The Burning Room

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue Into Life”

We can live our lives as the walking dead, and then die, unprepared, like going to a continent filled with precious jewels and coming back empty-handed.  Or, we can switch on the lights, face facts and do what it takes to negotiate the shoals of samsara, as painlessly as possible.

The Buddha teaches us that we should think of our lives as like a burning room and that the smoke is beginning to choke us, fill us up. And you know, if you’re in a burning room, eventually you’re going to get burned.  It’s going to consume you, right?  So think of ourselves as being in a burning room, and think that there is one door.  That door is wide open to you.  Do you get that?  It is wide open to you.  That door is the door of Dharma.  There is one door by which to escape and you can walk out that door.  You should think of the very doorway of that door as being your own root teacher.  That is the implement, the tool, that you should use to get out of that room—your teacher, your practice,  Dharma.

If you were in a burning room right now, and your skin was beginning to crackle and the smoke was beginning to overcome you, how would you think about that door?  With fervent regard,  the way we are instructed to think about our practice.  That door would look pretty much like God to you!  That door would look like the best thing you ever saw!  Every breath of air that came through that door would be sweeter than anything you have ever known because that door is freedom.

You should think about your practice that way, because that is the way it is.  That is the way it is.  In samsara here, we are locked in a burning room and there is a door. And we have the great good fortune of not only seeing that door, but having the capacity to exit through that door.  Not only that, but that door has a door sill that is friendly and helpful and appropriate for the size and shape of our bodies that will help us to exit that room comfortably.  And that’s how we should think about our practice.  Number one, wake up.  Number two, get the big picture.  Number three, act as though you were a sane and reasonable person, which most of us don’t.  We don’t act like sane and reasonable people.

I’m not telling you anything you didn’t know.  You know that life is impermanent.  You know that you have suffered, and you know that you feel unable to really face all these things because it seems so hard to simply live a virtuous life. But I can tell you that it’s like anything else that you do as a friend for yourself that’s good for you, such as changing your diet to really nutritious food.  At first when you do that, you know how it is.  When you’re young, you can eat anything.  You have a cast iron stomach.  I mean the things I ate when I was young I can’t even look at now.  Now I’m 45 years old and I have to eat right.  If I don’t eat right, I don’t feel good.

But do you remember what it took to change into learning how to live well in that regard?  To go from eating the food that I liked to eating the food that I have learned to like was hard, and I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t think I was up to it.  And to go from the kind of activity that I engaged in when I was younger… Oh I could stay up all night if I wanted to, every night if I wanted to.  I was blazing.  I was a crazy girl.  But now, if I don’t get a certain amount of sleep, the next day I’ve got bags down to my knees. You know, it’s horrible what life does to you!  You look terrible and your whole face shows it.  You feel awful. You feel like a dog.  You feel worse than a dog.

So how did you feel when you had to change from those old habits to these new habits?  At first it was painful.  You didn’t want to do that.  You didn’t want to change.  When you learned that your body was going to fall down if you didn’t exercise, you started to exercise. At first, you hated it.  You hated it.  Nobody likes it when they first start to exercise.  It’s painful.  Your body doesn’t want to do that.  But then when you finally do start to exercise, your body likes it and loves it and it feels good.

Living a virtuous life is like that.  The decision to live a virtuous life is painful at first because you have to face the facts, and the facts are you’re dying.  You’re dying on the hoof, right now. The second fact is that if you engage in virtuous activity you’ll be happy, and if you engage in nonvirtuous activity, you will be unhappy. That is not something we want to face.  We want to do what we do, effortlessly, la la la la la, like little children.  We don’t want to examine ourselves.  We don’t want to look at what we do, but once we have done that,I’ve found, and many of us who are practicing for some time now have found, that we come to love our practice.  We come to deepen in it and truly love it.  We come to love the life of Dharma.  We come to love a life that is engaged in bringing benefit and happiness to others.  We come to find out at last that we never, not for a moment, liked ourselves when we were living the other way, the nonvirtuous way, the no-brainer.  We never liked ourselves.  There was no self-esteem happening there at all.

