Relief From Suffering

HumanRealm

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

Now having been introduced to the six realms, you should look at all of the different qualities that produce these rebirths: anger, grasping, ignorance, doubt, jealousy and pride.  You should think that the thing to do, if you have any understanding at all, is to begin to engage in activity that pacifies those kinds of qualities.  How does this mesh with compassion?  When you think about engaging in compassionate activity, you have to view compassionate activity in accordance with this teaching because you might think that compassionate activity would only be to be nice to people, and actually that is one kind of compassionate activity, or to give money to the poor, or to feed people.  That is one kind of compassionate activity; that is one kind of bodhicitta, but it is temporary bodhicitta.  It will produce a temporary cessation of suffering for the people that you help.  If you give them food when they are hungry, it will produce the end of temporary suffering.  If you give them money when they are poor, it will produce the end of temporary suffering.  But if you really want to get into ultimate bodhicitta, which is the quintessential practice of the Mahayana vehicle, and Vajrayana as part of Mahayana—Vajrayana is what we practice here—what you really want to do is to practice ultimate or supreme bodhicitta.  Ultimate or supreme bodhicitta is creating some kind of practice that will be a vehicle by which the qualities that produce this result will be pacified both in yourself and in other sentient beings.

I’ve described the six realms of cyclic existence.  Where in the six realms is there relief?  Nowhere.  Will you find relief as a result of temporary help in any of the six realms?  No, because you will be reborn again. And where?  We don’t know.  We just don’t know.  In cyclic existence, there is no true relief.  All there is in cyclic existence are the components of cyclic existence.  That is all that is in that pot.  You cannot expect true relief from cyclic existence.  So ultimate bodhicitta and an ultimately compassionate act would be to become a Buddha yourself.  To become highly enough realized yourself to make that commitment to attain realization in order to return again and again and again, emanating from the mind of enlightenment in order to be of benefit to sentient beings, because that is where relief comes from.

Now let me see if this is a typical thangka?  No this is not a traditional thangka.  The traditional thangkas usually show a path coming out from the human realm leading to enlightenment.  As a human, you can make the ultimate gift.  You can engage in the supreme practice.  You can achieve enlightenment yourself and, therefore, you can be a returner.  You can return again and again and again in order to lead sentient beings through a display of your enlightened compassion.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Animal Realm: Ignorance

oryx

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

The next realm is the animal realm. Now we have a strange understanding of the animal realm. We think, ‘Now that won’t be so bad.’  I have actually had people say to me, “I wish I could be a dog in my next life so that people would pet me.”  And I go, “Oh, no. Please don’t say that because you are not going to be a dog. You are going to be a hungry ghost.”  Don’t do that. That kind of neediness, that kind of idea,… You don’t want to express that. Let’s understand the animal realm better.

It isn’t like our little puppies and our little kitties and our little birdies. It isn’t cute little fluffy stuff like that. You have to think about what the animal realm is really like. Animals are completely at the mercy of the higher life form of humans. They are completely at the mercy of one another. In animal realms, there is the predator and the victim. And even amongst those animals that do not engage in that kind of activity, they are victimized by their own stupidity. I think about the bullocks in India. They have to pull these huge carts. Their owners whip them all day long in order to make them pull these huge carts; and they decorate their horns and think of them as their objects. They are their objects; and really they are more valuable than their wives because the bullocks can make it possible to pull these large amounts of things that the owners need to pull in order to make their livings. So I think about that kind of suffering. I think about camels that are ridden across deserts, not ever being able to go where they want to go. I think of horses that are never permitted to do what they want to do, never permitted to live naturally. I think about even our own domestic pets that are at our mercy as to whether or not we remember to feed them, whether or not we remember to take them to the vet. It’s our decision whether or not we want them fixed. It’s a dog’s life. It is a terrible thing to be engaged in the animal realm, because in the animal realm the chief suffering is that of ignorance. An elephant, for instance, could easily escape from a man who was dominating it, you see, in order to make it work all its life; but the elephant is too stupid to know that. It is too stupid to understand that. The human has developed a method to demonstrate his mastery, and therefore the elephant, although it is ten times bigger than the human, thinks that it is a victim of the human. That kind of stupidity leads to terrible suffering.

Animals in the animal realm are constantly fearful. They are constantly fearful of being eaten. All of their instincts guard against being eaten. They are constantly fearful of being left without food. They are constantly fearful. There is no space in their minds other than the fear that they have; and that fear is the result of ignorance.

So, do we have any ignorance in our minds, do you think?  Now, I don’t mean ignorance like you didn’t go to college. Not like that kind of ignorance. But the ignorance that makes you say, “Where did the day go?”  That dullness that makes you go through a day and you get the impression that you rode or skimmed on the surface of that day. You just kind of skimmed, just kind of floated on it, and your mind didn’t dig in anywhere in particular too much. You sort of ran around in your head a little bit. And then maybe you spent another day where you kind of floated on the sensuality of that day. I ate, and I slept. I spent time with my family, and I spent time with my husband or wife. And put on some new clothes. I worked and it felt good to work; or maybe it didn’t feel so good to work, and it felt like this. That kind of dullness where you don’t say, “Yo, let’s look at the faults of cyclic existence and figure out what we can do to make this day count.”  That kind of dullness is the kind of dullness that will cause us to be reborn in the animal realm. That dullness and ignorance.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Truth of Suffering

grief

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

Our next understanding must be what actually would be the end of suffering. What would the end of suffering look like?. Let’s say I was going to engage in enlightened activity. Let’s say that I could do that, had that potential. If I were going to alleviate the suffering of sentient beings, what would that look like? What form would that take?. In order to understand that, you really have to understand what escape from suffering is. In order to understand what escape from suffering is, you must understand what suffering is. What is this suffering?.

Now everybody has an idea of what suffering is. I don’t think I have to define suffering according to Webster’s dictionary. Each of us have had times in our lives when we have suffered. We have had loved ones leave us; relationships that we have loved have ended; even relationships that we don’t love have ended and brought us suffering. We have had changes in our lives that are very difficult: We have lost money; we have lost jobs; we have gained things and then have lost them. Things that we have loved have disappeared. All of these have been sufferings and if none of those things have happened to us, perhaps we might have had difficulties with our children. If none of those things have happened to us, still we will get sick. If we haven’t gotten sick yet, then definitely we will get old and we will die. These are the sufferings of cyclic existence. No one escapes cyclic existence without suffering. So it is considered that cyclic existence is pervaded with suffering. It is pervaded with suffering. It is not to say that there won’t be any happiness in cyclic existence, but the state of that happiness will be temporary because suffering is all pervasive,. and because everything is constantly changing.. So if you experience happiness,  that happiness will end because all things end. Everything is impermanent. If you experience the happiness of giving birth to a beloved child, that happiness will be temporary in that eventually that child will grow up. Eventually no matter how much you love that child, there will be difficulty with that child; and eventually either you or the child, eventually both, will die and so that relationship must end.

If you win the lottery, the happiness from that is also impermanent.  As you know, money can be spent; money can be squandered. And also for many people, money doesn’t bring happiness at all. I’d like to have a shot at it though,. anyway, just to see. I feel like you should test the Buddha’s teachings before you firmly commit. At any rate, you get my drift. If you buy a hot new car, and you think, “Oh good, I feel good now,” buzzing around in your nice new car, pretty soon that car is going to break down, and that car is going to feel like an old wife. Pretty soon it will have a clutch that needs repairing; and then you have to buy new tires and the steering isn’t so smooth. You know what happens. Everything changes. Cyclic existence is pervaded with suffering.

That is what you know about cyclic existence. I don’t have to tell you that; I don’t have to prove that to you. If you haven’t seen that for yourself by now, then I don’t know what to say to you. I feel that you must snap your fingers three times and maybe click your heels together and say, “There is no place like home.”  I think that you should wake up to the fact that this is not Kansas, and just kind of get with the picture and look at your life. If you don’t know that suffering exists, you had better check it out.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Devotion in the Bardo

MG-0002-JAl Rigzin Pema-L

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

Now we’ll speak about the bardo of becoming. I forgot to mention to you that I’ve had many opportunities to practice Phowa on other people, and I’ve noticed that in every case, even if the person had been something of a practitioner or had tried to meditate, or had minimal experience, in every case, if you were not there exactly at the moment of death to facilitate the person at that time, there would always be a period of about three, three and a half days where the person was unreachable. Where you could literally practice Phowa for them and it would do no good whatsoever. You cannot rouse them out of the deep slumber or death-like sleep that they have once they do not recognize that clear light. You cannot rouse them at that time. You have to wait until they come to the bardo of becoming. Then the lama will appear to them or try to reach them and guide them out of the bardo.

How well is that done? There are two situations upon which how well that works out are dependent. One of them is, of course, the qualities of the lama—whether the lama has awakened, whether the lama is capable, whether the lama has realization in their practice. That is, of course, one of the conditions. The other one is, of course, the degree to which the student or the person who has died has any connection, even if it’s only a residual connection, with devotion. If the person has no connection with the practice of devotion, if the person has never practiced devotion or has no capacity for devotion, the best of lamas will not be able to reach them in the bardo. It is not possible. They may be able to afford some blessing for them, but they will not be able to rescue them. They may be able to guide them in a better rather than less good direction, but they cannot prevent them from going through the bardo of becoming.

Generally, you have to rely on the student’s connection with devotion.If the student has a great deal of devotion, the lama will be able to appear clearly as their spiritual guide during the bardo of becoming. The lama will be recognizable. The student will have faith in the lama; they will go toward the lama without fear. The force of their devotion will propel them toward the lama. They will enter into the lama’s heart, and they will experience the wisdom that the lama has to afford them. They will be rescued from the bardo and liberated in the state of becoming. So sharpen up that devotion, you guys.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Habit of Self Concern

rubberband

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

Now if we really understood that and meditated on the suffering of beings, we wouldn’t have some of the same ideas that we have now. For instance, sometimes we think that because we’re following a spiritual path, we should be just a little self-righteous.  Don’t you think?  We look around at other people who are very materialistic, who are spending their whole lives doing things that we consider to be lower activities. And we look around at people that even society labels as being lower. We look around at prostitutes; we look at people who rob banks. Both are doing things that they’re doing for similar reasons to why  we’re doing what we’re doing. The prostitute wants money; she wants to make a better life, she or he. The bank robber wants money; they want to make a better life. They’re looking for power. Same reasons as we do, just the activity is different. Of course, we feel ever so much better, for whatever reason. But if we really understood and really meditated on the fact that all of us are in exactly the same condition, there would be no room for judgment. We would really realize the plight of humankind, and, in a greater sense, the plight of all sentient beings.

Now the Buddha’s teaching  gives us the foundation, or fundamental necessities, by which we can give rise to the bodhichitta, or the great compassion. But that’s only the foundation. And here is why: The problem with our trying very hard to awaken to compassion is our own habitual tendency. Our own habitual tendency is such that we only concentrate on our own plight. Sometimes we do empathize with others. We think, ‘Oh, gosh, that must be awful. That’s too bad. Gee, that would be awful for me.’ It’s almost like you take a rubber band and you stretch it out just far enough to see what the plight of the other person is, but then the habitual tendency comes back in and BINGO! Rubber band lets go and now we are thinking about ourselves again. And that is how it is, isn’t it? That is how it is. That is really the only way that we understand others, because we can understand how we would feel about that and we’re sure glad that it’s not happening to us. It’s kind of like that.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Cultivating Awareness

funeral

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

Another method that we are given is to think about the plight of sentient beings. We should think, for instance, that in the animal realm, some animals are whipped and beaten as beasts of burden. I saw some of that when I went to India: the bow ox that pull huge carts, literally four times their size. These are huge animals. They have a great deal of muscle and yet they were carrying so much that they could only barely move. And they were constantly whipped; and actually painted up and decorated in this terribly hot climate under terrible conditions. Think about oysters that are harvested for their meat and their pearl, that they live only for that. Some of them were born in cultivated areas, you know, cultivated oyster farms, just to be eaten for their meat and pearl. And we think about all the different animals that are completely victimized.  Think about the animals that are food for predators and are constantly being hunted and killed, that live in fear. Their main instinct is this highly inflamed and developed fear instinct, simply in order to preserve their lives. So we develop a kinship with other forms of life by understanding what their suffering is.

And then we look at the plight of human beings: How human beings are basically taught by their authority figures and parental figures and by their culture. It is dictated to them what they should do. Here in America, for instance, we are told that material values are of the utmost importance. And we spend a great deal of time in school, and then we spend a great deal of time in different kinds of preparation in order to become materially successful. And if you don’t become materialistically successful and comfortable in a certain way, you’re not considered to be an adequate human being, quite frankly. There is a problem there. You never quite feel good about yourself, and there’s an innate dissatisfaction.

For those of us who do succeed and do well in our lives, towards the end of our lives, we have a great suffering.  We realize that we’ve gone to school and we’ve practiced, and we’ve worked, and been work-a-holics and done what we thought was the right thing—supporting our families, and caring for our families and just doing the very best that we can,. Then we realize at the end of our lives we have nothing. Nothing!  All that we worked so hard for we cannot take with us. We look around us and the people to whom we gave whatever we worked for, too, also have suffering. How come it didn’t heal them?  Why didn’t the money and the cooking and the housework and everything that we gave them, why didn’t it do them any good?  They’re still crying.

We look around at our lives and we go, what was that? And we realize that the only thing that we can take with us into the bardo, the intermediate state that prepares us for our next life, is the habit patterns of our mind. And the habit pattern of our mind under those conditions is only intense grasping.

And that’s a great suffering that we human beings experience together.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Sentient “Beingness”

crowds

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

In traditional Buddhist doctrine, we are given certain methods that will be helpful in alleviating our condition of suffering. These methods are pretty cut and dry, pretty simple. For instance, if we begin to practice preliminary practice, or Ngöndro, and we examine the thoughts that turn the mind ,in those thoughts are not only the four main thoughts, but there are also many different sort of auxiliary thoughts. Some of the ideas that we are lead to examine are first of all, the idea that all sentient beings are equal,  and we are led to examine that in this way. First of all, we all contain within us the Buddha seed, our inherent Buddha nature, and the reality that, at some point, each one of us will attain to that nature and will become awake, even as the Buddha has become awake. Each of us will attain that reality. For some of us it will be relatively soon, only ten thousand lifetimes from now. Piece of cake. For some of us, it will be a lot longer. Sometimes we have to think that for some people it almost seems like it will never happen, because you’re talking about aeons of cyclic existence. But the Buddha teaches us that each one of us has that inherent reality, and therefore we are, in our nature, the Buddha.

So, in that sense, we are exactly the same. We are also the same in our sentient beingness, if you can coin a phrase with me for a little while. And in our sentient beingness, we have certain things in common: We do have the ego cherishing. We do have self absorption. We do have confusion. We do have an inability to abide spontaneously in the primordial wisdom nature. We do experience death and rebirth in some form. All sentient beings do, even if they are not in the human realm. We all experience these certain conditions; we all experience suffering. We all experience hope and fear in some way.

So the Buddha teaches us to understand that we are all very much alike. And in that situation of alikeness, we can find a certain companionship with one another, a certain understanding or empathy toward one another, so that we don’t judge as severely. If we do understand that we all are revolving in cyclic existence, and that we all have hatred, greed, and ignorance and all those things running around, self-absorption and such, then when we look at someone else with hatred, greed and ignorance, we might think, ‘Oh, that’s kind of like me. I can understand that. I can see where that happens.’ So we develop a kind of patience, a tolerance, a kindness, and it’s the fundamental step that must be taken before true compassion arises.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Qualifications for Receiving Teachings

Hermitage

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

If you’re one of those lucky people who is about to embark on a journey to either a monastery in India or a monastery in Tibet where you can study the texts and receive the teachings that we as Americans literally cannot receive because they have not been translated or they are not available in this country…  If you are one of those fortunate people that can go and do that and you will learn to practice by studying Tibetan and you will literally become a Tibetan in that environment even though you will be an American, you will completely change your life into that space. If you are able to do that, perhaps it’s not so important for you to study Phowa right now.  Of course that’s assuming that you’ll live long enough to complete all of your practices.  There are a lot of assumptions we’re counting on here, aren’t there! So at any rate, if you’re one of those people, then you may not need to practice Phowa in order to attain liberation in this lifetime.

We are also assuming that you have the karmic setup, and that you are literally wired in order to be able to achieve liberation in this lifetime, because it is also the case that there are people who can come into contact with the entire volume of what is available, every single essential pith teaching, every single possible cause for realization that we are able to come into contact with, and literally they cannot go in.  The intake button is broken. The student cannot hear it. And eventually, because they cannot hear it, they will leave Dharma.  They will go away from it.  They will have to go away from it because they cannot stand to be in that presence.  Karmically they are not prepared to be in the presence of such teaching, of such potent teaching.  They will remove themselves.  They will simply remove themselves.  That’s simply how it is.

So, all of these things being the case, it sounds reasonable and sensible, does it not, to practice Phowa in order to take advantage of the most extraordinary opportunity in order to achieve the result at a time that seems reasonable to us.  It does not seem reasonable to us to practice now for a result that may not ripen for another thousand years, our time.  Ten thousand years, our time.  We’re not motivated for that, but we can understand the positive result of practicing in order to achieve liberation in one lifetime.

Now, in order to be qualified to have these teachings, there are two things that must happen.  First of all we must establish the proper motivation, and this is something we hear about again and again and again.  How many flavors can ice cream come in?  But this proper motivation absolutely makes it possible for you to receive the teaching.  With no proper motivation, the teaching is very much like seed falling on stone.  It will not take root.  It will not blossom.  There will be no result through no fault of the seed, but through the fault of the ground on which the seed is placed.   So having the proper motivation is of the utmost importance, and for that reason I want to take some time to explain.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, our own nature is not inconsistent with the Bodhicitta or what we call the great compassion.  The Bodhicitta is actually the true nature of our mind in its emanation or display form. So you can consider that our nature is, in a nondual way, wisdom, or emptiness, and method or Bodhicitta, compassion.  These things are our nature.

The way that our language works is because of the way our dualistic thinking works.  We have to mention emptiness as being separate from method.  We have to mention wisdom as being separate from Bodhicitta because of the way our minds work—because of our internal separation, because of our delusion, our belief in the separation between self and other, between subjective and objective.  But in truth, that primordial wisdom nature which is emptiness, which is wisdom, is inseparable from that which is method, from that which is the display, Bodhicitta or compassion.  It is inseparable in the same way that, on a coin, one side is inseparable from the other.  You cannot use a coin without using both sides.  You cannot take a coin in your hand without using both sides.  These are inseparable.  They are nondual.  They are indistinguishable from one another and yet, typical of our delusion and indicative of our delusion, we make distinction between that which is in truth not distinguishable.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The House is On Fire

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

The Buddha teaches us tenderly and gently, as though we were his own children.  There’s a story about a king who had many children. He loved his children dearly, but they were children, you know, children involved with children things, bright shiny play objects and things that make them happy.  So the father left the children, hopefully in good care; he had to go off and do something in his kingdom (I think I’m telling the story right, I hope so. Om Benzar Satto Hung. So he goes away for a while and when he comes back to his house, his house is on fire. It’s a big house and his children don’t even realize it.  The children are comfortably asleep in their little children beds.  The king is outside. He can’t get to his children and he’s hollering, “Come out children. Hurry up. Get out of that burning house now. Quick wake up. Run.”  The kids, they’re not used to being in trouble.  They’re the king’s children.  They’re used to being safe; and they have that habit of being safe in their beds so they’re not worried about anything.  They hear somebody shouting, but they just turn over in their covers and go back to sleep.

The king becomes frantic. They’re his children!  So he says, “Children come out now or I’ll beat you with a stick! Come out or I’ll go in there and I’ll just beat you with a stick and knock your heads off.  So come out right now.”  And the kids go, “Oh, that’s dad.  You know, he’s not really going to beat us with a stick, because we’re the king’s kids. He’s just saying that, so we’re not too worried about it.”  And so the kids get out of their beds and they start playing with their toys. The king is making so much noise, and they’re in the back room and they’re just playing with their little toys, preoccupied, you know, the way we are, and playing with little things.  And then the king goes, “Children, I have beautiful toys for you out here.  Treasures.  Beautiful things.  I have a grand elephant for you to ride.  I have a whole herd of horses for you to enjoy.  I have beautiful umbrellas and shiny jewels and so many objects for you to come and play with.”  Naturally, the kids are attracted by that and go running out of the house. At which time the father, being part Italian goes, “Aye!”  (That would have been me.  That’s not what the father did.)  The father embraced his children and said, “Oh I’m sorry I had to lie to you.  I’m sorry I had to promise you things.  I’m sorry I had to threaten you.  But see, your house is burning.”

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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

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