Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: Aspects to Receiving the Vow

HHPRprofile

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

In general, dharma consists of many divisions an distinctions of spiritual teachings, while at the same time the nature of all dharma is that it has the potential to liberate beings, both temporarily and ultimately, from the suffering of cyclic existence. The main cause or seed for that [liberation] is the cultivation of bodhicitta. Various traditions exist for the bodhisattva vow ritual and training. The lineage for these particular teachings, which was passed from Nargarjuna to Shantideva, is known as the tradition of the Middle Way as well as the lineage of the bodhisattvas.

There are four aspects related to receiving the bodhisattva vow: receiving the vow itself, ensuring the vow does not degenerate, repairing the vow if it is damaged, and methods for continuing to cultivate and maintain the vow.

The first aspect of receiving the vow itself has three aspects: the individual from whom one receives the vow, oneself as a qualified recipient, and the ritual for receiving the vow.

First, the individual from whom one receives the vow must have strong faith in the Mahayana vehicle and must be a true upholder of the vow. He or she must be someone within whom the vow abides and should also be someone who is very learned concerning the vehicles, particularly concerning bodhisattva training. Such a person must never abandon bodhicitta and must always keep the vows pure, even at the cost of his or her own life. That individual must also be a practitioner of the six paramitas of generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and prajna, and must never engage in any activity that contradicts them.

According to the tradition of Nagarjuna, the way to receive the vow for the first time is from a spiritual guide. Later, if an individual’s vows degenerate, and if a spiritual guide is then absent, the person can restore the vows in the presence of an image of the buddha. It is not necessary that they be restored in the presence of a spiritual guide.

The second aspect for receiving the vow itself concerns the individual who qualifies to receive it.

According to the tradition of Nagarjuna, all sentient beings who desire to receive the bodhisattva vow qualify to receive it. The only exception is types of gods in the formless realm, called gods devoid of recognition, which are gods that lack cognitive abilities. With this one exception, basically all sentient beings qualify to receive the vow. But those who qualify in particular are those who have supreme knowledge, which refers to those who know what the bodhisattva vow is and what the benefits of receiving and maintaining it are. Such individuals are particularly worthy recipients because they have profound compassion and are able to use that compassion to bring both temporal and ultimate benefit to other beings. In short, any individual who has an altruistic attitude and wishes to take the bodhisattva vow qualifies to receive it.

The ritual [which is the third aspect of receiving the vow itself] also has three parts: the preliminaries, the actual ritual, and the concluding dedication. The preliminaries have four parts: adjusting one’s own intention, supplicating the objects that confer the vow, taking the support of refuge, and practicing the method for accumulating merit.

 

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow by HH Penor Rinpoche

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche India

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

Let us begin by considering limitless space. Then consider just as space is limitless, so too are parent sentient beings.

Since beginningless time, every sentient being has been our own parent in a past lifetime, and every sentient being from each of those lifetimes only showed us inconceivably great kindness. We must recognize that. We must also recognize that we have obtained that which is so difficult to obtain: the precious human rebirth–and that we have met with the doctrine that is so difficult to meet: the doctrine of Lord Buddha. Recognizing these things, we must understand that the best way we can repay the kindness of all parent sentient beings is by placing every one of them in a state of fully enlightened buddhahood. Therefore, (all of you here) please cultivate this aspiration. Having arrived at this critical juncture, you can now make your choice between samsara and enlightenment.

Now that you have obtained this precious human existence, you must extract its essence in order to make it meaningful. What makes this life meaningful is engaging with the spiritual path rather than just pursuing worldly activities for this life only, such as activities to increase wealth and material endowments or [activities to achieve] fame and personal gain. What makes this precious human existence meaningful is striving to realize the nature of this life.

This precious human existence is extremely rare. The following analogy illustrates just how rare it is: Imagine that upon the surface of a vast ocean floats yoke tossed continuously by wind and waves. Within that ocean swims a blind tortoise that surfaces for air once every hundred years. Of course, it is possible for the tortoise to emerge with its head [passing] through the yoke that bobs on the surface, but the chances that this will occur are extremely rare. Obtaining this precious human birth is just as rare as the tortoise surfacing for air one time in a hundred years with its head [passing] through the bobbing yoke. Surely this [surfacing] is possible, but it is so difficult and unlikely that it is next to impossible. Obtaining the precious human birth is likewise difficult.

If you use your precious human body just to accumulate an abundance of negativity, then you will certainly fall to the lower realms. If you accumulate the non virtue to fall to the hell realm, for example, you could remain there for the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of years, for incalculable periods, where you would experience inconceivable suffering. Eventually your karma there would be exhausted, and you would make it out to the peripheral hells; from there you would eventually make it to the deprived spirit realm and then eventually to the animal realm. In all these lower realms you would experience nothing but suffering; furthermore, you would accumulate only nonvirtue, because not even the thought of virtue exists in these realms. That is why if you fall to the lower realms of existence, you will remain there indefinitely, circling from hell to animal to the deprived spirit realm and so on, endlessly. Very few [beings] actually have the good fortune to leave the three lower realms. Considering this, you will appreciate just why it is so difficult and rare to obtain human rebirth.

What Creates a Hell Realm?

  1. Anger

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

The Lord of Death

the_twelve_links_of_dependent_origination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Truth of Suffering

grief

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

Our next understanding must be what actually would be the end of suffering. What would the end of suffering look like?. Let’s say I was going to engage in enlightened activity. Let’s say that I could do that, had that potential. If I were going to alleviate the suffering of sentient beings, what would that look like? What form would that take?. In order to understand that, you really have to understand what escape from suffering is. In order to understand what escape from suffering is, you must understand what suffering is. What is this suffering?.

Now everybody has an idea of what suffering is. I don’t think I have to define suffering according to Webster’s dictionary. Each of us have had times in our lives when we have suffered. We have had loved ones leave us; relationships that we have loved have ended; even relationships that we don’t love have ended and brought us suffering. We have had changes in our lives that are very difficult: We have lost money; we have lost jobs; we have gained things and then have lost them. Things that we have loved have disappeared. All of these have been sufferings and if none of those things have happened to us, perhaps we might have had difficulties with our children. If none of those things have happened to us, still we will get sick. If we haven’t gotten sick yet, then definitely we will get old and we will die. These are the sufferings of cyclic existence. No one escapes cyclic existence without suffering. So it is considered that cyclic existence is pervaded with suffering. It is pervaded with suffering. It is not to say that there won’t be any happiness in cyclic existence, but the state of that happiness will be temporary because suffering is all pervasive,. and because everything is constantly changing.. So if you experience happiness,  that happiness will end because all things end. Everything is impermanent. If you experience the happiness of giving birth to a beloved child, that happiness will be temporary in that eventually that child will grow up. Eventually no matter how much you love that child, there will be difficulty with that child; and eventually either you or the child, eventually both, will die and so that relationship must end.

If you win the lottery, the happiness from that is also impermanent.  As you know, money can be spent; money can be squandered. And also for many people, money doesn’t bring happiness at all. I’d like to have a shot at it though,. anyway, just to see. I feel like you should test the Buddha’s teachings before you firmly commit. At any rate, you get my drift. If you buy a hot new car, and you think, “Oh good, I feel good now,” buzzing around in your nice new car, pretty soon that car is going to break down, and that car is going to feel like an old wife. Pretty soon it will have a clutch that needs repairing; and then you have to buy new tires and the steering isn’t so smooth. You know what happens. Everything changes. Cyclic existence is pervaded with suffering.

That is what you know about cyclic existence. I don’t have to tell you that; I don’t have to prove that to you. If you haven’t seen that for yourself by now, then I don’t know what to say to you. I feel that you must snap your fingers three times and maybe click your heels together and say, “There is no place like home.”  I think that you should wake up to the fact that this is not Kansas, and just kind of get with the picture and look at your life. If you don’t know that suffering exists, you had better check it out.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Good or Bad?

good-and-evil

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

The problem there is not that you’re a good person or a bad person. Good or bad has nothing to do with this. And you should not do the next step, which is what everyone does, to evaluate themselves accordingly. Here’s what you have to get. We are all sentient beings and we are all exactly in the same position. If you think of yourself as better or holier than someone else, believe me when I tell you, you’re going to suffer because of it. And the reason why is because if that’s true, then someone else is going to better or holier than you. That is the truth. So that is not a game that you should play.

You should realize the absolute sameness of the condition of all sentient beings. It is not a question of good or bad. It is a question of habit. Period. End of sentence. Do you hear that? That is so important. Because in hearing that, you have a key that you didn’t have before. If you think that you are either good or bad, there is no way out of that. If you accept that idea, you are going to find reasons why you are good or bad. And believe me, if you are operating in the good or bad realm, you are going to come out bad, because there is always going to be something better than you. So if you are playing that game, you are going to lose. There is no way to win there. You’ll find reasons for why you are bad. You’ll find reasons in your childhood; your parents will give you reasons; your uncles will give you reasons; people around you will give you reasons. And your badness will continue in your mind.

So we have to work very hard to shift the emphasis from the idea of good or bad, better or worse, into the position of examining habit patterns or habitual tendencies. We already have habitual tendencies. We just have to examine them.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

I Am Awake

Buddha Shakyamuni

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

The Buddha simply displayed enlightened activity and he gave teachings on enlightened activity. It has not been the custom of those who have truly obtained realization or those who have obtained a high level of realization (perhaps not complete realization but a high level of realization), and certainly has not been the custom of any of the Lamas in my lineage, to speak of themselves in that regard. It has only been their custom to give of themselves unceasingly and to strive constantly to do better.  To strive constantly to give more and more and more. They do not speak of themselves in that way. So compassion has many different facets; but the way that Bodhicitta should be understood in the world is that it should be understood as a display of the primordial wisdom nature. But again we are not able to display that nature because we are not acquainted to it. The difference between ourselves and the enlightened Buddha is that the Buddha only described himself as, “I am awake.” He said, “I am awake.”  Students asked him, “What is it about you? Are you a king?Are you a master? Are you an enlightened one? Are you a great being? What are you? ”  He only said, “I am awake.” That is all. Awake to that nature, awake to that nature that is inherent in each one of us. And being awake to that nature absolutely ensures that effortless enlightened activity will be shown. That activity will always lead to enlightenment. The Buddha’s teaching has lead to enlightenment in students many, many uncountable times—full visible enlightenment with all the signs. And so that activity must be understood as the very essence of compassion. Any activity that leads to enlightenment is the essence of compassion.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Turning the Mind

The following is respectfully quoted from “Reborn in the West” by Vicki Mackenzie, recounting the life of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

After she felt she could go no further with this particular meditation she prayed for guidance on what to do next. She had another dream which told her to examine all the probabilities that could come out of her life.

‘I use to imagine all these white picket fence scenarios–the typical Western dream,’ she continued. ‘I did these meditations where I would suppose my husband and I were always happy–like in the commercials where you run laughing towards each other through the wheat fields. And my son would grow up to be doctor–he’d be wealthy and loving. And I would have other sons and daughters and they would grow up to be successful and happy too. Then I asked myself: supposing I attained every material dream a woman could have in America, then what?

‘I meditated on that. It was turning the mind. I saw that these things, these dreams and hopes were pointless. Where did it lead? After all this, you die. I began to see that there was no future in these kind of endeavors. Even if I were to be totally happy in the world and invested all my time and money in it, there was ultimately no point. I might get the admiration of my peers, and all the riches I could dream of, then I would die. Then what?’

What she was describing was the basic Buddhist meditation on death and impermanence that I myself had done in Kopan back in 1976.

‘I remember meditating on this, holding my son in my arms and thinking how I wanted to protect this little being and feeling I would do anything for him. I remember thinking “I absolutely commit myself to making you safe.” And then I realized in my meditation that I couldn’t make that commitment. If my son were to become terribly ill and die there would be nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t follow him into the after-death experience. I realized I was lying to my baby,’ she said.

This relentless scrutiny of her life, the various ways it could go and the inevitable outcome in death was to have a critical impact on her life. From then on she turned her back on worldly pursuits. In Buddhist terms she had achieved renunciation–the lack of fascination with the ups and downs, the dramas and the joys, of mundane existence. It is said that only when you achieve renunciation do you truly step on to the spiritual path, because only then do you stop believing that following the goals of material existence is the way to happiness.

Amitabha Buddha and the Bardo

Amitabha

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

Lord Buddha Amitabha is considered to be that one who once looked upon the suffering of sentient beings as he was becoming Buddha, as he was moving into his fully enlightened state, and saw the condition of sentient beings and began to cry. He grieved in a terrible way. It was a kind of grieving that one can only understand if one has tasted the food of enlightenment. If one has tasted enlightenment and then looked at the condition and suffering of sentient beings and truly seen the difference. There is no other grief like that. One cannot understand that kind of grief. It is unlike losing a loved one or even losing one’s own life. The grief that one will feel, having tasted the natural bliss, the natural birthright that is your true nature, and then watching that while that is so, it is also so that sentient beings are suffering horribly;  watching that they are suffering uselessly and senselessly, and that because of their own ignorance they are making themselves suffer, and making their own mistakes, and that all that they would have to do is stop… There is no grief that is stronger or more complete than that: to know, from the vantage point of bliss, what sentient beings suffer. And so Lord Buddha Amitabha gave rise to the most profound bodhicitta, the most profound kind of compassion, a compassion that colored him, that dictated his method, a compassion that filled his intention, that became his intention. And the compassion was so strong and dominating that he made the most profound wishes. And he made those wishes, not as we would make wishes when we circumambulate the stupa, even when we make wishes with faith, but he made those wishes from the potency of his enlightened accomplishment. He had fully accomplished the view of non-distinction. He had fully accomplished the primordial wisdom view of equanimity. He had fully accomplished the ability to see the nature that is the nature of all sentient beings. He had fully accomplished the ability to see the lack of separation between oneself and others.

So when Amitabha looked to the plight of samsaric beings he began to cry, and it was his very tears, they say, that became the emanation which is Chenrezig, the Buddha that gave us the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hung,’ that keeps us from falling into the lower realms. That is how strong and how forceful his grief for sentient beings actually was. And so Lord Buddha Amitabha actually practiced in such a way as to set up a pureland called Dewachen, which is the easiest of all the pure lands to enter. It is meant to be a home, a welcoming place, a source of refuge for those of us who have met with samsara and have been so damaged and hurt and traumatized and deluded, and have continued so much in our own habitual tendency without any understanding of what samsara actually is, that we have become almost drunk beyond repair. Even though we too are that nature which is indistinguishable, that nature that is both the enlightened nature and the samsaric nature—while we too have that Buddha seed, yet we are so deluded and so wrapped up in the delusion, that while it is potentially so, you can also say it is almost impossible to expect or to hope that any of us might attain the other Buddha fields.

The other Buddha fields are associated with the kind of accomplishment that sentient beings are very rarely able to have. Lord Buddha Amitabha saw that, and he wept and grieved for those students who would be prevented, due to their circumstances. He was angry and would not accept that some sentient beings would be excluded because of their inability to practice. And he became extremely angry and extremely upset that some sentient beings would be excluded because of their ignorance and their slothfulness. He became extremely angry and extremely upset that some sentient beings would be excluded because they had not understood devotion. He became so upset with these things that he practiced in such a way that the very nature of his pureland is easy to enter. There is an ease of passage. And he made it his work from this point until all sentient beings are finished. This is his work from now until all of us are finished. Think of that. That he would be available constantly—and he doesn’t have office hours either, this is the great thing—he would be available constantly. I have office hours; Lord Buddha Amitabha does not have office hours. No, just kidding! Lord Buddha Amitabha has said that he will always be available for those beings that cry out for him. And literally, if, in the bardo, if you can remember to cry out for him once, and to call his name and to ask him to come and rescue you, surely he will come. He will not be able to ignore your voice. He will not be able to keep away from you. He will come.

The way he has set up his pureland, it will be very easy for you to follow only on that small cry. He’s like a mother. He’s so tuned to the cry of the babies that only the slightest whimper—only the slightest whimper, that’s no effort on your part—will invoke his great compassion. Therefore you can have confidence and faith and trust in Amitabha. He is as sensitive as your own mother was when she heard you breathing and whimpering in your crib when you were unable to fend for yourself. He’s like that. And furthermore, Lord Buddha Amitabha has also given us this practice and he has made his very body, his very nature, accepting of us to the degree that he is instrumental in the transference of our consciousness. So, while his body is subtle, while his body is pure, still somehow he connects with us in a mystical way that we cannot understand, and uses his very appearance, his very nature, as a vehicle to carry us into bliss. It is because he is so frightfully sad for the suffering of sentient beings, who have no hope and have no method, and have such strong habitual tendency that is weighing them down. He is the kindest, the purest. There is no other Buddha like him; he is completely unsurpassed. There is nothing and no one that can meet the kindness and the quality of Lord Buddha Amitabha. He should be considered your singular protector. You should think that his face is always turned toward you, and that all you have to do, like a little baby, is to follow the voice of your mother. A little baby learns very early on where the milk comes from and learns to follow the voice of its mother. And so in this way you should understand that the nectar of Lord Buddha Amitabha is all-pervasive, and it’s easily digested, even for those of us who have no will to take care of ourselves, or to befriend ourselves in a firm and disciplined way. Lord Buddha Amitabha is such that he will not only offer you the nectar and the milk of loving kindness, but he would also take it into his own mouth and digest it within his own body, and give it to you in that way, already digested. That is the kindness and the nature of Lord Buddha Amitabha. You can have complete faith and trust in him. He does not prefer Tibetans; he does not prefer any one kind. He has developed his practice to the point where he has eyes and ears and helping hands that extend in every direction. Right now he hears your voice; there is no sentient being that is separate from his hearing. Even if the tiniest bird were capable of calling out his name, even if the tiniest of creatures, the meanest of worms, has any connection with Lord Buddha Amitabha, he will try in some way to resonate with that creature so that they will have a chance. He is extremely active, extremely persistent in benefitting sentient beings. And when it comes to those of us who have practiced very little and are not very confident, he is our sole guide and mentor and hope when it comes to the time for our own death. So when we see ourselves moving our consciousness into Amitabha, we shouldn’t think that we are moving ourselves into something that is strange or separate or unfamiliar or unpleasant. We should think that we are going home. We should think that we are going to our own kind mother. We should think that we are going to our own truest heart. We should think that we are bathing in our own true nature. There is nothing foreign or unfamiliar, or strange or unfriendly about Lord Buddha Amitabha. He is your greatest hope. And if you remember no other image in your life, if you can never call out to your teacher, if you cannot do anything, if you are utterly and completely helpless when it comes to your practice, then please at least remember the kindness of Amitabha, because he will remember you. You should think like that.

Lord Buddha Amitabha has developed his practice so that he himself is the doorway to liberation. It is through him that we can pass, because he has made himself available. Coincidentally, it is also true that the practice of the wisdom of equanimity is often one of the first accomplishments that we can practice through meditation. Interestingly, when we sit in practice, simple meditation like shamatha, we can think that in that meditation it is possible to practice the wisdom of equanimity. We can begin even in a simple, quiet meditation like that, or just watching the breath, or simply letting the attention rest lightly on space, which is a very simple and very wonderful meditation that all of us should practice in order to help our minds not be so heavy and fixated on samsara the way they are. Keeping the attention just lightly resting on space, one then begins to awaken immediately to the wisdom of equanimity in a small and subtle way. And then gradually through that kind of practice one progresses. So, you see, even then, it is Lord Buddha Amitabha’s wish that that should be the most easy and most accessible method for us. That we should be able to firmly and easily—even those of us who are not excellent practitioners—move toward his nature. Move toward our nature. Move toward Dewachen. And it is through Lord Buddha Amitabha’s practice that he has reached out to us, through making his practice such that it is easy for us.

If you could understand the philosophy of burning the candle on both ends: What is happening on one side is also happening on the other side from our point of view, but in truth there are no two sides. It only appears that way. Someday, some scientist is going to come up with something in quantum physics that will be a mathematical formula that will help some of you to understand that this is how reality actually is. This is what actually is. That it is possible for Lord Buddha Amitabha to practice in such a way as to grease our wheels: to practice in such a way as to create a chute, in a way, that we can just sled down, in a sense. An easy access, a very open method, a very accessible method. That that could be a truth. And it could also be a truth when I say that perhaps in simple meditation one could easily develop the wisdom of equanimity. These are not two separate statements; they are the same statement. When you turn to Lord Buddha Amitabha, ultimately you are turning to your own kind nature. Ultimately you are turning to that to which you will awaken. Ultimately you are turning to that with which you will know again, or awaken to, become cognizant of, the connection. It is that strong connection that I am trying to describe.  Coincidentally, that connection will probably be through the Phowa.Then we will know in our heart of hearts that Lord Buddha Amitabha has touched us, just as right now it is Lord Buddha Amitabha who is speaking to you. Because if it were not possible, if it were not so, the truth about how to die and how to be reborn would not be available in the world. It is Lord Buddha Amitabha, therefore, who speaks to you now through these teachings and these words, and you should follow without hesitation, with full confidence, and without question. This is only done because Lord Buddha Amitabha grieves that you should wander any longer in samsaric existence. His nature is that of equanimity; his nature is that of compassion. His nature is that of ultimate depth that we cannot fathom, the depth that is the true empty nature that is our nature. And it is Lord Buddha Amitabha upon whom we can rely as a bridge, a bridge that is easily crossed between ignorance and bliss.

That’s all that we have time for today. I promise you that towards the end of the retreat we will have more teaching, and will have more questions. I know that you have lots and lots of questions. Lots and lots of questions. But I’m hoping that some of your questions will be answered by end of the retreat. Also, I would like you to practice waiting on the kindness of your teacher. Waiting on the kindness of your teacher—that is a hard one. Students don’t want to do that. They don’t want to wait on the kindness of their teacher. They want to ask questions now because ‘we want to know, and we are important.’ You’re not practicing being important; you’ve already practiced that. You’re so darn important we don’t know what to do with you. You are so important we just don’t know what to do with you. You are already important; that has been accomplished. You have accomplished the mantra of importance; you’ve accomplished the mantra of ‘gimme, gimme, gimme.’ You have accomplished the mantra of ‘I think, I want,’ and now you are going to accomplish the mantra of devotion. So what you need to practice now is waiting on the kindness of your teacher, trusting in the kindness of your teacher. Looking for what is already there, rather than defining what you don’t know. I ask you questions, because in the bardo there will be no one to ask questions. You will have done it, or not, you see. That is what we are training for now, so it is appropriate for us to train in that way. Require of yourself to mature. Grow up. Pull yourself together. That’s the kind of thing we have to do in the bardo. Rely on that stability of mind. That’s what we’re training for now.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Introduction to Compassion

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

The teaching for today about compassion has to have a certain foundation laid to it in order for us to understand how compassion is viewed in Buddhism. I am going to combine some traditional teachings and some non-traditional ways of presenting them, which is actually my forte. You will find that a lot around here.

In order to begin to give you some of the teachings, I have to give you a couple of definitions. Actually here in this temple, I have been using the term compassion and that is actually a poor translation of some of the terms that are actually used. One term that is actually used in association with the teaching of compassion is called Bodhicitta. Roughly that means compassion; but it actually has superficial, deeper and very profound levels of meaning. You will find that that is true in everything in Buddhism. There is outer, inner and secret meaning to just about everything. Sometimes I have sat through teachings with my teachers where I have heard the outer, inner and secret meaning and it seemed to me that I understood the secret meaning instantly—it didn’t seem to be a big secret to me—but the outer meaning was confusing. So I don’t know how they figure all this stuff.  In Buddhism there seems to be an outer, inner, and secret about everything, particularly in the Vajrayana point of view. Suffice it to say that Bodhicitta on the external level would be the practice of compassion, which means that one would thoroughly understand the faults of cyclic existence, that is to say the cycle of death and rebirth. One would thoroughly understand its confusion and its difficulties, and what the faults actually are, what the problems of cyclic existence are. One would understand what the cessation of such problems would actually result in; one would understand how these problems could cease, and one would understand what relief from that kind of suffering would be. One would engage in compassionate activity.

On a deeper level, the Bodhicitta nature is actually considered to be our nature. It is considered that our nature is a non-dual union of emptiness and compassionate activity; that that is our true nature.  We are not able to express that nature now simply because we have not obtained realization. But when the Buddha appears or when the Buddha’s teaching appears in the world and is conveyed or conferred in a way that does not deviate from the original purpose and power, then that is called a display of the Bodhicitta.  It is considered that the activity of the Buddha in the world and actually the appearance of the Buddha in the world is emptiness and enlightened activity displayed in a non-dual way, particularly enlightened activity. If one were to have obtained Buddhahood, from that point on one would automatically display enlightened activity constantly. Everything that one would do would be enlightened activity no matter how it seemed. I think I talked a little bit about it for those who attended last week.  For instance, different Bodhisattvas or Lamas that have obtained some realization might display different kinds of activities. There are many different examples of Lamas, for instance, that appear in robes and are really toeing the mark, straight and narrow. It is very, very clear cut that they are displaying the Buddha’s virtuous teachings. And yet there are other highly realized Lamas and Bodhisattvas who appear in the world and their activity seems crazy to us. Seems crazy to us. We don’t understand it. They don’t appear like pure Lamas and teachers.  They coined one phrase in some of the teaching called ‘crazy yoga activity’ where the Lama would appear in such a way as to be odd, almost crazy, looking like they even have mental disturbance, acting very strangely. Guru Rinpoche himself was known to do some very odd things like boink people over the head and kill them and bring about their realization. There is one story of a Lama that I heard of who actually lived not too long ago.  It looked like he did something really horrible. He picked up a rock and threw it at some kind of mouse or a rat, or something like that, and killed it. One of his students said, “Why did you do that? You killed. The Buddha tells us not to kill.” “You have no faith.” He snapped his fingers and the thing came back to life. So it was a display of compassion; it was a display geared toward creating devotion in the students. Those are extreme stories, but there are many simpler stories of Lamas appearing in the world in such a way that through their compassion students can actually relate to them better, can actually hear them better, can feel connected to them in a much better way. So that is one example. But according to the Buddha’s teaching the bottom line of that is when enlightened activity appears in the world, that enlightened activity will be effortless. Meaning that it will naturally occur; and it occurs directly from the mind of enlightenment as a result of the mind of enlightenment. There won’t be any contrivance about it; the thing will be what it is.

One of the teachers that has come and taught here used the expression “the ball is going to roll”. It is going to roll no matter what you do. It is simply its nature to roll. That is the way it is. Depending on the grade of the land, depending on the way things are laid out that is the direction that the ball will roll in. How fast the ball will roll depends on where it is sitting, but the ball’s nature is to roll. You can’t stop that; you can’t change that about the ball. So it is kind of like that with the Buddha’s appearance in the world. When songs are sung to praise the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, their activity is described as what I have spoken of just now as being effortless and spontaneous. Now it doesn’t mean that the Buddha didn’t go through some effort to travel from town to town to appear in different places to teach people as he taught people. It is not to say that Guru Rinpoche didn’t try, didn’t put any effort into his life. It is not like that. In that sense, effortless means that the activity is spontaneous, that at no time does the Buddha or any of the Bodhisattvas who have obtained that level of realization ever say, “I wonder what would look kind right now?  Let me try to do the right thing.  Let me see if I can figure out according to this phenomena here how two and two might add up to four. Let me see if I can figure this out. Hmmm. Maybe if I did this that student would react in this way.”  It is not like that. In that way, the activity is effortless and spontaneous. It comes as a result, not of logical thought, which would be an indication of a very superficial or relative view, but it comes as a result of natural and spontaneous activity that must result from enlightenment. The seed of enlightenment then produces the fruit of this enlightened activity. .

Now we have to be careful how we use that. Unfortunately students that have studied this concept and studied Dharma activity over a long period of time think that they are displaying enlightened activity, think that they are displaying effortless activity. That is an unfortunate thing because the moment that you think in that way and that you consider in that way and that you puff yourself up in that way, that is not enlightened activity.  That is not it all. The moment that you describe yourself as having that kind of enlightened activity you have puffed yourself up and you have strengthened your ego and that is no longer enlightened activity. You are off the mark. There are actually Gurus that are present in this world now that have very good intentions. They have part of the idea, but they do not have the capacity to fully express themselves in terms of enlightened activity. They have not yet produced enlightenment in their students and they are in a situation where their activity is partial. They speak of themselves very highly, as being enlightened, as being a certain way, and it only indicates their attachment to self-nature. So you have to be careful with how you use it and you have to be very careful how you hear it from other teachers.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

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