A Higher Power

Guru Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “AA & Buddhism”

The next step, in both the Buddhadharma and in addiction, is to take refuge in a higher power. Now, in alcohol addiction, as I understand it, one takes refuge, in a sense, in one’s sponsor, who is no longer under the influence of the drug and who has been the same route, as the Buddha has done (although I don’t think most of them are Buddhas to tell you the truth), but as the Buddha has done, crossed the ocean of suffering in a boat that works. That’s the relationship. And that’s how we see our gurus. Basically it’s not a personality cult. They have crossed the ocean of suffering in a boat that works. It’s the same thing with your sponsor in alcoholism. They have crossed that ocean of suffering in a boat that works. So you take refuge in them, and you take refuge in the system, or the teaching. And that’s what you do. You also in Alcoholics Anonymous would take refuge in God, if you believed in God; or Jesus if you felt yourself to be a Christian; or again, if you’re a Buddhist, you would take refuge in the Buddha’s enlightened mind and in your guru. So it’s like that. And there, they are very, very similar.

And then the rebuilding starts to come from that. The recognition of the fault of cyclic existence, the fault of your addiction, the recognition of the horrible bottomed-out condition that we find ourselves in both applying to samsara and to the addiction; and the taking refuge and then day-by-day working it through in a very real, hands-on, cut-to-the-bone way. That’s really basically, and of course this is the cereal box-top version, but that is basically the Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha’s teaching is about giving you a workable model or a workable vehicle that you can work through and actually get from one place to another. It’s very real and it’s very not flaky or pie-in-the-sky. One of my biggest arguments with a lot of religious systems that I’ve seen is that there’s no way to make it work. There’s no applicable technology, and it’s too esoteric, too pie-in-the-sky. Now certainly in Buddhism, there is definitely esoteric philosophy. There is definitely the more profound view that one has. But the basis of the practice is, in fact, working through—applying the technology to solve the problem. And it is that: It is a model, a technology, that solves the problem.

The good news is that you can get somewhere with it. You can actually accomplish something that you may not have been able to accomplish before. Isn’t it scary that there are so many things in our lives that we can actually be caught up in and not be able to accomplish? And that has happened to us, hasn’t it? I mean, how many people amongst us,… Yourselves, think about yourselves. Have you been addicted to anger? That constant anger that accompanies us when we constantly have hostility, anger, hatred really. Do you have anger every day? Then you’re an anger addict. Have you ever decided you’re not going to be angry anymore? Have you tried that? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Wasn’t that a funny day! So you’re an anger addict and you find yourself in the same position. And when your anger gets just ugly enough and you begin to see the playback from it, maybe, maybe, you’ll find yourself in a position where you can change something. What about your lust and grasping? Do you have lust and grasping every day? Then you’re a lust and grasping addict. That’s the truth! I didn’t make this up.  You’re a lust and grasping addict. Are you needy? Are you needy? Then you’re a needy addict! It’s not different. You have to think like that.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


Facing Helplessness


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “AA and Buddhism”

The idea that I’m trying to present is that you have to be at that place of total honesty. Now, in Alcoholics Anonymous, when you get to that place of total honesty, basically your life is broken down. In Buddhadharma, when you get to that place of total honesty, you take apart your life. You break it down yourself. Because if you wait for samsara to totally break you down… First of all, who wants to wait? It takes too long. It just takes too long. Plus you have been broken down before. According to the Buddha’s teaching, you have died and been reborn uncountable times under very unfortunate circumstances. And noodniks that we are, we still haven’t gotten it. We just can’t get a grip!

For some reason, the way that samsara is constructed, it’s very much like a narcotic. It’s like being under the influence of the drug, or under the influence of alcohol. While you’re really loaded, you really just don’t know your behind from a table. You just can’t find anything. You just can’t figure it out because the drug is in your system. The whole time we are revolving in samsara, in a sense, that drug is in our system, because we always view, don’t we, through the experience of continuum. And we always view with the assumption of self-nature being inherently real.  So we are fueled by this alcohol of the desire of continuum in a certain way to experience as ego. We can’t see clearly.

Now that happens to the alcoholic too. And so, one of the steps… And again I don’t know the program well enough to know which step is which or what comes first. I’m relying mostly on the Buddhadharma to tell me what to do. But once you have discerned the faults of cyclic existence… And you really have to spend some bone-crushing time on that one, and that is not your favorite part of the practice. I mean get this: It’s not the part you’re going to enjoy. And it isn’t the one where you can sit on a high mountain in the Himalayas with your hands just right and your feet in a lotus position and think of yourself as very holy while you’re doing it. You’re not going to get a lot of gratification at that point. Same with the alcoholic. When they decide that they are really bottomed out, that is not a gratifying time. I mean, am I right? That is the worst, most horrible time that one can possibly imagine. But in practice one has to do that also. And you feel a little bit like you’re going crazy because you have to dismantle everything you held to be sacred. You have to really look, and you’re helpless unless you do.

So the next step, as I understand it in the Buddhadharma, is to decide that in samsara (and this is one of the faults of samsara as it is one of the faults of drug addiction or alcohol abuse) we are in this condition, helpless to change. Now, boy we hate that, America! Man, this is the worst! Because in America we’re very democratic. We like to think that everybody’s got power. We can all vote so that makes us happy. Although I don’t know what good it’s actually doing us. But anyway, we feel in America that we are really, really, really democratic in our thinking. We want to really, really think that we have something very powerful. But, in fact, you have to get to the point where you can’t stop. You’re helpless. You’re helpless.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


Avoiding the Path to Happiness


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “AA & Buddhism”

Now, many of us also are not very happy. We just don’t seem to be able to master happiness. We are filled with longing, filled sometimes with anguish of different kinds—you know, loneliness, unhappiness, anger. Anger seems to be our constant companion. Just can’t seem to shake it, you know. It comes back again, again and again. Loneliness comes back again and again and again. So we don’t feel that we are particularly happy. Even in this beautiful country and these beautiful places that we find ourselves sitting in, we still find that we are terribly unhappy. And then what to think about those who are in different places, different countries, different life forms that are miserably unhappy?

Happy or unhappy, we know that life is impermanent. We know that it is brought about by habitual tendency, which is scary. Have you looked at your habitual tendencies lately? Doesn’t that make you just a little squeamish? I mean if you think about it. So if life is brought about by habitual tendency, and cause and effect is definitely what’s happening here, we have to really sit down and study what we call in the Buddhadharma the faults of cyclic existence. Now it’s considered in Dharma teaching and in Buddhist thought that without thoroughly examining the faults of cyclic existence, honestly and courageously…  And I have to underline the word courageously because this is where most people fade out. So don’t! Have courage here! You have to examine yourself honestly and courageously the way an addict does. You have to see your habitual tendencies. You have to see your pride. You have to see your anger and hatred. You have to come to terms with your clinging and grasping. You must be able to look at it and recognize it in the same way an addict does. Because according to the Buddha’s teaching, until we do that we are going nowhere.

I’m telling you that this is true. I know it is because I have many well-meaning students come here to study. And when they come here to study their idea is well, you know, I’ve been the spiritual route, and I’ve even taught a few things. And I’ve done this and I’ve done that. And I’ve read Maha somebody and blah-blah who-who. And I’ve been through it all. And I’ve even sat at the feet of Big Chief Somebody-or-Other. And we all think that because of that, you know, we’re coming in here and we’re just listening to this lady in the yellow jacket, and ‘I’m just not that impressed.’ So, come on, I can read minds. Doesn’t it just scare you? Anyway, let’s say that happens.  There are students who come to just about every kind of spiritual gathering in that way, with that kind of arrogant posture, completely avoiding the issue that it would be useful, beneficial, and just logical, when you’re in any situation like that, to pick up a mirror and really, honestly look at yourself. Really, honestly look at yourself. That would be the normal thing to do, if you consider normal healthy. That would be the healthy thing to do. Maybe that’s not the normal thing to do, but it would be the healthy thing to do. It would be the right thing to do. But instead we seem to hold ourselves in a posture that makes everything that we’re all about kind of up there in an unreachable place. You can’t talk about it. You can’t think about it. You can’t argue with it. You just basically can’t do anything with it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


Let’s Get Practical


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a “Good Heart Retreat”

How can we possibly move in the direction of encouraging spiritual centers, churches, whatever, to take responsibility for the community around them without prejudice and without distinction? Let’s say, as Buddhists, we would be interested in the welfare of the Baptists in Poolesville, or the Catholics or the Jews, or anybody, or the people that don’t have religion. What kind of plan would it take? What would we have to implement to encourage that? What kind of power could you wield to get the attention of other spiritual organizations to ask them to join you in participating? Relatively speaking, we’re the new kids on the block. I mean who’s going to listen to us? If they were going to listen to anybody, they’d probably listen to the big religious names in this country, whatever they are. So why would they listen to us? Well, actually, I think about the worst thing that we could do is preach about it. I think that if we do that we’ll never be able to accomplish our goal. It seems to me that the best way to try something like that is quietly and humbly, and maybe even invisibly. Slowly, slowly, slowly. Simply finding ways to take care of your community.

I found out a couple of years ago that there was a family in Poolesville, just two people that one of my sons told me about, a mother and a son; and they had nothing to share with each other for Christmas. They were the kind of family where they have money for the electric bill and a certain amount for groceries, a certain amount for rent; and beyond that there is no discretionary income. So there was no way to save up for Christmas, which here is so abundant. You know, we’re not even Christians and we’re so abundant with Christmas. We love it. We think it’s a beautiful holiday, and we love the spirit of it, and we give each other gifts, and that sort of thing. But here were people who couldn’t even celebrate their own religious holiday, except in a spiritual way, I guess, for they had literally nothing to give one another. And so, actually, I’m not saying this to pin any medals on myself, but the reason why I’m telling you this is because it was easy for me to do. It was like no big deal. I had a bunch of stuff. One thing I’ve got a lot of is stuff. Stuff comes to me. I don’t know how stuff comes to me, but it comes to me a lot. Particularly, the little crystal candy dishes. For some reason, for years and years and years, my Sangha would give me crystal candy dishes. I have enough crystal candy dishes to supply an entire crystal store. So I have stuff, and I’m deeply appreciative of all the gifts that I get and I say thank you very much, put it away for somebody else, because someday I’m able to share some of that with others. It doesn’t mean you don’t get the merit. You all still get the merit, don’t worry. In fact, you get more merit.

So I put together a package of stuff for this family, and I was able to share some of the gifts that we had that we didn’t really need. And it just also so happens that this woman was the same size as I am, so I gave her a lot of clothes. So that was really great, and what happened was these people came and they spent some time with us. The karma’s not there for them to become Buddhist, but I was never expecting that. I don’t care. What I do care about was for them to be touched by a little bit of love and to look at our community and say, ‘Wow!’ Now that’s something, isn’t it? That’s something—to take care of a family in your community because they don’t have something and you do. That’s a powerful statement. You don’t have to talk about it. You certainly don’t have to preach about it. You simply have to do it.

Not all of us have a lot of stuff like me. You may not have that glorious karma that invites all those candy dishes or ducks into your house. I used to get ducks a lot, too. One of my teachers used to call me Duckie. So I got ducks you wouldn’t believe. All kinds of ducks. You may not be fortunate enough to have stuff like that, but supposing you knew how to get it. Supposing you had friends that had stuff. Or supposing you had connections with stuff. Or supposing you had an abundance of courage to where you could walk around to people that have more and say, ‘Would you share with the people that have less? Would you help us with this? We’d like you to know that your neighbor a few doors away is not having such an easy time. Would you help us with this?’ Just a simple request, yes or no. All they have to say is no if they don’t want to do it. What if we thought that way as a community? And what if we made no secret of the fact that we intend to take care of this piece of the world? You know, we could start a trend. It’s interesting to me that if you look at the media now and you look at films, you look at books, you look at what’s in the news, what’s noteworthy, Buddhism actually has become quite a fad. Who’d a thunk it! It’s become quite popular. The movie stars and the musicians are liking it now. You know what that means! We’re in.

What if this idea became a trend? It’s not so unthinkable that this could happen. Being not at all practical, being a little dumb about how things work in the world, I don’t see any reason why not. Don’t bust my bubble. I don’t want to hear that ‘no way to get there from here’ crap. What if our community could be a visible presence, like a visible good heart, that all could partake of? We’re talking about overcoming the poisons in our own mind-stream. We’re talking about demonstrating the Buddha’s teachings, the Buddha’s statement of the equality of all that lives, of the need for all beings to be happy, of their difficulty in attaining happiness. What would be so tragic about walking our talk? Why couldn’t we do this?

It seems to me that people of another faith might not be interested in giving to a Buddhist temple. Why should they? They’re doing their thing, and we’re doing our thing. Everybody’s so separate. Wouldn’t it be something if a number of community churches and temples could gather together and make some kind of non-profit organization through which funds could be funneled to mutually benefit and blanket the entire community without regard to race or religion? I don’t think it’s so impossible. The thing is there have already been studies that have shown us that in this country alone, there’s enough money to feed the world. Poverty doesn’t have to exist. We have the power now, immediately. What if the Buddhists in this country became available, really available to their community? And what if it started a trend? And what if it continued and grew?

I’d like to see that happen. And what I would like to do is to have some of you who are inclined to perhaps think of some different plans, ways to work stuff like this out. Let’s start toying with the idea. Let’s start playing with it a little bit, just to see what we can come up with. Let’s find ways that we can be available to our community without discrimination, and without ever requiring of anyone that they change their religion or anything like that. Let’s just think that as a spiritual people, as a spiritual community, the buck stops here. To me that is one of the most outrageous and gorgeous dreams that we could aspire to together. I think it’s really cool. If there’s any reason why it can’t be done, please don’t tell me, because I want to fly just like the bumblebee. I don’t want to hear it.

So let’s start tossing that idea around as a spiritual community. We have smart people here. How many of you are professional smart people in this group? Come on, don’t be shy. Okay, so you professional smart people, I’m kind of dumb. I don’t know anything very much. I don’t know too much about this world, so you’re going to have to find a way for dumb little old me to express this dream. You people who know about organizing stuff, which if any of you looked at my closets, you know I don’t know anything about it. You know about organizing stuff and you know about making foundations and you know about talking to other people, and you know about what kinds of formats we could use to spread this idea. So as part of your good heart effort on a communal level, why don’t we start thinking like this? Start pushing this idea around; start playing with it a little bit. Let’s build a big fantasy about this, and let’s do it. What could happen except we go broke? We’ve been broke for so long we wouldn’t even notice. Hey, I’ll sell my candy dishes. But I’m just dumb enough to not know why we can’t do this. And so I think that, as usual, I have the dumb, impractical, unrealistic idea and you get to make it happen.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


Offering the Miraculous

PL-029-20 HHPR, JAL, Muksong-ed-M

The following is an excerpt from a teaching given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo during a “Good Heart Retreat

There are some that may criticize the building of the Migyur Dorje stupa. I understand that it cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars. You might say, ‘Well, gee, if you’re going to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars, why don’t you feed the poor?’ Well, I feel like I am. I feel like that’s the point of the stupa. I begged and begged His Holiness for these relics and the ability to build the stupa because in this country there’s no place to go when you have no hope. There’s simply no place to go when all the doctors have told you they can’t help you. There’s no place to go when you’re at your last moments and maybe even the karma for this life has run out and you know that you haven’t really attended to your spiritual life. You know that you haven’t practiced very much. Or when your life is such that you got the ‘can’t fix-its’; don’t know how to put it back together again.

I know that in other places, in other lands, there are deeply inspiring religious pilgrimage places. I know that in Tibet almost all of the Tibetans, at one time or another, take some sort of major pilgrimage; and it’s a life changer. There are so many stories of pilgrimages turning out to be major healings. Where people will go to these holy places in which they have tremendous faith, where there are extraordinary relics there that are left by extraordinary Lamas, and healings take place that are miraculous.

I also knew that in this country there is AIDS which has been growing incrementally, cancer which is killing so many, and people constantly dying from all sorts of diseases that seem to be the afflictions of this day and time. There are so many diseases that we haven’t found any cures for, including simple mental unhappiness. Because of all this, I really wanted to offer this stupa to our community. What we have built here is, yes, at great expense, yes, at great effort; but also done with great joy. We have been able to gather together enough money, enough energy, and enough time to make this dream a reality. And now we have something here which over time, hopefully by word of mouth, hopefully by your good works and your good faith, the word will spread out that we have this amazing stupa here. Now anyone at any time, no matter what they have experienced as their spiritual path, if they’re ever down and out and without hope, can come here and make prayers. There is a potency to that pilgrimage. I’m hoping that it will become known that these same relics from Terton Migyur Dorje, these relics, of which there are pieces in different places of the world, not too many, but particularly in Tibet, have brought about amazing cures. I want people to know about this. I want them to come and feel better. To me, it’s like the ultimate soup kitchen, you know? You can offer this nourishment, this food, to your community.

So we went through the effort of building this thing, and thank you all for everything that you’ve done to make it possible—the work and the money, all of it—and now we have this tremendous gift to offer the community. To my way of thinking, this is one such group or community effort that we have made together in order to provide for and to nourish the community and make our hopes for the world more visible and more heard. That’s one way to do it. But I think at this point it’s time to move even beyond that.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


The Suffering of Cyclic Existence


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

So this is not particularly a pleasant subject.  Every part of you will resist talking about it; every part of you will resist internalizing it. But at this point you have to exert a little discipline. You have to begin to use discipline by examining, really, whether or not the things that you have done to attain happiness have ever really lasted. You should examine whether positive thinking or any of the things that you have done, or falling in love, the things that have made us happy, whether the happiness has carried through into the rest of our lives, and whether it has lasted for our whole lives so far. You can really look at it that way. And then maybe from that point of view, you may be able to gradually introduce yourself or discipline yourself into thinking about the faults of cyclic existence.

The faults of cyclic existence are obvious in some ways. According to the Buddha’s teaching everything in cyclic existence, every experience—life, death, joy, pain, happiness, unhappiness, poverty and wealth, having and not having, all the different experiences that we experience—all of them are impermanent no matter what the particular experience that you have is. Whether it is blissful and wonderful; whether, as in the Breck commercial, you are experiencing one of those love affairs where you bound across the field at each other every day, and it is always sunny and flowers in the field; and you catch each other rapturously in each other’s arms and smouchy, smouchy and all that kind of stuff. Even that is impermanent. Especially that is impermanent. That is most certainly impermanent, even if you are extremely beautiful, so beautiful that you could remain happy if you just got up and looked at yourself in the mirror because you are so beautiful. There are some people who are that beautiful. I haven’t met too many and I am not saying whether anybody here is that beautiful. But anyway there are people who are that beautiful, that all you have to do is look at yourself and you just go ahhhh!  Even that is impermanent. Especially that is impermanent. And defying the law of Estee Lauder, eventually it will go away.

The joy of having children: It is such an incredibly joyful experience to know that you can have a child, and to have a child sleeping peacefully in your arms and looking up at you with those beautiful little eyes, and tiny little rosebud mouths with a little trickle of milk coming down the side. So blissful. And then they become teenagers. That is impermanent. All of the things that you can experience… There is my teenage son over there. I am saying this for his sake. All of these things are very blissful and very wonderful, but extremely impermanent. Also suffering is extremely impermanent. ‘This too shall pass’ philosophy works. It works because everything is impermanent. It also works for happiness. That is the problem. Both the happiness and the suffering are impermanent.

Any pain that you feel, any suffering that you feel, any longing that you feel, even lifelong poverty is impermanent, because at the end of that life of poverty one will die. And after dying maybe you will be reborn rich. Who knows?  But your particular circumstance, whatever it is, is always impermanent. That is the only thing that is consistent about cyclic existence, impermanence. According to the Buddha’s teaching.

Each of the six realms of cyclic existence… (If you are interested in hearing what those realms are you can purchase tapes that we recorded here. There was a workshop recently given in which I described the six realms of cyclic existence according to the Buddha’s teachings.)   Anyway, in each of the six realms, there is a particular kind of suffering that is associated with that realm; and it has to do with the particular karma that it takes to be reborn in that realm. Each of these realms is different and unique, and they all have impermanence in common. They all have their cyclic nature in common. They arise from cause and effect and the cause and effect is continual and begets the next cause and effect. One begets the other. It is a constant begetting of more and more cause and effect. So they have that in common. But each particular realm has its own form of discomfort and suffering.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, you experience rebirth because of desire. Because of desire you are born into one of the six realms. Rebirth is experienced because of desire due to the belief in self-nature being inherently real. Now that is Buddhist lingo for ego. Actually due to the grasping of ego as being inherently solid, due to that grasping and perceiving phenomena as being external because of that grasping to ego as being inherently real, due to the belief in the division or distinction between self and other because of the belief in ego as being inherently real, due to that kind of faulty perception, one revolves in an illusory state, a state that seems to us very, very real. And that illusory state is cyclic existence.

Due to the desire that is associated with the belief in self-nature as being inherently real, we continually achieve or experience rebirth. According to the Buddha’s teaching, it is not necessarily a linear experience. We comfort ourselves with a very current idea that one progresses in a linear way. You should understand that this is a very new philosophy. This is not what the older religions, the ones that are more established, the ones that actually give the accomplishment of enlightenment, necessarily teach. Any form of Buddhism that has appeared in the world has taught that one experiences rebirth because of the karma of the mind and not necessarily in a linear progression. The idea of linear progression is new. If you think that is the only way in which birth is achieved, you should at least give yourself the opportunity of examining some alternative philosophies. The new idea associated with linear progression seems to be: Now that I am a human being, I will always be a human being or better; that I have come to this point and this is the level that I am at and I will always be at that point or better. So I am doing good. I am okay.

This is faulty reasoning. You are not taking into account that you have lived countless lifetimes. Countless lifetimes. You can’t name the time when it started. We are talking about aeons and aeons of cyclic existence. Such a long time that you have experienced rebirth that you have had many, many different lifetimes in many, many different forms. It is impossible to experience the ripening of all of your karmic causes, of all of the karma that you have accumulated over a period of time. It is impossible to experience all of those ripenings in one lifetime. Impossible. It is simply not dense enough. It is not possible. It would be like trying to put an ocean full of cause and effect relationships into a cup. It is simply not possible. So that being the case, you have lots and lots of latent karmic causes that have not ripened and cannot ripen, will not ripen, in this lifetime. So according to that thinking, all of us actually have the karma for being reborn in the lowest, hellish realm. And we also, all of us, have the karma for being reborn in the highest god realms.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Addicted to Happiness


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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Motivated by Kindness


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

We have been brought up to understand that we are the most powerful country in the world. And we are, of course, the most enlightened people in the world; and we are, of course, the most advanced people in the world; and we are, of course, because we have Estee Lauder, the most beautiful people in the world. We are brought up with all these different beliefs. And whether we swallow them consciously or not, subconsciously they are in there somewhere rattling around, and we have this faith in our way of life. One thing that we can do is to think of ourselves as able to help others. One thing that is very popular in our society is the idea that it is a beneficial thing and a good thing and a virtuous thing and a fulfilling thing to help others. We are always looking for fulfillment.  So the idea of compassion is a way to move ourselves into a foundation for meditation and practice. In my own experience (and I don’t claim to be such an experienced teacher), but in my own experience I have found that if I go to a new place that has never heard about the Buddha’s teaching, or if I go to a place that has heard a little bit and wants to hear more, or even if I have gone to students that have studied Buddhism for some time, if I want to touch them or refresh them so that they can continue in a determined way in their practice, or have them open up to the potential of practice and be stabilized to the extent that they can begin to practice earnestly, I can always rely on the idea of compassion to do that.

Westerners are excited by the idea that they might be able to benefit others. They are aware to some extent that the rest of the world is suffering. We don’t like to think about it, but to some extent we are aware that poverty exists, and hunger and sickness. I have found that Westerners are kind people. We are kind people. We want very much to end suffering; we very much want to help others. And there are many people who will practice if they really understand that this meditation will help them bring about the end of suffering for other people, will help them be a helper to others. They will practice for that reason. But strangely they will not practice to end their own suffering. They will continue to try to manipulate the circumstances in their life, or change things around, or try this or try that; but they will not really develop a firm foundation of practice because they themselves are suffering. They are not sufficiently motivated by their own suffering. It is a strangeness in our culture. It is not found in other cultures. But we will practice to benefit others.

This group, the core group of people who have been practicing in this temple for some time, came together because the people of earth were suffering, and the group wished to maintain a 24-hour a day prayer vigil. That is a dynamic of this organization. It came about so quickly and in such a stable way because the people here were greatly moved by the suffering of sentient beings. They knew that this kind of practice—the practice that brings about the end of desire and brings about supreme enlightenment—is ultimately the way to bring about the end of all suffering. For this reason, this family, or group of people, actually came together to practice.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Sustainable Foundation


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

I have found that after a certain point, if compassion is the main motivation to practice, it will sustain you; but it constantly requires inspirationbecause we sort of become drawn back into ourselves. You know how you do that. You sort of wake up in the morning and think, ‘Today I am going to live a spiritual life, and I am going to help everyone, and I am going to be nice.  I am going to be good and that is it. That is the kind of day I am going to have.’ And somewhere around 4:00 (or at least it is 4:00 for me), you need a little inspiration. Well, we are like that with our lives. We have moments of touching, moments of experience of spiritual point of view. We have precious moments; and in those moments we think, ‘This life is only important if I accomplish meditation or if I accomplish enlightenment. This is very important. This is really the meaning of life; and I have a sense of the meaning of life; and I have a sense that kindness and love are the core elements in life; and that is what it is really all about. And I am changing my life starting now.’

Two weeks after that point, maybe three days, we start to wear down a little bit. I have found that in practicing the Buddhadharma, even if in the beginning we are on fire—your heart is just on fire with compassion, and you feel so strongly the sense to benefit all sentient beings—unless inspiration is constantly experienced or given, or had in some way, that that will wear thin. At that point, even Westerners must begin to understand the foundational concepts associated with the Buddhist thinking. That foundational concept I will entitle “The Faults of Cyclic Existence.”  If a real competency in understanding the faults of cyclic existence is not adapted at this time, the foundation is incomplete. Because it is not sufficient only to practice in order to benefit beings and for compassion if one does not really understand the faults of cyclic existence. So I would like to go into that.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Covering the Bases


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

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you and give some little cookie as to what the prayers are all about and as to why we use them as we do. I think that if you are not used to pronouncing Tibetan you must have something of the same experience that I had when I first began to learn these prayers and began to pronounce them. I remember being a little Jewish and a little Italian, I rolled up my eyes and did like this and went, oy!  It seemed to me so cumbersome. It seemed to me intensely uncomfortable; and I just could not believe that I was investing myself in doing this. But eventually over a period of time and patience, which is not something I have a lot of, I did manage to listen to these prayers in such a way that they became meaningful to me. And now that I have come to understand something of the meaning of them, I really take a great deal of joy in reciting them. I feel a tremendous amount of joy and regard for taking the time to recite these prayers on a regular basis and in a heartfelt way. They are truly wonderful and a great blessing.

For those of you who come every week, or come fairly regularly, you will find that there are many times that I will repeat things that I have already taught. There is a reason for this; there is a method to my madness. First of all, I have found that almost never do people internalize philosophical concepts the first time they hear them. Almost always is it necessary to hear them again and again and again. Actually it is better to hear them in different ways, and then they begin to become a part of us. It is almost like climbing a mountain from several different directions in order to understand the shape of the mountain. If you can’t look at the mountain as the Buddha might look at it, from kind of a bird’s eye view, or an elevated posture, you have to rely on climbing the mountain in order to understand its topography, in order to understand its shape and its form and its dimension, and how big it is, and to really internalize what the mountain is all about, to see all its different faces. One climb won’t do it and climbing the same way all the time won’t do it. It seems as though we have to climb from all the different beginning places, from all the different sides of the mountain, in order to really accomplish understanding what that mountain is.

I feel that philosophy and religion are something like that. In order to really understand them and internalize them, they must be approached again and again and again; and they must be approached at different times and from different angles. For one thing, you are constantly changing. There is nothing about you that is permanent. You are constantly growing and changing; and even from day to day, your particular mood, your particular depth, your particular understanding is very flexible. It is constantly changing. What you understand one day, you might not understand the next day. And I am sure that you have had experiences like that where you have read a religious thought or a spiritual thought or had an experience in your meditation that one day seemed unbelievably deep, seemed to you to really click, seemed to really mean something to you. And then the next day, you might read it and you might as well be reading a bubble gum wrapper. It is just about that meaningful to you. So we change constantly. There is nothing about us that is permanent, plus the fact that our karma is constantly changing. Of course, that is what makes us change. Different catalysts cause the ripening of different karmic structures, different karmic events. We are constantly effected by these ripenings. From time to time, obstacles arise that effect our minds and our perception. And also we have a characteristic way of understanding. There is a characteristic karma that is our karma. Each one of us has our own particular mode of understanding.

I was listening to the radio yesterday for a little while and there was an interesting example of that. A man who was a linguist would go to different movie stars and different movie sets and he would teach people how to speak in a different dialect or with a different accent. He was so proficient; he was just amazing. He could speak three different dialects of… How can I explain this? He could speak English with an Irish accent, but he could sound as though he had come from three different regions in Ireland. He could sound like any different state in the union. Each state has a characteristic way of speaking. Not all Southern states sound the same, not even all Appalachia sounds the same. Anyway he was so good at that that he could make a difference between the Bronx and Brooklyn; he could make a difference between India. He could act as though he were speaking from a specific region from any country in the world, and he could teach anyone to accomplish that.

His observation, and the reason why I am bringing this up, is that people learn differently and you have to be skilled in many different ways in order to teach people. He was describing Jane Fonda and he was saying that she has an incredible ear. Only three two-hour sessions, I think he said, and she could mimic a certain regional Appalachia dialect that was very difficult to accomplish and very specific; and she had an ear that was like a tape recorder. That was the way that she learned. A lot of what she learned she had to learn from ear. She couldn’t really learn it by reading it as she could by hearing it. And then he described Charlton Heston. He is not able to learn by ear at all. He has to learn it by phonetically spelling out the accent. Then he can read it from cards, and he can do it perfectly that way.

So each of us has a characteristic way in which we learn. It is not as simplistic as that. It is not that some of us hear better than read or read better than hear. There is that, but there is a characteristic karma or an outlay or a fabric that our minds seem to have and the way in which we learn. It may be that you may hear an entire philosophy laid out in a very explicit way. It may be just perfect. It may have everything in it, and it may not make any sense to you. It may be like Jane Fonda trying to read a card or Charlton Heston trying to mimic a voice. It may not do anything for you. And yet something may be laid out in a different way and it may be fairly sketchy; and from that you may have an understanding that is deeper than the one that you could have gotten from a very specific teaching.

So we try to cover all of our bases here and make sure you hear this teaching in as many different ways as possible. And for those of you who are here for the first time or come only once in a great while, I try to not build the classes one on top of the other too much so that when you come here, even if you only come occasionally, you can come away with a whole cameo piece, or a whole thought or a whole teaching that you can use for your own benefit and also eventually to benefit all sentient beings.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


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