Alex Wright

The Six Paramitas: Part 2

September 23, 2003

Continuing notes from Jay Lippman's class on the Six Paramitas:

The second paramita is shila, or discipline.

For most of us, the word "discipline" quickly gets bound up with notions of right and wrong, good and bad. Sin. It's important to understand that in the Buddhist context, "discipline" does not carry those Judeo-Christian overtones of guilt, self-punishment, or moral stridency. Shila has more to do with cultivating a sense of alignment and self-control.

Like the first paramita, this one breaks down into three types:

  • The first type of discipline, dompe tsultrim, literally to "bind oneself," means engaging in proper conduct. Here, conduct has less to do with outward displays of correctitude than with maintaining inward composure and a sense of detachment. As Chogyam Trungpa put it: "controlling your mind whether you are completely agitated or you are prone to too much laziness." Which is not to say that one's conduct doesn't matter; but rather that if one has one's proverbial act together, then good conduct just happens (shades of Calvinism here?)

  • The discipline of gewa cho du, or "gathering virtuous dharmas." Trungpa explains this type of discipline as "ripening oneself, developing oneself... paying attention to the dharma." While dharma of course refers to Buddhist teachings, here I believe it can be interpreted more broadly as engaging one's intellect. The main point here is to devote a portion of one's energy to study, contemplation and meditation rather than chasing sensory pleasures.

  • Finally, semchen-tonche means working for the benefit of others. This discipline invokes the mahayana principle of putting others first. As Trungpa explains, semchen-tonche "means making others worthy, preparing them for the dharma. It includes bodhisattvalike actions such as relating with relatives and friends, business partners, your bosses or your subordinates or whomever... the basic idea is that you bring together your mind and the dharma... You are also able to produce psychological harmony for others."

In class, Jay emphasized practicing the second paramita as a method of moderating the first (generosity). Without a sense of discipline, he suggested, one's generosity could spiral unchecked into the territory of "idiot compassion," or of giving too much without a sense of balance - to the point where you actually do more harm than good (the oft-cited example being buying a drink for an alcoholic).

In the serendipity department, last night I came across a passage where Shunryu Suzuki explains the Buddhist precept against intoxicants (or rather, against intoxication - an important distinction).

Suzuki Roshi put this teaching in a startling new light: "This means don't sell Buddhism. Not only liquor but also spiritual teaching is intoxicating."

That seems like such a timely remark that I will invoke my own sense of discipline and stop right here.

previously: The Six Paramitas, Part 1

File under: Dharma

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