The Blessings of the Wrathful Display

Wrathful deity

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

This is not separate from you when you see the Buddhas in their wrathful state. Do you really think that it is separate from you, that it is unfamiliar to you, that you yourself are not like that and should run? In fact, this is an indication to you, and a display of your own nature when you become a Buddha. Intrinsic within your Buddha nature is the capacity to liberate sentient beings in a forceful and active way. This is the aspect of your nature that you will come to rely on when you have completed giving rise to the bodhicitta, and your only hope is to be able to liberate sentient beings from suffering. You will look to that part of you, that element of your nature, that is forceful and dramatic and able to dominate samsara, to suppress samsara through a wrathful display.

Again, we can’t have the superficial view. We don’t understand wrathful display. Maybe a wrathful display to us might be having a temper tantrum. But you must understand that we are talking about the force and power, the enlightened force and power, and potential necessary to liberate beings, particularly during this age, which is the age of kaliyuga, the age of decay and degeneration. At this time, the wrathful beings are even more powerful, even more forceful, because their display is more in line with this time. It is more necessary. This being the time of degeneration, wrathful force is needed. And so in the bardo we should not only not be afraid of the wrathful deities, but we should look to them, look for them, expect them, and rely on them with confidence, because they may be the ones who are able to break through our own ignorance. This is the aspect of our own nature. Again, it is not external, but we have to talk in that way. We say we look to them to be able to break through our ignorance. In fact, we are relying on that aspect of our own Buddha nature to stamp out the hatred, greed and ignorance in our own minds, and the degree to which the hatred, greed and ignorance are ripening. These things are what we rely on the wrathful deities for, and so they are precious to us. And even though many of us like the pictures of the peaceful deities, we like to practice the peaceful deities, we just think they’re ‘friendlier’; we just like them better (prettier, better outfits, friendlier), it is, in fact, the wrathful deities upon which we should rely ultimately. We will need them at some point. There is not one of us that will not rely on that very power, that very display at some point in our spiritual development, to crush the ego, to pierce the veil of delusion, to whip apart the thick covering of grasping and desire that covers us and keeps our eyes closed to our inner awareness, to the awareness of our nature. Guaranteed, there is some point in your development, whether it is during the course of your life where you will have to practice some wrathful deity in order to remove obstacles, or whether in the course of your going through the bardo, it is that very force, that very energy on which you will rely to move you into enlightenment.

That very energy can also be seen sometimes in the guise of our teachers. Sometimes our teachers, in order to break through limitations that happen within our mind, will be very firm with us, very stern with us, very very forceful. I’ve had that happen to me. WhenHis Holiness Penor Rinpoche came here to give the Rinchen Terdzod, he saw an obstacle to my life. There are many reasons for that, and one of them is that I am teaching Dharma from my own habit of practicing Dharma life after life. I have had very little academic training in this lifetime, and so there are obstacles that come with that. These obstacles must be purified, and they are purified through continuing to gather the merit of teaching students as I am doing, and to fulfilling the instructions of my teachers, which is to continue teaching as I am doing. And in that way the obstacles are overcome.

In another way, I rely on my spiritual mentor, just as you rely on your spiritual mentor, and he relies on his spiritual mentor. That is how we look to our own innate nature. That is how we do it when we are physical: We look to our spiritual mentor. So he came and gave a wrathful display. He was extremely wrathful, and it would seem, from the ordinary samsaric point of view, unjustly so. My lama actually accused me of something that both he and I knew I would never do, and he knew that I did not do it, and I did not do it. And other people came and said, “But Rinpoche, she would never do that. She never did that,” There was no proof that it was done. There was no one who told him it had been done; he just picked it up somewhere. Manufactured it. Just pulled it out. So he threw this at me, and all I could do, as a good student, was to just take it, and try to understand how I could improve myself. There was no way to defend myself, because there was nothing to defend myself against. So when his wrathful display was finished, I, of course, was shaken and changed and crying and needing my spiritual mentor—his love and his guidance and his help. At that point he saw that he was finished and that the job was done, and he reached over and he touched my face, and he said, “Now, Ahkön Lhamo, that’s over with. Now don’t get mad.” And I was like, “Mad?” I was just trying to survive this moment. “We’re not mad, we’re trying to live through this!” So I didn’t get mad. And he said that because I didn’t get mad or have any judgment or anything like that, and because I understood what he was trying to do, then those obstacles to my life could be erased. And I remember that after he did that I felt ten or twenty years younger. I felt wonderful, really good, after I understood what had happened.

That is the kind of activity that we may even see on a physical level. That is the wrathful activity of a Buddha. It is necessary to be seen in that way because the obstacles that it is meant to crush are also violent and dramatic and forceful. The force of our own karma is violent, dramatic, and forceful. And so in order to be skillful we have to use that which is equal in strength and superior in strength to all the forces of samsara. That is the nature of that kind of wrath. Therefore you should not be afraid.

Train yourself, then, to recognize the images of the wrathful deities, to recognize their nobility, their purpose, their generosity, their kindness, the love that emanates from them, in order to remain ever ready, as they do, to suppress the obstacles that sentient beings face.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


Force and Energy of the Buddhas


The following is an excerpt from a teaching offered by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo during a Phowa retreat:

The wrathful deities are the same pure, holy, primordial wisdom nature that is your nature. They’re fully awakened. They are just as terrific as the guys that sit around looking fancy in their robes. But these deities, when you see them, will look terrifying, because what you are seeing is a visual display, or a visual indication of the quality that they are displaying. That is the quality that they are displaying registering in your eyes. That and none other—it is your eyes that do the interpreting. Now when we see them artfully drawn for our purposes, we see them in a way that we can interpret. We see them with skull necklaces and we see them with animal skins on them. We see them with a mala or necklace of dead skulls, and then we see some of them with necklaces of freshly severed heads. I mean, really, what an outfit! Myself, I wouldn’t mix gold and silver, and I wouldn’t mix dead heads with fresh heads, just seems inappropriate to me. But anyway, that’s different! Anybody listening? Or is it thunder outside, huh? So, they appear to us in a form that we can understand. We are to understand, for instance, that the mala of freshly killed heads indicates the death of ego. I mean, he didn’t run around and chop off heads and make a necklace. This is an indication of the death of ego, you see. So a functional display is what that is.

Now you will see the wrathful deities in the bardo also with a similar functional display; and it may look exactly the way the thangkas look, or it may look slightly different according to your individual interpretation. But guaranteed, when you see the wrathful deities, the first tendency will be to run and be frightened because you are looking at the activity of the Buddhas. If we were to jump up and down in our ordinary bodies and make as much noise as we possibly could, we would still be only gathering together samsaric powers. You see what I’m saying? We’d only be using what we have right now to use, and that’s not even all of our brains, let alone all of our nature. We’re not even awake to our nature. So we’d only be able to use this kind of power.  And yet we could make a fearsome din if we really tried, couldn’t we? Well, think about, then, the wrathful deities. They are expounding all of the forcefulness of the Buddha nature as it transforms ignorance into bliss, and it’s being displayed. Well, it’s going to be noisy, it’s going to be really dramatic, it’s going to be impressive, it’s going to be colorful, and it’s going to be unusual as hell! Because there is nothing usual or ordinary that we have ever seen that can, in fact, pop us from ignorance into bliss. So you must prepare yourself for the seeing of the wrathful deities.

Those of you who  practice Vajrakilaya and have taken the time to purify your minds through the actual visualization of Vajrakilaya, will then become familiar, even if you do not recognize Vajrakilaya per se, which may happen, because in the bardo state one of the things that you’re fighting is the same thing you’re fighting when you’re sleepy in practice. To the degree that you are able to overcome sleepiness in practice and while you are receiving teachings, to that degree you will have clarity in the bardo. Doesn’t that scare you! To the degree that you have the dullness and the lethargy and the inability to stay awake during class and the inability to stay awake during practice, you have in the bardo a funny kind of…  Y know how it is when you’re either practicing or just waking up during the practice, when you try to remember what the visualization is and your mind kind of slides off of it? You know what I’m talking about? You sort of get the visualization and suddenly it’s almost like you fell off. It’s slippery almost, and you find yourself someplace else. Well, you’re kind of half in and out of the bardo of dreaming there, believe it or not; not too well in the bardo of concentration or meditation. You’re kind of half in the bardo of dreaming, and the mind has this slip-slidey kind of funniness, a jelly-like quality that sort of runs everywhere. Well it’s the same thing in the bardo. So you may look at Vajrakilaya and if your practice has not been that good you may not actually truly recognize Vajrakilaya and what that is. But you may be able to center on one small object, like, let’s say, the phurba that Vajrakilaya holds. That may key you and you just recognize the hand implement. All you have to do is take refuge in the hand implement. That is the first step, and it will lead to liberation in the bardo. Recognizing the meaning of the hand implement, thinking to yourself, “That is the very phurba that will pierce the ignorance of my mind. I see that, I want that.” The devotion comes up, like ‘that is the phurba that will pierce the veil.’ You look at that phurba and with the force of your own inner awareness that you still have in the bardo state, you will go toward that phurba. And that is liberation through recognition.

That is the kind of thing that happens with the blessing of generation stage practice, but, remember, you have to be prepared and forewarned for the movement, dynamism, the dramatic display of the wrathful deities. They are the force and activity of the Buddhas. What do you think that’s going to look like! That’s a big deal. That’s a big deal. That is equal to the force that it takes to liberate all sentient beings. It’s got to be more forceful then Hiroshima, any bomb that we have ever seen, the biggest bombs that we can imagine. It must be more forceful than that. Therefore, prepare yourself to recognize the blessing of the wrathful energy of the Buddhas.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Appearance of the Wrathful Deities


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

So, you are training; you are preparing. You know what to expect. You know that you will go into a state that is unfamiliar to you, with senses that act differently than your senses act now, although they will be similar in some ways. You know that you will have many choices. You know you will see things that are uncomfortable for you and unfamiliar; you will see things that are more familiar. You are beginning to understand that there are things that you should look for and things you should go toward, but mostly, you have heard the most precious piece of information. You will hear it again and again and again. And that is that these things that you see in the bardo are not to be feared. They are displays and emanations of your own mind. No matter what they look like, no matter what you see, no matter how unfamiliar you are. From the very brightest lights to the very most confused and deluding negative lights…  The lights that emanate from the hell realm are things that are an expression of some particular aspect of your own nature—whether it is your nature in a state of defilement, or the samsaric elements of your nature, or whether it is your nature in this most pure form, which is your ultimate primordial Buddha nature. Everything that you see in the bardo will be you. There is nothing to run from; it is childish and stupid to run. You cannot run away from yourself; it will pursue you. As you will see in the bardo, there are cycles of coming back and trying to choose again, coming back and trying to choose again. You’ll see that as we move on. So let’s move on.

Now we have come to the part of the bardo where the peaceful Buddhas have finished appearing. In order for you to be continuing in the bardo now, this means that the peaceful Buddhas have appeared. You have seen your nature in all its different elements and displays;. You have seen the displays of the qualities of your nature, but you did not recognize them, and you did not follow them. Fortunately, you also saw the displays that are sort of vibrational showings or displays, and also ways to enter the different six realms of cyclic existence, and so far you have not entered those either, for whatever reason.

It is hard to say what the reasons are. It can be that habitually you are a person of extreme caution and are unwilling to do anything without a great deal of examining. Of course that won’t work, because if you have not been trained, you are examining bardo with the same, if not more, delusion than the delusion that you have in life, when you could not examine enough to be able to get yourself out of samsara anyway. So that kind of examination will not serve you. It is this training and devotion to one’s spiritual mentor that will save you. That is what actually works. But somehow you’ve managed not to go into rebirth at this time. You are still in the bardo. Now at this time, the wrathful deities appear.

When the wrathful deities appear, they do so singularly and they do so en masse. They appear to you in different ways—it’s a very dynamic kind of presentation. It is also with the peaceful Buddhas, but with the wrathful Buddhas it is even more so. The reason why is that the wrathful Buddhas—you’ve seen pictures of them, or the next time you go into the Prayer Room you should look at some of the wrathful Buddhas and you will see—they are downright spooky looking. And you ask yourself, “Whoa, what, are they like Guido and Raoul, the hit men from New York?” What is it? When the good guys can’t talk you into it, the bad guys beat you into it? You must wonder what the wrathful deities are. The wrathful deities actually are symbolic and are meant to display the aspect of enlightened compassion and method that is forceful, dominating, expanding, progressing, purifying. These are all very active words, aren’t they? They’re very dynamic and active words. There are, of course, displays and expressions of one’s Buddha nature that appear as absolute stillness and absolute emptiness, and very peaceful kind of display. Of course, that is the wisdom aspect of one’s own nature. But what is the method aspect of one’s own nature? If wisdom and method are non-dual and completely inseparable, as they are, looking at them from the purely awakened state, then it must also be, just as much, if stillness is your nature, then movement is your nature. They are the same and indistinguishable. If emptiness is your nature, then fullness is your nature, because in truth, in the awakened state, emptiness and fullness cannot be distinguished. They are not only inseparable, they are not distinguishable. It is only we that separate emptiness from fullness and peacefulness from aggression or activity.

So, as in the case of Vajrakilaya, which many of you here practice, Vajrakilaya is the very wrathful display of Vajrasattva. Vajrasattva. Who could be more peaceful than that deity who is meant to purify all of our samsaric afflictions, who has the capacity to purify all of our “sins,” all of our afflictions, all of our ego clingings, our hatred, our greed, and our ignorance? Who is more forgiving and more peaceful than that? And yet the wrathful display of Vajrasattva is Vajrakilaya. Does that mean that Vajrasattva has PMS and on a monthly basis emerges as Vajrakilaya in a real bad mood? Do you think that’s what it is? No, that’s not what it is; of course it’s not. It is the same nature. It is the same. Vajrakilaya is completely indistinguishable from Vajrasattva. They are the same in their function.  They are the same in their capacity.  They are the same in their enlightenment. But they are different in the display of method. That is all.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved