Navigating Samsara – The Vows

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamp called “The Habit of Bodhicitta”

As Buddhists, I would like you to think about what your directive is. I want to ask first those who are in robes. I want to actually ask them and give you the answer, but I’m going to pretend that I’m asking them, because I’m desperately afraid that they might not know.
Your primary directive is to follow the Vinaya. Vinaya is a set of cause- and effect-oriented rules, basically, a format that those in robes should follow, and the Vinaya becomes the heart practice of your life. You should, of course, receive teachings on the Vinaya, which you have. You gradually begin to understand the Vinaya. It is your responsibility to study the Vinaya; it is your responsibility to go after information about the Vinaya, because that’s your code. The Vinaya has a great many items that we should practice and look at. In particular, as robed persons, as monks and nuns, there are certain rules that seem very strict, but that you must follow. For instance, I don’t know if the lay people are aware of this or not, one of the rules in the Vinaya is that at a certain level of ordination, monks and nuns should not touch members of the opposite sex. Yet, here in Kunzang Palyul Chöling, one sees monks and nuns shaking hands, hugging, handing things to each other. Are we breaking the Vinaya here? Are we doing that?

We have a slightly different perspective. The Vinaya has not changed. Not in any way. What has been will always be. These are the Buddha’s words. But in Vajrayana, we have a slightly different perspective. If we have the idea in our minds, according to the Vinaya, that we should not touch members of the opposite sex in order to keep our celibacy really pure, that we should keep it very pure, yet we find ourselves [ touching] each other, how does that actually work out? If I, for instance, were a nun, let’s say, and I were to see a man that was very hungry or in need of some sort of medical help… Perhaps he fell down and he needed help getting up. Do you think I would hesitate for one moment to help that person or to give them some food? Or if I saw that a person needed the connection of a hug, needed the connection of some comfort; needed a greeting in order to feel accepted and welcome, do you think I would hesitate for one moment to give that sort of sustenance? Even if the Vinaya says not. That’s because the highest ordination that I feel as a Mahayana and Vajrayana practitioner is that of compassion. And in our tradition, compassion and love supersede everything. So the Vinaya is kept, but it is kept differently.

The way that these monks and nuns should be keeping the Vinaya is that, for instance, as a nun, whenever one sees a man, you should think of pure view about the man: You should think of the man as what we call a yidam or meditational deity. You should think that in that man’s pure form, he is the very Buddha. One should think like that. One should recognize the innate Buddha nature in each and every one; and one should think that each and every one holds that nature and that nature is actually present. We accomplish our practice by thinking of each man as the meditational deity. Those of you who are monks would think of the woman as being the goddess or the enlightened female deity, the primordial wisdom dakini. And in that way, upon touching a man or a woman, one is never actually touching a man or a woman. One is only approaching the meditational deity or the goddess. One still keeps one’s inner commitments, yet the highest commitment is that of compassionate pure view.

Of course, you can’t bend that irresponsibly, in fact you can’t bend it at all. None of you can take marital partners; none of you can engage in any kind of ordinary relationship in that way. But in order to uphold the highest ordination of compassion and the highest practice of pure view, you can engage in those kinds of activities that enhance that view.

Now for lay people, we don’t have the same strict approach. As lay people, though, we should never, never think that we can do more than them. We should never think like that. Because if we are thinking like that, quite frankly, that is a pretty schlocky practice. That’s just not going to cut it. We should never think that, ‘Oh, because I’m a lay person, my conduct can be very loose, I can do whatever I want.’ As Buddhists you have to actually move into the posture of being a Buddhist practitioner. You have also in common with these monks and nuns the highest ordination, and that is the high ordination of the practice of bodhichitta, or compassion. If you were to hold in your mind the idea that everything you do comes from the perspective of caring, of love, of kindness for others, then you’re still holding your vows. The trap that we fall into, though, as lay practitioners, is the idea that because we are lay practitioners, we can basically get away with murder. Actually, the Vajrayana point of view is very much geared and directed toward lay practitioners. Lay practitioners have a great distance that they can go and a great breadth and depth of practice that they can practice. They don’t have the strict guidance rules to the degree that the ordained people have, but in a sense, they have even more responsibility, because not having those strict rules, they must find a way to practice purely. And as lay practitioners, that’s our job: to seek out and really try to get for ourselves a way to practice purely. We may not understand how and we have to search it out. It isn’t enough to remain passive in our practice, to think that, ‘Well, eventually I’ll get the answer, and it will be clear to me, and in the meantime, I’ll just kind of scoot along.’ That would not be holding a proper view, that would not be holding our practice as a precious jewel, and that would not be doing a good job.

As a lay practitioner, we also have the responsibility of seeking out the absolute best way that we can hold our most precious inner vow, that of bodhichitta, or compassion, and we should aggressively seek out ways to do that. In order to seek out ways to do that, we must first examine how it is that we are in the condition that we are in. The Buddha teaches us that the primary directive, or motivating force, the reason for all of our suffering, is self cherishing, ego cherishing. Sometimes it looks like some of us have a lot more ego cherishing than others. Sometimes it looks as though some people are able to do a lot for others, and to be real kind and other people are only thinking about their own needs. But in the truest sense, that’s just a very superficial appearance. In fact, we are all exactly the same in that we are all in a samsaric condition, stuck on ego cherishing, stuck on the belief in the inherent reality of self nature, and therefore, suffering due to desire, hope and fear, not able to actually witness or see or relax into our own primordial wisdom nature.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Realm of the Gods

The God Realm

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

The last of the realms, the highest of the realms, is the one that’s like Club Med. Lots of people say that they want to try this, at least for a little while. I do, certainly. I would like to try this for a little while. I was thinking maybe a couple of weeks, you know, a couple of weeks in the god realm. This place is great. This place is really super. This is the superior realm. In order to be born in the god realm you have to have a lot of merit, but a particular kind of merit. It’s a kind of merit that is not necessarily coupled with wisdom. That is to say, you’ve done a lot of nice things, probably spread out over a long period of time. Or you might have done a few nice things, really nice things, that were just aimed right, like, let’s say, you gave life. Oh, here’s one: Think of the Buddha’s mother.  She gave life to a Buddha, but she herself had not attained realization, so she was born in the god realm. She had accumulated a great deal of merit and virtue. So those that are born in the god realm have accumulated a great deal, a tremendous amount, an inconceivable amount, of merit and virtue, but not necessarily coupled with wisdom.

Their experience is beautiful, just beautiful. Breathtaking, in fact. The gods and goddesses of the god realm, of that particular god realm, are beautiful to the degree that if one of them were to walk amongst us now, it would be blinding. We simply could not perceive the sum total of their beauty. It would be out of the realm of possibility with our eyes. Our eyes are of flesh and not made to take in that much beauty. The colors in the god realm are brilliant. Breathtaking. Not like here. Their reds, their blues, their greens are inconceivable to us. Inconceivable to us. Brilliant. Fabulous. In fact, all of the things that exist within the god realm have these kind of interconnected qualities. To only see one of the jewel-like colors of the god realm will instantly cause healing through sight. That’s how perfect they are. Healing through sight only upon seeing a color.

The gods and goddesses themselves are breathtakingly beautiful, I mean to the point where they are just unbelievable, even to each other; and they are adorned with gorgeous colors and beautiful things. Not only that, they also have the quality of extraordinary perfumed scent. Not like our kind of perfume, the kind you buy, phssst, phssst, phssst, phssst, not that kind, alcohol based. Not Esteé Lauder. It’s much better than that. Their scent is the scent of virtue and merit. And so, the fragrance that comes from their bodies…  It is said that upon simply smelling one of their bodies, one would receive healing, based on scent. Healing from scent. Their smells are like nothing we can imagine. If we could smell one of them, first of all our noses would not be able to take in all of the scent, and our brains would not be able to process it all. But what we could smell would be so fantastical to us that it would be shocking, like nothing we’ve ever smelled, you see. Furthermore, the level of joy in their minds… Now think about this: What if you were so darn gorgeous that people could hardly look at you? Just think about that. And you smelled so darned good that people just couldn’t get enough of it ?Not only that, but you don’t change. You’re always gorgeous. You don’t have bad hair days in that realm. You don’t have acne in that realm. Nothing changes. You don’t ageuntil the very moment of transition into death. Doesn’t that sound like a great place to go?

Let me tell you a couple of other factors about the god realm. You see how here I have my lemon water and I have my ever-popular coffee? Remember, in the hungry ghost realm I told you that this appearance to a hungry ghost, even though it’s the same thing, it is the same nature, same stuff, to a hungry ghost would appear like a glass of pus, or something horrible. And to a human it would appear like water. You’d say, “Well, that’s what it is. That’s ‘cause we can really perceive.” No, this is Buddha, so we perceive it as water—water to nourish our bodies. However, what would a god or goddess perceive this as? This would be to a god or goddess delicious beyond anything we could conceive of. Furthermore, it would be the nectar or elixir of life. One sip is healing upon taste. Healing upon taste. One taste of this liquid in the god realm will heal every single ill, if there were ills in the god realm. And it’s because of the condition of their minds.  Remember, our perception is because of the condition of our minds, not because the object has changed. So everything they eat… And music! There’s music in the god realm that’s nothing like the music you hear here. Not even the best music, not even the finest, most uplifting classical music, nothing like what we have here. The music in the god realm is, again, healing upon hearing, but nothing we can imagine. Celestial. Words don’t explain. So doesn’t that sound like a great place to go? Wouldn’t you love to go there? I definitely feel like we ought to have at least two-week passes. Something, if we knew we could get back in pretty good shape.

Let’s talk about the drawback of the god realm and why you don’t actually want to go to the god realm. Because in the god realm they are so filled with pleasure they can’t practice. If you were to say to a person, “You should practice your Dharma because even your life in the god realm will end.  It will, and wait until I tell you how. Your life in the god realm will end.” They wouldn’t be able to hear. They’re so deluded and intoxicated with the product of their virtue that they can’t hear those words and they don’t compute them. They can’t take them in. In the same way that we couldn’t take them in when we were younger and not feeling as though our lives were forfeit, when we believed we were going to live forever, and couldn’t hear about how you have to prepare for death. But much more so. They can’t even compute it; they can’t take it in. It ain’t happenin’ for them. Plus they don’t have the space in their minds to even consider practice. They can’t even stop experiencing pleasure long enough to say Om Mani Padme Hung, which would liberate them from that delusion. They can’t do it; they simply cannot do it.

Now what happens to the hungry ghosts? What is their lifetime? Their lifetimes are very, very long. It’s the same at the high end and the low end of cyclic existence. Generally speaking, their rebirth in the hell realms and hungry ghost realms are quite long. Our lifetime would be like a day in a year of their life. It would be very, very long. It’s different with each of the different realms, but it’s quite long. The same for the god realm. For the god realms, lifetimes can be as much as an eon. Nobody’s real sure how much an eon is. People keep asking me; I don’t know. Tibetans have one idea, westerners have another idea. It’s a long time. Trust me on this. So the gods and goddesses can live in that realm for eons. Eons. There are many stories of the different gods and goddesses that have lifespans of two kalpas, or two thousand years. There are many stories like that. And then, upon their death, another one takes their place in the very same form, and none of us realize that gods and goddesses are in fact dying and being reborn. We think they live forever.

Here’s how it works. Once again, it takes a tremendous amount of virtue and meritto be reborn in that god realm. So what happens is during the course of their lives they are burning that merit and virtue up, much like an eight cylinder car going up hill. Remember what those guys were like? You burn a lot of gas. And so they are literally burning merit, because their lives are so pleasurable. They’re spending it like money. Just buying everything, you see. If you were spending your money on a poorer life, or spending your merit on a poorer life there wouldn’t be so much expended, but they’re spending their merit on this extremely pleasurable life. And there is a continual outpouring of one’s merit, or using up of one’s merit.

So what literally happens is that at the end of this span, when one’s merit and virtue is completely exhausted, then suddenly the gods and goddesses begin to wake up from their pleasure experiences, as though waking up from an erotic dream, or an extremely pleasurable dream. And suddenly you find yourself in your own bed and you’re wondering what’s going on here. That kind of thing. The gods and goddesses have the same experience: Suddenly they are shaken and they look around and they see. And at that time they are not only able to see all of the god realms, which they do have the power to do, but they are also able to see down toward the other five realms. And then, when they have already used up everything they’ve got, they finally see that they have used up all their virtue and merit, and that they are about to fall into the lower realms. The only time that they are able to see that is right at the time of death. And it’s because their using up all of their virtue and merit gives them that moment, that pause, that removal from the drunkenness of pleasure, to where they can see.

Suddenly all the other gods and goddesses move away from the one who is having that experience. Here’s why. Suddenly they are not so beautiful. Their beauty begins to decay in the same way our beauty begins to decay as we age. Their beauty begins to decay and their smell begins to change. We don’t notice, but here, as physical beings, we carry the scent of death with us always. We do. We carry with us that scent, because our bodies are in process; and there’s always some part of our body that is living and dying in cycles. That is not true of the god realm. What happens is suddenly at that moment when the merit is used up, the smell of death can be detected. And all of the other gods and goddesses who do not have the capacity to register that distress because they’re still drunk with the pleasure realm move away. They simply can’t see you anymore. And not only does the poor sentient being realize what they are about to experience but they also realize that they are also utterly and completely alone, and that is a grave and great suffering for them. They are abandoned. And then they do fall. At that time they have no virtue and merit left to cash in, because they’ve used it up in the god realms, and their experience for a period of time after that is quite negative.

So this is why we do not wish to be reborn in the god realms. Even though it would be great to take a vacation there—I’m ready, we could go right now—still, you do not want to be reborn there. And it is better to think in a realistic way. If you were to think, “Oh, I would like to have a vacation right now, I would like to go to the beach,” but you knew for sure that going to the beach would end your opportunity, or would cause you to suffer greatly later on, you would be smarter to choose not to go to the beach, even though you want to go. So it’s like that. The only realm worth aspiring to is the realm of human rebirth, because it is only uniquely in human rebirth that we can practice Dharma. And it is only uniquely in the human rebirth that we can aspire to and look forward to being able to benefit sentient beings.

These, in a nutshell, are the sufferings of cyclic existence. Now this teaching that I have given you is brief and concise, and it fits in the category of Ngöndro or preliminary teachings: preparation for the mind, or turning the mind toward Dharma. It is not directly connected with Phowa, even though we are speaking about life and death and the experiences therein. At this moment we are speaking of the bardo of life, and this is the experience of the bardo of life as experienced by the many different kinds of sentient beings that are revolving in cyclic existence. Having understood their suffering, can you feel compassion for them?

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Realm of the Jealous Gods

Jealous God Realm

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

Now, the next realm of cyclic existence is the realm of jealous gods. And unfortunately the jealous gods have a mixed bag of tricks. The jealous gods are kind of interesting, because in one way they are powerful. They’re a little bit like the story of the old Jehovah god as demonstrated in the Old Testament. They’re very powerful. They can turn someone into a pillar of salt. They could do that sort of thing. They manifest magical powers, and they are very powerful. There is a certain buzz or excitement or happiness, or something, that goes with that kind of power. You know what I mean? In the experience of the person who is impoverished to the point where they simply cannot do anything, they have no power in their lives. They can’t even buy a loaf of bread; they don’t have the power to do that. The quality of that person’s life is going to be different from the rich person’s life where they have the power to get whatever they want. And in the jealous god realms they have a lot of power.

However, the reason for being born as a jealous god is literally competitiveness, egocentricity, and jealousy. And these jealous gods do nothing all day long but what is their habitual tendency: They compete with one another. But when jealous gods compete with one another they don’t just try to outdress each other. These guys have power, and they are constantly waging war with one another. The jealous gods are constantly waging war.

There is actually a terrible and immense suffering that comes with the jealous god realm. Even though you know you are powerful, you are powerful in an odd way. Powerful like the person who has built a fortress, an impenetrable fortress, and nothing can come in. Yes, nothing can come in, but everybody knows  you really can’t build an impenetrable fortress, you see. Everybody knows that. We have it in our minds that we’ve done this, but it’s not true and we know it. Because death can come in, sickness can come in. Nobody can build an impenetrable fortress. So we know this. Their kind of suffering is like that. They feel powerful because they’ve build this powerful realm; they have this powerful experience and they have this protection.

On the other hand, they also know that there’s no such thing, and that the other gods are just as powerful and can come in. And so they are jealously guarding their safety. What does ‘jealously guarding your safety’ feel like? Is it a happy experience? No, it is an experience of intense suffering, and it only increases the suffering that they feel. It only increases the jealous god’s need to go out and attack the other guy, compete with the other guy, and get on top of the other guy. Their experience is warlike. Constantly warring, warring, warring, warring; nobody wins. You win, you lose, you win, you lose. Kind of like that. That is the experience of the jealous gods. They love to dominate others. That’s their habit.

In the realm of the jealous gods, they are so concerned with their own safety and jealously guarding their safety, as well as competing with others for that safety, that they have not one moment with which to practice Dharma. Dharma would be to them the same as if you were to, say, talk to a warrior type that was schooled only in being a warrior. Okay, back to Star Trek, whaddya say? Let’s say you talk to a Klingon, like Warf, and you say to Warf, “Yo, Warfy-baby, here’s what we need to do. Instead of you being a warrior with all your stuff on (you know, he wears all this stuff and looks pretty powerful), why don’t you sit down and meditate gently, like a little girl? Why don’t you sit down and meditate very quietly, and in that way you can be very strong.” What would Warf say about that? Warf would say, “Pleeease!”  Warf wouldn’t have time to hear about this. Neither would any warrior who was trained to think of being strong and protecting one’s turf, and only thought like that. Neither could a person like that ever think that meditation or Dharma practice or anything like that is strength. And so they will push that away, not having time for it. They have to do what they have to do. That’s the way that a sentient being in the jealous god realm would think. They simply don’t have the instinct and they will not practice Dharma. They just will not practice Dharma. They’re too busy.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Value of Human Existence: Treasury of Precious Qualities

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The following is respectfully quoted from “Treasury of Precious Qualities” a commentary by Longchen Yeshe Dorje, Kangyur Rinpoche:

SAMSARIC EXISTENCE

For ages we have lingered in samsara, unaware of its defects, believing that this is a wholesome, beneficial place. And yet it is a state in which suffering and its causes abound and where the qualities of liberation languish and wither. It is a desolate wilderness in which many times in the past our bodies and minds have burned in agony and have endured pains of mutilation and decapitation. Moreover, latent within us, there are still many karmic seeds that will provoke such sufferings in the future. Human beings generally do not see this and are thus not only without regret for their condition but actually crave the transient and futile pleasures of the higher realms. Totally unaware that they should engage in virtue and refrain from evil, they pass their lives sunk in negativity. Theirs is what is called a “mere human existence.” By their negative actions of thought and deed, they destroy themselves and render meaningless the freedoms and advantages of their human condition. From their lofty position in samsara they plunge again into evil circumstances. Thus they wander in the three lower realms, in heavens of insensate gods without perception, or in barbarous regions (where the Dharma is not heard); they are born physically or mentally handicapped, have wrong views, and take birth in places where no Buddha has appeared.

EIGHT CONDITIONS IN WHICH THERE IS NO FREEDOM TO PRACTICE DHARMA

On the ground of burning iron, without a single moment of relief, beings are slain again and again by the henchmen of the Lord of Death, who brandish frightful weapons, swords, and hammers and inflict terrible pain. Until their evil karma has been exhausted, these beings in hell are unable to die, and, due to karmic effects resembling the cause–in other words, their compulsive tendency to negativity–they are caught in a web of evil karma inspired by hatred, and their infernal life span is measureless.

Pretas generally are completely deprived of food and drink; they do not find even the slightest filthy fragment of pus, blood, or excrement to eat. No need to say, then, that they are tormented by hunger and thirst. The cooling effect of the moon in summer and the warming effect of of the sun in winter are all reversed; rain and hail are misperceived as lightening and thunderbolts; and the rivers are filled with pus and blood. For pretas that are afflicted outwardly, streams and orchards dry up as soon as they look at them. Those afflicted inwardly have heads that are not in proportion to their bodies: their mouths are as small as the eye of a needle, while their bellies are the size of an entire country. If they swallow a little food and drink, it scorches their intestines and they suffer intolerable pain. Their lifespan is uncertain, depending on the strength of obscurations due to former avarice. Generally speaking one of their days is equal to a month by human reckoning, and they live for five hundred of their own years.

In the depths of the great oceans, fish and sea monsters devour each other, the bigger ones gulping down the smaller. Animals scattered over the surface of the earth, wild and unclaimed, are the prey of hunters with their nets, traps, their poisoned arrows and their snare, and they die cruel deaths. Animals domesticated by man are slaves to their masters. They are tamed and subjugated with saddles, bridles, and nose-ropes. Their masters ride on them, tether them, and place burdens on their backs. They herd and castrate them, shear off their hair, and bleed them while still alive. And through such treatment, animals are reduced to every extremity of suffering. Being without intelligence, they cannot recite even a single mani. When beings are born in such a condition, they are helpless, and we are told the lifespan of animals ranges from the momentary existence of insects to that of nagas and such-like that can live for a kalpa.

Since the unwavering action that sustains their life-principle is extremely protracted, and their lives are therefore very long, lasting twenty intermediate kalpas, the gods of the formless realm have no occasion to cultivate a sense of disgust for samsara and a desire to leave it. Moreover, the consciousness of the insensate gods, who are without perception, does not operate throughout the duration of their existence. They are therefore deprived of any basis for hearing and reflecting on the Dharma. Their abode is far removed from that of the gods of the fourth samadhi, just as a solitary place is remote from a populous city. These divine beings have no notion of Dharma, and thus when their thoughts begin to stir at the end of their existence, they conceive the false view that there is no path to liberation, and as a consequence they fall to the lower realms. To be born in these states is to be deprived of the freedom to practice Dharma.

The inhabitants of so-called barbarous lands do indeed have a human aspect, walking upright on their two feet. But they live practically like animals are are utterly ignorant of the Doctrine. Virtue is foreign to their minds and they are given over to negativity. They live immersed in various kinds of evil activity such as wounding others with poisoned arrows, and even making it a tenet of their religion. They wander in the undergrowth of false views and, worse than animals, turn upside down the moral principles of what is to be adopted and what is to be rejected. The way of liberation is unknown to them.

Those whose faculties are impaired, who lack, for instance, the ability to speak, and especially those who are mentally handicapped, may encounter a spiritual guide who is on the supreme level of accomplishment, and they may even hear his or her teaching. But what is said is unintelligible to them, like the booming of an echo. The sense of the teaching is lost to them, and they fail to grasp the vital point of what actions are to be adopted and what should be forsaken. Thus their fortune is marred and they suffer greatly in this desolate and fearful wasteland of samsara.

To be born in samsara through the effect of karma and defilements is like being adrift upon a vast ocean, unfathomable and shoreless. To obtain a human form is like having a great boat with which to cross this ocean and reach the island of liberation. But though people may possess all their faculties, and though they may have intelligence, like a sail to propel them in the direction of freedom, this excellent support is wasted when the mind is clouded by false beliefs. As a result, such people fail to enter the Dharma and do not undertake the path to liberation so pleasing to the Buddha, who appeared in the world to set it forth. Denying the karmic principle of cause and effect, and claiming that there is no afterlife and so forth, they are beset by demons hindering them from the path of liberation. They fall under their power and lose their freedom.

To take human birth during a dark kalpa is once again of no avail, for these are periods when the light of Dharma does not shine, when no Buddhas appear in the world from the time of its formation until its destruction. To take such a birth is to be like a man who has fallen into a pitch-dark crevasse and has broken his legs. However much he tries to get out, he can neither see the way nor even move, for his legs are shattered. In just the same way, without the light of the path of freedom, people are unaware of the three trainings that could lead them to liberation. They constantly pursue false paths because of their ignorance and defilements. Not only have they fallen into a dreadful place from which they cannot escape, but by degrees they fall deeper and deeper, from the states of animals and pretas down to the infernal realms. The freedom to practice Dharma is totally absent.

In all such terrible circumstances, in which evil actions bring forth results in manifold suffering, whirling like the all-destroying hurricane at the end of time, the body is worn away with pain, and fear is the natural condition of the mind. Beings indulge in negative habits; they turn their backs on the sacred teaching. Thus we are advised to reflect again and again on how we might avoid being born in the eight conditions in where there is no freedom to practice the Dharma. Jigme Lingpa calls us to follow the path of liberation with diligence, so that by relying on the teacher and his profound instructions, we might make meaningful the opportunity we now possess.

FIVE INDIVIDUAL AND FIVE CIRCUMSTANTIAL ADVANTAGES

To have taken birth in a “central” land where the Dharma is proclaimed is like being a sapling planted in pure soil. To have fully functioning sense faculties and healthy limbs, and thus to have the basis for the reception, meditation, and practice of the teachings, is to be like a healthy tree in leaf and branch. To have confidence in the Doctrine of the Victorious One; to have the karma of one’s body, speech, and mind in perfect flower, undamaged by the hail of evil actions contrary to the Dharma (sins of immediate effect and false views concerning the Three Jewels); to have been born a human being able to uphold the Dharma and acquire the qualities of liberation: all this is like a miraculous, wish fulfilling tree. It is exceedingly rare and significant, and to put these five individual advantages to good effect is of the highest importance.

The fact that a Buddha has appeared in our world, an occurrence that is rare as the flowering of the udumbara; the fact that he proclaimed the Doctrine and that the three turnings of the Dharma wheel have blossomed into flower; the fact that through explanation and practice this Doctrine in both transmission and realization still exists in our day without decline; the fact that there are still teachers who have perfectly embraced the Dharma; and finally the fact that we have been welcomed into the “cool shade” of a virtuous friend, a perfect guide on the path to liberation: these five advantages are even rarer than the five individual ones.

THE RARITY OF A PRECIOUS HUMAN EXISTENCE

Why is it so necessary to treat the path with diligence and without delay? As we have said, the five individual advantages are as rare as the wish-fulfilling tree, while the five circumstantial advantages are like the udumbara flower, even rarer than the earlier five. These ten taken together form the special characteristics, and the eight freedoms form the basis, of what we call a precious human existence. If we do not take advantage of this now, an opportunity such as this will not be found again. The reason for saying this may be illustrated with examples. One could imagine, for instance, an ocean, vast as the three-thousandfold universe. In the depths of this ocean lives a blind turtle that rises to the surface only once every century. To attain a human birth is rarer than the chance occurrence of the turtle surfacing to find its head inside a yoke drifting at random on the water’s surface. Or again, one could suggest the difficulty of attaining a precious human existence by using numerical illustrations. Compared with the number of beings in the animal kingdom, humans are like stars seen during the day as compared with stars seen at night. And the same ratio may be applied between animals and pretas, and again between pretas and the denizens of the realms of hell.

This precious human existence is thus most rare and extremely meaningful. If those who journey on the pathways of the Dharma with liberation as their goal, who now have in their possession the great ship of freedom and advantage, and who have met with a holy teacher who is the guide and, as it were, the navigator of such a ship–if such people fail to cross the ocean of the boundless and unfathomable sufferings of samsara to the dry land of liberation, their opportunity will have been completely squandered. All this should be a subject of reflection and a spur to greater exertion.

The Animal Realm

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The following is an excerpt from a series of teachings offered by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo on Phowa:

After the hell realms and the hungry ghost realms, then the next of the lower realms is the animal realm. Included within the animal realms are all the different kinds of animals, not just the cute little puppy dogs and the cute little kitties, and all the cute little guys that we love when they are tiny little babies. I have had students say to me, “Well, you talk about the animal realms being one of the lowest realms, but I wouldn’t mind being a cute little animal.” I’ve had people say that to me. And they’ll say, “Well, to be a cute little puppy dog would be great, because then people will pet you, and love you and feed you and call you their very own.” You have to examine what is the habit of your mind if you’re thinking like that! ‘I desperately want someone to feed me, pet me, and call me their very own.’ But I have, in truth, had people say to me that this is what they’d like. They’d like to be an animal. Let us think this through. Let’s examine the realm of the animal, if we may.

In the animal realm, there are all different kinds of animals, and the ones we are most familiar with in  America, of course, are the ones that are probably the most pleasant to look at, relatively speaking. We do have places that pick up the old and mangy and suffering animals, and so we don’t see them too much. They pick them up and carry them off to places where we don’t see, and they do things to them that we don’t know about—or at least we don’t want to. And so we wonder to ourselves, “Is it really nice to be an animal?” Because most of them do look fluffy and happy, and most of them are fed, and most of them are petted and loved.

In fact, in America, we have this distinct disadvantage on all accounts, and that is that we don’t get to see enough suffering. Suffering is removed from us, particularly suffering associated with death. On a human level, there is a taboo against being with our loved ones, touching them, loving them, at the time of death. What will generally happen is that even the people closest to you will be taken away before you actually get to see what death is like. And even during the time of your own death, unless you are particularly lucky, you and the people next to you will not get to experience death in any kind of natural way. You will only experience death with terrible, invasive practices. Terrible if they don’t work, because if they don’t work they have spoiled your death transition and they have still been ineffective in prolonging your life. There are always, of course, the cases in which—and we’ll talk about this later—life can be continued through invasive measures. So one has to think about these things.  We’ll give some guidelines for thinking about these things later on.

Where it concerns animals and other life forms, we just don’t get the depth of suffering in cyclic existence. So let’s think about animals different from and other than the ones that we generally see. Then we’ll talk about the ones that we generally see. A good example of that is something that I experienced when I went to India and Nepal. I spent some time there receiving teachings.  It was quite a remarkable situation, because I had never seen animals in the way that I saw animals when I went to India and Nepal. I had never seen this. I remember one of the first things that I saw after I recovered, or tried to, from the suffering I saw human beings in, was to see the suffering of animals. In an Indian society, and also in a Nepali society, any less advanced society, there’s a much stronger relationship between humans and animals. In fact, animals are depended on for their strength, for their meat, for their hide, for their flesh. And particularly, they are depended on, not only in their death, , but during the course of their lives to help human beings.

There are many animals that have no choice but to sacrifice their entire lives in order to help others. They are literally beasts of burden. For the first time in India, I saw a bullock pulling a cart, and I saw that the bullock customarily is painted. The Indian people are very childlike in certain ways, and they like to decorate. They like to paint things up They like to make things more fun and to make their existence less poverty-oriented and less bleak, and so they decorate their animals. I saw that the horns were painted; and on the horns were these little tassels, and every time the animal would shake their head the tassels would spin around. And they had interesting things draped on them, and their hides were fashioned with bells and had lots of heavy things on them in order to make noise and adorn the animals.  The only purpose of it was adornment. . The animals themselves were not only painted and adorned in this unnatural way—that I’m sure if they could speak they would not be thrilled about—but also they were encased with a great harness that fit onto them and in some cases would fit into their mouths and actually pull their flesh back to where you could see pus and fluid and blood coming out from the sides of their mouths.

Oftentimes you would see one bullock, or perhaps two, pulling a cart, that, for one thing, was so old and broken down that you could see that there was no ease in pulling it. Even if the cart were empty it would be very difficult to pull, because it was an old broken down thing, and the wheels didn’t  work very well—that sort of thing.

Even more than that, you could see that the carts, the things that they were pulling, had to have weighed more than the animals. Had to have been a heavier burden than the animals could easily carry. You could see the sweat on the animals, and the foam of their sweat, and the pulling and the straining; and the owners behind them whipping them, constantly whipping them to pull more, pull more. They’re not pulling down superhighways either; they’re pulling up hills and through marshes. This is the life of these kinds of animals. Do you think that there are only one or two bullocks in the world that help people to get through their lives? There are uncountable animals that get us through our lives at the cost of their happiness, safety, and freedom. And this is the lot of the animal kingdom.

Furthermore, we think about oysters. Oysters are farmed and grown for their flesh. Obviously they have the instinct to protect themselves, so we must logically assume that they have the fear of being unprotected in some form or another. These oysters have developed around themselves a very hard shell with which to protect their tender hearts, their tender middles. And yet human beings, without qualm, pull them out of the water which is their natural element, cut and rip open their safe shells, pull their soft flesh out and eat it while it is just newly dead. These animals, even if they could practice Phowa, would never have that choice. They would never have that chance; there would be no time. That is characteristic of the lower realms. There’s no space, no time, no opportunity to practice, due to the condition of the mind. Furthermore, these little oysters are sometimes farmed only for their pearls. Their bodies are opened, and grains of sand are shot into them. It makes them so uncomfortable that they have to form a pearly covering around the sand in order to make it bearable. And this is the lot of the animal kingdom. So you can see that you do not, in fact, wish to be reborn an animal. Do you?

Further, we think about frogs. We think about frogs and their delicious legs. How wonderful! The old frog on the lily pad, hanging out; ribbit, ribbit. And then you think about what happens to frogs. They are taken, live, often speared live, and whether they are living or not, they are thrown into a container. They are picked up, put on a deck, live or not. Bam, bam, the legs are cut off. This is the condition of the animal kingdom. And it is like that with all of the different kinds of animals—even the cute little puppy dogs and the cute little kitty cats, and the wonderful little songbirds and parakeets, and all of the little critters that we keep with pretty collars around their necks and pretty little beds and pretty little clean cat boxes. We pride ourselves on taking care of them in pretty little cages, and we buy them pretty little toys, and we think, “How wonderful for them, that they’re going to live the life of ease and comfort here in the world.” But, in fact, even if somehow we could manage to make them happy from the very time of their birth to the very time of their death, could we give them freedom from fear? That is the main suffering of the animal kingdom—the fear of being taken over by those beings who are superior in the way that they are able to take over the lives of these lesser beings. Lesser in the sense of their competency and intelligence at this point, not lesser in the sense of their nature. So these beings live in fear.

Let’s say we can protect them from their fear. We can keep them fed; they can stay warm, they can come in and out as they please. We can make sure nothing ever happens to them. We give them plenty of love; they are our friends. We take them to the veterinarian, make sure they have all of their problems taken care of, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But. you cannot prevent that they will get sick, because all sentient beings experience sickness at some point. You cannot prevent, unless they die young, which is another kind of suffering, you cannot prevent that they will experience old age, because all sentient beings grow toward oldness. It is characteristic of our delusion— the delusion that we experience ourselves  as individual realities going through a continuum that we’ve labeled ‘time’.

We will experience old age. It is the nature of samsara. And these little creatures will also. Have you seen that you’ve tried to make them happy and keep them comfortable, and have watched them grow old, decrepit, and sick anyway? And the poor things can’t even tell you what hurts. You can only deduce by the way they’re acting what hurts. They don’t know how to tell you; they don’t know how to act in a way to help you perceive.  All we have is a shot in the dark of making them happy for a period of time. And then those little animals will eventually die. Now here’s the rub: Even if you were able to keep them happy from the time of their birth to the time of their death, you cannot follow them into the after-death state. You cannot experience with them their particular passing into death, their bardo, their movement into a new life. And so, even if they were temporarily happy for a short period of time—and that’s true of human beings as well—they still will experience all of the sufferings that samsaric beings suffer. And so, they too must be prepared for the bardo, or death, experience.

The problem with animals is that they are so instinctual. They are so tightly wrapped in what is a kind of a reactive mode. You would have to say a ‘knee jerk reactive mode.’ Their experience is not the kind of mental deliberation or consideration or even logic that we have, where we can see phenomena, and even with our deluded minds, can sometimes step back from that and say, “Okay, let’s think about what this means.” You see, an animal can’t do that. An animal is going to be deeply and profoundly reactive every time, and they will react only instinctively. So the animal has literally no space in their minds. Everything they feel they react to unthinkingly.  That’s why we say animals are dumb. It isn’t because they’re less than us; it is because they’re unthinking. They react only instinctively, which is a kind of core, gross, inconceivably heavy form of emotion, in that emotion comes from instinctual reaction, and is the outgrowth of that. So instinctive reaction is even heavier, even more demanding. You know how you can’t help reacting emotionally. Instinctive reaction is much heavier than that. You can’t even think about hoping to react any other way. It is an automatic and profound knee jerk reaction. So the animals literally cannot practice Dharma.

Now we spoke about the bug crawling on the arm of the Buddha earlier, and what that actually means. You would think, “Ah, I’d give anything to be that bug, love to be that bug crawling on the arm of the Buddha, because then salvation is right there.” And I have to say to you, “Yeah, right there. Right there. Not within, where it has to be.” Because that is where it has to be. One must recognize one’s own Buddha nature. To be crawling on the arm of the Buddha is useless. That bug will still age, that bug will still die. That bug has no room or fortune or leisure of mind or spaciousness within the mind, or capacity to practice Dharma, to learn Dharma, to accomplish Dharma, even if they are within the very mouth of the Buddha, because realization is accomplished by awakening to one’s own primordial wisdom nature. The apparent reality of a bug, wherever they are, is the apparent reality of a bug.

Likewise, even our own animals, our own pets. They are happy; and many of us have taken them around the stupa so they can receive the blessing of having gone around the stupa, and that is some help. I thank you for that. Many of you have said Om Mani Padme Hung to the animals, knowing that once any sentient being has heard Om Mani Padme Hung it is absolutely only a matter of time before they enter onto the Path and begin to practice Dharma. So many of you have given your animals that great blessing. But still, even though you have done that, we still are not able to liberate these animals, because these animals cannot liberate themselves. They cannot practice Dharma.

Now, the only exception to that rule, of course, is in the case of a lama—that is, not an ordinary practitioner, but a lama—who has themselves not only practiced Phowa and received the signs, but also crossed the ocean of suffering and returned for the sake of sentient beings. That is to say they have accomplished liberation. In some cases a lama, through the force of their own meditation, can take part in the liberation of an animal, even though the animal itself cannot practice. However, you must understand, the only way that would be possible is if, even though that animal were appearing as an animal, it had previous experience with practice, and it has the karma for this event to occur. That’s the only way it can happen. It depends on the force of the individual’s karma. Literally, if your karma were not like that, if you did not have the kind of karma necessary, all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas could be around you on your deathbed and push—or pull, or whatever—and the result would not be perfect. It is because that door opens from the inside, you see, and only you can open it. In the same way that no one can take your Buddha nature from you, neither can anyone force it down your throat.

So, in the case of the animals, they themselves are actually helpless. They suffer from being beasts of burden, from our taking their bodies for food; they are harvested like objects, and they have no hope to accomplish Dharma. And this is the suffering of the animal realm.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Human Realm

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo during a Phowa retreat:

The next realm is actually the human realm. Now it’s funny, because in the ascendency of the different realms, although the human realm is not considered a lower realm, it comes after the three lower realms, and we tend to think ‘staircase.’ We’re just like that. That’s just how we’re set up. It’s one of our big problems. So when we hear the human realm we think, “Oh, well I guess humans are not that much better than animals. Maybe we should try to go higher.” And then we sort of think in a worshipful way of the higher realms. But in fact, I will tell you right now, as I begin to talk about the human realm, that the human realm, of all the realms—even though there are other realms that are more pleasurable—the human realm is the superior realm. And it is the superior realm because only in the human realm does one have enough spaciousness, or the potential to accomplish spaciousness, within the mind. This is also called the leisure to practice, and has nothing to do with how much work you do. It has to do with the spaciousness in your mind. So only in the human realm is there the kind of mind that can compute the factors necessary in order to create the spaciousness necessary to contemplate and practice Dharma. Only in the human realm is that possible.

Now, once again, by way of explanation, this has nothing to do with how busy you are. People will say to me, “Well, this sounds great and I’m really excited and I’m a real excited kind of person and I wish you well, but I don’t have time to practice Dharma because I’m very busy.” And this really is what people say, “I wish you well. It’s wonderful. Thank you for doing this, but I don’t have time to practice Dharma.” And they think that because of that they don’t have the leisure to practice; and they make a decision based on that idea. And pretty soon, before you know it, our entire lives have gotten away from us. We’ve been busy, but we have not practiced any Dharma, or prepared for our deaths. And now we’re coming to the part of our lives where suddenly we’re getting ready to face our death. And we realize that everything that we’ve accomplished has added to our lives, but now we can’t take our lives with us. Not one piece of them. And we’re unprepared for our death. And that is one of the terrible things that can happen during the course of our lives as a human being.

When people tell me that they have no leisure to practice, that in fact I was wrong about that, that they are very, very busy and cannot practice Dharma, then I have to go back and explain to them again about the lower realms. Now think about this. If you want to know if you have the leisure to practice, even if you feel like you’re up against the wall and you’re elderly and you don’t have much time, or you’re sick and you don’t have much time, let’s talk about this. Compared to the other realms, you still, even now, perhaps one day before your death, have the leisure to practice, have the leisure to prepare, where the other realms do not. And the reason for that is if you think about the hell realm, you want to think about how the hell realm works. Think about the last time you went through all-pervasive, intense suffering. When is the last time you went through all-pervasive, intense suffering? Really think about it for a minute.

For some of us it will be the untimely death, let’s say, of a loved one. Unbearable to lose someone that you care about so deeply. Or for others it will be the, to us, untimely end of a relationship on which we were completely dependent and about which we had a great deal of hope. We lost, let’s say, a loved one. We were abandoned, or something like that. Many people say that there is no greater suffering than to be abandoned by someone on whom you depend utterly, and whom you love utterly. Many women have experienced husbands going through their second childhood in their forties and suddenly they’re out the door. The women feel helpless, and many sufferings occur. So that might be an indication of that.

Another instance might be discovering that one is in fact sick and preparing for death. That is also an intense and all-pervasive suffering. And there are unfortunately in this day and age many more people who have that suffering than ever before. It is an all-pervasive suffering and it feels as though it takes you over. You feel like you cannot pull yourself together. It could be the suffering of losing the family, losing the job. There are so many different sufferings that occur in that way. And do you remember, when you were in the midst of a suffering like that, how all-pervasive the suffering was? And how little space there was to do anything but experience the suffering of suffering? Do you remember? During the suffering like that, if someone were to say, “Now come on, pull yourself together. Let’s do what’s best. What’s best is to pull yourself together. Think positively. Let’s lighten up a little bit. Come on now, pull back from this,” you literally cannot do it. And you feel like making obscene gestures at the people who suggest that you do. You feel like,”I’m suffering. I have the right to suffer. I deserve this suffering, and I need to go through it. Get lost.” We really actually protect ourselves in that way.

Now if we, who are human, have that condition, then think about how those beings in the lower realms must have that condition. The hell beings are suffering from intense heat that literally burns their bodies repeatedly again and again. The beings in the cold realm, intense cold that repeated breaks their bodies again and again. The beings in the varied and individual hell realms. The beings in the hungry ghost realms who experience need and hunger to the point where all you can feel is the panic and longing of not having. You know what that feels like. When was the last time you experienced in a really acute form the need and longing to be connected to another human being in love so that you can feel appreciated and approved of? Most of us spend our lives going crazy trying to act that one out. How much worse must it be in the hungry ghost realm? Because in the hungry ghost realm, then we are constantly, uniquely, singularly, and exclusively involved in our own needs and our own longing and what we can and cannot have. There’s literally no space to practice Dharma, in the same way that you cannot teach Dharma to a hungry person. You simply can’t. You cannot teach Dharma to a hungry person because they don’t have the subtlety of mind to be able to appreciate and practice Dharma. Their mind is centered on the grossness and heaviness of the physical need for food. You cannot teach Dharma to a hungry person. You have to feed them first.

So, in these lower realms there is absolutely no space to practice Dharma. One cannot engineer the mind. Think about what it would be like to be cut with a knife right now. Somebody sawing your arm off. What’s that feel like? Oh, this is unbelievable. While someone was sawing your arm off, unless you’re some kind of great yogi or yogini, it’s likely that you would not have the time to practice. What do you think? You know, we’re sawing your arm off! Think about this for a minute. You’re not going to have time to practice. And the reason why you’re not going to have time to practice is because the suffering is unbearable. There’s no space in your mind to practice. I mean, literally, you do have time, if you think about it. You have the time, from the time the saw gets to the skin, to a major artery, and all the blood leaks out. You have a little time. But you don’t have time in your mind. Time in your mind is what we’re talking about. So the lower realms do not have that. The reason why the human realm, therefore, is so auspicious and why sentient beings wish to attain human rebirth is because we uniquely have time to practice here in this realm. If only a moment; if only a day. That does not indicate how well we will practice. Yet still we have the capacity for practice, and that is unique to this realm.

The main suffering of the human realm, believe it or not, even after we look at the traditional sufferings of old age, sickness and death—and these are sufferings, you’ll know it when you get there—the biggest and most horrible suffering actually of the human realm is, believe it or not, the very cause of the human realm. That while we have the merit to be human there is also a non-virtuous cause and that cause is the suffering of the human realm. It is doubt. Doubt is the main suffering of the human realm. It’s what you’re fighting right now. It’s the demon that has arisen in your mind, the one that says, “She’s not talking about me.” Or the one that says, “Death? Me? Nah. I will think about that later. I don’t have to think about that. I’m probably not going to die. I’ll just think positive. I’ll never die, I’ll think positive.” Ha ha ha. Yeah, you’ll be the only one that worked for, too. So we’ll think, “Okay, I’ll just think positive and I’ll just get through it. And besides, I don’t believe her. I think what I’ll do is just get all the different religious beliefs in the whole world and I’ll lay them out in front of me and I’ll select the prettiest, the one I like the best.”

For example, Kalu Rinpoche left while he was sitting up practicing Phowa. He simply practiced Phowa the way the tulkus practice Phowa. The tulkus don’t have to memorize this book.They just go. They go. They actually transfer the consciousness, literally. And this is the true way to practice Phowa—from ignorance into bliss. They go. And they go because their minds are such that there is nothing holding them back. They’ve practiced so their minds are smooth and not filled with the pitfalls that other sentient beings have. Sohe emptied his bladder and his bowels, because he knew that would be a good idea, and went over to his bed, smiled at everybody, and was kind of like leaving on a train, y’know. Kind of like, “Goin’ to the beach for a while. Be back. See ya.” Kind of like that. Rinpoche just sat down, smiled at everybody, looked real pleased with himself, got into his posture and meditated, and left. What a nice way to go. And he left consciously, the way tulkus do, preparing for, again, a conscious rebirth. How wonderful! How wonderful to be able to practice to leave in that way! And so that is the most extreme, wonderful example of what a human being can attain.

In the human realm we can study and practice and prepare for that going, and at that time death is no big deal. It’s not an event. There is no difference, literally, between the death and the life. It is only different in the way that one room in a house is different from another. Yes, different. But for that level of practice it is the same experience, and the same experience has the same taste. And the taste is always simply the emanation, the display, the coming forth, and the giving rise to the great bodhicitta. So death is simply another day in the life of giving the bodhicitta, of expressing the bodhicitta. Not frightening to him. Frightening to us when we watched him, frightening to us when we lost him, frightening to us when people heard that he was dead. One more great lama who could guide us through the sea of suffering dead, gone. That’s how we think. But he just left for the beach for a week. He’ll be back. He’s back. They come back! So for a lama like that who practices, that’s what it is. But for us, we’re so scared. because we’re not ready. So in the human realm,  we can prepare ourselves and we can be ready.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

A Short Method to Antidote to Pride

The following is pith advice Jetsunma offered to a student who asked her how to work on pride:

When you wake up in the morning put all sentient beings above the crown of your head. And then put Guru Rinpoche above all of them. So essentially you’re seeing that Guru Rinpoche blesses all sentient beings but also that all sentient beings are above you, and therefore more important than you.
Try that.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Giving Rise to Bodhicitta

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

When you think about the suffering of sentient beings, when you think about those that are in the hell realms suffering horribly, is there a part of you that wishes you could do something to liberate them from the hell realms? That wishes that you could pass your magic wand and have them be free at last? Is there a part of you that hears the story about the hungry ghosts and thinks, “Oh my, how can I nourish them? How can I give them milk? How can I make them not suffer like that? How can I help those sentient beings that are about to fall into that condition by asking them or encouraging them to turn the way their minds work?” Do you feel any compassion like that? Is there any part of you that wants to reach out to them and help them? When you hear of the suffering of human beings, when you hear how many times human beings come into the same realm with the very teaching that will bring about the end of their suffering, and yet due to their doubt do not participate in that teaching but walk away from it empty handed, do you wish that you could change that? Do you wish that you could help them to see the truth before it’s too late? Do you wish that you could help the jealous gods and the gods and goddesses of the god realms? Do you wish that you could open their eyes so that they will not be so drunk with their own habitual tendencies, but rather so that they will see the benefit and impact of practicing Dharma? Do you wish that they could use the time that they have right now in order to be free of suffering? Do you wish that you could liberate all sentient beings including yourself from suffering, that suffering would no longer be heard? That the very word of suffering, the very name of death would never be heard in our ears again? Do you wish that you could do that? Is there any part of you that responds to that? Yes? No? Is there some part of you? Then hold onto that part of you, because that is the part of you that is the most precious possession that you have. Hold onto that thread. It is the very thread of life. It is more precious and more important than any other thought that you have or have ever had. And it is the only pure thought that you will ever have during the course of your life until you achieve liberation.

This is the very method by which one gives rise to the bodhicitta, the very method by which one accomplishes. I tell you that you will not accomplish Phowa successfully, you will not have the promised signs that everybody’s waiting for, if you do not first give rise to the bodhicitta based on the understanding of what sentient beings in cyclic existence suffer. So you must give rise to this. It is the foundation of the Path. Without the milk of kindness flowing through you, without giving rise to compassion, there is no method and therefore there is no result. So that is why this preliminary teaching, although it is general, must be included with the Phowa.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Hungry Ghost Realm

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why P’howa?”

The next of the lower realms is the realm of the hungry ghosts.  The hungry ghosts actually have a traditional appearance and they are described in this way, but again you must understand that this is us looking with our eyes that are born having to distinguish between subjective and objective.  These are the eyes that are born in the realm of duality,. So keep that in mind when their description is given.  The description is that of beings that have ver,y very, very tiny mouths—they are said to be about the size of a pin, just a tiny opening—and great big stomachs; and these stomachs are empty.  They are not able to take in the amounts of nourishment that they need.  This is the picture that we are given.  The reality of the realm of the hungry ghost is that they experience extreme need, extreme hunger, beyond what you feel when you have Big Mac attack.  Way beyond that!  We are talking hunger like you have never felt.  It is a different color of hunger entirely.  Have you been real, real hungry?  Have you never been real, real hungry in your life?  I’ve been real, real hungry in my life.  I’ve been real, real hungry in my life, and I remember how that felt.  I remember being so hungry once that I could feel my blood sugar doing wacko things, and I actually had the feeling of panic.  I was that hungry that you feel panicky because your body is just telling you, “I need food now.”

So you imagine that there is that kind of hunger, with that kind of panic and need times more than you can ever imagine. That would be the feeling of a hungry ghost.  It is extremely needful.  Now you say to yourself, “Please, I worked out my whole life and for me to be reborn with a tiny little mouth and a big, big belly like that, that definitely is not going to happen to me.”  So you think that that’s not going to happen.  Well, you have to examine yourself from a different and more subtle point of view.  Let me ask you if you have ever gone through a period in your life when you were extremely needy.  “Oh no, not me.”  Right?  Extremely needy?  For women that happens at least once a month, right?  And for men I think it happens about every 48 hours.  Now they get needy in a different way, but it’s basically also, “Do you love me?”  We have within our mindstream the potential for tremendous neediness and graspiness.

O.K., this is a little bit less painful.  Have you known a person in your lifetime that was compulsively, neurotically, unsatisfiably needy?  Have you known a person like that?  Haven’t you had from that person the feeling that this hole is just too darn big to fill?  You feel like you’re throwing it in and throwing it in and throwing it in and trying to love and trying to give them something, and they’re still whining.  It never ends; and you spend the rest of your life doing this and nothing happens.  The hole never fills up.  Well, that is the kind of cause that results in a rebirth as a hungry ghost—a person whose habitual tendency is simply wrapped around self-absorption and what they need.  I need, I need, I need.  Can you gimme, gimme, gimme?  They see every other being in their life as a prop, a prop by which they can achieve satisfaction.  They use people as props in order to achieve satisfaction.  You know we’ve all gone through periods in our lives when we’ve done that. Haven’t we?  Absolutely.  We have used other people for our own satisfaction.  Absolutely. And for many of us, we made careers out of it.  Right?  And maybe still, maybe still.  We have seen how people can wrap their whole lives around graspiness and neediness; and every time they meet with somebody it’s like you can hear the suction.  You can just hear it.  You feel like the blood is coming out of your pores.  And that’s the kind of person you instinctively stay away from because, literally, you can feel your energy being sucked into them.  Haven’t you felt that kind of thing?  You can feel the energy being sucked into them,. And it’s true.  If you could see it with different eyes, your energy would be sucked into them.  That’s true.  That kind of cause, that kind of habitual tendency that the person might experience, or if it’s you, you might experience, would result in rebirth as a hungry ghost.  Particularly, also, it is the kind of person who is against and has no compatibility with compassion and generosity.  The person who is chronically, without hesitation, selfish to the bone.

Now you may think, “Are there really people like that?”  Oh ho ho, yes!  I’ll tell you , this story briefly.  In New York once, I went to give a teaching. I remember walking into the room and thinking “Oh, no,” because, you know, a lama does develop the ability to sort of intuit who we’re talking to. And I remember walking into the room and going, “No-o-o!”  because I could see that it was going to be very, very difficult. And sure enough, here we were in New York and I was talking about the most benign… I wasn’t talking about hell realms.  I would never be dumb enough to talk about hell realms in New York!  You guys want to hear that you have to come to Poolesville!  So anyway, I was talking about the most benign and charming—talk about white picket fence!—subject that you could possibly think of. Kindness.  Talking about Bodhicitta.  I was talking about how, in the most fundamental way, kindness makes one feel.  Really, being kind to others makes one feel better.  I was talking about how developing the habit of kindness brings this result, just kindness.  I was talking about Bodhicitta being consistent with our own nature. I swear to you not one, but on different occasions, three women stood up and argued with me about the validity of kindness.  One woman in particular said, “This is ridiculous.  Kindness has no place in my life. I mean you have to get what you want!  I don’t see the point of what you say.  This is whoosh.  Tell me something real!”  That is literally what happened.

I remember just feeling this compassion for them, for what can the result of that be?  What do you think their next experience is going to be like?  Do you think they’re going to fall into the lap of mother love?  Do you think that kindness is going to be just heaped on them in their next life?  I don’t think so.  I don’t see how that’s going to happen.  So these poor people are up against the wall and they don’t even realize it. And in her haughtiness she defended what was going to make her suffer horribly.  So you see there is that kind of thing operating in the minds of sentient beings.  There are some people that categorically refuse and reject the idea of kindness and benefitting others. In fact, that is not consistent with all of the world religions. We should take equal responsibility with ourselves as with other sentient beings.

There are even types of teaching that the Buddha has taught that are meant for that kind of person who cannot appreciate compassion, who are not even set up to hear the word compassion.  The Hinayana point of view: Yeah, we’re taught to be kind to others, but not in an active way.  We’re taught to do no harm.  That’s different from saving sentient beings from suffering.  So there are sentient beings that have no capacity for kindness or generosity, you see?  And so the result of that kind of mental state is to be reborn as a hungry ghost, experiencing only need.  Only being able to experience that which comes toward oneself, literally not having the chip, the computer chip, to be able to send out.  It would be like a computer that has no printer.  Everything happens internally, in a way.  Do you see what I’m saying?  Nothing goes out.  This person is not wired to send out anything, and that comes through having only the habitual tendency of self-absorption and selfishness. The result is life as a hungry ghost.  In the hungry ghost realm, it isn’t that there is no food. It is that they are so weak because of the habitual tendency of their mind which has produced this weakness.  Their arms and legs are like threads.  They cannot get over to where the food is.  They cannot get there.  The only thing big about them is their stomachs. And even if they could get there, their little mouths would not be able to take in enough.

Plus it is said that even even if they do see some food, they cannot get to the food; and if they somehow manage to get to the food, it then will turn to… Here is a glass of water.  I have the karma for this water to refresh me.  Water, little bit of lemon, pretty good.  If I were a hungry ghost in the hungry ghost realm, even if I were able to make it to that water (and I would feel the need for it very strongly), the water would be like a glass of pus or something, horrible and repulsive, literally, sewage or something horrible and repulsive.  It would turn to that before you reached it.  And that’s because of the habitual tendency of our mind.  How different from sewage is the need to only satisfy oneself and not care at all for the condition of other sentient beings?  To take from others and never give.  How different is that from sewage?  You see?

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

A Brief Biography of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche: Tulku Thondup

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The following is respectfully quoted from “The Collected Works of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche” published by Shambhala Publications

A Brief Biography of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche by Tulku Thondup:

Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche Tashi Paljor (1910-1991) was one of the few great lineage holders, writer, teachers, and transmiters of teachings and powers of Nyingma tantras in general and Longchen Nyingthig in particular who reached numerous disciples in Tibet, India, Nepal, Bhutan and the West.

He is also known as Gyurme Thekchok Tenpe Gyaltsen, Jigme Khyentse Özer, and Rabsel Dawa.

He was born on the thirteenth of the fourth month of the Iron Dog year of the fifteenth Rabjung (1910) in the family of Dilgo, a minister (nyerchen) of the king of Dege in the Nyö clan in Dan Valley. His father was Tashi Tsering. It was the very day that the great master Mipham Namgyal and his disciples were performing the feast ceremony at the completion of his one-and-a-half month teaching on his Commentary on Kalachakra at Dilgo. Mipham immediately gave pills of Sarasvati, the female Buddha of wisdom, with the sacred letters DHIH and HRIH to the baby to eat even before tasting his mother’s milk. About a month after the birth, Mipham gave empowerments for purification and longevity and named him Tashi Paljor. Since then until Mipham died at the beginning of 1912, Khyentse was given blessed substances continuously.

When he was only four months old, Ngor Pönlop Loter Wangpo recognized him as the tulku of Khyentse Wangpo. At the time of the death of Mipham, Shechen Gyaltsap Pema Namgyal (1871-1926) saw him and asked the family to give him to Shechen.

At the age of six, he was accidentally burned badly in a fire and was seriously ill for about six months, which caused him to take ordination as a novice.

When he was fifteen, Gyaltsap recognized him as a tulku of Khyentse Wangpo, enthroned him at Shechen Monastery, and named him Gyurme Thekchok Tenpe Gyaltsen. He also gave him numerous transmissions, including those of Dam-ngagk Dzö and Nyingthig Yabzhi. From Khenpo Pema Losal of Dzogchen he received transmission of Longchen Nyingthig. From Adzom Drukpa, he received teachings on Longchen Nyingthig Ngöndro.

With Khenpo Zhephen Chökyi Nangwa (Zhen-ga) of Dzogchen, Khenpo Thubten Chöpel (Thupga) of Changma hermitage, Dza Mura Asanga, Abhidharma, Yönten Dzö, the commentaries of Guhyagarbha-mayajala-tantra, and many others. Khenpo Thugpa recognized him as the tulku of Önpo Tenzin Norbu (Tenli).

Then from Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö he received the transmission of Sakya, Kagyu, Geluk and Nyingma teachings, including Rinchen Terdzö, Nyingthig Yahzhi, Longchen Nyingthig, and Lama Gongdu. From Khenpo Tendzin Dargye of Shechen he received transmission of the nine volumes of Jigme Lingpa. From Shechen Kongtrul (1901-1959) he received transmissions of the thirteen volumes of Minling cycle. He received teachings of all the Buddhist traditions of Tibet from over seventy teachers. Among them, Shechen Gyaltsap and Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö were his principle teachers.

Starting from the age of eighteen, for twelve years he stayed in solitary places and practiced various teachings, including Three-Root Sadhanas of Minling Terchen and Lonchen Nyingthig.

Throughout his life he dedicated himself to giving teachings and transmissions to all, whoever came to receive them. He wrote that by the age of sixty-four, he had given empowerments of Nyingthig Yabzhi and Longchen Nyingthig over tend times. From the age of forty till eighty-two he gave discourses on Chokchu Münsel, the commentary on Guhyagarbha by Longchen Rabjam at least once a year, and gave extensive commentaries on Jigme Lingpa’s Yönten Dzö. Among countless other teachings, he gave five times the transmission of the Rinchen Terdzö, four times those of the Nyingma Kama, and thrice that of Dam-ngak Dzö,  and twice that of Kanjur.

Rinpoche and his consort, Khandro Lhamo, had two daughters. His daughter Chime’s son is the seventh Shechen Rabjam.

At the invitation of the royal family of Bhutan, he spent years in Bhutan teaching and transmitting the teachings.

Since the early 1960’s, he single handedly maintained and propagated the unique nonsectarian tradition of Khyentses, and tirelessly with the continuity of a stream he spread the teachings by traveling, teaching, practicing, and building monuments without any pause, for the sake of Dharma and people.

In 1980 he built Shechen Dargye Ling Monastery (a name he took from his monastery in Tibet) at Bodhnath in Nepal, an elaborate complex with over two hundred monk-students. In 1988 he established a shedra at the new monastery, where monks are studying scholarly texts.

Starting in 1975, he visited many countries in the West many times and taught various levels of teachings and transmissions. Also he established Tekchok Ösal Chöling, a Dharma center in France. He visited Tibet three times from exile to teach and to help in rebuilding the monasteries and the faith in his homeland.

He conferred on the fourteenth Dalai Lama many empowerments and teachings on the commentaries of Guhyagarbha and Yönten Dzö and oral teachings of Dzogpa Chenpo combined with teachings on Yeshe Lama.

He discovered many teachings and sadhanas as terma and wrote many scholarly texts and commentaries on various subjects, totaling twenty-three volumes. Among his writings on Longchen Nyingthig are a commentary on Palchen Düpa and Wangki Chokdrik.

At the age of eighty-one, at three A.M. on the twentieth of the eighth month of the Iron Sheep year (September 28, 1991, his enlightened mind merged in to the ultimate openness at a hospital in Thimbu, the capital of Bhutan. Since then, his monastery in Nepal has been presided over by his Dharma heir and grandson, Rabjam Rinpoche, Gyurme Chökyi Senge.

He was one of the greatest learned and accomplished masters of Tibet of our age. He was tall and giant. When he was among other masters, he stood like a mountain in the midst of hills or shone as the moon among stars, not because of his physical prominence, but because of the breadth of his scholarship and depth of his saintliness. When he gave teachings, it was like the flow of a river, with hardly any pause. If strangers heard his lectures, their first impression might be that he was reading a beautiful text from memory, as the words of his talks were poetry, his grammar was perfect, and the meaning was profound.

Another most astonishing feature was his memory. He remembered not only scholarly and liturgical texts and details about his teachers and friends, but also those people whom he had seen only once years earlier.

His kindness was boundless, and there was room for everybody. Whenever I had an audience, he gave me the feeling that there was a place for me reserved in his vast mind. If you watched carefully, you got the feeling that he was always in the meditative or realized wisdom of openness and reaching out to people with the power of compassion, love, and directness, without any alteration.

He practically held the transmissions of all the Buddhist teachings of Tibet, but was constantly searching for additional transmissions, no matter how minor they might be. He had a huge library collection, but never stopped looking for even a page of rare writing. He was also immensely loyal.

In his last trip from Bhutan to Kalimpong, instead of flying he insisted on making the arduous journey by car in order to see an old disciple of his on the way. While that effort might have exhausted the last drops of his physical strength, it would have been his joy and fulfillment, an act of compassion.

Urgyen Tenzin Jigme Lhundrup (b.1993), the grandson of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (1919-1996) and the son of Kela Chokling Rinpoche and Dechen Paldron of Terdhe, has been enthroned as the reincarnation of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was one of the great Lamas who recognized Ahkon Lhamo Rinpoche

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