Enlightenment Is Uneven, and All Prayers Are Answered, but Maybe Not How We Expected Them to Be

January 4, 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've been thinking about how enlightenment is uneven, and I've got examples recently of people who have been like dedicated practitioners for decades and still have big blind spots. And I'm just wondering your advice so that, you know, how to avoid that.

There's so much about that topic, enlightenment is uneven. Of course, there's a lot of narrative swirling around that says enlightenment is instantaneous or that says enlightenment is this or that specific thing.Enlightenment is not having any thoughts, or enlightenment is when some other thing happens or doesn't happen. And all of these kinds of narratives are limited, and it's very difficult to receive, and it's very difficult to digest a more thoroughgoing view of our lives. And that is one of the places where people fall down in terms of their unevenness in their path.

In other words, where they could be very kind and loving and giving good teachings and doing a lot of practice on the one hand, but then they have these sticking points. For instance, we're reading some extremely misogynistic and homophobic and unkind, mean statements from Thinley Norbu in his autobiography.

This was following an afternoon where some students that gather together in a group once a month to do some readings and talk and share. We were reading from Thinley Norbu's The Magic Dance, which I love and have introduced people to. So we were reading to each other from this book with a great deal of pleasure.

And then I thought, oh, I'll read something else that he wrote, since I liked that so much. And then I went and got this little autobiography. And basically about a third of the way into this book, for no reason whatsoever, having nothing to do with his autobiography, he just launches into this tirade against masculine women and lesbians.

And I won't use the crude word that he used to describe gay men. I wouldn't want to repeat it, but all this just unbelievable, ridiculous, and it just went on for pages and pages and pages apropos of nothing. There was absolutely no lead into it or context for him saying this stuff. He just launched into it. And so why do people do that?

It's a symptom of privilege. And this is how privileged people define themselves against people, against other people. And privilege defines itself by being the definer. This is the absolute core of privilege that you appoint yourself, or your class of people appoints themselves as the definers and the explainers of everyone else's experience and value.

So this is what's happening. Thinley Norbu is a tulku, he's a reincarnate lama. His father was just incredibly illustrious, Dudjom Rinpoche, and he was the eldest son of his father. So they were enormously wealthy, enormously well-educated, fêted, and bowed to since they were probably infants. He probably was sent to a monastery when he was three years old, put in robes and put on a throne.

Toddlers basically giving empowerments to people and blessing people and I'm sure that many of you have seen those movies of that phenomenon when a kid gets appointed to be a tulku, a reincarnate. So the amount of privilege coming to bear there is enormous.

And we all want some kind of, or not everyone, but many people want some kind of place they can stand and then garner admiration. And often this becomes the place where you stop developing spiritually because you just define something that happened to you or some way that you are in the world as enlightenment or as high accomplishment, and you just want to stay there because you get admiration for it.

But the fact is that there might be sudden enlightenment every now and then, and there might, but it's not going to happen to any of us. It's like somebody asked Kafka once, Is there hope? And he said, yes, of course there's hope, but not for us.

So what we get is more incremental and more two steps forward and one step stuck in the mud, and this is just normal and natural.

And when this comes into conflict with our everything should be a continuous climb upward culture, we have problems. We are attracted to narratives of sudden enlightenment. We are attracted to teachers that promise us easy accomplishment. We are attracted to teachers that give us easy things to do so that our sense of pride is not challenged.

And we are attracted to teachers and schools or groups of people that tell us there shouldn't be any authority in spiritual life. Just let the community be your guru. All these easy ways to avoid actually dealing with ourselves.

One of the wonderful things, actually, that Thinley Norbu pointed out in this autobiography that I was really surprised about, this was before I got to the horrible bits. I've now abandoned reading it, I just couldn't go back to it. But he said, if you're from a country like the United States, and you go around telling yourself that you don't need a guru and you don't need a teacher and you don't need any lineage and you don't need to have any real instruction, you can just figure it out on your own, he said, that's racist.

He kept saying that over and over again, and I was like, yes, it is, actually, because cultural appropriation is racism. But I was just so surprised that he named that. I've never seen any Tibetan lama name anything so bluntly like that.

He said, this is the tradition. It's thousands of years old. It comes from this country. This is how it's done. If you claim that you are doing that, but you're just doing it any old way you want to, you're claiming an authority over that culture, over those people, over that tradition, and you're ignoring what it actually is, and it's racist. Thought, yeah, it is.

That was a cool thing to hear a lama say, but then he got very uncle. In any case, what we need here on the ground, as none of us are reincarnate tulkus, then that's probably for the best. We need to have courage to be honest with ourselves and the courage to be patient and the courage to be out of step with the culture that we're in in terms of this narrative of constant improvement and fixing and climbing.

And we need to have the courage to stop seeking admiration for every little thing that we do.

We have to have the courage to explore modesty. We have to have the courage to just sit with whatever arises and just let it happen and not go into our panic about fixing ourselves and making ourselves seem more acceptable in an ordinary way. And all of this courage is the number one ingredient to this entire process.

And then we need to understand what it really is. What are we really doing? What are the fruits of this? What is the actual path of this? So that we don't fool ourselves into thinking that we're doing something that we're not doing and so that we know that if we wanted to follow the path, really, this is what we would do.

And we have to know when we're not doing that, it's fine to take what you need and leave the rest. I'm all for that. I don't want anyone faking anything. So I'm happy, as I've said my whole time being a teacher, I'm happy if anybody gets anything out of this, no matter how small.

But the thing is, we do not want to be in a state of fantasy about ourselves or about what we're doing or not doing.

And to yank yourself out of your fantasies takes tremendous courage, because those fantasies are there to give us pleasure and make us feel less insecure. It's all for nothing, because in the end, your insecurities are not going to be assuaged by fantasy. That's just not going to happen.

It's like when I used to be terrified of flying, really, really terrified when I was younger and a doctor gave me some Valium back in the day when people still prescribed Valium to take on the plane. And then I took one once, and I was like, okay, now I'm tired and groggy but still terrified. It really didn't help at all.

So that's what fantasy is like, a Valium that just sort of is this layer of grogginess on top of the panic that we're still experiencing. So have the courage to step out of fantasy. Have the courage to be honest about yourself, where you're at. Even the courage to say, I don't know, I'm confused is fine too.

But we have to, at all costs, stay out of fantasy at all costs, even if we incur losses by doing that. For instance, if someone came to me and said, I thought I was really into this, but I'm really only 15% into this, I want to stay in the community, but I really don't feel like doing all these things, then you incur a loss, right?

Or you think you do, anyway. So we have to have courage to look at ourselves and not be in a state of fantasy. And that's the number one ingredient. And then we can survive all of the ups and downs and comings and goings of non sudden enlightenment.

And I think that the length of time that it takes to, and the fact that we have absolutely no idea for, each one of us individually, has absolutely no idea what's going to happen. We have no idea what our spiritual trajectory is going to be, and each one of us is going to be unique.

And so we're practicing with a tremendous amount of confidence and being able to sit in the I don't know, for decades and decades and decades.

I don't know. I mean and things happen that are pleasing and that's why we keep doing it, because we recognize that there's benefits, but we really have no idea what the benefits are until they happen and we have no idea when they're going to come. So that seems at first, and I felt this way at first, it seems like a horrible situation.

And I often tell the story about how when I read Autobiography of a Yogi, and there's a scene in it toward the end where, I always forget their names, but someone's talking to Yukteswar who's already died, and he's like, off planet or something.

I guess it's Lahiri Mahasaya is talking to Yukteswar, and Yukteswar says, yeah, a lot of these practitioners who were on Earth, they go to other realms and they continue practicing and working off subtler and subtler karmas for eons. And I was like, oh, my God. No. I just remember my heart dropped. It just seemed completely overwhelming and horrible.

