What’s Your First Thought?

An excerpt from a teaching called How Buddhism Differs from Other Religions by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

The way to become happy is somewhat counterintuitive, particularly when you’re first starting out on the path.  When we first start out on the path, we come because we are generally interested, but also because we have issues.  We have problems.  Our life does not make sense in some way.   Generally something is a little bit off, and what’s off is the old habit.  You know the old habit that says materialism makes you happy, and getting is what you need to do.  And it’s you first and nobody else.  That kind of materialism is what we walk in here with.   Whether we realize it or not, we are brought up with it.   Even your parents told you to go to school so you could make more money than the slob next door.   It’s that kind of idea.  I don’t know if your parents said that, but you get the idea.

When we start to break that habit, it’s a little bit difficult.  One of the things we do when we begin is to make aspirational prayers, and you should start that this very night.  You don’t have to have any particular training or empowerment, and yet it’s quite profound to start making aspirational prayers.  Everyone that enters onto the path of the Buddha Dharma begins that way, by making aspirational prayers for happiness and well-being for all that lives.  You can do that any way you want to.  There’s no instruction necessary.  You don’t have to read a prayer from a book.   You can simply speak what is on your heart.

For instance, you might begin by saying, “As I walk around the stupa, may all sentient beings know the opportunity of this blessing.”  Like that.  If you wake up sick, instead of saying, “Oh, I’m sick.”  Instead you say, “May all sentient beings experience radiant health.   May they not suffer the way I’m suffering now.”  And if you’re hungry, before you eat, you say your aspirational prayer, “May all sentient beings be nourished.  May they have the fullness of Dharma.  May they have plenty to eat and plenty to wear.”  If you find that you lose your job, and you’re poor and you just can’t pull it together, you make stronger and stronger prayers, “May no one go without good work, and good occupation.  May no one suffer as I am suffering now.”  If you break a leg, before you start cussing or crying, you say, “May no sentient being suffer this pain, ever.  May all sentient beings walk strong, and have full use of all their limbs.”

At first when you do it, you think, “This is kind of namby pamby.  I mean when do you get into the deep stuff?”  Oh, you’ll get into the deep stuff.  Trust me.  But it behooves us to start at the beginning.  That’s where you start.  You begin to break the old habits, and give rise to some new habits of generosity and mindfulness, thoughtfulness, and caring.   And we do this through aspirational prayers.

I know when I read the paper, that’s a great opportunity to make aspirational prayers.  “May this suffering end in Burma.  May this terrible situation give rise to new purpose, and may the people find their empowerment and rise up.”  That kind of thing.  Whatever comes to your mind.  In this way, you break the habit of selfishness, neediness, and the inability to connect the dots and see how your actions do create result and other people’s actions do create result.

I’ve had so many people come up to me and say, “I have been generous for two weeks!  And there’s no result. So what the hell is this?”  First of all, if you come to me and say that, I doubt that you were truly generous even for those two weeks.  Second of all, it’s just two weeks!  How many years did it take you to be as miserable as you are?  It’s going to take some time.  It does not happen overnight.

When people first try to make these aspirational prayers, they don’t have the feel for it yet.  It’s not really in their heart yet.   So, they basically say through gritted teeth, “May all sentient beings be happy.  I’m in a really bad mood.  May all sentient beings be really happy.”  If you do that it shows you how it is not your habit to care for others.   That right there is the proof in the pudding.  That’s the reason why we are suffering.   If we just persevere through the two-week mark, through the six-month mark, through the twenty-year mark, we become happy, and we do change.  And our lives do change.  But it takes persistence, and it takes getting to the point where you are not saying it through your teeth.  It’s really so natural to you that even if you wake up in a bad mood, you say, “Oh, I’m in a bad mood.  Boy, I hope nobody else feels like this.”  Now you know you’re getting somewhere.  If your first thought is, “I hope nobody else feels like this.  And your first thought is for the consideration of others.  That’s really one of the main beginning points in the Buddha Dharma – to give rise to compassion.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

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