When Obstacles Arise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Respecting the Three Jewels

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Keeping Heart Samaya”

When we examine the student’s responsibility in the teacher/student relationship, we have to think like this: First of all, according to the teaching, the lama, as the spiritual teacher or spiritual master, is the condensed essence of the external and most familiar objects of refuge–the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.  So, regarding the student’s samaya or commitment to the teacher, there are three aspects of commitment.

As the lama is the condensed essence of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the first commitment is to honor and uphold the Buddha’s teachings.  That is to say that if we are practicing the Buddhadharma, we should never disrespect the Buddhist prayers and the Buddhist text. We love and respect them as the Buddha’s own speech, the Buddha’s own speech emanation.  We should never throw them around or put them under our seats or step on them or treat them as though they were any like other object in samsara, like a rag or something.  We should never treat any objects that are representative of the objects of refuge like that, such as statues, Dharma texts, and images of the Buddhas.

It’s not that Buddhists have a superficial, external, worship of images.  It is not like that.  This rule or practice is meant to develop discrimination in the student’s mind so that the student can discriminate between what is precious and extraordinary and what is ordinary.  Ordinary things are things that arise in samsara and result in samsara, even things that we need, like enough water to live on.  Water is in the world, you can get it from the world and it results in the satisfaction of worldly thirst.  Water is not the same as Dharma.  Dharma arises from the mind of enlightenment, results in enlightenment and is not ordinary.  Water will support my life temporarily, so it is impermanent.  If I drink a glass of water and then don’t drink any more, I will last four or five days. But even though it may be necessary for me to drink that water in order to stay alive long enough to read the Buddha’s teaching, I won’t forget the teaching because it is extraordinary and does not arise from samsara.

This commitment not only supports my life temporarily and in this moment, but it also provides a path or a method by which I can accomplish Dharma, by which I can enter into the door of liberation and be free.  This is a miracle.  This is a treasure that doesn’t only last one life or one moment or four days.  Life after life after life this treasure lasts,.  So these things are held up as extraordinary. Part of the student’s commitment to the student/teacher relationship is to honor this external object of refuge–the Buddha image, to honor the Buddha’s presence in the world, to propagate the teaching, to hold it up and protect it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Looking for Happiness

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

If we broaden our perspective, we look out from our own self-absorption into our immediate environment which is generally pretty easy for most of us.  We have friends and relatives that we don’t mind increasing our space to include and we look at them and we consider them part of our lives. But let’s move out and see all the rest of humankind.  They are all, in the same way as we are, striving to be happy.  And then look out beyond that to the animal realm.  Even though these animals don’t have a forehead, even though these animals cannot conceptualize in the same way that we do, still each one of them in their own way is trying to be happy according to their capacity. The predator is trying to be happy when it chases its prey.  The prey is trying to be happy when it fixes itself or creates for itself a safe environment and develops coping mechanisms with the reality that the predator is always out there.

There are many different ways to view this, but we can see if we really study, that we all have that in common and so we become, in a sense one family with a fundamental genetic code.  Even across species, even across the form and formless realms, we become one family with this particular underlying reality in common. Now if we were to really contemplate this issue in this way, we might come up with a new world view.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful!  We might come up with a new, more universal perspective.  Wouldn’t it be delightful!  We could use that tool as a way to end self-absorption, and to really open our eyes and look at everything around us with a new kind of vision, a new kind of empathy, a new kind of understanding, a new kind of willingness to put oneself in the place of others, a new kind of planetary human, you know, aware of life around itself, a new kind of cosmic perspective, a new understanding as to what life is all about.

Now how does this relate to refuge?  Well, as we are turning our minds towards Dharma,  that means softening them, preparing them, fertilizing them, plowing the field so that the mind is turned toward the path that leads to liberation and renouncing what does not lead to liberation.

