Tag Archives: six paramitas

37 practices: the six paramitas (verses 25-30)

The six paramitas, aka perfections, aka transcending actions, consist of five activities or methods that actually propel the boat of our precious human existence to the other shore of fully realized wisdom and compassion, aka buddhahood, when imbued with the power of the sixth paramita: the wisdom of realizing the emptiness of each of the preceding five methods. By training in the sixth paramita, we come to realize that, without negating the relative reality of all our actions, at the level of ultimate reality there is no fixed and lasting self performing the action or receiving it, nor any truly existing action taking place.

Relative and ultimate reality exist together as a seamless whole, so we need to continue to act mindfully according to the Buddhist principles of the first turning of the wheel of dharma, such as the law of karma, the eightfold path, and the first five paramitas, while also understanding them from the perspective of the second turning of the wheel, in which the Buddha taught the co-existing emptiness of all relative phenomena, that nothing we perceive can be pinned down in any permanent or fully identifiable way. Try it and see! (In the previous post on impermanence, scroll down to the heading “Contemplation” for a simple exercise.)

The five method paramitas are generosity, ethical conduct, patience, joyful perseverance, and meditation. If we engage in them, even without the transcending wisdom of realizing their ultimate emptiness, we will earn merit, dwell in the higher realms of samsara, and benefit others, and they will provide momentum toward awakening. But we won’t fully awaken until we also accomplish the sixth paramita of wisdom, recognizing that all our actions are empty of any solid, lasting reality.

More on each of the six transcending actions may be found in the drop-down menu for the 37 practices of a bodhisattva, above.

Next: the first paramita of generosity, verse 25

37 practices: verse 26

26. To guard ethical conduct

If, through a lack of ethical conduct, / I can’t accomplish my own benefit,

Then any aspiration to achieve / the benefit of others is a joke.

To keep and guard my ethical conduct / completely free from worldly in-flu-ence:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 26 audio above.

The paramita or transcending action of ethical conduct is variously referred to as discipline, morality, or ethics, or any combination of these terms. The widely respected translator Lotsawa Tony Duff, in his fabulous online Tibetan-English dictionary The Illuminator, provides a very helpful explanation of what the Tibetan word tsul.trim really means and why “unfortunately, there is no single word that captures this particular flavor in English.” He feels “discipline” is the most accurate option, though still imperfect. I first used “moral discipline” because that’s what Ken Holmes calls it in his translation of Ornament of Precious Liberation, and because it was easy to fit into the verse meter. I later updated it to “ethical conduct” because it’s the term used in Mingyur Rinpoche’s online course on the six paramitas, and I felt it was a bit clearer in meaning. It fits the explanation of this paramita well, and it still fits the meter, though the stresses are a tad less perfect.

So … now that we’ve decided what to call it, at least in this class, what exactly do we mean by ethical conduct, moral discipline, or just discipline?

Continue reading

37 practices: verse 25

25. To practice generosity

If, wishing to attain awakening, / I need to give even my body up,

Then doesn’t it go also without saying / that this applies to mere external stuff?

Without hope for reward or benefit / to generously give away a gift:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 25 audio above

Note: The whole translation to date (verses 1-26) is now posted as a pdf file under “The 37 practices translation” at the top of this page.

Entering the home stretch: With verse 25, Tokme Zangpo introduces the six paramitas, the heart of action bodhicitta. These are the transcending actions we engage in that propel our boat, the precious human existence, to the shore of full awakening. The first five of these actions–generosity, ethical conduct, patience, joyful effort, and meditation — are also ordinary virtues through which we benefit ourselves and others.

When we apply the sixth transcending action, the wisdom that realizes emptiness, to the first five paramitas, that is what makes these virtues transcending actions that also directly help us awaken. This wisdom is the same as ultimate bodhicitta, the nature of mind, which we have already studied in 23-24.

Continue reading