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

Why We Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Go Back to Bodhicitta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

This Very Moment

Monk at MD Stupa2

To begin to develop Aspirational Bodhicitta is to understand the faults of cyclic existence, to understand the cessation of cyclic existence, to understand something of the nature of awakening or at least to understand that that is the cessation of suffering; and then to begin to develop from these foundational thoughts a caring and concern for all parent sentient beings. Aspirational Bodhicitta can take the form of just thinking as you ordinarily think. In the same way that you think of what will I have for dinner tonight, or in the same way that you think of what you would like to wear, or the ordinary things that we think of that concern ourselves. in that same ordinary way, without any kind of high-falutin’ dogma, you can begin now to develop a sense of the need and plight of sentient beings. And you can begin to speak what is in your heart, because it is in there somewhere in the natural state—the hope that all sentient beings will be free of suffering.

Each of you has a seed potential of that hope. You could not approach a truly spiritual path; you could not approach the Buddha’s teaching. You would have no karma to hear anything of the Buddha’s teaching if you did not have the hope that all sentient beings would be free of suffering. Because in order to be involved in these auspicious conditions, in order to hear the Buddha’s teaching, in order to have the opportunity to practice and the inclination to do so, in order to even begin the idea of moving onto a path that leads to supreme enlightenment, you must have accumulated an enormous amount of virtuous karma in the past and to accumulate an enormous amount of virtuous karma, there had to be kindness. So you should not be afraid thinking that you have no compassion.

Some people tell me they have no compassion.  That is completely erroneous. That is impossible. But you must begin to dust off that jewel. You must begin to consider these foundational teachings, and to begin in whatever way you are comfortable with, to amplify and systematically develop Bodhichitta, the Aspirational Bodhicitta. You can begin to make wishing prayers for other sentient beings. One of the reasons why we built the Stupa that we built outside was to have a place here in this area that would have the fortunate quality of being able to enhance our prayers. Because of the cosmology of the Stupa—the way in which it is built, the empowerment that goes into actually consecrating it, and the wonderful relics that are present in it—because of the blessings of the prayer, the blessings of the mantra, because of all of these things, the Stupa actually has the ability, with faith, to amplify our prayers. We are taught to circumambulate in a clockwise direction making wishing prayers for all sentient beings. You can begin to do that. You can begin to make wishing prayers on your own, at any time. You can just think wishing prayers as you walk about. You can begin right now to developAspirational Bodhicitta in the same way that you develop muscle. You have the muscle fiber. You only need to strengthen it through use. That discipline is essential.

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bodhicitta”

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Letting Go of Judgment

moms against hunger

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

 We should begin to think of these teachings that the Buddha has given us in such a way that we awaken within ourselves a real caring for the well-being of sentient beings. If you saw a tiny rabbit caught in a trap, and its leg was bleeding and bruised, I know that you would open the trap and let the rabbit be free. If you saw a child that was really hungry, hopefully you would be not in the circumstance where you would make all kinds of judgments about that hunger, such as, if you looked at a bum who was drinking alcohol or something like that where your discursive mind got in the way. But if you just looked at a child, just a child, a helpless child, who was hungry; if you had food on your plate, I know that you would give some to that child. In this way, you should think of other sentient beings and begin to, through utilizing that kind of thought, understand their plight. It is most necessary to understand their plight, and through that begin to polish away the dirt and the filth that covers that precious jewel which is our inherent nature. 

We should take a hold of ourselves in such a way that we do not feel separate from Bodhicitta as though it were a thing that we have to get, but instead begin to develop the understanding that ultimately it is the awakened state. Because of supreme awakening, we will understand fully the faults of cyclic existence. We will understand absolutely the awakening that is the cessation of all suffering and be naturally and completely motivated to bring about the end of suffering for all sentient beings, because at the same time, we will understand that the self that we cling to, the one that causes us to think only of selfish concern, this self is also illusory.

Having realized that, there is literally nothing to do other than to emanate in a form or to engage in miraculous activity that brings about the liberation of all sentient beings. So this activity is not something we do when we get kind. It isn’t something that we collect as though it were wisdom. It is the natural state of awakening.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Polishing the Diamond

white-diamond-on-the-polishing-wheel_1852.eeb69

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

I have been aware that people in our age and people who are awakening to spirituality and meditation and these different philosophies have been exposed to the idea that we have lived only just a few times, whereas the Buddha teaches us that is not true. The Buddha teaches us that we have lived, we have revolved in cyclic existence over countless aeons. An aeon alone is a very long time. And countless aeons, that kind of terminology is inconceivable to us. In order to have revolved since beginningless time, in countless aeons of cyclic existence, we had to have parents every time unless we were born in a realm in which parents were not the way of birth. But whether we were animals or humans or some other form that we don’t recognize at this time, whether we were born in the form or formless realms, there is a great potential for all sentient beings to have been our parents endlessly. And the way in which to understand the kindness of all sentient beings, the way in which to understand their kindness to us so that we can begin to build Aspirational Bodhicitta, is to understand that at this moment we’re here. We are hearing the Buddha’s teaching and we are experiencing comfortable circumstances in which to practice. We have no defects of mind or body that would prevent us from practicing the Buddha’s teaching. We are capable and we are able and we have the leisure to accomplish practice. We have very auspicious circumstances. 

To have come to this point, we must think of the kindness of all of the situations that have brought us to this point. We shouldn’t think that our parents had any capability to prevent us from coming to this point, because they haven’t prevented us from coming to this point. So we shouldn’t think of their cruelty. We should think of their kindness because somehow, having birthed us, they have given us this precious opportunity to accomplish enlightenment. This is true for all of the circumstances that we have ever experienced, all of the births that we have ever experienced. Having come to this point, we should be thankful and grateful and happy, filled with joy realizing that this auspicious moment has occurred at last. And like finding a precious jewel while sifting through garbage, here we are and we have found the Dharma.

So having experienced this joy, we can begin to understand that all sentient beings have been our kind mothers and fathers, and that we owe them a great debt. We can remember once again that cyclic existence is just that, it is cyclic and endless, and that they are struggling night and day working very hard to make themselves happy and have no way to do it. We should think again and again that they are lost. Although they have given us birth in such a way that we can accomplish Dharma, and that all of these many parents who have birthed us over these many lives in order to help us to create the causes by which we might meet with this perfect Dharma, that even while they have participated in that, they themselves have not done it. It reminds me of a form of animal that I read about. It’s actually an insect called the midge. It conceives its young within itself and the young, as they begin to grow, actually eat the inside of the mother; and consume the mother. By the time they are ready to come out, the mother is dead, and they simply break out of her body as though it were an egg. We should think of that, and we should think that perhaps all sentient beings have done that for us. If they remain in a condition of suffering and we have now found the perfect path by which to alleviate their suffering, then perhaps it’s time to begin to develop the kindness that will liberate them from their unbearable suffering and their continued involvement in cyclic existence.

So when we hear about this Aspirational Bodhicitta, we become confused as to how to think of it. Time and time again students have said to me, “What practice will help me develop Bodhicitta?  Isn’t it true that once I begin to practice, I will develop Bodhicitta?” or, “How can I best develop Bodhicitta?” They talk about Bodhicitta or compassion as though it were something separate from themselves because we think of all phenomena, both internal and external, as separate from ourselves. That is part of the basic delusion of believing in self-nature as being inherently real. It seems to come with the package. Yet, we need to take a hold of ourselves and begin to understand that Aspirational Bodhicitta is potentially the way we are. It is not a reality separate from ourselves. It is not a mystery that we should approach in a linear way, perhaps in the way that we used to think of spiritual mastery. It used to be that, before we studied the Buddha’s teachings, we began to think of spiritual mastery as accumulating this wisdom and that wisdom and this wisdom and that wisdom and this wisdom and suddenly, you would become a great master. And that’s it. Now you’re a master. Well that isn’t really how the Buddha considers realization. The Buddha considers that you cannot collect wisdoms or knowledges and that they in a sum total will create mastery. The Buddha considers that true wisdom is the realization of the emptiness of all phenomena and the emptiness of self-nature, the illusory nature of phenomena, the illusory nature of self. This is the true wisdom, and it is not something that you can collect or gather.

In the same way, when Bodhicitta is fully realized, it is none other than the Primordial Wisdom state. It is none other than supreme awakening. Bodhicitta then, ultimately, when it is fully realized, is our own nature, and we should not treat it as though it were something separate from ourselves. We should not treat it as though it were a thing that we could collect by doing this practice or that practice. Instead, we should take a hold of ourselves and begin to uncover the diamond of Bodhichitta, the jewel of Bodhicitta. We should begin to uncover it by polishing away the delusion that occurs through the selfish concerns which are born of a lack of understanding of what awakening truly is.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Motherhood

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

Somewhere in this process I had my second son. I remember picking him up. Here he is a newborn baby, and I am looking into his face. Those of you who have had children, you know what that is like.  You look into that face and you can see your genes! I don’t know how that is, but you can. You can see that this child has your blood in him. There is just this connection. Plus there is something visible, like you recognize those feet. There they are again, or something like that. You have the sense of that. So I remember holding this newborn baby, having this connection with this child. I breast feed this child. I gave birth to this child. This child, at least in part, looks like me. I love this child so much. There is nothing like that feeling. You can hardly think about anything else.

I am holding this child in my arms, and I am thinking, “I will never let you suffer. I will never let you suffer. I will never let you get cold. I will never let you get hungry. Wherever you go, even if you have to go off by yourself, I will watch you and I will follow you.  I will make sure that nothing happens to you. And as long as I am alive, you will have food, you will have clothing, you will have a place to live. You will be safe.” Then I realized what I had just said,“As long as I am alive… “ Then I realized that that is no promise at all. What is that? I am lying to my child. Then I thought, ”What if I could somehow provide for my child all the way until the time of his death.” Then I thought, “Yeah, but when my child dies, can I guarantee that that death won’t be a suffering? Can I guarantee that it won’t be a terrible feeling of loss or that it won’t be painful in some way?”  No. Can I absolutely assure thatmy child is going to die in a painless way? No. There is nothing that I can do about that. I don’t have that kind of power.

So I thought to myself, ”How disgusting! Here I am holding my newborn baby in my arms and I am making all these promises and I am lying. The first thing I have done for my child is to lie to him. That really made me unhappy. I just couldn’t think what to do. So I used that as a way to practice. I thought to myself, “Therefore, this temporary reality, the human reality, is worth nothing. If there is a way to absolutely embody this primordial wisdom nature, I know this nature is not limited by death. I know this nature is something that is all pervasive. I know it. I don’t know how I know it, but I know it. I think to myself, “If only I could really embody this nature, then somewhere in there is the way to protect my child.

It was being a mother that really taught me how to feel the same way about sentient beings because ultimately I came to understand that if you look at two children side  by side because you are the mother of one but not of the other…What is that? These are both my children. How do I say that this one is not my child but this one is? I couldn’t. That doesn’t even make any sense to me.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

A Better World

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

I hope all of us will remember that, according to Lord Buddha’s teachings, there are many realms of cyclic existence, more than the human realm. There are lower realms of cyclic existence such as the animal realm, and there are non-physical forms of life. The Buddha teaches us that there are many different forms of life. Slowly, slowly in time as you continue to study Dharma you’ll learn exactly about them. For now it is enough to know that there are many forms and that most of them are not capable of engaging in some kind of practice because of the condition of their minds.

We may have very little time and it may be difficult for us Westerners to sit cross-legged very long, and we may make up all these different reasons why we can’t practice but, in fact, we are able to practice. If we apply ourselves and use discipline, we can also practice in such a way as to engage in compassionate care-taking for the other realms of cyclic existence and the other forms of life.

I hope that each and every one of you will think like that and engage in that practice, and remember that our practice and our lives really aren’t just about ourselves. They’re about benefiting sentient beings, all beings, considering them to be completely equal with and non-dual from ourselves. These are the instructions that I am giving the children. I am hoping that gradually throughout the course of their lives they will develop that really supreme, really extraordinary compassionate idea that is so rare and precious like a jewel in this world. I hope that those of you who have children will also raise your children the same way, because that is one way that we have of ensuring that in the future the world will be better than it is now. So, I hope that you will think like that.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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