The Truth of Suffering


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

Our next understanding must be what actually would be the end of suffering. What would the end of suffering look like?. Let’s say I was going to engage in enlightened activity. Let’s say that I could do that, had that potential. If I were going to alleviate the suffering of sentient beings, what would that look like? What form would that take?. In order to understand that, you really have to understand what escape from suffering is. In order to understand what escape from suffering is, you must understand what suffering is. What is this suffering?.

Now everybody has an idea of what suffering is. I don’t think I have to define suffering according to Webster’s dictionary. Each of us have had times in our lives when we have suffered. We have had loved ones leave us; relationships that we have loved have ended; even relationships that we don’t love have ended and brought us suffering. We have had changes in our lives that are very difficult: We have lost money; we have lost jobs; we have gained things and then have lost them. Things that we have loved have disappeared. All of these have been sufferings and if none of those things have happened to us, perhaps we might have had difficulties with our children. If none of those things have happened to us, still we will get sick. If we haven’t gotten sick yet, then definitely we will get old and we will die. These are the sufferings of cyclic existence. No one escapes cyclic existence without suffering. So it is considered that cyclic existence is pervaded with suffering. It is pervaded with suffering. It is not to say that there won’t be any happiness in cyclic existence, but the state of that happiness will be temporary because suffering is all pervasive,. and because everything is constantly changing.. So if you experience happiness,  that happiness will end because all things end. Everything is impermanent. If you experience the happiness of giving birth to a beloved child, that happiness will be temporary in that eventually that child will grow up. Eventually no matter how much you love that child, there will be difficulty with that child; and eventually either you or the child, eventually both, will die and so that relationship must end.

If you win the lottery, the happiness from that is also impermanent.  As you know, money can be spent; money can be squandered. And also for many people, money doesn’t bring happiness at all. I’d like to have a shot at it though,. anyway, just to see. I feel like you should test the Buddha’s teachings before you firmly commit. At any rate, you get my drift. If you buy a hot new car, and you think, “Oh good, I feel good now,” buzzing around in your nice new car, pretty soon that car is going to break down, and that car is going to feel like an old wife. Pretty soon it will have a clutch that needs repairing; and then you have to buy new tires and the steering isn’t so smooth. You know what happens. Everything changes. Cyclic existence is pervaded with suffering.

That is what you know about cyclic existence. I don’t have to tell you that; I don’t have to prove that to you. If you haven’t seen that for yourself by now, then I don’t know what to say to you. I feel that you must snap your fingers three times and maybe click your heels together and say, “There is no place like home.”  I think that you should wake up to the fact that this is not Kansas, and just kind of get with the picture and look at your life. If you don’t know that suffering exists, you had better check it out.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Problem With Desire


The following is from an exchange of tweets between Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo and one of her followers:

Follower: “How can one beat desire?”

Jetsunma: “Study cause and result, and especially compassion for all. The desire is for everything and it keeps us suffering like a revolving door. No control over any result, bad.”

Follower: “So with desire there can’t be fulfillment?”

Jetsunma: “Exactly. An itch that cannot be scratched. Always returns. And by nature cannot be satisfied. Everything begins and ends.”

You can follow Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo on twitter here:


The Wish to Benefit Others

Tibetan Buddhism Wheel Of Life 06 00 Six Realms

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

The subject today will be Bodhicitta, or compassion. From the traditional point of view, it is considered that Bodhicitta is divided into two basic categories. There is the aspirational Bodhicitta and the practical Bodhicitta. The aspirational Bodhichitta is the first relationship with Bodhicitta or compassion. In this sense, you can use the word Bodhicitta and compassion interchangeably. The aspirational level is the first relationship with Bodhichitta that each of us would approach, and this is a very important step. This step is the beginning of the cultivation of a stability of compassion within the mindstream. The practice of aspirational Bodhicitta begins with very small baby steps. It is absolutely dependent on understanding some of the Buddha’s basic teachings in order to do it effectively, in order to approach it effectively. One of the reasons why this is so necessary is that the Buddha teaches us of the faults of cyclic existence. The Buddha teaches us, as well, that suffering ceases when we achieve enlightenment. The Buddha teaches us of the cause of our suffering. He teaches us that suffering is caused by desire. And we come to understand suffering in a completely different way than we do just as ordinary sentient beings. 

