Liberation in One Lifetime?

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

We have to look from the point of view of realism. What does this mean for us if we are to approach Dharma in the way that we are approaching it now— very casually, very gently, very much without pressure, kind of interested in it but no big deal.  If we are to approach Dharma in a way as to hope that it will be convenient in order to fit into our lives, then of course there cannot be much hope for the kind of extraordinary result of liberation in this lifetime.  Because the effort, literally that we put into our attainment, will equal what we get out of it.  If we are casual, haphazard, no big deal about our practice, the result will be, of course, not stunning, not unusual, but casual.  Not thorough and completely accomplished, but pretty much there, kind of, and that’s the way our result will be. But of course when we are talking about Buddhahood, when we are talking about liberation in one body, we are talking then about the most supreme result, the ultimate result. You could say it is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving in the sense that having attained liberation, one need not move through the same kinds of passages that an ordinary samsaric being moves through.  While one may take on the appearance of some passages, one is not literally stuck like a fly in glue the way ordinary sentient beings are stuck in samsara.  One will only demonstrate those characteristics, habits and appearances that will relate to those sentient beings who they are trying to help; and one will engage in those for the sake of sentient beings, so the result is different.

The difference, if one were to attain liberation, would be like a non-smoker who spent oh 85 years in the room with other people who smoke. You also have to consider that this non-smoker is extremely genetically healthy, set up differently than the others, so that upon taking in the smoke there may be some effect in that it’s not the optimum environment.  There will be some inhalation so one might feel tired, not as energetic as if one were getting the oxygen that one would want.  Do you see what I’m saying? I’m playing up this analogy so that you can understand a difference that is literally inexplicable, but perhaps you can understand it in a common way.

Now the person who is an ordinary samsaric being would be one of those smokers, so the ordinary samsaric being would come out of that situation afflicted you see.  They would be the ones that were smoking, taking in the smoke, inhaling deeply, having ordinary genetic physical makeup and very little with which to resist the horrible sentence that we are laying on ourselves.  But the one who has attained liberation would be the nonsmoker who is in that room for a period of time with some margin of safety.  That nonsmoker will come out of the room smelling like a smoker, but they will not be a smoker and the result will not be the same.  But the samsaric being will come out of that room with the result of that kind of smoking.

So you see the analogy that I am trying to create for you?  It’s not that all enlightened beings literally sit on cushions and float around in the air doing high and wonderful things that none of us can explain.  It isn’t like that.  It’s that each of us attains liberation, and upon attaining liberation, if that liberation is a true liberation and has within it the awakening of the Bodhicitta which true liberation must have, then one would return for the sake of sentient beings, and one would appear as a sentient being for the sake of the understanding of sentient beings.

So in order to prepare our minds for this sort of extraordinary result, we have to first think in our mind that we want that extraordinary result.  To backtrack, those of you who are hearing teachings like this, this particular teaching, this Phowa, those of you who have accomplished Phowa practice and have actually had the physical signs that go with it, you must understand that this is a practice that could literally, if truly practiced and truly adhered to at the time of death, could change the course, will change the course, if it is practiced purely at the time of death, of your entire experience as an individual being to date.  Literally, it would be like running, running, running, running down a very long journey and running, running, running, only relying on your own two legs and your whole body. Then suddenly you meet up with kind of a greased pole and you find a way through instruction, to run into that pole, make yourself go whrum whrum whrum around that pole and spin off, much faster and in a completely different direction than you’re going in right now, having more than your own steam as an individual to go with.  It’s a little bit like that, and sometimes can be even more dramatic because there truly is liberation in the bardo state for the practitioner that has sincerely and in a dedicated way practiced for that moment to the degree that one can return simply from that, as a nirmanakaya form, that is to say, a physical emanation form of the Buddha in order to benefit sentient beings.  One would come back in a way that one would be able to rescue sentient beings.  So this is literally possible with this practice.

This practice is the practice that makes it realistic for us to say in this modern time, 1995, that it is literally possible to attain liberation in one lifetime.  See, most of us are not going to have caves to go retreat in and most of us are not going to be able to get off the hook about supporting ourselves.  We have to remain engaged in the world.  We have to do that.  Also we’ve taken on other responsibilities.  We have families that we wish to support, and other projects that we are engaged in that are important projects and they are part of our lives. So many of us will not have the kind of opportunity that it would take to practice unceasingly in order for us to attain liberation in this lifetime other than through the Phowa.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Taking Account of Our Minds

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

We rarely empathize with the needs of others. We may become aware of them on an intellectual level. And there is a great, vast difference between that and actually empathizing with the needs and hopes and fears of others. We rarely enrich our own life experience by really merging, really blending, really empathizing with the conditions of other people’s minds. Due to our self absorption and self- cherishing, and our inability to relate to the situation of others, we find ourselves able to entertain hostility, anger, pride, selfishness, all of those things that are really detrimental to us. We are able to maintain certain habitual tendencies that we honestly cannot see about ourselves. For instance, if I were to say to you, are you basically a kind person, almost everyone in the room would say yes. We’re here, we’re being spiritual, you know, that sort of thing. But if I ask you how much time you actually spend during the course of any given day actually doing for others in a real compassionate way—keeping the bodhichitta or the compassion alive within one’s mind—how much are you actually aware of the needs and unfulfilled desires of others, we would be shocked.Really, if we actually clocked ourselves in and out of such a realization, we would be shocked at how little time we actually spend doing that. So I think it’s sometimes really helpful to make a purposeful and directed effort, such as actually clocking in when you are aware of the needs and desires of other people and when you actively participate in trying to help in some way.

The help can take different forms. Sometimes the things that people want around aren’t really good for them to have. I mean, you have a teenage son that wants nothing better than a very fast car, and you know that that’s not quite right for him. So you don’t always give a person what they want, but you can certainly empathize. You can certainly be there in a very kind and profound way as a force for connection, for communication in someone else’s life.

We actually spend very little time doing that. We spend most of our time thinking about ourselves and our own problems and our ideas. So fixated on our own ideas, so fixated on our self-cherishing. Sometimes we don’t realize that we’re almost dyslexic about kindness. Or, what is the word? Maybe we perseverate about kindness. We have this idea that we’ve already done it, you know, that it is happening, and we don’t realize that it’s not being written down at all. It’s just not going out into the world. So sometimes it really helps to journal to really see what you’ve actually done during that day to bring kindness into the world. That would be extremely useful.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

This Very Moment

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Letting Go of Judgment

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Problem With Desire

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

Follower: “How can one beat desire?”

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

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

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

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

 

The Practice That Results in Enlightenment

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The Practice that Results in Enlightenment

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

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

“Please Lord Guru

Change me into whatever form is necessary.

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

Please Lord Guru

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

Please Lord Guru

Constantly pour the nectar of your Dharma into me.

Lord Guru,

Do not abandon me in samsara.

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

Change me utterly and completely to where I do not recognize

myself as an ordinary samsaric being any longer.

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

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

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

Have courage.

— Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Wish to Benefit Others

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

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

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

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

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

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo all rights reserved

What’s the Point?

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

How to Understand Cause and Effect

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Problem

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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