The six perfections Download
Participants’ experience with meditation on the four black dharmas; genesis and fruition vehicles; three moral trainings; Buddhist frameworks: ground, path, fruition; six perfections: generosity, morality, patience, effort, meditative stability and wisdom; their specific evolutionary order; their characteristics; generosity as letting go; paramita; meditation assignment for upcoming week on the difference between giving with and without a sense of I and other. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, commentary on Chapter 11.
Ken: Here we are at our twenty-seventh class in the Then and Now series, April 22, 2008, right? I’m just hitting them all aren’t I? Okay, my estimate is that we will have about 12 more classes, give or take, to complete the The Jewel Ornament.
I want to spend this evening on the introduction to the six perfections. And then the following six weeks, will be on one each of the six perfections. We may spend two on the perfection of wisdom, but since all of you are now fully versed in the Heart Sutra, that’s probably not necessary. And that was a joke.
Oh and for the Heart Sutra I am actually going to give an internet class, probably starting mid-June, for four Mondays. So you can just tap in. We have a maximum of 25 people for that. It will be, I will send out an email, and hopefully it will be out in the newsletter, too.
Then after that we have, I believe, the 10 stages and oh, it doesn’t have a chapter list there. We have the 5 paths, the 10 bhumis, (the 10 bodhisattva stages), and perfect buddhahood and the activities of Buddha. So by my count that makes about 11. But it will probably take us 12 or 13 classes to get through all of that. There is a huge amount of material summarized in the last few chapters, and so much of it is in mythic language, but I think it will be worth dissecting it, or at least translating it, or interpreting it or whatever. At least partially.
So this evening, the first part of this evening, I would like to hear your reflections on the four black dharmas, which are lying to your teacher, I believe; causing someone to regret virtue they have done; disparaging a bodhisattva; and deceiving sentient beings. Did I get them right? Yeah, I finally got them, I’ll forget them tomorrow.
Okay, so what was your experience with this?
Julia: Very painful.
Ken: Can you go on? I mean have you been lying to me all the time. Is that it?
Ken: I see. Okay. Are you lying to me now?
Julia: I have been lying for so long, I don’t know if I am lying anymore. So much…there are a number of different strands here that I wrote down. The first one was, the heart-breaking pain of just seeing one’s own fear at work. And the way it drives patterns.
Julia: So all the kind of self-concern, self-protection, trying to look good. All those issues that would be involved, for instance, in lying to one’s teacher.
Ken: Yeah, lying to one’s teacher is really, is actually quite extraordinary when one does that. I had a student I met for two or three sessions, who was a concert violinist. Quite interesting, and he had been terribly poisoned by one of his violin teachers, who had been a very, very, angry man, but a brilliant violinist. And he would go on about this and about this, and then one time he just looked at me and just said, “Everything I have been telling you is a lie.” I never saw him again. It was just, if you are lying to your teacher, you know something very, very strange is going on in a person that does that.
What about the other ones?
Julia: Well, it was, it was sort of a repetition in a way, in a sense it just…the pain, for instance, causing someone to regret something good. The whole idea of…well there were two aspects to it that I thought. One was that self-righteousness: “Oh it feels so right, to have me tell this person that they are being taken for a ride, etc, etc.” That thing where you get to be the person who kind of steps in and tells somebody how the world is. Which is completely organized around self-concern.
Julia: And again, it’s a fear, you know, of being exploited that you are projecting onto the other person and—
Ken: That’s absolutely true, and there’s also that it’s fear about one’s own world masquerading as concern for another.
Julia: Yes, I think all of these in one way or another, to do with precisely that. And the same with criticizing and denigrating, more directly, obviously, and deceiving, cheating and exploiting, the same thing.
Julia: So, it seemed to me, that when I sat with this, the general experience was one of pain, and a sort of level of heartbreak that, you know, one’s susceptible to these things. And also I found a common theme here of undermining. Undermining others, undermining one’s self, undermining one’s teacher, undermining one’s capacity. And at some very deep level, actually, undermining your own trust.
Ken: Well I, I think that is really where all of these are aimed. Because this is about, these are regarded as, as undermining your intention to wake up. So I think you are right on the money with that. Chuck.
Chuck: It seemed like the ones where somebody is trying to wake up and then you, you put him down, it’s sort of like rubbing sandpaper or something, chalk on a board, it just sort of gives you [unclear]. It…I can see myself doing it by accident and then saying, you know, oops, what have I said, you know. Some “opened my mouth and stick my foot in it” type of a thing. And then go back and apologize, or try and weasel my way out of it in some way.
Ken: All right. So like Julia, you get an immediate hit of the pain.
Ken: And the way that these four actions are really discordant with the whole intention of bodhicitta.
Ken: Yeah, okay. Randye.
Randye: When I try to imagine lying to my teacher I get nauseous, like physically ill. And you know, I couldn’t imagine it.
Ken: In the Vajrayana as most of you know, you regard your teacher as Buddha. But…I will just do a little bit of an aside here.
I think that we covered this in the earlier stages here. This doesn’t mean you necessarily regard him or her as infallible. But that this is how awakened mind appears to you.
That’s your experience of awakened mind. But even without the added weight of that, it’s hard to imagine having a relationship with a teacher that you didn’t see as embodying truth for you in some way. So when you are lying to this embodiment of truth it really, it’s quite jarring. Is that what you’re…okay…please go on.
Randye: It was a shock. I also had an experience this past week, where I learned that, having learned in a knowing way, that I’d been unkind to somebody who was a very good friend, who is a very good friend, and this was several years ago. But events came up and we were talking and it really hit me. And I had that same sickening feeling. And it was unintentional, it was unskillful, but when I realized it, you know this was a good, kind person, I had that same feeling of sickness.
Ken: Yeah okay. Okay, Cara, pass that one back to Steve.
Steve: Thought I was going to get out of this one.
Ken: Well, ever since you told me that I missed you when I was doing a lot of questions, I made a point of asking you.
Steve: But that was five years ago!
Ken: I know. I remember some of these things. Some things make an impression on me. I felt very badly!
Steve: I had, I have an interesting take on the deception of the teacher; the other three feel pretty much the same to me. But the deception of the teacher feels there’s some anger in there. The other anger is directed inward, but it’s more of a—
Ken: To lie to your teacher you have to be angry in some way?
Steve: Something came up about anger the other…yeah some sort of defiance. The other three was more in line of what Julia was saying. A sense of regret and feeling the pain of that immediately.
Ken: Okay, Cara.
Cara: In terms of my relationship with you, I don’t think I could possibly even imagine lying to you. Because I never have and I can’t envision a scenario where I would, ‘cause I don’t. So I assume if I did, that would be a pretty dark occurrence. That would be pretty, pretty terrible. But yeah, as far as the other ones go, I had a really strange interaction this last week.
I found out that someone that I was…that I had dated in college—who was very, very special to me—I found out a little while ago that he was engaged to a girl who he was actually seeing not long after me. Maybe a year or two after. But I was full of all of this, like, adolescent, like this mix between adolescent rage and happiness, all at once. I was so happy for him that he was really, you know, in love and really experiencing this.
And then the other part of me wanted to burn down a barn, you know, because I was so upset about it. And as a result, we have actually been talking this week about some things. And it’s been really interesting, because I have been feeling some of the feelings that I felt when I did the things that I did, that were very hurtful to him. And I’ve had to really examine those, and examine my motivations, in the process of doing this.
Ken: Okay. All right. Good.
Student: I wasn’t here last week so and I just downloaded the podcast last week, so, haven’t had a chance to—
Cara: Did your dog eat your book?
Student: My dog ate my book. But I can just say, that in hearing everyone talk about it right now, that there is just a sense of devastation about considering those things. Just a tremendous weight that sort of pulls the body down in thinking about that.
Student: I found myself doing a lot of discursive thinking before I could get down to experiencing the sequence of body, emotion, and story because there is so much material. And I felt I had a reaction, I realize, on the level of story. But it seemed to me, I asked myself the question, “Well why is this just about your teacher or just about bodhisattvas, people making an intention to awaken, and not just about anybody?” You know, and I had this idea that there is a lot of institutional thinking in here. It’s part of the mythic language, I think. But once I got past that and personalized it—well let me do the one that was on, where I did get there. The only time that I have allowed myself to remember that I’ve lied to you—
Student: —is when I have said that I have understood when I didn’t, to stop the explaining. And the reason I wanted the explaining stopped is because I found myself, I found it intolerable to experience my “not knowing.” Or my thinking, “I’m not knowing.” My failure, my lack to understand. And what, what happened when I did that. All the usual suspects again, stomach contractions in different places in the body, and a feeling of anxiety, the stories associated with which is isolation. I stopped hearing because I had cut myself off in my attempt to maintain self. And I think that same thing about maintaining self goes through all of these, anytime I find myself doing anything like that. The reason why I am doing it, is to emphasize or maintain self, and that always results in isolation.
Ken: Yeah, this goes back to Julia’s righteousness, and maintaining one’s world. It’s the same thing. Okay. Thank you.
I am sorry the explanations are so painful.
Student: They are not always. Those times that they were, I just had to stop it.
Ken: Okay, what I find quite fascinating about many of the…these short lists and these exercises that I have given you based on them is when we stop and think about them and really take them in, they really pack a punch. Which leads one to suspect, that they aren’t…they weren’t composed or written arbitrarily or developed arbitrarily.
And this is one of the things I’ve been trying to express through this, is that many of these lists, I won’t say all of them, but many of them, are distilled experience. And so when you contemplate them in whatever way you do, you are actually exposing yourself to that distillation of experience, making it quite powerful.
So, we are going to turn to—what is very definitely, the shortest chapter in the book—page 179 [Gyaltsen]. This is just like four pages, Training in Action Bodhicitta, or The awakening mind is engagement. We have been working with both of those translations, or ways of looking at this.
And if you recall when you are discussing awakening mind, in awakening to what is apparently true, there is the division between—which I really regard as two stages—intending to awake in order to help others, which is also called aspiring to awake. But I think intending is probably closer to the meaning. And then doing the work of waking up. And what we’re talking about here is doing the work of waking up.
Now very generally speaking, the Tibetan tradition, sees itself as presenting, two—very broadly—two paths to waking up. One is usually translated as the causal vehicle, a translation I don’t like. I would rather say it was the genesis vehicle, and I will explain that in a minute. And the other is called the fruition vehicle, or the result vehicle. For vehicle we could also put way.
The former is, in Sanskrit, refers to the Sutrayana, or the way of the sutras, and the latter is the Vajrayana, the way of the vajra. And the difference here is not in result—they end up in the same place, as much as you can talk about place—but in method, or approach.
In the Sutrayana, or the genesis vehicle, you create the conditions in your life so that the genesis of awakening, which is our friend buddha nature, can manifest fully in your life, in your experience, in how you experience or relate to the world. This consists, of course, largely of clearing away all of the confusion.
And that’s what’s going to be discussed here, clearing away the confusion, and nurturing the capabilities and capacities which allow it to take expression. And in this way it is very, very much, like nurturing a seed. You put seed into ground and then you water it and you protect it from harsh sunlight, etc., provide it with the right kind of food, nutrients, and it grows. It grows into whatever it’s a seed of. And it doesn’t grow into anything else. It grows into whatever it’s a seed of.
The buddha nature is the seed or the genesis of awakening, so when you provide the right—not that it’s an object, we are speaking loosely here—when we provide the right conditions, it grows into awakening, because that’s what it is. It doesn’t grow into anything else. It grows into awakening. And what we will be talking about now, until the end of the book, is first, exactly what to do in terms of providing those conditions, and then the stages in growth. That’s what the 5 paths, 10 stages in buddhahood and the expression of buddhahood are all about.
The other approach is the Vajrayana which is described as the result vehicle. And in this approach, in a certain sense, it’s the Hollywood approach. Fake it until you make it. I mean that’s really very, very loose, and I will probably get all kinds of bad emails for that one.
But you act as if you are enlightened. You act as if you are awake. You live the result in everything that you do. That is what deity practice, or yidam practice is about. You imagine you are awakened compassion and you just live that way. And there are practices which help you to inculcate and instill that, that feeling and that sense in you, very, very deeply. That is what sadhana practice or these methods of practice are. And you live that way, and in the process of living that way, and relating to everything you experience in that way, then all of the inhibitions against, and all the distortions and confusion, and the obscurations, etc., that prevent that from actually being the case, are gradually, really dissolved in the effort that you are making. Do you follow?
Now, it’s regarded as a more direct path than this nurturing. There’s a huge amount of propaganda that says, you know, how much better the Vajrayana is, you know. Rinpoche used to use the similes of transportation that the Hinayana is like a bicycle, and that the Mahayana was like a car, and that the Vajrayana is like a rocket ship. So you know one has to remember that these are all means of transportation, and they all get you from ‘A’ to ‘B.’ And I also would say you know that sometimes he would say, Hinayana is like a very pokey old car, and the Mahayana is like a good sedan, and the Vajrayana is like a formula one racing car.
Well, I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to drive a formula one racing car, but from the reports that I have heard, the clutch is so sensitive on those things, that most ordinary people can’t get the car to start, they stall out. And if they do manage to get it started, they spin out within a hundred yards. ‘Cause the engine is so powerful, they just don’t have the ability to do that. So which goes back to saying that a Volkswagen may be the better means of transportation.
Anyway, that’s just to give you a very broad distinction, and Gampopa was trained thoroughly in both of these approaches to practice. And he’s describing here, the first one, the Sutrayana, which is about nurturing the seed of awakening, which is our human heritage, so that it creates the conditions in our lives so that it can manifest completely. It becomes fully what we are. And what we aren’t (i.e., this attachment to a sense of self, etc., etc.) just dissipates in the light, essentially, of what we actually are. Am I still making sense? Okay, good, I like to now and then. Now—
Joe: But you can’t trust me [unclear].
Cara: Joe lies.
Ken: Yeah, you really nailed yourself now Joe.
Okay, he starts off by quoting from Lamp for the Path to Attain Enlightenment. He has quoted from this numerous times before, but I haven’t mentioned it. So I’ll just do a very short digression here.
In 1042, Atisha, who was one of the top Buddhist teachers of his time in India, he was arguably equivalent to the Pope. His formal title was The Holder of the Seat of Bodhgaya which was of course where Buddha attained enlightenment. It was a central place, pilgrimage place. I don’t know how what that meant in terms of the institutional organizational structure of Buddhism in India, but he was a top scholar, a top Vajrayana master, a top monk etc, etc. So he was a very, very notable teacher.
And he was invited to western Tibet by the kings of western Tibet—repeatedly—and eventually came. He came upon Buddhism in a very sorry state in Tibet, because it had just gone through a century of quite vicious persecution, a reaction against the inroads that it had made in the aristocracy in the previous centuries. And as part of his way of revitalizing and cleaning up—you might say—much of the confusion that abounded at this time, he wrote a book called The Lamp of the Path to Enlightenment, which sets out the various stages of practice and the things that need to be understood. And this came to be known as the lamrim. Those are Tibetan words, lam meaning path or way, and rim meaning stages.
So you can translate that as a curriculum or as a manual, or however you want. That book became the basis for a genre of literature in Tibetan Buddhism, known as lamrims. There are many, many composed. The Jewel Ornament is one of them. Taranatha, five hundred years later, composed one. Tsongkhapa in the thirteenth, fourteenth century (somewhere around there) composed two. One is called The Big Lamrim, and the other is called The Small Lamrim.
And even today, teachers still use this basic format of laying out the sequence of practices and perspectives, virtually following the same order. Even Wake up to Your Life could be regarded as a lamrim, though actually it’s more a gomrim, which instead of stages of the way, it’s stages of practice, stages of meditation, because I laid it out in terms of meditation.
So it is a very important type of literature in terms of Tibetan Buddhism. So this is a quotation from this book [Lamp to the Path of Enlightenment]:
If one maintains the vow of action of bodhicitta and trains in the three types of moral ethics, devotion for the three moral trainings will increase.
And here he says that generosity, moral ethics, and patience are trainings in superior or higher morality, meditative concentration in higher thought, and discriminating wisdom in higher wisdom.
Now, the three moral trainings. At least I assume this is what it’s referring to. This is another very, very old classification of Buddhist teachings. And this goes back to the time of Buddha, and this is something you should just learn and file away.
Buddhism is traditionally being presented in what are known as the three baskets, or the three vessels. The tripitaka is the Sanskrit term. And they are morality or shila, meditative stability or mental stability, or meditative stability which equals meditation of course, and wisdom. And all of the Buddha’s teachings, all Buddhist teachings can be dropped into one of those three.
As we’ll see when we get to the eightfold path, the eight pieces of the eightfold path are classified into those three categories.
Traditionally, one teaches morality first, so that people develop the ability to restrain their behavior and on the basis of that, then they’re able to practice meditation, because practicing meditation actually involves a fair amount of behavior restraining. You can’t get up and walk around when you are meditating, or talk, or something like that. And on the basis of that stable attention that develops in meditation, then people can be introduced to wisdom or this other form of knowing, which doesn’t depend on the conceptual mind.
Through meditation they develop the ability to rest the mind free of concept. And now they have fertile ground to be able to know things non-conceptually. So it was morality, meditative stability, and wisdom. And that is the usual, the most common way the Buddha’s teaching is given. And certainly it is the way it is done most often in Asia.
When I came here, because of our rather strange relationship with morality in this country, being, you know, a lot of reaction about having it defined for you, and because of the stress in people’s lives in Los Angeles, I found it was usually better, with most people, to start with meditation. They just wanted a place to quiet down.
And so I started teaching people meditation. Through that, as their minds became quieter, they came to see things more clearly. So that is the certain wisdom element. And as they saw things more clearly, then their behavior would naturally change. Because they would start to naturally restrain their behavior and start observing and doing things more ethically, simply because it made their lives better.
And so from this I learned, we have the traditional order. It isn’t the only order in which these things can be taught. And I am told—actually, I discussed this with some Tibetan teachers—that you can actually start with wisdom and it leads to either meditative stability, morality and then the other one comes in. So, they are interdependent in that way.
Now, the six perfections. Hopefully by the end of this, if you haven’t already learned them, memorized them, you will. If you are in any way students and practitioners in the Mahayana, it’s kind of embarrassing if you don’t know what the six perfections are. It just doesn’t look good.
They are generosity, morality, patience, effort (we will see different translations of that), what I translate as meditative stability, and wisdom. So, you know, write those down, carve them into your flesh, whatever. Write them on the back of your hand. Just learn them.
And so in the next paragraph Gampopa classifies these six in terms of these three baskets, these three things. He says that generosity, moral ethics and patience all constitute some form of morality. Meditative concentration is meditative stability, discriminating awareness is naturally training in wisdom, and perseverance is the support for all three. And this is reflected again in another very famous text, the Ornament of the Mahayana Sutra, which is summarizing that.
Now, what we go through in the rest of this chapter is why there are six, the order of them, and just a very, very cursory overview: their characteristics, definitions, so forth. To give you a fuller framework for this, I want to tie it back to—and this he does this at some point here—I want to give you a larger context for this.
And what I am quoting from here, is a translation of the Mahamudra Prayer, by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, who is three or four generations—well at least three or four generations—after Gampopa, but very much in the same lineage. And the verse here is
The basic ground consists of the two truths, free from the extremes of order and chaos. The excellent path, the two accumulations free from the extremes of assumption and denial. The result obtained the two benefits, free from the extremes of existence and peace. May I meet teaching which is free from error.
And this you will find up on the website. That’s a slightly older translation up on the website, where it’s nihilism and eternalism which I’ve changed now to order and chaos; I think they’re more actual translations.
So, what’s important here, is, again—and I am actually throwing quite a bit at you this evening, even though it might not seem like it. There are several frameworks that Buddhism uses to discuss things. And one of them is ground, path, fruition.
Ground is how things are, path is what you do, and fruition is the result of those efforts.
So, what Rangjung Dorje is doing in this particular verse is laying out in very, very broad strokes the ground, path and fruition of the Mahayana, and the Mahayana tradition of mahamudra.
So the basic ground consists of the two truths. Now we’ve already met the two truths: what is apparently true, and what is ultimately true. And from this perspective, these are not different; they’re just two expressions, two ways of talking about what is experience, how does it arise for us, and what is it actually? And how it arises is like a dream, and what it actually is—no thing.
And what characterizes the ground here: it’s free from the extremes of order and chaos. That is, experience arises and, it’s not completely ordered; there is a chaotic component to it, and it’s not completely chaos. There is very definitely order. Things that we do have consequences. And there’s a pattern of unfolding, evolutionary pattern, evolutionary process as we talked about.
This approach to experience is arguably radically different from most system approaches which seek to establish either the order, and try to define the order that underlies all experience. And this can go anything from the efforts of the Greeks. I would really put Ken Wilber and Don Beck and these people in spiral dynamics, as actually trying to define an order to things.
And you know, the great system thinkers, you know, are trying to establish a framework in which all experience is explainable. And this leads to this, and it all makes very nice sense. They try very hard, but it never works you know. I discovered this when I was trying to write a chapter on karma. I kept slipping into writing a theory of everything. And if you ever find yourself writing a theory of everything, you know that you are in trouble.
On the other hand, there are people who espouse the idea that nothing, you know…they look at this, and make all these efforts to describe how things are very systematically…and they see it doesn’t work. So they jump to the other conclusion: there is no order; any order is an illusion, etc., etc. Everything’s completely chaotic, and we can’t count on anything. And some of the nihilists would argue that. It’s a very negative view.
But it’s not unknown in our culture; punk was basically a philosophy of nihilism. I was in retreat during the whole punk phenomenon. I came back from retreat and was staying with my parents, and they were out one day and I was watching television. This very strange movie came on, about these guys in really weird dress having this fight over gasoline. It was Mad Max Road Warrior.
But I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know who Mel Gibson was or anything like that. I was just watching this film. And as I watched this film, I realized, that one of the messages of this film, is, that it didn’t matter how virtuous, or how evil, your action. The universe would render it meaningless, you know, and that’s a philosophy of despair. But that’s a philosophy of chaos, you know, and it was like, “Oh okay, now I understand what all this is about!” It was about halfway through and I went “Oh this is a punk movie, oh okay.”
So, but the world isn’t that way. That’s again another projection. And so, in Buddhism, we approach our experience without falling into either of those extremes. And that’s how things are: they aren’t completely ordered, and they aren’t completely chaotic. We have to find a way of approaching it, when it’s “that’s how it is,” and we can’t fit it into one or the other. That’s the ground.
How we do this? That’s the path, that’s the two accumulations. We’ve also encountered the two accumulations, though I’ve called them the two generations or whatever. This is generating goodness, or the two accumulations, or the accumulations of merit and wisdom, which we talked about earlier, which I prefer to translate as generating goodness and nurturing awareness. I think we went through that.
these are free from the extremes of assumption and denial. What this refers to is another very basic principle in Buddhism: we are constantly making assumptions that things that don’t exist, do (e.g., the self). And we deny that what is, isn’t. So that all experience is empty and we keep saying, “No it’s not, it’s really here.”
So our way of approaching experience ordinarily is to assume things that aren’t the case and to deny things that are the case. Here we move away from those extremes and we just, the way that we can actually generate goodness and nurture awareness is to not to assume anything, and not to deny anything. And just relate to what is in each moment.
So even though it’s expressed in very formal language, it’s expressing quite deep teaching here.
When you do this, what happens are the two aims. And you may remember in the prayers we do at the end—the dedication prayers—we say,
May the two aims come about naturally. And people are always saying, “What are the two aims?” Well, the two aims are what you want to achieve for yourself and what you want to achieve for others. Well, not particularly complicated.
What we want to achieve for ourself is freedom from suffering. And we come to know freedom from suffering when we know the emptiness of experience. And what we want to achieve for others is to free them from suffering. And that comes about through our waking up, which essentially is the culmination of compassion in us.
So we have emptiness and compassion. And when this happens then we are freed from, or free from, the extremes of existence and peace. Existence refers to samsara, being caught in the ordinary confusion, and projecting attachment to a sense of self and projecting another, and all of the chaos and confusion that comes out of that. So, when we know the nature of things, then we are free from that particular form of confusion.
But as Gampopa and others have pointed out, then we can get the idea of, “we just hang out and we don’t have to do anything.” But that’s not really being awake in the world. There’s a world of experience, where experience is arising all the time. We can’t avoid it. We’re just trying to ignore it all, or just be in a state of total peace all the time. It doesn’t work.
And for that, compassion is necessary. So we put aside that misleading notion of nirvana, which is very much a Mahayana creation. We leave behind the fixation on the reality, or the seeming reality of our experience. And in that way we are free from the extremes of existence of peace, and that brings about the realization of the two aims: one for the awakening of ourselves and the other for the awakening of others.
So, in this, we find the six perfections because they fall into the path area. This is how we generate goodness and how we nurture wisdom. And that’s a very, very big framework for all of us.
So, now we come down to—there are six perfections. I am working from Konchog Gyaltsen’s translation—because Guenther’s is rather misleading here and there in this one. On page 180, another breakdown is, in Buddhist teaching, the framework that is used is those things which lead to improving your position in samsara, that’s what higher status refers to.
So instead of being in the lower realms, you are in the higher realms. You know: gods and humans and so forth, which are more free of suffering, or where there’s less suffering.
And then this lovely expression—
definite goodness. This refers to getting out of samsara. So, when we give generously we’re setting in motion processes which make our experience of the world very rich. And that’s why it says,
The three for temporary status are generosity, which is for wealth. When we live ethically then we create the conditions in which we experience health and balance in our lives. And that translates into an easier physical experience. And when we are patient, then people are happy to be around us. So, we have lots of companions and friends and so forth. And that just makes life better.
For definite goodness—that is, getting out of the whole samsaric game—perseverance, which causes us to do more; meditative concentration, which gives us a calmer or clearer mind; and awareness, which allows us to see things as they actually are, so that our actions and what we do are appropriate and effective.
Now, in one sense, this is all just common sense. It’s not particularly difficult. It’s actually fairly straightforward to understand. But, sometimes it’s a little disarming to have life explained so simply. And yet, if we take these principles and actually live them, our lives are very, very different. And what they describe, actually does unfold. Not always in the ways we expect. But it does unfold. And yet very, very few people actually do this, as the confusion of the world is very, very deep.
Frank Zappa—I’m not sure that it originates with Frank Zappa—but I know he said, “There are only two things that are universal: hydrogen and stupidity.” And with the respect to stupidity, you have to remember—and I am pretty sure it comes from some Greek tragedy, but I have never been able to track it down, precisely, maybe somebody can—“Against stupidity, even the gods struggle in vain.”
Student: When you are talking about stupidity here, you really mean ignorance, do you not? Being deluded?
Ken: Well, we use it in two ways, or there are two meanings here. Or three or five, or whatever. Buddhism always has 16 kinds of everything.
One, there’s the fundamental ignorance, about the nature of being, etc., which we don’t know, which is sometimes translated as stupidity. And what’s very important to understand here, what is termed ignorance, is also natural awareness. It’s just functioning in a very distorted, dysfunctional way. It isn’t the opposite of natural awareness, it is the dysfunction of natural awareness. That’s a very, very, important point.
I was going for a walk with a colleague the other day; this came up. Because if you regard it as the opposite of awareness, then you are right back in the old good and evil again.
The other word that is translated as stupidity, is the Tibetan wordgti mug which describes the animal realm, where you are just doing things automatically, and are unable to understand anything outside of your conditioning. Which characterizes animals. A few dogs can learn to turn a door knob, but they’re pretty rare. It’s outside their conditioning.
So, that inability to understand something outside one’s conditioning, I think is what I am referring to as stupidity here. And it’s very, very powerful because people can’t see, or refuse to see, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Do you have a question, Cara?
Cara: Judge Judy says, “Beauty fades, but stupid is forever.”
Cara: I was actually just scratching my ear, but that’s been, like, banging around in my head.
Ken: Okay, does anybody else have a question or comment here?
Ken: Okay. Order. The order of the six perfections is not arbitrary at all. Arguably, and I think one can make a fairly strong argument with this: everything starts with generosity. Why? Very simply—
I’ve got this bottle cap here, if I give this to someone, I have to let it go. I can’t give it to someone and hold onto it at the same time. So, in the act of generosity, you cannot give anything without letting it go. And you might say that gesture of letting go, is the fundamental paradigm of all Buddhist practice and teaching.
Does this make sense to you? I mean, we are not talking about practicing generosity to be a good person. We’re not talking about that at all. It’s about practicing generosity as it may be the only way you can start developing a gesture with letting go.
There’s a lama in Vancouver that I used to translate for, and someone connected with the dharma center had a very, very bad breakdown and ended up hospitalized. And none of the nurses or psychologists could establish any form of communication with him. He was completely unresponsive. And more or less, as a last resort, they called the center, and asked if he’d come down.
And this lama came down and sat in front of this person, and again, there was just zero response. And there was a vase with some flowers in it. Some roses, I think. And the lama took one of them and gave it to this person. And then motioned that he should give it back. And at first, at first the person just sat with it, and the lama said, “Give it to me, come on. I gave it to you, now give it to me.”
And eventually the person gave him the flower back, and then the lama handed it back to him again, took it, and “Okay, now give it back.” And it was that back and forth, that actually established the communication, and things opened up from there.
So this…it’s a wonderful example of this principle. Because in giving, the lama is letting go, and in a certain sense, indicating trust. And then encouraging the other person—this person that is really, really shut down—to give and let go…was instilling this paradigm of letting go, and establishing the communication. I think it’s a wonderfully skillful method of initiating a change. And it’s also a good example of what I call “the crack in the dam approach” to change.
You have a really, really fixed habit. What happens when there’s a small crack in a dam? Yeah. The dam is finished. It’s just a matter of time after that. So if you have a pattern which is running your life, don’t try to wipe the whole thing out all at once. That usually doesn’t work. I don’t think it ever works, actually.
Just start doing something that is different from that pattern. No matter how small. And if you want to practice generosity—and we’ll get more into this when we get into the chapter of generosity—the crack in the dam approach is very simple. Every day you give something. It may be as insignificant as a paper clip. But you give something to someone every day. That’s the crack in the dam.
So, there’s this opening. In that opening, arises the possibility of discipline of actually restraining behavior, which requires a higher degree of letting go of things that you’re attached to, etc., and so forth.
Don’t forget we’re using that growing analogy here. It creates the conditions in which a practice of moral discipline can grow. It’s a moral discipline which gives rise to a quality of patience, of just accepting what is. Because as your ability to act morally develops, you can restrain your behavior in various situations and you are able to tolerate the internal discomfort without reactivity. And because you can tolerate that internal discomfort, you can tolerate the external discomforts. And so you become patient.
That patience in turn, opens the possibility of being able to experience the discomfort that naturally arises when you make an effort, when you really work at something. So it lays the basis for perseverance.
Now, as we’ll see when we get into the chapter on perseverance, we have a very difficult time in translating this word in Tibetan.
From the Tibetan, we have perseverance and diligence, endeavor, effort. All of these have the wrong flavor in English, because the synonym for perseverance or effort, or however you want to translate this, is enthusiasm. So this is not the nose-to-the-grindstone, grin-and-bear-it, stiff-upper-lip kind of perseverance.
It is the natural pouring of energy into something that you feel enthusiastic, and just pouring your energy into it. So that’s, and that’s made possible through patience. With that, now you actually have the possibility of doing the much more internal work of letting the mind rest and developing stable attention. And of course stable attention, with the calmness and clarity that that brings about, opens the possibility of seeing things as they are, which is the perfection of wisdom.
So, you see from this that the order is anything but arbitrary. Each one opens, creates the conditions for the next one to arise. And that’s what it says in the quotation at the top of the next page, page 181.
The second arises in dependence on the first, and so forth.
The next part: Characteristics. I tend to go with Konchog Gyaltsen’s translation here. What is meant here by characteristics is what they actually do. What is their characteristic manifestation, if you want to be formal about it.
Well, first is, they’re counter-force to their opposites. So that if you are practicing generosity, it’s going to be difficult for you to establish greed. If you’re practicing morality, it’s going to be difficult for you to act recklessly. If you’re practicing patience then it’s going to be difficult for you to be reactive, and so forth.
So, as with many aspects of Buddhism, we talk about something going up. But as something goes up, something else goes down. And we also sometimes talk about this going down, and as this goes down, this goes up. So there’s always these two aspects, and they happen simultaneously. They produce the primordial wisdom of non-conceptual thought, that I basically ran through in describing how each one creates the possibility for the next one to emerge. The end of the process being the primordial wisdom of non-conceptual thought.
One could look at this in terms of an evolutionary process.
What happens in evolution, time and time again, is that some new phenomena will emerge in the process of evolution and create possibilities of interaction or action, which never existed before. In other words, the process of evolution periodically opens up whole new spaces.
So, if we look at it in terms of natural evolution, evolution of the species, one of those spaces was opened up when some poor fish crawled onto land. Because there weren’t any land animals before then. So that opened up the whole evolution for land animals. And then some of those land animals, leftover dinosaurs developed the ability to fly. And that opened up the whole bird kingdom.
In terms of human evolution, there’s some who would say that the human reign is larger, proportionally, than any of the other primates, and any of the other animals. Because making jokes required a great deal of conceptual thinking, and became very, very important in being able to attract mates, so it attributes. That may be totally spurious, but I kind of like that theory.
Another area in which all of us have seen evolution take place is the evolution of the internet.
The base of the internet was laid down by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and in the very early ’90s, late ’80s, ’90s, you began to get email and FTP (File Transfer Protocol).
And then somebody came up with this interface which allowed you to see graphical images. And that was known as Mozilla. And that development in evolution opened up the world wide web as we know it. Because now suddenly it became a visual medium, it wasn’t just a text medium.
And now we have Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and moving into Web 3.0. You know, all of the kind of social networking that Facebook and Ding and Delicious and Ning, and all of these things make possible. They make possible kinds of interactions and things like eBay etc., kinds of economic and social interactions, which simply weren’t possible.
And whole new businesses…I mean there are lots and lots of people who now have livelihoods based on eBay, which simply wasn’t possible before. Sub-Sahara and Africa can sell their goods in the States in a way that was just not possible. So, that’s another example of this. So these are all ways of saying that each of these six perfections can be regarded as a stage of evolution.
And we will see this very much when we discuss the 10 stages of bodhisattva, or the 10 stages. Because that is a process of evolution, which makes and each one makes each of the six perfections, creates conditions in which something totally new can arise.
Julia: Ken, when I read this, I wondered about the word mature, which appears twice in this section.
Julia: It says,
mature all sentient beings, in the three ways. [Gyaltsen, p. 181]
Ken: What was your question about mature?
Julia: I wonder what it meant.
Ken: Well, I think it’s probably just like maturing cheese, you know.
Julia: To get ripened?
Ken: The word in Tibetan, minpa, is the word for ripen, as in the way fruit ripens on a tree. And I think this is important: they use these metaphors because it was basically developed in agricultural societies. So they were used to things maturing or ripening on their own. But it’s interesting, because, you know, have you ever tried to change somebody. Come on, don’t lie to me now Julia. Pick up the mic please, use the mic please.
Have you ever tried to change anybody, Julia?
Ken: How successful were you?
Julia: Zero. I mean you can sometimes achieve very sort of window-dressing type alterations but you can’t actually change anybody.
Ken: Have people changed because of their association with you?
Julia: I don’t want to answer that.
Ken: Well, I think, you have been a professor. You still are. The answer to that is yes.
Okay, but in that kind of teaching role, even though you are giving them knowledge regularly through lectures, what is actually changing is a ripening process as that knowledge is absorbed. Do you see what I am talking about?
Julia: So you’re placing something out there as an opportunity rather than trying to actually achieve a change as it were.
Ken: Yeah, and this applies to a bodhisattva’s efforts with sentient beings.
All we can do, all we can ever do, is create the conditions in which other people can wake up. We can’t make them wake up. I mean, it would be wonderful if we could, all of this would have been over long ago. But we can’t. Okay?
Julia: Thank you.
Ken: Going on to Definition.
Definition here is more akin to essential nature, really. What does generosity do? It removes poverty.
Moral ethics achieves coolness. [Gyaltsen, p. 181]
Now, again, in India—a number of you have been to India, okay—how hot is the sun in India? It’s pretty fierce. I was in Delhi in early May. You get up at six o’clock in the morning before the sun rises and it’s not too bad, not too bad at all. And because you are so close to the equator the sun moves vertically quite quickly. It’s not like we have in the more northern climates, where it’s much more of an angle. Then the sun pokes its head, just a little bit above the horizon, and it’s like a blast furnace. And the next thing you know, it’s up. And it’s hot.
So, in Indian culture, the full moon represents enlightenment, not the sun. Because the moon, it’s so cool and refreshing. So, this idea that morality is cool and refreshing, comes directly from this contrast in India, between the searingly hot days, and the cool, very, very pleasant evenings. And the full moon in India is so bright you can read a book by it. So it’s not like a weak light; it’s actually a very, very strong light, there.
Joe: Are there relationships between these pairs of words, in Tibetan, such as generosity and poverty, as Guenther seems to suggest there are? He calls it entymology, or etymology. Are there relationships between the words for generosity and the word for poverty, the word for moral ethics, and the word for coolness? And is that happening here, too, that kind of—
Ken: Well, that’s a very good question. It’s possible that that is the case in the Sanskrit.
Joe: In the Sanskrit, right.
Ken: And in fact, the way that Guenther makes a point of putting the Sanskrit in here. Unfortunately, I don’t read Sanskrit, and so I can’t elucidate, or illuminate, or do anything on that. But, there may well be something going on. I do have a colleague who does know Sanskrit, so if I have a chance, I’ll ask him.
Patience endures hatred. So, it means, hatred can’t take root, when you have patience.
Now, a somewhat absurd illustration with that is, remember the movie Cool Hand Luke? Where Paul Newman plays this guy who’s been captured, or has been imprisoned, and he picks a fight with the biggest guy in the prison who is no match for him. And he keeps knocking him down, and Cool Hand Luke keeps getting up. And eventually the guy gives up fighting, because Luke won’t stay down, he just keeps taking punch after punch after punch. And then after that they become the best of friends. A hatred can’t endure in the face of patience.
Perseverance applies to—I should have brought the Tibetan with me, I’m sorry. I would tend to favor Guenther’s translation here, over Konchog Gyaltsen’s. Perseverance or
strenuousness because it applies itself to what is most sublime. [Guenther, p. 150] That is, it leads you to the highest possible attainment, when you make an effort.
Meditative concentration is how we come to know what’s going on internally, over meditative stability, and awareness brings us to the ultimate meaning. Now,
They are the cause to cross samsara, and Guenther says, they are the cause to cross over from samsara.
And here we are getting into the term paramita, which is usually translated as perfection, but it means going over or crossing over. Now, I suspect, that this could well have been originally a rather secret term to refer—in mystic cults—to something that a person became capable of.
What I want to suggest that it refers to, is becoming capable of shifting from the subject-object framework of relating to experience, to relating with experience directly. Now, what’s the difference there? I’m sorry, it’s not a shorter class tonight; we’re going over.
Ordinarily we think of ourselves as subjects and everything else as object. Right?
Well, before we go there, that’s not how things actually are.
When I experience I, it is actually just as much an object as any other thing in my experience. There is an experience of I. Are you with me?
The question is, what knows I as an object? And what is it like to approach the world from that knowing, rather than from the identification with I? Are you with me?
Okay, there’s a shift that takes place there. And in that shift, everything changes.
Because in that shift, there’s no sense of other. There is just what is arising in experience. And you notice, if you make that shift, it’s very, very hard to engage any of the reactive emotions, because they don’t make any sense now. Because they are organized around this arbitrary notion of I. Are you with me? Okay.
That is what I think crossing over refers to.
And we don’t have a good translation for this in English; we use the term perfection, which has all kinds of problems associated with it, but its usage is kind of stuck. But I think that is the quality that paramita is referring to. So what is it like to practice generosity, in that way? What is it like to practice morality in that way, etc.
Then finally we come to—well not finally…penultimately…they loved numbers: we now have
generosity of generosity, the moral ethics of generosity, the patience of generosity, the perseverance of generosity, the meditative concentration of generosity, and the wisdom awareness of generosity, and so forth. And then similarly we can have
the morality of generosity, and the morality of morality, and the patience of…, and so forth, so we end up with 6 times 6, that’s 36. That’s just arithmetic.
And now we come back to what I read to you at that point, about the two accumulations. The six perfections can also be classified, that is, generosity and moral ethics, generate goodness. Wisdom, of course, nurtures wisdom, and patience, perseverance, and meditative stability are active in both of those exercises. So that’s breaking it down…or both of those areas.
So that’s one way that the six perfections are allocated to this way of viewing the Sutrayana as generating goodness and nurturing awareness. So, what I’ve tried to do here, is just to give an overview of the six perfections.
What I would like you to do actually, for your homework, so to speak—this is rather deep homework, but that’s okay—is just what I was referring to a few moments ago. Just explore practicing generosity, having made that shift from I-other to just experience.
What does generosity become, then? What does ethical or moral discipline become? What does patience become, etc., for all of the six perfections?
And, of course, read over the chapter on generosity, because that’s what we will do next week. And any questions you have on that, we’ll try to take them up, and so forth.