Understanding the Four Thoughts

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Relationship with the Lama in Vajrayana”

In the beginning of every Buddhist teaching, , before one actually begins any of the deeper practices, there is one practice that is called the Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind.

The idea is to think of the mind as having the potential, like the earth, to raise the flower of enlightenment. Any field that you look at, unless it’s been poisoned in some way, has the potential to grow within it the crop of your choice – in this case, the crop of enlightenment. But before you actually begin to grow that crop, you have to cultivate the earth. You have to plow it and water it and fertilize it. You have to take care of it. The mind is very much like that. Even though it has the potential for enlightenment, because of our dualistic thinking, and because from time-out-of-mind until this point, we have been involved with the delusion of ego as being the central factor, and with the survival idea that is associated with that, we haven’t had time to really adopt the idea of enlightenment as being the primary focus. And therefore, we haven’t had time to prepare our minds for that idea.

You may consider that this is true for you even though it isn’t pleasant to think about. It isn’t pleasant to think that we’ve spent so much time only on survival. But it’s probably true. And you’re not the only person on the earth for whom this is true. It’s true for so many of us that it’s normal.

You might try to determine whether or not that is true for you personally, and you might be able to honestly and sincerely look back on your life and see that it is true. But if you can’t do that, then you might think of this as evidential. You might think whether, first of all, you have found a path that you are certain leads to supreme enlightenment. And the way you can ascertain that is by looking around and seeing whether in the past, or even in the present, it has produced, and continues to produce, enlightenment that is visible, predictable and reportable.

If you have found such a path, then are you able to maintain that path with diligence? That means, are you able to maintain that path in such a way that you don’t get that on-again-off-again cyclic involvement that so many people in meditation do? Are you able to remain firm? When you find this path, and it becomes a central focus in your life, in times of both joy and fear, is this path always the answer to your problems? But most of all, you should look to see whether you are certain enough about this path to have it be your source of refuge. Is it the thing you turn to? And do you consistently practice it everyday? If all these factors have been met, then your mind has been turned.

For 99.9% of the human beings on this earth, not only have they not found a path that always leads to supreme enlightenment, but once they do find it, they’re on-again-off-again. And even when they’re on-again, their true source of refuge seems to be the ordinary human addictions that we all have like material goods, or trying to find things in an ordinary way that make you feel up like mood manipulation, relationships, physical safety. These things are our addictions, and these are what we consider to be our sources of refuge.

So for 99.9% of all the people on the earth, the Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind are extraordinarily useful. And even a dyed-in-the-wool Buddhist, a person who has taken ordination, who has been a practicing Buddhist all their lives, and whose first teaching was the Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind, still even for that person, I personally recommend that they practice the Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind continually, from now until the end of this incarnation. Maybe having it be the last thing you think of before you die.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

Living the Practice: Learning to Change

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Marrying a Spiritual Life with Western Culture”

Our job then is to get in, to make this faith more than a formalized external thing just like an exoskeleton. The only way to get in is by really understanding it, by really going through the process that empowers you, to see what the truth actually is. For instance, we’re told that cause and effect is for real. Cause and effect should be blatantly obvious to us by this time because most of us here are above five years old. But we don’t get it. Lord Buddha tells us that cause and effect really matter. If you engage in virtuous, loving, generous, kind acts, the results will be love, happiness, fulfillment, higher rebirth, all of these kinds of things. That seems pretty reasonable to me.

But if we don’t go through what it takes to truly understand this on a deep level, we end up approaching even this very visible piece of truth by saying, “Oh this is another thing I have to learn.”  I’ve seen my students do this—from my very oldest to the brand new ones. “From now on I’m going to do good things, because good things will get good results and I’m going to be happy.  Okay. Let’s see now. It’s 7 o’clock in the morning.  I will be out of bed by 7:15. Can I get a good thing done by 7:20?”  This is the way that we think. It’s by rote. A chicken can do this!  A parrot that can be taught to talk can learn these rules. But where is the heart of the parrot?

What if we could hear the Buddha’s teaching and say, “This is an amazing wisdom that has come into the world. The Buddha organizes this wisdom and says to us, ‘Virtuous actions produce excellent results.’”  What if we went through the process of really looking at this? What if we really tried to connect the dots? What if we looked at our own life experience? Yes, it’s hard to do. We know that. The reason it’s hard to do is that in order for you to examine what virtuous conduct looks like and how it relates to result, you have to determine what is virtuous conduct and what is non-virtuous conduct. In order to do that you have to face some terrible truths about yourself—for example, that you don’t always engage in virtuous conduct. The minute we get near that sucker we back off fast. Because isn’t religion supposed to make us feel better?  Well, yes, if it’s an opiate.  Well, yes, if it’s a drug—one of your many drugs.

