The Middle Way: From a Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow by HH Penor Rinpoche

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

This leads to the third stage concerning the aspect of adjusting one’s intention [which is the first of four aspects of the preliminaries to the ritual for receiving the vow]: transcending the two extremes of samsara and enlightenment by vowing to maintain the middle way. The practice of the enlightened mind, bodhicitta, involves two levels, the aspirational and the practical. Maybe you’re thinking, “If we reject the suffering of the three realms of existence and avoid attraction to the quiescence of the hearers and solitary realizers, what is there for us to obtain?” What we are to obtain is the state of bodhisattvahood, which is dependent on bodhicitta cultivated for the sake of self and others. It is only bodhicitta that leads beings from the suffering of existence to the state of fully enlightened buddhahood. We must avoid the two extremes: the quiescence of ordinary nirvana and the endless cycle of samsara. It is only through cultivating bodhicitta that we can truly follow the middle way.

Through cultivating bodhicitta you will purify all nonvirtue accumulated in the past, present, and future, and compassion and all noble qualities, including the ability to meditate in samadhi, will blossom in your mind. As you dedicate yourself to the welfare of others, the [strength of your] vow will increase to the point where are you are truly able to help sentient beings as limitless as space. You will be able to bring limitless beings to enlightenment, until the ocean of existence is emptied. The Buddha taught that without the cultivation of the precious bodhicitta, there is no chance to achieve the state of fully enlightened buddhahood. Therefore, for the purpose of all other living beings, with great enthusiastic joy you should give rise to the precious bodhicitta and engage in the actual practice.

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: Aspects to Receiving the Vow

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

In general, dharma consists of many divisions an distinctions of spiritual teachings, while at the same time the nature of all dharma is that it has the potential to liberate beings, both temporarily and ultimately, from the suffering of cyclic existence. The main cause or seed for that [liberation] is the cultivation of bodhicitta. Various traditions exist for the bodhisattva vow ritual and training. The lineage for these particular teachings, which was passed from Nargarjuna to Shantideva, is known as the tradition of the Middle Way as well as the lineage of the bodhisattvas.

There are four aspects related to receiving the bodhisattva vow: receiving the vow itself, ensuring the vow does not degenerate, repairing the vow if it is damaged, and methods for continuing to cultivate and maintain the vow.

The first aspect of receiving the vow itself has three aspects: the individual from whom one receives the vow, oneself as a qualified recipient, and the ritual for receiving the vow.

First, the individual from whom one receives the vow must have strong faith in the Mahayana vehicle and must be a true upholder of the vow. He or she must be someone within whom the vow abides and should also be someone who is very learned concerning the vehicles, particularly concerning bodhisattva training. Such a person must never abandon bodhicitta and must always keep the vows pure, even at the cost of his or her own life. That individual must also be a practitioner of the six paramitas of generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and prajna, and must never engage in any activity that contradicts them.

According to the tradition of Nagarjuna, the way to receive the vow for the first time is from a spiritual guide. Later, if an individual’s vows degenerate, and if a spiritual guide is then absent, the person can restore the vows in the presence of an image of the buddha. It is not necessary that they be restored in the presence of a spiritual guide.

The second aspect for receiving the vow itself concerns the individual who qualifies to receive it.

According to the tradition of Nagarjuna, all sentient beings who desire to receive the bodhisattva vow qualify to receive it. The only exception is types of gods in the formless realm, called gods devoid of recognition, which are gods that lack cognitive abilities. With this one exception, basically all sentient beings qualify to receive the vow. But those who qualify in particular are those who have supreme knowledge, which refers to those who know what the bodhisattva vow is and what the benefits of receiving and maintaining it are. Such individuals are particularly worthy recipients because they have profound compassion and are able to use that compassion to bring both temporal and ultimate benefit to other beings. In short, any individual who has an altruistic attitude and wishes to take the bodhisattva vow qualifies to receive it.

The ritual [which is the third aspect of receiving the vow itself] also has three parts: the preliminaries, the actual ritual, and the concluding dedication. The preliminaries have four parts: adjusting one’s own intention, supplicating the objects that confer the vow, taking the support of refuge, and practicing the method for accumulating merit.

 

How Keeping Commitments Fuels the Path

The following is an excerpt from a teaching given by Khenpo Tenzin Norgay at Kunzang Palyul Choling. In this excerpt Khenpo Norgay discusses how rare the opportunity to practice is, and how holding the vows assists practitioners in accomplishing both their own benefit and the benefit of others:

 

The Soothing Balm of Virtue

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

To cultivate a joyful mind, we should cultivate virtuous habits. We are happiest when we are busy creating merit.  We don’t realize this because the words are so dry.  We think cocktail. I like that word!  Merit? Ugh.  Happy Hour?  That sounds good!  Practice? Ugh.  That’s our ordinary thinking that we have to dispel because it’s wrong.  It’s wrong. Cocktail means ‘poison’.  It means drunk.  It means alcoholic.  It’s never been good for you and it never will be.  It’s an unfortunate addition to your body, when you can do without. Merit, on the other hand… To practice merit and joyfully meritorious behavior, to soothe the mind rather than constantly inflame it with all your manic stuff, and to be a stimulation junky…  That’s what we are.  Stimulation junkies.  It’s like psychological sugar.  We can’t get enough of it.  “Gimme something! Anything!”  That how we are psychologically.  And yet the mind is happiest when it’s relaxed, quietly joyful, mellowed out, thinking of the benefit of others, not absorbed in what I don’t have, what I want or what I think I got to get!

It turns out that what the Buddha said is true.  The life of meditation and mysticism and loving regard for others—a life of service,  a life planned to benefit others, a life in Dharma, Dharma so alive and so much a part of one’s mind that it is moist and sweet from the holy breath of the Dakinis… That is a life of joyfulness.

In a relaxed mind, colors are brighter. Did you know that? People who are locked in to their own personal phenomena, their own personal crazy phenomena, can’t see colors well.  They think they can.  They look and say, “Oh, I see red, you see red.  What’s the difference?”  But one red is different than the other.  A peaceful mind can smell better.  All the senses are purified and more alive, even though, because we are not yet enlightened they may still do the work of duality. Yet slowly slowly, we are training them in our practice.  And so the mind becomes more relaxed.  The mind becomes actually sensitized to quiet luminous joy—a state of restful luminosity that could be described as the very dance of bliss.  This is the relaxed mind, the virtuous mind.

Yet we cultivate these habits that keep us raw and inflamed.  I look at the expression on people’s faces. They’re all scrunched up because of all that inflammation, all that horrible feeling. When we suffer we say, “I feel so raw”.  No kidding.   That self-absorption, that constant selfishness and non-virtue and inflammation… It would be like taking Brillo and just constantly rubbing it on one’s skin.

And yet the joyful virtuous mind actually is more like putting a soothing balm on this same skin and allowing it to heal.  This is the reason for happiness.  This is the way for happiness.  This is the method for happiness.  Each and every one of us experiences unhappiness due to our previous non-virtuous habits.  When we switch tracks, we begin to pave the way and to move on the journey towards personal happiness, happiness for all beings which is our highest priority, and towards making the world a better place, literally.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

As Many Paths…

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

Society will teach you wrongly until it understands your nature.  The Buddha is the perfect teacher—the perfect one because he so thoroughly understood our nature.  It is said that when a student came to him for the first time, and said, “I would like to become Buddhist,” or “I would like to take teaching with you,” he could see in an instant all the causes and conditions that brought that student to that moment where he faced the Buddha.  He could see every cause and condition and could give each and every student the antidote necessary to provide the blessings for enlightenment.

That being the case, we can trust in the Buddha’s teaching.  He doesn’t say, “You’re a bag of chemicals.  Now you’re breathing. So good, go get a job. Make yourself happy. Have a chicken in your pot, or a pot with some chicken”.  I don’t know…” Have a drink on Friday nights.”—whatever it is that makes people happy.  He doesn’t say, “Follow in your culture.” He tears the veil apart and he says, “Based on your nature, this is what must be done.  Based on your path, this is what must be done.”  And there are as many methods in the Buddhadharma as there are sentient beings to follow them.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

Even Small Kindnesses Matter

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo given at Palyul Ling Retreat 2012:

One way that I teach people is online.  I have a Twitter account and many times we just tweet.  Do you know what Twitter is?  Some of you do?  Maybe?  Ok.  So what we do is we teach them Om Mani Pedme Hung, and then show them how the letters look in Tibetan and have them see blessing mantras so that they will, you know, experience liberation through seeing.  They will receive the blessing of that because these people will never ever practice Dharma.  So should we throw them out?  No, of course not.  People like urban people.  People in countries that probably have never even heard of Dharma.  Inner city people.  Outer city people.  People down the bible belt in the middle of the country.  All of them.  All of them hear a little bit of the Dharma and the kindness that it shows and they want to learn.  They want to learn.  So I do the best that I can to teach them online. We make films, and sort of document some small teachings.  Nothing very deep because that would require another kind of opportunity, but we are able to teach them just so that there is a blessing in being human.  So that as human beings there will be some use, that they have the capacity to think and to understand.

Of course I love animals.  We all know that, but animals cannot learn the Dharma.  As much as I would love to see my animals achieve liberation, that will never happen through practicing Dharma.  If I practice and I dedicate, maybe that’s something.  If you practice and you dedicate, maybe that’s something.  But still they cannot practice.  They don’t have that part of the brain that can make them practice, but they can hear mantra and receive the blessing.  We even tell people, “Say this blessing to your animals as they die.  Om Ami Dewa Hri.”  Of course you all know that , but that’s a revelation to someone who has never heard Dharma before, or to someone who didn’t know there was some way that they could help their little dogs and their cats as they die.  And their little birds and so forth.  They didn’t know that there was any real way to do that.  So we’ve told them that if they are coming close to death, if death is coming, at this time you should say in their ears, “Om Ami Dewa Hri.”  And we even put up recordings of how it sounds so that they can recite it correctly.   They will get the closest thing possible to a lung.  It’s not the same, but it’s the best we can do.

I’m not proud.  If anything I’m shy and I’m not proud.  One thing that I feel is if what you can do is a small thing, you should do it.  If all you can do is give a little bit, you should give it.  If all you can do is say, “Well, my dog can’t have any blessing,” and you give nothing, that’s not so good.  But instead, why not do for them what you can do for them?  They can hear the sound of mantra.  They can see the letters.  They don’t cognize them.  They can’t understand what it means, but they can see it.  They can see images.

I have made an Amitabha recording of singing the mantra so that it can be played for people who are dying or who have just died.,so the Amitabha mantra will be in their ears as they are dying.  These are all the things that I know how to do.  They are very simple, but these are not people who will ever come here.  And their pets—they will never come here.  How can they receive a blessing if we don’t reach out and make it possible?

I’m very interested in R&B music and hip hop.  Sorry.  If that disappoints you, I’m really sorry.  But I’m interested in that kind of music.  I’ll be honest with you and say that.  And what I’ve noticed is that when I reach out—I have 65,000 followers, no 68,000 followers—and when they contact me and ask me, “What is the answer to this question?”  You know.  “You said this. Does that mean that or does that mean this?”  And these are people that have never heard of Dharma before, just know nothing about it.  And then they want to know.  And I recommend books for themand that sort of thing.  We send out pictures of stupas, all the stupas that I’ve built so that they’ll have that contact of being able to see. So I’m proud of that.  I’m happy about that.  And I think that even as we get to the higher levels of teachings, we should never ever think that it’s inappropriate to lower oneself to do simple goodness for all beings.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Birth and Generation Stage Practice

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

Should we pass through the bardo where we meet the wrathful deities, and still we have not been liberated, we have not exited, then we will continue on in the bardo. Here is a very interesting thing I want to tie together with all of you at this time. You may have noticed that in practicing Vajrayana there are certain patterns that appear again and again and again. And those patterns are that in generation stage teaching, again, as I explained to you yesterday, by seeing oneself the way we see ourselves now but lightly and in an illusory way, we sort of lighten up on the way we see ourselves.  We do that by dissolving self nature into shunyata, and meditating temporarily, realizing that self nature and emptiness are indistinguishable from one another. We practice meditating on emptiness. This is before we accomplish generation stage practice. Then there is the reemergence or the reappearance. Birth. The dissolution into emptiness is the disappearance or death, the ordinary death. The disappearance of the physical self when you are beginning to practice generation stage teachings is the same as and fits in with the pattern of death. That is, ordinary death. Do you see what I am saying?

The meditation on emptiness is the dissolving of all of the elements; and the meditation on the black or clear path, or the appearance of the primordial wisdom nature as it happens in the bardo is, in generation stage practice, practiced by the meditation on shunyata. Then the reappearance, which is the reappearance as self nature or reappearance as the deity, often reappearing as the seed syllable first and then reappearing as the deity itself is rebirth. Literally, when we are practicing generation stage teaching we are practicing how to die and be reborn—how to die as ordinary and be reborn as supreme or extraordinary or enlightened. As the miraculous rebirth. This is what we are practicing; and that is the logic of Vajrayana practice and of generation stage teaching.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

How to Use Humiliation on the Path: Commentary by H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

The following is respectfully quoted from “The Heart of Compassion” by His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche:

ii. How to use humiliation on the path

The next section considers how we may deal with receiving humiliation in return for kindness.

17.

Even if my peers or my inferiors
Out of pride do all they can to debase me,
To respectfully consider them like my teachers
On the crown of my head is the practice of a bodhisattva. 

Someone with your own ability or status, or an inferior without any good qualities, might–despite being treated politely and considerately by you–criticize you contemptuously out of pure conceit and arrogance, and try to humiliate you in various ways. When such things happen, do not be angry or upset, or feel badly treated.

Instead, see and respect such people as kind teachers showing you the path to liberation. Pray that you may be able to do them as much good as possible. Whatever happens, do not wish for a moment to take your revenge. The capacity to patiently bear scorn and injury from those who lack your education, strength and skill is particularly admirable. To remain humble when patiently bearing insults is a very effective way of countering your ingrained tendency to be interested only in your own happiness and pleasure.

Never be proud, but instead take the most humble position and regard everyone as being above you, as though you were carrying them on your head. It is said, “Carrying all beings above one’s head is the torch and banner of the bodhisattvas.”

The great teacher Drom Tönpa Gyalwai Jugne would circumambulate even a dog on the side of the road, in recognition of the buddha nature that, like all beings, it possessed.

Our Predicament

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Mixing the Mind with the Guru” 

What I would like to talk about in the adult portion of our teaching is the particular situation, the predicament actually, that sentient beings find themselves in. Sentient beings are in a situation that is something of a struggle, in that for sentient beings often they have problems and not much understanding in the way of being able to solve their problems because they do not understand how their problems have arisen. They do not understand that they must apply an antidote. And often in their efforts to alleviate their own suffering, they perpetuate their problems. So I’d like to explain something of the Buddhist idea as to how that actually comes about. The Buddhist idea as to how our suffering comes about may differ somewhat from what we ordinarily consider the sources and reasons of our problems; and certainly I would think that the Buddhist idea of how to solve the problem will differ from what we have been taught in our society. So I hope that you will listen patiently and really give it a shot, give it a chance. Give it an opportunity to settle into your mind. What I will try to explain, then, is the format or the backbone of some Buddhist ideas.

According to the way we ordinarily view things, we feel or perceive ourselves to be a real and solid object stuck kind of in the center of an environment; and we feel ourselves to be interacting with our environment. From our perspective, it seems as though, from what our parents told us, one fine day we were born. We don’t actually remember that, but we’ve been told that that’s the case; and some of us have birth certificates and pictures to prove it. It seems as though we appeared within this environment. We were born, and from that point on, it seems as though circumstances have acted upon us to cause us to form in a certain way. That is a very popular idea. It is the idea of the day. Whenever one wishes to go into some kind of deeper study, or deeper awareness according to the potential and fad, actually, of our society, generally if we are not deeply religious people, even if we are moderately religious people, we will be guided into an understanding of the psychological makeup of an individual and how it interacts with its environment. And expecting the fact that the individual is what it seems to be exactly, no more, no less, we will begin to study what seems to be the cause and effect relationships between an individual and its environment.

For instance, we have the idea that if we grow up with kindness that probably we will be more healthy psychologically, that we will be more stable. And we have the idea that if we grow up with suffering, such as deprivation or even abuse, that we will be not kind, really, not caring and very insecure and very unhappy people. The idea is that if one grows up with abuse and neglect that one will certainly give abuse and neglect to others. We have the idea that if we grow up with poverty that we will grow up with characteristics that are natural to the impoverished person, whatever those characteristics are thought to be. But there are certain expectant results that we have from the way that we grow up. And actually people in our society spend, comparatively speaking, a fair amount of time looking at the way that they interact with their environment, looking at the characteristics that they have, the qualities that they have, and actually trying to trace them back to things that happened in their early childhood. These are things that we are taught to do. And this is the fashion, actually, of our time in this particular cultural environment.

Buddhist philosophy differs from that greatly, actually. The reason why Buddhist philosophy differs so much is that there are certain foundational expectancies that I’ve just listed that are so ordinary, so normal in our society that we wouldn’t even think to question them. For instance, we would not think to question that our experience begins at the time of our birth; and we would not think to question that our experience is completely controlled by the input of our environment and our parents. We would never think to question that. While we might accept the idea that we have come into this life with certain genetic predisposition, we don’t really understand that genetic predisposition. We think of it as kind of a chemical thing. And yet, even though we have this certain genetic predisposition, we think that for the most part our habitual tendencies, our ideas, our qualities have more to do with the way that we respond to the catalysts that are contained within our early life. That’s how we think.

The Buddha thinks differently about all of that. The philosophy that’s presented is actually quite different in that the Buddha teaches us that this is not the first incarnation or birth that we have ever taken; that as sentient beings we have been involved in a great many birth and death experiences; that we are actually locked into what is called cyclic existence or samsara, which is a cyclic death and rebirth experience. We are actually taught that this birth and death process has taken place many times. In fact, if you are a human and you can even hear the word Buddha, or can hear the teaching that will bring you closer to enlightenment in any way, shape, manner or form, then that should be considered proof that you have lived many times, because it takes many lifetimes of accumulated virtue and merit in order for you to be in this position. One does not happen to be in the position just because in the same way that apples happen to fall from trees. One has to have accumulated a great deal of virtue and merit in order to be in the position of even considering to practice the path of enlightenment. So you’ve had to have had a lot of experience as a sentient being. Oh, it doesn’t mean that you’re at the point where your future is assured. It doesn’t mean that you’re in such good shape that you really don’t have worry about it. It doesn’t mean that it’s downhill from here. It means that you still have a lot to do, because until we achieve enlightenment, actually, we really aren’t safe. We are still sentient beings and we are still revolving in cyclic existence; and we still have the same conditions and situations associated with being a sentient being. But the Buddha teaches us that we must have lived many lifetimes before.

So when we come into this life, we are actually an appearance, or a re-birth, of one who has with them a whole conglomeration of cause and effect relationships already instituted—already begun, already in action, already arising. Some in seed form and some arising in a very obvious and blatant way. If a sentient being has revolved in cyclic existence for some time, they have accumulated many habitual tendencies. They have begun many different causes and experienced many different effects. For some great long time, they have assumed that self-nature, their own self-nature as well as the nature of all phenomena is inherently real, and they, for a very long time, acted accordingly. According to Buddhist philosophy, that continuation, that stream of continuing assumption can be called a mindstream. A continued push, a movement of dynamic occurrence, all of which is based on the assumption of self-nature as being inherently real and the constant need to hold to self-nature and to define it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Mixing the Mind with the Guru

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Guru is Your Diamond”

Guru Yoga can always be depended on to reestablish and continue the blessing. I promise you, if we call out to the guru with full heart, with determination and with fervent regard and recognition, the guru will respond, whether it’s in the way that you would like which is ‘Hi! I’m here for lunch,’ or whatever. It may not be that way. It may be something quite different; and sometimes it’s not something that feels good right away. One of my favorite students works herself to death and forgets to practice sometimes, and then periodically does things like break her back or, you know, injure herself in some way. And then she practices and amazing things happen. I wish she wouldn’t do it that way, but she does. You know who I’m talking about, out in Sedona. I have other students that kind of orchestrate separation and return in order for that feeling of return. But I wish they wouldn’t do that, because that feeling of separation often comes with some cause and effect relationship. And again if it were my diamond, I’d be shining it up all the time. I’d be collecting that interest all the time.

We use Guru Yoga that way to create the causes for continuation on the Path. The teacher should never be frightening. The teacher is your friend, your friend who will take your hand and walk you, lifetime after lifetime, even when you stumble and you fall. Something will arise through the devotion that you practice in this lifetime to protect you even in your next life. Eventually we come to the place where we see everything as the blessing of the guru. Everything. Sometimes we feel some confusion, and maybe even confusion for a long time, but you know that that guru would not let you down. You know that. And so you count on that, even the confusion, to be a blessing. Eventually because of that devotion, the confusion will clear and the guru will appear again like an underground spring coming once again to the surface.

Guru Yoga is the most potent of all practices and it’s the most simple. One can practice Guru Yoga simply by visualizing the guru above the crown of one’s head and making offerings in a visualization way, and then receiving the blessing, real quick. The white blessing from the guru’s body to your body, and it does come in the head, white to white; the red blessing from the guru’s speech, from the throat to your throat; the blue blessing from the guru’s mind, which is the heart, from his heart to your heart (or her heart). And you can receive that blessing constantly. It’s free. It’s yours. You can receive it periodically. You can receive it every morning, every night—whatever you want, as much as you want. That’s the beauty of Guru Yoga. You should think that the guru is like your constant companion. Not in a creepy way. I don’t want you guys looking in my window, But in a wholesome way, where we understand that this nature is freely given, like method that one can use. It is indistinguishable from the ground which is full Enlightenment, the method which is Dharma, and the result which is the completion or accomplishment of the precious awakened state.

So we understand the guru is the ground, the guru is the method, the guru is the result. We begin to mix, through the devotion, through calling out our own nature, our own mind, our own qualities, willingly with that of the guru; and over time, that blessing mixes like milk with water and we understand that, indeed, Lord Buddha resides in us all. We understand that indeed each one of us is some uncontrived beginningless and endless and yet fundamentally complete luminous nature,  some state of awakened and yet uncontrived view. That we are that in our nature. And our job in this lifetime is to use the blessings of our gurus, to use their accomplishment, their qualities, their methods; to listen carefully and accordingly accomplish awakening to that, awakening to that nature. It’s the swift way. It’s the rocket ship. It’s powered because it’s like lighting something at both ends. You’re not thinking, ‘Oh I have to go there.’  We are thinking, ‘This is like a mirror and a mirror,’  inseparable in their nature.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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