Peeling Back the Veil

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

In contemplating our lives and in proceeding mindfully, we begin to understand that the Buddha has peeled away the veil a little bit to show us that we are not only material beings affixed on the time and space grid,  that we are not these lumps that are there.  The Buddha has peeled back the veil a little bit and shown us that we are spiritual beings.  That our very appearance is the display of primordial spiritual essence and that the events and activities in our lives are merely the result of causes that we have definitely created in the past. That we are continually, by our habits and by our thinking and by our activities, by our consciousness, continually creating the causes for the future.  This is what the Buddha has taught.

Now in other religions, there are good laws, like don’t kill, don’t steal. All the religions have the same basic laws.  But in the Buddha’s path, he teaches us about cause and effect.  We are made to understand the relationship between cause and effect.  The potency implied in that is that for the first time, we are humans with tools, rather than humans with sticks and stones.  It’s as though spiritually we moved into the new age of having actual tools rather than being some sort of homo sapien who just kind of, in an animal way, deals with what life brings the best that it can.

Yes, the Buddha has given us tools.  But do we understand how to follow them?  And how to use them?  And here’s the problem.  What we don’t understand is this—and this is not necessarily the fault of each and every individual although we must take responsibility for our own habits and thoughts, it’s the only reasonable and healthy way to move forward: We are born in a culture that does not explain reality. In fact, we are born in a culture that believes in the solidity of form, believes in division and delusion and duality and doesn’t understand cause and effect relationships very much at all.  We live in a very externalized culture where yes, we understand that if you steal something, if you get caught, you’ll go to jail or get in trouble with the law.  But we also think that if you steal something and don’t get caught, that the stealing didn’t happen.  I remember thinking how many times I have met up with students that you can tell they’ve been taught that.  You’re ok as long as you don’t get caught.  Most of us learn how to manipulate our lives and manipulate our environment so that appearances meet in accord with our society.  But we have never been taught what are the real tools for happiness.  We have never been taught that. We’ve never been taught that the stealing produces future cause whether or not you get caught in this lifetime.

There are other reasons for stealing.  I personally don’t believe the fear of punishment is going to stop too many people who are hungry from stealing some food.  If you’re hungry, your mind is different.  Or for a person who is so poor that they can’t think of any other way to get by, the fear of punishment won’t stop them.  But perhaps, if they lived in a society that taught from birth the fact that if you are poor now, it’s because you have not been generous in the past. If you wish to achieve more prosperity, the best thing to do is to be of benefit to others, because stealing will only make more  impoverishment, more poverty.  We’re not taught that.  We’re only taught to look at the external.

But in a Buddhist society, we are taught that our minds are important.  We are taught that we must tame the mind.  Within the mind are the five poisons and without being tamed, they will result in unhappiness if they are left to run wild.  We have the poisons of ignorance, anger, slothfulness, desire, jealousy.  We have them all.

Ignorance in this case doesn’t mean that you didn’t go to school.  Ignorance in this case means that you have no wisdom.  It means that you do not understand the nature of reality, have not been taught the cause and effect relationships and karmic relationships that provide the future reality nor what creates your present reality.  So we are ignorant of how we are, what we are, and how we have come to be here.

So we have these five poisons and never understand that these five poisons are not our nature. They are occlusions in the diamond mind.  They are dirt on the pristine window that is consciousness.  In their pristine nature, they are the five primordial dakinis; they are the five primordial Buddhas in their nature.  They are the qualities of Buddhahood: omniscience, omnipresence, compassion—these kinds of qualities and activities.  And so as Buddhists, the veil is brought to the side so that we can look and see cause and effect and the nature of mind.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Right Before Our Eyes

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

These are important teachings. The Buddha taught us that yes, we will live many times and we will die many times.  It’s so important to think of this particular life as one increment in a great long inconceivable span of lifetimes.  Lord Buddha taught that we have been born again and again and again in cyclic existence in so many forms and so many times that, literally, every being that we meet must have been our kind mother or father in some past incarnation.  So we should think of all beings—including dogs and cats and worms and iguanas and creatures that perhaps we have very little emotional connection with, but even those—if we have the opportunity to meet them or even be stung by one of them, like a bee, that in some past life, some ancient life, we have had definitely some intimate connection with them.

