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

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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

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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

As Many Paths…

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

Society will teach you wrongly until it understands your nature.  The Buddha is the perfect teacher—the perfect one because he so thoroughly understood our nature.  It is said that when a student came to him for the first time, and said, “I would like to become Buddhist,” or “I would like to take teaching with you,” he could see in an instant all the causes and conditions that brought that student to that moment where he faced the Buddha.  He could see every cause and condition and could give each and every student the antidote necessary to provide the blessings for enlightenment.

That being the case, we can trust in the Buddha’s teaching.  He doesn’t say, “You’re a bag of chemicals.  Now you’re breathing. So good, go get a job. Make yourself happy. Have a chicken in your pot, or a pot with some chicken”.  I don’t know…” Have a drink on Friday nights.”—whatever it is that makes people happy.  He doesn’t say, “Follow in your culture.” He tears the veil apart and he says, “Based on your nature, this is what must be done.  Based on your path, this is what must be done.”  And there are as many methods in the Buddhadharma as there are sentient beings to follow them.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

Peeling Back the Veil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Right Before Our Eyes

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Utilizing the Antidote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Soothing the Inflamed Mind

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Cause and Effect and the Antidote to Unhappiness

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

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