Offering Oneself

Dorje Phagmo

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

In our Ngöndro practice we find the practice of offering oneself, the practice of generosity.  It’s called the practice of Chöd. Chöd can very easily be practiced constantly.  The practice of Chöd is based on eliminating ego-clinging through transforming oneself into that which is beneficial to all sentient beings and offering oneself.  In Chöd there is actually a visualization where you see all your different elements separated into piles: skin and bones and muscles and fat and eyeballs and stuff like that.  All of that stuff is put into little piles and you cook it all up and you offer it up to the Buddhas.   And you’re thinking, “That’s kind of an interesting little practice there, isn’t it?  Whoa, dude!” But just remember that this is meant to antidote our ego-clinging because as we walk through our lives, we are all about ‘what can you do for me, and what do I want?’  Remember, as we’re walking through our lives as ordinary sentient beings, our mantra is “Gimme gimme gimme, I want I want I want I want.”  So this kind of practice is meant to antidote that.

The very habit that we have of assuming self-nature to be inherently real and reacting with hope/fear, want/not-want to our environment and the things in it constantly perpetuates itself! So, we are taught instead that, wanting to make oneself useful in some way, wanting to be of benefit and awakening compassion, one way to practice that is by offering the self, offering self-nature, and transforming it into something that is useful to sentient beings.

So how can we do that as we’re walking around?  Try to remember that we’re practicing Recognition.  Here’s a great way to think about it.  Have you heard about the guy who recently had a cadaver’s hand sewn onto his arm, and it’s working?  Now those of you that have heard about that, what did you think about that?  You probably said, “Ugh!”  I mean, it sounds amazing in one way, doesn’t it, that somebody who didn’t have a hand now has a hand, but it’s not his hand.  So when we think about it, that’s kind of gnarly, right?  Just think about it: you know what your hand looks like.  You’ve seen it your whole life.  It changes, but it’s your beloved hand.  It’s so recognizable.  It has a certain shape, and it feels a certain way.  Well, now suppose you had an unmatched set, and one of them was not your hand.  Think how you’d feel.  This kind of clinging is so automatic that until we hear something like that, we don’t even know we do it. It is the very basis for our recognizing one another and ourselves as selves.

We grow attached to the shape of our face, the shape of our head.  Even if we don’t like the shape of our face and the shape of our head, we grow attached to it because it is us, (we think), and so it constantly perpetuates that idea of self-nature being inherently real.  It constantly perpetuates that ego-clinging.  Our bodies are, for us, something that we have to protect.  Even if you think that you’re very brave and not afraid of being hurt, or not afraid of even losing your life, I say to you, baloney!  I’ll start chopping, and you tell me when to stop.  We protect our bodies.  If anything scary comes around us, we react, “Aaaggh!”  And if we can’t protect ourselves any other way, we protect our head because that’s the part that keeps us going — we think.  So we have this automatic clinging.  Any sense of recognition of oneself as self is a clinging kind of phenomenon.

To antidote that, we practice Chöd, separating all the parts.  When you’re done separating all the parts, you can ask yourself, “Well, what part am I?  The skin or the bones or the fat or the muscle or the brains or the tongue or the eyeballs?  Which part am I?”  Of course, we begin to learn that that question is not answerable because ‘I,’ or self-nature, is simply a concept.  It’s simply a concept.

How can we practice this as we walk around through our lives?  Well, one way to do that is to develop the habit of when it is you notice yourself…do you notice yourself?  You notice yourself constantly!  It’s all you notice.  We notice our hands; we notice the position that we’re in; we constantly move to be in a different position, don’t we?  We think, “Do I want my hand like this or like that?”  We are constantly doing that.  It’s a constant phenomenon.

Suppose we were to develop the habit of considering the hand.  “Well, this one matches that one.  I like that.”  But what if we were to consider our hands in a different way?  Instead of thinking, “This hand is mine and it looks like this,” think, “How can this hand be of benefit to sentient beings?  What use is this hand?”  Consider it.  You can develop a sense of Recognition of the true nature of our body parts.  You can think to yourself, “Do you know what I like best about me?  I really like my eyes.” I like your eyes too, but I like my eyes, and so when I think about that, I think, “Oh, you know, wherever I go, I have these eyes, and they can see.  That’s really cool.  And other people can see me.”  And I can work those eyes, can’t I?  And that’s really something.  All we know is that our sight, our eyes, are part of us: that is us.  We cling to that.  Suppose we were able to understand our eyes in a different way.  Supposing when we think of our eyes and how wonderful the capacity to see is, or how amazing it is that we can express ourselves with our eyes, we can offer that entire scenario, that entire experience, to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas for the benefit of sentient beings. Your relationship to your own body parts, your own eyes, for instance, your own hand, becomes different.  Rather than thinking, “These are my brown eyes and I have great brown eyes,” or “This is my right hand and it’s a great hand” — rather than thinking like that as an extension of our ego, we can develop the habit of offering the whole phenomenon of sight, the whole relationship to our different body parts, by evaluating how it is that these eyes can benefit sentient beings, and how it is that we can offer them.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Meeting His Holiness for the First Time

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

When I first met His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, he came to where I was in Kensington, Maryland, and wanted to stay at our house.  I had only met one Tibetan in my whole life.  I had no idea what a Tibetan lama even was.  I had no idea what to do with a Tibetan lama.  Where do you put them?  What do they eat? I wasn’t being silly, I just didn’t know.  So I thought, “Well, we’ll have a barbecue!” I didn’t know what to do.

I remember it, and I think about the way I was then.  Of course, it was natural, but there was His Holiness sitting on a bench!   I remember plopping down right next to him and asking casually, “So, what do you think of the barbecue?” If I did that now, my head would explode!  Thankfully, some spiritual discrimination has been developed since then!

During that visit, His Holiness said he wanted to talk to all of my students.  He wanted to ask all of my students, “What does she teach you?  What do you know about this, that and the other thing?  What do you think about compassion?  What does she tell you to do?  How does she tell you to practice?”  He questioned all my students, and I hadn’t even talked to him alone yet. I didn’t know that you were even supposed to ask Tibetan lamas questions.  I just didn’t know.

I saw that when he was interviewing my students, they also had the opportunity to ask him these great questions, and he gave them these really cool answers, about karma and how things are and why things were, and I thought, “I’d like a chance.  Give me the opportunity.”  I asked His Holiness if I could come and talk with him, and he agreed.  So I went in and I talked to him and I said, “Rinpoche, when I first saw you, I knew that you were purity itself; that there is nothing more pure than you.  So based on that, I’m asking you, at a certain age it just came to me to start teaching like that — teaching about emptiness, teaching about compassion, teaching about benefiting others, but I wasn’t taught this.  Until you, I didn’t have a teacher in this lifetime.  How can this be?  Have I done something wrong?”

I told him I felt like there were two justifications for me to teach before I had met my teacher.  One of them was that when these practices, like the natural kind of Chöd that I was doing, came to my mind, and I did them, they worked.  I could feel the renunciation that was happening.  I could feel it.  That was one determining factor.  I could feel that when I spent a large percentage of my time trying to be of benefit to others, I could feel that it worked.  I could feel that it made me happy.  So I began to practice like that, and I felt that I was authorized to teach others because I practiced it and I could see that it worked.

The other thing was that I looked around — ever since I was a child I could see that there’s nothing but suffering here, that suffering is all-pervasive, and even when it’s temporarily alleviated by some kind of temporary happiness, it’s all-pervasive and it returns, and the suffering is primarily spiritual.  I told His Holiness, that being the case, I felt I couldn’t wait.  I felt that if I knew something, anything, that would help, I’d better do it.  I asked him how these things have just come in my mind: this practice of generosity, this meditation on emptiness, this Chöd, where does it come from?  And by what authority am I passing this out?  How is this happening, and why doesn’t it happen to everybody?    And he said to me, “You were a bodhisattva in so many past lifetimes and you accomplished your practice — and he spoke of mindfulness and awakening and stuff like that — you accomplished your practice to the degree that it is mixed like milk with water into your mindstream.  You are not separate from that.  In every future lifetime, when you appear, you will remember the teachings.  You’ll remember them because you practiced them so mindfully.”

Do you hear what that tells you? I’m not different from you.  I use deodorant.  I stink when I sweat.  I am not different from you.  That tells you that, according to His Holiness, a Living Buddha, this practice of mindfulness is so potent, so perfect, that if you really invest all that you have into it in an honest and deliberate and profoundly deep way.  You can take it with you! To think that that is the one treasure, the only treasure we can take with us when we die.  You can’t take your car, you can’t take your TV, and you can’t take your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband, wife, or kid.  Even if you and your whole family die together, you can’t take them with you.  It doesn’t work that way.  But that profound Recognition, that habit, the constant making of that habit of Recognition and mindfulness, that you can take with you.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Daily Offerings

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

I’d like to talk about mindfulness in practice of making offerings.  As you know, when you do your preliminary practice of Ngondro, at some point you accumulate 100,000 repetitions of mandala offerings.  That’s a fairly elaborate practice where you sit down and you work with the mandala set and you make the mounds and you have a very extensive visualization.  So is that where your offering practice stops?  Do you make your offerings to the deities and then walk away from your practice and not be involved in your practice anymore?  No, of course not.

In order to practice truly and more deeply, what we have to do is remain mindful of the practice constantly.  Remember that we are trying to antidote ego clinging.  We’re trying to antidote the belief in self-nature as being inherently real.  We are trying to antidote the desire, the hope and the fear that results from that identification of self-nature as being inherently real and other as being separate.  Remember that this is the point of what we’re doing.  So if we were to practice accumulating mandala offerings, or make offerings at a temple and then have that practice end and no longer be a part of our lives, we wouldn’t be applying that antidote very well — at least not as well as we might.

How would it be possible for us to avoid this ego clinging?  How would it be possible to avoid simply reinforcing samsara’s unfortunate message when we go around and simply enjoy ourselves?  Remember that it is a worthy thing to notice, when you perceive something like a house or a tree or a flower, how automatic your reaction and response to that is.   How is this flower going to affect me?  This flower, this tree, how is it going to be meaningful if it doesn’t affect me?  That is its meaning: it affects me.  That is how we think.  The practice that I’m suggesting is something that you can do without ever sitting down and meditating, so for those of you that have no time, this is a great practice.

When we’re doing anything, no matter what it is, we see appearances.  Images come to us.  They are sometimes very favorable, sometimes very beautiful, sometimes wonderful, and we enjoy them, and sometimes not.  When we enjoy them, we enjoy them by clinging, by taking that experience, in a sense, and holding onto it, grabbing it.  We’re grasping that experience.  That tree is only relevant because I see it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  When the tree is out of my sight, it no longer exists.  We think like that.  My suggestion is that rather than just doing your practice when you’re sitting down, why not be mindful constantly? When you see the appearance of any phenomenon, when you see any kind of beautiful thing — like for instance when you look outside and you see how lovely it is out there, how gorgeous it is, the trees and the flowers and the sweetness of the air — how can you not let that beauty simply reinforce our clinging to ego, that clinging to identity?

One way to do that is to develop an automatic habit, and again, those habits start small and end up big.  We start at the beginning, and we simply increase.  Develop the habit of offering everything that you see. You think, “Huh?  How can I offer it if it’s not mine?”  Well, that’s not the point.  Whether it’s yours or not, your senses will grab it as yours.  You will react to it, you will respond to it, you will judge it, and so it becomes, in a way, your thing.  You collect it.  When you see something, you collect it, and you hold onto it.  The experience is what you take away.  Maybe we can’t take away the tree, but that doesn’t mean anything because we’ve taken away our experience of the tree.  It has become ours, and it reinforces that delusion of self and other.  Instead of doing that, isn’t it possible upon seeing something beautiful, upon taking a walk, having a good feeling, accomplishing something wonderful, seeing beautiful things, having meaningful relationships with other people, any kind of pleasure that is part of your life, that it can be offered?  It can be thought of in a different way.

For instance, if I were to walk down the street and see a field of flowers, but didn’t know about any of these teachings of the Dharma, then maybe I might pick some of the flowers think that’s a meaningful experience because I feel good about it; I’m really happy with that.  The only reason these flowers have become meaningful is because they’ve affected me in a certain way, and it continues the delusion.  Having heard about Dharma, we have another option.  When we see and enjoy a whole field of flowers, we can visualize in a very simple way, making it an offering to all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.  Instead of that automatic clinging to this image and trying to take it with us, trying to make it part of us, there can be an instant habit that we form of offering this to all the Buddhas.  “This field of flowers is so wonderful.  I love it so much.”

If we work on it, instead of clinging to it in some subtle way, our automatic habit can be to offer it to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.  Take any good taste, for instance, a good flavor in your mouth; a lot of times when we have a pleasurable experience like good food or good taste you may have noticed that ultimately it’s not so good.  The food turns into…well, you know what it turns into, doo-doo. The experience does us no good because when we were tasting it, we were clinging to it.  That’s mine.  You see?  I’m tasting it.  It’s in my taste buds.  It’s that relationship between my taste buds and that food that’s really important: we’re stuck in that delusion.  We’re stuck in that dream.

Suppose we were able, instead, to develop the habit that when we eat something we are practicing as well by automatically offering the flavor and the taste of that to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas?  Then you’re not grabbing onto it, you’re not making it your experience.  Offering it, you’re not reinforcing that dynamic of self and other, but rather when you taste, you’re just simply offering it.  You can learn to do it very quickly.  When you first start, it’s a little bit cumbersome because you take a bite of food, and you say, “Okay, I offer this to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas.”  You take another bite of food, saying, “I offer this to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas.”  At first, it may seem a little dry and uncomfortable, but there’s an inner posture that can be developed that’s an automatic response, as automatic as deciding whether or not you like that taste.  As the taste hits you, the experience of that can be just offering it to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas.  It can be so immediate that no words are required.  At that point, you’ve developed the habit of making this constant, constant, constant offering.

As parents, when we bond with our children and hold our children and have that wonderful, pleasurable experience of cuddling our kids and feeling wonderful, as ordinary human beings we think, “Oh, this is my child.  This is the extension of my ego.  I made that.  I made an egg, and look what happened.”  So we have very great pride about that, and our family becomes an extension of our ego, an extension of what we call ourselves.  What if were able to offer that as well?  As we hold our beloved children, as we feel that feeling, rather than putting another star in our own crown and thinking, “Oh, yeah, this is my kid and I’m holding her now” – what if we could offer that feeling? What if we could even offer the connection, the incredible, powerful connection between mother and child?  That, too, can be offered to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas.   When you offer something to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas, it’s not as though it disappears.  It’s not as though the feeling disappears once you offer that feeling of loving your child to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas, and suddenly you don’t love your kid anymore.  It’s not like that.  Anything that we offer, really in some magical way becomes multiplied.  It becomes even more than it originally could have been.  In not using what we see with our five senses as a way to practice more self-absorption, but instead using what we see with the five senses as a way to accomplish some kind of Recognition, this is a very powerful practice and a very excellent, excellent adornment for the sit-down practice that we do.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Purifying One’s Intention

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

Another aspect of our Ngöndro practice is purification, the prayers to Vajrasattva. How would it be if we were to sit for maybe an hour and practice the purification and confession of Vajrasattva and accumulate the mantra and then just put our books aside and consider it’s over?  That’s it.  I confessed.  I said all the prayers, the short ones and the long ones, short confession, long confession.  Remember, if you practice like that, you never have to revisit it again.  It’s a lazy, cop-out way to practice.

Instead, we should think, “I’m deeply involved in the practice of purification and confession which does not stop at the end of my practice.”  There are so many ways to practice that kind of purification: by being mindful, by making offerings in the way that I’ve described, by moving into a state of better recognition about what is precious and what is ordinary, and ultimately moving into the state of Recognition of the nature of all phenomena.  Automatically one is constantly purifying the senses, constantly purifying one’s intention, which is the very thing that needs purifying even more than everything else.  If we practice in that way as we’re walking around, it complements any confessional prayers that we make.

In most of the confessional prayers, if you really read the meaning and content of the prayers, there is talk about broken samaya in the confessional prayers.  Nobody really knows what that means.  Does that mean you didn’t do your mantra today?  Well, maybe on one level it means that, but on a deeper level, it is referring to the state of non-recognition.  So in everything that we do, if we continually make offerings, as we continually give rise to a deeper Recognition, then the five senses are being purified constantly. The habit that I’m suggesting you develop will antidote the automatic reaction that is so natural for us, so habitual.   Remember, we can insert this way of thinking or this way of practicing because we are human.

I really like animals, but one thing I’ve noticed about animals, even if they are trainable and very smart, they cannot change or alter the way they perceive their environment.  They can’t do that.  The dog can’t say, “Wait a minute, before I lift that leg, let’s think about the nature of that fire hydrant.”  The dog is not capable of this.  You are.  That is one of the great blessings of being a human being, and yet the habits that we tend to cultivate are the habits that you don’t even need to be a human being to do: that habit of automatically reacting, not taking oneself in hand, not creating any kind of space or a moment where we can Recognize the nature of reality, not making any offerings.  We tend to just automatically move through life like an automaton, like a robot.

However, being human, we can develop a little bit of space in our minds to antidote that constant clinging and reactivity, and yet we’re all about collecting things.  Well, you know, crows collect things.  We’re all about having relationships.  Well, even animals can bond for life.  We’re all about having children.  Well, dogs and cats do that, too.  Isn’t it wonderful that here in Dharma practice, if we choose to, if we practice sincerely, we can do that which only humans can do?  How amazing!

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Developing Spiritual Discrimination

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

One of the things that is very unique about the Buddhadharma is that it is not a “Sunday-go-to-meeting” religion.  It’s not the kind of religion where you go on Sunday and Christmas and Easter, or whatever your particular holiday happens to be, and the rest of the year you’re just where you are.  Buddhism is different in that it is a path.  In a way, it is a nonreligious religion.  You have to think of it as a path that one walks consistently, faithfully, and deeply.  There is relatively little benefit from practicing Dharma in a superficial way.  Learning one or two mantras and walking around saying some prayers but not really training the mind in a deep and profound sense of the View will be a lot less effective. Also, our tendency is to become dry, and not remain moist on the path.  The heart dries up.  If there is no profound investment in establishing the View and establishing mindfulness, the result will be greatly weakened, greatly crippled.

Mindfulness is one of those subjects that one can take to the depths of one’s practice and its many aspects display themselves in different kinds of practice.  Before I talk about the first aspect of mindfulness, let me address some difficulties we have as Westerners, particularly. Because of the very nature of our culture, there are so many different things to do, and we are inundated with philosophies and religions, both old and new.  We are inundated with different kinds of experiences that people call “spiritual.”  The reason I’m so mindful of this is because I lived in Sedona, Arizona, and Sedona is known for that.  People mistake any kind of experience that feels deep as a “spiritual” experience, not able to discriminate between something that feels spiritual and something that is an actual commitment and movement on one’s path.  There really is a difference between a mantra and a backrub!  There really is a difference between the various experiences that people have that they call spiritual and an actual path that one practices consistently with the intention of benefiting beings.  This lack of spiritual discrimination is the greatest problem that we have in the West.  You can see how it is symbolically, even to go the grocery store.  If you send your child to the grocery store to buy bread, you’ll have to specify what kind of bread, what brand of bread, because on the shelf are a million different kinds of bread.  Other cultures might be a little bit different than that, especially third world cultures.  There, when you go to buy bread, you buy the bread they have, and that’s pretty much it.  Bread is bread.  In the same way, their faith is their faith.  It’s not something that one tastes and tries and then tries something else.  That discrimination is sort of built into the culture.  We don’t have that, so our need to practice discrimination is much stronger.  We have a tremendous need for that.

Discrimination is best practiced through changing one’s habitual tendency.  On the path of Buddhadharma, if you really step back from it and look at the different categories of practice, you’ll notice that, basically, the Buddhadharma is about applying the actual, exact antidote to the subtle and gross forms of suffering that we endure.  The Buddha has taught us that we suffer mostly from desire and that suffering is ongoing and that it is all-pervasive.  But we also notice that that desire takes many forms, so there are practices in the Buddhadharma that are meant to specifically pacify pride and ego and that ego-clinging self-cherishing.  There are practices in the Dharma that are meant to apply the exact antidote to a lack of generosity, to selfishness and greediness and just wanting, wanting, wanting — that kind of suffering.  There are practices in the Buddhadharma that are meant to help us shake ourselves out of the kind of slothful mental attitude that so many of us have which is a kind of sleepwalking that we do through the days and years of our lives.  This is actually a quality of mind and in Buddhism it’s labeled ignorance.  Ignorance is not lack of education in Buddhism; it’s lack of wisdom.   For that reactive or  slothful mind, where the mind doesn’t stop and evaluate and use its energy to determine whatever direction it’s going in, in the Buddhadharma there are antidotes to that as well.

In fact, when you study the Buddhadharma, you really have to think about the Buddha as being like a doctor and samsara as being like the sickness and the Dharma as the nurse that feeds the medicine to you all the time.  So in this spiritual discrimination, it isn’t a theoretical, vague idea.  This ideal of mindfulness, of discrimination, actually needs to be practiced in a very exacting way, for the very reason that we are in a culture that goes in exactly the opposite direction.  We are in a culture that does not teach discrimination, really, in any form, particularly about spiritual issues.

How can we practice spiritual discrimination?  How can we formulate that by which we can begin to grow the ability to distinguish?  How can we learn to discriminate between what is truly of the mind of the Buddhas and what is ordinary and simply arising from the phenomena of samsara? What is the method by which we can actually establish the View?  In the Buddhadharma, we are always looking to apply an exact antidote.  You have to think about samsara as being like a poison and that there is an exact formula that is the antidote to that poison.  In trying to develop discrimination and mindfulness, it is best to hold ourselves to a kind of ritual or task that is evident and visible.  One of the strongest antidotes to being stuck on the idea of self-nature as being inherently real, (which is really quite different from enlightenment) and for lack of spiritual discrimination – not being able to tell, in a spiritual sense, the difference between a diamond and a piece of cut glass — is called Guru Yoga.

Guru Yoga on the Vajrayana path is extraordinarily important.  It is not important because the Guru needs it nor because it’s even pleasant or fun for the Guru.  It is not for any ridiculous or stupid reason like that.  The reason that we practice Guru Yoga is because our minds, when they are samsaric and therefore fully engaged in the cycle of birth and death, are a little bit deadened, sort of flat-line.  Just the energy or pulse of engaging in a relationship between oneself, which appears separate, and other, constantly creates a feedback loop that makes for a kind of dullness and stupor.  This non-recognition of phenomena as actually being a display of our own mindstreams keeps the mind deadened to the View.  In that state, it is so like us to take a spiritual minister or presenter of some kind and, because they have tremendous charisma and slick words, because they have a real routine going, we would put them in high regard and think, “Oh, this must be the Word of God,” or  “This must be the Word of Spirit.”  There is the inability to discriminate between that and a very deep practitioner, a silent bodhisattva (one who has not been publicly recognized).  If a silent bodhisattva were to walk into the room, we wouldn’t sense that.  We wouldn’t know what that was because there’s no display, no show.  One of the methods that we use is this throne on which I sit, and it is not because I like it.  Actually, it’s kind of uncomfortable.  This throne is not here because it’s pretty, and it’s not here for any superficial reason.  The Lama sits higher in order to indicate to the student the difference between this speech and the speech we hear every day.  So in your mind, in the student’s mind, the throne is high, and it’s a reminder for you.  This is a clear indication that in our lives we need some kind of ritual or some kind of visible habitual pattern that we engage in, in order to develop true spiritual discrimination.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Beginning of Awakening

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

One of the practices that we are taught as Buddhists is that always, always, Guru Rinpoche should be above the crown of our heads.  We should be mindful that Guru Rinpoche is always there, seated on his lotus throne.  Upon going to sleep, we should visualize that Guru Rinpoche becomes like light or liquid and then pours into the top chakra and through the central channel, and remains in the heart throughout the night.  We fall asleep with Guru Rinpoche in the heart.  This kind of mindfulness is the best part of practice.  No matter what else I do, even if I don’t sit down and practice formally, I practice like that all the time.  That’s the backbone that I rely on.

When I talk to any of my students, the way that I practice View is that, as a Lama, I consider that the students are higher than me.  (You should never do that!  But I can do that.)  I consider that the students are higher than me because there are many of them and I am only one and our nature is the same.  It’s a little bit like the posture of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. There is an element of sacrifice, there is an element of viewing the propagation of Dharma and the display of Bodhicitta to be all there is, the highest.  There is nothing else higher.  So I practice in such a way that the students are higher.  I hold them in high regard.  They are more precious to me than the other stuff that I do. I hold the students much higher than I hold myself.

It is the student’s job to practice that discrimination constantly.  One thing that we should do is consider that every event, every moment, every hour, every day, every breath has as its core nature Guru Rinpoche, the blessing of Guru Rinpoche, the appearance of Guru Rinpoche.  How does one practice that?  It is the kind of thing that you have to grow into.  You can’t just think all of a sudden, “Well, I’m never going to think about anything else.  I’m just going to think about Guru Rinpoche from now on, and therefore that’ll be real easy.  He’ll just always be on my mind.” That would make you crazy, wouldn’t it?  Trying to force that little monkey in a cage to do what you want? You don’t have to do it that way.

We start by creating habitual patterns that include body, speech and mind.  We want to include these three elements.  One way to practice this kind of mindfulness is to have an altar in your home.  If you don’t have an altar in your bedroom, perhaps you can have a picture by your bedside of Guru Rinpoche or your Root Teacher, maybe both. That’s a good visualization. Then, when you first wake up in the morning, the first thing you do — even before you go to the bathroom, even before the coffee — the first thing you do is look at that picture and reorient yourself: that this day the Guru is above the crown of my head.  This hour, this day, right now, the Guru is above the crown of my head and you make three prostrations.  You have it in your mind that this day is therefore sacred and then you dedicate the sacredness of this day to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings. No one can take that away from you no matter what happens during the day.  If you get hit by a car and both your legs come off, they still can’t take that away from you.  Even if you were to lose your life, the sacredness could not be taken away from you.

Any time you go into a specific event, whether it’s ordinary or whether it’s a spiritual event, hold the picture of Guru Rinpoche or the Root Guru in your mind, reestablish the picture above the top of your head, and know that this experience begins and ends with the Guru.  If you’re going to the grocery store to buy food for your children or your family, this is an excellent thing to do. Gradually, over time, even in ordinary experiences that had no flavor, that seemed to have no connection between this ordinary activity and spirituality, you will begin to establish more of a View and begin to see every experience as spiritual.  Whatever job you have, whatever activities you engage in, look for the Guru there.  If you look, you’ll find him.  If you don’t look, you’ll never find him.

With that kind of discrimination and Guru Yoga, I find that the amazing opportunities and blessings come through the most ordinary experiences.  To the degree that I see all phenomena as the mandala of the Guru, and I hold to be in union with the Guru constantly, then ordinary people, like gas station attendants, will say things that will blow your head off.  That has happened to me, where I’ve been in that frame of mind, looking for the Guru and constantly mindful, and then pull into a gas station, and the gas station attendant says something that just rocks your world.  And it’s about something weird, like renunciation or karma or something like that, and you say to yourself,  “I’m listening, OK!”  That happens.  That doesn’t make the gas station attendant your Guru.  You see the difference, don’t you?  But it does mean that you are beginning to discriminate that nature.  You’re beginning to awaken to that nature.  It’s just a little thread, but it’s something.  It is the beginning of awakening to that.

Somehow we have to think of incorporating this distinction of what is extraordinary into our lives.  It has to be an effort that we actually provide for and make substantial, that we actually create in our lives.  This opportunity to practice like that will never simply come to you.  You may simply meet your Guru, but that’s because you practiced in your last life.  That’s because you practiced before, that’s because you earned it, but once you meet the Guru, once you are on the path, this practice of Guru Yoga becomes your responsibility.  To the degree that you really address it in a very profound, deep and heartfelt way, to that degree, it will benefit and it will awaken the mind.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Walk In Recognition

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

Practice deeply and mindfully every minute of your life. I’m asking you, I’m pleading with you: don’t practice like a robot.  If you can only start with just moments of Recognition throughout the day, start there.  Even one.  It will increase, I promise you.  It’s like building muscle.  What a noble and honorable way to live.  How amazing!  Rather than just clinging to our egos, constantly defining them, and reacting to everything else, practicing some sort of profound Recognition, some sense of the sacred — I mean, is it a real choice?  You can see that one life is so much more precious than the other, so much more meaningful, so much more profound, so much more useful for sentient beings.

I hope that you will, in your practice, begin to institute a way to be mindful, not only when you’re sitting down.  Sometimes we’re not even mindful when we’re doing our sit-down practice.  But to not only be mindful and stretching for that sense of Recognition when we do our practice by carefully, nicely accomplishing the visualization and really discovering its meaning, but also in our lives, to Recognize the nature of appearances, to Recognize that everything is the face of the guru, everything is an opportunity to practice – perhaps that’s a little deeper than walking around saying “Everything is beautiful, everything is love and light.”  I hope that you will practice in that way.

I invite you to go deeper and deeper every moment.  As a practitioner, every moment that you live with this consciousness, with these precious Dharma teachings in your hands, each moment is like a gift.  Each moment is like a Christmas present.  Most of us have them, and we just squirrel them away.  We just take our moments, we move through linear time collecting moments.  But as a practitioner, you can open that package.  Each and every gift has Guru Rinpoche’s face in it.  Each moment as a practitioner has the capacity in it, the ability and the responsibility, to move into a state of recognition, to awaken.

When you find that you’re thinking, “Oh, some of these monks and some of these nuns aren’t so good,” and, “Now I’m really pissed off at my teacher because she moved to Sedona and then not only that, but it’s my week to clean the bathroom” — when you think things like that and you have these ideas about how it should be and you’re judging this and feeling bad about that, what are you doing?  You’re practicing the mandala of self-absorption.  You’re putting that ego right in center stage.  How amazing instead to turn it around and, should you see that you have some reaction, to question your perception.  Question the depth of your practice.  That’s where you have potency.

That’s what makes this practice of Buddhism so amazing:  the ball is in your court, the practice is in your hands.  You’re not waiting for salvation; you’re learning to Recognize it.  What’s so potent and so powerful about understanding that is that no one can take that away from you.  There is no power that can take Recognition away from you, no power that can take the face of the guru away from you.

I hope you will include this in your practice.  I hope you will walk a sacred life.  Whatever it takes to remind you, walk a sacred life.  Walk in Recognition, not in ignorance.  When you use these practices, use them throughout all of your experience.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Gratitude and Guru Yoga

MG-150-9 HHPR, JAL on patio

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

Another aspect of constant mindfulness – it’s sort of like hand-in-glove with offering – is gratitude.  When you think about the appearance of all phenomena, like beautiful flowers, beautiful trees, all of our beautiful stuff, suppose you were able to develop the habit of thinking like this: “How great must be the Buddha nature, that this display of the Buddha nature is so beautiful,” with gratefulness.  It’s not like ‘thank-you-God-for-everything.’  It’s not like that.  It’s a deep response, joyfulness, the Recognition to see that the nature that is our deepest, most profound nature, the nature that is all-pervasive, the nature that is our Buddha nature is actually inherent in all appearances. To acknowledge that, to move into any kind of Recognition of that is so amazing.  To think that we are somehow connected.  How amazing!

A sense of wonder that encourages you, not just to see and react in a dull and stupid way, but to perceive more deeply.  By doing that, we develop the habit of letting the mind be more profound, letting the mind reach its depth, and consequently, one’s practice becomes so much more profound and our level of Recognition becomes so much more deepened.  This sense of gratitude ultimately, as we begin to practice, gives rise to an awareness of the emptiness of all phenomena and the inherent nature that is the heart of all phenomena.

As we begin to think like that, every time we take beauty into our eyes and have the opportunity to offer that beauty, perhaps we can say, “That is Guru Rinpoche’s.  This is Guru Rinpoche speaking to me.  I see this beauty and now I have, because of that, the opportunity to offer this beauty to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas for the liberation and the salvation of all sentient beings.”  If you have a marvelous personal experience and remember to offer the joy of that experience for the sake of sentient beings, or to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas, to be able to do that, in that moment, you are with Guru Rinpoche.  Guru Rinpoche is speaking to you.

If we learn to Recognize the intrinsic nature of phenomena, isn’t that like learning to see the face of the guru?  What’s important about this is the power that we have to practice this way.  In ordinary situations, if you love somebody, they can be taken away from you.  They themselves can walk away from you.  You could lose them.  But in this way of thinking, this kind of practice of mindfulness, no one can ever take the appearance of Guru Rinpoche away from you.  No one can ever take from you, nothing on this earth has the power to hide from you, to keep from you, the face of the guru.  So if you’re able to look at your environment, and think, “Oh, this is so beautiful, such a beautiful place,” and you’re able to really offer it and feel that blissfulness of just letting go and surrendering all the beauty that you see to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas, praying fervently that somehow that virtue will be used to benefit beings, praying that all of that virtue will go to nourish sentient beings, at that moment, you are in the very arms of the guru.  You are not separate from the guru.

In ordinary relationships, someone can take that away from you.  Samsara has that power, and there’s not a thing you can do about it.  How amazing to distinguish between that and the extraordinary relationship that is brought about through mindfulness and Recognition: this one relationship that nobody on this earth, even Guru Rinpoche himself, could take away from you, not that he’d want to.  We have this extraordinary opportunity.

Regarding recognition and mindfulness in our Guru Yoga, remember how I’ve taught you that ultimately the practice of Guru Yoga helps us to recognize our own nature, to recognize our primordial wisdom nature as being inseparable from the teacher?  How amazing to use this practice of Recognition in such a way as to expedite all of that and make it so much more profound and so much more meaningful instead of reacting constantly as we habitually do.  How amazing if even once, twice, three times in one day, in one week, we can practice that Recognition and remove ourselves from that neurotic scenario, using the appearance of phenomena and our reaction to it as a way to see the face of the guru. How amazing!

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Baby Steps to Recognition

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

Sometimes when we begin to make offerings of what we experience to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we may think it’s not a good idea to offer something that’s not ours, but that’s only because we’re materialists and have this idea of ownership.  We really don’t understand how things are.  We’re kind of sick and deluded with this idea of the self being the center of all experience.  So that being the case, when we offer a tree or a field of flowers that isn’t ours or even offer an experience that you have with someone else that’s wonderful and pleasurable to you or to see a friend of yours that has not one, not two, but three cars — for you to offer any of those things to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas in your mind, is that illegal because you don’t own them?  Of course not.  The idea isn’t about ownership.  It isn’t about defining that, yet again.  It’s about allowing these five senses to participate in Recognition in some way, even if it’s only in a small way.  To offer anything that one sees, any image that is formulated in the eyes, any sound – the sound of the beloved’s voice, maybe your beloved friend, your beloved spouse or child – the sound of that voice that is so comforting and so wonderful to us, that very sound can be offered when it meets your ears.  Rather than owning it and saying this is about me and my children or me and my spouse or me and my stuff, instead make that kind of ongoing process of offering.

In a very real sense, you’re not so much offering the object as you are offering your response to the object.  You’re allowing your senses, your thoughts, and your sensibilities to work in a different way than they have worked before, so then you can feel free.  You can offer someone else’s money.  You can do anything you want to in that way as long as you are truly sincere and it’s done in a profound way.  Remember, we’re keeping in mind the faults of cyclic existence, and practicing that kind of renunciation because we have seen the faults of cyclic existence.

Perhaps you meet somebody really rich, and you may notice, because of the contemplations you’ve been doing on the faults of cyclic existence, that those people are so connected to their money that there is some real clinging going on there. Maybe you notice that that person is all about their money and maybe, because you’ve practiced Recognition, you can see that this is a non-virtue.  You can see that this is not making that person happy, that literally the money has no power to make that person happy.  So knowing that, in your practice you can visualize that money and offer it to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas.  What good does that do?  Does the money disappear out of the banks?  No.  Perhaps there is some small blessing.  Perhaps more importantly, you, by making such an offering and by thinking that way, can begin to differentiate, to distinguish between clinging and some form of Recognition that there is something more precious than our egos. Maybe it’s a baby step, but many of those baby steps make for big movements.

Cultivate the habit of constantly offering everything that you see, all pleasure, and even hardship.  When we come into a place in our life where it’s very uncomfortable, where there’s some hardship and we survive and perhaps overcome that hardship, that very event can also be offered.  That event can be considered practice, a manifestation of an opportunity to have made offerings, to have been more mindful, and to have been in a better state of Recognition.  Then, that very difficulty that you just survived becomes a form of practice.  It becomes sacred.

For Westerners, our biggest problem is that lack of a deeper understanding of how to practice.  We still think that you go to church on Sunday, and so you practice on Sunday.  You do your religious thing on Sunday and maybe on the other holidays.  We still have that division in our mind.  We are deeply materialistic people, and that is the worst, most horrible delusion that we’re stuck in: that inability to recognize any distinction because of our material outlook.  Practicing in the way I’ve described gives us the opportunity to develop constant mindfulness, purification of the mind, and constantly creating new habitual tendencies.  It’s perfect for Westerners to practice in this way in addition to their sit-down practice because we have such limited time to sit down.  In addition, in this culture we’re taught that when you’re sitting down, you’re being lazy, and our whole commitment, therefore, is to be busy all the time.  So one way to begin to counteract that is to practice in this way of constantly making offerings.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Point of Practice

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

Training the mind is a very personal, very intimate, and very private thing because there is nobody that can train our minds better than we can.  No one can know the ins and outs of how we think better than we can, and so that responsibility, as well as that power, lies in our hands.  Therefore, the most important aspect of one’s practice is to practice recognition of the nature of phenomena, of the emptiness of all that is; to practice recognition of cause and effect relationships; to practice recognition of the faults of samsara; to practice recognition of the difference between what is ordinary and what is the miraculous activity of the Buddhas.  To practice this kind of recognition is the point, and it’s included in the book practices that we do.  That is as much our practice as reading these prayers is — more so, because if you were to practice this state of recognition without having a book – let’s say you were a prisoner, and you couldn’t get your books – you could still practice a state of recognition.  You could still learn to practice the View.  You could still examine your habitual tendencies.  You could still reorient your intentions and your understanding.  There’s so much that you can do.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

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