Sweetness, Yielding to What Is, and Integrity

October 25, 2023

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Ganesha has all those implements of spiritual development in his hands. What do the sweets do?

The sweets that he's holding are called modakam, and they're like little sweet dumplings. They're really delicious. Anything to do with sweet taste has to do with the sweet taste of existence or of this alive, aware reality.

And getting in touch with that fundamental sweet taste and the enjoyment of that. We have various kinds of enjoyment in our lives, but most of those are pretty contracted and stepped down. They're pale echoes. And they have a lot of compulsion, [laughs] usually attached to them.

But the sweets that Lord Ganesha is enjoying are really that rasa, that sweet taste of everything. That is what we encounter when we have more of a continuous experience of the real nature of ourselves and of everything.

He's not only holding them and offering that, to us really, and we offer to him and he offers it back to us. But he's also enjoying it. That's really the main point is that this alive, aware reality is in a state of enjoyment.

This is a teaching that is given in a slightly different way in both Trika Shaivism and Dzogchen. I like to imitate my Dzogchen teacher. He would sit on his high seat, usually wearing some jogging outfit that was in some crazy color like chartreuse. And he would say, we relax and we enjoy.

This is a very similar teaching as in Trika Shaivism that Lord Shiva, meaning all of existence, is in a profound state of self-enjoyment. Enjoying his own nature. And so the sweet that Lord Ganesha is offering us is that sweetness to enjoy.

When we offer to deities or gurus, you know when we're doing ritual or just in our everyday lives, we are offering a limited aspect of that, whatever that is. And we're getting back the possibility of a more unlimited experience as prasad.

This has to do with the call-and-response nature of manifest life. And there's a very common saying in Hinduism, if you take one step toward the mother, she'll take ten steps toward you.

It means a lot of different things, but one of the things that could possibly mean is that if you make a small offering, you get a big response. So you make a small, sincere offering, you get something much bigger and more expansive back. That possibility.

I was wondering about when a karma that you kind of enjoy is happening, and I'll pray to Ma, but I feel that I mean it, but not really. Not totally.

Not totally.

Do you think that if you take a step towards Ma, she'll take a bigger step towards you, pertains in that circumstance?

Sort of, yeah. But it's good that you recognize that, right? Because some people don't recognize that their suffering actually contains some enjoyment. And that that's really the hook. Some people don't recognize that at all.

And if you even suggest that within that suffering, there's some enjoyment that's got you. They'll get all earnest and freaked out about that. But then some people will not recognize their own insincerity.

We can take on the trappings of prayer and we can very earnestly seem to be trying to transform our experience. But we don't recognize what we're holding back.

So it's very good when you get to the point where you can sort of have some healthy self-irony. Recognizing that even in the midst of praying and begging, you're still really not sure that you want this thing to go away. [laughter]

That's a very good thing that you recognize that. Then what happens eventually is you actually get desperate for that thing to go away and it's painful. That's kind of grace. We don't know when that will happen.

But we do have moments of real sincerity and it's in those moments that things really can transform. Things transform slowly and incrementally. You know, here I'll give you this, but I'm keeping this back.

And then we'll reach a juncture or a tipping point where we really have this new deeper sincerity and recognizing more what's really at stake. We recognize more how unfree we are. I don't want to give up my freedom to go out at midnight and buy donuts. [laughs]

We have these funny definitions of what our freedom is. Then eventually we recognize that those things are actually our enslavement. [laughs] Then we start this sort of, like, wait, what?

And eventually we get just desperate to be more free or more rid of those things and not be saddled with them. We even get just sick of our own enjoyment of them and all that stuff. It's a difficult phase of any, like, working with any particular karma.

And that's when something can really shift. Before that's very incremental. We're in a communicative and collaborative circumstance, and we aren't in charge. We only have our small part to play.

But then there's infinite causes and effects and there's grace also, the wildcard. That's really what can give us more peace of mind around our fixations and foibles. When we are doing enough practice over enough period of time, certain patterns of how things transform become obvious to us.

One of the main things that becomes obvious is how little control we have over the whole thing. [laughs] So we just do our bit. We just put one foot in front of the other. We want to be consistent and hopefully have some sincerity.

But really, apart from that, there's not much that's in our hands. And as long as we're doing our best, we could say God is taking care of the rest whenever they want to.

Also not up to us, not on any timetable that has any logic or rationale behind it. In the early stages of people doing sadhana that can be very frustrating or upsetting.

But as you get more mature, you realize, no, that's actually relaxing because I actually only have a small part here. And I just do my little bit part and then whatever happens, that's what happens.

Tantrik communities are full of people who want things to happen faster. And full of people who get annoyed when things don't happen exactly the way they want them to.

Or when other people don't do exactly what they want them to. That's one of the great lessons of spiritual life is we have to learn patience. Or just surrender to how things actually are.

And of course, there's vast numbers of whole lineages and practitioners who are still promoting this idea that if you do this, this, and this, that's going to happen. You will have enlightenment in this lifetime or you will do this or that.

This is all fiction. This is all utter fiction. I mean, if it were real, there would be so many enlightened people running around. [laughs] Where are they? We really, we need to—we don't need to, but we will.

If we keep practicing with at least some degree of honesty and clarity, we will be schooled in patience and modesty. Even if we don't want to be. In the end, that is relaxing.

Can sincerity exist simultaneously with fear, hesitation, aversion?

Totally. Yeah, it does. And not only can, it always does. I mean, we're mixed bags, right? That's what the whole Mahabharata is about. It's about what incredible mixed bags human beings are.

We all develop coping mechanisms unless we've led some sort of charmed existence. Most people experience some feeling of constraint, or some kind of violence, or some kind of something in childhood.

And you develop coping mechanisms which turn into habit patterns. So then you get into adulthood and you're no longer living with your family. But the patterns just keep rolling right along. [laughs]

But then I think we also all have the experience, or many, many people of those patterns becoming somewhat obsolete. And then not serving us anymore. And then at some point recognizing that.

We all have different constitutions. I have a lot of pitta in my constitution. So my way of getting through my family circumstance when I was a kid was just like, no one's getting in my way. That was my attitude.

My brothers just kind of collapsed and just had a completely different response to the situation. But my response was to be really brash and rebellious and I was angry all the time.

I just had this, you are not stopping me. I don't care what you do. You're not going to stop me from getting what I want. That was my attitude. And I went into adulthood with that attitude, that very aggressive attitude. And I had to unlearn it.

Now all you hear me saying is follow, follow. Everything's about following. I was just thinking about this the other day. I was like, Who am I? [laughs] I just turned into this totally other person. But that's fine. That's what I wanted.

Everything just feels like we're just here to let go. It feels exhausting to have so much to let go. I know I'm just, I have to let go of this. I have to let go of this. And it just feels so—

We actually can't let go of anything. That's a mistaken concept. I mean, what does that really mean? If we could just like, okay, I'm letting go. [laughter] It doesn't really work, right?

First of all, we're not in charge of when something relaxes or dissolves. Or goes away. So we can't just grab things and let them go. We don't have that power.

What we can do is relax and rest. We can discover that recognition of our real nature and we can just relax and rest. Remaining in contact with that. The word that I like to use more than let go is yield.

That's about as active a principle as we can have with relationship to circumstances. We can yield to circumstance. We can just relax and rest and let things happen and yield.

Rather than constantly trying to fiddle and tweak. See, letting it go is just another form of fiddling. And it's just something that keeps us busy. I'm letting go of this, I'm letting go of that. I have my vision board of everything I'm letting go of.

It's just like another form of pointless self-involvement. [laughs] And like you said, it's exhausting. It's all this work. We like to be busy. We like to be distracted. And so all of this stuff about letting go is just more spiritual busy work.

You can't decide to let it go. But I'm curious then why divination would give that advice?

Well, divination is written by certain people who use certain language. And if the divination is using the words let go, that's a very common way of talking about how to relate to troubles and troubling emotions.

And I don't know that very many people have really thought about it. A lot of people just say you should let go. They haven't really gone into it and really felt what that means and maybe the impossibility of it.

Or maybe they haven't experienced that in their life. So we're just talking about a turn of phrase. I'm just saying substitute the word yield. It's like sitting by the bank of a river, just letting the river go.

You couldn't really do anything about the river anyway. But you can sit by the bank of the river and just relax. That means relaxing around the feelings that you have that are uncomfortable.

They're part of the river. They're moving. Just relaxing around them, not trying to fix them. Just letting them happen. I feel like the more fully we can let uncomfortable feelings happen, the more they clear out eventually.

And also the less frightening they are. We kind of get to see what they look like when they're in full bloom, so to speak. And then we become more able to imagine that it's okay to feel those things.

Because we are, we're humans, we're going to feel all sorts of things. And some of them are going to be extremely uncomfortable. And we want to basically just be resting around having those feelings and not trying to scramble frantically away from them.

So if there's any letting go, it's like letting go of that scrambling. We all have patterns that are uncomfortable or that we recognize as being part of our karmic fixation.

And there's a friendliness we can have towards those patterns where we just recognize them as natural occurrences. And we also aren't trying to palliate them. We're not trying to make them feel better or make them other than what they are.

And then there's a friendliness we can have toward them. Even those things that we know we don't really want in our lives forever, but there's a poignancy. And we have a feeling of being guided.

Another thing that has been said, is finding what's valuable or holding the center. And I'm like, what is valuable?

Well, there's two levels of a possible answer to that. One is that there is the eternal value that just expresses itself here that we all have in equal measure. And we can just contact it directly.

We don't need a definition of it. It's not a thing. It's just the value of existence in its beauty and wisdom and virtue. We can encounter that in ourselves directly. And then there's no question about it.

There's no like, I need a word for it, or we don't have to make it into a thing. But then there is our attempts to find that value, that wisdom, that virtue, as it expresses in ourselves.

And to stick to it, to stand by it. To be the friend of that in our conduct and orientation to things. And that's what I call integrity. I think that integrity and that essential value or essential goodness are linked.

Integrity is our activity, and it can be extremely subtle activity, of listening to that wisdom and that virtue and doing our best to embody it in our everyday activities. Be in alignment with ourselves. So that is what is of value, what I call integrity.

And when we have that, we really have much less possibility of being cast about when someone else does something that's accusing us of something. Or misunderstanding us in a very painful way. Or something like that. Or just running their own crap that happens to be in their field.

Yeah, if we have that direct perception of wisdom and virtue and we are in integrity with that in our conduct or just in our feeling orientation, then we're really okay. We have that value. We know our value.

That's what I've been trying to do my whole life since the time I became self-aware. I was aware of this something that I was following. I didn't have a word for it.

If I had expressed it then, it would be like something wholesome. That's what it felt, something wholesome when I was a little kid. And then it became the friend. I called it the friend when I was a teenager.

And then it became wisdom. It became God, became virtue. Became That. This reality, the wisdom of this reality. And I've just been following that my whole life to my best of my ability. It doesn't mean perfectly. It just means to the best of my ability.

And so that's where my sense of integrity comes from and any confidence that I have. It's not from accomplishments or anything like that or doing good deeds or anything. It's all about my attempt to listen for that and follow it.

There's a book by a woman practitioner, and she had a Sufi teacher, and a lot of the practice was this really intense, heart-based practice. She has a lot of wonderful passages where she quotes her teacher in that book.

One of the things he says that just struck me very early on was, the reward of spiritual practice is to lead a guided life. That to me just says everything. That we are following wisdom, and that's the reward, that's the joy.

And within that, obviously, we're following even as all our fixations are happening. We can still find that thread of wisdom to follow even in the middle of our fixations.

Sometimes it takes a lot of work, a lot of effort to do that. To clear away the noise of our patterns and find that pure voice. And it's pure, not in some moralistic way.

It's just the way that I've always experienced it is like this sweetness and goodness and wholesomeness. It just feels like that's what we should be doing.

And we don't have to be super special to do that. Everybody has glimpses of that. It's just we haven't been trained to follow it. And especially in this culture where everything's about independence. That's just like the wrong way to go.

There's no joy in that. There's no joy in heading out by yourself because that self is a fiction. It's that self is the source of suffering. I'm always saying these things that are completely at odds with our culture, and some people have a hard time with that.

But that's the way that I've always lived. For some reason, I was just born that way, and I just find the greatest joy in listening for that. And just trying to follow, even when it's very, very hard. And I'm stumbling around and not quite sure what I'm doing. I'm still trying to do that.

And that's all I expect of myself. I don't really expect more than to try my best to do that. Even if I take wrong turns, I feel like there's not really a wrong turn if I'm trying my best to follow.

And I think Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, one of my teachers said this so beautifully. He said, mistaking, mistaking, I follow the unmistaken path. That has just been like medicine for me over the years. That teaching. Mistaking, mistaking, I follow the unmistaken path.

We don't have to worry so much about making mistakes. We just have to do our best to keep in contact with wisdom and follow that as best we can. That's all that God is asking of us, and it's kind of a tall order, but it's not as tall of an order as most of us think we have to fulfill.


Listen to a related podcast episode from Satsang with Shambhavi: Modesty and Integrity


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