What Really Matters

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Love Now, Dzogchen Later”

You should read stories about lamas in the past, stories of the saints, where lamas in the past have gone into retreat or gone to their teachers and said, “I really want to accomplish Dharma. I’m ready. I want to accomplish Dharma right now. So what will I do?”  And the lama would say, “Take some retreat. Go into the cave and practice a certain mantra.”  And time and time again students would go to the caves and would practice mantra.  And they would come back out and they would say to the lama, “I’ve practiced this mantra and yet I don’t seem to have any result.”  “Well,” lama says,  “then you need three million more. Go back into the cave and practice some more.”  And then again more advice. “Well I’ve not been able to practice any Dharma. Not given rise to realization although I’ve said mantra repeatedly.”  Then the lama would give some other advice. “Well, go back and accomplish the bodhicitta.  Accomplish the motivation.”

There are just uncountable stories like that of these great saints who struggled like you do, like we do, to accomplish their practice. And they didn’t go and get promoted every year. They had to accomplish the underpinnings, the basics, before they could move on to the next level. And it’s according to the lama’s wisdom. The lama would be able to see whether that accomplishment had really happened. And there are also many stories of disciples who would come to the lama after practicing in a cave some time or practicing in some kind of retreat, and they would say to the lama, “I have accomplished this.”  And the lama would say, “See ya. Keep trying. Go back. Another three years for you.”  Because that’s not what you say to your lama.

So, uncountable stories, uncountable stories that seem completely ridiculous and irrelevant in this time because of the experience that we’re having. But I’m telling you that they are not irrelevant. It’s something for each of us to take personal responsibility to study. And I really think that some of the elder monks and nuns should take on the responsibility of studying the lives of these saints and then reporting on them to other students. Maybe we could take turns giving some classes on that.

But just to go every summer and say,  “I have Dzogchen. I must be okay to die now.”  Or something like that, you know?   Thinking that, you know, somehow magical thinking. You’ve got the bumpa on the head and you’re just set to go. I’m afraid not. I wish that it were so. There is no bumpa on this planet that is hard enough. I mean how many times has His Holiness said that without giving rise to Guru Yoga, to true devotion, you know, egoless devotion, the lama could literally bang you on the head with the bumpa until it was dented and you are too, and there wouldn’t be much value. Even though the lama had practiced. Even though it had been an unbroken chain all the way down to the original source of the teaching.  Because in our practice there is a call and response. The lama gives the blessing; the student is invited to respond accordingly. It’s in the call and response connection that the growth occurs. It isn’t really what the guy above you tells you to do that makes you grow.

Our concern should always be loving concern for the welfare of sentient beings. If we are so puffed up with our own view of ourselves that we cannot bother ourselves to be of benefit to sentient beings; we cannot rouse ourselves to do something that will bring benefit to all sentient beings; we cannot bring ourselves to study on the suffering of humans, of animals—these being the two that we can mainly see on this planet— and to bring some relief, let alone worry about sentient beings in other realms that we cannot see and know are suffering,… We can’t even be bothered to look at human beings and animals. But we are going to sit there and do secret teachings, and look at others and wonder why they can’t do the same. Not appropriate. Not appropriate at all, and no benefit. No benefit.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The “How To” of the Method

LeavingTibet

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Art of Dispelling Anger”

There is no confusion regarding Dharma. It’s spelled out that conduct is everything, that working with one’s poisons is everything. And there are no modifications on not killing. Not killing is all pervasive. It means bugs. It means worms. It means enemies. In fact, we are the only ones that I know of who are taught to raise our enemies in loving concern higher than ourselves. Not that we do a personality cult thing, you know. We don’t do the wave every time we see our enemies. It’s not like that. But if our enemies are harming us, then they must be harming themselves also. So our compassion for them should be even greater. Tibetans were thrown out of their own country. They were killed; they saw their lamas abused; they saw their lamas murdered; they saw their texts being walked on by Chinese boots, their precious Dharma texts, and then many destroyed, as Palyul was destroyed. And yet because their culture is so different, rather than going to war or hating, from the Dalai Lama on down, they all say, “The Chinese are our gurus.  They taught us that we must have had some fault or we wouldn’t have been thrown out of Tibet, or there wouldn’t have been this huge problem.”  That’s the way Tibetans think. They think, “Oh, now maybe the problem is that we kept our faith to ourselves and we were happy just in our country, Shambala,.” And so the lamas said, “Go out and teach others. This is what we must do.”  And now they are grateful for that happening, although of course we want Tibet back. No doubt about that. But they are grateful for what happened there, for what they learned, for what they taught. It is no less a travesty. It is no less genocide than it was when it happened, yet this speaks to the quality of our faith. This speaks to the quality of our practitioners and our lamas. And so, now that we see it, we see that, in fact, it was the Chinese that sent Buddhist lamas around the world. And so we find out there are never any exceptions.

There were powerful practitioners at that time whose blessing was so strong (and I’ve heard stories about this from other lamas), whose powers were so strong that they would go out when the Chinese were shooting and they would stand in front of people with their robes held out to protect them. And then they would come inside and shake the bullets out because the blessing was so strong, their power was so strong; but they never fought. They died, but they never fought. There were many lamas who knew when the Chinese were coming, and it was hopeless. They simply did phowa and left. They didn’t wait. They knew the Chinese would kill them.  So rather than allow the Chinese to take on that non-virtue, they did phowa. And phat! they left their bodies. What was the year when the Chinese came into Tibet?  ’49?  I was born in ’49. So that’s what happened there. But there was never the thought of revenge. Never the thought of hatred or barbarism, because this is not our way. And what is great is that we can teach our children there are no exceptions. It’s black and white. That’s what is really great. Never kill. Each sentient being values its life just as much as you do. I really like that about our faith.

I see a problem in people who are trying to defeat their own poisons in this lifetime, even you guys whose faces and hearts I know so well. We tried this. We’ve given a lot to be Buddhists,  on the one hand. Yet we’ve gained a lot more by being Buddhists, on the other hand. And we’re very much involved; and each person is as committed as they can be to their path. So I know that the willingness is there. I think the caring is there, but there is so much confusion. How in the world are we supposed to defeat our poisons when it is not clear to us how we should live?

For instance, we are told in Buddhism that we must conquer hatred, greed and ignorance, and let’s see, lust and competitiveness, or warlike behavior. Let’s see. What else? Did I say sloth?  Well, that one, too.  So, we are supposed to conquer all of these things; and yet we’re not even clear what hatred is. We’re not even clear on that, because of how we were brought up.   If we acted out ,you know, few of us had parents that would sit down and say, ‘This is why this isn’t working.’  Most of us had a backhand or time out, or go away, or watch TV, or something like that; but there is never any clarity, because we ourselves don’t understand. So when we look at abolishing hatred in our mind stream, which we must do, which we’ve committed to do for the sake of sentient beings, where do we even start?  It’s so confusing. And not only where do we start? What are the perimeters?  . What does that mean, not hating?  Ok. I don’t hate you outright, but you know, if we mush with that a little bit and fool around and dance a little a bit, there’s a lot of leeway in there according to the way ordinary people think. But, in fact, that’s not true, because if you just look at the one poison, which is hatred, it’s much more widespread than you think, my poor little lambs. You know, when you go ballistic sometimes, because somebody let you down or somebody was rude to you or whatever the particular thing is?  That’s hatred. You can say it’s not because you don’t hate the person, but the rage, the thing that comes out of you is the same energy, just a little tweaked to fit our culture. It’s that same thing when you go off on somebody, . Or when you gossip. Like when you gossip to put another person down, you indicate that their qualities are down: They are not a good practitioner, they are not a good person, they are mean, they are mean to me, they are just bad. You have that kind of gossip, you know. Somebody looks at you cross-eyed and you’re going to hold a grudge for the rest of your life. That kind of thing. And every chance you get, you’re going to tell somebody how bad that person is. Or maybe you are a lightweight gossiper. You just do it with a smile on your face,  ‘She never practices.’

However you do it, whether you smile, or whether its grudge-oriented or whether you do it because there is nothing in your head but gossip, well, it’s still hatred. Now here’s where we get lost, because we think, ‘I’m not hating.’ But still, we are putting others down in order to raise ourselves up in our mind. Now there are a couple of unfortunate things that are happening there. First, the hatred. Any time that you need to raise yourself up at the expense of anyone else, that is about as far away from Buddhadharma as you can get. The instructions from Buddhadharma are that we should gain so much compassion from giving rise to the bodhicitta. And when is that going to happen?  When it feels right?   No. You have to practice. You have to make it happen, even if you’ve got to grit your teeth. One step at a time, you give rise to the bodhicitta. And eventually, hopefully, you lose the habit of putting someone else down in order to climb on top of them, because the bodhicitta requires that we understand this: We are one being. Out there is everybody else, so it seems, in relative phenomenal reality. That being the case, there are more of them than there is of me. They are therefore more important. That is what the Dharma teaches.

The basis for that is not martyrdom.  We’re not going to go to the heaven of 87 virgins or whatever. Not that I would be interested in that. Anyway, I think it was only for men. You know, that’s not going to happen to us. We don’t think of it in terms of martyrdom. We think of it in terms of view. According to what the Buddha teaches, the idea of duality, the idea that we are separate, the idea that time and space are separate, the idea that mind is separate from time and space, these are all the confusions that we live with. And so, because of that, it looks like there are so many of us out there and me over here. But in truth, if I were to meditate the way the Buddhas and bodhisattvas meditate, with pure Dzogchen view, I literally could not find a place where I end and you begin. And so I am you. I look into your eyes and I see Guru Rinpoche. How much do I love Guru Rinpoche?  That’s how much I love you. Like that.

And so sometimes, I have the occasion to speak very harshly to my students. On occasion, I’ve had to, figuratively speaking, slap them around. I mean really. Here is half of a piece of rice. You must know there there is not even that much hatred in that, none whatsoever. When I come to the point that I feel like a student needs a spanking, it’s because they are at a probability point. It could go this way or it could go that way, and I like to whap them over them that way. And that’s my job—to keep my eye on those probability points.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

You Get What of You Pay For

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Decision Time”

Who are you?  Is being busy your guru?  Good luck. Good luck. Is being fearful your guru?  Is keeping your heart in a place where it doesn’t have to mingle with the cry that I hear from samsara that says help me now, help me? You have to ask yourself because this is the time. Who am I?  How many people will suffer at my hand?  How many people will slip through my fingers that I did not offer Dharma?  These are the questions that you have to ask yourself.

You get what you pay for. That rule is as good in Dharma as it is anywhere else. And if you don’t do the work, the work does you. Each of us has karma and we will experience it. Karma is exacting. There is no way out of it, unless we rely completely and utterly upon the teachings and our teachers as the door of liberation. To delude yourself into thinking that you are practicing that you are Buddhist or that your life has meaning whatsoever, unless you are walking through the door of liberation, is a waste of time. My time and yours.

So I’m asking you, won’t you please let go of your habitual tendencies?  Won’t you please let this precious nectar of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas enter your heart and heal you?  Won’t you please respond in kind to the cries of sentient beings, because if you are not helping them onto the path of Dharma, not your make up stuff… You can’t have a bunch of people that sit there and talk Dharma to you and think you’ve done your job. Unfortunately, you haven’t practiced that well and you are not the Buddha yet, and you’re not awake. So when you talk about Dharma, it’s just you talking about Dharma. People learn by your practice. They don’t learn by your ego talking about Dharma and saying, ‘I’m so great, I have some Dharma.’ They learn by watching your humility, your qualities, your practice. What is your practice?  How do you change week by week, month by month. That’s what people learn  That’s when people can learn by your example. But if you yourself are lost in samsara, you have nothing for anybody. Nothing. Your little gifts that you give when you say, ‘Here’s a little Dharma. I know a little Dharma. Try that, I know a little Dharma.’ It’s nothing. It’s a little kabuki dance. You know, you’re playing your little ego thing and they’re playing their little ego thing and everybody’s doing their little ego thing. Real Dharma is not like that. Real Dharma is a method. It is method that must be practiced every day. If you do not rely 100 percent upon your guru, then you are not practicing that path—relying on the teachings, relying on the wisdom, and most of all, relying on the compassion.

Our teachers understand our minds without being inside of them. Did you know that?  Teachers can look a certain way, and we can see what you think you’re hiding. In fact, we see it so well that we find that what you’re hiding is running your life. It’s in charge. Whatever you are doing in your mind is in charge.

And I’ll tell you that the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas love you. You know in the East, they talk more about the bodhicitta and it sounds very intellectual. They talk about compassion, and that sounds good. They talk about respect and devotion, and these are all good things. But being a female I can tell you this, I know this from my own experience: You are loved, each and every one of you. Your egos and your stupid stuff, that’s not the part we love the best. We can be patient with that, but we see it killing you. Clinging to life is the very cause of death.

We see you scratching on top of that dirty field and we see the diamonds, and those diamonds are calling to you, ‘Go deeper, go deeper. You can’t see me, but I’m here; and you can’t see me because you are scratching.’ Like beggars under the table of a great feast, we pick up a little crumb, we think, ‘Oh, I got a crumb,’ while the Buddhas and bodhisattvas are saying to us, ‘Come to this feast, eat everything. Have enough for your whole life. Take it all. Take me.’ I’d take everything. And like beggars, we just have a little piece; and we’re so proud. Show it to everybody, got this little piece. And that’s the nature of human beings. Your teachers understand. There’s no question of forgiveness. It’s not like that. There’s no question of guilt. There’s no question at all, actually. It’s simple. The nectar is here and because your teacher has been recognized as the consort of Guru Rinpoche, we’re speaking of the nectar of immortality. That’s the offer. The feast is here, but you have to want to eat, and you have to be willing to chew.

And the love and respect is real. I don’t know of any teacher that purposely gives a student a hard lesson that is so unbearable that they cannot bear it. The teachers hold us as close as they can, like a bond, a bond that is a tether of love; but at the end of that tether of love, if we are not looking to our root gurus with faith and with good mind and proper thinking and proper view, then we will never receive the blessing. It will never come. And instead, what happens is we dance at the end of that tether. And that is what I see. From my heart, I tell you this. You’re dancing at the end of a tether of love, absolutely ensuring that you will never, never come to the feast. It’s decision time. You have to decide who is on the throne: your ego, your fear, your idiot mind, selfishness, delusional thinking. Whatever is on the throne, you’ve got to fix it. No one else can fix it but you. And no one else can come to this table and eat with me  this beautiful feast but you.

He who I love beyond all measure lives in you, my teacher, and you betray him every moment. You do not seat him on your throne. He is Guru Rinpoche, teacher of teachers, Buddha of Buddhas; and I tell you this because I have mixed my mind with his.

You are wandering in samsara, my darlings, and I’m asking you, please come back. Please practice the teachings. Please abandon the world. You will do so soon enough. Soon enough we will leave this world and then there will be no choices, only results.

I don’t think there is anybody more qualified than me, forgive me, to tell you that it’s not easy to be a true disciple, that it’s not easy to mix one’s mind with the mind of the guru; it’s not easy to learn. But I can tell you, and nobody is more qualified to tell you this, that when you give up, you win. When you let go, you have it all. And when you stop wiggling, the tether of love binds you so tight, there is nothing else. Please don’t forget the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and please invite the guru to be seated upon the throne of your heart. I can tell you that there is bliss and happiness in doing so and I can tell you that samsara will always, always be the whore she is and will continue to let you down.

So that’s my teaching for this evening and I’m really thrilled that I had the opportunity to give it to you. And I thank you for listening.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

What Do You Long For?

Guru Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Decision Time”

JNT 14 Decision Time

How much time do we spend understanding the quality, the fabric, the substance of the Buddha’s teachings so that we can make good decisions?. Have we reasoned things out for ourselves?  Do we follow the Buddha’s logic?   If we don’t follow the Buddha’s logic that cause and effect arise interdependently and at the same moment, if we don’t follow the logic that what we are experiencing now is our own karma, if we have not taken that teaching to heart, are we Buddhists?  I wonder.

How much time do you spend mixing your mind like milk with water, mixing with the mindstream of your beloved teacher?  Maybe it’s not me. I’m not that impressive. How much time do you spend mixing your mindstream with the nectar of the teaching?  How much time have you spent in courageous determination, paring the mind down the way one works the wood of one’s craft, or the metal of one’s craft? How often have we made solid and good and sensible plans for our death?  How many of us have made plans and can count on the plans we’ve made for our next life?  Isn’t it funny that after all this time, we do relatively little, and some of us nothing, to add to our virtue?  We don’t plan for the next life. We act like people who don’t believe that rebirth will occur immediately. And it will. We act like people who think there is no relationship between cause and effect. Everything we do is for satisfaction in this life and we still dance with it. We still try to control it.

How much time a day do we spend beseeching the Guru to never abandon us? And how much time each day do we spend in longing for the nectar of bodhicitta? How much time every day do we spend longing for liberation?  Compare that to the time that we spend hanging out with our own minds, like a drunk in a bar, convincing himself the next one won’t hurt. Opening the cans, pop another one, pop another one. Maybe this one will be the magic one. Or, maybe this one. Pop another one. Maybe this will be the one that there is no result for, a freebie. Only a true, bona fide alcoholic, or somebody who was awake enough to know that they are bona fide samsaraholics, understands the depth and depravity of the thinking that I’m describing. That kind of thinking tells me one thing and one thing only: One has not become a Buddhist. You might think you are, might wear the right clothes, but you ain’t there yet, because you have made samsara your guru, because you have made fear your guru, because you have made doubt your guru, because you have made the noise in your head your guru. Because of these and many other things, we’re still suffering. And we’re so deluded that we still seek answers in samsara. Do you know that’s the definition of insanity–to repeat the behavior again and again, achieving the same result?  By this time, we should have made decisions like that. But I see you listening to your heads. I see you making up your own religion in your minds.

I mean, sure, maybe it looks like Buddhism, but it’s not. Because if it were the teachings of the great Guru of Gurus, Padmasambhava, it would say to you that you are drunk, that you are mistaken, that the things that you hold onto in samsara will only betray you. The very things that you are most afraid of will come back to harm you. Guru Rinpoche would have said to you, ‘Each and every one of you have the seed of Buddhahood, but without ripening that seed, it will never manifest.’ Without taking the time, without taking this lifetime to hone one’s skills, to develop the kind of discipline and good mind, relaxed, calm mind…. This will never happen under the conditions that we are thinking now.

Guru Rinpoche’s teachings have said that we should rely on our root guru; and woe unto us if we make up something different. That’s a different religion. Our root guru represents for us the very nature of our mind; not only represents, but in fact is the very door of liberation. And for most of you, if not all, that’s your chance. There is one door to liberation and that’s one’s root guru. And if one cannot align one’s heart, body, speech and mind with the milk or the nectar of the guru, then something else is going on entirely, because this is what our faith is. This is what Vajrayana is about. It is about quick liberation. Nobody said easy. Quick liberation, by virtue of the karma and the relationship between oneself and one’s guru, which one cultivates. The work is hard, because our own minds want to remain drunk. We like the stimulation. We like the 30-minute stories. We like to control the endings. But that’s delusional. Nobody controls the ending. No matter how healthy you are, you could die tomorrow.  Or your root guru could die tomorrow.

Ego, health, control has nothing to do it. Your karma is ripening right now and that’s your experience. That is your experience. It’s yours. And should it happen that the path is difficult and long—difficult, takes a lot of work, makes us nuts sometimes—that’s the very time that Guru Rinpoche reminds us that we are hanging by one string from falling into the depths of samsara and that string is the connection that we have with our teachers. Ignore that string or cut it at your peril. I would not want to be lost in samsara. I would not want to be unknowing of what my next rebirth will be and what I’ll have to endure because I followed the wrong path.

You’ve been given a gift without measure that you have not even opened yet.. I would say in this lifetime you haven’t earned it. And so you might think that by that, you can accept it freely and you can waste it. But I say to you, if we are together and if we speak and if we love one another, then this is the result of many, many efforts in the past. And our job is to, instead of acting like an idiot farmer who is plowing the ground for nothing, rocks and dirt —maybe I can plant a bean here, a little corn—when underneath there is a diamond field, a mine of gold… We’re like poor, starving idiot farmers scraping around when the jewels are ours.

Why do you want to be beggars?  You have been invited to the feast of the Buddhas. Why would you put your fear on a throne?  Why would you put your confusion on a throne? And most of all, why in the world would you take your flawed, crippled ego and put it on the throne? But we do it, day in and day out. We think that somehow if we talk about Buddhism and we look Buddhist and we act Buddhist that somehow the cards will count and it will be fine. It will work out in the end. And I beg to differ. Do you know how it works out in the end?  You die, and you take rebirth according to what you have accomplished in this lifetime. So what are you going to put your money on? Insanity?

Some of you, I think, are beginning to get renunciation and that means you stop making up your own bullshit, and you listen. Some of us are not so young and stupid anymore. Learning the hard way is tough, but we’re good at it. The question is, though, are we learning Dharma, or are we learning to dig ourselves into samsara deeper and deeper? And that’s the question.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Voyage to Recognition

An excerpt from the teaching called Awakening from Non-recognition by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

In this time of intense confusion called Kaliyuga, when our being’s discursive mind and thoughts run rampant and out of control, when even the reality that we are projecting onto our environment becomes progressively more and more decadent—in this day and time Vajrayana has appeared in the world. According to the teachings of Guru Rinpoche, Vajrayana is the best practice for this time, the most potent and most powerful. It relies on a very strong ripening. It relies on the very condition of Kaliyuga, when things become more and more contracted. Yet the obstacle that we face—and here’s where we need to prepare for our lives and for our deaths—is that we do not understand the Guru Yoga. We do not understand why we should practice it or how it might lead to this moment of recognition.

Yes, we want to awaken. We want to move into a state of recognition once we understand what the concept means. But we don’t want to practice Guru Yoga because in our materialistic society we have negative programming concerning some ideas about Guru Yoga. We are brought up in a democratic society, in a materialistic society, and we learn certain rules that we apply wrongly to this situation.

Now I think these rules are good. These rules teach us that we should think for ourselves, that we should be independent. You could not get anyone in this world to agree with that more than me. I am a Brooklyn girl, and I do not believe in following anything blindly. I do believe that to be strictly dogmatic, with no understanding and no ability to determine for oneself what is true and what is right, is completely absurd. I agree with the Buddha’s teaching, plain and simple, although that’s an arrogant thing to say. If I didn’t, what would it matter? But I do. The Buddha taught us that we should determine everything for ourselves, but we apply this wrongly. I am going to talk about how we should apply this process to the practice of Guru Yoga.

In the practice of Guru Yoga, we should think for ourselves, we should be smart people, we should not go brain dead, we should not blindly follow the leader. We should not think that this is simply a translation of another religion where you just do lots of prostrations and act like you’re brain dead around your teacher and go completely limp in your head, saying, “I believe! I believe! Save me, I believe!” In our religion, if you do that, there won’t be much result. So I don’t recommend doing that because in our religion we believe in cause and effect relationships.  In order to achieve that state of recognition, one has to apply the causes that will produce that result—in the same way that, if one wants an apple, one has to plant an apple seed that will grow into an apple tree. Until we develop replicators like they have on Star Trek, there’s no other way to get an apple. I have no idea how they’re going to teach Dharma once we have replicators, because we have been taught that the seed always produces the fruit.

In order to accomplish this state of recognition, this precious, awakened state, we have to have practiced, and applied the causes by which the mind is ripened and ready for such a thing. One doesn’t do that by simply being a good little boy or girl or by being a spiritual person meek and mild. It is through practicing, and one such practice is the Guru Yoga. When done correctly, it can lead to this result of recognition. Now the practice of Guru Yoga is not one of submission to another person’s will or acting as though you are a nobody and the teacher is a somebody, or acting as though you’re a kid and the teacher is mama, or simply following things around in some sort of mindless way. But rather, in the appropriate practice of Guru Yoga, there are certain determinations that one must make.

There is a whole long list of ways to understand this, but Americans don’t do well with grocery lists. We don’t remember them. We get bored and we move onto something else, like wondering if we left the oatmeal boiling on the stove this morning. So let’s look at it this way. When we first meet with our teacher and grapple with the idea of practicing Guru Yoga, it is not about some sort of emotional display of dropping to your knees and never having a normal thought in your head again. It’s not like that. It’s not some sort of funny, emotional, weird, dumb thing. Instead, it is a determination for oneself: What is this relationship? What does it provide, as opposed to what other relationships in my life provide?

Different relationships supply as many different things as there are relationships. Some supply sorrow and difficulty. Some supply support and happiness. Some supply nurturing. Some supply financial help. There are relationships where there is a back and forth, giving and receiving, but everything that is given or received—even affection, even human caring—arises from the world, from samsara. You think to yourself, “Well love? I don’t know about love. Love doesn’t.”  The kind of love you’re talking about in ordinary human relationships absolutely arises from samsara, even the best parts of it, because a lot of it has to do with chemistry. A lot of it has to do with karmic fitting together. We don’t even understand how animal-like we are. A lot of it has to do with pheromones, all kinds of things that are absolutely worldly, and they come together to create a certain feeling. A feeling is also something that is a worldly experience.

Although our relationship with our teacher may be cloaked or surrounded by experiences that are in relationship to or in accordance with our senses—we will see our teacher, our teacher may hand us something that’s physical, we will have emotional experiences and reactions concerning our teacher—yet there is something different going on.

The teacher provides you with a way to connect with our ultimate teacher, with the Buddha, with Guru Rinpoche, with the entire lineage of lamas—all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Through the relationship with our teacher, through empowerment, wind transmission (or lüng), and commentary teachings that ripen and direct our minds, we become familiar with the Buddha. Outwardly, that seems to be the physical manifestation of the Buddha as we have heard about the Buddha in history. Inwardly, it is a gradual familiarity with our own nature that is Buddha.

The teacher provides us with the path, the method—not the method to go from one side of the room to the other, not the method to make lasagne, not the method to brew a cup of tea, not anything ordinary that you can learn in the world, but the method that is Dharma practice and the necessary understanding and deepening that goes with it. This method that is Dharma practice is not ordinary because it arises from the mind of the Buddha. Therefore, in the relationship with the teacher there is something happening that is not of the world. It is extraordinary. You can’t get it anywhere else. Particularly in relationship to one’s own root guru there is a nourishment — the recognition that this teacher speaks my language, speaks to me.  This teacher enables my inner recognition, matures and ripens my mind so that I can hear, and not just theoretically. That’s the particular relationship that happens between oneself and one’s root guru.

Also, this teacher is the one who hooks us. This is very valuable and potent. Although life will hook us, alcohol will hook us, sex will hook us, food will hook us, TV will hook us, Star Trek will hook us, X-files will hook us, Christmas will hook us, love will hook us, lots of stuff will hook us, these are all things that can be found in the world.

When the teacher hooks us, what is coming into play is recognition of the nature as Buddha, the appearance of the path. This hook is about things that are not ordinary, things that are not of this world. What is the result that the teacher offers, desires for you, tries to communicate to you as being important? That you’ll be a good cook? That you’ll be pretty? That you’ll be healthy? That you’ll be fit? That you’ll be rich? That you’ll be a good artist? That you’ll learn how to use the computer? I wish all those things for you. I hope the Bluebird of Happiness nests in your armpits never to leave again. The teacher wants you to have every temporary happiness, but that isn’t what’s happening here.

What is happening here? The result that is desired, that is implemented by this relationship, is the result of your recognition of awakening. You have to look at this for yourself. You can’t just listen to me and go, “OK, I see what you’re saying.” You have to do it in your head. I can’t get into your head.

All of the rules that you have about ordinary relationships should not apply here anymore because you determine that this is something different. This relationship is not in the ordinary category. It does not arise from the world. It does not necessarily bring the result of worldly gain, although virtuous activity always brings about better things, but that’s not the plan here. As I said, every teacher, every Bodhisattva wishes you to be happy, but the result that we are about together as student and teacher is that of recognition, of awakening. Once you’ve determined that this is a different category, please don’t be a dummy, going on like a beast of burden that simply cannot think things through and cannot change your habitual tendencies. Don’t engage in this relationship within an ordinary context because it simply won’t work, and you won’t receive the blessing.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Understanding Our Root Guru

I agree wholeheartedly with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa when he says it is most important to keep one’s samaya with the root Guru. I was once told a story where a dedicated and educated practitioner emerged after several years of retreat and went to his Lineage Master to complain of his lack of progress.

The Guru sent the retreatant back to the cave, saying five more years were needed. In five years this happened again. This time the Guru said, concentrate on the Root Guru!  So the practitioner went back for five more years. Still almost no result! No Bodhicitta, no Wisdom or Recognition. The Guru then shouted, “You did not meditate on your root Guru!”

“Well,” said student “I most certainly did.”  The High Lama said, “I am not your root Guru! I am one of your teachers and you favor me because I have a high throne! That makes you feel that you certainly are high yourself!”

The great lama in his clarity and mercy said, “You fool! The old poor Ani who fed, raised and dressed you also taught you the four contemplations that turn the mind to Dharma, as well as Bodhicitta, the Four Noble Truths, including the Eight-Fold Path! How stupid and arrogant to think you must have the highest Lama! Such pride! A downfall! So go back and meditate on mixing your mind with that old ragged Ani. She is your Tsawei Lama and was also a wisdom Dakini. Her Qualities were peerless, sublime! But pride has closed your eyes.” Then with fury he cast the practitioner away, saying, “Come back when you have thrown away your pride.”

Five years later the retreatant returned with gifts and prostrations. He was, much to the delight of the Great Lama, awake. He had mixed his mind with his true Guru, had given rise to pure Bodhicitta, and had no pride.

Both the Great Lama and the disciple rejoiced together, and could hear the joyous cries of the wisdom Dakini throughout the entire monastery- Kye Ho!

So the Root Guru only needs to be awakened herself, be able to communicate, and have lineage teachings to pass on. “High Seats” are another issue entirely.  It is that one who hooks and aligns you with pure Dharma, connects you with method and result who is the true Root Guru. Praise to the Root of Accomplishment!

Extraordinary Blessings

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Guru Yoga”

One of the main practices that we have to do in order to make progress on the path is Guru Yoga.  There are many ways to practice Guru Yoga. There is a tremendous focus on Guru Yoga in the preliminary practice or Ngondro phase, and then as you move into the different forms of practice in the intermediate and advanced stages, there is still a great deal of focus on Guru Rinpoche, and there is still a great deal of dependence on the Natural Blessing that is transmitted from his miraculous compassion.

Guru Rinpoche is considered to be the Nirmanakaya form, that is the body or the form that one sees in physical existence.  He incarnated into physical existence, and when he appeared on the earth, he was in solid form.  According to the history of his life, he was not born.  He did not have a mother.  He appeared in the middle of a lake on a lotus and he did not appear as an infant, but as a young child.  And when he left, he didn’t die; his body didn’t cease to function.  He was seen to rise up into the sky and leave.

So his activity, his display, is considered to be extraordinary, not  ordinary.  It isn’t like what we usually see.  We do not usually see that kind of event.  None of us has managed to be born on a lotus in the middle of the lake.  Most of us have mothers. I have a mother.  If any of you don’t have a mother, please let me know.  I’d like to meet you, get to know you.

Probably, when we die, our bodies will do the ordinary thing which is “die.”  Perhaps a few of us will do something wonderful, but my guess is that we’ll die.  It’s very rare to be born as a young child on a lotus, or rise up into the sky and leave.  We don’t usually see that kind of display.  And so from that, we can understand that he is, in fact, the physical display of enlightenment.

It’s so easy for us to look at Guru Rinpoche, to think about his teachings, to think about what he has accomplished and think, “Oh, there was a great man that was born sometime, and he did this thing”, to think of Guru Rinpoche in a superficial way.  So when we practice, our practice is deluded really, and it’s kind of confused or even defiled, if you will, by our thinking, “What kind of man was he?  What was he really like?  What did he look like?”  I look at his statue and I think, “Gee he had a funny little mustache.”  We have those kinds of thoughts.  We can’t help but think like that.  We think as ordinary people do.  We look at each other in ordinary ways.  We’ve learned to evaluate things in that way.

If we hold Guru Rinpoche in that regard, we miss the point.  We think of a being that’s much like an ordinary being.  We think of an event that is not so different from ordinary events.  Man goes to Tibet, man teaches. Well, that’s happened before!  So we don’t understand.  We’re very shallow in our perception.  And what happens then is that the transmission that comes to us, the blessing that comes to us through faith, the blessing that comes to us through practicing Guru Yoga is very minimal.  And in fact, it’s an ordinary blessing.  It is the ordinary blessing perhaps of having the opportunity to practice, and of actually having the practices in hand so that we can do them.  Well, you could say that’s not exactly ordinary.  Lot’s of people don’t have that blessing.  And you’re right about that.  But it’s a limited blessing.  What we need beyond this opportunity,  beyond the practice, is the ripening.  And in order to have that, we must begin to understand the Nature of the Lama in a more profound way.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Heart Samaya

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

We’ve talked about the commitment made by the teacher when accepting a new student. What about the commitment by the student to the teacher, the samaya between the student and the teacher?  What is that all about?  There must be some kind of reciprocal relationship.  Obviously the teacher cannot insist on the student’s progress without the student’s willingness.  The student has to be willing to follow Lord Buddha’s teachings, has to be willing to accept the objects of refuge as their true refuge from the sufferings of samsara.  So there is a reciprocal commitment that is required.

It is extremely important that the teacher maintain their ethical and moral responsibility to the student.  That is to say, the teacher honors the student and thinks of the student with such high regard and such respect that actually it is said that a pure teacher will consider the student to be worth more than their own safety or comfort.  In a sense, they hold the student up in the same way that a parent holds up their child, not necessarily as superior, but as vitally important and cared for.  Any of you who have been parents know that in a dangerous situation, before you think of your own safety, if you have that bonding and love with your child, you’ll think about the safety of the child first. That is always the case.  And when the mother hears the cry of her baby child for food, she doesn’t say, “I am not ready to feed you now.  It’s not convenient for me to feed you now.  I have no wish to feed you now.” Instead, the mother wants to answer the child’s call as though the mother were filled with milk and the child were very hungry.  It is very instinctive and very natural.

So the relationship occurs in that way on the teacher’s side of the fence.  Now what about the student, what is the student’s part in the equation?

Well, there are certain teachings and certain rules that one must follow, but I don’t like to think of them as merely following dogmatic rules.  I like to think of this samaya, or this commitment, as a samaya of the heart.  Something that is deep and profound,  instead of like a cheap and gaudy display. It doesn’t burn hot like paper, quick and then gone.  It burns deep and slow like good strong hardwood or even better, good strong coal-something that burns hot for a long time, steadily without interruption.  This is how the relationship between the Guru and disciple should be.

When the student learns about the samaya they are keeping with the teacher, they should hold that samaya not so much as a duty and responsibility but more as a jewel, just as the teacher holds the student as a jewel.  So that relationship then is considered precious, valuable, from the heart.  Not a methodical thing, not a thing done by rote, not a thing done blindly without any understanding, but a deep and pervasive samaya or commitment that is a heart connection that ultimately enhances the practice and the level of accomplishment that comes from practicing Guru Yoga.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

When the Teacher Meets the Student

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

Guru Yoga is a very important, very fundamental aspect of the practice of Vajrayana. When a student and a teacher come together, following in the footsteps of Guru Rinpoche as he taught, the relationship between the student and the teacher is upheld by the teacher in a very profound way.  Once the teacher accepts the student as their very own and takes them into their heart and actually into their body, speech and mind, it is the teacher’s commitment to bring blessings and benefit to that student, not only in this lifetime but in every future lifetime.

The student then becomes extremely important to the teacher, in that the teacher, upon accepting the student fully once that relationship has been established, promises to return lifetime after lifetime in whatever form is necessary in order to be of benefit to that student.  So there is a heart commitment or heart “samaya.”  When the teacher looks into the face of the student, the teacher says to the student or thinks to the student in their heart and in their mind, “I will not abandon you.  I will not abandon you to remain alone in cyclic existence.”

So, the commitment is that the teacher promises to see the student through until supreme realization.  This then becomes a “samaya,” or commitment, that lasts life after life, from life to death, from life to death, from life to death.  Again and again and again this relationship returns. There are many stories about how lamas, recognizing their students or seeing their students from the time before, whatever that time might be, feel great joy at seeing the face of the student again, tremendous joy,  as though seeing and having the opportunity to nurture their beloved child once more.  And this is a very beautiful and happy thing.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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