Calling the Lama From Afar

Guru Padmasambhava

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

In our tradition, in preliminary practice, we practice this “Calling the Lama from Afar,” and it’s a haunting practice. It will bring tears to one’s eyes if one practices it with a full heart and really does one’s best. When that begins to happen, there is a change in the student. There is truly a change. Often that is when the lama, the teacher, first begins to notice the student. That is when the lama takes an awareness of the student. That is when the student comes into the lama’s mind and the lama comes into the student’s mind. That is when this tremendous bridge, this perfect bridge, is formed that is everything, really everything, on the Path. Without it there is only dressing up in Dharma clothing like a peacock, you know. There is nothing without that. So that is necessary.

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

 

Preliminary Practice

guru_padmasambhava3

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

I am grateful to those who go through the Sunday prayers without having the foggiest idea what they mean. I commend you completely with all my heart and soul, if I had one. (That is a joke. You see according to the Buddhist philosophy there is no such thing as a soul.)  It is considered that there are three objects of refuge: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Buddha, of course, is the enlightened mind. The Dharma is the speech or teaching of the Buddha, the path of the Buddha; and the Sangha is considered to be the religious or spiritual community that propagates the Dharma, that brings about a way for us to practice. And these being our objects of refuge, we consider that all of the teaching and all of the opportunity that we have to practice actually comes from the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. So we feel that before beginning any practice it is good to make offerings. And when reciting these prayers, once you understand what the prayers are about, you can visualize certain offerings.

It is considered that it is good to request the Buddha to turn the wheel of the Dharma, or to continue to offer the path of the Dharma. It is a combination of offering and request, honoring and praising. It is our custom to do these things before we actually begin to accomplish a practice or hear a teaching. Some of the meanings of the prayers are pretty evident when you read them. Yet, you must understand that almost everything that exists on the Vajrayana path seems to exist on three levels of meaning. I am not sure why it happened that way. I think that it is just a propensity for secrecy, or drama, or something wonderful like that. It appeals to me very much.

At any rate, I think that what is addressed here are different levels of understanding. There is a preliminary level of understanding in which one first approaches the path and, almost like walking into a room, you need to figure out where the door is, how to turn the handle. We have to turn on the light; we have to figure out where the table is so that we don’t bump into it. It’s that kind of thing. We have to look at the bones of it, or the structure of it, and the inner and secret levels of meaning. One actually develops a capability for understanding as practice begins. Almost never, at least traditionally, are deeper, very mystical teachings given right at the onset of engaging in Dharma practice because it is considered that the mind needs to be deepened and gentled. At the point when that process begins through the use of preliminary practice, then additional teachings, intermediate teachings, and then ultimately the deepest teachings are givenThere are some lamas that deviate from that for their own reasons. But it is considered, from the traditional point of view, that you can give the deepest teachings to someone, but if their minds are not prepared for it they will not really accomplish the deepest teachings until they go through a period of preliminary practice and preparation. And I, for one, feel very strongly that that is the case.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Commitment

maitreya2

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Love Now, Dzogchen Later”

If you can’t be bothered to join and give some help, some support through having given rise to the bodhicitta, and having habituated oneself towards understanding the nature of samsara, which is also your responsibility, and habituating oneself towards deeply understanding the suffering of all sentient beings, which is also your responsibility, then there’s not much hope for good practice, no matter what practice you do. You can’t get away from it, no matter how wonderful you are. Compassion is in the mix. And there’s not much time. None of us knows how long we will live. It is not appropriate to say I’m going to wait, wait, wait, wait, wait until I get my stuff ironed out, and then, THEN I’ll try the bodhicitta. You’ll never get the chance. Believe me, my friend. I’ve seen it time and time again. You will never have the opportunity.

When you accept the path of the Dharma, and you commit yourself to the idea of liberation, at that point, you have to accept what has actually been taught. You can’t pick and choose what you want. You can’t make up your own little gig and call it Buddhism. Because all of the Buddhist teachings, every one, from the simplest level in the Deer Park when Lord Buddha was actually alive to this very day and whatever terma revelations may even be realized in this time, the heart beat, the essence, the blood and spirit and truth of Dharma is the bodhicitta, the great compassion. That is the way.

If you think you can simply muster up great pride in your accomplishment by keeping your ordinary qualities—pride, self-absorption, slothfulness—and yet somehow do a very high practice, and magically give rise to the perfect awakening, it won’t be so. Time and time again, we have been taught that the way of the Buddha Dharma is the way of the bodhicitta. So it is easy to say, ‘I graduated last year. I’m going to graduate this year, too.’  It is easy to say, ‘Well, I didn’t do this, and I didn’t do this, and I didn’t accomplish a bhum [one hundred thousand repetitions] of this, and I didn’t accomplish a million of that, but I’m practicing Dzogchen.’ That’s very easy to do. But it behooves us to go back and see what we’ve missed.

You are not too advanced to love. You are not too advanced to get off your duff and help somebody. You are not too sanctified to look at other beings on this planet and say, ‘I know that you are wandering in samsara. I know that we are basically human and that we share many of the same sufferings, and I find that unbearable. I wish to help.’  You are not too holy to care that there is war, that there is hunger, that there is suffering. And shame on you if all you do to honor Guru Rinpoche’s teachings is to sit on your little cushion and have it be all. Yeah, you can dedicate your practice. That’s right. You can also help. It wouldn’t kill you. Do you see what I’m saying?

It’s good to go all the way. It’s very good to get these precious inconceivable teachings, but since you are not in that perfect situation where you will be constantly reminded except by maybe me… And how much do you listen to me?  Unless you are in that perfect situation, it is up to you to make up the difference. This is the karma of our times. And you find yourself here at 18400 River Road. You can’t skip anything. You should accomplish your Ngӧndro. You should finish it even if you’re working on Togyal. You should accomplish your Ngӧndro. And that means finishing it, not just saying, ‘I did a lot of it so I accomplished it.’  And you should accomplish your Three Roots. And most especially you should give rise to the precious bodhicitta.

Read the lives of the saints. Read what they went through in order to give rise to compassion. And that in any case, in every case, no real progress was ever made unless there was compassion, unless there was bodhicitta.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

What Really Matters

kag-02

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Love Now, Dzogchen Later”

You should read stories about lamas in the past, stories of the saints, where lamas in the past have gone into retreat or gone to their teachers and said, “I really want to accomplish Dharma. I’m ready. I want to accomplish Dharma right now. So what will I do?”  And the lama would say, “Take some retreat. Go into the cave and practice a certain mantra.”  And time and time again students would go to the caves and would practice mantra.  And they would come back out and they would say to the lama, “I’ve practiced this mantra and yet I don’t seem to have any result.”  “Well,” lama says,  “then you need three million more. Go back into the cave and practice some more.”  And then again more advice. “Well I’ve not been able to practice any Dharma. Not given rise to realization although I’ve said mantra repeatedly.”  Then the lama would give some other advice. “Well, go back and accomplish the bodhicitta.  Accomplish the motivation.”

There are just uncountable stories like that of these great saints who struggled like you do, like we do, to accomplish their practice. And they didn’t go and get promoted every year. They had to accomplish the underpinnings, the basics, before they could move on to the next level. And it’s according to the lama’s wisdom. The lama would be able to see whether that accomplishment had really happened. And there are also many stories of disciples who would come to the lama after practicing in a cave some time or practicing in some kind of retreat, and they would say to the lama, “I have accomplished this.”  And the lama would say, “See ya. Keep trying. Go back. Another three years for you.”  Because that’s not what you say to your lama.

So, uncountable stories, uncountable stories that seem completely ridiculous and irrelevant in this time because of the experience that we’re having. But I’m telling you that they are not irrelevant. It’s something for each of us to take personal responsibility to study. And I really think that some of the elder monks and nuns should take on the responsibility of studying the lives of these saints and then reporting on them to other students. Maybe we could take turns giving some classes on that.

But just to go every summer and say,  “I have Dzogchen. I must be okay to die now.”  Or something like that, you know?   Thinking that, you know, somehow magical thinking. You’ve got the bumpa on the head and you’re just set to go. I’m afraid not. I wish that it were so. There is no bumpa on this planet that is hard enough. I mean how many times has His Holiness said that without giving rise to Guru Yoga, to true devotion, you know, egoless devotion, the lama could literally bang you on the head with the bumpa until it was dented and you are too, and there wouldn’t be much value. Even though the lama had practiced. Even though it had been an unbroken chain all the way down to the original source of the teaching.  Because in our practice there is a call and response. The lama gives the blessing; the student is invited to respond accordingly. It’s in the call and response connection that the growth occurs. It isn’t really what the guy above you tells you to do that makes you grow.

Our concern should always be loving concern for the welfare of sentient beings. If we are so puffed up with our own view of ourselves that we cannot bother ourselves to be of benefit to sentient beings; we cannot rouse ourselves to do something that will bring benefit to all sentient beings; we cannot bring ourselves to study on the suffering of humans, of animals—these being the two that we can mainly see on this planet— and to bring some relief, let alone worry about sentient beings in other realms that we cannot see and know are suffering,… We can’t even be bothered to look at human beings and animals. But we are going to sit there and do secret teachings, and look at others and wonder why they can’t do the same. Not appropriate. Not appropriate at all, and no benefit. No benefit.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Essential Motivation

HisHolinessPenorRinpoche

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Love Now, Dzogchen Later”

Ngondro purifies the five senses to such a degree that many of the gross defilements.  The ones that you meet up in your life where you are happily going along the road of life and you get punched in the face by karma.  Those obstacles.  You know.  They purify some of that and they keep that sort of thing from happening or they make it happen more benignly pacified is the idea.  And then accumulation of the Three Roots stabilizes the mind.  Begins to ripen the mind.  At that time we are trying to accomplish the Vajra confidence of the deities, their very pure qualities.  Their ability to establish virtue.  Their ability to accomplish view.  All of these things are accomplished through this recitation.  But nowadays, we don’t even have to do that.  We go to Tsa Lung.  And we don’t even have to finish Tsa Lung.  Then we can go to Trekchod, and then we can go to Togyal.  I think that is right.  We don’t really have to graduate.  And you have to ask yourself at this point.  What has changed?  Did His Holiness change?

I think of His Holiness like the Copper Mountain.  Our perception of the Copper Colored Mountain may change.  It may be connected to our own capability but does the Copper Colored Mountain ever change?  No.  It is absolutely empty of self-nature and yet spontaneously accomplished.    Figure that one out.  So, there is no fault here.  The fault is not with His Holiness.  His Holiness made a decision based on the times and I understand his decision.  It is not for me to agree or disagree, but I absolutely understand what his method is.  But the thing that I want to express to you is that it puts the responsibility on us.  To accomplish when we are not with His Holiness what we have to accomplish in order to make what he is teaching us next worthwhile.

One of the worst things that I have seen happen, that is a terrible result, and indeed it is not unusual in the sense that it is different from the way the world is acting now.  But still I have to say that it is not a good result and that is that most people on the path blow right by giving rise to the Bodhicitta.  Giving rise to the great compassion, to the way that actually is the very essence of awakening.  The Bodhicitta.  Now, His Holiness always teaches about Bodhicitta.  He never denies an opportunity.  Never abandons an opportunity.  He teaches about the Bodhicitta every time.  Like for instance when he starts to give a teaching or he starts to do a practice, often he will remind us to establish our motivation and the Khenpos will always say that we must establish our motivation or that we must understand that we are hearing this teaching not just to hang out here or that we are doing some practice not just because we are bored or for some other self-oriented reason.  But the only valid, righteous and appropriate motivation to accomplish Dharma is for the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings.  So, we can repeat that back. We’ve heard this so many times.  And we can say if I say to you, “Why are you doing this practice?”  You’ll say, “Oh, liberation and salvation of all sentient beings.”  We’ve heard this so many times that we can parrot it back.  Sort of like a Malaccan Cockatoo or an African Gray.  But have we really given rise to the Bodhicitta?  Have we really accomplished it?  Have we worked really clean?  Thank you!  Somebody said no.  I appreciate that.  You know?  Have we worked cleanly and purely with our motivation?  Do we tutor ourselves on our motivation everyday, every moment?   And when we have choices to make, do we reestablish the motivation so that we can make the correct choices by saying, “Thus for the sake of sentient beings, I will open this altar, close this altar, pray, circumambulate, do my practice, study some Dharma.  Benefit sentient beings in some way.  Feed the hungry.  Heal the sick.  Walk a dog.“ Anything!  Anything.  Do we remind ourselves that that is our reason for taking our next breath?  That other than giving rise to compassion, giving rise to the mind of Bodhicitta which by the way, is the pure awakened state, our primordial wisdom nature, that that is the reason for anything that we do.  And should remain so.  And if we do not have the proper karma to be born in a monastery amongst many learned monks and nuns and many learned Khenpos, and lamas and Rinpoches, then we must accept that as our karma.  And shouldn’t leave ourselves to say, “Oh those poor guys.  They have to work for years trying to accomplish some Dharma and all they get is a couple of maroon colored sheets and a rug.  And you know, they just stay there in the Monastery.  And gee, I get to hang out here in America with cars, and TVs, and you know, stuff.  I have a great house.  And I can buy another car if I want.  And you know there are so many things that I can do do do.  And have have have  have.  And yet I get some Dzogchen.  Whoopee!  I must be the most fabulous person in the world. “

Unfortunately, our response to being given this great blessing is a little more like the whoopee part than it is the honest internal watchfulness that makes us ask ourselves, “Have I given rise to the Bodhicitta?  Have I accomplished good qualities?”  I mean when you practice the root deities, the Three Roots you accumulate so many repetitions of the mantra and you put so much energy into visualizing their different hand held implements and even their posture, which means something.  The handheld implement and the posture are the very display of the deities’ excellent qualities and activities.  So, we practice many repetitions of the mantra of the root deity.  And we think now we have accomplished the qualities of the root deity.  What are the qualities of the root qualities of the root deity?  We study the hand implements.  We study the posture, and we begin to inhabit those qualities.  We begin to display those qualities.  We accept those qualities.  We habituate towards those qualities and even one of the qualities that we habituate toward is Vajra pride.

Vajra pride which is different from American pride.  American pride is the bullshit that knocks you off the path.  Vajra pride is the confidence in the method.  Confidence in the method through meditating on Shunyata and giving rise to the deity.  And so there is the confidence.  Not having practiced mantra like that.  Not having gone through those different accomplishments, we instead have given rise to ordinary pride.  And ordinary pride is stupid pride.  It tells us to argue with the elder sangha members, lamas, and Khenpos, thinking that we know better, or to make up our own religion.  Or to just do it the way we want to, or to just self cherish.  To meditate on self-cherishing, ego cherishing, which is giving rise to the ordinary pride and back to that ordinary cycle.  But when we accomplish the deity, something different rises up.  And then when we move on to the other levels, we move on with Vajra confidence and unshakeable Bodhicitta – compassion.

Now, when that foundation is properly laid, and we have properly practiced Bodhicitta, and we have properly accumulated mantra and we have purified our senses through the Ngondro, then when we are introduced to Dzogchen.  The mind is matured.  The blessing of the lama, particularly if we have accomplished purely the accumulation of Vajra Guru mantra within the context of Guru Yoga in Ngondro.  And what is it, 1.5 million of those?  Or 1.2, I forget.  Huh?  1.2?  Thank you.  She knows but did you do it?  Oh see!  Yeah.  So, after you accomplish that many Vajra Guru mantras in the context of Guru Yoga, you have changed.  Your capability is different.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Short Confession from Nam Cho Ngondro Vajrasattva

The following prayer is a short confession from the Nam Cho Dzogchen Ngondro Vajrasattva practice:

In the View, I confess all commitments broken through mental activity. Knowing the View is the all-pervasive foundational Bodhicitta; realizing that the View exists in non-existence, and practicing meditation that is non-existent, realizing that activity is neither existent nor non-existent, the Bodhicitta is without expectation or disappointment. All root and auxiliary commitments, breaches and failure to uphold them, are unborn, ungenerated, and liberated in the indivisibilty of the object to confess and the confession itself.

OM BENZAR SATO SAMAYA
MA NU PA LA YA
BENZAR SATO TE NO PA
TISH TRA DRI DHO ME BHA WA
SUTO KHAYO ME BHAWA
SUPO KHAYO ME BHAWA
ANU RAKTO ME BHAWA
SARWA SIDDHIM ME PRA YATTSHA
SARWA KARMA SU TSA ME
TSITTAM SHRI YAM KU RU HUNG
HA HA HA HA HO
BHAGAWAN SARWA TATHAGATA
BENZAR MA ME MUNTSA
BENZAR BHA WA MA HA
SAMAYA SATO AH

 

Sentient “Beingness”

crowds

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

In traditional Buddhist doctrine, we are given certain methods that will be helpful in alleviating our condition of suffering. These methods are pretty cut and dry, pretty simple. For instance, if we begin to practice preliminary practice, or Ngöndro, and we examine the thoughts that turn the mind ,in those thoughts are not only the four main thoughts, but there are also many different sort of auxiliary thoughts. Some of the ideas that we are lead to examine are first of all, the idea that all sentient beings are equal,  and we are led to examine that in this way. First of all, we all contain within us the Buddha seed, our inherent Buddha nature, and the reality that, at some point, each one of us will attain to that nature and will become awake, even as the Buddha has become awake. Each of us will attain that reality. For some of us it will be relatively soon, only ten thousand lifetimes from now. Piece of cake. For some of us, it will be a lot longer. Sometimes we have to think that for some people it almost seems like it will never happen, because you’re talking about aeons of cyclic existence. But the Buddha teaches us that each one of us has that inherent reality, and therefore we are, in our nature, the Buddha.

So, in that sense, we are exactly the same. We are also the same in our sentient beingness, if you can coin a phrase with me for a little while. And in our sentient beingness, we have certain things in common: We do have the ego cherishing. We do have self absorption. We do have confusion. We do have an inability to abide spontaneously in the primordial wisdom nature. We do experience death and rebirth in some form. All sentient beings do, even if they are not in the human realm. We all experience these certain conditions; we all experience suffering. We all experience hope and fear in some way.

So the Buddha teaches us to understand that we are all very much alike. And in that situation of alikeness, we can find a certain companionship with one another, a certain understanding or empathy toward one another, so that we don’t judge as severely. If we do understand that we all are revolving in cyclic existence, and that we all have hatred, greed, and ignorance and all those things running around, self-absorption and such, then when we look at someone else with hatred, greed and ignorance, we might think, ‘Oh, that’s kind of like me. I can understand that. I can see where that happens.’ So we develop a kind of patience, a tolerance, a kindness, and it’s the fundamental step that must be taken before true compassion arises.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Realm of the Jealous Gods

Jealous God Realm

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

Now, the next realm of cyclic existence is the realm of jealous gods. And unfortunately the jealous gods have a mixed bag of tricks. The jealous gods are kind of interesting, because in one way they are powerful. They’re a little bit like the story of the old Jehovah god as demonstrated in the Old Testament. They’re very powerful. They can turn someone into a pillar of salt. They could do that sort of thing. They manifest magical powers, and they are very powerful. There is a certain buzz or excitement or happiness, or something, that goes with that kind of power. You know what I mean? In the experience of the person who is impoverished to the point where they simply cannot do anything, they have no power in their lives. They can’t even buy a loaf of bread; they don’t have the power to do that. The quality of that person’s life is going to be different from the rich person’s life where they have the power to get whatever they want. And in the jealous god realms they have a lot of power.

However, the reason for being born as a jealous god is literally competitiveness, egocentricity, and jealousy. And these jealous gods do nothing all day long but what is their habitual tendency: They compete with one another. But when jealous gods compete with one another they don’t just try to outdress each other. These guys have power, and they are constantly waging war with one another. The jealous gods are constantly waging war.

There is actually a terrible and immense suffering that comes with the jealous god realm. Even though you know you are powerful, you are powerful in an odd way. Powerful like the person who has built a fortress, an impenetrable fortress, and nothing can come in. Yes, nothing can come in, but everybody knows  you really can’t build an impenetrable fortress, you see. Everybody knows that. We have it in our minds that we’ve done this, but it’s not true and we know it. Because death can come in, sickness can come in. Nobody can build an impenetrable fortress. So we know this. Their kind of suffering is like that. They feel powerful because they’ve build this powerful realm; they have this powerful experience and they have this protection.

On the other hand, they also know that there’s no such thing, and that the other gods are just as powerful and can come in. And so they are jealously guarding their safety. What does ‘jealously guarding your safety’ feel like? Is it a happy experience? No, it is an experience of intense suffering, and it only increases the suffering that they feel. It only increases the jealous god’s need to go out and attack the other guy, compete with the other guy, and get on top of the other guy. Their experience is warlike. Constantly warring, warring, warring, warring; nobody wins. You win, you lose, you win, you lose. Kind of like that. That is the experience of the jealous gods. They love to dominate others. That’s their habit.

In the realm of the jealous gods, they are so concerned with their own safety and jealously guarding their safety, as well as competing with others for that safety, that they have not one moment with which to practice Dharma. Dharma would be to them the same as if you were to, say, talk to a warrior type that was schooled only in being a warrior. Okay, back to Star Trek, whaddya say? Let’s say you talk to a Klingon, like Warf, and you say to Warf, “Yo, Warfy-baby, here’s what we need to do. Instead of you being a warrior with all your stuff on (you know, he wears all this stuff and looks pretty powerful), why don’t you sit down and meditate gently, like a little girl? Why don’t you sit down and meditate very quietly, and in that way you can be very strong.” What would Warf say about that? Warf would say, “Pleeease!”  Warf wouldn’t have time to hear about this. Neither would any warrior who was trained to think of being strong and protecting one’s turf, and only thought like that. Neither could a person like that ever think that meditation or Dharma practice or anything like that is strength. And so they will push that away, not having time for it. They have to do what they have to do. That’s the way that a sentient being in the jealous god realm would think. They simply don’t have the instinct and they will not practice Dharma. They just will not practice Dharma. They’re too busy.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Value of Human Existence: Treasury of Precious Qualities

WM-198-23 Shakyamuni altar-M

The following is respectfully quoted from “Treasury of Precious Qualities” a commentary by Longchen Yeshe Dorje, Kangyur Rinpoche:

SAMSARIC EXISTENCE

For ages we have lingered in samsara, unaware of its defects, believing that this is a wholesome, beneficial place. And yet it is a state in which suffering and its causes abound and where the qualities of liberation languish and wither. It is a desolate wilderness in which many times in the past our bodies and minds have burned in agony and have endured pains of mutilation and decapitation. Moreover, latent within us, there are still many karmic seeds that will provoke such sufferings in the future. Human beings generally do not see this and are thus not only without regret for their condition but actually crave the transient and futile pleasures of the higher realms. Totally unaware that they should engage in virtue and refrain from evil, they pass their lives sunk in negativity. Theirs is what is called a “mere human existence.” By their negative actions of thought and deed, they destroy themselves and render meaningless the freedoms and advantages of their human condition. From their lofty position in samsara they plunge again into evil circumstances. Thus they wander in the three lower realms, in heavens of insensate gods without perception, or in barbarous regions (where the Dharma is not heard); they are born physically or mentally handicapped, have wrong views, and take birth in places where no Buddha has appeared.

EIGHT CONDITIONS IN WHICH THERE IS NO FREEDOM TO PRACTICE DHARMA

On the ground of burning iron, without a single moment of relief, beings are slain again and again by the henchmen of the Lord of Death, who brandish frightful weapons, swords, and hammers and inflict terrible pain. Until their evil karma has been exhausted, these beings in hell are unable to die, and, due to karmic effects resembling the cause–in other words, their compulsive tendency to negativity–they are caught in a web of evil karma inspired by hatred, and their infernal life span is measureless.

Pretas generally are completely deprived of food and drink; they do not find even the slightest filthy fragment of pus, blood, or excrement to eat. No need to say, then, that they are tormented by hunger and thirst. The cooling effect of the moon in summer and the warming effect of of the sun in winter are all reversed; rain and hail are misperceived as lightening and thunderbolts; and the rivers are filled with pus and blood. For pretas that are afflicted outwardly, streams and orchards dry up as soon as they look at them. Those afflicted inwardly have heads that are not in proportion to their bodies: their mouths are as small as the eye of a needle, while their bellies are the size of an entire country. If they swallow a little food and drink, it scorches their intestines and they suffer intolerable pain. Their lifespan is uncertain, depending on the strength of obscurations due to former avarice. Generally speaking one of their days is equal to a month by human reckoning, and they live for five hundred of their own years.

In the depths of the great oceans, fish and sea monsters devour each other, the bigger ones gulping down the smaller. Animals scattered over the surface of the earth, wild and unclaimed, are the prey of hunters with their nets, traps, their poisoned arrows and their snare, and they die cruel deaths. Animals domesticated by man are slaves to their masters. They are tamed and subjugated with saddles, bridles, and nose-ropes. Their masters ride on them, tether them, and place burdens on their backs. They herd and castrate them, shear off their hair, and bleed them while still alive. And through such treatment, animals are reduced to every extremity of suffering. Being without intelligence, they cannot recite even a single mani. When beings are born in such a condition, they are helpless, and we are told the lifespan of animals ranges from the momentary existence of insects to that of nagas and such-like that can live for a kalpa.

Since the unwavering action that sustains their life-principle is extremely protracted, and their lives are therefore very long, lasting twenty intermediate kalpas, the gods of the formless realm have no occasion to cultivate a sense of disgust for samsara and a desire to leave it. Moreover, the consciousness of the insensate gods, who are without perception, does not operate throughout the duration of their existence. They are therefore deprived of any basis for hearing and reflecting on the Dharma. Their abode is far removed from that of the gods of the fourth samadhi, just as a solitary place is remote from a populous city. These divine beings have no notion of Dharma, and thus when their thoughts begin to stir at the end of their existence, they conceive the false view that there is no path to liberation, and as a consequence they fall to the lower realms. To be born in these states is to be deprived of the freedom to practice Dharma.

The inhabitants of so-called barbarous lands do indeed have a human aspect, walking upright on their two feet. But they live practically like animals are are utterly ignorant of the Doctrine. Virtue is foreign to their minds and they are given over to negativity. They live immersed in various kinds of evil activity such as wounding others with poisoned arrows, and even making it a tenet of their religion. They wander in the undergrowth of false views and, worse than animals, turn upside down the moral principles of what is to be adopted and what is to be rejected. The way of liberation is unknown to them.

Those whose faculties are impaired, who lack, for instance, the ability to speak, and especially those who are mentally handicapped, may encounter a spiritual guide who is on the supreme level of accomplishment, and they may even hear his or her teaching. But what is said is unintelligible to them, like the booming of an echo. The sense of the teaching is lost to them, and they fail to grasp the vital point of what actions are to be adopted and what should be forsaken. Thus their fortune is marred and they suffer greatly in this desolate and fearful wasteland of samsara.

To be born in samsara through the effect of karma and defilements is like being adrift upon a vast ocean, unfathomable and shoreless. To obtain a human form is like having a great boat with which to cross this ocean and reach the island of liberation. But though people may possess all their faculties, and though they may have intelligence, like a sail to propel them in the direction of freedom, this excellent support is wasted when the mind is clouded by false beliefs. As a result, such people fail to enter the Dharma and do not undertake the path to liberation so pleasing to the Buddha, who appeared in the world to set it forth. Denying the karmic principle of cause and effect, and claiming that there is no afterlife and so forth, they are beset by demons hindering them from the path of liberation. They fall under their power and lose their freedom.

To take human birth during a dark kalpa is once again of no avail, for these are periods when the light of Dharma does not shine, when no Buddhas appear in the world from the time of its formation until its destruction. To take such a birth is to be like a man who has fallen into a pitch-dark crevasse and has broken his legs. However much he tries to get out, he can neither see the way nor even move, for his legs are shattered. In just the same way, without the light of the path of freedom, people are unaware of the three trainings that could lead them to liberation. They constantly pursue false paths because of their ignorance and defilements. Not only have they fallen into a dreadful place from which they cannot escape, but by degrees they fall deeper and deeper, from the states of animals and pretas down to the infernal realms. The freedom to practice Dharma is totally absent.

In all such terrible circumstances, in which evil actions bring forth results in manifold suffering, whirling like the all-destroying hurricane at the end of time, the body is worn away with pain, and fear is the natural condition of the mind. Beings indulge in negative habits; they turn their backs on the sacred teaching. Thus we are advised to reflect again and again on how we might avoid being born in the eight conditions in where there is no freedom to practice the Dharma. Jigme Lingpa calls us to follow the path of liberation with diligence, so that by relying on the teacher and his profound instructions, we might make meaningful the opportunity we now possess.

FIVE INDIVIDUAL AND FIVE CIRCUMSTANTIAL ADVANTAGES

To have taken birth in a “central” land where the Dharma is proclaimed is like being a sapling planted in pure soil. To have fully functioning sense faculties and healthy limbs, and thus to have the basis for the reception, meditation, and practice of the teachings, is to be like a healthy tree in leaf and branch. To have confidence in the Doctrine of the Victorious One; to have the karma of one’s body, speech, and mind in perfect flower, undamaged by the hail of evil actions contrary to the Dharma (sins of immediate effect and false views concerning the Three Jewels); to have been born a human being able to uphold the Dharma and acquire the qualities of liberation: all this is like a miraculous, wish fulfilling tree. It is exceedingly rare and significant, and to put these five individual advantages to good effect is of the highest importance.

The fact that a Buddha has appeared in our world, an occurrence that is rare as the flowering of the udumbara; the fact that he proclaimed the Doctrine and that the three turnings of the Dharma wheel have blossomed into flower; the fact that through explanation and practice this Doctrine in both transmission and realization still exists in our day without decline; the fact that there are still teachers who have perfectly embraced the Dharma; and finally the fact that we have been welcomed into the “cool shade” of a virtuous friend, a perfect guide on the path to liberation: these five advantages are even rarer than the five individual ones.

THE RARITY OF A PRECIOUS HUMAN EXISTENCE

Why is it so necessary to treat the path with diligence and without delay? As we have said, the five individual advantages are as rare as the wish-fulfilling tree, while the five circumstantial advantages are like the udumbara flower, even rarer than the earlier five. These ten taken together form the special characteristics, and the eight freedoms form the basis, of what we call a precious human existence. If we do not take advantage of this now, an opportunity such as this will not be found again. The reason for saying this may be illustrated with examples. One could imagine, for instance, an ocean, vast as the three-thousandfold universe. In the depths of this ocean lives a blind turtle that rises to the surface only once every century. To attain a human birth is rarer than the chance occurrence of the turtle surfacing to find its head inside a yoke drifting at random on the water’s surface. Or again, one could suggest the difficulty of attaining a precious human existence by using numerical illustrations. Compared with the number of beings in the animal kingdom, humans are like stars seen during the day as compared with stars seen at night. And the same ratio may be applied between animals and pretas, and again between pretas and the denizens of the realms of hell.

This precious human existence is thus most rare and extremely meaningful. If those who journey on the pathways of the Dharma with liberation as their goal, who now have in their possession the great ship of freedom and advantage, and who have met with a holy teacher who is the guide and, as it were, the navigator of such a ship–if such people fail to cross the ocean of the boundless and unfathomable sufferings of samsara to the dry land of liberation, their opportunity will have been completely squandered. All this should be a subject of reflection and a spur to greater exertion.

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