Making Offerings: His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

Offerings

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

Next, go for refuge in the sublime supports, the buddha as the embodiment of the three mayas, the dharma as the representation of all scriptural transmissions and realization, and the sangha as those who have attained the irreversible path of the sublime ones. From this moment until enlightenment, in order to liberate all parent sentient beings from their suffering, develop compassion. Realize that [in order] to accomplish your goal, aside from reliance on the Three Jewels of refuge, there is no other support for refuge. I would be impossible for you to bring all beings to liberation without the buddha, dharma, and sangha. With irreversible faith and devotion, repeat the vows of refuge.

According to the Mahayana path, we take refuge in the teacher who shows us the path to liberation: that is buddha. We engage on the path of Mahayana practice by cultivating the precious bodhicitta until we realize buddhahood: that is the dharma. The sangha is the spiritual community that is on the same path as we are on, assisting in the accomplishment of our mutual goals.

Next is the method for accumulating merit. Visualize in space in front a magnificent throne supported by eight lions, where your teacher sits, indivisible with Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. The eight arhats and a vast assembly of buddhas and bodhisattvas surround him like masses of clouds that fill the ten directions. Imagine countless emanations of yourself filling the entire pure realm of your environment, which includes the entire universe. You can countless emanations of yourself and all parent sentient beings join together to fill [all of] space. With humility, reverence, and faith, you and they all bow down and pay homage to the objects of refuge in the space in front. [Here you] prostrate by touching the five places of your body to the ground. That is the branch of prostration, a powerful antidote for pride. Having pride means having an attitude of cherishing yourself by thinking you are so great and special. Performing prostrations purifies that egoistic attitude.

Now visualize that you and innumerable emanations of yourself present boundless offerings. Offer all of your wealth and endowments, including the root of all virtue in this lifetime, all your past lifetimes, and in future lifetimes. Offer objects that are of this world and those that are transcendent. Imagine them to be inconceivably vast clouds of outer, inner, and secret offerings that completely fill space. In addition, offer the essential nature of reality.

General offerings please the senses. Imagine those offerings to be vast and inconceivable. However, if you were to [attempt to] compare the outer offerings with a single particle of the realms of buddhas and the quality of offerings made in the minds of enlightened ones, [you would find that comparison] to be beyond the scope of your imagination. That is why it is so important while presenting offerings to try to connect with the ultimate nature of offering, which is mental and not just material. Material offerings you make are supports for your mental or imagined offerings, which should be as inconceivably vast and wondrous as you are capable of manifesting. The actual offerings you use as a support should also be the best substances you are able to offer. At least they must not be old, dirty, or leftover substances; they must be suitable supports for the basis of virtue. The pure material offerings you make will be the support for the continual manifestation of inexhaustible offerings that will remain until samsara is emptied.

There is a well-known story of an accomplished practitioner named Jowo Ben. One day Jowo Ben made a very beautiful, clean, and pure offering on his altar. As he sat and looked at his offering, he thought, “What is it that makes this offering I’ve made here today excellent?” Then he remembered his sponsor was coming to visit that day, and he realized he had made the beautiful offering in order to impress his sponsor. He jumped up, picked up a handful of dirt, and threw it on the altar, saying he should give up all attachment and fixation on worldly concerns. Other lamas, on hearing what Jowo Ben had done, proclaimed his offering of throwing dirt on his altar to have been the purest offerings, because Jowo Ben had finally cleared his mind of attachment and aversion.

When offerings are made, they are rendered pure and excellent by a mind free from attachment and aversion to the ordinary, material aspect of the offerings–and they must be made with a mind that is also free from avarice. Don’t think you can throw dirt on your altar and think that will benefit you. You must adjust your mind. If your mind is free from attachment or fixation and aversion, then whatever you do will be right. If your mind is not adjusted and your intentions are impure, then no matter how beautiful and magnificent the offering is, it will be insignificant. If you present all offerings, whether abundant or meager, with fervent devotion from the core of your heart, that will produce profoundly amazing results.

In order to be free from the suffering of existence, the mind must be free from dualistic fixation. In freedom from duality, everything is inherently pure. Just imagine all the wonderful offerings that are made that are free from duality; pure water possessing the eight qualities, garlands of flowers, incense, light, superior perfume, celestial food, musical instruments, fine garments, beautiful umbrellas, canopies, victory banners, the sun, the moon–the finest and best of everything is offered. Consider those as offerings arranged in a magnificent array equal in size to Mt. Meru. Furthermore, know that those offerings are pure and free from duality. For example, if you were to pick a flower and think, “Oh, this is such a beautiful flower; I want to offer it,” but then you also think, “My flower is more beautiful than the others,” and you offer it with that dualistic thought, then that offering would be defiled by your dualistic fixation. On the other hand, if you focus on the pure nature of the offerings and present them with pure devotion, you will make offerings that are pure or free from dualistic fixation. Recite the verses of the branch for offering, and make the most excellent, immeasurable offering you are capable of with the enlightened attitude [bodhicitta], faith, and pure devotion.

It is important to understand that presenting offerings is the antidote for [having] desire. Offerings are not made to the Three Jewels because they are considered to be poverty-stricken and in need of receiving from their disciples; offerings are made to accumulate merit. By making offerings with actual material substances, we accumulate ordinary conceptual merit; by using the mind to manifest immeasurable offerings, we accumulate nonconceptual wisdom merit.

Cultivating Compassion – A “How To”

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

Now it sounds like I’m making a sales pitch. “You too can do this.”  Well in a sense, I am. But what I’m really trying to do is to open your eyes to the potential here. Please don’t let me express this in such a way as to indicate to you that it is easy. All you have to do is practice a little Dharma and bingo you have got it. The kind of offering that I’m talking about, the kind of bodhicitta, the kind of generosity that I’m talking about takes a life time and more of absolute and total commitment to practice,. of actually practicing sincerely for the benefit of sentient beings; but only under that  condition can you offer the ultimate gift—the gift of enlightenment. In cyclic existence, there is no end to suffering. The only end to suffering is one exits cyclic existence; and one only exits the cycle of death and rebirth upon achieving enlightenment. How can you help others to achieve enlightenment?  Well, you can’t until you yourself have achieved some enlightenment.

In the meantime, you can help build stupas; you can make tsa tsas; you can sponsor enlightened activity; you can support your temple. You can do all of those things. You can practice, and you can dedicate the virtue of your practice to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings. That is a very significant gift. That is a very significant act of bodhicitta. But ultimately the true benefit comes when you yourself have achieved realization in order to benefit sentient beings; and that you are able to return in such a form that you can provide the path and provide the method. You can provide the impetus. You can provide the empowerment and the fertilization that is necessary in order to ripen each and every sentient being’s buddha seed so that it can bring forth the flower of enlightenment.

It is not a selfish goal. It is not an immediate end to the suffering of sentient beings so you might fall into the trap of thinking, ‘Well what is the kindest thing to do? Practice to beat the band or work in a soup kitchen.’ Now we are taught that working in a soup kitchen would be the most compassionate thing to do, but actually it is two different kinds of compassion, you see. Working in a soup kitchen would be temporary compassion, temporary bodhicitta. Working to achieve realization would be ultimate bodhicitta. Two different kinds. The Buddha teaches us don’t waste your time. Spend the main bulk of your time on the ultimate bodhicitta.

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 Mixed Karma of the Human Realm

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

Now we are getting to the egg yolk. Actually the optimum life is to be born as a human,. even more than the god realm. Interestingly the god realm seems to be more fun. Wouldn’t you rather have a nice cool glass of the elixir of life?. Or would you rather have a glass of water? Now I know the answer to that. You monks and nuns, it’s been a long time since you have had anything to drink. You would like a nice elixir of life, wouldn’t you?. So, it seems like you would want to born in the god realm. The interesting thing about the human realm is that it does have definite suffering, which you have seen (and I have explained what the suffering is). Plus it particularly has the suffering of old age, sickness, and death. They don’t mention taxes. Maybe they didn’t have them when the Buddha was here. You might escape taxes, but you will never escape death. Maybe that is why he didn’t mention it. Even though those sufferings are present in the human realm alone, there is the peculiar meshing of karma, the peculiar evolution of karma that comes together in a certain way that we can practice the Dharma. We can make a choice and practice compassion. We can practice meditation on emptiness. We can practice Dharma in such a way as to achieve realization. We have this kind of queer mixing, or spaciousness, in our mind. In some cases it is not spaciousness, but it is just that the karma is ripening in a certain way that we can practice.

The teaching says that we have time to practice. Time to practice means what? ? Time in our minds to practice, not time in the day to practice. Anyone can get so busy that you don’t have time in the day to practice; but if you can conceive of time to practice, you have time to practice. You can make time to practice. In the animal realm, there is no time to practice because they are too busy being ignorant and fearful. In the hell realm, there is no time to practice because they are too busy suffering horribly. You can’t practice, you can’t think about compassion, if someone is bonking you over the head. You can’t think about compassion, or burning up in a burning house. In the hungry ghost realm, there is no thought of practice because all you can think about is need—I need, I want, I want, I want. But in the human realm, one can consider practice. There is space to practice. In the god realm, one cannot practice very well either because you are too busy enjoying bliss. You are so filled with bliss all you have to do is drink water. Why would you want to practice? All you have to do is touch something and it feels like waves of bliss. Why would you want to practice? Why you would want to practice is that all of these six realms are impermanent, even the god realm. In the human realm, though, you can practice. We too have sufferings—old age, sickness and death.

What causes us to be born in the human realm? Two things: A lot of merit and virtue that we have accumulated in the past through eons and eons of cyclic existence happened to pull together in one big puddle and ripen in such a way as to produce a human rebirth. But there is also non-virtue that produces a human rebirth. If we had total virtue, if that was all that we had, we’d just wake up one day enlightened, I guess. But that is not what happened. We got reborn in the human realm. What is the non-virtue that accounts for a human rebirth?. The main non-virtue that produces human rebirth is doubt. Doubt. You don’t believe that, right? I knew that. See what I mean. The main suffering of the human rebirth results from doubt as well. And that is why it is possible for so many of us to have with the auspicious opportunity to meet with the Dharma, to meet with the human condition with which we can practice. And we don’t practice. We don’t. If you really believed, if you understood that these six realms of cyclic existence exist, if you understood about your death, if you understood the cause and effect relationships that bring about an auspicious rebirth, if you understood what it takes to produce enlightenment, that is what you would do. You’d practice. But you have doubt, and that is why you don’t do it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Long Life Gods – Is It the Good Life?

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

Now there is the long life gods realm.  It is hard not to pray for rebirth in the long life god realm. First of all, it lasts a very long time, maybe two or three thousand years. Three thousand years of total bliss sounds like a nice vacation to me. That sounds better than three weeks at the beach in the summer, but I can’t figure out where to buy the ticket. There are problems with this realm, actually. There is a suffering to that realm and the suffering of that realm is that it is impermanent. In the realm itself, while it exists, there is no suffering. Water is like the elixir of life; it can cure all ills. Music when heard doesn’t sound like music to us. Music to us is either good or bad; we either like it or don’t like it. It helps, it hurts; it depends on what kind of music it is. If we are in the long life gods realm, one note can cure any ill, can result in bliss. Just one sound, one touch, brings about waves of bliss. I can’t think of a better word. Ecstasy!  Everything that happens is ecstasy.

The gods and goddesses are beautiful beyond compare. Take the most gorgeous person you can imagine in the physical realm. Think of the most gorgeous movie star or person that you have ever seen and think that in the god realm they would be dogs. They would look like fish mongers. People in the god realm would look at them and would go yeck, stinko—literally stinko—because in the god realm the fragrance that is given off of the body is like perfume coming from every pore,but sweet perfume. Estee Lauder would be nothing compared to this. It would be the perfume of virtue.

In order to be reborn in this gods realm, you have to have a lot of virtue stored up, but it is a particular kind of virtue. It is the kind of virtue where maybe you help others become rich, or help others to become full of food. You see what I am saying? It is virtue, but it is not associated with philosophical or religious ideals. It is just a different kind of more materialistic virtue. So this kind of virtue can result in this wonderful life in which you are so beautiful you just can’t believe it. There is not a flaw on your body. You never have b.o. Your b.o. will heal all sentient beings if they just catch one whiff of it. I don’t care what beautiful movie star you have imagined to be your person to compare them with, but they have b.o. sometimes. You may not believe this but everybody smells sometimes, but in the long life god realm everybody is perfect.

Everything that you see is color, not like color you see here. It looks very colorful in this room, right? You go outside and you see beautiful greens and you see beautiful blue sky. Color in the long life god realm is so gorgeous, you just look at it and you experience ecstasy. Wouldn’t you like to go there?  No, you wouldn’t because the problem is that when you are born in this long life god realm, it takes so much virtue , to be reborn there, accumulated virtue over eons and eons of cyclic existence, that when you are reborn there you begin to use up your virtue like an eight cylinder car going up a mountain. You use it up so fast. Admittedly, it is often a couple of thousand years, but in terms of cyclic existence, which is eons and eons of endless cyclic existence, that is a short time. And also while you are in the long life god realm, to a human it may seem like two thousand years, but to you it might seem like a short life time because there is so much pleasure that one’s whole experience of that pleasure becomes completely expanded. So in the same way a fun day goes by faster than a long and tedious day, it’s kind of like that, but so much greater than that.

So the long life god realm is very difficult in that at the end of that life, what happens to them is they begin to smell funny. That is how the other gods and goddesses know that their time is up. They don’t begin to age as we know aging, because aging is not one of the sufferings of that realm. They begin to lose some of their perfume. It’s not that they smell funny, it’s just that they lose some of their perfume. They have a little less of that gorgeousness, and the other gods and goddesses begin to move away because no one can bear the idea of bliss ending. . They don’t want to think about that. And the god or goddess that is experiencing the end of their time there calls out to them and says, “Please help me. Give me some of your virtue. Help me.”  And the others go, “No, I can’t, I can’t deal with the fact that I’m going to lose what I have now, so I’m going to move over here.”  What happens at that point is the karma is used up and so the rebirth in the god realm begins to decay and at some point ,because they even have the quality of clairvoyance, they are able to see the realms of cyclic existence and they are able to understand that they just finished up all of their virtue and the only place to go is down, real far down. That is the great and horrible suffering of the god realm.

This suffering is so intense because having used up all of their virtue now they have to begin from scratch. How horrible to think that you had accumulated so much virtue and could have achieved realization, but somehow missed the boat due to the kind of virtue that you have and due to the one quality that does produce rebirth as a long-life god. The one quality that does produce rebirth as a long-life god is pride. Have you seen people with lives like that?  Have you seen people who have beautiful families and beautiful homes and beautiful cars, and they are beautiful people. And it seems that everything is easy for them; and they hold themselves with a sense of pride as though they were different from the rest of us peasants. There is a lot of pridefulness about that. I even knew of a person who had a great body and didn’t have to work out; they had a gorgeous wife and didn’t have to be faithful to her in order to keep her; they had so many different things that you just want to say to them, “Why? I work like a dog.”  You look at that person and you just want to slap them upside the head because they don’t seem to produce any virtue. They are not virtuous at all. Things just ripened in such a way. They just say, “I can do what I want to because I am not going to catch hell from anybody.”  Well, that is the attitude and the mind state that would produce rebirth as a long life god—lots of virtue tied in with that kind of pridefulness.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: Adjusting One’s Mind

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

First, [during the preliminaries] one adjusts one’s intention [in order] to be in harmony with the special feature of this instruction. There are three ways to do so, by developing repulsion or weariness toward the suffering of samsara, by developing an attraction to enlightenment, and by transcending the two extremes of samsara and enlightenment through vowing to maintain the middle way.

When considering the first step to adjust the mind, one cultivates repulsion and weariness towards samsara as antidotes for strong attraction to worldliness, to ordinary phenomena, to one’s own life, wealth, and endowments, and to one’s friends and loved ones. Through cultivating weariness toward the suffering of samsara, we learn about impermanence come to understand the impermanence of all worldly phenomena.

Of all worldly phenomena, whether great or small, nothing is permanent and nothing endures. Therefore, when you find yourself attracted to or attached to the happiness of existence, you must bring to mind the faults of existence. Consider that not even a single phenomenon is permanent, no matter how great, wonderful, or powerful it may seem. Consider especially how once that phenomenon [you associate with a happy existence] changes, you will experience nothing but suffering as the result. That way you can move your mind away from having strong attachment to impermanent phenomena and begin to change your habit of always following apparent phenomena based on [experiencing] temporary pleasure and attachment.

Think, for instance, about sentient beings that, due to anger and aggression, have accumulated the negative karma to fall to the hell realm. Those beings have accumulated tremendous negative karma that will keep them in the hell realm indefinitely. In that realm, unable to establish any positive causes at all, they will experience nothing but intense suffering. Think about the eight hot hells, the eight cold hells, as well as the peripheral hells surrounding them. Although it is inconceivable, think about the suffering that sentient beings in those hells must endure.