We had another good lesson recently.  We watched the death of the woman with brain damage, Terri Schiavo What an amazing karma played out right out in front of us.  Amazing karma!  If you just step back away from the emotions and look, it’s so easy to see that this is some ancient, profound, terrible karma playing out between these people—the husband, the family and the woman herself.  Amazingly, her death was brought about by a deprivation of food, and yet the very cause of this terrible fate of hers was practicing bulimia.  So you see a kind of instant karma playing out, and then you see it hooking into this devastating ancient karma with the other people, with the family that she lived with.  How amazing!  What a study that was!

I found myself this past week, between His Holiness the Pope and this Schiavo woman dying, I found myself fascinated by these two things.  Watching everything the Buddha has taught us playing out right in front of us for those of us that could see.  My students, my attendants, the people that are close to me say, “Jetsunma, what should they do?  Should they feed her or not feed her?”  Well, my advice would have been to allow the entire karma to play out, completely unscathed.  Let it play out exactly without any kind of interference, exactly the way it would in the world, because this karma between them is so profound.  Better that she, in this relatively unconscious condition, can go through this terrible karma and live it down, finish it, end it, rather than to have to come back and finish it, because it perhaps wasn’t finished.  So from a wisdom point of view, to watch this karma is a blessing. Because we understand how it is with us, we can get a much deeper understanding; and yet to watch this karma is gut wrenching.  It’s heart breaking because we see how samsara is.  We see how we can mistakenly think that loving concern is just that—loving concern—when sometimes it’s power.  We can see also that sometimes when we feel the most powerful, powerful love, that often its basis is very self-oriented, very selfish.  Not meaning to be selfish.  We think we’re thinking of the other, and yet it’s really about how we feel.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Examining Death

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

Before we begin, I would like to mention the passing of Pope John Paul II. Not that I am becoming a Catholic in my old age, but I was baptized a Catholic and I feel a connection with this spiritual leader who has spent, apparently from the time of being a young priest, four hours in prayer every day.  I think that that pure intention and that kind of motivation and that kind of spirituality in the world is precious no matter what flavor it comes in.  So when we lose somebody like that from the world, there is always a reason for sadness.

It’s amazing that His Holiness was really the first and only religious leader that I know of who died so publicly, not only with so many people watching the windows in St. Peter’s Square, but with cable news and all the news networks also covering this event. What an opportunity really to offer human beings—the opportunity to study death, to remind ourselves of this human condition that we all share together. None of us will avoid death.  We may all die differently.  Some of us may die a conscious death, hopefully, through practice; others might die an ordinary death.  But we will all definitely die, and His Holiness reminded us of that fact. Kind of stuck it under our noses again.  In our culture, we like to forget that. Even though we age literally every minute every day, we like to forget that part.  We like to forget that death will definitely come.

As Buddhists, that’s an important factor for us; but culturally, as Westerners, we don’t like to think about death.  In the West our dead people are carried away very quickly before we even get to notice them practically.  Death is covered; it’s sanitized.  We even make our dead pretty.  This is a corpse, you understand, this is meat.  We make them pretty.  This is our custom.  It’s like we lie to ourselves about death.  It’s like we don’t want to face that that person has died, so we have a mortuary beautician come in and fix them up.  Interesting way of thinking about death.  I mean, just interesting.

His Holiness reminds us of the truth of death. That even those of us who practice, those of us who pray, we are all practicing really and praying for an auspicious rebirth.  In his case, he was praying to go to heaven.  We are praying for an auspicious rebirth. We are constantly reminded as Buddhists that everything is impermanent—that our lives are impermanent, that our youth is impermanent, that our physical appearance is impermanent, that it’s constantly changing.  And while suffering is impermanent, so is happiness.  We are reminded of that because we have actually witnessed this life that was so vigorous and so intending to work to its full capacity.

This Pope has traveled to many countries. Even when his health was not good, he would persevere.  That was a miraculous thing to allow us to watch, to see how amazing is a life that is dedicated that way.  And so we all mourn his passing.  I hope that each of us in our own way, however we pray, whatever religion (he was definitely an inclusive Pope), that we should make prayers for him—perhaps a few moments of silence—and celebrate as well the fact that he’s reminded us once again that life and death are really pretty much the same.  That one follows the other.  And just as we have to prepare for life, we have to prepare for death.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Accepting the Offering of the Buddhas

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

I have seen amazing things.  My own students do amazing things. When they weren’t healthy or when they weren’t fit they would do amazing things and they would benefit the stupa and create the causes for continued accomplishment.  I’ve seen them do amazing things.  I saw once one nun who was determined to get to one of my teachings.  Her knees were so bad she couldn’t walk.  I saw her crawling, crawling.  And I immediately dedicated that merit to her swift enlightenment.  And you know, I didn’t think to myself, “Oh, look at that, she’s crawling to see me.”  I thought to myself, “Eh ma ho. How beautiful. How beautiful.”

So we have to stop thinking in such an ordinary way.  We have to start thinking in the way of Dharma, in the way of practitioners.  You can’t wear robes and live an ordinary life.  You have to do for the sentient beings.  You have to maintain this garden of refuge across the street for their sake as well as your own.  You have to do for the Sangha.  It’s just as much merit to do for the Sangha, to make offerings to the stupas, to make offerings to the Lamas. This is extraordinary.  To make offerings even to the Sangha. I know the wonderful Chang family has been offering food for myself and also for the Sangha here.  What a tremendous, tremendous gathering of virtue that is.  What an awesome family.  What values to teach your children.  My goodness.  What an extraordinary wealth to pass on to your young.  Sure you could pass on a few dollars, but what is that?  To pass on the wealth of how to be happy…  My goodness.

Yet we just kind of trudge around in our habitual tendencies without seeing the beauty of it all, the wonder of it all—that here in this place lives Lord Buddha himself, Guru Rinpoche himself, without doubt in Nirmanakaya form, and we can always go to pray.  You know, we might say, “Oh, I can’t practice right now, because my practice is not going very well.”  Well, that’s when you practice.   That’s when you crawl across the street to the stupa if you have to and you recite prayers to the stupa. You say, “Please, I’m begging you with tears in my eyes.  Help me in my practice.  Come to me as wisdom.  Clear my self-absorption so that I can benefit sentient beings and before I die let me do something meaningful other than to hang out with my own distorted phenomena.  Let me make this world a place with less suffering.  Please, I’ll do anything.”

You lay down your pride, you lay down your thoughts, you lay down your body, you lay down your efforts, you lay down your offerings and you rise up a practitioner.  The way of Dharma is to turn our minds from ordinary things—those things that are so relentlessly stupid as to take up all of our time and all of our effort and give us zero, zilch, nothing in return—and to pick up and accept and cherish that which is here for us, that which holds out its arms to us, like our own primordial mother, and says “Come, I’m here for you.  Bring the others.  I’m here.”

Do not turn a blind eye to these offerings that I and other lamas have given you.  They are for you.  These stupas, what we have here, is only for you.  And so I ask you to accept once again.  I ask you not to be beggars under the table lapping up crumbs, but to come to the feast.  Come to the feast at last.

That’s our Dharma talk for today.  I hope it is of some benefit to you.  And I really sincerely mean for this to result in activity.

Let me make one more mention.  We talk about creating the causes for bringing the lama back, so we maintain the house for the lama.  If the lama has a habit of putting a wrap on their legs when they’re by their chair, the wrap should be by the chair.  The lama’s slippers should be by his bed.  The lama’s favorite cup should be out on the counter.  The lama’s altar should be opened every day.  If you really want to create the causes for the lama’s return, that’s how you do it.  The lama never leaves.

When the lama is not here, the lama’s picture should be on the throne.  And we should think like that.  The lama has never left.  And that’s our practice.  That’s our guru yoga.  And we have the visible means of support using the stupas that way as well.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Utilizing the Antidote

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

Now it’s also said that the stupa has a mandala of enlightened activity around it the same as a living Buddha does.  That is to say, that a stupa that is powerfully consecrated with relics, and consecrated by an enlightened lama who has accomplished the mantra,  has a radius of about 100 miles of influence.  Isn’t that amazing?

Yet, we are not keeping that strength going, that fire going.  The power of the stupas will be, by definition of mind, diminished because our minds are not with them.  So it’s a terrible, terrible frightful waste.  It’s really like having all the lamas of the lineage across the street.  Oh, we pride ourselves that we have robes and we can go places and we can do practices. Some of us even have the more advanced practices. We can stare at bindus and stuff like that.  But if we don’t walk across the street and take care of the stupas, you can say we have no practice.  You could say that.  Because it’s like the lamas of the lineage are there, and no one is honoring them.  We call them to our practice.  We pray to the lamas of the lineage. We visualize them gathering in front of us, but we abandon them.  And so what is this cartoon in the sky in front, when we have abandoned the actual Nirmanakaya form?

They say that the lama and also the stupas have this 100 mile radius, approximately, of activity.  I built these stupas here because I was hoping that they would influence our government, but I don’t think that has happened as yet,.  I could be wrong, but I don’t see it. So I’m wondering if I could prevail upon each and every one of you to take these stupas into your heart, to think of them as your guides, your objects of refuge and to honor them in the way that they should be honored so that the lamas through these magnificent stupas can carry out their enlightened activity.  Because these stupas are an extension and an appearance of the Buddha’s enlightened activity.

It’s up to us to plant that firmly in the world, to make the roots deep  and to keep the causes pure and untainted for future accomplishment and future happiness.  There are so many stories in Buddhist teachings about particular practitioners that came to their own fruition through some slight, almost mindless, deed in the past concerning a stupa.  I’m a terrible Buddhist storyteller because I forget the details and I get the punch lines wrong, but I’ll try.  I’ll try to tell you a little bit of what I remember.

There is this one story, for instance, about a pig who was being chased by a dog.  And the pig was a pig.  He had been wallowing in mud, and he was all dirty.  He had a muddy body and a muddy face and a muddy tail. And the dog thought, “Oh, I’m gonna’ get me some pork chops,” and started chasing the pig.  And round and round this stupa they went.  After they went round the stupa a few times, the pig smashed into the stupa accidentally and the mud from his body fixed a little crack in the stupa.  That [pig] was reborn in Dewachen, or some enlightened paradise, because of that cause and immediately received teachings and the ability of accomplishment. He was reborn as a bodhisattva, and was given every means to accomplish; and accomplishment was gained.  A pig!  Accidentally!  These stories are told to us as an indication of what you’re missing, of how amazing the merit is of caring for the body of the Buddha.

Conversely, we are told that to leave a stupa in decay and to not honor the stupa properly will bring nothing but obstacles.  And we’ve had lots of obstacles here.  We’ve had obstacles to seeing the teacher, and that’s me.  I’ve tried very hard to get here many times and yet there are obstacles.  And I believe in my heart that these obstacles are because when I left, the stupas were not like this. I’ve returned to this, and this is the body of the Buddha.

Now I’m not saying this to make myself seem like a high up person or anything like that. Normally in monasteries, the Khenpos get to tell these stories about their lamas. I wish we had that condition, but we don’t.  So, allow me to just commit the non-virtue of telling you what the other lamas have said about me.  They’ve said that if you don’t see this teacher very much because of who she is, you should understand that this is because your own merit is diminishing, not because she’s not here to serve you, not because she doesn’t want to serve you.  It’s strictly cause and result here. Because of the nature of this teacher—and because of the nature of my teacher and because of the nature of the other teachers of this lineage—their merit is such and their accomplishment is such that we must always create the causes of continuing to meet with them.  They’re just not a collection of Tibetan jimokes that do their thing over there and then come and do it over here.  These are beings who have accomplished Dharma and who have returned solely to benefit sentient beings.  Their only wish is to bring benefit., and yet we are not creating the causes for that.

Now that I know what the stupas look like, I will wait before I ask His Holiiness to return here until they are better.  I would not break his heart like that.  And I’m not saying I’m a good mama and you’re bad kids.  It’s not like that.  I’m telling you that this is your practice.  I want you to be happy.  I want you to be free of obstacles.  I want you to attain that pure awakened state where you know what to accept and what to reject.  I say to you, “Reject your own phenomena that tells you I don’t wanna. I’d rather have fun.  Reject your own phenomena that says I can’t because I’m sick, I’ve got a headache, I blah blah blah.  Reject your own phenomena and accomplish Dharma instead.”

Go to the stupa and if you can bend a little bit, you can bend to offer.  If you can bend a little bit, you can bend to clean.  I tell you if you are sick to death and worried for your life, you should crawl to the Migyur Dorje stupa saying prayers all the way, because that’s what a smart Tibetan would do.  That’s what I would do.  If you can’t walk, get there anyhow.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Discerning the Extraordinary

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

Now, we have these amazing stupas.  How amazing!  Even when the lamas are not here, we have this occurrence of the living Buddha here on this property.  The living Buddha remains on this property.  The problem is that our mind is so deluded and so lacking in wisdom that we don’t see that.  We let the Buddha sit there with no company. Not that they need company, but we need them.  Rarely do we go and visit the Buddhas. Rarely do we make them offerings. Rarely do we offer them a little cleaning, you know, to take a little cloth and say, ”Even though the Buddha doesn’t need to be cleaned, may I offer you this. May I take this dirt from you.  And by that merit, may all sentient beings be free of suffering.”  We don’t do that because we’ve forgotten. Because we go to sleep in our minds whenever our living lama is not around to shake us awake.

The teaching that I want to give to you today is how to avoid that.  First of all, let me tell you the way that Asian cultures, particularly Tibetans (I can speak for them), that have stupas, chortens, available in their land, normally incorporate them into their lives. Usually once a year, around the time of New Years, Losar, there are certain days when one does religious activity and that religious activity is increased by 100,000 or 10,000. And of course, we have our 10,000,000 days where we look to accomplish a great deal of practice.  Tibetans always think of times like that as a very joyful occasion, particularly during Losar, a time to celebrate.  They all get out and the wealthier patrons (by the way, that’s how they get to be wealthy) buy the gold wash or the white wash or whatever color they are going to repaint the stupas with. They clean the stupas and give them a fresh coat of gold or white wash.  And that’s a very joyful thing because they realize how much merit they are accomplishing, and they are already, because of their confidence, enjoying the fruits of that.  Because of their confidence!

We’re saying, “Boy, when’s it gonna happen?”  And they’re saying, “I rejoice in my future merit.  By this merit, there will be plenty of clothing, I will be warm and comfortable. All sentient beings will be pleased and this is tremendous.  I am so happy about that.”  And so with the simplicity of just the joyful accomplishment, they are able to experience the happiness right away.  It’s like a festival.  After they finish doing that, there’s always a lovely dinner; and maybe the great patrons will offer a beautiful dinner for the Sangha. And there is always a beautiful tsog offered to the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas. It’s a gathering of the Sangha and the Lamas and all the people that is extremely joyful.  Because we all say, “By this merit, may we never be separated,”  it becomes a very joyful event.  And so, of course then, the stupas are living Buddhas that are brought into the occasion because they are washed, they are cared for. We offer great offerings to them—of course the eight auspicious offerings of water to drink, water to bathe in, all the different offerings and their different meanings.  We make offerings of food and butter lamps or candles. Sometimes Tibetans will make Mani rocks—write the Mani mantra on rocks and offer many of those.  So there are many things that the Tibetans do during that time to celebrate and to incorporate the stupas as living beings in their lives.

Plus, the Tibetans that care for stupas would not think of letting the sun rise without offerings being present on the stupas.  To let the sun rise without these offerings would be unthinkable.  That would be, in the way Tibetans have been taught, in the way that they teach us, that would be like if your Root Guru had spent the night outside and was cold and hungry and needed her attendants or his attendants to come and no one brought him any tea to warm him.  It would be like that.  Would you do that to your Root Guru?  Even before you took your own coffee in the morning, wouldn’t you bring your Guru his tea?  I certainly would.  I certainly would.

What does that say if we have our own coffee in the morning before we make an offering to the Buddha. That says ‘my ego is more important.’ That says, ‘I take refuge in me’ or ‘I take refuge in my coffee,’ which I know is not hard to do.  Of course, we don’t all of us live with the stupas, and so each in our own way, in our homes, maintain altars and, hopefully, we make offerings to the Buddhas before we take any offering ourselves.

Traditionally, lamas have a little cup. It looks like a protector cup but it’s not exactly.  It’s a little tiny cup, and it has a removable top that you can turn over. A lot of times the lamas will take their first tea of the morning and offer it in the little top and put it up on the altar for the Buddhas.  Such a simple gesture but so beautiful.  And so profound.  To do that every day of one’s life is quite beautiful.  Some have the custom that whenever a family gathers for a big meal, the Buddha always gets the first portion. Perhaps for the Sunday meal here at the temple, we can make the first portion and give it to the stupa outside.  Or in a home family situation, the householder family can celebrate their lives together as Buddhists by creating a meal, whether it’s an ordinary family meal or whether it’s Hanukkah or whether it’s Easter or whether it’s Christmas and offering the first portion to the Buddhas.  That’s the way that a householder practices.

We should always think of the objects of refuge as being so sacred to us that we care for them very mindfully, so mindfully that we, through thought, word, and deed,  indicate to ourselves in our own practice and also to all sentient beings, that our caring is such that our eyes are opened. Spiritually our eyes are open and we see the preciousness and the value of the objects of refuge.  We recognize their exquisiteness and extraordinariness and how much more important they are than our own phenomena.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Soothing the Inflamed Mind

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Nature of Stupas

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

Today, I would like to talk about what we have here.  Not only the objects of support that I’ve talked about, but we have the stupas.  I would like to explain to you the nature of the stupas.  I would like to explain to you a little bit about the treasures that we have here. To say that there is nothing like this in America sounds prideful.  Yet, I am not the one saying it, really.  I’m telling you what other teachers who have come here and who have been around America have said—that there’s nothing else like this, that this is quite remarkable.  And I say, “Well, we’re just getting started.  I hope it’s good.” We have here these extraordinary stupas that have been built according to the ancient Palyul tradition by a number of lamas—His Holiness, and then Tulka Rigzin Pema Rinpoche who is a renowned stupa builder.  The stupas have  been blessed by every lama that has come here; but they have been properly consecrated, about that there is no doubt.

The stupas have different levels and ultimately when they are born, that is to say, after they are completely built and the lama actually generates the entire mandala of the deities and all the objects of refuge, , and descends that entire mandala into the stupa, the stupa becomes then a living presence.  The stupa becomes like the Buddha in Nirmanakaya form, that is to say in the physical form.

On the bottom of the Stupa, there are many objects there that indicate the things of the world to be overcome, such as objects of violence like knives and guns and weapons, and they are buried underneath.  There are prayers and objects and images of suppression, including symbols of death, that go on top of that and they suppress the things of the world that are harmful.,  At the time of the filling of the Enlightenment Stupa, His Holiness said, “Well, it would be good if we had the skull of a wolf to put down underneath there.”  I went, “The skull of a wolf?  In Maryland???”  So we were rushing around thinking, “How in the world does one get the skull of a wolf?”  trying to figure it out.  And then we had the great good fortune, I guess… A fox up the road got run over and we had an intact fox skull.  So we brought the poor little fox skull to His Holiness and said, “Would this do?”  And he went, “This is pathetic.  Look how small it is.  Well, if that’s what you call wolf in America, this will have to do!”  So it turns out, the fox gets in there   asthe symbol of death.  We have symbols of old age, of sickness, of death, of all kinds of suffering, and the suppression of that.

Above that, there are different layers.  There are the practices: beginning stage practice, generation stage practice, completion stage practice, accomplishment. Then there are the objects and prayers and mantras that are associated with all these different levels wrapped in a very succinct way, arranged perfectly like the mandala of the deities.  It has to be arranged very perfectly, and it’s all very secret and careful.  Nobody can look in there unless they’ve been on the stupa diet, which is no animal flesh, no alcohol, no sexual activity and no ordinary stuff of any kind while you’re building the stupa.   And the many many gizillions—I don’t even know how many—of mantras , with saffron water sprayed on them that are rolled so tight, some done by machine, because we could get them rolled tighter, and some of them done by students who themselves were reciting mantra at the same time they were rolling them very tightly and sticking to the stupa diet.  So everything very carefully arranged, everything very perfect.  You can’t leave a drop of sweat or a bit of DNA in the stupa unless you have achieved enlightenment.  So nobody gets to really climb in there without being clothed up and very very careful.

When the lama then brings the stupa to fruition, there is of course the vestibule in which the deity sits, and the deity itself is completely consecrated like the deities on the altar, and they themselves have all the accomplishment figures in them. And then the relics are at the top.  Some of them are wrapped up to the spine, that is a very large piece of wood with mantra written all over it going down the middle.  Some of them are wrapped body, speech, and mind mantras of enlightenment.  So then when the lama descends the deities into the stupa, the stupa is completely able to receive every blessing that the lama is capable of conferring.  All the materials are blessed, purified and perfect.  All the needs have been met.

The lama that actually empowers the stupa is always a lama of accomplishment.  That is to say, Tulku Rigzin Pema Rinpoche is known as a stupa lama and maintains the stupa diet always. He maintains retreat a lot of the time in order to keep the stupa-related accomplishments fresh in his mind as though they were like fresh bread, just right there at the tip of his tongue or the tip of his mind—however you would put it—able to be conferred.  Then of course His Holiness Penor Rinpoche who empowered the Enlightenment Stupa is a living Buddha and is known worldwide as a living Buddha.  In Tibet, people gather the dirt that he walks on and save it and put it on their altars.  His foot-print even.   He never is not practicing.  I’ve seen the way his mind works.  He is like…   Well, he is a living Buddha.  There is no other thing to say about it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Right in Front of You

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

What I would like to talk about today is our opportunity right here.  We have a tremendous opportunity.  Whenever lamas come to this temple, they say, “This is a living jewel in America.”  That’s what they say.  They say that this temple is a living jewel; that it’s the real thing. They use phrases like that.  This is really Dharma; this is the right stuff. They also say that we have all the objects of support here.  We don’t really know what that means, but we’re glad we have it.  So I’ll tell you.

We have these visible objects of support, meaning that, for instance, right in front of us, we have the cosmological display of the mind of enlightenment.  That is the sand mandala that remains there.  His Holiness [Penor Rinpoche] allowed it to remain so that we can have with us that display and take refuge and meditate and be mindful of that and to learn.  It is the very display of the mind of enlightenment.  Each object in the mandala has specific meaning and so we are delighted to have this.

Then we also have beautiful statues.  The statues are not specifically the objects of refuge, but they are physical supports for the objects of refuge.  In other words, our eyes are allowed to rest on these objects. Our eyes are allowed to, for instance, study the hand positions, the objects that are being held and to learn from them the meaning of the objects, because each of the objects that any of the statues hold has to do with a quality of the Enlightened Buddha.  So each and every object that is held has to do with quality or maybe in some cases activity, like in the case of, statue of Mahakala that may hold a great lasso. He lassoes the negativity and pacifies itSo it has to do with the qualities and the activities of the enlightened mind.  We ourselves use the same images in our practice so that we can practice these very qualities and these very activities.  For instance, if we generate ourselves as Manjushri, we then are holding the sword that cuts the darkness of ignorance.

Then we have an altar where we can make many offerings.  We try to make the offerings as extensive and as beautiful and as exceptional as possible.  Maybe we wouldn’t think to have so many flowers in our own home.  Maybe we wouldn’t think to offer so many bowls of rice. Why would you want to have so much rice or so much water or so many candles? Why would you put so many sweets and delicacies and things on the cabinets like that?  You wouldn’t do that in your own home.  And that reminds you that here we are in this amazing temple with these objects of refuge and we are making many offerings.  It reminds us that these are offerings; and we again, in some subtle way, offer them when we see them being offered that way.  So that is a condition by which we can practice virtue and gather merit.  Anytime we make an offering to an altar, there is a great deal of merit in that, and our minds become more purified and more virtuous.  And so that is a cause for happiness.

Here are the statues. They’re not just ordinary statues, that is to say, lumps that are formed to look like the Buddha.  Each of them has been empowered, and there are specific mantras that are within each one of them. Usually there are mantras that are general and there are mantras that are specific to the deity.  Inside there is a central channel, as though it were a living deity where the central channel is the beginning emanation of the deity’s form.  Inside each and every one of them is a  a copper tube, or maybe it can be wood, like the spine of the deity.  And so in every single one, there are profound prayers and many offerings.  Some of them have relics in them.  Some of them have jewels, no really fabulous diamonds, so there’s no sense stealing any of them.  We actually had somebody in Poolesville steal a ring from the stupa once and he lost his finger—the finger with the ring on it— so he returned the ring.  You don’t want to do thatYou want to think of whatever offerings are in there as being the very jewel of enlightenment and that that is something precious.

By the lama’s power, each and every statue is empowered; that is to say, the lama generates the deity and invites the deity to remain.  And so the deity actually remains as this statue.  That doesn’t mean Guru Rinpoche is here and not there, or there and not here.  It doesn’t mean that, but it does mean that these statues should be treated like living Buddhas.  And that is the cause for great merit.  There are many practices that are done, particularly during Losar [Tibetan new year], where we take a statue of the Buddha and we carefully wash it and say many prayers. We say, “Although the Buddha does not need washing, by this washing may all sentient beings be cleansed of the suffering of non-virtue.” And so the cleansing of the Buddha is a tremendous virtuous offering to make, you know, to cleanse the Buddha with saffron water and to offer the Buddha a cloak.  Although the Buddha is never cold, one would offer that cloak in the hopes that, “By this offering may all sentient beings be free of the suffering of want, of nakedness or of cold, or of not having any clothing, and may they be clothed eventually with the gorgeous array of Dharma.”  So we make these kinds of wishing prayers.

When we make these wishing prayers for others, we are making them for ourselves, as well.  In fact, there’s almost no need to include ourselves in those prayers, although we certainly may, and many of the prayers have words like that, “May I and all beings…,” or “May all beings and myself included…,” like that.  But whenever we make prayers for the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings, for the end of their suffering, for their continued advance upon the path, then surely you must know that by the merit of that, we also are accumulating a great deal of merit to do that very same thing. So that merit is ours as well.   In fact, when you accomplish something meritorious, by dedicating that merit, the minute you dedicate it, you can no longer burn it up in an adverse way.  It’s like you put it in the bank.  You can’t spend it anymore.  And even though it goes to benefit all sentient beings, it’s still in your bank.  It’s awful we have to explain it that way, but ours is a materialistic society, and that’s how we understand things.

So whenever we commit some kind of virtuous act, we should immediately think, “This I dedicate to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings.”  Whenever we go round and round the stupas—even trying to relieve our own suffering, which many of us do and should really, because we have had cures around the Stupas—we have had amazing turn-arounds in people’s mental states, their habitual tendencies, even mental illness.  We’ve had amazing events come about through circumambulating the stupas and making many prayers.  The minute we do that, we should absolutely dedicate that to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings.

When we pray for our own health, we should not do so without praying for the health of others as well.  When we pray for our own happiness, we should think, “Oh, here I am in this land of great fortune; and here I am securely, hopefully, upon the path, and here I am in front of the objects of refuge and yet I can be so miserable. If this is possible, then how much more miserable than I am must other sentient beings be—those who have no food, who have no home, who are in war, who experience earth changes or tsunami or terrible events.  Here I am in comfort and I am suffering, then therefore I pray that their suffering will cease also.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved
 
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