Anandamayi Ma’s birthday satsang! We discuss building confidence by doing our utmost and letting go of the result. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi
Today is Anandamayi Ma's jayanti, her birthday. I thought I might read some things that she taught. Ma said about her birthday, which was celebrated every year in a very big way. Huge party, puja, kirtan, hundreds of people.
One of her famous vakyas, one of her famous sayings was, you've never been born and you never die. Meaning that the Self is continuous and you're an aspect of that Self. So even though your form changes or it goes away, the actual Self doesn't go away.
So she was asked one time, if you say we're never born and we never die, why do you have everyone celebrating your birthday? [laughter] Some snarky student decided to ask that.
And Ma said, it's good for everybody to get together. It's a good excuse for everyone to get together and do ritual and sing Kirtan. And then she said, and I like it. [laughter] She said, I enjoy it.
So this is a record of Ma's satsangs. This is one of the better translations of her satsangs that's around. How can we benefit spiritually by action? This is the person asking a question in satsang, just like you would.
There's definitely a swath of Hinduism where there's this idea that action is bad and we should just be in stillness. There is a swath of spiritual thinking or concept that thinks that it's all about stillness or non-thought or something like that.
So how can we benefit spiritually by action? Ma says, by doing work for its own sake, engaging in karma yoga. Karma means action and yoga means union. So this is doing action while in a state of experiencing one's union or continuity with everything.
As long as a desire to distinguish oneself is lurking, it is karma bhoga. Ma loved to make puns and word plays, so she's making a play on karma yoga versus karma bhoga. [laughter] So bhoga is self-satisfaction, basically working for one's own satisfaction.
Now, if you're trying to distinguish yourself, this is very interesting actually, what are you doing? You're trying to be separate from everyone. I'm over here being special and you're over there being less than special. I feel good about myself.
This is like the opposite of yoga. Yoga means union, it means continuity, it means non-distinction. So if you're trying to distinguish yourself in your service, then it's karma bhoga.
So when you're practicing karma bhoga instead of karma yoga, you're doing the work and enjoying its fruits because of the sense of prestige it brings. Or admiration, or whatever you think it's going to bring you. Whereas by relinquishing the fruit, it becomes karma yoga.
And then the next questioner says, how is it possible to work without desire? Meaning desire for some specific fruit like admiration or success of some sort.
Ma says, by doing service with the feeling that one is serving the Supreme Being and everyone. The desire for God realization is obviously not a desire in the ordinary sense. An ordinary desire is a very directed desire of something that's going to benefit you as an individual.
A desire for God realization is the bigger desire. The ocean as opposed to the river or the rivulet. And it's a desire that's going to lead you to be living for others, not for yourself.
So I am your instrument. Try to work with this attitude. I am your instrument. You are the arms and legs of God, as Ma used to say. By regarding all manifestation as the Supreme Being, one attains to communion that leads to liberation.
Whatever work is undertaken, let it be done with one's whole being, and in the spirit. Only you are working, meaning God. So that there may be no opportunity for affliction, distress, or sorrow to creep in.
If you aren't the doer, if you recognize that the doer is that bigger Self and you are just a manifestation of that, then you have no real stake in it. If you really felt that, you wouldn't have your normal worries about, is anyone looking and seeing how great I'm doing?
Or, uh-oh, I might fail. Whatever your favorite flavor of worry is. You wouldn't have that if you really felt, I'm just an instrument of this Self that's everywhere.
Another point, if the attitude through my shortcoming, the work has not been done well enough, I should have taken greater pains over this service, is not persisted in, the work must have considered to have been done carelessly.
So this was one of Ma's more big things. She wanted us to be thorough in what we do. To try to do our best, not just be sloppy or lazy about stuff, though. If we agree to do something, we should do it thoroughly to the best of our ability.
So she's saying we should be thinking along the lines of, can I do better at this. Or can I take more pains with this? Or can I be more thorough in this? Then she says, if you're not thinking that, you should consider your work to have been done carelessly.
Therefore, as far as it lies in your power, in other words, recognizing we all have limitations, there should be no neglect of anything that you've agreed to do. Beyond that, feel that whatever happens is in God's hands.
So if you are doing your best, and this is the relaxation that I always talk about that comes from doing your utmost, right? Really pushing yourself to do your utmost. Once you've done that, if it all goes kerfluey, if everything goes wrong, what more could you have done?
So you don't have to be as upset about when things go awry if you know you've done your best. If you have that real feeling inside. So beyond that, feel that whatever happens is in God's hands, you are but the tool.
Because of this, put your body, mind, and heart into any service you may do. And for the rest, take it that what comes about was what was destined to be. Not your business.
We are only one factor in a huge mandala. We are not the ones who get to say whether something turns out as we want it to turn out or not. We just are there doing our best. And then as Lord Krishna says, we have to let go of the result because the result isn't really in our control.
That's a hard one for us. A lot of times people will hold back because we're afraid if we put our all into it and we fail or are found wanting, that that's going to really feel terrible. Well, I put my all into it, but still it's not enough.
Well, we should just feel that, yes, that's right. When we put our all into something, it's never the whole thing. It's never enough. For something to happen, it is never up to us.
So if we can disconnect this idea that we could have gotten the result we wanted if somehow we were better. We got to disconnect that. And so if we disconnect that, then we can do our best with a sense of peace.
Because really, once we disconnect our part in something from the ultimate result, then doing our best is actually relaxing. Because we know there's nothing more we could have done. We accept that we have limitations, but we also accept we can be thorough to the best of our ability.
But if we don't disconnect the result from the part that we're playing in something, then we are always tethered to this threat of failure and disapproval and criticism. As if we had been responsible for the whole thing.
The first step is we really have to disconnect this idea that we are solely responsible for the outcomes of things. Let's say we're trying to shoot an arrow into a bull's eye. That's how most of us feel about what we're doing.
We want to hit the center all the time, every time, and have an admiring crowd ooh-ing and aah-ing. [laughter] What if there's wind? Are we in control of the wind?
What if there's some way that the thing was manufactured, that there's one little place in it that always deflects the arrow somewhere else? What if someone bumps into us when we draw?
What if someone comes up and helps us and holds our hand so that we're doing a better job. In any circumstance, it is never totally up to us. There's always a much, much bigger circumference of possible impacts on that situation.
Including the fact that we live in a self-aware, alive world that's doing its thing. All the characters are all played by that same Self, and we just have our one role that we're playing. So we have to disconnect this idea that the final result is up to us.
I had an experience once that really illustrates this. I applied to an MFA program in creative writing. And I didn't get in the first time I applied because there were only a few slots and they put me on a waitlist.
They told me I was number one on the waitlist and that if I applied again the following year, I would get in. They would count my application and let me come in. So I applied the second year and I got rejected.
I remember I was just sitting on the couch sobbing and I just felt like, the world is against me. I failed. All these very ordinary mundane kinds of feelings going on.
And then, this is a sincere bless-her-heart, my girlfriend said, why don't you just call them? Maybe something went wrong. I called them and they were like, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. That was a clerical error. You shouldn't have been sent that rejection letter.
It's not up to us. The fact that I didn't get in the second time had nothing to do with me, or the fickle finger of fate was not wagging at me. [laughter] It was not about the meanness of the universe, especially oriented at me. It was about none of those things.
Is Ma also saying that we should reflect on how we do things?
No, she's saying if you're not sure you have done your utmost, then you're being careless. That's all she's saying. But there is this feeling of just going that little extra bit beyond.
We have these karmas that are like, okay, that's enough. I do anyway. [laughter] But then pausing and being like, no, I could go further. And this obviously applies to integrated practice a lot.
Because when we're out in the world and we're relating to people, we often want to just give in to our normal karmic habit patterns. We just want to go, oh God, just this time I'm going to do what I normally do. Whatever that is. And fall into the emotional pattern I normally fall into.
And then if we can pause and really try to embody the View more in our hearts, that's like going that extra, pushing past the karma a little bit of it. In my personal experience, this is how I interpret it. Not being satisfied before it's too soon to be satisfied. [laughter]
This is the main teaching of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. When he's trying to urge Arjuna the archer to fight in the war that's going to be changing us from the Dwapara to the Kali Yuga.
He's constantly saying, you have your part to play. Do it to your utmost, but then you need to let go of the result. The result is not up to you. So we have to disconnect our action from the result.
Here's a little visual that I think is a lot like how I think of it. There's a mandala, like a giant series of connected things. It reaches to places we have absolutely no knowledge of.
And it also is all that really intricate game being played by this alive, aware, very, very intelligent reality. And so we've got this huge mandala. Here's the result we want in the center, like a bullseye, right?
We shoot our arrow, but then there's all these other things happening, right? Millions and zillions, infinities of things that are working together in this almost organismic way to bring about a certain result.
Which is never just the result of whatever little thing we did. Even if the arrow goes totally off course. Or even if it hits dead center. It was never just our doing, never. And in fact, to even think that we did anything is wrong because we are an aspect of every other part of the mandala.
All the aspects of the mandala are the same Self, the same consciousness, playing all these different roles. So to even entertain the idea that we could be successes or failures, or that it's important for us to be admired and horrible to be criticized.
The things that make people so exercised about what the result of something is, right? In general, I'm obviously dumbing it down, but there's a lot of other things, too, that can happen. But in general, we want to be in control of the outcome.
And when we feel separate, we are taking on a huge burden, the huge burden of how things turn out. And Ma's saying, and Krishna is also saying, and Ma is an avatar of Krishna, so it's not surprising that she's teaching the same thing. But in any case, just do your utmost.
That is the only thing you have control over. And even that, you only have partial control over. But just as far as you can, as she says, just do your utmost. What happens is unfathomable. It's unfathomable why something happens.
So don't take credit for your successes, but that also means don't take blame for your failures. Our attitude towards things is going to be more practical than on the axis of blame and reward, or blame and praise.
In my life, I don't want to be blamed and I don't want to be praised. I don't feel like a surge of adrenaline or euphoria when people praise me, nor do I feel horrible when people criticize me. I don't like that, but it happens.
What I want is, if anyone's going to say something about something I did, I just want to know a more practical analysis of it. What could I have done better or what strategy really worked or something?
I want the nuts and bolts. I don't want the stupidity of this blame and praise stuff, which is really the same. It's just stupid in a cosmic sense. It's just stupid to be living your life, running after praise and running away from blame.
If you're running after praise and running away from blame, then it's really hard to accept someone else giving you reflection. But being taught and being helped and people pointing things out that are practical, that's like gold.
Usefulness. Usefulness is way a better benchmark than did I succeed or fail? Or is someone telling me something I like hearing or I don't like hearing? It's more like, Is this useful?
When you're talking about getting detached from this connection between my effort and the result, and you're describing the reality of the situation that's much more complicated and lush and three-dimensional, do you feel like you have a different textural experience?
Yes. So what has to happen for you to breathe? How do you breathe?
I hardly do anything. I just let it unfold, I take in what's like around me.
Okay, well, think of this. First of all, in order for you to breathe, your parents have to have met and liked each other and decided to have you. And they have to have raised you to this point so that you can breathe now.
And then there has to be a world. A world has to come into being. And then there has to be a certain symbiosis between you and a world with plants and trees so that oxygen is being produced so that you can breathe.
And then when you breathe, all these myriad, myriad, myriad chemical reactions have to happen in your body that you're not aware of. That support you to turn that oxygen into what you use to sustain yourself.
And then there has to be a whole other apparatus of exhale where you get out the carbon dioxide. And then there's a whole other planetary apparatus where that carbon dioxide is used by other things so that it doesn't suffocate you.
And so basically, you inhaling and exhaling is a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny little aspect of how you breathe. Everything is like that. So what you need to do if you want to find the mandala, other than by feeling it through having realized it in practice, is to widen the circle.
Like, when I asked you, how do you breathe? You gave the answer that most people would give.
I said I hardly do anything.
Then I said, well, how do you breathe? And you said, well, I take air in. So when you want to know the answer to your own question, you have to keep widening the circle. Widening, widening, widening. So that you can understand that there's just so much that goes into every little thing.
It's just something we're not trained to think of, that's all. We're trained to think of ourselves as self-sufficient or somehow autonomous in some ways. And we don't think of the bigger picture.
You can think of it in an ordinary way. If you don't have that experience yet in sadhana of being in an alive, aware mandala, you can still think of it in a very ordinary and useful way.
By just continually moving your perspective out, to think about what goes into every little thing that you do. It's really a matter of perspective. We all have a certain perspective because we have certain concepts about things.
If we break through those concepts and move out more, then we can begin to see ourselves as woven into this mandala. What the Buddhists call interdependence. Interdependence is more like what I'm describing.
It's more ordinary in a sense, because at some point after you've done sadhana for a while, you're going to just feel the mandala. Sometimes things will become apparent that you're being supported in some unusual way. I've talked about a lot of those events in my life.
But other times you just feel that you're in this mandala, you're immersed in it, and you're just doing your bit. But until you get to that point, you can mechanically just remember to widen your view. Just think about what is going into what you're doing.
And of course, also think about, you won't even know 10% of it, or 5% of it, or 1% of it. Because most of it is unfathomable and stretches back to past lives. Why you answered the way you did is also a product of an infinite mandala.
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