Where Are You on the Path?

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

I don’t know how many times I can present this same teaching. It’s about understanding that the ball is in our court. It’s about having a direct hands-on experience, not about being a good boy or girl. Aren’t you sick of that?  This moralizing stuff has got to go! Instead, have a direct understanding, a natural wisdom—your wisdom—that dry times cannot take away from you, that broken hearts cannot take away from you, that no one else can take away from you. Your wisdom. You don’t look to anyone else to get your wisdom. You’ve got it inside. You understand the path in a deep way. You are empowered.

I’m not talking about ritual empowerment. I’m talking about a deeper, truer kind of empowerment.  How wonderful if we can know that spiritual empowerment deeply within ourselves, to then go through the process of ritual empowerment according to the teaching and know what it’s about.  It’s not just a vase (or a bhumpa) being knocked on your head.  You could do that from now until your head and the bhumpa are both flat, and there would be no direct relationship. If it’s all academic and intellectual, then it’s the same as getting a Ph.D. anywhere in technical sciences or whatever. It’s not really a path. A path is a way you go. A path is not an object that you consume or collect or put in your crock pot and boil all day until it makes gravy at night.  A path is where you are. Where are you then?

What I’m talking about is carefully considering how to overcome the limitations of confinement of our kind of society, of our kind of culture;  how to go more deeply to have a more direct relationship with our own spiritual nature—a real mystical relationship with that nature. And I don’t mean just meditating on some sort of internal cartoon circus where you think you’re getting messages from the Pleiades or some baloney like that. If you had a real, direct relationship with your own nature and you really understood the wisdom and the beauty of the Buddha’s teaching and didn’t see it as his teaching, but as a wisdom that appeared in the world here, you could see it as your teaching, as a wisdom that you could connect with.

Actually, we Westerners have a similar problem to what Black Americans have approaching Christianity. Black Americans pray to white Jesus. It’s not to say that their faith is small. I don’t know whether they have a problem with it or not, but it must be odd.  What does it look like seeing a white face on an altar when you’re a black person? Go home and look at all those Asian faces on your altar. They don’t look like us. What to do about it? How do you take refuge? How do you connect? It’s not about those pictures. It’s not about those faces.  It’s about you!  And it connects inside.

It isn’t about the shape of those eyes. It’s about what those eyes see. So you have to have that completely personal relationship where you look beyond that which is slanted or colored or this way or that way. It’s got to be a deeply personal relationship. To do that you must connect deeper than you’ve ever been before. We love to just skate over the surface of our experience of life. We’re even addicted to the highs and lows.

You can’t really understand why and how to take refuge by learning a set of equations or laws or rules. These can only function as guidelines. It’s really up to us to be powerful and strong and noble and knowing and awake on our path. Virtue cannot be collected. It has to be experienced, tasted, understood. Its nature must be understood.

This is not the news we want to hear. We want an easy religion.  We think, “Just tell us the ten things we have to do so that we’re not uncomfortable about dying.” I’m not saying those ten things are bad; they’re good, they’re wonderful. But where does it lead you? Aren’t you still the same scared little kid who was so neurotic because you are compressed with rules and society and with being told you can’t feel things. And now we’re going to do this with our religion too. Ten more times.

What if, instead of being a girdle that makes us out of touch just trying so hard to be good, we experienced our path—our method—in a wisdom way, in a connected way, in an in-touch way?   From that fertilization that happens when you really understand an idea and it causes you to go, “Ah-hah, therefore…”, from that point of view it’s like a plant or a tree coming up inside of you and growing. It bears fruit. It is a joyful thing, and you can see the fruit of your life. Most of us are so unhappy and so neurotic because we cannot see the fruit of our life and we do not understand its value. We haven’t tasted it. This direct relationship one can taste. It needs to be like that in order for us to really take refuge and not be lost little kids scared of dying, just trying to do the right thing—be good boys and good girls with a new set of rules—because maybe if we just had a new set of rules, maybe then we’d be good.

Instead of that, what if we were dynamically in love, inspired, breathing in and out on our path? The path can, in that way, be a companion, a joyfulness, a child of yours, a creation, a painting, something beautiful you’ve done with your life. You can’t make a beautiful painting by number. You have to make a beautiful painting from your heart.

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

 

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

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

How Will You Respond?

Sound_Wave_by_vladstudio

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

Sometimes we sort of wimp out. We want to be right. We want to have an issue. We want to be safe, without changing. We don’t want to change. So difficult to do. And meanwhile, all the teacher is really doing is calling the student from afar, sounding that note that is so like the student’s mind that it begins to bring forth this response that is in the student’s mind. And what they see is their own face, layer upon layer of their own face. Ultimately, if they practice devotion, they will see their true face, which is their nature. Now they’re only seeing the dust that is covering it. Now they’re only seeing the stuff that is on top of it. But all the teacher really does is sound the sound of their nature.

And something begins to happen. That sound is some kind of thing that you can’t even hear with your own ears, you know? You can’t even hear it. But it’s so powerful it can change the life of a student like that. Like instantly!  And it can sustain that change. And it’s also so powerful that it can change an entire area. It can change a community. It can change the world. But it’s so subtle that you probably couldn’t even hear it with your own ears.

What is that? It is the greatest and the most gossamer force that there is, and that is the force of compassion— the bodhicitta. In practice the bodhicitta is compassion; it is kindness as we understand it. But its ultimate nature is the ultimate truth. It is the ultimate Buddha nature. And that is the sound that is being sounded, vibrationally cloaked to suit the students for whom the teacher has appeared. And it is for those students that the teacher has returned, that the teacher has appeared.

So it is like you. It is like you, and you should be strong. You should take responsibility for what comes up in your mind. You should know that this is your time, and you should respond through practice. Not through agreeing with yourself and saying that it’s okay to do this. It’s okay to have this hatred; it’s okay to be angry; it’s okay to be vengeful; it’s okay to be resentful; it’s okay to grieve; it’s okay to whatever. Why is that okay when you could be moving closer to your greatest hope?

So each student must have strength and understand what is happening to them.  Do you, you who are responding, do you know what is happening to you? Do you really understand it? Do you really see its importance? And when the stuff comes up that comes up, and I know it comes up—the discursive thought, you know, the anger, the disagreement, the ‘well, I don’t know if I agree with that,’ you know, all these different kinds of thoughts—when that comes up in your mind, do you have the courage to get ahold of yourself? To take ahold of yourself and understand what is happening to you? That you are, in fact, seeing your own face. This is your resentment. This is your anger. This is your sadness. This is your needing to be independent. These are reflections; these are images of your mind. And in truth, so long as they keep you from pure practice and perfect surrender, from truly seeing with the help of your teacher, your own primordial face, these in fact are only obstacles to your practice that are coming up, and these are the form that they are coming up in.

So you can begin by giving thanks that they come up in such an easy-to-deal-with way. I mean you could have met your teacher and then got run over by a truck!  That could have happened. That could have been a big obstacle. Well that was nice!  But it didn’t happen, you’re still here!  And you can right now begin to develop the courage to move forward without any hesitation.

Students respond with hope and fear. And sometimes, there is a lot of fear, isn’t there? Hope and fear, with anger, with restraint, with judgment, with discursive thought. They respond that way because it is their nature to do so. That is the nature of samsara, that is the nature of cyclic existence, and that is the nature of all sentient things. We have developed this habitual tendency of response in that way. Why should we suddenly change? Of course we’re still responding that way. We always do. Always.

The important difference is that suddenly now we have a choice. We can begin. We can respond through mindfulness. We can respond through practice. We can respond by recognizing, through courage, that this is our response due to our habitual nature. We can stand outside of this whole deeply reactive scenario, and instead of reacting with the hatred, instead of reacting with grief, instead of reacting at all, we can know, we can understand: This is my mind. That is my teacher. The only thing to do is to walk forward and to continue, to walk through the door. So simple. And yet, due to our strong reactions, so difficult.

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

 

The Foundation of Devotion

Guru Rinpoche

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

Now I’m going to dive into the adult portion of our teaching, but you might have gotten something out of the children’s portion even though we’re adults, and some of us are even past 38. It looks like maybe some of us might be, and we’ve already learned some bad habits. Don’t we still move through whole passages in our lives when we just forget that we can be of benefit? We just move through and live in a way that’s relatively meaningless. We simply move through time, marking time by births, deaths, and anniversaries and summer reruns, and all kinds of things that are really pretty insignificant. We too can take hold of our lives and really become firm-, really practice accordingly.

So in the Buddhist tradition, particularly in Vajrayana, there is a kind of practice that is called devotional practice, and devotional practice has many components. But one particularly meaningful and important component is that one develops a relationship of pure devotion with one’s guru, with one’s teacher. In the Vajrayana tradition, the teacher is considered to be like the door of liberation because, even though there has been a Buddha on the earth and there has been the Buddhist teaching, even though the teaching is written in the books, even though there are many ways in which you can approach the Buddhadharma, it’s really, according to Vajrayana tradition, just about impossible to enter into the Path, into the meat of the Path, into the thick of the Path without the blessing of the teacher.

The lama is considered to be the blessing that is inherent in the Path. The lama is necessary for empowerment; the lama is necessary for transmission; the lama is necessary for teaching; the lama is necessary to make a bridge. Almost like the lama is the nurse that administers the medicine. The doctor might prescribe, the doctor might be considered the Buddha; but the lama is considered to be the nurse that actually administers the medicine while we ourselves may be too weak or too unaware to be able to hold onto the medicine or take it into our own mouths without some help. In Vajrayana tradition, from the very most preliminary practice to the very most superior practice, there is a devotional aspect to every practice that is done; and that is considered to be the vehicle or the means by which the blessing is actually transmitted.

In preliminary practice, there is actually a section of devotional yoga, guru yoga. This is something that is widespread not only in our particular tradition, but is widespread across all the traditions in Vajrayana Buddhism— the tradition of calling the lama, beseeching the lama, of invoking the lama’s blessing. Now in our particular Ngöndro, we have a beautiful passage, a beautiful song of invocation, called “Calling the Lama from Afar.” It has a very haunting melody and it’s done with one’s heart. Actually the recommendation is that one should do it until tears arise in one’s eyes. One should do that in order to soften the ego, in order to soften the mind and to make the mind like a bowl that is turned up, not turned over, hard, you know, and unable to receive any blessing; but a bowl that is turned up that doesn’t have any poison or dirt in the bottom of it, that’s kept purely; so that when the nectar comes in, it won’t be mixed with the poison or dirt. And it isn’t cracked, cracked through the distraction that we all feel when we can’t really keep our minds on any kind of devotional practice and our minds wander too much. That kind of bowl could not hold the blessing, could not hold the nectar. And, of course, if our minds are hard and filled with anger and hatred, and that anger surfaces, the bowl is turned over and the nectar simply runs off so there is no blessing to be had. We might fool ourselves thinking that we have a blessing, but in fact, no blessing has been received.

So we practice this devotional yoga; we practice it very sincerely. The benefit of this practice is immeasurable in that it softens the mind. It’s almost like planting a field of grain, you know? One has to plow the field; then one has to harrow it or disc it, turn it over. One has to soften it and rake it and work the soil so that it’s capable of receiving the seed. Otherwise if the soil were not ready, and the seed were thrown out, it would just bounce, like on a hard surface. It would not do much good. Any of you who have planted things know the truth of that. So devotional yoga is a cultivator. It’s considered to make one ready. Without devotional yoga, there is no possibility, really, of the blessing being fully received.

The devotional yoga is meant to benefit the student. It never benefits the teacher. If the teacher needs devotional yoga, the teacher is inadequate and impure; the teacher is without value. So the devotional yoga is purely for the benefit of the student. The teacher is not pleased by the devotional yoga. The teacher is pleased by the movement and the softening and the gentling and the change that occurs within the student, and that‘s because the teacher wishes to benefit the student. It isn’t because the teacher requires any kind of devotional yoga, or any kind of notice, really, at all.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved