The Wonderful Perfections

Otherwise known as the six paramitas

Photo by Maarten Deckers on Unsplash

There are six teachings I return to again and again when I want to explore my inner life. I have been feeling somewhat burned out and stressed recently and that usually means I am struggling with something inside myself. It also means I am not taking enough downtime for myself, having just launched two new books, one of mine and one of my husband’s, plus a lot of other things. It builds up slowly, and as usual, being busy takes my attention away from my own inner balanced state.

So I return to these teachings and explore once more what they mean to me. In summary they are:

1. Generosity (dana)
2. Morality (sila)
3. Patience (ksanti)
4. Energy (virya)
5. Meditation (dhyana/samadhi)
6. Wisdom (prajna)

This seems pretty simple and straightforward. I know what each word means and some of the teaching behind it is obvious to anyone who has any insight into their own psychology.

In many ways, the last one, wisdom, incorporates them all because wisdom is insight into everything. But it is too easy to overlook some corner of insight. This is avoided by listing them all individually and then bringing them back towards each other.

I once went on a Plum Village UK retreat with one of our most senior dharma teachers who initiated me into this practice, Martin Pitt. I am sure he won’t mind me passing this one on though.

His idea was to take a dice and throw it each morning. Depending on which number came face up, that would be the paramita to work with and reflect upon that entire day.

A good place to start with this is to consider what each word means to you.

  1. What do you understand about this word?
  2. What experiences have you had of good or bad practice of this word?
  3. What examples can you think of in other people?
  4. What can you relate to from your own behaviours?
  5. What small step might you make now, today, to improve your intentions for this paramita?
  6. What can you do to further develop it in yourself?

Even this contemplation can support your intention to deepen your lived practice of the Buddha’s teachings each day. Mindfulness is not all about sitting meditation, it is also about exploring your inner workings, your embedded paradigms about life, yourself and other people. It exposes all your prejudgments, your assumptions and your stereotypes. It shows you all the lasting effects of all the influences on you throughout your life.

Thich Nhat Hanh taught us to view our minds as seedbeds with seeds of all varieties lying dormant in there, all the different beliefs and emotions possible. It is up to us which seeds get watered or weeded out.

When we are young, it is not only us who influences which seeds get watered in our seed consciousness. These are the paradigms that lie at the root of our understanding and interpretation of our individual life. These are much harder to challenge and reach. It is only through deep dives of exploration that we can access this, or through responding with curiosity when we react in ways that surprise us. I have found the paramitas very helpful in focussing on these areas and seeking out their causal influences so that I can release them and let them go. Nirvana is a state where we have let go of all troubling influences, we have cleared the seedbed, and we can step fully into the state of complete equanimity. I know I have some way to go, yet looking back I can see how far I have also come, and I know I am doing ok, to keep going.

Over the following six essays I shall explore in more depth each of the paramitas, and if you want to join me on that journey, please do feel free to share comments and take the journey with me. I’m making it personal as well as informational, as I try to do always. let us see if we can move a little closer to a clear pool of mind that simply reflects the experiences of the moment, and has deep insight into the true nature of reality.