Dharma Notes‎ > ‎

The Six Paramitas

The Six Paramitas are a teaching of Mahayana
Buddhism. Paramita can be translated as
"perfection" or "perfect realization." The Chinese
character used for paramita Pmeans "crossing
over to the other shore," which is the shore of
peace, non-fear, and liberation. The practice of the
paramitas can be the practice of our daily lives. We
are on the shore of suffering, anger, and depression,
and we want to cross over to the shore of wellbeing.
To cross over, we have to do something, and
that is called paramita. We return to ourselves and
practice mindful breathing, looking at our suffering,
anger, and depression, and smile. Doing this, we
overcome our pain and cross over. We can practice
"perfection" every day.

Every time you take one mindful step, you
have a chance to go from the land of sorrow to the
land of joy. The Pure Land is available right here
and now. The Kingdom of God is a seed in us. If
we know how to plant that seed in moist soil, it
will become a tree, and birds will come and take
refuge. Please practice crossing over to the other
shore whenever you feel the need. The Buddha
said, "Don't just hope for the other shore to come
to you. If you want to cross over to the other
shore, the shore of safety, well-being, non-fear, and
non-anger, you have to swim or row across. You
have to make an effort." This effort is the practice
of the Six Paramitas.


The Six Paramitas

(1) dana paramita – giving, offering, generosity.

(2) shila paramita – precepts or mindfulness
trainings.

( 3 ) kshanti paramita – inclusiveness, the
capacity to receive, bear, and transform the pain
inflicted on you by your enemies and also by those
who love you.

( 4 ) virya paramita – diligence, energy,
perseverance.

(5) dhyana paramita – meditation.

( 6 ) prajña paramita – wisdom, insight,
understanding.


Practicing the Six Paramitas helps us to reach
the other shore — the shore of freedom, harmony,
and good relationships.

The first practice of crossing over is the
perfection of giving, dana paramita. To give means
first of all to offer joy, happiness, and love. There
is a plant, well-known in Asia — it is a member of
the onion family, and it is delicious in soup, fried
rice, and omelets — that grows back in less than
twenty-four hours every time you cut it. And the
more you cut it, the bigger and stronger it grows.
This plant represents dana paramita. We don't
keep anything for ourselves. We only want to give.
When we give, the other person might become
happy, but it is certain that we become happy. In
many stories of the Buddha's former lives, he
practices dana paramita.

The greatest gift we can offer anyone is our true
presence. A young boy I know was asked by his
father, "What would you like for your birthday?"
The boy hesitated. His father was wealthy and
could give him anything he wanted. But his father
spent so much time making money that he was
rarely at home. So the boy said, "Daddy, I want
you!" The message was clear. If you love someone,
you have to produce your true presence for him or
for her. When you give that gift, you receive, at the
same time, the gift of joy. Learn how to produce
your true presence by practicing meditation.
Breathing mindfully, you bring body and mind
together. "Darling, I am here for you" is a mantra
you can say when you practice this paramita.
What else can we give? Our stability.
"Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.
Breathing out, I feel solid." The person we love
needs us to be solid and stable. We can cultivate
our stability by breathing in and out, practicing
mindful walking, mindful sitting, and enjoy living
deeply in every moment. Solidity is one of the
characteristics of nirvana.

What else can we offer? Our freedom.
Happiness is not possible unless we are free from
afflictions — craving, anger, jealousy, despair, fear,
and wrong perceptions. Freedom is one of the
characteristics of nirvana. Some kinds of happiness
actually destroy our body, our mind, and our
relationship s. Freedom from craving is an
important practice. Look deeply into the nature of
what you think will bring you happiness and see
whether it is, in fact, causing those you love to
suffer. You have to know this if you want to be
truly free. Come back to the present moment, and
touch the wonders of life that are available. There
are so many wholesome things that can make us
happy right now, like the beautiful sunrise, the
blue sky, the mountains, the rivers, and all the
lovely faces around us.

What else can we give? Our freshness.
"Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing
out, I feel fresh." You can breathe in and out three
times and restore your flowerness right away.
What a gift!

What else can we offer? Peace. It is wonderful
to sit near someone who is peaceful. We benefit
from her peace. "Breathing in, I see myself as still
water. Breathing out, I reflect things as they are."
We can offer those we love our peace and lucidity.
What else can we offer? Space. The person we
love needs space in order to be happy. In a flower
arrangement, each flower needs space around it in
order to radiate its true beauty. A person is like a
flower. Without space within and around her, she
cannot be happy. We cannot buy these gifts at the
market. We have to produce them through our
practice. And the more we offer, the more we have.
When the person we love is happy, happiness
comes back to us right away. We give to her, but
we are giving to ourselves at the same time.

Giving is a wonderful practice. The Buddha said
that when you are angry at someone, if you have
tried everything and still feel angry, practice dana
paramita. When we are angry, our tendency is to
punish the other person. But when we do, there is
only an escalation of the suffering. The Buddha
proposed that instead, you send her a gift. When
you feel angry, you won't want to go out and buy
a gift, so take the opportunity now to prepare the
gift while you are not angry. Then, when all else
fails, go and mail that gift to her, and amazingly,
you'll feel better right away. The same is true for
nations. For Israel to have peace and security, the
Israelis have to find ways to ensure peace and
security for the Palestinians. And for the
Palestinians to have peace and security, they also
have to find ways to ensure peace and security for
the Israelis. You get what you offer. Instead of
trying to punish the other person, offer him
exactly what he needs. The practice of giving can
bring you to the shore of well-being very quickly.
When another person makes you suffer, it is
because he suffers deeply within himself, and his
suffering is spilling over. He does not need
punishment; he needs help. That is the message he
is sending. If you are able to see that, offer him
what he needs — relief. Happiness and safety are
not an individual matter. His happiness and safety
are crucial for your happiness and safety.
Wholeheartedly wish him happiness and safety,
and you will be happy and safe also.

What else can we offer? Understanding.
Understanding is the flower of practice. Focus
your concentrated attention on one object, look
deeply into it, and you'll have insight and
understanding. When you offer others your
understanding, they will stop suffering right away.
The first petal of the flower of the paramitas is
dana paramita, the practice of giving. What you
give is what you receive, more quickly than the
signals sent by satellite. Whether you give your
presence, your stability, your freshness, your
solidity, your freedom, or your understanding,
your gift can work a miracle. Dana paramita is the
practice of love.

The second practice is the perfection of the
precepts, or mindfulness trainings, shila paramita.
The Five Mindfulness Trainings help protect our
body, mind, family, and society. The First
Mindfulness Training is about protecting the lives
of human beings, animals, vegetables, and minerals.
To protect other beings is to protect ourselves.
The second is to prevent the exploitation by
humans of other living beings and of nature. It is
also the practice of generosity. The third is to
protect children and adults from sexual abuse, to
preserve the happiness of individuals and families.
Too many families have been broken by sexual
misconduct. When you practice the Third
Mindfulness Training, you protect yourself and
you protect families and couples. You help other
people feel safe. The Fourth Mindfulness Training
is to practice deep listening and loving speech. The
Fifth Mindfulness Training is about mindful
consumption.

The practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings
is a form of love, and a form of giving. It assures
the good health and protection of our family and
society. Shila paramita is a great gift that we can
make to our society, our family, and to those we
love. The most precious gift we can offer our
society is to practice the Five Mindfulness
Trainings. If we live according to the Five
Mindfulness Trainings, we protect ourselves and
the people we love. When we practice shila
paramita, we offer the precious gift of life.
Let us look deeply together into the causes of
our suffering, individually and collectively. If we
do, I am confident we will see that the Five
Mindfulness Trainings are the correct medicine for
the malaise of our times. Every tradition has the
equivalent of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
Every time I see someone receive and practice the
Five Mindfulness Trainings, I feel so happy — for
him, his family, and also for myself— because I
know that the Five Mindfulness Trainings are the
most concrete way to practice mindfulness. We
need a Sangha around us in order to practice them
deeply.

The third petal of the flower is inclusiveness,
kshanti paramita. Inclusiveness is the capacity to
receive, embrace, and transform. Kshanti is often
translated as patience or forbearance, but I believe
"inclusiveness" better conveys the Buddha's
teaching. When we practice inclusiveness, we don't
have to suffer or forbear, even when we have to
embrace suffering and injustice. The other person
says or does something that makes us angry. He
inflicts on us some kind of injustice. But if our
heart is large enough, we don't suffer.

The Buddha offered this wonderful image. If
you take a handful of salt and pour it into a small
bowl of water, the water in the bowl will be too
salty to drink. But if you pour the same amount of
salt into a large river, people will still be able to
drink the river's water. (Remember, this teaching
was offered 2,600 years ago, when it was still
possible to drink from rivers!) Because of its
immensity, the river has the capacity to receive
and transform. The river doesn't suffer at all
because of a handful of salt. If your heart is small,
one unjust word or act will make you suffer. But if
your heart is large, if you have understanding and
compassion, that word or deed will not have the
power to make you suffer. You will be able to
receive, embrace, and transform it in an instant.
What counts here is your capacity. To transform
your suffering, your heart has to be as big as the
ocean. Someone else might suffer. But if a
bodhisattva receives the same unkind words, she
won't suffer at all. It depends on your way of
receiving, embracing, and transforming. If you keep
your pain for too long, it is because you have not
yet learned the practice of inclusiveness.

When Rahula, the Buddha's son, was eighteen,
the Buddha delivered to him a wonderful Dharma
talk on how to practice inclusiveness. Shariputra,
Rahula's tutor, was there, and he listened and
absorbed that teaching, also. Then, twelve years
later, Shariputra had the chance to repeat this
teaching to the full assembly of monks and nuns. It
was the day after the completion of the threemonth
rainy-season retreat, and every monk was
getting ready to leave the compound and go off in
the ten directions to offer the teachings to others.
At that time, one monk reported to the Buddha,
"My Lord, this morning as Venerable Shariputra
was leaving, I asked him where he was heading, and
instead of answering my question, he pushed me to
the ground and did not even say, 'I'm sorry.'"
The Buddha asked Ananda, "Has Shariputra
gone far yet?" and Ananda said, "No, Lord, he left
just an hour ago." So the Buddha asked a novice to
find Shariputra and invite him to come back. When
the novice brought Shariputra back, Ananda
summoned all the monks who were still there to
gather. Then, the Buddha stepped into the hall and
asked Shariputra formally, "Shariputra, is it true
that this morning when you were going out of the
monastery, a brother of yours wanted to ask you a
question and you did not answer him? Is it true
that instead you pushed him to the ground and
didn't even say you were sorry?" Thereupon,
Shariputra answered the Buddha, in front of all his
fellow monks and nuns:

"Lord, I remember the discourse you gave
twelve years ago to Bhikshu Rahula, when he was
eighteen years old. You taught him to contemplate
the nature of earth, water, fire, and air in order to
nourish and develop the virtues of love,
compassion, joy, and equanimity. Although your
teaching was directed to Rahula, I also learned from
it, and I have tried to observe and practice that
teaching.

"Lord, I have tried to practice like the earth.
The earth is wide and open and has the capacity to
receive, embrace, and transform. Whether people
toss pure and fragrant substances such as flowers,
perfume, or fresh milk upon the earth, or toss
unclean and foul-smelling substances like
excrement, urine, blood, mucus, and spit upon the
earth, the earth receives them all equally, without
grasping or aversion. No matter what you throw
into the earth, the earth has the power to receive,
embrace, and transform it. I try my best to practice
like earth, to receive without resisting,
complaining, or suffering.

"Lord, I practice mindfulness and loving
kindness. A monk who does not practice
mindfulness of the body in the body, of the actions
of the body in the actions of the body, could knock
down a fellow monk and leave him lying there
without apologizing. But it is not my way to be
rude to a fellow monk, to push him to the ground
and walk on without apologizing.

"Lord, I have learned the lesson you offered to
Rahula to practice like the water. Whether
someone pours a fragrant substance or an unclean
substance into the water, the water receives them
all equally without grasping or aversion. Water is
immense and flowing and has the capacity to
receive, contain, transform, and purify all these
things. I have tried my best to practice like water.
A monk who does not practice mindfulness, who
does not practice becoming like water, might push
a fellow monk to the ground and go on his way
without saying 'I'm sorry.' I am not such a monk.

"My Lord, I have practiced to be more like fire.
Fire burns everything, the pure as well as the
impure, the beautiful as well as the distasteful,
without grasping or aversion. If you throw flowers
or silk into it, it burns. If you throw old cloth and
other foul-smelling things into it, the fire will
accept and burn everything. It does not
discriminate. Why? Because fire can receive,
consume, and burn everything offered to it. I have
tried to practice like fire. I am able to burn the
things that are negative in order to transform them.
A monk who does not practice mindfulness of
looking, listening, and contemplating might push a
fellow monk to the ground and go on without
apologizing. Lord, I am not such a monk.

"Lord, I have tried to practice to be more like
air. The air carries all smells, good and bad, without
grasping or aversion. The air has the capacity to
transform, purify, and release. Lord Buddha, I have
contemplated the body in the body, the movement
of the body in the movement of the body, the
positions of the body in the positions of the body,
the feelings in the feelings, and the mind in the
mind. A monk who does not practice mindfulness
might push a fellow monk to the ground and go on
without apologizing. I am not such a monk.

"My Lord, I am like an untouchable child with
nothing to wear, with no title or any medal to put
on my tattered cloth. I have tried to practice
humility, because I know that humility has the
power to transform. I have tried to learn every
day. A monk who does not practice mindfulness
can push a fellow monk to the ground and go on
without apologizing. My Lord, I am not such a
monk."

Shariputra continued to deliver his "Lion's
Roar," but the other monk could stand it no longer,
and he bared his right shoulder, knelt down, and
begged for forgiveness. "Lord, I have transgressed
t he Vinaya (rules of monastic discipline). Out of
anger and jealousy, I told a lie to discredit my elder
brother in the Dharma. I beg the community to
allow me to practice Beginning Anew." In front of
the Buddha and the whole Sangha, he prostrated
three times to Shariputra. When Shariputra saw his
brother prostrating, he bowed and said, "I have not
been skillful enough, and that is why I have created
misunderstanding. I am co-responsible for this, and
I beg my brother monk to forgive me." Then he
prostrated three times to the other monk, and they
reconciled. Ananda asked Shariputra to stay for a
cup of tea before starting off on his journey again.
T o suppress our pain is not the teaching of
inclusiveness. We have to receive it, embrace it,
and transform it. The only way to do this is to
make our heart big. We look deeply in order to
understand and forgive. Otherwise we will be
caught in anger and hatred, and think that we will
feel better only after we punish the other person.
Revenge is an unwholesome nutriment. The
intention to help others is a wholesome nutriment.
To practice kshanti paramita, we need the other
paramitas. If our practice of inclusiveness does not
bear the marks of understanding, giving, and
meditation, we are just trying to suppress our pain
and drive it down to the bottom of our
consciousness. This is dangerous. That kind of
energy will blow up later and destroy ourselves
and others. If you practice deep looking, your
heart will grow without limits, and you will suffer
less.

The first disciple I ordained was a monk named
Thich Nhât Tri. Brother Nhât Tri went with Sister
Chân Không and me on many missions to rescue
flood victims in central Vietnam, and he spent
many months in a poor hamlet because I had asked
him to. We were setting up the School of Youth for
Social Service, and we needed to learn the real
situation of the people in the rural areas. We
wanted to find ways to apply nonviolence and
loving kindness to help poor people improve their
standard of living. It was a beautiful movement for
social improvement. Eventually, we had 10,000
workers. The communists said our Buddhist
movement was pro-American, and the mass media
said that we Buddhist monks were disguised
communists trying to arrange a communist
takeover. We were just trying to be ourselves, not
aligned with any warring party. In 1967, Brother
Nhât Tri and seven other social workers were
kidnapped by a group on the extreme right, and he
has not been heard from since then.

One day, Nhât Tri was walking on the streets
of Saigon, when an American soldier standing on a
military truck spit on his head. Brother Nhât Tri
came home and cried and cried. Being a young man,
he was tempted to fight back, and so I held him in
my arms for half an hour in order to transform that
feeling of being deeply hurt. I said, "My child, you
were not born to hold a gun. You were born to be a
monk, and your power is the power of
understanding and love. The American soldier
considered you to be his enemy. That was a wrong
perception of his. We need 'soldiers' who can go to
the front armed only with understanding and love."
He stayed on with the School of Youth for Social
Service. Then he was kidnapped and probably
killed. Thich Nhât Tri is a big brother of the monks
and nuns at Plum Village. His handwriting looked
almost exactly like mine. And he wrote beautiful
songs for buffalo boys to sing in the countryside.
How can we wash away that kind of injustice?
How can we transform the injustice received by
whole nations? Cambodians, Bosnians,
Palestinians, Israelis, Tibetans, all of us suffer from
injustice and intolerance. Instead of being brothers
and sisters to each other, we aim guns at each
other. When we are overtaken by anger, we think
that the only response is to punish the other
person. The fire of anger continues to burn in us,
and it continues to burn our brothers and sisters.
This is the situation of the world, and it is why
deep looking is needed to help us understand that
all of us are victims.

I told Brother Nhât Tri, "If you were born into
a family along the coast of New Jersey or
California and if you read the kinds of newspapers
and magazine articles that those soldiers read, you
would also believe that all Buddhist monks are
communists, and you would spit on the head of a
monk, too." I told him that American G.I.s were
trained to look on all Vietnamese as enemies. They
were sent here to kill or be killed. They are victims,
just like the Vietnamese soldiers and Vietnamese
civilians. The ones who hold the guns and shoot at
us, the one who spit at you, they are not the
makers of the war. The war makers are in
comfortable offices in Beijing, Moscow, and
Washington, D.C. It was a wrong policy born of a
wrong understanding. When I went to Washington
in 1966, I met with Robert McNamara, and what I
told him about the nature of war was entirely true.
Half a year later, he resigned as Secretary of
Defense, and recently he wrote a book and
confessed that the war in Vietnam was a terrible
mistake. Perhaps I helped plant some seeds of
understanding in him.

A wrong perception was responsible for a
wrong policy, and a wrong policy was responsible
for the deaths of many thousands of American and
Vietnamese soldiers, and several million
Vietnamese civilians. The people in the
countryside could not understand why they had to
die like that, why the bombs had to fall on them
day and night. I was sleeping in my room close to
the Buddha Hall on the School of Youth for Social
Service campus when a rocket was fired into that
hall. I could have been killed. If you nourish your
hatred and your anger, you burn yourself.
Understanding is the only way out. If you
understand, you will suffer less, and you will
know how to get to the root of injustice. The
Buddha said that if one arrow strikes you, you'll
suffer. But if a second arrow hits you in the same
spot, you'll suffer one hundred times more.
When you are a victim of injustice, if you get angry, you
will suffer one hundred times more. When you
have some pain in your body, breathe in and out
and say to yourself, "It is only a physical pain." If
you imagine that it is cancer and that you will die
very soon, your pain will be one hundred times
worse. Fear or hatred, born of ignorance, amplifies
your pain. Prajña paramita is the savior. If you
know how to see things as themselves and not
more than that, you can survive.

I love the Vietnamese people, and I tried my
best to help them during the war. But I also saw
the American boys in Vietnam as victims. I did not
look at them with rancor, and I suffered much less.
This is the kind of suffering many of us have
overcome, and the teaching is born out of that
suffering, not from academic studies. I survived for
Brother Nhât Tri and for so many others who died
in order to bring the message of forgiveness, love,
and understanding. I share this so they will not
have died in vain.

Please practice deep looking, and you will
suffer much less from disease, injustice, or the
small pains within you. Deep looking leads to
understanding, and understanding always leads to
love and acceptance. When your baby is sick, of
course you do your best to help him. But you also
know that a baby has to be sick a number of times
in order to get the immunity he needs. You know
that you can survive, too, because you have
developed antibodies. Don't worry. "Perfect
health" is just an idea. Learn to live in peace with
whatever ailments you have. Try to transform
them, but don't suffer too much.

During his lifetime, the Buddha suffered too.
There were plots to compete with him and even to
kill him. One time, when he had a wound in his leg
and people tried to help him, he said it was only a
small wound, and he did his best to minimize the
pain. Another time, five hundred of his monks
went off to set up an alternative Sangha, and he
took it very much in stride. Finally, the difficulties
were overcome.

The Buddha gave very concrete teachings on
how to develop inclusiveness — maitri (love),
karuna (compassion), mudita (joy), and upeksha
(equanimity).

If you practice these Four
Immeasurable Minds, you will have a huge heart.
Because bodhisattvas have great compassion, they
have the capacity of receiving, embracing, and
transforming. Because they have great
understanding, they don't have to suffer. This is a
great gift for the world and for the people we love.

The fourth petal of the flower is virya
paramita, the perfection of diligence, energy, or
continuous practice. The Buddha said that in the
depth of our store consciousness, alayavijñana,
there are all kinds of positive and negative seeds —
seeds of anger, delusion, and fear, and seeds of
understanding, compassion, and forgiveness. Many
of these seeds have been transmitted to us by our
ancestors. We should learn to recognize every one
of these seeds in us in order to practice diligence. If
it is a negative seed, the seed of an affliction like
anger, fear, jealousy, or discrimination, we should
refrain from allowing it to be watered in our daily
life. Every time such a seed is watered, it will
manifest on the upper level of our consciousness,
and we will suffer and make the people we love
suffer at the same time. The practice is to refrain
from watering the negative seeds in us.

We also recognize the negative seeds in the
people we love and try our best not to water them.
If we do, they will be very unhappy, and we will
be unhappy, also. This is the practice of "selective
watering." If you want to be happy, avoid
watering your own negative seeds and ask others
not to water those seeds in you. Also, avoid
watering the negative seeds in others.

We also try to recognize the positive seeds that
are in us and to live our daily life in a way that we
can touch them and help them manifest on the
upper level of our consciousness, manovijñana.
Every time they manifest and stay on the upper
level of our consciousness for a while, they grow
stronger. If the positive seeds in us grow stronger
day and night, we will be happy and we will make
the people we love happy. Recognize the positive
seeds in the person you love, water those seeds,
and he will become much happier. In Plum Village,
we practice "flower watering," recognizing the best
seeds in others and watering them. Whenever you
have time, please water the seeds that need to be
watered. It is a wonderful and very pleasant
practice of diligence, and it brings immediate
results.

Imagine a circle divided in two. Below is the
store consciousness and above is mind
consciousness. All mental formations lie deep
down in our store consciousness. Every seed in our
store consciousness can be touched and manifests
itself on the upper level, namely our mind
consciousness. Continued practice means trying
our best not to allow the negative seeds in our
store consciousness to be touched in our daily life,
not to give them a chance to manifest themselves.
The seeds of anger, discrimination, despair,
jealousy, and craving are all there. We do what we
can to prevent them from coming up. We tell the
people we live with, "If you truly love me, don't
water these seeds in me. It is not good for my
health or yours." We have to recognize the kinds of
seeds not to be watered. If it happens that a
negative seed, the seed of an affliction, is watered
and manifests itself, we do everything in our
power to embrace it with our mindfulness and help
it return to where it came from. The longer such
seeds stay in our mind consciousness, the stronger
they become.

The Buddha suggested a practice called
"changing the peg." When a peg of wood is not the
right size or is rotting or in disrepair, a carpenter
will replace it by putting another peg on exactly
the same spot and driving the new peg into the old
one. If you have a mental formation arising that
you consider to be unwholesome, one way to
practice is to invite another mental formation to
replace it. Many seeds in your store consciousness
are wholesome and beautiful. Just breathe in 
and out and invite one of them to
come up, and the other seed will go down. This is
called "changing the peg."
The third practice is to touch as many positive
seeds in your store consciousness as you can so
that they will manifest in your mind
consciousness. On a television set, if you want a
certain program, you push the button to bring you
that program. Invite only pleasant seeds to come
up and sit in the living room of your
consciousness. Never invite a guest who brings
you sorrow and affliction. And tell your friends,
"If you love me, please water the wholesome seeds
in me every day." One wonderful seed is
mindfulness. Mindfulness is the Buddha in us. Use
every opportunity to touch that seed and help it to
manifest on the upper level of your consciousness.

The fourth practice is to keep a wholesome
seed as long as possible once it has manifested. If
mindfulness is maintained for fifteen minutes, the
seed of mindfulness will be strengthened, and the
next time you need the energy of mindfulness, it
will be easier to bring up. It is very important to
help the seeds of mindfulness, forgiveness, and
compassion to grow, and the way to do this is to
help them be present in your mind consciousness
as long as possible. This is called transformation at
the base — ashraya paravritti. This is the true
meaning of virya paramita, the perfection of
diligence.

The fifth crossing-over is dhyana paramita, the
perfection of meditation. Dhyana is pronounced
zen in Japanese, chan in Chinese, thien in
Vietnamese, and son in Korean. Dhyana, or
meditation, consists of two aspects.
The first is stopping (shamatha). We run our whole life
chasing after one idea of happiness or another.
Stopping is to stop our running, our forgetfulness,
our being caught in the past or the future. We come
home to the present moment, where life is
available. The present moment contains every
moment. Here we can touch our ancestors, our
children, and their children, even if they have not
been born yet. Shamatha is the practice of calming
our body and emotions through the practice of
mindful breathing, mindful walking, and mindful
sitting. Shamatha is also the practice of
concentrating, so we can live deeply each moment
of our life and touch the deepest level of our being.

The second aspect of meditation is looking
deeply (vipashyana) to see the true nature of
things. You look into the person you love and find
out what kinds of suffering or difficulty she has
within herself and what aspirations she holds.
Understanding is a great gift, but your daily life
conducted in mindfulness is also a great gift. Doing
everything mindfully is the practice of meditation,
as mindfulness always nourishes concentration and
understanding.

The sixth petal of the flower is prajña
paramita, the perfection of understanding. This is
the highest kind of understanding, free from all
knowledge, concepts, ideas, and views. Prajña is
the substance of Buddhahood in us. It is the kind
of understanding that has the power to carry us to
the other shore of freedom, emancipation, and
peace. In Mahayana Buddhism, prajña paramita is
described as the Mother of All Buddhas.

Everything that is good, beautiful, and true is born
from our mother, prajña paramita. She is in us; we
only need to touch her to help her manifest herself.
Right View is prajña paramita.
There is a large literature on prajña paramita,
and the Heart Sutra is one of the shorter
discourses in that collection. The Diamond Sutra
and the Ashtasahasrika Prajñaparamita
(Discourse in 8,000 Verses) are among the earliest
discourses in that collection. Prajña paramita is the
wisdom of nondiscrimination.

If you look deeply into the person you love,
you'll be able to understand her suffering, her
difficulties, and also her deepest aspirations. And
out of that understanding, real love will be
possible. When someone is able to understand us,
we feel very happy. If we can offer understanding
to someone, that is true love. The one who receives
our understanding will bloom like a flower, and we
will be rewarded at the same time. Understanding
is the fruit of the practice. Looking deeply means
to be there, to be mindful, to be concentrated.
Looking deeply into any object, understanding will
flower. The teaching of the Buddha is to help us
understand reality deeply.

Let us look at a wave on the surface of the
ocean. A wave is a wave. It has a beginning and an
end. It might be high or low, more or less beautiful
than other waves. But a wave is, at the same time,
water. Water is the ground of being of the wave. It
is important that a wave knows that she is water,
and not just a wave. We, too, live our life as an
individual. We believe that we have a beginning and
an end, that we are separate from other living
beings. That is why the Buddha advised us to look
more deeply in order to touch the ground of our
being, which is nirvana. Everything bears deeply
the nature of nirvana. Everything has been
"nirvanized." That is the teaching of the Lotus
Sutra. We look deeply, and we touch the suchness
of reality. Looking deeply into a pebble, flower, or
our own joy, peace, sorrow, or fear, we touch the
ultimate dimension of our being, and that
dimension will reveal to us that the ground of our
being has the nature of no-birth and no-death.

We don't have to attain nirvana, because we
ourselves are always dwelling in nirvana. The wave
does not have to look for water. It already is water.
We are one with the ground of our being. Once the
wave realizes that she is water, all her fear
vanishes. Once we touch the ground of our being,
once we touch God or nirvana, we also receive the
gift of non-fear. Non-fear is the basis of true
happiness. The greatest gift we can offer others is
our non-fear. Living deeply every moment of our
life, touching the deepest level of our being, this is
the practice of prajña paramita. Prajña paramita is
crossing over by understanding, by insight.

Perfect understanding is present in all the other
perfections. Perfect understanding is like a
container. If the container is not baked well in the
kiln, there will be cracks, and the liquid in it will
flow out. Prajña paramita is the mother of all the
paramitas, the Mother of All Buddhas. Prajña
paramita is like the wings of the bird that can carry
it anywhere. Without Right Understanding, none
of the other paramitas can go very far.

These are the practices of the Six Paramitas
offered by the Buddha. Each of the six contains the
other five. Understanding is giving, meditation is
giving, continued practice is giving, inclusiveness is
giving, and mindfulness training is giving. If you
practice giving deeply, you are also practicing
understanding, meditation, and so on. In the same
light, we see that giving is mindfulness training,
understanding is mindfulness training, meditation is
mindfulness training, continued practice is
mindfulness training, and inclusiveness is
mindfulness training. If you practice one paramita
deeply, you practice all six. When there is
understanding and insight, meditation will be true
meditation, continued practice will be true
continued practice, inclusiveness will be true
inclusiveness, mindfulness training will be true
mindfulness training, and giving will be true giving.
Understanding increases the quality of the other
five practices.

Look into your situation and see how rich you
are inside. See that what you have in the present
moment is a gift. Without waiting any longer, begin
to practice right away. The moment you begin to
practice, you'll feel happy right away. The Dharma
is not a matter of time. Come and see for yourself.
The Dharma can transform your life.

When you are caught in your sorrow, your
suffering, your depression, your anger, or your
fear, don't stay on the shore of suffering. Step over
to the shore of freedom, non-fear, and non-anger.
Just practice mindful breathing, mindful walking,
and deep looking, and you will step onto the shore
of freedom and well-being. You don't have to
practice five, ten, or twenty years to be able to
cross over to the other shore. You can do it right
now.

From "Heart of the Buddha's Teachings"
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Comments