The Suffering of Cyclic Existence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

What Causes Happiness?

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

In order to understand what to do, we have to understand the definition of the cessation of suffering. The cessation of suffering doesn’t happen when everything external gets all right. Can you learn this?  Can we all learn this, please?  If we learn this, it will change your life!  The solving of this problem occurs when we are able to cut off the causes of suffering at the root. And the causes of suffering have to do with desire and the experience of duality.

So now we have to find a solution that is not anywhere in samsara. How in the world are you going to fix this? Well, you’re not… in the world. Where in the world is your solution?  Guess what?  Nowhere. Then we have to find something else. And what is that something else?  Well, now we are looking to understand that desire and this original ideation is the cause for all suffering. So the way to cut that would be to cut it off at the root. We have to move beyond the realm of cyclic existence in order to get any satisfaction, in order to get an answer, in order to understand, literally in order to prevent the causes from manifesting. In order to cut them off at the root, we have to move outside of the realm of samsara.,  So we look to see if everything we’ve known and experienced arises from the idea of self-nature being inherently real. What is outside of samsara?  Well, it is the one thing that, as samsaric beings, we cannot perceive. It is our own Buddha nature, the primordial wisdom nature that is the innately wakeful , sheer luminosity called Buddha.

While we are revolving in the realm of duality, we cannot see this nature.  Yet it is this very nature that is the cessation of the causes of suffering.. In order to cut off suffering at the root, one would have to cut off the connection to the potency of the desire realm. We, as samsaric beings, are desire beings. We are motivated solely by desire. and  the Buddha teaches us that this is the very cause of suffering. So what we’re hearing here is that everything we know, everything we call “me”, every habitual tendency, everything that has come together to knit the tapestry of our lives, is of that cause for suffering.

What monumental effort should happen in order to reach beyond that? How to even define what is beyond that when, by definition, we are the samsaric beings whose first assumption is that of self-nature being inherently real? This is where the power and the majesty and the potency of the practice of refuge comes into play. Because when we look at the appearance of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha in the world, and the inner and secret refuges as well, we can see that that which we call Buddha nature, that which we call Buddha, does not originate from the desire realm. It is that ground—uncontrived, innately wakeful luminosity—that is the underlying primordial wisdom state, suchness, from which all display, all emanation actually comes.

This that we are caught in and experiencing is simply some offshoot, some manifestation in a way, whereas the fundamental all-pervasive truth of our nature, is to us unseen. Yet it is that nature, that which we are naturally, which we must strive toward in order to be awakened, That is the clue; that is the key. In our natural state as Buddha, as that sheer luminosity, there is no distinction, no distortion, no conceptualization, no idea that self is separate from other, no understanding that it could even occur that way. No distinction. Only suchness, one taste, that nature which is conditionless. As we are now we cannot even imagine a conditionless state, a conditionless nature, and yet this is our nature.

So when we practice refuge, we do it in stages. The ultimate refuge is when we understand and awaken to our own face, our own true nature. But in the beginning we practice by conceptually isolating that which is without conception. We have to. On an ordinary level, let’s say the goal was physical fitness and strength. Well, that’s an abstract concept. How do you get that?  You can’t buy that. You can’t hold that in your hand, but you can do the exercises, you see?  Same thing. Buddhahood. We can’t buy it, we can’t hold it in our hand, but we can establish the method.

The method begins with the recognition of the Buddha which is the primordial, uncontrived nature that happens to have appeared in cyclic existence at this time, during this aeon, as a man. But the man is not the thing. Lord Buddha is the display of that nature. We use his image and his teachings as a way to understand because he speaks directly from that nature. But we understand that we are awakening, awakening, awakening. That’s the understanding of refuge. We are looking for that which is not composed of the causes of suffering. And here while we are suffering and revolving endlessly, and watching others revolve endlessly, here while this occurs, we are that, in truth, which is the cessation of suffering, Buddhahood.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Looking for Happiness

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

If we broaden our perspective, we look out from our own self-absorption into our immediate environment which is generally pretty easy for most of us.  We have friends and relatives that we don’t mind increasing our space to include and we look at them and we consider them part of our lives. But let’s move out and see all the rest of humankind.  They are all, in the same way as we are, striving to be happy.  And then look out beyond that to the animal realm.  Even though these animals don’t have a forehead, even though these animals cannot conceptualize in the same way that we do, still each one of them in their own way is trying to be happy according to their capacity. The predator is trying to be happy when it chases its prey.  The prey is trying to be happy when it fixes itself or creates for itself a safe environment and develops coping mechanisms with the reality that the predator is always out there.

There are many different ways to view this, but we can see if we really study, that we all have that in common and so we become, in a sense one family with a fundamental genetic code.  Even across species, even across the form and formless realms, we become one family with this particular underlying reality in common. Now if we were to really contemplate this issue in this way, we might come up with a new world view.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful!  We might come up with a new, more universal perspective.  Wouldn’t it be delightful!  We could use that tool as a way to end self-absorption, and to really open our eyes and look at everything around us with a new kind of vision, a new kind of empathy, a new kind of understanding, a new kind of willingness to put oneself in the place of others, a new kind of planetary human, you know, aware of life around itself, a new kind of cosmic perspective, a new understanding as to what life is all about.

Now how does this relate to refuge?  Well, as we are turning our minds towards Dharma,  that means softening them, preparing them, fertilizing them, plowing the field so that the mind is turned toward the path that leads to liberation and renouncing what does not lead to liberation.

Where does the idea of Bodhicitta actually come into play?  Actually it comes into play as both a motivator and as a clarifier.  As a motivator , we understand that part of the process of turning the mind towards Dharma is to truly look at the six realms of cyclic existence and all the conditions and situations of sentient beings.  Having done that, we see that cyclic existence is faulted and that these sentient beings, although they do wish to be happy, have no understanding of the causes of happiness.  That’s the main different between a Dharma practitioner, and the serial killer.  The Dharma practitioner wants to be happy just like the serial killer, but they are engaging in method.  Method means we are looking at cause and effect relationship.  We see the faults.  We look at cause and effect relationships and we are trying to work it out where we produce the causes that allow the desired effect.

The serial killer is also trying to do that.  He perhaps feels some kind of need build up in him and then he goes and tries to satisfy that need.  So in his way, this serial killer is doing the same thing.  He is engaged in trying to create the causes that produce happiness.   The difference is he does not understand.  There is such heavy delusion that there is no understanding of what causes produce happiness, so the serial killer is in a way, like a completely ignorant, completely confused, completely hatred-oriented basket of misconstrued ideas acting in a knee-jerk way to get some kind of result.  He is not able to think it through and has no guidance to think it through.  So the serial killer is yes, engaging in method, but what method?  The serial killer is engaging in the method of hatred, is engaging in the method of destruction, is engaging in the method of harm-doing, and is thinking that it will bring some sort of power or happiness or relief in some way.  And yet what this person doesn’t understand is that the seed and the fruit cannot be unrelated.  You cannot produce happiness from the fruit of hatred, destruction, ignorance and harm doing.  You cannot produce happiness in the same way that a peach seed cannot produce a banana tree.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Do We Know How to Be Happy?

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

When we broaden our view and look out,  we see that this is happening to a greater or lesser degree to all sentient beings.  All sentient beings are striving to be happy.  They wish to be happy, but in varying degrees, they do not understand the causes of happiness.  We see this also in our own lives.  See, we’re the good guys, we’re the Dharma practitioners. But even in our lives we see that we engage in compulsive, neurotic habitual tendency time and time again. Cyclically actually. We’ve noticed this and we talk about this and we laugh about it.  You know, women get together and we have girl talk.  We know this one really well;. And men are in the same situation.  We repeat patterns that are nonproductive.  Is that a light-weight way to say it?  We literally put ourselves through the lowest of the realms.  We put ourselves through hell, literally.  We are not our own best friends. And we only see it when we are coming out the other side of the compulsion and it didn’t bring us what we want. Then it’s like, “Well I knew that!  Why didn’t I think of that!  I knew that!  How ridiculous!”  And then you know, six months later there we are, going down the pike again.

In one way, then, our compassion is increased because we see that the serial killer is busy bumping off everybody else in order to get happy, and we are busy bumping off ourselves to get happy.  And the confusion and habitual tendency is there.  It’s there. We have that in common.  So we look out and we say, “Wow, if this is the case for myself and I am a Dharma practitioner, how much more so the case for those beings who have had no information on what produces happiness?  We are the children of a materialistic society.  We were told that if you have two good cars, a chicken in your crock pot and several more in your freezer and a good husband or wife, good children, all these good things—everything that’s good has been labelled, you know, we already know what’s good—and an ongoing prescription of Prozac that we could be happy.Aand an occasional face lift.  It gets more complicated as you get older.  Did you notice that?  I mean, at first it was just finding the right man andyou’re home free.  Now it’s find the right man and make sure once you’ve got him, these things don’t drop. And it’s beat gravity and beat the clock and all that other stuff.

So we are, in our way, almost as clueless.  We still engage in these funny things that we do. And every time that we do them, we think they’re going to make us happy.  And then we come out the other side of it with open eyes—like whoops, that didn’t work!  But you know, we’ve noticed for ourselves how limited our capacity is to learn.  Is that not the most astonishing thing? How really intelligent people cannot learn?  Is there a button we’re supposed to be pushing that we don’t know about.? I mean, where is the input button?  We just don’t know. So this is the condition of sentient beings.

Now I know, as you must know, how much I want to be happy.  You know how much you want to be happy, right?  I mean, if push comes to shove, you’re pretty motivated by this.  Isn’t that  right?  Of course you want to be happy.  You’d be a maniac if you didn’t want to be happy.  Are you a maniac?  So we want to be happy.  I certainly want to be happy.  And there are days, are there not, when the yearning to be happy and the feeling that you are very distant from that happiness is so strong that there’s a lot of grief, isn’t there?  A lot of upheaval and grief. There are times when it’s just so difficult and so very far away.  It’s funny how it happens.

Now if we were to take that grief and that feeling and project it outward and think, “Here I am with all the understanding that I have about what makes happiness, and all the skill that I have and all the intelligence that I have and all the good fortune that I have that makes it possible for me to get a grip here and really see what’s going on, and still I can’t manage it.  How much worse must be the condition of other sentient beings who are completely out to lunch about the subject?”  Now if you think about the animal realm, they don’t even have the capacity to take in the information about cause and effect, an extraordinarily limited capacity to learn cause and effect.  Have you ever watched a dog that has the habit of chasing cars?  No matter what you do to them, they will chase the car.  They are terrified because they are so close to getting killed and somehow they know it, but they can’t learn!  They can’t learn that not chasing that car is going to make them feel much more relaxed.  They simply can’t learn that.

So how much less is the capacity for other sentient beings to be free of that kind of suffering?  Now we look out and we really see that all around us is this terrible, terrible grief and suffering and disappointment that is masked in certain ways, is covered in certain ways, is disguised, is transmuted, is rearranged, is redirected, is re-routed, is lied about. And yet underneath it there is that grief, there is that loneliness, there is that difficulty that we have in understanding what makes us happy, and how to be happy.

So this then becomes a causative factor when we engage upon the path.  It’s one of the reasons why we practice refuge so sincerely.  We use this idea not only as a practice in itself, but as a way to motivate ourselves.  Literally, as practitioners we should come to the point where we look around and we see for ourselves that all sentient beings are wandering in this confusion and we develop a profound sense of compassion.  If we really were to study and look around and emphathize and see beyond ourselves how others are suffering even more than we are, that feeling of great love and great compassion would well up within our hearts, and this feeling that enough is enough!  Enough! There has been enough suffering in the world.  Enough!

So by that compassion and that love, we become motivated. And the times that we are feeling undisciplined or feeling dry or off-track on the path, we can rely on that love to come up and nurture us.  It’s happened even on an ordinary level within our lives.  We make a determination to take a more difficult route to accomplish something, even not so much concerning the path, but a difficult route to accomplish something in our lives.  Then to accomplish that requires such a great herculean effort like changing, that after awhile, somewhere in the process, we lose focus.  We ask ourselves, “Now why am I doing this again?  I really can’t remember today!”  Then we look at someone else near us who is suffering terribly, just suffering terribly, and we vow to organize everything around us to make it better so that the person next to us is not going to suffer so much.  We’re motivated by that and it brings us back into focus.

The same kind of situation happens on the path.   We utilize the suffering of others, the understanding of that suffering, to center us, to motivate us, to keep us nourished on the path.  At the same time, and here’s where the double blessing comes in, at the same time, we are also giving rise to the Bodhicitta which is the awakening mind, the mind that is in its essence the very display of compassion.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

All Sentient Beings Wish to Be Happy

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

When we are considering the thoughts that turn the mind, we consider the teachings on the six realms.  We consider the faults of cyclic existence.  We consider teachings on cause and effect.  We consider teachings on impermanence.  But also we consider teachings on compassion, and they start with, and are absolutely related with, those teachings that you have just had on the six realms of cyclic existence and the faults of cyclic existence.

The idea of compassion, of Bodhicitta, is intimately related to that.  The way that they are related is like this:When one is actually considering entering onto the path, or considering making one’s relationship with the path much more firm and solid, or if one is a more advanced practitioner, to deepen on the path, one always has to go back and re-examine the faults of cyclic existence. One of the main thoughts that we have concerning the faults of cyclic existence is that we look around and we see the Buddha’s first teaching in action.  We see that all sentient beings wish to be happy. We all have that in common —we all wish to be happy.  It is our motivating force.  Whatever it is that we are doing, whatever form it takes, underneath that is the wish to be happy. Now each one of us has delusions.  Each one of us has habitual tendencies. But underneath all of them is the wish to be happy

One way to understand this and to really broaden the perspective on it is that in some cases it is very easy to see that a person is striving to be happy.  You might see one person, one particular type of personality, for instance, using every skill that they have to maintain happiness and joyfulness and equilibrium and that sort of thing.  Maybe they go to psychotherapy in order to clear out neuroses, or maybe they do a lot of affirmations, you know, positive thought—thinking in affirmations about themselves in order to try to be happy.  And for the people like that who are trying to maintain a certain kind of energy in their personality, it’s very obvious that they are trying to be happy.  You can mark that and see it very easily.

But what about somebody like a criminal?  What about someone who is a committed criminal? I mean a serious criminal, somebody who has done something unthinkable, such as even a serial killer?  I don’t mean somebody that kills cheerios, I mean, kills people in a row—a serial killer.  Let’s say somebody like that.  We can’t even understand what the mind of a serial killer would be like.  They are filled with obsession, filled with compulsion, filled with hatred.  In many cases they are psychologically incapable of empathizing with other human beings.  It’s like they have a microchip missing.  They are all kinds of messed up.  All kinds of messed up.  To many of us their thinking, their world, may not even be recognizable.  It may not have even the same landmarks.  And internally, certainly, if we could go into their minds, it would not be recognizable as any kind of internal reality that we’ve ever experienced.  So they would seem very different from us.

But there is one factor that we have in common with somebody like that, and that is that we are both equally, in our own way, trying to be happy.  Believe it or not!  This person who commits such a horrendous crime, and does so repeatedly,  is compelled to continue doing so. If we were to really go within and try to slice and dice enough to find out what moves this person, what is happening here, we would find out that there would be a lot of jungle to go through.  I’m sure that that’s the case.  There are a lot of entanglements in there and a lot of mental confusion.  However, underlying the dynamo that drives this engine is aperson who wishes to be happy and, in that way, is completely the same as you, completely the same as you.

Now I’m not recommending that because of that we should be nice and pat them on the head and let all the serial killers out on the street.  I’m not saying that.  I realize that this issue is far more complicated than I am presenting it, but the fact that I’m mentioning does not change, no matter how complicated the situation is.  And that is that this person has something in common with you that is very strong and it is what drives both of you.  You wish to be happy.  Interestingly, neither one of you really knows how to be happy until, as a mature practitioner, you have really contemplated and studied the Buddha’s teaching and learned something about that, and then maybe had enough life experience, in terms of maturity, to go within and approach oneself honestly, to look at oneself and examine one’s habitual tendencies.  These are the kinds of skills that we learn as life skills, and skills that we learn on the path in order to help us to begin to learn what comprises happiness, what actually makes it up, and to develop the skill of how to produce it.

But until that happens, we are the same as anyone else.  All sentient beings are exactly the same in that way.  Maybe not in too many other ways, you know, but in that way we are exactly the same.  And this is true of all the beings in all the realms of cyclic existence, not only in the human realm.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Refuge and Bodhicitta: Introduction by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

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

What I would like to talk about today has much to do with the practice of Bodhicitta, which is taking the vow of compassion, committing oneself to live one’s life as a compassionate person, and moving into adopting the posture of and becoming a Bodhisattva., that is an awakening being who lives to benefit others.

Generally speaking, Refuge and Bodhicitta are considered to be almost like twins.  Many times practitioners will structure their practice so that they are accumulating Rand Bodhicitta at the same time.  You’ll notice that the two sections in your Ngöndro book are side by side and that one easily follows the other.  To help you with understanding how to live through the muscular changes that you are going through even as we speak, one thing that you can do that I did that is very helpful is that when you’re practicing the Refuge and you’ve established the visualization,  you’re halfway there to the Bodhicitta because it moves directly into the practice of Bodhicitta, using pretty much the same visualization.

If you are accumulating prostrations,  either you are in retreat or you are simply upholding your daily practice commitment.  There will be times when you really feel that in a physical way you simply cannot put up with the challenge of the practice.  Each one of you will have a certain limit of prostrations that you can consistently do on a regular basis.  If you were to do a daily practice commitment of 100 prostrations, or 200 prostrations, or 300 prostrations, whatever it is, there will be some days that for whatever physiological reason you may not be able to do that  much, or it may be that you are moving from 100 prostrations to 200 prostrations and the body is stressed as it’s going to this new level.  The one thing that you can do is combine the practice of Refuge and Bodhicitta. You can practice the Refuge, accumulating prostrations until you feel that you are tired and need to move on to something else or take a break.  Then you can sit down and visualize and meditate on the bodhicitta section of the practice.  So you could take a break, accumulate Bodhicitta Vow for awhile and use that visualization, and if that’s the only time you’re going to accumulate bodhicitta, you can close the practice at that point. But you can close the practice of Bodhicitta somewhat and then go back to the Refuge practice, or you can actually go back and forth.

Interestingly they are so connected in one’s mind, and should be so connected in one’s mind, that that’s actually an excellent way to practice and I recommend, rather than doing only prostrations, to go back and forth on a regular basis and accumulate the bodhicitta at the same time.  Now the reason  why this is very useful is that the idea of refuge and bodhicitta in concept are so well-connected and so interdependent, literally, it’s hard to understand one without the other.

Yesterday during the retreat we talked about the meaning of refuge.  We talked about the thoughts that turn the mind.  We talked about the pitfalls and conditions of samsaric or cyclic existence, the cycle of birth and death, so we talked about many different subjects.  How do these subjects connect with bodhicitta and how does bodhicitta connect with these subjects?

Actually the two main legs of our entire path are wisdom and compassion—the knowledge of emptiness or the realization of the primordial wisdom state and the bodhicitta.  These two are as inseparable as the rays of the sun are from the sun. If one were to examine the sun, one would understand that yes, there seems to be a place where the sun’s actual body ends, but is the energy of the sun’s rays, is that emanation form of the sun, actually in truth separate from the sun itself?  Some would say no. So in many ways refuge and bodhicitta have the same kind of relationship.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Who Needs Refuge?

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

How is the understanding of compassion a clarifying thought as well as a motivating thought?  How is it a clarifying thought?  Now here is where the profound connection with refuge comes into play.  Not only does the compassion motivate us to take refuge, but it makes us think it through very clearly.   If we utilize it, it does.

When we enter onto the path of the Buddhadharma, we take refuge in the outer refuge of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, the inner refuge of lama, yidam, khandro, and the secret refuge of the channels, winds and fluids.  When we actually enter into this refuge, which for our purposes now are the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, Triple Gem refuge, we must define why it must be arranged the way it is.  Why is it organized the way it is?  For instance, if it’s true that all sentient beings are suffering but they wish to be happy and they are mostly suffering due to desire and the confusion about issues concerning desire, if that’s what the Buddha said, then why don’t we just kind of sit down and have a therapeutic session of insight so that we can isolate for ourselves what it is that we actually want.And maybe then we can go and get it.  If all sentient beings are really suffering and we’re really unhappy and we’re trying to be happy, why don’t we just have an insight of some kind and go for it!? Why don’t we do that?  Well, because you’ve done that before.  You’ve done that before.  You do it all the time to greater or lesser degree, according to your capacity and your habitual tendency.  In fact, we do that all of the time.  We feel a need.  We feel desire.  We feel something.  Something is moving that locomotive down the track.  What is it?  So we sit down and we try to center ourselves or we get busy and allow thoughts to come up.  Each one of us has a characteristic way to deal with things.  Maybe we’ll do a little journaling, we’ll do a little art, we’ll do a little music, we’ll do a little whatever, take a walk and try to center ourselves, and figure out what’s going on.  Well, we’ll come up with something.  You always come up with something

Now we’re going to figure out, “Oh ,  if I don’t get with the great love of my life pretty soon…, That’s what it is, I know that’s what it is.”  So now you’re on to the next adventure. Or you may ask yourself,“What is it that’s troubling me?  What is it that’s troubling me?” And you sit down and you’re reaching inside and using all this psychological technique and you’re going, “Oh it’s my mother!!!  My mother didn’t love me!!”  Each of these are valid. I’m not saying that these are not issues in your life.  I’m not saying that these are not valid things to think about, but I am saying that there is some confusion there in that you are looking at the superficial causes for discomfort, but not the deeper ones.

If we were to look more deeply,, we would discover that the underlying cause of all suffering is desire, and that we’re real, real, real confused about this whole issue.  So we examine the path and examine the teachings a little bit further. And we find that the Buddha has taught us that samsara is actually made up of the things that potentially make us suffer.  That is to say that the first step or connection with samsara, that is the wheel of death and rebirth, is based on the idea, the first gossamer thin assumption or idea, of self-nature as being inherently real.  Why does that happen?  That happens because it can. End of subject.  It’s one of the potentials in the great ground of primordial nature which contains within it all potentials.  So this has happened.  We have considered ourselves separate.

In order to consider one’s self as self nature separate, other has to be external.  In order for other to be external, it has to be determined.  In order for it to be determined, we have to react toward it.  There has to be a reaction  toward it with acceptance or rejection.  You cannot see something without registering acceptance or rejection, or the combination of the two, which is neutrality.  Neutrality is not lack of reaction.  It is a combination of reactions.  So we cannot experience anything as outside ourselves without some sort of reaction. And once that has happened, we react toward everything with hope and fear.

So everything in samsara is then built from that original structure of the idea of self nature being inherently real and at this point one’s self is determined, and other becomes external.  We split into subjective-objective reality.  Everything in samsara, every kind of perception with the senses, anything that we take in with our eyes, our ears, our tongues, anything that senses, comes from, at the root, that original construct, that original assumption of self-nature as being inherently real.  So everything in samsara is built of that.  That is to say that nothing that we experience now, nothing that we have ever experienced, is separate from the realm of desire.  So literally, everything within samsara is potentially cause for more suffering.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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