But now it actually sounds relaxing. It's like, okay, we don't know, it could take eons and then where are we? Nothing. Because nothing's actually happened. Essence nature is already enlightened. So all we're doing is playing. We're just playing this game that's been arranged for us. So the whole thing is just kind of funny, and however long it takes, it doesn't really matter.

So actually that's kind of relaxing, right? And that's what we, I think, eventually get to, and then we can just live through all of the unevenness.

But if we're really still very attached to being successful at something, at this and admired for it and fixing ourselves and being in charge of it and all of that, then we suffer tremendously. We just suffer a lot. There's no productive role for trying to be in control of this process.

The only thing that we can do is relax, keep doing sadhana, and opening our hearts, finding something or someone to follow that is absolutely key. Despite what the post-guru people say.

We have to learn how to follow nature. We have to learn how to follow wisdom and there's absolutely no way around that. So we may tell ourselves that there's a way around it, but there's not.

I've been finding myself praying for help during morning worship and I was wondering if you could talk about prayer and its relationships to worship.

Sure. Well, any prayers that come spontaneous like that are good. Prayer is a communication, just like any other communication. And any prayer that's really open hearted and sincere is going to be responded to in some way or another.

Maybe not in ways we notice, but sometimes in ways we notice for sure. And prayers also, unless it's like one of those things where people stand in abundance circles and pray for money or whatever, maybe they might get that too, but then they would miss out on something much more important.

But in any case, prayer is also a form of surrender. When we say, I feel helpless. I need help. Please help me, that's a form of surrender. So it's a beautiful thing to do. Every communication is heard. There are ears everywhere.

Every communication is heard, but not answered?

That would be our limitation in knowing what the answer is. So everything is heard and everything is answered.

You have a difficult circumstance, but you also have a samskara of not being able to see the rewards that you've gotten. You always have to be reminded of what you've gained out of the hardship that you've gone through. You have to be reminded over and over and over again.

I might feel the same if I was in your position, but it's not true. And it's just going to be more time before you see things more completely. I don't know when that's going to happen, but believe me, you are being answered. And sometimes we're answered with hardship, too.

Answers just don't come in the form of rewards that we recognize as sweet and positive. I mean, I've said this before and this is how things are. And Ma says this over and over again that we're brought hardships in order to help us to grow spiritually.

The last two years have been the hardest years of my life since I was about 13 for a lot of different reasons. But it started off with this strong encouragement in dreams and in divination to come back to California. Very strong, very positive which set up a lot of positive expectations in me. And then I came here and it was really hard.

And the upshot of it is, oh I actually don't know what the upshot of it is. But one thing that has happened is that my spiritual thing has just deepened and just incredibly. And so that's just what had to happen, right? A lot of stuff has fallen away and it's been hard.

It's been the destructo part of the process [laughs], the destroyer part. But I know enough about spiritual life to know that these times often bring about tremendous growth. Not growth that I reached for particularly. It just happened. You're in the process that you need to be in for your spiritual growth. I know how hard it is.

Everybody has hardship. We can all feel what that's like, even though we all have unique circumstances. Hardship is hardship, pain is pain, heartache is heartache, feels the same for everybody. So we'll just see what happens.

I have total confidence that just as you're in such a spectacularly different situation than you were when I first met you, that when the same amount of time goes by, you're going to be in a spectacularly different situation again.

And that's just how your life is. Your life is intense. You have a lot of intensity in your life, but you are very intense. In a sense, it's like fire meeting fire. You're being met where you live, and maybe in ten years that intensity will be lower. Right. Maybe the fire is being challenged with fire.

I don't know if you know this, but in forestry they set fires to stop fires. What is that called? Backburning, where you set a fire to prevent other bigger fires from starting.

Controlled burn.

Controlled burn, yeah. That could be the name of your autobiography [laughs]. That could be the title of your autobiography.


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