autotelic, autistic, assonance-hole©.

Doing what comes naturally (Milarepa and the Six Perfections)

A friend of mine posted this item on her Facebook page today and it reminded me that I am truly quite behind on reading Milarepa. It is now officially back my the list of things to do soon. The piece (translated) reads:

For generosity, nothing to do,
Other than stop fixating on self.

For morality, nothing to do,
Other than stop being dishonest.

For patience, nothing to do,
Other than not fear what is ultimately true.

For effort, nothing to do,
Other than practice continuously.

For meditative stability, nothing to do,
Other than rest in presence.

For wisdom, nothing to do,
Other than know directly how things are.

The piece is entitled “Song on the Six Perfections” and was written by Milarepa; it deals with the six traits that one is supposed to cultivate to become a better presence in the world; someone both able and skilled at bringing benefit and relief and enlightenment more fully into being. The practice of the six perfections (paramitas, for those more familiar with the Buddhist word) are intended to remove self-focused, ego-centric behaviors by creating a living environment in which these perfections are the constant goal and focal point.

The perfections are:

Dana; generosity – giving free of any self-based motivation (i.e., “just because you can”)

Sila; virtue (morality) – acting in accord with one’s genuinely well motivated intentions

Ksanti; patience – acceptance of “what is” without compulsion to change it

Virya; dilgence (effort) – committment to disciplined practice of beneficial habits

Dhyana; meditative stability (contemplation/focus) – being aware and present in THIS moment, the now

Prajna; wisdom (insight) – contemplation upon the moment “as it is”, across all aspects of being.

These, when fully realized in the being, lend to the fulfillment of the total ten perfections, the last four of which are:

Upaya; skillful means – ability to act beneficially regardless external circumstances

Pranidhana; resolute aspiration – strength of will toward progress and positive efforts

Bala; effective spiritual power – unified application of being toward effort

Jnana; knowledge – genuine understanding of “what is” that is unaffected by “what may or should be or not be”

I have always found this concept of perfections rather a poor English translation; primarily because we Westerners are so driven to the idea of perfection as an unattainable thing (even as we competitively push at it all the time), but also because our culture and society are so often flinging the word about that it has lost much of its power upon us as a concept of meaningful intensity.

The poem of Milarepa speaks of how embracing a “perfection” creates the result as a natural matter of course. When reading it, it makes complete, utter sense to me. After all, how hard would it be to be generous were I not thinking of myself, what I want, what others ought or ought not think/say/be/do? (Not at all; and when I think on it further, reflecting upon instances of genuine generousity on my part, they are always things that were done “just because I can” and every one of them were done with an intention of creating happiness in another.)

The matter of morality is equally snarled for most Westerners, I think; we are largely relative when it comes to morals these days, there are no ends to the number of convoluted hoops we will jump through to justify the things we want or like (or to condemn the ones we do not). But at the end of the day, we know where the contradictions live and we tend to deny them in order to maintain a sense of (false) honesty with ourselves and others. No matter how well we disguise it to the world, however, we know when we’ve been dishonest. And I agree with Milarepa in that morality is genuinely easy to accomplish when one forsakes all aspects of dishonesty (within oneself or toward others).

Patience; well now, there’s a trait that is becoming rarer for Westerner’s as well (though granted, we are not alone in this). I find it interesting that Milarepa focuses on the antithesis of patience being fear but, on reflection, it makes sense; why do we fear things but that we are trying to avoid something “that is” or “that is not” which we wish were otherwise? That fear often causes impatience or intolerance as we pull or push at “what is” in an attempt to make it something we’d prefer… a classic case of fearing what is ultimately true (that things are as they are).

Effort seems somewhat intuitive or “a given” here, but I suppose that’s never as true as I’d like to think; the only things that become habits are those we choose to reinforce (what we practice and repeatedly think, say, or do)… it stands to reason then that the only way to ensure progressively positive or beneficial effort is to commit to practicing the new habit as diligently as ever we did the old ones.

Meditative stability is not a concept that is common or well understood in “The West”, but that’s because we don’t give a lot of thought to it. I think people get confused by what mediation “is” or how it’s “supposed to be done”. I think this is another case of ineffective translation; as all reading and research to date seems to indicate very clearly that the application of deliberate focus IS meditation. The context is different, however (at least in the beginning) because we have been either so out of touch with the concept or so lacking in internalized focus (what am I thinking? what am I doing? what is here, now, in and of this moment?) that we never really have deliberate focus on much of anything, let alone upon ourselves and what is happening inside us. Therefore, the idea of “resting in presence” (i.e., constant practice of forcing the attention to “here, now”, habit of dwelling here, now, and committed effort to experiencing “what is” right here, right now) is not one we very often pursue.

Milareapa’s thought on finding and developing Wisdom and insight is, to me, profoundly accurate. This translation in particular seems very adroit to me; knowing directly how things are is both an explicit statement of a goal as well as an implicit statement that one must be actively, engagedly, and devoutly attentive to developing awareness of the moment; it is that awareness, developed over time, that allows one to have the thoughts that deliver insight and wisdom.

I think the thing I admire and enjoy most of these types of writings is how they often look so simplistic on the first read; so easy to point at and say, “Hah! Well, DUH! Of course this is correct!” and then, like your own shadow, they sneak up on you with all their depth and complexity; if you spend any time contemplating them at all, any time letting them sink into the soil of mind and germinate, you start finding so many ways they are applicable across all your experience that it becomes quite boggling and amazing.

Well, that’s my experience of it. I suppose your mileage can and will vary.

In the overall scheme of things, it seems to me that pursuit of things like this is both a healthy and valuable process, even as I chuckle because the entire point is that you do not have to PURSUE them at all; you have only to stop, be still, and be attentive. The rest of it manages to happen quite easily and very naturally as you develop the discipline to be still; without distraction, the mind always turns to its natural methods and state and, in this state and with these methods, everything above mentioned occurs. I have always found that the most fascinating and funny insight of all… the hardest part about accomplishing any of this is not letting the world get in the way of doing what is natural (even if we forget what that really is here and there).