The Eyes

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

I would work as hard as I could on each body part until I felt that I had gotten to some level of result, and then I would continue. For certain aspects of that practice, it really did take a month, a whole month, for just one small thing. Eventually I found that I was able to go through every single part of my visible body.

Then, I was able to think about my five senses—my eyes, my vision. That’s another thing that, really, we are very much attached to. The idea of being without vision, of course, is terrifying. When we really examine what these eyes actually do, we find out that they prevent us from running into trucks or maybe walking into walls, or they help us to read books, and watch TV, We can see our children, we can see our families, we can see our loved ones. We can see beauty, we can see in the mirror. We can see all kind of things…. These eyes are really good, right? I’ve also found when I really examined them that these are the eyes of dualism. That these are the eyes that are literally an extension of dualistic thinking. These are actually the eyes that are meant to see samsara or the cycle of death and rebirth, and only that. That’s all they can show me. They’re not able to see the primordial wisdom nature. They’re able to see that mirror on my pretend altar that was like a symbol of that, but they cannot see deeply. They cannot really see anything. Eventually, I came to understand, for instance, without my eyes I would not be able to read my prayers and I would not be able to read text of any kind. So I’ve come to understand that definitely the eyes, like any of our senses, according to the way humans appear in this realm, make us complete. With all of the senses and faculties complete, I came to find out eventually that we can practice Dharma because of that. So this is a really good thing.

Although they can be used to help an ordinary sentient being practice the practices that bring about the awakening to the primordial wisdom state, still, I would have to say that the ordinary use of these five senses is extremely limited.I cannot directly use my eyes to liberate anyone or terminate the suffering of anybody else right now. Eventually maybe I can if I keep reading the text and really practicing. But, for right now, maybe I could help somebody cross the street if they couldn’t see or if someone got something in their eyes maybe my eyes would work well enough to get it out.

There are pros and cons of the five senses, but ultimately I found out that whatever they are, they are not enough. I found out enough to know that I intend to use them to accomplish practice, that I intend to use them to benefit sentient beings. Ultimately, concerning the five senses, I found them to be more like work horses. They should not dominate me. I should not look at the world and go, “Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Oh, wow! I want that and I want that and I want that.” Everything is a big feast of desire, you know, and all I think about is gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. You know the old mantra? Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. So if I use them like that then what are these things? They are just round spheres of flesh. They are nothing else. It is just meaningless. The fact is that they would help to hook me in even deeper to samsara if all I see is objects I desire.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

What Drives You to Practice?

An excerpt from a teaching called Bodhicitta by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Some of you show up for practice because you think your teacher will get mad at you if you don’t.  So you make yourself visible.  Some of you show up for practice because you’ve got to get it in today.  When do you do practice because you are sick of delusion? When do you do it because you are sick of death?  When do you do it because you are sick of watching sentient beings suffer and yet are helpless to help them?  When do you say those prayers so deeply that your heart and your mind are purified of delusion and of hatred, greed and ignorance, so that your heart and mind are so deepened that you will absolutely incarnate in such a way to benefit beings?

The single most abundant deepening quality that you all have is your great love and desire to help others.  If that’s the ticket with you, ask yourself if you really want to help others or if you want to look like you are helping others?   Sometimes I think people want to look like they are helping others so they can be a nice person.  As soon as you’re finished with that and you decide that you really help others because you really can’t bear to see their suffering and are finished with watching people suffer, then use that.

Why do you just practice by the book?  Why don’t you walk around the temple and make prayers constantly, visualizing the refuge tree; walk about the living quarters of your Lama and the temple itself and the Sangha that’s in it saying, “In this way, let me follow you forever.  In this way, let me always revolve around the Three Precious Jewels.  In this way, let me be born under whatever circumstances to help sentient beings,” making these profound and sincere prayers.  Maybe you can break through into depth.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Those With Hopes of Us

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Antidoting the Mantra of Samsara”

The Buddha teaches us that there are literally so many sentient beings that, not all the great Bodhisattvas and lamas have connections with all of them.  That’s how many sentient beings there are.  We don’t have connections with all of them.  That means that there are sentient beings with whom you have connections, sentient beings that you have been involved with in one form or another since time out of mind, and their only connection to future practice, to being liberated from samsara, to practicing Dharma, is you.  Literally there are sentient beings right now who are waiting for you to achieve liberation.  The more you dance around with this, the more they suffer and the longer they wait.

From the moment that you begin to practice Dharma, these are the ones that you should live and breathe for—these precious ones who have hopes of you.  You should think of them as your children, as your purpose, as your parents, as your beloved because without you, they have not much hope.  That’s why we practice Dharma. That’s why we work hard at it— to alleviate suffering for self and others.  And we consider that to be completely nondual and equally importantSofor this reason it’s time to face the music, go deeper, and that hated word, commit.  That’s what it takes.

  Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

What Does Love Taste Like?

In this excerpt from a teaching called The Dharma of Technology, Jetsunma is speaking to her students who had recently received the Rinchen Terzod from His Holiness Penor Rinpoche who conferred the Rinchen Terzod at Kunzang Palyul Choling in 1988

Do you remember in the empowerments in the Rinchen Terzod we had the opportunity to taste different things, something sweet and something bitter, then His Holiness said, “Who is the taster?  You know what makes this sweet and this bitter?”  The taster does, because if you tried to find the essence of the thing that you’re looking at, remember, if you divided it down and looked at it under the microscope you would never find its thing-ness.  In fact, you would never find its sweetness.  Which molecule is the sweet one?  You would never really find that.  What is sweet is sweet to the tongue and the tongue is the determiner of that taste.  Who does the tongue belong to?   The tongue belongs to you.  So you, in fact, are the one that determines whether the thing is sweet or not.  You are the taster.  And so when you examine yourself and you boil everything down and smear it on the microscope, you can’t find where you are, then you realize that sweet and sour, sweet and bitter are concepts and they are just proliferations of the mind.

In the same way, this person that drives you crazy and this person that is the precious jewel in your life are equal.  It is the hatred and the desire, the hope and fear, the attraction and aversion in your mind that causes you to make a difference between them.  If you looked at them with the mind of enlightenment, you would see that they are the same.  Yet we all have our likes and dislikes.  But somehow through our practice, we have to accomplish such pure view, free of desire and on fire with love that they are the same.  We have to give our lives equally for both of them.  We have to be willing to eat an ocean of suffering for the ones we can’t stand and for the ones we truly love.  It’s easy to make sacrifices for the ones you love.  It’s easy to make sacrifices for your children.  That’s not hard.  Anyone can do that.  I was reading the other day about a creature called a midge.  It conceives its children inside its belly and then as the children grow, they eat the mother from inside out and the mother dies.  It’s a shell and it opens up and the children come out.   And then after a while they reproduce in the same way.  If a little bug can do that, if it can give its life to nurture its children, you can do that.  That’s not hard.  That happens even on the lowest realms.

What’s really hard is to give your life for all sentient beings, the ones that you know and the ones that you don’t know and to do so in a way so that the ones that you can’t stand are equal to the precious pearls in your life.  They have to be the same.  If you give only so much and you stop giving, only extending your love to your family or friends and to the people that you know here, or your nation or your planet or even your universe — what about the other 2,999 myriads of universes?  What about all of the sentient beings who are, with hatred in your heart, not worthy of your love, but with love in your heart, the same as you?

That’s when you have accomplished Dharma, when your love is that great, when you are that mindful of compassion, when through your meditation and through your practice, and through your understanding of the Buddha’s teachings, you have come to understand the equality of all that lives, that they are the same mind, the same uncontrived primordial wisdom nature, that they only appear to be different.  They suffer, they live and they die because of their confusion.  What makes the ones you hate so hateful?   First of all, it’s your vision of them.  You are the taster.  Someone else loves them.  Who loves them is the same as you and you’re the same as them.  The difference is the particular karmic pattern of attraction and repulsion, of desire that manifests in your life.

The one that you hate is the same nature as you with the same capabilities, with the same desire to be happy.  The difference is that this person may be confused and the only way they know how to reach for happiness is in the ways that make them unhappy.  And of course you, in your hatred and your greed and your ignorance interpret their activity because of the karma of your mind.  This sounds like elementary stuff. The sun pours forth and it doesn’t say, “Well, I think I’ll go to violets today and roses are going to be in the dark.”  The sun doesn’t do that.  Its nature is to pour forth and embrace all life and it is the source of life.  Your compassion, your mind is like that in its natural state.  It is that all-pervasive compassionate reality, that all pervasive non-dual mind state and so your love has to be that way.  Your accomplishment of Dharma has to be like that, with that understanding.

It sounds elementary.  It sounds simple.  But we still hate.  We still judge.  We still have the seeds for war in our bodies and in our minds.  We still have the seeds for old age, sickness and death.  We still have the seeds for all the six kinds of suffering in all of the six realms, and so in that way, we have not accomplished Dharma.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

What Prayer Supersedes all others?

An excerpt from a teaching called The Dharma of Technology by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Compassion is the foundation of Dharma.  It is the meaning of Dharma.  Without compassion, there is no accomplishment of Dharma and you have to make a fervent prayer, a prayer that supersedes any other prayer that you will ever make.  You pray that you will accomplish the extreme great compassion, to put your mind and your heart in such a way that if Lord Buddha Amitabha did come to you and offer you the suffering of the six realms, you would eat it with happiness and with joy.  And just before you took your first bite you might say, “Please Lord Buddha, save me.  Help.”  And then you’d eat.

We are all in a body that has an ego associated with it, a body that is an ego that has an “I” identity.  We want to work for our safety. We are very concerned with our safety.  So it’s understandable that you might make that prayer, “Please, by the grace of the wisdom of your mind, let the suffering, once I eat it, be transformed.”  But you should eat it and not really care whether it works out that way or not.  If you could be the only one that suffered and all of the six realms could be liberated, if you could be the very last, the only one left, that should be your greatest joy.  If all of the ones that you have hated and judged, the ones that you thought were the thorn in your side, if they could achieve enlightenment before you, that should make you happier than the thought of your own enlightenment.  If you can really come to that understanding not in a superficial way, but from the depth of your heart that if Lord Buddha Amitabha would give you this opportunity you would take it in a minute, then you have accomplished Dharma and you are to me the light of the world.  You are to me the best student there is.  You are a treasure.  And I don’t really care if you accomplish anything else about Dharma, because the mind  that does not differentiate, the mind that is free of hatred, the mind that has overcome desire associated with the self to the extent that it will take on the suffering of all the worlds, that mind is the liberated mind.  That is a jewel.  That is the mind that is the wish-fulfilling jewel.

The reason why I am telling you this is because I want you to know as my students, I really want you to understand and have there be no question in your mind what I think Dharma is.  I want you to understand what I respect and what I admire.  I’ve told before that I see students that are learning the technology of Dharma and some of them hang out with the big lamas and they go for the big empowerments and stuff like that and they remain unloving, unchanged, and full of gossip, full of judgment and I don’t think much of that.  I wouldn’t have a student like that.

If my opinion is of any value to you at all, then please understand that to the best of my ability this is what Dharma really is.  This is the understanding that I have.  To the best of my ability, I understand Dharma to be that love. I am not going to teach you something that will not lead to enlightenment.  I don’t claim to have any special powers, but if you have any consideration that I’m your teacher, any faith in me, then hear this.  If you accomplish this and do nothing else, you will have accomplished Dharma and basically, that’s really all you’re ever going to learn from me.  That’s all I really have for you.  I hope that you will consider that precious.  There is no other Dharma.  There is no other enlightenment besides that.  The mind of bodhicitta, that is the supreme goal and there is none superior to that.  When you have accomplished that, that’s it.  Your mind is liberated from the very causes of suffering and you then are in the position where you can, in turn, liberate minds.

I wish that you would actually use this technique.  I wish you could really think about what if Lord Buddha Amitabha came to you and offered you the six realms of suffering.  Would you take it?  Try to cultivate your mind and gentle your mind and purify your mind to the point where you would gladly, willingly take it and be willing to suffer for an endless amount of time, and be really happy about that.  Think that your precious self, the one that you love so much, might be deformed and made gross by that suffering.  Think that might happen and still be happy about it.  You should think about all the people that drive you crazy and all the people that you hate and try to get to the point where you’re really happy if they make it ahead of you and think that the people that are precious to you, your family, the ones you make such a big deal about, make it in your mind where they are the same, exactly the same as the people that drive you crazy.  When you have accomplished that, through whatever means, and generally it happens through kindness and practice just in the way Lord Buddha dictates, then you have accomplished Dharma.

Through the cultivation of your mind to be pure in that way, through a mind like that, through that exalted mind of bodhicitta, you will certainly have the power to appear in an emanation form again and again under all circumstances, in all roles, in strange places, under strange conditions and be able to provide a means to enlightenment to all sentient beings, just through that and nothing else.  You don’t even have to be smart to do that.  That’s why sometimes I think intelligence is a pitfall.  You don’t have to be smart to do that, but you have to be determined to accomplish Dharma.

I hope that you find meaning in this and that you have it clear in your mind what I really cherish and what’s really important to me.  I would like it very much if you understood me that well at least because then if you decided that you really wanted to be my student for the duration and learn what I have to teach you, that’s it.  That’s all I can teach you.  But I can teach you that.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Using the Enemy as Guru

An excerpt from a teaching called The Dharma of Technology by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Think about the people in your life.  Is there one person that you just can’t stand? I know that you’re a Buddhist, however, there is probably one person in your life that gets your goat every time.   If you think there is no such person that you can’t stand, then you don’t know yourself at all.  Think about all of the people in of your life and think about whether you can sincerely wish that each one of them gets ahead, has all the happiness, all the approval, all the food, all the money, all the goods, all the joy, all the accomplishment that they could possibly have.

Think about all the people in your life. There is somebody in your life, probably more than one person, who when they get praise or that good old pat on the back from the authority that you’d like to have approval from, you’re not happy about it.

You want all sentient beings to be happy.  You want everyone to get ahead.  You want everyone to have a new car, lots of food, a great house to live in, everything they could possibly want and then you want them under those circumstances to reach enlightenment even without trying.  That’s what you want for all sentient beings.  But if you examine yourself, there is at least one person in your life that you really would like to see work for it.  And you wouldn’t mind if this person got disciplined heartily along the way.  You’d like to see this person get what they really deserve.  It may be somebody that you flat out hate.  There is always somebody like that.

Take that person and then think of that person next to the person that you love the most in the world, the person whose qualities you think are the purest, the one you’d most like to be like, the person that you really love.  Maybe a child or a mate or a teacher or a friend who has given you so much, somebody that has been so kind to you and someone you really feel like you couldn’t make it in this life without. There must be somebody in your life who is such a treasure to you.

Your job, in order to fully accomplish Dharma, is to make that person that drives you crazy the same in your mind as the person who is the real treasure in your life.  They have to be the same.  And in fact, if the person who drives you crazy to the point that you can’t live with being crazy like that any more, and through the Buddha’s teaching you are able to accomplish loving that person equally with the jewel in your life, then that person is more valuable to you than the one you love easily.  That person is your real guru. You have to think about the one person in your life that you would never, under any circumstances, call your guru.  That’s the one you use, the one person that you would be embarrassed to have the world know that was teaching you anything.  That’s the one you use.

Somehow you have to develop a sense of stability of mind and that is only done through compassion where you understand the equality of those two, because they are equal.  They are exactly the same.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Foundation

Buddha Shakyamuni
Buddha Shakyamuni

From The Spiritual Path:  a Collection of Teachings by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

To me, compassion is not a feeling at all. It is not an emotion. It is logical. It is meaningful. I find no other excuse for living. If I tried to find another, I would be lost in samsara, a bee buzzing around in a jar.

The format of my life arises from—takes its only meaning from—the fountain of compassionate activity. I can’t think what else one is supposed to do. Anything else is deeply neurotic activity that has no true birth, no foundation, no substance. So I try to give a teaching: If you become a Bodhisattva, you will become happy. But that is just a poor condensation of the truth. A life that is born of compassion—that arises from the breath of compassion, the wind of compassion—is born of the profound essence, knowing itself to be inseparable from the profound essence. The key is to understand yourself as that compassion—your whole life as compassion-ate movement. It is the natural display, the natural order. It is the evidence of Lord Buddha’s blessing. It is YES.

Kindness is universal; it is not a word the Buddha invented. I am a Buddhist because I have found that this is the most useful way to benefit beings. Perhaps you will determine that for yourself. But even if you do not become a Buddhist, you are not off the hook. No matter what religion, path, or teaching you follow, compassion is the way to realization. Whether or not you are a Buddhist, you have a job to do—and that job is to develop a fervent, sincere aspiration to be of true benefit to others. This is the foundation.

Buddhism is based on the ideal of compassion. The Buddha taught that we should cultivate our lives as vehicles to help and benefit all others—not just our own small circle of family and friends. We should increase our compassionate activity until it embraces an ever greater number of beings. We must not be satisfied with concern only for human beings, or even for all the beings we can see in our world.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, there are six realms filled with sentient beings. That which we can see is a relatively small portion of the human and animal realms. But there are non-physical beings of different types who must be seriously considered.

To develop the mind of compassion, you should begin by honestly examining yourself. You may find that your goal is not in fact to benefit all sentient beings, but to be a kind person. There are worlds of difference between these two goals. One is selfless; the other is not. There is still you wishing to be a kind person. You must avoid the trap of using Dharma with the motivation, whether conscious or not, of making yourself a great Bodhisattva, a great helper, a great savior. You need to make the idea of compassion so strong that it becomes a fire consuming your heart.

The Meaning of Refuge

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

When we take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dharma, and in the Sangha, we consider that all of those are equal and they are all one, that they are inseparable. The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha are important; the Buddha, because only enlightened method and enlightened presence can bring enlightened result in the same way that apple seeds can bear apple fruit.  Grape seeds cannot. You see?  Enlightened seed will bring enlightened fruit.  So the Buddha.  The Dharma in that that is the perfect vehicle, the vehicle that has proven itself to transport all sentient beings across the ocean of suffering.

The Sangha because, within the spiritual Sangha, once you enter into practice and come into a relationship, which you automatically do by taking vows with your vajra brothers and sisters, at that point you have joined with the Sangha.  The Sangha becomes then a family.

Talk to some of my students and find out what it means to have a Sangha family.  Those of my students who came to the path in a very general way but don’t have experience of various sufferings such as the suffering of grave illness, or life-threatening situations or just terrible suffering on some sort of emotional or mental level, have found that the support of the pure Sangha which gathers around them at times like that, and supports them with practice and prayer and help and love and kindness, is absolutely essential.  Without the Sangha we would be incapable of keeping on.  It would be so hard.  It would be like a little sapling trying to survive in a hurricane. The Sangha is rich with that kind of support and help. Furthermore, it is the Sangha’s responsibility to propagate the Dharma. So the Sangha are considered to be an object of refuge, particularly those with robes and particularly also those who have taken the Bodhisattva Vow because, having taking the Bodhisattva Vow, we can see that they intend to benefit us. Therefore we can rely on them for secure friendship and not betrayal as in ordinary friendships. So the Sangha becomes very precious.  And that is the taking of refuge—the Lama, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

As for the Bodhisattva Vow, it is said that when one receives the Bodhisattva Vow, if one were to remain secure, absorbed, with a mind spacious and relaxed, absorbed mentally and emotionally and spiritually within the taking of the Bodhisattva Vow, that is to say, extremely mindful,  right there with it on a very deep level, appreciating and understanding and grieving for the suffering of sentient beings, as well as our own suffering, and seeing them as being non-dual and longing to help… You look at an AIDS march on TV and you look at people dying and you say to yourself, “Enough is enough!  This is awful.  This is unacceptable.“ You look at war and you look at the bodies of children laying broken and bleeding in the street and you say to yourself, “This is enough!  Enough, not acceptable!”  You look at hunger.  You look at homelessness. You look at all of it and you say, “Enough!  Enough!” To remain absorbed in that, to understand that this is the fate of everyone who is in cyclic existence without the method.  To remain absorbed in that, it is taught that, in that moment of absorption, if one were to give rise to such a depth of absorption that tears would come, then at that moment of absorption, you have removed 10,000 years at least, many thousands of years of gross karmic negative obscuration because, for that 10,000 years or however many lifetimes, we have been absorbed in ourselves. Self-absorption—I am!  I think!  I feel!  I will!  I must!  I need!  I have to have!  I’m like this!  We still are like that, aren’t we?  We still do that.  But that one moment of absorption in compassionate activity, with pure intention serves to purify so much of that, and gives us the method by which we can continue to remove all subtle and gross obscurations until we at last are free, and until we at last are able to return, ennobled and finally capable of leading others toward Dharma and making for them the auspicious connections so that their days of suffering, while perhaps not immediately over—well it won’t be like flip a switch and everybody is happy, I wish it were like that—but their suffering days, because of your absorption and compassion, are now numbered.

There are many students, of course, who have a connection with me and I will do my best. I will return life after life, not caring whether I am tired, not caring anything.  This isn’t just my idea. All the teachers, all the lamas, all the reincarnate lamas, those realized ones, will return without thought for themselves, until the very last one of those sentient beings with whom they have a connection, is finally liberated.  If they have to return even a hundred lifetimes for that very last one, they will.  I will.

Now if you take a similar vow, even if you can’t fully practice it, even if it’s just the first baby steps, there are those with whom you have a connection and I don’t have a connection, and neither do any of my teachers or any of the teachers who are able, but you have a connection to them simply through ordinary means.  They were your mother in some previous life.  Who knows?  You could have been a cockroach.  Some funny little corner in obscure reality where you have a connection with uncountable beings that no one with any realization has a connection with.  Do you know what that means?  You are their only hope and object of refuge.  You are their only hope.  So you must take this vow with complete absorption and think that you are taking it for their sake, for their sake, because they are waiting for you. And the moment that you take this vow for the first time with complete absorption and every time therefore that you continue to remind yourself and freshen that vow, their days of suffering are finally numbered.  So at that point these teachers all begin to nag a little bit and they say “Hurry.  Hurry, because they need you and there is no one else.”  So you must hurry for the sake of sentient beings. You must.

There are 3,000 myriads of universes, uncountable lives, connections that must be made and you should pray every day of your life, “Whether I have a good or bad connection with every sentient being, let it bring them to Dharma.  Let me find a way to be connected with all sentient beings and let me never pass into nirvana until they are all free.”  This is our prayer as a Bodhisattva.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved


The Wish to Benefit Others

Tibetan Buddhism Wheel Of Life 06 00 Six Realms

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

The subject today will be Bodhicitta, or compassion. From the traditional point of view, it is considered that Bodhicitta is divided into two basic categories. There is the aspirational Bodhicitta and the practical Bodhicitta. The aspirational Bodhichitta is the first relationship with Bodhicitta or compassion. In this sense, you can use the word Bodhicitta and compassion interchangeably. The aspirational level is the first relationship with Bodhichitta that each of us would approach, and this is a very important step. This step is the beginning of the cultivation of a stability of compassion within the mindstream. The practice of aspirational Bodhicitta begins with very small baby steps. It is absolutely dependent on understanding some of the Buddha’s basic teachings in order to do it effectively, in order to approach it effectively. One of the reasons why this is so necessary is that the Buddha teaches us of the faults of cyclic existence. The Buddha teaches us, as well, that suffering ceases when we achieve enlightenment. The Buddha teaches us of the cause of our suffering. He teaches us that suffering is caused by desire. And we come to understand suffering in a completely different way than we do just as ordinary sentient beings. 

Upon hearing the Buddha’s teaching, we might view suffering differently. Before we heard the Buddha’s teaching, we might think it possible to solve suffering through manipulating circumstances in ordinary human ways. We might think that a poor person is suffering because they have no money. We might look at the superficial angle of suffering. Looking at that suffering from a superficial angle, we actually can only develop a very superficial understanding of it. Ultimately we will have very little understanding of the nature of suffering at all, and therefore, will be incompetent to prevent more suffering or the continuation of suffering. To look at suffering from the ordinary superficial sense, we might consider that a poor person suffers because they have no money, or a sick person suffers because they have no health. And this would seem perfectly logical. Everything in our environment points out that this is the case. We would think that whatever we are lacking, that thing is the cause of our suffering; and whatever we have that we don’t want, that thing is the cause of our suffering. But according to the Buddha, this is really symptomatic. These things that we witness are symptomatic, and they do not necessarily lead us to understand the deeper cause of suffering. So we must turn to the enlightened teaching of the Buddha, of one who has crossed all of the barriers of suffering and has experienced the cessation of suffering in order to determine what the real cause of suffering is.

According to the Buddha, the things that we suffer from, such as poverty or sickness, or old age, sickness and death in the human realm, or all of the different sufferings that are potential and possible within the six realms of cyclic existence, in fact, are only symptomatic of a deeper underlying suffering, That suffering is actually the belief in self-nature as being inherently real. The suffering of the belief in self-nature being inherently real, or the delusion of the belief in self-nature as being inherently real actually leads to the suffering of desire. Because the tricky thing about belief in self-nature as being inherently real is that once you decide you have a self, you have to maintain it. Once you have the view that the self is here and it’s very real, then you have to constantly redefine and clarify the meaning of self by defining the distinction between self and other, And then all phenomena appears to be separate. Even one’s own feelings appear to be separate. All things that are present in the world appear to be separate and they are filled with the sense of distinction. Whenever something registers on the five senses, whether it be an altar, or whether it be something like food, or whether it be another person, whenever that thing arises in the mind, we determine whether we like it or don’t like it. There is an automatic attraction or repulsion phenomena that occurs. If you will examine yourself, you will see that this is true. It simply is not possible for you to see something or to have something come to your awareness without having the immediate, almost knee-jerk reaction of deciding if you are attracted to it or repulsed by it; or there is some aspect of that within your mind. It may play out a little bit differently; but if you examine it, you will see that the root of it is attraction and repulsion. All things play on the senses in that way.

The thinking then of the separation, or the erroneous perception of the duality between self and other, becomes more and more profound. It actually progresses and it builds on itself. It becomes more exaggerated. Each time that you react with attraction or repulsion toward anything, there is a karma, or a cause and effect relationship, that is begun at that time. This cause and effect relationship then continues to create more cause and more effect. And there is an almost continual building of these instances, one on top of the other; and they are endless. There is no way for this to stop. It occurs in a cycle. And it occurs in such a way that while cause and effect are being experienced, more cause and effect continue. While one is dealing with the effect of previous causes, one is beginning new causes because of the reaction to the effect of previous cause. And it continues to be so that it seems to be unbreakable and unshakeable.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo all rights reserved

Wishing Prayers

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Compassion is the Only Lasting Antidote to Suffering

In Vajrayana Buddhism (literally the Diamond Vehicle), which is the form of Buddhism preserved in Tibet and Mongolia and the one followed in my temple, one of the foundational teachings is the understanding and practice of compassion.  I personally find that a religious philosophy based on selfless compassion is deeply satisfying, and I believe that it strikes a chord with many Americans.

However, although there are many people who embrace the idea of compassion as love and a deep caring for others, they do not realize that to actualize the mind of Great Awakening requires a deliberate and disciplined path.  Human beings are not born with great compassion automatically realized.  Thus, the Diamond Path can be described as a technology for spiritual development.

From the Buddhist point of view, there are primarily two ways to approach compassion: aspirational compassion and practical compassion.  When one begins to practice on the Diamond Path, one begins straightaway to make wishing prayers, cultivating the idea of being of benefit to beings who are revolving helplessly through cycles of existence.   This is aspirational compassion.

Every practice in which we engage, every teaching we hear, every empowerment we receive, every prayer we chant, can all be dedicated to the liberation of all beings from all forms of suffering. Thus, aspirational compassion is practiced in the beginning by many repetitions of wishing prayers.  These prayers are meant to benefit beings through developing the sincere desire to utilize all one’s activities — from the mundane to the sublime — as a means of eliminating the causes of suffering in all its forms.  One prays for the cessation of war, poverty, sickness, death and rebirth, loneliness, hatred, greed and ignorance.  One adopts a posture of pure intention based on the idea that every portion of this life, as well as future incarnations yet to come, might somehow be useful to sentient beings.

As an example of this type of wishing prayer, I will paraphrase a famous practice:

If there is a need for nourishment, let me return as food.  If there is a need for shade, let me be a tree.  If there is a need for shelter, let me be a house.  If there is a need to cross over, let me be a bridge.  If there is sickness, may I manifest as the doctor, the medicine and the nurse who restore health.  May I be land for those requiring it, a lamp for those in darkness, a home for the homeless, and a servant to the world.

While this may sound very kind and loving, the intention here goes far deeper than the apparent words because one must strive to be of benefit not only to fulfill the immediate needs of beings, but also to bring future benefit.  Providing things such as food, housing, and medicine bring about benefit, of course, and this type of kindness is profoundly virtuous.  We should all strive to meet the needs of others in just these ways.  Yet, from a Buddhist perspective, being able to practice only this type of compassion does not bring ultimate benefit.  For instance, if it were possible to feed an entire nation or perhaps even the world and completely eliminate hunger and hopelessness, we still would not be solving the root of the problem.

According to the Buddha, there is no condition or circumstance without a cause.  Just as the fruit does not manifest without first appearing on a tree, which came from a seed, neither does any circumstance, good or bad, in which we find ourselves manifest without a cause.  These causes may not be found in this life only, but may come from previous lifetimes.

It is not possible for people to be born randomly into difficult circumstance or to suddenly experience the onset of tremendous suffering and upheaval.  These events are always the result of a tapestry of cause-and-effect relationships (karma) woven around the delusion involving the definition and maintenance of an ego.  Thus, to solve the immediate needs of beings may bring some relief, but it does not guarantee that they will not experience great difficulty in the future, because it does not break the continuum of cause and effect that ripens unexpectedly and constantly.  This continuum originates from the belief in an ego self and the desire that results from that belief.  It is through the pacification of desire that one can begin to transform one’s karma.  When the delusion of ego begins to dissolve, karma also begins to dissolve.  But if the mindstream is not purified of the karma of suffering, the potential for suffering remains.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

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