The Hungry Ghost Realm

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why P’howa?”

The next of the lower realms is the realm of the hungry ghosts.  The hungry ghosts actually have a traditional appearance and they are described in this way, but again you must understand that this is us looking with our eyes that are born having to distinguish between subjective and objective.  These are the eyes that are born in the realm of duality,. So keep that in mind when their description is given.  The description is that of beings that have ver,y very, very tiny mouths—they are said to be about the size of a pin, just a tiny opening—and great big stomachs; and these stomachs are empty.  They are not able to take in the amounts of nourishment that they need.  This is the picture that we are given.  The reality of the realm of the hungry ghost is that they experience extreme need, extreme hunger, beyond what you feel when you have Big Mac attack.  Way beyond that!  We are talking hunger like you have never felt.  It is a different color of hunger entirely.  Have you been real, real hungry?  Have you never been real, real hungry in your life?  I’ve been real, real hungry in my life.  I’ve been real, real hungry in my life, and I remember how that felt.  I remember being so hungry once that I could feel my blood sugar doing wacko things, and I actually had the feeling of panic.  I was that hungry that you feel panicky because your body is just telling you, “I need food now.”

So you imagine that there is that kind of hunger, with that kind of panic and need times more than you can ever imagine. That would be the feeling of a hungry ghost.  It is extremely needful.  Now you say to yourself, “Please, I worked out my whole life and for me to be reborn with a tiny little mouth and a big, big belly like that, that definitely is not going to happen to me.”  So you think that that’s not going to happen.  Well, you have to examine yourself from a different and more subtle point of view.  Let me ask you if you have ever gone through a period in your life when you were extremely needy.  “Oh no, not me.”  Right?  Extremely needy?  For women that happens at least once a month, right?  And for men I think it happens about every 48 hours.  Now they get needy in a different way, but it’s basically also, “Do you love me?”  We have within our mindstream the potential for tremendous neediness and graspiness.

O.K., this is a little bit less painful.  Have you known a person in your lifetime that was compulsively, neurotically, unsatisfiably needy?  Have you known a person like that?  Haven’t you had from that person the feeling that this hole is just too darn big to fill?  You feel like you’re throwing it in and throwing it in and throwing it in and trying to love and trying to give them something, and they’re still whining.  It never ends; and you spend the rest of your life doing this and nothing happens.  The hole never fills up.  Well, that is the kind of cause that results in a rebirth as a hungry ghost—a person whose habitual tendency is simply wrapped around self-absorption and what they need.  I need, I need, I need.  Can you gimme, gimme, gimme?  They see every other being in their life as a prop, a prop by which they can achieve satisfaction.  They use people as props in order to achieve satisfaction.  You know we’ve all gone through periods in our lives when we’ve done that. Haven’t we?  Absolutely.  We have used other people for our own satisfaction.  Absolutely. And for many of us, we made careers out of it.  Right?  And maybe still, maybe still.  We have seen how people can wrap their whole lives around graspiness and neediness; and every time they meet with somebody it’s like you can hear the suction.  You can just hear it.  You feel like the blood is coming out of your pores.  And that’s the kind of person you instinctively stay away from because, literally, you can feel your energy being sucked into them.  Haven’t you felt that kind of thing?  You can feel the energy being sucked into them,. And it’s true.  If you could see it with different eyes, your energy would be sucked into them.  That’s true.  That kind of cause, that kind of habitual tendency that the person might experience, or if it’s you, you might experience, would result in rebirth as a hungry ghost.  Particularly, also, it is the kind of person who is against and has no compatibility with compassion and generosity.  The person who is chronically, without hesitation, selfish to the bone.

Now you may think, “Are there really people like that?”  Oh ho ho, yes!  I’ll tell you , this story briefly.  In New York once, I went to give a teaching. I remember walking into the room and thinking “Oh, no,” because, you know, a lama does develop the ability to sort of intuit who we’re talking to. And I remember walking into the room and going, “No-o-o!”  because I could see that it was going to be very, very difficult. And sure enough, here we were in New York and I was talking about the most benign… I wasn’t talking about hell realms.  I would never be dumb enough to talk about hell realms in New York!  You guys want to hear that you have to come to Poolesville!  So anyway, I was talking about the most benign and charming—talk about white picket fence!—subject that you could possibly think of. Kindness.  Talking about Bodhicitta.  I was talking about how, in the most fundamental way, kindness makes one feel.  Really, being kind to others makes one feel better.  I was talking about how developing the habit of kindness brings this result, just kindness.  I was talking about Bodhicitta being consistent with our own nature. I swear to you not one, but on different occasions, three women stood up and argued with me about the validity of kindness.  One woman in particular said, “This is ridiculous.  Kindness has no place in my life. I mean you have to get what you want!  I don’t see the point of what you say.  This is whoosh.  Tell me something real!”  That is literally what happened.

I remember just feeling this compassion for them, for what can the result of that be?  What do you think their next experience is going to be like?  Do you think they’re going to fall into the lap of mother love?  Do you think that kindness is going to be just heaped on them in their next life?  I don’t think so.  I don’t see how that’s going to happen.  So these poor people are up against the wall and they don’t even realize it. And in her haughtiness she defended what was going to make her suffer horribly.  So you see there is that kind of thing operating in the minds of sentient beings.  There are some people that categorically refuse and reject the idea of kindness and benefitting others. In fact, that is not consistent with all of the world religions. We should take equal responsibility with ourselves as with other sentient beings.

There are even types of teaching that the Buddha has taught that are meant for that kind of person who cannot appreciate compassion, who are not even set up to hear the word compassion.  The Hinayana point of view: Yeah, we’re taught to be kind to others, but not in an active way.  We’re taught to do no harm.  That’s different from saving sentient beings from suffering.  So there are sentient beings that have no capacity for kindness or generosity, you see?  And so the result of that kind of mental state is to be reborn as a hungry ghost, experiencing only need.  Only being able to experience that which comes toward oneself, literally not having the chip, the computer chip, to be able to send out.  It would be like a computer that has no printer.  Everything happens internally, in a way.  Do you see what I’m saying?  Nothing goes out.  This person is not wired to send out anything, and that comes through having only the habitual tendency of self-absorption and selfishness. The result is life as a hungry ghost.  In the hungry ghost realm, it isn’t that there is no food. It is that they are so weak because of the habitual tendency of their mind which has produced this weakness.  Their arms and legs are like threads.  They cannot get over to where the food is.  They cannot get there.  The only thing big about them is their stomachs. And even if they could get there, their little mouths would not be able to take in enough.

Plus it is said that even even if they do see some food, they cannot get to the food; and if they somehow manage to get to the food, it then will turn to… Here is a glass of water.  I have the karma for this water to refresh me.  Water, little bit of lemon, pretty good.  If I were a hungry ghost in the hungry ghost realm, even if I were able to make it to that water (and I would feel the need for it very strongly), the water would be like a glass of pus or something, horrible and repulsive, literally, sewage or something horrible and repulsive.  It would turn to that before you reached it.  And that’s because of the habitual tendency of our mind.  How different from sewage is the need to only satisfy oneself and not care at all for the condition of other sentient beings?  To take from others and never give.  How different is that from sewage?  You see?

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Looking Beyond the Self

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In order to practice effectively, we have to give rise to the great Bodhicitta.  We have to see the needs of sentient beings—what their situation is, what their condition is. For that reason I’m going to talk, first of all, about the six realms of cyclic existence.  These are the different types of reality that one may experience during the bardo or passage of living.  We are beginning then with the passage, or bardo, of living.  Bardo is not actually a time period.  You can’t say that bardo is a period from Thursday to Thursday, or from the 24th to the 3rd of the month.  Bardo is not a marking time or a markable time.  It is perceived that way because of our delusion.  We will see the bardo of the passage through our lives as being, oh, let’s say 75 years.  We can see this as a passage. From the point of realization, this is a movement, a display, a passage, a color.  It is something other than the way we experience it.  We experience it as the date that we were born and the date that we die, and time in between.  But, in fact, what we are actually experiencing is not a length of time, but rather we are experiencing the bardo, or passage, of living.

According to the teachings on the bardo or passage, of living, we’re not the only ones here.  What a big surprise!  Now everybody is thinking “Oh great!  She’s going to tell us about flying saucers!”  I wish.  I wish!  I’m still waiting for them to come pick me up.  I don’t know if any of that stuff is true.  I’m definitely into Star Trek and I hope to heck it’s true. It seems logical to me that it’s true, there being so many planets out there, but I don’t know that for sure.  What we’re going to talk about today is the honest-to-goodness. This is what the Buddha has taught us about the realms of cyclic existence.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, the amount of those sentient beings who can achieve rebirth as a human being is so small that it would be like the amount of particles of dust  on our thumbnail, compared to those sentient beings that are not human beings.  That would be comparable to the particles of dust on the earth.  Are you perceiving the vast amount of difference?  So we have to think of ourselves as the smallest group really. There are other sentient beings who are revolving in cyclic existence. But in what way?  This is what we want to know. There are so many of them!  What are their sufferings?  What are their conditions?  How can we help them? Should we consider them?  What are they to us?  These are the thoughts that will help us to understand our condition and the condition of sentient beings.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, there are actually 3,000 myriads of universes.  Three thousand myriads of universes.  That is a way of saying uncountable reality.  Uncountable, unmentionable, unthinkable display, so much display as to be inconceivable to the kind of mind that we have that likes to count beings, or likes to count numbers.  There are that many wandering in cyclic existence. And according to the Buddha, there are basically six realms of cyclic existence. I will talk about these six realms of cyclic existence briefly so that each one of us can understand the condition of cyclic existence and the results of our own actions, because none of these beings in cyclic existence have ended up where they are, including us, through anything other than by the results of our own action.  You are here listening to Dharma teaching because somewhere in the past you have been exemplary, exemplary.  Oh naturally the room gets quiet!  They want to hear about this!  Don’t you love it! Every time. This is so predictable.

All right, let me tell you how wonderful you are. In order to have received the teachings that may ultimately result in your liberation in one lifetime… I mean, you talk about grains of dust on a thumbnail. That would be equal to grains of dust on the head of a pin!  That is how rare this opportunity is. You must have done some extraordinary things in your past in order to be able to hear this teaching.  You must have been kind to sentient beings.  You must have helped other sentient beings or supported them as they sought truth, just as you are being supported in your search for truth.  You must have been helpful.  You must have been seeking.  You must have been looking for a better way.  You must have had some devotion.  You must have had some faith, and more.  It would take extraordinary kindness, extraordinary virtue, to come to this point.

Now within this point, there are some people in this room, and you can see that they are sleepy. They can’t listen very well, and they sort of miss most things.  Well, why is that?  That is not because of what they had for breakfast, really, unless of course you had a candy bar for breakfast in which case, go back to sleep!  It is not because of their hearing.  It is not because they speak a different language.  It is not because of any of the things that you might think are contributing factors.  If the person is too dulled out to be able to hear the teaching, it is because while they have the extraordinary merit and virtue to be able to hear the teaching, they don’t have quite enough to be able to absorb it deeply.  It’s a little bit like if you could imagine a bug crawling on the arm of a great lama, or crawling on the arm of the Buddha.  I mean, that’s a pretty good position to be in!  If you’re a bug, that’s where you want to be!  Crawling on the arm of the Buddha.  Certainly if I were a bug, that’s where I would want to be. In the Buddha’s armpit or, you know, someplace safe.  But still, the Buddha could be giving the most extraordinary teachings.  The bug won’t hear it.  The bug won’t accept it and the bug certainly won’t like it.  The bug just wants to be the bug on the Buddha’s arm.  It doesn’t even know it’s on the Buddha’s arm, really.  It just wants to be comfortable. You see?  So you may wish to be comfortable.  You may wish to take a nap.  You may think about the things that you’re used to thinking about.  You may wish to keep the same exact attitude that you’ve always had, so this way you don’t have to change.  Even though that all seems very logical to you, actually that’s because you don’t quite have enough merit to absorb the teachings deeply.  Everything is due to cause and effect.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Removing the Blinders

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why P’howa?”

One thing that happens as we are turning the mind toward Dharma is we literally begin to examine the condition of cyclic existence,  We come to understand that we are not the only ones that are wandering in cyclic existence. All sentient beings that we see of all types, not only counting those that are human but also animal sentient beings and sentient beings that live in other realms, these too are wandering aimlessly and are suffering.  So we begin to develop a sense of empathy through examination.

Now some people might think “Gee, what a downer!  Why would you want to examine the suffering of others?  Better to close one’s eyes and think happy thoughts.”  There is a time and place for closing one’s eyes and thinking happy thoughts.  There is a time for joy and a time for happiness. And the kind of joy and happiness that is healthful and that increases our ability to attain liberation and to have happiness is the kind of joy that is not the same as suppression of information.  It is the kind of joy that is not the same as closing one’s eyes and being blind to cause and effect relationships.  It is an all-pervasive natural kind of joy that is in harmony with our true nature, and is the very display of our nature.  That joy promotes health and well-being, promotes longevity; and it is born of moral and ethical and compassionate conduct.

The kind of joy that we are giving ourselves when we try to fake it, literally fake it through our lives, ignoring all the bad news and just playing the way children play in the sandbox, picking and choosing what we want to think about and what we want to see, that is a joy that is an artificial recipe.  It is a joy that exists in the same world with suppression, ignorance and lack of information. That joy is not healthy for us because it does not promote longevity, it does not promote happiness.  It is literally like this: Let’s say we were to take all the chairs that are in this room and distribute them throughout the room in a haphazard way and then pile in a few more pieces of furniture, and  wait til it’s pitch-black midnight. Turn off all the lights, close all the curtains until it’s absolutely pitch dark in this room.  Then try to negotiate going through this room.  Would you like to negotiate going through this room, just trying to feel your way through with all of its furniture upturned and barricaded and brought up in your way and that sort of thing?  Would you like to go through the room, getting from this door to that door? And let’s imagine that door is the ultimate door, the one we need to get out of.  We must get out of that door for whatever reason.  Would you like to go from this door to that door with the lights off or with the lights on?

I don’t know about you, but I’m a sensible, practical kind of girl and if I have to make a journey, I want to know the facts.  I want to go with the lights on.  I want to turn the lights on so that I can walk around the furniture, go under it, step over it, do whatever it takes to negotiate this scary passage through samsara. It makes no sense to close the eyes and not take in information and pretend, suppress the facts in order to go from one place to another, because you will surely fail.  You will surely hurt yourself and have a very painful journey in the process.

So for this reason we must examine cyclic existence. We must examine the condition of sentient beings, and we must examine our own condition in order to truly turn our minds toward Dharma.  Once we have seen the faults of cyclic existence and seen the good results of understanding, of growing in understanding, and the joyfulness of virtuous and moral and ethical conduct and compassion, we will develop the habit of wanting to know, of opening the mind, of having the mind be very much like a bowl, a very pure thing in which nectar can be poured.  We will crave information.  We will crave practice.  We will literally crave turning on the light so that we can understand.  If we do not crave now, if we wish to remain in ignorance and darkness because it is easier or because we like being drunk, it is simply because it is our habit to do so and that does not excuse us from the need to change.

Develop a new habit.  You can see that that young person who partied down and worshipped the porcelain god every weekend morning, literally is watching their well-being go down. We on the outside can see that that needs to change, but that person, in the flux of their own ignorance, cannot see that that needs to change.  So I am pointing these things out to you so that you can make new and acceptable decisions in your lifetime so that you can actually turn your mind toward Dharma.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Cultivating Compassion

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why P’howa?”

It is not foreign to our nature, and it is also not separate from the goal that we wish to achieve by practicing in this way, for us to give rise to the great Bodhicitta, or the great compassion.  The way that that is done on the Buddhist path is to consider that our own goals and the goals of sentient beings are indistinguishable, that they are nondual.  That is to say that our goal to practice in order to achieve liberation, is inseparable from the goal of sentient beings.  They also have the goal of practicing in order to achieve liberation.  Not all of them know it, in the same way that some of you don’t know it either.  You may think you know it, or you may know that you don’t know it, but many of you are still at the party, not growing out of the party, not grown up and looking back and saying “Oh, that won’t do me much good.”

You remember that situation that you found yourself in as you were growing up?  When you were a young person you had a few knockdown drag out parties, didn’t you?  I mean the kind where, at some point in your life, you probably got drunk.  Nobody makes a sound, like “Drunk?  What is that?”  At some point in your life you probably were out of control, just party down, not thinking straight, doing things that were compulsive and obsessive and not appropriate and not healthy for you, not good for your well-being—unthinking, deluded things.  This is something that we have all experienced, but particularly in the case of when we were younger, we would party hearty. And if you think about it, if any of you have done that, and I’m sure that one or two of you have, you may remember that once you’ve partied hearty, there was a period of regret afterwards, and that was primarily the next day.  Of course the, how shall I say, the cure for that is, of course, prostrations to the porcelain god; and with all of that, one comes to understand that one is literally destroying oneself, that there is no hope for happiness from doing that to oneself.  After doing that repeatedly, we tend to grow up after a while.  We tend to be unwilling to put ourselves through that kind of stuff again.

So that happens to us spiritually too. We go through the same compulsive obsessive behavior with no good result. And at some point, either through our own good fortune, through our own gathering together of merit which causes literally a kind of smarts arising in the mind, or through the instruction of our teacher, we can begin to realize that what we are doing makes no sense.  It simply makes no sense.  It is destructive.  It is painful, and it is not pleasant.  So that is the stage in which we find ourselves turning our mind towards Dharma.

What we have to realize in order to give rise to the compassion, to the great Bodhicitta, is that this is true of all of us, not just you.  If you have come to this realization, that it’s time to turn the mind towards Dharma, then what of those who have not yet come to that realization?  They are still putting themselves through that.  They are still acting in a destructive way that disintegrates their spiritual strength.  They are acting in such a way that literally brings them suffering.  What of them?  Perhaps you have heard the good word, but what of them?  Who will help them?  And so we develop a sense of compassion.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Qualifications for Receiving Teachings

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why P’howa?”

If you’re one of those lucky people who is about to embark on a journey to either a monastery in India or a monastery in Tibet where you can study the texts and receive the teachings that we as Americans literally cannot receive because they have not been translated or they are not available in this country…  If you are one of those fortunate people that can go and do that and you will learn to practice by studying Tibetan and you will literally become a Tibetan in that environment even though you will be an American, you will completely change your life into that space. If you are able to do that, perhaps it’s not so important for you to study Phowa right now.  Of course that’s assuming that you’ll live long enough to complete all of your practices.  There are a lot of assumptions we’re counting on here, aren’t there! So at any rate, if you’re one of those people, then you may not need to practice Phowa in order to attain liberation in this lifetime.

We are also assuming that you have the karmic setup, and that you are literally wired in order to be able to achieve liberation in this lifetime, because it is also the case that there are people who can come into contact with the entire volume of what is available, every single essential pith teaching, every single possible cause for realization that we are able to come into contact with, and literally they cannot go in.  The intake button is broken. The student cannot hear it. And eventually, because they cannot hear it, they will leave Dharma.  They will go away from it.  They will have to go away from it because they cannot stand to be in that presence.  Karmically they are not prepared to be in the presence of such teaching, of such potent teaching.  They will remove themselves.  They will simply remove themselves.  That’s simply how it is.

So, all of these things being the case, it sounds reasonable and sensible, does it not, to practice Phowa in order to take advantage of the most extraordinary opportunity in order to achieve the result at a time that seems reasonable to us.  It does not seem reasonable to us to practice now for a result that may not ripen for another thousand years, our time.  Ten thousand years, our time.  We’re not motivated for that, but we can understand the positive result of practicing in order to achieve liberation in one lifetime.

Now, in order to be qualified to have these teachings, there are two things that must happen.  First of all we must establish the proper motivation, and this is something we hear about again and again and again.  How many flavors can ice cream come in?  But this proper motivation absolutely makes it possible for you to receive the teaching.  With no proper motivation, the teaching is very much like seed falling on stone.  It will not take root.  It will not blossom.  There will be no result through no fault of the seed, but through the fault of the ground on which the seed is placed.   So having the proper motivation is of the utmost importance, and for that reason I want to take some time to explain.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, our own nature is not inconsistent with the Bodhicitta or what we call the great compassion.  The Bodhicitta is actually the true nature of our mind in its emanation or display form. So you can consider that our nature is, in a nondual way, wisdom, or emptiness, and method or Bodhicitta, compassion.  These things are our nature.

The way that our language works is because of the way our dualistic thinking works.  We have to mention emptiness as being separate from method.  We have to mention wisdom as being separate from Bodhicitta because of the way our minds work—because of our internal separation, because of our delusion, our belief in the separation between self and other, between subjective and objective.  But in truth, that primordial wisdom nature which is emptiness, which is wisdom, is inseparable from that which is method, from that which is the display, Bodhicitta or compassion.  It is inseparable in the same way that, on a coin, one side is inseparable from the other.  You cannot use a coin without using both sides.  You cannot take a coin in your hand without using both sides.  These are inseparable.  They are nondual.  They are indistinguishable from one another and yet, typical of our delusion and indicative of our delusion, we make distinction between that which is in truth not distinguishable.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Liberation in One Lifetime?

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why P’howa?”

We have to look from the point of view of realism. What does this mean for us if we are to approach Dharma in the way that we are approaching it now— very casually, very gently, very much without pressure, kind of interested in it but no big deal.  If we are to approach Dharma in a way as to hope that it will be convenient in order to fit into our lives, then of course there cannot be much hope for the kind of extraordinary result of liberation in this lifetime.  Because the effort, literally that we put into our attainment, will equal what we get out of it.  If we are casual, haphazard, no big deal about our practice, the result will be, of course, not stunning, not unusual, but casual.  Not thorough and completely accomplished, but pretty much there, kind of, and that’s the way our result will be. But of course when we are talking about Buddhahood, when we are talking about liberation in one body, we are talking then about the most supreme result, the ultimate result. You could say it is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving in the sense that having attained liberation, one need not move through the same kinds of passages that an ordinary samsaric being moves through.  While one may take on the appearance of some passages, one is not literally stuck like a fly in glue the way ordinary sentient beings are stuck in samsara.  One will only demonstrate those characteristics, habits and appearances that will relate to those sentient beings who they are trying to help; and one will engage in those for the sake of sentient beings, so the result is different.

The difference, if one were to attain liberation, would be like a non-smoker who spent oh 85 years in the room with other people who smoke. You also have to consider that this non-smoker is extremely genetically healthy, set up differently than the others, so that upon taking in the smoke there may be some effect in that it’s not the optimum environment.  There will be some inhalation so one might feel tired, not as energetic as if one were getting the oxygen that one would want.  Do you see what I’m saying? I’m playing up this analogy so that you can understand a difference that is literally inexplicable, but perhaps you can understand it in a common way.

Now the person who is an ordinary samsaric being would be one of those smokers, so the ordinary samsaric being would come out of that situation afflicted you see.  They would be the ones that were smoking, taking in the smoke, inhaling deeply, having ordinary genetic physical makeup and very little with which to resist the horrible sentence that we are laying on ourselves.  But the one who has attained liberation would be the nonsmoker who is in that room for a period of time with some margin of safety.  That nonsmoker will come out of the room smelling like a smoker, but they will not be a smoker and the result will not be the same.  But the samsaric being will come out of that room with the result of that kind of smoking.

So you see the analogy that I am trying to create for you?  It’s not that all enlightened beings literally sit on cushions and float around in the air doing high and wonderful things that none of us can explain.  It isn’t like that.  It’s that each of us attains liberation, and upon attaining liberation, if that liberation is a true liberation and has within it the awakening of the Bodhicitta which true liberation must have, then one would return for the sake of sentient beings, and one would appear as a sentient being for the sake of the understanding of sentient beings.

So in order to prepare our minds for this sort of extraordinary result, we have to first think in our mind that we want that extraordinary result.  To backtrack, those of you who are hearing teachings like this, this particular teaching, this Phowa, those of you who have accomplished Phowa practice and have actually had the physical signs that go with it, you must understand that this is a practice that could literally, if truly practiced and truly adhered to at the time of death, could change the course, will change the course, if it is practiced purely at the time of death, of your entire experience as an individual being to date.  Literally, it would be like running, running, running, running down a very long journey and running, running, running, only relying on your own two legs and your whole body. Then suddenly you meet up with kind of a greased pole and you find a way through instruction, to run into that pole, make yourself go whrum whrum whrum around that pole and spin off, much faster and in a completely different direction than you’re going in right now, having more than your own steam as an individual to go with.  It’s a little bit like that, and sometimes can be even more dramatic because there truly is liberation in the bardo state for the practitioner that has sincerely and in a dedicated way practiced for that moment to the degree that one can return simply from that, as a nirmanakaya form, that is to say, a physical emanation form of the Buddha in order to benefit sentient beings.  One would come back in a way that one would be able to rescue sentient beings.  So this is literally possible with this practice.

This practice is the practice that makes it realistic for us to say in this modern time, 1995, that it is literally possible to attain liberation in one lifetime.  See, most of us are not going to have caves to go retreat in and most of us are not going to be able to get off the hook about supporting ourselves.  We have to remain engaged in the world.  We have to do that.  Also we’ve taken on other responsibilities.  We have families that we wish to support, and other projects that we are engaged in that are important projects and they are part of our lives. So many of us will not have the kind of opportunity that it would take to practice unceasingly in order for us to attain liberation in this lifetime other than through the Phowa.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Stupor

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why P’howa?”

Even though we may have practiced some preliminary practice and received some preliminary teaching, still the delusion hangs on. One of the things that is characteristic of samsaric beings or beings that are caught in the wheel of death and rebirth—that’s everyone here—is that samsaric beings tend to kind of fall into a stupor. A stupor.  And we fall into a stupor about every, oh, 30 seconds or so.  We can be temporarily reminded, and those of you who are practicing Ngöndro, which are actually those very preliminary teachings that we are going to discuss today, will notice that you can practice Ngöndro, meaning that you can read those lines, turning the mind towards Dharma, reading them oh so carefully.  What happens here is that repeatedly we are falling into the same stupor.  We are just losing it.  We just constantly lose it.

If I were to say to you now, O.K., you’ve finished your preliminary practice and you’ve accomplished your Ngöndro for today, so now we are going to go into Phowa practice, you have to organize your mind and your thinking and direct yourself so that you understand very clearly why we should practice, how Phowa is suitable for you and why it is necessary to put so much effort into this one particular practice.  The student who is not reminded, in the traditional way, how to approach these teachings, even though they have just been practicing their Ngöndro, will literally forget.  Or they will have that other wonderful remarkable trait that samsaric beings have which is to be able to literally repeat the text back to the teacher and say, this is why, du du du du du du, dudu dudu dudu, and they give you back exactly what they have just read.  But nothing is happening.  Those words are somehow coming out the mouth, not going in the brain.  They are simply not being internalized, and that is another kind of stupor that we fall into.

Therefore, in order to have the best result from our teaching, from our Phowa retreat this week and in order to keep in tune and in harmony with the way the teachings are traditionally taught, we will cover and re-cover some of the most fundamental traditional teachings in order to prepare ourselves; but we will do this in a condensed form and almost kind of conversationally because I have found that westerners who have the intention of absorbing a practice in order to utilize it in their everyday lives, in order to mesh it into their everyday lives, respond better to being taught conversationally, to being spoken to in a way that they are normally spoken to, not in a strange and archaic way.  Then they are able to knit things together much better. So that’s the way that we will approach our teaching for today and it will be useful for those of you who are not intending to pursue Phowa.

For those of you who are curious about what Phowa may be, Phowa is actually the science and the how-to, the traditional Buddhist teaching, the Buddhist view, on death and dying.  It is literally how to die.  The Vajrayana path, which is the path that we are on, is a subsection of the Mahayana path which is one of the many ways in which the Buddha has taught It is considered that our path, the Vajrayana path, is the only way that one achieve liberation within one lifetime.  Using any of the Buddhist teachings, one can surely attain liberation, but in Vajrayana one can attain liberation within the course of one lifetime.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Love Affair With Samsara

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why P’howa”

There are certain preliminary teachings that must be taken into account, that must be part of our menu, in order to proceed into a deeper level of practice.  Traditionally on the Buddhist path, these teachings are often heard again and again and again.  It’s kind of interesting the way it happens.  It will seem as though you will have absorbed and taken in certain preliminary teachings well enough to know them and recognize them, but the student will also notice that, upon getting ready to take on another deeper and more profound level of teaching or level of practice, they will always be given at least in a condensed form, those same preliminary teachings again and again.  This is completely necessary, because in order to ready oneself for deeper levels of practice, in order to sort of tenderize the mind, soften the mind and prepare the mind in the same way that one plows a field in order to prepare it to receive a seed, we have to prepare our minds. And we have to think in a certain logical pathway in order to proceed to these deeper levels of teaching.

The thought behind that is that the deeper levels of teachings, and particularly the practice, will have no context if we don’t go through these certain preliminary ideas, certain preliminary passages, before we go further.  Without context, there will be no deep understanding.  In order for Dharma to be appropriate for the student, the student has to have accomplished what we call ‘turning the mind toward Dharma.’  Turning the mind toward Dharma means, actually, that we have stood back, in a sense, from our lives in order to gain some perspective with the help of someone who has, before us, stood back from their life in order to gain some perspective.  Having stood back from our lives, we are able to look at cyclic existence and we are able to see our position in cyclic existence.  We are able to see the situation of other sentient beings in cyclic existence and, having viewed all of that, we are able to understand then the problems associated with cyclic existence, literally the faults of cyclic existence.

Then, and only then, are we capable of turning away from cyclic existence.  Literally it is somewhat like a love affair in the sense that we are infatuated with cyclic existence.  Cyclic existence tricks us into showing us bright, shiny, feel-good things that cause us to react in a characteristic way, in the same way a new love affair would bring us a new toy to play with, something bright and shiny in our lives, something that we can say “Oh, things are not so bad!  I have that!”  That’s kind of how we think as human beings.  We need a toy to play with, and for a very long time we become playful in samsara.  We think of samsara as a toy much as a child would think of a bright and shiny object.  In the same way that we do not always think our intimate love relationships through to the end, very rarely in fact, neither do we think samsara through to the end. So we are in love in a stupid childlike way, an unthinking way, an idiot way, with samsara, in the same way that many of the love affairs and infatuations that we have engaged in have been kind of stupid and unthinking and basically guided by bright lights or who knows what.  We have no idea what makes us fall into the situations that we fall into.

At any rate, we have to address this problem of being in love with cyclic existence without being able to see what cyclic existence actually is.  We cannot see its faults in the same way as in a new relationship if someone, an outsider who is knowledgeable, were to point out the fault of the relationship that one were engaged in, and even point out the fault of the beloved and, most of all, point out the fault of the interaction between oneself and the beloved. Of course you would not accept that information.  You would reject it. In fact, you would kill the message bearer, literally.  You would kill the message bearer in your mind. You would toss that out and that would be the end of it. So we have that kind of situation in our lives and it causes us to revolve in cyclic existence endlessly, unthinkingly, in a kind of rapture, kind of stupid-like, in a daze.

We also say that an appropriate way to understand our relationship with samsara is to think that we are drunk, that literally samsara is like a drug, like a narcotic.  It dupes us in the same way that narcotics do.  Narcotics cause us to not be aware of the pain.  The same situation is going on, but we are not aware of the pain.  If you think of having surgery or something like that —taking in first barbituates and another kind of drug in order to make that surgery less painful or to make it possible.  Our relationship with samsara is very much like that.  You may be asleep and you may not know that you are feeling the pain; but actually the way barbituates work, in fact, you are feeling the pain, but it’s blocked off from the part of your brain that registers that in a way where you can react to it.  So, in fact, you are feeling the pain and, in fact, you are under the knife.  Surgically you are being cut open and your parts are laying out on the table; but to you, that’s not an uncomfortable experience.  In fact, surgery seems quite a wonderful thing because you go to sleep and you wake up and it’s all finished.  You weren’t there.  It was neat and clean.  You have no idea whether you had respiratory arrest or cardiac arrest or ingrown toenails or any of your teeth fell out.  You have no idea what happened to you while you were on that table, and that’s because of the influence of the narcotic.

A narcotic makes us approach things that can be not only detrimental to our health and well-being, but can literally kill us—to make us even approach our own death with a calm mind.  But a calm mind not in a smart way.  A calm mind would be literally a prepared mind, ready to go through a door that we have rehearsed going through and we know how to go through.  In this way, we have a drunk mind, a mind that is incapable of feeling anything besides the kind of delusion and calm that goes with narcotics. And that’s how our relationship with samsara is right now.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

Opportunity and Responsibility

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

When we go to another country and we see they are poor, maybe they have no prayer, we shouldn’t think, “Oh, I’m high and you’re low.  Therefore I will teach you.”  We should think like this: Lord Buddha has taught me that you are the same as me.  You are Buddha but you have forgotten.  Let’s remember together.  This is the way.  Let’s wake up together.

I promise you I will not abandon samsara so long as there is one student with one connection, however small, and difficult to return for.  But I also promise you that you must do your part.  You must practice Dharma every day.  You must awaken to the true nature of your mind.  You must create the space in your life to awaken. This is the way of happiness; this is the way of benefit. And this is what our perfect teacher has taught us.

I’m telling you these things in American words, in American ways, because I’m speaking to you.  Therefore, I’m offering you the opportunity and the responsibility of hearing.  So please listen and please practice,  And please accept the entire banquet, not just the crumbs under the table, not just the dessert—as though you can take the dessert and not the rest of the banquet. Don’t fool yourself.  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  Change your mind.  You are here to be changed.  You are here to be changed.  Dharma is meant to change our ordinary minds.

In Asian cultures, that’s an accepted idea, but here we resist.  And so I beg you to reconsider your habitual tendencies and to go within and to practice self-honesty.  You will have to look at your unfortunate qualities.  But when you look at them, don’t look at them like “I’m bad.  I hate myself.  I hate somebody else.  I hate something.”  Just look at them and say, “Oh, that’s that habit again.  I see that habit.  Yuck.”  Remember the kids rolling over in their beds.  You want to roll over in your bed, but you’re saying, “You know, that’s my habit.  I think I’ll go check around and see if there’s anything wrong.  Just go check around.”  In other words, you’re growing a new habit.

Expect to change.  Expect to be uncomfortable at times.  Expect to deal with the issues of individuality and democracy.  Because in America we love individuality and democracy.  But not here.  This is Dharma. And in Dharma, we have to trust our teachers. We have to trust the Three Precious Jewels.  We assume that our teacher has crossed the ocean of suffering and can show us the way.  Therefore, practice.   Don’t be foolish, taking the attitudes and posturing like Dharma but not practicing Dharma.  Because what you’re doing is looking at a feast of delicious food but choosing to eat the imitation plastic stuff from K-Mart that little kids play with—little pretend food.  That’s what you’re eating.

Instead, practice Dharma.  And if you are filled with concern for yourself and your own path, remind yourself that all beings are equal.  If you are raising yourself up to Buddhahood, thinking that you can do it without raising others up to Buddhahood, well you’re wrong.  It’s foolish because there is no separation.  To get lost in your own little Dharma world, in your own little practice, in your own little thing is only more self-absorption.  Sure, you’re practicing a little Dharma, but you’re also practicing a lot of self-absorption.  And so the way is to benefit others, to reach others, to benefit others, to test your limits.  Unfold your wings.  Help others to break through and to achieve some virtue, some merit, whether they are Buddhist or not.  Be a real practitioner. Let everything you do, everything you think and everything you say be something that contributes.  Have respect for others—animals, humans, even those beings that cannot be seen.  You can assume that they are there, and you pray for them too.

These are the recommendations that I am making to you.  And I’m asking you, practice sincerely.  We’ll see each other a lot more if you reach for the enlightenment that is your nature.  If you reach for the Three Precious Jewels, they will respond.  But you must reach. This is the removal of obstacles between the student and the teacher.  You must call out.  You must reach.

Honor the Three Precious Jewels.  On the inside this temple is clean, but on the outside it’s falling apart.  The Stupas were falling apart until we started fixing them.  What respect is that?  What loving kindness, what care for sentient beings is that? Even His Holiness house is simply falling apart.  I’d like to see one of you be a real sucker, a real dope.  Out of just pure compassion and devotion, I’d like to see you take a toothbrush and start cleaning that house.  What a sap, you’d be telling yourself.  Here I am on my knees with a toothbrush, cleaning that house.  Who could be stupider than me?  That’s what your ordinary mind would be telling you.  But on the inside, your heart is going, “Yes, yes.  This may look stupid.  But I am practicing Dharma.”

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Soothing Balm of Virtue

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

To cultivate a joyful mind, we should cultivate virtuous habits. We are happiest when we are busy creating merit.  We don’t realize this because the words are so dry.  We think cocktail. I like that word!  Merit? Ugh.  Happy Hour?  That sounds good!  Practice? Ugh.  That’s our ordinary thinking that we have to dispel because it’s wrong.  It’s wrong. Cocktail means ‘poison’.  It means drunk.  It means alcoholic.  It’s never been good for you and it never will be.  It’s an unfortunate addition to your body, when you can do without. Merit, on the other hand… To practice merit and joyfully meritorious behavior, to soothe the mind rather than constantly inflame it with all your manic stuff, and to be a stimulation junky…  That’s what we are.  Stimulation junkies.  It’s like psychological sugar.  We can’t get enough of it.  “Gimme something! Anything!”  That how we are psychologically.  And yet the mind is happiest when it’s relaxed, quietly joyful, mellowed out, thinking of the benefit of others, not absorbed in what I don’t have, what I want or what I think I got to get!

It turns out that what the Buddha said is true.  The life of meditation and mysticism and loving regard for others—a life of service,  a life planned to benefit others, a life in Dharma, Dharma so alive and so much a part of one’s mind that it is moist and sweet from the holy breath of the Dakinis… That is a life of joyfulness.

In a relaxed mind, colors are brighter. Did you know that? People who are locked in to their own personal phenomena, their own personal crazy phenomena, can’t see colors well.  They think they can.  They look and say, “Oh, I see red, you see red.  What’s the difference?”  But one red is different than the other.  A peaceful mind can smell better.  All the senses are purified and more alive, even though, because we are not yet enlightened they may still do the work of duality. Yet slowly slowly, we are training them in our practice.  And so the mind becomes more relaxed.  The mind becomes actually sensitized to quiet luminous joy—a state of restful luminosity that could be described as the very dance of bliss.  This is the relaxed mind, the virtuous mind.

Yet we cultivate these habits that keep us raw and inflamed.  I look at the expression on people’s faces. They’re all scrunched up because of all that inflammation, all that horrible feeling. When we suffer we say, “I feel so raw”.  No kidding.   That self-absorption, that constant selfishness and non-virtue and inflammation… It would be like taking Brillo and just constantly rubbing it on one’s skin.

And yet the joyful virtuous mind actually is more like putting a soothing balm on this same skin and allowing it to heal.  This is the reason for happiness.  This is the way for happiness.  This is the method for happiness.  Each and every one of us experiences unhappiness due to our previous non-virtuous habits.  When we switch tracks, we begin to pave the way and to move on the journey towards personal happiness, happiness for all beings which is our highest priority, and towards making the world a better place, literally.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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