Bodhisattva Practices- The Six Perfections – City retreat with Geshe Sherab
November 9, 2018 @ 6:00 pm - November 11, 2018 @ 5:00 pm
Shantidevas Bodhicaryavatara, or “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,” presented teachings on the bodhisattva path – and the cultivation of bodhichitta – that are remembered especially in Tibetan Buddhism, although they also belong to all of Mahayana. Shantideva was a monk and scholar who lived in India in the late 7th to early 8th centuries. Shantideva’s work includes a number of beautiful prayers that also are bodhisattva vows.
May I be a protector to those without protection,
A leader for those who journey,
And a boat, a bridge, a passage
For those desiring the further shore.
May the pain of every living creature
Be completely cleared away.
May I be the doctor and the medicine
And may I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world
Until everyone is healed.
There is no clearer explanation of the bodhisattva path than this.
- Geshe Sherab speaks excellent English – understands and connects very well with Western students – presenting the Dharma in English in an accessible, warm and open manner.
- He was born in 1967 in a small village in the province of Manang, the western part of Nepal. He entered Kopan Monastery and has completed his Geshe studies at Sera Je monastery in South India, followed by a year at Gyumed Tantric College. He then completed retreat and teaching assignments both in the U.S. and Asia. He served as Head Master of Kopan Monastery’s school for four years, overseeing debate training and tantric training activities.
The Six Perfections, or paramitas, are guides for
Mahayana Buddhist practice. They are virtues to be cultivated to
strengthen practice and bring one to full awakening.
The Six Perfections describe the true nature of an enlightened being, which, in Mahayana practice, is to say they are our own true buddha-nature. If they don’t seem to be our true nature, it is because the perfections are obscured by our delusion, anger, greed, and fear. By cultivating these perfections, we bring this true nature into expression.
There are three different lists of paramitas in Buddhism. The Ten Paramitas of Theravada Buddhism were gleaned from several sources, including the Jataka Tales. Mahayana Buddhism, took a list of Six Paramitas from several Mahayana Sutras, including the Lotus Sutra and the Large Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom (Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita).
In the latter text, for example, a disciple asks the Buddha, “How many bases for training are there for those seeking complete awakening?”
The Buddha replied, “There are six: generosity, morality, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom.”
Prominent early commentaries on the Six Perfections can be found in Arya Sura’s Paramitasamasa (ca. 3rd century CE) and Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara – “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,” 8th century CE. Later, Mahayana Buddhists would add four more perfections–skillful means ( upaya), aspiration, spiritual power, and knowledge—to make a list of ten. But the original list of six seems to be more commonly used
The Six Perfections in Practice
Each of the Six Perfections supports the other five, but the order of the perfections is significant also. For example, the first three perfections–generosity, morality, and patience–are virtuous practices for anyone. The remaining three–energy or zeal, meditation, and wisdom–are more specifically about spiritual practice.
1. Dana Paramita: Perfection of Generosity
In many commentaries on the Six Perfections, generosity is said to be an entryway to the dharma. Generosity is the beginning of bodhicitta, the aspiration to realize enlightenment for all beings, which is critically important in Mahayana.
2. Sila Paramita: Perfection of Morality
Buddhist morality is not about unquestioning obedience to a list of rules. Yes, there are precepts, but the precepts are something like training wheels. They guide us until we find our own balance. An enlightened being is said to respond correctly to all situations without having to consult a list of rules.
3. Ksanti Paramita: Perfection of Patience
Ksanti is patience, tolerance, forbearance, endurance, or composure. It literally means “able to withstand.” It is said there are three dimensions to ksanti: the ability to endure personal hardship; patience with others; and acceptance of truth.
The perfection of ksanti begins with acceptance of the Four Noble Truths, including the truth of suffering (dukkha). Through practice, our attention turns away from our own suffering and toward the suffering of others.
4. Virya Paramita: Perfection of Energy – Joyous Effort (even called Heroic Perseverance)
Virya is energy or zeal. It comes from an ancient Indian-Iranian word that means “hero,” and it is also the root of the English word “virile.” So virya paramita is about making a courageous, heroic effort to realize enlightenment.
5. Dhyana Paramita: Perfection of Meditation
Dhyana, Buddhist meditation is a discipline intended to cultivate the mind. Dhyana also means “concentration,” and in this case, great concentration is applied to achieve clarity and insight.
6. Prajna Paramita: Perfection of Wisdom
Prajna is the ultimate perfection that includes all other perfections. The late Robert Aitken Roshi wrote:
“The Sixth Paramita is Prajna, the raison d’être of the Buddha Way. If Dana is the entry to the Dharma, then Prajna is its realization and the other Paramitas are Prajna in an alternate form.” (The Practice of Perfection, p. 107)
However, this wisdom cannot be understood by intellect alone. So how do we understand it? Through the practice of the other perfections–generosity, morality, patience, energy, and meditation.
IF you feel ready to commit for Geshe Sherab as your teacher
and want to take the Bodhisattva vows, it can be possible during this weekend. But be aware, it is a big commitment.
A vow is a subtle invisible form on a mental continuum, which shapes behavior – and helps us to guard the actions of our body speech and mind.
Of the two stages of developing bodhichitta – aspiring and engaged – only with the latter do we take the bodhisattva vows. Taking bodhisattva vows entails promising to restrain from two sets of negative acts that Buddha prohibited for those training as bodhisattvas – to reach awakening – and to be of as much benefit to others as is possible. The promise to keep bodhisattva vows applies not only to this life but also to each subsequent lifetime until enlightenment. Thus, as subtle forms, these vows continue on our mental continuums into future lives.
Bodhisattva vows are an expression of bodhicitta. Bodhi means “awakening” or what we call “enlightenment.” Citta is a word for “mind” that is sometimes translated “heart-mind” because it connotes an emotive awareness rather than intellect.