The Invitation

March 22, 2023

Shambhavi talks about the practical and esoteric play of invitation and consent between teachers and students. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Can you talk about invitation, to invite?

We know from our practice, the whole practice of Trika Shaivism and other traditions like it, and kirtan and satsang itself, that everything here in manifest life is working on a call and response basis. And that we're having an experience of there being a caller and a responder.

That experience, interestingly enough, is what leads us to understand the continuity. Because that relationship of call and response is one. There's a sense of a caller and a sense of a responder, but they arise together and they're always together.

So this is exactly like Shiva/Shakti. There's a possibility to have an experience of two, which is really beautiful. And yet that experience of two is arising from one.

And so our entire practice is based on call and response. And that's the form of satsang, a traditional form of satsang. There's questions and answers.

It's the form of all of the ancient teaching texts in this tradition, where there's a dialog between some form of Shiva and some form of Shakti that starts every single tantra with different questions about view. And then there's usually practices given.

It's the whole format of kirtan. And it's the whole format of even our seated practice, even when we seem to be doing individual practice. What would it be if we were not listening for the response to our call? And if we are not hearing the call to respond to?

I mean, really, what would our sadhana be if it didn't have that sense of dialog? It would be nothing. It would be nothing. It would be like calling in the dark to nothing or not being called.

So we all are being called and we're all calling and we're all responding. The invitation, which someone wrote about earlier this week, relates to that call and response aspect.

It's a fundamental principle of manifest life that is inescapable and working all the way through life. One thing I realized in my practice is that manifest life really is very simple in how it works.

I have a visualization of it like ribbons or lines of rules. Like how things work, like natural laws, that maybe there's only 10 of these things. It's not a very complicated system.

Why I see ribbons is because it's like working from the subtle to the gross back and forth all the way through every aspect of life. And call and response is one of those ribbons.

When we are doing sadhana, we're getting back in touch with those fundamental laws of nature. Or fundamental life. Let's just call them life ways, life ways of manifest life.

And we're learning how to perceive them. How to be sensitive to them. How to respond to them appropriately. How to use them to navigate life. And as we go along in our sadhana, our sense of that we're in this open field where certain principles are always operating.

And we can learn more about those principles and be more sensitized to them as we go along. And discover lots of nuances and ways that they're being played with.

And of course, what are these things? They're like the components of improvisation. Of this improvisational life. So invitation is an aspect of call and response.

And there's a saying that you probably have heard because it's around the Hindu water cooler, which is, if you take one step toward the Mother, she'll take 100 steps toward you. You've heard that. That's a part of invitation.

The basic invitation of the student to the teacher is that you take one step forward. And then the teacher takes steps toward you. Invitation in this way is kind of like consent. It's a kind of permission, on one level.

It's also a welcoming on another level, a recognition. Saying that you recognize there's something that you want. So you have to take the first step, or you have to respond to the steps taken toward you. Either one or both.

So sometimes teachers will take steps towards students and then stop and wait for a response. And if there's no response forthcoming, or if the response is resistance and reluctance, then there's nothing more that the teacher can do.

And if there's no invitation, if there's no permission, no invitation, no sense of welcoming and gladness, then not much can happen. In the pre-professional times of spiritual life, [laughs] before everything became a workshop and a brand, the invitation was both a literal and a subtle esoteric necessity.

The way that teachers would give teachings in India and Tibet in particular, I don't know about China, is that they would get invited. Those with the means to host teachings would invite teachers.

And then teachers would itinerantly travel around to one invitee after another. And that's how teachings would happen. Namkhai Norbu has also written about this.

He wanted to reintroduce this to the Dzogchen community worldwide. And he wrote this very moving article saying what his vision was. And I don't know that it's really been implemented that much. I'm not sure because then he died.

But he talked about having people who have the means invite him to teach and pay for the teachings so that other people could come and donate or not. But then it would be much more like the older system, where the teacher was hosted by those who had the means and the desire.

You invite someone because you want the teachings. And then if you have the means, at least in the Tibetan system, you would pay for all the food. You would give the teacher a place to live. You would pay for other people's food, other students who were coming, etc.

And then anyone could join in and contribute money or not. But basically, it was by invitation. So Namkhai Norbu very much wanted to implement this in his community. And I'm not really sure how that went.

But that kind of invitation is a literal invitation. But there are other forms of invitation that are more subtle. And then there are some that are extremely subtle.

Like the forms of call and response and invitation and permissions that are offered between a teacher and a student. Not even with words. They're known.

It's known whether you're being invited or not or whether you're being given permission or not. Or whether your invitation is being accepted or not. Those things are just known.

And then if you're sensitive to those energies, you don't really have a lot of choices. I don't feel like I have a lot of choices when I invite a student in a more subtle way and they basically say no by not responding or something happens.

Then I don't have a lot of choices. I'm just going along with nature and just trying to let everything happen as it does. What are the requirements for being a student or being in a particular position? There are none. There really aren't.

The requirement is you have to want to do this. That's the requirement. Then you show how you want to do it in various ways, both gross and subtle. Permission and invitation are operating at all levels.

They always have been. Whether you've been aware of that or not as students of Jaya Kula. Certainly in my individual dealings with students, the principle of invitation has always been in operation. I'm only, and I only ever have been, interested in what you want.

I used to do formal initiations and give people Sanskrit names. At some point, I noticed that there's many, many different reasons why people take initiation and some people weren't really understanding what it was.

I announced that I was disbanding all initiations. Nobody had to give up their Sanskrit name, but I just announced all initiations are disbanded. Now, if you don't understand the principle of invitation and call and response, that was the end for you if you were initiated.

But if you did understand it, there were people who came to me and said, I don't care what you say, I'm initiated. Nothing has changed for me. And that meant for me that it was real. That was like, yes, you're right. Nothing has changed.

But for the people who were pissed off and felt cheated or something. Or all upset and felt powerless, all that said to me was you didn't understand what the initiation was to begin with. So that was a way of getting the invitation back on track.

It was a correction, but it was still based on the principle of invitation. And all of that still stands. So what does it run on? It's run on desire. Period, end of conversation.

And if you are someone who's fighting against some fictitious authority and feeling rebellious or locked in or resentful. Or like you're having to follow rules, or something's being asked of you you don't want to do. All that means to me is you haven't taken responsibility for your own desire.

Or maybe you can't feel it because you're so conditioned by something else. But it's not coming from me. I'm following natural law. I'm following natural energy.

And if you express enough desire, you will get from me so much more than you know. And if you don't express desire, if you don't take at least that one step toward me, then I'll be your friend and I'll give you what I can when I can, but I'll step back.

It's just natural. It's like an improvisation. Everything is run by your desire. If every single person said, I don't want to do seva anymore, I don't want to do this now, yeah, it would be a scramble, but we'd figure it out.

I'm not here to follow rules. I'm not here to break them just for the sake of being a rebel either. [laughs] I'm just here to wake up and I'm here to share what I have gained and what I have learned with you.

And anyone who wants that can come and get it. And I will be there for you 147,000%, if you come and you want to get it. And if you don't, I'm also totally fine with that.

This isn't about Jaya Kula as an organization. It's not about getting things done. It's about doing sadhana, learning how to be in this world with other people, opening our hearts to each other. Doing practice to help us to do that.

And then entering into something of the extraordinariness that I've been blessed to have experienced. So that's what it's about. It's only about that. And whether that involves initiations or non-initiations, seva or not seva, or not, whatever it involves, that's what it involves.

I'm going to work with the people that show up and who accept the invitation or who offer me an invitation. That's what's going to happen. And it's going to be in whatever form it needs to be for you to have a chance to enter into the same experience that I've entered into. And that's all it is.


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