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

This Very Moment

Monk at MD Stupa2

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Letting Go of Judgment

moms against hunger

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Motivation of a Bodhisattva

As long as space endures, and as long as sentient beings exist.
May I, too, remain, to dispel the misery of the world.  -Shantideva

The following is respectfully quoted from the Preface of “Enlightened Courage” by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche:

Bodhisattvas are those who seek enlightenment for the sake of all other beings. Their path is the way of selflessness whereby the mind is trained to go beyond its ordinary self-centered preoccupations and anxieties and learns, by gradual degrees, to place others at the focus of its interest and concern. This altruistic attitude forms the basis and heart of all the Buddha’s teaching of Mahayana, or Great Vehicle…


Bodhichitta: From “Enlightened Courage” Commentary by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Dilgo Khyentse

The following is respectfully quoted from “Enlightened Courage” a commentary by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche:

Bodhichitta is the unfailing method for attaining enlightenment. It has two aspects, relative and absolute. Relative bodhichitta is practiced using ordinary mental processes and is comparatively easy to develop. Nevertheless, the benefits that flow from it are immeasurable, for a mind in which the precious Bodhichitta has been born will never again fall into the lower realms of samsara. Finally, all the qualities of the Mahayana path, as teeming and vast as the ocean, are distilled and essentialized in Bodhichitta, the mind of enlightenment.

We must prepare ourselves for this practice by following the instructions in the sadhana of Chenrezig, “Take refuge in the Three Jewels and meditate on Bodhichitta. Consider that all your virtuous acts of body, speech, and mind are for the whole multitude of beings, numerous as the sky is vast.”

It is said in the teachings that “since beings are countless, the benefit of wishing them well is unlimited.” And how many beings there are! Just imagine, in one small garden there might be millions and millions of them! If we wish to establish them all in the enlightened state of Buddhahood, it is said that the benefit of such an aspiration is as vast as the number of begins is great. Therefore we should not restrict our Bodhichitta to a limited number of beings. Wherever there is space, beings exist, and all of them live in suffering. Why make distinctions between them, welcoming some as loving friends and excluding others as hostile enemies?

Throughout the stream of our lives, from time without beginning until the present, we have all been wandering in samsara, accumulating evil. When we die, where else is there for us to go but to the lower realms? But if the wish and thought occur to us that we must bring all beings to enlightened state of Buddhahood, we have generated what is known as Bodhichitta in intention. We should then pray to the teacher and the yidam deities that the practice of the precious Bodhichitta might take root in our hearts. We should recite the seven-branch prayer from the Prayer of Perfect Action, and, sitting upright, count our breaths twenty-one times without getting mixed up or missing any, and without being distracted by anything. If we are able to count our breaths concentratedly for a whole mall, discursive thoughts will diminish and the practice of relative Bodhichitta will be much easier. This is how to become a suitable vessel for meditation.


Consider all phenomena as a dream.

If we have enemies, we tend to think of them as permanently hostile. Perhaps we have the feeling that they have been the enemies of our ancestors in the past, that they are against us now, and that they will hate our children in the future. Maybe this is what we think, but the reality is actually quite different. In fact, we do not know where or what we were in our previous existences, and so there is no certainty that the aggressive people we now have to contend with were not our parents in former lives! When we die, we have no idea where we will be reborn, and so there is no knowing that these enemies of ours might not become our mothers or fathers. At present, we might have every confidence in our parents, who are so dear to us, but when they go from this life , who is to say they will not be reborn among our enemies? Because our past and future lives are unknown to us, we have the impression that the enemies we have now are fixed in their hostility, or that our present friends will always be friendly. This only goes to show that we have never given any real thought to this question.

If we consider carefully, we might picture a situation where many people are at work on some elaborate project. At one moment, they are all friends together, feeling close, trusting and doing each other good turns. But then something happens and they become enemies, perhaps hurting or killing one  other. Such things do happen, and changes like this can occur several times in the course of a single lifetime–for no other reason than that all composite things or situations are impermanent.

This precious human body, supreme instrument though it is for the attainment of enlightenment, is itself a transient phenomenon. No one knows when, or how, death will come. Bubbles form on the surface of the water, but the next instant they are gone; they do not stay. It is just the same with this precious human body we have managed to find. We take all the time in the world before engaging in practice, but who knows when this life of ours will simply cease to be? And once our precious human body is lost, our midstream, continuing its existence, will take birth perhaps among the animals, or in one of the hells or god realms where spiritual development is impossible. Even if life in a heavenly state, where all is ease and comfort, is a situation unsuitable for practice, on account of the constant dissipation and distraction that are a feature of the god’s existence.

At present, the outer universe–earth, stones, mountains, rocks, and cliffs–seem to be the perception of our senses to be permanent and stable, like the house build of reinforced concrete that we think will last for generations. In fact, there is nothing solid to it at all; it is nothing but a city of dreams.

In the past, when the Buddha was alive surrounded by multitudes of Arhats and when the teachings prospered, what buildings must their benefactors have built for them! It was all impermanent; there is nothing left to see now but an empty plain. In the same way, at the universities of Vikramashila and Nalanda, thousands of pandits spent there time instructing enormous monastic assemblies. All impermanent! Now, not even a single monk or volume of Buddha’s teachings are to be found there.

Take another example from the more recent past. Before the arrival of the Chinese Communists, how many monasteries were there in what use to be called Tibet, the Land of Snow? How many temples and monasteries were there, like those in Lhasa, at Samye and Trandruk? How many precious objects were there, representatives of the Buddha’s Body, Speech, and Mind? Now not even a statue remains. All that is left of Samye is something hardly bigger than a stupa. Everything was either looted, broken, or scattered, and all the great images were destroyed. These things have happened, and this demonstrates impermanence.

Think of all the lamas who came and lived in India, such as Gyalwa Karmapa, Lama Kalu Rinpoche, and Dudjom Rinpoche; think of all the teachings they gave and how they contributed to the preservation of the Buddha’s doctrine. All of them have passed away. We can no longer see them, and they remain only as objects of prayer and devotion. All this is because of impermanence. In the same way, we should try to think of our fathers, mothers, children and friends. When the Tibetans escaped to India, the physical conditions were too much for many of them and they died. Among my acquaintances alone, there were three or four deaths every day. That is impermanence. There is not one thing in existence that is stable and lasts.

If we have an understanding of impermanence, we will be able to practice the sacred teachings. But if we continue to think that everything will remain as it is, then we will be just like rich people still discussing their business projects on their deathbeds! Such people never talk about the next life, do they? It goes to show that an appreciation of the certainty of death has never touched their hearts. That is their mistake, their delusion.

Abandoning Love: The Fourth Root Downfall

The following is respectfully quoted from “Perfect Conduct” with commentary by Dudjom Rinpoche:

4.b.3(b.4) Abandoning love:

The fourth is wishing that any sentient being should be separated from happiness and losing heartfelt love for them.

To wish any sentient being should be separated from happiness and to stop feeling heartfelt love for them is the fourth root downfall. The object can be one sentient being or many. To wish for them to be separated from happiness and to meet with suffering or misfortune, thus forsaking them and giving up any love for them at all, constitutes this downfall.

A Great Opportunity

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

We have a great opportunity here.  When I come here, I don’t take advantage because I am shy and I don’t like to come out, but I still practice and I still do what I can to benefit sentient beings. For instance, I think about ordinary things, and I think about how I can bring benefit to people who have ordinary lives and ordinary situations. One thing that I did was to start a food bank, so that we can feed the people in our neighborhood and in our community who have nothing. It is not a rich area. Those who have nothing can have food. They can come and get food for their families. There is no expense or anything like that. We do ask that if you take something, then bring something. If you take some beans and bread and that sort of thing, bring something, even if it is just a tiny something to make that exchange, to make that connection. There are a lot of people in my community that are eating very well because of our efforts. And I don’t feel like that is separate from Dharma. There’s practical Dharma and there is ultimate Dharma, and I feel that both are essential. And all are supported by the great bodhicitta.

Another thing that we have done is to create an animal sanctuary for rare and exotic parrots. Before these parrots came to us, they were abused. Many of them lived all their lives in cages that were too small for them to spread their wings. Many of them had never seen the sky. Many of them were fed graham crackers, and stupid things like that, that they should never eat. There was so much cruelty in the exotic bird community, so we decided to see if we could do anything. And we did. And now my son runs that exotic bird sanctuary, and all the birds get to go outside. We have a huge area for them, and they can actually fly, which they never could do before. It’s beautiful to see.

As you remember, His Holiness loved animals; he especially loved birds. In India he used to keep birds. When His Holiness saw the birds in the aviary, he was so happy about that. His Holiness saw them and loved them. He felt that that was Dharma in action. Activity Dharma.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

On The Suffering of Beings

A slideshow compiled by a student of dharma who was inspired by the compassion retreats of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, founder of Kunzang Palyul Choling:

The music accompanying this video is a prayer offered by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo for the benefit of any being who is suffering (human or non), especially those suffering from illness or death. More information on this prayer and a download link can be found here: http://www.tibetanbuddhistaltar.org/prayer-to-be-reborn-in-dewachen/

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