“Enjoy your problems.”
The following notes are offered to support your understanding of the satsang Sahajananda presented on June 1, 2020. This satsang is the seventh in a series of ten talks which together make up a program called Inner Non-Violent Revolution: A Free Online Course on Self-Awareness.
Note that this is not a transcript and should not be seen as an alternative to viewing the satsang itself (available here). If you don’t watch the satsang, you will likely miss the context for the ideas presented here and will therefore not grasp their subtleties. And, as importantly, you will miss Sahaja’s transmission. The word satsang comes from the Sanskrit words sat (“truth”) and sangha (“association”) and refers to “associating with truth,” or “being in the company of the wise.” By being in Sahaja’s company via watching the video of the satsang, you will be receiving the teachings directly from him and you may understand them on a deeper level.
Spiritual Centeredness and Psychological Flexibility
- Spiritual Insight Is More Than Philosophy
- About Making Decisions
- Deliberately Taking the Opposite Viewpoint
- A little reminder of the essential point regarding understanding…
-You want to understand what I am saying, this usually seems to be the main purpose of communication.
-Now communication has another purpose: Who is the one who understands this? Who is the one in whom such thoughts and insights appear? The constant vigilance of the Witness of all of these.
- Psychological Flexibility and Spiritual Centeredness. Diminishing the Swing Between “Yes” and “No”
-The secret of happiness revealed by Nisargadatta Maharaj: Try the other way: indifferent to pain and pleasure, neither asking nor refusing, give all your attention to the level on which “I am” is timelessly present.
-“Like” is an attribute of the periphery and “Love” is an attribute of the Center. Like and dislike in themselves do not cause limitation. For example, in Tantra, a feeling is not denied, just liberated from the rest of the chain of Dependent Origination. So, like, but without clinging, without craving.
-In the stillness of our being, Love is anytime available.
-This relativity of personal feelings is not true for pure Love. Pure Love is not just a feeling, it is a characteristic of the Center.
“Love is the only constant in the Universe.”
The Suffering Brought by “Violent” Choices
- How easily people can be triggered by emotions or traumas in the absence of a sense of an inner Center.
Spiritual Centeredness and Psychological Flexibility: Diminishing the Swing Between “Yes” and “No”
Spiritual Insight Is More Than Philosophy
The Story of the meeting between Ibn ‘Arabi and Averroes
The paradox of going beyond duality by integrating yes and no is beautifully described in a meeting in 12th century Spain between Ibn ‘Arabi and the chief judge of Seville, the celebrated jurist and philosopher Ibn Rushd (known as Averroes, who wrote a famous commentary on Aristotle).
Ibn ‘Arabi was a famous mystic, poet, scholar, and philosopher of the Muslim world. Considered a saint, he was known among Sufis by the name al-Shaykh al-Akbar (“the Greatest Sheikh”). In Sufism, the word sheikh is used to represent a “master,” “protector,” and “friend of God.” But, this story is about the earliest days of Ibn ‘Arabi.
“I spent the day in Cordoba at the house of Abu al-Walid Ibn Rushd. He had expressed a desire to meet me in person, since he had heard of certain revelations I had received while in retreat and had shown considerable astonishment concerning them. In consequence, my father, who was one of his closest friends, took me with him, in order to give Ibn Rushd the opportunity of making my acquaintance.
“I was at the time a beardless youth. As I entered the house, the philosopher rose to greet me with all the signs of friendliness and affection and embraced me. Then he said to me ‘Yes,’ and showed pleasure on seeing that I had understood him. I, on the other hand, being aware of the motive for his pleasure, replied ‘No.’ Upon this, Ibn Rushd drew back from me, his color changed, and he seemed to doubt what he had thought of me.
He then put to me the following question, ‘What solution have you found as a result of mystical illumination and divine inspiration? Does it coincide with what is arrived at by speculative thought?’ I replied ‘Yes and no. Between the Yea and the Nay the spirits take their flight beyond matter, and the necks detach themselves from their bodies.’
At this, Ibn Rushd became pale, and I saw him tremble as he muttered the formula ‘there is no power save from God.’ This was because he understood my allusion… After that, he sought from my father to meet me in order to present what he himself had understood: he wanted to know if it conformed with or was different from what I had. He was one of the great masters of reflection and rational consideration. He thanked God that in his own time he had seen someone who had entered into the retreat ignorant and had come out like this—without study, discussion, investigation or reading.”
In reality, Ibn ‘Arabi was neither naive nor an unlettered mystic in any orthodox sense. He was extremely well-versed in the philosophical thinking of his time. The real difference between Averroes and Ibn ‘Arabi lies in the way in which knowledge is reached, whether by reflective thinking (i.e. still in the either “Yes or No” domain) or by mystical insight (which is holistic, a domain of yes and no together).
This was visually depicted in a second imaginary meeting, in a vision which Ibn ‘Arabi had:
“A thin veil separated me and him in such a way that I was able to see him while he was unable to see me and ignorant of my presence. He was so absorbed that he paid me no attention and I said to myself ‘He is not destined to follow the same path as me.’”
This image reminds me of a quote that made a deep impression on me a long time ago:
“Many seem wide awake to the life without, but asleep to the life within; and though the chamber of their heart is continually visited by the hosts of heaven, they do not know their own heart; they are not there.” –Hazrat Inayat Khan
- The particular quality that Ibn ‘Arabi and many other mystics often employ in their writings is that of the constant interplay of paradox, similar to Zen koans, to force the mind to reach its limit so that the truth may be seen without limitation. Awakening…
- In this play of yes and no, of integration, the world is no longer static, but the dynamic theater of Divine manifestation, to be seen with wonderment. And every movement in the Cosmos is essentially a movement in love of God. It is simultaneously “He and not He,” as Ibn ‘Arabi says, just like the image of a person in a mirror. (Samsara and nirvana.)
Practice! Look in a mirror like this! You are and you are not…
- There is also a beautiful story related to the death of Averroes which points to a symbolic, ironic integration, a need for balance in life as well as in death. An equilibrium without which not even the most common things are possible. At the end of 12th century, he died in Marrakesh. A mule carried his remains back to his native Cordoba, the burden being balanced by the weight of his philosophical writings. Therefore, his writings were useful in bringing balance to his corpse on the back of the mule (who, being the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse is also a symbol of a kind of integration). Life is like this: ironic and playful—everywhere we can find signs, we just need to be available to see them—beyond the veil of blindness which stays in our soul.
About Making Decisions—Getting Out of Our Limited Point of View
- For people caught in the cycle of raga and dvesha, the other option isn’t even present: if I have always been living in the “Yes” option, what is “No” even like? And vice versa…
Therefore, the first step of acknowledging the other part would bring self-observation. You observe your reactions, emotions, and beliefs, and thus, gradually acquire the capacity for personal, psychological presence (control) which is still just the first phase in this movement towards freedom. Only thus, for example in a conflict, in a relationship, can you really consider and start to embrace the perspective of the “other” and get a taste of neutrally.
- Further on from this, there is a second phase, when the “other” is not perceived as separate from you, in which starts to grow the sense of Oneness. When the one you hurt is yourself, the one you love is yourself, you can rise beyond either “Yes” or “No,” and see the beauty and complexity of “Yes and No together,” the perspective of the conscious, embracing Center. But this is done in humbleness. You are not the old you…
- Therefore, we develop first the practice of acknowledging the extremes generated in our lives by the limited philosophy of “either Yes or No.” This is a practice to be explored. Is not abstract…
- Then, we learn and deepen the art of remaining close to the Center, which makes the spiritual journey not some kind of personal excitement, but a beautiful act of attention, and, more specifically, an act of Self-Awareness happening in our normal, everyday life.
- When we don’t take a strong position of identification with a perspective, belief, or thing, we are open. This is the beauty of the time when we learn things. This is the beginner’s mind, as the Zen tradition would name it. We are like a child.
- Choosing strong positions to identify with creates rigidity, seriousness and therefore big problems in our minds, because we hold on to things, we grasp…
- In the thinking domain there is always a distinction between oneness and diversity; but in actual situations in life, diversity and unity are integrated, not divided.
Don’t Be Dualistic
- We can even say that for an adept of Jnana Yoga (and for Bhakti and Karma Yoga as well) the most crucial attitude in life is not to be dualistic, because this would contradict the very essence of the yogic teachings. (Even in Samkhya and Classical Yoga Philosophy, there is a coherence in seeing the same essence of Nature, samsara.)
- Ultimately, it is not so relevant to have a comprehensive theoretical understanding of the teachings. What is much more important is a strong trust, faith in their truth. They are applied when we are able to naturally integrate what seems opposite in our lives, when we feel that we are not the personality, an individuality, the wave, but Shiva, the universal, the ocean. Therefore, centeredness… is essentially an expression of trust in the path of yoga.
- This is very well reflected when we have to make decisions in life. Instead of being tormented by either “Yes” or “No,” ask: Who is actually making such a decision? Does God (Shiva, the Absolute, Pure Consciousness, or however how you want to call it) make decisions? Does Life, in its totality, make decisions? With this intuition, remembrance, a sense of detachment and equanimity arises, in which any choice, judgment is made in wisdom, not reactivity.
- We tend to say about people who missed an important opportunity in their lives that they “missed their train.” We have the image of someone staying indefinitely in a train station because they missed their train. This is the very image of stagnation. But if this model of the lost train may be true from the perspective of samsara, of petty circumstances, it is not true from a spiritual point of view, because you can take this train now. Nobody stops you but yourself.
