Satsang
PODCAST
EPISODE NO.
358

Direct Experience, Ancestor Puja, and Earnestness

November 15, 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

STUDENT 1
We've heard that there's a lot of awareness that is built from wisdom, or wisdom virtues are built into it. Like beneficence and compassion. And I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about your direct experience with that. I haven't been able to identify that as true, so much.

SHAMBHAVI
Yeah. If we just think about that in the way that most people do, many, many people ask about this. And then they'll say, Well, if this is true, why is there so much suffering and pain? Exactly.

So if we're just coming at it from that angle that beneficence and compassion means nothing will ever feel bad, then it's completely not understandable. But when we have a direct encounter with it, it's completely incontrovertible.

I think this was kind of incremental because I'd been doing many hours of practice a day. And feeling that sense of presence. And feeling some of these qualities.

But I still didn't know what reality actually was. Or what the self actually was. These experiences that I was having of presence, these contacts with presence were all pretty shallow at that point.

So things were happening incrementally. But then I went through this period in Berkeley. It was a time when I had a lot of free time. So I had quit my university job, come back to the West Coast. I was doing writing for nonprofits.

And I decided to only work 10 hours a week. I could live on that because my hourly wage was very high. And that I would be on a kind of poor person's retreat.

Because I didn't have the means to just go on retreat. I had to make my own money. There was no one else to support me. So I went on basically a three-year retreat, just working 10 hours a week for several years.

And spending the rest of the time doing sadhana. During that time, I had many, many mystical experiences. Mystical just doesn't feel like the right word to me, but many gifts of insight into how things are.

It was through them that I realized this. The main big, big, big download was the first time I went to India. Ma was already coming in my dreams, kind of announcing herself.

But I was extremely resistant to saying she was my teacher, let alone my guru. Like, you know, she was dead. [laughs] But she was coming in my dreams, basically saying, I'm your guru.

And I was very skeptical, and went to India. You all know this story. I mean, it's been published. I had this opening on the balcony where Ma used to give satsang in Varanasi, where all of those wisdom virtues were pouring out of existence itself.

And so, that's all I can say about it. They were there. I knew through my own senses and perceptions, and being addressed like that, that this is actually what reality was.

Basically, Ma just showed me. That's how I know. Ma showed me. And then subsequent to that, there were several other incidences where, they weren't as completely overwhelming as that.

But they were really like big cracks in the fabric of ordinary perception that happened in the context of doing very intense sadhana. Every time that happened, I learned reality isn't just made of wisdom, but when you contact it, it gives you wisdom.

These were not just experiences like I saw lights in the sky, or I felt such and such a thing in my body. They were like, Oh, this is how things are. These experiences are happening and they are downloads of knowledge about how reality actually is.

This happened over this period of several years. That there was just kind of this accretion of these rather unusual experiences, or unusual cracks or downloads. I just was completely reoriented.

I didn't even have any hint about the things that I was being taught. I didn't know them before. No one had ever told me that before. Although sometimes I would find, later on, I would find in books.

Oh, yeah, like such-and-such lineage says everything's made of wisdom. But these were not teachings I had received. They were just direct knowledge that cannot be argued away.

So they just completely reoriented me and changed my everyday experience. Changed what I wanted, changed how I viewed everything and experienced everything. And changed the texture of my minute-to-minute experience also.

So when these things happened, I worked very hard in retreat to make those perceptions part of my everyday life. Not just to have them fade away or become inaccessible somehow. I worked very hard to do that. And I succeeded in doing that.

STUDENT 1
For us to have those direct experiences of those truths, sadhana?

SHAMBHAVI
See, someone said today about doing an hour practice every day, if you want to be given very close guidance by me. Can we do it broken into different sections?

And I went home and thought about it. One of the things that I read early on, and don't remember who said this, but it struck me as very very true, that teachers teach what worked for them.

What worked for me is doing a lot of sadhana. So that's what I teach. For me, from my perspective, an hour a day is the very minimum you can offer to a teacher in exchange for this kind of all-in, wrap-around guidance.

And also the minimum you want to offer to yourself, if you want to have this realization or recognition of what's happening. That all just depends on your desire. If you don't desire to do it, of course, you're not going to do it, and it's completely fine.

But the reason I'm saying an hour a day is because, I want you all to have some of those insights and experiences and perceptions. I want that for you. And I know it won't happen if you only practice 15 minutes a day or an hour three times a week.

I just know it won't happen that way in most cases. Obviously, there's svatantrya, there's total freedom. This reality could just come down, grab somebody off the street, and say you're enlightened.

Fine. But that isn't going to happen to 99.999999 % of us. Didn't even happen to Buddha. The Shakyamuni Buddha had to do decades of practice for his realization. Who do we think we are, really? [laughs]

STUDENT 2
If you're doing ancestor puja and there's a part where you can ask for guidance, how do you do that respectfully?

SHAMBHAVI
You don't have to be respectful. Beseeching means doing it from your own heart and experience without any rules. Someone famously asked Ma, how can I self-realize? And she said to ask that question with utter desperation.

There's a quality of desperation which is messy. Desperation is not neat. It's not polite. There's a quality of desperation that's completely invited and allowed.

And then, even if you're not feeling desperate, if you just want to ask, you can ask any way you want. You can even say, Uncle Bob, I know you didn't treat me well, but I think you can help me with this.

You could say to your ancestors, could the ones that are still sane please help with the ones that have gone crazy? [laughter] You don't have to be polite. You don't have to beat around the bush. You can just let it rip.

And maybe that would help you also in your everyday life to be able to ask more for ordinary things.

STUDENT 3
It seems outside the view for relatives to be sticking around waiting to help us.

SHAMBHAVI
That is a view from linear time. So there's something that Ma called it the supreme moment. Or it could be called maha time, something like that. The all-at-onceness.

STUDENT 3
They can both be moved-on and present to help with the questions?

SHAMBHAVI
Absolutely, yes. And any incarnation, whether subtle or tangible like us, is simply a form of wisdom showing up that way. So when you're begging your ancestors for something, you're really just begging another form of wisdom.

If you relate to your ancestors as wisdom, they will be that for you. For instance, some of us do divination with the proto-text of the Yi Jing. And in that context, the word for ancestors was the same as the word for heaven.

So that's how you relate to your ancestors. They are just wisdom beings. You can ask them for anything. Wisdom speaks to us in the form that we can recognize and that we feel comfortable with.

At one time during the same period, I was sleeping. This was in Oakland. And I woke up and it was the stroke of midnight. The stroke of—I'm making it really dramatic. [laughter] It was the stroke of midnight.

STUDENT 3
It was a dark and stormy night. [laughter]

SHAMBHAVI
But it really was... It really was the stroke of midnight. [laughs] And there was a figure at the foot of my bed. And I thought I recognized this figure as a teacher that I knew about. I hadn't studied with him. I just knew about him.

And he gave me an initiation and he named the initiation in Sanskrit. There wasn't anything I'd ever heard of. And then I went into this other state for three hours. This initiation went on for three hours.

And then at three o'clock in the morning, I woke up again or came out of whatever condition I was in, and that was complete. Subsequently, I found the name of the initiation in some Trika text. That was quite freaky. [laughter]

But anyway, the next day, the next day, I was resting. It was about two o'clock in the afternoon, and this maha siddha or teacher, whoever he was, came back. In the middle of the day, I was awake, I wasn't even sleeping. [laughter]

And gave me the name, Shambhavi. Later, I thought, I have to go meet this teacher. I must go immediately to India and meet this teacher. One of my teachers at the time said to me, It probably isn't that person.

Probably just for some reason, wisdom appeared in the form of that person because they knew you would listen. Or they thought it would magnetize you in some way.

And, indeed, that was the case. I said, I don't care. I'm running off to India. I have to meet this person. I ran off to India and met the person. They were like a huge flirt and whatever. [laughter]

But there was a great lesson that, wisdom is trying to magnetize this. That's part of the game. The game cannot be played. The game of waking up cannot be played if we are not magnetized to teachings, practices, and teachers.

We have to get magnetized. And this is why there's a whole series of devis in both Tibetan traditions and in the traditions of Hinduism and Trika. They're very much related, these devis, that have the power of magnetization.

They are alluring, and they shoot flower arrows into our hearts. They have these arrows that are covered in flowers and they shoot them into our hearts and magnetize us to the practice.

There's a whole series of devis that do this. We need to be magnetized. And so wisdom shows up in these forms that magnetize us. I've often been struck how so many teachers of great stature are really, really beautiful or physically alluring in some way. And I think that's why.

