Amitabha Buddha and the Bardo

Amitabha

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

Lord Buddha Amitabha is considered to be that one who once looked upon the suffering of sentient beings as he was becoming Buddha, as he was moving into his fully enlightened state, and saw the condition of sentient beings and began to cry. He grieved in a terrible way. It was a kind of grieving that one can only understand if one has tasted the food of enlightenment. If one has tasted enlightenment and then looked at the condition and suffering of sentient beings and truly seen the difference. There is no other grief like that. One cannot understand that kind of grief. It is unlike losing a loved one or even losing one’s own life. The grief that one will feel, having tasted the natural bliss, the natural birthright that is your true nature, and then watching that while that is so, it is also so that sentient beings are suffering horribly;  watching that they are suffering uselessly and senselessly, and that because of their own ignorance they are making themselves suffer, and making their own mistakes, and that all that they would have to do is stop… There is no grief that is stronger or more complete than that: to know, from the vantage point of bliss, what sentient beings suffer. And so Lord Buddha Amitabha gave rise to the most profound bodhicitta, the most profound kind of compassion, a compassion that colored him, that dictated his method, a compassion that filled his intention, that became his intention. And the compassion was so strong and dominating that he made the most profound wishes. And he made those wishes, not as we would make wishes when we circumambulate the stupa, even when we make wishes with faith, but he made those wishes from the potency of his enlightened accomplishment. He had fully accomplished the view of non-distinction. He had fully accomplished the primordial wisdom view of equanimity. He had fully accomplished the ability to see the nature that is the nature of all sentient beings. He had fully accomplished the ability to see the lack of separation between oneself and others.

So when Amitabha looked to the plight of samsaric beings he began to cry, and it was his very tears, they say, that became the emanation which is Chenrezig, the Buddha that gave us the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hung,’ that keeps us from falling into the lower realms. That is how strong and how forceful his grief for sentient beings actually was. And so Lord Buddha Amitabha actually practiced in such a way as to set up a pureland called Dewachen, which is the easiest of all the pure lands to enter. It is meant to be a home, a welcoming place, a source of refuge for those of us who have met with samsara and have been so damaged and hurt and traumatized and deluded, and have continued so much in our own habitual tendency without any understanding of what samsara actually is, that we have become almost drunk beyond repair. Even though we too are that nature which is indistinguishable, that nature that is both the enlightened nature and the samsaric nature—while we too have that Buddha seed, yet we are so deluded and so wrapped up in the delusion, that while it is potentially so, you can also say it is almost impossible to expect or to hope that any of us might attain the other Buddha fields.

The other Buddha fields are associated with the kind of accomplishment that sentient beings are very rarely able to have. Lord Buddha Amitabha saw that, and he wept and grieved for those students who would be prevented, due to their circumstances. He was angry and would not accept that some sentient beings would be excluded because of their inability to practice. And he became extremely angry and extremely upset that some sentient beings would be excluded because of their ignorance and their slothfulness. He became extremely angry and extremely upset that some sentient beings would be excluded because they had not understood devotion. He became so upset with these things that he practiced in such a way that the very nature of his pureland is easy to enter. There is an ease of passage. And he made it his work from this point until all sentient beings are finished. This is his work from now until all of us are finished. Think of that. That he would be available constantly—and he doesn’t have office hours either, this is the great thing—he would be available constantly. I have office hours; Lord Buddha Amitabha does not have office hours. No, just kidding! Lord Buddha Amitabha has said that he will always be available for those beings that cry out for him. And literally, if, in the bardo, if you can remember to cry out for him once, and to call his name and to ask him to come and rescue you, surely he will come. He will not be able to ignore your voice. He will not be able to keep away from you. He will come.

The way he has set up his pureland, it will be very easy for you to follow only on that small cry. He’s like a mother. He’s so tuned to the cry of the babies that only the slightest whimper—only the slightest whimper, that’s no effort on your part—will invoke his great compassion. Therefore you can have confidence and faith and trust in Amitabha. He is as sensitive as your own mother was when she heard you breathing and whimpering in your crib when you were unable to fend for yourself. He’s like that. And furthermore, Lord Buddha Amitabha has also given us this practice and he has made his very body, his very nature, accepting of us to the degree that he is instrumental in the transference of our consciousness. So, while his body is subtle, while his body is pure, still somehow he connects with us in a mystical way that we cannot understand, and uses his very appearance, his very nature, as a vehicle to carry us into bliss. It is because he is so frightfully sad for the suffering of sentient beings, who have no hope and have no method, and have such strong habitual tendency that is weighing them down. He is the kindest, the purest. There is no other Buddha like him; he is completely unsurpassed. There is nothing and no one that can meet the kindness and the quality of Lord Buddha Amitabha. He should be considered your singular protector. You should think that his face is always turned toward you, and that all you have to do, like a little baby, is to follow the voice of your mother. A little baby learns very early on where the milk comes from and learns to follow the voice of its mother. And so in this way you should understand that the nectar of Lord Buddha Amitabha is all-pervasive, and it’s easily digested, even for those of us who have no will to take care of ourselves, or to befriend ourselves in a firm and disciplined way. Lord Buddha Amitabha is such that he will not only offer you the nectar and the milk of loving kindness, but he would also take it into his own mouth and digest it within his own body, and give it to you in that way, already digested. That is the kindness and the nature of Lord Buddha Amitabha. You can have complete faith and trust in him. He does not prefer Tibetans; he does not prefer any one kind. He has developed his practice to the point where he has eyes and ears and helping hands that extend in every direction. Right now he hears your voice; there is no sentient being that is separate from his hearing. Even if the tiniest bird were capable of calling out his name, even if the tiniest of creatures, the meanest of worms, has any connection with Lord Buddha Amitabha, he will try in some way to resonate with that creature so that they will have a chance. He is extremely active, extremely persistent in benefitting sentient beings. And when it comes to those of us who have practiced very little and are not very confident, he is our sole guide and mentor and hope when it comes to the time for our own death. So when we see ourselves moving our consciousness into Amitabha, we shouldn’t think that we are moving ourselves into something that is strange or separate or unfamiliar or unpleasant. We should think that we are going home. We should think that we are going to our own kind mother. We should think that we are going to our own truest heart. We should think that we are bathing in our own true nature. There is nothing foreign or unfamiliar, or strange or unfriendly about Lord Buddha Amitabha. He is your greatest hope. And if you remember no other image in your life, if you can never call out to your teacher, if you cannot do anything, if you are utterly and completely helpless when it comes to your practice, then please at least remember the kindness of Amitabha, because he will remember you. You should think like that.

Lord Buddha Amitabha has developed his practice so that he himself is the doorway to liberation. It is through him that we can pass, because he has made himself available. Coincidentally, it is also true that the practice of the wisdom of equanimity is often one of the first accomplishments that we can practice through meditation. Interestingly, when we sit in practice, simple meditation like shamatha, we can think that in that meditation it is possible to practice the wisdom of equanimity. We can begin even in a simple, quiet meditation like that, or just watching the breath, or simply letting the attention rest lightly on space, which is a very simple and very wonderful meditation that all of us should practice in order to help our minds not be so heavy and fixated on samsara the way they are. Keeping the attention just lightly resting on space, one then begins to awaken immediately to the wisdom of equanimity in a small and subtle way. And then gradually through that kind of practice one progresses. So, you see, even then, it is Lord Buddha Amitabha’s wish that that should be the most easy and most accessible method for us. That we should be able to firmly and easily—even those of us who are not excellent practitioners—move toward his nature. Move toward our nature. Move toward Dewachen. And it is through Lord Buddha Amitabha’s practice that he has reached out to us, through making his practice such that it is easy for us.

If you could understand the philosophy of burning the candle on both ends: What is happening on one side is also happening on the other side from our point of view, but in truth there are no two sides. It only appears that way. Someday, some scientist is going to come up with something in quantum physics that will be a mathematical formula that will help some of you to understand that this is how reality actually is. This is what actually is. That it is possible for Lord Buddha Amitabha to practice in such a way as to grease our wheels: to practice in such a way as to create a chute, in a way, that we can just sled down, in a sense. An easy access, a very open method, a very accessible method. That that could be a truth. And it could also be a truth when I say that perhaps in simple meditation one could easily develop the wisdom of equanimity. These are not two separate statements; they are the same statement. When you turn to Lord Buddha Amitabha, ultimately you are turning to your own kind nature. Ultimately you are turning to that to which you will awaken. Ultimately you are turning to that with which you will know again, or awaken to, become cognizant of, the connection. It is that strong connection that I am trying to describe.  Coincidentally, that connection will probably be through the Phowa.Then we will know in our heart of hearts that Lord Buddha Amitabha has touched us, just as right now it is Lord Buddha Amitabha who is speaking to you. Because if it were not possible, if it were not so, the truth about how to die and how to be reborn would not be available in the world. It is Lord Buddha Amitabha, therefore, who speaks to you now through these teachings and these words, and you should follow without hesitation, with full confidence, and without question. This is only done because Lord Buddha Amitabha grieves that you should wander any longer in samsaric existence. His nature is that of equanimity; his nature is that of compassion. His nature is that of ultimate depth that we cannot fathom, the depth that is the true empty nature that is our nature. And it is Lord Buddha Amitabha upon whom we can rely as a bridge, a bridge that is easily crossed between ignorance and bliss.

That’s all that we have time for today. I promise you that towards the end of the retreat we will have more teaching, and will have more questions. I know that you have lots and lots of questions. Lots and lots of questions. But I’m hoping that some of your questions will be answered by end of the retreat. Also, I would like you to practice waiting on the kindness of your teacher. Waiting on the kindness of your teacher—that is a hard one. Students don’t want to do that. They don’t want to wait on the kindness of their teacher. They want to ask questions now because ‘we want to know, and we are important.’ You’re not practicing being important; you’ve already practiced that. You’re so darn important we don’t know what to do with you. You are so important we just don’t know what to do with you. You are already important; that has been accomplished. You have accomplished the mantra of importance; you’ve accomplished the mantra of ‘gimme, gimme, gimme.’ You have accomplished the mantra of ‘I think, I want,’ and now you are going to accomplish the mantra of devotion. So what you need to practice now is waiting on the kindness of your teacher, trusting in the kindness of your teacher. Looking for what is already there, rather than defining what you don’t know. I ask you questions, because in the bardo there will be no one to ask questions. You will have done it, or not, you see. That is what we are training for now, so it is appropriate for us to train in that way. Require of yourself to mature. Grow up. Pull yourself together. That’s the kind of thing we have to do in the bardo. Rely on that stability of mind. That’s what we’re training for now.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Practice

AS-x-21 Charlie Grant-M

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

I want to remind you. For many people, when they come to a retreat, the teaching section, to them, is the most important section. I can see why: Because you have to have commentary teaching; you have to have instruction.  It is that instruction which prepares the mind and ripens the mind. And you have to be in the presence of your root guru in order for the mind to ripen. It simply will not ripen without that. So this is necessary. Plus, teaching is more entertaining. You know, we’re listening, and it’s interesting. So we think the teaching is the superior part of the retreat. Some of us may think, “Well, I’ll come to the teaching but I won’t come to the practice.” Don’t do that. Because while receiving this teaching is the first step and it will help you to recognize that you at least are in a bardo, and you may remember some of the things that I’m teaching you now while you’re in the bardo, the likelihood that you’re going to even remember what I’m saying now ten years from now is not so good. What has to be accomplished in Phowa practice is the practice. When you die, you won’t be doing this practice. You’ll be dying. You will be Phowa-ing for sure, but you won’t be practicing this practice. You will be dying. Get that.

The reason why you want to practice this practice now is because it’s the only chance you’ll have. You need to practice this practice until we receive the desired result: You become familiar with the images; you become entrusting of the images. You create the virtue and karmic connection within this; you gather the virtue and create the karmic connection with Amitabha; you create the karmic connection with this state. But most of all, you need to do the practice because the practice is going to purify your inner channels.

Now, once again, none of you are perfect visualizers, so you’re given a general visualization. That’s all Westerners are ever given. Did you know that? That’s all we are ever given, because there are extensive visualizations for every practice. Every practice has an extensive visualization, an intermediate visualization, and a condensed visualization. The extensive visualization is for people in retreat that have extraordinary capabilities for practice. We don’t even have that capability. There are many people that don’t even consider that they can visualize at all. So we are given a very condensed, abbreviated visualization, and even that you’re not going to be able to visualize clearly. Naljorma, the inner channel, Lord Buddha Amitabha, the little disc, all of that together is a big load to visualize, particularly for those of us who have not locked ourselves into a cave anytime in the last decade in order to visualize. But that’s not the point. Again, trust in your spiritual mentor.

If it were left up to the attributes of the sentient beings to accomplish Dharma, there would be no accomplishment of Dharma, because the Catch 22 is that as sentient beings we don’t have those qualities. It is only through the implementation of the path that we begin to awaken to our nature, that we are in touch with those sorts of qualities. So we’re not depending on your good qualities. You are depending on the good qualities of your teachers. And then eventually others will depend on your good qualities. That’s how it goes.

So, you can do the visualization as simply and as profoundly as you are capable of doing. Relax your mind. Do not allow your mind to become tense if you forget one aspect of the visualization. The tension is more detrimental to your practice than the absence of visualization. So rather than becoming tense, do not make a big deal. Don’t be such heavy breathers. Lighten up. Just relax. Do what you can. If all you can visualize is the tube, the jump, and the intention, and maybe even just knowing that Lord Buddha Amitabha, because of what I have said, is the kindest and most motherly, in a sense, of all the Buddhas—that confidence. You know, we pride ourselves on being so sophisticated: We’ve gone to school; we can think anything through; we are so proud of our Piled Higher ‘n Deeper little pieces of paper and all that stuff. We’re just so proud of that. And yet, here, in this case, if you can’t visualize, and you don’t have a brain of a goose, which I’m not sure any of us do, if you don’t have any kind of brains whatsoever, I mean, nothin’, (I get New York-y when I do this, I’m sorry, it sneaks up on me!), but common sense is common sense. Let’s think about this. If you don’t have the brains of a flea, and all you have is the simple trust that an infant would have when they cry and they have learned and they know that their mother will answer, that is superior to the kind of mind that’s going, “Let’s see now. What color was Wuma, and what color Amitabha? Oh, he’s red. Now what shade of red?” We have to know these things. And let’s see, “How is he facing, and where was his leg?” And that sort of thing. And that heavy energy that you’re using to fixate yourself in the mud of your own ego clinging is not very useful. So, drop it. Better to have the simple image, simple intention, and innocent visualization of a child who knows its mother will answer their cry. That will get you into Dewachen a heck of a lot faster than trying to be correct. Okay?

So remember that your spiritual guides, the teachers that give you these practices, do not expect you to be Buddhas now. It is not to be hoped for that you will do this practice excellently, but it is to be hoped for that you will do it with confidence and faith. Even if you cannot visualize at all, the simple intention is helpful. So you try to do the best that you can, and the more you visualize the more you learn. The easiest are the singular visualizations like this, where you have one character, then on top there’s another character, but basically you just have, in one line, two main characters. There are many practices where you have so many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that you have to visualize so many different things. This is meant to be very simple. At the time of your death you may not even have the where-with-all to visualize anything, because, remember, as the elements begin to dissolve, those qualities which  go to make up the kind of consciousness that can visualize will also be dissolving, and at that time you will have only your former training. When you actually do practice your final Phowa, when it is time to die, you will be relying on the training that you’re doing now. So this training you should do with faith, simplicity, strength of purpose, conviction, pure intention to benefit beings. Those are the things that matter. And the simple doing of the practice, the simple moving of the winds through the central channel, with the intention of devotion toward Amitabha, and understanding, this is the result that cleans out the central channel. And that’s what you want. Because when you get ready to die, you will need that central channel cleaned out.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Opportunity to Practice Phowa

Varjasattva

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

The signs that you must see in order to know that you are prepared for death have to happen now. They don’t happen before you die; they will not happen before you die. You will not have time at the moment of death to prepare for your death. That isn’t going to happen. So the signs that have to happen now must be received at this time. We want them now. This book, this preparation, this Ngöndro, which helps us to gather merit and helps us to purify karma, and helps us to make it possible for our minds to have the kind of quality to be able to hold, like a good bowl without a crack, such a practice, this is for now.  Now is when you have to do this. The winds have to be purified now. The channels have to be unkinked now. Your mind has to be stabilized now. You have to learn not to be such whiners now. You have to learn to renounce cyclic existence now. You won’t have time at the time of death. You’ll have time for maybe a quick thought. If you’ve already practiced renouncing cyclic existence, at the moment of death you will have time to simply give all of that to the Three Precious Jewels. That you will have time for. That kind of inclination, that kind of giving, you will still, even after the elements dissolve, have the wherewithall to practice. But of course you will not have time to practice every aspect of the visualization and the prayers.

Forgive my language, but I have to scold you a little bit. Do you think that the Dharma was written by enlightened beings that were so anal, excuse me, that they said, “Well, if you do every one of these prayers, especially the ones that I’ve written, then we’ll let you in! But if not,…” What are you thinking! You know it’s not like that. It can’t be like that. That would not be logical or realistic or sensible. What superficial view of reality do we have if we hold such bizarre and crazy ideas? What we are doing now is to prepare ourselves—through gathering merit, through accumulating virtue; through purifying our inner winds, channels and fluids; through understanding what bardo is, through studying and contemplating the nature of cyclic existence including the bardo, through having preparation as to how the bardo experience will actually take place; through developing devotion. All of these things have to happen now. If you’re waiting ’til, oh, a week before you drop dead, what is that? First of all, you don’t know when that will be, and second of all, what’s a week? Even if you have that much time, you don’t have enough time during the course of a week, or month, or even a year. Preparation starts now, and you do what you can as quickly as you can with as much devotion as you have now. With as much devotion as you can now. So that’s what has to happen.

At the time of one’s death, if you are fortunate enough to have spent a long time dying, and you have been in the bardo of the condition of your death, which means that the cause of your death is already within your body and is active in your body, so you’ve known for a long time that you’re going to die… And let’s say you have the good fortune that a physician—this would have to be a heck of a physician, wouldn’t it—would come into your room and say, “Well, looks like four o’clock today. That’s what I say. Four o’clock you’re on your way out. Toes up kid, four o’clock.” And let’s say everything is perfect, and somewhere around two thirty you still have your mental faculties complete so you pick up your book and think, “I’m just going to open my practice.” This could happen. I mean, it could happen; but really, what is the likelihood? There’s no likelihood that that’s going to happen. The rarity of such a situation is ridiculous. Plus the fact that when people are getting ready to die they’re not at their best condition, you know. They’re not necessarily right with the program. There are some people that remain alert right until they cross that threshold. Lucky them, but it is not [usually] the case. So don’t you think that, since this Phowa was authored and given to us by those who have achieved enlightenment, who have practiced Phowa successfully, that they would have taken into consideration that this Phowa is written for you, for sentient beings? It is written for sentient beings that have not solved their problems yet, haven’t got renunciation down, haven’t got anything down yet. In fact, this kind of Phowa is kind of Last Hopeville. It’s really designed for those who could not practice generation and completion stage practices excellently. Those kinds of practitioners who can practice those practices excellently probably will not [need] the Phowa. So you must understand that this is not only possible, it is not only accomplishable, do-able, but is also necessary; and it is necessary for you to step back and have a proper view about it. Lighten up. Give yourself a break. Give me a break. It will come to you; We’ll get it done, don’t worry.

So, now that I’ve finished spanking you I’ll teach you some more. That’s not a bad spank, is it? Nah.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Necessity of Training in Phowa

SD-371_51-M

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

Last time I saw you guys you were dead; and the Buddhas appeared to you, and you were still dead. We spoke last about the section of the bardo where the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas appear, and we spoke of the forty-two peaceful deities and the fifty-eight wrathful deities. I explained yesterday that on the appearance of the peaceful deities, one should understand, first of all, that one is unfamiliar with that. Remember, to understand in terms of Vajrayana why we act the way we do and how we should practice, we have to understand what an important part habitual tendency takes. Remember, when the Buddhas appear to us, the peaceful Buddhas that is, in the bardo state, they appear to us with extraordinarily brilliant lights. I have explained to you that in that state of the bardo those lights may even be so impactful that they will also impact the other senses—like a light so bright that you can almost hear it, if you can imagine such a thing. I actually had an experience like that. I once had a pulse of light flash to me from one of those newfangled flashlights that have big halogen bulbs in them. You’re not supposed to look at them. If you look at them, they will damage your eyes. You can’t look at them. I had a pulse of that sent at me and it actually registered in my ears. I don’t know whether, scientifically, it meant there was like a pulse of blood in my ears, as a strong reaction, or whatever. But your senses do shift like that, particularly in the bardo. There are no clean cut lines for your senses in the way there are now. Clearly, smell goes through your nose now; clearly hearing goes through your ears now. Well, of course, in the bardo, although you have those same habitual tendencies, you do not have the same definite places for this information to come into, and so there is something of a bleed through.

When the Buddhas come to you, again, that will be very unfamiliar if you have not practiced. The brilliance of the light of the Buddhas will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen; and it will be somewhat terrifying if there is no preparation. It will be much more comfortable to look at the corresponding other lights that come at the same time. We talked about Buddha Vairochana. He appears on the first day and his light is the blue light, and it will be so brilliant it will almost hurt—so brilliant—because it is not our habitual tendency to have awakened to that element of our mind, of our nature, that is in fact identical to and inseparable from that blue light nature that is Vairochana, you see. We will not have had time to do that so we are not familiar. It will be exactly the same phenomena that causes us not to see the black, or clear, path in the first part of the bardo experience. Unfamiliarity. We will, however, as I said yesterday, be familiar with the other light that shows at the same time, and that is the light of the god realm. In a sense, the light of the god realm, which at that point will be a very soft, welcoming, and very sweet kind of white, will be much more familiar because we will have exhibited some of the qualities that it takes to get into the god realm—that is, some accumulation of merit—and we will also have accumulated some of the unfortunate problems, or the obstacles, that cause us to be born into the god realm. So we have much more familiarity with them than we do with our own primordial wisdom nature. Interestingly, as the different Buddhas appear, and then as the different realms appear, you’re also looking in a sense at the flip side of the same cointwo different sides of the same coin. One is our pure nature, and the other is a display of our nature in defilement, in confusion. Of course, we will have the strong habitual tendency to go toward our nature in defilement, stronger than we will to go toward the purity of our own buddha nature because, simply, we have more familiarity and more habitual tendency with our samsaric nature than we do with our awakened nature.

So, of course, this is something that you are being prepared for right now. When you hear something like that you think, “Oh, that scares me. Of course I’m going to want to go towards a soft, glowing white light more than I’m going to want to go towards something that’s almost painful it’s so bright. So I want to be really prepared for that. How can I prepare for that?” Those of us that have no spaciousness in our mind and have not practiced very much, and have a tendency or habitual pattern for our minds to act in a very neurotic way will think things like, “Oh, I have to practice liking bright lights, . I have to practice not looking at soft lights and not liking them anymore.” really, that [kind of thinking] is completely unnecessary. Again, have faith in your spiritual mentor. You must know that you are already, right now, applying the antidote for whatever fear you might have had about going into the bardosimply training in the knowledge that there is a bardoand to the degree that when you hear this information, you hear it as a respectful student would hear it, hearing it from someone who has crossed the ocean of suffering, hearing it from the Buddha who has given us this information based on his many experiences of crossing the ocean of suffering himself, and also helping others to cross the ocean of suffering. So as a student our posture would be to listen and go, “Yes, yes, yes. Thank you, yes.” That really would be the perfect posture.

Of course our training tells us, “Well, we have to think things through. We have to be individuals.” But that very thought will prevent you from absorbing these teachings that you have to remember on a very deep level—a memory that is really deeper than the mind that you use to call yourself ‘I’ with. It will have to go much deeper than that. And the only way it’s going to go deeper than that is if the student practices devotion while hearing. Devotion is the bridge; devotion is the method. That is why it is a useful practice that connects the student and the teacher and makes the information, in a sense, go in even more. The student who does not take advantage of their teacher’s teaching simply has no devotion. It doesn’t have anything to do with how good a practitioner they are or how lazy or slothful they are. Of course, those are elements, but really, it has to do with the lack of devotion. The student does not have the karmic scenario to make a bridge by which the lama can reach them and touch them. We assume that the lama you have chosen is qualified. Once you have chosen a lama, you should have chosen them on the basis of their qualifications, on the basis of their ability to speak to you. Once that happens there is no room for any doubt. You should have spent your time considering and thinking and wondering and asking yourself, and looking and checking. But once you have chosen, there is no more time for the head games that you play as a student. Now you have to apply yourself, and that’s the only reasonable thing to do at that point. The time for doubt is finished. The time for practice and preparation has now begun. Now that responsibility becomes yours. The teacher can lead you; the teacher cannot force you. It is up to you to follow. So that is what has to be done.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Time to Practice Phowa is Now

AS-x-21 Charlie Grant-M

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

I would like to explain one question that I think is necessary to clear up at this point, because if it isn’t cleared up, you will assume you know more than your spiritual mentor. You will assume that you know how things will go at the time of your death, and you will not follow through with your practice. Many people look at their books and they think, “Well, here’s a pretty thick book and here’s a kind of thin book. I have no idea whether, at the time of my death, I will have time to open my practice.” Well, you’re right, you don’t have any idea whether at the time of your death you will have time to open your practice. Now do you really think that wasn’t thought of? I mean, c’mon guys, lighten up. Remedial Dharma 101. This has been thought of. Really. Lots of people have died. We pretty much got it down. So worry not. Now here’s what actually has to happen. This book [thick] and this book [thin] are not for the time of your death; they are for now. They must be practiced now. There’s a really good chance that at the time of your death you will not be able to pick the books up in time. And you may drop them. And you may not have enough breath to finish. Really. This has all been thought of. Don’t worry. These books are for now.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Peaceful Deities

bardo_mandala

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

On the third day Ratnasambhava Buddha appears with yellow light. Again, same scenario: too brilliant, scary. At the same time, the blue light of the world of humankind is also manifested, and you will feel very familiar with the blue light of the world of humankind. Although being reborn as a human is considered a very auspicious rebirth, if you have a chance to either go to Ratnasambhava’s pureland or experience that nature that is Ratnasambhava, or be reborn as a human, take Ratnasambhava.

Amitabha Buddha appears on the fourth day with red light. The red is so brilliant and so luminous and so pulsatingly brilliant that we can hardly bear it. And at the same time the yellow light of the world of hungry ghosts will appear. We’re used to yellow light because we’re used to desire. It is vibrationally familiar to us, and it will seem, therefore, like a softer and more welcoming light. Do not follow the yellow light of the hungry ghost realm.

Amogasiddhi Buddha appears on the fifth day with green light. At the same time, the red light of the worlds of animals and demigods are manifested. Again, do not follow the red light. In this case, it is softer, easier to live with, and yet it is Amogasiddha that you want to follow, with the brilliant green light. Always choose that brilliant light.

On the next day, the sixth day, all five Buddhas appear at the same time, with the lights of the six classes of beings. All of the forty-two manifestations of the Buddha that are considered the peaceful deities will then appear. They will be manifested because they are all representative and they are displays of the very elements that are intrinsically within our own nature, so therefore they must appear. It is the nature of the bardo that what appears subjective then becomes objective. What appears to be our own intrinsic nature is seen in an external form. So all of the forty-two peaceful deities will be manifested in our mind, and then they are followed by the fifty-eight wrathful ones. These manifestation scenarios last for about three weeks, unless you take one of the doors. One of the doors would either be, again, recognizing and going toward the Buddha nature in whatever form it appears, or it will be taking one of the doors of the six realms that constantly appear as a more seductive and more familiar light. This goes on for about three weeks.

Now you say to yourself, “When the peaceful deities show up, sounds to me like a good day at the park. I can live with that, being surrounded by all the deities.” But again, it will be unfamiliar; remember that—for a non-practitioner, and even for a practitioner who has not really accomplished their practice very well, or not yet. How are you going to deal when the wrathful deities come in, and what is their nature? What are they? Are the peaceful deities the pleasant and friendly ones and the wrathful deities the punishing ones? Who are the wrathful deities and how should they be understood? How can we avoid being frightened of them? Because they are terrifying. This is what we are going to learn in our next session.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Vajrasattva in the Bardo

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

On the second day, here they’re saying Vajrasattva Buddha appears. This is Vajrasattva, the very same one that you are practicing in your Ngöndro. Think how ready you will be for him! The minute he shows up you’re going to go, “Yes! I know who you are!” In this case, Vajrasattva Buddha is also associated with Akshobya Buddha, but he will appear as Vajrasattva Buddha on the second day with white light. And again, the white light will be unnaturally brilliant, according to what we have understood, dazzling, frightening in its dazzling light; and at the same time a softer, easier on the eyes (even though there are no eyes, we have that kind of perception in the bardo at that point), black light, the softer black light of the hell world, will manifest. Now listen to how tricky this is. We are faced with an unnaturally white, unnaturally bright, scary light, or a softer, black light that, because we have felt hatred more than we have felt Vajrasattva, we are more familiar with. It will not be so frightening to us. It will be softer, and it will seem to be seductive, more so than the white light. So what we have to do is to be sure and avoid that black light, because that black light results in rebirth in one of the hell realms.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Bardo of Dharmata

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

After the three and a half days of unconsciousness occur, another period begins which is called the bardo of dharmata. It’s also called the bardo of becoming. It looks or feels as though a person is emerging from a deep sleep. It is at that time that a person actually fully realizes that they are dead. If they have no training, then they have no capacity to realize beforehand. This is, again, three days after, and in some cases the body has been handled, or the body has been cremated. The person, although they are unconscious at that time, still has enough of a connection that when they wake up they are aware (and they are even residually aware in their sleep) of what the body is experiencing. Do not cremate the body before three days. Do not do that. Giving body organs? It depends on how you feel about it. There’s a lot of virtue in that. The timing? Well, you have to do that immediately; there’s no choice. But in that case you would be doing something compassionate, and even though it wouldn’t be the best for your own death situation, you would wait until the inner death ceased. The wise thing to do would be to have a lama come and practice Phowa with you. The inner wind would have ceased. If the lama is worth their salt and you have any devotion, you should be all right by that time, and you can then donate the organ within a reasonable amount of time. But for myself, my decision is that even though I would love to just keep manufacturing organs for lots of people to have, I would love to just keep giving them out, my decision is that I feel I can help people better during the course of my life; and I also want to achieve for myself, again and again, the most auspicious birth so that I can return again and again in a form to benefit sentient beings. I feel that that is ultimate benefit for sentient beings, rather than what my eyes could give, or something like that. So it’s a question of how you want to benefit sentient beings.

It is during this period, in the bardo of dharmata, that the Buddhas of the five families begin to manifest themselves. Now when you think of the Buddhas of the five families manifesting themselves, what do you think happens? Do you think that they have some sort of warning bell that tells them when you die, and they sort of know,“Oh, she’s dead. Better hurry up,” so they run from the five different directions and they come over and visit you, and they just sort of hang out, wave at you? No, it’s not like that. Actually, the Buddhas of the five families are seen as separate displays and separate emanations, but they are intrinsically present in our minds as our own nature, our own five wisdoms. So you can say that the Buddha families each represent our own subtle intrinsic wisdoms. Whether we have them developed or not, that’s another story. For instance, we think about Amitabha Buddha. That family, the Lotus family, is associated with discriminating wisdom. Ratnasambhava Buddha, associated with the Ratna family, is the wisdom of equanimity. Amoghasiddhi Buddha, associated with the Karma family, is accomplishing plain wisdom, and Vairochana Buddha accomplishes the wisdom of the dharmadhatu. That’s the awareness of what is and what is not, as one. Akshobya Buddha is considered the Buddha of mirror-like wisdom. So each one of these is our own intrinsic awareness, our own intrinsic wisdom. As to whether or not we have them developed, that is another thing.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Preparing for the Journey

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

When they are unreachable during this three and a half [days] period time, according to traditional teachings, it says, “Care should be exercised not to touch the body for at least three days. That is the optimum. But certainly not while the event of death is occurring.” Remember what I told you about that yesterday. Certainly you must not do that. The best case scenario—and this is what the lamas all ask for—is that the body should not be touched at all, other than perhaps up here [crown] while they are dying, for three days. Many lamas arrange for that to happen. You have the right to arrange for that to happen as well, but you have to write it down legally. You have to have it notarized; it has to be legal. You have to register that with someone. You have to give that to someone who is interested in protecting you and who will fight for you at that time, because the relatives that do not understand, the friends that do not understand, will want things differently, you see. They will not accept. So you have to make your wishes known; and your wishes will be respected if they are legally written down. You should prepare for your death in that way.

It is considered that actual death starts when the external breathing ceases, but it’s only final at the moment of the black path. It is during the event of the black path that the internal wind ceases. That’s when the white tigle and the red tigle have joined and the black path ensues. At the moment when the mind falls into unconsciousness, the cessation of the internal winds then occurs. And in the case of accidental death, all of these things that happen very gradually must happen very much more quickly. So although some people pray to be hit by a truck and have it over and done with quickly, do not pray for that, do not ask for that. If you want to pray for anything, pray for a slow and knowledgeable death—one that you know and understand, and can track and relate to, and be the captain of. That’s what you should ask for. It’s so different from the way we think ordinarily. We think, ‘get out of here quick,’ you know, make it easy. But again, that’s like trying to go through your life with all the lights off, trying to go through your death with all the lights off. It isn’t wise. It will not bring a good result, and you will be afraid.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Devotion in the Bardo

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

Now we’ll speak about the bardo of becoming. I forgot to mention to you that I’ve had many opportunities to practice Phowa on other people, and I’ve noticed that in every case, even if the person had been something of a practitioner or had tried to meditate, or had minimal experience, in every case, if you were not there exactly at the moment of death to facilitate the person at that time, there would always be a period of about three, three and a half days where the person was unreachable. Where you could literally practice Phowa for them and it would do no good whatsoever. You cannot rouse them out of the deep slumber or death-like sleep that they have once they do not recognize that clear light. You cannot rouse them at that time. You have to wait until they come to the bardo of becoming. Then the lama will appear to them or try to reach them and guide them out of the bardo.

How well is that done? There are two situations upon which how well that works out are dependent. One of them is, of course, the qualities of the lama—whether the lama has awakened, whether the lama is capable, whether the lama has realization in their practice. That is, of course, one of the conditions. The other one is, of course, the degree to which the student or the person who has died has any connection, even if it’s only a residual connection, with devotion. If the person has no connection with the practice of devotion, if the person has never practiced devotion or has no capacity for devotion, the best of lamas will not be able to reach them in the bardo. It is not possible. They may be able to afford some blessing for them, but they will not be able to rescue them. They may be able to guide them in a better rather than less good direction, but they cannot prevent them from going through the bardo of becoming.

Generally, you have to rely on the student’s connection with devotion.If the student has a great deal of devotion, the lama will be able to appear clearly as their spiritual guide during the bardo of becoming. The lama will be recognizable. The student will have faith in the lama; they will go toward the lama without fear. The force of their devotion will propel them toward the lama. They will enter into the lama’s heart, and they will experience the wisdom that the lama has to afford them. They will be rescued from the bardo and liberated in the state of becoming. So sharpen up that devotion, you guys.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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