The Seduction of the Five Senses

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Tools to Deepen Your Practice”

All the practices, no matter what they look like or sound like or seem like, are heading in that direction of gradually awakening more and more to the awareness of the sphere of truth.  Wisdom is then the accomplishment of a state of such non-attachment that one realizes the emptiness of phenomena by simply [Jetsunma effortlessly and blissfully breathes out, her eyes and body completely relaxing].  I don’t know how else to describe it except to just show you that posture.  Just…[Jetsunma once again breathes out as noted above].

Because the same as your touch is bliss.  The same as your smell is bliss.  The same as your tongue is bliss.  How does it happen then that we’re so darned uncomfortable?  How does it happen then, according to the Buddha’s teachings, that so many sentient beings are revolving so helplessly in samsara, so lost, so unable to understand how to understand, or how to awaken, or even how to live virtuously so that in the future they’ll be happy?  How does this all happen?

Lord Buddha said it during the course of his actual physical life, when he said, “All suffering arises from desire.”  So while you can say that the fundamental space of the five lights is the same as the five primordial Dakinis, they are activity not separate from the Buddha nature.  And yet these five senses hold on to us. Well we think they do, although we did create them.  But with their grasping nature, they cause us, because we have the strong habitual tendency,  to constantly react and constantly react and act really neurotically because we don’t understand.  To be neurotic is to not understand the situation and to act inappropriately repetitively.  That’s pretty much us.  We do not understand the emptiness of self-nature and so we constantly act differently.

So, these five primordial Dakinis that are your senses and that someday you will awaken to are now—because we are clinging, because we have not renounced, because we believe in phenomena and we believe in the solidity of everything, and because we are really revolving in dualism—we would have to consider them like five nasty whores.  Because they trick us.  They seduce us.  They say to us, “Come and play with me and I will give you anything.”   And when’s the last time you got anything from a skanky whore. (laughter)  [Jetsunma: I did not say that!”]  Our five senses actually keep us in a constant state of inflammation, because while we’re grasping to the solidity of phenomena, we’re constantly reacting.  While we’re constantly reacting, we’re constantly acting neurotically, out of accordance with the nature of reality.  And so we’re being tricked, seduced.

The senses have many tricks. As front runners for our consciousness of duality, they like to trick us by building us up. You know, we can see and hear things that make us feel very proud and make us feel as though we are worthy of praise. You know, we can arrange phenomena any way we want.  That’s the amazing thing about it.  And it can become very seductive.  We can absolutely crap out on our practice and yet with our five senses, we can manage to create in our consciousness of duality a scenario in which we’re looking pretty good.  We can wear the right clothes and have the right beads, and you know we can look pretty good.  And so that’s the deceptive nature of the five senses.

How difficult it is to understand that that which helps us negotiate around is actually the very nature of bliss.  How to understand that the opposite side of the very clinging that we do so tightly that prevents us from awakening to the primordial wisdom state,  is liberation?  Well, that’s wisdom and that is the kind of wisdom that we strive for as we practice.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

What Are Your Senses Telling You?

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Tools to Deepen in Your Practice”

When you see, you react with acceptance or rejection.  You have an acceptance or rejection or even a neutrality, which would be a combination of both or a decision not to do either; but there is that first knee-jerk reaction.  It’s the same with all of our senses.  We react to what we sense.  The senses are really to keep us pacified in the belief that our lives are inherently real, that we are sitting on solid, that we are solid, we live in solid and everything’s ok.  And that’s what the senses are meant to do.  They are meant to grasp on in a way, and hold on to the time and space grid so that we can feel as though we are safe.  Because we don’t like that idea of emptiness. That’s just troublesome.

So when a Tantric practitioner sits down to meditate, he has to take the senses and open them up.  How can you do that?  Can you visualize it?  Well, you really have to go quietly in your practice and find out for yourself.  It’s very difficult for any teacher to tell you exactly how to let go of the senses or to let go of the attraction of the senses.  Yes, we can give you pointers.  But it comes down to the point really when you have to sit and you have to know your own mind.  When we know our mind, we know how to deal with it.  And it’s like feeling our way around.  Oh, we know we shouldn’t go there because there’s an object; and we know we should go there because it’s ok.  We’re kind of feeling around.

So when a Tantric practitioner meditates on emptiness, he doesn’t build emptiness.  He doesn’t make emptiness.  He doesn’t cling onto emptiness which is somewhere else and bring it here.  Instead, what the practitioner does is to simply allow the grasping to solid phenomena and solid self-nature to be appeased.  One relaxes.  One awakens to emptiness!

How does one awaken to emptiness?  Well of course, the first time you sit down and try this, you’re not going to awaken to emptiness fully because that would be like becoming practically enlightened in a very swift time, like very swift.  And so, you can’t expect that.  You must be patient with yourself and expect that this will take some work, that it will take some time.

When one relaxes the grasping, the difference is . . . Ok.  If you take a crystal and sunlight comes through the crystal and is reflected and refracted and you see a rainbow, the rainbow is the same nature as the light that came through the crystal.  In a way, what you’re going to do, is if you’re seeing a red ray and a purple ray and a blue ray or whatever color you’re seeing from this crystal, you’re going to, with intention, go to the heart of that color, as though you were peeling away the colorness of it.  Almost reversing it.  Putting it back through the crystal and understanding its source.  Like that.

I know.  That’s a little chewy.  So you have to chew on that for a little bit.  But it is very much like that.  To be a Tantric practitioner, in fact, you must have assumed the nature of emptiness.  And in one’s practice, that is what you do.  You assume the nature of emptiness.  So, you are relaxing the senses and the grasping knowing that. You don’t visualize emptiness because when you allow the relaxing and the grasping to go, emptiness is what is.  It spontaneously arises.  And even that’s a joke.  Because here I am telling you “it” spontaneously arises.  And of course, that’s not possible.  Because once it’s “it”, then it isn’t empty.  And yet I say to you that this is the trick of it. When we take that precious minute before we generate the deity to really allow the senses to unlock, to stop contriving, to cease to evaluate, to stop giving you the food that you use to react, to simply let go, the more deeply we go into our practice.  And your assumption there—and that should be your first assumption—is that separate from this grasping, there is the nature of emptiness.  That, in fact, if we can pacify this grasping, then the empty nature is visible or knowable in some way.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Sphere of Truth

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Tools to Deepen in Your Practice”

When it comes to gathering wisdom and to understanding the difference between wisdom and knowledge, knowledge would be all the facts that you absorb from your text or from reading or from your teacher or from tapes that you might have heardthat allow you to accomplish that ‘letting go of the senses.’  The actual opening the senses and relaxing them is like a hand. If my hand is like this, it’s around something; the shape is defined.  And here in your meditation on emptiness, it’s more like this (Jetsunma relaxes the hand grip) and the hand is open.  And while the hand is open, if it were possible to truly do this in a profound way, it would be like it says in the Guru Yoga generation stage in the Shower of Blessings: ”His great bliss flashes in the fundamental space of the five lights.” That’s it.

If you could really read and understand that line, that would be so good.  “His great bliss flashes in the fundamental space of the five lights.”  Well, what are the five lights?  They are the senses.  While we are considering them solid, we can name them and describe them.  But it says here, “…the fundamental space of the five lights”. So the senses become ‘fundamental space’.  The trick is that when we are not grasping and reacting, the natural state of bliss arises.  And so here they’re talking about Guru Rinpoche, and they’re saying, “His great bliss flashes in the fundamental space of the five lights”.  Such renunciation of the grasping of phenomena is implied in that line.  Such renunciation.  Such accomplishment.  And true understanding of what the five senses are.  Because like the light coming through the crystal, they all arise from the fundamental bliss that is our uncontrived primordial nature.  That’s an amazing line.  And of course, by going deeply into your practice, one would want to read again and again the different words that you are reciting in Tibetan in English, so that you can really understand what it is that you are doing.

So for a Tantric practitioner, it’s all about practicing the awareness of the fundamental sphere of truth that we habitually perceive as phenomena.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Understanding the Senses

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Tools to Deepen Your Practice”

In order to practice Vajrayana, for instance, there has to be some certain capacity that the student has, or some previous karma that now comes forward and comes to bear, or Vajrayana simply would not work. Indeed, for certain kinds of students because they practice very superficially, Vajrayana , would be like just reading Sutra—just reading it, reading it, reading it, reading it. You may glean some information, but you will never accomplish any wisdom that way.

So when we first come to Vajrayana, we are expected not only to read, to learn how to pronounce, to accomplish the tune; but we also have to learn how to visualize. We also have to learn how to allow the five senses to dissolve into the sphere of truth, which is emptiness,  and that means letting go of perception.  And that’s the first step towards meditating on emptiness, or rather as we do in Vajrayana, dissolving or realizing the essence of all nature to be empty and then arising from that empty nature as the deity or as a wisdom being.  This is basically the meat and bones of Vajrayana, that generation of the wisdom being by first dissolving into emptiness.

If a person who is studying Theravada Buddhism (that’s the early stages of Buddhism that Lord Buddha taught when he was actually physically alive),  practices like that, they are letting the mind relax. They are using some kind of method like allowing the mind to rest on the breath, to simply breathe, to simply be like that.  But ideally, when a Vajrayana practitioner prepares to really generate the deity and they’ve done their taking refuge and all the steps that precede:the promising, the Bodhisattva promise and all the prayers:and they actually get to the part where there is the dissolution or the original view of emptiness, they are not, at that point, relaxing the mind.  Because if we’re simply relaxing the mind at that point, we are technically practicing Theravada Buddhism.  It’s a little different.

It’s ok to start that way, but again, we’re talking about going more deeply into our practice.  So when a Tantric practitioner meditates on emptiness in order to pave the way for the rrising of the deity, what you really do at that time is to open up the senses in the sense that the senses are grasping things.  They see “this” or “this”.  I hear “that”.  I smell “something”.  So the senses are grasping things. The senses are actually the children of the original conscious assumption of nature being essentially real, or of phenomena being essentially real.  And so the senses arise from that assumption.  It’s a chicken or egg thing.  It’s opposite what you would think.  The senses arise from the assumption of consciousness as being inherently real.  And so the senses’ job is to grasp!

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Why We Practice

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered at Palyul Ling Retreat in 2012:

So I think as we ascend to the higher teachings, we have to remember the bodhicitta.  We have to remember that if we are not kind, there’s nothing that we are doing that’s useful.  If we are not kind, there’s no way we are going to be able to keep our practice going, because we will forget the suffering of sentient beings.  And if we do that, we are lost.  We forget why we are practicing.  We don’t practice.  And then if we are lucky, we may see a person whose suffering can be read on their face.  You can see that.  And if you are fortunate enough to see that, it may remind you that it is time to do your practice.

I promise you, you won’t forget to do your practice for the rest of the year if you meditate on the suffering of sentient beings every day – even just for five minutes.  Ten minutes is better.  But if we can manage to do that, that’s what keeps us going.  Otherwise our practice becomes dry.  It’s too intellectual.  We reason with our practice, and we kind of argue with our practice.  And yet with bodhicitta, it’s impossible to do that.  How can bodhicitta be the wrong thing to do?  How can bodhicitta be something that you can skip?  We must be kind.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all the high lamas that I have ever heard have always said that you must be kind.  That’s what’s happening.  So I have pretty much stuck with teaching bodhicitta all my life, and I’ve been doing this for about 30 years.

Bodhicitta is beautiful.  It is nourishing.  It’s like food.  If you keep yourself nourished by practicing the bodhicitta, you’ll continue to be full and have confidence, and be able to benefit sentient beings even though it seems so hard to keep going.  We all have jobs.  It seems so hard to keep going but if you remember the bodhicitta, and that it is your reason for practicing, you absolutely will not give up.  I promise you. That is the answer.

Everyone I’ve talked to has this problem—practicing for part of the year, and keeping that going.  Although it’s not true of Tibetans necessarily, it is true of Americans.  Tibetans were brought up in a culture that is all about loving-kindness, and the Dharma is part of their entire system.  It’s in their blood and it’s in their brains and it’s everywhere.  But we Americans like to have reasons for things.  The best thing to do is to stop being so prideful and go back to the very reason why you are here.  You are not here to wear a fancy robe.  You are not here to receive high teachings and walk around so prideful.  No, you are here first of all because you love His Holiness; and then you are here because you know that sentient beings suffer and that you can help.  I know of nothing that is more precious than that.  You can help.  We forget that.  We think the practice is about us, making advances.  We should make advances in our practice.  It’s true.  We should.  And yet we have to remember that the true reason why we practice is love.

Now if there is anything that I’ve said that offends you, I’m sorry, but not really.  I will sit here and pound bodhicitta into your heads until I no longer have the opportunity because it is what I believe and what I know will bring benefit to the world.  It’s what brought His Holiness to us.  It is what will bring him back.

If we keep our promises and benefit sentient beings, he will return to us.  Maybe he already has.  Who knows?  But it is our job to call him with our hearts by practicing in the way that he taught us.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Kindness is the Way

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered at Palyul Ling Retreat 2012:

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche was one of the most stubborn lamas in the beginning. He did not want to teach Dzogchen yet, because he didn’t want to throw Dharma on the floor. Instead he wanted everybody to learn the great bodhicitta, and he made you understand that there is no power anywhere stronger than the bodhicitta.

When Tibetan kids are young, their moms or their Amas, their nannies, or whoever takes care of them, teaches them about kindness. It’s customary. It’s what happens. That doesn’t happen here in America. It’s so fortunate that Tibetan Amas and mommies teach their children that way from birth.

I think in some ways we should think of our own mothers who have taught us like that to be like a root guru to us. The first one that taught you to be kind, that’s a root guru. The first one that taught you to love, that’s a root guru. The first one that taught you that bodhicitta is the most important power in the universe, that’s a root guru. His Holiness taught me that, and he is my root guru.

I wish the fashion would turn around, and that there would be more teachings given out constantly about bodhicitta. I wish we would not set it aside. I wish Tibetan lamas would not listen to us, because we are so prideful and so willing to think that we know what’s best. His Holiness was one of the last ones that gave in and began to teach some Dzogchen. I think he felt the way I do—that bodhicitta is the most important thing. Once when he saw the dogs and the parrots that we were saving, he said, “That’s Dharma. That’s Dharma.” That’s what His Holiness said, and I believe it. I know it to be true. Kindness is the way.

. . . Sometimes we can be so prideful. We think that having practiced so well it is not necessary for us to be kind. We can concentrate on the academic part, the intellectual part, and then we will have it all down perfectly. But that is not really the truth.  Academics is part of the teaching. Meditation is part of the teaching. Taking vows, that’s part of it. Please don’t forget, most important is the great bodhicitta. It is the very display of all that is light and pure. It is the very display of goodness. We like to forget it and let it go, but please don’t. I beg of you. Don’t do that.

Your mind will stay fresh and sweet if you are always concerned for sentient beings. And we must always be concerned for sentient beings because they don’t know how to take care of themselves. They don’t know how to do what is necessary to accomplish any Dharma or anything really meaningful in their lives. Many people get a scholarship and they go to college and then that’s it. They’ve done it. But it’s not true. It is most important to develop kindness. It is most important to be kind.

For those of you who are unforgiving in your demeanor and not so kind, you don’t give Buddhism a good image. That should be what it is all about to you. I will assume that probably isn’t pleasant to hear, but it is what I believe and what I know. If you did nothing else but take the bodhisattva vow and spend the rest of your life praying and benefitting sentient beings, you will have accomplished a lot. When you go back home, whether it is New York City or Kalamazoo or wherever it is, bring this little bit of information with you.

. Look around. Stop closing your eyes. Are you going out to dinner this evening?  Then notice the person sitting on the street with nothing to eat. Maybe bring them what’s left or give them some money for some food. If you are going to the movies, think about it twice. Go to the movie but then take the same amount of money and give it to someone who really needs it. I believe in that. It is called paying it forward. And it is the best display that you can possibly give people about what the Dharma is. If you display your activity like that, they will understand. They will understand what Dharma is. But if we are self-important, prideful and in love with ourselves, we will never see the beauty of Dharma. Never. We must see this. We must understand that Dharma is not different from loving-kindness, and it is not different from our nature.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Even Small Kindnesses Matter

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo given at Palyul Ling Retreat 2012:

One way that I teach people is online.  I have a Twitter account and many times we just tweet.  Do you know what Twitter is?  Some of you do?  Maybe?  Ok.  So what we do is we teach them Om Mani Pedme Hung, and then show them how the letters look in Tibetan and have them see blessing mantras so that they will, you know, experience liberation through seeing.  They will receive the blessing of that because these people will never ever practice Dharma.  So should we throw them out?  No, of course not.  People like urban people.  People in countries that probably have never even heard of Dharma.  Inner city people.  Outer city people.  People down the bible belt in the middle of the country.  All of them.  All of them hear a little bit of the Dharma and the kindness that it shows and they want to learn.  They want to learn.  So I do the best that I can to teach them online. We make films, and sort of document some small teachings.  Nothing very deep because that would require another kind of opportunity, but we are able to teach them just so that there is a blessing in being human.  So that as human beings there will be some use, that they have the capacity to think and to understand.

Of course I love animals.  We all know that, but animals cannot learn the Dharma.  As much as I would love to see my animals achieve liberation, that will never happen through practicing Dharma.  If I practice and I dedicate, maybe that’s something.  If you practice and you dedicate, maybe that’s something.  But still they cannot practice.  They don’t have that part of the brain that can make them practice, but they can hear mantra and receive the blessing.  We even tell people, “Say this blessing to your animals as they die.  Om Ami Dewa Hri.”  Of course you all know that , but that’s a revelation to someone who has never heard Dharma before, or to someone who didn’t know there was some way that they could help their little dogs and their cats as they die.  And their little birds and so forth.  They didn’t know that there was any real way to do that.  So we’ve told them that if they are coming close to death, if death is coming, at this time you should say in their ears, “Om Ami Dewa Hri.”  And we even put up recordings of how it sounds so that they can recite it correctly.   They will get the closest thing possible to a lung.  It’s not the same, but it’s the best we can do.

I’m not proud.  If anything I’m shy and I’m not proud.  One thing that I feel is if what you can do is a small thing, you should do it.  If all you can do is give a little bit, you should give it.  If all you can do is say, “Well, my dog can’t have any blessing,” and you give nothing, that’s not so good.  But instead, why not do for them what you can do for them?  They can hear the sound of mantra.  They can see the letters.  They don’t cognize them.  They can’t understand what it means, but they can see it.  They can see images.

I have made an Amitabha recording of singing the mantra so that it can be played for people who are dying or who have just died.,so the Amitabha mantra will be in their ears as they are dying.  These are all the things that I know how to do.  They are very simple, but these are not people who will ever come here.  And their pets—they will never come here.  How can they receive a blessing if we don’t reach out and make it possible?

I’m very interested in R&B music and hip hop.  Sorry.  If that disappoints you, I’m really sorry.  But I’m interested in that kind of music.  I’ll be honest with you and say that.  And what I’ve noticed is that when I reach out—I have 65,000 followers, no 68,000 followers—and when they contact me and ask me, “What is the answer to this question?”  You know.  “You said this. Does that mean that or does that mean this?”  And these are people that have never heard of Dharma before, just know nothing about it.  And then they want to know.  And I recommend books for themand that sort of thing.  We send out pictures of stupas, all the stupas that I’ve built so that they’ll have that contact of being able to see. So I’m proud of that.  I’m happy about that.  And I think that even as we get to the higher levels of teachings, we should never ever think that it’s inappropriate to lower oneself to do simple goodness for all beings.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Go Back to Bodhicitta

The following is an excerpt from a teaching given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo at Palyul Ling Retreat in New York 2012:

In the beginning, all the lamas, including His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, ever taught us about was the bodhicitta. All we ever got was the bodhicitta. People would ask for Dzogchen. Give us Dzogchen. And the lamas would say, “No, you’re not ready. You’re not ready. Let’s start with the bodhicitta.”  After awhile, Americans got really sick of the bodhicitta. It’s really sad, but they did. I never did. In fact, I never stopped teaching bodhicitta. I know that now the bodhicitta is kind of reduced to a small bit of speech or teaching that comes right at the beginning of a practice or a wang or teaching. It is very condensed compared to what it used to be. When the lamas first came to America, it was just bodhicitta, and really nothing else. But the American students were insistent that they were ready for the Dzogchen. Eventually the lamas gave in. And I am sorry that happened, because I think we missed something.

I notice that when some practitioners practice, they’re calm and that’s good, but they are also solemn. They are not so happy looking, not so joyous. Dharma is joyous. To be able to practice Dharma is a feast.  There’s nothing in the world more joyous than that, because you have something—. \you have Buddha in the palm of your hand. You have something that nobody else has here in America. Other people have other teachers. And they have other lineages and that’s great, but we have this. And we should be thrilled and happy, and try to maintain the understanding of how precious this is.

The day we decide that we are too advanced for bodhicitta is the day that we’ve lost our way. Because if all we ever studied from this point on was the bodhicitta, it would be enough. Sometimes when we go into the higher teachings, we forget what the root is. Bodhicitta is the root. Bodhicitta is the root of everything that comes after. If you cannot develop the bodhicitta, it will be very difficult to stay on the path. As they say, the bodhicitta is like the dakini’s warm breath. It is what we consider to be the activity of the Buddhas, the nature of the Buddhas, like the sun’s rays—part of the sun and yet coming out to bless all. So when we think about the bodhicitta and we think that maybe it’s an early practice, and maybe we are being insulted by being taught this practice or maybe we should be allowed to go on, don’t hurry.

If I had my choice, I would teach nothing but bodhicitta. I used to do that, almost like Baskin Robbins’s 51 flavors of ice cream. I used to think about 51 different ways, as many ways as I could, to teach bodhicitta. I would get really creative so that it wouldn’t be boring. And what I found is that most people didn’t notice that they were only being taught the bodhicitta, because I would teach it in such a way that it would seem different and interesting. And I would make people laugh, and that always helped. You can’t be stiff when you are laughing. I made it joyful. All of us felt great joy to be together, as I see you do too. I think it is the most beautiful part of the Dharma. If we say that it is the smallest part, or the least of the parts, it is a mistake. Do all of you understand that?  It is a mistake if we put bodhicitta lower than anything else, because in order to practice we need the bodhicitta desperately. It is what keeps us going. It is nourishment.

My philosophy is that if we are on the path and every year we practice really hard and really purely here and then go home, but then forget about it, as so many of us do, then in my experience we need to go back to the bodhicitta and study the suffering of sentient beings again, again and again. Study the suffering of sentient beings so that you can understand why it is that you are practicing. You’ll have strength to practice because you will see them, and they are suffering terribly.

Seeing that woman and her husband on the roof was for me a great motivator. It was a great strengthener. It gave me spiritual muscle so that whatever I did, bodhicitta was always the crown on the head of my practice. And then above that, of course, is Tsawai Lama—above the crown of my head, and in my heart, as I know he is in yours.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

What Are Your Hopes?

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Mindfulness of Cyclic Existence”

Buddhist philosophy speaks of the emptiness, or the illusory quality, of all phenomena.  If self does not exist in the way that we think it does and the only true reality is the primordial wisdom state, then phenomena cannot exist in the way we think it does either because all phenomena seem to us to be something external. That perception is born of the belief of self-nature as being separate. All phenomena are perceived as external, as inherently real. The only way that phenomena can be understood is by understanding that they are separate from self. Self ends here; other begins there. And really, that is how perception comes about if you look at the perception of your own mind. That is what your perception consists of. This is universally true. It doesn’t indicate that you are a good person or a bad person; it’s simply universally true.

Buddhist philosophy speaks of a natural awakened state, a state in which perception does not depend on division, but instead is a pure experience that is free of conceptualization, free of focus in the way that we have focus. It is a pristine and luminous state. And in that state, which, of course, is the goal in this philosophy, hope and fear have no place. Again, hope and fear are dependent upon the perception of phenomena as being separate. They are dependent on the belief of self-nature as being inherently real. In this system at least, the idea of hope and fear revolves by necessity around the idea that separation exists in such a form that self – you, I – can either have something or not have something, that happiness can be controlled by having or not having, that all the experiences that are uniquely human actually revolve around having or not having. If you think about all of the goals that we’ve had in our lives, all the things that we were taught by our parents and by our schools, they are all based on that dualistic perception. They are all wrapped around hope and fear.

This is a tremendous difficulty when one sets out to understand Buddhist philosophy. If you say to a Westerner, hope and fear are not so great, they only serve to make the mind unstable, the first thing that any red-blooded American will do is completely freak out. We do that because we were brought up with hope being a noble thing. I was born in 1949, and I remember some of the leftover consciousness that my parents had from the war—something inbred into the society or the culture at that time. Even though they were no longer directly involved in war, it was very noble to be very patriotic, to have a great deal of hope in the American way, to have a great deal of fear that the American way would be taken away. There was something from that time that I think has since been more firmly planted in our society than ever it was before, even though we were founded on revolution. Of course, there is hope and fear involved in that concept as well. At any rate, it becomes so important to us that even now in this New Age, this Aquarian Age, or whatever it is that we are in the middle of, even now a person is considered to be right-minded or to have the right attitude if no matter what life deals us, no matter what happens to us, no matter how we suffer or how sick we are or how miserable we are or how awful we feel, we rise anew every day refreshed and face the day, like a good American person. This kind of attitude is considered really, really admirable, really the way to go.  In fact, it is considered that if one has this attitude that things will somehow work out.  It’s not for me to judge whether that’s good or bad; I am only trying to isolate the idea so that we can look at it.

We also have the idea that we should have almost a priority list of things that we are hopeful about.  Actually, in our society, if you were to walk up to an ordinary, mainstream moral majority person – now, perhaps meditators are a little bit different – but, if you walk up to any one of them and say, “What are your hopes? Come on, what are your hopes? This is America. What are your hopes?” they would give you a list of what their hopes are. If there is a person that you walk up to and say, “What are your hopes?” and they say, “Well, I’m okay. I am living from day to day. I try to remain in the moment, I try to experience each moment in its fullness, and I find that that’s enough for me. I find that if I remain mindful of the fullness of each moment and live right there and don’t really think too much about hope and fear, don’t really plan too much, but remain spontaneous…” In our culture, that person is a failure. That person is considered to be inappropriate. That person’s parents would probably not be too proud of them, and I find that in myself. When my children say I am doing just fine today and that’s all I want to think about, my American motherhood just goes “sssss.” Everything inside of me tenses up and wonders what is going to happen to my poor child.  It’s so much a part of us. I am saying that we don’t even realize that.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Pulling the Threads: Hope, Fear and Stabilizing the Mind

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Mindfulness of Cyclic Existence”

The subject of this teaching is the difficulty that Westerners have in coming to grips with some of the concepts that are foundational to Buddhism. They are so foundational as to be almost invisible at times. Yet the concepts are difficult for us because we have our own concepts and philosophies that argue against these that are also so foundational that they are practically invisible. They are so much a part of the fabric of our perception and our thinking that we often don’t realize these thoughts are affecting us deeply.

What happens is that when we try to get a grip on Buddhist philosophy, or when we try to become mindful in a constant way, we find that there is difficulty. We may not understand what that difficulty is, or we may find that even without our knowing we have a very superficial understanding of Buddhist concepts, or we may find that we feel there is some superficiality about our approach to the path. Yet we can’t seem to get a grip on it.  We can’t seem to understand what it is that is bothering us.

I think that this particular subject is not only of importance to Buddhists, or to those that are even thinking about becoming Buddhists, or even to those that are peripherally Buddhists, but I also think it’s a subject that bears recognition by anyone who does any meditation of any kind.

In Buddhist philosophy, a tremendous amount of thought and energy goes into making one understand how to stabilize the mind. In fact, if you could boil down Buddhist philosophy, and even Buddhist practice, the underlying goal would be how to stabilize the mind. It’s a difficult concept to understand because we as Westerners and Americans have our particular idea of what stabilizing the mind must be like. In one way, we could understand stabilizing the mind by understanding the opposite. We think of a person who is unstable as being mentally deranged or something like that. We don’t realize that most ordinary people, according to Buddhist thought, have unstable minds. We don’t realize that this is actually one of the symptoms or conditions that is prevalent in what Buddhists call samsara, or cyclic existence. But in fact this is true, and we must learn to recognize the lack of stability in our own minds.

One of the first ways in which that lack of stability is addressed is by addressing the attachment or the attraction that we have, or even the grasping that we have, toward hope and fear. This is something that you hear about again and again and again in the Buddha’s teaching: how attached we are to hope and fear, how difficult hope and fear are, and how these things lead to an unstable mind. It’s very hard for Westerners to understand. I would like to describe some of the Buddhist thought on the attachment to hope and fear, but more I would like to concentrate on why it is that Westerners have such a difficult time with this concept. If we can understand why we have such a difficult time with it, we may understand that in one way we have never really isolated the ideas of hope and fear, put them out in front of us so that we can really examine how much a part of the fabric of our minds these concepts are.

As a Westerner, there is actually an underlying – and even, I think, overt attitude – that is considered to be admirable or noble. We certainly have our particular norms, our own particular standards, our own particular attitudes that are unique to the Western world and specifically unique to Americans. Without going to the trouble of isolating all of them, I’d like to say that we have a certain picture or image that we’ve grown up with. Of course, it changes from generation to generation, but until very recently not that much. Still, there are some threads that continue generation to generation. We have our own particular image, our own particular ideal. What usually happens is if we grow up with an image or an ideal, it becomes so much a part of us, so ingrained, so woven into our particular emotional and mental and philosophical tapestry, that we don’t notice it, in the same way that you might look at a woven blanket and see a certain array of colors within the blanket. You really wouldn’t pick out the pink in there or the blue, or really isolate them in that way. In the same way, we have attitudes that are woven in. They are part of our structure. Therefore, they are never pulled out. The thread is never pulled out, never really isolated. Hope and fear certainly are in there, and our particular attitude toward hope and fear, as a Westerner, should be examined. When looked at next to the Buddhist ideas about hope and fear, we might come to some shocking awareness.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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