Monday, March 28, 2011

Down the List of Ten Perfections

In Pali, the Paramis. In Sanskrit, the Paramitas. They are the Ten Perfections, the inner qualities called for by the Buddha. For a long time, I stayed away . . . Hindrances, suffering, impermanence, not self, cravings . . . those I could take. The Ten Perfections on the other hand, reminded me too much of my long ago struggle with, well . . . perfection.

Going past the word itself, I finally took a good look at the Paramis list, and realized I had been in fact cultivating every single one of these qualities during the course of my practice, on and off the cushion. Only, I had not thought of them as 'a list', but rather as separate qualities that sprung up organically, as required by inner and outer circumstances.

Here is the list of  Ten Perfections:

Although I do not consider myself a particularly generous person, I realize my definition of generosity has been too limited. I used to think of generosity only in terms of money and sacrifice. More recently, I have expanded its meaning to signify a natural impulse from the heart to give of one's resources. In my case, this has meant volunteering, connecting people, sharing my knowledge, and providing psychological help.

Not until I went on last year's retreat with Ruth Denison, did I connect the dots between morality and being blameless with the ability to lead a peaceful and happy life. During the retreat, I was able to clearly see the impact of past misdeeds on the mind. That was enough to convince me of the merits of the virtuous life, not just for others but myself also. To ask the question often, 'Is this the right thing to do?'

I would say my whole practice has been about renunciation. Recognizing that which is causing unnecessary suffering, i.e. clinging, and letting go of it. Dwelling in the body has been most useful in that regard, seeing the direct connection between the unpleasantness of physical tension and craving mind states. Shifting the attention away from the objects of craving to the pain of the craving itself, and working on relaxing it.

Oh! wisdom . . . Wisdom from reading the teachings, and listening to talks from wise teachers. Wisdom from finding out for myself, during formal meditation and also the endless string of situations from daily life. Wisdom, or the ability to know and understand rightly. 

Looking inside, I feel strong even during moments of weakness. This strength comes from knowing the value of all the wisdom stored within, always accessible. That certainty gives one the energy to go on, and to address any situation. Every moment lived mindfully, a new opportunity to strengthen one's wisdom muscle, and to grow stronger. 

If not a patient person to begin with, life will teach you. I have found that out . . . Many times, I have not been dealt what I wished for, and I have had to wait. Like a wild horse, I used to complain, and try to hasten outcomes. And I learned the hard way, about the foolishness of impatience. Much suffering, I could have avoided, if only I had been able to tame the horse. From such repeated experiences, I have come to honor patience.

This quality, I have cultivated for a very long time, and in turn have strived to inculcate it into my daughters. I do not suffer fakes gladly. From a childhood spent hiding behind a false self, and the exorbitant price I ended up paying in my young adulthood, I learned the value of being real to myself, and with others. No time to waste in pseudo exchanges. Instead, appreciating the value of heart to heart connections, even with strangers.

To keep on going on the path, even in the midst of great difficulties, inner or outer or both, takes persistence. Most convincing factor has been to find out what happens whenever I step off, and I stop practicing. I have observed this often during the course of my travels, when I do not have the support of my home practice and local sangha, and I take my mind off things. How painful then, the feeling of being  estranged and cut off from the well of aliveness within. It pays to stay determined. 

To take the hard edge off determination, comes in loving kindness, a warm quality that I am learning to appreciate, more and more. Telling oneself the magic words, to rewire the brain. 'May I be at peace, may I be happy, may I be at ease, may I be well and free from suffering . . .' Meanwhile directing one's energy toward the heart, relaxing tensions in the body, allowing space for the harder qualities to do their work. Loving kindness, it's soft and fuzzy, and very powerful.

Welcoming everything, pushing nothing away . . . as I was taught during Zen Hospice training. So much calm to be gained from not dreading any outer or inner circumstances. Again, from practicing, I have learned the joy of turning toward, rather than shrinking away from. Often summoning Rumi's words from his poem, The Guest House. Anger, fear, desire, sorrow, . . . welcoming them all, steady as a rock. 

Now, I invite you to go down the list again, this time engaging in an exercise I learned from Gil. Looking at each perfection, ask yourself those three questions: Do I value it? Do I overlook it? Do I not resonate with it?

What comes up?

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