My Three Rules

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

As Westerners practicing the Dharma, we have a hard job ahead of us.  If we want to accomplish Dharma, and make Dharma stable, if we want to be fully instated in our practice, and if we want to be successful, we are doing so in a culture that is not really sympathetic to it. It is hard.  It is really hard.  We are doing so under circumstances in which we have to work, we have to eat and where nobody is going to pay us to pray. It is not going to be easy.  We have to stabilize ourselves with that pure intention to love and to do that we have to do three things.

These are my three rules of etiquette for newly starting practitioners and also for old ones.  First of all, give yourself a break, there are things on this path that you will not understand and you should not fall into the trap of saying, “This can’t be right, or this isn’t right.”  Give yourself a break, take time to let it fall into the slot that your Western mind is, just give it time to settle in. These concepts are very logical, they all make sense, they all work, and they are given to us by a fully enlightened mind which makes me think that they are worth more than a lot of other things that I have heard.  And they work.  It is a workable path.  If there is something that confuses you just say, “Okay I will just give myself some time about this. If I am not comfortable with the idea about being empty of self-nature let me first find out what that means before I decide that this is not good and once I find out I can make a better decision.”  So give yourself a break.

The next thing is to do the best that you can.  Don’t try to slide into Dharma, and don’t think that you can slide by.  Do the best that you can.  Cultivate that loving every day.  Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking that you are too old, or too experienced, or too educated to learn the simple lessons that Buddha gives us that are associated with loving.  Do not think that you are too far advanced that you can no longer be taught compassion.  Don’t ever think that and please don’t think that you have come too far to learn and re-learn renunciation of ordinary things, because no one ever comes that far until we have reached supreme enlightenment. So do the best that you can.

The third thing is to take it slow and take it easy.  Try not to burn like paper – hot and fast.  Try not to burn like pinewood.  Try to burn like good aged oak or maybe even coal – slow and hot and stable.  The way that you build the stability on this path, as a Westerner, is by cultivating that slow, hot fire of loving.  Keep it going.  You don’t have to do anything crazy but you have to do something steady and stable.

Remember you have to practice this path till the end of your life so that you can fully accomplish it and so that you can truly be of benefit to sentient beings.  It is going to take some juice so please try to burn like good oak or coal, slow and hot.  Just think of yourself as a vehicle.  Think of yourself as a bowl, turned up, clean, pure, with no cracks, not turned over, and no poison of judgment or delusion at the bottom of it. Your mind is like a bowl.  Let yourself receive teachings in a very pure and uncontrived way.  In this way you will understand Dharma better.

Look for a good teacher and when you find that teacher you should take time to examine that teacher.  What is the teacher’s motivation? Can this teacher really offer me the path? Is this teacher really teaching the path that leads me to supreme enlightenment? You should examine these things and in a stable way, slow and easy, begin to accomplish Dharma.

In this way there is no doubt that you will achieve supreme realization.  There is no doubt that you will in this life and in all future lives be of some benefit to sentient beings.  Ultimately you will be of ultimate benefit to sentient beings, there is no doubt.

Keeping these things in your heart I hope that you will be cultivating that stability.  Do that and remember what a glorious and wonderful opportunity you have.  Please don’t waste this life.  It is so precious.

©  Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

A Courageous Life

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

I think a difficulty that Westerners have is so much input and so many different kinds of teachings.  Do you remember the first time you ever heard anything metaphysical? I don’t care if it was about flying saucers or about ghosts or whether it was the first time you picked up the Ouija board or did something weird like that. The first time you did anything that was metaphysical, you thought, “Hey I am on to something, this is it” and you got really excited and that excitement was a real joy to you. But haven’t you noticed that as you continued to go on this path in this direction you became less and less excited each time and finally you became a little cynical, and then suddenly you are just cool, “I’ve heard this before.”  When you start getting to the point where you say I am cool and I have heard this before, you are dead.  That is real cool.  That is about as cool as you can get.  But the problem is that most Americans are like that.

I find that when I teach new students the first thing that I have to do is a little razzle dazzle. Why? To get their attention.  We have heard so much stuff and everybody has got a sales pitch.  Of all the nations on earth this has got to be the nation with the most salespeople.  Of all the nations this has got to be the only place where everything gets sold, no matter what and you get to pick and choose no matter what and there are four different varieties.  It is almost a sickness.

It is a problem because now we are presenting Dharma, which is an ancient path, it is a path that describes supreme enlightenment, it is a path, which lays out the technology of supreme enlightenment, and it does it very well.  It does it consistently, and it does it purely.  It has done it in the same way for such a very long time and it has had proven results.

We even have stories of people who have practiced Dharma who have achieved what is called the rainbow body and have incredible miraculous signs at the time of their death. We think,  “Make me a believer, I dare you.”  We think like that and we act like that and we hope that someone will convince us.

I have found that another problem with Westerners is that we become a little hard.  I love you desperately, this is not an insult but we are a little cynical, a little hard to please. We have to have a certain percentage of entertainment value while we are being taught the Dharma.  I understand that but it’s a hard row to hoe.

Finally when we get this fire, this incredible love, this feeling that we only want to live this courageous life in order to benefit beings then we are okay but it is hard to get our attention and so this is another thing that I wish you would examine: how much you have been exposed to many different kinds of spiritual thought, and how many things you have been excited about that if you went back and examined, you would find were a puff-ball.  How many different systems have you thought, “Wow, this is exciting, this sounds right” and then you go back to it and you ask and find, “Who is it invented by, nobody; nobody that knows anything.” And nobody that got anywhere, anyway. Where did it come from, you can’t trace it back, you can’t figure it out.  Did it come from the mind of supreme enlightenment, maybe not?  If you go back and see the things that you got excited about you may find that from time to time you have been a little duped.

Mom told us that we would be happy if we did this and this and this.  The old idea about being rich, marrying a doctor, having children and dressing them nicely and wearing Polo shirts and Carter’s underwear; if you get all these things right then we will be happy.  We have become disappointed because we did everything correctly.  We got educated and we got a little prosperous. We have a Crock Pot; there is a chicken in it that, even as we speak, is overcooked.  We did all of these things and in mid-life we have a crisis.  It is so normal in our society that we write books about it.  The ‘Mid-Life’ crisis, the one you are bound to get to. It is weird if you think about it.   We tried all these things and we are not happy any more and we never were happy and it didn’t work. Basically what has happened is that we have become cynical and we are afraid to try.  We are one culture that has a particular problem: we are not believers actually, we are afraid to try. We say, “I have heard this and I have tried this.  I am not going to do anything hard.  I am going to get by and then I am going to die and that is how I am going to work this thing out.”

I find that Westerners have a tremendously hard time with the idea of making a real commitment with their lives, saying “Okay I get it.” I see that everybody is suffering, I see that there must be an end to suffering, I see that desire may be the cause of suffering, I see all of these things and I now understand the nature of emptiness.  Maybe it isn’t so dark and bleak and horrible.  Finally I can see where practicing Dharma would be right, I can see where this is what you should do with your life.”  But that moment at which you say, “Let this life only be a vehicle in order to practice Dharma, let that be the value of this life, let that be what I do” and be really courageous about it; that is hard for us.  We have a hard time. Understanding that the real value of this precious human rebirth is that we can accomplish a path to supreme enlightenment is a little difficult for us to get inspired about in that way.

If we could devise a way to help us to be less in love with what we should collect in our society, and how to be prosperous and have meaning in a material society, if we could become less involved with that idea and more involved with understanding the really important factor – the way in which we cultivate our minds and practice a proper technology to accomplish a pure and awakened mind state.  The point is to be of benefit to beings, to be awake as the Buddha was awake so we can bring about the end of suffering for ourselves and for all sentient beings.  The moment that which we discover this and it becomes meaningful to us we also need to divine a way to accomplish it.

©Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Emptiness = No thingness

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

I like Dharma and I have a Western mind. I feel that this is something that I need to talk about a great deal.  I also feel that there have been certain challenges that I have become aware of in speaking to Westerners, and that these things need to be addressed, brought out in the open where we can examine them, see what they mean and how they affect us.  In doing so we will derive some useful answers that will help us to remain firm in our practice and keep us on the path of Dharma.

There are certain ideas and kinds of conceptualization that are natural for each culture.  Each culture formulates its own specific ideas about reaching conclusions, and accepting ideas and conceptualizations as their own.  We reach our own conclusions about norms and what is right, what is normal and what is appropriate. When you bring a system or a teaching to a culture, it is necessary to address the peculiar way in which that culture listens.  In order to do that you have to understand the way in which that culture hears.

When I first began to teach Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist ideas, I found that there was a tendency for Westerners to hear certain ideas in a particular way otherwise it turned them off. However, if these Westerners were given the idea in a different way it would be all right and appropriate.  They would understand it and it would not be distasteful to them.  I found that it was a particular challenge to speak to Westerners in this way. I would like to express some of what I learned about that to you.

When you speak to a Westerner about the Primordial Wisdom State it must be done very carefully.  I discovered that trying to convey to Westerners the idea of self-nature as being inherently empty is a very difficult thing for Westerners to deal with.  We hear emptiness and we think about something that we don’t like.  We hear “empty” and we think empty pocketbook, empty stomach, empty, dark, cold, lonely, and no good.  That wasn’t the emptiness that Lord Buddha was talking about.  That was not the idea to be conveyed.  When we think of emptiness we think of the opposite of fullness and that is not what Lord Buddha is talking about.  When we think of emptiness we think of something that is bereft of any comfort, of any meaning, of any glory and of anything beautiful. We are an emotional people and we like our ‘glory’ and our ‘beautiful’ and all that stuff, so we think that emptiness is not good.

Actually when the Buddha spoke of emptiness, he spoke in such a way that he was delivering his message from a state that does not distinguish between emptiness and fullness; a state that actually understands emptiness and fullness to be the same taste, the same nature. When we speak of emptiness we actually don’t speak of emptiness as nothing and cold but rather we speak of “no thingness.” In this case nothing doesn’t mean gone, it doesn’t mean black, it doesn’t mean terrible, it means no thing, just what it is supposed to mean.

The Buddha spoke of a state that was actually free of conceptualization.  For the most part all that we perceive, everything that we have ever known in fact, is conceptualization. We know nothing then of that underlying nature which is empty of that conceptualization.  We think that to not have that conceptualization is simply not to have – that there is an absence rather than a fullness.  This is very difficult for us.

One of the reasons that it is so difficult is first of all we have not become awake to the Primordial Wisdom State and we have never had a taste of it.  And that taste is important; it is important to sense the reality of it.  Also, we are a materialistic society.  We are a society that is based on ‘thingness’ and all of the things that become important to us, all of our goals, are so much a part of our pattern of thought.  There is a tendency to wrap our minds around ‘thingness,’ it is all that we know, all that we are aware of.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

I WON! A Precious Human Rebirth!

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

When the Buddha speaks of the reasons why we should practice, he speaks primarily of the fact that all sentient beings are suffering and that they experience this suffering in one form or another every moment.  Even when they are extremely happy, sentient beings experience the suffering that is inherent within that happiness.  The happiness is impermanent and will soon be over: we have all experienced that.  We have all been afraid of our really good moods because we know that they will end.  And there are some times we are not willing to give ourselves over to a wonderful experience of wholeness, or happiness or love because we know that there will be a day when the mood swing will go in the opposite direction and then ‘kurplunk’ – there we are again.  So we have difficulty in relating to that kind of concept.  We also have difficulty in relating to the fact that we should be motivated to practice because the conditions of cyclic existence are unpredictable.  There is something about our culture that is pretty regimented.

Here in this country we know that if we are born, probably we will get to eat.  We know that there are people who are hungry but we don’t get to see them very often.  Most of the public knows that it is going to eat.  They may eat on welfare or caviar and pâté but they will eat.  We know pretty much that if we are sick, there is a place that we can go to get help.  Even if we have to get free help; still we can get help.  It’s true there are exceptions but I am thinking of the greater population.  The greater population has a certain regimentation that it is accustomed to things upon which it can rely.  We really don’t see too many people dying very young.  Proportionally there is less infant death and death by disease in young people than elsewhere.  We see it but somehow it is not a major part of the fabric of our lives and so we find a way to work around that.  We think that it is not a good reason to practice because the chances are good that we will scoot through it okay and even though we really do know that we might not be okay.  It could be that we could die young or experience some suffering; still we think that the chances are that we will be okay.

We have also been shielded from some of the more gruesome forms that suffering can take.  We don’t see a lot of gross deformity or retardation.  We don’t see a lot of things that are kept away from us, really for our protection, so it will be more pleasant.  We don’t like to think about the poverty that other people experience.

The way that our society works is that there is enough option for change. If we are aware that some people are suffering because there is a prejudice against them or some people are suffering because they are lonely, there is enough movement within our society that we can stay away from that.  We don’t have to look.  That isn’t the same in other societies, you have to look, and it is there.  Unless you close your eyes when you are crossing the streets, there is no way that you can deny it, because it is there.  So you are not particularly motivated by the fact that suffering if you do not develop the skill through the technology of practice (of insuring that you have a positive rebirth) that you could be reborn in conditions that are unbearable.  We don’t accept that as being true or we don’t think about it.

We also have certain ideas that we have grown up with and these ideas are part of our culture: they are sort of children of religious systems that are inherent in our culture.  They are part of what was handed to us.  There is an idea that so long as we do our best and consistently stay good and improve that predictably the next moment will be a little better.  I am not exactly sure how that happened but I think that it has to do with the fact that this is not, generally speaking, a culture that believes in cyclic death and rebirth.  It is not a culture that understands that you have had many lifetimes before, and unless you achieve supreme realization, you will have many lifetimes yet to come.

Instead we look at the fabric of our lives and we see that children eat and they get a little bigger and they eat some more and they get a little bigger and they get a little smarter and then there is a period of decline at the end of our lives, but we don’t think about that too much.  We think that things improve.

Even if you have come to accept the idea of rebirth, and that it is important, still the idea is that somehow I won’t get worse than I am.  We tell ourselves it is not going to get worse than it is right now.  It’s only going to improve because I am going to continue to do well and I am going to be good spiritually.  I am going to be a good person and if I have already become a human being and I have these fortunate circumstances then this is all that there is so it is just going to get better.

We think this way because we don’t understand how awesome the components of the phenomena that we experience are.  We think that things are so stable, that the circumstances that we experience now are the sum total of all the learning that we have ever done and all of the goodness that we have ever been involved in: all of the good and bad, it’s all been worked out.  It’s only uphill from here.   Basically I think that this belief is the result of an absolute marriage with the idea of linear progression.  Therefore we are not motivated to practice.  But this is inconsistent with what the Buddha teaches.

The Buddha teaches us that we are here through a miraculous set of circumstances because we must have done something wonderful in the past.  In order to hear the Buddha’s teaching, in order to even have a shot at enlightenment, in order to not be suffering so much that it is possible to practice, to have a shot at listening to Dharma, to be able to think of helping others, we must have had an extremely fortunate past.  We must have had wonderful circumstances and really have done some good.  What they call good karma.

However, according to the Buddha we have lived incalculable eons.  From beginningless time we have been doing this.  We have experienced so many lifetimes that the causes that were begun during those times, many of them have not even actualized themselves.  They are still seedlings within our mind stream.  We have so many under the belt, that we literally have accumulated the causes for rebirth in the highest and most fortunate state and we have also accumulated causes for rebirth in the lowest and most difficult realms.  We have all of these circumstances and somehow, almost like a gambling wheel going around we stopped at a precious human rebirth and here we are experiencing this precious human rebirth.

What makes it precious is that we have all of our faculties; we have the opportunity to practice the Buddha’s teaching.  What makes it precious is that we have a shot at attaining realization and we aren’t suffering too much to do it.  We have the leisure to practice.  Understand that finding this precious human rebirth is, as the Buddha taught, very similar to finding a precious jewel while sifting through garbage.  It is that rare.  Finding this precious human rebirth with these fortunate circumstances is as common as dust on the fingernail compared to dust on the earth.  That’s how many more options you had of other kinds of rebirths.  If you understand how rare this birth is, you will find motivation to practice.   But Westerners have a tremendous difficulty with that.

Feeling that there is only linear progression Westerners have a certain pridefulness that unfortunately says, “Well if I have what it takes to get to this point where I can think as I do and practice as I do and be as wonderful as I truly am, then surely I can keep that stuff going somehow and it will remain stable in that way.”  The Buddha says not.  The Buddha says that there are specific reasons that you are here and if you utilize this life to increase your merit, good karma, virtue and value inherent within your mind stream, and if you purify your mind, thereby increasing its beauty and luminosity, then you will proceed on a path that will lead to supreme enlightenment.

But think about how many people here in the West kid themselves about this.  We feel safe in a life that is ever changing.  We feel permanent in the midst of impermanence and we feel that we have got it knocked and we go up and down every day and then we don’t do anything to improve our state.  Maybe we change a few things as a token gesture, we try to live a good life, we are nice to our kids.  We are good upstanding people, but in the end we find that we have been sitting on top of a precious jewel and a fantastic opportunity, and at the end of our lives we come to a realization that we have wasted it. What has happened is that it takes such an enormous amount of good qualities, virtue, good karma and merit to have gained such a life as this and when we could have done something, when we had an opportunity to accomplish the Dharma we didn’t.

©Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Increase Your Capacity to Love

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Having taught Westerners I can see that the ones that last on this path, the ones that change and gentle and deepen in their practice are the ones that are motivated by this intensity of loving.  The ones that will do almost anything to end suffering, these are the ones that make it.  These are the ones that I have hopes for.

It is a Buddhist tradition that we should pray for the ones who have hopes of us because we have many karmic connections. Each one of us have karmic connections, it’s just like a giant web of connections, and some day each one of us will attain supreme enlightenment just as Lord Buddha did.  Surely we will, because our nature is the same as his.  We are the same and we will some day become awakened to that nature.  And on that day, those with whom we have connections, those who have hopes of us, will rejoice because at last they have a chance.  You should think right now there are those who are waiting for you, whose future it is, whose karma it is that when you achieve supreme realization they will depend on you as your disciples and you will be their teacher. You will be the one by which the door to liberation is opened for them.

Some day you will be reborn as a teacher that opens the door of Dharma, or makes the path available and you will be the cause of the end of their suffering.  You should think about them every day.  You should pray for those who have hopes of you.  It is a very important thing to think about and in teaching Westerners I find that they must remember this.

Even if all of the concepts associated with the Buddha Dharma are difficult, even if the idea of devotion is difficult, even if the idea of doing prostrations is difficult because we are unfamiliar with these things, we can do anything in order to benefit beings.  We can accustom ourselves to any idea in order to benefit beings.  Once your mind has been gentled and softened by that kind of loving you can begin to understand that the most important thing is to eliminate suffering.  You can understand also that the idea of doing what is unfamiliar to you – repetition of mantra, practice of different kinds, meditation of different kinds, sitting for a very long time, doing prostrations, developing a relationship with the guru, these things, that are not common in our Western society, become acceptable because we can see that they bear fruit and gentle our minds.  They increase our capacity for loving and they bring us closer to enlightenment.  Then we can do it.

©Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

A Great Stabilizer

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

I have found something wonderful about Westerners; we are really kind people.  I don’t know what it is about us.  Is it because we grew up and our parents told us? Is it because we heard it on the news and all the Presidents have told us and Kissinger says so and everybody knows that we are the strongest country in the world? This is what we grew up with. We think that if anybody is going to save the world that it is going to be us. Who else would it be, really?  So we have this idea that we can save the world. Are we really thinking, “Well we really have something special, we are pretty extraordinary.”  Or is it somehow that karmically a family has come together here and has the leisure to practice.  It has the opportunity to accomplish Dharma.  It even has the opportunity to make Dharma stable in a world in which it is no longer stable.  It is no longer stable in Tibet.  It is difficult in India.  It is difficult in Nepal. Could it be that a family has come together in the right place at the right time that has the opportunity to do something really terrific and somehow we know that somewhere? Are we unusual?  I know so many people that have grown up with the idea that they wanted to help people and to do something good for somebody some time.  They felt almost a sense of being chosen, that there was some meaning that would be found in this life and a sense of purpose, so many of us have had that.

I don’t know if it is unique to Westerners. I have no idea. When I talk to Tibetans they talk all the time of being of use to sentient beings. So I know that that is a meaningful concept to them but I don’t know how they approach it or how they think of it. But I know that it is a thought that somehow a part of us has hopes of ourselves, that we will do something useful.  We look at the world and we feel genuinely sorry.  We have a big brother or a big sister attitude.  We may not have an easy time looking at our suffering but we can see that other people are having a rough time. Sometimes we can’t even relate to the issues that make the times rough but we can try to help. Sometimes we mess it up worse than before, we really complicate things when we try to help and we have that knee jerk reaction without even understanding what the causes are. Nevertheless we feel that we can help.

I found therefore that in teaching Westerners this is a very important and central thing to understand, that the Buddha teaches us to be of use, to be of benefit to sentient beings.  The Buddha teaches us that if you cannot be of use at least do no harm.  But in Vajrayana Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism you are actually asked to consider that other sentient beings are more important than you are by virtue of the fact that there are many of them and only one of you and that the name of the game is the end of suffering.

We are taught to love, I mean really love, which means defining love in new ways.  We are taught that we are supposed to be on fire with it and know it is possible in order to practice Dharma correctly and purely. We have to think only of that which can be of benefit to beings and to bring about the end of suffering, only that is important.  I have found that Westerners are moved by that, and they are stabilized in their path.

Those of you who are familiar with the center know that we have a twenty-four hour a day prayer vigil that has been running since 1985.  There is never a time when there is not someone here, undertaking prayer for all sentient beings.  I have been delighted and warmed to see how deeply my students respond to that job.  They take it very seriously.  They adopt the idea that if there is no-one else at least there is me, and pitiful as I am I am still going to give it my best shot to do something virtuous in order to be of use to sentient beings.  I am going to try to help.  That has been a great stabilizer on the path.

For those who have turned their minds in such a way that they care more for the welfare of sentient beings and are greatly motivated by the end of suffering, their hearts are warm with it and their minds are gentled with it. They will practice in order to benefit beings.  You can’t stop them.  Yet even for my long time students I find that those who haven’t quite got that, remain up and down about practice. It varies and they need inspiration, and they need someone to take them by the hand and help them to stay on the straight and narrow.  Once we really learn to love in this profound and universal sense, there is no turning back.  We are touched and we are changed.

©Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Your Potential

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

One of the most difficult concepts for Westerners besides the idea of emptiness of self-nature and some of the thoughts about the Nature of Mind that the Buddha teaches us are thoughts about devotion.  I think it is because we have grown up in a society where it is very important to be important.  We are very egocentric really.  We have this idea of individualism as being the optimal thing; the idea of the self being fully developed and fully actualized in some way, the idea of developing all of your qualities and talents, whatever they may be.  Developing all of your different talents has become so central to us that when we see that in Vajrayana Buddhism it is the custom to do three prostrations to the teacher we become appalled.  As Westerners, our first thought is, does this mean that I am less than this person, do I have to subjugate myself, do I become some sort of wimp?  What happens to me when I do that? Does this mean that I am kind of useless somehow?

You should understand that there is nothing in this path that will undermine what you inherently are.  In fact the point is for you to awaken finally to your real nature, to your true nature.  There is no way, there is no room, and there is no space on this path for you to be undermined in any way. In fact in this path you are recognized to be something that you never thought you could have been.  Your potential to be a Buddha is fully recognized, male or female, high or low, whoever you are, that potential is fully recognized by your teachers and that is the point of teaching you.

When you comply with the custom of doing three prostrations and of honoring your teacher you are purposefully cultivating devotion, because the teacher is seen as the door to liberation and the motivation of going through that door is love.  You want to be of benefit to beings, you want to accomplish Dharma so that there is an end to suffering.  You want to return again and again and again in whatever form necessary in order to be of benefit to beings and the teacher is seen as a door that you walk through to get there.  The teacher gives you the Dharma.  The teacher offers you the technology.   The teacher acts as the catalyst by which these things are realized and for that reason the teacher becomes a feast; the feast that you have always hungered for.  When you prostrate to the teacher you do not prostrate to the person.

My name before I became Ahkön Lhamo used to be Catharine.  Do you really think that anyone is really prostrating to Catharine?  She is not that great.  No one is that great really, but what is great is the door to liberation that your teacher offers you.  What is great is that awakened nature that someone who has experienced some realization displays.  That is what we prostrate to, not the person.

So you shouldn’t be shy about that or uncomfortable with that. If you don’t want to do it that is fine but don’t feel funny about other people doing it.  Try to overcome the different blocks that you have as Westerners so that you can practice Dharma purely and sincerely.

Remember the whole thing is about being of benefit to sentient beings and about loving.  As Westerners that is what you have to stabilize your mind with, you should cause yourself to understand these things, turn your mind; cause yourself to only want to do those things that will produce the result that you want – love.  Motivate yourself to be stable on this path because the result of this path is the awakened state, and that state is of benefit to all beings, especially those who have hopes of you.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Fire and Gentleness

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo given on January 29, 1989

Adapting Dharma for Westerners is not difficult if you understand what our needs are.  The first thing that a Westerner has to do is to become stable in this path.  You have to remain stable and you have to remain stable for the right reasons.  I have seen old time practitioners that have seen the best Lamas and had the best opportunities and the most glorious teachings, but I am not impressed with the stability of their path and I feel that the reason for that is that they have not come to the point where they have really cultivated a gentleness of mind.  They haven’t really cultivated the necessary fire in the heart that keeps everything going.  They haven’t lit that dynamo that makes them remain passionate about loving.

Sometimes I am disappointed in when I see old time practitioners doing the Dharma talk and walking the Dharma walk and spouting this name and knowing that term but their hearts are unchanged.  There is a hardness there. The most tragic thing about that is that even though they are hot and heavy on the path now they may not remain firm on the path.  And time has born that out.   There are many Western Dharma practitioners who were really on and now they are really off.  I think that the reason why this happens is because they did not take the time to build a foundation based on compassion. We cannot consider that it is a baby teaching.  I talk about bodhicitta and compassion all the time.  If bodhicitta, which is the term for compassion, were ice cream you would come here and you would get a different flavor every week.  That is how I teach.  And I teach it as many different ways as I can. I try to be creative and sometimes I pull rabbits out of hats and sometimes I whisper it and sometimes I shout it and sometimes I give it to you to read, but it is always about Bodhicitta.  It is always about compassion, it is always about love in some form or another.

I really have had old time Dharma students say, “Hey I have had Bodhicitta already, and I am tired of Bodhicitta.” I am so sad when I hear that because if you can get tired of that subject then you don’t know it at all. You think that it is a baby subject yet it is the very union of the wisdom of realizing the emptiness of self-nature and the compassionate self that is truly the awakened mind.  There is no time when you are finished learning about compassion.  There is no time when you are finished learning about love.

Westerners who have been to college, to university and have papers are the worst problem we have in this country when it comes to practice, because we think that having got papers we don’t need to be learning about this simple stuff.  We say, “I need the real teachings.  Give me some Dzogchen.  Give me some heavy stuff.  I want the real stuff, because I am an American and I can deal with it.”  The problem is that as Westerners, no matter who we are, if the mind is not prepared, it is like the ground not being cultivated.  You drop the seed and it goes plunk on the top and if our minds are not gentled and deepened we go plink.  We may be able to memorize a wonderful Dzogchen teaching, we may be able to read the text but we are still plinking merrily away.  We have to have these foundational teachings and they have to be with us always.  There is never a time, no matter how advanced you are that you should forget that the greatest Dzogchen teaching, the most pure and pristine understanding of the Nature of Mind is an understanding of the nature of compassion. The most pristine, achingly beautiful understanding of the Primordial Wisdom State is the awakening to love.  There is no difference: the two of them are inseparable.  You can’t have one without the other.  And you may think to yourself, “What comes first the chicken or the egg? Can’t I learn to love after I am wise already?”  I don’t think so because really the mind has to be prepared for these precious deeper teachings.  It has to be gentled.

There is a confession that His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche gave to us and the translation that I have says, “That my mind is as hard as horn.” And I think about that all the time because at any stage it is possible for the mind to become hard as horn, to become so impressed with its prowess in playing with Dharma terms, to become so impressed with how we can sit straight when we meditate, to become so impressed with how good we live and how sorry we are for every one else, to become so impressed that we are hard. It is important for us as Westerners and as part of the human family to cultivate gentleness so that we can truly accomplish Dharma.

©Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

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