Monday, October 20, 2008

The Six Paramitas and the Three Trainings

The talk below was given on 20 February 1995 at the regular Monday night Dzogchen sitting group in Cambridge, MA.
Dharma Talk: Six Principles of Enlightened Living: The Six Paramitas and the Three Trainings

What I'd like to talk about tonight is the six principles of enlightened living. Over the past six months or so on many Monday nights we have been going through some of the basic teachings that help support our journey of awakening. We have explored together how to relate to the fact of impermanence and death, our own mortality; relate to finding a reliable refuge or sanctuary in this fleeting world, traditionally known as taking refuge; relate to generating the altruistic, selfless, loving Bodhicitta, the innate, pure heart of enlightenment and compassion; relate to self-inquiry and to who and what we really are; relate to the essential awareness practice of sustaining present wakefulness, of Dzogchen (the Innate Great Perfection): the meditation practice renowned as Cutting Through, Seeing Through, in the form of sky-gazing. Various other Dharma subjects have also come along the way. Tonight I'd like to talk about the six Mahayana principles of enlightened living: How to integrate the outer, inner, and innate levels of enlightened living and carry all circumstances into the path, integrate everything as our path, assimilate everything into the path of awakening.

I'm sure you have all heard of what is traditionally known as the Noble Eight-faceted Path taught by Buddha. These eight steps to enlightenment are usually divided into three main principles or trainings: sila (morality), samadhi (meditation), and prajna (wisdom).
The three trainings

Sila means virtue, ethics, morality, self-discipline, impeccability. Sila is a beautiful Sanskrit and Pali word. It means that which cools the intense broiling, roiling stew of passions and conflicting emotions. It's like a shade tree in the desert of blazing, conflicting emotions, a shelter where we can find relief. Nonattachment, integrity, and a righteous, honest, impeccable life provides a shelter, a true refuge in our confusing times.

Samadhi means collectedness, concentration, reflectiveness, inquiry, mindfulness, meditation, focus.

Prajna means wisdom, gnosis, enlightened awareness, transcendental wisdom, true self-knowledge.

Sila, samadhi, and prajna -- virtue, meditation or awareness practice, and wisdom -- make up three enlightened principles that are like a tripod that our enlightenment can rest on. Actually the three are inseparable, like the three facets of a single, luminous jewel. Each supports and promotes the other. For example, if we lie, steal, and have weak moral fiber, how can we think to know truth?

Externally, virtue means not harming. Internally, it means having integrity and honesty. And innately we all have that capacity, don't we? Who doesn't have purity of heart, beneath it all? Is there anyone here who doesn't have that innate capacity, even if they don't reveal it very often? Innately we all have that capacity to be impeccable, honest, virtuous. Not self-righteous, but to live what is known as the righteous life. That's enlightened living.

We can train from the outside in, by restraining or vowing not to harm, not to be naughty, not to kill, lie, steal, intoxicate ourselves, and so on. At the same time, we can work from the inside out, from our innate goodness and integrity, by resting in the natural state without clinging, free from concepts and attachment. Then natural morality, natural integrity, and natural impeccability will flow forth without vows, without having outer strictures. Actually the best way to train is from outside in and inside out at the same time. Then wherever we are, that kind of impeccability can flower, our highest character will develop. So that's enlightened living: impeccability. Not just rules or vows, not just square morality, but impeccability, character, integrity. And when we change for the better, our children and grandchildren and the world change, too.

The second main principle or training of enlightened living is meditation, samadhi. Outwardly that can look like meditation, or mindfulness practice, or other explicit forms of religious or philosophical self-inquiry. And yet without the inward component, it is not so deep; we could just be going through the motions, performing empty rituals and giving mere lip service to high ideals. Inwardly, are we really interested in this work? Are we really inquiring? Are we really applying ourselves and investigating? What is our motivation? Are we just sitting down and trying to stop ourselves from thinking? There are plenty of pills in bottles that will do that. But that's not the point of meditation, of reflectiveness, of contemplation. So inwardly, it is the quality of investigating or inquiring, of being more aware and conscious, which makes a difference. Meanwhile, innately that awareness is part of all of us. We are all lit up by pure, authentic, spiritual presence as if by an inner light. This is what Tibetans refer to as the clear light. We are illumined by consciousness, aren't we? It is innately present; no matter how scattered we feel, it is here. We are totally here, even if we feel scattered -- innately lit up by presence, by innate awareness, the light within us all.

And the third main principle or training of enlightened living is prajna, wisdom. Hard to describe, isn't it? And yet it is so palpable. We can feel it externally functioning in life, very practically, as wisdom or common sense, genuine selfless helpfulness. Usually the wise people are wise about many things, not just about one narrow, specialized field, like meditation or religion. Rather, they are wise in the ways of the world, and, perhaps, the so-called other world too. Wise in life and death. Wise. So outwardly prajna shows up as sageness, being wise, being an elder and mentor and model. We can cultivate that. Inwardly, it is a little more subtle, but it shows up; also, we can cultivate it as sanity, centeredness, inner peace -- at one and at home with both ourselves and with others. We can plumb the deep inner well, and heal ourselves.

Meanwhile, innately: gnosis, transcendence, unselfishness is within us all. The ultimate form of wisdom is not a doing; it is our true nature, our being. It is not just information or intellectual knowledge. Wisdom sounds like knowledge, but it is more like our luminous, pure being. Can we tune into that? Not just doing something externally. Not just knowing something internally. But can we be that? And trust that? Being is complete in itself. That is transcendental wisdom. We may or may not belong to a church, but churches have not been around very long. I mean any kind of church. They have been around for only a few thousand years. But our being -- that mystical sacrament, that mysterious and sacred space -- has been around a lot longer. Not exactly our being, but being itself. Primordial being, as we call it in the Dzogchen tradition. Authentic primordial being, or Rigpa, Buddha-mind.

Thus, there are outer, inner, and innate aspects to all these things -- to virtue, to contemplation or awareness meditation, and to wisdom. So these are three salient principles or trainings of enlightened living that I would you to reflect on. I'd ask you to do a little homework. I'd like you to do some reading or thinking about this. What is the relation between virtue -- outer, inner, and innate -- meditation or inquiry -- outer, inner, and innate -- and wisdom -- outer, inner and innate? You can find many discussions of this in Buddhist books. They talk about the three trainings. Buddha discussed it in the original sutras. It is part of the Fourth Noble Truth, the Truth of the Path.

This is just an outline for reflecting on principles of enlightened living. Of course, we can apply this outer, inner, and innate scheme to almost anything, but it is particularly useful for unpacking and understanding some of the Buddhist teachings about how things are. For, after all, Buddhism is descriptive, not proscriptive. It describes how things are, not what you should do. You get to decide that. We decide. We choose. And we experience accordingly.
The Six Principles of Enlightened Living, the Six Paramitas (Perfections)

Now I would like to look further into the six principles of enlightened living, which I have started to think of as principles of enlightened leadership, to talk about them more in a Western way. But in the old-fashioned way, they are called the six paramitas, the six perfections. I would like to look into this in the outer, inner, and innate fashion since nobody has discussed this to my knowledge and I have become interested in thinking about it this way.

The first paramita -- the first principle of enlightened living -- is dana paramita: the perfection of generosity. This is what is called charity (caritas) in the Christian sense, which means love; it doesn't just mean giving pennies to the poor. Caritas means unattached generosity, boundless openness, unconditional love. Open heart, open mind, open hand. That's why it comes first among the six. It is extraordinarily pertinent to our lives and our path.

The second is sila paramita -- virtue, morality -- which we have already described.

Third is shanti paramita: patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance.

This ties into the fourth one, virya paramita: energy, diligence, courage, enthusiasm, effort.

The fifth is dhyana paramita: meditation, absorption, concentration, contemplation.

The sixth enlightened principle is prajna: transcendental wisdom.

Since each of these is an enlightened principle, a paramita, wisdom is in each and all of these. For example, the first one is dana paramita, generosity: It is wise, isn't it, to let go? Why is that? Because resistance is suffering (this is explicit in the Second Noble Truth). Craving, attachment and resistance is suffering. So it is wise to let go. Externally, dana paramita implies being more generous, open, giving, serving, and donating our time and energy. Internally, it is being more generous with our emotions and generous with others, open-hearted. Not suppressing our emotions, not being miserly with our emotions; rather, allowing them and appreciating them. And innately, being generous, spontaneous, total unbounded energy. Why squelch that limitless, innate energy like a miser, as if saving your energy for "the real thing"? Here is the problem of commitment, which many people suffer from: holding back and fearing intimate engagement or total involvement. You miss your whole life that way.

Dana is the wisdom of openness, internally, externally, and innately. Just being is innate generosity. Everything is available within the natural state. Don't be a miser regarding being and always be lost in doing and squandering your energies in frivolous, scattered activities. Everything is available in the natural state of pure being. Don't take my word for it. Master of old Padampa Sangyay said so, the Buddha of Tingri, Tibet.

We can go through this outer, inner, and innate scheme and find that it is all within us; we can cultivate it externally and internally, and discover that we are actually involved in it already. That's the good news. The bad news is our own way of seeing it, of feeling far from it and inadequate. Even though we are all supposed to be perfect in the Great Perfection, somehow we don't feel perfect enough. Never quite perfect enough. Never truly satisfied. But this is just a habit, a distorted way of perceiving, which enlightened vision can rectify.

Secondly, we talk about morality: it is wise to not harm. That is the essence of virtue. Externally, taking the five basic lay vows or precepts: "I shall refrain from killing and stealing and lying and sexual misconduct (exploiting others) and intoxicating myself." Internally, isn't it just as wise not to deceive ourselves and to have integrity and develop our own character? Innately, of course, we all have that purity of heart and basic goodness, and feel love naturally. Let's not lose touch with that. Let's exploit that innate, natural resource, rather than exploiting others for what we think we need and want. Let's exploit our own natural resource within, our own true spiritual inheritance. That is something we can never really lose; no one and nothing can take it away from us.

The third paramita is patience, shanti paramita. Sometimes it is mistranslated as peace. but it really means patience, forbearance, tolerance. So externally, it means, say, counting to at least ten before we kick back. Having some balance and sense of restraint. Being patient instead of being totally irritable and reactive. It means persevering through whatever twists and turns the path requires, to the goal of our aspirations. Internally, it means being patient with ourselves and having some acceptance and tolerance for ourselves, with all of theirs as well as our foibles, hang-ups, and neuroses. It is good to be cracked. It lets the light through! Recently, I read a poem that I really liked by Wendell Berry: "It is the impeded stream that sings." So let's not try to be too perfect and dull. It will just frustrate us anyway. Having a few rocks in the stream makes it sing. Even stumbling blocks can become steppingstones.

Innately, we are all here for the whole show, so we must be interested in seeing this through. We are not going anywhere else; this is it! That's why as people get older, they get wiser, because they realize that no matter what they do, they are going to keep on keeping on. That's the most secret, mystical meaning of the shanti paramita. And even if you think, but what about so and so who committed suicide, even then there is ongoingness. We are all in it for the whole journey. Don't be deceived by mere appearances.

Fourth is virya paramita: energy, diligence. It is often translated as effort. But that sounds so one-sided. What about effortless effort? What about the great passion of our true vocation, which we do day and night out of love? Not just the effort to get through our forty-hour week and forget about it at Friday at 5:00. How about effortless effort? Externally, it seems like effort, but internally it can be effortless effort and passion for our true spiritual life. Aren't we all interested in well-being? Does that take an effort to pursue? Are we not pursuing it? That's virya paramita: courage, fearlessness to pursue continuously our highest good.

Innately, of course, there is boundless energy and interest and curiosity and wonder and beauty and awe in everything, every moment, if we open to it, if we don't close ourselves off from it, if we don't dull ourselves. Inexhaustible resources and the potential is always available to find everything we seek just in pure being. Endless being, inexhaustible field of being, primordial being.

We can make great efforts to improve ourselves, to learn, to grow, and to develop -- to relinquish what is negative and adopt what is wholesome and positive -- but in the end I think it is the updraft of our joy in just being alive that carries us aloft and puts wind in our sails.

Fifth is dhyana paramita: meditation or absorption, presence. Externally, it shows up as presence of mind or collectedness, meditation, contemplation. Internally isn't it wise to be focused and centered and aware and see what is going on, rather than being heedless, mindless, absent-minded and distracted? Not just be lost in fabrication, but to really see what is going on, right here and now. We can do that, with a little attention and focus.

Innately, we are all totally absorbed. We can never be anything else. So don't feel like you are lost and just looking at everybody feeling lost. You're found. Innately, there is total presence, although we waste it, we overlook it, we defract it with many cracked mirrors and distracted, pointless activities. We feel like we are only operating on one or two cylinders. But we are just using the other cylinders to hold ourselves in. All the cylinders are going all the time. We ourselves are actually the long-sought-after perpetual motion machine. How can we not meditate on, contemplate upon, and reflect upon our lives?

Whether doing sitting meditation, walking meditation, chanting, visualization, yoga, martial arts, breathing exercises, prayers, or whatever, the joy of meditation rewards us deeply.

And sixth, prajna paramita: the highly touted transcendental wisdom, said to be indescribable. I talked about it earlier. I won't go into it again, except by telling a brief story about Vimalakirti, the enlightened layman of Visali in India. He lived in the time of the Buddha. The Mahayana sutra called Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra tells his story. He was a layman with a family. He was an impeccable member of the community, an enlightened businessman. He was the sagest person in the city of Visali. All the Bodhisattvas and enlightened monks and nuns came to him and had a discussion. They all came to his bedroom, which was very small, about 6 feet by 6 feet, and somehow all the enlightened ones fit in there through the magic of interpenetration and emptiness. This august sangha gathering also included all the Bodhisattvas, including Manjusri, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani, and Tara. Maybe they all made themselves as small as those angels that reportedly dance on the head of a pin. The sutra says they were all there, arhats and Bodhisattvas alike, with their seats, thrones, and mounts, all in Vimalakirti's tiny chamber.

Each member of this Dharma assembly gave their views on what is transcendental wisdom. That was the subject of the discussion that day. Each one gave a description of the indescribable; this is why we love the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra. It is marvelous. With each progressive description, you think, "Ah, now we have really got it." Yet, the truth expounded seems to get better each time. Each expounder outdoes the previous, not in the sense of competitiveness, but the Dharma teaching just goes deeper and deeper. They finally get to Manjusri, the God of Wisdom. He gives his spiel. It is so marvelous. It is the ultimate spiel on nondual truth, transcendental wisdom. Then everybody bows to reverently to him -- including us the reader. What else can be said? we wonder.

Finally they all turn to Vimalakirti, and ask him to pronounce the final word on transcendental wisdom. (All this is part of the Prajna Paramita Sutra, which has dozens of thousands of Sanskrit verses.) So Vimalakirti answers. And the sutra says -- I am always overcome with emotion here, at this point -- that "his silence resounded like thunder." That was the last word on what is wisdom, what is enlightenment. It is truly ineffable, inconceivable, beyond the mind; and yet, it is so palpable, experienceable, demonstrable. Vimalakirti lived it; he embodied it. That's the principle of enlightened living: embodiment, enactment, not just merely knowing about something. That's self-realization: enacting it; embodying truth; wisdom in action as love, compassion, and impeccability.

These are the six principles of enlightened living, the Six Perfections, and the three trainings. Please look into Buddhist books that talk about the six perfections. There is a new one by Robert Aitken Roshi that is good. See what you find for yourself in your own life, that is a way to train in them, that is a way to embody and live them, and that you are already participating in. It might be very growthful, also very empowering and gratifying to see that we are already participating in this. This is not something far away that only old man Vimalakirti embodies or knows about. I love the stories of Vimalakirti, of father Marpa, and of layman Pang and others. These are the enlightened yogis and laypeople who showed enlightened living is an enactment of truth, not just withdrawal. It is about integration, not restriction. It's about freedom; everything is part of the way. It is about enhancing your meditative awareness by taking it out into life. It is about walking our talk. If it moves and inspires you, you can find teaching tales and books about all of them. There is a wonderful book about the Chinese Zen layman Pang and his daughter, two basket-weavers who became enlightened in ancient China.

One real question is: what is our enlightened life going to look like? Not just what color clothes we should wear, or what meditation position to sit in. Enlightened life doesn't imply the need for Asian furniture, much as we might occasionally enjoy it. Actually, enlightened life doesn't imply the need for anything in particular, but that's a little steep. Probably, there are no enlightened people; there is only enlightened activity. Let's manifest it, for the benefit of one and all.

The word Paramita means gone beyond-ness; each of these six principles of enlightened living is a transcendental virtue. We don't have to make it very airy-fairy either. It doesn't just have to be to find "the truth." It could be just as simple as being honest and straightforward. Wouldn't that be pretty intense? To be straightforward and genuine. That's extremely profound. That is truth. To be our self, as New Agers often say. It's not trite. Just to be one's self, wholly, through and through, and be genuine and allow others to be themselves as they are. That is love, acceptance, ahimsa (non-harming). That would really be wonderful. Let's try for that, and forget high-faluting notions of perfect enlightenment for now. I think a little goodness and warmth will go a long way today.

I was thinking that these principles of enlightened living are really also, in Western terms, principles of enlightened leadership, impeccable leadership -- ways we can really be leaders and bring out the best in others, empower others and engender leadership, rather than followership. Let's give birth to leaders, rather than just create more followers. Be beacons in the world, be models to the young ones and illumine the way.

Are there any questions tonight?

Raymond recently committed suicide. Does praying for him help?

Of course, prayer and such helps. We are all interconnected. Dedicating positive acts to Raymond will help his karma.

Let's remember that we all have to die sometime. It's hard to believe that oneself is going to die, isn't it? Even though we might know it, do we really believe it, or does it seem impossible? It is worth reflecting on this. In the light of our own mortality, we can reprioritize, perhaps, how we spend our days so that we are not procrastinating and putting off our true work until later -- that famous "later," which might never come. On the other hand, we can all take it easy. We don't have to do it all in this life. There's a fine balance there between both spiritual urgency -- spiritual emergency, like trying to put out the flames when your own hair is on fire (as it says in the sutras) -- and not driving ourselves crazy with countless self-help and self-improvement programs. Let's proceed along the great Middle Way, the great highway of awakening, in a balanced manner, appropriate to our own present life and circumstances, trusting the teachings and practice to unfold as they should

Reference from HERE

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