Shambhavi talks about subtle and gross experiences with mantra, effortful spiritual practices, and using intensity as a defense mechanism. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi
Live satsang is mostly free range Q&A. “Tastings” are special episodes of our Satsang with Shambhavi podcast where you’ll get to listen as students ask all kinds of questions and Shambhavi responds. Welcome to the buffet version of satsang!
When we just mouth mantra and not make any audible sounds. And let's say we are still feeling like the strong vibration of the mantra, I'm just curious, like, how does the mantra have the vibration when we are not mouthing it? [laughter]
Like that grain, you taught us about the grain of the mantra. Have some grain in your voice. After a while, you can hear the grain.
Yeah. So the mantra exists on gross and subtle and very subtle planes, or in gross, subtle, and very subtle forms. When we're doing the mantra out loud, we're doing the gross form of the mantra. And this is the most accessible form.
So basically, mantra is one of the most accessible practices that we have. Puja is accessible too, but particularly when it's out of its Indian context, there's just people who don't want to play that way. Right? But mantra is very accessible to most people.
And of course, there's so many different kinds of mantras that you can basically always find something that someone's going to enjoy doing. And you can really literally feel that vibration in its grossest form and connect with it.
And it very quickly, if someone does mantra every day, very quickly begins to erode that sense of separateness at the boundary of our skin. It starts to make us feel like our body somehow doesn't end here after doing mantra for not really even that long. Not that we'll remember that when we're out and about, but at least we'll have that experience.
So the mantra has subtle forms that goes through all the subtle levels of speech, back to unmanifest speech. And included in that mantra, like, if it's a deity mantra, the deity is part of the mantra also. The mantra is the mantra body of the deity.
So this is why it's possible some people are really into deity worship. Sometimes people see deities appear before people and have conversations with them. This happened to Bholonath with Tara at Tarapith.
There's a connection between those wisdom beings and those mantras. Or between guru tattva and the mantras if it's a guru mantra or something like that. Or just the pure wisdom of the bija mantras. They're directly, they're like the sound forms or one of the sound forms of those wisdoms.
So we can not only feel the vibration when we're just mouthing them, but we can feel the vibration on a much more subtle and deep level at a certain point. Even when we're not mouthing them. Right?
Everything just becomes more and more subtle. But that's good if you're experiencing that. Are you, or just reading that in a book?
I found it only on a walk one day. And that day I wasn't mouthing it, but maybe counting it, I want to speak it out loud on most days.
Right? And it's modest and smart to do what is actually what you need to do. So some people get very Titan-y about their spiritual practice. If they hear that, oh, doing it silently is more subtle. And they just start doing that even though they're completely not ready to do that.
So we should be very modest and sober and practical. Really practical. And after you've been practicing for a while, you should be able to judge what you need to do. Like, you know that you need to keep doing it out loud.
So this is a discernment that one should be able to make in the best possible circumstance. And then it's good to go back and forth to play it intuitively.
And also, if something starts arising when you're practicing, like you're going along, this is just sort of usual. And then suddenly, oh, wait, I'm feeling this vibration more profoundly than I normally do.
Then you want to take advantage of that by practicing longer and exploring that. Maybe trying to see what happens when you just do mouthing or silent.
You want to follow the lead. When wisdom is showing you a deeper level of the practice, you want to take the time to follow the lead. This is how we actually progress.
Some people think, oh, I'm going to ask Shambhavi for more practices or different practices. And I'm going to do all these practices, and that's how I'm going to progress.
Not necessarily. If you're not actually following the practice while you're doing it, that's going to be very slow going. If you're not being aware and being in the practice and being attuned to the subtleties of what's happening.
And then noticing when a deeper level is appearing and following that more. That's what we need to do in order to progress.
It's like homework. You get homework from wisdom.
When you don't do it, you can't progress.
Exactly. You can have one off experiences. Someone will say, oh, I felt such-and-such in my practice. And then what? Did you follow it or did you just sort of catalog it?
Oh, I have something I can tell Shambhavi, yay. [laughs] but as Rudy said, when we have spiritual experience, that's a work order, right? That's our homework. We have to then do our part.
I was wondering if you could talk about the Guru bead. I can't remember why there's a Guru bead and what the significance is.
Well, you need something to tell you when to turn around. [laughter] so it's practical. Right? And you can maybe read something into that if you wanted to. The other name for the Guru bead is Mount Meru, which is a mountain that is supposedly the center of the Human Realm.
So it's kind of like reaching the center and then returning back to the center over and over again. Source, returning to source over and over and over again.
You know that when you do 108 beads, eight of them are for your teachers and other people, and 100 of them count towards your practice. So if the teacher says, do 300,000 mantras or 100,000 mantras or a 1,300,000 mantras—these are like, common numbers of mantras that teachers will tell students to do.
Like, I give you a mantra and I say do 100,000 or do 300,000 or do 1,300,000, or a million, something like that. Then each mala only counts for 100, not for 108.
100,000 is considered to be an introduction, and there're actually books that tell you how long it's going to take you to do mantras depending on how many syllables they have and how quickly, slow, moderate, and fast, like how many hours a day and how many days it's going to take you.
It's like these little charts you can look up. These are particularly for this practice called Purashcharana, which is when you first get a mantra and you do 100,000 in nine days and then 10,000 on the 10th day.
These little charts will tell you how many mantras do you have to do in one day in order to finish the Purashcharana in ten days. It's fun to play with that stuff, I think anyway.
In the original Purashcharana, is there puja?
Yeah. In the original Purashcharana, there's puja.
And the last day is yajña. So you make 10,000 ghee offerings into a fire and 10,000 mantras, which, depending on how long the mantra is, can really be a chore.
If it's just Om Ma, you're in luck. [laughter] Anything longer than a few syllables really takes a long time. I think very few people do this anymore. We're just sitting around singing kirtan. They say that's the best sadhana for the Kali Yuga.
Why do they do that?
Why do they do Purashcharana? In order to establish a relationship with the wisdom of that mantra in a very short period of time. There are some swaths, some streams of Tantrikas who like to do everything very quickly. I used to be one of them, but I'm not anymore.
So you did it in the past?
Yeah. I used to like doing those more extreme things when I was a young-un'. I was very Titan-y about it. Now I'm still Titan-y, so I call it the fact that I'm not doing that anymore lazy. That's a very Titan thing to do.
That's something I kind of notice how Titan existence is very uneven and very spiky. Like, energy is very spiky.
Yeah. And, like pumping yourself up with coffee so your spikes last longer.
Yeah. Like, for myself wanting to have more of a smooth existence.
It's a good thing to have a more smooth existence. Wouldn't that be great if that was what people thought of as a successful life?
It's hard to even imagine because most of us associate intensity with meaningfulness or significance. We generate a lot of intensity in order to feel like our lives have significance, and our relationships have significance.
I've been thinking about my intensity too. I trained myself to become intense. And then underneath, everything is scared and trembling. So intensity is like, calming it down. I convince myself I am strong in some way.
Yeah. You are strong now, but it's not because you're intense. It's because you have incredible endurance. And I'm sure you have other forms of strength, too.
But yeah, there's a whole way that we can barrel through situations that are causing us fear. Or where we feel threatened, we can barrel through them or push through.
And that's a very pitta thing. That's a very pitta way of handling fear or handling a feeling of threat is to just push through aggressively. And it's a way of trying to get back in charge of things.
Yeah, I definitely, definitely went through that when I was a young person in multiple ways. It's basically like bulldozing your way through life to avoid feeling fear and to feel more in control. Like using aggression to feel more in control.
I feel like that strategy did help me survive my childhood. That anger that I had and the way that I just kind of said, no, I'm not going to let anyone stop me, and I'm going to keep going really helped me in my childhood.
But then at some point it becomes inappropriate, like you're no longer in that childhood situation, you're in a whole other situation. And if you're still using those strategies, then you're using strategies that aren't really appropriate to your actual situation at some point when you get older.
And I remember recognizing that at some point, oh right, these strategies worked when I was 15, but they aren't going to work now. They aren't appropriate for now. And I have to start relaxing that and letting myself feel more vulnerable. Maybe you're recognizing some of that.
Yeah. I'm just worried that I will have no entertainment without my intensity.
Oh, yeah. It is entertaining, isn't it? Well, that's very insightful of you to recognize that. Sure. But we have those kinds of fears along the way, and they are always unfounded.
We do entertain ourselves in different ways with our drama. I had an aunt, my mother's sister, who was incredibly over-dramatic, but you could tell it was total self-entertainment. She would actually be watching herself doing it.
She had been a ballet dancer at some point when she was really young, but then she got married and gave up dancing. But she would often just kind of fling a hand into the air and say something really dramatic. And then she would look up at her hand. [laughter] She was enjoying her own gesture.
What happens is when we start to give that stuff up or the energy starts to smooth out, or just kind of, our energy kind of ratchets down to a more sane level of expression. We go through sandhi where things seem kind of bland or we feel like we're not feeling much.
We feel kind of numb because we've stopped feeding ourselves all that intensity. But we haven't started listening to the subtlety yet. And then eventually we recalibrate, our energy recalibrates, and then we notice all the life and all the feelings that gross intensity had been drowning out.
I like to compare it to going to the desert. If you've been living in a noisy environment and you're just in a regular, like a city or something, and then you go to the desert, it sounds so quiet that you hear buzzing in your ears.
The silence actually becomes deafening. Then if you sit in the desert, you kind of quiet down and then after a time, you start to hear all the quiet sounds of the desert. The quiet life of the desert. And you feel how lively it is when you would never have noticed it before.
It's one of the secrets of success of spiritual life that we recognize these interim periods when we're moving from one way of being in the world to another. And we're recalibrating, and that can be very unsettling or even boring or bland.
And we have to recognize that that's what's happening and just keep practicing. And then eventually everything does recalibrate, and we learn that that's just a regular process that happens.
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