Bliss Happens

An excerpt from a teaching called Awakening from Non-Recognition by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

There are so many amazing ways that you can practice. I’ve seen it again and again in the greatest practitioners, but only in the greatest, so we aspire to this. I think about stories I’ve heard about the Tibetan Bodhisattvas. For instance, during the tragedy when Tibet fell, literally 20,000 Tibetans (my teachers among them) tried to cross the Himalayas to get to India to safety, and only 20 arrived. These people endured incredible amounts of death, killing, all kinds of terrible sufferings. And then you think about great Lamas like His Holiness the Dalai Lama and my teachers who have said that instead of hating the Chinese who caused them so much loss and so much suffering, they feel almost worshipful in a sense, recognizing that the Chinese are their gurus. Now how does that happen? Are you thinking, “Well, this is maybe more than I can swallow? You know, if anybody is going to destroy me and my culture, I think I’d rather not like them, thank you very much!”

What has happened here is that these great Bodhisattvas recognize that everything is the mandala of the guru. With faith, everything is the display of the guru. So this tragic event is understood as a wrathful display that gives us the opportunity to cut off ego clinging at the root. Whatever they decided to do with this information, Tibet fell. Those things happened, so you basically have two ways to go with this. You can use this as an excuse to fall deeper and deeper into samsara with hatred and prejudice, or you can use it as a ladder to climb out of samsara through practicing renunciation and the cessation of ego clinging. It’s already happened. Those are the only two choices you have! Now, if we were a good practitioner and broke a leg, we’d say, “This is truly the display of the mandala of the guru. This is the guru’s blessing because now I can’t hop around the way I normally do. I have to sit my butt down and pray.” You can use that opportunity or you can sit that same butt down in front of the TV and watch soap operas all day long and wail and gnash your teeth about it.

In my situation I think like this. Many of you know I came from an alcoholic and abusive home. To me that is my most precious gift, my most precious empowerment. I have received until this date no more precious empowerment than that. It’s not to say I want to do it over again. It was a nightmare. It was horrible. The days of suffering were endless, but I understand what I could not have understood any other way: that samsara is something to be reckoned with, that all sentient beings are suffering, that I wish to see suffering end. I don’t think I could ever have understood this as well if I had not experienced what I experienced. So that has become my empowerment, and I feel that this is the guru’s blessing. Hopefully, I have come to a point in my practice where I can say this without resentment. I feel that I can look to the face of my guru and say, “Thank you for this skillful means that you have offered me so that I will benefit sentient beings. Thank you for this.” Without resentment I can truly say that. In the next breath I’m also likely to say, “Please let’s not do this again by the way, if you don’t mind.” But the recognition is there. So it has become for me an empowerment.

The bottom line message of Guru Yoga isn’t about subservience or about losing power or losing strength. If anything, it’s about recognizing that the ball is in your court. You have and will have the experiences of samsara. What are you going to do about that? Even if you lay down and die, you still have to go through the bardo and then you do it all over again.

You have choices, but they’re not the kind you’d like to have. You’d like to choose to be either here or not be here, choose to be happy or be sad, choose to have one experience or another happen to you. What you can choose is what you do with what happens to you. If you were to enter into the practice of Guru Yoga deeply and be truly empowered by that, this entire life could be an empowerment. We can transform all of the whining and moping and gnashing of teeth that we do into strength.

Often students will come to me and say, “I have this particular problem. This particular problem makes me unusual and unfit. My mind is stuck on it. So let’s make a big deal about my particular problem so that we can talk about it together and then we don’t have to practice. We can just have this particular problem.” Well, my answer to that is great, because if you have that particular problem, when you solve that problem, you’re going to have that particular strength. That’s what you’re going to have. This is golden. This is gravy. So we take this problem and we transform adversity into bliss, and the bliss occurs when we move into a state of recognition. We understand that we are not victims anymore. We understand that this kind of dualistic thinking is unreasonable and unwarranted and pointless, and we begin to understand “I am here. I am that. And the capacity to display this nature is something holy, a gem, a jewel that I possess.”

