Opportunity and Responsibility

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

When we go to another country and we see they are poor, maybe they have no prayer, we shouldn’t think, “Oh, I’m high and you’re low.  Therefore I will teach you.”  We should think like this: Lord Buddha has taught me that you are the same as me.  You are Buddha but you have forgotten.  Let’s remember together.  This is the way.  Let’s wake up together.

I promise you I will not abandon samsara so long as there is one student with one connection, however small, and difficult to return for.  But I also promise you that you must do your part.  You must practice Dharma every day.  You must awaken to the true nature of your mind.  You must create the space in your life to awaken. This is the way of happiness; this is the way of benefit. And this is what our perfect teacher has taught us.

I’m telling you these things in American words, in American ways, because I’m speaking to you.  Therefore, I’m offering you the opportunity and the responsibility of hearing.  So please listen and please practice,  And please accept the entire banquet, not just the crumbs under the table, not just the dessert—as though you can take the dessert and not the rest of the banquet. Don’t fool yourself.  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  Change your mind.  You are here to be changed.  You are here to be changed.  Dharma is meant to change our ordinary minds.

In Asian cultures, that’s an accepted idea, but here we resist.  And so I beg you to reconsider your habitual tendencies and to go within and to practice self-honesty.  You will have to look at your unfortunate qualities.  But when you look at them, don’t look at them like “I’m bad.  I hate myself.  I hate somebody else.  I hate something.”  Just look at them and say, “Oh, that’s that habit again.  I see that habit.  Yuck.”  Remember the kids rolling over in their beds.  You want to roll over in your bed, but you’re saying, “You know, that’s my habit.  I think I’ll go check around and see if there’s anything wrong.  Just go check around.”  In other words, you’re growing a new habit.

Expect to change.  Expect to be uncomfortable at times.  Expect to deal with the issues of individuality and democracy.  Because in America we love individuality and democracy.  But not here.  This is Dharma. And in Dharma, we have to trust our teachers. We have to trust the Three Precious Jewels.  We assume that our teacher has crossed the ocean of suffering and can show us the way.  Therefore, practice.   Don’t be foolish, taking the attitudes and posturing like Dharma but not practicing Dharma.  Because what you’re doing is looking at a feast of delicious food but choosing to eat the imitation plastic stuff from K-Mart that little kids play with—little pretend food.  That’s what you’re eating.

Instead, practice Dharma.  And if you are filled with concern for yourself and your own path, remind yourself that all beings are equal.  If you are raising yourself up to Buddhahood, thinking that you can do it without raising others up to Buddhahood, well you’re wrong.  It’s foolish because there is no separation.  To get lost in your own little Dharma world, in your own little practice, in your own little thing is only more self-absorption.  Sure, you’re practicing a little Dharma, but you’re also practicing a lot of self-absorption.  And so the way is to benefit others, to reach others, to benefit others, to test your limits.  Unfold your wings.  Help others to break through and to achieve some virtue, some merit, whether they are Buddhist or not.  Be a real practitioner. Let everything you do, everything you think and everything you say be something that contributes.  Have respect for others—animals, humans, even those beings that cannot be seen.  You can assume that they are there, and you pray for them too.

These are the recommendations that I am making to you.  And I’m asking you, practice sincerely.  We’ll see each other a lot more if you reach for the enlightenment that is your nature.  If you reach for the Three Precious Jewels, they will respond.  But you must reach. This is the removal of obstacles between the student and the teacher.  You must call out.  You must reach.

Honor the Three Precious Jewels.  On the inside this temple is clean, but on the outside it’s falling apart.  The Stupas were falling apart until we started fixing them.  What respect is that?  What loving kindness, what care for sentient beings is that? Even His Holiness house is simply falling apart.  I’d like to see one of you be a real sucker, a real dope.  Out of just pure compassion and devotion, I’d like to see you take a toothbrush and start cleaning that house.  What a sap, you’d be telling yourself.  Here I am on my knees with a toothbrush, cleaning that house.  Who could be stupider than me?  That’s what your ordinary mind would be telling you.  But on the inside, your heart is going, “Yes, yes.  This may look stupid.  But I am practicing Dharma.”

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Soothing Balm of Virtue

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

To cultivate a joyful mind, we should cultivate virtuous habits. We are happiest when we are busy creating merit.  We don’t realize this because the words are so dry.  We think cocktail. I like that word!  Merit? Ugh.  Happy Hour?  That sounds good!  Practice? Ugh.  That’s our ordinary thinking that we have to dispel because it’s wrong.  It’s wrong. Cocktail means ‘poison’.  It means drunk.  It means alcoholic.  It’s never been good for you and it never will be.  It’s an unfortunate addition to your body, when you can do without. Merit, on the other hand… To practice merit and joyfully meritorious behavior, to soothe the mind rather than constantly inflame it with all your manic stuff, and to be a stimulation junky…  That’s what we are.  Stimulation junkies.  It’s like psychological sugar.  We can’t get enough of it.  “Gimme something! Anything!”  That how we are psychologically.  And yet the mind is happiest when it’s relaxed, quietly joyful, mellowed out, thinking of the benefit of others, not absorbed in what I don’t have, what I want or what I think I got to get!

It turns out that what the Buddha said is true.  The life of meditation and mysticism and loving regard for others—a life of service,  a life planned to benefit others, a life in Dharma, Dharma so alive and so much a part of one’s mind that it is moist and sweet from the holy breath of the Dakinis… That is a life of joyfulness.

In a relaxed mind, colors are brighter. Did you know that? People who are locked in to their own personal phenomena, their own personal crazy phenomena, can’t see colors well.  They think they can.  They look and say, “Oh, I see red, you see red.  What’s the difference?”  But one red is different than the other.  A peaceful mind can smell better.  All the senses are purified and more alive, even though, because we are not yet enlightened they may still do the work of duality. Yet slowly slowly, we are training them in our practice.  And so the mind becomes more relaxed.  The mind becomes actually sensitized to quiet luminous joy—a state of restful luminosity that could be described as the very dance of bliss.  This is the relaxed mind, the virtuous mind.

Yet we cultivate these habits that keep us raw and inflamed.  I look at the expression on people’s faces. They’re all scrunched up because of all that inflammation, all that horrible feeling. When we suffer we say, “I feel so raw”.  No kidding.   That self-absorption, that constant selfishness and non-virtue and inflammation… It would be like taking Brillo and just constantly rubbing it on one’s skin.

And yet the joyful virtuous mind actually is more like putting a soothing balm on this same skin and allowing it to heal.  This is the reason for happiness.  This is the way for happiness.  This is the method for happiness.  Each and every one of us experiences unhappiness due to our previous non-virtuous habits.  When we switch tracks, we begin to pave the way and to move on the journey towards personal happiness, happiness for all beings which is our highest priority, and towards making the world a better place, literally.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Accepting the Offering of the Buddhas

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

I have seen amazing things.  My own students do amazing things. When they weren’t healthy or when they weren’t fit they would do amazing things and they would benefit the stupa and create the causes for continued accomplishment.  I’ve seen them do amazing things.  I saw once one nun who was determined to get to one of my teachings.  Her knees were so bad she couldn’t walk.  I saw her crawling, crawling.  And I immediately dedicated that merit to her swift enlightenment.  And you know, I didn’t think to myself, “Oh, look at that, she’s crawling to see me.”  I thought to myself, “Eh ma ho. How beautiful. How beautiful.”

So we have to stop thinking in such an ordinary way.  We have to start thinking in the way of Dharma, in the way of practitioners.  You can’t wear robes and live an ordinary life.  You have to do for the sentient beings.  You have to maintain this garden of refuge across the street for their sake as well as your own.  You have to do for the Sangha.  It’s just as much merit to do for the Sangha, to make offerings to the stupas, to make offerings to the Lamas. This is extraordinary.  To make offerings even to the Sangha. I know the wonderful Chang family has been offering food for myself and also for the Sangha here.  What a tremendous, tremendous gathering of virtue that is.  What an awesome family.  What values to teach your children.  My goodness.  What an extraordinary wealth to pass on to your young.  Sure you could pass on a few dollars, but what is that?  To pass on the wealth of how to be happy…  My goodness.

Yet we just kind of trudge around in our habitual tendencies without seeing the beauty of it all, the wonder of it all—that here in this place lives Lord Buddha himself, Guru Rinpoche himself, without doubt in Nirmanakaya form, and we can always go to pray.  You know, we might say, “Oh, I can’t practice right now, because my practice is not going very well.”  Well, that’s when you practice.   That’s when you crawl across the street to the stupa if you have to and you recite prayers to the stupa. You say, “Please, I’m begging you with tears in my eyes.  Help me in my practice.  Come to me as wisdom.  Clear my self-absorption so that I can benefit sentient beings and before I die let me do something meaningful other than to hang out with my own distorted phenomena.  Let me make this world a place with less suffering.  Please, I’ll do anything.”

You lay down your pride, you lay down your thoughts, you lay down your body, you lay down your efforts, you lay down your offerings and you rise up a practitioner.  The way of Dharma is to turn our minds from ordinary things—those things that are so relentlessly stupid as to take up all of our time and all of our effort and give us zero, zilch, nothing in return—and to pick up and accept and cherish that which is here for us, that which holds out its arms to us, like our own primordial mother, and says “Come, I’m here for you.  Bring the others.  I’m here.”

Do not turn a blind eye to these offerings that I and other lamas have given you.  They are for you.  These stupas, what we have here, is only for you.  And so I ask you to accept once again.  I ask you not to be beggars under the table lapping up crumbs, but to come to the feast.  Come to the feast at last.

That’s our Dharma talk for today.  I hope it is of some benefit to you.  And I really sincerely mean for this to result in activity.

Let me make one more mention.  We talk about creating the causes for bringing the lama back, so we maintain the house for the lama.  If the lama has a habit of putting a wrap on their legs when they’re by their chair, the wrap should be by the chair.  The lama’s slippers should be by his bed.  The lama’s favorite cup should be out on the counter.  The lama’s altar should be opened every day.  If you really want to create the causes for the lama’s return, that’s how you do it.  The lama never leaves.

When the lama is not here, the lama’s picture should be on the throne.  And we should think like that.  The lama has never left.  And that’s our practice.  That’s our guru yoga.  And we have the visible means of support using the stupas that way as well.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Utilizing the Antidote

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Now it’s also said that the stupa has a mandala of enlightened activity around it the same as a living Buddha does.  That is to say, that a stupa that is powerfully consecrated with relics, and consecrated by an enlightened lama who has accomplished the mantra,  has a radius of about 100 miles of influence.  Isn’t that amazing?

Yet, we are not keeping that strength going, that fire going.  The power of the stupas will be, by definition of mind, diminished because our minds are not with them.  So it’s a terrible, terrible frightful waste.  It’s really like having all the lamas of the lineage across the street.  Oh, we pride ourselves that we have robes and we can go places and we can do practices. Some of us even have the more advanced practices. We can stare at bindus and stuff like that.  But if we don’t walk across the street and take care of the stupas, you can say we have no practice.  You could say that.  Because it’s like the lamas of the lineage are there, and no one is honoring them.  We call them to our practice.  We pray to the lamas of the lineage. We visualize them gathering in front of us, but we abandon them.  And so what is this cartoon in the sky in front, when we have abandoned the actual Nirmanakaya form?

They say that the lama and also the stupas have this 100 mile radius, approximately, of activity.  I built these stupas here because I was hoping that they would influence our government, but I don’t think that has happened as yet,.  I could be wrong, but I don’t see it. So I’m wondering if I could prevail upon each and every one of you to take these stupas into your heart, to think of them as your guides, your objects of refuge and to honor them in the way that they should be honored so that the lamas through these magnificent stupas can carry out their enlightened activity.  Because these stupas are an extension and an appearance of the Buddha’s enlightened activity.

It’s up to us to plant that firmly in the world, to make the roots deep  and to keep the causes pure and untainted for future accomplishment and future happiness.  There are so many stories in Buddhist teachings about particular practitioners that came to their own fruition through some slight, almost mindless, deed in the past concerning a stupa.  I’m a terrible Buddhist storyteller because I forget the details and I get the punch lines wrong, but I’ll try.  I’ll try to tell you a little bit of what I remember.

There is this one story, for instance, about a pig who was being chased by a dog.  And the pig was a pig.  He had been wallowing in mud, and he was all dirty.  He had a muddy body and a muddy face and a muddy tail. And the dog thought, “Oh, I’m gonna’ get me some pork chops,” and started chasing the pig.  And round and round this stupa they went.  After they went round the stupa a few times, the pig smashed into the stupa accidentally and the mud from his body fixed a little crack in the stupa.  That [pig] was reborn in Dewachen, or some enlightened paradise, because of that cause and immediately received teachings and the ability of accomplishment. He was reborn as a bodhisattva, and was given every means to accomplish; and accomplishment was gained.  A pig!  Accidentally!  These stories are told to us as an indication of what you’re missing, of how amazing the merit is of caring for the body of the Buddha.

Conversely, we are told that to leave a stupa in decay and to not honor the stupa properly will bring nothing but obstacles.  And we’ve had lots of obstacles here.  We’ve had obstacles to seeing the teacher, and that’s me.  I’ve tried very hard to get here many times and yet there are obstacles.  And I believe in my heart that these obstacles are because when I left, the stupas were not like this. I’ve returned to this, and this is the body of the Buddha.

Now I’m not saying this to make myself seem like a high up person or anything like that. Normally in monasteries, the Khenpos get to tell these stories about their lamas. I wish we had that condition, but we don’t.  So, allow me to just commit the non-virtue of telling you what the other lamas have said about me.  They’ve said that if you don’t see this teacher very much because of who she is, you should understand that this is because your own merit is diminishing, not because she’s not here to serve you, not because she doesn’t want to serve you.  It’s strictly cause and result here. Because of the nature of this teacher—and because of the nature of my teacher and because of the nature of the other teachers of this lineage—their merit is such and their accomplishment is such that we must always create the causes of continuing to meet with them.  They’re just not a collection of Tibetan jimokes that do their thing over there and then come and do it over here.  These are beings who have accomplished Dharma and who have returned solely to benefit sentient beings.  Their only wish is to bring benefit., and yet we are not creating the causes for that.

Now that I know what the stupas look like, I will wait before I ask His Holiiness to return here until they are better.  I would not break his heart like that.  And I’m not saying I’m a good mama and you’re bad kids.  It’s not like that.  I’m telling you that this is your practice.  I want you to be happy.  I want you to be free of obstacles.  I want you to attain that pure awakened state where you know what to accept and what to reject.  I say to you, “Reject your own phenomena that tells you I don’t wanna. I’d rather have fun.  Reject your own phenomena that says I can’t because I’m sick, I’ve got a headache, I blah blah blah.  Reject your own phenomena and accomplish Dharma instead.”

Go to the stupa and if you can bend a little bit, you can bend to offer.  If you can bend a little bit, you can bend to clean.  I tell you if you are sick to death and worried for your life, you should crawl to the Migyur Dorje stupa saying prayers all the way, because that’s what a smart Tibetan would do.  That’s what I would do.  If you can’t walk, get there anyhow.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Soothing the Inflamed Mind

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Beginning to appreciate the condition and the suffering of other sentient beings, turning the mind in that way, does two things.  Offering merit to them does several things.   First of all, it builds on our merit/non-virtue scale.  We’ve got the merit on this side, we’ve got the non-virtue on that side.  And we’re heavier on the non-virtue side.  So offering merit puts more focus on virtue.  Our minds are more attuned to virtue and this tends to bring forth ripenings that are more congruous with what we want on our path, more sympathetic, more joyful, more fulfilling. More meritorious things will ripen.  Happiness will ripen because our minds are more focused on the heavier [virtuous] pile.  That’s naturally how it is.  When we are more focused on the virtue pile rather than the non-virtue pile, which is like something that is sore and raw and inflamed, the samsaric mind becomes then soothed, calmed.  We are not wallowing in the inflammation of it.   We are on the virtuous side now.  So we find that temporarily and that ultimately, more permanently, the inflammation starts to go down.  The inflammation going down is almost like putting hydrocortisone on a horrible, raw, terrible rash. It calms the angriness of it; it calms the rawness of it.  So it’s a little bit like that.  It takes the inflammation down a whole lot.  And we find that when our minds are calmer and more rested, we are happier.

Now, when our minds are very active and very agitated, we may feel more energetic. Sadly some of us have had so few true moments of happiness and joy and peaceful calm abiding that when we’re really active and really hyper and really busy doing something really fun, we think we’re great. We’re really joyful!  Then what happens later is like after a sugar high.  We’re totally wiped out afterwards and we have the other side of that mood swing.  So ultimately, as we turn our minds towards Dharma, as we begin to commit virtuous acts and to gather meritorious thoughts and ways of being, then we find out that gradually over time, we become more joyful, happier.  We begin to notice things that we didn’t notice before like some beautiful smell. Then we offer it to the Buddhas and we find a moment of happiness.  Or some beautiful sight, and then we offer it to the Buddhas, or maybe to our own Root Guru, and we think, “Oh, just for a moment, I felt happy there, just for a moment.”  Then we begin to catch on and that’s wonderful.  When we start to catch on, that’s the right stuff!

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Proper Conduct: Understanding the Source of Happiness

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Whenever we are on the path and we have a spiritual friend in the form of a teacher, whether it is on the earlier path of Theravadin Buddhism or whether we have a spiritual guru who is from the Vajrayana point of view, a very profound friend who one can expect will mingle with our lives and hopefully mingle with our mindstreams, and give us the appropriate information in order to practice the path, there is one set of instructions that is almost always given in one way or another.  And so I’d like to give these instructions.  They are about gathering and accomplishing “merit”…or meritorious activity.

Here in our society, we are taught in a materialistic way.  We are taught that of course if we get education we will make money.  If we make money, we will get things.  If we get things, we will be happy and we can pass those things on to our children who hopefully will be happy also.  And that’s the idea that we have in this society about material things.

Very rarely do our parents teach us about profitable conduct.  We’re taught about how to live profitably.  Hopefully, if we had good parenting, they taught us about how to keep a bank account and all of those passages of adulthood that we learn about.  But nowadays, it has become much less popular, unfortunately, for parents to teach us profitable conduct; in other words, how to act, how to present oneself, how to hold oneself, what deeds to act upon and so forth, that will bring us happiness and joy.  We in fact, in growing up, we are not really taught that acting in a certain way will bring us happiness or joy; or making offerings in a certain way, or certain kinds of conduct.  Generally what happens is the child imitates the parent.  Many times the parent, like any other samsaric being, is neurotic and we see them acting neurotically in their relationships, and we see that it’s like a roll of the dice.  According to how we act, half the time it produces happiness, and half the time it doesn’t.  And sometimes when we’re in a real spiral…that means the downward kind…we can experience a great deal of neuroses and our children will watch that habitual patterning and they will pattern themselves after it.  It’s natural.  It’s hard-wired in children to do that.  And of course in this day and age, it seems like we have lost touch with what it is that actually creates happiness.  We are so confused in our minds…we’re in such turmoil…we’re always grasping and grabbing and trying and often we’re working very hard at it.  It’s not that we’re lazy.  We don’t just lay around all day.  We’re often working very hard at things that ultimately produce no good result.  Pursuing endless distractions, the Buddhas have called it.

And so, we turn to the people of authority in our lives and we look to them for guidance.  Well, we look to the government and the government says, “Let’s cut down on social services, screw the poor people, we’ll go to war!”  So maybe that’s not so good.

So then we look at our parents…and let’s see, parent’s are on maybe second or third marriage, and they’re very much trying to be happy but they don’t know how to be happy and the parents are in as much turmoil as perhaps the child is.

And then the child turns to the teachers and even religious figures.  And if the religious figure is not enlightened, often times they are lead down horrible paths; perhaps even abusive paths where they are taught some strict dogma that has no relationship to anything really; or in the worst case scenario, they are used and abused by a religious figure of authority.

So where do we actually go to understand what it is the Buddha taught about cause and result…because this is where the Buddha really shone…showed his immense wisdom, his immense capacity.  …Is that not only Shakyamuni Buddha, himself, but every teacher and lama that has studied his teachings, followed his ways and accomplished.  And all the teachers yet to come that revealed Terma, including Guru Rinpoche and those that were Treasure Revealers later on, each in their own way, taught us Proper Conduct.

Proper Conduct is actually part of our Ngondro practice in which we learn to turn the mind toward Dharma.  And that doesn’t mean…what do you call it when somebody…a person that sings the rap of a certain company and…public relations, right.  It’s not like that.  Our teachers actually indicate to us how we should live and actually that’s one of the signs of the Buddha is that the Buddha comes to the earth and shows us how to live because we are living in confusion.  We have not been taught of cause and effect.  And this is one thing that Lord Buddha really taught about was cause and result.  And he said that, if spiritual thinking isn’t reasonable and logical, that is, if one cannot think it through first before one decides to really open the heart in faith, then we should think again.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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

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