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

 

Confession and Remorse

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

Now with alcohol or drugs, the nature of the beast is that you’re going to hit bottom. At some point, things are really going to fall apart. One of the additional problems with samsara is that we can be angry every day, we can be needy every day, we can be miserable beyond belief every day, but we may not bottom out until we die. And right before we die we look back at our lives and go, ‘Gee, you know I’ve been miserable and angry and needy just about every day here. And now I’m dying.’ What are you going to do about it then? You know, think about it. You’re going toes up into the bardo. And you’re going to be faced with the nature, with your mind, with your habitual tendencies.

So, the problem with samsara is even more acute. I think samsara is even more a drug than heroin. Even more a damaging substance, or damaging condition, than addiction to alcohol. And the reason why I think that is because in samsara, the way it plays out, even though things have fallen apart, even though we have bottomed out, even though we are utterly miserable, we often can’t see it because we’ve been taught that that’s simply the way it is. That’s simply the way it is.

So like an addict that changes bars in order to solve his unhappiness… And it happens, doesn’t it? You go from one kind of social scene to another kind of social scene thinking that it’ll help. Like that, we go from day to day trying to solve the problem of samsara by bending the elbow a little more. And that’s kind of how it goes. Now the situation that we find ourselves in is very similar to that. And in terms of being addicted to samsara, we have to really dismantle the delusion of samsara. We have to see the faults of it. Now, according to the Buddha’s teaching, there are certain pre-written faults of samsara that you can rely on; but I really recommend that you look very carefully at your own condition in a courageous way.

I don’t think that that can happen very easily on your own, because you’re going to miss some things, a lot of things. It is remarkable to me… For instance, let’s use a hypothetical situation that I ran into just recently. Let’s say you have a friend (and probably you’ve seen this), who has a habitual tendency of terribly destructive relationships. Do you know anybody like that? How about yourself? Terribly destructive relationships in which it never happens that your friend walks out of a relationship unscathed. They always come out of it damaged in some way. Terribly destructive relationships. It seems to be a big item here in samsara. It’s like a big seller. It’s right up there with T-shirts. Big seller. So we’re in  terribly, terribly addictive relationships. And then you see this person go into another terribly destructive relationship. The woman looks different. She smells different. She sounds different. How is it possible that she’s exactly the same as all the other ones he’s had? And you want to say to your friend, whap, whap, wham! ‘Don’t you see that you’re doing it again?’ And they don’t! They have not a clue, nary a clue. Now has that ever happened to you? Not a clue! Have you ever seen your friend do that? Have you ever seen yourself do that? It’s the same song again and again and again. So you may need to get with someone who’s a little bit more advanced at this than you are, or at least someone you can talk to, someone you can trust.

I actually recommend that for my students. I set up a system where they can do partnering with each other. And it’s a useful thing, because we can look at each other’s patterns; and we can look at where each other’s thinking has just sort of slid over a few very important facts. And we can point it out and really help each other to stay honest, because we don’t have the habit of honesty. We have the habit of patching things up and putting band-aids on them. That is our habit. We’re trying to slick by, Jack! And that’s what we’re doing. So what we need to do is to try to find a way to cut to the bone, and you may need a friend to do that with.

Now if any of you wish to engage, those of you who are my students, and those of you who are thinking of becoming students, to engage in such a practice of really dismantling your habitual tendencies, to really look at the faults of cyclic existence and to really get with that, I heartily suggest that you do so. And certainly any of you are welcome to call on any of my students, those who have been with me for some time and have some of those skills; and I’m sure they would be willing to help you. We’re set up to do that. We’re like that. And there’s nothing to be shy about. The one thing I have to tell you about this is that whatever you’ve done, I know these people, they’re worse. There’s not a rose amongst them. Although they’re looking pretty sweet these days. There’s not a rose amongst them, believe me. There’s not one amongst them that probably hasn’t done worse. So there’s nothing to be afraid of. The deal is, and here’s something that’s really important, in both Alcoholics Anonymous and in the Buddhadharma, confession and remorse are essential components.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

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

buddhists-prostrating-outside-the-temple

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

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