|THE SIX PERFECTIONS|
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Trine Brox (graduate student in Tibetan Studies at the University of
The six perfections
FURTHER EXPLINATION OF SOME WORDS IN THE TEXT:
A true practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism wants to Become enlightened like the Shakyamuni Buddha for the sake of all living beings. Tibetan Buddhism is a part of the Mahayana tradition and according to this tradition there are six practices to be cultivated in order to be able to reach enlightenment. These practices are known as the six (transcendent) perfections, or the six paramitas. Some Buddhist teachings mention ten perfections in stead of six. The six perfections are: 1. Generosity, 2. Ethical discipline, 3. Patience, 4. Enthusiastic effort, 5. Concentration, 6. Wisdom
The six perfections must be cultivated in order to become enlightened. Enlightenment is to become a buddha, an exalted being that has cut off the roots of ignorance and been released from cyclic existence. By practicing the first four perfections one generates discipline and harmony in physical and verbal actions. According to the law of karma positive actions are necessary means in order to cultivate the fifth perfection, concentration, and harmony and stability in the mind. The practice of the first five perfections is to use skilful means and accumulate merit. Without wisdom, the sixth perfection, one will not be able to develop a buddha's exalted understanding of reality and therefore enlightenment is impossible. The fourth, enthusiastic effort, is the indispensable support of all perfections.
A PROGRESSIVE SYSTEM OF ACTION
Gampopa explains that when one practice generosity, one will accept the pure morality without focusing on material concerns. Ethical discipline gives rise to patience. When one has patience, one can make enthusiastic effort. When one has made enthusiastic effort, concentration will arise. When one is absorbed in Concentration, one will perfectly realize the nature of all phenomena (i.e. have wisdom).
WHY PRACTICE THE SIX PERFECTIONS?
TRANSFORMING THE PERFECTIONS INTO HABITS
In the Mahayana teachings the bodhisattva's way of practicing stands as the excellent example for all followers of the Mahayana tradition: Their aim is temporary and ultimate happiness for all living beings. Their motivation is to attain enlightenment and become buddhas for the sake of all living beings, and this motivation is maintained at all times. They practice as well as they can and in accordance to the particular situation. They practice as many forms of each specific perfection as possible. They dedicate the merit gained through their practice, to the enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings. Their practice is purified through their compassion and wisdom. This is the way a Bodhisattva practice. The Indian Buddhist teacher Shantideva has always inspired practitioners of the Bodhisattva trainings. He urges one to start practicing immediately: (The Way of the Bodhisattva, chapter VII, verse 14):
"Take advantage of this human boat;
Netlink: The Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Geshe Rabten, explains the six
The first perfection, generosity is called dana in Sanskrit and sbyin pa in Tibetan. The perfection of generosity is to cultivate an attitude of non-clinging. It is the wish to give to everybody, without expecting any reward, and giving fully without attachment. Generosity is measured by the motivation, not the action in itself. The perfection of generosity is not measured by one's ability to give, but by the attitude and readiness to give whatever is needed. When you give with perfectly pure altruistic intention, the amount is not important. This motivation is called bodhicitta. According to the Buddhist scriptures, the perfection of generosity is of three kinds:
1. The giving of material things.
BENEFITING ONESELF AND OTHERS
The Tibetan Buddhist master Gampopa explains how the perfection of generosity benefits others. He says that the giving of material things will stabilize others body, the giving of protection from fear will stabilize others lives, and the teaching of dharma stabilize others minds.
According to the Buddhist teachings one cannot bring along anything at the time of death except one's karma. What is not given away will anyhow pass away in the end. So, the Buddhist teachers encourage the listeners to be clever and to be generous towards living beings now. One of the Mahayana texts imaginative reasons for practicing generosity is that if one is not generous, one will be reborn as a hungry ghost!
DEVELOPING AND INCREASING GENEROSITY
There are many things that can be given away: Material things, positive energy, protection, friendship, advice, and one's body. The idea of giving away one's body has resulted in many fantastic and strange parables about self-sacrificing men, women, and animals. The Buddhist teachers point out that it will suffice to imagine giving the body away to living beings.
THE GIVING OF WISE GIFTS
As a teacher giving instructions this responsibility of giving wise
gifts only is even greater. Explaining the Shakyamuni Buddha's doctrine,
the dharma is restricted by many rules. The recipients should be
considered before given teachings because only what is suitable is taught
to the audience. Like the other kinds of generosity, dharma should be
given without consideration for wealth, honor, praise, or fame. Motivated
by compassion, dharma is given in order to eliminate suffering and causing
the listeners to act virtuously according to Shakyamuni Buddha's words.
2 ETHICAL DISCIPLINE
Ethical discipline, the second perfection, is known as shila in Sanskrit, and tshul khrims in the Tibetan language. There are three classifications of ethical discipline:
1. Restraint from harmful actions of body, speech, and mind. A monk or nun should keep the rules of monastic discipline, the pratimoksa vows (Tibetan: so sor thar pa), and laypersons should act in accordance with the lay precepts (not kill, not steal, no sexual misconduct, lot lie, and no intoxicants). 2. Cultivating, protecting, and increasing virtue. 3. Helping and benefiting living beings, working for their aims in this and the next life. Helping others can be the giving of friendship, support, protection, and material things for those in need.
LAYING THE FOUNDATION FOR SPIRITUAL PROGRESS
The Shakyamuni Buddha said that ethical discipline is the basis of all good qualities and compared it with the earth that supports everything. That is the reason why it is important to cultivate and protect ethical discipline. It is said that the cultivation of inner discipline lays the foundation of a peaceful mind. A peaceful mind is needed in order to make any further progress along the path to enlightenment. The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Patrul Rinpoche invites us to take control of ourselves and practice ethical discipline: (Extract from Patrul Rinpoche / Padmakara Translation Group (trans.) & K. Brown and S. Sharma (eds.): The Words of My Perfect Teacher. kunzang lamaĺi shelung p.238. Harper Collins Publishers India, New Delhi, 1997 (1994))
"Abandon evil doing.
1. The power of reliance: Taking sincere refuge in the Shakyamuni
Buddha (Tibetan: sangs rgyas), his teachings (Sanskrit: dharma, Tibetan:
chos), and the spiritual community (Sanskrit: sangha, Tibetan: dge dun).
PRACTICING INNER DISCIPLINE AND AWARENESS
"The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas" encourage one to practice like a bodhisattva and points out the importance of awareness and self-investigation (Verse 31):
"If you don't examine your own errors,
It is necessary to protect the perfections of generosity and ethical discipline. This is done through cultivating the third transcendent perfection, patience, called ksanti in Sanskrit and bzod pa in Tibetan. The Buddhist concept of patience is more varied than just to bear up against troubles. The perfection of patience is of three kinds:
1. Taking no account of those who harm, applying patience as the antidote to anger. Anger destroys the ability of distinguishing between right and wrong. The Buddhist teachings say that even a single instant of anger destroys the merit gained from former wholesome actions. Anger leaves no peace in mind so spiritual maturing becomes impossible. Therefor anger is said to be ethical disciplines worst enemy, and it is important to be armored with patience, the antidote to anger. Patience calms the turbulence of disturbing emotions and is the best way to protect bodhicitta. Not expressing anger is no indication of patience. The Tibetan teacher Geshe Sonam Rinchen points out that patience is not the suppression of anger but the ability to remain calm and feel at ease.
2. Accepting hardships and suffering. While practicing the Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings one has to investigate the nature of suffering and accept the hardships as an outcome of past actions, the personal karma. Perfection of patience is to see suffering and hardships as a help to ripen the fruit, the outcome of those past negative actions, and in that way consuming negative karma. If this is accepted, and patience applied, one only has the actual difficulty to deal with and this difficulty is in turn decreased by making constructive use of it. Positive and patient behavior is also a way to avoid collecting new negative karma.
3. Persistent study of the dharma, the Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings. This is the patience of continuous investigation of the Shakyamuni Buddha's doctrine in order to acquire firm faith in his teachings. It is listening to the teachings, critically reflecting on the meaning, and putting into practice what is learned. The practitioner applies patience in facing the truth of reality without fear and accepting the doctrine that all phenomena's nature is emptiness.
SUFFERING AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO PRACTICE PATIENCE
When an angry person is hitting you with a stick it is not appropriate to become angry at the stick that causes you pain, because the stick is wielded by the angry person. It is not appropriate to be angry with the person, because anger and the causes for anger (disturbing emotions) move him to hit you. In Mahayana Buddhism, the law of causation and interdependence explains that nobody can act independently without conditioning factors. If one believes, like the Tibetan Buddhists, that everybody are slaves of disturbing emotions, patience seems to be the only solution to suffering. Shantideva investigate this example further. He points out that not only are everybody moved to act by disturbing emotions, but also the person who gets hit is at fault. By having a body one is providing the target of the stick. Since both persons have faults, who is to blame? (Shantideva: The Way of the Bodhisattva, chapter VI, verse 43)
"Their weapons and my body-
4 ENTHUSIASTIC EFFORT
The fourth transcendent perfection, enthusiastic effort, is known as virya in Sanskrit and brtson 'grus in Tibetan. Virya is the strength, zeal, and diligence in every undertaking. It is the enthusiasm to work for the benefit of others and delight in wholesome activities. Enthusiastic effort is steadfast, energetic, and joyful striving because the benefits of one's actions are recognized. The Tibetan scholar Gampopa defines the fourth perfection as a feeling of joy in virtue that implies having an excellent motivation, excellent applied effort in virtue, and continuing perfecting motivation and effort.
THE ROOT OF ALL PERFECTIONS
1. Enthusiastic effort as armor: The courage and energy that prepares
one to withstand difficulties and continue until one's goal is achieved.
This means to take on heavy burdens and being prepared to make sacrifice
for the benefit of others.
LAZINESS: A WASTE OF HUMAN POTENTIAL
"Do not wait another second to practice. Do something about it
immediately, like a coward finding a snake in his lap or a dancing-girl
whose hair has just caught fire. Totally abandon worldly activities and
devote yourself to the practice of the Dharma right
The fifth perfection, concentration, is called dhyana in Sanskrit, and the Tibetan term is bsam gtan. The perfection of concentration is the mind's ability to stay focused. To develop concentration, one has to discipline and stabilize the mind and refine the intellect. It is also necessary to pay constant attention to the first four perfections. An ethical lifestyle is essential, since unwholesome physical and verbal actions make the mind turbulent.
Everybody has some ability to concentrate. The Tibetan teacher Geshe Sonam Rinchen points out that when the ability to concentrate is transformed into the perfection of concentration, it becomes a cause for attaining enlightenment, to become a buddha. By cultivating the fifth perfection the mind is said to become steady like a mountain, invulnerable to distractions and one's actions are as a consequence more effective. The perfection of concentration is not an end in itself, but lays the foundation of wisdom.
1. Calm abiding meditation (Sanskrit: shamata, Tibetan: shi gnas). Calm abiding is called the perfect absorption of mind within mind. It is to cultivate a mind that is not being disturbed by mental wandering.
2. Special insight meditation (Sanskrit: vipashyana, Tibetan: lhak mthong). It is analytical meditation that makes it possible to gain insight into the true nature of reality. In that way it is the perfection of wisdom.
DEVELOPING CALM ABIDING AND SPECIAL INSIGHT
The Buddhist teachers point out that it is important that the meditation practice is within one's capacity. In the beginning people can concentrate single-pointedly only for a short time, but as one gets more familiar with meditating, one can hold the concentration longer. The actual calm abiding is only possible through again and again familiarizing with meditative stabilization. When the practitioner has made progress in calm abiding meditation, he or she can investigate the nature of the meditation-object through analytical meditation. The practitioner alternate between analytical meditation and calm abiding meditation and by repeated alternation special insight is generated. When meditating with special insight the mind can understand the nature of the object and it becomes possible to realize directly the nature of the meditation object as being emptiness. When developing the perfection of concentration the final object for meditation is emptiness. (Meditation is also described in the section about the perfection of wisdom.)
CONCENTRATION LIKE A GOOD BOWSTRING
In his teaching on the six perfections, Tibetan teacher Geshe Rabten, points out that mindfulness and awareness is very important when practicing the perfection of concentration:
"Each time the mind leaves the object, mindfulness has to bring it back. Awareness has to be used to see if disturbances are coming or not. If we carry a bowl full of hot water along a rough road, part of our mind has to watch the water and part has to watch the road. Mindfulness has to keep the concentration steady, and awareness has to watch out for disturbances that may come."
Netlinks: The quote above is an extract from a teaching by Geshe Rabten
where he explains the six
Two very good traditional Buddhist teachings on the perfection of
concentration is provided by Tibetan teachers Geshe Rabten and Lama Gelek
The last and sixth perfection, transcendental wisdom, is called praj˝aparamita in Sanskrit and shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa in Tibetan. The perfection of wisdom is omniscience, the knowledge of every aspect of reality.
Only an enlightened being, a buddha can possess this kind of wisdom. In that way transcendental wisdom is the final goal and the effect of practicing the perfections. At the same time it is the path to, and the cause for, enlightenment. Thus the perfection of wisdom is named both after its cause and its effect. The perfection of wisdom is not only knowledge, but also the name of a special group of Mahayana texts.
Wisdom is practiced while performing the other perfections. Transcendental wisdom is compared to a sighted guide capable of leading the otherwise blind practice of the perfections to the city of enlightenment. Patrul Rinpoche says that on a conventional level the perfection of wisdom enables one to be self-guided in virtue: One gets rid of disturbing emotions, and compassion toward living beings arise. The ultimate result is that one becomes a buddha: When ignorance is replaced by transcendental wisdom, one sees clearly the truth about how things really exist and the chain of cyclic existence is broken.
In general when the Buddhist teachings explain the development of wisdom it can roughly be described and divided into three phases of practice. Each phase is important because the latter phase depends on the former. The more one practice, the more wisdom is revealed:
1. Wisdom through hearing and studying the teachings' words and meaning. 2. Wisdom through critical investigation of reality. 3. Wisdom through special insight meditation (Sanskrit: vipashyana, Tibetan: lhak mthong). Special insight is only possible if one has developed a calm abiding mind as perfected in the practice of concentration.
STUDYING THE MAHAYANA CONCEPT OF WISDOM
The Mahayana texts on the perfection of wisdom are quite difficult to approach and they are full of paradoxes and puzzles for the mind. The many contradictions met with in the teachings attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha are explained by Mahayana teachers by referring to the Buddha's ability to suite his teachings in order to fit the needs of his listeners: There is different wisdom for different people. That is why it seems like contradictions, but actually there are none, they argue. As an example ordinary people are taught the theory of a non-existing self or ego, because they may be able to intellectually grasp that. People who have spiritually matured learn that all phenomena are beyond existence and at the same time are beyond non-existence, beyond both existence and non-existence, and beyond neither existence nor non-existence. To study and try to understand the Mahayana concept of transcending wisdom can be a difficult and confusing task.
Not only will the reader meet many contradictions when reading the different Mahayana texts, but to add to the confusion there are also different philosophical schools within the Mahayana tradition. The Mahayana philosophical traditions of the Cittamatrin and that of the Madhyamika have different understandings of what kind of reality transcendental wisdom reveals. The different philosophical systems have distinct ways of reasoning to prove their different understandings of reality.
Through meditation it becomes possible to develop a mind that rest in equanimity and special insight. By cultivating special insight one can directly perceive emptiness when meditating, not only intellectually grasp it. Special insight arises from meditation and this is contrasted to the wisdom arisen from reflecting in the second stage, and the wisdom from hearing and studying in the first stage. When one is meditating on emptiness, one develops direct experience with emptiness by watching how it appears. (Meditation is also described in the section about the perfection of concentration.)
ULTIMATE WISDOM IS BEYOND DESCRIPTION
1. Conventional truth (Sanskrit samvrtisatya, Tibetan kun rdzob bden pa): Knowing and understanding phenomena in terms of their relative levels of existence. This is to know the phenomena's mode of appearing. 2. Ultimate truth (Sanskrit paramarthasatya, Tibetan don dam bden pa): Realizing directly the emptiness of reality. This is to know the phenomena's mode of being.
Wisdom of the conventional is to understand that all phenomena are like illusions. In ultimate reality emptiness is experienced. Shantideva is a proponent of the Madhyamika tradition and concludes that (The Way of the Bodhisattva, Chapter IX, verse 2):
"Relative and absolute,
The ultimate cannot be expressed in conceptual terms, so words and thoughts cannot express emptiness. The Madhyamika tradition takes the consequence of this theory by rejecting all intellectualization. This means that all statements and theories, anything emerging from intelligence, have the nature of relative truth. Theories can be very practical, but they cannot express the ultimate nature of all phenomena.
"Grasping existence is like cattle.
To believe that phenomena really and permanently exist, like an eternalist, is to be as stupid as cattle. But it is worse to negate the existence of phenomena, like a nihilist, through intellectual analysis and believe that nothing exists. It is ignorant to be an eternalist or nihilist, and the ignorant will not become buddhas.
LEAVE THE MIND TO IT SELF
"Do not ponder, think, or cognize.
Netlink: For a detailed explanation of the history and philosophy of
SOME OF THE WORDS EXPLAINED:
The Sanskrit term bodhicitta is often translated as "the mind of enlightenment" (Tibetan: byang chub kyi sems). Bodhicitta has two aspects that can be compared to the wish and intention to set out on the path, and the subsequent act of actually setting out on the journey:
- Altruistic intention (Sanskrit: bodhipranidhicitta): The wish to
reach enlightenment, i.e. to become a buddha in order to benefit all
living beings. This mind of aspiration arises from compassion so strong
that one has a genuine desire to help everybody without distinction.
SELF AND OTHERS
When meditating on exchanging self and others one imagines placing oneself in the position of others and in this way learn to understand the feelings that drive oneself and others to act. By meditating like this again and again, one gradually cultivates the antidotes to disturbing emotions. The real exchange is possible when one is perfectly trained in equalizing self and others. In order to generate bodhicitta this training is indispensable. By meditating on equalizing self and others one seeks to wipe out the egos strength and the illusory barrier between self and other. This is only possible when one understands that all phenomena by nature are emptiness. The Indian master Shantideva explains that what the person refers to as his body and referring to as "I", is only a name applied to a collection of elements. When exchanging self and others, one applies the name "I" to the whole collection of suffering beings. After familiarizing oneself with the thought that everybody is oneself, the distinction between self and others will disappear and one thinks of others as "I". In that way one experiences others sufferings as if it was personal sufferings and love towards others increases.
The Sanskrit term bodhisattva is compounded of bodhi that means "enlightened", and sattva meaning "mind", "intention". Sattva can also mean "strength" or "courage". The Tibetan translation byang chub sems dpa' contains all these meanings: Byang chub is "enlightenment", sems is "mind", and dpa' means "hero". In that way a bodhisattva is "one who is a hero in his intention to achieve enlightenment". Enlightenment means to dispel ignorance to become a buddha.
THE IDEAL MAHAYANA PRACTITIONER
The theory of the bodhisattva probably origins from around 100 AD in India and gradually replaced the arhat ideal of earlier Buddhism. The arhats (Tibetan: dgra bcom pa) sought liberation only for themselves, and this was seen as an inferior goal for the Buddhist practitioners of the Mahayana tradition. The bodhisattva doctrine was modelled on the life and former lives of the Shakyamuni Buddha.
THE BODHISATTVA DEEDS ARE GUIDED BY COMPASSION
Buddha is a Sanskrit term translated as sangs rgyas in Tibetan. A buddha is one who is totally cleansed (sangs) of disturbing emotions and who has completely developed (rgyas) the transcendental wisdom of knowing all phenomena and knowing them as they truly exist. A buddha has attained enlightenment (Sanskrit: bodhi, Tibetan: byang chub) that is to wake up from ignorance and be released from cyclic existence. That does not automatically transform one into a buddha in the Mahayana sense of the word. It is also necessary to possess the qualities of a buddha and act like one: Being enlightened one has the best possible means of helping others, and a buddha makes use of these qualities by helping all living beings without exception.
THE HISTORICAL BUDDHA
The Buddhists have as their highest goal to become buddhas themselves,
and the Shakyamuni Buddha is their teacher and rolemodel. He encouraged
his followers to investigate for themselves what he had taught. Shakyamuni
Buddha said: "You've received my teachings, now examine it for yourself,
in your own wisdom".
CAUSATION AND INTERDEPENDENCE
According to Buddhist thought, all phenomena arise due to causes and conditions external to themselves and all phenomena are dependent on something external to themselves. The theory of causation and interdependence is explained as a twelvefold sequence of dependent arising (Sanskrit: pratityasamutpada, Tibetan: rten 'brel yan lag bcu gnyis). The process of dependent arising is often described as a circle, the wheel of existence, explaining how the cycle of rebirth functions. One's rebirth is determined by one's former actions as explained in the law of karma. Only a buddha can break this chain of cyclic existence.
In the twelvefold sequence of dependent arising it is explained that ignorance, a wrong perceiving of reality motivates one to act. Actions caused by ignorance give rise to consciousness, and eventually ignorance gives rise to birth and death. The most basic type of ignorance is the belief in an inherently existent self (explained in the theory of emptiness). Through the perfection of wisdom that a buddha possesses, ignorance is dispelled and conditioned action ceases, thus the chain of rebirths is broken.
THE CHAIN OF DEPENDENT ARISING
Cyclic existence (Sanskrit samsara, Tibetan 'khor ba) is the beginningless and endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. One's rebirth is determined by one's former actions according to the law of karma. The Buddhist scriptures state that living beings are prisoners of cyclic existence, bound to the wheel of life by the chains of disturbing emotions and ignorance. The law of causation and interdependence explains that the cycle is driven by ignorance and that freedom from cyclic existence is gained through dispelling ignorance.
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
1. The truth of suffering is compared to the disease: Those who are
caught up in the cycle of existence must suffer over and over again.
The Sanskrit term klesha (Tibetan: nyon mongs) is translated as disturbing- or afflicting emotions. The disturbing emotions are called the roots of suffering because they leave no peace in the mind. Disturbing emotions are thoughts, fleeting mental states like desire, aversion, jealousy, pride, and arrogance. Ignorance, the state of not knowing the mind's nature, lets disturbing emotions obscure the clarity of the mind. When ignorance is dispelled and one is free of disturbing emotions, one becomes enlightened like the Shakyamuni Buddha.
THE ANTIDOTES TO OBSCURING THOUGHTS
- To remedy attachment, contemplate ugliness.
In order to become a buddha, one has to cut off ignorance and replace it with transcendental wisdom: To understand the nature of ultimate reality as emptiness. In Sanskrit, emptiness is shunyata, and in the Tibetan texts, emptiness is translated as stong pa nyid. According to the Mahayana texts ordinary persons do not conceive emptiness, as they ignorantly believe that the phenomena of the world, including themselves, are endowed with an essence, which are unchanging and existing independently.
The Madhyamika's understanding of emptiness denotes the absence of an unchanging, self-existent essence or "self" in all phenomena. It is essential to understand the theory of selfless-ness (Sanskrit: anatman, Tibetan: bdag med) since this theory pervades all Buddhist thought and practice. What people refer to as a "self" or "I", looks like one single entity. But upon closer examination one will see that the "I" is comprised of many parts. This collection of elements that together constitute the "I" is in Buddhist philosophy called "the five aggregates". Not only the "self" or "I" lack this essence; every phenomenon is empty of an independent and unchanging essence.
THE FIVE AGGREGATES
SEARCHING FOR AN ESSENCE
THE SELF DOES NOT EXIST AS IT APPEARS
THE NATURE OF EMPTINESS MAKES CHANGE POSSIBLE
If the self was an independent, unchanging essence of ones personality, transforming oneself would be impossible. Because there is no essence, people constantly change. The Buddhist teachings encourage one to start practicing the six perfections in order to learn how to control the process of change and to transform oneself into a buddha.
The most famous disciple of Milarepa was the Tibetan scholar Gampopa
(1074-1153). Milarepa had chosen Gampopa as the upholder of his teachings
and thus the upholder of the Kagyupa lineage of the Mahayana
Gampopa / Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche (trans.) & Ani K. Trinlay Ch÷dron (ed.): The Jewel Ornament of Liberation. The Wishfulfilling Gem of the Noble Teachings Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, 1998.
The Buddhist teachings define positive and negative actions according to the cause and effect explained in the law of karma. Actions are considered negative and harmful when they cause suffering in this or future existence. Negative actions can bring short-lived pleasure, but ultimately they cause suffering. According to the Buddhist teachings, actions are also negative if the intention behind the action is a bad one.
A bodhisattva has to eliminate ten actions of the body, speech, and mind, which are considered to be harmful (Sanskrit: dashakushalani, Tibetan: mi gde ba bcu). The first seven of these are in some teachings called the seven non-virtues.
TEN HARMFUL ACTIONS
Many Buddhist texts describe the terrors that will fall upon those who violate the ten precepts. One Indian scholar, Har Dayal, gives this comment: "As the Indians are past masters in the art of exaggeration, there is no lack of burning, boiling, baking, rending, tearing, wounding, bleeding, freezing, shivering, piercing, sawing, splitting, mauling, mutilating and other pains and torments in these purgatories." (Extracted from Har Dayal: The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature p. 205, Motilal Banarsidass, India, 1970 (1932).)
The concepts of karma and rebirth were present ideas at the time of the Shakyamuni Buddha 2500 years ago. Karma is a Sanskrit term translated as las in Tibetan teachings and it means "action". Actions refer to the activity of body, speech, and mind. The law of karma, is the law of cause and effect meaning that all actions inevitably produce a result corresponding to the action.
According to Buddhist thought, one's present life is only one in a beginningless series of rebirths. Each rebirth is determined by ones actions in previous lives. This means that right now, one's actions are determining future lives. Actions can be good, bad, or neutral. These actions leave an imprint in the mindstream, and the direct result of an action is accordingly good, bad or neutral. Harmful actions leave negative imprints in the mindstream, and wholesome actions create positive merit. One's rebirth depends on whether positive or negative imprints predominate when we die.
The law of karma does not imply that one is resigned to a personal fate. There is no external, divine force that controls, judge or punish according to some law on how to behave. The Buddha taught that everybody is the author of their own destiny and creating their own future. He wanted his listeners to understand that the chain of rebirths, the cyclic existence was characterized by suffering. Since suffering is a consequence of one's own actions suffering can be avoided. The Buddha taught how to create good karma and eventually cut off the chain of rebirths.
In many other religions, good and bad actions and effects where defined by prophets that claimed they where in contact with a god and therefore could define a moral code to be followed. This differ from the Shakyamuni Buddha who told his listeners that he himself had investigated existence and by experiencing the truth of existence could advise his listeners on what was good and what was harmful actions.
The Buddhist Canon (Sanskrit: tripitaka) is a collection of texts, which may be divided into sutra concerning the study of concentration, vinaya concerning the study of precepts, and abhidharma concerning the study of wisdom. The sutras are texts ascribed to the historical buddha: Shakyamuni Buddha. Other texts are the words of buddhas and bodhisattvas, teachers that explain the Shakyamuni Buddha's doctrine.
One of the earliest Mahayana sutras are said to be the "Perfection of Wisdom Sutras", the Praj˝aparamita literature, which probably appeared around 100 BC to 100 CE. These teachings are essential in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, and Japan, where the Mahayana tradition is predominant. The term praj˝aparamita designate over a hundred sutras (Tibetan: mdo).
"The perfection of wisdom literature" praises the ideal of the bodhisattva as opposed to the "lesser vehicles" that have the ideal of the arhat who seeks personal liberation. They also explain emptiness as being the ultimate existence of phenomena. These sutras are considered the word of the Shakyamuni Buddha even though the texts appeared centuries after his death. There is discussions among scholars concerning which doctrines can legitimately be ascribed to the Shakyamuni Buddha. Some scholars say that these sutras are not the words of the Shakyamuni Buddha. One of their arguments is that the texts were not included in the Buddhist Canon and that some of the teachings even contradict what the Buddha promoted. The Mahayana texts explains the contradictions by stressing the importance of Shakyamuni Buddha's ability to adapt the doctrine to the individual needs and capacities of his audience.
The most famous and important sutra is probably the Heart Sutra (Sanskrit: Praj˝a paramita hridaya sutra, Tibetan: shes rab snying po) which dates from about 350 CE. The Heart Sutra answers one question: How does one practice the perfection of wisdom? This short sutra sums up the fundamentals of the Praj˝aparamita teachings.
For those who are eager to learn more about the perfection of wisdom
and who are not afraid of puzzles for the mind, Donald S. Lopez' book is
THE MAHAYANA TRADITION
Tibetan Buddhism with it's four main schools, Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Geluk, belongs to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. The literary translation of the Sanskrit term Mahayana is "the great vehicle" (Tibetan: theg pa chen po).
According to the Tibetan legends, Buddhism came to Tibet in the 2nd century CE when a Buddhist text and some relics fell from the sky and on to the roof of the Tibetan king's palace. Tibetan historians though, say that Buddhism was transmitted to Tibet in the 7th century during the reign of Songtsen Gampo. This king is said to be the first religious king of Tibet.
By the time Buddhism arrived in Tibet, Mahayana was a well-established religious movement. The Mahayana saw itself as distinct from the earlier forms of Buddhism, which it labeled as "Hinayana" which means "the lesser vehicle" (Tibetan: theg pa dman pa). The Mahayana declared themselves as superiors to the Hinayana and saw their motivation for practicing Buddhism as superior. This motivation is known as bodhicitta, the bodhisattva's aspiration to seek enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings. This is opposed to the Hinayana practitioners who want enlightenment only for themselves. The Mahayana also claim that their wisdom, the direct experience of emptiness, is more profound compared to the wisdom of the Hinayana. The Mahayana texts portray the Hinayana as being a limited path suitable only for monks, while Mahayana has room for everyone.
Distinct philosophical systems of Mahayana Buddhism developed after the Shakyamuni Buddha's death. The philosophical schools tried to formulate and organize his teachings, and each of them claimed to express the true meaning of the Buddha's words. The Madhyamika and the Cittamatrin are two of the most famous schools and important opponents asserting to possess the real understanding of the Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings.
In order to become an enlightened buddha it is very important to accumulate merit (Sanskrit: punya, Tibetan: bsod nams). This means to do any positive action by body, speech, or mind that produce correspondingly good karma and positive energy. Accumulating merit will leave positive imprints in the mindstream, which affect the way of thinking and one's habits. One can accumulate merit by for example upholding the five moral precepts for a lay person: Not to take life, not steal, not perform sexual misconduct, not lie, and not taking intoxicants. One creates demerit by not upholding the precepts one has taken. By performing harmful actions that leave negative imprints in the mindstream and bring about negative karmic results one creates demerit.
The Sanskrit term paramita can be understood as deriving from the word parama meaning "excellence". Another common explanation is that the first part of the term, para, means "beyond" or "the other shore". Mita is translated as "that which has arrived", thus paramita literary means "that which has gone beyond" or "transcendent". The Tibetan translation of this term is pha rol tu phyin pa, i.e. "gone beyond".
What is it that has gone beyond? Buddhist teachings say the perfections are transcendental, they "go beyond" because they transcend the virtues of ordinary, worldly beings. The bodhisattva's practice of the six perfections is the "going beyond", as their practice will lead them to the state of being a buddha, the "beyond". The practice of the paramitas is called by the name of the goal.
The paramitas are generally translated as "perfections" because they
are practiced by the bodhisattvas who are motivated by bodhicitta. The
bodhisattvas are exalted beings and their practice surpasses other
practices. With the perfection of wisdom they perfect the practice of
generosity, ethical discipline, patience, enthusiastic effort, and
The Tibetan teacher of the Nyingma tradition, Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887) wrote the famous book: kun bzang bla ma'i zhal lung (The Words of My Perfect Teacher). He wrote down the oral teachings of his teacher Jigme Gyalba Nyugu, which explains the main concepts of Tibetan Buddhism and gives guidelines for practice.
Patrul Rinpoche's practical advice is for everybody that wants to become enlightened like the Shakyamuni Buddha. He explains different subjects to be contemplated on, like the value of human life, impermanence, the suffering of cyclic existence, and karma. Chapter two deals with the cultivation of bodhicitta and the six perfections. The last section of the book introduces the powerful methods of the Vajrayana in Tibetan Buddhism that can bring about instant enlightenment. Patrul Rinpoche's classical introduction to Tibetan Buddhism is available in English: Patrul Rinpoche / Padmakara Translation Group (trans.) & K. Brown and S. Sharma (eds.): The Words of My Perfect Teacher. kunzang lamaĺi shelung , Harper Collins Publishers India, New Delhi, 1997 (1994).
The 7th - 8th century CE Buddhist teacher, Shantideva, was a monk at the Monastic University of Nalanda in India. He was a proponent of the Prasangika Madhyamika tradition (The Middle Way School) of the Mahayana tradition. The Madhyamika tradition was founded by Nagarjuna in the second century, and transmitted to Tibet in the 8th century CE. Tibetan Buddhist philosophy consider the Madhyamika teachings as the supreme expression of the Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings on transcendental wisdom.
Shantideva's poem: Bodhicharyavatara (Tibetan: byangs chub sems dpa'i spyod pa la 'jug pa) is highly recommended reading for those who would like a closer study of the bodhisattva trainings as explained in Mahayana texts. Bodhicharyavatara is studied and revered by all the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism. This poem explains how to arouse bodhicitta, how to protect and maintain it, and how to intensify bodhicitta. All the verses from Shantideva poems cited at this website is taken from the beautifully translated English edition of Bodhicharyavatara: Shantideva: The way of the Bodhisattva. Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group. Shambala Publications Inc. USA, 1997.
For an English translation of Shantideva's chapter on the perfection of
Skilful means (Sanskrit: upaya, Tibetan: thabs) is also called the seventh perfection. This skillfulness concerns the bodhisattva's practical understanding of the Buddhist teachings, the bodhisattva's character, behavior, and knowledge. The choosing and using the best possible means for helping others, is the same as applying skilful means. Skilful means is closely related to compassion, and is often called merit. In this way skilful means is the spontaneous positive action born from wisdom.
When the Shakyamuni Buddha adapted his teachings to the needs of his
listeners, he was applying skilful means. The Buddha's application of
skilful means, is compared to the doctor who know which medicine to
prescribe for curing distinct diseases of
Some Buddhist scriptures talk about ten perfections (Sanskrit: dasaparamita, Tibetan: pha rol tu phyin pa bcu). It is suggested that the last four perfections where added to the original six perfections in order to coordinate the perfections with the ten bodhisattva stages (Sanskrit: bodhisattvabhumi, Tibetan: byang chub sems pa'i sa). By increasing the number of perfections, a bodhisattva can practice each of the perfections on the corresponding level to his development (i.e. bodhisattva stage). Stage by stage the bodhisattva focuses on a different perfection.
The ten progressive bodhisattva stages start with the entry on the
Mahayana path. On the tenth bodhisattva stage all the ten perfections are
completely developed. To become a buddha is considered the eleventh and
THE 37 PRACTICES OF BODHISATTVAS
The poem "The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas" (Tibetan: rgyal sras lag len so bdun) is written by the Tibetan monk Gyalse Togme Sangpo (1295-1369). The teaching encourage one to take advantage of one's fortunate birth as a human being, to give up bad habits and transform the way one thinks and acts in accordance with the way the bodhisattvas practice (Verse 1):
Having gained this rare ship of freedom and fortune,
The poem explains the bodhicitta, the causes for bodhicitta and gives
guidelines and advice to the practitioner. Though the text where written a
long time ago, it is still very popular among Buddhist practitioners
today. The verses 25 until 30 present the 6 transcendent
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