Reactiveness Is The Enemy

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

How does one practice the recognition of the empty nature of all phenomena?  One of the ways that we can do that is by pacifying reactiveness through a deeper understanding and discrimination.  Reactiveness is an inner enemy.  In a very profound way, it’s probably your worst enemy.  It is the seat, the throne, the source of all suffering.  It is really our reaction to samsara and the resulting activity that that brings our suffering; that is our suffering.  Like the Buddha said, our suffering is all based on our clinging to self-nature as being inherently real and the desire that arises from that.  This reactiveness is truly the enemy.  I can’t say that often enough.

Since time out of mind we have believed in self-nature as being inherently real.  Since that first idea of self-nature as being inherently real, we have spent every moment from that point on securing ourselves, establishing ourselves, making ourselves safe and defining – most of all defining – ourselves.  In order to define myself, I have to see you as separate.  All of the ideas we have that come from that are truly samsaric in nature, even, as a practitioner, the idea that I should walk around looking very noble and very holy and very renounced.  Even that idea, although it may seem to be about practicing on the path, is actually about the samsaric clinging to self-nature as inherently real.

So this discrimination that we practice has to antidote that very thing.  How are we going to antidote that very thing?  That’s not so easy.  Reactiveness, if you think about it, is a perception about self-nature being real, the perception of other, and the reaction is based on hope, fear or neutrality.  As a human being, if I see you, I hope that you will make me happy.  I hope that you will make me safe.  Or, if I see you, maybe I fear that you’re going to be prettier than me or richer than me, or I fear that you’re going to be unkind to me or that you’re a danger to me.  Neutrality comes after you go through both hope and fear and you’ve decided it’s pretty well balanced, so you’re neutral about this.  Neutrality is not wisdom.  When we have that kind of a reactive mentality, it is such a knee-jerk reaction that it is automatic.  There is never a thought that says, “Oh boy, now I’m going to react to this.”  When somebody walks in the room, you don’t think, “Now, watch me react.”  When something happens to you, you don’t think, “Watch this.”  I have the image of these old-time paddleballs with an elastic string and a ball on the end, you know?  The only thing that you can do with it is bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam, you know, like that?  Our minds are like that.  We are like that, bam-bam-bam-bam-bam.  The thing that’s happening is that we perceive ourselves as being real and solid; we perceive stuff as being “out there,” and the only thing it can do is hit us, and the only thing we can do is bounce at it, and it’s bam-bam-bam-bam-bam, reaction, reaction, reaction, reaction, reaction, because we cannot have a second where we don’t reinforce the idea that self-nature is inherently real.  Maybe we would disappear.  So bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam!  That’s what we have to do, and it has to be constant or maybe time won’t pass or things won’t be solid.

To apply the antidote to that, we are told to sit and practice and do the visualization.  That is an antidote.  The reason why it’s an antidote is because you’re not reacting to something that affects self-nature, but you are engaging in a visualization, giving rise to a deeper awareness of what your nature actually is.  So it’s a great antidote for that.  But if you really look at the phenomenon of bam-bam-bam and what it’s based on, you can see that there is no spaciousness between the idea of self-nature as being inherently real and BAM, the reaction.  There’s no space.  The mind can’t NOT snap back.  Do you understand why I’m saying that?

To apply the antidote, you can’t just decide consciously not to react.  That would only make you neurotic.  That is the nature of the beast as we are now.  You cannot pretend that you’re not reacting.  You’d look holy, I guess, but it would make you a little weird.  The way to practice is to try to get a little bit of space somewhere in the equation; to try to take a breath, give it a moment.  How can you do that?  I just said you can’t control that, so how are you supposed to do that?  The way to do that is to begin to recognize the nature of the phenomena that you’re experiencing.  When you go through this mental stuff and your mind is so tight and you’re bam-bam-bamming and you’re in that deeply reactive mode, you have the power to do this.  Animals can’t do this, other kinds of beings can’t do this, but humans can do this.  This is what’s unique about us.  We can stand back, and we can say, “Oh yeah, that’s just like me.  I do that.”  Just that stepping back to observe phenomena without going crashing into it headlong in total ignorance and drunkenness and denial is an incredible practice.  To be an observer just for a moment, to watch the equation – self-nature is inherently real, therefore…to watch the reactiveness, to watch the play that goes on there, begins to create some space in the mind. This is an incredible practice, and it should be done at times when you’re not deeply reactive.

To practice like that, you have to start very simply, when the mind is relatively quiet.  Watch yourself looking at a tree.  Watch how, when you look at the tree, the tree is only relevant if it makes you feel good.  Otherwise, what do you care about trees?  You couldn’t care less. But the tree is beautiful.  It affects us.  It’s very healing, pretty in the spring, shady in the summer, fruitful in the fall.  Instead of being king or queen baby on your own little stage, perhaps you can observe yourself looking at a tree and watching how the tree is relevant as to how it affects you.  Watch what happens when you watch the tree.  When you look at the tree, just kind of watch that whole equation right then.  At first, maybe it’ll happen too fast and you won’t be able to see it, but if you persist, you will get a wedge in there.  Watch your mind.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Developing the Heart of Practice

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

In practicing mindfulness within the context of guru devotion, one elevates the object of devotion.  One elevates that appearance which is in accordance with the Buddha’s miraculous and compassionate intention, as being different than ordinary phenomena.  What we are trying to do is overcome the condition of non-recognition. In this condition of non-recognition or dullness, where our mind becomes very flat-line, the mind is actually filled with so many defilements of non-recognition that the mind becomes disabled.  The consciousness becomes unable to discriminate what is extraordinary from what is ordinary.  We literally are not able to see that which arises from the Buddha nature and are not able to discriminate between that and what is ordinary appearance.  So we practice Guru Yoga for the purpose of being able to make that kind of discrimination.

When we hold an object of refuge in reverence, we should not bring it into the realm of the ordinary.  In order to bring it into the realm of the ordinary, you have to think the way you ordinarily do.  You would basically be saying, “Okay, now, this is me, the student, acting like that in front of the object of reverence, of refuge.  This is me acting like that.  I put myself in that posture because that’s what I’m supposed to do as a good Buddhist.” Having the opportunity to discriminate, to give rise to a state of recognition or awakeness, yet remaining in the realm of the ordinary is simply throwing away the opportunity.  We’re bringing it into the realm of ordinary context.  We’re saying, “This is here and that’s there.” and we’re practicing the sense of division, the sense of duality, while not truly making any kind of distinction.  In that particular kind of thinking, you, the ego, you, the self, are still the star on that stage.  You are bowing.  You are in a posture of being reverent.  Don’t you look good!  That kind of attitude is different from what I’m talking about.  What I’m talking about is a true, honest, delusion-free recognition of that which is extraordinary.  So the practice has to go accordingly, and only you can know.  Only you really can measure the subtleties of your own mind and your own perception to see honestly and truly how this is going.

To go through one’s career as a Buddhist and practice in such a way that we only look as if we are holding up what is precious, practicing only the posture and the demeanor of reverence without really having the inner discrimination and mindfulness, has very little result.  In fact, you can have a negative result, because still and all, this solid self-nature, this ego that we cling to, is the star on the stage.  When you are practicing refuge and doing all the right movements without the inner discrimination, what you’re really doing is performing.  We’re onstage, and that means that the ego, or the idea of a solid self-nature, is held in much higher regard and we are much more deeply aware of that than the object of refuge.

Therefore, we have to be careful and mindful.  Here is where we have to practice true discrimination.  If I were to treat a Dharma book in a certain way, for instance, saying, “Oh, now everybody’s watching me because I’m up high on the throne, so, when I put my Dharma book over there, I’d better do it very gracefully.”  Well, it might look like I was being mindful, but it wasn’t true mindfulness because, in thinking like that, the ego is the star.  In thinking, “Oh, I’d better do this just right. I’d better follow the rules, better be a good girl,” without any inner recognition that these are the Buddha’s teachings, without any inner recognition that what comes from this Dharma book is not the same as what comes from a dime store novel, there is no discrimination.  Only you can be responsible for that kind of inner recognition.  In a way, that is the great strength, as well as the great difficulty, of practice.

The great strength of practice is that you have the jewel in your hand.  Use it or not, you have the jewel in your hand.  You can determine the depth of your practice.  You can practice as deeply as you wish.  We should be aware that only we could practice in such a way as to actually deepen in our level of understanding, or our level of wisdom.  Only we can practice in such a way as to give rise to recognition, but we have to stop just going through the motions.  It is so important to really develop the heart of practice.  But your inner posture can really only be sensed by yourself, and perhaps maybe the intuition of your teacher.  Only you know what’s going on.  That’s the pitfall also.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Taking Responsibility for Our Path

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

Today we are going to continue the process of looking at two main and fundamental foundational teachings associated with the Buddhadharma. We have examined and re-examined the Bodhicitta, which is one of the main foundational attitudes and practices and accomplishments that one should gather on the path, and now we are moving towards the Guru Yoga.  There are many areas in which these two subjects connect, and one has to develop the foundational thoughts, as I’ve indicated many times before, the thoughts that turn the mind towards Dharma. Also one has to develop the thoughts that make one understand the condition of sentient beings and the failings of samsara, or the sufferings of samsara.  If one were to understand these in a logical and realistic way, and go through the effort of contemplating them so that a real understanding is arrived at, and take responsibility for that, then it’s easy, or at least easier, to move into a deeper practice of the Guru Yoga, a deeper understanding of Bodhicitta, the twofold accomplishment of wisdom and knowledge.  These things are much more easily arrived at when one studies the foundational teachings. So try to remember that.  No matter what stage you’re at in practicing the path, one has to reorient oneself all the time.  It’s similar to, let’s say, you’re forty years old and you’ve had the experience of living for forty years so you have certain things about living that you’re comfortable with, that you’re certain about.  You know by this time the sun is most likely going to rise and set.

We find that if we are to continue to keep ourselves spiritually on the mark to where we feel satisfied about our spiritual practice, we find that periodically we have to reorient ourselves, and for some of us it might take different forms.  Many of us have realized by now that we need a certain amount of time spent alone in contemplation.  Many of us realize now that we need to reorient ourselves with nature—that one should align oneself with the cycles of life, the cycles of night and day, the cycles of the seasons, the natural directions and natural occurrences that occur in our world—and that is useful and good too.

When it comes to Dharma this is certainly the case, but the need here is more specific.  Yes, you may find that you do need a certain amount of time alone.  I think really that all people do. That you do need a certain amount of time out in nature and you do need a certain amount of meditation time and so forth and so on. But beyond that, particularly and specifically with Dharma, one needs to reorient oneself on the path by discovering and rediscovering again the faults of cyclic existence—the thoughts that turn the mind, the linking cause and effect conditions that we find in samsara.  Turning the mind—this is something that one needs to accomplish on a regular basis. There never is a time when you are actually finished with that.

So this is something that I speak about constantly. I know that you feel that you’ve already heard this.  I agree that you may have already had it meet with your ears, but the hearing part, well that’s a different story.  We don’t know if that’s actually happened yet or not, because the level of personal responsibility that I’m talking about is absolutely essential.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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 Ticking Clock


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why We Suffer”

The next piece of information that you really have to take in is that not only are you responsible for being where you are now, and not only are you responsible for what’s going to happen next, but you don’t have much time. This precious human rebirth goes by as quickly as a waterfall falling down rocks. Depending on how old you are, you’ll know that. You partially know that already. I’m forty-one and I think to myself constantly how it was only yesterday that I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty.  Only yesterday. In my mind I feel like a child; I’m not fully grown yet. I feel like I’m not grown up, not mature yet. And I’m halfway through this bugger. Now that’s true of all of us; and some of us are further along than others. We don’t have much time. It’s going by very quickly. If you don’t take a hold of this opportunity now, you will not be able to utilize it.

Please understand that you are deeply involved in a habitual reactive process. The mind is tight, and it is tightly ingrained in its compulsive habitual tendencies. That you will be able to take advantage of one small moment of spaciousness, that you will be able to really absorb the nectar and really able to use it, according to the teachings, is really as unlikely as a sea turtle surfacing in a great ocean and coming up through a round circle that is afloat on the ocean. How rare is that? So please do what you can to make this opportunity as auspicious as possible. Please accept the fact that even though you’re hearing the teachings, and you’re hearing them as well as you can, you’re only hearing a little bit of them. The mind is hard. Soften the mind. Go for the nectar of the teaching that leads to enlightenment as though you were a starving and thirsty being on a desert where there is no other water to be found. Generate that thirst. Generate that thirst as though your throat were parched, as though there were nothing else. And then aim truly. Try not to make up your own religion. Actually, we’ve been doing that for eons and eons in cyclic existence. We have been making up the religion of self. This is the religion of ego. We have a religion, it’s true. Time to convert. Now we need to follow the method that leads to enlightenment, not the one that leads to further self-absorption and more suffering. Remember that all the experiences that you’ve had are phenomena; that they are direct displays of your own habitual tendency, and, therefore, as meaningless, really; that the meaningful truth about you is the most glorious truth and the one that you keep forgetting. In your nature, you are the Buddha; and it is possible to awaken, and therefore to be free from cyclic death and rebirth and from samsaric suffering. It is possible. But it will not happen without great effort. And it will not happen if you don’t begin now.

So please do utilize the opportunity. Do utilize the teaching. If you go away from this and you change in some way… And, of course, the idea is to change. If you didn’t want to change, you probably wouldn’t be here. If you go away from this and change in some way, change sufficiently to where the mind becomes more relaxed, the heart becomes more receptive… If these things begin to happen and you actually begin to practice, begin to make wishing prayers, begin to make kindness the cornerstone, the backbone, of your incarnation, of your life, then this day has been worth something. But if you just wanted to sample the wares here, your mind probably is like a bowl turned over and the nectar, once again, has escaped you. Please take a hold of yourself. Please utilize this precious human rebirth. Please understand the nature of cyclic existence and its faults. And please understand the beautiful and bountiful feast that awaits you upon awakening.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo all rights reserved

Waking Up From the Deep Slumber of Ignorance

The following is a prayer from the Bodhisattva Vow Ceremony as translated in the Nam Cho Daily Practice Book from Palyul Ling International:

Alas! Fortunate ones!

Do not let ignorance overwhelm you.

Wake up now and be diligent.

Since beginningless time to this very moment

You have been sleeping in ignorance. Enough!

Now sleep no more and devote your three doors to the practice of Dharma.

Don’t you understand the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death?

No moment of what is called “today” is permanent.

Now the time has arrived to practice diligently.

This is the moment to accomplish permanent happiness.

And not the moment to fritter away in the state of laziness.

Contemplate death and strive to accomplish your practice.

Life is uncertain, as the causes and conditions for death are innumerable.

If you do not attain the confident state of fearlessness in this very life,

Then what is the use of being alive?

All phenomena are selfless, empty by nature and free of elaboration.

They are like magical illusions, mirages, dreams, reflections, the cities of Ghandarvas, echoes,

Reflections of the moon in water, bubbles, optical illusions and manifested illusions.

By these ten known examples of the illusoriness of phenomena,

Understand all worldly and transcendental phenomena as these.

Thus sang the wisdom dakinis who then dissolve into space with sharp whistling sounds. By being mindful of the meaning and importance, generate awareness and determination to wake up immediately from the slumber if ignorance.

Conceptual Proliferation


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

In our ongoing continuum of trying to understand correct view from many different angles, I would like to talk about the conceptual proliferation that we continually engage in and how that actually occurs. If any of you have had any familiarity with any kind of psychotherapy or counseling, or with any kind of inner work at all, one of the things that you might have noticed during your work is that dependent on how you accept information and how you react to it, under those conditions you’ll have a certain kind of experience. And that certain kind of experience really depends on how you accept things, on how you hear things. How many of you have noticed that? That it isn’t what happens to you; it’s how you hear it or how you accept it. Are there any of you who haven’t noticed that? Some of you didn’t raise your hands. I was just checking. You haven’t noticed that. OK. Here’s what I’m saying: Whatever happens to you isn’t always what determines how you feel. It’s how you accept what’s happening to you. Do you agree with that? OK. Because one thing can happen to two different people and they can have two totally different experiences. Isn’t that true? That’s true.

Let’s say two different people have a car accident. Buddha forbid. Two different people have a car accident. One of them tends to be a heavy breather, you know, and they’re just going through the tragedy, and the shame of it, and the anger of it, or whatever it is that their particular habit—and habit may be the operative word there—happens to be. But another person tends to accept things like that kind of like water rolling off a duck’s back. It goes down easier somehow. It’s just their temperament and their personality. They both had the same experience, and maybe they both walked away without injury and had their cars totalled, or both broke a leg, heaven forbid, or whatever; but they might still have totally different experiences even though they had the same kind of situation. So basically that’s what I’m talking about.

So you all have seen that, I’m sure. Even in your own lives you’ve seen that. And a lot of time during the course of counseling, you don’t really engage in trying to change the facts of your life, the things that you cannot change; but you more often engage in changing how you respond to certain things and how you understand them. Well, if this is true in something as relatively simplistic as human psychology or psychotherapy, as we know it,… And I say relatively simplistic because the Buddha’s understanding of what our nature actually is is much more profound, or much deeper, than a psychologist’s understanding of what our nature is. Even if we understand that phenomena on a very simplistic level—and it seems to be an accepted fact these days that we understand that our perception really dictates our experience—how much more so must it be at the level that the Buddha approaches it from.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Outside the Reaction


Remember, when you are angry at your teacher, which really is useless to be, when you are resentful, when you are anxious, when you are going through all the gamut of human experience, which you do, when you do everything from wanting to belt your teacher right in the snoot to falling desperately in love with your teacher… When any of those things happen, remember that this is a reflection of your mind. This is your nature. This is your habitual tendency rather; and as you go deeper into your practice with your teacher, you will eventually also see your nature. In the way that you saw your habitual tendency, you will also see your nature.

Stand outside of that reaction. It is only that. It has no real importance. It’s not a big deal. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t blame yourself; don’t make yourself right. It’s neither one. It’s just a reaction. They come and they go. No big deal. Just walk through the door of liberation. That is all your teacher wishes you to do. That is all the guru really wishes you to do, just walk. That’s all. Just move forward.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Learning to Step Back


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

I study sentient beings.  I must have done it in another life, because as a child I knew this. I sort of woke up from my childhood knowing that all beings are suffering. And I understood somehow that it was a spiritual thing and that they needed love. No matter what it looked like, they needed love. That was as a child; as a child I understood that. Now as a woman and a practitioner, I understand what the Buddha has taught and it’s the same. And I understand that my fervent prayer is that should I leave a footstep in this world, it will be a living display of the bodhicitta through my students, through any works that I might do. That’s what I care about. And each one of us should participate in that dream. If you are really my student, then you must care. We should all care to advance the aspirations of our teacher. That’s part of Vajrayana. We may not individually have the power to give rise to a stupa or to give rise to an ordained Sangha, but we are part of that and we should take responsibility for making that dream come true. My dream is love. It is bodhicitta. Temporary love. Feed the birds. Feed people. Feed somebody that’s hungry. I feed everything that moves. If there was sputum in a jelly dish and I could prove that it needed food, I would feed it. This is how I am. I am crazy with it.

And then, you know, beyond that recognize them because they’ll never recognize themselves without a little help. Recognize them as being Buddha. Know that they are suffering because they don’t know what to do—not because they want to suffer—and do what you can to give rise to compassion. Make it a commitment. Disallow those rage things. Disallow that anger that we have to have when we have to go and punch a wall or something like that.

The way to do that is to get a little space from that. No suppression. We don’t like suppression. Suppression is bad. It makes us all crazy, and we’re crazy enough. You work it, you work it, you work it. The rage that we have, step back from it. The way you step back from it is you question yourself. And there are two different ways you can do it. You can do it the good old American way or you can do it the Buddhist way. The good old American way works too. You can say, ‘Now what’s really making me mad here?  Do I really mean what I am saying about this person?’ You can sort of take a step back and analyze it a little bit. Just look at it sort of cool, calm and collected if you can. I mean, you let yourself go back to your rage if you need to, but step back and tell yourself you can go back to the rage if you need to. But if you really do well and you think it through, you won’t. The rage will be gone because your understanding will have come up and your mind will be smoother. The mind gets inflamed like an arthritic joint, like with rheumatoid arthritis. It’s kind of like that. The mind gets inflamed.  The more we are emotional, up and down, up and down, and full of hatred, and judgmental and gossipy and stuff like that, the more inflamed the mind gets, the more unhappy we get and the more we blame other people for it, and the more unhappy we get and the more inflamed we get. That is the cycle of samsaric existence.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Warriorship on the Path


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

The theme that we will work on today is working through one’s five poisons. I think it’s an important one. And I think what we should do is take our time and pick through it.  That doesn’t mean working through one’s five poisons.  That means getting rid of them.  In a sense when we take to the path, we think that, ‘Oh, I am going to be like the picture of the Buddhist where I get to sit on top of the Himalayan Mountains somewhere all by myself, and eventually people will climb up and ask me profound questions.’  But it really doesn’t work out like that.  When we enter upon the path we want to go forward with the most exotic practices and wear the most exotic robes and collect all the implements and learn how to use them.  I know there is the tendency to want to get into the customs and trappings and surroundings of Dharma. But really the first thing that should be done when we enter onto the path is to take hold of and begin to think of ourselves as a warrior regarding our own poisons.

Now when we say “warrior” everybody thinks they can’t be very Buddhist, because Buddhists are peaceful.  Well, Buddhists are peaceful.  We’ve never had a war that I know of.  We’ve been attacked, but we’ve never had a war.  There is no other religion that can say that.  Every other religion has brought about war and that has never happened in Buddhism. Yet we are warriors. And we consider ourselves warriors in the sense that we must take to task that which prevents us from attaining liberation, because the goals here are very different.  In other religions, there are lots of materialistic ideas about possessions, like how much land a certain religion should have or how many pieces of gold they should collect.  There is a certain materialism in it.  But with Buddhism, there is really no materialism.  In truth, students will give their last dime to make an offering to the three precious jewels.  There are many stories of practitioners whose generosity and unthinking faith—no, not unthinking, more like spontaneous faith—is so strong that they would offer even their last garment at the altar to give to the three precious jewels knowing that it is so much more important to gather the merit of making that kind of offering. That it is important to have done it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved