Examining the Causes of Suffering

The following is an excerpt from a public talk given by His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok:

The second cause for suffering is karma—– karma meaning cause and result. This begins with these negative causes:  beginning first with killing, the weightiest cause, which is to kill or to take a life.  Now according to Buddhism this means the life of any and all living beings.  In other religions it is more or less agreed upon that one should not kill human beings, but it is O.K. to kill other beings, that it simply doesn’t matter.  But this is not O.K.  This is incorrect understanding, and the reason for this is that all living beings have fear and all living beings suffer in the same way that human beings do.  So even the lowliest little ant has feelings and doesn’t want to lose its life  It feels suffering when it is being trod upon and so forth and smashed in this way.  We have to think about how we don’t want to suffer, and we have to understand that every creature that lives feels the same way.  Therefore this is the reason why we should never intentionally take the life of any living being.

The second cause to abandon is stealing. This means to take the possession of another without permission, whatever it may be.  Whether it is of great value or of little value, it simply doesn’t matter.  If it is something that belongs to someone else and they have every intention of maintaining that as their possession, then it should never be taken from them for any reason.

The third cause to abandon is to lie. Specifically it means here to really trick the minds of others with the specific intention to harm them by speaking that which is untrue. By doing so it immediately lowers one’s own honor and brings suffering to others. So this is something which is negative and must be abandoned.

The fourth cause to abandon is adultery or unclean sexual conduct.  This specifically refers to entering into a relationship with a male or female who already belongs to somebody else.  When we say “belongs to somebody else,” it means that that person is already committed to somebody else, and there is an understanding between them.  To break that understanding by intervening and having a relationship is considered to be ultimate stealing of a spouse of another.  Not only that. Those males and females who are already committed to one another usually have the most attachment for one another. So if someone else is with their partner, then there is nothing more painful than that because of the intensity of the attachment.  It produces even more suffering than stealing other objects.  Therefore it is considered to be extremely negative because it brings about such tremendous harm and harmful repercussion which arise from it. This must be abandoned from the root.

In addition to that, another action or activity which is considered to be ultimately destructive and which must be abandoned is the drinking of alcoholic beverages so as to become intoxicated.  The reason for this is because it is physically harmful to the body. Also if one becomes intoxicated one loses one’s own sense of control.  In that state of being out of control, all the other nonvirtues are easily accumulated.  Therefore becoming intoxicated by drinking alcoholic beverages must be abandoned.

These four root causes that correspond to physical conduct must be abandoned, and then the fifth, drinking alcohol, as well.  Any practitioner of Buddhism, whoever the person may be, must abandon these five.  These are five root precepts which are maintained, which means the abandonment of these negative causes.  Not only to abandon these five, but to guard oneself by taking the vow of what is called genyen, which is the vow of a lay practitioner who upholds these five precepts of formally vowing to abandon these five negative causes.  This is something that each and every one of you should consider taking on: to become a genyen or lay practitioner who upholds these five vows, because if you have these five vows you automatically accumulate virtue in whatever you do.  This also makes you somewhat similar to those who are holding the vows of higher ordination, such as the male and female novice practitioners and the male and female fully ordained, because they all have these five precepts as well.

There are two things which set the ordained apart from the lay upholders of these five vows.  First of all the fact that you are wearing the robes of the Buddha, the robes of ordination.  If you don’t wear your robes of ordination, you appear as a lay person  So the fact that you wear your robes sets you apart as an ordained.  The second point that sets you apart from a lay upholder of the vows is that in the case of a layman or laywoman, the vow is to abstain from adultery or unclean sexual conduct, but in the case of the ordained who are wearing the robes of the Buddha, you must abstain from any sexual conduct, particularly that of sexual intercourse.  So this is something that you all have abandoned before you have taken these vows of ordination.

I have spent some time here just now going over these four root precepts and the fifth, which is to abandon drinking alcohol, so that everyone here, especially those who are members of the Dharma center, would clearly understand what qualifies as a precept holder of the Buddhist tradition, and particularly those who are ordained.  If you are able to maintain these five precepts, that will be enough  Please understand that it includes the two particulars that you are already upholding.  Even if you can’t maintain the other vows, you must always maintain these five, and everyone else as lay practitioners should maintain the five as well.

Navigating Samsara – The Vows


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

As Buddhists, I would like you to think about what your directive is. I want to ask first those who are in robes. I want to actually ask them and give you the answer, but I’m going to pretend that I’m asking them, because I’m desperately afraid that they might not know.
Your primary directive is to follow the Vinaya. Vinaya is a set of cause- and effect-oriented rules, basically, a format that those in robes should follow, and the Vinaya becomes the heart practice of your life. You should, of course, receive teachings on the Vinaya, which you have. You gradually begin to understand the Vinaya. It is your responsibility to study the Vinaya; it is your responsibility to go after information about the Vinaya, because that’s your code. The Vinaya has a great many items that we should practice and look at. In particular, as robed persons, as monks and nuns, there are certain rules that seem very strict, but that you must follow. For instance, I don’t know if the lay people are aware of this or not, one of the rules in the Vinaya is that at a certain level of ordination, monks and nuns should not touch members of the opposite sex. Yet, here in Kunzang Palyul Chöling, one sees monks and nuns shaking hands, hugging, handing things to each other. Are we breaking the Vinaya here? Are we doing that?

We have a slightly different perspective. The Vinaya has not changed. Not in any way. What has been will always be. These are the Buddha’s words. But in Vajrayana, we have a slightly different perspective. If we have the idea in our minds, according to the Vinaya, that we should not touch members of the opposite sex in order to keep our celibacy really pure, that we should keep it very pure, yet we find ourselves [ touching] each other, how does that actually work out? If I, for instance, were a nun, let’s say, and I were to see a man that was very hungry or in need of some sort of medical help… Perhaps he fell down and he needed help getting up. Do you think I would hesitate for one moment to help that person or to give them some food? Or if I saw that a person needed the connection of a hug, needed the connection of some comfort; needed a greeting in order to feel accepted and welcome, do you think I would hesitate for one moment to give that sort of sustenance? Even if the Vinaya says not. That’s because the highest ordination that I feel as a Mahayana and Vajrayana practitioner is that of compassion. And in our tradition, compassion and love supersede everything. So the Vinaya is kept, but it is kept differently.

The way that these monks and nuns should be keeping the Vinaya is that, for instance, as a nun, whenever one sees a man, you should think of pure view about the man: You should think of the man as what we call a yidam or meditational deity. You should think that in that man’s pure form, he is the very Buddha. One should think like that. One should recognize the innate Buddha nature in each and every one; and one should think that each and every one holds that nature and that nature is actually present. We accomplish our practice by thinking of each man as the meditational deity. Those of you who are monks would think of the woman as being the goddess or the enlightened female deity, the primordial wisdom dakini. And in that way, upon touching a man or a woman, one is never actually touching a man or a woman. One is only approaching the meditational deity or the goddess. One still keeps one’s inner commitments, yet the highest commitment is that of compassionate pure view.

Of course, you can’t bend that irresponsibly, in fact you can’t bend it at all. None of you can take marital partners; none of you can engage in any kind of ordinary relationship in that way. But in order to uphold the highest ordination of compassion and the highest practice of pure view, you can engage in those kinds of activities that enhance that view.

Now for lay people, we don’t have the same strict approach. As lay people, though, we should never, never think that we can do more than them. We should never think like that. Because if we are thinking like that, quite frankly, that is a pretty schlocky practice. That’s just not going to cut it. We should never think that, ‘Oh, because I’m a lay person, my conduct can be very loose, I can do whatever I want.’ As Buddhists you have to actually move into the posture of being a Buddhist practitioner. You have also in common with these monks and nuns the highest ordination, and that is the high ordination of the practice of bodhichitta, or compassion. If you were to hold in your mind the idea that everything you do comes from the perspective of caring, of love, of kindness for others, then you’re still holding your vows. The trap that we fall into, though, as lay practitioners, is the idea that because we are lay practitioners, we can basically get away with murder. Actually, the Vajrayana point of view is very much geared and directed toward lay practitioners. Lay practitioners have a great distance that they can go and a great breadth and depth of practice that they can practice. They don’t have the strict guidance rules to the degree that the ordained people have, but in a sense, they have even more responsibility, because not having those strict rules, they must find a way to practice purely. And as lay practitioners, that’s our job: to seek out and really try to get for ourselves a way to practice purely. We may not understand how and we have to search it out. It isn’t enough to remain passive in our practice, to think that, ‘Well, eventually I’ll get the answer, and it will be clear to me, and in the meantime, I’ll just kind of scoot along.’ That would not be holding a proper view, that would not be holding our practice as a precious jewel, and that would not be doing a good job.

As a lay practitioner, we also have the responsibility of seeking out the absolute best way that we can hold our most precious inner vow, that of bodhichitta, or compassion, and we should aggressively seek out ways to do that. In order to seek out ways to do that, we must first examine how it is that we are in the condition that we are in. The Buddha teaches us that the primary directive, or motivating force, the reason for all of our suffering, is self cherishing, ego cherishing. Sometimes it looks like some of us have a lot more ego cherishing than others. Sometimes it looks as though some people are able to do a lot for others, and to be real kind and other people are only thinking about their own needs. But in the truest sense, that’s just a very superficial appearance. In fact, we are all exactly the same in that we are all in a samsaric condition, stuck on ego cherishing, stuck on the belief in the inherent reality of self nature, and therefore, suffering due to desire, hope and fear, not able to actually witness or see or relax into our own primordial wisdom nature.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Dharma in a New Land

From a series of tweets by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

Tonight I’d like to say a few words on the issue of how Buddhism moves west, and spreads throughout the world. Some things change; some naturally, remain the same. The Vajrayana monastics will change in that they must make and touch money, eat, often after dark, some are nurses which must tend and therefore touch. Some are doctors and must touch others. Sometimes they travel and cannot always sleep on a low bed as prescribed.

There is no doubt monastics that must not be rigid; particularly in that as Bodhisatvas, that vow always takes precedence. The reason is, that each level of Buddhism has its own vows. Theravadens focus on strict Vinaya rules to purify. Mahayana gives rise to the Great Bodhicitta, and tame their minds with renunciation and Compassion. In Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism all levels are combined into one Supreme view. The vows are kept on the outer, inner, and secret levels; quite profound and impossible to accomplish without a Supreme Guide.

Vajrayana encompasses all three levels and is hands down the more “mystical.” In the USA we take mystical as license. It is not. It does address flexibility according to capacity for view. A Bodhisattva will minister without much concern for monastic rules only if there is suffering to remedy, causing the necessity for a deeper view. In Vajrayana there is Tantra, generation of the Diety or Yiddam and attaining the qualities and view of the Yiddam. We generate Passive Yidam to grow, heal, and expand. We generate Wrathful Yidam to subdue, pacify, and overcome.

If everything remains the same as Tibet or India we would not succeed. Kyabje His Holiness Penor Rinpoche was flexible that way; he understood Buddhism was moving out of Tibet. His Holiness Penor Rinpoche allowed monks to have TV, Soccer, games. That was unless they got distracted or worldly.

They make plays about our history. His Holiness Penor Rinpoche was completely Orthodox and had never broken His vows on the three levels. But He had view, compassion, as well as common sense. He understood the times and His community. Palyul, my Lineage has always persisted because the combination of enlightened Wisdom, Compassion, and Awareness of this world. The Palyul Khenpos did not like these methods, as is the style of scholarly Khenpos, haha, the different perspective is normal and natural – wonderful, really.

But the Tulkus were somewhat different. They are the Treasures of Vajrayana, they alone have crossed the ocean of samsara and guided, successfully their disciples. They are the wisdom beings in flesh and usually each Tulku has their history with their own monastery. They have the clarity and wisdom.

When Lamas come to my Palyul temple they often weep for joy that so many are ordained here in this place. How we have numerous and Holy Stupas; we have gorgeous altars, thangkas, and a full library of texts. When His Holiness Penor Rinpoche was in India He managed to go back to Tibet and rescue ancient and extraordinary rare texts and kindly gave them to us. He himself made robes for the Ordained. His Holiness Penor Rinpoche brought them in privately to take vows, cut hair, and be formally dressed by Palyul Monks. Each felt HIS compassion, purity and wisdom. Some failed; most made it. Others were ordained at retreat in New York. Ngakpa vows are given.

We are told frequently, even by Kagyu Lamas, that the ordained here have amazing good qualities. Heart. I love and trust my monks and nuns so much more than I can possibly express. I respect their journey with my body, speech and mind. They are my family, my children. They are ALL named Thubten, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche’s ordination name. Palyul is exquisite in every way.

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche even approved my handwritten vows! I wrote them and when His Holiness saw, he giggled and said, “These are Refuge, Bodhisattva and Genyen vows.” He was the real deal, a living Buddha, and I worship the very ground where His feet were placed.

Each Lineage is unique and perfect in its way. Has a story just like this. Therefore it is never appropriate to criticize another Lineage. Mainly because you don’t know the Miracle that is it’s blood and bone, and never will. It is Karma! Therefor respect my Lineage, my Tsawei Lama and our Monks, Nuns and householders. I promise, if you have a Lineage I will respect and Honor yours, as I train my students to do. Will we now form a community of Dharma, wholesome, undivided? THIS IS MY PRAYER! Kye HO!

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved