What’s in the Way of the Way?

Dear friends, 

The primary purpose of the practice and exploration of the paramitas is to bring about and end to suffering, not only for ourselves but for all beings. Recalling this as we read, listen to, and speak about them, as well when we act in the practice of them, is like the practice in meditation of returning to the breath or a focal point, when we notice that we have gone on a mind journey or have been distracted by our sense awarenesses or emotions. During this exploration it might be good to remember that we are exploring together and that each revelation and experience of each one of us is important to the whole community. I also encourage you to look beyond just what you read in this blog or hear in the practice sessions and to trust in your direct experience of this exploration and where it might lead you to study or explore. The best that any of us can do in our attempts to express our understanding of what we have learned or experienced is to point to what is ineffable and inexpressible using words, art, and actions. You are encouraged to do this by responding to blogs or practices by email, or participate in discussions on the individual postings.  

Over the next several months the outline of this exploration, these writings, and the practice sessions will look something like this: (Although, even these may divert from this outline in response to questions or expressions that show up in the exploration.) 

  1. What is here? As we approach each paramita, you will be invited to look at your current experience of the concept. 
  1. What has been taught or revealed by the buddhist sutras, the beatitudes, other wisdom traditions, or from our direct experience? 
  1. What, in our own experience, are the veils or obscurations to the experience and understanding of the essential nature of each paramita?  
  1. What is the fruition of the practice and exploration of the paramitas? 

Participating in this exploration in any way that is available to you is great! Participating by joining practice sessions seems to not only broaden our individual experience and understanding but will contribute to the same for the whole community. So, drop into a session whenever you can, you are always welcome. 

In the past two weeks I have been writing about the paramitas as a whole (Exploring the Practice of the Six Paramitas and Paramitas as Purities), following number one and two above. This week and next we will be looking at number three: obscurations, and four: fruition. 

What’s in the Way of the Way? 

The paramitas are an essential aspect of all parts of the practice of awakening to the causes of suffering and the true nature of reality; that the nature of reality is universally good.  

The first hearing or reading about the paramitas is like an invitation to an unexplored trail that has been said to have challenging climbs, fields of wildflowers, cool stream crossings, waterfalls and culminates in endless 360o vistas. This hearing may stimulate the aspiration to go hike the trail and then all the necessary preparations that need to be made to get to the trailhead. To begin the exploration. 

The aspiration that arises because of hearing the wisdom teachings about the paramitas or meeting others who manifest them, may lead us to begin to practice and study the teachings for ourselves; to accept the invitation and to arrive at the threshold of the path to understanding. Like arriving at the trailhead and taking that first step on to the path. This moment of hiking for me is filled with the hopes and longings to have all of the experiences that I have imagined come to fruition. Your experience of receiving and accepting this invitation to explore the paramtias may have a similar resonance 

Exploring the meaning of the paramitas and practicing them with conscious awareness brings about an authentic, direct experience of the reality of goodness, the nature of everything. The practice also begins to highlight the veils that hide or obscure our experience and understanding of this nature: the causes and contitions of suffering. In the buddhist Lotus Sutra1 and throughout the buddhist canon and commentaries these are summed up as the three poisons.  

  • 1)passion/attachment/greed  
  • 2) aggression/aversion/hate 
  • 3) ignorance or delusion.   

As we begin the practices, we may notice that we are strongly defending a point of view, or a sense of uncomfortableness, or there is an outright rejection of another person’s experience or one of our own that brought up suffering, or there may be a tendency to become distracted while listening or studying a specific paramita. It is as if the paramita practices are pointing out a previously unknown obstacle on the path to understanding. “Look here. Pay attention to this.” If the aspiration for truth is present, we will begin to look carefully and inquire into these experiences. “How did that get there?” “What is the cause of that?” “Is it real or is it my mind playing tricks on me?” Perhaps after we look carefully, we will see something new about it. A way through or around, or the value of it. 

On the trail we may stumble over a root that causes us to bring our attention to the path before us instead of dreaming about the vista at the end or the field of wildflowers. Or our thoughts start going to judgments about the relative beauty or challenges of the trail. As the trail ascends a steep switchback or traverses a steep, slippery talus, we may become doubtful about our skills and question whether the ultimate view is worth traversing that part. Or the supposed field of wildflowers is now just a dried-up field of weeds, and of course… the bugs. “This isn’t at all what I expected.” “This wasn’t in the trail guide!” Or we may see that the switchback goes on for a mile but there is a way to go straight up to the end of it by hacking a way through, tramping all of the vegetation and disturbing the slope. Or perhaps we are just thinking about the snack that we brought, or what we will do when we get back, or whether our phone is working…. And then, out of fatigue or fear or frustration or boredom we begin to notice. We may stop and sit and look more carefully at what is there in the moment. The path is pretty stable if I go with patience and caution. There are new shoots of green beneath the dry grass and the weeds are shining gold like they are on fire from the sun. First step off the path, I create a small cascade of dirt and stone that obscures the path behind me and then I slip and fall and twist an ankle. Right there in front of me is a salmon berry bush loaded with fruit. 

The paramitas are not only the aspiration, the threshold, and the way to understanding, they are each, and as a whole, the fruition of understanding. All along the way to understanding there may be experiences of seemingly boundless joy, wells of understanding, spacious skies of awareness, and bright clarity of just this as it is. A tasting of each aspect that is indescribable, beyond an expressible concept. It feels like an arrival, an achievement, a culmination. When the agitation of excitement and the sense of pride are expended, looking more closely we may notice that there is no end to this goodness and, with that experience and knowledge, there may be an experience of no beginning either. No past, or present or future, no here or there. Included in that is also the experience of past, present and future, here and there, beginning middle and end. The experience of the practice of the paramitas as the fruition of understanding.  

Brother Paul walked the Pacific Coast Trail from the southern border to central Washington. In his blogs and stories, he speaks of the experiences of arriving at the planned destination of the day’s hike as sometime being so wonderful that he forgot, for a moment, that he was exhausted and that his body was suffering. Then there was the practice of unpacking, setting up camp, preparing a meal and planning the next day’s trek. Or reaching a trail mark that let him and us know that he was halfway or had 300 miles to go, and then celebrating. Or experiencing euphoria at the culmination of the trek and turning his attention back to the practice of being in the non-trail world and his personal practice as a Franciscan monk, daily walking the streets of Seattle with generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, prayer and understanding. If you have done trail hiking where you reached a culmination point of a breathtaking vista that left you with an experience of joy or ease or completeness, you may have looked out into that vista and seen other trails leading to other peaks, (Or often for me, that actually, this was not the ultimate vista of this trail, it was that one 500 yards further on.). Either way, the endlessness of the vistas and potential vistas beyond where you were; the vastness of the endless sky above; the realization that there were seemingly infinite trail heads that were arrived at from infinite beginnings; that there were, are, and will be infinite unique experiences on these infinite trails, and then maybe an understanding that all trails, all experiences on the trail including the things that were in the way of the way, and all culminations, point to the true beauty of Nature and the true nature of all beingness as goodness. 

The invitation this week is to reflect on your experience of your concepts of the ideal paramitas. Then look to see what might be obscuring your own understanding or appreciation of the experience or of the wisdom teachings about the paramitas. To the best of your ability approach this inquiry with open-ended curiosity, free from opinions, judgments and distractions. And then simply see, what is, what was, and what is unfolding. As Gangaji often said, stop trying to see and just see. 

1THE LOTUS SUTRA (Taishō Volume 9, Number 262) Translated from the Chinese of Kumārajiva by Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research 2007.  https://www.bdk.or.jp/document/dgtl-dl/dBET_T0262_LotusSutra_2007.pdf  

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Practice 

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, seems to activate the yeast activity 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 Pacific Time 

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 . If you would like to leave comments or particpate in ongoing discussions about a blog, go to the end of the individual blog post. You must be a subscriber to the website to comment. 

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