I mean, maybe you don't agree with me, but that's my experience anyway. Some of them are just magnificent. Ma was magnificent. The 16th Karmapa was magnificent. There's just many teachers like that.

It's part of getting everyone to get on the path, I think. Maybe that's why Jaya Kula is so small. [laughter] I don't know if the newer people have seen pictures of an Anandamayi Ma when she was young.

I mean, even into her 50s. She is just one of the most alluring human beings ever created. People just look at her picture and they're, yeah. It is wild.

People look at her picture once and that's it. [snaps] Suddenly, they're on the path. [laughter] Yeah. It's true. It's absolutely true. And she herself said, she sometimes referred to herself as this body. She said, once you love this body, you will never be able to stop. Absolutely true.

STUDENT 4
Could you talk about the downfalls of being earnest?

SHAMBHAVI
Oh, yes. Human beings want to be taken very seriously. [laughter] And earnestness is that quality of generating a sense of seriousness in order to be important.

Or in order to generate a subsequent implication that something meaningful is happening. Or that your life is full of meaning. Or this problem is so important and therefore you're having a meaningful life.

So this is sort of the algorithm of earnestness. First of all, according to this view, it's based on a false premise. That things are meaningful or that there's anything really at stake. It's based on a false premise that this lifetime that you're having is just so urgent. [laughter]

Basically, earnestness is the death knell of humor. If you've ever tried to interrupt a very earnest person in their earnestness, if you've ever tried to make light of someone who is seriously earnest and hasn't had any teachings or anything, watch—step back. [laughter]

Because they're going to be catapulting the ammo at you. If you try to interrupt earnestness of a person who has no sense of self-irony, they will either just ignore you. You'll say something and there'll be a slight beat and then they'll just continue with whatever. It's like they're canceling you. [laughter]

Or they'll get very irate. You're not taking me seriously. They'll literally say something like that. And you're like, I'm not. You're right. [laughs] But the basic quality of this alive, aware reality is it has a lot of humor.

There's a lot of sense of hijinks and playfulness. Lila, you've heard that word, right? The sport or the play of this alive, aware reality. That playfulness includes a great deal of humor and a sense of whimsy and hijinks and even fond mockery.

Krishna is famous for his fond mockery. So when we're being very earnest, we're not being in touch with reality, basically. [laughs] So it's just one flavor. It's not the most serious and most important flavor, but it is one of the flavors that's particularly accrued to Human Realm.

Even Hell Realm can occasionally have more of a sense of humor than someone mired deep in the human realm. [laughter] The Human Realm, karmic realm vision, really hates to be told that whatever it is they're worrying about isn't important.

Like for instance, one time I was driving a student. And we were in a parking lot, we're going to park and go into a store. I was just, I was about to park into a parking place.

And she said, no, we have to try to get the parking space closest to the store. I was like, well, we're only like 20 steps away from there. No, we actually have to. Then I started laughing. I couldn't stop her. It was a juggernaut. I had to just yield and can find this other space. [laughter]

Earnestness misses the joke. Misses the comicalness of all of our situations. There's a point of view from which all of our situations are just entirely comical. That all this is happening the way it is, and we just kind of go along with it. [laughs]

STUDENT 5
What is the kindest way to be with someone when they're being really earnest?

SHAMBHAVI
Yeah, so the kindest way to relate in circumstances where people are running fixations, first of all, is to actually feel kindness. You have to feel kind in order to be kind. You can't feel annoyed and decide to act kind and expect it to come across as kind. [laughter]

When we actually feel kind, then we can also feel what condition someone else is in. We kindly don't want to disturb them if there's no way that they can receive what we're trying to offer.

So, it actually pertains to the student-teacher relationship, too. There's this periodic testing where I will just see if someone can receive something that maybe I thought they weren't able to receive before. Then there's like a texture. It's like yes or no.

The kindness part is waiting for the right time, feeling for the right opportunity, and withdrawing when there isn't an opportunity. Because badgering someone or poking someone who's not in a condition to receive what you want to offer.

Even humor, like even to receive a leavening joke of some sort. But you're trying to relieve them of their suffering by pointing out the humor in a situation. But for someone who isn't able to receive that, it's just more pain.

And so when you really feel kind, you don't want to cause people more pain. So you try to wait for the right moment. And you bide your time if that moment hasn't arrived.

ABOUT THE PODCAST

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