The Four Aims of Human Life, Spiritual Bypassing, and Diversity

March 8, 2023

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

Can you talk about dharma from the Tantrik perspective?

I don't know if this is a specifically Tantrik perspective, but there are the traditional four aims of life in most Hindu traditions, kama, artha, dharma, and moksha. Kama means pleasure, and it specifically means ordinary pleasure.

Most of the forms of Hinduism teach us that we should enjoy a full life, and different kinds of enjoyments are appropriate to different phases of life. But kama is ordinary pleasure in life, including sexual pleasure.

And then artha is wealth. So artha could be anything from having enough money to eat and a place to sleep and maybe a little extra to do something else, to spiritual wealth.

Or wealth of friends. Or being wealthy and being a generous person. That's a very wonderful form of wealth. So there are many different forms of wealth we could be talking about.

And then dharma means anything that helps us along to progress spiritually. The word dharma is often translated literally as duty. The people today in India talk about dharma just as their regular duty. Their job that they do, or duties they need to perform according to whatever circumstance they're in in their lives.

But again, like each of these words, there's a sort of more ordinary meaning and a more expanded meaning. And the more expanded meaning of dharma is, anything that helps us to progress spiritually.

Whether that be circumstances or friends or teachers or scriptures or practices, that would all be dharma. Or even our own longing, our own desire to discover more of what's going on here and following That.

If we're being just regular people who don't have much awareness of a larger thing that could be discovered here, our dharma might be just having a good ordinary life. And putting those pieces together and fulfilling our functions in life as we experience them, having come in with different capacities and learning how to express those.

But if we're recognizing that longing inside to discover something more. If we understand there's more going on here than meets the ordinary senses, and we have a desire to discover that. Or just to be relieved of suffering.

Then we can experience dharma as anything that is helping us to wake up and just find out who we are and what's happening here for reals. Rather than just the received conventional ideas about who we are and what's happening, which are very limited.

And then moksha means liberation. That is the fruit of having fulfilled all of the capacities of a human life. Having lived through them and fulfilled them and completed them.

Then we experience something called moksha, which isn't something that happens all at once. It's not like one big slam, bang event. It is something that we go along recognizing more, gaining more clarity.

Having our perceptions relaxed so we can perceive more directly what's happening and who we are. And how to work in this world, how to move in this world.

So that's moksha, which is liberation, or self-realization. And Ma just defined that as, knowing yourself. That was her definition of moksha, knowing yourself.

There are many, many different definitions of moksha, and a lot of them are from the Trika tradition. Knowing yourself would certainly be one of them and understanding that knowing yourself and knowing God and knowing reality are all the same thing.

You know one, you know the others. Because they're all the same. Reality, God, and yourself are all the same. As Abhinavagupta said, if you see the reality of how things are in one way, you see them in all ways.

Seeing it once here is seeing it everywhere. You can't stop seeing it once you've seen it. You may forget it temporarily, but it will return. That darshan to see and be seen, to know how things are, will always return once having been seen.

What's the difference between spiritual bypassing and surrendering to That?

Spiritual bypassing is always about consolidating a sense of self. There's two main aspects to spiritual bypassing. One is projecting yourself or branding yourself as someone who knows about spiritual things.

So it's a performance of knowing about things spiritual. And generally pontificating about spiritual ideas and philosophies and maybe even claiming to have realized things that are only conceptual for you. That's one aspect of spiritual bypassing.

The other aspect of spiritual bypassing is pain-avoidance. Trying to leap over experiencing one's real condition, which is rather messy and muddy generally, most of the time. And trying to escape pain by basically medicating yourself with a valium of spiritual ideas.

So there's those two aspects to spiritual bypassing. Self-medication with the highfalutin spiritual ideas that helps one to escape pain. Or escape the knowledge of one's mortality or ephemerality.

And then also the fashioning of a self-image of someone who knows. So people who spiritually bypass don't do it in private. [laughter] They proclaim. Especially, for instance, if someone in this condition encounters someone else in pain.

If you tell someone who is in this condition that you're depressed, they'll then spew some spiritual idea at you. Because the very fact that you're depressed is too dangerous for them to deal with in a real way.

They don't want to feel their own depression or their own sadness. They want to just deny all that. And they do it with spiritual ideas, basically. But the difference between that and surrender is just yielding to what is and working with it.

And the real sense of surrender in Trika Shaivism is called samavesha. It means immersion. So it's the fruit of practice that we would recognize living presence. We would then feel immersed in it.

We would feel our immersion in it. And everything is direct. There's no need to bypass anything. The knowledge of how things are is very direct and simple.

What are different limitations that we have on our perception?

Well, there are in Trika Shaivism some traditional limitations that are listed. These are called the kanchukas. This is part of how we come to be.

So, for instance, a limitation on our experience of time. Where we have some concept of linear time, which we are embodying in our lives. And this is not the fullness of time. This is a limited experience of time.

We have a limited experience of being in a place. We have a limited experience of embodiment. This is another one of the kanchukas. We think we are in this limited spot, and that we're objects with space around us.

We don't have an experience of ubiquitousness. We don't have an experience of the Self as being everywhere and us being sort of like little wavelets in the ocean of the Self, connected to everything. And there's a bunch more.

But the kanchukas are tools of creating individuated experiences that are wielded by Maya devi. Maya devi is—doesn't say this in the Trika scripture—but she is considered to be the one who creates these diverse experiences. So I call her the devi of diversity.

And these kanchukas, even though they're called limitations in our way of speaking of them, they're actually how God makes art. So if you think of the process of making art, art can only be made by taking something away.

I've said this so many times before, that if you want to have a painting, you can't use every color in existence. You have to choose a very small, limited subset of colors.

And if you want to have an experience of having a conversation, you have to have an experience of an other. So even though we say, Well, these are limitations, they are also the tools of artistry of God.

And Lord Shiva is often called the artist or the magician, causing all of this to appear. So the kanchukas are the sort of most base-level tools that are being used, to limit the experience of the absolute.

The unlimited experience, which is self-limiting itself in order to produce this madhouse of diverse forms and circumstances for its own enjoyment. So that's what limitation is.

Limitation is the way that diverse worlds and beings arise in the experience of Lord Shiva or this alive, aware reality. Just like how limitation arises for us when we create art. And so we can enjoy those productions, even though they are a result of what we call limitation.

When we become more realized, when our perceptions are more open, then we can still have the experience of diversity. But we recognize what it really is.

So we recognize that these are experiences and not how things are all the way down. So we recognize that these experiences are happening within a vast continuity. Within a vast Self, which is not experiencing separation.

And this is also taught in Trika that even though Shiva and Shakti can have this experience of two, they are never forgetting that they're one. We are having an experience of two, of duality, but we've forgotten that we're one.

So that's another variety of experience. And another variety of experience is this game that we're playing called self-realization. It really is a game. It's like the biggest game app in existence.

What can that do for us to know that as we're moaning and groaning and being so earnest about ourselves? We can remember this is playfulness. It can help to leaven or lighten. Because the human realm is the earnest realm, I'm convinced. [laughter]

Is there an idea of, my dharma versus your dharma? What might be right for me versus you?

From the more conventional Hindu teachings, yes. And that relates to a very much older idea that you're born into a certain strata of society, and a certain occupation. And of course, that idea still exists today, but it's weakening.

So we could think of in a more modern sense, but still ordinary, that we all come in with capacities. This is called in the Trika tradition, adhikara, what our basic capacities are.

And then we have what's called bhumikara, what we do with our capacities. All of these things could be said to be shaping our dharma, shaping whatever paths we take in life.

Whether it's employment or how we structure our relationships with other people. What we tend to want and not want, those kinds of things. And dharma would mean that we're being true to those things.

Is there some idea of naturalness there, then?

Yeah. What is natural to somebody? Our natural tendencies. But I think there's always a flavor of, something that is expressing or leading us to a better life. Or expressing our goodness in some way.

Because dharma really does mean duty on some level. If someone had a tendency to be a serial killer, you wouldn't really call that their dharma. [laughter] So there is built into the word some idea that you're doing something useful and positive.

And then if we think of it in a more spiritual sense, as Ma said, it's whatever you're doing that is going to help you to wake up more. So for those of us who have that inbuilt tendency that that's what we want to do, we can make choices that are expressive of that. That help us, that support us in that.

But one of the not so helpful permutations of the appropriation of the word dharma in the West is that we have this very individualized sense that we should be achieving something special.

Everybody should be doing something special and unique. We should all have our own genius. [laughter] Seriously, that sense of dharma that has become very individualized.

Like you have people actually, I have to find my dharma. What they mean is like, the thing that's going to make them great. But that's not what dharma means.

I remember one time I was in this restaurant in the Delhi airport, and I asked the waiter for some salt. And he said, Yes, ma'am, that is my duty to bring you the salt. And the word he was using was dharma.

It doesn't mean greatness. It might mean just bringing someone some salt. [laughter]

Can you talk a little more about play and earnestness?

I don't know if this works for everybody, but it certainly worked for me for a long time. There's a very ordinary way to interrupt your earnestness, and that's to think of your place in the cosmos.

You are literally a speck of dust on a planet that's a slightly larger speck of dust. [laughs] In the middle of a vast field of other specks of dust. How important really is it?

And then you can also think about how short your life is. That's always a fun thing to think about. We think our decisions are so momentous, whether we decide one thing or another. But in 100 years, every single person we know will be dead.

And no one will at all ever remember, care, or be affected by whatever decision we just made. [laughter] In some sense, our earnestness is a problem of lack of scale.

We forget the scale of our lives. And we forget the scale of our context, the cosmos. And we forget the scale of our lifespan. And somehow we narrow our focus to this tremendous degree on to these tiny little moments that we deem so important.

And it's kind of funny that we do this. You could imagine there must be planets out there where earnestness really isn't a thing. And people aren't so self-involved.

And they're probably just laughing at us like, what are those people doing? [laughter] They probably find us very, very amusing. And in fact, many spiritual teachers have said that when you become more realized, everything just becomes funny.

All the machinations that we go through just become somewhat hilarious. All the spiritual teachers that I've studied with and admired all laughed a lot. When I find one that's too serious, I'm just like, no, don't get it. You don't get it.

That is an absolute teaching, or is it a relative teaching? The teaching about the speck of dust?

Everything is a reflection of the absolute. The fact that we are specks, in the universe of speck. The fact that there are so many galaxies and universes and multiverses now, it doesn't have to be that way. That's how it is, but it doesn't have to be that way.

So we could be in a circumstance where there was just one world and we all lived enormously long lives and there was no vast space around us. Wow, maybe some earnestness might be called for in that circumstance. I don't know. [laughter]

But space, literal space, is a symbol of the vastness of the mind of God. So there actually is no literal space. There is an experience of space that is a symbol of the vastness of the mind of God. And all of the incredible specks, all of the magical specks are a symbol or an expression of the creativity of that awareness.

So when we talk about something relative, like our experience of planets and galaxies and whatnot, which is also repeated internally with all the molecules and atoms. It's like inside, outside, above, below, around, absolute, relative. All the same. Wherever you look, it's the same. Specks of incredible diversity. [laughs]

So when we talk about the relative, we are talking about our ordinary experience. Although not everyone runs around thinking about the infinite specks of the universe. But maybe it's not so ordinary, but it is conventional.

Even though that is our relative experience, it is also speaking to us of the absolute. And that's why we can use the relative to discover the absolute. It's the whole basis of our practice, that we can be in everyday life doing ordinary stuff and still realize the nature of God.

This is what's called immanency as opposed to transcendency. Imminency means that the nature of things is imminent to everything. The real nature of things is in there. Or as Ma said, the Father is in the Mother.

We're not making a real distinction between the relative and the absolute. And in fact, in Trika Shaivism, they don't even use those terms. I just use them because I've also studied in Buddhist traditions, and it seems handy.

But we don't want to make the mistake of thinking that there's any actual difference between them. We're really just talking about the microcosm and the macrocosm, where the reflection of the nature of the absolute is in the relative.

But that doesn't give importance to microcosm, that macrocosm is in it. It's like the way we exemplify our problems, we make ourselves important.

Well, that's not true. Because what is worrying? It's a very repetitive, stale, contracted, limited form of self-reflection. Even our anxiety and our worry about ourselves is a reflection of the absolute.

Because what the absolute is doing, it's alive, it's self-aware, it's reflecting on its own nature joyfully, and enjoying that reflection through all of its creation. So our little like, Oh, my God. That's self-reflection also.

It's just not really all that enlightened. It's not recognizing the real nature of things. It's reflection that has forgotten the real nature of things. Same thing with our obsession with social media, reflecting this alive, aware reality's enjoyment of communication.

This alive, aware reality is one Self, one awareness, one consciousness, one subjectivity. Whatever you want to call it. One nature of mind. It doesn't really matter what you call it. It has continuity. It is not separated in any way from itself.

But yet, what is it doing? It's creating all these experiences of talking and communication and others. And this is why in Trika, the main metaphor for God's creation is a city. A place where you go to meet others and have diverse, interesting experiences.

So manifest life is likened to a city. God likes the city. Of course, in that respect, nature, like non-city or villages or just being out in nature with no cities at all, is also the city because it's also incredibly diverse.

So it's not like only a literal city. It just means the enjoyment of having unique, wonderful experiences and communicating. And our obsession with communication is an aspect of that.

There's just nothing happening here that isn't That. And you can always walk backward from this to That. And that's what we're doing in our practice. And it's very simple and very—it is just so simple.


Photo by Cosmic Timetraveler


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