The Mantra of Samsara

The following is an excerpt from a teaching called “Antidoting the Mantra of Samsara”

What we’re up against here is we are using a technology that isn’t meant for a person who has only lived one life. We’re using a technology that really wasn’t designed, was not given to the world, to cure a superficial problem. It was not given to us to heal a scratch. The technology of Dharma is so extraordinary and so complicated, so deep, so effortful because of what it is supposed to do. What it has to do is a big job. What it has to do is to purify non-virtuous habitual tendency that we have created and is deeply ingrained since time out of mind. We have another problem and that problem is that it’s kind of like we were born on a merry-go-round. Do you know what happens if you’re born on a merry-go-round?  You have no understanding that you’re going round and round. The only way you could understand that you were born on a merry-go-round is if the merry-go-round would suddenly stop. But if going round and round were natural for you, it would be invisible to you. And so for us it’s as though we were born on a merry-go-round. We have no way to know how much divisiveness, how much discursive thought, how much conceptualization, how much super-structuring goes on within our mind. We are literally, in many ways, strangers to our own mind. Actually within our minds as ordinary sentient beings there’s a constant dialogue going on inside, a constant inner dialogue. You have to ask yourself, between who and who?  But it’s going on, you know. It’s a constant inner dialogue. There is this white noise, this conversation, that’s going on. And you’re answering yourself! That’s the weird part about it.

If you can really calm down and tune into yourself, you’ll see that there’s this constant inner chattering, inner noise. It isn’t even as simple as the one piece that you’re able to hear and pick out. In fact, there’s layer upon layer of it. It’s like many tracks that we seem to be running, so much discursiveness inside of us. So what we are actually engaging in all the time in our ordinary lives is kind of a recital of, or an ongoing mantra of, discursiveness. This chattering, this noise, this continuum that we experience of white noise within our heads—the one that argues, the one that answers, all that stuff that goes on inside—in fact, is layer upon layer upon layer upon layer of delusion, starting with the original belief in self-nature as being inherently real, and from that, all this superstructuring, beginning with reaction, because if one believes in self-nature as inherently real, everything else is other than self.

If there is separation between self and other, there is going to be reaction toward other or we cannot conceptualize any further beyond that, and you know we have. So we are involved in this process of discursiveness and ignorance constantly. We are right now, unless you are listening to me so carefully that there’s no other room for thought anywhere else in your mind, and I don’t think that’s happening. Right now, we are reciting the mantra of suffering. You don’t know that you’re doing that. You don’t have a mala in your hand, but you are right now reciting the mantra of suffering. We are reciting the mantra of samsara.

Even within our minds right now we are creating cause and effect relationships, right now, because it’s impossible for you to be in this room with everyone else here or listening to me or doing anything in your life, without having some kind of reaction to it. And that reaction continues. It becomes deeper and more profound and more habitual and there is structuring and ideation that continues to form from that, continual elaboration. Every single thought that is born within our mindstream is, rather than a thought that continues in a straight line, more like a pebble being dropped into a pond. It goes out in all directions. It continually elaborates, almost on its own volition.

So for the students who ask, “Why wouldn’t one good mantra, or one truly absorbed devotional, purely conceived prostration be as good as 100,000 kind of dull ones?”  The reason why is right now, and since time out of mind, we have constantly been reciting the mantra of delusion. So we need a science or a technology that will antidote the depth of that process. You know how complicated we are. You know how that is. You know that we can sit here, open a Dharma book, read a prayer that’s very profound and really concentrate on it pretty well as we’re reading it. Of course if you really learn how to listen to yourself you know that even while you’re doing that, there’s something going on. That monkey in your head is still doing something. But let’s say we could really concentrate. We contemplate, and we think, “Oh, what a beautiful thing this is. This is really something special.” And we’re moved and we are attracted to the Dharma, you know, that sort of thing. We know that we are so complicated that even while we are doing that, at the same time although we choose not to listen to the voice that we don’t like, that other voice is going “Phew, Dharma, what do we care about Dharma!  We care about one thing. We care about watching TV and sitting on our fat butts. That’s what we care about!”  Or we have all of our other conceptions and ideas about the ways we really want to live. And so, while on the one hand, “Oh, these are the Buddha’s teachings. This is so pure and so perfect. I can see the virtue in it” —and you know really you can, I mean you read the stuff you can see the virtue in it—the other part of you is going “Nah, nah, we don’t want to do this. We want to be happy now!”  So even while we’re studying Dharma and practicing Dharma, this business is going on inside of us.

So what we’re looking for is the kind of technology that can stir that pot from the depth, stir it from the depth and provide the purifying agent, or the antidotal agent, which is to put the weight in the opposite pile of what we ordinarily do. What we ordinarily do is have a divided mind and a lot of discursive thought, a lot of reactions, a lot of stuffthat is associated with the belief in self-nature as being inherently real. So we’re constantly continuing that practice. That’s what we do. That’s the Dharma, the worldly Dharma, which we’re practicing now.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Poop Soup

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Antidoting the Mantra of Samsara” 

So here’s the question.  Here’s what we ask ourselves, and it’s a valid question.  When you are doing prostrations, or maybe reciting a mantra, and that’s another thing you have to do, at least a 100,000 times on several mantras.  Wouldn’t it be just as good rather than sitting there for say, I don’t know, half an hour Om Mani Padme Hung, Om Mani Padme Hung, half an hour?  Half an hour is a short time to accumulate, but let’s say, rather than sitting there for half an hour, what if we said one really good Om Ah Hung Benzar Guru Padme Siddhi Hung?  What if we said it so good that it’s like the best mantra that anyone has ever said?  What if we said it so good that we are completely absorbed?  Rather than saying it 100,000 times, per syllable, which is how you spell, well anyway, you’ll learn about that later, what if you said it once, really good?  First of all you could pronounce it really perfectly, which nobody in America can do yet, but you know, you can pronounce it really perfectly, and then while you’re pronouncing it, you can remain in complete absorption.  Isn’t that one of those kind of funny hand things that you see people doing in the New Age?  Where we can do it in complete absorption.  Let’s say that we can do it in such total absorption that even if lightning were to strike, we would be immovable, in immovable samadhi reciting that one mantra?  Wouldn’t that be better than just saying Om Ah Hung Benzar Guru Padme Siddhi Hung, Om Ah Hung Benzar Guru Padme Siddhi Hung, Om An Hung Benzar Guru Padme Siddhi Hung?   Sigh, Om Ah Hung Benzar Guru Padme Siddhi Hung.  Wouldn’t that be better than a half an hour of that, don’t you think?  That one mantra, that one glorious earthshaking, the earth moves beneath your feet mantra.  So that’s the question everybody has.  That’s the big question.  Why do we have to say these things, the underlying question is WHY 100,000?  You know, what fresh hell was concocted for us to make us have to recite this thing 100,000 times?  Where is it written?

Well, let me give you some information about that.  The reason why we ask questions like that is because of our lack of understanding.  We have an idea that if a thing is O.K. on the surface, it’s O.K.  We have an idea that if, well, I like to use the analogy, one of my favorite analogies is poop soup.  So let’s talk about that a little bit.  Poop Soup.  What’s the recipe for poop soup.  Well, poop soup is like, with poop soup you do pretty much what sentient beings do as they move through time.  You collect everything nasty there is through our own habitual tendency.  And here’s the part that we don’t understand.  Our life didn’t begin 46 years ago, or 20 years, or 70 years ago, or however old we are.  Our life didn’t begin at that time, but in fact the Buddha teaches us that we have existed as, with having the idea of self-nature as being inherently real, since time out of mind.  And during that time, we have engaged in activity which was samsaric activity, mixed activity, meaning not understanding our nature, not understanding our qualities, not understanding the relationship between cause and effect.  We simply engaged in an activity, instinctively and habitually, with very little understanding, and so we have accumulated mixed habitual tendencies, extremely mixed habitual tendencies including the habitual tendency of hatred greed and ignorance.  So that’s like  cooking up a big pot of poop soup.

Poop soup is basically all of the unclean things in samsara.  You collect it all together in one pot and you stir it up real good, ummm, yummy, it’s poop soup so you can understand what the main ingredient is, can’t you?  Poop soup, got it?  O.K., so you stir it up, the fragrance of cooking fills your house.  Wonderful, right?  And so the first day you cook up your poop soup it looks like pretty much what it is, boiling poop soup.  Right?  And the second day you boil it some more because that’s how it is, life moves on.  The poop soup is still boiling and the second day it looks pretty much like poop soup.  And the third day things are happening.  It begins to change.  It’s looking sort of colorful now.  Fuzzy in places, and colorful and you know, it’s changing.  And everyday that you look at it, one day it’s kind of orangey, the next day it’s kind of purplely, it depends.  It’s like different fuzzy little things that are growing on it.  Poop soup changes every day.  It’s just a cornucopia of colorful delight, the fragrance of which continues to fill your house.

Then one day, one day something magic happens.  You go to check out your poop soup for the day and you notice that on top of your poop soup there is this wonderful soft furry layer of something pure and white.   A white fuzzy something has grown on top of your poop soup.  And here’s how we think!  We think that now that our poop soup is all white and fuzzy and pure, it’s o.k.  Now, the only reason why we think like that is because we don’t understand that in fact we are not superficial creatures.  We aren’t that pure white stuff that’s growing on the top.  We are deep creatures, meaning to say we didn’t just crawl out from under a rock.  We didn’t just appear in space.  We didn’t just start 35 years ago, 75 years ago, whatever it happens to be, but since time out of mind we have been making connections, we have been engaging in cause and effect relationships and we’re like that pot of soup.  There are many many ingredients inside of us, and it’s a deep pot.

As we live, everything in that pot gets stirred up, from the bottom to the top, from the top to the bottom, from the side to the middle, it’s always getting stirred up.  But we think of ourselves in a very superficial way, and what that means is that on the day when we come up somehow magically just because of chance, it’s almost like you know, it’s almost like the slot machines in Los Vegas.  One day you’re gonna get three cherries.  Well, one day your pot’s gonna look like it’s all white and pure and sweet, kind of like New York City when it snows.  But you and I know that underneath there is a whole lot of trouble.  Right?  That’s true, but instead, how we think is that what’s on top is o.k.

So we have this idea, and actually this is how we think and it’s an unfortunate thing because it does not lead to self-honesty.  It does not lead us to a way to actually engage in practice and really benefit ourselves.  We think basically, because we think superficially, if you didn’t see me do it, if I didn’t get caught, I didn’t do it.  That’s how we think.  If you didn’t see me, I didn’t do it.  If you didn’t catch me, it didn’t happen.  What we are not taking into account is that we are deep creatures, that we have strong habitual tendencies that have, that we have engaged in since time out of mind, that we are extraordinary and complicated, that there are layers and layers and layers and layers of tapestry or fabric or weaving that are part of our nature.

To say one mantra, even if you say it so perfectly, so beautifully, pronounce it so well and do so with complete absorption, could not possibly counteract time out of mind worth of habitual tendencies and inappropriate negative or neurotic activity, which we have engaged in.  So reciting one mantra meaningfully, or even reciting a series of them very meaningfully, could not possibly empty the depth, could not possibly purify the depth of that poop soup that we created or that we have lived with for so long.

So what we’re up against here is we are trying, we are using a technology that isn’t meant for a person who has only lived one life.  We’re using a technology that really wasn’t designed, was not given to the world to cure a superficial problem.  It was not given to us to heal a scratch.  The technology of dharma is so extraordinary and so complicated, so deep, so effortful because of what it is supposed to do.  What it has to do is a big job.  What it has to do is to purify nonvirtuous habitual tendency that we have created and are deeply ingrained since time out of mind.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Short Confession: From Nam Chö Vajrasattva Ngondro

Vajrasattva-single

The following is a Short Confession found in the Nam Chö Ngondro practice of Vajrasattva revealed by Tertön Migyur Dorje:

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 activity is neither existent nor non-existent,
The Bodhicitta is without expectation or disappointment.
All root and auxiliary committments,
Breaches and failure to uphold them, are unborn, ungenerated,
And liberated in the indivisibility of the object to confess and the confession itself.

No Short Cuts

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Antidoting the Mantra of Samsara”

As a part of Ngondro, we have to accomplish 100,000 repetitions of a short version of the Bodhisattva Vow,  the Bodhicitta mantra. Do you think to yourself, “Well what’s the goal here?  See, I’m trying to be compassionate. O.k. so from now on I’m just going to be nice.”  Have you ever tried to make that decision?  From now on you’re going to be nice?  Have you ever tried to do that?  How long did it last?  Maybe five minutes if you’re lucky!  I think the all-time world record for a woman is 28 days!  And that goes for her husband also!  So it really can’t be done. You can’t just decide you’re going to be compassionate. And why is that?  Because you still have the weight of these ancient habitual tendencies and deluded perceptions.

The Buddha teaches us that what’s needed here is to recite the Bodhicitta mantra at least 100,000 times with the correct absorption, correct mental concentration, mental imaging, and mental visualization, just as you are taught by the Buddha. Don’t make up your own religion now. Don’t do that!  Practice what the Buddha has taught you just like the Buddha says, and that will change that. Rather than thinking “Oh, let me see if I can rewrite this religion to make it a little easier,” which you guys have all tried to do, haven’t you?  Yes, we know that. So, instead of rewriting the religion, we actually practice it the way that it was given. But we’re thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice, instead of this 100,000 business, why don’t we sort of do it the new way?  This is a new age isn’t it?  We’ll just think positive all of the time.” Anybody ever tried to think positive all the time?  That’s another fun one. The world record for that is also 28 days.

So we have to understand that what’s recommended here is not arbitrary. Some Buddhist person didn’t show up a long time ago and say “Let’s see, when it gets to be about 1996, how are we going to torture these people?”  It wasn’t like that at all. These practices are meant to antidote your particular situation. You must understand that these were not given to us by ordinary sentient beings. These were not authored by someone who felt that they had an answer the way many of our New Age wisdoms are. You know, nowadays we hear people coming up with wisdom all the time, all kinds of wisdom.They came up with it two years ago, five years ago—how to dream, how to vision. Everybody’s got some wisdom.

But this stuff that comes from the Buddha is different. What actually occurred here is that the very mind of enlightenment appeared in the world as the perfected Buddha. This was not an ordinary sentient being. This is the Buddha nature appearing in the world in a form that we can see with our eyes. And from the mind of that nature, from the mind of that one, from that, directly from the Buddha nature itself, this antidotal process was given. It’s not the same as some mom and pop wisdom somebody cooked up nowadays. So it’s not going to sound like, “Let’s put a bandaid on an ulcer.” It’s not going to sound like “O.k. you’ve been alive since time out of mind creating lots of nonvirtue. Just think positive. Everything will be fine.”  It’s not going to sound like that.

It’s going to sound like what it is. The necessary solution for what ails you according to what you actually are, not according to your over-simplified understanding of yourself. So the Buddha has given a very deep, very extensive, very profound method for a very deep, extensive and profound problem. And there are no shortcuts.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

Stopping the Merry-Go-Round

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Antidoting the Mantra of Samsara”

Now, during this practice, with our whole body we’re purifying body karma arising from the non-virtuous activity that we have engaged in since time out of mind, when instead of going for refuge, we went for ice cream.  So instead, now we are actually using our body, speech and mind—using the body by making prostrations, using the speech by reciting, and using the mind by remaining absorbed and visualizing.  Now we are training in the same way that a body builder trains a muscle. He develops and trains that muscle by pumping it and working it and working it.  Now we are working to sharpen our focus, not to be simply reactive and discursive the way we are in samsara going towards meaningless goals with no distinction whatsoever.  I mean, we’ll follow anything!

Instead of going for meaningless goals that have no meaning whatsoever, instead now we are training body, speech, and mind to be single-pointed for the first time.  This is pretty amazing!  I mean, think about it.  For the first time, single-pointed.  I take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dharma and the Sangha.  And if you do it with your body, speech and mind, the potency of reciting that 100,000 times is extraordinary!  Simply extraordinary!  I mean, completing 100,000 repetitions of the refuge mantra and prostrations is an extraordinarily life-changing experience.  It’s like stopping the merry-go-round for a minute. If you were born on a merry-go-round and your movement was invisible, and then suddenly you stopped, don’t you think that something inside of you would go, “Whoa! Whoa!  Whoa!  What’s this?  This is new!”  And that would be the beginning of a new kind of experience.  And it takes the weight of that kind of practice to make that happen.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Four fold Prayer for Motherly Sentient Beings Equal to Space

The following prayer is from the Nam Cho Ngondro, The Great Perfection Buddha in the Palm of Hand

MA NAM KHA DANG NYAM PA’I SEM CHEN THAM CHED

I pray that all motherly sentient beings, countless as space,

LAMA SANGYE CHÖ KYI KU LA SÖL WA DEB SO

May realize the Guru’s Dharmakaya Buddha Body.

MA NAM KHA DANG NYAM PA’I SEM CHEN THAM CHED

I pray that all motherly sentient beings, countless as space,

LAMA DE CHEN LONG CHÖD DZOG PA’I KU LA SÖL

WA DEB SO

May realize the Guru’s Great Bliss Sambhogakaya Body.

MA NAM KHA DANG NYAM PA’I SEM CHEN THAM CHED

I pray that all motherly sentient beings, countless as space,

LAMA THUG JE TRUL PA’I KU LA SÖL WA DEB SO

May realize the Guru’s Great Bliss Nirmanakaya Body

MA NAM KHA DANG NYAM PA’I SEM CHEN THAM CHED

I pray that all motherly sentient beings, countless as space,

Daily Offerings

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

I’d like to talk about mindfulness in practice of making offerings.  As you know, when you do your preliminary practice of Ngondro, at some point you accumulate 100,000 repetitions of mandala offerings.  That’s a fairly elaborate practice where you sit down and you work with the mandala set and you make the mounds and you have a very extensive visualization.  So is that where your offering practice stops?  Do you make your offerings to the deities and then walk away from your practice and not be involved in your practice anymore?  No, of course not.

In order to practice truly and more deeply, what we have to do is remain mindful of the practice constantly.  Remember that we are trying to antidote ego clinging.  We’re trying to antidote the belief in self-nature as being inherently real.  We are trying to antidote the desire, the hope and the fear that results from that identification of self-nature as being inherently real and other as being separate.  Remember that this is the point of what we’re doing.  So if we were to practice accumulating mandala offerings, or make offerings at a temple and then have that practice end and no longer be a part of our lives, we wouldn’t be applying that antidote very well — at least not as well as we might.

How would it be possible for us to avoid this ego clinging?  How would it be possible to avoid simply reinforcing samsara’s unfortunate message when we go around and simply enjoy ourselves?  Remember that it is a worthy thing to notice, when you perceive something like a house or a tree or a flower, how automatic your reaction and response to that is.   How is this flower going to affect me?  This flower, this tree, how is it going to be meaningful if it doesn’t affect me?  That is its meaning: it affects me.  That is how we think.  The practice that I’m suggesting is something that you can do without ever sitting down and meditating, so for those of you that have no time, this is a great practice.

When we’re doing anything, no matter what it is, we see appearances.  Images come to us.  They are sometimes very favorable, sometimes very beautiful, sometimes wonderful, and we enjoy them, and sometimes not.  When we enjoy them, we enjoy them by clinging, by taking that experience, in a sense, and holding onto it, grabbing it.  We’re grasping that experience.  That tree is only relevant because I see it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  When the tree is out of my sight, it no longer exists.  We think like that.  My suggestion is that rather than just doing your practice when you’re sitting down, why not be mindful constantly? When you see the appearance of any phenomenon, when you see any kind of beautiful thing — like for instance when you look outside and you see how lovely it is out there, how gorgeous it is, the trees and the flowers and the sweetness of the air — how can you not let that beauty simply reinforce our clinging to ego, that clinging to identity?

One way to do that is to develop an automatic habit, and again, those habits start small and end up big.  We start at the beginning, and we simply increase.  Develop the habit of offering everything that you see. You think, “Huh?  How can I offer it if it’s not mine?”  Well, that’s not the point.  Whether it’s yours or not, your senses will grab it as yours.  You will react to it, you will respond to it, you will judge it, and so it becomes, in a way, your thing.  You collect it.  When you see something, you collect it, and you hold onto it.  The experience is what you take away.  Maybe we can’t take away the tree, but that doesn’t mean anything because we’ve taken away our experience of the tree.  It has become ours, and it reinforces that delusion of self and other.  Instead of doing that, isn’t it possible upon seeing something beautiful, upon taking a walk, having a good feeling, accomplishing something wonderful, seeing beautiful things, having meaningful relationships with other people, any kind of pleasure that is part of your life, that it can be offered?  It can be thought of in a different way.

For instance, if I were to walk down the street and see a field of flowers, but didn’t know about any of these teachings of the Dharma, then maybe I might pick some of the flowers think that’s a meaningful experience because I feel good about it; I’m really happy with that.  The only reason these flowers have become meaningful is because they’ve affected me in a certain way, and it continues the delusion.  Having heard about Dharma, we have another option.  When we see and enjoy a whole field of flowers, we can visualize in a very simple way, making it an offering to all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.  Instead of that automatic clinging to this image and trying to take it with us, trying to make it part of us, there can be an instant habit that we form of offering this to all the Buddhas.  “This field of flowers is so wonderful.  I love it so much.”

If we work on it, instead of clinging to it in some subtle way, our automatic habit can be to offer it to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.  Take any good taste, for instance, a good flavor in your mouth; a lot of times when we have a pleasurable experience like good food or good taste you may have noticed that ultimately it’s not so good.  The food turns into…well, you know what it turns into, doo-doo. The experience does us no good because when we were tasting it, we were clinging to it.  That’s mine.  You see?  I’m tasting it.  It’s in my taste buds.  It’s that relationship between my taste buds and that food that’s really important: we’re stuck in that delusion.  We’re stuck in that dream.

Suppose we were able, instead, to develop the habit that when we eat something we are practicing as well by automatically offering the flavor and the taste of that to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas?  Then you’re not grabbing onto it, you’re not making it your experience.  Offering it, you’re not reinforcing that dynamic of self and other, but rather when you taste, you’re just simply offering it.  You can learn to do it very quickly.  When you first start, it’s a little bit cumbersome because you take a bite of food, and you say, “Okay, I offer this to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas.”  You take another bite of food, saying, “I offer this to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas.”  At first, it may seem a little dry and uncomfortable, but there’s an inner posture that can be developed that’s an automatic response, as automatic as deciding whether or not you like that taste.  As the taste hits you, the experience of that can be just offering it to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas.  It can be so immediate that no words are required.  At that point, you’ve developed the habit of making this constant, constant, constant offering.

As parents, when we bond with our children and hold our children and have that wonderful, pleasurable experience of cuddling our kids and feeling wonderful, as ordinary human beings we think, “Oh, this is my child.  This is the extension of my ego.  I made that.  I made an egg, and look what happened.”  So we have very great pride about that, and our family becomes an extension of our ego, an extension of what we call ourselves.  What if were able to offer that as well?  As we hold our beloved children, as we feel that feeling, rather than putting another star in our own crown and thinking, “Oh, yeah, this is my kid and I’m holding her now” – what if we could offer that feeling? What if we could even offer the connection, the incredible, powerful connection between mother and child?  That, too, can be offered to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas.   When you offer something to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas, it’s not as though it disappears.  It’s not as though the feeling disappears once you offer that feeling of loving your child to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas, and suddenly you don’t love your kid anymore.  It’s not like that.  Anything that we offer, really in some magical way becomes multiplied.  It becomes even more than it originally could have been.  In not using what we see with our five senses as a way to practice more self-absorption, but instead using what we see with the five senses as a way to accomplish some kind of Recognition, this is a very powerful practice and a very excellent, excellent adornment for the sit-down practice that we do.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Purifying One’s Intention

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

Another aspect of our Ngöndro practice is purification, the prayers to Vajrasattva. How would it be if we were to sit for maybe an hour and practice the purification and confession of Vajrasattva and accumulate the mantra and then just put our books aside and consider it’s over?  That’s it.  I confessed.  I said all the prayers, the short ones and the long ones, short confession, long confession.  Remember, if you practice like that, you never have to revisit it again.  It’s a lazy, cop-out way to practice.

Instead, we should think, “I’m deeply involved in the practice of purification and confession which does not stop at the end of my practice.”  There are so many ways to practice that kind of purification: by being mindful, by making offerings in the way that I’ve described, by moving into a state of better recognition about what is precious and what is ordinary, and ultimately moving into the state of Recognition of the nature of all phenomena.  Automatically one is constantly purifying the senses, constantly purifying one’s intention, which is the very thing that needs purifying even more than everything else.  If we practice in that way as we’re walking around, it complements any confessional prayers that we make.

In most of the confessional prayers, if you really read the meaning and content of the prayers, there is talk about broken samaya in the confessional prayers.  Nobody really knows what that means.  Does that mean you didn’t do your mantra today?  Well, maybe on one level it means that, but on a deeper level, it is referring to the state of non-recognition.  So in everything that we do, if we continually make offerings, as we continually give rise to a deeper Recognition, then the five senses are being purified constantly. The habit that I’m suggesting you develop will antidote the automatic reaction that is so natural for us, so habitual.   Remember, we can insert this way of thinking or this way of practicing because we are human.

I really like animals, but one thing I’ve noticed about animals, even if they are trainable and very smart, they cannot change or alter the way they perceive their environment.  They can’t do that.  The dog can’t say, “Wait a minute, before I lift that leg, let’s think about the nature of that fire hydrant.”  The dog is not capable of this.  You are.  That is one of the great blessings of being a human being, and yet the habits that we tend to cultivate are the habits that you don’t even need to be a human being to do: that habit of automatically reacting, not taking oneself in hand, not creating any kind of space or a moment where we can Recognize the nature of reality, not making any offerings.  We tend to just automatically move through life like an automaton, like a robot.

However, being human, we can develop a little bit of space in our minds to antidote that constant clinging and reactivity, and yet we’re all about collecting things.  Well, you know, crows collect things.  We’re all about having relationships.  Well, even animals can bond for life.  We’re all about having children.  Well, dogs and cats do that, too.  Isn’t it wonderful that here in Dharma practice, if we choose to, if we practice sincerely, we can do that which only humans can do?  How amazing!

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Our Guide in Difficult Times

From a series of tweets by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

Ngundro, or preliminary practice consists of several parts:

  • Refuge, or entering the gate of protection of the “three precious ones” – the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
  • Bodhicitta, the practice of the six perfections and the generation of the aspiration to realize Enlightenment.
  • The offering of the Mandala, the accumulation of merit through skill.
  • Vajrasattva, the purification of obscurations through wisdom.
  • And Guru Yoga, receiving the blessings through which one can attain enlightenment in a single lifetime.

Nothing is more precious than this. Even a cache of jewels, a palatial home, a beautiful and healthy body, nothing is more precious than Guru Yoga, the means to awaken. I have always been taught this: that in these deteriorating times Guru Yoga is the swiftest and most powerful method as it is so easy to be distracted, make mistakes, forget to be mindful. Our Spiritual Guide is the method to keep our path as straight as an arrow and as powerful as the mightiest sword. One should always keep samaya with the Tsawei Lama, even at the cost of one’s very life. If one cannot do even that, even after the precious Dharma has been offered, there is absolutely no way to accomplish the path.

One should remain within their Lineage as well, as there is the certainty of receiving pure unstained empowerment. If we cannot do even that, we are in delusion and ignorance. The fruit of Enlightenment will not come to your mouth. Body, speech and mind, the three doors will be corrupted. Speech will be ordinary, and without any benefit or virtue.

This teaching is a combination of Kyabje His His Penor Rinpoche and my humble self. Forgive me, Guru Padma for any mistakes, and for my presumption. Lama Kyen No! To the lotus feet of the Guru I make extensive offerings! Happy Losar to all! Kye HO!

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Offer It Up


An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo from The Spiritual Path

We never lose sight of how we feel. We are always monitoring ourselves. We want to feel free of suffering, free of stress. Sentient beings strive endlessly to be happy, so it is very difficult to achieve a sustained, sincere practice of generosity. Think what you have done over the last 24 hours. Work? Practice? Television? Family time? Social obligations? Was your first and foremost thought to benefit sentient beings? Or were you doing things to strengthen your ego in some way, to make you feel better? Mostly the latter, I think. Even our Dharma activity is often done to make us feel better about ourselves—to make us feel busy, wanted, necessary, energetic. Or, perhaps, spiritual, holy, and pure. We always have our selfish purposes, so it is difficult to be generous.

How should one be generous? How should we think about generosity? To begin with, we should not consider phenomena something we can have or not have, something that attracts or repels us. We should view all phenomena as a pure celestial offering that we can actually make to the Three Precious Jewels. We should view our entire world as an exquisite, vast celestial mandala. We should think of phenomena as Mt. Meru, surrounded by its beautiful continents. We should think of all sights, smells, sounds, sensations as precious jewels that we offer to the Three Precious Jewels themselves. It is a more profound version of what we do in our Ngöndro as mandala offering. The deepest way to engage in the practice of generosity is to offer one’s environment continually. But how many of us do that?

Think, for instance, about the way we react to food. We eat food with desire. We taste it with lust, more lust than we think. Shopping for food, we want the best apples, don’t we? The purest, the finest. We want the best carrot cake, the best vegetables. We even lust after color. Our eyes, our feelings are drawn to it. We think we look good or bad in a certain color. We perceive color with attraction or repulsion. All our senses function like that. Actually, generosity should be practiced in such a way that we offer the very senses that we have. But do we offer our taste? Our hearing? Well, we might say that. But we can’t wait for the next sound, the next taste. We cling to our existence as a sentient being, a feeling being.  We long for the next touch, the next sight. When you go for a walk, what do you do? You look at the flowers and trees. You sniff the air, smelling everything. The senses are yours. And you have no idea of offering, no intention of offering them to the Three Precious Jewels. And yet, that would be true generosity.

What is the basis of that generosity? How can such an offering be of benefit? You may think: “If the Buddha wanted my taste, my sight, my hearing, my touch, he’d get his own! A truly enlightened being can manifest all kinds of incredible siddhis, or powers. So why do I have to offer this phenomenal existence to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas?”

Well, why do you have to do that? There’s a real logic behind it. How long are you going to have your senses? You’re going to have sight until your eyes go. Even if your eyes last until the end of your life, they will die when your head dies. You will only have touch as long as you have skin to touch with. Your perceptual experiences will not outlast your body. So what are you holding on to? The traditional teaching says that at the time of death, we cannot take with us so much as a sesame seed. You take only your cause-and-effect relationships and habitual tendencies. So if you have clung to your experiences, establishing your particular neuroses at every moment, that is what you will continue to do in the bardo. If it has been your habit to look for approval and to gather things, situations, people around you for that purpose, you will not be able to take any of that into the bardo. All you will have is the habit of that longing, that desire—and the karma you have engendered from reacting to that need.

How much better to practice generosity—to offer your five senses and all phenomenal existence to the Three Precious Jewels. Why? You create a stream of merit. Offering is one of the major ways to accumulate merit, and that merit can be dedicated to benefit sentient beings. In fact, you can visualize yourself and all sentient beings offering the five senses, offering consciousness itself as we know it. You can think of all sentient beings gathered together with you making offerings of the three thousand myriads of universes purified into a precious jeweled mandala.

What is the value of such an offering? It cuts to the bone. It is so profound that it transforms the entire perceptual process. This deep level of offering pacifies our habit of clinging to cyclic existence. It purifies our self-absorption and selfishness, and we can offer the merit to the countless beings who are themselves constantly involved in selfishness and self-absorption, unaware that they can make any offering at all.

Unfortunately, we are afraid. If we offer something, the Buddha might take us up on it. If I offer the experience of being the mother of my beautiful daughter, maybe they’ll take her away. If I offer all my clothing to the Three Precious Jewels, they might take that away. We fear that something will be lost to us. But you can see that this is a product of our delusion. Our experience of phenomena depends entirely upon karma. As our karma becomes more purified, more virtuous, as our minds become more spacious, more relaxed—our experience can only be better. Suffering only happens due to clinging and desire. In our delusion, we continue to lust after experience, and that lust continues to cause our suffering.

The practice of generosity is an antidote to all that. There is literally nothing to hold on to and no one to do the holding.    Everything you have ever experienced—all you will ever experience—is the result of the condition of your mind. Why not then practice this deep level of generosity? Why not view phenomenal existence for what it is? You will in the end, anyway. You’ll see it disappear before your eyes. At the time of your death, you will see the elements disappear, dissolve. Whether or not you will recognize what is happening is another story. (You may merely pass into unawareness, and that would be for one reason only: you lived in unawareness.)

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

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