Then consider the deprived spirit realm. Think about the beings that accumulate an abundance of negative karma through the passions of avarice and strong desire. The result of such accumulation is rebirth as a deprived spirit. There are different categories of deprived spirits, such as outer and inner ones, but essentially they all endure inconceivable hunger and thirst that is insatiable. Furthermore, they never die from that; they just continue to suffer indefinitely, without ever being satisfied.

Next, consider the animal realm. Negative karma accumulated through the passion of delusion produces the result of an animal rebirth. Animals suffer from basic delusion and ignorance, mistreatment by humans, and being preyed upon by one another. From the largest to the smallest, those who are as large as mountains to those smaller than the tip of a needle, all suffer from basic stupidity and ignorance, so they are unable to escape and are unable to do much more than just endure the karma in that rebirth until it is eventually exhausted.

Then consider rebirth that is so difficult to obtain: that of a human being. Compared with the three lower realms of existence, human life seems very blissful; nevertheless, there is great suffering in the human realm. Human beings suffer from confinement in the womb and from the process of birth, illness, disease, and growing old and the decline in their faculties, until eventually they experience the suffering of death and leaving everything behind. Humans are subject to all kinds of indefinite circumstances and situations throughout the course of their life. Some die at birth, and some as adults. Some die alone and unwanted or in an untimely manner.

In addition to the four great rivers of suffering human beings experience–birth, old age, sickness and death–humans experience compounded suffering. For example, humans suffer mistreatment at the hands of their enemies, and they suffer when they lose their loved ones. In fact, they suffer from fear that precedes the actual events themselves. Humans also suffer from not getting what they want and from having to accept what is not desired, because then they have the fear of losing that. Against their will, humans endure all these unexpected consequences.

Many people think that after they die and leave this life they will easily return as a human being. Many believe they will just be able to return to a happy state of existence, such as the one they might now be accustomed to. That is a mistake. I can guarantee that unless you have the specific karma to do so, you will not take another birth as a human being. Without the karma that creates the causes for it, the result of human rebirth is impossible. Make no mistake about it.

What Creates a Hell Realm?

  1. Anger

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

The realms of cyclic existence are depicted in . the Wheel of Life and Death.   The Buddha teaches us that there are six realms. Now one of the reasons that people like to become Buddhist and to get away from Christianity is they don’t like the idea of heaven and hell. Guess what?  Guess what?  But here in Buddhism we view it a little bit differently.

This is the hell realm. This is a noxious picture. I don’t want to describe it to you because you are new and you are delicate. But it is rough. It is rough. In Buddhist tradition, we are taught that there are hot hells and there are cold hells, and there are people-cutting-each- other-up hells; and there are horrible burning things and yucky terriblenesses. And if you look at this picture, you will see terriblenesses that you cannot believe. I don’t mean to make light of the hell realm. I personally have no intention of going there, that is why I am working very hard to create virtue. But anyway these hell realms are considered to be very difficult. In Christianity if you are not saved, you will go to hell, I think. I am not sure; I am not a very good Christian. I am not any kind of Christian actually, and so I don’t really know exactly what the teachings are. In Buddhism, this hell realm here is arrived at due to hatred and anger. Now think about that for a minute. Do you think that it is so inconceivable that one will experience a hellish rebirth? That’s what we consider in terms of rebirth—not that you go to hell forever but [that you will experience] a hellish rebirth. Is it so inconceivable that due to hatred and anger you will experience a hellish rebirth?

Think about the capacity to experience nightmares. Have any of you ever had a nightmare?   Where you were suffering horribly?  Did you ever dream where a monster was after you?  Did you ever dream where somebody really hurt you?   Maybe you even dreamed that you hurt somebody else. Most of the time we project, though, our own hatred and we dream that somebody is hurting us. Everyone has had nightmares, different kinds of nightmares—nightmares like monsters getting us and even getting stuck in a burning house, or nightmares of falling, or nightmares of not being able to get ourselves out of a situation. Have you ever had a nightmare where you were stuck and unable to run and you were suffering greatly because of that or even stuck in some horrible tight place? Something like that. People have described many different kinds of nightmares. When you are in that nightmare are you saying, “Heh, I am having a nightmare, no problem. I’m out of here. As soon as I wake up, I am going to have my cereal.”  No. You are thinking,” Aah!  Let me out!”  That is the same as a hell realm. The mind can produce a short event like that, of being stuck in a nightmare. The mind can produce amazing, elaborate nightmare scenarios.. For some reason, students love to tell me their dreams. It is just unbelievable what some of you dream. It’s just like you all should have cameras and movies. You would put a Friday the 13th to shame.

So if it is possible for the mind to create a scenario of a nightmare, then you must understand that it is possible for the mind to experience rebirth in a hell realm. It is the same thing. The same capacity is at work there. Psychologists say that nightmares are probably due to fear, probably due to anxiety, probably due to hostility. And Buddhists say that rebirth in a hell realm is due to the same thing basically; But we tend to think more that this kind of rebirth is produced due to hate and anger. The mind experiences its own hate and anger projected outward on a screen in the same way that your own anxiety is projected outward on a screen in your dream experience. So that is how it happens. Just as you have the capacity to have been reborn as a human, each one of us has the capacity to be reborn in a hellish realm while we have anger. So long as there is even one drop of anger in our minds that capacity is there. Anger is the seed of that unfortunate lower rebirth. That anger is the seed of that low rebirth. You don’t think you have anger?  Let someone back you into a corner, you come out fighting every time. Let someone put you down, let someone treat you in a way that you don’t think is right, let someone challenge your ideas, then anger comes up. So we all have it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

The Lord of Death

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

I am going to talk to you about some of the more traditional Buddhist teachings on the sufferings of cyclic existence. (She is using a pointer with the thangka of the Wheel of Life and Death.)  I am going to use the pointer here and show you this really horrible picture. This horrible picture is horrible because above the picture we have this beastly looking thing. When you see pictures of the temple, you see that all the pictures have white scarves around them, right? Pictures have white scarves because traditionally in Tibetan Buddhism one offers a white scarf as a greeting. So we are actually greeting the image in the picture. We are greeting it, honoring it, and making an offering; but you will never see a white scarf around this picture and that is because who wants to make a greeting to the Lord of Death. That is not your favorite friend, right? This is somebody that you want to avoid. But we can’t avoid it in cyclic existence. Cyclic existence means the cycle of death and rebirth; and death and rebirth constantly occur.

One of the faults of cyclic existence is that we have doubt. We do not believe that cyclic existence occurs in the way that it does because we cannot remember our previous death.  Therefore we cannot remember our birth. If somebody didn’t tell us for absolutely sure that we were born as a tiny baby, we might not actually understand that. It is something that we are taught and we were taught to understand that. We don’t actually remember our birth. We remember our childhood maybe from two years old on. Sometimes we have crib memories that are very, very vague, but we don’t remember really coming out of our mother’s body. So we don’t really know that for sure. Likewise we don’t really know that we are going to die for sure. Intellectually we do. We are told by our parents and teachers and everybody that we come in acquaintance with that would speak in that way that we are eventually going to die. And we look around and we see that everything that has lived will also die. So from that we deduce that we are going to die, but we don’t believe it.

If we believed it, we would act differently than we do. If we believed that we really only had about seventy-five years, we would make better use of those years than we have; don’t you think? Haven’t you ever lost whole days and said to yourself, “Where did this day go?”  Well, if you don’t know where it went, then it wasn’t put to good use. It sort of slid by you. Have you ever gotten the scary idea that you don’t know where the week went? Have you ever gotten the idea that you don’t know where the summer went? That happens to me all the time. Did you ever get the idea that you don’t know where the year went? Did you ever get to be forty-two years old and you don’t know where twenty-two years went? That happened to me recently. Did that happen to you? You know that one, huh?

Sadly I spoke to my mother a while back and I asked her, “How old are you now Mom?” We were talking about that and I said, “How does it feel to be sixty-five?”   And she said, “You know sometimes I look in the mirror and I see this old lady looking back at me and she said, “I don’t know how that happened to me.”  And she had a lost quality in her voice. She said “How did that happen to me? I feel like I should still be young. How did that happen to me?”  We all come to that point where we realize that we haven’t really taken hold of our lives. We haven’t really used them. Time passes so quickly. In fact we are taught that the cycle of death and rebirth passes like a waterfall down a mountain, but still we don’t believe in our death. We do not make use of our days, of our hours, of our minutes. We do not make use of our weeks. And how much use have we made of those twenty-two years? Yeah, we have made some gains, but twenty-two years worth? Seems like if you really worked hard and consistently, you could have done a lot better.

So you deduce from the way people act that they really do not understand that death is impending. And this is one of the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha teaches us not to get depressed. The Buddha teaches us this so that we can use our time effectively because it is our nature to waste our time; and one of the faults of cyclic existence is ignorance in that regard. We do not use our time. We do not effectively overcome the ignorance of passing through this time so quickly and not being able to use it and not really understanding that this time will pass quickly. We do not seem to understand that.

We are reborn again and again and again and we have no memory of it, so we have no way to understand that these realms of cyclic existence actually exist. Not too many of us here have been to China or the Soviet Union, but we all know for certain that we would stake our lives on the fact that these places exist. Why? Because we have some pictures of them, and we have been told that they exist. Yet many of us will not believe that these six realms of cyclic existence actually exist. The Buddha has told us that they exist. The Buddha has told us that they exist. The Buddha is enlightened. The Buddha knows better than anything, but we would believe a dumb camera that only knows what to do when we push its button. That we would believe. That doesn’t make any sense to me either. Sometimes we act like we are a little retarded, you know?

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Understanding Our Root Guru

I agree wholeheartedly with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa when he says it is most important to keep one’s samaya with the root Guru. I was once told a story where a dedicated and educated practitioner emerged after several years of retreat and went to his Lineage Master to complain of his lack of progress.

The Guru sent the retreatant back to the cave, saying five more years were needed. In five years this happened again. This time the Guru said, concentrate on the Root Guru!  So the practitioner went back for five more years. Still almost no result! No Bodhicitta, no Wisdom or Recognition. The Guru then shouted, “You did not meditate on your root Guru!”

“Well,” said student “I most certainly did.”  The High Lama said, “I am not your root Guru! I am one of your teachers and you favor me because I have a high throne! That makes you feel that you certainly are high yourself!”

The great lama in his clarity and mercy said, “You fool! The old poor Ani who fed, raised and dressed you also taught you the four contemplations that turn the mind to Dharma, as well as Bodhicitta, the Four Noble Truths, including the Eight-Fold Path! How stupid and arrogant to think you must have the highest Lama! Such pride! A downfall! So go back and meditate on mixing your mind with that old ragged Ani. She is your Tsawei Lama and was also a wisdom Dakini. Her Qualities were peerless, sublime! But pride has closed your eyes.” Then with fury he cast the practitioner away, saying, “Come back when you have thrown away your pride.”

Five years later the retreatant returned with gifts and prostrations. He was, much to the delight of the Great Lama, awake. He had mixed his mind with his true Guru, had given rise to pure Bodhicitta, and had no pride.

Both the Great Lama and the disciple rejoiced together, and could hear the joyous cries of the wisdom Dakini throughout the entire monastery- Kye Ho!

So the Root Guru only needs to be awakened herself, be able to communicate, and have lineage teachings to pass on. “High Seats” are another issue entirely.  It is that one who hooks and aligns you with pure Dharma, connects you with method and result who is the true Root Guru. Praise to the Root of Accomplishment!

Vajrasattva in the Bardo

Vajrasattva-single

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

On the second day, here they’re saying Vajrasattva Buddha appears. This is Vajrasattva, the very same one that you are practicing in your Ngöndro. Think how ready you will be for him! The minute he shows up you’re going to go, “Yes! I know who you are!” In this case, Vajrasattva Buddha is also associated with Akshobya Buddha, but he will appear as Vajrasattva Buddha on the second day with white light. And again, the white light will be unnaturally brilliant, according to what we have understood, dazzling, frightening in its dazzling light; and at the same time a softer, easier on the eyes (even though there are no eyes, we have that kind of perception in the bardo at that point), black light, the softer black light of the hell world, will manifest. Now listen to how tricky this is. We are faced with an unnaturally white, unnaturally bright, scary light, or a softer, black light that, because we have felt hatred more than we have felt Vajrasattva, we are more familiar with. It will not be so frightening to us. It will be softer, and it will seem to be seductive, more so than the white light. So what we have to do is to be sure and avoid that black light, because that black light results in rebirth in one of the hell realms.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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