Self-Care, Humility, and Working with Teacher

February 28, 2024

Shambhavi and the Jaya Kula community gather for satsang and get real about all the questions we humans want answered. Intimate, courageous, heartfelt spiritual talk about pretty much everything. So happy you are here! A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Yeah. I don't know if it has ever crossed your mind on how to implement more of being in touch with the season, and bringing that to diet. What to do with climate change?

Yeah. Well, climate change happens very slowly. So, there's that. There's also, you know, in the Bay Area, there are micro-climates.

When I was going to graduate school at Stanford, and I was living in San Francisco, it would be 100+ degrees and very, very dry in Palo Alto, where– in the South Bay. By the time I got home, it would be really foggy and moist and cool. So, what do you do with that?

And I think that the best answer is to pay attention not just to the season, but to how your body is responding to what is going on in the climate. And addressing disturbances and imbalances in doshas that might be climate-related as you see them actually showing up.

So we can generally adjust. Here, the climate is just drier than anywhere any of us have lived for a very long time. And there's a lot more heat, a lot more sun.

So those are just general things that we're all experiencing. And then we can adjust for our constitution and any imbalances we might be having.

But Ayurveda is always about day-to-day observation.

Even though we can read in a book where it says, well, in summer you do this and in spring you do that. The actual practice of Ayurveda is day-to-day observation of oneself in a situation of total relationality with nature, including other people.

People take these little tests online to diagnose their doshas, but dosha is a very complicated affair.

And one of the most beautiful things about Ayurveda that unfortunately isn't very true these days, is that if you were living in India hundreds of years ago, you were living with the person that was practicing Ayurveda in your town or village, or your neighborhood.

And you were seeing that person. They probably knew you. And they had a chance to observe you in your life. And they could tell what was going on with your doshas that way.

Seeing how someone responds and lives in a day-to-day way is the number one way to diagnose dosha.

The pulse reading, which people do now, was not part of Ayurveda originally. That doesn't make it bad. It was added in later. It was imported from China.

But the thing that Ayurveda is really masterful at is observation. Observation of what condition people are in. There's so many different vectors for observing what condition you're in.

You can learn to observe. But obviously, an Ayurvedic doctor would have more methods of observation.

You know, you can have pitta mind and kapha digestion. It can be much more complicated than just having a pitta constitution or a kapha constitution.

And it seems like it'd be very difficult to figure those things out. But, actually, if you have the tools that ancient Ayurveda actually provides us, it isn't as difficult as it might seem. It's just more complicated of a picture than we tend to think it is these days.

But half of Ayurveda is about self-care. Really half of it. The whole disease process in Ayurveda is called samprapti.

And if this is the line from health to death-by-exhaustion, then in the middle, the whole first half is self-care. That you would just be doing every day as a matter of course. A matter of your everyday life. And then here is where you might go see a doctor.

So what we're learning in Ayurveda is the self-care part, to have to play catch-up. Because most of us, not all of us, but most of us have not grown up in a culture where we are taught proper human self-care skills.

And obviously Ayurveda is not the only tradition that has self-care. Every naturopathic tradition from every culture has self-care, and paying attention to the seasons, and things like that.

But we don't have that in the United States by and large. Unless we were very lucky to have grown up in a household where those lifeways were being preserved. So we really need to play catch-up and learn how to take care of ourselves.

I just wanted to ask about a technique I found [in] the Vijñana Bhairava, which is trying to catch the gap between the waking and the sleep state.

I was playing with sleep deprivation, and the moment the mind is going to go to sleep, you stay aware. And there is thoughtlessness. And you just stay in that space of conscious deep sleep.

First of all, things like the Vijñana Bhairava Tantra were written by teachers for their students. So the tantras themselves are practice manuals written by teachers for their students.

They all contain– Exactly like the Vijñana Bhairava Tantra, they all contain view teachings first, like that conversation in the beginning between Bhairava and Bhairavi. That's how they all start.

Some form of Shiva and Shakti having a conversation, explaining the View. And then they go into techniques, practices.

They are not meant to be used without a teacher. They were meant to be handbooks for students working with a teacher.

So, first of all, that gap is called a sandhi, which you probably know already. And it's one of the main things that is practiced with in direct realization traditions. So, Trika Shaivism being one of them.

And there are many, many forms of practicing with that gap. But you need instruction. You need to have concerted instruction.

Of course, we CAN practice out of a book and do our best when we don't have a teacher. But there are much simpler things you can be doing that don't involve sleep deprivation, as you put it.

Nothing involves sleep deprivation. That really has nothing to do with anything, nothing to do with the practice.

That's just one little example of what happens when we try to read stuff like this out of books. I'm not totally against learning things out of books, at all. But that book in particular, there's just a lot of necessary teaching that has to happen.

So, when I teach, I also give people written handouts. And just like the Vijñana Bhairava Tantra, the teaching is not in the written pages. The teachings in the Vijñana Bhairava Tantra are just schematic.

They don't contain the full teaching.

The interesting thing about that particular text, which used to drive me crazy, is that those particular practices in the section of ajapa japa are really contradictorily translated in different texts.

In different translations of that tantra, those sections on ajapa japa are translated differently, and opposite instructions are given in different translations. Which used to just make me go mad. But I finally learned what is the right way.

Long story, but in any case, Swami Lakshmanjoo himself—who, one of the teachings is his—had much more to say about those methods, those upayas, than is actually written in that book.

And please erase the word samadhi from your vocabulary. That's a very highfalutin word. If you're experiencing that, I'll let you know, or you can let me know, but let's just not apply it to every little experience that we have. That is something we need to lose. [laughs]

You know, here's the thing about samadhi. If someone were very, very realized, there would be no point in using that word at all.

Sometimes people say about Anandamayi Ma: oh, she was in samadhi, she fell into samadhi. I mean, that is ridiculous. She was always immersed in presence.

Why would you differentiate one time from another time when you're talking about something like that?

And if you're talking about more ordinary practitioners, then you're talking about something really less than that. So why talk about it? [laughs]

I mean, samadhi has become somewhat of a brand. [laughter]

And you can keep reading the Vijñana Bhairava Tantra if you want, just out of interest. There's some very simple things in there that are very sweet and have to do with the relationship of this to everyday life.

For instance, learning to pause when you've had a very satisfying experience, like eating a beautiful meal with friends or listening to beautiful music. Learning to pause after that experience and relax in the state of contentment.

And in the Tantra it says, and then you will be more like Lord Shiva. You will have some experience of the contentment that is felt by the Lord.

So, those kinds of things are fun and simple to play with and not harmful at all. It's funny because if we aren't terribly realized, we need humility and modesty more than anything. So we should never use words like samadhi. [laughs]

And if we are highly realized, what's the point? [laughs]

That just made me think of something that you said just around how we sometimes fluctuate with doing our practice, from going through, like, having pride and then feeling humiliated. And how instead of humiliated, the opposite would be to feel humility or just modesty.

There's a lot more flavor of what's called vira bhava in the Tantrik traditions than in some other traditions. So the word vira means heroic or hero. Bhava means orientation.

So when you read some of the, what I consider to be less-inspiring tantras [laughs], there's a protagonist in those tantras. And the protagonist is a male vira.

Someone who has this very heroic orientation toward their practice, and they're hell-bent on becoming these great practitioners and having all these experiences. It's, like, nirvikalpa samadhi or bust.

And this is definitely a flavor of the tradition in general, and it does attract more titan-y types, but it is totally beside the point. It is totally beside the point.

I've spent a lot of time with just ordinary Tibetan practitioners. When I was living– The first year that I was in Portland, Oregon, when I was living with a Tibetan couple, and they were very involved in the Tibetan community there.

And I met a lot of the local Tibetan people that were involved in that northwest Tibetan community. And you just realize that there's tens of thousands of people all over the world just doing practice. Not expecting to have great experiences.

Perfectly fine just doing their practice every day. Not feeling like failures because, like, giant light bulbs and explosions aren't happening.

They're just completely fine. Just doing that. They don't have other expectations of themselves.

And if they have any expectation, it's simply that they want to be better people and they want to treat other other people better. That's really enough of an expectation or of a desire.

So if we have, like, the three traditions: Trika Shaivism, and then your run-of-the-mill Vajrayana, a Tibetan tradition, and Daoism. In the Tantrik traditions, there's this heroic accomplishment thing happening as a flavor.

And in the Tibetan traditions, it's sort of a middle road where extraordinary accomplishment is celebrated, but the point of it is to treat people better, not to become heroic. So it's sort of a little different orientation.

And then there's the Daoist traditions, which are just utterly squashing and pooh-poohing any idea of any kind of bells and whistles whatsoever. [laughs]

And the same with American Zen, which caused my friend, who's not not alive anymore, but he was a Daoist teacher and also taught Vajrayana Buddhism, and he was a little more juicy.

But he used to talk about American Zen people as his desiccated little brothers, his dry little brothers. It's like any excitement about the practice must be squashed. [laughs]

But I think we can learn a lot if we think about those millions, like literally millions of people all over the world, JUST practicing.

They're just doing it! They don't have a self-conception that any grand thing has to happen. I think it's a good medicine for us to think of those people. And join their ranks.

I really felt at home with that Tibetan community in Portland. They were so simple in their approach to each other. And there wasn't a lot of competitiveness. And there was a lot of cooperation and collaboration that just felt really spontaneous and sweet.

When big meals were being prepared, there was no discussion about who was going to do what, or who was going to help with what, or whose turn it was to do what. Everyone just really just did everything, and it just happened very gracefully and sweetly.

I was always really impressed by that. It was so relaxing. No one was measuring who was doing more or less. None of that. It had this really sweet dance-like quality. Just making an ordinary dinner together had this quality.

If things went wrong, if somebody burnt something, or dropped something, or forgot something, or was lazy and didn't do anything, there would just be laughter. Everyone would just crack up at the whole situation, whatever it was.

These were just people who grew up in families where practice was done every day as a matter of course.

They had no grand self-conception. But every single person in the room was doing practice every day. Every single person. That's just what you did.

And they weren't even doing fancy practices. They didn't even know all the direct realization stuff. They didn't even know the more advanced practices in their own lineages.

Most of them were doing ngöndro, these preliminary practices. Or very simple meditation. Or mantra, om mani padme hum, or something like that. They weren't doing anything fancy.

One time– My friend's parents were Nyingmas, which is a pretty sophisticated aspect of Tibetan Buddhism. But her parents, they weren't part of that higher echelon. They were just ordinary practitioners.

And one time, her mom asked ME to teach her open-eyed meditation. Because they didn't learn that even though it's really big in their own lineage.

Because no one's thinking, oh, I've done my ngöndro, and I've been doing this mantra for years, I should go get this other practice because it's higher. No one's thinking that way. They're just doing whatever they're doing.

Someone mentions that they can learn another practice, fine. But they don't have this hierarchy of stuff that they have built a ladder out of that they think they're climbing.



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