The Way Out

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Turning Adversity Into Felicity

When we practice Guru Yoga, we actually begin to develop the view that the lama is the source of liberation.  We begin to understand using traditional, prescribed images.  For instance, we are taught that we should think of samsara as being like a burning room. In samsara there is a great deal of suffering, and it’s actually just as probable that you will experience adversity as it is probable that you will experience felicity.  It is just as probable that you will experience suffering as it is that you will experience happiness and joy.  So we think of samsara as being untrustworthy, and we think—and this is true—that within samsara, because of our confusion and our lack of awareness about what our nature actually is,  we are constantly giving rise to the causes for more suffering.  This is constantly the case.  So we think of samsara as being like a burning room with no windows, that there is no escape except for this one door.  In our practice we think that the Lama is like that door.

The Lama is considered to be the door to liberation, the very means by which the blessing comes to us.  Without the Lama, we would not have been hooked onto the path.  Without the Lama, we would not receive the teaching.  Without the Lama, we would not understand the teaching.  Without the Lama, our minds would not be empowered and ripened and matured.  That is the responsibility of the relationship between the guru and disciple.  The mind must be matured in order to progress on the path.  So we rely on the Lama for all of these things without which we remain wandering in samsara experiencing birth/death/birth/death/birth/death with very little control.

Of course, when life is going well we think that this must not be true.  It looks like we have a lot of control in our life.  But if you think that, then you should read the newspaper more frequently, and you should talk to people who have been inflicted with incurable, diseases, who were afflicted completely out of the blue, not expecting that their lives would come to this.  You should talk to people who have suffered through circumstances that seemed to come from outside, misfortune, the loss of a job, the loss of loved ones.  These are terrible sufferings for us as human beings, and until we have experienced our fair share of them — and we will, eventually; old age, sickness and death, these things occur to all of us — we have the delusion of a certain kind of control in our life.  Ordinarily that kind of delusion comes with youth, and then later on, as we pass the age of supreme omniscience at about 30, we begin to discover that, in fact, we are not totally in control, that life seems to control us.

So we think of samsara as being this untrustworthy, inescapable difficulty, and we think of the lama as being the door to liberation.  We hold that kind of regard.  It isn’t that we worship a personality.  Of course, it’s not like that.  That would be very superficial and useless.  What good is a personality?  If we conceive of the Lama as a personality, what good would that do us?  We are a personality, and look where it’s gotten us!  That’s nothing to rely on.  So we rely on the Guru as the condensed essence of all the objects of refuge: all the Buddhas, all the Bodhisattvas, all the Lamas, all the meditational Deities, the Dakinis and the Dharma protectors all rolled into one, including all of the teachings.  These are the liberating truths of Dharma.  These are the objects of refuge.  So the Lama becomes the door through which we exit samsara.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Your Life: A Vehicle of Blessings

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Turning Adversity Into Felicity

There is happiness in watching one’s mind change from that which was tightly constricted, self-absorbed and contracted into that which is spacious, lifted, calm, receptive, generous, and has a strong degree of clarity!  Watching oneself grow in that way, haven’t you ever noticed that there are so many things that bring us joy?  Like I said, we can have love, we can have money, we can have good food, we can have a great car, there are so many things that make us happy for a little while.  But my experience has been—and maybe this is the same for you as well—that nothing makes me feel more joy and more happiness than watching my own practice mature, watching my mind transform into something it wasn’t before, watching the mind grow into something which is relaxed, which has a kind of sophistication to it.  A sophistication that’s based not on closing the eyes, but engaging in a purposeful way, to watch myself develop new habits, to watch myself grow through things that I could not grow through before and suddenly I have mastered.

These are the real joys in my life.  These are the things that sustain me, and I think if you think about it, you’ll notice that every time you’ve gone through a period of spiritual development and growth, you will find that you have become much more satisfied with yourself than anything else could have made you.  Happier.  Oh, it may not be the jump-up-and-down kind of happy we get when we get that new car, but it’s a quiet, supportive, dignified, noble kind of happiness.

And what else brings us the motivation to practice that way, brings us the necessary components that unfortunately do what we need, gives us that old kick in the butt, other than adversity?  It’s adversity that ultimately comes to be the greatest blessing in our lives.  Not that you want it.  You don’t go, “Hey!  Bring on the adversity!  Bring it on!”  That’s not what you want to do.  Of course, we’re not going to think like that.  Nobody wants adversity, but the trick here–and the point of this teaching–is that we can transform adversity into extraordinary benefit through utilizing the gifts that were given to us by the Guru, through using all the objects of refuge as our ultimate support and our true refuge, through not relying on the unpredictable, temporary, mixed events of samsara and grasping at them as though they were our object of refuge, but instead relying on the Guru as the supreme object of refuge, and engaging in the Guru’s teachings, following in the Guru’s example, using that method that was given.  If we do that and transform adversity into great benefit, the benefit is extraordinary.

It’s extraordinary.  It has a depth to it that can’t be gotten any other way.  That’s all I can say about it.  If, let’s say, in Never-Never Land—we’re back to our Peter Pan thinking—it is possible to experience poverty, to wish upon a star and suddenly a million dollar check is in our hand, the superficiality of that kind of happiness would be evident from that point on through the rest of your life because all you have there is a million dollars, and a million dollars in a mind that is completely dissatisfied, untrained, unhappy, not relaxed, and does not make happiness.  And the first people who will tell you that are people with a million dollars who are not happy.

But if, on the other hand, you experience impoverishment and begin to create through your practice, in a disciplined, compassionate and honest way, the causes for prosperity, the causes for riches of all kinds to enter into your life through the practice of generosity, through the practice of offering, through the practice of the discipline of engaging in Dharma practice, through all of the many means that have been prescribed by the teacher, then not only will the impoverishment cease, but there are layers and layers and dimensions and dimensions of supportive change that intertwine and are part of and are inseparable from the feeling of opulence and wealth.  And they all become a part of you.  You develop new habits that are a part of your awareness, a part of your perception, a part of the cause and effect relationships that are the karma of your experience of continuum.  And these are the blessings that when you actually die and enter into the bardo remain with you, not the million dollar check.  You can’t take that with you.  But the practice that you have engaged in, that has created the cause for happiness and prosperity, the habit of that, the merit of that, the virtue of that, the karma of that, the causes, these seeds go with you into the bardo experience and ripen there.  They go with you into your next incarnation and ripen there.  This is the method.

And I’ll tell you that if you, with faith and confidence and patience, engage in that kind of practice, not making up your own religion, not having bliss-ninny thinking or being forever Peter Pan,  if with faith and confidence and fervent regard you actually engage in what the Guru has taught you, then it’s as though you have accomplished the most extraordinary spiritual practice.  You are actually at that point a Dharma practitioner, an intelligent one, creating cause and effect relationships that are beneficial.  When you have accomplished in that way and you have done so with the idea that with faith and fervent regard you are entering that door of liberation, out of that burning room and into happiness, then at that point it’s as though you have the very thumbprint of the guru on the fabric of your mind and on the fabric of your heart.  You have become like one of the Buddha’s sons and daughters.  You have become disciples of the Lamas who have accomplished, who have achieved all of the necessary components of enlightenment and have returned for the sake of sentient beings.  You have accomplished what the Guru has come to the world to invest in you, and it’s the only way to do it.

Simply repeating phrases, simply blinding yourself to reality, simply warping your own mind and denying what you see, simply skating through life on the surface as though there were no cause and effect relationships, as though you were basically a complete idiot, this is not receiving the blessing of the Guru.  This is not transforming adversity into felicity.

To open the eyes, to open the heart with confidence and patience, to accomplish the teachings that were actually given to us with courage, the courage of accepting responsibility, the responsibility of your own life, of your own reality, and holding that responsibility like a treasure, because once it is in your hand, it is yours.  No one can take that away from you.  Guru Rinpoche himself, if he was inclined to do so, could not take away from you the potency of how you can transform your life through practice.  No one can take that away from you.  It is the one thing that you have now in your hand that you will never be parted from unless you yourself give it up, and even then, although you’ve denied it, it’s still there.  In that way you are practicing this teaching that is so often spoken of, “turning and transforming adversity into felicity”.  Having practiced in that way, you come out of the experience of lack (or whatever it was that you had), deeper, more relaxed, more spacious, more sophisticated, more developed and happier.

You know in your heart when you have achieved that kind of success, when you have practiced in that way, and you also know when you’re faking.  My advice to you, therefore, is to look within with honesty and clarity and practice what you have been taught, and in this way your life will be transformed into a vehicle of blessings.  And it will always be that way.  And it is the one wealth that you have that you can actually take with you.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

A Becoming Experience

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Turning Adversity Into Felicity

How many times have we seen people expect love, kindness, support, financial prosperity, happiness to be their birthright, to be just given to them, that the world owes them a living?  You should give this to me.  Well, but you should, really!  You should, you know.  You should give this to me.  That’s how we think. Hopefully, as practitioners with some maturity, we can come to understand that what we are growing here is like a garden.  According to the seeds that we plant, according to the way that we cultivate our garden, so, too, will be our lives. That will be the fruit that comes up in our garden.

While we live, while we are engaged in Dharma practice, this is not the time to put on blindfolds and pretend that there are no causes and effects, to think that sort of a blissful kind of nonsensical, magical thinking is in order.  We shouldn’t mistake the Guru for a magician.  There’s a difference.  We shouldn’t think that the Lama is simply an idea, a magic formula.  If you smile and are nice to the Guru and make prayers, then you will be happy.  No, that’s not the formula that you were taught in Dharma class.  That’s the one that you made up.  Try to see the difference.  In Dharma, you are taught by the Lama that the ball is in your court, that you must create the conditions by which your suffering will end, that literally no one else can do that for you.  Even if the Lama were to stay by your side and walk with you, hold your hand, spoon feed you, constantly hold arms around you and make sure you’re warm and help you across the intersection so you don’t get hit by a bus, or whatever—even if that were possible—still it would not be possible for your suffering to be terminated by such a ridiculous relationship.  That isn’t how it works.

We are taught in our Dharma teaching that the ball is in our court, that we and only we can create the causes and circumstances necessary for happiness.  Method is necessary here.  Intelligence is necessary here.  Clearsightedness is necessary here.  Honesty is necessary here.  What is not necessary here is idiot thinking, magical thinking, Peter Pan thinking, stupid thinking.  That’s what’s not needed.

Of course, the first thing we do when our magical thinking doesn’t work out is we blame the Lama.  Isn’t that great?  It’s wonderful to have a religion because you can always blame somebody, but actually in Buddhism that’s not allowed either.  You can’t do that because if you do that, then you give your power away.  What have you got?  If the fault is outside of you, then the cure is outside of you, and you’re in tough shape.

So in our faith and our religion we take responsibility.  We try to understand that cause and effect arise together.  How do we create the perfect causes by which to bring about happiness?  Well, slowly, slowly, a bit at a time, as we learn.  It’s a growing thing, and the first thing we have to have is confidence and the second thing is patience, and I’m not even sure if they’re separable.  They have to come together.  It takes time to create causes.  It takes time and it takes growth, and like anything that begins as a little seedling and ends up as a beautiful, blossoming tree, it’s not only the ultimate result of the blossoming tree that is a joy; every step along the way is also a joy.  It’s a becoming and growing experience.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Religion of Cause and Effect

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Turning Adversity Into Felicity

We try very hard as practitioners to practice Guru Yoga clearly and purely, the practice of fervent regard toward the Guru, utilizing the Guru as a tool of benefit in one’s life.  One thing that we should be perfectly clear about when we are trying to practice in this way, is which religion we’re actually practicing.  Our tendency as Westerners is to repeat the patterns and ideas that we have seen before in the religions that have been in our culture far longer than Buddhism has been.  In the religions that our parents practiced and their parents before them, that are native to our Western culture, the idea of looking at the object of refuge, might be, perhaps, if one is a Christian, Jesus, or if one were a Muslim, Mohammed.  I don’t know enough about the other religions to really say clearly.  If I’m making a mistake, please pardon me.  But I will say that generally the pattern that we have been taught is that you have faith, and the declaration of faith is simply enough, that you embrace this idea of faith, and the faith itself– there’s an element of magic to it, in a sense.  It seems as though the faith itself will simply carry us through.

In Buddhism we don’t feel like that, although faith is certainly an element, and it certainly has the capacity to carry us.  Buddhism is, uniquely, a religion of cause and effect relationships.  When we go into life situations, we do so with our brains intact and our eyes open.  We clearly are aware that without creating the causes for happiness there will not be the condition of happiness, that you cannot create an apple tree through a grape seed.  It simply doesn’t happen.  Cause and result seemingly arise one after the other, but in fact we are taught in Buddhist teaching that they arise at the same time, interdependently.  And we are a religion of realizing that we must create the auspicious causes in order to receive the appropriate results.  So while we want to adopt the idea of faith, we wouldn’t do a practice or hold an inner mind posture that would be what I call “idiot faith.”  We would not engage in a practice that, well, quite frankly, makes us look a bit like a bliss-ninny.  We would not engage in a practice that was mindless and not thought through.

Faith is definitely a component, but the way that it is used when we are using the practice of Guru Yoga, is like this.  All conditions have within them a mixture.  Even the best conditions, the most wonderful conditions, have within them, because they arise in samsara, the seed or inherent causes by which equal amounts of unhappiness as well as happiness will arise.  And so, when unhappiness comes to us, we absolutely should engage in curative measures.

Primarily we would engage in curative measures through establishing faith and confidence in the Guru, but it doesn’t stop there.  It isn’t simply holding the idea of faith and confidence in the Guru.  At that point, with faith and confidence in the Guru, we actually have to rely on the teachings that the Guru has given us.  That’s how you have faith and confidence in the teacher.  You don’t just say it and proclaim it and go back into some deluded “oh-don’t-worry-everything’s-going-to-be-fine” kind of idea.  You would, with faith and confidence in the Guru, begin to use what the Guru has taught.

The Guru teaches us first of all, of course, that in order to create the result of happiness and freedom, we must create the causes of happiness and freedom.  The causes of happiness and freedom are given to us in our Dharma practice.  They’re not a secret.  You can come here; you can learn; you can begin today, this very moment, to engage in creating the causes that will create your future happiness.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

With Loving Concern

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Turning Adversity Into Felicity

The result of poverty and not having enough is due, according to the Buddha’s teachings, to not having been particularly generous or forthcoming in our support or caring for others in the past, perhaps even before this lifetime.  So we might look at our lives now with a sense of honesty.  Is that the case now?  Perhaps it’s also the case now, and we just haven’t thought of it that way.  Or perhaps if we really look in our heart of hearts we might discover that there is a certain dark corner in there somewhere that has a strong element of selfishness and lack of giving.  We might see it sneak out every now and then.  Maybe not all the time, but it’s in there.  Or we might discover that perhaps in our past, in our deep past, we have been less than generous.

So, in order to create the causes of having plenty, to open the doors and liberate the conditions under which support and wealth and prosperity would come to us, we would create the causes, by transforming our minds through practice into that which is supremely generous.  If we have only $5 to our name, a good idea is to give maybe 50¢ of that, maybe a dollar of that, to somebody who doesn’t have 50¢ or a dollar.   If you have nothing, I’m sure you can get it together to have enough to place a simple candle on the altar and make prayers that the merit generated by offering this light would help all sentient beings see their way through the darkness.  A small offering like that and prayers to benefit sentient beings begins the process of creating the causes by which our suffering or lack begins to change, and as well our minds begin to transform into that which is filled with kindness.  We begin to create the habit of caring for others, of kindness.

The idea is that we proceed with confidence in the teachings and in the teacher who has given them to us.  That’s how you have faith in the Guru—not by making some bland statement with no depth, not by faking your way through samsara, not by controlling your mind with positive thoughts so that delusion only increases and you have no idea what you are perceiving—but instead by creating the causes through acts of generosity.

On the other hand, if we have experienced great disappointment in love, let’s say, the first thing that we think is, “Oh, now I’ve lost my boyfriend, or girlfriend or whatever, so I have to do everything I can to get them back.”  Grasp, grasp, grasp!  And when that doesn’t work—it doesn’t, you know—then what you do is you make prayers to the Guru: “Oh please, oh please, oh please!”  And we hope and pray that the lotto will come for us on the romantic level.  And then we even think stupid thoughts like, “Oh, please deliver him or her to me now!  Along with the check, put him in the mailbox.  I’ll pick him up tomorrow.”  You know that’s the kind of thinking that we have.  It’s like magical thinking, but that’s a different religion.  That’s not our religion.

In our religion, if that had happened, we would look for the causes.  What are the causes of such a loss?  Perhaps I have not been kind and loving.  I’ll tell you how it is, if no love is given, no love will be received.  It’s like that.  If we do not invest in generosity and caring and loving concern and regard for others in an unselfish way, there will not be a great deal of love forthcoming freely into our lives because we have not created the causes.  We have not held up our part of the bargain.  And so we begin, therefore, to create the causes: a real concern, a real interest in the welfare and well being of others.  Not just the one you want back.  That’s easy.  Others, all others, with kindness and love and generosity coming forth from our hearts.  That’s the investment that’s needed here, that we ourselves would be responsible for not abandoning and leaving without comfort, loved ones and friends, not just the one we want, but all our loved ones and friends.  And then take it further than that.  Not only our friends and loved ones, but also our not-so-friendly friends, maybe the people we don’t have much concern for, maybe even our enemies.  A loving concern for them is what’s required here.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Relax Your Mind

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Turning Adversity Into Felicity

Many people experience fear.  Confidence in your practice and confidence in your prayers to the guru, these things relax the mind and subdue fears.  So my suggestion is to practice in that way and to begin to cultivate the kind of confidence necessary to have the mind be more relaxed and calmer.  Everything about us, everything about our practice and everything about our lives in general tends to go better if the mind is not tense and tightly constricted.  If it is more spacious and relaxed, all of our perceptual processes, every aspect of our lives tends to go better.

We can take this understanding one step further. If in our lives we meet with a frightening obstacle—a health obstacle, an obstacle to our finances or to our living situation or something like that—our tendency, of course, is to tighten up and become tense and constricted.  Actually, you should know that when obstacles are rising, if our minds become tight and tense and constricted, the obstacles tend to rise with more venom, and to be much more difficult to handle.

In a way, if our minds are tense like that, it’s as though we are leaving ourselves open for obstacles to arise and bring all their friends with them.  It’s simply that when the mind is churned up it makes everything very fluid, and when obstacles are rising, that fluidity may not be the best thing.  That fluidity tends to make things ripen and catalyze very quickly.

The best thing to do instead, is to allow the mind to perceive the empty nature of all circumstances, to meditate on emptiness, and to see misfortune and fortune as being inherently the same in their nature.  That doesn’t mean you have to like misfortune as much as you like fortune.  Nobody likes it as much, and nobody feels that way.  But still, if you can begin to take steps towards meditating on the inherently empty nature of both phenomena, there is a lightness and a spaciousness that occurs within the mind that allows things to relax, that allows whatever obstacles that are arising to dissipate naturally.

When you begin to learn a little bit more about the nature of mind, you will come to understand that our perceptual process, our minds and the ego structure that reacts to any kind of fortune or misfortune—are all inherently empty in their nature.  As we begin to give rise to that awareness and meditate on that, the nature of experience actually begins to change.  Clearly, in times of great trouble many, many practitioners have found that if they avoid the temptation to say,  “Now I’m having problems, best I get busy trying to correct them,” and become more active, but instead, go more deeply into practice and actually rely on meditation as a solution, sometimes just backing off from the situation and relaxing the mind will cause the situation to arise much differently.  And that’s including, and even especially, physical sickness.

All sufferings have their roots in cause and effect, and most can be immediately traced to the way that we perceive and the way that we react.  Although it doesn’t seem like that when circumstances are really slapping us in the face, if we can sit quietly and meditate and have confidence in our practice, have confidence in the blessing of the Guru, have confidence in the blessings of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, then in this way many of the obstacles in our lives naturally begin to dissipate.  Many people have worked through tremendous personal obstacles by relying completely on their meditation, and they come out ever so much stronger.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Overcoming Life’s Obstacles

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Turning Adversity Into Felicity

Ours is not a religion that believes you can get through a room full of obstacles—which life basically is—without turning on the lights and seeing where the things are that you might trip over.  Our religion is one where we turn on the light, we look with our eyes, we do not absent ourselves from the responsibility of clear thought, of the reality of cause and effect relationships, of engaging in those practices that will clear the obstacles.

In our lives, perhaps, we might suffer from the loss of fortune.  Let’s say that we have a certain situation where we were very wealthy, we had everything that we needed, and suddenly bam! Misfortune hits.  It happens, doesn’t it?  It happens a lot.  Misfortune hits and suddenly we are no longer wealthy.  Perhaps it isn’t about money.  Perhaps it’s about relationships.  At one point, for the women, the prince rides up on the white horse and everything looks like it’s going to be happily-ever-after, you know, the Dream.  For men, the Queen of Sheba has landed in our lap somehow, and here she is with all her blazing glory.

So maybe that kind of thing has happened.  But eventually we will find that the cloud definitely has another side to it.  It has a silver lining, yes, but it has a little rain in it as well.  For many of us, we would experience some loss.  Perhaps we might think that we have everything we need, and then simply it is lost.  That might occur with our health.  Many of us, we don’t plan to die, we don’t plan to get sick, but suddenly, perhaps even at a point where we thought we were young enough and sturdy enough to have been healthy, we find that our health slips and we can no longer rely on our health.  And then, for others of us that survive all these other things without too many disasters, eventually we will get old and we will die.  So there are these situations that must be dealt with.

Now when we deal with them, should we just paste some sort of unthinking, syrupy, positive statement on top of it and therefore make it acceptable?  Should we say, “Ah, well, you know I’ve lost the great love of my life, but hey, it’s not so bad.  What’s the big deal?  I can do this!”  Or, “Once I was rich and now I’m poor, but hey, I’m a positive thinker and wealth will come to me soon, I’m sure.”  Do we think like that?  I don’t think so.

We are taught by our teachers to engage in creating the causes by which our suffering might end.  Clearly if you do not have enough fortune or money in your life, the causes by which that might come to you have not been created, or they haven’t been created in sufficient amounts.  So we turn to the guru, not with an empty prayer of, “Gee, hope you’ll land a few thousand in my box.  Just stick it in the mailbox.  I’ll pick it up tomorrow.”  You don’t pray like that.  You don’t pray to win the lottery.  That isn’t how it goes.  In our religion, the difference is that we actually pray for guidance and we use the teachings that the teacher gives us and we begin to create the causes by which we can overcome the obstacles in our lives.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

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