Monthly Archives: August 2018

Prajna Paramita

This week we will talk about the paramita of wisdom–prajna paramita. This is our innate wisdom that comes from our basic goodness. It informs our lives if we listen.

Sylvia Boorstein wrote about wisdom in this way, “the Buddha taught the Three Characteristics of Experience:
1. Everything is always changing (insight into impermanence).
2. Suffering is extra tension created in the mind when it struggles (insight into suffering).
3. Nothing has a substantive existence separate from everything else, or indeed any existence at all apart from contingency, apart from being the result of complex causes and factors in subsequent experience (insight into interdependence).”

Nothing ever remains the same — even the breath changes breath to breath; our lack or understanding of the interdependent nature of life (causes and conditions) and our desire for things to at last become permanent create our suffering.


Dana Paramita — Generosity

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote, “The practice of giving is universally recognized as one of the most basic human virtues, a quality that testifies to the depth of one’s humanity and one’s capacity for self-transcendence. In the teaching of the Buddha, too, the practice of giving claims a place of special eminence, one which singles it out as being in a sense the foundation and seed of spiritual development.”

The Zen monk Shohaku Okumura “wrote in Soto Zen Journal that for a time he didn’t want to receive gifts from others, thinking that he should be giving, not taking. “When we understand this teaching in this way, we simply create another standard to measure gaining and losing. We are still in the framework of gaining and losing.” When giving is perfect, there is no loss and no gain.

“In Japan, when monks carry out traditional alms begging, they wear huge straw hats that partly obscure their faces. The hats also prevent them from seeing the faces of those giving them alms. No giver, no receiver; this is pure giving.”


What’s supposed to happen?

Sylvia Boorstein was once being interviewed by a magazine writer and he was asking her what she thought of the new “salad religions,” where people take the parts of various religions that appeal to them and live by that. One of the things she said was that if you were just doing it alone, you wouldn’t know that “you were deluding yourself and that nothing was happening.”

Then he asked, “What’s supposed to happen?’

And she responds, “What’s supposed to happen? What’s supposed to happen is that our vision becomes transformed. We begin to see, with increasing clarity, how much confusion and suffering there is in our own minds and hearts, and we also see the ways in which our own personal suffering creates suffering in the world. That part is heartbreaking. And totally daunting. But that’s not all. We also get to see the extraordinariness of life, how amazing it is that life exists and continually re-creates itself in an incredible, spectacular, mind-boggling, lawful way. When we see clearly, our awe and our thanksgiving for the very fact that life is happening makes it impossible to do anything other than address the pain in the world, to try to heal it, to hope never to add one single extra drop of pain or suffering to it. As our understanding increases, our hearts become more responsive. We become the compassionate people we were meant to be. That’s the whole point of practice. That’s what’s supposed to happen.

“The Buddha called what he taught “good medicine.” It’s medicine with two active ingredients. One ingredient is a set of lifestyle choices–how we act, how we speak, how we work, how we manage our relationships–that produces a contented heart. The other is a program of practices for paying attention that develop the direct, personal experience of the end of suffering, the liberating awareness of the changing nature of all experience, the absolute trust in the interconnectedness of everything in creation that makes every single act important and means that each of us makes a difference.”

By combining these two ingredients and following the simple directions the Buddha offered, we can actually experience the transformation she describes. Maybe not all at once — like a flash of lightening — maybe gradually, over time, our vision clears, our hearts and minds open, and we begin to experience our interconnectedness and experience how every act of kindness makes a difference in the world.

Kshanti Paramita – Patience

Shantideva, in Chapter Six of his Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life gives one example after the next of all the horrible things people can do to us and how we could possibly respond in compassion and wisdom. Six-hundred years later, Togme Zangpo condensed these into nine of the Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva. Here are a few of them (this is Ken McLeod’s translation):

Even if someone, driven by desperate want,

Steals, or makes someone else steal, everything you own.

Dedicate to him your body, your wealth and

All the good you’ve ever done or will do — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.


Even if someone broadcasts to the whole universe
Slanderous and ugly rumors about you,
In return, with an open and caring heart,
Praise his or her abilities — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Even if someone humiliates you and denounces you
In front of a crowd of people,
Think of this person as your teacher
And humbly honor him — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Really? “Dedicate your body, your wealth and all the good you’ve ever done or will do, to him … with an open caring heart, praise their abilities; think of them as your teacher, humbly honor them…” We know that they’re establishing the causes of their own suffering, by what they’re doing.  And if we get in there with them, trying to get even or something like that, we establish the causes of our own suffering.  But, if we respond with forbearance, with compassion and kindness then we’re establishing the causes of our own happiness and understanding. We actually can develop wisdom.

Sylvia Boorstein says that “patience depends on remembering that everything is always changing, so the current, unavoidable challenge will eventually end… I need patience whenever the demands of the moment are overwhelming my capacity to handle them easily. If I am in a sustained amount of pain in my mind or in my body – too tired, too worried, too sad, too confused – I become frightened and feel impatient for my situation to end. If I remind myself, “This will end. There is nothing I can do. I am uncomfortable, but I can, at least be kind to myself in my discomfort, “I feel better. I relax. My patience is restored. The rope that I thought I was at the end of disappears. It turns out to be imaginary. The kindness though, is not imaginary. It makes a difference. The kindness steadies the mind. And in circumstances of high vigilance, which is what moments of impatience are, the possibility exists – if the mind is balanced – for learning something new…  Patience is the quiet moment-to-moment adjustment to unpleasant circumstances done in the knowledge that they cannot be other. It is wisdom.”