The Middle Way: From a Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow by HH Penor Rinpoche

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

This leads to the third stage concerning the aspect of adjusting one’s intention [which is the first of four aspects of the preliminaries to the ritual for receiving the vow]: transcending the two extremes of samsara and enlightenment by vowing to maintain the middle way. The practice of the enlightened mind, bodhicitta, involves two levels, the aspirational and the practical. Maybe you’re thinking, “If we reject the suffering of the three realms of existence and avoid attraction to the quiescence of the hearers and solitary realizers, what is there for us to obtain?” What we are to obtain is the state of bodhisattvahood, which is dependent on bodhicitta cultivated for the sake of self and others. It is only bodhicitta that leads beings from the suffering of existence to the state of fully enlightened buddhahood. We must avoid the two extremes: the quiescence of ordinary nirvana and the endless cycle of samsara. It is only through cultivating bodhicitta that we can truly follow the middle way.

Through cultivating bodhicitta you will purify all nonvirtue accumulated in the past, present, and future, and compassion and all noble qualities, including the ability to meditate in samadhi, will blossom in your mind. As you dedicate yourself to the welfare of others, the [strength of your] vow will increase to the point where are you are truly able to help sentient beings as limitless as space. You will be able to bring limitless beings to enlightenment, until the ocean of existence is emptied. The Buddha taught that without the cultivation of the precious bodhicitta, there is no chance to achieve the state of fully enlightened buddhahood. Therefore, for the purpose of all other living beings, with great enthusiastic joy you should give rise to the precious bodhicitta and engage in the actual practice.

Making Offerings: His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

Offerings

The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

Next, go for refuge in the sublime supports, the buddha as the embodiment of the three mayas, the dharma as the representation of all scriptural transmissions and realization, and the sangha as those who have attained the irreversible path of the sublime ones. From this moment until enlightenment, in order to liberate all parent sentient beings from their suffering, develop compassion. Realize that [in order] to accomplish your goal, aside from reliance on the Three Jewels of refuge, there is no other support for refuge. I would be impossible for you to bring all beings to liberation without the buddha, dharma, and sangha. With irreversible faith and devotion, repeat the vows of refuge.

According to the Mahayana path, we take refuge in the teacher who shows us the path to liberation: that is buddha. We engage on the path of Mahayana practice by cultivating the precious bodhicitta until we realize buddhahood: that is the dharma. The sangha is the spiritual community that is on the same path as we are on, assisting in the accomplishment of our mutual goals.

Next is the method for accumulating merit. Visualize in space in front a magnificent throne supported by eight lions, where your teacher sits, indivisible with Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. The eight arhats and a vast assembly of buddhas and bodhisattvas surround him like masses of clouds that fill the ten directions. Imagine countless emanations of yourself filling the entire pure realm of your environment, which includes the entire universe. You can countless emanations of yourself and all parent sentient beings join together to fill [all of] space. With humility, reverence, and faith, you and they all bow down and pay homage to the objects of refuge in the space in front. [Here you] prostrate by touching the five places of your body to the ground. That is the branch of prostration, a powerful antidote for pride. Having pride means having an attitude of cherishing yourself by thinking you are so great and special. Performing prostrations purifies that egoistic attitude.

Now visualize that you and innumerable emanations of yourself present boundless offerings. Offer all of your wealth and endowments, including the root of all virtue in this lifetime, all your past lifetimes, and in future lifetimes. Offer objects that are of this world and those that are transcendent. Imagine them to be inconceivably vast clouds of outer, inner, and secret offerings that completely fill space. In addition, offer the essential nature of reality.

General offerings please the senses. Imagine those offerings to be vast and inconceivable. However, if you were to [attempt to] compare the outer offerings with a single particle of the realms of buddhas and the quality of offerings made in the minds of enlightened ones, [you would find that comparison] to be beyond the scope of your imagination. That is why it is so important while presenting offerings to try to connect with the ultimate nature of offering, which is mental and not just material. Material offerings you make are supports for your mental or imagined offerings, which should be as inconceivably vast and wondrous as you are capable of manifesting. The actual offerings you use as a support should also be the best substances you are able to offer. At least they must not be old, dirty, or leftover substances; they must be suitable supports for the basis of virtue. The pure material offerings you make will be the support for the continual manifestation of inexhaustible offerings that will remain until samsara is emptied.

There is a well-known story of an accomplished practitioner named Jowo Ben. One day Jowo Ben made a very beautiful, clean, and pure offering on his altar. As he sat and looked at his offering, he thought, “What is it that makes this offering I’ve made here today excellent?” Then he remembered his sponsor was coming to visit that day, and he realized he had made the beautiful offering in order to impress his sponsor. He jumped up, picked up a handful of dirt, and threw it on the altar, saying he should give up all attachment and fixation on worldly concerns. Other lamas, on hearing what Jowo Ben had done, proclaimed his offering of throwing dirt on his altar to have been the purest offerings, because Jowo Ben had finally cleared his mind of attachment and aversion.

When offerings are made, they are rendered pure and excellent by a mind free from attachment and aversion to the ordinary, material aspect of the offerings–and they must be made with a mind that is also free from avarice. Don’t think you can throw dirt on your altar and think that will benefit you. You must adjust your mind. If your mind is free from attachment or fixation and aversion, then whatever you do will be right. If your mind is not adjusted and your intentions are impure, then no matter how beautiful and magnificent the offering is, it will be insignificant. If you present all offerings, whether abundant or meager, with fervent devotion from the core of your heart, that will produce profoundly amazing results.

In order to be free from the suffering of existence, the mind must be free from dualistic fixation. In freedom from duality, everything is inherently pure. Just imagine all the wonderful offerings that are made that are free from duality; pure water possessing the eight qualities, garlands of flowers, incense, light, superior perfume, celestial food, musical instruments, fine garments, beautiful umbrellas, canopies, victory banners, the sun, the moon–the finest and best of everything is offered. Consider those as offerings arranged in a magnificent array equal in size to Mt. Meru. Furthermore, know that those offerings are pure and free from duality. For example, if you were to pick a flower and think, “Oh, this is such a beautiful flower; I want to offer it,” but then you also think, “My flower is more beautiful than the others,” and you offer it with that dualistic thought, then that offering would be defiled by your dualistic fixation. On the other hand, if you focus on the pure nature of the offerings and present them with pure devotion, you will make offerings that are pure or free from dualistic fixation. Recite the verses of the branch for offering, and make the most excellent, immeasurable offering you are capable of with the enlightened attitude [bodhicitta], faith, and pure devotion.

It is important to understand that presenting offerings is the antidote for [having] desire. Offerings are not made to the Three Jewels because they are considered to be poverty-stricken and in need of receiving from their disciples; offerings are made to accumulate merit. By making offerings with actual material substances, we accumulate ordinary conceptual merit; by using the mind to manifest immeasurable offerings, we accumulate nonconceptual wisdom merit.

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: Adjusting One’s Mind

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

First, [during the preliminaries] one adjusts one’s intention [in order] to be in harmony with the special feature of this instruction. There are three ways to do so, by developing repulsion or weariness toward the suffering of samsara, by developing an attraction to enlightenment, and by transcending the two extremes of samsara and enlightenment through vowing to maintain the middle way.

When considering the first step to adjust the mind, one cultivates repulsion and weariness towards samsara as antidotes for strong attraction to worldliness, to ordinary phenomena, to one’s own life, wealth, and endowments, and to one’s friends and loved ones. Through cultivating weariness toward the suffering of samsara, we learn about impermanence come to understand the impermanence of all worldly phenomena.

Of all worldly phenomena, whether great or small, nothing is permanent and nothing endures. Therefore, when you find yourself attracted to or attached to the happiness of existence, you must bring to mind the faults of existence. Consider that not even a single phenomenon is permanent, no matter how great, wonderful, or powerful it may seem. Consider especially how once that phenomenon [you associate with a happy existence] changes, you will experience nothing but suffering as the result. That way you can move your mind away from having strong attachment to impermanent phenomena and begin to change your habit of always following apparent phenomena based on [experiencing] temporary pleasure and attachment.

Think, for instance, about sentient beings that, due to anger and aggression, have accumulated the negative karma to fall to the hell realm. Those beings have accumulated tremendous negative karma that will keep them in the hell realm indefinitely. In that realm, unable to establish any positive causes at all, they will experience nothing but intense suffering. Think about the eight hot hells, the eight cold hells, as well as the peripheral hells surrounding them. Although it is inconceivable, think about the suffering that sentient beings in those hells must endure.

Then consider the deprived spirit realm. Think about the beings that accumulate an abundance of negative karma through the passions of avarice and strong desire. The result of such accumulation is rebirth as a deprived spirit. There are different categories of deprived spirits, such as outer and inner ones, but essentially they all endure inconceivable hunger and thirst that is insatiable. Furthermore, they never die from that; they just continue to suffer indefinitely, without ever being satisfied.

Next, consider the animal realm. Negative karma accumulated through the passion of delusion produces the result of an animal rebirth. Animals suffer from basic delusion and ignorance, mistreatment by humans, and being preyed upon by one another. From the largest to the smallest, those who are as large as mountains to those smaller than the tip of a needle, all suffer from basic stupidity and ignorance, so they are unable to escape and are unable to do much more than just endure the karma in that rebirth until it is eventually exhausted.

Then consider rebirth that is so difficult to obtain: that of a human being. Compared with the three lower realms of existence, human life seems very blissful; nevertheless, there is great suffering in the human realm. Human beings suffer from confinement in the womb and from the process of birth, illness, disease, and growing old and the decline in their faculties, until eventually they experience the suffering of death and leaving everything behind. Humans are subject to all kinds of indefinite circumstances and situations throughout the course of their life. Some die at birth, and some as adults. Some die alone and unwanted or in an untimely manner.

In addition to the four great rivers of suffering human beings experience–birth, old age, sickness and death–humans experience compounded suffering. For example, humans suffer mistreatment at the hands of their enemies, and they suffer when they lose their loved ones. In fact, they suffer from fear that precedes the actual events themselves. Humans also suffer from not getting what they want and from having to accept what is not desired, because then they have the fear of losing that. Against their will, humans endure all these unexpected consequences.

Many people think that after they die and leave this life they will easily return as a human being. Many believe they will just be able to return to a happy state of existence, such as the one they might now be accustomed to. That is a mistake. I can guarantee that unless you have the specific karma to do so, you will not take another birth as a human being. Without the karma that creates the causes for it, the result of human rebirth is impossible. Make no mistake about it.

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: Aspects to Receiving the Vow

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

In general, dharma consists of many divisions an distinctions of spiritual teachings, while at the same time the nature of all dharma is that it has the potential to liberate beings, both temporarily and ultimately, from the suffering of cyclic existence. The main cause or seed for that [liberation] is the cultivation of bodhicitta. Various traditions exist for the bodhisattva vow ritual and training. The lineage for these particular teachings, which was passed from Nargarjuna to Shantideva, is known as the tradition of the Middle Way as well as the lineage of the bodhisattvas.

There are four aspects related to receiving the bodhisattva vow: receiving the vow itself, ensuring the vow does not degenerate, repairing the vow if it is damaged, and methods for continuing to cultivate and maintain the vow.

The first aspect of receiving the vow itself has three aspects: the individual from whom one receives the vow, oneself as a qualified recipient, and the ritual for receiving the vow.

First, the individual from whom one receives the vow must have strong faith in the Mahayana vehicle and must be a true upholder of the vow. He or she must be someone within whom the vow abides and should also be someone who is very learned concerning the vehicles, particularly concerning bodhisattva training. Such a person must never abandon bodhicitta and must always keep the vows pure, even at the cost of his or her own life. That individual must also be a practitioner of the six paramitas of generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and prajna, and must never engage in any activity that contradicts them.

According to the tradition of Nagarjuna, the way to receive the vow for the first time is from a spiritual guide. Later, if an individual’s vows degenerate, and if a spiritual guide is then absent, the person can restore the vows in the presence of an image of the buddha. It is not necessary that they be restored in the presence of a spiritual guide.

The second aspect for receiving the vow itself concerns the individual who qualifies to receive it.

According to the tradition of Nagarjuna, all sentient beings who desire to receive the bodhisattva vow qualify to receive it. The only exception is types of gods in the formless realm, called gods devoid of recognition, which are gods that lack cognitive abilities. With this one exception, basically all sentient beings qualify to receive the vow. But those who qualify in particular are those who have supreme knowledge, which refers to those who know what the bodhisattva vow is and what the benefits of receiving and maintaining it are. Such individuals are particularly worthy recipients because they have profound compassion and are able to use that compassion to bring both temporal and ultimate benefit to other beings. In short, any individual who has an altruistic attitude and wishes to take the bodhisattva vow qualifies to receive it.

The ritual [which is the third aspect of receiving the vow itself] also has three parts: the preliminaries, the actual ritual, and the concluding dedication. The preliminaries have four parts: adjusting one’s own intention, supplicating the objects that confer the vow, taking the support of refuge, and practicing the method for accumulating merit.

 

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow by HH Penor Rinpoche

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche India

The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

Let us begin by considering limitless space. Then consider just as space is limitless, so too are parent sentient beings.

Since beginningless time, every sentient being has been our own parent in a past lifetime, and every sentient being from each of those lifetimes only showed us inconceivably great kindness. We must recognize that. We must also recognize that we have obtained that which is so difficult to obtain: the precious human rebirth–and that we have met with the doctrine that is so difficult to meet: the doctrine of Lord Buddha. Recognizing these things, we must understand that the best way we can repay the kindness of all parent sentient beings is by placing every one of them in a state of fully enlightened buddhahood. Therefore, (all of you here) please cultivate this aspiration. Having arrived at this critical juncture, you can now make your choice between samsara and enlightenment.

Now that you have obtained this precious human existence, you must extract its essence in order to make it meaningful. What makes this life meaningful is engaging with the spiritual path rather than just pursuing worldly activities for this life only, such as activities to increase wealth and material endowments or [activities to achieve] fame and personal gain. What makes this precious human existence meaningful is striving to realize the nature of this life.

This precious human existence is extremely rare. The following analogy illustrates just how rare it is: Imagine that upon the surface of a vast ocean floats yoke tossed continuously by wind and waves. Within that ocean swims a blind tortoise that surfaces for air once every hundred years. Of course, it is possible for the tortoise to emerge with its head [passing] through the yoke that bobs on the surface, but the chances that this will occur are extremely rare. Obtaining this precious human birth is just as rare as the tortoise surfacing for air one time in a hundred years with its head [passing] through the bobbing yoke. Surely this [surfacing] is possible, but it is so difficult and unlikely that it is next to impossible. Obtaining the precious human birth is likewise difficult.

If you use your precious human body just to accumulate an abundance of negativity, then you will certainly fall to the lower realms. If you accumulate the non virtue to fall to the hell realm, for example, you could remain there for the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of years, for incalculable periods, where you would experience inconceivable suffering. Eventually your karma there would be exhausted, and you would make it out to the peripheral hells; from there you would eventually make it to the deprived spirit realm and then eventually to the animal realm. In all these lower realms you would experience nothing but suffering; furthermore, you would accumulate only nonvirtue, because not even the thought of virtue exists in these realms. That is why if you fall to the lower realms of existence, you will remain there indefinitely, circling from hell to animal to the deprived spirit realm and so on, endlessly. Very few [beings] actually have the good fortune to leave the three lower realms. Considering this, you will appreciate just why it is so difficult and rare to obtain human rebirth.

Love For All Beings

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

Think about all living beings that at some time or another, throughout the course of innumerable past lifetimes, have been your own kind father or mother. Consider how a mother will do anything for her child—even give her own life, without hesitation. Consider how all living beings have been that kind to you at some time in the past—not just once, but countless times, in countless different circumstances and situations over the course of countless lifetimes since beginningless time. Consider also that to not think carefully about repaying kindness, and thereby to go through your life without the intention to truly benefit parent sentient beings, and so to actually ignore them, is truly shameless.

Many people in the West may think, “Wait a minute! My parents were not very kind to me. In fact, we are not even close, and I don’t even like them, so why should I feel that I need to repay their kindness now?” If that is what you think, then take a moment to think about how you acquired your body. Is it not due to the kindness of your parents that you have your precious human body? From the time your consciousness entered the union of your father’s seed and your mother’s egg, your mother carried you in her own body. Her body nurtured you as you grew within it. Then with pain and difficulty she gave birth to you. Her kindness did not just stop there: for many years she cared for you and lovingly fed, cleaned, clothed, and wiped you; she provided shelter and cared for you when you were sick, and then she protected you and looked out for you constantly. If you think you don’t need to repay the kindness of your parents, just remind yourself of those events, which you were the recipient of time and time again.

If that still does not change your attitude, so that you still do not understand the kindness your parents showed you, then think about your body, the gift of your body, which is who you are; your parents gave you that. Because your parents showed you the great kindness of giving you your body, your precious life, here you are. Sure you had the causes for your precious human rebirth, but without parents you wouldn’t have your body. And you didn’t have your body, you wouldn’t be able to receive these vows.

In our present state of ignorance, we have an inability to recognize that all beings have been our parents in the past, and we certainly don’t know what the particular situations and circumstances of those lifetimes were. Nonetheless, it is certain that we have had countless sentient beings as our parents over and over again in countless past lives. The truth is, at the present time we just do not recognize that.

Imagine you are on the bank of a river with your mother and suddenly she falls in and is being carried away by the rushing water. There you stand on the bank, watching that happened. What would you do? Would you do something to try to save her, such as throw out a rope? Or would you turn your back and walk away rather than risk your own life? Would you be concerned for her, or would your concern be only for yourself? The intention of the hearers and solitary realizers can be likened to this latter case, while the intention of the Mahayana practitioners can be likened to the former. While it is important to develop attraction toward peace, you should never for any reason, be attracted to the quiescence of the hearers and solitary realizers.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008

Why We Practice

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered at Palyul Ling Retreat in 2012:

So I think as we ascend to the higher teachings, we have to remember the bodhicitta.  We have to remember that if we are not kind, there’s nothing that we are doing that’s useful.  If we are not kind, there’s no way we are going to be able to keep our practice going, because we will forget the suffering of sentient beings.  And if we do that, we are lost.  We forget why we are practicing.  We don’t practice.  And then if we are lucky, we may see a person whose suffering can be read on their face.  You can see that.  And if you are fortunate enough to see that, it may remind you that it is time to do your practice.

I promise you, you won’t forget to do your practice for the rest of the year if you meditate on the suffering of sentient beings every day – even just for five minutes.  Ten minutes is better.  But if we can manage to do that, that’s what keeps us going.  Otherwise our practice becomes dry.  It’s too intellectual.  We reason with our practice, and we kind of argue with our practice.  And yet with bodhicitta, it’s impossible to do that.  How can bodhicitta be the wrong thing to do?  How can bodhicitta be something that you can skip?  We must be kind.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all the high lamas that I have ever heard have always said that you must be kind.  That’s what’s happening.  So I have pretty much stuck with teaching bodhicitta all my life, and I’ve been doing this for about 30 years.

Bodhicitta is beautiful.  It is nourishing.  It’s like food.  If you keep yourself nourished by practicing the bodhicitta, you’ll continue to be full and have confidence, and be able to benefit sentient beings even though it seems so hard to keep going.  We all have jobs.  It seems so hard to keep going but if you remember the bodhicitta, and that it is your reason for practicing, you absolutely will not give up.  I promise you. That is the answer.

Everyone I’ve talked to has this problem—practicing for part of the year, and keeping that going.  Although it’s not true of Tibetans necessarily, it is true of Americans.  Tibetans were brought up in a culture that is all about loving-kindness, and the Dharma is part of their entire system.  It’s in their blood and it’s in their brains and it’s everywhere.  But we Americans like to have reasons for things.  The best thing to do is to stop being so prideful and go back to the very reason why you are here.  You are not here to wear a fancy robe.  You are not here to receive high teachings and walk around so prideful.  No, you are here first of all because you love His Holiness; and then you are here because you know that sentient beings suffer and that you can help.  I know of nothing that is more precious than that.  You can help.  We forget that.  We think the practice is about us, making advances.  We should make advances in our practice.  It’s true.  We should.  And yet we have to remember that the true reason why we practice is love.

Now if there is anything that I’ve said that offends you, I’m sorry, but not really.  I will sit here and pound bodhicitta into your heads until I no longer have the opportunity because it is what I believe and what I know will bring benefit to the world.  It’s what brought His Holiness to us.  It is what will bring him back.

If we keep our promises and benefit sentient beings, he will return to us.  Maybe he already has.  Who knows?  But it is our job to call him with our hearts by practicing in the way that he taught us.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Kindness is the Way

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered at Palyul Ling Retreat 2012:

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche was one of the most stubborn lamas in the beginning. He did not want to teach Dzogchen yet, because he didn’t want to throw Dharma on the floor. Instead he wanted everybody to learn the great bodhicitta, and he made you understand that there is no power anywhere stronger than the bodhicitta.

When Tibetan kids are young, their moms or their Amas, their nannies, or whoever takes care of them, teaches them about kindness. It’s customary. It’s what happens. That doesn’t happen here in America. It’s so fortunate that Tibetan Amas and mommies teach their children that way from birth.

I think in some ways we should think of our own mothers who have taught us like that to be like a root guru to us. The first one that taught you to be kind, that’s a root guru. The first one that taught you to love, that’s a root guru. The first one that taught you that bodhicitta is the most important power in the universe, that’s a root guru. His Holiness taught me that, and he is my root guru.

I wish the fashion would turn around, and that there would be more teachings given out constantly about bodhicitta. I wish we would not set it aside. I wish Tibetan lamas would not listen to us, because we are so prideful and so willing to think that we know what’s best. His Holiness was one of the last ones that gave in and began to teach some Dzogchen. I think he felt the way I do—that bodhicitta is the most important thing. Once when he saw the dogs and the parrots that we were saving, he said, “That’s Dharma. That’s Dharma.” That’s what His Holiness said, and I believe it. I know it to be true. Kindness is the way.

. . . Sometimes we can be so prideful. We think that having practiced so well it is not necessary for us to be kind. We can concentrate on the academic part, the intellectual part, and then we will have it all down perfectly. But that is not really the truth.  Academics is part of the teaching. Meditation is part of the teaching. Taking vows, that’s part of it. Please don’t forget, most important is the great bodhicitta. It is the very display of all that is light and pure. It is the very display of goodness. We like to forget it and let it go, but please don’t. I beg of you. Don’t do that.

Your mind will stay fresh and sweet if you are always concerned for sentient beings. And we must always be concerned for sentient beings because they don’t know how to take care of themselves. They don’t know how to do what is necessary to accomplish any Dharma or anything really meaningful in their lives. Many people get a scholarship and they go to college and then that’s it. They’ve done it. But it’s not true. It is most important to develop kindness. It is most important to be kind.

For those of you who are unforgiving in your demeanor and not so kind, you don’t give Buddhism a good image. That should be what it is all about to you. I will assume that probably isn’t pleasant to hear, but it is what I believe and what I know. If you did nothing else but take the bodhisattva vow and spend the rest of your life praying and benefitting sentient beings, you will have accomplished a lot. When you go back home, whether it is New York City or Kalamazoo or wherever it is, bring this little bit of information with you.

. Look around. Stop closing your eyes. Are you going out to dinner this evening?  Then notice the person sitting on the street with nothing to eat. Maybe bring them what’s left or give them some money for some food. If you are going to the movies, think about it twice. Go to the movie but then take the same amount of money and give it to someone who really needs it. I believe in that. It is called paying it forward. And it is the best display that you can possibly give people about what the Dharma is. If you display your activity like that, they will understand. They will understand what Dharma is. But if we are self-important, prideful and in love with ourselves, we will never see the beauty of Dharma. Never. We must see this. We must understand that Dharma is not different from loving-kindness, and it is not different from our nature.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Go Back to Bodhicitta

The following is an excerpt from a teaching given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo at Palyul Ling Retreat in New York 2012:

In the beginning, all the lamas, including His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, ever taught us about was the bodhicitta. All we ever got was the bodhicitta. People would ask for Dzogchen. Give us Dzogchen. And the lamas would say, “No, you’re not ready. You’re not ready. Let’s start with the bodhicitta.”  After awhile, Americans got really sick of the bodhicitta. It’s really sad, but they did. I never did. In fact, I never stopped teaching bodhicitta. I know that now the bodhicitta is kind of reduced to a small bit of speech or teaching that comes right at the beginning of a practice or a wang or teaching. It is very condensed compared to what it used to be. When the lamas first came to America, it was just bodhicitta, and really nothing else. But the American students were insistent that they were ready for the Dzogchen. Eventually the lamas gave in. And I am sorry that happened, because I think we missed something.

I notice that when some practitioners practice, they’re calm and that’s good, but they are also solemn. They are not so happy looking, not so joyous. Dharma is joyous. To be able to practice Dharma is a feast.  There’s nothing in the world more joyous than that, because you have something—. \you have Buddha in the palm of your hand. You have something that nobody else has here in America. Other people have other teachers. And they have other lineages and that’s great, but we have this. And we should be thrilled and happy, and try to maintain the understanding of how precious this is.

The day we decide that we are too advanced for bodhicitta is the day that we’ve lost our way. Because if all we ever studied from this point on was the bodhicitta, it would be enough. Sometimes when we go into the higher teachings, we forget what the root is. Bodhicitta is the root. Bodhicitta is the root of everything that comes after. If you cannot develop the bodhicitta, it will be very difficult to stay on the path. As they say, the bodhicitta is like the dakini’s warm breath. It is what we consider to be the activity of the Buddhas, the nature of the Buddhas, like the sun’s rays—part of the sun and yet coming out to bless all. So when we think about the bodhicitta and we think that maybe it’s an early practice, and maybe we are being insulted by being taught this practice or maybe we should be allowed to go on, don’t hurry.

If I had my choice, I would teach nothing but bodhicitta. I used to do that, almost like Baskin Robbins’s 51 flavors of ice cream. I used to think about 51 different ways, as many ways as I could, to teach bodhicitta. I would get really creative so that it wouldn’t be boring. And what I found is that most people didn’t notice that they were only being taught the bodhicitta, because I would teach it in such a way that it would seem different and interesting. And I would make people laugh, and that always helped. You can’t be stiff when you are laughing. I made it joyful. All of us felt great joy to be together, as I see you do too. I think it is the most beautiful part of the Dharma. If we say that it is the smallest part, or the least of the parts, it is a mistake. Do all of you understand that?  It is a mistake if we put bodhicitta lower than anything else, because in order to practice we need the bodhicitta desperately. It is what keeps us going. It is nourishment.

My philosophy is that if we are on the path and every year we practice really hard and really purely here and then go home, but then forget about it, as so many of us do, then in my experience we need to go back to the bodhicitta and study the suffering of sentient beings again, again and again. Study the suffering of sentient beings so that you can understand why it is that you are practicing. You’ll have strength to practice because you will see them, and they are suffering terribly.

Seeing that woman and her husband on the roof was for me a great motivator. It was a great strengthener. It gave me spiritual muscle so that whatever I did, bodhicitta was always the crown on the head of my practice. And then above that, of course, is Tsawai Lama—above the crown of my head, and in my heart, as I know he is in yours.

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