Religion can be compared more to exercise. When we first start to exercise, especially nowadays, we join a club and  get an outfit. (I have some killer workout outfits, I want you to know.) We get an outfit and everything matches, the socks, the headband. Or else we jock out about it. Maybe everything doesn’t match, but it’s all cool.  And then we get in there, and we don’t work out or exercise because it feels good to lift vast amounts of weight over and over again. Not at first. In fact, at first there’s a lot of pain. You get on those machines, and the next thing you know you can’t move. So starting never feels good, but, afterwards—when you’re in shape and your body is tuned up and you’re strong—you feel great! It’s an organic thing. It benefits all your systems.  It comes up from inside of you. It changes everything about your life. It feels great. But initially, no. Most people stop with that initial stuff, don’t they? The minute it doesn’t feel good, that’s when they stop.

 

We do the same thing with religion. Can you see that?  We go into it with an outfit, and we do it until it’s a little uncomfortable, such as changing something about our lives or seeing something. Then we’re out of there, because we have the “don’t wannas.”  We don’t wanna; it doesn’t feel good.  We think, “I thought this was going to make me happy, and it really doesn’t.  It’s kind of depressing to think about reality.  I don’t want to.”

Now let’s look at a person who moves into making exercise part of their lives. You do it in a more directly related way. You learn something about it. You learn about the physiology of exercise. You learn that there are certain problems your body has that it doesn’t have when you exercise. Well, that’s one thing that will empower you to keep on going: You go for that goal of producing a certain result. Have you ever thought of that in your practice? Producing a certain result, instead of just putting in your time? There is a difference. With exercise we get to a certain point where we just begin to see—because we’re looking inside of ourselves and we’re looking in the mirror—that there is some result. The first time you see a result it can be a life-changing experience, if you work to integrate it into your life.

It’s just exactly like that with religion. Initially, you have to change. Change is not comfortable. We already know this. So initially you change and then after that you begin to connect the dots. You begin to see some cause and effect relationships. You begin to see that virtuous behavior actually does make you feel pretty good, and you explore that. You don’t take it for granted like a big dope. You work it out in your mind—work the numbers, work the equations. What feels good? Does it feel good to be in charge of your own internal progress?  I think so.  It doesn’t feel good to walk through life and just let life hit you like a truck. It feels good to walk through life in my practice, knowing in my heart that I am deeply empowered by this direct intimate relationship to spirituality. I know what kindness tastes like. I can see direct results from certain kinds of behavior patterns, behavior changes. I can see them directly in my mind. I feel comfortable with that. How is it that Tibetan monks have the same restrictions as our ordained and they are so much more comfortable with them? How is it that Tibetan lay people feel so much more comfortable with their lives? It’s because they have some kind of direct experience that makes it sensible and realistic and reasonable to conduct themselves in a certain way.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Who Is the Guru

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Guru Is Your Diamond”

Many people, when they come to the Path, feel the connection with some particular deity.  I know of one person that felt a very strong connection to Manjushri with his great sword cutting through ignorance.  And yet that person did not practice proper Guru Yoga and understand that the nature that is Manjushri with the sword is the very nature that is our Root Guru, and that sword could be a word, a look, a piece of advice, some heart teaching—anything that cuts through the darkness of ignorance. Some of us can understand that and then others of us want to have our particular deity. You hear the pride in that, don’t you?  “I’m into Manjushri!  He’s the guy with the big sword.  What a guy!” And yet, every Buddha that we can visualize, all of the peaceful and wrathful deities that naturally appear in the bardo and are part of our own nature and can be recognized, each one of them, has the complete and perfect qualities of all the Buddhas.

