All Beings Have Been Our Mothers – Lama Jampa Thaye’s Course
Reconsidering Our Preconceptions
“We owe the theme of this teaching to Lama Puntso: all beings have been our mothers. When Audrey, the translator, asked me what text I would be basing my teaching on, I replied that for the moment, there is no text with this title. This course will be a first!” The weekend began with these words. So we did not know what to expect.
In fact, Lama Jampa Thaye pointed out certain aspects of our resistance in the face of this somewhat touchy theme for Westerners. Believing the idea that all beings have been our mothers over the course of many existences relies on understanding the process of reincarnation, integrating the notion that mind has no beginning, and knowing that there is an infinite number of beings who are, furthermore, all interconnected. That’s a lot!
He went over each aspect with different types of reasoning and quotations to give us the means to understand these different dimensions of reality. Somewhat surprisingly, this forced us to reconsider our often deeply-anchored preconceptions (though they are only old habits, we think they are reality).
Among the ideas we went over:
– Consciousness is not an entity, but a flow of moments of awareness,
– The self is a construction that we can find neither in the body, nor the mind, nor the name we have,
– The world is a process of constant change with no beginning that we have always been involved in.
Take the example of consciousness that is not an entity, but a continuum. “Everything appears on the basis of a prior condition,” explains Lama Jampa. “Consciousness is the same. It appears on the basis on a preceding moment of consciousness. There is an interaction with the world through the brain, the nervous system, etc., but these are only physical aspects that are not animate nor sentient by nature. From this physical matter, there cannot arise something of a different nature, such as consciousness. Consciousness, according to the Buddha, has neither form nor substance. It cannot appear solely based on a physical element. It manifests on the basis of a preceding instant of consciousness of the same nature, which is neither physical nor material.”
Later on, he adds, “This is true for me and for all beings. Rather than this fixed entity that we think we are, there is a mindstream that manifests this way for each of us. I, like each of us; we are nothing more than process. It is wiser to see things this way: in terms of a current.” Indeed, this is one of the key points of Buddhism: thinking in terms of continuum or flow rather than in terms of entity. Something to delve into…
Therefore, “We are a process since beginningless time, a mindstream that has no point of departure and that incarnates in various life forms based on karmic imprints.” Something to think about…
And, in the end, “When we say that all beings have been our mothers, we are not describing a relationship between static and fixed selves, but an interaction between processes, between the flow of beings.” Something to contemplate…
The whole of it, of course, was argued with reasoning and supported with citations.
Whether or not we believe it, such reflections widen our perspective, despite how little we are receptive to ideas that are different from our own.
The Buddhist approach is based on codependent arising ; it is neither materialist nor based on a creator God. “What we are manifested in connection with other things based on a functioning dependent on the past, on our states of mind, and on our connections with others. This being that we are today appeared interdependently with all of these links we have made with others in the past.”
On this basis, Lama Jampa introduces the idea of universal responsibility. The perspective is vast and profound at the same time! The point of departure is to liberate oneself from the causes of suffering. This is the first teaching given by the Buddha. But then another motivation appears with the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle. Why great? “Because the motivation is vaster, this is a reference to compassion, the key to the Mahayana: the universal responsibility that emerges within us in regard to all beings. We do not wish to only liberate ourselves. We feel responsible for liberating all being as well. Compassion is the central point of the Mahayana.”
Due to this, understanding the phrase “all beings have been our mothers” becomes the basis for developing love and compassion, which are the foundation for enlightened mind. Lama Jampa Thaye explained these three aspects in detail through the end of the teaching. First, our understanding of the nature of the world is nature, as it is influenced by ignorance and we consider beings to be independent entities like objects. Then, through study and reflection, we experience beings less like separate entities. This new perspective changes our vision, and this affects what we can offer and do for others. To put it another way, if we are too narrow-minded, we don’t have enough space for others because ego and self-centeredness are too present. Thus, through training in love and compassion, we can reduce the power of personal interest and increase our ability to help others.
Following this, the presentation of how to train unfolds step by step beginning with altruistic love—first for those we are close to, then for our enemies, and, in the end, for all beings. Then comes compassion—first for those we are close to, then for our enemies, and, in the end, for all beings. Through such training, love and compassion can fill our minds, but they can also lead to a feeling of helplessness. “Through meditation on universal love and compassion, we realize the amount of suffering felt by all beings, our mothers. Faced with this immense amount of suffering, we are without answers; we do not have the ability to do anything. It is as though this limitless suffering of a limitless number of beings is crushing.”
Lama Jampa then explains, “In fact, if we look around, who has the ability to truly accomplish the benefit of being on a vast scale?
Who revealed the wisdom that perceives phenomena as they are in their nature and their manifestation? Who perceives codependent arising without distortion? Who has compassion that includes all beings with distinction and experiences them as their own mothers or children? The answer is: the Buddha. He who dissolved all obscurations and who became enlightened to reality in order to deploy his compassion for all beings. A Buddha is endowed with wisdom and compassion and has the power to show the path toward happiness and its causes and to reveal the escape from suffering and its causes. There is not distortion in his perception of the world or phenomena. His compassion has no boundaries.”
We are happy for the Buddha, but what about us? “We have these capacities, for the Buddha’s qualities are the radiance present within us from beginningless time. This radiance is covered by obscurations. We resolve to become a Buddha, for we can do nothing else to help our mothers.”
There is the path marked out—the goalpost set. Become a Buddha for the benefit of others. This sometimes-abstract phrase takes on its full meaning and becomes a progressive training made up of reflections and meditations. Enlightened mind can take form. Of course, Lama Jampa explains how to preserve and develop this enlightened mind that is so precious for us all. And what’s more, we have figured out the theme of his teaching next year: the application of enlightened mind through the paramitas, from generosity to wisdom. The path continues.
Puntso, Head of Dhagpo’s Curriculum