Doubts, Direct Experiences, and Planning Lightly

September 20, 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

There's a tradition within Hindu poetry from India of yelling at the deity. You'll find this in Ramprasad and other poets where they're very upset with Kali or somebody for not saving them from their suffering, and they'll yell at them.

I sometimes bring this up because people here and contemporary students very often fear their own doubts. Or fear their own disappointments in spiritual life. Or they feel like, Well, I'm in pain, so something's wrong and something's wrong with me.

We always think something's wrong with me. People feel there's something wrong with them about responses that spiritual practitioners have been having since the beginning of time.

And I have a feeling whenever I say about this way that in Indian spiritual poetry, you can sometimes find people writing about how angry they are at their chosen deity or at their guru or something. I have the feeling that people don't actually believe me.

Or they think, Oh, that's just something some crazy person did or whatever. Recently, I came across this book of writings by a 14th century lama who was in the Sankhya tradition. He is just going on and on and on about how horrible everyone is and how the deity is not paying enough attention to him.

And this is like this guy who's like a reincarnate lama. He's letting himself express what he actually feels without judging whether it's a good feeling or a bad feeling. Or whether he should be thinking about this or shouldn't be thinking about this. He's just letting it rip. [laughs]

The reason why I wanted to show this to you is just to have more understanding about what it really is like at times to be on a path. Even for people that are respected teachers. I don't know what this person's real role was in Tibet at the time.

He's very negative about his students, too. [laughter] And says how they don't respect him and they don't listen to him and nobody learns anything and why does he even bother doing this.

And he's constantly railing at the gods saying, you promised me this. You promised me that. What are you doing? You're not doing anything. You're not helping me. I'm suffering emotionally.

There's actually a place where he says, I'm suffering so deeply emotionally, why aren't you doing anything about it? And it's really quite touching. I just wanted to share that with you in part to loosen you up a bit.

From all of the ways in which you police yourself on the path and try to act spiritual in a certain way. Or think that certain things are not acceptable. Or you're just afraid of your doubts. As if your doubts were some big, scary thing.

Or afraid if you get angry at God. Or some people have expressed, I'm angry at God right now. Oftentimes the way you present these things is as if there's something terrible about it. It doesn't feel good, but practitioners throughout the ages have felt these things.

That teaching always brings up—well, not that teaching, but teachings like that—always brings up the question of what's the difference between letting it rip and giving free rein to your karmas?

Yeah. I mean, the first thing that I read by this fellow was posted by someone I know on Facebook who actually translated this. He's a very well-known Tibetan translator.

And in it, this teacher was just saying, All other practitioners suck. Human life sucks. All my students suck. Basically, I'm paraphrasing, obviously. I just thought, who is this—why is this guy teaching?

So, I think that's a really good question. Where does this stuff get placed? I think that he's writing about it in a letter, this particular one where he's really talking about how the students don't listen. And they don't have any respect for the teachings. And they don't learn. And all this kind of thing.

And why is he even teaching? I think these are things that teachers feel or think at times. But that doesn't mean that that can't also be recognized as a karmic pattern. So he's wrote that as a letter to himself.

And it's just a kind of practice, I guess, of not repressing himself. But at the same time, he doesn't seem to have any sense of irony about it at all. No part of this short book of many, many tracks of him complaining about other people and complaining about the gods.

At no point is there any sense of humor, any sense of self-irony or any reflection on maybe this isn't the ideal way to be. I think that in that case, someone is just in their fixation. And it's not really a practice anymore.

From my perspective, I always have Ma there, and she is my beacon of how I want to show up in the world. And so, when I have some similar feelings of despair, I think of her, and I might still feel those things. It's not like I'm trying to erase them.

But I understand even while those feelings are happening that they are just part of karma. And they aren't my destination. And I don't want to hang on to them. And I make a big effort to get into my heart and out of those patterns.

It's a subtle thing where you don't want to repress yourself and you want to acknowledge what it is that's going on, but you also want to remember what your life is really about. And then try to do the actual work to relax.

If you do what most people do that I've encountered, which is you have some sort of thoughts like this. You tell yourself, I shouldn't be feeling this, or this is not a good way to feel. And then you try to talk yourself out of it. Or criticize yourself out of it. Or browbeat yourself out of it.

That isn't at all any kind of thing that we want to be doing. Because it's basically just—whether we're criticizing someone else or criticizing ourselves, it really doesn't matter. It's the same horizontal thing.

So what we want to do is actually shift our energy, actually refine that space in the heart. That's where we want to put our effort. Not into more intellectual chatter about our condition. Not into arguments or concepts or right and wrong or good and bad.

All of that stuff is what we're actually trying to erode through our practice. We don't want to reinforce it and pretend or be fooled, or fool ourselves into thinking that is the practice. And somehow I'm going to talk myself out of this. So you want to let yourself feel what you feel.

And in the midst of that, you want to invoke your actual practice. And see if you can use your energy and your effort to actually shift how you feel in a real way.

In a concrete way. And of course, for me, thinking of Ma is a big part of that. A big inspiration for me to make that effort. That's what teachers are for, in part.

When you think of Ma, could you describe how that unfolds? I don't know if it's always the same kind of experience for you, or if you could share what it's like in some different contexts.

No, I couldn't really. The reason is because I feel like you ask me these kind of questions about how things are for me. I mean, in part, you're just curious, I recognize that. But in part, you kind of want to know how you can feel or how you can do that or how you can experience that.

And how I feel, me describing in words how I feel is not going to do that for you. What's going to do that for you eventually or whatever is actually trying to feel me. And trying to feel yourself in relationship with me.

Or if you want to know how it feels to be in relationship with Ma, to actually try to feel yourself being in relationship with Ma. What you want to do is you want to be noticing me.

You don't want to be asking me to describe in words how I feel. You want to try to feel how I feel, to you. So I'm not asking you to be a psychic and like, how does Shambhavi feel? [laughs] I'm saying, I want you to feel how I feel to you.

And how does it feel to be in relationship with me? And what does it feel like in your body? In your energy? In your mind? That's the point. That's what you want to be working with, not with a verbal model of how it feels for somebody else.

I'd say I've had a pretty intense, ongoing engagement with who I would call God since I was a kid. But there have always been a lot of doubts. And I have a little trouble talking about it because I feel like it also can be a little bit poisonous.

First of all, there's nothing poisonous about what you said. And I'm glad you said that, and I feel happy that you felt comfortable to say that here, at least somewhat comfortable.

The second thing is that you're here in satsang at Jaya Kula. You have now left the belief zone. It's in the rearview mirror now. This tradition and other traditions like it, Trika Shaivism, Dzogchen, et cetera, do not believe in belief.

The opposite of belief is not believing. This is where you find yourself stuck. Because belief is not founded on anything. It's not founded on actually knowing it. If you go deeply into belief, it has no confidence in what it believes in. Because it has not really grounded itself in direct experience.

And so then after a time, possibly—I mean, people love to believe. And obviously people can spend lifetimes believing in things and having very nice lives and rich spiritual lives. But you can easily slip into not believing.

But not believing is also a belief because neither of these things has evidence. Your logic is not evidence. It's just something happening in your head. And your belief was not evidence either. It was just something happening in your emotions and your mind.

Neither of those things constitutes evidence for the nature of reality. The good news is that I can give you an alternative. You don't have to take this alternative, obviously. But the alternative is to actually find out what is here and what is not here with your own senses.

I mean, literally, with your own senses: your body, your energy, and your mind. With those senses, you can find out what God is here and now in this life, if you want to. Without any belief required. Without ever being asked to believe in anything.

These kinds of traditions are more like spiritual technologies. Where we do certain practices, and we learn the description of reality that is the product of having done these practices.

And through our own eyes, our own smell, our own mind, our own touch, we find that what we call living presence or God or wisdom. That living wisdom that everything is made of. And we can live immersed in that.

It's a very concrete, palpable, not airy-fairy, not dismissible experience. But it involves doing practices. So, it doesn't involve believing in anything. It involves doing things.

