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

Be Your Own Best Friend

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

Understanding what is in front of you is like, I’ve used this analogy before, it’s like walking through a dark room. Let’s say that the life span that you have can be symbolized by a room. It’s dark because you don’t know what it’s going to be like. So let’s say the room is perfectly pitch dark. All the shades are drawn. It’s dark outside. No moon. Lights are off. We’re talking dark. And it’s like that because no one can predict the future. We have no idea what our lives are going to be like. But you have to walk through that room.

So you have a choice there. You can either do what we’re used to doing which is, eyes closed, you don’t turn on the light. You just take it the way it is and, like a fool, just walk through the room. Now unfortunately in that room, there’s a sofa, there’s a couch, there’s a table, lots of tables, there’s stuff on the floor. It’s like any other room. It’s furnished. Just like your life. It’s furnished. So you’re going to walk through that room what, with the light off?  With your eyes closed?  Guess what’s going to happen. Try it in your room. Try it in your house. Just walk around a while with all the lights off and your eyes closed. You are going to hurt yourself. You’re going to fall down.

There’s another choice, and this is the choice that Buddhism offers to you, or that this kind of practice specifically offers you—examining the faults of cyclic existence and examining what is the more noble way.This kind of practice offers you another alternative and that is turning on the light. Having seen the faults of cyclic existence that’s like you’re walking through this room, yes, but you know where the couch is. You can walk around the couch. You know where the chair is. You can walk around the chair. You know where the table is. You can walk around the table. Something on the floor. You can step over that. So while it may not be our natural tendency to look at life in that way, it behooves us to have that kind of courage because ultimately it would be like walking through your life really seeing what it is, being able to avoid the obstacles, taking advantage of what is there to take advantage of, and not hurting yourself.

It isn’t like you’re sentencing yourself to several months of the worst practice you’ve ever experienced. In a way, for the first time, maybe for the only time, you’re being your own best friend. You’re really looking, really seeing, not copping out. And because of that you will be more competent to move through your life than you might have been otherwise. And not only that, you’ve given rise to the great Bodhicitta, the great compassion, and you have understood that while you are alive in this world, you cannot accept, you cannot bear the suffering of sentient beings. You see that it becomes somehow disgusting and unacceptable to you, that your two feet, that your self could be here in this world, and sentient beings are suffering. That’s why, in the practice, we give rise to renunciation, true renunciation. We totally give up the self for the purpose of benefitting sentient beings.  Practice like that will produce that excellent result.

According to my teachers, this is a combination of preliminary practice called Ngöndro, which is where we see the faults of cyclic existence and give rise to the Bodhicitta, and it’s also the practice of Chöd. There’s no reason why any of you can’t begin to practice like that right now, immediately, tomorrow, today. That practice can be done deeply as I have just given instruction, but it can also be done in more casual way, as you’re walking around. Examine everything you see, and even if you are not a Buddhist, that’s fine with me. Even if you’re not planning on being a Buddhist but you’re interested in these words and you have some connection with them, great. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice in this way, because when I practiced in this way, I wasn’t. But it is the same ethics, the same morality and the same beauty that I have later come to find in my religion, Buddhism. So I offer this to you as a gift and I really hope that you take it with you wherever you go, and that, for my friend, it will bring you back safely, and that for all of you, you will have the most excellent result practicing in that way.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu 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

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

Examining Attachment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Contemplating Impermanence

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

I tried to think to myself: So this life, what is it? What could it be like?  I thought, “What is the best case scenario.” You know, this whole scene that I have right here?  What’s the best way this could work out?  I really played with this a little bit. (See “Best Case Scenario”)

I thought about what are the probable scenarios that will actually happen. Then I had to be more realistic and I really looked at my life. I didn’t fall out of love with it or anything. I just really examined it, in as dispassionate a way as I could. I also examined what the potential pitfalls are. I understood that you can eat health food, exercise all the time, sleep 10 hours per day, no matter what, and put yourself in a bubble where there are no chemicals in your environment,.You can do anything you want to, and no matter what, you are still going to experience the same end result and it’s still going to be samsara that we are caught in.

You cannot guarantee that even if you do all those things, the minute you step out into the street a truck’s not going to hit you. You can’t guarantee that. That’s why I understood that even though many things about this life appear stable, in fact they are not stable. So I prepared myself for that kind of understanding in that way. I would do that kind of contemplation everyday.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Best Case Scenario

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

I began to think, “This nature, this is something, this is really something.” So the practice that I engaged in (and this is how I was instructed to do so) was a practice of initially realizing the nature and then examining the cycle of death and rebirth, or what I now understand is called samsara. So I examined the cycle of death and rebirth. And even that term I didn’t have—cycle of death and rebirth. You have to understand I hadn’t heard any of these words before. So I was penning my own words to this idea or concept or reality that I was sensing and the concept that I was thinking about. So I began to think out what is this life that we are living then?  This is this absolute nature. What is this life we are living now where we remain kind of blind to this nature?  I began to really probe this life and tried to see: What is the best thing this life can give me or give anyone and what’s the worst? I began to examine all the different scenarios associated with ordinary life.

At that time I was living on a beautiful farm in North Carolina and I was 20, so I would have to say that I was a potentially aging hippy girl. I was living on this farm and I had the idea of going to back to the land. I was growing food. I was learning how to grow a garden. At the time I thought that I was so cool with that and so sophisticated. Later I found out that the farmers around us really thought that we were going to starve to death if we were any dumber. But, anyway, we were doing our best, and I learned how to can beans and all that stuff. So I had this wonderful thing going on. I was living at the foot of the mountains. I could walk out on my porch and see the mountains. I had a beautiful little baby boy, beautiful blonde hair. He looked like an angel. I had a wonderful husband and everything was just great.

I tried to think to myself: So this life, what is it? What could it be like?  I thought, “What is the best case scenario.” You know, this whole scene that I have right here?  What’s the best way this could work out?  I really played with this a little bit.

I thought, okay, first of all, this is my initial demand: I never get old. No aging happens here. In my fantasy, these things weren’t going to happen, and when I am queen, they won’t. So I really thought that I am not going to age. This is the first thing: Nobody ages in this. We don’t age or, at least, I personally find the secret of how to use Este Lauder products perfectly, this secret which I am ever questing. I find the way to use them perfectly and finally she comes out with that new product, the one that I am waiting for, the one that makes everything better.

The same thing with my husband. There’s the male version of Este Lauder. We put it on him and he is great, too. My child does grow up, but, of course, he never ages either. Of course, my  child grows up to be president or maybe first a doctor and then president. At his inauguration speech and, as well as when he receives his medical degree, at both of those occasions, he says, “It was my mom that made it possible.”  Of course, I still look very young, and, of course, I am much more beautiful than I have ever been in my life.

So far this is working out pretty well, don’t you think?  My husband and I never get into that place in marriage where you wake up next to each other and go “Hi”, ummm. We never got to that point. In this fantasy, it was always like those old Breck shampoo commercials. Every time we’d see each other we’d come bounding across the room and jump 10 feet into each other’s arms and land on our feet comfortably. It would all be very elegant. It would be choreographed perfectly, and we would both know our parts. I have a lot of romance in me, you see.

So after that we always had really good food to eat and everything is perfect. We live well—two cars and a chicken in every pot, or whatever, and all this kind of stuff. So everything is perfect. Then I thought to myself, “All this happens. Then what is the end of the story?”  Well, the end of the story is just like the end of any other story that you can find in the human realm. No matter what Este Lauder does, we are going to get old because time is going to pass. She had not figured out the chemistry of time yet. So time’s going to pass. The end is going to be the same. We are going to be old. We’re going to, at some point, get sick and then we are going to die. I began to meditate on the fact that whatever comes together in samsara has to separate. That’s just the nature of it; it’s never been otherwise. Whatever is born, dies. Whatever is young, gets old. It’s the nature of it.

I meditated on that constantly. Then I would try all these other different scenarios. I tried to develop five or six best case scenarios and I gave myself total freedom. Well, suppose none of this here in front of me works out but, supposing the ultimate man of every woman’s dream rides up on a white horse and that horse does not do-do in the lawn, which white horses are likely to do. So all of that happens and the whole children thing works out where everybody’s rich and everybody’s happy, everybody’s famous or whatever. Well, in my case, it would be private not famous, but that would be the best case scenario.

With all of them, I thought of what it could be like. Every time I explored it, I found that the end result was always the same. It was always old age, sickness and death. The best ones, even if I had one of those funds where you prepare for your old age and even if it’s just prosperous and wonderful right up until the very end—I’d take up golf and die with a gold club in my hand, or something like that, whatever —it’s still going to end up the same way.

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