Observe the Equation

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

Lamas and bodhisattvas have taught time and time again that one’s practice must be part of one’s life.  They have taught that it has to be an ongoing thing, and that you can’t separate it from whatever else it is that you do.  The opportunity to practice exists in our lives, and so therefore, to only utilize sit-down time and completely separate that from the rest of our lives without any effort toward recognition or mindfulness is really pretty useless.  It’s like trying to drive down the street with no air in your tires.  You’re not going to get that far. This mindfulness, like changing any habitual tendency, can be a little bit painful or tight at first – that happens – but you know that, and you’ve broken through things like that before when they were important to you.  For those of you that have quit smoking, when you first quit smoking, that was a raw and painful thing, but you pushed through it because you knew that established the new habit pattern was going to be the way to go.  That was the only way to get to that goal.

Why don’t we think the same way about our practice?  Why do we think that we just have to wait for the glory?  If you decide you’re going to exercise, you have a goal: you don’t want to be a blob anymore.  That’s your goal, and you’re fervent about it.  When you first exercise, you’re going to hurt.  It’s going to ache.  If you’re really committed and you’re really not into being a blob, you’re going to take two Tylenol, and you’re going to continue.  You’re going to push through it.  Why can’t we push through our own habitual tendencies?  Why can’t we push through into some kind of ritual of recognition?  If we can ritualize working out, if we can ritualize stopping smoking, if we can ritualize crossing the street safely, if we can ritualize occupational training, why can’t we ritualize the state of recognition so that we make it part and practice of our walking, waking lives?  We trained to become whatever we are now.  Are you a doctor?  Are you a nurse?  Are you trained for that?  Wasn’t it hard when you first started taking in all that information?  Sure it was.  Are you a professional in any way?  You trained for that.  It was hard when you made those new habits, but you saw a goal and you had to get there because everything in you told you you’re supposed to be successful at that.  Why won’t we accept this responsibility in our practice?  That’s what it takes.  It takes really accepting that responsibility in our practice.

If you want to play guitar, your fingers are going to hurt for a while.  You’ve got to build calluses, but ordinary human beings, perfectly ordinary human beings, can do that because they observe the equation.  They can see that if they want to get there, they have to go through this uncomfortable zone of practice.  Why can’t we do that in our spiritual practice?  Why is it up to our teacher to push us through to realization?  Why do we hang around like limp practitioners and say, “Well, after I do this practice, what practice should I do after that?” without really ever trying in the least little way to have any recognition of the nature of phenomena, of the nature of reality?  We’re perfectly able to do this.  We do this in other areas of our lives.  Why is this so hard?

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Heart of Experience is the Guru

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

For many of you, I know that when we first started this temple it was family style, and you thought of yourselves as children, and I thought of myself as your mother in many ways, and there was a spiritual family dynamic.  We started small, and we got big.  So for many of the people who have always been around, who have been practicing with me for about 15 years now, (or 15 aeons it seems like), for many of you, my going away, my physical movement, if you will, from Poolesville, Maryland, to Sedona, Arizona, has been an extremely painful thing.  It’s not that I don’t have compassion for you, but if that is the case, I’m telling you, you are not practicing correctly.

There is nothing on this earth, including me, that can take your guru away from you.  There is nothing that can take that Recognition away from you, that relationship. There is nothing that can take Guru Rinpoche’s blessing away from you, that marvelous connection. Nothing has that power.  If you think that your teacher is absent, then you are absent.  It’s like the sun and the earth.

When we were younger as a species, we thought that when nighttime came, the sun disappeared; it fell off the edge, and it wasn’t there anymore.  Then later on it came back, and we liked it better when the sun was there because we could see better and it felt warm on our skin and it was safer.  But really what was happening, we later found out, is that the sun is staying right where it is constantly shining.  It’s the earth that cyclically turns away.   It’s the same way with the relationship with our teachers.  To the degree that we keep mindfulness, that we practice Recognition, that we are willing to see the guru in all things, in every opportunity, and utilize that opportunity, to that degree we experience oneness, non-duality, with our teachers.  We also experience some kind of awakening to our own primordial wisdom nature to the degree that we practice that Recognition.

If you think that your teacher is not with you most of the time, then you are not with your practice most of the time.  We have to get past making our egos and the appearances that go with the phenomena of ego-clinging the center of the mandala of our activity.  We have to stop doing that, and move past appearances into a deeper Recognition through constant mindfulness. To practice that as an extension to our sit-down practice, is the way, and to the degree that we awaken our capacity to Recognize, we are held inseparable from the heart of Guru Rinpoche.

Don’t waste your time as a practitioner thinking, “Oh, now my teacher moved away, so now I am lonely.  Now she’s there and I’m here, or he’s there and I’m here.” You’re accumulating the mantra of samsara if you do that.  You are accumulating appearances.  You are just thickening the delusion. Instead practice the recognition of one’s own nature being totally inseparable from the guru.  Practice the recognition of that to such an extent that you feel, in every moment, the king of that moment is Guru Rinpoche; in every breath, the queen of that breath is Guru Rinpoche – yes, the queen – everything.   Whatever ideas that we have, think that every movement, every experience, through our practice, through our determination to practice Recognition, the essence of that experience is the guru.  The more we practice like this, more and more we become awake.

It is possible to practice in that way with such fervent regard that in every future lifetime that presence will not be denied you.  In this and every future lifetime that presence will never be denied you.  There is no way that, as we accomplish Recognition, the primordial wisdom nature can be kept from you.  Again and again it will be Recognized as the seed and the fruit of every moment, every bit of experience.  But it only works if you work it.  So this tendency that we have to keep our minds satisfied with simply fulfilling the form and then going out to be lazy and slothful, reacting to appearances, simply accepting things at the most superficial, apparent level — this is a mistake.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

A Nontraditional Chod Practice to Establish a Sacred View

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

Before I ever learned about the Buddha dharma, I actually used to do a practice that my teachers have told me was a natural kind of Chöd.  What I would do is contemplate on different body parts and it took me months and months and months to do this. I practiced it for months because I felt like the deeper I went into it, the more involved it became.  I would think about a certain body part, like my feet, and I would say, “Thinking of these feet in one way, here are their limitations,” and it’s easy to see what the limitations of feet are.  You can’t walk on fire with them.  Well, not most of us.  You can’t walk on water with them – not most of us either.  There are so many things you can’t do with your feet, but there are also many things that you can do with your feet.  So thinking of feet in those ways, I would see all of the limitations of feet, being used as they are presently being used, and then I would think about all the possible ways that feet could be of benefit to beings.  How could my feet be of use?  That’s what I want.  I want my feet to be of use.  So I would think, “How can my feet be of use?  Well, I can go to people that need me with my feet.  I can go to do some meditation.  I can make my body go and comfort someone that’s sick or feed someone that’s hungry through moving my feet.”

After I had examined both the down side and the opportunity associated with feet, I would then practice this kind of deep offering, and I would make many prayers.  I would say, “I offer my feet to (back then I didn’t say Buddhas and bodhisattvas), Absolute Nature. I offer my feet to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas in order that they might be used to benefit sentient beings.  Other than that, they have no meaning for me.”  I would practice that until I felt like I had given up my feet and they were no longer mine; they were offerings.  I went through my entire body.  Then I found that that wasn’t enough, so I went through all my emotions.  And then I found that wasn’t enough, so I went through all the different ways of thinking and attributes of mind.  I would see the potential of each and I would see the downfall of each and I would contemplate on that very, very carefully.  Then I would spend a great deal of time offering that particular quality or attribute or body part to be used for the benefit of sentient beings, to be used to accomplish some good.

It seemed to me that, generally speaking, the body is a marvelous thing, but if it’s not accomplishing any good, it’s kind of limited, so it seemed logical and reasonable to me to want to offer all of my limitations, all of my ordinary perceptions, all of my attachments in the hope that every part of me would be used to benefit sentient beings.

Think about your speech.  Speech is a wonderful thing; it’s an amazing thing.  It’s one of those human attributes that make it possible for us to teach and learn, so it makes it possible for us to practice Dharma.  So although speech is an amazing thing, what do we use our speech for?  For the most part, we use our speech to help us suffer.  For the most part, our speech is like vomit coming out of our mouths.  What I mean by that is, the stuff that comes out of our mouth often is not connected to any thought anywhere.  We use our speech for blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, and yet this precious thing could be used to teach Dharma.  This precious capability could be used to receive teachings of Dharma.  How amazing!

Practicing this kind of nontraditional Chöd was when I really learned about speech.  That was really important.  When I learned about speech, I found out that if I were really to offer my speech and be constantly mindful of its power, constantly mindful of this blessing, and if I really, ultimately offered my speech to the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas, that instead their holy speech might be here.  That makes the speech worth something.  That makes it powerful.

I used to spend a lot of time considering the pros and cons, the limitations and the attributes of different aspects of what I considered ‘myself,’ and eventually, after offering all my parts and all my qualities and all my different attributes, at that point I felt that something was changed.  I had done this so deeply that I got into the habit of thinking like this, to the point where, when it comes to benefiting sentient beings, I don’t have to make that choice because it’s already been made.  I don’t own this stuff.  It’s already given away.  I developed this habit of constantly offering, and I’m telling you about the way that I did this is not so that you can say, “Ooh, aah, wasn’t she a great practitioner!” I’m not a great practitioner by any means.  What I’m telling you is that as a Westerner, even if we don’t have perfect translations, even if we haven’t accumulated all the teachings, even if it seems to us strange to practice Chöd in a way where we boil stuff and offer it and all those things, even if we’ve never heard of that teaching, it is still possible for us to practice the same principles and to establish a sacred view. It’s still possible.

I feel like my main job is to speak to Westerners because Westerners have a particular outlook, a particular take on things, and I think one of the greatest blessings that I have is that I’m a Westerner and I think like you.  I really do think exactly like you, so maybe I can help you, not just to follow the books by rote, not just to repeat everything like a magpie, but maybe instead to practice more deeply.  Maybe I can help you practice in such a way that the practice becomes married with your life, with your body, with your speech, with your mind, with your consciousness, until they are so one that it’s like mixing milk with water.  That is how practice becomes potent.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Comfort Zone – Is It Real?

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

Let’s say we were living in a terribly traumatic situation where there was all kinds of danger and all kinds of suffering, but something came on TV, a sitcom, the one that starts with an event and ends up with happily ever after in 30 minutes.  Don’t you love that about sitcoms?  I wish life were like that.  In the midst of all your travail and suffering you watch this sitcom, and for that short period of time, you’re comfortable, sort of happy.  You can laugh at things, but like the sitcom playing, does it change anything?  When the sitcom is finished, what happens?  You’ve still got your life, right?  So it’s like that with the kind of escaping that we try to do.  We try to put ourselves in a comfort zone.  We are so addicted to the narcotic quality of samsara that we try to bring that narcotic state onto ourselves again and again.   We want to watch TV.  We want to do different kinds of activities that make us feel safe.  We like to do activities that we can control.  We like to experience little adventures that are completely within our control, where there are no surprises, and we call that amusement.  We like to experience psychological, emotional events that are totally safe and totally controlled, and we call that relationships.  We don’t want to leave that comfort zone.

What is that comfort zone?  That comfort zone is the blind, dumb acceptance of the appearance of phenomena as being real without any discrimination, without any recognition.  We prefer to bring this narcotic cloak onto ourselves.  When we feel that things are getting too naked, too real, pull up the covers!  That’s what we do.  And we all have different ways of doing that, don’t we?  You know some people like to do the domestic goddess routine; some people like to be workaholics; some people like to do the fertility mambo.

No matter what area you’re practicing, you have to require of yourself a mental exercise – to rethink things, to reassess.  You have to practice recognition.  Do not wait for recognition to come.  The mistake that most practitioners make is magical thinking.  They say, “If I do this practice for two hours a day for the rest of my life, and maybe I’ll take a three year retreat, then I will be enlightened.”  It’s like a magical charm.  It doesn’t matter how you do those things or what you do after those things or before those things, but so long as you do those things, you will be enlightened.  This is the kind of thinking we have about our practice.  What I’m suggesting is that it’s not true.  We achieve enlightenment when we awaken.  There’s a difference.  You can’t really say you achieve your enlightenment after you finish your practice.  You achieve your enlightenment when you awaken.  The state of recognition is the key here.  How you hone your mind, how you choose to use your senses, how you redefine, how you study Samsara in order to recognize, how you study and learn to discriminate is necessary in order to achieve realization.  It is part of the process of awakening.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Reactiveness Is The Enemy

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

How does one practice the recognition of the empty nature of all phenomena?  One of the ways that we can do that is by pacifying reactiveness through a deeper understanding and discrimination.  Reactiveness is an inner enemy.  In a very profound way, it’s probably your worst enemy.  It is the seat, the throne, the source of all suffering.  It is really our reaction to samsara and the resulting activity that that brings our suffering; that is our suffering.  Like the Buddha said, our suffering is all based on our clinging to self-nature as being inherently real and the desire that arises from that.  This reactiveness is truly the enemy.  I can’t say that often enough.

Since time out of mind we have believed in self-nature as being inherently real.  Since that first idea of self-nature as being inherently real, we have spent every moment from that point on securing ourselves, establishing ourselves, making ourselves safe and defining – most of all defining – ourselves.  In order to define myself, I have to see you as separate.  All of the ideas we have that come from that are truly samsaric in nature, even, as a practitioner, the idea that I should walk around looking very noble and very holy and very renounced.  Even that idea, although it may seem to be about practicing on the path, is actually about the samsaric clinging to self-nature as inherently real.

So this discrimination that we practice has to antidote that very thing.  How are we going to antidote that very thing?  That’s not so easy.  Reactiveness, if you think about it, is a perception about self-nature being real, the perception of other, and the reaction is based on hope, fear or neutrality.  As a human being, if I see you, I hope that you will make me happy.  I hope that you will make me safe.  Or, if I see you, maybe I fear that you’re going to be prettier than me or richer than me, or I fear that you’re going to be unkind to me or that you’re a danger to me.  Neutrality comes after you go through both hope and fear and you’ve decided it’s pretty well balanced, so you’re neutral about this.  Neutrality is not wisdom.  When we have that kind of a reactive mentality, it is such a knee-jerk reaction that it is automatic.  There is never a thought that says, “Oh boy, now I’m going to react to this.”  When somebody walks in the room, you don’t think, “Now, watch me react.”  When something happens to you, you don’t think, “Watch this.”  I have the image of these old-time paddleballs with an elastic string and a ball on the end, you know?  The only thing that you can do with it is bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam, you know, like that?  Our minds are like that.  We are like that, bam-bam-bam-bam-bam.  The thing that’s happening is that we perceive ourselves as being real and solid; we perceive stuff as being “out there,” and the only thing it can do is hit us, and the only thing we can do is bounce at it, and it’s bam-bam-bam-bam-bam, reaction, reaction, reaction, reaction, reaction, because we cannot have a second where we don’t reinforce the idea that self-nature is inherently real.  Maybe we would disappear.  So bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam!  That’s what we have to do, and it has to be constant or maybe time won’t pass or things won’t be solid.

To apply the antidote to that, we are told to sit and practice and do the visualization.  That is an antidote.  The reason why it’s an antidote is because you’re not reacting to something that affects self-nature, but you are engaging in a visualization, giving rise to a deeper awareness of what your nature actually is.  So it’s a great antidote for that.  But if you really look at the phenomenon of bam-bam-bam and what it’s based on, you can see that there is no spaciousness between the idea of self-nature as being inherently real and BAM, the reaction.  There’s no space.  The mind can’t NOT snap back.  Do you understand why I’m saying that?

To apply the antidote, you can’t just decide consciously not to react.  That would only make you neurotic.  That is the nature of the beast as we are now.  You cannot pretend that you’re not reacting.  You’d look holy, I guess, but it would make you a little weird.  The way to practice is to try to get a little bit of space somewhere in the equation; to try to take a breath, give it a moment.  How can you do that?  I just said you can’t control that, so how are you supposed to do that?  The way to do that is to begin to recognize the nature of the phenomena that you’re experiencing.  When you go through this mental stuff and your mind is so tight and you’re bam-bam-bamming and you’re in that deeply reactive mode, you have the power to do this.  Animals can’t do this, other kinds of beings can’t do this, but humans can do this.  This is what’s unique about us.  We can stand back, and we can say, “Oh yeah, that’s just like me.  I do that.”  Just that stepping back to observe phenomena without going crashing into it headlong in total ignorance and drunkenness and denial is an incredible practice.  To be an observer just for a moment, to watch the equation – self-nature is inherently real, therefore…to watch the reactiveness, to watch the play that goes on there, begins to create some space in the mind. This is an incredible practice, and it should be done at times when you’re not deeply reactive.

To practice like that, you have to start very simply, when the mind is relatively quiet.  Watch yourself looking at a tree.  Watch how, when you look at the tree, the tree is only relevant if it makes you feel good.  Otherwise, what do you care about trees?  You couldn’t care less. But the tree is beautiful.  It affects us.  It’s very healing, pretty in the spring, shady in the summer, fruitful in the fall.  Instead of being king or queen baby on your own little stage, perhaps you can observe yourself looking at a tree and watching how the tree is relevant as to how it affects you.  Watch what happens when you watch the tree.  When you look at the tree, just kind of watch that whole equation right then.  At first, maybe it’ll happen too fast and you won’t be able to see it, but if you persist, you will get a wedge in there.  Watch your mind.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Mindfulness Brings Awakening

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

For all students, when they see the sacred, whether it’s a text or a holy image, it is an opportunity to practice and it’s an opportunity for recognition.  It’s an opportunity to practice the View – to get that coarseness and dullness out of our minds.

As practitioners, we should never, even for a moment, point our feet at a sacred image.  You might think, “Ah, that’s for another culture,” but no, it’s not.  There is a thing that happens in your mind when you’re kicking back and you’ve got your feet up and you’re pointing it at something holy.  The mind goes to sleep.  Inwardly, subtly, you simply go to sleep.  Believe me when I tell you, you leave yourself wide open for real negativity to come out at that very time, because there was an opportunity for recognition, and there was a choice of non-recognition.  That puts more weight in the shit pile, not the Dharma pile.  See, we have two piles – shit and Dharma.  Those are the choices.  Just trying to be real clear about this.

When we practice this non-recognition, we are going deeper and deeper into suffering.  The mind becomes more inflamed, thicker, looser as in sloppy.  In actuality, in some ways it’s much tighter.  The mind is very reactive.  When we practice viewing the sacred and taking that little moment to practice the humility of lifting up that sacred image in our minds and really recognizing that, at that moment the mind is not concentrating on ego-clinging; it is not concentrating on desire; it is not concentrating on how you feel or what you want or what you don’t have; it is not concentrating on what you have to do next to make yourself happy.  It is practicing something different, and every opportunity to recognize the sacred in one’s life is a good one, particularly when you’re walking around not visibly practicing.  So, we never point our feet at a sacred object or at the Lama.

I remember for a long time I had a problem with my leg.  It was very swollen, and I had a hard time.  I had to keep it elevated, for a couple of years actually. Now it’s a lot better, but it used to be that I had to, even in puja, taking empowerment from my teachers, put my foot up, and it was the worst time in my life.  There were times I wished that I could cut my damn leg off.  I felt that strongly about it.  I’d just look down at that leg and think, “What the hell use are you, sitting there like that?”  So I really felt very bad about that.  What I would do is cover my leg with a blanket so no one could see it, and I was prayed that somehow that made it go away.  That was something I had to deal with, and I didn’t like that at all.  It felt wrong to me.  However, for the most part we are healthy, and we are able to practice in such a way that we do not point our feet at any sacred object.  This teaches us not to be slovenly in our minds, not to be forgetful, not to be mindless, but rather to be more mindful, and that is an antidote to suffering of all kinds.

Furthermore, Dharma texts should never be treated like regular texts.  They should always be lifted up.  They should never be on the floor.  They should never be under you.  Dharma is always held up because it is the path that the Buddha has given us.  Not doing so brings a lot of obstacles because of the state of non-recognition, which is the root of the suffering.  It’s the root of the problem.  You don’t think that you’re disrespecting the Dharma.  Let’s say  I have a Dharma book over here and I’m in a really tight seat and somehow I just kind of lean over like that with my elbows on top of the Dharma book – not good.  The Dharma book doesn’t care.  And it’s not about what a good girl you are, or what a good boy you are.  Nobody cares about that either.  It is that non-recognition, that dullness, that sleeping state that is the problem.  Every opportunity that we have that is taken to establish recognition is fruitful and very beneficial to us.  Try to remember that you’re not doing anyone a favor if you practice this way.  This is for you.  This is about you.  The book doesn’t need it, the teacher doesn’t need it, the bodhisattvas and the Buddhas, don’t need it; but you need it.  It is your opportunity to practice recognition.

We are very careful about how we treat the books.  When you finish reading a regular book, you just close it without thinking.  That thickness of mind, that non-recognition should never happen with a Dharma book.  When you close a Dharma book, do it mindfully.  Even if you don’t do it physically, such as touching it to the top of your head, at least in some way internally, you should be doing something like that.   Put it above the top of the head in some symbolic way in your own mind so that you’re gentle with it and mindful.  Think, “These precious pages, what would we do if we didn’t have the Prayer to the Three Bodies of the Lama?  What would we do if we didn’t have the Orgyen prayer?  What would we do if we didn’t have the Seven-line Prayer?”  We wouldn’t do anything because we wouldn’t have any practices.  So this is so precious to us, and this mindfulness really is important.  It really makes a difference.

Likewise, when you have an altar, whether it’s at the temple or at home, it should always be clean and free of dust.  The bowls should always be clean, with no nasty ring around them because you didn’t wipe them.  The offerings should be made every day.  Of course, in opening one’s altar, automatically one is making offerings.  That has to be done mindfully, and if you don’t have a regulation type altar yet, if you just have an image of the Buddha and offer one flower, a few grains of rice, a cup of water, something like that every day, that mindfulness brings an awakening to the sacred.  Once again, it’s not for the picture; it’s for us.  Conversely, not doing that, not having a sacred image, not having a way to establish the sacredness of any given day, hour, moment, life,  produces obstacles.  It can produce tremendous obstacles because, once again, we are floundering around, and maybe even willingly so, in a state of non-recognition.  These things are very important.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Samsara – Living in a Material World

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

In practicing bodhicitta in a mindful and discriminating way, one has to understand first of all the faults of samsaric existence.  One has to understand the basic logic if it. If we are giving rise to the aspiration to be of benefit to beings, it only makes sense if we understand why and what the connecting factors are.  Otherwise it is just acting.

One of the greatest obstacles I’ve seen, is the current pop religion culture that says, “Everything is perfect; the world is perfect.” So many people are into the idea of seeking happiness that on some level they must realize that there is suffering, because they’re trying to cover up that suffering.  They’re trying to affirm it away by saying that suffering doesn’t exist.  They tell themselves everything is light and love and suffering doesn’t exist and that’s wonderful, and so the world is a great place.  We don’t have to practice compassion, because everything is already blessed and very holy.  The world is perfect. Can you hear the superficiality in that?  What you need to hear next is what’s really going on in the world because if you’re in that mind state, you haven’t been watching, you haven’t seen.

There is such an extraordinary amount of suffering in all the realms of cyclic existence.  In this world alone, just look at the human condition: the extraordinary, unconscionable suffering.  How can you look at these people marching out of Kosovo and think that’s perfect?  How can you watch children and innocent civilians being torn up, with no understanding as to how this could have happened to them?  They are modern people like us.  How can you look at that and say everything is love and light; that everything is perfect?

If you’ve had the good fortune of knowing one person throughout the course of your life, think of all the different ages and stages they’ve gone through.  Watch what it’s like to be a child and to go through all the struggles that children go through?  It’s tough being a child.  They don’t really understand what’s happening to them.  They don’t really understand why it is when certain things happen, other things happen.  It’s tough being a child.  That little brain is forming.  It doesn’t work in its entirety yet.  And then watch that person grow up to be a teenager.  It’s tough being a teenager.  It’s awful being a teenager.  I remember being a teenager.  I don’t think there are words for that!  You have all these feelings and your body is all grown up and your head is still childish and nothing works.  And then you grow up, and suddenly you’re supposed to be an adult.  You don’t feel any different, though, than you did when you were a teenager or a child.  You still feel like you don’t understand diddly-squat, and yet suddenly, because you have a child maybe, you’re supposed to be an adult.  You think, “Wow, I’ve waited all my life to be an adult.  This is great.  Now I can vote. I can drink.”  Yeah, you can also get up early every morning and go to work.  You can also work every single day.  You can also have very little fun.

Do you remember what it was like when you were just trying to build your life?  There’s an obsession with that.  You think, “Ooh, I’ve just got to do this.  If I don’t do this, I’ll never be happy.”  All that reactive delusion kind of beats you up.  Then, when you get to the point of maturity and you realize that not all the things you thought really mattered actually matter, there’s a little spaciousness.  Maybe you have a pause that lets you know that maybe now it’s time to relax a little bit about getting all these material things lined up; maybe now it’s time to stop and smell the roses and then even beyond that, plan for your maturity.  Maybe you think, “I should think about my death. I should think about how to take care of my children.”  So you get this glorious moment of thinking, “Yeah, okay. I’m pretty stable now.  I’ve got a car, got a house, got some kids, so things are okay.”  You have about five minutes of that before everything you have goes south, and I mean the body.  This thing that we put so much energy into shining up and growing up and waiting until it is matured, and then everything you have from the waist up is now from the waist down.

As Buddhists we are required to study these images of a young woman or a young man, middle-aged or mature and then older, and then see that this is the same person.  Understanding what that’s all about is the key.  For us to not wander through life with everything happening to us unexpectedly.  That’s the most amazing thing about us. Everyone around us gets old; everyone we see gets old; we’ve got old people everywhere, but it’s always a surprise when it happens to us. How can we possibly go through life in any meaningful way when it constantly surprises us?  Instead, what we need to do is to really study the conditions that we are involved with and do so truthfully and honestly.

In the practice of bodhicitta, the first things that we can understand are the faults of cyclic existence.  Cyclic existence is impossible. It’s ridiculous.  It’s not only flawed and faulted, it’s a real pain in the neck.  The amazing thing about cyclic existence is that no matter what you do in the material realm, in the realm of experiences, if it arises from samsara and is within the realm of samsara, it’s all going to come to nothing because anything that you accumulate, build, or create, you lose when you die.  You won’t be able to take that with you.

The saddest thing and the thing that we have compassion about and try to become mindful about, is watching someone who is no different from us, wanting to be happy just like we do; spend all of their time pulling stuff together, accumulating or not accumulating, setting up their little gigs, their little power things, all their little personality dramas.  We watch people that are so entrenched and lost in that, and generally, before we’ve had any training, we’d think that was normal.  But having had training, we think, “Oh, maybe that’s not so good.  Maybe that’s not the way to go.”  We might judge that person as being superficial.   We might have a lot of judgment about that person.  But in order to be truly discriminating and mindful and to actually benefit our practice, we should be saying, “Yes, that’s what it’s like here.  That is the fault of cyclic existence,” and feel compassion for them.

Creating mindfulness in the arena of practicing bodhicitta is like that.  We have to constantly caution ourselves not to simply go down the road in the way that we ordinarily do, but instead, to be in a state of recognition and awareness.  When we see ourselves act in a superficial manner, just going through the motions of life thinking, “Oh, I’ve got to have this money or this power or this fame or this fortune or this car or this family or this whatever” — instead of judging these terrible faults in ourselves or in each other, simply say, “This is the fault of cyclic existence.”  Rather than saying that person is superficial or that person is lost or that person is damned, we ought to say, “What a fabulous opportunity to study the faults of cyclic existence.”  You should look at that person, and say, “Oh, I’m so sorry, because that’s how it is here.  What can I do to help?  How can I benefit sentient beings so that it is no longer the case?”  It increases your bodhicitta practice rather than taking it down by judging others.   To say, “They’re so material; they’re just about money” or, “I’m just about money, I’m just about material things.” is not beneficial because you are not contributing to mindfulness; you are contributing to judgment.  Can you see the difference?  You are not contributing to a state of recognition.  You’re only recognizing appearances.  Big deal!  Dogs can do that!  Do something dogs can’t do.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Take Yourself to Task

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

Most of us were trained from early childhood that you’re wrong when you get caught.  A lot of times when our parents schooled us and disciplined us, they didn’t really relate to any profound level regarding the development of our consciousness.  Very few parents walked up to their children and said, “You know, you’re not developing good inner qualities.”  Mostly we were told, “You didn’t wash the dishes!”  So we learned that it is the visible things that really count, and it’s when we get caught that life really takes a downward turn.  That’s what we’re told, and that’s what we really understand to this day.  It’s very hard for us to make that leap from thinking with this get-away-with-it mentality, with this as-long-as-you-hide-it-it’s-OK mentality, into a deeper level of practice where you require of yourself that you do more than look ‘as if.’  That’s a step that only you can take.

My personal experience has been that when we take that kind of step and become inwardly responsible for giving rise to a state of recognition, then at that point our path becomes potent, empowered, and deeper than we thought possible.  But then you could say that about any avenue of life.  So as long as we’re faking it in any avenue of life, so long as we’re simply trying to hold the image that we think is appropriate, we are missing a lot.  So why wouldn’t it apply to Dharma activity also?  It is particularly important where the state of awakening, as opposed to being in this narcotic, samsaric mind state is at stake.  How much more so, then, in Dharma practice is it to be aware of one’s own mind state and to take oneself to task?  If you find that you’re just fulfilling the form of the practice and you’re just acting as if you have reverence, or acting as if you can have some kind of spiritual discrimination or recognition, only you can say to yourself, “W-w-w-wait a minute, go back and do that again.”  Only you can sit there doing Seven-line Prayer, and realize you don’t even remember what you’re doing.  Things are coming out of your mouth you don’t even know and the mind is all askew and you don’t know where you are and if you didn’t have the beads, you really couldn’t count, you’re so far gone.  So when that happens, do you stop, pull yourself together again, and focus?  Maybe you even lose a few of the Seven-line Prayers on your little bead thing, and go back and say, “Wait a minute, I think I’ve been gone for about 10 minutes.  Only you can do that.  I know it sounds silly; it sounds like much ado about nothing, but that is the power that you have.  Don’t take it lightly.  The potency that we have on our path comes from that kind of mindfulness, that kind of discrimination.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Developing the Heart of Practice

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

In practicing mindfulness within the context of guru devotion, one elevates the object of devotion.  One elevates that appearance which is in accordance with the Buddha’s miraculous and compassionate intention, as being different than ordinary phenomena.  What we are trying to do is overcome the condition of non-recognition. In this condition of non-recognition or dullness, where our mind becomes very flat-line, the mind is actually filled with so many defilements of non-recognition that the mind becomes disabled.  The consciousness becomes unable to discriminate what is extraordinary from what is ordinary.  We literally are not able to see that which arises from the Buddha nature and are not able to discriminate between that and what is ordinary appearance.  So we practice Guru Yoga for the purpose of being able to make that kind of discrimination.

When we hold an object of refuge in reverence, we should not bring it into the realm of the ordinary.  In order to bring it into the realm of the ordinary, you have to think the way you ordinarily do.  You would basically be saying, “Okay, now, this is me, the student, acting like that in front of the object of reverence, of refuge.  This is me acting like that.  I put myself in that posture because that’s what I’m supposed to do as a good Buddhist.” Having the opportunity to discriminate, to give rise to a state of recognition or awakeness, yet remaining in the realm of the ordinary is simply throwing away the opportunity.  We’re bringing it into the realm of ordinary context.  We’re saying, “This is here and that’s there.” and we’re practicing the sense of division, the sense of duality, while not truly making any kind of distinction.  In that particular kind of thinking, you, the ego, you, the self, are still the star on that stage.  You are bowing.  You are in a posture of being reverent.  Don’t you look good!  That kind of attitude is different from what I’m talking about.  What I’m talking about is a true, honest, delusion-free recognition of that which is extraordinary.  So the practice has to go accordingly, and only you can know.  Only you really can measure the subtleties of your own mind and your own perception to see honestly and truly how this is going.

To go through one’s career as a Buddhist and practice in such a way that we only look as if we are holding up what is precious, practicing only the posture and the demeanor of reverence without really having the inner discrimination and mindfulness, has very little result.  In fact, you can have a negative result, because still and all, this solid self-nature, this ego that we cling to, is the star on the stage.  When you are practicing refuge and doing all the right movements without the inner discrimination, what you’re really doing is performing.  We’re onstage, and that means that the ego, or the idea of a solid self-nature, is held in much higher regard and we are much more deeply aware of that than the object of refuge.

Therefore, we have to be careful and mindful.  Here is where we have to practice true discrimination.  If I were to treat a Dharma book in a certain way, for instance, saying, “Oh, now everybody’s watching me because I’m up high on the throne, so, when I put my Dharma book over there, I’d better do it very gracefully.”  Well, it might look like I was being mindful, but it wasn’t true mindfulness because, in thinking like that, the ego is the star.  In thinking, “Oh, I’d better do this just right. I’d better follow the rules, better be a good girl,” without any inner recognition that these are the Buddha’s teachings, without any inner recognition that what comes from this Dharma book is not the same as what comes from a dime store novel, there is no discrimination.  Only you can be responsible for that kind of inner recognition.  In a way, that is the great strength, as well as the great difficulty, of practice.

The great strength of practice is that you have the jewel in your hand.  Use it or not, you have the jewel in your hand.  You can determine the depth of your practice.  You can practice as deeply as you wish.  We should be aware that only we could practice in such a way as to actually deepen in our level of understanding, or our level of wisdom.  Only we can practice in such a way as to give rise to recognition, but we have to stop just going through the motions.  It is so important to really develop the heart of practice.  But your inner posture can really only be sensed by yourself, and perhaps maybe the intuition of your teacher.  Only you know what’s going on.  That’s the pitfall also.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Offering Oneself

Dorje Phagmo

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

In our Ngöndro practice we find the practice of offering oneself, the practice of generosity.  It’s called the practice of Chöd. Chöd can very easily be practiced constantly.  The practice of Chöd is based on eliminating ego-clinging through transforming oneself into that which is beneficial to all sentient beings and offering oneself.  In Chöd there is actually a visualization where you see all your different elements separated into piles: skin and bones and muscles and fat and eyeballs and stuff like that.  All of that stuff is put into little piles and you cook it all up and you offer it up to the Buddhas.   And you’re thinking, “That’s kind of an interesting little practice there, isn’t it?  Whoa, dude!” But just remember that this is meant to antidote our ego-clinging because as we walk through our lives, we are all about ‘what can you do for me, and what do I want?’  Remember, as we’re walking through our lives as ordinary sentient beings, our mantra is “Gimme gimme gimme, I want I want I want I want.”  So this kind of practice is meant to antidote that.

The very habit that we have of assuming self-nature to be inherently real and reacting with hope/fear, want/not-want to our environment and the things in it constantly perpetuates itself! So, we are taught instead that, wanting to make oneself useful in some way, wanting to be of benefit and awakening compassion, one way to practice that is by offering the self, offering self-nature, and transforming it into something that is useful to sentient beings.

So how can we do that as we’re walking around?  Try to remember that we’re practicing Recognition.  Here’s a great way to think about it.  Have you heard about the guy who recently had a cadaver’s hand sewn onto his arm, and it’s working?  Now those of you that have heard about that, what did you think about that?  You probably said, “Ugh!”  I mean, it sounds amazing in one way, doesn’t it, that somebody who didn’t have a hand now has a hand, but it’s not his hand.  So when we think about it, that’s kind of gnarly, right?  Just think about it: you know what your hand looks like.  You’ve seen it your whole life.  It changes, but it’s your beloved hand.  It’s so recognizable.  It has a certain shape, and it feels a certain way.  Well, now suppose you had an unmatched set, and one of them was not your hand.  Think how you’d feel.  This kind of clinging is so automatic that until we hear something like that, we don’t even know we do it. It is the very basis for our recognizing one another and ourselves as selves.

We grow attached to the shape of our face, the shape of our head.  Even if we don’t like the shape of our face and the shape of our head, we grow attached to it because it is us, (we think), and so it constantly perpetuates that idea of self-nature being inherently real.  It constantly perpetuates that ego-clinging.  Our bodies are, for us, something that we have to protect.  Even if you think that you’re very brave and not afraid of being hurt, or not afraid of even losing your life, I say to you, baloney!  I’ll start chopping, and you tell me when to stop.  We protect our bodies.  If anything scary comes around us, we react, “Aaaggh!”  And if we can’t protect ourselves any other way, we protect our head because that’s the part that keeps us going — we think.  So we have this automatic clinging.  Any sense of recognition of oneself as self is a clinging kind of phenomenon.

To antidote that, we practice Chöd, separating all the parts.  When you’re done separating all the parts, you can ask yourself, “Well, what part am I?  The skin or the bones or the fat or the muscle or the brains or the tongue or the eyeballs?  Which part am I?”  Of course, we begin to learn that that question is not answerable because ‘I,’ or self-nature, is simply a concept.  It’s simply a concept.

How can we practice this as we walk around through our lives?  Well, one way to do that is to develop the habit of when it is you notice yourself…do you notice yourself?  You notice yourself constantly!  It’s all you notice.  We notice our hands; we notice the position that we’re in; we constantly move to be in a different position, don’t we?  We think, “Do I want my hand like this or like that?”  We are constantly doing that.  It’s a constant phenomenon.

Suppose we were to develop the habit of considering the hand.  “Well, this one matches that one.  I like that.”  But what if we were to consider our hands in a different way?  Instead of thinking, “This hand is mine and it looks like this,” think, “How can this hand be of benefit to sentient beings?  What use is this hand?”  Consider it.  You can develop a sense of Recognition of the true nature of our body parts.  You can think to yourself, “Do you know what I like best about me?  I really like my eyes.” I like your eyes too, but I like my eyes, and so when I think about that, I think, “Oh, you know, wherever I go, I have these eyes, and they can see.  That’s really cool.  And other people can see me.”  And I can work those eyes, can’t I?  And that’s really something.  All we know is that our sight, our eyes, are part of us: that is us.  We cling to that.  Suppose we were able to understand our eyes in a different way.  Supposing when we think of our eyes and how wonderful the capacity to see is, or how amazing it is that we can express ourselves with our eyes, we can offer that entire scenario, that entire experience, to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas for the benefit of sentient beings. Your relationship to your own body parts, your own eyes, for instance, your own hand, becomes different.  Rather than thinking, “These are my brown eyes and I have great brown eyes,” or “This is my right hand and it’s a great hand” — rather than thinking like that as an extension of our ego, we can develop the habit of offering the whole phenomenon of sight, the whole relationship to our different body parts, by evaluating how it is that these eyes can benefit sentient beings, and how it is that we can offer them.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo