A Poem by Lalleshwari

Lalleshwari poet
September 28, 2018

Shambhavi riffs on teachings about spiritual practice by the 14th century naked, wandering, Kashmiri yogini and poet: Lalleshwari. Yeah, even really great practitioners need to strip themselves of useless ideas about spiritual life and have bad days getting woke! A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi


Especially since I moved to Maine I get a question such as, you talk a lot about practice. What do you mean?
And usually when I get that question, I say, well, I mean things like mantra and meditation. That's practice.

But we also have other ideas about practice. And one of the ideas that we generally have about practice, which can be a big obstacle, is that it should always feel good. And—even more obstacle laden—that we should feel and understand and know that we're progressing every single time we do any practice.

So I wanted to read a poem by Lalla. She is a 14th-century Kashmiri yogini. So she's from the same part of the world as this tradition— Kashmir in Northern India.
And she was said to be a naked, wandering yogini. She's pictured having very long hair. So the only covering that she had was her hair.

And she said that the reason why she was naked was because there was no real men in the world, so why bother putting on clothes?
And then one day she was walking down the street. These are stories that are popular in Kashmir. One day she's walking down the street and she saw the man that was going to become one of her teachers.

She had a Kashmiri Tantrik teacher, and she also had a Sufi teacher. She may have had other teachers, but this happened to be the Sufi teacher that she saw for the first time.

And I guess she felt that he was a man worthy of wearing clothes for but she didn't have any clothes handy. So she was outside of a bakery. She jumped into an oven where the bread was baked.
And the story is that she didn't get burned, and she came out covered with ash, which is of course a symbol for renunciation.

So this is Lalla. And these poems, her vaks—her sayings—are really part now of the spoken language. The colloquial, everyday language of Kashmir.

She only spoke her poetry. She didn't write it down. Other people wrote it down. We don't know when they wrote it down.
And there are many books of her words that you can read. And many aspects of her poems or her sayings—her vakyas—have gone into just the regular, everyday language of Kashmir.

So this is about being a practitioner and having a teacher. And, you know, when things aren't really going right. [laughs]

"Loosen the load of sweetness I'm carrying.
The sling-knot is biting into my shoulder."

So she's saying that the sweetness is actually heavy. Too heavy for her to carry. Her own comfort or something that is providing her with sweetness.

"This day has been so meaningless.
I feel I can't go on."

This is the kind of thing we feel when we're a practitioner sometimes.

"When I was with my teacher, I heard a truth
that hurt my heart like a blister,
the tender pain of seeing
something I loved as an illusion.
The flocks I tended are gone.
I am a shepherd without even a memory
of what that means, climbing this mountain.
I feel so lost.
This was my inward way, until I came
into the presence of a Moon, this new knowledge
of how likenesses unite. Good Friend,
everything [I see] is you. I see only God.
Now the delightful forms and motions
are transparent. I look through them
and see myself as the Absolute. And here's
the answer to the riddle of this dream:
You leave, so that we two
can do One Dance."

So in the beginning, she's carrying a load that is actually biting into her shoulder. And she describes it as sweetness, right? This is how we normally approach spiritual practice, if we're supposed to experience sweetness all the time.

But then at some point we discover that our attachment to feeling good is actually hurting us.
"This day has been so meaningless.
I feel I can't go on."
We like to have everything have meaning. And that sense of what everything means is just conceptual.

And so of course when we're doing a kind of practice that is helping us to become more free, it also needs to free us from our attachment to everything being so meaningful. To this overweening self-importance that we have about ourselves and our lives.

But the way that we suffer if we think we aren't important, especially in this country. All over the world, I've met people who don't really care at all whether their lives are important in the way we do.
This is really a kind of suffering that is not universal. We have to make a mark. We have to do something important, and visible. And recognize this is a source of extreme suffering for us.

"When I was with my teacher, I heard a truth
that hurt my heart like a blister," is that terrible? [laughs]
What is the job of the teacher? In the Guru Stotra, the teacher is described as the one who puts burning medicine in your eyes to remove the cataracts. So you can see more clearly, right?

I mean, that's not the only thing that happens. But that's part of the job of the teacher.
"The flocks I tended are gone." What does she mean by that?

All of the earthly things that she used to think were important?

Yeah, I mean, there's no rejection of earthly things here. It's not a transcendental idea.
But it could just be anything she thought was important. Yeah, right. All of her little collection of concepts. And ways that she cobbled together a sense of self are like a flock of sheep that she's tending. And of course, sheep are very timid.

"I am a shepherd without even a memory
of what that means."


Can you be around that caricature? You're inhabiting a role that you no longer fit. I can resonate with that.


Yeah. Something that once seems so natural and normal now seems really odd and uncomfortable. And then you also get to a point where you can't even remember why it was important to you in the first place. Or why you were so attached to it in the first place.

"Climbing this mountain.
I feel so lost." 
There's another line of teaching poetry that I often quote from one of my favorite Kagyu teachers, Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche. Does anybody remember what it is?
"Mistaking, mistaking, I travel the unmistaken path." Right.

So it's a sense of like we find ourselves by allowing ourselves to become lost. Lost from what we were sure we were.
What we were sure about everything in this world. How we were sure other people should be. Even how we were sure spiritual life should be.

"This was my inward way," so this was just her as an individual, her individualistic way.
“Until I came
into the presence of a Moon.”
What do you think she might refer to there?


It makes me think of a mirror. Like, I thought of maybe that she was referring to her teacher.


That's what I thought she was referring to‑ the teacher who is reflecting the light of the sun to her.
So the teacher—even though teachers can be fierce—the moon is less fierce than the sun. Right. It gives you a way to look at that light, to look into the light without destroying your vision.


It's interesting because it's often referred to as sweet, right? Saumya. And it's a different kind of sweetness than the kind she's talking about. 


Yeah, it's a more refined kind of sweetness. 

So “this was my inward way, until I came
into the presence of a Moon, this new knowledge
of how likenesses unite."
Anybody have an idea about that? Gaining a knowledge of how likenesses unite.


Feeling more of a connection with everything.


Feeling more of the continuum of things. That things are more similar than they are different. That everything is a likeness of God.

"Good Friend," and there I think that kind of confirms that she's talking about her teacher when she refers to the moon. Because in this style of poetry from this time period and others also, the teacher is often referred to as the Friend.

And when that's used, especially in Rumi, he often talks about the Friend. And he's talking about Shams of Tabriz, of course. That's his great teacher and great friend and probably lover (but we don't know that for sure).

But anyway, [laughs] when you use that phrase, the Friend, it also seems to imply something much bigger than any individual person. That the Friend shows up in individual people. But there really is only one Friend.
And that is the wisdom that teaches us how to be free, right? How to find our real nature and be free.

"Good Friend,
everything is you."
So even though there are desperate things, she sees only the Friend.

"I see only God.
Now the delightful forms and motions
are transparent."
She's not meaning literally transparent. She means I see their real nature.

"I look through them
and see myself as the Absolute."
This is the kind of a View that comes directly out of the Trika tradition, the tradition that I'm teaching in, right? To look through form and see yourself as being the absolute.

If we think of cosmology, if we think of the Tattvas—you know Ishvara and Sadasiva—I am that. That is me. That is part of the recognition that is leading you to understand your real nature. That that is this, and this is that. Including all form, right? Including all form. Not excluding form.

"And here's
the answer to the riddle of this dream"
The dream is—well, it's not reality. It's more what reality produces. So right now we're set to be in a dream-like state. Because on one level we aren't seeing all of duality. We aren't seeing our real nature. So we are like dreamers. There is a riddle that we want the answer to.

Everybody has inside of them some kind of longing, or some kind of question. And we all feel driven by the question. In this sense, even if we articulate that question very differently from one another, there is a kind of a riddle to human life.

Which ends up being—what is really happening here? Who am I really? What am I supposed to be doing? So that's the riddle, the riddle of the dream.

So she says,
"And here's
the answer to the riddle of this dream:
You leave, so that we two
can do One Dance."
That's very enigmatic.
"You leave, so that we two
can do One Dance."


It's like, concealing.


Yeah. God is concealed. So that even in our experience of duality—of being more than one—we can rediscover the one dance that we're all doing.

So she's perfectly describing the answer to why is all this happening? So that we can have that exquisite pleasure of rediscovering who we really are. So the two can rediscover themselves as being in one.


The one and the two are like dance partners.


Mmhmm, right. That's really important. I was just saying to Caitlin that this is a nondual tradition. And that's kind of what I say before I actually get into anything. [laughs] It's like a shorthand for something.

For those that might not know, nondual means that everything is a continuity. There's only one continuity of consciousness here. There's not many separate consciousnesses.
We are having an experience of separation, which is, of course, very real, but our actual, real nature is continuity.

So this tradition is properly called bhedabheda, which means dual-nondual. And what it really says is that the experience of duality and the experience of nonduality are both proper to this life. That they live intertwined like a möbius strip.

And that actual self realization or liberation or moksha is being able to play in the field of duality from the perspective of experience, of continuity. But this is really our playground. Which is, of course, the title of this evening.
We started the playground, which only started two weeks ago. I gave a dharma talk on the meaning of play. And then I meant to give one on the meaning of ground but we had a snow storm [laughs] and I forgot all about it.

So the ground of our existence is continuity. And it is producing these experiences of difference, of variation, of variety for its own enjoyment. So these two experiences of the ground and of diversity, they come together always.

So that’s why we say dual-nondual, not just nondual.

There are some traditions that are more properly nondual and that they reject the value of this experience. Or they think or believe that this experience that we’re having right now is somehow lesser than. Or they denigrate it in some way. Or they call it an illusion.

This tradition does not say that. This tradition says this is actually the field for enjoyment.
Our only job is to relieve ourselves of conditioning so that we can enjoy this without suffering. So that we can enjoy this while being grounded in or situated in our real nature, in the knowledge of that.

So there's no rejecting of anything. In a sense, this is a more thoroughgoing nondualism. Because as Abhinavagupta—one of the founders of this tradition—said if you say something is real and something else is an illusion, you can't call yourself a nondual tradition. Because you have now divided everything into two and recreated duality.

And he also said that there is no such thing as unreality. The unreal cannot exist. [laughter]
We can have less than full realizations of things. We can be in a state of illusion or delusion. But our experiences are all real experiences.



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