Monday, December 21, 2009

Six Perfections

First, a disclaimer: I'm not a perfectionist.

In fact, I'm slightly allergic to the whole idea of perfection.

A wise first grader once told me, "Only God is perfect!"

I agree with that kid—well, I agree in those fleeting moments when I believe in God. In regard to God, I'm among those who must endure having both great faith and great doubt. I have great faith that God's real, and great doubt in my ability to fully understand or even believe, sometimes, in that reality.

I accept my imperfections because they make me human: imperfect and okay, just like everyone else.

Ah, to continue...

As the solstice passed, I was playing the Native American flute in my meditation room. I was trying to contemplate the Seven Factors of Awakening, as a misty rain fell outside the open window. And what did my mind do? Why, what minds are so good at: getting distracted. My mind started down the path of another thought-complex: the "Six Perfections," another list from that trusty source, Buddhism. (Buddhism has lots of lists for minds like mine.)

The "Perfections" or "Paramitas" as they are called in Sanskrit, arise in another tradition of Buddhism, the Mahayanas, mainly. They are:

  1. Generosity: Dāna paramita (giving of oneself)
  2. Ethical Behavior: Śīla paramita (virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct)
  3. Patience: Kṣānti (kshanti) paramita  (patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance)
  4. Energy: Vīrya paramita (energy, diligence, vigor, effort)
  5. Concentration: Dhyāna paramita (one-pointed concentration, contemplation)
  6. Wisdom: Prajñā paramita : (wisdom, insight)

I cultivate these six qualities in my ordinary lay life. Let me describe two examples:

Remembering Generosity while shopping at Fircrest Market has prompted me to pick up extra cans of food—good food, the kind I would want to eat if I were in need—and drop it in the Redwood Empire Food Bank bin outside the store. Donating food like this always feels better than giving in to that inner voice that would have me "just skip it this time." (Yes, I have heeded that voice, too, and I know how crummy it feels to be stingy.)

Remembering Patience helps me find joy where I would have overlooked it while waiting in lines at the post office, bank, or grocery store. There are always interesting people to watch while standing in line. And, if I know the clerk (as I usually do) I can think of a funny story to tell or think of a question to ask about how life is going for him or her.

I'm not posting this list of the Six Perfections the day after posting on the Seven Factors of Awakening to suggest that one list or the other is the best. Either list could support a lifetime of contemplation and cultivation. Having been exposed to many traditions of Buddhism—not to mention Christianity—I am presented with many worthy objects of mind to contemplate. Sometimes, it feels like too many!


steven said...

hi dan - i love the advice "make perfection a friend." it takes the goal-orineted aspect of it out of the process! i really enjoyed your moments of remembering posted inside this post. i love to engage people who are providing me with a service - a haircut, a grocery clerk - with something that allows for real connection rather than the functional roles we could sink into. it's magic and makes life that much closer to real. have a lovely evening. steven

Sarah Lulu said...

Hello Dan, Just when I needed to be reminded of patience and tolerance ...and there you are!

Thank you. Happy Christmas, whatever that means to you my blogger friend.


Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

So much that is skillful, beautiful, contemplate.....our minds will never want for material to learn, savor and deepen.

Jenny Stevning said...

In conversation with my 14 year old niece, she said, "There is no greater bore than perfection." She was talking about our cultures obsession with physical perfection. But I like the quote because later in the weekend as I was beating myself up for something, I realized that it isn't the perfection that is perfect...the ACTION is the perfection no matter what the outcome may be. Does that make sense? Well, it did in my head. :)

Dan Gurney said...

steven, yes... like you I enjoy being human and not so role bound in my daily interactions... this idea reminds me of a post I want to do on friendship.

thanks for your comments, steven; I really appreciate your presence on Mindful Heart.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Sarah Lulu! Nice to hear from you. Happy Christmas to you, too. I know that beyond family gathering for all of us that for you it means hot summery weather, while for me, sweaters, gloves, and knit beanies.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Bonnie. Thanks for commenting. There is no end to our mind chatter, it seems. Even "helpful" or "wholesome" thoughts can be intrusive when trying to develop concentration.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Jenny. One problem I have with perfectionistic thinking is that it can be inhibiting. Another is that perfection is by definition almost unreachable, so wanting things to be "perfect" will leave us with a feeling of discontent with how things are as they are.

Silver said...

I was just visiting your other blogs but decided to leave my trail here. I like your wisdom in the quote you'd written about yourself. Family is truly what makes our life complete.