The Basis for Practice is the Bodhicitta: Dilgo Khyentse

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

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

Human Birth

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

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

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

Impermanence

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

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

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

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

The defects of samsara

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Morning After…

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Essence of Devotion”

Let’s say that you have suddenly woken up at the party. And you looked outside and you saw this horror—horror that people that you love and respect and know are doing their very best, are trying so hard, are not able to make themselves happy. And you see the suffering.  You see hunger.  You see poverty.  Read the paper, it’s all there—hunger, poverty, sickness, diseases that we can’t cure, and more coming every day.  So many different kinds of horrible suffering!  Let’s say at the party you woke up and you saw that. And then suddenly you looked at yourself and you thought, “Why am I dressed like this!  I look more stupid than I can possibly imagine!  This is stupid!”  And you realize that you put so much effort into this, beating yourself up and getting the right connections and going to the party, and getting there in time, having a good time.  You realize you’ve spent so much energy on that and you feel like… I hate to use this example but, let’s say you ate a couple of tablespoons of nice warm mayonnaise. Bleh. That kind of cloying feeling in your mouth. Isn’t that disgusting?  That’s how you’d feel.  That’s how you’d feel.  You look at yourself, and you look at what’s going on, and you look at the suffering out there and you look at the silly amusement—the silly things that hook us, that make us respond, the ridiculous things that make up our particular individual kind of party—and suddenly you feel like you’re sick of it.

There’s a feeling once you study the suffering of sentient beings and the horror of cyclic existence. It becomes a little bit nauseating, sickening in your mouth.  You’ve been eating it your whole life, sickening.  You look at yourself go through cycle after cycle of unfulfilling or sometimes negative bad relationships and you just wonder when you’re going to get the big picture, when you’re going to wise up.  It suddenly seems like your own lust and your own neediness are kind of like a little sickening.  Maybe not all the way yet, but not so cool.

Suddenly you look at yourself and you realize that you’re kind of like a kid, just wearing clothes that are inappropriate.  It reminds me of what little kids do.  My daughter is not here so I can talk about her again. Sometimes she likes to play dress up, you know.  She’s goes into a closet and pulls out everything that doesn’t match and all of the funny clothes that young people think are very dramatic.  We took her out for dinner with her friend last night and what they wanted to wear was a funny-looking skirt and blouse that didn’t match, cowboy boots, a cowboy hat, and pants underneath it. It was just a very strange outfit.  At this party you kind of look like that.  You know, we look at ourselves and we go, “Who put this on me?  How did this happen?”  It’s that kind of feeling.

So at that point one needs to build on that first inkling of reality, that first inkling of renunciation.  That first inkling is precious.  It’s like the first taste of pure water in your mouth.  Let’s say you are a person who, for your whole life, has had nothing to eat or drink other than, let’s say, salt water, sugar water, nasty foods, warm mayonnaise, things like that that just don’t feel good in your mouth, and suddenly someone gives you just a bit of this precious, sweetest, coolest water to drink—mountain water, pure mountain water.  How delicious would that be!  Cool and sweet in a natural way.  Your mouth maybe can’t even take it in.  You’re used to that other stuff and you can’t even take it in, but something inside of you says, “Yes.  Yes.  This is it!”

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Following in the Footsteps of the Guru

An excerpt from a teaching called Viewing the Guru:  The Seven Limb Puja by Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo on October 18, 1995

While we are constantly in the face of the Guru, we should remain constantly in the posture of understanding that we should return the favor of the Guru’s kindness.  What kindness is it, I wonder, that would cause the Buddhas to appear, having emanated from the state of nirvana, in the world for the sake of sentient beings, experiencing all the conditions that are worldly and ordinary?  Experiencing all those conditions, for the sake of sentient beings, rather than remain constantly in the bliss of nirvana.  Amazing and wonderful, isn’t it?  What kind of kindness would that take?  When we think of the Bodhisattvas who remain poised on the brink of realization, emanating constantly into the world, endlessly:  because how long will it take to empty samsara?  These holy ones know that we are talking about what seems to sentient beings like forever.  What kind of love would it take?  We think about the kind of love it takes for a mother to suffer and bear her young. We think of the kind of love it takes for a mother to feed and care for her young.  We think of the kind of love it takes for a mother to patiently explain, patiently teach, patiently go through what needs to be gone through.  We’re talking about the quintessential mother, and this mother would patiently explain, because all the mother would care about is raising the child so that it is fully functional, fully competent, fully happy, fully blossomed in every conceivable way.  Now that’s a lot of love, isn’t it?  Just think what kind of love it would take for a loving parent to give, give, give in that way.  Hardly any of us can imagine such a thing because the samsaric parents that we have, although their kindness is evident because we are here, many of them have not known how to love.  They simply haven’t known how.  And so their love was never perfect, not any of them.  But we’re talking about a perfect mother.  What would that be like?  What kind of love would that be?

Then, if you can imagine that, which is practically unimaginable, how much more so would it take to imagine the kind of love and compassion that it takes for the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to appear in the world for the sake of sentient beings under ordinary conditions again, and again, and again uncountable times?  What kind of love is that?  We who give and take love like we change our underwear; we who give and take love according to what’s in it for us, we can’t even understand that.  And yet we must try.  We must try to understand that level of compassion.  Not only do they return for our sake, but they practice for our sake.  These Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have accomplished supreme realization, many under terrible conditions, going through terrible tests and trials, which is part and parcel with their coming into their own.  They’ve crossed this ocean of suffering under extreme effort.  Lifetime after lifetime of practice and accomplishment, and they did so for the sake of sentient beings.  They literally did so for the sake of those who have need of them, who have hopes of them.  And then, having accomplished that, on top of that they return again and again and again for the sake of sentient beings and would return for even one, for you.  What kind of love is that?  What kind of compassion is that?

We should contemplate and meditate on that, and then we should think that we must repay that kindness.  In order to repay that kindness we have to think: what is the goal of the Lama?  Why does the Lama appear in the world?  Of course the answer is, for the sake of sentient beings; because it is unbearable that sentient beings remain suffering in the world; because the Lama cannot bear it; because it is unthinkable that sentient beings should continue to wander helplessly in samsara.  It is for that reason that the Lama returns to the world, that the Lama appears in the world.  Therefore, every bit of merit that we can manage to accomplish, merit that we have accomplished in the past, in the present, and even counting on the merit that we will accomplish in the future — we call that ‘the merit that we have accomplished in the three times, past, present and future’ —  this we should constantly offer for the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings.   We should be constantly looking for ways to accomplish merit, constantly looking for meritorious activities so that we can offer that for the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings.  We should never think, “Oh, that was good.  Got some!”   We should never think things like that, ever, because that’s not how the Lama thinks, and we are wishing to repay the kindness of the Lama.

Dedication of merit in this case can be understood as repaying the kindness of the Lama.  The Lama has given the nectar to you.  You must, in turn, find a way to give the nectar to the Lama, to the same degree that the Lama has done.  We’re not talking sloppy.  That doesn’t mean, “Oh, the Lama has given me the nectar so I’ll practice and I’ll dedicate the merit.  Period.”  Doesn’t that kind of thud a little dully when it hits the floor?  We are talking about going through the same extraordinary activity that the Lama has gone through in order to accomplish their practice; achieving supreme realization, and then returning for the sake of sentient beings.  This you must do in order to repay the kindness of the Guru.  And this is the ultimate dedication of all merit to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings:  the gathering together of extraordinary merit, the accomplishment of meritorious activity, and the returning for the sake of sentient beings, offering that merit as a gift, as a feast, just as you have been offered the feast of Dharma by the Lama.

So instead of the lovely feast that we have offered to the Lama so far: that feast of hatred, greed, ignorance, jealousy and pride, now we pay homage; we make offerings; we offer confession; we rejoice in the capacity of those who have accomplished; we request the nectar of the teachings; we beseech the Lama, the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas to remain in the world for the sake of sentient beings; and we pay back the great kindness of the Guru by dedicating all the merit that we have ever accomplished, or will ever accomplish in the three times, for the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings.  And we make the commitment here and now — not a moment from now, but right now, right this moment that we ourselves will not rest until we achieve supreme realization so that we can return for the sake of sentient beings:

“Following in the footsteps of my Guru, I will accomplish.”

This is the prayer.  This is how we practice.

This teaching and the others from Viewing the Guru:  The Seven Limb Puja (type “Viewing the Guru” into the blog search bar to find all related posts) contain pointing-out instructions that I would consider to be concentrated, important and many-layered teaching.  If you really comb through it in a responsible way, extracting from it every single bit of nectar that you can, you will receive a lot more than perhaps you have even received reading it.  Please read these teachings and accomplish the practice in that way and think that this is how you should be from this moment forward: in this posture, in this way, inside, this is your practice.  You need not look any different at all on the outside.  In fact, it would be best if you didn’t!  Because then if you were, I would say that it was an act.  There doesn’t have to be any words, there doesn’t have to be any show.  You don’t have to walk around saying, “Oh yes, I’m doing this!”  The thing should begin within you, quietly, in a deep and profound way, indicating that, at last, you have entered into the well of your own natural mind, and have begun to draw up the nectar, the nectar of the Guru.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Pick Your Poison

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo on October 18, 1995

We have made many offerings to the Guru.  Mostly what we have offered the Guru are five cups:  five cups of poison.  We have offered the Guru hatred, because there in the presence of the primordial nature, there in the presence of the display of the Bodhicitta, there in that non-dual pristine purity, we have shamelessly hated, abused, and neglected.  We have committed horrible sins against others who are innocent —  against motherly sentient beings — not only in this lifetime, but previously as well.  And we have done this bold-faced in the presence of that which is so holy as to be indescribable.

We have offered the cup of greed and grasping.  Every single day in the presence of our own mind, the face of the Guru, in the great silent sound of primordial emptiness, there in the great quiet light of the display of luminosity, right there in the place of Bodhicitta, from our mouth, we have offered the cup of greed instead of the speech of comfort.  This is what we have offered to the Guru.  This is the offering that we have made.  Without shame we grasp. We are filled with greed.  We do nothing but think about me, me, me, and “What I can have?” and “What I can do?” and “How great I am!” and “Don’t you want to give me some more approval?” “Don’t you want to give me some more?”  This is what we do in the face of the Guru.

And then the third cup that we offer to the face of the Guru is our ignorance.  Not only do we begin with ignorance —  which is forgivable, in the sense that we are born; we wake up; at five or six years old we come to consciousness.  Later on, we figure out that we’re as dumb as posts.  We just don’t know.  We are ignorant.  We don’t have the teaching yet.  But now we have come to the point where we have received the teaching.  We have received enough of the teaching where you could say that while we still abide in samsara, we are moving away from ignorance.  We are bringing down, or quelling, the poison of ignorance.  Yet, in the face of the Guru, in the face of the primordial empty nature that is our nature, in the face of the very display of Bodhicitta, we have willfully remained ignorant.  Willfully.  We have not accomplished our practice.  We have turned away from our practice.  We have not tried very hard.  We have not listened to the teachings.  We have not taken the advice of our Gurus.  We continue to listen to the teaching as though it was water rolling off of our back

Imagine that you had one chance to listen to Guru Rinpoche and that was the only contact with Dharma that you were ever going to have in your whole life, and Guru Rinpoche offered to give you the keys to liberation, everything that you need.  What would that listening look like?  Hopefully, if you are not dumber than a post, you would listen to the Guru as though it were your very breath.  You would listen with your whole heart and every word would be like food, like nectar to you.  You would take every bit of it home and work with it all the time.  If that were the only opportunity you would ever receive and you were receiving these teachings from Guru Rinpoche, maybe you might think like that.

But in the face of our root Guru that’s not what we do.  We report dutifully for class and we hear the teachings.  I used to walk around and ask students, “What was the teaching about that I taught the other night?”  But I stopped that because that used to break my heart, when there was no answer.

We are faulted in the way that we make offerings.  We cling to our ignorance.  We have heard the method, we have heard the teachings, and yet we do not practice accordingly, to the best of our abilities.  And so, we have offered the cup of ignorance to our Guru.  And that has been the best that we could do.

The next cup that we have offered to the Guru is jealousy.  Bold faced, in the face of our very nature, in the very display of Bodhicitta we have looked at the accomplishments of others, and we have said, I can do that.  We have competed and we have been jealous.  We have looked to other’s belongings and we have said, “I wish I had that instead of you.”  We try to make ourselves feel better, to practice self-aggrandizement, by lifting ourselves up and putting others down.  These things we have done in the very face of the Guru who is indistinguishable from us and from our nature, and indistinguishable from the nature of all beings.  There is only nature. It is not divided into pigeon holes.  Its not like an ice-cube tray where its all divided into sections.  So when we look into the face of any other sentient being, any motherly sentient being, and perform our usual ritual of jealousy and competitiveness, then this is the game that we are actually playing with the root Guru.  We have, therefore in truth, been jealous and competitive toward the root Guru, because there is no distinction.  And if we think that it’s okay to be that way in front of other sentient beings but not okay to be that way in front of the Guru, then we are holding up the cup of ignorance as well.  By now we should know better than that.  We have been taught more than that.  By now we know that all sentient beings have within them the Buddha nature, the Buddha seed, and that is inseparable from the Guru’s nature.  So, if we harm, or ignore, or treat badly or abuse others, this is what we have done to the Guru. We have held up the cup of jealousy.

And the last wonderful offering that we have made to the Guru is the cup of pride.  In front of the Guru, that nature which is all-pervasive, fundamentally undifferentiated, free of any kind of conjecture, or contrivance, or distinction; in front of that pure display, we have held ourselves up as great, special and superior.  We have held ourselves up as that which requires special attention.  We have held ourselves up as that which requires approval because we are so wonderful.  And we have not been ashamed, in front of the face of the Guru, to indicate that we are superior to others.  We have not been ashamed to do that.  Strangely, we feel shame and embarrassment at the idea of surrender in devotion, but we have no shame about showing our stinking nasty pride in front of the face of the Guru.  That doesn’t bother us at all.  Our thinking is completely backwards.

Now, this is not good news.  We like hear good inspiring things.  We like to be entertained.  This is not the kind of thing that we like to hear.  But you know, if you really are honest with yourself, if you really examine yourself, you know that what I am saying is true.

© 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

Approaching the Dharma Like Children

An Excerpt from a teaching called Our Motivation Is For Those Who Have Hopes of Us by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

I often make prayers that all of us will approach the Dharma like children.  Because when we hold onto our own minds, our own self image, our intellectual prowess, we lose something.   Our minds become hard.  It’s especially important for long-time Dharma practitioners to approach the Dharma like children, because we get the idea that we don’t have to check on ourselves.  We don’t have to examine our minds anymore.  We don’t have to really look inside and see what’s happening.  Then we dry up.  We lose it.

If we approach the Dharma like children, we can remember the first moment we met Dharma, how it came to be important to us, how it answered our questions, and how it led us to make certain decisions.  On what did we base our turning toward Dharma?  What were the realizations that we had?  Our answers to these basic questions are still important; they should still motivate us.

We always have mixed motivation for approaching the Dharma.  What we forget is that our motivation absolutely sets the pace.  It plows the ground in which the seed will be laid.  Those who have the most trouble keeping their motivation pure and practicing accordingly seem to be those who have been practicing the longest.  Because we’ve been practicing for a long time, we think surely we’ve got it by now.  We can just jump right in and do it.  We tend to forget that every day of our lives, as practitioners, we need to go back through the same process we experienced in the beginning when we tried to turn our minds completely toward the Dharma.  The decisions that we made, the view that we had, the understandings that we came to, those have to be realized again and again and again.  We have to examine anew every day the faults of cyclic existence.  We have to examine what we’re up against.

In terms of self-examination, new practitioners have an advantage.  They are already looking at their motivation.  They have to, because they don’t know why they should become practitioners.  They don’t really understand the faults of cyclic existence.  They’re going through a process that’s very raw, very new.  It’s right on the surface.  It’s achingly important to them.  They know they’ve got to establish themselves firmly, and so they think about these matters continually.  They examine cyclic existence, even having thoughts like, “Isn’t it true that everyone you know and everyone you love will die?  Isn’t it true that everyone so far has died?  Therefore, the life that we know is utterly impermanent.  Isn’t it true that every material object that has ever made you happy has been impermanent?  Isn’t it true that you cannot count on relationships — that they, too, are impermanent?  Isn’t it true that you cannot count on any single condition, including your own appearance, your own health, your own psychological state?”

Even when you feel on top of it, even when you feel you’ve aced it, when you feel you’ve got the world right in the palm of your hand, you know that little pancake is surely going to flip right over!  We have to think like this constantly.  In the beginning we thought like that.  But Dharma practitioners who are somewhat experienced, who have some teaching under their belt, who feel they have continued on the path for some time, who feel a certain degree of confidence (if not false bravado) — these Dharma practitioners forget.  We don’t notice that we are not practicing from the depth of our being, that we are not practicing from our heart.  “Now we’re experienced in Dharma,” we say.  “We can dress like Dharma people, look like Dharma people, and we can write down Dharma words.”

But how important are these things if the mind remains hard as horn?  How important are these things if the content of the mindstream remains unchanging?  Do you think that wearing Dharma clothes and doing the Dharma dance can be important for you if the heart doesn’t change?  Absolutely not.

Unfortunately, when we approach Dharma teachings, we tend to collect them.  Like pretty things.  Like treasures.  And then not understanding the treasures, we put them on a shelf and we admire them and say, “Oh, I’ve got a hundred treasures, and that means something about me.”  But if you are not changing to the depth of your being, and if your motivation is not right, you can have a million treasures and it won’t mean anything about you except that you have missed the point.

What is the motivation you should have when you approach the teachings?  The lamas tell us again and again.  It’s Bodhicitta.  You should think, “Thus for the benefit of sentient beings, I will practice accordingly.”  And only for the benefit of sentient beings, because the value of the Dharma is that it can produce the end of suffering — a promise that Lord Buddha himself made.  If we practice sincerely we ourselves can be of some benefit to those that suffer.  And eventually we can return in a Nirmanakaya form to urge others toward enlightenment or to directly give them the teachings.

You might as well not be a practitioner if you have not yourself looked at the world and seen the suffering there and said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!  There is too much hunger, too much war, too much suffering, too much ignorance, too much hatred, and too many people who do not understand the infallible law of cause and effect.  It doesn’t matter if you are a long-time practitioner or even a monk or a nun.  If Bodhicitta is not your primary motivation every time you hear a word of Dharma, read a word of Dharma, or even see an image associated with the Dharma, you have missed the point, and the blessing will not ripen in your mindstream.

© 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