Freedom Isn’t Free: Understanding Merit and the Path

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Entering the Path”

It is important to remember that when you enter the path you have earned the right to be here. This is absolutely the case. I can swear to it because you are here. You have absolutely accumulated the necessary virtue and merit within your mindstream in order to be able to hear these teachings and to do these practices, and even to prepare for your own death.

Yet, there is a Catch-22 situation that’s very difficult with Dharma. You have absolutely earned this opportunity and it is your right and your responsibility to take advantage of it. Now think about this: You could not be hearing these teachings from me if you had not made extensive prayers in some way at some time. It has to be so or you would not be here. You must have made prayers to Tara. You must have made prayers to Guru Rinpoche. You must have made prayers to meet your teacher and to be with your teacher and to hear these words. This must be so, or you could not have created the causes by which you are enjoying this opportunity.

So what does that mean then? That means that you’re here. Simply that, only that. That means that you’re here, and you’re ready to rock and roll. Now think about this. This is something else that’s important and something to think:  our Dharma, and particularly the Vajrayana path, is the singular most potent and powerful method that exists on this planet. That is to say that one can achieve true enlightenment, not what New Age people call enlightenment, but the real thing, like the Buddha, like great Bodhisattvas. One can achieve enlightenment within the context of one lifetime or immediately following this lifetime in the bardo state – that’s what the practice of Phowa is about – or within three lifetimes or within seven lifetimes. But surely, if one were to practice Vajrayana, and one were to practice it faithfully, one would achieve the ultimate result relatively quickly. That makes this the most potent path on the planet at this time, the most potent. We know this because we have seen that there are those who have achieved enlightenment in one lifetime. This is not true of other systems.

Now, that being the case, if it has that kind of weight, what kind of virtue or merit would be needed to keep that coming in, to keep that blessing flowing? An enormous amount. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? It’s like the you-get-what-you-pay-for kind of philosophy. If we were to think in materialistic terms, if you want the best, the absolute best, you have to pay the highest price. It’s expensive. Good quality costs money. In material terms you think like that. Doesn’t it follow then, logically, that that which is potent and of highest quality spiritually would also require the highest spiritual investment?

On the path, there is the necessity to accumulate merit and virtue in an extensive and responsible way because when we first come to the path is we immediately expend our accumulated merit. Here’s the picture: What has come forward to us, what has ripened in our mindstream, is the accumulation of some meritorious virtuous activity we’ve done in the past that allows us to hook into the path in this lifetime.

Upon using up that tremendous amount of merit that fortunately has risen to the surface in order to bring us to the path, an obstacle may arise. It takes such an enormous amount of merit in order to travel on the path, particularly to begin the path, that we may not have at the surface of our mind, or at the surface of our expressive continuum, enough merit to sustain us. So immediately upon coming to the path, the teacher gives instruction. The teacher says accumulate many repetitions of the Seven-Line Prayer. That is a merit-making machine. It is a way to accumulate the most merit. Then immediately after that, we are told to practice Ngöndro, preliminary practice. In Ngöndro, you are given five different ways to accumulate merit, and they are extremely potent. It is actually meant to guide you through the shoals of beginning practice until the mind becomes sufficiently purified and deepened to the degree that it will sustain itself through the shining qualities of its own virtue and merit.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Stopping the Merry-Go-Round

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Antidoting the Mantra of Samsara”

Now, during this practice, with our whole body we’re purifying body karma arising from the non-virtuous activity that we have engaged in since time out of mind, when instead of going for refuge, we went for ice cream.  So instead, now we are actually using our body, speech and mind—using the body by making prostrations, using the speech by reciting, and using the mind by remaining absorbed and visualizing.  Now we are training in the same way that a body builder trains a muscle. He develops and trains that muscle by pumping it and working it and working it.  Now we are working to sharpen our focus, not to be simply reactive and discursive the way we are in samsara going towards meaningless goals with no distinction whatsoever.  I mean, we’ll follow anything!

Instead of going for meaningless goals that have no meaning whatsoever, instead now we are training body, speech, and mind to be single-pointed for the first time.  This is pretty amazing!  I mean, think about it.  For the first time, single-pointed.  I take refuge in the Buddha, in the Dharma and the Sangha.  And if you do it with your body, speech and mind, the potency of reciting that 100,000 times is extraordinary!  Simply extraordinary!  I mean, completing 100,000 repetitions of the refuge mantra and prostrations is an extraordinarily life-changing experience.  It’s like stopping the merry-go-round for a minute. If you were born on a merry-go-round and your movement was invisible, and then suddenly you stopped, don’t you think that something inside of you would go, “Whoa! Whoa!  Whoa!  What’s this?  This is new!”  And that would be the beginning of a new kind of experience.  And it takes the weight of that kind of practice to make that happen.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Gossip: Understanding the Poison

The following is from a series of tweets by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

Any time you talk badly about someone you actually shorten your life force. Or at the least you endanger your ability to draw trusting friends and the ability to be well-spoken in future times. And no one will believe you.

I don’t like gossip – it does no good and tastes like poison. And it comes back.

Question from Twitter Follower: “What is the distinction between gossip and recounting your experiences with others?”

Jetsunma’s response: Intention is the difference. Tell stories, I do. Usually we know when we are being mean-spirited.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Deepening on the Path: The Importance of “Caring”

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

If your eyes are open at all, you have seen that you have often boxed your own ears, that you have often hurt yourself by engaging in non-virtuous activity that has brought you suffering.  Maybe you’ve had time to see a little bit of that.  But I’ll tell you that according to the Buddha’s teaching, and this is the truth, every bit of non-virtuous behavior that you have engaged in will bring about unhappiness. So it’s not logical to engage in non-virtuous behavior and that includes the lesser non-virtuous behaviors.  The big ones like killing, we can get that.  Killing, stealing, that sort of thing, but what about simple selfishness?  What about judgment of others?  What about just not giving a big flip?  Not caring?  What about reading the newspaper and thinking “Wow millions of people are starving over there.  Too bad.”  You don’t think that’s a non-virtue?  That’s how we read the paper, every day.  Of course that’s a non-virtue. We’re not caring.  We’re not praying for them.  We’re not sending them anything.  We’re not doing anything to help.

The Buddha also taught us that virtuous behavior brings about happiness, but we have exactly the opposite idea.  Most of us don’t like to practice, for instance.  We don’t like to sit down and practice.  Who likes to sit down for two hours at a stretch?  I don’t know about you, but I get fanny fatigue big time.  Two hours at a stretch.  That is not how I want to spend the day.  So we think like that.  We think “Oh, you know, if I sit down today and practice for two hours, I’m really going to suffer!”  So we have this weird idea that virtuous activity like practice is going to bring about unhappiness, and it’s because of our lack of understanding.  What we don’t realize is that yes, while we have maybe the antsy-ness or the fanny fatigue or whatever it is that we get, ultimately that two hours of practice will ripen. And when it ripens it will be like a precious jewel within your life.  At some point there will be an event or a change or a lift or a gift or something that you very much need in your life. It will appear as though out of nowhere. and it can be directly traced to previous virtuous behavior.

The Buddha also teaches us that if we offer even something, if we’re very poor and all we have is something simple like a candle or a butter lamp. If we offer only that, placing it on an altar and with a full and generous heart visualize it as being everything that we have, everything that we could ever have and offer it to the Buddha and the Dharma and the Sangha and particularly to the Lama as the representative of all three, then let that merit be used to benefit sentient beings.  What we don’t realize is that while that took some time out of our busy day, yes, and we did have to prepare a butter lamp or light the candle or whatever hardship we had to engage, still we have created unbelievable happiness for ourselves. Actually, the Buddha has taught that if we could manage to make that offering with complete and total absorption in the expanse of that generosity, then we would be reborn eventually in unmovable samadhi, complete happiness, because we are engaging in the kind of activity that creates the habitual tendency of supreme generosity.

We are taught also to make offerings of our body, speech and mind.  For instance, we visualize that our body becomes like food and we offer our bodies.  Of course, we don’t cut off pieces of ourselves.  Nobody would want to eat that anyway, I don’t think. But we do visualize our body as being transformed into this nectar that nourishes all sentient beings, and without holding on to ourselves, we offer ourselves in that way. So we offer our bodies to benefit sentient beings.  We offer our speech to benefit sentient beings.  We practice so that what comes out of our mouth will be of benefit to others, such as mantra or teaching about Dharma or some spiritual advice.  We try very hard to give our speech to benefit sentient beings. And we offer our minds as well to benefit sentient beings.  We make that offering. The way that we practice that offering is by no longer using our mind as a vehicle by which to accomplish nonvirtue. Instead we use our mind as a vehicle by which to accomplish virtue for the sake of sentient beings. That is the true meaning of offering our body, our speech and our mind.

Many practitioners unfortunately say that.  They say “I offer my body, speech and mind” and they make all kinds of grand gestures but, boy, when it comes down to the clinch, they ain’t offering nothing, and that’s the truth.  Not a thing.  It isn’t happening.  So we, as Dharma practitioners, have to learn how to practice more deeply than that in order to assimilate the causes for true happiness.  It is that kind of virtuous activity that we have to engage in.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Illusion of Power

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

A lot of people play the power game of trying to gain power and domination over other people simply because they feel if they can control others it will make them happy.  They will be powerful.  They will be shielded from hurt because they are dominant. Others are weaker than them and they don’t care whether they hurt the people under them or not.  They do whatever they want to do in order to make themselves happy.  That’s what people do.  What they don’t realize is that in every conceivable sense they are making themselves more and more unhappy. That kind of power over others will never produce happiness. In some future time that very person who is such a power monger will be the most powerless of sentient beings.  Think about the helpless little creatures that are kept in cages in pet shops to be sold to who knows.  Think about the helpless little creatures that are kept in laboratories to be tested on for who knows what purpose.  That kind of helplessness.  So we are talking about curable suffering and unhappiness and we bring it on ourselves through cause and effect relationships. This is one of the teachings that the Buddha has given us that is very, very logical, and we can see small examples of it within our lives.  If we engage in non-virtuous behavior, it will produce unhappiness.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

 

The Basis for Practice is the Bodhicitta: Dilgo Khyentse

The following is respectfully quoted from “Enlightened Courage” by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche:

As a preliminary to this teaching, we must consider three things: the preciousness of being born a human being, the fact of impermanence and the problem of samsaric existence.

Human Birth

We are at the moment in possession of a precious human existence endowed with eighteen characteristics which are very difficult to obtain. If the teachings of the Buddha are practiced correctly, then it is as the saying goes:

Used well, this body is a ship to liberation,
Otherwise it is an anchor in samsara.
This body is the agent of all good and evil.

From the point of view of one who seeks enlightenment, it is far better to be a human being than to be born even in the heavens of the gods, where there is nectar to live an and all wishes are granted by the wish-fulfilling tree; where there is neither fatigue nor difficulty, neither sickness or old age. It is as humans, possessed of the eight freedoms and ten endowments, and not as gods, that every one of the thousand Buddhas of this age has attained, or will attain, enlightenment. This human existence, moreover, is not to be achieved by force or mere chance; it is the result of positive actions. And because it is rare for beings to accomplish positive actions, a precious human existence is indeed difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, we have now managed to be born into such a state; we have encountered the Buddhadharma, have entered the path and are now receiving teachings. But if we are unable to practice them, simply listening to the teachings will not in itself liberate us from samsara, and will be of no help to us when we are confronted by the hardships of birth, disease, old age and death. If we do not follow the doctor’s prescription when we are sick, then if if the doctor sits constantly by our side, the pain will not go away.

Impermanence

As we have just said, if we neglect to practice the teachings, they will be of no use to us. Moreover our lives are fragile and impermanent, and because death and its causes are uncertain, we may succumb at any moment. We may think, “Oh, I will practice when I am older, but now while I am young, I will live an ordinary life, making money, getting the better of my rivals, helping my friends and so on.’ But the fact is we might not live to be very old. Just think for example of people who were born at the same time as ourselves. Some might have died as children, some as adults, at their work and so on. Our own lives might not be very long either.

Furthermore, a human existence, in comparison with that of an animal, seems almost impossible to achieve. If you examine a clod of earth in summer, you might find more creatures in it than the population of the whole of France! That is why we say that, in terms of numbers alone, a human birth is difficult to obtain. So we should make up our minds that we will practice the Dharma instead of throwing our lives away in meaningless activities.

To use our human lives to accomplish the Buddhadharma, is like crossing the ocean in search of costly jewels and afterwards returning home with every kind of precious thing; the difficulties of the trip will have been well rewarded. It would be a shame to come back empty-handed! We are now in possession of a precious human form and have discovered the Teachings of the Buddha. Through the blessings and kindness of teachers it is now possible for us to receive, study and practice the Doctrine. But if we are preoccupied only with the worldly activities of this life: business, farming, prevailing over enemies, helping friends, hoping for an important position and so on–and we die before we have made time for spiritual practice, it would be just like coming home empty-handed from the isle of jewels. What an incredible waste! Therefore we should think to ourselves, ‘I am not going to miss my chance. While I have this precious opportunity, I will practice the Dharma.’ Of course, the best thing would be to practice for the whole of our lives; but at least we should take refuge properly, for this is the essence of the Buddhadharma and closes the door to the lower realms. It is the universal antidote that can be applied in any kind of difficulty, and to practice it is therefore most important.

Although, for the moment, you do not understand me, due to the difference of our languages, you are all aware that I am giving you some instruction. After I have gone, everything will be translated for you and perhaps you will think, ‘That Lama taught us something important; I must put it into practice.’ If you really do so, in your lives from day to day, then my explanation will have had some point to it. So please take it to heart.

The defects of samsara

The experience of happiness and suffering comes about as the result of positive and negative actions; therefore evil should be abandoned and virtue cultivated as much as possible.

Even the tiniest insect living in the grass wishes to be happy. But it does not know how to gather the causes of happiness, namely positive actions, nor how to avoid the cause of suffering, which is evil behavior. When animals kill and eat each other, they instinctively commit negative actions. They wish for happiness, but all they do is to create the causes of their misery and experience nothing but suffering. This is the measure of their ignorance and delusion. But if the truth were really shown to them, then without a care even for their lives, they would accomplish that very virtue which they would recognize as the source of their own happiness. The essence of the Buddha’s teaching is to understand clearly what behavior is to be adopted and what is to be rejected.

Abandon evil-doing,
Practice virtue well,
Subdue your mind:
This is the Buddha’s teaching.

At the moment, we are all caught in the state of delusion, and so we should acknowledge all the negative actions we have perpetrated throughout our many lives until the present time. And from now on, we should turn away from all such actions big or small, just as we would avoid getting thorns in our eyes. We should constantly be checking what we do: any negative action should be confessed immediately, and all positive actions dedicated to others. To the best of our ability, we should abandon wrongdoing and try to accumulate goodness.

 

 

 

Actions and Their Consequences: From “Naked Awareness” by Karma Chagme

The following is respectfully quoted from “Naked Awareness” by Karma Chagme with commentary by Gyaltrul Rinpoche:

Homage to Avalokitesvara!

A rough explanation of actions and their consequences has been presented in the preliminaries to the instructions on the profound practical teachings of Avalokitesvara, but it is difficult to gain from that more than a practical understanding. Precise comprehension of actions and their consequences is not achieved until one has accomplished great single-pointedness. Until there arises the realization of the “one taste appearing in numerous ways,” the subtlety of actions and their consequences is not discerned. Thus, the Kagyu masters of the past prayed, “Bless me that I may discern the subtlety of actions and their consequences.” For us, all felicity and adversity and all joys and sorrows of birth and death and so forth are dominated by our karma.

–“Great single pointedness” is the state of samadhi that arises due to investigating the nature of awareness, rigpa. The “one taste appearing in numerous ways” is a specific realization which is also called the “realization of the sole bindhu.” What is this one taste that appears in numerous ways? It is the single nature of all samsara and nirvana. It is seeing all phenomena simultaneously as being of one taste and one nature.

Spiritual success and mundane success all really stem from the merit you have accumulated in the past due to virtuous activity. Without merit, even if you give tens of millions of dollars towards a particular end, you won’t have the success you are aiming for. It really comes down to your own previous actions. So it’s important not to blame our lack of success on someone else when we experience failure or disappointment. Rather we must recognize that if we want to have success, we need to plant the seeds of virtue. If we want to avoid misfortune, then we need to avoid the source, which is nonvirtue. In the meantime, instead of blaming others for our failures, we must identify our own limitations and shortcomings and dispel them.–

The Chapter on the Cycle of Existence of Birth and Death states:

Wherever one is born in the three realms,
That birth is dominated by karma.
Karma, too, is something committed in the past.
Death as well is dominated by karma.
When the time comes for birth and death,
The gods gradually fall from the heavens.
Despite their great miraculous powers, they are powerless to remain.

–You can’t give someone else either good karma or bad karma, any more than you can give them virtue or nonvirtue. These are things that we accumulate and commit for ourselves. Whether we die in the womb, have a short life or a long life, these are the result of our karma.

Even great gods, such as Indra and Brahma, with their extraordinary powers, are powerless when the karma that propelled them into their present existence is exhausted. The reason for the precept not take refuge in mundane gods such as these is that they, like ourselves, are still entrapped in this cycle of existence. Since they have not liberated themselves, it would be difficult for them to liberate anyone else, so they are not suitable objects of ultimate refuge. Moreover, if you take refuge in, or absolutely entrust yourself to, other beings who are subject to the five poisons, you really have a problem, because they can’t release you from something they are not free of themselves. So this precept is truly for your own sake.

Some mundane gods may actually be great bodhisattvas, or even emanations of the buddhas appearing in the form of Indra, Brahma, and so forth. Nevertheless, it is generally good counsel not to take ultimate refuge in any of them, for it is difficult to discern which ones are actually bodhisattvas or emanations of Buddhas. In a way, we don’t really need to worry about this. we don’t have much, if any, direct contact with such gods anyway.–

Examining Cause and Effect in Real Life

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

You may have been born rich, or perhaps during the course of your life it has been relatively easy for you to make money, gain riches. Or perhaps during the course of your life, at some point you have inherited riches. And you wonder to yourself, “How is it that I hear about the starving poor and yet I, who wasn’t even hungry in the first place, have inherited this money, or I have this money? How is it?  It would seem as though I am completely undeserving.  How has that happened?”  You wonder about that.  “Why is it easy for me to make money?”  Well, the reason why it is easy for you to inherit that money or to make that money is because some time in the past you have earned it; and the way that you have earned it is by engaging in virtuous activity concerned with generosity toward others.   If you have given food to others, in this life you always have enough to eat, and more.  In fact, the problem is not eating too much.

So then, if you have a lot of money and things have been pretty comfortable for you, then sometime in the past you must have been very generous toward others, and your big problem in this lifetime is not how to make money but how to spend it, or not spend it.  In that case, you deserve everything that you get.  You deserve all of it.

Now, in this lifetime, if you just take that money and express through it no acts of generosity,… Let’s say maybe you keep it in your family to make sure that your children are provided for.  Well, that’s a kind of generosity.  You did give some to your children, but that isn’t real generosity, because children are kind of like an extension of our own ego.  We think of them as part of us.  We don’t think of them as being separate from us. We like our children to be rich because it’s a good reflection on us and it makes us die happy.

But let’s say in this lifetime, although you have lots of money, you haven’t really given any to benefit others.  You haven’t helped others not to be hungry.  You haven’t given it to children that don’t get any toys as Christmas.  You haven’t made any offerings to the temple where you receive all your spiritual benefit.  You haven’t done anything with your money.  If you think then that you’re going to somehow be able to legally make it happen that they’ll find you in your next incarnation and give you back that money,… Au contraire, monsieur.  You can’t take it with you.  It’s not going to appear again in your next life.  Forget it!  It’s not going to happen.  But in your next life you will probably be born much poorer because, even though you had the money before, you were not very generous.

So it’s very, very clear that cause and effect are interconnected.  In fact, the Buddha teaches us that they arise interdependently: When the cause arises, the effect arises at the same time, but in seed form.  Think about that.  Think about that the next time you have non-virtuous behavior.  One of the reasons why it’s so easy to be non-virtuous is because you think, “Well, O.K., I’m being non-virtuous now, but I don’t see the effect rising yet.  So maybe they…(Who are they anyway? We don’t know.) they’ll forget about it. “ You know, the guys with the x’s and the checks. They’re up there.  They’re sitting on the throne. You know, the guy with long beard.  Maybe he’ll forget about it by then.  But in fact the Buddha teaches that, number one, there is nobody with a book up there, or a beard. And number two, when you give rise to the cause, the effect is already born, and you will experience it.  You will experience it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Responsibility of Choice

psychic

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why We Suffer”

I’d like to explain it in whatever way I can—even though the vocabulary is limited, and I myself am extremely limited—I’d like to explain it in whatever way I can over and over and over again. And do you know the interesting thing is that I often get caught in not understanding. It hooks me, too. Every time. Recently, I saw again, after not seeing for a very long time, someone whom I consider to be tremendously suffering, tremendously suffering, who I’ve known has had a great deal of the experience of suffering during the course of their life. Someone for whom in my heart of hearts I felt, you know, a terrible grief. Terrible grief. And for that person, I always wished that there was some hope. The idea that I had, although it was on a subtle level, was that that person had been victimized. I know that as a child that person was a victim of abuse. I know that many circumstances happened that made that person’s life very, very difficult. And during the course of that person’s adult life, there were tremendous, tremendous obstacles to overcome, tremendous difficulty. And yet, I know the Buddha’s teaching, and I know that the content of our mindstream is constantly being displayed as our lives. But caught in the trap of that idea that somehow we could suffer without cause, that somehow we were victims, that somehow circumstance could occur to us, and that we were somehow blameless and innocent, I fell prey to that idea. That’s never the case; it is never the case. Each and every person who experiences difficulty does so because of cause and effect relationships that they themselves began at some point, perhaps a point that they do not remember. The Buddha teaches us that if we have suffered a great deal, if we do suffer a great deal from loneliness, and the longing for love and approval, and that kind of need, a strong need, that somewhere in the past (and this is hard to take in), we ourselves were not kind. We ourselves were not supportive of others. We were not generous and loving. Now it may actually be that in this lifetime, we have made a real effort to be generous and loving and supportive to others, so you can’t go by that.

The Buddha teaches one thing about which I am supremely confident, and I’ve become more and more so with each passing day: You should never go to a psychic or anybody like that to find out what your past lives are about. If you want to find out what your past lives are about, look in the mirror now. Are you poor? Then you weren’t too generous. Are you not so good looking? Then in the past, you were not, with your body, faithful and loyal and virtuous. That’s the truth. Are you lonely? Because in the past, you probably were not kindly and supportive to others. Are you wishing that you had love and there isn’t much love in your life? Then, probably in the past, you were self-absorbed and really only caring about what you felt and what was going on with you and what your needs were. These are hard things to take in. But the Buddha teaches that for every single result that we are experiencing, there is a cause; and that cause is within our mindstream. Now, that’s both good news and bad news. At first, you have to look in the mirror and you have to be real brave and you have to face that. And that’s the hard part. That’s the bad news. Nobody wants to look in the mirror and say, ‘You did that. You had something to do with that.’ You have some qualities that are in seed form hidden within your mindstream that are ripening even now. Nobody wants to take responsibility. We all want to feel only good; and we only want some external force to give a blessing and then we’ll all be happy in heaven. That’s what we really want. Take a pill. Like that. So at first it’s very difficult and I think that the beginning of adapting this philosophy and accepting the Buddha’s teaching and beginning to act on it is actually an act of courage. It’s tough. It’s really tough.

What makes it tough? Is it because you have to practice for hours and hours a day?  No, that’s your choice. You can practice a little bit, or you can practice a lot according to your disposition. You can start practicing a little and you can end up practicing a lot. It’s really up to you. You can be following the Buddha’s teaching at your own level. There’s no pressure to do extraordinary amounts of practice. It’s not like that. What makes that first step so courageous is that you really have to accept the great law of cause and effect. But the good news is that suddenly you have power. There is an antidote. Before you were hopeless and helpless. If you looked at your life, and there was no love in your life, you could only say, ‘Wow, poor me! There’s nothing I can do about this. I’m really hopeless and I’m really helpless. What am I going to do?  Nobody loves me.’ And then you can start whining about it. And, of course, that will never make you happy. And what is it going to do? Is it going to change anything? It will never change anything. It will only alienate others even more, because you will be continuing the root cause of selfishness and self-absorption. It will never produce any good results. And if you were to look into your life and you were to say, ‘Well, I’m really not a happy person. I mean, I have many things, I have many physical things. I have a good house and a good car and all kinds of interesting things in my life, but I’m not happy. I don’t seem to be happy and it’s just, you know, I’m a victim. Just some people are happy, and I’m not. And I don’t know why other people get all the breaks and why I don’t get all the breaks.’ I mean, you’ve heard the litany, haven’t you? I don’t need to repeat it again. I’m sure if you haven’t said it recently, then you’ve said it in the past; and if you haven’t said it in the past, you have, but you’ve forgotten. But, anyway, you can remember somebody else doing it. So I don’t have to repeat the litany. But with understanding cause and effect relationships, you can look in the mirror and you can say, ‘Yes, up until this time, I have planted seeds that have brought bad fruit, but I have the opportunity to apply the antidote. And I can apply it, I can plant good seeds and reap good fruit.’

Happiness, love, wealth, joy, contentment and peace, relaxation in any form, even health are all habitual tendencies. They are all habitual tendencies. Those among us, and there are many, who do not seem to have the karma of happiness or contentment, who cannot achieve any kind of inner peace, cannot do so because they do not have the habit of it. And they do not have the habit of it, because in the past they have instituted many causes that bring about the result of such an occurrence. If we have the result in our lives of having no capacity to be able to engage in, for instance, a loving relationship, if it seems that we look around and there really are no loving relationships in our life, it is because we do not have the habit of it. And we do not have the habit of it, because we ourselves in the past did not engage in the giving aspect of that kind of loving relationship. Well, we all think that now, now we’re changed. Now we are engaged in the giving aspect of such a loving relationship. Yes, I’m trying to get a loving relationship. I go from person to person, and try to get a loving relationship. I get in everybody’s face that I can get my hands on, and say,  ‘You will love me.’ And so I’ve changed. Now I’m a loving person. I love everybody I can get my hands on. What are you doing? Are you generous, are you kind? Not in the least. Are you giving love? No, it’s all about you. You want, you need, you want, you need. That’s what you think about, because you have the habitual tendency of being needy and loveless due to a lack of generosity in the past. Now, the Buddha teaches us that the antidote is not to go out and join a singles club; but, rather, what we must do, instead, is to be as loving and as kindly to others as possible. To give without thought of any return. You want any thing in return. You don’t need approval; you want approval. You just give. You’re kind.

Now, at first, most people don’t know how to do that. They really are inept at that sort of thing and they will end up trying to take anyway. So the Buddha gives us an actual series of practices that are antidotal. Very, very different. There are many different kinds of practices from generating oneself as the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and pouring forth compassion without exception to all sentient beings equally. And you don’t get letters back from them, believe me. Pouring out compassion to all sentient beings equally, and in that way, beginning the habit of genuine loving kindness. That’s one antidote. That’s a good one. And then you can make wishing prayers for all sentient beings. You can circumambulate the stupa going clockwise. Please do so. It’s makes me happy to know that you’ve had the opportunity. So you can circumambulate the stupa, or you make some offering on an altar; and at the same time you say, ‘By this merit, or by this offering, or by the virtue of this prayer, may all sentient beings be free of suffering.’ You’re lonely? You know what the best antidote to that is? Pray for those who are lonelier than you. Pray endlessly. And don’t expect any of them to know that you’re doing so. And don’t expect anything back for it. That really is an antidote to such suffering. And those who are the unhappiest are the ones who are most resistant to hearing that. But, there actually is an answer; there actually is an antidote. And you can begin like that.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo all rights reserved

Examining the Causes of Suffering

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

The second cause for suffering is karma—– karma meaning cause and result. This begins with these negative causes:  beginning first with killing, the weightiest cause, which is to kill or to take a life.  Now according to Buddhism this means the life of any and all living beings.  In other religions it is more or less agreed upon that one should not kill human beings, but it is O.K. to kill other beings, that it simply doesn’t matter.  But this is not O.K.  This is incorrect understanding, and the reason for this is that all living beings have fear and all living beings suffer in the same way that human beings do.  So even the lowliest little ant has feelings and doesn’t want to lose its life  It feels suffering when it is being trod upon and so forth and smashed in this way.  We have to think about how we don’t want to suffer, and we have to understand that every creature that lives feels the same way.  Therefore this is the reason why we should never intentionally take the life of any living being.

The second cause to abandon is stealing. This means to take the possession of another without permission, whatever it may be.  Whether it is of great value or of little value, it simply doesn’t matter.  If it is something that belongs to someone else and they have every intention of maintaining that as their possession, then it should never be taken from them for any reason.

The third cause to abandon is to lie. Specifically it means here to really trick the minds of others with the specific intention to harm them by speaking that which is untrue. By doing so it immediately lowers one’s own honor and brings suffering to others. So this is something which is negative and must be abandoned.

The fourth cause to abandon is adultery or unclean sexual conduct.  This specifically refers to entering into a relationship with a male or female who already belongs to somebody else.  When we say “belongs to somebody else,” it means that that person is already committed to somebody else, and there is an understanding between them.  To break that understanding by intervening and having a relationship is considered to be ultimate stealing of a spouse of another.  Not only that. Those males and females who are already committed to one another usually have the most attachment for one another. So if someone else is with their partner, then there is nothing more painful than that because of the intensity of the attachment.  It produces even more suffering than stealing other objects.  Therefore it is considered to be extremely negative because it brings about such tremendous harm and harmful repercussion which arise from it. This must be abandoned from the root.

In addition to that, another action or activity which is considered to be ultimately destructive and which must be abandoned is the drinking of alcoholic beverages so as to become intoxicated.  The reason for this is because it is physically harmful to the body. Also if one becomes intoxicated one loses one’s own sense of control.  In that state of being out of control, all the other nonvirtues are easily accumulated.  Therefore becoming intoxicated by drinking alcoholic beverages must be abandoned.

These four root causes that correspond to physical conduct must be abandoned, and then the fifth, drinking alcohol, as well.  Any practitioner of Buddhism, whoever the person may be, must abandon these five.  These are five root precepts which are maintained, which means the abandonment of these negative causes.  Not only to abandon these five, but to guard oneself by taking the vow of what is called genyen, which is the vow of a lay practitioner who upholds these five precepts of formally vowing to abandon these five negative causes.  This is something that each and every one of you should consider taking on: to become a genyen or lay practitioner who upholds these five vows, because if you have these five vows you automatically accumulate virtue in whatever you do.  This also makes you somewhat similar to those who are holding the vows of higher ordination, such as the male and female novice practitioners and the male and female fully ordained, because they all have these five precepts as well.

There are two things which set the ordained apart from the lay upholders of these five vows.  First of all the fact that you are wearing the robes of the Buddha, the robes of ordination.  If you don’t wear your robes of ordination, you appear as a lay person  So the fact that you wear your robes sets you apart as an ordained.  The second point that sets you apart from a lay upholder of the vows is that in the case of a layman or laywoman, the vow is to abstain from adultery or unclean sexual conduct, but in the case of the ordained who are wearing the robes of the Buddha, you must abstain from any sexual conduct, particularly that of sexual intercourse.  So this is something that you all have abandoned before you have taken these vows of ordination.

I have spent some time here just now going over these four root precepts and the fifth, which is to abandon drinking alcohol, so that everyone here, especially those who are members of the Dharma center, would clearly understand what qualifies as a precept holder of the Buddhist tradition, and particularly those who are ordained.  If you are able to maintain these five precepts, that will be enough  Please understand that it includes the two particulars that you are already upholding.  Even if you can’t maintain the other vows, you must always maintain these five, and everyone else as lay practitioners should maintain the five as well.

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