The Importance of Consciousness

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray by Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Quantum physicists are beginning to understand that the universe is multidimensional. They are beginning to understand that because their math is not working, there must be something else out there that they can’t figure out. The reason why their calculations don’t work is because they leave out one of the components of reality—consciousness. Time, space and consciousness are inseparable. So scientists are mistakenly looking out with their telescopes for the birth of the universe.

I’ve been asked, “How did this explosion of phenomena start?” I tell people, “Close your eyes. Let everything go. Dissolve into emptiness.” They do it. After a while I say, “Okay open your eyes.” Then I explain: “When you opened your eyes, that was the Big Bang. That was the moment. That was when movement started. That was it. It’s not out there.”

Phenomena appear in many different ways, in as many different ways as we can conceive, in as many different ways as we can move away from emptiness. The universe is an entanglement of intentions, dreams and potentials. Each one of us, every sentient being, experiences a separate and different phenomenon. Even though we are all in the same room, everyone here is experiencing a separate and different reality according to his or her individual karma.

The places that we can go in samsara are endless. They are infinite. As we conceive something, more phenomena are created. Lord Buddha taught about interdependent origination, that cause and effect arise simultaneously. They are linked. Even though we see the cause, we usually don’t see the result. That’s because we are still in a place where everything seems to be outside of us.

We pray like that, too.  We think, “I am praying to Guru Rinpoche, and he’s going to make everything better.” We think, “I’ll say some words or I’ll say some mantra and magically they will go there and sprinkle star dust on everybody.” We pray as though we are unconnected. We pray as though we are not in charge. We pray by rote like parrots. We repeat our prayers and hope for the best, as if prayer is a magic incantation. We don’t have any idea how there’s going to be any benefit.

In order to pray let’s understand that, first of all, we are all that is, suchness, the uncontrived primordial view. We are every potential in its essential uncontrived form. Our nature is that which is unborn and yet absolutely complete and perfect in every detail. It isn’t made. It isn’t grown. It can’t become stronger or weaker. It is conditionless. And so we practice view to allow the boxes in our mind to fall away so that we can recognize that conditionless state and awaken to it at last.  Our prayers have to be like that as well.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

There Is No Self

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray By Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The Buddha taught that there is no self, that all that exists is primordial wisdom nature, with every potential, including the idea of self and the idea of phenomena rising out of emptiness. This potential is here. Although one of the ways that the primordial wisdom nature displays itself is in phenomena, we cling to phenomena as being inherently real. In fact, we cut our teeth on phenomena.

We have experienced phenomena since time out of mind, and so we are accustomed to the experience. It’s the only thing that makes us feel safe. Oddly enough, we spend all of our time contemplating the solidity of self nature, and we believe that self nature is inherently real. We identify with this body, thinking it’s us. We think that if we hold onto to self nature, we’ll be safe because we’ll be us. We think, “I’ll be staying here, you’ll be staying there, and we’ll continue in phenomena.”  But in fact, there is no difference between phenomena and emptiness. They are the same nature. They are the same essence. They are the same taste.

So while our habitual tendencies cause us to remain in this delusion of separation, still this nature exists—wholesome, absolutely complete and perfect, with no need for aggrandizement, with no need for construction. It is as it is. This is the nature that is our nature, and it is as much our experience, even now, as phenomena are, but it frightens us. So we cling to phenomena. Sadly enough, we become self-absorbed in that process. We think, “Oh this is me.  I’ve got to take care of myself. I’ve got to do what is right by me. I’ve got to have fun. I’ve got to have excitement. I’ve got to have pleasure.”  And that’s our experience—even though emptiness is at hand and we experience emptiness in our nature now. The Buddha nature that is our nature is complete. It doesn’t need any tinkering. Still, we cling to the idea of self. And of course, that’s the trouble that we’re in now.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Relying on the Three Precious Jewels

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray by Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Truth be told, we haven’t really awakened to the conditionless state yet.  Maybe we’ve had a few experiences in our meditation, a little taste of emptiness if we really go deeply into our practice, but it’s only for a second.

For most of us, we are unable to let the boxes down so that our view opens and we are in a state of recognition. Because of that, we are taught that we should rely upon the Three Precious Jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and mostly especially the Lama, as the embodiment of all three.

In other words, when we see the lama, we are seeing the Nirmanakaya or body form of the Buddha—a projection of the Buddha nature in phenomena. The Nirmanakaya has appearance and characteristics, but these are gossamer thin. These are insubstantial, like dew on a hot morning. And so we rely on our teacher as the representation of the primordial wisdom nature.

We rely on the Buddha because the Buddha is the doctor who gives us teachings—tells us what is wrong with us and how to fix it.

We rely on the Dharma, which is the medicine—the tried-and-true method that practitioners have used for thousands of years to escape the suffering of samsara.

We rely on the Sangha who care for us, like a nursemaid, until we are awake. It’s as if we are in a coma, and there’s nobody to take care of us but these nurses. The nurses bring us the medicine. They support us. And so we love and respect the sangha.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Letting Go of Pride

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray by Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

In order to really pray we have to let go of our pride, of our clinging to self. We have to let go of our self-importance, of that part that says, “Look at me, I’m praying” or the one that says, “Maybe if I recite mantra, it will go over there to that person.”  That’s not awakened; that’s dualistic.  So pride is the main obstacle to our true prayer—pride and its twin, doubt.

There is a Christian teaching that explains why. Although I am not a Christian minister, I do very much value the teachings of Jesus and know that he was a great and realized bodhisattva.

Jesus once gave a teaching in which he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”  What did he mean?  In ancient Jerusalem there was one gate that went into the city (it was known as “the eye of a needle”), and that gate was very low and very small. In order for a camel to get through it, it had to get down on its knees and crawl. But a rich person is often too proud to kneel.  So that teaching explains that pride is the obstacle. Pride is the enemy.

When we have prideful thoughts, we are clinging to self-nature as being inherently real, and we are always in a state of judgment. If we are high, others are low. So the most important element in learning to pray is to let go of pride—the idea that I am a practitioner, that I am praying, that I am doing some good. Instead of that pride, we need to develop an awareness that everyone is the same in their nature. All of us are expressions of the infinite possibility of the primordial uncontrived wisdom state—like white light going into a crystal and breaking into different colors, into beautiful reflections. Do we cling to the colors and no longer look at the light? Do we only look at the display and not look at the foundation? No. What would be the benefit of that?

So when we get ready to pray, we should do like the camel did in Jerusalem: we should get down on our knees. Our inner posture should be a heartfelt awareness of our interconnectedness. We should pray, “Here are my brothers and sisters, some of them swept off the face of the earth (by a giant wave, an earthquake, a plane crash, an act of war or some other tragedy…). Some of them are hungry. Many of them have died. Many have lost their families and loved ones.” We think with that kind of compassion and consider the situation of other sentient beings rather than just worrying so much about ourselves.

We simply consider their suffering. We keep our ears open to their calls, and we recognize that we are the same as they—not higher, not lower, but the same in our nature. We all have the seed of awakening. There is no difference. The haughtiness that we have, the games that we play, all have to go.

Instead, we adopt a posture of clear hearing. We have to hear the cries of sentient beings and then remember that they are the same as us. We have to think, “I hear you.  I am not separate from you.”  And we remember the Three Precious Jewels. It could easily be that in our next life, we are in their position and they are in ours.

By untangling our pride, we realize that it is our privilege to benefit them. Pride is like a constricting force around our heart.  It keeps us from opening up. It keeps us separate. It keeps us miserable, and it affirms samsara every day. When we are prideful, we are praying for suffering. We are praying to continue in the land of lost ones.

So we are taught to drop that prideful stance and to connect and wire up to the Three Precious Jewels. We take refuge because we realize that in samsara there is only samsara no matter what it looks like or how dynamic it appears. Samsara will dance and seduce. Samsara will say, “Drink me.” Samsara will say, “Eat me.”  Samsara will say, “Come and play. Be free.”  Samsara is a seductress who will make us suffer even more than we thought possible.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The Method of the Path

Merry Go Round

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Desire Blocks Happiness”

So we have a problem here.  We really have to get off the merry-go-round, and we have to look at things square in the eye. And there’s no getting away from it: One of the problems of cyclic existence is that we can’t see very clearly. Isn’t it true? Isn’t it true that even once we make the decision to lead a virtuous life, and to think as I’ve just described, then we sit there and we think hatefully in our minds. We think hateful thoughts in our minds; we think jealous thoughts in our minds; we think competitive thoughts in our minds; we think judgmental thoughts in our minds. We think “I want.” We think all of these things—angry, vengeful, whatever it is. And we think because no one else can hear it besides us, that it’s really okay as long as we can maintain a beatific exterior. You know, a sweet kind of exterior. As long as we do that, we’re okay. Isn’t that true? Don’t you think that’s true? Well, the difficulty is, you can’t even take your smile with you! Ha, ha, ha!  So when you go into the bardo, what will be there is what’s behind it—the habit of your mind, the habit of hatred or ignorance or grasping.

One of the great Bodhisattva prayers that I’ve read—and every time I hear it, it brings tears to my eyes, because it’s so true—translates to roughly like this, “If it is true that I cannot even take so much as one sesame seed with me when I die, why not offer all that I have to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings?”  Why not do that? I’m going to lose it anyway. Reminds me a little bit of the old trick of knowing that pretty soon you’re going to have to pay this enormous amount of taxes because you sold this house, so you quick gotta buy another one. It’s kind of like that. You know you’re going to lose it anyway. Why not make it something useful?

On this Path there are many different ways to do that. One can become a renunciate, as these monks and nuns are renunciates. And believe me, once you have put on these robes, that does not mean that you have renounced cyclic existence. It means that you are trying. Sometimes I catch these guys not renouncing cyclic existence. Just every now and then, I catch them clinging to cyclic existence like you can’t believe. But you can try. You can really try to practice in that way where you actually renounce cyclic existence and you take a certain form. You take an outward appearance, and you practice inwardly according to that outward appearance. In other words, they wear only the Buddhist robes, most of the time, and they practice the Buddha’s teachings; and they don’t drink, and they remain celibate, and they don’t lie. And there are many different exterior vows that they take. They also try to practice within their heart in a very pure way. And then you can also practice as a layperson, who looks very ordinary, and who engages in the ordinary activities of life with the ordinary trappings that sentient beings engage in. But inside you would practice certain kinds of meditation. Particularly you might think of practicing stabilizing the mind through meditation. That is letting thoughts come to the mind—thoughts of grasping or thoughts of hatred—and allowing those thoughts to merely dissolve. And there are certain techniques and technologies that you can apply to actually do that. Or practicing in such a way as to generate oneself as the deity, as the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and in doing that, generate one’s environment as a celestial palace; and that being a celestial palace, it has only pure qualities. And therefore, having only pure qualities, there’s nothing to grasp onto. So that you might have or not have something; you might be married or not be married; you might have children or not have children. You might have objects or not have objects; but at any rate each one of these objects is seen as an emanation of the enlightened quality of the Buddha, and it’s nothing to grasp onto. It’s nothing to hold onto. It’s nothing that you would call mine. Do you see what I’m saying? So it’s an inner kind of more subtle practice.

There are many different ways to practice on this Path, as many different ways as there are people. But it starts with that little breakdown—getting off that merry-go-round. Looking at yourself, and seeing the faults of cyclic existence, and seeing that you have never yet been satisfied by it. And seeing that it’s time to pacify that inflammation within the mind. The inflammation is the problem.

This teaching is very difficult to understand unless you can apply some direct technology, unless you can really get into some substantial practice. And if you wish to do so, you should keep coming to the temple. And at some point you should ask about entering into deeper practice. This is just a practice meant to display some of the meaning of the Path to those who are not practicing so deeply at this point or who are not practicing Buddhism, actually; and also increasing the understanding of those who are practicing Buddhism.

But there is a technology that must be applied that would be beneficial. If one were to simply try to understand what I have said in this way… If one were to say, “Okay, I guess what she means is I can’t get excited about anything anymore. Or I can’t feel really happy, and really high. Or I should just make myself really passive,” then you would not be understanding what I’m saying. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying that you should adopt a mask of stillness. I’m not saying that you should force yourself to roll your eyes ever skyward and appear beatific and holy from this point on. That would be a farce. That would be silly. In fact, that’s a very neurotic way to act, and I wouldn’t recommend it at all. You might think that what I’m saying that you should do is act very spiritual and very sweet and very kindly, when in your heart there’s a raging fire. And I’m not saying that. That’s a very neurotic way to do, and that will cause you to take valium very quickly. That is not the method. Valium is not the method on this Path.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo All Rights Reserved

The Spiritual Mentor: From “A Spacious Path to Freedom”

RagaAsay

The following is respectfully quoted from “A Spacious Path to Freedom” by Karma Chagmed with commentary by Gyaltrul Rinpoche

The Twenty Precepts states:

Accept a spiritual mentor who abides by his precepts,
Who is knowledgeable and capable.

–In Tibet, occasionally people took novice of full monastic precepts without even knowing what they were, and some of them never did learn. Whatever precepts you take, whether lay vows, novice vows, or full ordination, it is important to know what they are, so that you truly arrive at their essence. Similarly, the cultivation of the spirit of aspiring for awakening leads to the spirit of venturing towards awakening. Moreover, tantric practice becomes meaningful only if you learn about the generation and completion stages. Engaging in such practices or taking precepts without understanding makes it difficult to penetrate their real significance–

The Ornament of Sutras states:

A teacher of supreme beings
Is one who is gentle, free of arrogance and depression,
Whose knowledge and understanding are lucid and broad-ranging,
Who goes everywhere without material compensation,
Who is endowed with the Spirit of Awakening and great learning,
Who sees the truth, is skillful in speaking, and is merciful.
Know the greatness of this sublime being,
Who is not despondent.
Expansive, having cast off doubts,
And revealing the two realities, he is worthy to be accepted.
This one is called a superb teacher of Bodhisattvas.
Devote yourself to a spiritual friend who is peaceful, subdued, and utterly calm,
With superior qualities, zeal, and a wealth of scriptural knowledge,
With realization of thatness and with skill in speaking,
a merciful being who has cast off depression.

Impact of Karma on the Experience of the Bardo

images

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

Now listen to how this lama [Bokar Rinpoche] explains this—I think this is excellent. “Likewise the experience of death will be different for each one of you, although there are certain fundamental rules. Consider a house of rooms in which each wall is covered with mirrors. The man living in this house is dirty, has untidy hair, wears ragged clothing, and is always making faces. He goes from room to room, and the mirrors steadily reflect the faded image of an unkempt man with a grimacing face, untidy hair and ragged clothing. Similarly, when our mind is distorted by a lot of negative karma, each of the six bardos reflects suffering, just like the mirrored rooms in that house.” And they have a footnote here about negative karma. “Negative karma: All negative deeds, ones that deliberately make other people suffer, leave an imprint in our mind and will condition our experience and our vision of the world. And that is our suffering, that is what our suffering is.” That is the content of our suffering, that is our only suffering. That is the only suffering we will experience, but it is enough.

“The house occupant could also be clean, well-dressed and smiling. Everywhere he goes, from room to room, he sees a clear and smiling face. The house remains the same, you see, but there is no more ugliness nor appalling sights. Everything you see is pleasant and peaceful. When our mind is free of negative karma and the passions that disturb it, the six bardos reflect a picture that resembles us, full of peace and happiness. Whether pleasant or not, experiences do not depend on the six rooms. An individual fills the rooms with his or her own nature. Likewise, negative experience of the six bardos does not depend on the bardos, but they do depend on our own mind.”

Now, boys and girls, this is a very important point. It’s important because you are living the result of that right now. You are passing right now through the bardo of living. The experience that you have depends on and is resulting from the habitual tendency within your mind, the karma of your own mind, the causality that you have already brought into play. The experience of your present day life is due to that. All the suffering that you will ever experience during the course of your life, , including the cause of your death, and all of the happiness,  is due to the habitual tendency of your mind and the karmic patterns of your mind. Literally, think about it this way. If your experience was that of the kind of person who is only here to see what they can get, and upon meeting other people only sees a potential source of satisfaction… And how many of us in samsara are like that? Here is a potential source of satisfaction, and we wheedle and we whine, and we feel sorry for ourselves, and ‘please love me and do this for me.’ Or we do the opposite, which is manipulative: We try to manipulate people into a position where they have nothing else to do but benefit us. And we’re real good at it. In fact, so good we hardly see it ourselves, but that’s what we do.

And then we have another kind of situation where we spend all of our life trying to dominate the people in our environment, and our environment—trying to force it to be what we want so that we can have what we want. The experience of the life passage or the bardo of living for persons like that will be very different from the experience of the person who goes through life saying, “How can I help? How can I contribute more love to the world?” The kind of person that goes through life knowing that it matters much less how much love they get than it matters how much love they give will have a very different experience from the other kind of person. And that’s what this lama is talking about there. Not only during life, but also during death. Our death depends on the habit of our lives. If we are neurotic and frightened and whiney and complaining and weepy and emotional during the course of our lives, think  What will your death be like? What has your life been like? Think. This isn’t a great mystery. Everybody has this fantasy of climbing the Himalayas to get to the dirty guy on a rug at the top who knows everything, and he’s going to tell you the secret of life. This is the secret of life. Think. You know, think about this. If this is your passage through life, what will your passage through death be? You’ve got to fix it now.

On the other hand, if you are the other kind of person, if you have been a contributor, if you have been strong, if you have been loving, if you’ve tried to do your best, if you’ve tried to contribute love to the world, if you have tried to practice, if you have tried to calm your mind, if you have tried to make your mind an attractive and virtuous vessel, your death experience is going to be quite different. Absolutely different.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Force of Compassion

An excerpt from the teaching When the Teacher Calls by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

What is it that the teacher experiences as the teacher begins to call the student?  In the Vajrayana tradition we are taught to consider a tulku as an emanation of Lord Buddha or Guru Rinpoche’s enlightened compassion. Guru Rinpoche himself said, “I will appear in the world as your root teacher.” The root teacher is defined as the one with whom you have such a relationship that upon meeting this teacher, upon hearing this teacher, you have understood something of your own mind. You have come, in some small way, to see your own face. When you meet your root teacher it is truly the display of Guru Rinpoche’s touch. It is how Guru Rinpoche has appeared in your life. You cannot doubt that. It is the beginning, it is the movement, it is the method of enlightened awareness.

Generally, if the teacher is a bodhisattva or an incarnation who has achieved some realization and therefore has returned solely to benefit beings, there is some design in his or her method. The tulku will have a sense of purpose from a very young age, and all of the circumstances that arise in the tulku’s life will arise from the intention to be of benefit.  As the tulku moves toward his or her time, there is a sense of calling the students. It isn’t really like the teacher will know the name of a certain student and necessarily be about finding that student. What begins to happen is that there is a quality of intention, of loving kindness, of compassion that begins to ripen in the teacher’s mind, and it sets up a vibrational field, almost like a sound or song that will reach out and touch particular students, and their minds will respond to it. Students literally will appear from nowhere. The sound that goes out is like a hook. Just as a piece of Velcro doesn’t attach itself to a smooth surface, if the student doesn’t have the responding “piece” in them it won’t connect. But if the student has that other piece they’ll be tight. You can’t separate them. To separate them literally sounds like Velcro: it sounds like your heart is being torn out. There’s something there that is so fantastic that it cannot be explained in ordinary terms.

From the lama’s point of view there is simply the display of that compassionate intention. That’s all that happens. The student might be a course and crude construction worker, a ballerina, the student could be a disco dancer or drummer, but suddenly something begins to happen and they will say, “What am I doing here? How did I get into this? What is this?” Truly there is no “monkey business” on the part of the teacher. There is simply this call, this sound that is going out, and the student, if the hook is there, suddenly becomes velcroed.

Sometimes one is angry at first because you didn’t want to be velcroed. You didn’t ask for this. You wanted to be free and independent. But suddenly you can’t get away. You’re hooked. The hook doesn’t happen because the teacher is manipulative; the hook happens because you have seen your face and the karma in your mind is such that you have responded in a way that you could never have predicted.

The student might be very conventional, never religious before in their life. The student might be very unconventional and never thought they would deal with a conventional religion like Buddhism. They might be really ticked off about it. They just didn’t want any of these things to happen, and suddenly they’re hooked! They can’t move. What are they going to do? And they grieve. They start to grieve like someone died. Yes, something died: the part of their life when they were not hooked just died.

The teacher continues in what seems to the student a relentless way to send out this call. You can’t resist something that is like your mind. The teacher is karmically set up, due to his or her compassionate intention, really without any choice, to sound like them vibrationally, sometimes like them situationally. Sometimes a student may simply hear the words, and it’s so much like the way they are. So funny.  So strange. All you’re really experiencing is compassion. That’s all that is to be understood.

You should never think that you’re understanding the teacher by determining how much the teacher is like you. All you’re understanding is yourself. The teacher is only acting from the point of view of compassion. If the teacher is considered to be a bodhisattva or a tulku, then what you’re seeing, really, is the display of compassion, and what you’re seeing is your own face.

You must understand that all that is really happening is that there is a sound being sounded that on some level you are capable of hearing due to the karma of your mind. What is happening is happening because of you, not because of anyone else. This is your mind, this is your karma, this is your face that you are seeing. Your response is your own response.

When the student first responds, generally there are obstacles that come up. Sometimes – and this is odd – when the student first finds the path they’ll get physically sick. They’ll suddenly come down with everything you can possibly imagine. But hopefully, if they can really work on devotion and purify their connection to the teacher, whatever obstacle arises will ripen benignly. When the student starts off in a different way, sometimes with anger, they must understand that suddenly this piece of anger didn’t come from somewhere else. Who’s running this show anyway? If the student feels anger it must have been in the student’s mind. What happens is that obstacle ripens, and it comes to the surface like a bubble rising to the surface of a pond. You have the opportunity to live and breathe and hold onto the stink of anger, or you have the opportunity through your practice, through practicing the antidote which is compassion, to let the bubble do what bubbles do: come to the surface of the lake and simply pop. What is the bubble once it has popped? Gone. The first breath of kindness and devotion can surely blow it away.

The student always has this opportunity, but instead the student generally responds by saying, “I’m right here. I have reasons to be angry.” Try to realize that what is coming to the surface is an obstacle to your practice and that it has no more power than you give it.  Realize that you are capable of simply letting go, of surrendering, of practicing devotion, of using method in order to overcome the obstacle.

Remember, all the teacher is really doing is sounding that note that is so like the student’s mind that it begins to bring forth this response that is in the student’s mind. What the student sees is their own face: layer upon layer of their own face. Ultimately, if they practice devotion, they will see their true face, which is their nature. Now they’re only seeing the dust that is covering it.

The sound is some kind of thing that you can’t even hear with your own ears, but it is so powerful it can change the life of a student instantly. It is so powerful that it can change a community, it can change the world, but it’s so subtle that you probably couldn’t even hear it with your own ears. What is it? It is the greatest and the most gossamer force that there is, and that is the force of compassion, the Bodhicitta.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

No Better Time Than This

An excerpt from a teaching called Vajrayana’s Final Hour by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

One of the bits of information that has come out during the course of time is that cyclic existence is just that — it moves in cycles. There is a cycle during which the Buddha first appears, which is very expansive. During such a time, life is in some ways much simpler and much easier, particularly for attaining enlightenment. The fabric of our mindstreams is much more expansive due to the virtue of the Buddha’s appearance.

Then there is an intermediate time in which the Buddha has left, the Teachings are very strong, and are carried on by those who can remember the teachings, who have memorized them and can repeat them verbatim. The Teachings are taught in an unbroken lineage by those who have practiced the Teachings and achieved some result, but there is no true memory of anyone who actually has seen the historical Buddha, or even seen the Buddha’s disciples.

Now we find ourselves in a time that is considered to be a degenerate time. The fabric of cause and effect relationships, which includes the very fabric of our own mindstreams, is extremely contracted. Now it is much more difficult to achieve realization. One must work very hard at it. One has to take teachings, accumulate many repetitions of mantra and prayer, and accomplish puja. One must practice devotion to the highest degree, and accomplish Bodhicitta, the Great Compassion. One must renounce ordinary existence, whether as a monk or nun, or in a more internal way from the heart, being stable and unmovable in the mind.

Even though it is hard now, in another way enlightenment can be accomplished more surely and certainly than before, because in this time of degeneration when the content of our mindstream is extremely condensed and contracted, karma actually ripens very quickly. You may have noticed that. If you are kind and loving and if you practice the Bodhicitta toward other sentient beings, it will make you happy. And conversely, if you are unkind, selfish, angry, that too will come right back at you. Hasn’t this happened to you? You can be very unkind to someone, and in the same day you can see it come right back in your face. Your nose gets rubbed in it.

The good news in this is that the benefit of the practice comes back much more quickly as well. If one practices really intently and with fervent devotion (devotion is the key here), one can eat the fruit of one’s practice. If not during the course of one’s life, then at the time of one’s death, when the Buddha Nature reveals itself to us as the elements dissolve, one will perceive that Buddha Nature as the display of the deity and recognize that Nature accordingly. Having recognized that Nature, one will awaken.

© copyright Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo all rights reserved

Climbing the Mountain

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Marrying a Spiritual Life with Western Culture”

As many of you know, I like to climb the same mountain that you like to climb—the mountain of wisdom or understanding—so that we can get to the top and really have the full vista of understanding.  I find it’s best to climb the mountain, not in a linear way, but in a way that opens up to us true meaning on a conceptual level. It’s a good thing to climb that mountain from every possible angle you can think of because on each side there will be a different experience of going up the mountain. One can truly understand the mountain by moving in those various ways as opposed to having only one narrow means of approach.

In order to broaden and to deepen, then, one has to have the intention to really know and understand more deeply, so that Dharma will be real and focused and meaningful and will carry weight in one’s life. That’s what I’d like to talk about today. In order to do so, I’d like to talk about where we’re coming from and how our culture is different from a culture in which the Buddha naturally appeared and naturally emanated and naturally gave rise to certain teachings. The Buddha did not appear in Missouri—not in the way we understand.  Although in truth the Buddha is everywhere in Missouri, the historical Buddha did not appear in Missouri or Indiana or Brooklyn, not in the same way.  The original teachings, the path of Dharma that we practice, were brought to us by Lord Buddha himself.

The Dharma began in India in a culture that is very different from ours. It’s where Lord Buddha appeared. Even if it is not the most potent religion in India now, it still has had some effect on shaping and forming that culture. Here in America there are religious factors that have shaped our culture, but they are different.

So I would like to examine some of the ways in which the cultures are different, just briefly enough to have a certain idea that we can examine for ourselves. The best thing to do is to look at these cultures today, with just an idea of where they came from and how they progressed. Culture in America today is materialistically oriented. We are a culture of attainers. We accumulate things. We are given a definition of success that is handed down from generation to generation and, oddly enough, it has more to do with substance than it has to do with spirit, more to do with material gain or loss than it ever has to do with joy. Joy—what a concept!

When we are coming up, we are prepared and schooled to accomplish things that have to do with getting stuff—even if we study to become something that seems to be non-materialistically oriented, such as, for instance, a social worker. You would think that a social worker would be looking at our culture with different eyes.  You would think that a social worker would be asking, “Well, what are these social factors?  How can we organize them into something that is meaningful and deep for us? How can we express within our culture the gamut of human expressions? How can we integrate it? How can we make it work for us? How can we discard those things that do not work for society?” Yes, that is some of the training of a social worker. But why does somebody become a social worker?  And how do we approach that kind of thing? Well, we always think about how the job market is doing: “When I get out of school after I learn all of this, will I really be able to get a job?” We think of ourselves as having an office, and we think of ourselves as having that little square on the office door that says you are somebody. Then we think about whether that would be a really profitable occupation. So even if we were to approach something that could, by its nature, be fundamentally non-materialistic, we approach it from a materialistic point of view.

That’s one thing that is interesting and unique about our culture. It is so all-pervasive that it’s invisible, and you don’t really notice it until you go to other places. If you really want to learn something about your culture, leave it and come back. If mainstream America does not have that kind of experience, they cannot really see very well what the factors are. It’s more difficult. So to leave one’s culture and have another taste or another experience gives one a sense of comparison.

We approach everything in a collecting or accumulating way, in a materialistic way. We measure success by material substance.  Nobody’s parents tried to raise a great mystic because you wouldn’t do that to your kid in our society. You see what I’m saying?  You want to prevent your kid from the dark night of the soul.  You want to prevent your kid from the ambiguous, vague, cloudy, uncharted waters of mysticism.  You want your kid to be on the straight and narrow.  They know where to get a loaf of bread.  They know how to put some butter on it.  They know how to eat it.  They know how to feed it to their kids.  They know how to buy a car—that kind of thing.  You want your kid to be prepared for that.  You do not raise a mystic.  A mystic is something you have to contend with in our society.  It is an avocation that is fraught with suffering.

Now why is that?  Well, partially because a mystic goes into a very deep sense of connection.  In order to do that, the mystic has to plow through issues or plow through whatever it is that one plows through.  The other reason why being a mystic is so darn painful is because no one has any respect for that kind of thing.  A mystic in our society probably is a dreamer or a ne’er-do-well who can’t dress, who has no sense of self whatsoever, is socially inappropriate, can’t figure out how to catch a cab. Or maybe a mystic is someone who is depressed, possibly should be on Prozac. These are the kind of things that we associate with a mystic’s life and that is why nobody has ever been encouraged to be like that. The idea of really profound, deep mysticism scares the patooties out of us.

But in another culture where that kind of ideal is held up as being something pure, something wonderful, something significant, one’s experience regarding mysticism is entirely different. There is a dignity and nobility about it. There is a sense that this is a worthwhile occupation. There is definitely less fear of having the freedom to utilize one’s life as a vehicle for true deep mysticism and spirituality. One of the reasons why it’s more comfortable and easier to get connected to it is because one isn’t socially ostracized.

Now the great thing about being a mystic in America is that, once you get to the point where you’re really good at it and somebody finds you and you can market it—maybe write a book or two, maybe sell something that you’ve given rise to—then you can be a success.  Mystics in our society can also be successful after they’re dead. I really don’t know why. If any of you know why, tell me. But while we’re alive, we don’t have too much hope.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

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