Rootlessness and Ruthlessness

November 9, 2022

Shambhavi talks about rootlessness, impermanence, and being ruthlessly honest with yourself as the foundation of spiritual practice. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

So this is samsara. And that means that we have lost some contact with living presence. That's what samsara means. And the word 'samsarin' or 'sangsarin' means 'a wanderer'. So samsara is the place of wandering.

We're wandering around trying to find impermanent things to become rooted in. We're looking for security and permanence in exactly the place where it doesn't exist, which is in this magical display of ever-changing circumstances.

So we try to kind of box reality in, box impermanence in. Make it behave the way we want it to behave. And we have all kinds of concepts about that, about how things should be, how they should go, about what success is and about what failure is.

And then when, inevitably, reality outruns our plans, tramples all over our expectations, and makes a mess of our concepts about how things should be. Then we suffer because something we think went wrong when nothing actually went wrong. It's just that life was doing life. [laughs]

Right, life was doing itself. Nothing went wrong. We just had these very limited concepts. And when reality doesn't serve us up life exactly in confirmation to our concepts, then we get upset and think we failed at something.

So, rootlessness. That means recognizing in a very deep way that the places where we're looking for security and success and permanency are not the places where those things are to be found.

And changing our mode of being in impermanence to one of adaptation, rather than trying to fix everything in place and create a false and very temporary sense of security for ourselves.

I'll give you an example. Every once in a while, we land in the hospital unexpectedly, right? We break a bone or something goes awry—not necessarily anything major. But we had our day planned and then, whoops, all of a sudden we're in the emergency room. [laughs] And our entire day is completely different than whatever we thought it was going to be.

And that always struck me as very funny and kind of enjoyable. Even though I don't like being in the hospital, there's a bizarre kind of enjoyment that goes along with just having your entire day hijacked by something you didn't plan.

That is evidence of me having done a lot of sadhana that I can enjoy that instead of freaking out and worrying about, oh my God, my meeting. Or, but I planned this, this is so unfair, it was supposed to be something else.

If we can learn to just adapt and enjoy the unexpected and how things don't conform to our plans, then we suffer less, right? Groundlessness means that groundlessness is the recognition of the real nature of impermanence, of this display of appearings.

So does that mean that there's no ground? No. It means it just isn't where we look for it.

The ground is in recognition of the nature of the Self. And that means a feeling of refuge or home in whatever circumstance we're in. It's not tied to particular circumstances. It's not like, oh, I found real refuge in the south, and it looks like this house over here, it's really cool. [laughs] Or it looks like this relationship, or it looks like this amount of money I'm making at my job.

It doesn't look like any of those things. It's basically just feeling relaxed and comfortable with how things are and having some kind of contact with living presence and the timeless quality of that. Recognizing that whatever you are now is an aspect of that living presence. But that living presence is actually who you are. And just learning to enjoy the life cycles of that so that you can not suffer so much.

Groundlessness is our experience of impermanence. It means don't take refuge in impermanence. Learn to surf, learn to swim, learn to adapt, learn to enjoy the unexpected, even the unexpected disaster. And look for the wisdom in everything that happens here. Everything that happens here, even though it's impermanence, it's not degraded. It's the art of the artist, of the supreme artist. And there's wisdom in everything that happens.

So beyond just getting used to impermanence, like some thing we have to just put up with, is the actual wisdom and communication that's going on in all of the circumstances that we encounter in our lives.

Everything is speaking. Everything is sounding the nature of the Self. Everything is spelling like magic. And the more we open our senses, the more we can learn to read that.

So for some people this is hard. You know, when I was younger, I used to wonder why Buddhists taught so much about impermanence. It just seemed to me, what? People don't realize that there is a permit here? [laughs] Is that news? [laughs] But then I realize it's how people look for security that's the problem. Not that people don't recognize that things change, but they're trying to make them stop changing in certain respects. That's the actual problem.

This is what groundlessness means. But beyond groundlessness is the ground of that being becoming living presence of Self. And that doesn't look like the same kind of ground that we look for when we're in more limited experience. It's just that knowledge of the nature of existence that becomes our real home. That is our real home.

So whatever you experience when we do the heart practice in the morning, whatever you experience in that heart space, that is permanency. That is the eternal, that is home. But it is not still. It isn't static. It's full of life, full of creativity, full of potential.

So we can't really look for the same kind of permanence that we're looking for when we think we're separate beings and all fragile and we're going to die at any minute. Our maniacal search for security is really the flip side of our recognition that we aren't secure in the way that we think security exists. It doesn't.

So if we weren't really having some even unconscious perception of how fragile this life is, we wouldn't be so maniacally searching to fix everything. It's our sense of separation and fragility that's causing this craziness.[laughs]

But eventually we get in touch with that Self, that living presence. And we become less frantic. And we can relax more. And that's part of what satsang is for and everything we do is for that. To get us having more contact with that, slowly, over time, incrementally. Having more confidence in that. And then being able to enjoy more all the wackadoodle things that happen in impermanence.

That living presence, that living awareness is giving rise to all of this. This is full of that. And that's what we eventually realized. That's why in the more refined Buddhist teachings, the teaching is nirvana and samsara are the same.

Like this idea that we could have some perfect place and this other idea that we have this place that's full of suffering are both just products of our condition and duality. Both of those ideas. Because that heart space, which is everywhere—remember the teaching in Trika isn't that the heart space is just inside of our chest. That's just our little living symbol of it that we get to practice with.

It's like when you give a baby some milk in a sippy cup. You give them what they can drink, right? You give them a cup to hold the milk. You don't like, shove a cow in their face. [laughs] So there's like... [laughs] The heart is our sippy cup, right? Full of nourishment. But it's just a small emblem of everything.

Remember that the heart is everywhere. The Self is everywhere. This is the Self. All this display is the Self. There's no separation between this and that. That's what we ultimately discover.

But you can have confidence. Even if this is more intellectual for you right now, or just a little bit embodied. Hopefully, having contact with me and with other people who have walked this path ahead of you, you can have some confidence that it's actually leading somewhere, that you can discover this too.

I mean, there's just something hilarious about this. [laughs] Whatever's happening in our life, even, I would say, disasters are even more hilarious than anything else. We just get into these pickles. We create all these problems. It's just hilarious. So try to see the irony or the hilarity in your situation.

This Self just thought, oh, let's see what happens if I put all this whole planet in quarantine for three years. Ha ha ha. Let's see what happens. Experiment. [laughs]

Remember that spiritual life is 100% destructive. It's destroying impediments to our clarity, our compassion, our sensitivity, our ability to feel our continuity with life. That's what spiritual practice is doing. It's destroying impediments to our real nature, expressing itself in full measure.

So look to yourself. What have you gained? What have you learned? What has been dropped? What has relaxed? What has been clarified? What has been made more sensitive? How have you grown personally through this? And what insights have you gained? That's how we know what the wisdom is.

You know, even if we're in a difficult situation. I've told this sometimes to people who have come to me when they left abusive teachers. I said, well, at least now you know this person was abusive. [laughs] When you first started studying with this person, you didn't know they were abusive. Or you suspected it, but you weren't sure. And now you're absolutely certain and clear that this person was abusive to you. So now you have more clarity. You gained that at least.

It was a hard road. But now you have more clarity and you won't get in that situation as easily again. Or maybe not at all. And not only will you have more clarity about that situation, but you'll have more clarity about every situation where you're being abused. So that's a huge clarity to gain.

And some people think I'm not being compassionate when I say stuff like that. I shouldn't be pointing out what we gain from difficult or abusive situations. But as practitioners, that's really what we're doing. We're looking for what we have gained and what we have learned, and how can we move on to something with a bigger view that will nourish our practice?

Could you talk about relative and absolute again?

Sure. Those aren't terms that are used in Trika Shaivism. I appropriated them from Buddhist traditions, but I think they're very handy terms. So relative means how things look from our experience as unenlightened people. You're having an experience of separation. Most of your experience is karmically inflected dualistic kinds of experience.

We can't bypass that. We still have to talk about it. We still have to live through it. We still have to figure out how to deal with it. So when we talk about relative, that means our dualistic karmic realm vision, that's what that means. That we're still working with. So if I'm working with my relative condition, I'm thinking about what is right conduct in a certain situation.

Absolute means, what is actually happening? If we were totally enlightened, how would things look? That's absolute. So in this tradition, we are holding both of those at the same time. We have the biggest view that we're holding. That view of how things actually are. What it would be like if we didn't have any sense of separation, if our senses were wide open, and our mind was wide open. What would reality be like? What would we encounter? What would we experience? That's absolute.

And then we have our actual experience, which maybe has, like, little pinholes of the absolute poking through for us to notice. But that is always true, because otherwise, if that weren't true, we wouldn't be in teachings. We wouldn't have any sense there was anything to be here for. So everybody here has had some experience of the absolute. That's why you're here.

You may not have recognized it fully or at all, but that is why you're here. It's the same thing about chocolate. If you don't know that chocolate exists, you're not going to show up at a chocolate store. You have to know something already before you go looking for it, which is kind of a cool thing. But most of the time we're in dualistic experience, meaning feeling separate, and we're having all that range of experiences.

I've always had a certain quality of ruthlessness that comes toward myself. That comes from, you know, this desperate desire to find out what the heck's actually going on here, which I have experienced since I was a little girl. So there was a kind of ruthlessness of self-examination and ruthlessness of questioning and ruthlessness of pursuing that revelation.

So that has added a quality to my life of really being willing to ask any question, being willing to throw out any fantasy, being willing to demand pretty much anything of myself. And being ruthlessly honest. So I think those are things that have really served me as a practitioner, particularly the honesty part.

Because if we don't have honesty, we have nothing. We have nothing to work with. We cannot work with fantasies. Being honest with ourselves about what's really happening for us and what we really want and taking ownership of what it is we really want. If we want to walk this path in a very deep way, that is a requirement.

Of course, there's a lot of other ways to walk this path, and all those are fine too. I'm happy with what anybody does. But if you want to really get the fruit of the practices, you must be honest. And there's a kind of ruthlessness in that.

Not letting yourself get away with a bunch of fantasy fixation. It comes up because we all have karmas, right? I'm not saying that I am not subject to fixation. I am. But I'm ruthless with myself about recognizing it and doing what I can to work with it. I don't pretend that it's valuable. I don't pretend that it's valuable, other than as something I'm working with in my sadhana.


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