We learn this within the context of Guru Yoga, through the friendship of our teacher, through recognizing what is not ordinary. But try to remember, if we insist on maintaining the same habitual tendency and interact with that which is holy as though it were ordinary, and are not able to make that bridge or that transformation, it’s like taking a precious jewel—the most precious in the world, in all worlds, that could buy you anything that you want, a wish-fulfilling jewel—and making, as a six-year-old would make, a play pretty out of it.

It’s not that one way of being would make you a bad person and the other not. It’s that one is a terrible tragedy, a terrible waste, a terrible loss, and the other is empowerment. That’s the difference.

As we hold in our mind the intention to awaken as the Buddha is awake, as we hold in our minds the information about the difference between what is ordinary and what is extraordinary, as we begin to move into a state of recognition through the practice of Guru Yoga, this will facilitate every happiness, every result of the path. Gradually, over time, we will prepare for the opportunity of recognition, and it will occur. This is the truth. I would not lie to you. I have no reason to lie to you. These are the Buddha’s teachings. Again you have the opportunity to pit your ordinary process of conceptualization, as it arises from samsaric tendencies and samsaric means, against what the Buddha speaks, which is the truth of your own nature. This the Buddha has taught, “I will appear as your root teacher.” This Guru Rinpoche has taught, again, “I will appear as your root teacher.”

Perhaps this teaching will give you some beginning understanding of how to approach the practice of Guru Yoga. I hope that it is helpful to you, and I hope that it helps you to move across certain stuck places that we as practitioners find ourselves arriving at again and again. Thank you very much.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The Student-Teacher Relationship

An excerpt from a teaching called Awakening from Non-Recognition by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

This relationship between the student and teacher absolutely depends on the connection between what appears to be two things. On the part of the teacher, the relationship requires the capability to express, display and communicate Dharma, and certainly the intention of Bodhicitta first and foremost. The student’s well-being and realization, recognition, awakening, enlightenment is the goal of the relationship. The teacher’s responsibility is to connect with the student in order to bring about that result and to provide all of the necessary components on the path in order to achieve that result.

What is the student’s responsibility? The student’s responsibility is not to treat this relationship as an ordinary thing, once you have determined that it is not of the world. That would be inappropriate. Have you ever seen children make collages? They take a piece of construction paper and they glue pretty sparkled things on that piece of paper and then they give it to mom. They just make a play-pretty. That’s their artistic endeavor because they can paste and glue. You don’t think students do that with their teacher? The equivalent would be to take a most precious jewel, like the Hope Diamond, exquisitely precious, immeasurable in worldly and monetary terms, put some Elmer’s glue on it and stick it on a piece of paper right next to all the fuzzy things and play-pretties and sparkles and colored macaronis and all the things kids use to make collages, and say “Because I can paste and glue. Because I’m six years old now and I can do this.” That would be the equivalent. You would take that precious jewel and paste it on that piece of paper and just throw it around with the other things you make because you can, because you’re smart, because you’re human, because you’re American. Can you see what I’m saying here?

This precious relationship should not be dealt with in that way. It’s absurd. You cringe when you think of a diamond—that’s worth so much money that it could probably feed all the homeless in our entire country for at least a period of time—used as a play thing, pasted on construction paper with colored macaroni and stuff.  It’s exactly the equivalent of practicing Guru Yoga in the way that we practice it.

That precious relationship provides a format in which we practice recognizing. When we are born in samsara we have a certain experience. As a human being we are born of a mother and a father. You can’t get away from that. As far as I know, no one has just appeared somewhere. If you have, please tell me. I want to see that you’re missing a belly button. We pass through the birth canal and we experience the world as infants and then we grow into consciousness. There seems to be this continuum that expresses itself in time. Why does that happen? Well, it’s because we believe self-nature to be inherently real. Self-nature is not the same as the Buddha nature. It has a certain kind of limitation, and the format seems to be that it moves through space. It takes place in space. To take place in space you need to take place in time also. So we have this experience and we take it for granted. That’s simply the way it is.

The Buddha is able to look at you and see everything about you, every single condition that brought you to this present moment. What kind of perception is that? When the Buddha looks at this experience, the Buddha sees in awareness, in the awakened state. In that recognition there is something else. There is an appearance of this nature in a display form, like the sun’s rays coming from the sun. The Buddha understands this nature and does not distinguish between this and that, between empty and full, between high and low, between hot and cold, between solid and non-solid. The Buddha recognizes that face, that nature, that ground-of-being simply in emanation form.

When we meet with our teacher, there is a different relationship, and this is how we have to understand the necessity and power of Guru Yoga. If you have chosen your teacher correctly, the teacher is a Bodhisattva with enough wisdom, enough awareness, and enough accomplishment in meditation so that there is recognition, so that the teacher knows your nature. The teacher recognizes this potential, this seed, and the teacher/student relationship is completely based on that recognition. Even though the teacher may occasionally interface with a student in a way that appears to be ordinary, it’s always about bringing the relationship full circle until the student’s recognition occurs. That is the basis of the relationship. Don’t make it ordinary. It’s not about a warm fuzzy. It’s not about being comfy cozy. It’s not about feeling good. It’s not about whether we both like to ice skate or have the same color skin. It’s not about any of that.

It’s about the appearance and the recognition of that appearance. The student has an incredible opportunity and that is to begin to practice entering into a state of recognition, utilizing the Guru Yoga, utilizing the teacher. Why should we utilize the teacher rather than sit down and chant “Om” and just meditate and see if we can recognize our natural state? Well, because it’s not likely to happen that way, that’s why.

We are ordinary sentient beings lost in samsara. We have been conceptualizing self-nature since time out of mind. We have unbelievably strong habitual tendencies. If you think addiction is strong, as it appears in the world now with drugs and alcohol, it’s nothing compared to the level of addiction to a habitual tendency that we have in our clinging to ego as being inherently real. It doesn’t even come close!

In this relationship we are going to conceive of something different. We are going to determine what is ordinary and what is extraordinary. We are going to go through this whole process we’ve outlined. We determine that this relationship is extraordinary. It arises from the Buddha nature. It results in the Buddha nature. In the middle is the path or the method. This being the case, we begin to understand that if this relationship arises from the Buddha nature and it is the Buddha nature and that is our nature, when we see the teacher, we have at last seen our own face. That precious moment—when that face that is our nature arises in some way that we can recognize—is the beginning of recognition.

Now it seems external. It seems like the teacher is out there. It is the student’s responsibility to practice in such a way that they begin to recognize this appearance as the most precious, holy experience. It’s not like worshiping a statue. It’s not like that. It’s recognition of the nature. What is the nature? It is the Buddha nature, indistinguishable from our own nature, therefore the recognition of our true face.

We talk about how to see our teacher when we meet him or her for the first time during the day. There are practices and beautiful writings—I myself have even written things about this and spoken about this, but it’s not my particular talent. In our heart without pride, with surrender, with beauty, with gentleness, with regard, without rigidity, without ideas, without taking that jewel and putting it on that collage, on that piece of paper, we behold the teacher and we say, “This is my heart, my mind, my breath. All that is precious and holy to me, all that is beautiful in this world.” And we place the teacher in our practice above the crown of our head. Are we stupid people worshiping something else? Are we kind of limp or weird? Are we maybe not American anymore? Try to understand. This is not about a personality cult. This is not about putting one being or body or personality above any other. It’s not like that. This is about recognition. The same pride, confusion and preconceived ideas that cause us to say, “Well, I just don’t know. This person is just an ordinary person and maybe I should just be friendly and try to do some practice and some reading.” That kind of holding oneself back from recognition is the exact same holding oneself back from recognition that is occurring right now to you and causes you to remain suffering in samsara. If you insist upon putting the teacher in the ordinary category, you insist upon putting the nature in an ordinary category.  It’s the same problem, the same habit, the same disease.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Your Chance at Recognition

