Pilgrimage to the Root of One’s Power

An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Coming Alive

I want to share about the experience I had going to Tso Pema in India and meditating in Mandarava’s Cave.  I just knew by being there that it was where Mandarava prayed and offered herself for the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings again and again and again.  That is where she cried and tore out her hair and meditated on the suffering of sentient beings and could hardly bear it.  She went through it in that cave.  That cave was her spiritual incubator.  Oh man, the way she prayed!  I wish today I could pray the way Mandarava prayed then, and I will continue to try for that.

When I planned my trip to India I had specific goals to connect with the root of my power. Now periodically I’m supposed to go back to my mother monastery, connect with my root guru and get additional training and refreshment, but I decided not to do it in the traditional way. I felt like I had to birth something new.  I felt like I had to connect with this power that I know is there, at the root.  In this lifetime, because the Dharma is being taught in a foreign land where things are completely different, I sometimes feel like a stranger in a strange land. The conditions of ordinary samsaric modern reality are just a little confusing sometimes, and one can lose sight of the root of one’s power.

I went to India thinking I was going to connect with this power, give rise to myself in some way, and I was not going to give up until it happened!  I swear I had this idea I was going to sit on a rock somewhere and just freeze to death.  I knew that something needed to happen.  I felt that I was starving, and that I needed nourishment.  So I spent only two weeks at the mother monastery–even though my precious root teacher was there and even though his kindness and the nourishment that he lavished upon me was inconceivable.  I felt that I needed to go someplace where I was in charge, where I was responsible, where I knew what was going on, and where I had only myself to answer. I knew what I needed to reach for.

I wanted to go to the holy places of Mandarava and Guru Rinpoche.  I wanted to reach for what had happened at that time.  When Mandarava and Guru Rinpoche practiced, they literally changed the world.  Of course, that isn’t reported now.  We only hear Western white man’s history and story.  But, in truth, Mandarava and Guru Rinpoche changed the spiritual world, as we know it, because in their practice they gave rise to the empowerment of immortal spiritual life, and they accomplished the deathless wisdom state.  They never died.  When they left the world in that lifetime, they rose up to the sky and disappeared. Hundreds of people saw it.

It was preordained that Guru Rinpoche would accomplish the siddhi of immortal life, and it was with Mandarava that he did it. At the time of their accomplishment, Amitayus Buddha, the Buddha of Long Life, came to them and recognized Guru Rinpoche as Amitayus Buddha and Mandarava as his consort.  So their empowerment was complete because they became the deities in union.  This revolutionized spiritual practice, as we know it, because now there are options for one’s spiritual practice.  If one practices deeply enough and heroically enough- not just casually–one can prolong one’s life and even realize immortal spiritual life or the deathless state.  One can accomplish that.

I was going to go to Tso Pema, recognized as an incarnation of Mandarava. I trusted and believed it because it came from my root guru, who is my heart and my mind; yet I needed to feel it myself.  I needed to touch it.  I wanted to smell it.  I wanted to own it. My intention, when I went into that cave, was to feel that “this is happening now.” I had that sense of wonder and strong determination that you get when you are faced with the option of a miracle.  When you know that, you are a different person.

I went into that cave with determination like I’ve never had before, and I sat down and I got everything that I asked for. The consciousness of Mandarava came to me.  I realized it was indistinguishable from my own.  I realized many facts and qualities about Mandarava.  I realized much about her practice with Guru Rinpoche.  My current mindstream and the mindstream of Mandarava began to blend, and I had such a powerful life-changing and potent experience at that time that my astrological horoscope changed.  It was a spiritual rebirth.

We are talking about, not only a life-changing experience, but also a change in one’s method, one’s purpose, one’s sense of accomplishment, one’s sense of self, one’s orientation. Little by little, in the same way that a child grows, this new empowerment is growing.  It is realized.  It is present.  It is alive in the world.  It is reincarnated.  To me, that empowerment was stronger, more profound and more fruitful than any of the traditional empowerments that I’ve had.

Is that because traditional teachings and the way they are conferred are inferior to what happened in the cave?  Of course not!  That would be like saying that one side of the Sweat Lodge is more powerful than the other.  That would be ridiculous. Here’s the bottom line.  Once you get to the fat cat stage, you’re dead.  No matter what you’re doing spiritually–if you’re keeping your samaya, if you’re practicing eight hours a day, if you’re dusting the temple, if you’re cleaning out the bowls and making offerings–if you’ve gotten to the fat cat stage where you think you’re in charge or you own the business or you’ve seen it all, you’ve lost your practice. It’s gone.  You’re practicing by rote.  I have a cockatoo that can be trained to do the same thing.

Practicing by rote is so superficial that we hardly realize that we have gone spiritually dead inside. We are afraid to ask ourselves the question, “What is my practice? When I put on my robes or when I pick up my mala and I open my books, do I do so in the same way that I sit down to a bowl of cornflakes in the morning?” I use this example because you have to eat something before you leave the house, and cornflakes are soggy.  Do you feel soggy when you do your practice?  Soggy is a pretty good word for it, wouldn’t you say?  When you sit down, is it like sitting down to an exquisitely prepared meal for the first time and you’re really hungry.  What is your experience when you practice?  Do you practice with childlike delight, with fervent regard, with an awareness that’s on the front burner–that all sentient beings are suffering, that they do not understand the causes of this suffering nor how to stop them, but that there is an end to suffering and there is a method.

When you hear this beautiful news and marvel, that delight and the hunger provided by that delight is what makes your path work. The period of turning your mind towards Dharma should never end.  In fact, the older and more fat cat you get, the more you must give rise to it continuously, reminding yourself of these fundamental truths and delighting in this information. Take nothing for granted while you are on the spiritual path, because the moment you do—whether it is your practice, the result, your community, your environment, your teacher, or even the fact that you have leisure to practice–you are no longer practicing. The academic who hears all this information, memorizes it and learns how to practice very well with all the bells and whistles and ritual implements may not be even close to the practitioner who goes around the stupa, knowing his or her life is in danger, and prays Om Mani Padme Hung in a heartfelt way.  In that expectation and hope a miracle might happen. Another practitioner who is superior to the fat cat is the one who has really studied and come to the path seeing that all sentient beings are suffering and has decided that enough is enough. To this one, the suffering is unbearable. And with that heart ripped open, this practitioner circumambulates the stupa and says Om Mani Padme Hung.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Who is Padmasambhava?


The following is respectfully quoted from “The History of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism” by Dudjom Rinpoche:

He studied all the sūtras, tantras, and sciences under the many scholars and accomplished masters of India, of whom the foremost were: the eight great awareness-holders, from whom he received the Eight Classes of Means for Attainment; Buddhaguhya, from whom he received the Magical Net; and Śri Simha, from whom he received the Great Perfection. Training himself thus, he fully understood all doctrines after studying them only once. He could see the deities even without propitiating them. In this way, he became renowned as Loden Chokse (Intelligent Boon-seeker), and he demonstrated the ultimate attainment of a holder of the awareness of spiritual maturation.

Then he gained influence over Mandāravā, the daughter of King Ārsadhara of Sahor, who possessed marks of a dākinī. He took her to the Māratika Cave, to serve as the consort for his practice; and for three months they practised the means for attainment of longevity. Lord Amitāyus actually came there and empowered them, and he consecrated them to be no different than himself. He granted them one billion rites of longevity, whereby Padmasambhava attained the accomplishment of awareness-holder endowed with power over the duration of his life.

Having thus attained the body of indestructible reality that is beyond birth and death, Padmasambhava went to subdue the kingdom of Sahor. When the king and his ministers tried to immolate him, he performed the miracle [of transforming the pyre into] a lake of sesame oil, in the midst of which he remained seated on a lotus. Thus he secured them in faith and introduced them all to the doctrine, so that they reached the level of no-return.

Prayer to Remove Obstacles


Download PDF of Prayer

Prayer to Guru Rinpoche to Remove Obstacles


Precious Teacher, the embodiment of all Buddhas of the Three Times:


To your lotus feet of Great Bliss, possessor of all spiritual attainments,


Clarifier of all obstacles, Düd¬dül Dragpo Tsal,


I pray that you will grant me your blessings.


Pacify all outer, inner and secret obstacles, and


Grant blessings that all my wishes may be spontaneously accomplished.


The Beginning of Awakening

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

One of the practices that we are taught as Buddhists is that always, always, Guru Rinpoche should be above the crown of our heads.  We should be mindful that Guru Rinpoche is always there, seated on his lotus throne.  Upon going to sleep, we should visualize that Guru Rinpoche becomes like light or liquid and then pours into the top chakra and through the central channel, and remains in the heart throughout the night.  We fall asleep with Guru Rinpoche in the heart.  This kind of mindfulness is the best part of practice.  No matter what else I do, even if I don’t sit down and practice formally, I practice like that all the time.  That’s the backbone that I rely on.

When I talk to any of my students, the way that I practice View is that, as a Lama, I consider that the students are higher than me.  (You should never do that!  But I can do that.)  I consider that the students are higher than me because there are many of them and I am only one and our nature is the same.  It’s a little bit like the posture of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. There is an element of sacrifice, there is an element of viewing the propagation of Dharma and the display of Bodhicitta to be all there is, the highest.  There is nothing else higher.  So I practice in such a way that the students are higher.  I hold them in high regard.  They are more precious to me than the other stuff that I do. I hold the students much higher than I hold myself.

It is the student’s job to practice that discrimination constantly.  One thing that we should do is consider that every event, every moment, every hour, every day, every breath has as its core nature Guru Rinpoche, the blessing of Guru Rinpoche, the appearance of Guru Rinpoche.  How does one practice that?  It is the kind of thing that you have to grow into.  You can’t just think all of a sudden, “Well, I’m never going to think about anything else.  I’m just going to think about Guru Rinpoche from now on, and therefore that’ll be real easy.  He’ll just always be on my mind.” That would make you crazy, wouldn’t it?  Trying to force that little monkey in a cage to do what you want? You don’t have to do it that way.

We start by creating habitual patterns that include body, speech and mind.  We want to include these three elements.  One way to practice this kind of mindfulness is to have an altar in your home.  If you don’t have an altar in your bedroom, perhaps you can have a picture by your bedside of Guru Rinpoche or your Root Teacher, maybe both. That’s a good visualization. Then, when you first wake up in the morning, the first thing you do — even before you go to the bathroom, even before the coffee — the first thing you do is look at that picture and reorient yourself: that this day the Guru is above the crown of my head.  This hour, this day, right now, the Guru is above the crown of my head and you make three prostrations.  You have it in your mind that this day is therefore sacred and then you dedicate the sacredness of this day to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings. No one can take that away from you no matter what happens during the day.  If you get hit by a car and both your legs come off, they still can’t take that away from you.  Even if you were to lose your life, the sacredness could not be taken away from you.

Any time you go into a specific event, whether it’s ordinary or whether it’s a spiritual event, hold the picture of Guru Rinpoche or the Root Guru in your mind, reestablish the picture above the top of your head, and know that this experience begins and ends with the Guru.  If you’re going to the grocery store to buy food for your children or your family, this is an excellent thing to do. Gradually, over time, even in ordinary experiences that had no flavor, that seemed to have no connection between this ordinary activity and spirituality, you will begin to establish more of a View and begin to see every experience as spiritual.  Whatever job you have, whatever activities you engage in, look for the Guru there.  If you look, you’ll find him.  If you don’t look, you’ll never find him.

With that kind of discrimination and Guru Yoga, I find that the amazing opportunities and blessings come through the most ordinary experiences.  To the degree that I see all phenomena as the mandala of the Guru, and I hold to be in union with the Guru constantly, then ordinary people, like gas station attendants, will say things that will blow your head off.  That has happened to me, where I’ve been in that frame of mind, looking for the Guru and constantly mindful, and then pull into a gas station, and the gas station attendant says something that just rocks your world.  And it’s about something weird, like renunciation or karma or something like that, and you say to yourself,  “I’m listening, OK!”  That happens.  That doesn’t make the gas station attendant your Guru.  You see the difference, don’t you?  But it does mean that you are beginning to discriminate that nature.  You’re beginning to awaken to that nature.  It’s just a little thread, but it’s something.  It is the beginning of awakening to that.

Somehow we have to think of incorporating this distinction of what is extraordinary into our lives.  It has to be an effort that we actually provide for and make substantial, that we actually create in our lives.  This opportunity to practice like that will never simply come to you.  You may simply meet your Guru, but that’s because you practiced in your last life.  That’s because you practiced before, that’s because you earned it, but once you meet the Guru, once you are on the path, this practice of Guru Yoga becomes your responsibility.  To the degree that you really address it in a very profound, deep and heartfelt way, to that degree, it will benefit and it will awaken the mind.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Two Eyes of Your Practice

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

Guru Rinpoche himself said, “I will appear as your Root Guru,” and that appearance is to be recognized.  It demands to be recognized.  One of the reasons why I harp so much on reciting the Seven line Prayer is because the Seven line Prayer is a prayer, the blessing of which creates the capability of seeing the Guru in all things, and of following the Guru and of practicing in such a way as to discriminate that absolute nature.  The nature of that prayer is to begin to awaken our inner psychic channels and to bless our psychic channels and winds and fluids in such a way that everything within us that is the Buddhanature begins to awaken.  That’s the power of that prayer, and it is done through the practice of recognizing and discriminating what is extraordinary.  In order to provide for that kind of recognition, we have to put a lot more effort into that aspect of our practice than we have up until now.

Maybe I am giving you the impression that it’s all about Guru Rinpoche.  For me it is, but maybe that’s because I’m lucky enough to have had enough teachings to have an understanding of Guru Rinpoche’s nature.  When we talk about the nature of the Guru, we are talking about the perfect mating of wisdom and compassion, of emptiness and appearance.  When you see the image of Guru Rinpoche, you always see that staff crooked in his arm, and that is the symbol of his consort.  It indicates that the Lama is never separate from his consort, and the meaning of that is the non-duality and union of emptiness and appearance, of wisdom and compassion, or bodhicitta.  That is the meaning of that union of Lama and consort.  So Guru Rinpoche is always seen that way.  We are to understand from that, then, that His nature is the perfect union of wisdom and bodhicitta, of the view of emptiness and the understanding of the display of appearances.  That is Guru Rinpoche’s nature.

That being the case, we have to find a way to not only recognize the physical form of the Guru, the picture that looks like Guru Rinpoche or the picture that looks like your teacher.  We really have to get past that and go into a deeper sense of trying to awaken and potentiate our own meditation, our own understanding, of the nature of emptiness and of the nature of appearances.  We have to begin to potentiate and practice and meditate in such a way that we see wisdom and compassion as being like the two eyes of our practice.

Click here for a teaching on the Seven Line Prayer and audio files of Jetsunma chanting the Seven Line Prayer.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Nature of the Teacher

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

The most important thing you can do to develop spiritual discrimination is to elevate the Root Guru. The Root Guru is the source of how you have come to the path, is the root teacher who gives you the preliminary teachings, is the one who hooks you onto the path.  For these reasons you elevate your teacher in such a way that you begin to awaken.  You are not awakening to the appearance of the teacher, but to the nature of the teacher.  Again, eventually, you will be able to see, not your own appearance, but your nature, and that’s the goal here.  That is the point of practicing Guru Yoga.  Otherwise no one else would care, because certainly the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas don’t need it.  They’re happy the way they are. The Lamas offer themselves to be used in that way. We have this extraordinary opportunity.  So it behooves you to accept that offer and use the Lama.  It behooves you to take the opportunity to see that this is the appearance of Dharma in your mind, of Dharma in your life, and to lift it up within you in your mind. Lift it up and see it differently from the other ordinary things that are in your life and be able to distinguish that.  You want to be able to get past the point where you say, “Well now, I like this about the Lama; I don’t like that about the Lama; I do like this about the Lama, I don’t like this about the Lama, blah, blah, blah.”  That’s what you’re doing about everything.  That’s what we do about each other and, most of all, about ourselves.  This mind training is meant to wean us away from that kind of conceptual proliferation.  It is meant to allow us to begin to taste the nourishment of pure View.

Those who have known me for any length of time know that my practice is all about Guru Rinpoche.  There are many reasons for that.  One is that I have a strong connection with Guru Rinpoche. That’s my great fortune and my great blessing.  In my mind and in my heart, there’s nothing else.  I don’t see anything else.  I’m not saying that I’m a great practitioner, but I’m giving an indication as to how this could work and what kind of formula we can develop in our own practice and in our own quest for mindfulness.  When I think about my practice with Guru Rinpoche, I look for him everywhere.  I look for the speech, for the method, for the intention of the Guru everywhere.  My experience has been that when I ask Guru Rinpoche for help, for receiving strength, receiving health, receiving whatever it is that I need in order to be strong enough to be of benefit to others, it is always there.  Even though I haven’t had the training from childhood that many other Lamas have had, when I ask Guru Rinpoche for help, it is always there.  There have literally been times when I have not known what my class was going to be about until I got there to teach, and sometimes those are the best classes, because I know that I am nothing but a vessel that Guru Rinpoche’s blessing simply pours through.

We are not talking about being falsely humble.  Remember that when you do prostrations, you always get up.  We don’t lie on the floor for hours!  We get up, and the reason why we get up is because that’s what’s supposed to happen.  Through prostrating the body, through practicing this with body, speech and mind, it is our nature that rises up.  The ego gets laid down.  We lay that down, and the nature is what rises up.  Symbolically that’s what’s happening with prostrations.  It’s all about learning to have View in a different way.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Mother Song and 7 Line Prayer

KW 176-x JAL with Atira-web

Mother Song & Seven Line Prayer

The following are the lyrics to The Mother’s Song, recorded by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1992. You can listen to the recording by clicking the link above.

The Mother’s Song

This morning I woke up

With the sounds of suffering

Speaking their names

In my ear

Spoke of a time

When the Bodhisattvas

Could no longer appear

How can my heart bear the sorrow?

How can my eyes bear to see?

All of my babes lost and fearful

Having no means to be free.

No way to know of liberation

No way to cross samsara’s sea

How can I comfort the sick and dying?

How can I hold them within me?

If they are called, will they hear?

Will they see?

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, March 1992

Guru Rinpoche & the Inner Work of Vajrayana


In Dharma, one of the most important jobs we have is to fight and pacify our inner poisons. They are our inner demons, and that is the work.  At the same time we must enrich and grow our virtue, our good qualities. This is a mirror to the way Guru Padmasambhava entered Tibet.

When Guru entered Tibet he was met with Demons and local demi-gods. The Bon religion existed there and these demons were associated.  Guru Rinpoche defeated all of them with debate and miraculous powers, including flying above them. He won over some demons and made them holy protectors. Those unwilling to be oath bound were destroyed.

Then Guru Padmasambhava could enter Tibet. There he gathered translators and worked.  Guru Rinpoche translated Dharma from Sanskrit to Tibetan. Due to His power, purity and virtue Tibet became a great land of Dharma.

We must do the same thing in our own minds. Conquer our own demons and make the way for Dharma to take root. Then move forward and develop.

So Dharma is not a bland tutti-frutti faith and path. Vajrayana is meant to change one’s habits, non-virtues, so it is powerful. It can cut!

Vajrayana is potent, and should not be mixed with anything else. It cannot be changed or it loses its potency. And I can tell you it is not for the weak. It requires self-honesty and pure intention. It requires us to abandon the mentality of materialism and ordinary view.

Self-honesty can be brutal. Ask ANY recovering alcoholic. We are all addicts to samsara. We like the hit, the buzz, all of it.  So there is real inner work to be done. Can’t just sit and contrive “blissing out”- anyone can do that. The idea is this IS relative reality.

We ARE experiencing old age, sickness and death. So there MUST be a remedy SO POWERFUL to awaken us to Buddhahood! It ain’t Kansas anymore.

Spiritually we must break lifetimes of habit and confusion! That takes work, a dedicated life.  That is why Guru Padmasambava said Vajrayana is the right way for THIS time called Kaliyuga, the time of degeneration. And Enlightenment is more easily gained. As samsara is thick, so is the door of Liberation more firmly opened to those who work it.

This is the essence of THIS method. If you were my very own babe I would not, could not tell you different. This is the wisdom and clarity of the great Bodhicitta, the milk of awakening. From the very heart of Dharma, the Precious Guru, it is offered to you.


Advice for the Vajrayana Practitioner


When following the path of Vajrayana, there are steps one must take just as they are. They are the technology, or method.

Method must be accomplished as taught in each Lineage. If you mix it up, or combine with other methods there will be no result.

Some people sample Buddhism and mix it up with Hinduism, New Ageism, shamanism, etc. all are fine but Vajrayana should NEVER be mixed.

Vajrayana Masters say this constantly. If mixed with other views purity and potency are watered down, so no benefit. Samaya is ruined.

Practitioners are constantly warned to follow step by step until true realization. If one simply dabbles, Vajrayana is not for you.

Each step is practiced until accomplished for the benefit of sentient beings- it is said one is of benefit when enlightened.

Many people through ordinary human kindness can be helpful; but not like a Buddha, Supreme Guide.

Until one reaches tenth Bhumi level, one can still fall to the lower realms, revolving in confusion and lost in delusion, how sad.

To say Enlightenment is not possible, or is irrelevant is false Dharma. Even if one means well, this is spiraling downward.

Please abandon such wrong view and wrong activity, you are harming others! This is not kind. Not what Buddha taught.

Guru Rinpoche the peerless Vajra Master taught like this; that with intense practice one can attain realization in this life. EMAHO!

NEVER abandon that promise made by Guru Padmasambava at the very cost of your life! It is the great hope of humankind.

These are the sacred unalterable truths of Dharma, of Tantric Buddhism, and if polluted, are polluted for all

This is why Lineage is essential; to hold and confer the Dharma in pure succession, untainted, from a pure Lineage Master!

Following the path of Vajrayana purely, one will never be duped, or confused, the way is as straight as an arrow!

May pure Dharma, even in these dark times always be available to the sea of beings as vast as the sky! May we never abandon Bodhicitta!