A Great Stabilizer

An excerpt from a teaching called Dharma and the Western Mind by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

I have found something wonderful about Westerners; we are really kind people.  I don’t know what it is about us.  Is it because we grew up and our parents told us? Is it because we heard it on the news and all the Presidents have told us and Kissinger says so and everybody knows that we are the strongest country in the world? This is what we grew up with. We think that if anybody is going to save the world that it is going to be us. Who else would it be, really?  So we have this idea that we can save the world. Are we really thinking, “Well we really have something special, we are pretty extraordinary.”  Or is it somehow that karmically a family has come together here and has the leisure to practice.  It has the opportunity to accomplish Dharma.  It even has the opportunity to make Dharma stable in a world in which it is no longer stable.  It is no longer stable in Tibet.  It is difficult in India.  It is difficult in Nepal. Could it be that a family has come together in the right place at the right time that has the opportunity to do something really terrific and somehow we know that somewhere? Are we unusual?  I know so many people that have grown up with the idea that they wanted to help people and to do something good for somebody some time.  They felt almost a sense of being chosen, that there was some meaning that would be found in this life and a sense of purpose, so many of us have had that.

I don’t know if it is unique to Westerners. I have no idea. When I talk to Tibetans they talk all the time of being of use to sentient beings. So I know that that is a meaningful concept to them but I don’t know how they approach it or how they think of it. But I know that it is a thought that somehow a part of us has hopes of ourselves, that we will do something useful.  We look at the world and we feel genuinely sorry.  We have a big brother or a big sister attitude.  We may not have an easy time looking at our suffering but we can see that other people are having a rough time. Sometimes we can’t even relate to the issues that make the times rough but we can try to help. Sometimes we mess it up worse than before, we really complicate things when we try to help and we have that knee jerk reaction without even understanding what the causes are. Nevertheless we feel that we can help.

I found therefore that in teaching Westerners this is a very important and central thing to understand, that the Buddha teaches us to be of use, to be of benefit to sentient beings.  The Buddha teaches us that if you cannot be of use at least do no harm.  But in Vajrayana Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism you are actually asked to consider that other sentient beings are more important than you are by virtue of the fact that there are many of them and only one of you and that the name of the game is the end of suffering.

We are taught to love, I mean really love, which means defining love in new ways.  We are taught that we are supposed to be on fire with it and know it is possible in order to practice Dharma correctly and purely. We have to think only of that which can be of benefit to beings and to bring about the end of suffering, only that is important.  I have found that Westerners are moved by that, and they are stabilized in their path.

Those of you who are familiar with the center know that we have a twenty-four hour a day prayer vigil that has been running since 1985.  There is never a time when there is not someone here, undertaking prayer for all sentient beings.  I have been delighted and warmed to see how deeply my students respond to that job.  They take it very seriously.  They adopt the idea that if there is no-one else at least there is me, and pitiful as I am I am still going to give it my best shot to do something virtuous in order to be of use to sentient beings.  I am going to try to help.  That has been a great stabilizer on the path.

For those who have turned their minds in such a way that they care more for the welfare of sentient beings and are greatly motivated by the end of suffering, their hearts are warm with it and their minds are gentled with it. They will practice in order to benefit beings.  You can’t stop them.  Yet even for my long time students I find that those who haven’t quite got that, remain up and down about practice. It varies and they need inspiration, and they need someone to take them by the hand and help them to stay on the straight and narrow.  Once we really learn to love in this profound and universal sense, there is no turning back.  We are touched and we are changed.

©Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

What Qualities Are You Cultivating?








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

I think many of us realize time grows short and sentient beings more lost. Our planet needs prayer and we can’t afford to waste merit judging, gossiping, pointing fingers and hating. It is time for all Bodhisattvas to give rise to the very best qualities they are capable of. To go over the same obsessions, compulsions, neurosis at times like these is just egocentric and selfish, as well as unhelpful and mean spirited. Talk while bragging that one is the best Buddhist that is, the best Uber-Roshi there is, is just stupid. And to most people looks stupid.

It seems to me that the Buddha’s teaching is a large enough umbrella for us all to be happy under. Kindly and lovingly. If we don’t stop warring, then Buddhism will lose the reputation of being the most peaceful, loving, altruistic faith there is. We are losing that view, pure view, and who is to blame? We are. We like to sit on our bums and watch it all go down for the privilege (?) of saying, “I told ya so.” That is not Buddhist, not kindness, it’s not even human. Try harder, please? Not all of us are doing the work; not many are pulling their own weight. That is not fair, and not acceptable to a person truly on the path of Dharma. We need you! And there is nothing to wait for.




Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Bodhicitta in the World

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo given at Palyul Ling Retreat 2012:

They say that I am a Dakini.  I’m not so sure but they say I am.  The Dakini has to do with the activity of the Buddhas.  And so that being the case, I feel it is my responsibility to try to bring some benefit in the activity way.  So I try to feed everybody – animals, people, and the birds outside my house.  Everybody knows that we spend a lot of money on feeding people and feeding beings.  And it is a happy thing to do.  It makes us all happy.  So many beings are fed.  And they are having what they need because of the kindness of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, and what he taught me.  The precious bodhicitta, the nectar of kindness that is inherent in the dharma.  This is what I was taught, what I learned, and its what I practice.

We have a prison program also.  We like to forget people who have done something wrong and just throw them away, but we have a program where we can go and teach prisoners some dharma, because these men will die in prison.  And they will have no way to get any kind of help or straighten themselves out for a proper or good rebirth.  They don’t know how to die well.  They have no teachings on Phowa.  It makes us sad, and so that being so said, we’re able to go out and do these things.  And it is why KPC is always broke.  We don’t have any money because we spend it on the needs of sentient beings, and I am very happy about that.  That makes it worth it to me.

In our food program there are many people who don’t know how to cook the kind of food that we provide for them, because they are poor people and they are used to cheap food.  And so we have been trying to teach them how to cook lentils, and beans, and rice and things that are very nourishing.  We try to teach them how to make protein, and how to eat well so that they feel better.  This is a totally new thing for them.  They don’t know how to be healthy, and their children don’t know how to be healthy.  Many of them eat too much sugar and too much candy and they are unwell.  And so we are teaching them.  We are involved enough in the community to teach them how to cook, how to prepare food and what food is nourishing, and what is not.  These are great pleasurable things that we do.  Not that they are so great, but they are great pleasure.  To see people become nourished.  To see people learn some dharma, whether they understand it or not.  To even understand, Om Mani Pedme Hum.  To even repeat Om Mani Pedme Hung is so much better than anything else they could receive in the ordinary world.  Very simple things like that can make the world of difference, as you know.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

True Refuge

The Buddha is the Master who reveals the true Refuge, and the Sangha is like a true friend on the path to Enlightenment. The actual refuge is the Dharma, because it is the Dharma that will free us and pacify suffering. The absence of or freedom from delusion is cessation. If we do not apply the antidote to our faults and delusions they continue to arise. But after the remedy, if the delusion is totally uprooted, it will never rise again. That state, free from delusion and the stains of the mind is a cessation. Bottom line- anything we wish to abandon like suffering and its causes, can be eliminated by applying the opposite forces. The final cessation is called Nirvana, or Liberation.

The Buddhas, fully enlightened ones are inconceivable, as is the Dharma, their teaching. The Sangha is also inconceivable so if you develop inconceivable faith there is no doubt the result will be inconceivable. It is said in our scriptures that if the benefit of sincerely taking refuge in the Three Jewels could be measured in relative, physical terms, the entire Universe would not be able to contain its value just as a great ocean cannot be measured in a tea cup.

Having learned the value and benefit we should rejoice in the opportunity to make offerings to and take Refuge in the Three Precious Jewels of Liberation. Here in this way we will be able to alleviate the influences of our negative actions as well as karmic obstructions. All these can and will be eliminated, and we all will be counted as sublime beings, which will surely please the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and our own kind Gurus and Lineage Masters!

It is this we should focus on, not the ego or our pridefulness for results. The consequences of karma are definite. Negative actions bring suffering, always. And positive actions bring happiness and freedom, always even a small action can bring a large consequence; so mindfulness is required. And the ability to examine ourselves honestly is essential to all spiritual progress!

To all spiritual progress!



Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Cultivating a Good Heart

Eat At Joes

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo during a “Good Heart Retreat”

Seriously, I do feel that there’s something wrong with the way we’re practicing religion. I really do feel that it is the job of spiritual people, who have as a centerpiece in their religion the idea of compassion, to really move forward towards ending suffering. A great first step is a good, hot meal for someone who’s hungry; some nice warm clothes for someone that doesn’t have enough; to know for sure that there is no child in your community who doesn’t get a Christmas present, a good one, not just left over crap, a good one.

Last year I remember when I was doing a little Christmas shopping, I think it was at Borders Bookstore, that I had this great, terrific little plan. I like to buy my daughter a lot of books. She’s a big reader and they keep her really quiet, when she’s not listening to Alanis Morrisette. So anyway, I buy her a lot of books and she’s very much a lover of books. When I went in there to buy a stack of books for her Christmas present, there was this great idea. It was a Christmas tree, and the Christmas tree had kids’ names on it and what grade they were in, what sex they were. You could pick one of the ornaments with the kids’ names off of the tree and you could buy them a book right there. I bought about ten books that day. How much more trouble is it to make it 11 or 12? It was a great idea. It was just a great idea. If we really started to brainstorm and think like that, we would come up with similar ideas.

Most of the lack that we experience, most of the poverty that we profess to have is merely conceptual. You know, it kind of goes like this: You say, ‘Gee, you know, it’s Sunday night and I’d really like to go out to eat, but I already went out to eat on Friday night and my budget only let’s me go out to eat once a week. So I can’t go out to eat tonight, but I’d really like to. Well, maybe I’ll just kind of mosey on over to a very cheap place, and I’ll get a very cheap thing.’ So you go to “Eat at Joe’s” or something, and it may not be the best food in the whole world, but you’re getting to eat out tonight. That means no dishes, so this is great. So you sit down at this place and you think, ‘All right now, I’m sticking to my budget, so I’d better get a cheap thing.’ You look at the cheap things and you go, ‘Well, you know, for just $2 more I could have a nice thing. And for $1 more than that I could have a salad too.’ So pretty soon, you kind of warm up to the idea that $2 or $3 extra’s not so bad. You know? Well, that kind of thinking can be encouraged in other ways also, because that extra $2 or $3 or that thing that you did by going out to eat and treating yourself is not going to break the bank. You have a concept that it’s going to break the bank, but it’s not going to break the bank.

So what if we were able to think that way ourselves. Like for instance, what about when we go grocery shopping? Supposing when we go grocery shopping, we have to spend $150, some families $200. Hey it happens, right? When was the last time you walked out of the grocery store with less than $100 worth of food? So, let’s say we walk in there and we think to ourselves, ‘Well, I’m going in to buy $100 worth of food, $150 worth of food.’ Would it really kill us if it cost us an extra 10% this time? Maybe $15 worth of canned goods or some food that we could share with our community. How painful is that? How painful is that when we see ourselves going up and down the Keeblers little elves aisle thinking which one of these gizmos do I want, because I can have them all. Or we go by the deli and think, ‘What deli thing must I have today?’ You know, we are an affluent society and we do that. And that’s fine, that’s fine. But supposing while we’re doing that, we could also buy some food that we could share with the community.

It’s not so unimaginable. Okay, maybe you don’t have that extra 10%, or don’t think you do. Start with 5%; start with one can. Start by asking somebody else if they have a can to lend you. But start, anywhere. I mean this is something that’s just easy to do. No one in our community has to go hungry. Even if we’re living here in Montgomery County and there’s not so much hunger here. If we can’t find any here, cross the line folks. There’s plenty in D.C.. What’s wrong with that? How hard is it? It’s not hard at all. So maybe this week you get Bartlett pears rather than exotic pears, and with that extra money you can buy a can of soup for somebody. That’s okay. You’ll live.

What I’m asking you to do now is to begin to formulate how as a community we are going to move into the world. As I explained earlier in the retreat, we are to some degree following a monastic format that was presented to us in Tibet. We have our ordained community. We have our lay community. But it’s never going to fly in that format here. In Tibet, the monasteries were isolated and separate. They experienced a whole different world which did not interface with the community very much. That’s not going to work here. The majority of Buddhists are probably not going to be ordained. So Buddhists have to get involved with the lives of householders. That has to be part of the Buddhist community in as respected and as strong a way as the ordained Sangha. So it would seem to me that while we are searching for a way to express the Buddha’s teachings in our society without fear and hesitation, with compassion and equanimity, let’s also toy with the idea of, as a Sangha, as a spiritual family, as a community, being a visible presence in our world. There should be a place to go to, and someone you can count on, but mostly a good heart in our community.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Foundation of Compassion


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

You have to understand the faults of cyclic existence in order to practice the ultimate bodhicitta. One must truly come to understand and be able to make the commitment that there is a cessation to suffering, but it is not found in revolving endlessly in cyclic existence. It is found in achieving enlightenment. In the state of enlightenment, having abandoned the faults of cyclic existence, the hatred, greed and ignorance and all of those qualities that produce the suffering of cyclic existence, one has effectively ended their involvement with cyclic existence and can come back by choice as a returner in order to be of benefit to others. This is the ultimate bodhicitta, the ultimate kindness.

I think about my teachers and I cannot believe their kindness. . For instance,  when I was recognized as a reincarnate lama,people asked me how I felt about my own recognition.

I said to them, “There are days when I’m not too thrilled with it. To tell you the truth, I wish it could have some other way. It is not what it is cracked up to be.”  When I think about my recognition, I think about one thing that amazes me. I think about my guru. How in the world did he pull the strings to make it happen? I had never heard of him before. He comes from the other side of the world, from India, into my living room and recognizes me. How did he find me?  How did he do that?  What kind of compassion would make that possible?

The story that I hear is that when he was a little boy and a young lama engaging in certain practices in the temple in Tibet, he actually said prayers that he could find this incarnation because he witnessed one of the relics from the predecessor of this incarnation. Just due to that prayer because he has such enlightenment, this amazing thing happened. How could I have met him?  How could that have happened?  It’s a miracle. I think about the kindness of such an effort as that. I think of this incredible kindness to be of such a mind that can do something in such an effortless way and have it benefit sentient beings. What practice he must have engaged in! How pure that mind must be! How amazing that he would go through the trouble—ultimate compassion, incredible, ultimate compassion. Unbelievable. He is the only one that could have done that, and he didn’t fault on that responsibility. He did that. That is what I think about that recognition: It is proof of his kindness. Only with the mind of enlightenment can we affect cyclic existence in such a way as to produce enlightenment for others. That is the kind of kindness that I wish to emulate. I wish to throw myself into that. I hope that you do. I hope that you can see the value of that.

This doesn’t mean that you have to wear robes or hole yourself up in a cave somewhere. You practice as you can, the best way that you can. Just give it your best shot. But in order to make your decision you must first understand the faults of cyclic existence. You must understand how cyclic existence develops. And you must understand what the end of suffering actually is and the meaning of ultimate bodhicitta. It means the end of all of it. It means the end of all the cause and effect relationships that create this phenomena.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved