Right Before Our Eyes

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”

These are important teachings. The Buddha taught us that yes, we will live many times and we will die many times.  It’s so important to think of this particular life as one increment in a great long inconceivable span of lifetimes.  Lord Buddha taught that we have been born again and again and again in cyclic existence in so many forms and so many times that, literally, every being that we meet must have been our kind mother or father in some past incarnation.  So we should think of all beings—including dogs and cats and worms and iguanas and creatures that perhaps we have very little emotional connection with, but even those—if we have the opportunity to meet them or even be stung by one of them, like a bee, that in some past life, some ancient life, we have had definitely some intimate connection with them.

We had another good lesson recently.  We watched the death of the woman with brain damage, Terri Schiavo What an amazing karma played out right out in front of us.  Amazing karma!  If you just step back away from the emotions and look, it’s so easy to see that this is some ancient, profound, terrible karma playing out between these people—the husband, the family and the woman herself.  Amazingly, her death was brought about by a deprivation of food, and yet the very cause of this terrible fate of hers was practicing bulimia.  So you see a kind of instant karma playing out, and then you see it hooking into this devastating ancient karma with the other people, with the family that she lived with.  How amazing!  What a study that was!

I found myself this past week, between His Holiness the Pope and this Schiavo woman dying, I found myself fascinated by these two things.  Watching everything the Buddha has taught us playing out right in front of us for those of us that could see.  My students, my attendants, the people that are close to me say, “Jetsunma, what should they do?  Should they feed her or not feed her?”  Well, my advice would have been to allow the entire karma to play out, completely unscathed.  Let it play out exactly without any kind of interference, exactly the way it would in the world, because this karma between them is so profound.  Better that she, in this relatively unconscious condition, can go through this terrible karma and live it down, finish it, end it, rather than to have to come back and finish it, because it perhaps wasn’t finished.  So from a wisdom point of view, to watch this karma is a blessing. Because we understand how it is with us, we can get a much deeper understanding; and yet to watch this karma is gut wrenching.  It’s heart breaking because we see how samsara is.  We see how we can mistakenly think that loving concern is just that—loving concern—when sometimes it’s power.  We can see also that sometimes when we feel the most powerful, powerful love, that often its basis is very self-oriented, very selfish.  Not meaning to be selfish.  We think we’re thinking of the other, and yet it’s really about how we feel.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Utilizing the Antidote

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Now it’s also said that the stupa has a mandala of enlightened activity around it the same as a living Buddha does.  That is to say, that a stupa that is powerfully consecrated with relics, and consecrated by an enlightened lama who has accomplished the mantra,  has a radius of about 100 miles of influence.  Isn’t that amazing?

Yet, we are not keeping that strength going, that fire going.  The power of the stupas will be, by definition of mind, diminished because our minds are not with them.  So it’s a terrible, terrible frightful waste.  It’s really like having all the lamas of the lineage across the street.  Oh, we pride ourselves that we have robes and we can go places and we can do practices. Some of us even have the more advanced practices. We can stare at bindus and stuff like that.  But if we don’t walk across the street and take care of the stupas, you can say we have no practice.  You could say that.  Because it’s like the lamas of the lineage are there, and no one is honoring them.  We call them to our practice.  We pray to the lamas of the lineage. We visualize them gathering in front of us, but we abandon them.  And so what is this cartoon in the sky in front, when we have abandoned the actual Nirmanakaya form?

They say that the lama and also the stupas have this 100 mile radius, approximately, of activity.  I built these stupas here because I was hoping that they would influence our government, but I don’t think that has happened as yet,.  I could be wrong, but I don’t see it. So I’m wondering if I could prevail upon each and every one of you to take these stupas into your heart, to think of them as your guides, your objects of refuge and to honor them in the way that they should be honored so that the lamas through these magnificent stupas can carry out their enlightened activity.  Because these stupas are an extension and an appearance of the Buddha’s enlightened activity.

It’s up to us to plant that firmly in the world, to make the roots deep  and to keep the causes pure and untainted for future accomplishment and future happiness.  There are so many stories in Buddhist teachings about particular practitioners that came to their own fruition through some slight, almost mindless, deed in the past concerning a stupa.  I’m a terrible Buddhist storyteller because I forget the details and I get the punch lines wrong, but I’ll try.  I’ll try to tell you a little bit of what I remember.

There is this one story, for instance, about a pig who was being chased by a dog.  And the pig was a pig.  He had been wallowing in mud, and he was all dirty.  He had a muddy body and a muddy face and a muddy tail. And the dog thought, “Oh, I’m gonna’ get me some pork chops,” and started chasing the pig.  And round and round this stupa they went.  After they went round the stupa a few times, the pig smashed into the stupa accidentally and the mud from his body fixed a little crack in the stupa.  That [pig] was reborn in Dewachen, or some enlightened paradise, because of that cause and immediately received teachings and the ability of accomplishment. He was reborn as a bodhisattva, and was given every means to accomplish; and accomplishment was gained.  A pig!  Accidentally!  These stories are told to us as an indication of what you’re missing, of how amazing the merit is of caring for the body of the Buddha.

Conversely, we are told that to leave a stupa in decay and to not honor the stupa properly will bring nothing but obstacles.  And we’ve had lots of obstacles here.  We’ve had obstacles to seeing the teacher, and that’s me.  I’ve tried very hard to get here many times and yet there are obstacles.  And I believe in my heart that these obstacles are because when I left, the stupas were not like this. I’ve returned to this, and this is the body of the Buddha.

Now I’m not saying this to make myself seem like a high up person or anything like that. Normally in monasteries, the Khenpos get to tell these stories about their lamas. I wish we had that condition, but we don’t.  So, allow me to just commit the non-virtue of telling you what the other lamas have said about me.  They’ve said that if you don’t see this teacher very much because of who she is, you should understand that this is because your own merit is diminishing, not because she’s not here to serve you, not because she doesn’t want to serve you.  It’s strictly cause and result here. Because of the nature of this teacher—and because of the nature of my teacher and because of the nature of the other teachers of this lineage—their merit is such and their accomplishment is such that we must always create the causes of continuing to meet with them.  They’re just not a collection of Tibetan jimokes that do their thing over there and then come and do it over here.  These are beings who have accomplished Dharma and who have returned solely to benefit sentient beings.  Their only wish is to bring benefit., and yet we are not creating the causes for that.

Now that I know what the stupas look like, I will wait before I ask His Holiiness to return here until they are better.  I would not break his heart like that.  And I’m not saying I’m a good mama and you’re bad kids.  It’s not like that.  I’m telling you that this is your practice.  I want you to be happy.  I want you to be free of obstacles.  I want you to attain that pure awakened state where you know what to accept and what to reject.  I say to you, “Reject your own phenomena that tells you I don’t wanna. I’d rather have fun.  Reject your own phenomena that says I can’t because I’m sick, I’ve got a headache, I blah blah blah.  Reject your own phenomena and accomplish Dharma instead.”

Go to the stupa and if you can bend a little bit, you can bend to offer.  If you can bend a little bit, you can bend to clean.  I tell you if you are sick to death and worried for your life, you should crawl to the Migyur Dorje stupa saying prayers all the way, because that’s what a smart Tibetan would do.  That’s what I would do.  If you can’t walk, get there anyhow.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Cause and Effect and the Antidote to Unhappiness

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Lama Never Leaves”

Lord Buddha’s teachings are always reasonable and logical.  He teaches us that, for instance, if we are lonely and unhappy, we should look to find the causes of that.  He teaches us that causes are never outside.  They seem to be, but they are never outside because actually we are living with our own karmic habitual tendencies and propensities.  So if we are lonely and unhappy, we should look to the deeper causes.  The deeper causes may be that in the past, whether in this lifetime or in some previous lifetime, we allowed the others around us to be unsupported and lonely and unhappy.  Or perhaps we committed some profound non-virtue with our minds and so now, in our mind, we have the habit or the result of loneliness and unhappiness.  Perhaps in the past, we caused someone mental suffering or mental affliction, and so now in the present, we find ourselves feeling that same mental affliction. But we can only remember since the time of our birth, or somewhat after that, and we don’t know what the cause was really.  It’s hard to see.  We have to go by the Buddha’s teachings because Lord Buddha is that state of enlightenment which has the wisdom to see causes and results.  So we are taught if we have certain results within our life, such as unhappiness and loneliness, we should look for deep causes If we can’t find some reason in this lifetime for our loneliness and unhappiness, that is to say, that we ourselves have not brought about similar loneliness and unhappiness to others, then we should think that probably the cause has been in the deep past.  So we must assume that in the past, we have caused some unhappiness to others.

Now, here we are on the path, and we are told to apply the antidote. I shouldn’t leave that part out.  And the antidote, of course, would be to do one’s best to uphold the Bodhisattva Vow and to benefit others as strongly and as purposefully as we possibly can.  Of course, as monks and nuns, we will do that within the context of Dharma activities. As lay people, hopefully, we will do that within the context of Dharma activities as well. Yet we also have many opportunities in our lives to be of benefit to others in ordinary but very special ways. Some of us are doctors or nurses or counselors or those who help others.  So there are human ways to help others and there are extraordinary Dharma ways to help others, and we should apply that antidote.

One thing that not only I have noticed but practically every pop-psychologist that has arms to write a book with nowadays will tell you is that in doing for others, one becomes happy.  Self-absorption and ego cherishing, only thinking about what you want and what you don’t have, leads to further unhappiness and selfishness.  So it’s doing for others that actually brings up the spirit, and I personally know that this is true.  I know that this is true.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Choices – Like a King or a Queen

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Entering the Path”

It is not only in the beginning of the path that obstacles happen; they occur periodically throughout your experience of the path. They don’t end. They are like PMS. So each and every time obstacles arise, you have to simply support and nurture yourself. Go through it. Simply take yourself by the hand as if you were a child. Think of this as your kingdom, and you’re a good king or a queen. What should you do to responsibly negotiate yourself through this? You think like that.

Remember the first and most important point to consider: not to make it a big deal. Don’t get yourself all worked up. Try to keep your mind calm, because remember, the obstacles will ripen more quickly and more violently if the mind is excitable, emotional and violent, if it has so many ups and downs. So take yourself to a movie or something, you know, calm down and walk yourself through this. Remember that the biggest tool that you have right now is the accumulation of merit. Within the continuum of your mindstream there are cause-and-effect relationships that have not yet fully ripened. The causes are deeply embedded within your mind. Accumulate more merit and the more meritorious causes from the past will be drawn forth and will come to your rescue.

The name of the game is to pacify obstacles and to draw forth and accumulate as much merit as possible. The mind will become spacious so that we can awaken in incremental degrees to our own nature. To the degree that we begin to awaken to our nature, to that degree, obstacles will no longer affect us.

Upon attaining the Bodhisattva path and moving through that path to the higher bhumis, one is no longer susceptible in the same way to cause-and-effect relationships. They become pacified within the mindstream. They are still expressed in some way, to exhibit the normal characteristics of life. Yet the high level Bodhisattva is not hooked and condemned by these obstacles the way ordinary sentient beings are. These obstacles do not cause them to wander in samsara the way ordinary sentient beings do. So that’s what we have to look forward to. The name of the game is pacifying obstacles and bringing forth as much merit and opportunity as possible until that day happens. For this you can use the practices.

The moment you decide to be on the path and practice, you should immediately begin to accumulate the Seven-Line Prayer. Repeat it on a regular basis every day. That is a merit machine for you. Then as soon as possible, as soon as you have accumulated approximately 10,000, begin to practice Ngöndro or preliminary practice. The reason why it is set up that way is so that the mind can develop and open up to the primordial wisdom nature.

This is the opportunity that you have, and this is the method that you should use. Be your own best friend. Be a good king or queen. Be intelligent and responsible and think beneath the surface. Do not read the things on the surface any more. That’s for children; that’s not for you. You’re on the path now. Look deeper and see what’s happening. Antidote unhappiness with virtue because unhappiness is caused by non-virtue. Accumulate virtue to the degree that you can begin to experience the truly virtuous nature that is your nature. Because if that nature that you truly are were allowed to express itself unimpeded, the display of that nature is the very Bodhicitta or great compassion that we try so hard to emulate.

Your nature is in truth that great unequalled Bodhicitta. You are not a bag of non-virtue; you are suchness, you are that great kindness. When you practice in that way, it’s like cleaning a glass by which the sun can shine through, and the sun is your nature. But do not let your image of the sun be closed down or distorted because of your own habitual tendency to simply ride on the surface and do whatever you think seems right. For the first time, look deeper and understand cause-and-effect relationships. Implement the causes that will bring about happiness and freedom, and pacify, through suppression, those non-virtuous characteristics that will bring you unrest and suffering.

How does this suppression look? Not like faking it and pretending you don’t have these things.  That is not suppressing, that is neurosis. That is acting inappropriately. Suppression means that you take the antidote, and you apply it through practice, through contemplation, through offering, through generosity, through kindness. Practicing these things is suppression because the mind remains firm and stable in the way of virtue rather than remaining caught up in amplifying non-virtue.

You are a creature of choices. Isn’t it amazing! A creature of choices! At every turn you can make choices. You cannot choose what experiences seem to come to you because the cause-and-effect relationships have already been laid out for them, but you can choose how to respond, and you can choose how to create future causes. And for this I am exceedingly glad.  Choose well then, not like a child. Choose like a king or a queen— noble, thoughtful, educated and sound in your mind. Create the habit of virtue and you will create a kingdom of virtue that will be your life.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Do We Know How to Be Happy?

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Faults of Cyclic Existence”

When we broaden our view and look out,  we see that this is happening to a greater or lesser degree to all sentient beings.  All sentient beings are striving to be happy.  They wish to be happy, but in varying degrees, they do not understand the causes of happiness.  We see this also in our own lives.  See, we’re the good guys, we’re the Dharma practitioners. But even in our lives we see that we engage in compulsive, neurotic habitual tendency time and time again. Cyclically actually. We’ve noticed this and we talk about this and we laugh about it.  You know, women get together and we have girl talk.  We know this one really well;. And men are in the same situation.  We repeat patterns that are nonproductive.  Is that a light-weight way to say it?  We literally put ourselves through the lowest of the realms.  We put ourselves through hell, literally.  We are not our own best friends. And we only see it when we are coming out the other side of the compulsion and it didn’t bring us what we want. Then it’s like, “Well I knew that!  Why didn’t I think of that!  I knew that!  How ridiculous!”  And then you know, six months later there we are, going down the pike again.

In one way, then, our compassion is increased because we see that the serial killer is busy bumping off everybody else in order to get happy, and we are busy bumping off ourselves to get happy.  And the confusion and habitual tendency is there.  It’s there. We have that in common.  So we look out and we say, “Wow, if this is the case for myself and I am a Dharma practitioner, how much more so the case for those beings who have had no information on what produces happiness?  We are the children of a materialistic society.  We were told that if you have two good cars, a chicken in your crock pot and several more in your freezer and a good husband or wife, good children, all these good things—everything that’s good has been labelled, you know, we already know what’s good—and an ongoing prescription of Prozac that we could be happy.Aand an occasional face lift.  It gets more complicated as you get older.  Did you notice that?  I mean, at first it was just finding the right man andyou’re home free.  Now it’s find the right man and make sure once you’ve got him, these things don’t drop. And it’s beat gravity and beat the clock and all that other stuff.

So we are, in our way, almost as clueless.  We still engage in these funny things that we do. And every time that we do them, we think they’re going to make us happy.  And then we come out the other side of it with open eyes—like whoops, that didn’t work!  But you know, we’ve noticed for ourselves how limited our capacity is to learn.  Is that not the most astonishing thing? How really intelligent people cannot learn?  Is there a button we’re supposed to be pushing that we don’t know about.? I mean, where is the input button?  We just don’t know. So this is the condition of sentient beings.

Now I know, as you must know, how much I want to be happy.  You know how much you want to be happy, right?  I mean, if push comes to shove, you’re pretty motivated by this.  Isn’t that  right?  Of course you want to be happy.  You’d be a maniac if you didn’t want to be happy.  Are you a maniac?  So we want to be happy.  I certainly want to be happy.  And there are days, are there not, when the yearning to be happy and the feeling that you are very distant from that happiness is so strong that there’s a lot of grief, isn’t there?  A lot of upheaval and grief. There are times when it’s just so difficult and so very far away.  It’s funny how it happens.

Now if we were to take that grief and that feeling and project it outward and think, “Here I am with all the understanding that I have about what makes happiness, and all the skill that I have and all the intelligence that I have and all the good fortune that I have that makes it possible for me to get a grip here and really see what’s going on, and still I can’t manage it.  How much worse must be the condition of other sentient beings who are completely out to lunch about the subject?”  Now if you think about the animal realm, they don’t even have the capacity to take in the information about cause and effect, an extraordinarily limited capacity to learn cause and effect.  Have you ever watched a dog that has the habit of chasing cars?  No matter what you do to them, they will chase the car.  They are terrified because they are so close to getting killed and somehow they know it, but they can’t learn!  They can’t learn that not chasing that car is going to make them feel much more relaxed.  They simply can’t learn that.

So how much less is the capacity for other sentient beings to be free of that kind of suffering?  Now we look out and we really see that all around us is this terrible, terrible grief and suffering and disappointment that is masked in certain ways, is covered in certain ways, is disguised, is transmuted, is rearranged, is redirected, is re-routed, is lied about. And yet underneath it there is that grief, there is that loneliness, there is that difficulty that we have in understanding what makes us happy, and how to be happy.

So this then becomes a causative factor when we engage upon the path.  It’s one of the reasons why we practice refuge so sincerely.  We use this idea not only as a practice in itself, but as a way to motivate ourselves.  Literally, as practitioners we should come to the point where we look around and we see for ourselves that all sentient beings are wandering in this confusion and we develop a profound sense of compassion.  If we really were to study and look around and emphathize and see beyond ourselves how others are suffering even more than we are, that feeling of great love and great compassion would well up within our hearts, and this feeling that enough is enough!  Enough! There has been enough suffering in the world.  Enough!

So by that compassion and that love, we become motivated. And the times that we are feeling undisciplined or feeling dry or off-track on the path, we can rely on that love to come up and nurture us.  It’s happened even on an ordinary level within our lives.  We make a determination to take a more difficult route to accomplish something, even not so much concerning the path, but a difficult route to accomplish something in our lives.  Then to accomplish that requires such a great herculean effort like changing, that after awhile, somewhere in the process, we lose focus.  We ask ourselves, “Now why am I doing this again?  I really can’t remember today!”  Then we look at someone else near us who is suffering terribly, just suffering terribly, and we vow to organize everything around us to make it better so that the person next to us is not going to suffer so much.  We’re motivated by that and it brings us back into focus.

The same kind of situation happens on the path.   We utilize the suffering of others, the understanding of that suffering, to center us, to motivate us, to keep us nourished on the path.  At the same time, and here’s where the double blessing comes in, at the same time, we are also giving rise to the Bodhicitta which is the awakening mind, the mind that is in its essence the very display of compassion.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Turning On the Light

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Commitment to the Path”

Lord Buddha teaches us that we are wandering in cyclic existence, and that cyclic existence is tricky.  We are taught that cyclic existence is like that room full of furniture, full of obstacles.  You have to get through it, but lots of things are going to happen.  You’re going to go through events; karmic ripenings will take place.  There will be sickness.  There will be old age, and there will be death.  The only way you get out of old age is if you die first.  These are the rules.  That’s how the house works.

So that being the case, the Buddha teaches us, as well, that everything in samsara has a beginning and therefore has an ending.  Literally every time you meet and come together with a loved one, at that moment, you have given rise to the parting from that loved one. These moments, these cause and effect relationships arise interdependently; and although they seem to us to be separated by time, that’s part of our delusion.  Cause and effect arise interdependently.

So when we meet the great love of our life that we have waited for oh these many years, then we are also at that moment entering into the experience of separating, because it will happen.  Should we attain fame, fortune, whatever it is that our society teaches us that we want, then we should understand that the moment we have achieved this very thing, we have also given rise to its end. There is nothing one can accomplish through and within samsara that has any real lasting value other than to cultivate the mind, other than to cultivate the practice.  Only that brings results that are carried forward because it creates a virtuous mind and pure habitual tendencies.  But not one penny of the money we make, not one bit of any relationship, other than memory, will survive death.  We’ll all come together again, but it will all be different.

Lord Buddha teaches us that this is a constant, spinning, spinning, spinning in samsara. While each of us has in common the wish to be happy, we do not understand how to create the causes of happiness.  We think that to have more will make us happy or to be with somebody will make us happy or to be cured of something will make us happy or to change our lives and sail around the world or whatever, that’s going to make us happy.  But we find that ultimately it does not.  You can travel all over the place, sail around the world, have all kinds of relationships, make all kinds of money and you will find that in the heart, you have not attained happiness. We do attain temporary happiness. I feel pretty happy right now. But having lived with yourself for lo these many years, surely you must know by now that this happiness is so, so temporary.  It’s like the dew vanishing on the leaves every morning.  It’s like that.  That easy to lose. And there is no amount of positive thinking that is going to change that.  All you can do is make yourself crazier, crazier, crazier and more neurotic. You know you are suffering.  You know you’re not happy and you’re going, yes, I am.  Everything is fine.

So Lord Buddha teaches us that what we have to do essentially in our path is to turn on the light. Some of the furniture we’re going to have to move, get it out of the way.  That’s called pacifying obstacles, and we do that through practice.  Some of the furniture we’re going to have to climb on top of.  It’s just there and it’s going to have to be something we move beyond.  Some of the furniture we’re going to have to get under, Maybe we could liken that to undoing some of our poisons, like the five poisons that we have within our mind stream.  But whatever it is, things have got to change.

So Dharma is like that.  Dharma provides us a way to turn on the light.  You get the picture.  You see what is in your way and you decide how to deal with it. There are methods for how to deal with it,  but the big thing is eyes opened.  To wish and hope that everything is going to turn out well because, you know, I’m a spiritual person, therefore, da da da, whatever, is just not going to cut it, because you are still whistling in the dark.  You are walking through that room and you’re whistling in the dark.  Buddhism says, “Turn on the light.”

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

How to Understand Cause and Effect

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We don’t have any real way to understand direct cause and effect relationships.  And for that reason, we cannot really seem to understand how to create the causes of happiness. A good example is this: If we experience perhaps chronic poverty, we may think that the way to end this chronic poverty is to struggle against it. To work very hard at getting money any way that you can, to beg, borrow, or steal literally. To work very hard at a very high paying job in order to get money. What we won’t understand is that probably whatever we do within that realm of activity will have temporary result at best. It may work for a period of time. Then again, it may not. I know people who work hard and can’t seem to get anywhere. Or it may be that it works very well for a certain period of time. But, even while it works very well and you have money, the consciousness is such that you still feel impoverished. You can’t enjoy it. You can’t get anywhere with it. You can’t use it for any good result. It simply sits. And to all intensive purposes you are still impoverished. It’s very difficult to understand how it is that these cause and effect relationships play themselves out.

Now, according to the Buddha’s teaching, if you have a great deal of affluence at this time, if that is easy for you, then what has actually occurred is that in the past you have accumulated a great deal of merit through generosity, through generosity, through giving to others. And that is why, in this lifetime, it is easy for you to accumulate money, or easy for you to enjoy money, or easy for you to feel wealthy even if you don’t have much money. It is easy for you to feel that you have plenty, enough. That you’re just fine. Either inwardly or outwardly, you are prosperous. This is a hard lesson to take in. Because we want to feel that this personality and this lifetime was responsible for doing something in a very competent way in order to achieve these excellent results. But, according to the Buddha, in many cases prosperity is the result of generosity, in fact in all cases, prosperity is the result of generosity. And a person who is chronically impoverished is a person who has not been generous and continues to not be generous with their resources, with their time, and in their hearts. The Buddha teaches us the antidote to poverty is not getting money any way you can. But that the antidote to poverty is kindness and generosity and putting out in order to benefit others.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Examining Cause and Effect

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How can it be that we’ve had so little result?  Well it isn’t true that we’ve had no result. We have had temporary happiness. We’ve all had that. Probably we feel pretty good right now. Probably we felt all right when we got up this morning. But we feel differently every day, and really every moment. And sometimes we are even afraid to think that we’re really happy, because we know that right behind that happiness, right behind that, is another mood change. And you know that it’s not lasting.

How we can have managed to continue in such an effortful way? How is it that we maintain this extreme effortfulness? And what’s the answer? What should we do? First of all, we have to begin to cultivate some understanding. According to the Buddha’s teaching, every condition that we experience in our lives, including the most subtle inner conditions, that is to say, our own impressions and feelings and subtle inner posturing—that very, very subtle stuff that seems so wispy, seems to change all the time with every catalyst that appears in our lives—from that kind of subtle condition to the most seemingly permanent, gross, outer condition, such as the house we live in, the nation that we live in, the community that we live in, the world that we live in, the Buddha teaches us that every one of those conditions that we experience actually arises through the interdependence of cause and effect relationships. Every condition with no exception. Even the condition of how you appear physically. Now, of course you have some control in that matter. You can diet and become thin. You can put on makeup and become better looking. You can take off makeup and become either better or worse looking depending on how well you apply makeup. You can gain weight. You can do different kinds of juggling in order to make yourself appear more attractive through wearing different clothing, or what have you. But there are some things about which it seems that we have no control. For instance, the genetic tendency of our body to be in a certain way. Some people are shorter than others; some are taller. Some have a tendency towards a more squat body form; and others have a tendency towards a very lanky body form. These things seem to be beyond our control. We can look at our parents and our grandparents, and it seems as though we have the same genetic structure as them. It seems as though we have not much control over that. But, according to the Buddha, even such things as those that appear to be handed to us from the time of our birth, even such things as genetic predisposition, these are the result of karma.

What are the conditions of living? Do we live in a beautiful house? Do we live in a happy and harmonious family situation? Do we own property? Are we impoverished? What are the conditions of our lives? It seems we have control over some of them. There are many books out now that tell us we can all become millionaires  through a certain amount of effort if you follow this very simple ten point program starting with the investment of a few thousand dollars. And for some people I’m sure that kind of program has worked. And yet, there are some conditions in our lives that are seemingly unbeatable.

For instance, what if,  personality-wise, we don’t seem to have that certain mindset that permits us to engage in that kind of activity? And then again, what if we don’t want to? Some feel chronically defeated and have always felt so, and they never take aggressive moves towards gaining whatever it is that they want. But other people seem to have to do nothing and happiness comes to them, or prosperity comes to them. There are so many conditions in our lives that seem controllable and they’re mixed in with conditions that seem uncontrollable. How are we to understand that?

Well, the Buddha teaches us that we have at best a very partial, very minimal understanding of cause and effect relationships. It’s actually quite minimal. And the reason why is that there is very little cause and effect unfolding that we can actually see. The Buddha tells us that we’ve lived many more than one lifetime. Therefore, if we’ve lived a hundred years already, we have only one tiny, tiny window of time in which to judge our experience. But that window of time actually has a very exacting beginning and a very exacting ending; and it’s very difficult to understand what has come before and what will come after. There are certain elements that we can view within that window of time, and we can gain some understanding. It has been my experience that usually as people mature and as they become older, they have gained enough life experience not to make certain kinds of mistakes again and again and again. Now, in some cases I think it might be that we’re just too tired and old to make those mistakes again and again and again. But in other cases I think there’s a true learning that has actually occurred, and I’m really not sure what the proportions are.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Are We Misguided?

Close Up Portrait of Ted Bundy Waving

The one thing that all sentient beings have in common—or I should say one of the main things that all sentient beings have in common, but particularly the one thing that makes us all related, inter-related, kind of like brothers and sisters under the skin—is that we all in our own fashion wish to be happy. If you examine the content of your life and what you’ve done and not done up until this point, you’ll find that just about everything that you’ve engaged in up until this point has been in some regard an attempt at being happy. Unfortunately that attempt at happiness is only sometimes successful; and sometimes it’s extremely misguided. Actually, we might have a better idea as to what happiness is all about than someone who has a strong habit of harmfulness toward others, or perhaps extreme selfishness; even someone like a person who is chronically a criminal. Perhaps someone who is a thief, or even a murderer. A good example might be the recent capture of a man who was a serial murderer. Believe it or not, even such an extreme condition like that is a misguided attempt to be happy. Of course, it’s extremely misguided. And  the one thing that we might have in common with such a one as that is that we are both trying to be happy. That’s really hard to understand though, isn’t it? Because we can’t think how it would be possible to be happy by really harming others in such a bizarre and brutal way as that man apparently did. We can’t understand what he would be thinking of. How could he think like that? How could he think that being harmful and hateful towards others could possibly bring happiness?

Of course, it’s hard to say because we don’t have the man here. We can’t examine his mind; and we can’t really assume that we would know what he was thinking. But we could take at least a theoretical guess, a theoretical leap at understanding. Possibly in this man’s mind, he thought the control or power that he achieved over others through that kind of brutality, would make him happy—the feeling of controlling others, the feeling of supremacy, the feeling of the ability to dictate the conditions of some other person’s life. Possibly in some twisted way he thought that that would make him feel happier. Perhaps he didn’t even use the word happy. Perhaps he felt an exhilaration of power. Perhaps he felt an excitement about the continuation or fulfillment of some crazy compulsion. It’s really hard for us to understand because we don’t act like that. But we do throughout the course of our lives demonstrate certain activities that we ourselves don’t understand. Sometimes we’ll watch ourselves act completely out of character. Or even if we are within character, and that means predictable, we’ll watch ourselves move through certain cyclic changes within our lives in which we predictably act the same, but it predictably brings no good result.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Can You Take It With You?

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

Our consciousness sees everything as being solid. And it’s so odd, isn’t it, because seven years ago we were completely different.  If you think about what you looked like ten years ago, twenty years ago… Don’t take my word for it, bring out the pictures.  You look completely different.  I look completely different.  I’m sure you do also.  So even though we have a sense of self-nature being inherently real and solid and very permanent, still we are this very impermanent condition that thinks of itself only in a certain regard.   But when we first meet with the path we are taught that all things are impermanent and we are led to a study of that.

The study should look like this.  We understand in this way:  When we are born, we are born drawing on the karma of our previous existences, and that scenario is catalyzed by the environment around us.  Whatever karmic potentials are within our mindstream are then ripened and matured and brought forward due to certain catalytic events in our environment.  Then beyond that, we continue to habituate ourselves.  We have certain propensities due to our karmic flavor, if you will.  These certain propensities look like habitual tendencies and they are, in fact, habitual tendencies.  One person may have a great habit toward generosity and look for ways to engineer their life going on the track of generosity, compassion.  Another person may have the habit of self-absorption and angerand regard only their own feelings, not taking into account the feelings of others in the environment, being very self-absorbed and wishing that others would help them, would be of benefit to them.  That kind of selfishness becomes, then, a deep habit and very difficult to break.  So another person may have that kind of habit.

Unfortunately there are sentient beings with many different kinds of karma.  One may have had the habit pattern through many lifetimes of creating this habitual tendency of harming others, or hurting others, or killing others. The kinds of animals that are, by their type, predators, are actually beings who have within them the habitual tendency of killing, and they manifest as predators due to that habitual tendency.  So we come in with certain kinds of habits, and then we tend to reinforce them throughout the course of our lives.

According to this teaching that the Buddha has given us about impermanence, we understand that there is nothing, not one thing, that we can accomplish or accumulate during the course of our lifetime that we can take with us at the time of our death.  Meaning this:  Let’s say that we accumulate a great deal of money.  Let’s say that in the past we have been very generous to others and so we have the karma of being able to manifest money fairly easily.  Many people do.  It’s that simple.  It’s due to having been generous in the past.  This element of money coming into one’s life is like greased lightning.  It just really comes in very easily.

So, if that’s the case, then let’s say during this lifetime we spend a great deal of time making a lot of money and yet, even though we had the habit of being very generous in the past, somehow the impact of receiving so much money in this lifetime is a shock..  It reminds me of the story about the man who is making lots of money with computers these days.  He came from nowhere, Mr. Computer Geek, and then suddenly he’s a multi-billionaire.  It seems, from everything that I have read about him, that he is shocked and he just doesn’t get it.  To have several billion dollars that you can get your hands on if you really need to, and then to think that you need to make more before you can be generous is really an unusual way to think. I mean how many billions can you spend in one lifetime?

So for somebody like that, obviously he was very kind and generous in the past, but here he has been hit with this amazing shock of money just flying into his pocket. Now he is in danger of making the mistake of spending his energy and his opportunity increasing that money without increasing the generosity, and therefore in the future he will not have the same results, because none of that money that he’s making now is going to go with him.  This is the Buddha’s teaching, that we cannot take even one sesame seed’s worth of our accumulated wealth with us when we go into the bardo.

But, according to the Buddha’s teachings also, supposing we were to make the choice of being extraordinarily generous and using our wealth to make the world a better place, to benefit others, to support others who are in need, that sort of thing.  Then we can take this habitual tendency of generosity, this karmic potential,.  with us into the next life by virtue of the fact that we have given so much to others and been so kind and generous, because it isn’t measurable like a sesame seed.  It is the karma of one’s mindstream.  It is the habitual tendency of our consciousness,  and that does go into the next life.  These are the Buddha’s teachings: We actually have the opportunity to create benefit in this life that does last into the next life; but it’s nothing material, nothing that we can ever create in samsara, that will go with us.  Nothing that has weight, size, dimension.  Nothing we can hold.  Nothing material. Only the habits of our mind.  So these are the teachings that we receive when we first come to Dharma.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved