Continuing on with our series on the Paramitas, the second Teaching is the Perfection of Virtue (Morality and Ethics) or Sila Paramita.
In the book, Pay Attention for Goodness Sake, author and teacher Sylvia Boorstein says, “ If I intend to perfect my morality, I'll need to be sure I stay calm enough to ensure that I don’t do anything heedlessly.”
Great. How do I do that?
It seems that in Zen practice, we’re often being directed toward slowing ourselves down. We are often paying attention to our breath and trying to stay present or be mindful. In fact, we can say that practice of Zazen, the core practice of Soto-Zen Buddhism (sitting meditation) Is a practice of slowing down, sitting down, and being quiet. And honestly, if we did this, if we took three breaths before every thought we decide to speak and every action we take, we’d probably all be the better for it.
In the Saripatthana Sutta (The Sermon on Mindfulness)
The Buddha taught that the practice of mindfulness “ is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and distress, for the attainment of the right method, and for the realization of unbinding.”
So, there are a couple of things that tie together and can help us practice this paramita. The paramita of ethics and morality correlates with the teachings of the Eight-Fold Path. Specifically, the practices of Right Action, Right Speech, and Right Livelihood.
What is Right Action? We can look to the Ten Grave Precepts For this answer. Respecting life, taking only what is given, proceeding clearly, and honoring the body are the precepts that pertain to Right Action.
The precepts that pertain to Right Speech are: manifesting truth, seeing the perfection, realizing the self and others as one, and actualizing harmony.
Now you should begin to see that if you are aligned with the Precepts, you are most likely practicing with the Paramitas and vice versa. The practice of mindfulness is like the cog of the wheel.
One of the very first things we can do as new practitioners are to set aside a place to leave the outside world, the busy-ness behind. A place to cultivate calmness. It doesn’t have to be an entire room. In fact, my space is very tiny, just a corner of the bedroom. You need just enough room for a pillow or cushion. Incense, candles, bells, and statues are all nice to have but not necessary.
We come to our space daily to practice Zazen (literally, “sitting meditation”). We come, we sit, we’re quiet, we breathe. We let thoughts come and go for about twenty minutes. This calms our minds and our being. Then we can begin to practice this in our daily lives off the cushion. Taking some mindful breaths whilst folding the wash, before we have our cup of tea or coffee, before we start our cars, before we get out at our destination. Remember what Sylvia said, “If I can stay calm enough, I won’t act heedlessly”
Or: “A calm mind rarely generates unskillful behavior.” It thinks before it acts.
Cultivating a calm mind through the practice of Zazen and mindfulness, practicing with the Noble Eight-fold Path and the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts helps us manifest the Paramitas. There is a golden thread that ties all teachings together…
But, we are human, and we make some mistakes, sometimes spectacular mistakes!
How do we know when we’ve acted unskillfully?
If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t feel very good on the inside, do we?
What is a remedy or practice we can do when we have strayed ethically…
Atonement: acknowledging what we’ve done, making amends where we can, and making a plan to do better the next time.
Offering Metta: This is something like a prayer we send out into the universe. There are many, and they are easy to find if you just do a search for “Metta Prayer.” We start with offering Metta for ourselves. Then for specific people. We offer it for people we love and for the people we just don’t. Lovingkindness is for everyone.
Today, take a few seconds to breathe before you go out into the world. And while you’re out there remember to slow down.