Alex Wright

The Six Paramitas: Part 1

September 14, 2003

I've just started taking a new class with Jay Lippman over at the Berkeley Shambhala Center on the Six Paramitas. I thought I would try to capture some of what I'm learning here each week, if only for the sake of cleaning up my class notes.

So, what's a paramita?

Paramita is a sanskrit word meaning roughly "the way over to the other shore," sometimes translated as "liberating action." In the Buddhist tradition, the paramitas constitute the core practices of the mahayana, or Bodhisattva path.

The first paramita is generosity.

As with most other Buddhist teachings, this one is further divided into sub-categories:

  • Material generosity
    Giving money, materiel, or other tangible assets - in other words, what we typically think of as "generosity."

  • Fearlessness
    What we might call "generosity of spirit," or confidence: giving of oneself. The opposite of fearlessness being "poverty": or, dependence on the approval/approbation of others.

  • Dharma
    Finally, sharing the dharma (or "truth"), drawing from the canon of Buddhist teachings (while of course being careful not to proselytize).
In his commentary, Jay emphasized the importance of grounding one's sense of generosity in a thorough understanding of bodhicitta, or compassion - lest you end up practicing a false kind of generosity, shoring up your ego with another self-aggrandizing delusion.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche describes bodhicitta in this way:

[Bodhicitta] comes from being willing to face your state of mind. When you awaken your heart in this way you find, to your surprise, that your heart is empty. Through the practice of meditation and sitting still you find that your heart is empty; you are looking into outer space. By simply letting yourself be, as you are, you develop genuine sympathy towards yourself." In other words, by understanding the fundamental emptiness of phenomenal experience - to "regard all dharmas as dreams," as the lojong slogan goes - one can begin to develop a deeper sense of compassion for everyone else laboring under this shared state of delusion.

File under: Dharma

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