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

 

Samsara – Living in a Material World

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

In practicing bodhicitta in a mindful and discriminating way, one has to understand first of all the faults of samsaric existence.  One has to understand the basic logic if it. If we are giving rise to the aspiration to be of benefit to beings, it only makes sense if we understand why and what the connecting factors are.  Otherwise it is just acting.

One of the greatest obstacles I’ve seen, is the current pop religion culture that says, “Everything is perfect; the world is perfect.” So many people are into the idea of seeking happiness that on some level they must realize that there is suffering, because they’re trying to cover up that suffering.  They’re trying to affirm it away by saying that suffering doesn’t exist.  They tell themselves everything is light and love and suffering doesn’t exist and that’s wonderful, and so the world is a great place.  We don’t have to practice compassion, because everything is already blessed and very holy.  The world is perfect. Can you hear the superficiality in that?  What you need to hear next is what’s really going on in the world because if you’re in that mind state, you haven’t been watching, you haven’t seen.

There is such an extraordinary amount of suffering in all the realms of cyclic existence.  In this world alone, just look at the human condition: the extraordinary, unconscionable suffering.  How can you look at these people marching out of Kosovo and think that’s perfect?  How can you watch children and innocent civilians being torn up, with no understanding as to how this could have happened to them?  They are modern people like us.  How can you look at that and say everything is love and light; that everything is perfect?

If you’ve had the good fortune of knowing one person throughout the course of your life, think of all the different ages and stages they’ve gone through.  Watch what it’s like to be a child and to go through all the struggles that children go through?  It’s tough being a child.  They don’t really understand what’s happening to them.  They don’t really understand why it is when certain things happen, other things happen.  It’s tough being a child.  That little brain is forming.  It doesn’t work in its entirety yet.  And then watch that person grow up to be a teenager.  It’s tough being a teenager.  It’s awful being a teenager.  I remember being a teenager.  I don’t think there are words for that!  You have all these feelings and your body is all grown up and your head is still childish and nothing works.  And then you grow up, and suddenly you’re supposed to be an adult.  You don’t feel any different, though, than you did when you were a teenager or a child.  You still feel like you don’t understand diddly-squat, and yet suddenly, because you have a child maybe, you’re supposed to be an adult.  You think, “Wow, I’ve waited all my life to be an adult.  This is great.  Now I can vote. I can drink.”  Yeah, you can also get up early every morning and go to work.  You can also work every single day.  You can also have very little fun.

Do you remember what it was like when you were just trying to build your life?  There’s an obsession with that.  You think, “Ooh, I’ve just got to do this.  If I don’t do this, I’ll never be happy.”  All that reactive delusion kind of beats you up.  Then, when you get to the point of maturity and you realize that not all the things you thought really mattered actually matter, there’s a little spaciousness.  Maybe you have a pause that lets you know that maybe now it’s time to relax a little bit about getting all these material things lined up; maybe now it’s time to stop and smell the roses and then even beyond that, plan for your maturity.  Maybe you think, “I should think about my death. I should think about how to take care of my children.”  So you get this glorious moment of thinking, “Yeah, okay. I’m pretty stable now.  I’ve got a car, got a house, got some kids, so things are okay.”  You have about five minutes of that before everything you have goes south, and I mean the body.  This thing that we put so much energy into shining up and growing up and waiting until it is matured, and then everything you have from the waist up is now from the waist down.

As Buddhists we are required to study these images of a young woman or a young man, middle-aged or mature and then older, and then see that this is the same person.  Understanding what that’s all about is the key.  For us to not wander through life with everything happening to us unexpectedly.  That’s the most amazing thing about us. Everyone around us gets old; everyone we see gets old; we’ve got old people everywhere, but it’s always a surprise when it happens to us. How can we possibly go through life in any meaningful way when it constantly surprises us?  Instead, what we need to do is to really study the conditions that we are involved with and do so truthfully and honestly.

In the practice of bodhicitta, the first things that we can understand are the faults of cyclic existence.  Cyclic existence is impossible. It’s ridiculous.  It’s not only flawed and faulted, it’s a real pain in the neck.  The amazing thing about cyclic existence is that no matter what you do in the material realm, in the realm of experiences, if it arises from samsara and is within the realm of samsara, it’s all going to come to nothing because anything that you accumulate, build, or create, you lose when you die.  You won’t be able to take that with you.

The saddest thing and the thing that we have compassion about and try to become mindful about, is watching someone who is no different from us, wanting to be happy just like we do; spend all of their time pulling stuff together, accumulating or not accumulating, setting up their little gigs, their little power things, all their little personality dramas.  We watch people that are so entrenched and lost in that, and generally, before we’ve had any training, we’d think that was normal.  But having had training, we think, “Oh, maybe that’s not so good.  Maybe that’s not the way to go.”  We might judge that person as being superficial.   We might have a lot of judgment about that person.  But in order to be truly discriminating and mindful and to actually benefit our practice, we should be saying, “Yes, that’s what it’s like here.  That is the fault of cyclic existence,” and feel compassion for them.

Creating mindfulness in the arena of practicing bodhicitta is like that.  We have to constantly caution ourselves not to simply go down the road in the way that we ordinarily do, but instead, to be in a state of recognition and awareness.  When we see ourselves act in a superficial manner, just going through the motions of life thinking, “Oh, I’ve got to have this money or this power or this fame or this fortune or this car or this family or this whatever” — instead of judging these terrible faults in ourselves or in each other, simply say, “This is the fault of cyclic existence.”  Rather than saying that person is superficial or that person is lost or that person is damned, we ought to say, “What a fabulous opportunity to study the faults of cyclic existence.”  You should look at that person, and say, “Oh, I’m so sorry, because that’s how it is here.  What can I do to help?  How can I benefit sentient beings so that it is no longer the case?”  It increases your bodhicitta practice rather than taking it down by judging others.   To say, “They’re so material; they’re just about money” or, “I’m just about money, I’m just about material things.” is not beneficial because you are not contributing to mindfulness; you are contributing to judgment.  Can you see the difference?  You are not contributing to a state of recognition.  You’re only recognizing appearances.  Big deal!  Dogs can do that!  Do something dogs can’t do.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

The Illusion of Satisfaction

fever-adult

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Desire Blocks Happiness”

Our minds are so unstable.  They are so inflamed, so on fire. With what? With excitement? With the idea that something is going to happen for us? What are we inflamed with? According to the Buddhist teachings, we are actually inflamed with desire. Desire. I want! I want! And I’m going to have it! I’m going to get it! I’m finally going to get it! The excitement that you feel when you’ve got that dress, and those shoes!, And those stockings! And those $150 earrings, all of it together. That same excitement is the inflammation that you feel when you’ve got the dress, but you haven’t got the shoes yet; and you want them so bad, you can taste them. It’s the same thing. It’s an inflammation. It’s like a fever. And no one can ever be happy no matter what while they’ve got that fever in their minds because it isn’t the satisfaction of that fever that composes happiness. That isn’t what makes happiness.

In fact, in cyclic existence, there ain’t no such thing. You can’t satisfy that fever. That fever is the symptom. It is the problem. Satisfying that fever would be like treating a physical fever by heating up the room to be the same temperature. Think about it. It doesn’t work. Temporarily you may feel strangely like there’s not much difference between the heat in your body and the heat in the room. I don’t really know how it would affect you physically. But I do know this: It won’t cure the fever. The fever ends when the fever ends, when it subsides. And here’s where the analogy ends, because, in an ordinary fever, if the fever doesn’t kill you, it will eventually naturally subside. It will naturally calm down. The body will rally itself to create a cure. It will come to its own defense.

But, in fact, the Buddha teaches us that cyclic existence will not naturally cure itself. We must take steps. Here’s why. Because in cyclic existence, we’re busy buying those shoes and those earrings. We’re busy finding the first perfect relationship, and convincing ourselves that it’s going to work. Or ditching it and finding another one when it doesn’t. We’re busy suffering the disappointment of watching things that have come together fall apart. We’re busy going through what we have always gone through: the ups and downs of cyclic existence. Just the cycle of death and rebirth, up and down, happy and sad, high and low, hot and cold. We’re busy doing that. And every single time we hit a certain point, whether it be high or low, at that point we are creating more cause and effect relationships and more habitual tendencies within our mind. Specifically this: Let’s say we buy the dress. We want the dress so badly. We buy the dress. Let’s say, now we want the shoes, so bad we can taste them, or in the case of men, maybe it might be… Let’s say he’s a drummer and he bought himself one drum. And he’s got to have the other one to make the set. Let’s say that’s the case. He’s just gotta have it! There’s no ifs, ands. He can just taste it! It’s just in him so bad. So let’s say that we have the one object, and we have to have its complement. We want it so bad.

Well, first of all, there’s no satisfaction there, and here’s the reason why. In getting the object in the first place, we’ve reinforced an old and very bad habit of ours. We saw something; we accepted it at face value; we took a lot of energy to secure that thing. We grasped at it, and we got it. We strengthened that habitual tendency. We strengthened it. And then, of course, what was the result of that? The result of that was that you had to have more because that habitual tendency has been strengthened. So now we’ve got to have the shoes. So okay, now we’re going to go for the shoes. Save up lots of money, buy this big pair of shoes. Well, hopefully they’re not too big, but anyway, buy this great pair of shoes. They’re really expensive; they’re really beautiful; they’re perfect for the dress. And now you have to go through this whole thing of making it practical for yourself. Now you’ve got to go through so much, so much. And in doing so, you have substantiated, you have reinforced, you have continued the cause and effect relationships within your mind that cause you to look at things on a superficial level, to reach out, to grasp for them. It continues the inflammation of desire.

So even though you might have everything that you can think of, the habit of desire and the inflammation are still there. They’re still there. How is that going to happen? What’s going to result in that? You’ll think of more. You’ll think of more. You’re endlessly creative, always have been. Endlessly creative. You will think of more. And maybe you’ll satisfy yourself by thinking that, ‘Well okay, I’m not on clothes right now.’ So now you’ll think of something else. You’ll think of something else that you must have—a certain kind of happiness even if it’s a certain kind of mental state. I don’t know what it’s going to be next. Do you? But it will be something. You’ll think of more.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Only You Can Do It

Taxi Cab

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

 

 

Sentient beings have an interesting preoccupation. And that preoccupation is with self; Is with perceiving its solidity; is with holding to it in a grasping and clinging way. And due to that preoccupation, we feel that we actually perceive all things in a dualistic fashion. That means that whatever is the content of our mindstream, we will actually see it flashed out there somewhere and it will take the form of our lives. And to the degree that we believe ourselves to be solid and real, and very, very kind of written in stone and unsurpassably solid, to that degree our environment feels exactly the same. Now, I’m not suggesting that you walk out in front of a taxi and say, ‘Hey you’re not really here. See if you can run over me.’ Because it will. Surely it will. You should practice a little more before you try something like that. Lots and lots of meditation. Like, maybe, lots and lots of meditation. I’ll give you the go when it’s time to stand in front of a taxi. You notice I never stand in front of taxies. But anyway, what we have to begin to do now is on a very subtle level. We have to understand that our experience is the revelation or display of our own mindstream. We have to begin with the very subtle characteristics. That’s as hard to do, believe it or not, as walking in front of a taxi is. Maybe harder. You walk in front of a taxi, boom, it’s over. You start to be a Buddhist and you look at your life and you realize that this is the content of your mindstream; and your suffering has just begun because our lives are tough. And this is very hard to realize.

You know, sentient beings, all of them, are fantastic creatures, everyone from human beings to cockroaches to non-physical beings, the ones that we can see and the ones that we can’t see. We are fantastic creatures. Our innate nature is the Buddha nature. In our essence we are the enlightened mind, the basis of all our experience. Everything that we have ever experienced is the great primordial emptiness. We are fantastic creatures. That is our nature. In our teaching it says over and over again, in our nature we are the all-pervasive, foundational bodhicitta, the all-pervasive compassion. We are the very Lord in our nature. That’s what it says in all the teachings.

But we are so deeply caught up in the habit of self-absorption, so deeply and compulsively caught up in the belief and solidity of self that the great lamas, the great Buddhas, the great boddhisattvas, they can all come to the earth and say, ‘This is what you are; this is what it is; and this is what you should do.’ And it seems that we have so little capacity to take this nectar and really utilize it, really turn around the content of our experience.

How many times have lamas said to us, ‘This is the great truth. This is the great meditation. This is the nature. This is our nature. And this is the method by which we can accomplish the awakening through that nature.’ And how little has been our regard for that nourishment. It’s as though nectar were being poured down from the skies and we have tiny, tiny, tiny little mouths unable to open and great big stomachs full of hunger pang. We can’t seem to pick it up. But occasionally, very rarely, as rare as finding a precious jewel by sifting through garbage, occasionally some virtue that we have accumulated in the past—who knows what it was—from feeding a child to accidentally walking around a stupa because you didn’t know what direction you were walking in; some virtue that might have to do with helping someone and might have to do with accidentally doing something that is of benefit to someone in some way that you never could have imagined,… Somehow these unpredictable and wonderful events have lined up in such a rare way as to create one moment, one tiny window. And believe me, in the amount of time that we have been sentient beings, this whole lifetime is a very tiny window. Somehow things have lined up into this tiny window that we call a precious human rebirth. And even within this precious human rebirth, somehow miraculously there is this incredible lineup.Who could have predicted it? Who could have known how it could happen? There’s no way that you can force this to happen. It just happens because cause and effect relationships are like the wind and you never know which way they’re going to blow. And suddenly they blow in the right direction and here’s this window and you can hear the Buddha’s teaching. And somehow magically in the space of that, you are moved enough to hear it well enough to step out of the compulsive, habitual tendency that has your mind as tight as a rubberband and come up with the brilliant idea: I can change. I can turn this around. I can plant a new seed. I can accept that these are my habitual tendencies, and I can begin to work to apply the antidote.

You cannot imagine how rare such a thing is. Even if it’s possible for all of us to come here and hear teachings every day for the next three hundred years and within those next three hundred years that you would have one such moment, one moment like that, when you say, ‘Yes, enough. Let’s change. Let’s do it now. Let’s apply the teaching.’ And then you really apply the teaching. For those circumstances to line up like that is so rare. It should be considered like the preciousness of a jewel and as rare as though you had found it by sifting through garbage. Strangely, it’s your own garbage and it’s also your own jewel. It’s the finding that’s the hard part.

But Here’s what you should do. If you have the opportunity to have been born in a precious human rebirth, and you have, then you should play on that immediately by lining up your intention and beginning to make wishing prayers that you will be able to make use of this time. Make them all the time, constantly. Never stop making wishing prayers. Couple those wishing prayers by accumulating the merit and beginning the process of actually being of benefit to others by making wishing prayers that others will also find the precious human rebirth and that they too will find the auspicious circumstances. Begin to work on that a little bit. Line it up. Take hold of it. Don’t let it slide by you. You’re not a Barbie doll like those little kids were holding. You don’t have to sit in class like this, or like this. Barbie doll is like this. You don’t have to do that. And you don’t have to do that in your mind either. Begin to line up the circumstances. Begin to play on it. Begin to make it happen for you. Come to the teachings. Then when you hear the teachings, listen to the teachings. Listen to them well. Line your mind up. Take a hold of yourself. Take a hold yourself. You do have that power.

If you think that the blessing of enlightenment is going to come from outside; if you think that you have no control; if you think that you are good because your parents made you good, or you’re bad because your parents made you bad; if you think like that, forget it. You’re not going to do anything. You’re going to wait. You know what waiting produces? Waiting. That’s what waiting produces. It produces waiting. It’s like a little baby. Was drooling before, drooling after. If you continue to wait, you continue to drool. There’s logic in there somewhere. I know you can’t think about that right now, but truly, waiting is not going to help. But to take a hold of yourself and not let the experience of this precious and auspicious opportunity simply slide by you; to open your mind; to make your mind like a bowl; to practice as though nectar were being poured into you, and to really practice; to line it up and to do it. Honestly and truly. You have that opportunity, but only you can line it up and make it happen. Only you can do that.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo all rights reserved

Finding Safety

1aafather-and-son

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

I’m reminded again and again of that wonderful story that we hear in our tradition of the father who had many children in a house, children that he loved very dearly. The father came home to his house and he saw these children were playing in the house, but that the house was on fire. And so he called out to his children. He said, “Come out! Come out quickly! The house is on fire!”  He couldn’t really get in to help them, so he’s calling, “Come, come. Please come! Come out quickly! “ And the children were playing. They were happy playing. You know how children are. You know how children are. They were happy playing; and they were busy, being very important in their house. Very, very important in their house. So they were busy in the house playing important games. Aren’t we all playing important games? They’re very important games. So we’re playing important games in our house. And those children are in there; and they’re playing, and they’re intent. They’re concentrating. Aren’t we concentrating on our lives? We’re so concentrated. We concentrate so hard! And so the children are playing. And no matter how hard the father calls, and how loud, the children cannot come out. They cannot hear. They can’t get themselves together. Have you ever seen children, how they do that? They just can’t pull themselves away. Have you ever noticed how children do that?  Big children too! So anyway, that’s happening and happening. And suddenly the father thinks, ‘How can I?’ he’s crying. ‘How can I get my students [sic] out?’

So he sounds the sound that the children need to hear. He said, “I have chariots for you. I have umbrellas for you. I have big elephants to pull you. I have toys for you to play with. I have everything you need out here. Come! Come!”  And seductively, the teacher calls the student. The father calls his children. (Freud, your slip is showing!) The father calls the children. So the father’s calling the children. And suddenly the children go, “Toys? Toys? Umbrellas? Elephants? Chariots? Yeah! That’s what I want!”  And then they come out, and the father says, “Really, I don’t have anything for you. It’s just that the house was on fire, and I had to get you out. But I have for you something precious. I have for you your freedom. Now you’re free and you can live. And you weren’t consumed. You weren’t consumed and helpless by yourselves.”

So the story’s kind of like that. I’m paraphrasing it, but it’s kind of like that. And it really is the story of the teacher and the student, isn’t it? It really is the story of the teacher and the student. All that is done is that the student is being called. Everything else that happens happens in your mind. All you are truly seeing when you meet your root guru is the compassionate extension of the Buddha’s miraculous activity. The rest is up to you.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Relief From Suffering

HumanRealm

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

Now having been introduced to the six realms, you should look at all of the different qualities that produce these rebirths: anger, grasping, ignorance, doubt, jealousy and pride.  You should think that the thing to do, if you have any understanding at all, is to begin to engage in activity that pacifies those kinds of qualities.  How does this mesh with compassion?  When you think about engaging in compassionate activity, you have to view compassionate activity in accordance with this teaching because you might think that compassionate activity would only be to be nice to people, and actually that is one kind of compassionate activity, or to give money to the poor, or to feed people.  That is one kind of compassionate activity; that is one kind of bodhicitta, but it is temporary bodhicitta.  It will produce a temporary cessation of suffering for the people that you help.  If you give them food when they are hungry, it will produce the end of temporary suffering.  If you give them money when they are poor, it will produce the end of temporary suffering.  But if you really want to get into ultimate bodhicitta, which is the quintessential practice of the Mahayana vehicle, and Vajrayana as part of Mahayana—Vajrayana is what we practice here—what you really want to do is to practice ultimate or supreme bodhicitta.  Ultimate or supreme bodhicitta is creating some kind of practice that will be a vehicle by which the qualities that produce this result will be pacified both in yourself and in other sentient beings.

I’ve described the six realms of cyclic existence.  Where in the six realms is there relief?  Nowhere.  Will you find relief as a result of temporary help in any of the six realms?  No, because you will be reborn again. And where?  We don’t know.  We just don’t know.  In cyclic existence, there is no true relief.  All there is in cyclic existence are the components of cyclic existence.  That is all that is in that pot.  You cannot expect true relief from cyclic existence.  So ultimate bodhicitta and an ultimately compassionate act would be to become a Buddha yourself.  To become highly enough realized yourself to make that commitment to attain realization in order to return again and again and again, emanating from the mind of enlightenment in order to be of benefit to sentient beings, because that is where relief comes from.

Now let me see if this is a typical thangka?  No this is not a traditional thangka.  The traditional thangkas usually show a path coming out from the human realm leading to enlightenment.  As a human, you can make the ultimate gift.  You can engage in the supreme practice.  You can achieve enlightenment yourself and, therefore, you can be a returner.  You can return again and again and again in order to lead sentient beings through a display of your enlightened compassion.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Animal Realm: Ignorance

oryx

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

The next realm is the animal realm. Now we have a strange understanding of the animal realm. We think, ‘Now that won’t be so bad.’  I have actually had people say to me, “I wish I could be a dog in my next life so that people would pet me.”  And I go, “Oh, no. Please don’t say that because you are not going to be a dog. You are going to be a hungry ghost.”  Don’t do that. That kind of neediness, that kind of idea,… You don’t want to express that. Let’s understand the animal realm better.

It isn’t like our little puppies and our little kitties and our little birdies. It isn’t cute little fluffy stuff like that. You have to think about what the animal realm is really like. Animals are completely at the mercy of the higher life form of humans. They are completely at the mercy of one another. In animal realms, there is the predator and the victim. And even amongst those animals that do not engage in that kind of activity, they are victimized by their own stupidity. I think about the bullocks in India. They have to pull these huge carts. Their owners whip them all day long in order to make them pull these huge carts; and they decorate their horns and think of them as their objects. They are their objects; and really they are more valuable than their wives because the bullocks can make it possible to pull these large amounts of things that the owners need to pull in order to make their livings. So I think about that kind of suffering. I think about camels that are ridden across deserts, not ever being able to go where they want to go. I think of horses that are never permitted to do what they want to do, never permitted to live naturally. I think about even our own domestic pets that are at our mercy as to whether or not we remember to feed them, whether or not we remember to take them to the vet. It’s our decision whether or not we want them fixed. It’s a dog’s life. It is a terrible thing to be engaged in the animal realm, because in the animal realm the chief suffering is that of ignorance. An elephant, for instance, could easily escape from a man who was dominating it, you see, in order to make it work all its life; but the elephant is too stupid to know that. It is too stupid to understand that. The human has developed a method to demonstrate his mastery, and therefore the elephant, although it is ten times bigger than the human, thinks that it is a victim of the human. That kind of stupidity leads to terrible suffering.

Animals in the animal realm are constantly fearful. They are constantly fearful of being eaten. All of their instincts guard against being eaten. They are constantly fearful of being left without food. They are constantly fearful. There is no space in their minds other than the fear that they have; and that fear is the result of ignorance.

So, do we have any ignorance in our minds, do you think?  Now, I don’t mean ignorance like you didn’t go to college. Not like that kind of ignorance. But the ignorance that makes you say, “Where did the day go?”  That dullness that makes you go through a day and you get the impression that you rode or skimmed on the surface of that day. You just kind of skimmed, just kind of floated on it, and your mind didn’t dig in anywhere in particular too much. You sort of ran around in your head a little bit. And then maybe you spent another day where you kind of floated on the sensuality of that day. I ate, and I slept. I spent time with my family, and I spent time with my husband or wife. And put on some new clothes. I worked and it felt good to work; or maybe it didn’t feel so good to work, and it felt like this. That kind of dullness where you don’t say, “Yo, let’s look at the faults of cyclic existence and figure out what we can do to make this day count.”  That kind of dullness is the kind of dullness that will cause us to be reborn in the animal realm. That dullness and ignorance.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: Adjusting One’s Mind

birth

The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

First, [during the preliminaries] one adjusts one’s intention [in order] to be in harmony with the special feature of this instruction. There are three ways to do so, by developing repulsion or weariness toward the suffering of samsara, by developing an attraction to enlightenment, and by transcending the two extremes of samsara and enlightenment through vowing to maintain the middle way.

When considering the first step to adjust the mind, one cultivates repulsion and weariness towards samsara as antidotes for strong attraction to worldliness, to ordinary phenomena, to one’s own life, wealth, and endowments, and to one’s friends and loved ones. Through cultivating weariness toward the suffering of samsara, we learn about impermanence come to understand the impermanence of all worldly phenomena.

Of all worldly phenomena, whether great or small, nothing is permanent and nothing endures. Therefore, when you find yourself attracted to or attached to the happiness of existence, you must bring to mind the faults of existence. Consider that not even a single phenomenon is permanent, no matter how great, wonderful, or powerful it may seem. Consider especially how once that phenomenon [you associate with a happy existence] changes, you will experience nothing but suffering as the result. That way you can move your mind away from having strong attachment to impermanent phenomena and begin to change your habit of always following apparent phenomena based on [experiencing] temporary pleasure and attachment.

Think, for instance, about sentient beings that, due to anger and aggression, have accumulated the negative karma to fall to the hell realm. Those beings have accumulated tremendous negative karma that will keep them in the hell realm indefinitely. In that realm, unable to establish any positive causes at all, they will experience nothing but intense suffering. Think about the eight hot hells, the eight cold hells, as well as the peripheral hells surrounding them. Although it is inconceivable, think about the suffering that sentient beings in those hells must endure.

Then consider the deprived spirit realm. Think about the beings that accumulate an abundance of negative karma through the passions of avarice and strong desire. The result of such accumulation is rebirth as a deprived spirit. There are different categories of deprived spirits, such as outer and inner ones, but essentially they all endure inconceivable hunger and thirst that is insatiable. Furthermore, they never die from that; they just continue to suffer indefinitely, without ever being satisfied.

Next, consider the animal realm. Negative karma accumulated through the passion of delusion produces the result of an animal rebirth. Animals suffer from basic delusion and ignorance, mistreatment by humans, and being preyed upon by one another. From the largest to the smallest, those who are as large as mountains to those smaller than the tip of a needle, all suffer from basic stupidity and ignorance, so they are unable to escape and are unable to do much more than just endure the karma in that rebirth until it is eventually exhausted.

Then consider rebirth that is so difficult to obtain: that of a human being. Compared with the three lower realms of existence, human life seems very blissful; nevertheless, there is great suffering in the human realm. Human beings suffer from confinement in the womb and from the process of birth, illness, disease, and growing old and the decline in their faculties, until eventually they experience the suffering of death and leaving everything behind. Humans are subject to all kinds of indefinite circumstances and situations throughout the course of their life. Some die at birth, and some as adults. Some die alone and unwanted or in an untimely manner.

In addition to the four great rivers of suffering human beings experience–birth, old age, sickness and death–humans experience compounded suffering. For example, humans suffer mistreatment at the hands of their enemies, and they suffer when they lose their loved ones. In fact, they suffer from fear that precedes the actual events themselves. Humans also suffer from not getting what they want and from having to accept what is not desired, because then they have the fear of losing that. Against their will, humans endure all these unexpected consequences.

Many people think that after they die and leave this life they will easily return as a human being. Many believe they will just be able to return to a happy state of existence, such as the one they might now be accustomed to. That is a mistake. I can guarantee that unless you have the specific karma to do so, you will not take another birth as a human being. Without the karma that creates the causes for it, the result of human rebirth is impossible. Make no mistake about it.

The Truth of Suffering

grief

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

Our next understanding must be what actually would be the end of suffering. What would the end of suffering look like?. Let’s say I was going to engage in enlightened activity. Let’s say that I could do that, had that potential. If I were going to alleviate the suffering of sentient beings, what would that look like? What form would that take?. In order to understand that, you really have to understand what escape from suffering is. In order to understand what escape from suffering is, you must understand what suffering is. What is this suffering?.

Now everybody has an idea of what suffering is. I don’t think I have to define suffering according to Webster’s dictionary. Each of us have had times in our lives when we have suffered. We have had loved ones leave us; relationships that we have loved have ended; even relationships that we don’t love have ended and brought us suffering. We have had changes in our lives that are very difficult: We have lost money; we have lost jobs; we have gained things and then have lost them. Things that we have loved have disappeared. All of these have been sufferings and if none of those things have happened to us, perhaps we might have had difficulties with our children. If none of those things have happened to us, still we will get sick. If we haven’t gotten sick yet, then definitely we will get old and we will die. These are the sufferings of cyclic existence. No one escapes cyclic existence without suffering. So it is considered that cyclic existence is pervaded with suffering. It is pervaded with suffering. It is not to say that there won’t be any happiness in cyclic existence, but the state of that happiness will be temporary because suffering is all pervasive,. and because everything is constantly changing.. So if you experience happiness,  that happiness will end because all things end. Everything is impermanent. If you experience the happiness of giving birth to a beloved child, that happiness will be temporary in that eventually that child will grow up. Eventually no matter how much you love that child, there will be difficulty with that child; and eventually either you or the child, eventually both, will die and so that relationship must end.

If you win the lottery, the happiness from that is also impermanent.  As you know, money can be spent; money can be squandered. And also for many people, money doesn’t bring happiness at all. I’d like to have a shot at it though,. anyway, just to see. I feel like you should test the Buddha’s teachings before you firmly commit. At any rate, you get my drift. If you buy a hot new car, and you think, “Oh good, I feel good now,” buzzing around in your nice new car, pretty soon that car is going to break down, and that car is going to feel like an old wife. Pretty soon it will have a clutch that needs repairing; and then you have to buy new tires and the steering isn’t so smooth. You know what happens. Everything changes. Cyclic existence is pervaded with suffering.

That is what you know about cyclic existence. I don’t have to tell you that; I don’t have to prove that to you. If you haven’t seen that for yourself by now, then I don’t know what to say to you. I feel that you must snap your fingers three times and maybe click your heels together and say, “There is no place like home.”  I think that you should wake up to the fact that this is not Kansas, and just kind of get with the picture and look at your life. If you don’t know that suffering exists, you had better check it out.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Bardos

Bardo_Thangka-dfd2c

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

In the general sense, it is said that there are six bardos. There is the bardo of living, which is the bardo of birth to death. Bokar Rinpoche says, “…the bardo of birth to death, which ceases as soon as the first signs of the agony of death start.” And I have also heard that once one knows that one is dying, once one catches the disease that will ultimately cause the death, then you are in a different bardo, actually, than the bardo of living—although technically it still is part of the bardo of living. It is called the bardo of preparation, or the bardo before death. There is a passage of time that precedes the time of death once you have caught or have experienced the problem that will end your life. But this lama says, “…when the first signs of the agony of death start.”

There is the bardo of the dream state, which is delineated by the moment we fall asleep and the moment we wake up. So each time we sleep and dream, that is a bardo, and there is a beginning and an end. There is a passage within that; and there are cause and effect relationships that are begun and also ripen within that bardo.

There is the bardo of meditative concentration. I’ve also heard it called the bardo of meditation, and the bardo of concentration. And that lasts from the beginning to the  end of a meditation or concentration. Meditation in Dharma, or concentration such as vipassana practice, or shamata practice, simply silent meditation is so profoundly different from our normal waking consciousness that it deserves its own name. It is a different passage. It has a beginning time and an end time. It has its own causes and results that occur within the context of that passage according to how one conducts oneself during that passage. How do you meditate? Do you meditate really putting yourself into it? Do you meditate in a haphazard way? These kinds of things. So that is a bardo.

There is the bardo of the moment of death, and here he says, “…which commences when the death process begins and which lasts until actual death.” And there it’s more clear, because in truth, if you have already caught the disease that will ultimately cause your death, then in that case you have already literally begun the process of death. Another way to look at it is the moment you stop growing, once you start aging, you have also begun the process of death, you see. That’s true. Once the body stops growing and begins to go on the downside of that (which mine has definitely started to do, I can tell), there is another bardo involved in that. While technically still part of the bardo of living, it is the bardo of the moment of death as well. It is a contributing factor to that. More succinctly and more clearly, it is generally said that the bardo of the moment of death begins when the death process has actually begun.

There is the bardo of Dharmata, which starts when death occurs and lasts until the deities appear in the postmortem state. That will be explained in detail later on. We will talk about the moment of the perception of the white luminosity, the moment of the perception of the red luminosity, the moment of the perception of the clear or black luminosity. The bardo of Dharmata that we are talking about here actually begins during the moment of the recognition or the perception or the appearance of the black or clear luminosity. That is when the external breath has ceased and the internal wind has just begun to cease, is just now ceasing. At that moment, that is the bardo of Dharmata. The elements have already begun to dissolve. In some cases they are dissolved, and in other cases they are continuing to dissolve, but they are at that critical point where there is a final dissolution. At that point one will see the nature of the Dharmata. However, an inexperienced practitioner will not recognize it, and they will go through what in death is thought of as a fainting or dark period. Everyone who is not experienced in meditation will experience that, because they do not recognize the face of the Dharmata, or that light which is clear but may appear as black. So this particular passage, the bardo of Dharmata, then starts when the outer breath has ceased. The inner wind still continues to some degree, from that point on, until the moment when the deities appear. And we will talk about when the deities appear.

After the bardo of Dharmata, and this is considering that one has not yet liberated one’s self from the bardo, the next bardo is the bardo of becoming, which starts when the previous bardo ceases..That’s the bardo that ceases when the deities appear and ends when we are born. Now the bardo of becoming absolutely indicates that once you have reached it, you will be reborn in cyclic existence. There is no help for it. You will be reborn in cyclic existence. But even during that time you can create the causes of liberation that will cause you to be reborn in a different way than what you are now—a more realized, more enlightened way. it is particularly possible during the bardo of becoming to absolutely ensure that your next life will be associated with Dharma, will lead directly toward liberation, will be correct in bringing you to the Path, and will be without flaw in that regard.

So these are generally the six bardos. But remember that there’s not only six. There can be, depending on how you view things, uncountable bardos, because bardos are passages. And it is the delusion that we are passing through something that makes the bardo seem like a limited space and a limited time. But in fact, it is simply movement and display. The lama here puts it in this way, “The essence of the mind of all beings is called the essence of awakening. From this point of view, which is that of ultimate truth, there is no bardo. We know nothing of the ultimate nature of the mind, and that is why all sorts of illusory manifestations occur in the relative mode. Among these there are the six bardos that cause much suffering. Buddhist teachings intend to dispel such erroneous experiences and their resultant sufferings.” So what we are looking at here is that from the relative point of view and in the deluded state, this is what appears and this is what we must deal with. In the same way that you’re here, you’re alive, and you have to cope with that. In the same way, these are the experiences. These are what we have to deal with. Yet, from the point of view of realization, there is no such thing because there is no subjective and objective. It is only our delusion that causes us to see in this way. And so, characteristic of having that delusion and being trapped in that delusion, we actually have to study the delusion and learn about the delusion so that we can negotiate through the delusion into awakening. And that is how we have to view these time periods, these bardo movements.

He says also, and I think this is an important point to bring out: “The six bardos are not six domains existing independently within ourselves.” And, of course, that is how we think, isn’t it? ‘When will I get to that bardo over there?’ That’s how we think because of our delusion. “They are related to our mind, which lives in a state of delusion” at this point. He doesn’t say ‘at this point.’ I’m adding that. “The six bardos manifest out of our mind. It is our mind that has the experience, and it is our mind that recognizes their false nature. And eventually it will be our mind that liberates us from the very products of the mind.”

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved