Fear, Refuge, Health, and Initiation

June 28, 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

Could you talk about how one moves through the paralysis that's caused by fear into action?

Well, in my experience, the only way to do that is to agree to be afraid. You just determine you're going to be afraid. And you're going to move forward in fear. I can't give a big, long talk on that because it's so simple.

Most of us are afraid of fear. We're afraid and then we're afraid of the fear. And we're also thinking, I'm going to wait till I'm not afraid. Or I'm going to try to do something so that I'm less afraid. Or I'm going to go investigate my fear.

Let me see if I can tell a really long story about my fear so that I don't actually have to do anything. Or doing all sorts of things to try to mitigate fear, like distract oneself in all sorts of ways. Telling a story about the fear is also a form of distraction.

So in my life, I just determined I'm going to be afraid. Inevitably, every person has experiences and situations in life that provoke a lot of fear. And if I felt that moving ahead with the fear was what was valuable, I did that.

Fear sometimes is a warning of something you shouldn't be moving toward. It's not always this Titan-y thing of like, I'm going to charge through the fear.

So you have to get to that place of inner knowing that whatever it is that you're moving toward is actually what you want to be moving toward and should be moving toward. And then you just do it while terrified.

Basically surrendering or yielding to that situation of being afraid. And you will live through it. I had very funny little mini narratives that I would bring up to help myself be afraid and do something anyway. I would think of all the horrible situations that humans have been in.

All the life threatening, body mangling, terrifying situations. And somehow people managed to do that. So I would assuage my fear by thinking of other terrifying situations that somehow human beings had managed to stumble their way through anyway. That was also helpful.

But of course, in our culture, many of us are extremely discomfort averse. And if that's the case, if we let that govern our lives, we really will live at quarter-fruit or half-fruit.

We won't be able to mine the potential of our lives if we don't allow ourselves and yield to being uncomfortable at times. And sometimes massively uncomfortable. It's just required in order to live a full life.

How does the sense of unreality that can happen fit in with that? I can't believe it. This is really happening.

Well, sense of unreality can be so many different things. So it's really hard to answer that. But it can be a sense of disassociation. Disassociation happens when you're not in the right circumstance for you.

It doesn't happen when you're moving in the right direction or being placed in the right circumstance. It happens when there is something inherently inappropriate or wrong about a circumstance for you.

I disassociated a lot when I was very young because I was often in situations that were very wrong for me. I think my entire elementary school, I was just disassociated. [laughter] So I have very vivid memories of it. Very specific sensory experiences would happen when I felt disassociated.

I don't know if they're the same for everybody. I never really talked about it with anybody. But that is just a big signal that you should not be in whatever situation that is.

The feeling of unreality could also be just based on you have concepts about life. Someone steals your car and you just can't believe this happened to you and you have a sense of unreality about it. Millions of cars get stolen every year. Why shouldn't it be yours? [laughs]

So that's just a sense of unreality based on some limiting concept you have about how life should be. That's not really disassociation. That's just kind of like disbelief.

That's tied into privilege. Sometimes things happen that you just think shouldn't happen to you. And that's also laughable. Because anything could happen to anybody.

There's this concept of seeking refuge. What are people seeking refuge from?

False senses of refuge. [laughter] There's ordinary senses of refuge, and then there's the ultimate refuge. We don't use those terms in Hindu traditions.

We don't say you're taking refuge in the teacher and the community or anything like that. It's specifically Buddhist language. But we do talk about refuge in direct realization traditions in the sense of taking refuge in the natural state.

That's just another way of saying relaxing in your real nature. We're looking for, in general, in life, in whatever we're doing, we're looking for a resolution to the problem of our experience of separation and loneliness.

And so we have all sorts of solutions for that that are all based in impermanence and aren't actually solutions. So if I get into the right relationship, my loneliness and sense of separation will end.

If I have the right job or the right car or the right house or the right whatever, big enough retirement fund. Or I'm going to feel safe if I move to the right place. I'm going to feel like I belong and all my feelings of loneliness and separation are going to go away.

We have many, many substitute refuges that we try to take. Until we discover over time, over and over and over again, that none of those things actually resolve our feeling of separation and loneliness.

And then if we're lucky, in some particular lifetime, we encounter teachings and practices to help us to take refuge in what is not impermanent. In that eternal living presence.

And that means taking refuge is the same thing as samavesha immersion. That's the more proper Trika word we would use, samavesha. Means that we do practice to destroy our sense of separation.

And slowly, over time, we become more and more immersed in feeling continuous with that living presence. And no longer feeling separate, and no longer feeling lonely.

Not that we couldn't be sitting around one day in our house and thinking, gosh, I wish I had someone to go have coffee with. I'm not saying that. I'm saying more that existential loneliness goes away. So that's what it means in our tradition.

I've been thinking about what brought me to practice and to my path and to you. I started thinking about that because in The Words of My Perfect Teacher, there's this statement that lists all the reasons for doing spiritual practice. So I was trying to feel my own reasons.

What did you come up with?

Well, earlier in the book, he talks about being thirsty and coming upon a body of water. And it feels more like that. It's more just like a following, like this feels good.

It feels goodness. [laughter] Yeah. Well, a lot of those lists. And both the Tibetan and the Indian traditions are just chockablock with lists of things. Lists of the ideal student, lists of the ideal teacher.

Lists of what your motivations have to be. Lists of how you have to live. Lists of the levels of realization. Lists of all the hells you can fall into. I mean, really. [laughter]

Most of them are so categorical. They have no sense of how messy and mixed human lives are. Or how, as Ma said, the hand that we fall on is the same one that's going to push us back up off the floor.

So if we come to spiritual life or a particular tradition or teacher or stream of teachings, we're going to have a grab bag of motivations. It's not going to be one thing. And it's definitely not going to be totally ideal. [laughter]

But that isn't really that important. It is important if you're going to basically devote your life to something, to have that sense of being directed by inner goodness towards something that will help you to more fully realize that. And it is a feeling. It can't really be defined.

And that's actually the perfect reason. You're basically saying that you're following guru tattva. Or you're following wisdom. And there really isn't much more to be said. And of course, that comes with a lot of yearning to do that.

But then there can be other motivations, too. There's many, many stories of people who say, well, I had a crush on somebody and they told me to come to this teaching and I had no interest in it whatsoever. And I thought it was all a bunch of malarkey. And I got there and it was like my whole life was completely.... [laughter]

So basically, we're all aspects of God coming to satsang with God, doing practices that are God. And there's a lot of humor and hijinks in our situation. And whatever reason we're here for, that's the reason that God is playing with at that moment.

But it is wonderful when you can feel—I mean, when you're saying you're following goodness, that means you can feel goodness. That's the best. There's so many ways you could talk about that.

But I think that's something like what Thinley Norbu calls pure lineage. That you're following that pure lineage, that vidya shakti. In order for a stream of teachings to be at all valuable, that has to be there.

Nothing else really matters. And if you feel that in your own heart and you feel that you're following that, that's the best. Yeah, but we can get pretty tripped up with all those lists of things.

And it makes us think that everything has to be so clear-cut. The list that are the funniest are the lists of the perfect teacher and the ideal student. I mean, basically, you'd be totally enlightened already if you fulfilled all the qualifications of those lists.

You wouldn't need teachers and students. The whole game would be over. Plus you'd be unbelievably good-looking. All of them say how good-looking the teacher and the student have to be. [laughter]

My question is about health and how you would talk about what health is, what constitutes health.

Well, I think it gets back to goodness. I'll just talk on an absolute level. For me, health is feeling goodness and being in line with it and living according to it.

On a relative level, we all have a unique dimension and it's massive. It's infinite. Infinite mandala of ourselves. We really are infinite. And we have this infinite reservoir of karmas and lives that are streaming through us.

Informing how we show up, including how our physical and mental health shows up. So nothing, no health system, no health theory, no health definition could possibly encompass all of that.

And I think Ma's advice, and Anandamayi Ma's advice about health is still the best advice ever, which is get the best care you can. And if it doesn't work, just realize it's fine and just work with whatever condition you're in.

So I think that's a really beautiful teaching. It's just so merciful and human and spacious. Leaving room for all different kinds of ways that people show up. Taking the onus off an individual to be in some paradigm of health according to whomever at whatever point in history.

But I think for me, the feeling of healthfulness is the same as the feeling of wholesomeness. When I'm following goodness, I have a wholesome feeling. And a feeling of rightness and not in a Titan way but just that, okay, I'm in the right zone.

And everything else is secondary, including my physical health. But I do follow Ma's advice to try to get the best health care I can. And then because I am an infinite event, and I do have karmas that are playing themselves out, not everything can be fixed or ameliorated or even known.

So I just find that a really generous and warm and loving way to approach our health. So I don't really have a definition of health in an ordinary sense, but those are the two things that I would say.

Each of us came into being in a specific way, and we're all going to remain in a unique condition no matter what we do. And there's a certain way in which our circumstances, how much support we have from people around us, how much money we have or don't have.

What opportunities we have or don't have. All of these things are aspects of that mandala of life that we're part of. And so I think a big part of health and just sanity is to reconcile ourselves to the circumstances of our lives and do the best we can with them. And see what happens.

So I think part of health might be to get oneself into a condition where we're not railing against circumstances. Where we're not feeling like something's unfair, we don't deserve this, we don't deserve that.

Everything that's happening is that. Everything that's happening is an expression of that Self. So this is a tall order, of course, but I'm speaking just for practitioners. And then being really, really practical and just working with that.

Because circumstances do change all the time. But if we don't reconcile ourselves to the circumstances we're in, then we don't get the best result. If we're busy fighting against even reconciling ourselves to circumstance, then we can't work with circumstance.

If I'm sitting around saying, this shouldn't be happening, and that shouldn't be happening. And this is unfair, and that is unfair, then I'm not working with it. I'm just trying to push it away or deny it.

But if we just find a way to yield to circumstance, but not in a fatalistic way, okay, I'm throwing up my hands. I'm never doing anything about this again. But yielding so that we can work with it. Yielding so that we can mine whatever opportunity there is in our circumstances.

And sometimes that's going to be a very limited opportunity, and sometimes it's going to be a lot of opportunity. And everything in between. So yielding to circumstance is not passive.

It actually allows us to be very practical and take more clear-sighted, practical action and use whatever we've got. And Ma said, when we try our best and something proves to be intractable, at least for now, then we also just reconcile ourselves to that it's intractable for now.

Can you talk about initiations? Can you explain what is an initiation and what does it do?

The traditional definition in Trika of what an initiation does, I'm talking about samaya diksha, which is the first level initiation, is that it does two things. First of all, it is a formal situation of transmission where you're relieved of some aspect of anavamala during that ritual to help you in your practice.

And then it's also a formal declaration of a very deep commitment on the part of the student to working with a particular teacher and stream of teachings. So it implies that you have already made a very deep commitment to that teacher and the teachings that that teacher has offered.

So it's both of those things. The fact of the matter is that the experience of transmission can happen at any time, and it doesn't need to be formal like that. Although for some people, I guess it does.

There's also many other opportunities to experience transmission besides formal initiation. But it does imply a kind of commitment that might be broken by the student but can't be broken by the teacher if they really understand it.

Samaya diksha is a much more serious situation for the teacher than the student. There's all sorts of stuff in Tibetan Buddhism about if you break samaya diksha, all the cold hells you're going to go to and stuff. But this is just a load, really.

But there is some natural law operating, once some kind of commitment has been made. Mostly that's more binding on the teacher because the teacher understands it more. In most instances, not all the time. In some instances, that's not true.

In some instances, students do have a very deep understanding of it. But one of the things that it means is that you're going to follow the instructions of the teacher. So you can say, I'm somebody's student.

And you can relate to them more like a spiritual friend where you're getting an opinion about something. [laughs] Sometimes people ask me for advice and they treat it like an opinion that they're going to then compare to the 10 other opinions that they're soliciting from 10 other people.

And that's fine on some level. But once you have taken samaya diksha, that is not supposed to be like that. You are supposed to, as Ma said, obey instantly. So it's a kind of a fearsome thing if you're really doing it in a traditional way.

I found that very few people are really in that condition where they're going to obey anybody instantly. Even people didn't obey Ma instantly. So what hope do I have? [laughter]

So in a sense, I think it's another thing like those lists of ideal characteristics of people. When I was much younger and getting initiated and stuff, I took all of this stuff extremely literally and seriously. I mean, that was my karma. My ultra-traditionalist karma.

But as I've gotten older and just saw how things actually are. I think that the most important thing about samaya diksha is someone really has to have a feel for a teacher-student relationship that goes beyond the ordinary.

And they have to be committed to that. Otherwise, there's no point to it because you can receive transmission in umpteen different situations. But it's an acknowledgement of a certain kind of relationship with your teacher. Between a teacher and a student.

I think that's what's required, really, for that initiation. But the point is, with transmission is that you're having some experience of being relieved to some degree of anavamala, of that feeling of separation.

And that you can then take that as a beacon and use that in your practice and in your life. And there's all sorts of writings by Abhinavagupta about this initiation where he says there are students who don't feel it at all.

But it doesn't matter because in their next life it will do them good. And then he says some people feel it a little bit. And then they can use it a little bit. And some people really, really grok it, and then they can really take advantage of it.

So even within that, even in receiving transmission, there's a huge range of people's capacity to actually not only feel but grok what's happening. Just like there's a huge spectrum of how people are able to understand the natural phenomenon of teacher and student.

So all of these things have to be worked with. I'm still a traditionalist in that I have direct knowledge and 100% confidence in the lifeways that are indicated by teacher-student relationships. That has just been unwavering for me.

Mostly because I just came in understanding it and feeling it, but then seeing it borne out in my relationships with my teachers and my relationships with my students now and then. So I have just pretty much unshakeable feeling for that and confidence in that.

But at the same time, as I get older and more mature, I understand more and more and more how rare it is for someone to really understand. And really be in sync with that in a really full-on way.

And so what does that mean? It means that with a feeling of generosity and companionship and mercy, that we make room for students in different conditions. Not demanding so much that something be a certain way in order to give someone help.

So I've tried to walk the line in Jaya Kula between my own traditionalism and also a feeling of wanting a lot of room for different kinds of people to be able to practice here. And benefit and be in a transmission relationship with me of some sort or another.

It's been an interesting journey, having come from this very, very traditional and I would say dogmatic and literal interpretation of the tradition. And then becoming just frankly more realized. And realizing that things just aren't that tied down.

And also feeling more love for people and just wanting to be of more use to people. Trying to make room for that. But at the same time, I still have this feeling for the tradition and the traditional lifeways. I want to make sure there's still room for that, too.


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