The Hungry Ghost Realm

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

The next of the lower realms is the realm of the hungry ghosts.  The hungry ghosts actually have a traditional appearance and they are described in this way, but again you must understand that this is us looking with our eyes that are born having to distinguish between subjective and objective.  These are the eyes that are born in the realm of duality,. So keep that in mind when their description is given.  The description is that of beings that have ver,y very, very tiny mouths—they are said to be about the size of a pin, just a tiny opening—and great big stomachs; and these stomachs are empty.  They are not able to take in the amounts of nourishment that they need.  This is the picture that we are given.  The reality of the realm of the hungry ghost is that they experience extreme need, extreme hunger, beyond what you feel when you have Big Mac attack.  Way beyond that!  We are talking hunger like you have never felt.  It is a different color of hunger entirely.  Have you been real, real hungry?  Have you never been real, real hungry in your life?  I’ve been real, real hungry in my life.  I’ve been real, real hungry in my life, and I remember how that felt.  I remember being so hungry once that I could feel my blood sugar doing wacko things, and I actually had the feeling of panic.  I was that hungry that you feel panicky because your body is just telling you, “I need food now.”

So you imagine that there is that kind of hunger, with that kind of panic and need times more than you can ever imagine. That would be the feeling of a hungry ghost.  It is extremely needful.  Now you say to yourself, “Please, I worked out my whole life and for me to be reborn with a tiny little mouth and a big, big belly like that, that definitely is not going to happen to me.”  So you think that that’s not going to happen.  Well, you have to examine yourself from a different and more subtle point of view.  Let me ask you if you have ever gone through a period in your life when you were extremely needy.  “Oh no, not me.”  Right?  Extremely needy?  For women that happens at least once a month, right?  And for men I think it happens about every 48 hours.  Now they get needy in a different way, but it’s basically also, “Do you love me?”  We have within our mindstream the potential for tremendous neediness and graspiness.

O.K., this is a little bit less painful.  Have you known a person in your lifetime that was compulsively, neurotically, unsatisfiably needy?  Have you known a person like that?  Haven’t you had from that person the feeling that this hole is just too darn big to fill?  You feel like you’re throwing it in and throwing it in and throwing it in and trying to love and trying to give them something, and they’re still whining.  It never ends; and you spend the rest of your life doing this and nothing happens.  The hole never fills up.  Well, that is the kind of cause that results in a rebirth as a hungry ghost—a person whose habitual tendency is simply wrapped around self-absorption and what they need.  I need, I need, I need.  Can you gimme, gimme, gimme?  They see every other being in their life as a prop, a prop by which they can achieve satisfaction.  They use people as props in order to achieve satisfaction.  You know we’ve all gone through periods in our lives when we’ve done that. Haven’t we?  Absolutely.  We have used other people for our own satisfaction.  Absolutely. And for many of us, we made careers out of it.  Right?  And maybe still, maybe still.  We have seen how people can wrap their whole lives around graspiness and neediness; and every time they meet with somebody it’s like you can hear the suction.  You can just hear it.  You feel like the blood is coming out of your pores.  And that’s the kind of person you instinctively stay away from because, literally, you can feel your energy being sucked into them.  Haven’t you felt that kind of thing?  You can feel the energy being sucked into them,. And it’s true.  If you could see it with different eyes, your energy would be sucked into them.  That’s true.  That kind of cause, that kind of habitual tendency that the person might experience, or if it’s you, you might experience, would result in rebirth as a hungry ghost.  Particularly, also, it is the kind of person who is against and has no compatibility with compassion and generosity.  The person who is chronically, without hesitation, selfish to the bone.

Now you may think, “Are there really people like that?”  Oh ho ho, yes!  I’ll tell you , this story briefly.  In New York once, I went to give a teaching. I remember walking into the room and thinking “Oh, no,” because, you know, a lama does develop the ability to sort of intuit who we’re talking to. And I remember walking into the room and going, “No-o-o!”  because I could see that it was going to be very, very difficult. And sure enough, here we were in New York and I was talking about the most benign… I wasn’t talking about hell realms.  I would never be dumb enough to talk about hell realms in New York!  You guys want to hear that you have to come to Poolesville!  So anyway, I was talking about the most benign and charming—talk about white picket fence!—subject that you could possibly think of. Kindness.  Talking about Bodhicitta.  I was talking about how, in the most fundamental way, kindness makes one feel.  Really, being kind to others makes one feel better.  I was talking about how developing the habit of kindness brings this result, just kindness.  I was talking about Bodhicitta being consistent with our own nature. I swear to you not one, but on different occasions, three women stood up and argued with me about the validity of kindness.  One woman in particular said, “This is ridiculous.  Kindness has no place in my life. I mean you have to get what you want!  I don’t see the point of what you say.  This is whoosh.  Tell me something real!”  That is literally what happened.

I remember just feeling this compassion for them, for what can the result of that be?  What do you think their next experience is going to be like?  Do you think they’re going to fall into the lap of mother love?  Do you think that kindness is going to be just heaped on them in their next life?  I don’t think so.  I don’t see how that’s going to happen.  So these poor people are up against the wall and they don’t even realize it. And in her haughtiness she defended what was going to make her suffer horribly.  So you see there is that kind of thing operating in the minds of sentient beings.  There are some people that categorically refuse and reject the idea of kindness and benefitting others. In fact, that is not consistent with all of the world religions. We should take equal responsibility with ourselves as with other sentient beings.

There are even types of teaching that the Buddha has taught that are meant for that kind of person who cannot appreciate compassion, who are not even set up to hear the word compassion.  The Hinayana point of view: Yeah, we’re taught to be kind to others, but not in an active way.  We’re taught to do no harm.  That’s different from saving sentient beings from suffering.  So there are sentient beings that have no capacity for kindness or generosity, you see?  And so the result of that kind of mental state is to be reborn as a hungry ghost, experiencing only need.  Only being able to experience that which comes toward oneself, literally not having the chip, the computer chip, to be able to send out.  It would be like a computer that has no printer.  Everything happens internally, in a way.  Do you see what I’m saying?  Nothing goes out.  This person is not wired to send out anything, and that comes through having only the habitual tendency of self-absorption and selfishness. The result is life as a hungry ghost.  In the hungry ghost realm, it isn’t that there is no food. It is that they are so weak because of the habitual tendency of their mind which has produced this weakness.  Their arms and legs are like threads.  They cannot get over to where the food is.  They cannot get there.  The only thing big about them is their stomachs. And even if they could get there, their little mouths would not be able to take in enough.

Plus it is said that even even if they do see some food, they cannot get to the food; and if they somehow manage to get to the food, it then will turn to… Here is a glass of water.  I have the karma for this water to refresh me.  Water, little bit of lemon, pretty good.  If I were a hungry ghost in the hungry ghost realm, even if I were able to make it to that water (and I would feel the need for it very strongly), the water would be like a glass of pus or something, horrible and repulsive, literally, sewage or something horrible and repulsive.  It would turn to that before you reached it.  And that’s because of the habitual tendency of our mind.  How different from sewage is the need to only satisfy oneself and not care at all for the condition of other sentient beings?  To take from others and never give.  How different is that from sewage?  You see?

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Four Noble Truths – An Introduction

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Keeping Heart Samaya”

One of the things that I have learned since I met with my teacher is to follow the fundamental thoughts as taught by the Buddha very carefully, starting with the thought that all sentient beings are suffering, and that suffering is all pervasive.  According to the Buddha’s teachings, we are all suffering from desire.  It seems as though we are suffering from external circumstances, but, in fact, we are suffering from desire.  In fact, we are suffering from our response to desire as well.  So we have a complicated, dualistic, or I should say double-edged, kind of suffering.  We have the suffering that comes from desire, and we also have the suffering that is invoked when desire is not met.  So it is two-edged and more complicated than one would think.

All sentient beings are suffering. They are suffering from desire, but there is an end to suffering.  This is the news that is so good it is almost hard to take in.  This is the news that is so magnificent that it is actually hard to understand when we have had an entire life, and we have noticed that there is always something. There is always something.  Everything that comes together separates.  Everything that is really good and has brought a lot of joy and a lot of benefit, gone.  Even if we find ourselves in the most joyous, gorgeous, fabulous mood, it lasts about, oh, ten minutes.  So we have noticed that happiness is ephemeral.  It comes and goes. It sort of burns away and returns, and in between there is that suffering.

So when we hear that there is an end to suffering, a cessation to suffering, we wonder, how can this be?  How can this possibly be?

The Buddha teaches us the next thought then, that the end or cessation of suffering is called enlightenment.  Yes, that is true because none of us, being ordinary sentient beings, have experienced enlightenment yet.  Sentient beings simply have not experienced that, so they do not know what the cessation of suffering actually feels like.

Then after introducing these thoughts, Lord Buddha teaches us how to accomplish the cessation of suffering, or enlightenment.  In many forms of Buddhism, this is called the Eightfold Path.  In our system of Buddhism, this is condensed into the accomplishment of two things: wisdom and knowledge. We are taught that in order to accomplish the cessation of suffering we must exit samsara and enter into that precious awakened state called enlightenment.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Problem With Desire

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The following is from an exchange of tweets between Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo and one of her followers:

Follower: “How can one beat desire?”

Jetsunma: “Study cause and result, and especially compassion for all. The desire is for everything and it keeps us suffering like a revolving door. No control over any result, bad.”

Follower: “So with desire there can’t be fulfillment?”

Jetsunma: “Exactly. An itch that cannot be scratched. Always returns. And by nature cannot be satisfied. Everything begins and ends.”

You can follow Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo on twitter here: https://twitter.com/JALpalyul

 

End Desire

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo from the Vow of Love series

Where does desire come from? It comes from the belief that self-nature is real. According to the Buddha, if you believe that you are a self, if you believe in self-nature as being real, as being truly existent, then there has to be desire, because in order to be a self or to have a self, you have to define a self. That’s how it is. If you believe in the nature of self, you have to have an underlying belief that self ends here and other begins there. You have to have some conceptualization in your mind about what the self is, because the idea of self cannot exist without some definition. Conceptual proliferation develops, and with that, desire.

Desires are not always fulfilled. There is always the contest between self and other, and from those contests the three root poisons of hatred, greed and ignorance occur. It is the presence of hatred, greed and ignorance in the mind that causes phenomena to appear as they do. If there were no hatred, greed and ignorance in the mind, there would be no cause for suffering and therefore we would not see the phenomena of war, hunger, old age, sickness and death in the world. There would be no cause. This is the understanding and commitment that you should think about and work with in your mind.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Does Desire End?

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

What is the end of it? Where does it end? It ends when you take yourself in hand and begin to practice stabilizing the mind. The Buddha teaches us that the cause of all suffering, every part of it, no matter what it is, if you trace it down to its root, is desire. How can you kick desire? Everybody’s got desire. You have the desire for life itself, don’t you? I mean, you don’t want to die or anything. You have the desire to be happy. All sentient beings have the desire to be happy. That’s one thing we all share. Do you realize that? We share with every life form that there is. All sentient beings have their common familyhood, brother- and sisterhood. They all wish to be happy. They’re all doing it in different ways, but we all wish to be happy. We have that desire, and we are inflamed with it.

How can we reduce that inflammation? It’s like we have to step off the conveyor belt. You know what I’m saying? We have to step off the merry-go-round that just makes us want and fulfill and want and keep trying to fulfill, and keep doing that round and round and round and round endlessly. It’s like you just have to stop for a minute. Step off of it and look at what you’re doing. Look at the habit pattern. Look at the pattern. Just look at it.  This is sometimes more difficult for younger people to do, because they just honestly haven’t lived long enough to see their patterns. For people who have reached maturity, it’s much easier to see the quality of the relationships and friendships that you’ve had. It’s much easier to see the level of fulfillment that you’ve had from material goods. It’s much easier to understand that you have been going through the same thing since you can remember. For younger people, it’s more difficult. But for older people, it’s very obvious. And the people that it’s easiest for are the people who are coming to the end of their life who have reached an advanced age, or an elderly age. And at that point, they’re carrying, perhaps hidden inside of them, a disappointment. There are things that we become very disappointed about. Things that have just not come together that we always assumed would. We always thought that they would.

When we come to that fantastic point, where the old gig, the old game doesn’t work for us anymore, we become disillusioned. It’s a heart-breaking time in one way, isn’t it? It’s really heart-breaking. It’s hard to bear, hard to face. But you know something? It’s the best time for you, the best time that you have ever experienced. Until you have come to that moment, you really haven’t been born yet. You’re like an egg, you know, just revolving around in your little shell, kind of a big yolk. Ha, ha. Hey, that was pretty good. You have to admit. A little levity there to cheer you up in the middle of your suffering. But anyway, revolving around inside your shell, and not getting anywhere. The moment that you become dissatisfied and panicky because your gig isn’t working any more, terrified because it may never work, uptight because you don’t know what to do next, grieving because nothing’s ever worked… At that moment, when you feel like you’re about to have a nervous breakdown, you’re on your way, kid. It’s probably the best and most mature moment of your life because you have to come to that moment to get anywhere. You can’t do this while you’re on the merry-go-round. You can’t do this unless you fall apart a little bit. You can’t get the big picture. You have to see the faults of cyclic existence. You have to look at it square on.

You must see. You must look cause and effect relationship in the eye. And you’ve got to really face one very sad fact about cyclic existence: No matter what we accumulate during the course of our lives, we can’t take even so much as a sesame seed with us. None of it. We can’t take relationships with us. We can’t take objects with us. We can’t take even ideas with us, those things that we spend so much time building up. We certainly can’t take emotions with us. And how much time do we spend watching our emotions and reacting to them? We can’t take any of that with us. We take one thing with us: the condition of our mindstreams, our own habitual tendencies. And if we have the habit of grasping, trying to satisfy ourselves, to the exclusion of virtuous living, and then being disappointed, that is the habit, that is the content of our mindstreams that we will take with us into the intermediate state, and into our next rebirth. The habits of our mindstream—that is what we take with us.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Illusion of Satisfaction

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

Our minds are so unstable.  They are so inflamed, so on fire. With what? With excitement? With the idea that something is going to happen for us? What are we inflamed with? According to the Buddhist teachings, we are actually inflamed with desire. Desire. I want! I want! And I’m going to have it! I’m going to get it! I’m finally going to get it! The excitement that you feel when you’ve got that dress, and those shoes!, And those stockings! And those $150 earrings, all of it together. That same excitement is the inflammation that you feel when you’ve got the dress, but you haven’t got the shoes yet; and you want them so bad, you can taste them. It’s the same thing. It’s an inflammation. It’s like a fever. And no one can ever be happy no matter what while they’ve got that fever in their minds because it isn’t the satisfaction of that fever that composes happiness. That isn’t what makes happiness.

In fact, in cyclic existence, there ain’t no such thing. You can’t satisfy that fever. That fever is the symptom. It is the problem. Satisfying that fever would be like treating a physical fever by heating up the room to be the same temperature. Think about it. It doesn’t work. Temporarily you may feel strangely like there’s not much difference between the heat in your body and the heat in the room. I don’t really know how it would affect you physically. But I do know this: It won’t cure the fever. The fever ends when the fever ends, when it subsides. And here’s where the analogy ends, because, in an ordinary fever, if the fever doesn’t kill you, it will eventually naturally subside. It will naturally calm down. The body will rally itself to create a cure. It will come to its own defense.

But, in fact, the Buddha teaches us that cyclic existence will not naturally cure itself. We must take steps. Here’s why. Because in cyclic existence, we’re busy buying those shoes and those earrings. We’re busy finding the first perfect relationship, and convincing ourselves that it’s going to work. Or ditching it and finding another one when it doesn’t. We’re busy suffering the disappointment of watching things that have come together fall apart. We’re busy going through what we have always gone through: the ups and downs of cyclic existence. Just the cycle of death and rebirth, up and down, happy and sad, high and low, hot and cold. We’re busy doing that. And every single time we hit a certain point, whether it be high or low, at that point we are creating more cause and effect relationships and more habitual tendencies within our mind. Specifically this: Let’s say we buy the dress. We want the dress so badly. We buy the dress. Let’s say, now we want the shoes, so bad we can taste them, or in the case of men, maybe it might be… Let’s say he’s a drummer and he bought himself one drum. And he’s got to have the other one to make the set. Let’s say that’s the case. He’s just gotta have it! There’s no ifs, ands. He can just taste it! It’s just in him so bad. So let’s say that we have the one object, and we have to have its complement. We want it so bad.

Well, first of all, there’s no satisfaction there, and here’s the reason why. In getting the object in the first place, we’ve reinforced an old and very bad habit of ours. We saw something; we accepted it at face value; we took a lot of energy to secure that thing. We grasped at it, and we got it. We strengthened that habitual tendency. We strengthened it. And then, of course, what was the result of that? The result of that was that you had to have more because that habitual tendency has been strengthened. So now we’ve got to have the shoes. So okay, now we’re going to go for the shoes. Save up lots of money, buy this big pair of shoes. Well, hopefully they’re not too big, but anyway, buy this great pair of shoes. They’re really expensive; they’re really beautiful; they’re perfect for the dress. And now you have to go through this whole thing of making it practical for yourself. Now you’ve got to go through so much, so much. And in doing so, you have substantiated, you have reinforced, you have continued the cause and effect relationships within your mind that cause you to look at things on a superficial level, to reach out, to grasp for them. It continues the inflammation of desire.

So even though you might have everything that you can think of, the habit of desire and the inflammation are still there. They’re still there. How is that going to happen? What’s going to result in that? You’ll think of more. You’ll think of more. You’re endlessly creative, always have been. Endlessly creative. You will think of more. And maybe you’ll satisfy yourself by thinking that, ‘Well okay, I’m not on clothes right now.’ So now you’ll think of something else. You’ll think of something else that you must have—a certain kind of happiness even if it’s a certain kind of mental state. I don’t know what it’s going to be next. Do you? But it will be something. You’ll think of more.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Problem With Desire

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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

The Happiness Machine


An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo from The Spiritual Path

Sometimes the ordained have problems with desire. When you take on robes, it doesn’t mean that desire ceases. Why not make that desire meaningful? You can offer desire to the Three Precious Jewels. It’s not a big secret that you’re feeling it. Use it as an offering! It is the most profound and auspicious offering. Of course, this is true for lay people as well. All the ego-clinging that you participate in can be offered. But what do you do instead? How many precious minutes do you waste? You sit there and think about how profound your understanding of the Dharma is, and you juggle your insights in the air. Aren’t you just continuing the habitual tendency of perceiving phenomenal reality according to you? You use your insights to increase your ego-clinging. Maybe you’re doing it right now, contriving your own version of the insight you think I want you to have. What you are not doing is offering your perception to the Three Precious Jewels. You aren’t, are you? You forgot. With this practice, you can break through the seduction of phenomenal existence. It is a way to break the cycle of desire and ego inflation. It is a way to awaken to the Nature. If you did that and nothing else, you would be an excellent practitioner, and you would achieve the auspicious result.

How can you break the cycle? If you remember just three times during the course of one day, three minutes of generosity, that’s a start. If you lose it after a minute, don’t give up. Keep climbing back on. When you fall off the horse, climb back on. That’s how you establish generosity in your mind. Write yourself a note. Put it on all your favorite places: your mirror, refrigerator, CD player. Whenever you turn on your CD player, you’ll remember to offer the experience of sound. A little at a time, day by day, you can have that experience. I have had the experience of going for a walk and doing that for an extended period of time. Each time I sensed the experience of perception, I would turn it over immediately, turn it over.

Your habit is to take a perception, hold on to it, and make something. Have you noticed that? But you can come between that moment of perceptual experience and making something. It’s tricky, and you have to practice it, but you can learn to put a little space in there. And you can use that space to turn it over, to dedicate it, to offer it. You can develop a repeatable experience. It can even become automatic. Just remember: the moment you experience your own perception, avoid forming it into a superstructure that enhances your ego. Turn it over, turn it over, offer it. What will happen? Your whole personality will change. Your behavior will change. It will have to change—because your behavior has been based on desire and on inflating your ego. Not only that, but if you engage in this kind of practice for an extended period, you can have something like a blissful experience. I say this with dread in my heart because I know what’s going to happen. You’ll go for a walk. You’ll put some minimal effort into this practice, and you’ll contrive for yourself an amazing, blissful experience. And then you’ll seize upon that experience and have a more meaningful self because of it. Don’t do that! Just engage in the practice and continually make that offering. You’ll find there’s a happiness that comes with it. There’s a joy, a spontaneous feeling of joy. But don’t cling to it. The minute you see yourself sensing the feeling, you’ve got to turn that over too. You simply make an offering. That experience of joy is an offering.  See all your connections with the world through the five senses as a kapala filled with precious jewels. But don’t contrive something out of it. Instead, find the subtle moment right before the experience. Then, once you find it, simply use that moment to make the offering.

I hope all this is helpful to you. I hope you will use it. This is the kind of teaching that can change your life. It can change everything about your practice. I don’t think it is arrogant to say that. It is my personal experience. This practice, I think, has contributed more to my well-being than anything, even though, if I tried, I could find reasons to be unhappy. But for me, this practice has been like a happiness machine. I feel it has deepened my mind. I feel it has made my mind more spacious, more relaxed, more peaceful. I feel it has created a lot of merit. I visualize an altar in my mind at which I can constantly make offerings. You should think of your consciousness as an altar—and all phenomenal experience as the offering. The instant you decide that you must have the best apples, make those apples count for something. Offer them and everything that is delicious and beautiful and satisfying. Offer as well all experience, in its purest form. Dedicate the value of that offering to the end of suffering for all sentient beings. You have entered the path of ultimate happiness.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Nature of Self

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

The Buddha approaches it at the level of understanding our true nature. The Buddha teaches us that our nature is the pristine primordial wisdom nature, which is free of any contrivance and free of any discrimination or delusion; that that nature is spacious and innately wakeful and free of any kind of limitation. The Buddha teaches us that we are also samsaric beings, which means that while we have that nature, we somehow throughout time have arrived at the acceptance of the idea of self-nature as being inherently real. Now the nature that the Buddha talks about is a nature which is free of the contrivance of self. That nature is free of that thought or idea or confinement, I should say. Yet, at the same time, while our nature is free of that contrivance of the idea of self-nature, somehow we have arrived at the false assumption of self-nature, and we have the habit of a continuum experienced as self.

Now in that continuum experienced as self, we have engaged since time out of mind, because the assumption of self-nature didn’t only come at this birth, according to the Buddha’s teaching. It didn’t even come at the previous birth. We have been assuming the identity of self-nature since time out of mind, since literally beginningless time, a time that is untraceable. The Buddha teaches us that we have been born many, many times; that we are continuing on a wheel of death and rebirth, death and rebirth, death and rebirth. That continuum actually continues because of the assumption of self-nature as being inherently real and therefore the desire that arises from that assumption. The Buddha teaches us that we actually continue as we do, wandering in samsara, or cyclic death and rebirth, due to desire based on the assumption of self -nature as being inherently real, because it is the self that desires.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Suffering of Cyclic Existence

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

So this is not particularly a pleasant subject.  Every part of you will resist talking about it; every part of you will resist internalizing it. But at this point you have to exert a little discipline. You have to begin to use discipline by examining, really, whether or not the things that you have done to attain happiness have ever really lasted. You should examine whether positive thinking or any of the things that you have done, or falling in love, the things that have made us happy, whether the happiness has carried through into the rest of our lives, and whether it has lasted for our whole lives so far. You can really look at it that way. And then maybe from that point of view, you may be able to gradually introduce yourself or discipline yourself into thinking about the faults of cyclic existence.

The faults of cyclic existence are obvious in some ways. According to the Buddha’s teaching everything in cyclic existence, every experience—life, death, joy, pain, happiness, unhappiness, poverty and wealth, having and not having, all the different experiences that we experience—all of them are impermanent no matter what the particular experience that you have is. Whether it is blissful and wonderful; whether, as in the Breck commercial, you are experiencing one of those love affairs where you bound across the field at each other every day, and it is always sunny and flowers in the field; and you catch each other rapturously in each other’s arms and smouchy, smouchy and all that kind of stuff. Even that is impermanent. Especially that is impermanent. That is most certainly impermanent, even if you are extremely beautiful, so beautiful that you could remain happy if you just got up and looked at yourself in the mirror because you are so beautiful. There are some people who are that beautiful. I haven’t met too many and I am not saying whether anybody here is that beautiful. But anyway there are people who are that beautiful, that all you have to do is look at yourself and you just go ahhhh!  Even that is impermanent. Especially that is impermanent. And defying the law of Estee Lauder, eventually it will go away.

The joy of having children: It is such an incredibly joyful experience to know that you can have a child, and to have a child sleeping peacefully in your arms and looking up at you with those beautiful little eyes, and tiny little rosebud mouths with a little trickle of milk coming down the side. So blissful. And then they become teenagers. That is impermanent. All of the things that you can experience… There is my teenage son over there. I am saying this for his sake. All of these things are very blissful and very wonderful, but extremely impermanent. Also suffering is extremely impermanent. ‘This too shall pass’ philosophy works. It works because everything is impermanent. It also works for happiness. That is the problem. Both the happiness and the suffering are impermanent.

Any pain that you feel, any suffering that you feel, any longing that you feel, even lifelong poverty is impermanent, because at the end of that life of poverty one will die. And after dying maybe you will be reborn rich. Who knows?  But your particular circumstance, whatever it is, is always impermanent. That is the only thing that is consistent about cyclic existence, impermanence. According to the Buddha’s teaching.

Each of the six realms of cyclic existence… (If you are interested in hearing what those realms are you can purchase tapes that we recorded here. There was a workshop recently given in which I described the six realms of cyclic existence according to the Buddha’s teachings.)   Anyway, in each of the six realms, there is a particular kind of suffering that is associated with that realm; and it has to do with the particular karma that it takes to be reborn in that realm. Each of these realms is different and unique, and they all have impermanence in common. They all have their cyclic nature in common. They arise from cause and effect and the cause and effect is continual and begets the next cause and effect. One begets the other. It is a constant begetting of more and more cause and effect. So they have that in common. But each particular realm has its own form of discomfort and suffering.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, you experience rebirth because of desire. Because of desire you are born into one of the six realms. Rebirth is experienced because of desire due to the belief in self-nature being inherently real. Now that is Buddhist lingo for ego. Actually due to the grasping of ego as being inherently solid, due to that grasping and perceiving phenomena as being external because of that grasping to ego as being inherently real, due to the belief in the division or distinction between self and other because of the belief in ego as being inherently real, due to that kind of faulty perception, one revolves in an illusory state, a state that seems to us very, very real. And that illusory state is cyclic existence.

Due to the desire that is associated with the belief in self-nature as being inherently real, we continually achieve or experience rebirth. According to the Buddha’s teaching, it is not necessarily a linear experience. We comfort ourselves with a very current idea that one progresses in a linear way. You should understand that this is a very new philosophy. This is not what the older religions, the ones that are more established, the ones that actually give the accomplishment of enlightenment, necessarily teach. Any form of Buddhism that has appeared in the world has taught that one experiences rebirth because of the karma of the mind and not necessarily in a linear progression. The idea of linear progression is new. If you think that is the only way in which birth is achieved, you should at least give yourself the opportunity of examining some alternative philosophies. The new idea associated with linear progression seems to be: Now that I am a human being, I will always be a human being or better; that I have come to this point and this is the level that I am at and I will always be at that point or better. So I am doing good. I am okay.

This is faulty reasoning. You are not taking into account that you have lived countless lifetimes. Countless lifetimes. You can’t name the time when it started. We are talking about aeons and aeons of cyclic existence. Such a long time that you have experienced rebirth that you have had many, many different lifetimes in many, many different forms. It is impossible to experience the ripening of all of your karmic causes, of all of the karma that you have accumulated over a period of time. It is impossible to experience all of those ripenings in one lifetime. Impossible. It is simply not dense enough. It is not possible. It would be like trying to put an ocean full of cause and effect relationships into a cup. It is simply not possible. So that being the case, you have lots and lots of latent karmic causes that have not ripened and cannot ripen, will not ripen, in this lifetime. So according to that thinking, all of us actually have the karma for being reborn in the lowest, hellish realm. And we also, all of us, have the karma for being reborn in the highest god realms.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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