Facing Helplessness

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “AA and Buddhism”

The idea that I’m trying to present is that you have to be at that place of total honesty. Now, in Alcoholics Anonymous, when you get to that place of total honesty, basically your life is broken down. In Buddhadharma, when you get to that place of total honesty, you take apart your life. You break it down yourself. Because if you wait for samsara to totally break you down… First of all, who wants to wait? It takes too long. It just takes too long. Plus you have been broken down before. According to the Buddha’s teaching, you have died and been reborn uncountable times under very unfortunate circumstances. And noodniks that we are, we still haven’t gotten it. We just can’t get a grip!

For some reason, the way that samsara is constructed, it’s very much like a narcotic. It’s like being under the influence of the drug, or under the influence of alcohol. While you’re really loaded, you really just don’t know your behind from a table. You just can’t find anything. You just can’t figure it out because the drug is in your system. The whole time we are revolving in samsara, in a sense, that drug is in our system, because we always view, don’t we, through the experience of continuum. And we always view with the assumption of self-nature being inherently real.  So we are fueled by this alcohol of the desire of continuum in a certain way to experience as ego. We can’t see clearly.

Now that happens to the alcoholic too. And so, one of the steps… And again I don’t know the program well enough to know which step is which or what comes first. I’m relying mostly on the Buddhadharma to tell me what to do. But once you have discerned the faults of cyclic existence… And you really have to spend some bone-crushing time on that one, and that is not your favorite part of the practice. I mean get this: It’s not the part you’re going to enjoy. And it isn’t the one where you can sit on a high mountain in the Himalayas with your hands just right and your feet in a lotus position and think of yourself as very holy while you’re doing it. You’re not going to get a lot of gratification at that point. Same with the alcoholic. When they decide that they are really bottomed out, that is not a gratifying time. I mean, am I right? That is the worst, most horrible time that one can possibly imagine. But in practice one has to do that also. And you feel a little bit like you’re going crazy because you have to dismantle everything you held to be sacred. You have to really look, and you’re helpless unless you do.

So the next step, as I understand it in the Buddhadharma, is to decide that in samsara (and this is one of the faults of samsara as it is one of the faults of drug addiction or alcohol abuse) we are in this condition, helpless to change. Now, boy we hate that, America! Man, this is the worst! Because in America we’re very democratic. We like to think that everybody’s got power. We can all vote so that makes us happy. Although I don’t know what good it’s actually doing us. But anyway, we feel in America that we are really, really, really democratic in our thinking. We want to really, really think that we have something very powerful. But, in fact, you have to get to the point where you can’t stop. You’re helpless. You’re helpless.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Avoiding the Path to Happiness

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “AA & Buddhism”

Now, many of us also are not very happy. We just don’t seem to be able to master happiness. We are filled with longing, filled sometimes with anguish of different kinds—you know, loneliness, unhappiness, anger. Anger seems to be our constant companion. Just can’t seem to shake it, you know. It comes back again, again and again. Loneliness comes back again and again and again. So we don’t feel that we are particularly happy. Even in this beautiful country and these beautiful places that we find ourselves sitting in, we still find that we are terribly unhappy. And then what to think about those who are in different places, different countries, different life forms that are miserably unhappy?

Happy or unhappy, we know that life is impermanent. We know that it is brought about by habitual tendency, which is scary. Have you looked at your habitual tendencies lately? Doesn’t that make you just a little squeamish? I mean if you think about it. So if life is brought about by habitual tendency, and cause and effect is definitely what’s happening here, we have to really sit down and study what we call in the Buddhadharma the faults of cyclic existence. Now it’s considered in Dharma teaching and in Buddhist thought that without thoroughly examining the faults of cyclic existence, honestly and courageously…  And I have to underline the word courageously because this is where most people fade out. So don’t! Have courage here! You have to examine yourself honestly and courageously the way an addict does. You have to see your habitual tendencies. You have to see your pride. You have to see your anger and hatred. You have to come to terms with your clinging and grasping. You must be able to look at it and recognize it in the same way an addict does. Because according to the Buddha’s teaching, until we do that we are going nowhere.

I’m telling you that this is true. I know it is because I have many well-meaning students come here to study. And when they come here to study their idea is well, you know, I’ve been the spiritual route, and I’ve even taught a few things. And I’ve done this and I’ve done that. And I’ve read Maha somebody and blah-blah who-who. And I’ve been through it all. And I’ve even sat at the feet of Big Chief Somebody-or-Other. And we all think that because of that, you know, we’re coming in here and we’re just listening to this lady in the yellow jacket, and ‘I’m just not that impressed.’ So, come on, I can read minds. Doesn’t it just scare you? Anyway, let’s say that happens.  There are students who come to just about every kind of spiritual gathering in that way, with that kind of arrogant posture, completely avoiding the issue that it would be useful, beneficial, and just logical, when you’re in any situation like that, to pick up a mirror and really, honestly look at yourself. Really, honestly look at yourself. That would be the normal thing to do, if you consider normal healthy. That would be the healthy thing to do. Maybe that’s not the normal thing to do, but it would be the healthy thing to do. It would be the right thing to do. But instead we seem to hold ourselves in a posture that makes everything that we’re all about kind of up there in an unreachable place. You can’t talk about it. You can’t think about it. You can’t argue with it. You just basically can’t do anything with it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Most Important Practice

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

The traditional fundamental ideas of all sentient beings as being equal—the realization that all sentient beings are suffering equally, that it is unacceptable to see their suffering, that all sentient beings are interrelated with us—these fundamental thoughts are really important. But go on from that and practice the mechanics of changing habitual tendency. It is not enough to be theoretical. The biggest fault that I find in Buddhist practitioners is that they keep it academic. I do not myself like academic Buddhist students. I would rather you knew nothing about the academics of practice and a heck of a lot about changing the habitual tendency of self-absorption through a real practice. Because academics is not going to get you anywhere but between your ears. On the other hand, giving rise to the bodhicitta and pure view and changing habitual tendencies will lead to profound realization, to the perfect awakening. Not only that, but it will lead to a better world.

So for my money, I feel like the best thing you can do is to begin to practice in a small and simple way. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to do that either. And you don’t have to be a high falutin’ practitioner to do that either. You don’t have to wear the robes, or walk the walk or dance the dance or talk the talk, or even have a nifty mala which seems to be the highest priority when we first become a Buddhist. Big deal! The highest priority should be loving kindness and you should begin in whatever small way that you can, making no conclusions, other than the fact that you have a pattern and that you can change it. Remember the idea of the scales. That’s really important. Remember the idea of applying the method today. Now. Remember the idea of confession and restitution immediately after any breakage. How potent. What an incredibly potent way to live! Can you imagine living without the burden of guilt or the burden of the false assumption that you are a bad person?  You’d have so much spare time on your hands. You wouldn’t know what to do. Because all the things you do to prove yourself you wouldn’t have to do anymore. Isn’t that true?

Do yourself a favor. Live simply in that way. It’s the best and highest practice. In the Vajrayana tradition we are given many things that we can do. We practice Ngöndro, preliminary practice. We meditate on the Thoughts that Turn the Mind.We practice generational stage practice, completion stage practice. We visualize ourselves as the meditational deity and pronounce mantra. All of those things are meant to put more in this pile. The most important practice is that of loving kindness, that of viewing others as equal. Don’t view them as worse than you, no matter what they look like and that way there won’t be anybody better than you.  All of this has been taught by the Buddha and is absolutely true.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

When We Blow It

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

So little by little, you begin to change your habit. If you really blow it, and you will, … Accept that right now, too. You will. You’re bound to blow it. When you blow it, you can prepare yourself for that by saying, ‘As a sentient being, I will probably blow it again. And when I do, I’m going to get right back on the horse and I’m going to make restitution and I’m not going to form any conclusions about myself. I’m going to let my mind relax.’ And get right back on the horse by practicing bodhicitta in the very next moment, plus confess in your mind that you were wrong just there. Confession in your mind is very, very important. ‘Boy, I really blew it just then. I was really wrong just then.’ And make restitution as quickly as you can.

Sometimes we have a kind of pride that says you’re going to look like a jerk if you say, to somebody that you were just mean to, ‘Well, I’ve really been trying to practice generosity and I realize that I was not generous to you at all. I realize that was pretty sleazy, what I just did, and so I’d like to ask you if there is anything I can do for you.’ Now most of us have too much pride to do that, but it’s the very right thing to do. And you’ll feel like a new person once you begin to do that. And that will be not only a pebble in this pile, but that kind of thing—the confessing and making restitution of an already established non-virtuous habit—is like a boulder going into that pile. It’s more important than little kindnesses. That kind of acceptance and inner peace and moving forward regardless, really, really helps. It’s like a boulder going into that pile, so much more quickly when you get into the habit of kindness. So I heartily recommend that method.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Roots of Anger

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Art of Dispelling Anger”

For most of us, when we are wrathful or angry, it’s not wrathful. It’s not righteous wrath, you know, in order to help that person. The only time I can see where it would be useful for an ordinary person to be wrathful would be to maybe encourage somebody else to stand on their own two feet or to be less dependent or something like that. Now look, I really want you to do that, and you can talk sternly. But otherwise, where in your life should hatred be?  Hatred is one of the three things that binds you to this world of samsara in which you will get old, you will get sick and you will die. And so we are taught that we must handle this hatred.

So when we approach hatred and look at it, we have to really examine our habitual tendencies. We can’t just say, you know, ‘I’m not going to hate anybody,’ or it’s kind of like a recovering alcoholic. It’s difficult, very difficult, to just say, ‘I’m not going to drink anymore. I’m going to use will power and I’m not going to drink anymore.’ You know, they say some people can do that, but most people can’t. And why is that?  Because you have to learn about yourself. Because there is a reason why you drank in the first place. Because you have to learn to look inside of yourself and see what’s in there and you have to work it. What do they say in the program?  ‘It works if you work it.’ What do I say about Buddhism?  ‘It works if you work it.’ It’s the same deal. We are addicted to our habitual tendencies like a bunch of alcoholics. That’s why I love recovering alcoholics, because I feel such a kinship with them. And it’s beautiful that it’s so obvious to them that they are recovering addicts. Those of us who maybe have a little shot every now and then or whatever, a little wine every now and then or we’re teetotalers, we think, ‘Oh well, I’m not an addict. Oh, I’m pure, because I take vitamins and I eat bananas,’ and whatever.

But I tell you what. It’s that recognition that from the point of view of recovering from the addiction to the five poisons and from that awakening to Buddhahood, most of us are still at the stage where we are living like bag ladies and men under the bridge, because we ain’t recovered yet. We still have our hatreds; we still have our resentments. And we practice them.

When a Buddhist approaches ridding themselves of hatred, it can’t be done through willpower. It must be done through understanding, through practicing and ultimately through attaining view. Understanding means looking within oneself with honesty. None of us have been perfect. We’ve hurt others. We’ve killed bugs, people; I don’t know what, swatted flies, whatever. None of us has been perfect. And when we approach that, we need to look at that without excuses, bald-faced, you know?  Where have I fallen down here?

Now we don’t want to look at in a harsh and miserable way.  When I say take oneself to task, I mean have a long, sobering talk with oneself. I don’t mean self-hatred. That is useless and I don’t like it. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to talk about it; and I will slap you next week if I see it, because you are just as worthy as anyone else, and that’s just a game. When we get into self-hatred, it’s because we have bad qualities and we don’t want to deal with them. So I say, accomplish those qualities and your image of yourself will rise up like a mountain.

Most people that have poor self-image are stuck in a kind of fearful narcissism where they do not respect or understand what is outside. They do not respect or understand what is inside. They can’t tell the difference between outside and inside. And they are so internally focused, focused on their own needs, wants and dramas, particularly dramas, that it is really very difficult for these people to step out of their shell, their shell of narcissism, and begin to truly try to be of benefit to others.  This narcissism, this kind of fearful self-absorption, often is one of the causes of a kind of hatred. If you are fearful and self-absorbed in your own drama, it’s really, ultimately when you trace it down, pretty much all about you. You know? If you have that kind of thing, there is never the opportunity to understand the nature of phenomena. There is never the opportunity to understand the primordial naturally luminous wisdom state that is our nature because of the drama. And there is even a posture with that. Forthe people who have that kind of thing, as they grow older, their body tends to go like that. It caves in like that. And it’s the protecting that we’re doing of something that we feel is inherently real–ego.

When you think, ‘Oh, what can I do about this? I’m so fearful. Of course she’s saying I’m narcissistic, but it’s really that I am afraid.’ Well, what can we do about that?  I think one step is to notice that are there are other people who are afraid, also. Notice that everybody is afraid. Notice that there is a humanity that we share of brother-sisterhood, a humanness that we share, human experiences that we will all have together. We will grow old. We will be sick. We will die. This is the condition that humanity shares in samsara. So learn to recognize in others that connection, even if it’s a sad one, that we all suffer the same; and we have the same wants, too. That narcissistic self-absorbed person who is very fearful wants desperately to be happy but doesn’t know how. And so in order to make themselves better, they stay frozen. They have hatreds and fears toward everybody else. And that’s the reaction.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Challenge of Self Honesty

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Art of Dispelling Anger”

We must take ourselves to task more. I don’t want to speak harshly because harshness doesn’t help, but I want to say succinctly and directly, we have to take ourselves to task regarding our faults and our poisons.   When I think of the Tibetan culture, that’s a lot easier because there isn’t that attachment to materialism.  Even in terms of the roots of the culture itself without religion, they were a nomadic people and they had things, but you couldn’t carry much.  You had your yaks and your yurts and that was it.There wasn’t that much variety in food; there wasn’t that much variety in clothing.  It’s true that the aristocratic Tibetans used to collect jewelry—some of the strangest looking jewelry.  It was intense jewelry, and that was considered a status thing. But for the most part, culturally, a Tibetan Buddhist would not have a hard time understanding that hatred, greed and ignorance and particularly desire, as the Buddha taught, keep us revolving endlessly in samsara.  We, unfortunately, are programmed quite differently.

I know in my household and in those of many people that I’ve talked to, there was confusion.  My mother was sort of a lox and bagel Jew and my father was a twice a year Catholic; and we were supposed to somehow dance in the middle. So when mama won we were going one way and when daddy won we were going the other way. I think that this happens with a lot of people.  They are raised with a lot of confusion around religion.  And even when they are taught that faith and religion should be a part of their life, and even when they are given the Western ten commandments, still there is so much confusion because we seem to find ways around that.

Thou shalt not kill.  But you can kill bugs, animals and enemies.  So who are you not supposed to kill?  I will not kill you.  That will do it.  So there is tremendous confusion around that.  How does one venerate these absolute laws that have to do with a moral and ethical human when there is so much confusion around them?  I mean, thou shall not kill but go to war.  How does that make sense to a child?   And so, as we grow up with religion, even though we have been founded in religion, or have some foundation in it, the information that we’re given is very confusing.  Thou shalt not commit adultery.  Whose family hasn’t had a little bit of that? You know, it’s just crazy.

And so, first of all, we’ve learned to be a little bit hypocritical; but most of all, we’ve learned that these laws don’t really matter, and that’s really sad.  So when we become Buddhist, we hear that there is a Vinaya and there are certain things that we must not do. And that if we take a life,  we understand that we will be giving our lives someday from having taken a life because karma works like that. Karma is exacting. When the cause arises, the results arise independently and simultaneously.  It’s our misjudgment through having the mind of duality that makes it seem like time stretches out. So even though you may not have the result of that bad karma until later on in life or even some future life, definitely we know from studying, at least. And every once in a while we get blessed with a little instant karma, so we have sometimes the opportunity to learn; but still that confusion is rampant, really rampant.

We want to practice Buddhism, so we take the teachings. We get to all the retreats; we see the right teachers; we try to do the practices. Yet we don’t really change ourselves.  It is an amazing thing to me that students can be on the path for so long and even try to go to the completion stage practices,  the tsa lung and the trekchod and togyal, and go to those levels and practice them with some part of their mind, and yet the rest of them is somehow remaining the same.  To me that is probably the worst tragedy on the path.  It’s the one that makes me not like to teach, but that’s the battle I fight with myself, you know. I’m just being honest.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Denial

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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

 

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