The Five Other Perfections Besides Generosity

Verses 26 through 31

Now, we are going to continue talking about the six perfections, or the six far-reaching attitudes. You might have notice that they go in the order of generosity, ethical self-discipline, and then patience. This is because the focus of our practice should be in this order too. Earlier, I talked about generosity. As bodhisattvas, we should give away our wealth. And on top of this, if we have name and fame, why not give it up too and offer it to others, or use it to benefit others? This is what Shantideva said.

The question many people ask is, if we do that, can we take the merit or positive potential to the next life or not? Buddhism will say that, yes, we can take the merit to the next life. The imprints stay on our minds. The different philosophical schools debate about where the imprint stays. The Chittamatra school says that imprints stay in the mind, in the consciousness. Other schools, such as Prasangika, say that the imprints only stay on the imputation “I.” There is a big debate there. In any case, all Buddhists schools believe that whatever constructive or destructive things we do turn into imprints. These imprints are left on the consciousness, or the “I.” They continue on to our future lives. The fact that constructive actions create imprints that we take into future lives is actually a cause for great hope. We have to keep our imprints very safe. To protect them, we need to practice ethical self-discipline. Verse 26 speaks more about this. 

The Practice of Ethical Self-Discipline

(26) A bodhisattva’s practice is to safeguard ethical self-discipline without worldly intents, because, if we can’t fulfill our own purposes without ethical discipline, the wish to fulfill the purposes of others is a joke. 

Without self-discipline, even small things will fail. Even when we plan something very well, if we don’t have the self-discipline to follow through, everything we have planned will falter, and we won’t succeed in anything. It’s not that self-discipline is particularly fun, but we do it because it has a lot of benefits. Imagine that someone is overweight and wants to get in shape and be healthy. That requires self-discipline. Even if they like junk food they will avoid it and will start going to the gym. When they see their friends working out and see the benefits, they will do it even if they have to give up tasty junk food! 

This is just a small example of ordinary self-discipline. What we need is ethical self-discipline, whereby we ensure that the actions of our body, speech, and mind do not bring harm to ourselves or others. If we don’t have ethical self-discipline, then the whole idea of benefiting others is just all talk and no action. Without ethical self-discipline, we will not secure well-being for ourselves or others. Any thought of bringing benefit to others will be usurped. 

There are six far-reaching attitudes. And when we practice one attitude, it should contain all the other ones within it. So, for instance, when we practice generosity, we should do so purely without any expectation of receiving something in return. Pure giving is giving just for the sake of giving. This is generosity. But we need to have ethical self-discipline, patience, and so on in relation to this generosity. So, when we talk about the ethical discipline of generosity, we should think, “I’m giving this, but it’s not so others are impressed or think I’m great. I am only focused on what I’m doing.” This is ethical generosity. It is about giving purely and from the heart. 

If the receiver does not want it and throws it back to us, we can accept it, because we don’t have any expectations. For us, when this happens, strong emotion arises and we think, “I have given so much time and love, and in return I get this!” Deep inside, even if we feel like we are practicing pure generosity, there is some sort of expectation involved. When we’re practicing generosity and someone in return treats us in a negative way, we have to be strong. We need to practice the attitude of patience along with generosity, which would mean thinking, “I have no regrets. I have practiced generosity because I felt it would help, and I have no expectation of receiving anything in return. They can say or do anything, but I know I did the right thing.”

Next, when practicing generosity, we also need the attitude of perseverance, or joyous effort. We give once, twice, maybe a third time, and then that’s it. We give up. We feel unable to give more, whether it’s time or money. After all, if we only have 100 dollars ourselves, how much are we really willing to give? And then what about time? We all have friends or other people who annoy us, and we just want to leave quickly. In order to help others, we need to be able to put ourselves in their shoes and feel what they feel. It takes a lot of effort to go and listen to our friends’ problems and perseverance to stay there listening. It really takes perseverance! But this is just an example of the joyous effort and perseverance of generosity. If we think about the benefits and qualities of practicing generosity, it will be something we really like and wish to practice. And, actually, practicing generosity along with the other far-reaching attitudes is the number one way to make friends. This is the best way to make a connection with other people. 

In India, when a guest arrives to our home, we offer them water. When someone has walked a long way to get to you, they feel tired and so we offer them water. Whenever we go to a party, we need to bring gifts to make the host happy. In samsaric life, going empty-handed is not allowed! We feel a bit of shame if we don’t bring something. In the Lam-rim Chen-mo, Lama Tsongkhapa says this is very important. We make the other person so happy by doing something so simple. It is something we should wish to be able to do more. Through this, we can make connections with people and can deliver any message. Whether it is about bodhichitta, voidness, or impermanence, we can speak with others when we create the right connection with them. 

Then, we have the practice of concentration alongside our generosity. We think about and focus on these practices that we are doing. We spend time meditating on generosity. 

We might give something with love and compassion, but if we see this object as truly existing, it becomes more of a samsaric thing. So, finally, we also need discriminating awareness, wisdom. When we give with a pure mind and an understanding of the reality of ourselves and of the person to whom we give, this generosity transcends samsara. This great generosity builds strong positive potential that is a direct seed of Buddhahood. There is actually a big debate about whether performing prostrations creates the seeds for us to have a buddha’s qualities in the future. However, there is absolutely no debate about generosity. It definitely does create the seeds that help up eventually become a Buddha. Please keep this in mind. 

The Practice of Patience

(27) A bodhisattva’s practice is to build up as a habit patience, without hostility or repulsion toward anyone, because, for a bodhisattva wishing for a wealth of positive force, all who cause harm are equal to treasures of gems.

I don’t have children, but people who do will definitely know how this feels. When a child is screaming and shouting and crying, of course it is really annoying sometimes, but the parents still hold their child in their hearts as being most precious to them. They feel that their children are innocent and aren’t really aware of their actions, and so automatically they don’t feel anger toward them. When the child wakes up at 2 A.M. crying, the parent will go to them without any anger or hesitation. They will feel a very strong urge to go and help their child. It’s not to say that parents are never annoyed with their children, but I think it’s very rare for them to feel hatred or anger toward them. That is because parents regard their child as most precious. 

In the same way, bodhisattvas regard all beings as being like their children. Because of this, there is no danger of bodhisattvas getting angry with people or hating them. For a bodhisattva, there is no enemy. Anger mostly comes from the feeling of having an enemy, from some external being causing us problems. For bodhisattvas, there is no danger of feeling anger at any being, because they have seen that any potential source of harm to them is a priceless treasure. 

This is the total opposite of the way that normal people think. Normally, if someone tries to harm us, we want to destroy that person, we want revenge. But bodhisattvas see these beings as a priceless treasure. Why? Because they have seen that the result of doing so is full enlightenment. Doing so not only benefits others but ourselves too. Once we achieve full enlightenment, this is the ultimate state possible. This is the ultimate goal. That is why other beings are a precious treasure for bodhisattvas. 

We ordinary people say, “I, you.” “I” comes first. But for bodhisattvas, others always come first. Once we see that our own enlightenment depends on each and every other sentient being, there is no doubt that we will regard them all as precious beyond compare. If we even leave out one single being, we cannot become enlightened. It is in this way that we have to practice. 

I was talking with one close friend, and he recounted an experience he’d encountered with one of his friends. Strong, harsh words had been exchanged and they were no longer on speaking terms. He told me that when he recites his daily commitments, he would automatically include his once-friend-now-enemy along with all other sentient beings. He didn’t now think, “Well, this guy isn’t my friend anymore so I will not include him in my prayers.” He was doing his best to practice. 

Many people leave their enemies out and only pray for their family and friends. Bodhisattvas don’t do this because they see the kindness of all sentient beings as being equal and understand that to attain the ultimate goal of Buddhahood, full enlightenment, they require every sentient being. It is almost like a rule that if one sentient being is left out, it doesn’t work. No one can be left out. Thus, patience is very important. We need to see sentient beings as very precious, especially those we currently regard as our enemies.

The Practice of Perseverance

(28) A bodhisattva’s practice is to exert perseverance, the source of good qualities for the purposes of all wandering beings, since we can see that even shravakas and pratyekabuddhas, who would accomplish only their own purposes, have such perseverance that they would turn from a fire that has broken out on their heads.

With this verse, Gyalse Togme Zangpo introduces perseverance, the fourth perfection or far-reaching attitude. Perseverance comes in the middle of the list, and there’s a reason for this. Without perseverance, there is no way we can improve and develop our generosity, ethical discipline, and patience. That’s why it is in the middle. Concentration and discriminating awareness, the following perfections, are also based on perseverance. 

We have a saying in Tibet that even if we have wisdom, without perseverance we are just like a dead body – we don’t accomplish anything. When we talk about far-reaching perseverance, we should be aware that not all perseverance is meant. For instance, there are many people who put so much perseverance and effort into making money. They might make a lot of money for themselves and be very skillful at it, but we don’t call that far-reaching perseverance. Far-reaching perseverance is in something constructive for both ourselves and others. 

The verse also mentions shravakas and pratekyabuddhas. Shravakas are also known as listeners, and pratyekabuddhas as self-realizers. Shravakas are called listeners because they listen to the Buddha and then practice what they’ve heard. Their motivation is limited, as they only want to attain liberation as an arhat for their own benefit. They practice what they’ve heard from the Buddha, but they don’t do everything the Buddha asks them to do, like developing great compassion and bodhichitta. But they can deliver the message for others. The Buddha taught how to attain full enlightenment, and the listeners deliver the message but don’t seek full enlightenment themselves. They only aim for liberation. 

Pratekyabuddhas or self-realizers are more stubborn. It might be a bit harsh to say it like that. In Tibetan, they translated the term from Sanskrit as rhinoceros, because rhinos like to live as solitary creatures. They don’t live in herds like elephants. They like to stay in meditation for long periods and are influenced by having heard the Buddha’s teachings in previous lives. It is said that they are a little afraid of Buddhas, because they’re worried of being influenced away from their meditation and into practicing bodhichitta and attaining full enlightenment. They pray that when a Buddha comes to a world system, may they not be there! That is why when the Buddha was born and the self-realizers living in Varanasi at the time heard about this, many decided to disappear. Some flew far away with their miraculous powers and others even burned their bodies. The difference between listeners and self-realizers is that self-realizers build more positive potential, and so are able to teach others in a unique way, without speech, but with miraculous means and gestures. 

There is a huge difference between the effort and perseverance of those practitioners who always focus on themselves and those who have made the commitment of helping others. For sure, the effort and perseverance of those who want to benefit others is stronger and more positive. Shravakas and pratekyabuddhas see uncontrollably recurring existence as though their heads were on fire. They develop deep renunciation and the wish to be free from the fire of existence as soon as possible, but only for themselves. They’re desperate to extinguish the fire upon their own heads. Remember that I’m not talking about a real fire here, it’s just a metaphor for uncontrollably recurring existence. They see the suffering of samsara as the fire and feel that they cannot stay in samsara one more second. They hurry towards the practice of becoming an arhat. 

Bodhisattvas, on the other hand, see the fire upon their own heads but also see that everyone else’s head is on fire as well. They think of how to get everyone out of suffering, and so they have more responsibility. When you have more responsibility, you automatically put in more effort and persevere with it. Then, if we put things off, it is just down to laziness. 

I don’t know how it is in the West, but in Tibet, the older generation feels that the current generation doesn’t take life seriously enough. Parents advise their children to get married and have children of their own, and hope that somehow the feeling of responsibility grows within them. Mostly this works, but of course sometimes it fails. Still, once most people are married and have their own home, their feeling of responsibility grows so that they put effort and persevere in helping at least their own family. 

For Buddhist practitioners, like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we take universal responsibility to help everyone when we take bodhichitta vows every day. This is a good example for us to follow. We can take these vows while visualizing our guru. When we take a commitment like this, it gives us strength and a feeling of responsibility.

The Practice of Mental Stability, Concentration

(29) A bodhisattva’s practice is to build up as a habit a mental stability that purely surpasses the four formless (absorptions), by realizing that an exceptionally perceptive state of mind, fully endowed with a stilled and settled state, can totally vanquish the disturbing emotions and attitudes. 

In order to fight against negative emotions, there are many different methods we have to try. Let’s say we want to deal with strong attachment, for instance, to someone beautiful. In the Theravada tradition, we talk of seeing the ugliness of the body, and how it is a bag of skin full of bones, blood, and pus. We think about the disadvantages of the body in this way to lesson attachment to it. Sometimes it can help. It reduces our attachment for sure. But it doesn’t last for a long time. The attachment and attraction come back quickly! 

I think most of us can test this for ourselves and see how the attachment goes down temporarily but automatically comes back up quickly. Think about surgeons, who cut open bodies every day and look inside and see all the blood and organs. When we see that, we think it is quite ugly and we want to look away. Even if they see the insides of bodies every day, surgeons still say, “This is my beautiful girlfriend or boyfriend.” It doesn’t lessen their attraction to the body for long. And I have seen many surgeons cheating on their wives or husbands, having affairs. They have the same problem with attachment as we do, so just thinking of the disgusting qualities of the human body is not going to work for us either, in the long term. 

A better way to fight disturbing emotions is not to just see the bad qualities of something. Basically, when we suffer, we have to take hold of the suffering. Then we can face it. Well, we might not be able to face it directly because perhaps the disturbing incident that caused it to arise has already passed. But what we can do is examine the situation that made us suffer and look at how and why we felt pain and frustration. We have to search for the cause of our suffering, how it comes to us. If we look carefully, we will see that it comes from our own self-grasping. 

This is why analytical meditation is very important, to be able to examine the situations we find ourselves in and see where our unhappiness and suffering come from. Through analytical meditation, we will clearly see the connection between our suffering and our ignorant or unaware mind. Ignorant here doesn’t meant stupid – it refers to the fact that our minds are unaware of reality, of the way things truly exist. We need analytical meditation so that our minds can slowly become accustomed to viewing events and other people in a way that is closer to how they really exist. 

Once we start asking these questions such as, “Where does my suffering come from?” the answers will come. We will come to notice that our main enemy who really influences us is our unaware mind. If we can eliminate this unawareness which causes our suffering, then we can, in turn, eliminate suffering itself. The antidote to all of our problems is selflessness and voidness. Our afflictions are so strong and tricky, so the antidote must be equally as strong. 

To make the antidotes really strong, we need shamatha, which is a stilled and settled state of mind. We also need vipashyana, or an exceptionally perceptive state of mind. Without these two joined together, it will impossible for the antidotes to work to their full potential.

When we develop shamatha, we can stay in meditation for quite long periods, remaining calm and at peace. But it would be wrong to think, “I have so many problems, now I will just rest in shamatha, think nothing, and ignore all my problems.” That is the wrong way. When we face problems, we have to examine them and think about how long they could last, how the problems could be even worse than they are, and also how they could be so much better if we had a solution. What is the solution? The great weapons of selflessness and voidness. These weapons run on concentration. 

All of us have some level of concentration. I don’t think there is any sentient being who doesn’t have some level of concentration. Even animals have it. Concentration is when our mind can stay focused. Even if the focus lasts only for one second, that is still concentration. Shamatha is a very deep level of mental stability and concentration, where we can stay focused on an object of our choosing for hours and hours. Not only that, but with shamatha, our body doesn’t suffer. Rather, it is very pliable. Our mind feels blissful. In the textbooks, it says that the state of shamatha is a bit like fine cotton, very light and very calm. If we can stay like this even just for one hour, it is amazing.

Beyond our human realm there is the plane of formless beings, the so-called formless realm, where beings have only subtle bodies and are mostly absorbed in very deep meditation on the infinity of space, the infinity of consciousness, nothing whatsoever, and non-distinguishing but not no-distinguishing. Out of all of samsaric existence, we say that these are the peak realms. Beings who are born there basically feel like there is no more suffering. They are in such deep meditation that they only experience bliss. 

Actually, we can achieve these states of mind in this very life. We don’t need to go to some heavenly realm to experience them. The problem is that rebirth in this realm is still in samsara, so the beings are subject to uncontrollably recurring rebirth. Their lives might last millions or billions of years, but the disadvantage of being reborn after this kind of experience is that in the next life, the beings’ minds are very dull. Their minds haven’t been working with bodhichitta or voidness, and instead they’ve only enjoyed meditative bliss. The next time these beings are reborn as humans, their state of mind goes down and becomes normal again. Then they find it difficult to engage in constructive actions because they kept such a distance from others for so long, focusing on nothing in meditation. There is great danger in this. 

The Practice of Discriminating Awareness, Wisdom

(30) A bodhisattva’s practice is to build up as a habit the discriminating awareness that’s together with methods and which has no conceptions about the three circles, because without discriminating awareness, the five far-reaching attitudes cannot bring about the attainment of complete enlightenment.

This is a great teaching. The great Chandrakirti said that without discriminating awareness, the five other far-reaching attitudes are short-sighted. It is great to practice generosity, but we also need the discriminating awareness to know what is right to give, and when. When we have discriminating awareness, we can practice and use all of the far-reaching attitudes to attain liberation. 

Nagarjuna said that whatever the Buddha does, he is teaching voidness. Whenever and whatever teachings the Buddha gives, he is teaching voidness. There is not a single moment that he is not teaching voidness. Even when he is smiling, he is teaching voidness. When he is sleeping, he is also teaching voidness. When he is speaking, directly or indirectly, he is teaching voidness. Why? Because understanding voidness is the only way for others to get out of suffering. 

The best reason to listen to the Dharma is not just curiosity about what Buddhism is, but because we strongly feel the need to get out of suffering, and so we’re looking for methods to do that. And so maybe you’ve come here, thinking that this person called Serkong Rinpoche – me – has some useful information for you to get out of suffering! 

What we really need is renunciation, the determination to be free of suffering. In the Lam-rim Chen-mo, there is a good example of what renunciation feels like. It says to imagine we’ve eaten a big meal, which is now digesting in our stomach. Somebody suddenly tells us that we’ve actually eaten poison. For sure, we will immediately get up with a strong feeling to find some sort of method to get out of this problem. We would pretty much do anything. No matter what we were doing, even if we managed to sleep, we’d be thinking of how to solve our problem. Even if were talking with friends, at the forefront of our minds would be finding an antidote to the poison. If we are like this when we think of uncontrollably recurring rebirth, that means that we have renunciation. If we don’t have much knowledge about impermanence and voidness, then it’s pretty difficult to have renunciation. We might say, “My life sucks,” but we follow the same habits again the next day and continue suffering, crying, complaining. We don’t understand or feel that the poison is inside of us. This is our life. 

Verse 30 teaches about the importance wisdom and selflessness, and how this is the only way that all our practices can turn into a weapon with which we can fight our negative emotions and the source of our negative emotions. For once and all, we can win the battle. This gives us such a feeling of strength and confidence. 

A Bodhisattva’s Daily Practice

(31) A bodhisattva’s practice is continually to examine our self-deception and then rid ourselves of it, because, if we do not examine our self-deception ourselves, it’s possible that with a Dharmic (external) form we can commit something non-Dharmic.

This happens a lot, and I’m sure all of us could provide a wide range of examples. Basically, we are always making judgments. Mostly we just judge others, we hardly ever judge ourselves. It is actually quite difficult to stop judging others. People are always doing this or that and we immediately react in our minds, “Oh, this person is bad because they did that.” Actually, we don’t know if the person did it on purpose, or if it happened by accident, or if there were some special circumstances around it. We also can’t see what their motivation is. So, it is wrong to judge. If we really want to judge, then we need to judge ourselves. 

Most of us here have been to His Holiness’ teachings many times. We admire his words and feel like we are committed to being good human beings as he advises us to be. Many of us also have the bodhisattva vows and tantric vows. The great teacher Atisha always said, regarding his keeping of the pratimoksha vows, that he felt he was doing pretty well in keeping them. Then he said, as for the bodhisattva vows, he felt he sometimes made some mistakes. But when it came to the tantric vows, he said he made so many mistakes. If even Atisha said this, what hope is there for us?! 

Of course, there is hope. The reason why Atisha said this openly was to show that on a relative level, he also faced the same problems as we do. The difference is that we constantly try to hide these things. I’m not saying we have to air all the bad things we do in public, that would not be wise. But we should learn from our mistakes. We have to know what we’re practicing, what we should not be doing, and what our practice is lacking. 

If we don’t see the benefits of following a certain rule or vow, then we are not so interested to look into it. We just think, “Why on earth is my guru saying I shouldn’t do this? I don’t criticize others much!” But if we look at our behavior carefully, we’ll probably see more clearly what we do. I know that if I go to a party, I sometimes contribute to the gossip. I don’t do it intentionally, but somehow due to circumstances, some gossip comes out. The problem is when we don’t learn from the destructive things we do. 

If I do something bad, I talk to my close friends. I feel bad about it and complain about myself. That can be really helpful. Sometimes I go to my teachers and say that I’ve got certain negative emotions or attachment arising, but I can’t fight them. What are the methods? I ask them. I can ask my teachers rather stupid questions! I ask without any hesitation. We have to know how our teacher’s behavior is. Some teachers are very happy to answer these questions. Some might find it a bit disrespectful to be asked certain questions. We have to see how our teacher’s mind works. 

It is also very important to accept the mistakes we make. Sometimes we do lot of destructive things but, somehow, we feel we are doing pretty well. Why do I say this? Actually, it’s because we overvalue ourselves and never judge ourselves as harshly as we do others. 

I have an example. I love to draw. I feel like I’m an artist. I’ll show some of my drawings to my friends and they’ll say, “Nah, not very good!” But when I look at them, I think they’re all beautiful masterpieces! This is how we can see just how much attachment we have for ourselves. That’s why we have to go to our teachers, and they can give us tips. They are able to point out our faults. We should be always ready to accept our mistakes. This is very difficult. The ego is very strong. So, we need to loosen our egos and get ready to accept our mistakes and to apologize if necessary. This is a great practice, not only for bodhisattvas, but also for people like us.