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