Climbing the Mountain

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Marrying a Spiritual Life with Western Culture”

As many of you know, I like to climb the same mountain that you like to climb—the mountain of wisdom or understanding—so that we can get to the top and really have the full vista of understanding.  I find it’s best to climb the mountain, not in a linear way, but in a way that opens up to us true meaning on a conceptual level. It’s a good thing to climb that mountain from every possible angle you can think of because on each side there will be a different experience of going up the mountain. One can truly understand the mountain by moving in those various ways as opposed to having only one narrow means of approach.

In order to broaden and to deepen, then, one has to have the intention to really know and understand more deeply, so that Dharma will be real and focused and meaningful and will carry weight in one’s life. That’s what I’d like to talk about today. In order to do so, I’d like to talk about where we’re coming from and how our culture is different from a culture in which the Buddha naturally appeared and naturally emanated and naturally gave rise to certain teachings. The Buddha did not appear in Missouri—not in the way we understand.  Although in truth the Buddha is everywhere in Missouri, the historical Buddha did not appear in Missouri or Indiana or Brooklyn, not in the same way.  The original teachings, the path of Dharma that we practice, were brought to us by Lord Buddha himself.

The Dharma began in India in a culture that is very different from ours. It’s where Lord Buddha appeared. Even if it is not the most potent religion in India now, it still has had some effect on shaping and forming that culture. Here in America there are religious factors that have shaped our culture, but they are different.

So I would like to examine some of the ways in which the cultures are different, just briefly enough to have a certain idea that we can examine for ourselves. The best thing to do is to look at these cultures today, with just an idea of where they came from and how they progressed. Culture in America today is materialistically oriented. We are a culture of attainers. We accumulate things. We are given a definition of success that is handed down from generation to generation and, oddly enough, it has more to do with substance than it has to do with spirit, more to do with material gain or loss than it ever has to do with joy. Joy—what a concept!

When we are coming up, we are prepared and schooled to accomplish things that have to do with getting stuff—even if we study to become something that seems to be non-materialistically oriented, such as, for instance, a social worker. You would think that a social worker would be looking at our culture with different eyes.  You would think that a social worker would be asking, “Well, what are these social factors?  How can we organize them into something that is meaningful and deep for us? How can we express within our culture the gamut of human expressions? How can we integrate it? How can we make it work for us? How can we discard those things that do not work for society?” Yes, that is some of the training of a social worker. But why does somebody become a social worker?  And how do we approach that kind of thing? Well, we always think about how the job market is doing: “When I get out of school after I learn all of this, will I really be able to get a job?” We think of ourselves as having an office, and we think of ourselves as having that little square on the office door that says you are somebody. Then we think about whether that would be a really profitable occupation. So even if we were to approach something that could, by its nature, be fundamentally non-materialistic, we approach it from a materialistic point of view.

That’s one thing that is interesting and unique about our culture. It is so all-pervasive that it’s invisible, and you don’t really notice it until you go to other places. If you really want to learn something about your culture, leave it and come back. If mainstream America does not have that kind of experience, they cannot really see very well what the factors are. It’s more difficult. So to leave one’s culture and have another taste or another experience gives one a sense of comparison.

We approach everything in a collecting or accumulating way, in a materialistic way. We measure success by material substance.  Nobody’s parents tried to raise a great mystic because you wouldn’t do that to your kid in our society. You see what I’m saying?  You want to prevent your kid from the dark night of the soul.  You want to prevent your kid from the ambiguous, vague, cloudy, uncharted waters of mysticism.  You want your kid to be on the straight and narrow.  They know where to get a loaf of bread.  They know how to put some butter on it.  They know how to eat it.  They know how to feed it to their kids.  They know how to buy a car—that kind of thing.  You want your kid to be prepared for that.  You do not raise a mystic.  A mystic is something you have to contend with in our society.  It is an avocation that is fraught with suffering.

Now why is that?  Well, partially because a mystic goes into a very deep sense of connection.  In order to do that, the mystic has to plow through issues or plow through whatever it is that one plows through.  The other reason why being a mystic is so darn painful is because no one has any respect for that kind of thing.  A mystic in our society probably is a dreamer or a ne’er-do-well who can’t dress, who has no sense of self whatsoever, is socially inappropriate, can’t figure out how to catch a cab. Or maybe a mystic is someone who is depressed, possibly should be on Prozac. These are the kind of things that we associate with a mystic’s life and that is why nobody has ever been encouraged to be like that. The idea of really profound, deep mysticism scares the patooties out of us.

But in another culture where that kind of ideal is held up as being something pure, something wonderful, something significant, one’s experience regarding mysticism is entirely different. There is a dignity and nobility about it. There is a sense that this is a worthwhile occupation. There is definitely less fear of having the freedom to utilize one’s life as a vehicle for true deep mysticism and spirituality. One of the reasons why it’s more comfortable and easier to get connected to it is because one isn’t socially ostracized.

Now the great thing about being a mystic in America is that, once you get to the point where you’re really good at it and somebody finds you and you can market it—maybe write a book or two, maybe sell something that you’ve given rise to—then you can be a success.  Mystics in our society can also be successful after they’re dead. I really don’t know why. If any of you know why, tell me. But while we’re alive, we don’t have too much hope.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

How to Handle the “Dead Zone”

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Marrying Spiritual Life with Western Culture”

So ask yourself, where are you? If you find that deadness inside of you, don’t blame your path, don’t blame your teacher, don’t blame your society, don’t blame the Buddha. Instead, go within and find what is true and meaningful to you. Work the sums. Reason it out. Lord Buddha himself said, “Forget blind faith.” He said, “Reason it out.”  The path should make sense. It should be logical and meaningful to you, not to me. What’s it going to mean to you if it’s meaningful to me? It has to be logical and meaningful to you. This is what the Buddha said.  It would really help you to try that out for yourself.

We live in a society where we are separate from some fundamental life rhythms and where we are trained to think that things are happening outside of us. We’re in a world filled with terrorism and racial abuse, religious abuse, all kinds of conflict, and yet we think racial intolerance, for instance, is happening out there. We read about it in the paper. No, racial intolerance is happening in here. That’s where it’s happening.

It’s like that with everything on this path. You cannot let it happen out there. It’s your responsibility, your empowerment, your life.  Waiting for someone to tell you how to live it is not going to fly. When you walk on a spiritual path that you know, that you have examined, that you have given rise to understanding, you draw forth your natural innate wisdom. That fills your heart with a sense of truth because you understand it—not because someone else does. That’s the way to do it, and that’s what the Buddha recommended. In fact, he said, “I’ve given you the path. Now work out your own salvation.”

That wasn’t just a flip thing. When people hear that they go, “It’s such a cool thing that he said that! He must have had a great sense of humor.” He meant it! The path is there, but you’ve got to work it out.  That’s how you walk on the path. Otherwise you’re walking alongside the path. Then you’re a friend of Dharma, an admirer of Dharma, but not a practitioner—even if you wear the robes.

So handle the dead zone. Empower yourself. There is no reason why you can’t. Don’t live your life by “bash-to-fit, paint-to-match.”  Don’t do that. You are alive. In every sense, your nature is the most vibrant force in the universe, the only force in the universe. It is all there is. To play this game of duality where you stand outside your own most intimate experience and like a sheep get led through your life, that is not the way to go.

Many of you came to this path from another path because you felt dead there. But remember this: Wherever you go, there you are.  You brought the deadness with you. So handle it.

I hope that you really, really take this teaching to heart because it’s really an important thing. If I had one gift that I could give you all,  it would be to stay alive in your path, to have your spiritual life be like a precious jewel inside of you, living, something to warm you by. If life took everything else away from you, which it will eventually, this is the thing that cannot be taken.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

When Karma Ripens

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Experiencing the Hook of Compassion”

When the student first responds, generally there are obstacles that come up. Sometimes, and this is odd, when the student first finds the Path, they’ll be sick at first, physically sick. They’ll suddenly come down with everything you can possibly imagine. They’ll have the virus; they’ll have the flu; they’ll get ingrown toenails, you know. I mean all kinds of amazing weird things will happen, and sometimes, worse. Sometimes worse. But hopefully, if they can really work on the devotion and really solve that problem, really purify the connection between themselves and the teacher, whatever obstacle arises will ripen benignly. But it depends on how they can really purify  that obstacle through practicing pure devotion and through practicing purely, just in general, in compassion and in that method. If they can really get with the program and get with it purely, often even the worst obstacles will ripen benignly, including things like brain tumors, and then lesser things, chronic illness of some kind. Sometimes they will actually ripen benignly, meaning that they will either go away, or not be a burden, not be a problem.

When the student begins to respond in a different way, sometimes with anger, they must understand that suddenly this piece of anger and hatred didn’t come from somewhere else. Where did it come from? Didn’t it come from the student’s mind? Wasn’t it within them? Could they be feeling it if it weren’t within them? I mean, who’s running this show, anyway? If the student feels anger, hatred, it must have been in their mind. So perhaps what happens is that obstacle of hatred, that actual obstacle, ripens and it comes to the surface, kind of like a bubble coming to the surface of a pond. Now you have an opportunity to live and breathe, and hold on to that stink, you know, of hatred. Or you have the opportunity through your practice—through practicing the antidote which is pure devotion, which is compassion, which is pure mindfulness—you have the opportunity to do what bubbles do. Come to the surface of the lake and simply pop!  Simply pop. What is a bubble once it is popped? Gone. Gone. And the first breath of kindness and compassion can surely blow it away.

The student always has that obstacle. But instead, what the student generally does is say, ‘I’m right, here. I have a reason to be angry. I have a reason to be resentful. Let’s see. Let me find the reasons. Hmmmmm…’  And then you’ll find them. Of course you’ll find them. You’re going to make them up if you don’t find them. You’re going to pretend them. You’re going to take little signs and you’re going to write your own script. If you’re intent on finding reasons for justifying your hatred and your anger…  We’re all champs at that!  We’re so good at that!  We’re like the Steven Spielbergs of samara. We can make a movie you wouldn’t believe. So that will happen.

But if instead you realize that what is coming to the surface is an obstacle to your practice, that it has no more power than you give it, that you are capable of simply letting go, of surrendering, of practicing devotion, of using the method, in order to overcome the obstacle… You know it’s almost like I want to say to the student sometime… If they’re men, and even if they’re women, it seems like the only appropriate phrase. I want to say, ‘Are you man enough to do this? Can you stand outside yourself and really look at it? Can you see that this is the phenomena of your mind and just blow it off? Can you do that? Are you man enough? Are you human enough? Are you strong enough?’

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

My Three Rules

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

As Westerners practicing the Dharma, we have a hard job ahead of us.  If we want to accomplish Dharma, and make Dharma stable, if we want to be fully instated in our practice, and if we want to be successful, we are doing so in a culture that is not really sympathetic to it. It is hard.  It is really hard.  We are doing so under circumstances in which we have to work, we have to eat and where nobody is going to pay us to pray. It is not going to be easy.  We have to stabilize ourselves with that pure intention to love and to do that we have to do three things.

These are my three rules of etiquette for newly starting practitioners and also for old ones.  First of all, give yourself a break, there are things on this path that you will not understand and you should not fall into the trap of saying, “This can’t be right, or this isn’t right.”  Give yourself a break, take time to let it fall into the slot that your Western mind is, just give it time to settle in. These concepts are very logical, they all make sense, they all work, and they are given to us by a fully enlightened mind which makes me think that they are worth more than a lot of other things that I have heard.  And they work.  It is a workable path.  If there is something that confuses you just say, “Okay I will just give myself some time about this. If I am not comfortable with the idea about being empty of self-nature let me first find out what that means before I decide that this is not good and once I find out I can make a better decision.”  So give yourself a break.

The next thing is to do the best that you can.  Don’t try to slide into Dharma, and don’t think that you can slide by.  Do the best that you can.  Cultivate that loving every day.  Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking that you are too old, or too experienced, or too educated to learn the simple lessons that Buddha gives us that are associated with loving.  Do not think that you are too far advanced that you can no longer be taught compassion.  Don’t ever think that and please don’t think that you have come too far to learn and re-learn renunciation of ordinary things, because no one ever comes that far until we have reached supreme enlightenment. So do the best that you can.

The third thing is to take it slow and take it easy.  Try not to burn like paper – hot and fast.  Try not to burn like pinewood.  Try to burn like good aged oak or maybe even coal – slow and hot and stable.  The way that you build the stability on this path, as a Westerner, is by cultivating that slow, hot fire of loving.  Keep it going.  You don’t have to do anything crazy but you have to do something steady and stable.

Remember you have to practice this path till the end of your life so that you can fully accomplish it and so that you can truly be of benefit to sentient beings.  It is going to take some juice so please try to burn like good oak or coal, slow and hot.  Just think of yourself as a vehicle.  Think of yourself as a bowl, turned up, clean, pure, with no cracks, not turned over, and no poison of judgment or delusion at the bottom of it. Your mind is like a bowl.  Let yourself receive teachings in a very pure and uncontrived way.  In this way you will understand Dharma better.

Look for a good teacher and when you find that teacher you should take time to examine that teacher.  What is the teacher’s motivation? Can this teacher really offer me the path? Is this teacher really teaching the path that leads me to supreme enlightenment? You should examine these things and in a stable way, slow and easy, begin to accomplish Dharma.

In this way there is no doubt that you will achieve supreme realization.  There is no doubt that you will in this life and in all future lives be of some benefit to sentient beings.  Ultimately you will be of ultimate benefit to sentient beings, there is no doubt.

Keeping these things in your heart I hope that you will be cultivating that stability.  Do that and remember what a glorious and wonderful opportunity you have.  Please don’t waste this life.  It is so precious.

©  Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Stupor

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

Even though we may have practiced some preliminary practice and received some preliminary teaching, still the delusion hangs on. One of the things that is characteristic of samsaric beings or beings that are caught in the wheel of death and rebirth—that’s everyone here—is that samsaric beings tend to kind of fall into a stupor. A stupor.  And we fall into a stupor about every, oh, 30 seconds or so.  We can be temporarily reminded, and those of you who are practicing Ngöndro, which are actually those very preliminary teachings that we are going to discuss today, will notice that you can practice Ngöndro, meaning that you can read those lines, turning the mind towards Dharma, reading them oh so carefully.  What happens here is that repeatedly we are falling into the same stupor.  We are just losing it.  We just constantly lose it.

If I were to say to you now, O.K., you’ve finished your preliminary practice and you’ve accomplished your Ngöndro for today, so now we are going to go into Phowa practice, you have to organize your mind and your thinking and direct yourself so that you understand very clearly why we should practice, how Phowa is suitable for you and why it is necessary to put so much effort into this one particular practice.  The student who is not reminded, in the traditional way, how to approach these teachings, even though they have just been practicing their Ngöndro, will literally forget.  Or they will have that other wonderful remarkable trait that samsaric beings have which is to be able to literally repeat the text back to the teacher and say, this is why, du du du du du du, dudu dudu dudu, and they give you back exactly what they have just read.  But nothing is happening.  Those words are somehow coming out the mouth, not going in the brain.  They are simply not being internalized, and that is another kind of stupor that we fall into.

Therefore, in order to have the best result from our teaching, from our Phowa retreat this week and in order to keep in tune and in harmony with the way the teachings are traditionally taught, we will cover and re-cover some of the most fundamental traditional teachings in order to prepare ourselves; but we will do this in a condensed form and almost kind of conversationally because I have found that westerners who have the intention of absorbing a practice in order to utilize it in their everyday lives, in order to mesh it into their everyday lives, respond better to being taught conversationally, to being spoken to in a way that they are normally spoken to, not in a strange and archaic way.  Then they are able to knit things together much better. So that’s the way that we will approach our teaching for today and it will be useful for those of you who are not intending to pursue Phowa.

For those of you who are curious about what Phowa may be, Phowa is actually the science and the how-to, the traditional Buddhist teaching, the Buddhist view, on death and dying.  It is literally how to die.  The Vajrayana path, which is the path that we are on, is a subsection of the Mahayana path which is one of the many ways in which the Buddha has taught It is considered that our path, the Vajrayana path, is the only way that one achieve liberation within one lifetime.  Using any of the Buddhist teachings, one can surely attain liberation, but in Vajrayana one can attain liberation within the course of one lifetime.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Choices – Like a King or a Queen

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

It is not only in the beginning of the path that obstacles happen; they occur periodically throughout your experience of the path. They don’t end. They are like PMS. So each and every time obstacles arise, you have to simply support and nurture yourself. Go through it. Simply take yourself by the hand as if you were a child. Think of this as your kingdom, and you’re a good king or a queen. What should you do to responsibly negotiate yourself through this? You think like that.

Remember the first and most important point to consider: not to make it a big deal. Don’t get yourself all worked up. Try to keep your mind calm, because remember, the obstacles will ripen more quickly and more violently if the mind is excitable, emotional and violent, if it has so many ups and downs. So take yourself to a movie or something, you know, calm down and walk yourself through this. Remember that the biggest tool that you have right now is the accumulation of merit. Within the continuum of your mindstream there are cause-and-effect relationships that have not yet fully ripened. The causes are deeply embedded within your mind. Accumulate more merit and the more meritorious causes from the past will be drawn forth and will come to your rescue.

The name of the game is to pacify obstacles and to draw forth and accumulate as much merit as possible. The mind will become spacious so that we can awaken in incremental degrees to our own nature. To the degree that we begin to awaken to our nature, to that degree, obstacles will no longer affect us.

Upon attaining the Bodhisattva path and moving through that path to the higher bhumis, one is no longer susceptible in the same way to cause-and-effect relationships. They become pacified within the mindstream. They are still expressed in some way, to exhibit the normal characteristics of life. Yet the high level Bodhisattva is not hooked and condemned by these obstacles the way ordinary sentient beings are. These obstacles do not cause them to wander in samsara the way ordinary sentient beings do. So that’s what we have to look forward to. The name of the game is pacifying obstacles and bringing forth as much merit and opportunity as possible until that day happens. For this you can use the practices.

The moment you decide to be on the path and practice, you should immediately begin to accumulate the Seven-Line Prayer. Repeat it on a regular basis every day. That is a merit machine for you. Then as soon as possible, as soon as you have accumulated approximately 10,000, begin to practice Ngöndro or preliminary practice. The reason why it is set up that way is so that the mind can develop and open up to the primordial wisdom nature.

This is the opportunity that you have, and this is the method that you should use. Be your own best friend. Be a good king or queen. Be intelligent and responsible and think beneath the surface. Do not read the things on the surface any more. That’s for children; that’s not for you. You’re on the path now. Look deeper and see what’s happening. Antidote unhappiness with virtue because unhappiness is caused by non-virtue. Accumulate virtue to the degree that you can begin to experience the truly virtuous nature that is your nature. Because if that nature that you truly are were allowed to express itself unimpeded, the display of that nature is the very Bodhicitta or great compassion that we try so hard to emulate.

Your nature is in truth that great unequalled Bodhicitta. You are not a bag of non-virtue; you are suchness, you are that great kindness. When you practice in that way, it’s like cleaning a glass by which the sun can shine through, and the sun is your nature. But do not let your image of the sun be closed down or distorted because of your own habitual tendency to simply ride on the surface and do whatever you think seems right. For the first time, look deeper and understand cause-and-effect relationships. Implement the causes that will bring about happiness and freedom, and pacify, through suppression, those non-virtuous characteristics that will bring you unrest and suffering.

How does this suppression look? Not like faking it and pretending you don’t have these things.  That is not suppressing, that is neurosis. That is acting inappropriately. Suppression means that you take the antidote, and you apply it through practice, through contemplation, through offering, through generosity, through kindness. Practicing these things is suppression because the mind remains firm and stable in the way of virtue rather than remaining caught up in amplifying non-virtue.

You are a creature of choices. Isn’t it amazing! A creature of choices! At every turn you can make choices. You cannot choose what experiences seem to come to you because the cause-and-effect relationships have already been laid out for them, but you can choose how to respond, and you can choose how to create future causes. And for this I am exceedingly glad.  Choose well then, not like a child. Choose like a king or a queen— noble, thoughtful, educated and sound in your mind. Create the habit of virtue and you will create a kingdom of virtue that will be your life.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

How to Deal with Obstacles on the Path

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

When obstacles arise on the path, the thing to do is to accumulate as much merit as possible.  Do everything that you can, letting your mind relax. And in a relaxed way simply proceed with intelligent antidotes to what is coming up in your mind. In other words, don’t look at everything so superficially. When this begins to happen to you, don’t say, “Oh, things out there are affecting me badly, so I am going to run away.” Instead, look deeper for once, look deeper.  See what’s happening beneath the surface, and say to yourself, “Part of my mind that I don’t particularly like or feel comfortable with is ripening now. I am unhappy with these causes, these habitual tendencies. I am really unhappy with them. I am suffering with them. Good that they’re coming up now that I have met the path. Good that they’re coming up now while I can ask for guidance from my teacher. Good that they’re coming up now when I know how to pray and ask for help.” Think like that. Try to stay calm, stay calm and think, “This will pass.”

If all you can do is simply say your prayers very gently and very calmly, if that’s all you can hold on to, then do that. Mostly, remain stable in your mind. Remain calm. Take yourself by the hand.  Don’t give into excessive emotion.

What would you do if you had a child who was just upset and she or he could not get themselves together, simply could not get their heads turned around, were having a terrible, bad day? That’s really how it is in the great scheme of things. It’s just a big, bad day. Would you say to the child, “Yeah, you’re right, things are really nasty, and you have a great reason for being nasty! Let’s be nasty together!” You wouldn’t say that to a child. That would be stupid. You’d be a moron to say that.

You would sit the child on your knee and say to the child, “Do you understand what’s happening here? You’re being hit with a lot right now. Well, we’re just going to ride this through together. Let’s just say our prayers together and not think about it.” You hold a child. You comfort a child who’s messed up like that and can’t pull themselves together, and you help them stop. You make them feel safe by holding on to them tightly. You make them feel calm by talking calmly to them. You distract them by giving them something to do that feels like they’re accomplishing something.

Well, do that for yourself. Be your own mommy or daddy. Be your own best friend. Make yourself feel safe by supplying structure in your life, the structure of an everyday practice that you do not deviate from. Make yourself feel safe, as though you had put your arms around yourself.

The second thing that you would do is to make yourself feel comforted. Feed yourself.  Provide ways to relax yourself. Provide a period of time every day where perhaps you can take a walk, or you can listen to some music, or you can just think or be happy or just meditate on joy. Just relax. Calm yourself down. Talk to yourself nicely. Tell yourself, “This is just a bad day. This will pass. Everything in samsara is impermanent. The thing to do is to continue to work through it.”

The next thing that you might do is provide some distraction or some diversion because when you get hit with ripening obstacles, you feel like a victim. You feel like something outside is hurting you, and hurting you badly. You feel under attack. You feel incapable of helping yourself. Rather than panicking and getting all wacko, give yourself something to do. Read a Dharma book. Read about cause and effect. Begin to calm the mind through reading those kinds of teachings that are geared toward calming the mind.

For instance, The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life would be an excellent choice for a period like that. It’s inspiring, calming. You can read about the essential experience of a very pure Bodhisattva. That kind of nourishment might be like being with a child who is having a very difficult time. You wouldn’t reason with a child and do mental therapy and try to lecture them in some ridiculous way because a child won’t understand that. They’ll only be mad at you. Instead, you would just be with them. In the same way, be with yourself. Don’t lecture yourself. Don’t moralize at yourself. Be with yourself. Ride it through. Fill your mind with nourishment, with comfort. Be calm. Be confident. You’re on a good boat, one that has travelled the ocean of suffering many times.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

When Obstacles Arise

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

The thing to do when entering the path, in order to take responsibility and to stabilize your mind and your practice, is to begin to accumulate merit in a consistent and intelligent way.  That doesn’t mean talk about it. That doesn’t mean dress up for it, like, “I’m a Dharma practitioner and the first thing I need are coral beads because that’s what she has.” People do think like that when they come to the path, and it’s a little silly. Just back off from that.

Think to yourself, “How can I accumulate virtue and merit? How can I stabilize my mind and my practice through providing the causes and the nourishment that I need?” You could for once be your own friend! Just for once give yourself the food, the nourishment, the fuel that you need. The way to do that is to accumulate virtue and merit through acts of generosity, through contemplation, through study, through providing a way for others to hear Dharma, through making offerings, through kindness, through following the instructions of your teacher.  Your teacher has given you methods to accumulate merit and virtue, so do them consistently in a calm and relaxed way. In this way, your first moving onto the path will be relatively painless.

One of the things that students experience when they first come onto the path is hidden body karma. You see, it’s already there. Can you understand that concept? You already have this body karma. It will ripen anyway at some point. Better that it should ripen under the guidance and tutelage of your teacher and of the path.

Let’s say that you have some body karma near the surface of your mind. Sometimes a person will come to the path and literally catch the flu or a disease, cut themselves, or maybe even break a leg, something like that. I’ve seen that happen. Usually it’s not a big deal, but I’ve seen it happen. The thing to do then is to immediately turn the mind, in a relaxed way, toward accumulating virtue and merit rather than freaking out. Most people freak out. “I went to Dharma, and I broke my leg! Screech!” That’s their intelligent response. Hey, you would have broken the leg anyway, maybe both legs, but at least you had some merit going there. So who knows what could have happened? The intelligent thing to do is to thank Guru Rinpoche for this blessing—a benign ripening that indicates to you what the condition of your present cause-and-effect relationships actually are—and for having been given the tool to work through this. So you begin to practice and accumulate merit.

Some people come to the path and they seem really, really nice. You think, “Isn’t that a nice person! Such a nice person!” And then they’re on the path maybe six months, and suddenly it’s like they grow fangs and turn into something completely different. And you wonder whatever happened to that nice, easygoing person. They turn into something that looks like Freddy Krueger or something, I don’t know. You know who Freddy Krueger is? He’s that really scary guy. So they turn into somebody really, really horrible. Why is that ? Right underneath the surface of their mind, there was sort of a bag or a ball of ripening non-virtue that was going to come to the surface anyway.

It might have come in dribs and drabs and made them just periodically mean throughout the rest of their life, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Or who knows? They might have put themself in a very wonderful situation and maybe – here’s a hypothetical situation – gotten married and then turned into the nightmare on Elm Street. Who knows what could have happened? Who knows how it might have ripened? But sometimes it happens that a deep disturbance in the mind will simply come to the surface, and for a while, that person will not seem like themselves at all.

What do you think needs to happen then? If a big obstacle comes to the surface and ripens when you first meet the path, you can see how endangered you are, can’t you? That’s a terrible danger because if you’re sick and your mind become disturbed, there’s no telling what you’ll do.  You have seen yourselves react in unpredictable ways. You think you know yourselves. Then you’re faced with a situation in which you act completely unpredictably due to your emotions being really roused up. We all think we know how we’re going to act, but then we see ourselves when we really get an emotional head of steam going.  We often act differently than we think we might have acted.

Well, if you have that kind of mental ripening when you first come to the path, that’s the most dangerous obstacle of all because the mind changes. Being of clear mind and clear thought coming to the path, you might say, “Yes, I have earned this. This is the method. I wish to abandon samsara. I wish to do this for the sake of sentient beings.” It sounds like pretty decent, logical and sound thinking to me. Then when the obstacle hits, your mind might be in a completely different place, and you might say, “I don’t have to. I don’t want to. I won’t!” Your mind just changes, and a part of you that you hardly ever relate to, that you mostly suppress, comes out and takes over. I’ve seen it happen. It will simply take over. What should you do at that point? Once an obstacle like that has begun to ripen, it’s very, very, very hard, particularly in the beginning when you’re an infant on the path and unable to really utilize all the tools.

But I say to you that the best thing to do at that time is to take refuge in the Guru, in the Buddha, in the Dharma and in the Sangha with all your heart. Take refuge. In your own mind say, “These are impure qualities. Samsara is not perfect. Therefore I take refuge and wish to be free.” Just like that. Hold on to that. Don’t let go of that. It is precious and important and necessary.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

How Do You Respond to the Path?

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

Upon first meeting with the path there can be all sorts of emotional responses. This isn’t always the case. Again, everything I say is modified by the kind of person you are, that is, your own habitual tendency. When I say, the kind of person you are, actually, according to Buddha’s doctrine that doesn’t really mean that there are many different kinds of persons. According to the Buddha’s teaching, there is, if we understand our nature, actually no place where I end and you begin, or you end and I begin. There is only one nature. There is simply that–suchness, thusness. But in our relative world we do see individualization. So what are we talking about when we say how a person is? When we’re talking about how a person is, we’re actually talking about the sum total of that person’s habitual tendencies because that is the only thing that appears to differentiate us. In our nature we are the same. In our needs we are the same. In our hopes and fears we are the same. In our problems we are the same, really. Old age, sickness and death, who is going to escape that? It’s one of the problems of the human realm, and we all share it, you see.
So here we are experiencing all things together but we appear very, very different, and that’s due to our habitual tendency. It is our habit to think in a certain way; it is our habit to act in a certain way; it is our habit to respond in a certain way. Some people habitually respond very emotionally. It’s their nature to be emotional. It’s their habit to be emotional, and it has no meaning other than the fact that it’s the way that they habitually act. Other people habitually act without emotion, or they habitually think things through in a more logical or mental way. That has no meaning either other than to say that that is their habitual tendency. These wonderful characteristics that we hold so personal and so dear actually aren’t anything. They’re like speaking into the wind. The words are simply carried where they are, and it means nothing. It isn’t heard, it isn’t loud, it isn’t quiet, it’s just what it is, speaking into the wind.

Each of us seems to have different ways of coping with things. In terms of coming to the path for the first time, we are stimulated. That’s for sure! That’s one thing that’s universal. It’s across the board. We are stimulated! How are we stimulated? Again, it’s according to our habitual tendency. For many of us, when we first come to the path we are simply so happy to be finding something that appears to us like a rock of solidity and depth and perceptiveness, of purity, something that appears to be like a shining light in a very dark place. So we feel joy and relief and gratitude that this is happening. Then for other people, when they first come to the path, they are impressed with its exoticness. It does seem very exotic. They have strong feelings about that. They always feel that they are drawn to the exotic, and they always feel that they are special or different or unique in some way. To be in something exotic when everybody else isn’t doing something exotic feels very satisfying in some way.

Then other people, when they come to the path, come to the path with a great deal of fear. They are almost drawn despite themselves. They’re drawn because they know they need to be here. They know they want to be here. In some way they are pulled toward being here, and yet in another way it’s almost as though they’re walking in the door backwards because they’re so afraid of confronting it in a true and honest way. They almost wait for circumstances to drag them in by the throat. I’ve seen that pattern many times. Students will wait until their lives are literally falling apart before they will try to come to Dharma and understand cause and effect relationships.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Upon first meeting with the path there can be all sorts of emotional responses. This isn’t always the case. Again, everything I say is modified by the kind of person you are, that is, your own habitual tendency. When I say, the kind of person you are, actually, according to Buddha’s doctrine that doesn’t really mean that there are many different kinds of persons. According to the Buddha’s teaching, there is, if we understand our nature, actually no place where I end and you begin, or you end and I begin. There is only one nature. There is simply that–suchness, thusness. But in our relative world we do see individualization. So what are we talking about when we say how a person is? When we’re talking about how a person is, we’re actually talking about the sum total of that person’s habitual tendencies because that is the only thing that appears to differentiate us. In our nature we are the same. In our needs we are the same. In our hopes and fears we are the same. In our problems we are the same, really. Old age, sickness and death, who is going to escape that? It’s one of the problems of the human realm, and we all share it, you see.

So here we are experiencing all things together but we appear very, very different, and that’s due to our habitual tendency. It is our habit to think in a certain way; it is our habit to act in a certain way; it is our habit to respond in a certain way. Some people habitually respond very emotionally. It’s their nature to be emotional. It’s their habit to be emotional, and it has no meaning other than the fact that it’s the way that they habitually act. Other people habitually act without emotion, or they habitually think things through in a more logical or mental way. That has no meaning either other than to say that that is their habitual tendency. These wonderful characteristics that we hold so personal and so dear actually aren’t anything. They’re like speaking into the wind. The words are simply carried where they are, and it means nothing. It isn’t heard, it isn’t loud, it isn’t quiet, it’s just what it is, speaking into the wind.

Each of us seems to have different ways of coping with things. In terms of coming to the path for the first time, we are stimulated. That’s for sure! That’s one thing that’s universal. It’s across the board. We are stimulated! How are we stimulated? Again, it’s according to our habitual tendency. For many of us, when we first come to the path we are simply so happy to be finding something that appears to us like a rock of solidity and depth and perceptiveness, of purity, something that appears to be like a shining light in a very dark place. So we feel joy and relief and gratitude that this is happening. Then for other people, when they first come to the path, they are impressed with its exoticness. It does seem very exotic. They have strong feelings about that. They always feel that they are drawn to the exotic, and they always feel that they are special or different or unique in some way. To be in something exotic when everybody else isn’t doing something exotic feels very satisfying in some way.

Then other people, when they come to the path, come to the path with a great deal of fear. They are almost drawn despite themselves. They’re drawn because they know they need to be here. They know they want to be here. In some way they are pulled toward being here, and yet in another way it’s almost as though they’re walking in the door backwards because they’re so afraid of confronting it in a true and honest way. They almost wait for circumstances to drag them in by the throat. I’ve seen that pattern many times. Students will wait until their lives are literally falling apart before they will try to come to Dharma and understand cause and effect relationships.

Experimenting

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

When we first come to the path, there are some events that characteristically happen for which new practitioners are not necessarily prepared. Remember, we’re just starting, so we’re still thinking in a superficial way. One of the most difficult aspects is that when we first come to the path we hear a few ideas. We hear karma, we hear cause and effect, we hear hope and fear, we hear ego and grasping, but as a new practitioner we really don’t understand. We’ve got the words and can probably repeat a few sentences about them by rote, but we really don’t understand them. That’s easily seen when we actually talk to new practitioners.

When little babies first play with toys, the first thing they do is to pick them up and throw them down so they can understand what the toy is and what reality actually is. Then they begin to build with blocks, and then crash them down. They’re experimenting. Just like that, new practitioners will begin to experiment with Dharma ideas and Dharma terms, but they won’t yet have the depth to really understand what they’re saying. I’ve even had the experience of Dharma practitioners that are here for a very short time come and talk to me and try to razzle-dazzle me with their Dharma vocabulary. Actually, if you listen to it, it makes absolutely no sense at all. It’s not that the person is stupid and unable to understand Dharma. It’s just that they’re being exactly like that child who is trying out the new toy, building it up and knocking it down. They’re just kind of working the kinks out of the system, and that’s OK in the beginning.

At the beginning, we’re struggling to hold on to, to really compute, to compile deeper concepts than we ordinarily do. Having heard the teaching, however, we are truly responsible for going deeper. As a beginning student there are certain things that we need to understand with some depth. As new students, we don’t have all that depth just yet in terms of our understanding of the Buddhadharma, so we have to rely on our teachers. Actually we always have to rely on our teachers, but in this case specifically, we really have to put aside the “game playing” of our own mind in order to understand something a little bit deeper so that we can be prepared. As though we were a good king or queen of our country, we have to always be in charge. Even if it’s just the beginning of our reign, we still have to be on top of it and in charge.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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