The Paramitas

Bodhidharma (A.D. 440-534):

By “being in accord with the Dharma” is meant that the Reason which we call the Dharma in its essence is pure, and that this Reason is the principle of emptiness in all that is manifested; it is above defilements and attachments, and there is no “self,” no “other” in it. Says the Sutra: “In the Dharma there are no sentient beings, because it is free from the stain of being; in the Dharma there is no ‘self’ because it is free from the stain of selfhood.” When the wise understand this truth and believe in it, their lives will be in accord with the Dharma.

As there is in the essence of the Dharma no desire to possess, the wise are ever ready to practise charity (dana) with their body, life, and property, and they never begrudge, they never know what an ill grace means. As they have a perfect understanding of the threefold nature of emptiness (no giver, nothing given, no recipient—Diamond Sutra), they are above partiality and attachment. Only because of their will to cleanse all beings of their stains, they come among them as of them, but they are not attached to form. This is the self-benefiting phase of their lives. They, however, know also how to benefit others, and again how to glorify the truth of enlightenment. As with the virtue of charity, so with the other five virtues. The wise practise the six virtues of perfection in order to get rid of confused thoughts, and yet there is no specific consciousness on their part that they are engaged in any meritorious deeds. This is called being in accord with the Dharma. (“The Twofold Entrance,” Suzuki, 1949)

The Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra:

ARMING ONESELF WITH THE PERFECTION OF PATIENCE
Furthermore, a Bodhisattva stands firm in the perfection of patience. He instigates, exhorts, introduces beings to patience, in the following way: On account of his first production of the thought of enlightenment he puts on the armour thus: “If all beings were to hit me with sticks, clods, fists, or swords, not even one single thought of rage should be produced in me; and also should I introduce all beings to such patience!”

Just as if a clever magician or magician’s apprentice were to conjure up a great crowd of people: if they all hit him with sticks, clods, fists, or swords, nevertheless, he would produce towards them not even a single thought of rage; and if he were to introduce these magically created beings to such patience, no being at all would have been introduced to it, however many he had introduced to it. The same is true of the Bodhisattva. And why? For such is the true nature of dharma that in fact they are illusory. (Conze, p. 139)

The Place of Practice:

Said Vimalakirti,

“An upright mind is the place of practice, for it is free of delusion or false imaginings (parikalpita).* Determination or resolution (adhitthana) is the place of practice, for it can judge matters properly. A deeply searching mind is the place of practice, for it multiplies benefits. The mind that aspires to bodhi (also ‘perfection of the vow’; pranidhana) is the place of practice, for it is without error or misconception. [*Burton Watson writes: “The term chih-hsin, ‘upright mind,’ may also be translated ‘straightforward mind’ or ‘direct mind.'” In this context I think it means ‘to have Right View’ as opposed to a ‘crooked mind,’ which is confused or deluded. – Editor]

“Almsgiving (dana) is the place of practice, because it hopes for no reward. Observance of the precepts (sila) is the place of practice, because it brings fulfillment of vows. Forbearance (ksanti) is the place of practice, because it enables one to view all living beings with a mind free of obstruction. Energy (virya/viriya) is the place of practice, because it forestalls laziness and regression. Meditation (dhyana) is the place of practice, because it makes the mind tame and gentle. Wisdom (prajña) is the place of practice, because it sees all things as they are.

“Loving kindness (metta) is the place of practice, for it views all living beings equally. Compassion (karuna) is the place of practice, for it bears up under weariness and pain. Joy is the place of practice, for it revels in Dharma delight. Detachment or equanimity (upekkha) is the place of practice, for it rejects both hatred and love.

Transcendental powers (bala) are the place of practice, because thereby one masters the six powers. Renunciation (nekkhamma) is the place of practice, because it knows how to renounce and cast aside. Perfection of expedient means (upaya) is the place of practice, because they can teach and convert living beings. The four methods of winning people are the place of practice, because they can win living beings over. Perfection of knowledge (jñana paramita) is the place of practice, because one carries out what one has learned. A disciplined mind is the place of practice, because one can thereby contemplate all phenomena correctly. The thirty-seven elements of the Way are the place of practice, because through them, one rejects what is conditioned. Truthfulness (sacca) is the place of practice, because it does not deceive the world.

“Causes and conditions are the place of practice, for none of the links in the chain of causation, from ignorance to old age and death, ever come to an end. Earthly desires are the place of practice, for through them we know the nature of Suchness. Living beings are the place of practice, for through them we know that there is no ego. All phenomena are the place of practice, for through them we know the emptiness of all phenomena.

“Conquering devils is the place of practice, because one is unswayed, unflinching. The threefold world is the place of practice, because there is no path for one there. The lion’s roar is the place of practice, because it has nothing it fears. The ten powers, the four kinds of fearlessness, the eighteen unshared properties are the place of practice, because they are free of all fault. The three understandings are the place of practice, because they are without the least obstruction. Understanding all phenomena in one instant of thought is the place of practice, because one thereby becomes master of all wisdom.

“My good man, if bodhisattvas apply themselves to the paramitas and teach and convert living beings, then you should understand that everything they do, every lifting of a foot, every placing of a foot, will in effect be coming from the place of practice, abiding in the Buddha’s Dharma.” (The Vimalakirti Sutra)

Bodhidharma:

Cultivating the paramitas means purifying the six senses by overcoming the six thieves. Casting out the thief of the eye by abandoning the visual world is charity. Keeping out the thief of the ear by not listening to sound is morality. Humbling the thief of the nose by equating smells as neutral is patience. Controlling the thief of the mouth by conquering desires to taste, praise, and explain is devotion. Quelling the thief of the body by remaining unmoved by sensations of touch is meditation. And taming the thief of the mind by not yielding to delusions but practicing wakefulness is wisdom. These six paramitas are vessels. Like boats or rafts, they ferry beings to the other shore: hence they’re called ferries.(Bloodstream Sermon, Red Pine, 1987)

Conze, Edward. The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom. University of California Press, 1975.

Suzuki, D. T. Essays in Zen Buddhism (First Series). New York, Grove Press, 1949.

Watson, Burton. The Vimalakirti Sutra. NY: Columbia University Press, 1997. (https://www.wisdomlib.org/buddhism/book/vimalakirti-sutra)

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