Kunzang Palyul Choling has maintained a 24 hour Prayer Vigil since 1985. In this video Jetsunma describes how engaging in the Prayer Vigil is a way to stand up against the suffering in the world today. Making that commitment and dedicating the effort to bringing an end to war, or peace to beings, is a powerful way to practice the Dharma. She talks about how every visiting Lama, including His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, all comment how precious and rare this vigil is, that it happens nowhere else. Jetsunma talks about how it is part of integrating traditional Dharma Practice into our American, modern lives.
[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]
Sometimes, although you are maintaining the bodhisattva vow internally and your intention is purely to benefit others, externally it may appear through [your] conduct or speech that you are breaking the vow. Although it may seem that a failure is occurring, if your actions and speech are motivated by bodhicitta, then no failure is occurring. That is referred to as a “reflection of failure.” For example, if it is necessary to commit a nonvirtue of the body or speech for the sake of benefiting others, that is permissible. In fact, not to do so could constitute a breakage of the bodhisattva vow. The motivation must be very clear. Whether your actions constitute a failure or not is determined by your own mind’s motivation. Here it is crucial to be careful, since losing the vow means taking lower rebirth.
From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct
Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008
An excerpt from the teaching called Awakening from Non-recognition by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo
In this time of intense confusion called Kaliyuga, when our being’s discursive mind and thoughts run rampant and out of control, when even the reality that we are projecting onto our environment becomes progressively more and more decadent—in this day and time Vajrayana has appeared in the world. According to the teachings of Guru Rinpoche, Vajrayana is the best practice for this time, the most potent and most powerful. It relies on a very strong ripening. It relies on the very condition of Kaliyuga, when things become more and more contracted. Yet the obstacle that we face—and here’s where we need to prepare for our lives and for our deaths—is that we do not understand the Guru Yoga. We do not understand why we should practice it or how it might lead to this moment of recognition.
Yes, we want to awaken. We want to move into a state of recognition once we understand what the concept means. But we don’t want to practice Guru Yoga because in our materialistic society we have negative programming concerning some ideas about Guru Yoga. We are brought up in a democratic society, in a materialistic society, and we learn certain rules that we apply wrongly to this situation.
Now I think these rules are good. These rules teach us that we should think for ourselves, that we should be independent. You could not get anyone in this world to agree with that more than me. I am a Brooklyn girl, and I do not believe in following anything blindly. I do believe that to be strictly dogmatic, with no understanding and no ability to determine for oneself what is true and what is right, is completely absurd. I agree with the Buddha’s teaching, plain and simple, although that’s an arrogant thing to say. If I didn’t, what would it matter? But I do. The Buddha taught us that we should determine everything for ourselves, but we apply this wrongly. I am going to talk about how we should apply this process to the practice of Guru Yoga.
In the practice of Guru Yoga, we should think for ourselves, we should be smart people, we should not go brain dead, we should not blindly follow the leader. We should not think that this is simply a translation of another religion where you just do lots of prostrations and act like you’re brain dead around your teacher and go completely limp in your head, saying, “I believe! I believe! Save me, I believe!” In our religion, if you do that, there won’t be much result. So I don’t recommend doing that because in our religion we believe in cause and effect relationships. In order to achieve that state of recognition, one has to apply the causes that will produce that result—in the same way that, if one wants an apple, one has to plant an apple seed that will grow into an apple tree. Until we develop replicators like they have on Star Trek, there’s no other way to get an apple. I have no idea how they’re going to teach Dharma once we have replicators, because we have been taught that the seed always produces the fruit.
In order to accomplish this state of recognition, this precious, awakened state, we have to have practiced, and applied the causes by which the mind is ripened and ready for such a thing. One doesn’t do that by simply being a good little boy or girl or by being a spiritual person meek and mild. It is through practicing, and one such practice is the Guru Yoga. When done correctly, it can lead to this result of recognition. Now the practice of Guru Yoga is not one of submission to another person’s will or acting as though you are a nobody and the teacher is a somebody, or acting as though you’re a kid and the teacher is mama, or simply following things around in some sort of mindless way. But rather, in the appropriate practice of Guru Yoga, there are certain determinations that one must make.
There is a whole long list of ways to understand this, but Americans don’t do well with grocery lists. We don’t remember them. We get bored and we move onto something else, like wondering if we left the oatmeal boiling on the stove this morning. So let’s look at it this way. When we first meet with our teacher and grapple with the idea of practicing Guru Yoga, it is not about some sort of emotional display of dropping to your knees and never having a normal thought in your head again. It’s not like that. It’s not some sort of funny, emotional, weird, dumb thing. Instead, it is a determination for oneself: What is this relationship? What does it provide, as opposed to what other relationships in my life provide?
Different relationships supply as many different things as there are relationships. Some supply sorrow and difficulty. Some supply support and happiness. Some supply nurturing. Some supply financial help. There are relationships where there is a back and forth, giving and receiving, but everything that is given or received—even affection, even human caring—arises from the world, from samsara. You think to yourself, “Well love? I don’t know about love. Love doesn’t.” The kind of love you’re talking about in ordinary human relationships absolutely arises from samsara, even the best parts of it, because a lot of it has to do with chemistry. A lot of it has to do with karmic fitting together. We don’t even understand how animal-like we are. A lot of it has to do with pheromones, all kinds of things that are absolutely worldly, and they come together to create a certain feeling. A feeling is also something that is a worldly experience.
Although our relationship with our teacher may be cloaked or surrounded by experiences that are in relationship to or in accordance with our senses—we will see our teacher, our teacher may hand us something that’s physical, we will have emotional experiences and reactions concerning our teacher—yet there is something different going on.
The teacher provides you with a way to connect with our ultimate teacher, with the Buddha, with Guru Rinpoche, with the entire lineage of lamas—all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Through the relationship with our teacher, through empowerment, wind transmission (or lüng), and commentary teachings that ripen and direct our minds, we become familiar with the Buddha. Outwardly, that seems to be the physical manifestation of the Buddha as we have heard about the Buddha in history. Inwardly, it is a gradual familiarity with our own nature that is Buddha.
The teacher provides us with the path, the method—not the method to go from one side of the room to the other, not the method to make lasagne, not the method to brew a cup of tea, not anything ordinary that you can learn in the world, but the method that is Dharma practice and the necessary understanding and deepening that goes with it. This method that is Dharma practice is not ordinary because it arises from the mind of the Buddha. Therefore, in the relationship with the teacher there is something happening that is not of the world. It is extraordinary. You can’t get it anywhere else. Particularly in relationship to one’s own root guru there is a nourishment — the recognition that this teacher speaks my language, speaks to me. This teacher enables my inner recognition, matures and ripens my mind so that I can hear, and not just theoretically. That’s the particular relationship that happens between oneself and one’s root guru.
Also, this teacher is the one who hooks us. This is very valuable and potent. Although life will hook us, alcohol will hook us, sex will hook us, food will hook us, TV will hook us, Star Trek will hook us, X-files will hook us, Christmas will hook us, love will hook us, lots of stuff will hook us, these are all things that can be found in the world.
When the teacher hooks us, what is coming into play is recognition of the nature as Buddha, the appearance of the path. This hook is about things that are not ordinary, things that are not of this world. What is the result that the teacher offers, desires for you, tries to communicate to you as being important? That you’ll be a good cook? That you’ll be pretty? That you’ll be healthy? That you’ll be fit? That you’ll be rich? That you’ll be a good artist? That you’ll learn how to use the computer? I wish all those things for you. I hope the Bluebird of Happiness nests in your armpits never to leave again. The teacher wants you to have every temporary happiness, but that isn’t what’s happening here.
What is happening here? The result that is desired, that is implemented by this relationship, is the result of your recognition of awakening. You have to look at this for yourself. You can’t just listen to me and go, “OK, I see what you’re saying.” You have to do it in your head. I can’t get into your head.
All of the rules that you have about ordinary relationships should not apply here anymore because you determine that this is something different. This relationship is not in the ordinary category. It does not arise from the world. It does not necessarily bring the result of worldly gain, although virtuous activity always brings about better things, but that’s not the plan here. As I said, every teacher, every Bodhisattva wishes you to be happy, but the result that we are about together as student and teacher is that of recognition, of awakening. Once you’ve determined that this is a different category, please don’t be a dummy, going on like a beast of burden that simply cannot think things through and cannot change your habitual tendencies. Don’t engage in this relationship within an ordinary context because it simply won’t work, and you won’t receive the blessing.
© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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