Karma: Virtual Reality

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Neurotic Interaction to Guru Yoga”

When you’re practicing to accomplish pure view, you realize that for you, the teacher is the appearance in the world of a method or a path, a means by which one can enter the door of liberation. This is what makes the teacher precious.  The teacher can connect you with the path, can explain the path, can ripen and deepen the mind so that one can practice on the path, and is a spiritual facilitator of a very high caliber.  Their activity is extraordinary, or beyond what is normally found in samsara.  So you begin, in pure view, to recognize the teacher as being representative of your own true face, the ground of being that is your inherent primordial wisdom nature—that nature which is free of contrivance, free of distinction, completely empty yet completely fulfilled and spontaneously complete.  You begin to understand that this teacher is a representation of that nature in the world. The teacher provides the path, the means, the method, the ability to practice, and connects you with that in a very extraordinary way.

Once you’ve determined that, the teacher becomes for you the appearance of the Buddha nature in the world, the appearance of the method or the path in the world, the appearance of the fruition or the accomplishment in the world, the appearance of your own true face in the world.  Once the teacher becomes that for you, then to take an opposite viewpoint and to determine a difference of opinion is not a sin or a nonvirtue.  It simply argues with what you have already determined for yourself.  It’s almost like walking three steps forward and two steps back in your Dharma practice.  It’s not that you should become brain dead and that you’re not supposed to have an opinion, but there’s a fine line there that has to be travelled, and it’s pretty difficult to understand what that line is.  Now on the one hand you are, and have been raised to be, a person who has a mind that thinks, and you have the ability to connect cause and effect yourself. Hopefully on the path you are developing that clarity of mind more and more and more.  Yet here you find a situation where you have also stated clearly “I have found my teacher.  Here is this vajra master that I have taken teachings from. That vajra master has facilitated me on the path of Dharma. So how is it that I feel like I have a different opinion at the same time that I have said this is the ultimate, this is the face of the Buddha, this is the Buddhas’ wisdom?  How do I negotiate that?  What’s that look like for me?  I mean, how do I do that?”

Well, let’s stop and think for a moment in a way that might be beneficial.  Don’t answer that question right now, but keep it simmering.  We’re cooking up some Thanksgiving dinner here.  We’re keeping it simmering.  Here’s the gravy. It’s simmering on low boil.  So now we’re back with the turkey in the oven.  But don’t forget, the gravy is still on the boil.  You’ve got to keep watching that one!  O.K., now, withdraw from that, but still think about answering that question.

Now think about this:  You’ve noticed haven’t you, I’m sure you have, that throughout our lives we tend to repeat certain habitual tendencies again and again and again.  Can we all agree on that?  We have seen certain habitual tendencies.  We have seen certain patterns, certain habits. It really depends on how old you are, how convinced you are of this.  The older you are, the more time you’ve had to see these things repeat again and again and again.  While you’re still young, you think, “Well I’ve only done this two or three times!  Who says there’s going to be a fourth, fifth and seventy-fourth!”  But by the time you get to be maybe midlife where I am, you’re going, “I’ve seen this movie before!!  I have seen this movie before!”  And you realize that these habitual tendencies kind of repeat themselves again and again and again, deeply ingrained.

And then if you’re the kind of person who is really insightful, you realize that you project these habitual tendencies onto the circumstances of your life, and without realizing it, will very much control situations and people in your life according to your preconceived notions and according to your habitual tendencies. A difficult situation where you may recognize this is, let’s say, a child that grows up in a house where the child is not given any dignity or any respect and the child feels not loved or abused in some way. So the child develops a certain understanding about that —I am not worthy or I am not lovable—and then goes out into their lives and tends to project some of the same information on others. Others might be perfectly willing to love, be perfectly willing to just do the best they can, not always perfect of course, but to do the best they can, loving them.  And yet this person is unable to accept that love and sees the same outcome pretty much all the time and actually is engaged in that outcome.  So that’s one situation.

Another situation is, for instance, that of a cat.  A cat is actually so strongly habituated towards killing it seems instinctive. From the Dharma point of view, we understand this to be habitual tendency reinforced many many times, life after life, a karmic kind of situation.  The cat will be reborn, and even if there is nothing to kill, if you throw a ball of yarn across the room, the cat will go after it. You know what happens when a cat sees flies against the window.  If a fly is bumping against the window, the cat will go after that.  Anything that scuttles, the cat is after it and their eyes get really big.  Have you ever seen a cat look out the window at a bird feeder?  Have you ever seen that?  The cat makes these horribles noises like “I want those hamburgers!  Give me those hamburgers!!”  For them it’s like McDonalds in the sky.  These animals are so strongly habituated towards killing, that even though they come into this life as a cute little fluffy kitty, those little ears and the little tail and those little feet, still and all, they are killers.  They are habituated towards that and the first chance they get, any stimulation, any stimulation, such as the rolling of the ball of yarn across the floor, they will interpret as the hunter and hunted scenario.

Did you know that we do the same thing?  We do exactly the same thing.  We are so deeply habituated in our own particular tendencies, whatever they are, that we project in the same way onto external stimulation.  If we have deeply habituated ideas, sometimes they are bordering on the obsessive and compulsive. Maybe not even bordering, maybe all the way in that country!  Pay the toll, we’re in!  What happens is once we are strongly habituated into habit, we interpret all stimulation outside as something that keys us into our habitual tendency.  So what I find as a teacher and a female, for instance, is that many people interpret me as their mother.  They think of me as being the authority figure, someone they have to answer to in that way.  They can’t be bad around me.  A lot of times the students will… I mean it’s one thing to have your Dharma manners going when you see the teacher—you hold that in respect, and that’s a really good thing—but what I found is that I can walk into a party and kill it, just like that!  Because my students suddenly stop functioning.  It reminds me of when I was a kid and my mother said ‘dust the living room.’  So I’d be dusting the living room, having fun, thinking about other things, like boys or whatever, and dusting and carrying on.  My mother came into the room and I’d suddenly start moving fast! It reminds me a little bit of that.

And sometimes some of my students are habituated towards authority figures in a certain way, and since I must exude some kind of authority, they look at me and interact in the same way with me that they do with other authority figures. So there is this “has to be good girl, good boy or whatever, routine” and the blaming of the teacher and making all of those “I’m mad at you authority figures” kind of scenarios going on.  There are all kinds of different gigs, You know what your gig is with authority.  Everybody has one.  And so they project that onto the teacher. But you see, what’s really happening there is you’re looking at your own habitual tendency—the way that your mind works, the way that it intersects with the time and space grid in front of you, and how you play with your own habitual tendency.  What you’re really seeing there is kind of like a bounce-back phenomena that’s actually taking place within your own mindstream.

There is nothing external happening.  There is nothing beyond you that is happening.  There’s just nothing out there that determines your fate.  You’re looking at a kind of almost internal bubble, or a virtual situation in a certain way.  You can learn a lot from that kind of virtual reality situation.  It’s almost a virtual internal situation that’s happening there.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Most Important Practice


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Habit of Bodhicitta”

The traditional fundamental ideas of all sentient beings as being equal—the realization that all sentient beings are suffering equally, that it is unacceptable to see their suffering, that all sentient beings are interrelated with us—these fundamental thoughts are really important. But go on from that and practice the mechanics of changing habitual tendency. It is not enough to be theoretical. The biggest fault that I find in Buddhist practitioners is that they keep it academic. I do not myself like academic Buddhist students. I would rather you knew nothing about the academics of practice and a heck of a lot about changing the habitual tendency of self-absorption through a real practice. Because academics is not going to get you anywhere but between your ears. On the other hand, giving rise to the bodhicitta and pure view and changing habitual tendencies will lead to profound realization, to the perfect awakening. Not only that, but it will lead to a better world.

So for my money, I feel like the best thing you can do is to begin to practice in a small and simple way. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to do that either. And you don’t have to be a high falutin’ practitioner to do that either. You don’t have to wear the robes, or walk the walk or dance the dance or talk the talk, or even have a nifty mala which seems to be the highest priority when we first become a Buddhist. Big deal! The highest priority should be loving kindness and you should begin in whatever small way that you can, making no conclusions, other than the fact that you have a pattern and that you can change it. Remember the idea of the scales. That’s really important. Remember the idea of applying the method today. Now. Remember the idea of confession and restitution immediately after any breakage. How potent. What an incredibly potent way to live! Can you imagine living without the burden of guilt or the burden of the false assumption that you are a bad person?  You’d have so much spare time on your hands. You wouldn’t know what to do. Because all the things you do to prove yourself you wouldn’t have to do anymore. Isn’t that true?

Do yourself a favor. Live simply in that way. It’s the best and highest practice. In the Vajrayana tradition we are given many things that we can do. We practice Ngöndro, preliminary practice. We meditate on the Thoughts that Turn the Mind.We practice generational stage practice, completion stage practice. We visualize ourselves as the meditational deity and pronounce mantra. All of those things are meant to put more in this pile. The most important practice is that of loving kindness, that of viewing others as equal. Don’t view them as worse than you, no matter what they look like and that way there won’t be anybody better than you.  All of this has been taught by the Buddha and is absolutely true.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Compassion as Antidote


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Habit of Bodhicitta”

There’s a funny thing about the human mind that we don’t realize. Do you know how in your mind you think you’re concentrating on a million things at once? Some of you can chew gum, watch TV, listen to the radio and write in a book at the same time. I’ve seen people do this. It’s amazing. I have a son, oh, my god, you can’t believe this son. It looks like he can watch TV, listen to the radio, talk and really carry on a conversation, dance while he’s talking, and if he knew how to fry an egg, he could probably do that at the same time. I mean, talk about a Mongolian juggler. Each of us feels likewe can do so many things at one time; but what we don’t realize about the human mind is that’s not true. It can only do one thing at a time. But what happens is that we do these things in such rapid succession, that if we think about ten things at once, it feels like what is actually happening is that we are thinking about this, switch to this, switch to this, switch to this, very quickly; and our minds actually become inflamed and agitated with the switching from one picture to the other. That’s why it becomes valuable and precious to meditate on bodhicitta and to practice bodhicitta. Because while you are practicing bodhicitta, putting your mind in this pile, while you are doing that, no matter how simplistic it is, even if it’s just opening the door for somebody, while you’re doing that, you aren’t doing the other thing. And the great thing about the human continuum is that if you aren’t continuing it, it doesn’t continue.

The funny thing about continuum is that it loses its definition, its essence, if it’s not being continued. So we are taught to practice kindness and to begin where we can and to increase it moment by moment. Because while you are doing that, you can’t be doing the other. But believe me, when you are not doing that, you are doing the other. You are doing the other. So the bodhicitta becomes now not a great mystical attribute that we all hope we are going to get, it becomes a remedy. It becomes a method. It becomes an antidote. And you should see compassion as an antidote. There is no excuse, none, for you not to start right now. And you can’t get into what is kind of like the diet syndrome with bodhicitta. I don’t know how many of you have actually been on a diet, but if you’re on a diet, you’re like this: You go through, ok, a thousand calories a day. So you’re making your little chart and you’re eating your boiled egg or whatever it is, celery and ice or, whatever horrible thing they are making you eat. And then at one point during the day, you just can’t stand it and you go back to the old habit and think, ‘Ok, I’ve eaten celery all day, now I’m going to eat a piece of chocolate cake.’ What happens in our minds is that we think, ‘Now I’m off my diet. And it doesn’t matter.’ Well, you can’t have that kind of diet mentality with your bodhicitta. For instance, if you practice bodhicitta for a good period of time and suddenly you blow it, not only blow it, blow it big time, you know, I mean, big time, you really blow it, then you think, ‘I’m not a compassionate person. I’m not good, I’m bad. It’s gone for today. I’ll try maybe next week sometime. I’m hopeless. I’m helpless. I’ve blown my bodhicitta diet.’ You begin to form all these exaggerated conclusions based on what has just happened.

If you could approach yourself in a relaxed way, moment by moment, and you did practice bodhicitta for a certain period of time, then when you really, really blow it, there would be no inner tension to prevent you from simply going back to the bodhicitta. What you’ve done is expressed both of your habits, your new one, which is difficult, and your old one, which is easy and you can fall into it any time you don’t practice your new one. It doesn’t mean anything. It only means that you’re expressing both habits and at every given moment you have a choice. You can practice bodhicitta the very next moment right after you’ve blown it. And you should, because the best way to prevent blowing it again is to climb right back on that horse and make restitution. That’s the best way, to get right back on it. If you don’t’ do that, you carry a tremendous burden as a spiritual person, the burden of hypocrisy. You feel like a hypocrite. You feel like you’ve really messed up. You have this idea that you’ve been kind and then this monster in you comes out and then you’re faking it again. You can’t think like that. You can’t think in terms of good and bad, high or low. Think in terms of habitual tendency. Give yourself a break. You have both. Accept it now. Accept it now. And this way, no matter what happens, you’re not going to have to think something vile about yourself. And you have the freedom to make a choice at any moment.

My recommendation is that should you begin to practice bodhicitta and find it extremely difficult, do not form conclusions about it. Only continue. The only conclusion you should form really is the one that I’m giving you: That’s my habit. I understand that about myself. I accept. And I accept that I can change it, little by little. And it’s hard. It’s all right if it’s hard. One day at a time, you know?

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


Clarifying the Goal

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Antidoting the Mantra of Samsara”

Honestly ask yourself whether there is wisdom in what the Buddha has taught. That, in fact, when it comes time to practice Dharma, to realize the nature of one’s mind, to see it purely and clearly, to wipe away the stain of non-virtuous behavior and discursive thought and ancient habitual tendencies and simple ignorance… Can we really ask ourselves whether there is wisdom in what the Buddha has taught when he said that this is something that needs to be worked at in depth. That there needs to be a great deal of effort in that direction. That, in fact, it really isn’t that useful to have a wonderful, blissful, emotional experience saying that one glorious mantra that you thought would really do the trick, because that’s just another flower in the bouquet of human experiences and emotions. If you have a blissful, marvelous, emotional, contrived experience with that one mantra, it’s really in essence not so very different from the blissful, emotional experience that you have when you do something else really well. Or when you buy a new car, or when you get a new honey, or when you taste a new kind of chocolate, or whatever it happens to be. It becomes then simply another human emotional experience that we contrive to look like, or to be, a certain way, because that’s what most of our experiences actually are. They are contrivances.

In order to really stir the depths of samsara, that is to purify ancient habitual tendencies, well-established habitual tendencies, in order to create the new habitual tendency of virtuous activity, a great deal of depth and effort has to come into that. So many recitations are required. The goal here is not really to have an emotional experience. It is to recite the syllables associated with mantra which are not ordinary in which each and every syllable has a particular extraordinary blessing associated with the mind of enlightenment and serves to actually purify the winds, channels and fluids within one’s psychic nature.

So many repetitions here are the key. And then on top of that, since you thought maybe the way to do this would be to have a beautiful deep and profound experience anyway, you might try being completely absorbed in the mantra that you are reciting. Because you are right about one thing: It is less potent to just say mantra than to really remain absorbed in the visualization that is given to you by the teacher and to remain absorbed in the activity itself. That is much more profound and much deeper. But still and all, even if you are to do it in a way where you’re completely absorbed, where the experience is deep, where it’s profound, where you’re really paying attention, where you’re really developing some clarity of mind, still and all, even with that, it is necessary to make many repetitions.

And the reason why is because there’s a goal here. We are applying an antidote to something specific in order to have a specific result. There’s a difference between reciting mantra for that reason, with that kind of perspective and maybe coming to some teaching or going to church or coming to even a Buddhist temple or hearing what I have to say to you and then simply thinking “Oh now I’ve heard that so therefore I’ve had some of the Buddha’s teachings.”  O.K., that’s very good. There’s a difference in the goal orientation, do you see?  One of them is simply collecting something, having something, saying you’ve been there—a knot on the belt. You know, it’s something. And the other one is understanding the faults of cyclic existence, the conditions of samsara, the depth of it, the complication of it, and understanding that there is a goal, an extraordinary goal that cannot be reached any way other than to apply the necessary antidote.

That goal of course is enlightenment. That goal of course is what the Buddha experienced when he said, “I am awake.”  It is awakening to our primordial nature. It is a condition that is beyond form, beyond formless, beyond samsara, beyond even nirvana. It is an utterly conditionless and natural state and to awaken to that nature, that is the goal.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Understanding Death and Rebirth

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

The Buddha wants us to understand that the only thing that has lasting value, that is actually truly and really good for us, that will lead us to the door of liberation, that will lead us into spiritual reality, are the Three Precious Jewels— the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. And in Vajrayana the Lama is the condensed essence of all those three.

We are taught that everything is impermanent and nothing can be trusted, because nothing goes with you when you die. There is only one thing that you can gather and accumulate that has any value and that is virtuous habitual tendencies, the dissolution of the poisons.  One’s karmic propensities and habitual tendencies are the only thing that leave with us when we die, continue with us in the bardo and return with us and form our next life.  It is this package of habitual tendencies and karmic material that actually experiences death and rebirth.  The Buddha teaches that it isn’t even the fact that you reincarnate.  The Buddha teaches us that we experience rebirth and death.  There is a difference.  What is experiencing that birth and death is this package of habitual tendencies and karmic propensities. And that is how the experience happens.  But you, in your nature, are the primordial wisdom Buddha.  You cannot die and be reborn.  But if you are dead to that reality, asleep to that reality, you only experience death and rebirth.

If we really take the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence and carry them to a deeper level, we begin to understand this.  The Buddha teaches us that due to delusion we experience rebirth, death and rebirth.  That which you are does not reincarnate.  It’s like saying that what we are experiencing are the waves on top of an ocean.  You can’t keep anything still there—it’s all wavy. But the truth of our nature, the meaning of the path, is the sanctity and solidity of the ocean floor that never changes.  That is why the Buddha teaches us about impermanence. Not to scare us, not to make us unhappy.  To tell somebody a thing is a certain way doesn’t make them any unhappier if it is that way.  It makes them able to cope, to deal, to decide.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved


The Wish for Happiness


An example of our misguided search for happiness might be something like a story that I’ve heard here more than once with students who come to me for consultation or just to talk to me for awhile. They say well I don’t know what to do about my tendencies in, perhaps, relationships. In relationships it seems that I act a certain habitual way. It seems that I become attracted to people of the opposite sex who are not appropriate for me. They are not compatible with me. And under those circumstances, for a period of time, I generally feel a great attraction and then ultimately become very unhappy. Or perhaps in a relationship I cannot assert myself. I habitually act like an underdog or an underling, and I cannot achieve any real happiness in relationships. Or perhaps in relationships I habitually come on strong in the beginning and then after awhile I turn off and feel very much out of touch with the meaning of the relationship.

Whatever it is, I’ve had many students, many times during the course of my speaking with students, students will come to me I don’t understand this habitual tendency that I have. I don’t understand how it is that I continually engage in the same patterns. We all understand patterns. We all have patterns within our lives. And we don’t understand why it is that we often perpetuate patterns that bring us unhappiness, patterns that have never worked out before. So why should they this time? They continually bring us some disappointment. Why is it that we do that?  Perhaps we think that maybe we don’t really want to be happy.

I don’t think that’s the case. According to the Buddha’s teaching, everyone wishes to be happy. Across the board, everyone wishes to be happy. But we all have these inner messages that we’re playing to ourselves. Like perhaps we think we’ll be the happiest if we’re unhappy, because we deserve to be unhappy in some strange way. Or perhaps we think that we’ll be the happiest if we can act unhappy so that others will comfort us, and that’s really want we want. Or perhaps we feel that if we act misguided enough, eventually someone will come forth with the answer for us. We have all kinds of hidden inner agendas that we play over and over again. And we should never mistake that the one thing we all have in common, no matter what our condition is, and no matter what our habits are, is that we wish to be happy. And we wish it deeply. We wish it very much.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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 Futility of Habits

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

If you create the habit of compassion and generosity, then that habitual tendency will stay with you, and in some future life it will affect your rebirth and your circumstances.  There will be much more joy and happiness.  When one engages truly on the Bodhisattva’s path, one goes beyond that superficial kind of view.  One goes much deeper into the understanding of how to live one’s life. And so one’s morals and ethics and values are developed because of this Bodhisattva ideal.  The Bodhisattva understands these teachings that the Buddha has taught— that all things are impermanent.  The Bodhisattva understands that whatever material gain we can amass during the course of this life can only bring temporary happiness and, ultimately, if that’s all we do, it will bring suffering.  So this is what the Bodhisattva studies and the Bodhisattva comes to the point of realizing that.

Then there is another kind of amazing logic that enters into the mind of the Bodhisattva. It becomes part of our life experience, and becomes the most profound law that we can live by.  And that is this:  Think about this body of ours, this body that we cherish and hold onto. We decorate it, we love it, we keep it safe. We make sure that it’s happy.  We revolve much of our time and our effort around this body and its upkeep.  And then we think about this ego, this ego that is our mind and our consciousness and our awareness of self. But even beyond that, the extended effort to maintain ego is part of the egocentric structure that we call “me.”  We have developed our own habits and patterns over time in order to avoid the chaos of the idea that what we are as egocentric beings might change in any way, shape, manner or form.  We put amazing effort into perpetuating ourselves and our needs, into reacting with either hope or fear towards every other thing, so that we can determine whether we want it or whether we want to move away from it.  That kind of self-cherishing requires us to think of our own well-being and to look at other sentient beings as objects from which we can get what we need, like love, approval, romance, money, power, anything.

The Bodhisattva realizes these kinds of ideas and habits are futile. And this is the reason why:  During the course of our lives we spend much of our time amassing, structuring, creating support for ourselves, for our ego, because we fear annihilation. Once you have the belief in self-nature as being inherently real, that self has to be supported and continued, because the idea is that if self-nature were to dismantle or not be the same, that somehow chaos would result.  We have no knowledge of our true nature as being the primordial Buddha ground of being, no knowledge of that primordial wisdom nature that is our true nature.  We rely on this idea that self-nature must be perpetuated.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Causes of This Present State


There are some cause and effect relationships that we become acquainted with.  Especially if, as I’m sure all of you are, you are engaged in watchfulness in your life. And really wanting to progress spiritually in some way, your capacity for learning is that much greater. We may learn that if we’re really kind and loving to others, we get better result. We may learn that if we’re generous, people are generous to us. We may learn that if we’re really hateful and arrogant, we never really get anything good out of that. We may learn some lessons like that. And if that’s the case, those are all precious and valuable lessons to learn.

However, there are lots of things that we don’t learn. The reason why is that, for one thing, we really don’t fully understand how it is that we came into this life under the conditions that we have. We don’t understand how it was that we were born to the families that we were born to, or how it was that we arrived in the condition that we arrived in. How it is that we arrived at our genetic structure? How it is that we arrived with certain mental, physical and emotional propensities? Certain habitual tendencies? Why is it that they have arisen so strongly within us? And it seems as though other people, even in the same family, do not have the same habitual tendencies. We don’t have a full and complete understanding. And the reason why is because we cannot really understand the conditions that have occurred previous to this lifetime. We don’t have an understanding of that. We cannot actually view the cause and effect relationships that brought us to this present state.

Another thing is that we don’t often understand the outcome of causes that we ourselves have begun during the course of this lifetime. For instance, we may be able to see very simple kinds of cause and effect realities. Like if you walk up and punch somebody in the nose who’s approximately the same size as you, there’s a real good chance he or she is going to punch back. And you might learn some cause and effect reality by trying that. But, on the other hand, you might not learn that if you sit there and instead of punching the person who is not your favorite person, you sit there and think hateful thoughts, thoughts of wishing to do harm, thoughts of condemnation and judgment. You may think that having those thoughts, just because you haven’t said them, just because you haven’t acted on them, just because you haven’t punched, is somehow ok. That having those thoughts is secret, that no one knows about them. And that it’s really all right to think like that because you won’t see it play itself out. And even if it does play itself out during the course of that lifetime, perhaps the person that you have these thoughts toward is at some time in the future, maybe even just a couple of weeks from that time, strongly hateful toward you. You may not understand the connection. You may not see what has happened. Certainly you will not see if that cause and effect relationship ripens in some future life because you won’t remember that you just got what you deserved. You won’t remember that you had the same thoughts about that person.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Challenge of Limited Perception


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

Now you have to examine yourself, and you have to ask yourself: What are your habit patterns? If it has been your habit that you have not finished tasks, then you have to train yourself in a way that you have never trained yourself before. If it has been your habit that you have thought of yourself as inept, incompetent, not worthy, and a failure, and you think that probably you will begin this but you will not be able to finish it, you will not be able to succeed at it… You have the idea that you’re not going to go all the way with it, and you could feel yourself slip-sliding away… You could feel yourself kind of going in a direction that you mentally have the habit of going in, but one that is not productive to you and will absolutely lead to the end of this situation that you find yourself in. Then, of course, you will have to train yourself in a way that you have never trained yourself before. And the reason why is that, first of all, you must understand this: You can. That’s the first reason to do it. Because you have the habit pattern, that does not excuse you from changing the habit or from learning how to apply the antidote. Because things have been this way up until this time does not mean that you have no aptitude for training yourself with method. Through using method and through relying on the method and relying on the help from your spiritual friend or teacher, there’s no reason you cannot do that, even if you have never done that before.

Here’s why. When we deal with our own lives and our own self opinions, our own ideas about ourselves, our own habitual tendencies, our own ways that we function, and particularly our own ways in which we think about and perceive ourselves, there’s a certain degree of flexibility. There is very little about life that will come up and slap you in the head in such a way as to tell you exactly what you are doing wrong. Life will slap you in the head, no doubt about that, but it may happen ten years after you’re making the mistake that you’re making now. It could happen in the next life. You may never have the opportunity to make the connection as to what you did wrong, what happened, where you fell short, and why things didn’t pan out.

So life isn’t really a good teacher. We like to say that we learn from life. Life confuses us more than anything else. We don’t learn from life because many of the causes that we begin within our own lifespan in this lifetime won’t even ripen in this lifetime. When they do, consider yourself fortunate. If you conduct yourself in a way that is inappropriate—unkind, lacking in generosity, self-absorbed, hateful, or whatever—and you see the ripening of it within a short enough time to where you can recognize the connection, that is Guru Rinpoche’s blessing; and you should consider it Guru Rinpoche’s blessing. Really, you should immediately drop to your knees and do some prostrations, because that is luck. That is a blessing. But what usually happens is that the result of what we have done becomes hidden by years, and by all of the flip-flop, inside-out movements that we make during the course of our lives. There are so many options, so many ways that we can go, that we literally don’t have the kind of mind that can follow the threads through. See what I’m saying? We don’t have the kind of mind that can pull the thread and follow it from beginning to end, coupled by the fact that we have the additional problem that relatively, proportionately, very little of our non-virtuous causes will ripen during the course of this lifetime. Most of them will ripen in the bardo state after death, or in the next life, or the life after that. There are no guarantees. So it’s very difficult to learn.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved