Turning the Mind

zakurdayev-framed-mirrors

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “How Buddhists Think”

In the preliminary stages of this path, we must engage in a practice called “turning the mind.” What does that mean?  Our minds are fixated on gratification and self-satisfaction, on the idea that “if I dance fast enough, I’m going to get happy somehow.”  The Buddha teaches us to turn our minds to face the facts, rather than continuing this chronic, habitual fixation on delusion.  We must see that cyclic existence is an impermanent, changing process that results in death and rebirth.  And the rebirth takes a form we cannot foresee, a form determined by our karma.  Once we understand this, we must act accordingly.  Realizing that we have a choice, we can act intelligently.

The Buddha has made clear that all our suffering occurs due to habitual fixation on self-nature as inherently real, and the resultant desire.  He also gives us a way to antidote that desire: a clear look at cyclic existence and its faults.  We can see what the faults of cyclic existence are, and we can use this as a medicine, applying it till the end of our incarnation.  Then we can look back on our lives, perhaps at age eighty, and say: “I have spent that time well.”

If we remain fixated on material things (a chicken in our pot, our boat, our color TV), dancing really fast, we may still reach the age of eighty before we die.  But not even a sesame seed, as the teaching says, can we take with us.

If we choose wisely, we will reap the benefits of applying the antidote the Buddha prescribes.  These benefits will come from purifying our mindstream and thereby pacifying our habitual compulsive tendencies.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, every bit of experience you now have is the result of your karma.  Would you like to have a full-life reading about your past lives? Well, let me tell you how you can get one.  Look at yourself now.  Look at your cravings, your selfishness, your sadness.  Look at your happiness, your generosity.  Look deeply at yourself, with honesty and courage.  Look at your appearance, at how you act.  Everything about you is a reflection of your past actions, of cause-and-effect relationships.  So you don’t need to pay someone a hundred dollars to give you a fancy life reading.  Just look in the mirror.

Copyright ©  Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Self-absorption Leads to Unhappiness

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray by Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The Buddhist path is not a selfish trip. It’s not a self-absorbed trip. In fact, as Buddhist practitioners, we strive to become less and less self-absorbed. Being self-absorbed is the exact opposite of prayer–180 degrees away from it.  But most of us, unfortunately, have the habit of self-absorption, and so we spend most of our lives holding a prayer that is based on samsara. That has no good result. Without exception, self-absorbed people are the unhappiest people on the face of this earth, whether they have money or they don’t. Whether they have a home and a car or they don’t. Whether they live in a simple thatched hut or they live in a mansion, the people that are self absorbed and locked up in their own inner phenomena are the unhappiest people on the face of this earth.

The tragedy is that in our culture we are taught to think more about ourselves than about others. We are taught that if we buy cars and other stuff and maybe line up a few parties and relationships and line up a few fun retreats, we will be happy. That is simply not the case. Happiness never comes from self-absorption. It comes from being concerned about the welfare of other sentient beings.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The Guru’s Three-Part Empowerment

The most important part of the practice of Guru Yoga is when we receive the threefold empowerment from the guru. We receive the white light from the Guru’s head to our head to purify our body. We receive the red light from the Guru’s throat to our throat to purify and empower our speech. We receive the blue light from the Guru’s heart to our heart to purify and empower our mind. We should be receiving these empowerments 24 hours a day. Every time our mind has a little space, we should train ourselves to remember to receive the nectar of the Guru’s blessing. Instead, we walk around saying, “I’m lonely. I need my space. I need to go out and do stuff. I need to spend some money.” And we whine and carry on in samsara. And yet every minute this amazing phenomenal connection is available.

We should develop the habit of constantly keeping that connection. Whenever we have a moment, we should recite the Seven Line Prayer and ask for the guru’s blessing. And then we have it –boom, boom, boom—because when we ask, it is always given. There is never a time that when we ask, that it is not given. It may happen that we can’t receive the blessing sometimes. But we just keep trying. It’s simply our habit, and habits can change.

This is prayer without ceasing. This is constant prayer. This is a personal version of what we’re trying to do here at KPC by having our 24-hour prayer vigil, with someone practicing all the time. It is developing a constant awareness of our non-duality with the guru.

As we practice, the experience deepens. When we do our sit-down practice, the empowerments become easier to receive. We will find that we can go deeper and deeper and deeper. Then when we receive that three-part empowerment, our mind will be mixed with the guru and all the blessings will be present.  But be careful: Pride will stop the blessing.

So we wire up. We take refuge and are anchored in our confidence. We know, “This is my guru; I am unshaken.  This is the method; I am unbroken.  This is the result that I am going toward.” We maintain that connection constantly. Any time we have a moment, we recall our root guru appearing as Guru Rinpoche and receive the empowerments, mixing our mind with the guru’s mind. That’s the way to awaken to non-duality. That’s the way to awaken to our nature. When we mix our mind with the guru’s, we are deeply empowered with the bodhicitta. We can hear the calls of the suffering ones. They will fill our ears.

When we take this empowerment and we mix our mind with the nectar of the Three Precious Jewels, then we can pray. We can see ourselves as the same as the guru in nature, not in a prideful sense. Having received the blessing of the guru and of all the masters of the lineage, we are now able to pray.  We can ease the suffering of sentient beings.  Why?  Because we have the merit of our lineage. Now we can take within us the suffering of sentient beings because we can handle it. We have the power of the vajra masters.  That is our joy, our bliss, our ecstasy. We are never separate from them.

So prayer comes when we are in a state of awakening–when the bodhicitta that is the nectar of the guru’s mind is mixed inseparably with our own mind. Then we can pray: we can speak with the authority of the bodhicitta, in the way of the bodhicitta.

Do you hear the sense of potency I am trying to describe?  It is a sense of being fully mixed with the nectar of bodhicitta, fully aware that our nature is the bodhicitta. It is the bodhicitta that benefits sentient beings. When we are aware that we are the bodhicitta, it is this that we send to others. That is the power of the bodhisattvas and the Buddhas.

When we are that bodhicitta, we can awaken the bodhicitta in others just by looking at them. I know from experience that when His Holiness Penor Rinpoche looked at my heart, my heart was his and it opened. He recognized the bodhicitta in me, and I practiced to mix my mind with his. And therefore it was done. And that’s the potency of prayer. Now I can pray.

There is no room for pride in prayer—just simple gratitude for receiving the blessing of the guru in a humble way, with confidence in that blessing. Because of that blessing, we can pray. Now we have the bodhicitta; now we are the bodhicitta. And that is the potency and power upon which we rely.

The Buddhadharma is with us every minute. It’s a path, a way of life. And it is the true method to achieve the precious awakening. When we know that other beings are suffering so terribly, and we have found this jewel and it is in our hands and this nectar is given freely, I ask you: Why not learn to pray?

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Experiencing Bodhicitta through the Guru Yoga

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray by Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

We must practice guru yoga. Without guru yoga, we will never learn to pray properly. Guru yoga is the nest in which our prayers are developed. In guru yoga we see the lama as the embodiment of all the fields of refuge—all of the excellent, extraordinary displays of Buddha nature that did not arise in samsara, that are pure and untainted.

The lama is our boat across the ocean of suffering. A proper lama, from an unbroken lineage who is free of suffering and delusion and motivated by compassion, has made that trip before and knows how to get across. If we practice the Dharma correctly, we will see that lama in a way we’ve never seen anyone else before. We can then approach the lama like a child, without judgment. We can ask kindly and without fear, “Will you help me?”

Now, of course, judgments will rise up in our mind because that is our habitual tendency. But that then becomes our battleground. That is where we take a stand and draw the line. Once we’ve put our trust in the lama, we say, “I know that you have been taught by the great lamas that have been taught by the great lamas that have been taught by the great lamas, and all of them in an unbroken lineage have achieved enlightenment.” We realize that the lama is the door to liberation, and we do whatever it takes to walk through that door—whether it’s getting down on our knees, challenging our habitual tendencies or changing.

We have to be willing to change. Dharma cuts like a knife. It’s supposed to; it’s doing a big job. And we have a lot of work to do because most of our life we’ve spent chanting the mantra of samsara, the mantra of self-absorption. So we look to the teacher. We look to the Buddha. We look to the Dharma. We look to the Sangha. We look with determination, strength and courage or vajra pride.

Vajra pride, the courage to say, “I’m going through the door of liberation,” does not come from the ego. It is not ordinary pride. Instead it is steadfastness and determination to change utterly and completely. Do you know what prayer is?  Prayer is this (makes a cutting motion and rips open her chest). That’s prayer.

Through the practice of Guru Yoga, we become absolutely non-dual with the guru. That is the wish and the hope. That is also the method and the way. We mix our mindstream with the guru like mixing milk with water. And they can mix perfectly and constantly.

We practice the ngundro Guru Yoga and we practice the Shower of Blessings, and that’s a wonderful place to start, but how many minutes do we miss? How much time do we miss playing around in ordinary puddles—ordinary reality—when the ocean of wisdom is within reach?

The lama is not a separate person who we only get to see every now and then. When we see the lama, we are looking at the Nirmanakaya form of the Buddha. Guru Rinpoche himself said, “I will be there in the form of your root guru.  When you call out to me, I will be there.”

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The Brilliance of the Great Bodhicitta

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray by Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

As we realize that others need our help, we begin to heed their calls. We begin to turn to what is real, what is profound—the brilliance of the great bodhicitta. The great bodhicitta is the first movement from the void—from the absolute, uncontrived, undifferentiated spontaneously complete emptiness. Bodhicitta is the arising of the Buddha nature in a gossamer-thin, seemingly phenomenal, form. Bodhicitta contains all potential. It is the big “yes.”  Separate from nothing, containing all potential and all accomplishment, the great bodhicitta is the first movement of the absolute. Bodhicitta is also called compassion. Compassion is our nature.

We have deprived ourselves of the deliciousness, the comfort and the happiness of compassion for so long that the bodhicitta seems like something we have to work on—like an outsider that we have to bring into our home.  How sad, because compassion is our nature. When we are self-absorbed, we are denying ourselves the nectar that is the first movement of our very nature. And so if the great bodhicitta is really the first appearance of any kind of phenomena, if it is the underlying reality of any phenomenon, then compassion is also our nature. In fact, compassion is the nature of the meanest little bug in the world. It is the nature of spiders and lions and tigers and bears—and everyone else too.

All sentient beings have that nature and yet they live in a state of sleeping. We, on the other hand, are practicing to be awake. We wonder, “How do I see the bodhicitta? How do I develop the unconstricted, uncontrived, non-dramatic, undecorated view?

© copyright Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo all rights reserved

Getting Connected

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray by Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

How do we pray?  How do we rely on the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha and the Lama who is the embodiment of all three?  First of all, we have to get connected. We have to get wired up. And the way we get wired up is to practice refuge.

We have to view the Three Precious Jewels as though we were hanging over a giant abyss with crocodiles at the bottom, and the only rope to safety is held by the Three Precious Jewels. The rope is Guru Rinpoche—it is the Lama—and we hold on and start climbing. In other words, we sincerely take refuge, deeply in the most profound way that we can.

Most of the time we take refuge in ordinary things. We take refuge in our television programs, in our computer, in our social life or whatever it is that we like to do. We go to them to be happy. That’s 180 degrees away from prayer. Instead, we should realize that here we are asleep, living in a dream state, and that we must rely completely on the awakened ones and their teachings in order to wake up. We can’t rely on the teachings of someone who is also sleeping. That would be the blind leading the blind.

Lord Buddha was called the Perfect One because in every appearance and in everything that he did, he demonstrated that state of pure awakening and enlightenment. The Dharma, the method that we are using, has come from that awakened state.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The Importance of Consciousness

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray by Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Quantum physicists are beginning to understand that the universe is multidimensional. They are beginning to understand that because their math is not working, there must be something else out there that they can’t figure out. The reason why their calculations don’t work is because they leave out one of the components of reality—consciousness. Time, space and consciousness are inseparable. So scientists are mistakenly looking out with their telescopes for the birth of the universe.

I’ve been asked, “How did this explosion of phenomena start?” I tell people, “Close your eyes. Let everything go. Dissolve into emptiness.” They do it. After a while I say, “Okay open your eyes.” Then I explain: “When you opened your eyes, that was the Big Bang. That was the moment. That was when movement started. That was it. It’s not out there.”

Phenomena appear in many different ways, in as many different ways as we can conceive, in as many different ways as we can move away from emptiness. The universe is an entanglement of intentions, dreams and potentials. Each one of us, every sentient being, experiences a separate and different phenomenon. Even though we are all in the same room, everyone here is experiencing a separate and different reality according to his or her individual karma.

The places that we can go in samsara are endless. They are infinite. As we conceive something, more phenomena are created. Lord Buddha taught about interdependent origination, that cause and effect arise simultaneously. They are linked. Even though we see the cause, we usually don’t see the result. That’s because we are still in a place where everything seems to be outside of us.

We pray like that, too.  We think, “I am praying to Guru Rinpoche, and he’s going to make everything better.” We think, “I’ll say some words or I’ll say some mantra and magically they will go there and sprinkle star dust on everybody.” We pray as though we are unconnected. We pray as though we are not in charge. We pray by rote like parrots. We repeat our prayers and hope for the best, as if prayer is a magic incantation. We don’t have any idea how there’s going to be any benefit.

In order to pray let’s understand that, first of all, we are all that is, suchness, the uncontrived primordial view. We are every potential in its essential uncontrived form. Our nature is that which is unborn and yet absolutely complete and perfect in every detail. It isn’t made. It isn’t grown. It can’t become stronger or weaker. It is conditionless. And so we practice view to allow the boxes in our mind to fall away so that we can recognize that conditionless state and awaken to it at last.  Our prayers have to be like that as well.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

There Is No Self

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray By Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The Buddha taught that there is no self, that all that exists is primordial wisdom nature, with every potential, including the idea of self and the idea of phenomena rising out of emptiness. This potential is here. Although one of the ways that the primordial wisdom nature displays itself is in phenomena, we cling to phenomena as being inherently real. In fact, we cut our teeth on phenomena.

We have experienced phenomena since time out of mind, and so we are accustomed to the experience. It’s the only thing that makes us feel safe. Oddly enough, we spend all of our time contemplating the solidity of self nature, and we believe that self nature is inherently real. We identify with this body, thinking it’s us. We think that if we hold onto to self nature, we’ll be safe because we’ll be us. We think, “I’ll be staying here, you’ll be staying there, and we’ll continue in phenomena.”  But in fact, there is no difference between phenomena and emptiness. They are the same nature. They are the same essence. They are the same taste.

So while our habitual tendencies cause us to remain in this delusion of separation, still this nature exists—wholesome, absolutely complete and perfect, with no need for aggrandizement, with no need for construction. It is as it is. This is the nature that is our nature, and it is as much our experience, even now, as phenomena are, but it frightens us. So we cling to phenomena. Sadly enough, we become self-absorbed in that process. We think, “Oh this is me.  I’ve got to take care of myself. I’ve got to do what is right by me. I’ve got to have fun. I’ve got to have excitement. I’ve got to have pleasure.”  And that’s our experience—even though emptiness is at hand and we experience emptiness in our nature now. The Buddha nature that is our nature is complete. It doesn’t need any tinkering. Still, we cling to the idea of self. And of course, that’s the trouble that we’re in now.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Relying on the Three Precious Jewels

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray by Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Truth be told, we haven’t really awakened to the conditionless state yet.  Maybe we’ve had a few experiences in our meditation, a little taste of emptiness if we really go deeply into our practice, but it’s only for a second.

For most of us, we are unable to let the boxes down so that our view opens and we are in a state of recognition. Because of that, we are taught that we should rely upon the Three Precious Jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and mostly especially the Lama, as the embodiment of all three.

In other words, when we see the lama, we are seeing the Nirmanakaya or body form of the Buddha—a projection of the Buddha nature in phenomena. The Nirmanakaya has appearance and characteristics, but these are gossamer thin. These are insubstantial, like dew on a hot morning. And so we rely on our teacher as the representation of the primordial wisdom nature.

We rely on the Buddha because the Buddha is the doctor who gives us teachings—tells us what is wrong with us and how to fix it.

We rely on the Dharma, which is the medicine—the tried-and-true method that practitioners have used for thousands of years to escape the suffering of samsara.

We rely on the Sangha who care for us, like a nursemaid, until we are awake. It’s as if we are in a coma, and there’s nobody to take care of us but these nurses. The nurses bring us the medicine. They support us. And so we love and respect the sangha.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Letting Go of Pride

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray by Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

In order to really pray we have to let go of our pride, of our clinging to self. We have to let go of our self-importance, of that part that says, “Look at me, I’m praying” or the one that says, “Maybe if I recite mantra, it will go over there to that person.”  That’s not awakened; that’s dualistic.  So pride is the main obstacle to our true prayer—pride and its twin, doubt.

There is a Christian teaching that explains why. Although I am not a Christian minister, I do very much value the teachings of Jesus and know that he was a great and realized bodhisattva.

Jesus once gave a teaching in which he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”  What did he mean?  In ancient Jerusalem there was one gate that went into the city (it was known as “the eye of a needle”), and that gate was very low and very small. In order for a camel to get through it, it had to get down on its knees and crawl. But a rich person is often too proud to kneel.  So that teaching explains that pride is the obstacle. Pride is the enemy.

When we have prideful thoughts, we are clinging to self-nature as being inherently real, and we are always in a state of judgment. If we are high, others are low. So the most important element in learning to pray is to let go of pride—the idea that I am a practitioner, that I am praying, that I am doing some good. Instead of that pride, we need to develop an awareness that everyone is the same in their nature. All of us are expressions of the infinite possibility of the primordial uncontrived wisdom state—like white light going into a crystal and breaking into different colors, into beautiful reflections. Do we cling to the colors and no longer look at the light? Do we only look at the display and not look at the foundation? No. What would be the benefit of that?

So when we get ready to pray, we should do like the camel did in Jerusalem: we should get down on our knees. Our inner posture should be a heartfelt awareness of our interconnectedness. We should pray, “Here are my brothers and sisters, some of them swept off the face of the earth (by a giant wave, an earthquake, a plane crash, an act of war or some other tragedy…). Some of them are hungry. Many of them have died. Many have lost their families and loved ones.” We think with that kind of compassion and consider the situation of other sentient beings rather than just worrying so much about ourselves.

We simply consider their suffering. We keep our ears open to their calls, and we recognize that we are the same as they—not higher, not lower, but the same in our nature. We all have the seed of awakening. There is no difference. The haughtiness that we have, the games that we play, all have to go.

Instead, we adopt a posture of clear hearing. We have to hear the cries of sentient beings and then remember that they are the same as us. We have to think, “I hear you.  I am not separate from you.”  And we remember the Three Precious Jewels. It could easily be that in our next life, we are in their position and they are in ours.

By untangling our pride, we realize that it is our privilege to benefit them. Pride is like a constricting force around our heart.  It keeps us from opening up. It keeps us separate. It keeps us miserable, and it affirms samsara every day. When we are prideful, we are praying for suffering. We are praying to continue in the land of lost ones.

So we are taught to drop that prideful stance and to connect and wire up to the Three Precious Jewels. We take refuge because we realize that in samsara there is only samsara no matter what it looks like or how dynamic it appears. Samsara will dance and seduce. Samsara will say, “Drink me.” Samsara will say, “Eat me.”  Samsara will say, “Come and play. Be free.”  Samsara is a seductress who will make us suffer even more than we thought possible.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

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