Upon hearing the Buddha’s teaching, we might view suffering differently. Before we heard the Buddha’s teaching, we might think it possible to solve suffering through manipulating circumstances in ordinary human ways. We might think that a poor person is suffering because they have no money. We might look at the superficial angle of suffering. Looking at that suffering from a superficial angle, we actually can only develop a very superficial understanding of it. Ultimately we will have very little understanding of the nature of suffering at all, and therefore, will be incompetent to prevent more suffering or the continuation of suffering. To look at suffering from the ordinary superficial sense, we might consider that a poor person suffers because they have no money, or a sick person suffers because they have no health. And this would seem perfectly logical. Everything in our environment points out that this is the case. We would think that whatever we are lacking, that thing is the cause of our suffering; and whatever we have that we don’t want, that thing is the cause of our suffering. But according to the Buddha, this is really symptomatic. These things that we witness are symptomatic, and they do not necessarily lead us to understand the deeper cause of suffering. So we must turn to the enlightened teaching of the Buddha, of one who has crossed all of the barriers of suffering and has experienced the cessation of suffering in order to determine what the real cause of suffering is.

According to the Buddha, the things that we suffer from, such as poverty or sickness, or old age, sickness and death in the human realm, or all of the different sufferings that are potential and possible within the six realms of cyclic existence, in fact, are only symptomatic of a deeper underlying suffering, That suffering is actually the belief in self-nature as being inherently real. The suffering of the belief in self-nature being inherently real, or the delusion of the belief in self-nature as being inherently real actually leads to the suffering of desire. Because the tricky thing about belief in self-nature as being inherently real is that once you decide you have a self, you have to maintain it. Once you have the view that the self is here and it’s very real, then you have to constantly redefine and clarify the meaning of self by defining the distinction between self and other, And then all phenomena appears to be separate. Even one’s own feelings appear to be separate. All things that are present in the world appear to be separate and they are filled with the sense of distinction. Whenever something registers on the five senses, whether it be an altar, or whether it be something like food, or whether it be another person, whenever that thing arises in the mind, we determine whether we like it or don’t like it. There is an automatic attraction or repulsion phenomena that occurs. If you will examine yourself, you will see that this is true. It simply is not possible for you to see something or to have something come to your awareness without having the immediate, almost knee-jerk reaction of deciding if you are attracted to it or repulsed by it; or there is some aspect of that within your mind. It may play out a little bit differently; but if you examine it, you will see that the root of it is attraction and repulsion. All things play on the senses in that way.

The thinking then of the separation, or the erroneous perception of the duality between self and other, becomes more and more profound. It actually progresses and it builds on itself. It becomes more exaggerated. Each time that you react with attraction or repulsion toward anything, there is a karma, or a cause and effect relationship, that is begun at that time. This cause and effect relationship then continues to create more cause and more effect. And there is an almost continual building of these instances, one on top of the other; and they are endless. There is no way for this to stop. It occurs in a cycle. And it occurs in such a way that while cause and effect are being experienced, more cause and effect continue. While one is dealing with the effect of previous causes, one is beginning new causes because of the reaction to the effect of previous cause. And it continues to be so that it seems to be unbreakable and unshakeable.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo all rights reserved

Putting Out the Fire: Turning the Mind Towards Dharma by HH Penor Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from a teaching given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche at Kunzang Palyul Choling on Bodhicitta:

We start first with the special method that will turn one’s mind towards the Dharma.  In that method, we have to understand that wherever we are born in the world, in this universe, there will not be much happiness.  There is hot and cold suffering in the hell realms, and the hungry ghosts have the suffering of hunger and thirst.  The animals have the suffering of killing each other.  The human beings have a short lifespan, and within that short life, there is a lot of suffering.  Even those god beings in the god realms have a very good life there, but because of their carelessness, they are just spending and wasting their lives with happiness.  The sentient beings in this world have their own sufferings.  It is important, the Buddha said, for you to understand that wherever you are born, there is no happiness.  There is suffering.

When you understand that, then in order to remove the suffering, you need to have diligence to remove the suffering, like the diligence you do when your hair is burning, when your dress is burning.  During that time, you will put all your efforts toward removing the fire.  Similarly, once we have understood the suffering of samsara, of the world, then we have to really put some kind of diligence toward removing the suffering of samsara. Then if our hair is on fire and our dress is on fire, then we will not really remain peaceful.  We will definitely do something.  So, similarly, once we understand the suffering nature of samsara, we will not waste our time.


Natural Practice

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Western Chod”

I came  to understand that that is the way it would be.  I had to not lie to sentient beings.  I could not hold these beings in my arms and say, “Here I am for you.  I’ll do anything I can for you,”  because it was complete, pardon my French, bullshit.  You know, I was lying to them.  So I began to think, “Well, if this unlimited luminous, pure, uncontrived nature that is free of suffering could somehow be here, that’s it.  That’s it.”  But how to do it?  How to do it?

At that time I really didn’t have the answers. Honestly, I have to tell you that part of my life was like mountain tops and valleys at the same time, because I really felt the bliss of feeling that I had come to understand the faults of this world and had come to truly reach for and lift my sights to something that was so much purer, so much better.  I really felt the bliss of that, and kind of excitement and happiness of being on my way. But the suffering of knowing that you could do nothing but lie to your child…  The suffering of knowing that everything that we see looks so good, so colorful and wonderful, and it’s bullshit. It’s a lie.  That kind of suffering! It was a very difficult time.  Plus the struggle of thinking “I’ve got to find a way!!”  And I had no teacher who could give me the way.  No teacher at that time had come to my life yet who could say, “All right.  Do this and this and this, and that will happen.”  So I’m struggling with this and I’m thinking every day, “What can I do?” I mean literally I had gotten myself into such a state that if I could have physically ripped out my heart and handed it to Lord Buddha himself… I didn’t think of Lord Buddha at that time, I forget.  It was just that absolute nature.  If I could rip out my heart and physically hand it to the absolute nature, I would do it, because I was going crazy, kind of a little crazy.  There was this crazy Yogi phenomenon happening, you know? I was a little crazy with this idea.  I couldn’t think about anything else.  It was weird.

I would sort of reward myself at the end of the day, here on this farm. I would sit down and have a cup of tea and a snack.  One day I went out and got some potato chips. I thought I would have some potato chips and a coke.  Now I like potato chips, but potato chips don’t like me, so this was a splurge.  So I had a potato chip. And then I started thinking about my practice, and thinking about the children, thinking of beings in samsara, thinking about my mouth.  Did I give this up or not?  I did.  The whole thing became so disgusting to me.

So that’s the kind of experience that I had.  Many of you will say, “Well, I don’t know if I want to have that kind of experience.  Thank you very much.”  But I have to say that also in that was a tremendous amount of joy, like nothing I had ever experienced in the world.  Greater joy than even my family, which I was very happy with and very much caring for and very close to.   Greater joy than anything I could see or touch or eat or smell or anything, because I could feel that here was some noble potential. Maybe it hadn’t been actualized yet, but somewhere was this noble potential, and the excitement of that was really happy.  It was a happy and genuine thing, and I really thought that somewhere in here there is going to be the solution for sentient beings.

Here I was—you have to understand the humor of this.Here I am back in Chandler, North Carolina, reinventing the wheel, literally reinventing the eight-spoke wheel because I didn’t realize that Lord Buddha had already done this.  I had no idea.  I had absolutely no idea.  So here I am trying to find the way.  I didn’t realize that Lord Buddha at some point made the same decision.  He noticed that there was old age, sickness and death and he left to go figure out how to make this better.  He took off and tried to make it better. In a way, that’s exactly what I was trying to do.  If only I had known, I could have short-circuited that a little bit.  I have to tell you, that particular practice, done in that way, from my heart, with very little guidance —especially that nothing was written down so that I had to make it up—was so profound.

Increase Your Capacity to Love

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Having taught Westerners I can see that the ones that last on this path, the ones that change and gentle and deepen in their practice are the ones that are motivated by this intensity of loving.  The ones that will do almost anything to end suffering, these are the ones that make it.  These are the ones that I have hopes for.

It is a Buddhist tradition that we should pray for the ones who have hopes of us because we have many karmic connections. Each one of us have karmic connections, it’s just like a giant web of connections, and some day each one of us will attain supreme enlightenment just as Lord Buddha did.  Surely we will, because our nature is the same as his.  We are the same and we will some day become awakened to that nature.  And on that day, those with whom we have connections, those who have hopes of us, will rejoice because at last they have a chance.  You should think right now there are those who are waiting for you, whose future it is, whose karma it is that when you achieve supreme realization they will depend on you as your disciples and you will be their teacher. You will be the one by which the door to liberation is opened for them.

Some day you will be reborn as a teacher that opens the door of Dharma, or makes the path available and you will be the cause of the end of their suffering.  You should think about them every day.  You should pray for those who have hopes of you.  It is a very important thing to think about and in teaching Westerners I find that they must remember this.

Even if all of the concepts associated with the Buddha Dharma are difficult, even if the idea of devotion is difficult, even if the idea of doing prostrations is difficult because we are unfamiliar with these things, we can do anything in order to benefit beings.  We can accustom ourselves to any idea in order to benefit beings.  Once your mind has been gentled and softened by that kind of loving you can begin to understand that the most important thing is to eliminate suffering.  You can understand also that the idea of doing what is unfamiliar to you – repetition of mantra, practice of different kinds, meditation of different kinds, sitting for a very long time, doing prostrations, developing a relationship with the guru, these things, that are not common in our Western society, become acceptable because we can see that they bear fruit and gentle our minds.  They increase our capacity for loving and they bring us closer to enlightenment.  Then we can do it.

©Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Eyes Wide Open

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo from the Vow of Love series

You may ask, “Why do I have to think about suffering? Why is it that the Buddha talks about suffering and nobody else does? Why is it that today’s New Age thinkers are saying, ‘I want to be me. I want to be free,’ and the Buddha is still talking about suffering after thousands and thousands of years?” It is because the Buddha has a teaching that is very logical and very real.

If we want to exit a room, but there is a chair between us and the door, we have a number of choices. We can say that the chair is not there. We can pretend that the chair is not an obstacle to our passing through the room and that it’s not important. Or we can notice that the chair is there and get on with our journey by walking around it. That is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha doesn’t stop at saying, “There is suffering.” The Buddha follows that by saying, “There is a way out of suffering.”  And that’s the ticket.  You cannot motivate yourself to follow the path out of suffering until you generate the commitment through the realization of suffering. You can’t make yourself walk around the chair to get to the door until you face the fact that the chair is blocking your way. You have to look at the chair.

It isn’t only about walking around a chair so that you can get to the other side of the room, so that you can get out the door. There’s more to it than that. You must understand that your commitment is two-fold. In order to become the deepened practitioner that you must be, to really sink your teeth into the Buddhadharma, you must have compassion for others that is so strong and so extraordinary it will nourish you even when you are dry.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Purpose of This Life: His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok

The following is an excerpt from a public talk given by His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok:

The Buddha taught that true happiness and peace can never be found through material gain, and the only way that one can truly be satisfied is to realize this point. Therefore it is very important for all of you to consider decreasing your attachment to the objects of this world, to all apparent phenomena, and to understand that more important than spending most of one’s time pursuing the material world and thinking that happiness can be found in this way, we should try to practice pure Dharma.  Not only that. To be too attached to friends, family members, even our children and our spouses, those whom we cherish, thinking that it is only through our relationships with them that we can have happiness, is only going to bring us more suffering.  This is also a source of suffering, since we will be distracted having to figure out how we can bring food to the table and get clothing for our offspring and all of the other necessities that one has to completely fill one’s mind with.  The details of survival for family and friends will completely distract one from the benefits of purely practicing Dharma.

Regarding the wish for fame and glory: Those who don’t have it suffer because they don’t. Those who are poor and those who have no position at all are always having some expectation that somehow and in some way they may be able to rise above this circumstance and achieve a position of fame and glory.  Those who are already in positions of fame, glory and leadership are always suffering from the fear that they are going to lose their positions.  So in both cases the suffering is more or less equal.  On this point I would like to say that probably here in this place there are those who are very, very poor and there are those who are very, very wealthy and in high positions, and there is quite a big space between them.  I was thinking that those who are in the high positions are probably suffering even more than those who are poor.  The reason for that is because those who are poor—except for the fact that they are always having some kind of an expectation that someday they may become wealthy or in a better position—probably have enough to survive, are getting along sort of all right. And the mental suffering that they endure is not too extreme, except for that expectation or wish. But those who are in high positions are probably suffering much more because they are always fearful that they are going to lose their positions, that they will fall down to a lower place. So their minds are filled with doubt and paranoia and anxiety.  In this way they suffer more than the poor people.

The nature of suffering is twofold: Suffering is caused by delusion and by karmic propensities.  When we speak of delusion, it refers to three root conflicting emotions: desire-attachment, anger or aggression, and delusion itself, stupidity.  Let’s look at desire-attachment first.  Now this conflicting emotion fixates itself upon objects, objective appearances, such as material things, fame, status or other human beings or individuals.  Wherever it fixates, then if one allows oneself to become controlled by that emotion, then the only result will be unceasing suffering or discontent.

Anger or aggression is a conflicting emotion which causes one to feel that one actually wishes that others will suffer.  That which brings up this conflicting emotion of aggression is due to the desire-attachment that we have for ourself and those that we are already attached to because if anyone else tries to harm them, then those other people who are trying to harm our loved ones or friends are termed enemies, and we feel aggression towards them and wish that harm would come to them.  As soon as we enter into this type of emotional battle, the only result is unceasing suffering.

That which is termed delusion or stupidity is the inability to understand or recognize what should be accepted, what should be rejected, what should be accomplished and what should be abandoned.  Inner divisions of delusion include misunderstanding and incorrect understanding.  The first of these inner divisions of delusion, misunderstanding, could also be interpreted as misunderstanding, or misusing, the ultimate purpose of this life. The way that that would qualify is that one would have to be born as a human being anywhere in this world who never really understands the difference between that which is wholesome and that which is unwholesome, never having any real kind of ability to discern what should be accepted in order to produce true, positive results and what should be rejected—basically just spending one’s life aimlessly living like a cow or a horse which can graze and eat grass and just kind of survive.  The difference between a cow or a horse and a person who is just kind of aimlessly surviving is maybe the person is able to put on clothes and other kinds of comfort. But really the point that is being made is that this person who misunderstands the purpose of life is wasting his or her opportunity because they dwell in this state of delusion, the delusion of misunderstanding what should be done with life.


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