Turning the Mind

The following is respectfully quoted from “Reborn in the West” by Vicki Mackenzie, recounting the life of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

After she felt she could go no further with this particular meditation she prayed for guidance on what to do next. She had another dream which told her to examine all the probabilities that could come out of her life.

‘I use to imagine all these white picket fence scenarios–the typical Western dream,’ she continued. ‘I did these meditations where I would suppose my husband and I were always happy–like in the commercials where you run laughing towards each other through the wheat fields. And my son would grow up to be doctor–he’d be wealthy and loving. And I would have other sons and daughters and they would grow up to be successful and happy too. Then I asked myself: supposing I attained every material dream a woman could have in America, then what?

‘I meditated on that. It was turning the mind. I saw that these things, these dreams and hopes were pointless. Where did it lead? After all this, you die. I began to see that there was no future in these kind of endeavors. Even if I were to be totally happy in the world and invested all my time and money in it, there was ultimately no point. I might get the admiration of my peers, and all the riches I could dream of, then I would die. Then what?’

What she was describing was the basic Buddhist meditation on death and impermanence that I myself had done in Kopan back in 1976.

‘I remember meditating on this, holding my son in my arms and thinking how I wanted to protect this little being and feeling I would do anything for him. I remember thinking “I absolutely commit myself to making you safe.” And then I realized in my meditation that I couldn’t make that commitment. If my son were to become terribly ill and die there would be nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t follow him into the after-death experience. I realized I was lying to my baby,’ she said.

This relentless scrutiny of her life, the various ways it could go and the inevitable outcome in death was to have a critical impact on her life. From then on she turned her back on worldly pursuits. In Buddhist terms she had achieved renunciation–the lack of fascination with the ups and downs, the dramas and the joys, of mundane existence. It is said that only when you achieve renunciation do you truly step on to the spiritual path, because only then do you stop believing that following the goals of material existence is the way to happiness.

Amitabha Buddha and the Bardo

Amitabha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Introduction to Compassion

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

The teaching for today about compassion has to have a certain foundation laid to it in order for us to understand how compassion is viewed in Buddhism. I am going to combine some traditional teachings and some non-traditional ways of presenting them, which is actually my forte. You will find that a lot around here.

In order to begin to give you some of the teachings, I have to give you a couple of definitions. Actually here in this temple, I have been using the term compassion and that is actually a poor translation of some of the terms that are actually used. One term that is actually used in association with the teaching of compassion is called Bodhicitta. Roughly that means compassion; but it actually has superficial, deeper and very profound levels of meaning. You will find that that is true in everything in Buddhism. There is outer, inner and secret meaning to just about everything. Sometimes I have sat through teachings with my teachers where I have heard the outer, inner and secret meaning and it seemed to me that I understood the secret meaning instantly—it didn’t seem to be a big secret to me—but the outer meaning was confusing. So I don’t know how they figure all this stuff.  In Buddhism there seems to be an outer, inner, and secret about everything, particularly in the Vajrayana point of view. Suffice it to say that Bodhicitta on the external level would be the practice of compassion, which means that one would thoroughly understand the faults of cyclic existence, that is to say the cycle of death and rebirth. One would thoroughly understand its confusion and its difficulties, and what the faults actually are, what the problems of cyclic existence are. One would understand what the cessation of such problems would actually result in; one would understand how these problems could cease, and one would understand what relief from that kind of suffering would be. One would engage in compassionate activity.

On a deeper level, the Bodhicitta nature is actually considered to be our nature. It is considered that our nature is a non-dual union of emptiness and compassionate activity; that that is our true nature.  We are not able to express that nature now simply because we have not obtained realization. But when the Buddha appears or when the Buddha’s teaching appears in the world and is conveyed or conferred in a way that does not deviate from the original purpose and power, then that is called a display of the Bodhicitta.  It is considered that the activity of the Buddha in the world and actually the appearance of the Buddha in the world is emptiness and enlightened activity displayed in a non-dual way, particularly enlightened activity. If one were to have obtained Buddhahood, from that point on one would automatically display enlightened activity constantly. Everything that one would do would be enlightened activity no matter how it seemed. I think I talked a little bit about it for those who attended last week.  For instance, different Bodhisattvas or Lamas that have obtained some realization might display different kinds of activities. There are many different examples of Lamas, for instance, that appear in robes and are really toeing the mark, straight and narrow. It is very, very clear cut that they are displaying the Buddha’s virtuous teachings. And yet there are other highly realized Lamas and Bodhisattvas who appear in the world and their activity seems crazy to us. Seems crazy to us. We don’t understand it. They don’t appear like pure Lamas and teachers.  They coined one phrase in some of the teaching called ‘crazy yoga activity’ where the Lama would appear in such a way as to be odd, almost crazy, looking like they even have mental disturbance, acting very strangely. Guru Rinpoche himself was known to do some very odd things like boink people over the head and kill them and bring about their realization. There is one story of a Lama that I heard of who actually lived not too long ago.  It looked like he did something really horrible. He picked up a rock and threw it at some kind of mouse or a rat, or something like that, and killed it. One of his students said, “Why did you do that? You killed. The Buddha tells us not to kill.” “You have no faith.” He snapped his fingers and the thing came back to life. So it was a display of compassion; it was a display geared toward creating devotion in the students. Those are extreme stories, but there are many simpler stories of Lamas appearing in the world in such a way that through their compassion students can actually relate to them better, can actually hear them better, can feel connected to them in a much better way. So that is one example. But according to the Buddha’s teaching the bottom line of that is when enlightened activity appears in the world, that enlightened activity will be effortless. Meaning that it will naturally occur; and it occurs directly from the mind of enlightenment as a result of the mind of enlightenment. There won’t be any contrivance about it; the thing will be what it is.

One of the teachers that has come and taught here used the expression “the ball is going to roll”. It is going to roll no matter what you do. It is simply its nature to roll. That is the way it is. Depending on the grade of the land, depending on the way things are laid out that is the direction that the ball will roll in. How fast the ball will roll depends on where it is sitting, but the ball’s nature is to roll. You can’t stop that; you can’t change that about the ball. So it is kind of like that with the Buddha’s appearance in the world. When songs are sung to praise the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, their activity is described as what I have spoken of just now as being effortless and spontaneous. Now it doesn’t mean that the Buddha didn’t go through some effort to travel from town to town to appear in different places to teach people as he taught people. It is not to say that Guru Rinpoche didn’t try, didn’t put any effort into his life. It is not like that. In that sense, effortless means that the activity is spontaneous, that at no time does the Buddha or any of the Bodhisattvas who have obtained that level of realization ever say, “I wonder what would look kind right now?  Let me try to do the right thing.  Let me see if I can figure out according to this phenomena here how two and two might add up to four. Let me see if I can figure this out. Hmmm. Maybe if I did this that student would react in this way.”  It is not like that. In that way, the activity is effortless and spontaneous. It comes as a result, not of logical thought, which would be an indication of a very superficial or relative view, but it comes as a result of natural and spontaneous activity that must result from enlightenment. The seed of enlightenment then produces the fruit of this enlightened activity. .

Now we have to be careful how we use that. Unfortunately students that have studied this concept and studied Dharma activity over a long period of time think that they are displaying enlightened activity, think that they are displaying effortless activity. That is an unfortunate thing because the moment that you think in that way and that you consider in that way and that you puff yourself up in that way, that is not enlightened activity.  That is not it all. The moment that you describe yourself as having that kind of enlightened activity you have puffed yourself up and you have strengthened your ego and that is no longer enlightened activity. You are off the mark. There are actually Gurus that are present in this world now that have very good intentions. They have part of the idea, but they do not have the capacity to fully express themselves in terms of enlightened activity. They have not yet produced enlightenment in their students and they are in a situation where their activity is partial. They speak of themselves very highly, as being enlightened, as being a certain way, and it only indicates their attachment to self-nature. So you have to be careful with how you use it and you have to be very careful how you hear it from other teachers.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Key to Happiness is Merit!

From a series of tweets by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

In Buddhism there is much ado about merit. Yet it is very simple to understand. There are meritorious acts and non virtuous acts. If there is no knowledge of Dharma these two may seem the same. But in Buddhism there are rules of conduct. These are given as guides to happiness and good spiritual result.

Say one upholds proper conduct; kindness, stable mind, study, teaching, generosity, respect, meditation etc. That one is accumulating merit. Say another one steals, speaks harshly, harms others, is unkind, a criminal, selfish; this is degenerating merit.

Merit is necessary to approach the path honorably; and to continue, make progress. Merit is also necessary to keep living. It is said when the storehouse of one’s merit in this life is depleted then death occurs. Merit is also about habitual tendencies. If one is a criminal with criminal habits, or a murderer with the habit of killing or harming, this person is said to have a large storehouse of non-virtue, and will live a life that displays it.

So a mainstay of Dharma is the gathering of merit and the avoidance of non virtue. This way the habit of wholesome virtue is installed, and the habit of non-virtue is naturally dissipated. Imagine a legal scale; one pile of non-virtue and one pile of merit. As one adds to the merit, the non-virtue by comparison becomes smaller. Enough merit gathered, and non-virtue falls off the radar. In Buddhism we dedicate that merit of the three times, past present and future to the liberation from suffering of all beings; and for oneself as well. So one becomes like a wealthy person with a treasure trove of merit. Like gold it can be exchanged for benefit. If no merit is gathered the spiritual bank is empty. That results in spiritual poverty, and there is no good result. One may wish to be accomplished but the essential ingredient is missing.

By gathering merit one can be healthy, prosperous, smart, beautiful and wholesome. But the motivation is very important. Gathering merit for selfish reasons is almost useless. The merit is mixed like poison with tea. If one were to rob a bank and in so doing must be kind, generous and loving to the banker to “get in” and steal; this is strictly non-virtue due to bad intention. If one is a monk yet stops to minister to a dying woman, even a prostitute, and the intention is pure, then this is meritorious. Therefore we must always gather merit. Eventually the darkest non-virtue, even the gross obscurations can be purified! But not by acting better starting now. That is shallow and insincere. One must become self-honest and persevere in a deep, energetic and profound way to fill the great storehouse of merit. This is not for sissies! Sissies want it easy-pleasy. Saying words that are pleasing in order to be loved and admired. It will never happen, because to be truly loved and blessed, well, you have to have the merit for it. Put this teaching in your pocket; learn and accomplish Dharma to be truly happy!

Thank you very kindly for reading this small effort at teaching. May it touch your heart and bring you joy!

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Voyage to Recognition

An excerpt from the teaching called Awakening from Non-recognition by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

In this time of intense confusion called Kaliyuga, when our being’s discursive mind and thoughts run rampant and out of control, when even the reality that we are projecting onto our environment becomes progressively more and more decadent—in this day and time Vajrayana has appeared in the world. According to the teachings of Guru Rinpoche, Vajrayana is the best practice for this time, the most potent and most powerful. It relies on a very strong ripening. It relies on the very condition of Kaliyuga, when things become more and more contracted. Yet the obstacle that we face—and here’s where we need to prepare for our lives and for our deaths—is that we do not understand the Guru Yoga. We do not understand why we should practice it or how it might lead to this moment of recognition.

Yes, we want to awaken. We want to move into a state of recognition once we understand what the concept means. But we don’t want to practice Guru Yoga because in our materialistic society we have negative programming concerning some ideas about Guru Yoga. We are brought up in a democratic society, in a materialistic society, and we learn certain rules that we apply wrongly to this situation.

Now I think these rules are good. These rules teach us that we should think for ourselves, that we should be independent. You could not get anyone in this world to agree with that more than me. I am a Brooklyn girl, and I do not believe in following anything blindly. I do believe that to be strictly dogmatic, with no understanding and no ability to determine for oneself what is true and what is right, is completely absurd. I agree with the Buddha’s teaching, plain and simple, although that’s an arrogant thing to say. If I didn’t, what would it matter? But I do. The Buddha taught us that we should determine everything for ourselves, but we apply this wrongly. I am going to talk about how we should apply this process to the practice of Guru Yoga.

In the practice of Guru Yoga, we should think for ourselves, we should be smart people, we should not go brain dead, we should not blindly follow the leader. We should not think that this is simply a translation of another religion where you just do lots of prostrations and act like you’re brain dead around your teacher and go completely limp in your head, saying, “I believe! I believe! Save me, I believe!” In our religion, if you do that, there won’t be much result. So I don’t recommend doing that because in our religion we believe in cause and effect relationships.  In order to achieve that state of recognition, one has to apply the causes that will produce that result—in the same way that, if one wants an apple, one has to plant an apple seed that will grow into an apple tree. Until we develop replicators like they have on Star Trek, there’s no other way to get an apple. I have no idea how they’re going to teach Dharma once we have replicators, because we have been taught that the seed always produces the fruit.

In order to accomplish this state of recognition, this precious, awakened state, we have to have practiced, and applied the causes by which the mind is ripened and ready for such a thing. One doesn’t do that by simply being a good little boy or girl or by being a spiritual person meek and mild. It is through practicing, and one such practice is the Guru Yoga. When done correctly, it can lead to this result of recognition. Now the practice of Guru Yoga is not one of submission to another person’s will or acting as though you are a nobody and the teacher is a somebody, or acting as though you’re a kid and the teacher is mama, or simply following things around in some sort of mindless way. But rather, in the appropriate practice of Guru Yoga, there are certain determinations that one must make.

There is a whole long list of ways to understand this, but Americans don’t do well with grocery lists. We don’t remember them. We get bored and we move onto something else, like wondering if we left the oatmeal boiling on the stove this morning. So let’s look at it this way. When we first meet with our teacher and grapple with the idea of practicing Guru Yoga, it is not about some sort of emotional display of dropping to your knees and never having a normal thought in your head again. It’s not like that. It’s not some sort of funny, emotional, weird, dumb thing. Instead, it is a determination for oneself: What is this relationship? What does it provide, as opposed to what other relationships in my life provide?

Different relationships supply as many different things as there are relationships. Some supply sorrow and difficulty. Some supply support and happiness. Some supply nurturing. Some supply financial help. There are relationships where there is a back and forth, giving and receiving, but everything that is given or received—even affection, even human caring—arises from the world, from samsara. You think to yourself, “Well love? I don’t know about love. Love doesn’t.”  The kind of love you’re talking about in ordinary human relationships absolutely arises from samsara, even the best parts of it, because a lot of it has to do with chemistry. A lot of it has to do with karmic fitting together. We don’t even understand how animal-like we are. A lot of it has to do with pheromones, all kinds of things that are absolutely worldly, and they come together to create a certain feeling. A feeling is also something that is a worldly experience.

Although our relationship with our teacher may be cloaked or surrounded by experiences that are in relationship to or in accordance with our senses—we will see our teacher, our teacher may hand us something that’s physical, we will have emotional experiences and reactions concerning our teacher—yet there is something different going on.

The teacher provides you with a way to connect with our ultimate teacher, with the Buddha, with Guru Rinpoche, with the entire lineage of lamas—all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Through the relationship with our teacher, through empowerment, wind transmission (or lüng), and commentary teachings that ripen and direct our minds, we become familiar with the Buddha. Outwardly, that seems to be the physical manifestation of the Buddha as we have heard about the Buddha in history. Inwardly, it is a gradual familiarity with our own nature that is Buddha.

The teacher provides us with the path, the method—not the method to go from one side of the room to the other, not the method to make lasagne, not the method to brew a cup of tea, not anything ordinary that you can learn in the world, but the method that is Dharma practice and the necessary understanding and deepening that goes with it. This method that is Dharma practice is not ordinary because it arises from the mind of the Buddha. Therefore, in the relationship with the teacher there is something happening that is not of the world. It is extraordinary. You can’t get it anywhere else. Particularly in relationship to one’s own root guru there is a nourishment — the recognition that this teacher speaks my language, speaks to me.  This teacher enables my inner recognition, matures and ripens my mind so that I can hear, and not just theoretically. That’s the particular relationship that happens between oneself and one’s root guru.

Also, this teacher is the one who hooks us. This is very valuable and potent. Although life will hook us, alcohol will hook us, sex will hook us, food will hook us, TV will hook us, Star Trek will hook us, X-files will hook us, Christmas will hook us, love will hook us, lots of stuff will hook us, these are all things that can be found in the world.

When the teacher hooks us, what is coming into play is recognition of the nature as Buddha, the appearance of the path. This hook is about things that are not ordinary, things that are not of this world. What is the result that the teacher offers, desires for you, tries to communicate to you as being important? That you’ll be a good cook? That you’ll be pretty? That you’ll be healthy? That you’ll be fit? That you’ll be rich? That you’ll be a good artist? That you’ll learn how to use the computer? I wish all those things for you. I hope the Bluebird of Happiness nests in your armpits never to leave again. The teacher wants you to have every temporary happiness, but that isn’t what’s happening here.

What is happening here? The result that is desired, that is implemented by this relationship, is the result of your recognition of awakening. You have to look at this for yourself. You can’t just listen to me and go, “OK, I see what you’re saying.” You have to do it in your head. I can’t get into your head.

All of the rules that you have about ordinary relationships should not apply here anymore because you determine that this is something different. This relationship is not in the ordinary category. It does not arise from the world. It does not necessarily bring the result of worldly gain, although virtuous activity always brings about better things, but that’s not the plan here. As I said, every teacher, every Bodhisattva wishes you to be happy, but the result that we are about together as student and teacher is that of recognition, of awakening. Once you’ve determined that this is a different category, please don’t be a dummy, going on like a beast of burden that simply cannot think things through and cannot change your habitual tendencies. Don’t engage in this relationship within an ordinary context because it simply won’t work, and you won’t receive the blessing.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Cultivating Virtue, Pacifying Poisons


From a series of tweets by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

I have always felt a good way to purify rage, is to film oneself doing it. How even an attractive person becomes ugly, and repulsive.

If one cannot give respect, one will never receive respect. All people have the right to dignity and respect.

If one lies, is unethical, hurtful, selfish, causing harm, one cannot expect to ever be truly happy!

To meditate, recite Dharma, practice kindness, generosity, to teach Dharma in order to increase the Sangha, this is meritorious, happiness follows.

If one resents or is angered or jealous of others prosperity or funds…They will never have enough, and their bank will be empty.

Rage is an addiction. It must be immediately pacified so the habit will not escalate, thereby making progress on the path.

I find if one reacts to rage with goodness, a kind heart, and compassion, one remains untouched and joyful!

If one lies, is unethical, hurtful, selfish, causing harm, one cannot expect to ever be truly happy!  If one is often sick or very sick the best remedy is loving, kindness, helping others who are sick, and praying for all beings to be free of suffering.

To those whose past is a harsh burden I say – you can change! With effort and cultivating a wholesome and loving mind!

Never gossip. It will always come around and smack one in the head. And one’s storehouse of merit will be lost. Most non-virtue is habitual, so one can only change from the inside. Be persistent and brave! Soon one’s whole life will transform!

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Understanding Our Root Guru

I agree wholeheartedly with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa when he says it is most important to keep one’s samaya with the root Guru. I was once told a story where a dedicated and educated practitioner emerged after several years of retreat and went to his Lineage Master to complain of his lack of progress.

The Guru sent the retreatant back to the cave, saying five more years were needed. In five years this happened again. This time the Guru said, concentrate on the Root Guru!  So the practitioner went back for five more years. Still almost no result! No Bodhicitta, no Wisdom or Recognition. The Guru then shouted, “You did not meditate on your root Guru!”

“Well,” said student “I most certainly did.”  The High Lama said, “I am not your root Guru! I am one of your teachers and you favor me because I have a high throne! That makes you feel that you certainly are high yourself!”

The great lama in his clarity and mercy said, “You fool! The old poor Ani who fed, raised and dressed you also taught you the four contemplations that turn the mind to Dharma, as well as Bodhicitta, the Four Noble Truths, including the Eight-Fold Path! How stupid and arrogant to think you must have the highest Lama! Such pride! A downfall! So go back and meditate on mixing your mind with that old ragged Ani. She is your Tsawei Lama and was also a wisdom Dakini. Her Qualities were peerless, sublime! But pride has closed your eyes.” Then with fury he cast the practitioner away, saying, “Come back when you have thrown away your pride.”

Five years later the retreatant returned with gifts and prostrations. He was, much to the delight of the Great Lama, awake. He had mixed his mind with his true Guru, had given rise to pure Bodhicitta, and had no pride.

Both the Great Lama and the disciple rejoiced together, and could hear the joyous cries of the wisdom Dakini throughout the entire monastery- Kye Ho!

So the Root Guru only needs to be awakened herself, be able to communicate, and have lineage teachings to pass on. “High Seats” are another issue entirely.  It is that one who hooks and aligns you with pure Dharma, connects you with method and result who is the true Root Guru. Praise to the Root of Accomplishment!

Ph’owa: Precious Opportunity at Moment of Death

An excerpt from a teaching called Awakening from Non-Recognition by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

I would like to talk about a practice that we do in order to prepare for the time of death. This practice is called P’howa. In P’howa, we practice clearing the central channel, opening up the psychic apertures that block us, coming into a state of awareness of what the death experience is. In P’howa we practice ejecting or sending the consciousness through the central channel so that at the time of death we can die consciously—that is to say, not simply have the experience of death overtake us the way life has overtaken us, but rather die intelligently, participating in the transference of consciousness from ignorance to bliss.

In the practice of P’howa we are taught that at the time of death when the outer breath ceases, there is a period of time between that and when the inner or more subtle breath ceases. That time varies according to the conditions surrounding the death, the condition of the person’s mind stream, the karma of the person and his or her habitual tendencies. There are many different factors. But when death actually occurs and all of the breath ceases, both the outer breath that is very visible and measurable and the inner subtle psychic wind, at that moment there are three very important events that happen. It’s critical that as Buddhists we understand this, think about this intelligently, prepare for it and make choices.

The first event is the disengagement of the white Bodhicitta or male spiritual essence that we inherit from our fathers. We perceive this to be seminal substance but it is actually the white Bodhicitta in its mystical form. That white Bodhicitta disengages and drops from the top of the head to the heart area of the central channel. When that happens, there is a corresponding vision as we enter into the bardo state called the white vision. That white vision has two aspects and there are two results. We prepare for that in P’howa.

The second event that happens is the disengagement of the red Bodhicitta or female spiritual essence, which is the mother’s contribution. At the time of death that red Bodhicitta disengages and rises up the central channel to the heart.  At that time we have the corresponding vision, which is called the red vision. That red vision has two aspects and two results. Again, you will learn about that when we study P’howa.

The event that I want to discuss is the third event, which occurs when these two substances, this red and white Bodhicitta, meet in the central channel. When that happens, there is the clear or black vision. That particular vision is extremely important because, while everything in the bardo depends upon our capability to move from a state of non-recognition into a state of recognition, the most glorious opportune time for this movement into recognition is when the worldly life-bearing constituents dissolve and we are in that state that I’m describing. Every method that we practice in Vajrayana is geared toward providing that kind of recognition both in the waking state and at the time when the red and white Bodhicitta meet.

That state is a very fortuitous state. To the excellent practitioner who understands the point of the path and who has practiced and achieved some accomplishment, that moment is a tremendous opportunity. The excellent practitioner will look forward to that moment more than to any other event in his or her life because that moment holds the strongest potential for recognition. A mediocre practitioner will say, “Well, you know, it sounds good to me, but I don’t know, I’d rather vacation in the Bahamas!” or something like that. The mediocre practitioner will have some fear about it, which will be more or less according to their level of competency, and will question whether or not that state of recognition could possibly occur at that moment. For the non-practitioner, that state is a complete unknown.

Now, why does this moment hold such a tremendous opportunity for the practitioner, and why is it a completely different experience for the non-practitioner? Non-practitioners are basically in the same position in that state as they were in their lives when they lived in an ongoing, confused and deluded state of non-recognition, thinking that I am this thing that is contained right here in this box of flesh and you are out there totally separate from me, and there is no connection. That state of non-recognition is the mind of duality. It is the mind that separates self from other. It is the mind that experiences acceptance or rejection, hope or fear, and hope and fear mixed up at the same time. There are many different ways to determine what our consciousness is like in the state of non-recognition. Simply look at what your mind is doing right now.

If we were awake as the Buddha is awake, we would understand that duality is not even logical. Coming from the perspective of enlightenment, of realization, of awakening, we would understand that is not realistic at all. It cannot be. So this state of non-recognition is the state in which we seemingly remain in a certain solid condition where everything other than our perception of self-nature seems to be projected outward and seems to be happening to us. We think life happens to us. We seem to be both victim and oppressor, and we seem to experience both the result and the condition of both. According to where we are at that particular moment in our lives, we will think ourselves to be either the victim or the oppressor.

Now, according to the Buddha’s teaching, nothing is happening other than the primordial wisdom nature that is the ground-of-being along with its display, which is very much like the relationship between the sun and its rays. The dance, the movement, the display of the primordial wisdom nature is as much a part of that nature as the sun’s rays are a part of the sun. Yet we experience things in an extremely deluded way. Everything seems to be separated, categorized, dualistic, and so we are lost in a state of non-recognition, not able to understand who or what we are or how things actually occur.

In P’howa, when the red and white Bodhicitta come together, the subtle material constituents, which bind us to our experience into this physical reality, into a time and space grid or a sense of continuum, naturally dissipate. When the body is ceasing its activity, that which we have called “I,” which seems to have existed since time out of mind, we do not perceive to disappear into nothing. We perceive that sense of “I” continues and remains, mostly due to ego-clinging and desire, through the idea of self-nature as being inherently real. However, at the time of death, again when this red and white Bodhicitta come together, there is this brief period of time when all of these constituents dissolve. This is almost like the space or pause between an inhalation and exhalation. Unfortunately, our language is a deluded way to communicate this information because it is not made to convey enlightenment. It’s made to convey only delusion. Please forgive me for that. So there is a moment when the constituents dissolve, when there is this pause where nothing new arises. Even though we are still lost in the state of believing in self-nature as being inherently real, some sort of subtle reassembly has not occurred just yet. The constituents have simply dissolved and there is a moment of pause.

Once the constituents disengage, most people (99.9% of sentient beings) who have not had the opportunity, or for whatever reason did not practice to some level of accomplishment, will not be able to recognize that the components that cause us to engage in the automatic projection of our karma and mind streams into external experience have momentarily ceased. To the ordinary practitioner at that time, consciousness simply faints or goes into what is very much like a sleeping state. That is the experience of dying. It seems as though something ends. There is no recognition of the primordial ground of being that is our nature and that is momentarily revealed at that time, revealed just as clearly as it can ever be.

Now here again listen to the language of delusion, “clear as it can ever be.” If we could conceptualize that nature as an “it,” we’d probably be able to see it at that time. But the constituents have dissolved, and we are simply seeing the naked reality, the naked face of the ground-of-being that is our nature. As non-accomplishers, as those who are still not awake, we do not recognize that moment. It appears to us that it is simply over. It is ended. We have had a certain white vision and there is a feeling of moving through a tunnel and all that stuff they write about in books. A lot of it is correct, but they don’t tell you about the part that happens after that, which is the red vision, and then the experience of dying. As we arise from the state of unconsciousness, our habitual tendency to conceive of self-nature as being inherently reasserts itself. When we’re talking of a habitual tendency, we’re not talking about 75 or 80 years, we’re talking about time-out-of-mind, inconceivable time, time that you cannot name, count or measure. So naturally a habitual tendency simply asserts itself. Then we continue to go through the bardo, again projecting consciousness outward, but it’s a very different experience without the rules and regulations associated with physical life.

What happens to accomplished Bodhisattvas or perhaps even to very good practitioners at that precious moment when all of the constituents dissolve? They recognize the clear, uncontrived, natural, conditionless face that is our nature, that state which is literally free of any and all conditions and therefore cannot be described, which is fundamentally complete and yet without beginning or end. That state is free of discrimination, free of any kind of determining factor, free of time and space as we know it, free of anything that we can name as distinction or condition.

At that moment that state is revealed, and for the practitioner, it is as precious, so close as to be beyond your breath, beyond your blood, beyond your marrow as you understand as a physical being. That state, then, when the constituents all dissolve, is suddenly tasted, understood, recognized—recognized in the same way that a child will recognize its mother and the mother will recognize its child. “Recognized” is the only word that really works.

Those of you who have been parents, particularly women I think, have this kind of experience more frequently. It’s not to say that men don’t have this experience, but women who have birthed a child have a mind bend to see something that was inside of them and now it’s outside of them and they know it. There’s this thing that happens. It’s there in the same way that a child begins to move toward its first cognition, the first thing to which it reacts. You can see this in newborn infants. They will start to look for the sound of their mother’s voice and even be comforted by being held close to the mother’s chest because they recognize the mother’s heartbeat.

This deep, intimate recognition doesn’t even touch the recognition that happens to the qualified practitioner or Bodhisattva when the constituents dissolve and they are free to see their true face. That nature that is revealed at that moment, simply because nothing else is going on, is more intimate than the experience that I have just described. Again, those of you who have borne children and know what I am talking about can really relate, and others of you can relate in your own deep, inmost experience, perhaps remembering from your own childhood.

The revelation of that arising is so intimate and so profound. It is that revelation that we look to accomplish, that we try to understand, that’s the game plan here. At the time of death when the constituents dissolve, we wish to arise from the darkness not filled with desire and habitual tendency continuing through the bardo and through samsara like a bee in a jar like we always do. Instead, we wish to arise in the state of recognition that is the same as what the Buddha described when he said “I am awake.” This is a state that brings us to awakening. That is what awake is: that recognition.

So for the excellent practitioner the hope is that at that moment we will recognize that which is not separate. What is the thing that we recognize at that time? It’s not a thing. It’s no thing, nothing. It is no thing, and yet it is that which is the ground essence that is our nature, the ground-of-being. Isn’t “the ground-of-being” a provocative phrase? We’re not talking about some external divine reality that we have to go toward. We’re not going toward the lake, you know. That’s not what we’re doing here. It is the recognition of that nature that is the ground-of-being, that ground-of-being that is our nature. In that state, indistinguishable, one cannot determine the appearance of phenomena or the appearance of self-nature, or the difference between. One cannot see differences. That recognition is of our true state, our true nature, which is that which is free of such distinction.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Unending Vow

From a series of tweets by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo on October 26, 2010

My friends are trying to lift my spirits and I feel so grateful for that. Really, I don’t know how I’d manage without your kindness!

I have also received great support from my other teachers, and Palyul Lamas for which I weep with joy. Thank you Khenpo, and His Eminence Gyaltrul Rinpoche and all the others. I love Palyul with my Body, Speech and Mind.

Kyabje His Holiness Penor Rinpoche instilled such love and respect for his hard work to keep Palyul alive and flourishing. I loved his style.

Every Lama has their own style, whether or not they are Tulkus. Just like people!  Some are tough love types. Some are tender and quiet. Some are warriors and some are peaceful. This is throughout Vajrayana. Amazing how the Guru displays just what is needed, if they have wisdom and compassion. A self-cherishing talker could not do that.

I am an American woman. Many find that intolerable. Or don’t like my style. That is OK by me. What I find deplorable is gossip among the Sangha against the Three Precious Jewels. I feel it is lethal to Dharma and to the faith of the students. This is a new land for Dharma.

When Padmasambhava went to Tibet he had to constantly battle the local demons. I was told by BOTH my root Gurus it would be so for me, that I took vows to continue Guru Rinpoche’s work in this new barbaric land. And so it has been and continues to be.

Whenever I complain Gyaltrul Rinpoche says, “You asked for it right to the face of Guru Rinpoche.  You asked to help the worst of the worst,” and so it is. When I complain, forgive me, I do get tired!

But I mean to love you.

I mean to liberate from the suffering of samsara.

I mean to bring benefit until samsara is empty.

May I be the last to be free of suffering.

For your sake.

For their sake.

May I be food, water, and shelter for every being.

And love. May I be love.

Again, I pray and prostrate with prayer to His FACE!

For their sake – my children.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

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