This Very Moment

Monk at MD Stupa2

To begin to develop Aspirational Bodhicitta is to understand the faults of cyclic existence, to understand the cessation of cyclic existence, to understand something of the nature of awakening or at least to understand that that is the cessation of suffering; and then to begin to develop from these foundational thoughts a caring and concern for all parent sentient beings. Aspirational Bodhicitta can take the form of just thinking as you ordinarily think. In the same way that you think of what will I have for dinner tonight, or in the same way that you think of what you would like to wear, or the ordinary things that we think of that concern ourselves. in that same ordinary way, without any kind of high-falutin’ dogma, you can begin now to develop a sense of the need and plight of sentient beings. And you can begin to speak what is in your heart, because it is in there somewhere in the natural state—the hope that all sentient beings will be free of suffering.

Each of you has a seed potential of that hope. You could not approach a truly spiritual path; you could not approach the Buddha’s teaching. You would have no karma to hear anything of the Buddha’s teaching if you did not have the hope that all sentient beings would be free of suffering. Because in order to be involved in these auspicious conditions, in order to hear the Buddha’s teaching, in order to have the opportunity to practice and the inclination to do so, in order to even begin the idea of moving onto a path that leads to supreme enlightenment, you must have accumulated an enormous amount of virtuous karma in the past and to accumulate an enormous amount of virtuous karma, there had to be kindness. So you should not be afraid thinking that you have no compassion.

Some people tell me they have no compassion.  That is completely erroneous. That is impossible. But you must begin to dust off that jewel. You must begin to consider these foundational teachings, and to begin in whatever way you are comfortable with, to amplify and systematically develop Bodhichitta, the Aspirational Bodhicitta. You can begin to make wishing prayers for other sentient beings. One of the reasons why we built the Stupa that we built outside was to have a place here in this area that would have the fortunate quality of being able to enhance our prayers. Because of the cosmology of the Stupa—the way in which it is built, the empowerment that goes into actually consecrating it, and the wonderful relics that are present in it—because of the blessings of the prayer, the blessings of the mantra, because of all of these things, the Stupa actually has the ability, with faith, to amplify our prayers. We are taught to circumambulate in a clockwise direction making wishing prayers for all sentient beings. You can begin to do that. You can begin to make wishing prayers on your own, at any time. You can just think wishing prayers as you walk about. You can begin right now to developAspirational Bodhicitta in the same way that you develop muscle. You have the muscle fiber. You only need to strengthen it through use. That discipline is essential.

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bodhicitta”

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Letting Go of Judgment

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bodhicitta”

 We should begin to think of these teachings that the Buddha has given us in such a way that we awaken within ourselves a real caring for the well-being of sentient beings. If you saw a tiny rabbit caught in a trap, and its leg was bleeding and bruised, I know that you would open the trap and let the rabbit be free. If you saw a child that was really hungry, hopefully you would be not in the circumstance where you would make all kinds of judgments about that hunger, such as, if you looked at a bum who was drinking alcohol or something like that where your discursive mind got in the way. But if you just looked at a child, just a child, a helpless child, who was hungry; if you had food on your plate, I know that you would give some to that child. In this way, you should think of other sentient beings and begin to, through utilizing that kind of thought, understand their plight. It is most necessary to understand their plight, and through that begin to polish away the dirt and the filth that covers that precious jewel which is our inherent nature. 

We should take a hold of ourselves in such a way that we do not feel separate from Bodhicitta as though it were a thing that we have to get, but instead begin to develop the understanding that ultimately it is the awakened state. Because of supreme awakening, we will understand fully the faults of cyclic existence. We will understand absolutely the awakening that is the cessation of all suffering and be naturally and completely motivated to bring about the end of suffering for all sentient beings, because at the same time, we will understand that the self that we cling to, the one that causes us to think only of selfish concern, this self is also illusory.

