Taking Account of Our Minds

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

We rarely empathize with the needs of others. We may become aware of them on an intellectual level. And there is a great, vast difference between that and actually empathizing with the needs and hopes and fears of others. We rarely enrich our own life experience by really merging, really blending, really empathizing with the conditions of other people’s minds. Due to our self absorption and self- cherishing, and our inability to relate to the situation of others, we find ourselves able to entertain hostility, anger, pride, selfishness, all of those things that are really detrimental to us. We are able to maintain certain habitual tendencies that we honestly cannot see about ourselves. For instance, if I were to say to you, are you basically a kind person, almost everyone in the room would say yes. We’re here, we’re being spiritual, you know, that sort of thing. But if I ask you how much time you actually spend during the course of any given day actually doing for others in a real compassionate way—keeping the bodhichitta or the compassion alive within one’s mind—how much are you actually aware of the needs and unfulfilled desires of others, we would be shocked.Really, if we actually clocked ourselves in and out of such a realization, we would be shocked at how little time we actually spend doing that. So I think it’s sometimes really helpful to make a purposeful and directed effort, such as actually clocking in when you are aware of the needs and desires of other people and when you actively participate in trying to help in some way.

The help can take different forms. Sometimes the things that people want around aren’t really good for them to have. I mean, you have a teenage son that wants nothing better than a very fast car, and you know that that’s not quite right for him. So you don’t always give a person what they want, but you can certainly empathize. You can certainly be there in a very kind and profound way as a force for connection, for communication in someone else’s life.

We actually spend very little time doing that. We spend most of our time thinking about ourselves and our own problems and our ideas. So fixated on our own ideas, so fixated on our self-cherishing. Sometimes we don’t realize that we’re almost dyslexic about kindness. Or, what is the word? Maybe we perseverate about kindness. We have this idea that we’ve already done it, you know, that it is happening, and we don’t realize that it’s not being written down at all. It’s just not going out into the world. So sometimes it really helps to journal to really see what you’ve actually done during that day to bring kindness into the world. That would be extremely useful.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Most Important Practice

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

The traditional fundamental ideas of all sentient beings as being equal—the realization that all sentient beings are suffering equally, that it is unacceptable to see their suffering, that all sentient beings are interrelated with us—these fundamental thoughts are really important. But go on from that and practice the mechanics of changing habitual tendency. It is not enough to be theoretical. The biggest fault that I find in Buddhist practitioners is that they keep it academic. I do not myself like academic Buddhist students. I would rather you knew nothing about the academics of practice and a heck of a lot about changing the habitual tendency of self-absorption through a real practice. Because academics is not going to get you anywhere but between your ears. On the other hand, giving rise to the bodhicitta and pure view and changing habitual tendencies will lead to profound realization, to the perfect awakening. Not only that, but it will lead to a better world.

So for my money, I feel like the best thing you can do is to begin to practice in a small and simple way. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to do that either. And you don’t have to be a high falutin’ practitioner to do that either. You don’t have to wear the robes, or walk the walk or dance the dance or talk the talk, or even have a nifty mala which seems to be the highest priority when we first become a Buddhist. Big deal! The highest priority should be loving kindness and you should begin in whatever small way that you can, making no conclusions, other than the fact that you have a pattern and that you can change it. Remember the idea of the scales. That’s really important. Remember the idea of applying the method today. Now. Remember the idea of confession and restitution immediately after any breakage. How potent. What an incredibly potent way to live! Can you imagine living without the burden of guilt or the burden of the false assumption that you are a bad person?  You’d have so much spare time on your hands. You wouldn’t know what to do. Because all the things you do to prove yourself you wouldn’t have to do anymore. Isn’t that true?

Do yourself a favor. Live simply in that way. It’s the best and highest practice. In the Vajrayana tradition we are given many things that we can do. We practice Ngöndro, preliminary practice. We meditate on the Thoughts that Turn the Mind.We practice generational stage practice, completion stage practice. We visualize ourselves as the meditational deity and pronounce mantra. All of those things are meant to put more in this pile. The most important practice is that of loving kindness, that of viewing others as equal. Don’t view them as worse than you, no matter what they look like and that way there won’t be anybody better than you.  All of this has been taught by the Buddha and is absolutely true.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

When We Blow It

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

So little by little, you begin to change your habit. If you really blow it, and you will, … Accept that right now, too. You will. You’re bound to blow it. When you blow it, you can prepare yourself for that by saying, ‘As a sentient being, I will probably blow it again. And when I do, I’m going to get right back on the horse and I’m going to make restitution and I’m not going to form any conclusions about myself. I’m going to let my mind relax.’ And get right back on the horse by practicing bodhicitta in the very next moment, plus confess in your mind that you were wrong just there. Confession in your mind is very, very important. ‘Boy, I really blew it just then. I was really wrong just then.’ And make restitution as quickly as you can.

Sometimes we have a kind of pride that says you’re going to look like a jerk if you say, to somebody that you were just mean to, ‘Well, I’ve really been trying to practice generosity and I realize that I was not generous to you at all. I realize that was pretty sleazy, what I just did, and so I’d like to ask you if there is anything I can do for you.’ Now most of us have too much pride to do that, but it’s the very right thing to do. And you’ll feel like a new person once you begin to do that. And that will be not only a pebble in this pile, but that kind of thing—the confessing and making restitution of an already established non-virtuous habit—is like a boulder going into that pile. It’s more important than little kindnesses. That kind of acceptance and inner peace and moving forward regardless, really, really helps. It’s like a boulder going into that pile, so much more quickly when you get into the habit of kindness. So I heartily recommend that method.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

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

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

Good or Bad?

good-and-evil

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

The problem there is not that you’re a good person or a bad person. Good or bad has nothing to do with this. And you should not do the next step, which is what everyone does, to evaluate themselves accordingly. Here’s what you have to get. We are all sentient beings and we are all exactly in the same position. If you think of yourself as better or holier than someone else, believe me when I tell you, you’re going to suffer because of it. And the reason why is because if that’s true, then someone else is going to better or holier than you. That is the truth. So that is not a game that you should play.

You should realize the absolute sameness of the condition of all sentient beings. It is not a question of good or bad. It is a question of habit. Period. End of sentence. Do you hear that? That is so important. Because in hearing that, you have a key that you didn’t have before. If you think that you are either good or bad, there is no way out of that. If you accept that idea, you are going to find reasons why you are good or bad. And believe me, if you are operating in the good or bad realm, you are going to come out bad, because there is always going to be something better than you. So if you are playing that game, you are going to lose. There is no way to win there. You’ll find reasons for why you are bad. You’ll find reasons in your childhood; your parents will give you reasons; your uncles will give you reasons; people around you will give you reasons. And your badness will continue in your mind.

So we have to work very hard to shift the emphasis from the idea of good or bad, better or worse, into the position of examining habit patterns or habitual tendencies. We already have habitual tendencies. We just have to examine them.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Habit of Self Concern

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

Now if we really understood that and meditated on the suffering of beings, we wouldn’t have some of the same ideas that we have now. For instance, sometimes we think that because we’re following a spiritual path, we should be just a little self-righteous.  Don’t you think?  We look around at other people who are very materialistic, who are spending their whole lives doing things that we consider to be lower activities. And we look around at people that even society labels as being lower. We look around at prostitutes; we look at people who rob banks. Both are doing things that they’re doing for similar reasons to why  we’re doing what we’re doing. The prostitute wants money; she wants to make a better life, she or he. The bank robber wants money; they want to make a better life. They’re looking for power. Same reasons as we do, just the activity is different. Of course, we feel ever so much better, for whatever reason. But if we really understood and really meditated on the fact that all of us are in exactly the same condition, there would be no room for judgment. We would really realize the plight of humankind, and, in a greater sense, the plight of all sentient beings.

Now the Buddha’s teaching  gives us the foundation, or fundamental necessities, by which we can give rise to the bodhichitta, or the great compassion. But that’s only the foundation. And here is why: The problem with our trying very hard to awaken to compassion is our own habitual tendency. Our own habitual tendency is such that we only concentrate on our own plight. Sometimes we do empathize with others. We think, ‘Oh, gosh, that must be awful. That’s too bad. Gee, that would be awful for me.’ It’s almost like you take a rubber band and you stretch it out just far enough to see what the plight of the other person is, but then the habitual tendency comes back in and BINGO! Rubber band lets go and now we are thinking about ourselves again. And that is how it is, isn’t it? That is how it is. That is really the only way that we understand others, because we can understand how we would feel about that and we’re sure glad that it’s not happening to us. It’s kind of like that.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Cultivating Awareness

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

Another method that we are given is to think about the plight of sentient beings. We should think, for instance, that in the animal realm, some animals are whipped and beaten as beasts of burden. I saw some of that when I went to India: the bow ox that pull huge carts, literally four times their size. These are huge animals. They have a great deal of muscle and yet they were carrying so much that they could only barely move. And they were constantly whipped; and actually painted up and decorated in this terribly hot climate under terrible conditions. Think about oysters that are harvested for their meat and their pearl, that they live only for that. Some of them were born in cultivated areas, you know, cultivated oyster farms, just to be eaten for their meat and pearl. And we think about all the different animals that are completely victimized.  Think about the animals that are food for predators and are constantly being hunted and killed, that live in fear. Their main instinct is this highly inflamed and developed fear instinct, simply in order to preserve their lives. So we develop a kinship with other forms of life by understanding what their suffering is.

And then we look at the plight of human beings: How human beings are basically taught by their authority figures and parental figures and by their culture. It is dictated to them what they should do. Here in America, for instance, we are told that material values are of the utmost importance. And we spend a great deal of time in school, and then we spend a great deal of time in different kinds of preparation in order to become materially successful. And if you don’t become materialistically successful and comfortable in a certain way, you’re not considered to be an adequate human being, quite frankly. There is a problem there. You never quite feel good about yourself, and there’s an innate dissatisfaction.

For those of us who do succeed and do well in our lives, towards the end of our lives, we have a great suffering.  We realize that we’ve gone to school and we’ve practiced, and we’ve worked, and been work-a-holics and done what we thought was the right thing—supporting our families, and caring for our families and just doing the very best that we can,. Then we realize at the end of our lives we have nothing. Nothing!  All that we worked so hard for we cannot take with us. We look around us and the people to whom we gave whatever we worked for, too, also have suffering. How come it didn’t heal them?  Why didn’t the money and the cooking and the housework and everything that we gave them, why didn’t it do them any good?  They’re still crying.

We look around at our lives and we go, what was that? And we realize that the only thing that we can take with us into the bardo, the intermediate state that prepares us for our next life, is the habit patterns of our mind. And the habit pattern of our mind under those conditions is only intense grasping.

And that’s a great suffering that we human beings experience together.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Sentient “Beingness”

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

In traditional Buddhist doctrine, we are given certain methods that will be helpful in alleviating our condition of suffering. These methods are pretty cut and dry, pretty simple. For instance, if we begin to practice preliminary practice, or Ngöndro, and we examine the thoughts that turn the mind ,in those thoughts are not only the four main thoughts, but there are also many different sort of auxiliary thoughts. Some of the ideas that we are lead to examine are first of all, the idea that all sentient beings are equal,  and we are led to examine that in this way. First of all, we all contain within us the Buddha seed, our inherent Buddha nature, and the reality that, at some point, each one of us will attain to that nature and will become awake, even as the Buddha has become awake. Each of us will attain that reality. For some of us it will be relatively soon, only ten thousand lifetimes from now. Piece of cake. For some of us, it will be a lot longer. Sometimes we have to think that for some people it almost seems like it will never happen, because you’re talking about aeons of cyclic existence. But the Buddha teaches us that each one of us has that inherent reality, and therefore we are, in our nature, the Buddha.

So, in that sense, we are exactly the same. We are also the same in our sentient beingness, if you can coin a phrase with me for a little while. And in our sentient beingness, we have certain things in common: We do have the ego cherishing. We do have self absorption. We do have confusion. We do have an inability to abide spontaneously in the primordial wisdom nature. We do experience death and rebirth in some form. All sentient beings do, even if they are not in the human realm. We all experience these certain conditions; we all experience suffering. We all experience hope and fear in some way.

So the Buddha teaches us to understand that we are all very much alike. And in that situation of alikeness, we can find a certain companionship with one another, a certain understanding or empathy toward one another, so that we don’t judge as severely. If we do understand that we all are revolving in cyclic existence, and that we all have hatred, greed, and ignorance and all those things running around, self-absorption and such, then when we look at someone else with hatred, greed and ignorance, we might think, ‘Oh, that’s kind of like me. I can understand that. I can see where that happens.’ So we develop a kind of patience, a tolerance, a kindness, and it’s the fundamental step that must be taken before true compassion arises.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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