Habitual Tendency

anger

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

If you have the habit of gossip, go through the method. Fix it. Understand that if you allow that hatred in any form to continue, you will get more and more unhappy as you age. The people who are youthful and beautiful when they are elderly are the people who kept something alive, even if they aren’t Buddhist. I’ve met people like that. A duty, a responsibility, an ethical responsibility they feel to be kind. Maybe they don’t understand extraordinary kindness, but they are kind. An ethical responsibility to not put shit in the pool of earth. Some people just seem to have that karma to understand that even without the Buddhadharma. I respect that so much.

And that’s true of all of us, too. As we get older, we get the wrinkles. and this is crazy, the wrinkles, and this is crazy, the wrinkles, and this is crazy, the wrinkles. It’s a symbol, if you think about. It’s a symbol of how much deeper the lines of our habitual tendencies get over time. Do you see what I am saying?  Our habitual tendency is in our posture; it’s in our face. We screw up our faces when we are doing our habits, and all of this aging stuff is phenomena—our phenomenal habitual existence becoming more solid and more real and more heavy in samsara as we get older. That’s unfortunately how most people age. They get stiffer. They get harder. They get querulous, frightened to death, frightened of death. And for many people, it’s an ugly, humiliating time.

I don’t want that for you. But it’s going to happen if you don’t take yourself in hand and say, ‘Let’s walk through this.’ Really look to benefiting yourself. Instead of being steeped in habitual hatred, conquer that monster. It’s a bubble; it’s a dream; it’s not a solid thing. There’s no elephant in this room, not really. We have to practice away from that.  Start simple. If you can’t find anything good about a person, first of all, that’s your fault right there.  If you can’t find anything good about the person, make it your business to find something. If it’s just you like the way they tie their shoes, work from there. If that is where you are starting from, if that is what you have to do, forgive yourself and move on from that point. But start. If you can go a little further and understand through practicing and contemplating, and through the method that we teach here, that all sentient beings wish to be happy and in their nature they are the very Lord, and that there is an end to the suffering and that is liberation. With understanding, we can then give rise to the bodhicitta and compassion.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Seed and the Fruit

fruit

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

The fruit of potential and method is the awakening.  But in Buddhism we see all three as the same and it is taught that all three are the same. And in truth, there is no realization without understanding the sameness of these three,. It is easy to think that we are evolving in a step by step way; and it is easy to think that we’re on the ladder. See, I am up here and somebody else is down there and some of the people are over here. And we get into that view, and that’s not what the Buddha taught. The Buddha did not teach that someone is higher and someone is lower. The Buddha taught that we should recognize the appearance of the Buddha nature in the world as our root gurus. The root guru gives us the method, and therefore we have the result. But nobody is better than anybody else. That is a different religion or a different idea, or something else. I don’t know what that is, but we don’t have that here.

Ridding ourselves of hatred is based on that kind of thinking, that kind of view.  Really understanding the Buddha’s teaching that there is the foundation, the method and the fruition, and that is the path. Succinct, boom, right here. This is it. And we understand that, again, according to the Buddha’s teachings we are all suffering. We are all in the same place. Here we are. Even the people that are not in this room, we are in samsara together. They want to be happy like you do.  You struggle for happiness, don’t you? Come on, don’t you?  Every day. Every day. And we do it sometimes rightly or wrongly. It’s a mixed bag because we lack understanding. But the method is to recognize that all beings wish to be happy. If there are three people sitting in front of you, and two or three of them are unhappy, you come out of yourself and try to help. Efforts like that are what move us along on the path. Not just doing the fancy practices and knowing the fancy words.

Of course, we do not achieve realization by deeds alone. That is a long and difficult path. We have the Dzogchen path, which is so remarkable. It not only gives us method and the opportunity to give rise to the bodhicitta, but we also are given the wisdom to understand the empty nature of phenomena. Through that method we can understand that in samsara we are in a bit of a bubble, or an echo chamber. It’s kind of like that. Unfortunately, it’s also the nature of samsara to be somewhat blinded to that. Again, we are still asleep. It’s like a dream. It has a dream-like quality. You know how in dreams crazy things happen? And it’s OK. It makes sense somehow. Like you could be somewhere and then you are somewhere else, and it makes sense. But that dream-like quality exists right here and right now. We literally do not understand that when we gossip about a fellow vajra brother or sister, or any sentient being of any quality, or put them down, at the same time, we create that energy, that cause. Somewhere in samsara, the result is also being born. Right then. Something will change because of that hatred. Now we often don’t see it immediately, but it comes back to us; and the way it comes back to us is according to our conceptual belief. We believe in relative phenomena being solid as it is until we become practitioners, hopefully. So when somebody sends a negative energy at us, like their anger, we think, ‘Oh, it’s coming from them. Everybody hates me.’ But in fact, what has happened is that you have sent out hatred. It echoes back and it will come through somebody else’s mouth. Do you know why it’s nobody else’s fault?. Because there is nobody else. Bingo. There is nobody else. And how you can sit there and say you are practicing trekchod and togyal and you don’t know that yet, I can’t figure out.

We must take responsibility for our experiences. How will we ever awaken if we don’t understand the unhappiness that comes to us is of our own making? It may have been in the past, the past in some past life. It may have been recent. I see you guys creating the causes of suffering all of the time. And so, get back to the basics. Follow the Buddha’s teachings. To antidote hatred,… And I know, hatred is my big one today, OK? We’ll do greed and ignorance some other time and the other ones as well. To antidote hatred, the antidote has to be very strong, because hatred is such a strong energy that it brings about war in places where there is a lot of emotional, egocentric agitation that has hatred as part of it. Any time there is emotional, egocentric agitation, there will be hatred. Places like that often have a lot of earth movement and strange weather and that sort of thing. And war.  Who would have guessed it?.

And so, we have to understand that we want to awaken, but we don’t want to take responsibility. We want to awaken, but we don’t want to stop dreaming. We want to awaken, but we don’t want to go through that effort of bringing ourselves into truer awareness, something that is more profound and deeper and more real than our own simple habitual tendencies.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Hungry Ghost Realm

glass of water

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Foundation of Bodhicitta”

The next of the lower realms is the realm of the hungry ghosts.  The hungry ghosts actually have a traditional appearance and they are described in this way, but again you must understand that this is us looking with eyes that are born having to distinguish between subjective and objective.  These are the eyes that are born in the realm of duality. So keep that in mind when their description is given.  The description is that of beings that have very, very, very tiny mouths—they are said to be about the size of a pin, just a tiny opening—and great big stomachs, and these stomachs are empty.  They are not able to take in the amounts of nourishment that they need.  This is the picture that we are given.  The reality of the realm of the hungry ghost is that they experience extreme need, extreme hunger, beyond what you feel when you have big Mac attack.  Way beyond that!  We are talking hunger like you have never felt.  It is a different color of hunger entirely.  Have you been real, real hungry?  Have you never been real, real hungry in your life?  I’ve been real, real hungry in my life.  I’ve been real, real hungry in my life, and I remember how that felt.  I remember being so hungry once that I could feel my blood sugar doing wacko things and I actually had the feeling of panic.  I was that hungry that you feel panicky because your body is just telling you, “I need food now!”

So you imagine that there is that kind of hunger, with that kind of panic and need, times more than you can ever imagine.  That would be the feeling of a hungry ghost.  It is extremely needful.  Now you say to yourself,  “Please! I worked out my whole life and for me to be reborn with a tiny little mouth and a big, big belly like that… That definitely is not going to happen to me.”  So you think that that’s not going to happen?  Well, you have to examine yourself from a different and more subtle point of view.  Let me ask you if you have ever gone through a period in your life when you were extremely needy.  “Oh no, not me.”  Right?  Extremely needy?  For women that happens at least once a month, right?  And for men I think it happens about every 48 hours.  Now they get needy in a different way, but it’s basically also, “Do you love me?”  We have within our mindstream the potential for tremendous neediness and graspiness.

O.K., this is a little bit less painful.  Have you known a person in your lifetime that was compulsively, neurotically, unsatisfiably needy?  Have you known a person like that?  Haven’t you had from that person the feeling that this hole is just too darn big to fill?  You feel like you’re throwing it in and throwing it in and throwing it in and trying to love and trying to give them something, and they’re still whining.  It never ends; and you spend the rest of your life doing this and nothing happens.  The hole never fills up.  Well, that is the kind of cause that results in a rebirth as a hungry ghost—a person whose habitual tendency is simply wrapped around self-absorption and what they need.  I need, I need, I need.  Can you gimme gimme gimme?  They see every other being in their life as a prop, a prop by which they can achieve satisfaction.  They use people as props in order to achieve satisfaction.  You know we’ve all gone through periods in our lives when we’ve done that, haven’t we?  Absolutely.  We have used other people for our own satisfaction.  Absolutely, and for many of us, we made careers out of it.  Right?  And maybe still, maybe still.  We have seen how people can wrap their whole lives around graspiness and neediness; and every time they meet with somebody it’s like you can hear the suction.  You can just hear it.  You feel like the blood is coming out of your pores.  And that’s the kind of person you instinctively stay away from because literally you can feel your energy being sucked into them.  Haven’t you felt that kind of thing?  You can feel the energy being sucked into them. And it’s true.  If you could see it with different eyes, your energy would be sucked into them.  That’s true.  That kind of cause, that kind of habitual tendency that the person might experience, or if it’s you, you might experience, would result in rebirth as a hungry ghost.  Particularly, also, it is the kind of person who is against and has no compatibility with compassion and generosity.the person who is chronically, without hesitation, selfish to the bone.

Now you may think, “Are there really people like that?”  Oh, ho ho, yes.  I remember once, I’ll tell you this briefly, this story..  In New York once I went to give a teaching, and I remember walking into the room and thinking, “Oh no.”  You know, a lama does develop the ability to sort of intuit who we’re talking to, and I remember walking into the room and going “NO-O-O!” because I could see that it was going to be very, very difficult. And sure enough, here we were in New York and I was talking about the most benign [subject]. I wasn’t talking about hell realms.  I would never be dumb enough to talk about hell realms in New York!  You guys want to hear that you have to come to Poolesville!  So anyway, I was talking about the most benign and charming—talk about white picket fence!—subject that you could possibly think of: kindness.  Talking about Bodhicitta.  I was talking about how, in the most fundamental way, kindness makes one feel.  Really, being kind to others makes one feel better.  I was talking about how developing the habit of kindness brings this result, just kindness.  I was talking about Bodhicitta being consistent with our own nature.  And I swear to you not one, but on different occasions, three women stood up and argued with me about the validity of kindness.  This one woman in particular said, “This is ridiculous.  Kindness has no place in my life. I mean you have to get what you want!  I don’t see the point of what you say.  This is whoosh.  Tell me something real!”  That is literally what happened.

I remember just feeling this compassion for them, for what can the result of that be?  What do you think their next experience is going to be like?  Do you think they’re going to fall into the lap of mother love?  Do you think that kindness is going to be just heaped on them in their next life?  I don’t think so.  I don’t see how that’s going to happen.  So these poor people are up against the wall, and they don’t even realize it. And in her haughtiness, she defended what was going to make her suffer horribly.  So you see there is that kind of thing operating in the minds of sentient beings.  There are some people that categorically refuse and reject the idea of kindness and benefitting others. In fact, it is not inconsistent with all of the world religions, that we should take equal responsibility with ourselves as with other sentient beings.

There are even types of teaching that the Buddha has taught that are meant for that kind of person who cannot appreciate compassion, who is not even set up to hear the word ‘compassion’.  The Hinayana point of view: yeah we’re taught to be kind to others, but not in an aggressive way.  We’re taught to do no harm.  That’s different from saving sentient beings from suffering.  So there are sentient beings that have no capacity for kindness or generosity, you see?  And so the result of that kind of mental state is to be reborn as a hungry ghost, experiencing only need.  Only being able to experience that which comes toward oneself, literally not having the chip, the computer chip, to be able to send out.  It would be like a computer that has no printer.  Everything happens internally, in a way.  Do you see what I’m saying?  Nothing goes out.  This person is not wired to send out anything; and that comes through having only the habitual tendency of self-absorption and selfishness. And the result is life as a hungry ghost.  In the hungry ghost realm, it isn’t that there is no food. It is that they are so weak because of the habitual tendency of their mind  has produced this weakness. Literally their arms and legs are like threads.  They cannot get over to where the food is.  They cannot get there.  The only thing big about them is their stomachs. And even if they could get there, their little mouths would not be able to take in enough.

Plus, it is said that even when they see food, if they can (we’re not talking about sea food here), even if they do see some food, they cannot get to the food. And if they somehow manage to get to the food, it then will turn to… Like this glass of water here.  I have the karma for this water to refresh me.  Water, little bit of lemon—pretty good.  If I were a hungry ghost in the hungry ghost realm, even if I were able to make it to that water (and I would feel the need for it very strongly), the water would be like a glass of pus or something, horrible and repulsive, literally, sewage or something horrible and repulsive.  It would turn to that before you reached it.  And that’s because of the habitual tendency of our mind.  How different from sewage is the need to only satisfy oneself and not care at all for the condition of other sentient beings?  To take from others and never give?  How different is that than sewage?  You see?

The Key to Happiness is Merit!

From a series of tweets by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

In Buddhism there is much ado about merit. Yet it is very simple to understand. There are meritorious acts and non virtuous acts. If there is no knowledge of Dharma these two may seem the same. But in Buddhism there are rules of conduct. These are given as guides to happiness and good spiritual result.

Say one upholds proper conduct; kindness, stable mind, study, teaching, generosity, respect, meditation etc. That one is accumulating merit. Say another one steals, speaks harshly, harms others, is unkind, a criminal, selfish; this is degenerating merit.

Merit is necessary to approach the path honorably; and to continue, make progress. Merit is also necessary to keep living. It is said when the storehouse of one’s merit in this life is depleted then death occurs. Merit is also about habitual tendencies. If one is a criminal with criminal habits, or a murderer with the habit of killing or harming, this person is said to have a large storehouse of non-virtue, and will live a life that displays it.

So a mainstay of Dharma is the gathering of merit and the avoidance of non virtue. This way the habit of wholesome virtue is installed, and the habit of non-virtue is naturally dissipated. Imagine a legal scale; one pile of non-virtue and one pile of merit. As one adds to the merit, the non-virtue by comparison becomes smaller. Enough merit gathered, and non-virtue falls off the radar. In Buddhism we dedicate that merit of the three times, past present and future to the liberation from suffering of all beings; and for oneself as well. So one becomes like a wealthy person with a treasure trove of merit. Like gold it can be exchanged for benefit. If no merit is gathered the spiritual bank is empty. That results in spiritual poverty, and there is no good result. One may wish to be accomplished but the essential ingredient is missing.

By gathering merit one can be healthy, prosperous, smart, beautiful and wholesome. But the motivation is very important. Gathering merit for selfish reasons is almost useless. The merit is mixed like poison with tea. If one were to rob a bank and in so doing must be kind, generous and loving to the banker to “get in” and steal; this is strictly non-virtue due to bad intention. If one is a monk yet stops to minister to a dying woman, even a prostitute, and the intention is pure, then this is meritorious. Therefore we must always gather merit. Eventually the darkest non-virtue, even the gross obscurations can be purified! But not by acting better starting now. That is shallow and insincere. One must become self-honest and persevere in a deep, energetic and profound way to fill the great storehouse of merit. This is not for sissies! Sissies want it easy-pleasy. Saying words that are pleasing in order to be loved and admired. It will never happen, because to be truly loved and blessed, well, you have to have the merit for it. Put this teaching in your pocket; learn and accomplish Dharma to be truly happy!

Thank you very kindly for reading this small effort at teaching. May it touch your heart and bring you joy!

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The Power of Karma

indra

The following is respectfully quoted from “Naked Awareness: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen” by Karma Chagmé with commentary by Gyaltrul Rinpoche

You can’t give someone else either good karma or bad karma, any more than you can give them virtue or non virtue. These are things that we accumulate and commit for ourselves. Whether we die in the womb, have a short life or a long life, these are the result of our karma.

Even great gods, such as Indra and Brahmā, with their extraordinary powers, are powerless when the karma that propelled them into their present existence is exhausted. The reason for the precept not to take refuge in mundane gods such as these is that they, like ourselves, are still entrapped in this cycle of existence. Since they have not liberated themselves, it would be difficult for them to liberate anyone else, so they are not suitable objects of ultimate refuge. Moreover, if you take refuge in, or absolutely entrust yourself to, other beings who are subject to the five poisons, you really have a problem, because they can’t release you from something they are not free of themselves. So this precept is truly for your own sake.

Some mundane gods may actually be great bodhisattvas, or even emanations of the buddhas appearing in the form of Indra, Brahma, and so forth. Nevertheless, it is generally good counsel not to take ultimate refuge in any of them, for it is difficult to discern which ones are actually bodhisattvas or emanations of buddhas. In a way, we don’t really need to worry about this. We don’t have much, if any, direct contact with such gods anyway.

Cycle of Existence of Birth and Death States

wheel7_500

The following is respectfully quoted from “Naked Awareness: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen” by Karma Chagmé with commentary by Gyaltrul Rinpoche

The Chapter on the Cycle of Existence of Birth and Death States [583]

Wherever one is born in the three realms,
That birth is dominated by karma.
Death as well is dominated by karma.
When the time comes for birth and death,
The gods gradually fall from the heavens.
Despite their great miraculous powers, they are powerless to remain.

 

The Experience of Death

Chikhai Bardo The Primordial (Clear Light)

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

In the bardo of living, as we enter into life, we receive two seeds. We receive our father’s seed and our mother’s seed; and those seeds go to make us up. They join together and they make us up.—The father principle or the masculine principle in our physical body actually resides in the top of our heads. That’s where the mystical element of your father’s seed, that was given to you, the masculine component of your nature, resides as a white tigle, or luminescent circle (if you have to think of it in a physical way, although it’s not physical), but a white tigle on top of the head. That is firmly brought to you by the union of the seed between your father and your mother. The mother’s seed resides at the base of the spine as a red tigle, and that is the feminine principle within you. No matter what sex you are or what your inclinations are, anything, you all have that. It is universal. We all have these principles, these feminine and masculine principles within us.

At the moment of death, after the outer breath has stopped, when the inner winds are still somewhat moving, (it hasn’t totally stopped yet), first the white tigle or the father principle, the masculine principle, will disengage. It will no longer be held, bound, as it was during life by the physical proximity or the physical area, right here. It will not be bound by that. It will disengage. It will simply disengage and fall. And it falls through the central channel to the heart, and there it remains. During the experience of death, what you will experience when that happens is extraordinary white luminosity. White light. If you have been trained to perceive that light through generation stage practice or even through Phowa, you will perceive that light in a welcoming way. You will see that light and know that that light is the very display of all the dakas, or the male buddhas and bodhisattvas. So you’ll recognize that light and you will be very devoted, moving toward that light. If there has been no preparation for death, if you are not prepared for death, that light will be terrifying. It is extraordinarily bright and it seems to be unbearable, because we are so closely connected to physical reality still that that light, by comparison, is brighter than thousands of suns. It’s, oh, too much! It seems too much and it terrifies us if we are untrained. But if we have prepared in meditation, through either Phowa or through generation stage practice, we may be able to recognize that white light as being the very display of the male buddhas and bodhisattvas, or the male principle of the buddhas and the bodhisattvas.

If you don’t recognize the white light and go toward it in your practice and become one with it, you will continue in the bardo experience. If you do recognize that white light and recognize it as the nature of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, and with devotion go forth toward the light, then you may actually exit the bardo experience without having to go through the rest of the bardo, and either be reborn in a pureland in order to receive instruction, or be reborn as a nirmanakaya form. There are many different ways that one can be reborn, but there is actually a traditional way to view how that birth will take place.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Bardos

Bardo_Thangka-dfd2c

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

In the general sense, it is said that there are six bardos. There is the bardo of living, which is the bardo of birth to death. Bokar Rinpoche says, “…the bardo of birth to death, which ceases as soon as the first signs of the agony of death start.” And I have also heard that once one knows that one is dying, once one catches the disease that will ultimately cause the death, then you are in a different bardo, actually, than the bardo of living—although technically it still is part of the bardo of living. It is called the bardo of preparation, or the bardo before death. There is a passage of time that precedes the time of death once you have caught or have experienced the problem that will end your life. But this lama says, “…when the first signs of the agony of death start.”

There is the bardo of the dream state, which is delineated by the moment we fall asleep and the moment we wake up. So each time we sleep and dream, that is a bardo, and there is a beginning and an end. There is a passage within that; and there are cause and effect relationships that are begun and also ripen within that bardo.

There is the bardo of meditative concentration. I’ve also heard it called the bardo of meditation, and the bardo of concentration. And that lasts from the beginning to the  end of a meditation or concentration. Meditation in Dharma, or concentration such as vipassana practice, or shamata practice, simply silent meditation is so profoundly different from our normal waking consciousness that it deserves its own name. It is a different passage. It has a beginning time and an end time. It has its own causes and results that occur within the context of that passage according to how one conducts oneself during that passage. How do you meditate? Do you meditate really putting yourself into it? Do you meditate in a haphazard way? These kinds of things. So that is a bardo.

There is the bardo of the moment of death, and here he says, “…which commences when the death process begins and which lasts until actual death.” And there it’s more clear, because in truth, if you have already caught the disease that will ultimately cause your death, then in that case you have already literally begun the process of death. Another way to look at it is the moment you stop growing, once you start aging, you have also begun the process of death, you see. That’s true. Once the body stops growing and begins to go on the downside of that (which mine has definitely started to do, I can tell), there is another bardo involved in that. While technically still part of the bardo of living, it is the bardo of the moment of death as well. It is a contributing factor to that. More succinctly and more clearly, it is generally said that the bardo of the moment of death begins when the death process has actually begun.

There is the bardo of Dharmata, which starts when death occurs and lasts until the deities appear in the postmortem state. That will be explained in detail later on. We will talk about the moment of the perception of the white luminosity, the moment of the perception of the red luminosity, the moment of the perception of the clear or black luminosity. The bardo of Dharmata that we are talking about here actually begins during the moment of the recognition or the perception or the appearance of the black or clear luminosity. That is when the external breath has ceased and the internal wind has just begun to cease, is just now ceasing. At that moment, that is the bardo of Dharmata. The elements have already begun to dissolve. In some cases they are dissolved, and in other cases they are continuing to dissolve, but they are at that critical point where there is a final dissolution. At that point one will see the nature of the Dharmata. However, an inexperienced practitioner will not recognize it, and they will go through what in death is thought of as a fainting or dark period. Everyone who is not experienced in meditation will experience that, because they do not recognize the face of the Dharmata, or that light which is clear but may appear as black. So this particular passage, the bardo of Dharmata, then starts when the outer breath has ceased. The inner wind still continues to some degree, from that point on, until the moment when the deities appear. And we will talk about when the deities appear.

After the bardo of Dharmata, and this is considering that one has not yet liberated one’s self from the bardo, the next bardo is the bardo of becoming, which starts when the previous bardo ceases..That’s the bardo that ceases when the deities appear and ends when we are born. Now the bardo of becoming absolutely indicates that once you have reached it, you will be reborn in cyclic existence. There is no help for it. You will be reborn in cyclic existence. But even during that time you can create the causes of liberation that will cause you to be reborn in a different way than what you are now—a more realized, more enlightened way. it is particularly possible during the bardo of becoming to absolutely ensure that your next life will be associated with Dharma, will lead directly toward liberation, will be correct in bringing you to the Path, and will be without flaw in that regard.

So these are generally the six bardos. But remember that there’s not only six. There can be, depending on how you view things, uncountable bardos, because bardos are passages. And it is the delusion that we are passing through something that makes the bardo seem like a limited space and a limited time. But in fact, it is simply movement and display. The lama here puts it in this way, “The essence of the mind of all beings is called the essence of awakening. From this point of view, which is that of ultimate truth, there is no bardo. We know nothing of the ultimate nature of the mind, and that is why all sorts of illusory manifestations occur in the relative mode. Among these there are the six bardos that cause much suffering. Buddhist teachings intend to dispel such erroneous experiences and their resultant sufferings.” So what we are looking at here is that from the relative point of view and in the deluded state, this is what appears and this is what we must deal with. In the same way that you’re here, you’re alive, and you have to cope with that. In the same way, these are the experiences. These are what we have to deal with. Yet, from the point of view of realization, there is no such thing because there is no subjective and objective. It is only our delusion that causes us to see in this way. And so, characteristic of having that delusion and being trapped in that delusion, we actually have to study the delusion and learn about the delusion so that we can negotiate through the delusion into awakening. And that is how we have to view these time periods, these bardo movements.

He says also, and I think this is an important point to bring out: “The six bardos are not six domains existing independently within ourselves.” And, of course, that is how we think, isn’t it? ‘When will I get to that bardo over there?’ That’s how we think because of our delusion. “They are related to our mind, which lives in a state of delusion” at this point. He doesn’t say ‘at this point.’ I’m adding that. “The six bardos manifest out of our mind. It is our mind that has the experience, and it is our mind that recognizes their false nature. And eventually it will be our mind that liberates us from the very products of the mind.”

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Hungry Ghost Realm

HungryGhost

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

The next of the lower realms is the realm of the hungry ghosts.  The hungry ghosts actually have a traditional appearance and they are described in this way, but again you must understand that this is us looking with our eyes that are born having to distinguish between subjective and objective.  These are the eyes that are born in the realm of duality,. So keep that in mind when their description is given.  The description is that of beings that have ver,y very, very tiny mouths—they are said to be about the size of a pin, just a tiny opening—and great big stomachs; and these stomachs are empty.  They are not able to take in the amounts of nourishment that they need.  This is the picture that we are given.  The reality of the realm of the hungry ghost is that they experience extreme need, extreme hunger, beyond what you feel when you have Big Mac attack.  Way beyond that!  We are talking hunger like you have never felt.  It is a different color of hunger entirely.  Have you been real, real hungry?  Have you never been real, real hungry in your life?  I’ve been real, real hungry in my life.  I’ve been real, real hungry in my life, and I remember how that felt.  I remember being so hungry once that I could feel my blood sugar doing wacko things, and I actually had the feeling of panic.  I was that hungry that you feel panicky because your body is just telling you, “I need food now.”

So you imagine that there is that kind of hunger, with that kind of panic and need times more than you can ever imagine. That would be the feeling of a hungry ghost.  It is extremely needful.  Now you say to yourself, “Please, I worked out my whole life and for me to be reborn with a tiny little mouth and a big, big belly like that, that definitely is not going to happen to me.”  So you think that that’s not going to happen.  Well, you have to examine yourself from a different and more subtle point of view.  Let me ask you if you have ever gone through a period in your life when you were extremely needy.  “Oh no, not me.”  Right?  Extremely needy?  For women that happens at least once a month, right?  And for men I think it happens about every 48 hours.  Now they get needy in a different way, but it’s basically also, “Do you love me?”  We have within our mindstream the potential for tremendous neediness and graspiness.

O.K., this is a little bit less painful.  Have you known a person in your lifetime that was compulsively, neurotically, unsatisfiably needy?  Have you known a person like that?  Haven’t you had from that person the feeling that this hole is just too darn big to fill?  You feel like you’re throwing it in and throwing it in and throwing it in and trying to love and trying to give them something, and they’re still whining.  It never ends; and you spend the rest of your life doing this and nothing happens.  The hole never fills up.  Well, that is the kind of cause that results in a rebirth as a hungry ghost—a person whose habitual tendency is simply wrapped around self-absorption and what they need.  I need, I need, I need.  Can you gimme, gimme, gimme?  They see every other being in their life as a prop, a prop by which they can achieve satisfaction.  They use people as props in order to achieve satisfaction.  You know we’ve all gone through periods in our lives when we’ve done that. Haven’t we?  Absolutely.  We have used other people for our own satisfaction.  Absolutely. And for many of us, we made careers out of it.  Right?  And maybe still, maybe still.  We have seen how people can wrap their whole lives around graspiness and neediness; and every time they meet with somebody it’s like you can hear the suction.  You can just hear it.  You feel like the blood is coming out of your pores.  And that’s the kind of person you instinctively stay away from because, literally, you can feel your energy being sucked into them.  Haven’t you felt that kind of thing?  You can feel the energy being sucked into them,. And it’s true.  If you could see it with different eyes, your energy would be sucked into them.  That’s true.  That kind of cause, that kind of habitual tendency that the person might experience, or if it’s you, you might experience, would result in rebirth as a hungry ghost.  Particularly, also, it is the kind of person who is against and has no compatibility with compassion and generosity.  The person who is chronically, without hesitation, selfish to the bone.

Now you may think, “Are there really people like that?”  Oh ho ho, yes!  I’ll tell you , this story briefly.  In New York once, I went to give a teaching. I remember walking into the room and thinking “Oh, no,” because, you know, a lama does develop the ability to sort of intuit who we’re talking to. And I remember walking into the room and going, “No-o-o!”  because I could see that it was going to be very, very difficult. And sure enough, here we were in New York and I was talking about the most benign… I wasn’t talking about hell realms.  I would never be dumb enough to talk about hell realms in New York!  You guys want to hear that you have to come to Poolesville!  So anyway, I was talking about the most benign and charming—talk about white picket fence!—subject that you could possibly think of. Kindness.  Talking about Bodhicitta.  I was talking about how, in the most fundamental way, kindness makes one feel.  Really, being kind to others makes one feel better.  I was talking about how developing the habit of kindness brings this result, just kindness.  I was talking about Bodhicitta being consistent with our own nature. I swear to you not one, but on different occasions, three women stood up and argued with me about the validity of kindness.  One woman in particular said, “This is ridiculous.  Kindness has no place in my life. I mean you have to get what you want!  I don’t see the point of what you say.  This is whoosh.  Tell me something real!”  That is literally what happened.

I remember just feeling this compassion for them, for what can the result of that be?  What do you think their next experience is going to be like?  Do you think they’re going to fall into the lap of mother love?  Do you think that kindness is going to be just heaped on them in their next life?  I don’t think so.  I don’t see how that’s going to happen.  So these poor people are up against the wall and they don’t even realize it. And in her haughtiness she defended what was going to make her suffer horribly.  So you see there is that kind of thing operating in the minds of sentient beings.  There are some people that categorically refuse and reject the idea of kindness and benefitting others. In fact, that is not consistent with all of the world religions. We should take equal responsibility with ourselves as with other sentient beings.

There are even types of teaching that the Buddha has taught that are meant for that kind of person who cannot appreciate compassion, who are not even set up to hear the word compassion.  The Hinayana point of view: Yeah, we’re taught to be kind to others, but not in an active way.  We’re taught to do no harm.  That’s different from saving sentient beings from suffering.  So there are sentient beings that have no capacity for kindness or generosity, you see?  And so the result of that kind of mental state is to be reborn as a hungry ghost, experiencing only need.  Only being able to experience that which comes toward oneself, literally not having the chip, the computer chip, to be able to send out.  It would be like a computer that has no printer.  Everything happens internally, in a way.  Do you see what I’m saying?  Nothing goes out.  This person is not wired to send out anything, and that comes through having only the habitual tendency of self-absorption and selfishness. The result is life as a hungry ghost.  In the hungry ghost realm, it isn’t that there is no food. It is that they are so weak because of the habitual tendency of their mind which has produced this weakness.  Their arms and legs are like threads.  They cannot get over to where the food is.  They cannot get there.  The only thing big about them is their stomachs. And even if they could get there, their little mouths would not be able to take in enough.

Plus it is said that even even if they do see some food, they cannot get to the food; and if they somehow manage to get to the food, it then will turn to… Here is a glass of water.  I have the karma for this water to refresh me.  Water, little bit of lemon, pretty good.  If I were a hungry ghost in the hungry ghost realm, even if I were able to make it to that water (and I would feel the need for it very strongly), the water would be like a glass of pus or something, horrible and repulsive, literally, sewage or something horrible and repulsive.  It would turn to that before you reached it.  And that’s because of the habitual tendency of our mind.  How different from sewage is the need to only satisfy oneself and not care at all for the condition of other sentient beings?  To take from others and never give.  How different is that from sewage?  You see?

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Looking Beyond the Self

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In order to practice effectively, we have to give rise to the great Bodhicitta.  We have to see the needs of sentient beings—what their situation is, what their condition is. For that reason I’m going to talk, first of all, about the six realms of cyclic existence.  These are the different types of reality that one may experience during the bardo or passage of living.  We are beginning then with the passage, or bardo, of living.  Bardo is not actually a time period.  You can’t say that bardo is a period from Thursday to Thursday, or from the 24th to the 3rd of the month.  Bardo is not a marking time or a markable time.  It is perceived that way because of our delusion.  We will see the bardo of the passage through our lives as being, oh, let’s say 75 years.  We can see this as a passage. From the point of realization, this is a movement, a display, a passage, a color.  It is something other than the way we experience it.  We experience it as the date that we were born and the date that we die, and time in between.  But, in fact, what we are actually experiencing is not a length of time, but rather we are experiencing the bardo, or passage, of living.

According to the teachings on the bardo or passage, of living, we’re not the only ones here.  What a big surprise!  Now everybody is thinking “Oh great!  She’s going to tell us about flying saucers!”  I wish.  I wish!  I’m still waiting for them to come pick me up.  I don’t know if any of that stuff is true.  I’m definitely into Star Trek and I hope to heck it’s true. It seems logical to me that it’s true, there being so many planets out there, but I don’t know that for sure.  What we’re going to talk about today is the honest-to-goodness. This is what the Buddha has taught us about the realms of cyclic existence.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, the amount of those sentient beings who can achieve rebirth as a human being is so small that it would be like the amount of particles of dust  on our thumbnail, compared to those sentient beings that are not human beings.  That would be comparable to the particles of dust on the earth.  Are you perceiving the vast amount of difference?  So we have to think of ourselves as the smallest group really. There are other sentient beings who are revolving in cyclic existence. But in what way?  This is what we want to know. There are so many of them!  What are their sufferings?  What are their conditions?  How can we help them? Should we consider them?  What are they to us?  These are the thoughts that will help us to understand our condition and the condition of sentient beings.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, there are actually 3,000 myriads of universes.  Three thousand myriads of universes.  That is a way of saying uncountable reality.  Uncountable, unmentionable, unthinkable display, so much display as to be inconceivable to the kind of mind that we have that likes to count beings, or likes to count numbers.  There are that many wandering in cyclic existence. And according to the Buddha, there are basically six realms of cyclic existence. I will talk about these six realms of cyclic existence briefly so that each one of us can understand the condition of cyclic existence and the results of our own actions, because none of these beings in cyclic existence have ended up where they are, including us, through anything other than by the results of our own action.  You are here listening to Dharma teaching because somewhere in the past you have been exemplary, exemplary.  Oh naturally the room gets quiet!  They want to hear about this!  Don’t you love it! Every time. This is so predictable.

All right, let me tell you how wonderful you are. In order to have received the teachings that may ultimately result in your liberation in one lifetime… I mean, you talk about grains of dust on a thumbnail. That would be equal to grains of dust on the head of a pin!  That is how rare this opportunity is. You must have done some extraordinary things in your past in order to be able to hear this teaching.  You must have been kind to sentient beings.  You must have helped other sentient beings or supported them as they sought truth, just as you are being supported in your search for truth.  You must have been helpful.  You must have been seeking.  You must have been looking for a better way.  You must have had some devotion.  You must have had some faith, and more.  It would take extraordinary kindness, extraordinary virtue, to come to this point.

Now within this point, there are some people in this room, and you can see that they are sleepy. They can’t listen very well, and they sort of miss most things.  Well, why is that?  That is not because of what they had for breakfast, really, unless of course you had a candy bar for breakfast in which case, go back to sleep!  It is not because of their hearing.  It is not because they speak a different language.  It is not because of any of the things that you might think are contributing factors.  If the person is too dulled out to be able to hear the teaching, it is because while they have the extraordinary merit and virtue to be able to hear the teaching, they don’t have quite enough to be able to absorb it deeply.  It’s a little bit like if you could imagine a bug crawling on the arm of a great lama, or crawling on the arm of the Buddha.  I mean, that’s a pretty good position to be in!  If you’re a bug, that’s where you want to be!  Crawling on the arm of the Buddha.  Certainly if I were a bug, that’s where I would want to be. In the Buddha’s armpit or, you know, someplace safe.  But still, the Buddha could be giving the most extraordinary teachings.  The bug won’t hear it.  The bug won’t accept it and the bug certainly won’t like it.  The bug just wants to be the bug on the Buddha’s arm.  It doesn’t even know it’s on the Buddha’s arm, really.  It just wants to be comfortable. You see?  So you may wish to be comfortable.  You may wish to take a nap.  You may think about the things that you’re used to thinking about.  You may wish to keep the same exact attitude that you’ve always had, so this way you don’t have to change.  Even though that all seems very logical to you, actually that’s because you don’t quite have enough merit to absorb the teachings deeply.  Everything is due to cause and effect.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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