What’s Your First Thought?

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The way to become happy is somewhat counterintuitive, particularly when you’re first starting out on the path.  When we first start out on the path, we come because we are generally interested, but also because we have issues.  We have problems.  Our life does not make sense in some way.   Generally something is a little bit off, and what’s off is the old habit.  You know the old habit that says materialism makes you happy, and getting is what you need to do.  And it’s you first and nobody else.  That kind of materialism is what we walk in here with.   Whether we realize it or not, we are brought up with it.   Even your parents told you to go to school so you could make more money than the slob next door.   It’s that kind of idea.  I don’t know if your parents said that, but you get the idea.

When we start to break that habit, it’s a little bit difficult.  One of the things we do when we begin is to make aspirational prayers, and you should start that this very night.  You don’t have to have any particular training or empowerment, and yet it’s quite profound to start making aspirational prayers.  Everyone that enters onto the path of the Buddha Dharma begins that way, by making aspirational prayers for happiness and well-being for all that lives.  You can do that any way you want to.  There’s no instruction necessary.  You don’t have to read a prayer from a book.   You can simply speak what is on your heart.

For instance, you might begin by saying, “As I walk around the stupa, may all sentient beings know the opportunity of this blessing.”  Like that.  If you wake up sick, instead of saying, “Oh, I’m sick.”  Instead you say, “May all sentient beings experience radiant health.   May they not suffer the way I’m suffering now.”  And if you’re hungry, before you eat, you say your aspirational prayer, “May all sentient beings be nourished.  May they have the fullness of Dharma.  May they have plenty to eat and plenty to wear.”  If you find that you lose your job, and you’re poor and you just can’t pull it together, you make stronger and stronger prayers, “May no one go without good work, and good occupation.  May no one suffer as I am suffering now.”  If you break a leg, before you start cussing or crying, you say, “May no sentient being suffer this pain, ever.  May all sentient beings walk strong, and have full use of all their limbs.”

At first when you do it, you think, “This is kind of namby pamby.  I mean when do you get into the deep stuff?”  Oh, you’ll get into the deep stuff.  Trust me.  But it behooves us to start at the beginning.  That’s where you start.  You begin to break the old habits, and give rise to some new habits of generosity and mindfulness, thoughtfulness, and caring.   And we do this through aspirational prayers.

I know when I read the paper, that’s a great opportunity to make aspirational prayers.  “May this suffering end in Burma.  May this terrible situation give rise to new purpose, and may the people find their empowerment and rise up.”  That kind of thing.  Whatever comes to your mind.  In this way, you break the habit of selfishness, neediness, and the inability to connect the dots and see how your actions do create result and other people’s actions do create result.

I’ve had so many people come up to me and say, “I have been generous for two weeks!  And there’s no result. So what the hell is this?”  First of all, if you come to me and say that, I doubt that you were truly generous even for those two weeks.  Second of all, it’s just two weeks!  How many years did it take you to be as miserable as you are?  It’s going to take some time.  It does not happen overnight.

When people first try to make these aspirational prayers, they don’t have the feel for it yet.  It’s not really in their heart yet.   So, they basically say through gritted teeth, “May all sentient beings be happy.  I’m in a really bad mood.  May all sentient beings be really happy.”  If you do that it shows you how it is not your habit to care for others.   That right there is the proof in the pudding.  That’s the reason why we are suffering.   If we just persevere through the two-week mark, through the six-month mark, through the twenty-year mark, we become happy, and we do change.  And our lives do change.  But it takes persistence, and it takes getting to the point where you are not saying it through your teeth.  It’s really so natural to you that even if you wake up in a bad mood, you say, “Oh, I’m in a bad mood.  Boy, I hope nobody else feels like this.”  Now you know you’re getting somewhere.  If your first thought is, “I hope nobody else feels like this.  And your first thought is for the consideration of others.  That’s really one of the main beginning points in the Buddha Dharma – to give rise to compassion.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Like Milk with Water

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

When we begin to practice the Buddha dharma and really engage in practice, we begin by practicing generation stage teaching.  And what that means is you learn to generate yourself as the deity.  You learn to dissolve your ordinary constituents.  Boom.  You just dissolve.  This is your visualization.  And then you give rise to yourself as a seed syllable, and then from the seed syllable, you become the deity.  Tara, Vajradhara, Manjushri.  Any of those.  You become that deity, and you give rise to Vajra pride.   It’s not like “Ha Ha.  I’m the deity and you’re not.”  It’s the realization of your nature and the nobility of that.  And you become that very deity, and you begin to develop the qualities of that deity by reciting the mantra and practicing the hand implements.   Eventually when you accomplish the deity, at that very moment you come to understand that you are not separate from that deity and that deity is your very nature.

As we move on to practice the Guru Yoga, we realize that the teacher on the throne that we revere and think has great wisdom and great bodhicitta, has special qualities.   When you really accomplish Guru Yoga, you mix your mindstream with the Guru’s mindstream like milk with water.  And they become so inseparable that in the end you realize that your own root guru is the very display of your mind.  How amazing!  That’s how deep this path is.   And to practice it superficially is crazy.   You can do that anywhere else.  You can be superficial anywhere you want to, but to come here and practice, you should practice deeply.

Please take to heart aspirational prayers, and developing the habit of making aspirational prayers.  Please start there right now, and give rise to the understanding that all are the same in our nature, and that we all wish to be happy.

The happiest people in the world are people who are happy in their own mind.  Those that have awakened and have realized, are filled with the streaming bliss of the bodhicitta.  There’s no unhappiness.   There’s no drama.   There’s no BS.  You see?  And that’s how we know we’re making it.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Walk the Talk

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The most glorious thing about the Buddha Dharma is that you don’t wait for a blessing outside of you for permission or the grace to ascend to the heavens for no apparent reason.  That’s the great thing about Dharma.  It’s real.   In the Dharma you are given the tools that you need to change the circumstances of your life, and to change the condition of your consciousness as well.  And the way that that happens of course is through our practice.

The difference between our own religion, which is basically a non-theistic religion and other religions, is that other religions see a blessing from outside.  They wait for a redeemer who will make it okay no matter what their activity is.  For instance, in my family my stepfather was Catholic, and he was an alcoholic and would beat us mercilessly.  We were brutalized as children.  It was a terrible situation, but then we’d all tromp off to confession.  Free and clear by Sunday afternoon.   So, I don’t have a good feeling about that, because they were never required to change.  Even the parish priest knew that my mother was getting the stew beat out of her all the time, and he would recommend confession.

We Buddhists are not like that.  We believe and understand in the relationship between cause and effect.  You can’t murder a handful of people and then confess and accept Jesus as your savior and be okay.  We don’t believe that.  You can’t accept Buddha as your savior and be okay.  You can’t accept me as your savior and be okay.  You have to walk the talk.  You have to walk the path, and you have to practice.

Your conduct matters a great deal.  What’s in your mind matters even more.  And if as you practice your path your joy increases and it smoothes out for you, you know you’re getting somewhere.

In the Buddha Dharma we do not wait.  We understand that there are the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas, and we are taught that there was Shakyamuni Buddha, Vajrasattva, Amitabha, and Tara.  We’ve got all these different statues, and they are symbols of the Buddhas.   Do they actually exist?  Yes.   Can you pray to them?  Sure.  Are they separate from you?  No.   That’s the difference.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Extraordinary Technology

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Let’s say that a practitioner has dedicated their lives to practicing everyday for the sake of sentient beings, for the happiness of sentient beings.  Maintaining their samaya or commitment practice very purely, practicing everyday for the sake of sentient beings.  That’s extraordinary compassion.  Even though you are doing it here on earth, the method for doing that did not come from the earth.  It came from the realization and the awakening of the Buddha.  If not for the Buddha’s awakening, the technology would not be here.  And so it’s extraordinary compassion.  And as we progress along the path, the first thing that we do is to practice ordinary and extraordinary compassion.  These are the two feet of the path.  This is what gives you the ability to go the distance.  If all you’re concerned about is yourself and your own delusions and illusions and your own BS, and really not out there for the sake of sentient beings or doing your practice every single day for the sake of sentient beings, then you’re not there yet.  And that’s why we call it practice.

