Shambhavi talks about the unconditional kindness offered to the guest or the stranger in both European and Indian philosophical and spiritual traditions. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi
So I posted a couple days ago about this book that I've been reading called Art of Gathering. And just how it's been really impacting me and helping me see just like the dynamics of hosting.
Like being a host and being a guest, that dynamic and then obviously thinking about, like, Shiva as a, the host. And I wonder if you could just riff a little bit more about that dynamic more.
Umhm! There's a wonderful experience that was expressed by a French philosopher, named Jacques Derrida. And I can't, I don't remember exactly the words, but he said this in many ways, in many different teachings that he gave or he said, "The guest is always arriving".
And what this means is that everything is always arriving. And that when we're being the host, when we're being like Lord Shiva—of course, one of his many, many names is the host.
When we're being more like Lord Shiva, we are being ready and welcoming to whatever is always arriving.
And we know in many cultures the idea of the guest or the stranger arriving is something that is really central—that when someone arrives, we would take care of them, we would offer them food, we would offer them drink, we would offer them a place to sit, and we wouldn't deny people a place at the table.
That's a very central idea to most ancient cultures and also to some contemporary cultures.
When we think of the guest as in this larger sense, of that which is always coming toward us—we live in impermanence and there's ever changing phenomenon. And there's always phenomena coming toward us and then those phenomena are comprised of wisdom.
So there's always wisdom coming toward us.
And this is very much emphasized in stories from India, about the arrival of a guest who we might not want, at least from the guest's outer appearance.
So there's many, many teaching stories in India where someone who is disheveled and smelly and maybe not of our ilk, who is encountered knocking at the door and wants to be fed. And this is kind of the test of how knowledgeable the householder is about the ways of God.
And the knowledgeable ones, the ones with some contact with wisdom, the ones whose sadhana has led to some realization always let the guest in, recognizing that the guest is God.
And then in some of these stories, the guests, this very lowly person, is led into the house and is fed like, with the best food that that household has to offer.
And even, sometimes these households are very, very poor in these stories. The people that live there have virtually nothing, and they give their last food to the guest who arrives.
And then at some point in the story, the identity of the guest is revealed to be Lord Shiva or Lord Krishna or something like that.
And the guest then heaps rewards on the householder who welcomed them, despite their outward appearance. Or despite the fact that the householder didn't have anything much to give.
So we can directly apply this to our spiritual life. And that's what these stories are meant for, which is that there is always something arriving. And that thing that is arriving is always God. It's always God in some guise or another. Or if you don't like the word God, you could just say wisdom.
The attitude toward whatever arriving is to recognize the wisdom in that and to graciously accept it, to honor it, to take care of it, to feed it, to nourish it, to nourish ourselves with it.
So this is the guest and the host dynamic. It's very, very profound.
As most of my regular students know, I've been kind of obsessed with hosting since I was a little girl.
And now that I have Jaya Kula, I have foisted my hosting obsession on all of my students [laughter]. And so at Jaya Kula, spend a lot of time learning how to host people properly when they show up, also learning how to host spaces and learning the importance of preparing a space.
So that when people show up, even if they aren't consciously aware of it, somewhere in them they realize that the space has been prepared for them and that's very relaxing for people.
And we have lots of things we've written about hosting and talked about hosting. But I don't know that we've talked as much about the guest. So I think this is a great question, an opportunity for us all to think about the broader, deeper implications of who that guest is.
We can also remember the teaching that the ultimate generosity of the Lord is that there are worlds instead of nothing.
The ultimate generosity of the Lord is that the Lord is overflowing with forms of life that can be experienced and enjoyed. That is really the guest, right?
So the Lord is the ultimate host. And everything that the Lord creates is the guest. So everything that we encounter is the guest. And if we are trying to be more like the Lord, then we are recognizing the guest as the Lord and hosting the Lord by hosting the guest.
This is also symbolized with Lord Ganesha because Lord Ganesha is also an aspect of host.
So the older name for Ganesha is Ganapati. And the ganas are the hosts. Ganesha is on some level, the essence of the hosting quality of Lord Shiva.
There's two kind of ways of encountering that essence of the host. One is just the space that everything appears in, as the host.
And then Ganesha, who's the emblem of hosting—he has this really big belly. And inside his belly are all worlds and beings. So he's literally hosting everyone inside of his body, without exception.
Sometimes people hearing a teaching like this, think that that means that you have to be able to digest every circumstance with every person and not set any limits to people's access to you or something like that. And that's not really the case.
We have to be real about where we're at.
And the way that we can host people, another beings who might be dangerous to us or someone who's energy we just can't digest, what they're doing, is by always feeling kindly toward everyone.
That's the way we can host everyone, even the ones that we can't actually literally be around. That is a tall order.
A lot of times, I would say most of the time, we start doing a practice and our lives are still very compartmentalized.
And we allow ourselves to indulge in lots of ideas and feelings and behaviors towards others and ourselves that are completely outside of View, until we get into a teaching or we're doing sadhana or we somehow remember our practice at some point.
But then the rest of the day we feel completely justified in not being in View.
And the thing is that when we take on a tradition like this in a sincere way, we are signing up for kindness. We are signing up for kindness toward everyone, everyone in every single circumstance.
I don't care if they're mass murderers. We are signing up for kindness.
We are signing up to embody the wisdom virtues of God as best we can. And to not give ourselves excuses and outs for indulging our thoughts about other people and feelings about ourselves and other people that are outside of View.
So kindness toward everyone is the, really the ultimate hosting that we can do whatever circumstance we're in.
So it doesn't do any good to physically host people in this wonderful beautiful way, that we get trained to do at Jaya Kula but harbor unkindly thoughts towards people.
That's not hosting.
In this kind of tradition, there is no evil, there is no sin. There is only the Lord showing up in all these diverse forms and the bhava, the attitude, the feeling orientation, is one of kindness, beneficence, compassion. That's what we're signing up for.
So knowing that we should do our best and whatever condition we are in to remember that. And not be so lazy about forgetting it, when it's convenient to forget it and suddenly become standard bearers of the Abrahamic traditions, where people deserve punishment and people can be evil.
We don't get to indulge in that if we are really being honest and honoring the tradition that we're in.
So we are trying to be hosts like God: hosting everyone with the equal love, equal kindness, equal compassion, no matter what condition anybody is in. And this is the ultimate hosting.
So even if you have to not see somebody because they're dangerous or whatever, you still are going to be kindly toward them.
Even if someone is doing heinous acts, you are still going to feel kindly toward them. You're not going to kick anyone out of your family of beings worthy of compassion and kindness. So please understand, that is what you're signing up for. Nothing less than that.
And of course, none of us are doing that perfectly because none of us are totally enlightened but we are remembering that that's what we are doing.
So that even if we fall into the traps of rejecting people's humanity or thinking someone is fundamentally horrible and not feeling kindly toward them, we still remember that that isn't what this is about.
We still remember, oh, yes! That's just my karmic tension, okay, fine. But that's not what this is about. It's simply not that.
Can you address the idea of kindness […] in relationship to the violence that's always been here but it's been really publicized right now? With the race relationships, and the […] just like every time I turn on the radio there’s some horrible story about somebody being lynched, which is just horrible […] But can you just discuss that a little bit?
Yeah, absolutely. Since none of us are totally realized, we need to think about things like this in a somewhat indirect way because we don't have the consistent, direct experience of the kindness that permeates all of reality.
So that's why I'm going to talk about this in a relative sense, okay.
Someone who is lynching somebody, for instance, they are also experiencing what we call anavamala—that's the central avidya, the central lack of wisdom that we experience according to Trika Shaivism. And it consists of our feeling of separation. We feel fundamentally separate from others.
When anavamala is very profound, we can become fanatics and get into little tight knit groups of people or big ones who wreck havoc on others.
And the reason this happens from the perspective of our experience of separation is because everyone, without exception, is trying to reconnect in some way.
So the central, main trajectory of our lives is some attempt to recapture the natural connection that is our real condition. The more profound the separation, our experience of separation is, the more kind of perverted our attempts to reconnect or going to be.
Everyone is experiencing anavamala to some degree or another. And the point of practice is to undo that experience of separation, so we can realize our fundamental continuity with everything.
That experience of anavamala is on a continuum.
So over here, perhaps, is someone who feels a great deal of continuity with life, is having an experience what we call samavesha—immersion in the state of the Lord. Maybe not pulled out of that very often, experiencing universal love and compassion for everybody.
And then at the other end of the continuum, is mass murderers, and people who lynch people, and fascists to murder millions of people, and people who destroy whole ecosystems without a thought.
Those are the people who are experiencing profound separation, or perhaps people with certain kinds of, what we call recognizable mental illnesses or something—profound loneliness, profound disturbance because of an extreme experience of separation.
And then in between is everybody else. So you are somewhere on that continuum.
When you experience your own loneliness, when you experience your own attempts to reconnect, and you can look at some of those attempts and realize that they are worthy of your compassion but they're not really achieving what you want in your heart of hearts.
So some of the things people do out of this experience of separation, for instance, is have sex that's very unsatisfactory, perhaps with people they don't actually want to have sex with, but they just want to connect.
Other things they do are go out to dinner or hang out with people they're not really all that simpatico with, but they do it because they want to reconnect.
Some of the other things they do are take drugs and drink because those things relieve you of the feeling of the boundary of the self.
Or maybe they work all the time because they want to feel connected to something and immersed in something, and they don't want to have to deal with their loneliness. Maybe they're a workaholic.
And even those are extreme. But every day, in pretty much every way, we're all trying to re capture, get back in touch with the feeling of connection.
Even if we punch somebody in the face, that's still trying to make a connection.
When we realize, when we can see that everyone is trying to connect in some way, right? Hitler was orchestrating the massacre of millions of people, but he was connecting with his henchmen and with millions of other people in the general population.
So there's one form of connection which creates a group of people who are fanatically connected to each other and fanatically hurting other people. That's one version of this.
So when we can see that we are all on this continuum and that everyone is trying to solve the problem of feeling separate, the pain, the suffering of feeling separate, then we can feel kindly.
We can let ourselves develop kindness even towards people who are doing things like lynching.
And you know, you could just ask yourself, would you want to be that person?
This is a very profound question, like, if you think of someone who lynches other people. Of course, if I say, do you want to be that person, you're going to say no, obviously, because you don't want to be responsible for killing someone.
But if you look a little deeper into that, the deeper reason why you don't want to be that person is because you somewhere in you realize how profoundly they are suffering.
That's what we need to realize in order to, in an ordinary relative sense, feel kindness, even towards people that are doing horrible things.
It doesn't mean that we don't condemn what they do but we should never condemn another person. Condemning other people, imprisoning people, punishing people is not in line with the View of this kind of tradition.
Helping people, trying to take care of people, protecting people is definitely in line with the View.
But punishing people for being in an extreme state of suffering is not within the View of this tradition and the gods of the Hindu traditions in general are not punishing gods. They just don't punish.
They are not the Abrahamic gods who are based on punishment and reward. Be good, you'll get a reward. Be bad, you'll get punished. And that seems very, very normal to us. To most of us, anyway.
But these are not the same gods as we find in the direct realization traditions.
It's really, really different, when you have a god who's more of a trickster and an ally and ultimately loving toward you, no matter what you do.
May get angry, but you realize the anger is only a play. It's only for your benefit.
And it's also important to recognize how much we have absorbed this axis of reward and punishment. And how many of us are just living as if there was an anvil about to drop on top of our head at any moment.
Because we think we're fundamentally bad or in danger of doing something wrong or bad at any moment. And that at any moment, we could be punished.
And this is directly related to growing up saturated in cultures of those traditions with those gods.
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