Denial

Men-growing-older-001

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

Those people who accuse Buddhists of creating a kind of depression or melancholy through these ideas, are, what I would call, in denial. They’re simply in denial. They’re not at that stage of maturity, either in their physical lives or in their spiritual lives, where they can come to grips with this idea [preparing for death]. Some of it has to do with their age. Look around you. Look at the age of the people in this room. There are very few of us who are in our twenties. There are a few of us who are in our thirties. Most of us are at least kicking down the door of forty, if not on the other side. And it’s not because forty-year-olds are so much more spiritually developed than twenty-year-olds. Even the forty-year-olds that are spiritually developed have to be twenty at some point, so that can’t be it. But there are certain changes that happen psychologically within the context of our lives.

Many of you have already noticed this. This is not a news flash, is it? One of them is that we meet a stage in our life where we have a recognition, and the recognition is keyed off by, first of all, physical changes within our body. It is obvious that things are changing. We look in a mirror. Then we look at a picture of us a decade ago. And even a twenty-year-old could see this. You have changed. Maybe a twenty-year-old could see it even more dramatically. If you are twenty-five now and ten years ago you were fifteen, you’re much different now than you were back then. But how much more so for the forty- or fifty-year-old who looks at their twenty-year-old pictures. I’ve got a couple of them sitting on one of the shelves in my room. One of my sons was thoughtful enough to give me these pictures framed—framed, mind you—so I can look at them every day! They’re sitting on my shelf, and I look at myself when I was in my twenties every day. What a great technique for a Buddhist! And I’ll tell you, things have definitely changed.

So those of us who are going through those sorts of changes and we’re seeing ourselves on the downside of that midlife experience, we’re also having another kind of expansion or understanding that is coming to us for the first time, not because we weren’t capable of seeing it for the first time, but because we are suddenly keyed in by certain kinds of visual stimuli and also we’re keyed in by what’s happening inside of us. Somewhere in that first five years of our forties we come up with a realization that is a little hard to take, and that realization is that it is not likely that we have a full half of our lives left. It is not likely. It is more likely that I am more than half done with my life. That’s what I’m thinking about, and that’s what you’re reminded of when you look at those pictures of yourself when you were younger. And I’m thinking of how none of us has ever gotten used to that.

Do you remember, let’s say, when you were going to school, especially if you hated school like many people did, or perhaps going to a job that you didn’t like when you were literally owned by somebody else from, say, nine to five, or eight to three, or whatever it was, during five days of your week? You look forward to the weekend as though it were manna from heaven, or nirvana. Or perhaps equally as important as enlightenment. In fact, at a certain age and a certain stage, right about oh, Thursday afternoon, if someone asked you if you wanted your weekend or nirvana, you might have taken your weekend. Weekend becomes out of proportion in terms of its importance, because we have a hard time dealing with the stress of an entire period of time when we look forward to the rest. Do you remember how it felt on Friday night when you were really young? Party time! Friday night is happy time, and no matter what you did it was really fun. You made sure you went out. Friday night was definitely the night that you did something, because you had some steam to work off and it was the first day of the weekend and you were really excited. And then you go all the way through your weekend, and of course there’s the Saturday morning recovery for some of us. And then later on there’s the Saturday evening. And towards the end of the evening, you remember that kind of sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize that tomorrow was Sunday and there was only one day left? Not only that, but Saturday night was the last night that you had before the night before you had to wake up early again. You know, that kind of thinking.

So that’s the kind of minds that we are preparing for our death with. You think about that: It’s the same mind that we deal with our life situation with. We get away with it as long as we can get away with it. So long as it is Friday night and Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon and just starting Saturday night, we’re getting away with it. We are in denial about everything else. We’ve pushed aside anything that is uncomfortable or frightening to us, or anything that is stressful. And the way that we’re dealing with stress at that particular moment is to be who my son calls ‘Cleopatra, Queen of Denial.’ That’s his joke. So we’re Cleopatra throughout most of our lives. And then suddenly you hit forty-five and it’s Saturday night again. It is. Forty-five, it’s Saturday night. Because at forty-five you start to want to go to bed a little earlier, and you can’t help but get up earlier, because you wake up at that time.  You’re not like you used to be and you can’t go back to sleep. And all sorts of things change. But suddenly at that time, as well, you realize that your weekend is more than half over. Or your lifespan, in this case, is more than half over. And it begins to wake you up and causes you to relate to necessity. Reality is hitting us, and that’s what’s happening. And for some us that is a very sad part of our lives, and there are many different reasons for that.

This isn’t really a part of our Phowa retreat but I would like to mention it anyway.

There are many people who literally cannot get themselves together at this point in their lives because they are too scared, too much in denial about the passage that is overtaking them right now. There are many people who have spent their whole lives seeing their own self worth and their own value according to their looks, their youthfulness, their beauty, their sexuality, their youthful vim and vigor, their kind of youthful energies, determination. There are so many people who strongly take all of their ideas about self worth in accordance with their ideas about desirability. And, of course, here in America we have a cult associated with youth going on. A youth cult. Women are only attractive in their twenties; they’re barely attractive in their thirties if they can make up well; and in their forties they’re going over the hill. That is the popular Madison Avenue approach.

Of course, nowadays we are finding our self worth in a different way, and fortunately women are seeing themselves as something other than a desirable object. Men are seeing themselves as other than a warrior that has to prove his prowess at every turn. So fortunately we’re not viewing ourselves in the same way, but we still seem to maintain this denial about our lifespan. We do have this denial about our lifespans.  And even those people who are in their fifties and going on to their sixties… Once again, when we move into our sixties there are no guarantees. There are plenty of people who die in their sixties. Plenty of people. Even though we feel well, even though we feel fairly youthful in our sixties—and I hope you do, I hope I do when I reach my sixties—still there is no guarantee. But we don’t think like that. We think, “I’m feeling well now.  Everything’s fine.” And there are many people who don’t plan for their death, even in terms of making out a will. They don’t plan at all for these events during the course of their lives, except when they get to the very, very end and it’s literally impossible to be in denial about this thing.

So you wonder, are these the sensible people, the people who are in denial like that, that are not preparing themselves for their eventual continuation though samsara? Are they wise? Are they free of the obscuration of ignorance? Not for my money. I think they are the most ignorant; they are not preparing. It’s like knowing that you’re going to have an extraordinarily challenging and difficult tomorrow, where if you knew that if you spent the afternoon and the evening preparing for tomorrow, maybe reading this book or studying a bit or getting your props together that you need for a certain presentation, it could easily be that while tomorrow would be stringent and challenging and you would definitely be tired afterwards, it could be the kind of thing where you feel like a job well done. Good for me. I worked really hard but I was prepared and I got the job well done. You could handle it that way. Or about your difficult tomorrow, you can of course think, “Tomorrow is tomorrow, today is today and I don’t have to worry about it until tomorrow, do II don’t have to think about it this afternoon because it’s not tomorrow yet.” See, you’re doing this kind of ‘dzogchen-esque’ double talk. When it’s dzogchen-esque double talk from a sentient being rather than true dzogchen teaching from a lama, it’s not going to be quite sensible, is it? It’s not going to be the same at all. So the idea that ‘today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow and never the twain shall meet’, and the idea that ‘well, we should just kind of go with the flow, have another avocado, think about tomorrow when tomorrow comes’, is not the kind of thinking that is going to help you feel strong and powerful the next day. And probably what will happen the next day is that you may fail, or the chances are that you won’t do such a good job, and you definitely will not have the result that you expected or desired from your efforts during that day. And it’s because of a lack of preparation.

Now the very people who would advise you to simply let it be and think positive thoughts and have a good time and ‘don’t worry about it ‘til tomorrow,’ have the same kind of mentality that says that Buddhism is a depressing and melancholy sort of idea. These are the people that are in the state, within their own minds, of ignorance and delusion and denial, where they aren’t considering things from the intelligent, common sensical, wisdom point of view. They’re not facing the fact that tomorrow will come. There is no way to get out of dying. Absolutely none. You can’t even die to get out of dying. There’s just no way to get out of it. And we will face this, and how much better is it to be prepared. Because I tell you that while death is something that is extremely difficult to do well, and requires intelligence, forethought, and of course practice, it can be done well, in the same way that you can prepare well for something that you have to do; and you can ace it.

Now you have to ask yourself what is your habit about such things. Are you accustomed to failure? Some people are, you know. Some people fail habitually. There is a strong element of neuroses in the way that their minds work. They are, according to other people who are close to them and seeing them, sometimes called ‘programmed for failure.’ They’re sometimes called extremely neurotic. They put obstacles in front of themselves and cause themselves to fail. And they mostly do this with their attitudes. Sometimes I’m teaching class and I look around. I watch your faces and I perceive the energy that is coming from you and I think, “Problem. You’re going to fail.” Not that I’m predicting your demise and not that I’m wanting you to fail. It’s not that. But it’s obvious, from the attitude, from the way that you are listening, from the barriers that you are throwing up, within your own mind, in front of yourself, that you are not going to let yourself do well.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Extraordinary Relationship

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Neurotic Interaction to Guru Yoga”

If we rely purely on an emotional level, not much will come of the path.  If we do not challenge ourselves to truly understand all of the thoughts that turn the mind (and you’ve been taught them many, many times.  You can go back and re-listen to the teachings if you aren’t sure what they are), if we do not require of ourselves to really recognize this precious opportunity, we won’t get very far.  And now the recognition has to go even deeper than that. Number one, understanding that the teacher is a spiritual ally, a spiritual friend—someone on whom you can depend as a spiritual guide or a spiritual friend—is a really important first realization.  Secondarily, you must understand that this reality that you are looking at when you see your teacher, when you see the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, is to be considered separate from ordinary samsaric cause and effect conditions, or separate from the wheel of death and rebirth,  because this is all the result of the Buddha’s teaching which arises from the mind of enlightenment and, like a seed, it must always create a fruit that is appropriate to that seed.  So if this reality rises from the mind of enlightenment, it results in enlightenment as well.  The seed and the fruit are always consistent.

That being the case, this is understood as something different.  Now, if you wish you can, like that Tibetan man with His Holiness Penor Rinpoche regarding his opinion on my enthronement (this student did not agree with His Holiness Penor Rinpoche’s recognition of Jetsunma) waste the opportunity by just playing out your little intellectual ‘here’s my idea, what’s your idea.  I’ll see you as something equal to my common ordinary intellectual mind in the world.  You know, I’ll see you as that.’  Or you can play the game where “O.K., you’re the Guru, so I’m going to call you the real thing, but in my heart, in my mind, I’m pretty much just going to keep doing exactly what I’m doing, but I’ll have a teacher,”  rather than gathering oneself together in order to understand something about this primordial wisdom nature, rather than trying to move further on the path of accomplishing pure view, rather than utilizing the teacher as a way to untangle some of our neuroses and actually seeing the condition of our mind and how different that is from what the Buddha described when the Buddha said simply, “I am awake.”  The Buddha didn’t say, “I’m different from you.”  The Buddha didn’t say “I am better than you.”  The Buddha said “I am awake.”  Awake to that nature that is also your nature.

Now supposing that you could use the relationship with the teacher to puzzle that out, to work that out.  It’s such a fine line how to you give rise to or at least, shall I say not suppress, not give rise to, conflicting thoughts that you may have.  How can you not suppress them and still utilize the teacher faithfully in the best possible way? Not as something common and ordinary that is equal to your own conceptual proliferation because then you could do that with anything.  We do that with all of our relationships.  We do that with all of the areas in life that we work with.  We have preconceived ideas that we play out in our lives.  Why would the teacher be different then?  Why would it be precious?  What’s the value then of having a teacher?

So it becomes the student’s responsibility to harness their mind.  It isn’t about going brain dead.  It isn’t about suppressing your ideas and your thoughts and your feelings.  It’s about recognition between what is ordinary, habitual, definitely part of birth and death cyclic existence, that which arises from ordinary cyclic existence, and always therefore results in more ordinary cyclic existence, or that which arises from the precious primordial awakened state that is also your nature, and therefore always results in that precious primordial state that is also your nature—enlightenment.  You are the one that must make the distinction.

So the Buddha recommends this:  Take a long time determining your relationship with your teacher.  If at first you have an emotional reaction, that’s fine.  You don’t just suppress that either, but don’t stop there.  It’s a big mistake just to stop there, because otherwise you just stay in some kind of wacko bliss thing.  You could get that wacko over a cute little puppy or something, or a new car, or a new honey.  You gets lots more wacko about a new honey, don’t you?  Way more wacko about that!  So your responsibility then becomes the responsibility of recognition.  You have determined that this teacher has the necessary qualities to give you what you need.  You can travel on the path now.  You can understand very clearly.  The teacher has a way of explaining to you and you can understand.  You can hear it.  You mind is opening.  It is ripening.  It’s deepening.  Your compassion is increasing.  Something is happening here and you are able to determine that this is not ordinary because this didn’t come from ordinary experience.

You’re travelling the path of Dharma and this is precious.  This teacher has hooked you onto the path of Dharma, placed your feet there, deepened and ripened your mind, provided for you all of the necessary accoutrements. Therefore this is precious.  You then must determine that this is different for you.  You see, it’s not up to the teacher to provide proof for you.  It’s not up to the teacher to convince you.  It’s up to you to determine for yourself. Take your time, do it right, move through all the foundational teachings and decide for yourself: Is this precious to me?  Then if it is, treat it like it is.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

Do It Because You MUST

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue Into Life”

Here are some thoughts that we do not accomplish because initially they are uncomfortable.  They are painful.  We do not want to know this.  We have this idea when we’re young, that by the time we get to be an adult we’re going to have all the answers.  And in fact you do have all the answers, until you’re about 25.  Before that you’re omnipotent you see, and then when you’re 25 you’re no longer omnipotent. Do you know why that is?  Because you have a brain that has finally started to grow in your cranium.  Before that it was only brain buds.  So now that you’re about 25 you’re beginning to realize that you don’t have all the answers and the omniscience, the supreme omniscience that you were afflicted with earlier, is dissipating.

That happened to me too.  When I was little I used to think when I grow up, I’m going to be completely comfortable.  I thought when I have children I’m going to raise them just this way; and I will never do this and I will always do this.  Who has had good luck with that I want to know?  Have you ever heard yourself yelling at your kid and you find out you are your mother?  You have turned into your mother for real!  Well, that kind of thing has happened.  Also, you grow up and you think, when I grow up I’m going to have all of the answers.  When I grow up I’m going to be secure.  When I grow up I’ll have financial things worked out.  It’s all going to come together for me.  When you’re young you think like that. And when you’re older you realize almost none of it is going to come together for you, almost none of it.  Some, yeah.  There are good things in life.  There are good things in samsara, but you realize that it’s not what it seems to be.

As practitioners this is really what you have to take away with you.  As a practitioner, you cannot fall into the trap that we as younger people fall into.  You can’t stay there very long.  And you that are younger, you need to create the habit of thinking about this:  Samsara is a deluded experience.  It’s like a narcotic.  It fools you.  It creates a way for you to look in the mirror at 45 with dyed hair and think “I’m not dead yet!”  Instead of pinching your cheeks for a little blush, putting on your lipstick and bouncing out of the house like you did when you were 18 or 20, after 45 minutes with the makeup, you look at yourself, blink twice, hope that the eyelashes don’t stick together, and go “I’m not dead yet!” again.  You can’t stay like that.  You cannot keep yourself in that childlike, ridiculous idea.  You must, at some point in your life, realize that life is going by very quickly and that you are going by with it, and there is not a moment to be wasted.

When it comes to who should practice and who should not practice, it is not for you to practice to impress your friends.  It is not for you to practice because I want you to practice and it would please me.  Certainly not.  It is not for you to practice because you’ll be cheek by jowl with the other people who are practicing.  It is for you to practice because this is the nature of your situation.  You are involved in the cycle of death and rebirth. Life passes quickly and if you do not prepare for your next life, your next life will not be what you want it to be.  There is a very good chance that you will end up with a lower rebirth or a rebirth of extreme suffering. So, when you think about why you should embrace spirituality, particularly when you think why you should embrace the path of Dharma, don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for the temple.  Don’t do it because it’s cool.  Do it because you must.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Cultivating Authentic Experience

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Marrying Spiritual Life with Western Culture”

I remember I went through a process quite naturally even before I found Buddhism. I was sitting in front of a stream meditating, and I meditated very deeply on my essential nature—this nature that is without discrimination, beginningless and yet completely fulfilled, both empty and full, beyond any kind of discrimination whatsoever.  I meditated very deeply on that. Then I found that I couldn’t tell where I ended and where the water began.  It was almost a psychological “Ah ha!” but so much deeper, like “I am that also.”  Well, you can’t even call it “I.” It’s suchness, and it’s everywhere. Then I started expanding that to other living things—people and bugs and any phenomenal reality that appears external. I knew the nature that I am is just as easily that.  I knew blacks and whites are the same, that my culture and your culture are the same, that this and that are the same.

Memorizing that kind of understanding is a deadening experience, because something inside of you is hidden and unchanged and unmoved, and something outside of you has been laid on top of it—bash-to-fit, paint-to-match religion. That’s what that is.

We do a lot of that with religion.  I don’t believe it’s the fault of religion. I think if you listen to the original teachers of almost any religion, it’s good stuff. We are the ones who do not know how to practice religion. If we understand the Buddha’s teaching, which is such a living, dynamic, eternal, present thing, it is as alive in this world today as it was when it was first brought into this world. But if we practice it today, not with the energy of recognition of intimate association, not happening in this present moment, but happening 2,500 years ago, it’s not going to work. It has to be living for you today. It has to be alive for you today. Otherwise you’ll say, “That religion was brought into the world 2,500 years ago. Things are different now.” Well, yes, so?  Liberation is not different now.  The faults of cyclic existence are not different now.  Nothing that matters is different now.  All the rules still apply. It’s just that we don’t understand them on a deep level, because we haven’t invested in feeling and knowing in intimate association with these truths. We are simply playing church.

How to understand that your faith is alive? Try being alive in your faith. The ball’s in your court, and you’re not going to get away from that. You cannot change the religion and think that it’s going to suit your needs, because then you’re doing something else entirely. You’ve already decided what it’s going to look like and how you’re going to act. You’re on a track that is unbendable, unmovable, unadaptable, and you’re going to bend things around you to fit. You cannot do that to the world any more than you can do that to yourself.  Bash-to-fit and paint-to-match doesn’t work.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

Living the Path

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Marrying Spiritual Life with Western Culture”

It’s interesting to realize that when we come to the temple, we’re already interested in Dharma. Why are we interested in Dharma?  There are lots of different reasons. We like the look of it: It’s interesting and exotic. The statues are really cool. The colors are nice. We have a feeling, a concept of what Buddhism looks like. It looks like people who are sitting very straight in those wonderful positions that I wish I could get myself into. And the Buddha’s eyes look out into space. We see ourselves doing this, and we think, “Wow that is so cool!”  We have no idea what’s going on inside, but from the outside we’re looking at this going, “Oh man, that is so cool.”

So when we come to this path, we already have an idea of what it’s supposed to look like, and we play into that. Then we hear the foundational thoughts about Buddhism and the thoughts that turn the mind. Here’s the important part, “Oh, yeah, those are good reasons to do what I wanted to do already, which is to sit there like this, or to be involved in this really exotic thing, or just to be the coolest kid on the block because I read all those Buddhist books.” We all have reasons. We feel a certain affinity to it, whatever it is. I’m making it goofy so that it’s fun, but you can see and adapt what I’m saying to your own personal situation.

This is not the way it is in other cultures. The thoughts that turn the mind have to do with understanding impermanence, understanding cause and effect relationships, understanding that virtuous conduct brings excellent results of happiness and prosperity, non-virtuous conduct brings bad results of either unhappiness or being reborn in lower realms and so forth. Once we come here we think, “These are things to learn, and they are good reasons to stay on this path. So I am going to memorize them.”

But in a society where people grow up seeing children born and their elders die before they are even able to understand the words of these teachings that turn the mind toward Dharma, where their movement through time occurs very naturally—(Nobody has a facelift in Tibet. The wrinkles just pile on, unbelievable amounts of them, because there’s no Estee Lauder. This is why I don’t live there!)—a person approaches Dharma because it does not seem reasonable to walk from birth to death with nothing in your heart, with nothing to work with. It doesn’t seem reasonable that this [movement through time] should be the main weight of your experience; that this is what you should take refuge in.  Why would you do that?  It’s like taking refuge in a car wreck. It’s going to hurt and it’s going to get worse.

But in our society, because we are technologically and intellectually advanced, we are not connected to the rhythms of life.  So when this person who is connected to the rhythms of life, and has seen it even as a child, is told everything is impermanent in their life, this is not a big piece of information. This is not a missing piece of the puzzle.  It simply organizes the thoughts for a person who has been exposed to a more natural environment, and puts words to a conceptual understanding that they already have about life. They can see there is some fun in life, some good in it, but they can also see its faults much more easily than we can in our society.

On the other hand, when we hear those thoughts that turn the mind, we have so much time invested in staying young, keeping it easy, keeping it light, making it pretty, collecting everything we’re supposed to collect, that we really have to keep that information outside of us.  We can’t really let it come into us. For instance, in our society identifying with and understanding the teachings on old age, sickness and death is terrifying, because in our society the loss of youth is the loss of love. We don’t even value the wisdom that is gained in maturity enough to have it even bear mentioning.

But in other cultures, people have gone through these incredible experiences in a very natural way. They have a maturity of wisdom at the end of their life because they have seen themselves age. They have seen the beginning—the promise, the beauty, the joy. They have seen how it matures, and they have seen that you can’t take anything with you.  In our society, that isn’t valued.  In fact, it’s recommended that we think forever young.

Now that I’m maturing I feel, “Why would you want to do that!  Young people don’t think. So to ‘think forever young,’ that’s like ‘military intelligence’!” In my experience of teaching students, I find that this is the single most dominating factor in their own dissatisfaction with their path. Why is that? Again, in our society, we learn a bunch of rules. These rules are connected to our fundamental material attitude, that collector’s attitude. In our society, we feel separated, alienated, isolated. There is a feeling of inner deadness. If you don’t know that inner deadness in yourself, then it’s deader than you think, because you can look in the eyes of anyone you know and you can see there is an inner deadness.

Now if we approach our spiritual life in the same way— by following these rules that are external because the Buddha said they’re out there, without ever viewing them in an intuitive and intimate way—we are going to go dead on our path. The path which is so precious and so unique—that amazing reality that does not arise in samsara but in fact arises from the mind of enlightenment and therefore results in the mind of enlightenment—this precious inimitable thing becomes only one more set of external rules, like a girdle that you have to wear in order to be successful, to be part of our environment.

When the path becomes bigger, which it has to do, it has to be part of your life. It isn’t something you do only twice a week. There are practices that you do every day. There are ethical situations, moral situations that you have to evaluate and look at for yourself. There is a coming to grips, a connecting with, that has to occur every minute of every day. It’s a way of life. It’s not really a church thing. Once the path becomes big like that, you find that it must influence everything about you—from offering your food before you eat it, to closing your altar before you go to bed at night, to doing your daily practice, to thinking about everything that you do and re-evaluating it. Should I kill bugs? Should I actively work towards benefitting others? Where is prejudice in my life? These are some of the issues that you have to re-evaluate.

At some point, if the path is external and you have not come into intimate touch with it, when these things start coming up, they are going to be “stuff” you have to do. They are not going to be the love of your life. They are not going to excite you. Let’s say as part of your path you have to examine one of the Buddha’s teachings, “All sentient beings are equal.” That means you have to get rid of cultural, racial, religious, gender, even species bias.  All sentient beings are equal. What could be a more exciting and dynamic process than that? Wow!! Think about it!  What if you really did it right, if you went inside yourself and found that place where all sentient beings are equal? What if you made it your job to really know that? What if it was something that became so moving and overwhelming that it changed every aspect of your life?  What an exciting and dynamic process! How changed you would be!  How much more luminous, beautiful, noble your life would be from just that one little thought.

But that’s not what we do with the Buddha’s teachings.  We say, “All sentient beings are equal.  Okay, I’ll memorize that.  I guess that means I can’t kill anything. I guess that means that I really have to try to consider all things as equal. I guess it means I’m supposed to think that cockroaches and human beings are fundamentally equal in their nature.  I really don’t think that way, but it means that I have to remember that as being one of the rules.” Rules that are outside, that you don’t take responsibility for, that you don’t connect with, are deadening. They will kill you. They are bad. Rules that you take in as pieces of information, explore deeply and know for yourself, are empowering. They give you a sense of living for the first time.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Let’s Be Honest

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo on October 18, 1995

When one regards the Lama, we see that the causes or seeds for suffering are not there.  However, when we regard our own mind and our own perception, and the way that we think, the seeds for all suffering are within that.  Our normal waking consciousness, our ego, our samsaric nature, whatever it is that we think of ordinary ourselves as being right now, that does indeed arise from samsaric causes, from causes that we have actually created and which are, for the most part, non-virtuous.  We have not understood the view, nor have we understood any way to be happy.  So, when it comes to our state and our mind, there is the cause for suffering.  We need to distinguish between these, because when we look at the Guru we have to understand that there in that place, there is no cause for suffering.

This is an antidote to the tendency for practitioners who wish to completely open their minds to pure perception but are unable to do so. They wish to completely practice surrender to the devotional yoga.  They wish to open their hearts to the Guru, and receive the blessing without any obstacle or inhibition, but are unable to because they themselves have experienced trauma, hurt, and different kinds of suffering associated with samsaric life.  The antidote is to think and concentrate on the Guru as that which arises from the Mind of Enlightenment that does not have within it the causes for suffering.  It is our own ordinary mind, our samsaric personality ego structure that has within it all of the causes for suffering.

Because we are speaking about our perception, of course we can perceive anything any way that we want, and therefore, we are likely to experience suffering.  Even if it seems as though we experience suffering from an enlightened source, we know that this cannot be so.  Learning to distinguish, learning to understand what that actually means for us is the first step in learning how to practice spiritual surrender.  We have to give up our old habit of blame.  We have to really attain self-honesty.  We will depend on self-honesty in order to not exert the tendency of placing blame on something external.  If we have not attained any self-honesty, the pain that we suffer, the trauma that we live through, still comes from “out there.”  However, once we have learned self-honesty, we learn that what we are suffering from is our own inability to practice those causes, which create happiness.  So, we accept personal responsibility for that.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Does Desire End?

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Desire Blocks Happiness”

What is the end of it? Where does it end? It ends when you take yourself in hand and begin to practice stabilizing the mind. The Buddha teaches us that the cause of all suffering, every part of it, no matter what it is, if you trace it down to its root, is desire. How can you kick desire? Everybody’s got desire. You have the desire for life itself, don’t you? I mean, you don’t want to die or anything. You have the desire to be happy. All sentient beings have the desire to be happy. That’s one thing we all share. Do you realize that? We share with every life form that there is. All sentient beings have their common familyhood, brother- and sisterhood. They all wish to be happy. They’re all doing it in different ways, but we all wish to be happy. We have that desire, and we are inflamed with it.

How can we reduce that inflammation? It’s like we have to step off the conveyor belt. You know what I’m saying? We have to step off the merry-go-round that just makes us want and fulfill and want and keep trying to fulfill, and keep doing that round and round and round and round endlessly. It’s like you just have to stop for a minute. Step off of it and look at what you’re doing. Look at the habit pattern. Look at the pattern. Just look at it.  This is sometimes more difficult for younger people to do, because they just honestly haven’t lived long enough to see their patterns. For people who have reached maturity, it’s much easier to see the quality of the relationships and friendships that you’ve had. It’s much easier to see the level of fulfillment that you’ve had from material goods. It’s much easier to understand that you have been going through the same thing since you can remember. For younger people, it’s more difficult. But for older people, it’s very obvious. And the people that it’s easiest for are the people who are coming to the end of their life who have reached an advanced age, or an elderly age. And at that point, they’re carrying, perhaps hidden inside of them, a disappointment. There are things that we become very disappointed about. Things that have just not come together that we always assumed would. We always thought that they would.

When we come to that fantastic point, where the old gig, the old game doesn’t work for us anymore, we become disillusioned. It’s a heart-breaking time in one way, isn’t it? It’s really heart-breaking. It’s hard to bear, hard to face. But you know something? It’s the best time for you, the best time that you have ever experienced. Until you have come to that moment, you really haven’t been born yet. You’re like an egg, you know, just revolving around in your little shell, kind of a big yolk. Ha, ha. Hey, that was pretty good. You have to admit. A little levity there to cheer you up in the middle of your suffering. But anyway, revolving around inside your shell, and not getting anywhere. The moment that you become dissatisfied and panicky because your gig isn’t working any more, terrified because it may never work, uptight because you don’t know what to do next, grieving because nothing’s ever worked… At that moment, when you feel like you’re about to have a nervous breakdown, you’re on your way, kid. It’s probably the best and most mature moment of your life because you have to come to that moment to get anywhere. You can’t do this while you’re on the merry-go-round. You can’t do this unless you fall apart a little bit. You can’t get the big picture. You have to see the faults of cyclic existence. You have to look at it square on.

You must see. You must look cause and effect relationship in the eye. And you’ve got to really face one very sad fact about cyclic existence: No matter what we accumulate during the course of our lives, we can’t take even so much as a sesame seed with us. None of it. We can’t take relationships with us. We can’t take objects with us. We can’t take even ideas with us, those things that we spend so much time building up. We certainly can’t take emotions with us. And how much time do we spend watching our emotions and reacting to them? We can’t take any of that with us. We take one thing with us: the condition of our mindstreams, our own habitual tendencies. And if we have the habit of grasping, trying to satisfy ourselves, to the exclusion of virtuous living, and then being disappointed, that is the habit, that is the content of our mindstreams that we will take with us into the intermediate state, and into our next rebirth. The habits of our mindstream—that is what we take with us.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Where Spiritual Life Begins

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Conceptual Proliferation”

We who are sentient beings are wandering in samsara, and according to the Buddha’s teaching, if we have the assumption of self-nature as being inherently real, we are all basically in the same condition of wandering. It is only the gurus and the teachers who, in their past, may have accomplished sufficient Dharma which is the teaching of the enlightened mind. Having accomplished Dharma, they actually have clarified their mind to the point that they can see through the mist in a way that we cannot. You should trust in those teachers who have themselves accomplished their practice.

Some guidelines that you might use are these. I’ve taught this before and I’d like to reiterate this, because it is important at this time. You can have two kinds of expectation about a proper teacher for yourself or about yourself, if you think you are a proper teacher. One of them is that you should have in this lifetime  totally accomplished and be, yourself, teaching pure Dharma. That is Dharma that is brought by the enlightened mind, the Buddha, one who has attained Buddhahood. This is not the kind where you make it up yourself according to the messages that you’re getting from the Pleiades. This is real Dharma, no kidding. Buddha taught it. If you are accomplishing Dharma or have accomplished it in this lifetime, and you are teaching Dharma, then you are a qualified teacher, or someone you are looking for is a qualified teacher. The only other circumstance is if there is someone who is recognized to be a reincarnate or a tulku or a great bodhisattva, who has in the past accomplished Dharma sufficiently to where, in this lifetime, their minds are the very display of Dharma and all of their activity is engaged in Dharma, and results in Dharma. And that can only be determined by being recognized by others who are themselves recognized and realized in that way. Those are the only two kinds of teachers that you should accept. And if you yourself are neither one, then you are not a good teacher. The rest are wandering in samsara and there is confusion and suffering.

That being the case, you have a choice to make now.  And the choice is based on either continuing your dream-like false assumptions and dream-like confusion, and continuing the narcotic experience of just living in super-structured conceptual proliferation—death and rebirth, death and rebirth, death and rebirth—or you can get off of that and trust in the teaching of one who has accomplished Dharma. Trust in what ends up being like a lighthouse beacon in a very dark land, and go in the direction that you are guided to go in by your teacher. You must have a proper teacher. Go in that direction, and follow those instructions implicitly. To assume that you know nothing, to think that you know nothing because of your confusion, doesn’t make you bad, doesn’t make you less than anyone else. It simply states the facts. You’re still worthy. You still, in your nature, are the Buddha. You still are equally worthy of love with all sentient beings. But you accept the condition that you actually are in and it provides a tool for you, a power, a potency that you didn’t have before. Before it was like you were wandering around in a dark room trying to find the door and it’s pitch black and there’s all kinds of furniture and things hanging, you know, and drapes and dividers and things like that, and all you could do was stumble. You should think of the teacher as being like a lighthouse that shows you the door and, in fact, also is the door; because it shines to you from outside the door. And you should go in that direction. When you start going in that direction and assuming the validity of the teacher’s mind, and assuming that that is refuge, once you actually assume that, the moment that you assume that, you have begun to accomplish view. The moment you take that directive, other than your own confusion, as the direction in which you should go, you have started to heal. You have started to make real spiritual progress. You are on the path of Dharma. That is when your spiritual life begins.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Problems?

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Conceptual Proliferation”

When we see the guru, we don’t look at the guru and say, Well, I like him or her, or, I don’t like him or her. We don’t think like that. That’s not a good reason to take a teacher; and it’s not a good reason to reject a teacher. We accept a teacher based on the clarity that they can show us, and whether they themselves have crossed the ocean of suffering. And so our view of the teacher is based on that.

Now, we find ourselves in a position where we are confused. We really don’t get the big picture. We really are experiencing everything that we experience due to a false assumption and false reaction and false set of conceptualizations that are built on all those erroneous views. How can we untangle this spaghetti kind of phenomena? Well, if we tried to pick out the pieces one by one, we would still be doing it from the point of view of the assumption of self-nature, so it’s never going to be clear. We really must rely on the perception of that one who has crossed the ocean of suffering. We really have to rely on the guidance of our teachers and the teaching of the Buddha. We really must rely on that.

The most important step that any student can make—and any good student will really have to make this at some point—is arriving at the conclusion, or coming to the understanding that you really just don’t know. That you really just don’t have a clue. Many students, when they first come to temple, and when they first begin on the spiritual path, feel a kind of arrogance, a kind of pridefulness. We talked about that the last time that we were together. They really assume that they know something, you know? ‘Well, I’ve had several different teachers and I’ve been on the spiritual path for some time now; and yes, I have a great affinity for spiritual things. And in fact, I myself have taught a few people, in my humble way.’ You know, and they sort of think like that. They come to the temple, and then they think, ‘Yes, well I’ve tried everything so now I think I’ll try some Tibetan Buddhism because you know, it’s like really exotic. Having been everywhere, I guess I’ll try Tibet.’  And so that’s what they think, really, when they come to the path. And really even some of the oldie, goldies over here were like that. Oh, oh, let me tell you. It was pew city for a long time. I actually had many of them come to me and tell me how wonderful they were and how helpful they had been in other people’s spiritual awakening. And all they needed from me was a reading. You don’t think that’s weird? Then you have some work to do. So, anyway, they experienced that, and you may actually be experiencing that. And you may feel just a little itchy under the collar when I talk about this, or a little uncomfortable.

At any rate, there will come a point in any proper student’s life when they might enter in that way. Then, at some point, they simply realize that they don’t know anything. They just haven’t got a clue in the world. And at that point, they finally have entered onto the path, because you cannot enter onto the path any other way. And every religion has a way of telling you that. I’m thinking about Christianity—that you have to enter Jerusalem through the eye of the needle. There is actually a place in Jerusalem, as I understand it, or was—I don’t know if it’s actually still there—where there is a tunnel or rock formation which is quite low, and it’s called the eye of the needle. Camels going into Jerusalem that way actually have to get down on their knees to enter into it. So that analogy is made: That you have to enter by getting down on your knees. You actually have to get off of the arrogance and the spiritual superiority that you have.

This may come as a shock to you; but, in fact, you are not getting messages from Jesus, or Buddha, from the Pleiades star system, or anybody else, as you thought you were every night at 7:00. You actually are not getting the inner directives that you thought you were. You’re just confused! And I’m really sorry about that. I really hate to break this to you, but you’re having a lot of problems. When you get to the point on the path that you can actually realize that, you’re somewhere and you’re in good shape. Until you realize that, believe me—and you’re not going to like my saying this and you might not come back—but you’re nowhere and you’re not in good shape.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

 

 

How Will You Respond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

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