Cultivating Compassion – A “How To”

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Foundation of Bodhicitta”

Now it sounds like I’m making a sales pitch. “You too can do this.”  Well in a sense, I am. But what I’m really trying to do is to open your eyes to the potential here. Please don’t let me express this in such a way as to indicate to you that it is easy. All you have to do is practice a little Dharma and bingo you have got it. The kind of offering that I’m talking about, the kind of bodhicitta, the kind of generosity that I’m talking about takes a life time and more of absolute and total commitment to practice,. of actually practicing sincerely for the benefit of sentient beings; but only under that  condition can you offer the ultimate gift—the gift of enlightenment. In cyclic existence, there is no end to suffering. The only end to suffering is one exits cyclic existence; and one only exits the cycle of death and rebirth upon achieving enlightenment. How can you help others to achieve enlightenment?  Well, you can’t until you yourself have achieved some enlightenment.

In the meantime, you can help build stupas; you can make tsa tsas; you can sponsor enlightened activity; you can support your temple. You can do all of those things. You can practice, and you can dedicate the virtue of your practice to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings. That is a very significant gift. That is a very significant act of bodhicitta. But ultimately the true benefit comes when you yourself have achieved realization in order to benefit sentient beings; and that you are able to return in such a form that you can provide the path and provide the method. You can provide the impetus. You can provide the empowerment and the fertilization that is necessary in order to ripen each and every sentient being’s buddha seed so that it can bring forth the flower of enlightenment.

It is not a selfish goal. It is not an immediate end to the suffering of sentient beings so you might fall into the trap of thinking, ‘Well what is the kindest thing to do? Practice to beat the band or work in a soup kitchen.’ Now we are taught that working in a soup kitchen would be the most compassionate thing to do, but actually it is two different kinds of compassion, you see. Working in a soup kitchen would be temporary compassion, temporary bodhicitta. Working to achieve realization would be ultimate bodhicitta. Two different kinds. The Buddha teaches us don’t waste your time. Spend the main bulk of your time on the ultimate bodhicitta.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Relief From Suffering

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Foundation of Bodhicitta”

Now having been introduced to the six realms, you should look at all of the different qualities that produce these rebirths: anger, grasping, ignorance, doubt, jealousy and pride.  You should think that the thing to do, if you have any understanding at all, is to begin to engage in activity that pacifies those kinds of qualities.  How does this mesh with compassion?  When you think about engaging in compassionate activity, you have to view compassionate activity in accordance with this teaching because you might think that compassionate activity would only be to be nice to people, and actually that is one kind of compassionate activity, or to give money to the poor, or to feed people.  That is one kind of compassionate activity; that is one kind of bodhicitta, but it is temporary bodhicitta.  It will produce a temporary cessation of suffering for the people that you help.  If you give them food when they are hungry, it will produce the end of temporary suffering.  If you give them money when they are poor, it will produce the end of temporary suffering.  But if you really want to get into ultimate bodhicitta, which is the quintessential practice of the Mahayana vehicle, and Vajrayana as part of Mahayana—Vajrayana is what we practice here—what you really want to do is to practice ultimate or supreme bodhicitta.  Ultimate or supreme bodhicitta is creating some kind of practice that will be a vehicle by which the qualities that produce this result will be pacified both in yourself and in other sentient beings.

I’ve described the six realms of cyclic existence.  Where in the six realms is there relief?  Nowhere.  Will you find relief as a result of temporary help in any of the six realms?  No, because you will be reborn again. And where?  We don’t know.  We just don’t know.  In cyclic existence, there is no true relief.  All there is in cyclic existence are the components of cyclic existence.  That is all that is in that pot.  You cannot expect true relief from cyclic existence.  So ultimate bodhicitta and an ultimately compassionate act would be to become a Buddha yourself.  To become highly enough realized yourself to make that commitment to attain realization in order to return again and again and again, emanating from the mind of enlightenment in order to be of benefit to sentient beings, because that is where relief comes from.

Now let me see if this is a typical thangka?  No this is not a traditional thangka.  The traditional thangkas usually show a path coming out from the human realm leading to enlightenment.  As a human, you can make the ultimate gift.  You can engage in the supreme practice.  You can achieve enlightenment yourself and, therefore, you can be a returner.  You can return again and again and again in order to lead sentient beings through a display of your enlightened compassion.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Introduction to Compassion

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Foundation of Compassion”

The teaching for today about compassion has to have a certain foundation laid to it in order for us to understand how compassion is viewed in Buddhism. I am going to combine some traditional teachings and some non-traditional ways of presenting them, which is actually my forte. You will find that a lot around here.

In order to begin to give you some of the teachings, I have to give you a couple of definitions. Actually here in this temple, I have been using the term compassion and that is actually a poor translation of some of the terms that are actually used. One term that is actually used in association with the teaching of compassion is called Bodhicitta. Roughly that means compassion; but it actually has superficial, deeper and very profound levels of meaning. You will find that that is true in everything in Buddhism. There is outer, inner and secret meaning to just about everything. Sometimes I have sat through teachings with my teachers where I have heard the outer, inner and secret meaning and it seemed to me that I understood the secret meaning instantly—it didn’t seem to be a big secret to me—but the outer meaning was confusing. So I don’t know how they figure all this stuff.  In Buddhism there seems to be an outer, inner, and secret about everything, particularly in the Vajrayana point of view. Suffice it to say that Bodhicitta on the external level would be the practice of compassion, which means that one would thoroughly understand the faults of cyclic existence, that is to say the cycle of death and rebirth. One would thoroughly understand its confusion and its difficulties, and what the faults actually are, what the problems of cyclic existence are. One would understand what the cessation of such problems would actually result in; one would understand how these problems could cease, and one would understand what relief from that kind of suffering would be. One would engage in compassionate activity.

On a deeper level, the Bodhicitta nature is actually considered to be our nature. It is considered that our nature is a non-dual union of emptiness and compassionate activity; that that is our true nature.  We are not able to express that nature now simply because we have not obtained realization. But when the Buddha appears or when the Buddha’s teaching appears in the world and is conveyed or conferred in a way that does not deviate from the original purpose and power, then that is called a display of the Bodhicitta.  It is considered that the activity of the Buddha in the world and actually the appearance of the Buddha in the world is emptiness and enlightened activity displayed in a non-dual way, particularly enlightened activity. If one were to have obtained Buddhahood, from that point on one would automatically display enlightened activity constantly. Everything that one would do would be enlightened activity no matter how it seemed. I think I talked a little bit about it for those who attended last week.  For instance, different Bodhisattvas or Lamas that have obtained some realization might display different kinds of activities. There are many different examples of Lamas, for instance, that appear in robes and are really toeing the mark, straight and narrow. It is very, very clear cut that they are displaying the Buddha’s virtuous teachings. And yet there are other highly realized Lamas and Bodhisattvas who appear in the world and their activity seems crazy to us. Seems crazy to us. We don’t understand it. They don’t appear like pure Lamas and teachers.  They coined one phrase in some of the teaching called ‘crazy yoga activity’ where the Lama would appear in such a way as to be odd, almost crazy, looking like they even have mental disturbance, acting very strangely. Guru Rinpoche himself was known to do some very odd things like boink people over the head and kill them and bring about their realization. There is one story of a Lama that I heard of who actually lived not too long ago.  It looked like he did something really horrible. He picked up a rock and threw it at some kind of mouse or a rat, or something like that, and killed it. One of his students said, “Why did you do that? You killed. The Buddha tells us not to kill.” “You have no faith.” He snapped his fingers and the thing came back to life. So it was a display of compassion; it was a display geared toward creating devotion in the students. Those are extreme stories, but there are many simpler stories of Lamas appearing in the world in such a way that through their compassion students can actually relate to them better, can actually hear them better, can feel connected to them in a much better way. So that is one example. But according to the Buddha’s teaching the bottom line of that is when enlightened activity appears in the world, that enlightened activity will be effortless. Meaning that it will naturally occur; and it occurs directly from the mind of enlightenment as a result of the mind of enlightenment. There won’t be any contrivance about it; the thing will be what it is.

One of the teachers that has come and taught here used the expression “the ball is going to roll”. It is going to roll no matter what you do. It is simply its nature to roll. That is the way it is. Depending on the grade of the land, depending on the way things are laid out that is the direction that the ball will roll in. How fast the ball will roll depends on where it is sitting, but the ball’s nature is to roll. You can’t stop that; you can’t change that about the ball. So it is kind of like that with the Buddha’s appearance in the world. When songs are sung to praise the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, their activity is described as what I have spoken of just now as being effortless and spontaneous. Now it doesn’t mean that the Buddha didn’t go through some effort to travel from town to town to appear in different places to teach people as he taught people. It is not to say that Guru Rinpoche didn’t try, didn’t put any effort into his life. It is not like that. In that sense, effortless means that the activity is spontaneous, that at no time does the Buddha or any of the Bodhisattvas who have obtained that level of realization ever say, “I wonder what would look kind right now?  Let me try to do the right thing.  Let me see if I can figure out according to this phenomena here how two and two might add up to four. Let me see if I can figure this out. Hmmm. Maybe if I did this that student would react in this way.”  It is not like that. In that way, the activity is effortless and spontaneous. It comes as a result, not of logical thought, which would be an indication of a very superficial or relative view, but it comes as a result of natural and spontaneous activity that must result from enlightenment. The seed of enlightenment then produces the fruit of this enlightened activity. .

Now we have to be careful how we use that. Unfortunately students that have studied this concept and studied Dharma activity over a long period of time think that they are displaying enlightened activity, think that they are displaying effortless activity. That is an unfortunate thing because the moment that you think in that way and that you consider in that way and that you puff yourself up in that way, that is not enlightened activity.  That is not it all. The moment that you describe yourself as having that kind of enlightened activity you have puffed yourself up and you have strengthened your ego and that is no longer enlightened activity. You are off the mark. There are actually Gurus that are present in this world now that have very good intentions. They have part of the idea, but they do not have the capacity to fully express themselves in terms of enlightened activity. They have not yet produced enlightenment in their students and they are in a situation where their activity is partial. They speak of themselves very highly, as being enlightened, as being a certain way, and it only indicates their attachment to self-nature. So you have to be careful with how you use it and you have to be very careful how you hear it from other teachers.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Habit of Self Concern

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Habit of Bodhicitta”

Now if we really understood that and meditated on the suffering of beings, we wouldn’t have some of the same ideas that we have now. For instance, sometimes we think that because we’re following a spiritual path, we should be just a little self-righteous.  Don’t you think?  We look around at other people who are very materialistic, who are spending their whole lives doing things that we consider to be lower activities. And we look around at people that even society labels as being lower. We look around at prostitutes; we look at people who rob banks. Both are doing things that they’re doing for similar reasons to why  we’re doing what we’re doing. The prostitute wants money; she wants to make a better life, she or he. The bank robber wants money; they want to make a better life. They’re looking for power. Same reasons as we do, just the activity is different. Of course, we feel ever so much better, for whatever reason. But if we really understood and really meditated on the fact that all of us are in exactly the same condition, there would be no room for judgment. We would really realize the plight of humankind, and, in a greater sense, the plight of all sentient beings.

Now the Buddha’s teaching  gives us the foundation, or fundamental necessities, by which we can give rise to the bodhichitta, or the great compassion. But that’s only the foundation. And here is why: The problem with our trying very hard to awaken to compassion is our own habitual tendency. Our own habitual tendency is such that we only concentrate on our own plight. Sometimes we do empathize with others. We think, ‘Oh, gosh, that must be awful. That’s too bad. Gee, that would be awful for me.’ It’s almost like you take a rubber band and you stretch it out just far enough to see what the plight of the other person is, but then the habitual tendency comes back in and BINGO! Rubber band lets go and now we are thinking about ourselves again. And that is how it is, isn’t it? That is how it is. That is really the only way that we understand others, because we can understand how we would feel about that and we’re sure glad that it’s not happening to us. It’s kind of like that.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Sentient “Beingness”

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Habit of Bodhicitta”

In traditional Buddhist doctrine, we are given certain methods that will be helpful in alleviating our condition of suffering. These methods are pretty cut and dry, pretty simple. For instance, if we begin to practice preliminary practice, or Ngöndro, and we examine the thoughts that turn the mind ,in those thoughts are not only the four main thoughts, but there are also many different sort of auxiliary thoughts. Some of the ideas that we are lead to examine are first of all, the idea that all sentient beings are equal,  and we are led to examine that in this way. First of all, we all contain within us the Buddha seed, our inherent Buddha nature, and the reality that, at some point, each one of us will attain to that nature and will become awake, even as the Buddha has become awake. Each of us will attain that reality. For some of us it will be relatively soon, only ten thousand lifetimes from now. Piece of cake. For some of us, it will be a lot longer. Sometimes we have to think that for some people it almost seems like it will never happen, because you’re talking about aeons of cyclic existence. But the Buddha teaches us that each one of us has that inherent reality, and therefore we are, in our nature, the Buddha.

So, in that sense, we are exactly the same. We are also the same in our sentient beingness, if you can coin a phrase with me for a little while. And in our sentient beingness, we have certain things in common: We do have the ego cherishing. We do have self absorption. We do have confusion. We do have an inability to abide spontaneously in the primordial wisdom nature. We do experience death and rebirth in some form. All sentient beings do, even if they are not in the human realm. We all experience these certain conditions; we all experience suffering. We all experience hope and fear in some way.

So the Buddha teaches us to understand that we are all very much alike. And in that situation of alikeness, we can find a certain companionship with one another, a certain understanding or empathy toward one another, so that we don’t judge as severely. If we do understand that we all are revolving in cyclic existence, and that we all have hatred, greed, and ignorance and all those things running around, self-absorption and such, then when we look at someone else with hatred, greed and ignorance, we might think, ‘Oh, that’s kind of like me. I can understand that. I can see where that happens.’ So we develop a kind of patience, a tolerance, a kindness, and it’s the fundamental step that must be taken before true compassion arises.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Giving Rise to Bodhicitta

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

When you think about the suffering of sentient beings, when you think about those that are in the hell realms suffering horribly, is there a part of you that wishes you could do something to liberate them from the hell realms? That wishes that you could pass your magic wand and have them be free at last? Is there a part of you that hears the story about the hungry ghosts and thinks, “Oh my, how can I nourish them? How can I give them milk? How can I make them not suffer like that? How can I help those sentient beings that are about to fall into that condition by asking them or encouraging them to turn the way their minds work?” Do you feel any compassion like that? Is there any part of you that wants to reach out to them and help them? When you hear of the suffering of human beings, when you hear how many times human beings come into the same realm with the very teaching that will bring about the end of their suffering, and yet due to their doubt do not participate in that teaching but walk away from it empty handed, do you wish that you could change that? Do you wish that you could help them to see the truth before it’s too late? Do you wish that you could help the jealous gods and the gods and goddesses of the god realms? Do you wish that you could open their eyes so that they will not be so drunk with their own habitual tendencies, but rather so that they will see the benefit and impact of practicing Dharma? Do you wish that they could use the time that they have right now in order to be free of suffering? Do you wish that you could liberate all sentient beings including yourself from suffering, that suffering would no longer be heard? That the very word of suffering, the very name of death would never be heard in our ears again? Do you wish that you could do that? Is there any part of you that responds to that? Yes? No? Is there some part of you? Then hold onto that part of you, because that is the part of you that is the most precious possession that you have. Hold onto that thread. It is the very thread of life. It is more precious and more important than any other thought that you have or have ever had. And it is the only pure thought that you will ever have during the course of your life until you achieve liberation.

This is the very method by which one gives rise to the bodhicitta, the very method by which one accomplishes. I tell you that you will not accomplish Phowa successfully, you will not have the promised signs that everybody’s waiting for, if you do not first give rise to the bodhicitta based on the understanding of what sentient beings in cyclic existence suffer. So you must give rise to this. It is the foundation of the Path. Without the milk of kindness flowing through you, without giving rise to compassion, there is no method and therefore there is no result. So that is why this preliminary teaching, although it is general, must be included with the Phowa.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu 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

Cultivating Compassion

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why P’howa?”

It is not foreign to our nature, and it is also not separate from the goal that we wish to achieve by practicing in this way, for us to give rise to the great Bodhicitta, or the great compassion.  The way that that is done on the Buddhist path is to consider that our own goals and the goals of sentient beings are indistinguishable, that they are nondual.  That is to say that our goal to practice in order to achieve liberation, is inseparable from the goal of sentient beings.  They also have the goal of practicing in order to achieve liberation.  Not all of them know it, in the same way that some of you don’t know it either.  You may think you know it, or you may know that you don’t know it, but many of you are still at the party, not growing out of the party, not grown up and looking back and saying “Oh, that won’t do me much good.”

You remember that situation that you found yourself in as you were growing up?  When you were a young person you had a few knockdown drag out parties, didn’t you?  I mean the kind where, at some point in your life, you probably got drunk.  Nobody makes a sound, like “Drunk?  What is that?”  At some point in your life you probably were out of control, just party down, not thinking straight, doing things that were compulsive and obsessive and not appropriate and not healthy for you, not good for your well-being—unthinking, deluded things.  This is something that we have all experienced, but particularly in the case of when we were younger, we would party hearty. And if you think about it, if any of you have done that, and I’m sure that one or two of you have, you may remember that once you’ve partied hearty, there was a period of regret afterwards, and that was primarily the next day.  Of course the, how shall I say, the cure for that is, of course, prostrations to the porcelain god; and with all of that, one comes to understand that one is literally destroying oneself, that there is no hope for happiness from doing that to oneself.  After doing that repeatedly, we tend to grow up after a while.  We tend to be unwilling to put ourselves through that kind of stuff again.

So that happens to us spiritually too. We go through the same compulsive obsessive behavior with no good result. And at some point, either through our own good fortune, through our own gathering together of merit which causes literally a kind of smarts arising in the mind, or through the instruction of our teacher, we can begin to realize that what we are doing makes no sense.  It simply makes no sense.  It is destructive.  It is painful, and it is not pleasant.  So that is the stage in which we find ourselves turning our mind towards Dharma.

What we have to realize in order to give rise to the compassion, to the great Bodhicitta, is that this is true of all of us, not just you.  If you have come to this realization, that it’s time to turn the mind towards Dharma, then what of those who have not yet come to that realization?  They are still putting themselves through that.  They are still acting in a destructive way that disintegrates their spiritual strength.  They are acting in such a way that literally brings them suffering.  What of them?  Perhaps you have heard the good word, but what of them?  Who will help them?  And so we develop a sense of compassion.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Meditation on Impartiality: Patrul Rinpoche

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The following is respectfully quoted from “The Words of My Perfect Teacher” by Patrul Rinpoche

1. Meditation on impartiality

Impartiality (tang nyom in Tibetan) means giving up (tang) our hatred for enemies and infatuation with friends, and having an even-minded (nyom) attitude towards all beings, free of attachment to those close to us and aversion for those who are distant.

As things are now, we are very attached to those we think of as part of our own group–father and mother, relatives and so on–while we feel an intolerable aversion towards our enemies and those associated with them. This is a mistake, and comes from a lack of investigation.

In former lives, those whom we now consider our enemies have surely been close to us, ever lovingly at our side, looking after us with goodwill and giving us unimaginable help and support. Conversely, many of those whom we now call friends have certainly been against us and done us harm. As we saw in the chapter on impermanence, this is illustrated by the words of the sublime Kātyāyana:

He eats his father’s flesh, beats his mother off,
He dandles on his lap his own unfortunate enemy;
The wife is gnawing at her husband’s bones.
I laugh to see what happens in samsāra’s show!

Another example is the story of Princess Pema Sel, daughter of the Dharma King Trisong Detsen. When she died at the age of seventeen, her father went to ask Guru Rinpoche how such a thing could happen.

“I would have thought that my daughter must have been someone with pure past actions,” said the king. “She was born as the daughter of King Trisong Detsun. She met all of you translators and pandits, who are like real Buddhas. So how can it be that her life was nevertheless so short?”

“It was not at all because of any pure past deeds that the princess was born as your daughter,” the Master replied. “Once I, Padma, you, the great Dharma King, and the great Bodhisattva Abbot had been born as three low-caste boys. We were building the Great Stūpa of Jarung Khashor. At that time the princess had taken birth as an insect, which stung you on the neck. Brushing off with your hand, you accidentally killed it. Because of the debt you incurred in taking that life, the insect was reborn as your daughter.”

If even the children of Dharma King Trisong Detsun, who was Mañjuśrī in person, could be born to him in that way as a result of his past actions, what can one say about other beings?

At present we are closely linked with our parents and children. We feel great affection for them and have incredible aspirations for them. When they suffer, or anything undesirable happens to them, we are more upset than we would be if such things had happened to us personally. All this is simply the repayment of debts for the harm we have done each other in past lives.

Of all the people who are now our enemies, there is not one who has not been our father or mother in the course of all our previous lives. Even now, the fact that we consider them to be against us does not necessarily mean that they are actually doing us any harm. There are some we think of as opponents who, from their side, do not see us in that way at all. Others might feel that they are our enemies but are quite incapable of doing us any real harm. There are also people who at the moment seem to be harming us, but in the long term what they are doing to us might bring us recognition and appreciation in this life, or make us turn to the Dharma and thus bring us much benefit and happiness. yet others, if we can skillfully adapt to their characters and win them over with gentle words until we reach some agreement, might quite easily turn into friends.

On the other hand there are all those whom we normally consider closest to us–our children, for example. But there are sons and daughters who have cheated or even murdered their parents, and join forces with them to quarrel with their own family and plunder their wealth. Even we we get along well with those who are dear to us, their sorrows and problems actually affect us even more strongly than our own difficulties. In order to help our friends, our children and other relatives, we pile up great waves of negative actions which will sweep us into the hells in our next life. When we really want to practise the Dharma properly they hold us back. Unable to give up our obsession with parents, children, and family, we keep putting off Dharma practice until later, and so never find the time for it. In short, such people may harm us even more than our enemies.

What is more, there is no guarantee that those we consider adversaries today will not be our children in future lives, or that our purest friends will not be reborn as our enemies, and so on. It is only because we take these fleeing perceptions of “friend” and “enemy” as real that we accumulate negative actions through attachment and hatred. Why do we hold on to this millstone which will drag us down into the lower realms?

Make a firm decision, therefore, to see all infinite beings as your own parents and children. Then, like the great beings of the past whose lives we can read about, consider all friends and enemies as the same.

First, towards all those you do not like at all–those who arouse anger and hatred in you–train your mind by various means so that the anger and hatred you feel no longer arise. Think of them as you would of someone neutral, who does you neither good nor harm. Then reflect that the innumerable beings to whom you feel neutral have been your father or mother sometime during your past lives throughout time without beginning. Meditate on this theme, training yourself until you feel the same love for them you do for your present parents. Finally, meditate until you feel the same compassion towards all beings–whether you see them as friends, enemies or in between–as you do for your own parents.

Now, it is no substitute for boundless impartiality just to think of everybody, friends, enemies, as the same, without any particular feeling of compassion, hatred or whatever. This is mindless impartiality, and brings neither harm nor benefit. The image given for truly boundless impartiality is a banquet given by a great sage. When the great sages of old offered feasts they would invite everyone, high or low, powerful or weak, good or bad, exceptional or ordinary, without making any distinction whatsoever. Likewise, our attitude toward all beings throughout space should be a vast feeling of compassion, encompassing them all equally. Train your mind until you reach such a state of boundless impartiality.

2. Meditation on love

Through meditating on boundless impartiality as described, you come to regard all beings of the three worlds with the same great love. The love that you feel for all fo them should be like that of parents taking care of their young children. They ignore all their children’s ingratitude and all the difficulties involved, devoting their every thought, word and deed entirely to making their little ones happy, comfortable and cosy. Likewise, in this life and in all your future lives, devote everything you do, say or think to the well-being and happiness of all beings.

Al those beings are striving for happiness and comfort. They all want to be happy and comfortable; not one of them wants to be unhappy or to suffer. Yet they do not understand that the cause of happiness is positive actions, and instead give themselves over to the ten negative actions. Their deepest wishes and their actions are therefore at odds: in their attempts to find happiness, they only bring suffering upon themselves.

Over and over again, meditate on the thought of how wonderful it would be if each one of those beings could have all the happiness and comfort they wish. Meditate on it until you want others to be happy just as intensely as you want to be happy yourself.

The sūtras speak of “loving actions of body, loving actions of speech, loving actions of mind.” What this means is that everything you say with your mouth or do with your hands, instead of being harmful to others, should be straightforward and kind. As it says in The way of the Bodhisattva:

Whenever catching sight of others
Look on them with open, loving heart.

Even when you simply look at someone else, let that look be smiling and pleasant rather than an aggressive glare or some expression of anger. There are stories about this, like the one about the powerful ruler who glared at everyone with a very wrathful look. It is said that he was reborn as a preta living on left-overs under the stove of a house, and after that, because he had also looked at a holy being in that way, he was reborn in hell.

Whatever actions you do with your body, try to do them gently and pleasantly, endeavoring not to harm others but to help them. Your speech should not express such attitudes as contempt, criticism or jealousy. Make every single word you say pleasant and true. As for your mental attitude, when you help others do not wish for anything good in return. Do not be a hypocrite and try to make other people see you as a Bodhisattva because of your kind words and actions. Siply wish for others’ happiness from the bottom of your heat and only consider what would be most beneficial for them. Pray again and again with these words: “Throughout all my lives, may I never harm so much as a single hair on another being’s head, and may I always help each of them.”

It is particularly important to avoid making anyone under your authority suffer, by beating them, forcing them to work too hard and so on. This applies to your servants and also to your animals, right down to the humblest watchdog. Always, under all circumstances, be kind to them in thought, word and deed. To be reborn as a servant, or as a watchdog, for that matter, and to be despised and looked down upon by everyone, is the maturation of the effects of past actions. It is the reciprocal effect of having despised and looked down on others while in a position of power in a past life. If you now despite others because of your own power and wealth, you will repay that debt in some future time by being reborn as their servants. So be especially kind to those in a lower position than yourself.

Anything you can do physically, verbally or mentally to help your own parents, or those suffering from chronic ill health, will bring inconceivable benefits. Jowo Atīsa says:

To be kind to those who have come from afar, to those who have been ill for a long time, or to our parents in their old age, is equivalent to meditating on emptiness of which compassion is the very essence.

Our parents have shown us such immense love and kindness that to upset them in their old age would be an extremely negative act. The Buddha himself, to repay his mother’s kindness, went to the Heaven of the Thirty-three to teach her the Dharma. It is said that even if we were to serve our parents by carrying them around the whole world on our shoulders, it would still not repay their kindness. However, can can repay that kindness by introducing them to the Buddha’s teaching. So always serve your parents in thought, word and deed, and try to find ways to bring them to the Dharma.

 

Taking Account of Our Minds

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Habit of Bodhicitta”

We rarely empathize with the needs of others. We may become aware of them on an intellectual level. And there is a great, vast difference between that and actually empathizing with the needs and hopes and fears of others. We rarely enrich our own life experience by really merging, really blending, really empathizing with the conditions of other people’s minds. Due to our self absorption and self- cherishing, and our inability to relate to the situation of others, we find ourselves able to entertain hostility, anger, pride, selfishness, all of those things that are really detrimental to us. We are able to maintain certain habitual tendencies that we honestly cannot see about ourselves. For instance, if I were to say to you, are you basically a kind person, almost everyone in the room would say yes. We’re here, we’re being spiritual, you know, that sort of thing. But if I ask you how much time you actually spend during the course of any given day actually doing for others in a real compassionate way—keeping the bodhichitta or the compassion alive within one’s mind—how much are you actually aware of the needs and unfulfilled desires of others, we would be shocked.Really, if we actually clocked ourselves in and out of such a realization, we would be shocked at how little time we actually spend doing that. So I think it’s sometimes really helpful to make a purposeful and directed effort, such as actually clocking in when you are aware of the needs and desires of other people and when you actively participate in trying to help in some way.

The help can take different forms. Sometimes the things that people want around aren’t really good for them to have. I mean, you have a teenage son that wants nothing better than a very fast car, and you know that that’s not quite right for him. So you don’t always give a person what they want, but you can certainly empathize. You can certainly be there in a very kind and profound way as a force for connection, for communication in someone else’s life.

We actually spend very little time doing that. We spend most of our time thinking about ourselves and our own problems and our ideas. So fixated on our own ideas, so fixated on our self-cherishing. Sometimes we don’t realize that we’re almost dyslexic about kindness. Or, what is the word? Maybe we perseverate about kindness. We have this idea that we’ve already done it, you know, that it is happening, and we don’t realize that it’s not being written down at all. It’s just not going out into the world. So sometimes it really helps to journal to really see what you’ve actually done during that day to bring kindness into the world. That would be extremely useful.

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