Empathy, Contrivance, and Nonduality

August 9, 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 think the larger piece is that state of permeability that we share with people that are close to us when we sense how they perpetuate their own suffering. Is there a topic in there?

I think that we learn how to live alongside that, with that in ourselves and other people, over a very long period of time. I'm not talking about practitioners, specifically.

I certainly remember the first time I had the six realms teaching from one of my teachers. And it really went very deep into me and then I kind of went out into the world and just started feeling like I was living amongst the realms. [laughter]

I was just watching people loop through repeatedly all of the stuff that was harming them that they couldn't stop. I remember just this feeling, I don't really even know what it was, I think it was like alarm. [laughs]

Something like that. I just felt alarmed. And it almost felt like my whole view of everyone had changed. That teaching was just extremely powerful for me, the first time I received it.

And for those of you that don't know, the six realms teaching is a teaching that comes out of Hindu Puranas, the teaching stories of India. And it was made into a more organized system of looking at how humans step out of presence.

All the different flavors in which are caught up in karma. There's basically six realms or big containers that describe the basic ways that human beings express karma.

That is repetitive, compulsive behavior, feelings, activities. I think very, very slowly over time, as our access to the heart increases, we're able to just simultaneously feel something like empathy or compassion.

Also because as we practice more, we have more experience with how things actually are and what's really going on. We can sense that what everyone's doing is some way they're trying to connect.

It's very hard to not eat sugar. [laughter] Very, very hard. Because sweetness is the fundamental taste of the enlightened essence. And we're trying to connect with that. And so we're obsessed with sweet taste. And that's really the reason.

So then for someone to come and say, well, you've made yourself sick trying to find the thing that we all want. And now you have to stop eating that.

I just say that as an example of when we can do what Namkhai Norbu calls instantly liberate appearances, we can see what is it that someone one actually wants. And we can feel that. And then we can just stand by with that feeling of poignancy and helplessness.

Yes, I still feel all that. But just recognizing that that's how things are here in the human realm. I think for me, I grew up with just this tremendous optimism and in a sense, rose-colored glasses.

And I thought that by the time we were in 2023, we'd all be living like the Jetsons or it'd be like Star Trek or something. And now we're heading toward the collapse of civilization. [laughter]

Every dystopian science fiction novel I ever read that I thought was just fun and wasn't going to come true is actually coming true. That was part of that. for me.

Having to reconcile myself to the fact that the future wasn't going to be the future I thought we were going to have. I know that a lot of people don't feel that same way, but for whatever reason, I just have suffered from optimism.

It's the same thing. It's just having to reconcile ourselves to what is and how things actually are. At the same time, doing the work and making the effort not to contract, but to feel and see into what's actually happening.

What we want to do is less managing and more increasing our capacity. There's a whole discourse around empathy right now, which I find a bit disturbing.

It's almost like DARVO. Empathy has become this DARVO moment. Defend, attack, reverse victim and oppressor. Where now, the people with empathy are saying, we're hurting them with our feelings. [laughs]

And somehow having empathy or being empathetic or an empath, as people like to say, is somehow being pathologized. What we really need to do is let those feelings in and try to increase our energetic muscles so we can hold and digest those feelings.

But then we can't do it all the time because we're not totally enlightened. Then it's like knowing when we can't do it and backing off.

What we shouldn't do is put this narrative into place, which then becomes embodied. Somehow we need to protect each other from what we're feeling. That isn't the path that we're on.

We're on a path of being able to feel and hold and work with everything.

It's so messy.

I mean, culture is messy, but our job as practitioners is not messy. It's just hard. [laughter] Our job as practitioners is actually pretty clear, which is to be as perceptually open as possible given our limitations.

And it's like doing anything. Let's say that we want to increase our strength physically. Every day that we do a little bit of weight-lifting or biking or whatever we're doing. We're going to go a little bit beyond what we did the day before.

Doing assimilating breath is a good thing to do in those moments. That's a great integrated practice you can do when you feel you're contracting around feeling what someone else is feeling. It's just energy and we can learn how to digest it better.

Since we last spoke, there's a new-ish recognition of how much I have been performing in my life, and as a spiritual practitioner. Maybe if you have any tips for just navigating.

Well, don't be afraid of getting lost for a little while. Just think of that when we have various concepts and compulsions that are running us, they are a lot more organized than what's underneath them. [laughter]

Speaking of giving-rise-to, they're generally a lot more organized than whatever is giving rise to them. I think one of the skills of spiritual life is being able to surf the more chaotic periods when we don't know who we are. What we're doing.

Or if we're going backward or forward, or our heads are just spun around. Just being able to sit through those times. And keep practicing and just whatever happens happens and you keep being a sincere person putting one foot in front of the other.

These are really valuable times and necessary times when we feel the groundlessness. We thought we were one way. We thought we were one kind of practitioner.

And then that gets pulled away and we feel the groundlessness. That we don't really know what's going to happen, or who we thought we were isn't who we thought we were. All of that is actually what the path is. So, yay!

A tip I would have is just that when you start noticing contrivances, there's usually one or two that sticks out more. Just let yourself feel those things. Let the discomfort become very large because that's how the process works.

Before we notice a contrivance, it's just normalized and we don't even notice that we're being contrived. And then someone like me comes along and points it out and it happens to be the right moment so you notice it.

And then it just becomes like glaring almost. And so that process of it getting more and more uncomfortable and feeling more and more contrived. And us feeling just squirmy, squirmy at our own contrivance, is how it dissipates.

That's how the energy rises up and then eventually pops and lets us be in less of a state of contrivance. The other thing that can happen, but this can't happen all the time, but sometimes if it's the right moment, we can notice some contrived thing that we're doing.

And we can just stop doing it. But that's not always the case. It's grace when that can happen. We can just stop doing it. And the trick there, or the tip there, is to not put anything in its place.

So don't think, well, if I'm not doing this thing, how should I be, if I'm not doing this thing? The question, how should I be, is another door open to contrivance. We shouldn't decide how to be. We should just be.

And 100 % of the time when contrivance falls away, what is on the other side of it, if we don't put anything there forcibly, is greater intimacy.

A feeling of greater intimacy. If that can happen, if you notice some particular form of contrivance that you can just drop. And just stand out there blowing in the wind, and see what happens.

But there's a whole series of contrivances in the genre you're talking about, which has to do with being actually uncertain of ourselves. Wanting to be thought of as a special practitioner.

Or wanting to be the teacher's choice. Or trying to seduce teachers into specially liking you. Or specially recognizing you. All of these things are contrivances that mask or deflect from you recognizing an uncertainty that you have about yourself.

About what practitioner you are. If you're good enough. And this question can only be raised in the context of a culture that gives a shit about whether or not you're a good practitioner. [laughter]

A culture where everything's being measured and there's a ladder and steps and levels for everything. And everything's being measured.

If nothing was being measured and there were no ladders and no steps and no one cared how good of a practitioner you were, this uncertainty would not even arise.

Because we could just practice. And not have the hubris to worry about whether we're a good practitioner or not. The truth of the matter is that being a good practitioner isn't something on which your self worth should be staked.

Being a good practitioner just means you're practicing. It doesn't mean what result you're getting. Or how teachers feel about you. Or what your rank is in a spiritual community or any of that.

None of that has anything to do with whether you're a good practitioner. You're always a good person. You can't do anything about that. Being a good practitioner just means you're practicing. It has nothing to do with what result you're getting.

It's quite boring. [laughter] It's not nearly as exciting as competing for the teacher's favor or doing extreme sadhanas that you then talk about on Facebook. [laughs] So take from it what you will.

Coming from the Vedantic background, the interpretation of nondualism is different. Maya has to do with it. In our interpretation it's not an illusion, it's real. Can you explain? Because I have not put my finger on it.

What is meant in Trika by everything is real is that everything is a real experience. If you have the experience of being a separate body in space, that's a real experience. It's not your real condition.

In other words, you actually aren't a separate body in space. You're actually continuous with everything else. But you're having an experience of separation, which is a real experience.

Everything here, everything in manifest life is an experience. God, or this alive and aware reality, or living presence, or Buddha. Whatever you want to call it, doesn't really matter, Shiva nature. It is producing experiences. It's not producing things.

Worlds are experiences. Universes are experiences. All the species are experiences of those things. All the plants, all the people, all of our circumstances in life are all experiences being produced by and enjoyed by one Self, one subjectivity.

There's no opposite. There's no opposite to real. There's no unreal. What Abhinavagupta argued, I think, in a snarky way, but also absolutely spot on, he argued that once you introduce that there's real and unreal, you have reintroduced dualism into your system.

And he also said that the unreal can not exist. We can't talk about the unreal. Because it doesn't exist. Another and less clunky interpretation of unreal, for some more sophisticated Vedantists around who've written, is that unreal means mistaken.

That we have a mistaken impression. That's a better interpretation. If we're going to stick with Vedanta, we don't really have to stick with the popularized and misunderstood view.

That there's something here that's totally unreal, which doesn't actually make any sense and existentially couldn't actually be. But we do have the understanding that we make mistakes about things.

We are having a real experience of being separate bodies in space, but that's not actually our condition. So you could say we have a mistaken impression.

This is another place where Vedanta and Trika part ways. Because Vedanta—or Advaita Vedanta. Let's not talk about the Vedas way, way, way, way back.

Let's talk about Advaita Vedanta. The more modern interpretation, which became much more moralistic than Vedanta was originally. It became more imbued with certain patriarchal and moralistic points of view.

That said that the material world is degraded in comparison to something called the spiritual. So Advaita Vedanta not only introduced this idea of the real and the unreal, but of the holy and the sinful, or the degraded and the perfect.

These are also things that do not exist in Trika. So what Trika says is we aren't making mistakes. We aren't sinners. We aren't being fooled. Maya is not a horrible force in the world doing something terrible to us. Making us have all these mistaken perceptions.

What Trika says is that by natural design, through the natural artistry of Lord Shiva, we all show up in these different configurations. Having what Abhinavagupta called more or less access to wisdom.

More or less access to the understanding of how things actually are. He said there isn't even any such thing as ignorance. There is only less access to wisdom and more access to wisdom.

There is also no concept of sin. There is no concept of bad or evil in Trika Shaivism. All things which have crept into Advaita Vedanta over time. Creating more and more of a divergence and more, I think, dualism within a tradition that claims to be nondual.

But Trika is absolutely thoroughgoing in its approach to nondualism. And says that as there's only one subjectivity here and that subjectivity is full of wisdom and beneficence, then everything that's happening here is fine. Everything is fine.

And our limitations are the artistry of this alive aware reality. Art is created through limitations. This is a teaching I have given many, many times.

But if we want to, for instance, paint a painting, we can't paint it with every single color in the world. We have to choose a subset of color. So in that sense, the painting is limited, but by the choice of color.

We also can't paint it on an infinite canvas. We have to have some form, some limited form. So we are exactly the same. We are, each of us, a unique configuration or aspect of the artistry of Lord Shiva.

And Lord Shiva is often referred to in the Puranas as a magician or an artist creating all of this and using limitation as the tool of the creation. Just like we do when we create art.

Maya is revered in Trika. Maya is, as I like to say, the goddess of diversity. She creates all of these diverse forms and experiences using the limiting tools called the kanchukas.

If you know what they are, I won't get into this right now, but for instance, limitations on our sense of ourselves in space. That's one of the kanchukas.

We no longer feel like we're ubiquitous. We feel like we're in Portland, Oregon, on planet Earth. These tools of limitation are the Self, the limitations that Lord Shiva is making on his own experience.

In order to have fun creating art and enjoying his own nature through that creation. There's absolutely no sense of mourning about it. Or disparagement of limited experience. Or sense that we're dupes that Maya is duping us and is some evil force in the world.

There's no sense that material experience is more degraded as opposed to so-called spiritual experience. All of these dualisms that have crept in, I think, through the door of just normal culture are not present in Trika Shaivism.

Up to a certain point. But I think that even in Trika Shaivism, in some very contemporary iterations, some of those dualisms are creeping back in.

But if we go back to the oldest text that we have. And even not the oldest ones, but back to the 12th century and before that, we will find the most thoroughgoing explication of nondualism.

And even something beyond that. Abinavagupta said, These concepts like dualism and nondualism are provisional. They don't really matter in the end because in the end there's just living presence.

And us being in that and experiencing that and being immersed in that. And there's no need for these concepts. And he called that experience beyond dualism and nondualism, Paramashiva or Para.

He called them both of those things. Para, the female form and Paramashiva, the male form. He said there's something that doesn't need any of these words or definitions that we come to be immersed in. And there's no point in saying what it is.


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