Climbing the Mountain

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Marrying a Spiritual Life with Western Culture”

As many of you know, I like to climb the same mountain that you like to climb—the mountain of wisdom or understanding—so that we can get to the top and really have the full vista of understanding.  I find it’s best to climb the mountain, not in a linear way, but in a way that opens up to us true meaning on a conceptual level. It’s a good thing to climb that mountain from every possible angle you can think of because on each side there will be a different experience of going up the mountain. One can truly understand the mountain by moving in those various ways as opposed to having only one narrow means of approach.

In order to broaden and to deepen, then, one has to have the intention to really know and understand more deeply, so that Dharma will be real and focused and meaningful and will carry weight in one’s life. That’s what I’d like to talk about today. In order to do so, I’d like to talk about where we’re coming from and how our culture is different from a culture in which the Buddha naturally appeared and naturally emanated and naturally gave rise to certain teachings. The Buddha did not appear in Missouri—not in the way we understand.  Although in truth the Buddha is everywhere in Missouri, the historical Buddha did not appear in Missouri or Indiana or Brooklyn, not in the same way.  The original teachings, the path of Dharma that we practice, were brought to us by Lord Buddha himself.

The Dharma began in India in a culture that is very different from ours. It’s where Lord Buddha appeared. Even if it is not the most potent religion in India now, it still has had some effect on shaping and forming that culture. Here in America there are religious factors that have shaped our culture, but they are different.

So I would like to examine some of the ways in which the cultures are different, just briefly enough to have a certain idea that we can examine for ourselves. The best thing to do is to look at these cultures today, with just an idea of where they came from and how they progressed. Culture in America today is materialistically oriented. We are a culture of attainers. We accumulate things. We are given a definition of success that is handed down from generation to generation and, oddly enough, it has more to do with substance than it has to do with spirit, more to do with material gain or loss than it ever has to do with joy. Joy—what a concept!

When we are coming up, we are prepared and schooled to accomplish things that have to do with getting stuff—even if we study to become something that seems to be non-materialistically oriented, such as, for instance, a social worker. You would think that a social worker would be looking at our culture with different eyes.  You would think that a social worker would be asking, “Well, what are these social factors?  How can we organize them into something that is meaningful and deep for us? How can we express within our culture the gamut of human expressions? How can we integrate it? How can we make it work for us? How can we discard those things that do not work for society?” Yes, that is some of the training of a social worker. But why does somebody become a social worker?  And how do we approach that kind of thing? Well, we always think about how the job market is doing: “When I get out of school after I learn all of this, will I really be able to get a job?” We think of ourselves as having an office, and we think of ourselves as having that little square on the office door that says you are somebody. Then we think about whether that would be a really profitable occupation. So even if we were to approach something that could, by its nature, be fundamentally non-materialistic, we approach it from a materialistic point of view.

That’s one thing that is interesting and unique about our culture. It is so all-pervasive that it’s invisible, and you don’t really notice it until you go to other places. If you really want to learn something about your culture, leave it and come back. If mainstream America does not have that kind of experience, they cannot really see very well what the factors are. It’s more difficult. So to leave one’s culture and have another taste or another experience gives one a sense of comparison.

We approach everything in a collecting or accumulating way, in a materialistic way. We measure success by material substance.  Nobody’s parents tried to raise a great mystic because you wouldn’t do that to your kid in our society. You see what I’m saying?  You want to prevent your kid from the dark night of the soul.  You want to prevent your kid from the ambiguous, vague, cloudy, uncharted waters of mysticism.  You want your kid to be on the straight and narrow.  They know where to get a loaf of bread.  They know how to put some butter on it.  They know how to eat it.  They know how to feed it to their kids.  They know how to buy a car—that kind of thing.  You want your kid to be prepared for that.  You do not raise a mystic.  A mystic is something you have to contend with in our society.  It is an avocation that is fraught with suffering.

Now why is that?  Well, partially because a mystic goes into a very deep sense of connection.  In order to do that, the mystic has to plow through issues or plow through whatever it is that one plows through.  The other reason why being a mystic is so darn painful is because no one has any respect for that kind of thing.  A mystic in our society probably is a dreamer or a ne’er-do-well who can’t dress, who has no sense of self whatsoever, is socially inappropriate, can’t figure out how to catch a cab. Or maybe a mystic is someone who is depressed, possibly should be on Prozac. These are the kind of things that we associate with a mystic’s life and that is why nobody has ever been encouraged to be like that. The idea of really profound, deep mysticism scares the patooties out of us.

But in another culture where that kind of ideal is held up as being something pure, something wonderful, something significant, one’s experience regarding mysticism is entirely different. There is a dignity and nobility about it. There is a sense that this is a worthwhile occupation. There is definitely less fear of having the freedom to utilize one’s life as a vehicle for true deep mysticism and spirituality. One of the reasons why it’s more comfortable and easier to get connected to it is because one isn’t socially ostracized.

Now the great thing about being a mystic in America is that, once you get to the point where you’re really good at it and somebody finds you and you can market it—maybe write a book or two, maybe sell something that you’ve given rise to—then you can be a success.  Mystics in our society can also be successful after they’re dead. I really don’t know why. If any of you know why, tell me. But while we’re alive, we don’t have too much hope.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved


Discernment: Taking the Time to Examine the Spiritual Path

The following is an excerpt from a public talk given by His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok:

When we think about the validity of religions—in terms of traditions, in terms of sciences internal and external, and in terms of pith essential pointing out instructions—there is no religion that equals that of Buddhism.  At this time there is no opportunity to really go into it; but in terms of the validity of the tradition which goes back for thousands of years and is documented in pechas, or scriptures, which are available at this present time, if one were really to investigate the qualities of the Buddha’s path, it is something quite extraordinary and unequalled by any other religion.  I would be more than happy to explain every single reason why in absolute detail, but there wouldn’t be time for that today, nor would there be time in the days that I have here, and you probably would become quite bored with listening to it.  So we’ll leave it at that, but please understand that these points are fully documented in the scriptures that we have available to us which date back some thousands of years.

Because of my own qualifications and so forth, at this time I can tell you all that I am a practitioner of the Buddhist religion. I am a Buddhist, and yet I can assure you that at no time in my life have I ever felt a sense of attachment to Buddhism because that is my own religion, nor have I ever felt a sense of aversion to any other religion because it was not the religion that I specifically pursue.  So please do not feel that I have any partial attitude towards my own tradition or a biased attitude towards any other tradition being inferior to it because I never have felt this way.  However, for a very long period of time I have examined not only the Buddhist religion but many other religions, and Buddhism, as practiced in the land of Tibet, is practiced according to three great lineages or rivers of this tradition which have come down over the centuries from India, China and Tibet.  Maybe many of you have heard of the Panchen Rinpoche who asked me to be personally responsible for examining the lineages and updating them and correcting any sort of discrepancies that may occur in present times.  Due to that I spent a lot of time going into further examinations of the traditions, and I came to the conclusion that the path of Buddhism is absolutely unequalled by any other.  It is absolutely superior.

Therefore I would encourage each and every one of you to carefully examine the spiritual path that you are involved in to make sure that you have not made any mistake. If you don’t examine your spiritual path and you just sort of mindlessly enter into a tradition which has no validity or true source, this is what is called delusion, ignorance. We Tibetans have a saying, “Don’t be like a dog.” If you put fresh lungs in front of a dog, the dog will just devour those lungs without even thinking for a moment, will just scarf them down.  Don’t be like this in terms of pursuing a spiritual tradition.  One should be very careful to examine in minute detail. And once one has found out for oneself through that process of analytical investigation that this is a true path and a path that is valid and has a true origin, then one can enter.  But please don’t just aimlessly enter a spiritual path without thinking.



The House is On Fire

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

The Buddha teaches us tenderly and gently, as though we were his own children.  There’s a story about a king who had many children. He loved his children dearly, but they were children, you know, children involved with children things, bright shiny play objects and things that make them happy.  So the father left the children, hopefully in good care; he had to go off and do something in his kingdom (I think I’m telling the story right, I hope so. Om Benzar Satto Hung. So he goes away for a while and when he comes back to his house, his house is on fire. It’s a big house and his children don’t even realize it.  The children are comfortably asleep in their little children beds.  The king is outside. He can’t get to his children and he’s hollering, “Come out children. Hurry up. Get out of that burning house now. Quick wake up. Run.”  The kids, they’re not used to being in trouble.  They’re the king’s children.  They’re used to being safe; and they have that habit of being safe in their beds so they’re not worried about anything.  They hear somebody shouting, but they just turn over in their covers and go back to sleep.

The king becomes frantic. They’re his children!  So he says, “Children come out now or I’ll beat you with a stick! Come out or I’ll go in there and I’ll just beat you with a stick and knock your heads off.  So come out right now.”  And the kids go, “Oh, that’s dad.  You know, he’s not really going to beat us with a stick, because we’re the king’s kids. He’s just saying that, so we’re not too worried about it.”  And so the kids get out of their beds and they start playing with their toys. The king is making so much noise, and they’re in the back room and they’re just playing with their little toys, preoccupied, you know, the way we are, and playing with little things.  And then the king goes, “Children, I have beautiful toys for you out here.  Treasures.  Beautiful things.  I have a grand elephant for you to ride.  I have a whole herd of horses for you to enjoy.  I have beautiful umbrellas and shiny jewels and so many objects for you to come and play with.”  Naturally, the kids are attracted by that and go running out of the house. At which time the father, being part Italian goes, “Aye!”  (That would have been me.  That’s not what the father did.)  The father embraced his children and said, “Oh I’m sorry I had to lie to you.  I’m sorry I had to promise you things.  I’m sorry I had to threaten you.  But see, your house is burning.”

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Why Practice Dharma?

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Stabilizing the Mind”

Do you really understand why you are practicing Buddhism?

Ultimately, when you come to understand what the Buddha and all the great lamas have taught, you will come to understand that it basically boils down to the fact that all sentient beings are suffering, that desire is the cause of suffering, that there is an end to suffering, and that end is enlightenment.  There are different ways that you can attain enlightenment, but they all have to do with ending attachment and desire in the mindstream.  They have to do with realizing that one’s nature is not the same as the conceptual proliferations that we live with, the desire that we live with, and the ego that we perceive as ourselves.  I really think that once you understand enough so that you can look at your life – with all its emotional highs and lows – and realize that it is impermanent, that you’re just riding on your own concepts and that by doing that you can’t make your mind stable enough to break free of the compulsion to revolve in cyclic existence for eons and eons that awareness becomes the taskmaster.  That realization becomes the teacher.

If you don’t realize that circumstances are impermanent, if you’re practicing because you have some crazy idea that you’re going to be a great being some day or that you’re going to triumph in the end, and that it’s all about self and self-cherishing, if you have some romantic notion about ordination or about practicing at all, you won’t be stable in your practice.  Understanding the teachings about impermanence is the stabilizer, the real teacher.  Understanding from the depth of your heart that desire really is the cause of suffering is the taskmaster.  Looking at your mind in some stable way so that you can understand that the mind just floats helplessly, constantly, on its own concepts, whichever way the concepts go, up or down, and that these concepts are the cause for suffering and that there’s no lasting happiness in them, gives you a firm foundation.  It is then that you understand why you practice, and although the circumstances of your life may change, you will never turn away from practice.  You may go to work or you may stay home; you may have children or you may not; you may take robes or you may not. Whatever the circumstances are of your life, as long as you know these things, you will remain firm.  Your infatuation with the culture, with the music, with the color, with the ritual of Tibetan Buddhism will never be enough.  You have to understand the heart of the Buddha’s teaching.  You have to understand the value of compassion.  You have to understand how important it is to end suffering and what the means are to end suffering in order to stay with the Dharma, in order to be stable and safe in the Dharma.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

I Choose Enlightenment

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhists Think by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

People ask: “In your tradition, is Buddha like God?”  No, Buddha is not like God.  “Is Guru Rinpoche God?”  No, Guru Rinpoche is not God.  “Well, what do you call God in your tradition?”  We don’t call anything God.  There are gods, but they are not the goal.  Westerners try to find a way around that, saying something like, “All right, then what is the goal?” I tell them, “Enlightenment.”  They reply, “Okay, then Enlightenment is God.”  No, it’s not. The goal is not anything as personalized and externalized as that.  There is no “other.”  The moment we are caught up in “self and other,” we have lost the essential Nature.  We are fixated, stuck in duality.

This is about Awakening, which is the pacification of such fixation.  You must understand the fundamental distinction between Buddhism and Western thinking––whether you are considering beginning the Path or are already a practioner. You must understand this difference, so that you will know what your true objects of refuge are.

The statement “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, and I take refuge in the Sangha” is an essential element throughout your practice of the Buddha’s teaching.  What does this statement mean?  It means you have looked at the faults of cyclic existence, and you have seen that it produces no real happiness.  You have learned that the Buddha said there is a cessation of suffering, this cessation is Enlightenment, and it is also the cessation of desire.  So you have decided to go for Enlightenment.  That means you have to really understand the faults of cyclic existence––even if these ideas are difficult to swallow.  It’s like taking a medicine that tastes bad until you get used to it.  It is like that in the beginning.

Having decided to take this medicine, you look at those who deliver it.  We look to the Buddha, and this includes all those who have attained Buddhahood, not just the historical Shakyamuni Buddha.  We look to the Dharma, which is the revelation or teaching brought forth from the mind of Enlightenment.  And we look to the Sangha, the spiritual community to which we belong.  It is the Sangha who are responsible for treasuring and propagating the teachings.

In the Vajrayana tradition, we also say, “I take refuge in the Lama,” who is considered representative of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.  Without the Lamas, you would not hear the Buddha’s teachings.  And without the Lamas, there would be no Sangha.

When you say you take refuge in all of these, what you are saying is: “I choose Enlightenment.  I choose the cessation of suffering.”  You move away from the faults of cyclic existence, and you remain focused on the ultimate goal.

In a deeper sense, however, you must understand that you are ultimately taking refuge in Enlightenment itself.  You must understand it as both the Path and the intrinsic Nature.  So you are taking refuge in the Nature of your own mind.  If you understand this thoroughly, you can never be duped.  But you do have to work very diligently and with discipline towards the goal.

The method is very technical, very involved. It isn’t easy because it must cut through aeons of compulsive absorption in self-nature.  It must cut like a knife!  It must be powerful––and it is powerful.  You have to think of Dharma that way.  The technology has to be strong––and real.  You can’t just talk about it.   There is work to be done!

Although it is strong, the technology is very flexible.  You need not be afraid.  You will not be forced to go any deeper than you want to go.  You have the right to practice gently.  You will still be accumulating causes for a future incarnation as a human with these auspicious conditions, and then you will be able to practice well and dilligently.

There are people who only do very small, very gentle practice.  And that’s fine.  There is a large tradition of that in the Buddha Dharma.  There are also people who are more deeply involved, though in a mediocre way.  They practice an hour or so a day.  They do a good job, and they’re faithful, and that’s it.  Then there are people who practice many hours each day.  They continually try to propagate the Teaching, and they work very hard.  So you have a choice. You can determine the level of your involvement.


© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

To download the complete teaching, click here and scroll down to How Buddhists Think

Understanding the Nightmare – by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche on “Meditation” reprinted with permission from Palyul Ling International:

And there are many, many beings that don’t know much about Buddha or Enlightenment or the Dharma teachings or liberation. They really don’t have any idea of such things. Even with all the explanations we could find in these Dharma teachings, and even though so many lamas and other qualified teachers give these teachings, still one might think that these teachings are just myths. And so you can’t truly accept them or believe in the absolute reality.

Everything is based on what is called the Law of Karma which is the actions that we do, the causes and conditions we create ourselves. Furthermore there is a Law of Karma which is known as the Collective Karma, the actions, causes and conditions we create together. There is no way we can change ourselves other than understanding Karma. Moreover, when one cannot understand all these deeper things, then one thinks that these things do not really exist.

When the lamas and the many other qualified teachers¹ teach on the sufferings of Samsara, of course it is not really nice to hear and then one feels like, “I don´t want to hear these kinds of teachings.” Certain people when lama gives these teachings on suffering even say, “I’m not interested to listen about the sufferings of Samsara. This lama doesn’t seem like he can give out good teachings!” These people prefer to just express their own ideas.

However, when taught by a qualified lama, it is indeed the Dharma, the truth. These teachings about the nature of Samsara and the reality of the faults of Samsara have been taught by all the Enlightened Beings such as Shakyamuni Buddha. The Enlightened Beings, the Buddhas, all gave these teachings because if we could just understand the nature of Samsara, we could then move on to the actual practices through which we could purify our obscurations. We could have the ultimate realization through which we achieve peace and happiness, and through that we could manifest ourselves to benefit all other sentient beings in Samsara. For that purpose Buddha gave all these teachings. It is not that Buddha wanted to be famous and so gave these teachings, nor was the Buddha showing off his skills in teaching, nor was he explaining things to us so that we would become frightened. These teachings are mainly about how all sentient beings can believe and act to attain complete Enlightenment, to liberate themselves from the sufferings of Samsara. So you see, Buddha gave these teachings with great compassion.

Take the example of a having a nightmare. Within such dreams, no matter what you do, you still cannot escape the scary feeling of a nightmare until you wake up. At the same moment, someone who is awake and watching beside the bed, can see that you are having a dream. We can understand something of the nature of Samsara from this dream example. While we are in Samsara experiencing all different kinds of sufferings, it is exactly like somebody who is having a nightmare.

His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok on Dharma in the West

The following is an excerpt from a public talk given by His Holiness Jigme Phuntsok:

As we begin here this afternoon, I would like to mention a little bit about the great deeds of our sole guide and protector, Lord Buddha Shakyamuni, who before he became the Buddha initially gave rise to the awakened mind, the Bodhicitta, after which he worked for countless aeons to accumulate merit, finally culminating in his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, India.  Then 49 days later, for the benefit of all those gods and human beings and many others who would benefit indefinitely in future times as well, he turned the Wheel of the Dharma for the first time to bring the precious and holy Dharma into the world.  Now, in fact, this is the auspicious day which commemorates the first turning of the Wheel of the Dharma, and because of that I feel that all of the outer, inner and secret omens have come together to make this a most auspicious occasion.

Also at this time, on this fully endowed occasion, in this world the greatest country that exists, the most sublime, the most exalted country in terms of fame and freedom and glory which is unequalled by any other, is the United States of America.  Today for the first time I find myself in the capital city of this great land teaching the Dharma, and I am filled with joy.  Furthermore there are three reasons why I am filled with joy. I feel that the leaders of this great land, who are actually the leaders of the world, are men and women who are concerned with bringing peace to this world and establishing the beings of this world in bliss and happiness. Towards this pursuit, they work effortlessly because they have the noble qualities and the abilities and the intelligence to actually make this come about.  So I feel that they are here close to us, and this is the first reason why I feel a sense of joy: knowing that leaders such as this are in this vicinity.

The second reason I am filled with joy is because the general population of the human beings who live here in the United States of America are people who are endowed with a great amount of power and a great amount of material wealth.  Just by the fact that they live in this country they also have freedom—freedom of choice and human rights.  The condition is fully endowed. And when I think about all the people of this country having such auspicious and wondrous conditions, it is a great marvel to me, which makes me very glad.

Thirdly, the environment of this place, the particular endowment of the external environment, is that it is quite beautiful.  There are beautiful rolling hills and forests, and although it is of cyclic existence, it seems to be somewhat like a celestial realm, a god’s realm, rather than an ordinary city.  To see such a beautiful place as it is, I also feel great joy.

I had heard about this place before in Asia where I live, and it’s not until today that I actually come here. Now that I’ve really come and I am able to see for myself just how fully endowed it really is, that all the things that I heard are actually true and inconceivable, truly, then I feel even more joyful.

Now, we are Tibetan Buddhists, and in Tibet there are many traditions of Buddhism. Amongst them is the great Palyul tradition, the founder of which was the Vidyadhara Kunzang Sherab.  Kunzang Sherab’s sister was the great dakini, Ahkön Lhamo, and she was very important in helping to establish and uphold the Palyul tradition at the time when it was first initiated in the land of Tibet.  The great omniscient mind of primordial wisdom, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, is the one who recognized her, who lives here in this land , in this incarnation, , I am especially happy to find her so well, in good health and so happy.  To meet her here at this time gives me a great amount of joy.

As for all of the rest of you, the assembly of disciples, it is clear to me that you have very strong faith in the Buddhadharma, and this is also something that is very wonderful.  You see, in Tibet there are many thousands of students who have been training in Dharma for many years, so it is not difficult for them to have faith and devotion, but here it is something quite extraordinary because this is not a Buddhist country.  It is clear to me because of the kindness of Ahkön Lhamo who has brought many of you to the path of Dharma that this is why you have made this connection and this is why your faith is so strong at this time.  I am very happy to see how this connection has been made and to see how the Dharma is flourishing here due to her kindness.

Especially too, here in the United States of America, with His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the leader, many other great lamas have come to this land, have stayed here for long periods of time and have given the Dharma teachings extensively.  I visited some of those places at this time,  however, the Dharma center of Ahkön Lhamo is different.  I haven’t seen or felt any other place like it.  That is because in Ahkön Lhamo’s center there are many ordained Sangha members.  To see the robes of the ordained is something that brings me tremendous joy—to see how the Sangha, or the ordained community, has been established in the center.  So, in particular, due to having seen the Sangha community flourishing in this way, I am extremely happy.

Generally speaking, in whatever country the Dharma may become established, it is very important for there to be a combination of the fully ordained, the partially ordained and the lay householders as a gathering of what we call the community of the Sangha.  If you have just only the lay community and no fully or partially ordained community, it is incomplete, and vice versa.  To have all of the different categories of holders of the Pratimoksha precepts together maintaining the Sangha community, it is considered to be fully endowed and complete, and that is what I see here in this center.

In particular, the category of ordination known as getsul, or novice, which of course includes the fully ordained, means those who have renounced the ordinary life of a lay person and who have taken on the life of an ordained practitioner.  Now this status is something extremely important for the survival of Buddhism in any country at any time.  This is something quite different from those who are called ngakpa, or mantra precept holders, who have no ordination according to the Pratimoksha per se.  It is different because the doctrine can completely decline and vanish, and has over the course of time completely declined and vanished in places where there are only those holding the mantra precepts.  In order for the survival of Buddhism to be assured anywhere in the world at any time so that it will always be flourishing, it is totally dependent upon the survival of the ordained Sangha.

Also as well in terms of the survival and the propagation of the Doctrine following this point of the survival of those who hold the Pratimoksha precepts, particularly that of full ordination, there is a prophecy from Lord Buddha which states that for 500 years occurring in ten successive stages of time, the Doctrine will increase and be propagated in the regions of the world.  Now there are other prophecies that have to do with the land of Tibet and the Doctrine spreading to the north and surviving only in the north and then later going to the west and surviving in the western countries.  According to this prophecy about the survival in the north, this refers to Tibet, which is the northern Snow Land of Tibet, the northern region of the world, and so there, of course, the lineage of ordination has propagated and survived.  Then also according to the prophecy that it would spread into the west, that seems to indicate the western world, not necessarily western Asia.  So when we look at the world in general and see now how in fact the lineages of ordination are moving into the western lands, then we can see how this prophecy is actually coming to pass.  This is also something to rejoice about.

Henceforth, in general, because of Ahkön Lhamo’s efforts, the Doctrine is being established in this place, and also the lineage of ordination, which I will also pray, I do pray now and I will continue to pray to be ever increasing, to always be fully endowed, and that due to this there may always be peace and happiness for all the people of this place.


The Foundation of Dharma

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Commitment to the Path”

Today I would like to begin to lay the foundation by which we will practice. Even for those of us that have been practicing for some time, if we lose the foundation or if the foundation, like in the analogy of a house, becomes weak or compromised in any way, it’s not long, then, before the house will topple or the house will lean or become unstable.  It’s like that with our practice.  If certain fundamental thoughts are not stable in such a way as to hold up the rest of our practice and support us on the path, then eventually our path, our practice, will decay, decline in some way.

Although practice, like life itself, is often cyclic, sometimes we feel we are in a position to do more practice and other times we are in a position to do less practice.  Still in all, we have to make sure that we’re able to make slow and steady progress. The reason I say slow and steady progress is because oftentimes new students will trip themselves up by trying to go too fast without the depth of understanding.  It’s exactly like building your house on sand.  It’s exactly like that.  We want to go into the neater stuff; we want to go into the cooler stuff.  We want to learn the stuff that makes us look exotic when we practice, but none of us will really be practicing in truth if we don’t have certain foundational ideas and if we don’t constantly review them over time and constantly make them part of our contemplative life.

Of course those thoughts are engineered to turn the mind toward Dharma.  In order to turn the mind toward Dharma, we have to have our eyes opened.  We can’t be lightweights; we can’t be bliss ninnies.  We just can’t say, “Oh, it’s so cool to practice Dharma.  Let’s go on.”  We have to understand why we are practicing Dharma, because Dharma is a path and a lifestyle and a method that one has to use throughout the course of one’s life.  We have to be consistent.  We have to be persistent.  It can’t be the kind of faith that you have only on Sunday mornings or only on liturgical holidays.  It’s a walking-through-your-life kind of thing, and it requires you to make enormous changes. Behavior and ideas that may have been acceptable before will gradually become unacceptable – not in a way that you should be filled with guilt or shame.  It’s not like that.  It’s more like when you really understand the Buddhadharma and you understand what samsaric existence is, and what the display of one’s nature is, it will become more natural to practice the bodhicitta and to give rise to compassion, to caring for all sentient beings.

In order to proceed effectively on this path that challenges us every moment of every day, we have to remain focused, remain mindful in ways we never thought we could or we’d ever have to.  And the reason why again is that Dharma does not simply come from magical thinking.  It does not come from the stars.  It does not just descend upon us on some lucky day for no apparent reason.  Dharma is the awareness of cause and effect relationships.

Now for me, that’s why Dharma makes so much sense.  I know when I first introduced some of the ideas of Dharma to my students, they were, you might say, a little resistant.  They would think things like “You mean, like path?  Like you have to do something every day?  Like you have to change the way you think and the way you act?  I mean, couldn’t we just like get salvation?”  And that’s the idea.  We’ve been raised with the idea that religion is like a condiment on the plate of life.  You know, something to sweeten it up with or salt it up with.  A little oregano on the pasta.

But in fact, we find out that we have to learn something different.  Dharma becomes our heart.  Dharma becomes enthroned on the mind and heart.  And the reason why is that Dharma has to accomplish something that is very breathtaking.  Dharma has to accomplish something that is enormous, that seems almost inconceivable.  It has to take our perception of ordinary samsaric cyclic existence, which is a state of delusion, a state of non-recognition, and it has to transform our capacity to be able to recognize our own innate nature.  Yet, everything about us is geared to function in duality.  Two eyes, two nostrils.  All of our senses are extensions of our ego, so they always work to function in duality.  So how can this thing happen?  We ask ourselves, what in the world, what kind of experience, what kind of event could turn us around to where our perception could become so clear that we could be like the Buddha, awake to our primordial wisdom nature.

Well, what is it that Dharma is supposed to do, exactly, and how does it do it?  The idea is to have a path on Dharma that is exacting and is a method that takes you to a to b to c to d, and also is flexible.  You can go from a to d to m to t.  Dharma is suitable for all sentient beings, because there is some element of Dharma that is compatible with one’s own karma.  So it’s not a general here’s-the-true-label for everybody.  There are teachings that the Buddha gives that are incontrovertible.  They will never change.  They are about the nature of samsaric existence.  Yet the path is individualized.  For instance, I really like to practice Guru Yoga.  That’s my thing.  That’s what I do.  And somebody else might really like to practice Vajrakilaya.  Ultimately it’s the same practice.  One is a peaceful practice, one is a wrathful practice. One is based on deepening the connection with the root guru.  The other is also based on that, and is also based on very actively manifesting one’s compassion.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo All Rights Reserved



Pitfalls and Excuses


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

It is difficult in our world to practice regularly, with firm resolve. Some people say, “I’d really like to do that, but I don’t have the discipline, the commitment.” But if you are motivated by compassion, you will find the time and the way to do it. What if you are just too tired? Well, how do you find the strength to breathe when you are totally exhausted? You do it automatically, don’t you? What if you could understand, through a process of deep cultivation, that innumerable sentient beings are constantly in pain, that they go through endless rounds of torment, that there are non- physical realms of existence filled with unimaginable suffering? What if, because of this realization, compassion and profound generosity became so much a part of you that they were an automatic reflex, like breathing? Then there would not be a moment in which you did not practice with the utmost compassion. You would never think only of yourself and your needs, pursuing temporary gratification.

In order to become a deepened practitioner, you must have compassion for all others—so strong, so extraordinary that it will nourish you even when you feel “dry.” Unfortunately, some people practice for years, perhaps taking both retreat and ordination; then, suddenly, some karmic switch flips in their minds. They decide not to “do” Dharma anymore. They move on to other things. This is not uncommon for Westerners. It need not happen to you, but you should face the fact that it could. You could become dry inside. If so, you must face the cause: You have forgotten them.

If an extraordinary, burning love is not the most important force in your life, the natural inclination of a mind still influenced by desire will be to reassert itself at some point. This sounds harsh, but it is true. This is a time of increasing degeneracy. You must practice and cultivate this mind of love so thoroughly that you are moved to the core even at the faint possibility of achieving liberation in order to benefit beings. Do not be afraid of that kind of love. In the West, we learn to be cool, rational and detached. We value this highly. When we go to the grave, however, only the selfishness of this ideal will survive, not the intelligence. What will also survive and create the circumstances of your next lifeis the purity of your mind and heart, the degree of love you have accomplished. And if your love is so strong that you return even after attaining liberation, you are the hope of the world.

If you have the love to make a commitment to benefit beings at any cost, a sense of joy is born in the mind. This joy is stronger than ordinary human joy. It begins as a tiny seed but eventually grows to become a profound sense of bliss.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

What is “Refuge?” from a commentary by Venerable Gyaltrul Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from Great Perfection Buddha in the Palm of the Hand a commentary by Gyaltrul Rinpoche:

The reason for taking refuge is based on the awareness of the precious human rebirth, on the awareness that, having attained the precious human rebirth, to waste it will be just like returning empty-handed from a land of precious jewels. Keeping that in mind, you must recognize that you need some kind of guide, some kind of help, someone or something that will teach you, show you, how to make use of your precious opportunity. This someone or something is the three jewels of refuge.

As I have mentioned, one should not take refuge in or rely upon the external form, the body of the lama or the actual presence of the Buddha. If that were important, then we would all be in trouble because the Buddha is long gone now and the lama will also pass. Even though the Buddha and all the great teachers of the past are no longer in this world, there are still buddhists. Buddhism lives on because refuge isn’t taken in the body, the form, of a teacher; it’s taken in the qualities that are actualized in that particular embodiment.

The enlightened body has specific attributes, indicated by specific physical characteristics. You must learn what those attributes are. There are many different teachings on the subject of the enlightened body.  For example, the fact that a buddha or a deity has one face symbolizes the dharmakaya, the great bindhu that is the one nature of reality, or truth. Two arms symbolize method and wisdom in non-dual union. When you take refuge in the sangha you take refuge in the qualities the sangha represents, not the bodies of the sangha members. When you take refuge in the dharma you aren’t taking refuge in the paper and ink, in the pages that the dharma is written on; you’re taking refuge in what the words express, in the quality and essence of the teaching. Whatever your dharma practice may  be, on whatever level, it is in the meaning of the dharma that you take refuge.

If you intend to study with a spiritual teacher, that teacher should be an embodiment of the qualities of the three jewels of refuge, and you should know what those qualities are. If you take refuge in an ordinary person who lacks a higher level of realization, who, in his ignorance, mixes traditions to create something new — maybe mixing hinduism and buddhism, throwing in a little christianity or taoism, making a little garbage container — then you will find yourself in trouble. It won’t be beneficial to you; it will harm you and everyone else involved. And you shouldn’t become such a teacher, because you won’t be a suitable object of refuge. If you are not a lama, a qualified spiritual teacher, then you are sangha. Since the sangha is one of the three jewels, it is important that you also be clean and pure.

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