Do the Math

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

If we wish to enter onto the path of a Bodhisattva and become that which benefits beings, we must have a heart that yearns for compassionate activity. We must want to help, or we wouldn’t be able to receive teachings like this. This being the case, the first thing we have to do is let go of the concepts we have about how cool we are going to be when this process is finished. We cannot hold on to the rigid kind of thinking that honors only self. We must think of others.

How many of you are there? One, right? Look down, how many do you count? It’s easy. So far as you know, there is only one of you. Now look around at the human beings in your immediate environment. Then think about all the human beings on this earth: 5.9 billion, at least. If your mind is really that of a Bodhisattva, you couldn’t think for a moment of going around telling others how great you are. You couldn’t think for a moment that it could be in any way important that you do the dance, or sing the song, or appear in some certain way that satisfies you, because there’s only one of you, and there are 5.9 billion of them. If you have a mind that’s free of the attachment to self, free of the burden of believing strongly in self-nature, then you must realize that weighed against 5.9 billion human beings, you simply don’t weigh very much.

If you really wish to fulfill the idea of a Bodhisattva that is free of attachment to ego, free of the delusion that self-nature is relevant and important, and if you really wish to consider living a life of compassion, then serving others must become more important than even your own life. It is not that you become like a martyr. We’re not talking about the Christian concept of a martyr. It’s really different than that. It’s just mechanics. It’s just logic. It’s just math. There are more of them than there are of you, so they matter more. With that idea, you seek only to benefit others.  That being the case, as an aspiring Bodhisattva, you must begin to examine what the mind of Bodhicitta really is.

Copyright ©  Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Only Purpose

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

If we studied Bodhicitta, or the mind of compassion, every single day for the rest of our lives, we wouldn’t even scratch its surface because it is so profound. There are many different levels at which we might come to understand its meaning.  The word Bodhicitta can’t really be translated into English very well. It means enlightenment. It also means compassion. Compassion to us means something quite ordinary. We might think that we already understand compassion. We may think, “I don’t eat meat anymore, and I try not to kill things. I try not to hurt anybody, and I feel sorry for most everybody, you know. Therefore I fully understand compassion.” Unfortunately, if we think like that, we’re probably missing a lot, and we fail to understand the real meaning of enlightenment. If we think we understand enlightenment the way most Americans do, I’m afraid we don’t have a clear view of it, because we haven’t had teachings on what that mind, which is free of conceptualization as well as discursive thought, is really like. We just haven’t had that kind of teaching.

When we think of an enlightened being, we think of someone who dresses up a certain way. He or she wears robes and almost always has their eyes turned skyward. We have many different ideas about enlightenment and, unfortunately, none of them are true. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who are reported to appear in the world, for instance, take many different forms. They don’t have to be a Buddhist to be a Bodhisattva; they just have to have realization. They take whatever form is necessary in order to benefit beings, because that is how the mind of compassion works. That is how the mind of enlightenment functions. It does not cling to the idea of self. It does not cling to egocentricity. Literally, a Bodhisattva might appear in the world as food or drink, offering its body in that way to benefit beings. It might appear in the world as a teacher. It certainly might do that. It might appear in the world as an ordinary, funky-style person. I mean funky beyond belief! Unless you have traveled in India and Nepal, you don’t know what funky means yet! A Buddha or a Bodhisattva might appear in such a way that is funky beyond belief, and yet within the context of that life, has an incredible impact on many people, or on just two or three people who themselves go on to achieve realization and have an incredible impact on beings.

You see, the mind of the Bodhisattva is such that it doesn’t cling to the idea of greatness. There is no thought of greatness. The moment we think we have to be great, or have to wear a certain kind of robe, or look a certain way, or do a certain dance, we have lost the entire idea and the main reason why a Bodhisattva would wish to incarnate in the world. A Bodhisattva’s only purpose is to benefit beings, and that is done without attachment to form and content. It is done in whatever way is necessary.

Copyright ©  Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

End Desire

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

Where does desire come from? It comes from the belief that self-nature is real. According to the Buddha, if you believe that you are a self, if you believe in self-nature as being real, as being truly existent, then there has to be desire, because in order to be a self or to have a self, you have to define a self. That’s how it is. If you believe in the nature of self, you have to have an underlying belief that self ends here and other begins there. You have to have some conceptualization in your mind about what the self is, because the idea of self cannot exist without some definition. Conceptual proliferation develops, and with that, desire.

Desires are not always fulfilled. There is always the contest between self and other, and from those contests the three root poisons of hatred, greed and ignorance occur. It is the presence of hatred, greed and ignorance in the mind that causes phenomena to appear as they do. If there were no hatred, greed and ignorance in the mind, there would be no cause for suffering and therefore we would not see the phenomena of war, hunger, old age, sickness and death in the world. There would be no cause. This is the understanding and commitment that you should think about and work with in your mind.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Light of Compassion

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

Somehow you have found yourself in this fortunate, amazing position where this feast of possibility is laid before you. How did you come to this point? How is it possible that you have this option? You must have done something right in the past, and I suggest that you now build on it. If you don’t cultivate the mind of extraordinary compassion and such a burning love that compassion is the most important force in your life, then the natural inclinations of a mind filled with desire will overcome you. This is Kaliyuga, the age of degeneration, and that’s how it is. You must practice and cultivate that mind of compassion, of love, so thoroughly that you are moved to the core by even the faint possibility that you might achieve liberation in order to benefit beings. You think of nothing else. You must cultivate that until you burn with it. Don’t be afraid of that kind of love.

In the West we are taught, “Be cool. Hey, I’m an intellectual, I don’t think like that. I’m kind of special.” That’s what we’re taught, that’s our value system. That is the same value system we will take to our graves, and only the selfishness of that kind of idea will survive, not the intelligence. There is one thing that will survive this life, and will create the karma for your next life. It is the purity of your mind and the degree of love that you have accomplished. This will be the determining factor for how you will return time and time again in a form that will benefit beings until someday there is no more suffering.

© 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

Compassion – The Foundation of the Path

An excerpt from the Vow of Love Series by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

In a superficial way the idea of compassion can seem very simple, and we might make the mistake of thinking that we understand it. But if we study compassion deeply, eventually we will come to understand that the ultimate view of compassion is enlightenment itself. It is the natural, primordial wisdom state itself. That’s why compassion isn’t truly known until we reach supreme enlightenment.

Compassion is the foundation of the Buddhist path. Without it, like any house that does not have a firm foundation, the house will crumble. It will not stand. One’s motivation to practice must be compassion. If your motivation is not compassion, it will be very difficult to firmly stick to the commitment to practice and meditate every day. I feel for those who say, “I’d really like to practice. I would really like to have a time in my life everyday to meditate, and yet I don’t have the discipline. I don’t have the strength. I don’t have the commitment.”  If you have the right motivation, if you want to do this solely and purely from the point of view of compassion, you will find the time and you will find the commitment and you will find a way to do it. For those who have tried to meditate everyday or be consistent in their practice, if they can’t do it, my feeling is somehow the foundation of compassion isn’t strong enough.

If we could make the idea of compassion so strong that it becomes a burning fire consuming our hearts, until we are nothing but a flame. If the need to benefit others becomes so strong that it’s irresistible. If the understanding that others are suffering so unbearably in realms that we cannot even see, let alone the realms we can, that we cannot rest until we find a way to be of some lasting benefit to them. If these things can truly become part of our minds, we will find the strength to practice.

How do you find the strength to breathe? “Well,” you say, “that’s easy. Breathing is a reflex. I have to breathe. If I don’t breathe, I die.” What if you could cultivate the understanding that all sentient beings are filled with suffering that is inconceivable in its magnitude and that there are non-physical realms of existence we are not even aware of, filled with suffering? What if you could cultivate this understanding so deeply that, because of your realization, compassion and profound generosity became as much a reflex as breathing?  That is possible.

“Well,” you say, “I don’t have that kind of understanding. I’m just not like that. I can’t make myself really buy into that.” Let me comfort you with this awareness. Unless you are supremely enlightened you are not born with that perfect understanding. No one is. No one is born with enough understanding of the suffering of others, and an affinity with the idea of compassion, to create that perfect discipline naturally. That understanding comes only through its cultivation, and we must cultivate that understanding consistently every day.

Cultivate Selfless Compassion

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

It’s almost impossible to attain the goal of selfless compassion, where you commit every fiber of your being to benefiting all sentient beings, seen and unseen, without a moment’s hesitation. It’s almost impossible to develop the kind of compassion where you understand that all sentient beings are revolving helplessly in such suffering that they can’t bear it, and you can’t bear to think it’s going on, without cultivating a deep understanding of suffering. You want to avoid the trap of making the very same prayers that the selfishly motivated person might do, but instead have the idea that you want to be a great Bodhisattva.

One goal will produce lasting results and the other will not. The person with the motivation of selflessness has the key. Through extraordinary, selfless compassion, that person has the strength to persevere through everything until he or she is awake. That person will persevere until he or she has completely purged from his or her mind even the smallest, gossamer thin seeds of hatred, greed and ignorance. The person whose motivation is to be the ‘good person’ will not be able to do the same for any length of time. The foundation isn’t strong enough. That person may need some kind of feedback, or warm fuzzies as reward for being good. Even tried and true Buddhists will find this impure motivation in your minds. Even our ordained Sangha will find that they, themselves, will have dry periods. You’ll go spiritually dry, bone dry, and you’ll think, “What am I doing here? I can’t go on; it’s just too hard.” Then the next day, you’ll wake up and you’ll think, “Another day…good.” You’ll have all these different feelings that are just so common. Everybody, everybody has them. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to have these feelings.

Why does it flip flop back and forth? Because you have not built the firm foundation of very pure, selfless compassion. You need to cultivate it every single moment. You need to get yourself past the point where you need warm fuzzies to keep you going. If you are only looking at the symptom of suffering and trying to manipulate your environment to turn suffering around, you will always need feedback. That feedback may or may not come. Your compassion, your love should not depend on that.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

All Sentient Beings

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

One of the most important and central thoughts in Buddhist philosophy is the idea of compassion. The Buddha taught that we must cultivate our lives as a vehicle to be of benefit to all sentient beings.  It’s good that you’re a good mother, and it’s good that you’re a good friend, but we can’t limit ourselves to a small, familiar circle. We have to go on and on increasing our compassionate activity, our influence and our determination until we attain a level of kindness or compassion that supersedes what we believe is reasonable. We can’t stop even with our nation. We can’t think that we only want to help Americans. Nor can we stop with our world. We can’t think that we only want to help humans and animals, which are the ones that we can see. We have to think, according to the Buddha, that we wish to be of benefit to all sentient beings.

A sentient being is one who has sensory feeling or the development of that kind of discriminating consciousness. According to the Buddha’s teachings, there are six realms of cyclic existence, and there are sentient beings in all of these realms. The human realm and the animal realm are visible to us. This is living proof that at least some of the Buddha’s teaching is right. We see human beings and we see animals; therefore, we know that they exist. But according to the Buddha’s teaching, there are also non-physical beings and different kinds of beings that must be considered if we are to truly develop the mind of compassion.

Limiting ourselves to an identity such as,”I am a woman,” or “I am a man,” or “I am an American,” or “I am a Russian,” or even “I am a citizen of planet earth,” is not the way of the Buddha. Instead, we should think that on every particle we can see, and all those that we cannot see, and in every inch of space, there are millions and millions of sentient beings. And space goes on forever. If we intend to develop the mind of kindness, it must extend to all sentient beings equal to the limits of space.  Space has no limits and there are limitless beings, seen and unseen.  Therefore, we must extend the mind of compassion to beings far beyond those we can conceive of with our brains. That is an awesome thought. How can we really do that? We think that must be impossible. How can we be directly concerned with somebody we can’t see? How can we really care about something that might be infinitesimally small, like bacteria? Or a sentient being that may be as large as a galaxy? How can we seriously consider we must be kind to all sentient beings in that way?

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Change Your Mind

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

In order to cure the symptom of suffering you might decide to manipulate the circumstances, or the environment. If you see people who are hungry, you give them food. If you decide you want to feed them for the rest of their lives so that they are never hungry, then you have to feed them three times a day, every day, for the rest of their lives, or teach them how to feed themselves. What are you going to do when they get sick? They will get sick. What are you going to do when they get old? They will get old. What are you going to do when they get lonely? What are you going to do when all the different kinds of discomfort pop up? What does it matter if you help a few people? What about the other 5.9 billion on the planet? What about the animals? Where will you start? What will you do, if your intention is merely to manipulate the environment so that the discomfort that you see is finished? Even if you have worked every moment selflessly and have given away all your money, and then have gotten money from other people to help, doing everything that you could to make these things happen, you wouldn’t put a dent in it, not even the tiniest dent. Why? Because you are trying to manipulate something that is very superficial.

This apparent reality that we are viewing isn’t that deep. It’s nothing. It’s a ghost. It’s a puff-ball. We can’t move it, because wherever we move it, it will appear somewhere else. We cannot manipulate our environment. We cannot manipulate phenomena and achieve any real lasting success. We can achieve temporary success. We can have the satisfaction of seeing someone fed who has been hungry, and that person can feel the satisfaction of a meal. If we fed people on a grand scale, it might be a grand satisfaction. But it is not permanent, it is not a solution, and the reason, according to the Buddha’s teaching, is that hunger and poverty and loneliness are not the causes of suffering. They are the results or the symptoms of something else. According to the Buddha’s teaching, the root causes of suffering are hatred, greed and ignorance.

We might take issue with that statement. Say we think about a hungry Indian child, or a hungry American child, or a hungry Ethiopian child. Sure, all of them probably do hate because they’re hungry; and they probably are ignorant because they’ve never gone to school; and they probably are greedy. Boy, if you handed one a biscuit, he’d just grab it and run because he’s so hungry. But we have to probe more deeply. We are only looking at a set of symptoms. According to the Buddha’s teaching there is an underlying cause that makes phenomena appear as it does in any given situation, and that cause is karmic. The Buddha’s teaching is that all phenomena arises from a cause, and that everything that is seen, felt, and heard is actually the emanation or the result of one’s own mind. The mind itself produces all visible phenomena. I hope you can really hear that. To change suffering as it appears in the world can never be permanent. It can never do much good. What has to be done is to change the karmic background or cause and effect scenario of one’s own mind. In doing so, you can hopefully come to a place where you can also be of benefit to others.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Cut the Cause of Suffering

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

How does one cultivate the selfless goal of wanting to benefit all beings and not fall unconsciously into the trap of wanting to be a kind person? A good way to begin is to open our eyes and truly understand the nature of suffering. Why is there suffering in the world? Why is there suffering in the worlds unseen? If we don’t examine this idea, we might take what we see at face value. We might look at people in poor parts of town and say, “Oh they’re suffering because they’re poor.” We might look at people in different countries around the world and say, “Oh, they’re suffering because they’re hungry.” We might look at people in different situations and think we understand the nature of their suffering. But we’re looking at the symptom of their suffering. We’re looking at the fact that they are suffering, but we still do not understand why.

If we see that they are suffering – that some people are poor, some people are hungry, some people are old, some people are sick, and some people are dying — and do not probe to understand the reason for their suffering, we might fall into the trap of trying to do something about those apparent issues. There’s nothing wrong with doing something about those issues. In fact I hope you do, because human kindness – exemplary and virtuous human kindness – has to be part of this world, it has to be part of the activity that you, as Bodhisattvas, are involved in. But if you stop there, you will never succeed, because if you try to cure the symptom of suffering without going to the cause, it’s impossible. The suffering will simply pop up in new and different ways.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo