A Bowlful of Paramitas

A Song on the Six Perfections ~ Milarepa

For generosity, nothing to do,
Other than stop fixating on self.

For morality, nothing to do,
Other than stop being dishonest.

For patience, nothing to do,
Other than not fear what is ultimately true.

For effort, nothing to do,
Other than practice continuously.

For meditative stability, nothing to do,
Other than rest in presence.

For wisdom, nothing to do,
Other than know directly how things are

The word “paramita” can be translated to “having reached the other shore”, “transcendence,” or “perfection.” By reaching the other shore we leave suffering behind through application of practice. Transcendence is liberation from delusions – those objects of mind that block and obscure and thus cause suffering.  When we engage in the practice of the paramitas, we look towards others rather than to ourselves.  We manifest and embody the Bodhisattva Vow when we act to reduce the suffering of others.  That act is our practice.

Often when we practice we focus on what is happening with us, to us, around us.  By sitting, I am more calm.  By chanting, I am more attentive.  By prostrating, I am more open to my faults.  From a certain standpoint, this practice is fine but it still focuses upon our benefit rather than on others.  We open ourselves to the benefit of practice but leave as an aside the benefit we can bring to others.  It is not an retreat from reality but an opening of ourselves to the interconnected nature of that reality.  To practice the paramitas (or to practice at all) is to also practice selflessness for the benefit of ourselves and others implicitly in our practice.  To practice is to name the song that dances at the tip of our collective tongue.

Many people are employed or volunteer at organizations that, either directly or indirectly, benefit others.  The rest of us – we were raised and educated in a fashion that encouraged competition over altruism.  In that environment, defending and looking after ourselves comes first.  The paramitas can serve as a subtle inspiration towards a practice that counteracts that by opening up a different perception.  Not one based on hard, stead-fast rules, the paramitas can allow a focus of practice – a shifting of perspective – that leads to the understanding that our thread of practice does not hang loose and alone.  Rather it is a part of a complex and interwoven pattern.  Seeing that pattern is the first benefit of this practice.  Seeing that pattern allows us to realize how interconnected our practice is to everything and everyone around us.  From family to co-workers to complete strangers; our practice reaches out if we allow it.

When asked the question “Why are so many Buddhists so unlike Buddha?” refering to incidents where self-proclaimed (and no doubt ernestly practicing) Buddhists were seen acting in ignorant, conceited or unskillful ways.  The Perfections are a process, a practice.  They are not a magic wand. 

So rather than sitting to be calm; sit in order to bring clarity to your family, co-workers or customers.  When you chant, focus on how the sound brings your attention to the moments that past so quickly and welcome spending them with people you love.  When you complete a prostration focus on atonement for how singular faults affect others.  Your practice becomes an avenue of benefit that does not focus on a preoccupation of benefitting others.  Benefit will find its own venue through you.  An empty bowl deeply imprinted with our actions.