The Most Important Practice

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

The traditional fundamental ideas of all sentient beings as being equal—the realization that all sentient beings are suffering equally, that it is unacceptable to see their suffering, that all sentient beings are interrelated with us—these fundamental thoughts are really important. But go on from that and practice the mechanics of changing habitual tendency. It is not enough to be theoretical. The biggest fault that I find in Buddhist practitioners is that they keep it academic. I do not myself like academic Buddhist students. I would rather you knew nothing about the academics of practice and a heck of a lot about changing the habitual tendency of self-absorption through a real practice. Because academics is not going to get you anywhere but between your ears. On the other hand, giving rise to the bodhicitta and pure view and changing habitual tendencies will lead to profound realization, to the perfect awakening. Not only that, but it will lead to a better world.

So for my money, I feel like the best thing you can do is to begin to practice in a small and simple way. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to do that either. And you don’t have to be a high falutin’ practitioner to do that either. You don’t have to wear the robes, or walk the walk or dance the dance or talk the talk, or even have a nifty mala which seems to be the highest priority when we first become a Buddhist. Big deal! The highest priority should be loving kindness and you should begin in whatever small way that you can, making no conclusions, other than the fact that you have a pattern and that you can change it. Remember the idea of the scales. That’s really important. Remember the idea of applying the method today. Now. Remember the idea of confession and restitution immediately after any breakage. How potent. What an incredibly potent way to live! Can you imagine living without the burden of guilt or the burden of the false assumption that you are a bad person?  You’d have so much spare time on your hands. You wouldn’t know what to do. Because all the things you do to prove yourself you wouldn’t have to do anymore. Isn’t that true?

Do yourself a favor. Live simply in that way. It’s the best and highest practice. In the Vajrayana tradition we are given many things that we can do. We practice Ngöndro, preliminary practice. We meditate on the Thoughts that Turn the Mind.We practice generational stage practice, completion stage practice. We visualize ourselves as the meditational deity and pronounce mantra. All of those things are meant to put more in this pile. The most important practice is that of loving kindness, that of viewing others as equal. Don’t view them as worse than you, no matter what they look like and that way there won’t be anybody better than you.  All of this has been taught by the Buddha and is absolutely true.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Compassion as Antidote

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

There’s a funny thing about the human mind that we don’t realize. Do you know how in your mind you think you’re concentrating on a million things at once? Some of you can chew gum, watch TV, listen to the radio and write in a book at the same time. I’ve seen people do this. It’s amazing. I have a son, oh, my god, you can’t believe this son. It looks like he can watch TV, listen to the radio, talk and really carry on a conversation, dance while he’s talking, and if he knew how to fry an egg, he could probably do that at the same time. I mean, talk about a Mongolian juggler. Each of us feels likewe can do so many things at one time; but what we don’t realize about the human mind is that’s not true. It can only do one thing at a time. But what happens is that we do these things in such rapid succession, that if we think about ten things at once, it feels like what is actually happening is that we are thinking about this, switch to this, switch to this, switch to this, very quickly; and our minds actually become inflamed and agitated with the switching from one picture to the other. That’s why it becomes valuable and precious to meditate on bodhicitta and to practice bodhicitta. Because while you are practicing bodhicitta, putting your mind in this pile, while you are doing that, no matter how simplistic it is, even if it’s just opening the door for somebody, while you’re doing that, you aren’t doing the other thing. And the great thing about the human continuum is that if you aren’t continuing it, it doesn’t continue.

The funny thing about continuum is that it loses its definition, its essence, if it’s not being continued. So we are taught to practice kindness and to begin where we can and to increase it moment by moment. Because while you are doing that, you can’t be doing the other. But believe me, when you are not doing that, you are doing the other. You are doing the other. So the bodhicitta becomes now not a great mystical attribute that we all hope we are going to get, it becomes a remedy. It becomes a method. It becomes an antidote. And you should see compassion as an antidote. There is no excuse, none, for you not to start right now. And you can’t get into what is kind of like the diet syndrome with bodhicitta. I don’t know how many of you have actually been on a diet, but if you’re on a diet, you’re like this: You go through, ok, a thousand calories a day. So you’re making your little chart and you’re eating your boiled egg or whatever it is, celery and ice or, whatever horrible thing they are making you eat. And then at one point during the day, you just can’t stand it and you go back to the old habit and think, ‘Ok, I’ve eaten celery all day, now I’m going to eat a piece of chocolate cake.’ What happens in our minds is that we think, ‘Now I’m off my diet. And it doesn’t matter.’ Well, you can’t have that kind of diet mentality with your bodhicitta. For instance, if you practice bodhicitta for a good period of time and suddenly you blow it, not only blow it, blow it big time, you know, I mean, big time, you really blow it, then you think, ‘I’m not a compassionate person. I’m not good, I’m bad. It’s gone for today. I’ll try maybe next week sometime. I’m hopeless. I’m helpless. I’ve blown my bodhicitta diet.’ You begin to form all these exaggerated conclusions based on what has just happened.

If you could approach yourself in a relaxed way, moment by moment, and you did practice bodhicitta for a certain period of time, then when you really, really blow it, there would be no inner tension to prevent you from simply going back to the bodhicitta. What you’ve done is expressed both of your habits, your new one, which is difficult, and your old one, which is easy and you can fall into it any time you don’t practice your new one. It doesn’t mean anything. It only means that you’re expressing both habits and at every given moment you have a choice. You can practice bodhicitta the very next moment right after you’ve blown it. And you should, because the best way to prevent blowing it again is to climb right back on that horse and make restitution. That’s the best way, to get right back on it. If you don’t’ do that, you carry a tremendous burden as a spiritual person, the burden of hypocrisy. You feel like a hypocrite. You feel like you’ve really messed up. You have this idea that you’ve been kind and then this monster in you comes out and then you’re faking it again. You can’t think like that. You can’t think in terms of good and bad, high or low. Think in terms of habitual tendency. Give yourself a break. You have both. Accept it now. Accept it now. And this way, no matter what happens, you’re not going to have to think something vile about yourself. And you have the freedom to make a choice at any moment.

My recommendation is that should you begin to practice bodhicitta and find it extremely difficult, do not form conclusions about it. Only continue. The only conclusion you should form really is the one that I’m giving you: That’s my habit. I understand that about myself. I accept. And I accept that I can change it, little by little. And it’s hard. It’s all right if it’s hard. One day at a time, you know?

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Habit of Love

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

Basically what we have to do is, day by day in a gradual way, reinforce, develop and make larger the habit of loving. It is so mechanical,. You wouldn’t believe how mechanical it is. It’s like this: This hand is self absorption, listing severely to the right. Little by little, it, gets heavier on the other hand, the loving side. At some point,…  And who knows when that day will be? It’s not for you to judge. It’s not for you to know. Not for you to even care about. At some point, the balance will go in the loving direction  and you will really give rise to the bodhichitta. And there will be a time when the loving habit that you develop so outweighs anything else that there is a funny, magical thing that happens. The self absorption becomes invisible.

You won’t believe that in the beginning, especially when you first start trying the habit of true compassion, because it just seems as though the weight of self absorption keeps pulling you back and it just seems overwhelming. But you have to remember: It’s kind of like a rubber band, it’s kind of like a rubber band. It’s so hard, and the agony of feeling yourself go back to that same posture is going to be very difficult at first. But never mind, never mind. Keep putting more and more in the habit of loving kindness. You are going to break it eventually. It has to happen. It’s kind of like a spiritual law of physics, if you can imagine such a thing. Eventually one will outweigh the other. It’s just like that.

In fact, if you would spend a lot less time evaluating yourself and judging yourself and a lot more time just putting pebbles in that loving pile, you’d feel a lot better. In fact, if you take your eyes off  this self-absorption pile entirely, and move towards the loving  pile, you’d feel better still. It’s almost that once you begin to gather some weight in the area of proper virtuous habitual tendency, by magic, this thing starts to disappear. You’re not looking at it anymore.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Bit by Bit: Cultivating Compassion

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

We have been revolving in cyclic existence for literally aeons and all during that time, in some form or another, we have conceived the idea of self-nature. Our habit, then, is to hold the idea of self-nature as being very, very solid and very, very real. Our habit, absolutely from the get-go, is to distinguish between self and other. Our habit is to react toward other with hope and fear. Our habit is to think in that relative sense and that comparative sense.  There is no compassion in any of that, and it’s not going to happen.

In order to truly develop compassion, we have to first get the idea and really take to heart the idea that the only thing blocking us from giving rise to the great bodhicitta, or great compassionate activity, is our habitual tendency. So no matter what we feel, if we have the stupid idea that we are good or bad (or whatever our ideas are about life if you have them), set them aside for a moment, and address the singularly important fact that you simply don’t have the habit of truly empathizing and having compassion for the condition of other sentient beings in any consistent and real sense. It’s a question of habit and not a question of good or bad. Are you able to feel compassion?  Many students have come to me and said, ‘Well, I love the idea of compassion. I think it’s wonderful. I hope you are good at it. I hope you continue to teach it to others. But I just don’t really feel compassion for other people.  So I don’t think I can be a Mahayana Buddhist.’ And, really, I cannot count on all of your fingers how many times it has happened to me that a person has said, ‘I love it, but it won’t work for me. I just don’t have any compassion.’

You can’t hide out in that any longer. That’s not a valid excuse, because the fact of the matter is that we are all in the same condition. No one here truly has the habit of compassion. Well, we have a little. Every now and then a jigger of compassion gets mixed into the cocktail of life. (Pretty cute, huh?)  But in truth, we have very little. If we had a great deal of compassion, our whole lives would be given over to benefiting others. There would never be another choice. There would never be another choice. Everything that we do would come out as benefit to others. It would be like magic. You wouldn’t even have to think about it if you had really given rise to the bodhicitta and broken the habit of self-absorption. There would never be another option.

But that’s not the case for sentient beings. We are all in the same condition. So what we have to do is stop waiting to feel compassion, because you are always going to paint yourself into a corner with that one. You are never going to be satisfied with what you are feeling. Until enlightenment, we are never going to be satisfied with anything. So you can’t hide out in that excuse. You simply have to develop a new habit. Sometimes when you are developing that new habit, it can look like this: OK, it doesn’t so much matter what I want here. There are other people that want things in this room, and I’m going to give it up. It can look like that at first. That doesn’t mean that you’re not doing a good job; and it doesn’t mean that you are wrong. It doesn’t mean that you’re bad, and it doesn’t mean that you are a martyr either. It doesn’t mean that you are making an extremely valiant effort and should be rewarded. It doesn’t mean anything. It only means that you are developing a new habit, bit by bit.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Animal Realm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Meditation on Impartiality: Patrul Rinpoche

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The following is respectfully quoted from “The Words of My Perfect Teacher” by Patrul Rinpoche

1. Meditation on impartiality

Impartiality (tang nyom in Tibetan) means giving up (tang) our hatred for enemies and infatuation with friends, and having an even-minded (nyom) attitude towards all beings, free of attachment to those close to us and aversion for those who are distant.

As things are now, we are very attached to those we think of as part of our own group–father and mother, relatives and so on–while we feel an intolerable aversion towards our enemies and those associated with them. This is a mistake, and comes from a lack of investigation.

In former lives, those whom we now consider our enemies have surely been close to us, ever lovingly at our side, looking after us with goodwill and giving us unimaginable help and support. Conversely, many of those whom we now call friends have certainly been against us and done us harm. As we saw in the chapter on impermanence, this is illustrated by the words of the sublime Kātyāyana:

He eats his father’s flesh, beats his mother off,
He dandles on his lap his own unfortunate enemy;
The wife is gnawing at her husband’s bones.
I laugh to see what happens in samsāra’s show!

Another example is the story of Princess Pema Sel, daughter of the Dharma King Trisong Detsen. When she died at the age of seventeen, her father went to ask Guru Rinpoche how such a thing could happen.

“I would have thought that my daughter must have been someone with pure past actions,” said the king. “She was born as the daughter of King Trisong Detsun. She met all of you translators and pandits, who are like real Buddhas. So how can it be that her life was nevertheless so short?”

“It was not at all because of any pure past deeds that the princess was born as your daughter,” the Master replied. “Once I, Padma, you, the great Dharma King, and the great Bodhisattva Abbot had been born as three low-caste boys. We were building the Great Stūpa of Jarung Khashor. At that time the princess had taken birth as an insect, which stung you on the neck. Brushing off with your hand, you accidentally killed it. Because of the debt you incurred in taking that life, the insect was reborn as your daughter.”

If even the children of Dharma King Trisong Detsun, who was Mañjuśrī in person, could be born to him in that way as a result of his past actions, what can one say about other beings?

At present we are closely linked with our parents and children. We feel great affection for them and have incredible aspirations for them. When they suffer, or anything undesirable happens to them, we are more upset than we would be if such things had happened to us personally. All this is simply the repayment of debts for the harm we have done each other in past lives.

Of all the people who are now our enemies, there is not one who has not been our father or mother in the course of all our previous lives. Even now, the fact that we consider them to be against us does not necessarily mean that they are actually doing us any harm. There are some we think of as opponents who, from their side, do not see us in that way at all. Others might feel that they are our enemies but are quite incapable of doing us any real harm. There are also people who at the moment seem to be harming us, but in the long term what they are doing to us might bring us recognition and appreciation in this life, or make us turn to the Dharma and thus bring us much benefit and happiness. yet others, if we can skillfully adapt to their characters and win them over with gentle words until we reach some agreement, might quite easily turn into friends.

On the other hand there are all those whom we normally consider closest to us–our children, for example. But there are sons and daughters who have cheated or even murdered their parents, and join forces with them to quarrel with their own family and plunder their wealth. Even we we get along well with those who are dear to us, their sorrows and problems actually affect us even more strongly than our own difficulties. In order to help our friends, our children and other relatives, we pile up great waves of negative actions which will sweep us into the hells in our next life. When we really want to practise the Dharma properly they hold us back. Unable to give up our obsession with parents, children, and family, we keep putting off Dharma practice until later, and so never find the time for it. In short, such people may harm us even more than our enemies.

What is more, there is no guarantee that those we consider adversaries today will not be our children in future lives, or that our purest friends will not be reborn as our enemies, and so on. It is only because we take these fleeing perceptions of “friend” and “enemy” as real that we accumulate negative actions through attachment and hatred. Why do we hold on to this millstone which will drag us down into the lower realms?

Make a firm decision, therefore, to see all infinite beings as your own parents and children. Then, like the great beings of the past whose lives we can read about, consider all friends and enemies as the same.

First, towards all those you do not like at all–those who arouse anger and hatred in you–train your mind by various means so that the anger and hatred you feel no longer arise. Think of them as you would of someone neutral, who does you neither good nor harm. Then reflect that the innumerable beings to whom you feel neutral have been your father or mother sometime during your past lives throughout time without beginning. Meditate on this theme, training yourself until you feel the same love for them you do for your present parents. Finally, meditate until you feel the same compassion towards all beings–whether you see them as friends, enemies or in between–as you do for your own parents.

Now, it is no substitute for boundless impartiality just to think of everybody, friends, enemies, as the same, without any particular feeling of compassion, hatred or whatever. This is mindless impartiality, and brings neither harm nor benefit. The image given for truly boundless impartiality is a banquet given by a great sage. When the great sages of old offered feasts they would invite everyone, high or low, powerful or weak, good or bad, exceptional or ordinary, without making any distinction whatsoever. Likewise, our attitude toward all beings throughout space should be a vast feeling of compassion, encompassing them all equally. Train your mind until you reach such a state of boundless impartiality.

2. Meditation on love

Through meditating on boundless impartiality as described, you come to regard all beings of the three worlds with the same great love. The love that you feel for all fo them should be like that of parents taking care of their young children. They ignore all their children’s ingratitude and all the difficulties involved, devoting their every thought, word and deed entirely to making their little ones happy, comfortable and cosy. Likewise, in this life and in all your future lives, devote everything you do, say or think to the well-being and happiness of all beings.

Al those beings are striving for happiness and comfort. They all want to be happy and comfortable; not one of them wants to be unhappy or to suffer. Yet they do not understand that the cause of happiness is positive actions, and instead give themselves over to the ten negative actions. Their deepest wishes and their actions are therefore at odds: in their attempts to find happiness, they only bring suffering upon themselves.

Over and over again, meditate on the thought of how wonderful it would be if each one of those beings could have all the happiness and comfort they wish. Meditate on it until you want others to be happy just as intensely as you want to be happy yourself.

The sūtras speak of “loving actions of body, loving actions of speech, loving actions of mind.” What this means is that everything you say with your mouth or do with your hands, instead of being harmful to others, should be straightforward and kind. As it says in The way of the Bodhisattva:

Whenever catching sight of others
Look on them with open, loving heart.

Even when you simply look at someone else, let that look be smiling and pleasant rather than an aggressive glare or some expression of anger. There are stories about this, like the one about the powerful ruler who glared at everyone with a very wrathful look. It is said that he was reborn as a preta living on left-overs under the stove of a house, and after that, because he had also looked at a holy being in that way, he was reborn in hell.

Whatever actions you do with your body, try to do them gently and pleasantly, endeavoring not to harm others but to help them. Your speech should not express such attitudes as contempt, criticism or jealousy. Make every single word you say pleasant and true. As for your mental attitude, when you help others do not wish for anything good in return. Do not be a hypocrite and try to make other people see you as a Bodhisattva because of your kind words and actions. Siply wish for others’ happiness from the bottom of your heat and only consider what would be most beneficial for them. Pray again and again with these words: “Throughout all my lives, may I never harm so much as a single hair on another being’s head, and may I always help each of them.”

It is particularly important to avoid making anyone under your authority suffer, by beating them, forcing them to work too hard and so on. This applies to your servants and also to your animals, right down to the humblest watchdog. Always, under all circumstances, be kind to them in thought, word and deed. To be reborn as a servant, or as a watchdog, for that matter, and to be despised and looked down upon by everyone, is the maturation of the effects of past actions. It is the reciprocal effect of having despised and looked down on others while in a position of power in a past life. If you now despite others because of your own power and wealth, you will repay that debt in some future time by being reborn as their servants. So be especially kind to those in a lower position than yourself.

Anything you can do physically, verbally or mentally to help your own parents, or those suffering from chronic ill health, will bring inconceivable benefits. Jowo Atīsa says:

To be kind to those who have come from afar, to those who have been ill for a long time, or to our parents in their old age, is equivalent to meditating on emptiness of which compassion is the very essence.

Our parents have shown us such immense love and kindness that to upset them in their old age would be an extremely negative act. The Buddha himself, to repay his mother’s kindness, went to the Heaven of the Thirty-three to teach her the Dharma. It is said that even if we were to serve our parents by carrying them around the whole world on our shoulders, it would still not repay their kindness. However, can can repay that kindness by introducing them to the Buddha’s teaching. So always serve your parents in thought, word and deed, and try to find ways to bring them to the Dharma.

 

Soothing the Inflamed Mind

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Beginning to appreciate the condition and the suffering of other sentient beings, turning the mind in that way, does two things.  Offering merit to them does several things.   First of all, it builds on our merit/non-virtue scale.  We’ve got the merit on this side, we’ve got the non-virtue on that side.  And we’re heavier on the non-virtue side.  So offering merit puts more focus on virtue.  Our minds are more attuned to virtue and this tends to bring forth ripenings that are more congruous with what we want on our path, more sympathetic, more joyful, more fulfilling. More meritorious things will ripen.  Happiness will ripen because our minds are more focused on the heavier [virtuous] pile.  That’s naturally how it is.  When we are more focused on the virtue pile rather than the non-virtue pile, which is like something that is sore and raw and inflamed, the samsaric mind becomes then soothed, calmed.  We are not wallowing in the inflammation of it.   We are on the virtuous side now.  So we find that temporarily and that ultimately, more permanently, the inflammation starts to go down.  The inflammation going down is almost like putting hydrocortisone on a horrible, raw, terrible rash. It calms the angriness of it; it calms the rawness of it.  So it’s a little bit like that.  It takes the inflammation down a whole lot.  And we find that when our minds are calmer and more rested, we are happier.

Now, when our minds are very active and very agitated, we may feel more energetic. Sadly some of us have had so few true moments of happiness and joy and peaceful calm abiding that when we’re really active and really hyper and really busy doing something really fun, we think we’re great. We’re really joyful!  Then what happens later is like after a sugar high.  We’re totally wiped out afterwards and we have the other side of that mood swing.  So ultimately, as we turn our minds towards Dharma, as we begin to commit virtuous acts and to gather meritorious thoughts and ways of being, then we find out that gradually over time, we become more joyful, happier.  We begin to notice things that we didn’t notice before like some beautiful smell. Then we offer it to the Buddhas and we find a moment of happiness.  Or some beautiful sight, and then we offer it to the Buddhas, or maybe to our own Root Guru, and we think, “Oh, just for a moment, I felt happy there, just for a moment.”  Then we begin to catch on and that’s wonderful.  When we start to catch on, that’s the right stuff!

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Cause and Effect and the Antidote to Unhappiness

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Lord Buddha’s teachings are always reasonable and logical.  He teaches us that, for instance, if we are lonely and unhappy, we should look to find the causes of that.  He teaches us that causes are never outside.  They seem to be, but they are never outside because actually we are living with our own karmic habitual tendencies and propensities.  So if we are lonely and unhappy, we should look to the deeper causes.  The deeper causes may be that in the past, whether in this lifetime or in some previous lifetime, we allowed the others around us to be unsupported and lonely and unhappy.  Or perhaps we committed some profound non-virtue with our minds and so now, in our mind, we have the habit or the result of loneliness and unhappiness.  Perhaps in the past, we caused someone mental suffering or mental affliction, and so now in the present, we find ourselves feeling that same mental affliction. But we can only remember since the time of our birth, or somewhat after that, and we don’t know what the cause was really.  It’s hard to see.  We have to go by the Buddha’s teachings because Lord Buddha is that state of enlightenment which has the wisdom to see causes and results.  So we are taught if we have certain results within our life, such as unhappiness and loneliness, we should look for deep causes If we can’t find some reason in this lifetime for our loneliness and unhappiness, that is to say, that we ourselves have not brought about similar loneliness and unhappiness to others, then we should think that probably the cause has been in the deep past.  So we must assume that in the past, we have caused some unhappiness to others.

Now, here we are on the path, and we are told to apply the antidote. I shouldn’t leave that part out.  And the antidote, of course, would be to do one’s best to uphold the Bodhisattva Vow and to benefit others as strongly and as purposefully as we possibly can.  Of course, as monks and nuns, we will do that within the context of Dharma activities. As lay people, hopefully, we will do that within the context of Dharma activities as well. Yet we also have many opportunities in our lives to be of benefit to others in ordinary but very special ways. Some of us are doctors or nurses or counselors or those who help others.  So there are human ways to help others and there are extraordinary Dharma ways to help others, and we should apply that antidote.

One thing that not only I have noticed but practically every pop-psychologist that has arms to write a book with nowadays will tell you is that in doing for others, one becomes happy.  Self-absorption and ego cherishing, only thinking about what you want and what you don’t have, leads to further unhappiness and selfishness.  So it’s doing for others that actually brings up the spirit, and I personally know that this is true.  I know that this is true.

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

Go Back to Bodhicitta

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

In the beginning, all the lamas, including His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, ever taught us about was the bodhicitta. All we ever got was the bodhicitta. People would ask for Dzogchen. Give us Dzogchen. And the lamas would say, “No, you’re not ready. You’re not ready. Let’s start with the bodhicitta.”  After awhile, Americans got really sick of the bodhicitta. It’s really sad, but they did. I never did. In fact, I never stopped teaching bodhicitta. I know that now the bodhicitta is kind of reduced to a small bit of speech or teaching that comes right at the beginning of a practice or a wang or teaching. It is very condensed compared to what it used to be. When the lamas first came to America, it was just bodhicitta, and really nothing else. But the American students were insistent that they were ready for the Dzogchen. Eventually the lamas gave in. And I am sorry that happened, because I think we missed something.

I notice that when some practitioners practice, they’re calm and that’s good, but they are also solemn. They are not so happy looking, not so joyous. Dharma is joyous. To be able to practice Dharma is a feast.  There’s nothing in the world more joyous than that, because you have something—. \you have Buddha in the palm of your hand. You have something that nobody else has here in America. Other people have other teachers. And they have other lineages and that’s great, but we have this. And we should be thrilled and happy, and try to maintain the understanding of how precious this is.

The day we decide that we are too advanced for bodhicitta is the day that we’ve lost our way. Because if all we ever studied from this point on was the bodhicitta, it would be enough. Sometimes when we go into the higher teachings, we forget what the root is. Bodhicitta is the root. Bodhicitta is the root of everything that comes after. If you cannot develop the bodhicitta, it will be very difficult to stay on the path. As they say, the bodhicitta is like the dakini’s warm breath. It is what we consider to be the activity of the Buddhas, the nature of the Buddhas, like the sun’s rays—part of the sun and yet coming out to bless all. So when we think about the bodhicitta and we think that maybe it’s an early practice, and maybe we are being insulted by being taught this practice or maybe we should be allowed to go on, don’t hurry.

If I had my choice, I would teach nothing but bodhicitta. I used to do that, almost like Baskin Robbins’s 51 flavors of ice cream. I used to think about 51 different ways, as many ways as I could, to teach bodhicitta. I would get really creative so that it wouldn’t be boring. And what I found is that most people didn’t notice that they were only being taught the bodhicitta, because I would teach it in such a way that it would seem different and interesting. And I would make people laugh, and that always helped. You can’t be stiff when you are laughing. I made it joyful. All of us felt great joy to be together, as I see you do too. I think it is the most beautiful part of the Dharma. If we say that it is the smallest part, or the least of the parts, it is a mistake. Do all of you understand that?  It is a mistake if we put bodhicitta lower than anything else, because in order to practice we need the bodhicitta desperately. It is what keeps us going. It is nourishment.

My philosophy is that if we are on the path and every year we practice really hard and really purely here and then go home, but then forget about it, as so many of us do, then in my experience we need to go back to the bodhicitta and study the suffering of sentient beings again, again and again. Study the suffering of sentient beings so that you can understand why it is that you are practicing. You’ll have strength to practice because you will see them, and they are suffering terribly.

Seeing that woman and her husband on the roof was for me a great motivator. It was a great strengthener. It gave me spiritual muscle so that whatever I did, bodhicitta was always the crown on the head of my practice. And then above that, of course, is Tsawai Lama—above the crown of my head, and in my heart, as I know he is in yours.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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