It’s an amazing thing if you are attracted to some particular Buddha, like maybe Amitabha or Chenrezig or Tara. You might say, “Oh, I really love that deity.”  That’s good.  Cultivate that.  But do not miss the step that Guru Rinpoche gave to us when he said, “This nature, the nature of one’s teacher is unsurpassed by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions.”  Why did he say that?  To create confusion so that everyone in all our different places could look at our own particular Root Guru and say, “That’s the best one!”   No.  That’s crazy.  That’s just more ordinary thinking.  But instead, by implication, we understand that what we must do is to recognize the intrinsic nature that appears as our Root Guru, the promise of Guru Rinpoche fulfilled.  And if Guru Rinpoche said this was going to work, well it’s going to work. So, Guru Yoga is like a rocketship.  We depend on the accomplishment, the qualities and the nature that appear as our own Root Guru.

Early on in the relationship with our Root Teacher, we should practice thoughtful discrimination.  That is to say, we should ask ourselves: Has this teacher really given rise to the Great Bodhichitta?  Do we see that Bodhichitta is present here?  Ok.  Check that box.  Got that one.  Do we see that this teacher has the capacity to ripen my mind?  Do I hear Dharma from this teacher?  Check that one. Is this teacher considered qualified by peers of her/his/their lineage?  Is this teacher properly recognized and considered properly an authority and a throne holder?  Does this teacher have good qualities? Does this teacher have the ability to communicate?  Let’s see. What else? Does this teacher have an unbroken chain that connects us to the source of the blessing, which is Guru Rinpoche?  You betcha!

We think through these things.  And if you decide this teacher is not for me, then there is no harm in saying, “I’ll keep looking.”  Maybe the connection is not quite right.  So that’s when you do your discriminating and your thinking.  But once you’ve decided—check boxes are all full, looks good to me and I have that feeling, I feel that connection, something is wiggling in my little heart chakra…After that point, you must put yourself on a diet, because after that point, there’s no more judgment.

Once we make the judgment and discrimination necessary and we have that undeniable sense that one has entered the Path and met one’s Root Guru, after that point, judgment should be put aside.  Then the ball is in your court.  Not that the teacher doesn’t have a responsibility.  I promise you, the teacher knows their responsibility, if they are worth their weight in salt. That teacher not only knows their responsibility but also knows their students;  and a good teacher will be willing to say to a student, “Keep looking.  Go see this Lama here or that Lama there.  See what you think.”  Once the teacher has accepted the student, and the student has accepted the teacher, then that bond becomes more intimate than any marriage, any mother and child relationship, any friendship.  It’s hard to understand that because we think, “Oh, teacher,  I only see you every so often, but I see my spouse and my children everyday. Therefore, it must be more intimate.”

However, I will tell you that in order for you to be here, to be accepted as my student and to accept me as well,for that karma to mesh in that particular way, we must have known each other many times, many times.  The relationship between student and teacher is not a relationship that ends in one lifetime.  If we take vows together, I am responsible for you always.  So long as you remain in the world and have not yet accomplished liberation, I must appear again in samsara in order to liberate you.  I must.  Even if there’s only one.  Just you.  Your teacher will return for you.  Under any conditions.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

When We Meet the Guru

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Guru Is Your Diamond”

When we meet with our Guru, our Guru should have the capacity to ripen one’s mind, particularly where there is a close connection, where one has practiced under the guidance of this Guru before.  That’s happened to me with many of you, where I see you and I just know you instantly.  And, I know, you start crying.  And you know me as well, and you can’t deny that.  When that happens, it’s just undeniable.  For those fortunate students where that happens, often they wish to even short circuit the discrimination part because the feeling is so strong, the bond is so deep, that the recognition is prevalent. If that should happen to you, here or anywhere else, that is the most precious jewel you will ever find in this world.  Whether you are gathering wealth, or gathering intellectual knowledge or whatever you were taught is precious in this world, the connection with that Guru is the most precious jewel you will ever find.

First it’s an indication.  You have practiced with this teacher before.  Maybe an ordinary way of saying it would be, when you see this teacher, you should see the feast laid out before you.  The feast.  And you know, you have tasted this before.  It’s almost like, in an ordinary way, if you go to a giant smorgasbord, one of those places people go to in America when they really want to chow down, and you see the roast beef, and the this and the that and the cobbler, you know, and you go, ”Bingo, I’m in the right place!”  And you eat some of that, and you remember.  It’s like remembering that taste in your next life.  Nothing’s going to keep you from chowing down.  You might be even a little weird about it at first.  Really emotional, and so forth. But nothing is going to keep you from that taste.  If you’ve ever had that experience, I beg you to honor it.  Not for my sake, but for yours.

 

That happened to me in this lifetime when I met His Holiness Penor Rinpoche.  It was like my heart jumped out of my chest and was standing there talking to me, like I met my mind, my nature.  Like I was following something elusive my whole life and suddenly it was standing before me.  Almost unbearable.  And, of course, I did the same exact thing that you guys do when you meet your Root Teacher.  You start dancing.  Inside you start thinking, ”What should I do? I should do this and I should do this. I’ll perform in this way, or maybe that way, or maybe this way.”  And of course you’re a stumbling, bumbling fool for a little while, just like somebody who’s newly in love.

 

If you find that connection, then you must honor it.  And you must honor it by growing.  Be ready.  Some people say, “Oh, I really want to fall in love.”  But then when love hits you, you go, “No, I don’t want to change that much.  A little scary here.  Back off.”  And so sometimes, we’re like that when we meet, in a sense, our destiny, our unfoldment. When we meet our teacher, we go “Oh, oh, oh,” and we feel the feeling., We feel the joy; we feel the connection. Yet at the same time, we’re like, “I can hardly bear it. I have to turn away a little bit. It’s too much.  I don’t know if I can change that fast.”  But remember, the original reason for making the connection to the Path was to exit samsara, and that requires a good deal of change.  So the relationship between oneself and one’s Guru should be potent.  It’s ok if it’s a little scary.  Gives you a little respect. (smiles and laughter).

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

 

The Vow of the Student

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Guru Is Your Diamond”

When the student accepts the teacher, they must honor that vow and they must make a similar vow in their own way.  That vow is contained in The Seven Line Prayer.  “Following you, I will practice.”  Even though the prayer is directly to Guru Rinpoche, the prayer has an inner, outer and secret level of meaning.  We recite it thinking of Guru Rinpoche on a lotus having the intention, hopefully, to understand that even though this appears as Guru Rinpoche on the lotus, it is inseparable from our own Root Gurus, same Nature, same taste, same essence, same uncontrived primordial essence.  And so, every time we recite the prayer to Guru Rinpoche, The Seven Line Prayer, we reconfirm that entire process—recognizing that Guru Rinpoche was the one that came from Orgyen, that he was born on a lotus in an extraordinary way.  This is like our saying, “I understand that this is not ordinary.  I understand that this did not happen as ordinary births, as ordinary conditions, happen.  And so having understood, I also promise to follow and to practice.”  And then we ask for the Guru’s blessing, Guru Pedma Siddhi Hung.  Guru Pedma, grant me your blessings.

There is so much condensed into the power of that little prayer that I make you say again and again and again. There’s so much.  One can go so deeply with just that one prayer.  One can move through the stages of recognition to a depth that we didn’t think we could ever reach.  One can create that connection by reciting again and again and again, “Following you I will Practice. Following you I will practice.”  And so, even though those meaningful words are simple, we can understand them more deeply and more deeply and more deeply.

“Following you I will practice.”  What does it even mean?  Does it mean I dress like Guru Rinpoche or act like Guru Rinpoche or do I wear some of his funny earrings, or…  What do I do?  (I’ve got some funny earrings on, by the way.)  That’s not it.  “Following you I will practice.”  First, we practice the way Guru Rinpoche practiced—for the sake of sentient beings.  That’s how Guru Rinpoche practiced.  He came and was born into the world for no reason other than to benefit beings.  He didn’t have to come and learn; he didn’t have to come and hang out.  Like Lord Buddha himself. He didn’t have to come and learn or hang out, and yet he came for the benefit of sentient beings.

And so that’s the way in which we promise to practice. Not only throughout this prayer, or throughout this hour that I am practicing, but throughout this day, throughout this week, throughout this month, throughout this year, throughout all my lifetimes, may I follow the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and liberate beings. We’re talking here about liberating beings from suffering.  This is what Guru Rinpoche did.  Yes, he taught.  Yes, he hid termas.  Yes, he gave us the means, the method.  But the intention was about liberating sentient beings.  Following you, therefore, I will practice.

And so that’s our commitment.  We take on this tremendous commitment, this tremendous opportunity to liberate beings from the clutches and the ravages of samsara.  And that means we’ll live the week like that, the month like that, the year like that, the decade like that, our lives like that.  And at the time of our death, we will make prayers to be reborn following Guru Rinpoche.  And in our next life, we are reborn again to continue and to benefit beings.

This is the method.  This is the way.  This is the powerhouse.  We rely on this promise,  this blessing.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Why Guru Yoga

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Guru is Your Diamond”

One of the most important sections of Ngöndro practice is the Guru Yoga. It is beautiful. The cries to Guru Rinpoche are plaintiff and haunting and just moving. How can you describe it any other way? The Lama Khyen No…  And yet in the Ngöndro book, Guru Yoga’s at the last. I know when I started practicing Ngöndro, I asked for special permission to practice the Guru Yoga first, and I was given that because of my special connection with Guru Rinpoche in the past. And to me, it was the most beautiful and pure and worthwhile time I’ve ever spent.

For most people, we want to start with the Taking Refuge and the Bodhichitta. And the reason why, again, is because the first need is to discriminate between what is extraordinary and what is ordinary.

We cannot really practice Guru Yoga effectively unless we’ve made that discrimination. Because, if we can’t make that discrimination, we’re basically practicing to a cartoon image that we do not have the depth yet to understand; or maybe we are practicing on a personality level—. that my personality is worth worshipping the Guru’s personality. That’s a baby step. It’s not to be sneezed at, but it’s not where we stay either. We go further than that.

When we practice Guru Yoga, that’s the rocketship of tantric Buddhism. That’s the shortcut. The luckiest practitioners on the Path of Vajrayana are those who feel— it doesn’t mean they have to display it in any outward way or even see their Guru that often—but who feel they have, and who have cultivated a special connection with their teacher, a connection not of persona to persona, but one of recognition. That connection of recognition  is where we go to our teachers and we say, or we go in our practice and we visualize our teachers and say, “I understand that this is the very nature of Enlightenment, that this is the same nature as Guru Rinpoche, that this is the same nature as all the Buddhas of the ten directions, that this Buddha, this teacher that I have, has been taught to me by Guru Rinpoche to be the Buddha in Nirmanakaya form. And that we think like that, that kind of recognition, that kind of Intention, and a kind of—I hate to use the word passion, because people think of passion in only a certain category—but one develops a passion for the nectar that one’s teacher has to offer.  . That person is ripe. That person is ripe, not only to enter the Path, but blessed in such a way that not only will they continue, but very likely they will find completion stage practice, as well.

Because, when we connect with our teacher in that way, and really give rise to that recognition it says that indeed, this is exactly what Guru Rinpoche promised. Guru Rinpoche said, ” I will be there with you as your root teacher. If you call to me, I will be there”. And so, of course he’s saying that in the presence of one’s Root Guru, having been given the blessings, now we practice Guru Yoga. And that is the very nectar of Guru Rinpoche’s blessing.

How fortunate for those of us who have that sense, even in some small form, enough to where, you know, like an ember, you can fan the flame. That’s the most fortunate connection of all.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Fasten Your Seatbelts: The Vajrayana Path

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Guru is Your Diamond”

I would like to say good morning to everyone. I’m pleased to see you all here and very honored to be here again.  This is the beginning of a new trend at KPC where I will be coming here a lot more often and ultimately my plan is to spend up to six months a year here.  We may grow into it in steps and jumps, but that’s my plan.  It feels very good to be here, and in Lama talk, that means that my students have been practicing. That means that there has been some effort in the way of determining what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected, and what is precious, and what is worth one’s endeavor.  And so that kind of discrimination must be coming to pass in many of my students.  If that’s coming to pass, then the teacher will definitely come.  There is no doubt of that.

Now on the path of Vajrayana, we are given something like a rocketship rather than a slow boat to cross the ocean of samsara.  When Lord Buddha first came to the planet and taught, when he was here as Shakyamuni, he gave teachings that were absolutely necessary for that time.  During that time, we were not in Kaliyuga, which is a more degenerate age.  During that time, it was easier to practice. It was easier even to speak Dharma; and peoples’ minds were more spacious and more expanded so that if one were to accomplish Dharma, it would be easierto accomplish Dharma during that time.  And yet, there was a difficulty.  And the difficulty was that during that time, because there was more space in the mind, there was also more relaxation, maybe more joyfulness, less reason to feel compelled to exit samsara.  So there are good and bad things in both times.

True that this is Kaliyuga; true that this is the time of degeneration. There are many false teachers and many false paths and sometimes delusion rises up like a tsunami flood. It is a difficult time.  We look to the people that even guide this country, and you wonder where is the clarity, where is the morality.  So it’s difficult.  Even this country that was once the prince of countries, and can still be—the peacemaker, the one who guards the little guy—instead now we’ve changed.  So these are all indicative of this time of delusion.

And yet at the same time, we are so pressed because not only our delusion thickens and deepens, but because of our delusion, our neuroses (which means an inappropriate response to something that is not understood well anyway), our neuroses also thickens and deepens.  And with that comes an increase in pain.  Fundamental pain.  Maybe not even a particular pain about something; but rather an all-pervasive sense of suffering that we are more unhappy, Now when things are happening faster and materialism is in some ways more attainable, in many ways more attainable, still we have become more and more unhappy and continually create the causes for unhappiness.  So this pushes us to find a solution.  For some people, we look to psychology or psychiatry. For other people, we look towards creating the causes for happiness through walking the path of spirituality.  But many of us are seeking, and that’s important.  That is something that is useful and to be treasured during this time.

Many of us will think what drives us to seek is this pain, this angst, this modern angst that we all seem to carry around.  That pain, on the one hand, seems sometimes unbearable; and then other times, just there. We are uncomfortable and we can’t say exactly why.  We feel wobbly, unguided, unknowing and we really can’t understand why that is.  That suffering of course, even though painful, can ultimately become part of the blessing that brings us to the Path.  Maybe we didn’t even come here thinking, “What I need is a good Path.”  Maybe we came here for some other reason—because we heard about this place, or we’ve heard a little bit or we’ve read some books about Dharma, or maybe His Holiness the Dalai Lama has given us some wonderful teaching through his books, and something has just hooked us a little bit.  Maybe we heard about the crystals.  That brings people!  Whatever it is, it’s that sense of things not being wholesome or right.  It’s that sense of fundamental unhappiness that drives us forward.

And so, in the beginning, that’s how it feels.  It can be a very poignant kind of search and we feel deeply moved by it.  So when we begin to examine the Path of Vajrayana, we find that rather than being the gentle ship that crosses a relatively gentle ocean, as was in the time of Lord Buddha’s physical life, now we have a different situation.  We are propelled by the depth of our feeling, by our discomfort, and we’re looking for something. We seem, in this time,  to connect with something that is more potent, maybe a little fiercer in a certain way, definitely more condensed than the original teachings of Lord Buddha.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Climbing the Mountain

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Marrying a Spiritual Life with Western Culture”

As many of you know, I like to climb the same mountain that you like to climb—the mountain of wisdom or understanding—so that we can get to the top and really have the full vista of understanding.  I find it’s best to climb the mountain, not in a linear way, but in a way that opens up to us true meaning on a conceptual level. It’s a good thing to climb that mountain from every possible angle you can think of because on each side there will be a different experience of going up the mountain. One can truly understand the mountain by moving in those various ways as opposed to having only one narrow means of approach.

In order to broaden and to deepen, then, one has to have the intention to really know and understand more deeply, so that Dharma will be real and focused and meaningful and will carry weight in one’s life. That’s what I’d like to talk about today. In order to do so, I’d like to talk about where we’re coming from and how our culture is different from a culture in which the Buddha naturally appeared and naturally emanated and naturally gave rise to certain teachings. The Buddha did not appear in Missouri—not in the way we understand.  Although in truth the Buddha is everywhere in Missouri, the historical Buddha did not appear in Missouri or Indiana or Brooklyn, not in the same way.  The original teachings, the path of Dharma that we practice, were brought to us by Lord Buddha himself.

The Dharma began in India in a culture that is very different from ours. It’s where Lord Buddha appeared. Even if it is not the most potent religion in India now, it still has had some effect on shaping and forming that culture. Here in America there are religious factors that have shaped our culture, but they are different.

So I would like to examine some of the ways in which the cultures are different, just briefly enough to have a certain idea that we can examine for ourselves. The best thing to do is to look at these cultures today, with just an idea of where they came from and how they progressed. Culture in America today is materialistically oriented. We are a culture of attainers. We accumulate things. We are given a definition of success that is handed down from generation to generation and, oddly enough, it has more to do with substance than it has to do with spirit, more to do with material gain or loss than it ever has to do with joy. Joy—what a concept!

When we are coming up, we are prepared and schooled to accomplish things that have to do with getting stuff—even if we study to become something that seems to be non-materialistically oriented, such as, for instance, a social worker. You would think that a social worker would be looking at our culture with different eyes.  You would think that a social worker would be asking, “Well, what are these social factors?  How can we organize them into something that is meaningful and deep for us? How can we express within our culture the gamut of human expressions? How can we integrate it? How can we make it work for us? How can we discard those things that do not work for society?” Yes, that is some of the training of a social worker. But why does somebody become a social worker?  And how do we approach that kind of thing? Well, we always think about how the job market is doing: “When I get out of school after I learn all of this, will I really be able to get a job?” We think of ourselves as having an office, and we think of ourselves as having that little square on the office door that says you are somebody. Then we think about whether that would be a really profitable occupation. So even if we were to approach something that could, by its nature, be fundamentally non-materialistic, we approach it from a materialistic point of view.

That’s one thing that is interesting and unique about our culture. It is so all-pervasive that it’s invisible, and you don’t really notice it until you go to other places. If you really want to learn something about your culture, leave it and come back. If mainstream America does not have that kind of experience, they cannot really see very well what the factors are. It’s more difficult. So to leave one’s culture and have another taste or another experience gives one a sense of comparison.

We approach everything in a collecting or accumulating way, in a materialistic way. We measure success by material substance.  Nobody’s parents tried to raise a great mystic because you wouldn’t do that to your kid in our society. You see what I’m saying?  You want to prevent your kid from the dark night of the soul.  You want to prevent your kid from the ambiguous, vague, cloudy, uncharted waters of mysticism.  You want your kid to be on the straight and narrow.  They know where to get a loaf of bread.  They know how to put some butter on it.  They know how to eat it.  They know how to feed it to their kids.  They know how to buy a car—that kind of thing.  You want your kid to be prepared for that.  You do not raise a mystic.  A mystic is something you have to contend with in our society.  It is an avocation that is fraught with suffering.

Now why is that?  Well, partially because a mystic goes into a very deep sense of connection.  In order to do that, the mystic has to plow through issues or plow through whatever it is that one plows through.  The other reason why being a mystic is so darn painful is because no one has any respect for that kind of thing.  A mystic in our society probably is a dreamer or a ne’er-do-well who can’t dress, who has no sense of self whatsoever, is socially inappropriate, can’t figure out how to catch a cab. Or maybe a mystic is someone who is depressed, possibly should be on Prozac. These are the kind of things that we associate with a mystic’s life and that is why nobody has ever been encouraged to be like that. The idea of really profound, deep mysticism scares the patooties out of us.

But in another culture where that kind of ideal is held up as being something pure, something wonderful, something significant, one’s experience regarding mysticism is entirely different. There is a dignity and nobility about it. There is a sense that this is a worthwhile occupation. There is definitely less fear of having the freedom to utilize one’s life as a vehicle for true deep mysticism and spirituality. One of the reasons why it’s more comfortable and easier to get connected to it is because one isn’t socially ostracized.

Now the great thing about being a mystic in America is that, once you get to the point where you’re really good at it and somebody finds you and you can market it—maybe write a book or two, maybe sell something that you’ve given rise to—then you can be a success.  Mystics in our society can also be successful after they’re dead. I really don’t know why. If any of you know why, tell me. But while we’re alive, we don’t have too much hope.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

 

How to Handle the “Dead Zone”

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Marrying Spiritual Life with Western Culture”

So ask yourself, where are you? If you find that deadness inside of you, don’t blame your path, don’t blame your teacher, don’t blame your society, don’t blame the Buddha. Instead, go within and find what is true and meaningful to you. Work the sums. Reason it out. Lord Buddha himself said, “Forget blind faith.” He said, “Reason it out.”  The path should make sense. It should be logical and meaningful to you, not to me. What’s it going to mean to you if it’s meaningful to me? It has to be logical and meaningful to you. This is what the Buddha said.  It would really help you to try that out for yourself.

We live in a society where we are separate from some fundamental life rhythms and where we are trained to think that things are happening outside of us. We’re in a world filled with terrorism and racial abuse, religious abuse, all kinds of conflict, and yet we think racial intolerance, for instance, is happening out there. We read about it in the paper. No, racial intolerance is happening in here. That’s where it’s happening.

It’s like that with everything on this path. You cannot let it happen out there. It’s your responsibility, your empowerment, your life.  Waiting for someone to tell you how to live it is not going to fly. When you walk on a spiritual path that you know, that you have examined, that you have given rise to understanding, you draw forth your natural innate wisdom. That fills your heart with a sense of truth because you understand it—not because someone else does. That’s the way to do it, and that’s what the Buddha recommended. In fact, he said, “I’ve given you the path. Now work out your own salvation.”

That wasn’t just a flip thing. When people hear that they go, “It’s such a cool thing that he said that! He must have had a great sense of humor.” He meant it! The path is there, but you’ve got to work it out.  That’s how you walk on the path. Otherwise you’re walking alongside the path. Then you’re a friend of Dharma, an admirer of Dharma, but not a practitioner—even if you wear the robes.

So handle the dead zone. Empower yourself. There is no reason why you can’t. Don’t live your life by “bash-to-fit, paint-to-match.”  Don’t do that. You are alive. In every sense, your nature is the most vibrant force in the universe, the only force in the universe. It is all there is. To play this game of duality where you stand outside your own most intimate experience and like a sheep get led through your life, that is not the way to go.

Many of you came to this path from another path because you felt dead there. But remember this: Wherever you go, there you are.  You brought the deadness with you. So handle it.

I hope that you really, really take this teaching to heart because it’s really an important thing. If I had one gift that I could give you all,  it would be to stay alive in your path, to have your spiritual life be like a precious jewel inside of you, living, something to warm you by. If life took everything else away from you, which it will eventually, this is the thing that cannot be taken.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

When Karma Ripens

woman-feeling-sick

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Experiencing the Hook of Compassion”

When the student first responds, generally there are obstacles that come up. Sometimes, and this is odd, when the student first finds the Path, they’ll be sick at first, physically sick. They’ll suddenly come down with everything you can possibly imagine. They’ll have the virus; they’ll have the flu; they’ll get ingrown toenails, you know. I mean all kinds of amazing weird things will happen, and sometimes, worse. Sometimes worse. But hopefully, if they can really work on the devotion and really solve that problem, really purify the connection between themselves and the teacher, whatever obstacle arises will ripen benignly. But it depends on how they can really purify  that obstacle through practicing pure devotion and through practicing purely, just in general, in compassion and in that method. If they can really get with the program and get with it purely, often even the worst obstacles will ripen benignly, including things like brain tumors, and then lesser things, chronic illness of some kind. Sometimes they will actually ripen benignly, meaning that they will either go away, or not be a burden, not be a problem.

When the student begins to respond in a different way, sometimes with anger, they must understand that suddenly this piece of anger and hatred didn’t come from somewhere else. Where did it come from? Didn’t it come from the student’s mind? Wasn’t it within them? Could they be feeling it if it weren’t within them? I mean, who’s running this show, anyway? If the student feels anger, hatred, it must have been in their mind. So perhaps what happens is that obstacle of hatred, that actual obstacle, ripens and it comes to the surface, kind of like a bubble coming to the surface of a pond. Now you have an opportunity to live and breathe, and hold on to that stink, you know, of hatred. Or you have the opportunity through your practice—through practicing the antidote which is pure devotion, which is compassion, which is pure mindfulness—you have the opportunity to do what bubbles do. Come to the surface of the lake and simply pop!  Simply pop. What is a bubble once it is popped? Gone. Gone. And the first breath of kindness and compassion can surely blow it away.

The student always has that obstacle. But instead, what the student generally does is say, ‘I’m right, here. I have a reason to be angry. I have a reason to be resentful. Let’s see. Let me find the reasons. Hmmmmm…’  And then you’ll find them. Of course you’ll find them. You’re going to make them up if you don’t find them. You’re going to pretend them. You’re going to take little signs and you’re going to write your own script. If you’re intent on finding reasons for justifying your hatred and your anger…  We’re all champs at that!  We’re so good at that!  We’re like the Steven Spielbergs of samara. We can make a movie you wouldn’t believe. So that will happen.

But if instead you realize that what is coming to the surface is an obstacle to your practice, that it has no more power than you give it, that you are capable of simply letting go, of surrendering, of practicing devotion, of using the method, in order to overcome the obstacle… You know it’s almost like I want to say to the student sometime… If they’re men, and even if they’re women, it seems like the only appropriate phrase. I want to say, ‘Are you man enough to do this? Can you stand outside yourself and really look at it? Can you see that this is the phenomena of your mind and just blow it off? Can you do that? Are you man enough? Are you human enough? Are you strong enough?’

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved