Destruction, Caring, and Clear Seeing

Dilapidated House
July 6, 2022

Shambhavi talks about the destructive nature of spiritual practice, caring for others, and the difference between discernment and criticism. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Who has a topic, and what is it?

Rough patches in practice life.

Rough patches in practice life, yes! There's rough patches all over the place in samsara, right? Spiritual practice is 100% destructive. The real nature of things, the natural state, is always there in full measure.

And the only thing that's going on is that in our unique dimension, we are only experiencing that in a limited way, because we have various obstacles in our perceptions—our perceptions are limited. Spiritual life is entirely about destroying limitations to our perceptions.

Destruction doesn't happen with a bit of force. You don't say, please, Mr. Obstacle, would you kindly move over? [laughs] So we need that bit of rough and tumble in order to come into our wisdom.

The way that we meet the rough patches, the way that we weather them, the way that we work with them, the way that we deal with the circumstances of our day-to-day sadhana—the persistency, patience, fortitude with which we work with things—is a major way, if not the major way, in which those limitations are removed.

And that's true not just of obstacles in sadhana, like having some physical pains or being bored or having lots of emotions come up or seeing things that we really would rather have not seen, or feeling like we don't know if we're getting anywhere at all or if anything's happening—if we're sliding backwards or what's going on. People can go through periods like that, too.

But it's not just our seated practice, it's everything in life. Everything in life can be brought onto the path in the exact same way that seated practice is brought on— met as a manifestation of wisdom and worked with as a source of help in our process of opening the gates of our senses.

In that regard, there's not really any difference between seated practice and going to work or hanging out with friends or any other thing that we do. But we do need rough times to have something to come up against. Kind of the sandpaper or the way that those gates open up.

There's a lot of rust on the doors of those gates. What is the rust? It's our resistance, because we, in the human realm particularly, we like to know what's going to happen. That's one of the fixations of the human realm—wanting to know what's going to happen.

So we're reluctant to do much or make a lot of change unless we have developed a fiction about what's going to happen, because all of our ideas about what's going to happen are total fictions.

But spiritual life is not like that—we don't know what's going to happen. And it's usually very surprising, as a matter of fact, and we have to be willing to kind of step off the ledge a bit, to stop resisting whatever is being taken away before we know what is actually coming in. That's probably the number one skill we need next to honesty.

Can you talk about that in relationships—getting attached to suffering and struggle, defining value around how hard it can be?

So that's a very titany thing— is to define meaningfulness or value in relationship to struggle and suffering. Those are just identity formations. The way that you narrate your life, whether it's about struggle or whether it's about sadness, or whether it's about some other kind of emotional pattern or pattern of behavior.

Any way that we're defining our life like that, those repeated ways that we do that, are all identity formations. And in a sense they're all equal, you know? To some degree it doesn't matter what the emotional content of it is, because it all has the same effect, which is helping us to manufacture some false sense of ground in having a way of narrating our limited perspective of life.

Some of those patterns are influenced by dosha, by the way the five elements are showing up in us, and we can work with them in that way. But it's probably true that given that we all come in with this very complex and infinite unique dimension, and a lot of us have a certain flavor to our lives, that flavor may never entirely dissipate.

We may never enter into that condition of holding no view of ourselves and just be in the freshness of whatever is actually happening. That may never happen entirely.

Someone like yourself might gravitate towards an attachment to struggle and things being hard as a way of generating meaning and a sense of self. But it'll become attenuated, it'll become weaker as you go along and practice more, should you decide to practice more.

The struggle as identity formation, as like realm vision, is really different than just like being with the hardness in the sadhana, of like whatever comes.

We're meeting circumstance, and we're meeting our responses to circumstance with our practice. We don't need to latch onto it with a story about how important it is or that this is who we are. What we're doing is just trying to create some kind of container for our lives. But our lives don't really have a container.

If our limited perceptions are the artistry of God, why would we want to destroy that limited perspective?

We aren't deciding to do that. That's the game that's being played here. Things are always being generated, then they continue, and then some of them are destroyed. Those processes are happening everywhere, all at the same time.

But the kind of grandmaster game that's being played here is that game of moving from appearing to have limitations of perception—limitations on one's ability to access wisdom—moving to having greater access. That's the journey that is the game that we're playing.

It's built into you, so you're not deciding to do that. If you have a lifetime, such as the one that you're having, where you have a longing, and then you answer that longing by finding a teacher as you have, and by finding practices to do, you're not doing that—this alive, aware reality is doing that.

As Abhinavagupta said, the desire to find out is already shaktipat, it's already Lord Shiva operating in a state of grace as you—you don't even exist the way that you think you do. There's no opposition between you and God. You are God playing this role.

The result of that is playfulness, lightness of being. The result of recognizing that our lives really have no container and that everything that's happening here is just naturally arising, not caused by us, because we aren't those separate-self causers that we think we are.

As both Abhinavagupta and Ma said in their different ways, our senses are the senses of God playing in duality. Our limbs are the limbs of God. Our lives are the dramas, the stories of God—or this alive, aware reality, or Shiva nature, or whatever you want to call it. It doesn't need to be called anything.

The idea that we're doing something that could possibly be in contradiction to that Self is funny idea.

It is. And it felt really heavy to me.

Yeah, it's very heavy. But that we're just here and this game is just arising. There's nothing at stake—we're just going along with nature. Or as I sometimes say, we're accomplishing nature.

Even the people that aren't on a conscious spiritual path, they're all accomplishing nature too. So I'm not claiming any special position for people doing spiritual practice. It's just fun. It's a very engaging, rewarding way to live one's life.

When we talk about getting out of our own way, is that then the self getting in the way of Self for the little self to see? I get a little confused there.

So think of a game app. Everything in the app is fun. Winning is fun, but losing is also fun. Beating something is fun, but getting destroyed is also fun.

Having some limitations put on you in the game is fun because then you get to figure out what to do with that limitation. And getting something that relieves you of limitation is also fun. The whole thing is fun.

There's no part of a game app where the people who write the game are like, let's make this part really boring and hard. Let's make them really want to quit the game right at this point. Too many obstacles.

So getting out of our own way—all of this is extremely engaging, that whole process.

But I think making them want to quit the game is definitely also on the palette.

It is, yeah. The metaphor falls apart there! [laughs] I agree.

As Ma said, no metaphor is ever complete, take from it what you can. She really nailed it on that one.

What if I get stuck in some kind of very long part where it's just, like, God being like, and here we'll just run around in a tiny circle.

Yeah, that could happen. But see, if you get stuck in a little thing, it's out of ignorance of what's really going on, so you probably won't even know that that's what's happening. It won't be till you wake up from that, that you actually look back and realize that you've been stuck.

It would still suck, though.

It would suck, but it happens. [laughs]

The medicine that will stop that from happening is honesty. Sincerity and honesty. That's the medicine that will stop that from happening. Even with all of our foibles and fixations, if we're honest and sincere, even if we can only make tiny, tiny, tiny steps, we'll keep doing that.

It's when we take our fixations as what's real and important that we get into trouble. For instance, many people in my position of teachers think that it's very important to maintain their position as teachers—that's getting stuck. As long as you hold everything lightly and you're honest and sincere, that won't happen.

That's pretty good news.

Unless you can't do that!

I've told people about the dream that I had once where I was standing in a hall, like a reception hall, and there was some woman, I don't know exactly what she was, but she was very elevated in her accomplishment.

There were all these monks and other beings there bowing to her, and she was giving people blessings. And she came up to me and she looked right in my eyes, and she took my face between her hands, and she put her forehead up to mine and she said, oh you finally made it back!

And she was very happy, she was very happy for me. She was greeting me after, like, lifetimes, apparently, of having fallen into whatever pit I had fallen into.

The message that I got from this moment was, this has been lifetimes since I saw you because you really messed up! [laughs]

Life is long. A lot of Buddhist teachings are like, you must do this, you must do this because— precious human life. The news is much worse than that! [laughs] Life goes on for a long, long time, like forever.

Something that I suffer from is environmental anxiety. Thinking about the environment, thinking about consumption, I find myself getting stuck, not doing anything. Obviously, the world's changing— fires all over the western coast of America. How do we deal with the reality of how that impacts our minds and bodies?

So I'll go to the big level first and then bring it down to the more specific. Destruction is just a natural aspect of all of life. There's creation, there's maintenance, there's destruction, and all three of them are happening at the same time.

And of course, destruction is not happening in a way that some godlike figure comes down and smites us. We are actually the instruments of destruction, and also nature, you know— other kinds of destruction that don't involve human beings. But we're a big instrument of destruction right now.

When the whole planet is under threat, and animals are going extinct, and our body, energies, and minds are being affected in so many different and unpredictable, unknown ways by all the things we're putting into the environment, it is a normal, healthy response to be upset by this and to feel groundless and destabilized by this.

This is a circumstance that is very difficult to digest for most people. And then what can you do about it is very small, but the smallness of it shouldn't deter you. There's a phrase that my Dzogchen teacher often said was, you just do your best, and that's really all you can do.

Knowing that you've done your best in the face of this. What can we contribute? We can contribute care.

One thing that I would recommend is instead of being so much in your mind and your anxiety about what's happening and your stories about what's happening, be in your heart about where you care about what's happening, where you have feelings of wanting to care for yourself and care for other people and care for other beings, and then be modest and realistic about what you can do.

You're just one being. As I like to say sometimes, if you can just care for the beings within 100-foot radius of you, that would be quite an accomplishment.

So just do your best. Try to come from the heart. Really letting yourself feel your care instead of your anxiety.

Take a break from your anxiety at times and feel your love. Feel your care for other beings instead of being more focused on your own fear about things.

I'm not saying the fear isn't completely appropriate, but it's better for us and it's better for the environment, and it's better for our fellow humans and other beings here if we can just be coming from the heart. And then spontaneously, coming from the heart, just do what you can to care for yourself and for other beings, that is really the best you're going to be able to do.

This destruction is already in mid-process. It's not at the beginning, and it's not at the end, and we don't know how it's going to end. Here we are in the middle.

Many, many species have already been lost. Much destruction has already happened. Our body, energies, and minds have already been affected by this. So here we are in the middle of it.

I don't know about you, but I never thought we would be here. I'm very optimistic. When I was a kid, I thought our future was Star Trek, not this.

This was what came as a big blow to me, and I've also had to do a lot of digesting of what is going on here. But the more we can just love people and be helpful and care for things in our immediate environment and just do our best to be exemplars of loving care for other beings in our world, that's the best we can do.

For most of us, that involves doing some kind of practice so that we can be relieved a little bit of our fear and have more of our energy going out toward other people and other beings. The ability to remain generous and open-hearted in the face of all of this is a really wonderful circumstance.

And of course, I am a spiritual teacher and I really only know how to do spiritual practice. That's the way that I have come into whatever generosity and open-heartedness I have. So that's my method. So I'm not saying it's the only method, but it's the only one that I know. So that's the one I'm shopping around.

The more we can divest ourselves of self-concern and open our hearts to other-concern, the more we're going to be able to surf this moment, or these moments, and feel that we are contributing something of value and that there's something here that cannot be lost, which is the natural compassion that is an aspect of all of reality.

And we can become conduits for that, we can become exemplars of that. And then anything we do will be of benefit. And we'll know that we're doing our best and feel satisfied even if a lot of destruction is happening.

So you do your best to take care of yourself in very practical ways out of care, out of self-care, self-compassion for yourself, recognizing that something's going to survive here. I don't know if it's going to be us, but something will survive. And anything that we contribute is going to be of help as we go along, whether to ourselves or to other beings.

So you take care of your health as best you can, eat the best food that you can afford, get the best health care you can afford, and just try to be helpful and loving toward people and other beings. And that's really it. It's very simple and very practical.

But the hard part is moving from self-concern to other-concern. When we sit in the morass of our own anxiety about things, we are not being helpful to anyone, least of all ourselves, right? Because all that fear and anxiety is poison to us.

And it's also when we're very self-involved in our fear and our anxiety about things, and even our convictions and ideas about things, then everything is just pulling toward us. It's like the great sucking sound. All the energy is going toward us and we become the center of our own world with our fears.

And so we want to just try to do whatever we can to relax and divest ourselves of those fears so that the energy can start moving in the other direction, out of our hearts, out toward other beings. And then we can have a wonderful life, even if everything is falling down around us.

I just started reading Words of Sri Anandamayi Ma. The whole book is organized as questions from devotees and she responds to something saying, to find fault with others creates obstacles for everyone all around, for him who criticizes, for him who is blamed, as well as for those who listen to the criticism, whereas what is said in the spirit of appreciation is fruitful to everybody.

For only where there is no question of regarding anything as inferior or blameworthy can one call it satsang. I'm moving through something right now where I'm confronted with my own criticisms arising about someone central to my life.

There's a difference between discernment and criticism. Discernment, clear seeing, clear judgment, clarity are all things that we want. We want to be able to say how things actually are.

At the same time, eventually you want to have the real feeling, the real understanding that everything is of equal value, that just because someone does something horrible or is in some condition where they're treating other people badly, doesn't invalidate them as human beings.

Let's take the words in the group that we want to cultivate—clarity, discernment, clear judgment, clear seeing. Over here—denigration, obsessive complaint, criticism that undermines someone's value. Those things are very different from these things.

Oftentimes we aren't sure about the difference between those things, but it's absolutely fine to say someone is behaving in a harmful way, and here are the ways in which this is harmful, and here are the ways in which I have been affected by this—that's clarity.

At the same time, we're not saying the person is evil or horrible in some way that is essentialized—that person is just another aspect of how this alive, aware reality is showing up.

So we can still have, if we are maybe a little further along in our practice, we can still feel compassion for someone and even respect them totally, even if they have really harmed us and even if they are very limited in the way they behave.

But it doesn't mean that we have to always be going around not having clear seeing. We need to have discernment in order to know who to spend our time with and who not to spend our time with. Who's helping our practice, who's helping our spiritual growth, and who's hindering it, what is sucking our energy and what is helping us to have better energy.

These are all discernments that are absolutely critical for spiritual practitioners and anybody—you want to have a happy life. We don't want to say, well, so and so is very harmful, but, you know, I feel compassion for them, so I'm just going to spend the rest of my life with them. No, you can feel compassion from a distance!

So it sounds like in this quote from Ma, she's kind of talking about not criticizing her game.

I think any way we relate to people that doesn't undermine their essential value, where we're not saying that we have more value than they do, any way that we relate to people that doesn't do that is fine.

There's forms of humor that are observational. Like, we have observations of how people are and we find it funny and we talk about it and laugh about it. As long as someone's not being denigrated or essentialized or their value's being called into question. As long as if that person were actually in front of us we would feel love and compassion for them, then anything else is fine.

I heard a story and it was something like the Dalai Lama was sitting around with a bunch of American students. Some of them had a teacher who had gone astray, who was abusive, and one of the students said to the Dalai Lama, we're trying to hold compassion for this person and not throw them out.

The Dalai Lama said, no! You can have compassion for them but throw them out! Something like that. He pounded his fist on the table. Everybody was really shocked.

So we don't have to be like namby pamby when it comes to seeing what's really going on, but we have to hold our hearts open to everybody—if we can, when we can, as soon as we can.

That just comes out of sadhana, that ability to do that. Or maybe we're born that way, but in any case for most people it's something that happens gradually that you're able to see the value in everything regardless of how anything is showing up.

Women get accused more of being mean when they're just being clear. It can be very very gendered, which is why women often pretend to be more confused than they actually are. We get a lot of pushback for clarity.

Sometimes a lot of anger is directed at us when we're clear, and one of the ways it's directed is by saying we're being mean or being angry when we're just being clear.

But it's also a great responsibility to be clear—not necessarily out loud to anybody else but just to be clear within yourself. That entails a lot of responsibility. A lot of people generate confusion so that they don't have to be responsible for their clarity. If you're very clear about what a relationship actually is, then you might have to leave.


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