The One Unfailing Source

From The Spiritual Path:  A Compilation of Teachings by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Every great lama has yearned with sincere intensity for the Precious Teacher. How is it that some people have that yearning and others do not? Some people seem shallow and prideful. Others seem blessed with spontaneous devotion and love. What accounts for the difference? You may not believe it, but the key is discipline. The person who holds to the goal of realizing the Guru’s mind has the discipline to renounce the perceptions of the five senses and to see only with the heart of hope. Not ordinary, dualistic hope, but hope born of trust and faith in the Root Teacher. That takes discipline.

You may think you know the nature of the Root Guru, whose job is somehow to teach you. You may think that the person sitting before you, the one you call “Teacher,” will give you great teachings. Yet you fail to realize that you must cultivate that knowledge with your own effort. You think that somehow, if you try to practice—even though you continually go through your mood swings, your battles in life, and so on—it will all work out in the end. That is a foolish assumption.

This path takes tremendous, relentless, sincere effort. But it’s not just how many prostrations you do or how many hours you put into practice. You must cultivate in yourself a profound yearning. You must think: “If these five senses, pleasantly seductive though they may be, can convince me that I am a separate human being who has a right to hate and who wants to live in such a way that I will be born in terrible places—if these five senses can lie to me so that I am tricked into planting seeds in my own mind for endless future suffering—then I must with all my heart cultivate a yearning to be free of them and to take refuge in the one unfailing source.”

What is that source? Is it a thing? A person? A substance? The one unfailing source is the Root Guru, who embodies freedom from all sensory data and from all beliefs that relate to a separate ego-self. When all considerations of self are gone—when you rely not on the false guru of your five senses, but on the absence of hatred, greed and ignorance—that is the one unfailing hope. It is not within the potential of that nature to hurt you. In the relative world, the world of duality, there is nothing but the potential to hurt you. Everything you touch, see, or feel is impermanent, seductive, and illusory. It contains all the potential for creating the causes of suffering and death. It contains the justification for hate, for saying cruel and unkind things, for being crass, gross, or stupid, for caring only about yourself.

There is only one source of unfailing refuge—the Root Guru, the true face. The Root Guru is the Dharmakaya itself. Why then must we view the flesh and blood teacher as the Root Guru, as the undefiled, unchanging nature? Through the vehicle of that Teacher, you are offered the Dharma, the unfailing method to attain realization of your true nature—the ultimate source of refuge. Thus, the Teacher must be understood as a cornucopia, a feast of all things that will bring about salvation from suffering.

There is another level of understanding. Suppose we say: “I am the same as my Root Teacher. To find that out, I only need to go on a magical journey of discovery.” No matter how we disguise it with beautiful words, the very pridefulness which causes that declaration keeps us from genuinely prostrating. It makes our hearts rigid and stiff. That pridefulness keeps us from bothering to feel deeply, from having true devotion. That pridefulness and ignorance can allow you to come into the presence of your Root Teacher and not even think of Guru Rinpoche, not even think of true nature at all. That very pridefulness is what keeps you believing in self. Actually, you believe in self as well as hope for the truth of its reality. This keeps you clinging to self as a source of refuge, believing that if you could be strong enough, or smart enough, or just discover something wonderful about yourself, it would suffice.

The antidote is to recognize, from the depth of your heart, your own nature as inseparable from the Root Guru and as the true source of refuge. Without that realization, you will always suffer. You will desperately attempt to inflate your ego, thinking that the bigger and more powerful you are, the more easily you can overcome suffering by strength alone. One day, however, you will discover that you have not understood the causes of suffering. Look around you. Look at the most beautiful people in the world. Look at the most lovable people, the strongest and smartest people, even the most virtuous. They will all experience death. There is no hope until you take sincere refuge in True Nature, until you are willing to confront your own five senses, saying: “You have lied to me again and again and again.”

