The Problem With Desire

shopping

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Desire Blocks Happiness”

The teaching that the Buddhas have given us is that the cornerstone of our religion is generosity and giving. Celebrating Christmas as a cultural holiday could be a time when we Buddhists could practice the most important meat and bones part of our religion. We could be really generous. But it doesn’t seem to happen. It’s just become too materialistic. I think that that is a perfect example of some of the problems that we have as sentient beings.

As sentient beings we have this mistaken idea that we can satisfy ourselves through very gross materialistic means. And we can’t even see through the falsity of that idea. We can’t really understand how it is that we’re fooling ourselves, that we’re duping ourselves; and we never seem to understand why in the end we are never completely satisfied. Do we? We never really understand what has fallen through. Why is it that we‘re never happy? And why is it that we’re never completely satisfied? Or if we are happy, why does it not last? Why is that so? I think about the strange mental configurations that we can get into. It’s really odd. Depending on what kind of person you are, each one of us will express this mental configuration in a different way.

Here are some of the ways that I can think of just off the top of my head. Let’s say, for instance, that we’re eating some food. Well, you know, you might eat something that is very rich and meaty; and then after that you have to have something that’s very light and sparkly to cleanse your mouth. After eating something rich and spicy, then you have to have something sweet and mellow. And then you think that if you’ve had something salty, you must have something very liquidy and smooth to drink. And it goes back and forth and back and forth; and you must constantly build on what you have given yourself to complete the experience. Have you ever noticed that that’s true? Have you ever noticed that if you were to eat, for instance, some meat at a meal, then after that you would have to have something sweet? Or if you ate something salty, then after that you would have to have something cool and refreshing? And that if you ate something cool and refreshing, then you would have to have something salty? And it’s an endless cycle of things that you have to do that is based one on top of the other. It’s almost like a reactive phenomena that is circular and cycled, almost, in its shape.

Then let’s say that we go to the store and we see a dress that we absolutely must have. It’s a ‘must have.’  It’s a beautiful dress. It’s a beautiful dress. We try it on, and it fits us perfectly. Or if we’re a man, it’s a beautiful suit, and it fits us perfectly. I can relate more to the women’s dressing aspect. But anyway, if it’s a dress, well, you have to have the perfect shoes. And of course, if you have to have the perfect shoes, then you must have the perfect hose. And of course, if you have the perfect hose, then you must have nice underwear to go under it. And of course, if that’s the case, you must figure out exactly how to do your hair properly to make it just right for that dress. And then, what are the accessories that you are going to use? Well, the only earrings that you’ve found that are just perfect are going to cost you about $150.00. Ahhhh… So in order to make that practical, you have to buy another dress that they go with. Two dresses for a $150.00 pair of earrings? Nope. That skirt and that blouse would make it practical. They would make it worthwhile. But then, for each one of them, you have to have shoes and hose. Pretty soon it gets awfully darn complicated, doesn’t it? And you find that it never ends. Because every time you put a piece together, there has to be another piece.

Or with relationships. You always think, ‘Well if I could just find that perfect relationship, I could be happy.’ Then you find a relationship, and you talk yourself into believing that it’s perfect. Maybe it seems perfect at first. And then suddenly there comes that first, horrible day when you notice there’s a flaw.. You try not to think about it, but it’s really there. You try not to think about it, but it’s creeping up on you; and pretty soon you notice that it’s not perfect. And the moment that it’s not perfect, you fall through the cracks again, don’t you? Because little by little, that lack of perfection is going to build up. And if your mind is not stable, pretty soon it won’t be the one. And if it’s not the one, pretty soon you’re on the track again, looking, looking, looking.

It’s always like that. It’s always like that. It can happen with material objects. It can happen with relationships. It can happen with ways that you spend your day. It can happen with jobs. It can happen with ideas. And the thing that we always come out understanding is that nothing is perfect. We’re never completely content. There is no perfect relationship. None.  There is no perfect object. None. There is no perfect circumstance. None. There is no perfect idea. None. Because each idea, each object, each relationship, can only be perceived by us according to the karmic patterns and habitual tendencies of our mind.  We will create the kinds of relationships in our mind that are our habit to create according to our karma. And we will not even be able to register those that are inconsistent with the karmic cause and effect relationships within our minds, with the habitual tendencies that are within our minds. We will not even be able to cook up a relationship that isn’t part of the habitual tendency of your mind. Of our minds. That’s why they’re all alike. That’s why, even though some relationships seem different, and some people seem different, our friends and our experiences within the context of relationships eventually all have a certain common denominator. They have a common denominator in some regard. They are the same. They leave us in the same way; they affect us in the same way. And it’s due to the fact that we cannot even perceive a relationship that is not part of the habitual tendency of our mind. That is what we are doing. We are looking in the mirror and seeing the habitual tendency of our mind. And it’s the same way with any object that we have ever owned. They all have a certain common denominator. They all excite us for a period of time, and then they leave us. They either get old, or they break down, or they’re no longer in fashion, or whatever it is that happens.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Only You Can Do It

Taxi Cab

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why We Suffer”

 

 

Sentient beings have an interesting preoccupation. And that preoccupation is with self; Is with perceiving its solidity; is with holding to it in a grasping and clinging way. And due to that preoccupation, we feel that we actually perceive all things in a dualistic fashion. That means that whatever is the content of our mindstream, we will actually see it flashed out there somewhere and it will take the form of our lives. And to the degree that we believe ourselves to be solid and real, and very, very kind of written in stone and unsurpassably solid, to that degree our environment feels exactly the same. Now, I’m not suggesting that you walk out in front of a taxi and say, ‘Hey you’re not really here. See if you can run over me.’ Because it will. Surely it will. You should practice a little more before you try something like that. Lots and lots of meditation. Like, maybe, lots and lots of meditation. I’ll give you the go when it’s time to stand in front of a taxi. You notice I never stand in front of taxies. But anyway, what we have to begin to do now is on a very subtle level. We have to understand that our experience is the revelation or display of our own mindstream. We have to begin with the very subtle characteristics. That’s as hard to do, believe it or not, as walking in front of a taxi is. Maybe harder. You walk in front of a taxi, boom, it’s over. You start to be a Buddhist and you look at your life and you realize that this is the content of your mindstream; and your suffering has just begun because our lives are tough. And this is very hard to realize.

You know, sentient beings, all of them, are fantastic creatures, everyone from human beings to cockroaches to non-physical beings, the ones that we can see and the ones that we can’t see. We are fantastic creatures. Our innate nature is the Buddha nature. In our essence we are the enlightened mind, the basis of all our experience. Everything that we have ever experienced is the great primordial emptiness. We are fantastic creatures. That is our nature. In our teaching it says over and over again, in our nature we are the all-pervasive, foundational bodhicitta, the all-pervasive compassion. We are the very Lord in our nature. That’s what it says in all the teachings.

But we are so deeply caught up in the habit of self-absorption, so deeply and compulsively caught up in the belief and solidity of self that the great lamas, the great Buddhas, the great boddhisattvas, they can all come to the earth and say, ‘This is what you are; this is what it is; and this is what you should do.’ And it seems that we have so little capacity to take this nectar and really utilize it, really turn around the content of our experience.

How many times have lamas said to us, ‘This is the great truth. This is the great meditation. This is the nature. This is our nature. And this is the method by which we can accomplish the awakening through that nature.’ And how little has been our regard for that nourishment. It’s as though nectar were being poured down from the skies and we have tiny, tiny, tiny little mouths unable to open and great big stomachs full of hunger pang. We can’t seem to pick it up. But occasionally, very rarely, as rare as finding a precious jewel by sifting through garbage, occasionally some virtue that we have accumulated in the past—who knows what it was—from feeding a child to accidentally walking around a stupa because you didn’t know what direction you were walking in; some virtue that might have to do with helping someone and might have to do with accidentally doing something that is of benefit to someone in some way that you never could have imagined,… Somehow these unpredictable and wonderful events have lined up in such a rare way as to create one moment, one tiny window. And believe me, in the amount of time that we have been sentient beings, this whole lifetime is a very tiny window. Somehow things have lined up into this tiny window that we call a precious human rebirth. And even within this precious human rebirth, somehow miraculously there is this incredible lineup.Who could have predicted it? Who could have known how it could happen? There’s no way that you can force this to happen. It just happens because cause and effect relationships are like the wind and you never know which way they’re going to blow. And suddenly they blow in the right direction and here’s this window and you can hear the Buddha’s teaching. And somehow magically in the space of that, you are moved enough to hear it well enough to step out of the compulsive, habitual tendency that has your mind as tight as a rubberband and come up with the brilliant idea: I can change. I can turn this around. I can plant a new seed. I can accept that these are my habitual tendencies, and I can begin to work to apply the antidote.

You cannot imagine how rare such a thing is. Even if it’s possible for all of us to come here and hear teachings every day for the next three hundred years and within those next three hundred years that you would have one such moment, one moment like that, when you say, ‘Yes, enough. Let’s change. Let’s do it now. Let’s apply the teaching.’ And then you really apply the teaching. For those circumstances to line up like that is so rare. It should be considered like the preciousness of a jewel and as rare as though you had found it by sifting through garbage. Strangely, it’s your own garbage and it’s also your own jewel. It’s the finding that’s the hard part.

But Here’s what you should do. If you have the opportunity to have been born in a precious human rebirth, and you have, then you should play on that immediately by lining up your intention and beginning to make wishing prayers that you will be able to make use of this time. Make them all the time, constantly. Never stop making wishing prayers. Couple those wishing prayers by accumulating the merit and beginning the process of actually being of benefit to others by making wishing prayers that others will also find the precious human rebirth and that they too will find the auspicious circumstances. Begin to work on that a little bit. Line it up. Take hold of it. Don’t let it slide by you. You’re not a Barbie doll like those little kids were holding. You don’t have to sit in class like this, or like this. Barbie doll is like this. You don’t have to do that. And you don’t have to do that in your mind either. Begin to line up the circumstances. Begin to play on it. Begin to make it happen for you. Come to the teachings. Then when you hear the teachings, listen to the teachings. Listen to them well. Line your mind up. Take a hold of yourself. Take a hold yourself. You do have that power.

If you think that the blessing of enlightenment is going to come from outside; if you think that you have no control; if you think that you are good because your parents made you good, or you’re bad because your parents made you bad; if you think like that, forget it. You’re not going to do anything. You’re going to wait. You know what waiting produces? Waiting. That’s what waiting produces. It produces waiting. It’s like a little baby. Was drooling before, drooling after. If you continue to wait, you continue to drool. There’s logic in there somewhere. I know you can’t think about that right now, but truly, waiting is not going to help. But to take a hold of yourself and not let the experience of this precious and auspicious opportunity simply slide by you; to open your mind; to make your mind like a bowl; to practice as though nectar were being poured into you, and to really practice; to line it up and to do it. Honestly and truly. You have that opportunity, but only you can line it up and make it happen. Only you can do that.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo all rights reserved

All Phenomena Are Compounded

The following is respectfully quoted from “What Makes You Not a Buddhist” by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche:

WHAT BUDDHA FOUND

Without a single scientific tool, Prince Siddhartha sat on a patch of kusha grass beneath a ficus religiosa tree investigating human nature. After a long time of contemplation, he came to the realization that all form, including our flesh and bones, and all our emotions and perceptions, are assembled–they are the product of two or more things coming together. When any two components or more come together, a new phenomenon emerges–nails and wood become a table; water and leaves become tea; fear, devotion and a savior become God. This end product doesn’t have an existence independent of it’s parts. Believing it truly exists independently is the greatest deception. Meanwhile the parts have undergone a change. Just by meeting, their character has changed and, together they have become something else–they are all “compounded.”

Beacon of Clarity

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

According to the teaching, and according to the recommendations that all of our teachers have given us, those thoughts have no inherent reality other than the reality that we give them in expressing and clinging to the continuum. So if we were to simply let them be what they are, they’re just bubbles, only bubbles, and we can let them go. Our tendency, however, happens to be a very neurotic one. When we see a bubble rise to the surface of the lake of our mind, first of all we don’t even get that our mind is a lake, we’re just in this sea of wavy stuff, just constantly in this big wavy sea. And so when a bubble rises to the surface of the sea of despair that we are involved in, we beat it to a froth. I mean we get our little psychic eggbeater and we just go to town beating it and whipping it up. And pretty soon we have lots and lots of bubbles. And then the next thing we do is say, ‘Oh my God, bubbles!’ And we panic and follow them everywhere they go. And we assume that because those bubbles are there, we are the bubbles. And that is our life.

Now the Buddha teaches us that we don’t have to do that. In fact, that’s really dumb! So the first thing you want to do when you get up in the morning is think, ‘I really don’t know what’s going on here. I’ve been whipping myself into a froth of confusion since who knows when, and I’m really just not getting the big picture.’ That’s when it’s possible to accomplish some view, because the view comes in where you can look at the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and you can look at your guru or teacher as being the representative and administrator of those three and the embodiment of those three, and you can think, ‘Well, in my confusion even I can see that the Buddha was different than me. Not in his nature, because he taught that in the nature we are the same; but in his perception he was different.’ The Buddha said, about himself, “I am awake.” That means when a bubble rose to the lake of his mind, he knew what to do with it, or what not to do with it. He didn’t panic and beat it into a froth. His mind wasn’t filled with the samsaric, conditioned response and conceptual proliferation that ours is. His mind was very much like a lake. He wasn’t filled with the same kind of confusion that we are, so he could see clearly. And when the Buddha tells you that your nature is not like that and that you can let it go and that you can meditate on emptiness and arrive at accomplishing wisdom and compassion, then you can believe that that’s true. And you can believe it more than you can believe actually what your own two eyes and your own mind tells you. Now that’s scary for Westerners, because we’ve been taught, ‘Think for yourself!’ Well, try to remember what thinking for yourself actually means. You’ve been doing it since you were born and what good has it done you so far. I mean think about it. You’ve been whipping yourself into a froth since time out of mind, and wandering in samsara and confusion.

So when we look to the Buddha, we look at someone who has crossed that ocean, who has seen, who has had the mist taken from his view, his eyes, you see, and he can see more clearly. He does not assume the idea of self-nature as being inherently real. He has accomplished the understanding of his own true nature, which is that primordial wisdom state. So he’s clear, you see? Not like us. He does not do duality. He does not do attraction and repulsion. He does not do hope and fear. And he does not do super-structuring, or conceptual proliferation. When you think about the Dharma, you think that is actually the teaching that the Buddha has brought to the world. And he brought to the world a means, or a way, by which each one of us can accomplish that kind of clarity. When we think of the Sangha, we think of the Sangha as the religious community, or spiritual community, that engages in the practice and upholds the practice and makes it available to us. When we think of the lama, we think of the lama as being all those three wrapped into one, because the lama gives us the Buddha’s teaching, has accomplished the teaching as well, provides a means by which we can receive the teaching, and keeps the teaching safe and available to us. And so the lama, then, is like the doctor or the nurse who actually gives us the medicine.

Therefore, the view becomes this: I have been wandering in samsara since time out of mind. I cannot see straight. I’m wandering kind of helplessly because I have this false assumption and all kinds of false contrivance that arise from that, and confusion that arises from that. Therefore, I take refuge in that which is clarity, in what which is the primordial wisdom, in that which is the very display of innate wakefulness without confusion. I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, and especially in the lama as being all three. And so the view becomes that: The lama is seen as that which is a beacon of clear light in a world where we are wandering in confusion. And we hold that view. That is one way in which we should most assuredly view the guru. That is the understanding.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Cultivating View

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

This conceptual proliferation has a lot to do with view. Incorrect view results from the idea of self-nature being inherently real. There’s no way that we can exist in samsara without incorrect view resulting. Now on the path of Vajrayana, the most important directive that we are given is to attain pure view through devotion. That is extremely important. In that way we will awaken the wisdom sense, or the wisdom mind, and move closer to realization. We’re given many different ways to do that. One of the ways that we’re given is to meditate on emptiness; and in meditating on emptiness we do not instantly assume self-nature to be inherently real. We also are given the directive to meditate on compassion, and to practice compassion, so that we remove the clinging to self-nature, and the desire and grasping that comes from the belief in self-nature.

One thing that we might also do is to challenge our own conceptual proliferation. We might actually challenge our view as it is. Here’s something that’s an interesting thought, and we can think about this every day. And it’s a scary thought too. You are now engaging in conceptual proliferation because you have ideas about what you’re seeing and hearing. These ideas tell you something about your environment; something about me, who you think to be separate from you; and something about you, who you think to be separate from me. So all of these things are going on. And basically you’re in a process right now, even as we speak, of super-structuring. You’re building a structure and then building a structure on top of that and another one on top of that and another one on top of that. And your life, your continuum, actually exists in that super-structure; it is that super-structure. That is your experience. But if you trace it down, the conceptual proliferation can be traced to hope and fear; can be traced to attraction and repulsion; can be traced to duality; can be traced to ego identification or the assumption of self-nature as being inherently real. The Buddha teaches us that from the get-go, from the beginning, this is all tainted and all wrong.

We walk around all day long feeling angry and justified because we’re angry. And if we are not justified, we try to find justification; and we will, given enough time. We spend the rest of our day, when we’re not angry, feeling self-righteous, good or bad about ourselves, guilty, morose, elated, blissful, happy, victorious, like failures—all these things; and often we can feel both victorious and a failure within the same five minute time span. We just walk around with this kind of continuum going on. That is the experience of our lives; and it is our continuum.

Based on that, we act. We act a certain way because we’re angry. We act a certain way because we’re sad. We act a certain way because we’re happy. We act a certain way because of all the feelings that we feel. And then we react to the response that we get because of the way we acted. Where does it stop? Well, it doesn’t until we die. And then we get reborn again. That is the experience of continuum.

It can all be traced back to the idea of self-nature being inherently real; and the Buddha teaches us that that is a false assumption, because our nature does not contrive in such a way. Our nature is the fully accomplished, spontaneously liberated primordial wisdom view. But if instead we are having all this other stuff go on, the first thing that you can say to yourself every day, and the thing that you can say to yourself every moment of every day, is that I don’t know what the heck is going on here. And that should be the first thing that you do every day. Rather than assume self-nature to be inherently real, the first thing you should assume is that you do not know your derriere from a hole in the wall. Did I say that nicely enough? This is, after all, a temple. You can safely assume that you don’t know what’s going on.

So perhaps you can challenge yourself by taking a moment to just breathe, just be. The Buddha teaches us a meditation in which we watch thoughts and think of them as coming to the surface of the mind like bubbles that come from the bottom. You can think of your mind as a lake; and you can think of thoughts that simply rise to the surface. Now if a bubble rises to the surface of a lake, where will it go when you pop it? It simply pops. Now supposing we were to think of thoughts in the same way. Whatever conceptual proliferation that rises to the surface of the lake of your mind, supposing you weren’t to follow it. Supposing you were to simply let it go. Let it pop. Look at it square in the eye and say, ‘Oh that’s another one of those conceptual proliferation things.’ What if you didn’t let it dictate your life?

Learning to Step Back

contemplation

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Art of Dispelling Anger”

I study sentient beings.  I must have done it in another life, because as a child I knew this. I sort of woke up from my childhood knowing that all beings are suffering. And I understood somehow that it was a spiritual thing and that they needed love. No matter what it looked like, they needed love. That was as a child; as a child I understood that. Now as a woman and a practitioner, I understand what the Buddha has taught and it’s the same. And I understand that my fervent prayer is that should I leave a footstep in this world, it will be a living display of the bodhicitta through my students, through any works that I might do. That’s what I care about. And each one of us should participate in that dream. If you are really my student, then you must care. We should all care to advance the aspirations of our teacher. That’s part of Vajrayana. We may not individually have the power to give rise to a stupa or to give rise to an ordained Sangha, but we are part of that and we should take responsibility for making that dream come true. My dream is love. It is bodhicitta. Temporary love. Feed the birds. Feed people. Feed somebody that’s hungry. I feed everything that moves. If there was sputum in a jelly dish and I could prove that it needed food, I would feed it. This is how I am. I am crazy with it.

And then, you know, beyond that recognize them because they’ll never recognize themselves without a little help. Recognize them as being Buddha. Know that they are suffering because they don’t know what to do—not because they want to suffer—and do what you can to give rise to compassion. Make it a commitment. Disallow those rage things. Disallow that anger that we have to have when we have to go and punch a wall or something like that.

The way to do that is to get a little space from that. No suppression. We don’t like suppression. Suppression is bad. It makes us all crazy, and we’re crazy enough. You work it, you work it, you work it. The rage that we have, step back from it. The way you step back from it is you question yourself. And there are two different ways you can do it. You can do it the good old American way or you can do it the Buddhist way. The good old American way works too. You can say, ‘Now what’s really making me mad here?  Do I really mean what I am saying about this person?’ You can sort of take a step back and analyze it a little bit. Just look at it sort of cool, calm and collected if you can. I mean, you let yourself go back to your rage if you need to, but step back and tell yourself you can go back to the rage if you need to. But if you really do well and you think it through, you won’t. The rage will be gone because your understanding will have come up and your mind will be smoother. The mind gets inflamed like an arthritic joint, like with rheumatoid arthritis. It’s kind of like that. The mind gets inflamed.  The more we are emotional, up and down, up and down, and full of hatred, and judgmental and gossipy and stuff like that, the more inflamed the mind gets, the more unhappy we get and the more we blame other people for it, and the more unhappy we get and the more inflamed we get. That is the cycle of samsaric existence.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Understanding the Opportunity

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

I want to say a few words, if I may. How many of you, I wonder, feel that you have absorbed enough of the teachings over the years to have a good enough idea of the pointing out instructions that Lord Buddha and many teachers over time have given us?  How many of us, I wonder, have really taken the time to contemplate the teachings in such a way that they really become a part of our inner gyroscope?  How many of us have taken to heart teachings that were given generously and kindly over the years in order to help us to see our way through?

I think about, in the beginning, how many times I taught that life is like going through a dark room with lots of furniture. And, of course, you have free will, lucky you. You can choose to go through that room in the darkness with the furniture right there, taking your chances. And, of course, we know what happens if you are operating in perfect darkness with lots of furniture in your room, or obstacles or past karma ripening, which we all have, or being in samsara, which we all are. How many of us have even taken that first step, I wonder, to make that decision to say, ‘I will not go through this room in darkness, I will not go through this life in darkness’? Why would someone teach you that?  Why would someone say that life is like a dark room and there is so much furniture and so many things that, without being able to see or negotiate or understand without any wisdom, without a map, without any instruction,. you’re likely to have difficulty. Why would one’s teacher teach that? Because it’s true.  This is not a made up agenda. These are the teachings of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and the gurus throughout time.

We have this incredible stubbornness though, a terrible inner stubbornness that for some reason doesn’t want to take that teaching to heart. For some reason, we want to risk it, having the idea that we are strong or that it will work out or that maybe the teaching wasn’t true. Or because we didn’t actually take it to heart or never even learned it in the first place. I don’t know what the reason is, but we still have this kind of stubbornness that says to us, ‘You can do it, kid. Find your own way.’ Well, nobody is arguing that we can do it, but find your own way you will not,. not across the ocean of samsara. Will you make it through that room in the dark not knowing what’s in there?  Not bloody likely, is it?  Well, it is bloody likely if you think about it. You’ll probably get awfully bloody doing it.

Since time out of mind, the Buddhas and bodhisattvas have been coming to us, and not through their own need to experience or to come for fun or to come for torture or whatever. Buddhas and bodhisattvas appear in the world. They come for us; and they come to give us these teachings. And yet we are somehow so continuing in our delusion and habitual in this stubborn clinging to the idea that my ego has the answers, we still feel that way after all these years.

That is a teaching that is taught to you out of kindness, not out of a wish to push you around. If one cannot take at face value a teaching of that merit, that you must rely on the root guru, that you must rely on the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, have we somehow not put out the effort that it takes to come to terms with such a powerful truth as that?  It reminds me of alcoholism. It reminds me of the place where you say, ‘I can control my drinking.’ It reminds me of the place where you say, ‘I’m really on top of this. It hasn’t gotten me. Samsara hasn’t gotten me somehow.’ Or the idea that maybe the Buddha was lying or maybe he had his own agenda, or maybe Guru Rinpochewas just a phony. Maybe he was just on some sort of crazy power trip.

Why would somebody warn us of the suffering of samsara, of the danger of samsara? Because the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas are different than ordinary beings. They are different in one way: They have awakened. That’s the main difference—awakened to where the delusional phenomena of samara is simply that. Its dreamlike state is understood. Its seduction is also understood. To be human is to know that. But you have to decide once and for all, who is your guru? I’m asking you another question. How much time have you spent studying, reasoning out any of the teachings you have received so far? The Buddha’s teachings. Not that I am the Buddha, but my teachers have been saying all this time I’ve been teaching Dharma all these years. So I’m not making this up.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Protecting And Maintaining Bodhicitta: from “The Way of the Bodhisattva”

The following is respectfully quoted from “The Way of the Bodhisattva” by Shantideva as translated by the Padmakara Translation Group and published by Shambhala:

Protecting And Maintaining Bodhichitta:

That the original resolve of bodhichitta needs consolidation becomes evident from the very first stanzas of chapter 4, where Shāntideva takes stock of what he has just done and begins to count the cost. The undertaking to which he has committed himself in a moment of optimistic zeal is devastating. Hesitation is understandable. However, in view of the alternatives, and in order to stiffen his resolve, Shāntideva embarks on a graphic description of the dreadful consequences of retraction. As alway, the aim is pedagogical. Shāntideva is no tub-thumping preacher content merely to terrorize his listeners. The situation as he describes it is certainly grim, but he shows the way out and in so doing plots out a scheme of mental training that, for its spiritual profundity and psychological acuity, has rarely been equaled and surely never surpassed anywhere or at any time in the history of the world’s religions.

The first message is that, however immense the goal may seem, it is possible–provided that we want it and make the necessary effort. We can learn to be free and to become buddhas. Moreover, Shāntideva points out that having attained a human existence, we are at a crossroads; we have reached a critical point. According to Buddhism, human life, at once so precious and so fragile, is the existential opportunity par excellence. Of all forms of existence, it is the only one in which development along a spiritual trajectory is truly possible. And yet the occasion is easily, in fact habitually, squandered in trivial pursuits. Time passes and we “measure our lives in coffee spoons.” Perceiving the nature of the opportunity, and realizing how it is slipping through his fingers, Shāntideva responds with almost a note of panic.

For it’s as if by chance that I have gained
This state so hard to find, wherein to help myself.
And now, when freedom–power of choice–is mine,
If once again I’m led away to hell,

I am as if benumbed by sorcery,
My mind reduced to total impotence
With no perception of the madness overwhelming me.
O what it is that has me in its grip? (4.26-27)

This situation is certainly perilous, but what is it that constitutes the danger? It is the kleshas, defiled emotions: “Anger, lust–these enemies of mine.” These are the roots of sorrow, to which every suffering be it on a personal or cosmic scale, can ultimately be traced. And yet the kleshas, however terrible they may be in their effects, are nothing more than thoughts: intangible, fleeting mental states. To become aware of this fact, and to see therefore that our destiny lies in the way we are able to order the workings of our minds, is the theme of the fourth chapter. How is it, Shāntideva asks, that mere thoughts can cause so much havoc? The answer is simply that we allow them to do so. “I it is who welcome them within my heart.” With these words, the battle lines are drawn. The enemy is the afflictions, the thoughts of pride, anger, lust, jealousy, and the rest. The arena is the mind itself. Shāntideva steels himself for the fray, giving himself confidence by stimulating his own very characteristic of Shāntideva’s pragmatic approach–a sort of psychological homeopathy, in which an attitude normally considered a defilement is consciously and strenuously adopted as an antidote to the defilement itself. The theme is developed at greater length later on in the book, but for the time being, chapter 4 concludes on a ringing note of aggression. Emotional defilements are the enemy; they must be destroyed. “This shall be may all-consuming passion; filled with rancor I will wage my war!” Paradoxically, the conflict need not been an arduous one. Thoughts after all are merely thoughts. Through analysis and skill, they can be easily eliminated. Once scattered by the eye of wisdom and driven from the mind, they are by definition totally destroyed. And yet Shāntideva reflects, with sentiments that must go to the heart of every would-be disciple: “But oh–my mind is feeble. I am indolent!”

Once it is clear, however, that the problem lies in the mind itself, or rather in the emotions that arise there, the simple but difficult task is to become aware of how thoughts emerge and develop. This is the theme of the fifth chapter, on vigilance. Again, we find the same note of practical optimism. Just as the mind is the source of every suffering, likewise it is the wellspring of every joy. And once again, the good news is that the mind can be controlled and trained.

If, with mindfulness’ rope,
The elephant of the mind is tethered all around,
Our fears will come to nothing,
Every virtue drop into our hands.

What Causes Happiness?

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Faults of Cyclic Existence”

In order to understand what to do, we have to understand the definition of the cessation of suffering. The cessation of suffering doesn’t happen when everything external gets all right. Can you learn this?  Can we all learn this, please?  If we learn this, it will change your life!  The solving of this problem occurs when we are able to cut off the causes of suffering at the root. And the causes of suffering have to do with desire and the experience of duality.

So now we have to find a solution that is not anywhere in samsara. How in the world are you going to fix this? Well, you’re not… in the world. Where in the world is your solution?  Guess what?  Nowhere. Then we have to find something else. And what is that something else?  Well, now we are looking to understand that desire and this original ideation is the cause for all suffering. So the way to cut that would be to cut it off at the root. We have to move beyond the realm of cyclic existence in order to get any satisfaction, in order to get an answer, in order to understand, literally in order to prevent the causes from manifesting. In order to cut them off at the root, we have to move outside of the realm of samsara.,  So we look to see if everything we’ve known and experienced arises from the idea of self-nature being inherently real. What is outside of samsara?  Well, it is the one thing that, as samsaric beings, we cannot perceive. It is our own Buddha nature, the primordial wisdom nature that is the innately wakeful , sheer luminosity called Buddha.

While we are revolving in the realm of duality, we cannot see this nature.  Yet it is this very nature that is the cessation of the causes of suffering.. In order to cut off suffering at the root, one would have to cut off the connection to the potency of the desire realm. We, as samsaric beings, are desire beings. We are motivated solely by desire. and  the Buddha teaches us that this is the very cause of suffering. So what we’re hearing here is that everything we know, everything we call “me”, every habitual tendency, everything that has come together to knit the tapestry of our lives, is of that cause for suffering.

What monumental effort should happen in order to reach beyond that? How to even define what is beyond that when, by definition, we are the samsaric beings whose first assumption is that of self-nature being inherently real? This is where the power and the majesty and the potency of the practice of refuge comes into play. Because when we look at the appearance of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha in the world, and the inner and secret refuges as well, we can see that that which we call Buddha nature, that which we call Buddha, does not originate from the desire realm. It is that ground—uncontrived, innately wakeful luminosity—that is the underlying primordial wisdom state, suchness, from which all display, all emanation actually comes.

This that we are caught in and experiencing is simply some offshoot, some manifestation in a way, whereas the fundamental all-pervasive truth of our nature, is to us unseen. Yet it is that nature, that which we are naturally, which we must strive toward in order to be awakened, That is the clue; that is the key. In our natural state as Buddha, as that sheer luminosity, there is no distinction, no distortion, no conceptualization, no idea that self is separate from other, no understanding that it could even occur that way. No distinction. Only suchness, one taste, that nature which is conditionless. As we are now we cannot even imagine a conditionless state, a conditionless nature, and yet this is our nature.

So when we practice refuge, we do it in stages. The ultimate refuge is when we understand and awaken to our own face, our own true nature. But in the beginning we practice by conceptually isolating that which is without conception. We have to. On an ordinary level, let’s say the goal was physical fitness and strength. Well, that’s an abstract concept. How do you get that?  You can’t buy that. You can’t hold that in your hand, but you can do the exercises, you see?  Same thing. Buddhahood. We can’t buy it, we can’t hold it in our hand, but we can establish the method.

The method begins with the recognition of the Buddha which is the primordial, uncontrived nature that happens to have appeared in cyclic existence at this time, during this aeon, as a man. But the man is not the thing. Lord Buddha is the display of that nature. We use his image and his teachings as a way to understand because he speaks directly from that nature. But we understand that we are awakening, awakening, awakening. That’s the understanding of refuge. We are looking for that which is not composed of the causes of suffering. And here while we are suffering and revolving endlessly, and watching others revolve endlessly, here while this occurs, we are that, in truth, which is the cessation of suffering, Buddhahood.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Looking for Happiness

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Faults of Cyclic Existence”

If we broaden our perspective, we look out from our own self-absorption into our immediate environment which is generally pretty easy for most of us.  We have friends and relatives that we don’t mind increasing our space to include and we look at them and we consider them part of our lives. But let’s move out and see all the rest of humankind.  They are all, in the same way as we are, striving to be happy.  And then look out beyond that to the animal realm.  Even though these animals don’t have a forehead, even though these animals cannot conceptualize in the same way that we do, still each one of them in their own way is trying to be happy according to their capacity. The predator is trying to be happy when it chases its prey.  The prey is trying to be happy when it fixes itself or creates for itself a safe environment and develops coping mechanisms with the reality that the predator is always out there.

There are many different ways to view this, but we can see if we really study, that we all have that in common and so we become, in a sense one family with a fundamental genetic code.  Even across species, even across the form and formless realms, we become one family with this particular underlying reality in common. Now if we were to really contemplate this issue in this way, we might come up with a new world view.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful!  We might come up with a new, more universal perspective.  Wouldn’t it be delightful!  We could use that tool as a way to end self-absorption, and to really open our eyes and look at everything around us with a new kind of vision, a new kind of empathy, a new kind of understanding, a new kind of willingness to put oneself in the place of others, a new kind of planetary human, you know, aware of life around itself, a new kind of cosmic perspective, a new understanding as to what life is all about.

Now how does this relate to refuge?  Well, as we are turning our minds towards Dharma,  that means softening them, preparing them, fertilizing them, plowing the field so that the mind is turned toward the path that leads to liberation and renouncing what does not lead to liberation.

Where does the idea of Bodhicitta actually come into play?  Actually it comes into play as both a motivator and as a clarifier.  As a motivator , we understand that part of the process of turning the mind towards Dharma is to truly look at the six realms of cyclic existence and all the conditions and situations of sentient beings.  Having done that, we see that cyclic existence is faulted and that these sentient beings, although they do wish to be happy, have no understanding of the causes of happiness.  That’s the main different between a Dharma practitioner, and the serial killer.  The Dharma practitioner wants to be happy just like the serial killer, but they are engaging in method.  Method means we are looking at cause and effect relationship.  We see the faults.  We look at cause and effect relationships and we are trying to work it out where we produce the causes that allow the desired effect.

The serial killer is also trying to do that.  He perhaps feels some kind of need build up in him and then he goes and tries to satisfy that need.  So in his way, this serial killer is doing the same thing.  He is engaged in trying to create the causes that produce happiness.   The difference is he does not understand.  There is such heavy delusion that there is no understanding of what causes produce happiness, so the serial killer is in a way, like a completely ignorant, completely confused, completely hatred-oriented basket of misconstrued ideas acting in a knee-jerk way to get some kind of result.  He is not able to think it through and has no guidance to think it through.  So the serial killer is yes, engaging in method, but what method?  The serial killer is engaging in the method of hatred, is engaging in the method of destruction, is engaging in the method of harm-doing, and is thinking that it will bring some sort of power or happiness or relief in some way.  And yet what this person doesn’t understand is that the seed and the fruit cannot be unrelated.  You cannot produce happiness from the fruit of hatred, destruction, ignorance and harm doing.  You cannot produce happiness in the same way that a peach seed cannot produce a banana tree.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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