Extraordinary Blessings

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

One of the main practices that we have to do in order to make progress on the path is Guru Yoga.  There are many ways to practice Guru Yoga. There is a tremendous focus on Guru Yoga in the preliminary practice or Ngondro phase, and then as you move into the different forms of practice in the intermediate and advanced stages, there is still a great deal of focus on Guru Rinpoche, and there is still a great deal of dependence on the Natural Blessing that is transmitted from his miraculous compassion.

Guru Rinpoche is considered to be the Nirmanakaya form, that is the body or the form that one sees in physical existence.  He incarnated into physical existence, and when he appeared on the earth, he was in solid form.  According to the history of his life, he was not born.  He did not have a mother.  He appeared in the middle of a lake on a lotus and he did not appear as an infant, but as a young child.  And when he left, he didn’t die; his body didn’t cease to function.  He was seen to rise up into the sky and leave.

So his activity, his display, is considered to be extraordinary, not  ordinary.  It isn’t like what we usually see.  We do not usually see that kind of event.  None of us has managed to be born on a lotus in the middle of the lake.  Most of us have mothers. I have a mother.  If any of you don’t have a mother, please let me know.  I’d like to meet you, get to know you.

Probably, when we die, our bodies will do the ordinary thing which is “die.”  Perhaps a few of us will do something wonderful, but my guess is that we’ll die.  It’s very rare to be born as a young child on a lotus, or rise up into the sky and leave.  We don’t usually see that kind of display.  And so from that, we can understand that he is, in fact, the physical display of enlightenment.

It’s so easy for us to look at Guru Rinpoche, to think about his teachings, to think about what he has accomplished and think, “Oh, there was a great man that was born sometime, and he did this thing”, to think of Guru Rinpoche in a superficial way.  So when we practice, our practice is deluded really, and it’s kind of confused or even defiled, if you will, by our thinking, “What kind of man was he?  What was he really like?  What did he look like?”  I look at his statue and I think, “Gee he had a funny little mustache.”  We have those kinds of thoughts.  We can’t help but think like that.  We think as ordinary people do.  We look at each other in ordinary ways.  We’ve learned to evaluate things in that way.

If we hold Guru Rinpoche in that regard, we miss the point.  We think of a being that’s much like an ordinary being.  We think of an event that is not so different from ordinary events.  Man goes to Tibet, man teaches. Well, that’s happened before!  So we don’t understand.  We’re very shallow in our perception.  And what happens then is that the transmission that comes to us, the blessing that comes to us through faith, the blessing that comes to us through practicing Guru Yoga is very minimal.  And in fact, it’s an ordinary blessing.  It is the ordinary blessing perhaps of having the opportunity to practice, and of actually having the practices in hand so that we can do them.  Well, you could say that’s not exactly ordinary.  Lot’s of people don’t have that blessing.  And you’re right about that.  But it’s a limited blessing.  What we need beyond this opportunity,  beyond the practice, is the ripening.  And in order to have that, we must begin to understand the Nature of the Lama in a more profound way.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Who Is Guru Rinpoche?

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

When we think of Guru Rinpoche, we are thinking of an emanation that is very important in our tradition. Guru Rinpoche is considered to be the Nirmanakaya form of the Buddha. He is considered to be the next incarnation of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. He is considered to be fully realized, fully enlightened. In our tradition, the Nyingma tradition, he is extremely important and focused on a great deal. All of our teachings come from him. All that we practice here in this center comes from Guru Rinpoche. There are other teachings that are practiced in the Nyingma tradition that come from other lamas. But everything that we practice that is of any consequence really has come from Guru Rinpoche. So he is like our mother and our father. He is the one that brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet. He is the one that miraculously conceived of a kind of teaching that would be especially beneficial in this time, which is called the degenerate time. The teaching that he gives is extraordinary. It is meant to ripen the mind in a specific way that is very useful at a time when karma is very condensed, as it is said to be in Kaliyuga or the time of degeneration.

At this time, due to the Vajrayana practice, we can make great progress even though it’s a time of degeneration.  It’s as though the potential is hotter and fuller and more condensed, more defined.  And if we practice sincerely, we’ll make a great deal of progress.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Choices – Like a King or a Queen

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Entering the Path”

It is not only in the beginning of the path that obstacles happen; they occur periodically throughout your experience of the path. They don’t end. They are like PMS. So each and every time obstacles arise, you have to simply support and nurture yourself. Go through it. Simply take yourself by the hand as if you were a child. Think of this as your kingdom, and you’re a good king or a queen. What should you do to responsibly negotiate yourself through this? You think like that.

Remember the first and most important point to consider: not to make it a big deal. Don’t get yourself all worked up. Try to keep your mind calm, because remember, the obstacles will ripen more quickly and more violently if the mind is excitable, emotional and violent, if it has so many ups and downs. So take yourself to a movie or something, you know, calm down and walk yourself through this. Remember that the biggest tool that you have right now is the accumulation of merit. Within the continuum of your mindstream there are cause-and-effect relationships that have not yet fully ripened. The causes are deeply embedded within your mind. Accumulate more merit and the more meritorious causes from the past will be drawn forth and will come to your rescue.

The name of the game is to pacify obstacles and to draw forth and accumulate as much merit as possible. The mind will become spacious so that we can awaken in incremental degrees to our own nature. To the degree that we begin to awaken to our nature, to that degree, obstacles will no longer affect us.

Upon attaining the Bodhisattva path and moving through that path to the higher bhumis, one is no longer susceptible in the same way to cause-and-effect relationships. They become pacified within the mindstream. They are still expressed in some way, to exhibit the normal characteristics of life. Yet the high level Bodhisattva is not hooked and condemned by these obstacles the way ordinary sentient beings are. These obstacles do not cause them to wander in samsara the way ordinary sentient beings do. So that’s what we have to look forward to. The name of the game is pacifying obstacles and bringing forth as much merit and opportunity as possible until that day happens. For this you can use the practices.

The moment you decide to be on the path and practice, you should immediately begin to accumulate the Seven-Line Prayer. Repeat it on a regular basis every day. That is a merit machine for you. Then as soon as possible, as soon as you have accumulated approximately 10,000, begin to practice Ngöndro or preliminary practice. The reason why it is set up that way is so that the mind can develop and open up to the primordial wisdom nature.

This is the opportunity that you have, and this is the method that you should use. Be your own best friend. Be a good king or queen. Be intelligent and responsible and think beneath the surface. Do not read the things on the surface any more. That’s for children; that’s not for you. You’re on the path now. Look deeper and see what’s happening. Antidote unhappiness with virtue because unhappiness is caused by non-virtue. Accumulate virtue to the degree that you can begin to experience the truly virtuous nature that is your nature. Because if that nature that you truly are were allowed to express itself unimpeded, the display of that nature is the very Bodhicitta or great compassion that we try so hard to emulate.

Your nature is in truth that great unequalled Bodhicitta. You are not a bag of non-virtue; you are suchness, you are that great kindness. When you practice in that way, it’s like cleaning a glass by which the sun can shine through, and the sun is your nature. But do not let your image of the sun be closed down or distorted because of your own habitual tendency to simply ride on the surface and do whatever you think seems right. For the first time, look deeper and understand cause-and-effect relationships. Implement the causes that will bring about happiness and freedom, and pacify, through suppression, those non-virtuous characteristics that will bring you unrest and suffering.

How does this suppression look? Not like faking it and pretending you don’t have these things.  That is not suppressing, that is neurosis. That is acting inappropriately. Suppression means that you take the antidote, and you apply it through practice, through contemplation, through offering, through generosity, through kindness. Practicing these things is suppression because the mind remains firm and stable in the way of virtue rather than remaining caught up in amplifying non-virtue.

You are a creature of choices. Isn’t it amazing! A creature of choices! At every turn you can make choices. You cannot choose what experiences seem to come to you because the cause-and-effect relationships have already been laid out for them, but you can choose how to respond, and you can choose how to create future causes. And for this I am exceedingly glad.  Choose well then, not like a child. Choose like a king or a queen— noble, thoughtful, educated and sound in your mind. Create the habit of virtue and you will create a kingdom of virtue that will be your life.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

How to Deal with Obstacles on the Path

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Entering the Path”

When obstacles arise on the path, the thing to do is to accumulate as much merit as possible.  Do everything that you can, letting your mind relax. And in a relaxed way simply proceed with intelligent antidotes to what is coming up in your mind. In other words, don’t look at everything so superficially. When this begins to happen to you, don’t say, “Oh, things out there are affecting me badly, so I am going to run away.” Instead, look deeper for once, look deeper.  See what’s happening beneath the surface, and say to yourself, “Part of my mind that I don’t particularly like or feel comfortable with is ripening now. I am unhappy with these causes, these habitual tendencies. I am really unhappy with them. I am suffering with them. Good that they’re coming up now that I have met the path. Good that they’re coming up now while I can ask for guidance from my teacher. Good that they’re coming up now when I know how to pray and ask for help.” Think like that. Try to stay calm, stay calm and think, “This will pass.”

If all you can do is simply say your prayers very gently and very calmly, if that’s all you can hold on to, then do that. Mostly, remain stable in your mind. Remain calm. Take yourself by the hand.  Don’t give into excessive emotion.

What would you do if you had a child who was just upset and she or he could not get themselves together, simply could not get their heads turned around, were having a terrible, bad day? That’s really how it is in the great scheme of things. It’s just a big, bad day. Would you say to the child, “Yeah, you’re right, things are really nasty, and you have a great reason for being nasty! Let’s be nasty together!” You wouldn’t say that to a child. That would be stupid. You’d be a moron to say that.

You would sit the child on your knee and say to the child, “Do you understand what’s happening here? You’re being hit with a lot right now. Well, we’re just going to ride this through together. Let’s just say our prayers together and not think about it.” You hold a child. You comfort a child who’s messed up like that and can’t pull themselves together, and you help them stop. You make them feel safe by holding on to them tightly. You make them feel calm by talking calmly to them. You distract them by giving them something to do that feels like they’re accomplishing something.

Well, do that for yourself. Be your own mommy or daddy. Be your own best friend. Make yourself feel safe by supplying structure in your life, the structure of an everyday practice that you do not deviate from. Make yourself feel safe, as though you had put your arms around yourself.

The second thing that you would do is to make yourself feel comforted. Feed yourself.  Provide ways to relax yourself. Provide a period of time every day where perhaps you can take a walk, or you can listen to some music, or you can just think or be happy or just meditate on joy. Just relax. Calm yourself down. Talk to yourself nicely. Tell yourself, “This is just a bad day. This will pass. Everything in samsara is impermanent. The thing to do is to continue to work through it.”

The next thing that you might do is provide some distraction or some diversion because when you get hit with ripening obstacles, you feel like a victim. You feel like something outside is hurting you, and hurting you badly. You feel under attack. You feel incapable of helping yourself. Rather than panicking and getting all wacko, give yourself something to do. Read a Dharma book. Read about cause and effect. Begin to calm the mind through reading those kinds of teachings that are geared toward calming the mind.

For instance, The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life would be an excellent choice for a period like that. It’s inspiring, calming. You can read about the essential experience of a very pure Bodhisattva. That kind of nourishment might be like being with a child who is having a very difficult time. You wouldn’t reason with a child and do mental therapy and try to lecture them in some ridiculous way because a child won’t understand that. They’ll only be mad at you. Instead, you would just be with them. In the same way, be with yourself. Don’t lecture yourself. Don’t moralize at yourself. Be with yourself. Ride it through. Fill your mind with nourishment, with comfort. Be calm. Be confident. You’re on a good boat, one that has travelled the ocean of suffering many times.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

When Obstacles Arise

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Entering the Path”

The thing to do when entering the path, in order to take responsibility and to stabilize your mind and your practice, is to begin to accumulate merit in a consistent and intelligent way.  That doesn’t mean talk about it. That doesn’t mean dress up for it, like, “I’m a Dharma practitioner and the first thing I need are coral beads because that’s what she has.” People do think like that when they come to the path, and it’s a little silly. Just back off from that.

Think to yourself, “How can I accumulate virtue and merit? How can I stabilize my mind and my practice through providing the causes and the nourishment that I need?” You could for once be your own friend! Just for once give yourself the food, the nourishment, the fuel that you need. The way to do that is to accumulate virtue and merit through acts of generosity, through contemplation, through study, through providing a way for others to hear Dharma, through making offerings, through kindness, through following the instructions of your teacher.  Your teacher has given you methods to accumulate merit and virtue, so do them consistently in a calm and relaxed way. In this way, your first moving onto the path will be relatively painless.

One of the things that students experience when they first come onto the path is hidden body karma. You see, it’s already there. Can you understand that concept? You already have this body karma. It will ripen anyway at some point. Better that it should ripen under the guidance and tutelage of your teacher and of the path.

Let’s say that you have some body karma near the surface of your mind. Sometimes a person will come to the path and literally catch the flu or a disease, cut themselves, or maybe even break a leg, something like that. I’ve seen that happen. Usually it’s not a big deal, but I’ve seen it happen. The thing to do then is to immediately turn the mind, in a relaxed way, toward accumulating virtue and merit rather than freaking out. Most people freak out. “I went to Dharma, and I broke my leg! Screech!” That’s their intelligent response. Hey, you would have broken the leg anyway, maybe both legs, but at least you had some merit going there. So who knows what could have happened? The intelligent thing to do is to thank Guru Rinpoche for this blessing—a benign ripening that indicates to you what the condition of your present cause-and-effect relationships actually are—and for having been given the tool to work through this. So you begin to practice and accumulate merit.

Some people come to the path and they seem really, really nice. You think, “Isn’t that a nice person! Such a nice person!” And then they’re on the path maybe six months, and suddenly it’s like they grow fangs and turn into something completely different. And you wonder whatever happened to that nice, easygoing person. They turn into something that looks like Freddy Krueger or something, I don’t know. You know who Freddy Krueger is? He’s that really scary guy. So they turn into somebody really, really horrible. Why is that ? Right underneath the surface of their mind, there was sort of a bag or a ball of ripening non-virtue that was going to come to the surface anyway.

It might have come in dribs and drabs and made them just periodically mean throughout the rest of their life, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Or who knows? They might have put themself in a very wonderful situation and maybe – here’s a hypothetical situation – gotten married and then turned into the nightmare on Elm Street. Who knows what could have happened? Who knows how it might have ripened? But sometimes it happens that a deep disturbance in the mind will simply come to the surface, and for a while, that person will not seem like themselves at all.

What do you think needs to happen then? If a big obstacle comes to the surface and ripens when you first meet the path, you can see how endangered you are, can’t you? That’s a terrible danger because if you’re sick and your mind become disturbed, there’s no telling what you’ll do.  You have seen yourselves react in unpredictable ways. You think you know yourselves. Then you’re faced with a situation in which you act completely unpredictably due to your emotions being really roused up. We all think we know how we’re going to act, but then we see ourselves when we really get an emotional head of steam going.  We often act differently than we think we might have acted.

Well, if you have that kind of mental ripening when you first come to the path, that’s the most dangerous obstacle of all because the mind changes. Being of clear mind and clear thought coming to the path, you might say, “Yes, I have earned this. This is the method. I wish to abandon samsara. I wish to do this for the sake of sentient beings.” It sounds like pretty decent, logical and sound thinking to me. Then when the obstacle hits, your mind might be in a completely different place, and you might say, “I don’t have to. I don’t want to. I won’t!” Your mind just changes, and a part of you that you hardly ever relate to, that you mostly suppress, comes out and takes over. I’ve seen it happen. It will simply take over. What should you do at that point? Once an obstacle like that has begun to ripen, it’s very, very, very hard, particularly in the beginning when you’re an infant on the path and unable to really utilize all the tools.

But I say to you that the best thing to do at that time is to take refuge in the Guru, in the Buddha, in the Dharma and in the Sangha with all your heart. Take refuge. In your own mind say, “These are impure qualities. Samsara is not perfect. Therefore I take refuge and wish to be free.” Just like that. Hold on to that. Don’t let go of that. It is precious and important and necessary.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Freedom Isn’t Free: Understanding Merit and the Path

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Entering the Path”

It is important to remember that when you enter the path you have earned the right to be here. This is absolutely the case. I can swear to it because you are here. You have absolutely accumulated the necessary virtue and merit within your mindstream in order to be able to hear these teachings and to do these practices, and even to prepare for your own death.

Yet, there is a Catch-22 situation that’s very difficult with Dharma. You have absolutely earned this opportunity and it is your right and your responsibility to take advantage of it. Now think about this: You could not be hearing these teachings from me if you had not made extensive prayers in some way at some time. It has to be so or you would not be here. You must have made prayers to Tara. You must have made prayers to Guru Rinpoche. You must have made prayers to meet your teacher and to be with your teacher and to hear these words. This must be so, or you could not have created the causes by which you are enjoying this opportunity.

So what does that mean then? That means that you’re here. Simply that, only that. That means that you’re here, and you’re ready to rock and roll. Now think about this. This is something else that’s important and something to think:  our Dharma, and particularly the Vajrayana path, is the singular most potent and powerful method that exists on this planet. That is to say that one can achieve true enlightenment, not what New Age people call enlightenment, but the real thing, like the Buddha, like great Bodhisattvas. One can achieve enlightenment within the context of one lifetime or immediately following this lifetime in the bardo state – that’s what the practice of Phowa is about – or within three lifetimes or within seven lifetimes. But surely, if one were to practice Vajrayana, and one were to practice it faithfully, one would achieve the ultimate result relatively quickly. That makes this the most potent path on the planet at this time, the most potent. We know this because we have seen that there are those who have achieved enlightenment in one lifetime. This is not true of other systems.

Now, that being the case, if it has that kind of weight, what kind of virtue or merit would be needed to keep that coming in, to keep that blessing flowing? An enormous amount. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? It’s like the you-get-what-you-pay-for kind of philosophy. If we were to think in materialistic terms, if you want the best, the absolute best, you have to pay the highest price. It’s expensive. Good quality costs money. In material terms you think like that. Doesn’t it follow then, logically, that that which is potent and of highest quality spiritually would also require the highest spiritual investment?

On the path, there is the necessity to accumulate merit and virtue in an extensive and responsible way because when we first come to the path is we immediately expend our accumulated merit. Here’s the picture: What has come forward to us, what has ripened in our mindstream, is the accumulation of some meritorious virtuous activity we’ve done in the past that allows us to hook into the path in this lifetime.

Upon using up that tremendous amount of merit that fortunately has risen to the surface in order to bring us to the path, an obstacle may arise. It takes such an enormous amount of merit in order to travel on the path, particularly to begin the path, that we may not have at the surface of our mind, or at the surface of our expressive continuum, enough merit to sustain us. So immediately upon coming to the path, the teacher gives instruction. The teacher says accumulate many repetitions of the Seven-Line Prayer. That is a merit-making machine. It is a way to accumulate the most merit. Then immediately after that, we are told to practice Ngöndro, preliminary practice. In Ngöndro, you are given five different ways to accumulate merit, and they are extremely potent. It is actually meant to guide you through the shoals of beginning practice until the mind becomes sufficiently purified and deepened to the degree that it will sustain itself through the shining qualities of its own virtue and merit.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

How Do You Respond to the Path?

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Entering the Path”

Upon first meeting with the path there can be all sorts of emotional responses. This isn’t always the case. Again, everything I say is modified by the kind of person you are, that is, your own habitual tendency. When I say, the kind of person you are, actually, according to Buddha’s doctrine that doesn’t really mean that there are many different kinds of persons. According to the Buddha’s teaching, there is, if we understand our nature, actually no place where I end and you begin, or you end and I begin. There is only one nature. There is simply that–suchness, thusness. But in our relative world we do see individualization. So what are we talking about when we say how a person is? When we’re talking about how a person is, we’re actually talking about the sum total of that person’s habitual tendencies because that is the only thing that appears to differentiate us. In our nature we are the same. In our needs we are the same. In our hopes and fears we are the same. In our problems we are the same, really. Old age, sickness and death, who is going to escape that? It’s one of the problems of the human realm, and we all share it, you see.
So here we are experiencing all things together but we appear very, very different, and that’s due to our habitual tendency. It is our habit to think in a certain way; it is our habit to act in a certain way; it is our habit to respond in a certain way. Some people habitually respond very emotionally. It’s their nature to be emotional. It’s their habit to be emotional, and it has no meaning other than the fact that it’s the way that they habitually act. Other people habitually act without emotion, or they habitually think things through in a more logical or mental way. That has no meaning either other than to say that that is their habitual tendency. These wonderful characteristics that we hold so personal and so dear actually aren’t anything. They’re like speaking into the wind. The words are simply carried where they are, and it means nothing. It isn’t heard, it isn’t loud, it isn’t quiet, it’s just what it is, speaking into the wind.

Each of us seems to have different ways of coping with things. In terms of coming to the path for the first time, we are stimulated. That’s for sure! That’s one thing that’s universal. It’s across the board. We are stimulated! How are we stimulated? Again, it’s according to our habitual tendency. For many of us, when we first come to the path we are simply so happy to be finding something that appears to us like a rock of solidity and depth and perceptiveness, of purity, something that appears to be like a shining light in a very dark place. So we feel joy and relief and gratitude that this is happening. Then for other people, when they first come to the path, they are impressed with its exoticness. It does seem very exotic. They have strong feelings about that. They always feel that they are drawn to the exotic, and they always feel that they are special or different or unique in some way. To be in something exotic when everybody else isn’t doing something exotic feels very satisfying in some way.

Then other people, when they come to the path, come to the path with a great deal of fear. They are almost drawn despite themselves. They’re drawn because they know they need to be here. They know they want to be here. In some way they are pulled toward being here, and yet in another way it’s almost as though they’re walking in the door backwards because they’re so afraid of confronting it in a true and honest way. They almost wait for circumstances to drag them in by the throat. I’ve seen that pattern many times. Students will wait until their lives are literally falling apart before they will try to come to Dharma and understand cause and effect relationships.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Upon first meeting with the path there can be all sorts of emotional responses. This isn’t always the case. Again, everything I say is modified by the kind of person you are, that is, your own habitual tendency. When I say, the kind of person you are, actually, according to Buddha’s doctrine that doesn’t really mean that there are many different kinds of persons. According to the Buddha’s teaching, there is, if we understand our nature, actually no place where I end and you begin, or you end and I begin. There is only one nature. There is simply that–suchness, thusness. But in our relative world we do see individualization. So what are we talking about when we say how a person is? When we’re talking about how a person is, we’re actually talking about the sum total of that person’s habitual tendencies because that is the only thing that appears to differentiate us. In our nature we are the same. In our needs we are the same. In our hopes and fears we are the same. In our problems we are the same, really. Old age, sickness and death, who is going to escape that? It’s one of the problems of the human realm, and we all share it, you see.

So here we are experiencing all things together but we appear very, very different, and that’s due to our habitual tendency. It is our habit to think in a certain way; it is our habit to act in a certain way; it is our habit to respond in a certain way. Some people habitually respond very emotionally. It’s their nature to be emotional. It’s their habit to be emotional, and it has no meaning other than the fact that it’s the way that they habitually act. Other people habitually act without emotion, or they habitually think things through in a more logical or mental way. That has no meaning either other than to say that that is their habitual tendency. These wonderful characteristics that we hold so personal and so dear actually aren’t anything. They’re like speaking into the wind. The words are simply carried where they are, and it means nothing. It isn’t heard, it isn’t loud, it isn’t quiet, it’s just what it is, speaking into the wind.

Each of us seems to have different ways of coping with things. In terms of coming to the path for the first time, we are stimulated. That’s for sure! That’s one thing that’s universal. It’s across the board. We are stimulated! How are we stimulated? Again, it’s according to our habitual tendency. For many of us, when we first come to the path we are simply so happy to be finding something that appears to us like a rock of solidity and depth and perceptiveness, of purity, something that appears to be like a shining light in a very dark place. So we feel joy and relief and gratitude that this is happening. Then for other people, when they first come to the path, they are impressed with its exoticness. It does seem very exotic. They have strong feelings about that. They always feel that they are drawn to the exotic, and they always feel that they are special or different or unique in some way. To be in something exotic when everybody else isn’t doing something exotic feels very satisfying in some way.

Then other people, when they come to the path, come to the path with a great deal of fear. They are almost drawn despite themselves. They’re drawn because they know they need to be here. They know they want to be here. In some way they are pulled toward being here, and yet in another way it’s almost as though they’re walking in the door backwards because they’re so afraid of confronting it in a true and honest way. They almost wait for circumstances to drag them in by the throat. I’ve seen that pattern many times. Students will wait until their lives are literally falling apart before they will try to come to Dharma and understand cause and effect relationships.

Experimenting

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Entering the Path”

When we first come to the path, there are some events that characteristically happen for which new practitioners are not necessarily prepared. Remember, we’re just starting, so we’re still thinking in a superficial way. One of the most difficult aspects is that when we first come to the path we hear a few ideas. We hear karma, we hear cause and effect, we hear hope and fear, we hear ego and grasping, but as a new practitioner we really don’t understand. We’ve got the words and can probably repeat a few sentences about them by rote, but we really don’t understand them. That’s easily seen when we actually talk to new practitioners.

When little babies first play with toys, the first thing they do is to pick them up and throw them down so they can understand what the toy is and what reality actually is. Then they begin to build with blocks, and then crash them down. They’re experimenting. Just like that, new practitioners will begin to experiment with Dharma ideas and Dharma terms, but they won’t yet have the depth to really understand what they’re saying. I’ve even had the experience of Dharma practitioners that are here for a very short time come and talk to me and try to razzle-dazzle me with their Dharma vocabulary. Actually, if you listen to it, it makes absolutely no sense at all. It’s not that the person is stupid and unable to understand Dharma. It’s just that they’re being exactly like that child who is trying out the new toy, building it up and knocking it down. They’re just kind of working the kinks out of the system, and that’s OK in the beginning.

At the beginning, we’re struggling to hold on to, to really compute, to compile deeper concepts than we ordinarily do. Having heard the teaching, however, we are truly responsible for going deeper. As a beginning student there are certain things that we need to understand with some depth. As new students, we don’t have all that depth just yet in terms of our understanding of the Buddhadharma, so we have to rely on our teachers. Actually we always have to rely on our teachers, but in this case specifically, we really have to put aside the “game playing” of our own mind in order to understand something a little bit deeper so that we can be prepared. As though we were a good king or queen of our country, we have to always be in charge. Even if it’s just the beginning of our reign, we still have to be on top of it and in charge.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Four Noble Truths – An Introduction

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Keeping Heart Samaya”

One of the things that I have learned since I met with my teacher is to follow the fundamental thoughts as taught by the Buddha very carefully, starting with the thought that all sentient beings are suffering, and that suffering is all pervasive.  According to the Buddha’s teachings, we are all suffering from desire.  It seems as though we are suffering from external circumstances, but, in fact, we are suffering from desire.  In fact, we are suffering from our response to desire as well.  So we have a complicated, dualistic, or I should say double-edged, kind of suffering.  We have the suffering that comes from desire, and we also have the suffering that is invoked when desire is not met.  So it is two-edged and more complicated than one would think.

All sentient beings are suffering. They are suffering from desire, but there is an end to suffering.  This is the news that is so good it is almost hard to take in.  This is the news that is so magnificent that it is actually hard to understand when we have had an entire life, and we have noticed that there is always something. There is always something.  Everything that comes together separates.  Everything that is really good and has brought a lot of joy and a lot of benefit, gone.  Even if we find ourselves in the most joyous, gorgeous, fabulous mood, it lasts about, oh, ten minutes.  So we have noticed that happiness is ephemeral.  It comes and goes. It sort of burns away and returns, and in between there is that suffering.

So when we hear that there is an end to suffering, a cessation to suffering, we wonder, how can this be?  How can this possibly be?

The Buddha teaches us the next thought then, that the end or cessation of suffering is called enlightenment.  Yes, that is true because none of us, being ordinary sentient beings, have experienced enlightenment yet.  Sentient beings simply have not experienced that, so they do not know what the cessation of suffering actually feels like.

Then after introducing these thoughts, Lord Buddha teaches us how to accomplish the cessation of suffering, or enlightenment.  In many forms of Buddhism, this is called the Eightfold Path.  In our system of Buddhism, this is condensed into the accomplishment of two things: wisdom and knowledge. We are taught that in order to accomplish the cessation of suffering we must exit samsara and enter into that precious awakened state called enlightenment.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Mystical Bond

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Keeping Heart Samaya”

The Lama, being the condensed essence of all three objects of refuge, is also considered to be inseparable from the Dharma.  The Buddha is like the Lama’s mind in this case.  The Dharma is like the Lama’s speech.  So as a student, together with one’s Lama, one takes on the responsibility of learning Dharma.  It really isn’t enough to go around and say, “I have a Buddhist teacher!  Oh, I have a Buddhist teacher!  This is very good!”  And feel really happy about that.  That is great.  I hope you do feel happy about it, but it is not enough to do that and no more because it really isn’t that valuable to have met with your teacher, which is really very precious, if you do not follow the Buddha’s teaching, which is the Dharma.  Otherwise, what you are doing is coming to the temple to be entertained once a week for roughly an hour and a half, or longer, if you engage in other activities.  So a relationship where only entertainment occurs is really not that valuable.  You can get that from Blockbuster.  You don’t need a Buddhist teacher for that.

What you need a Buddhist teacher for is to connect you to the method, the Dharma, which is the Buddha’s speech.  You need a teacher so that you can travel on this path in order to accomplish the supreme result of liberation.  So the second commitment that the student must make to the teacher is to practice and learn Dharma, to maintain a healthy spiritual interest in Dharma and that means, once again, reflecting on the Buddha’s foundational teachings–realizing the faults or flaws of cyclic existence.  Then we practice a kind of renunciation that makes us eager to drink the nectar of the Buddha’s teaching for our self and for all sentient beings.  We begin to develop the mind of compassion.  For our self and for all sentient beings this Dharma practice represents the end of suffering, so we are eager and pleased to learn Dharma, to learn to think like a Dharma practitioner.  That is the second commitment.

The Lama, as the condensed essence of all three objects of refuge, is also considered to be the Sangha.  The mystical relationship between the Lama and the Sangha is quite profound, quite beautiful.  The Sangha is like the Lama’s body in that the Sangha has the samaya, or the responsibility, of holding or anchoring the Buddha’s teachings in the world in the same way that the Lama’s body, or appearance or presence, establishes the Buddha’s teachings right here, in the world.  Teachings are here in the world, being conferred here in the world.  The Sangha becomes an extension of that appearance.

Here in this Sangha for instance, primarily the ordained, but other Sangha members as well are trained as umdzes, or chant leaders.  We have the chopön, who handles ritual objects during the puja.  The Sangha are all well-trained, and all of them have different jobs.  We have archivists who keep our books in good, healthy order and keep them in a respectable and clean place.  There are many, many different functions, and these are all considered extensions of the Lama’s body.  This is the Lama’s wheel of activity.  The entire Dharma community then is the Lama’s extended body or wheel of Dharma activity.  So the mystical bond between the Lama and the student is closer than one’s own breath, more essential than one’s own essence, more relevant than one’s own mind, speech, body, anything.

As the Lama’s body, the Sangha also has a certain responsibility to one another, and this responsibility is a very important part of the samaya or commitment to the Lama,.  Remember, there is the responsibility to uphold and propagate the Buddha’s teachings, to follow and learn more about Dharma, the responsibility to uphold and protect the Sangha, and the responsibility of the Sangha to be the extension of the Lama’s activity.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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