Disrespect and Also Respect Samsara

February 14, 2024

Shambhavi reads a quote from Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and talks about finding home in your real nature. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

The cause of suffering is that we try to take refuge in homes that will not be here for very long. We try to take refuge in ideas that feel comforting to us, but then prove themselves not to be very reliable. We try to take refuge in literal houses that are really just impermanent objects. We take refuge in friendships and spousal relationships and other kinds of relationships.

But of course, everyone comes and goes. Nothing is permanent. So we can have some temporary feeling of home when we take refuge in those kinds of things. But when we take refuge in what is impermanent, what comes and goes, then inevitably, there'll be suffering.

Even when we haven't lost those things, we still somewhere in us worry that we might lose them. Because somewhere in us, even though we say forever and we try to tell ourselves, "Well, now I've made it."

I'm this job, or I'm in this house, or I'm in this relationship, or I've gotten this far in my career, or something like that. We try to tell ourselves, "Yes, I've made it. I'm safe now." But somewhere in us, we know that we aren't safe.

There's a beautiful story about Anandamayi Ma that I've told many times, and it is about home and how we mistake the temporary things, the things that come and go for home. She was staying somewhere, this place called Vindhyachal, which is like 80 kilometers outside of Varanasi.

And there's a big ashram, big Ma ashram that her disciples built in Varanasi, right on the banks of the Ganga. And there was a monsoon. And of course, Varanasi floods every year. And this was a particularly bad monsoon year.

And a big chunk of the ashram foundation got washed away in the floods, and half the ashram just fell into the Ganga [laughs]. And someone raced from Varanasi to Vindhyachal, where Ma was staying, and said, "Ma! Ma! Ma! The ashram fell into the water, fell into the river!"

And she just laughed her head off. She didn't care at all. And she was always telling all of her disciples, don't build ashrams, but they wouldn't listen to her because they were trying to take refuge in impermanence.

She was saying, everywhere is an ashram. If you have the right attitude, even the life of a householder is an ashram. The whole world is an ashram. Ashram isn't something that—it isn't a building.

There's lots more that could be said about that. So, the whole world is an ashram, and the home that we are really seeking is in our real nature. The home is in the natural state. The home is in that primordial reality, that living presence.

That's where we find home. That's where we find the friend that never goes away. That's where we find relief from loneliness and suffering. Once we have made contact with that living presence again, we contacted it, we have some feeling of home that is durable, that is home in the eternal, not home in impermanence.

And then we can enjoy impermanence without suffering when we're not trying to grab onto it and make it into something that it's not.

Satsang is a very interesting phenomenon. It's my favorite way of teaching and favorite way of gathering with people. And when I learned about Ma and that she pretty much only taught in satsang, she didn't really do anything else but hold satsang.

I really wanted to do that, but it's taken a very long time. There's a number of people now who enjoy satsang like I do, and anything can really happen in satsang.

We can reconnect with that feeling of home in satsang. There's a special alchemy that happens in satsang, and maybe it's better when we're all together in person, but it can still happen even when we're not.

And I love satsang because it's so open that way. There's nothing really to do but relax and enjoy the exchange that's happening with everyone. There's nothing else to do in life but that.

So satsang is a reflection of the nature of reality, where there really isn't anything to do but relax and enjoy the exchange. That's what God is doing.

God, who has created this city of duality, is relaxed and enjoying all of the diverse experiences and conversations and all the self-expressions that are happening. As Abhinavagupta said, God is an artist. He has created all this. Ma said, God has created a mad house.

Ramakrishna called this life the mansion of fun. So, there's a sense that there's something very large happening here, large and diverse and noisy and colorful and full of expression. Our job is to just relax and enjoy it.

Of course, satsang is where we come together with diverse people that we didn't really choose. And we learn to enjoy everybody and learn to enjoy the exchange that's happening.

So this is home, and you can have that feeling of home when you just remember what it's all about. You're out there in your everyday life, and a lot of people get very distracted by their everyday lives and really get pulled away from what's really of value to you.

You get pulled away from that feeling of home, and this is a place to come back to that in whatever way you can.

Sometimes people say, I have to do this, that, and the other before I have an everyday spiritual practice or before I can come to teachings a lot. I have to save up so much money for my retirement account, or I have to get this job and get established in my career, or I have to, you know, any number of things people say, I have to do those things so I can be relaxed enough to do practice and come to teachings.

That's the opposite way around. Samsara's is never going to be relaxing, no matter how big your retirement account is or how far you advance in your career.

Impermanence is the land of more. We always want more. So relax first. That would be my advice. Find home in yourself before you let yourself get too distracted by what's going on everywhere else.

And resting in your real nature is, first of all, recognizing That, recognizing that living presence that is the essence of everyone and everything. Or that living awareness that's everyone and everything, or that wisdom, that wisdom virtue full of intelligence and clarity and compassion and all that good stuff.

That's the short path. If we did nothing but that, which is really the essence of the direct realization practices, if we did nothing but have recognition of that living presence and we integrate with that and relax in that, we would just be doing that, and everything would just be resolving naturally without us having to think about it, really.

The problem is, hardly anyone can do that. Hardly anyone can remain resting in their real nature, let alone even figuring out how to do that. So we need help working with samsara. We need help dealing with dualistic life because we want to prepare ourselves for being able to relax in the way that rest in your real nature, the essence of the practice.

And if we don't deal skillfully and intelligently with dualistic life, with samsara, then we get more entangled. Then we get more distracted. Then we get more karma.

So I'll read you something actually that relates to this. This is a really wonderful book by Thinley Norbu. It's called The Magic Dance. It's one of my favorite books.

He was one of the sons of Dudjom Rinpoche, one of my favorite Nyingma teachers. "Dharma's respect, which depends on our limitless wisdom mind, is disrespectful to samsara's respect."—I'll explain this in a minute—"which depends on dualistic mind. If we always respect samsara's way, we cannot release our rigid limited mind into true, respectful pure light qualities. But temporarily, as long as we have the phenomenon of relative truth without respecting samsara's customs, we cannot not reveal dharma's way."

I'm going to explain this. If we want to realize we can't always be following along the rules and customs of dualistic life, of what I call the ordinary or flat world. I don't really talk as much about samsara and non-duality and duality and all that, but I do like to talk about the flat world versus the round world.

The flat world is the world of ordinary reasonableness. It's the world of what you see is what you get. It's the world of ordinary concerns and ordinary ambitions. It's the world of convention.

You must behave this way, and you must not behave that way, and you must raise a family, and you must make this amount of money, and you must do this, and you must do that, or else you're a failure.

So what Thinley Norbu is saying is to respect dharma, to respect the journey of waking up, We have to disrespect some forms of respect that samsara or dualist life demands.

So there are times when we are following the path to waking up that we must disrespect ordinary life. We must disrespect our ordinary desires. We must disrespect our ordinary ambitions in order to wake up.

But he's saying, on the other hand, temporarily, when we're at a certain stage, which most of us are at, we must respect samsara. We must respect samsara's customs. Otherwise, we can't find the dharma.

And this relates exactly to this idea that if we are at a certain stage of spiritual development, we must follow certain conventions like not murdering people and not stealing from stores. We're doing things that are going to get us arrested and all tangled up, cheating on our taxes, whatever.

Get us in legal trouble so that all our energy is now going to these legal troubles instead of into our sadhana. We also aren't going to get into arguments with certain people because, again, then we're just going to spend our lives arguing.

Or we're not going to say, "Screw it! I refuse to work at any job." You know, I'm a sadhu [laughs]. And so we become very poor and hungry, and now we're too sick, and we can't get health care because we have no money.

So now we cannot do our sadhana because we have no energy and we're weak, and we're just going to like die or something. The Dalai Lama was asked, "What does a modern person need to realize?" And he paused for a minute and he went, "Money." [laughs]

When we're at a certain stage, which almost everyone is at that same stage, we need a place to live. We need some food. We need to not have the bill collectors pounding on our door. We need to have a little peace and quiet to do our sadhana.

So what Thinley Norbu was saying is that we must not always respect samsara's demands on us if we want to wake up and discover our true nature. But at the same time, we must respect samsara's demands in order to avoid so much entanglement that we can't do our sadhana.

And this is a balance for us who are householders, we have to find that balance between disrespecting dualistic view or ordinary flat-world life so that we can wake up.

And also respecting it so that we don't get too entangled, and don't create so many problems for ourselves that we become completely distracted and overwhelmed by the problems that we've created with other people and with our money and things like that.

So in the Bhagavad Gita, many text paint a very caricature-ish view of an awakened being. He has to be beyond like and dislike, praise and criticism. He doesn't care about politics. He doesn't care about dressing up. So that is very caricature-ish.

I don't find it caricature-ish at all. The only problem is, have you heard this phrase spiritual bypassing? I don't remember who coined that phrase, but it's very, very useful.

It means that when we try to assume a state of realization that we don't really embody, just by talking as if we do. Like, for instance, there's someone I know who says, 'I have no likes and dislikes,' when so clearly he does. [laughs]

Even saying it like that, 'I have no likes and dislikes.' If you really had no likes and dislikes, you would not need to announce that. You would just be that. Because obviously this person has the desire to be admired for not having any likes or dislikes because he keeps announcing it.

So that's what it means, spiritual bypassing. I mean, it's Krishna talking, not Arjuna, right? Arjuna has plenty of likes and dislikes. Krishna is lighting the path, and he is a perfect example of not needing to follow convention because he is always resting in the real nature of everything.

Where anything is possible, as both Ma said this, and also it's taught in Trika Shaivism, that God makes the impossible possible, but also the possible impossible. So this is an idea in Trika Shaivism called svatantrya, that this reality has total freedom of self-expression.

And this is what it means not to have likes and dislikes. It doesn't mean that you are affectless or bland or don't care about anything. It means that you're not attached to things being one way or another. You can enjoy how things are, however they are.

And this is the playfulness of Lord Krishna in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita, where for him, the whole thing is one big game. You don't see that so much just in the Gita, but you see that in the whole Mahabharata, what a game master Krishna is.

And I don't know if you heard me talk about this before, but there's certain points in the Mahabharata where characters have taken vows. They've taken vows to their gurus, or they've just made these very serious vows.

Then there are these very key points where Krishna says, 'Forget about that vow. Just do what I tell you to do.' Right? It's like a test. These characters think that Krishna is their guru, but yet they don't listen to him because they say, 'No, I have taken my vow. I must keep my vow. I must be dharmic.'

In the meantime, they're ignoring Krishna's orders, and he just goes, 'Okay, I'll go along with you.' And then 10,000 more pages happened to the story. If they had just followed Krishna's advice and broken their vows, in other words, just played the game as God was playing the game, their path would have been a lot shorter.

But they were rigidly attached to this very conventional idea of dharma, which Krishna is not attached to. So I don't believe that he's caricature-ish at all.

That's not my feeling about it. However, we are not there. We are not there. But hopefully, we can get glimpses of that playfulness, glimpses of that freedom as we do sadhana.

Ma said, 'Do as I say, not as I do,' because she lived in this way that ordinary human beings could not live. If someone tried to imitate her, that would just be bypassing, and it wouldn't turn out well for them. So she said, Just follow what I say. Don't try to live the way that I'm living.

And I think Krishna is having a beacon showing what the result is. And if you were in the presence of Krishna, you would have a transmission of that. You would experience that for yourself a little bit.

But he's not expecting anyone to just become enlightened in one second, obviously, because he spends how many tens of thousands of shlokas with these characters. So he's not expecting any instant results.

In some tradition, there's this idea of fake it till you make it, like try to act a certain way, and then you do your sadhana, and then you hopefully will become that way at some point.

But, we don't have that idea of faking it till you make it. We have that idea of we just relax, we just try to be natural and spontaneous, follow a few precepts so we don't get into too much trouble, and do our practice.

And the practice just takes care of everything, and we don't need to fake anything. In fact, there's a teaching that any kind of fabrication, any kind of fabrication is in our way. Even if we're fabricating a good persona, it's in our way.


Photo by Mona Eendra


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