So then my suggestion is that we get started.  Go through it.  Buck up little soldier!  Do what it takes to stand up tall and open your heart and get the big picture. Once you do that and you start to engage in a virtuous life, your mind will be smoother, you will be happier.  You will be happier.  This I promise you.

In the meantime, because our minds work the way they do and because we can’t see the direct relationship between cause and effect, we have to listen to our teachers.  There is no other choice. Our teachers have crossed the ocean of suffering, just as the Buddha has done.  Crossed the ocean of suffering, and returned for our sake. Our teachers, having seen the further shore and having seen the journey there and back, have come back to bring us this understanding.  Live this way.  Bring your life to the pinnacle of what it can be, and hold it steady and grow up, because that’s what it takes to be happy.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

 

Do It Because You MUST

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue Into Life”

Here are some thoughts that we do not accomplish because initially they are uncomfortable.  They are painful.  We do not want to know this.  We have this idea when we’re young, that by the time we get to be an adult we’re going to have all the answers.  And in fact you do have all the answers, until you’re about 25.  Before that you’re omnipotent you see, and then when you’re 25 you’re no longer omnipotent. Do you know why that is?  Because you have a brain that has finally started to grow in your cranium.  Before that it was only brain buds.  So now that you’re about 25 you’re beginning to realize that you don’t have all the answers and the omniscience, the supreme omniscience that you were afflicted with earlier, is dissipating.

That happened to me too.  When I was little I used to think when I grow up, I’m going to be completely comfortable.  I thought when I have children I’m going to raise them just this way; and I will never do this and I will always do this.  Who has had good luck with that I want to know?  Have you ever heard yourself yelling at your kid and you find out you are your mother?  You have turned into your mother for real!  Well, that kind of thing has happened.  Also, you grow up and you think, when I grow up I’m going to have all of the answers.  When I grow up I’m going to be secure.  When I grow up I’ll have financial things worked out.  It’s all going to come together for me.  When you’re young you think like that. And when you’re older you realize almost none of it is going to come together for you, almost none of it.  Some, yeah.  There are good things in life.  There are good things in samsara, but you realize that it’s not what it seems to be.

As practitioners this is really what you have to take away with you.  As a practitioner, you cannot fall into the trap that we as younger people fall into.  You can’t stay there very long.  And you that are younger, you need to create the habit of thinking about this:  Samsara is a deluded experience.  It’s like a narcotic.  It fools you.  It creates a way for you to look in the mirror at 45 with dyed hair and think “I’m not dead yet!”  Instead of pinching your cheeks for a little blush, putting on your lipstick and bouncing out of the house like you did when you were 18 or 20, after 45 minutes with the makeup, you look at yourself, blink twice, hope that the eyelashes don’t stick together, and go “I’m not dead yet!” again.  You can’t stay like that.  You cannot keep yourself in that childlike, ridiculous idea.  You must, at some point in your life, realize that life is going by very quickly and that you are going by with it, and there is not a moment to be wasted.

When it comes to who should practice and who should not practice, it is not for you to practice to impress your friends.  It is not for you to practice because I want you to practice and it would please me.  Certainly not.  It is not for you to practice because you’ll be cheek by jowl with the other people who are practicing.  It is for you to practice because this is the nature of your situation.  You are involved in the cycle of death and rebirth. Life passes quickly and if you do not prepare for your next life, your next life will not be what you want it to be.  There is a very good chance that you will end up with a lower rebirth or a rebirth of extreme suffering. So, when you think about why you should embrace spirituality, particularly when you think why you should embrace the path of Dharma, don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for the temple.  Don’t do it because it’s cool.  Do it because you must.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

This Is Your Temple

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue Into Life”

When you give money to the temple, do it because you need to, not because we need you to.  Do it because you understand that you are the one that needs to practice the generosity.  That’s your medicine.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that your root guru or your lama is the one that needs the temple.  It’s completely false.  It is not the lama that needs the temple.  It’s the students that practice there.  This is not my temple in Poolesville, Maryland.  This is your temple in Poolesville, Maryland.  You should take pride in its cleanliness.  You should take pride in its prosperity.  It should embarrass you when the bills are not paid here.  It should embarrass you when things are not going well at the temple—when there is not enough participation, when we can’t find someone to cut the grass—because this is your temple.  This is your house.  Spiritually, you live here.  This is for you.  If you could just get that one small truth and take responsibility for your practice whether it’s the karma yoga of engaging in protecting your temple, propagating the teachings, making this place firm, pure and safe for others to come and practice, or whether it’s the meditational yoga of actually engaging in sit-down practice in order to benefit sentient beings, or both.  Hopefully you’re doing both, because that’s what is needed.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Deepening on the Path: The Importance of “Caring”

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called, “Bringing Virtue into Life”

If your eyes are open at all, you have seen that you have often boxed your own ears, that you have often hurt yourself by engaging in non-virtuous activity that has brought you suffering.  Maybe you’ve had time to see a little bit of that.  But I’ll tell you that according to the Buddha’s teaching, and this is the truth, every bit of non-virtuous behavior that you have engaged in will bring about unhappiness. So it’s not logical to engage in non-virtuous behavior and that includes the lesser non-virtuous behaviors.  The big ones like killing, we can get that.  Killing, stealing, that sort of thing, but what about simple selfishness?  What about judgment of others?  What about just not giving a big flip?  Not caring?  What about reading the newspaper and thinking “Wow millions of people are starving over there.  Too bad.”  You don’t think that’s a non-virtue?  That’s how we read the paper, every day.  Of course that’s a non-virtue. We’re not caring.  We’re not praying for them.  We’re not sending them anything.  We’re not doing anything to help.

The Buddha also taught us that virtuous behavior brings about happiness, but we have exactly the opposite idea.  Most of us don’t like to practice, for instance.  We don’t like to sit down and practice.  Who likes to sit down for two hours at a stretch?  I don’t know about you, but I get fanny fatigue big time.  Two hours at a stretch.  That is not how I want to spend the day.  So we think like that.  We think “Oh, you know, if I sit down today and practice for two hours, I’m really going to suffer!”  So we have this weird idea that virtuous activity like practice is going to bring about unhappiness, and it’s because of our lack of understanding.  What we don’t realize is that yes, while we have maybe the antsy-ness or the fanny fatigue or whatever it is that we get, ultimately that two hours of practice will ripen. And when it ripens it will be like a precious jewel within your life.  At some point there will be an event or a change or a lift or a gift or something that you very much need in your life. It will appear as though out of nowhere. and it can be directly traced to previous virtuous behavior.

The Buddha also teaches us that if we offer even something, if we’re very poor and all we have is something simple like a candle or a butter lamp. If we offer only that, placing it on an altar and with a full and generous heart visualize it as being everything that we have, everything that we could ever have and offer it to the Buddha and the Dharma and the Sangha and particularly to the Lama as the representative of all three, then let that merit be used to benefit sentient beings.  What we don’t realize is that while that took some time out of our busy day, yes, and we did have to prepare a butter lamp or light the candle or whatever hardship we had to engage, still we have created unbelievable happiness for ourselves. Actually, the Buddha has taught that if we could manage to make that offering with complete and total absorption in the expanse of that generosity, then we would be reborn eventually in unmovable samadhi, complete happiness, because we are engaging in the kind of activity that creates the habitual tendency of supreme generosity.

We are taught also to make offerings of our body, speech and mind.  For instance, we visualize that our body becomes like food and we offer our bodies.  Of course, we don’t cut off pieces of ourselves.  Nobody would want to eat that anyway, I don’t think. But we do visualize our body as being transformed into this nectar that nourishes all sentient beings, and without holding on to ourselves, we offer ourselves in that way. So we offer our bodies to benefit sentient beings.  We offer our speech to benefit sentient beings.  We practice so that what comes out of our mouth will be of benefit to others, such as mantra or teaching about Dharma or some spiritual advice.  We try very hard to give our speech to benefit sentient beings. And we offer our minds as well to benefit sentient beings.  We make that offering. The way that we practice that offering is by no longer using our mind as a vehicle by which to accomplish nonvirtue. Instead we use our mind as a vehicle by which to accomplish virtue for the sake of sentient beings. That is the true meaning of offering our body, our speech and our mind.

Many practitioners unfortunately say that.  They say “I offer my body, speech and mind” and they make all kinds of grand gestures but, boy, when it comes down to the clinch, they ain’t offering nothing, and that’s the truth.  Not a thing.  It isn’t happening.  So we, as Dharma practitioners, have to learn how to practice more deeply than that in order to assimilate the causes for true happiness.  It is that kind of virtuous activity that we have to engage in.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Illusion of Power

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue into Life”

A lot of people play the power game of trying to gain power and domination over other people simply because they feel if they can control others it will make them happy.  They will be powerful.  They will be shielded from hurt because they are dominant. Others are weaker than them and they don’t care whether they hurt the people under them or not.  They do whatever they want to do in order to make themselves happy.  That’s what people do.  What they don’t realize is that in every conceivable sense they are making themselves more and more unhappy. That kind of power over others will never produce happiness. In some future time that very person who is such a power monger will be the most powerless of sentient beings.  Think about the helpless little creatures that are kept in cages in pet shops to be sold to who knows.  Think about the helpless little creatures that are kept in laboratories to be tested on for who knows what purpose.  That kind of helplessness.  So we are talking about curable suffering and unhappiness and we bring it on ourselves through cause and effect relationships. This is one of the teachings that the Buddha has given us that is very, very logical, and we can see small examples of it within our lives.  If we engage in non-virtuous behavior, it will produce unhappiness.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

 

The Law of Gravity and Karma: The Seed and the Fruit

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue Into Life”

Denial, in my opinion, is much worse than how fast our lives go.  If we have even a meager life span of sixty years, if we really got it, if we really understood cause and effect, we would probably be motivated to start practicing early; and by the time that we were sixty and ready to die, we’d have something accomplished.  We would have prepared for our next rebirth.  But we don’t do that because we cannot connect the dots.  We wait.

I think about the young people that I know, and even the young people that are very close to me.  They have the idea that they have all the time in the world.  I know because I used to have that idea.  All the time in the world.  It’s like Friday night.  You’ve got the whole weekend so party hearty.  It’s really like that.  We really have this idea.  So when we’re young we do not begin our practice. And then when we’re not so young, when we move into real adulthood, we still are in denial.  I tell you when we’re finished being young, the next stage is to pretend that we’re young.  That’s the next thing that we do. And then after pretending that we’re young doesn’t work, we imagine that we’re young.  It’s sort of like that. We keep pushing off the inevitable, which is that moment when we get that life is really passing and something must be done.

This kind of narcotic quality that is part and parcel of samsaric existence is the real enemy here.  It is the real enemy. It causes us to think very strangely, in an odd way, a way that is not productive and is not protective and beneficial toward ourselves.  We are not being our own best friends in other words.  So what happens is we are deluded, we are stuck. We stay without any understanding.  We simply cannot commit to practice.  We have this Scarlet O’Hara kind of idea, that tomorrow is soon enough.  Tomorrow everything will be fine. So we find ourselves in something of a bind.

A person who has not been able to practice these thoughts that turn the mind toward Dharma is in the most trouble because they can’t move to the next step. That’s the next thought that turns the mind towards Dharma, and it’s a very simple one.  It’s actually very logical.  It’s about as logical as the law of gravity seems to be, and the law of gravity seems to be pretty logical.  Drop it and it goes down…every time that I’ve seen.  Show me something different, but every time I’ve seen it.  The law of gravity is kind of logical.  , I don’t know the physics of it, but, basically it means that this is heavier than the air that it displaces so it’s going down. And the earth will pull it down because of the magnetic quality that the motion of the earth produces.  So we understand that this is very logical.

But there is another logical truth that we are missing completely. It’s just as logical, equally as logical, but again we’re playing the game of forever young, never gonna die and always deluded.  That’s the game we’re playing. And here’s the truth that is logical, the truth that we’re missing that is so simple.  If you think about it, you know it’s true and it’s this:  Non-virtuous behavior, such as killing, stealing, adultery, judgment, lack of kindness, lack of generosity, harming others, lying, these kinds of activities bring about unhappiness, every time.  There is no case in which you can engage in nonvirtuous behavior in order to produce happy results.  It will never happen.  It will never happen. In the same way that apple seeds will not grow orange trees, it simply doesn’t happen.

Nonvirtuous behavior, negative behavior, will always, every time, bring unhappiness. The funny thing is we always engage in nonvirtuous activity in order to bring us happiness.  That’s what we think we’re doing.  We lie about somebody else so that, let’s see… Here’s a good example:  Let’s say that I have a boyfriend and my boyfriend loves two women.  I’m one of them.  So I might, in order to bring about my own happiness, lie about that other woman and say “Oh, she’s no good. You don’t want her.  She’s no good.”  I might lie about that other woman so I can have this boyfriend.  I’m thinking that this lie is going to bring me happiness.  It’s never going to happen.  It’s never going to happen, because eventually what’s going to happen is this: Someday you’re going to want something very much.  Someday you’re going to be completely and totally entitled to something, and that person will be able to keep it from you.  You see?  It may not happen in this lifetime.  It may not happen in the next lifetime.  It could happen 10,000 lifetimes from now, where you couldn’t possibly remember, but it will make you unhappy.  Eventually it will make you unhappy.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Denial: The Big Picture

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue Into Life”

The Buddha teaches us that this precious human rebirth is very, very brief, as brief as a waterfall going down a mountain.  You know there is no way that you can appreciate that when you’re young.  There is no way.  I know because I’ve been young and now I am middle-aged.  There is no way.  No matter how smart you are.  No matter how spiritual you are.  No matter how you try to stop and think about it. It is so difficult to understand how quickly our lives pass.  When we reach middle age, the big hubbub everybody talks about, we all have mid-life crisis.  Well, that’s what it’s about.  It’s during the middle of our lives when we realize that basically we have been on a weekend pass and, honey, it is Saturday night late, and the only thing you’ve got left is Sunday.  Remember how you used to feel when you were a kid? You looked forward to the weekend so much all week long and by the time it was Saturday night you had this kind of funny feeling realizing that it was pretty much gone.  The only thing you had left was Sunday and you had to go to church!   So that’s how we think, and right around mid-life we begin to understand that life is very short. But it’s very difficult to understand it before that, particularly since in our culture we are not permitted to see death very much.  When our relatives die, they put them in a bag and cart them off.  We never get to see them.  We get to see them when they look pretty.  That’s true! They pretty them up, and then they show them to us after that; but we never really understand what has happened.  So we’re shielded even from having that kind of sensibility.

Not only is life quick but there are certain hidden rules within our lives that we cannot take in.  Why can’t we take them in?  First of all, our minds don’t want to take them in, in the same way that when we are in a traumatic situation we often shield ourselves by being in denial about that situation.  How many of you know about that little psychological trick of denial?  Ever had any denial in your life?  Any of you married?  So we have that wonderful trick of denial.  We are in denial about what is happening with our lives.  We just don’t think about it at all.

Then the other thing about it—if you think about how our minds work—what are your earliest memories?  Some people say they can remember infancy. Some people say they can remember two years old, some people say four.  Usually it’s about three or four years that you can have your earliest, earliest shreds of memory.  Usually that’s the case.  From that time until the age that you are now, that’s all the real memory that you have. So you have a problem, and that is you cannot learn cause and effect.  There is no way that you can learn cause and effect thoroughly from your life.  Do you know why that is?  It’s because many of the causes that have caused your life to be the way that it is now did not happen in this lifetime.  According to the Buddha’s teaching, you have lived many times before—not once, not ten times, but uncountable times in many different forms. And most of the causes that bring about the results of your life right now have been brought about or have been birthed previous to this incarnation, so you can’t possibly make the connection between cause and effect.

Many people resent the idea that it’s actually karma, or cause and effect, that causes us to suffer, because we don’t like the idea that we actually deserve this.  We don’t like that kind of idea.  We don’t like the idea that we may have been bad in the past.  That kind of thinking is a bit childlike, isn’t it?  Truly, it’s a bit childlike.   When you look at your life right now…, let’s say you are experiencing extreme poverty, or let’s say you are experiencing some kind of terrible illness.  If you are experiencing extreme poverty, it’s probably because in the past you have had a lack of generosity towards others.  If you are experiencing some terrible disease, it’s probably because in the past you have broken some vows or commitments that you made with your body.  These are the Buddha’s teachings.

Those things may have happened in this lifetime, but probably have not happened in this lifetime.  Maybe in this lifetime you are very generous.  Maybe in this lifetime you are keeping as many commitments as you can possibly manage.  Maybe you’re doing the very best that you can.  Doesn’t it seem unfair, therefore, that you would suffer from something that happened in a previous incarnation?  What’s really unfair about it is that you can’t connect the dots.  That’s the problem.  You can’t connect the dots.  There’s no way that we as ordinary samsaric beings, ordinary sentient beings with limited view, can possibly connect those dots.  It’s impossible.  What if you were seeing that your life was filled with terrible poverty and that, no matter what you did there was no way to get out of it? And yet you look at your life and you think, “Well, I have been generous.  I’ve tried, you know.  I mean, I’ve tried to give to others.  I’ve tried to be kind.  I mean I haven’t always done it perfectly, but I tried. So why do I deserve this poverty?”  It’s very difficult for us, under that kind of situation, to do anything other than feel sorry for ourselves, and that’s what most of us end up doing.  We end up perpetuating the myth that nothing is connected with nothing, that we don’t have to work at it, we don’t have to think about it.  It’s just the luck of the draw.  So we end up spending most of our lives in denial and complaining, and just not getting the big picture.  That is the worst thing about samsara.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 


 

Facing Reality

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue into Life”

Why is it we’re not facing that?  Because of the very nature of samsara.  It is like drinking alcohol.  It is like taking a narcotic.  There is something about the way we perceive in samsara.  There is something about the way we register data that causes us to not see time passing, to remain fixated on a certain internal idea and not really taking into account what is actually happening.  We learn instead to accommodate ourselves.  We start dying our hair.  We put on more makeup than we did 10 years ago.  What else do we do?  If we are men, women are not the only ones who dye their hair.  This I have found out!  This is the truth!  Women are not the only ones that are doing it.  Men are doing it too, or they use that, what is that stuff that you comb in and it takes, Grecian formula.  Yeah.  Some men use the Grecian formula.

Then others of us, we have different ways of not dealing with reality.  You know, you get to be maybe 45, 50 years old and you realize that you can’t do what you did before.  You just cannot.  You don’t do it.  You don’t want to do what you did before, but you simply cannot.  Physically you cannot do what you did before and so the way you deal with that, instead of really dealing with that and really looking at that, is you sort of change your life style and you think, “What I’d really like now is a change of life style where coincidentally I am slower.  I don’t have to walk or run as fast.  I coincidentally would like to have a house with less stairs.  I coincidentally would like to have clothes that are a little looser on me than they used to be.”

Some of us, the men for instance, when they are younger what they really want most in this world is motorcycles.  You want a motorcycle so bad you can taste it!  You’d do anything for a motorcycle or maybe a new guitar or fast car or whatever it is that young men really want.  Then when we get older we don’t face the fact that we’re older, but suddenly we want a town and country car, the kind that has a special kind of seat for lower back pain.  Then we get one of those beaded things you put on the seat for hemoroids.  It’s all right, because nothing has really changed.  I’m still a good looking man.  You know, that’s the way we think.  We’re just missing something here.  We are not facing reality.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Examining the Waterfall

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue Into Life”

My experience has been that here in the west, when students come to Dharma, when they embrace Dharma and even when they’ve been practicing Dharma for a long time, they have the attitude that we, as people, are going to that church or that temple which is out there somewhere. It’s an incorrect attitude that bears examining.   We go there and we act in a certain way according to the beliefs of that church or that temple, and then we go home and we continue on with our lives as though our lives have not been changed, as though nothing has been heard at this church or temple that is relevant to our lives.  We don’t even realize that we’ve done that, but it’s such a deep prejudice that each of us has—this idea that one’s spiritual life or one’s religious life is somehow separate from the rest of one’s life.  For westerners it is a deep prejudice to the point where it is almost invisible.  It is so much a part of us that it has become, in a sense, part of our background, part of the landscape within our minds.  It’s hard for us, at least, to pick this out and say “Look at that.  I act this way when I’m around the temple and I’m thinking about Dharma and I’m thinking about the Buddha’s teachings. Specifically when I’m doing particular Dharma practice, I act this way.  Then I go home and I proceed as though I had never heard of it.”

We don’t even realize to what extent we do that.  Oh, it’s not to say that we don’t hear anything and we don’t try to do anything with our practice.  For instance, if a teacher were to say to us “All right, now I’ve given you this empowerment.”  And often when a teacher gives empowerment,  the teacher will say “Now I’ve given you this empowerment, I need something from you in exchange. And what I need from you in exchange is the commitment to good moral conduct,” let’s say.  Or “What I need from you in exchange is the commitment to never kill or harm another living being.”  So when we have a directive like that we can fixate on that.  We can put that in our pocket.  That’s a direct order.  We can hear that.  That’s something we can carry around and it’s easy.

Maybe we go home and maybe we don’t kill anything anymore.  Maybe we do things like, instead of getting out the old fly swatter, we capture the flies and we take them outside. So that’s our big effort as a Buddhist.  The flies are thrilled.  But the rest of what the teacher taught—those thoughts that should gentle the mind and turn the mind toward Dharma, that should make us see more clearly, that should make us live better and in a higher way, a more responsible way—these things we often miss.  These things we don’t carry home with us.

A good “for instance” is the idea that samsara, or the cycle of death and rebirth, is tricky, seductive, that it is a narcotic, that samsaric living deludes us into a feeling of safety.  In fact, our lives are samsaric lives. Since we have been born, they are involved in the cycle of birth and death. Our lives, in fact, according to the Dharma teaching, pass as quickly as a waterfall rushing down a mountain.  This is an excellent example.  This is something that every teacher will teach you the first time they see you; and they will teach you every time they see you until the last time they see you.  In one form or another, you will hear this same teaching and these are some of the thoughts that we are taught that turn our mind toward Dharma.  That’s an interesting thought, and actually that’s a very interesting image.  It’s a perfect image, in fact, by which this teaching can be taught. The reason why is that when you look at a waterfall rushing down a mountain, you might see a waterfall that has been rushing down a mountain for hundreds of years, thousands of years.  You could go to someplace where there is a very high mountain.  Perhaps there’s been a waterfall there for a thousand years and you might think to yourself “My life is going to be as fast as a waterfall rushing down a mountain.  Good deal.” Except that’s not how it’s meant, you see, because what the Buddha is talking about is that, if you took one cup of water and dropped it from the top of the waterfall, it would be down at the bottom of the waterfall in a flash.  You couldn’t even follow it with your eyes, it would happen so fast, and that is how fast our lives pass.

Now when we are looking at our lives, we look at them the way we look at a waterfall going down a mountain.  We don’t see the cup of water.  We don’t think like that.  We don’t want to think like that!  Who wants to think like that?!  We see the waterfall as being something stable, so this analogy becomes perfect.  When we look at our lives, the evidence is clear. I don’t know about you, but I don’t look the same way as I did ten years ago.  Do you?  Even if you are 20, ten years ago you were ten.  You still don’t look the same way as you did ten years ago.  When you are 45, you know you don’t look the same way as you did when you were 35.  So the evidence is clear and you see it every morning.  You see it every morning when you brush your teeth or you do your hair or shave, or whatever it is that you do.  You know about it.  In fact, you’re playing this little game with yourself.  I know because we all play this little game.  Trust me on this.  Especially the women can really identify this.  We play this little game with ourselves.  We’re not graying because we can go to the hairdresser and he will fix it.  Every now and then we get really brave when the guy is up there fooling with our hair and putting the glop on.  We say, “O.K., how bad is it?  How gray am I?”  And I don’t know about your hairdresser, but my hairdresser takes my hand and lovingly speaks to me and says “You will never be gray.  I will help.”  So the delusion goes on.  See?  It simply goes on, and we’re not facing it.  We’re not facing the fact that this thing that we are most afraid of is actually happening.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Examining Cause and Effect in Real Life

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue Into Life”

You may have been born rich, or perhaps during the course of your life it has been relatively easy for you to make money, gain riches. Or perhaps during the course of your life, at some point you have inherited riches. And you wonder to yourself, “How is it that I hear about the starving poor and yet I, who wasn’t even hungry in the first place, have inherited this money, or I have this money? How is it?  It would seem as though I am completely undeserving.  How has that happened?”  You wonder about that.  “Why is it easy for me to make money?”  Well, the reason why it is easy for you to inherit that money or to make that money is because some time in the past you have earned it; and the way that you have earned it is by engaging in virtuous activity concerned with generosity toward others.   If you have given food to others, in this life you always have enough to eat, and more.  In fact, the problem is not eating too much.

So then, if you have a lot of money and things have been pretty comfortable for you, then sometime in the past you must have been very generous toward others, and your big problem in this lifetime is not how to make money but how to spend it, or not spend it.  In that case, you deserve everything that you get.  You deserve all of it.

Now, in this lifetime, if you just take that money and express through it no acts of generosity,… Let’s say maybe you keep it in your family to make sure that your children are provided for.  Well, that’s a kind of generosity.  You did give some to your children, but that isn’t real generosity, because children are kind of like an extension of our own ego.  We think of them as part of us.  We don’t think of them as being separate from us. We like our children to be rich because it’s a good reflection on us and it makes us die happy.

But let’s say in this lifetime, although you have lots of money, you haven’t really given any to benefit others.  You haven’t helped others not to be hungry.  You haven’t given it to children that don’t get any toys as Christmas.  You haven’t made any offerings to the temple where you receive all your spiritual benefit.  You haven’t done anything with your money.  If you think then that you’re going to somehow be able to legally make it happen that they’ll find you in your next incarnation and give you back that money,… Au contraire, monsieur.  You can’t take it with you.  It’s not going to appear again in your next life.  Forget it!  It’s not going to happen.  But in your next life you will probably be born much poorer because, even though you had the money before, you were not very generous.

So it’s very, very clear that cause and effect are interconnected.  In fact, the Buddha teaches us that they arise interdependently: When the cause arises, the effect arises at the same time, but in seed form.  Think about that.  Think about that the next time you have non-virtuous behavior.  One of the reasons why it’s so easy to be non-virtuous is because you think, “Well, O.K., I’m being non-virtuous now, but I don’t see the effect rising yet.  So maybe they…(Who are they anyway? We don’t know.) they’ll forget about it. “ You know, the guys with the x’s and the checks. They’re up there.  They’re sitting on the throne. You know, the guy with long beard.  Maybe he’ll forget about it by then.  But in fact the Buddha teaches that, number one, there is nobody with a book up there, or a beard. And number two, when you give rise to the cause, the effect is already born, and you will experience it.  You will experience it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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