Why We Practice

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered at Palyul Ling Retreat in 2012:

So I think as we ascend to the higher teachings, we have to remember the bodhicitta.  We have to remember that if we are not kind, there’s nothing that we are doing that’s useful.  If we are not kind, there’s no way we are going to be able to keep our practice going, because we will forget the suffering of sentient beings.  And if we do that, we are lost.  We forget why we are practicing.  We don’t practice.  And then if we are lucky, we may see a person whose suffering can be read on their face.  You can see that.  And if you are fortunate enough to see that, it may remind you that it is time to do your practice.

I promise you, you won’t forget to do your practice for the rest of the year if you meditate on the suffering of sentient beings every day – even just for five minutes.  Ten minutes is better.  But if we can manage to do that, that’s what keeps us going.  Otherwise our practice becomes dry.  It’s too intellectual.  We reason with our practice, and we kind of argue with our practice.  And yet with bodhicitta, it’s impossible to do that.  How can bodhicitta be the wrong thing to do?  How can bodhicitta be something that you can skip?  We must be kind.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all the high lamas that I have ever heard have always said that you must be kind.  That’s what’s happening.  So I have pretty much stuck with teaching bodhicitta all my life, and I’ve been doing this for about 30 years.

Bodhicitta is beautiful.  It is nourishing.  It’s like food.  If you keep yourself nourished by practicing the bodhicitta, you’ll continue to be full and have confidence, and be able to benefit sentient beings even though it seems so hard to keep going.  We all have jobs.  It seems so hard to keep going but if you remember the bodhicitta, and that it is your reason for practicing, you absolutely will not give up.  I promise you. That is the answer.

Everyone I’ve talked to has this problem—practicing for part of the year, and keeping that going.  Although it’s not true of Tibetans necessarily, it is true of Americans.  Tibetans were brought up in a culture that is all about loving-kindness, and the Dharma is part of their entire system.  It’s in their blood and it’s in their brains and it’s everywhere.  But we Americans like to have reasons for things.  The best thing to do is to stop being so prideful and go back to the very reason why you are here.  You are not here to wear a fancy robe.  You are not here to receive high teachings and walk around so prideful.  No, you are here first of all because you love His Holiness; and then you are here because you know that sentient beings suffer and that you can help.  I know of nothing that is more precious than that.  You can help.  We forget that.  We think the practice is about us, making advances.  We should make advances in our practice.  It’s true.  We should.  And yet we have to remember that the true reason why we practice is love.

Now if there is anything that I’ve said that offends you, I’m sorry, but not really.  I will sit here and pound bodhicitta into your heads until I no longer have the opportunity because it is what I believe and what I know will bring benefit to the world.  It’s what brought His Holiness to us.  It is what will bring him back.

If we keep our promises and benefit sentient beings, he will return to us.  Maybe he already has.  Who knows?  But it is our job to call him with our hearts by practicing in the way that he taught us.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Even Small Kindnesses Matter

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo given at Palyul Ling Retreat 2012:

One way that I teach people is online.  I have a Twitter account and many times we just tweet.  Do you know what Twitter is?  Some of you do?  Maybe?  Ok.  So what we do is we teach them Om Mani Pedme Hung, and then show them how the letters look in Tibetan and have them see blessing mantras so that they will, you know, experience liberation through seeing.  They will receive the blessing of that because these people will never ever practice Dharma.  So should we throw them out?  No, of course not.  People like urban people.  People in countries that probably have never even heard of Dharma.  Inner city people.  Outer city people.  People down the bible belt in the middle of the country.  All of them.  All of them hear a little bit of the Dharma and the kindness that it shows and they want to learn.  They want to learn.  So I do the best that I can to teach them online. We make films, and sort of document some small teachings.  Nothing very deep because that would require another kind of opportunity, but we are able to teach them just so that there is a blessing in being human.  So that as human beings there will be some use, that they have the capacity to think and to understand.

Of course I love animals.  We all know that, but animals cannot learn the Dharma.  As much as I would love to see my animals achieve liberation, that will never happen through practicing Dharma.  If I practice and I dedicate, maybe that’s something.  If you practice and you dedicate, maybe that’s something.  But still they cannot practice.  They don’t have that part of the brain that can make them practice, but they can hear mantra and receive the blessing.  We even tell people, “Say this blessing to your animals as they die.  Om Ami Dewa Hri.”  Of course you all know that , but that’s a revelation to someone who has never heard Dharma before, or to someone who didn’t know there was some way that they could help their little dogs and their cats as they die.  And their little birds and so forth.  They didn’t know that there was any real way to do that.  So we’ve told them that if they are coming close to death, if death is coming, at this time you should say in their ears, “Om Ami Dewa Hri.”  And we even put up recordings of how it sounds so that they can recite it correctly.   They will get the closest thing possible to a lung.  It’s not the same, but it’s the best we can do.

I’m not proud.  If anything I’m shy and I’m not proud.  One thing that I feel is if what you can do is a small thing, you should do it.  If all you can do is give a little bit, you should give it.  If all you can do is say, “Well, my dog can’t have any blessing,” and you give nothing, that’s not so good.  But instead, why not do for them what you can do for them?  They can hear the sound of mantra.  They can see the letters.  They don’t cognize them.  They can’t understand what it means, but they can see it.  They can see images.

I have made an Amitabha recording of singing the mantra so that it can be played for people who are dying or who have just died.,so the Amitabha mantra will be in their ears as they are dying.  These are all the things that I know how to do.  They are very simple, but these are not people who will ever come here.  And their pets—they will never come here.  How can they receive a blessing if we don’t reach out and make it possible?

I’m very interested in R&B music and hip hop.  Sorry.  If that disappoints you, I’m really sorry.  But I’m interested in that kind of music.  I’ll be honest with you and say that.  And what I’ve noticed is that when I reach out—I have 65,000 followers, no 68,000 followers—and when they contact me and ask me, “What is the answer to this question?”  You know.  “You said this. Does that mean that or does that mean this?”  And these are people that have never heard of Dharma before, just know nothing about it.  And then they want to know.  And I recommend books for themand that sort of thing.  We send out pictures of stupas, all the stupas that I’ve built so that they’ll have that contact of being able to see. So I’m proud of that.  I’m happy about that.  And I think that even as we get to the higher levels of teachings, we should never ever think that it’s inappropriate to lower oneself to do simple goodness for all beings.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Go Back to Bodhicitta

The following is an excerpt from a teaching given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo at Palyul Ling Retreat in New York 2012:

In the beginning, all the lamas, including His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, ever taught us about was the bodhicitta. All we ever got was the bodhicitta. People would ask for Dzogchen. Give us Dzogchen. And the lamas would say, “No, you’re not ready. You’re not ready. Let’s start with the bodhicitta.”  After awhile, Americans got really sick of the bodhicitta. It’s really sad, but they did. I never did. In fact, I never stopped teaching bodhicitta. I know that now the bodhicitta is kind of reduced to a small bit of speech or teaching that comes right at the beginning of a practice or a wang or teaching. It is very condensed compared to what it used to be. When the lamas first came to America, it was just bodhicitta, and really nothing else. But the American students were insistent that they were ready for the Dzogchen. Eventually the lamas gave in. And I am sorry that happened, because I think we missed something.

I notice that when some practitioners practice, they’re calm and that’s good, but they are also solemn. They are not so happy looking, not so joyous. Dharma is joyous. To be able to practice Dharma is a feast.  There’s nothing in the world more joyous than that, because you have something—. \you have Buddha in the palm of your hand. You have something that nobody else has here in America. Other people have other teachers. And they have other lineages and that’s great, but we have this. And we should be thrilled and happy, and try to maintain the understanding of how precious this is.

The day we decide that we are too advanced for bodhicitta is the day that we’ve lost our way. Because if all we ever studied from this point on was the bodhicitta, it would be enough. Sometimes when we go into the higher teachings, we forget what the root is. Bodhicitta is the root. Bodhicitta is the root of everything that comes after. If you cannot develop the bodhicitta, it will be very difficult to stay on the path. As they say, the bodhicitta is like the dakini’s warm breath. It is what we consider to be the activity of the Buddhas, the nature of the Buddhas, like the sun’s rays—part of the sun and yet coming out to bless all. So when we think about the bodhicitta and we think that maybe it’s an early practice, and maybe we are being insulted by being taught this practice or maybe we should be allowed to go on, don’t hurry.

If I had my choice, I would teach nothing but bodhicitta. I used to do that, almost like Baskin Robbins’s 51 flavors of ice cream. I used to think about 51 different ways, as many ways as I could, to teach bodhicitta. I would get really creative so that it wouldn’t be boring. And what I found is that most people didn’t notice that they were only being taught the bodhicitta, because I would teach it in such a way that it would seem different and interesting. And I would make people laugh, and that always helped. You can’t be stiff when you are laughing. I made it joyful. All of us felt great joy to be together, as I see you do too. I think it is the most beautiful part of the Dharma. If we say that it is the smallest part, or the least of the parts, it is a mistake. Do all of you understand that?  It is a mistake if we put bodhicitta lower than anything else, because in order to practice we need the bodhicitta desperately. It is what keeps us going. It is nourishment.

My philosophy is that if we are on the path and every year we practice really hard and really purely here and then go home, but then forget about it, as so many of us do, then in my experience we need to go back to the bodhicitta and study the suffering of sentient beings again, again and again. Study the suffering of sentient beings so that you can understand why it is that you are practicing. You’ll have strength to practice because you will see them, and they are suffering terribly.

Seeing that woman and her husband on the roof was for me a great motivator. It was a great strengthener. It gave me spiritual muscle so that whatever I did, bodhicitta was always the crown on the head of my practice. And then above that, of course, is Tsawai Lama—above the crown of my head, and in my heart, as I know he is in yours.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche: Compassion in Action

The following is an excerpt from a teaching given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo at Palyul Ling Retreat in the summer of 2012:

I am very pleased by all the effort that you’ve put forth to make this place grow and shine as it has, keeping it going even in great adversity, for instance the passing of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche.  We all suffered and now we’re doing what we can to bring about the causes that he can return to us.

I remember back in the beginning when I first met His Holiness Penor Rinpoche.  It was on his first visit to the United States.  He wanted to see me.  Back in those days dharma was kind of confusing.  We didn’t understand each other when the lamas first came to America.  It took awhile for us to come to that point, where we really understood each other.  Mostly it was our lack of understanding as Westerners that made the problems.

You all have beautiful, nice, and condensed practice books.  I want to show you what we were working with.  We mostly had loose-leaf sheets of paper, pictures, and books stuck together.  [Shows an old practice binder]  There are things here that I don’t even recognize anymore.   We all made our own books.  We were all new and we did our very best.  I wanted to show you this because I thought, ‘What a mess.’  I thought you’d get a kick out of it.  Those were my first practice books.  And it was a long time ago.

Personal reflections on His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

I had the happiness of knowing His Holiness for a long time, and had many wonderful experiences with him.  I don’t mind sharing them with you if you’d like to hear some of them.  I’d like to tell you about one time when I was in India and we were traveling around looking for statues.  It was so unbearably hot.  We were staying in this hotel and it was about 104 degrees Fahrenheit or more.  His Holiness was used to heat but he made sure to put me in a hotel with an air conditioner, which I stuck to, and that was very nice.  While at the hotel, I met the woman who cleaned my room, and she told me about her husband.  He was sick, had cancer and was dying.  She said, “Would you come and give a blessing to my husband before he dies?”  And I said, “Oh, it’s worthless if I give him a blessing, but if His Holiness gives him a blessing, that’s something. That’s definitely worthwhile.”  And so she said, “Oh!  Would he do that?”  And I said, “I don’t know.  I’ll ask.”

They were Hindu.  When I asked His Holiness, he said, “I don’t think Hindus like Tibetans very much.  We eat meat.”  And I said, “With due respect, Holiness, I think in this case it doesn’t matter.  These people so want to see you.  They so want the blessing.  These people are going through misery.  They live in a tin box on top of the roof, and she has to raise children by herself.”  His Holiness was very wrathful with me.  He said, “I had to leave Tibet and come to America.  I watched my own people die.  And now I am supposed to think that this is important?”  He was very wrathful.  But I know what he was doing.  He was creating the merit, and clearing the obstacles for this event to happen.  But as you know, His Holiness was very kind.  So finally he stomped his foot and he said, “Ok.  I’ll go.”

We climbed up to the roof, and it was hellish really.  His Holiness’ knees were bad then too.  I was so sorry and embarrassed that I had put His Holiness through that, but then I was so happy for the people that would receive the blessing.

When he came to the door of the tin shack they were living in on top of the building, it must have been 115 degrees inside.  It was so horrible.  We said, “His Holiness is here to give the blessing.  And the woman got down on the floor, and put her head to his feet and then she prostrated again at his feet.  She couldn’t stop.  She just kept doing it.  It was heart breaking to see the devotion that she felt for someone who would not abandon her in this terrible time; who would provide comfort and some help.  And His Holiness did that.

He spoke to her in Hindi.  And he asked her, “What is the problem?  How long has he been sick?”  She could hardly speak.  They were both so grateful and happy to have his blessing, and that he would think of them, because they were lowly people according to the caste system in India.  They were lowly people and poor beyond belief.  They said that some days he didn’t even eat, because there was no food.  And so His Holiness was told the condition of this man, and you could see in his face that he had great compassion.  The man had cancer of the mouth.  You could see that something was terribly wrong, but he had no medicine.  The agony that he was experiencing was hard to understand.

Here’s the kicker.  His Holiness said, “Open your mouth.”  When he said this, I tried to peak, and what I saw in there was horrible.  His Holiness said, “Open your mouth wide.”  He started pounding out mantras. Nothing I recognized.  He really pounded out the mantras.  And as he did that, he was blowing, blowing, blowing in the man’s mouth.  Holiness pounded out more mantras, and blew in the man’s mouth.  He kept doing this for quite a long time.

The couple was so thankful.  They offered Holiness food and drink, which of course he didn’t take.  They offered him food and drink.  He was working his heart out for them.  As we were leaving, they were bowing and bowing, and bowing.  It was so beautiful.  When we got down towards the room, I said to him, “Holiness is he going to live now?”  And he said, “No, there’s no chance.  The merit is gone.  There’s no chance for him to live now,” he said, “But he will have no pain.”

Already the man’s mouth was chewed up with cancer, and yet His Holiness said he would have no pain, and I know that’s true, because I met the woman again on the next day of our travels.  She said he had no pain that day.  I was so happy that happened.  I was just thrilled.

I left the my room door open so I could see where His Holiness was, and he could see where I was, and when he went passed by room, I just went down to him and I said, “Holiness, I know that was difficult, but thank you.  On behalf of them, thank you so much.  I don’t know how to express my gratitude.”  And he said, “No, I thank you.”

I will never forget that story.  He was grateful that I had insisted that he take this opportunity to help them.  He saw the value of it.  He saw that these people were helped and that they were just regular, innocent people.  His Holiness helped them so much that to my knowledge the man never had pain.  The woman and I wrote back and forth for a little while after that, and she said that he never had pain.  To me that am the most moving story about His Holiness that I know.  And I find it impossible to have seen that and not understand that he was Buddha, that he is Buddha.  No one but a Buddha would or could do something like that.  I miss him so much.  I know that you do too.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

Bodhicitta in the World

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo given at Palyul Ling Retreat 2012:

They say that I am a Dakini.  I’m not so sure but they say I am.  The Dakini has to do with the activity of the Buddhas.  And so that being the case, I feel it is my responsibility to try to bring some benefit in the activity way.  So I try to feed everybody – animals, people, and the birds outside my house.  Everybody knows that we spend a lot of money on feeding people and feeding beings.  And it is a happy thing to do.  It makes us all happy.  So many beings are fed.  And they are having what they need because of the kindness of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, and what he taught me.  The precious bodhicitta, the nectar of kindness that is inherent in the dharma.  This is what I was taught, what I learned, and its what I practice.

We have a prison program also.  We like to forget people who have done something wrong and just throw them away, but we have a program where we can go and teach prisoners some dharma, because these men will die in prison.  And they will have no way to get any kind of help or straighten themselves out for a proper or good rebirth.  They don’t know how to die well.  They have no teachings on Phowa.  It makes us sad, and so that being so said, we’re able to go out and do these things.  And it is why KPC is always broke.  We don’t have any money because we spend it on the needs of sentient beings, and I am very happy about that.  That makes it worth it to me.

In our food program there are many people who don’t know how to cook the kind of food that we provide for them, because they are poor people and they are used to cheap food.  And so we have been trying to teach them how to cook lentils, and beans, and rice and things that are very nourishing.  We try to teach them how to make protein, and how to eat well so that they feel better.  This is a totally new thing for them.  They don’t know how to be healthy, and their children don’t know how to be healthy.  Many of them eat too much sugar and too much candy and they are unwell.  And so we are teaching them.  We are involved enough in the community to teach them how to cook, how to prepare food and what food is nourishing, and what is not.  These are great pleasurable things that we do.  Not that they are so great, but they are great pleasure.  To see people become nourished.  To see people learn some dharma, whether they understand it or not.  To even understand, Om Mani Pedme Hum.  To even repeat Om Mani Pedme Hung is so much better than anything else they could receive in the ordinary world.  Very simple things like that can make the world of difference, as you know.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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