Relief From Suffering

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

Now having been introduced to the six realms, you should look at all of the different qualities that produce these rebirths: anger, grasping, ignorance, doubt, jealousy and pride.  You should think that the thing to do, if you have any understanding at all, is to begin to engage in activity that pacifies those kinds of qualities.  How does this mesh with compassion?  When you think about engaging in compassionate activity, you have to view compassionate activity in accordance with this teaching because you might think that compassionate activity would only be to be nice to people, and actually that is one kind of compassionate activity, or to give money to the poor, or to feed people.  That is one kind of compassionate activity; that is one kind of bodhicitta, but it is temporary bodhicitta.  It will produce a temporary cessation of suffering for the people that you help.  If you give them food when they are hungry, it will produce the end of temporary suffering.  If you give them money when they are poor, it will produce the end of temporary suffering.  But if you really want to get into ultimate bodhicitta, which is the quintessential practice of the Mahayana vehicle, and Vajrayana as part of Mahayana—Vajrayana is what we practice here—what you really want to do is to practice ultimate or supreme bodhicitta.  Ultimate or supreme bodhicitta is creating some kind of practice that will be a vehicle by which the qualities that produce this result will be pacified both in yourself and in other sentient beings.

I’ve described the six realms of cyclic existence.  Where in the six realms is there relief?  Nowhere.  Will you find relief as a result of temporary help in any of the six realms?  No, because you will be reborn again. And where?  We don’t know.  We just don’t know.  In cyclic existence, there is no true relief.  All there is in cyclic existence are the components of cyclic existence.  That is all that is in that pot.  You cannot expect true relief from cyclic existence.  So ultimate bodhicitta and an ultimately compassionate act would be to become a Buddha yourself.  To become highly enough realized yourself to make that commitment to attain realization in order to return again and again and again, emanating from the mind of enlightenment in order to be of benefit to sentient beings, because that is where relief comes from.

Now let me see if this is a typical thangka?  No this is not a traditional thangka.  The traditional thangkas usually show a path coming out from the human realm leading to enlightenment.  As a human, you can make the ultimate gift.  You can engage in the supreme practice.  You can achieve enlightenment yourself and, therefore, you can be a returner.  You can return again and again and again in order to lead sentient beings through a display of your enlightened compassion.

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

 

 

The Animal Realm: Ignorance

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

The next realm is the animal realm. Now we have a strange understanding of the animal realm. We think, ‘Now that won’t be so bad.’  I have actually had people say to me, “I wish I could be a dog in my next life so that people would pet me.”  And I go, “Oh, no. Please don’t say that because you are not going to be a dog. You are going to be a hungry ghost.”  Don’t do that. That kind of neediness, that kind of idea,… You don’t want to express that. Let’s understand the animal realm better.

It isn’t like our little puppies and our little kitties and our little birdies. It isn’t cute little fluffy stuff like that. You have to think about what the animal realm is really like. Animals are completely at the mercy of the higher life form of humans. They are completely at the mercy of one another. In animal realms, there is the predator and the victim. And even amongst those animals that do not engage in that kind of activity, they are victimized by their own stupidity. I think about the bullocks in India. They have to pull these huge carts. Their owners whip them all day long in order to make them pull these huge carts; and they decorate their horns and think of them as their objects. They are their objects; and really they are more valuable than their wives because the bullocks can make it possible to pull these large amounts of things that the owners need to pull in order to make their livings. So I think about that kind of suffering. I think about camels that are ridden across deserts, not ever being able to go where they want to go. I think of horses that are never permitted to do what they want to do, never permitted to live naturally. I think about even our own domestic pets that are at our mercy as to whether or not we remember to feed them, whether or not we remember to take them to the vet. It’s our decision whether or not we want them fixed. It’s a dog’s life. It is a terrible thing to be engaged in the animal realm, because in the animal realm the chief suffering is that of ignorance. An elephant, for instance, could easily escape from a man who was dominating it, you see, in order to make it work all its life; but the elephant is too stupid to know that. It is too stupid to understand that. The human has developed a method to demonstrate his mastery, and therefore the elephant, although it is ten times bigger than the human, thinks that it is a victim of the human. That kind of stupidity leads to terrible suffering.

Animals in the animal realm are constantly fearful. They are constantly fearful of being eaten. All of their instincts guard against being eaten. They are constantly fearful of being left without food. They are constantly fearful. There is no space in their minds other than the fear that they have; and that fear is the result of ignorance.

So, do we have any ignorance in our minds, do you think?  Now, I don’t mean ignorance like you didn’t go to college. Not like that kind of ignorance. But the ignorance that makes you say, “Where did the day go?”  That dullness that makes you go through a day and you get the impression that you rode or skimmed on the surface of that day. You just kind of skimmed, just kind of floated on it, and your mind didn’t dig in anywhere in particular too much. You sort of ran around in your head a little bit. And then maybe you spent another day where you kind of floated on the sensuality of that day. I ate, and I slept. I spent time with my family, and I spent time with my husband or wife. And put on some new clothes. I worked and it felt good to work; or maybe it didn’t feel so good to work, and it felt like this. That kind of dullness where you don’t say, “Yo, let’s look at the faults of cyclic existence and figure out what we can do to make this day count.”  That kind of dullness is the kind of dullness that will cause us to be reborn in the animal realm. That dullness and ignorance.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Vajrasattva in the Bardo

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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

The Bardo of Dharmata

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

After the three and a half days of unconsciousness occur, another period begins which is called the bardo of dharmata. It’s also called the bardo of becoming. It looks or feels as though a person is emerging from a deep sleep. It is at that time that a person actually fully realizes that they are dead. If they have no training, then they have no capacity to realize beforehand. This is, again, three days after, and in some cases the body has been handled, or the body has been cremated. The person, although they are unconscious at that time, still has enough of a connection that when they wake up they are aware (and they are even residually aware in their sleep) of what the body is experiencing. Do not cremate the body before three days. Do not do that. Giving body organs? It depends on how you feel about it. There’s a lot of virtue in that. The timing? Well, you have to do that immediately; there’s no choice. But in that case you would be doing something compassionate, and even though it wouldn’t be the best for your own death situation, you would wait until the inner death ceased. The wise thing to do would be to have a lama come and practice Phowa with you. The inner wind would have ceased. If the lama is worth their salt and you have any devotion, you should be all right by that time, and you can then donate the organ within a reasonable amount of time. But for myself, my decision is that even though I would love to just keep manufacturing organs for lots of people to have, I would love to just keep giving them out, my decision is that I feel I can help people better during the course of my life; and I also want to achieve for myself, again and again, the most auspicious birth so that I can return again and again in a form to benefit sentient beings. I feel that that is ultimate benefit for sentient beings, rather than what my eyes could give, or something like that. So it’s a question of how you want to benefit sentient beings.

It is during this period, in the bardo of dharmata, that the Buddhas of the five families begin to manifest themselves. Now when you think of the Buddhas of the five families manifesting themselves, what do you think happens? Do you think that they have some sort of warning bell that tells them when you die, and they sort of know,“Oh, she’s dead. Better hurry up,” so they run from the five different directions and they come over and visit you, and they just sort of hang out, wave at you? No, it’s not like that. Actually, the Buddhas of the five families are seen as separate displays and separate emanations, but they are intrinsically present in our minds as our own nature, our own five wisdoms. So you can say that the Buddha families each represent our own subtle intrinsic wisdoms. Whether we have them developed or not, that’s another story. For instance, we think about Amitabha Buddha. That family, the Lotus family, is associated with discriminating wisdom. Ratnasambhava Buddha, associated with the Ratna family, is the wisdom of equanimity. Amoghasiddhi Buddha, associated with the Karma family, is accomplishing plain wisdom, and Vairochana Buddha accomplishes the wisdom of the dharmadhatu. That’s the awareness of what is and what is not, as one. Akshobya Buddha is considered the Buddha of mirror-like wisdom. So each one of these is our own intrinsic awareness, our own intrinsic wisdom. As to whether or not we have them developed, that is another thing.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Choice

 

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

What makes this practice of Phowa different from all of that slip sliding and unpredictability, and unclear cause and effect connections, and lack of understanding as to where things come from and why things are a certain way? And what makes this practice of Phowa different from—forgive my French—the bullshit we feed ourselves? Literally the lies that we feed ourselves when we tell ourselves how we’re doing and how long we’re going to last, and all of the ideas we have about how we should leave ourselves alone and not try ourselves too hard. These kinds of ideas are separate from the bardo idea because in life, situations are so confused that you can play that game. It’s not clear. There are so many different ways that you can go. It’s just not clear. There’s plenty of space and time and ability to fool yourself. And we do fool ourselves. We fool ourselves every day. For instance, we pretend to believe that virtuous conduct will lead us closer to enlightenment. We pretend to believe that, but in our lives most of our conduct is in fact non-virtuous. We are slothful. We are lacking in commitment. We are unkind to others. We are not aggressive in our desire to benefit sentient beings. We are self-absorbed. We allow ourselves to wallow in our neuroses, rather than pulling ourselves up, kicking ourselves in the butt, and causing ourselves to just get ourselves together. And we do have that capacity, you know.

So what is the difference between that kind of thing and bardo, and the eventuality of bardo and the idea of Phowa? The difference is that no matter how you slice it or how you bullshit yourself or how you are in denial, no matter how many of Cleopatra’s outfits you try on every day, no matter what you do or what you think, you cannot deny that you will die. This is one eventuality that we all share; and without exception, to the man and woman, we must prepare for this event, because we’re going to go through it. And we’re going to go through it one of two ways: blindly, driven by the forces of karma, and helpless; or we’re going to go through it safe, prepared, aware, and able. Those are the only two choices. Whether we will go through this event, there is literally no choice. Think about that. You have to think about that. I know you have the capacity to think about this, although you say, “Well, I just can’t think about that, can’t think about that. It scares me too much, scares me too much.” But I know you have the capacity to think about that. I know that you do. And you have the capacity to experience the fear. Do not suppress it. Acknowledge that you have that fear. Let it be; and then explain to yourself that we will overcome this fear together through training. Through accomplishing method. The only way to overcome fear is to accomplish method. It’s the only possible way. But remember—about going through this, we have no choice.

We have incredible degrees of choice about how to go through. Just as we have a choice as to how to live, we also have a choice of how to die. And the thing that I would encourage is that, even if you are the rascal of rascals in this lifetime, even if you are so naughty that if I knew I would spank your bottoms! Even if you were just that naughty! Even if you are so naughty that you are childish and you let yourself get away with everything,…  You don’t practice even though you have the method, you just haven’t had the time, you won’t make the time, and blah, blah, blah, all these other things, and then you come up to me and you say, “Oh, it’s because my mind is so unstable, that’s why I can’t practice [hic] practice [hic] practice [hic] practice.” And of course, the answer is the reason why your mind is so unstable is because you haven’t practiced practiced practiced. That is the antidote. That’s what you do when your mind is unstable. But people come and tell me, literally, that they cannot practice because their minds are too unstable. Well, well, well, whatever. So, even if you are that kind of person, remember, you don’t have to practice. I can’t make you practice, I can’t force you to do it. Guru Rinpoche can’t force you to do it. Lord Buddha can’t force you to do it. Neither can Lord Buddha force you to walk through the door of enlightenment. Neither can Guru Rinpoche force you to walk through the door of enlightenment. Certainly neither can I. But the one thing that you will have to do, once again, is to die. You have no escape from that. It is written in stone.

And so what you have to think about is this: Will you die nobly and well? You do have to die, and for the person who is not a good practitioner or who is born with the kinds of mental or physical afflictions that truly prevent them from practicing in a deep and profound way, this is the method. Phowa is what you have left. I don’t see many of you packing your bags to go stay in a cave in Nepal and practice until you achieve supreme enlightenment. I don’t see any of you heading for a seat under the Bodhi tree, planning to sit there and practice austerities, or whatever, just to see how that goes. I don’t see any of you rushing off in some other direction. I see you in your lives, deeply enmeshed in your lives, dealing with the choices and opportunities of your lives. You have many choices.  And you’re right—some of you have less time than others. Definitely you will not have the time that it takes to practice to the degree that you will end up achieving liberation or the rainbow body before your death. Because that takes a commitment that none of us have made yet, that none of us has made within the context of our lives here. We literally cannot do it; we’re not ‘going there’ now. It isn’t the karma of the situation.

So what do you have left? Definitely you have two methods that will help you to die well. Because if liberation is not possible during the course of this lifetime—even though theoretically it is—if for you it is not, then definitely you should understand liberation is possible in the bardo. Even for you, even if you have not practiced well during the course of your life. And that’s truly the biggest piece of candy that I know on this path. It is a big piece of candy, because I know of no other method that can allow for this.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Denial

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

Those people who accuse Buddhists of creating a kind of depression or melancholy through these ideas, are, what I would call, in denial. They’re simply in denial. They’re not at that stage of maturity, either in their physical lives or in their spiritual lives, where they can come to grips with this idea [preparing for death]. Some of it has to do with their age. Look around you. Look at the age of the people in this room. There are very few of us who are in our twenties. There are a few of us who are in our thirties. Most of us are at least kicking down the door of forty, if not on the other side. And it’s not because forty-year-olds are so much more spiritually developed than twenty-year-olds. Even the forty-year-olds that are spiritually developed have to be twenty at some point, so that can’t be it. But there are certain changes that happen psychologically within the context of our lives.

Many of you have already noticed this. This is not a news flash, is it? One of them is that we meet a stage in our life where we have a recognition, and the recognition is keyed off by, first of all, physical changes within our body. It is obvious that things are changing. We look in a mirror. Then we look at a picture of us a decade ago. And even a twenty-year-old could see this. You have changed. Maybe a twenty-year-old could see it even more dramatically. If you are twenty-five now and ten years ago you were fifteen, you’re much different now than you were back then. But how much more so for the forty- or fifty-year-old who looks at their twenty-year-old pictures. I’ve got a couple of them sitting on one of the shelves in my room. One of my sons was thoughtful enough to give me these pictures framed—framed, mind you—so I can look at them every day! They’re sitting on my shelf, and I look at myself when I was in my twenties every day. What a great technique for a Buddhist! And I’ll tell you, things have definitely changed.

So those of us who are going through those sorts of changes and we’re seeing ourselves on the downside of that midlife experience, we’re also having another kind of expansion or understanding that is coming to us for the first time, not because we weren’t capable of seeing it for the first time, but because we are suddenly keyed in by certain kinds of visual stimuli and also we’re keyed in by what’s happening inside of us. Somewhere in that first five years of our forties we come up with a realization that is a little hard to take, and that realization is that it is not likely that we have a full half of our lives left. It is not likely. It is more likely that I am more than half done with my life. That’s what I’m thinking about, and that’s what you’re reminded of when you look at those pictures of yourself when you were younger. And I’m thinking of how none of us has ever gotten used to that.

Do you remember, let’s say, when you were going to school, especially if you hated school like many people did, or perhaps going to a job that you didn’t like when you were literally owned by somebody else from, say, nine to five, or eight to three, or whatever it was, during five days of your week? You look forward to the weekend as though it were manna from heaven, or nirvana. Or perhaps equally as important as enlightenment. In fact, at a certain age and a certain stage, right about oh, Thursday afternoon, if someone asked you if you wanted your weekend or nirvana, you might have taken your weekend. Weekend becomes out of proportion in terms of its importance, because we have a hard time dealing with the stress of an entire period of time when we look forward to the rest. Do you remember how it felt on Friday night when you were really young? Party time! Friday night is happy time, and no matter what you did it was really fun. You made sure you went out. Friday night was definitely the night that you did something, because you had some steam to work off and it was the first day of the weekend and you were really excited. And then you go all the way through your weekend, and of course there’s the Saturday morning recovery for some of us. And then later on there’s the Saturday evening. And towards the end of the evening, you remember that kind of sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize that tomorrow was Sunday and there was only one day left? Not only that, but Saturday night was the last night that you had before the night before you had to wake up early again. You know, that kind of thinking.

So that’s the kind of minds that we are preparing for our death with. You think about that: It’s the same mind that we deal with our life situation with. We get away with it as long as we can get away with it. So long as it is Friday night and Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon and just starting Saturday night, we’re getting away with it. We are in denial about everything else. We’ve pushed aside anything that is uncomfortable or frightening to us, or anything that is stressful. And the way that we’re dealing with stress at that particular moment is to be who my son calls ‘Cleopatra, Queen of Denial.’ That’s his joke. So we’re Cleopatra throughout most of our lives. And then suddenly you hit forty-five and it’s Saturday night again. It is. Forty-five, it’s Saturday night. Because at forty-five you start to want to go to bed a little earlier, and you can’t help but get up earlier, because you wake up at that time.  You’re not like you used to be and you can’t go back to sleep. And all sorts of things change. But suddenly at that time, as well, you realize that your weekend is more than half over. Or your lifespan, in this case, is more than half over. And it begins to wake you up and causes you to relate to necessity. Reality is hitting us, and that’s what’s happening. And for some us that is a very sad part of our lives, and there are many different reasons for that.

This isn’t really a part of our Phowa retreat but I would like to mention it anyway.

There are many people who literally cannot get themselves together at this point in their lives because they are too scared, too much in denial about the passage that is overtaking them right now. There are many people who have spent their whole lives seeing their own self worth and their own value according to their looks, their youthfulness, their beauty, their sexuality, their youthful vim and vigor, their kind of youthful energies, determination. There are so many people who strongly take all of their ideas about self worth in accordance with their ideas about desirability. And, of course, here in America we have a cult associated with youth going on. A youth cult. Women are only attractive in their twenties; they’re barely attractive in their thirties if they can make up well; and in their forties they’re going over the hill. That is the popular Madison Avenue approach.

Of course, nowadays we are finding our self worth in a different way, and fortunately women are seeing themselves as something other than a desirable object. Men are seeing themselves as other than a warrior that has to prove his prowess at every turn. So fortunately we’re not viewing ourselves in the same way, but we still seem to maintain this denial about our lifespan. We do have this denial about our lifespans.  And even those people who are in their fifties and going on to their sixties… Once again, when we move into our sixties there are no guarantees. There are plenty of people who die in their sixties. Plenty of people. Even though we feel well, even though we feel fairly youthful in our sixties—and I hope you do, I hope I do when I reach my sixties—still there is no guarantee. But we don’t think like that. We think, “I’m feeling well now.  Everything’s fine.” And there are many people who don’t plan for their death, even in terms of making out a will. They don’t plan at all for these events during the course of their lives, except when they get to the very, very end and it’s literally impossible to be in denial about this thing.

So you wonder, are these the sensible people, the people who are in denial like that, that are not preparing themselves for their eventual continuation though samsara? Are they wise? Are they free of the obscuration of ignorance? Not for my money. I think they are the most ignorant; they are not preparing. It’s like knowing that you’re going to have an extraordinarily challenging and difficult tomorrow, where if you knew that if you spent the afternoon and the evening preparing for tomorrow, maybe reading this book or studying a bit or getting your props together that you need for a certain presentation, it could easily be that while tomorrow would be stringent and challenging and you would definitely be tired afterwards, it could be the kind of thing where you feel like a job well done. Good for me. I worked really hard but I was prepared and I got the job well done. You could handle it that way. Or about your difficult tomorrow, you can of course think, “Tomorrow is tomorrow, today is today and I don’t have to worry about it until tomorrow, do II don’t have to think about it this afternoon because it’s not tomorrow yet.” See, you’re doing this kind of ‘dzogchen-esque’ double talk. When it’s dzogchen-esque double talk from a sentient being rather than true dzogchen teaching from a lama, it’s not going to be quite sensible, is it? It’s not going to be the same at all. So the idea that ‘today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow and never the twain shall meet’, and the idea that ‘well, we should just kind of go with the flow, have another avocado, think about tomorrow when tomorrow comes’, is not the kind of thinking that is going to help you feel strong and powerful the next day. And probably what will happen the next day is that you may fail, or the chances are that you won’t do such a good job, and you definitely will not have the result that you expected or desired from your efforts during that day. And it’s because of a lack of preparation.

Now the very people who would advise you to simply let it be and think positive thoughts and have a good time and ‘don’t worry about it ‘til tomorrow,’ have the same kind of mentality that says that Buddhism is a depressing and melancholy sort of idea. These are the people that are in the state, within their own minds, of ignorance and delusion and denial, where they aren’t considering things from the intelligent, common sensical, wisdom point of view. They’re not facing the fact that tomorrow will come. There is no way to get out of dying. Absolutely none. You can’t even die to get out of dying. There’s just no way to get out of it. And we will face this, and how much better is it to be prepared. Because I tell you that while death is something that is extremely difficult to do well, and requires intelligence, forethought, and of course practice, it can be done well, in the same way that you can prepare well for something that you have to do; and you can ace it.

Now you have to ask yourself what is your habit about such things. Are you accustomed to failure? Some people are, you know. Some people fail habitually. There is a strong element of neuroses in the way that their minds work. They are, according to other people who are close to them and seeing them, sometimes called ‘programmed for failure.’ They’re sometimes called extremely neurotic. They put obstacles in front of themselves and cause themselves to fail. And they mostly do this with their attitudes. Sometimes I’m teaching class and I look around. I watch your faces and I perceive the energy that is coming from you and I think, “Problem. You’re going to fail.” Not that I’m predicting your demise and not that I’m wanting you to fail. It’s not that. But it’s obvious, from the attitude, from the way that you are listening, from the barriers that you are throwing up, within your own mind, in front of yourself, that you are not going to let yourself do well.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Extraordinary Opportunity at the Time of Death

ClearBardo

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

The next thing that happens, if we are continuing through the bardo, is that the female bindu, or tigle, disengages from the base of the spine, and that is the mother seed. The mother seed then rises up to the heart. When that happens, we will see red luminosity. Now literally, we have never seen red luminosity before. We don’t know what it is, complicated by the fact that it’s like no red we’ve ever seen before, and no luminosity we’ve ever seen before. It’s extraordinarily brilliant. Extraordinarily profound. It is the kind of experience where we don’t just see the light ‘out there,’ it effects one totally; and so there may be a fear of that. Generally speaking, practitioners run from the red light.

The red light is actually the appearance of the female buddhas or the dakinis. It is the true, essential nature that was your mother’s nature, without the level of delusion that your mother carried, her true nature, her buddha nature. That is the truth of that. You will see this red light and, in most cases, sentient beings will run away from that red light. They will not know what it is. It will confuse them. And at that time there is also an impact of sound and feeling as well. You can’t explain that, but try to imagine light that registers so strongly that it registers on every sense you’ve ever experienced. So there is a feeling and a hearing and every kind of component to it as well. It’s just too much for the unprepared.

Then the white and the red light come together in the heart. They meet. And at that time an extraordinary thing happens. All the elements have dissolved, the male and female buddha principles have united within your mind, and , temporarily, you have none of any of the attachments and hangups and clinging associated with physical life. All the elements have dissolved. There is a moment of spaciousness at that time such as you have never experienced before, and cannot experience at any other moment.

This moment is so precious. So precious. Because at that moment when the male and female principle unite within the heart, one sees clearly the Dharmata, the true face of one’s own nature. All phenomena is seen at that time to have the same taste. One cannot make a distinction.  One cannot literally make a distinction between subjective and objective. All of the components of deluded mind are temporarily disengaged at that period of time; and there is, at that moment, the most extraordinary potential for liberation. But the Dharmata, our true nature, has no visible light, because, what would be that that is lit? Our nature is not that which can be described, let alone colored or lit. What would be that thing that is lit? So our perception, when these two elements come together, is an experience of black luminosity for the non-practitioner, and this black luminosity affects the non-practitioner as a fainting or a sleep. This is the time during the death process when the sentient being actually goes under, goes dead—goes dead in their minds. They actually experience death.

For the practitioner, that dark luminosity, if we are prepared and if we have experienced meditation successfully even for a moment, can be perceived as clear luminosity. Now remember, the condition of our mind affects us. If we are fearful, if we are running in the bardo state, it will be dark luminosity and it will frighten us; and it will be tremendously impactful. But if we are prepared and our minds have been changed through meditation, then it will be a clear luminosity and a recognition of one’s own mind, of one’s own supreme buddha nature. It will be very much like a mother and a child who have been separated:  Suddenly the child sees her mother and she runs to her mother, and there’s no denying her mother. The smell, the touch, the view of her mother is like… There is no one else. I could not deny that this is my mother; this is my long lost mother. And the child, literally who—this is the practitioner, of course—jumps into the mother’s lap and drinks the milk from the mother’s breast. And that is what happens if one is prepared for death. When that moment occurs, we jump through pure view into the arms of the Dharmata and we drink the nectar of our buddhahood. And that is a happy and profound and joyful moment for that one who is prepared for death.

Unfortunately, however, and this is where we are going to close, so that you have something to think about tonight, for those who are unprepared for death, this is the moment they miss utterly. It is never known. This precious moment where we come face to face, freely with our own nature—and we sleep through it, we literally sleep through it—and it’s because we cannot recognize. It is like a person who is suddenly without eyes. They see blackness, and not knowing that this is their life, without eyes, they think it is time to sleep. They instinctively go towards sleep. If the person recognizes this nature, the liberation that occurs at the moment of the union of the mother principle and the father principle, that occurs when these two principles have united, is supreme realization. Very difficult to do, but the result is supreme, in that one can return in a form to benefit sentient beings having accomplished the pure view of recognizing one’s own buddha nature. One literally abides spontaneously in the mind of the buddhas. One literally is awake. Having remained awake in that time, one has created the potential and the connection with the awakeness of one’s own nature. And so this extraordinary moment, this extraordinary benefit, for most of us, is completely unrecognized. Because we have no experience with meditation we cannot recognize our mother, our nature. We cannot recognize the Dharmata. We have no experience with it. It is like a child who is taken out from the mother’s womb, never having seen the mother’s face, and is raised separately from the mother. That child would not recognize its mother and would not drink from its mother’s breast.

So this is the experience that we are fighting for in our practice of Phowa. We are fighting to recognize those moments and to prepare ourselves for something that, while frightening to ordinary sentient beings, for the practitioner can be an extremely joyful, happy, and productive moment.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Bardo of the Moment of Death

process of dying

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

Now, let’s look at the bardo of the moment of death. Our body is made up of four elements: They are the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element. At the moment of death, and what death actually is from a metaphysical point of view, these elements begin to disengage. Here they are knit, you see, into a fabric. They are knit into what you think of as yourself.

I will explain. Flesh, the bones, and the solid constituents belong to the earth element. They are considered the manifestations of the earth element, and you can see that these are part of your body system. Blood, phlegm—which we have more of in the wintertime, isn’t that true—blood, phlegm and bodily fluids belong to the water element, and you know you have those, especially in the morning. Body temperature, metabolism, the raising of your body temperature to be warm, belongs to the fire element,. And you know that that is within your body, you can tell that you are warm. And respiration belongs to the air element.

What happens at the time of the death is that these elements begin to dissolve in their interconnectedness. They dissolve into their natural state, and their natural state, of course, separate and apart from our deluded perceptions, is the same as one’s own nature. It is the Buddha. In their natural state they are none other than the Buddha. Yet we experience them as fire, earth, air, water. We are taught in our practice to recognize them, because they will appear, even in the bardo state, disguised as the goddesses of fire, earth, air and water. And we still won’t recognize them. We still won’t recognize them. We won’t recognize anything in the bardo state unless we prepare for it and think ahead. But in fact, in their very nature, although we are afraid of them and afraid of the very feelings that we are feeling, when these elements begin to dissolve, still in all, these are also the Buddha. And even recognizing these elements in their nature is one step toward the path of liberation. So do not be afraid.

At the moment of death, the elements are absorbed into each other giving rise to a twin series of phenomena, both internal and external. I love the way this lama [Bokar Rinpoche] has put this, and so I’m going to utilize this and then I will elaborate. These are the conditions that indicate the actual moment of death, the passing into the bardo of death. First, the earth element is absorbed into the water element. How that is experienced externally is that the limbs can no longer be moved. And how that is experienced internally is that the mind begins to see things like mirages. That is the earth element absorbing into the water element. Then, the next stage is that the water element is absorbed into the fire element. Externally, that experience will be of the mouth and the tongue becoming quite dry. (I must be dying because I’m dry all year; it’s one of the signs. My limbs are moving, though! I’m really glad about that!) So externally, the mouth and tongue become dry, and internally we perceive smoke that passes us or rises up before us. You should take note of this. These are the experiences that you must rehearse seeing, because you will see them. Know them, rehearse them, prepare for them, expect them, and recognize them in their nature when you do. Do not be afraid, there’s nothing to fear. So we perceive smoke that passes us or rises up.

Next, the fire element is absorbed into the air element. Externally, heat leaves the limbs, moving from the extremities toward the center of the body. This is seen in a hospital environment when people die. They do actually have that progressive coolness that comes from the extremities into the center of the body. Internally, we will be seeing an array of sparks. An array of sparks. And then finally, the air element is absorbed into the individual consciousness. There’s a footnote here, and I’ll sum it up. Here, when he says ‘consciousness,’ he wants us to know that he’s referring to the consciousness that operated in a dual mode—grasping an object that is separated from a subject. That kind of mind of duality. So he’s talking about consciousness in the familiar way that we use it now. So finally the air element is absorbed into the individual consciousness. The external breath actually ceases. Internally, what we will see is something like the flames of flickering butter lamps. Flickers. Flickers. That will be the air element actually absorbing into our own consciousness.

Now here are some additional bits of information that I would like to add as a way of recognition. Here are some other signs that actually occur. This sign is associated with the earth element. The first dissolution is the earth element absorbing into the water element. a During this wave of dissolution of the elements, one of the experiences that we will feel— and we will all feel this—is the feeling of falling. A lack of safety. There is a feeling of falling. It depends on how the person is. If a person is semiconscious or unconscious they may actually feel themselves falling down a tube, or even falling across a tube. But there is a feeling of falling. For many people, and I would say the majority of people would feel this way, there is actually a feeling of the body falling and not being safe. You can help a person who is dying by placing pillows around them to make them feel as safe as possible and creating a nest, womb-like nest, even under the knees, even under the armpits, even under the arms, around the body, so that until the very last moment of their perceptual capacity they will still be able to feel nested, as though they are safe. Then when the other feelings are obviously beginning to occur you can begin to explain to the person. You can say things soothingly like, “Pay no attention to the feeling of falling. You are safe. You are not falling. You are with me.” That kind of thing. You can talk and it will help them.

The person who has had time to prepare will recognize the feel of falling and will be able to interpret it differently as perhaps a feeling of going, which does not have to have the fear of falling associated with it. You wonder if that feeling is actually going to come to you. Okay, have you ever fallen asleep and jumped? It’s the very same thing. There is the subtle dissolution of the elements as one enters into the dream bardo. That is similar to the death, but not as gross and heavy and final. So there’s the feeling of falling, and sometimes the person who is dying will do that a little bit. That is how you can tell that that is actually occurring.

When they talk about the mouth and tongue becoming dry, I’ve also heard that sometimes the person, right before death, will actually void what is in their body, or right at the time of death will actually void what’s in their body.  That is also an indication that this has begun to take place—that the water element is now absorbing into the fire element. And so you will see signs like that. Here, even in enlightened death—we’re talking about Kalu Rinpoche’s death—he needed to, he wished, he had the intention, the feeling, to get up and void himself, and prepare himself in that way. But that is an indication that the elements are already beginning to dissolve.

And of course, the feeling of cold, the feeling of the heat leaving the limbs. It is absolutely beneficial to the person as they are dying that you keep them as warm as possible, because their comfort during that transition time is very important. It will influence the way their mind accepts the experience. So keep them warm to the best of your ability. If before the death cycle actually occurs you could do something like what they would do in the old days, put a warm brick at their feet, put something warm at their hands, comforting, this is the time when you want to help the person keep their mind as comforted and relaxed as possible. So you do everything you can to help those feelings not to be so scary. And these are things that you can tell the ones around you to help you prepare for death, should you be the one experiencing this transition.

Finally, the air element is absorbed into the individual consciousness, as we spoke of, and that’s when the breathing stops. Now when the external breathing stops that does not mean that death has actually occurred, even though medically that’s what they look for. They look for the cessation of the breath. There’s actually a period of time during which, again, depending on the practice or the understanding or the inclination or the habitual tendency of each individual person, experience continues. When the outer breath stops, already visions have begun to arise, already images have begun to happen.  There are lights, there are colors. There are things occurring that are unusual.  There are visual things coming up. But the time in which we are actually considered dead, really dead, is after the external breath has stopped. And the other period of time, that is a very essential and crucial period of time, also passes. And that is the time between the stopping of the outer breath and the stopping of the inner winds. We have within us the air element. Its most gross display is our breath. Yet there’s more to it than that, because within us are psychic winds and channels that are not see-able by fleshy eyes.  Yet they still exist.

These psychic winds and channels have much to do with the condition of our minds. That is to say, if our minds are disturbed and neurotic and needy and always upset, that kind of mind, the winds that move within the psychic channels of that mind will be erratic. Like ‘puh, puh, puh, puh, puh,’ rather than ‘whoooooooooooo,’ kind of like that. They will be erratic.  The wind channels, the channels within, will be soiled and dirty, and sometimes misshapen and kinked. And so the inner experience then will be different for that kind of person than it is for a person who, say, has practiced and has kept their mind very kind and happy. The calmer and happy mind will have the inner winds moving through the psychic channels more calmly and serenely. Then when they stop, it will be a more calm and serene kind of experience. Also, that small moment of experience when only the inner winds are still operational and the outer breath has already ceased will be much different as well. That inner experience will be much different. So by all means, do not think that it’s goofy to try to keep yourself up and happy and peaceful and in a good mood. That’s not goofy, that’s great. That’s what you should do. It really is beneficial to you.  It really produces health, and you will live longer. You will definitely live longer if you can keep yourself up and happy and in good humor, peaceful in your mind. You will live longer.

At the end, there is a period of time between when the outer breath stops and the inner winds also cease. That, for the practitioner, is the most important period of time. The practitioner who has practiced Phowa will be very busy right then. The person who is helping the dying one through that particular period must know this: Once the outer breath has ceased, do not touch the body except at the very top of the head, right here  [the crown]. This is so important. Please, try to understand how important this is. I cannot emphasize it enough. Make arrangements for yourself; make arrangements for your loved ones. Write it down so that nobody screws it up. This is important, and here’s the reason why: Just as it is possible for each of us to go to any of those six realms of cyclic existence during the bardo of becoming, there is also an apparent method or exit point by which we go into those six realms. For the lowest hell realms, it is through the anus. That is literally how we go into those lowest realms. For  the secondary low realms, it is through the genital channels. The consciousness will actually leave the body through those channels, and that will absolutely write in stone and dictate the next experience. One can leave through the nostrils; one can leave through the mouth; one can leave through the ears. One can leave in many different ways. But the way to leave in order to achieve rebirth in the pureland is to leave correctly through the central channel out the top of the head. And we will get into how to do that. We will teach you how to do that. And we will prepare you for that, so that the channel is nice and clean and it’s easy to get out.

If you’re with somebody who’s dying, and if you touch them… A lot of times loved ones will make the mistake of holding a hand or patting a person on the thigh. What happens is that—the outer breath is already stopped, you see—inside, their cognition is very loose and fluid, very loose and fluid, and influenced by everything. That’s why you want to have their pillows nice. If you are a practitioner, if it’s possible, it’s best to be sitting up in the meditative posture, propped up with pillows if you can’t quite manage it. It’s best to be in that position because it is the best position for a peaceful mind. It is absolutely the best position for a peaceful mind. If a person around you makes the mistake of touching the wrong part of your body when you’re in that highly suggestive and fluid state, the person dying may leave through the wrong exit, literally. Just that little condition can be very troublesome. And so, do not draw the person’s attention to any place else other than the very top of their head right there. In fact, if you can, as the person’s outer breath ceases and their inner breath is still going, you may take a little bit of the hair right there [top of head] and tug. Internally, the person’s attention will go up that way and their consciousness will follow. Even if they’ve done no practice, it will help. Or you can rub, or you can tap. Again, set it up so that someone will help you with this when the time comes. Or so that you can help others when the time comes. That point is a very important point.

The things that are happening to us we’ll have to learn a little bit later. I’m sorry about that. I really need to get all of this out. We have too much to do this week, but this is fascinating stuff. You’ll be interested in this.

After the outer breath has ceased and the inner winds are beginning to die down and are now in the process of cessation, these are the inner images that will be experienced by all of us. How we experience them may vary, but if you learn to recognize them in this form you will recognize them in any form that is particular to your characteristic form of perception. So there will be variations in your own individual experience, but again, practicing and hearing this teaching, you will understand. You will get the lay of the land, and you will be ready.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

The Experience of Death

Chikhai Bardo The Primordial (Clear Light)

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

In the bardo of living, as we enter into life, we receive two seeds. We receive our father’s seed and our mother’s seed; and those seeds go to make us up. They join together and they make us up.—The father principle or the masculine principle in our physical body actually resides in the top of our heads. That’s where the mystical element of your father’s seed, that was given to you, the masculine component of your nature, resides as a white tigle, or luminescent circle (if you have to think of it in a physical way, although it’s not physical), but a white tigle on top of the head. That is firmly brought to you by the union of the seed between your father and your mother. The mother’s seed resides at the base of the spine as a red tigle, and that is the feminine principle within you. No matter what sex you are or what your inclinations are, anything, you all have that. It is universal. We all have these principles, these feminine and masculine principles within us.

At the moment of death, after the outer breath has stopped, when the inner winds are still somewhat moving, (it hasn’t totally stopped yet), first the white tigle or the father principle, the masculine principle, will disengage. It will no longer be held, bound, as it was during life by the physical proximity or the physical area, right here. It will not be bound by that. It will disengage. It will simply disengage and fall. And it falls through the central channel to the heart, and there it remains. During the experience of death, what you will experience when that happens is extraordinary white luminosity. White light. If you have been trained to perceive that light through generation stage practice or even through Phowa, you will perceive that light in a welcoming way. You will see that light and know that that light is the very display of all the dakas, or the male buddhas and bodhisattvas. So you’ll recognize that light and you will be very devoted, moving toward that light. If there has been no preparation for death, if you are not prepared for death, that light will be terrifying. It is extraordinarily bright and it seems to be unbearable, because we are so closely connected to physical reality still that that light, by comparison, is brighter than thousands of suns. It’s, oh, too much! It seems too much and it terrifies us if we are untrained. But if we have prepared in meditation, through either Phowa or through generation stage practice, we may be able to recognize that white light as being the very display of the male buddhas and bodhisattvas, or the male principle of the buddhas and the bodhisattvas.

If you don’t recognize the white light and go toward it in your practice and become one with it, you will continue in the bardo experience. If you do recognize that white light and recognize it as the nature of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, and with devotion go forth toward the light, then you may actually exit the bardo experience without having to go through the rest of the bardo, and either be reborn in a pureland in order to receive instruction, or be reborn as a nirmanakaya form. There are many different ways that one can be reborn, but there is actually a traditional way to view how that birth will take place.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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