Vigilance: From “The Way of the Bodhisattva” by Shantideva

The following is respectfully quoted from “The Way of the Bodhisattva” by Shantideva as translated by the Padmakara Translation Group and published by Shambhala:


Those who wish to keep a rule of life
Must guard their minds in perfect self-possession.
Without this guard upon the mind,
No discipline can ever be maintained.

Wandering where it will, the elephant of the mind,
Will bring us down to pains of deepest hell.
No worldly beast, however wild,
Could bring upon us such calamities.

If, with mindfulness’ rope,
The elephant of the mind is tethered all around,
Our fears will come to nothing,
Every virtue drop into our hands.

Tigers, lions, elephants, and bears,
Snakes and every hostile beast,
Those who guard the prisoners in hell,
All ghosts and ghouls and every evil phantom,

5. By simple binding of this mind alone,
All these things are likewise bound.
By simple taming of this mind alone,
All these things are likewise tamed.

For all anxiety and fear,
All sufferings in boundless measure,
Their source and wellspring is the mind itself,
Thus the Truthful One has said.

The hellish whips to torture living beings–
Who has made them and to what intent?
Who has forged this burning iron ground;
Whence have all these demon women sprung?

All are but the offspring of the sinful mind,
Thus the Mighty One has said.
Thus throughout the triple world
There is no greater bane than mind itself.

If transcendent giving is
To dissipate the poverty of beings,
In what way, since the poor are always with us,
Have former buddhas practiced perfect generosity?

The true intention to bestow on every being
All possessions–and fruits of such a gift;
By such, the teachings say, is generosity perfected.
And this, as we may see, is but the mind itself.

Where, indeed, could beings, fishes, and the rest
Be placed, to shield them from suffering?
Deciding to refrain from harming them
Is said to be the perfection of morality.

The hostile multitudes are vast as space–
What chance is there that all should be subdued?
Let but this angry mind be overthrown
And every foe is then and there destroyed.

To cover all the earth with sheets of hide–
Where could such amounts of skin be found?
But simply wrap some leather round your feet,
And it’s as if the whole earth had been covered!

Likewise, we can never take
And turn aside the outer course of things.
But only seize and discipline the mind itself,
And what is there remaining to be curbed?

A clear intent can fructify
And bring us birth in lofty Brahma’s realm.
The acts of body and of speech are less–
They do not generate a like result.

Recitations and austerities,
Long though they may prove to be,
If practiced with distracted mind,
Are futile, so the Knower of the Truth has said.

All who fail to know and penetrate
This secret of the mind, the Dharma’s peak,
Although they wish for joy and sorrow’s end,
Will wander uselessly in misery.

This is so, and therefore I will seize
This mind of mine and guard it well.
What use to me so many harsh austerities?
But let me only discipline and guard my mind!

When in wild, unruly crowds
We move with care to shield our broken limbs,
Likewise when we live in evil company,
Our wounded minds we should not fail to guard.

For if I carefully protect my wounds
Because I fear the hurt of cuts and bruises,
Why should I not guard my wounded mind,
For fear of being crushed beneath the cliffs of hell?

If this is how I act and live,
Then even in the midst of evil folk,
Or even with fair women, all is well.
My diligent observance of the vows will not decline.

Let my property and honor all grow less,
And likewise all my health and livelihood,
And even other virtues–all can go!
But never will I disregard my mind.

All you who would protect your minds,
Maintain awareness and your mental vigilance.
Guard them both, at the cost of life and limb–
Thus I join my hands, beseeching you.

Those disabled by ill health
Are helpless, powerless to act.
The mind, when likewise cramped by ignorance,
Is impotent and cannot do its work.

And those who have no mental vigilance,
Though they may hear the teachings, ponder them or meditate,
With minds like water seeping from a leaking jug,
Their learning will not settle in their memories.

Many have devotion, perseverance,
Are learned also and endowed with faith,
But through the fault of lacking mental vigilance,
Will not escape the stain of sin and downfall.

Lack of vigilance is like a their
Who slinks behind when mindfulness abates,
And all the merit we have gathered in
He steals, and down we go to lower realms.

Defilements are a band of robbers
Waiting for their chance to bring us injury.
They steal our virtue, when their moment comes,
And batter out the life of happy destinies.

Therefore, from the gateway of awareness
Mindfulness shall not have leave to stray.
And if it wanders, it shall be recalled,
By thoughts of anguish in the lower worlds.

In those endowed with fortune and devotion,
Mindfulness is cultivated easily–
Through fear, and by the counsels of their abbots,
And staying ever in their teacher’s company.

The buddhas and bodhisattvas both
Possess unclouded vision, seeing everything:
Everything lies open to their gaze,
And likewise I am always in their presence.

One who has such thoughts as these
Will gain devotion and a sense of fear and shame.
For such a one, the memory of Buddha
Rises frequently before the mind.

When mindfulness is stationed as a sentinel,
A guard upon the threshold of the mind,
Mental scrutiny is likewise present,
Returning when forgotten or dispersed.

If at the outset, when I check my mind,
I find some fault or insufficiency,
I’ll stay unmoving, like a log,
In self-possession and determination.

I shall never, vacantly,
Allow my gaze to wander about,
But rather with a focused mind
Will always go with eyes cast down.

But that I might relax my gaze,
I’ll sometimes raise my eyes and look around.
And if some person stands in my sight,
I’ll greet him with a friendly word of welcome.

And yet, to spy the dangers on the road,
I’ll scrutinize the four directions one by one.
And when I stop to rest, I’ll turn my head
And look behind me, back along my path.

And so, I’ll spy the land, in front, behind,
To see if I should go or else return.
And thus in every situation,
I shall know my needs and act accordingly.

Deciding on a given course,
Determining the actions of my body,
From time to time I’ll verify
My body’s actions, by repeated scrutiny.

This mind of mine, a wild and rampant elephant,
I’ll tether that sturdy post: reflection on the Teaching.
And I shall narrowly stand guard
That it might never slip its bonds and flee.

Those who strive to master concentration
Should never for an instant be distracted.
They should constantly investigate themselves,
Examining the movements of their minds.

In fearful situations, times of celebration,
One may desist, when self-survey becomes impossible.
For it is taught that in the times of generosity,
The rules of discipline must be suspended.

When something has been planned and started on,
Attention should not drift to other things.
With thoughts fixed on the chosen target,
That and that alone should be pursued.

Behaving in this way, all tasks were performed,
And nothing is achieved by doing otherwise.
Afflictions, the reverse of vigilance,
Can never multiply if this is how you act.

And if by chance you must take part
In lengthy conversations worthlessly,
Or if you come upon sensational events,
Then cast aside delight and taste for them.

If you find you’re grubbing in the soil,
Or pulling up the grass or tracing idle patterns on the ground,
Remembering the teachings of the Blissful One,
In fear, restrain yourself at once.

When you feel the wish to walk about,
Or even to express yourself in speech,
First examine what is in your mind.
For they will act correctly who have stable minds.

When the urge arises in the mind
To feelings of desire or wrathful hate,
Do not act! Be silent, do not speak!
And like a log of wood be sure to stay.

When the mind is wild with mockery
And filled with pride and haughty arrogance,
And when you want to show the hidden faults of others,
To bring up old dissensions or to act deceitfully,

And when you want to fish for praise,
Or criticize and spoil another’s name,
Or use harsh language, sparring for a fight,
It’s then that like a log you should remain.

And when you yearn for wealth, attention, fame,
A circle of admirers serving you,
And when you look for honors, recognition–
It’s then that like a log you should remain.

And when you want to do another down
And cultivate advantage for yourself,
And when the wish to gossip comes to you,
It’s then that like a log you should remain.

Impatience, indolence, faint heartedness,
And likewise haughty speech and insolence,
Attachment to your side–when these arise,
It’s then that like a log you should remain.

Examine thus yourself from every side.
Note harmful thoughts and every futile striving.
Thus it is that heroes in the bodhisattva path
Apply the remedies to keep a steady mind.

With perfect and unyielding faith,
With steadfastness, respect, and courtesy,
With modesty and conscientiousness,
Work calmly for the happiness of others.

Let us not be downcast by the warring wants
Of childish persons quarreling.
Their thoughts are bred from conflict and emotion.
Let us understand and treat them lovingly.

When doing virtuous acts, beyond reproach,
To help ourselves, or for the sake of others,
Let us always bear in mind the thought
That we are self-less, like an apparition.

This supreme treasure of a human life,
So long awaited, now at last attained!
Reflecting always thus, maintain your mind
As steady as Sumeru, king of mountains.

When vultures with their love of flesh
Are tugging at this body all around,
Small will be the joy you get from it, O mind!
Why are you so besotted with it now?

Why, O mind, do you protect this body,
Claiming it as though it were yourself?
You and it are each a separate entity,
How ever can it be of use to you?

Why not cling, O foolish mind, to something clean,
A figure carved in wood, or some such thing?
Why do you protect and guard
An unclean engine for the making of impurity?

First, with mind’s imagination,
Shed the covering of skin,
And with the blade of wisdom, strip
The flesh from bony frame.

And when you have divided all the bones,
And searched right down amid the very marrow,
You should look and ask the question:
Where is “thingness” to be found?

If, persisting in the search,
You find no underlying object,
Why still cherish–and with such desire–
The fleshy form you now possess?

Its filth you cannot eat, O mind:
Its blood likewise is not for you to drink;
Its innards, too, unsuitable to suck–
This body, what then will you make of it?

As second best, it may indeed be kept
As food to feed the vulture and the fox.
The value of this human form
Lies only in the way that it is used.

Whatever you may do to guard and keep it,
What will you do when
The Lord of Death, the ruthless, unrelenting,
Steals and throws it to the birds and dogs?

Slaves unsuitable for work
Are not rewarded with supplies and clothing.
This body, though you pamper it, will leave you–
Why exhaust yourself with such great labor?

So pay this body due remuneration,
But then be sure to make it work for you.
But do not lavish everything
On what will not bring perfect benefit.

Regard your body as a vessel,
A simple boat for going here and there.
Make of it a wish-fulfilling gem
To bring about the benefit of beings.

Thus with free, untrammeled mind,
Put on an ever-smiling countenance.
Rid yourself of scowling, wrathful frowns,
And be a true and honest friend to all.

Do not, acting inconsiderately,
Move furniture and chairs so noisily around.
Likewise do not open doors with violence.
Take pleasure in the practice of humility.

Herons, cats, and burglars
Go silently and carefully;
This is how they gain what they intend.
And one who practices this path behaves likewise.

When useful admonitions come unasked
To those with skill in counseling their fellows,
Let them welcome them with humble gratitude,
And always strive to learn from everyone.

Praise all who speak the truth,
And say, “Your words are excellent.”
And when you notice others acting well,
Encourage them in terms of warm approval.

Extol them even in their absence;
When they’re praised by others, do the same.
But when the qualities they praise are yours,
Appreciate their skill in knowing qualities.

The goal of every act is happiness itself,
Though, even with great wealth, it’s rarely found.
So take your pleasure in the qualities of others.
Let them be a heartfelt joy to you.

By acting thus, in this life you’ll lose nothing;
In future lives, great bliss will come to you.
The sin of envy brings not joy but pain,
And in the future, dreadful suffering.

Speak with honest words, coherently,
With candor, in a clear, harmonious voice.
Abandon partiality, rejection, and attraction,
And speak with moderation, gently.

And catching sight of others, think
That it will be through them
That you will come to buddhahood.
So look on them with open, loving hearts.

Always fired by highest aspiration,
Laboring to implement the antidotes,
You will gather virtues in the fields
Of qualities, of benefits, of sorrow.

Acting thus with faith and understanding,
You will always undertake good works.
And in whatever actions you perform,
You’ll not be calculating, with your eye on others.

The six perfections, giving and the rest,
Progress in sequence, growing in importance.
The great should never be supplanted by the less,
And it is others’ good that is the highest goal.

Therefore understand this well
And always labor for the benefit of beings.
The far-seeking masters of compassion
Permit, to this end, that which is proscribed.

Eat only what is needful;
Share with those who have embraced discipline.
To those, defenseless, fallen into evil states,
Give all except the three robes of religion.

The body, apt to practice sacred teaching,
Should not be harmed in trivial pursuits.
It this advice is kept, the wishes of all beings
Will swiftly and completely be attained.

They should not give up their bodies
Whose compassion is not pure and perfect.
But let them, in this world and those to come,
Subject their bodies to the service of the supreme goal.

Do not teach to those without respect,
To those who like the sick wear cloths around their heads,
To those who proudly carry weapons, staffs or parasols,
And those who keep their hats upon their heads.

Do not teach the vast and deep to those
Upon the lower paths, nor, as a monk,
To women unescorted. Teach with equal honor
Low and high according to their path.

Those suited to the teachings vast and deep,
Should not be introduced to lesser paths.
But basic practice you should not forsake,
Confused by talk of sūtras nd of mantras.

Your spittle and your toothbrushes,
When thrown away, should be concealed.
And it is wrong to foul with urine
Public thoroughfares and water springs.

When eating do not gobble noisily,
Nor stuff and cram your gaping mouth.
And do not sit with legs outstretched,
Nor rudely rub your hands together.

Do not sit upon a horse, on beds or seats,
With women of another house, alone.
All that you have seen, or have been told,
To be offensive–this you should avoid.

Not rudely pointing with your finger,
But rather with a reverent gesture showing,
With the whole right hand outstretched–
This is how to indicate the road.

Do not wave your arms with uncouth gestures.
With gentle sounds and finger snaps
Express yourself with modesty–
For acting otherwise is impolite excess.

Lie down to sleep with posture and direction
Of the Buddha when he passed into nirvāna.
And first, with clear resolve,
Decide that you’ll be swift to rise again.

The bodhisattva’s acts
Are boundless, as the teachings ay,
And all these practices that cleanse the mind
Embrace–until success has been attained.

Reciting thrice, by day, by night,
The Sūtra in Three Sections,
Relying on the buddhas and the bodhisattvas,
Purify the rest of your transgressions.

And therefore in whatever time or place,
For your own good and for the good of others,
Be diligent to implement
The teachings given for that situation.

There is indeed no virtue
That the buddha’s offspring should not learn.
To one with mastery therein,
There is no action destitute of merit.

Directly, then, or indirectly,
All you do must be for others’s sake.
And solely for their welfare dedicate
Your actions for the gaining of enlightenment.

Never, at the cost of life or limb,
Forsake your virtuous friend, your teacher,
Learned in the meaning of Mahāyāna,
Supreme in practice of the bodhisattva path.

For thus you must depend upon your guru,
And you will find described in Shrī Sambhava’s life,
And elsewhere in the teachings of the Buddha:
These be sure to study, reading the sūtras.

The training you will find described
Within the sūtras. Therefore read and study them.
The Sūtra of the Essence of the Sky–
This is the text that should be studied first.

The Digest of All Disciples
Contains a detailed and extensive explanation
Of all that must be practiced come what may.
So this is something you should read repeatedly.

From time to time, for the sake of brevity,
Consult the Digest of the Sūtras.
And those two works pursue with diligence.
The noble Nāgārjuna has composed.

Whatever in these works is not proscribed
Be sure to undertake and implement.
And what you see there, perfectly fulfill,
and so safeguard the minds of worldly beings.

To keep a guard again and yet again
Upon the state of actions of our thoughts and deeds–
This and only this defines
The nature and the sense of mental watchfulness.

But all this must be acted out in truth,
For what is to be gained by mouthing syllables?
What invalid was ever helped
By merely reading in the doctor’s treatises?


The Wish to Benefit All Beings

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche on Meditation, reprinted her with permission from Palyul Ling International:

This is the root of all the Dharma practices: generating the Bodhicitta [loving-kindness]. If one can really generate genuine Bodhicitta within one’s mind, then it is very easy to move nearer to ultimate liberation. Bodhicitta is known as the awakening mind. The awakening mind is without partiality and equally benefits all sentient beings. If we have the thought of doing something good and beneficial only for our families and friends and then we want to create all kinds of obstacles for someone we don’t like or whom we consider to be an enemy, this is not Bodhicitta.

Generating Bodhicitta, the awakening mind, is for the purpose of benefiting all sentient beings without any exception. Even living creatures such as ants, in their ultimate nature, they also have the Buddha nature. Even cockroaches. There is no difference in the size of the form. In the teachings it says that there is no limit to space, that space is immeasurable, and similarly there is no limit of sentient beings. Their number is immeasurable. Hence we have to generate the kind of Bodhicitta that is immeasurable for all these immeasurable numbers of beings.

Cultivating View


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Conceptual Proliferation”

This conceptual proliferation has a lot to do with view. Incorrect view results from the idea of self-nature being inherently real. There’s no way that we can exist in samsara without incorrect view resulting. Now on the path of Vajrayana, the most important directive that we are given is to attain pure view through devotion. That is extremely important. In that way we will awaken the wisdom sense, or the wisdom mind, and move closer to realization. We’re given many different ways to do that. One of the ways that we’re given is to meditate on emptiness; and in meditating on emptiness we do not instantly assume self-nature to be inherently real. We also are given the directive to meditate on compassion, and to practice compassion, so that we remove the clinging to self-nature, and the desire and grasping that comes from the belief in self-nature.

One thing that we might also do is to challenge our own conceptual proliferation. We might actually challenge our view as it is. Here’s something that’s an interesting thought, and we can think about this every day. And it’s a scary thought too. You are now engaging in conceptual proliferation because you have ideas about what you’re seeing and hearing. These ideas tell you something about your environment; something about me, who you think to be separate from you; and something about you, who you think to be separate from me. So all of these things are going on. And basically you’re in a process right now, even as we speak, of super-structuring. You’re building a structure and then building a structure on top of that and another one on top of that and another one on top of that. And your life, your continuum, actually exists in that super-structure; it is that super-structure. That is your experience. But if you trace it down, the conceptual proliferation can be traced to hope and fear; can be traced to attraction and repulsion; can be traced to duality; can be traced to ego identification or the assumption of self-nature as being inherently real. The Buddha teaches us that from the get-go, from the beginning, this is all tainted and all wrong.

We walk around all day long feeling angry and justified because we’re angry. And if we are not justified, we try to find justification; and we will, given enough time. We spend the rest of our day, when we’re not angry, feeling self-righteous, good or bad about ourselves, guilty, morose, elated, blissful, happy, victorious, like failures—all these things; and often we can feel both victorious and a failure within the same five minute time span. We just walk around with this kind of continuum going on. That is the experience of our lives; and it is our continuum.

Based on that, we act. We act a certain way because we’re angry. We act a certain way because we’re sad. We act a certain way because we’re happy. We act a certain way because of all the feelings that we feel. And then we react to the response that we get because of the way we acted. Where does it stop? Well, it doesn’t until we die. And then we get reborn again. That is the experience of continuum.

It can all be traced back to the idea of self-nature being inherently real; and the Buddha teaches us that that is a false assumption, because our nature does not contrive in such a way. Our nature is the fully accomplished, spontaneously liberated primordial wisdom view. But if instead we are having all this other stuff go on, the first thing that you can say to yourself every day, and the thing that you can say to yourself every moment of every day, is that I don’t know what the heck is going on here. And that should be the first thing that you do every day. Rather than assume self-nature to be inherently real, the first thing you should assume is that you do not know your derriere from a hole in the wall. Did I say that nicely enough? This is, after all, a temple. You can safely assume that you don’t know what’s going on.

So perhaps you can challenge yourself by taking a moment to just breathe, just be. The Buddha teaches us a meditation in which we watch thoughts and think of them as coming to the surface of the mind like bubbles that come from the bottom. You can think of your mind as a lake; and you can think of thoughts that simply rise to the surface. Now if a bubble rises to the surface of a lake, where will it go when you pop it? It simply pops. Now supposing we were to think of thoughts in the same way. Whatever conceptual proliferation that rises to the surface of the lake of your mind, supposing you weren’t to follow it. Supposing you were to simply let it go. Let it pop. Look at it square in the eye and say, ‘Oh that’s another one of those conceptual proliferation things.’ What if you didn’t let it dictate your life?

Heart Advice from His Holiness Penor Rinpoche: Watching the Mind


The following is a Heart Teaching offered by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche at Palyul Ling Retreat in 2003 – lightly edited for posting on this blog:

Carry through the Guru Yoga practice with your body, speech, and mind in proper position and without having any conceptual thoughts.  Place your hands in the meditative position and concentrate on the practice.  If you start conceptualizing, it causes lots of negative problems.  Always try to cut through past, present and future thoughts, and then try to abide in the nature.

Even if one’s physical body is in a meditative position, if one’s mind goes on creating thoughts and conceptualizing, then there is no benefit, because the mind is more important than the physical body.

In the past there were two lamas known as Drupa Sangye Khenpa and Drupa Kunley.  Drupa Kunley normally traveled around all over the place.  One day Drupa Sangye Khenpa told Drupa Kunley that he shouldn’t wander everywhere and that they both should try to do some retreat and settle down.  They both carried on their retreat individually.  Then Drupa Sangye Khenpa thought that after completing the retreat he would go to the city to beg for food.  He had a horse to ride horse, but at that time based on one’s rank people would put a red feather on the horse, but Drupa Sangye Khenpa didn’t have one.  So Drupa Sangye Khenpa thought, “I should go to the city and get that feather.”  Meanwhile Drupa Kunley was in retreat, and somehow read Drupa Sangye Khenpa’s mind, so he went to see Drupa Sangye Khenpa.  When Drupa Sangye Khenpa saw Drupa Kunley, he said, “Actually we haven’t completed our retreat.  Why are you coming here?”  Then Drupa Kunley told Drupa Sangye Khenpa, “Well, you are going to the city to get that horse feather, so I thought the retreat was over.“   It is in that way that if one’s mind starts giving rise to thoughts, it has its own activity.

Of course these lamas are bodhisattvas who have realization, and don’t give rise to any afflictive emotions.  We are not equal to them, but still don’t let your mind wander.    Externally we look the same, like human beings, but their enlightened mind is not the same as ours.  Whatever thoughts we give rise to or verbalize or any action we take, are bound by afflictive emotions and have all kinds of grasping and clinging.  We mostly have impure thoughts.  It is very difficult to have even 1% pure perception.

Even when we carry through the generation stage of the deity, during the practice all kinds of thoughts arise.  Even when we try to do some meditation, during the actual meditation itself, still thoughts constantly arise.  That it is how our mind is.

The moment any thoughts arise, they naturally will be in the form of attachment or aversion.  Even in our day-to-day lives, it is important to try not to give rise to many thoughts and to try to sit and have control over one’s mind.  In the future when one carries through practices like Shamatha Meditation or Mahamudra or Dzogchen, one will need to have a single-pointed mind.  If one’s mind is constantly giving rise to thought then it doesn’t really help.

In our normal worldly life we think of material wealth, our jobs, work and so forth.  Our senses are more external, but when we are trying to apply our spiritual practices, then it is important to turn one’s mind inward, to examine one’s own mind to see what it is doing and how it is following the practice.

The Buddhist Way


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Art of Dispelling Anger”

And then, of course, you can do it the Buddhist way. And the Buddhist way is:Wait a minute. Where is this anger?  Show me the anger. OK. It’s coming out of my mouth, but I can’t quite hold it. Where is it?  Take time and play with it. Is this anger solid?   Well, who is the person I’m angry at?  I’m angry at her or him or somebody. Let’s see. I’m angry at her.  (This is a pretend person I’m pointing at.) I’m angry at her. OK. Where exactly is her?  I’m going to go through the Buddhist teaching: Where is the ‘I’ in her?  Where is the part that is actually her?  Is it the ear?  Is it the mouth?  What part of the mouth?  The teeth?  The tongue?  Is it the brain?  Slice the brain and find her.

Do yourself a favor. Take yourself off the track of hatred and work the method, because the more you let that go,… You think you feel better after you’ve had a rage thing because it’s addictive. It’s like alcohol. The more you drink, the more you want. The thing to do is to keep yourself from that by stepping back, taking a breath and examining what you are doing. Just examine the basis of it. Just take a minute and examine the basis of it. It will be very hard to do at first, very hard to stop yourself, first of all. But you must practice and you must learn. And the first time you are successful at it, yes!  And the second time you are successful at it, yes again; and the third time it’s a little easier. And you begin to start noticing things. It’s a step upon step upon step sort of building process of awareness that is actually happening, because in fact, there is no enemy, there is no self, there is no anger. And we just need to wake up to that.

Our nature is the pure primordial luminosity—that spontaneous nature which is utterly empty and absolutely complete, that emptiness which is not empty within which is all phenomena, all potential . So that emptiness is our living, dynamic nature. Having forgotten it, we are asleep. Being asleep, we act like criminals, while we should be acting like the celestial deities with the vajra pride that we visualize, giving rise to those good qualities of helpfulness.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Turning the Mind

The following is respectfully quoted from “Reborn in the West” by Vicki Mackenzie, recounting the life of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

After she felt she could go no further with this particular meditation she prayed for guidance on what to do next. She had another dream which told her to examine all the probabilities that could come out of her life.

‘I use to imagine all these white picket fence scenarios–the typical Western dream,’ she continued. ‘I did these meditations where I would suppose my husband and I were always happy–like in the commercials where you run laughing towards each other through the wheat fields. And my son would grow up to be doctor–he’d be wealthy and loving. And I would have other sons and daughters and they would grow up to be successful and happy too. Then I asked myself: supposing I attained every material dream a woman could have in America, then what?

‘I meditated on that. It was turning the mind. I saw that these things, these dreams and hopes were pointless. Where did it lead? After all this, you die. I began to see that there was no future in these kind of endeavors. Even if I were to be totally happy in the world and invested all my time and money in it, there was ultimately no point. I might get the admiration of my peers, and all the riches I could dream of, then I would die. Then what?’

What she was describing was the basic Buddhist meditation on death and impermanence that I myself had done in Kopan back in 1976.

‘I remember meditating on this, holding my son in my arms and thinking how I wanted to protect this little being and feeling I would do anything for him. I remember thinking “I absolutely commit myself to making you safe.” And then I realized in my meditation that I couldn’t make that commitment. If my son were to become terribly ill and die there would be nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t follow him into the after-death experience. I realized I was lying to my baby,’ she said.

This relentless scrutiny of her life, the various ways it could go and the inevitable outcome in death was to have a critical impact on her life. From then on she turned her back on worldly pursuits. In Buddhist terms she had achieved renunciation–the lack of fascination with the ups and downs, the dramas and the joys, of mundane existence. It is said that only when you achieve renunciation do you truly step on to the spiritual path, because only then do you stop believing that following the goals of material existence is the way to happiness.

Mind Creates Form: Khenpo Tenzin Norgay

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Khenpo Tenzin Norgay given at Kunzang Palyul Choling called “The Six Paramitas”

We are always concerned about our mind.  We have the body, speech and mind, and according to our Buddhist teachings, we say that our mind is more powerful than our body and speech.  It is the main controller.  Once we have our mind controlled, then our body becomes naturally controlled, and then our speech is also perfected.  So that’s why, instead of making our body perfect, what we are doing is making our mind perfect.

The mind is given more importance in our teachings.  According to our teachings, our mind can create a physical object, not the other way around—a physical object creating our mind.  So this is one of the main teachings. If we are able to understand that, then the law of karma, or incarnation, can be better understood.

So here, when we say our mind can create physical objects or all these projections—it is in the Abhidharma teachings—we are talking about how we have three realms of existence: the formless realm, the form realm and the desire realm.  Even in the Sutrayana teachings, when talking about, the formation of these three realms or cyclic existence, like when earth or some physical formation is there, it’s saying that it starts from below and then goes upward—having this sphere and space and the sphere of water and all gradually stacking upward.  Then when talking about the formation of the beings abiding there, the inhabitants, it’s talking about stepping downward.  First we can say we have this formless realm where there is only consciousness.  The person born in the formless realm is, in one way of saying,  less distracted and has a great degree of meditation but without Vipassana or Right View.  If we don’t have Right View, then when our meditational power becomes exhausted, we can be born in the form realm.  In the form realm, our teachings say, there is no physical body of flesh and bones, but not exactly the rainbow-like body. So there is sort of like a physical body there which is not really made of flesh and bones. But it’s saying because of our attachment to the physical form, there is some solid form of physical appearances in the form realm.  When this becomes stronger, we call it the desire realm.  So that’s where we are, in this desire realm.  And here, our desire to objects is stronger, so we have this flesh and bones and this brain.

What I’m trying to say is our mind can exist freely without relying upon the chemicals in our brain.  If it were just a chemical process, then once the brain died, everything would be dead.  So it seems this is not our teaching.  Our teaching is that our mind creates the brain, not the brain creates our mind.


The Seduction of the Five Senses

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Tools to Deepen Your Practice”

All the practices, no matter what they look like or sound like or seem like, are heading in that direction of gradually awakening more and more to the awareness of the sphere of truth.  Wisdom is then the accomplishment of a state of such non-attachment that one realizes the emptiness of phenomena by simply [Jetsunma effortlessly and blissfully breathes out, her eyes and body completely relaxing].  I don’t know how else to describe it except to just show you that posture.  Just…[Jetsunma once again breathes out as noted above].

Because the same as your touch is bliss.  The same as your smell is bliss.  The same as your tongue is bliss.  How does it happen then that we’re so darned uncomfortable?  How does it happen then, according to the Buddha’s teachings, that so many sentient beings are revolving so helplessly in samsara, so lost, so unable to understand how to understand, or how to awaken, or even how to live virtuously so that in the future they’ll be happy?  How does this all happen?

Lord Buddha said it during the course of his actual physical life, when he said, “All suffering arises from desire.”  So while you can say that the fundamental space of the five lights is the same as the five primordial Dakinis, they are activity not separate from the Buddha nature.  And yet these five senses hold on to us. Well we think they do, although we did create them.  But with their grasping nature, they cause us, because we have the strong habitual tendency,  to constantly react and constantly react and act really neurotically because we don’t understand.  To be neurotic is to not understand the situation and to act inappropriately repetitively.  That’s pretty much us.  We do not understand the emptiness of self-nature and so we constantly act differently.

So, these five primordial Dakinis that are your senses and that someday you will awaken to are now—because we are clinging, because we have not renounced, because we believe in phenomena and we believe in the solidity of everything, and because we are really revolving in dualism—we would have to consider them like five nasty whores.  Because they trick us.  They seduce us.  They say to us, “Come and play with me and I will give you anything.”   And when’s the last time you got anything from a skanky whore. (laughter)  [Jetsunma: I did not say that!”]  Our five senses actually keep us in a constant state of inflammation, because while we’re grasping to the solidity of phenomena, we’re constantly reacting.  While we’re constantly reacting, we’re constantly acting neurotically, out of accordance with the nature of reality.  And so we’re being tricked, seduced.

The senses have many tricks. As front runners for our consciousness of duality, they like to trick us by building us up. You know, we can see and hear things that make us feel very proud and make us feel as though we are worthy of praise. You know, we can arrange phenomena any way we want.  That’s the amazing thing about it.  And it can become very seductive.  We can absolutely crap out on our practice and yet with our five senses, we can manage to create in our consciousness of duality a scenario in which we’re looking pretty good.  We can wear the right clothes and have the right beads, and you know we can look pretty good.  And so that’s the deceptive nature of the five senses.

How difficult it is to understand that that which helps us negotiate around is actually the very nature of bliss.  How to understand that the opposite side of the very clinging that we do so tightly that prevents us from awakening to the primordial wisdom state,  is liberation?  Well, that’s wisdom and that is the kind of wisdom that we strive for as we practice.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


What Are Your Senses Telling You?

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Tools to Deepen in Your Practice”

When you see, you react with acceptance or rejection.  You have an acceptance or rejection or even a neutrality, which would be a combination of both or a decision not to do either; but there is that first knee-jerk reaction.  It’s the same with all of our senses.  We react to what we sense.  The senses are really to keep us pacified in the belief that our lives are inherently real, that we are sitting on solid, that we are solid, we live in solid and everything’s ok.  And that’s what the senses are meant to do.  They are meant to grasp on in a way, and hold on to the time and space grid so that we can feel as though we are safe.  Because we don’t like that idea of emptiness. That’s just troublesome.

So when a Tantric practitioner sits down to meditate, he has to take the senses and open them up.  How can you do that?  Can you visualize it?  Well, you really have to go quietly in your practice and find out for yourself.  It’s very difficult for any teacher to tell you exactly how to let go of the senses or to let go of the attraction of the senses.  Yes, we can give you pointers.  But it comes down to the point really when you have to sit and you have to know your own mind.  When we know our mind, we know how to deal with it.  And it’s like feeling our way around.  Oh, we know we shouldn’t go there because there’s an object; and we know we should go there because it’s ok.  We’re kind of feeling around.

So when a Tantric practitioner meditates on emptiness, he doesn’t build emptiness.  He doesn’t make emptiness.  He doesn’t cling onto emptiness which is somewhere else and bring it here.  Instead, what the practitioner does is to simply allow the grasping to solid phenomena and solid self-nature to be appeased.  One relaxes.  One awakens to emptiness!

How does one awaken to emptiness?  Well of course, the first time you sit down and try this, you’re not going to awaken to emptiness fully because that would be like becoming practically enlightened in a very swift time, like very swift.  And so, you can’t expect that.  You must be patient with yourself and expect that this will take some work, that it will take some time.

When one relaxes the grasping, the difference is . . . Ok.  If you take a crystal and sunlight comes through the crystal and is reflected and refracted and you see a rainbow, the rainbow is the same nature as the light that came through the crystal.  In a way, what you’re going to do, is if you’re seeing a red ray and a purple ray and a blue ray or whatever color you’re seeing from this crystal, you’re going to, with intention, go to the heart of that color, as though you were peeling away the colorness of it.  Almost reversing it.  Putting it back through the crystal and understanding its source.  Like that.

I know.  That’s a little chewy.  So you have to chew on that for a little bit.  But it is very much like that.  To be a Tantric practitioner, in fact, you must have assumed the nature of emptiness.  And in one’s practice, that is what you do.  You assume the nature of emptiness.  So, you are relaxing the senses and the grasping knowing that. You don’t visualize emptiness because when you allow the relaxing and the grasping to go, emptiness is what is.  It spontaneously arises.  And even that’s a joke.  Because here I am telling you “it” spontaneously arises.  And of course, that’s not possible.  Because once it’s “it”, then it isn’t empty.  And yet I say to you that this is the trick of it. When we take that precious minute before we generate the deity to really allow the senses to unlock, to stop contriving, to cease to evaluate, to stop giving you the food that you use to react, to simply let go, the more deeply we go into our practice.  And your assumption there—and that should be your first assumption—is that separate from this grasping, there is the nature of emptiness.  That, in fact, if we can pacify this grasping, then the empty nature is visible or knowable in some way.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


The Sphere of Truth

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Tools to Deepen in Your Practice”

When it comes to gathering wisdom and to understanding the difference between wisdom and knowledge, knowledge would be all the facts that you absorb from your text or from reading or from your teacher or from tapes that you might have heardthat allow you to accomplish that ‘letting go of the senses.’  The actual opening the senses and relaxing them is like a hand. If my hand is like this, it’s around something; the shape is defined.  And here in your meditation on emptiness, it’s more like this (Jetsunma relaxes the hand grip) and the hand is open.  And while the hand is open, if it were possible to truly do this in a profound way, it would be like it says in the Guru Yoga generation stage in the Shower of Blessings: ”His great bliss flashes in the fundamental space of the five lights.” That’s it.

If you could really read and understand that line, that would be so good.  “His great bliss flashes in the fundamental space of the five lights.”  Well, what are the five lights?  They are the senses.  While we are considering them solid, we can name them and describe them.  But it says here, “…the fundamental space of the five lights”. So the senses become ‘fundamental space’.  The trick is that when we are not grasping and reacting, the natural state of bliss arises.  And so here they’re talking about Guru Rinpoche, and they’re saying, “His great bliss flashes in the fundamental space of the five lights”.  Such renunciation of the grasping of phenomena is implied in that line.  Such renunciation.  Such accomplishment.  And true understanding of what the five senses are.  Because like the light coming through the crystal, they all arise from the fundamental bliss that is our uncontrived primordial nature.  That’s an amazing line.  And of course, by going deeply into your practice, one would want to read again and again the different words that you are reciting in Tibetan in English, so that you can really understand what it is that you are doing.

So for a Tantric practitioner, it’s all about practicing the awareness of the fundamental sphere of truth that we habitually perceive as phenomena.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved