Caring for the Precious Sangha

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Keeping Heart Samaya”

As a student, one of your responsibilities is to uphold and protect the Sangha, one of the Three Precious Jewels.  The way that works is this. The Sangha is one body.  If one part of the human body goes sour, if there is some negative consciousness rattling around somewhere – and nowadays even doctors know that there is some connection – the body will develop a cancer.  If even one part of it has become disorganized, then the whole body becomes sickened.  So the Sangha’s responsibility to one another is virtuous conduct.

By virtuous conduct I mean that in the Sangha there should never, ever be gossip and slander. NEVER!  I cannot say this strongly enough.  If there will ever be a time when the Buddha’s teachings are destroyed, it will be from the inside because there is nothing on this earth, other than Buddhist practitioners, that have that power.  If the Buddha’s teachings and their purity are ever destroyed, it will be by Dharma practitioners committing non-virtuous acts.  Gossip and slander that are harmful and disruptive to the Dharma community is a heinous crime because the Sangha is like a beautiful, virtuous, supreme and exalted body; not an ordinary body, but a body that leads to liberation, a body that walks to liberation, a body whose sole purpose is to bring about the liberation of all sentient beings.  This is purity itself.  This is truth itself.  If instead of upholding that truth by keeping samaya with the Lama, the Sangha instead engages in this kind of non-virtuous conduct, this cancer is created. This is such a heinous crime because of what is lost.  Where else in samsara can we find such great benefit as from the Sangha or spiritual community?  Where else will such help and support come than from the Lama’s extended body, this pure activity in the world?  So because something very pure and precious has been harmed, the weight of the crime is very great.

I particularly have a strong dislike for gossip and slander.  I have seen what kind of harm it can do in religious communities.  Even in the ordinary context in this day and age, gossip and slander have gotten to be so stylish and so outrageously prevalent and hip that we don’t even seem to mind closing down our government so that we can do it.  We don’t seem to mind paying any price, including completely disrupting the responsibility between people in office and the people they serve.  Not to say that any of these things that are said aren’t right, but this kind of gossip has become such a thing, such a fad.  In other religious communities as well as Buddhist communities, it is a general religious phenomena.  But there is always gossip and slander.  It seems to be that if people think a teacher is pure, other people have to knock that teacher down.  Or if people think a particular faith is pure, other people have to gossip about it.  Why does it have to be that way?

As far as I am concerned, if you bring gossip and slander into this community, which is the Lama’s body, being the Lama here, I take it very personally.  If you bring gossip or slander into this community, you are wrong, wrong because you brought it.  Even if the story you are telling is right, you are wrong because what we are doing here by creating gossip and slander, is to harm the body of the Sangha, and there is a breakage of samaya.  We have not upheld the three objects of refuge.

Now, of course, if there is ever a problem with misconduct on the part of any religious leader, anything like that, we hope that those who are engaged in this conduct will turn to their teachers and receive spiritual guidance.  But the antidote to that is support and compassion.  The antidote to that is not the hatred, disease and sickness of gossip and slander.  That only harms the body and creates a cancer in the Dharma community.  So part of the samaya between students and teachers – and I will tell you that if I could legislate that it would be 100 times as strong here – for any of you who are truly committed to being my students, you must cut out gossip and slander from your life immediately, whatever it takes.  Purify that non-virtue.  Stop now.  You help no one and you harm yourself.  It brings nothing but unhappiness.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Gossip: Understanding the Poison

The following is from a series of tweets by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

Any time you talk badly about someone you actually shorten your life force. Or at the least you endanger your ability to draw trusting friends and the ability to be well-spoken in future times. And no one will believe you.

I don’t like gossip – it does no good and tastes like poison. And it comes back.

Question from Twitter Follower: “What is the distinction between gossip and recounting your experiences with others?”

Jetsunma’s response: Intention is the difference. Tell stories, I do. Usually we know when we are being mean-spirited.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Right Speech

An excerpt from a teaching called The Eightfold Path by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Right speech is the first principal of ethical conduct on the Eightfold Path.  And on the Eightfold Path is really based on ethical conduct.  It’s one of the things that I like best about Buddhism.  It isn’t based on a pie-in-the-sky idea. You have to work it.  People who are recovering alcoholics will recognize that saying about the 12-step program, “It works if you work it.”  Right?  And the Eightfold Path is exactly like that.  If you don’t work it, you’re going to go back to the narcotic of samsara.  But if you do work it, you have strength and bones that you never had before.  There is a similarity.  I’ve often drawn that connection between the Buddha dharma and the way that self-honesty is required, and the 12-step program, especially in that we are all addicts.  We are addicted to our emotions.  We are addicted to our delusions.  We are addicted to our visions.  We are addicted to our dreams. We are all addicts. And we are just so drunk with the narcotic of samsara that it is hard to pay attention, and see what is the root of all this.  We are trying to become awake so that we can see all of that, and right speech is one of the guidelines to the moral discipline of ethics.

We don’t realize that you have to do right to be right. That is certainly true on the path of Buddha dharma.  The importance of speech in the Buddha dharma is central and obvious.  For one thing you can cause harm with speech, and you should never do that.  Right speech would be speaking well, speaking nobly, speaking higher, and not speaking against anyone or speaking harshly or cruelly, or gossiping.

Gossiping is a terrible ethical non-virtue or perversion of Buddhist ethics.  And I must say it’s rampant in most religious communities and in ours too.  It’s rampant.  It’s not what the Buddha taught and it should not be that way.  We should uphold one another with speech, rather than to tear one another down.  Words can break or save lives.  Think about that.  Words can make enemies or friends. Start war or create peace.  All by words.  And you can review history to see that that’s true.

To keep away from false speech, one especially should never tell deliberate lies or speak deceitfully.  Some people are storytellers, and tend to be expansive in their speech.  I’ve been known to do that myself.  When you tell a story, you expand it a little bit.  You polish it up.  Make it a little more interesting.  Throw in a few hand gestures. That’s not deceitful necessarily unless you are making yourself higher.  Then that would be deceitful.  If you said, “I had this experience in meditation.  It was so big.  You’ve never had anything like it.”  (And therefore, I’m big)  That would be wrong speech.  That would be unethical.  What we really want to do is avoid telling different lies, especially those that bring us power, acknowledgement, or approval, because then we know that we are lying to someone, which is unethical, in order to bring ourselves up above them which is not right either.  It ruins our right intention.

That would be called false speech and it is to be avoided.  We must also abstain from slanderous speech, and should not use words maliciously against others.  That’s gossip.  We do it all the time.  We should be very very careful with that, because one thing I’ve noticed about gossip and slander is that it comes right back to you, even in this very life.   But if we develop the habit of slanderous speech, lifetime after lifetime, what happiness can come from that?  We will be born into lifetimes where no matter what we do people will not think well of us.  We will be causing more suffering to others and ourselves.  To use words maliciously against others undermines the whole basis of the path, which is this right intention and this right view, and this consideration of the truth of the Four Noble Truths.

When we consider all of this together, we understand that malicious speech is not just a no no.  It’s a killer. We should abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others. We can see what the ethics of that would be.  Like if I were to say to you, “Gee, you look kind of ugly today.”  What is the point of that?  Why would I need to do that?  Even if it were true, why would I do that?  Well, first of all I have shown that I have not accomplished right view.  Right there I have shown you my buttocks.  So, obviously this is not the right way to go.

We want to cultivate right intention, so we want to keep away from unethical speech that hurts or offends others.  We want to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth.  Positively phrased, it means tell the truth, speak friendly, warmly and gently, and talk when you’ve got something to say.  Brilliant!  Only a Buddha could have thought of this.  Actually it was “talk only when necessary.” I had to have a little fun there.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Hope for All

The following is from a series of tweets by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

It is going well here, I’m still in NY, happy and meditating. It is so lovely here. The Lamas are teaching, so the students are doing well.

Here we try not to gossip or make bad feelings, or divide the Palyul sangha. When His Holiness Penor Rinpoche was here, he set the precedent for not allowing gossip and we try hard to maintain. I’ve been around a while and seen for myself the glory of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche’s pure and kind leadership, and how He kept expanding and growing, even when he was sick.

I am sure His Holiness Karma Kuchen will carry on with the highest Bodhicitta. So there is confidence in the future.

Remember, if there is no heart in one’s practice there is no Bodhicitta and no result. Remember, in Tibet many pure practitioners without formal training would accumulate mantra with great heart all day and night and achieve the rainbow body. So we need not fear! There is hope and realization for all. And room for all types of practitioners, just do your Dharma!

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Coming Together for Peace

The following is from a series of tweets by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

Tomorrow evening KPC is having a potluck feast with His Holiness Karma Kuchen Rinpoche for Palyul students. Both PCD and KPC. The sincere wish and prayer is that all Palyul will be truly united. For the sake of all sentient beings and the return of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche. It is the strength of pure devotion that will bring back the Yangsi and we must abandon gossip now, and be in harmony for Palyul.

Together we can benefit the western Dharma practitioners. With unity. Separate we can do little, and fighting and gossip will harm us all. Let’s be a powerful worldwide force for Dharma, compassion community and peace. Let’s lead the way, a great pure Lineage of kindness.

We should stop fooling ourselves that somehow, magically, with envy and self-importance we can be of any use. It simply isn’t possible. Love and respect really work! We don’t need or want more petty wars! They are a true blight and poison on the Earth. The more respect we give is the best way, and appreciation for each other is the only way to make a peaceful world.


Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Statement About the Karmapa

From a series of tweets by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

I’d like to mention that many people are asking me the details of the issues with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. My answer – I don’t gossip or judge other lineages. Gossip is not my way. To gossip about another lineage is not what I’m about. It causes dissension and anger in the sangha, harms the Three Jewels and causes only bad result. Buddhists should reject gossip as wrong speech and ignorance.

I do know about the situation, but not one word of of gossip or slander about His Holiness the 17th Karmapa or the Kagyu lineage will come from my mouth or activity, I have no secret or inside knowledge.  Anyone asking should find those that gossip, not me.  Any other lineage besides Palyul is not for me to pass judgment on, simply not my job. I have nothing but respect for the Kagyu lineage and His Holiness the 17th Karmapa.

For all my students I advise not to gossip and pray we will all keep our own practice alive and well.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved