Go Back to Bodhicitta

The following is an excerpt from a teaching given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo at Palyul Ling Retreat in New York 2012:

In the beginning, all the lamas, including His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, ever taught us about was the bodhicitta. All we ever got was the bodhicitta. People would ask for Dzogchen. Give us Dzogchen. And the lamas would say, “No, you’re not ready. You’re not ready. Let’s start with the bodhicitta.”  After awhile, Americans got really sick of the bodhicitta. It’s really sad, but they did. I never did. In fact, I never stopped teaching bodhicitta. I know that now the bodhicitta is kind of reduced to a small bit of speech or teaching that comes right at the beginning of a practice or a wang or teaching. It is very condensed compared to what it used to be. When the lamas first came to America, it was just bodhicitta, and really nothing else. But the American students were insistent that they were ready for the Dzogchen. Eventually the lamas gave in. And I am sorry that happened, because I think we missed something.

I notice that when some practitioners practice, they’re calm and that’s good, but they are also solemn. They are not so happy looking, not so joyous. Dharma is joyous. To be able to practice Dharma is a feast.  There’s nothing in the world more joyous than that, because you have something—. \you have Buddha in the palm of your hand. You have something that nobody else has here in America. Other people have other teachers. And they have other lineages and that’s great, but we have this. And we should be thrilled and happy, and try to maintain the understanding of how precious this is.

The day we decide that we are too advanced for bodhicitta is the day that we’ve lost our way. Because if all we ever studied from this point on was the bodhicitta, it would be enough. Sometimes when we go into the higher teachings, we forget what the root is. Bodhicitta is the root. Bodhicitta is the root of everything that comes after. If you cannot develop the bodhicitta, it will be very difficult to stay on the path. As they say, the bodhicitta is like the dakini’s warm breath. It is what we consider to be the activity of the Buddhas, the nature of the Buddhas, like the sun’s rays—part of the sun and yet coming out to bless all. So when we think about the bodhicitta and we think that maybe it’s an early practice, and maybe we are being insulted by being taught this practice or maybe we should be allowed to go on, don’t hurry.

If I had my choice, I would teach nothing but bodhicitta. I used to do that, almost like Baskin Robbins’s 51 flavors of ice cream. I used to think about 51 different ways, as many ways as I could, to teach bodhicitta. I would get really creative so that it wouldn’t be boring. And what I found is that most people didn’t notice that they were only being taught the bodhicitta, because I would teach it in such a way that it would seem different and interesting. And I would make people laugh, and that always helped. You can’t be stiff when you are laughing. I made it joyful. All of us felt great joy to be together, as I see you do too. I think it is the most beautiful part of the Dharma. If we say that it is the smallest part, or the least of the parts, it is a mistake. Do all of you understand that?  It is a mistake if we put bodhicitta lower than anything else, because in order to practice we need the bodhicitta desperately. It is what keeps us going. It is nourishment.

My philosophy is that if we are on the path and every year we practice really hard and really purely here and then go home, but then forget about it, as so many of us do, then in my experience we need to go back to the bodhicitta and study the suffering of sentient beings again, again and again. Study the suffering of sentient beings so that you can understand why it is that you are practicing. You’ll have strength to practice because you will see them, and they are suffering terribly.

Seeing that woman and her husband on the roof was for me a great motivator. It was a great strengthener. It gave me spiritual muscle so that whatever I did, bodhicitta was always the crown on the head of my practice. And then above that, of course, is Tsawai Lama—above the crown of my head, and in my heart, as I know he is in yours.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

This Very Moment

Monk at MD Stupa2

To begin to develop Aspirational Bodhicitta is to understand the faults of cyclic existence, to understand the cessation of cyclic existence, to understand something of the nature of awakening or at least to understand that that is the cessation of suffering; and then to begin to develop from these foundational thoughts a caring and concern for all parent sentient beings. Aspirational Bodhicitta can take the form of just thinking as you ordinarily think. In the same way that you think of what will I have for dinner tonight, or in the same way that you think of what you would like to wear, or the ordinary things that we think of that concern ourselves. in that same ordinary way, without any kind of high-falutin’ dogma, you can begin now to develop a sense of the need and plight of sentient beings. And you can begin to speak what is in your heart, because it is in there somewhere in the natural state—the hope that all sentient beings will be free of suffering.

Each of you has a seed potential of that hope. You could not approach a truly spiritual path; you could not approach the Buddha’s teaching. You would have no karma to hear anything of the Buddha’s teaching if you did not have the hope that all sentient beings would be free of suffering. Because in order to be involved in these auspicious conditions, in order to hear the Buddha’s teaching, in order to have the opportunity to practice and the inclination to do so, in order to even begin the idea of moving onto a path that leads to supreme enlightenment, you must have accumulated an enormous amount of virtuous karma in the past and to accumulate an enormous amount of virtuous karma, there had to be kindness. So you should not be afraid thinking that you have no compassion.

Some people tell me they have no compassion.  That is completely erroneous. That is impossible. But you must begin to dust off that jewel. You must begin to consider these foundational teachings, and to begin in whatever way you are comfortable with, to amplify and systematically develop Bodhichitta, the Aspirational Bodhicitta. You can begin to make wishing prayers for other sentient beings. One of the reasons why we built the Stupa that we built outside was to have a place here in this area that would have the fortunate quality of being able to enhance our prayers. Because of the cosmology of the Stupa—the way in which it is built, the empowerment that goes into actually consecrating it, and the wonderful relics that are present in it—because of the blessings of the prayer, the blessings of the mantra, because of all of these things, the Stupa actually has the ability, with faith, to amplify our prayers. We are taught to circumambulate in a clockwise direction making wishing prayers for all sentient beings. You can begin to do that. You can begin to make wishing prayers on your own, at any time. You can just think wishing prayers as you walk about. You can begin right now to developAspirational Bodhicitta in the same way that you develop muscle. You have the muscle fiber. You only need to strengthen it through use. That discipline is essential.

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bodhicitta”

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Letting Go of Judgment

moms against hunger

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

 We should begin to think of these teachings that the Buddha has given us in such a way that we awaken within ourselves a real caring for the well-being of sentient beings. If you saw a tiny rabbit caught in a trap, and its leg was bleeding and bruised, I know that you would open the trap and let the rabbit be free. If you saw a child that was really hungry, hopefully you would be not in the circumstance where you would make all kinds of judgments about that hunger, such as, if you looked at a bum who was drinking alcohol or something like that where your discursive mind got in the way. But if you just looked at a child, just a child, a helpless child, who was hungry; if you had food on your plate, I know that you would give some to that child. In this way, you should think of other sentient beings and begin to, through utilizing that kind of thought, understand their plight. It is most necessary to understand their plight, and through that begin to polish away the dirt and the filth that covers that precious jewel which is our inherent nature. 

We should take a hold of ourselves in such a way that we do not feel separate from Bodhicitta as though it were a thing that we have to get, but instead begin to develop the understanding that ultimately it is the awakened state. Because of supreme awakening, we will understand fully the faults of cyclic existence. We will understand absolutely the awakening that is the cessation of all suffering and be naturally and completely motivated to bring about the end of suffering for all sentient beings, because at the same time, we will understand that the self that we cling to, the one that causes us to think only of selfish concern, this self is also illusory.

Having realized that, there is literally nothing to do other than to emanate in a form or to engage in miraculous activity that brings about the liberation of all sentient beings. So this activity is not something we do when we get kind. It isn’t something that we collect as though it were wisdom. It is the natural state of awakening.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Polishing the Diamond


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

I have been aware that people in our age and people who are awakening to spirituality and meditation and these different philosophies have been exposed to the idea that we have lived only just a few times, whereas the Buddha teaches us that is not true. The Buddha teaches us that we have lived, we have revolved in cyclic existence over countless aeons. An aeon alone is a very long time. And countless aeons, that kind of terminology is inconceivable to us. In order to have revolved since beginningless time, in countless aeons of cyclic existence, we had to have parents every time unless we were born in a realm in which parents were not the way of birth. But whether we were animals or humans or some other form that we don’t recognize at this time, whether we were born in the form or formless realms, there is a great potential for all sentient beings to have been our parents endlessly. And the way in which to understand the kindness of all sentient beings, the way in which to understand their kindness to us so that we can begin to build Aspirational Bodhicitta, is to understand that at this moment we’re here. We are hearing the Buddha’s teaching and we are experiencing comfortable circumstances in which to practice. We have no defects of mind or body that would prevent us from practicing the Buddha’s teaching. We are capable and we are able and we have the leisure to accomplish practice. We have very auspicious circumstances. 

To have come to this point, we must think of the kindness of all of the situations that have brought us to this point. We shouldn’t think that our parents had any capability to prevent us from coming to this point, because they haven’t prevented us from coming to this point. So we shouldn’t think of their cruelty. We should think of their kindness because somehow, having birthed us, they have given us this precious opportunity to accomplish enlightenment. This is true for all of the circumstances that we have ever experienced, all of the births that we have ever experienced. Having come to this point, we should be thankful and grateful and happy, filled with joy realizing that this auspicious moment has occurred at last. And like finding a precious jewel while sifting through garbage, here we are and we have found the Dharma.

So having experienced this joy, we can begin to understand that all sentient beings have been our kind mothers and fathers, and that we owe them a great debt. We can remember once again that cyclic existence is just that, it is cyclic and endless, and that they are struggling night and day working very hard to make themselves happy and have no way to do it. We should think again and again that they are lost. Although they have given us birth in such a way that we can accomplish Dharma, and that all of these many parents who have birthed us over these many lives in order to help us to create the causes by which we might meet with this perfect Dharma, that even while they have participated in that, they themselves have not done it. It reminds me of a form of animal that I read about. It’s actually an insect called the midge. It conceives its young within itself and the young, as they begin to grow, actually eat the inside of the mother; and consume the mother. By the time they are ready to come out, the mother is dead, and they simply break out of her body as though it were an egg. We should think of that, and we should think that perhaps all sentient beings have done that for us. If they remain in a condition of suffering and we have now found the perfect path by which to alleviate their suffering, then perhaps it’s time to begin to develop the kindness that will liberate them from their unbearable suffering and their continued involvement in cyclic existence.

So when we hear about this Aspirational Bodhicitta, we become confused as to how to think of it. Time and time again students have said to me, “What practice will help me develop Bodhicitta?  Isn’t it true that once I begin to practice, I will develop Bodhicitta?” or, “How can I best develop Bodhicitta?” They talk about Bodhicitta or compassion as though it were something separate from themselves because we think of all phenomena, both internal and external, as separate from ourselves. That is part of the basic delusion of believing in self-nature as being inherently real. It seems to come with the package. Yet, we need to take a hold of ourselves and begin to understand that Aspirational Bodhicitta is potentially the way we are. It is not a reality separate from ourselves. It is not a mystery that we should approach in a linear way, perhaps in the way that we used to think of spiritual mastery. It used to be that, before we studied the Buddha’s teachings, we began to think of spiritual mastery as accumulating this wisdom and that wisdom and this wisdom and that wisdom and this wisdom and suddenly, you would become a great master. And that’s it. Now you’re a master. Well that isn’t really how the Buddha considers realization. The Buddha considers that you cannot collect wisdoms or knowledges and that they in a sum total will create mastery. The Buddha considers that true wisdom is the realization of the emptiness of all phenomena and the emptiness of self-nature, the illusory nature of phenomena, the illusory nature of self. This is the true wisdom, and it is not something that you can collect or gather.

In the same way, when Bodhicitta is fully realized, it is none other than the Primordial Wisdom state. It is none other than supreme awakening. Bodhicitta then, ultimately, when it is fully realized, is our own nature, and we should not treat it as though it were something separate from ourselves. We should not treat it as though it were a thing that we could collect by doing this practice or that practice. Instead, we should take a hold of ourselves and begin to uncover the diamond of Bodhichitta, the jewel of Bodhicitta. We should begin to uncover it by polishing away the delusion that occurs through the selfish concerns which are born of a lack of understanding of what awakening truly is.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Practicing Deeply

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

Westerners, in particular, have this habit. I think it may be somewhat unique to us because our experience is so multiple. We could go into the spiritual supermarket and buy ten different kinds of baloney. That’s the truth. We can go anywhere and get anything. We have so much to look at, so much that we can have, that oftentimes when we’re given a practice and the teacher says to us,. “Turn to page such and such. Read this practice and visualize like this. Then you say the mantra. Then you do the closing prayers. Do some dedication.”  Done. The practice is done. On Wednesday I make out my shopping list, and it’s with that kind of fervent regard, unfortunately, that westerners tend to practice, like we’re writing out laundry lists.  We need this. We gotta have this. We’re going for this. Let’s do it. It’s very much by rote.

I felt that my good fortune was that this practice had to be brought up from the very depth of me. I had to feel it or it wouldn’t work, and so that was my task. To the depth of my being I had to find a way to renounce. I had to face the part of me that was attached and addicted to whatever parts or things about my life that I had that feeling for. I had to face the ramifications if I didn’t accomplish this practice. That meant we all get to die and everything just goes on the way it is. That seemed to me unbearable being as there is so much suffering in the world.

It’s as though I had to reach down in the depth of my gut and pull this up everyday. It was so hard and so rewarding at the same time.  I have to say there are very few practices that I do at this time that match the intensity and the depth and the regard and the beauty that I felt at that time. In some ways it was so natural and so innocent and so total, because I couldn’t stop and go on to the next thing until I had really really accomplished the previous phase. That was the important thing. Unfortunately, we don’t practice, we don’t think like that at this time. That was my practice every single day.

Over the years that practice has made my life much easier.  In a way it was kind of like putting money in the bank for the future. My teachers have instructed me that that practice is called chöd . 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.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


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

Somewhere in this process I had my second son. I remember picking him up. Here he is a newborn baby, and I am looking into his face. Those of you who have had children, you know what that is like.  You look into that face and you can see your genes! I don’t know how that is, but you can. You can see that this child has your blood in him. There is just this connection. Plus there is something visible, like you recognize those feet. There they are again, or something like that. You have the sense of that. So I remember holding this newborn baby, having this connection with this child. I breast feed this child. I gave birth to this child. This child, at least in part, looks like me. I love this child so much. There is nothing like that feeling. You can hardly think about anything else.

I am holding this child in my arms, and I am thinking, “I will never let you suffer. I will never let you suffer. I will never let you get cold. I will never let you get hungry. Wherever you go, even if you have to go off by yourself, I will watch you and I will follow you.  I will make sure that nothing happens to you. And as long as I am alive, you will have food, you will have clothing, you will have a place to live. You will be safe.” Then I realized what I had just said,“As long as I am alive… “ Then I realized that that is no promise at all. What is that? I am lying to my child. Then I thought, ”What if I could somehow provide for my child all the way until the time of his death.” Then I thought, “Yeah, but when my child dies, can I guarantee that that death won’t be a suffering? Can I guarantee that it won’t be a terrible feeling of loss or that it won’t be painful in some way?”  No. Can I absolutely assure thatmy child is going to die in a painless way? No. There is nothing that I can do about that. I don’t have that kind of power.

So I thought to myself, ”How disgusting! Here I am holding my newborn baby in my arms and I am making all these promises and I am lying. The first thing I have done for my child is to lie to him. That really made me unhappy. I just couldn’t think what to do. So I used that as a way to practice. I thought to myself, “Therefore, this temporary reality, the human reality, is worth nothing. If there is a way to absolutely embody this primordial wisdom nature, I know this nature is not limited by death. I know this nature is something that is all pervasive. I know it. I don’t know how I know it, but I know it. I think to myself, “If only I could really embody this nature, then somewhere in there is the way to protect my child.

It was being a mother that really taught me how to feel the same way about sentient beings because ultimately I came to understand that if you look at two children side  by side because you are the mother of one but not of the other…What is that? These are both my children. How do I say that this one is not my child but this one is? I couldn’t. That doesn’t even make any sense to me.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Going Deeper

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

I thought about my ears in the same way. I would listen to some music, and I really like music so I could become hypnotized by the music; I could become entranced. I could become sort of addicted to music, and maybe that’s all that I think about is music. In my head is always this music. Have you had it happen where you get a song stuck in your head and you think it will drive you out of your mind?  That kind of thing. So what if I were really to do that with music and just remain in that “music is so wonderful” state. You might think the benefit of that would be that it could be relaxing. It could be pleasurable. Maybe if I shared the mood music with someone else, it might make them feel temporarily better. But, ultimately if I use my ears to just give myself some kind of narcotic experience like that, what good are they?  I am going to stay in samsara and I’m never going to get out. It’s not going to produce any real result.

Ultimately, I came to understand, here in this day and age, that my ears are precious because I can hear the voice of my teacher. I can hear the prayers. I can hear the sound of mantra.  So my ears became to me precious; but I’ve also understood that in truth while they may be a beautiful and precious animal, they are a work horse. They should not dominate me. I must dominate them.So I am thinking like that even with the five senses. I learned how to renounce them and how to experience them as something that will lead to ultimate benefit rather than to something that is temporary.

I thought that way about touch as well. Touch can be very seductive. We can live our entire lives wishing nothing but to be in love and to touch our loved ones, to have that wonderful sensual type of experienceMany of us have the kind of lives where we simply go from one of those experiences to another.  It can be very seductive.  Touch is good. I can comfort my baby.  I can sooth someone who is not feeling well. I can make someone that I can touch temporarily happy.  But I came to understand that touch has its limitations and that it can be seductive.  I came to understand ultimately it is touch that enables me to turn my page. I can tell where the pages are. Touch tells me how to get to the prayer that I want. So I have come to understand that touch is another animal that can be ridden and that can bring about benefit.

In every case, from the different parts of my body to the whole total sense of my identity to all of my senses as I understood them at that time, even to the external circumstances of my life like the clothing that I wore, or the food that I ate, the car that I drove, the house that I lived in, all of these things that I examined, I thought of in the same way as having some temporary benefit, but that ultimately whatever one receives one will also lose. And that these things are very limited.

You might say to yourself, “Well, gee, did you develop a kind of cynicism?  Did you just sit around making yourself miserable all day long?”  And I have to tell you that, in truth, there are moments when I felt the grief of sentient beings. I recommend doing this, and I don’t recommend letting yourself off easy. It is like exercise. You know that if you don’t put any weight in your hand, but you just keep going like that [pumping your arm], maybe that muscle will get some blood in it. But if you take some weight in your hand and you really think about it, and you really work it, you will develop a very tuned, very strong muscle. So it is like that. I have to tell you that I would spend some days thinking about the suffering of sentient beings and it would not be happy. It would be really sad.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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

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