Where does the idea of Bodhicitta actually come into play?  Actually it comes into play as both a motivator and as a clarifier.  As a motivator , we understand that part of the process of turning the mind towards Dharma is to truly look at the six realms of cyclic existence and all the conditions and situations of sentient beings.  Having done that, we see that cyclic existence is faulted and that these sentient beings, although they do wish to be happy, have no understanding of the causes of happiness.  That’s the main different between a Dharma practitioner, and the serial killer.  The Dharma practitioner wants to be happy just like the serial killer, but they are engaging in method.  Method means we are looking at cause and effect relationship.  We see the faults.  We look at cause and effect relationships and we are trying to work it out where we produce the causes that allow the desired effect.

The serial killer is also trying to do that.  He perhaps feels some kind of need build up in him and then he goes and tries to satisfy that need.  So in his way, this serial killer is doing the same thing.  He is engaged in trying to create the causes that produce happiness.   The difference is he does not understand.  There is such heavy delusion that there is no understanding of what causes produce happiness, so the serial killer is in a way, like a completely ignorant, completely confused, completely hatred-oriented basket of misconstrued ideas acting in a knee-jerk way to get some kind of result.  He is not able to think it through and has no guidance to think it through.  So the serial killer is yes, engaging in method, but what method?  The serial killer is engaging in the method of hatred, is engaging in the method of destruction, is engaging in the method of harm-doing, and is thinking that it will bring some sort of power or happiness or relief in some way.  And yet what this person doesn’t understand is that the seed and the fruit cannot be unrelated.  You cannot produce happiness from the fruit of hatred, destruction, ignorance and harm doing.  You cannot produce happiness in the same way that a peach seed cannot produce a banana tree.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Do We Know How to Be Happy?


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

When we broaden our view and look out,  we see that this is happening to a greater or lesser degree to all sentient beings.  All sentient beings are striving to be happy.  They wish to be happy, but in varying degrees, they do not understand the causes of happiness.  We see this also in our own lives.  See, we’re the good guys, we’re the Dharma practitioners. But even in our lives we see that we engage in compulsive, neurotic habitual tendency time and time again. Cyclically actually. We’ve noticed this and we talk about this and we laugh about it.  You know, women get together and we have girl talk.  We know this one really well;. And men are in the same situation.  We repeat patterns that are nonproductive.  Is that a light-weight way to say it?  We literally put ourselves through the lowest of the realms.  We put ourselves through hell, literally.  We are not our own best friends. And we only see it when we are coming out the other side of the compulsion and it didn’t bring us what we want. Then it’s like, “Well I knew that!  Why didn’t I think of that!  I knew that!  How ridiculous!”  And then you know, six months later there we are, going down the pike again.

In one way, then, our compassion is increased because we see that the serial killer is busy bumping off everybody else in order to get happy, and we are busy bumping off ourselves to get happy.  And the confusion and habitual tendency is there.  It’s there. We have that in common.  So we look out and we say, “Wow, if this is the case for myself and I am a Dharma practitioner, how much more so the case for those beings who have had no information on what produces happiness?  We are the children of a materialistic society.  We were told that if you have two good cars, a chicken in your crock pot and several more in your freezer and a good husband or wife, good children, all these good things—everything that’s good has been labelled, you know, we already know what’s good—and an ongoing prescription of Prozac that we could be happy.Aand an occasional face lift.  It gets more complicated as you get older.  Did you notice that?  I mean, at first it was just finding the right man andyou’re home free.  Now it’s find the right man and make sure once you’ve got him, these things don’t drop. And it’s beat gravity and beat the clock and all that other stuff.

So we are, in our way, almost as clueless.  We still engage in these funny things that we do. And every time that we do them, we think they’re going to make us happy.  And then we come out the other side of it with open eyes—like whoops, that didn’t work!  But you know, we’ve noticed for ourselves how limited our capacity is to learn.  Is that not the most astonishing thing? How really intelligent people cannot learn?  Is there a button we’re supposed to be pushing that we don’t know about.? I mean, where is the input button?  We just don’t know. So this is the condition of sentient beings.

Now I know, as you must know, how much I want to be happy.  You know how much you want to be happy, right?  I mean, if push comes to shove, you’re pretty motivated by this.  Isn’t that  right?  Of course you want to be happy.  You’d be a maniac if you didn’t want to be happy.  Are you a maniac?  So we want to be happy.  I certainly want to be happy.  And there are days, are there not, when the yearning to be happy and the feeling that you are very distant from that happiness is so strong that there’s a lot of grief, isn’t there?  A lot of upheaval and grief. There are times when it’s just so difficult and so very far away.  It’s funny how it happens.

Now if we were to take that grief and that feeling and project it outward and think, “Here I am with all the understanding that I have about what makes happiness, and all the skill that I have and all the intelligence that I have and all the good fortune that I have that makes it possible for me to get a grip here and really see what’s going on, and still I can’t manage it.  How much worse must be the condition of other sentient beings who are completely out to lunch about the subject?”  Now if you think about the animal realm, they don’t even have the capacity to take in the information about cause and effect, an extraordinarily limited capacity to learn cause and effect.  Have you ever watched a dog that has the habit of chasing cars?  No matter what you do to them, they will chase the car.  They are terrified because they are so close to getting killed and somehow they know it, but they can’t learn!  They can’t learn that not chasing that car is going to make them feel much more relaxed.  They simply can’t learn that.

So how much less is the capacity for other sentient beings to be free of that kind of suffering?  Now we look out and we really see that all around us is this terrible, terrible grief and suffering and disappointment that is masked in certain ways, is covered in certain ways, is disguised, is transmuted, is rearranged, is redirected, is re-routed, is lied about. And yet underneath it there is that grief, there is that loneliness, there is that difficulty that we have in understanding what makes us happy, and how to be happy.

So this then becomes a causative factor when we engage upon the path.  It’s one of the reasons why we practice refuge so sincerely.  We use this idea not only as a practice in itself, but as a way to motivate ourselves.  Literally, as practitioners we should come to the point where we look around and we see for ourselves that all sentient beings are wandering in this confusion and we develop a profound sense of compassion.  If we really were to study and look around and emphathize and see beyond ourselves how others are suffering even more than we are, that feeling of great love and great compassion would well up within our hearts, and this feeling that enough is enough!  Enough! There has been enough suffering in the world.  Enough!

So by that compassion and that love, we become motivated. And the times that we are feeling undisciplined or feeling dry or off-track on the path, we can rely on that love to come up and nurture us.  It’s happened even on an ordinary level within our lives.  We make a determination to take a more difficult route to accomplish something, even not so much concerning the path, but a difficult route to accomplish something in our lives.  Then to accomplish that requires such a great herculean effort like changing, that after awhile, somewhere in the process, we lose focus.  We ask ourselves, “Now why am I doing this again?  I really can’t remember today!”  Then we look at someone else near us who is suffering terribly, just suffering terribly, and we vow to organize everything around us to make it better so that the person next to us is not going to suffer so much.  We’re motivated by that and it brings us back into focus.

The same kind of situation happens on the path.   We utilize the suffering of others, the understanding of that suffering, to center us, to motivate us, to keep us nourished on the path.  At the same time, and here’s where the double blessing comes in, at the same time, we are also giving rise to the Bodhicitta which is the awakening mind, the mind that is in its essence the very display of compassion.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Meaning of Refuge

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

When we take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dharma, and in the Sangha, we consider that all of those are equal and they are all one, that they are inseparable. The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha are important; the Buddha, because only enlightened method and enlightened presence can bring enlightened result in the same way that apple seeds can bear apple fruit.  Grape seeds cannot. You see?  Enlightened seed will bring enlightened fruit.  So the Buddha.  The Dharma in that that is the perfect vehicle, the vehicle that has proven itself to transport all sentient beings across the ocean of suffering.

The Sangha because, within the spiritual Sangha, once you enter into practice and come into a relationship, which you automatically do by taking vows with your vajra brothers and sisters, at that point you have joined with the Sangha.  The Sangha becomes then a family.

Talk to some of my students and find out what it means to have a Sangha family.  Those of my students who came to the path in a very general way but don’t have experience of various sufferings such as the suffering of grave illness, or life-threatening situations or just terrible suffering on some sort of emotional or mental level, have found that the support of the pure Sangha which gathers around them at times like that, and supports them with practice and prayer and help and love and kindness, is absolutely essential.  Without the Sangha we would be incapable of keeping on.  It would be so hard.  It would be like a little sapling trying to survive in a hurricane. The Sangha is rich with that kind of support and help. Furthermore, it is the Sangha’s responsibility to propagate the Dharma. So the Sangha are considered to be an object of refuge, particularly those with robes and particularly also those who have taken the Bodhisattva Vow because, having taking the Bodhisattva Vow, we can see that they intend to benefit us. Therefore we can rely on them for secure friendship and not betrayal as in ordinary friendships. So the Sangha becomes very precious.  And that is the taking of refuge—the Lama, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

As for the Bodhisattva Vow, it is said that when one receives the Bodhisattva Vow, if one were to remain secure, absorbed, with a mind spacious and relaxed, absorbed mentally and emotionally and spiritually within the taking of the Bodhisattva Vow, that is to say, extremely mindful,  right there with it on a very deep level, appreciating and understanding and grieving for the suffering of sentient beings, as well as our own suffering, and seeing them as being non-dual and longing to help… You look at an AIDS march on TV and you look at people dying and you say to yourself, “Enough is enough!  This is awful.  This is unacceptable.“ You look at war and you look at the bodies of children laying broken and bleeding in the street and you say to yourself, “This is enough!  Enough, not acceptable!”  You look at hunger.  You look at homelessness. You look at all of it and you say, “Enough!  Enough!” To remain absorbed in that, to understand that this is the fate of everyone who is in cyclic existence without the method.  To remain absorbed in that, it is taught that, in that moment of absorption, if one were to give rise to such a depth of absorption that tears would come, then at that moment of absorption, you have removed 10,000 years at least, many thousands of years of gross karmic negative obscuration because, for that 10,000 years or however many lifetimes, we have been absorbed in ourselves. Self-absorption—I am!  I think!  I feel!  I will!  I must!  I need!  I have to have!  I’m like this!  We still are like that, aren’t we?  We still do that.  But that one moment of absorption in compassionate activity, with pure intention serves to purify so much of that, and gives us the method by which we can continue to remove all subtle and gross obscurations until we at last are free, and until we at last are able to return, ennobled and finally capable of leading others toward Dharma and making for them the auspicious connections so that their days of suffering, while perhaps not immediately over—well it won’t be like flip a switch and everybody is happy, I wish it were like that—but their suffering days, because of your absorption and compassion, are now numbered.

There are many students, of course, who have a connection with me and I will do my best. I will return life after life, not caring whether I am tired, not caring anything.  This isn’t just my idea. All the teachers, all the lamas, all the reincarnate lamas, those realized ones, will return without thought for themselves, until the very last one of those sentient beings with whom they have a connection, is finally liberated.  If they have to return even a hundred lifetimes for that very last one, they will.  I will.

Now if you take a similar vow, even if you can’t fully practice it, even if it’s just the first baby steps, there are those with whom you have a connection and I don’t have a connection, and neither do any of my teachers or any of the teachers who are able, but you have a connection to them simply through ordinary means.  They were your mother in some previous life.  Who knows?  You could have been a cockroach.  Some funny little corner in obscure reality where you have a connection with uncountable beings that no one with any realization has a connection with.  Do you know what that means?  You are their only hope and object of refuge.  You are their only hope.  So you must take this vow with complete absorption and think that you are taking it for their sake, for their sake, because they are waiting for you. And the moment that you take this vow for the first time with complete absorption and every time therefore that you continue to remind yourself and freshen that vow, their days of suffering are finally numbered.  So at that point these teachers all begin to nag a little bit and they say “Hurry.  Hurry, because they need you and there is no one else.”  So you must hurry for the sake of sentient beings. You must.

There are 3,000 myriads of universes, uncountable lives, connections that must be made and you should pray every day of your life, “Whether I have a good or bad connection with every sentient being, let it bring them to Dharma.  Let me find a way to be connected with all sentient beings and let me never pass into nirvana until they are all free.”  This is our prayer as a Bodhisattva.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved


I Choose Enlightenment

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhists Think by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

People ask: “In your tradition, is Buddha like God?”  No, Buddha is not like God.  “Is Guru Rinpoche God?”  No, Guru Rinpoche is not God.  “Well, what do you call God in your tradition?”  We don’t call anything God.  There are gods, but they are not the goal.  Westerners try to find a way around that, saying something like, “All right, then what is the goal?” I tell them, “Enlightenment.”  They reply, “Okay, then Enlightenment is God.”  No, it’s not. The goal is not anything as personalized and externalized as that.  There is no “other.”  The moment we are caught up in “self and other,” we have lost the essential Nature.  We are fixated, stuck in duality.

This is about Awakening, which is the pacification of such fixation.  You must understand the fundamental distinction between Buddhism and Western thinking––whether you are considering beginning the Path or are already a practioner. You must understand this difference, so that you will know what your true objects of refuge are.

The statement “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, and I take refuge in the Sangha” is an essential element throughout your practice of the Buddha’s teaching.  What does this statement mean?  It means you have looked at the faults of cyclic existence, and you have seen that it produces no real happiness.  You have learned that the Buddha said there is a cessation of suffering, this cessation is Enlightenment, and it is also the cessation of desire.  So you have decided to go for Enlightenment.  That means you have to really understand the faults of cyclic existence––even if these ideas are difficult to swallow.  It’s like taking a medicine that tastes bad until you get used to it.  It is like that in the beginning.

Having decided to take this medicine, you look at those who deliver it.  We look to the Buddha, and this includes all those who have attained Buddhahood, not just the historical Shakyamuni Buddha.  We look to the Dharma, which is the revelation or teaching brought forth from the mind of Enlightenment.  And we look to the Sangha, the spiritual community to which we belong.  It is the Sangha who are responsible for treasuring and propagating the teachings.

In the Vajrayana tradition, we also say, “I take refuge in the Lama,” who is considered representative of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.  Without the Lamas, you would not hear the Buddha’s teachings.  And without the Lamas, there would be no Sangha.

When you say you take refuge in all of these, what you are saying is: “I choose Enlightenment.  I choose the cessation of suffering.”  You move away from the faults of cyclic existence, and you remain focused on the ultimate goal.

In a deeper sense, however, you must understand that you are ultimately taking refuge in Enlightenment itself.  You must understand it as both the Path and the intrinsic Nature.  So you are taking refuge in the Nature of your own mind.  If you understand this thoroughly, you can never be duped.  But you do have to work very diligently and with discipline towards the goal.

The method is very technical, very involved. It isn’t easy because it must cut through aeons of compulsive absorption in self-nature.  It must cut like a knife!  It must be powerful––and it is powerful.  You have to think of Dharma that way.  The technology has to be strong––and real.  You can’t just talk about it.   There is work to be done!

Although it is strong, the technology is very flexible.  You need not be afraid.  You will not be forced to go any deeper than you want to go.  You have the right to practice gently.  You will still be accumulating causes for a future incarnation as a human with these auspicious conditions, and then you will be able to practice well and dilligently.

There are people who only do very small, very gentle practice.  And that’s fine.  There is a large tradition of that in the Buddha Dharma.  There are also people who are more deeply involved, though in a mediocre way.  They practice an hour or so a day.  They do a good job, and they’re faithful, and that’s it.  Then there are people who practice many hours each day.  They continually try to propagate the Teaching, and they work very hard.  So you have a choice. You can determine the level of your involvement.


© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

To download the complete teaching, click here and scroll down to How Buddhists Think

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

What is Your Refuge?

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

When we practice prostrations we are applying the antidote to pride. Well, you think to yourself, if that’s what we’re doing, I’ll just stop being proud!  And how long do you think that’s going to work because you know what you’ve already done?  You’ve already said I could figure out how to do this better than the Buddha did!  You don’t think there’s a little pride in that?  Hm?  Hm?  I do. There’s pride in that already.  Instead of being oriented towards engaging in non-virtuous activity and creating non-virtuous habitual tendency and continuing our delusions, instead we should make prostrations. And how do we make prostrations?  We say, “I take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dharma and in the Sangha.”  The Three Precious Jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Now why is it necessary to do that 100,000 times and to bend our bodies when we do that?  Because inside ourselves we are constantly saying “I take refuge in what-I-want, what-I’m-gonna-get, and what-I’ll-have-in-the-future. I take refuge in you-love-me, you-take-care-of-me, you-give-me-stuff.”  We are constantly taking refuge in stereo, TV, CD player. We are taking refuge in chocolate. What else?  What do you like?  Cake?  Ice cream!  I mean, these are the ways that we think!  We don’t realize that, but when you go for something, what do you go for?  You go for something else!  You don’t go for the Buddha, the Dharma or the Sangha.  You go for ice cream!  You go for a new car!  You go for anything but the Buddha the Dharma and the Sangha!

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Burning Room

The following is an excerpt from a teaching called “Essence of Devotion”

When embarking on the path, we look for the most excellent method.  We look for that method that gives excellent results every time.  That method would be Dharma.  Dharma has brought about enlightenment in generation after generation of students and teachers alike.  Students have become teachers who have returned to benefit beings, just as I hope you are hoping to do.

Now, we not only need that, but we need an excellent captain, and that captain should be considered none other than the Buddha and his emanations in the world.  The Buddha is the one who has successfully crossed the ocean of suffering and has, without a doubt, achieved enlightenment.  If you read the life of the Buddha there is no doubt that he has achieved enlightenment.  The results of his life—having brought enlightenment to so many others for 2,500 years­—can only have arisen from the mind of enlightenment.  So we want the proper ship.  We want the proper captain. We also need the proper navigator because it’s considered that, while the Buddha is the supreme captain of our ship, it is his spirit, his mind, his nature which is present in the navigator who does the driving and keeps us afloat. And that is our teacher.

So that is the situation that we want to hook up to.  That’s how to leave the party, another analogy that we can use. I love to teach in analogies because it’s much easier and simpler for us.  We can understand parties.  We can understand foolishness.  We can understand suffering.  We can understand ships and water and the urge not to drown, but sometimes it’s hard to understand Dharma. So I like to learn and I like to express in analogies. One good analogy for understanding our present situation as we embark on the great task of practicing refuge and Bodhicitta is that when we look around and we read the paper and we see our own eventual age and death and all the sufferings that come with it, as well as the sufferings of others, we consider that the two of them are unbearable and they are inseparable.  I am suffering, you are suffering.  It’s all one package.  You come to realize that it’s like you’re in a burning room.  You know, the room just burning, burning, burning, burning, on fire, and at that point you look around and you realize that there is one door, one opening, not even a window.  One door as an exit from that room, and that door is wide open.  How much love and regard will you have for that door, while being in that burning room?  Well, we’re so funny, we’re so kind of asleep at the wheel, at least in the first part of our spiritual path. Maybe we don’t even have much realization but, when in our own experience the room really begins to get hot and we begin to see the singeing of our own hairs and really relate to the burning of our own flesh. we begin to see, really see, what the situation is due to our own experience. And we will someday.  We will.  If not now, then someday.  Then at that time we look at that door with such love and regard. In fact, we don’t even think about how much we love and regard the door.  We are so into the door that we are out of the door as soon as possible.  We love the door.  The door is our hope.

It’s like that when we approach the path.  As we begin to practice turning the mind towards Dharma, we begin to practice seeing what is in this ocean of suffering, what we are surrounded with.  Then at that point, we begin to take in our own real experience and how kind of silly it is when we try to keep on top of our suffering when, in fact, we are suffering and it is foolish to be in denial about that.  At that point our minds soften. They gentle and they turn.  And suddenly we get smart in a way we were never smart before.  Suddenly we’re on Red Alert.  Something is different and we begin to regard that door, not as just a shape in a room, but as something that is more meaningful to us than anything else.  The path is that door.  Our teachers who give us the path are that door.  The method is that door.  That is our opportunity to exit samsara.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved


A Teaching to Give You Confidence

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

Before I even met His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, who told me I was a Buddhist—I didn’t know this—I had been teaching; and I had been teaching about compassion and the empty nature of phenomena and the empty nature of mind. And you see, I thought that I thought this whole thing up.  I thought I had come up with this myself. So smart!  Oh well.  I thought that what was really missing here was a way for ordinary beings who have been involved in ordinary lives to switch tracks, to come to a place of profound renunciation and acceptance and compassion, and to take a vow that would somehow reach into every future life. I thought the only way to do that was to give them some extraordinary teachings, and make them understand the nature of suffering and the absolute necessity of compassion, and to have them turn their minds in such a way that compassion arose in their minds. In the same way that consciousness appears in the mind, compassion then also appears.  And that was my idea—that I had to find a way to do this.  So what I did was I began to give a bunch of teachings and eventually called a retreat. And those students that I thought were prepared to go deeper I took on retreat.

We spent a great long time looking at the world and praying for the world and taking responsibility for the world.  These students I taught and cajoled and loved and goaded and tricked and manipulated until they would agree to take responsibility for the world and to take responsibility for all sentient beings.  They just finally gave up and let me have my way.  From that came the writing of a Bodhisattva Vow and I knew that that was the most important turning point and experience in their whole spiritual evolution, and I explained it to them as such.  Well, this became a custom. We customarily gave the Bodhisattva Vow. I also began to develop the idea of refuge, of taking refuge in that which brings forth enlightenment, the Buddha nature.

Eventually I met Penor Rinpoche, and he told us that we were Buddhists and that we were practicing Buddhism. I didn’t know anything about Buddhists.  I didn’t know anything about anything . Penor Rinpoche came to me and announced to me that I was a Bodhisattva. I was practicing Dharma and I was teaching Dharma and I should keep on teaching Dharma, and I said, “O.K.”  Then he gave us the Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows. You see, I had already written this Refuge and Bodhisattva Vow and it didn’t sound anything like what he did because he gave us something in Tibetan!  We tried our best to repeat it, but I don’t think it was the same thing.  It was a lot more words!  So I was kind of a little tense about this and finally when I went to India, I had one of the lamas there translate the Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows and another set of vows that had also been written called the Renunciate Vows for Lay Practitioners, a deeper level of vows.  I had them translated into Tibetan and I confessed to my guru, Penor Rinpoche, that I had written these vows and that I had been giving them. I said I didn’t have any other vows and I knew that this was necessary and so, even though these aren’t the traditional vows, I would like your advice on what to do about this.  Well, he read the vows and he started laughing and slapping his knee. He thought this was a real gut wrenching hee haw, just laughing and rubbing his knee.  Then he said, “About the Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows, if you don’t mind, I think I will continue to give them in the way that I am accustomed to, simply because it’s difficult for a person to learn new tricks.  However,” he said, and then he drew himself up to his orthodox lama posture (he is a very orthodox lama), and he said, “I authorize you fully to give these vows.” And he said, “I authorize these vows fully as proper Refuge and Bodhisattva Vows in our lineage.”

That has never happened before.  There is a traditional way to give the vows and there is another way, and this is the other way. And at least in the Palyul tradition, he firmly encouraged me to give these vows as often as possible, with teaching.  He encouraged me to give them in the way that I have been giving them, because he felt that this is a manifestation of the same vow but done in such a way as to touch the minds and hearts of westerners so that they can remain fully absorbed at that pure moment of ordination which this is.  This is an ordination, an ordination of kindness.  So he fully acknowledged these as proper vows. That’s why, although they are a little bit different, they are considered to be appropriate, they are considered to be lasting and they are fully authorized in our tradition.  A very unusual occurrence, but very important for us as westerners.

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