Nobody comes here ready to fly.  Nobody.  If that were the case, you wouldn’t need to come here.  But you come here with a taste.   There must be some old habit in you, some karma.  Something that you’ve given rise to in the past that puts you here in this moment.  I beg you to take advantage of it.  Because in order to get to the point where you can sit at the feet of your guru, and listen to the precious Buddha dharma, and then go to New York and hear His Holiness teach the precious Buddha dharma, you must have made so many wishing prayers, and must have done so much virtuous conduct in the past.  And if your path goes smoothly, then you know that you’ve done it before.   And if you give rise to the Bodhicitta, then you are not a stranger to it.   And this is how we know where we’ve been, and what we were like simply by looking at ourselves.

If we’re poor, we didn’t give enough.   If we’re sick, we did not see to the welfare of others or caused them harm.   If we are mentally incapacitated, then we caused someone or many people mental suffering in the past.  Those that die young have either killed others young or caused others to die young.   So these are the things that we are looking for and these are the things that we can overcome by practicing the Buddha dharma.  It can be overcome.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Creating Happiness

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

If all we want is happiness, how do we do it?  It’s a little, but there’s a real trick to it, but you can create happiness.  Here’s how it’s done.  First of all, all sentient beings are equal.   And in our nature, we are not only the same, we are one.  From the point of view of Buddhahood, if the Buddha were to look out at everyone, and look from the mind of awakening, in the state of enlightenment, it would not be possible to see where one of us ends, and the other begins, because our true nature is pure, pristine, primordial light.  It’s not visible light in the way that we understand light, because when you see light then you are standing away from it.  You would call it undifferentiated, nonconceptual illumination – radiance.  That is our nature.  So when we defile that nature in our relationships with others, and cause harm to others, we suffer.  If we could do the opposite, and try to benefit others, we would create happiness.

It doesn’t seem to be the truth because we think, “Gimme, gimme, gimme.”  This is what America has taught us.  This is what our culture says to us.  “Gimme a car.  I’ll be happy.  Give me a boyfriend, I’ll be happy.  Give me another boyfriend, I’ll be twice as happy.”  That’s what we’re taught. We’re taught that gimme, gimme, gimme is the way to happiness.  It’s kind of the modern mantra, isn’t it?  “Gimme, gimme, gimme hung.”  We try very hard, and it doesn’t work that way.

What we find out is that in our oneness, we must uphold one another.   We must not only practice kindness towards one another, but practice recognition.  So, let’s say in my desire to be happy, I decide the only thing that’s going to work for me is a new car.  In my materialistic American psyche that’s what I’ve decided.  I saw this new car on TV, and I’ve got to have it.   Whatever I do to get money for that car, even if it’s honest, even if I go to my credit union, and borrow, make my payments,  and I do everything right, it’s ordinary.  It’s just regular.  It’s the stuff that you move around when you move an apple from here to there.  It’s nothing but ordinary, worldly gobbledygook.

So you go to your credit union, and you get the dollars, and you get the car, and then what happens?  You’re happy for a little while, and then the car gets old.  The baby throws up in it.   The dog shits in it.  You spill milk in it.  You drive it, and it gets old, or you smash it up.  Or now that you’ve bought it and gone to the credit union and cleaned all your money out, you don’t have money for gas!  This is not the way to create happiness.  Even though the car might cheer you up for a little while, it is not going to change your life.  It is not going to do what you hope it’s going to do.  And it’s the same with the big ticket items – the house.  And the non-buyable items like relationships, and marriages, and boyfriends, and girlfriends and all that stuff.  All are like band aids in samsara – quick fixes.  When you’re unhappy and you grab for something like that, your intuition tells you you’re going to feel better, but the real solution is counterintuitive.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Ordinary or Extraordinary?

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

In the Buddha Dharma there are mainly two kinds of compassion.   There is ordinary compassion, and there is extraordinary or sublime compassion, also called ordinary bodhicitta or sublime bodhicitta.   Bodhicitta is the great display of compassion, which is our own primordial nature.   Ordinary bodhicitta is the caring for others through the means that we can find on this earth.  In other words, caring for others through ordinary means.  Like for instance, if you see somebody that’s hungry and you give them a sandwich.  That’s compassionate, but it’s ordinary compassion because you know you didn’t get the sandwich from the sublime realms.  You got it from a kitchen or you bought it somewhere.  It’s ordinary stuff that went into it – baloney or salami or peanut butter and jelly. It’s ordinary even if you make 150 sandwiches and you pass them out to the hungry homeless.  That’s a real good day, but still ordinary compassion because it’s easily attainable.

There are many hungry people now in Burma.  No matter what the junta says, the people are not eating, and they are sick and dying.  Let’s say somehow we magically can put together everything they need, and just bust through the blockades and give it to the people.  Let’s say we airdrop everything they need, and the whole place is satisfied. The people have tents or homes or something to live in.  They have the means to get food.  They have food.  They have bedding; they have everything because of this magnificent airdrop that you made.  Let’s say that’s possible.  That would take an awful lot of money, but still in all it’s ordinary human compassion.  We never see ordinary humans doing that very much, and that goes to show you the pickle we’re in.  But it’s still ordinary human compassion.

Now, what is supreme or extraordinary compassion?  That is compassionate activity that concerns and offers that which is not of this world.  The great bodhisattvas that return again and again are considered to demonstrate the great bodhicitta, because the nature of the bodhisattva is such that once they attain certain bhumis, which are levels of realization, then at that time they can step into enlightenment or step into nirvana and attain the rainbow body at any moment.  But they hold back because they wish to benefit sentient beings.  They look at the suffering of sentient beings.  They see this terrible suffering and it moves them, and they return to earth to show them the way out of that suffering.  That is considered extraordinary compassion.  So then translating, teaching, creating the books of Dharma, offering these ancient teachings in a modern world so that modern people can continue to benefit from something that would ordinarily be lost to them, that is considered extraordinary compassion.

When I held my little new born son in my arms, I thought, “I would do anything for you.  I will care for you. I will keep you warm.  I will give you my milk, and when you’re done with that, I will bake pies.  I’ll do anything for you.”  And then I realized I was lying to him, because if my son were to get gravely ill, I would have no power to help him.  Or if my son were to die, even though I told him I would never abandon him, I would not be able to follow him into the next rebirth.  I would not be able to see to his welfare.  So, there’s my baby in my arms, and I have lied to him.

That was one of the main things that made me practice really hard when I was young.  I made it my business to learn how to provide the Phowa, which is the transference of consciousness from one level to the next, or from one life to the next rebirth.  I made myself learn to do that so that I could help people, and dogs, and cats, and anybody in the dying process, and so I could even follow my own child into the next life, and make sure that his rebirth is good.  I’ve attained that goal.  And I’m very happy for it.  Do you see the difference there?  A mother’s love is so powerful, so extraordinary.  You would feed your child your own body if they were hungry.   And you look in the eyes of your child and you think, “Never has there been love like this.  I would do anything for you.”  But until that compassion applies to all sentient beings, and we have the skills through our own realization, we are lying.   And we are not able to do very much for those we love.  That is the one of the differences between ordinary and supreme bodhicitta.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Like a Seesaw

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

We tend to do things that give us a rush, but it doesn’t make us happy.  For instance, let’s say we decide to drink some alcohol, and we decide to do it a lot, and we decide to get loaded every weekend, and we think, “Boy, you know that gives me something to look forward to because all week long I can be a good person, and then on the weekend I can get loaded, and then I’ll be happy.”  Of course, it doesn’t happen.  Generally, what happens is your body gets sicker.  You get dependent on alcohol in order to feel anything.  And you know eventually the mind just churns in samsara and no new habits or no new understandings or anything that will actually make you happy occurs.  We just get drunk.   And then we sober up on Monday.  And that’s it.  That’s all that happens.  But we keep thinking that if we do it every weekend, and if we do it better every weekend, then eventually one weekend it’s really going to make us happy, and it’s going to last.  And of course, that’s foolish because it never works.  There’s something about human consciousness that makes it difficult for us to learn from experience.  It’s like banging into the wall constantly.  And we go on with behavior that actually makes our situation worse rather than easing it or making us happy or making it better in any way.

For instance, let’s say you really feel that you would be happy if you had more money.  I can’t say that I haven’t thought that.  And I’m sure if I’ve thought that, pretty much everybody has thought it at least once.  And so we think, “Wow, if I had some money, I could do some things, and I would be happier.  I’d really like to go on vacation this summer, and there’s no money to do it with so wouldn’t I be happy if I could go on vacation.”  It’s that kind of thinking.  Let’s say that you put a lot of energy into getting this money.   Let’s say in fact that you put so much energy into it that you’re not quite kosher about it.  You’re not quite above board.  Let’s say you lie a little.  Somehow that brings you a little money.  Let’s say you cheat a little.  Somehow that brings you a little money.  Let’s say you steal a little bit.  Somehow that brings you a little bit of money.  You may get the money.  You may go to jail too.  You may get the money and you may go on vacation, but guess what?   You have set yourself up for more suffering than you could possibly imagine, because even if the vacation goes well, the moment that you took from others, and were dishonest and acted selfishly, at that very instant when you gave rise to a negative cause, the result was also born.  Did you know that?  We think we get away with it until we get caught.  And it’s not true.  The moment we create a nonvirtuous cause, the result is born – at the same moment.

In our lives it seems different because it seems like time is linear.  And it seems like you were really nonvirtuous on Thursday but by Saturday it is still looking good for you.  So you think, “I got away with it.”  No, it doesn’t work that way because you gave rise to the cause, so the result is already there.  Just because it didn’t ripen on Saturday means nothing.   It will happen.  You will have karma with the person that you were dishonest with or that you stole from or that you harmed in some way, and that person will harm you in the future, whether they want to or not, it will happen, because karma is exacting.   It’s cause and effect.

If you can understand how a seesaw works, you can understand how karma works.  If you can understand how you could drop a rock on one side of the pond and feel the vibration on another side of the pond, then you understand how karma works.  Although we can’t see it manifesting in front of our eyes, that’s our great loss because we still think we get away with it.  And it’s simply not true.  Let’s say we go ahead and steal, we go on vacation, and we think it all works out, and then six months later, something dastardly happens to us.   And maybe it reminds you a little bit of the situation in which you were not nice to somebody, and maybe it doesn’t.  If you do catch the connection, bully for you.  You’ve learned something and that’s excellent, but if you don’t catch the connection, and most of us don’t, then it’s unfortunate.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

What We All Want

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

When we study Buddhism, the first thing we come to understand is the equality of all that lives.  This is a direct teaching from none other than Shakyamuni Buddha himself.  He taught that all beings are essentially equal in their nature and that they all have the same exact desires that we have.  We want to be happy.  We strive for happiness in our own way everyday.  We go here and go there to be happy.  We rest to be happy.  We wake up to be happy.  We have our weekends to be happy.  We hope the weekdays will be happy.  It’s something that’s a theme in us and whether we consciously realize that we are striving for happiness or not, it is an underlying fuel that runs the machine.  And when we are not happy, we are filled with desire.  And when we are not happy, we are suffering.

The Buddha taught us that each and every sentient being – humans, animals, and even nonphysical beings mainly wish to be happy in the simple way that we do.  I watch MSNBC news sometimes, and I watch Chris Matthews and Keith Oberman. And Chris Matthews always says in one of his commercials, “This is something uniquely American.  This is something that really shows us who we are.”  We are Americans, because in America there is the hope that this day is going to be the best day.  And that this is going to be our favorite day, and that we are going to be really happy today.  And so we wake up in America with that hope because we have the freedom to gain that happiness.  We’re not oppressed or starving or homeless or something where there is no real potential for true happiness, comfort, or ease.  I disagree with Chris Matthews even though I am a fan.  I don’t think that only in America do we wake up with that thought.  Maybe in America it seems more attainable.  But the truth of the matter is, no matter where we are, what diseases we suffer from, what poverty or hunger or disability we endure, or what oppression or warlike conditions, every single person has the wish for the freedom to be happy, and wishes for happiness.

When we realize that all sentient beings are exactly the same in that way, an understanding comes up in our minds.  It is a sense of the equality of all that lives.  Perhaps it is a sense of budding compassion or understanding.  That’s the goal anyway.

So, how does that work?  Sometimes we hear about really terrible situations, and really terrible people, such as a serial killer who has murdered like Jeffrey Dahmer.  Have you ever heard about him?  He was a serial killer that used to cannibalize people, and live with their dead bodies, and stuff like that.  Now, of course our understanding of that is that the man was extremely sick.  We can understand that, but do we understand that as strange and abhorrent and bizarre, and as ghastly his behavior was, he was striving to be happy?   But the confusion, the delusion in his mind was so thick, that in order to be happy, he had to completely dominate another life form.   Yet underlying that, even while killing, maiming and torturing people, he was striving to be happy.  That’s a bizarre thought, but it helps us to understand a little bit about the nature of suffering sentient beings.

Then we think about animals.  For those of you that don’t know, I just adore animals.  I feel very close to them, and I have a bunch.  They are my family.   Animals suffer too, and I have come to understand through my own experience, not just from the teachings, that animals also strive every day to be happy.  I see my dogs move from a hot place to a cool place, from a cool place to a warm place, and it’s about wanting to feel comfortable, to be happy.  Whenever you buy them a new toy or a new treat, they are gung-ho on it because they want to be happy.  I’ve seen for myself that desire for happiness in humans and in animals.  And so I absolutely and totally understand that what the Buddha has said is true.  While we are striving to be happy, we have absolutely no understanding as to how to go about it.  And therein lies the rub, as they say.   Therein lies the problem.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Buddhism – What’s the Difference?


Bodhisattvas by Artist Karma Phuntsok
An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

There are fundamental differences between practicing the Buddha Dharma and practicing other religions.  While it might seem that the right thing to say is that at the bottom of every faith, there is the same truth that we all share, Buddhists don’t quite put it that way.  Buddhists say that no matter what one’s faith is, within each of us is the seed of enlightenment, the Buddha seed.  In that way we are completely, absolutely equal in every measurement.  It means that each one of us, whether human, animal or unseen beings that we cannot see with our physical eyes because they are other dimensional, has the potential for Buddhahood.  Whatever kind of sentient being  – a being with senses, that feels and has consciousness –  in their capacity to reach Buddhahood is exactly the same.  That means that each and every practicing Buddhist should hold every life form in high regard.

Our habitual tendency is to respect people who we are taught to respect.  We respect our teachers and our parents, and our family. And we love the people that we are connected with and so forth, but for the most part we feel somewhat alienated from the rest of the world.  Certainly in America our culture is such that we feel alienated from other cultures.  And so in the Buddha Dharma we begin to break down that kind of divisive separation idea.  We begin to understand that no matter how each person appears, they have exactly the same capacity for realization, for Buddhahood.

And yet in Tibetan Buddhism a teacher sits on a throne.  If we are all equal, why would a teacher sit on a throne, and others sit down below? It has to do with the degree of awakening and the capacity for Bodhicitta – great compassion – having studied it and given rise to it.  And it has to do with one’s past karmic potential and how that has ripened.

For instance, when I first met my guru, he told me, “Oh, you have been reborn as a bodhisattva many many uncountable times.  And so the reason why you know the Dharma without being taught is you have that habit in your mind.  And so now we’ll teach you more, and you’ll know more.”  That was his way of explaining how it is that I am in this position and somebody else might not be.  But the truth of the matter is, even though I appear to be sitting on the throne, and maybe someone else is on death row in a jailhouse, our capacity is exactly equal.  Our level of awakening is not equal, because a person who is awakening, who is giving rise to the great compassion, would not be capable of killing.  They would not have the habit or conceive of it in their mind. It’s not to say that the very same person would not say, “I could just kill my kid today.  She’s driving me nuts!”  or something like that, but that statement is so thin.  It’s utterly meaningless when you realize that there is no habit or propensity for doing harm.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Changing Habits

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Many people have gone to teachers and said, “What was I in my past life?   What kind of being am I?” thinking that they are different somehow and that this is important.  It’s really not the case.  We are all exactly the same.  But a lot of times the people will go to the teacher and ask questions like that.  Buddha Shakyamuni’s answer was, “If you want to know who you were in your past life, look in the mirror.”  Not necessarily at your physical appearance, and how your mascara is and that sort of thing.  Look at who you are.  Look at your life.   Look at what you’ve accomplished.  Not what you’re spinning in your head that you’re going to accomplish, but what you have accomplished.  Then you can begin a certain analysis.

Let’s say that you are chronically poor.  You tend to work wage jobs, and can’t get the big jobs, and just can’t make the money thing work.  It’s a chronic condition.    Most people think that the best thing to do is to go looking for the fabulous job or meet the fabulous man with the big money or something like that so you can get rich.  That kind of thinking will keep you in exactly the same position you’ve always been in, and it will never change.

If you find yourself in a state of chronic poverty, you must understand that cause and effect relationships are operating here.   You are now reaping the result of a cause that was created maybe early in this lifetime, more likely in another lifetime.  This is why it’s so hard, because you can’t see it.   We don’t know what happened in our last life or ten lifetimes ago.  We really don’t know what the cause is.

Again the Buddha says that this is where analysis is very useful.   So, we look and we say, “Well, I’ve always been poor.  It’s always been an issue.   So, what can I do to solve this problem?”  Is hoping for a rich person or a rich job to come along really the solution?  Actually, not.  What you should start doing if you are chronically poor, is to give all you can to the poor.  The shirt off your back if you have to.  Now, people will try that and they’ll come back to me and say it didn’t work.   How long did you try it?   It took you lifetimes to get this habitual.   You’ve got to work at it awhile.  You can’t expect to just be kind for a couple of weeks, and then boom!  We’re home and dry.   It’s not like that.  You have to actually take the grasping energy that you’re feeling, “I want the money.  I want the money.  I want the money.”  And turn it around into “I give what I can give.”  If it’s a quarter, if it’s twenty cents, if it’s a penny, if it’s a hug, if it’s some extra clothes to people who don’t have clothes, or a warm blanket in the wintertime.  Anything.  It doesn’t have to be big bucks, but you develop the habit of generosity to the degree that it outweighs that graspiness that says, “When am I gonna get rich?  When am I gonna get rich?  When am I gonna get rich?”  By the time you’ve changed that habit, things are changing in your life.  But until you change the habit, nothing will change.  It’s all about our habitual tendencies.  There is nobody that knows this better than a recovering alcoholic.

I think recovering alcoholics make the best students, because they understand what habitual tendency is all about.  And they understand what addiction is all about too, including the addiction to “gimme, gimme, gimme.  I want it.  I want it.  I want it.  More, more, more.”   That’s an addiction.

We begin to break our habitual tendencies and turn them around, and we change the addiction.  At that point, we begin giving.  When you start giving to others, generally, you give to people who have less than you.   And one of the first things it does is make you realize how much you actually have.   Because we don’t generally realize how much we actually have.  Impoverishment is in here.  So, when we begin to act kindly and generously towards others and give what little we have, the grasping hand turns around and becomes a giving hand.   The mind relaxes about the issue of having.  And that clears the way for the ripening of virtuous karma.  Virtuous karma will bring us happiness, joy, money, whatever it’s tuned into.  Whatever it is the result of.  But it’s the graspy neediness that keeps us from giving and makes us so unhappy.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo