My Three Rules

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

As Westerners practicing the Dharma, we have a hard job ahead of us.  If we want to accomplish Dharma, and make Dharma stable, if we want to be fully instated in our practice, and if we want to be successful, we are doing so in a culture that is not really sympathetic to it. It is hard.  It is really hard.  We are doing so under circumstances in which we have to work, we have to eat and where nobody is going to pay us to pray. It is not going to be easy.  We have to stabilize ourselves with that pure intention to love and to do that we have to do three things.

These are my three rules of etiquette for newly starting practitioners and also for old ones.  First of all, give yourself a break, there are things on this path that you will not understand and you should not fall into the trap of saying, “This can’t be right, or this isn’t right.”  Give yourself a break, take time to let it fall into the slot that your Western mind is, just give it time to settle in. These concepts are very logical, they all make sense, they all work, and they are given to us by a fully enlightened mind which makes me think that they are worth more than a lot of other things that I have heard.  And they work.  It is a workable path.  If there is something that confuses you just say, “Okay I will just give myself some time about this. If I am not comfortable with the idea about being empty of self-nature let me first find out what that means before I decide that this is not good and once I find out I can make a better decision.”  So give yourself a break.

The next thing is to do the best that you can.  Don’t try to slide into Dharma, and don’t think that you can slide by.  Do the best that you can.  Cultivate that loving every day.  Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking that you are too old, or too experienced, or too educated to learn the simple lessons that Buddha gives us that are associated with loving.  Do not think that you are too far advanced that you can no longer be taught compassion.  Don’t ever think that and please don’t think that you have come too far to learn and re-learn renunciation of ordinary things, because no one ever comes that far until we have reached supreme enlightenment. So do the best that you can.

The third thing is to take it slow and take it easy.  Try not to burn like paper – hot and fast.  Try not to burn like pinewood.  Try to burn like good aged oak or maybe even coal – slow and hot and stable.  The way that you build the stability on this path, as a Westerner, is by cultivating that slow, hot fire of loving.  Keep it going.  You don’t have to do anything crazy but you have to do something steady and stable.

Remember you have to practice this path till the end of your life so that you can fully accomplish it and so that you can truly be of benefit to sentient beings.  It is going to take some juice so please try to burn like good oak or coal, slow and hot.  Just think of yourself as a vehicle.  Think of yourself as a bowl, turned up, clean, pure, with no cracks, not turned over, and no poison of judgment or delusion at the bottom of it. Your mind is like a bowl.  Let yourself receive teachings in a very pure and uncontrived way.  In this way you will understand Dharma better.

Look for a good teacher and when you find that teacher you should take time to examine that teacher.  What is the teacher’s motivation? Can this teacher really offer me the path? Is this teacher really teaching the path that leads me to supreme enlightenment? You should examine these things and in a stable way, slow and easy, begin to accomplish Dharma.

In this way there is no doubt that you will achieve supreme realization.  There is no doubt that you will in this life and in all future lives be of some benefit to sentient beings.  Ultimately you will be of ultimate benefit to sentient beings, there is no doubt.

Keeping these things in your heart I hope that you will be cultivating that stability.  Do that and remember what a glorious and wonderful opportunity you have.  Please don’t waste this life.  It is so precious.

©  Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

You Can Make It

An excerpt from a teaching called Bodhicitta by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo given after her return from India and Nepal in 1996

In Nepal, right next to one of Guru Rinpoche’s caves where he practiced chemchok, lives a wonderful Dakini.  She is the consort of Lama Tulku Orgyen.  And she’s been there for years and years, practicing and practicing.  We had the pleasure of meeting her.  Whenever you go there, you can hear her ringing those bells and practicing.  She never stops.  She’s so beautiful. She’s actually kind of old, but when you look at her, her face is completely unlined, she’s got beautiful black hair and really deep eyes.  She’s just gorgeous. We went in there and gave her a scarf and tried to do prostrations, but she wouldn’t let us. Sangye Khandro came with us to translate, since the Dakini doesn’t speak any English, of course.  And she just practices all the time. She sat us down and we talked for a little while.

I told her that we have a Sangha here and that a large percentage is women.  And I said, “Would you give some advice to women practitioners in the West?”  She said first of all that there’s no difference between women and men practitioners.  There is no difference.  Women tend to think that they are held back by certain issues – family issues, lover issues, blah, blah issues, stupid issues.  There is no difference between women and men.  In fact, she said, women actually have a deeper sense of primordial wisdom.  They are closer to that Dakini archetype.  They have a deeper sense of that.  They’re more internal in some way.  She said women have an excellent chance to be practitioners.   And she said, “I would give this advice to both men and women equally.  You have to be courageous.  You have to never stop.  You have to decide that you are going to achieve the rainbow body and you will do whatever it takes because you really want to incarnate in such a way that you can help this world or any world that you land on.  You have to have courage.  You have to never let any circumstance stop you.  You have to practice as though it’s the most important thing in your life.  You have to remember that this is the only important thing there is.”  And she said, “Practice constantly with great faith and great courage.  Then you need to be sure that you are with a teacher that you have absolute faith in.  And you need to be with a lama who can give you initiation that can ripen your mind.  With all those factors, especially great courage, you can make it, even in this degenerate time.” She said, “You can make it.”

It was one of the most moving speeches I ever heard.  But she kept saying, “Have courage; don’t stop.  Break through whatever stops you.  Have courage.”  And my feeling when I watched her is that it must have taken tremendous courage for her to completely renounce the world that she lived in.  She is right up there in that little building right next to the cave.  It’s one room.  She’s got thangkas and rugs, it’s kind of nice, but there is no place to go to the bathroom.  You have to wash out of a bucket.  She has renounced the world and all the stupid trappings that go with it.  She’s going to make it.  When that Dakini dies, you are going to see signs and they’ll find her again when she reincarnates.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

What Drives You to Practice?

An excerpt from a teaching called Bodhicitta by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Some of you show up for practice because you think your teacher will get mad at you if you don’t.  So you make yourself visible.  Some of you show up for practice because you’ve got to get it in today.  When do you do practice because you are sick of delusion? When do you do it because you are sick of death?  When do you do it because you are sick of watching sentient beings suffer and yet are helpless to help them?  When do you say those prayers so deeply that your heart and your mind are purified of delusion and of hatred, greed and ignorance, so that your heart and mind are so deepened that you will absolutely incarnate in such a way to benefit beings?

The single most abundant deepening quality that you all have is your great love and desire to help others.  If that’s the ticket with you, ask yourself if you really want to help others or if you want to look like you are helping others?   Sometimes I think people want to look like they are helping others so they can be a nice person.  As soon as you’re finished with that and you decide that you really help others because you really can’t bear to see their suffering and are finished with watching people suffer, then use that.

Why do you just practice by the book?  Why don’t you walk around the temple and make prayers constantly, visualizing the refuge tree; walk about the living quarters of your Lama and the temple itself and the Sangha that’s in it saying, “In this way, let me follow you forever.  In this way, let me always revolve around the Three Precious Jewels.  In this way, let me be born under whatever circumstances to help sentient beings,” making these profound and sincere prayers.  Maybe you can break through into depth.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Where is Your Heart?

An excerpt from a teaching called Bodhicitta by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

What makes you a deep practitioner?  What makes you a deep practitioner is really having renounced cyclic existence.   Those of you that are casual practitioners are practicing, but your mind is still a mind of distraction.  You are still running hither and yon, doing this thing and that thing, and you’re superficial.  You have to do this activity over here that is so important, so you go to the meat market. And you have to do this thing over here with your family.  All these have-tos have to happen. There is nothing wrong with going to the meat market, and I want you to have a wonderful family, but it’s that life of distraction that I am arguing with.  It’s that distracted mind that keeps you practicing superficially and keeps you a casual practitioner.

After having received all this teaching, all this loving, after all that you have felt and known in your own heart to be truth, if you are still doing that after all this time, then somehow you have not fully taken refuge in the Three Precious Jewels.  You are not a renunciate.  In your mind, there is still something in the world out there to be accomplished, something that you feel is going to meet your need or answer your problem.  In other words, you still believe in the world of appearances.  You still believe that this apparent reality has some solution or has some basis in realness. You still believe that something is there and you haven’t let go of it.  You haven’t really turned your mind away from it.

When I say turn your mind away from the world, I don’t mean that you have to become a monk or a nun necessarily.  I don’t mean that you have become a nerd or a dead person.  I don’t mean that you are limp and you just don’t have any fun anymore.  That’s not what I am talking about. You can engage in any activity that you feel to engage in, but you simply don’t take refuge in it.  It’s not something that you get tense about.  It’s not something that you get compulsive about. This is Nyingma philosophy.

Right now your mind is all divided.  You are off here and off there.  As you are running off in any of those directions, if someone were to say to you, “Where is your heart?”  You’d have to feel around for it, because you don’t know where it is.  You’re not thinking about the teachings of Lord Buddha.  You’re not thinking about the precious Dharma.  You’re not thinking about the Sangha, you’re not thinking about the Lama, you’re not thinking about the Buddha.  You’re not thinking about clear mind.  You’re not relating to that at all.  You’re all over the place.  You are all over the map.  You want this and you want that.

The reason why you haven’t renounced apparent reality, even though you know it’s going to kill you – this is a fatal condition we have here, even though it’s never answered your problems – never in the past and it never will, even though you know that, you still have one problem.  It’s a big problem and that problem is desire.  You have not overcome desire.  You have desire for this and that, and they are baubles.  This is one of the first teachings of Lord Buddha.  And if you listen to the teachings, after you get that bauble, even if you can get it, it is impermanent and if it doesn’t break apart or destroy itself in some way, you will die clutching it and then you can’t take it with you.  It’s all impermanent.  Even if you attain this bauble that you probably won’t attain in the first place, because it’s nothing but a conceptualization and has no basis in reality, after you’ve wasted all your time going over this desire, you have no guarantee.  Even though you were practicing the Dharma, that even though you’ve completed Ngondro, if you still have desire and you have not completely become a renunciate – a person who has renounced cyclic existence – you have no guarantee that you will not be reborn as a hungry ghost.  Hear what I am saying?

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Using the Enemy as Guru

An excerpt from a teaching called The Dharma of Technology by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Think about the people in your life.  Is there one person that you just can’t stand? I know that you’re a Buddhist, however, there is probably one person in your life that gets your goat every time.   If you think there is no such person that you can’t stand, then you don’t know yourself at all.  Think about all of the people in of your life and think about whether you can sincerely wish that each one of them gets ahead, has all the happiness, all the approval, all the food, all the money, all the goods, all the joy, all the accomplishment that they could possibly have.

Think about all the people in your life. There is somebody in your life, probably more than one person, who when they get praise or that good old pat on the back from the authority that you’d like to have approval from, you’re not happy about it.

You want all sentient beings to be happy.  You want everyone to get ahead.  You want everyone to have a new car, lots of food, a great house to live in, everything they could possibly want and then you want them under those circumstances to reach enlightenment even without trying.  That’s what you want for all sentient beings.  But if you examine yourself, there is at least one person in your life that you really would like to see work for it.  And you wouldn’t mind if this person got disciplined heartily along the way.  You’d like to see this person get what they really deserve.  It may be somebody that you flat out hate.  There is always somebody like that.

Take that person and then think of that person next to the person that you love the most in the world, the person whose qualities you think are the purest, the one you’d most like to be like, the person that you really love.  Maybe a child or a mate or a teacher or a friend who has given you so much, somebody that has been so kind to you and someone you really feel like you couldn’t make it in this life without. There must be somebody in your life who is such a treasure to you.

Your job, in order to fully accomplish Dharma, is to make that person that drives you crazy the same in your mind as the person who is the real treasure in your life.  They have to be the same.  And in fact, if the person who drives you crazy to the point that you can’t live with being crazy like that any more, and through the Buddha’s teaching you are able to accomplish loving that person equally with the jewel in your life, then that person is more valuable to you than the one you love easily.  That person is your real guru. You have to think about the one person in your life that you would never, under any circumstances, call your guru.  That’s the one you use, the one person that you would be embarrassed to have the world know that was teaching you anything.  That’s the one you use.

Somehow you have to develop a sense of stability of mind and that is only done through compassion where you understand the equality of those two, because they are equal.  They are exactly the same.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Foundation

Buddha Shakyamuni
Buddha Shakyamuni

From The Spiritual Path:  a Collection of Teachings by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

To me, compassion is not a feeling at all. It is not an emotion. It is logical. It is meaningful. I find no other excuse for living. If I tried to find another, I would be lost in samsara, a bee buzzing around in a jar.

The format of my life arises from—takes its only meaning from—the fountain of compassionate activity. I can’t think what else one is supposed to do. Anything else is deeply neurotic activity that has no true birth, no foundation, no substance. So I try to give a teaching: If you become a Bodhisattva, you will become happy. But that is just a poor condensation of the truth. A life that is born of compassion—that arises from the breath of compassion, the wind of compassion—is born of the profound essence, knowing itself to be inseparable from the profound essence. The key is to understand yourself as that compassion—your whole life as compassion-ate movement. It is the natural display, the natural order. It is the evidence of Lord Buddha’s blessing. It is YES.

Kindness is universal; it is not a word the Buddha invented. I am a Buddhist because I have found that this is the most useful way to benefit beings. Perhaps you will determine that for yourself. But even if you do not become a Buddhist, you are not off the hook. No matter what religion, path, or teaching you follow, compassion is the way to realization. Whether or not you are a Buddhist, you have a job to do—and that job is to develop a fervent, sincere aspiration to be of true benefit to others. This is the foundation.

Buddhism is based on the ideal of compassion. The Buddha taught that we should cultivate our lives as vehicles to help and benefit all others—not just our own small circle of family and friends. We should increase our compassionate activity until it embraces an ever greater number of beings. We must not be satisfied with concern only for human beings, or even for all the beings we can see in our world.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, there are six realms filled with sentient beings. That which we can see is a relatively small portion of the human and animal realms. But there are non-physical beings of different types who must be seriously considered.

To develop the mind of compassion, you should begin by honestly examining yourself. You may find that your goal is not in fact to benefit all sentient beings, but to be a kind person. There are worlds of difference between these two goals. One is selfless; the other is not. There is still you wishing to be a kind person. You must avoid the trap of using Dharma with the motivation, whether conscious or not, of making yourself a great Bodhisattva, a great helper, a great savior. You need to make the idea of compassion so strong that it becomes a fire consuming your heart.

Star of Your Own Show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An excerpt from a teaching called Perception and Karma by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, July 19, 1989

At the heart of all phenomena, at the heart of all feeling, at the heart of all thought, at the heart of all experience, at the heart of self-nature, at the heart of all things, is the nature of emptiness.   Neither self-nature nor phenomena can be considered separate from emptiness.  All phenomena are inseparable from emptiness.  It is indistinguishable from emptiness.  It is the same as emptiness.  It arises from emptiness, and it returns to emptiness. At the heart of every single experience, everyone without exception, including the ones that we react to in the various ways that we react, there lies the mother of all phenomena, the heart of emptiness.

From that point of view, since all things arise from emptiness, are the same as emptiness and inseparable from emptiness.  All phenomena are the same.  For those of you who practice Dorje Phagmo, one of the most outstanding and obvious qualities of Dorje Phagmo is that she cuts attachment to phenomena being one way or another.  She relates to phenomena in such a way that all phenomena are the same and she experiences the sameness of all phenomena. In truth all phenomena is the same taste.  The analogy that can be used to really get the point home is that, from that point of view, shit is the same as chocolate.  They are the same nature, the same essence, the same taste.

Yet, we do not experience them as the same. We want to eat chocolate and we feel repelled, terribly repelled, by shit.  We would like to have the chocolate bar, but we would not eat a bowl of shit.  That would be very difficult for us to do.  One would be delicious and the other would be utterly repulsive. So, if these things have the same nature, what, then, is the difference?  The difference, of course, is the perceptual process that we are engaged in.

This perceptual process is both collective and individual.  That is to say, there are certain things that groups, such as all human beings, might perceive similarly, not the same, but similarly.  There are some phenomena that perhaps would be experienced in a cultural way.  One group would experience something in one way and another group might experience it in another way.  There are some forms of phenomena that most sentient beings may experience in a certain way.  Even within those samenesses and those likenesses, a person within a group actually experiences that phenomena in a very individual way.  That individuality cannot be understood because there is not a true communication that can describe how experience happens.

How that occurs, of course, is through the means of karma.  Each of us has a certain karmic format.  We seem to be programmed in a karmic way.  Each of us operates very differently due to our karma.  The expression is, “due to the karma of our minds.”  This is, of course, according to the ordinary mind, the mind that is experiencing delusion, not the mind of awakening.  We have some similar karma, obviously.  We’re all sitting in the same room.  If we did not have similar karma, we would not be as close as we are.  Not only are we sitting in the same room but we see each other quite frequently, we’ll probably see each other for the rest of our lives, with any luck, and we will continue to have a relationship in this way.  So we have some similar branches of karma.  We live in the same city, we live in the same state, we live in the same nation, and we live on the same Earth at the same time.

Yet, each of us has individual karma.  It takes a tremendous amount of similarity, for instance, for all of you to have gotten ordained at the same time.  If you could conceive of the tremendous ripening that had to have occurred at that time, you would understand, then, the tremendous bond that you share.  It takes a tremendous amount of ripening for us to come together at this time, for all of us, in order to experience a life that is about Dharma.  There has to be a tremendous amount of ripening of very pure and virtuous karma in order for that to happen.  Yet, even with all of that, we have differences in our karma.  The differences are so deep and yet so subtle that one person, who has similar karma with another person, cannot talk to that person and describe exactly what their experience is. No one can communicate exactly what their experience is.  Even if you felt that you had thoroughly communicated your experience that would basically be a misunderstanding because the other person could not have understood what you said.  They do not have the same karma as you.  It is impossible.  You could not exactly describe how you experience a small object for instance. If you did, she would hear it in the way that she experiences it. There is no meeting, there is some overlapping, but there isn’t an intimate sameness about our experience.

For this reason, all scientific tools, from this point of view, are utterly useless. A simple thing, such as a thermometer, is useless.  If I put it in my mouth and had two people read it they would both say 98.6.  But the meaning of their experience, the way in which it was received, what they say, every single piece of what happened in order for that to happen is quite different. The sameness of the karma is indicated by their ability to sit together and have the opportunity to read the thermometer at the same time.  But the sameness is not in the experience.  It is an illusion that we all live with that makes us think that we all have the same experience.

In a very ordinary way, this accounts for the unbelievable thing that happens when groups of people get together and try to pass along information. It also explains how it is that gossip should be outlawed.  All things that are communicated in that way are different.  So, in one way, it is best to do as the Buddha does and just shut up for awhile until you get enlightened.

Each of us, then, is totally and completely involved in a perceptual play that we believe to be real.  We constantly experience self and other, we constantly experience phenomena surrounding us.  We constantly experience thoughts and feelings within our own mind and are constantly involved in reaction. Do we understand how completely and totally individual that is?  If we did understand that, we would have a way to understand how artificial the entire construction is and how it is absolutely dependent on one’s karma.  How useless it is to try to react or not react in a certain way in order to change things.  How useless it is to try and manipulate phenomena in order to get a certain result.  We would understand, then, that the only lasting means by which to make change, is to purify one’s karma.

I think of an example of someone, one of my students who is constantly bothered by losing things or having others mishandle things.  The only cure to a situation such as that is not what we usually try to do, which is to lay blame or take measures or lock stuff up.  The only lasting cure for something like that would be the practice of generosity.  The result of the karma of a generous mind is a feeling that is a state free of lack, a state that is without doubt or anger or without the building blocks that cause a situation to occur again and again and again.  The karma of a generous mind is such that those kinds of things simply don’t happen.  There is more stability in a generous mind.  A person who has truly practiced and attained selfless generosity, the experience of such a person will be stable, it will not be challenging in the way that the life of an ego-clinging person is.  It will not have the same frustrations.  It will not have the constant vacillation between having and not having. The karma of loss will not be there.  But we don’t understand this.  We constantly revolve in a very tight opera in which we are the stars and all the scenery is created just for us.  What we don’t realize is that it’s also created by us, and that no one else is playing.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Discovering Your Personal Ethics – An Exercise

An excerpt from a teaching called Walking the Talk – Ethics by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

We are going to be talking about ethics, our lives and the structure of our lives.  I want you to think about this for a minute and really see if you can come up with a correct answer, not the one you think I would want to hear.  What I would like you to do is write down the three most important, and most visible ethical principles that you hold dear. Please spend some time thinking about this.  What are the things that you try not to let yourself get away with too much?  What is really precious to you?  Try to be as honest as possible.

Some of you may have ethics that sound like broad, sweeping statements about something.  And some of you may have ethics that are very simple and they apply directly to your life, and both of them are correct.  We’re not testing your ethics.  We are testing your ability to hold to them.  Whatever you say is OK.

Write down how you have upheld your ethics in the past week. Write down three answers – one for each of the three ethics. If it was not this week, because the circumstance did not come up, but was two weeks ago, you can write that down.

When you are finished write about sometime in the recent past when you did not hold fully to your ethics or perhaps even held to the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law.  In other words, when you fudged on your ethics.  Write down one for each of the three ethics you have chosen.  For those of us that say, “I always keep to these ethics and I never fudge,” my suggestion is to go back and re-examine, because I guarantee, particularly if your mind is that rigid, that you have held to the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law.  Just look for it. I can assure that it is in there.

Not everyone’s ethical system looks like the next person’s.  Of course, there are fundamental ethical structures that we all have to adopt or we cannot live together as a community, as a world or as a society.  Yet, many of us have different ethical slants, if you will.  Sometimes it depends on the circumstances of our lives.  The ethics that a person holds dear, if they were born poor in a third world country might be different than the ethics we were taught to respect here.  One is definitely not better than the other; they are simply different.  In asking these questions I am not asking you to feel that your ethics ought to be a certain way. Ethics teach us how to live in our world. So they may look different.  There are certain fundamental ethics that we should all adopt but what I am asking you to do is to look at your ethics, the ones that you hold dear, the ones that you really wholeheartedly agree with and hold precious.  So, they may not look like the next person and that is all right.  That does not matter for the purposes of this request.

Once you have written down some particular ethics that are precious and meaningful to you, ask yourself how you came to the conclusion that these are ethics that you want to hold?  What did you notice about your life? Be honest with yourself.  What made you arrive at these conclusions and when in your life did it happen?

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Walking the Talk

Kapala relic from Genyenma Ahkon Lhamo

An excerpt from a teaching called Walk the Talk – Ethics by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, June 8, 1994

There is a direct relationship between a person’s ethics and their stage of development, spiritually.  If a person has a very loose, wobbly and insufficient ethical system, you can count on the fact that they have not trod very far on the spiritual path.  I think that is very clear.  However, before you make such a judgment it is not a good idea to get into the habit of evaluating people spiritually. Different people have different kinds of ethical responses according to their development.  What you want to see is whether the person walks their talk  – not necessarily what their ethical system is.

An extreme example might be if a person lived a very simple life and was very poor and the circumstances of their life were very cut and dried, such that when they milked the cow they got the milk.  There are many, many cases of great bodhisattvas that, for whatever reason not only manifest as the farmer that milks the cow, but sometimes manifest as the cow.  In any case, when you see someone who has developed enough spiritually to have a set of ethics that they simply do not transgress, then you know you have got something to work with there.  Or, at least the person has a set of ethics that they try hard not to transgress and they are mindful of that whole situation.  That is important. To the degree that a person keeps their commitments, to that degree, you are looking at spiritual advancement, spiritual development or distance on the path.

I gave you the ‘simple person’ extreme example. What about in the case of a lama? The one that comes to my mind immediately is the first Ahkön Lhamo.  Generally speaking, the stories specifically about her are about when she would be sitting in her cave doing whatever and people would come to her with some life threatening illness or something like that, and she would beat them with sticks to remove their obstacles.

Now, most people think, particularly if you are a nurse, that if a person comes to you with a life threatening disease, beating them may not be the best thing!  Did Ahkön Lhamo not hold to her ethics, whereas the simple person held to their ethics more strongly?  Well, of course not.  In the case of Ahkön Lhamo, she was removing obstacles to their lives and that was her method.  That was simply her method so that in the case of a very advanced bodhisattva or lama, you cannot look at the ethical system – you cannot even understand it, really.  They will hold to a different view.  It is as though you were looking at the world from a street corner – from the world on a street corner, you can see the street and you can see stoplights and you can see the cars coming from different directions.  You can see the buildings going up.  But the Lama might be looking from the top of the building, or maybe even up in a helicopter somewhere, looking down, and the lay of the land is quite different.  Where the person on the street may think that the big thing they have to do right then is to buy a loaf of bread on the way home, the one who is looking from the helicopter may be seeing that the big thing they have to do right then is stop a tragedy that is about to happen three blocks away and they might forget the bread.

It is a question not necessarily about determining what the ethics are or making a judgment according to that, but rather looking and seeing that whoever you are looking at is able to walk their talk, is actually able to live in such a way as to obviously display that they have a strong ethical system.  That is what you want to look at.  And in the case of sentient beings, there is often a very huge distance between our ethical systems that we have through even our own simple logic to understand and our performing of the ethics and holding and sticking to them.

For those of us that feel that we have strong ethics and feel that we always hold to them, then I have to say, unless you are a living Buddha, either you are lying to yourself, or you are not deep enough and not sufficient in your search of your own mind, which you should know better than a book by now.  I would say to you that you have not searched your mind and your heart, that you have not really observed yourself truly.  I would say that you are fundamentally being dishonest and you may not know it.  It is not possible for sentient beings to keep closely and truly their commitments easily. It is not that it cannot be done, but it is not easily done.  Generally when people do, they hold the commitment up like a shining bauble and they find circumstances that match up easily with their commitment and they are able to fulfill them and say, “See, I’ve done this” and they wear it a bit like jewelry or some sort of gaudy bauble.  In that case, you would say that that person is maybe, in a few cases, holding up the letter of the law about their ethical equation, but not the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law is much deeper than that.  The spirit of the law requires you not only to be happy when your life situations easily match up with your ethics, but rather in every circumstance.  When you practice your ethics deeply you look for a way to display your ethics in every circumstance. When that begins to happen, you are also going to look at your ethics and think they are not big enough, because you want to live a bigger life than that and you will be hungrier as you develop; hungry to live a bigger, broader spectrum of spiritual development.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

A Courageous Life

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

I think a difficulty that Westerners have is so much input and so many different kinds of teachings.  Do you remember the first time you ever heard anything metaphysical? I don’t care if it was about flying saucers or about ghosts or whether it was the first time you picked up the Ouija board or did something weird like that. The first time you did anything that was metaphysical, you thought, “Hey I am on to something, this is it” and you got really excited and that excitement was a real joy to you. But haven’t you noticed that as you continued to go on this path in this direction you became less and less excited each time and finally you became a little cynical, and then suddenly you are just cool, “I’ve heard this before.”  When you start getting to the point where you say I am cool and I have heard this before, you are dead.  That is real cool.  That is about as cool as you can get.  But the problem is that most Americans are like that.

I find that when I teach new students the first thing that I have to do is a little razzle dazzle. Why? To get their attention.  We have heard so much stuff and everybody has got a sales pitch.  Of all the nations on earth this has got to be the nation with the most salespeople.  Of all the nations this has got to be the only place where everything gets sold, no matter what and you get to pick and choose no matter what and there are four different varieties.  It is almost a sickness.

It is a problem because now we are presenting Dharma, which is an ancient path, it is a path that describes supreme enlightenment, it is a path, which lays out the technology of supreme enlightenment, and it does it very well.  It does it consistently, and it does it purely.  It has done it in the same way for such a very long time and it has had proven results.

We even have stories of people who have practiced Dharma who have achieved what is called the rainbow body and have incredible miraculous signs at the time of their death. We think,  “Make me a believer, I dare you.”  We think like that and we act like that and we hope that someone will convince us.

I have found that another problem with Westerners is that we become a little hard.  I love you desperately, this is not an insult but we are a little cynical, a little hard to please. We have to have a certain percentage of entertainment value while we are being taught the Dharma.  I understand that but it’s a hard row to hoe.

Finally when we get this fire, this incredible love, this feeling that we only want to live this courageous life in order to benefit beings then we are okay but it is hard to get our attention and so this is another thing that I wish you would examine: how much you have been exposed to many different kinds of spiritual thought, and how many things you have been excited about that if you went back and examined, you would find were a puff-ball.  How many different systems have you thought, “Wow, this is exciting, this sounds right” and then you go back to it and you ask and find, “Who is it invented by, nobody; nobody that knows anything.” And nobody that got anywhere, anyway. Where did it come from, you can’t trace it back, you can’t figure it out.  Did it come from the mind of supreme enlightenment, maybe not?  If you go back and see the things that you got excited about you may find that from time to time you have been a little duped.

Mom told us that we would be happy if we did this and this and this.  The old idea about being rich, marrying a doctor, having children and dressing them nicely and wearing Polo shirts and Carter’s underwear; if you get all these things right then we will be happy.  We have become disappointed because we did everything correctly.  We got educated and we got a little prosperous. We have a Crock Pot; there is a chicken in it that, even as we speak, is overcooked.  We did all of these things and in mid-life we have a crisis.  It is so normal in our society that we write books about it.  The ‘Mid-Life’ crisis, the one you are bound to get to. It is weird if you think about it.   We tried all these things and we are not happy any more and we never were happy and it didn’t work. Basically what has happened is that we have become cynical and we are afraid to try.  We are one culture that has a particular problem: we are not believers actually, we are afraid to try. We say, “I have heard this and I have tried this.  I am not going to do anything hard.  I am going to get by and then I am going to die and that is how I am going to work this thing out.”

I find that Westerners have a tremendously hard time with the idea of making a real commitment with their lives, saying “Okay I get it.” I see that everybody is suffering, I see that there must be an end to suffering, I see that desire may be the cause of suffering, I see all of these things and I now understand the nature of emptiness.  Maybe it isn’t so dark and bleak and horrible.  Finally I can see where practicing Dharma would be right, I can see where this is what you should do with your life.”  But that moment at which you say, “Let this life only be a vehicle in order to practice Dharma, let that be the value of this life, let that be what I do” and be really courageous about it; that is hard for us.  We have a hard time. Understanding that the real value of this precious human rebirth is that we can accomplish a path to supreme enlightenment is a little difficult for us to get inspired about in that way.

If we could devise a way to help us to be less in love with what we should collect in our society, and how to be prosperous and have meaning in a material society, if we could become less involved with that idea and more involved with understanding the really important factor – the way in which we cultivate our minds and practice a proper technology to accomplish a pure and awakened mind state.  The point is to be of benefit to beings, to be awake as the Buddha was awake so we can bring about the end of suffering for ourselves and for all sentient beings.  The moment that which we discover this and it becomes meaningful to us we also need to divine a way to accomplish it.

©Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

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