How to Handle the “Dead Zone”

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Marrying Spiritual Life with Western Culture”

So ask yourself, where are you? If you find that deadness inside of you, don’t blame your path, don’t blame your teacher, don’t blame your society, don’t blame the Buddha. Instead, go within and find what is true and meaningful to you. Work the sums. Reason it out. Lord Buddha himself said, “Forget blind faith.” He said, “Reason it out.”  The path should make sense. It should be logical and meaningful to you, not to me. What’s it going to mean to you if it’s meaningful to me? It has to be logical and meaningful to you. This is what the Buddha said.  It would really help you to try that out for yourself.

We live in a society where we are separate from some fundamental life rhythms and where we are trained to think that things are happening outside of us. We’re in a world filled with terrorism and racial abuse, religious abuse, all kinds of conflict, and yet we think racial intolerance, for instance, is happening out there. We read about it in the paper. No, racial intolerance is happening in here. That’s where it’s happening.

It’s like that with everything on this path. You cannot let it happen out there. It’s your responsibility, your empowerment, your life.  Waiting for someone to tell you how to live it is not going to fly. When you walk on a spiritual path that you know, that you have examined, that you have given rise to understanding, you draw forth your natural innate wisdom. That fills your heart with a sense of truth because you understand it—not because someone else does. That’s the way to do it, and that’s what the Buddha recommended. In fact, he said, “I’ve given you the path. Now work out your own salvation.”

That wasn’t just a flip thing. When people hear that they go, “It’s such a cool thing that he said that! He must have had a great sense of humor.” He meant it! The path is there, but you’ve got to work it out.  That’s how you walk on the path. Otherwise you’re walking alongside the path. Then you’re a friend of Dharma, an admirer of Dharma, but not a practitioner—even if you wear the robes.

So handle the dead zone. Empower yourself. There is no reason why you can’t. Don’t live your life by “bash-to-fit, paint-to-match.”  Don’t do that. You are alive. In every sense, your nature is the most vibrant force in the universe, the only force in the universe. It is all there is. To play this game of duality where you stand outside your own most intimate experience and like a sheep get led through your life, that is not the way to go.

Many of you came to this path from another path because you felt dead there. But remember this: Wherever you go, there you are.  You brought the deadness with you. So handle it.

I hope that you really, really take this teaching to heart because it’s really an important thing. If I had one gift that I could give you all,  it would be to stay alive in your path, to have your spiritual life be like a precious jewel inside of you, living, something to warm you by. If life took everything else away from you, which it will eventually, this is the thing that cannot be taken.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Path to Ultimate Happiness: Advice from His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from advice offered by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche during the New York Retreat in 2005:

Now we have this Precious Human Birth it is very important that we do something about it. Whatever kind of aspiration or attainment that we may achieve in this life, the only thing that really counts is what we do in this present time. At the end when we die, we can take nothing with us. Even though a person may have wealth comparable to that of the USA, he is unable to take even a small needle with him when he dies. When our time comes, we have to leave our spent body behind. If you have been practicing Dharma, then Dharma is the only thing you can take with you. But if you have committed non-virtue then the karma you generated through that will be the only thing you can take with you. Whether this is true or not, all you have to do is to reflect upon it thoroughly, then you will know for certain how true it is.

For this reason, it is very important to have faith in Dharma and practice accordingly. If you have doubts about the practice, then you can gain nothing from it. If you practice Dharma without doubt and with wisdom, then only positive results will ripen up for you. Buddhist Dharma has many special qualities; in particular, the practices in which you have just joined this year are part of the practice of Dzogpa Chenpo, which belong to the most supreme, most precious part of Dharma practice.

It is very difficult to practice Dharma due to the karmic and emotional defilements which keep us attached to the mundane worldly kind of existence, it is as if you have to climb a mountain with a burden of heavy baggage on your back. You have to undertake a very long and arduous journey in your Dharma practice, but it is very easy for you to lose your footing and fall down on the way. Furthermore your fall back down again will be very swift, much swifter and further than for those who do not carry much of this kind of baggage. When you climb up a steep mountain, it is very difficult and very tiring, similarly the practice of Dharma is also challenging. To reach the ultimate happiness you have to maintain Dharma practice diligently. When you practice Dharma, you have to abandon any doubts and practice it with a single-pointed mind. There is no need to have doubt concerning Dharma because, since time without beginning, an ocean of practitioners has already attained enlightenment through this kind of practice.

These people also had the strong wish to attain happiness and they put all of their efforts into the practice. You only have to listen to what they have achieved, to realise the vast number of realised masters who have already succeeded in their endeavour to achieve lasting happiness and realisation. For you, it is impossible to actually check the nature of the qualities of Dharma, to judge whether they may be good or bad. If you possessed qualities higher than those of Guru Padmasambhava or Lord Buddha, then you might have a more objective view of the qualities of Dharma. At the moment it is impossible for you to have such an objective perspective, for it is no different from a blind person who says he wants to visually check his own body – how is it possible? Instead of having doubt in Dharma, it is better to have faith and trust and to practice as much as you can.

Calling to the Guru – Yeshe Tsogyal

The following is an excerpt from Mother of Knowledge translated by Tarthang Tulku

Yeshe Tsogyal is calling out to Guru Rinpoche as he prepares to leave Tibet to tame the land of savages:

The sun that warms the land of Tibet,
shining over both gods and men, has set.
Now who will warm us, who are totally naked?
The luckless Tibetans have lost their eyes.
Now who will lead us, who are blind and alone?
Our hearts have been torn from our breasts.
Now who will guide the mindless corpses?
You came here to benefit beings.
Why couldn’t you stay just a little while longer?

Kye Hud! Orgyan Rinpoche!
A time of thick darkness has come to Tibet:
A time when hermitages are empty;
a time when the Dharma throne is vacant;
a time when vase initiations are no more.
Now we can only guess as to the nature of the teachings;
now we must look to books for teachings;
now we can only visualize the lama;
now we must use images as his substitute;
now we must rely on dreams and visions;
now a grievous time has come!

 

Mind Creates Form: Khenpo Tenzin Norgay

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Khenpo Tenzin Norgay given at Kunzang Palyul Choling called “The Six Paramitas”

We are always concerned about our mind.  We have the body, speech and mind, and according to our Buddhist teachings, we say that our mind is more powerful than our body and speech.  It is the main controller.  Once we have our mind controlled, then our body becomes naturally controlled, and then our speech is also perfected.  So that’s why, instead of making our body perfect, what we are doing is making our mind perfect.

The mind is given more importance in our teachings.  According to our teachings, our mind can create a physical object, not the other way around—a physical object creating our mind.  So this is one of the main teachings. If we are able to understand that, then the law of karma, or incarnation, can be better understood.

So here, when we say our mind can create physical objects or all these projections—it is in the Abhidharma teachings—we are talking about how we have three realms of existence: the formless realm, the form realm and the desire realm.  Even in the Sutrayana teachings, when talking about, the formation of these three realms or cyclic existence, like when earth or some physical formation is there, it’s saying that it starts from below and then goes upward—having this sphere and space and the sphere of water and all gradually stacking upward.  Then when talking about the formation of the beings abiding there, the inhabitants, it’s talking about stepping downward.  First we can say we have this formless realm where there is only consciousness.  The person born in the formless realm is, in one way of saying,  less distracted and has a great degree of meditation but without Vipassana or Right View.  If we don’t have Right View, then when our meditational power becomes exhausted, we can be born in the form realm.  In the form realm, our teachings say, there is no physical body of flesh and bones, but not exactly the rainbow-like body. So there is sort of like a physical body there which is not really made of flesh and bones. But it’s saying because of our attachment to the physical form, there is some solid form of physical appearances in the form realm.  When this becomes stronger, we call it the desire realm.  So that’s where we are, in this desire realm.  And here, our desire to objects is stronger, so we have this flesh and bones and this brain.

What I’m trying to say is our mind can exist freely without relying upon the chemicals in our brain.  If it were just a chemical process, then once the brain died, everything would be dead.  So it seems this is not our teaching.  Our teaching is that our mind creates the brain, not the brain creates our mind.

 

28th Anniversary of the Enthronement of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo


The lowing of the conch shell sounded from various points on the temple grounds like a soft foghorn. It overlaid the patter of hammers as stupa construction continued. Sometimes the sound wavered and spluttered out, and Jetsunma would laugh, lowering the conch. She was practicing for the enthronement ceremony the following day and had been told at the last minute that she would have to blow the conch. She never had before, at least not in this lifetime. She wiped her mouth and joked to her students, “I’m never going to get this down.”

She gamely tried again, continuing her gradual circumambulation of the temple. The sound came out clear and strong and hung in the air. After a moment of stillness, the students cheered.

On September 24, 1988, the temple filled with cameras and mics angled in every direction. Jetsunma sat quietly humble on the throne, and straightened the brocades draped over her shoulders, blinking at the lights. The temple had never been so brightly lit. To the blare of Tibetan horns and ringing bells, NBC filmed while His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, Throne Holder to the Palyul Lineage of the Nyingma School of Vajrayana Buddhism, formally enthroned Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo as a tulku, or reincarnate teacher.
According to tradition, ceremonial items were carried from H.H. Penor Rinpoche to Jetsunma, empowering her to teach and formally represent the Palyul Lineage. When the time came for her to blow the conch on camera, the sound came clear and then wavered. Not as good as the night before. She shared a wry smile with her students, tipping her head, Oh well. Then one of the monks had to blow the conch. His Holiness chuckled and Gyaltrul Rinpoche translated his comment, “They should have had Jetsunma do it.”

The news spread via Associated Press, and world newspapers printed photos of the spectacle of a western woman with long dark hair on a Tibetan throne. Her enthronement came at a time when Vajrayana Buddhism was relatively unknown in the US. The year before, an obscure Tibetan monk, H.H. the Dalai Lama, spoke at the National Cathedral to a scattered audience of about a hundred. At Buddhist temples in the late 1980s, teachers were universally Asian.

It was openly questioned whether westerners could accomplish this eastern religion.

H.H. Penor Rinpoche, who never shirked what was needed, answered with a resounding yes. As he enthroned her, he said, “People have asked me why there are no American tulkus. And people have asked me why there are no female Lamas. Now you have both. So you should be very happy.”

“This is for you,” Jetsunma said later to her students. “It’s for all of us really. This is your own enthronement, your own future accomplishment that you’re seeing.” She explained that the enthronement meant that not only can Dharma be accomplished, it can be accomplished by westerners, even in this day and age. “Yes, even you.” And she wrinkled her nose impishly at her students, and laughed.

Post written by Michelle Grissom

Responsibility Begins With Recognition

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Neurotic Interaction to Guru Yoga”

Responsibility begins with recognition.  Simply that.  Recognition.  There are some fundamental truths that must be recognized here in order to stop the game of projecting your own neuroses onto yet another external object.  Because that is not the practice of Dharma.  That is not going to lead you to liberation.  That will continue to lead you to more and more neuroses.  So you must play the game correctly.  The first thing that happens is recognition.  It begins with the recognition of the fundamental foundational truth that we call turning the mind toward Dharma—the faults of cyclic existence, cause and effect relationships, impermanence, these kinds of thoughts, and then the realization that in all the six realms of cyclic existence there is suffering.  Then the recognition that there is the appearance of the Buddha, which brings the element of enlightenment and supreme realization and the visage or face of our own primordial wisdom nature, and  puts that into the world.  That’s the Buddha, the Dharma, which is the Buddha’s method, inseparable from the Buddha like the rays are inseparable from the sun, and the result, which is enlightenment, also inseparable from the Buddha.  You begin to recognize that this has in fact happened.

In the world there is the Buddha.  There is the Dharma.  There is the Sangha, and there is the Lama as the condensed essence of all three.  That recognition alone puts you into position where you have to choose between continuing in samsara and neurotic redundancy which is what samsara really is.  Isn’t that a great term?  Neurotic redundancy.  Don’t you just love that?  Neurotic redundancy,.Or you can choose Buddha, and Dharma, and Sangha—this three-legged stool, or chariot we should say, by which we travel through the door of liberation into enlightenment, into realization, the precious awakened state that the Buddha named.

So we’re in a position now where we make that choice.  That choice is based on this recognition.  You can’t make that choice on an emotional level.  Big mistake!  And some people try to do that.  They come to the temple and they say, “I like this stuff!  It’s all weird.  I like the colors.  I like the shape.  I like the material over there.  Look how they built that up there.  Isn’t that cute?  Those books… You know, I like that they don’t turn this way.  I like that they turn this way.  It’s so exotic.  I think it’s really cool, don’t you?  And then all the statues and crystals!  Look at this!  This is really cool to be with the crystals!” Really I’m describing a silly mindstate, but many students, when they first begin, will come here and say, “Oh this stuff is so cool.  I really want to do this.  O.K., you’re my teacher.”  So on that emotional level, really not much has happened.  Or they might come in and have an emotional reaction.  I’ve seen that happen too.

In fact, this is another story that you’ll be amazed at.  This is an amazing story. A woman once walked into the bookstore.  I happened to be there, checking out the earrings as usual!  So I was in the bookstore and she turned around.  She got immediately who I was.  She had never been around Dharma before, knew nothing about Dharma, knew nothing about anything like that and she just was entranced.  She was transfixed.  She looked at me and then she did three perfect prostrations. Then when she got up she said “I don’t know what that is.  I don’t know what I just did.”  No idea what happened there, no idea.  And then I never saw her again.  And she was crying, crying, just like “My teacher.  My teacher at last!  My teacher!”  Crying.  Big emotional thing, and I never saw her again.

What happened there was unfortunate.  I would call that an obstacle to her practice.  She obviously had enough inner purity to remember a former relationship with her teacher.  Something bled through and yet the obstacle was that she could only, in that moment of meeting, relate on a purely emotional level.  She could not lay down the foundation.  She could not make any connecting thought.  Really, as beautiful as that story is, it broke my heart that she never came back.  It really did.  I love you all, but I have to tell you I have many stories about the ones that got away!  You see, she could have been very close to me and it broke my heart that she didn’t come back.  But what you’re seeing there is just purely an obstacle.  She was only able to relate on this emotional level, and really, it’s not that much different from what you see your dog do when your dog barks to go out or sits there looking at the door.  It is an immediate emotional hit that you’re just overwhelmed with.  It’s not that different from what animals do.  But animals can’t practice Dharma, because what’s needed here is to make these connecting thoughts, these cause and effect thoughts, by creating the kinds of awareness and thinking that causes you to move into a deeper level on the path, and causes you to get the lay of the land, to really get what’s going on here.

This is what’s necessary.  She was not able to, at that time, to think of the faults of cyclic existence, to think of impermanence and that this opportunity might not come again.  She was not able to think “Now that I’ve found my teacher, I have found a way to travel the path of Dharma and pass through the door of liberation.”  Just not able to think like that.  This is a big obstacle that arose in her path at the same time as the blessing of meeting with her teacher again.  So this is the difficulty that we all have, but now we are here and we are in a learning and teaching situation.  We’re in a situation where we have time to think.  We have the leisure to think.  We have the ability to put two and two together, and this is how we have to approach the path.  This is how we have to do this.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Essence of Buddhism: by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

The following is a teaching by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

We are born in this Zambu-dweep world and have acquired the precious human rebirth due to the gathering of the compositional factors of the eight leisures and ten blessings. This is a most perfect and auspicious opportunity. That we are fortunate enough to receive the teaching of perfect Buddha dharma and also be able to meet so many qualified teachers is the result of the ripening of our positive merits from countless past lives.
But due to our attachment from time beginningless towards the repeated pattern of samsara, we have developed strong emotions towards this samsara. Therefore, it is common for sentient beings to find themselves emotionally drawn towards the attainment of worldly concern regardless of difficulty and hardships, which in turn generates all types of karmas in the process.
If we truly want to learn the teaching of Dharma, we must first find a qualified teacher. Buddhism has Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, of which Vajrayana and especially the Great Perfection (Dzogpachenpo) is especially beneficent for the degenerated times like now. The actual practice to Dzogchen consists of preliminary and the main practices, that has visualizations, recital of mantras and the sadhanas.
In fact, we might all think we know about Dharma and might even want to practice these teachings, but because of our attachment to worldly distractions, we are not able to practice accordingly as instructed, as if we show no concern for the effect of karma, as though karma is not real and does not really exist, and thus as a result, succeed in continually creating more negative karma. Only at the end of our lives, when we come face to face with the imminent sufferings of death, do we start thinking that we should do something about it! But by that time, even if we come to realize that we have not studied the Dharma and neither have we applied ourselves properly according to the pith instructions of the teacher and hence the prospect of falling into the three lower realms is imminent; the time of seeking the Dharma and practicing has already passed, so now what do we do?

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