POSTCARD#405: Bangkok: Peace. It is necessary to give some thought to what peace feels like in these times of vengeful obstructionism, and a Presidential Election where the loser goes into denial and does some crazy things. Leave these thoughts behind and consider the ten perfections. We started this last week, this is part two in a series.
Generosity (dana) is the first of the ten parami, or qualities of character, that we practice as followers of the Buddha. This kind of generosity is much more than offering gifts at Christmas and birthdays. The Buddha’s encouragement is to develop generosity on a daily basis. There are all kinds of Generosity – a small favor, a kind thought, a meal, or funds to help sustain a meditation teacher. Generosity lifts the mind out of its isolation and establishes goodwill.
We are not just an isolated point that is only relevant for the moment. We are in a field of present awareness that absorbs and carries the consequences of what we’ve done in our life or had happen to us. Giving a friendly gesture or a helping hand, offering service, or giving attention are offerings that may in some situations be more important than giving material things. It’s the act of letting-go, giving it all away, relinquishment.
Virtue (sila) is the second of the ten parami. With Virtue, the fundamental principle is: I don’t do to you what I wouldn’t want you to do to me. I don’t steal things and I don’t lie to you, because I know I wouldn’t want those things to happen to me. Sīla also involves wisdom. Its ethical sensitivity asks us to consider more carefully what is harmful, and to exercise discrimination. Is it better to steal an advantage over someone else, or to live with a mind that is free from manipulativeness and mistrust?
The third Parami, Renunciation we discussed last week but an important feature of it is craving (Taṇhā). Craving is the enemy of Renunciation. Craving is about something we don’t have. We can’t crave something we have, so the fact of not having it sets up a target for unresolved passion. Therefore it isn’t the object (food, drink) that starts up craving, it’s the sense of ‘not having.’ There’s nothing wrong with sight and sound, taste, smell, touch and the sensory world; it’s the fantasy that craving makes of them.
Knowing the flood of sensuality for what it is, takes the whole thing to pieces. Quietening the craving is not just about removing sense objects, but investigating the mind and resolving passion. In its ‘not having’ state the mind can conceive of many desirables, and of course, the great powers of the consumer industry are very aware of how susceptible the mind is to impressions of comfort, excitement, attractiveness, being popular and all the rest of the things that buying an ice cream, a gadget or an item of clothing promises you. So to go through a shopping mall bearing in mind what you really need is a very relevant practice of renunciation!
Wisdom, paññā, the fourth Parami is a discriminative faculty that operates through discernment or clarity, rather than a learned store of knowledge. ‘wisdom is the faculty that makes distinctions — between pain and pleasure, safe and threatening, black and white. For the lower forms of animal life, this faculty is programmed solely around sense contact. For humans the possible development of wisdom is to be clear about the mind. Wherever there is consciousness there is wisdom, but for humans the job is for ‘wisdom to be developed, and consciousness is to be fully understood’’ (M. 43.6).
The human mind is a mixed blessing. We can witness our instincts and responses and discern what is good/appropriate/skillful from its opposite; but we can also get so lost in the viewpoints that we’ve adopted to measure our responses, that we get confused and stressed. Thus we are thrown around by what we think we should be and what we fear we might be, as well as the ways we wish other people would be, and so we lose the balance of clarity. So it is imperative to develop the wisdom faculty in the right way. This entails balancing the need for ideas, aims and procedures with the understanding of how all this mental stuff affects us.
Without balance we get top-heavy and contrived. So it’s essential to develop the wisdom that oversees mind consciousness with its dogmatic biases, its compassion and depression. This transcending wisdom, or deep clarity, is the perfection that accompanies every other pāramī and is brought to full development, use and effect by them. (to be continued)
Excerpts from: ‘Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods’ by Ajahn Sucitto