Show Up for Your Practice and Engage the Teachings

October 4, 2023

Shambhavi gives teachings on two precepts that can help us lead a healthy human life with more opportunity for waking up. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

I've been doing very, very brief teachings on the Jaya Kula mandala precepts. And I thought since we have people coming on the livestream who haven't been in person and aren't as familiar with our community, that I would continue to give some longer teachings, slightly longer.

We have what are called precepts. These are ways that we can functionally manage our energy and give us more energy for doing sadhana and make our lives smoother with fewer entanglements, so that we don't get all distracted and diverted by getting all entangled in stuff, with other people in general, or with ourselves.

We waste a lot of energy that way, we walk right into our own traps of entanglement. And then also to help us to be healthier. When we observe certain very simple precepts, it helps our doshas—the five elements and their expression and our body, energy and mind—be more balanced.

And also preserves and build what's called ojas. So our basic ability to deal with life. That's one of the ways of thinking about ojas. And we all need that because life is uneven and there's nothing we can do about that.

If life is uneven and there's nothing we can do about it, then what we want is to have enough energy so that we can surf life's unevenness with a little bit of grace and not get capsized or drowned by life's unevenness.

We need to have healthy ojas for that, or as healthy as we can.

In this kind of tradition, and I teach in two traditions, but my main tradition is Trika Shaivism from North India. I've also had some training in the Tibetan tradition of Dzogchen.

In these traditions, when we say precepts, we're not talking about moral, good, or ethical rights and wrongs. We are talking about what do we need to lead a healthy human life where we have some possibility of waking up and discovering who and what we really are.

These precepts, as I said in the very beginning, are functional. They're not ethical to do's. We're not claiming they're morally right or morally good or morally better than anybody else's precepts. We don't bother getting in those arguments.

So the first precept, well, let me just talk about the word Kula for new people. Jaya means victory, and Kula is a very special word in the Trika tradition. It's just an ordinary word on some level that means family.

But in the Trika tradition, the word Kula means the family of the teacher, meaning the people who are following the teachings, who are doing practice as guided by a particular teacher.

But more than that, Kula means all the elements that are the body of the divine mother. Everything is said to be an aspect of the body of the divine mother, her energy, her shakti, her word, her creativity, her power.

Kula, in its largest sense, means that, a collection of all beings and things that are the family of the divine mother. So when we say this, we mean anybody who is following the teachings. And then victory, of course, means waking up. What other victory could there possibly be?

The word mandala is also special to Trika tradition and also to Tibetan direct realization traditions. In Buddhism, they're more likely to use the Sanskrit word sangha. And sangha is a more general term, a more loose knit term, which really could just refer to anybody that comes around.

Mandala is a sacred geometrical form that has four gates. It's a living symbol of all of reality, but it's also a living symbol of the city. It's a symbol of the diversity of manifest life and our excitement in experiencing that just as we experience life in the city.

Mandala is what the community of practitioners is referred to in our tradition rather than sangha.

The first precept is show up for your practice every day. And of course, doing daily practice is the most important thing that we have consistent daily practice.

Anandamayi Ma, my satguru, she taught that no matter what, try to do practice every day. Even if you're only doing ten minutes or fifteen minutes or twenty minutes of practice a day, the most important thing is that it's every day.

Because we are trying to form new habits that eventually will gain momentum, that will gain shakti, and will eventually have the strength to counteract or pull our energy in a different direction away from our karmas.

Most of my students who are working with me closely are doing an hour or more of sadhana a day. But if you're new to Jaya Kula, or you're not sure if you really want to study with me or you're just trying things out, the best thing to do is to establish something every day.

That's the most literal meaning of show up for your practice every day. It means show up to gain momentum in a different direction than the momentum of your karmic habit patterns, your suffering.

On another and more profound level, it means actually be there while you're practicing. This is something that even seasoned students, even experienced students sometimes have trouble with this.

They show up on their cushion and they do their practice, but they're not actually engaged in their practice. When we do sadhana or are doing mantra or meditation or kriya yoga, or something like that, we want to be alert and aware.

So we want to have a fresh awareness and we want to encounter that practice with our body, with our energy and with our mind. With our intelligence, our deep intelligence, intelligence of the heart, not just our intellect.

We want to be in what we call open gate posture, meaning we want all of our senses to be open. We're not trying to withdraw and shut down. We want to meet the lively intelligence that is coming toward us, that we're immersed in.

We want to re-recognize and re-meet that. In order to do that, just like when we meet a friend, we have to be open. We have to have our senses open.

If we want to know how somebody else is, we have to be open to them. We have to be receptive. So we want to bring to our practice, if we're going to really show up for our practice, we want to bring to it receptivity, curiosity, openness and exploratory attitude.

We're going to see what's there and when we experience something, we're going to let ourselves experience it more. So we have to yield to that experience of practice and be aware and fresh.

Like fresh greenness that we bring into our practice. That's really the most profound meaning of show up for your practice.

You can do something every day like a robot. Maybe robots can become self-realized, but imagine how much longer it will take. [laughs]

Who am I to say that a robot can become self-realized? But I think humans could maybe do it a little faster if we don't act like robots.

I'm doing this morning practice now for a while. We've done, as of the end of January, 142 morning practices on Facebook and YouTube. Consecutive 142 practices, and then we started just doing them five days a week.

And so many people are saying that doing that practice with me is helping them to connect more in their practice. Matri is sitting here, she said she feels like she's learning how I do my practice.

It's like being there in a fresh way. If you notice, we're doing the same practice every day, but it's never the same from day to day. There's always a fresh feeling about it. This is how you want to approach your own practice.

Then I'll do one more precept and then we'll open up satsang. The second is a related precept, engage the teachings.

This is where I think sometimes we fall short, which means that we want to first listen to the teachings. That's number one. We want to try to bring to the teachings what the Buddhists call beginner's mind.

We have a lot of access to a lot of teachings these days. And we also grew up in some tradition. Even if we weren't practicing it, there's some atmosphere of spiritual tradition we imbibed when we were young from our parents and our ancestors.

Then we live in a Christian culture here in the United States. But wherever we live, if we live in a culture that is subscribing to the Abrahamic coalition traditions, then we are imbibing a whole set of assumptions about God and about ourself.

Even if we have nothing to do with those traditions, it just seeps in through our skin.

And then we go to the yoga studio and get some very mixed-up version of Hinduism that it's like a little from here a little from there.

And then we come to a tradition like this that really has a coherent view, a very precise view. Some of it feels familiar, but some of it feels very unfamiliar.

When we encounter something we don't understand or that feels unfamiliar, what do we do? We try to make it more familiar right away. We try to make it more "Well, that's like this thing that I learned from my Irish Catholic aunt" or something like that.

So we want to try to not do that. If we want to engage the teachings, we have to engage them on their own terms. Every tradition has integrity.

I know a lot of you are worried about cultural appropriation, so number one, engage the tradition on its own terms. Learn about it on its own terms. Learn what it has to say about itself. That's respect. It's good for your practice, but that is also respectful.

And then we want to retain the teaching. This morning I was talking about the teaching from the yogic tradition and from the Puranas that there's three kinds of students.

One student is like a pot turned upside down. The teachings just fall on the pot and nothing can get in because it's turned upside down. Not listening, not absorbing, just kinda there.

The second kind of student is like an upturned pot, but with holes in the bottom of the pot. I have many students like this. The teachings go in, but then they just go woosh, right out the holes.

So, six years later someone still can't answer a basic question about the view of the tradition. Because they haven't expended the energy to try to understand it and retain it and make it their own.

Then, of course, the best student is like an upturned pot with no holes in the bottom, and they're going to receive the teachings. They're like an empty pot. They're not trying to change anything. They're not putting their own seasoning in from some other tradition.

They're really just receiving it. And then things can start cooking, as I said this morning. One of the metaphors for a student in this tradition, a tradition of self-realization, is cooking. One of my teachers told me, "You can't be a tantrika if you don't like to cook."

That might be true. I don't know.

But this idea that heat is applied in the form of your practice doing your practice every day and your relationship with your teacher can definitely generate some heat.

And then you cook and something really delicious, a delicious meal is being prepared. But you have to keep the ingredients in the pot so it can cook.

The students who engage the teachings have like an empty pot or in Dzogchen, they say like an empty vase. This is like receiving the teachings without concepts, without preconceptions, listening very carefully and then letting them cook inside of you and make something delicious and transform you.

So engaging the teachings, receiving them through listening, retaining them often through study.

As most of my students know, when I was a student for several decades, I kept so many notes. I still have them in my room. I have stacks of notebooks with notes that I took, and I would go back and reread them. They were inspiring. We spent time memorizing things.

My Jyotish teacher told me to teach Jyotish to my students. So I started a Jyotish class and we got through the first semester, but I had to cancel it because ninety percent of the students weren't studying.

And it's not the thing you can do if you're not studying. You have to study. So, this is engaging the teachings, listening, contemplating, retaining, writing stuff down, studying, asking questions.

This is a big one also. We live in a very pride-centered culture. I was joking around online this morning that sometimes I sit through satsangs and I see students through the whole satsang. I can tell in their minds they're trying to formulate the smartest, most perfect question they possibly can.

Or they'll say something like. I've been thinking about this question for the past few satsangs. I'm like, "Oh God, I'm really in trouble now." [laughs]

So ask all the questions that you have without restraint, spontaneously. The only way that you can really look good in the eyes of the teacher is to ask questions and not be afraid to ask questions. Being afraid to ask questions isn't a good look. [laughs]

It's not that I'll really think anything bad about you. But I'm just saying being very, very cautious and careful about asking questions is not what any teacher wants.

Teachers want you to engage with the teachings more freely, more thoroughly, more creatively, ask all the hard questions. Of course, some teachers don't like that.

As I'm saying that, I'm thinking back to the times I got in trouble with my teachers for asking inconvenient questions. But since I am an asker of inconvenient questions, I really don't mind my students asking inconvenient questions.


Listen to a related podcast episode from Satsang with Shambhavi: Why We Follow Precepts and Offer Seva


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