Removing the Blinders


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why P’howa?”

One thing that happens as we are turning the mind toward Dharma is we literally begin to examine the condition of cyclic existence,  We come to understand that we are not the only ones that are wandering in cyclic existence. All sentient beings that we see of all types, not only counting those that are human but also animal sentient beings and sentient beings that live in other realms, these too are wandering aimlessly and are suffering.  So we begin to develop a sense of empathy through examination.

Now some people might think “Gee, what a downer!  Why would you want to examine the suffering of others?  Better to close one’s eyes and think happy thoughts.”  There is a time and place for closing one’s eyes and thinking happy thoughts.  There is a time for joy and a time for happiness. And the kind of joy and happiness that is healthful and that increases our ability to attain liberation and to have happiness is the kind of joy that is not the same as suppression of information.  It is the kind of joy that is not the same as closing one’s eyes and being blind to cause and effect relationships.  It is an all-pervasive natural kind of joy that is in harmony with our true nature, and is the very display of our nature.  That joy promotes health and well-being, promotes longevity; and it is born of moral and ethical and compassionate conduct.

The kind of joy that we are giving ourselves when we try to fake it, literally fake it through our lives, ignoring all the bad news and just playing the way children play in the sandbox, picking and choosing what we want to think about and what we want to see, that is a joy that is an artificial recipe.  It is a joy that exists in the same world with suppression, ignorance and lack of information. That joy is not healthy for us because it does not promote longevity, it does not promote happiness.  It is literally like this: Let’s say we were to take all the chairs that are in this room and distribute them throughout the room in a haphazard way and then pile in a few more pieces of furniture, and  wait til it’s pitch-black midnight. Turn off all the lights, close all the curtains until it’s absolutely pitch dark in this room.  Then try to negotiate going through this room.  Would you like to negotiate going through this room, just trying to feel your way through with all of its furniture upturned and barricaded and brought up in your way and that sort of thing?  Would you like to go through the room, getting from this door to that door? And let’s imagine that door is the ultimate door, the one we need to get out of.  We must get out of that door for whatever reason.  Would you like to go from this door to that door with the lights off or with the lights on?

I don’t know about you, but I’m a sensible, practical kind of girl and if I have to make a journey, I want to know the facts.  I want to go with the lights on.  I want to turn the lights on so that I can walk around the furniture, go under it, step over it, do whatever it takes to negotiate this scary passage through samsara. It makes no sense to close the eyes and not take in information and pretend, suppress the facts in order to go from one place to another, because you will surely fail.  You will surely hurt yourself and have a very painful journey in the process.

So for this reason we must examine cyclic existence. We must examine the condition of sentient beings, and we must examine our own condition in order to truly turn our minds toward Dharma.  Once we have seen the faults of cyclic existence and seen the good results of understanding, of growing in understanding, and the joyfulness of virtuous and moral and ethical conduct and compassion, we will develop the habit of wanting to know, of opening the mind, of having the mind be very much like a bowl, a very pure thing in which nectar can be poured.  We will crave information.  We will crave practice.  We will literally crave turning on the light so that we can understand.  If we do not crave now, if we wish to remain in ignorance and darkness because it is easier or because we like being drunk, it is simply because it is our habit to do so and that does not excuse us from the need to change.

Develop a new habit.  You can see that that young person who partied down and worshipped the porcelain god every weekend morning, literally is watching their well-being go down. We on the outside can see that that needs to change, but that person, in the flux of their own ignorance, cannot see that that needs to change.  So I am pointing these things out to you so that you can make new and acceptable decisions in your lifetime so that you can actually turn your mind toward Dharma.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved


Putting Out the Fire: Turning the Mind Towards Dharma by HH Penor Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from a teaching given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche at Kunzang Palyul Choling on Bodhicitta:

We start first with the special method that will turn one’s mind towards the Dharma.  In that method, we have to understand that wherever we are born in the world, in this universe, there will not be much happiness.  There is hot and cold suffering in the hell realms, and the hungry ghosts have the suffering of hunger and thirst.  The animals have the suffering of killing each other.  The human beings have a short lifespan, and within that short life, there is a lot of suffering.  Even those god beings in the god realms have a very good life there, but because of their carelessness, they are just spending and wasting their lives with happiness.  The sentient beings in this world have their own sufferings.  It is important, the Buddha said, for you to understand that wherever you are born, there is no happiness.  There is suffering.

When you understand that, then in order to remove the suffering, you need to have diligence to remove the suffering, like the diligence you do when your hair is burning, when your dress is burning.  During that time, you will put all your efforts toward removing the fire.  Similarly, once we have understood the suffering of samsara, of the world, then we have to really put some kind of diligence toward removing the suffering of samsara. Then if our hair is on fire and our dress is on fire, then we will not really remain peaceful.  We will definitely do something.  So, similarly, once we understand the suffering nature of samsara, we will not waste our time.


The Burning Room

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue Into Life”

We can live our lives as the walking dead, and then die, unprepared, like going to a continent filled with precious jewels and coming back empty-handed.  Or, we can switch on the lights, face facts and do what it takes to negotiate the shoals of samsara, as painlessly as possible.

The Buddha teaches us that we should think of our lives as like a burning room and that the smoke is beginning to choke us, fill us up. And you know, if you’re in a burning room, eventually you’re going to get burned.  It’s going to consume you, right?  So think of ourselves as being in a burning room, and think that there is one door.  That door is wide open to you.  Do you get that?  It is wide open to you.  That door is the door of Dharma.  There is one door by which to escape and you can walk out that door.  You should think of the very doorway of that door as being your own root teacher.  That is the implement, the tool, that you should use to get out of that room—your teacher, your practice,  Dharma.

If you were in a burning room right now, and your skin was beginning to crackle and the smoke was beginning to overcome you, how would you think about that door?  With fervent regard,  the way we are instructed to think about our practice.  That door would look pretty much like God to you!  That door would look like the best thing you ever saw!  Every breath of air that came through that door would be sweeter than anything you have ever known because that door is freedom.

You should think about your practice that way, because that is the way it is.  That is the way it is.  In samsara here, we are locked in a burning room and there is a door. And we have the great good fortune of not only seeing that door, but having the capacity to exit through that door.  Not only that, but that door has a door sill that is friendly and helpful and appropriate for the size and shape of our bodies that will help us to exit that room comfortably.  And that’s how we should think about our practice.  Number one, wake up.  Number two, get the big picture.  Number three, act as though you were a sane and reasonable person, which most of us don’t.  We don’t act like sane and reasonable people.

I’m not telling you anything you didn’t know.  You know that life is impermanent.  You know that you have suffered, and you know that you feel unable to really face all these things because it seems so hard to simply live a virtuous life. But I can tell you that it’s like anything else that you do as a friend for yourself that’s good for you, such as changing your diet to really nutritious food.  At first when you do that, you know how it is.  When you’re young, you can eat anything.  You have a cast iron stomach.  I mean the things I ate when I was young I can’t even look at now.  Now I’m 45 years old and I have to eat right.  If I don’t eat right, I don’t feel good.

But do you remember what it took to change into learning how to live well in that regard?  To go from eating the food that I liked to eating the food that I have learned to like was hard, and I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t think I was up to it.  And to go from the kind of activity that I engaged in when I was younger… Oh I could stay up all night if I wanted to, every night if I wanted to.  I was blazing.  I was a crazy girl.  But now, if I don’t get a certain amount of sleep, the next day I’ve got bags down to my knees. You know, it’s horrible what life does to you!  You look terrible and your whole face shows it.  You feel awful. You feel like a dog.  You feel worse than a dog.

So how did you feel when you had to change from those old habits to these new habits?  At first it was painful.  You didn’t want to do that.  You didn’t want to change.  When you learned that your body was going to fall down if you didn’t exercise, you started to exercise. At first, you hated it.  You hated it.  Nobody likes it when they first start to exercise.  It’s painful.  Your body doesn’t want to do that.  But then when you finally do start to exercise, your body likes it and loves it and it feels good.

Living a virtuous life is like that.  The decision to live a virtuous life is painful at first because you have to face the facts, and the facts are you’re dying.  You’re dying on the hoof, right now. The second fact is that if you engage in virtuous activity you’ll be happy, and if you engage in nonvirtuous activity, you will be unhappy. That is not something we want to face.  We want to do what we do, effortlessly, la la la la la, like little children.  We don’t want to examine ourselves.  We don’t want to look at what we do, but once we have done that,I’ve found, and many of us who are practicing for some time now have found, that we come to love our practice.  We come to deepen in it and truly love it.  We come to love the life of Dharma.  We come to love a life that is engaged in bringing benefit and happiness to others.  We come to find out at last that we never, not for a moment, liked ourselves when we were living the other way, the nonvirtuous way, the no-brainer.  We never liked ourselves.  There was no self-esteem happening there at all.

So then my suggestion is that we get started.  Go through it.  Buck up little soldier!  Do what it takes to stand up tall and open your heart and get the big picture. Once you do that and you start to engage in a virtuous life, your mind will be smoother, you will be happier.  You will be happier.  This I promise you.

In the meantime, because our minds work the way they do and because we can’t see the direct relationship between cause and effect, we have to listen to our teachers.  There is no other choice. Our teachers have crossed the ocean of suffering, just as the Buddha has done.  Crossed the ocean of suffering, and returned for our sake. Our teachers, having seen the further shore and having seen the journey there and back, have come back to bring us this understanding.  Live this way.  Bring your life to the pinnacle of what it can be, and hold it steady and grow up, because that’s what it takes to be happy.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved