Transmission, Sensory Perception, and Mind as the Organ of Curiosity

June 7, 2023

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Can you talk about the role of ritual and how that amplifies transmission or how we experience transmission through devoting ourselves to ritual or through the power of ritual?

Well, the first thing is that transmission is the nature of things. It's happening all the time. What is being transmitted is the nature of the self. There's a beautiful poem by Abhinavagupta. He wrote some hymns.

One of the lines I like to quote that relates to this question is, Shiva showers grace without any restraint. Thus there is always the presence of the highest reality. So there's always the presence of that wisdom.

It's always alive and announcing itself everywhere. But we don't feel that all the time or everywhere. We have limitations on our perception. And so this alive aware reality in its infinite mercy has bequeathed to us, has invented various traditions.

Various means, various techniques, various rituals to focus our senses. And give us the possibility to have an experience of the lowering of the boundaries of our senses. Or we could say the increase in the subtlety of our senses, during certain kinds of ritual is one instance, but not the only one.

So in order to experience living wisdom, the real nature of things, which is what is being transmitted, we very often need special circumstances to help us to lower the barriers to our perception of that. And focus our attention on it. Because most of the time, we're distracted.

Another name for karma is distraction. We're distracted from how things actually are. We're caught up in various repeating patterns of body, energy, and mind that act as barriers to experiencing transmission.

One way of thinking about those barriers is, there's a wonderful quote from Swami Rudrananda, an American kundalini yoga teacher. He's not alive anymore, but he said, Intensity is density.

We think, Oh, if we're having some exalted experience, it's going to be very intense. In some of our equations, intensity equals some heightened spiritual state where we would perceive more.

But when we are being intense due to our karmas, our karmas are kicking up a lot of emotional intensity or fervor. That actually creates a situation of density where we can't perceive or experience the subtlety of transmission.

So those circumstances—like ritual, what is happening during ritual? We are engaging in repetitive motions. Repetitive patterns of body, energy, and mind that instead of being aspects of our karma are aspects of an improvisation that this reality is putting on.

To help us to open our body, energy, and mind to more perception, to more perceptual capacity. We get into more of a zone when we do ritual. The best kinds of ritual aren't going to numb us out. They're not going to distract us. They're going to focus us.

And also through different gestures and mantra and whatever the circumstances are, they're going to help us to open our channels. Open the channels of perception so that we can have more subtle perception.

One of the examples I like to give comes from when I was in my first year of undergraduate. And I had a friend who lived in Southern California in some horrible suburb. I'd never been in such a place before because I was from the East Coast.

So this was one of those archetypal kind of Spielbergian suburbs where everything was just going around in circles, in these cul de sacs. All the houses were pretty much the same. They looked like slightly different pastel colors.

And the house numbers were very high. So your actual address could be 100,002. You know, you could start with that. The whole thing just floored me. And my friend told me that the only way she knew where her parents' house was was by looking for their car.

It was really hard to tell when you'd actually arrived at your house. But it wasn't too far from this wonderful desert called Anza-Borrego. And I had never been in the desert before. So it was my first time on the West Coast and I'd never been to the desert.

I was used to living in very urban environments. I had never really lived in that kind of suburb. So we went out to the desert, and when we got there, all the kids I was with just jumped out of the car and started racing around and making all this noise.

Eventually, they got out of my range of hearing. They ran off to disturb the plants or whatever they were doing. I just could not get over the silence. I climbed up to some little hill and sat down and the silence was like a noise. I was so unused to hearing, or not hearing anything.

Then after a while, that kind of calmed down. Then I started to hear the more subtle sounds of the desert. Tiny, tiny little sounds that I would never have noticed normally.

What we need to do is really quiet down. We need to quiet down that intensity of what our senses are used to so that it can tune into something more subtle. Occasionally, some people might in their lifetimes have an experience where some experience of transmission feels really loud and big, obvious.

But most of the time, we have to be less dense, less intense, and quieter, and just being openly receptive in order to discover that. When we do practices such as kriya yoga or kundalini yoga, where we're working with subtle energy, we can develop more capacity for feeling transmission.

That's it in a nutshell. But the question is, what is transmission for? Is it just some cool thing that you then go tell somebody, I received transmission from so and so, or did you feel that transmission?

This is the thing you hear a lot in spiritual communities. Transmission is one thing. It is the transmission of the nature of reality or the nature of the self. It is teaching you how things are, and it evolves over time.

So the real litmus test of anyone's experience of transmission is, does it eventually lead you to feel less separate from everything? Does it actually show you anything that you then can embody in your everyday life?

So the transmission that we do between teachers and students in this kind of tradition is so that you can feel less separate. Feel more of your continuity with life. But also so that you can begin to experience wisdom directly for yourself and come to embody that.

There are so many misconceptions about it and so many ways that people orient towards transmission that aren't really helpful. But I think that the primary orientation is we are not here to collect spiritual experiences.

It's not like boy scout and girl scout badges. That is not what it's about. Another thing that Swami Rudrananda said, which most of you have heard me say a thousand times, is that when we have a spiritual experience or opening. Or something that feels like it's something to do with how things actually are. That's a work order.

That's not the thing that we're searching for. That's the thing that's leading us. It's a beacon. It's telling us here's something that's an aspect of your own self, an aspect of the self.

For instance, if you have some special experience. You're with your teacher, you're doing some practice, and you have some special spiritual experience where you seem to have an opening. Then the idea isn't that you then embalm that in plastic and carry it around and talk about it.

The idea is that you were just shown something that is part of your capacity. Anything that you experience is you. People say, oh, the teacher gave me that shakti, or gave me this or gave me that. That is so false.

Anybody that tells you they are giving you something that you don't already have, they don't understand. They really don't get it. Their understanding is not deep enough. It may seem like that to them, but it is not how it is.

And so what is actually happening is in a really mystical way that really can't be explained. Someone in a condition of more subtle perception can share that with you in a way that you can feel that in yourself.

So what is happening during more formal transmission is that your capacity is being revealed to you. You are being shown something that you already have that's just been covered over by karmic limitation.

Or you've just been distracted and you haven't noticed it. We're often misdirected. So our cultures train us to not give importance to things like our own direct experience. We give much more importance to intellectual understanding.

And if we do have some kind of experience, we say, oh, that's just my experience. Well, the experience of transmission is everybody's experience. It's not just your experience, and it belongs to you.

So the teacher in this kind of a tradition, one of our central jobs as teachers is to create these circumstances, is simply in some alchemical way able to share with you the condition they're in. And then that is revealed to be a capacity you have.

Now, that may seem very special, and you may think you're dependent on the teacher for that. And you might be for a little bit of time. But what you're going to do with that is you're going to try to make that your new normal.

It's a beacon. It's something to work with, not something to embalm. I can't over emphasize enough how much we are not collecting spiritual experiences.

We're trying to live immersed in living presence. We're trying to be in that condition, not just having some special experiences.

Is it an Abrahamic tradition that gives us the idea that there's something outside of ourselves that we have to attain, that you can only get from someplace else or someone else?

That's part of it. Obviously, Abrahamic traditions have a completely different view of the self. And the idea that you could be damaged in a particular way, or that there are beings that have access to wisdom that you never will. It's just not part of this kind of tradition.

In this kind of tradition, you have eternal value and you are completely filled with wisdom. You're made of wisdom, made by wisdom, filled with wisdom. Even your limitations are evidence of that.

Your limitations are an aspect of the artistry of this alive, aware Self. You're playing a game of waking up from those limitations into fuller perception. It's really about subtlety of perception.

We all know that when we're trying too hard, going too fast, being too intense, the subtlety of our perceptions decreases. Another good example of this is bad sex. One of the many things that makes sex terrible. [laughs]

I'd really love to know the percentage of people in the world who enjoy sex, and those who just have bad sex. [laughter] I'm curious about that. But anyway, one of the things that makes sex bad is when it's too fast and too intense.

And then the level of subtlety of experience just falls out. And it just becomes like a blunder or something. So we're trying to increase the subtlety and nuance of our perception.

And in order to do that, we have to listen, we have to feel, we have to let the multi-layered, orchestral nature of reality become more apparent to us. And then we can start to feel all the subtle flows between ourselves and other people.

All the subtle flows in our body. And then that's the other thing people get stuck on. In Tantrik traditions anyway, they get stuck on the sensation of energy.

They think that's what it's about. I felt this something in my spine or I felt something on top of my head or whatever. That isn't enlightenment. That's just a very beginning step in this subtle-ization of your senses.

Where it really is at is in the direct perception of wisdom and virtue, goodness, sweetness. The direct perception of that in everything. This is what our sensory apparatus is capable of. Including our mind, because in these traditions, the mind is also a sense.

Our senses can become more like God's because we actually are God, turns out. That's really what it's about. To perceive how things are and to be a living embodiment of that with less limitation than we have now.

It's important to keep these things in mind because you don't want to get stuck. I think the other thing, besides the Abrahamic stuff, is the competitiveness of our culture.

And the way that we've outsourced our sense of value. So that the only thing that we feel gives us value is what we've achieved. This is why we've made spiritual life into a series of accomplishments or want-to-have accomplishments.

But that will never get us anywhere. That's all just horizontal. I noticed in my life as a teacher, when people start to have slightly more subtle spiritual life. They start to feel some subtle energy. They really want to hold on to that.

They really want that to be important. It's very hard in some instances to say, yeah, that's good. It's like you just smelled a scent that you weren't smelling before. But there's actually 100-million of those scents.

So it's good, but don't get stuck there. Don't want to get stuck on accomplishments, experiences, anything that's less than the whole thing.

Can we talk a little bit more about relating to your mind as a sense organ?

Well, no one actually ever says that in any of the texts that I've read. But I did begin to notice that when I was practicing for a certain amount of time, that I was no longer using my mind in the same way.

The way that I like to describe it is that we use our minds as command, capture, and control. We want to dominate with our mind. We want to capture things with our mind. We want to control things with our thoughts and our cleverness.

And that's really how we're trained to use our minds. But when you're more relaxed, then your mind also relaxes. And then it becomes what I call the organ of curiosity.

It becomes the thing that reaches into everything, and wants to encounter it in a certain way. That's how I experience it as a sense organ. In Ayurveda, every cell in your body has mind. Every cell in your body has some kind of intelligence.

And there's some fire of awareness in every cell of your body. For instance, someone is cooking something and you feel curious to smell it. There's something that moves toward life.

That's what I feel is the sense organ of the mind. Our nose might smell the actual smell. But there's something that happens before we smell it where we're just moving toward things.

There's a beautiful idea in this tradition where the ear and the sound arise together. And the ear and the sound are moving toward each other. And the eye and the sight are moving toward each other.

They co-arise. So in a sense, there is seeing. There is this cosmic universal capacity for seeing. And that seeing-ness gives rise to organs of sight and things to be seen in order to express itself.

So if we have this capacity, just seeing can happen. And so then we have various manifestations that arise in order to embody that capacity for seeing, which includes our eyes. And includes the things that we see. And includes the light by which we see them.

But in that, there's a kind of a meeting that happens. So even though they arise together, there's a sense of a meeting. And that really is one of the most core experiences of dualistic manifest life. That it's a stage for having the experience of meeting.

There's this play of many, many beings and things, and everything is meeting everything else. And a mind that is very relaxed and is operating like this is going to be like the host that's always feeling a sense of welcome. And waiting for the arrival of the guest.

There's this saying that we talked about in the last retreat, the guest is always arriving. So the mind is that thing that's always moving out towards what's arriving to meet it. In every sense organ that we have, not just in our brains.


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