It has been a while since you have received posts from me or the Sangha of the Pandemic. I hope that you will enjoy and find useful this and future postings as we move into a period of exploring the six paramitas taught in the sutras of the buddhist lineages. If you would not like to receive these emails, please feel free to unsubscribe. You can do that on our website: Sangha of the Pandemic or at the bottom of this email. The sangha continues to meet for practice and inquiry six times per week. For times and the Zoom link refer to the end of this post.
Each week or two through the end of the year you will receive postings of reflections on the paramitas. During the meditation sessions during the subsequent week, we will meditate on and inquire into the six paramitas with the intention of deepening understanding and cultivating a direct experience of the practices and their fruition. We will also provide links to digital materials at the end of each post for further study. In the near future, there will be an opportunity for comments and discussions with other members of the sangha on the bottom of each post on the website. In the meantime, feel free to respond to the email that you received about this post.
The forum for the practice sessions is a bit unique to this sangha. We open with a few minutes of silent reflection. We take a few minutes to check in. The facilitator will speak a bit about the topic shared in the post and in the context of the specific practices. We practice for 20 – 40 minutes. In the last ten minutes there is an invitation to share essential insights from the practice with the sangha. The sits usually are one hour long but sometimes we go over a bit.
Let’s begin with a reflection on the paramitas as a whole.
The Six Paramitas
Perhaps before you begin to read this exploration, you take a few to settle in and relax. Maybe clear the mind of to do and to want lists and just see what’s here. May these words bring about ease in heart and mind.
The three most common translations of paramita” are “aspect of perfection”, “transcendence” and “gone to the opposite shore”.
So right off the top we might get lost in the semantics of these words, not to mention the baggage of memories and experiences that they carry. The imprints of Western materialism consistently show up as a need for constant achievement and a drive for perfection. The suffering that the drive for perfection has caused over the millennia, and is still causing, is pervasive. “Transcendence” sets the mind spinning in a similar way. With the introduction of Eastern thought to the mainstream of the West, mid twentieth century, transcendence became a goal, for many, to get out of this life. It has been loaded with spiritual superiority and a universal judgment of being human, as being something that one should get past, and that if you didn’t you were somehow less than the folks who claimed to experience transcendence. This seems like just more of the baggage of perfection. Several teachers from the Eastern traditions recognized these rigid mind and heart habits and like Traleg Rinpoche,1 began using the translation of Sanskrit paramita: “going over to the other shore”. This seems to land more easily for many with a lot less baggage than the translations from Pali (perfection or transcendence), but it still sets up a getting to somewhere other than here.
Now would be a good opportunity to pause and take a few, or several, minutes to see what arises in your own mind and heart experience when you read or hear these words: perfection, transcendence, other shore. It is important to know what hidden streams of habitual thought are going on while you are contemplating this exploration of paramita and in the coming months, the specific paramitas. Because, most assuredly, these little demons of unconscious imprints will rise up, as we deepen the practices, and rock the boat of contemplation, distracting our mind and triggering doubt; sending us right back on the track of striving for perfection and justifying our judgments of self and others. So take a few here and notice.
Zoketsu Norman Fischer, a zen monk, points to a different way to understand and entertain the practices of the paramitas. In his introduction to a series on the paramitas2 he points out that these are not states or goals to be achieved but the essence of our humanness. When we meet someone who is happy with being human, just as they are, and you can sense that that happiness has nothing to do with their material wealth, social position or intellectual achievements, they also, uncoincidentally, act in alignment with the six paramitas. In other words, when we stop striving to be some imagined idea of what a perfect human is, or when we stop trying to transcend our unique way of being human, or discard the desire to get in a boat and get somewhere over there, just anywhere but here; when all those habitual judgments of just this-ness, just here-ness, diminish and eventually fall away entirely, what remains are these essential human qualities. Qualities that are perfect just as they are, transcendent of the unconscious haranguings of our super ego, and finally, are not over there, but just right here.
This is the heart of any wisdom practice. First, to develop the skill to see what is here, what unconscious habits of mind are causing distraction, attachment, and hate, fear, clinging and judgment. Second, to see these obstacles to our inherent qualities of goodness and to know the causes and the conditions that give rise to them. Third, to notice that there are times when these conditionings are not piloting the boat and then allow ourselves to experience the joy in the freedom of that. Fourth to begin to consciously cultivate this joy of being human, the joy of being right here, right now; gradually discarding the ingrained habits of the mind and heart. This does take practice. Practice that resonates with the true heart and celebrates the open spacious mind. Whatever that practice looks like is not important. It is important, however, that you choose a practice that you can stick with and find healing, ease and joy in it.
So, over the next several months, in this way, we will explore the virtues (oh-oh another trigger word – eh?) of the six paramitas:
Perhaps the mind has already started spinning on these words. Good to notice. The approach to our study and practice in relation to each paramita will be:
- To see what is here already and to reflect on teachings about each paramita.
- To recollect or call up experiences of each paramita that were/are joyful and generative.
- To explore obstacles, that we may experience, to these qualities
- To bring intentionality in meditation and in our daily life to these qualities.
We look forward to hearing from you and practicing with you!
May these words and all the intentions that give rise to them bring about the end of suffering for all beings, throughout all times and in all directions.
1The Essence of Buddhism. An Introduction to Its Philosophy and Practice Traleg Kyabgon. 11/11/2014
Practicing in sangha, even virtually, seems to activate the yeast of meditation in a different way than sitting solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to share the bread of the practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome.
We practice on ZOOM:
- Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time
- Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time
- Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time
- Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time
- Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM PacificTime
ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789
Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org