Conceptual Proliferation

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Conceptual Proliferation”

In our ongoing continuum of trying to understand correct view from many different angles, I would like to talk about the conceptual proliferation that we continually engage in and how that actually occurs. If any of you have had any familiarity with any kind of psychotherapy or counseling, or with any kind of inner work at all, one of the things that you might have noticed during your work is that dependent on how you accept information and how you react to it, under those conditions you’ll have a certain kind of experience. And that certain kind of experience really depends on how you accept things, on how you hear things. How many of you have noticed that? That it isn’t what happens to you; it’s how you hear it or how you accept it. Are there any of you who haven’t noticed that? Some of you didn’t raise your hands. I was just checking. You haven’t noticed that. OK. Here’s what I’m saying: Whatever happens to you isn’t always what determines how you feel. It’s how you accept what’s happening to you. Do you agree with that? OK. Because one thing can happen to two different people and they can have two totally different experiences. Isn’t that true? That’s true.

Let’s say two different people have a car accident. Buddha forbid. Two different people have a car accident. One of them tends to be a heavy breather, you know, and they’re just going through the tragedy, and the shame of it, and the anger of it, or whatever it is that their particular habit—and habit may be the operative word there—happens to be. But another person tends to accept things like that kind of like water rolling off a duck’s back. It goes down easier somehow. It’s just their temperament and their personality. They both had the same experience, and maybe they both walked away without injury and had their cars totalled, or both broke a leg, heaven forbid, or whatever; but they might still have totally different experiences even though they had the same kind of situation. So basically that’s what I’m talking about.

So you all have seen that, I’m sure. Even in your own lives you’ve seen that. And a lot of time during the course of counseling, you don’t really engage in trying to change the facts of your life, the things that you cannot change; but you more often engage in changing how you respond to certain things and how you understand them. Well, if this is true in something as relatively simplistic as human psychology or psychotherapy, as we know it,… And I say relatively simplistic because the Buddha’s understanding of what our nature actually is is much more profound, or much deeper, than a psychologist’s understanding of what our nature is. Even if we understand that phenomena on a very simplistic level—and it seems to be an accepted fact these days that we understand that our perception really dictates our experience—how much more so must it be at the level that the Buddha approaches it from.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Outside the Reaction

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Remember, when you are angry at your teacher, which really is useless to be, when you are resentful, when you are anxious, when you are going through all the gamut of human experience, which you do, when you do everything from wanting to belt your teacher right in the snoot to falling desperately in love with your teacher… When any of those things happen, remember that this is a reflection of your mind. This is your nature. This is your habitual tendency rather; and as you go deeper into your practice with your teacher, you will eventually also see your nature. In the way that you saw your habitual tendency, you will also see your nature.

Stand outside of that reaction. It is only that. It has no real importance. It’s not a big deal. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t blame yourself; don’t make yourself right. It’s neither one. It’s just a reaction. They come and they go. No big deal. Just walk through the door of liberation. That is all your teacher wishes you to do. That is all the guru really wishes you to do, just walk. That’s all. Just move forward.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Learning to Step Back

contemplation

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

I study sentient beings.  I must have done it in another life, because as a child I knew this. I sort of woke up from my childhood knowing that all beings are suffering. And I understood somehow that it was a spiritual thing and that they needed love. No matter what it looked like, they needed love. That was as a child; as a child I understood that. Now as a woman and a practitioner, I understand what the Buddha has taught and it’s the same. And I understand that my fervent prayer is that should I leave a footstep in this world, it will be a living display of the bodhicitta through my students, through any works that I might do. That’s what I care about. And each one of us should participate in that dream. If you are really my student, then you must care. We should all care to advance the aspirations of our teacher. That’s part of Vajrayana. We may not individually have the power to give rise to a stupa or to give rise to an ordained Sangha, but we are part of that and we should take responsibility for making that dream come true. My dream is love. It is bodhicitta. Temporary love. Feed the birds. Feed people. Feed somebody that’s hungry. I feed everything that moves. If there was sputum in a jelly dish and I could prove that it needed food, I would feed it. This is how I am. I am crazy with it.

And then, you know, beyond that recognize them because they’ll never recognize themselves without a little help. Recognize them as being Buddha. Know that they are suffering because they don’t know what to do—not because they want to suffer—and do what you can to give rise to compassion. Make it a commitment. Disallow those rage things. Disallow that anger that we have to have when we have to go and punch a wall or something like that.

The way to do that is to get a little space from that. No suppression. We don’t like suppression. Suppression is bad. It makes us all crazy, and we’re crazy enough. You work it, you work it, you work it. The rage that we have, step back from it. The way you step back from it is you question yourself. And there are two different ways you can do it. You can do it the good old American way or you can do it the Buddhist way. The good old American way works too. You can say, ‘Now what’s really making me mad here?  Do I really mean what I am saying about this person?’ You can sort of take a step back and analyze it a little bit. Just look at it sort of cool, calm and collected if you can. I mean, you let yourself go back to your rage if you need to, but step back and tell yourself you can go back to the rage if you need to. But if you really do well and you think it through, you won’t. The rage will be gone because your understanding will have come up and your mind will be smoother. The mind gets inflamed like an arthritic joint, like with rheumatoid arthritis. It’s kind of like that. The mind gets inflamed.  The more we are emotional, up and down, up and down, and full of hatred, and judgmental and gossipy and stuff like that, the more inflamed the mind gets, the more unhappy we get and the more we blame other people for it, and the more unhappy we get and the more inflamed we get. That is the cycle of samsaric existence.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Warriorship on the Path

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

The theme that we will work on today is working through one’s five poisons. I think it’s an important one. And I think what we should do is take our time and pick through it.  That doesn’t mean working through one’s five poisons.  That means getting rid of them.  In a sense when we take to the path, we think that, ‘Oh, I am going to be like the picture of the Buddhist where I get to sit on top of the Himalayan Mountains somewhere all by myself, and eventually people will climb up and ask me profound questions.’  But it really doesn’t work out like that.  When we enter upon the path we want to go forward with the most exotic practices and wear the most exotic robes and collect all the implements and learn how to use them.  I know there is the tendency to want to get into the customs and trappings and surroundings of Dharma. But really the first thing that should be done when we enter onto the path is to take hold of and begin to think of ourselves as a warrior regarding our own poisons.

Now when we say “warrior” everybody thinks they can’t be very Buddhist, because Buddhists are peaceful.  Well, Buddhists are peaceful.  We’ve never had a war that I know of.  We’ve been attacked, but we’ve never had a war.  There is no other religion that can say that.  Every other religion has brought about war and that has never happened in Buddhism. Yet we are warriors. And we consider ourselves warriors in the sense that we must take to task that which prevents us from attaining liberation, because the goals here are very different.  In other religions, there are lots of materialistic ideas about possessions, like how much land a certain religion should have or how many pieces of gold they should collect.  There is a certain materialism in it.  But with Buddhism, there is really no materialism.  In truth, students will give their last dime to make an offering to the three precious jewels.  There are many stories of practitioners whose generosity and unthinking faith—no, not unthinking, more like spontaneous faith—is so strong that they would offer even their last garment at the altar to give to the three precious jewels knowing that it is so much more important to gather the merit of making that kind of offering. That it is important to have done it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Good or Bad?

good-and-evil

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

The problem there is not that you’re a good person or a bad person. Good or bad has nothing to do with this. And you should not do the next step, which is what everyone does, to evaluate themselves accordingly. Here’s what you have to get. We are all sentient beings and we are all exactly in the same position. If you think of yourself as better or holier than someone else, believe me when I tell you, you’re going to suffer because of it. And the reason why is because if that’s true, then someone else is going to better or holier than you. That is the truth. So that is not a game that you should play.

You should realize the absolute sameness of the condition of all sentient beings. It is not a question of good or bad. It is a question of habit. Period. End of sentence. Do you hear that? That is so important. Because in hearing that, you have a key that you didn’t have before. If you think that you are either good or bad, there is no way out of that. If you accept that idea, you are going to find reasons why you are good or bad. And believe me, if you are operating in the good or bad realm, you are going to come out bad, because there is always going to be something better than you. So if you are playing that game, you are going to lose. There is no way to win there. You’ll find reasons for why you are bad. You’ll find reasons in your childhood; your parents will give you reasons; your uncles will give you reasons; people around you will give you reasons. And your badness will continue in your mind.

So we have to work very hard to shift the emphasis from the idea of good or bad, better or worse, into the position of examining habit patterns or habitual tendencies. We already have habitual tendencies. We just have to examine them.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Protecting And Maintaining Bodhicitta: from “The Way of the Bodhisattva”

The following is respectfully quoted from “The Way of the Bodhisattva” by Shantideva as translated by the Padmakara Translation Group and published by Shambhala:

Protecting And Maintaining Bodhichitta:

That the original resolve of bodhichitta needs consolidation becomes evident from the very first stanzas of chapter 4, where Shāntideva takes stock of what he has just done and begins to count the cost. The undertaking to which he has committed himself in a moment of optimistic zeal is devastating. Hesitation is understandable. However, in view of the alternatives, and in order to stiffen his resolve, Shāntideva embarks on a graphic description of the dreadful consequences of retraction. As alway, the aim is pedagogical. Shāntideva is no tub-thumping preacher content merely to terrorize his listeners. The situation as he describes it is certainly grim, but he shows the way out and in so doing plots out a scheme of mental training that, for its spiritual profundity and psychological acuity, has rarely been equaled and surely never surpassed anywhere or at any time in the history of the world’s religions.

The first message is that, however immense the goal may seem, it is possible–provided that we want it and make the necessary effort. We can learn to be free and to become buddhas. Moreover, Shāntideva points out that having attained a human existence, we are at a crossroads; we have reached a critical point. According to Buddhism, human life, at once so precious and so fragile, is the existential opportunity par excellence. Of all forms of existence, it is the only one in which development along a spiritual trajectory is truly possible. And yet the occasion is easily, in fact habitually, squandered in trivial pursuits. Time passes and we “measure our lives in coffee spoons.” Perceiving the nature of the opportunity, and realizing how it is slipping through his fingers, Shāntideva responds with almost a note of panic.

For it’s as if by chance that I have gained
This state so hard to find, wherein to help myself.
And now, when freedom–power of choice–is mine,
If once again I’m led away to hell,

I am as if benumbed by sorcery,
My mind reduced to total impotence
With no perception of the madness overwhelming me.
O what it is that has me in its grip? (4.26-27)

This situation is certainly perilous, but what is it that constitutes the danger? It is the kleshas, defiled emotions: “Anger, lust–these enemies of mine.” These are the roots of sorrow, to which every suffering be it on a personal or cosmic scale, can ultimately be traced. And yet the kleshas, however terrible they may be in their effects, are nothing more than thoughts: intangible, fleeting mental states. To become aware of this fact, and to see therefore that our destiny lies in the way we are able to order the workings of our minds, is the theme of the fourth chapter. How is it, Shāntideva asks, that mere thoughts can cause so much havoc? The answer is simply that we allow them to do so. “I it is who welcome them within my heart.” With these words, the battle lines are drawn. The enemy is the afflictions, the thoughts of pride, anger, lust, jealousy, and the rest. The arena is the mind itself. Shāntideva steels himself for the fray, giving himself confidence by stimulating his own very characteristic of Shāntideva’s pragmatic approach–a sort of psychological homeopathy, in which an attitude normally considered a defilement is consciously and strenuously adopted as an antidote to the defilement itself. The theme is developed at greater length later on in the book, but for the time being, chapter 4 concludes on a ringing note of aggression. Emotional defilements are the enemy; they must be destroyed. “This shall be may all-consuming passion; filled with rancor I will wage my war!” Paradoxically, the conflict need not been an arduous one. Thoughts after all are merely thoughts. Through analysis and skill, they can be easily eliminated. Once scattered by the eye of wisdom and driven from the mind, they are by definition totally destroyed. And yet Shāntideva reflects, with sentiments that must go to the heart of every would-be disciple: “But oh–my mind is feeble. I am indolent!”

Once it is clear, however, that the problem lies in the mind itself, or rather in the emotions that arise there, the simple but difficult task is to become aware of how thoughts emerge and develop. This is the theme of the fifth chapter, on vigilance. Again, we find the same note of practical optimism. Just as the mind is the source of every suffering, likewise it is the wellspring of every joy. And once again, the good news is that the mind can be controlled and trained.

If, with mindfulness’ rope,
The elephant of the mind is tethered all around,
Our fears will come to nothing,
Every virtue drop into our hands.

Pulling the Threads: Hope, Fear and Stabilizing the Mind

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

The subject of this teaching is the difficulty that Westerners have in coming to grips with some of the concepts that are foundational to Buddhism. They are so foundational as to be almost invisible at times. Yet the concepts are difficult for us because we have our own concepts and philosophies that argue against these that are also so foundational that they are practically invisible. They are so much a part of the fabric of our perception and our thinking that we often don’t realize these thoughts are affecting us deeply.

What happens is that when we try to get a grip on Buddhist philosophy, or when we try to become mindful in a constant way, we find that there is difficulty. We may not understand what that difficulty is, or we may find that even without our knowing we have a very superficial understanding of Buddhist concepts, or we may find that we feel there is some superficiality about our approach to the path. Yet we can’t seem to get a grip on it.  We can’t seem to understand what it is that is bothering us.

I think that this particular subject is not only of importance to Buddhists, or to those that are even thinking about becoming Buddhists, or even to those that are peripherally Buddhists, but I also think it’s a subject that bears recognition by anyone who does any meditation of any kind.

In Buddhist philosophy, a tremendous amount of thought and energy goes into making one understand how to stabilize the mind. In fact, if you could boil down Buddhist philosophy, and even Buddhist practice, the underlying goal would be how to stabilize the mind. It’s a difficult concept to understand because we as Westerners and Americans have our particular idea of what stabilizing the mind must be like. In one way, we could understand stabilizing the mind by understanding the opposite. We think of a person who is unstable as being mentally deranged or something like that. We don’t realize that most ordinary people, according to Buddhist thought, have unstable minds. We don’t realize that this is actually one of the symptoms or conditions that is prevalent in what Buddhists call samsara, or cyclic existence. But in fact this is true, and we must learn to recognize the lack of stability in our own minds.

One of the first ways in which that lack of stability is addressed is by addressing the attachment or the attraction that we have, or even the grasping that we have, toward hope and fear. This is something that you hear about again and again and again in the Buddha’s teaching: how attached we are to hope and fear, how difficult hope and fear are, and how these things lead to an unstable mind. It’s very hard for Westerners to understand. I would like to describe some of the Buddhist thought on the attachment to hope and fear, but more I would like to concentrate on why it is that Westerners have such a difficult time with this concept. If we can understand why we have such a difficult time with it, we may understand that in one way we have never really isolated the ideas of hope and fear, put them out in front of us so that we can really examine how much a part of the fabric of our minds these concepts are.

As a Westerner, there is actually an underlying – and even, I think, overt attitude – that is considered to be admirable or noble. We certainly have our particular norms, our own particular standards, our own particular attitudes that are unique to the Western world and specifically unique to Americans. Without going to the trouble of isolating all of them, I’d like to say that we have a certain picture or image that we’ve grown up with. Of course, it changes from generation to generation, but until very recently not that much. Still, there are some threads that continue generation to generation. We have our own particular image, our own particular ideal. What usually happens is if we grow up with an image or an ideal, it becomes so much a part of us, so ingrained, so woven into our particular emotional and mental and philosophical tapestry, that we don’t notice it, in the same way that you might look at a woven blanket and see a certain array of colors within the blanket. You really wouldn’t pick out the pink in there or the blue, or really isolate them in that way. In the same way, we have attitudes that are woven in. They are part of our structure. Therefore, they are never pulled out. The thread is never pulled out, never really isolated. Hope and fear certainly are in there, and our particular attitude toward hope and fear, as a Westerner, should be examined. When looked at next to the Buddhist ideas about hope and fear, we might come to some shocking awareness.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Mindfulness: Letting Go of Reaction

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Stabilizing the Mind”

If you can get to a place of natural awareness, you can remain mindful in a way that isn’t really describable in words.  You can begin to sense a little bit of space between the calm, natural awareness and the reaction that you have quite automatically, instantaneously.  It’s really necessary to develop the skill of sensing that little bit of space, because your tendency is to run off and react to every thought that you have. Just look at what you’re doing in your mind right now.  What are your thoughts?  You’re reacting.  Everything is a reaction, and you’re floating on it.  You’re up and down with it all the time.

If you can just begin to sense a little bit of space between that natural awareness and the reaction, you can begin to have the skill to not be so at the mercy of the conceptual proliferations of your mind.  That little bit of space is exactly what you need to begin to disengage the ego, to begin to disengage desire.  You need space in your mind to meditate even on the problems that desire brings up for you.  You have to have some space in your mind to meditate on true nature.  You have to have some space in your mind to meditate on emptiness.  That kind of space can be developed all the time.  If you practice in that way constantly, or at least as often as you are able, to remain mindful, and increase that mindfulness and increase that kind of practice, you’ll find yourself doing it more and more naturally.

But don’t try to keep yourself locked up.  That’ll make you crazy.  That is not a solution.  You make yourself crazy when you say, “I’m not going to be happy now.  I’m not going to be unhappy now.  I’m not going to follow my mind around the block.  I’m not going to do that.”  Really, that is not a good solution.  If you practice the spaciousness in your mind in the gentle way I have just described, you’ll begin to be able to be more mindful and more aware of the validity of the Buddha’s teaching.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Spaciousness: The Foundation of Practice

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Stabilizing the Mind”

If you are romantically involved with Dharma, then you have developed no space in your mind and you will be constantly up and down, skating on your own dramatics with no stability in the mind.  And you are completely at the mercy of suffering.  Where there is no space, there is nowhere to go.  There’s no quiet place where you can rest.  You are either going to be suffering or feeling exhilarated — an intensity of a different kind.  Ultimately it’s all suffering.  You’re going to be into the intensity with no spaciousness in your mind.  You’ll be stuck there with nowhere to go.  You just ride on your emotions.  If you have not developed spaciousness in your mind, you are the victim of the highs and lows and the mind’s conceptual proliferations.  For example, you’re completely at the mercy of pain.  Have you ever had really intense pain?  It can make you lose all awareness.  It’s unbelievable.  You just lose consciousness, and it’s because there’s no space in your mind.  Pain is a concept; it’s something in your mind.

You are completely at the mercy of emotionalism of all kind, and you know that of yourself.  You follow your emotions constantly.  They’ve been high, and they’ve been low.  They’ve been big, and they’ve been small.  They’ve been in, and they’ve been out.  Have your emotions ever made you happy for a long time?  Have your emotions ever been dependable companions?  They never have if you really think about it.

So if you develop spaciousness, you have at least a fighting chance, if you will excuse the phrase, to begin to practice in such a way that your mind has some potential for liberation.  In other words, there’s a little spaciousness in which you can practice.  It’s very, very important for you to try to do that.  If you develop a little bit of space, you can start building up these bricks of the Buddha’s teaching.  You can evaluate the teachings for yourself.  From that calm place, from that place behind all of the concepts, you can see that following the mind leads to no happiness.  You can see that desire is the cause of suffering.  You can sense the potential for enlightenment or at least for disengaging from that phenomenon that you are so involved in.  You can sense that there is something behind all of your concepts that’s very profound.  You can begin to build the solid blocks that are necessary in order to follow the Buddha’s path until you achieve supreme enlightenment.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

How to Practice Mindfulness During All Activities

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Stabilizing the Mind”

While you’re practicing you have to find a way to stabilize your mind.  I cannot emphasize mindfulness enough.  It is what will result in a stabilized mind.  One of the best things that you can do, no matter what experience you’re having – whether you’re getting excited about something new that you bought, some new project that you’re doing, some new idea that you’ve been presented with, some new relationship that you have, or depressed about the loss of any of these things, whether you’re having a high or low experience – ask yourself in the midst of that circumstance, “Who is the taster here?”

When His Holiness Penor Rinpoche was giving the Rinchen Terzod, he gave us lemon juice and then honey, and he asked, “Who is the taster? Who says one is sweet and one is bitter?  What is the meaning of this taste?  How does taste come about?” It is important to remember that taste is a perceptual thing.

You should practice this type of mindfulness when you’re feeling intense emotion of any kind – whether great joy, great sorrow, great pain, great physical pleasure, even during sexual activity, during any of those intense experiences that run the gamut of human emotion.  Center into a natural awareness.  A good way to do that would be, for instance, to just watch your breath with gentle attention.  It’s not forceful; don’t go, “OK, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in…”  It isn’t like that.  It’s a gentle, nonintrusive, passive attention on the breath, a light awareness.  Just lightly watch the breath for a few moments, and let that be what you’re doing right then.  Then observe, while you’re breathing,  “Who is the watcher?”  Observe the natural awareness that occurs when you just gently watch your breath.  Try to sense that natural awareness.

If you really ask yourself the question, “Who is watching the breath?”  then your mind is going to come right back at you and say, “I am.”  Then you have to play the game with your mind that goes, “Who is I?”  And you get sort of tense about that.  So you don’t want to really ask yourself who is the watcher.  There will be a sense of peeling away layers until you get to a place of pure awareness.

What you want to do is to gently sense the watcher without forming any conceptualization about it.  Just sense and go behind the concept.  If you gently observe what you are doing, you have a concept about the watcher.  Go behind that concept and sense behind that.  And if you develop another concept about the watcher, go behind that, gently, gently, gently.  You can practice this technique quite naturally while you’re typing or doing anything.

It’s also good to use this technique in meditation, but there are more formal techniques that you can use at that time.  This is a good, ordinary technique that you can use while you’re doing anything – while you’re listening to music, while you’re thinking, “I’m having a good practice” or “I’m having a bad practice” or whatever it is that you’re reacting to.  Take yourself out of the realm of reaction and watch the breath.  Just concentrate on your breathing for some time with light attention and go behind the concepts one after another until you have somehow gotten gently behind or underneath all of the concepts that you have about who the watcher is, until you get to a place of natural awareness where there isn’t so much the question of who the watcher is.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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