God the Artist, God the Destroyer

November 2, 2022

Lord Shiva is the Artist who creates worlds and beings out of a destructive process just like we make art. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Can you talk about destruction?

Sure, one my favorite topics. In the View of most varieties of Hinduism and Tantra from India, there are five phases of movements that belong to this reality that are sort of the overarching forms of movement that happen here that lead to creation and de-creation.

The three most famous ones are creation, maintenance and destruction.

So if you wanted to talk about another association with that, creation is associated with Brahma and maintenance is associated with Vishnu and the Avatars of Vishnu like Krishna, and destruction is associated with Shiva. And then there is emission and withdrawal. So that means things appear and then they go away, basically.

And everything that appears here, all worlds and all beings are said to be the emission of this alive, aware reality, or sometimes we call that Lord Shiva. And then when things get taken away, that is withdrawal.

Now in some iterations of Hindu View it's said that there's something called pralaya, which is sort of the great withdrawal where everything gets taken away.

It's kind of Hinduism's doomsday but really in Trika that isn't a thing because we more have the idea that creation, maintenance and destruction are all happening simultaneously, arising and subsiding from the plane of living awareness.

There's no time when that would ever stop and everything would be withdrawn into void nothingness. Because this process of creating self reflections, AKA you and me and everything here, is really what this reality does.

It's its life process, so it can't really stop doing that. This would be, according to Trika View.

Destruction, on the one hand, it's just things being turned into something else. We say that thing went away, but it really just got turned into something else. Rocks get turned into sand and those kind of processes are happening all the time.

So destruction has to do with a certain kind of transformation where something goes away. And this is important for us to understand and to get used to because destruction is the main process of spiritual life, in this kind of tradition.

We are already made of enlightened essence, nature. We already have wisdom in full measure, we already are God.

But that realization, that understanding of the Self, is playfully covered over by this alive, aware reality which is creating all these different limited forms as a mode of artistry or magic or magical artistry.

Just like we create things. When we create things, the process of our artistry is also a process of destruction. We think of making art as creating something, but before creation happens, we have to destroy.

So for instance, if we want to make a pot out of clay, we have to take clay away. We can't just like get a block of clay and go here, here's your pot [laughs]. Stuff has to be taken away and then with what's left, we can shape the pot.

If we're going to make music, we have to take notes away.

We have to take out of the whole universe of instruments that we could possibly use, we have to get rid of some in order to have some piece of music which is going to be limited because it only has certain notes and certain instruments playing.

But that is actually the process of art. When we make a painting, we don't use every color in all of existence. We don't use all materials, we only use some. And we have to make a selection. And that process of selecting is destructive.

So when we are made, we are made in exactly the same way.

Each of us in our unique dimension and all the different kinds of beings here and all the things, all the buildings and all the objects and all the planets and etcetera are all formed out of a process of takeaway, of destruction.

And then what's left is what creation happens with.

So when we are created in this limited form we have limited access to wisdom, or there's a play or an appearance of limited access to wisdom. And then the game that we're playing is to remember.

And in order to remember we have to destroy the limitations that are preventing us from having full recognition of the nature of the Self. So when we are doing spiritual practice we are unwinding or dissolving karmas or dissolving some of the things that were chosen in that process of limitation that created us.

In a sense, we're walking backwards toward the less limited. If we look at the whole process of cosmology, we go from the totally unconditioned infinite reservoir of infinite potential AKA unconditioned life, and that gets selected down to some particular things, you know, people and rocks and stuff.

And then when we want to remember we walk back toward the less conditioned. We ourselves become less conditioned.

Not that any of us are going to be able to do this or that it even really matters at all, but as a way of explaining this there are highly realized beings who can undo their appearance in a physical body.

So there are some wonderful photographs of the 16th Karmapa and I think somebody else also sitting on their throne and becoming kind of transparent and rainbow-like and showing up in their light body and then going back to appearing as solid. So our body, the form that our body shows up in, is one of the limitations that we experience.

And when I say limitation, I don't mean anything bad. I just mean whatever makes our unique dimension.

We have a unique dimension that we all share because we all have a human body. But then there's also variations that are unique just to us, the specifics of our body. And those are all limitations on that infinite reservoir. So our potential is limited the more condensed we are or the further along towards the end of this cascade of becoming.

And when we do spiritual practice we destroy the binds, the malas, the limitations, and we walk back and become less conditioned.

And that shows up as limitations on who we think we can love, limitations on our compassion. We stop thinking, you deserve compassion, you don't. We stop thinking that way, that's a very limited way of thinking.

And so our heart expression becomes less limited.

But it's also true that other things can become unwound or other limitations can be destroyed, such as the imperative to show up in a solid form. For our purposes though, becoming more able to display primordial compassion and kindness, be able to display primordial skillfulness and intelligence in a fuller way than we are able to now is really enough.

Appearing in our rainbow body is not necessary, although it sounds fun.

So what we're destroying is our limited experience and our limited freedom to express ourselves as we do spiritual practice. And then we become more expressive and more free and able to embody cosmic wisdom virtues like compassion and kindness and intelligence and creativity and playfulness and all that good stuff.

When we see things being destroyed around us, that's just an absolutely natural form of the expression of this alive, aware reality. So even though we might feel sad if something's destroyed, our house gets burned down in a fire, or our planet goes away, something like that, we shouldn't try to not feel those things. It's natural to feel sadness.

And in fact, we create stories and drama so that we can feel things. We write stories where sad things happen. We make movies where sad things happen, and then we go to those movies or read those stories. And we love crying. Oh, it was so good. I cried the whole time.

So I'm not saying that we would have a better view of this and then we would stop feeling things. I don't mean that at all. It's important to say because some people think that, oh, it's all just a play, so that means if I'm spiritual, then I'm not going to feel sad about anything.

And that's not true at all. Feeling sad, feeling compassionate, feeling tenderness, these are all aspects of the expression of God.

When we're not trying to forego those things, but when we are more awake and we have more of a firsthand experience of View, we realize that even the most destructive circumstances are completely natural and there's nothing wrong. There's just nothing wrong.

So no longer will we go around saying, I can't believe this happened to me. Why did this happen to me? That shouldn't have happened. This is tragic, this is terrible, this is so unfair, etcetera.

We lose that sense of urgency, and in its place, in place of all that urgency and all that suffering and declarations of how unfair things are, in place of all that is greater ability to express actual effective compassion, actual skillful help, actually being a benefit to others.

We're not so focused on our own extreme emotions about things. And we still feel tenderness and love and compassion, but we no longer feel like we've been somehow specially singled out for harm or something is especially unfair or terrible.

All the space that that's taking up in our emotional life goes away.

When you were just talking about your analogies to artistic process, it sounds like you were describing a refinement.

The process of having something come into being involves destruction in the sense that access to a certain degree of wisdom is limited. But then when that person does spiritual practice, they destroy those limitations. So there's destruction happening both in coming into being and walking back to being more awake.

Way back when, when iPads were new, I bought this app called Procreate, which is a drawing app, thinking that I'd be able to draw, even though I had never, ever drawn anything and never had any drawing lessons or practice drawing.

I got this very fancy app, and I picked it up and I was like, okay, I doodled a little. And I was like, okay, I just don't know how to draw. It doesn't matter that I have this app. And so in that moment, I was displaying limitations, like limited knowledge, limited wisdom. But if I had studied drawing, then I would have destroyed those limitations by getting more knowledge, right?

I would have destroyed limitation by destroying the concept that it would be easy to draw or that an app should draw for me and I didn't really have to study. You know, those are, like, I think, fairly common concepts that people have. If I just get the right tool, I'll be able to do something.

Before computers, occasionally I would know someone who wanted to be an artist or wanted to be a writer, and they would, like, buy some really fancy pen and really fancy paper or really fancy brushes. They'd do just what I did and then sit down. And they still didn't know how to write or paint anything because they never practiced or never studied.

So those are conceptual limitations. This idea that we just need some tool and it'll do it for us, or that we should be able to do it if we had the right tool, or that wanting to be something is the same as wanting to do something.

Wanting to be a writer or be an artist is not the same as wanting to make art and wanting to write. Those are different things.

So all of these concepts are limiting us, limiting our skillfulness, right, limiting our clarity.

And so then if I had sat down with this Procreate app and not really realized what was happening, that destroying my concepts would not have happened. But I sat down and I was, like, laughing at myself because of those limitations that got me to that moment of thinking an app was going to make me be able to draw.

And so in that moment, I experienced bigger view, right? And this is what happens when we destroy our own limitations, our own conceptual blockages, our behavioral limitations, our emotional limitations.

We gain bigger view, we gain more freedom of self expression. We get back some of our potential.

Were you also saying that if you went and studied and learned how to draw, that would be a destructive process as well?

In the sense of destroying limitation, yes. In that sense, I'm kind of acquiring something in an ordinary way, so it's also creation. But in the special case of spiritual practice, everything is already there. And so we don't actually have to create anything.

We just destroy those impediments, those conceptual, behavioral, emotional impediments, and then what has always been there comes out naturally.

All the devotion and compassion and skill just comes naturally. We don't have to destroy limitation and then go study about compassion. It doesn't really work that way.

The analogy that's given most often with that is the sun shining behind the clouds. That our real nature, our enlightened essence nature is like the sun, and our karmas are like the clouds in front of the sun. If we want a sunny day, if we can get rid of the clouds, we don't need to then build a sun, right? The sun is already there.

So this is much more of a close metaphor for our spiritual life that is really more purely destructive than creative, because we can't create compassion, we can't create devotion, we can't create primordial intelligence or all of those wisdom virtues. They're already here in full measure everywhere.

So there's actually nothing for us to create, which is really beautiful, because once we destroy our impediments, all our work is done. Then we just have to live spontaneously.

I've been really trying to let divine will unfold in a place where I don't feel like I have control.

So first of all, I would suggest that you change your frame a little bit. What Anandamayi Ma, my Guru, said is you are my arms and hands, you are my feet and legs. So she was saying that we are the sensory organs and the actors of God. We are the way that God experiences the nature of the creation and the nature of the self.

So we are not separate from divine will, number one. What we do or what we don't do is divine will also. And as Krishna taught Arjuna in the Mahabharata, once we are embodied in any form at all, whether it's human or some other form, then we are bound to act.

We are bound to act even if that act is inaction. So in my perspective, there's no sense that surrender to divine will means that we are not actors. We are actors, and often surrendering to divine will means that we have to act very powerfully, even against our own timidity or uncertainty in the midst of our own self doubt.

Surrender or yielding very often means we have to act very powerfully. And of course, this was exactly what Lord Krishna was telling Arjuna on the battlefield when Arjuna, if you read that and I suggest that you do if you haven't read it lately, I mean it's hilarious. The arguments that Arjuna makes to Krishna about why Arjuna shouldn't fight are hilarious.

He's basically having a hissy fit and throwing up all of these specious arguments about why he shouldn't fight in the battle of Kurukshetra. And really, you can have a big chuckle over that because we've all been there and Krishna is telling him, no, you have to act powerfully and you can't avoid this.

Then I would say, instead of framing it as yielding to divine will, I'm going to ask you to switch the frame or contemplate a different frame, which might be much more difficult, which is yielding to circumstance.

So the circumstance that we find ourselves in is God, God is in the nittygritty, God is in everything. God is in our bodies.

God is in the buildings that we live in. God is what's happening out on the street. God is scripture but God is also tabloid newspapers, I mean God is everything. So there's not any circumstance in all of its mundanity and practicality and obstinacy that is not God. So when we are in a difficult circumstance we want to try to work with that circumstance.

That's the circumstance that God has given us to work with, not necessarily to surrender to and kind of like okay [deep breath] but to surrender to the fact of this-ness of that circumstance and that it's to be worked with by us as part of our sadhana and in how we're going to grow spiritually.

And then the third thing I would say is that, I have shared this before and it seems like maybe it's a moment to share this again, but when I was growing up from a super young age, I don't know, three or four, until I was well into my spiritual practice, probably in my thirties, I was just desperately lonely.

Just like searing, suffering kind of loneliness. And yet I had this idea that there was something that would answer this loneliness and that it wasn't all the normal shit that people do try to not feel lonely. And indeed, that was true.

But what I discovered, because when I was younger, I was very dogmatic about that. I'd say, Mom, I'm lonely. And my mom would say why don't you go out and walk the dog because there's other people walking the dog and then you can talk to people walking the dog. I'd be like, Mom no that's not it! That's not the solution and I would be incredibly dogmatic about that.

So what I discovered through my practice is twofold. One is that, the more sort of high falutin thing, is that when we have enough contact with living presence there is no possibility of being lonely no matter what our circumstance is because we always feel that presence everywhere and everyone and everything.

But I also learned that in just mundane exchanges and putting myself out more and relating to whoever crossed my field in a more open way, that there was just an incredible sweetness in that and nourishment in that.

So we have a circumstance now where we can reach out to other people, even if we can't get around as we would like to. We have this thing called the Internet, and there's many ways that we can relate to people. And they may not be the perfect ways, but what I would say is that is part of working with circumstance. That every circumstance has an open door.

And that door may be narrow, but this is what we should be looking for in every circumstance. What is the open door here?

And if we think we can't find one, what that means is that our thinking is too conventional and we need to think of the thing that we think is impossible and consider it. So, this is a practical method, and it's one that I have followed most of my life. When I feel stuck and I feel like backed into a corner, think about what is outside of that corner.

Like, normally when we're backed into a corner, we're like, oh, my God, I'm backed into a corner. This part of the corner, that part of the oh, my God, that part of the corner, the floor, the ceiling of the corner. Like, we're only looking at the corner that we're backed into.

So if we consider what we think is impossible or improbable, then we can find the open door. Even in the most difficult circumstance.


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