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

Merit & the Karma of Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Understanding Death and Rebirth

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Commitment to the Path”:

The Buddha wants us to understand that the only thing that has lasting value, that is actually truly and really good for us, that will lead us to the door of liberation, that will lead us into spiritual reality, are the Three Precious Jewels— the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. And in Vajrayana the Lama is the condensed essence of all those three.

We are taught that everything is impermanent and nothing can be trusted, because nothing goes with you when you die. There is only one thing that you can gather and accumulate that has any value and that is virtuous habitual tendencies, the dissolution of the poisons.  One’s karmic propensities and habitual tendencies are the only thing that leave with us when we die, continue with us in the bardo and return with us and form our next life.  It is this package of habitual tendencies and karmic material that actually experiences death and rebirth.  The Buddha teaches that it isn’t even the fact that you reincarnate.  The Buddha teaches us that we experience rebirth and death.  There is a difference.  What is experiencing that birth and death is this package of habitual tendencies and karmic propensities. And that is how the experience happens.  But you, in your nature, are the primordial wisdom Buddha.  You cannot die and be reborn.  But if you are dead to that reality, asleep to that reality, you only experience death and rebirth.

If we really take the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence and carry them to a deeper level, we begin to understand this.  The Buddha teaches us that due to delusion we experience rebirth, death and rebirth.  That which you are does not reincarnate.  It’s like saying that what we are experiencing are the waves on top of an ocean.  You can’t keep anything still there—it’s all wavy. But the truth of our nature, the meaning of the path, is the sanctity and solidity of the ocean floor that never changes.  That is why the Buddha teaches us about impermanence. Not to scare us, not to make us unhappy.  To tell somebody a thing is a certain way doesn’t make them any unhappier if it is that way.  It makes them able to cope, to deal, to decide.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

What’s the Point?

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Actually these teachings on the Four Noble Truths are the lessons that we are trying to implement here in this temple.  One of the goals that I have personally invested a great deal in is to try to create in this temple an opportunity for sentient beings to invest their effort, their kindness, their resources in whatever way in order to bring benefit to others. I feel that this is a beneficial practice. According to the Buddha’s teachings, this is one way to create the perfect interdependent cause and effect arising in order to create the kind of happiness that we wish. The efforts that we engage in here don’t seem to bring much result at this time, in this way.

Right now, for instance, we are holding a twenty-four hour a day prayer vigil. There’s always someone in that room behind the staircase, the shrine room, who’s praying for the welfare of sentient beings. There are 12 two-hour shifts a day and we go round the clock twenty four hours a day. Now what is that producing for us now? Nothing, absolutely nothing. We lose sleep, we get irritable, we’re tired. Sometimes we don’t want to get up and do this thing. Sometimes we do everything that we can to trade shifts so that we don’t have to be there on Saturday morning. But somebody gets stuck with it, I guarantee you. Where’s the payoff? Why would we want to do that?

Let’s talk about some of the other things that we do. Right now we’re building a stupa park with eight stupas in it. In the past we’ve built the stupa that is out on the grounds toward the parking lot. When we built that stupa out there, we had weather such as we’ve had in the last couple of days. For some reason, every time we build stupas this happens. I don’t know why, but it seems to be in the high nineties, if not a hundred or over, with humidity just under pouring. You know somewhere around ninety-nine point nine. It’s just beastly weather and it’s very difficult. We get out there and we work very hard and we sweat very much. And it seems as though the effort will never end. It’s very, very hard because we do everything ourselves. Sometimes we lose weekends for a whole summer. Sometimes we lose evenings for months. We don’t get much rest; we work very, very hard.

Why do we do this? What’s the benefit? What are we experiencing right now in building this stupa park that’s so wonderful, besides backaches and sore limbs.  It seems as though nothing. It seems as though we’re just working very hard for no good reason. But actually what we are doing here is we are implementing the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha teaches us that whatever we can do to benefit beings, to bring happiness and well-being to sentient beings, will bring us happiness and well-being as well. The Buddha teaches us that the point of our practice, the point of our lives, is to actually engage in meritorious, generous, wholesome and virtuous activity that will be of benefit to sentient beings. And the Buddha teaches us specifically that the only lasting permanent true cessation of suffering, and therefore benefit to sentient beings, is enlightenment. The true cessation of suffering is the state of enlightenment.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

How to Understand Cause and Effect

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We don’t have any real way to understand direct cause and effect relationships.  And for that reason, we cannot really seem to understand how to create the causes of happiness. A good example is this: If we experience perhaps chronic poverty, we may think that the way to end this chronic poverty is to struggle against it. To work very hard at getting money any way that you can, to beg, borrow, or steal literally. To work very hard at a very high paying job in order to get money. What we won’t understand is that probably whatever we do within that realm of activity will have temporary result at best. It may work for a period of time. Then again, it may not. I know people who work hard and can’t seem to get anywhere. Or it may be that it works very well for a certain period of time. But, even while it works very well and you have money, the consciousness is such that you still feel impoverished. You can’t enjoy it. You can’t get anywhere with it. You can’t use it for any good result. It simply sits. And to all intensive purposes you are still impoverished. It’s very difficult to understand how it is that these cause and effect relationships play themselves out.

Now, according to the Buddha’s teaching, if you have a great deal of affluence at this time, if that is easy for you, then what has actually occurred is that in the past you have accumulated a great deal of merit through generosity, through generosity, through giving to others. And that is why, in this lifetime, it is easy for you to accumulate money, or easy for you to enjoy money, or easy for you to feel wealthy even if you don’t have much money. It is easy for you to feel that you have plenty, enough. That you’re just fine. Either inwardly or outwardly, you are prosperous. This is a hard lesson to take in. Because we want to feel that this personality and this lifetime was responsible for doing something in a very competent way in order to achieve these excellent results. But, according to the Buddha, in many cases prosperity is the result of generosity, in fact in all cases, prosperity is the result of generosity. And a person who is chronically impoverished is a person who has not been generous and continues to not be generous with their resources, with their time, and in their hearts. The Buddha teaches us the antidote to poverty is not getting money any way you can. But that the antidote to poverty is kindness and generosity and putting out in order to benefit others.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Examining Cause and Effect

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How can it be that we’ve had so little result?  Well it isn’t true that we’ve had no result. We have had temporary happiness. We’ve all had that. Probably we feel pretty good right now. Probably we felt all right when we got up this morning. But we feel differently every day, and really every moment. And sometimes we are even afraid to think that we’re really happy, because we know that right behind that happiness, right behind that, is another mood change. And you know that it’s not lasting.

How we can have managed to continue in such an effortful way? How is it that we maintain this extreme effortfulness? And what’s the answer? What should we do? First of all, we have to begin to cultivate some understanding. According to the Buddha’s teaching, every condition that we experience in our lives, including the most subtle inner conditions, that is to say, our own impressions and feelings and subtle inner posturing—that very, very subtle stuff that seems so wispy, seems to change all the time with every catalyst that appears in our lives—from that kind of subtle condition to the most seemingly permanent, gross, outer condition, such as the house we live in, the nation that we live in, the community that we live in, the world that we live in, the Buddha teaches us that every one of those conditions that we experience actually arises through the interdependence of cause and effect relationships. Every condition with no exception. Even the condition of how you appear physically. Now, of course you have some control in that matter. You can diet and become thin. You can put on makeup and become better looking. You can take off makeup and become either better or worse looking depending on how well you apply makeup. You can gain weight. You can do different kinds of juggling in order to make yourself appear more attractive through wearing different clothing, or what have you. But there are some things about which it seems that we have no control. For instance, the genetic tendency of our body to be in a certain way. Some people are shorter than others; some are taller. Some have a tendency towards a more squat body form; and others have a tendency towards a very lanky body form. These things seem to be beyond our control. We can look at our parents and our grandparents, and it seems as though we have the same genetic structure as them. It seems as though we have not much control over that. But, according to the Buddha, even such things as those that appear to be handed to us from the time of our birth, even such things as genetic predisposition, these are the result of karma.

What are the conditions of living? Do we live in a beautiful house? Do we live in a happy and harmonious family situation? Do we own property? Are we impoverished? What are the conditions of our lives? It seems we have control over some of them. There are many books out now that tell us we can all become millionaires  through a certain amount of effort if you follow this very simple ten point program starting with the investment of a few thousand dollars. And for some people I’m sure that kind of program has worked. And yet, there are some conditions in our lives that are seemingly unbeatable.

For instance, what if,  personality-wise, we don’t seem to have that certain mindset that permits us to engage in that kind of activity? And then again, what if we don’t want to? Some feel chronically defeated and have always felt so, and they never take aggressive moves towards gaining whatever it is that they want. But other people seem to have to do nothing and happiness comes to them, or prosperity comes to them. There are so many conditions in our lives that seem controllable and they’re mixed in with conditions that seem uncontrollable. How are we to understand that?

Well, the Buddha teaches us that we have at best a very partial, very minimal understanding of cause and effect relationships. It’s actually quite minimal. And the reason why is that there is very little cause and effect unfolding that we can actually see. The Buddha tells us that we’ve lived many more than one lifetime. Therefore, if we’ve lived a hundred years already, we have only one tiny, tiny window of time in which to judge our experience. But that window of time actually has a very exacting beginning and a very exacting ending; and it’s very difficult to understand what has come before and what will come after. There are certain elements that we can view within that window of time, and we can gain some understanding. It has been my experience that usually as people mature and as they become older, they have gained enough life experience not to make certain kinds of mistakes again and again and again. Now, in some cases I think it might be that we’re just too tired and old to make those mistakes again and again and again. But in other cases I think there’s a true learning that has actually occurred, and I’m really not sure what the proportions are.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Disappointment

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

As children, we are only interested in taking care of ourselves.  We are only interested in getting what we want.  Well, we don’t actually understand taking care of ourselves, because really, if we understood taking care of ourselves, we would mature.  But as children, we just delight in everything and we want everything. It’s gimme this, gimme this, gimme this. I need this new piece of equipment. I need this new piece of clothing.  I need this new gizmo. I have to have this car. And I’m just gathering all of this, you see?  As spiritually mature people, we realize through experience (and it’s experience that teaches us), that after we’ve gathered a few of these things, we still aren’t happy.  We are still neurotic.  In fact, the more we gather to please ourselves without consideration for cause and effect relationships, or without considering whether or not this is of any true value within our lives, we find that we are disappointed and disappointed and disappointed. And it continues, and the level of disappointment never ends.  Every time we try to get something for ourselves that makes us feel better without any thoughts of cause and effect relationships… It’s just the oddest thing.  It’s like we have this little, I don’t know, kind of heartbreak, with this disappointment.  Every time we try to make ourselves happy and it doesn’t work, there’s this part of us, somewhere inside that sighs, “Wow, I really thought that was going to work!  How come that didn’t work?”  And we’re confused and lost.

But as spiritually mature people we begin to learn,, in the same way adults learn, that children’s toys aren’t much fun anymore.  And the spiritually mature people will begin to understand that what we have to do now is to live a life that has more meaning than that.  We have to live a life where we can plot out and plan and understand the results.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Bodhisattva’s Logic

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

The posture of a Bodhisattva is misunderstood in our culture.  When a parent raises a child, the parent does not say to the child, “What I’d really like you to do, darling, is to be a great, generous mystic.  I want you to be so generous that you give your life up for others.  I want you to be so generous that you pay no attention to your own welfare or comfort, but instead I would like you to live and die for the benefit of sentient beings.”  Nobody’s mother told them that!  Due to the culture that we are raised in, we are told by our parents, their parents before them, and everything around us that there are certain things that one must do in order to be successful.  One must gain recognition, power, money, ease of living.  These are the things that one must do. But when one enters onto the path and becomes a Bodhisattva, one is faced with an entirely new set of ethics and morals and responsibilities.

This entire process must be understood as an intelligent, logical and reasonable process, simply by virtue of the fact that no matter what we accomplish during the course of this lifetime, other than the impact it has on our own bouquet of habitual tendencies, there is not one piece of what we collect that we can take with us, not one thing.  So here is the Bodhisattva’s intelligence. And it is an intelligence.  It is based on truth.  It is based on fact.  It is something like the intelligence of a person who receives a great deal of money, let’s say, or something precious and, if they’ve never had that before, if they haven’t thought it through, they might say, “Oh now I’ve got, let’s see, I’ve got $10,000 here so I’m going to go out and I’m going to spend that money and have a really good time.  I’ve never had $10,000 before, so I’m just going to go spend it, and I’m going to get all the things that I wanted to get.  Get some of my bills paid up, and I’m going to get a, let’s see, a down payment on a car, and I’ve got some clothes that I have in mind and all these different things. Maybe I’m going to buy a new TV. I’ve got all this laid out.”  A sentient being’s normal reaction to having blessings in their life, or to life itself, is a little bit like that.  I’ve got this thing.  How am I going to spend it?

The Bodhisattva thinks very differently.  The Bodhisattva realizes that, according to the Buddha’s teaching, life is like a precious jewel.  When one meets with Dharma, meets with the teacher, and meets with the method by which we can accomplish realization, this life is understood as wealth for sure.  We understand that there is a tremendous gift here.  But how is the gift utilized?  There comes in a completely different kind of logic.

The Bodhisattva realizes that, in the end, all will come to nothing.  If our only gain is on the material realm, in the end all of the effort that we put into self-cherishing and beautifying ourselves, and the ease and comfort of our lives, and the accomplishments on the mental and physical levels of our lives, even those greatly cherished social institutions like vast education,  even that will come to nothing, other than perhaps the discipline of studying.  That habit may be brought into the next rebirth. .But everything that we have learned to love and cherish will come to nothing.

And so the Bodhisattva thinks, therefore, if in samsara, all efforts come to nothing, if all that survives is one’s virtue or lack of virtue, if all that matters in samsara eventually breaks down, then why should I put much effort into these things?  Why should these things be precious to me? Because ultimately they will be lost, they will come to nothing.

The Bodhisattva then thinks more like a smart investor.  You want to invest in that which brings ultimate returns:  kindness, generosity, spiritual habits, habits associated towards travelling on the path of Dharma and developing oneself spiritually.  Making offerings, living with generosity, meditating, praying, contemplating, teaching—these virtuous acts are the things that will bring a result that one can carry over into the next life.  So the Bodhisattva is not so much a martyr as someone who has been trained through logic and reason to understand not to put all of one’s emphasis and hope in that which will ultimately disappoint.  The Bodhisattva has been trained well enough to know that ultimately all things in samsara are disappointing.  And so the Bodhisattva then makes the choice, based on training, to put one’s emphasis and one’s effort only in those things which will produce the excellent result of enlightenment and benefit to others.  This is how the Bodhisattva thinks.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Dissolving Constituents: Understanding Death

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

The Bodhisattva understands that everything we amass during the time of our lives—everything we strengthen around us, all of the protection we build, the superstructuring that we do when we meet up with other than self-nature and react with hope and fear and begin to do the dance of self-protection and of self-establishment—the entire structure of self and its relationship to other, the entire idea, the Bodhisattva knows that eventually this will come to nothing.  This is an intellectual response due to the Bodhisattva’s training, not a feeling response.  The Bodhisattva is trained to understand that no matter what we accumulate and gather together during the course of our lives, by the time of the end of our life, none of that will have any meaning.  At the end of our lives we experience the winding down of all of our energies. And as we die, even the physical, psychological, emotional constituents, particularly the physical elements, one by one, all begin to dissolve.

The fire element within our body begins to dissolve. The body cools.  The water element within the body begins to dissolve and break down.  The body becomes drier as we approach death.  The mouth, the mucous tissues within the body become drier and drier.  The earth elements within the body all dissolve.  The body itself begins to break down and even the wind element within the body begins to dissolve.  Mental process begins to slow and one’s activity level also begins to slow at the end of one’s life.

Then at the time of death, all of the constituents actually break down and separate.  As the consciousness abandons the body and the body becomes simply a heap of broken-down constituents, what remains is the consciousness, which has its habitual tendency fully established. It is not able to take with it any of the real or material objects that it has gathered in its drama during the course of its life. And so all that remains is the consciousness, that, like a basket, held these material things, these solid, impermanent realities associated with that particular life.

The consciousness, however, remains. And if the consciousness spent most of its lifetime in establishing material wealth or gathering substance to support the ego, then at the time of death the consciousness has only that habit of supporting the ego to take with it, only that habit.  On the other hand, if a life of generosity and caring have taken place, then that habit moves as consciousness into the next rebirth.  Now the Bodhisattva knows this and so the Bodhisattva’s prayer is not based on a feel-good emotion of “Gee I’d like to be a really cool person, be so kind and so neat, and so terrific that everybody loves me and calls me saint somebody.”  That’s not what the Bodhisattva thinks.

The Bodhisattva thinks instead in a very logical and precise way, according to the Buddha’s teaching: Everything will dissolve. All the efforts of my life together will come to nothing. All the efforts of my life to build up my treasure-house of material goods and keep them for myself will ultimately come to nothing.  All of my efforts to preserve my power will ultimately come to nothing because power dissolves at the time of death also, but the habit of grasping at power is reborn as consciousness.  So if gathering power will come to nothing, if gathering wealth will come to nothing, if preserving myself in this extraordinary way, thinking only in a self-cherishing and egocentric way, will ultimately come to nothing other than suffering in the next rebirth, why not give everything now?

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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