How to Understand Cause and Effect

generosity

We don’t have any real way to understand direct cause and effect relationships.  And for that reason, we cannot really seem to understand how to create the causes of happiness. A good example is this: If we experience perhaps chronic poverty, we may think that the way to end this chronic poverty is to struggle against it. To work very hard at getting money any way that you can, to beg, borrow, or steal literally. To work very hard at a very high paying job in order to get money. What we won’t understand is that probably whatever we do within that realm of activity will have temporary result at best. It may work for a period of time. Then again, it may not. I know people who work hard and can’t seem to get anywhere. Or it may be that it works very well for a certain period of time. But, even while it works very well and you have money, the consciousness is such that you still feel impoverished. You can’t enjoy it. You can’t get anywhere with it. You can’t use it for any good result. It simply sits. And to all intensive purposes you are still impoverished. It’s very difficult to understand how it is that these cause and effect relationships play themselves out.

Now, according to the Buddha’s teaching, if you have a great deal of affluence at this time, if that is easy for you, then what has actually occurred is that in the past you have accumulated a great deal of merit through generosity, through generosity, through giving to others. And that is why, in this lifetime, it is easy for you to accumulate money, or easy for you to enjoy money, or easy for you to feel wealthy even if you don’t have much money. It is easy for you to feel that you have plenty, enough. That you’re just fine. Either inwardly or outwardly, you are prosperous. This is a hard lesson to take in. Because we want to feel that this personality and this lifetime was responsible for doing something in a very competent way in order to achieve these excellent results. But, according to the Buddha, in many cases prosperity is the result of generosity, in fact in all cases, prosperity is the result of generosity. And a person who is chronically impoverished is a person who has not been generous and continues to not be generous with their resources, with their time, and in their hearts. The Buddha teaches us the antidote to poverty is not getting money any way you can. But that the antidote to poverty is kindness and generosity and putting out in order to benefit others.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Examining Cause and Effect

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How can it be that we’ve had so little result?  Well it isn’t true that we’ve had no result. We have had temporary happiness. We’ve all had that. Probably we feel pretty good right now. Probably we felt all right when we got up this morning. But we feel differently every day, and really every moment. And sometimes we are even afraid to think that we’re really happy, because we know that right behind that happiness, right behind that, is another mood change. And you know that it’s not lasting.

How we can have managed to continue in such an effortful way? How is it that we maintain this extreme effortfulness? And what’s the answer? What should we do? First of all, we have to begin to cultivate some understanding. According to the Buddha’s teaching, every condition that we experience in our lives, including the most subtle inner conditions, that is to say, our own impressions and feelings and subtle inner posturing—that very, very subtle stuff that seems so wispy, seems to change all the time with every catalyst that appears in our lives—from that kind of subtle condition to the most seemingly permanent, gross, outer condition, such as the house we live in, the nation that we live in, the community that we live in, the world that we live in, the Buddha teaches us that every one of those conditions that we experience actually arises through the interdependence of cause and effect relationships. Every condition with no exception. Even the condition of how you appear physically. Now, of course you have some control in that matter. You can diet and become thin. You can put on makeup and become better looking. You can take off makeup and become either better or worse looking depending on how well you apply makeup. You can gain weight. You can do different kinds of juggling in order to make yourself appear more attractive through wearing different clothing, or what have you. But there are some things about which it seems that we have no control. For instance, the genetic tendency of our body to be in a certain way. Some people are shorter than others; some are taller. Some have a tendency towards a more squat body form; and others have a tendency towards a very lanky body form. These things seem to be beyond our control. We can look at our parents and our grandparents, and it seems as though we have the same genetic structure as them. It seems as though we have not much control over that. But, according to the Buddha, even such things as those that appear to be handed to us from the time of our birth, even such things as genetic predisposition, these are the result of karma.

What are the conditions of living? Do we live in a beautiful house? Do we live in a happy and harmonious family situation? Do we own property? Are we impoverished? What are the conditions of our lives? It seems we have control over some of them. There are many books out now that tell us we can all become millionaires  through a certain amount of effort if you follow this very simple ten point program starting with the investment of a few thousand dollars. And for some people I’m sure that kind of program has worked. And yet, there are some conditions in our lives that are seemingly unbeatable.

For instance, what if,  personality-wise, we don’t seem to have that certain mindset that permits us to engage in that kind of activity? And then again, what if we don’t want to? Some feel chronically defeated and have always felt so, and they never take aggressive moves towards gaining whatever it is that they want. But other people seem to have to do nothing and happiness comes to them, or prosperity comes to them. There are so many conditions in our lives that seem controllable and they’re mixed in with conditions that seem uncontrollable. How are we to understand that?

Well, the Buddha teaches us that we have at best a very partial, very minimal understanding of cause and effect relationships. It’s actually quite minimal. And the reason why is that there is very little cause and effect unfolding that we can actually see. The Buddha tells us that we’ve lived many more than one lifetime. Therefore, if we’ve lived a hundred years already, we have only one tiny, tiny window of time in which to judge our experience. But that window of time actually has a very exacting beginning and a very exacting ending; and it’s very difficult to understand what has come before and what will come after. There are certain elements that we can view within that window of time, and we can gain some understanding. It has been my experience that usually as people mature and as they become older, they have gained enough life experience not to make certain kinds of mistakes again and again and again. Now, in some cases I think it might be that we’re just too tired and old to make those mistakes again and again and again. But in other cases I think there’s a true learning that has actually occurred, and I’m really not sure what the proportions are.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Are We Misguided?

Close Up Portrait of Ted Bundy Waving

The one thing that all sentient beings have in common—or I should say one of the main things that all sentient beings have in common, but particularly the one thing that makes us all related, inter-related, kind of like brothers and sisters under the skin—is that we all in our own fashion wish to be happy. If you examine the content of your life and what you’ve done and not done up until this point, you’ll find that just about everything that you’ve engaged in up until this point has been in some regard an attempt at being happy. Unfortunately that attempt at happiness is only sometimes successful; and sometimes it’s extremely misguided. Actually, we might have a better idea as to what happiness is all about than someone who has a strong habit of harmfulness toward others, or perhaps extreme selfishness; even someone like a person who is chronically a criminal. Perhaps someone who is a thief, or even a murderer. A good example might be the recent capture of a man who was a serial murderer. Believe it or not, even such an extreme condition like that is a misguided attempt to be happy. Of course, it’s extremely misguided. And  the one thing that we might have in common with such a one as that is that we are both trying to be happy. That’s really hard to understand though, isn’t it? Because we can’t think how it would be possible to be happy by really harming others in such a bizarre and brutal way as that man apparently did. We can’t understand what he would be thinking of. How could he think like that? How could he think that being harmful and hateful towards others could possibly bring happiness?

Of course, it’s hard to say because we don’t have the man here. We can’t examine his mind; and we can’t really assume that we would know what he was thinking. But we could take at least a theoretical guess, a theoretical leap at understanding. Possibly in this man’s mind, he thought the control or power that he achieved over others through that kind of brutality, would make him happy—the feeling of controlling others, the feeling of supremacy, the feeling of the ability to dictate the conditions of some other person’s life. Possibly in some twisted way he thought that that would make him feel happier. Perhaps he didn’t even use the word happy. Perhaps he felt an exhilaration of power. Perhaps he felt an excitement about the continuation or fulfillment of some crazy compulsion. It’s really hard for us to understand because we don’t act like that. But we do throughout the course of our lives demonstrate certain activities that we ourselves don’t understand. Sometimes we’ll watch ourselves act completely out of character. Or even if we are within character, and that means predictable, we’ll watch ourselves move through certain cyclic changes within our lives in which we predictably act the same, but it predictably brings no good result.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Can You Take It With You?

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

Our consciousness sees everything as being solid. And it’s so odd, isn’t it, because seven years ago we were completely different.  If you think about what you looked like ten years ago, twenty years ago… Don’t take my word for it, bring out the pictures.  You look completely different.  I look completely different.  I’m sure you do also.  So even though we have a sense of self-nature being inherently real and solid and very permanent, still we are this very impermanent condition that thinks of itself only in a certain regard.   But when we first meet with the path we are taught that all things are impermanent and we are led to a study of that.

The study should look like this.  We understand in this way:  When we are born, we are born drawing on the karma of our previous existences, and that scenario is catalyzed by the environment around us.  Whatever karmic potentials are within our mindstream are then ripened and matured and brought forward due to certain catalytic events in our environment.  Then beyond that, we continue to habituate ourselves.  We have certain propensities due to our karmic flavor, if you will.  These certain propensities look like habitual tendencies and they are, in fact, habitual tendencies.  One person may have a great habit toward generosity and look for ways to engineer their life going on the track of generosity, compassion.  Another person may have the habit of self-absorption and angerand regard only their own feelings, not taking into account the feelings of others in the environment, being very self-absorbed and wishing that others would help them, would be of benefit to them.  That kind of selfishness becomes, then, a deep habit and very difficult to break.  So another person may have that kind of habit.

Unfortunately there are sentient beings with many different kinds of karma.  One may have had the habit pattern through many lifetimes of creating this habitual tendency of harming others, or hurting others, or killing others. The kinds of animals that are, by their type, predators, are actually beings who have within them the habitual tendency of killing, and they manifest as predators due to that habitual tendency.  So we come in with certain kinds of habits, and then we tend to reinforce them throughout the course of our lives.

According to this teaching that the Buddha has given us about impermanence, we understand that there is nothing, not one thing, that we can accomplish or accumulate during the course of our lifetime that we can take with us at the time of our death.  Meaning this:  Let’s say that we accumulate a great deal of money.  Let’s say that in the past we have been very generous to others and so we have the karma of being able to manifest money fairly easily.  Many people do.  It’s that simple.  It’s due to having been generous in the past.  This element of money coming into one’s life is like greased lightning.  It just really comes in very easily.

So, if that’s the case, then let’s say during this lifetime we spend a great deal of time making a lot of money and yet, even though we had the habit of being very generous in the past, somehow the impact of receiving so much money in this lifetime is a shock..  It reminds me of the story about the man who is making lots of money with computers these days.  He came from nowhere, Mr. Computer Geek, and then suddenly he’s a multi-billionaire.  It seems, from everything that I have read about him, that he is shocked and he just doesn’t get it.  To have several billion dollars that you can get your hands on if you really need to, and then to think that you need to make more before you can be generous is really an unusual way to think. I mean how many billions can you spend in one lifetime?

So for somebody like that, obviously he was very kind and generous in the past, but here he has been hit with this amazing shock of money just flying into his pocket. Now he is in danger of making the mistake of spending his energy and his opportunity increasing that money without increasing the generosity, and therefore in the future he will not have the same results, because none of that money that he’s making now is going to go with him.  This is the Buddha’s teaching, that we cannot take even one sesame seed’s worth of our accumulated wealth with us when we go into the bardo.

But, according to the Buddha’s teachings also, supposing we were to make the choice of being extraordinarily generous and using our wealth to make the world a better place, to benefit others, to support others who are in need, that sort of thing.  Then we can take this habitual tendency of generosity, this karmic potential,.  with us into the next life by virtue of the fact that we have given so much to others and been so kind and generous, because it isn’t measurable like a sesame seed.  It is the karma of one’s mindstream.  It is the habitual tendency of our consciousness,  and that does go into the next life.  These are the Buddha’s teachings: We actually have the opportunity to create benefit in this life that does last into the next life; but it’s nothing material, nothing that we can ever create in samsara, that will go with us.  Nothing that has weight, size, dimension.  Nothing we can hold.  Nothing material. Only the habits of our mind.  So these are the teachings that we receive when we first come to Dharma.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Foundation of Dharma

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

Today I would like to begin to lay the foundation by which we will practice. Even for those of us that have been practicing for some time, if we lose the foundation or if the foundation, like in the analogy of a house, becomes weak or compromised in any way, it’s not long, then, before the house will topple or the house will lean or become unstable.  It’s like that with our practice.  If certain fundamental thoughts are not stable in such a way as to hold up the rest of our practice and support us on the path, then eventually our path, our practice, will decay, decline in some way.

Although practice, like life itself, is often cyclic, sometimes we feel we are in a position to do more practice and other times we are in a position to do less practice.  Still in all, we have to make sure that we’re able to make slow and steady progress. The reason I say slow and steady progress is because oftentimes new students will trip themselves up by trying to go too fast without the depth of understanding.  It’s exactly like building your house on sand.  It’s exactly like that.  We want to go into the neater stuff; we want to go into the cooler stuff.  We want to learn the stuff that makes us look exotic when we practice, but none of us will really be practicing in truth if we don’t have certain foundational ideas and if we don’t constantly review them over time and constantly make them part of our contemplative life.

Of course those thoughts are engineered to turn the mind toward Dharma.  In order to turn the mind toward Dharma, we have to have our eyes opened.  We can’t be lightweights; we can’t be bliss ninnies.  We just can’t say, “Oh, it’s so cool to practice Dharma.  Let’s go on.”  We have to understand why we are practicing Dharma, because Dharma is a path and a lifestyle and a method that one has to use throughout the course of one’s life.  We have to be consistent.  We have to be persistent.  It can’t be the kind of faith that you have only on Sunday mornings or only on liturgical holidays.  It’s a walking-through-your-life kind of thing, and it requires you to make enormous changes. Behavior and ideas that may have been acceptable before will gradually become unacceptable – not in a way that you should be filled with guilt or shame.  It’s not like that.  It’s more like when you really understand the Buddhadharma and you understand what samsaric existence is, and what the display of one’s nature is, it will become more natural to practice the bodhicitta and to give rise to compassion, to caring for all sentient beings.

In order to proceed effectively on this path that challenges us every moment of every day, we have to remain focused, remain mindful in ways we never thought we could or we’d ever have to.  And the reason why again is that Dharma does not simply come from magical thinking.  It does not come from the stars.  It does not just descend upon us on some lucky day for no apparent reason.  Dharma is the awareness of cause and effect relationships.

Now for me, that’s why Dharma makes so much sense.  I know when I first introduced some of the ideas of Dharma to my students, they were, you might say, a little resistant.  They would think things like “You mean, like path?  Like you have to do something every day?  Like you have to change the way you think and the way you act?  I mean, couldn’t we just like get salvation?”  And that’s the idea.  We’ve been raised with the idea that religion is like a condiment on the plate of life.  You know, something to sweeten it up with or salt it up with.  A little oregano on the pasta.

But in fact, we find out that we have to learn something different.  Dharma becomes our heart.  Dharma becomes enthroned on the mind and heart.  And the reason why is that Dharma has to accomplish something that is very breathtaking.  Dharma has to accomplish something that is enormous, that seems almost inconceivable.  It has to take our perception of ordinary samsaric cyclic existence, which is a state of delusion, a state of non-recognition, and it has to transform our capacity to be able to recognize our own innate nature.  Yet, everything about us is geared to function in duality.  Two eyes, two nostrils.  All of our senses are extensions of our ego, so they always work to function in duality.  So how can this thing happen?  We ask ourselves, what in the world, what kind of experience, what kind of event could turn us around to where our perception could become so clear that we could be like the Buddha, awake to our primordial wisdom nature.

Well, what is it that Dharma is supposed to do, exactly, and how does it do it?  The idea is to have a path on Dharma that is exacting and is a method that takes you to a to b to c to d, and also is flexible.  You can go from a to d to m to t.  Dharma is suitable for all sentient beings, because there is some element of Dharma that is compatible with one’s own karma.  So it’s not a general here’s-the-true-label for everybody.  There are teachings that the Buddha gives that are incontrovertible.  They will never change.  They are about the nature of samsaric existence.  Yet the path is individualized.  For instance, I really like to practice Guru Yoga.  That’s my thing.  That’s what I do.  And somebody else might really like to practice Vajrakilaya.  Ultimately it’s the same practice.  One is a peaceful practice, one is a wrathful practice. One is based on deepening the connection with the root guru.  The other is also based on that, and is also based on very actively manifesting one’s compassion.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo All Rights Reserved

 

 

The Law of Gravity and Karma: The Seed and the Fruit

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue Into Life”

Denial, in my opinion, is much worse than how fast our lives go.  If we have even a meager life span of sixty years, if we really got it, if we really understood cause and effect, we would probably be motivated to start practicing early; and by the time that we were sixty and ready to die, we’d have something accomplished.  We would have prepared for our next rebirth.  But we don’t do that because we cannot connect the dots.  We wait.

I think about the young people that I know, and even the young people that are very close to me.  They have the idea that they have all the time in the world.  I know because I used to have that idea.  All the time in the world.  It’s like Friday night.  You’ve got the whole weekend so party hearty.  It’s really like that.  We really have this idea.  So when we’re young we do not begin our practice. And then when we’re not so young, when we move into real adulthood, we still are in denial.  I tell you when we’re finished being young, the next stage is to pretend that we’re young.  That’s the next thing that we do. And then after pretending that we’re young doesn’t work, we imagine that we’re young.  It’s sort of like that. We keep pushing off the inevitable, which is that moment when we get that life is really passing and something must be done.

This kind of narcotic quality that is part and parcel of samsaric existence is the real enemy here.  It is the real enemy. It causes us to think very strangely, in an odd way, a way that is not productive and is not protective and beneficial toward ourselves.  We are not being our own best friends in other words.  So what happens is we are deluded, we are stuck. We stay without any understanding.  We simply cannot commit to practice.  We have this Scarlet O’Hara kind of idea, that tomorrow is soon enough.  Tomorrow everything will be fine. So we find ourselves in something of a bind.

A person who has not been able to practice these thoughts that turn the mind toward Dharma is in the most trouble because they can’t move to the next step. That’s the next thought that turns the mind towards Dharma, and it’s a very simple one.  It’s actually very logical.  It’s about as logical as the law of gravity seems to be, and the law of gravity seems to be pretty logical.  Drop it and it goes down…every time that I’ve seen.  Show me something different, but every time I’ve seen it.  The law of gravity is kind of logical.  , I don’t know the physics of it, but, basically it means that this is heavier than the air that it displaces so it’s going down. And the earth will pull it down because of the magnetic quality that the motion of the earth produces.  So we understand that this is very logical.

But there is another logical truth that we are missing completely. It’s just as logical, equally as logical, but again we’re playing the game of forever young, never gonna die and always deluded.  That’s the game we’re playing. And here’s the truth that is logical, the truth that we’re missing that is so simple.  If you think about it, you know it’s true and it’s this:  Non-virtuous behavior, such as killing, stealing, adultery, judgment, lack of kindness, lack of generosity, harming others, lying, these kinds of activities bring about unhappiness, every time.  There is no case in which you can engage in nonvirtuous behavior in order to produce happy results.  It will never happen.  It will never happen. In the same way that apple seeds will not grow orange trees, it simply doesn’t happen.

Nonvirtuous behavior, negative behavior, will always, every time, bring unhappiness. The funny thing is we always engage in nonvirtuous activity in order to bring us happiness.  That’s what we think we’re doing.  We lie about somebody else so that, let’s see… Here’s a good example:  Let’s say that I have a boyfriend and my boyfriend loves two women.  I’m one of them.  So I might, in order to bring about my own happiness, lie about that other woman and say “Oh, she’s no good. You don’t want her.  She’s no good.”  I might lie about that other woman so I can have this boyfriend.  I’m thinking that this lie is going to bring me happiness.  It’s never going to happen.  It’s never going to happen, because eventually what’s going to happen is this: Someday you’re going to want something very much.  Someday you’re going to be completely and totally entitled to something, and that person will be able to keep it from you.  You see?  It may not happen in this lifetime.  It may not happen in the next lifetime.  It could happen 10,000 lifetimes from now, where you couldn’t possibly remember, but it will make you unhappy.  Eventually it will make you unhappy.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Contemplating the Nature of Suffering

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche called “Meditation”

The samsaric sufferings we experience are the result of non-virtuous actions of the body, speech and mind. For example, if somebody performed a negative action, such as killing, for instance, then the result based on that action, the reaction or its ripening Karma, is for the person’s life to shorten. And in the next lifetime he may be born in the hell realms where he has to suffer the result of the Karma he created. Similarly, if someone thinks that in this lifetime they could obtain material possessions by stealing or robbing, like a rat who steals all kinds of grains, such stealing ultimately ripens its fruit so that in the next lifetime, or maybe in this lifetime, this person may actually not have enough wealth and become very poor. Even the physical body’s negative actions, such as sexual misconduct, have negative results. This can be that within one’s lifetime, or in the next lifetime, one’s family will not be in harmony and will suffer quarrels and fighting. Similarly there are four negativities of speech, which are known as lies, interferences, harsh words and gossip. From these are certain negative results that one experiences, such that whatever one tries to tell, people will not believe. Even when one tries to say something beneficial it will seem like one is trying to harm somebody. Likewise with the three negative mental actions: Greediness, thoughts of harming others and wrong views. Based on these, one will not have success whatever one tries to do in this lifetime or in future lifetimes, one will experience a lot of harm from other beings, one will be unable to remain together with one’s masters, teachers or good friends and so on. These are examples of the ripening of negative actions.

So understanding all these causes and conditions are based on the actions of our body, speech and mind, we should then try to abandon all the ten negative actions and try to train ourselves so that our mindstream flows with the spiritual path. Then one can practice and accumulate all the virtuous activities. The teachings say that if one follows the worldly aspect of the Dharma practice, with good or positive behaviors, that naturally turns into a spiritual path through which one can have peace and happiness. In this way, with our bodies, speech and mind, in whatever conditions of life, it is very important to try to benefit others and have loving kindness toward everybody.

Recycling in Worldly Existence

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche on Meditation, reprinted here with permission from Palyul Ling International:

In this world, as we were born as human beings, we need to have something beneficial that we can do. In general, we have some kind of activity by which to earn our livelihood, just to have something to eat and drink. Of course, not only human beings, but also animals know how to live their lives in this way. As we were born human, we can talk and understand language and meaning. That is the specific characteristic of a human being. So based on that we need to have some ultimate benefit that we can achieve within this lifetime.

Generally speaking, two main activity categories we can engage in: our normal worldly activities and then the Dharma activities. But the majority of the world’s people become very busy with worldly activities rather than following some kind of spiritual practice. These worldly works or activities are based on one’s capabilities and power and skill, and of these there are many different levels – some have more or better and some have less.

However, whatever worldly activities that we complete, whether or not they are good or meaningful, they will only endure for a few months or years. There is not anything within these activities that we can ultimately rely on. For example, from young childhood we pursue educational training, from first grade until graduation. For almost fifteen or twenty years we work very hard and study so that we can get a specific job. Then if through one’s job one becomes more successful, then possibly in twenty or thirty years we consider that we have a better or happier life. And if during all that time, if we have a very pure and sincere mind in all these works, then of course there is some benefit which is known as virtuous action. But there are also those that have the qualifications to do these activities but who have so much ego or arrogance or pride that their works, even if completed, are not really beneficial in this lifetime.

So many human beings consider the benefit for their individual selves as the most important thing. The result is we are all re-cycled over and over in what is called Samsara or the cyclic existence.

We cannot really establish or find out how long we have been drifting about in Samsara or cyclic existence. No one can know for certain how many lives we have taken in this world – one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand, perhaps one million lifetimes. We cannot calculate the countless aeons of times we have been reborn in this world, in this Samsara.

Sometimes we were able to fulfill some of our wishes and sometimes we could not. For this life, from the time we have taken birth from our mother’s womb until now, whatever our ages, we have been constantly thinking about our own benefit and how we can be more happy people. All of our education and financial developments are all just for one’s own benefit. There is not anything left out that one has not thought of for one’s own benefit.

However, whatever we do, fulfill or complete in this lifetime is mainly based on our Karma, the action, of what we have done in our many past lifetimes. One cannot complete one’s every wish immediately because of the Law of Karma. Because have never developed their spiritual side, they mainly have deluded minds. So they are not able to understand the causes and conditions based on the Law of Karma. They can only think of what is happening today, and have no idea what is really going on. They don’t have a deeper level of understanding of these spiritual practices and so they don’t understand what is involved in past lifetimes and future lifetimes. It is because of their obscurations or ignorance that they don’t have any clear understanding about the causes and conditions. They really don’t know anything about the Law of Karma.

His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche

Change Your Mind

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo from the Vow of Love series

In order to cure the symptom of suffering you might decide to manipulate the circumstances, or the environment. If you see people who are hungry, you give them food. If you decide you want to feed them for the rest of their lives so that they are never hungry, then you have to feed them three times a day, every day, for the rest of their lives, or teach them how to feed themselves. What are you going to do when they get sick? They will get sick. What are you going to do when they get old? They will get old. What are you going to do when they get lonely? What are you going to do when all the different kinds of discomfort pop up? What does it matter if you help a few people? What about the other 5.9 billion on the planet? What about the animals? Where will you start? What will you do, if your intention is merely to manipulate the environment so that the discomfort that you see is finished? Even if you have worked every moment selflessly and have given away all your money, and then have gotten money from other people to help, doing everything that you could to make these things happen, you wouldn’t put a dent in it, not even the tiniest dent. Why? Because you are trying to manipulate something that is very superficial.

This apparent reality that we are viewing isn’t that deep. It’s nothing. It’s a ghost. It’s a puff-ball. We can’t move it, because wherever we move it, it will appear somewhere else. We cannot manipulate our environment. We cannot manipulate phenomena and achieve any real lasting success. We can achieve temporary success. We can have the satisfaction of seeing someone fed who has been hungry, and that person can feel the satisfaction of a meal. If we fed people on a grand scale, it might be a grand satisfaction. But it is not permanent, it is not a solution, and the reason, according to the Buddha’s teaching, is that hunger and poverty and loneliness are not the causes of suffering. They are the results or the symptoms of something else. According to the Buddha’s teaching, the root causes of suffering are hatred, greed and ignorance.

We might take issue with that statement. Say we think about a hungry Indian child, or a hungry American child, or a hungry Ethiopian child. Sure, all of them probably do hate because they’re hungry; and they probably are ignorant because they’ve never gone to school; and they probably are greedy. Boy, if you handed one a biscuit, he’d just grab it and run because he’s so hungry. But we have to probe more deeply. We are only looking at a set of symptoms. According to the Buddha’s teaching there is an underlying cause that makes phenomena appear as it does in any given situation, and that cause is karmic. The Buddha’s teaching is that all phenomena arises from a cause, and that everything that is seen, felt, and heard is actually the emanation or the result of one’s own mind. The mind itself produces all visible phenomena. I hope you can really hear that. To change suffering as it appears in the world can never be permanent. It can never do much good. What has to be done is to change the karmic background or cause and effect scenario of one’s own mind. In doing so, you can hopefully come to a place where you can also be of benefit to others.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Cut the Cause of Suffering

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo from the Vow of Love series

How does one cultivate the selfless goal of wanting to benefit all beings and not fall unconsciously into the trap of wanting to be a kind person? A good way to begin is to open our eyes and truly understand the nature of suffering. Why is there suffering in the world? Why is there suffering in the worlds unseen? If we don’t examine this idea, we might take what we see at face value. We might look at people in poor parts of town and say, “Oh they’re suffering because they’re poor.” We might look at people in different countries around the world and say, “Oh, they’re suffering because they’re hungry.” We might look at people in different situations and think we understand the nature of their suffering. But we’re looking at the symptom of their suffering. We’re looking at the fact that they are suffering, but we still do not understand why.

If we see that they are suffering – that some people are poor, some people are hungry, some people are old, some people are sick, and some people are dying — and do not probe to understand the reason for their suffering, we might fall into the trap of trying to do something about those apparent issues. There’s nothing wrong with doing something about those issues. In fact I hope you do, because human kindness – exemplary and virtuous human kindness – has to be part of this world, it has to be part of the activity that you, as Bodhisattvas, are involved in. But if you stop there, you will never succeed, because if you try to cure the symptom of suffering without going to the cause, it’s impossible. The suffering will simply pop up in new and different ways.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

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