The other thing I would say, which is a wonderful attribute you have is to fearlessly doubt. Doubt is very important on a spiritual path because if we don't doubt anything, it means we really haven't questioned anything very deeply.

There's a wonderful Zen teaching. It's actually one of the core Zen teachings. It's a teaching on great doubt. And the teaching basically, in a nutshell, is with great doubt comes great realization. And without great doubt, there is no realization.

The reason for this is that this alive, aware reality does not care what you doubt. Because your doubts do not do anything to it. It doesn't care whether you believe or don't believe, either.

If you doubt thoroughly—you start doing some practice, you doubt thoroughly, you doubt everything. You doubt yourself, you doubt what I'm saying, you doubt the practice. Meditation, blech.

You doubt everything, but you keep doing it. Eventually, there's going to be something left like a remainder that you cannot doubt. Not because you believe in it, but because you keep throwing your doubts at it, but it won't go away. [laughter]

Eventually, you understand that this process has nothing to do with your concepts. Or your intellect. Or your beliefs or your not beliefs. Or your skepticism, or anything like that.

So the fact that you have bravely doubted where people are afraid to doubt is fantastic, not poisonous at all. And it may be that you can continue finding some path, not necessarily this one, a path that doesn't require any belief, right?

Because the experience of the nature of reality, which is alive and self-aware, is available to us. It's our own nature. How could it not be available to us? It's only temporarily obscured from our direct knowing, but even then, it's never totally obscured.

For instance, the nature of the self is living wisdom. When you have a question, someone asks you, Do you want to do this or not? And there's an impulse of knowing from your heart. Yes, I want to. No, I don't want to.

But then your mind kicks in and you have all kinds of rationales about why you should or shouldn't. But there's a very familiar impulse of knowing that just answers directly whenever a question is posed. This is a call and response aspect of wisdom.

And we all can identify that experience of just this knowing that is beyond intellect. This is the knowing that is everywhere that we can get in touch with. And the quality of livingness of everything. And the wisdom and compassion and mercy of everything.

God is this living wisdom. God is that self-aware, absolutely unobstructed compassion and intelligence and clarity and brilliance and creativity and devotion. And magical also. Magical and magnetizing.

This is my direct experience after 35 years of doing daily practice, and it didn't happen all at once. It happened incrementally. But I'm talking to you from my own experience, not from books and not from beliefs.

If you want to find God, God is here. I don't mean here, you have to do this what I'm doing, but God is here for you to find if you so choose to do that. So one of the teachings of this tradition is that everything is made of and made by that living, self-aware wisdom. You are too.

And you in whatever unique dimension, unique configuration, including anything you might consider to be a deficit or a flaw or a problem. Is made by, as a creative expression—as I like to say, we are the art that God is making.

And art can portray many different things, right? Not every painting is like a beautiful vase of flowers. [laughs] That would be very boring. The tradition says that there are no problems. We have no flaws, but that we are playing these roles for the enjoyment of this Self that is everything.

We can still have this experience of a path and of self-transformation, and that's very exciting, [laughs] and sometimes painful, too. But also sometimes marvelous and sometimes magical. Sometimes boring. It's really everything being on this a path.

And we can do that and we can have our regular lives. But we can also understand and then eventually have a direct experience that every part here is being played by the same Self.

And so there isn't really a problem. There is a play of problems. Like this whole, oh, my God, my problems, and everyone's problems. We have to fix our problems. This is part of the game that's being played in part in certain cultures.

And here, not only do we have problems, but our whole social currency, our whole way that we relate to each other is often talking about our problems. And how we're working on our problems. I don't know if I've ever met anyone who wasn't working on their problems. [laughs]

But that isn't the only way to live, and we're unlearning that way of living. So we can still enjoy being on this path, but not feel so badly about ourselves. Or feel that we are broken.

There's no teaching. No teaching in this tradition that we're broken or sinful. Or have any problem whatsoever. Every aspect of this is an expression, a self-expression of this alive, aware reality. And it's all perfectly fine.

It may not seem like that before we have that direct realization. Of course it doesn't. We think things are horrible, and we have lots of suffering around that.

But when we have more realization, when we can actually sense that nature of reality with our own senses and we have more certainty about that. Then we can still feel all the range of human emotions and compassion and sadness along with that, but we understand what the real nature of it is.

We may feel pain, but we don't suffer in the way that we do now. The wisdom of the heart shows up as longing. You should follow that. That is the greatest power in human life.

It is God, longing. That feeling of longing is God inside of you, leading you, telling you what direction to go in. And if you follow that longing of your heart, you cannot go wrong. You cannot go wrong.

Even if it leads you to do things that are very unusual or for your culture. Or to leave and go somewhere else. Or to live a different way. As long as you're listening to that feeling of longing, you cannot go wrong in whatever shape your life takes. It doesn't matter. It'll be fine.

I've been struggling with having a plan, and then also just letting things come as they need.

The idea of planning is that you are making a plan. The universe is infinite. You're making a plan and launching it into an alive, aware circumstance with infinite causes and effect and infinite players. Your plan is just one thread in that landscape.

The idea is that we hold our plans lightly, understanding that the unexpected will always happen. Maybe the unexpected won't be so big that it'll totally disrupt our plans.

But definitely any plan needs to be adjusted along the way because we're in a live circumstance. You have a cat at home and you can't decide, well, when I get home, my cat will be on this chair and I'm going to go pet my cat on that chair.

You know, cat is likely not going to be on that chair. You're going to have to find the cat where the cat is. And maybe you'll get to pet the cat as you planned, but it's not going to be exactly as you planned.

But what most of us do is, we come home and cat is not where we projected cat would be. Then we just go into like, Where is that cat? It's not there. I failed. Then we go to therapy because we think we failed, our plan failed.

Now it just happens that there are many infinite factors. Why is the cat not on that chair? There are infinite possible reasons why the cat is not where you projected the cat should be.

Maybe a noise happened outside. That the cat was on that chair, but then the noise happened and the cat went somewhere else. But why did that noise happen?

Well, maybe it was like a car backfiring down the street. Then why did that car backfire? Because the person that owns that car doesn't have enough money to get their car maintained properly. Why doesn't that person have enough money to get their car...?

You see, your decision to pet the cat on the chair opens up into these infinite causes and effects. We should hold our plans lightly, understanding that we will always have to adjust.

And then sometimes we will have to abandon or entirely change our plans. And that this is completely natural. There's nothing wrong with that. Failed plans are plans that don't pay attention to circumstance.

The other thing is we shouldn't plan too far in advance. Because we don't have the vision to see that far in advance. We can see who the players are and the circumstances a little bit ahead, but we really don't have the ability to plan too far in advance.

So we should plan lightly and not plan too far in advance. And then when our plans, again, when they need to be changed or adjusted or abandoned or radically altered, we shouldn't think anything about it other than circumstances dictate that I change my plans.

There's really no such thing as a failed plan. There's just people who feel like failures. And we fail in that way much more when we try to push through in a very aggressive way.

You know how exhausting it is to make something happen when it's just not happening? I mean, I'm sure everyone has had that experience. We just keep pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing. And getting more and more exhausted.

It's like we're pushing against this very heavy, sticky substance. Getting more and more exhausted. When we feel that, we should stop and recognize that circumstances are pushing back against us and we're not going in the right direction.

This is advice that's been given by teachers for thousands of years. You can read this from other teachers too. Don't plan too far in advance, hold your plans lightly, adapt to changing circumstances.

This is just basic wisdom for living in impermanence. The way that we live in impermanence is really very ignorant. Because we see ourselves as independent, self-willing beings who are going to make something happen.

We're never in that state. That's never our real condition. We're always in collaboration. So take it lightly. Try to have some fun. Try to relate to it like a game app.

In game apps, they're very good for learning how to move in impermanence. Because everything changes very quickly and the whole point of the game is successful adaptation.

Most games rely on successful adaptation to surprising and unexpected events. So you have to be very agile when you're playing a game. This is how we should play life.


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