There is a famous novel by Franz Kafka, The Trial, which contains the beautiful parable “Before the law:” A man seeks the law and wishes to gain entry to the law through an open doorway, but the doorkeeper tells the man that he cannot go through at the present time. The doorkeeper says that it is possible “but not now.” The man waits by the door for years, tries many things, even to bribe the doorkeeper, until he is about to die. Right before his death, an insight comes, he asks the doorkeeper why, even though everyone seeks the law, no one else has come in all these years. The doorkeeper answers “No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you…”
Nobody Stops You but Yourself
- It is not about some special chance lost in the past. It is not even about a specific decision of doing this or that. It is about the decision of being You, the decision of waking up and not staying in dreams anymore. It is only from the Center that such a decision for freedom is made. In our times it is so real. Because you can ask what can I do? You can do a lot, by choosing to be Present.
- And there you understand that it is not even about taking a circumstantial, personal decision anymore, but about entering a flow, in a continuous surge of trust. There are moments of high emotional intensity in which the waters of life pass as through a steep canyon, but it is always about Who is making the decision, not the decision itself…
- I have seen people in distress, asking me what to do in many circumstances. They would ask if they should extend the retreat from three days to ten, in spite of some difficulties, or if they should stay at the Hridaya Center or take a job because an opportunity had just appeared. I see the need to take such decisions as very relative and insignificant, because in the real decision we need to understand that it should be more of a zooming out attitude. It is not about going now or later to an ashram or a retreat. What to choose? Chose the Truth. It is about a lifetime commitment to Truth, to Love, to Self-Awareness, to the Present Moment. This would be indeed a relevant decision. If we make it, adversity, difficult circumstances are not, and cannot be, obstacles. You are free, because Truth and Love, the Center, God is carrying you.
There is a beautiful quote by a great Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki: “Enjoy your problems.”
How would this be possible? It is totally possible, please believe me, but only if you have already made the essential decision, only if have you decided to come again and again and stay in the Center, the Heart, and you trust in this. More than this, you are not really separate from such a decision, you are that Trust from which the choice flows.
It is true, sometimes we need a big shock in our life to wake up. This is another paradox of “yes and no together.” Even though it is so easy and natural, we may need first to be pushed hard or shocked.
“Men have to be driven into Paradise with whips.”
I remind you, we’re speaking now about decisions, but essentially it is about Self-Remembrance and Self-awareness—Me. Here. Now!
Deeper, it is about deciding essentially, who we are, looking for that Center and then just trusting that life will flow from that reference point in a good direction. And you are smiling.
There is a beautiful story about a man who went to Ramana Maharshi and ask him if he should become a sanyasi. Of course, this would be an important decision in life and asking your master regarding this seems to be legitimate. But Ramana simply answered: if you really wanted this you wouldn’t have come to ask me.
- There are decisions that are made with our heart, not with the mind. And they are the most important, not necessarily because they give us rational answers to relevant situations in life, but because they give us the vision, the trust, the understanding of who we are. In the realm of the heart, there is no duality, doubts, hesitations as we know in the mind.
Such decisions of the Heart teach us how through imperfect existence we can and should find perfect existence. Thus, we learn to liberate ourselves from the idea of what others would say regarding our decisions and corresponding actions.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Deliberately Take the Opposite Viewpoint
Another way to get rid of the attachment and the superficial grasp of our beliefs was suggested by Ouspensky, the great Russian esotericist, a disciple of Gurdjieff. He recommended:
“It would be very good for some of you to deliberately argue against what you hold to be right and true and good.” “Try to take the opposite standpoint deliberately at times and see what happens to you.”
He said that sometimes the result was to make you doubt your own opinions, your own “Yes,” and realize there are other points of view to which you cannot say “No” (or integrate in your vision).
Once at a meeting he assumed the position that everything that was said in the spiritual practice that was taught at that school was not true. Many people were startled and shocked.
Actually, he confused only those people who had never really contemplated the ideas and teachings involved in the spiritual work recommended there, those people who had simply religiously written them down in their notebooks or registered them in their memory mechanically, without inquiring in themselves.
The effect on those who had done the practice of Self-Awareness and developed a steady presence was totally different. Why? Because they were Centered, they had included also the “No”-side and had come to an inner faith that could not be so easily shaken by doubts and contrary arguments. Such people had found their own perspective and inner understanding and they could already observe the incontestable effects of this. So here I’m not speaking about questioning everything and remaining in confusion or skepticism.
Being stabilized closer to the Center, you are not shaking. The shaking, oscillating mood, which is characteristic of water, in connection to svadhisthana, which is exactly about social conformism or fashion.
If you really want to know the story of the ocean, learn the silence of its depths, don’t listen only to the waves. Waves are the convenience of water.
- The role of the traditional art of debate in Tibetan monasteries.
We have to reach the phase in which we can be challenged, provoked, triggered, tested, contested, and still not lose Centeredness. It is like in those patriotic American movies about soldiers that go through very tough training. They can say from the beginning, “I love my country, I am ready to give my life for it.” But life shows that such a statement is not enough. The same is true of spiritual statements like “I am Shiva.” You need to be challenged, trained to increase this confidence and serenity of trust.
- Example: Pythagoras’ initiation (that early-Pythagoreans underwent a five-year initiation period of listening to the teachings [akousmata] in silence. Initiates went through a test to become members of the inner circle.)
- Like many martyrs for whom challenges were just a way of increasing the determination for being attuned to the Truth.
- Of course, this can be done even in the profane conditions, to be centered and committed to truth, love, during discussions with your boss or with a friend or partner.
- Instead of being lost in the frustration that comes from having our values rejected, in encountering a “No” to our ideas or spiritual aspirations, that energy is not going in frustration anymore, but in Centeredness, and a stronger confidence grows. That energy of the external “No,” doesn’t project us in a personal reactive “No” but reassesses the Center.
“Enjoy your problems.”
As in these times, we can be lost in fears regarding the future, frustration or we can keep the Centeredness of Self-Awareness. Any blockage, any “No” we meet in life, no longer creates the usual contraction and inner “No,” but a deeper trust—in Yourself.
- When you don’t hold on to your personal story, but you deeply trust in the Heart, what can possibly shake you?
- “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” –Friedrich Nietzsche. But that which kills us as egos, reveals a greater power. The one of the Center. This is not possible unless we have merged together and integrated both the “Yes” and “No” parts of ourselves, revealing a deeper “Yes and No together.”
- If we have simply said “Yes” to the spiritual journey without including the challenges and doubts of “No,” we may not be yet mature, we may be overwhelmed by a manifestation of “No” at a certain point.
- The aggressive reaction of sectarians is exactly a defense against any possible “No” they are actually very afraid of, simply because that doubt was not integrated inside. So, they want to repress others, as a way of repressing inner doubts. They act violently outside because they fear something unresolved inside. The biggest and most terrifying witch was in the soul of the inquisitor.
- The idea is that as we go through a real spiritual journey we cannot remain in the stage of our mamas and papas taking care of us, but we have to undergo all the doubts and temptations of “Yes” or “No” individually in connection with the esoteric teachings and all the ideas behind them.
Questioning the Self-Enquiry Method
Supposing I say in a satsang: “I don’t believe in the efficiency of meditation. I don’t know if Ramana was right… It’s all nonsense,” what would some of you think? And suppose I spent some time in bringing all sorts of negative views to bear on the teachings and did my best to undermine the whole idea—how would you react?
- Many naïve doubts come for people and I receive a lot of questions like this:
-How was it possible for Ramana, a realized being, to get cancer?
-Why did Milarepa eat meat from a hunted animal in his cave?
-Why did Ma Ananda Mayi accept caste segregation in her ashram?
-Why do yogis sit on tiger skins?
Nisargadatta’s answer: Because even they get sometimes rheumatism…
If such questions arise—we are still in the extreme of rationalism (criticism, the so-called “goats”). The other extreme would be the sheep (conformists)—those who naively embrace everything.
“The fact that a believer [the man of the reactive “Yes”] is happier than a skeptic [the man of the reactive “No”] is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”
In such instances, our practice becomes somewhat greedy. When our practice is selfish and greedy, we will become disappointed with it and doubts will continue, because we lack the Heart.
Recently, the Dalai Lama was gave an initiation on Avalokiteshvara (the bodhisattva that embodies the compassion of all buddhas). While speaking about entering the sacred space of the mandala filled with deities, he stopped and took quite some time to drink his tea. He even emphasized this fact with a remark for the doubting mind, saying something like, “I am here speaking about this sacred subtle realm, but look, I’m attached to drinking this cup of tea.” But, in reality this was such a beautiful way of expressing Naturalness, sahaja, a subtle way of integrating both samsara and nirvana in Self-Awareness. The freedom of a child.
We need a deep maturity, spiritual common sense and humbleness to realize this, with no pretense. Then different thoughts will not shake us but will make us smile and bring more confidence.
434: When things pleasant or painful present themselves, to remain unruffled, undisturbed in mind in both cases, through the sameness of attitude, is a characteristic of jivanmukta, one liberated-in-life.
440: He who feels just the same when his body is either worshipped by the good or tormented by the wicked, is known as jivanmukta, a liberated-in-life.