Examining Attachment

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Western Chod”

I found, interestingly enough, that as I moved through the different body parts that each one of us are kind of attached to certain parts of us that we identify with more. I don’t need to tell you which ones they are, do I? I found that this assumption of self nature as being inherently real actually eventually leads to this sort of foundational sense of identity. According to our programming and according to our habitual tendency, not only in this lifetime but also in past lifetimes, we have a sense of self; and that self, of course, seems to be contained within the physical form of the body.

Maybe some women or some men, either one,, might really develop a sense of their lower body, for instance their legs and feet, as being very much a part of them. Maybe some women might receive a lot of praise because they have beautiful legs or something. Or maybe some men or women might be track stars, really really into track and really like to run, really like to exercise. So in that sense they would develop a really fine awareness of their legs. If you know someone who has been in sports to that degree or competitive sports, you know that generally in terms of their body and specifically the parts of their body that they are very much involved with, they develop a very keen sense of what that body part is.

For instance, a runner would have a keen sense of the musculature of their legs. A body builder would have a keen sense of what is the bicep, what is the tricep. You know, that kind of thing. They would have a really keen sense of that almost as though the mind and the body were somewhat closer than maybe to people who don’t think like that. So for some of us we may have a really strong sense of our legs.

Then for many of us, we identify very strongly with gender. So when we come to the parts of us that identify us as either male or female, we’re thinking, “Well, maybe I won’t give that up today. As far as I can tell this does me a lot of good. So it may not be the time to give this up just yet.” Of course I am being funny and flip about it. But, in fact, I found that in my own practice it was something of a struggle to give up that which identifies you as a woman or a man. My goodness that’s a big thing to do! That’s scary!

So I asked myself,  “Well, okay then we really have to examine what this part of me can actually accomplish.” I don’t think I want to do that for you publicly. But I did honestly and truly go through the whole thing. It does some good and it does some harm. So my experience was that while we cling to that part of our bodies  and while it identifies us, it is like anything else. It has its benefits. It has its pluses. It has its responsibilities. But it definitely has its limitations. There is definitely a lot that it can’t do and, in fact, like anything else in samsara, it definitely causes lots of problems as well, which some of you may have noticed.

Then I went further. I found that another part that is very hard to think of as renounced is the head.because most of us feel as though we live in our heads. We feel like that’s really where we are centered. And maybe in some case you might find that the heart is also hard to give up, because we think “Oh, the heart stops beating, I’m dead.” There’s a panic that comes up there. So there are different things that we have to work through at any time, but I found that the best way to proceed through that is slowly, slowly. Always preceding it with meditation on the condition and suffering of sentient beings so that the motivation is there. And really seeing that no matter what, even if you have 10 hearts and 25 genitalia and 16 feet and all the different parts of you, you had them in extraordinary condition and many of them interchangeable in different colors and maybe even one print… Even if you had all of that, still the result is pretty much the same.

So I would meditate on that until I was really secure and certain in that. Then sometimes in my practice I would have to go back and maybe that day I didn’t even make the offering of that body part. Maybe in that day I simply had to remain in contemplation on these issues because I could feel that there was attachment there that needed to be dealt with.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

A Better World

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Western Chod”

I hope all of us will remember that, according to Lord Buddha’s teachings, there are many realms of cyclic existence, more than the human realm. There are lower realms of cyclic existence such as the animal realm, and there are non-physical forms of life. The Buddha teaches us that there are many different forms of life. Slowly, slowly in time as you continue to study Dharma you’ll learn exactly about them. For now it is enough to know that there are many forms and that most of them are not capable of engaging in some kind of practice because of the condition of their minds.

We may have very little time and it may be difficult for us Westerners to sit cross-legged very long, and we may make up all these different reasons why we can’t practice but, in fact, we are able to practice. If we apply ourselves and use discipline, we can also practice in such a way as to engage in compassionate care-taking for the other realms of cyclic existence and the other forms of life.

I hope that each and every one of you will think like that and engage in that practice, and remember that our practice and our lives really aren’t just about ourselves. They’re about benefiting sentient beings, all beings, considering them to be completely equal with and non-dual from ourselves. These are the instructions that I am giving the children. I am hoping that gradually throughout the course of their lives they will develop that really supreme, really extraordinary compassionate idea that is so rare and precious like a jewel in this world. I hope that those of you who have children will also raise your children the same way, because that is one way that we have of ensuring that in the future the world will be better than it is now. So, I hope that you will think like that.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Primordial State

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Western Chod”

Here’s what my practice looked like. At that time I didn’t know that it is better to meditate sitting up, so, I mediated some of the time laying down and some of the time sitting up.  I actually found that when I lay down I would fall asleep. So, eventually, I developed the habit of sitting up. So, slowly, slowly, we find our way.

I would set up a symbolic altar. I had a dresser top that I would use for this purpose. I put representations of all things physical. I had some plants, leaves and things like that. I had some food (I think it was fruit generally), andpebbles, rocks, brightly colored things from outside. Then I put a mirror because somehow instinctively I understood. I was sort of in a quandary. I hadn’t had any teachings yet. I was extremely spiritually oriented, yet the only teachings I’d received indicated that God was kind of an old guy with a beard who sat on a throne somewhere. He was making x’s if you were bad and checks if you were good. That was pretty much my understanding of what religion was. I didn’t really buy into that. I really didn’t feel that that was appropriate or acceptable, and it seemed to me just not right.

So my understanding of the divine nature, or what was called God, I had to develop from within myself.  I didn’t like to use the word God because I thought that indicated we were talking about something separate. I really thought that whatever that absolute nature is, it is absolute to the point where it cannot be separated from one thing and another. Whatever that nature is, it must be all pervasive.  It must be the same nature that causes fruit to ripen or flowers to come forth in the springtime as it is to make my own heart beat. And I really thought that was it.  I didn’t know what to call it, but that was absolutely it. So as well as I could understand, I began to meditate on what Buddhists call the primordial wisdom nature or the uncontrived natural primordial view. There are many different ways to describe it, but that was what my meditation consisted of.

My altar had a mirror on it; it had of all these things that represented earth. In my mind that represented all that is form and all that is formless. I didn’t have the word “samsaric” and I didn’t have the idea of things that are contained in the cycle of death and rebirth. I merely thought of things that are displayed in form and those things which were absolute and natural and uncontrived, and I thought my altar encompassed both elements of reality. I was pretty satisfied with that as being something that I could work with.

So, I began my practice. I used to mediate on this absolute nature. I used to think, ”This nature, this nature, what is it?  What is it like?  What is this thing?” And I would think to myself,

‘Well, this is the same nature that causes flowers to open, the same nature that causes my heart to beat, the same nature that causes my son to be born to me, the same nature that makes people love each other. It must be that this nature is the fundamental foundational underlying reality”. I thought like that.

Instinctively, I understood that this nature was natural and uncontrived. For instance, if we were to meditate or rest in that nature we wouldn’t be thinking, “Oh, I want this or I don’t want that.  This is beautiful and that’s ugly.” We wouldn’t be thinking like that. I understood that that nature was some kind of restful state that was spontaneous and luminous, but free of contrivance, free of the distinction of self and other, free of the distinction of good and bad, hot and cold, ugly or beautiful, here or there even. I didn’t even think that in this state time and space actually applied. I realized that this state was free of that kind of defining or discriminating conceptualization. I thought to myself, “This is the underlying reality”.

When I meditated on that state, I knew, or I tasted, that upon holding the mind in that natural restful state free of contrivance, free of discrimination, there was no potential for suffering in that natural state, because nothing that causes suffering was there. Grasping and desire weren’t there, hatred wasn’t there, selfishness wasn’t there, anger wasn’t there, ignorance wasn’t there. We meditate on that state; we are not blind to that state. So, I didn’t feel like there was ignorance there or dullness or any of those things that cause suffering. I felt we were not inherently there in that nature.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Introduction to Western Chod

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Western Chod” 

The main thought about this teaching that I am going to describe to you is that all of this occurred before I ever met with my root guru, with either one of my root gurus. I have two root gurus,;I hadn’t met with either of them. I had not met with the path called “Buddhism”. I had not read any books about Buddhism. I did not know anything about Buddhism. In fact, I am embarrassed to say now that I thought the Tibetans were kind, smelly, old guys who sat on rugs. I really did think like that. I am sorry, but, you know that is the truth. I am bound to tell the truth.

I was about 20 at the time. I had known for about one year that I had to engage in a course of preparation for some later events in my life. I really didn’t know what the later events were. I had no idea about being connected with Buddhism or anything like that. But I had always known that there would be something, and I had always known that I should prepare for it.

At the age of 19 I received certain indications that it was time to prepare.  I had already begun on my program of meditation. Right around the time that I was twenty I gave birth to my first son, and he was a very cooperative son. He was willing to take naps during the day so that I could meditate. I swear that I didn’t bonk him over the head or anything. He just took naps. So, I was able to engage in meditation early in the morning,  then in the afternoon during his nap time, and then later on in the evening. I was very much involved with it. My feeling for my practice was that this was really the main part of my life, that everything else was kind of black and white, and, that was the colored part somehow. Every time I would come to a place where I felt as though I had engaged in a certain element of my practice for long enough, or it just simply felt naturally time to move on, I would request inwardly to, I would have to say, the absolute nature (which is the way I understood divinity at that time). What was the next step?  How could I practice?  How should I continue to grow and engage?  And this one time I received an awareness, and an indication and instruction that I should begin to practice in a certain way.

The practice will be presented in upcoming posts…

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Offering Oneself

Dorje Phagmo

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

In our Ngöndro practice we find the practice of offering oneself, the practice of generosity.  It’s called the practice of Chöd. Chöd can very easily be practiced constantly.  The practice of Chöd is based on eliminating ego-clinging through transforming oneself into that which is beneficial to all sentient beings and offering oneself.  In Chöd there is actually a visualization where you see all your different elements separated into piles: skin and bones and muscles and fat and eyeballs and stuff like that.  All of that stuff is put into little piles and you cook it all up and you offer it up to the Buddhas.   And you’re thinking, “That’s kind of an interesting little practice there, isn’t it?  Whoa, dude!” But just remember that this is meant to antidote our ego-clinging because as we walk through our lives, we are all about ‘what can you do for me, and what do I want?’  Remember, as we’re walking through our lives as ordinary sentient beings, our mantra is “Gimme gimme gimme, I want I want I want I want.”  So this kind of practice is meant to antidote that.

The very habit that we have of assuming self-nature to be inherently real and reacting with hope/fear, want/not-want to our environment and the things in it constantly perpetuates itself! So, we are taught instead that, wanting to make oneself useful in some way, wanting to be of benefit and awakening compassion, one way to practice that is by offering the self, offering self-nature, and transforming it into something that is useful to sentient beings.

So how can we do that as we’re walking around?  Try to remember that we’re practicing Recognition.  Here’s a great way to think about it.  Have you heard about the guy who recently had a cadaver’s hand sewn onto his arm, and it’s working?  Now those of you that have heard about that, what did you think about that?  You probably said, “Ugh!”  I mean, it sounds amazing in one way, doesn’t it, that somebody who didn’t have a hand now has a hand, but it’s not his hand.  So when we think about it, that’s kind of gnarly, right?  Just think about it: you know what your hand looks like.  You’ve seen it your whole life.  It changes, but it’s your beloved hand.  It’s so recognizable.  It has a certain shape, and it feels a certain way.  Well, now suppose you had an unmatched set, and one of them was not your hand.  Think how you’d feel.  This kind of clinging is so automatic that until we hear something like that, we don’t even know we do it. It is the very basis for our recognizing one another and ourselves as selves.

