Pessimism and Karmic Conditioning

May 12, 2021

A student asks about the origins of pessimism. Shambhavi goes meta and talks about why there is only one origin of all phenomena. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Is there something that causes us to be pessimists?

Well, whenever we ask a question—what causes this?—the absolute answer is, everything that happens has the same cause. And that is, everything is a self-expression of this alive, aware reality. And every self-expression is equal to every other self-expression. None of them are better or worse.

So pessimism is not worse than optimism. I'm speaking in an absolute sense about the ultimate nature of reality. But pessimism and optimism are interesting in another way, which is that both pessimism and optimism can cause harm in a relative sense.

So a good version of pessimism and a good version of optimism would be the same. And that would be clear seeing. [laughter] So both pessimism and optimism are deviations from simple, clear seeing.

The quality of the absolute is goodness without a second, without an opposite. So we can't say the same about pessimism. There's a kind of fundamental, I wouldn't say optimism, but fundamental cheerfulness about reality.

That's one word you could choose. And definitely anything other than expressed in a playful way, like if we're seriously pessimistic and not just enjoying our own drama of pessimism. Because that's possible to.

My mom's sister was a ballet dancer, and she was very dramatic. And when she would talk, she would talk in a very dramatic way, but you could tell that she wasn't really taking herself very seriously.

And the way you could tell that was the way that she looked at her own hand gestures. So she would say something very dramatic and she would flair her hand up. And then she would look at her own hand and then she would kind of giggle.

So that kind of pessimism is fine if we're just enacting an enjoyment of pessimism. But if we're seriously pessimistic, if we're just sort of down, always saying something's not going to work out even we have no evidence for that, it's just a concatenation of concepts and projections.

Then what's happening is we're not really living in touch with circumstance. You know, what we're in touch with is our own karmic patterning, and this is called karmic vision.

We're seeing through a lens of karmic patterning, compulsive karmic patterning. and the quality or, the signal characteristic of karmic patterning is that it's out of touch with circumstance.

It's out of touch with what's actually happening. All karmic patterning is that. So it's not useful to say what causes it in like a psychological sense or some other more limited sense.

Because when we start doing that, whenever we start to explain our karma with things about our childhood and our past lives and our this's and our that's. If that's our only explanation, then we are really buying into it. We're saying that's who we are. "I've been indelibly marked by this."

But if we understand that it's just the way we were made by this alive-aware reality. Then we don't have to personalize it so much, we don't have to become so identified with it.

We don't have to, on top of feeling pessimistic, feel doomed because we're pessimistic. Because that's what we do to ourselves, right? We feel depressed and then we feel ashamed because we're depressed.

We feel pessimistic and then we feel doomed because we're pessimistic. Because we have this achievement culture. So we're supposed to be happy and achieving.

But when we feel something else, not only do we feel something so-called negative, but then we also berate ourselves for what we're feeling. So don't look to reasons other than this is a case when relative reasons can be mentioned in passing.

But we really have to understand that this is just how God made us, and there is no other explanation. But now it's on our plate. So we get to work with it. We have to digest it. That's how it goes. So the idea is to be responsible and not to take things on as who we are forever. If it was wound, it can become unwound.

And we don't know when, but we just do our best. It's imperative that we not berate ourselves for the way that we are. Nothing that happened here was caused by us as individuals. See, the whole idea of karma as some inescapable law of cause and effect really jibes very neatly with our Abrahamic coalition punishing gods.

So here in the US, even though most of us didn't grow up with a tradition of teachings about karma or even if we did, we're still so saturated in the Abrahamic coalition traditions and their punishing gods and inescapable punishment and this idea of sinfulness.

The law of karma just gets ported right into that. We're very comfortable with it. And very comfortable feeling that there's something wrong and we caused it. And now to get out of it, we have to do some sort of makeup test. [laughter]

But the direct-realization traditions, and particularly Trika, we just jettison all that if we can. It's just how it is, just how we showed up. There's no moral judgment, there's no psychological judgment. There's no failure, right?

There's no success, there's just following along the life process of trying to become more relaxed, doing our best and enjoying what we can. It's a tall order, it's very, very difficult for us, but we should still try to remember that View.

If God has absolute freedom, svatantrya, and God is the only subject here, how could we have caused these things? We don't get to keep both explanations.

And our worry about ourselves, our worry about how we got this way, our Freudian worry. That's what Freud bequeathed us, this unbelievable self-concern, self-anxiety, self-worry, that is the real legacy of Freud.

How can we possibly heal from anything if we hold that attitude? You see, Freudian psychology is not a view of healing. It's a view of functioning. Learning how to function better.

So we're about unwinding karma. That means going back in time or going to the time before that karma actually appeared. And this is the real experience of practitioners. It's not just about becoming more functional.

It's not about getting a better job. Or upgrading our relationship, or our house. Or becoming less socially awkward. Or relieving muscle pain or something like that. [laughs]

It's a different kind of idea of healthiness that is about freedom. Freedom to choose, freedom to express. Freedom to choose, free of conditioning. Freedom to respond, free of conditioning.

When we say we work with the absolute and we work with the relative, we don't necessarily mean by that that we take our karmas seriously in that way?

Yeah, what it means is that we work with the relative in the context of the absolute. So it doesn't mean that we are enmired in the mud of the relative. And overweening self-concern, and self-earnestness, and self-worry and all that.

And then every now and then we remember the View when the teacher pokes us with a stick. It means we do our best to use whatever our experience is of that real nature of the Self.

To interrupt in a real way the flow of energy into these karmas. Meaning the flow of our attention. The flow of our activity. These are all forms of energy through which we are literally feeding those little entities we call karmic patterning.

And the idea is that we use our embodied experience of View to redirect that. Simply by remembering it and dropping into the state of our practice. What you could be doing is remembering the feeling of your practice.

Just stop and remember the feeling of your practice. That's what is called for. So it's not an intellectual remembering of View. It's an embodied remembering that actually directly interferes with the life force of those karmas. There's many other ways to do that.

I was listening to a podcast today about coronavirus testing and the CDC and the FDA and the process of, it was so delayed. And I notice myself getting really angry that it was so delayed and wanting the people who are responsible to lose their jobs.

And I was thinking about that in terms of, I felt that is kind of an urge to want to punish people. And I'm wondering if you can talk about how to respond from place of more View.

Well, I think, first of all, the most important thing for you is to recognize that you have that reactivity.


Whether it operates on a small personal scale, or whether it operates on a large political scale doesn't matter. It's the same thing.


Right. Just recognize that and how imprisoned you are by that is the most important thing for you, I think. And then when you do have that experience or that recognition of everything being that one self, that one wisdom, that ocean of wisdom.

Everything is that including Trump and all the wack-a-doodles. Then you might still feel anger, but you won't take it so seriously. So don't go for saintliness. [laughter] Just go for recognition of how this relates to you personally.

This is what it means to bring things on to the path. You have a reaction. And so you think, "well, they're just doing something horrible. I can't bring this onto the path." I'm just being silly. But, you know, "this is a geopolitical event, right? This is actually terrible." [laughter]


This is serious. [laughter]

One thing about this kind of tradition is it's very thorough and that's what makes it a little scary. It also makes it a little scary to teach it. Because here I am in the middle of a global thing that many, many people are very, very angry and upset about, or very, very, very scared.

And to still, in the midst of fielding all those emotions and everything that everyone's experiencing, still saying all of that is God. But that experience has to be real.

So in the meantime, before it's real, the best thing to do is to bring it into your own personal sphere. And just try to apply your practice, don't try to talk yourself out of your karma. Apply your practice.

This is what direct means. Direct means we're not trying to explain. We're not trying to talk ourselves out of stuff. We're trying to experience our real circumstance, using our practice.

That is the real refuge, that's the real medicine. Because experiencing our real nature is absolutely simultaneous with embodying that. It changes us immediately when we experience that.

And even if we're still coming and going a lot, experiencing it a little in our practice, a little around the teacher, a little in our everyday life, coming back and forth. It's still changing us. Little by little.


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