The Six Perfections - by Geshe Sonam Rinchen





my notes:


-Generosity
For instance, although you give when requested, you may feel tempted to speak harshly if the recipient shows dissatisfaction with what you have given, demands more or tries to return your gift. You need patience when faced with such an ungrateful or provocative response, otherwise anger will destroy the virtue you have created.

Your practice of generosity must be wise: it is essential to have a clear understanding of what is appropriate to give, to whom and under what circumstances.

Give the virtue you have created by dedicating it to the happiness of others.

Bias in wanting to give only to friends and loved ones but not to enemies must also be avoided.

In teaching a craft, for example, it is important to pass on everything one knows and not to withhold essential instructions for fear of being surpassed by one’s students.

But you don’t need to be an official teacher to give valuable advice to someone who needs help, seems confused or appears to be going astray.

Learning texts by heart or reciting them may also be regarded as giving the teachings, if it is done with the wish to benefit others. Reciting texts can benefit those who hear them. A pigeon used to spend the night perched on a beam in a monk’s room. This monk began reciting the Compendium of Teachings Sutra every morning before dawn. Up on the beam the bird heard this, but, depending on the season, when the monk had finished reciting half or two-thirds of the text it grew light and the bird flew away. Hearing the text purified many karmic obstructions so that the bird was reborn as a human who had faith in the Three Jewels and eventually became ordained. He is said to have been a disciple of the great Indian master Vasubandhu. Without having to make any effort to memorize it, he could recite by heart the part of the text he had heard repeatedly in his previous life.

The highest form of generosity is non-attachment. A snake sheds its skin without any attachment to it. How easy it would be if this is how we felt about our possessions.

If we understand impermanence and are genuinely compassionate, we will regard our possessions as others’ belongings which they have entrusted to us for safekeeping and which must be returned to them.

Special effort is needed when you find things particularly hard to give or when you fear that you might go short yourself. You have been much richer and owned more splendid possessions in previous lives but have had to let go of everything and will definitely have to again, so why not begin now?

Instead of harboring the hope for return, remember that those who seek your help lack happiness, are on fire with craving and are powerless to remove their own suffering. Seeing this, think of nothing but helping them.

Both in real life and in imagination generosity requires the exercise of wisdom and intelligence, without which we may do more harm than good.



-Ethical Discipline
A dog may live in luxury as an outcome of past generosity; it may look nice and be liked and cosseted by everyone as the result of practicing patience in the past, but it is still only a dog, incapable of discriminating between wholesome and unwholesome actions.

Our perfection of ethical discipline is not measured by how successful we are in stopping violence or unethical behavior in the world, but by how developed are our personal intention and ability to refrain from harm.

Harm here refers primarily to seven harmful physical and verbal activities: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, harsh speech, divisive speech and meaningless speech.

The first step is to recognize and acknowledge faulty thoughts and actions as such, which very few people are willing to do.

There is no need to hold on to guilt and feel weighed down by it. You performed the actions and you also have the power to purify them, no matter how grave they are. Faults, mistakes and disturbing emotions are not an integral part of our nature but temporary blemishes which can be removed.

The power of regret involves acknowledging that we have performed a wrong action and recognizing that it will bring suffering if left unpurified.

Anger is easy to recognize as negative because it never feels agreeable, but desire and attachment fool us because initially they seem so pleasant.

Below the surface most people are unhappy. You may try to help with the best intention, but if you appear too competent and successful at managing your own life, your presence may depress the other person even further.

Cultivating a sense of satisfaction and having few desires is the secret to peace and happiness.

Where the well-being of others is concerned, we should certainly not be content with little.

Use this pleasant garden of your precious human rebirth to cultivate the three kinds of ethical discipline until they flower and fruit in the state beyond sorrow.

Having laid a foundation of restraint from harm, begin to build up positive energy by constantly strengthening your ethical conduct and by training in concentration and wisdom.

Instead of retaliating when harmed, the situation can become a source of merit by regarding what has happened as the outcome of your own past actions.

Be conscientious in seeking ways to create fresh virtue and to sustain and enhance virtue already created, so that the flow is never interrupted. Also guard the doors of your senses.

What is the use of spiritual practice that promises future happiness but does not help us now? The Buddhist teachings offer a medicine to cure our present ills and keep us healthy. Whether we take it or not is our choice.

We should also sleep moderately, ideally devoting the first and last parts of the night to practice and sleeping only in the middle.

It takes continual effort to remain conscious of our physical, verbal and mental activities, but this is necessary because our habits are deeply ingrained. As we keep doing it, it becomes easier.

Change occurs through courage and hard work because antidotes to the disturbing emotions do not grow strong of their own accord.

Hoping for help is not enough, since Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, who love us more than we love ourselves, cannot help unless we help ourselves. If it just depended on them, they certainly would not leave us in this predicament. They can show us what to do, but only we can do it. As soon as we begin, they wholeheartedly support our efforts.



-Patience
since there is no easy way of telling who is and isn’t a Bodhisattva, it is prudent not to get angry with any living being.

Try to prevent anger altogether, but if does arise, take steps to insure that it is short-lived and does not turn into resentment.

Serenity and joy make us attractive and radiant in a way that outshines conventional beauty.

Genuine non-violence, love, compassion and the wish to help are noble human qualities which anyone can develop, no matter to which culture they belong and no matter whether they are young or old.

Whatever our propensities may be, we are not condemned to remain as we are. Change is possible if we are sufficiently determined. Keep trying and remember that even the smallest progress is better than nothing.

An exorcist dealing with someone possessed doesn’t get angry when the possessed person behaves violently, but tries even harder to drive out the evil spirit.

The harmful intention and the harmful activity are passing manifestations which occur only when certain temporary irritants are present.

The other’s anger arises because the seed of anger is present, but this seed is only activated when provocative circumstances occur. I am the provocative circumstance which has triggered the anger, thus, in an indirect way, I have actually harmed the person who is injuring me and am responsible for his or her subsequent bad rebirth.

A negative action we performed in the past resulted in a bad rebirth. The harm we experience now is the remaining negative momentum of that action. Why do we resent the person who helps us to end the effects of previous wrong-doing? In fact they are doing us a favor.

Practicing patience means not getting upset and remaining calm but does not demand that you allow yourself to be manipulated or exploited by others and their disturbing emotions.

We should not waste our physical and mental energy on seeking out suffering nor on trivial pursuits, but should do what will bring lasting happiness,

By practicing patience instead of getting angry, we come closer to enlightenment and create positive energy. Why should we feel angry with those who provide us with this opportunity? Those who hurt us and cause us suffering ignore the connection which exists between actions and their effects. If we retaliate, we are no better than they, since we also ignore it.

If you are not attached to approbation, you won’t get angry when disparaged because you are no longer motivated by the competitive urge to outdo others or the need for acclaim.

When you are criticized, honestly examine whether or not you possess the fault. If you do, you can take steps to rid yourself of it. If you don’t, the criticism is misdirected and nothing to get angry about because eventually its inappropriateness will become apparent to others.

The teaching on how to practice patience challenges us to act in a way which totally contradicts conventional norms of behavior.

How do we prevent unhappiness? By consciously fostering and cultivating its opposite, happiness.

Obsessively thinking about how unjustified and unwanted the situation is absorbs our energy and prevents us from finding a way to resolve it.

When people speak unpleasant, demeaning, critical or disparaging words, they cannot harm our mind, since the mind is formless and immune to injury by words.

When you hear that someone whom you dislike is in difficulty or is enjoying unexpected prosperity, you take the news home and mull it over when you are alone. Watch how you react.

Just as a good speaker sticks to the topic and does not ramble on about irrelevant matters, in analytical meditation discursive thought is limited to the topic under consideration and is not permitted to range freely.

Past negative actions can only come to an end in two ways: either you purify them before they ripen or you experience their consequences.

Remember that it is the consequence of your own past negative actions and that through the kindness of the Buddhas and your spiritual teachers this experience will act as a catalyst bringing to an end the negative momentum set in motion by those actions.

If you do not have a good character, praise makes you conceited and arrogant. Criticism, though unpleasant to hear, helps you to identify your faults.

The suffering you experience is not some punishment that has been imposed on you, but the natural consequence of your actions.

If we want happiness we must set up the conditions for it. Thus suffering can encourage us in the practice of virtue.

Just as day is followed by night and night by day there are good times and bad times. When times are bad, take courage and think that the suffering will not last forever. When things are going well, don’t be too attached to this fleeting happiness. Remember that difficulties are bound to occur again. Only by attaining liberation and enlightenment can we live in the sun all the time.

Those who help you cannot contribute to your development of patience, while those who harm you unintentionally assist in the process. Therefore respect them as much as enlightened beings, give them gifts and, far from being angry with them, try to help them. Enlightened and ordinary beings are equally precious as fields in which to plant the seed of everything good you desire.

There is no better way of pleasing Bud-dhas, for whom all creatures are like beloved children, than by caring for and bringing happiness to living beings. By helping them we indirectly help ourselves and by harming them we harm ourselves. The practice of non-violence is impossible without patience.

The Buddha’s intention was to show living beings how to find happiness not how to form some kind of exclusive club.



-Enthusiastic Effort
In fact every kind of well-being to which we aspire in this and future lives depends on joyful effort. If things could be achieved by laziness, its opposite, we would have achieved all our aims long ago.

Laziness stops us achieving anything useful and is a fertile growing medium for all the disturbing emotions. It is easy to be both extremely busy and lazy at the same time!

Instead we can throw off the laziness which impedes us, use our intelligence to rid ourselves of the despotic disturbing emotions and allow true kindness to grow in our hearts.

It is irrelevant how many human beings there are in the world because a human rebirth of leisure and fortune remains rare as long as we have not created the excellent virtue which gives rise to it.

Death is never more than a breath away and after death you must take a new rebirth, in which you may not enjoy the same opportunities.

When you feel sleepy or tempted to postpone your practice, remember the old don’t necessarily die first and the young later.

Everything the Buddha taught, both the sutras and tantras, is for meditation and for practical application.

Since we have studied and practiced only a little, we have never really tasted the teachings. Once we savor their incomparable taste, nothing else will ever be as flavorful, virtue will never again seem boring and enthusiastic effort will come naturally.

An intelligent person willingly sacrifices what is of lesser value.

The clear-light nature of the mind endows every being with the potential to be totally free from stains and to develop every kind of good quality.

Moreover, if it is true that all living beings have the potential to become enlightened, we as humans enjoy a special advantage because of our superior intelligence, which allows us to discriminate clearly between what needs to be cultivated and what needs to be discarded.

The whole question of our human potential and the nature of mind is something worth taking time to contemplate and study.

Most of our suffering stems from our fixed ideas and ways of thinking. Since Bodhisattvas understand the nature of reality, they do not cling to ideas of a truly existent self, body or mind, which frees them from the causes of mental suffering. They therefore do not experience suffering, no matter how long they remain in the world.

Every intelligent person longs for freedom and happiness.

If we are genuinely interested in the Great Vehicle and wish to practice accordingly, we must first develop the altruistic intention and try to purify faults and their imprints as well as help others to do so.

If we have done good in our lives, we should allow it to give us joy and inspire us to do more.

It is better not to begin something than to begin and abandon it halfway through.

Such a pattern prevents you from honoring commitments and creating fresh virtue. It also robs you of satisfaction.

If you take the initiative to begin freeing yourself from old and harmful emotional habits and attitudes, the support you need will come.

Finally there is pride in the face of the disturbing emotions. Counter them with the determination that you will not let them get the better of you but will valiantly resist and overcome their tyranny.



-Concentration
If you want to change and aspire to see others change, if you hope for peace in the world, you must begin by making yourself more peaceful. When your friends notice a positive transformation in you, they will be curious to know what caused it and your presence will begin to inspire those around you. This is how change is set in motion and is the only way to create peace within and between nations. It is futile to dream of peace while the disturbing emotions rage within us.

A good companion is someone who is prepared to point out your faults, not someone who indulges you.

All the emotions in the desire syndrome are hard to see as detrimental because initially when they arise they feel stimulating and pleasant, but their harmfulness is evident from the fact that they eventually bring us trouble and pain.

You must be equipped with full knowledge of how to practice, otherwise you will not recognize obstacles, know how to remove them or how to enhance the meditative stabilization gained.



-Wisdom
To develop both faith and knowledge study the sutras and great texts, hear and think about the teachings, discuss them to clarify doubts, keep the company of intelligent friends and make offerings of light to create favorable causes for mental illumination.

Since most people’s minds are not sufficiently developed and receptive, there is a danger that they will misunderstand what is taught.

It is therefore wise to investigate the nature of reality, particularly the nature of the self.

Many people don’t even begin to wonder about the nature of reality, which is that all things lack inherent existence and at the same time function in a perfectly satisfactory way.

By overcoming the misconception which holds things to have inherent existence, we will rid ourselves of the disturbing attitudes and emotions which imprison us in cyclic existence.

Not every thought “I” is a misconception of the self. The misconception is one which takes the self to exist objectively, from its own side, as it appears.

Try to feel a close connection to them, to see them as near and dear and then think of their suffering and of how they lack even ordinary happiness, let alone lasting transcendent happiness.

It is easier to recognize their suffering than to see them as lovable, but even then we tend only to feel compassionate towards those who are destitute or obviously in need and not towards those who wear designer labels and drive smart cars. Yet all ordinary living beings have that basic misconception of the self from which the disturbing emotions arise and all suffer in a multitude of ways.

But how does this self actually exist? It exists nominally, as attributed by name and thought to the aggregates and not from its own side as it appears to exist.

Emptiness cannot be understood unless one knows what is empty of inherent existence and the reasons which establish emptiness, such as the reason of dependent arising.

Since the conventional valid perceptions of sentient beings are affected by the imprints of ignorance, they are mistaken from the point of view that everything appears truly existent to them.

Meditation on selflessness involves identifying the object of negation, the seemingly inherently existent self, and then coming to understand the absence of such a self.

All products of causes and conditions are totally unstable and change moment by moment. When we reflect on this, we know it to be true, yet such things appear lasting and unchanging. Our problems stem from the fact that we assent to this appearance and act on it. Everything that exists does so in relation to and depending upon other factors, yet things seem to exist independently and objectively. This mode of existence is the object of refutation. The aim of meditation on impermanence and selflessness is to enable us to see things as they actually are. In both cases they seem to exist one way but actually exist in another.

The validly existing self cannot be found either when we search for it, but in that case unfindability does not imply non-existence but simply deceptive existence. Here, however, we are searching for the self as an objectively existent entity, which is how it appears to exist. Anything objectively existent should be findable and in this case unfindability denotes the non-existence of what is sought.

There definitely is a self. It seems to exist from the side of the aggregates, and as long as we are content to leave it at that, everything functions satisfactorily, but when we begin to search for the self, it cannot be found.

These days the special relationship that existed in the past between students and teachers has become unfashionable, but once students quite naturally took off their shoes when they approached their teacher’s door and spoke softly out of respect. This was voluntary, not enforced, and did not need to be taught, since it belonged to a way of life that they could observe around them. Complete trust, mutual respect and a sense of commitment are the essential basis for a successful relationship between teacher and student.

All the things we perceive appear to be intrinsically existent. They exist but not as they appear.

The coarse aggregates of this life cease at death and there is no further continuum of a similar type, whereas although the self of this life also ceases at death, there is a further continuum of a similar type.

Dying is the process which precedes death. Actual death and the beginning of the intermediate state are simultaneous. While the coarse energy winds and states of consciousness are active, the subtle ones are not, but as soon as the coarse ones cease to operate, the subtle ones begin. In the intermediate state we also have a body, but like a dream body it is much more subtle than our present body. In that state our subtle energy wind and subtle mental consciousness act as the basis of imputation for the continuing “I.”

Since the mind can be freed from all faults and can develop marvelous qualities, its basic nature and thus the nature of living beings is pure and good.

The cause of our present condition is ignorance regarding reality. Not only do we not know how things actually exist, but we distort their mode of existence.

Anyone who is accustomed to mirrors knows that the reflection of their face is not a real face, yet they still perceive the face that appears in the mirror.

This demonstrates that all the factors involved occur dependency and do not exist from their own side.

Familiarizing ourselves with the understanding of emptiness, until subject and object become one taste and are like water poured into water, is the way to rid ourselves of the fabrications created by conceptuality and of their imprints.

Our reluctance to think repeatedly and deeply about what we hear or read is a defensive mechanism because we do not really want to change.

A skilled physician doesn’t try to treat all of a patient’s ailments simultaneously but treats first what requires immediate attention.

When three factors—students who are ready, the authentic teachings and properly qualified teachers—come together, liberation becomes feasible, but not if any of these three essential components is missing.

Cause and effect are also not inherently different because in that case the effect could not depend on its cause and would be causeless. Since the result comes from the cause, there is no discontinuity. Things therefore are free from the extremes of permanence and annihilation, but occupy a central position in that they lack inherent existence yet have conventional existence.

Through lack of understanding we easily become addicted to luxury and sensual pleasure, but Bodhisattvas know how to use such things for their own and others’ true well-being.