Having realized that, there is literally nothing to do other than to emanate in a form or to engage in miraculous activity that brings about the liberation of all sentient beings. So this activity is not something we do when we get kind. It isn’t something that we collect as though it were wisdom. It is the natural state of awakening.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Polishing the Diamond

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bodhicitta”

I have been aware that people in our age and people who are awakening to spirituality and meditation and these different philosophies have been exposed to the idea that we have lived only just a few times, whereas the Buddha teaches us that is not true. The Buddha teaches us that we have lived, we have revolved in cyclic existence over countless aeons. An aeon alone is a very long time. And countless aeons, that kind of terminology is inconceivable to us. In order to have revolved since beginningless time, in countless aeons of cyclic existence, we had to have parents every time unless we were born in a realm in which parents were not the way of birth. But whether we were animals or humans or some other form that we don’t recognize at this time, whether we were born in the form or formless realms, there is a great potential for all sentient beings to have been our parents endlessly. And the way in which to understand the kindness of all sentient beings, the way in which to understand their kindness to us so that we can begin to build Aspirational Bodhicitta, is to understand that at this moment we’re here. We are hearing the Buddha’s teaching and we are experiencing comfortable circumstances in which to practice. We have no defects of mind or body that would prevent us from practicing the Buddha’s teaching. We are capable and we are able and we have the leisure to accomplish practice. We have very auspicious circumstances. 

To have come to this point, we must think of the kindness of all of the situations that have brought us to this point. We shouldn’t think that our parents had any capability to prevent us from coming to this point, because they haven’t prevented us from coming to this point. So we shouldn’t think of their cruelty. We should think of their kindness because somehow, having birthed us, they have given us this precious opportunity to accomplish enlightenment. This is true for all of the circumstances that we have ever experienced, all of the births that we have ever experienced. Having come to this point, we should be thankful and grateful and happy, filled with joy realizing that this auspicious moment has occurred at last. And like finding a precious jewel while sifting through garbage, here we are and we have found the Dharma.

So having experienced this joy, we can begin to understand that all sentient beings have been our kind mothers and fathers, and that we owe them a great debt. We can remember once again that cyclic existence is just that, it is cyclic and endless, and that they are struggling night and day working very hard to make themselves happy and have no way to do it. We should think again and again that they are lost. Although they have given us birth in such a way that we can accomplish Dharma, and that all of these many parents who have birthed us over these many lives in order to help us to create the causes by which we might meet with this perfect Dharma, that even while they have participated in that, they themselves have not done it. It reminds me of a form of animal that I read about. It’s actually an insect called the midge. It conceives its young within itself and the young, as they begin to grow, actually eat the inside of the mother; and consume the mother. By the time they are ready to come out, the mother is dead, and they simply break out of her body as though it were an egg. We should think of that, and we should think that perhaps all sentient beings have done that for us. If they remain in a condition of suffering and we have now found the perfect path by which to alleviate their suffering, then perhaps it’s time to begin to develop the kindness that will liberate them from their unbearable suffering and their continued involvement in cyclic existence.

So when we hear about this Aspirational Bodhicitta, we become confused as to how to think of it. Time and time again students have said to me, “What practice will help me develop Bodhicitta?  Isn’t it true that once I begin to practice, I will develop Bodhicitta?” or, “How can I best develop Bodhicitta?” They talk about Bodhicitta or compassion as though it were something separate from themselves because we think of all phenomena, both internal and external, as separate from ourselves. That is part of the basic delusion of believing in self-nature as being inherently real. It seems to come with the package. Yet, we need to take a hold of ourselves and begin to understand that Aspirational Bodhicitta is potentially the way we are. It is not a reality separate from ourselves. It is not a mystery that we should approach in a linear way, perhaps in the way that we used to think of spiritual mastery. It used to be that, before we studied the Buddha’s teachings, we began to think of spiritual mastery as accumulating this wisdom and that wisdom and this wisdom and that wisdom and this wisdom and suddenly, you would become a great master. And that’s it. Now you’re a master. Well that isn’t really how the Buddha considers realization. The Buddha considers that you cannot collect wisdoms or knowledges and that they in a sum total will create mastery. The Buddha considers that true wisdom is the realization of the emptiness of all phenomena and the emptiness of self-nature, the illusory nature of phenomena, the illusory nature of self. This is the true wisdom, and it is not something that you can collect or gather.

In the same way, when Bodhicitta is fully realized, it is none other than the Primordial Wisdom state. It is none other than supreme awakening. Bodhicitta then, ultimately, when it is fully realized, is our own nature, and we should not treat it as though it were something separate from ourselves. We should not treat it as though it were a thing that we could collect by doing this practice or that practice. Instead, we should take a hold of ourselves and begin to uncover the diamond of Bodhichitta, the jewel of Bodhicitta. We should begin to uncover it by polishing away the delusion that occurs through the selfish concerns which are born of a lack of understanding of what awakening truly is.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Problem With Desire

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The following is from an exchange of tweets between Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo and one of her followers:

Follower: “How can one beat desire?”

Jetsunma: “Study cause and result, and especially compassion for all. The desire is for everything and it keeps us suffering like a revolving door. No control over any result, bad.”

Follower: “So with desire there can’t be fulfillment?”

Jetsunma: “Exactly. An itch that cannot be scratched. Always returns. And by nature cannot be satisfied. Everything begins and ends.”

You can follow Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo on twitter here: https://twitter.com/JALpalyul

 

The Practice That Results in Enlightenment

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The Practice that Results in Enlightenment

The kind of practice that we are talking about – that results in supreme enlightenment – is the continuous, natural, graceful effort – a happy, blissful, joyful continuous effort.

So we should always then be in the posture of the teachings.  That means that you literally walk around with your heart like a bowl, your mind like a bowl and you are in the posture of a constant wish:

“Please Lord Guru

Change me into whatever form is necessary.

Change my mind – Change my heart – Purify my karma.

Please Lord Guru

The only thing that I request that you do is to not let me remain the same.

Please Lord Guru

Constantly pour the nectar of your Dharma into me.

Lord Guru,

Do not abandon me in samsara.

Do not leave me in the condition that I am now.

Change me utterly and completely to where I do not recognize

myself as an ordinary samsaric being any longer.

Think of the Guru like a mother bird.  Constantly remain in the posture of beseeching the Guru for teachings.

The thing that you have been terrified of – the thing that you have guarded yourself against – is the very thing that you should be requesting constantly is that you should be transformed and changed according to the wishes of the Guru.

Do not let me be separate from your teachings even for a moment.

Have courage.

— Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Wish to Benefit Others

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bodhicitta” 

The subject today will be Bodhicitta, or compassion. From the traditional point of view, it is considered that Bodhicitta is divided into two basic categories. There is the aspirational Bodhicitta and the practical Bodhicitta. The aspirational Bodhichitta is the first relationship with Bodhicitta or compassion. In this sense, you can use the word Bodhicitta and compassion interchangeably. The aspirational level is the first relationship with Bodhichitta that each of us would approach, and this is a very important step. This step is the beginning of the cultivation of a stability of compassion within the mindstream. The practice of aspirational Bodhicitta begins with very small baby steps. It is absolutely dependent on understanding some of the Buddha’s basic teachings in order to do it effectively, in order to approach it effectively. One of the reasons why this is so necessary is that the Buddha teaches us of the faults of cyclic existence. The Buddha teaches us, as well, that suffering ceases when we achieve enlightenment. The Buddha teaches us of the cause of our suffering. He teaches us that suffering is caused by desire. And we come to understand suffering in a completely different way than we do just as ordinary sentient beings. 

Upon hearing the Buddha’s teaching, we might view suffering differently. Before we heard the Buddha’s teaching, we might think it possible to solve suffering through manipulating circumstances in ordinary human ways. We might think that a poor person is suffering because they have no money. We might look at the superficial angle of suffering. Looking at that suffering from a superficial angle, we actually can only develop a very superficial understanding of it. Ultimately we will have very little understanding of the nature of suffering at all, and therefore, will be incompetent to prevent more suffering or the continuation of suffering. To look at suffering from the ordinary superficial sense, we might consider that a poor person suffers because they have no money, or a sick person suffers because they have no health. And this would seem perfectly logical. Everything in our environment points out that this is the case. We would think that whatever we are lacking, that thing is the cause of our suffering; and whatever we have that we don’t want, that thing is the cause of our suffering. But according to the Buddha, this is really symptomatic. These things that we witness are symptomatic, and they do not necessarily lead us to understand the deeper cause of suffering. So we must turn to the enlightened teaching of the Buddha, of one who has crossed all of the barriers of suffering and has experienced the cessation of suffering in order to determine what the real cause of suffering is.

According to the Buddha, the things that we suffer from, such as poverty or sickness, or old age, sickness and death in the human realm, or all of the different sufferings that are potential and possible within the six realms of cyclic existence, in fact, are only symptomatic of a deeper underlying suffering, That suffering is actually the belief in self-nature as being inherently real. The suffering of the belief in self-nature being inherently real, or the delusion of the belief in self-nature as being inherently real actually leads to the suffering of desire. Because the tricky thing about belief in self-nature as being inherently real is that once you decide you have a self, you have to maintain it. Once you have the view that the self is here and it’s very real, then you have to constantly redefine and clarify the meaning of self by defining the distinction between self and other, And then all phenomena appears to be separate. Even one’s own feelings appear to be separate. All things that are present in the world appear to be separate and they are filled with the sense of distinction. Whenever something registers on the five senses, whether it be an altar, or whether it be something like food, or whether it be another person, whenever that thing arises in the mind, we determine whether we like it or don’t like it. There is an automatic attraction or repulsion phenomena that occurs. If you will examine yourself, you will see that this is true. It simply is not possible for you to see something or to have something come to your awareness without having the immediate, almost knee-jerk reaction of deciding if you are attracted to it or repulsed by it; or there is some aspect of that within your mind. It may play out a little bit differently; but if you examine it, you will see that the root of it is attraction and repulsion. All things play on the senses in that way.

The thinking then of the separation, or the erroneous perception of the duality between self and other, becomes more and more profound. It actually progresses and it builds on itself. It becomes more exaggerated. Each time that you react with attraction or repulsion toward anything, there is a karma, or a cause and effect relationship, that is begun at that time. This cause and effect relationship then continues to create more cause and more effect. And there is an almost continual building of these instances, one on top of the other; and they are endless. There is no way for this to stop. It occurs in a cycle. And it occurs in such a way that while cause and effect are being experienced, more cause and effect continue. While one is dealing with the effect of previous causes, one is beginning new causes because of the reaction to the effect of previous cause. And it continues to be so that it seems to be unbreakable and unshakeable.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo all rights reserved

What’s the Point?

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Actually these teachings on the Four Noble Truths are the lessons that we are trying to implement here in this temple.  One of the goals that I have personally invested a great deal in is to try to create in this temple an opportunity for sentient beings to invest their effort, their kindness, their resources in whatever way in order to bring benefit to others. I feel that this is a beneficial practice. According to the Buddha’s teachings, this is one way to create the perfect interdependent cause and effect arising in order to create the kind of happiness that we wish. The efforts that we engage in here don’t seem to bring much result at this time, in this way.

Right now, for instance, we are holding a twenty-four hour a day prayer vigil. There’s always someone in that room behind the staircase, the shrine room, who’s praying for the welfare of sentient beings. There are 12 two-hour shifts a day and we go round the clock twenty four hours a day. Now what is that producing for us now? Nothing, absolutely nothing. We lose sleep, we get irritable, we’re tired. Sometimes we don’t want to get up and do this thing. Sometimes we do everything that we can to trade shifts so that we don’t have to be there on Saturday morning. But somebody gets stuck with it, I guarantee you. Where’s the payoff? Why would we want to do that?

Let’s talk about some of the other things that we do. Right now we’re building a stupa park with eight stupas in it. In the past we’ve built the stupa that is out on the grounds toward the parking lot. When we built that stupa out there, we had weather such as we’ve had in the last couple of days. For some reason, every time we build stupas this happens. I don’t know why, but it seems to be in the high nineties, if not a hundred or over, with humidity just under pouring. You know somewhere around ninety-nine point nine. It’s just beastly weather and it’s very difficult. We get out there and we work very hard and we sweat very much. And it seems as though the effort will never end. It’s very, very hard because we do everything ourselves. Sometimes we lose weekends for a whole summer. Sometimes we lose evenings for months. We don’t get much rest; we work very, very hard.

Why do we do this? What’s the benefit? What are we experiencing right now in building this stupa park that’s so wonderful, besides backaches and sore limbs.  It seems as though nothing. It seems as though we’re just working very hard for no good reason. But actually what we are doing here is we are implementing the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha teaches us that whatever we can do to benefit beings, to bring happiness and well-being to sentient beings, will bring us happiness and well-being as well. The Buddha teaches us that the point of our practice, the point of our lives, is to actually engage in meritorious, generous, wholesome and virtuous activity that will be of benefit to sentient beings. And the Buddha teaches us specifically that the only lasting permanent true cessation of suffering, and therefore benefit to sentient beings, is enlightenment. The true cessation of suffering is the state of enlightenment.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

How to Understand Cause and Effect

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We don’t have any real way to understand direct cause and effect relationships.  And for that reason, we cannot really seem to understand how to create the causes of happiness. A good example is this: If we experience perhaps chronic poverty, we may think that the way to end this chronic poverty is to struggle against it. To work very hard at getting money any way that you can, to beg, borrow, or steal literally. To work very hard at a very high paying job in order to get money. What we won’t understand is that probably whatever we do within that realm of activity will have temporary result at best. It may work for a period of time. Then again, it may not. I know people who work hard and can’t seem to get anywhere. Or it may be that it works very well for a certain period of time. But, even while it works very well and you have money, the consciousness is such that you still feel impoverished. You can’t enjoy it. You can’t get anywhere with it. You can’t use it for any good result. It simply sits. And to all intensive purposes you are still impoverished. It’s very difficult to understand how it is that these cause and effect relationships play themselves out.

Now, according to the Buddha’s teaching, if you have a great deal of affluence at this time, if that is easy for you, then what has actually occurred is that in the past you have accumulated a great deal of merit through generosity, through generosity, through giving to others. And that is why, in this lifetime, it is easy for you to accumulate money, or easy for you to enjoy money, or easy for you to feel wealthy even if you don’t have much money. It is easy for you to feel that you have plenty, enough. That you’re just fine. Either inwardly or outwardly, you are prosperous. This is a hard lesson to take in. Because we want to feel that this personality and this lifetime was responsible for doing something in a very competent way in order to achieve these excellent results. But, according to the Buddha, in many cases prosperity is the result of generosity, in fact in all cases, prosperity is the result of generosity. And a person who is chronically impoverished is a person who has not been generous and continues to not be generous with their resources, with their time, and in their hearts. The Buddha teaches us the antidote to poverty is not getting money any way you can. But that the antidote to poverty is kindness and generosity and putting out in order to benefit others.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Examining Cause and Effect

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How can it be that we’ve had so little result?  Well it isn’t true that we’ve had no result. We have had temporary happiness. We’ve all had that. Probably we feel pretty good right now. Probably we felt all right when we got up this morning. But we feel differently every day, and really every moment. And sometimes we are even afraid to think that we’re really happy, because we know that right behind that happiness, right behind that, is another mood change. And you know that it’s not lasting.

How we can have managed to continue in such an effortful way? How is it that we maintain this extreme effortfulness? And what’s the answer? What should we do? First of all, we have to begin to cultivate some understanding. According to the Buddha’s teaching, every condition that we experience in our lives, including the most subtle inner conditions, that is to say, our own impressions and feelings and subtle inner posturing—that very, very subtle stuff that seems so wispy, seems to change all the time with every catalyst that appears in our lives—from that kind of subtle condition to the most seemingly permanent, gross, outer condition, such as the house we live in, the nation that we live in, the community that we live in, the world that we live in, the Buddha teaches us that every one of those conditions that we experience actually arises through the interdependence of cause and effect relationships. Every condition with no exception. Even the condition of how you appear physically. Now, of course you have some control in that matter. You can diet and become thin. You can put on makeup and become better looking. You can take off makeup and become either better or worse looking depending on how well you apply makeup. You can gain weight. You can do different kinds of juggling in order to make yourself appear more attractive through wearing different clothing, or what have you. But there are some things about which it seems that we have no control. For instance, the genetic tendency of our body to be in a certain way. Some people are shorter than others; some are taller. Some have a tendency towards a more squat body form; and others have a tendency towards a very lanky body form. These things seem to be beyond our control. We can look at our parents and our grandparents, and it seems as though we have the same genetic structure as them. It seems as though we have not much control over that. But, according to the Buddha, even such things as those that appear to be handed to us from the time of our birth, even such things as genetic predisposition, these are the result of karma.

What are the conditions of living? Do we live in a beautiful house? Do we live in a happy and harmonious family situation? Do we own property? Are we impoverished? What are the conditions of our lives? It seems we have control over some of them. There are many books out now that tell us we can all become millionaires  through a certain amount of effort if you follow this very simple ten point program starting with the investment of a few thousand dollars. And for some people I’m sure that kind of program has worked. And yet, there are some conditions in our lives that are seemingly unbeatable.

For instance, what if,  personality-wise, we don’t seem to have that certain mindset that permits us to engage in that kind of activity? And then again, what if we don’t want to? Some feel chronically defeated and have always felt so, and they never take aggressive moves towards gaining whatever it is that they want. But other people seem to have to do nothing and happiness comes to them, or prosperity comes to them. There are so many conditions in our lives that seem controllable and they’re mixed in with conditions that seem uncontrollable. How are we to understand that?

Well, the Buddha teaches us that we have at best a very partial, very minimal understanding of cause and effect relationships. It’s actually quite minimal. And the reason why is that there is very little cause and effect unfolding that we can actually see. The Buddha tells us that we’ve lived many more than one lifetime. Therefore, if we’ve lived a hundred years already, we have only one tiny, tiny window of time in which to judge our experience. But that window of time actually has a very exacting beginning and a very exacting ending; and it’s very difficult to understand what has come before and what will come after. There are certain elements that we can view within that window of time, and we can gain some understanding. It has been my experience that usually as people mature and as they become older, they have gained enough life experience not to make certain kinds of mistakes again and again and again. Now, in some cases I think it might be that we’re just too tired and old to make those mistakes again and again and again. But in other cases I think there’s a true learning that has actually occurred, and I’m really not sure what the proportions are.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Problem

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What is the problem?  Why is it that we cannot really find happiness on any permanent basis? Well, there are many different reasons for that. One of those reasons is that, as Lord Buddha teaches, nothing in the life of a sentient being is permanent. Literally, the life of a sentient being is like a waterfall rushing down a mountain. The scenario always changes; the scene always changes. And the life itself is rushing very quickly, begun and then over. Life is impermanent. Everything about our lives is impermanent. Even the cornerstones of our lives,the things that we pin our hopes on, such as family, such as relationships, and such as possessions. Even possessions that seem very solid like a car. A car is very hard. You go and hit your car and it’s very solid.  We might think that this car is going to be the one that makes me happy. But, as you know,  three or four years into ownership that car is going to begin to abandon to you. And that is always the case. And it’s the same with relationships. Relationships change. And the same relationship, no matter how wonderful and fulfilling it can be, is completely dependent on our own receptivity and our own moods. And they change constantly. The interactions between people are constantly being modified by many different things including cause and effect relationships that we ourselves instigate. Everything in life is like a moving, dynamic tapestry, always weaving and inter-weaving, constant interdependently arising cause and effect relationships. Everything is moving and impermanent in our lives. Therefore, it’s so hard to find a core of stability, so difficult to find any kind of lasting permanent happiness. Still we hunger for happiness, and we engage constantly in activities that we think will bring us happiness.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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