience an other and all the other things here and worlds and circumstances.

So if we think about ourselves, we can self reflect. We have that capacity. And that is the primordial Shakti, the primordial power of Shakti is self reflection.

That means that we can think about ourselves or feel about ourselves. When we do that, we set up within ourselves a dualistic experience. There's someone thinking about someone. The thinker about is the same as the object of thought, the object of contemplation.

Whereas if I think about my childhood experiences, or I think about what I'm experiencing right now, or I think about 'who am I' or something like that, I'm basically creating my own object of contemplation out of myself.

So the contemplator is myself, the act of contemplating is me, and the object being contemplated is also me. And this is the origin of dualistic experience that we have these three poles of duality, the contemplator, the act of contemplating, and the object of contemplation.

This is what dualistic experience is. But this is all happening within that supreme Self. This is like the superpower of Shakti, that she can have this play of experience within herself that eventually results in all of these worlds and beings to be enjoyed and contemplated within that Self.

So in Trika Shaivism, this superpower is celebrated, and our ability to have these kinds of experiences is celebrated. But we have to discover the real nature of things here before we can really enter into that experience without suffering.

So we need to understand in a direct, immediate way what is really happening here, who we really are, what this is made out of, and then we can enter into it without so much suffering.

But as long as we have the embodied conviction that this is what's actually happening in this way and all the bad things that are happening are actually happening in exactly the way we think they are. That creates all of our suffering.

So I would just suggest leaving the word consciousness aside or even the word 'mind', because they're so impoverished compared to what's actually happening here.

And I think that it's best to start with self reflection and this sense of a Self that's able to playfully create all of these different arisings and enjoy them.

And when you encounter it, you can't describe the thrill of encountering that. And the clarity of it. I think the clarity is something that really gets underspoken about because it's inconvenient to think of not just going off in some trance state, but actually having this blazing clarity, which is what the real condition of the enlightened self is.

So we experiment with that every time we do morning heart worship. We experiment with having some chance in a transmission situation of encountering that. And that's why I'm always talking about these wisdom virtues when we're doing that practice, because this is the real fundament of existence.

This is what we are. This is what we're made out of. This is how we're made. And we can get into direct contact with this wisdom, energy, clarity, playfulness. It's not really that difficult to get in touch with it. It's difficult to sustain being in touch with it.

It's not difficult to have a fleeting experience of it. So we have many fleeting experiences, and then eventually we can rest there more. We do more sadhana. Now we are able to rest in that recognition more. So don't get too caught up in 'what is consciousness.'

I have this weird relationship with the Bhagavad Gita, where I have this duality in my mind of being versus doing. Sometimes I'm really at peace with it. Sometimes I'm doing so much. Shouldn't I just let some things fall into place?

So Krishna's teaching in the Bhagavad Gita is you're here and you have to act. You can't escape acting once you're embodied. Even not doing is some kind of action, right?

So the question is how to act, what actions to take, not whether or not we're going to act. Resting is acting. Taking time for yourself is also acting, an action.

And in general, just being much more ordinary about it, but in a way that supports our sadhana. We have to have enough energy to live a good human life.

And we live in a culture where if we're not being productive in a certain kind of way, then self-doubt tends to creep in, or maybe even we get criticized by other people.

But most of the way we're living, working so hard and producing so much and struggling so much to get ahead, that isn't really a good human life. It's not conducive to bringing out all of the opportunities we might have as human beings.

So I'm all for working as much as we enjoy working and need to work, if we have that opportunity. A lot of people don't have the opportunity to make that choice.

So if we happen to have shown up in a life where we have the opportunity to make certain kinds of choices that support our sadhana, we should do that because that's grace right there.

We shouldn't start second-guessing everything and worrying about being too unconventional or anything like that. But if we have the opportunity to only work ten hours a week, or spend a good portion of our time doing stuff that we love that doesn't necessarily make money, we should do that.

Because that's the opportunity of this lifetime for somebody. And it's not necessarily going to be happening the next time around. So we should take opportunities we have now and also opportunities to take what we have and put it at the service of what we value.

So if we've been given opportunity, that's something to also be shared. It's not something to turn our nose up at or worry about or get all austere about. Like, I'm not going to take that opportunity. We should take it and we should share the fruits of it.

We've equated struggle with meaningfulness or importance, and our desire to be important is like the worst possible thing to desire as a human being. It's so unrealistic.

We are just doomed to failure or we're doomed to narrowing our view to such an extent so that we can be important in a tiny little room for a tiny little group of beings.

Instead of being important, we should just engage with whatever's happening and try to enjoy that and work with that and not try to be anything at all.

We all have karma and we have our unique configuration and we have various capacities. So we're going to do something. It's not like if we stop struggling, nothing's going to happen. Things are still going to be manifesting.

But then we just have the joy of seeing what it is instead of trying to forcibly create something that is exhausting and futile. I mean, we're doing so much, but we're not doing the things we should be doing. Like taking care of this planet and taking care of each other.

We're doing everything but that. We're producing things like crazy, but we're not doing what we should be doing if we were just relaxing and being in our hearts. That's all we really need to be doing.

I was saying to somebody the other day, if you could just be kind to the beings within a square mile of your house, that would be enough for a human life. That would be fine.

It's about finding what is our natural expression, and they could be so different. It doesn't have to be a plan. It doesn't have to be a thing.

Some lifetimes are meant to be on the sidelines. We're just doing something else. We're not meant to be out building stuff. Or getting ahead.

Some lifetimes are supposed to be timeouts, but we don't know how to do that. I've known several people. They're just supposed to be taking a time out, but they just refuse because our culture is so against that. Just seems impossible to even conceive that you would just have a time out.

I am realizing that I am more conflict-avoidant than I thought I was. I wonder if you have any advice.

First of all, don't fight the tigers. Just because there's a fight happening doesn't mean you have to get in it. Just because there's conflict possible doesn't mean you have to go toward it.

Then when we need to be fierce in a situation or talk through something that feels conflictual, do it and then get out. We don't have to belabor it. We should really evaluate very carefully when we see the possibility of conflict with a person, whether there's any possibility of it being productive conflict, any possibility of creating more intimacy and more understanding.

Because oftentimes we get into conflict because we desperately want someone to understand us as we are understood. We want someone to say, "Yes, I understand, and I agree with your version of things, and I agree with what you're saying about yourself."

I would say nine times out of ten, that isn't going to happen. Either because the person doesn't want to take in what we're saying because maybe they're determined to undermine us in some way, or they simply don't agree, or they're simply just not able to see it our way.

And then people get into these really overextended conflicts where they're trying to make someone get it. We should just run like hell from this situation. We have to know when there's actually any fruit that could come of conflict.

And the times when there is fruit that could come of conflict are few and far between. So, you might be avoiding some conflicts for good reasons.

Then there might be some things that are needed to say that might give rise to conflict that you're avoiding because you don't want to lose love or you don't want to lose a friend or you don't want to lose company.

You can't approach people if you want to have a productive discussion with someone about a conflictual thing who is passive-aggressive. You have to approach it really sideways, otherwise, they're just going to run.

They don't want the directness. They don't want someone to say, "Hey, I know that you're being passive-aggressive." [laughs] You have to be super skillful. You just have to decide why you're there and minimize all the extraneous stuff that doesn't relate to why you're actually there.

If you decide you're going to stay in it, you just have to limit the relationship to what it is that you want out of it.


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