Facing Helplessness

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “AA and Buddhism”

The idea that I’m trying to present is that you have to be at that place of total honesty. Now, in Alcoholics Anonymous, when you get to that place of total honesty, basically your life is broken down. In Buddhadharma, when you get to that place of total honesty, you take apart your life. You break it down yourself. Because if you wait for samsara to totally break you down… First of all, who wants to wait? It takes too long. It just takes too long. Plus you have been broken down before. According to the Buddha’s teaching, you have died and been reborn uncountable times under very unfortunate circumstances. And noodniks that we are, we still haven’t gotten it. We just can’t get a grip!

For some reason, the way that samsara is constructed, it’s very much like a narcotic. It’s like being under the influence of the drug, or under the influence of alcohol. While you’re really loaded, you really just don’t know your behind from a table. You just can’t find anything. You just can’t figure it out because the drug is in your system. The whole time we are revolving in samsara, in a sense, that drug is in our system, because we always view, don’t we, through the experience of continuum. And we always view with the assumption of self-nature being inherently real.  So we are fueled by this alcohol of the desire of continuum in a certain way to experience as ego. We can’t see clearly.

Now that happens to the alcoholic too. And so, one of the steps… And again I don’t know the program well enough to know which step is which or what comes first. I’m relying mostly on the Buddhadharma to tell me what to do. But once you have discerned the faults of cyclic existence… And you really have to spend some bone-crushing time on that one, and that is not your favorite part of the practice. I mean get this: It’s not the part you’re going to enjoy. And it isn’t the one where you can sit on a high mountain in the Himalayas with your hands just right and your feet in a lotus position and think of yourself as very holy while you’re doing it. You’re not going to get a lot of gratification at that point. Same with the alcoholic. When they decide that they are really bottomed out, that is not a gratifying time. I mean, am I right? That is the worst, most horrible time that one can possibly imagine. But in practice one has to do that also. And you feel a little bit like you’re going crazy because you have to dismantle everything you held to be sacred. You have to really look, and you’re helpless unless you do.

So the next step, as I understand it in the Buddhadharma, is to decide that in samsara (and this is one of the faults of samsara as it is one of the faults of drug addiction or alcohol abuse) we are in this condition, helpless to change. Now, boy we hate that, America! Man, this is the worst! Because in America we’re very democratic. We like to think that everybody’s got power. We can all vote so that makes us happy. Although I don’t know what good it’s actually doing us. But anyway, we feel in America that we are really, really, really democratic in our thinking. We want to really, really think that we have something very powerful. But, in fact, you have to get to the point where you can’t stop. You’re helpless. You’re helpless.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Compassion? Maybe Later?

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching called “The Antidote to Suffering” by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

The basic beliefs are the foundational viewpoint that will encourage you to keep practicing, most especially the idea of compassion. I don’t think that there is ever a time on your path when this becomes no longer necessary. In fact I think that as you go on, further and further, on whatever path you choose, and specifically on the Buddhist path, you will meet with challenges that will cause you to want to get into your stuff. Invariably you will meet up with obstacles that will make you feel tired, unwilling to go on. You will feel the pressures that one feels living here in the material world, specifically living here in the West where we are so busy. Here it is really a push, a stretch to be a Buddhist and to be a person committed to a spiritual path, whether it is the Buddhist path or not. It is a stretch because most of us have to earn a living. Most of us have to raise our families. Most of us have to do all those things that are very time consuming.

So it is very easy to sort of fall back and say, ‘I will wait till later. I will wait till I’m older.’ I just turned 39. I can’t say that too much longer. But we do say that. We say, ‘I’ll wait till I am older, more settled. Or when things are less busy.’ And I find that here at 39, things are more busy than they ever were at any time ever, ever, ever. So I think that it is kind of fruitless to wait for that. Or you might say, ‘I’ll wait. I’ll just wait.’ You don’t even have any reason. You just say, ‘Later I’ll do this.’

So it is good to have these foundational teachings. It’s good to think in the ways that we are going to think in this class. And you shouldn’t think that because you’ve been a long-time Dharma student that you are beyond all this. If you think that, really, I tell you from my heart, you have a problem because I don’t think that. I don’t know of any teacher who thinks that. Every teacher that I have ever spoken to has said to me, ‘Teach first compassion. Teach first the foundational teachings and keep on that and on that throughout your whole involvement with the Buddhist path.’

So I feel that that is important. I feel that it is important to beginners and I feel that it is important to long-time Dharma students. So for that reason it is important for you to come. It is important for new people to come. It is important for us to come together in this common ground, and this common ground has to be based on commitment and recommitment. It is a very important aspect of what we have to do together.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

What We All Have in Common

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Antidote to Suffering”

The precepts that the Buddha lays down are precepts that are real and workable for everyone. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to hold to those precepts—the precepts of being compassionate and the realization that all sentient beings want to be happy, yet don’t have the skills or knowledge as to how to be happy. Because of that ineptness at capturing happiness, we often make ourselves stress out.In fact, the Buddha teaches us that all sentient beings are suffering because we don’t know how to attain happiness. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to notice that these things are true. You don’t have to be a Buddhist if you are willing to look with courageous eyes and see that these are so. Also, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to use the antidote.

The antidote is purity in conduct. The antidote is purity in practice, whatever your practice might be. The antidote is the realization of compassion. It certainly should be the core of one’s life. Of course, the Buddha’s teaching is more involved than that but still one doesn’t have to be a Buddhist to hold to those teachings. I think they are very universal. So the idea is to have these classes as a way for everyone to participate in what is happening here at KPC. For those of you who may not know, we also maintain a 24-hour prayer vigil here and have been doing that since 1985. There is never a moment in this place when there is not prayer being done. The prayer is specifically dedicated to the end of suffering in all its forms. Our original intention was to keep up this prayer vigil until none of us are here anymore or there is the end of suffering on this planet, the end of war on this planet specifically. Anyone can join in the vigil and you don’t have to be a Buddhist to join in. And if you understand that you have the capacity to apply the antidote to suffering and you can do that through sincere practice, through dedication, through compassion and through prayer, then there is no way for you to feel separate from what is happening here. So the original thought about this class would be to present some of the more foundational Buddhist teachings in a way that anyone could apply them and understand them.

The tricky thing about it is that we have both Buddhists and non-Buddhists here in this room. In a way it would seem tricky because if you have been studying here for some time and you’ve gone on to deeper teachings, specifically to the technology of Buddhism, you’ve gone on to the method. If you’ve gone on to the method, you tend to think that you no longer need to remind yourself why you are here in the first place. You tend to think that you have learned already the Buddha’s basic teaching that all sentient beings are suffering, that there is an antidote to suffering; already learned that all sentient beings are trying to be happy and that one needs to apply and to live a compassionate viewpoint. But that is not true. That is why you see several of the ordained Buddhist Sangha here and why it is good, even for a long time Buddhist practitioner, even one who has studied in really extensive ways, to come to a teaching like this.

I myself have decided very firmly that no matter how long I teach personally, and no matter whom I teach, whether the people whom I teach are brand new to anything metaphysical or whether they have gone on twenty year retreats, I will continue to teach the basics. I don’t know if anyone like that is going to show up here, but even if I had someone like that here in this class I would still always first and foremost speak of the root reasons why you should practice.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Avoiding the Path to Happiness

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “AA & Buddhism”

Now, many of us also are not very happy. We just don’t seem to be able to master happiness. We are filled with longing, filled sometimes with anguish of different kinds—you know, loneliness, unhappiness, anger. Anger seems to be our constant companion. Just can’t seem to shake it, you know. It comes back again, again and again. Loneliness comes back again and again and again. So we don’t feel that we are particularly happy. Even in this beautiful country and these beautiful places that we find ourselves sitting in, we still find that we are terribly unhappy. And then what to think about those who are in different places, different countries, different life forms that are miserably unhappy?

Happy or unhappy, we know that life is impermanent. We know that it is brought about by habitual tendency, which is scary. Have you looked at your habitual tendencies lately? Doesn’t that make you just a little squeamish? I mean if you think about it. So if life is brought about by habitual tendency, and cause and effect is definitely what’s happening here, we have to really sit down and study what we call in the Buddhadharma the faults of cyclic existence. Now it’s considered in Dharma teaching and in Buddhist thought that without thoroughly examining the faults of cyclic existence, honestly and courageously…  And I have to underline the word courageously because this is where most people fade out. So don’t! Have courage here! You have to examine yourself honestly and courageously the way an addict does. You have to see your habitual tendencies. You have to see your pride. You have to see your anger and hatred. You have to come to terms with your clinging and grasping. You must be able to look at it and recognize it in the same way an addict does. Because according to the Buddha’s teaching, until we do that we are going nowhere.

I’m telling you that this is true. I know it is because I have many well-meaning students come here to study. And when they come here to study their idea is well, you know, I’ve been the spiritual route, and I’ve even taught a few things. And I’ve done this and I’ve done that. And I’ve read Maha somebody and blah-blah who-who. And I’ve been through it all. And I’ve even sat at the feet of Big Chief Somebody-or-Other. And we all think that because of that, you know, we’re coming in here and we’re just listening to this lady in the yellow jacket, and ‘I’m just not that impressed.’ So, come on, I can read minds. Doesn’t it just scare you? Anyway, let’s say that happens.  There are students who come to just about every kind of spiritual gathering in that way, with that kind of arrogant posture, completely avoiding the issue that it would be useful, beneficial, and just logical, when you’re in any situation like that, to pick up a mirror and really, honestly look at yourself. Really, honestly look at yourself. That would be the normal thing to do, if you consider normal healthy. That would be the healthy thing to do. Maybe that’s not the normal thing to do, but it would be the healthy thing to do. It would be the right thing to do. But instead we seem to hold ourselves in a posture that makes everything that we’re all about kind of up there in an unreachable place. You can’t talk about it. You can’t think about it. You can’t argue with it. You just basically can’t do anything with it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Offering the Miraculous

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo during a “Good Heart Retreat

There are some that may criticize the building of the Migyur Dorje stupa. I understand that it cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars. You might say, ‘Well, gee, if you’re going to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars, why don’t you feed the poor?’ Well, I feel like I am. I feel like that’s the point of the stupa. I begged and begged His Holiness for these relics and the ability to build the stupa because in this country there’s no place to go when you have no hope. There’s simply no place to go when all the doctors have told you they can’t help you. There’s no place to go when you’re at your last moments and maybe even the karma for this life has run out and you know that you haven’t really attended to your spiritual life. You know that you haven’t practiced very much. Or when your life is such that you got the ‘can’t fix-its’; don’t know how to put it back together again.

I know that in other places, in other lands, there are deeply inspiring religious pilgrimage places. I know that in Tibet almost all of the Tibetans, at one time or another, take some sort of major pilgrimage; and it’s a life changer. There are so many stories of pilgrimages turning out to be major healings. Where people will go to these holy places in which they have tremendous faith, where there are extraordinary relics there that are left by extraordinary Lamas, and healings take place that are miraculous.

I also knew that in this country there is AIDS which has been growing incrementally, cancer which is killing so many, and people constantly dying from all sorts of diseases that seem to be the afflictions of this day and time. There are so many diseases that we haven’t found any cures for, including simple mental unhappiness. Because of all this, I really wanted to offer this stupa to our community. What we have built here is, yes, at great expense, yes, at great effort; but also done with great joy. We have been able to gather together enough money, enough energy, and enough time to make this dream a reality. And now we have something here which over time, hopefully by word of mouth, hopefully by your good works and your good faith, the word will spread out that we have this amazing stupa here. Now anyone at any time, no matter what they have experienced as their spiritual path, if they’re ever down and out and without hope, can come here and make prayers. There is a potency to that pilgrimage. I’m hoping that it will become known that these same relics from Terton Migyur Dorje, these relics, of which there are pieces in different places of the world, not too many, but particularly in Tibet, have brought about amazing cures. I want people to know about this. I want them to come and feel better. To me, it’s like the ultimate soup kitchen, you know? You can offer this nourishment, this food, to your community.

So we went through the effort of building this thing, and thank you all for everything that you’ve done to make it possible—the work and the money, all of it—and now we have this tremendous gift to offer the community. To my way of thinking, this is one such group or community effort that we have made together in order to provide for and to nourish the community and make our hopes for the world more visible and more heard. That’s one way to do it. But I think at this point it’s time to move even beyond that.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Great Mother

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An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo from the Dakini Workshop

According to the Buddha’s teachings the great expanse of unborn voidness is the great mother, or the spirit of truth.  All potential and all potency, all movement and all display arise from the unborn sphere of truth.  According to the Buddha’s teachings, all display, all movement, all potency and all emanation, and in fact, all phenomena of any kind not only arise from the unborn sphere of truth but are inseparable from emptiness, are the same taste as emptiness and therefore are the same nature as emptiness.  We should meditate in that way.

The great foundation, the ground, the great basis is the unborn and yet spontaneously complete sphere of truth.  Everything that can be seen, touched, felt, tasted, smelled, rises from the sphere of truth.  Therefore all conclusions drawn from any such observance also arise from the sphere of truth.  The basis of every thought, of every feeling, of every sensation is the same essence as the unborn sphere of truth – inseparable, indistinguishable.  Therefore it is undeniable that all phenomena are empty of self-nature.  We should meditate like that.

Therefore, when we take refuge, we take refuge in the great mother.  For those of us that practice the path, in order to achieve supreme realization, practice to achieve that view.  When we take refuge, we take refuge in the understanding that the basis of that refuge is the seed nature, the Buddha nature, which is inseparable from and arises indistinguishable from the unborn sphere of truth.  We should meditate like that.

We take refuge on the basis that the ground nature is the Buddha nature.  We take refuge as well in the path, which is the display of that foundational nature and we take refuge as well in the outcome, or the fruition, which is enlightenment itself.  Although we hold these concepts in our mind as distinguishable concepts they are in fact indistinguishable and inseparable from, and the same as, the foundational nature.

Knowing these things to be true, we can try to understand the many ways in which our practice occurs.  Our practice occurs through a certain systematic representation of enlightened images. Most of you recognize this systematic representation as being primarily the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha and then, in a more inward way, the Lama, the Yidam (meditational deity), the Khandro and the Dharmapalas.  And of course, in the most secret way, we understand the ultimate objects to be the channels, winds and fluids that are the displays of our own enlightened nature.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Suffering of Cyclic Existence

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Faults of Cyclic Existence”

So this is not particularly a pleasant subject.  Every part of you will resist talking about it; every part of you will resist internalizing it. But at this point you have to exert a little discipline. You have to begin to use discipline by examining, really, whether or not the things that you have done to attain happiness have ever really lasted. You should examine whether positive thinking or any of the things that you have done, or falling in love, the things that have made us happy, whether the happiness has carried through into the rest of our lives, and whether it has lasted for our whole lives so far. You can really look at it that way. And then maybe from that point of view, you may be able to gradually introduce yourself or discipline yourself into thinking about the faults of cyclic existence.

The faults of cyclic existence are obvious in some ways. According to the Buddha’s teaching everything in cyclic existence, every experience—life, death, joy, pain, happiness, unhappiness, poverty and wealth, having and not having, all the different experiences that we experience—all of them are impermanent no matter what the particular experience that you have is. Whether it is blissful and wonderful; whether, as in the Breck commercial, you are experiencing one of those love affairs where you bound across the field at each other every day, and it is always sunny and flowers in the field; and you catch each other rapturously in each other’s arms and smouchy, smouchy and all that kind of stuff. Even that is impermanent. Especially that is impermanent. That is most certainly impermanent, even if you are extremely beautiful, so beautiful that you could remain happy if you just got up and looked at yourself in the mirror because you are so beautiful. There are some people who are that beautiful. I haven’t met too many and I am not saying whether anybody here is that beautiful. But anyway there are people who are that beautiful, that all you have to do is look at yourself and you just go ahhhh!  Even that is impermanent. Especially that is impermanent. And defying the law of Estee Lauder, eventually it will go away.

The joy of having children: It is such an incredibly joyful experience to know that you can have a child, and to have a child sleeping peacefully in your arms and looking up at you with those beautiful little eyes, and tiny little rosebud mouths with a little trickle of milk coming down the side. So blissful. And then they become teenagers. That is impermanent. All of the things that you can experience… There is my teenage son over there. I am saying this for his sake. All of these things are very blissful and very wonderful, but extremely impermanent. Also suffering is extremely impermanent. ‘This too shall pass’ philosophy works. It works because everything is impermanent. It also works for happiness. That is the problem. Both the happiness and the suffering are impermanent.

Any pain that you feel, any suffering that you feel, any longing that you feel, even lifelong poverty is impermanent, because at the end of that life of poverty one will die. And after dying maybe you will be reborn rich. Who knows?  But your particular circumstance, whatever it is, is always impermanent. That is the only thing that is consistent about cyclic existence, impermanence. According to the Buddha’s teaching.

Each of the six realms of cyclic existence… (If you are interested in hearing what those realms are you can purchase tapes that we recorded here. There was a workshop recently given in which I described the six realms of cyclic existence according to the Buddha’s teachings.)   Anyway, in each of the six realms, there is a particular kind of suffering that is associated with that realm; and it has to do with the particular karma that it takes to be reborn in that realm. Each of these realms is different and unique, and they all have impermanence in common. They all have their cyclic nature in common. They arise from cause and effect and the cause and effect is continual and begets the next cause and effect. One begets the other. It is a constant begetting of more and more cause and effect. So they have that in common. But each particular realm has its own form of discomfort and suffering.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, you experience rebirth because of desire. Because of desire you are born into one of the six realms. Rebirth is experienced because of desire due to the belief in self-nature being inherently real. Now that is Buddhist lingo for ego. Actually due to the grasping of ego as being inherently solid, due to that grasping and perceiving phenomena as being external because of that grasping to ego as being inherently real, due to the belief in the division or distinction between self and other because of the belief in ego as being inherently real, due to that kind of faulty perception, one revolves in an illusory state, a state that seems to us very, very real. And that illusory state is cyclic existence.

Due to the desire that is associated with the belief in self-nature as being inherently real, we continually achieve or experience rebirth. According to the Buddha’s teaching, it is not necessarily a linear experience. We comfort ourselves with a very current idea that one progresses in a linear way. You should understand that this is a very new philosophy. This is not what the older religions, the ones that are more established, the ones that actually give the accomplishment of enlightenment, necessarily teach. Any form of Buddhism that has appeared in the world has taught that one experiences rebirth because of the karma of the mind and not necessarily in a linear progression. The idea of linear progression is new. If you think that is the only way in which birth is achieved, you should at least give yourself the opportunity of examining some alternative philosophies. The new idea associated with linear progression seems to be: Now that I am a human being, I will always be a human being or better; that I have come to this point and this is the level that I am at and I will always be at that point or better. So I am doing good. I am okay.

This is faulty reasoning. You are not taking into account that you have lived countless lifetimes. Countless lifetimes. You can’t name the time when it started. We are talking about aeons and aeons of cyclic existence. Such a long time that you have experienced rebirth that you have had many, many different lifetimes in many, many different forms. It is impossible to experience the ripening of all of your karmic causes, of all of the karma that you have accumulated over a period of time. It is impossible to experience all of those ripenings in one lifetime. Impossible. It is simply not dense enough. It is not possible. It would be like trying to put an ocean full of cause and effect relationships into a cup. It is simply not possible. So that being the case, you have lots and lots of latent karmic causes that have not ripened and cannot ripen, will not ripen, in this lifetime. So according to that thinking, all of us actually have the karma for being reborn in the lowest, hellish realm. And we also, all of us, have the karma for being reborn in the highest god realms.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Power of Intention

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

Sometimes, although you are maintaining the bodhisattva vow internally and your intention is purely to benefit others, externally it may appear through [your] conduct or speech that you are breaking the vow. Although it may seem that a failure is occurring, if your actions and speech are motivated by bodhicitta, then no failure is occurring. That is referred to as a “reflection of failure.” For example, if it is necessary to commit a nonvirtue of the body or speech for the sake of benefiting others, that is permissible. In fact, not to do so could constitute a breakage of the bodhisattva vow. The motivation must be very clear. Whether your actions constitute a failure or not is determined by your own mind’s motivation. Here it is crucial to be careful, since losing the vow means taking lower rebirth.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008

Motivated by Kindness

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Faults of Cyclic Existence”

We have been brought up to understand that we are the most powerful country in the world. And we are, of course, the most enlightened people in the world; and we are, of course, the most advanced people in the world; and we are, of course, because we have Estee Lauder, the most beautiful people in the world. We are brought up with all these different beliefs. And whether we swallow them consciously or not, subconsciously they are in there somewhere rattling around, and we have this faith in our way of life. One thing that we can do is to think of ourselves as able to help others. One thing that is very popular in our society is the idea that it is a beneficial thing and a good thing and a virtuous thing and a fulfilling thing to help others. We are always looking for fulfillment.  So the idea of compassion is a way to move ourselves into a foundation for meditation and practice. In my own experience (and I don’t claim to be such an experienced teacher), but in my own experience I have found that if I go to a new place that has never heard about the Buddha’s teaching, or if I go to a place that has heard a little bit and wants to hear more, or even if I have gone to students that have studied Buddhism for some time, if I want to touch them or refresh them so that they can continue in a determined way in their practice, or have them open up to the potential of practice and be stabilized to the extent that they can begin to practice earnestly, I can always rely on the idea of compassion to do that.

Westerners are excited by the idea that they might be able to benefit others. They are aware to some extent that the rest of the world is suffering. We don’t like to think about it, but to some extent we are aware that poverty exists, and hunger and sickness. I have found that Westerners are kind people. We are kind people. We want very much to end suffering; we very much want to help others. And there are many people who will practice if they really understand that this meditation will help them bring about the end of suffering for other people, will help them be a helper to others. They will practice for that reason. But strangely they will not practice to end their own suffering. They will continue to try to manipulate the circumstances in their life, or change things around, or try this or try that; but they will not really develop a firm foundation of practice because they themselves are suffering. They are not sufficiently motivated by their own suffering. It is a strangeness in our culture. It is not found in other cultures. But we will practice to benefit others.

This group, the core group of people who have been practicing in this temple for some time, came together because the people of earth were suffering, and the group wished to maintain a 24-hour a day prayer vigil. That is a dynamic of this organization. It came about so quickly and in such a stable way because the people here were greatly moved by the suffering of sentient beings. They knew that this kind of practice—the practice that brings about the end of desire and brings about supreme enlightenment—is ultimately the way to bring about the end of all suffering. For this reason, this family, or group of people, actually came together to practice.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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