Offer It Up

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo from The Spiritual Path

We never lose sight of how we feel. We are always monitoring ourselves. We want to feel free of suffering, free of stress. Sentient beings strive endlessly to be happy, so it is very difficult to achieve a sustained, sincere practice of generosity. Think what you have done over the last 24 hours. Work? Practice? Television? Family time? Social obligations? Was your first and foremost thought to benefit sentient beings? Or were you doing things to strengthen your ego in some way, to make you feel better? Mostly the latter, I think. Even our Dharma activity is often done to make us feel better about ourselves—to make us feel busy, wanted, necessary, energetic. Or, perhaps, spiritual, holy, and pure. We always have our selfish purposes, so it is difficult to be generous.

How should one be generous? How should we think about generosity? To begin with, we should not consider phenomena something we can have or not have, something that attracts or repels us. We should view all phenomena as a pure celestial offering that we can actually make to the Three Precious Jewels. We should view our entire world as an exquisite, vast celestial mandala. We should think of phenomena as Mt. Meru, surrounded by its beautiful continents. We should think of all sights, smells, sounds, sensations as precious jewels that we offer to the Three Precious Jewels themselves. It is a more profound version of what we do in our Ngöndro as mandala offering. The deepest way to engage in the practice of generosity is to offer one’s environment continually. But how many of us do that?

Think, for instance, about the way we react to food. We eat food with desire. We taste it with lust, more lust than we think. Shopping for food, we want the best apples, don’t we? The purest, the finest. We want the best carrot cake, the best vegetables. We even lust after color. Our eyes, our feelings are drawn to it. We think we look good or bad in a certain color. We perceive color with attraction or repulsion. All our senses function like that. Actually, generosity should be practiced in such a way that we offer the very senses that we have. But do we offer our taste? Our hearing? Well, we might say that. But we can’t wait for the next sound, the next taste. We cling to our existence as a sentient being, a feeling being.  We long for the next touch, the next sight. When you go for a walk, what do you do? You look at the flowers and trees. You sniff the air, smelling everything. The senses are yours. And you have no idea of offering, no intention of offering them to the Three Precious Jewels. And yet, that would be true generosity.

What is the basis of that generosity? How can such an offering be of benefit? You may think: “If the Buddha wanted my taste, my sight, my hearing, my touch, he’d get his own! A truly enlightened being can manifest all kinds of incredible siddhis, or powers. So why do I have to offer this phenomenal existence to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas?”

Well, why do you have to do that? There’s a real logic behind it. How long are you going to have your senses? You’re going to have sight until your eyes go. Even if your eyes last until the end of your life, they will die when your head dies. You will only have touch as long as you have skin to touch with. Your perceptual experiences will not outlast your body. So what are you holding on to? The traditional teaching says that at the time of death, we cannot take with us so much as a sesame seed. You take only your cause-and-effect relationships and habitual tendencies. So if you have clung to your experiences, establishing your particular neuroses at every moment, that is what you will continue to do in the bardo. If it has been your habit to look for approval and to gather things, situations, people around you for that purpose, you will not be able to take any of that into the bardo. All you will have is the habit of that longing, that desire—and the karma you have engendered from reacting to that need.

How much better to practice generosity—to offer your five senses and all phenomenal existence to the Three Precious Jewels. Why? You create a stream of merit. Offering is one of the major ways to accumulate merit, and that merit can be dedicated to benefit sentient beings. In fact, you can visualize yourself and all sentient beings offering the five senses, offering consciousness itself as we know it. You can think of all sentient beings gathered together with you making offerings of the three thousand myriads of universes purified into a precious jeweled mandala.

What is the value of such an offering? It cuts to the bone. It is so profound that it transforms the entire perceptual process. This deep level of offering pacifies our habit of clinging to cyclic existence. It purifies our self-absorption and selfishness, and we can offer the merit to the countless beings who are themselves constantly involved in selfishness and self-absorption, unaware that they can make any offering at all.

Unfortunately, we are afraid. If we offer something, the Buddha might take us up on it. If I offer the experience of being the mother of my beautiful daughter, maybe they’ll take her away. If I offer all my clothing to the Three Precious Jewels, they might take that away. We fear that something will be lost to us. But you can see that this is a product of our delusion. Our experience of phenomena depends entirely upon karma. As our karma becomes more purified, more virtuous, as our minds become more spacious, more relaxed—our experience can only be better. Suffering only happens due to clinging and desire. In our delusion, we continue to lust after experience, and that lust continues to cause our suffering.

The practice of generosity is an antidote to all that. There is literally nothing to hold on to and no one to do the holding.    Everything you have ever experienced—all you will ever experience—is the result of the condition of your mind. Why not then practice this deep level of generosity? Why not view phenomenal existence for what it is? You will in the end, anyway. You’ll see it disappear before your eyes. At the time of your death, you will see the elements disappear, dissolve. Whether or not you will recognize what is happening is another story. (You may merely pass into unawareness, and that would be for one reason only: you lived in unawareness.)

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

What You Can Do

White Tara
White Tara
From The Spiritual Path:  A Collection of Teachings by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

There are no sugar daddies in this world. You cannot be the conquering hero, the savior, because you cannot conquer someone else’s mind. Each of us must purify and conquer the hatred, greed, and ignorance we hold in our own minds. No one can do it for anyone else. You can however, liberate your own mind from all egocentricity. You can follow the Buddha’s teaching and take a vow as a Bodhisattva to eliminate all poisons from your mind until the very idea of self-nature is abandoned. You can decide to liberate yourself from all desire. And you can promise to return again and again in any form necessary to help sentient beings pull themselves out of endless suffering. As part of every practice you will say: “May I attain liberation in order to benefit beings.” The compassionate motivation to be of true benefit provides us with the strength to persevere until we ourselves are awake, until we have completely transformed or purged even the tiniest seeds of poison from our minds. The motivation to be a savior has no lasting value. It requires feedback, or “warm fuzzies.” You must get beyond that need. Your love should not depend on feedback.

How can you develop love which sustains itself? How can you cultivate a fire that burns self-sustaining wood? That fire is based on the courage to understand. If your mind has deepened to the extent that you can no longer bear to be idle, knowing the profound despair of all those beings who revolve in endless cycles of suffering—you can become truly committed. Then you can begin to renounce your own causes of suffering.

Until you reach supreme Buddhahood, you must continue courageously to develop the mind of compassion at every moment. You must aspire to be of true and lasting benefit. You must offer yourself again and again. The prayer of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace,” is a good example of the aspiration of a Western Bodhisattva. Eventually, your commitment may take the form of saying: “Let me be reborn in whatever form necessary, under whatever conditions, so that beings might not suffer. If there is a need for food, let me return as food. If there is a need for shade, let me return as a tree. If there is a need for a path, let me return as a teacher. If there is a need for love, let me return as arms.”

Your job then is to purify your mind through strenuous activity. The path of Dharma is difficult. Any path that leads to enlightenment will be strenuous because enlightenment is a long way from here. You are not after a psychological “Aha!” You are aspiring to the state of Buddhahood. Your first thought should be that suffering must end. Your only concern should be that sentient beings achieve liberation.

There is a profound and simple practice that anyone can do to develop this great compassion. It turns ordinary activity into vehicles for extraordinary love. When you awake in the morning, think: “May all beings rise from the state of ignorance and be liberated until there is no more suffering.” As you brush your teeth and bathe, think: “May the suffering and seeds of suffering be washed from the minds of all beings.” Or: “May all beings be showered with the blessings of a virtuous path.” As you enter a door: “May all beings enter the door to a supreme vehicle and finally walk through the door of liberation.” Everything you do should have meaning in this way. Your entire life should be understood as a vehicle for practice.

You should dedicate all your virtuous activity, no matter how small, to the liberation of all beings. Learn to dedicate everything you do, everything. Train yourself to the point that this aspiration is constant. Once your motivation is firm, you can begin training in actual practices, in practical compassion. If you have decided to accept and follow the Buddha’s teachings, you will begin the actual practice of Dharma. If you choose not to be a Buddhist, you must still find a way to purify hatred, greed, and ignorance from your mind and the minds of others. Free of these poisons, you can become awakened; in other words, you can position yourself to be of true benefit to others.

A word of caution: some practitioners take solemn vows and make vast aspirational prayers, but then they turn around and act unkindly to others. As His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche has suggested, practicing Dharma without kindness is like trying to get light from the painting of a lamp.

Beware also of what I call “idiot compassion.” Do you know a needy or troubled person, someone who is psychologically or emotionally disrupted? We often try to give such people what they say they need. This only increases their dependency. It gives them an opportunity to increase the garbage in their minds and lives. Sometimes compassion must be harsh. In Vajrayana, there are at least as many wrathful forms of the Buddhas as peaceful ones. Sometimes compassion must take a wrathful form. If you are pure in your motivation, you will know what to do. You will not get hooked on idiot compassion. It feels good to make others feel good. But feeling good does not always help.

If you can do anything to ease or end the suffering of beings, do it. But understand that these remedies are only temporary. Consider that your power is limited by the condition of your mind. Even though you have the karma to practice—which is very fortunate—you are still an ordinary sentient being. The Buddha, however, embodies the fully awakened mind. He does not experience the confusion or delusion arising from the belief in self. His enlightened intention is powerful in a way that yours cannot be. Despite your good intentions and efforts, if you constantly experience confusion and desire within your mindstream, you can be of little help. The best way to end the suffering of sentient beings is to liberate your mind from the causes of suffering. For if you become a realized Buddha and are then incarnated or experience rebirth in an emanation form, you can offer the means to accomplish Dharma by offering the blessing of a complete path leading to liberation. To follow the Buddha’s path requires a vast amount of merit and virtue, as well as a great deal of compassion, discipline, courage, and unselfishness. The path is arduous. To achieve the great result of Buddhahood requires great effort. But truly, there is no end to suffering except the cessation of desire. The only ultimately useful way to spend this precious human life is to attain enlightenment. You must consider from the depth of your heart that the aim of attaining enlightenment is not only to accomplish one’s own purpose, but also the purpose of others. When you have seen that all sentient beings endure needless suffering, when you cannot bear even the thought of their condition and are determined to bring about its end, you are ready for Dharma.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Happiness Machine

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo from The Spiritual Path

Sometimes the ordained have problems with desire. When you take on robes, it doesn’t mean that desire ceases. Why not make that desire meaningful? You can offer desire to the Three Precious Jewels. It’s not a big secret that you’re feeling it. Use it as an offering! It is the most profound and auspicious offering. Of course, this is true for lay people as well. All the ego-clinging that you participate in can be offered. But what do you do instead? How many precious minutes do you waste? You sit there and think about how profound your understanding of the Dharma is, and you juggle your insights in the air. Aren’t you just continuing the habitual tendency of perceiving phenomenal reality according to you? You use your insights to increase your ego-clinging. Maybe you’re doing it right now, contriving your own version of the insight you think I want you to have. What you are not doing is offering your perception to the Three Precious Jewels. You aren’t, are you? You forgot. With this practice, you can break through the seduction of phenomenal existence. It is a way to break the cycle of desire and ego inflation. It is a way to awaken to the Nature. If you did that and nothing else, you would be an excellent practitioner, and you would achieve the auspicious result.

How can you break the cycle? If you remember just three times during the course of one day, three minutes of generosity, that’s a start. If you lose it after a minute, don’t give up. Keep climbing back on. When you fall off the horse, climb back on. That’s how you establish generosity in your mind. Write yourself a note. Put it on all your favorite places: your mirror, refrigerator, CD player. Whenever you turn on your CD player, you’ll remember to offer the experience of sound. A little at a time, day by day, you can have that experience. I have had the experience of going for a walk and doing that for an extended period of time. Each time I sensed the experience of perception, I would turn it over immediately, turn it over.

Your habit is to take a perception, hold on to it, and make something. Have you noticed that? But you can come between that moment of perceptual experience and making something. It’s tricky, and you have to practice it, but you can learn to put a little space in there. And you can use that space to turn it over, to dedicate it, to offer it. You can develop a repeatable experience. It can even become automatic. Just remember: the moment you experience your own perception, avoid forming it into a superstructure that enhances your ego. Turn it over, turn it over, offer it. What will happen? Your whole personality will change. Your behavior will change. It will have to change—because your behavior has been based on desire and on inflating your ego. Not only that, but if you engage in this kind of practice for an extended period, you can have something like a blissful experience. I say this with dread in my heart because I know what’s going to happen. You’ll go for a walk. You’ll put some minimal effort into this practice, and you’ll contrive for yourself an amazing, blissful experience. And then you’ll seize upon that experience and have a more meaningful self because of it. Don’t do that! Just engage in the practice and continually make that offering. You’ll find there’s a happiness that comes with it. There’s a joy, a spontaneous feeling of joy. But don’t cling to it. The minute you see yourself sensing the feeling, you’ve got to turn that over too. You simply make an offering. That experience of joy is an offering.  See all your connections with the world through the five senses as a kapala filled with precious jewels. But don’t contrive something out of it. Instead, find the subtle moment right before the experience. Then, once you find it, simply use that moment to make the offering.

I hope all this is helpful to you. I hope you will use it. This is the kind of teaching that can change your life. It can change everything about your practice. I don’t think it is arrogant to say that. It is my personal experience. This practice, I think, has contributed more to my well-being than anything, even though, if I tried, I could find reasons to be unhappy. But for me, this practice has been like a happiness machine. I feel it has deepened my mind. I feel it has made my mind more spacious, more relaxed, more peaceful. I feel it has created a lot of merit. I visualize an altar in my mind at which I can constantly make offerings. You should think of your consciousness as an altar—and all phenomenal experience as the offering. The instant you decide that you must have the best apples, make those apples count for something. Offer them and everything that is delicious and beautiful and satisfying. Offer as well all experience, in its purest form. Dedicate the value of that offering to the end of suffering for all sentient beings. You have entered the path of ultimate happiness.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

What You Must See

Green Tara
Green Tara

From The Spiritual Path:  a Collection of Teachings by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

How do you cultivate compassion? The first step is to open your eyes and look at the nature of suffering. In our culture, we keep ourselves removed from this. The deformed, severely handicapped, or terminally ill are often hidden from view.

There are countries where this is not so. During my trip to India, I was shocked by the poverty, the leprosy, the filth. Every time my cab stopped, someone with stubs where arms had been would stick one in the window. I started to give out all the money I had with me. Soon the driver pulled over and said, “Lady, please stop that. My cab will be mobbed. Besides, you’ll lose all your money, and they’ll still be sick and poor. Even if you buy each of them a meal, they’ll be just as hungry tomorrow.”

His words were a vivid reminder that this type of compassion, though well-meaning, is not the ultimate answer. Hunger and sickness are only two kinds of suffering. Philanthropic compassion may temporarily relieve hunger pangs, but it does not begin to address the causes.

What did the Buddha think when he saw the poor, the decrepit, and the sick? Not merely that they were suffering from poverty, old age, or sickness. With His great wisdom and compassion, He understood that all this suffering results from karma created by desire.

Where does desire come from? From the belief that self-nature is inherently real. From the compulsive tendency of the self to perpetuate itself and to see others as separate and real. This begins a process of attraction and repulsion, action and reaction. A sentient being’s every thought is built around attraction and repulsion. Desire becomes stronger and stronger, reinforcing the belief in “self” and “other” as separate—and in all phenomena as inherently real. From this, karma arises. The process continues for eons and eons of cyclic existence.

Have you ever suffered from loneliness or depression? Have you experienced violence or poverty? A pro-longed illness? The heartbreak of divorce? Have you seen deliberately deformed children? Lepers? Have you visited a slaughterhouse? According to the Buddha, there are states, or realms, in which beings suffer much more horribly.

The forms we take in these realms result from the qualities of our minds. If we are filled with hatred or anger, we are born in a hell realm. How can this happen? It is not difficult to understand. When you are filled with hate, are you not in your own private hell? We have all gone through periods of intense anger or hatred in which we found excuses to get more angry. Each of us has had moments in such private hells. If your mind is capable of producing a nightmare, rebirth in a hell realm is a possibility.

There also exists a state or realm populated by what the Buddha called “hungry ghosts.” Have you ever gone through a period of feeling terribly needy? You needed love, approval, or nourishment so badly that you were in a state of constant, restless despair. Yet when people reached out to you, they were unable to get through. It is the hungry ghost realm in which similar needy states of mind congregate.

According to the Buddha, when beings die, they experience the intermediate state between incarnations and are then reborn in a form appropriate to the qualities or the karma of their minds. If they had a great deal of hatred, that hatred will clearly manifest itself and influence their next rebirth. If they were greedy, that greed will influence their rebirth. If they had the karma of ignorance, that ignorance will determine their rebirth.

Even if you had every good intention and all the material means by which to support beings throughout their lives, you could not do anything about the process of rebirth. You cannot change what is inevitable. You cannot influence future lives because you cannot permanently change minds and hearts. Thus continues the cycle of suffering. And that is why we embrace, with all our hearts, a pure path to bring about the ultimate end of suffering.

Karma Is a Tool

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

We must realize that any action we take—or even merely intend to take!—will play itself out in some way. We must understand that we create every single piece of our experience, every moment of our lives. If you kill someone, you will eventually be killed. This is the Buddha’s teaching. But the subtle intention to kill, the subtle hatred that preceded the act, also has an effect on your mindstream: it will cause you to change in such a way that the mind becomes hard. This hatred begets more hatred, which begets more suffering, which, since you experience it to be external, causes you to change again, to react in ways that cause even more cycles to begin. The only way to stop them is to attain enlightenment.

When the mind no longer functions in the state of duality, subtle energies and channels throughout the body are purified. Then, when one has achieved the enlightened state, there is no karma. Wait! How can we say that karma is irrefutable and then declare that it does not exist in the enlightened state? How can it be that karma simply falls away? In that state, one realizes the cessation of the cause-and-effect relationship because there is no self and no other. There is no longer the bouncing back and forth between them that creates karma. But as long as you call this book a book and give it the reality of a book—as long as “other” appears out there—the mind is sufficiently divided that you are in the relative view.

Karma is certain and solid as a rock as long as you perceive self and other to be inherently real. In order for your mind to cease to operate in a dualistic fashion, you must understand karmic cause and effect. That is the catch. In one sense, karma might seem to be our enemy. If we suffer, that is our karma. But in another sense, karma is a tool that we must use. We must understand it fully or we are ill-equipped to practice this path and create the causes for enlightenment.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Foundation

Buddha Shakyamuni
Buddha Shakyamuni

From The Spiritual Path:  a Collection of Teachings by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

To me, compassion is not a feeling at all. It is not an emotion. It is logical. It is meaningful. I find no other excuse for living. If I tried to find another, I would be lost in samsara, a bee buzzing around in a jar.

The format of my life arises from—takes its only meaning from—the fountain of compassionate activity. I can’t think what else one is supposed to do. Anything else is deeply neurotic activity that has no true birth, no foundation, no substance. So I try to give a teaching: If you become a Bodhisattva, you will become happy. But that is just a poor condensation of the truth. A life that is born of compassion—that arises from the breath of compassion, the wind of compassion—is born of the profound essence, knowing itself to be inseparable from the profound essence. The key is to understand yourself as that compassion—your whole life as compassion-ate movement. It is the natural display, the natural order. It is the evidence of Lord Buddha’s blessing. It is YES.

Kindness is universal; it is not a word the Buddha invented. I am a Buddhist because I have found that this is the most useful way to benefit beings. Perhaps you will determine that for yourself. But even if you do not become a Buddhist, you are not off the hook. No matter what religion, path, or teaching you follow, compassion is the way to realization. Whether or not you are a Buddhist, you have a job to do—and that job is to develop a fervent, sincere aspiration to be of true benefit to others. This is the foundation.

Buddhism is based on the ideal of compassion. The Buddha taught that we should cultivate our lives as vehicles to help and benefit all others—not just our own small circle of family and friends. We should increase our compassionate activity until it embraces an ever greater number of beings. We must not be satisfied with concern only for human beings, or even for all the beings we can see in our world.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, there are six realms filled with sentient beings. That which we can see is a relatively small portion of the human and animal realms. But there are non-physical beings of different types who must be seriously considered.

To develop the mind of compassion, you should begin by honestly examining yourself. You may find that your goal is not in fact to benefit all sentient beings, but to be a kind person. There are worlds of difference between these two goals. One is selfless; the other is not. There is still you wishing to be a kind person. You must avoid the trap of using Dharma with the motivation, whether conscious or not, of making yourself a great Bodhisattva, a great helper, a great savior. You need to make the idea of compassion so strong that it becomes a fire consuming your heart.

Merit & the Karma of Happiness

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

You are able to practice because you had the karma to receive teachings. Merit has come to the surface of your mind; good karma is ripening. But linked with some of this ripening merit are some bubbles of not-so-good karma. So what happens? You sit down with the intention to practice, but now you’re just too tired. You start to fall asleep. Or you decide that you need to do some other things. You externalize what you think are the causes for your inability to practice. Maybe you even begin to doubt that you’re happy in the Dharma. You wish you were surfing in California, and this thought is like a little rat, gnawing in your head. It gnaws at you slowly and steadily.

You need to understand that good karma is ripening, but some negative karma is linked to it. Embedded in your mindstream is some non-virtuous activity associated with the intention to practice. Now you have repeated that pattern, in seed form, and it will ripen in the future. Sometime in the future, you will again sit down with the intention to practice, and you won’t be able to do it. So the sensible thing to do is to persevere, to push through as well as you can. Understand that your tiredness, sleepiness, and other excuses have no basis. They are puffballs.

When you find yourself making excuses why you are unable to practice, why you don’t really want to hear the teachings, the best thing to do is to break through by accumulating merit. By doing virtuous things. Study Dharma. Pray. Practice kindness and generosity. Meditate. Contemplate the teachings. Try to understand them more deeply. Be attentive. Make offerings. Repeat the Seven Line Prayer many times. Repeated with faith, it is an antidote that can end all your suffering. It can, the teaching says, lead to enlightenment. All these things are ways to accumulate merit. You must understand how merit (and lack of it) works, or you will have a difficult time maintaining potency on the Path. It will even be difficult, on an ordinary level, to have a good life. For you won’t have any way to understand what is happening to you. You will always blame external things, other people. It is true that when you encounter misfortune, other people are usually involved, and you may well have some mixed karma with those people. But the karma arises within your own mindstream; it isn’t somewhere outside.

Pull out of your addiction to reaction. Think of your mind as something like a mechanism, and you yourself as a mechanic. Understand that you can work with its levers, pulleys, and gears. To most people, their own minds are a mystery, a complete mystery. And they search for someone who can understand them.

What should you do? Persevere in your practice. What else? Create more merit. The big mystery of “me” is solved. Almost reluctantly, too, because it’s so lovely to remain a mystery. It’s so pleasant to think that there is something mysterious, special, and unique about us. How often we try to obtain something that seems just out of reach. Or we have it in our hands, and it slips away. What is going on here? Lack of merit, of course. And yet we keep on reaching and grabbing and forcing, all in vain. Sometimes we think we have made something happen by forcing it. And yet, we have merely rearranged our karma. The basic problem remains unsolved. Suppose you want a new car, but the cost is just out of reach. Both merit and lack are coming to the surface. Even if you contrive to get the car, you will still have, ripening, some non-virtue associated with lack. That lack will always show up somewhere—with the car itself, or in your relationships, your health, or in missed opportunities. So the key, whenever you lack something, is to accumulate merit.

Some people are unaware that it takes merit to be happy. Have you ever noticed that some people just seem to be happy, no matter what? And others … well, happiness seems to elude them. And it’s because there is no karma of happiness, no karma of having made others happy, ripening in their minds. You can’t even lighten them up with a joke. They just don’t have any happy bubbles ripening to the surface. “How are you today?” you ask them. “Not so good,” they reply. “Umm … Nothing seems to go right.”  But if we haven’t got the karma for happiness, whose fault is that? Who did it to us? Someone else? No, but it’s a problem we can fix. The problem is within our own minds. We can create the karma of happiness by creating merit.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Your Guru

Ven Gyaltrul Rinpoche

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

In Vajrayana Buddhism, the Teacher is the cornerstone of all practice. The Teacher is everything—the underlying strength and the means by which transmission and understanding occur.

Let us compare the Teacher’s function with the function of various other objects of refuge. All people—not just Buddhists—have such objects. Try for a moment to determine your own. If you think that the accumulation of material wealth is the way to happiness, money has become your guru. The material things you treasure are your guru. If, on the other hand, you choose the beer-and-sports routine, watching ESPN every night until you fall asleep, you have accepted the TV as your guru. It pacifies you. It makes you temporarily happy. You betray yourself: these things are unreliable, impermanent, and deceptive. Yet you put your trust and faith in them. Nothing in our impermanent realm of phenomenal existence can lead to happiness. Nothing—even if it seems ideal, like the perfect job or the perfect relationship in a perfect split-level, with 2.5 perfect children surrounded by a perfect white picket fence. At the moment of death, you are alone.

According to Buddhist teaching, there is a lasting happiness: enlightenment. It is the only end to all forms of suffering, including impermanence. Enlightenment cannot be tainted; it cannot be eaten by moths. It cannot rust; it cannot be destroyed. Enlightenment is the true source of refuge, the only thing that will not allow you to be betrayed. True happiness cannot be taken away. It is permanent and unchanging—the steadfast, stable reality of the enlightened mind. When you achieve enlightenment, what is revealed is your own primordial-wisdom nature. Some people think that they must give birth to enlightenment or that they have to find it. Actually, the primordial-wisdom nature has never left you, nor is it unborn. It remains in the way that a crystal is still a crystal, even though covered by dirt and mud.

Once you accept enlightenment as your goal, you should understand that the Guru is someone who can get you there. What should you look for in a Guru? A Teacher should not be seeking power or personal gain. Your Guru should have profound compassion, profound awareness. Most important, your Teacher should be able to transmit to you a true path. Suppose you go to a psychiatrist who helps you to be happier, more effective. This is very useful, but it is only a temporary way to cope, whereas the Guru offers you supreme enlightenment. This has nothing to do with coping. In fact, it has nothing to do with satisfying the ego.

Do not be fooled by charisma, saying: “I can tell by my feelings. This is the Teacher for me!” Instead, ask: Does this person teach a path that has been proven, time and time again, to stabilize the mind to the extent that miraculous activity can occur? Does this Teacher offer a technology that can stabilize the mind during the death experience? Can this technology result in miraculous signs at the time of passing? Are there indications that others have had success with this path and can now return in an emanation form in order to benefit beings? Look at the people who have practiced before you. Look at their successes or failures. Examine the history of the path, including the accounts of any enlightenment it has produced. At their passing, practitioners may produce miraculous signs: rainless rainbows, sweet scents, the transformation of the body into a rainbow of light, leaving only the hair and nails, the mysterious formation of relics or other unusual substances. On the Vajrayana path, such miraculous signs have been witnessed and recorded by many. People have seen the rainbow body; they have smelled the sweet scents; they have seen these extraordinary events.

The Buddha Himself said that we should use logic in choosing a Teacher or a path. After that, however, you begin to rely on the Teacher for everything. Why? Because you make a god out of your Teacher? Do you lose your brains and become a drone or a bliss ninny? Not at all. We Americans like to think we are unique, important, the best in the world. We think that to be happy, we must develop our individuality, so the idea of following a Guru is unappealing. But a teacher should not be chosen with blind faith or rampant emotion. You should exercise both intelligence and surrender. They are not in conflict. They can coexist very comfortably within the same mind, the same heart.

Note that you do not surrender to a person. It is not about a person. Your Teacher represents the door to liberation, the path that leads to enlightenment. Your relationship with the Guru is the most precious of all relationships. This is you talking to you—and finding out that you are not you at all. This is a glimpse, a taste, of true nature. At last we have arrived at the correct way to understand the Teacher.

Cultivate the precious relationship with your Guru through devotion. Make sure, however, that it really is devotion—not merely the kow-towing to a physical being. Devotion is an understanding of refuge, an understanding of your goal, plus the courage to walk through the door you have chosen. Choose only once, and choose correctly. From then on, allow yourself the grace to love deeply and gently.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Five Demons or Dakinis

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

How do phenomena express themselves as they do? Each sentient being, within its own nature and even within the form in which it arises, contains an essential seed or drop that is the nature of mind itself. Just as all things emanate from Nature and can be understood as the spontaneous arising of that Nature—all phenomena that you as an individual perceive, including your individuality, can be considered the emanation or activity arising from that same mind-drop or essential seed.

Correct view describes that natural drop as being neither small nor big but both and neither. Since this Nature is indivisible, the only difference must be in perception. Literally everything you see is a reflection of your karma as it formulates itself into the perceptions of the five senses. The more you try to contrive understanding with the five senses, the more you try to “nail down” your perceptions, the more confused your perception will be. Data that are based on a system of logic organized by the five senses—cannot give you true wisdom of the realization of the uncontrived Nature.

Since the five senses will always support the ego, they can be considered demonic in their influence. In their enlightened state, however, they can be considered the five celestial wisdoms: they are the components of the activities and qualities of the Buddha Nature itself. They are the five underlying blissful expanses, completely one with emptiness. They are the celestial opportunities, the celestial messengers by which miraculous activity can enter into the world of samsara in order to benefit beings. They are five goddesses or dakinis even though, used as they are, they are five whores.

Within each of us is blissful mind expanse. All spontaneous activity occurs directly and inseparably from that expanse. The dakinis are depicted as distributors, upholders of the fruit of one’s karma. Does this mean that there are dakinis who are separate from you, who are doing something to you? No. It is through the perceptions of the five senses in their unenlightened state that one’s punishments are meted out. There is no one outside of you who causes your suffering.

Karma is completely implemented through the perceptions of the five senses, which survive in some form from life to life. Even though your nose, ears, and brain are gone, the underlying karmic pattern remains to reactivate itself in other incarnations. However, you now feel a totally self-contained involvement with everything you experience. You honestly feel that you suffer because you are too tired, because you have insufficient food or money, because your body hurts. The five senses create these incorrect perceptions.

“How,” you may ask, “can I free myself of these demons, these witches who cause me suffering?” You must want to be free. Unfortunately, you do not. Oh yes, all sentient beings want to be happy, and you are trying to be happy. But you compulsively believe that you can be happy by resolving the scenarios presented by these five senses. These scenarios are not measured and apportioned. Their essential form is not something that can be balanced. The only recourse is to strive to perceive True Nature, renounce the affliction of these five witches, and take refuge in the five celestial wisdoms and the five-natured blissful expanse of emptiness.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

With Joyful Expectancy

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

It’s easy to hear Dharma, if you have the merit. It’s easy to keep a record of how many teachers we have sat in the presence of. It is much harder to change, to remain where we are and to deepen. It is harder still to rely on the advice of our Spiritual Master rather than on our own prideful, rigid, ordinary ideas.

The path of Dharma must renew for us a profound, living presence in our lives. It should never become stale or stiff, nor should we allow our minds to become hard, rigid or prideful. We should hold our hearts and minds in a confident posture of trembling, joyful expectancy. Then the path becomes our treasure, our food, our refuge. Then, gradually, we transform into that most precious jewel, the aspirant who actually gives rise to the Bodhicitta, who makes love and compassion a living presence in the world. This is the answer to all our longing.

May the power and potency of Dharma fill your lives. May virtue prevail. May compassion be born in our hearts and devotion nourish our minds, pouring forth to all sentient beings who remain in samsara. May they be liberated from the very causes of suffering. And may it be soon; may it be today. May samsara be emptied. Lord Guru, of the suffering of sentient beings, there has been enough. I dedicate all virtue I have accomplished, in this and every other lifetime, past, present and future, to this end.

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