Do the Math

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo from the Vow of Love Series

If we wish to enter onto the path of a Bodhisattva and become that which benefits beings, we must have a heart that yearns for compassionate activity. We must want to help, or we wouldn’t be able to receive teachings like this. This being the case, the first thing we have to do is let go of the concepts we have about how cool we are going to be when this process is finished. We cannot hold on to the rigid kind of thinking that honors only self. We must think of others.

How many of you are there? One, right? Look down, how many do you count? It’s easy. So far as you know, there is only one of you. Now look around at the human beings in your immediate environment. Then think about all the human beings on this earth: 5.9 billion, at least. If your mind is really that of a Bodhisattva, you couldn’t think for a moment of going around telling others how great you are. You couldn’t think for a moment that it could be in any way important that you do the dance, or sing the song, or appear in some certain way that satisfies you, because there’s only one of you, and there are 5.9 billion of them. If you have a mind that’s free of the attachment to self, free of the burden of believing strongly in self-nature, then you must realize that weighed against 5.9 billion human beings, you simply don’t weigh very much.

If you really wish to fulfill the idea of a Bodhisattva that is free of attachment to ego, free of the delusion that self-nature is relevant and important, and if you really wish to consider living a life of compassion, then serving others must become more important than even your own life. It is not that you become like a martyr. We’re not talking about the Christian concept of a martyr. It’s really different than that. It’s just mechanics. It’s just logic. It’s just math. There are more of them than there are of you, so they matter more. With that idea, you seek only to benefit others.  That being the case, as an aspiring Bodhisattva, you must begin to examine what the mind of Bodhicitta really is.

Copyright ©  Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Only Purpose

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo from the Vow of Love series

If we studied Bodhicitta, or the mind of compassion, every single day for the rest of our lives, we wouldn’t even scratch its surface because it is so profound. There are many different levels at which we might come to understand its meaning.  The word Bodhicitta can’t really be translated into English very well. It means enlightenment. It also means compassion. Compassion to us means something quite ordinary. We might think that we already understand compassion. We may think, “I don’t eat meat anymore, and I try not to kill things. I try not to hurt anybody, and I feel sorry for most everybody, you know. Therefore I fully understand compassion.” Unfortunately, if we think like that, we’re probably missing a lot, and we fail to understand the real meaning of enlightenment. If we think we understand enlightenment the way most Americans do, I’m afraid we don’t have a clear view of it, because we haven’t had teachings on what that mind, which is free of conceptualization as well as discursive thought, is really like. We just haven’t had that kind of teaching.

When we think of an enlightened being, we think of someone who dresses up a certain way. He or she wears robes and almost always has their eyes turned skyward. We have many different ideas about enlightenment and, unfortunately, none of them are true. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who are reported to appear in the world, for instance, take many different forms. They don’t have to be a Buddhist to be a Bodhisattva; they just have to have realization. They take whatever form is necessary in order to benefit beings, because that is how the mind of compassion works. That is how the mind of enlightenment functions. It does not cling to the idea of self. It does not cling to egocentricity. Literally, a Bodhisattva might appear in the world as food or drink, offering its body in that way to benefit beings. It might appear in the world as a teacher. It certainly might do that. It might appear in the world as an ordinary, funky-style person. I mean funky beyond belief! Unless you have traveled in India and Nepal, you don’t know what funky means yet! A Buddha or a Bodhisattva might appear in such a way that is funky beyond belief, and yet within the context of that life, has an incredible impact on many people, or on just two or three people who themselves go on to achieve realization and have an incredible impact on beings.

You see, the mind of the Bodhisattva is such that it doesn’t cling to the idea of greatness. There is no thought of greatness. The moment we think we have to be great, or have to wear a certain kind of robe, or look a certain way, or do a certain dance, we have lost the entire idea and the main reason why a Bodhisattva would wish to incarnate in the world. A Bodhisattva’s only purpose is to benefit beings, and that is done without attachment to form and content. It is done in whatever way is necessary.

Copyright ©  Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

How to Use Humiliation on the Path: Commentary by H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

The following is respectfully quoted from “The Heart of Compassion” by His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche:

ii. How to use humiliation on the path

The next section considers how we may deal with receiving humiliation in return for kindness.


Even if my peers or my inferiors
Out of pride do all they can to debase me,
To respectfully consider them like my teachers
On the crown of my head is the practice of a bodhisattva. 

Someone with your own ability or status, or an inferior without any good qualities, might–despite being treated politely and considerately by you–criticize you contemptuously out of pure conceit and arrogance, and try to humiliate you in various ways. When such things happen, do not be angry or upset, or feel badly treated.

Instead, see and respect such people as kind teachers showing you the path to liberation. Pray that you may be able to do them as much good as possible. Whatever happens, do not wish for a moment to take your revenge. The capacity to patiently bear scorn and injury from those who lack your education, strength and skill is particularly admirable. To remain humble when patiently bearing insults is a very effective way of countering your ingrained tendency to be interested only in your own happiness and pleasure.

Never be proud, but instead take the most humble position and regard everyone as being above you, as though you were carrying them on your head. It is said, “Carrying all beings above one’s head is the torch and banner of the bodhisattvas.”

The great teacher Drom Tönpa Gyalwai Jugne would circumambulate even a dog on the side of the road, in recognition of the buddha nature that, like all beings, it possessed.

The Wish to Benefit All Beings

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche on Meditation, reprinted her with permission from Palyul Ling International:

This is the root of all the Dharma practices: generating the Bodhicitta [loving-kindness]. If one can really generate genuine Bodhicitta within one’s mind, then it is very easy to move nearer to ultimate liberation. Bodhicitta is known as the awakening mind. The awakening mind is without partiality and equally benefits all sentient beings. If we have the thought of doing something good and beneficial only for our families and friends and then we want to create all kinds of obstacles for someone we don’t like or whom we consider to be an enemy, this is not Bodhicitta.

Generating Bodhicitta, the awakening mind, is for the purpose of benefiting all sentient beings without any exception. Even living creatures such as ants, in their ultimate nature, they also have the Buddha nature. Even cockroaches. There is no difference in the size of the form. In the teachings it says that there is no limit to space, that space is immeasurable, and similarly there is no limit of sentient beings. Their number is immeasurable. Hence we have to generate the kind of Bodhicitta that is immeasurable for all these immeasurable numbers of beings.

Friends and Enemies: Excerpt from “The Heart of Compassion…” commentary by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from “The Heart of Compassion: Thirty Seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva”:

On a practical level, however, the mere fact that you feel compassion
for them is of no use whatsoever to all those beings. So, what can you
do to actually help them? You now have a human existence with all its
freedoms and advantages, and especially the immense fortune of having
encountered and started to practice the supreme Dharma. You have met
an authentic spiritual teacher and are in the process of receiving
teachings that will enable you to reach buddhahood in a single
lifetime. To make full use of this precious opportunity, you must not
only listen to the teachings but also put them into practice. That way
your feelings of compassion can be put to work, to the point that you
will eventually be able to bring all living beings to enlightenment.
As things are at present, however strongly you may want to help
others, you are a beginner and lack the capacity to do anything much
for them. The first step you need to take toward being really useful
to others, therefore, is to perfect yourself, by training and
transforming your mind.

The way you are now, your mind is powerfully influenced by the
clinging attachment you have to friends, relatives, and anyone who
brings you satisfaction, and by your hostile feelings toward whoever
seems to go against your wishes and toward all those who prevent you
from acquiring wealth, comfort, and pleasure and whom you therefore
regard with aversion as enemies. ln your delusion, you do whatever you
can to benefit yourself and those you like, and try to overcome and
eliminate all those you consider enemies with such aversion that you
can hardly bear even to hear their names. Over countless lifetimes you
have been dragged into samsara, this vicious ocean of existence, and
carried away by these strong currents of attachment and aversion.
Attachment and aversion are the very cause of samsara, the very reason
for our endless wandering in the circle of existence.

Consider carefully what you mean by friends and enemies. When you look
into it, it is obvious that there are no such things as permanent.
enduring friends or enemies. Those you think of as friends have not
always been so. Indeed, they may well have been your enemies in the
past, or they could become your enemies in the future. There is
nothing certain about it. Why should you be so compulsively attached
to particular people? Are not all your relationships temporary? In the
end, whatever may happen during your life, the time will come for you
to die. Then you will have no choice but to part from everyone,
regardless of whether you feel attachment or aversion for them. But
everything you have done in your lifetime, all those actions motivated
by attachment and aversion, will have created within you a force that
will then propel you to the next life, in which you will experience
their result.

So, if you want to travel the path to buddhahood, give up attachment
to friends and relatives, and hatred for enemies. Regard all beings
with impartial equanimity. If people now seem to be either friends or
enemies, it is just the result of past connections and actions. To
ascribe any solid reality to those  feelings of attachment and
aversion, arising as they do from mistaken and confused perceptions,
is just delusion. It is like mistaking a rope, lying in your path in
the twilight, for a snake-you might feel afraid, but that does not
mean your fear has any real basis. The rope never was a snake.

Spiritual Maturity

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Bodhisattva Ideal”

When we first enter onto the Bodhisattva path, we are thinking that maybe we are doing this because we’ve always wanted to be a good person.  We have all kinds of mixed motivations.  Maybe we never got enough approval when we grew up.  Maybe mama was always telling us that we were never going to amount to very much, or something like that.  Maybe dad was always telling us that we have to live our lives in a certain way in order to meet with his approval.  Maybe our society has taught us that if we don’t attain certain things we are a “n’er do well.”

For whatever reason, when we first meet with the Bodhisattva path, we think that we are going to make something good of ourselves.  We are going to approve of ourselves, finally.  We are going to be good people.  We fall in love with the romance of being saintly. But ultimately, the life of a Bodhisattva has not one thing to do with that, nothing to do with that.  The purpose, the intention, the planning of a Bodhisattva is not according to that.  The planning of the Bodhisattva is based on logic and reason. Since we have met with the ideal of the Bodhisattva, this is the time for the beginning students, or the student who has been a practitioner for some while, to really determine for oneself what the true meaning of the Bodhisattva ideal actually is—to see the reasonableness of it, to see the logic of it. To understand that to do anything else is to walk through one’s life as a child, mindlessly, just grabbing and playing and having “la la” land in your head.  The life of a spiritually mature Bodhisattva is a life of understanding, a life of clarity, a life of reasonableness, a life in which that spiritual participant thinks in full equations, which ordinary people simply do not do.

Now, having learned these virtuous patterns, these virtuous habits, these virtuous actions, and understanding that this is what results in happiness, and not grabbing in an egocentric way, the spiritually mature Bodhisattva begins to plan, and begins to understand also, that according to the Buddha’s teaching, all sentient beings are in that same condition of revolving hopelessly in samsara. Not understanding what the components of happiness are and what brings relief from suffering.  Not understanding as well, what intensifies suffering and makes it much worse.  Sentient beings literally are revolving in samsara helplessly, like bees flying around in a jar, not understanding how to get out, just bumping, bumping, bumping on all the sides.

