Cultivating Compassion – A “How To”

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

Now it sounds like I’m making a sales pitch. “You too can do this.”  Well in a sense, I am. But what I’m really trying to do is to open your eyes to the potential here. Please don’t let me express this in such a way as to indicate to you that it is easy. All you have to do is practice a little Dharma and bingo you have got it. The kind of offering that I’m talking about, the kind of bodhicitta, the kind of generosity that I’m talking about takes a life time and more of absolute and total commitment to practice,. of actually practicing sincerely for the benefit of sentient beings; but only under that  condition can you offer the ultimate gift—the gift of enlightenment. In cyclic existence, there is no end to suffering. The only end to suffering is one exits cyclic existence; and one only exits the cycle of death and rebirth upon achieving enlightenment. How can you help others to achieve enlightenment?  Well, you can’t until you yourself have achieved some enlightenment.

In the meantime, you can help build stupas; you can make tsa tsas; you can sponsor enlightened activity; you can support your temple. You can do all of those things. You can practice, and you can dedicate the virtue of your practice to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings. That is a very significant gift. That is a very significant act of bodhicitta. But ultimately the true benefit comes when you yourself have achieved realization in order to benefit sentient beings; and that you are able to return in such a form that you can provide the path and provide the method. You can provide the impetus. You can provide the empowerment and the fertilization that is necessary in order to ripen each and every sentient being’s buddha seed so that it can bring forth the flower of enlightenment.

It is not a selfish goal. It is not an immediate end to the suffering of sentient beings so you might fall into the trap of thinking, ‘Well what is the kindest thing to do? Practice to beat the band or work in a soup kitchen.’ Now we are taught that working in a soup kitchen would be the most compassionate thing to do, but actually it is two different kinds of compassion, you see. Working in a soup kitchen would be temporary compassion, temporary bodhicitta. Working to achieve realization would be ultimate bodhicitta. Two different kinds. The Buddha teaches us don’t waste your time. Spend the main bulk of your time on the ultimate bodhicitta.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Bit by Bit: Cultivating Compassion

kindness

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

We have been revolving in cyclic existence for literally aeons and all during that time, in some form or another, we have conceived the idea of self-nature. Our habit, then, is to hold the idea of self-nature as being very, very solid and very, very real. Our habit, absolutely from the get-go, is to distinguish between self and other. Our habit is to react toward other with hope and fear. Our habit is to think in that relative sense and that comparative sense.  There is no compassion in any of that, and it’s not going to happen.

In order to truly develop compassion, we have to first get the idea and really take to heart the idea that the only thing blocking us from giving rise to the great bodhicitta, or great compassionate activity, is our habitual tendency. So no matter what we feel, if we have the stupid idea that we are good or bad (or whatever our ideas are about life if you have them), set them aside for a moment, and address the singularly important fact that you simply don’t have the habit of truly empathizing and having compassion for the condition of other sentient beings in any consistent and real sense. It’s a question of habit and not a question of good or bad. Are you able to feel compassion?  Many students have come to me and said, ‘Well, I love the idea of compassion. I think it’s wonderful. I hope you are good at it. I hope you continue to teach it to others. But I just don’t really feel compassion for other people.  So I don’t think I can be a Mahayana Buddhist.’ And, really, I cannot count on all of your fingers how many times it has happened to me that a person has said, ‘I love it, but it won’t work for me. I just don’t have any compassion.’

You can’t hide out in that any longer. That’s not a valid excuse, because the fact of the matter is that we are all in the same condition. No one here truly has the habit of compassion. Well, we have a little. Every now and then a jigger of compassion gets mixed into the cocktail of life. (Pretty cute, huh?)  But in truth, we have very little. If we had a great deal of compassion, our whole lives would be given over to benefiting others. There would never be another choice. There would never be another choice. Everything that we do would come out as benefit to others. It would be like magic. You wouldn’t even have to think about it if you had really given rise to the bodhicitta and broken the habit of self-absorption. There would never be another option.

But that’s not the case for sentient beings. We are all in the same condition. So what we have to do is stop waiting to feel compassion, because you are always going to paint yourself into a corner with that one. You are never going to be satisfied with what you are feeling. Until enlightenment, we are never going to be satisfied with anything. So you can’t hide out in that excuse. You simply have to develop a new habit. Sometimes when you are developing that new habit, it can look like this: OK, it doesn’t so much matter what I want here. There are other people that want things in this room, and I’m going to give it up. It can look like that at first. That doesn’t mean that you’re not doing a good job; and it doesn’t mean that you are wrong. It doesn’t mean that you’re bad, and it doesn’t mean that you are a martyr either. It doesn’t mean that you are making an extremely valiant effort and should be rewarded. It doesn’t mean anything. It only means that you are developing a new habit, bit by bit.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Good or Bad?

good-and-evil

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

The problem there is not that you’re a good person or a bad person. Good or bad has nothing to do with this. And you should not do the next step, which is what everyone does, to evaluate themselves accordingly. Here’s what you have to get. We are all sentient beings and we are all exactly in the same position. If you think of yourself as better or holier than someone else, believe me when I tell you, you’re going to suffer because of it. And the reason why is because if that’s true, then someone else is going to better or holier than you. That is the truth. So that is not a game that you should play.

You should realize the absolute sameness of the condition of all sentient beings. It is not a question of good or bad. It is a question of habit. Period. End of sentence. Do you hear that? That is so important. Because in hearing that, you have a key that you didn’t have before. If you think that you are either good or bad, there is no way out of that. If you accept that idea, you are going to find reasons why you are good or bad. And believe me, if you are operating in the good or bad realm, you are going to come out bad, because there is always going to be something better than you. So if you are playing that game, you are going to lose. There is no way to win there. You’ll find reasons for why you are bad. You’ll find reasons in your childhood; your parents will give you reasons; your uncles will give you reasons; people around you will give you reasons. And your badness will continue in your mind.

So we have to work very hard to shift the emphasis from the idea of good or bad, better or worse, into the position of examining habit patterns or habitual tendencies. We already have habitual tendencies. We just have to examine them.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

I Am Awake

Buddha Shakyamuni

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

The Buddha simply displayed enlightened activity and he gave teachings on enlightened activity. It has not been the custom of those who have truly obtained realization or those who have obtained a high level of realization (perhaps not complete realization but a high level of realization), and certainly has not been the custom of any of the Lamas in my lineage, to speak of themselves in that regard. It has only been their custom to give of themselves unceasingly and to strive constantly to do better.  To strive constantly to give more and more and more. They do not speak of themselves in that way. So compassion has many different facets; but the way that Bodhicitta should be understood in the world is that it should be understood as a display of the primordial wisdom nature. But again we are not able to display that nature because we are not acquainted to it. The difference between ourselves and the enlightened Buddha is that the Buddha only described himself as, “I am awake.” He said, “I am awake.”  Students asked him, “What is it about you? Are you a king?Are you a master? Are you an enlightened one? Are you a great being? What are you? ”  He only said, “I am awake.” That is all. Awake to that nature, awake to that nature that is inherent in each one of us. And being awake to that nature absolutely ensures that effortless enlightened activity will be shown. That activity will always lead to enlightenment. The Buddha’s teaching has lead to enlightenment in students many, many uncountable times—full visible enlightenment with all the signs. And so that activity must be understood as the very essence of compassion. Any activity that leads to enlightenment is the essence of compassion.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Introduction to Compassion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Ph’owa: Precious Opportunity at Moment of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Giving Rise to Bodhicitta

Samsara

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

When you think about the suffering of sentient beings, when you think about those that are in the hell realms suffering horribly, is there a part of you that wishes you could do something to liberate them from the hell realms? That wishes that you could pass your magic wand and have them be free at last? Is there a part of you that hears the story about the hungry ghosts and thinks, “Oh my, how can I nourish them? How can I give them milk? How can I make them not suffer like that? How can I help those sentient beings that are about to fall into that condition by asking them or encouraging them to turn the way their minds work?” Do you feel any compassion like that? Is there any part of you that wants to reach out to them and help them? When you hear of the suffering of human beings, when you hear how many times human beings come into the same realm with the very teaching that will bring about the end of their suffering, and yet due to their doubt do not participate in that teaching but walk away from it empty handed, do you wish that you could change that? Do you wish that you could help them to see the truth before it’s too late? Do you wish that you could help the jealous gods and the gods and goddesses of the god realms? Do you wish that you could open their eyes so that they will not be so drunk with their own habitual tendencies, but rather so that they will see the benefit and impact of practicing Dharma? Do you wish that they could use the time that they have right now in order to be free of suffering? Do you wish that you could liberate all sentient beings including yourself from suffering, that suffering would no longer be heard? That the very word of suffering, the very name of death would never be heard in our ears again? Do you wish that you could do that? Is there any part of you that responds to that? Yes? No? Is there some part of you? Then hold onto that part of you, because that is the part of you that is the most precious possession that you have. Hold onto that thread. It is the very thread of life. It is more precious and more important than any other thought that you have or have ever had. And it is the only pure thought that you will ever have during the course of your life until you achieve liberation.

This is the very method by which one gives rise to the bodhicitta, the very method by which one accomplishes. I tell you that you will not accomplish Phowa successfully, you will not have the promised signs that everybody’s waiting for, if you do not first give rise to the bodhicitta based on the understanding of what sentient beings in cyclic existence suffer. So you must give rise to this. It is the foundation of the Path. Without the milk of kindness flowing through you, without giving rise to compassion, there is no method and therefore there is no result. So that is why this preliminary teaching, although it is general, must be included with the Phowa.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Meditation on Impartiality: Patrul Rinpoche

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The following is respectfully quoted from “The Words of My Perfect Teacher” by Patrul Rinpoche

1. Meditation on impartiality

Impartiality (tang nyom in Tibetan) means giving up (tang) our hatred for enemies and infatuation with friends, and having an even-minded (nyom) attitude towards all beings, free of attachment to those close to us and aversion for those who are distant.

As things are now, we are very attached to those we think of as part of our own group–father and mother, relatives and so on–while we feel an intolerable aversion towards our enemies and those associated with them. This is a mistake, and comes from a lack of investigation.

In former lives, those whom we now consider our enemies have surely been close to us, ever lovingly at our side, looking after us with goodwill and giving us unimaginable help and support. Conversely, many of those whom we now call friends have certainly been against us and done us harm. As we saw in the chapter on impermanence, this is illustrated by the words of the sublime Kātyāyana:

He eats his father’s flesh, beats his mother off,
He dandles on his lap his own unfortunate enemy;
The wife is gnawing at her husband’s bones.
I laugh to see what happens in samsāra’s show!

Another example is the story of Princess Pema Sel, daughter of the Dharma King Trisong Detsen. When she died at the age of seventeen, her father went to ask Guru Rinpoche how such a thing could happen.

“I would have thought that my daughter must have been someone with pure past actions,” said the king. “She was born as the daughter of King Trisong Detsun. She met all of you translators and pandits, who are like real Buddhas. So how can it be that her life was nevertheless so short?”

“It was not at all because of any pure past deeds that the princess was born as your daughter,” the Master replied. “Once I, Padma, you, the great Dharma King, and the great Bodhisattva Abbot had been born as three low-caste boys. We were building the Great Stūpa of Jarung Khashor. At that time the princess had taken birth as an insect, which stung you on the neck. Brushing off with your hand, you accidentally killed it. Because of the debt you incurred in taking that life, the insect was reborn as your daughter.”

If even the children of Dharma King Trisong Detsun, who was Mañjuśrī in person, could be born to him in that way as a result of his past actions, what can one say about other beings?

At present we are closely linked with our parents and children. We feel great affection for them and have incredible aspirations for them. When they suffer, or anything undesirable happens to them, we are more upset than we would be if such things had happened to us personally. All this is simply the repayment of debts for the harm we have done each other in past lives.

Of all the people who are now our enemies, there is not one who has not been our father or mother in the course of all our previous lives. Even now, the fact that we consider them to be against us does not necessarily mean that they are actually doing us any harm. There are some we think of as opponents who, from their side, do not see us in that way at all. Others might feel that they are our enemies but are quite incapable of doing us any real harm. There are also people who at the moment seem to be harming us, but in the long term what they are doing to us might bring us recognition and appreciation in this life, or make us turn to the Dharma and thus bring us much benefit and happiness. yet others, if we can skillfully adapt to their characters and win them over with gentle words until we reach some agreement, might quite easily turn into friends.

On the other hand there are all those whom we normally consider closest to us–our children, for example. But there are sons and daughters who have cheated or even murdered their parents, and join forces with them to quarrel with their own family and plunder their wealth. Even we we get along well with those who are dear to us, their sorrows and problems actually affect us even more strongly than our own difficulties. In order to help our friends, our children and other relatives, we pile up great waves of negative actions which will sweep us into the hells in our next life. When we really want to practise the Dharma properly they hold us back. Unable to give up our obsession with parents, children, and family, we keep putting off Dharma practice until later, and so never find the time for it. In short, such people may harm us even more than our enemies.

What is more, there is no guarantee that those we consider adversaries today will not be our children in future lives, or that our purest friends will not be reborn as our enemies, and so on. It is only because we take these fleeing perceptions of “friend” and “enemy” as real that we accumulate negative actions through attachment and hatred. Why do we hold on to this millstone which will drag us down into the lower realms?

Make a firm decision, therefore, to see all infinite beings as your own parents and children. Then, like the great beings of the past whose lives we can read about, consider all friends and enemies as the same.

First, towards all those you do not like at all–those who arouse anger and hatred in you–train your mind by various means so that the anger and hatred you feel no longer arise. Think of them as you would of someone neutral, who does you neither good nor harm. Then reflect that the innumerable beings to whom you feel neutral have been your father or mother sometime during your past lives throughout time without beginning. Meditate on this theme, training yourself until you feel the same love for them you do for your present parents. Finally, meditate until you feel the same compassion towards all beings–whether you see them as friends, enemies or in between–as you do for your own parents.

Now, it is no substitute for boundless impartiality just to think of everybody, friends, enemies, as the same, without any particular feeling of compassion, hatred or whatever. This is mindless impartiality, and brings neither harm nor benefit. The image given for truly boundless impartiality is a banquet given by a great sage. When the great sages of old offered feasts they would invite everyone, high or low, powerful or weak, good or bad, exceptional or ordinary, without making any distinction whatsoever. Likewise, our attitude toward all beings throughout space should be a vast feeling of compassion, encompassing them all equally. Train your mind until you reach such a state of boundless impartiality.

2. Meditation on love

Through meditating on boundless impartiality as described, you come to regard all beings of the three worlds with the same great love. The love that you feel for all fo them should be like that of parents taking care of their young children. They ignore all their children’s ingratitude and all the difficulties involved, devoting their every thought, word and deed entirely to making their little ones happy, comfortable and cosy. Likewise, in this life and in all your future lives, devote everything you do, say or think to the well-being and happiness of all beings.

Al those beings are striving for happiness and comfort. They all want to be happy and comfortable; not one of them wants to be unhappy or to suffer. Yet they do not understand that the cause of happiness is positive actions, and instead give themselves over to the ten negative actions. Their deepest wishes and their actions are therefore at odds: in their attempts to find happiness, they only bring suffering upon themselves.

Over and over again, meditate on the thought of how wonderful it would be if each one of those beings could have all the happiness and comfort they wish. Meditate on it until you want others to be happy just as intensely as you want to be happy yourself.

The sūtras speak of “loving actions of body, loving actions of speech, loving actions of mind.” What this means is that everything you say with your mouth or do with your hands, instead of being harmful to others, should be straightforward and kind. As it says in The way of the Bodhisattva:

Whenever catching sight of others
Look on them with open, loving heart.

Even when you simply look at someone else, let that look be smiling and pleasant rather than an aggressive glare or some expression of anger. There are stories about this, like the one about the powerful ruler who glared at everyone with a very wrathful look. It is said that he was reborn as a preta living on left-overs under the stove of a house, and after that, because he had also looked at a holy being in that way, he was reborn in hell.

Whatever actions you do with your body, try to do them gently and pleasantly, endeavoring not to harm others but to help them. Your speech should not express such attitudes as contempt, criticism or jealousy. Make every single word you say pleasant and true. As for your mental attitude, when you help others do not wish for anything good in return. Do not be a hypocrite and try to make other people see you as a Bodhisattva because of your kind words and actions. Siply wish for others’ happiness from the bottom of your heat and only consider what would be most beneficial for them. Pray again and again with these words: “Throughout all my lives, may I never harm so much as a single hair on another being’s head, and may I always help each of them.”

It is particularly important to avoid making anyone under your authority suffer, by beating them, forcing them to work too hard and so on. This applies to your servants and also to your animals, right down to the humblest watchdog. Always, under all circumstances, be kind to them in thought, word and deed. To be reborn as a servant, or as a watchdog, for that matter, and to be despised and looked down upon by everyone, is the maturation of the effects of past actions. It is the reciprocal effect of having despised and looked down on others while in a position of power in a past life. If you now despite others because of your own power and wealth, you will repay that debt in some future time by being reborn as their servants. So be especially kind to those in a lower position than yourself.

Anything you can do physically, verbally or mentally to help your own parents, or those suffering from chronic ill health, will bring inconceivable benefits. Jowo Atīsa says:

To be kind to those who have come from afar, to those who have been ill for a long time, or to our parents in their old age, is equivalent to meditating on emptiness of which compassion is the very essence.

Our parents have shown us such immense love and kindness that to upset them in their old age would be an extremely negative act. The Buddha himself, to repay his mother’s kindness, went to the Heaven of the Thirty-three to teach her the Dharma. It is said that even if we were to serve our parents by carrying them around the whole world on our shoulders, it would still not repay their kindness. However, can can repay that kindness by introducing them to the Buddha’s teaching. So always serve your parents in thought, word and deed, and try to find ways to bring them to the Dharma.

 

Taking Account of Our Minds

journal2

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

We rarely empathize with the needs of others. We may become aware of them on an intellectual level. And there is a great, vast difference between that and actually empathizing with the needs and hopes and fears of others. We rarely enrich our own life experience by really merging, really blending, really empathizing with the conditions of other people’s minds. Due to our self absorption and self- cherishing, and our inability to relate to the situation of others, we find ourselves able to entertain hostility, anger, pride, selfishness, all of those things that are really detrimental to us. We are able to maintain certain habitual tendencies that we honestly cannot see about ourselves. For instance, if I were to say to you, are you basically a kind person, almost everyone in the room would say yes. We’re here, we’re being spiritual, you know, that sort of thing. But if I ask you how much time you actually spend during the course of any given day actually doing for others in a real compassionate way—keeping the bodhichitta or the compassion alive within one’s mind—how much are you actually aware of the needs and unfulfilled desires of others, we would be shocked.Really, if we actually clocked ourselves in and out of such a realization, we would be shocked at how little time we actually spend doing that. So I think it’s sometimes really helpful to make a purposeful and directed effort, such as actually clocking in when you are aware of the needs and desires of other people and when you actively participate in trying to help in some way.

The help can take different forms. Sometimes the things that people want around aren’t really good for them to have. I mean, you have a teenage son that wants nothing better than a very fast car, and you know that that’s not quite right for him. So you don’t always give a person what they want, but you can certainly empathize. You can certainly be there in a very kind and profound way as a force for connection, for communication in someone else’s life.

We actually spend very little time doing that. We spend most of our time thinking about ourselves and our own problems and our ideas. So fixated on our own ideas, so fixated on our self-cherishing. Sometimes we don’t realize that we’re almost dyslexic about kindness. Or, what is the word? Maybe we perseverate about kindness. We have this idea that we’ve already done it, you know, that it is happening, and we don’t realize that it’s not being written down at all. It’s just not going out into the world. So sometimes it really helps to journal to really see what you’ve actually done during that day to bring kindness into the world. That would be extremely useful.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Non-Duality

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

We think that bodhichitta is something that we must practice, and yes, in order to build proper habitual tendency, that’s what we should do.  That is the basis and foundation for the next level of practice.  But this level of practice requires going beyond simple human kindness, or even extraordinary kindness where we practice from life to death, you know, in order to practice medicine or give out food, or make some phenomenal contribution.

But here in the Vajrayana path, we must understand that you cannot create the bodhichitta.  You cannot establish it, nor can you tear it down or destroy it.  All you can do is deny that you are that; and you can do that from now ‘til kingdom come, whenever that is.  But you cannot deny the understanding that when we seethe fundamental picture we see again and again and again in Vajrayana of the Lama and Consort in union, this is emptiness and method, emptiness and compassioninseparable, functional as one.  We can take them apart to discuss or to understand them, but in truth the bodhichitta cannot be separated from emptiness.  And the true awakening to the bodhichitta comes from the fundamental view of understanding the emptiness of all nature.

In Vajrayana, we are asked to accomplish many things.  One thing we are asked to accomplish is, of course, the realization of emptiness, the understanding of emptiness.  We are asked to understand the arising of compassion as being consistent with the understanding of emptiness.  What we can’t do is change that or build it or control it, or anything.  By simply letting go of the idea of duality, the display of truth must surely arise, and that display is the bodhichitta.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved
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