Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump.
Shambhavi: Thank you.
Rick Archer: My name is— oh, you’re welcome! Jumping the gun here! That was Shambhavi Sarasvati, who is my guest today. And Buddha at the Gas Pump, let me just say, is a ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done a little over 650 of them now, and if this is new to you, and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com and look under the past interviews menu. And also, while you’re there, check the various menus on the site, and you’ll find some interesting things. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website, and then a page that explains some alternatives to PayPal. So Shambhavi, whom was whose name I just mentioned, is the spiritual director of Jaya Kula, a nonprofit organization offering opportunities to learn and practice in the traditions of Trika Shaivism and Ja— Dzogchen, Dzogchen.
Rick Archer: Dzogchen. So there’s three questions in that sentence. What is— what does Jaya Kula mean?
Shambhavi: Jaya Kula, well, jaya means victory.
Rick Archer: Okay.
Shambhavi: And kula literally means family in Sanskrit. It’s a very special word, though, in the tradition of Trika Shaivism. If we look on the most micro level, it means the family of practitioners working with a particular teaching— teacher.
Rick Archer: So it’s a victorious family of practitioners.
Shambhavi: Right. But if we look on the macrocosmic letter— level, it means the family of all beings and things.
Rick Archer: Nice.
Shambhavi: All worlds, all creatures, and so the idea is that we graduate from a limited family to that larger, unlimited family. And then it means victory to everything and everyone.
Rick Archer: Great. Yeah, there’s that famous saying satyameva jayate, which means truth alone is victorious. And then there’s that other Sanskrit saying, which means— which is the world is my family. So you’ve got both of those things in there. And then another term that we just brought up is Trika Shaivism. Is that the same as Kashmir Shaivism?
Shambhavi: It is, it is.
Rick Archer: Trika, does that mean three something?
Shambhavi: Trika is a reference to threes and the proliferation of threes in the tradition. One of the siddhas and scholars of the tradition, Abhinavagupta, said that Trika was Shiva, Shakti, and their unison.
Rick Archer: Okay.
Shambhavi: So both duality and nonduality together.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And then Dzogchen, pronounce it again?
Rick Archer: I’ve heard it a million times, I just don’t pronounce it right. And that is— how does that fit in?
Shambhavi: Well, Trika Shaivism and Dzogchen have both historical commonalities—they both kind of grew up along the Silk Road, and there was lots of exchange. And they’re very similar in their view and in some of their most core practices. They also have a lot of esoteric connections that I’ve discovered practicing in both of those traditions. But I started practicing in Trika Shaivism, and then one of my teachers suggested that I go study with Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, a Dzogchen teacher. And I just stayed, practicing with him and studying with him for many years. And discovering that those two traditions are really very, very similar in their view and practices.
Rick Archer: Then, I guess, would it be true to say that Kashmir Shaivism is kind of more aligned or associated with Hinduism, and Dzogchen is more aligned with Buddhism in some way, despite their similarities?
Shambhavi: I would say that each of those traditions, by their own self-report, do not align with Hinduism in the case of Trika, or Buddhism in the case of Dzogchen.
Rick Archer: Okay.
Shambhavi: So there’s some sense that each of them has a self-identity or considers themselves to be somewhat different or oppositional to the more mainstream traditions in their native countries. Not that there aren’t similarities, and that’s a long discussion of what those similarities are because, for instance, historically how Trika has been practiced and promoted by teachers and scholars who were also practicing Vedanta.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Shambhavi: And the same for Dzogchen in Tibet, but they all— they both each have a kind of oppositional stance that they take also to those indigenous traditions.
Rick Archer: Okay. So continuing with your bio, you have studied meditation with teachers in the Kagyu and nying-ga, nying—
Rick Archer: Traditions, and which are what?
Shambhavi: Those are both Tibetan Buddhist traditions. So there’s a kind of meditation that is done with open eyes, and I’m sure you know about that. That basically, it’s— the instruction for that kind of meditation is— are called pointing out instructions. They’re instructions for how to do something that is impossible to give an instruction for. And so the pointing out instructions are different, or slightly different, in each tradition. And one of my teachers, who thought I would be a good meditation teacher, told me to go around and study this particular kind of meditation with as many different teachers as I possibly could, and learn all of the different pointing out instructions. And so that’s what I did.
Rick Archer: Good. And your root guru is Anandamayi Ma, and people may remember her from Yogananda’s book Autobiography of a Yogi and, of course, she’s very well known in her own right. And there’s an interesting story about how you came to regard her as your root guru, which we’ll get into in a minute. Shambhavi emphasizes direct encounters with the wisdom of the heart through the more explicitly devotional teachings and practices of Trika Shaivism and Dzogchen. In addition to offering teachings in spiritual practice and view, you are trained as a jyotishi and diviner. At one time you taught at Northwestern University. You left academia in 2004 to devote yourself to practice, writing, and teaching in your spiritual traditions. Okay, so someone named Joanne from Seattle asked have you actually met Anandamayi Ma, and I gathered from reading your website that you did not meet her in the flesh. But— and then Joanne would like to know how did you decide that she is your teacher, and you have a great story on your website about your experience on her balcony in Varanasi. So if you feel like it’s not too soon to go into that whole story, and you— let’s do it.
Shambhavi: Sure. So the way that I met her was kind of kicking and screaming. She started coming in my dreams. And I had been taught by my other teachers that have, like, saying or thinking that a dead person is your guru is a very dangerous road to embark on. And I…
Rick Archer: Yeah, I think it was Adi Da who said dead gurus don’t kick ass.
Shambhavi: Exactly, yeah. So I was— I thought that was very good advice, and I really understood that teaching. And so when Ma started coming in my dreams, I was suspicious of myself, I was suspicious of her, and I would say are you really Anandamayi Ma? And she would say something like yes, I’m Ma, and I’d go there are lots of Mas! Which Ma?
Rick Archer: So you had obviously heard of her before, so when she started coming in your dreams, it wasn’t like you didn’t know who this was, right?
Shambhavi: I had seen pictures of her, I hadn’t read any of her teachings.
Rick Archer: And when she started coming in your dreams, how vivid and real was that?
Shambhavi: Extremely vivid. And what would happen was something would go on in the dream, and then when I woke up the next morning, I would be in an extraordinary condition—just feeling completely re-embodied in some way. And that seemed to be the hallmark of what are sometimes called true dreams. As opposed to just karmic churning. Just something just felt clarified and very different when I would wake up from those dreams.
Rick Archer: Yeah, the most profound experience I’ve ever had was in what one might call a dream, but it didn’t seem like a dream. It was just so— oh man, it just blew me away. So…
Shambhavi: So after those dreams, I went to India for the first time, and I went to Anandamayi Ma’s ashram, still feeling very suspicious of myself and whatever was happening. There was a young man who worked full-time doing seva at the ashram who greeted visitors, and he was having a conversation with me, and he referred to Ma as my guru, and I said she’s not my guru. And then he just laughed at me. And I had no— I didn’t really understand why he was laughing at me. I still don’t understand why he was laughing at me. But in any case, he said to me then, you should go up on this balcony, Ma used to teach there. And he said westerners never go up there. I don’t know why they don’t go up there, but you should go up there. So I went, and I just walked up these beautiful stairs that overlook the Ganga. And I literally put one foot on the balcony, and it was like the sky just opened up. And this grace just started pouring into me. And the sky turned into an ocean of intelligence and compassion and clarity, and there was just brilliance that was just everywhere in the sky and flooding my whole body. And I just fell down on my knees and started weeping. And I recognized that this was Ma, like, this is who she really was. And I also— another hallmark of these kind of experiences is that they aren’t just experiences. They impart understanding, they impart wisdom to you. And it was the very first time. I mean, I was already— when this happened, I was in my early 40s, so I’d already been practicing for a long time. It was the first time I really understood what God meant. It was the first time I understood what reality actually was, like she revealed to me the nature of reality in that moment. Or it was actually a couple hours it went on. So the definition of guru is the one that reveals the nature of reality to you.
Rick Archer: Nice.
Shambhavi: And after that point, I could not deny— whatever that was, and whoever you want— whatever name you wanted to give that, and I call that Ma, there was— it was just undeniable that this was guru for me. And I still felt some embarrassment, and it was many years before I ever admitted to anyone that this had happened. It was kind of funny because I thought people would think I was kind of new agey or god realmy or something. But then I realized no, they’re actually going to believe me and think I’m something really special. And that’s— that might even be worse! So I kept it to myself for a while, but then eventually I just came out more about it.
Rick Archer: Yeah. What do you— what’s your best take on the actual mechanics of a thing like that? Do you think that— I mean, Ma was said to be an avatar, so that’s part of the mix. But there have been a lot of teachers like Yogananda talks in his book about, I think it was Sri Yukteswar, his teacher, coming to him in a vision and having this whole experience with him. And people see Jesus, and I know a lot of people who’ve had encounters with Ramana Maharshi, sometimes before they even had ever heard of him. Things like that. So what do you think is actually going on? How does that work?
Shambhavi: Well, what Ma revealed to me that day is that everything is full of intelligence, that compassion is built into the foundation of reality. That ananda is full of clarity, this brilliance, it’s not just, like, a super nice feeling. That— I mean, I really— it was just this encounter with the two predominant things, compassion and intelligence, just this intelligence beyond anything you could conceive of. And that intelligence and that creativity and that brilliance can create any circumstance out of itself. If— it can appear to you in any form, and I think it appears to people in the form that will speak most to them. If it needs to be Ramana Maharshi, it’ll be Ramana Maharshi. But all of those forms are that—what Anandamayi Ma just called that. I related to the form of Anandamayi Ma and very much to her teachings, which are really just uncannily in line with Trika Shaivism. And that suits me, but I think that that alive, aware reality, when someone is ripe and they have a possibility to receive that, it appears in whatever form works for that person.
Rick Archer: Yeah. I mean, even on Earth, a being like that is really just a divine intelligence operating through a physical form. And I imagine that their association is much more predominant with the divine intelligence than with any kind of individual human quality. But some also feel that— you remember in Star Wars where, who was it? I think Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi were fighting, and Obi Wan Kenobi said if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine. And I think some people believe that when a saint or enlightened being drops the physical body, that they still exist as a unique expression of the divine with all the qualities that they possessed as a human being, but with much greater omniscience and omnipotence than they could have had in a human body.
Shambhavi: Well, I don’t really make that much of a distinction between the physical and the divine. So, from my— what has been granted to me to perceive, everything is made of and permeated by that same intelligence. So— but nonetheless, there are plays of limitation, that forms show up that have limitation. And those are part of the artistry of this alive, aware reality. And my experience is something like what you just said, particularly when my teachers have died, just feeling like somehow they were more available after they died. Or even friends who have died, loved ones, feeling that they’re feeling their release from suffering, especially the ones that died of an illness. And somehow feeling their joy now that they were released from that, it’s kind of wonderful.
Rick Archer: I had that when both my parents died, and another friend just told me that her mother died, and she experienced that also. But there was this upwelling of bliss in me, not that I was happy they had died, but that I was somehow partaking of their experience of tremendous freedom from suffering. These days, it’s pop— it’s quite popular in some spiritual circles to say that the age of the guru is over, and there’s this projection of a hierarchical teacher-student relationship. And I think that’s in part because teachers have taken advantage of their position to abuse students. But there’s also the sentiment that hey, we’re all in this together, and we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of inferiority and superiority or any such thing. And you’ve probably heard all this, what do you— what’s your take on that sentiment?
Shambhavi: Well, I agree that it’s a— in part what has come about through the importation of certain spiritual traditions into the west, where this kind of relationship is not native. And also the revelation of what has probably always been the abuse of students by teachers, particularly in more patriarchal traditions. So I don’t think there’s more abuse now necessarily, I just think now it’s being revealed more and it’s easier for word about it to get around. And people are more wise to that possibility of abuse. That being said, I think that to see the guru-disciple relationship as hierarchical in that way is not the teaching in the traditions that I’ve studied in most. So the job of the teacher is to show you, directly, that your essence nature is the same as the teacher’s. It is to break down that sense of hierarchy and to show you that all of the wisdom that the teacher has is contained within you and has just been obscured. This is the main job of the teacher, is to help you to destroy impediments to recognizing that you’re— that you have enlightened essence nature already. So I like to say sometimes, if the teacher says they’re giving you anything, like giving you energy or something like that, run away because they don’t understand that you already have everything. And you have just forgotten that or it’s been obscured. And then there’s something else which gets, I think, mistaken for hierarchical-ness that’s unpleasant or dangerous in some way, and definitely promoted by teachers. I mean, that hierarchical way of looking at student-teacher relationships is not just coming from students, obviously. But it makes a lot of money for a lot of teachers and gives them whatever ego satisfaction they crave. But there’s natural devotion. When you meet someone who in their presence you feel your own goodness, or you feel the possibility of being really seen and recognized for what you really are, if you can let yourself enter into that feeling of wonder and relief, then natural devotion just arises. And you want to serve that person, you want to reciprocate what you’re receiving in terms of the revelation of your own nature. And you feel— I felt anyway, just a sense of wonder that this relationship exists at all as a possibility. That we even have teachers and can enter into these really intimate, revelatory relationships with them. It’s a technology for discovering what reality actually is, what you actually are. It’s a natural technology. It will never be superseded, it’s always going to be around, it’s an apprenticeship. And just like any other apprenticeship, you have gratitude, and you feel tenderness and devotion toward the person that’s showing you what you want to learn. And that’s what I think people miss when they have these kinds of conversations.
Rick Archer: I remember, back in the 90s, I taught my great aunt to meditate. And she was— she must have been 92 years old, she ended up living to 107. But so I was a teacher of Transcendental Meditation. So I was doing a puja, all right? And she was watching me, and at one point, she said are we worshiping this man? And I said no, no, it’s just this traditional ceremony of gratitude, and we won’t go through this every day. I’m just— this is part of teaching you and […] [laughs] Irene says but the answer was really yes. Well, yeah. But anyway, some people are put off by that kind of thing, especially 92-year-old great aunts, because they feel like there’s something cultish or weird or…
Shambhavi: Well I don’t know, maybe it’s a past life thing, but I have always gotten teachers. Like I just have always immediately felt and understood what it was about, and how to work with teachers. And I’ve just really been all about guru in my life. I love this relationship between the teacher and the student, whether I’m the student, or whether I’m the teacher. It’s such a rich field of relating—it’s so subtle, it’s so nuanced. It really draws out of me everything that I have. And that’s what I love about it.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I’ve heard some people say that even though they had been in a relationship with a teacher that was— that they eventually realized was flawed in certain ways, that they’re still grateful. Because they still learned to derive something, and maybe that person, they’re not with them any longer. They’ve moved on, but there was something gained.
Shambhavi: Yeah, I mean, to say— there isn’t any such thing as a teacher who doesn’t still have karma. I mean, unless we’re talking about someone who’s an avatar, already born awake. Every other kind of teacher that we have on Earth, even those whose students say oh, so-and-so’s totally enlightened. Everybody has their sticking points. Everybody has some things they’re still working out. It’s really a matter of how much of that is there, and how much does it hinder the process of revelation of the Self? So I think it’s, in a sense, it’s kind of cheating ourselves if we think that the teachers have to behave in some cookie-cutter way to demonstrate enlightenment from our perspective. I think we should just recognize that the nature of the self can be transmitted even by someone who was only partially enlightened and not fully enlightened, and that to me is mercy. That’s mercy that that can happen. Otherwise we’d really be in trouble, if we had to have these perfect teachers.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I mean, and the typical educational system that we all go through, you know, when you’re in the third grade, you don’t need a Ph— a Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist or something to be your teacher, you can learn a lot from a third grade teacher.
Rick Archer: Yeah, and then move on.
Shambhavi: That’s a very good analogy, I think.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And of course, when you mentioned avatars not having karma and stuff, there’s also a lot of people who claim to be avatars, and you have to be a little careful of that. Or their students claim that they’re an avatar and so on. So you have to take that with a grain of salt.
Shambhavi: I agree.
Rick Archer: But there’s a nice passage in your book about teachers, you said— or not in your book, on your website, you said you have to ask yourself, do I want to be in the condition I perceive this person as being in? Do I want to embody the virtues and wisdom that they embody? Those are a couple of good questions to ask if you’re checking out a teacher.
Shambhavi: Yeah, the teacher, at least in the kind of traditions that I study in, is supposed to show you, in a sense, your own best self. And if you look at a teacher and you don’t feel inspired by how they are in the world, you might learn something from that person, but they’re not your root teacher, by any means. A lot of students, in my experience, go to teachers with needs—they want some sort of emotional needs met. And then when those needs aren’t met, which is not the teacher’s job to meet those needs, then they get disappointed. But if they went to the teacher with a feeling of inspiration, or a feeling of oh, I could be in that condition, I want to be in that condition. That’s really the better way of working with a teacher.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I mean, there have been some very well-known teachers who were raging alcoholics and had all kinds of other horrible attributes. Then I would ask myself, I think, do I want to be a raging alcoholic? Or whatever. I mean, if this is enlightenment, am I really interested in enlightenment? I think that’s a valid question to ask.
Shambhavi: That person might also be hugely compassionate too, you never know. I don’t want to, like, discount all raging alcoholics here. But I agree, that is definitely something to question. What I would say is this, and this is just something I’ve learned fairly recently, like, in maybe the last seven or eight years. There comes a point in your practice where— or just your path of unfolding, where you really deeply do not want to hurt anyone. And of course, not being totally enlightened, you might inadvertently hurt someone, you know, you make a misstep, or you make a misjudgment of some sort. That happens to everyone, but you have never a speck of desire to do that. And when it happens, you feel deeply regretful. And you have no desire to manipulate anyone, you only want the best for people. This is just something that comes about naturally after some time. So what I came to understand from that, and this is part of my just-stop-teaching campaign, [laughs] is that…
Rick Archer: which you were telling me beforehand, but the people haven’t heard it yet, so…
Shambhavi: Yeah, so when teachers are abusive, and then they issue all sorts of apologies and letters and— from their lawyers, and they go on private retreats to try to reassemble themselves, and then they start teaching again, my idea is they should just stop teaching because they’re not really qualified.
Rick Archer: For life, or would they reach a point at which they could resume?
Shambhavi: I don’t know. I mean, everybody’s trajectories would be different.
Rick Archer: And how would you measure it? Yeah.
Shambhavi: Well, what I do know is that someone who’s serving as the person who’s going to show other people the nature of the self, that person should not have a desire to hurt people—should not be able to manipulate people for their own gains and pleasure or money. And that would just naturally subside, that behavior would not be possible if those people were in the condition that they say they’re in or their students say that they’re in. That’s what I learned. It’s just simply not possible to manipulate or abuse people on purpose when you get to a certain point in your practice.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I think that’s a really good guideline that one could use to evaluate a potential teacher. And when you told me that phrase, I also came up with one, which is the don’t-start-teaching campaign.
Shambhavi: Exactly. [laughs] I like that one too!
Rick Archer: Because a lot of people rush, they— Mariana Caplan coined the phrase, I believe, premature immaculation. A lot of people who seem to be in a rush to get into the teaching game, you know?
Shambhavi: Yeah, especially in this country, for sure.
Rick Archer: All right, we don’t want to bitch about this too much. But it is an important issue, and it keeps coming up again and again and again. And it hurt— and people get hurt. So it’s worth discussing to a certain extent, and maybe some people have some questions about it, which they’ll send in. Okay, do you have anything on top of your mind right now? Or should I go into some notes here?
Shambhavi: No. Please, just go on.
Rick Archer: Okay. So you said something in your notes about something showing up as an inner prompting that guided your choices, you called this round world guide the friend. I hadn’t heard the term round world guide. But what’s that about?
Shambhavi: Well, the friend and— is something that has been part of my life since I was very young. Round world is something I just learned maybe like 20 years ago. But in any case, the friend is a felt sense of being guided by some kind of wisdom that feels internal, but it’s not really internal. And it’s that prompting that tells you what’s actually good for you, what’s actually of benefit and what actually isn’t of benefit. And where you should put your next step, where you should step next. So I felt this very strongly from a very young age that there was a kind of wholesomeness and sweetness that I was following. And when I didn’t do that, when I ignored those promptings, I really suffered. And eventually I called this the friend, and I wrote some poetry, some despairing poetry, when I was in my teen years related to this idea of the friend. And then later, I found out that other people on the spiritual path also talked about the friend, most notably Rumi, that this is something that comes to a lot of people. And then later, when I was living in Berkeley, and I don’t know when this was, I might have been in college—or it might have been later than that, I’m not sure—I heard someone talking on the radio about having left their country, I think it was China. But again, it’s— I really don’t remember who it was, I really did my best to try to find out, but I never could find out. And that they had felt they had left the round world and entered into the flat world, meaning here. And the round world is the world where there are ancestors and other unseen beings and magic, and more possibilities and more layers to reality. And the flat world is like the wysiwyg world, what you see is what you get, where everything is just kind of boring and dull and materialistic. And he’s— this young man said this, there was just so much yearning and despair in his voice when he talked about this. And I— at that moment, I recognized that the round world was where I had been living since I was born, pretty much, and why I felt so at odds with people around me when I was a child. Because they were in the flat world, and I felt like I was in the round world. I didn’t have this idea, but… So since then, I’ve really been using that phrase round world to talk about what we enter into more fully when we do practice and when our senses become more subtle, and we’re able to perceive more about how things really are.
Rick Archer: That’s nice. I didn’t have a conscious sense of this friend principle myself until I was through my adolescence and into my 20s, I suppose, but when I think back on it now, I feel like it must have been there, and I might not have even lived if it hadn’t been protecting me and guiding me to some extent, you know?
Shambhavi: Yeah. Same here.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And like what you just said, I mean, on the one hand, you can think of it as your own deeper intuition. But on the other hand, I really do believe, and often discuss on this program, that there’s a world of intelligent beings or impulses, or whatever we want to call them, that aren’t ordinarily perceived by people but that are very much concerned with and involved in human affairs and guiding and protecting us. Guardian angels, if you want to call them that. So I think, as we go along, we get more and more tuned to that and more and more cooperative, we could say. Any comments on that before we continue?
Shambhavi: Well, I would, I mean, I think those beings are other aspects of the one Self just like we are.
Rick Archer: Right, like everything is.
Shambhavi: Like everything is. So now my experience of the friend is just that alive, aware reality speaking to me, in a sense, and not really attached to any particular form.
Rick Archer: Here’s a nice phrase from your website that I liked, I wish more people had this attitude, “I don’t get stuck thinking I have arrived or ever will. I don’t want anyone else to get stuck either.” So do you feel like there—that anyone ever—that there is an ultimate terminus point at which one can arrive? Or do you think that even those who arrive at our conception of that realize there’s yet another horizon and the potential for more refinement or development in some respect?
Shambhavi: Well, I don’t know if one ever arrives. And I think that’s nothing anyone could know until they did. But I do know that all of our human definitions of enlightenment fall short. Most of them fall very, very short in my estimation. And I know this because of Anandamayi Ma. So through encountering her, she is the one that keeps me unstuck. Because all I have to do is think of her and feel her and understand I’ll never be that ever. And so just keep putting one foot in front of the other and forget about it.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that’s good.
Shambhavi: So she keeps me unstuck, right? But there’s a lot of definitions of enlightenment out there. And some of them are very minor, like not thinking. You know, if you stop thinking, then you’re enlightened. And then there’s other things where somebody just has one spiritual experience of note, and they think they’re enlightened. And some of this is perfectly innocent, they just don’t know. And some of it is not, but I really think it’s hopefully what you said, that they would get stuck but then get unstuck eventually.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I think that raises the point that it’s good to have— it’s good to keep your knowledge lively. I mean, not only culture, your experience through practice, but culture, your intellectual understanding of the path and supposed goal and all that. Because you really can sell yourself short and reach erroneous conclusions about what level of attainment you have, and so on. Both two teachers I respect, Amma and, you know, Amritanandamayi and Adyashanti, both often say, it’s good to have the attitude of a beginner.
Shambhavi: Yeah, that’s a very wise Buddhist teaching.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Because relatively speaking, we are [beginners] compared to possibilities, no matter how advanced we may be.
Shambhavi: Well, we’re— I say we’re always somewhere in the middle of an infinite field. That’s even more groundless than being a beginner because there’s no timeline.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And I also sometimes use the example of if you feel like you have arrived, it’s kind of like saying I’m educated. Yeah, you are, but does that mean you can’t learn anything more? I mean, is anybody ever ultimately educated?
Shambhavi: Yeah, I think that— and I’ve said this in so many different places, that when you engage with wisdom traditions—whether they be spiritual traditions or crafts, or things like Jyotish and divination—anyone who engages really deeply and honestly with a wisdom tradition understands that there’s no mastery, that that’s not actually something that you can achieve. And that’s the pleasure of it. The pleasure of wisdom traditions is that you can learn infinitely, you can refine infinitely, they’re infinitely nuanced. Otherwise it would be a little bit boring.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Now, some people say that okay, well, that education example doesn’t apply to the field of enlightenment, because enlightenment involves realization of something which is absolute. And once that is realized, it can’t be improved upon. And then there’s the whole question of direct versus progressive paths, which I’d like to get into with you a little bit. And so some people feel like if they’ve glommed onto some absolute level of consciousness or reality or realization, that they are truly done, and that relative refinements could go on endlessly, but those aren’t very significant.
Shambhavi: Well, we’re not ref— we’re not improving on the absolute, that is something that’s not possible. But we are improving on our immersion in it, our degree of immersion in it. So sometimes I’ve compared that to a big swimming pool. You can be in the shallow end of the pool and you’re in the water, but it’s not the deep end. So if we have an infinite pool, and you just keep walking in deeper and deeper and deeper, then you recognize that there’s no arrival, but there is greater and greater immersion, greater skillfulness, greater embodiment of the wisdom virtues of the absolute.
Rick Archer: Yeah, embodiment is a key point. If we think of ourselves as channels for the absolute or sense organs of the infinite or some such thing, then we have to ask ourselves, well, to what extent am I actually reflecting or expressing this in my human existence? And have I reached the ultimate possibility of that in terms of my intellect, my heart, senses, all the different faculties? And I think the answer is going to be no.
Shambhavi: I would refine that a little to say that we never know where we’re going until we get there, and we don’t have a measure of where we are. So we can’t say I’ve arrived at the absolute and I— do I actually embody it? I don’t think that’s a possible question. We can ask, of the wisdom that I’ve been granted, of the direct knowledge of the nature of things that I’ve been granted right now and here, am I embodying that? But I don’t think it’s actually possible to say that whatever that is, it’s the end.
Rick Archer: Good. What do you think—have you ever heard the kind of debate between those who advocate the direct path versus the progressive path?
Rick Archer: What’s your take on that?
Shambhavi: That’s a big part of Trika and also Dzogchen. Well, there are many— both of these traditions have at their heart very, very simple practices of encounter with the base state of reality. But they also both have enormously complicated other practices that people can do that are more gradual in their way that they unfold for people. And the reason— both of these ways of relating to the traditions that I’m in are completely valid, there’s no argument between them. There’s people in different conditions who need different methods in order to be able to wake up to whatever extent is vouchsafed them in this life. So I’ll give you an example. The first kind of meditation I ever learned was open-eyed, nonconceptual meditation, which is basically you’re just sitting with open eyes, and there’s some very subtle instructions. And most of the people that got taught this at the same time I did stopped doing it because they just— it didn’t mean anything to them. And I remember a friend of mine asked me to teach him to meditate. He was a very nervous person, he was always trying to control his environment. And this was the only kind of meditation I knew, so I taught him how to do this open-eyed, nonconceptual meditation. He told me he was up the whole night before he was going to do it in the morning, he was so nervous. And then he was, like, terrified sitting in the chair, and he didn’t understand why he was so terrified just sitting there. And I realized oh, this is not the right practice for someone in his condition. And so in Trika, there’s this beautiful progression from practices that involve more of your body, like doing puja or doing other kinds of practices where you’re engaging your body, your energy, and your mind, through to practices that are more of like an energy-based level where you’re working with subtle energy and internal channels and things like that, through to the more direct practices where there’s just some kind of piercing through to the nature of things using very simple means. And these three, we could say levels of practice, are meant for people in different conditions, or they’re meant to be done in a way that they support each other somehow. But this is all just part of the generosity of these traditions. I don’t see them in opposition at all. They’re trying to answer to different kinds of people and it’s also part of the oppositional— the embodiment of their oppositional stance to more mainstream traditions that exclude people from doing spiritual practice. So particularly in India, the tantric traditions in general, not just Trika, were trying to make room for other kinds of people who had been excluded from doing practice. And having all these different kinds of practices that address people who have less capacity or more capacity is part of that and part of the compassion and generosity of those traditions.
Rick Archer: I’ve often observed over the years that a lot of people have a hard time sticking with a spiritual practice. That was true when I was teaching meditation and many people I’ve known. And I have a really good friend these days who I’ve been giving some pep talks to about trying to find a way to meditate successfully and regularly. And she has an ardent desire to meditate regularly, but always has a hard time just finding something that she can do that works for her. And do you feel like if someone had a teacher, or some ideal teacher who really had the whole Swiss Army knife of practices in mind, there would be a practice for almost anybody that would— that could be tailored to their need and makeup, that they would find it possible to do regularly? Or that might be part of it, and maybe that is true, but then I guess there’s still going to be the need for a little bit of individual gumption. I mean, it’s not just going to take you by the seat of your pants and carry you to enlightenment. You have to apply yourself no matter what the practice. What do you think about all that?
Shambhavi: Well, yes, you have to apply yourself. No teacher ever has ever made anyone become enlightened.
Rick Archer: Right.
Shambhavi: That’s not how it works.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Shambhavi: But in any case, I would say that, for instance, after having that experience with my poor friend that I put through that bad night, and also watching other students of my teachers drop out and not do practice, I instituted three different levels of meditation teaching for Jaya Kula. Starting with something that gives you more to keep you busy, into an intermediate kind of a practice, and then open-eyed meditation. And by the time people get to that nonconceptual meditation, they understand it, they haven’t— they already have some experience that helps them to stick with it. That being said, in any tradition—traditions are specific—they can have as many practices as they want, but they still have a view. And then each person coming to a teacher has their own karma. So there’s always going to be some students who aren’t going to practice. They’re there to get a date, or do whatever. And that’s completely fine. But many more people, many more people will stick to practice if there’s a teacher who can sense the specificity of the condition that that student is in and work with them to find the right practices for them. I consider that to be one of my main jobs. And my Dzogchen teacher had a really beautiful, sweet and humble thing he used to say, which is working together, student and teacher find a way.
Rick Archer: Nice. Have you ever run into the new Advaita crowd who say things like you’re already enlightened, you don’t need to do practice because practice only reinforces the notion of a practicer, just accept that you’re already enlightened? And this is the way it is what you’re seeing now. And they go on. Ever— have you ever run into that?
Shambhavi: Yeah, I’ve run into versions of that. That sort of nondual bypassing. It’s very easy to do. So it’s interesting because in this country, we’re very competitive, and we always want to be the best and the top, and we always want to win, etc. So when you have traditions that have sort of levels of practice, everyone wants to be at the highest level, and this is certainly true about Trika Shaivism. There’s— it lends itself to someone who wants to say it’s about instant enlightenment, we don’t have to do anything. It’s all about grace and instant enlightenment—just sit around drinking your beer, and if Lord Shiva decides you’re going to be enlightened, you will be. [laughs] But this is actually a gross misunderstanding of the tradition. So that kind of idea of instant enlightenment or just sitting around doing nothing, you’re already enlightened, so why bother? That is our— that’s for someone who’s already been practicing for lifetimes upon lifetimes, and then they arrive in that almost fully bloomed condition. So it’s a misunderstanding that that is for most people. It doesn’t discount it, it’s not that it’s untrue. It’s just untrue for most of us.
Rick Archer: Yeah, good point. There’s a variation of that theme where there used to be a beer ad where these guys are sitting in a boat fishing, and one of them says it doesn’t get any better than this! And the— in the spiritual arena, there’s some teachers who say things like, well, there’s only this. I mean, don’t expect anything, don’t expect some big enhancement of what you’re experiencing. And I always feel like that’s kind of cruel. I mean, do you say that to a chronically depressed person or a psychotic person or something? Of course there’s an enhancement. That’s the whole idea. So I don’t know, I just react to that kind of notion. Picking your brain about it.
Shambhavi: Well, I can, yeah, that’s— that kind of admonition and sort of damping down of any expectations, I’ve noticed that that’s part of the culture of some traditions.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Shambhavi: And also, I think maybe some teachers do that because everyone’s so addicted to the big experience and the big win here, that it’s hard to get people to just be okay with the dailiness of spiritual practice and it’s ordinariness most of the time. But that— I think there has to be a balance, because spiritual practice does allow you to enter into the extraordinary, to extraordinary perception. So we can’t lie to people and say that that’s not a possibility. And also just depress the hell out of them, because then they don’t know why they’re doing it. But I do think that there needs to be some way to get students to just sit down, be an ordinary person doing this day-to-day, and the things will come. Whatever is gonna happen will happen if you just do that.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that’s good. I once had a teacher who said to me every day is life—don’t pass over the present for some glorious future. So obviously, one could be bemoaning one’s state and totally ruining the life you are living, pining for something you want to be living. So there’s some kind of a balancing act of being content with what you’re experiencing but also realizing that there could be many upgrades yet to come.
Shambhavi: Well, I would say maybe content is too strong of a word. Reconciling oneself might be better. Right? Because discontent and yearning is— the desire to experience something differently is the great engine of spiritual life.
Rick Archer: True.
Shambhavi: Without yearning, that sense that things could be different for you, you would never do anything. So we want to actually have that grow stronger and stronger and stronger. But at the same time, we have to be reconciled with the condition that we are actually in. Because we can’t build an authentic practice on fantasy.
Rick Archer: Yeah. But I guess, getting back to the education analogy, if we’re in the third grade and we think oh, the third grade sucks. I know there’s higher mathematics. Why do we have to study this stupid stuff and blah, blah, blah, then you’re not really taking advantage of what the third grade has to teach.
Shambhavi: Yeah, true.
Rick Archer: Yeah. But eventually contentment does dawn—santosh, I think they call it. And that doesn’t mean you’re finished, but it doesn’t mean you’re agonizing or yearning or, I don’t know, that’s my own experience, that there’s a— back in the 80s and so on, I used to think oh god, kind of enlightenment-or-bust kind of attitude. But these days it’s like hey, I’m having a great time. And I know that there’s more to come, but I’m good with this also, but it hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm, you know?
Shambhavi: I kind of went through that for a few years, thinking I was content, and then something shifted, and I went into a new phase of yearning. So who knows? We’ll see what happens.
Rick Archer: Yeah, we’ll see.
Shambhavi: Let me know!
Rick Archer: Okay, I will! So picking up some more things. Well, let’s ask a question here. This guest has been patiently waiting. This is Bob Routh in Whidbey Island, Washington. Hey, we’ll trade houses with you, Bob, we always look at what a nice place Whidbey Island might be.
Shambhavi: It is nice.
Rick Archer: Yeah. His question is, “I have experienced death and rebirth several times, once to comfort and accompany a friend by holding her hand while she passed over. My feeling was drawn out of my body and into hers, and together we went through a vortex. I felt both of us going in, but then she said it’s okay, you can go back now. It then ended. My question is, is this something others have experienced? It seemed like no big deal to me. But everyone in the room became uneasy with me when I described it. I then assume I am different.”
Shambhavi: Well, there’s reams of books about experiences of close encounters with death or near encounters.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Shambhavi: When we— when we don’t actually die, but…
Rick Archer: I’ve interviewed a lot— I interviewed a guy all about shared death experiences, which is what this guy…
Shambhavi: Yeah. So I think for sure you are not alone in that experience. And not a one-off.
Rick Archer: Yeah, Bob, you might want to watch my interview with William Peters if you haven’t. He was the one about shared death experiences. And he has a book in which he recounts numerous experiences like that.
Shambhavi: I think it’s a whole field of study.
Rick Archer: It is, yeah, there’s there’s NDE’s, near death, and then SDE’s, shared death. And then OBE is out of body experiences. And all these things.
Shambhavi: I never heard of shared death before.
Rick Archer: Yeah, William Peters. It’s interesting, there’s so many examples where people kind of entrain with the person dying and share in their experience.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And here’s another question that came in. This is from Ashima Earhart in Virginia, “I’m 57 years old and took early retirement to deepen my sadhana. I feel such longing to absorb into her presence without the many demands of a job. How can one discern if one is simply running away from the stress of the workforce or truly being guided by her to go into the next phase of life?”
Shambhavi: Hi Ashima, I think we’re Facebook friends, I don’t know her in person, but I’m pretty sure we’re Facebook friends. So being able to take retirement and being able to support oneself adequately so that you can do spiritual practice more is a privilege, and it’s one you should take advantage of. It’s a gift. And we should…
Rick Archer: You did it.
Shambhavi: Yes. I’m not retired by any means. But I did spend several years only working 10 hours a week and spending the rest of the time doing practice. So kind of the minimum I needed to survive. And I feel like if we have that possibility, this is grace in our lives. And you shouldn’t worry too much about leaving behind the stress of the workforce. I mean, who wouldn’t do that if they could, even if they didn’t have a spiritual practice? So just consider this a gift from God, and do your best to take advantage of every aspect of it.
Rick Archer: Good, good answer. Okay, I’m taking some more points you sent me from your notes. Direct real— direct realization. Where does that phrase come from, and what does it mean? We may have already covered it, but I think there’s more you can say.
Shambhavi: Yeah, so there’s— in Sanskrit, it’s pratyaksha darshana, and it means to see for yourself or to see directly for yourself. And there are a number of spiritual traditions that are direct realization traditions. Trika is one of them, Dzogchen, Chan Buddhism, there are other ones. But it means that the view of the tradition and the experience of the practitioners in the tradition is that the nature of the Self or of reality, if they don’t call it a Self, is there to be discovered directly through our own senses. Through our body, energy, and mind, we have everything that we need to actually perceive directly the nature of reality, or the nature of the Self. So all of these traditions, all of their practices that they’re doing are done with this attitude, that we can, without any intercession of or interceding of anything, use our own sensorium to perceive the direct— the nature of things.
Rick Archer: Well, how could there be any realization other than direct realization? Because I mean, if guru such-and-such says he has a realization, that doesn’t do me any good. It has to be direct, right?
Shambhavi: Well, ultimately, I guess, but that’s not the view of traditions that don’t subscribe to this sort of thing. So there’s some traditions for whom the goal of the practice is not this kind of direct realization. It’s, you know, being good so that you’ll go to heaven.
Rick Archer: Right.
Shambhavi: There are other— there are other sort of end results that traditions want other than this, and there are many traditions that say we are very are different from God, we’re very different from the divine, we don’t have what it takes. And you are only going to be saved by God, or you’re only going to have an intellectual revelation of things. It’s— there’s not in many other traditions this sense that with your own perceptions, without any other tools, you can perceive how things actually are.
Rick Archer: That’s true. I mean, as I understand Christianity, at least as it’s currently understood, the attitude is that deep down we’re all sinners. And the idea that God dwells within us, as us, is blasphemous. And we need a priest to intercede between us and God, we can’t have that direct relationship, at least some forms of Christianity have felt this, Catholicism.
Shambhavi: The view of the direct realization traditions, and that phrase was a phrase that’s used in Trika, and also Anandamayi Ma used it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that particular phrase in Dzogchen, but I haven’t read as widely in Dzogchen. In any case, it’s based on the understanding that the nature of you is the same as the nature of everything else. So that you should be able to perceive your own nature directly if you remove the obscurations that are in the way.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that makes such total sense. Or even if we want to put it in terms of God, if God doesn’t permeate every bit of us, and if there’s anything that is not God, then God is not omnipresent. He’s got holes here and there where there’s some non-God. And…
Shambhavi: [laughs] Yeah, but even if we look to the traditions that are more closer in geography to the ones that I study in, some of them have as a goal to stop thinking or to be desireless. Or to be good or to be very compassionate or something like that. They just have different goals. It’s not that we don’t care about compassion, that comes naturally. But it’s not the endpoint.
Rick Archer: Right. Yeah, I think all those points you just mentioned have their place—to stop thinking, for instance—you can go into a state of samadhi where you have stopped thinking, but you can’t live that way all the time necessarily. Although I have interviewed a couple people who say they really don’t think thoughts. But I think what they are— what’s happening with them is that the mind has gotten permanently more settled. So they don’t have the discursive thoughts that most of us have, there’s just more subtle impulses that comprise their thought process.
Shambhavi: Well, to give you an example of the difference between the kind of tradition I’m in and some other ones that people are very familiar with, where mindfulness is really an important practice and many different techniques for that, in the direct realization traditions, the instruction is unmind the mind. Don’t worry about the mind. The mind does what mind does.
Rick Archer: Don’t fuss with it all day long.
Shambhavi: Don’t fuss with it all day long.
Rick Archer: Right.
Shambhavi: Right. And as regards to thoughts, there’s a wonderful story in a tantric text from India called the Tripura Rahasya, where there’s a sort of a— it’s sort of a combination between straight ahead view teachings and a purana, which is a teaching story. So there’s a husband and a wife that are— their story’s kind of threaded throughout this text. And the husband thinks that he’s a yogi and his wife is just an ordinary housewife.
Rick Archer: Oh, yeah. This is one of the puranas, I think, go ahead. Keep going.
Shambhavi: Yeah. But she actually is the great practitioner, he’s sort of much— has much more minor chops. Anyway, at one point he’s meditating, he’s got his eyes closed. And she interrupts him and says husband, what do you want for lunch? He tells her that— he says now go away, woman, so I can close my eyes and enter samadhi again! And she says husband, if your samadhi depends on whether a quarter of an inch of skin is open or closed, I don’t really think it’s all that much. And I think the same could be said for thoughts. If your enlightenment, so called, depends on whether there’s a stray thought here or there, it’s really not all that much.
Rick Archer: There’s a second verse in the Yoga Sutras that says yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind, the chitta vrittis. And I think that that has its place as a temporary experience. And I think when that is cultured and stabilized and integrated, one doesn’t have a very noisy mind usually.
Shambhavi: I think that’s true, but vritti means karmic mind patterns. So it’s not that thoughts themselves have to go away. But habit patterns of the mind.
Rick Archer: Conditioned, habitual.
Shambhavi: Conditioned, habitual, yeah.
Rick Archer: Right.
Shambhavi: So vrittis are like samskaras of the mind.
Rick Archer: Right, yeah, that’s good.
Shambhavi: And this is kind of what happens when things get translated sometimes, they get a little bit dumbed down and we lose some of the nuance, and— or we reinterpret them through other stuff that we’ve learned. Or we don’t understand a word like vritti. So then it becomes like oh, all thoughts have to subside.
Rick Archer: Right.
Shambhavi: No, it’s just the patterned thoughts, the habitual thoughts.
Rick Archer: Yeah. So in light of what you just said, it seems like there could be two kinds of thoughts. One would be conditioned, driven by impressions and action-impression-desire cycle. But the other could be totally unconditioned and just arising appropriately given— under whatever circumstances.
Shambhavi: Exactly. And so the mind does quiet because some of those vrittis subside. But we— thinking is a natural phenomenon. I don’t think it ever really stops.
Rick Archer: Yeah. In fact, I think if a person is acting, they’re thinking, you know? I mean, if I pick up this glass, there was a mental impulse that— before my arm moved, and I can’t imagine how there could be any action without some preceding mental activity. You think?
Shambhavi: Well, there’s also— I don’t know!
Rick Archer: Well, there’s muscle memory. There’s great athletes. I mean, Steph Curry doesn’t think about okay, I’m gonna do that. But there is some mental impulse to do this or do that, that is just that we’re not…
Rick Archer: It’s spontaneous.
Shambhavi: Yeah, it’s more spontaneous.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Shambhavi: But one thing that does happen is that, as you start to relax on this very deep level, traces of other lives start to become more obvious. And images and words and little scenes and things that have no seeming relation to one’s current life can sometimes flood your mind. They’re not exactly thoughts because you’re not thinking about anything. But it’s almost like some sort of reservoir has been unleashed of these impressions.
Rick Archer: So do you feel like that’s the clearing of deep samskaras that’s taking place?
Shambhavi: You know what? I have never had any idea what it is. I just assume it’s something related to this jumble— this collection, right? That I don’t know if it’s past, present, future. How it’s related to me I don’t know. Sometimes they’re more obvious, sometimes they go away completely.
Rick Archer: But we don’t come into this life as a tabula rasa, we have had past lives, and we have deep impressions. And…
Shambhavi: That’s right.
Rick Archer: Yeah, would make sense that we’re not just going to clear away the impressions that we’ve accumulated in this life, that older ones, deeper ones, have to be cleared up.
Shambhavi: Exactly. One of my friends who is also a spiritual teacher called it the treasury of worms.
Rick Archer: That’s pretty good. Okay, one question that— about an hour ago, you said something and this question has been in the back of my mind about how you don’t transmit enlightenment from one person to another. And I was wondering what you think of the phenomenon of shaktipat.
Shambhavi: Well, shaktipat, as— it often gets translated as a downcoming of grace or a descent of grace. And Anandamayi Ma said there’s no downcoming and there’s no upgoing, there’s just grace everywhere. So what is shaktipat is when we notice, when we— when conditions are ripe for us to notice more of our real nature. More— for us to be able to experience directly for ourselves more of how things actually are. So there’s certain conditions that can help that to happen, and then we call it shaktipat. But what it really means is we’ve just noticed something that was always there and always true. But now it’s like a curtain has come apart and we can feel that and see that. So in terms of shaktipat, Abhinavagupta, one of the siddhas and practitioners of Trika, said that the yearning, the longing that we feel to realize, is evidence of shaktipat. That that is Lord Shiva giving us shaktipat in the form of our own longing, which I just always thought was so beautiful. But in terms of how teachers and students work together and what is called transmission, or some version of shaktipat, that’s a really alchemical and very mystical occurrence. I couldn’t say exactly what is happening, but my own experience of it is that I’m sharing— I’m including students in my own experience somehow, and then they’re able to experience that in themselves. And what I tell my students when we do that kind of work together, I say anything you experience is you. It’s something you already have, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to experience it.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that’s good. Yeah, I like that. I mean, I think of it—shaktipat—not as a kind of a zapping of spiritual thunderbolts from A to B, but more like an entrainment pro— an entrainment process, where you’re in the field of the teacher, and there’s some alignment, like a damp log next to a brightly burning log, and the damp log gets dried out and starts burning. Anyway.
Shambhavi: That’s cool, I like that.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And, okay, good. Enough of that. So a bunch of questions have come in, I want to switch to that. First of all, we have one more from Bob Routh on Whidbey Island, he said, “when we reach what we think is enlightenment, is that just one perspective of what we think is the whole? Once we arrive, I feel if I alter my current perspective even the smallest amount, that I realize I know little, and my education has just begun.” It’s kind of what we were talking about earlier.
Shambhavi: Well, as I said earlier, I don’t think there is any arrival. I just think there’s a deepening. A deepening immersion. So that question wouldn’t be answerable on its own terms for me. And the fact that one is worrying about arrival, I think is something worth investigating. Because most of us are so far from anything even we could call arrival. Even if we had that concept. Really, what is the point of thinking about it, right? Our job is to just put our— as I say, put our head down, walk barefoot on the road, and just keep going.
Rick Archer: There’s a great movie called The Arrival but it doesn’t have anything to do with what we’re talking about. It was— had to do with ETs.
Shambhavi: Did you know I’m a science fiction fan, or is that— are you…
Rick Archer: No, I didn’t know that.
Shambhavi: Oh, no. Yeah, I am.
Rick Archer: Oh, cool. Are you a kind of a movie buff?
Shambhavi: I don’t know if I’m a buff. But I’ve been reading and watching science fiction since I was very, very young.
Rick Archer: Oh, cool. Interesting. I’ll have to talk to you about that later. Here’s a question from Tomas Dobeck in Luton, UK. “Can Shamhbavi compare her experience to Jane Roberts, who was channeling Seth? Is it an experience that compares to channeling?”
Shambhavi: I don’t know who Jane Roberts is, but…
Rick Archer: She was a channeler. And there was this entity called Seth. And she wrote all these books, the Seth books, and there have been a lot of people who channel. Anyway, you know what channeling is.
Shambhavi: I’ve heard of it, yeah. Well, channeling is kind of a dualistic way of conceiving of an experience. So no, I’ve never conceived of my own experience that way. I just feel that I’m entering into the heart space where that infinity of wisdom is manifesting in the form of— in, within a human being. And I’m calling on that wisdom, and I’m calling on my teachers to help me to help students.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Shambhavi: And just sort of sharing the field of wisdom that I’m experiencing. So I don’t have any sense of channeling because I have the experience that I’m already that, so there’s— I’m just trying to get out of the way of it.
Rick Archer: That’s good. I think that the key here is that you’re— you use the word field, and you say I am already that. Whereas channeling involves an isolated entity that one is becoming a mouthpiece for. And that’s a big difference.
Shambhavi: Yeah, I’ve never had that experience.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Good. Here’s a question from Elle Shankar in Atlanta. “You mentioned that while you were on the balcony, you had a profound experience where Ma showed you the nature of reality. What did you see or experience?” You alluded to it, but maybe you could elaborate a bit.
Shambhavi: I think maybe, other than just feeling her utter mercy and grace and… Oh, I just felt so overwhelmed by that. One of the most significant things I learned during that afternoon was that everything is made of wisdom. Or virtue— or what I call wisdom virtue. For instance, that compassion is not something that we have or that we cultivate, that there’s natural compassion just filling all of space and time, all of existence. And then we just embody that more as we relax. The same with that intel— like I learned that there’s this intelligence that is so far not what we call intellect, that is permeating everything. So I really discovered that what God is, is wisdom, or wisdom virtue, and I had never understood what God was before. The words that had been used to describe God or Shiva when I was receiving view teachings in Trika was omnipotent and omniscient. I mean, all of these, like, relatively dull, dry words that really didn’t inspire anything in me. I was just like okay, yada yada yada. I don’t even know what that means. It doesn’t move me in any way. And then what— Ma showed me what God actually is, and then I realized also that devotion just comes naturally with that understanding of the nature of things. That the experience of devotion and the knowledge of the nature of the self arise simultaneously. Because there’s no possibility that you would not experience devotion in light of this revelation. And I had also not thought of myself as particularly devotional before this, although my friends laughed at me when I would say that. They’d say you’re just like someone who’s lost their sunglasses on top of their head. But then I really entered into a much more devotional phase of my life. And I just felt like I found out who God was. I don’t know if I could say more than that.
Rick Archer: It’s so cool that you just— you went up the stairs, and you got on this balcony, and this whole thing happened. And it must have taken you quite some time to unpack it all and be able to articulate it like this. But it’s beautiful that one can have a download like that, if you want to call it a download. And there have been other examples throughout history of— you know, Saul on the road to Damascus or the Prophet Muhammad, or various others just getting a big opening and just being flooded with wisdom, and then eventually integrating it and being able to express it. So it’s great.
Shambhavi: Yeah, it does take time to integrate. And I think that’s a really important point, Rick, because many people just are after spiritual experiences, and they have an experience, they think that’s it, I had the experience. But really, there has to be sometimes years and years of integration. The experience itself is, as the kun— the American kundalini yoga teacher Rudi said, the experience is the work order. It’s not the end, it’s the beginning.
Rick Archer: That’s good. Okay, here’s a question. Oh, we’re getting a lot of esoteric questions here today. Here’s a question from Sarah McDougal in Maine. “I would love to hear what you know about the rainbow body phenomenon. What actually is going on both scientifically and spiritually? Have you ever witnessed this, or do you know anyone who has? Have any scientists researched this that you know of?”
Shambhavi: Rainbow body relates to the five elements—earth, water, fire, air and space—which have both concrete, gross forms and subtle forms. And if we sort of walk backward along the cascade of becoming toward the absolute—you know, if we say here’s the absolute and here’s our everyday life—and so if we kind of walk backward, we— here we have the more concrete versions of the five elements. But eventually we have the lights of the five elements, the light forms of the five elements. So when people take a light body, they have basically resolved their karma to such a degree that instead of displaying ordinary five element displays, like our bodies, they now are displaying the subtle forms of the five elements as colored light, rainbow light. So that’s the explanation that’s given by those traditions. As far as scientists go, I am really not of the mind that scientists should be offering proof, through their view, of the methods or results of spiritual practices, which operate with a different worldview. And I love science, I’ve studied science, I have undergraduate degree in science and have studied science my whole life. But their explanations are further down on the chain of the cascade of becoming—more gross. And so, basically, I think that the yogis should be explaining things to the scientists, not the reverse. And I won’t say more about that, because it’s one of my pet rants.
Rick Archer: It’s one of my pet rants, too. I gave a whole talk on it at the SAND conference. And I think there can be some kind of mutual benefit. Obviously, spirituality explores a huge range of realms that science doesn’t even have any idea exist. And if we really want to have total knowledge as a civilization, we need to explore those realms. But science is good in terms of its empirical, systematic approach, and a lot of times spirituality gets too ungrounded and too imaginative, and it could use a little bit of rigor in terms of actually empirically verifying various ideas. So…
Shambhavi: Well, the idea that something is empirical or objective is already an epistemology and a view that’s antithetical to the epistemology of the traditions that I study in—how we come to know things. So when we say they would benefit from an empirical view, we’re basically, from my perspective, imposing a kind of epistemological violence on those traditions. From the perspective of people—scientists who don’t actually practice or understand what’s going on—they’re coming into multi-thousand-year-old traditions and saying we’re going to apply this lens of empirical science on you—on something they don’t understand.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that’s not quite how I imagined, it’s not that the scientists are going to come in and impose this on the spiritual people, but the spiritual people could borrow from science, sometimes, more of an empirical attitude. And just be a little bit more rigorous in terms of wanting cert— not certainty, what’s the right word? Just experiential genuineness of what they’re experiencing so as not to get off, and I’m sure that the traditions you’ve studied have had warnings about getting lost in imaginal realms and fooling yourself about…
Shambhavi: Well, in the sci— in the world of science, there are bad scientists or scientists who aren’t that great, right?
Rick Archer: Right.
Shambhavi: And then there are the scientists who do a really, really good job. Same thing in the spiritual world, there are practitioners who maybe get lost in imaginal realms, but really, who cares about them? You know, there— I would say, as a practitioner myself, I don’t think any scientist is any more rigorous than I am. And any more precise, any more sober, any more— having any more clarity than I have. So I again, I think, I don’t want to get into this too deeply because it could hijack the whole conversation. But I think, again, there’s something being imposed here that is being imposed through a lack of understanding of what it actually is to practice in a rigorous way. That there is no lack of rigor in spiritual traditions.
Rick Archer: No.
Shambhavi: I’ll just say that.
Rick Archer: There shouldn’t be, and that’s what I’m kind of saying.
Shambhavi: But we don’t need to borrow that from western tradition.
Rick Archer: Well, I’m just saying that western tradition has some merit. And [we] can extract the juice of it maybe. And it could be that because you have some academic training in science that you have this rigorous attitude, or it could be just that you have a rigorous attitude— that your innate rigorous attitude attracted you both to science and to a rigorous application of spirituality.
Shambhavi: But still, you’re assuming that the rigor that I practice came either from my engagement with science or something I brought in prior to practicing. You know, I say that the traditions have rigor already inbuilt.
Rick Archer: Okay. So you don’t think that religious or, rather, spiritual traditions have anything— there’s nothing valuable in science that they could learn?
Shambhavi: I don’t know. I really don’t know. When I was at Stanford in graduate school, I was part of a roundtable that included artists and technologists and physicists and all kinds of crazy people. And we really just had a blast together. But there were these physicists that were working at an institute where they did something called boundary physics, which is they looked at phenomenon that could not be explained by ordinary physics, and particularly phenomenon that seemed to engage the idea of consciousness. So they were doing all these experiments of, for instance, they would measure the— how probabilities turned out when many people in the globe were all paying attention to the same event, like the Olympics or something.
Rick Archer: Yeah, like Dean Radin has done that kind of work. Yeah.
Shambhavi: So they would discover that the laws of probability were slightly tweaked during those times. Or they would do other kinds of experiments like that. I won’t go into it, but they were doing that while I was, like, going on Anandamayi Ma’s balcony and having an experience of grace. You know, I felt sorry for them. They wanted to engage with consciousness, they wanted to understand more about consciousness. But they were measuring probability statistics and dropping coins in little plastic tubes to see which side they went on, you know.
Rick Archer: Yeah, yeah, I mean.
Shambhavi: I felt kind of sorry for them. [laughs]
Rick Archer: Sure, I know what you’re saying. And I’m not one of those people myself, I would get totally bored doing that kind of stuff. But science, in a way, is the language of the age. And I think— and the Dalai Lama, for instance, has great respect for scientists.
Shambhavi: Yeah, he loves it.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I just think it has a contribution to make, and that somehow there will be a marriage of science and spirituality, and 100 years from now, we might not really distinguish between them that much.
Shambhavi: Well, that would be wonderful for scientists!
Rick Archer: Yeah, it would.
Rick Archer: [laughs] I see where your sentiments […]. I think it’d be wonderful for all concerned. But I think— okay. I’ll agree with you that I think spirituality has more to teach science than the other way around. But there’s some kind of amalgamation that might be more than the sum of its parts.
Shambhavi: Well, as Ma and Abhinavagupta said, God makes the impossible possible, and also the possible impossible. Anything can happen.
Rick Archer: Anything can happen. Here’s a question from Prachi Dixit in Torrance, California. “Without the conscious desire to seek the divine, is it possible to get pulled towards it? For me, at least once a day, it seems it turns into an uncontrollable motion with tears. Am I doing this unconsciously?”
Shambhavi: Well, if you’re feeling— if those tears are tears of devotion, then I think that’s wonderful. I don’t know what kind of tears we’re talking about here. There’s all kinds of subtle ways that we’re pulled toward discovering more about who we are and what’s really happening here that are pulling us even before we have any conscious notion of what’s happening. This was certainly my experience as a child.
Rick Archer: Yeah, the friend.
Shambhavi: I thought I had no spiritual life, really, until I was in graduate school. I just thought I had no spiritual life. I didn’t identify anything that was happening as spiritual—I would have said I was an atheist. I didn’t know anything about India until I was in my 20s. And, but yet, all these things were happening and pulling me in some direction or another. And eventually, I arrived at where I needed to be. But yeah, I think we get pulled along in all kinds of wonderful, weird ways.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I mean, if we want to bring past lives into it, I feel like a lot of us had a momentum going. And then we came into this life, and we had our stumbles and kicks and dead ends and whatnot. But there was a destiny, and somehow eventually it clicked in.
Shambhavi: [knocking sound]
Rick Archer: Were you knocking on wood as if to say…
Shambhavi: No, I just put my teacup down. On the bare floor.
Rick Archer: [laughs] I thought it was like, good luck, knock on wood!
Shambhavi: Yep! Good luck! I will say, though, that when we do become aware that we’re being guided, or when we— when something arises to the level of our awareness, that’s a great time to go for it.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Shambhavi: Because if we sort of push it back down, we don’t know when it’s going to rise again.
Rick Archer: That’s a really good point. Make hay when the sun shines.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And a lot of teachers say that. I mean, a lot of teachers say, what was it, somebody, was it you? Maybe I heard— it was one of the satsangs I was listening to. I listened to a whole lot of your podcasts in the last week. But there was one, I think, where you’re talking about the sort of inevitability of death and the unexpectedness of it, and it could happen at any moment. So we just want to take advantage of the op— if we realize this possibility, we want to just take full advantage of it as— with whatever time we have available. I know this— in India, there’s some people who have the attitude that oh, you know, I’ll become a sannyasi when I retire. And meanwhile, I’m gonna do all this other stuff. And I guess sometimes the option is presented to them where you can renounce the world now and get into spirituality. But you can balance both and integrate spirituality into a householder life and so on. You talk about that on your website.
Shambhavi: Yeah, absolutely. No, we don’t have to wait for anything.
Rick Archer: Right. Okay, jumping back to some of your notes here. The centrality of the heart and devotion in Trika Shaivism?
Shambhavi: Yeah. So in Trika, all of reality is considered to be the heart. And then the heart space inside of us, which is in the center of the chest—it’s also sometimes called the heart space or the cave of the heart—is like the living symbol or the microcosm of the heart everywhere. And what the heart is— the heart is the outpouring of wisdom. It’s that fountain of wisdom that’s coming out and emerging as worlds, all worlds and beings. So that’s happening everywhere all the time, this fountain of becoming or cascade of becoming. And we can experience that, both the absolute and the fountain of generosity, happening in the heart space. So there are many practices that are heart based and much that can be discovered in— we could also call it the sandhi of the heart, that gap or opening that we experience in that space.
Rick Archer: So the way you described that just now made it sound to me like what you’re saying is that there’s a kind of a cosmic heart. And— from which all this fecundity, all this creativity is pouring forth.
Rick Archer: Pardon?
Rick Archer: Yeah. And that then there’s the individual heart, and that— which is the microcosm of the cosmic heart, and that it is perhaps the portal which connects the individual with the cosmic. Is that…
Shambhavi: That’s right.
Rick Archer: Are you getting that?
Shambhavi: So our— in Trika and other traditions like it, everything that is in existence is also in the human body. And so that’s why we can practice with a human body and realize everything. We, as— there’s a beautiful teaching in a lot of the ancient Tantras, this teaching text, that say there’s no need to go on external pilgrimages, because the greatest pilgrimage is the human body. That we can discover everything. So the heart space—which is not our physical heart, it’s just the center of our chest inside—the heart space is the same as the heart everywhere, but it’s— it gives us a focus. It’s basically meant for sadhana, like all of the subtle anatomy is vouchsafed to us so that we can do sadhana with it and discover the nature of reality.
Rick Archer: Perhaps that’s what’s meant by man is made in the image of God.
Shambhavi: Yeah, everything is, but…
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Shambhavi: Not just human beings, but…
Rick Archer: There’s a correlation. There’s also this thing in some of the Vedic understanding that the h— that there’s a correspondence in various aspects of the human physiology with the Veda, or the impulsive and— impulses of intelligence which give rise to and orchestrate the creation. That you can find correlations between different aspects of that field of primordial knowledge and our human physiology.
Shambhavi: Yeah, I think that this way of experiencing the human sensorium and body is recapitulated in lots of different traditions in different ways for sure.
Rick Archer: That’s a good word. Yeah. Good. Okay, I’m just gonna go right down your notes here because I think you’ll have gems with each one. The nature of satsang.
Shambhavi: Ah. So satsang, the word sat means reality or existence. And sang is kind of a prefix or a suffix that often— it means a confluence or a coming together. So the way that I like to translate satsang is being in reality together, or coming together in reality. Satsang is a really ancient form of spiritual practice, perhaps the most ancient, where you just gather together with a teacher, with someone who has some realization, and you just sit in that field together, and you experience more of who you really are to whatever extent that you’re capable. And at the same time, you reenact the basic form of the dualistic conversation between the enlightened essence nature and yourself. So this gets a little bit esoteric, but this alive aware reality, which is one, is throwing out or emitting or giving rise to innumerable experiences of self and other. So the— all of reality, of manifest reality, in Trika is called a city.
Rick Archer: S-I-D-H-I, or?
Rick Archer: C-I-T-Y, okay.
Shambhavi: A city. So this is like the grand city of manifest life where you go, or you can say where God goes, to experience meeting all the diverse manifestations of which God is capable. So it’s this incredible conversation that’s happening throughout manifest life. And satsang is mirroring that or echoing that or giving us the chance to enter into that. So it’s in the form of call and response, just like everything else here is a conversation, that questions are being asked and answered. Generally, students ask questions of the teacher, and the teacher answers. And then there’s call and response singing, kirtan. So this is a practice that is like a microcosm of what’s happening in all of life. Anandamayi Ma only taught in satsang, and my first— or pretty much the only written encounter one can have with her is through the people who wrote down her satsangs, the conversations that she had with 1000s and 1000s of people. And listening to her in satsang, in audio recordings and reading her satsangs, I just completely fell in love with this way of being with students. And I just started doing satsang. And at first, people just really didn’t know what to make of it. I mean, they would kind of sit there, like, a little nervous. It’s very informal, it’s very intimate, sort of anything goes. And eventually, though, now the students that have been doing satsang with our community for a long time, they really understand the richness of it and how beautiful it is. Ma compared satsang to water dripping on a stone. She said it is spiritual practice, but it’s slow. But like water dripping on a stone, eventually the water will go through. Eventually you’ll recognize who you really are.
Rick Archer: Yeah, look at the Grand Canyon. Yeah, that’s what your podcast is, essentially, is just recordings of your satsangs. And…
Shambhavi: Yeah, exactly.
Rick Archer: And each one is on a different topic, or sometimes one of them is on several topics. And so people can find a link to subscribe to your podcast on your website. And do you do these podcasts on Zoom now so people can participate all over the place?
Shambhavi: Yeah, we don’t do podc— the podcasts are just my answers to students.
Rick Archer: Not the podcasts, but the satsangs, yeah, the satsangs.
Shambhavi: Yeah, we do. Right now we’re doing them two days a week. So on Sunday afternoons at 3:30, and Thursday evenings at 6:30pm Pacific time. People can get the Zoom link by joining a Facebook group called Jaya Kula News. So we don’t publish that link publicly, you have to join the Facebook group.
Rick Archer: Okay.
Shambhavi: In order to get the link.
Rick Archer: Make sure I have that link so I can put it on your BatGap page, so then people can go there and join it if they want to. Okay, good. I’m going down your list here. A lot of these are questions that everybody’s heard a million times, but I’m liking your answers to them. What is self-realization?
Shambhavi: It’s really very, very simple, although the words will not mean anything until you start to enter into a direct experience. But self-realization just means knowing the nature of reality, and that the nature of reality is the same as the nature of yourself. That’s really all—very, very simple.
Rick Archer: Good. Sannyas and leading an improvisational life.
Shambhavi: So sannyas is a— an ancient tradition from India, where people renounced in various ways. And some of them are wanderers, not staying in one place for very long. But the type of sannyas that I’ve taken really doesn’t have much to do with those external forms. It has to do with renouncing— or living without view. So we all have these views of everything, even spiritual views of things. And from the perspective of— the ultimate teaching of Ma about sannyas is that we would be in life in an utter— a state of utter spontaneity with no view, simply responding and being— embodying those wisdom virtues and responding spontaneously. She called this spontaneousness kheyal, which is a Sanskrit, or maybe it’s a Hindi word. I’m not sure. That word that means improvisational music, that she said she never did anything other than via kheyal, and that she was just moved by reality to do or not do, to say or not say, and in this way, she lived her life.
Rick Archer: What do you make of the Osho people calling themselves sannyasis?
Shambhavi: I don’t have any view on that. Speaking of no view! I don’t know much of that.
Rick Archer: But you’re right up there in Oregon, aren’t you?
Shambhavi: Well, yeah. You know, I don’t— I’ve seen that documentary. I didn’t really occur to me to ask why they were, or if they were sannyasins. I mean, there’s many, many different forms of sannyas all over the world. Ma just talked about natural versus sort of more ordinary sannyas. You could take vows and whatever, put on robes, but you might not have natural sannyas. Or you could have natural sannyas but not be wearing robes or doing anything.
Rick Archer: Right. There was one of your podcasts that particularly interested me. I can remember exactly where I was riding my bicycle while listening to it. You said— it was a discussion of Vedanta versus Kashmir Shaivism. And I thought maybe we could get into that a little bit.
Shambhavi: What did I say?
Rick Archer: Let me see if I could do justice to it. So you were talking about Vedanta as regarding the world, being kind of emphatic about the illusory nature of the world and the nonexistence, really, of the world. And, whereas Kashmir Shaivism gives greater respect and credence to the kind of creative play and display, you could say, of creative intelligence. And you were favoring the latter. But I don’t know it kind of…
Shambhavi: Well, I was probably talking about Advaita Vedanta, which was a little later tradition.
Rick Archer: Okay.
Shambhavi: Because the Vedas—if we’re gonna call something Vedanta from the Vedas—they are more similar to Trika than Advaita Vedanta, which is a later tr— or later take on Vedanta, let’s just say. And Advaita Vedanta has many, many different forms, just like the tantric traditions do. But in general, tends to be more transcendental than the tantric traditions, or than Trika in particular, in that there’s some idea that— even though it’s supposedly a nondual tradition, the— there’s still this denigration of lived experience, ordinary lived experience and ordinary bodies and ordinary life. And so Abhinavagupta wrote about this kind of humorously. And he said, If you divide—you know, he was talking specifically about Advaita Vedanta—if you say there are certain things that are real and other things that are illusory, then you’re already being a dualistic tradition. You’ve already fallen off your nondual horse. What Trika says is that we have limited wisdom or less limited wisdom. So it says that everything that’s happening here is real, and nothing could be unreal, that the unreal does not exist, which makes kind of, a certain kind of sense. If we have a limited understanding of something, that’s still a real experience of limitation, and then we enter into a less limited experience when we do practice or some other thing happens to us. So this idea of illusion doesn’t really play out in Trika the way that it does in a lot of versions of Advaita Vedanta.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that’s what you said! But as he was saying it, I was thinking of that Gita verse which says the unreal has no being, the real never ceases to be. And so it’s like it’s unreal, therefore, it actually doesn’t have any being, and all there is— all there is is the real. Go ahead.
Shambhavi: If it doesn’t have any being, then why are we talking about it?
Rick Archer: Well…
Shambhavi: I mean, what are we talking about? I guess I would say.
Rick Archer: Well, that’s a good question. I mean, obviously Advaita Vedanta uses examples like the rope and the snake, and so on. And there never was any snake, it just seemed to be one.
Shambhavi: Well, what Trika would say is that we had a real experience of a snake.
Rick Archer: Right.
Shambhavi: And then we had a real experience of a rope. But that everything happening here is an experience. It’s an experience of the nature of the self for the self to enjoy. So ontologically, in terms of its— the nature of its existence, there’s nothing, there’s no difference between the experience of— a mistaken experience of seeing a snake versus an experience of seeing a rope. They have total equality on the level of their ontological significance.
Rick Archer: But really is there no difference? I mean, I guess one way of…
Shambhavi: Well, there is a difference.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Shambhavi: There’s a difference. In fact, each of those experiences is completely unique. If I see a snake, it’s a unique experience. If I see a rope, it’s a different unique experience. But on the level of what they actually are, those experiences? They’re both made of what I would call Shiva nature. They’re both made of the intelligence and wisdom of that one reality. On that level, they have equality. They don’t have non-difference on the experiential level. They have glorious difference on the experiential level, but on the level of what they actually are, they have equality.
Rick Archer: I think I understand that, what you’re saying. I guess I would say the experience of the snake, it’s definitely an experience, but it’s a mistaken view of what’s actually going on. Because it really actually is only a rope. And so if you kind of see the rope as a rope, then you’re having a clearer view of what you’re looking at. Would you agree with that?
Shambhavi: Well, what I would say is you don’t exist in the way you think you do. And only this one reality is having a funny experience of seeing a snake and enjoying that, and enjoying the mistake, and also enjoying discovering the rope equally.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that’s good too. I’m not even sure— I guess as I was listening to this, I was trying to think, maybe these two things are more reconciled than one might think. Because I hear Advaita Vedanta teachers sometimes talking that way too.
Shambhavi: Yeah, I think that there are much— there are Advaita Vedanta teachers who are much more sophisticated than the cartoony version, for instance, that Abhinavagupta was making fun of. So I think that’s very important to say.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I study a lot with Swami Sarvapriyananda. And I really appreciate his nuanced and respectful view of all these things.
Shambhavi: So the word illusion itself doesn’t, I think, mean nonexistent or unreal to every Advaita Vedanta teacher.
Rick Archer: Yeah, it’s more like misperception.
Shambhavi: Yeah, misperception. Yes.
Rick Archer: Right. And then I guess the question is well, is there really a world or not? Which is like saying is there— was there ever a snake or not? And then you have things like the Mandukya Upanishad, which say no, nothing ever happened. It’s total misperception to…
Shambhavi: Well see, Trika would say no, nothing happened. But it’s glorious.
Rick Archer: I would too, that— Yeah, exactly! It’s like, if this is an illusion, like, holy cow, what an amazing illusion. I mean, look at a single cell under a microscope and watch what’s going on in it. What a show.
Shambhavi: Well, what I like to say is this is what God does.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Shambhavi: This is— that this quote-unquote “illusion,” or this magical display they would say in Dzogchen, is the life process of God. And it’s here to enjoy once we start recognizing its real nature.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I really feel that myself. I just feel like sometimes Advaita is too dismissive of the marvel of God’s play. And…
Shambhavi: That’s part of its transcendentalism.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Shambhavi: And also the effects of patriarchy on traditions, where bodies and earth and things associated with the female are denigrated.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Could also be the fact that they didn’t have dental care in ancient India, or many of the other things that made life tolerable. And you just wanted to get out of here as soon as possible.
Shambhavi: They had some guy down by the river who could pull your teeth out.
Rick Archer: Yeah right, for only 10 rupees! Let’s see, any more questions coming in, Irene? Looks like no. But I have some more points. You spoke of in your notes about— let’s see here. Well, yeah, there’s several different points here. Here’s one. I’ve probably said this quote 20-30 times on the show. But there’s a quote that’s attributed to Padmasambhava which I heard, which was that although my awareness is as vast as the sky, my attention to karma is as fine as a grain of barley flour. And I thought I’d bounce that off you because it sort of to me is important. It’s— it has a lot to do with the ethical stuff that you and I were talking about before we started, and that you don’t get a pass if you’re cosmic as all get out. There still has to be a sort of a impeccability in your behavior and attentiveness to that. You can’t just do any old thing and say well, it’s only God doing it, which some people have used as an alibi.
Shambhavi: I think I relate that quote to us as practitioners and students—that we have this bigger view of, or what we could say of the absolute, but our actual lives are the material we have to work with. So we are given these lives with all their fine grain. And some less pleasant grain than others. With this is the material that we’re working with that helps us to discover the nature of things. So if we bypass this, we really don’t have a practice. As— Abhinavagupta says that we find Shiva in Shakti, meaning we find the nature of things in the lived experience, in our lived experience. Or in other words, that the divine is imminent to everyday life or imminent to everything that’s happening. And so if we try to bypass this, then we have no spiritual life, we have no practice, really, that’s going to help us at least to get to some version of self-realization that’s prevalent in the traditions I’ve practiced in.
Rick Archer: This is really good. Some people like to say the world is my guru, meaning that there is evolutionary potential and significance in everything that happens to us. And guidance if we can discern it and follow it. That things aren’t happening arbitrarily and accidentally and capriciously and meaninglessly, that there’s some wisdom in every little leaf that falls that…
Shambhavi: There’s wisdom in everything, but it’s also playing. So it’s not necessarily that everything has meaning and is heading somewhere important.
Rick Archer: Why did that leaf fall? [feigns earnestness]
Shambhavi: [laughs] It’s really a lot of— it’s like high jinks.
Rick Archer: Yeah, yeah. That’s true. I mean, look at a— watch a Discovery Channel documentary about some of these goofy animals and the way they carry on. These funny birds and the things they do. It’s like, God has a sense of humor.
Shambhavi: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s one of the things you can discover that’s everywhere. The sense of humor.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And a sense of drama, you could say, if you think of God as a playwright. All the dramas, and they’re not just comedies, there’s tragedies and comedies and just— master playwright writing the script. Have you noticed in, especially in the last couple of years, perhaps even in your own sangha, kind of an infiltration of what is called conspirituality, where people have kind of gotten sucked into conspiracy theories like QAnon, perhaps swung to right-wing politics or any of that kind of stuff?
Shambhavi: I’ve noticed it in some people I know, but I have never had a student who was into that stuff.
Rick Archer: They have a good teacher.
Shambhavi: If I have, they left so quickly that no one ever noticed! You know, I feel like Ma just weeds people out who don’t really belong with a teacher like myself. And yeah, I think that I’m so sober and allergic to that kind of stuff that someone…
Rick Archer: They wouldn’t they wouldn’t last long.
Shambhavi: Yeah, they wouldn’t enjoy themselves.
Rick Archer: Maybe that’s— go ahead.
Shambhavi: I have known some people who have gone that route of late, yeah.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Maybe that’s what’s happening. Some kind of weeding out process because there have been dozens and dozens of articles about this phenomenon where kind of new age and wellness community and spiritual communities and so on, many people, like— friends in Sedona told me that about 75% of the people down there at one point were into QAnon. Donald Trump and the whole thing.
Shambhavi: Where I encountered it, most disturbingly, was around the pandemic.
Rick Archer: Yeah, exactly.
Shambhavi: Like lots of magical thinking about being protected from COVID without being vaccinated or wearing a mask or whatever.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that’s what I said the last couple years—the pandemic seemed to kick this into high gear.
Shambhavi: Yeah, absolutely. People want to feel safe, but they also want to feel like they’re in charge.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Shambhavi: Those two things don’t always go together.
Rick Archer: And what I distilled from all this, and I gave a lot of attention to it for a while, is that the development of critical thinking skills is a really valuable tool on the spiritual path.
Shambhavi: I agree with that. And clarity is one of the qualities of reality. So we’re moving in that direction by thinking more clearly.
Rick Archer: Yeah. All right, we have a little bit of time left. Is there anything that comes to your mind that you’re gonna wish we had covered if we don’t?
Shambhavi: I guess I would just say in terms of the round world that anything you can imagine from whatever vantage point you’re at right now— I don’t mean you. I just mean anyone listening, or anyone who will listen…
Rick Archer: And remind us what you mean by round world, just so people— refresh people’s memory.
Shambhavi: By the round world, I mean the world as seen with more depth and nuance than we normally experience it with—the world that includes many other kinds of beings and ancestors,
Rick Archer: Animism,
Shambhavi: Animism, yeah, magic. That— or whatever you think the fruits of practice are, you cannot imagine that or decide that in advance. You can only know that by walking the path and discovering how things are. Anything that you think about things is possibly going to be an obstacle on your path. And for myself, personally, every important thing that has ever happened to me spiritually was a surprise. Not anything that I read in a book or things teachers told me. Everything was a surprise that was of any significance at all. So really, it’s— you get there by getting there, not by projecting or having expectations. And the excitement and the adventure of spiritual practice is in that process of being taken by wisdom.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And on the one hand, we read inspiring books about enlightened people and all that stuff. And we get a sense of— we might not, it might be quite different when we actually realize it ourselves than what our concept was. But at least we have a sense of oh, there’s something really great, and I should aspire for that. But, I mean, a classic example of this was there was this woman named, she wrote a book called Collision with the Infinite, what was her name? I forget, it may— it might come to me. But in any case, she had been an ardent meditation practitioner, and so on. And studied all this business, and then she kind of drifted away a little bit, and she was married and pregnant and just coming back from a swimming session in Paris and getting on a bus and all of a sudden, boom, she had this big shift. And she couldn’t locate a sense of personal self. And it— Suzanne Segal, that’s right. And it totally freaked her out. And she spent 10 years being totally freaked out. In this state where she couldn’t— desperately trying to find the personal self. And finally she got— she met John Kline, the teacher, and he said stop looking for it and relax, this is good. And she relaxed into it. And then, ah yes, this is— and she would then later realize this is exactly what her teacher had been talking about, but she had completely— the reality of the experience had been so different than her conception of it that she didn’t put two and two together.
Shambhavi: Yeah, I mean, I loved reading books about other practitioners for many, many, many years. And that’s wonderful as long as you don’t get attached to having experiences.
Rick Archer: Yeah. But just the inspiration that you know there’s more to life than you are living.
Shambhavi: Yeah. Absolutely.
Rick Archer: And you ought to apply yourself to discovering what it might be without being really rigid about what it’s going to be.
Rick Archer: Yeah, we need that inspiration.
Shambhavi: I agree.
Rick Archer: Good. Well, that’s a good note to end on. Well, I really appreciated this. I hope I didn’t talk too much. I tend to get a little talky. And I really loved what you have had to say and really enjoyed listening to your podcasts throughout the week.
Shambhavi: Thank you so much.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And I’ll link to all that stuff on your page that I’ll put up about this interview on BatGap. So people can hop from there to your websites. And don’t forget to give me that Facebook link where they can join that group.
Shambhavi: Thanks so much for having me, Rick. It was really fun.
Rick Archer: Yeah, it really was. We’ll be in touch.
Shambhavi: Okay, lots of love everybody.
Rick Archer: Okay, and thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching. Next week, I’ll be interviewing Dr. Penny Sartori, her name is, and she’ll be talking about near death experiences. Which we have alluded to today.
Shambhavi: Oh, good for that person who asked the question.
Rick Archer: Yeah, goody. So talk to you later, thanks.
Shambhavi: Talk to you later, bye.