An excerpt from a teaching called Awakening from Non-Recognition by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Guru Yoga must be seen not as an end but as a means to an end. Quite frankly, speaking for myself and I’m sure most other teachers, we could care less. I’ve described this many times before. I just hate the whole prostration thing. It takes me forever to get through a room. If one practices in a profound way, these prostrations are an opportunity, and that’s why I allow them to be practiced here in the same way that they are practiced generally in our tradition. Otherwise I wouldn’t, because they bother me, but I allow them because it is an opportunity to make an offering and to move immediately—body, speech and mind—into a posture of recognition. You are speaking, “I take refuge in the Lama. I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.” You are engaging in conduct with your body. You are engaging in intention with your mind. With body, speech and mind you are connecting to recognition, and that’s why I allow it.

The relationship with one’s teacher is utilized as the water of life or some sort of ultimate nectar or ultimate empowerment that provides a way for us to begin to recognize that which is holy arises in the world and that each of us is that. Each one of us should practice like that. To the degree that we hold the teacher above the crown of our head and then take the teacher into our hearts, without finding reasons not to—because those reasons not to are the very reasons we are using to remain lost in samsara—to that degree we learn to recognize. Yes, we know you’re clever enough to find reasons not to recognize the nature. If you need to be clever in the way Americans need to be clever in this day and age, you are already clever, very good, now let’s move on. Let’s see if you can learn recognition.

The relationship with the teacher then becomes this precious opportunity, this precious bridge. We see that the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha and, all three-in-one as the Lama have appeared in the world, and we see that this is not separate from us. So in the beginning we start practicing by contemplating the difference between what is ordinary and what is extraordinary. We begin to move into relationship with the teacher. We begin to practice devotion. We try to practice some pure view, understanding that this is the appearance in the world and that this is holy and we let it be that way. We simply let it be. Then gradually we move into a much deeper practice where we understand everything is the mandala of the guru. In that practice we begin to learn to turn adversity into bliss.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Devotional Yoga

An excerpt from a the teaching, When the Teacher Calls, by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

In Buddhist tradition and particularly in Vajrayana Buddhism, there is a kind of practice called devotional practice. One of its most meaningful and foundational aspects is developing a relationship of pure devotion with one’s lama or teacher. In Vajrayana, the teacher is considered to be the door to liberation because even though the Buddha was once on the earth and even though the Buddha’s teachings are written in books, it is just about impossible to enter onto the Path without the blessings of the teacher. The lama, who is necessary for empowerment, transmission and teaching, is considered to be the blessing that is inherent in the Path.

In the Vajrayana tradition there is a devotional aspect to every practice that is done,from the most preliminary to the most superior practice, and it is considered to be the means by which blessing is actually transmitted. In the Nam Chö Ngöndro, the preliminary practice accomplished at this temple, there is a beautiful song of invoking the lama’s blessing called “Calling the Lama from Afar.” It has haunting melody, and it is done from one’s heart in order to soften the ego and make the mind like a bowl ready to receive any blessing.

This type of practice functions like a cultivator. Think of planting a field of grain.  One has to plow the field and work the soil so that it’s capable of receiving the seed.  Otherwise, if the soil were not ready, when seed was thrown out it would just bounce, as on a hard surface. Likewise, devotional practice is considered to make one ready. Its benefit is immeasurable. Without it there is no possibility of the blessing being fully received.

Devotional yoga is meant to benefit the student. The teacher is not “pleased” by devotional yoga. Rather, the teacher is pleased by movement and the softening, the gentling and the change that occurs within the student.  In the  same way as the student calls the lama from afar in traditional practice by putting one’s heart in a position of surrender, we may talk about what the lama experiences when the lama calls the student from afar and the student responds to that call.

When a student calls the teacher, with his or her mind and heart like a bowl, many things are happening. First, there is fantastic auspicious karma ripening. In order for a student even to make that step, he or she must have accumulated a tremendous amount of merit or virtue in the past. A nonvirtuous mind cannot call the teacher with devotion.

When the student calls the lama, it’s because the student has realized certain things. First of all, they have looked around and have seen that cyclic existence or ordinary life is flawed or faulted. Sometimes it’s older students who, in some ways, are able to do this more readily because they’ve seen their lives pass, and they have looked around and said, “What have I done? I’ve worked so hard my entire life, and what have I really accomplished? What am I going to take with me?”

At any rate, the student that is prepared to call the teacher has been awakened, stimulated, has understood that much time has passed and that very little can be really accounted for. There has been some fun. It’s been up and down. We’ve all experienced getting older; we’ve all experienced sickness, and we will certainly experience death. At some point we look at all of this and ask ourselves, “Isn’t there something more? There must be something!”  We begin to think in this way, and then we see someone who can give us a path, not just thoughts about the path, not just ideas that are popular in the New Age, but a technology that is succinct and exacting, a method that has shown itself to give repeatable results. When students see this they become hopeful and joyous. Suddenly they’re excited, and they begin to want to come in closer to this experience. It’s a beautiful, precious moment, but that moment can only happen due to the virtue of the student’s previous practice.

Eventually students will come to the point, due to the virtue of their practice, where they will do anything because they know their time is short. They know that they’ve tried everything and nothing has worked. Nothing has produced permanent happiness, so they are looking at the door to liberation, and in part, that is how the teacher is considered. They want to walk through that door.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The Longing to Awaken

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Longing for the Guru

You were born with the longing to awaken. You were born with a longing to know your own nature, to taste that nature. You were born with a longing and a homing instinct to find your Teacher. You were born with a longing to find a pure path and there were no words for that when you grew up.

You compensated by substituting other things as the object of your longing. You made lots of mistakes because of it. That’s not the point, though. There is nothing you can do in one lifetime that is as meaningful a miscalculation as reaching for that nature and trying to find it in something small. That is the biggest miscalculation that any of us can make and we do it constantly. That’s what keeps us revolving endlessly in cyclic existence.

The relationship with the Teacher is especially difficult for Westerners. We have lots of training on authority figures. We have lots of training on mothers and fathers. But we have no training on to how to deal with this longing. The ways we have dealt with it have brought us a great deal of pain and suffering because we have acted in ways that we do not understand. We are people who have had a particular karma that did not quite fit in with the karma of the society in which we were brought up. If that were not so, then more of the society in which we were brought up would be able to approach the idea of awakening, and the idea of having a Teacher in order to follow a supreme path to achieve that great awakening.

If we can reprogram ourselves by looking back at that original longing, understanding its depth, understanding the ways in which we compensated and forgiving ourselves and confessing the lack of recognition, we will then be able to establish a relationship with the Teacher, the path, the Buddha and the meditational deities that we practice. If we can establish that relationship anew, the quality of the path that we practice will be completely different. The quality of the experience that we have will be completely different. We will feel healed, and the need for that healing is very sharp and very strong.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Bliss You Want

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Longing for the Guru

We’re all sleeping until we reach supreme enlightenment, but most beings are really sleeping in a very profound way. In that coma, they are not even able to say, “I want.” They merely act out in different ways. While we are still asleep and until we achieve supreme realization, the fact that you are reading the teachings, is the evidence that you have felt that longing. You should find it within you and relate to it purely. You should encourage it because it is a dynamo of energy you can use to really touch the nature that you are seeking, the bliss that you want — the union between the student and the teacher.

You are so ashamed to feel that feeling directly, because you’re so macho, you’re so tough, or you’re so cool or you’re so advanced. You are so ashamed to feel that feeling that you want to say, “Oh, the longing for the Teacher is only me longing for my own nature.” Well, yes, it is that, but you should face directly the longing for the Teacher on the deepest level. You should not be ashamed of that. You were ashamed of it as a child and you were taught not to feel it and so you made a lot of mistakes. You should not be ashamed of that now.

I have that longing. It is so strong that I cannot imagine another longing like it. I live with that longing constantly. I use that longing to provide the means to accomplish Dharma and kindness for all sentient beings. I realize that the truest longing is the longing for the Guru. It’s the longing for my Teacher, for the Guru on all of the different levels, on the apparent level as well as the deepest, most primordial level. And I realize that I will only find that longing satisfied so long as I try to live the qualities that are my Guru.

So, if I were to turn away from students saying, “Oh, I don’t want to do this anymore, I’m tired.” Or, “I’m lonely doing this. I don’t want to do this anymore.” If I were to do that, I would never find my Guru. I would never be with my Guru, because those are the qualities of my Guru. My Guru never leaves me. He cannot turn his face from me. And so, that being the case, if I were to turn my face away from anyone that had hopes of me, it would be hopeless. I would never find the Guru. The longing would never be satisfied, because I would have turned my face away.

You must begin to practice in such a way that the face of the Teacher is understood in everything that you do. No matter what you experience, whether it is loss or having, joy or sadness, life or death, sickness or health, poverty or wealth, whatever you experience, you should think that everything is a blessing from the Root Guru.

The Root Guru has given you this blessing because you can use any situation to practice. You should never question that the blessing is good. You should practice understanding the mind that sees the difference between poverty and wealth. You should practice understanding who the taster is. You should practice understanding what desire is. You should practice understanding that all things have the same taste.

If you practice faithfully in that way, then you will never be separate from the Guru. See the Guru in everything. Everything you touch, everything you taste, everything you smell, everything you wear, everything you say, your life, every experience, both internal and external, is the Guru. This is the Guru at play and at work. You are constantly in a blissful union with the Guru, if you use every life situation to practice and understand that all things are a blessing from the Guru.

You will never be able to practice that way if you do not go back to the original longing, because you need that longing as a motivator. You need that longing to help you willingly approach that kind of marriage. You need that longing to help you approach that kind of meaningful and blissful union. It’s of the utmost importance. Think about this teaching and try to get it right.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Who Is the Guru

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Guru Is Your Diamond”

Many people, when they come to the Path, feel the connection with some particular deity.  I know of one person that felt a very strong connection to Manjushri with his great sword cutting through ignorance.  And yet that person did not practice proper Guru Yoga and understand that the nature that is Manjushri with the sword is the very nature that is our Root Guru, and that sword could be a word, a look, a piece of advice, some heart teaching—anything that cuts through the darkness of ignorance. Some of us can understand that and then others of us want to have our particular deity. You hear the pride in that, don’t you?  “I’m into Manjushri!  He’s the guy with the big sword.  What a guy!” And yet, every Buddha that we can visualize, all of the peaceful and wrathful deities that naturally appear in the bardo and are part of our own nature and can be recognized, each one of them, has the complete and perfect qualities of all the Buddhas.

It’s an amazing thing if you are attracted to some particular Buddha, like maybe Amitabha or Chenrezig or Tara. You might say, “Oh, I really love that deity.”  That’s good.  Cultivate that.  But do not miss the step that Guru Rinpoche gave to us when he said, “This nature, the nature of one’s teacher is unsurpassed by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions.”  Why did he say that?  To create confusion so that everyone in all our different places could look at our own particular Root Guru and say, “That’s the best one!”   No.  That’s crazy.  That’s just more ordinary thinking.  But instead, by implication, we understand that what we must do is to recognize the intrinsic nature that appears as our Root Guru, the promise of Guru Rinpoche fulfilled.  And if Guru Rinpoche said this was going to work, well it’s going to work. So, Guru Yoga is like a rocketship.  We depend on the accomplishment, the qualities and the nature that appear as our own Root Guru.

