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

 

 

Peeling Back the Veil

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

In contemplating our lives and in proceeding mindfully, we begin to understand that the Buddha has peeled away the veil a little bit to show us that we are not only material beings affixed on the time and space grid,  that we are not these lumps that are there.  The Buddha has peeled back the veil a little bit and shown us that we are spiritual beings.  That our very appearance is the display of primordial spiritual essence and that the events and activities in our lives are merely the result of causes that we have definitely created in the past. That we are continually, by our habits and by our thinking and by our activities, by our consciousness, continually creating the causes for the future.  This is what the Buddha has taught.

Now in other religions, there are good laws, like don’t kill, don’t steal. All the religions have the same basic laws.  But in the Buddha’s path, he teaches us about cause and effect.  We are made to understand the relationship between cause and effect.  The potency implied in that is that for the first time, we are humans with tools, rather than humans with sticks and stones.  It’s as though spiritually we moved into the new age of having actual tools rather than being some sort of homo sapien who just kind of, in an animal way, deals with what life brings the best that it can.

Yes, the Buddha has given us tools.  But do we understand how to follow them?  And how to use them?  And here’s the problem.  What we don’t understand is this—and this is not necessarily the fault of each and every individual although we must take responsibility for our own habits and thoughts, it’s the only reasonable and healthy way to move forward: We are born in a culture that does not explain reality. In fact, we are born in a culture that believes in the solidity of form, believes in division and delusion and duality and doesn’t understand cause and effect relationships very much at all.  We live in a very externalized culture where yes, we understand that if you steal something, if you get caught, you’ll go to jail or get in trouble with the law.  But we also think that if you steal something and don’t get caught, that the stealing didn’t happen.  I remember thinking how many times I have met up with students that you can tell they’ve been taught that.  You’re ok as long as you don’t get caught.  Most of us learn how to manipulate our lives and manipulate our environment so that appearances meet in accord with our society.  But we have never been taught what are the real tools for happiness.  We have never been taught that. We’ve never been taught that the stealing produces future cause whether or not you get caught in this lifetime.

There are other reasons for stealing.  I personally don’t believe the fear of punishment is going to stop too many people who are hungry from stealing some food.  If you’re hungry, your mind is different.  Or for a person who is so poor that they can’t think of any other way to get by, the fear of punishment won’t stop them.  But perhaps, if they lived in a society that taught from birth the fact that if you are poor now, it’s because you have not been generous in the past. If you wish to achieve more prosperity, the best thing to do is to be of benefit to others, because stealing will only make more  impoverishment, more poverty.  We’re not taught that.  We’re only taught to look at the external.

But in a Buddhist society, we are taught that our minds are important.  We are taught that we must tame the mind.  Within the mind are the five poisons and without being tamed, they will result in unhappiness if they are left to run wild.  We have the poisons of ignorance, anger, slothfulness, desire, jealousy.  We have them all.

Ignorance in this case doesn’t mean that you didn’t go to school.  Ignorance in this case means that you have no wisdom.  It means that you do not understand the nature of reality, have not been taught the cause and effect relationships and karmic relationships that provide the future reality nor what creates your present reality.  So we are ignorant of how we are, what we are, and how we have come to be here.

So we have these five poisons and never understand that these five poisons are not our nature. They are occlusions in the diamond mind.  They are dirt on the pristine window that is consciousness.  In their pristine nature, they are the five primordial dakinis; they are the five primordial Buddhas in their nature.  They are the qualities of Buddhahood: omniscience, omnipresence, compassion—these kinds of qualities and activities.  And so as Buddhists, the veil is brought to the side so that we can look and see cause and effect and the nature of mind.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Right Before Our Eyes

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

These are important teachings. The Buddha taught us that yes, we will live many times and we will die many times.  It’s so important to think of this particular life as one increment in a great long inconceivable span of lifetimes.  Lord Buddha taught that we have been born again and again and again in cyclic existence in so many forms and so many times that, literally, every being that we meet must have been our kind mother or father in some past incarnation.  So we should think of all beings—including dogs and cats and worms and iguanas and creatures that perhaps we have very little emotional connection with, but even those—if we have the opportunity to meet them or even be stung by one of them, like a bee, that in some past life, some ancient life, we have had definitely some intimate connection with them.

We had another good lesson recently.  We watched the death of the woman with brain damage, Terri Schiavo What an amazing karma played out right out in front of us.  Amazing karma!  If you just step back away from the emotions and look, it’s so easy to see that this is some ancient, profound, terrible karma playing out between these people—the husband, the family and the woman herself.  Amazingly, her death was brought about by a deprivation of food, and yet the very cause of this terrible fate of hers was practicing bulimia.  So you see a kind of instant karma playing out, and then you see it hooking into this devastating ancient karma with the other people, with the family that she lived with.  How amazing!  What a study that was!

I found myself this past week, between His Holiness the Pope and this Schiavo woman dying, I found myself fascinated by these two things.  Watching everything the Buddha has taught us playing out right in front of us for those of us that could see.  My students, my attendants, the people that are close to me say, “Jetsunma, what should they do?  Should they feed her or not feed her?”  Well, my advice would have been to allow the entire karma to play out, completely unscathed.  Let it play out exactly without any kind of interference, exactly the way it would in the world, because this karma between them is so profound.  Better that she, in this relatively unconscious condition, can go through this terrible karma and live it down, finish it, end it, rather than to have to come back and finish it, because it perhaps wasn’t finished.  So from a wisdom point of view, to watch this karma is a blessing. Because we understand how it is with us, we can get a much deeper understanding; and yet to watch this karma is gut wrenching.  It’s heart breaking because we see how samsara is.  We see how we can mistakenly think that loving concern is just that—loving concern—when sometimes it’s power.  We can see also that sometimes when we feel the most powerful, powerful love, that often its basis is very self-oriented, very selfish.  Not meaning to be selfish.  We think we’re thinking of the other, and yet it’s really about how we feel.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Utilizing the Antidote

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Now it’s also said that the stupa has a mandala of enlightened activity around it the same as a living Buddha does.  That is to say, that a stupa that is powerfully consecrated with relics, and consecrated by an enlightened lama who has accomplished the mantra,  has a radius of about 100 miles of influence.  Isn’t that amazing?

Yet, we are not keeping that strength going, that fire going.  The power of the stupas will be, by definition of mind, diminished because our minds are not with them.  So it’s a terrible, terrible frightful waste.  It’s really like having all the lamas of the lineage across the street.  Oh, we pride ourselves that we have robes and we can go places and we can do practices. Some of us even have the more advanced practices. We can stare at bindus and stuff like that.  But if we don’t walk across the street and take care of the stupas, you can say we have no practice.  You could say that.  Because it’s like the lamas of the lineage are there, and no one is honoring them.  We call them to our practice.  We pray to the lamas of the lineage. We visualize them gathering in front of us, but we abandon them.  And so what is this cartoon in the sky in front, when we have abandoned the actual Nirmanakaya form?

They say that the lama and also the stupas have this 100 mile radius, approximately, of activity.  I built these stupas here because I was hoping that they would influence our government, but I don’t think that has happened as yet,.  I could be wrong, but I don’t see it. So I’m wondering if I could prevail upon each and every one of you to take these stupas into your heart, to think of them as your guides, your objects of refuge and to honor them in the way that they should be honored so that the lamas through these magnificent stupas can carry out their enlightened activity.  Because these stupas are an extension and an appearance of the Buddha’s enlightened activity.

It’s up to us to plant that firmly in the world, to make the roots deep  and to keep the causes pure and untainted for future accomplishment and future happiness.  There are so many stories in Buddhist teachings about particular practitioners that came to their own fruition through some slight, almost mindless, deed in the past concerning a stupa.  I’m a terrible Buddhist storyteller because I forget the details and I get the punch lines wrong, but I’ll try.  I’ll try to tell you a little bit of what I remember.

There is this one story, for instance, about a pig who was being chased by a dog.  And the pig was a pig.  He had been wallowing in mud, and he was all dirty.  He had a muddy body and a muddy face and a muddy tail. And the dog thought, “Oh, I’m gonna’ get me some pork chops,” and started chasing the pig.  And round and round this stupa they went.  After they went round the stupa a few times, the pig smashed into the stupa accidentally and the mud from his body fixed a little crack in the stupa.  That [pig] was reborn in Dewachen, or some enlightened paradise, because of that cause and immediately received teachings and the ability of accomplishment. He was reborn as a bodhisattva, and was given every means to accomplish; and accomplishment was gained.  A pig!  Accidentally!  These stories are told to us as an indication of what you’re missing, of how amazing the merit is of caring for the body of the Buddha.

Conversely, we are told that to leave a stupa in decay and to not honor the stupa properly will bring nothing but obstacles.  And we’ve had lots of obstacles here.  We’ve had obstacles to seeing the teacher, and that’s me.  I’ve tried very hard to get here many times and yet there are obstacles.  And I believe in my heart that these obstacles are because when I left, the stupas were not like this. I’ve returned to this, and this is the body of the Buddha.

Now I’m not saying this to make myself seem like a high up person or anything like that. Normally in monasteries, the Khenpos get to tell these stories about their lamas. I wish we had that condition, but we don’t.  So, allow me to just commit the non-virtue of telling you what the other lamas have said about me.  They’ve said that if you don’t see this teacher very much because of who she is, you should understand that this is because your own merit is diminishing, not because she’s not here to serve you, not because she doesn’t want to serve you.  It’s strictly cause and result here. Because of the nature of this teacher—and because of the nature of my teacher and because of the nature of the other teachers of this lineage—their merit is such and their accomplishment is such that we must always create the causes of continuing to meet with them.  They’re just not a collection of Tibetan jimokes that do their thing over there and then come and do it over here.  These are beings who have accomplished Dharma and who have returned solely to benefit sentient beings.  Their only wish is to bring benefit., and yet we are not creating the causes for that.

Now that I know what the stupas look like, I will wait before I ask His Holiiness to return here until they are better.  I would not break his heart like that.  And I’m not saying I’m a good mama and you’re bad kids.  It’s not like that.  I’m telling you that this is your practice.  I want you to be happy.  I want you to be free of obstacles.  I want you to attain that pure awakened state where you know what to accept and what to reject.  I say to you, “Reject your own phenomena that tells you I don’t wanna. I’d rather have fun.  Reject your own phenomena that says I can’t because I’m sick, I’ve got a headache, I blah blah blah.  Reject your own phenomena and accomplish Dharma instead.”

Go to the stupa and if you can bend a little bit, you can bend to offer.  If you can bend a little bit, you can bend to clean.  I tell you if you are sick to death and worried for your life, you should crawl to the Migyur Dorje stupa saying prayers all the way, because that’s what a smart Tibetan would do.  That’s what I would do.  If you can’t walk, get there anyhow.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Soothing the Inflamed Mind

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Beginning to appreciate the condition and the suffering of other sentient beings, turning the mind in that way, does two things.  Offering merit to them does several things.   First of all, it builds on our merit/non-virtue scale.  We’ve got the merit on this side, we’ve got the non-virtue on that side.  And we’re heavier on the non-virtue side.  So offering merit puts more focus on virtue.  Our minds are more attuned to virtue and this tends to bring forth ripenings that are more congruous with what we want on our path, more sympathetic, more joyful, more fulfilling. More meritorious things will ripen.  Happiness will ripen because our minds are more focused on the heavier [virtuous] pile.  That’s naturally how it is.  When we are more focused on the virtue pile rather than the non-virtue pile, which is like something that is sore and raw and inflamed, the samsaric mind becomes then soothed, calmed.  We are not wallowing in the inflammation of it.   We are on the virtuous side now.  So we find that temporarily and that ultimately, more permanently, the inflammation starts to go down.  The inflammation going down is almost like putting hydrocortisone on a horrible, raw, terrible rash. It calms the angriness of it; it calms the rawness of it.  So it’s a little bit like that.  It takes the inflammation down a whole lot.  And we find that when our minds are calmer and more rested, we are happier.

Now, when our minds are very active and very agitated, we may feel more energetic. Sadly some of us have had so few true moments of happiness and joy and peaceful calm abiding that when we’re really active and really hyper and really busy doing something really fun, we think we’re great. We’re really joyful!  Then what happens later is like after a sugar high.  We’re totally wiped out afterwards and we have the other side of that mood swing.  So ultimately, as we turn our minds towards Dharma, as we begin to commit virtuous acts and to gather meritorious thoughts and ways of being, then we find out that gradually over time, we become more joyful, happier.  We begin to notice things that we didn’t notice before like some beautiful smell. Then we offer it to the Buddhas and we find a moment of happiness.  Or some beautiful sight, and then we offer it to the Buddhas, or maybe to our own Root Guru, and we think, “Oh, just for a moment, I felt happy there, just for a moment.”  Then we begin to catch on and that’s wonderful.  When we start to catch on, that’s the right stuff!

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Cause and Effect and the Antidote to Unhappiness

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Lord Buddha’s teachings are always reasonable and logical.  He teaches us that, for instance, if we are lonely and unhappy, we should look to find the causes of that.  He teaches us that causes are never outside.  They seem to be, but they are never outside because actually we are living with our own karmic habitual tendencies and propensities.  So if we are lonely and unhappy, we should look to the deeper causes.  The deeper causes may be that in the past, whether in this lifetime or in some previous lifetime, we allowed the others around us to be unsupported and lonely and unhappy.  Or perhaps we committed some profound non-virtue with our minds and so now, in our mind, we have the habit or the result of loneliness and unhappiness.  Perhaps in the past, we caused someone mental suffering or mental affliction, and so now in the present, we find ourselves feeling that same mental affliction. But we can only remember since the time of our birth, or somewhat after that, and we don’t know what the cause was really.  It’s hard to see.  We have to go by the Buddha’s teachings because Lord Buddha is that state of enlightenment which has the wisdom to see causes and results.  So we are taught if we have certain results within our life, such as unhappiness and loneliness, we should look for deep causes If we can’t find some reason in this lifetime for our loneliness and unhappiness, that is to say, that we ourselves have not brought about similar loneliness and unhappiness to others, then we should think that probably the cause has been in the deep past.  So we must assume that in the past, we have caused some unhappiness to others.

Now, here we are on the path, and we are told to apply the antidote. I shouldn’t leave that part out.  And the antidote, of course, would be to do one’s best to uphold the Bodhisattva Vow and to benefit others as strongly and as purposefully as we possibly can.  Of course, as monks and nuns, we will do that within the context of Dharma activities. As lay people, hopefully, we will do that within the context of Dharma activities as well. Yet we also have many opportunities in our lives to be of benefit to others in ordinary but very special ways. Some of us are doctors or nurses or counselors or those who help others.  So there are human ways to help others and there are extraordinary Dharma ways to help others, and we should apply that antidote.

One thing that not only I have noticed but practically every pop-psychologist that has arms to write a book with nowadays will tell you is that in doing for others, one becomes happy.  Self-absorption and ego cherishing, only thinking about what you want and what you don’t have, leads to further unhappiness and selfishness.  So it’s doing for others that actually brings up the spirit, and I personally know that this is true.  I know that this is true.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Mind Creates Form: Khenpo Tenzin Norgay

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Khenpo Tenzin Norgay given at Kunzang Palyul Choling called “The Six Paramitas”

We are always concerned about our mind.  We have the body, speech and mind, and according to our Buddhist teachings, we say that our mind is more powerful than our body and speech.  It is the main controller.  Once we have our mind controlled, then our body becomes naturally controlled, and then our speech is also perfected.  So that’s why, instead of making our body perfect, what we are doing is making our mind perfect.

The mind is given more importance in our teachings.  According to our teachings, our mind can create a physical object, not the other way around—a physical object creating our mind.  So this is one of the main teachings. If we are able to understand that, then the law of karma, or incarnation, can be better understood.

So here, when we say our mind can create physical objects or all these projections—it is in the Abhidharma teachings—we are talking about how we have three realms of existence: the formless realm, the form realm and the desire realm.  Even in the Sutrayana teachings, when talking about, the formation of these three realms or cyclic existence, like when earth or some physical formation is there, it’s saying that it starts from below and then goes upward—having this sphere and space and the sphere of water and all gradually stacking upward.  Then when talking about the formation of the beings abiding there, the inhabitants, it’s talking about stepping downward.  First we can say we have this formless realm where there is only consciousness.  The person born in the formless realm is, in one way of saying,  less distracted and has a great degree of meditation but without Vipassana or Right View.  If we don’t have Right View, then when our meditational power becomes exhausted, we can be born in the form realm.  In the form realm, our teachings say, there is no physical body of flesh and bones, but not exactly the rainbow-like body. So there is sort of like a physical body there which is not really made of flesh and bones. But it’s saying because of our attachment to the physical form, there is some solid form of physical appearances in the form realm.  When this becomes stronger, we call it the desire realm.  So that’s where we are, in this desire realm.  And here, our desire to objects is stronger, so we have this flesh and bones and this brain.

What I’m trying to say is our mind can exist freely without relying upon the chemicals in our brain.  If it were just a chemical process, then once the brain died, everything would be dead.  So it seems this is not our teaching.  Our teaching is that our mind creates the brain, not the brain creates our mind.

 

Proper Conduct: Understanding the Source of Happiness

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Whenever we are on the path and we have a spiritual friend in the form of a teacher, whether it is on the earlier path of Theravadin Buddhism or whether we have a spiritual guru who is from the Vajrayana point of view, a very profound friend who one can expect will mingle with our lives and hopefully mingle with our mindstreams, and give us the appropriate information in order to practice the path, there is one set of instructions that is almost always given in one way or another.  And so I’d like to give these instructions.  They are about gathering and accomplishing “merit”…or meritorious activity.

Here in our society, we are taught in a materialistic way.  We are taught that of course if we get education we will make money.  If we make money, we will get things.  If we get things, we will be happy and we can pass those things on to our children who hopefully will be happy also.  And that’s the idea that we have in this society about material things.

Very rarely do our parents teach us about profitable conduct.  We’re taught about how to live profitably.  Hopefully, if we had good parenting, they taught us about how to keep a bank account and all of those passages of adulthood that we learn about.  But nowadays, it has become much less popular, unfortunately, for parents to teach us profitable conduct; in other words, how to act, how to present oneself, how to hold oneself, what deeds to act upon and so forth, that will bring us happiness and joy.  We in fact, in growing up, we are not really taught that acting in a certain way will bring us happiness or joy; or making offerings in a certain way, or certain kinds of conduct.  Generally what happens is the child imitates the parent.  Many times the parent, like any other samsaric being, is neurotic and we see them acting neurotically in their relationships, and we see that it’s like a roll of the dice.  According to how we act, half the time it produces happiness, and half the time it doesn’t.  And sometimes when we’re in a real spiral…that means the downward kind…we can experience a great deal of neuroses and our children will watch that habitual patterning and they will pattern themselves after it.  It’s natural.  It’s hard-wired in children to do that.  And of course in this day and age, it seems like we have lost touch with what it is that actually creates happiness.  We are so confused in our minds…we’re in such turmoil…we’re always grasping and grabbing and trying and often we’re working very hard at it.  It’s not that we’re lazy.  We don’t just lay around all day.  We’re often working very hard at things that ultimately produce no good result.  Pursuing endless distractions, the Buddhas have called it.

And so, we turn to the people of authority in our lives and we look to them for guidance.  Well, we look to the government and the government says, “Let’s cut down on social services, screw the poor people, we’ll go to war!”  So maybe that’s not so good.

So then we look at our parents…and let’s see, parent’s are on maybe second or third marriage, and they’re very much trying to be happy but they don’t know how to be happy and the parents are in as much turmoil as perhaps the child is.

And then the child turns to the teachers and even religious figures.  And if the religious figure is not enlightened, often times they are lead down horrible paths; perhaps even abusive paths where they are taught some strict dogma that has no relationship to anything really; or in the worst case scenario, they are used and abused by a religious figure of authority.

So where do we actually go to understand what it is the Buddha taught about cause and result…because this is where the Buddha really shone…showed his immense wisdom, his immense capacity.  …Is that not only Shakyamuni Buddha, himself, but every teacher and lama that has studied his teachings, followed his ways and accomplished.  And all the teachers yet to come that revealed Terma, including Guru Rinpoche and those that were Treasure Revealers later on, each in their own way, taught us Proper Conduct.

Proper Conduct is actually part of our Ngondro practice in which we learn to turn the mind toward Dharma.  And that doesn’t mean…what do you call it when somebody…a person that sings the rap of a certain company and…public relations, right.  It’s not like that.  Our teachers actually indicate to us how we should live and actually that’s one of the signs of the Buddha is that the Buddha comes to the earth and shows us how to live because we are living in confusion.  We have not been taught of cause and effect.  And this is one thing that Lord Buddha really taught about was cause and result.  And he said that, if spiritual thinking isn’t reasonable and logical, that is, if one cannot think it through first before one decides to really open the heart in faith, then we should think again.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Star of Your Own Show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An excerpt from a teaching called Perception and Karma by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, July 19, 1989

At the heart of all phenomena, at the heart of all feeling, at the heart of all thought, at the heart of all experience, at the heart of self-nature, at the heart of all things, is the nature of emptiness.   Neither self-nature nor phenomena can be considered separate from emptiness.  All phenomena are inseparable from emptiness.  It is indistinguishable from emptiness.  It is the same as emptiness.  It arises from emptiness, and it returns to emptiness. At the heart of every single experience, everyone without exception, including the ones that we react to in the various ways that we react, there lies the mother of all phenomena, the heart of emptiness.

From that point of view, since all things arise from emptiness, are the same as emptiness and inseparable from emptiness.  All phenomena are the same.  For those of you who practice Dorje Phagmo, one of the most outstanding and obvious qualities of Dorje Phagmo is that she cuts attachment to phenomena being one way or another.  She relates to phenomena in such a way that all phenomena are the same and she experiences the sameness of all phenomena. In truth all phenomena is the same taste.  The analogy that can be used to really get the point home is that, from that point of view, shit is the same as chocolate.  They are the same nature, the same essence, the same taste.

Yet, we do not experience them as the same. We want to eat chocolate and we feel repelled, terribly repelled, by shit.  We would like to have the chocolate bar, but we would not eat a bowl of shit.  That would be very difficult for us to do.  One would be delicious and the other would be utterly repulsive. So, if these things have the same nature, what, then, is the difference?  The difference, of course, is the perceptual process that we are engaged in.

This perceptual process is both collective and individual.  That is to say, there are certain things that groups, such as all human beings, might perceive similarly, not the same, but similarly.  There are some phenomena that perhaps would be experienced in a cultural way.  One group would experience something in one way and another group might experience it in another way.  There are some forms of phenomena that most sentient beings may experience in a certain way.  Even within those samenesses and those likenesses, a person within a group actually experiences that phenomena in a very individual way.  That individuality cannot be understood because there is not a true communication that can describe how experience happens.

How that occurs, of course, is through the means of karma.  Each of us has a certain karmic format.  We seem to be programmed in a karmic way.  Each of us operates very differently due to our karma.  The expression is, “due to the karma of our minds.”  This is, of course, according to the ordinary mind, the mind that is experiencing delusion, not the mind of awakening.  We have some similar karma, obviously.  We’re all sitting in the same room.  If we did not have similar karma, we would not be as close as we are.  Not only are we sitting in the same room but we see each other quite frequently, we’ll probably see each other for the rest of our lives, with any luck, and we will continue to have a relationship in this way.  So we have some similar branches of karma.  We live in the same city, we live in the same state, we live in the same nation, and we live on the same Earth at the same time.

Yet, each of us has individual karma.  It takes a tremendous amount of similarity, for instance, for all of you to have gotten ordained at the same time.  If you could conceive of the tremendous ripening that had to have occurred at that time, you would understand, then, the tremendous bond that you share.  It takes a tremendous amount of ripening for us to come together at this time, for all of us, in order to experience a life that is about Dharma.  There has to be a tremendous amount of ripening of very pure and virtuous karma in order for that to happen.  Yet, even with all of that, we have differences in our karma.  The differences are so deep and yet so subtle that one person, who has similar karma with another person, cannot talk to that person and describe exactly what their experience is. No one can communicate exactly what their experience is.  Even if you felt that you had thoroughly communicated your experience that would basically be a misunderstanding because the other person could not have understood what you said.  They do not have the same karma as you.  It is impossible.  You could not exactly describe how you experience a small object for instance. If you did, she would hear it in the way that she experiences it. There is no meeting, there is some overlapping, but there isn’t an intimate sameness about our experience.

For this reason, all scientific tools, from this point of view, are utterly useless. A simple thing, such as a thermometer, is useless.  If I put it in my mouth and had two people read it they would both say 98.6.  But the meaning of their experience, the way in which it was received, what they say, every single piece of what happened in order for that to happen is quite different. The sameness of the karma is indicated by their ability to sit together and have the opportunity to read the thermometer at the same time.  But the sameness is not in the experience.  It is an illusion that we all live with that makes us think that we all have the same experience.

In a very ordinary way, this accounts for the unbelievable thing that happens when groups of people get together and try to pass along information. It also explains how it is that gossip should be outlawed.  All things that are communicated in that way are different.  So, in one way, it is best to do as the Buddha does and just shut up for awhile until you get enlightened.

Each of us, then, is totally and completely involved in a perceptual play that we believe to be real.  We constantly experience self and other, we constantly experience phenomena surrounding us.  We constantly experience thoughts and feelings within our own mind and are constantly involved in reaction. Do we understand how completely and totally individual that is?  If we did understand that, we would have a way to understand how artificial the entire construction is and how it is absolutely dependent on one’s karma.  How useless it is to try to react or not react in a certain way in order to change things.  How useless it is to try and manipulate phenomena in order to get a certain result.  We would understand, then, that the only lasting means by which to make change, is to purify one’s karma.

I think of an example of someone, one of my students who is constantly bothered by losing things or having others mishandle things.  The only cure to a situation such as that is not what we usually try to do, which is to lay blame or take measures or lock stuff up.  The only lasting cure for something like that would be the practice of generosity.  The result of the karma of a generous mind is a feeling that is a state free of lack, a state that is without doubt or anger or without the building blocks that cause a situation to occur again and again and again.  The karma of a generous mind is such that those kinds of things simply don’t happen.  There is more stability in a generous mind.  A person who has truly practiced and attained selfless generosity, the experience of such a person will be stable, it will not be challenging in the way that the life of an ego-clinging person is.  It will not have the same frustrations.  It will not have the constant vacillation between having and not having. The karma of loss will not be there.  But we don’t understand this.  We constantly revolve in a very tight opera in which we are the stars and all the scenery is created just for us.  What we don’t realize is that it’s also created by us, and that no one else is playing.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

I WON! A Precious Human Rebirth!

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

When the Buddha speaks of the reasons why we should practice, he speaks primarily of the fact that all sentient beings are suffering and that they experience this suffering in one form or another every moment.  Even when they are extremely happy, sentient beings experience the suffering that is inherent within that happiness.  The happiness is impermanent and will soon be over: we have all experienced that.  We have all been afraid of our really good moods because we know that they will end.  And there are some times we are not willing to give ourselves over to a wonderful experience of wholeness, or happiness or love because we know that there will be a day when the mood swing will go in the opposite direction and then ‘kurplunk’ – there we are again.  So we have difficulty in relating to that kind of concept.  We also have difficulty in relating to the fact that we should be motivated to practice because the conditions of cyclic existence are unpredictable.  There is something about our culture that is pretty regimented.

Here in this country we know that if we are born, probably we will get to eat.  We know that there are people who are hungry but we don’t get to see them very often.  Most of the public knows that it is going to eat.  They may eat on welfare or caviar and pâté but they will eat.  We know pretty much that if we are sick, there is a place that we can go to get help.  Even if we have to get free help; still we can get help.  It’s true there are exceptions but I am thinking of the greater population.  The greater population has a certain regimentation that it is accustomed to things upon which it can rely.  We really don’t see too many people dying very young.  Proportionally there is less infant death and death by disease in young people than elsewhere.  We see it but somehow it is not a major part of the fabric of our lives and so we find a way to work around that.  We think that it is not a good reason to practice because the chances are good that we will scoot through it okay and even though we really do know that we might not be okay.  It could be that we could die young or experience some suffering; still we think that the chances are that we will be okay.

We have also been shielded from some of the more gruesome forms that suffering can take.  We don’t see a lot of gross deformity or retardation.  We don’t see a lot of things that are kept away from us, really for our protection, so it will be more pleasant.  We don’t like to think about the poverty that other people experience.

The way that our society works is that there is enough option for change. If we are aware that some people are suffering because there is a prejudice against them or some people are suffering because they are lonely, there is enough movement within our society that we can stay away from that.  We don’t have to look.  That isn’t the same in other societies, you have to look, and it is there.  Unless you close your eyes when you are crossing the streets, there is no way that you can deny it, because it is there.  So you are not particularly motivated by the fact that suffering if you do not develop the skill through the technology of practice (of insuring that you have a positive rebirth) that you could be reborn in conditions that are unbearable.  We don’t accept that as being true or we don’t think about it.

We also have certain ideas that we have grown up with and these ideas are part of our culture: they are sort of children of religious systems that are inherent in our culture.  They are part of what was handed to us.  There is an idea that so long as we do our best and consistently stay good and improve that predictably the next moment will be a little better.  I am not exactly sure how that happened but I think that it has to do with the fact that this is not, generally speaking, a culture that believes in cyclic death and rebirth.  It is not a culture that understands that you have had many lifetimes before, and unless you achieve supreme realization, you will have many lifetimes yet to come.

Instead we look at the fabric of our lives and we see that children eat and they get a little bigger and they eat some more and they get a little bigger and they get a little smarter and then there is a period of decline at the end of our lives, but we don’t think about that too much.  We think that things improve.

Even if you have come to accept the idea of rebirth, and that it is important, still the idea is that somehow I won’t get worse than I am.  We tell ourselves it is not going to get worse than it is right now.  It’s only going to improve because I am going to continue to do well and I am going to be good spiritually.  I am going to be a good person and if I have already become a human being and I have these fortunate circumstances then this is all that there is so it is just going to get better.

We think this way because we don’t understand how awesome the components of the phenomena that we experience are.  We think that things are so stable, that the circumstances that we experience now are the sum total of all the learning that we have ever done and all of the goodness that we have ever been involved in: all of the good and bad, it’s all been worked out.  It’s only uphill from here.   Basically I think that this belief is the result of an absolute marriage with the idea of linear progression.  Therefore we are not motivated to practice.  But this is inconsistent with what the Buddha teaches.

The Buddha teaches us that we are here through a miraculous set of circumstances because we must have done something wonderful in the past.  In order to hear the Buddha’s teaching, in order to even have a shot at enlightenment, in order to not be suffering so much that it is possible to practice, to have a shot at listening to Dharma, to be able to think of helping others, we must have had an extremely fortunate past.  We must have had wonderful circumstances and really have done some good.  What they call good karma.

However, according to the Buddha we have lived incalculable eons.  From beginningless time we have been doing this.  We have experienced so many lifetimes that the causes that were begun during those times, many of them have not even actualized themselves.  They are still seedlings within our mind stream.  We have so many under the belt, that we literally have accumulated the causes for rebirth in the highest and most fortunate state and we have also accumulated causes for rebirth in the lowest and most difficult realms.  We have all of these circumstances and somehow, almost like a gambling wheel going around we stopped at a precious human rebirth and here we are experiencing this precious human rebirth.

What makes it precious is that we have all of our faculties; we have the opportunity to practice the Buddha’s teaching.  What makes it precious is that we have a shot at attaining realization and we aren’t suffering too much to do it.  We have the leisure to practice.  Understand that finding this precious human rebirth is, as the Buddha taught, very similar to finding a precious jewel while sifting through garbage.  It is that rare.  Finding this precious human rebirth with these fortunate circumstances is as common as dust on the fingernail compared to dust on the earth.  That’s how many more options you had of other kinds of rebirths.  If you understand how rare this birth is, you will find motivation to practice.   But Westerners have a tremendous difficulty with that.

Feeling that there is only linear progression Westerners have a certain pridefulness that unfortunately says, “Well if I have what it takes to get to this point where I can think as I do and practice as I do and be as wonderful as I truly am, then surely I can keep that stuff going somehow and it will remain stable in that way.”  The Buddha says not.  The Buddha says that there are specific reasons that you are here and if you utilize this life to increase your merit, good karma, virtue and value inherent within your mind stream, and if you purify your mind, thereby increasing its beauty and luminosity, then you will proceed on a path that will lead to supreme enlightenment.

But think about how many people here in the West kid themselves about this.  We feel safe in a life that is ever changing.  We feel permanent in the midst of impermanence and we feel that we have got it knocked and we go up and down every day and then we don’t do anything to improve our state.  Maybe we change a few things as a token gesture, we try to live a good life, we are nice to our kids.  We are good upstanding people, but in the end we find that we have been sitting on top of a precious jewel and a fantastic opportunity, and at the end of our lives we come to a realization that we have wasted it. What has happened is that it takes such an enormous amount of good qualities, virtue, good karma and merit to have gained such a life as this and when we could have done something, when we had an opportunity to accomplish the Dharma we didn’t.

©Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

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