Learning & Practice

Introducing the Bodhisattva's Six Paramitas

"Every man [person] must decide whether he [they] will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we continue our journey into the second week, we delve into the profoundly transformative practices of the Six Paramitas. A Bodhisattva embraces these practices willingly on the path to enlightenment, not only for their personal benefit but also for the greater good of all beings and the world.

The Six Paramitas provide a framework for cultivating the wise and compassionate heart-mind of Bodhichitta. Integrating them with the Bodhisattva vows in our daily life empowers us to walk the path of an everyday Bodhisattva.

Each of the Six Paramitas is interconnected; each supports and enriches the others, forming a cohesive whole. For instance, the practice of generosity fosters a mindset of interconnection and selflessness, which in turn nourishes our ethical conduct. Patience strengthens our effort, and effort enhances our ability to concentrate; with deepening concentration, wisdom blossoms, illuminating our understanding. This deeper understanding inspires even greater acts of generosity, continuing the cycle that eventually leads to liberation for oneself, others, and the world.

Let's begin with a brief overview of each of these Paramitas. We will expand on these in future lessons:

Generosity (Dana)

The first of these is Dana, the Paramita of generosity. We commonly think of generosity as giving material things, but Dana is not confined to material gifts. It can be a kind thought, an understanding word, a caring presence, or a compassionate action. It arises from the understanding that our happiness and well-being are deeply connected with those around us. Dana is the antidote to the self-centered attitudes that limit our perspective, isolating us from others. It invites us to open our heart-mind to the interconnectedness of life, helping us to disperse the clouds of ignorance in our consciousness. In this spirit, Dana becomes a way of living, an act of care that reflects the interdependent nature of all things.

Ethics (Sila)

Next is Sila, the Paramita of ethical conduct. Sila is a manifestation of understanding and love. It is an authentic, altruistic act of protecting others and ourselves from harm, and it is the conscious act of creating conditions for happiness, well-being, and liberation. Our every thought, word, and action can either be beneficial or harmful. In this realization, Sila becomes a path of mindfulness, where every movement of mind, heart, and action is imbued with care.

Patience (Kshanti)

Then, we have Kshanti, the Paramita of patience. Patience is the quality of enduring difficulty without harboring resentment. It is the understanding that all things arise, persist, and cease through an intricate web of interdependence. Patience is a shield against the fires of anger and aversion, reminding us of the wider context of cause and effect. With patience, we keep our hearts open to reality as it is, enabling us to respond in ways that consider the greater good and broader perspective.

Effort (Virya)

Virya, the Paramita of effort, is our sincere and dedicated energy that is essential to our Bodhisattva practice. It is the fuel for our journey, motivated by a deep understanding and compassion. This effort is not driven by tension or fear but by the aspiration to transform suffering within ourselves and in the world. It is the steady perseverance in nurturing our heart-mind and acting in ways that benefit all beings.

Concentration (Dhyana)

Dhyana, the Paramita of concentration, is the focusing of our effort into the present moment, onto what is truly significant. It counters our tendency to get caught up in distractions and habits, helping us to cultivate mindfulness and stay present. Concentration allows us to see things clearly, providing a foundation for wisdom to arise.

Wisdom (Prajna)

The final Paramita is Prajna, the Paramita of wisdom. Wisdom in this context is our ability to see beyond the surface of things, to understand the deeper truths of interdependence, emptiness, not-self, and karma. Wisdom guides us on the path, illuminating our way with its insightful light. It is intrinsically tied to compassion, for true wisdom understands the suffering of others and seeks to alleviate it.

The Six Paramitas and the Eight Consciousnesses

When we view the Six Paramitas from the perspective of the eight consciousnesses, we see how they help to cultivate an awakened heart-mind. They shape our karmic seeds in the store consciousness, purify the self-clinging tendencies of the Manas, and nourish a healthy mind-consciousness. They guide our interactions at the sensory level, enabling us to choose actions that foster well-being and transformation.

A Beautiful Embodiment Of Goodness and Integrity

In practicing the Six Paramitas, we engage in a beautiful and deeply intentional acts of growth and transformation, both individually and collectively. They guide us in embodying the Bodhisattva way in our daily lives, transforming our consciousness and ripening our potential for personal and collective well-being, awakening, and freedom.

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