We grow attached to the shape of our face, the shape of our head.  Even if we don’t like the shape of our face and the shape of our head, we grow attached to it because it is us, (we think), and so it constantly perpetuates that idea of self-nature being inherently real.  It constantly perpetuates that ego-clinging.  Our bodies are, for us, something that we have to protect.  Even if you think that you’re very brave and not afraid of being hurt, or not afraid of even losing your life, I say to you, baloney!  I’ll start chopping, and you tell me when to stop.  We protect our bodies.  If anything scary comes around us, we react, “Aaaggh!”  And if we can’t protect ourselves any other way, we protect our head because that’s the part that keeps us going — we think.  So we have this automatic clinging.  Any sense of recognition of oneself as self is a clinging kind of phenomenon.

To antidote that, we practice Chöd, separating all the parts.  When you’re done separating all the parts, you can ask yourself, “Well, what part am I?  The skin or the bones or the fat or the muscle or the brains or the tongue or the eyeballs?  Which part am I?”  Of course, we begin to learn that that question is not answerable because ‘I,’ or self-nature, is simply a concept.  It’s simply a concept.

How can we practice this as we walk around through our lives?  Well, one way to do that is to develop the habit of when it is you notice yourself…do you notice yourself?  You notice yourself constantly!  It’s all you notice.  We notice our hands; we notice the position that we’re in; we constantly move to be in a different position, don’t we?  We think, “Do I want my hand like this or like that?”  We are constantly doing that.  It’s a constant phenomenon.

Suppose we were to develop the habit of considering the hand.  “Well, this one matches that one.  I like that.”  But what if we were to consider our hands in a different way?  Instead of thinking, “This hand is mine and it looks like this,” think, “How can this hand be of benefit to sentient beings?  What use is this hand?”  Consider it.  You can develop a sense of Recognition of the true nature of our body parts.  You can think to yourself, “Do you know what I like best about me?  I really like my eyes.” I like your eyes too, but I like my eyes, and so when I think about that, I think, “Oh, you know, wherever I go, I have these eyes, and they can see.  That’s really cool.  And other people can see me.”  And I can work those eyes, can’t I?  And that’s really something.  All we know is that our sight, our eyes, are part of us: that is us.  We cling to that.  Suppose we were able to understand our eyes in a different way.  Supposing when we think of our eyes and how wonderful the capacity to see is, or how amazing it is that we can express ourselves with our eyes, we can offer that entire scenario, that entire experience, to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas for the benefit of sentient beings. Your relationship to your own body parts, your own eyes, for instance, your own hand, becomes different.  Rather than thinking, “These are my brown eyes and I have great brown eyes,” or “This is my right hand and it’s a great hand” — rather than thinking like that as an extension of our ego, we can develop the habit of offering the whole phenomenon of sight, the whole relationship to our different body parts, by evaluating how it is that these eyes can benefit sentient beings, and how it is that we can offer them.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Chöd: by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

Vajrayogini

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche offered during retreat at Palyul Ling in New York:

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

Heart Teaching HT22

About Guru Yoga 

In the beginning of the practice, try to watch your mind and thoughts.  If you have any afflictive emotions or negative thoughts, try to abandon them.  Then try to give rise to virtuous thoughts, such as devotion, faith and inclination; and in that way try to have the right intention.

Guru Yoga practice is something that we need to carry through until we attain enlightenment.  Some think that we just need to do the Guru Yoga practice during Ngӧndro and the Four Foundations practice, but other than that, we don’t need it.  We should not think that way.  To attain complete enlightenment, Buddhahood, we have to completely depend upon the Guru’s instructions, and rely on the Guru.  As we apply that instruction and teaching into practice, then we could have that fruition.  That is why the Guru Yoga practice is important.  So, without fabrication in one’s mind, abide in the great unelaborated empty nature, and carry through with the supplication prayers.

About Chӧd – Cutting through thoughts and afflictive emotions 

In Ngӧndro, there actually is a Chӧd practice.  Before we didn’t have enough conditions to really do it.  In general, you do the practice with damarus and bells.  Evening is a good time to do some of the Chӧd practices.  At that hour the chant master and other lamas do the Chӧd practices.  As you do the Chӧd, follow along and chant the tunes together.  And when you use your big damarus and bells, follow together as a group in sync, instead of some doing it this way and some doing it that way, which sounds very strange.  Doing it haphazardly like that is a joke.  So always try to do the practice together with everything working together.

The Chӧd practice in the Namchö is only one page, so it is easy and good in that way.  The Tibetan word, “Chӧd,” means cutting through all the afflictive emotions and thoughts, and then establishing the nature of emptiness.  In the Chӧd visualization, as one chants with faith, everything is cut through in the nature of emptiness.

When you say the second Phet, your consciousness shoots out onto the ground as Vajravarahi (Dorje Phagmo), the size of a pea.  When you say Phet again, then Vajravarahi becomes about the size of a finger.  After that when you say Phet, then you visualize Vajravarahi about the size of a cubit.  After that when you say Phet, Vajravarahi becomes huge, filling all space.

In her right hand, Vajravarahi holds a curved knife and in her left hand, she holds a skull cup.  She has all the bone ornaments.  Your consciousness is manifested or transformed into Vajravarahi, and your body is like a corpse.  When you say Phet again, Vajravarahi takes the curved knife and with just one motion your skull becomes a skull cup in front.  Then Vajravarahi with the curved knife places your corpse inside the skull cup.  Then dualistic mind and negative thoughts in the form of bubbles are purified, and everything transforms into the five nectars and five meats, which is very pure substance.  The skull cup becomes as huge as three thousand myriads of universes.  The nectar is whitish with a radiant reddish hue.  Steam rises from the nectar, which symbolizes the five desirable objects of the five senses.  Underneath that skull cup, there are three skull cups, two dry and one wet, which symbolize the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya.    Beneath that, wisdom fire burns. As it burns, everything within the skull cup heats up, purifying all the afflictive emotions and dualistic mind and impure substances, transforming everything into wisdom nectar that fills three thousand myriads of universes.

Then after saying two Phets, instantly Vajravarahi, holds a golden spoon in her right hand and a skull cup in her left.  Then from that skull cup she ladles nectar and pours it, making offerings first to the lamas, and then to the meditational deities, and then the dakinis, and so forth.  After that when one says Phet, Vajravarahi makes offerings to all the local beings and the owners of the land, and so forth.  And then after saying another Phet, Vajravarahi makes offerings to all sentient beings of the six realms.

As one makes all these offerings, one can purify all the debts and loans and negativities from past lifetimes.  After making offerings to all those beings that are owners of sickness, demonic forces, creators of obstacles and negative forces, they are completely satisfied and pleased.  In that way by making offerings to all the gurus and meditational deities and dakinis, one could have complete accomplishment and receive all the blessings.  And by making offerings to all the negative forces and all other evil beings, they are completely satisfied and pleased. One feels as though all karmic debts have been repaid, and everything is purified.

At the end when one says Phet, then all the offerings, the objects of the offerings, and the offeror, all three, cease to exist and dissolve into emptiness.  After that one can do all the dedication and aspiration prayers.

 

What is “Chöd”?

The following is respectfully quoted from “Compassionate Action” by Chatral Rinpoche:

Chöd means “cut” and is a practice for destroying ego-clinging by offering your body, cut into pieces and converted into pure nectar, as sustenance for the enlightened ones, the hungry ghosts, demons, and other sentient beings. It is traditionally practiced at charnel grounds and cemeteries.

 

 

A Nontraditional Chod Practice to Establish a Sacred View

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

Before I ever learned about the Buddha dharma, I actually used to do a practice that my teachers have told me was a natural kind of Chöd.  What I would do is contemplate on different body parts and it took me months and months and months to do this. I practiced it for months because I felt like the deeper I went into it, the more involved it became.  I would think about a certain body part, like my feet, and I would say, “Thinking of these feet in one way, here are their limitations,” and it’s easy to see what the limitations of feet are.  You can’t walk on fire with them.  Well, not most of us.  You can’t walk on water with them – not most of us either.  There are so many things you can’t do with your feet, but there are also many things that you can do with your feet.  So thinking of feet in those ways, I would see all of the limitations of feet, being used as they are presently being used, and then I would think about all the possible ways that feet could be of benefit to beings.  How could my feet be of use?  That’s what I want.  I want my feet to be of use.  So I would think, “How can my feet be of use?  Well, I can go to people that need me with my feet.  I can go to do some meditation.  I can make my body go and comfort someone that’s sick or feed someone that’s hungry through moving my feet.”

After I had examined both the down side and the opportunity associated with feet, I would then practice this kind of deep offering, and I would make many prayers.  I would say, “I offer my feet to (back then I didn’t say Buddhas and bodhisattvas), Absolute Nature. I offer my feet to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas in order that they might be used to benefit sentient beings.  Other than that, they have no meaning for me.”  I would practice that until I felt like I had given up my feet and they were no longer mine; they were offerings.  I went through my entire body.  Then I found that that wasn’t enough, so I went through all my emotions.  And then I found that wasn’t enough, so I went through all the different ways of thinking and attributes of mind.  I would see the potential of each and I would see the downfall of each and I would contemplate on that very, very carefully.  Then I would spend a great deal of time offering that particular quality or attribute or body part to be used for the benefit of sentient beings, to be used to accomplish some good.

It seemed to me that, generally speaking, the body is a marvelous thing, but if it’s not accomplishing any good, it’s kind of limited, so it seemed logical and reasonable to me to want to offer all of my limitations, all of my ordinary perceptions, all of my attachments in the hope that every part of me would be used to benefit sentient beings.

Think about your speech.  Speech is a wonderful thing; it’s an amazing thing.  It’s one of those human attributes that make it possible for us to teach and learn, so it makes it possible for us to practice Dharma.  So although speech is an amazing thing, what do we use our speech for?  For the most part, we use our speech to help us suffer.  For the most part, our speech is like vomit coming out of our mouths.  What I mean by that is, the stuff that comes out of our mouth often is not connected to any thought anywhere.  We use our speech for blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, and yet this precious thing could be used to teach Dharma.  This precious capability could be used to receive teachings of Dharma.  How amazing!

Practicing this kind of nontraditional Chöd was when I really learned about speech.  That was really important.  When I learned about speech, I found out that if I were really to offer my speech and be constantly mindful of its power, constantly mindful of this blessing, and if I really, ultimately offered my speech to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas, that instead their holy speech might be here.  That makes the speech worth something.  That makes it powerful.

I used to spend a lot of time considering the pros and cons, the limitations and the attributes of different aspects of what I considered ‘myself,’ and eventually, after offering all my parts and all my qualities and all my different attributes, at that point I felt that something was changed.  I had done this so deeply that I got into the habit of thinking like this, to the point where, when it comes to benefiting sentient beings, I don’t have to make that choice because it’s already been made.  I don’t own this stuff.  It’s already given away.  I developed this habit of constantly offering, and I’m telling you about the way that I did this is not so that you can say, “Ooh, aah, wasn’t she a great practitioner!” I’m not a great practitioner by any means.  What I’m telling you is that as a Westerner, even if we don’t have perfect translations, even if we haven’t accumulated all the teachings, even if it seems to us strange to practice Chöd in a way where we boil stuff and offer it and all those things, even if we’ve never heard of that teaching, it is still possible for us to practice the same principles and to establish a sacred view. It’s still possible.

I feel like my main job is to speak to Westerners because Westerners have a particular outlook, a particular take on things, and I think one of the greatest blessings that I have is that I’m a Westerner and I think like you.  I really do think exactly like you, so maybe I can help you, not just to follow the books by rote, not just to repeat everything like a magpie, but maybe instead to practice more deeply.  Maybe I can help you practice in such a way that the practice becomes married with your life, with your body, with your speech, with your mind, with your consciousness, until they are so one that it’s like mixing milk with water.  That is how practice becomes potent.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Early Practices: The Life of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The following is respectfully quoted from “Reborn in the West”  by Vicki Mackenzie as she recounts Jetsunma’s life story. This section begins as Jetsunma describes her early practice:

‘I left the party at that point,’ was how she put it. ‘I felt “There’s nothing here.”‘ Her meditation then took a quantum leap–right to the heart of mysticism, to the fount of truth.

‘In my next dream I was guided to meditate on the question “If what I have here does not amount to much because it is so finite, then what is there of value?”‘ Suddenly she found herself contemplating absolute reality, or ultimate truth, the primordial wisdom state and the most profound and difficult subject of all Buddhist meditations.

‘I didn’t have the words for it but I knew it wasn’t like God, the old-man-on-the-throne idea. What I was meditating on was a non-dual, all-pervasive essence–that is, form and formless, united, indistinguishable from one another. I saw that it was the only validity–that and the compassionate activity that was an expression of it.’

What Jetsunma was telling me was, I recognized, quite exceptional. What yogis and scholars in Tibetan monasteries take years to achieve after long intellectual delving and even longer years of retreat, Jetsunma had arrived at entirely of her own accord. Tucked away on her farm in North Carolina without any guru, any book, any established doctrine or example to follow, she had not only discovered but realized the two essential truths–wisdom and compassion, the two wings of Tibetan Buddhism that are said to fly you all the way to Enlightenment. Without them you can barely get off the ground. It was an amazing feat.

But she didn’t stop there. While she continued to meditate on absolute nature and compassion she simultaneously began to offer up her body, part by part.

‘This is going to sound strange,’ she said, laughing, ‘but I would lie down–I didn’t know you were suppose to do all of this sitting up–and I would look down at my feet and say, “OK, here they are, ten toes.” And I would really look at my feet and consider all the things that my feet could do for me. And then I  would contemplate what was the ultimate good of these things–no ultimate use at all!” ‘ She would continue in that vein throughout her body, staying longer on the parts she felt attached to. ‘No one wants to give up their head, for instance. Our head is like the last bastion of our individuality. And I’d pay special attention to my female parts and my hands. You don’t want to do without them!’

She didn’t know it then, but what she was doing was no less than Chöd, another profound Tibetan meditation whereby you relinquish your body to emptiness for the good of all. It is considered the ultimate physical surrender. How she had come across such a strange meditation in the middle of North Carolina, with only a baby and husband for company, adds to the mystery. I asked again, to make sure, if there were any outside influences that could have been directing her.

‘We were in Ashville in the seventies and nothing metaphysical was happening there,’ she replied. ‘Actually there was one thing–a small transcendental meditation centre had started and friends kept urging me to join. But I resisted. It didn’t feel as though it was the right place for me. They said I had to have a guru, that I couldn’t get anywhere without one, and I replied, “That may be true, but I haven’t found my teacher yet and I will know when I do.” ‘

She continued these intense periods of individual meditation over several years. ‘I would meditate for hours at a time. Luckily I had a baby who was peaceful and slept a lot, and a husband who was supportive of what I was doing. I am eternally grateful for that. But it was still a householder’s retreat. I had a husband, a child and all the chores to do. Even so, I had a much stricter schedule of meditation than I do now.’

The meditations grew in strength and clarity, and when she was around thirty she had a spiritual experience which showed that the time to begin her work had begun. She was reluctant to tell me about it, except to say that she entered a long period of meditation from which she emerged knowing that her personal life had finished and that she had been born solely to be of benefit for others. ‘I never said anything to anyone about it. But oddly, after that people started coming to me.’

 

 

Offered for the Benefit of All Beings

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Western Chod”

My teachers have instructed me that that practice is actually called ‘chöd’ (and there is an umlaut above the o).  Actually there is no text to go with it so you couldn’t say it was the practice of chöd as it is written in the text.  It has been called by my teachers the essence or essential nectar of chöd.  So I have been given permission to continue to practice that way and also to teach others to practice in that way. My experience has been that it has made my life a lot easier.

Now how is that? Well, I’ll tell you.  It came to pass that there were many sacrifices that needed to be made.  I’m not saying this so that you’ll say “Oh, isn’t she a good girl!”   Save it.  I don’t care.  But there were sacrifices that needed to be made. If I’d had my druthers, I would still be on a farm in North Carolina.  By now I would not only know how to put up beans, but I would have the best darn garden you’d ever seen, and all the farmers around would be impressed.  And I would have a dairy cow to boot.  I would still be there.  I would still be there, much isolated.  I prefer a lot of privacy.  Even though I seem to be good at this (I don’t know why but I seem to be good at this),  I have to tell you that everyone who knows me well knows that to get me out of the house so that I’ll come and do my job, it takes oh, spraying with Pam and loosening her up with a crowbar.  It’s not my natural tendency to want to come out and do this. I really don’t like this kind of thing.

Not only did privacy have to be given up (and that seems to be getting worse and worse), but also personal freedom.  Now I am in the position where if I decide that I want to go somewhere and just not think about whether I look like a dharma teacher or not, just sort of be myself, I find that it’s a little tricky. It happens pretty often that people will come up to me and they will say “Are you that Buddha lady?”  It really happens on a regular basis.  In fact one time at the airport somebody came running up to me, “Are you that Jetsa Jetsa Buddha lady?”  That Jetsa Jetsa Buddha lady, that’s me!  So I have that kind of going on. And you know, I was not brought up as a Tibetan.  I was not groomed for this job; I just got this job.  So I found that many sacrifices had to take place, including watching my children have to give up their own privacy.

There are just a lot of issues.  When we first came to this temple, none of the doors that you see were here.  There were hardly any doors on the inside of the temple.  Everything was very open and this room was divided in half. We used to live upstairs, but there were no doors between the upstairs and the lower, and so basically I was not separate from the temple whatsoever. And the only coffee pot, get this!, the only coffee pot in the whole place was downstairs where the kitchen room is downstairs now, and I slept upstairs.   , Because this place was open 24 hours a day, I would have to wade through students to get to my first cup of coffee in the morning.  If that’s not love, what is? ?  Then my students would say to me, “You never smile at me in the morning.”  Smile in the morning!!  The weight of the bags under my eyes keep my cheeks from going up, what can I tell you!  So anyway, smiling was not forthcoming before the coffee, I’m sorry.  There’s not that much compassion in the world!

I eventually came to draw a lot of strength and a great deal of comfort from that early practice because I found out that I never actually had to make another decision.  And that’s what we struggle with all the time.  Should I spare this time to do my practice?  Should I spare this time to practice compassion toward others?  Should I spend the effort to go over here and help that person?  Should I do that? It’s that thinking—should I, should I, should I?  You burn more calories doing that than any of the good works that you actually do in your life.  So I found out that that head thing that we do when we can’t decide and we always go through the dilemma of being a samsaric being, that was alleviated, and I never really had to make another decision ever again.  I felt that from that point on, everything in my life had already been decided because I didn’t own my feet, I didn’t own my ankles, didn’t own my body, didn’t own my speech, didn’t own my hearing, didn’t own anything. Anything!  I had already decided that I owned nothing.  None of it was mine.

So then whenever I was called upon, well will you do this, will you do that, will you do that?  Now the ultimate test, the moving!  Will you do that?  Yeah, I’ll do that.  You know why I’ll do that?  Because it’s already decided.  None of this really belongs to me.  My job now is to protect every capability that I have or any effort that I’ve made in order to benefit beings.  That I will protect, with fangs out and nails extended.  That’s when you’ll see the meanness in me.  That I will protect, but regarding anything personal, it’s no big deal because it’s already gone.  I don’t own it.  So I take good care of it.  I feed it well.  I exercise it, but ultimately I realize that I’m doing that in order to maintain its strength in order to benefit sentient beings.  I don’t feel that I own it.  I’ve  already given it up.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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