Having looked at that, having looked at the suffering of the world, having seen that in places all over the world there is hunger, there is war.  There is disease, old age, sickness and death constantly claiming even those on the seen realms where there is less suffering than in many of the other realms. And, according to the Buddha, we are taught that in the unseen realms, all sentient beings are suffering horribly. They have no understanding really of what makes the cessation of suffering.  Having met with the path and understood all these things, and then understanding as well the Buddha’s teachings, then we make an intelligent choice. “I and all sentient beings have been wandering helplessly and hopelessly in samsara, not understanding the cause of my suffering, not understanding the cause of the suffering of other, not understanding the causes of happiness for myself and others. Now I have come to this place of choice, intelligence, clarity and responsibility.  Therefore, having seen the truth and understanding that there is an end to suffering, I will practice for the sake of sentient beings.”  This is the choice that the spiritually mature Bodhisattva brings—to practice temporarily by bringing happiness and relief to those that they can in any way possible.  And then to practice ultimate or extraordinary Bodhicitta, which is to bring the ultimate happiness, the ultimate joy of the revelation of the path to others so that they too might attain ultimate happiness.  The spiritually mature Bodhisattva chooses to give others the method by which they can end their suffering and gain happiness, the method of clarity that teaches that virtuous seeds bring virtuous and joyful results, and nonvirtuous seeds bring nonvirtuous and negative results.  Understanding that, I myself will be a guide and a light to benefit others through their confusion. The prayer of the Bodhisattva is that we would live and exist as a Bodhisattva long enough to be the one to watch the very last of them cross over through the doors of liberation into freedom.  That is my prayer and that should be the prayer of each and every one of us, that we would be the last and would be able to see every single sentient being cross the ocean of suffering into freedom.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Path is Love

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Bodhisattva Ideal”

Is the Bodhisattva unafraid?   Heck no!  The Bodhisattva is afraid just like anyone else.  Why not?  Nobody wants to be challenged.  Nobody wants to have difficulty or obstacles.  Nobody wants to suffer.  The Bodhisattva is not less afraid than anyone else. But what is fear in the face of the needs of the many?  What is fear, knowing that what I might collect out of my fearfulness will ultimately lead to my unhappiness and disappointment?

I’ve been practicing the Bodhisattva Path for some time.  I am afraid of everything.  Everything frightens me.  I’m a jellyfish by nature.  But I don’t stop, because it doesn’t make any sense to stop.  Does the Bodhisattva no longer want anything or need anything?  No!  I want and need everything!  Anything you want to give me would be much appreciated!  But I do not concern myself with gathering such things.  I concern myself with the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings.  That’s what I concern myself with.

I’m not a perfect Bodhisattva, but there have been perfect Bodhisattvas. And I can tell you that with the understanding that the Bodhisattva naturally obtains through this kind of conduct: There is a natural kind of internal ease or lightness of being, a kind of quiescence that is a natural byproduct of that lack of emphasis on self-concern and increased emphasis on the well-being of all sentient beings, and the reasonableness of accumulating only those virtuous characteristics which can benefit in all future times.  There is a reasonableness about that and, as we emphasize that reasonable method, and do not emphasize ego-cherishing and ego-clinging, there is a natural lightness of being that occurs that, even while if someone punches us we will be punched and we will roll over, it isn’t so heavy because, as a Bodhisattva, although you may experience phenomenal reality in the same way that others do, there is not the suffering of suffering, which only actually occurs when one is filled with desire, just like the Buddha taught—filled with self-cherishing and ego-clinging, filled with hatred, greed and ignorance. The deep neurosis of acting inappropriately according to what you actually are, the suffering of suffering, comes from that.  It comes from acting like something that is death-oriented, that is contracted, that is separate and limited as opposed to acting as though you understood that you are that primordial wisdom nature, that ground of being, that Buddha nature, that state of innate wakefulness, that quiescent light.  That is the great Bodhicitta that is your nature.

If we could act in accordance with that, that deep neurosis that is characteristic of samsara, that suffering of suffering, could not exist in such a life.  So then, for such a one who practices in that way, all efforts become a benefit to sentient beings, no matter what they appear like.  Ultimately they will result in benefit.  This is the life of the Bodhisattva and this is the practice of the Bodhisattva, and this is what each one of us must attain to because I will tell you, no matter how good you are at sitting in the lotus position or how good you are at looking like a meditator or how many of the rules of meditation you know or how many of the books on spiritual practice you have read and can memorize, if you do not have the Bodhicitta, if you are not alive in love, you have no path.  If you do not consider others before you, you have no path, because the path is love.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Bodhisattva Ideal”

As children, we are only interested in taking care of ourselves.  We are only interested in getting what we want.  Well, we don’t actually understand taking care of ourselves, because really, if we understood taking care of ourselves, we would mature.  But as children, we just delight in everything and we want everything. It’s gimme this, gimme this, gimme this. I need this new piece of equipment. I need this new piece of clothing.  I need this new gizmo. I have to have this car. And I’m just gathering all of this, you see?  As spiritually mature people, we realize through experience (and it’s experience that teaches us), that after we’ve gathered a few of these things, we still aren’t happy.  We are still neurotic.  In fact, the more we gather to please ourselves without consideration for cause and effect relationships, or without considering whether or not this is of any true value within our lives, we find that we are disappointed and disappointed and disappointed. And it continues, and the level of disappointment never ends.  Every time we try to get something for ourselves that makes us feel better without any thoughts of cause and effect relationships… It’s just the oddest thing.  It’s like we have this little, I don’t know, kind of heartbreak, with this disappointment.  Every time we try to make ourselves happy and it doesn’t work, there’s this part of us, somewhere inside that sighs, “Wow, I really thought that was going to work!  How come that didn’t work?”  And we’re confused and lost.

But as spiritually mature people we begin to learn,, in the same way adults learn, that children’s toys aren’t much fun anymore.  And the spiritually mature people will begin to understand that what we have to do now is to live a life that has more meaning than that.  We have to live a life where we can plot out and plan and understand the results.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Non-dual: The Middle Way

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Bodhisattva Ideal”

So the Bodhisattva thinks and meditates constantly on which things are worth putting effort into, and which things are not.  Now the Buddha also taught about the Middle Way.  When the Buddha realized the suffering of sentient beings, he tried at first the life of the ascetic. And he even tried to sit with those who engaged in the kind of meditation that was based on self-mutilation, a kind of meditation that was very strict and very severe.  He meditated with yogis who would mutilate their bodies in order to overcome pain and renounce the attraction of comfort.  So the Buddha tried that. These yogis did not eat or sleep comfortably.  They meditated constantly.  They remained in this one little grove and they ate very little.  They might live on bits of plants and even bits of mushroom that grow in the ground. If someone gave them something to eat, they might eat on that, but they had no determination about wanting a certain kind of food.  Whatever they found that day, that’s what they ate.  There was no dependence on comfort for their happiness and well-being.  So Lord Buddha practiced with them for a while and eventually he gave up on that method.

He gave up on that method because he saw that there is a kind of limitation to that focus, that that particular focus was sort of a dead-end street.  It can result even in a kind of poison, or a kind of pridefulness, where the yogi is more concerned with their strict discipline than they are with the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings. It becomes something of an obsession, you know. It becomes something of a medal of honor that one wears. So Lord Buddha found that kind of rigidity, that kind of narrow view, somewhat distasteful. And so Lord Buddha went on to the Middle Way.

Therefore, as a Bodhisattva we are not being asked to never have a moment of comfort.  No one is asking you to pierce your tongue or do any of those things those funny yogis did.  No one is asking you to sit on a bed of nails and sleep on a bed of nails.  No one is asking you to hang out in a grove and not have a house, not keep warm in the wintertime.  No one is saying that you have to wear the same robes until they rot off your body.  Lord Buddha does not teach that as a method.  Lord Buddha teaches instead that all sentient beings are suffering, that we are suffering due to desire, that there is an end to suffering, and that end to suffering can be practiced as the eightfold path which we, in our tradition, condense into the practice of wisdom, or the realization of emptiness, and compassion, or the Bodhicitta.  These are the two legs of the path, and this is the moderate Middle Way that Lord Buddha taught.

So as a Bodhisattva you are not being asked to never be happy.  One’s own happiness, both temporary and ultimate, and the happiness of others, becomes instead inseparable, nondual.  One would not honor oneself and cling to ego because that would be a nonsensical thing to do.  There is no good result from that.  The Bodhisattva realizes that.  The Bodhisattva, however, would not make oneself suffer purposely, or hurt oneself in some way, because there is really no point to that.  The point of practicing the path is the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings, and you are one of them.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Bodhisattva’s Logic

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Bodhisattva Ideal”

The posture of a Bodhisattva is misunderstood in our culture.  When a parent raises a child, the parent does not say to the child, “What I’d really like you to do, darling, is to be a great, generous mystic.  I want you to be so generous that you give your life up for others.  I want you to be so generous that you pay no attention to your own welfare or comfort, but instead I would like you to live and die for the benefit of sentient beings.”  Nobody’s mother told them that!  Due to the culture that we are raised in, we are told by our parents, their parents before them, and everything around us that there are certain things that one must do in order to be successful.  One must gain recognition, power, money, ease of living.  These are the things that one must do. But when one enters onto the path and becomes a Bodhisattva, one is faced with an entirely new set of ethics and morals and responsibilities.

This entire process must be understood as an intelligent, logical and reasonable process, simply by virtue of the fact that no matter what we accomplish during the course of this lifetime, other than the impact it has on our own bouquet of habitual tendencies, there is not one piece of what we collect that we can take with us, not one thing.  So here is the Bodhisattva’s intelligence. And it is an intelligence.  It is based on truth.  It is based on fact.  It is something like the intelligence of a person who receives a great deal of money, let’s say, or something precious and, if they’ve never had that before, if they haven’t thought it through, they might say, “Oh now I’ve got, let’s see, I’ve got $10,000 here so I’m going to go out and I’m going to spend that money and have a really good time.  I’ve never had $10,000 before, so I’m just going to go spend it, and I’m going to get all the things that I wanted to get.  Get some of my bills paid up, and I’m going to get a, let’s see, a down payment on a car, and I’ve got some clothes that I have in mind and all these different things. Maybe I’m going to buy a new TV. I’ve got all this laid out.”  A sentient being’s normal reaction to having blessings in their life, or to life itself, is a little bit like that.  I’ve got this thing.  How am I going to spend it?

The Bodhisattva thinks very differently.  The Bodhisattva realizes that, according to the Buddha’s teaching, life is like a precious jewel.  When one meets with Dharma, meets with the teacher, and meets with the method by which we can accomplish realization, this life is understood as wealth for sure.  We understand that there is a tremendous gift here.  But how is the gift utilized?  There comes in a completely different kind of logic.

The Bodhisattva realizes that, in the end, all will come to nothing.  If our only gain is on the material realm, in the end all of the effort that we put into self-cherishing and beautifying ourselves, and the ease and comfort of our lives, and the accomplishments on the mental and physical levels of our lives, even those greatly cherished social institutions like vast education,  even that will come to nothing, other than perhaps the discipline of studying.  That habit may be brought into the next rebirth. .But everything that we have learned to love and cherish will come to nothing.

And so the Bodhisattva thinks, therefore, if in samsara, all efforts come to nothing, if all that survives is one’s virtue or lack of virtue, if all that matters in samsara eventually breaks down, then why should I put much effort into these things?  Why should these things be precious to me? Because ultimately they will be lost, they will come to nothing.

The Bodhisattva then thinks more like a smart investor.  You want to invest in that which brings ultimate returns:  kindness, generosity, spiritual habits, habits associated towards travelling on the path of Dharma and developing oneself spiritually.  Making offerings, living with generosity, meditating, praying, contemplating, teaching—these virtuous acts are the things that will bring a result that one can carry over into the next life.  So the Bodhisattva is not so much a martyr as someone who has been trained through logic and reason to understand not to put all of one’s emphasis and hope in that which will ultimately disappoint.  The Bodhisattva has been trained well enough to know that ultimately all things in samsara are disappointing.  And so the Bodhisattva then makes the choice, based on training, to put one’s emphasis and one’s effort only in those things which will produce the excellent result of enlightenment and benefit to others.  This is how the Bodhisattva thinks.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved