Pulling the Threads: Hope, Fear and Stabilizing the Mind

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

The subject of this teaching is the difficulty that Westerners have in coming to grips with some of the concepts that are foundational to Buddhism. They are so foundational as to be almost invisible at times. Yet the concepts are difficult for us because we have our own concepts and philosophies that argue against these that are also so foundational that they are practically invisible. They are so much a part of the fabric of our perception and our thinking that we often don’t realize these thoughts are affecting us deeply.

What happens is that when we try to get a grip on Buddhist philosophy, or when we try to become mindful in a constant way, we find that there is difficulty. We may not understand what that difficulty is, or we may find that even without our knowing we have a very superficial understanding of Buddhist concepts, or we may find that we feel there is some superficiality about our approach to the path. Yet we can’t seem to get a grip on it.  We can’t seem to understand what it is that is bothering us.

I think that this particular subject is not only of importance to Buddhists, or to those that are even thinking about becoming Buddhists, or even to those that are peripherally Buddhists, but I also think it’s a subject that bears recognition by anyone who does any meditation of any kind.

In Buddhist philosophy, a tremendous amount of thought and energy goes into making one understand how to stabilize the mind. In fact, if you could boil down Buddhist philosophy, and even Buddhist practice, the underlying goal would be how to stabilize the mind. It’s a difficult concept to understand because we as Westerners and Americans have our particular idea of what stabilizing the mind must be like. In one way, we could understand stabilizing the mind by understanding the opposite. We think of a person who is unstable as being mentally deranged or something like that. We don’t realize that most ordinary people, according to Buddhist thought, have unstable minds. We don’t realize that this is actually one of the symptoms or conditions that is prevalent in what Buddhists call samsara, or cyclic existence. But in fact this is true, and we must learn to recognize the lack of stability in our own minds.

One of the first ways in which that lack of stability is addressed is by addressing the attachment or the attraction that we have, or even the grasping that we have, toward hope and fear. This is something that you hear about again and again and again in the Buddha’s teaching: how attached we are to hope and fear, how difficult hope and fear are, and how these things lead to an unstable mind. It’s very hard for Westerners to understand. I would like to describe some of the Buddhist thought on the attachment to hope and fear, but more I would like to concentrate on why it is that Westerners have such a difficult time with this concept. If we can understand why we have such a difficult time with it, we may understand that in one way we have never really isolated the ideas of hope and fear, put them out in front of us so that we can really examine how much a part of the fabric of our minds these concepts are.

As a Westerner, there is actually an underlying – and even, I think, overt attitude – that is considered to be admirable or noble. We certainly have our particular norms, our own particular standards, our own particular attitudes that are unique to the Western world and specifically unique to Americans. Without going to the trouble of isolating all of them, I’d like to say that we have a certain picture or image that we’ve grown up with. Of course, it changes from generation to generation, but until very recently not that much. Still, there are some threads that continue generation to generation. We have our own particular image, our own particular ideal. What usually happens is if we grow up with an image or an ideal, it becomes so much a part of us, so ingrained, so woven into our particular emotional and mental and philosophical tapestry, that we don’t notice it, in the same way that you might look at a woven blanket and see a certain array of colors within the blanket. You really wouldn’t pick out the pink in there or the blue, or really isolate them in that way. In the same way, we have attitudes that are woven in. They are part of our structure. Therefore, they are never pulled out. The thread is never pulled out, never really isolated. Hope and fear certainly are in there, and our particular attitude toward hope and fear, as a Westerner, should be examined. When looked at next to the Buddhist ideas about hope and fear, we might come to some shocking awareness.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Introduction to the Five Wisdoms

Respectfully quoted from “Palyul Times” published by the Ngagyur Nyingma Institiute

According to Mahayana Buddhism, the ultimate fruition is explained in two states: the body (Skt. kaya)–the self-perfected state that manifests through the body and represents the dimension of the primordial state–and wisdom (Skt. jana)–consciousness that represents the energy of original wisdom. Naturally, they are empty and luminous respectively.

The later one, wisdom, is further categorized into five jnana in accordance with the way of perceiving uncontaminated phenomena. The fundamental nature with twofold purity–the purity of emotional and cognitive obscurations–is called Sphere of Reality Wisdom, which is also the universal substrate of the other wisdoms. Knowing the entirety of phenomena with a single mind is Mirror-Like Wisdom. Perceiving all things as equal in the absence of self-nature is Equality Wisdom. Seeing the non-inherent existence of phenomena vividly and distinctly without any discrimination is Discriminating Wisdom. And knowing the way of performing enlightened activities in order to tame sentient beings is known as Accomplishing Wisdom. These five wisdoms may be elaborated further with the following explanations:

  1. Sphere of Reality Wisdom (Skt. Dharmadhatu jnana): This wisdom is pure in it’s ultimate nature, from which noble qualities such as power and fearlessness are generated, emerged and are constituted. One would realize it be cleansing the two superficial, cloud-like defilements — the one that obscures omniscience; it is similar to the nature of space. The Sphere of Reality Wisdom was never born in the beginning, neither does it exist in the middle, nor does it cease at the end.
  2. Mirror-Like Wisdom (Skt. Adarsha Jnana): By cleaning the defiled concept of apprehending object and subject, this is the transformed state of the all-ground consciousness. Here, all existence appears clearly just like the objects appear on the surface of a cleanly-wiped mirror. Mirror-Like Wisdom sees all phenomena in its true form, like an object reflected in the mirror which is devoid of grasping.
  3. Equality Wisdom (Skt. Samata jnana): When the meditation of the essential nature is clearly realized at the first bhumi, a clear comprehension of self and others is realized, illuminating their equality. Also, when all the bhumis are purified and progressively realized, the afflicted mental consciousness will transform into wisdom. Thus, Equality Wisdom is the imprint of practicing evenness on the learning path, and attains non-abiding nirvana.
  4. Discriminating Wisdom (Skt. Pratyavekshana jnana): Discriminating Wisdom is the foundation of the concentrative strength, meditative stabilization and meditative absorption. As it closely examines the subtle nature of phenomena, it brings about the essence of dharma, thereby clearing the ignorant mind. Discriminating Wisdom distinctly investigates the specific and general characteristics of phenomena and is applied effortlessly with single-pointed concentration.
  5. Accomplishing Wisdom (Skt. Krtyanushthana jnana): When the consciousness of the fivefold sense faculties are transmuted they perform boundless and various skillful methods in teh universe and become a common basis to accomplish the welfare of infinite beings. Accomplishing Wisdom knows to perform with myriad skillful means the maturation of disciples in boundless worldly realms.

These Five Wisdoms can be condensed into the Three Kayas. Out of these, the first two wisdoms are subsumed into the Dharmakaya, the third and fourth wisdoms are in Sambhogakaya, and the last wisdom is defined by Nirmanakaya.

The way these wisdoms perceive ultimate reality is in the form of seeing the unseen, whereas the relative perceptions are the mere appearance of interdependent origination. The superimposed images appearing to deluded beings due to their own afflictions are also perceived in teh way a clairvoyant knows the various appearances that dreaming people sees in their dreams. Hence, this is how the wisdoms perceive the world which is beyond the mind of ordinary beings.

Ngawang Lhundrub 

7th Year, NNI

How We See Enlightenment

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Guru Yoga”

If Guru Rinpoche is the Nirmanakaya form of the Buddha, we should also think that he is Enlightenment itself, that what we are seeing is merely the tip of the iceberg.  It’s the way in which that function of enlightenment appears in the world.  Is it always so?  Does enlightenment appear in the world?  Why does it?  What is it when it appears in the world and what is it when it doesn’t appear in the world?  What is it, actually?

Very hard to describe what enlightenment actually is.  Because when we describe enlightenment, it’s like looking at the sky through a tiny peephole.  You can’t really get what it is.  You might be able to see the spaciousness of it. You might even be able to hook into a star. You might even be able to describe color and the way the star glimmers.  But from looking through a peephole, you simply cannot understand what the sky is.  It’s impossible.  And from our point of view, it is impossible to understand what enlightenment is by looking as we do through our little peephole.

We can only understand enlightenment really in terms of what it is not.  We can understand, for instance, that enlightenment is the state free of conceptualization.  We can understand that it is a state free of contrivance.  We can understand that it is a state unlimited by ordinary view, ordinary perception.  But we can’t really understand what else there is.  In fact if you described “some thing else,” you’ve lost the pristine nature of enlightenment, because if you do that, you are conceptualizing.  You are limiting, and you are contriving, an image or an experience.  That’s the way our minds work.  That’s the only way that we have.

When the Buddha described himself, he described himself as being “awake”.  Simply that.  We can’t even understand what that means because we immediately want to say, “Awake to what?  And what were you asleep in before?”  We try to understand in those ways. It’s either/or, black or white. Our minds hook on to something.  And for that reason, we cannot fully and completely understand enlightenment.

In short, enlightenment has been described as the primordial wisdom state, that state which is like luminosity.  But it isn’t luminosity because when we think of luminosity, we think of light and light is “some thing.”  This state called enlightenment is not a thing at all.  It is beyond “thing-ness” and “no thing-ness.”  It is beyond form and formless.  It is beyond self and other.  It is beyond up and down.  It is beyond hot and cold.  It is beyond dark and light.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Extraordinary Blessings

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Guru Yoga”

One of the main practices that we have to do in order to make progress on the path is Guru Yoga.  There are many ways to practice Guru Yoga. There is a tremendous focus on Guru Yoga in the preliminary practice or Ngondro phase, and then as you move into the different forms of practice in the intermediate and advanced stages, there is still a great deal of focus on Guru Rinpoche, and there is still a great deal of dependence on the Natural Blessing that is transmitted from his miraculous compassion.

Guru Rinpoche is considered to be the Nirmanakaya form, that is the body or the form that one sees in physical existence.  He incarnated into physical existence, and when he appeared on the earth, he was in solid form.  According to the history of his life, he was not born.  He did not have a mother.  He appeared in the middle of a lake on a lotus and he did not appear as an infant, but as a young child.  And when he left, he didn’t die; his body didn’t cease to function.  He was seen to rise up into the sky and leave.

So his activity, his display, is considered to be extraordinary, not  ordinary.  It isn’t like what we usually see.  We do not usually see that kind of event.  None of us has managed to be born on a lotus in the middle of the lake.  Most of us have mothers. I have a mother.  If any of you don’t have a mother, please let me know.  I’d like to meet you, get to know you.

Probably, when we die, our bodies will do the ordinary thing which is “die.”  Perhaps a few of us will do something wonderful, but my guess is that we’ll die.  It’s very rare to be born as a young child on a lotus, or rise up into the sky and leave.  We don’t usually see that kind of display.  And so from that, we can understand that he is, in fact, the physical display of enlightenment.

It’s so easy for us to look at Guru Rinpoche, to think about his teachings, to think about what he has accomplished and think, “Oh, there was a great man that was born sometime, and he did this thing”, to think of Guru Rinpoche in a superficial way.  So when we practice, our practice is deluded really, and it’s kind of confused or even defiled, if you will, by our thinking, “What kind of man was he?  What was he really like?  What did he look like?”  I look at his statue and I think, “Gee he had a funny little mustache.”  We have those kinds of thoughts.  We can’t help but think like that.  We think as ordinary people do.  We look at each other in ordinary ways.  We’ve learned to evaluate things in that way.

If we hold Guru Rinpoche in that regard, we miss the point.  We think of a being that’s much like an ordinary being.  We think of an event that is not so different from ordinary events.  Man goes to Tibet, man teaches. Well, that’s happened before!  So we don’t understand.  We’re very shallow in our perception.  And what happens then is that the transmission that comes to us, the blessing that comes to us through faith, the blessing that comes to us through practicing Guru Yoga is very minimal.  And in fact, it’s an ordinary blessing.  It is the ordinary blessing perhaps of having the opportunity to practice, and of actually having the practices in hand so that we can do them.  Well, you could say that’s not exactly ordinary.  Lot’s of people don’t have that blessing.  And you’re right about that.  But it’s a limited blessing.  What we need beyond this opportunity,  beyond the practice, is the ripening.  And in order to have that, we must begin to understand the Nature of the Lama in a more profound way.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Who Is Guru Rinpoche?

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Guru Yoga”

When we think of Guru Rinpoche, we are thinking of an emanation that is very important in our tradition. Guru Rinpoche is considered to be the Nirmanakaya form of the Buddha. He is considered to be the next incarnation of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. He is considered to be fully realized, fully enlightened. In our tradition, the Nyingma tradition, he is extremely important and focused on a great deal. All of our teachings come from him. All that we practice here in this center comes from Guru Rinpoche. There are other teachings that are practiced in the Nyingma tradition that come from other lamas. But everything that we practice that is of any consequence really has come from Guru Rinpoche. So he is like our mother and our father. He is the one that brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet. He is the one that miraculously conceived of a kind of teaching that would be especially beneficial in this time, which is called the degenerate time. The teaching that he gives is extraordinary. It is meant to ripen the mind in a specific way that is very useful at a time when karma is very condensed, as it is said to be in Kaliyuga or the time of degeneration.

At this time, due to the Vajrayana practice, we can make great progress even though it’s a time of degeneration.  It’s as though the potential is hotter and fuller and more condensed, more defined.  And if we practice sincerely, we’ll make a great deal of progress.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Taking On Suffering: Story of Maitriyogin and the Dog’s Pain

DogInPain

The following is respectfully quoted from “Enlightened Courage” by His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche:

There is a story that one day, when Maitriyogin was teaching, a dog barked at someone, who, losing his temper, threw a stone at it. The dog was hit in the ribs and yelped. Feeling great sorrow for the animal, the teacher cried out and fell down from the throne. “This is taking things a bit too far,” thought his disciples. Knowing what was in their minds, Maitriyogin said, “Look here, at my ribs.” And on his body, exactly where the stone had hit the dog, he had a bruise. He had taken the suffering of the animal upon himself.

Choices – Like a King or a Queen

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

It is not only in the beginning of the path that obstacles happen; they occur periodically throughout your experience of the path. They don’t end. They are like PMS. So each and every time obstacles arise, you have to simply support and nurture yourself. Go through it. Simply take yourself by the hand as if you were a child. Think of this as your kingdom, and you’re a good king or a queen. What should you do to responsibly negotiate yourself through this? You think like that.

Remember the first and most important point to consider: not to make it a big deal. Don’t get yourself all worked up. Try to keep your mind calm, because remember, the obstacles will ripen more quickly and more violently if the mind is excitable, emotional and violent, if it has so many ups and downs. So take yourself to a movie or something, you know, calm down and walk yourself through this. Remember that the biggest tool that you have right now is the accumulation of merit. Within the continuum of your mindstream there are cause-and-effect relationships that have not yet fully ripened. The causes are deeply embedded within your mind. Accumulate more merit and the more meritorious causes from the past will be drawn forth and will come to your rescue.

The name of the game is to pacify obstacles and to draw forth and accumulate as much merit as possible. The mind will become spacious so that we can awaken in incremental degrees to our own nature. To the degree that we begin to awaken to our nature, to that degree, obstacles will no longer affect us.

Upon attaining the Bodhisattva path and moving through that path to the higher bhumis, one is no longer susceptible in the same way to cause-and-effect relationships. They become pacified within the mindstream. They are still expressed in some way, to exhibit the normal characteristics of life. Yet the high level Bodhisattva is not hooked and condemned by these obstacles the way ordinary sentient beings are. These obstacles do not cause them to wander in samsara the way ordinary sentient beings do. So that’s what we have to look forward to. The name of the game is pacifying obstacles and bringing forth as much merit and opportunity as possible until that day happens. For this you can use the practices.

The moment you decide to be on the path and practice, you should immediately begin to accumulate the Seven-Line Prayer. Repeat it on a regular basis every day. That is a merit machine for you. Then as soon as possible, as soon as you have accumulated approximately 10,000, begin to practice Ngöndro or preliminary practice. The reason why it is set up that way is so that the mind can develop and open up to the primordial wisdom nature.

This is the opportunity that you have, and this is the method that you should use. Be your own best friend. Be a good king or queen. Be intelligent and responsible and think beneath the surface. Do not read the things on the surface any more. That’s for children; that’s not for you. You’re on the path now. Look deeper and see what’s happening. Antidote unhappiness with virtue because unhappiness is caused by non-virtue. Accumulate virtue to the degree that you can begin to experience the truly virtuous nature that is your nature. Because if that nature that you truly are were allowed to express itself unimpeded, the display of that nature is the very Bodhicitta or great compassion that we try so hard to emulate.

Your nature is in truth that great unequalled Bodhicitta. You are not a bag of non-virtue; you are suchness, you are that great kindness. When you practice in that way, it’s like cleaning a glass by which the sun can shine through, and the sun is your nature. But do not let your image of the sun be closed down or distorted because of your own habitual tendency to simply ride on the surface and do whatever you think seems right. For the first time, look deeper and understand cause-and-effect relationships. Implement the causes that will bring about happiness and freedom, and pacify, through suppression, those non-virtuous characteristics that will bring you unrest and suffering.

How does this suppression look? Not like faking it and pretending you don’t have these things.  That is not suppressing, that is neurosis. That is acting inappropriately. Suppression means that you take the antidote, and you apply it through practice, through contemplation, through offering, through generosity, through kindness. Practicing these things is suppression because the mind remains firm and stable in the way of virtue rather than remaining caught up in amplifying non-virtue.

You are a creature of choices. Isn’t it amazing! A creature of choices! At every turn you can make choices. You cannot choose what experiences seem to come to you because the cause-and-effect relationships have already been laid out for them, but you can choose how to respond, and you can choose how to create future causes. And for this I am exceedingly glad.  Choose well then, not like a child. Choose like a king or a queen— noble, thoughtful, educated and sound in your mind. Create the habit of virtue and you will create a kingdom of virtue that will be your life.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

How to Deal with Obstacles on the Path

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

When obstacles arise on the path, the thing to do is to accumulate as much merit as possible.  Do everything that you can, letting your mind relax. And in a relaxed way simply proceed with intelligent antidotes to what is coming up in your mind. In other words, don’t look at everything so superficially. When this begins to happen to you, don’t say, “Oh, things out there are affecting me badly, so I am going to run away.” Instead, look deeper for once, look deeper.  See what’s happening beneath the surface, and say to yourself, “Part of my mind that I don’t particularly like or feel comfortable with is ripening now. I am unhappy with these causes, these habitual tendencies. I am really unhappy with them. I am suffering with them. Good that they’re coming up now that I have met the path. Good that they’re coming up now while I can ask for guidance from my teacher. Good that they’re coming up now when I know how to pray and ask for help.” Think like that. Try to stay calm, stay calm and think, “This will pass.”

If all you can do is simply say your prayers very gently and very calmly, if that’s all you can hold on to, then do that. Mostly, remain stable in your mind. Remain calm. Take yourself by the hand.  Don’t give into excessive emotion.

What would you do if you had a child who was just upset and she or he could not get themselves together, simply could not get their heads turned around, were having a terrible, bad day? That’s really how it is in the great scheme of things. It’s just a big, bad day. Would you say to the child, “Yeah, you’re right, things are really nasty, and you have a great reason for being nasty! Let’s be nasty together!” You wouldn’t say that to a child. That would be stupid. You’d be a moron to say that.

You would sit the child on your knee and say to the child, “Do you understand what’s happening here? You’re being hit with a lot right now. Well, we’re just going to ride this through together. Let’s just say our prayers together and not think about it.” You hold a child. You comfort a child who’s messed up like that and can’t pull themselves together, and you help them stop. You make them feel safe by holding on to them tightly. You make them feel calm by talking calmly to them. You distract them by giving them something to do that feels like they’re accomplishing something.

Well, do that for yourself. Be your own mommy or daddy. Be your own best friend. Make yourself feel safe by supplying structure in your life, the structure of an everyday practice that you do not deviate from. Make yourself feel safe, as though you had put your arms around yourself.

The second thing that you would do is to make yourself feel comforted. Feed yourself.  Provide ways to relax yourself. Provide a period of time every day where perhaps you can take a walk, or you can listen to some music, or you can just think or be happy or just meditate on joy. Just relax. Calm yourself down. Talk to yourself nicely. Tell yourself, “This is just a bad day. This will pass. Everything in samsara is impermanent. The thing to do is to continue to work through it.”

The next thing that you might do is provide some distraction or some diversion because when you get hit with ripening obstacles, you feel like a victim. You feel like something outside is hurting you, and hurting you badly. You feel under attack. You feel incapable of helping yourself. Rather than panicking and getting all wacko, give yourself something to do. Read a Dharma book. Read about cause and effect. Begin to calm the mind through reading those kinds of teachings that are geared toward calming the mind.

For instance, The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life would be an excellent choice for a period like that. It’s inspiring, calming. You can read about the essential experience of a very pure Bodhisattva. That kind of nourishment might be like being with a child who is having a very difficult time. You wouldn’t reason with a child and do mental therapy and try to lecture them in some ridiculous way because a child won’t understand that. They’ll only be mad at you. Instead, you would just be with them. In the same way, be with yourself. Don’t lecture yourself. Don’t moralize at yourself. Be with yourself. Ride it through. Fill your mind with nourishment, with comfort. Be calm. Be confident. You’re on a good boat, one that has travelled the ocean of suffering many times.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

When Obstacles Arise

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

The thing to do when entering the path, in order to take responsibility and to stabilize your mind and your practice, is to begin to accumulate merit in a consistent and intelligent way.  That doesn’t mean talk about it. That doesn’t mean dress up for it, like, “I’m a Dharma practitioner and the first thing I need are coral beads because that’s what she has.” People do think like that when they come to the path, and it’s a little silly. Just back off from that.

Think to yourself, “How can I accumulate virtue and merit? How can I stabilize my mind and my practice through providing the causes and the nourishment that I need?” You could for once be your own friend! Just for once give yourself the food, the nourishment, the fuel that you need. The way to do that is to accumulate virtue and merit through acts of generosity, through contemplation, through study, through providing a way for others to hear Dharma, through making offerings, through kindness, through following the instructions of your teacher.  Your teacher has given you methods to accumulate merit and virtue, so do them consistently in a calm and relaxed way. In this way, your first moving onto the path will be relatively painless.

One of the things that students experience when they first come onto the path is hidden body karma. You see, it’s already there. Can you understand that concept? You already have this body karma. It will ripen anyway at some point. Better that it should ripen under the guidance and tutelage of your teacher and of the path.

Let’s say that you have some body karma near the surface of your mind. Sometimes a person will come to the path and literally catch the flu or a disease, cut themselves, or maybe even break a leg, something like that. I’ve seen that happen. Usually it’s not a big deal, but I’ve seen it happen. The thing to do then is to immediately turn the mind, in a relaxed way, toward accumulating virtue and merit rather than freaking out. Most people freak out. “I went to Dharma, and I broke my leg! Screech!” That’s their intelligent response. Hey, you would have broken the leg anyway, maybe both legs, but at least you had some merit going there. So who knows what could have happened? The intelligent thing to do is to thank Guru Rinpoche for this blessing—a benign ripening that indicates to you what the condition of your present cause-and-effect relationships actually are—and for having been given the tool to work through this. So you begin to practice and accumulate merit.

Some people come to the path and they seem really, really nice. You think, “Isn’t that a nice person! Such a nice person!” And then they’re on the path maybe six months, and suddenly it’s like they grow fangs and turn into something completely different. And you wonder whatever happened to that nice, easygoing person. They turn into something that looks like Freddy Krueger or something, I don’t know. You know who Freddy Krueger is? He’s that really scary guy. So they turn into somebody really, really horrible. Why is that ? Right underneath the surface of their mind, there was sort of a bag or a ball of ripening non-virtue that was going to come to the surface anyway.

It might have come in dribs and drabs and made them just periodically mean throughout the rest of their life, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Or who knows? They might have put themself in a very wonderful situation and maybe – here’s a hypothetical situation – gotten married and then turned into the nightmare on Elm Street. Who knows what could have happened? Who knows how it might have ripened? But sometimes it happens that a deep disturbance in the mind will simply come to the surface, and for a while, that person will not seem like themselves at all.

What do you think needs to happen then? If a big obstacle comes to the surface and ripens when you first meet the path, you can see how endangered you are, can’t you? That’s a terrible danger because if you’re sick and your mind become disturbed, there’s no telling what you’ll do.  You have seen yourselves react in unpredictable ways. You think you know yourselves. Then you’re faced with a situation in which you act completely unpredictably due to your emotions being really roused up. We all think we know how we’re going to act, but then we see ourselves when we really get an emotional head of steam going.  We often act differently than we think we might have acted.

Well, if you have that kind of mental ripening when you first come to the path, that’s the most dangerous obstacle of all because the mind changes. Being of clear mind and clear thought coming to the path, you might say, “Yes, I have earned this. This is the method. I wish to abandon samsara. I wish to do this for the sake of sentient beings.” It sounds like pretty decent, logical and sound thinking to me. Then when the obstacle hits, your mind might be in a completely different place, and you might say, “I don’t have to. I don’t want to. I won’t!” Your mind just changes, and a part of you that you hardly ever relate to, that you mostly suppress, comes out and takes over. I’ve seen it happen. It will simply take over. What should you do at that point? Once an obstacle like that has begun to ripen, it’s very, very, very hard, particularly in the beginning when you’re an infant on the path and unable to really utilize all the tools.

But I say to you that the best thing to do at that time is to take refuge in the Guru, in the Buddha, in the Dharma and in the Sangha with all your heart. Take refuge. In your own mind say, “These are impure qualities. Samsara is not perfect. Therefore I take refuge and wish to be free.” Just like that. Hold on to that. Don’t let go of that. It is precious and important and necessary.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Freedom Isn’t Free: Understanding Merit and the Path

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

It is important to remember that when you enter the path you have earned the right to be here. This is absolutely the case. I can swear to it because you are here. You have absolutely accumulated the necessary virtue and merit within your mindstream in order to be able to hear these teachings and to do these practices, and even to prepare for your own death.

Yet, there is a Catch-22 situation that’s very difficult with Dharma. You have absolutely earned this opportunity and it is your right and your responsibility to take advantage of it. Now think about this: You could not be hearing these teachings from me if you had not made extensive prayers in some way at some time. It has to be so or you would not be here. You must have made prayers to Tara. You must have made prayers to Guru Rinpoche. You must have made prayers to meet your teacher and to be with your teacher and to hear these words. This must be so, or you could not have created the causes by which you are enjoying this opportunity.

So what does that mean then? That means that you’re here. Simply that, only that. That means that you’re here, and you’re ready to rock and roll. Now think about this. This is something else that’s important and something to think:  our Dharma, and particularly the Vajrayana path, is the singular most potent and powerful method that exists on this planet. That is to say that one can achieve true enlightenment, not what New Age people call enlightenment, but the real thing, like the Buddha, like great Bodhisattvas. One can achieve enlightenment within the context of one lifetime or immediately following this lifetime in the bardo state – that’s what the practice of Phowa is about – or within three lifetimes or within seven lifetimes. But surely, if one were to practice Vajrayana, and one were to practice it faithfully, one would achieve the ultimate result relatively quickly. That makes this the most potent path on the planet at this time, the most potent. We know this because we have seen that there are those who have achieved enlightenment in one lifetime. This is not true of other systems.

Now, that being the case, if it has that kind of weight, what kind of virtue or merit would be needed to keep that coming in, to keep that blessing flowing? An enormous amount. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? It’s like the you-get-what-you-pay-for kind of philosophy. If we were to think in materialistic terms, if you want the best, the absolute best, you have to pay the highest price. It’s expensive. Good quality costs money. In material terms you think like that. Doesn’t it follow then, logically, that that which is potent and of highest quality spiritually would also require the highest spiritual investment?

On the path, there is the necessity to accumulate merit and virtue in an extensive and responsible way because when we first come to the path is we immediately expend our accumulated merit. Here’s the picture: What has come forward to us, what has ripened in our mindstream, is the accumulation of some meritorious virtuous activity we’ve done in the past that allows us to hook into the path in this lifetime.

Upon using up that tremendous amount of merit that fortunately has risen to the surface in order to bring us to the path, an obstacle may arise. It takes such an enormous amount of merit in order to travel on the path, particularly to begin the path, that we may not have at the surface of our mind, or at the surface of our expressive continuum, enough merit to sustain us. So immediately upon coming to the path, the teacher gives instruction. The teacher says accumulate many repetitions of the Seven-Line Prayer. That is a merit-making machine. It is a way to accumulate the most merit. Then immediately after that, we are told to practice Ngöndro, preliminary practice. In Ngöndro, you are given five different ways to accumulate merit, and they are extremely potent. It is actually meant to guide you through the shoals of beginning practice until the mind becomes sufficiently purified and deepened to the degree that it will sustain itself through the shining qualities of its own virtue and merit.

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