Faults of Cyclic Existence

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

Of all worldly phenomena, whether great or small, nothing is permanent and nothing endures. Therefore, when you find yourself attracted to or attached to the happiness of existence, you must bring to mind the faults of existence. Consider that not even a single phenomenon is permanent, no matter how great, wonderful, or powerful it may seem. Consider especially how once that phenomenon [you associate with a happy existence] changes, you will experience nothing but suffering as the result. That way you can move your mind away from having strong attachment to impermanent phenomena and begin to change your habit of always following apparent phenomena based on [experiencing] temporary pleasure and attachment.

Think, for instance, about sentient beings that, due to anger and aggression, have accumulated the negative karma to fall to the hell realm. Those beings have accumulated tremendous negative karma that will keep them in the hell realm indefinitely. In that realm, unable to establish any positive causes at all, they will experience nothing but intense suffering. Think about the eight hot hells, the eight cold hells, as well as the peripheral hells surrounding them. Although it is inconceivable, think about the suffering that sentient beings in those hells must endure.

Then consider the deprived spirit realm. Think about the beings that accumulate an abundance of negative karma through the passions of avarice and strong desire. The result of such accumulation is rebirth as a deprived spirit. There are different categories of deprived spirits, such as outer and inner ones, but essentially they all endure inconceivable hunger and thirst that is insatiable. Furthermore, they never die from that; they just continue to suffer indefinitely, without ever being satisfied.

Next, consider the animal realm. Negative karma accumulated through the passion of delusion produces the result of animal rebirth. Animals suffer from basic delusion and ignorance, mistreatment by humans, and being preyed upon by one another. From the largest to the smallest, those who are as large as mountains to those smaller than the tip of a needle, all suffer from basic stupidity and ignorance, so they are unable to escape and are unable to do much more than just endure the karma in that rebirth until it is eventually exhausted.

Then consider the rebirth that is so difficult to obtain: that of a human being. Compared with the three lower realms of existence, human life seems very blissful; nevertheless, there is great suffering in the human realm. Human beings suffer from confinement in the womb and from the processes of birth, illness, disease, and growing old and the decline in their faculties, until eventually they experience the suffering of death and of leaving everything behind. Humans are subject to all kinds of indefinite circumstances and situations throughout the course of their life. Some die at birth, some die as infants, some as adolescents, and some as adults. Some die alone and unwanted or in an untimely manner.

In addition to the four great rivers of suffering, human beings experience—birth, old age, sickness, and death—humans experience compounded suffering. For example, humans suffer mistreatment at the hands of their enemies, and they suffer when they lose their loved ones. In fact, they suffer from fear that precedes the actual events themselves. Humans also suffer from not getting what they want and from having to accept what is not desired. They even suffer from acquiring what is desired, because then they have the fear of losing that. Against their will, humans endure all these unexpected consequences.

Many people think that after they die and leave this life they will easily return as a human being. Many believe they will just be able to return to a happy state of existence, such as the one they might now be accustomed to. That is a mistake. I can guarantee that unless you have the specific karma to do so, you will not take another rebirth as a human being. Without the karma that creates the causes for it, the result of human rebirth is impossible. Make no mistake about it.

Next, consider the god realm. Gods remain in their realm where they experience immeasurable bliss and happiness for long periods of time. They all have their own palace and gardens, wish-granting trees, and celestial food; everything in their external environment is inconceivably wonderful. Internally they experience only happiness and bliss throughout the entire course of their life. Eventually they exhaust their karma for that rebirth. Prior to that, the dying clairvoyant gods see the place of their future rebirth, which in most cases happens in the hell realm. They take such a rebirth due to having exhausted all tainted virtue that brought them rebirth in the god realm, and then nothing remains for them except an abundance of weighty negative karma. The vast storehouse of merit they once possessed is spent, and they have nowhere to go but to the lowest hell realm. Seeing the irreversible fate that awaits them, and knowing it is too late to reverse that, they experience tremendous suffering. They are powerless to reverse their karma of having to fall from the celestial realm of the gods to the lowest realms in existence.

Buddha therefore taught that there is not even a needle point’s worth of true happiness in samsara. Now you can understand the meaning of that teaching. Even if there is happiness, it always changes because it is impermanent. Happiness in samsara occurs as the result of the karma produced to cause it. Once that cause and result are exhausted, that happiness becomes something else, which is why the term cyclic existence is used to express the nature of life in the six realms. Sentient beings pass from rebirth to rebirth, revolving on this endless wheel of changing realms in dependence on their own karmic accumulations.

If your hair were to suddenly catch fire, you would immediately, without hesitation, try to put out that fire. Likewise, by understanding that cyclic existence is by nature permeated with suffering, and by understanding that it can never be anything other than that, you should immediately, without hesitation, focus on putting out the fire of cyclic existence. Focus totally on effort to extract yourself from this endless suffering of cyclic existence, so that you can achieve the state of permanent bliss and happiness, the state of fully enlightened buddhahood.

Thus it is taught that in order to be successful in reversing strong attraction and attachment to cyclic existence, we must practice dharma. Through the practice of dharma we can reverse attachment to existence and gain more momentum toward liberation, to the point where we realize the state of permanent bliss and cease to return to samsara.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008

The Roots of Anger

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Art of Dispelling Anger”

For most of us, when we are wrathful or angry, it’s not wrathful. It’s not righteous wrath, you know, in order to help that person. The only time I can see where it would be useful for an ordinary person to be wrathful would be to maybe encourage somebody else to stand on their own two feet or to be less dependent or something like that. Now look, I really want you to do that, and you can talk sternly. But otherwise, where in your life should hatred be?  Hatred is one of the three things that binds you to this world of samsara in which you will get old, you will get sick and you will die. And so we are taught that we must handle this hatred.

So when we approach hatred and look at it, we have to really examine our habitual tendencies. We can’t just say, you know, ‘I’m not going to hate anybody,’ or it’s kind of like a recovering alcoholic. It’s difficult, very difficult, to just say, ‘I’m not going to drink anymore. I’m going to use will power and I’m not going to drink anymore.’ You know, they say some people can do that, but most people can’t. And why is that?  Because you have to learn about yourself. Because there is a reason why you drank in the first place. Because you have to learn to look inside of yourself and see what’s in there and you have to work it. What do they say in the program?  ‘It works if you work it.’ What do I say about Buddhism?  ‘It works if you work it.’ It’s the same deal. We are addicted to our habitual tendencies like a bunch of alcoholics. That’s why I love recovering alcoholics, because I feel such a kinship with them. And it’s beautiful that it’s so obvious to them that they are recovering addicts. Those of us who maybe have a little shot every now and then or whatever, a little wine every now and then or we’re teetotalers, we think, ‘Oh well, I’m not an addict. Oh, I’m pure, because I take vitamins and I eat bananas,’ and whatever.

But I tell you what. It’s that recognition that from the point of view of recovering from the addiction to the five poisons and from that awakening to Buddhahood, most of us are still at the stage where we are living like bag ladies and men under the bridge, because we ain’t recovered yet. We still have our hatreds; we still have our resentments. And we practice them.

When a Buddhist approaches ridding themselves of hatred, it can’t be done through willpower. It must be done through understanding, through practicing and ultimately through attaining view. Understanding means looking within oneself with honesty. None of us have been perfect. We’ve hurt others. We’ve killed bugs, people; I don’t know what, swatted flies, whatever. None of us has been perfect. And when we approach that, we need to look at that without excuses, bald-faced, you know?  Where have I fallen down here?

Now we don’t want to look at in a harsh and miserable way.  When I say take oneself to task, I mean have a long, sobering talk with oneself. I don’t mean self-hatred. That is useless and I don’t like it. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to talk about it; and I will slap you next week if I see it, because you are just as worthy as anyone else, and that’s just a game. When we get into self-hatred, it’s because we have bad qualities and we don’t want to deal with them. So I say, accomplish those qualities and your image of yourself will rise up like a mountain.

Most people that have poor self-image are stuck in a kind of fearful narcissism where they do not respect or understand what is outside. They do not respect or understand what is inside. They can’t tell the difference between outside and inside. And they are so internally focused, focused on their own needs, wants and dramas, particularly dramas, that it is really very difficult for these people to step out of their shell, their shell of narcissism, and begin to truly try to be of benefit to others.  This narcissism, this kind of fearful self-absorption, often is one of the causes of a kind of hatred. If you are fearful and self-absorbed in your own drama, it’s really, ultimately when you trace it down, pretty much all about you. You know? If you have that kind of thing, there is never the opportunity to understand the nature of phenomena. There is never the opportunity to understand the primordial naturally luminous wisdom state that is our nature because of the drama. And there is even a posture with that. Forthe people who have that kind of thing, as they grow older, their body tends to go like that. It caves in like that. And it’s the protecting that we’re doing of something that we feel is inherently real–ego.

When you think, ‘Oh, what can I do about this? I’m so fearful. Of course she’s saying I’m narcissistic, but it’s really that I am afraid.’ Well, what can we do about that?  I think one step is to notice that are there are other people who are afraid, also. Notice that everybody is afraid. Notice that there is a humanity that we share of brother-sisterhood, a humanness that we share, human experiences that we will all have together. We will grow old. We will be sick. We will die. This is the condition that humanity shares in samsara. So learn to recognize in others that connection, even if it’s a sad one, that we all suffer the same; and we have the same wants, too. That narcissistic self-absorbed person who is very fearful wants desperately to be happy but doesn’t know how. And so in order to make themselves better, they stay frozen. They have hatreds and fears toward everybody else. And that’s the reaction.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

A Prayer by Which We Recognize Our Own Faults and Remember the Objects of Refuge by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche


The following is from “The Lamp of Liberation: A Collection of Prayers, Advice and Aspirations”

Homage to the Guru!

Conqueror Shakyamuni, supreme guide of the universe during this fortunate aeon,
Heirs of the Conqueror, assembly of noble Bodhisattvas who
educate beings,
Revered Guru, unsurpassed protector of creatures in this degenerate time,
Together with the Three Roots, the oath-bound, and the Dharma protectors,
With yearning devotion, one-pointedly remembering you from
the depths of our hearts,
We pray again and again to invoke your attention:
Hold us with loving kindness, and by the power of your compassion,
Please bless us to accomplish our thoughts and intentions in
accord with the Dharma.
Due to former actions, by no means weak, we obtained this precious human body,
Due to merit, by no means small, we met with holy Dharma;
Accepted by the Guru, we received empowerments, blessings
and pith instructions–
Such are the jewels we hold in our hands right now!
Yet our minds, like frivolous monkeys,
Succumb to negative, deceptive demons of distraction,
And we have no ability to utilize the wealth which is our very
own.
Thus, all the instructions about the freedoms and endowments
have simply been wasted.
We are now at a crucial turning-point:
Whatever we requested, whatever we received, has all become like some kind of story;
Though our bodies appear in the posture of Dharma and we
consider ourselves as Dharma practitioners,
Our minds have not actualized the truth of Dharma.
Not knowing even a whiff of human values, let alone the view of Buddhadharma,
Having only a vague notion of the sixteen rules of proper human
conduct,
We are without conscience when we observe our bad deeds,
And our dread of being ashamed is smaller than the rear of a tail-less mouse.
Really unable to understand the ten virtuous actions of
Buddhadharma,
Full of sectarian bias, though all the doctrines come from the one Teacher,
We criticize the teachings and the sages and so accumulate bad
karma;
Thus, though relying on Dharma, we carry a great weight of sin.
Hearing a lot of teachings, our pride increases
But our mental analysis does not fathom the depth of their meaning.
Even though we think we keep the discipline of the Pratimoksha,
The four dharmas of a practitioner have been lost without a
trace.
Even though we think we possess the precious training of the
Bodhisattva,
The Four Immeasurables are only like an image of a lamp.
Even though we think we keep the samayas of the secret
Mantrayana,
The first root downfall is not guarded against and (so the rest) are
eventually discarded.
Even though we know how to voice explanations about the Four
Reflections that Reverse the Mind,
Our attachment to the appearances of this life shows there has
been no actual renunciation.
Even though we rely on a guru, our respect and devotion
gradually diminish,
And instead of having pure perception, we consider ourselves as
his equal and thus develop wrong views.
Respect, love and kindness toward our vajra brothers and sisters
decline;
Unable to tolerate a few bad words from them, we shower them
with curses.
The love and compassion generated by recognizing all beings in the six realms as our parents
Vanishes like mist when we do not practices from the depths of
Bodhicitta.
We act as though we have experienced the Development and
Completion stages,
Yet we have found no alternative to being submerged in ordinary
confusion.
We recognize that Emptiness is the ultimate teaching of both
Sutra and Tantra,
But without a decisive understanding of it our mind-streams
become hard as horns.
We are not capable of abiding in the Original Nature,
But we pay lip service to that view and throw cause and effect to
the wind.
Outwardly, we appear disciplined and well behaved, yet
inwardly, attachment, craving, desire and greed burn like fire.
Even if we keep our bodies secluded in the mountains,
Our minds stray ceaselessly, day and night, to the cities.
Not having gained confidence in ourselves in our experience and
practice,
Trying to guide others to accomplishment is like a fairy tale.
It is impossible to be cheated by the compassion of the Three
Jewels,
Yet due to a failure of devotion, we are worried and cheat
ourselves.
In this way, towards the Guru and holy Dharma,
Although we are free from the wrong views that arise from a lack
of trust,
Yet due to these difficult times, sentient beings act negatively and
remain unfulfilled,
Understanding and realization having fallen under the power of
destructive impulses;
Not having protected mindfulness and introspection, we
suffered a great loss.
The time has come to examine ourselves!
All our actions have merely added to our confusion,
All our thoughts were tainted by emotional afflictions;
Without seeing that even our virtuous activities were always
adulterated by sin,
Where is there to end up ultimately but in the lower realms?
Recalling them now, we become despondent;
Looking towards others just increases our sadness
Since we can find no beneficial friends to assuage our distress.
If we do not look after ourselves now,
Then when caught by the messengers of the Lord of Death
No one will be able to help us, and all hope will be lost.
Waiting with such empty hopes, is this not cheating ourselves?
Whatever transgressions, faults, downfalls and degeneration of the Dharma have occurred,
We will not keep secret now nor conceal them in the future,
before those who possess the yes of wisdom.
We confess from the depths of our hearts: With your compassion,
please forgive us.
Protect us from the terror of the precipice of the wrong path,
Inspire us so that we may follow the utterly pure path of
liberation.
We spent a life busy doing this and accomplishing that,
Yet we are empty-handed, without so much as a single result.
Abandoning now the path of knowing many things but
experiencing just suffering,
Why shouldn’t we enter the path of knowing the one thing that liberates everything?
Unfailing true benefactor, our sole hope and reliance,
Root Guru, who encompasses all refuges,
Praying to you with one-pointed devotion,
Most kind and revered supreme refuge, please hold us with your compassion:
Bless us to see our own faults.
Bless us to have no desire to examine the faults of others.
Bless us to pacify all turbulent, cruel and disturbing thoughts.
Bless us to have good thoughts arise from deep within.
Bless us to reduce craving and to increase contentment.
Bless us to remember that the time of death is uncertain.
Bless us to have no concerns at the moment of death.
Bless us to generate great confidence in the Dharma.
Bless us to practice impartial pure perception.
Bless us to develop uncontrived respect and devotion.
Bless us to reduce mental activity about unobtainable things.
Bless us to establish the Dharma in the depths of our minds.
Bless us to go with diligence to the depths of Dharma practice.
Bless us to liberate our mind-streams, which is the ultimate goal
of practice.
Bless us to be free of obstacles in our practice.
Bless us to have the results of our practice ripen immediately.
Bless us so that our contacts with others may be meaningful and
beneficial.
Bless us to destroy the duality of hope and fear.
Bless us to see the non-dual primordial wisdom.
Bless us to recognize the self-face of our own primordial
wisdom.
Bless us to abide in the secure place within ourselves.
Bless us to gain the great certainty without effort.
With the vast vajra weapon of primordial wisdom, which has
been present from the very beginning,
May the hollow existence of samsara and nirvana be cut in one instant.
In the ceaseless great bliss of Nyema’s celebration,
May we always enjoy the activity which is beyond union and
separation.
In the expanse of the all pervading equalness even the name
of suffering does not exist,
So who could there be still searching for happiness?
Where happiness and suffering have the same taste and grasping
is self-liberated
Is the Kingdom of Samantabhadra: May we attain it in this very life!

The Challenge of Self Honesty

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Art of Dispelling Anger”

We must take ourselves to task more. I don’t want to speak harshly because harshness doesn’t help, but I want to say succinctly and directly, we have to take ourselves to task regarding our faults and our poisons.   When I think of the Tibetan culture, that’s a lot easier because there isn’t that attachment to materialism.  Even in terms of the roots of the culture itself without religion, they were a nomadic people and they had things, but you couldn’t carry much.  You had your yaks and your yurts and that was it.There wasn’t that much variety in food; there wasn’t that much variety in clothing.  It’s true that the aristocratic Tibetans used to collect jewelry—some of the strangest looking jewelry.  It was intense jewelry, and that was considered a status thing. But for the most part, culturally, a Tibetan Buddhist would not have a hard time understanding that hatred, greed and ignorance and particularly desire, as the Buddha taught, keep us revolving endlessly in samsara.  We, unfortunately, are programmed quite differently.

I know in my household and in those of many people that I’ve talked to, there was confusion.  My mother was sort of a lox and bagel Jew and my father was a twice a year Catholic; and we were supposed to somehow dance in the middle. So when mama won we were going one way and when daddy won we were going the other way. I think that this happens with a lot of people.  They are raised with a lot of confusion around religion.  And even when they are taught that faith and religion should be a part of their life, and even when they are given the Western ten commandments, still there is so much confusion because we seem to find ways around that.

Thou shalt not kill.  But you can kill bugs, animals and enemies.  So who are you not supposed to kill?  I will not kill you.  That will do it.  So there is tremendous confusion around that.  How does one venerate these absolute laws that have to do with a moral and ethical human when there is so much confusion around them?  I mean, thou shall not kill but go to war.  How does that make sense to a child?   And so, as we grow up with religion, even though we have been founded in religion, or have some foundation in it, the information that we’re given is very confusing.  Thou shalt not commit adultery.  Whose family hasn’t had a little bit of that? You know, it’s just crazy.

And so, first of all, we’ve learned to be a little bit hypocritical; but most of all, we’ve learned that these laws don’t really matter, and that’s really sad.  So when we become Buddhist, we hear that there is a Vinaya and there are certain things that we must not do. And that if we take a life,  we understand that we will be giving our lives someday from having taken a life because karma works like that. Karma is exacting. When the cause arises, the results arise independently and simultaneously.  It’s our misjudgment through having the mind of duality that makes it seem like time stretches out. So even though you may not have the result of that bad karma until later on in life or even some future life, definitely we know from studying, at least. And every once in a while we get blessed with a little instant karma, so we have sometimes the opportunity to learn; but still that confusion is rampant, really rampant.

We want to practice Buddhism, so we take the teachings. We get to all the retreats; we see the right teachers; we try to do the practices. Yet we don’t really change ourselves.  It is an amazing thing to me that students can be on the path for so long and even try to go to the completion stage practices,  the tsa lung and the trekchod and togyal, and go to those levels and practice them with some part of their mind, and yet the rest of them is somehow remaining the same.  To me that is probably the worst tragedy on the path.  It’s the one that makes me not like to teach, but that’s the battle I fight with myself, you know. I’m just being honest.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

First, Study the Preliminaries: from “Enlightened Courage” by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

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

First study the preliminaries.

Consider all phenomena as a dream.
Analyse the unborn nature of awareness.
The antidote will vanish of itself.
The nature of the path rests in the alaya.
In post-meditation, consider phenomena as illusory.
Train to give and take alternately;
Mount them both upon your breath.
Three objects, three poisons and three roots of virtue.
In all your actions, train yourself with maxims.
Begin the training sequence with yourself.
When all the world is filled with evils,
Place all setbacks on the path of liberation.
Lay the blame for everyone on one.
Reflect upon the kindness of beings.
Voidness is the unsurpassed protection;
Thereby illusory appearance is seen as the four kayas.
The best of methods is to have four practices.
To bring the unexpected to the path,
Begin to train immediately.
The pith instructions briefly summarized:
Put the five stages into practice.
On how to die, the Mahayana teaches
These five strengths. It matters how you act.

All Dharma has a single goal.
Rely upon the better of two witnesses.
Always be sustained by cheerfulness.
With experience you can practice even when distracted.

Always train in three common points.
Change your attitude and maintain it firmly.
Do not discuss infirmities.
Do not have opinions on other people’s actions.
Work on the strongest of your defilements first.
Give up hoping for results.
Give up poisoned food.
Do not be hidebound by a sense of duty.
Do not meet abuse with abuse.
Do not wait in ambush.
Do not strike at weaknesses.
Do not lay the dzo’s burden on the ox’s back.
Do not praise with hidden motives.
Do not misuse the remedy.
Do not bring a god down to the level of a demon.
Do not take advantage of suffering.

Do everything with one intention.
Apply one remedy in all adversity.
Two things to be done, at the start and at the finish.
Bear whichever of the two occurs.
Even if it costs you your life, defend the two.
Train yourself in three hard disciplines.
Have recourse to three essential factors.
Meditate on three things that must not deteriorate.
Three things maintain inseparably.
Train impartially in every field;
Your training must be deep and all-pervading.
Always meditate on what is unavoidable.
Do not be dependent on external factors.
This time, do what is important.
Do not make mistakes.
Be consistent in your practice.
Be zealous in your training.
Free yourself by analysis and testing.
Don’t take what you do too seriously.
Do not be bad tempered.
Do not be temperamental.
Do not expect to be rewarded.

This distilled essence of instruction,
Which transmutes the upsurge of the five degenerations
Into the path of enlightenment,
Was handed down by Serlingpa.
Having roused the karma of past training,
And feeling powerfully inspired,
I disregarded suffering and censure
And sought out the instructions to subdue my ego-clinging;
Though I may die, I shall now have no regret.

The Turning of the Wheel of Dharma

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The following is respectfully quoted from “The Small Golden Key” by Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

According to the teachings of the sūtras, the Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma, teaching the “four truths” (Tib. bDenpa bash) to the “five noble ones” (Tib. lNga.sde bang.po). These four truths are: suffering, the causes of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path leading to cessation of suffering. These are the foundation of the Hinayāna teaching.

Later, at Vulture’s Peak in Rajgir, the Buddha taught the “Perfection of Wisdom” (Skt. Prajñā Pāramitā: Tib. Shes.rab.kyi pa role tu phyin.pa) which is the second turning of the Wheel of Dharma called “Characteristiclessness” (Tib. mutton.nyid med.pa) to the general gathering of the Sangha, including male and female Śramaneras, Bhiksus, and Bhiksuni, and to the special gathering of Bodhisattvas, such as Mañjúshri (Tib. hJam.dpal dByangs), Avalokitesśvara (Tib. sPyan.ras.gzigs), Vajrapāni (Tib. Phya.na rDo.rje) and Maitreya (Tib. Byams.pa).

Finally, at a place of supernatural beings unknown to ordinary beings, the Buddha taught the “Doctrine of Absolute Truth” (Tib. Don.dam rnam.par nges.pa) to various disciples such as Bodhisattvas, gods, nāgas, yachts, rākshas, and humans. At these times, the Buddha exhibited many miraculous powers of body, speech and mind.

The full meaning of Mahāyāna is contained in the Buddha’s last two turnings of the Wheel of Dharma where he taught the actual relative truth and absolute truth.

According to the teachings of the tantras, the higher Vajrayāna teachings were first taught by the Buddha at the request of King Indrabodhi of Uddiyāna (Tib. O.rgyan). In the Vajrayāna teachings, the Buddha taught disciples of superior faculties, who had accumulated great merit, how to transform impure phenomenal appearance into a pure mandala. In order to teach King Indrabodhi, the Buddha emanated the Guhyasamāja mandala (Tib. gSang.ba hDus.pa), then bestowed the empowerment of this mandala upon the king and gave him the tantric teachings.

Compassion as Antidote

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Habit of Bodhicitta”

There’s a funny thing about the human mind that we don’t realize. Do you know how in your mind you think you’re concentrating on a million things at once? Some of you can chew gum, watch TV, listen to the radio and write in a book at the same time. I’ve seen people do this. It’s amazing. I have a son, oh, my god, you can’t believe this son. It looks like he can watch TV, listen to the radio, talk and really carry on a conversation, dance while he’s talking, and if he knew how to fry an egg, he could probably do that at the same time. I mean, talk about a Mongolian juggler. Each of us feels likewe can do so many things at one time; but what we don’t realize about the human mind is that’s not true. It can only do one thing at a time. But what happens is that we do these things in such rapid succession, that if we think about ten things at once, it feels like what is actually happening is that we are thinking about this, switch to this, switch to this, switch to this, very quickly; and our minds actually become inflamed and agitated with the switching from one picture to the other. That’s why it becomes valuable and precious to meditate on bodhicitta and to practice bodhicitta. Because while you are practicing bodhicitta, putting your mind in this pile, while you are doing that, no matter how simplistic it is, even if it’s just opening the door for somebody, while you’re doing that, you aren’t doing the other thing. And the great thing about the human continuum is that if you aren’t continuing it, it doesn’t continue.

The funny thing about continuum is that it loses its definition, its essence, if it’s not being continued. So we are taught to practice kindness and to begin where we can and to increase it moment by moment. Because while you are doing that, you can’t be doing the other. But believe me, when you are not doing that, you are doing the other. You are doing the other. So the bodhicitta becomes now not a great mystical attribute that we all hope we are going to get, it becomes a remedy. It becomes a method. It becomes an antidote. And you should see compassion as an antidote. There is no excuse, none, for you not to start right now. And you can’t get into what is kind of like the diet syndrome with bodhicitta. I don’t know how many of you have actually been on a diet, but if you’re on a diet, you’re like this: You go through, ok, a thousand calories a day. So you’re making your little chart and you’re eating your boiled egg or whatever it is, celery and ice or, whatever horrible thing they are making you eat. And then at one point during the day, you just can’t stand it and you go back to the old habit and think, ‘Ok, I’ve eaten celery all day, now I’m going to eat a piece of chocolate cake.’ What happens in our minds is that we think, ‘Now I’m off my diet. And it doesn’t matter.’ Well, you can’t have that kind of diet mentality with your bodhicitta. For instance, if you practice bodhicitta for a good period of time and suddenly you blow it, not only blow it, blow it big time, you know, I mean, big time, you really blow it, then you think, ‘I’m not a compassionate person. I’m not good, I’m bad. It’s gone for today. I’ll try maybe next week sometime. I’m hopeless. I’m helpless. I’ve blown my bodhicitta diet.’ You begin to form all these exaggerated conclusions based on what has just happened.

If you could approach yourself in a relaxed way, moment by moment, and you did practice bodhicitta for a certain period of time, then when you really, really blow it, there would be no inner tension to prevent you from simply going back to the bodhicitta. What you’ve done is expressed both of your habits, your new one, which is difficult, and your old one, which is easy and you can fall into it any time you don’t practice your new one. It doesn’t mean anything. It only means that you’re expressing both habits and at every given moment you have a choice. You can practice bodhicitta the very next moment right after you’ve blown it. And you should, because the best way to prevent blowing it again is to climb right back on that horse and make restitution. That’s the best way, to get right back on it. If you don’t’ do that, you carry a tremendous burden as a spiritual person, the burden of hypocrisy. You feel like a hypocrite. You feel like you’ve really messed up. You have this idea that you’ve been kind and then this monster in you comes out and then you’re faking it again. You can’t think like that. You can’t think in terms of good and bad, high or low. Think in terms of habitual tendency. Give yourself a break. You have both. Accept it now. Accept it now. And this way, no matter what happens, you’re not going to have to think something vile about yourself. And you have the freedom to make a choice at any moment.

My recommendation is that should you begin to practice bodhicitta and find it extremely difficult, do not form conclusions about it. Only continue. The only conclusion you should form really is the one that I’m giving you: That’s my habit. I understand that about myself. I accept. And I accept that I can change it, little by little. And it’s hard. It’s all right if it’s hard. One day at a time, you know?

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Grasping for Happiness: The Root of Ignorance

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Foundation of Bodhicitta”

In closing, I wish to say this one thing. I talked to someone recently  who was schooled in a meditation that could create a feeling that was kind of blissy. This kind of meditation had bliss-like qualities. It would make you feel that you were kind of drunk, a kind of high feeling, a bliss-like quality. When I asked where the teaching came from, she said she got it from her teacher who had an experience of revelation and developed this teaching from that experience. I asked what the source of revelation was. She said they don’t think of it as a source, but this person had a revelation. This person had developed a technique with breathing and things like that. When I heard what the technique was, I was amazed. I remember thinking that you can horse yourself into a hyper-excited emotional state that is very much like a blissy kind of an experience. You can jerk yourself around psychically, using breath, using visualization, using certain kinds of thoughts and physical and non-physical techniques in which you can feel a certain kind of bliss. But I don’t know why a person would want to waste their time with that. I don’t know why a person would engage in such activity. It seems to me that all they are doing is exchanging one kind of phenomena for another.

The feeling that you have right now is just that. It is a feeling. It is like dew on the grass. When you examine it and even understand that the self that produced the feeling is empty of self-nature and is only the primordial wisdom state, that feeling that you have right now will vaporize. And who is producing this bliss that you can horse yourself into? This bliss, when examined, is produced by that same one. Not understanding the emptiness of self nature, not understanding and awakening to the primordial wisdom state through purifying hatred, greed and ignorance, not understanding this, you can jerk yourself around and experience bliss. And you can think happy thoughts for an hour and you will feel pretty good about yourself; but who is producing that thought the same way and it will vaporize the same way. Why exchange one kind of phenomena for another?

In the Vajrayana view, it is very plain and actually best put in a very stark verbiage. In the Vajrayana view, it is very clear: Chocolate and shit are the same. They are both brown and they are both phenomena. Now, of course, it is the you that would rather it be chocolate, but the you is not inherently real as you understand it. It is empty of self-nature. And it is only in your understanding of yourself, in the way that you do understand, and your clinging to that self, that you crave chocolate as you do and you are repelled by shit.

But phenomena is phenomena and you must understand that in order to practice the ultimate bodhicitta, you must practice the supreme path that does not create just another kind of phenomena. It doesn’t just create another kind of high, but in fact absolutely pacifies, once and for all, all of the building blocks of cyclic existence, all of the grasping, hatred, greed and ignorance, pride, jealousy, all of these things, that will produce this terrible suffering. These must be pacified once and for all. That is the ultimate act of love. There is a technology by which this can be accomplished. You cannot think it away because always  who is doing the thinking will be you.

So the game is then to become awake—to awaken to the primordial wisdom nature, to awaken to that Buddha nature, the ultimate kindness.

That is our teaching today. I hope that it is useful. Please make use of the teaching.

 

The Habit of Love

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Habit of Bodhicitta”

Basically what we have to do is, day by day in a gradual way, reinforce, develop and make larger the habit of loving. It is so mechanical,. You wouldn’t believe how mechanical it is. It’s like this: This hand is self absorption, listing severely to the right. Little by little, it, gets heavier on the other hand, the loving side. At some point,…  And who knows when that day will be? It’s not for you to judge. It’s not for you to know. Not for you to even care about. At some point, the balance will go in the loving direction  and you will really give rise to the bodhichitta. And there will be a time when the loving habit that you develop so outweighs anything else that there is a funny, magical thing that happens. The self absorption becomes invisible.

You won’t believe that in the beginning, especially when you first start trying the habit of true compassion, because it just seems as though the weight of self absorption keeps pulling you back and it just seems overwhelming. But you have to remember: It’s kind of like a rubber band, it’s kind of like a rubber band. It’s so hard, and the agony of feeling yourself go back to that same posture is going to be very difficult at first. But never mind, never mind. Keep putting more and more in the habit of loving kindness. You are going to break it eventually. It has to happen. It’s kind of like a spiritual law of physics, if you can imagine such a thing. Eventually one will outweigh the other. It’s just like that.

In fact, if you would spend a lot less time evaluating yourself and judging yourself and a lot more time just putting pebbles in that loving pile, you’d feel a lot better. In fact, if you take your eyes off  this self-absorption pile entirely, and move towards the loving  pile, you’d feel better still. It’s almost that once you begin to gather some weight in the area of proper virtuous habitual tendency, by magic, this thing starts to disappear. You’re not looking at it anymore.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Bit by Bit: Cultivating Compassion

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Habit of Bodhicitta”

We have been revolving in cyclic existence for literally aeons and all during that time, in some form or another, we have conceived the idea of self-nature. Our habit, then, is to hold the idea of self-nature as being very, very solid and very, very real. Our habit, absolutely from the get-go, is to distinguish between self and other. Our habit is to react toward other with hope and fear. Our habit is to think in that relative sense and that comparative sense.  There is no compassion in any of that, and it’s not going to happen.

In order to truly develop compassion, we have to first get the idea and really take to heart the idea that the only thing blocking us from giving rise to the great bodhicitta, or great compassionate activity, is our habitual tendency. So no matter what we feel, if we have the stupid idea that we are good or bad (or whatever our ideas are about life if you have them), set them aside for a moment, and address the singularly important fact that you simply don’t have the habit of truly empathizing and having compassion for the condition of other sentient beings in any consistent and real sense. It’s a question of habit and not a question of good or bad. Are you able to feel compassion?  Many students have come to me and said, ‘Well, I love the idea of compassion. I think it’s wonderful. I hope you are good at it. I hope you continue to teach it to others. But I just don’t really feel compassion for other people.  So I don’t think I can be a Mahayana Buddhist.’ And, really, I cannot count on all of your fingers how many times it has happened to me that a person has said, ‘I love it, but it won’t work for me. I just don’t have any compassion.’

You can’t hide out in that any longer. That’s not a valid excuse, because the fact of the matter is that we are all in the same condition. No one here truly has the habit of compassion. Well, we have a little. Every now and then a jigger of compassion gets mixed into the cocktail of life. (Pretty cute, huh?)  But in truth, we have very little. If we had a great deal of compassion, our whole lives would be given over to benefiting others. There would never be another choice. There would never be another choice. Everything that we do would come out as benefit to others. It would be like magic. You wouldn’t even have to think about it if you had really given rise to the bodhicitta and broken the habit of self-absorption. There would never be another option.

But that’s not the case for sentient beings. We are all in the same condition. So what we have to do is stop waiting to feel compassion, because you are always going to paint yourself into a corner with that one. You are never going to be satisfied with what you are feeling. Until enlightenment, we are never going to be satisfied with anything. So you can’t hide out in that excuse. You simply have to develop a new habit. Sometimes when you are developing that new habit, it can look like this: OK, it doesn’t so much matter what I want here. There are other people that want things in this room, and I’m going to give it up. It can look like that at first. That doesn’t mean that you’re not doing a good job; and it doesn’t mean that you are wrong. It doesn’t mean that you’re bad, and it doesn’t mean that you are a martyr either. It doesn’t mean that you are making an extremely valiant effort and should be rewarded. It doesn’t mean anything. It only means that you are developing a new habit, bit by bit.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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