Identifying What is Important

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Commitment to the Path:

These two particular teachings about the preciousness of this human rebirth and the impermanence of all things samsaric are supposed to make us see, recognize and call to mind and to be mindful of the difference between what is ordinary and what is extraordinary.  What is ordinary experiences birth and death.  It doesn’t travel with you.   It’s a product of samsara and its building blocks, which are delusion, and the senses, which are also deluded.  And while this is what builds samsara (and this is nothing to feel comfortable in), once you identify that, you can also identify what is extraordinary. And what is extraordinary is the Buddha nature.

We think about the Buddha nature as it appears in the world as the ground, the method and the fruit.  The ground is that the Dharma, Buddhism—the way that the Buddha enters into the world—always comes from the mind of enlightenment.  Whenever the Buddha speaks, the Buddha speaks from enlightenment, from the Buddha nature that does not experience rebirth. All teachings in Dharma, then, arise from the foundation, the ground. All teachings in Dharma are expressed as the method, or path.  One thing that distinguishes us from other religions is that we have method, real solid method and many different methods, to suit different karmic propensities.  But the method is given rise by the Buddha nature, so the method and the Buddha nature are not only similar; they are the same taste, the same stuff.  So the path is enlightened as well.  The result, of course, is Buddhahood, liberation from ordinary death and rebirth and the realization of the primordial wisdom nature, that awakened state that the Buddha described.  That’s the result—Buddhahood which arises from Buddhahood, which is Buddhahood and remains Buddhahood. The ground, the method and the result are indistinguishable.

So now we have identified what is impermanent.  We have identified what is useless.  Now we begin, because of that teaching, to identify what is extraordinary, what is of benefit. From that knowledge we can begin to make choices about how to practice our path.  You can see how it would be difficult to make a real commitment without understanding that.  It would be a fad for you, a thing.

Tibetan Buddhism is really kind of stylish right now.  We’re in vogue, but that’s not how we should approach this.  We have to approach it with eyes open. And believe me, as you get older, you’re going to realize that, just like the Buddha taught, our lives are like a waterfall rushing down a mountain.  Oh, you might think, that’s not bad.  Waterfalls last a long time, but don’t you get it?  You’re looking at a condition.  When you see a waterfall, you’re looking at a condition.  The cup of water that falls from the top reaches the bottom in a heartbeat and we’re like that.   We look at life and we think, oh, it’s constant.  Been here for a while.  Probably be here for a while.  But that cup of water falls down so fast that we come to the point at the end of our lives and we wonder. We look in the mirror and we see ourselves.  We have graying hair and like I said, everything is falling south and all these changes are happening. For me, I look in the mirror and here is this middle age woman and I go, how did that happen.? I am just a kid.  I’m just learning something here.  How did that happen?  And that is the experience that we have.  It goes that quickly.

And while life seems like a jewel to be enjoyed, we do not understand that if we spend our time enjoying it, it will be over in a flash and we will have gone to a precious continent and brought nothing back.  And it’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy it.  I’m trying to enjoy my life, but I get the big picture.  And that’s the thing we need to do here.  We need to get the big picture. If we are in this place of great benefit and we have met with the teacher and met with the path, we must encourage ourselves to take advantage of this precious opportunity. I hope that you’ll think about this again and again and again.

Lord Buddha teaches us that all sentient beings are suffering, that all of samsara is pervaded with suffering, that we are wandering in cyclic existence helplessly.  We are taught that all sentient beings are the same in their nature and the same in the fact that they all wish to be happy. Even when they do crazy things, they are trying to be happy, to feel good.  And we realize while there is all this suffering, there is an end to this suffering and that end is liberation.  And that’s the only good news in all of life.

© copyright Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved.

 

Foundation of Faith

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

The Buddha teaches that we never really know for sure when death will occur.  Maybe a great bodhisattva or a great lama with some wisdom can predict a day.  That often happens, but that is a different story.  We’re talking about sentient beings in samsara.  You think, well, I’m pretty healthy and I’ve had a checkup and I’m OK. But you know,  you can get hit by a car.  You can get hit by a truck.  You can fall out of a plane.  There are all kinds of ways to go.  So none of us really knows when that time will come. Will it happen then that we disappear from this earth having had this jewel in our hands and it’s just gone?   Then we’re no longer on this precious continent.  We’re back in poverty and we have nothing. So we contemplate on this to make us aware that we need, want and find precious every blessing that we can get our hands on, and that we need, want and really care about our practice. Because it is this and this alone that provides the stable foundation that we can build a strong house of faith upon.

There is one other thing that the Buddha teaches us that is hard to understand, and this one is the toughest, the very, very toughest.  It’s even tougher than you’re going to die someday.  It’s the teaching about impermanence.  Just when you think it is safe to go in the water, there’s another shark.  Isn’t it the truth?  You know, after a while you get a little punchy with samsara, sort of twitchy.  After you get to be a certain age, you realize that there have been times that you have been blissfully happy, I mean, like really turned on.  Up.  But where are you now?  This thing never lasts.  You get so punchy that you get to the point where when you start to go up and you start to feel really happy and you start to think, “I’m handling things here. Everything is looking good,” that you are looking over your shoulder. You know the rest is right behind you and there is no sense getting too excited about too much of anything because it is all temporary.  Of course, you have to live a while to understand that, until it beats you over the head.  But we do get it eventually.

The Buddha teaches us that nothing is permanent.  What comes together must go apart.  What goes up must go down.  Everything that has a beginning has an ending. And everything that we experience in this lifetime has a beginning  so there will be an end to every experience.

Now fortunately we use that information when we’re really in tough shape.  Because in tough shape, you know it’s not going to be permanent.  Nothing is permanent.  So we are taught that we are living in this kind of drunken, conditioned, narcotic state where we are wandering through experience not knowing why experience is coming to us. How has this happened to me? Why is this happening to me?  It’s always in our minds, because we can only see the content of this lifetime.  We do not understand and appreciate that the reason this is happening to us now is that we have previously created the causes.  Cause and effect arise interdependently, so there is no other way for anything to happen to us.  So we realize that everything that is happening to us now is kind of a flow of dreamlike, narcotic, dualistic perception that appears outwardly pointed at us. It appears that it is happening to us because of the nature of our delusion, because of the nature of our ignorance—that we are wandering through this experience. From time to time you get the feeling that gosh, you’d like to wake up.  Wouldn’t it be great to just wake up?  You can’t. You’re just wandering through this.  And so, Lord Buddha uses the teaching of impermanence to help us recognize that, because we as sentient beings like to hang onto false stability.

I feel really good because I’m sitting on a chair that is very solid.  It’s very solid, because I am pretty high off the ground here.  If I were to fall down this far, I’d probably hurt myself, so I feel pretty good about the solidity of this chair.  And it’s a great analogy, because really in my mind, the solidity of this chair has more to do with my lineage than it has to do with the wood.  I’m really kind of interested in physics and stuff like that.  If I didn’t become who I am and I didn’t follow my secondary occupation of being a Motown backup singer, which I wanted to be, I think I would have been a scientist, because I like to study a little bit about physics, What I realize about physics is that this chair has more space in it than it has wood.  It’s a bunch of atoms and stuff (I don’t remember their names),all strung together. They are empty things;  they are spacious things.  They are not solid things.  I am really sitting on a bunch of space right now..  What keeps it together is the karma of the situation.  What keeps it together is our capacity for perception.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

Understanding Death and Rebirth

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

The Buddha wants us to understand that the only thing that has lasting value, that is actually truly and really good for us, that will lead us to the door of liberation, that will lead us into spiritual reality, are the Three Precious Jewels— the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. And in Vajrayana the Lama is the condensed essence of all those three.

We are taught that everything is impermanent and nothing can be trusted, because nothing goes with you when you die. There is only one thing that you can gather and accumulate that has any value and that is virtuous habitual tendencies, the dissolution of the poisons.  One’s karmic propensities and habitual tendencies are the only thing that leave with us when we die, continue with us in the bardo and return with us and form our next life.  It is this package of habitual tendencies and karmic material that actually experiences death and rebirth.  The Buddha teaches that it isn’t even the fact that you reincarnate.  The Buddha teaches us that we experience rebirth and death.  There is a difference.  What is experiencing that birth and death is this package of habitual tendencies and karmic propensities. And that is how the experience happens.  But you, in your nature, are the primordial wisdom Buddha.  You cannot die and be reborn.  But if you are dead to that reality, asleep to that reality, you only experience death and rebirth.

If we really take the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence and carry them to a deeper level, we begin to understand this.  The Buddha teaches us that due to delusion we experience rebirth, death and rebirth.  That which you are does not reincarnate.  It’s like saying that what we are experiencing are the waves on top of an ocean.  You can’t keep anything still there—it’s all wavy. But the truth of our nature, the meaning of the path, is the sanctity and solidity of the ocean floor that never changes.  That is why the Buddha teaches us about impermanence. Not to scare us, not to make us unhappy.  To tell somebody a thing is a certain way doesn’t make them any unhappier if it is that way.  It makes them able to cope, to deal, to decide.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

There is No Refuge in Samsara

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

Lord Buddha teaches us about the impermanence of all things so that we can appreciate that fact and so that we are not duped. And folks, we are so duped. Everything in our lives is geared to dupe us by false stability.  Watch the commercials.  Commercials are fascinating.  Someday, for Dharma practitioners, they ought to have the commercials going and knock out the shows because commercials will teach you everything.  They will teach you that when you have a new car, you will be safe.  They will teach you that if you have air bags, you will be safe.  They will teach you that if you have Gap clothes, you will be cool, because groups of people will form around you and start dancing.  And that feels really cool.  And they’ve told you that if you have, let’s see, if you invest online then you are like the coolest dude in the world and it’s just so cool.  You’ll find great stability there.  So from commercials, from information, you’re always getting this “There, there little kid.  It’s all going to be fine.”  And you are left impotent, unable to understand.  So Lord Buddha teaches us, don’t find your security in that.  All that stuff is impermanent.  All of that stuff is as good as truthless; it’s so impermanent, without validity, without stability.  Money does not provide stability.  Relationships do not provide stability.  Things that we do both occupationally and recreationally do not provide stability.  Comfort food does not provide stability.  None of the things we use provide stability.  And this is what the Buddha is trying to say. He’s not trying to break your heart.

When you first wake up to this, it’s kind of sad.  It does break your heart a little bit and you find yourself in the position of needing maybe to grieve just a little. It’s like waking up from a dream where everything is promised to you.  You wake up and it’s all gone.  Nothing was delivered and you have a sense of grief.  Have you ever had a dream like that? When something really precious and important came to you and when you woke up it was gone?  Maybe a person returned to you or some money came to you or whatever.  So that’s how it is.

Lord Buddha is not in the business of breaking our hearts.  We have to think of Lord Buddha in this case like  a dedicated physician, or like the supreme mother or parent who guides us like a good parent would, through our confusion into clarity and healing.  That is what the Buddha is doing when the Buddha speaks about impermanence.  The Buddha goes through all kinds of teachings about impermanence.  It’s really important to get this, whether you are a beginning student, or whether you have practiced for years.  You will go dry in your practice if you do not constantly review these teachings that everything is impermanent, because we are so habituated to find security right here, right now, where this is absolutely none.  We even see our bodies as stable.  I feel very safe right now because I can look in the mirror and see that I am healthy.  What kind of delusion is that?  How much have I changed in the last 20 years?  Have I gotten healthier?  I don’t think so.  Nothing about the body is stable, nothing.  Nothing about anything that we have built up around ourselves is stable, and yet we find stability thinking that it’s always going to be this way.  Even having seen the change from babyhood to childhood to young adulthood to maturity, even having seen that, we still don’t believe.  We still try to find safety in false things, temporary things. So Lord Buddha really spends a lot of time on that in order to condition us so that we will have the opportunity to focus and be mindful, and begin to wake up from that narcotic sleep,  The Buddha wants us to see the truth, wants us to understand that this is not refuge.  Here in samsara there is no refuge.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

Why Is This Rebirth Precious?

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

When we practice the Buddhadharma, one of the first things that we have to do is to examine the faults of cyclic existence.  Nobody likes to do that.  That is not fun.  But what is interesting is you can really tell the more experienced, more sophisticated person.  Nobody wants to hear that cyclic existence is faulted and flawed and that it is impermanent and that it is pervaded with suffering.  Nobody wants to hear that.  But when you talk to somebody who is experienced and sophisticated enough in their own lives to see that: “Sometimes I’ve tried my best and life still goes off the tracks.  You know, sometimes I try my best and some dreadful disease will pop up.  Sometimes I try my best and somebody else I love will just leave or be sick or die,” There is no way to prevent these things from happening.  And if we are old enough and mature enough, we’ve had enough experience to know there is clearly something else in the driver’s seat here besides what “I want.”  We’re getting it.

Then, of course, sometimes when students first approach the path, they don’t have that sophistication yet.  Maybe they are young or young at heart or young in head. Who knows? But they haven’t had the kind of experience that is actually ultimately a blessing, that will bring them to a kind of sobriety, sort of like recovering alcoholics.  They get to a place where it becomes unbearable.  You have to stop.  You’ve got to grow up.  People who have had the experiences that come with ordinary samsaric existence and have seen them, and are not putting on blindfolds, are for the most part ready to hear this information.  And if you still have any doubt, pick up a newspaper.  Watch TV.  It’s all there.

So once we do hear that there are faults in cyclic existence, then it’s our job to begin to examine them.  Again, here, also it’s not so comfortable, because we don’t like to think about it.  Especially when you have to go every six weeks and have your hair dyed.  I mean, you look in the mirror and everything is turning gray and it’s all heading south, and you realize that something is happening that is not changeable.  It’s just going to happen.  It’s going happen right underneath your head.,and there’s not a thing you can do about it. You can work at it, but it’s going to work on you.  Eventually gravity wins.  Once you start to realize that, you realize that it doesn’t pay to put everything we have into this basket that is going to abandon us.

So now we come to examine the faults of cyclic existence.  Lord Buddha said that one of the things that we should understand about cyclic existence is that what we are in right now is called the “precious human rebirth.”  The reason why it is so precious is because it is so rare.  We’re sort of locked into a closed circuit TV system, if you can imagine such a thing.  We’re only mindful of our own kind of creatures.  We can see people.  We can see animals.  That’s pretty much it— the occasional ghost for those of us who are a little strange—but for the most part that’s it.  It’s people and it’s animals.  Those are the ones that we can see.  Those are vibrationally on our channel, so we can see them.  But Lord Buddha teaches us that there are other realms of cyclic existence: There are hell realms, all kinds of hell realms;  there are hungry ghost realms;  there are animal realms; there are human realms; there are jealous god realms; there are long life god realms.  So there are all these different kinds of realms and they are invisible. Even within each realm, while some are totally invisible to us, they are still within the form and formless realms.

The teachings of Lord Buddha about this precious human rebirth are that human beings are the only beings that have the kind of consciousness that can hear this teaching and then go practice and contemplate,.  The amount of human beings that are birthed now in samsara are like the amount of grains of sand that would fit on one’s fingernail, while the amount of sentient beings that are wandering in other places in samsara are like the grains of sand on all the earth, all the beaches, every square inch of it. The traditional teaching tells us by using the image that being reborn as a human being is as rare as a turtle surfacing in the ocean and putting its head through a circle, like a floating circle.  The chances of that happening are pretty slim, and so that is the way we are made to understand that this is a precious human rebirth.  Now why are we supposed to hear that?  Well, we’re supposed to hear that so that we don’t waste our time.

Another traditional teaching that we hear is that being reborn as a human who has the capacity and the karma to hear the Dharma is like going to a continent filled with precious jewels.  You only have to bend over and pick something up.  That’s how easy it is compared to other sentient beings who have not created the connections, not created the causes as yet. And while they have the same capability and same desire to be happy, they will not get to that continent.  They will not pick up that jewel. Conversely, the Buddha also teaches that to meet with the Dharma as a human being and to meet with one’s teacher and to meet with the path and not to practice is like the fool who goes to this precious continent, looks at all the beautiful colors and enjoys it and then goes away with nothing, going back into poverty with nothing, nothing precious.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Turning On the Light

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

Lord Buddha teaches us that we are wandering in cyclic existence, and that cyclic existence is tricky.  We are taught that cyclic existence is like that room full of furniture, full of obstacles.  You have to get through it, but lots of things are going to happen.  You’re going to go through events; karmic ripenings will take place.  There will be sickness.  There will be old age, and there will be death.  The only way you get out of old age is if you die first.  These are the rules.  That’s how the house works.

So that being the case, the Buddha teaches us, as well, that everything in samsara has a beginning and therefore has an ending.  Literally every time you meet and come together with a loved one, at that moment, you have given rise to the parting from that loved one. These moments, these cause and effect relationships arise interdependently; and although they seem to us to be separated by time, that’s part of our delusion.  Cause and effect arise interdependently.

So when we meet the great love of our life that we have waited for oh these many years, then we are also at that moment entering into the experience of separating, because it will happen.  Should we attain fame, fortune, whatever it is that our society teaches us that we want, then we should understand that the moment we have achieved this very thing, we have also given rise to its end. There is nothing one can accomplish through and within samsara that has any real lasting value other than to cultivate the mind, other than to cultivate the practice.  Only that brings results that are carried forward because it creates a virtuous mind and pure habitual tendencies.  But not one penny of the money we make, not one bit of any relationship, other than memory, will survive death.  We’ll all come together again, but it will all be different.

Lord Buddha teaches us that this is a constant, spinning, spinning, spinning in samsara. While each of us has in common the wish to be happy, we do not understand how to create the causes of happiness.  We think that to have more will make us happy or to be with somebody will make us happy or to be cured of something will make us happy or to change our lives and sail around the world or whatever, that’s going to make us happy.  But we find that ultimately it does not.  You can travel all over the place, sail around the world, have all kinds of relationships, make all kinds of money and you will find that in the heart, you have not attained happiness. We do attain temporary happiness. I feel pretty happy right now. But having lived with yourself for lo these many years, surely you must know by now that this happiness is so, so temporary.  It’s like the dew vanishing on the leaves every morning.  It’s like that.  That easy to lose. And there is no amount of positive thinking that is going to change that.  All you can do is make yourself crazier, crazier, crazier and more neurotic. You know you are suffering.  You know you’re not happy and you’re going, yes, I am.  Everything is fine.

So Lord Buddha teaches us that what we have to do essentially in our path is to turn on the light. Some of the furniture we’re going to have to move, get it out of the way.  That’s called pacifying obstacles, and we do that through practice.  Some of the furniture we’re going to have to climb on top of.  It’s just there and it’s going to have to be something we move beyond.  Some of the furniture we’re going to have to get under, Maybe we could liken that to undoing some of our poisons, like the five poisons that we have within our mind stream.  But whatever it is, things have got to change.

So Dharma is like that.  Dharma provides us a way to turn on the light.  You get the picture.  You see what is in your way and you decide how to deal with it. There are methods for how to deal with it,  but the big thing is eyes opened.  To wish and hope that everything is going to turn out well because, you know, I’m a spiritual person, therefore, da da da, whatever, is just not going to cut it, because you are still whistling in the dark.  You are walking through that room and you’re whistling in the dark.  Buddhism says, “Turn on the light.”

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

Becoming Stable on the Path

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

There are many different ways to practice Dharma according to our individual needs.  For that reason, it behooves us to kind of sit back and get the lay of the land before we start frothing at the mouth and chomping at the bit.

The tendency is to come in here and say, “Oh, great.  Well, first thing I’d like to do is start wearing robes.  The second thing I’d like to do is have me at least four or five interesting malas of all different colors.”  And we like to have the books. And we’d like to have a shawl, you know, a zen.  Only a real one, like them [the monks and nuns].  So we have all these ideas.  We think, I really want to get this where you sit on a bench.  It’s such a noble thing to do.  You sit there and you practice.

When we first come to the path, we have all kinds of funny, cute, but childish ideas, almost like a child viewing the world for the first time and trying to make sense out of it.  But then eventually there is a certain kind of relaxation that happens when the newness wears off. And then we are able to make some intelligent choices.

When we first start in our Dharma practice, we always think we are going to be great practitioners.  A couple of years later, we’re still hoping we’re going to be great practitioners. We find that it’s really taken this long to get the lay of the land, to really understand what is the relationship with the Three Precious Jewels.  What is the relationship with one’s teacher?  What is this about view?  Why are we here?  What’s this on my foot?  (I told you we’re going to have fun.)

So what are some of the fundamental ideas that we have to really accomplish and become at peace with in order to make intelligent choices on the path, in order to make choices that are lasting and commitments that are real? When we first enter onto the path, we might be filled with – I’ve seen this happen so much –with a kind of excitement, maybe even a feeling of passion.  But these feelings are emotional feelings, and emotional feelings come and go every 10 minutes or so.  You know how up and down our emotional condition is.  So those feelings, while stimulating and exciting at first, will not last and cannot be relied on.

So the best thing to do when you approach the path, is to approach it, not critically, but intelligently.  Look at the path and really become bonded with it in the way that it’s almost like— well, maybe women can relate to this more—but it’s like buying a really extraordinary new outfit.  I don’t know about you, but if I buy a new outfit, it has to hang outside of my closet for a little while so I can look at it and grok it in fullness.  Then and only then can I actually put it on my body.  So in a way, Dharma should be like that.  We should really examine how’s it going to lay, how’s it going to fold.  What is going to happen here?  It’s like we have to look at it. Examine, examine, examine. Because once we put on the clothing of Dharma and engage in our practice, we should try very hard at that point to remain stable. That’s important.  Once we engage in this close relationship with our own root gurus—when we meet the guru on the path and that hook is set and the connection is made, and we have found the potential for our liberation—then that has to remain stable.  That is not the time to vacillate.  So we should hang out a bit. Examine intelligently. Examine the qualities of our teacher, examine the qualities of our Vajra brothers and sisters. Then once we realize that this is our teacher and this is the place that we will practice, at that point, we are required to become stable.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo All Rights Reserved

The Nature of the Path

The following is an excerpt form a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Commitment to the Path”

I like to see students start off kind of smallish and grow bigger in their practice, because I think that is more realistic.  The best way to start out our practice is to understand what Dharma is trying to accomplish—what are the faults of cyclic existence and what are the results of practicing Dharma—to get a clear idea of that so that we can see for ourselves that this is a beneficial thing, so that we don’t have to argue with ourselves further down the path when it’s not appropriate any more.

So these teachings that I would like to give you are designed to get you to progress.  They are made to get you somewhere.  You are not meant to stay where you are on the path.   One progresses and that means change.  You know, that scary word.  So we have to ask ourselves then: What is Dharma engineered to do?  How does that change take place?  What does it look like?  What does it mean?

Well, first of all, look at something that is not Dharma.  Look at whatever sense of spirituality or religion you have that is not Dharma.  If we look at the ideas that we have generally as a culture about spirituality, spirituality is like salt.  It’s a condiment, a little ketchup on the hot dog of life.  It’s a flavor, but it’s not nourishment.  It doesn’t give you what you need every moment of every day necessarily, unless you yourself find a way to relate to that faith so strongly.

With Dharma, it’s a different story.  You don’t ever have to feel your way around.  You are never walking around in gray zone.  You can do practice.  You were taught how to increase your knowledge and your wisdom. You go from one practice to another to another to another through the different levels.  You can move through them according to your habitual tendency and your karmic propensity.  So there is something exacting, something like a method.

The reason why is that Dharma is not meant to act as a barbiturate, to calm you.  It’s not Valium.  It’s not meant to soothe you and make you feel more comfortable.  It’s more like if you could imagine your life as being a dark room, like any other room—filled with furniture. And it’s very dark.  You can’t see a thing.  This is kind of your life as a sentient being, because we really don’t come into this world understanding anything about cause and effect or how to make ourselves happy.  We come into this world unknowing, with only habitual tendencies.  That’s all we come in with, deep habitual tendencies from previous experiences.

So in a way, our lives are like this dark room, filled with obstacles. By now, now that we’re getting a little long in the tooth, we know there are obstacles. We’ve had them.  Some of them, anyway.  Doubtless there are more to come.  So we think of our life like this room with furniture in it and you’re supposed to get from the birth door to the death door successfully and make some progress in the meantime.  Well, if it’s pitch black and there are all these things in the room, the chances that you are going to walk through without knocking yourself into oblivion are pretty slim.  So the way that Dharma works is it forces you to turn on the lights.  You have to look at obstacles.  You have to look at what is in that room.  With another kind of faith you might think that the best thing to do is think positive and be positive and plaster good thoughts on your head. You know, just try to be kind of upbeat and make the best of everything.  All good ideas. But when you are stumbling through a pitch black room and there is a lot of furniture in there, you are going to trip.  And no amount of positive thinking is going to get you through that room successfully.  No amount of positive thinking is going to keep you from entering that last door.  Nobody has done it yet through positive thinking.

So Dharma’s tendency, rather than act like a soother or a barbiturate or something that is calming, Dharma turns on the light.  Dharma says, “Look folks, here is what’s happening.”  You are born, but you don’t remember how you got here.  There are uncountable cause and effect relationships since time out of mind that have formed into habitual tendencies and karmic propensities. And here you are born as a child.  How did you get those parents?  How did you get in this world?  How did this happen?  That’s what I said when I woke up as a kid.  What’s wrong with this picture?

So we find ourselves here and we’re kind of helpless.  That’s one of the teachings that the Buddha gives us. That in truth, we are all the same and in our nature we are exactly the same; but in our ordinary appearance as sentient beings, we are in a state of confusion.  We do not understand cause and effect relationships, because we can only see this present lifespan. We have had so many lifespans to give rise to causes in an amazing amount of time, since time out of mind.  So we have no understanding of this.

Dharma teaches us that all sentient beings, while we are the same, and while we are wandering in confusion, have one thing in common and all of our activity is geared towards that.  And if you think about it, you know that it is true.  Even when we are doing for others, until we really have given rise to compassion, we’re always trying to be happy.  It’s natural.  The organism wishes to be balanced and at peace, happy.  But we don’t understand what balanced and at peace is.  So we keep grabbing for stuff.  Yet Lord Buddha teaches us all that we are suffering due to desire.  It’s not that you don’t have something that makes you suffer, but your reaction to the not having it…that is most of the suffering.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo All Rights Reserved

 

The Foundation of Dharma

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

Today I would like to begin to lay the foundation by which we will practice. Even for those of us that have been practicing for some time, if we lose the foundation or if the foundation, like in the analogy of a house, becomes weak or compromised in any way, it’s not long, then, before the house will topple or the house will lean or become unstable.  It’s like that with our practice.  If certain fundamental thoughts are not stable in such a way as to hold up the rest of our practice and support us on the path, then eventually our path, our practice, will decay, decline in some way.

Although practice, like life itself, is often cyclic, sometimes we feel we are in a position to do more practice and other times we are in a position to do less practice.  Still in all, we have to make sure that we’re able to make slow and steady progress. The reason I say slow and steady progress is because oftentimes new students will trip themselves up by trying to go too fast without the depth of understanding.  It’s exactly like building your house on sand.  It’s exactly like that.  We want to go into the neater stuff; we want to go into the cooler stuff.  We want to learn the stuff that makes us look exotic when we practice, but none of us will really be practicing in truth if we don’t have certain foundational ideas and if we don’t constantly review them over time and constantly make them part of our contemplative life.

Of course those thoughts are engineered to turn the mind toward Dharma.  In order to turn the mind toward Dharma, we have to have our eyes opened.  We can’t be lightweights; we can’t be bliss ninnies.  We just can’t say, “Oh, it’s so cool to practice Dharma.  Let’s go on.”  We have to understand why we are practicing Dharma, because Dharma is a path and a lifestyle and a method that one has to use throughout the course of one’s life.  We have to be consistent.  We have to be persistent.  It can’t be the kind of faith that you have only on Sunday mornings or only on liturgical holidays.  It’s a walking-through-your-life kind of thing, and it requires you to make enormous changes. Behavior and ideas that may have been acceptable before will gradually become unacceptable – not in a way that you should be filled with guilt or shame.  It’s not like that.  It’s more like when you really understand the Buddhadharma and you understand what samsaric existence is, and what the display of one’s nature is, it will become more natural to practice the bodhicitta and to give rise to compassion, to caring for all sentient beings.

In order to proceed effectively on this path that challenges us every moment of every day, we have to remain focused, remain mindful in ways we never thought we could or we’d ever have to.  And the reason why again is that Dharma does not simply come from magical thinking.  It does not come from the stars.  It does not just descend upon us on some lucky day for no apparent reason.  Dharma is the awareness of cause and effect relationships.

Now for me, that’s why Dharma makes so much sense.  I know when I first introduced some of the ideas of Dharma to my students, they were, you might say, a little resistant.  They would think things like “You mean, like path?  Like you have to do something every day?  Like you have to change the way you think and the way you act?  I mean, couldn’t we just like get salvation?”  And that’s the idea.  We’ve been raised with the idea that religion is like a condiment on the plate of life.  You know, something to sweeten it up with or salt it up with.  A little oregano on the pasta.

But in fact, we find out that we have to learn something different.  Dharma becomes our heart.  Dharma becomes enthroned on the mind and heart.  And the reason why is that Dharma has to accomplish something that is very breathtaking.  Dharma has to accomplish something that is enormous, that seems almost inconceivable.  It has to take our perception of ordinary samsaric cyclic existence, which is a state of delusion, a state of non-recognition, and it has to transform our capacity to be able to recognize our own innate nature.  Yet, everything about us is geared to function in duality.  Two eyes, two nostrils.  All of our senses are extensions of our ego, so they always work to function in duality.  So how can this thing happen?  We ask ourselves, what in the world, what kind of experience, what kind of event could turn us around to where our perception could become so clear that we could be like the Buddha, awake to our primordial wisdom nature.

Well, what is it that Dharma is supposed to do, exactly, and how does it do it?  The idea is to have a path on Dharma that is exacting and is a method that takes you to a to b to c to d, and also is flexible.  You can go from a to d to m to t.  Dharma is suitable for all sentient beings, because there is some element of Dharma that is compatible with one’s own karma.  So it’s not a general here’s-the-true-label for everybody.  There are teachings that the Buddha gives that are incontrovertible.  They will never change.  They are about the nature of samsaric existence.  Yet the path is individualized.  For instance, I really like to practice Guru Yoga.  That’s my thing.  That’s what I do.  And somebody else might really like to practice Vajrakilaya.  Ultimately it’s the same practice.  One is a peaceful practice, one is a wrathful practice. One is based on deepening the connection with the root guru.  The other is also based on that, and is also based on very actively manifesting one’s compassion.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo All Rights Reserved

 

 

Caretaking the Gift

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

It is so important and so precious that we have this human existence. We should consider ourselves caretakers of that—that prize, that gift, that blessing—that it should not be taken lightly.

Sometimes we think, “Oh, you know, I would really like to live a life that is warm and fuzzy.  I don’t want to live a life where I have to know about all these bad things and apply antidotes all the time.  Oh gosh, that’s just so…  I’d rather be warm and fuzzy like a puppy.”  Well, all right, but I have puppies and I can tell you that I love my puppies so much I can’t explain it.  They are so adorable.  I love them so much.  They are so good for me.  I am so good for them.  I love my puppies.  They are like my kids.  However, my puppies cannot hear the Dharma.  They cannot look at me and say, “This is my teacher.” The devotion they feel is clearly based on food and scratching behind the ears and I hope it’s not the same for my students.  They cannot attain view.  They cannot recognize anything but the most minimal cause and effect relationships.  They know not to sit in an uncomfortable place if they’ve sat there before or they recognize something hot if they’ve seen it before, like that—the simplest associations—but they have no capacity for practice.

And yet, I have my students that say to me, “Oh, they are so lucky. They get to live with you all the time and go with you wherever you are and they sit on your lap.” No they’re not.  You don’t want to travel with me all the time, be with me all the time and sit on my lap.  What is that going to do?  How is that going to get you through life? And what are you going to do in the bardo?

So we have to understand that Buddhism is about really examining what is in front of us, seeing what is on our plate.  And although we may not be so glib and so cool and savvy with the positive remarks and the upbeat thinking, we will be savvy and smart and intelligent and able to change things that would seem to be impossible to change once we understand what the Buddha has taught.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

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