Forest Sangha Newsletter January 1997

On Making a Mistake; Ajahn Brahmavamso
Bodhinyanarama Impressions; Aj. Sucitto interviews Aj. Vajiro
Timeless Teachings; Luang Por Chah's Death Anniversary
Cultivating the Perfections; Sister Jitindriya
Microcosmic Challenges; Ajahn Candasiri

Signs of Change:

Cultivating the Perfections
Sister Jitindriya recently returned to the UK after two years in Australia during her father's final illness. She spent both Rains Retreats at Wat Buddha Dhamma and, following her first, she wrote a piece for their newsletter; what follows is an extract from it.

One thing I've begun to realise more and more is just how long this path to enlightenment actually is! How much effort and patience and persistence is required if one's journey really is going to culminate in the complete ending of suffering.

During this time I've drawn some deep inspiration from the teachings of the Thai Masters, Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Mahaboowa. What shines through and is so striking in their example is their deep commitment to realising the Truth and their utter strength of mind in applying the practice - relentless determination and sustained effort. "This is what it's going to take," I would say to myself at times, to get through the mass of junk the mind can produce. It seems tirelessly able to re-hash the past and invent all sorts of futures - it truly is the greatest trickster and deceiver of all time.
.            Here

      Mutable as flames this night feel
      Gladdening in the weathered wood smoke, then ...
      moods of mind entwine
      the nascence of another shade.
      Rain on canvas, back ache
      and the full moon inviting ... stretching ...
      Hours piled on hours of a fickle fingered darkness
      where love wreathed
      pain, rain, vain moods are all consumed.


The practice is always a matter of the present moment - it's just about being here, responding to whatever is arising with wisdom and compassion.

But I'm learning that indeed it also takes time to build one's forces against such deeply ingrained habits. In cultivating this path one needs to develop skills and qualities that will support and strengthen the mind, so it can probe more deeply into itself, withstand greater pressure from the distractions and buoy itself up during the more dark and difficult times. The Ten Paramitas, or Perfections, provide an essential 'check list' for me in my practice as to what attitude or quality of heart may need developing or reinforcing at any particular time.

These Paramitas are: Generosity, Virtue, Renunciation, Wisdom, Energy, Patience, Honesty, Determination, Kindness, Equanimity. The Buddha brought them to perfection in his 'pre-Buddha' journeys as a Bodhisatta - the power of such perfections and purity is what gave him the unshakeability and strength to achieve his final goal. Fortunately for us, it is not necessary to bring these qualities to complete perfection for the gaining of Nibbana (as this is the accomplishment of the Bodhisatta destined for Buddhahood) but we still need to cultivate them all as far as we can, if the heart is to find its freedom.
When one reaches an 'impasse' at certain times in practice, one can consider these qualities:
      "Do I need to be a little more patient with myself (or others) ?"
      "Will a little more kindness help dissolve the obstacle or the hardened fear in the heart?"
      "Am I maintaining equanimity?"
      "Could my sila (moral behaviour) be polished up a little?"

Perhaps a certain obstacle is teaching one an important lesson in terms of the fruit of wrong action. Perhaps we need to renounce something, let go of what we can do without, to enable balance and peace to be restored in the mind. Using mindfulness, investigation and wisdom one can find a balance for oneself in this way, to lead one through the difficulties, to lead one onward, or further inward.

"Am I really being honest with myself?" is a good question to pose at the right time, for we never really like to see ourselves in our more negative, or 'unlikable', modes. But in fact, 'seeing clearly' isn't just a matter of taking on board more 'honest' perceptions of oneself; rather, it is to see that all perceptions of 'self', if grasped at and believed in, distort the truth; creating only more deception and dukkha. The Truth is in seeing the essential instability of all self-concepts and sensory experience. This is not to reject these things of the conventional realm, but to see them as transitory and totally unreliable; as fickle and as changeable as the weather. Seen in this light, it is clear that such things can never really be satisfying or lead to satisfaction in any way. How can they be what I am?...for when they are challenged in the light of Dhamma, they dissolve and disappear like a frightened phantom!
As we go more deeply in the practice we come upon those views and assumptions that have hidden in the depths of the psyche for who knows how long. They whisper quietly, but are extremely powerful commanders that direct and control much of our lives. These cultprits are masters of disguise and take many forms but they are the roots of ignorance itself.

The continuance of the practice itself - in whatever conditions - works to purify the heart, as we come to see more clearly with mindfulness and acceptance just the way things are. In practising to see clearly the nature of our experience as impermanent and unsatisfactory (or stressful), a certain amount of delusion and dukkha drops away naturally. Insight arises. Other areas come into focus where we see that more skill and effort is required to break the shackles; with wisdom we should develop means that can help us to free ourselves.

So the path unfolds. And though I qualified it earlier as being something that is a "long" process, we must keep remembering that the practice is always a matter of the present moment - there is no practice outside of the present moment, so in this sense it is not really a matter of time at all - it's just about being here, responding to whatever is arising with wisdom and compassion. It is very important to have direction, a 'guiding star', and to know your map, but always look where you're walking, or it's likely that you'll never get to where you want to go, and neither will you know where you are!