Can You “Satsang” Your Way to Love? This email interview with David Deida was conducted by Vartman, author of Unreasonable Happiness and a spiritual teacher of the Advaita Vedanta tradition who recently began attending Deida’s workshops.
Vartman: Are there still emotional patterns that arise in you, or have they dissolved? The reason I inquire is that I had an interesting private talk with a well-known spiritual teacher a few months ago where she said that a couple of years after her awakening, she now “flatlines”… no emotional response to any situation… including family members dying… only gratitude and the occasional buzz of excitement in response to the mystery of “what next”.
David Deida: I would say that my emotional responsiveness has increased—I weep, laugh, and my heart is torn in ecstasy and woundedness much more easily—but there is less holding on to, or fear of, the emotional response, so it usually arises and evaporates as love.
I would say responsiveness and sensitivity have dramatically increased in every dimension over time, so that I feel other’s joy and pain much more deeply now. I’m often not aware of what is “mine” or “others,” as you’ve seen in workshops. I’m occasionally uncannily psychic, but I have no idea that I’m being psychic whatsoever.
I’m not sure how she means it, but I believe that the teacher you mentioned has an adage that goes something like: “There’s my business, your business, and God’s business,” which seems the epitome of what I would call second-stage separativeness. I don’t add a difference between my business or your business when we are together—I feel the inside of your body, your sexual life, your relationship to your parents, your ambitions and kinks, and many patterns too subtle and complex to put into words, all as if they were “mine”—and it’s all God’s business or the dance of conscious light, as far as I can tell.
Your suppressed and expressed emotions, for instance, I can not only taste, but they course through my body; at least that’s how it feels. Other people think I’m being psychic, but really I’m just feeling what feels like “me” but is obviously a pattern in which all of “us” are participating with no effective difference or separation whatsoever.
To “flatline” as I understand what you are saying, would be to remain immune to this pattern, as if you stand apart from it and are unmoved. Certainly, the masculine consciousness aspect of being is eternally as is without motion, but its spontaneous appearance as life’s dance is motion, and to identify oneself as not part of that feminine dance—moving as it, not just with it or observing it—would take an act of intentional or habitual separation into the “exclusive” witness position, at least for me. I’m not sure if this makes sense…
Your business is my business and God’s business, not intellectually, but functionally, in every dimension, as a human form of being. That is the basis of how I do what I do at workshops—non-separate love responsiveness, grounded as perfect is-ness—not needing to change anything, not waiting for a change in spacetime—but being perfect and already-is consciousness while dancing as the love-emerging pattern that is all of us, dark and light, gentle and violent, dense and subtle, and always an appearance of perfectly okay consciousness, not separated from being the radiant dance, too, as if “motion” or “preference” or “evolution in spacetime” were bad, and unmoved love was good. [see Wild Nights]
Evolution—love/consciousness opening as deeper and wider forms through more and more complexity of appearance—is not necessary for consciousness to be perfect as it is. Evolution in apparent spacetime is simply the natural expression of consciousness in certain states and planes of existence, as which (not in which) humans appear, for a while, mostly in the waking and dreaming state, but also in simultaneous and subtle dimensions that many people are not too sensitive or responsive to, so they are thus more prone to identify with the flatline of masculine non-dance.
I have never met the teacher you are talking about, and I have met many people that appear to have greatly benefited from her work. So these comments are not about her as a person or a teacher, but are directed toward your notion of “flatlining” as well as a statement that I heard attributed to her, although statements out of context can often be misstated and easily misinterpreted.
V: I haven’t heard many Western teachers address the finality of patterned response and was wondering in your experience what is the case. I had an opportunity to spend some further time with the same teacher more recently, but when I saw her it felt really clear that at this time a second-stage realization was incomplete without addressing sexuality, intimacy partnerships, and whole body opening.
DD: I agree with you, and think I just addressed this. All patterns are already “final” or unnecessary—actually non-existent or unreal, as if they never happened—with respect to the is-ness or okay-ness or perfection of consciousness, and simultaneously all patterns spontaneously continue, evolving naturally as expressions of love or held in check due to apparent contraction, whenever a domain of spacetime happens to appear.
V: One thing that I am really curious about is why you spend so little time in your workshops explaining, reminding, or giving people the knowledge of the “native condition”, i.e. that they are pure Consciousness itself to start with and then to practice from there.
DD: How can I articulate this? First of all, don’t let my style of teaching limit yours. If you can do better or serve others through a different style, go for it.
I’ll attempt an articulation of something I don’t really think about, until you ask: When I am on retreat or in my room and not interacting with “others,” I practice feeling, and feeling through, the difference between my habitual tendency to identify with illusory separateness and the conscious love that is. When I am not with others, I don’t feel I have anything to offer others. I have no impulse to teach (or even talk much with) others, because I don’t feel like I have anything to offer others; there is consciousness/love, I am that, and I habitually deny that, so the simultaneous “no-dilemma” and “necessity to practice” simply is, and that’s that.
When I am with others (at workshops, or even just getting an email from you, or a phone call, or if someone walks into my room), as I said above, their patterns are my patterns, and suddenly I find myself relentlessly applying all kinds of otherwise latent skills and leverage to deal with those patterns, developed over years of practicing with similar patterns in my personal bodymind and in the bodyminds of others and in relationships between bodyminds. Unless someone asks me directly, or someone’s degree of personal practice evokes it, I don’t bring any particular teaching strategy to bear, such as “giving people the knowledge of the native condition.” Love spontaneously responds through whatever means of which I am capable, evoked by where the person is really at, as far as I can tell.
It seems apparent to me that very few people are ready to make use of the “no-dilemma” perspective as a tool or conscious foundation of practice, although it is always the unspoken context of my workshops, perhaps most readily felt as humor in the face of seemingly intense “dilemma.” I’m not hesitant to offer what I can about the “native condition,” but usually I tacitly teach people to practice from there, because the explicit description of it, to those who are not ready, leads to the “satsang sickness” of premature identification with something that hasn’t been actually realized, but is merely a thought, or, at best, a past experience that is now referred to in memory. I know many, many, many, more people whose practice has been retarded by their mental, or in-memory “understanding” of the native condition, compared to the number of people who are actually able to practice for real from this ground floor of love’s no-dilemma.
The Buddhists are very careful about this. You usually have to go through years of practice, hundreds and thousands of prostrations, mantras, offerings, and so forth to “purify” enough, before you are given “pointing out” instructions so that you then simply meditate (and do everything) as an expression of the native condition. And even that is considered the beginning stages of the Dzogchen, Mahamudra, and Ati Yoga levels of Vajrayana Buddhism.
I’m not basing my methods in Buddhism, but I certainly can understand their point. The “laziness” you have mentioned in “satsang” folks is, I believe, often a direct result of “settling for” a thin or in-memory version of the truth of no-dilemma, or tender okay-ness, or the non-need to change anything, or the perfection of consciousness, etc. I’m not apt to contribute to this error, not because I’ve got some strategy of teaching, but just because I deal spontaneously with what is brought to me, and what most people bring to me is not a genuine readiness to make non-lazy use of the recognition of the native condition.
If you are in a workshop with me and you really feel this needs to be addressed and I’m not addressing it, just bring it up. I’m not reluctant to address the nature of the native condition when it is evoked, as it often is by you. But I think you know far more casualties of premature or false “recognition” of “no dilemma” than you know shining examples of natural and spontaneous practice grounded in the authentic native condition. Yes or no?
V: Yes I do, but a lot of teachers who give “satsang,” many of whom consider themselves to be in Ramana Maharshi’s lineage, feel that practice is unnecessary, and even misleading. Ramana Maharshi often said that there is nothing to do to be Consciousness, and to realize this, one only needs to inquire into the nature of “I”, and in the same breath said that “if one practices the means for mind-control for some time (e.g. meditation, yoga), peace of mind can be obtained eventually” but the practice aspect seems to often get overlooked. Many people question why you focus so much on sex, relationship and these sticky areas that Western “satsang” tends to avoid as unnecessary.
DD: You and I and everyone always recognize the same One, as the same One, in any moment of actual recognition. As far as I know, Ramana Maharshi wasn’t really a teacher in the usual sense. He didn’t seem to have teacher karmas. I recently read where he said that whatever karmas you have must be lived out, and whatever karmas you don’t have can’t be lived out. So he just remained silent for the most part, not having karmas (of his own) to teach, and knowing everyone would live out their own karmas in any case. Many of today’s “satsang” teachers try to emulate Maharshi’s style (and perhaps have recognized the same One) but:
1. Maharshi never was (and never claimed he was) a teacher of how to live a full human life. He didn’t often address sex [see Finding God Through Sex], money, diet, exercise, work, culture, politics, etc. He simply no longer had karmas in those areas. He certainly seems to have had karmas with Arunachala mountain, and he very specifically went there and stayed there with a strong devotional intent not to leave. So, he didn’t really have the experience or the motive to address “normal people” issues: areas of life where apparent other people still have karmas, and can therefore potentially benefit from learning to recognize the One in all the apparent momentum of those apparent activities, all of which, in any moment of recognition, are always already perfect as they are. And still, there is karmic momentum, so how do you practice in the midst of that apparent paradox? Why are there so few who, having repeatedly glimpsed the truth of their heart, the truth of the unborn, the depth and perfection of consciousness just as it is and just as you are, why do so few live this depth of love in their real daily lives?
2. Maharshi spoke of inquiry and devotion as two types of practices, although modern “satsang” teachers for some reason tend to deny the need for practice based on recognizing that nothing needs to change for everything to be perfect as it is. Everything is perfect as it is. Nothing has ever happened. God or Truth or Consciousness or the Unborn is always already the case. And something seems to be happening. This seeming happening is definitely developing in a direction, or an evolution toward greater wholeness, integrity, and love, and different people represent different degrees of this evolution. Some people are murderers and some are saints, and, yes, all are perfect and are only “seemings” sourced in and made of the unborn, but there is still an apparent evolutionary momentum in the realm of this appearance.
So, the art is to recognize the perfection of things as they are, or to relax as the unborn that you and all are, while simultaneously practicing (via whole-bodied, every dimension, participation in) the art of the evolutionary process that appears whenever things appear. This evolution doesn’t obviously occur in deep sleep, but it does in dreams and the waking state, and the fullness of resting as that which is always already the case (as Adi Da would say) while sleeping, dreaming, and waking, and artfully participating in the evolution of whatever appears (without losing the realization of always present okay-ness) is what it means to really practice.
That is, you practice in the midst of your karmas, in the midst of the momentum of seeming things, resting as the unborn (which simply means heart-recognizing what is the truth now with no change at all, while also artfully aligning or infusing or “transparentizing” the karmic manifestation with the unborn’s native and effortless intelligence of being). [see Blue Truth]
Nothing needs to be done. Unless you have an urge to do. If there is any karmic momentum, you will feel an urge to do (even to just breathe, or sit in temples near Arunachala, perhaps) and whatever you do can be done either more or less transparently to and as the unborn. It’s the difference between what “comes through” a sage and what “comes through” a selfish jerk—both of whom may be breathing and sitting at Arunachala. Your karmas are your karmas and won’t change too much—you are, more or less, going to do what you are going to do and you are already doing it—but evolution is the degree to which the unborn or native consciousness or love “comes through” your karmas.
“Satsang” as many teachers do it today, engenders (hopefully) the recognition or heart realization of, and relaxation as, the truth that consciousness/love is now and always already the case, and you need do nothing but surrender, relax, or effortlessly die to the untrue. And yet “satsang” often sets up a situation of formal practice (“satsang” itself) which is based on the karmic momentum of people getting their asses into the “satsang” hall, while denying that any practice is useful and asserting that practice or the intention to practice (which of course is the same intention that creates the situation of people sitting in a “satsang” hall) only strengthens or refines the ego (which poor practice, ungrounded in and as the unborn, actually does, whether in the “satsang” hall or in one of my workshops), and then people go home to their relationships and children and jobs and society or wherever their karmas and habit patterns dictate, and for the most part, they don’t know how to practice in those situations like they might in the “satsang” hall. They lose the depth of present recognition of, or relaxation as “what is,” but have a memory of the heart-simplicity of being what is. So they return to the “satsang” hall… And so on.
Seeking is seeking, recognizing is recognizing (death, or love, or surrender, or feeling/being the okay-ness of everything as it is), and participating in the realms of appearances artfully as the “coming through” force of the unborn love that gives birth to, and is the very nature of, appearances, is yet another thing. Many people recognize the truth, and then fail to utterly surrender their lives to be lived by and as the truth of love; that is, their recognition is or was real, but their practice is or was weak in the midst of their karmas (even though those karmas are rendered utterly transparent or “unreal” or non-existent in any moment of genuine recognition and relaxation as the truth).
Anyway, the whole point of this for you is to practice relaxing open as love in the midst of wondering if you are doing it right. Wondering if you are doing it right may or may not change, but if you recognize and relax as the only One who is in the midst of your self-concern, then even through your karmic momentum the tangible “force” of love, consciousness, and heart integrity will infuse whatever seems to be happening, for as long as it seems to be happening, even though that very relaxation as Who is or What is carries with it the deep open bliss that nothing is happening or ever happens.
Perfection (now) and true practice (now) are one, seeming as two only in the mind of time.
(And, of course, this addresses only the masculine flavor of practice…. [for masculine spiritual practice see The Way of the Superior Man for feminine spiritual practice see Dear Lover])
V: Some “satsang” teachers would still say that practice is unnecessary and that it is based on a preference to be something they are not, rather than being tenderly okay with what is. They would say that you don’t need to “do” anything to “be.”
DD: Anyone who separates being and doing is still enjoying separation.
The “sudden” and “gradual” schools, developed fully, are identical. If anyone has a preference for non-preference, or prefers to not become “something they are not,” they are deluded by a false duality and are obviously not being okay with what is arising (which can be totally okay and deluding).
And, of course, “remaining as consciousness and being totally tender with what is arising” is what I call “practice,” and is certainly rehearsed, or practiced, and preferred, by those who go to “satsang” more than once. If you return to the “satsang” hall, or return to hang out with one who lives this way, then that is what you are practicing or repeating.
V: I think these same teachers would say that it’s not a question of preference, but merely seeing how consciousness functions. To be what you are is not a practice. They would say that coming to “satsang” is a love affair, to make love more than once is not redundant, and any practice implies preference.
DD: As long as one separates love from not-love, then indeed, practice implies preference. That separation, however, is an unnecessary addition to what is (consciousness/love). Coming to every moment can be coming to “satsang,” as you say, a love affair—and that is how I use the word “practice”—like practicing true music or art, making love more than once (with and as every moment) in a non-redundant way—but that’s not how these teachers seem to be using the word “practice.”
Anyway, even preference is but a movement in, of, and as love/consciousness, as is every appearance of arising. These teachers you mention seem to separate “preference” from “how consciousness functions,” and they seem to separate “to be what you are” from “practice,” but not everyone makes that separation. Love is alive as all, and whether or not anything arises, and regardless of what arises (even preference), consciousness is one and only—at least I haven’t been able to discover anything that wasn’t consciousness/love, although I do, in apparent moments, apparently forget or deny the “love affair” that is coming to “satsang” and coming to every moment as the love affair that is “satsang.”
If some people prefer to use the words “love affair” rather than “practice,” that seems good to me. You are love, being love, and coming to “satsang”—as well as coming to every moment—is a love affair. Have a love affair with preference, too, and the separation some people seem to imply effortlessly dissolves as love. You don’t find this to be the case?