Start From the Beginning

leprosy-hands

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

Today then I will talk about something that is necessary as a foundational understanding in order to begin the Buddhist path. In order to understand what the Buddha is talking about, in order in fact to begin to meditate or accomplish anything spiritual, on any level, there has to be, of course, a motivation. This motivation varies from culture to culture and certainly it varies from individual to individual.

I have stated this before and I will state it again. In third world countries there is a tremendous amount of very visible suffering. Of course, we have suffering here too. And I believe in my heart that the suffering is actually equal, but it is a different kind of suffering. Our suffering is not as visible. We are sophisticated and therefore we hide certain aspects of our culture. There are certain particular, very obvious forms of suffering that we traditionally put away and hide in institutions, or hide in certain parts of town that we never go to. There are certain ways in which we deal with suffering that third world countries do not have. In third world countries, and it really isn’t fair but I don’t want to spend too much time naming a specific situation, suffering is often seen very visibly on the streets. I remember when I went to India, landing in Bombay, and never having seen a case of leprosy in my life, suddenly seeing hundreds of people on the street with different degrees of leprosy, different levels of advancement—some without arms and legs scooting around on little carts, because leprosy had done away with their limbs, and others with just the beginnings of leprosy and open sores and different extremities beginning to show decay. Poverty is unbelievably evident. I am a little on the hefty side, as you may have noticed, and I remember being unbelievably ashamed of that when I saw that on the streets of Bombay, you could count everyone’s ribs. It was completely unbelievable that hunger is so prevalent there and so much a part of society. The suffering of the lack of education, of ignorance, of hunger, of sickness, these are all very obvious and they are right there in front of us. People literally do lay down and die in the street. The suffering of the animals there, the bullocks that constantly have to, from dawn to night time, pull huge carts that are so much greater than their body weight. And seeing that is quite shocking because we don’t have that here.

So in a culture like that when we look at the motivation to accomplish Dharma, it is very simply that the people in that culture do not wish to suffer anymore. They are very much aware that they are suffering. They are very much aware that this suffering is constantly with them. They are very much aware that it is completely possible to be reborn as a human being and still experience terrible suffering. They are very much aware that they don’t have a sense of control; they feel that having been born into a certain situation there is really no way out. In America, we are taught from birth that there is a way out. We can take education or we can do one thing or another. If we really work hard, we can achieve the American dream. We can build a better mouse trap and sell it to the American public and become rich. And we can work for Amway or whatever it is that we do and have a geometrical progression into wealth. We always have that hope. But people in these cultures do not have that hope. They are trying to survive from day to day, and the tremendous amount of suffering that goes with that is very evident to them.

So when you bring to a culture such as that a philosophy such as the Buddha brought where he clearly taught that all sentient beings are trying to be happy. They wish to be happy, yet they do not have the means to accomplish happiness. In a culture like that, it is understood. When the Buddha teaches that all sentient beings are suffering and even if they feel temporary happiness, even if we are able to accomplish an entire life time of temporary happiness, that because we are involved in cyclic existence, and because it is cyclic that that happiness is impermanent. It is always coupled by the other side of the coin which is suffering; that, in cyclic existence, suffering is inescapable. In a culture like that it is clearly understood. It is very evident to them that there is always suffering. Even if we managed to get enough firewood, get enough food, and even store it for awhile and even have a little celebration and even if we lose ourselves temporarily in the phenomena of life, such as falling in love, getting married—all of the different things that bring us temporary joy—that still we are very much involved in suffering. That is evident there.

But here in our culture, I have found it personally very difficult to convince Westerners, Americans at least, that this is a good reason to practice. And I understand why this is. We are brought up with the idea that we don’t have to suffer. We are brought up with the idea that here in America one need not suffer. Here in America the streets are paved with gold. Literally, there is a wonderful and golden opportunity. And if you are willing to buy a book, there is a book about how to have that opportunity. There are all kinds of books about how to have those opportunities. The sufferings that we have are very hidden. What they don’t tell you in those books is that even if you get rich, even if you become popular with the opposite sex, even if you learn to make friends and influence people, even if you become politically powerful, even if you become well educated that these things do not bring ultimate happiness. Or what happiness that they do bring is very impermanent. That often the people who accomplish these things never feel a sense of fulfillment, never feel truly happy, never feel as though they had aced it, always feel a sense of longing and a kind of suffering that is very hard to describe. In fact there is another book that is written, the book that I know personally is Passages. It talks about different periods in one’s life during which one traditionally breaks down, and breaks down because all of your life they told you, in these other books, that you could be happy doing these various things; and you could be happy if you were popular with the opposite sex, and you could be happy if you made lots of money, and you could be happy if you did all these things. But right around 35 or 38, somewhere around there, you discover that in fact you have done all these things and you are not happy.

And so it becomes traditional to break down at that time. So that is another book that we write. But we do it in such a crafty way that we don’t even realize that this is a cyclic thing, that this is a constant event. That we constantly strive and work very hard and accomplish these things that seem as though they are going to be the answer; and then ultimately they are not the answer. Ultimately we continue to suffer, but the way that our society is structured these things are very hidden. So, for Americans, for Westerners, I have found that it is very hard to convince them of this. The expression that we use in the Buddhist tradition is hook, or hook of compassion. Sounds devious, I know. Americans are afraid of hooks. If you think of it as a hook of compassion, maybe you will be more comfortable. But the hook that seems to really work for Westerners is compassion.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Introduction to the Four Noble Truths by His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok

The following is an excerpt from a public talk given by His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok in Washington D.C.

This is the auspicious occasion which commemorates the precious turning of the Dharma Wheel which occurred in ancient India by our Lord and Supreme Guide, Lord Buddha Shakyamuni, in Varanasi in the presence of the five disciples and hundreds and thousands of gods and other exalted beings who gathered. At that time the Buddha gave the teaching on the subject of the Four Noble Truths.  Since this is the special day of that teaching, I would also like to mention a little about the Four Noble Truths.

OM YE DHARMA HE TU PRA BHA WA HE TUN TE KHEN TA THA GA TO HAYA WA DET TE KHEN TSA YO NI RO DHA EWAM BHADI MA HA SHRA MA NA YE SO HA

I have just recited what is called the essence mantra of interdependent origination, which is what the Buddha first uttered on that occasion.  First the Bhagawan Lord Buddha Shakyamuni spoke four words which had to do with understanding the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the path which leads to the cessation of suffering. These four points were explained according to their essential nature.  Secondly, he explained how it is that we can recognize what suffering is, what causes suffering, what causes the cessation of suffering and what practices are the actual practices that comprise the path leading to the cessation of suffering.  And thirdly, he explained what the situation was like when suffering is alleviated, when the causes of suffering are alleviated, when the cessation occurs and the actual fruition of the path.  After explaining the Four Noble Truths in these three ways, Lord Buddha Shakyamuni was able to lead those five disciples, who themselves were all Arhats, and those hundreds and thousands of gods and exalted beings who had gathered to realize the fundamental nature of reality, the nature of the dharmata.  Although the Buddha himself only uttered twelve words, because those who were gathered there were not ordinary and had tremendous faith and devotion and fervent regard, they were able to actualize the full understanding of the teaching and realize the meaning based on that direct transmission.

Now I would like to very briefly go back and explain the meaning of what Lord Buddha taught on that occasion.  These are like condensed teachings that came in words, but the explanations that came after the first explanation were for those who were on the Bodhisattva bhumis, and so they could understand the meaning. Therefore I would like to explain the first series of teachings on the nature of suffering, which is something that we can relate to.  What I will be drawing from at this point is a teaching which was actually written down, or compiled by, Maitreya.  To cite an example: If one is suffering from a disease or an illness, first one has to recognize what is the cause of that disease in order for the suffering to be alleviated.  The second step would naturally be to recognize what causes the disease.  One must then be careful in terms of what food one eats and one’s activity and conduct so as to not create those causes.  One must uproot the causes which produce that unwanted result.  To completely eliminate that disease, one has to understand very clearly the benefit of the elimination or the cessation of that disease.  Considering that one can then be free from suffering if the cause of the disease is eliminated is not enough. One must actually engage in whatever activity is necessary to make the elimination of the disease occur, which is in fact partaking of the medicines which are potent enough to actually destroy the disease.  Therefore this points to the path.  In terms of spiritual practice, one has to know how to pursue the path to eliminate suffering.

Addicted to Happiness

happiness

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

I would like to take a moment to look at that. You should understand your own psychology enough to really look at yourself and see that mostly everything that you do is an attempt to be happy. If you look at the way we dress, the way we eat, the way we play, the way we work, all of these are meant to fulfill in some way the need to experience happiness and stability. All sentient beings have as their primary, motivating focus the urge to be happy. That is common in all of us. That is part of our basic psychology. You are not bad if you are trying to be happy. This is normal. No one is bad if they are trying to be happy. Every form of life, every bit of cyclic existence experiences that urge to be happy. In fact that can be seen as a brotherhood among us. It can be seen as a way to understand that we are absolutely kin, even in terms of understanding one another’s behavior.

You may not understand the behavior of someone who is very rough and gruff and insensitive. You may not understand the behavior of someone who is a thief. You may not understand the behavior of someone who is very needy and whiny. You may not understand the behavior of someone who is very boasting and gregarious. Whatever your particular personality is like, you won’t understand the other one. Trust me. Whatever yours is like, the other one is not very easily understood. But you can come to understand anyone if you come to understand that each of us, in our own weird way, is trying to be happy. Even the thief is trying to be happy. He thinks that is how he is going to be happy. The misunderstanding is that he thinks that is how he is going to be happy. The whiny kind of needy person is trying to be happy. They think they will get what they need if they continue that behavior. The boastful and gregarious person is trying to be happy. They think that they will be approved of or they will get what they need if they continue in that way.

All of us, equally, are trying to be happy. That is what makes us brother and sisters, if nothing else, because that is our psychology. And because we do not want to be unhappy. we wish to be happy, we resist examining the faults of cyclic existence. It is a downer. There is no getting around it. It is not what you want to think about because if you think about that you kind of get the icky-stickys. It’s just not what you want to think about. It’s just not so pleasant. However, if you think about love, or if you think about beauty, or if you think about positive thoughts, or if you just examine rainbows or do all these wonderful things that you have found make you happy, you think that is the answer. That is what I want to do. It will make me happy for a little while. And we are happiness addicts; we are stimulation addicts; we are instant gratification addicts. We want to have that little hit of happiness; and we don’t really care who we have to steal it from, much like a thief.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Truth of Suffering

grief

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

Our next understanding must be what actually would be the end of suffering. What would the end of suffering look like?. Let’s say I was going to engage in enlightened activity. Let’s say that I could do that, had that potential. If I were going to alleviate the suffering of sentient beings, what would that look like? What form would that take?. In order to understand that, you really have to understand what escape from suffering is. In order to understand what escape from suffering is, you must understand what suffering is. What is this suffering?.

Now everybody has an idea of what suffering is. I don’t think I have to define suffering according to Webster’s dictionary. Each of us have had times in our lives when we have suffered. We have had loved ones leave us; relationships that we have loved have ended; even relationships that we don’t love have ended and brought us suffering. We have had changes in our lives that are very difficult: We have lost money; we have lost jobs; we have gained things and then have lost them. Things that we have loved have disappeared. All of these have been sufferings and if none of those things have happened to us, perhaps we might have had difficulties with our children. If none of those things have happened to us, still we will get sick. If we haven’t gotten sick yet, then definitely we will get old and we will die. These are the sufferings of cyclic existence. No one escapes cyclic existence without suffering. So it is considered that cyclic existence is pervaded with suffering. It is pervaded with suffering. It is not to say that there won’t be any happiness in cyclic existence, but the state of that happiness will be temporary because suffering is all pervasive,. and because everything is constantly changing.. So if you experience happiness,  that happiness will end because all things end. Everything is impermanent. If you experience the happiness of giving birth to a beloved child, that happiness will be temporary in that eventually that child will grow up. Eventually no matter how much you love that child, there will be difficulty with that child; and eventually either you or the child, eventually both, will die and so that relationship must end.

If you win the lottery, the happiness from that is also impermanent.  As you know, money can be spent; money can be squandered. And also for many people, money doesn’t bring happiness at all. I’d like to have a shot at it though,. anyway, just to see. I feel like you should test the Buddha’s teachings before you firmly commit. At any rate, you get my drift. If you buy a hot new car, and you think, “Oh good, I feel good now,” buzzing around in your nice new car, pretty soon that car is going to break down, and that car is going to feel like an old wife. Pretty soon it will have a clutch that needs repairing; and then you have to buy new tires and the steering isn’t so smooth. You know what happens. Everything changes. Cyclic existence is pervaded with suffering.

That is what you know about cyclic existence. I don’t have to tell you that; I don’t have to prove that to you. If you haven’t seen that for yourself by now, then I don’t know what to say to you. I feel that you must snap your fingers three times and maybe click your heels together and say, “There is no place like home.”  I think that you should wake up to the fact that this is not Kansas, and just kind of get with the picture and look at your life. If you don’t know that suffering exists, you had better check it out.

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

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

Back to Basics

An excerpt from a teaching called the Eight-fold Path by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Recently it has come to me very strongly that if we lose sight or connection with the very foundations of the path of Buddha dharma, we tend to lose our way eventually.  There are well-documented, well-preserved teachings that Lord Buddha gave that are very pristine and very concise.  They concern the first turning of the wheel of Dharma.  This is what Lord Buddha taught during the time of his life.  As the Dharma grew and spread, there were other developments within the Dharma.  So, there are basically three levels of the Buddha dharma.  One is called the Theravadan point of view, the original teachings that Lord Buddha himself taught.  There is the Mahayana point of view, the accomplishment of the original teachings, and the addition of the idea of wisdom and compassion – primarily the idea of the Bodhisattva vow – this was all taught by highly realized Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.  Then there is Vajrayana, which is what we actually practice, and which has a lot of ritual to it.  A lot depends on the inner rather than the outer display.  It is powerful yet subtle.  There is technology that goes with it, and as one accomplishes the technology, one begins to advance and change and move ever closer toward awakening.

We should never consider the first level of Buddhism to be somehow lesser.  Instead we should think of the first level of Buddhism as the absolutely necessary foundation.  If you don’t accomplish and don’t understand what Buddha originally taught, then there is no real understanding later on.  I would consider it to be something like building a house.  If you are building a house you don’t want to build it on a sandy beach where it slopes down to the sea and the waves are big.  You want to build it on a very firm foundation.  You want to pour your concrete slab, and make it really secure.  When you are practicing the path of the Buddha dharma, it is very good to understand these primary teachings.  To understand their meaning to the degree that as you move further on the path, you can always reflect back on the original teachings to give you context, strength, and inspiration.  It is necessary to understand exactly what did the Buddha taught.

When we talk about the Buddha teaching, we say, “turning the wheel, an expression meaning, “give the dharma.”  The symbol of dharma is a ship’s steering wheel, an eight-spoke wheel, and it symbolizes the eight-fold path.  “Turning the wheel” is a symbolic way of saying, “teaching the eight-fold path.”

When the Buddha first turned the wheel, he taught the four noble truths. The Buddha himself was considered peerless, fully awakened, fully developed.  Having experienced all of the content of samsara and nirvana, through his realization, and in his awakened state he was able to take all that he saw, and make it concise, something very understandable.  Small in words, but big in meaning. This is what the Buddha taught.  You can’t argue with it.

He first taught that in samsara or in life, suffering is all-pervasive, meaning that life is suffering.  We don’t like to think of it that way.  We prefer to think that we’re happy, and we try to coax ourselves into a happy mood.  Still if we look around we see that there is suffering wherever we look.  The human suffering is old age, sickness, and death.  I’ve experienced two out of three, and I know I’ve done the other one but it is hard to remember.  We all know that this is true.  Human beings suffer from old age, sickness, and death.  You can try to think positively about it, but we all know that when it gets down to it, when you’re sick, you feel rotten, and if you are critically ill, it is so much worse.  It’s horrible to have your own body betray you.  If you get to the point where you are experiencing old age, we can look at Madonna, and we can look at all the different wonderful people who have kept in shape and all, and we think, “Oh, its not so bad.”  Its bad!  Getting old is bad.  For those of you who don’t believe and are too young to know, it’s bad. And that is the suffering of the human realm.

Each different realm has its own form of suffering.  For instance, animals suffer from fear and stupidity.  An elephant is much stronger than its trainer, and much stronger than the means usually used to contain them, but they don’t know that.  Elephants are very smart in their own way, but in that particular way, they are not so smart.  In India you see bullocks pulling carts and what not, and their whole life is just toil and work.  They experience the whip if they don’t do it.  That stupidity keeps them there.  I mean, they could basically turn around and knock the driver senseless if they so chose.  They are powerful animals but they don’t know that.  And so that’s the suffering of the animal kingdom.  That and fear since in the animal kingdom you are either prey or predator.  And even predator can be prey sometimes.  So fear is rampant.

The Buddha taught that everywhere you look, suffering is all-pervasive.  That no matter what a person’s life looks like, there is suffering.  And then he taught the cause of suffering is attachment or desire.

When we come from a materialistic society and an ordinary world, we think to ourselves, “How can that be?  Suffering is when you don’t have enough money.  Suffering is when you get hit by a car.  Suffering is when your beloved child grows up and does drugs or something.”  We can name all of these sufferings that happen to us, and so it is hard for us to understand how desire or attachment can actually be the cause of suffering. The way it is explained is that while things do happen and they are caused by our karma, the cause and effect relationships that we have given rise to in the past, and we see our karma ripening as events that seem to happen to us.  What really makes us suffer is our reaction.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

How to Understand Cause and Effect

generosity

We don’t have any real way to understand direct cause and effect relationships.  And for that reason, we cannot really seem to understand how to create the causes of happiness. A good example is this: If we experience perhaps chronic poverty, we may think that the way to end this chronic poverty is to struggle against it. To work very hard at getting money any way that you can, to beg, borrow, or steal literally. To work very hard at a very high paying job in order to get money. What we won’t understand is that probably whatever we do within that realm of activity will have temporary result at best. It may work for a period of time. Then again, it may not. I know people who work hard and can’t seem to get anywhere. Or it may be that it works very well for a certain period of time. But, even while it works very well and you have money, the consciousness is such that you still feel impoverished. You can’t enjoy it. You can’t get anywhere with it. You can’t use it for any good result. It simply sits. And to all intensive purposes you are still impoverished. It’s very difficult to understand how it is that these cause and effect relationships play themselves out.

Now, according to the Buddha’s teaching, if you have a great deal of affluence at this time, if that is easy for you, then what has actually occurred is that in the past you have accumulated a great deal of merit through generosity, through generosity, through giving to others. And that is why, in this lifetime, it is easy for you to accumulate money, or easy for you to enjoy money, or easy for you to feel wealthy even if you don’t have much money. It is easy for you to feel that you have plenty, enough. That you’re just fine. Either inwardly or outwardly, you are prosperous. This is a hard lesson to take in. Because we want to feel that this personality and this lifetime was responsible for doing something in a very competent way in order to achieve these excellent results. But, according to the Buddha, in many cases prosperity is the result of generosity, in fact in all cases, prosperity is the result of generosity. And a person who is chronically impoverished is a person who has not been generous and continues to not be generous with their resources, with their time, and in their hearts. The Buddha teaches us the antidote to poverty is not getting money any way you can. But that the antidote to poverty is kindness and generosity and putting out in order to benefit others.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Are We Misguided?

Close Up Portrait of Ted Bundy Waving

The one thing that all sentient beings have in common—or I should say one of the main things that all sentient beings have in common, but particularly the one thing that makes us all related, inter-related, kind of like brothers and sisters under the skin—is that we all in our own fashion wish to be happy. If you examine the content of your life and what you’ve done and not done up until this point, you’ll find that just about everything that you’ve engaged in up until this point has been in some regard an attempt at being happy. Unfortunately that attempt at happiness is only sometimes successful; and sometimes it’s extremely misguided. Actually, we might have a better idea as to what happiness is all about than someone who has a strong habit of harmfulness toward others, or perhaps extreme selfishness; even someone like a person who is chronically a criminal. Perhaps someone who is a thief, or even a murderer. A good example might be the recent capture of a man who was a serial murderer. Believe it or not, even such an extreme condition like that is a misguided attempt to be happy. Of course, it’s extremely misguided. And  the one thing that we might have in common with such a one as that is that we are both trying to be happy. That’s really hard to understand though, isn’t it? Because we can’t think how it would be possible to be happy by really harming others in such a bizarre and brutal way as that man apparently did. We can’t understand what he would be thinking of. How could he think like that? How could he think that being harmful and hateful towards others could possibly bring happiness?

Of course, it’s hard to say because we don’t have the man here. We can’t examine his mind; and we can’t really assume that we would know what he was thinking. But we could take at least a theoretical guess, a theoretical leap at understanding. Possibly in this man’s mind, he thought the control or power that he achieved over others through that kind of brutality, would make him happy—the feeling of controlling others, the feeling of supremacy, the feeling of the ability to dictate the conditions of some other person’s life. Possibly in some twisted way he thought that that would make him feel happier. Perhaps he didn’t even use the word happy. Perhaps he felt an exhilaration of power. Perhaps he felt an excitement about the continuation or fulfillment of some crazy compulsion. It’s really hard for us to understand because we don’t act like that. But we do throughout the course of our lives demonstrate certain activities that we ourselves don’t understand. Sometimes we’ll watch ourselves act completely out of character. Or even if we are within character, and that means predictable, we’ll watch ourselves move through certain cyclic changes within our lives in which we predictably act the same, but it predictably brings no good result.

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The Purpose of This Life: His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok

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

The Buddha taught that true happiness and peace can never be found through material gain, and the only way that one can truly be satisfied is to realize this point. Therefore it is very important for all of you to consider decreasing your attachment to the objects of this world, to all apparent phenomena, and to understand that more important than spending most of one’s time pursuing the material world and thinking that happiness can be found in this way, we should try to practice pure Dharma.  Not only that. To be too attached to friends, family members, even our children and our spouses, those whom we cherish, thinking that it is only through our relationships with them that we can have happiness, is only going to bring us more suffering.  This is also a source of suffering, since we will be distracted having to figure out how we can bring food to the table and get clothing for our offspring and all of the other necessities that one has to completely fill one’s mind with.  The details of survival for family and friends will completely distract one from the benefits of purely practicing Dharma.

Regarding the wish for fame and glory: Those who don’t have it suffer because they don’t. Those who are poor and those who have no position at all are always having some expectation that somehow and in some way they may be able to rise above this circumstance and achieve a position of fame and glory.  Those who are already in positions of fame, glory and leadership are always suffering from the fear that they are going to lose their positions.  So in both cases the suffering is more or less equal.  On this point I would like to say that probably here in this place there are those who are very, very poor and there are those who are very, very wealthy and in high positions, and there is quite a big space between them.  I was thinking that those who are in the high positions are probably suffering even more than those who are poor.  The reason for that is because those who are poor—except for the fact that they are always having some kind of an expectation that someday they may become wealthy or in a better position—probably have enough to survive, are getting along sort of all right. And the mental suffering that they endure is not too extreme, except for that expectation or wish. But those who are in high positions are probably suffering much more because they are always fearful that they are going to lose their positions, that they will fall down to a lower place. So their minds are filled with doubt and paranoia and anxiety.  In this way they suffer more than the poor people.

The nature of suffering is twofold: Suffering is caused by delusion and by karmic propensities.  When we speak of delusion, it refers to three root conflicting emotions: desire-attachment, anger or aggression, and delusion itself, stupidity.  Let’s look at desire-attachment first.  Now this conflicting emotion fixates itself upon objects, objective appearances, such as material things, fame, status or other human beings or individuals.  Wherever it fixates, then if one allows oneself to become controlled by that emotion, then the only result will be unceasing suffering or discontent.

Anger or aggression is a conflicting emotion which causes one to feel that one actually wishes that others will suffer.  That which brings up this conflicting emotion of aggression is due to the desire-attachment that we have for ourself and those that we are already attached to because if anyone else tries to harm them, then those other people who are trying to harm our loved ones or friends are termed enemies, and we feel aggression towards them and wish that harm would come to them.  As soon as we enter into this type of emotional battle, the only result is unceasing suffering.

That which is termed delusion or stupidity is the inability to understand or recognize what should be accepted, what should be rejected, what should be accomplished and what should be abandoned.  Inner divisions of delusion include misunderstanding and incorrect understanding.  The first of these inner divisions of delusion, misunderstanding, could also be interpreted as misunderstanding, or misusing, the ultimate purpose of this life. The way that that would qualify is that one would have to be born as a human being anywhere in this world who never really understands the difference between that which is wholesome and that which is unwholesome, never having any real kind of ability to discern what should be accepted in order to produce true, positive results and what should be rejected—basically just spending one’s life aimlessly living like a cow or a horse which can graze and eat grass and just kind of survive.  The difference between a cow or a horse and a person who is just kind of aimlessly surviving is maybe the person is able to put on clothes and other kinds of comfort. But really the point that is being made is that this person who misunderstands the purpose of life is wasting his or her opportunity because they dwell in this state of delusion, the delusion of misunderstanding what should be done with life.

 

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