Monday, April 13, 2009

Two Out of Three

In Buddhist practice we teach about the 'Six Paramitas', which are often translated as the 'Six Perfections' or 'Transcendences' or something similar. These are all suitable translations, however, the Sanskrit word Paramita (Parami in the origninal Pali) actually means, "To cross to the other shore."

What does this mean? Clearly it is a metaphoric statement, and what it is making reference to, at least to my understanding, is the process by which we cross over the sea of suffering (Samsara) to reach the far shore of happiness & awakening (Nirvana). This is also, in turn, metahphoric, and is used to explain how we transform ourselves, through the tenets of Buddhist thought and practice, moving or 'crossing over' from ignorance & delusion to enlightenment.

This process of self transformation is not an easy one, and there are volumes upon volumes of Buddhist writings, scripture, and doctrine which describe methods by which this may be achieved.

Dying practice is, in a sense, a concentrated form of Buddhist practice in which one is primarily practicing the Six Paramitas. Perhaps it would be best for me to simply list them, and discuss the first of the six in this post, and the others in subsequent posts.

The Six Paramitas:
  1. Dána Paramita (The Perfection of Generosity): Dána means to give, or, generosity. The English words donor, donote, and donation are derived from the word 'Dána'. Dána means the practice of compassion; it is charity, offering, and generosity. The essence of this paramita is unconditional love, for all beings. It is the practice of giving freely, without attachment or expectation. This can be giving in the monetary sense, or giving of our time, our love, and ourselves - giving of our presence. Regardless of what is given, or why it is given, the very act of giving must, by definition, involve the act of 'letting go' by one of the parties involved. Being able to let go is paramount in the practice of Dána Paramita, and is also a critical factor in the ability to successfully live one's life fully, properly, without reservation or equivocation and authentically. In Buddhism, Dána is broken down into three major types of giving;

    1. The giving of wealth, material resources. This is the giving of what one has to give for the purpose of giving, and not for the purpose of receiving some recognition or any other benefit. In order to be able to give selflessly, we must first find a method by which the human sense of self, the idea of a separate, distince entity or body/mind complex can be reduced to zero; By allowing the 'Ego self' to dissolve away, one finds that all of the thoughts, hopes, and desires cease at last - and we find ourselves surprised by the utter cessation of these desires. (coincidentally, the Sanskrit word 'Nirvana' {'Nibbana' in Pali} means 'extinguish' or 'blow out' and is not the name of some type of paradise or heaven, as many people (particularly in the west) seem to envision). A step towards this achieving this reduction of the sense of self is the practice of Dána Paramita; due to the fact that, in order to be able to be truly generous, one must be able to diminish one's sense of not only a self, but a sense of ownership or possession. Doing this, i.e., removing 'me' also goes a long way towards removing 'mine;, 'my', 'ours' etc. a common tendency to stockpile resources to one's own benefit, and to the benefit of one's family, whereas Buddhism, Zen training, Dying Practice, and similar types of mental training strive to de-emphasize this inborn focus upon the self - upon the 'me', 'my' and 'mine' in favor of a more inclusive view of the world and of the cosmos. The practice of facing, considering, contemplating and, if successful, ultimately accepting the imminence of one's death/dying, must, by force, lead one to consider that there is a greater self, or greater nature, which exists beneath the overly of the 'Ego self' (the 'I' or 'Me' what we commonly envision as living somewhere 'behind my eyes' and looking out on the world, making choices, passing judgments, and having opinions, preferences, and other types of notional thinking and afflictive emotions.

    2. The giving of Teaching. As monks, we tend to spend a fair amount of our time teaching the Dharma (Dhamma in Pali) (The word dharma literally translates as that which upholds or supports, and is generally translated into English as law. The word "dharma" can also be translated as "the teachings of the Buddha") to others. Indeed, we are obligated to teach the Dharma when requested to do so. One does not have to be a monk, however, to practice this type of Dána Paramita (Teaching others). When we take the time to teach others, we go a long way towards helping them to learn how to be more self-reliant. To stand, in essence, upon their own two feet. The giving or donating of material resources helps us to solve immediate needs. If we wish to find solutions to more long-range problems, however, we must teach. One doesn't have to have exceptional skills as a teacher. If we simply focus on teaching whatever we are knowledgeable or skilled at and what others are not, we can be highly successful. To a monk, however, the highest form of teaching is the teaching of the Dharma, which can help people find lasting happiness and liberation.

    3. The giving of Fearlessness. I began discussing this form of giving in a previous journal entry; Please see my previous post on this topic for an in-depth discussion on this form of giving. In this post I conclude the discussion of Dána Paramita (giving) by offering a teaching not only on the giving of resources, but on the giving of teaching itself. I hope you will forgive my not repeating or adding to my entry on the giving of fearlessnes... after all, two out of three is not so bad!!

    So. In this post and in my previous post, I have discussed the first of the Six Paramitas (Dána Paramita - The Perfection of Giving. This is appropriate for Dying Practice, for, when one dies, the act of dying is the supreme act of giving... for one gives the very essence of oneself... every last thing that we possess. Perhaps, then, if we practice Dána Paramita starting today, we will not only improve the lives of others by way of our generosity, but, also improve and transform our own.. indeed, we may find that we have been transformed. When it is time to die for us, we will be so practiced in the perfection of giving that it will simply come to us in our natural stride, with ease, with dignity, and with beauty. I have discussed a portion the first of the Six Paramitas in the previous post, and in this one - albeit slightly out of order, discussed the remainder. I intend to discuss the remaining five Paramitas in upcoming posts. These remaining five Paramitas are:

  2. Síla Paramita (The Perfection of Ethics):

  3. Kshantí Paramita (The Perfection of Patience):

  4. Virya Paramita (The Perfection of Joyous Effort/Enthusiastic Perserverance):

  5. Dhyana Paramita (The Perfection of Concentration):

  6. Prajna Paramita (The Perfection of Wisdom):

I have not decided whether I will cover each in a separate post, break each one down and cover it over a series of posts, or cover all of the remaining in one single post.. but, I will do my best to present it in the best way that I am able.

In any case, for those of you who either enjoy what is written here, or find it helpful to your practice, or in your daily life, perhaps you will visit again to learn a bit more about these perfections.

With palms joined....


Robb Lucy said...

Hi... just found your site and wonder: is there any teaching about leaving behind elements that continue to positively affect others' lives? Generally, the concept of 'Legacy'. Thanx for your thoughts back to

Bunan Unsui said...

I would think that the Sangha itself is a model of this concept.. each Bikkhu or Bikkhuni being a vessel for what their teacher had taught them... teaching, in turn, their own students. In this way, the teaching of the Buddha has come through 82 generations of teachers, to my teacher... and I will be the 83rd generation.

The word 'Sutra' means thread... it is cognate with the word suture, or sew... it is the thread that binds us all together...

This is similar to the latin 'Re Ligare' or to 're-tie' Re- is familiar.. ligare is cognate with ligature... re-ligare is the orignal form of the english word 'Religion'.

Everything we do is in some way connected to legacy and affecting the lives of others in positive ways...