The Practice of Bodhisattva Dharma
Determining The Bodhicitta: The Six Paramitas
Dharma Master T’ai-Hsu
The Six Paramitas, or perfections, are the means for realizing the Four Great Vows and completing the Bodhisattva practice. They are as follows:
1. Dana: generosity, or charity;
2. Sila: the precepts, or morality;
3. Ksanti: patience, or forbearance;
4. Virya: energy, or zeal;
5. Dhyana: contemplative practice, or meditatton;
6. Prajna: wisdom, or the power to discern reality.
After one has heard the Mahayana Dharma and developed great compassion, the practice of the Six Paramitas is the natural next step on the Bodhisattva Path. The Great Vows, deep as the ocean, should have a mountain of practice to fill them up. This mountain is none other than the practice of the Six Paramitas, and filling (or fulfilling) the Vows means to complete the Supreme Bodhi of Buddha Fruit. The Tao of Bodhisattva Dharma is, then, the practice of the Six Paramitas.
The first Paramita is Dana,or charity and generosity. The highest worldly form of this is to give one’s body, or even one’s very life, for the benefit of others. This is described as internal charity, while the type of generosity regarding property, money, time, etc., is referred to as external charity. Beyond Dana, in this internal and external sense, there is a transcendental form, which is the use of one’s talents, intellect, scholarship, eloquence, etc., to spread the message of Buddhadharma. This is called the almsgiving of the Buddha Truth. The principle of Dana is the spirit of self-sacrifice in order to benefit the multitude.
The second Paramita is Sila,or morality. As stated above, the discipline of the Mahayana Bodhisattva is not only concerned with the negative prohibitions but also with their positive counterparts. Sila means the cessation of evil and the initiation of the good. This Sila is formulated as the 5, 8, 10 or 250 precepts. The main principle of Bodhisattva moral discipline is to attain the state of non-retrogression in one’s moral behavior whereby the observation of Sila becomes automatic.
The third Paramita is Ksanti,or patience and forbearance. Holding onto the objective of doing good-specially in this age of chaos and impurity throughout the six realms of sentient beings-is not an easy task. There are so many adverse circumstances to obstruct the practice of Bodhisattva Dharma. The Bodhisattva equipped with right view and his practice of the Ksanti Paramita, is able to deal successfully with these situations, effect his own liberation and aid all other living beings. The Bodhisattva should also develop the capacity for forgiveness, which arises from wisdom. Wisdom perceives that all sentient beings are produced by causal conditions without self-nature and are of the same nature as oneself.
The fourth Paramita is Virya,or energy. The term energy is used in the sense of putting forth energy to win those states of wholesomeness as yet unknown and unwon. One puts forth energy in the practice of the Bodhisattva Dharma and energetically maintains the Bodhicitta. Without developing the Virya Paramita, one determines the Bodhicitta only temporarily. When meeting with adverse conditions, one is disillusioned and drops the practice. Virya, then, comes to mean persistence in the face of disillusionment and energetic striving to complete the Bodhi Tao and to win the Supreme Buddha Fruit.
The fifth Paramita is Dhyana,or contemplative practice. Dhyana, in Sanskrit, means concentrated practice and is synonymous with Samadhi. Joining the two words, we have the Chinese phrase Ch’an-Ting. The original meaning of Ch’an-Ting is to concentrate the mind on one point. The effort of contemplation is the tonic of spiritual health. One studying the Bodhisattva Tao who cannot control his confused and disorderly mind must necessarily practice Ch’an-Ting and develop light and power as well as the ability to be unmoved by desire. Ch’an-Ting is the source of all wisdom and equanimity, and it means the completion of the Bodhisattva Tao.
The sixth Paramita is Prajna,or Wisdom. Although all worldly knowledge and learning are thought of as wisdom, the Wisdom tradition of the Buddhadharma is not quite the same. According to the Buddha, Wisdom is the ability to recognize the truth behind the temporary show of appearances and possess confidence regarding this truth. The method of practice leading to Wisdom, called Ch’an-Ting, encourages us not to seek anything but to unite ourselves with the Truth. This is called Original Wisdom; and it encompasses discriminative wisdom, although its scope and the approach to it are different. Original Wisdom is the apprehension of the truth that all things arise from causal conditions, have no self-nature and are, therefore, void. The very essence of these Six Paramitas is Wisdom, and the Way of Wisdom is the Bodhisattva Tao.
The Sanskrit term Paramitameans Gone across to the other shore.The practice of these Paramitas can lead one across the sea of birth, death and distress to the other shore of peace and truth, i.e., Nirvana. The purified mind and wholesome behavior that arise through the practice of the Six Paramitas are praised by all sages, ancient and modern. Perceptively, Chuang Tse observed long ago: “The body as rotten wood, the mind as cold ashes, losing all things, beyond the world.” Another Chinese sage, Lao Tse, also insightfully noted: “Actions like the flow of water, mind calm as a mirror; the sounds of the world appear as an echo.”
[ Next: The Four All-Embracing Virtues ]
Source: Young Men’s Buddhist Association of America