LET’S CONSIDER LIFE EXPERIENCES AS REASONS TO PERFECT IN WHOLESOME QUALITIES
Prof. Saman Chandra Ranasinghe - Department of Languages, Cultural Studies and Performing Arts, University of Sri Jayawardenapura.
When we hear the word Pāramitā, we remember an incident we faced a few years ago.
The place was Pokunuwita Sri Vinayalankaramaya where Most Venerable Professor Rerukane Chandawimala Thero was residing. I and Dr Lalit Wijesinghe, who was working at the Kandy Hospital at that time, along with his friend Dushmantha Kaluarachchi and his wife Kusum, went to that holy ground to meet Ven Kukulpane Sudassi Thero. That was the first time we ever met. That day we discussed a lot of dhamma facts. At that moment, the venerable presented a question,
“How would you feel if someone dumped garbage in the middle of your garden”
Our honest answer was that we might get annoyed at such times. Given that, there is a possibility of an argument happening due to the resentment and detestation you feel towards the person who brought the garbage. Ven. Sudassi Thero asked us whether it is possible for us to make this a Pāramitā [perfection]. Therefore, we asked him how?
Well, if you can look at the garbage without getting angry, then that’s Kṣānti Pāramitā (Patience). After that, with a little effort, you can make space in your own garden and add that dirt to the soil as fertilizer. When we do that, it’s called Vīrya Pāramitā. It does not stop here. After that, with Adhiṭṭhāna Pāramitā you can plant some flowering plants in that soil, that will make the world fragrant. When the flowers blossom, a child from the same house where the garbage was dumped in your garden may come and ask if they can pluck some flowers for the temple. Then by giving them the flowers you can achieve Dāna Pāramitā.
He closely showed us how to turn an incident [nimitta] which was likely to turn into a conflict into an incident [‘nimitta’] for carrying out Pāramitā.
One of our beloved teachers, Professor Ariyapala Perera, once said that we can even turn driving into practice for Pāramitā. If we can avoid feeling annoyed by the drivers who provoke incidents while driving, we fulfil the kṣānti Pāramitā. You fulfil dāna Pāramitā when you give space and allow passengers and drivers to pass on the road. Also, the moment you put your hands on the steering wheel of the vehicle, you should be determined not to cause any inconvenience to others. Whenever I drive a vehicle, I practice Adhiṭṭhāna Pāramitā. In the same way, by not being annoyed by the drivers, kṣānti Pāramitā should also be practiced when you get to the road as a passenger. By consciously following road rules, one can fulfil Adhiṭṭhāna Pāramitā.
The Ten Perfections in the Theravāda tradition are: generosity (dāna), morality (sīla), renunciation (nekhamma), insight (pañña), energy (viriya), patience (khanti), truthfulness (Sacca), resolution (adhiṭṭhāna), loving-kindness (metta), equanimity (upekkhā).
In this regard, the ten Sanskrit words that are also used in Sinhala are more familiar to us. They are, dāna, śīla, naishkramya, prajñā, vīrya, kṣānti, Sathya, adhiṭṭhāna, maithree and upeksha. According to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, there are six Pāramitās, namely kṣānti, vīrya, dhānya, prajñā, dāna and śīla.
It is also appropriate to have some idea about the meaning of the word Pāramitā. Pārami is formed from the word ‘parama’ which means noble. In this way, the nature or the purpose of the noble person becoming can be called Pārami. ‘da’ means dāna. The Pali word Changa, as well as the Sanskrit word Parityāga, correspond to this. Parityāga means giving without expecting anything back. This equals the interpretation of dāna. Therefore, dāna also means letting go. Anyone can practice dāna Pāramitā. The poet Anunla Wijeratne Manike tutored us even when her blouse was dripping from the milk that came out of her breasts for her daughter. She wrote a poem based on this life experience of her.
“Amma nathi nubata ira gala watena thuru
Ma wata kota sitithi sip kiri urana thuru
Un putha heta dawasa pibidena kakulu badhu
Nuba sihiwethath ma unwetha sitiya yuthu”
At that time, we didn’t know that our dear teacher was practising dāna Pāramitā by tutoring us while her own child’s milk was being dissipated.
The fulfilment of śīla Pāramitā should also be considered as a way to be freed from sin. Sin is wrongdoing. Virtue is its opposite aspect. According to ‘Visuddhimagga’, śīla means practicing; discipline develops through virtues, avoids vices, avoids sorrow, brings happiness, makes the mind, body and words drill, and like the head of the body, nature is established with morality. Thus, it appears that śīla is a necessary quality for the existence of a good society. śīla does not mean sitting quietly and doing nothing. Many social problems arise when there is no śīla. Murders, thefts, sexual crimes, alcoholism and drug addiction occur when society is devoid of śīla. Therefore, śīla is not a negative state but a positive state.
One who practices naishkramya, which is letting go of the mental and physical factors that keep us bound to suffering and continued existence in the cycle of birth and death, is a blessing to society. In a society where people try to claim as many things as possible, the healing that comes from letting go is a blessing. This is the lead of the Bodhisattva. This kind of behaviour will lead to social change. In a ravening society, the way to live a healthy life is revealed here. The following poem by Dr Nimal Wasantha Kumara summons us towards naishkramya Pāramitā.
“Hama de Badhan nowa kaatath bedan kamu
Aduwen katha kara wadiyen sawan demu
Dakina lesin dura karawamu nuwan yomu
Tharageta duwana aya giyaden gemin yamu”
(Let’s share everything with everyone. Let’s talk a little and listen more, Let’s try to see things that are far from our reach. If they are in haste let them go, we’ll slowly continue our journey)
Vīrya Pāramitā is a good example to people in society who are discouraged from dealing with issues. A person who has Vīrya Pāramitā does not give up his Vīrya for any reason. Even when such a person is physically weak, their character shows heroism. A beautiful definition on Vīrya Pāramitā can be quoted a manuscript called Lalita-Vistara. As mentioned in it, Mahamaya, a goddess from heaven, goes to the place where her son Siddhartha has fallen over. She very excitedly says, “You, who gave up the ‘Sakvithi’ hood, and said that you would become the Buddha, now, are you going to die like a derelict without becoming a Buddha or attaining the title of Sakvithi?” The Bodhisattva’s answer to that question is presented here because it is an absolute example of Vīrya Pāramitā.
“The earth can break into pieces, the largest rock itself can sink into the ocean, the moon and the stars may fall down to the earth. But still, your son will never die like an ordinary lay man”
Let’s focus on kṣānti Pāramitā. Many problems arise in society due to the lack of patience. When living in a society, pleasures, profits and happiness, as well as suffering, losses and judgments automatically become a part of us. kṣānti Pāramitā teaches us to face any of the aforementioned situations with courage. Bodhisattva does not practice kṣānti Pāramitā because he’s weak, he practices it because it gives strength to tolerate anything that life offers you.
In the same manner, with prajñā, he wisely understood various factors that cause hostility. Because of this, such a character endures when all his possessions are stolen and his body parts are torn.Moreover, he can tolerate things that can even harm his life.
Here, the problem may arise that if one must be patient even when resources are unjustly taken away and lives are being destroyed. If this tolerance leads to injustice, then how should one act in such a situation? At such times, he should inquire with prajñā and decide what kind of Pāramitā should be practiced at such times. When one fulfils prajñā Pāramitā, it will show the required path for this.
In this way, anyone can engage in perfecting wholesome qualities by correctly identifying the events that we face in our lives and considering them as opportunities that we have received in order to practice Pāramitās. Truly, the Ten Pāramitās are not only good for the monastic life. This is equally important to us who live secular lives as laypeople. Therefore, instead of dividing the life experiences that we have to face at certain times in life into good and bad, we must turn our own life experiences into Pāramitās.