The Foundation of Devotion

Guru Rinpoche

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

Now I’m going to dive into the adult portion of our teaching, but you might have gotten something out of the children’s portion even though we’re adults, and some of us are even past 38. It looks like maybe some of us might be, and we’ve already learned some bad habits. Don’t we still move through whole passages in our lives when we just forget that we can be of benefit? We just move through and live in a way that’s relatively meaningless. We simply move through time, marking time by births, deaths, and anniversaries and summer reruns, and all kinds of things that are really pretty insignificant. We too can take hold of our lives and really become firm-, really practice accordingly.

So in the Buddhist tradition, particularly in Vajrayana, there is a kind of practice that is called devotional practice, and devotional practice has many components. But one particularly meaningful and important component is that one develops a relationship of pure devotion with one’s guru, with one’s teacher. In the Vajrayana tradition, the teacher is considered to be like the door of liberation because, even though there has been a Buddha on the earth and there has been the Buddhist teaching, even though the teaching is written in the books, even though there are many ways in which you can approach the Buddhadharma, it’s really, according to Vajrayana tradition, just about impossible to enter into the Path, into the meat of the Path, into the thick of the Path without the blessing of the teacher.

The lama is considered to be the blessing that is inherent in the Path. The lama is necessary for empowerment; the lama is necessary for transmission; the lama is necessary for teaching; the lama is necessary to make a bridge. Almost like the lama is the nurse that administers the medicine. The doctor might prescribe, the doctor might be considered the Buddha; but the lama is considered to be the nurse that actually administers the medicine while we ourselves may be too weak or too unaware to be able to hold onto the medicine or take it into our own mouths without some help. In Vajrayana tradition, from the very most preliminary practice to the very most superior practice, there is a devotional aspect to every practice that is done; and that is considered to be the vehicle or the means by which the blessing is actually transmitted.

In preliminary practice, there is actually a section of devotional yoga, guru yoga. This is something that is widespread not only in our particular tradition, but is widespread across all the traditions in Vajrayana Buddhism— the tradition of calling the lama, beseeching the lama, of invoking the lama’s blessing. Now in our particular Ngöndro, we have a beautiful passage, a beautiful song of invocation, called “Calling the Lama from Afar.” It has a very haunting melody and it’s done with one’s heart. Actually the recommendation is that one should do it until tears arise in one’s eyes. One should do that in order to soften the ego, in order to soften the mind and to make the mind like a bowl that is turned up, not turned over, hard, you know, and unable to receive any blessing; but a bowl that is turned up that doesn’t have any poison or dirt in the bottom of it, that’s kept purely; so that when the nectar comes in, it won’t be mixed with the poison or dirt. And it isn’t cracked, cracked through the distraction that we all feel when we can’t really keep our minds on any kind of devotional practice and our minds wander too much. That kind of bowl could not hold the blessing, could not hold the nectar. And, of course, if our minds are hard and filled with anger and hatred, and that anger surfaces, the bowl is turned over and the nectar simply runs off so there is no blessing to be had. We might fool ourselves thinking that we have a blessing, but in fact, no blessing has been received.

So we practice this devotional yoga; we practice it very sincerely. The benefit of this practice is immeasurable in that it softens the mind. It’s almost like planting a field of grain, you know? One has to plow the field; then one has to harrow it or disc it, turn it over. One has to soften it and rake it and work the soil so that it’s capable of receiving the seed. Otherwise if the soil were not ready, and the seed were thrown out, it would just bounce, like on a hard surface. It would not do much good. Any of you who have planted things know the truth of that. So devotional yoga is a cultivator. It’s considered to make one ready. Without devotional yoga, there is no possibility, really, of the blessing being fully received.

The devotional yoga is meant to benefit the student. It never benefits the teacher. If the teacher needs devotional yoga, the teacher is inadequate and impure; the teacher is without value. So the devotional yoga is purely for the benefit of the student. The teacher is not pleased by the devotional yoga. The teacher is pleased by the movement and the softening and the gentling and the change that occurs within the student, and that‘s because the teacher wishes to benefit the student. It isn’t because the teacher requires any kind of devotional yoga, or any kind of notice, really, at all.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


Beginning to Look Deeper

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Entering the Path”

What I would like to talk a little bit about is how it is when one first comes to the path. Many of you new students, as well as those of you who are not new students, find that eventually things come full cycle. And when you meet with certain problems on coming to the path, it’s likely that you don’t completely solve them.  When we first come to the path we’re generally not equipped to make the great gains that we need to in order to solve most problems, and we come to another cycle of meeting with a certain kind of problem. So let’s talk about that just briefly.

As a Dharma practitioner, or as a beginning Dharma practitioner, or perhaps as a practitioner who is simply testing the waters and hasn’t committed yet to practicing Dharma, it is no longer suitable, now that you have begun to study, to think of things in a superficial way.  The way that we used to think of our lives, the way that we used to try to understand the events in our lives, was on a very superficial level.  We did not look for depth.  We did not understand.  Our minds were filled with ignorance, and we simply tried to determine the events of our lives with a value system that could not possibly understand what was happening because we were looking only at the surface.

For instance, if something happened to us in our lives and it was uncomfortable or caused us suffering, we would simply look at that as being an external phenomenon that was happening to us. We did not try to understand the deeper ramifications of what was actually occurring. Now we’re way past that, or at least we should be past that, and it is no longer suitable to take phenomena and events within our lives at face value.  It is time now to plumb the depths of our practice in order to understand more deeply what is actually occurring.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, all things are a display of the primordial nature.  It is the lack of understanding of the primordial nature that makes the display unclear and deluded.  It is the lack of the awareness of the primordial wisdom nature and the belief in duality instead that absolutely ensures that we are going to see events happening to us as though projected from the external, and it’s going to be very difficult for us to understand.  Now, as practitioners we begin to understand in a different way.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Time To Practice

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Antidoting the Mantra of Samsara”

New students keep saying “Well this is amazing. I’ve been looking for something that’s that deep and that profound and this sounds really good, and as soon as I have time, you know, I’ll get into it. But right now I have children, and I have wife and I have a job and I have a car to support and all these things. So you know, I’m really for you and I hope lots of people become Buddhists and do all this. But right now for me I have to wait. I have to wait for a while. I have to wait ‘til my kids grow up. I have to wait ‘til my car is paid for. Right before I get the next one. And I have to wait for…, I just have to wait, you know, because waiting is what I do.”  And so the thought that we have when we’re waiting is that somehow this is all going to work out well. We’ll be exposed to the Buddha’s teachings and we’ll hear something. It’s that magical thinking: It’ll just sort of come together eventually.

Actually, if you really think about it, the Buddha’s teachings are so extensive, so developed, so profound, so deep that they take time to contemplate, to understand, to prepare for, to even build the foundation that causes you to practice foundational preliminary teachings. It takes time. Why? Because you have to change in the process!  We’re not in the business of applying bandaids here. It takes time for you to change. Some of you change faster than others. And it takes time to do the practice. The practice is extensive. So, I’m looking around the room now and I’m seeing that most of us are not under 10 years old. Therefore, whether we’re 20, 25, 35, 45, 55, 75 or however old we are, and it seems like there’s a mixture here, you need to start right now. Because there’s not much time.

There are two reasons: First of all the Buddha taught that there is no guarantee as to how long any of us are going to live, and you can’t understand this. For some reason it is beyond human capacity to understand this kind of thing, unless you yourself have been struck with a terrible illness or a terrible accident where you could have died or may still, or unless you’ve seen someone near you just kick off. Once you’ve had that experience you may understand, but before that, it’s very hard to understand what the Buddha has taught. There is no guarantee that you’re going to wake up tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year.

The second reason is the cause and effect relationships that constantly engage our own sea of karma. That sea of karma that is already hooked up and functional within our mindstream is very fluid and it’s constantly being catalyzed by other events. Each one of you most likely has the karma to live for a very long time and also the karma to die quickly. Which one will ripen?  Well, that’s up to you, according to how you practice, according to how you live, according to how you determine your mind state because everything you do, everything you think, everything you engage in is an additional cause and effect relationship and an additional catalyst. Everything you do is important.

So for each and every one of us the wisest thing to do is to begin to practice now. You know yourself very well. You know when you tighten up. You know what you need. You know when you get scared. You know when you do your best. You like to think you don’t know and you kind of get limp and act like you need guidance for everything, but in fact you do know. You do know how to take care of yourself if you stop and think about it and engage in some self-honesty. So do whatever it takes to mother yourself through, to nurture yourself through, to get to the point where you can actually practice.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved


Why Such Effort?

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Antidoting the Mantra of Samsara”

When you come here and you ask yourself what has to be done here, the answer is: It’s not just hanging out being a Buddhist. I don’t really care if you’re Buddhist. I just want you to be liberated. You can call yourself whatever you want. To hang out here and be a Buddhist is probably equal to going to a movie; but to hang out here and really practice and really apply the antidote, now that’s worth something. And that’s the kind of frame of mind you have to be in and think yourself in when you actually approach the path. You can see, however, how confusing it must be. As sentient beings, we can’t understand why it takes such an extraordinary effort. I mean, the other religions are much easier. So why wouldn’t we want to practice that?  Because according to the Buddha’s teaching, we are much more complicated than that. We are samsaric beings and we have been for a very long time. We are filled with delusions. Our minds are just jammed with discursive thoughts of all kinds. We are constantly engaging in conceptual proliferations, superstructuring. We cannot relax in our nature and awaken to the primordial state.

This is why it’s so complicated to practice Dharma as we do. These are the kinds of things that people ask: Well, why can’t we get through this easier?  And then we want to know, why do we have to do prostrations?  Why prostrations?  I mean, couldn’t we just be devoted standing up?  Well, then you have to ask yourself why you’re asking that question. And you might say “Well, it’s because I don’t like the getting up and down business. It’s too hard. It’s too tiring. It makes my back hurt and I just don’t want to do it.”  And so that’s your answer. You get up and down every day—dance the jig, carry on, do all kinds of amazing effortful activity in order to continue in samsara. How many calories do we burn every day?  What are we doing when we’re burning those calories?  Are we plowing forward towards Dharma?  Are we moving through the door of liberation?  No. No. No, we are going deeper and deeper into samsara. That is where our effort is involved every single day. So when we ask ourself, “Why does it take such an extraordinary effort?”, then we have to go back ourself. Do we understand what the goal is, what the point is? Until we understand why we’re doing this, and why we’re here… And it isn’t just to hang out.

There is something that actually needs doing in order to attain liberation. Otherwise liberation is not a fact, not a certainty, not a state, not a real goal. It’s simply an idea just like any other idea. Something that’s floating around. It’s just a word, it has no meaning. So instead, depth is required. Repetition is required. Contemplation is required. Thought is required. Attentiveness is required. Determination is required. Understanding is required. You must go into this path more deeply than perhaps you’ve ever done anything else. It doesn’t mean that you have to spend every single moment of every day in the beginning simply contemplating the Buddha’s teachings. I’m not asking you to forget how to catch a cab. That’s not what I’m saying. Or to forget how to cook dinner. But I am saying that we should be aware in the beginning that what we are trying to accomplish is possible, but only if we really understand what it is, what the goal is, and how extraordinary the goal is and therefore how extraordinary the effort must be in order to achieve the goal. Because it must be that extraordinary or you’re just doing something, another something other than the other somethings that you’re already doing.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Approaching the Path

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Antidoting the Mantra of Samsara Su2-18”

When one actually enters onto the path and begins to practice Dharma, one begins with teachings associated with Ngundro or Preliminary Practice. Normally what happens first is one receives teachings that cause one to turn the mind toward Dharma. My experience has been that for westerners that teaching needs to be deep. It needs to be extensive. It needs to be profound. It needs to be logical, meaningful. It needs to make sense. It needs not to rely on simply blind faith. There needs to be true understanding in order for the new student to actually take hold and actually hook in. That’s been my experience.

My experience has been that sometimes a student, through whatever circumstances, is introduced to Dharma at a more advanced level, by taking some empowerment or something, but they have no understanding of what they’re taking. They finally find out that now they have a practice commitment and they have no idea what that means! That sort of thing can be really terrifying and frightening for a new practitioner. And furthermore, since there is no understanding, it’s almost like trying to make something O.K. on the surface that in fact on a deeper level is not yet O.K. or is not yet suitable or acceptable.

So I’d like to spend some time talking about how one would actually begin to practice on the path, not necessarily the hows and wherefores, because that will be done in the next period of time, both by Khenpo and then after he finishes, I will continue and continue to develop the new practitioners with that kind of understanding. But I would like to actually address some questions that newer practitioners over the years have expressed again and again and again. These questions are interesting because they come sort of loaded with preconceived ideas. You can understand what the preconceived ideas are by hearing the questions.

So let me begin by indicating to you what some of those ideas or some of those questions might be. Here’s something that newer practitioners say all of the time. When they first get introduced to the idea of Dharma, they are normally attracted for whatever reason they are attracted. And it varies with each person. It’s according to their habitual tendency, their karmic propensity, their connection, whatever. Whatever that is, that will indicate how they enter onto the path. For some people it’s the attraction to what seems like something very exotic. For some people it’s the attraction to something that is a living, ongoing experience, spiritually speaking. That is to say, it isn’t like the way perhaps, many of these people practice, let’s say, Christianity which is to go to church once a week, or twice a year, or whatever it happens to be, and then in between not give so much thought to their religion.

Many people who approach Buddhism are interested in something that really travels with you, that is more a part, more distinctly a part of your life, and more a developed philosophy that can be a true guidance in one’s life. And for other people, they are simply connected to the teacher. They see the teacher and they don’t know what this is about, but they feel that connection and they go in that direction. For other people, they’re looking for something, and this looks like a nice thing to check out. There are many different ways that people approach the path, but generally speaking, most people, when they approach anything new, including the path of Dharma, they don’t really approach it with the idea of how hard they want to work at it. You know, when you approach a new job, the idea of a new job, you don’t approach a new job because you know it’s just going to be a real back breaker. I mean, you don’t think, hey I’m really looking forward to the grueling nine to five, that sort of thing! That isn’t what attracts us.

What attracts us is the payoff, the money, or the opportunity to do something exciting. There are things that attract us, but it’s not the hard work.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Poop Soup

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Antidoting the Mantra of Samsara” 

So here’s the question.  Here’s what we ask ourselves, and it’s a valid question.  When you are doing prostrations, or maybe reciting a mantra, and that’s another thing you have to do, at least a 100,000 times on several mantras.  Wouldn’t it be just as good rather than sitting there for say, I don’t know, half an hour Om Mani Padme Hung, Om Mani Padme Hung, half an hour?  Half an hour is a short time to accumulate, but let’s say, rather than sitting there for half an hour, what if we said one really good Om Ah Hung Benzar Guru Padme Siddhi Hung?  What if we said it so good that it’s like the best mantra that anyone has ever said?  What if we said it so good that we are completely absorbed?  Rather than saying it 100,000 times, per syllable, which is how you spell, well anyway, you’ll learn about that later, what if you said it once, really good?  First of all you could pronounce it really perfectly, which nobody in America can do yet, but you know, you can pronounce it really perfectly, and then while you’re pronouncing it, you can remain in complete absorption.  Isn’t that one of those kind of funny hand things that you see people doing in the New Age?  Where we can do it in complete absorption.  Let’s say that we can do it in such total absorption that even if lightning were to strike, we would be immovable, in immovable samadhi reciting that one mantra?  Wouldn’t that be better than just saying Om Ah Hung Benzar Guru Padme Siddhi Hung, Om Ah Hung Benzar Guru Padme Siddhi Hung, Om An Hung Benzar Guru Padme Siddhi Hung?   Sigh, Om Ah Hung Benzar Guru Padme Siddhi Hung.  Wouldn’t that be better than a half an hour of that, don’t you think?  That one mantra, that one glorious earthshaking, the earth moves beneath your feet mantra.  So that’s the question everybody has.  That’s the big question.  Why do we have to say these things, the underlying question is WHY 100,000?  You know, what fresh hell was concocted for us to make us have to recite this thing 100,000 times?  Where is it written?

Well, let me give you some information about that.  The reason why we ask questions like that is because of our lack of understanding.  We have an idea that if a thing is O.K. on the surface, it’s O.K.  We have an idea that if, well, I like to use the analogy, one of my favorite analogies is poop soup.  So let’s talk about that a little bit.  Poop Soup.  What’s the recipe for poop soup.  Well, poop soup is like, with poop soup you do pretty much what sentient beings do as they move through time.  You collect everything nasty there is through our own habitual tendency.  And here’s the part that we don’t understand.  Our life didn’t begin 46 years ago, or 20 years, or 70 years ago, or however old we are.  Our life didn’t begin at that time, but in fact the Buddha teaches us that we have existed as, with having the idea of self-nature as being inherently real, since time out of mind.  And during that time, we have engaged in activity which was samsaric activity, mixed activity, meaning not understanding our nature, not understanding our qualities, not understanding the relationship between cause and effect.  We simply engaged in an activity, instinctively and habitually, with very little understanding, and so we have accumulated mixed habitual tendencies, extremely mixed habitual tendencies including the habitual tendency of hatred greed and ignorance.  So that’s like  cooking up a big pot of poop soup.

Poop soup is basically all of the unclean things in samsara.  You collect it all together in one pot and you stir it up real good, ummm, yummy, it’s poop soup so you can understand what the main ingredient is, can’t you?  Poop soup, got it?  O.K., so you stir it up, the fragrance of cooking fills your house.  Wonderful, right?  And so the first day you cook up your poop soup it looks like pretty much what it is, boiling poop soup.  Right?  And the second day you boil it some more because that’s how it is, life moves on.  The poop soup is still boiling and the second day it looks pretty much like poop soup.  And the third day things are happening.  It begins to change.  It’s looking sort of colorful now.  Fuzzy in places, and colorful and you know, it’s changing.  And everyday that you look at it, one day it’s kind of orangey, the next day it’s kind of purplely, it depends.  It’s like different fuzzy little things that are growing on it.  Poop soup changes every day.  It’s just a cornucopia of colorful delight, the fragrance of which continues to fill your house.

Then one day, one day something magic happens.  You go to check out your poop soup for the day and you notice that on top of your poop soup there is this wonderful soft furry layer of something pure and white.   A white fuzzy something has grown on top of your poop soup.  And here’s how we think!  We think that now that our poop soup is all white and fuzzy and pure, it’s o.k.  Now, the only reason why we think like that is because we don’t understand that in fact we are not superficial creatures.  We aren’t that pure white stuff that’s growing on the top.  We are deep creatures, meaning to say we didn’t just crawl out from under a rock.  We didn’t just appear in space.  We didn’t just start 35 years ago, 75 years ago, whatever it happens to be, but since time out of mind we have been making connections, we have been engaging in cause and effect relationships and we’re like that pot of soup.  There are many many ingredients inside of us, and it’s a deep pot.

As we live, everything in that pot gets stirred up, from the bottom to the top, from the top to the bottom, from the side to the middle, it’s always getting stirred up.  But we think of ourselves in a very superficial way, and what that means is that on the day when we come up somehow magically just because of chance, it’s almost like you know, it’s almost like the slot machines in Los Vegas.  One day you’re gonna get three cherries.  Well, one day your pot’s gonna look like it’s all white and pure and sweet, kind of like New York City when it snows.  But you and I know that underneath there is a whole lot of trouble.  Right?  That’s true, but instead, how we think is that what’s on top is o.k.

So we have this idea, and actually this is how we think and it’s an unfortunate thing because it does not lead to self-honesty.  It does not lead us to a way to actually engage in practice and really benefit ourselves.  We think basically, because we think superficially, if you didn’t see me do it, if I didn’t get caught, I didn’t do it.  That’s how we think.  If you didn’t see me, I didn’t do it.  If you didn’t catch me, it didn’t happen.  What we are not taking into account is that we are deep creatures, that we have strong habitual tendencies that have, that we have engaged in since time out of mind, that we are extraordinary and complicated, that there are layers and layers and layers and layers of tapestry or fabric or weaving that are part of our nature.

To say one mantra, even if you say it so perfectly, so beautifully, pronounce it so well and do so with complete absorption, could not possibly counteract time out of mind worth of habitual tendencies and inappropriate negative or neurotic activity, which we have engaged in.  So reciting one mantra meaningfully, or even reciting a series of them very meaningfully, could not possibly empty the depth, could not possibly purify the depth of that poop soup that we created or that we have lived with for so long.

So what we’re up against here is we are trying, we are using a technology that isn’t meant for a person who has only lived one life.  We’re using a technology that really wasn’t designed, was not given to the world to cure a superficial problem.  It was not given to us to heal a scratch.  The technology of dharma is so extraordinary and so complicated, so deep, so effortful because of what it is supposed to do.  What it has to do is a big job.  What it has to do is to purify nonvirtuous habitual tendency that we have created and are deeply ingrained since time out of mind.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Wish to Benefit Others

Tibetan Buddhism Wheel Of Life 06 00 Six Realms

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

The subject today will be Bodhicitta, or compassion. From the traditional point of view, it is considered that Bodhicitta is divided into two basic categories. There is the aspirational Bodhicitta and the practical Bodhicitta. The aspirational Bodhichitta is the first relationship with Bodhicitta or compassion. In this sense, you can use the word Bodhicitta and compassion interchangeably. The aspirational level is the first relationship with Bodhichitta that each of us would approach, and this is a very important step. This step is the beginning of the cultivation of a stability of compassion within the mindstream. The practice of aspirational Bodhicitta begins with very small baby steps. It is absolutely dependent on understanding some of the Buddha’s basic teachings in order to do it effectively, in order to approach it effectively. One of the reasons why this is so necessary is that the Buddha teaches us of the faults of cyclic existence. The Buddha teaches us, as well, that suffering ceases when we achieve enlightenment. The Buddha teaches us of the cause of our suffering. He teaches us that suffering is caused by desire. And we come to understand suffering in a completely different way than we do just as ordinary sentient beings. 

Upon hearing the Buddha’s teaching, we might view suffering differently. Before we heard the Buddha’s teaching, we might think it possible to solve suffering through manipulating circumstances in ordinary human ways. We might think that a poor person is suffering because they have no money. We might look at the superficial angle of suffering. Looking at that suffering from a superficial angle, we actually can only develop a very superficial understanding of it. Ultimately we will have very little understanding of the nature of suffering at all, and therefore, will be incompetent to prevent more suffering or the continuation of suffering. To look at suffering from the ordinary superficial sense, we might consider that a poor person suffers because they have no money, or a sick person suffers because they have no health. And this would seem perfectly logical. Everything in our environment points out that this is the case. We would think that whatever we are lacking, that thing is the cause of our suffering; and whatever we have that we don’t want, that thing is the cause of our suffering. But according to the Buddha, this is really symptomatic. These things that we witness are symptomatic, and they do not necessarily lead us to understand the deeper cause of suffering. So we must turn to the enlightened teaching of the Buddha, of one who has crossed all of the barriers of suffering and has experienced the cessation of suffering in order to determine what the real cause of suffering is.

According to the Buddha, the things that we suffer from, such as poverty or sickness, or old age, sickness and death in the human realm, or all of the different sufferings that are potential and possible within the six realms of cyclic existence, in fact, are only symptomatic of a deeper underlying suffering, That suffering is actually the belief in self-nature as being inherently real. The suffering of the belief in self-nature being inherently real, or the delusion of the belief in self-nature as being inherently real actually leads to the suffering of desire. Because the tricky thing about belief in self-nature as being inherently real is that once you decide you have a self, you have to maintain it. Once you have the view that the self is here and it’s very real, then you have to constantly redefine and clarify the meaning of self by defining the distinction between self and other, And then all phenomena appears to be separate. Even one’s own feelings appear to be separate. All things that are present in the world appear to be separate and they are filled with the sense of distinction. Whenever something registers on the five senses, whether it be an altar, or whether it be something like food, or whether it be another person, whenever that thing arises in the mind, we determine whether we like it or don’t like it. There is an automatic attraction or repulsion phenomena that occurs. If you will examine yourself, you will see that this is true. It simply is not possible for you to see something or to have something come to your awareness without having the immediate, almost knee-jerk reaction of deciding if you are attracted to it or repulsed by it; or there is some aspect of that within your mind. It may play out a little bit differently; but if you examine it, you will see that the root of it is attraction and repulsion. All things play on the senses in that way.

The thinking then of the separation, or the erroneous perception of the duality between self and other, becomes more and more profound. It actually progresses and it builds on itself. It becomes more exaggerated. Each time that you react with attraction or repulsion toward anything, there is a karma, or a cause and effect relationship, that is begun at that time. This cause and effect relationship then continues to create more cause and more effect. And there is an almost continual building of these instances, one on top of the other; and they are endless. There is no way for this to stop. It occurs in a cycle. And it occurs in such a way that while cause and effect are being experienced, more cause and effect continue. While one is dealing with the effect of previous causes, one is beginning new causes because of the reaction to the effect of previous cause. And it continues to be so that it seems to be unbreakable and unshakeable.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo all rights reserved

Becoming Stable on the Path

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Commitment to the Path”

There are many different ways to practice Dharma according to our individual needs.  For that reason, it behooves us to kind of sit back and get the lay of the land before we start frothing at the mouth and chomping at the bit.

The tendency is to come in here and say, “Oh, great.  Well, first thing I’d like to do is start wearing robes.  The second thing I’d like to do is have me at least four or five interesting malas of all different colors.”  And we like to have the books. And we’d like to have a shawl, you know, a zen.  Only a real one, like them [the monks and nuns].  So we have all these ideas.  We think, I really want to get this where you sit on a bench.  It’s such a noble thing to do.  You sit there and you practice.

When we first come to the path, we have all kinds of funny, cute, but childish ideas, almost like a child viewing the world for the first time and trying to make sense out of it.  But then eventually there is a certain kind of relaxation that happens when the newness wears off. And then we are able to make some intelligent choices.

When we first start in our Dharma practice, we always think we are going to be great practitioners.  A couple of years later, we’re still hoping we’re going to be great practitioners. We find that it’s really taken this long to get the lay of the land, to really understand what is the relationship with the Three Precious Jewels.  What is the relationship with one’s teacher?  What is this about view?  Why are we here?  What’s this on my foot?  (I told you we’re going to have fun.)

So what are some of the fundamental ideas that we have to really accomplish and become at peace with in order to make intelligent choices on the path, in order to make choices that are lasting and commitments that are real? When we first enter onto the path, we might be filled with – I’ve seen this happen so much –with a kind of excitement, maybe even a feeling of passion.  But these feelings are emotional feelings, and emotional feelings come and go every 10 minutes or so.  You know how up and down our emotional condition is.  So those feelings, while stimulating and exciting at first, will not last and cannot be relied on.

So the best thing to do when you approach the path, is to approach it, not critically, but intelligently.  Look at the path and really become bonded with it in the way that it’s almost like— well, maybe women can relate to this more—but it’s like buying a really extraordinary new outfit.  I don’t know about you, but if I buy a new outfit, it has to hang outside of my closet for a little while so I can look at it and grok it in fullness.  Then and only then can I actually put it on my body.  So in a way, Dharma should be like that.  We should really examine how’s it going to lay, how’s it going to fold.  What is going to happen here?  It’s like we have to look at it. Examine, examine, examine. Because once we put on the clothing of Dharma and engage in our practice, we should try very hard at that point to remain stable. That’s important.  Once we engage in this close relationship with our own root gurus—when we meet the guru on the path and that hook is set and the connection is made, and we have found the potential for our liberation—then that has to remain stable.  That is not the time to vacillate.  So we should hang out a bit. Examine intelligently. Examine the qualities of our teacher, examine the qualities of our Vajra brothers and sisters. Then once we realize that this is our teacher and this is the place that we will practice, at that point, we are required to become stable.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo All Rights Reserved

The Nature of the Path

The following is an excerpt form a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Commitment to the Path”

I like to see students start off kind of smallish and grow bigger in their practice, because I think that is more realistic.  The best way to start out our practice is to understand what Dharma is trying to accomplish—what are the faults of cyclic existence and what are the results of practicing Dharma—to get a clear idea of that so that we can see for ourselves that this is a beneficial thing, so that we don’t have to argue with ourselves further down the path when it’s not appropriate any more.

So these teachings that I would like to give you are designed to get you to progress.  They are made to get you somewhere.  You are not meant to stay where you are on the path.   One progresses and that means change.  You know, that scary word.  So we have to ask ourselves then: What is Dharma engineered to do?  How does that change take place?  What does it look like?  What does it mean?

Well, first of all, look at something that is not Dharma.  Look at whatever sense of spirituality or religion you have that is not Dharma.  If we look at the ideas that we have generally as a culture about spirituality, spirituality is like salt.  It’s a condiment, a little ketchup on the hot dog of life.  It’s a flavor, but it’s not nourishment.  It doesn’t give you what you need every moment of every day necessarily, unless you yourself find a way to relate to that faith so strongly.

With Dharma, it’s a different story.  You don’t ever have to feel your way around.  You are never walking around in gray zone.  You can do practice.  You were taught how to increase your knowledge and your wisdom. You go from one practice to another to another to another through the different levels.  You can move through them according to your habitual tendency and your karmic propensity.  So there is something exacting, something like a method.

The reason why is that Dharma is not meant to act as a barbiturate, to calm you.  It’s not Valium.  It’s not meant to soothe you and make you feel more comfortable.  It’s more like if you could imagine your life as being a dark room, like any other room—filled with furniture. And it’s very dark.  You can’t see a thing.  This is kind of your life as a sentient being, because we really don’t come into this world understanding anything about cause and effect or how to make ourselves happy.  We come into this world unknowing, with only habitual tendencies.  That’s all we come in with, deep habitual tendencies from previous experiences.

So in a way, our lives are like this dark room, filled with obstacles. By now, now that we’re getting a little long in the tooth, we know there are obstacles. We’ve had them.  Some of them, anyway.  Doubtless there are more to come.  So we think of our life like this room with furniture in it and you’re supposed to get from the birth door to the death door successfully and make some progress in the meantime.  Well, if it’s pitch black and there are all these things in the room, the chances that you are going to walk through without knocking yourself into oblivion are pretty slim.  So the way that Dharma works is it forces you to turn on the lights.  You have to look at obstacles.  You have to look at what is in that room.  With another kind of faith you might think that the best thing to do is think positive and be positive and plaster good thoughts on your head. You know, just try to be kind of upbeat and make the best of everything.  All good ideas. But when you are stumbling through a pitch black room and there is a lot of furniture in there, you are going to trip.  And no amount of positive thinking is going to get you through that room successfully.  No amount of positive thinking is going to keep you from entering that last door.  Nobody has done it yet through positive thinking.

So Dharma’s tendency, rather than act like a soother or a barbiturate or something that is calming, Dharma turns on the light.  Dharma says, “Look folks, here is what’s happening.”  You are born, but you don’t remember how you got here.  There are uncountable cause and effect relationships since time out of mind that have formed into habitual tendencies and karmic propensities. And here you are born as a child.  How did you get those parents?  How did you get in this world?  How did this happen?  That’s what I said when I woke up as a kid.  What’s wrong with this picture?

So we find ourselves here and we’re kind of helpless.  That’s one of the teachings that the Buddha gives us. That in truth, we are all the same and in our nature we are exactly the same; but in our ordinary appearance as sentient beings, we are in a state of confusion.  We do not understand cause and effect relationships, because we can only see this present lifespan. We have had so many lifespans to give rise to causes in an amazing amount of time, since time out of mind.  So we have no understanding of this.

Dharma teaches us that all sentient beings, while we are the same, and while we are wandering in confusion, have one thing in common and all of our activity is geared towards that.  And if you think about it, you know that it is true.  Even when we are doing for others, until we really have given rise to compassion, we’re always trying to be happy.  It’s natural.  The organism wishes to be balanced and at peace, happy.  But we don’t understand what balanced and at peace is.  So we keep grabbing for stuff.  Yet Lord Buddha teaches us all that we are suffering due to desire.  It’s not that you don’t have something that makes you suffer, but your reaction to the not having it…that is most of the suffering.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo All Rights Reserved


Stopping the Merry-Go-Round

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Antidoting the Mantra of Samsara”

Now, during this practice, with our whole body we’re purifying body karma arising from the non-virtuous activity that we have engaged in since time out of mind, when instead of going for refuge, we went for ice cream.  So instead, now we are actually using our body, speech and mind—using the body by making prostrations, using the speech by reciting, and using the mind by remaining absorbed and visualizing.  Now we are training in the same way that a body builder trains a muscle. He develops and trains that muscle by pumping it and working it and working it.  Now we are working to sharpen our focus, not to be simply reactive and discursive the way we are in samsara going towards meaningless goals with no distinction whatsoever.  I mean, we’ll follow anything!

Instead of going for meaningless goals that have no meaning whatsoever, instead now we are training body, speech, and mind to be single-pointed for the first time.  This is pretty amazing!  I mean, think about it.  For the first time, single-pointed.  I take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dharma and the Sangha.  And if you do it with your body, speech and mind, the potency of reciting that 100,000 times is extraordinary!  Simply extraordinary!  I mean, completing 100,000 repetitions of the refuge mantra and prostrations is an extraordinarily life-changing experience.  It’s like stopping the merry-go-round for a minute. If you were born on a merry-go-round and your movement was invisible, and then suddenly you stopped, don’t you think that something inside of you would go, “Whoa! Whoa!  Whoa!  What’s this?  This is new!”  And that would be the beginning of a new kind of experience.  And it takes the weight of that kind of practice to make that happen.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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