Early on in the relationship with our Root Teacher, we should practice thoughtful discrimination.  That is to say, we should ask ourselves: Has this teacher really given rise to the Great Bodhichitta?  Do we see that Bodhichitta is present here?  Ok.  Check that box.  Got that one.  Do we see that this teacher has the capacity to ripen my mind?  Do I hear Dharma from this teacher?  Check that one. Is this teacher considered qualified by peers of her/his/their lineage?  Is this teacher properly recognized and considered properly an authority and a throne holder?  Does this teacher have good qualities? Does this teacher have the ability to communicate?  Let’s see. What else? Does this teacher have an unbroken chain that connects us to the source of the blessing, which is Guru Rinpoche?  You betcha!

We think through these things.  And if you decide this teacher is not for me, then there is no harm in saying, “I’ll keep looking.”  Maybe the connection is not quite right.  So that’s when you do your discriminating and your thinking.  But once you’ve decided—check boxes are all full, looks good to me and I have that feeling, I feel that connection, something is wiggling in my little heart chakra…After that point, you must put yourself on a diet, because after that point, there’s no more judgment.

Once we make the judgment and discrimination necessary and we have that undeniable sense that one has entered the Path and met one’s Root Guru, after that point, judgment should be put aside.  Then the ball is in your court.  Not that the teacher doesn’t have a responsibility.  I promise you, the teacher knows their responsibility, if they are worth their weight in salt. That teacher not only knows their responsibility but also knows their students;  and a good teacher will be willing to say to a student, “Keep looking.  Go see this Lama here or that Lama there.  See what you think.”  Once the teacher has accepted the student, and the student has accepted the teacher, then that bond becomes more intimate than any marriage, any mother and child relationship, any friendship.  It’s hard to understand that because we think, “Oh, teacher,  I only see you every so often, but I see my spouse and my children everyday. Therefore, it must be more intimate.”

However, I will tell you that in order for you to be here, to be accepted as my student and to accept me as well,for that karma to mesh in that particular way, we must have known each other many times, many times.  The relationship between student and teacher is not a relationship that ends in one lifetime.  If we take vows together, I am responsible for you always.  So long as you remain in the world and have not yet accomplished liberation, I must appear again in samsara in order to liberate you.  I must.  Even if there’s only one.  Just you.  Your teacher will return for you.  Under any conditions.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Force of Compassion

An excerpt from the teaching When the Teacher Calls by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

What is it that the teacher experiences as the teacher begins to call the student?  In the Vajrayana tradition we are taught to consider a tulku as an emanation of Lord Buddha or Guru Rinpoche’s enlightened compassion. Guru Rinpoche himself said, “I will appear in the world as your root teacher.” The root teacher is defined as the one with whom you have such a relationship that upon meeting this teacher, upon hearing this teacher, you have understood something of your own mind. You have come, in some small way, to see your own face. When you meet your root teacher it is truly the display of Guru Rinpoche’s touch. It is how Guru Rinpoche has appeared in your life. You cannot doubt that. It is the beginning, it is the movement, it is the method of enlightened awareness.

Generally, if the teacher is a bodhisattva or an incarnation who has achieved some realization and therefore has returned solely to benefit beings, there is some design in his or her method. The tulku will have a sense of purpose from a very young age, and all of the circumstances that arise in the tulku’s life will arise from the intention to be of benefit.  As the tulku moves toward his or her time, there is a sense of calling the students. It isn’t really like the teacher will know the name of a certain student and necessarily be about finding that student. What begins to happen is that there is a quality of intention, of loving kindness, of compassion that begins to ripen in the teacher’s mind, and it sets up a vibrational field, almost like a sound or song that will reach out and touch particular students, and their minds will respond to it. Students literally will appear from nowhere. The sound that goes out is like a hook. Just as a piece of Velcro doesn’t attach itself to a smooth surface, if the student doesn’t have the responding “piece” in them it won’t connect. But if the student has that other piece they’ll be tight. You can’t separate them. To separate them literally sounds like Velcro: it sounds like your heart is being torn out. There’s something there that is so fantastic that it cannot be explained in ordinary terms.

From the lama’s point of view there is simply the display of that compassionate intention. That’s all that happens. The student might be a course and crude construction worker, a ballerina, the student could be a disco dancer or drummer, but suddenly something begins to happen and they will say, “What am I doing here? How did I get into this? What is this?” Truly there is no “monkey business” on the part of the teacher. There is simply this call, this sound that is going out, and the student, if the hook is there, suddenly becomes velcroed.

Sometimes one is angry at first because you didn’t want to be velcroed. You didn’t ask for this. You wanted to be free and independent. But suddenly you can’t get away. You’re hooked. The hook doesn’t happen because the teacher is manipulative; the hook happens because you have seen your face and the karma in your mind is such that you have responded in a way that you could never have predicted.

The student might be very conventional, never religious before in their life. The student might be very unconventional and never thought they would deal with a conventional religion like Buddhism. They might be really ticked off about it. They just didn’t want any of these things to happen, and suddenly they’re hooked! They can’t move. What are they going to do? And they grieve. They start to grieve like someone died. Yes, something died: the part of their life when they were not hooked just died.

The teacher continues in what seems to the student a relentless way to send out this call. You can’t resist something that is like your mind. The teacher is karmically set up, due to his or her compassionate intention, really without any choice, to sound like them vibrationally, sometimes like them situationally. Sometimes a student may simply hear the words, and it’s so much like the way they are. So funny.  So strange. All you’re really experiencing is compassion. That’s all that is to be understood.

You should never think that you’re understanding the teacher by determining how much the teacher is like you. All you’re understanding is yourself. The teacher is only acting from the point of view of compassion. If the teacher is considered to be a bodhisattva or a tulku, then what you’re seeing, really, is the display of compassion, and what you’re seeing is your own face.

You must understand that all that is really happening is that there is a sound being sounded that on some level you are capable of hearing due to the karma of your mind. What is happening is happening because of you, not because of anyone else. This is your mind, this is your karma, this is your face that you are seeing. Your response is your own response.

When the student first responds, generally there are obstacles that come up. Sometimes – and this is odd – when the student first finds the path they’ll get physically sick. They’ll suddenly come down with everything you can possibly imagine. But hopefully, if they can really work on devotion and purify their connection to the teacher, whatever obstacle arises will ripen benignly. When the student starts off in a different way, sometimes with anger, they must understand that suddenly this piece of anger didn’t come from somewhere else. Who’s running this show anyway? If the student feels anger it must have been in the student’s mind. What happens is that obstacle ripens, and it comes to the surface like a bubble rising to the surface of a pond. You have the opportunity to live and breathe and hold onto the stink of anger, or you have the opportunity through your practice, through practicing the antidote which is compassion, to let the bubble do what bubbles do: come to the surface of the lake and simply pop. What is the bubble once it has popped? Gone. The first breath of kindness and devotion can surely blow it away.

The student always has this opportunity, but instead the student generally responds by saying, “I’m right here. I have reasons to be angry.” Try to realize that what is coming to the surface is an obstacle to your practice and that it has no more power than you give it.  Realize that you are capable of simply letting go, of surrendering, of practicing devotion, of using method in order to overcome the obstacle.

Remember, all the teacher is really doing is 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. What the student sees 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.

The sound is some kind of thing that you can’t even hear with your own ears, but it is so powerful it can change the life of a student instantly. It is so powerful that 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 it? It is the greatest and the most gossamer force that there is, and that is the force of compassion, the Bodhicitta.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

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