How Will You Respond?

Sound_Wave_by_vladstudio

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

Sometimes we sort of wimp out. We want to be right. We want to have an issue. We want to be safe, without changing. We don’t want to change. So difficult to do. And meanwhile, all the teacher is really doing is calling the student from afar, sounding that note that is so like the student’s mind that it begins to bring forth this response that is in the student’s mind. And what they see is their own face, layer upon layer of their own face. Ultimately, if they practice devotion, they will see their true face, which is their nature. Now they’re only seeing the dust that is covering it. Now they’re only seeing the stuff that is on top of it. But all the teacher really does is sound the sound of their nature.

And something begins to happen. That sound is some kind of thing that you can’t even hear with your own ears, you know? You can’t even hear it. But it’s so powerful it can change the life of a student like that. Like instantly!  And it can sustain that change. And it’s also so powerful that it can change an entire area. It can change a community. It can change the world. But it’s so subtle that you probably couldn’t even hear it with your own ears.

What is that? It is the greatest and the most gossamer force that there is, and that is the force of compassion— the bodhicitta. In practice the bodhicitta is compassion; it is kindness as we understand it. But its ultimate nature is the ultimate truth. It is the ultimate Buddha nature. And that is the sound that is being sounded, vibrationally cloaked to suit the students for whom the teacher has appeared. And it is for those students that the teacher has returned, that the teacher has appeared.

So it is like you. It is like you, and you should be strong. You should take responsibility for what comes up in your mind. You should know that this is your time, and you should respond through practice. Not through agreeing with yourself and saying that it’s okay to do this. It’s okay to have this hatred; it’s okay to be angry; it’s okay to be vengeful; it’s okay to be resentful; it’s okay to grieve; it’s okay to whatever. Why is that okay when you could be moving closer to your greatest hope?

So each student must have strength and understand what is happening to them.  Do you, you who are responding, do you know what is happening to you? Do you really understand it? Do you really see its importance? And when the stuff comes up that comes up, and I know it comes up—the discursive thought, you know, the anger, the disagreement, the ‘well, I don’t know if I agree with that,’ you know, all these different kinds of thoughts—when that comes up in your mind, do you have the courage to get ahold of yourself? To take ahold of yourself and understand what is happening to you? That you are, in fact, seeing your own face. This is your resentment. This is your anger. This is your sadness. This is your needing to be independent. These are reflections; these are images of your mind. And in truth, so long as they keep you from pure practice and perfect surrender, from truly seeing with the help of your teacher, your own primordial face, these in fact are only obstacles to your practice that are coming up, and these are the form that they are coming up in.

So you can begin by giving thanks that they come up in such an easy-to-deal-with way. I mean you could have met your teacher and then got run over by a truck!  That could have happened. That could have been a big obstacle. Well that was nice!  But it didn’t happen, you’re still here!  And you can right now begin to develop the courage to move forward without any hesitation.

Students respond with hope and fear. And sometimes, there is a lot of fear, isn’t there? Hope and fear, with anger, with restraint, with judgment, with discursive thought. They respond that way because it is their nature to do so. That is the nature of samsara, that is the nature of cyclic existence, and that is the nature of all sentient things. We have developed this habitual tendency of response in that way. Why should we suddenly change? Of course we’re still responding that way. We always do. Always.

The important difference is that suddenly now we have a choice. We can begin. We can respond through mindfulness. We can respond through practice. We can respond by recognizing, through courage, that this is our response due to our habitual nature. We can stand outside of this whole deeply reactive scenario, and instead of reacting with the hatred, instead of reacting with grief, instead of reacting at all, we can know, we can understand: This is my mind. That is my teacher. The only thing to do is to walk forward and to continue, to walk through the door. So simple. And yet, due to our strong reactions, so difficult.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

When Karma Ripens

woman-feeling-sick

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

 

The Foundation of Devotion

Guru Rinpoche

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

Now I’m going to dive into the adult portion of our teaching, but you might have gotten something out of the children’s portion even though we’re adults, and some of us are even past 38. It looks like maybe some of us might be, and we’ve already learned some bad habits. Don’t we still move through whole passages in our lives when we just forget that we can be of benefit? We just move through and live in a way that’s relatively meaningless. We simply move through time, marking time by births, deaths, and anniversaries and summer reruns, and all kinds of things that are really pretty insignificant. We too can take hold of our lives and really become firm-, really practice accordingly.

So in the Buddhist tradition, particularly in Vajrayana, there is a kind of practice that is called devotional practice, and devotional practice has many components. But one particularly meaningful and important component is that one develops a relationship of pure devotion with one’s guru, with one’s teacher. In the Vajrayana tradition, the teacher is considered to be like the door of liberation because, even though there has been a Buddha on the earth and there has been the Buddhist teaching, even though the teaching is written in the books, even though there are many ways in which you can approach the Buddhadharma, it’s really, according to Vajrayana tradition, just about impossible to enter into the Path, into the meat of the Path, into the thick of the Path without the blessing of the teacher.

The lama is considered to be the blessing that is inherent in the Path. The lama is necessary for empowerment; the lama is necessary for transmission; the lama is necessary for teaching; the lama is necessary to make a bridge. Almost like the lama is the nurse that administers the medicine. The doctor might prescribe, the doctor might be considered the Buddha; but the lama is considered to be the nurse that actually administers the medicine while we ourselves may be too weak or too unaware to be able to hold onto the medicine or take it into our own mouths without some help. In Vajrayana tradition, from the very most preliminary practice to the very most superior practice, there is a devotional aspect to every practice that is done; and that is considered to be the vehicle or the means by which the blessing is actually transmitted.

In preliminary practice, there is actually a section of devotional yoga, guru yoga. This is something that is widespread not only in our particular tradition, but is widespread across all the traditions in Vajrayana Buddhism— the tradition of calling the lama, beseeching the lama, of invoking the lama’s blessing. Now in our particular Ngöndro, we have a beautiful passage, a beautiful song of invocation, called “Calling the Lama from Afar.” It has a very haunting melody and it’s done with one’s heart. Actually the recommendation is that one should do it until tears arise in one’s eyes. One should do that in order to soften the ego, in order to soften the mind and to make the mind like a bowl that is turned up, not turned over, hard, you know, and unable to receive any blessing; but a bowl that is turned up that doesn’t have any poison or dirt in the bottom of it, that’s kept purely; so that when the nectar comes in, it won’t be mixed with the poison or dirt. And it isn’t cracked, cracked through the distraction that we all feel when we can’t really keep our minds on any kind of devotional practice and our minds wander too much. That kind of bowl could not hold the blessing, could not hold the nectar. And, of course, if our minds are hard and filled with anger and hatred, and that anger surfaces, the bowl is turned over and the nectar simply runs off so there is no blessing to be had. We might fool ourselves thinking that we have a blessing, but in fact, no blessing has been received.

So we practice this devotional yoga; we practice it very sincerely. The benefit of this practice is immeasurable in that it softens the mind. It’s almost like planting a field of grain, you know? One has to plow the field; then one has to harrow it or disc it, turn it over. One has to soften it and rake it and work the soil so that it’s capable of receiving the seed. Otherwise if the soil were not ready, and the seed were thrown out, it would just bounce, like on a hard surface. It would not do much good. Any of you who have planted things know the truth of that. So devotional yoga is a cultivator. It’s considered to make one ready. Without devotional yoga, there is no possibility, really, of the blessing being fully received.

The devotional yoga is meant to benefit the student. It never benefits the teacher. If the teacher needs devotional yoga, the teacher is inadequate and impure; the teacher is without value. So the devotional yoga is purely for the benefit of the student. The teacher is not pleased by the devotional yoga. The teacher is pleased by the movement and the softening and the gentling and the change that occurs within the student, and that‘s because the teacher wishes to benefit the student. It isn’t because the teacher requires any kind of devotional yoga, or any kind of notice, really, at all.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Covering the Bases

mountain

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

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you and give some little cookie as to what the prayers are all about and as to why we use them as we do. I think that if you are not used to pronouncing Tibetan you must have something of the same experience that I had when I first began to learn these prayers and began to pronounce them. I remember being a little Jewish and a little Italian, I rolled up my eyes and did like this and went, oy!  It seemed to me so cumbersome. It seemed to me intensely uncomfortable; and I just could not believe that I was investing myself in doing this. But eventually over a period of time and patience, which is not something I have a lot of, I did manage to listen to these prayers in such a way that they became meaningful to me. And now that I have come to understand something of the meaning of them, I really take a great deal of joy in reciting them. I feel a tremendous amount of joy and regard for taking the time to recite these prayers on a regular basis and in a heartfelt way. They are truly wonderful and a great blessing.

For those of you who come every week, or come fairly regularly, you will find that there are many times that I will repeat things that I have already taught. There is a reason for this; there is a method to my madness. First of all, I have found that almost never do people internalize philosophical concepts the first time they hear them. Almost always is it necessary to hear them again and again and again. Actually it is better to hear them in different ways, and then they begin to become a part of us. It is almost like climbing a mountain from several different directions in order to understand the shape of the mountain. If you can’t look at the mountain as the Buddha might look at it, from kind of a bird’s eye view, or an elevated posture, you have to rely on climbing the mountain in order to understand its topography, in order to understand its shape and its form and its dimension, and how big it is, and to really internalize what the mountain is all about, to see all its different faces. One climb won’t do it and climbing the same way all the time won’t do it. It seems as though we have to climb from all the different beginning places, from all the different sides of the mountain, in order to really accomplish understanding what that mountain is.

I feel that philosophy and religion are something like that. In order to really understand them and internalize them, they must be approached again and again and again; and they must be approached at different times and from different angles. For one thing, you are constantly changing. There is nothing about you that is permanent. You are constantly growing and changing; and even from day to day, your particular mood, your particular depth, your particular understanding is very flexible. It is constantly changing. What you understand one day, you might not understand the next day. And I am sure that you have had experiences like that where you have read a religious thought or a spiritual thought or had an experience in your meditation that one day seemed unbelievably deep, seemed to you to really click, seemed to really mean something to you. And then the next day, you might read it and you might as well be reading a bubble gum wrapper. It is just about that meaningful to you. So we change constantly. There is nothing about us that is permanent, plus the fact that our karma is constantly changing. Of course, that is what makes us change. Different catalysts cause the ripening of different karmic structures, different karmic events. We are constantly effected by these ripenings. From time to time, obstacles arise that effect our minds and our perception. And also we have a characteristic way of understanding. There is a characteristic karma that is our karma. Each one of us has our own particular mode of understanding.

I was listening to the radio yesterday for a little while and there was an interesting example of that. A man who was a linguist would go to different movie stars and different movie sets and he would teach people how to speak in a different dialect or with a different accent. He was so proficient; he was just amazing. He could speak three different dialects of… How can I explain this? He could speak English with an Irish accent, but he could sound as though he had come from three different regions in Ireland. He could sound like any different state in the union. Each state has a characteristic way of speaking. Not all Southern states sound the same, not even all Appalachia sounds the same. Anyway he was so good at that that he could make a difference between the Bronx and Brooklyn; he could make a difference between India. He could act as though he were speaking from a specific region from any country in the world, and he could teach anyone to accomplish that.

His observation, and the reason why I am bringing this up, is that people learn differently and you have to be skilled in many different ways in order to teach people. He was describing Jane Fonda and he was saying that she has an incredible ear. Only three two-hour sessions, I think he said, and she could mimic a certain regional Appalachia dialect that was very difficult to accomplish and very specific; and she had an ear that was like a tape recorder. That was the way that she learned. A lot of what she learned she had to learn from ear. She couldn’t really learn it by reading it as she could by hearing it. And then he described Charlton Heston. He is not able to learn by ear at all. He has to learn it by phonetically spelling out the accent. Then he can read it from cards, and he can do it perfectly that way.

So each of us has a characteristic way in which we learn. It is not as simplistic as that. It is not that some of us hear better than read or read better than hear. There is that, but there is a characteristic karma or an outlay or a fabric that our minds seem to have and the way in which we learn. It may be that you may hear an entire philosophy laid out in a very explicit way. It may be just perfect. It may have everything in it, and it may not make any sense to you. It may be like Jane Fonda trying to read a card or Charlton Heston trying to mimic a voice. It may not do anything for you. And yet something may be laid out in a different way and it may be fairly sketchy; and from that you may have an understanding that is deeper than the one that you could have gotten from a very specific teaching.

So we try to cover all of our bases here and make sure you hear this teaching in as many different ways as possible. And for those of you who are here for the first time or come only once in a great while, I try to not build the classes one on top of the other too much so that when you come here, even if you only come occasionally, you can come away with a whole cameo piece, or a whole thought or a whole teaching that you can use for your own benefit and also eventually to benefit all sentient beings.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

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

Freedom Isn’t Free: Understanding Merit and the Path

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

It is important to remember that when you enter the path you have earned the right to be here. This is absolutely the case. I can swear to it because you are here. You have absolutely accumulated the necessary virtue and merit within your mindstream in order to be able to hear these teachings and to do these practices, and even to prepare for your own death.

Yet, there is a Catch-22 situation that’s very difficult with Dharma. You have absolutely earned this opportunity and it is your right and your responsibility to take advantage of it. Now think about this: You could not be hearing these teachings from me if you had not made extensive prayers in some way at some time. It has to be so or you would not be here. You must have made prayers to Tara. You must have made prayers to Guru Rinpoche. You must have made prayers to meet your teacher and to be with your teacher and to hear these words. This must be so, or you could not have created the causes by which you are enjoying this opportunity.

So what does that mean then? That means that you’re here. Simply that, only that. That means that you’re here, and you’re ready to rock and roll. Now think about this. This is something else that’s important and something to think:  our Dharma, and particularly the Vajrayana path, is the singular most potent and powerful method that exists on this planet. That is to say that one can achieve true enlightenment, not what New Age people call enlightenment, but the real thing, like the Buddha, like great Bodhisattvas. One can achieve enlightenment within the context of one lifetime or immediately following this lifetime in the bardo state – that’s what the practice of Phowa is about – or within three lifetimes or within seven lifetimes. But surely, if one were to practice Vajrayana, and one were to practice it faithfully, one would achieve the ultimate result relatively quickly. That makes this the most potent path on the planet at this time, the most potent. We know this because we have seen that there are those who have achieved enlightenment in one lifetime. This is not true of other systems.

Now, that being the case, if it has that kind of weight, what kind of virtue or merit would be needed to keep that coming in, to keep that blessing flowing? An enormous amount. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? It’s like the you-get-what-you-pay-for kind of philosophy. If we were to think in materialistic terms, if you want the best, the absolute best, you have to pay the highest price. It’s expensive. Good quality costs money. In material terms you think like that. Doesn’t it follow then, logically, that that which is potent and of highest quality spiritually would also require the highest spiritual investment?

On the path, there is the necessity to accumulate merit and virtue in an extensive and responsible way because when we first come to the path is we immediately expend our accumulated merit. Here’s the picture: What has come forward to us, what has ripened in our mindstream, is the accumulation of some meritorious virtuous activity we’ve done in the past that allows us to hook into the path in this lifetime.

Upon using up that tremendous amount of merit that fortunately has risen to the surface in order to bring us to the path, an obstacle may arise. It takes such an enormous amount of merit in order to travel on the path, particularly to begin the path, that we may not have at the surface of our mind, or at the surface of our expressive continuum, enough merit to sustain us. So immediately upon coming to the path, the teacher gives instruction. The teacher says accumulate many repetitions of the Seven-Line Prayer. That is a merit-making machine. It is a way to accumulate the most merit. Then immediately after that, we are told to practice Ngöndro, preliminary practice. In Ngöndro, you are given five different ways to accumulate merit, and they are extremely potent. It is actually meant to guide you through the shoals of beginning practice until the mind becomes sufficiently purified and deepened to the degree that it will sustain itself through the shining qualities of its own virtue and merit.

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.

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