Following in the Footsteps of the Guru

An excerpt from a teaching called Viewing the Guru:  The Seven Limb Puja by Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo on October 18, 1995

While we are constantly in the face of the Guru, we should remain constantly in the posture of understanding that we should return the favor of the Guru’s kindness.  What kindness is it, I wonder, that would cause the Buddhas to appear, having emanated from the state of nirvana, in the world for the sake of sentient beings, experiencing all the conditions that are worldly and ordinary?  Experiencing all those conditions, for the sake of sentient beings, rather than remain constantly in the bliss of nirvana.  Amazing and wonderful, isn’t it?  What kind of kindness would that take?  When we think of the Bodhisattvas who remain poised on the brink of realization, emanating constantly into the world, endlessly:  because how long will it take to empty samsara?  These holy ones know that we are talking about what seems to sentient beings like forever.  What kind of love would it take?  We think about the kind of love it takes for a mother to suffer and bear her young. We think of the kind of love it takes for a mother to feed and care for her young.  We think of the kind of love it takes for a mother to patiently explain, patiently teach, patiently go through what needs to be gone through.  We’re talking about the quintessential mother, and this mother would patiently explain, because all the mother would care about is raising the child so that it is fully functional, fully competent, fully happy, fully blossomed in every conceivable way.  Now that’s a lot of love, isn’t it?  Just think what kind of love it would take for a loving parent to give, give, give in that way.  Hardly any of us can imagine such a thing because the samsaric parents that we have, although their kindness is evident because we are here, many of them have not known how to love.  They simply haven’t known how.  And so their love was never perfect, not any of them.  But we’re talking about a perfect mother.  What would that be like?  What kind of love would that be?

Then, if you can imagine that, which is practically unimaginable, how much more so would it take to imagine the kind of love and compassion that it takes for the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to appear in the world for the sake of sentient beings under ordinary conditions again, and again, and again uncountable times?  What kind of love is that?  We who give and take love like we change our underwear; we who give and take love according to what’s in it for us, we can’t even understand that.  And yet we must try.  We must try to understand that level of compassion.  Not only do they return for our sake, but they practice for our sake.  These Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have accomplished supreme realization, many under terrible conditions, going through terrible tests and trials, which is part and parcel with their coming into their own.  They’ve crossed this ocean of suffering under extreme effort.  Lifetime after lifetime of practice and accomplishment, and they did so for the sake of sentient beings.  They literally did so for the sake of those who have need of them, who have hopes of them.  And then, having accomplished that, on top of that they return again and again and again for the sake of sentient beings and would return for even one, for you.  What kind of love is that?  What kind of compassion is that?

We should contemplate and meditate on that, and then we should think that we must repay that kindness.  In order to repay that kindness we have to think: what is the goal of the Lama?  Why does the Lama appear in the world?  Of course the answer is, for the sake of sentient beings; because it is unbearable that sentient beings remain suffering in the world; because the Lama cannot bear it; because it is unthinkable that sentient beings should continue to wander helplessly in samsara.  It is for that reason that the Lama returns to the world, that the Lama appears in the world.  Therefore, every bit of merit that we can manage to accomplish, merit that we have accomplished in the past, in the present, and even counting on the merit that we will accomplish in the future — we call that ‘the merit that we have accomplished in the three times, past, present and future’ —  this we should constantly offer for the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings.   We should be constantly looking for ways to accomplish merit, constantly looking for meritorious activities so that we can offer that for the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings.  We should never think, “Oh, that was good.  Got some!”   We should never think things like that, ever, because that’s not how the Lama thinks, and we are wishing to repay the kindness of the Lama.

Dedication of merit in this case can be understood as repaying the kindness of the Lama.  The Lama has given the nectar to you.  You must, in turn, find a way to give the nectar to the Lama, to the same degree that the Lama has done.  We’re not talking sloppy.  That doesn’t mean, “Oh, the Lama has given me the nectar so I’ll practice and I’ll dedicate the merit.  Period.”  Doesn’t that kind of thud a little dully when it hits the floor?  We are talking about going through the same extraordinary activity that the Lama has gone through in order to accomplish their practice; achieving supreme realization, and then returning for the sake of sentient beings.  This you must do in order to repay the kindness of the Guru.  And this is the ultimate dedication of all merit to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings:  the gathering together of extraordinary merit, the accomplishment of meritorious activity, and the returning for the sake of sentient beings, offering that merit as a gift, as a feast, just as you have been offered the feast of Dharma by the Lama.

So instead of the lovely feast that we have offered to the Lama so far: that feast of hatred, greed, ignorance, jealousy and pride, now we pay homage; we make offerings; we offer confession; we rejoice in the capacity of those who have accomplished; we request the nectar of the teachings; we beseech the Lama, the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas to remain in the world for the sake of sentient beings; and we pay back the great kindness of the Guru by dedicating all the merit that we have ever accomplished, or will ever accomplish in the three times, for the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings.  And we make the commitment here and now — not a moment from now, but right now, right this moment that we ourselves will not rest until we achieve supreme realization so that we can return for the sake of sentient beings:

“Following in the footsteps of my Guru, I will accomplish.”

This is the prayer.  This is how we practice.

This teaching and the others from Viewing the Guru:  The Seven Limb Puja (type “Viewing the Guru” into the blog search bar to find all related posts) contain pointing-out instructions that I would consider to be concentrated, important and many-layered teaching.  If you really comb through it in a responsible way, extracting from it every single bit of nectar that you can, you will receive a lot more than perhaps you have even received reading it.  Please read these teachings and accomplish the practice in that way and think that this is how you should be from this moment forward: in this posture, in this way, inside, this is your practice.  You need not look any different at all on the outside.  In fact, it would be best if you didn’t!  Because then if you were, I would say that it was an act.  There doesn’t have to be any words, there doesn’t have to be any show.  You don’t have to walk around saying, “Oh yes, I’m doing this!”  The thing should begin within you, quietly, in a deep and profound way, indicating that, at last, you have entered into the well of your own natural mind, and have begun to draw up the nectar, the nectar of the Guru.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Heart of Experience is the Guru

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

For many of you, I know that when we first started this temple it was family style, and you thought of yourselves as children, and I thought of myself as your mother in many ways, and there was a spiritual family dynamic.  We started small, and we got big.  So for many of the people who have always been around, who have been practicing with me for about 15 years now, (or 15 aeons it seems like), for many of you, my going away, my physical movement, if you will, from Poolesville, Maryland, to Sedona, Arizona, has been an extremely painful thing.  It’s not that I don’t have compassion for you, but if that is the case, I’m telling you, you are not practicing correctly.

There is nothing on this earth, including me, that can take your guru away from you.  There is nothing that can take that Recognition away from you, that relationship. There is nothing that can take Guru Rinpoche’s blessing away from you, that marvelous connection. Nothing has that power.  If you think that your teacher is absent, then you are absent.  It’s like the sun and the earth.

When we were younger as a species, we thought that when nighttime came, the sun disappeared; it fell off the edge, and it wasn’t there anymore.  Then later on it came back, and we liked it better when the sun was there because we could see better and it felt warm on our skin and it was safer.  But really what was happening, we later found out, is that the sun is staying right where it is constantly shining.  It’s the earth that cyclically turns away.   It’s the same way with the relationship with our teachers.  To the degree that we keep mindfulness, that we practice Recognition, that we are willing to see the guru in all things, in every opportunity, and utilize that opportunity, to that degree we experience oneness, non-duality, with our teachers.  We also experience some kind of awakening to our own primordial wisdom nature to the degree that we practice that Recognition.

If you think that your teacher is not with you most of the time, then you are not with your practice most of the time.  We have to get past making our egos and the appearances that go with the phenomena of ego-clinging the center of the mandala of our activity.  We have to stop doing that, and move past appearances into a deeper Recognition through constant mindfulness. To practice that as an extension to our sit-down practice, is the way, and to the degree that we awaken our capacity to Recognize, we are held inseparable from the heart of Guru Rinpoche.

Don’t waste your time as a practitioner thinking, “Oh, now my teacher moved away, so now I am lonely.  Now she’s there and I’m here, or he’s there and I’m here.” You’re accumulating the mantra of samsara if you do that.  You are accumulating appearances.  You are just thickening the delusion. Instead practice the recognition of one’s own nature being totally inseparable from the guru.  Practice the recognition of that to such an extent that you feel, in every moment, the king of that moment is Guru Rinpoche; in every breath, the queen of that breath is Guru Rinpoche – yes, the queen – everything.   Whatever ideas that we have, think that every movement, every experience, through our practice, through our determination to practice Recognition, the essence of that experience is the guru.  The more we practice like this, more and more we become awake.

It is possible to practice in that way with such fervent regard that in every future lifetime that presence will not be denied you.  In this and every future lifetime that presence will never be denied you.  There is no way that, as we accomplish Recognition, the primordial wisdom nature can be kept from you.  Again and again it will be Recognized as the seed and the fruit of every moment, every bit of experience.  But it only works if you work it.  So this tendency that we have to keep our minds satisfied with simply fulfilling the form and then going out to be lazy and slothful, reacting to appearances, simply accepting things at the most superficial, apparent level — this is a mistake.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Requesting the Nectar of Dharma

An excerpt from a teaching called Viewing the Guru:  The Seven Limb Puja by Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo on October 18, 1995

We should be in the posture of requesting teachings.  Think about that.  Many students will have what they think is a nice relationship with the Guru.  They think that they are on good speaking terms with the Guru.  That tells you what’s going, doesn’t it?  They think they are on good speaking terms with their teacher, and they think that,  “Oh, I have a really good relationship with my teacher.  I practice every day, and I come to teachings.  And I pretty much keep up, and my teacher smiles at me and I give offerings and altogether  I would say that things at the temple are going pretty well.”  But the same student actually — and this is the case with literally every student that I have — the student does not come to the teacher and just throw open their hearts and their lives and say, “Take me and change me and fill my life with your blessing.”  I have had students come and say that to me.  “Oh Lama, make of me whatever I should be!”  And their hair is nicely done, if you notice, when they do it.  And then they pose a little.  You know, they do it from their best side!  “Okay, Lama? Watch me while I do this, mommy!”  They do that with their mouth, but with their mind, with their hearts, not once, not ever.  Not in any case have I had a student truly say to the Guru, “I request the nectar that you hold.  I request what you have.”  And the reason why is that we are still clinging to our ordinary samsaric experience, our ordinary samsaric lives.  We say that we come to Dharma so that we can achieve realization, yet we don’t want to change.  Now how is that going to happen?  You come to Dharma so that you can change into a fully awakened realized being.  But you don’t want to change.  How’s that going to happen then?  It is illogical!  You can’t do that!  It’s never going to happen!

Literally we find ourselves sitting at the feet of that miraculous appearance which somehow, magically, has appeared.  Even through the thickness of our non-virtue, the thickness of our karma, yet still, like the sun penetrating these black storm clouds, somehow the teacher has appeared.  And we know now from the teachings: this is the very face of the primordial wisdom nature.  This is the very display of natural luminosity.  This is the appearance, this is the magical, mystical appearance.  And yet, we go away from it.  We say, “Okay, you want to give me this fabulous teaching.  Are you telling me that this is fabulous?  Okay,  I’m going to really listen up for this because I am a good girl.”  And then, at the end of that, we close our minds, fold them up and go home.

If we thought of the Guru as an ordinary being, then we could say that the Guru only teaches two days a week.  You can say that’s how it is.  You can only hear the Guru’s words so often.  Maybe you can make an extra effort.  Maybe you could go back and hear some tapes.  If the Guru were an ordinary sentient being, then perhaps that would be the only avenue open to you.  But we have just learned that we are looking at our own primordial nature.  We are looking into the face of our true nature.  What are the limitations of that primordial wisdom nature?  There are none.  There are none whatsoever.  So suppose, then, we were in the posture of understanding in a deep and profound way the correct view of how to see, how to know, how to experience devotional yoga.  We see the Guru, we understand through correct vi

The Power of Intention

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

Sometimes, although you are maintaining the bodhisattva vow internally and your intention is purely to benefit others, externally it may appear through [your] conduct or speech that you are breaking the vow. Although it may seem that a failure is occurring, if your actions and speech are motivated by bodhicitta, then no failure is occurring. That is referred to as a “reflection of failure.” For example, if it is necessary to commit a nonvirtue of the body or speech for the sake of benefiting others, that is permissible. In fact, not to do so could constitute a breakage of the bodhisattva vow. The motivation must be very clear. Whether your actions constitute a failure or not is determined by your own mind’s motivation. Here it is crucial to be careful, since losing the vow means taking lower rebirth.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008



Throughout all lifetimes

Wherever I am born

May I obtain the qualities of birth in a higher realm

May I met Dharma swiftly after taking birth

And have the freedom to practice well

May I please Guru Rinpoche

And practice Dharma day and night

Understand Dharma, drink its pure nectar

May I traverse the ocean of worldly existence in this life

In the world, may I expound highest sacred doctrine

And never become bored or weary of helping others

By my loving and dedicated service

May all beings attain Buddhahood together

Together, oh together

I see the Buddha that you are

I will return, I will come back

I won’t abandon you

Never, never leave you

Never in this world


I will return, I will for you



I will never abandon you

©Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo 2009

Requesting the Turning of the Dharma Wheel

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

Because of the negative karmic accumulations of sentient beings, from time to time, somewhere in the ten directions, the ten directional buddhas cease to turn the dharma wheel. It is important that we always request that the wheel of dharma be turned, so that beings can always hear the dharma. Requesting the unceasing turning of the dharma wheel is the antidote for [having] delusion. Some people have the attitude, “Oh, dharma teaching is not so important and not of any real benefit to anyone.” Holding such an attitude is exactly why such people are still suffering in cyclic existence. No matter what, we must continuously request that dharma teachings be present in the world in order to dispel delusion in the minds of others.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008

The Root of Suffering

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

In order to cure the symptom of suffering you might decide to manipulate the circumstances, or the environment. If you see people who are hungry, you give them food. If you decide you want to feed them for the rest of their lives so that they are never hungry, then you have to feed them three times a day, every day, for the rest of their lives, or teach them how to feed themselves. What are you going to do when they get sick? They will get sick. What are you going to do when they get old? They will get old. What are you going to do when they get lonely? What are you going to do when all the different kinds of discomfort pop up? What does it matter if you help a few people? What about the other 5.9 billion on the planet? What about the animals? Where will you start? What will you do, if your intention is merely to manipulate the environment so that the discomfort that you see is finished? Even if you have worked every moment selflessly and have given away all your money, and then have gotten money from other people to help, doing everything that you could to make these things happen, you wouldn’t put a dent in it, not even the tiniest dent. Why? Because you are trying to manipulate something that is very superficial.

This apparent reality that we are viewing isn’t that deep. It’s nothing. It’s a ghost. It’s a puff-ball. We can’t move it, because wherever we move it, it will appear somewhere else. We cannot manipulate our environment. We cannot manipulate phenomena and achieve any real lasting success. We can achieve temporary success. We can have the satisfaction of seeing someone fed who has been hungry, and that person can feel the satisfaction of a meal. If we fed people on a grand scale, it might be a grand satisfaction. But it is not permanent, it is not a solution, and the reason, according to the Buddha’s teaching, is that hunger and poverty and loneliness are not the causes of suffering. They are the results or the symptoms of something else. According to the Buddha’s teaching, the root causes of suffering are hatred, greed and ignorance.

We might take issue with that statement. Say we think about a hungry Indian child, or a hungry American child, or a hungry Ethiopian child. Sure, all of them probably do hate because they’re hungry; and they probably are ignorant because they’ve never gone to school; and they probably are greedy. Boy, if you handed one a biscuit, he’d just grab it and run because he’s so hungry. But we have to probe more deeply. We are only looking at a set of symptoms. According to the Buddha’s teaching there is an underlying cause that makes phenomena appear as it does in any given situation, and that cause is karmic. The Buddha’s teaching is that all phenomena arises from a cause, and that everything that is seen, felt, and heard is actually the emanation or the result of one’s own mind. The mind itself produces all visible phenomena. I hope you can really hear that. To change suffering as it appears in the world can never be permanent. It can never do much good. What has to be done is to change the karmic background or cause and effect scenario of one’s own mind. In doing so, you can hopefully come to a place where you can also be of benefit to others.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Four Immeasureables

In Tibetan Buddhism the idea of compassion is talked about by using the idea of “Bodhicitta.” Bodhicitta actually means compassion, but for Westerners, the idea of compassion is often that the “haves” give to the “have-nots.” There is a sense of one person having or being in a position to give, and another one being needy. In Buddhism it is different.  When one displays Bodhicitta, one understands that all sentient beings are suffering. One looks at cyclic existence and sees that it is impermanent; that all sentient beings, no matter how happy they are, temporarily, ultimately lose that happiness by experiencing old age, sickness, and death; that in the six realms of cyclic existence, there are many different forms of suffering due to impermanence and the mind of duality.

If you have no awareness of the impermanence of your situation, then you have no awareness of the fact that even though you may be happy at the moment, you are likely to suffer at some point in your life. If you tend to avoid that knowledge, you really cannot accomplish stability in your path because the motivation isn’t right. When you are suffering and you realize that you are suffering, your experience is intensified in such a way that you know that enlightenment is important. You know that this suffering that is happening to you is not good. Even if you are experiencing some temporary happiness like watching TV or feeling great when you’ve accomplished something, you notice that you feel not so great when that temporary satisfaction is absent.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, compassion and the determined cultivation of Bodhicitta is absolutely necessary in stabilizing and deepening one’s experience in meditation. Why is that so? First of all, we should look at the teaching that is called the Four Immeasurables.

The Four Immeasurables are loving kindness, compassion, joy, and boundless equanimity. Of these, the most foundational is boundless equanimity. This means the realization that all things are essentially equal. You learn to treasure your most loved one the same as those that you don’t know, including your worst enemy. How is this possible? If you look at why you care for your loved one more than you love your enemy or someone that you’ve never met, you can understand that the motivation for loving one more than another is desire. The desire that is felt here is the desire for approval, the desire for being recognized as an entity, the desire for the continuation of one’s awareness of self as being inherently real and stable. Believing in self- nature needs to continue once it is assumed, otherwise one will feel chaos or as though things are falling apart. Desire is inherent in all of this.  There is another thing that you can learn from realizing the difference you feel between the friend and the enemy, and that is the belief in the separation of self and other.

Buddha teaches us that we are actually empty of self-nature. This means that although we exist in a primordial wisdom state, what we experience when we experience self-nature as inherently real, is actually a series of conceptualizations that are contrived. They are inconsistent with the pure primordial natural state which is free of all contrivance.

Boundless equanimity is the opposite of this self/other contrivance because it is the realization of the loved one and the hated one as essentially equal. To realize this, one must rid the mind of attraction and repulsion, which according to the Buddha are the very causes of suffering. They are the children of desire; they actually begin the cycle of karmic cause and effect, and they occur every time you have a thought. If there is attraction and repulsion, there is always wanting or not wanting, there is always grasping or pushing away. When attraction arises, to the same degree repulsion will also occur because the ordinary mind exists in a state of duality. If you do not experience it at that very moment it will be experienced at some future time, perhaps next year or next lifetime.  Once a cause and effect relationship is set up it always realizes itself.

Equanimity becomes necessary, then, in order to have a profound and continuously stable experience in one’s meditation or practice, not floating on the ups and downs of attraction and repulsion.  Through equanimity one understands the equality of all phenomena.  The way that the Buddha teaches us to establish equanimity in the mind is to realize true nature, which is the underlying reality of all phenomena, including self-nature. The Buddha teaches us that the primordial wisdom state, or the ground from which phenomena spontaneously arise is clear — it has the quality of innate wakefulness. Yet the moment that you describe it you lose it, because to wrap concepts around it makes it a contrived, unnatural experience. Realizing the natural state comes through realizing equanimity, through learning how that natural state might appear or how it might be viewed, how it might arise. Then by eliminating desire from the mind stream one has the potential to experience the natural state in meditation.

How do you begin to attain this pure view of equanimity? First of all you should look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “Which part is self? Where exactly is self?” Maybe you think it’s in your brain. Imagine that you can open up your head. Can you find self there? Where’s your identity? Look at every little piece under a microscope. Where is self? Then look at something else you identify with. Do you have great legs? Look at your legs, take them apart.  Look at the bones, the muscle, the cellulite. Can you find self in there? Or look in your liver, or heart, or your chakras. Maybe self is in one of your chakras. You look inside, but you can’t find it. You take yourself apart and examine every single molecule under the microscope and you still haven’t found self. So you understand then that self-nature is a concept or a contrivance that is born of a certain type of consciousness which is actually an idea of separation — the separation between self and other. The whole thing is a conceptual proliferation. In examining the nature of self we understand that self-nature is inherently empty, that it doesn’t exist the way we thought.

If self is not real, maybe I should look and see if I can find “other.” Do the same thing with all the “others” in the world. Take everybody apart, examine everything. And after you do all of this you will find that many of the things by which you have structured your life are not as they appear. From that you can begin in a courageous way to determine what true nature really is. It is through meditation that you may come to sense or understand this primordial wisdom state that is free of all conceptualizations, free of any religious idea, free of any perception of self and other yet experienced and felt as luminous and awake.

How is it then that one’s loved one and one’s enemy become essentially the same? It is because they are understood to be the same nature, the same taste. Buddha teaches that all phenomena, when understood through pure view and the stabilization of one’s mind, are the same taste. It is only desire and the attraction to other that makes loved ones and enemies seem inherently real and separate in the way we always consistently experience them.

The equality of all sentient beings allows the arising of the purely loving viewpoint found in the other three Immeasurables. One of these three is loving kindness. This kindness is not about acting kind, or adopting a set of rules to be a nice person. Instead, the Buddha’s view understands that profound nature as having one taste, realizing that all beings are equal. Their happiness has exactly the same weight as mine, exactly the same importance.  From this viewpoint, one naturally develops loving kindness. There is no progress without it:  This exceptional quality of desiring the happiness of all sentient beings is what the Buddha means by loving kindness.

The next of the Four Immeasurables is compassion. Here one realizes the needs of others by realizing the intense suffering of others. One realizes the fragile nature of impermanence, the needs of sentient beings and how they suffer. The wisdom, stability and intensity of determination that comes through a solid realization of these things, the compassion that arises naturally from this is the second of the Four Immeasurables.

The third is joy. Ordinarily we grow up thinking that if we just develop a good attitude and if we are positive we’re going to look happy and therefore be happy. We’re taught, “I want mine and when I get mine then I’ll be joyful because I’ll be able to act joyful then.” But the Buddha talks about joy in the well-being of others. An example would be: if I hear that you have a new car I am happy for you because you have attained even a moment of temporary happiness. I don’t make a judgment like, “Well, you’ve already got three cars, or hey, there are lots of people starving and you have a new car.”

Instead, the practice is this: the happier you are, the happier I am. If even for one moment you have achieved some level of happiness I should bless that happiness and think, “May that happiness bring you to such a point of stability and regard, may it afford you the generosity to think about others and wish for their well-being to the extent that you attain realization. May that car be the cause for your realization, may you be free of suffering in all its forms.” Or, “I wish you could have six hundred cars; I wish you could have everything that makes you happy.” It’s the joy that naturally occurs from sincerely wishing for the happiness and well-being of all sentient beings, to the extent that whatever they are capable of in terms of achieving some degree of relaxation, peace, time out from suffering, or whatever they are able to achieve that is of any benefit or any use to them at all, I am sincerely happy for them because they are the same as me and inseparable from me.

Without the Four Immeasurables and the pure view that’s implied by them, there is no enlightenment. They can be developed in the same way that you have cultivated any of the talents or abilities you have developed during your life — through determination, through taking the time to really examine the emptiness of self-nature and the emptiness of phenomena, through meditation and stabilizing the mind through pure perception of the natural primordial wisdom state, through the determination to attain compassion. It does not happen effortlessly. So it does no good to throw your hands up and say, “I can’t do this, I just can’t think that way.” Neither can anyone else.

All the great Buddhas and Bodhisattvas began as sentient beings, in a state of confusion. Through the same kind of practice that you are embarking on now, they stabilized their minds and developed not only loving kindness and compassion, but the extraordinary pristine Bodhicitta that is the basis and the method for the attainment of enlightenment.

The ground from which you arise thinking that you are self and thinking that self and other are inherently real and separate, that ground is the same ground that gives rise to the most pristine compassion, the most glorious of spontaneous celestial awareness when realized with pure view. That ground is your nature, and in potential you are the same as all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Holding that in your mind, continue with determination, knowing that all things are possible.

© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

Booboos and the Guru’s Blessing

An excerpt from a teaching called Viewing the Guru:  The Seven Limb Puja by Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo on October 18, 1995

Since we are in the face of the Guru constantly the next posture we should keep ourselves in is beseeching the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and the Lamas to remain.  Where would you be now if suddenly your root Guru disappeared?  You should ask that question of someone who has experienced the horrible, horrible occurrence of knowing the death of their Guru.  There are many students who have actually experienced the death of the Guru.  If you think practice is hard now, you should think what it must be like to go through the pain of knowing that your Guru is no longer in the world.  Then one has to reach even more deeply, and if you think that we are weak now, try to imagine how it would be if we have to reach even more deeply, in a more profound way, into our practice: knowing that the Guru is no longer in the world, knowing that there will not be physical teachings forthcoming.  How can we find the Guru?  It’s very frightening; it’s very scary, to think that there might be a time like that.

On one level we think how awful it would be not to be in the physical presence, the here and now presence, with constant teachings occurring from the Guru in a physical way. But now we should think in a broader sense.  What would it be like if our Gurus had simply attained realization, and then gone on and remained in nirvana?  What if they had attained realization and then never appeared in samsara again?  What would that be like?  Well, that would mean that in samsara there would be no teaching.  There would be no method.  There would be no means by which to accomplish Dharma.  There would only be the means to accomplish non-virtue.  There would be endless suffering that would be constantly compounded every single moment as though it were like a geometric progression — constantly increasing, with no leveling off, with no cessation, with no chance, no opportunity, no change.  Life would be constantly miserable.  All of the poisons: hatred, greed, ignorance, jealousy, pride, war, suffering, all of the results of those would only be ripened.  And there would be no relief, no method by which to accomplish relief.  We can’t even imagine that: no means by which to accomplish virtue.  We can’t even imagine that.  It is so unthinkable that we can’t even imagine that.

And yet, we can’t even give a moment to think how miraculous it is that our Guru has returned to face us in the world in our confusion.  Because we can’t see the Guru in our mind, because we can’t see the Guru in our inner channels, winds and fluids, because we can’t see the Guru in our nature, the Guru then appears to us through the shit and thickness of our stinking delusions and in this face, with this skin, this flesh, appears as the miraculous.  And we don’t even have a minute to request that this never be any different; that it is always the case that the Gurus, the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas will return for the sake of sentient beings.  We never think how miraculous it is, how marvelous it is, how unequalled by any other gift or any other miracle. So concerned with our own superficial lives we have not even a moment to spare to thank the teacher for returning to us.  To thank them.  Think what they did!  They did not pass into nirvana. But it doesn’t mean that they haven’t accomplished their practice.  It doesn’t mean that, in truth, they do not actually spontaneously abide in nirvana now.  But it also means that they appear in the world, under samsaric conditions, for our sake.  And we don’t even have a minute a day to rejoice in that, and request them to remain.  We should contemplate on what it would be like to remain in the world without any source of liberation.  We should constantly be thinking what it would be like if the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas did not enter into samsara for us, did not enter into the world for our sake, did not appear among us, as us, in a form that we could understand, and digest, and empathize with.

We should think what that would be like, and having contemplated on that, realize it would be unthinkably, horribly, worse than any suffering we have ever experienced or could ever imagine experiencing.  Try to imagine what it would be like with no help.  Having thought about that, with that kind of energy, the energy that comes from that, every time we see our teacher, we should think in our mind, “Please remain in the world.  Oh, please, remain in the world.  Oh, please remain in the world.”  We should be thinking like that when we say our teachers long life prayers.  We should think like that constantly, be in the posture of constantly requesting the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, those who have attained realization, to remain within the world; constantly requesting that.

Now, how would you be constantly requesting that?  By expressing, knowing and facing with purity and honesty your dependence upon the Guru for liberation.  A little child lets its need of the mother be known.  A little child has a booboo and brings it to the mother to be kissed, and the mother knows– the mother knows even if the child doesn’t say, “I love you” how much the child needs the mother.  The mother knows; it’s a natural communication that they have.  And when the child says to the mother with total confidence, “I am hungry,” the mother knows.  There are no spoken words of love there, there’s no effusiveness, but the mother knows that the child is utterly and completely dependent.  The mother knows that the child is confident, that the child sees the mother as a fountain of blessing.  The mother knows that the child’s life would be lost without the support of the mother.  And so the mother knows that love.  And when the child is cold, the child goes to the mother and asks to be held, warmed up.  When the child is lonely and afraid, the child goes to the mother and asks to be rocked and loved and sung to.  And even though the child may not say, “I love you, Mother,” still, the mother sees the child’s need and understands the relationship.

If that is so with ordinary mothers and ordinary children, then if we express our need for the Guru, without shame, without pride, without fear of being humble, if we constantly express our need and our appreciation and our confidence in the Guru, then in that way we are also expressing that we wish the Guru to remain.  But if our hearts are hard and we say, “Oh, nice teaching.  Now I’ll go and do what I need to do,” and there is no relationship of that intimate nature, like a mother and a child, then there is no practice.  And there’s the question:  is the love so strong in your heart, is the understanding so profound and so wise, that, in fact, you really do wish the Buddhas to remain in the world?  We don’t know.  There is the question.  And the practice I’ve just given you, the way I’ve just given you to hold your mind and hold yourself, this would be the answer to that.  Think of yourself like a child and the Guru is like your dear, dear mother who gives you everything.  We bring all our booboos, our coldness, our loneliness, our fear, our hunger, our hurt, everything.  These things we bring, because in the face of the primordial empty nature, in the face of luminosity, in the face of the great miraculous Bodhicitta, these things disappear, and all our booboos are kissed.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Root Downfalls

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

As the ancient literature states, there are five vows that pertain to rulers or kings, and those vows concern the ways a ruler, or really anyone in a position of authority, exercises power. Rulers who take the vow to train in bodhisattva conduct take the five special vows to ensure that they will not misuse power. The first of the root downfalls [associated with kings or rulers] is to embezzle or steal the wealth of the Three Jewels of refuge for personal gain. The second root downfall is to not allow others to practice or study the dharma. The third is to take the possessions of the ordained. The fourth is to cause harm to dharma practitioners in general. The fifth root downfall is to engage in any of the heinous nonvirtues, such as killing one’s own father or mother, killing a buddha, shedding the blood of a bodhisattva or an arhat (or engaging anyone else to perform this deed on one’s own behalf), or with deceitful intentions trying to influence others to engage in nonvirtue through body, speech, or mind. Those are the five root downfalls that pertain to kings or rulers. There are also five vows that pertain to ministers. The first four are the same as those for rulers, and the fifth concerns destroying villages or towns and harming lay people.

For beginners, there are usually eight root downfalls. The first of those root downfalls is to teach the dharma to people without being aware of the level of their spiritual development or capacity to receive teachings. For instance, if one teaches about the nature of emptiness to individuals who do not have the capacity to understand that level of teaching, those individuals may misinterpret and develop an incorrect view. Because [teaching in] that [context] is inappropriate, it is [considered] a root downfall. The second root downfall is to discourage someone from entering the path of bodhisattva training. The third is to disparage the path of the lesser vehicle of Hinayana and the followers who are the hearers and solitary realizers. That would involve, for example, saying to someone, “Your tradition is not really the true lineage of the Buddha.” The fourth is to claim that the Hinayana path is inadequate—for example, to make statements such as, “The dharma practice of the hearers and solitary realizers will not eliminate the passions.” The fifth is to put down others through slander or to speak ill of others out of jealousy in order to build up or boast about oneself. The sixth is to claim to have realization about the nature of emptiness when that is not true; that would be to speak an unsurpassed lie. The seventh is to embezzle or [otherwise] take the wealth of the upholders of virtue (those who dedicate their lives to the path of virtue). The eighth is to steal the wealth or possessions of ordained sangha (renunciants) and give that to ordinary, worldly individuals.

All those [eight root] downfalls pertain to beginners. As a beginner, if you commit any of those root downfalls, you will fall to the lower realms.

From a common point of view, a downfall involves giving up aspirational bodhicitta and abandoning the intent to work for the welfare of others because of being motivated by personal concern.

The first branch downfall is to act in a nonvirtuous manner [to be] crude and disrespectful, with wild and erratic behavior, which is exactly the opposite of how a bodhisattva should behave: a bodhisattva should always be peaceful and subdued. The second downfall is to be impolite, to behave inappropriately in the presence of others. As a practitioner in training, you must be concerned about others, which means that your conduct should reflect your mental training: your conduct, speech, demeanor, and so forth should always be in harmony with love and compassion. Those who have not rejected and have not even considered eliminating their attachment and aversion are always engaged in endless conversation and gossip based on attachment and aversion. If you are cultivating bodhicitta, you should not be like that. Instead, you should always think about love and compassion for all beings and speak in a way that reflects your training.

If you commit a root downfall, you must confess it immediately. If you postpone [your] confession of a downfall, that downfall will become more and more difficult to purify. Apply the four powers, and in the presence of the Three Jewels of refuge, confess your downfall. Pray to purify any negativity accumulated through the downfall, and then perform purification practices.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008