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.

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

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

The Power of Ngondro

The following is respectfully quoted from “Natural Liberation” by Padmasambhava:

OM VARJASATTVA SAMAYAM ANUPĀLAYA VAJRASATTVA TVENOPATISTHA DRDHO ME BHAVA SUTOSYO ME BHAVA SUPOSYO ME BHAVA ANURAKTO ME BHAVA SARVA SIDDHIM ME PRAYACCHA SARVA KARMASU CA ME CITTAM ŚRĪYAM KURU HŪM HA HA HA HA HOH BHAGAVAN SARVATATHĀGATA VAJRA MĀ ME MUŃCA VAJRA BHAVA MAHĀSAMAYA SATTVA ĀH

This is an extremely important practice. It’s dealt with quite concisely here, but more more elaborate instruction can be found in other teachings on the preliminary practices. This practice is of very tangible benefit. There are other teachings on Atiyoga and so forth that we may consider more esoteric or advanced, but it’s questionable how deeply benefited we can be by those and how much we can truly enter into experience of the Great Perfection. Here, though, is something of practical benefit. If you are familiar with this practice, it’s good to share it with others who may be beginners. By such a practice as this, the two types of obscurations can be purified. Once all of your obscurations have been completely purified, you are a buddha; and that means you have realized the Great Perfection.

Due to ignorance, delusion and stupidity,
I have transgressed my samayas, and they have degenerated.
O spiritual mentor, protector, protect me!
Glorious Lord Vajradhara,
Merciful being of great compassion,
Lord of the world, protect us!
Please cleanse and purify the whole mass
Of sins, obscurations, faults, downfalls, and taints.
By this virtue, may I now
Swiftly actualize Vajrasattva
And quickly bring every sentient being
Without exception to that state.
O Vajrasattva, may we become exactly
Like your form, with your retinue, life span, pure realm,
And with your supreme , excellent signs.

OFFERING THE MANDALA

Once you have begun purifying the two types of obscurations, there is the task of accumulating the two collections of merit and of knowledge for one’s own benefit and the benefit of others. The welfare of others is accomplished in the realization of the Rūpakāya, or form embodiment, of the Buddha; and it is toward accomplishing that end that one offers the mandala.

OM VAJRA BHŪMI ĀH HUM
The basis becomes the powerful golden ground.
OM VAJRA REKHE ĀH HŪM
On the periphery is a surrounding jeweled iron fence.
In the center is the supreme king of mountains,
Majestic in its composition from the five kinds of precious substances.
Lovely in shape, beautiful, and delightful to behold,
Seven golden mountains are surrounded by seven concentric seas.
In the east is the continent Videha, in the south, Jambudvipa,
The west is adorned by Godàniya,
And in the north is the great Uttarakuru;
With the eight sub-continents of Deha and Videha,
Cāmara and Aparacāmara,
Śāthā and Uttaramantrina,
Kurava and Kaurava,
The sun, moon, Rāhu and kālāgni,
And this bounty of wealth and enjoyments of gods and humans
I offer to the precious spiritual mentor and his retinue.
Out of compassion, please accept this for the sake of the world.

Be Your Own Best Friend

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Western Chöd”

Understanding what is in front of you is like, I’ve used this analogy before, it’s like walking through a dark room. Let’s say that the life span that you have can be symbolized by a room. It’s dark because you don’t know what it’s going to be like. So let’s say the room is perfectly pitch dark. All the shades are drawn. It’s dark outside. No moon. Lights are off. We’re talking dark. And it’s like that because no one can predict the future. We have no idea what our lives are going to be like. But you have to walk through that room.

So you have a choice there. You can either do what we’re used to doing which is, eyes closed, you don’t turn on the light. You just take it the way it is and, like a fool, just walk through the room. Now unfortunately in that room, there’s a sofa, there’s a couch, there’s a table, lots of tables, there’s stuff on the floor. It’s like any other room. It’s furnished. Just like your life. It’s furnished. So you’re going to walk through that room what, with the light off?  With your eyes closed?  Guess what’s going to happen. Try it in your room. Try it in your house. Just walk around a while with all the lights off and your eyes closed. You are going to hurt yourself. You’re going to fall down.

There’s another choice, and this is the choice that Buddhism offers to you, or that this kind of practice specifically offers you—examining the faults of cyclic existence and examining what is the more noble way.This kind of practice offers you another alternative and that is turning on the light. Having seen the faults of cyclic existence that’s like you’re walking through this room, yes, but you know where the couch is. You can walk around the couch. You know where the chair is. You can walk around the chair. You know where the table is. You can walk around the table. Something on the floor. You can step over that. So while it may not be our natural tendency to look at life in that way, it behooves us to have that kind of courage because ultimately it would be like walking through your life really seeing what it is, being able to avoid the obstacles, taking advantage of what is there to take advantage of, and not hurting yourself.

It isn’t like you’re sentencing yourself to several months of the worst practice you’ve ever experienced. In a way, for the first time, maybe for the only time, you’re being your own best friend. You’re really looking, really seeing, not copping out. And because of that you will be more competent to move through your life than you might have been otherwise. And not only that, you’ve given rise to the great Bodhicitta, the great compassion, and you have understood that while you are alive in this world, you cannot accept, you cannot bear the suffering of sentient beings. You see that it becomes somehow disgusting and unacceptable to you, that your two feet, that your self could be here in this world, and sentient beings are suffering. That’s why, in the practice, we give rise to renunciation, true renunciation. We totally give up the self for the purpose of benefitting sentient beings.  Practice like that will produce that excellent result.

According to my teachers, this is a combination of preliminary practice called Ngöndro, which is where we see the faults of cyclic existence and give rise to the Bodhicitta, and it’s also the practice of Chöd. There’s no reason why any of you can’t begin to practice like that right now, immediately, tomorrow, today. That practice can be done deeply as I have just given instruction, but it can also be done in more casual way, as you’re walking around. Examine everything you see, and even if you are not a Buddhist, that’s fine with me. Even if you’re not planning on being a Buddhist but you’re interested in these words and you have some connection with them, great. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice in this way, because when I practiced in this way, I wasn’t. But it is the same ethics, the same morality and the same beauty that I have later come to find in my religion, Buddhism. So I offer this to you as a gift and I really hope that you take it with you wherever you go, and that, for my friend, it will bring you back safely, and that for all of you, you will have the most excellent result practicing in that way.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Time To Practice

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

New students keep saying “Well this is amazing. I’ve been looking for something that’s that deep and that profound and this sounds really good, and as soon as I have time, you know, I’ll get into it. But right now I have children, and I have wife and I have a job and I have a car to support and all these things. So you know, I’m really for you and I hope lots of people become Buddhists and do all this. But right now for me I have to wait. I have to wait for a while. I have to wait ‘til my kids grow up. I have to wait ‘til my car is paid for. Right before I get the next one. And I have to wait for…, I just have to wait, you know, because waiting is what I do.”  And so the thought that we have when we’re waiting is that somehow this is all going to work out well. We’ll be exposed to the Buddha’s teachings and we’ll hear something. It’s that magical thinking: It’ll just sort of come together eventually.

Actually, if you really think about it, the Buddha’s teachings are so extensive, so developed, so profound, so deep that they take time to contemplate, to understand, to prepare for, to even build the foundation that causes you to practice foundational preliminary teachings. It takes time. Why? Because you have to change in the process!  We’re not in the business of applying bandaids here. It takes time for you to change. Some of you change faster than others. And it takes time to do the practice. The practice is extensive. So, I’m looking around the room now and I’m seeing that most of us are not under 10 years old. Therefore, whether we’re 20, 25, 35, 45, 55, 75 or however old we are, and it seems like there’s a mixture here, you need to start right now. Because there’s not much time.

There are two reasons: First of all the Buddha taught that there is no guarantee as to how long any of us are going to live, and you can’t understand this. For some reason it is beyond human capacity to understand this kind of thing, unless you yourself have been struck with a terrible illness or a terrible accident where you could have died or may still, or unless you’ve seen someone near you just kick off. Once you’ve had that experience you may understand, but before that, it’s very hard to understand what the Buddha has taught. There is no guarantee that you’re going to wake up tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year.

The second reason is the cause and effect relationships that constantly engage our own sea of karma. That sea of karma that is already hooked up and functional within our mindstream is very fluid and it’s constantly being catalyzed by other events. Each one of you most likely has the karma to live for a very long time and also the karma to die quickly. Which one will ripen?  Well, that’s up to you, according to how you practice, according to how you live, according to how you determine your mind state because everything you do, everything you think, everything you engage in is an additional cause and effect relationship and an additional catalyst. Everything you do is important.

So for each and every one of us the wisest thing to do is to begin to practice now. You know yourself very well. You know when you tighten up. You know what you need. You know when you get scared. You know when you do your best. You like to think you don’t know and you kind of get limp and act like you need guidance for everything, but in fact you do know. You do know how to take care of yourself if you stop and think about it and engage in some self-honesty. So do whatever it takes to mother yourself through, to nurture yourself through, to get to the point where you can actually practice.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

Why Such Effort?

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

When you come here and you ask yourself what has to be done here, the answer is: It’s not just hanging out being a Buddhist. I don’t really care if you’re Buddhist. I just want you to be liberated. You can call yourself whatever you want. To hang out here and be a Buddhist is probably equal to going to a movie; but to hang out here and really practice and really apply the antidote, now that’s worth something. And that’s the kind of frame of mind you have to be in and think yourself in when you actually approach the path. You can see, however, how confusing it must be. As sentient beings, we can’t understand why it takes such an extraordinary effort. I mean, the other religions are much easier. So why wouldn’t we want to practice that?  Because according to the Buddha’s teaching, we are much more complicated than that. We are samsaric beings and we have been for a very long time. We are filled with delusions. Our minds are just jammed with discursive thoughts of all kinds. We are constantly engaging in conceptual proliferations, superstructuring. We cannot relax in our nature and awaken to the primordial state.

This is why it’s so complicated to practice Dharma as we do. These are the kinds of things that people ask: Well, why can’t we get through this easier?  And then we want to know, why do we have to do prostrations?  Why prostrations?  I mean, couldn’t we just be devoted standing up?  Well, then you have to ask yourself why you’re asking that question. And you might say “Well, it’s because I don’t like the getting up and down business. It’s too hard. It’s too tiring. It makes my back hurt and I just don’t want to do it.”  And so that’s your answer. You get up and down every day—dance the jig, carry on, do all kinds of amazing effortful activity in order to continue in samsara. How many calories do we burn every day?  What are we doing when we’re burning those calories?  Are we plowing forward towards Dharma?  Are we moving through the door of liberation?  No. No. No, we are going deeper and deeper into samsara. That is where our effort is involved every single day. So when we ask ourself, “Why does it take such an extraordinary effort?”, then we have to go back ourself. Do we understand what the goal is, what the point is? Until we understand why we’re doing this, and why we’re here… And it isn’t just to hang out.

There is something that actually needs doing in order to attain liberation. Otherwise liberation is not a fact, not a certainty, not a state, not a real goal. It’s simply an idea just like any other idea. Something that’s floating around. It’s just a word, it has no meaning. So instead, depth is required. Repetition is required. Contemplation is required. Thought is required. Attentiveness is required. Determination is required. Understanding is required. You must go into this path more deeply than perhaps you’ve ever done anything else. It doesn’t mean that you have to spend every single moment of every day in the beginning simply contemplating the Buddha’s teachings. I’m not asking you to forget how to catch a cab. That’s not what I’m saying. Or to forget how to cook dinner. But I am saying that we should be aware in the beginning that what we are trying to accomplish is possible, but only if we really understand what it is, what the goal is, and how extraordinary the goal is and therefore how extraordinary the effort must be in order to achieve the goal. Because it must be that extraordinary or you’re just doing something, another something other than the other somethings that you’re already doing.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Clarifying the Goal

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

Honestly ask yourself whether there is wisdom in what the Buddha has taught. That, in fact, when it comes time to practice Dharma, to realize the nature of one’s mind, to see it purely and clearly, to wipe away the stain of non-virtuous behavior and discursive thought and ancient habitual tendencies and simple ignorance… Can we really ask ourselves whether there is wisdom in what the Buddha has taught when he said that this is something that needs to be worked at in depth. That there needs to be a great deal of effort in that direction. That, in fact, it really isn’t that useful to have a wonderful, blissful, emotional experience saying that one glorious mantra that you thought would really do the trick, because that’s just another flower in the bouquet of human experiences and emotions. If you have a blissful, marvelous, emotional, contrived experience with that one mantra, it’s really in essence not so very different from the blissful, emotional experience that you have when you do something else really well. Or when you buy a new car, or when you get a new honey, or when you taste a new kind of chocolate, or whatever it happens to be. It becomes then simply another human emotional experience that we contrive to look like, or to be, a certain way, because that’s what most of our experiences actually are. They are contrivances.

In order to really stir the depths of samsara, that is to purify ancient habitual tendencies, well-established habitual tendencies, in order to create the new habitual tendency of virtuous activity, a great deal of depth and effort has to come into that. So many recitations are required. The goal here is not really to have an emotional experience. It is to recite the syllables associated with mantra which are not ordinary in which each and every syllable has a particular extraordinary blessing associated with the mind of enlightenment and serves to actually purify the winds, channels and fluids within one’s psychic nature.

So many repetitions here are the key. And then on top of that, since you thought maybe the way to do this would be to have a beautiful deep and profound experience anyway, you might try being completely absorbed in the mantra that you are reciting. Because you are right about one thing: It is less potent to just say mantra than to really remain absorbed in the visualization that is given to you by the teacher and to remain absorbed in the activity itself. That is much more profound and much deeper. But still and all, even if you are to do it in a way where you’re completely absorbed, where the experience is deep, where it’s profound, where you’re really paying attention, where you’re really developing some clarity of mind, still and all, even with that, it is necessary to make many repetitions.

And the reason why is because there’s a goal here. We are applying an antidote to something specific in order to have a specific result. There’s a difference between reciting mantra for that reason, with that kind of perspective and maybe coming to some teaching or going to church or coming to even a Buddhist temple or hearing what I have to say to you and then simply thinking “Oh now I’ve heard that so therefore I’ve had some of the Buddha’s teachings.”  O.K., that’s very good. There’s a difference in the goal orientation, do you see?  One of them is simply collecting something, having something, saying you’ve been there—a knot on the belt. You know, it’s something. And the other one is understanding the faults of cyclic existence, the conditions of samsara, the depth of it, the complication of it, and understanding that there is a goal, an extraordinary goal that cannot be reached any way other than to apply the necessary antidote.

That goal of course is enlightenment. That goal of course is what the Buddha experienced when he said, “I am awake.”  It is awakening to our primordial nature. It is a condition that is beyond form, beyond formless, beyond samsara, beyond even nirvana. It is an utterly conditionless and natural state and to awaken to that nature, that is the goal.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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

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