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Spiritual Fidelity

HH Penor Rinpoche & Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo
HH Penor Rinpoche & Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Buddha taught that one of the most heinous crimes one can commit from the spiritual point of view is to proclaim oneself to be more advanced or spiritually competent than is actually the case.  Why that is is a very involved subject, but to understand it is to better understand spiritual fidelity.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, cyclic existence is unbearable because it is pervaded with suffering.  Even the happiness that there is within cyclic existence is temporary.  And so we suffer from impermanence and cling to all manner of experiences.  This fixation on maintaining a permanent, continuing ego-self in order to feel safe causes all suffering.  According to the Buddha, self-nature is not inherently real.  Our true nature is the primordial wisdom state, which is free of all conceptualization, including the perception of self-nature.  It is clear, luminous and innately wakeful.  It is not empty and dark in the way we would think of nothingness, but it is simply aware with a non-specific awareness or wakefulness.  This is our nature — not the ego-self that we conceive ourselves to be.

According to this view, there is no being who is greater than another.  Even in the case of lamas who sit on thrones giving spiritual teachings, if they are truly realized, they do not consider themselves to be greater beings than anyone else.  In fact, their realization comes from realizing the sameness of all phenomena and the equality of all that lives.  Thus to think of oneself as being more advanced or greater than others is a falsehood.  Yet many people do have this idea.  And when they come here, they say, “You must know who I am and why I’m here.  I know I have a special mission.”  People have even written to me from across the country, asking me to recognize them as a tulku.  In the first place, I don’t have the authority to recognize anyone.  And even if I did, I would never recognize someone who asked for it.  Never.  In fact, I would pay the least attention to such a person.

Why?  According to the Buddha, the goal is not to become a greater or vaster ego.  The goal is to realize the primordial wisdom state, which is the same inherent nature in all sentient beings.  Anything that we build on top of that is false and actually takes us in exactly the opposite direction from the Buddha’s teaching.  True nature is innate.  It cannot be grown.  It will never be bigger or smaller than it is now.  It will never change, and therefore it cannot be manipulated.

So when people come here feeling that they have an honored place or a special mission, they are only contributing to the size and rigidity of their egos, and they must simply wait it out.  As a woman I know in Tennessee once said, “If it doesn’t come out in the wash, it will in the rinse.”  What you’re going to do, you’re going to do.  And if it is in accordance with the Buddha’s teaching, you will achieve realization.

The Mahayana path cultivates the desire to benefit beings and eventually leads out of the very self-absorption that causes the desire for special recognition.  Consider yourself merely a function of the Buddha’s kindness.  If you are transforming your life into being a vehicle by which sentient beings are benefitted, you really can’t be concentrating on the idea that “I’m helping you,” because then the “I” will become very inflated and the “you” will become dependent.  To prevent such obstacles, we must think about the inherent equality of all that lives — although our egos have various appearances, our nature is the same.  Thus we are completely equal, and anything but kindness is a waste of time.

According to the Buddha, we should apply the antidotes that purify our mindstream and perception and lead to enlightenment.  What are those things?  They are the things that we call meritorious activity: generosity, recitation, contemplation, meditation, prayer, offering, studying and teaching.  Over time, these activities will loosen the mind’s tight fixation on ego and one will spontaneously view the natural state.  Ultimately one will remain stable in that state, awake as the Buddha is awake.

The Buddha never said, “I am God.”  Nor did he say, “I am the Son of God.”  Or even, “I am here to help you.”  All he said was, “I am awake.”  Our job is to awaken to our true nature, and that is what we do.  Quickly?  Probably not, although with diligent practice, the Vajrayana vehicle can lead to enlightenment in one lifetime, or three, or seven.

Each of us walks through the door of liberation alone.  Each of us is absolutely responsible for our own awakening.  So to come to a teacher and say, “Please recognize me,” or “Please enlighten me,” is a little silly.  One should be humble.  One should study.  One should practice.  And however long it takes is however long it takes.

Students come to me and they ask to know the secret of the universe.  Here is the secret of the universe: work hard.  There is no other secret.  To attain the precious awakening one should purify the mindstream; one should make one’s life a vehicle for generosity.

Always think more of the welfare of others than your own.  Be honest.  Be courageous.  Look yourself square in the eye and get the big picture.  All sentient beings are the same.  They are equal.  There are no special cases.  All of us must cease this fixation on self-absorption in order to realize the natural state.

There is no excuse for not starting now.  If you think you’re not ready, get ready.  No one is ready.  If you think you’re not kind, get kind.  It’s a discipline to think of something greater than one’s own self-absorption.  Start small, with 10 seconds of pure generosity, caring only for the welfare of others.  When you get 10 seconds, move on to 12.  In a couple of weeks, try 30 seconds.  Then go for a minute; that’s a year’s worth of work.  Pretty soon you’ll be thinking an hour.  And after a while it will become a habitual tendency.

If you find yourself backsliding, don’t be surprised.  That’s the nature of samsaric existence.  Be patient with yourself; do the best you can, give yourself a break and don’t let yourself get away with murder.  Those are my three cardinal rules for following the Path.

In closing, let me connect this with spiritual fidelity.  One is true to oneself when one is honest, when one faces that one is a samsaric being involved in cyclic existence and is no longer shocked or ashamed or surprised at that.  So it is.  This is where we start.  But you should start with honesty, courage and responsibility.  You are responsible for the humility that you have within your mind, the honesty and devotion you have toward the Three Precious Jewels, which are the very display of enlightenment itself.  Apply discipline and work hard.  Be worthy and be true.  This is spiritual fidelity.

©Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

True Compassion

From The Spiritual Path:  A Compilation of Teachings by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Dharmakaya is objectless compassion. It is everywhere. It upholds all manifested reality. All that we see, all appearances, are merely the arising of that mind in its emanation phase. Unfortunately, we have contrived a dualistic perception of self and other. We have acted against other. We have judged other. We have spent countless lives trying to earn the approval and love of other. While our true nature is untouched and perfectly pure, we have developed a dusty coating upon it. That coating is quite thick in the minds of sentient beings. Though their nature remains pure, their perception of that nature is not a true one. What we need is a way to see that true face. We need to discover firsthand the nature of non-dual mind, of that all-pervading compassion.

If this pure nature is the inner reality, then the appearance of Guru Rinpoche to the world is the outer reality. He is born from the heart of Amitabha Buddha, the face and name of the Dharmakaya itself. He entered into the world, a world that did not know Him, and a world that could not give Him birth. And yet He came. We are told that He was born upon a lotus. One way to understand this is to realize that such a pure and undefiled reality could not be born from the level of human delusion. Another way is to relate the lotus to your own mind. The lotus has its roots in mud and muck, yet appears on the surface as a pure, fresh, beautiful flower. Is that not like your own nature? Despite the mud and muck of eons of cyclic existence and the resulting delusion, that nature remains pure. It can still be born directly from the muck.

Upon that pure lotus appears Guru Rinpoche, just as within your own purified mind you realize the nature of the compassionate Guru. But in a mind polluted by judgment, stiffened by conceptualization, unstable through non-virtue, the Guru cannot be realized. He is born upon a pure lotus. Therefore, we make wishing prayers and do practices that we might finally see the Guru.    If, without the purified mind, we cannot truly perceive the nature of the Guru, why did He come to a world unprepared for Him? Only a true understanding of all-pervading compassion can solve this mystery. Due to the Dharmakaya’s all-pervading, compassionate nature, it was possible for Guru Rinpoche to appear as a human and walk upon the earth while still purely displaying the uncontrived, fully realized nature of mind.

How was He received? How was He perceived by those around Him? Differently by each one. In the mind of delusion, it is possible to see the most precious gem as just another rhinestone. However, a few were able to perceive that this was beyond the ken of man and woman, that He was the precious Nature incarnate.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo