Self-absorption Leads to Unhappiness

An excerpt from a teaching called How to Pray by Being by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The Buddhist path is not a selfish trip. It’s not a self-absorbed trip. In fact, as Buddhist practitioners, we strive to become less and less self-absorbed. Being self-absorbed is the exact opposite of prayer–180 degrees away from it.  But most of us, unfortunately, have the habit of self-absorption, and so we spend most of our lives holding a prayer that is based on samsara. That has no good result. Without exception, self-absorbed people are the unhappiest people on the face of this earth, whether they have money or they don’t. Whether they have a home and a car or they don’t. Whether they live in a simple thatched hut or they live in a mansion, the people that are self absorbed and locked up in their own inner phenomena are the unhappiest people on the face of this earth.

The tragedy is that in our culture we are taught to think more about ourselves than about others. We are taught that if we buy cars and other stuff and maybe line up a few parties and relationships and line up a few fun retreats, we will be happy. That is simply not the case. Happiness never comes from self-absorption. It comes from being concerned about the welfare of other sentient beings.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

What We All Have in Common

Shakyamuni Altar

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Antidote to Suffering”

The precepts that the Buddha lays down are precepts that are real and workable for everyone. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to hold to those precepts—the precepts of being compassionate and the realization that all sentient beings want to be happy, yet don’t have the skills or knowledge as to how to be happy. Because of that ineptness at capturing happiness, we often make ourselves stress out.In fact, the Buddha teaches us that all sentient beings are suffering because we don’t know how to attain happiness. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to notice that these things are true. You don’t have to be a Buddhist if you are willing to look with courageous eyes and see that these are so. Also, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to use the antidote.

The antidote is purity in conduct. The antidote is purity in practice, whatever your practice might be. The antidote is the realization of compassion. It certainly should be the core of one’s life. Of course, the Buddha’s teaching is more involved than that but still one doesn’t have to be a Buddhist to hold to those teachings. I think they are very universal. So the idea is to have these classes as a way for everyone to participate in what is happening here at KPC. For those of you who may not know, we also maintain a 24-hour prayer vigil here and have been doing that since 1985. There is never a moment in this place when there is not prayer being done. The prayer is specifically dedicated to the end of suffering in all its forms. Our original intention was to keep up this prayer vigil until none of us are here anymore or there is the end of suffering on this planet, the end of war on this planet specifically. Anyone can join in the vigil and you don’t have to be a Buddhist to join in. And if you understand that you have the capacity to apply the antidote to suffering and you can do that through sincere practice, through dedication, through compassion and through prayer, then there is no way for you to feel separate from what is happening here. So the original thought about this class would be to present some of the more foundational Buddhist teachings in a way that anyone could apply them and understand them.

The tricky thing about it is that we have both Buddhists and non-Buddhists here in this room. In a way it would seem tricky because if you have been studying here for some time and you’ve gone on to deeper teachings, specifically to the technology of Buddhism, you’ve gone on to the method. If you’ve gone on to the method, you tend to think that you no longer need to remind yourself why you are here in the first place. You tend to think that you have learned already the Buddha’s basic teaching that all sentient beings are suffering, that there is an antidote to suffering; already learned that all sentient beings are trying to be happy and that one needs to apply and to live a compassionate viewpoint. But that is not true. That is why you see several of the ordained Buddhist Sangha here and why it is good, even for a long time Buddhist practitioner, even one who has studied in really extensive ways, to come to a teaching like this.

I myself have decided very firmly that no matter how long I teach personally, and no matter whom I teach, whether the people whom I teach are brand new to anything metaphysical or whether they have gone on twenty year retreats, I will continue to teach the basics. I don’t know if anyone like that is going to show up here, but even if I had someone like that here in this class I would still always first and foremost speak of the root reasons why you should practice.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Cultivating Compassion


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

It is not foreign to our nature, and it is also not separate from the goal that we wish to achieve by practicing in this way, for us to give rise to the great Bodhicitta, or the great compassion.  The way that that is done on the Buddhist path is to consider that our own goals and the goals of sentient beings are indistinguishable, that they are nondual.  That is to say that our goal to practice in order to achieve liberation, is inseparable from the goal of sentient beings.  They also have the goal of practicing in order to achieve liberation.  Not all of them know it, in the same way that some of you don’t know it either.  You may think you know it, or you may know that you don’t know it, but many of you are still at the party, not growing out of the party, not grown up and looking back and saying “Oh, that won’t do me much good.”

You remember that situation that you found yourself in as you were growing up?  When you were a young person you had a few knockdown drag out parties, didn’t you?  I mean the kind where, at some point in your life, you probably got drunk.  Nobody makes a sound, like “Drunk?  What is that?”  At some point in your life you probably were out of control, just party down, not thinking straight, doing things that were compulsive and obsessive and not appropriate and not healthy for you, not good for your well-being—unthinking, deluded things.  This is something that we have all experienced, but particularly in the case of when we were younger, we would party hearty. And if you think about it, if any of you have done that, and I’m sure that one or two of you have, you may remember that once you’ve partied hearty, there was a period of regret afterwards, and that was primarily the next day.  Of course the, how shall I say, the cure for that is, of course, prostrations to the porcelain god; and with all of that, one comes to understand that one is literally destroying oneself, that there is no hope for happiness from doing that to oneself.  After doing that repeatedly, we tend to grow up after a while.  We tend to be unwilling to put ourselves through that kind of stuff again.

So that happens to us spiritually too. We go through the same compulsive obsessive behavior with no good result. And at some point, either through our own good fortune, through our own gathering together of merit which causes literally a kind of smarts arising in the mind, or through the instruction of our teacher, we can begin to realize that what we are doing makes no sense.  It simply makes no sense.  It is destructive.  It is painful, and it is not pleasant.  So that is the stage in which we find ourselves turning our mind towards Dharma.

What we have to realize in order to give rise to the compassion, to the great Bodhicitta, is that this is true of all of us, not just you.  If you have come to this realization, that it’s time to turn the mind towards Dharma, then what of those who have not yet come to that realization?  They are still putting themselves through that.  They are still acting in a destructive way that disintegrates their spiritual strength.  They are acting in such a way that literally brings them suffering.  What of them?  Perhaps you have heard the good word, but what of them?  Who will help them?  And so we develop a sense of compassion.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

As Many Paths…

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

Society will teach you wrongly until it understands your nature.  The Buddha is the perfect teacher—the perfect one because he so thoroughly understood our nature.  It is said that when a student came to him for the first time, and said, “I would like to become Buddhist,” or “I would like to take teaching with you,” he could see in an instant all the causes and conditions that brought that student to that moment where he faced the Buddha.  He could see every cause and condition and could give each and every student the antidote necessary to provide the blessings for enlightenment.

That being the case, we can trust in the Buddha’s teaching.  He doesn’t say, “You’re a bag of chemicals.  Now you’re breathing. So good, go get a job. Make yourself happy. Have a chicken in your pot, or a pot with some chicken”.  I don’t know…” Have a drink on Friday nights.”—whatever it is that makes people happy.  He doesn’t say, “Follow in your culture.” He tears the veil apart and he says, “Based on your nature, this is what must be done.  Based on your path, this is what must be done.”  And there are as many methods in the Buddhadharma as there are sentient beings to follow them.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved



Merit & the Karma of Happiness

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

You are able to practice because you had the karma to receive teachings. Merit has come to the surface of your mind; good karma is ripening. But linked with some of this ripening merit are some bubbles of not-so-good karma. So what happens? You sit down with the intention to practice, but now you’re just too tired. You start to fall asleep. Or you decide that you need to do some other things. You externalize what you think are the causes for your inability to practice. Maybe you even begin to doubt that you’re happy in the Dharma. You wish you were surfing in California, and this thought is like a little rat, gnawing in your head. It gnaws at you slowly and steadily.

You need to understand that good karma is ripening, but some negative karma is linked to it. Embedded in your mindstream is some non-virtuous activity associated with the intention to practice. Now you have repeated that pattern, in seed form, and it will ripen in the future. Sometime in the future, you will again sit down with the intention to practice, and you won’t be able to do it. So the sensible thing to do is to persevere, to push through as well as you can. Understand that your tiredness, sleepiness, and other excuses have no basis. They are puffballs.

When you find yourself making excuses why you are unable to practice, why you don’t really want to hear the teachings, the best thing to do is to break through by accumulating merit. By doing virtuous things. Study Dharma. Pray. Practice kindness and generosity. Meditate. Contemplate the teachings. Try to understand them more deeply. Be attentive. Make offerings. Repeat the Seven Line Prayer many times. Repeated with faith, it is an antidote that can end all your suffering. It can, the teaching says, lead to enlightenment. All these things are ways to accumulate merit. You must understand how merit (and lack of it) works, or you will have a difficult time maintaining potency on the Path. It will even be difficult, on an ordinary level, to have a good life. For you won’t have any way to understand what is happening to you. You will always blame external things, other people. It is true that when you encounter misfortune, other people are usually involved, and you may well have some mixed karma with those people. But the karma arises within your own mindstream; it isn’t somewhere outside.

Pull out of your addiction to reaction. Think of your mind as something like a mechanism, and you yourself as a mechanic. Understand that you can work with its levers, pulleys, and gears. To most people, their own minds are a mystery, a complete mystery. And they search for someone who can understand them.

What should you do? Persevere in your practice. What else? Create more merit. The big mystery of “me” is solved. Almost reluctantly, too, because it’s so lovely to remain a mystery. It’s so pleasant to think that there is something mysterious, special, and unique about us. How often we try to obtain something that seems just out of reach. Or we have it in our hands, and it slips away. What is going on here? Lack of merit, of course. And yet we keep on reaching and grabbing and forcing, all in vain. Sometimes we think we have made something happen by forcing it. And yet, we have merely rearranged our karma. The basic problem remains unsolved. Suppose you want a new car, but the cost is just out of reach. Both merit and lack are coming to the surface. Even if you contrive to get the car, you will still have, ripening, some non-virtue associated with lack. That lack will always show up somewhere—with the car itself, or in your relationships, your health, or in missed opportunities. So the key, whenever you lack something, is to accumulate merit.

Some people are unaware that it takes merit to be happy. Have you ever noticed that some people just seem to be happy, no matter what? And others … well, happiness seems to elude them. And it’s because there is no karma of happiness, no karma of having made others happy, ripening in their minds. You can’t even lighten them up with a joke. They just don’t have any happy bubbles ripening to the surface. “How are you today?” you ask them. “Not so good,” they reply. “Umm … Nothing seems to go right.”  But if we haven’t got the karma for happiness, whose fault is that? Who did it to us? Someone else? No, but it’s a problem we can fix. The problem is within our own minds. We can create the karma of happiness by creating merit.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

What Are You Gathering?

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Bodhisattva Ideal”

In the view of the Bodhisattva, we realize that everything in life is impermanent, that nothing we can gather has any meaning other than the collection of virtuous habitual tendencies within our mindstream. Having realized that, one travels a moderate path in which one’s own enlightenment and the enlightenment of others become the same weight, and nondual.

Further, we come to understand that we are one and others are many. Even in this room, let’s say, if I am practicing as a Bodhisattva, I think that yes, my happiness is equal to the happiness of any one of you. But there are so many more of you than there are of me that it only makes sense for me to do what is beneficial for you rather than what is beneficial for me.  This I try my best to live by. As a Bodhisattva, I consider this to be the most precious understanding that I have.  It’s my treasure and my wealth. It’s reasonable and logical that the needs of the many would outweigh the needs of the one.   Because we are the same, and because we all wish to be happy, and because in our nature we are absolutely inseparable and indistinguishable from one another, I find that I cannot be happy without you. So all of the different gatherings and collections that one can make during the course of one’s lifetime have to be understood in that way.  Are they really worth anything?  Or are they the gaudy childlike baubles that we play with until we have a better understanding of what the Buddha has taught.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Big Picture

An excerpt from a teaching called True Motivation for Kindness by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The Buddha teaches us that everything a sentient being does has a little hook on the end of it. And the hook is: I…me…always about me. So you have to watch when you’re being kind that you’re not being kind just to be a certain way. What you really want to do is to alleviate the suffering of sentient beings. It’s about them, not about you. Get the big picture. All sentient beings are suffering. Get that they, like you, don’t wish to suffer.

You can help others understand the value of kindness. You can demonstrate it. You can begin to show people the value of being of benefit to others. You can help people to understand in some simple way that there is something better than the superficiality that they are revolving in. You can pray for their enlightenment. Make prayers for the end of hunger, prayers for the end of war, prayers for the end of suffering in all its forms. You can do that, and in doing that, you have actually entered onto the Path. It’s just a baby step, but a good one. It is one thing that you can do quietly in your heart. No one ever sees it. You can do it without expecting anyone to pay you back.

The upshot of all of this then is to consider compassion in a new way, in a sense to consider it in an ordinary way, in that you can truly practice it within the context of your life. But more than that, know yourself! See what your motivation is. On this path your motivation is everything. Examine the faults of cyclic existence so that when you accept the hard work of this path, even if it’s just simply acting in a compassionate way, accomplish it for the right reasons.

Take into yourself the fundamental truth that cyclic existence is faulted, but that the Buddha said there is an end to suffering, and it is attainable to you if you open your eyes and act appropriately. Don’t waste your time gathering unto yourself things that you cannot take with you. Don’t waste your time. Practice the Path.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Many are More Precious than One

A Teaching from Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Three thousand years ago Lord Buddha introduced the idea of great compassion to an unknowing world. After his enlightenment he was asked to teach others the means to supreme realization. Although he was tempted to simply leave — knowing that almost no one would be interested in his teachings, and of those who were, few would try to follow them and fewer still would succeed — he nonetheless replied, “For those few, I will remain.”

Buddha is the exceptional teacher who teaches the development of great and selfless compassion as part of the technology of the path to enlightenment. But to develop such great love, it is first necessary to familiarize oneself with the nature of suffering and especially with its causes. Amidst the array of spiritual teachings, this perspective is unique because most people do not understand the reasons for suffering or how suffering appears in the world.

The Buddha taught us that human happiness through ownership, eating, drinking, gaining love, stature, approval, or even the happiness of engaging in pleasurable activities is at best temporary. These experiences do not prevent suffering because between these happy times we can experience times of distress.

Nor do happy times solve questions concerning the nature of suffering and why it arises. The Buddha taught that the happiness of enlightenment is not composed of impermanent things but occurs when one cuts out the sources of all unhappiness. Through understanding and meditation, one liberates the mind into true awareness, a state free of conditions and defilements. This pure awareness is a lasting state.

Ultimately, the attitude of care-taking or being responsible for the wellbeing of others, of caring for planet earth, its inhabitants and all the 3,000 myriads of universes described in Buddhist cosmology  is the true cause for ultimate and permanent happiness. Being responsible for all sentient beings is a spiritual technology the Buddha taught to be the supreme antidote to selfishness, compulsive desire, self absorption and all other symptoms of the ego.

When we remain selfish and neurotically fixated in the ego, we remain deeply unhappy. When we are in a state of profound generosity, having a relaxed mental attitude and pure motivation, we remain stable in a state of joy. Yet if we view caring for others only as a medicine, we may miss the beauty of it.

No sentient being is born with pure, unconditional, constant love. In the beginning, selflessness and generosity require discipline. Like all things, they must arise from a cause. One must break old habitual tendencies, and this requires discipline. Initially, one must understand the values of generosity and the pitfalls of selfishness. One cannot then rely on one’s feelings, because they are products of an ego distorted by the self-centered habits that produce unhappiness and disregard for others. It is necessary to understand the cause and effect relationship here.

Happiness does not just appear. Enlightenment does not just appear. Neither do unhappiness or suffering just appear. When one understands this apparently simple truth, it is possible to make generosity part of one’s activity in a true and lasting way, because one has a basis of understanding that will support and uphold the discipline necessary in the initial stages.

Ultimately, through persistence one can soar. There is a point at which a great leap takes place and one moves into an experience of effortlessness. This is because ultimately, in the pure state, compassion is part of one’s nature. We each, in fact, live in a world of our own making and have the choice of living selfishly, trying in a futile way to get happiness through gaining or having more phenomena (whether external or internal)  or we can live a life of generosity and responsibility, cognizant that there are many more sentient beings than just our selves.

Because their value is equal, many pieces of gold are worth more than a single coin. So it is with sentient beings. Many are more precious than one. Fortified with that awareness, one can live and act accordingly with simplicity, generosity and respect for life. The attitude of cherishing all sentient beings as though they were truly the same as you is a deeply moving and personal experience. It is a life changer. It is also the cause of happiness.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Creating Happiness

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

If all we want is happiness, how do we do it?  It’s a little, but there’s a real trick to it, but you can create happiness.  Here’s how it’s done.  First of all, all sentient beings are equal.   And in our nature, we are not only the same, we are one.  From the point of view of Buddhahood, if the Buddha were to look out at everyone, and look from the mind of awakening, in the state of enlightenment, it would not be possible to see where one of us ends, and the other begins, because our true nature is pure, pristine, primordial light.  It’s not visible light in the way that we understand light, because when you see light then you are standing away from it.  You would call it undifferentiated, nonconceptual illumination – radiance.  That is our nature.  So when we defile that nature in our relationships with others, and cause harm to others, we suffer.  If we could do the opposite, and try to benefit others, we would create happiness.

It doesn’t seem to be the truth because we think, “Gimme, gimme, gimme.”  This is what America has taught us.  This is what our culture says to us.  “Gimme a car.  I’ll be happy.  Give me a boyfriend, I’ll be happy.  Give me another boyfriend, I’ll be twice as happy.”  That’s what we’re taught. We’re taught that gimme, gimme, gimme is the way to happiness.  It’s kind of the modern mantra, isn’t it?  “Gimme, gimme, gimme hung.”  We try very hard, and it doesn’t work that way.

What we find out is that in our oneness, we must uphold one another.   We must not only practice kindness towards one another, but practice recognition.  So, let’s say in my desire to be happy, I decide the only thing that’s going to work for me is a new car.  In my materialistic American psyche that’s what I’ve decided.  I saw this new car on TV, and I’ve got to have it.   Whatever I do to get money for that car, even if it’s honest, even if I go to my credit union, and borrow, make my payments,  and I do everything right, it’s ordinary.  It’s just regular.  It’s the stuff that you move around when you move an apple from here to there.  It’s nothing but ordinary, worldly gobbledygook.

So you go to your credit union, and you get the dollars, and you get the car, and then what happens?  You’re happy for a little while, and then the car gets old.  The baby throws up in it.   The dog shits in it.  You spill milk in it.  You drive it, and it gets old, or you smash it up.  Or now that you’ve bought it and gone to the credit union and cleaned all your money out, you don’t have money for gas!  This is not the way to create happiness.  Even though the car might cheer you up for a little while, it is not going to change your life.  It is not going to do what you hope it’s going to do.  And it’s the same with the big ticket items – the house.  And the non-buyable items like relationships, and marriages, and boyfriends, and girlfriends and all that stuff.  All are like band aids in samsara – quick fixes.  When you’re unhappy and you grab for something like that, your intuition tells you you’re going to feel better, but the real solution is counterintuitive.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Ordinary or Extraordinary?

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

In the Buddha Dharma there are mainly two kinds of compassion.   There is ordinary compassion, and there is extraordinary or sublime compassion, also called ordinary bodhicitta or sublime bodhicitta.   Bodhicitta is the great display of compassion, which is our own primordial nature.   Ordinary bodhicitta is the caring for others through the means that we can find on this earth.  In other words, caring for others through ordinary means.  Like for instance, if you see somebody that’s hungry and you give them a sandwich.  That’s compassionate, but it’s ordinary compassion because you know you didn’t get the sandwich from the sublime realms.  You got it from a kitchen or you bought it somewhere.  It’s ordinary stuff that went into it – baloney or salami or peanut butter and jelly. It’s ordinary even if you make 150 sandwiches and you pass them out to the hungry homeless.  That’s a real good day, but still ordinary compassion because it’s easily attainable.

There are many hungry people now in Burma.  No matter what the junta says, the people are not eating, and they are sick and dying.  Let’s say somehow we magically can put together everything they need, and just bust through the blockades and give it to the people.  Let’s say we airdrop everything they need, and the whole place is satisfied. The people have tents or homes or something to live in.  They have the means to get food.  They have food.  They have bedding; they have everything because of this magnificent airdrop that you made.  Let’s say that’s possible.  That would take an awful lot of money, but still in all it’s ordinary human compassion.  We never see ordinary humans doing that very much, and that goes to show you the pickle we’re in.  But it’s still ordinary human compassion.

Now, what is supreme or extraordinary compassion?  That is compassionate activity that concerns and offers that which is not of this world.  The great bodhisattvas that return again and again are considered to demonstrate the great bodhicitta, because the nature of the bodhisattva is such that once they attain certain bhumis, which are levels of realization, then at that time they can step into enlightenment or step into nirvana and attain the rainbow body at any moment.  But they hold back because they wish to benefit sentient beings.  They look at the suffering of sentient beings.  They see this terrible suffering and it moves them, and they return to earth to show them the way out of that suffering.  That is considered extraordinary compassion.  So then translating, teaching, creating the books of Dharma, offering these ancient teachings in a modern world so that modern people can continue to benefit from something that would ordinarily be lost to them, that is considered extraordinary compassion.

When I held my little new born son in my arms, I thought, “I would do anything for you.  I will care for you. I will keep you warm.  I will give you my milk, and when you’re done with that, I will bake pies.  I’ll do anything for you.”  And then I realized I was lying to him, because if my son were to get gravely ill, I would have no power to help him.  Or if my son were to die, even though I told him I would never abandon him, I would not be able to follow him into the next rebirth.  I would not be able to see to his welfare.  So, there’s my baby in my arms, and I have lied to him.

That was one of the main things that made me practice really hard when I was young.  I made it my business to learn how to provide the Phowa, which is the transference of consciousness from one level to the next, or from one life to the next rebirth.  I made myself learn to do that so that I could help people, and dogs, and cats, and anybody in the dying process, and so I could even follow my own child into the next life, and make sure that his rebirth is good.  I’ve attained that goal.  And I’m very happy for it.  Do you see the difference there?  A mother’s love is so powerful, so extraordinary.  You would feed your child your own body if they were hungry.   And you look in the eyes of your child and you think, “Never has there been love like this.  I would do anything for you.”  But until that compassion applies to all sentient beings, and we have the skills through our own realization, we are lying.   And we are not able to do very much for those we love.  That is the one of the differences between ordinary and supreme bodhicitta.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

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