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


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.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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.


Knowledge & Wisdom


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

The fourth “Noble Truth” taught by the Buddha was “The Eight-fold Path.”  In our Mahayana tradition, this is condensed into “Knowledge” and “Wisdom.”  Knowledge is not facts we can know and collect.  Rather, it is the awareness of all cause-and-effect relationships and their function as the building blocks of cyclic existence, or samsara.

The Buddha had omniscience.  When looking at a sentient being, he could see all the cause-and-effect relationships that brought that being to the present moment.  If he were here now looking at you, he could discern all the generosity, all the accumulated virtuous actions that make it possible for you to hear these teachings.  He could also see all the obstacles that have prevented you from being a Buddha.  He would have a panoramic view of all your accumulated non-virtue and egocentric fixation, knowing not only the facts of your life, but also understanding how the causes and effects were interdependently related. This is knowledge in the Buddha’s view, and it is the only really valuable knowledge.

The Buddha also had complete wisdom.  Contrary to ordinary understanding, this wisdom is not related to any accumulation of facts.  It is the natural awakened state, the awareness of the primordial empty Nature.  It is the awareness of emptiness, the understanding of “Suchness.”

Copyright ©  Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Cessation of Suffering


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

The Buddha’s next teaching is that there exists a cessation of suffering, which is the same as the cessation of desire.  This cessation is called Enlightenment, and it is the only true cessation of suffering.

In a very poor society, people focus on basic survival.  But what happens in a society like ours, in which survival is not a main concern?  (If nothing else works, we can go on welfare.)  Since we don’t need to focus on survival, we have time to be neurotic.  The more we seem to satisfy our needs, the more needs we develop.

In cyclic existence, there is no way to solve all our needs.  Everything constantly changes.  And temporary happiness is almost a mixed blessing:  it always ends, and in the meantime, we are preoccupied with it.  The problem is that we haven’t done anything about viewing our true Nature.  It’s almost as if we keep ourselves satisfied by eating the icing off the cake; never really obtaining genuine nourishment.

When the Buddha taught that there is an end to suffering, it was a major revelation.  Why?  Although the great yogis and gurus at that time taught that one could achieve God-consciousness, cosmic consciousness, the Buddha superseded that.  Due to the ripening of his great generosity in past lives, he was able to come to a level of meditation in which he realized the cessation of fixation––fixation on godliness and even fixation on the consciousness of self.  He attained a level of realization that was simply “Awake.”  No consciousness, no sameness, no union.  Simply pure luminosity: “I am Awake.”

At that moment, all the cause-and-effect building blocks accumulated throughout time out of mind, all the building blocks from endless involvement with subject-object fixation, all the fixation on ego as real––all of this was pacified.  The Buddha realized the sameness and indivisibility of subject and object, the inseparability of action and stillness, the sameness, the “Suchness” of all that is.  All was dispelled in clear, uncontrived, luminous awareness. This non-specific awareness is the pure view of one’s own true Nature.  It is simply being awake.  The Buddha teaches that this is the end of all suffering, because it is the end of what you make suffering with.  It is the end of cause-and-effect relationships––and therefore, according to Buddhism, the end of karma.

Copyright ©  Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Who Needs Refuge?

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

How is the understanding of compassion a clarifying thought as well as a motivating thought?  How is it a clarifying thought?  Now here is where the profound connection with refuge comes into play.  Not only does the compassion motivate us to take refuge, but it makes us think it through very clearly.   If we utilize it, it does.

When we enter onto the path of the Buddhadharma, we take refuge in the outer refuge of Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, the inner refuge of lama, yidam, khandro, and the secret refuge of the channels, winds and fluids.  When we actually enter into this refuge, which for our purposes now are the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, Triple Gem refuge, we must define why it must be arranged the way it is.  Why is it organized the way it is?  For instance, if it’s true that all sentient beings are suffering but they wish to be happy and they are mostly suffering due to desire and the confusion about issues concerning desire, if that’s what the Buddha said, then why don’t we just kind of sit down and have a therapeutic session of insight so that we can isolate for ourselves what it is that we actually want.And maybe then we can go and get it.  If all sentient beings are really suffering and we’re really unhappy and we’re trying to be happy, why don’t we just have an insight of some kind and go for it!? Why don’t we do that?  Well, because you’ve done that before.  You’ve done that before.  You do it all the time to greater or lesser degree, according to your capacity and your habitual tendency.  In fact, we do that all of the time.  We feel a need.  We feel desire.  We feel something.  Something is moving that locomotive down the track.  What is it?  So we sit down and we try to center ourselves or we get busy and allow thoughts to come up.  Each one of us has a characteristic way to deal with things.  Maybe we’ll do a little journaling, we’ll do a little art, we’ll do a little music, we’ll do a little whatever, take a walk and try to center ourselves, and figure out what’s going on.  Well, we’ll come up with something.  You always come up with something

Now we’re going to figure out, “Oh ,  if I don’t get with the great love of my life pretty soon…, That’s what it is, I know that’s what it is.”  So now you’re on to the next adventure. Or you may ask yourself,“What is it that’s troubling me?  What is it that’s troubling me?” And you sit down and you’re reaching inside and using all this psychological technique and you’re going, “Oh it’s my mother!!!  My mother didn’t love me!!”  Each of these are valid. I’m not saying that these are not issues in your life.  I’m not saying that these are not valid things to think about, but I am saying that there is some confusion there in that you are looking at the superficial causes for discomfort, but not the deeper ones.

If we were to look more deeply,, we would discover that the underlying cause of all suffering is desire, and that we’re real, real, real confused about this whole issue.  So we examine the path and examine the teachings a little bit further. And we find that the Buddha has taught us that samsara is actually made up of the things that potentially make us suffer.  That is to say that the first step or connection with samsara, that is the wheel of death and rebirth, is based on the idea, the first gossamer thin assumption or idea, of self-nature as being inherently real.  Why does that happen?  That happens because it can. End of subject.  It’s one of the potentials in the great ground of primordial nature which contains within it all potentials.  So this has happened.  We have considered ourselves separate.

In order to consider one’s self as self nature separate, other has to be external.  In order for other to be external, it has to be determined.  In order for it to be determined, we have to react toward it.  There has to be a reaction  toward it with acceptance or rejection.  You cannot see something without registering acceptance or rejection, or the combination of the two, which is neutrality.  Neutrality is not lack of reaction.  It is a combination of reactions.  So we cannot experience anything as outside ourselves without some sort of reaction. And once that has happened, we react toward everything with hope and fear.

So everything in samsara is then built from that original structure of the idea of self nature being inherently real and at this point one’s self is determined, and other becomes external.  We split into subjective-objective reality.  Everything in samsara, every kind of perception with the senses, anything that we take in with our eyes, our ears, our tongues, anything that senses, comes from, at the root, that original construct, that original assumption of self-nature as being inherently real.  So everything in samsara is built of that.  That is to say that nothing that we experience now, nothing that we have ever experienced, is separate from the realm of desire.  So literally, everything within samsara is potentially cause for more suffering.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Start From the Beginning


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


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