The Responsibility of Choice

psychic

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why We Suffer”

I’d like to explain it in whatever way I can—even though the vocabulary is limited, and I myself am extremely limited—I’d like to explain it in whatever way I can over and over and over again. And do you know the interesting thing is that I often get caught in not understanding. It hooks me, too. Every time. Recently, I saw again, after not seeing for a very long time, someone whom I consider to be tremendously suffering, tremendously suffering, who I’ve known has had a great deal of the experience of suffering during the course of their life. Someone for whom in my heart of hearts I felt, you know, a terrible grief. Terrible grief. And for that person, I always wished that there was some hope. The idea that I had, although it was on a subtle level, was that that person had been victimized. I know that as a child that person was a victim of abuse. I know that many circumstances happened that made that person’s life very, very difficult. And during the course of that person’s adult life, there were tremendous, tremendous obstacles to overcome, tremendous difficulty. And yet, I know the Buddha’s teaching, and I know that the content of our mindstream is constantly being displayed as our lives. But caught in the trap of that idea that somehow we could suffer without cause, that somehow we were victims, that somehow circumstance could occur to us, and that we were somehow blameless and innocent, I fell prey to that idea. That’s never the case; it is never the case. Each and every person who experiences difficulty does so because of cause and effect relationships that they themselves began at some point, perhaps a point that they do not remember. The Buddha teaches us that if we have suffered a great deal, if we do suffer a great deal from loneliness, and the longing for love and approval, and that kind of need, a strong need, that somewhere in the past (and this is hard to take in), we ourselves were not kind. We ourselves were not supportive of others. We were not generous and loving. Now it may actually be that in this lifetime, we have made a real effort to be generous and loving and supportive to others, so you can’t go by that.

The Buddha teaches one thing about which I am supremely confident, and I’ve become more and more so with each passing day: You should never go to a psychic or anybody like that to find out what your past lives are about. If you want to find out what your past lives are about, look in the mirror now. Are you poor? Then you weren’t too generous. Are you not so good looking? Then in the past, you were not, with your body, faithful and loyal and virtuous. That’s the truth. Are you lonely? Because in the past, you probably were not kindly and supportive to others. Are you wishing that you had love and there isn’t much love in your life? Then, probably in the past, you were self-absorbed and really only caring about what you felt and what was going on with you and what your needs were. These are hard things to take in. But the Buddha teaches that for every single result that we are experiencing, there is a cause; and that cause is within our mindstream. Now, that’s both good news and bad news. At first, you have to look in the mirror and you have to be real brave and you have to face that. And that’s the hard part. That’s the bad news. Nobody wants to look in the mirror and say, ‘You did that. You had something to do with that.’ You have some qualities that are in seed form hidden within your mindstream that are ripening even now. Nobody wants to take responsibility. We all want to feel only good; and we only want some external force to give a blessing and then we’ll all be happy in heaven. That’s what we really want. Take a pill. Like that. So at first it’s very difficult and I think that the beginning of adapting this philosophy and accepting the Buddha’s teaching and beginning to act on it is actually an act of courage. It’s tough. It’s really tough.

What makes it tough? Is it because you have to practice for hours and hours a day?  No, that’s your choice. You can practice a little bit, or you can practice a lot according to your disposition. You can start practicing a little and you can end up practicing a lot. It’s really up to you. You can be following the Buddha’s teaching at your own level. There’s no pressure to do extraordinary amounts of practice. It’s not like that. What makes that first step so courageous is that you really have to accept the great law of cause and effect. But the good news is that suddenly you have power. There is an antidote. Before you were hopeless and helpless. If you looked at your life, and there was no love in your life, you could only say, ‘Wow, poor me! There’s nothing I can do about this. I’m really hopeless and I’m really helpless. What am I going to do?  Nobody loves me.’ And then you can start whining about it. And, of course, that will never make you happy. And what is it going to do? Is it going to change anything? It will never change anything. It will only alienate others even more, because you will be continuing the root cause of selfishness and self-absorption. It will never produce any good results. And if you were to look into your life and you were to say, ‘Well, I’m really not a happy person. I mean, I have many things, I have many physical things. I have a good house and a good car and all kinds of interesting things in my life, but I’m not happy. I don’t seem to be happy and it’s just, you know, I’m a victim. Just some people are happy, and I’m not. And I don’t know why other people get all the breaks and why I don’t get all the breaks.’ I mean, you’ve heard the litany, haven’t you? I don’t need to repeat it again. I’m sure if you haven’t said it recently, then you’ve said it in the past; and if you haven’t said it in the past, you have, but you’ve forgotten. But, anyway, you can remember somebody else doing it. So I don’t have to repeat the litany. But with understanding cause and effect relationships, you can look in the mirror and you can say, ‘Yes, up until this time, I have planted seeds that have brought bad fruit, but I have the opportunity to apply the antidote. And I can apply it, I can plant good seeds and reap good fruit.’

Happiness, love, wealth, joy, contentment and peace, relaxation in any form, even health are all habitual tendencies. They are all habitual tendencies. Those among us, and there are many, who do not seem to have the karma of happiness or contentment, who cannot achieve any kind of inner peace, cannot do so because they do not have the habit of it. And they do not have the habit of it, because in the past they have instituted many causes that bring about the result of such an occurrence. If we have the result in our lives of having no capacity to be able to engage in, for instance, a loving relationship, if it seems that we look around and there really are no loving relationships in our life, it is because we do not have the habit of it. And we do not have the habit of it, because we ourselves in the past did not engage in the giving aspect of that kind of loving relationship. Well, we all think that now, now we’re changed. Now we are engaged in the giving aspect of such a loving relationship. Yes, I’m trying to get a loving relationship. I go from person to person, and try to get a loving relationship. I get in everybody’s face that I can get my hands on, and say,  ‘You will love me.’ And so I’ve changed. Now I’m a loving person. I love everybody I can get my hands on. What are you doing? Are you generous, are you kind? Not in the least. Are you giving love? No, it’s all about you. You want, you need, you want, you need. That’s what you think about, because you have the habitual tendency of being needy and loveless due to a lack of generosity in the past. Now, the Buddha teaches us that the antidote is not to go out and join a singles club; but, rather, what we must do, instead, is to be as loving and as kindly to others as possible. To give without thought of any return. You want any thing in return. You don’t need approval; you want approval. You just give. You’re kind.

Now, at first, most people don’t know how to do that. They really are inept at that sort of thing and they will end up trying to take anyway. So the Buddha gives us an actual series of practices that are antidotal. Very, very different. There are many different kinds of practices from generating oneself as the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and pouring forth compassion without exception to all sentient beings equally. And you don’t get letters back from them, believe me. Pouring out compassion to all sentient beings equally, and in that way, beginning the habit of genuine loving kindness. That’s one antidote. That’s a good one. And then you can make wishing prayers for all sentient beings. You can circumambulate the stupa going clockwise. Please do so. It’s makes me happy to know that you’ve had the opportunity. So you can circumambulate the stupa, or you make some offering on an altar; and at the same time you say, ‘By this merit, or by this offering, or by the virtue of this prayer, may all sentient beings be free of suffering.’ You’re lonely? You know what the best antidote to that is? Pray for those who are lonelier than you. Pray endlessly. And don’t expect any of them to know that you’re doing so. And don’t expect anything back for it. That really is an antidote to such suffering. And those who are the unhappiest are the ones who are most resistant to hearing that. But, there actually is an answer; there actually is an antidote. And you can begin like that.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo all rights reserved

Our Predicament

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Mixing the Mind with the Guru” 

What I would like to talk about in the adult portion of our teaching is the particular situation, the predicament actually, that sentient beings find themselves in. Sentient beings are in a situation that is something of a struggle, in that for sentient beings often they have problems and not much understanding in the way of being able to solve their problems because they do not understand how their problems have arisen. They do not understand that they must apply an antidote. And often in their efforts to alleviate their own suffering, they perpetuate their problems. So I’d like to explain something of the Buddhist idea as to how that actually comes about. The Buddhist idea as to how our suffering comes about may differ somewhat from what we ordinarily consider the sources and reasons of our problems; and certainly I would think that the Buddhist idea of how to solve the problem will differ from what we have been taught in our society. So I hope that you will listen patiently and really give it a shot, give it a chance. Give it an opportunity to settle into your mind. What I will try to explain, then, is the format or the backbone of some Buddhist ideas.

According to the way we ordinarily view things, we feel or perceive ourselves to be a real and solid object stuck kind of in the center of an environment; and we feel ourselves to be interacting with our environment. From our perspective, it seems as though, from what our parents told us, one fine day we were born. We don’t actually remember that, but we’ve been told that that’s the case; and some of us have birth certificates and pictures to prove it. It seems as though we appeared within this environment. We were born, and from that point on, it seems as though circumstances have acted upon us to cause us to form in a certain way. That is a very popular idea. It is the idea of the day. Whenever one wishes to go into some kind of deeper study, or deeper awareness according to the potential and fad, actually, of our society, generally if we are not deeply religious people, even if we are moderately religious people, we will be guided into an understanding of the psychological makeup of an individual and how it interacts with its environment. And expecting the fact that the individual is what it seems to be exactly, no more, no less, we will begin to study what seems to be the cause and effect relationships between an individual and its environment.

For instance, we have the idea that if we grow up with kindness that probably we will be more healthy psychologically, that we will be more stable. And we have the idea that if we grow up with suffering, such as deprivation or even abuse, that we will be not kind, really, not caring and very insecure and very unhappy people. The idea is that if one grows up with abuse and neglect that one will certainly give abuse and neglect to others. We have the idea that if we grow up with poverty that we will grow up with characteristics that are natural to the impoverished person, whatever those characteristics are thought to be. But there are certain expectant results that we have from the way that we grow up. And actually people in our society spend, comparatively speaking, a fair amount of time looking at the way that they interact with their environment, looking at the characteristics that they have, the qualities that they have, and actually trying to trace them back to things that happened in their early childhood. These are things that we are taught to do. And this is the fashion, actually, of our time in this particular cultural environment.

Buddhist philosophy differs from that greatly, actually. The reason why Buddhist philosophy differs so much is that there are certain foundational expectancies that I’ve just listed that are so ordinary, so normal in our society that we wouldn’t even think to question them. For instance, we would not think to question that our experience begins at the time of our birth; and we would not think to question that our experience is completely controlled by the input of our environment and our parents. We would never think to question that. While we might accept the idea that we have come into this life with certain genetic predisposition, we don’t really understand that genetic predisposition. We think of it as kind of a chemical thing. And yet, even though we have this certain genetic predisposition, we think that for the most part our habitual tendencies, our ideas, our qualities have more to do with the way that we respond to the catalysts that are contained within our early life. That’s how we think.

The Buddha thinks differently about all of that. The philosophy that’s presented is actually quite different in that the Buddha teaches us that this is not the first incarnation or birth that we have ever taken; that as sentient beings we have been involved in a great many birth and death experiences; that we are actually locked into what is called cyclic existence or samsara, which is a cyclic death and rebirth experience. We are actually taught that this birth and death process has taken place many times. In fact, if you are a human and you can even hear the word Buddha, or can hear the teaching that will bring you closer to enlightenment in any way, shape, manner or form, then that should be considered proof that you have lived many times, because it takes many lifetimes of accumulated virtue and merit in order for you to be in this position. One does not happen to be in the position just because in the same way that apples happen to fall from trees. One has to have accumulated a great deal of virtue and merit in order to be in the position of even considering to practice the path of enlightenment. So you’ve had to have had a lot of experience as a sentient being. Oh, it doesn’t mean that you’re at the point where your future is assured. It doesn’t mean that you’re in such good shape that you really don’t have worry about it. It doesn’t mean that it’s downhill from here. It means that you still have a lot to do, because until we achieve enlightenment, actually, we really aren’t safe. We are still sentient beings and we are still revolving in cyclic existence; and we still have the same conditions and situations associated with being a sentient being. But the Buddha teaches us that we must have lived many lifetimes before.

So when we come into this life, we are actually an appearance, or a re-birth, of one who has with them a whole conglomeration of cause and effect relationships already instituted—already begun, already in action, already arising. Some in seed form and some arising in a very obvious and blatant way. If a sentient being has revolved in cyclic existence for some time, they have accumulated many habitual tendencies. They have begun many different causes and experienced many different effects. For some great long time, they have assumed that self-nature, their own self-nature as well as the nature of all phenomena is inherently real, and they, for a very long time, acted accordingly. According to Buddhist philosophy, that continuation, that stream of continuing assumption can be called a mindstream. A continued push, a movement of dynamic occurrence, all of which is based on the assumption of self-nature as being inherently real and the constant need to hold to self-nature and to define it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Looking Beyond the Self

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In order to practice effectively, we have to give rise to the great Bodhicitta.  We have to see the needs of sentient beings—what their situation is, what their condition is. For that reason I’m going to talk, first of all, about the six realms of cyclic existence.  These are the different types of reality that one may experience during the bardo or passage of living.  We are beginning then with the passage, or bardo, of living.  Bardo is not actually a time period.  You can’t say that bardo is a period from Thursday to Thursday, or from the 24th to the 3rd of the month.  Bardo is not a marking time or a markable time.  It is perceived that way because of our delusion.  We will see the bardo of the passage through our lives as being, oh, let’s say 75 years.  We can see this as a passage. From the point of realization, this is a movement, a display, a passage, a color.  It is something other than the way we experience it.  We experience it as the date that we were born and the date that we die, and time in between.  But, in fact, what we are actually experiencing is not a length of time, but rather we are experiencing the bardo, or passage, of living.

According to the teachings on the bardo or passage, of living, we’re not the only ones here.  What a big surprise!  Now everybody is thinking “Oh great!  She’s going to tell us about flying saucers!”  I wish.  I wish!  I’m still waiting for them to come pick me up.  I don’t know if any of that stuff is true.  I’m definitely into Star Trek and I hope to heck it’s true. It seems logical to me that it’s true, there being so many planets out there, but I don’t know that for sure.  What we’re going to talk about today is the honest-to-goodness. This is what the Buddha has taught us about the realms of cyclic existence.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, the amount of those sentient beings who can achieve rebirth as a human being is so small that it would be like the amount of particles of dust  on our thumbnail, compared to those sentient beings that are not human beings.  That would be comparable to the particles of dust on the earth.  Are you perceiving the vast amount of difference?  So we have to think of ourselves as the smallest group really. There are other sentient beings who are revolving in cyclic existence. But in what way?  This is what we want to know. There are so many of them!  What are their sufferings?  What are their conditions?  How can we help them? Should we consider them?  What are they to us?  These are the thoughts that will help us to understand our condition and the condition of sentient beings.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, there are actually 3,000 myriads of universes.  Three thousand myriads of universes.  That is a way of saying uncountable reality.  Uncountable, unmentionable, unthinkable display, so much display as to be inconceivable to the kind of mind that we have that likes to count beings, or likes to count numbers.  There are that many wandering in cyclic existence. And according to the Buddha, there are basically six realms of cyclic existence. I will talk about these six realms of cyclic existence briefly so that each one of us can understand the condition of cyclic existence and the results of our own actions, because none of these beings in cyclic existence have ended up where they are, including us, through anything other than by the results of our own action.  You are here listening to Dharma teaching because somewhere in the past you have been exemplary, exemplary.  Oh naturally the room gets quiet!  They want to hear about this!  Don’t you love it! Every time. This is so predictable.

All right, let me tell you how wonderful you are. In order to have received the teachings that may ultimately result in your liberation in one lifetime… I mean, you talk about grains of dust on a thumbnail. That would be equal to grains of dust on the head of a pin!  That is how rare this opportunity is. You must have done some extraordinary things in your past in order to be able to hear this teaching.  You must have been kind to sentient beings.  You must have helped other sentient beings or supported them as they sought truth, just as you are being supported in your search for truth.  You must have been helpful.  You must have been seeking.  You must have been looking for a better way.  You must have had some devotion.  You must have had some faith, and more.  It would take extraordinary kindness, extraordinary virtue, to come to this point.

Now within this point, there are some people in this room, and you can see that they are sleepy. They can’t listen very well, and they sort of miss most things.  Well, why is that?  That is not because of what they had for breakfast, really, unless of course you had a candy bar for breakfast in which case, go back to sleep!  It is not because of their hearing.  It is not because they speak a different language.  It is not because of any of the things that you might think are contributing factors.  If the person is too dulled out to be able to hear the teaching, it is because while they have the extraordinary merit and virtue to be able to hear the teaching, they don’t have quite enough to be able to absorb it deeply.  It’s a little bit like if you could imagine a bug crawling on the arm of a great lama, or crawling on the arm of the Buddha.  I mean, that’s a pretty good position to be in!  If you’re a bug, that’s where you want to be!  Crawling on the arm of the Buddha.  Certainly if I were a bug, that’s where I would want to be. In the Buddha’s armpit or, you know, someplace safe.  But still, the Buddha could be giving the most extraordinary teachings.  The bug won’t hear it.  The bug won’t accept it and the bug certainly won’t like it.  The bug just wants to be the bug on the Buddha’s arm.  It doesn’t even know it’s on the Buddha’s arm, really.  It just wants to be comfortable. You see?  So you may wish to be comfortable.  You may wish to take a nap.  You may think about the things that you’re used to thinking about.  You may wish to keep the same exact attitude that you’ve always had, so this way you don’t have to change.  Even though that all seems very logical to you, actually that’s because you don’t quite have enough merit to absorb the teachings deeply.  Everything is due to cause and effect.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

As Many Paths…

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

Society will teach you wrongly until it understands your nature.  The Buddha is the perfect teacher—the perfect one because he so thoroughly understood our nature.  It is said that when a student came to him for the first time, and said, “I would like to become Buddhist,” or “I would like to take teaching with you,” he could see in an instant all the causes and conditions that brought that student to that moment where he faced the Buddha.  He could see every cause and condition and could give each and every student the antidote necessary to provide the blessings for enlightenment.

That being the case, we can trust in the Buddha’s teaching.  He doesn’t say, “You’re a bag of chemicals.  Now you’re breathing. So good, go get a job. Make yourself happy. Have a chicken in your pot, or a pot with some chicken”.  I don’t know…” Have a drink on Friday nights.”—whatever it is that makes people happy.  He doesn’t say, “Follow in your culture.” He tears the veil apart and he says, “Based on your nature, this is what must be done.  Based on your path, this is what must be done.”  And there are as many methods in the Buddhadharma as there are sentient beings to follow them.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

Peeling Back the Veil

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

In contemplating our lives and in proceeding mindfully, we begin to understand that the Buddha has peeled away the veil a little bit to show us that we are not only material beings affixed on the time and space grid,  that we are not these lumps that are there.  The Buddha has peeled back the veil a little bit and shown us that we are spiritual beings.  That our very appearance is the display of primordial spiritual essence and that the events and activities in our lives are merely the result of causes that we have definitely created in the past. That we are continually, by our habits and by our thinking and by our activities, by our consciousness, continually creating the causes for the future.  This is what the Buddha has taught.

Now in other religions, there are good laws, like don’t kill, don’t steal. All the religions have the same basic laws.  But in the Buddha’s path, he teaches us about cause and effect.  We are made to understand the relationship between cause and effect.  The potency implied in that is that for the first time, we are humans with tools, rather than humans with sticks and stones.  It’s as though spiritually we moved into the new age of having actual tools rather than being some sort of homo sapien who just kind of, in an animal way, deals with what life brings the best that it can.

Yes, the Buddha has given us tools.  But do we understand how to follow them?  And how to use them?  And here’s the problem.  What we don’t understand is this—and this is not necessarily the fault of each and every individual although we must take responsibility for our own habits and thoughts, it’s the only reasonable and healthy way to move forward: We are born in a culture that does not explain reality. In fact, we are born in a culture that believes in the solidity of form, believes in division and delusion and duality and doesn’t understand cause and effect relationships very much at all.  We live in a very externalized culture where yes, we understand that if you steal something, if you get caught, you’ll go to jail or get in trouble with the law.  But we also think that if you steal something and don’t get caught, that the stealing didn’t happen.  I remember thinking how many times I have met up with students that you can tell they’ve been taught that.  You’re ok as long as you don’t get caught.  Most of us learn how to manipulate our lives and manipulate our environment so that appearances meet in accord with our society.  But we have never been taught what are the real tools for happiness.  We have never been taught that. We’ve never been taught that the stealing produces future cause whether or not you get caught in this lifetime.

There are other reasons for stealing.  I personally don’t believe the fear of punishment is going to stop too many people who are hungry from stealing some food.  If you’re hungry, your mind is different.  Or for a person who is so poor that they can’t think of any other way to get by, the fear of punishment won’t stop them.  But perhaps, if they lived in a society that taught from birth the fact that if you are poor now, it’s because you have not been generous in the past. If you wish to achieve more prosperity, the best thing to do is to be of benefit to others, because stealing will only make more  impoverishment, more poverty.  We’re not taught that.  We’re only taught to look at the external.

But in a Buddhist society, we are taught that our minds are important.  We are taught that we must tame the mind.  Within the mind are the five poisons and without being tamed, they will result in unhappiness if they are left to run wild.  We have the poisons of ignorance, anger, slothfulness, desire, jealousy.  We have them all.

Ignorance in this case doesn’t mean that you didn’t go to school.  Ignorance in this case means that you have no wisdom.  It means that you do not understand the nature of reality, have not been taught the cause and effect relationships and karmic relationships that provide the future reality nor what creates your present reality.  So we are ignorant of how we are, what we are, and how we have come to be here.

So we have these five poisons and never understand that these five poisons are not our nature. They are occlusions in the diamond mind.  They are dirt on the pristine window that is consciousness.  In their pristine nature, they are the five primordial dakinis; they are the five primordial Buddhas in their nature.  They are the qualities of Buddhahood: omniscience, omnipresence, compassion—these kinds of qualities and activities.  And so as Buddhists, the veil is brought to the side so that we can look and see cause and effect and the nature of mind.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Right Before Our Eyes

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

These are important teachings. The Buddha taught us that yes, we will live many times and we will die many times.  It’s so important to think of this particular life as one increment in a great long inconceivable span of lifetimes.  Lord Buddha taught that we have been born again and again and again in cyclic existence in so many forms and so many times that, literally, every being that we meet must have been our kind mother or father in some past incarnation.  So we should think of all beings—including dogs and cats and worms and iguanas and creatures that perhaps we have very little emotional connection with, but even those—if we have the opportunity to meet them or even be stung by one of them, like a bee, that in some past life, some ancient life, we have had definitely some intimate connection with them.

We had another good lesson recently.  We watched the death of the woman with brain damage, Terri Schiavo What an amazing karma played out right out in front of us.  Amazing karma!  If you just step back away from the emotions and look, it’s so easy to see that this is some ancient, profound, terrible karma playing out between these people—the husband, the family and the woman herself.  Amazingly, her death was brought about by a deprivation of food, and yet the very cause of this terrible fate of hers was practicing bulimia.  So you see a kind of instant karma playing out, and then you see it hooking into this devastating ancient karma with the other people, with the family that she lived with.  How amazing!  What a study that was!

I found myself this past week, between His Holiness the Pope and this Schiavo woman dying, I found myself fascinated by these two things.  Watching everything the Buddha has taught us playing out right in front of us for those of us that could see.  My students, my attendants, the people that are close to me say, “Jetsunma, what should they do?  Should they feed her or not feed her?”  Well, my advice would have been to allow the entire karma to play out, completely unscathed.  Let it play out exactly without any kind of interference, exactly the way it would in the world, because this karma between them is so profound.  Better that she, in this relatively unconscious condition, can go through this terrible karma and live it down, finish it, end it, rather than to have to come back and finish it, because it perhaps wasn’t finished.  So from a wisdom point of view, to watch this karma is a blessing. Because we understand how it is with us, we can get a much deeper understanding; and yet to watch this karma is gut wrenching.  It’s heart breaking because we see how samsara is.  We see how we can mistakenly think that loving concern is just that—loving concern—when sometimes it’s power.  We can see also that sometimes when we feel the most powerful, powerful love, that often its basis is very self-oriented, very selfish.  Not meaning to be selfish.  We think we’re thinking of the other, and yet it’s really about how we feel.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Utilizing the Antidote

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Now it’s also said that the stupa has a mandala of enlightened activity around it the same as a living Buddha does.  That is to say, that a stupa that is powerfully consecrated with relics, and consecrated by an enlightened lama who has accomplished the mantra,  has a radius of about 100 miles of influence.  Isn’t that amazing?

Yet, we are not keeping that strength going, that fire going.  The power of the stupas will be, by definition of mind, diminished because our minds are not with them.  So it’s a terrible, terrible frightful waste.  It’s really like having all the lamas of the lineage across the street.  Oh, we pride ourselves that we have robes and we can go places and we can do practices. Some of us even have the more advanced practices. We can stare at bindus and stuff like that.  But if we don’t walk across the street and take care of the stupas, you can say we have no practice.  You could say that.  Because it’s like the lamas of the lineage are there, and no one is honoring them.  We call them to our practice.  We pray to the lamas of the lineage. We visualize them gathering in front of us, but we abandon them.  And so what is this cartoon in the sky in front, when we have abandoned the actual Nirmanakaya form?

They say that the lama and also the stupas have this 100 mile radius, approximately, of activity.  I built these stupas here because I was hoping that they would influence our government, but I don’t think that has happened as yet,.  I could be wrong, but I don’t see it. So I’m wondering if I could prevail upon each and every one of you to take these stupas into your heart, to think of them as your guides, your objects of refuge and to honor them in the way that they should be honored so that the lamas through these magnificent stupas can carry out their enlightened activity.  Because these stupas are an extension and an appearance of the Buddha’s enlightened activity.

It’s up to us to plant that firmly in the world, to make the roots deep  and to keep the causes pure and untainted for future accomplishment and future happiness.  There are so many stories in Buddhist teachings about particular practitioners that came to their own fruition through some slight, almost mindless, deed in the past concerning a stupa.  I’m a terrible Buddhist storyteller because I forget the details and I get the punch lines wrong, but I’ll try.  I’ll try to tell you a little bit of what I remember.

There is this one story, for instance, about a pig who was being chased by a dog.  And the pig was a pig.  He had been wallowing in mud, and he was all dirty.  He had a muddy body and a muddy face and a muddy tail. And the dog thought, “Oh, I’m gonna’ get me some pork chops,” and started chasing the pig.  And round and round this stupa they went.  After they went round the stupa a few times, the pig smashed into the stupa accidentally and the mud from his body fixed a little crack in the stupa.  That [pig] was reborn in Dewachen, or some enlightened paradise, because of that cause and immediately received teachings and the ability of accomplishment. He was reborn as a bodhisattva, and was given every means to accomplish; and accomplishment was gained.  A pig!  Accidentally!  These stories are told to us as an indication of what you’re missing, of how amazing the merit is of caring for the body of the Buddha.

Conversely, we are told that to leave a stupa in decay and to not honor the stupa properly will bring nothing but obstacles.  And we’ve had lots of obstacles here.  We’ve had obstacles to seeing the teacher, and that’s me.  I’ve tried very hard to get here many times and yet there are obstacles.  And I believe in my heart that these obstacles are because when I left, the stupas were not like this. I’ve returned to this, and this is the body of the Buddha.

Now I’m not saying this to make myself seem like a high up person or anything like that. Normally in monasteries, the Khenpos get to tell these stories about their lamas. I wish we had that condition, but we don’t.  So, allow me to just commit the non-virtue of telling you what the other lamas have said about me.  They’ve said that if you don’t see this teacher very much because of who she is, you should understand that this is because your own merit is diminishing, not because she’s not here to serve you, not because she doesn’t want to serve you.  It’s strictly cause and result here. Because of the nature of this teacher—and because of the nature of my teacher and because of the nature of the other teachers of this lineage—their merit is such and their accomplishment is such that we must always create the causes of continuing to meet with them.  They’re just not a collection of Tibetan jimokes that do their thing over there and then come and do it over here.  These are beings who have accomplished Dharma and who have returned solely to benefit sentient beings.  Their only wish is to bring benefit., and yet we are not creating the causes for that.

Now that I know what the stupas look like, I will wait before I ask His Holiiness to return here until they are better.  I would not break his heart like that.  And I’m not saying I’m a good mama and you’re bad kids.  It’s not like that.  I’m telling you that this is your practice.  I want you to be happy.  I want you to be free of obstacles.  I want you to attain that pure awakened state where you know what to accept and what to reject.  I say to you, “Reject your own phenomena that tells you I don’t wanna. I’d rather have fun.  Reject your own phenomena that says I can’t because I’m sick, I’ve got a headache, I blah blah blah.  Reject your own phenomena and accomplish Dharma instead.”

Go to the stupa and if you can bend a little bit, you can bend to offer.  If you can bend a little bit, you can bend to clean.  I tell you if you are sick to death and worried for your life, you should crawl to the Migyur Dorje stupa saying prayers all the way, because that’s what a smart Tibetan would do.  That’s what I would do.  If you can’t walk, get there anyhow.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Cause and Effect and the Antidote to Unhappiness

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Lord Buddha’s teachings are always reasonable and logical.  He teaches us that, for instance, if we are lonely and unhappy, we should look to find the causes of that.  He teaches us that causes are never outside.  They seem to be, but they are never outside because actually we are living with our own karmic habitual tendencies and propensities.  So if we are lonely and unhappy, we should look to the deeper causes.  The deeper causes may be that in the past, whether in this lifetime or in some previous lifetime, we allowed the others around us to be unsupported and lonely and unhappy.  Or perhaps we committed some profound non-virtue with our minds and so now, in our mind, we have the habit or the result of loneliness and unhappiness.  Perhaps in the past, we caused someone mental suffering or mental affliction, and so now in the present, we find ourselves feeling that same mental affliction. But we can only remember since the time of our birth, or somewhat after that, and we don’t know what the cause was really.  It’s hard to see.  We have to go by the Buddha’s teachings because Lord Buddha is that state of enlightenment which has the wisdom to see causes and results.  So we are taught if we have certain results within our life, such as unhappiness and loneliness, we should look for deep causes If we can’t find some reason in this lifetime for our loneliness and unhappiness, that is to say, that we ourselves have not brought about similar loneliness and unhappiness to others, then we should think that probably the cause has been in the deep past.  So we must assume that in the past, we have caused some unhappiness to others.

Now, here we are on the path, and we are told to apply the antidote. I shouldn’t leave that part out.  And the antidote, of course, would be to do one’s best to uphold the Bodhisattva Vow and to benefit others as strongly and as purposefully as we possibly can.  Of course, as monks and nuns, we will do that within the context of Dharma activities. As lay people, hopefully, we will do that within the context of Dharma activities as well. Yet we also have many opportunities in our lives to be of benefit to others in ordinary but very special ways. Some of us are doctors or nurses or counselors or those who help others.  So there are human ways to help others and there are extraordinary Dharma ways to help others, and we should apply that antidote.

One thing that not only I have noticed but practically every pop-psychologist that has arms to write a book with nowadays will tell you is that in doing for others, one becomes happy.  Self-absorption and ego cherishing, only thinking about what you want and what you don’t have, leads to further unhappiness and selfishness.  So it’s doing for others that actually brings up the spirit, and I personally know that this is true.  I know that this is true.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Choices – Like a King or a Queen

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Entering the Path”

It is not only in the beginning of the path that obstacles happen; they occur periodically throughout your experience of the path. They don’t end. They are like PMS. So each and every time obstacles arise, you have to simply support and nurture yourself. Go through it. Simply take yourself by the hand as if you were a child. Think of this as your kingdom, and you’re a good king or a queen. What should you do to responsibly negotiate yourself through this? You think like that.

Remember the first and most important point to consider: not to make it a big deal. Don’t get yourself all worked up. Try to keep your mind calm, because remember, the obstacles will ripen more quickly and more violently if the mind is excitable, emotional and violent, if it has so many ups and downs. So take yourself to a movie or something, you know, calm down and walk yourself through this. Remember that the biggest tool that you have right now is the accumulation of merit. Within the continuum of your mindstream there are cause-and-effect relationships that have not yet fully ripened. The causes are deeply embedded within your mind. Accumulate more merit and the more meritorious causes from the past will be drawn forth and will come to your rescue.

The name of the game is to pacify obstacles and to draw forth and accumulate as much merit as possible. The mind will become spacious so that we can awaken in incremental degrees to our own nature. To the degree that we begin to awaken to our nature, to that degree, obstacles will no longer affect us.

Upon attaining the Bodhisattva path and moving through that path to the higher bhumis, one is no longer susceptible in the same way to cause-and-effect relationships. They become pacified within the mindstream. They are still expressed in some way, to exhibit the normal characteristics of life. Yet the high level Bodhisattva is not hooked and condemned by these obstacles the way ordinary sentient beings are. These obstacles do not cause them to wander in samsara the way ordinary sentient beings do. So that’s what we have to look forward to. The name of the game is pacifying obstacles and bringing forth as much merit and opportunity as possible until that day happens. For this you can use the practices.

The moment you decide to be on the path and practice, you should immediately begin to accumulate the Seven-Line Prayer. Repeat it on a regular basis every day. That is a merit machine for you. Then as soon as possible, as soon as you have accumulated approximately 10,000, begin to practice Ngöndro or preliminary practice. The reason why it is set up that way is so that the mind can develop and open up to the primordial wisdom nature.

This is the opportunity that you have, and this is the method that you should use. Be your own best friend. Be a good king or queen. Be intelligent and responsible and think beneath the surface. Do not read the things on the surface any more. That’s for children; that’s not for you. You’re on the path now. Look deeper and see what’s happening. Antidote unhappiness with virtue because unhappiness is caused by non-virtue. Accumulate virtue to the degree that you can begin to experience the truly virtuous nature that is your nature. Because if that nature that you truly are were allowed to express itself unimpeded, the display of that nature is the very Bodhicitta or great compassion that we try so hard to emulate.

Your nature is in truth that great unequalled Bodhicitta. You are not a bag of non-virtue; you are suchness, you are that great kindness. When you practice in that way, it’s like cleaning a glass by which the sun can shine through, and the sun is your nature. But do not let your image of the sun be closed down or distorted because of your own habitual tendency to simply ride on the surface and do whatever you think seems right. For the first time, look deeper and understand cause-and-effect relationships. Implement the causes that will bring about happiness and freedom, and pacify, through suppression, those non-virtuous characteristics that will bring you unrest and suffering.

How does this suppression look? Not like faking it and pretending you don’t have these things.  That is not suppressing, that is neurosis. That is acting inappropriately. Suppression means that you take the antidote, and you apply it through practice, through contemplation, through offering, through generosity, through kindness. Practicing these things is suppression because the mind remains firm and stable in the way of virtue rather than remaining caught up in amplifying non-virtue.

You are a creature of choices. Isn’t it amazing! A creature of choices! At every turn you can make choices. You cannot choose what experiences seem to come to you because the cause-and-effect relationships have already been laid out for them, but you can choose how to respond, and you can choose how to create future causes. And for this I am exceedingly glad.  Choose well then, not like a child. Choose like a king or a queen— noble, thoughtful, educated and sound in your mind. Create the habit of virtue and you will create a kingdom of virtue that will be your life.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Do We Know How to Be Happy?

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Faults of Cyclic Existence”

When we broaden our view and look out,  we see that this is happening to a greater or lesser degree to all sentient beings.  All sentient beings are striving to be happy.  They wish to be happy, but in varying degrees, they do not understand the causes of happiness.  We see this also in our own lives.  See, we’re the good guys, we’re the Dharma practitioners. But even in our lives we see that we engage in compulsive, neurotic habitual tendency time and time again. Cyclically actually. We’ve noticed this and we talk about this and we laugh about it.  You know, women get together and we have girl talk.  We know this one really well;. And men are in the same situation.  We repeat patterns that are nonproductive.  Is that a light-weight way to say it?  We literally put ourselves through the lowest of the realms.  We put ourselves through hell, literally.  We are not our own best friends. And we only see it when we are coming out the other side of the compulsion and it didn’t bring us what we want. Then it’s like, “Well I knew that!  Why didn’t I think of that!  I knew that!  How ridiculous!”  And then you know, six months later there we are, going down the pike again.

In one way, then, our compassion is increased because we see that the serial killer is busy bumping off everybody else in order to get happy, and we are busy bumping off ourselves to get happy.  And the confusion and habitual tendency is there.  It’s there. We have that in common.  So we look out and we say, “Wow, if this is the case for myself and I am a Dharma practitioner, how much more so the case for those beings who have had no information on what produces happiness?  We are the children of a materialistic society.  We were told that if you have two good cars, a chicken in your crock pot and several more in your freezer and a good husband or wife, good children, all these good things—everything that’s good has been labelled, you know, we already know what’s good—and an ongoing prescription of Prozac that we could be happy.Aand an occasional face lift.  It gets more complicated as you get older.  Did you notice that?  I mean, at first it was just finding the right man andyou’re home free.  Now it’s find the right man and make sure once you’ve got him, these things don’t drop. And it’s beat gravity and beat the clock and all that other stuff.

So we are, in our way, almost as clueless.  We still engage in these funny things that we do. And every time that we do them, we think they’re going to make us happy.  And then we come out the other side of it with open eyes—like whoops, that didn’t work!  But you know, we’ve noticed for ourselves how limited our capacity is to learn.  Is that not the most astonishing thing? How really intelligent people cannot learn?  Is there a button we’re supposed to be pushing that we don’t know about.? I mean, where is the input button?  We just don’t know. So this is the condition of sentient beings.

Now I know, as you must know, how much I want to be happy.  You know how much you want to be happy, right?  I mean, if push comes to shove, you’re pretty motivated by this.  Isn’t that  right?  Of course you want to be happy.  You’d be a maniac if you didn’t want to be happy.  Are you a maniac?  So we want to be happy.  I certainly want to be happy.  And there are days, are there not, when the yearning to be happy and the feeling that you are very distant from that happiness is so strong that there’s a lot of grief, isn’t there?  A lot of upheaval and grief. There are times when it’s just so difficult and so very far away.  It’s funny how it happens.

Now if we were to take that grief and that feeling and project it outward and think, “Here I am with all the understanding that I have about what makes happiness, and all the skill that I have and all the intelligence that I have and all the good fortune that I have that makes it possible for me to get a grip here and really see what’s going on, and still I can’t manage it.  How much worse must be the condition of other sentient beings who are completely out to lunch about the subject?”  Now if you think about the animal realm, they don’t even have the capacity to take in the information about cause and effect, an extraordinarily limited capacity to learn cause and effect.  Have you ever watched a dog that has the habit of chasing cars?  No matter what you do to them, they will chase the car.  They are terrified because they are so close to getting killed and somehow they know it, but they can’t learn!  They can’t learn that not chasing that car is going to make them feel much more relaxed.  They simply can’t learn that.

So how much less is the capacity for other sentient beings to be free of that kind of suffering?  Now we look out and we really see that all around us is this terrible, terrible grief and suffering and disappointment that is masked in certain ways, is covered in certain ways, is disguised, is transmuted, is rearranged, is redirected, is re-routed, is lied about. And yet underneath it there is that grief, there is that loneliness, there is that difficulty that we have in understanding what makes us happy, and how to be happy.

So this then becomes a causative factor when we engage upon the path.  It’s one of the reasons why we practice refuge so sincerely.  We use this idea not only as a practice in itself, but as a way to motivate ourselves.  Literally, as practitioners we should come to the point where we look around and we see for ourselves that all sentient beings are wandering in this confusion and we develop a profound sense of compassion.  If we really were to study and look around and emphathize and see beyond ourselves how others are suffering even more than we are, that feeling of great love and great compassion would well up within our hearts, and this feeling that enough is enough!  Enough! There has been enough suffering in the world.  Enough!

So by that compassion and that love, we become motivated. And the times that we are feeling undisciplined or feeling dry or off-track on the path, we can rely on that love to come up and nurture us.  It’s happened even on an ordinary level within our lives.  We make a determination to take a more difficult route to accomplish something, even not so much concerning the path, but a difficult route to accomplish something in our lives.  Then to accomplish that requires such a great herculean effort like changing, that after awhile, somewhere in the process, we lose focus.  We ask ourselves, “Now why am I doing this again?  I really can’t remember today!”  Then we look at someone else near us who is suffering terribly, just suffering terribly, and we vow to organize everything around us to make it better so that the person next to us is not going to suffer so much.  We’re motivated by that and it brings us back into focus.

The same kind of situation happens on the path.   We utilize the suffering of others, the understanding of that suffering, to center us, to motivate us, to keep us nourished on the path.  At the same time, and here’s where the double blessing comes in, at the same time, we are also giving rise to the Bodhicitta which is the awakening mind, the mind that is in its essence the very display of compassion.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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