The Six Perfections: Perseverance
We are talking about how to make the mind workable through the practice of the six perfections. Most sufferings is caused by our thoughts. Suffering has caused us problems in countless lives and will continue to do so in the future unless we clear up our confusion. Our negative thoughts and obscurations don’t age or get sick by themselves. We will age, but our negative thoughts will stay as young as before. When we get sick, they stay healthy. We experience them endlessly. They are wherever we go and there is no culture free of them. There is no happiness, peace, or joy, no matter how much material wealth we may have. So we must practice the dharma to clear away the confusion. The tendency of negative thoughts is there and when circumstances agree, we give rise to them. So as we get old, let our confusions also get old.
All the dharma is performed to identify the causes of confusion, in ourselves and society. When you meditate, purify negative thought. Chant and do prostrations to remove negative thoughts. That takes time. You can’t bargain with it. You may ask, can I just do a short practice? But with our delusions there is no negotiation. Nobody can destroy my happiness or joy from the outside. I can only destroy it myself. The cause of samsara is confusion. The cause of enlightenment is buddha nature. You made the time to come here, despite your schedule and it cost you money. So when I speak, I talk sincerely. When you think you’re a dharma practitioner, that’s nothing special. It’s done merely in order to become a better human being. Be a source of peace and harmony, which cannot be created by laws. Practice is done in order to pacify the unruly mind. If you are barefoot, the ground is full of stones and thorns. You cannot cover the whole earth, but if you cover your feet, that is sufficient. Likewise, you cannot get rid of everyone who aggravates you, but you can practice patience and loving kindness, and that is sufficient. If you chant mantras and visualize the deity without bodhicitta, you may get angry when you practice. That’s not so good is it? So it all comes down to bodhicitta, so keep your practice good.
We are discussing the perfection of perseverance. The term perfection indicates that it is a quality the Buddha has perfected. And through these methods we can perfect these qualities and attain enlightenment. In paramita, the Sanskrit word for perfection, “param” means other shore and “ita” means go to. So the perfections are how to get to the other shore.
The first point to discuss is the faults of not having perseverance. Even if you have generosity, moral conduct, and patience, without perseverance you are lazy. You cannot accomplish virtue and cannot benefit others. So how do you expect to gain enlightenment? The lazy person is far from Buddhahood. We let our negative emotions rule our lives, so how can we expect happiness, joy, and peace? We have this precious human life, which gives us the opportunity and ability to clarify our delusions and attain enlightenment. We have every opportunity to establish bodhicitta. A cat or dog, no matter how smart, cannot do this. Even if we know dharma teachings, if we are lazy and do not practice, we will be carried away by all of life’s problems and wonder what to do. If you want to eat a nice lunch, you need to cook it. And just looking at food will not satisfy your hunger. In a similar way, you have to experience the dharma teachings.
If you have perseverance, the advantages are that all your virtuous qualities will increase without being obscured. You will attain limitless primordial wisdom with all its qualities. When your mind is calm and peaceful, you know how to act and what to say. But when it is disturbed by emotions, you don’t. So we meditate to calm and relax the mind. The past is gone and the future is not yet here. We brood about the past and fear what will happen in the future, but they don’t exist. Our minds are trapped between these two and we don’t know what to do. So don’t think so much about them. That doesn’t mean be careless. But we can do better if our mind is in the present. If our mind is distracted after reading a few pages in a book, you won’t know what it said. Just wrying about the future doesn’t do any good. But we can create conditions for a better future now. Through calm abiding we gain the condition for being able to attain enlightenment.
When you have perseverance you can traverse the mountain of the view of the transitory aggregates. They are the skandhas, on which we establish the belief of ego, of me and mine. It is the basis of suffering. The self does not exist. I’m not saying there’s no communication using the terms I and me. But the problem is clinging to these names. We need to communicate. If you say nothing exists, what will you say, “In this room something is hungry, can you prepare lunch?” Ego clinging swallows the sun of wisdom and moon of compassion in the sky of emptiness, so we fall into the darkness of the six realms. Ego clinging can only be purified by wisdom and compassion. I’m sure you have heard a hundred times there is no ego. But our ego is so strong. So intellectually it is established, but practically it is not. Our intellectual mind is inspired by the dharma teachings. We need to bring the intellectual and practical mind closer together. We need to live up to the philosophy. So we need to persevere in practice. Through analogies you can establish all phenomena are illusions and mirages. But there is no valid reasoning that establishes them as real. Our compassion is based on valid reasonings. The more we perceive things as illusions, the greater our peace and happiness. So seeing things as delusions doesn’t reduce our happiness, it increases it. But it it is hard work to practice, so we need perseverance. If you have perseverance you will achieve unsurpassable enlightenment quickly. This is stated in the sutras and shastras. Enlightenment is in the hand of perseverance, not laziness. Some times we practice for a few days, then our resolve vanishes. That won’t work, it requires persistence. That is the advantage of perseverance.
The definition of perseverance is the feeling of joy in virtue. When the dharma teachings begin to make sense, you feel so fortunate. From that comes joy, and you have an interest in practice. If you take it as a religion, sometimes you are interested and sometimes not. But dharma is a method for gaining peace and happiness. So seeing that, we know we have to go forward. We have to treat all beings with love and compassion. Virtue is the cause of peace and happiness, so we should enjoy it. When you go on a picnic, you look forward to it. Virtue is knowing the cause of peace and the cause of suffering. Some person may want happiness more than a dharma practitioner, but they may not know the cause, the way to transform suffering.
The Compendium of Abhidharma says that perseverance is the antidote to laziness, delighting in virtue. It’s like becoming hungry becomes the antidote to not making lunch. If you don’t drive you won’t get to Washington DC. Having joy in virtue is the essence of perseverance. It is the antidote to laziness, which is the obstacle to enlightenment.
There are three types of laziness, the laziness of listlessness, the laziness of disregard, and gross laziness. Listlessness means being attached to the joys of torpor, such as laying around or sleeping. You get a Lazy Boy chair and watch television and pass time that way. If you are bored, there are more than a hundred channels, right? You don’t practice or contemplate loving kindness. So why should you avoid being this way? Because there is no time for distraction in this life. Buddha said, “Consciousness is diminishing.” When you are younger, you can memorize easily, Your mind is sharp. That’s what he meant. Dharma practice is good when you are young. Don’t wait until you retire. Life doesn’t wait. It’s like the sun that doesn’t stand still for one moment in the sky.
The Buddha’s teaching will surely perish one day. In India the dharma one flourished, but then perished. When we have dharma teachings you should take advantage of them and not take them for granted. In India you can see all the ruins of the Buddhist monasteries. Nalanda was once a great university, but now it is a ruin, Milarepa benefited many beings, but now all that is left is the caves he practiced in.
Whether you are up or down, you need peace and happiness. So you need to practice dharma every day. No matter how much you enjoy this life, in the end it is like a dream. In your dreams you can visit so many wonderful places and enjoy them, but then you wake up. Did the dream exist or not? Look at that. How much benefit now do you have from the dream? You only have memories. Attachment does not bring good, it only brings more suffering. The Bodhicharyavatara says as long as death is approaching, I will practice virtue. We don’t know what will happen next. So we are trapped between fear and attachment. But if you practice dharma you will die with no regret. At the time of death, who can help you? Your family and friends can take you to the hospital and cry for you, but no more. But if your mind is stabilized by the dharma, you will see the quality of the dharma teaching. There is no time to accumulate virtue at the time of death. The Bodhicharyavatara says, even if I put an end to laziness then, what would be the use? The right time to practice the dharma is when you are well. If you think that you will not die until you achieve the result of practice, you should know death can come at any time. The Lord of Death does not wait for things to be done. He can come at any time, whether you are sick or healthy. The young can die before the old. Don’t think, I don’t want to think about that, it scares me. This life is fickle and unstable, like a candle in the wind.
So how should you avoid listlessness? Avoid it like a snake has crawled in your lap or as if your hair is on fire. You wouldn’t think, let me finish eating first. the Bodhicharyavatara says, just as if I would swiftly stand up if a snake crawled in my lap, if sleepiness or laziness comes, I will swiftly end it. Mindfulness is important, to bring your mind back to dharma practice. Retreatants should especially pay attention to this. If your hair catches on fire, it’s very important to put it out. But making an effort to end samsara is even more important. Because if you don’t practice you may end up being burnt in the fire of hell.
The second type of laziness is the laziness of disregard. That is the feeling that you can’t accomplish dharma practice. It is a feeling of discouragement. You think that you can’t achieve enlightenment. That is not true. You should not be discouraged. It is the worst obstacle to achieving anything. The Bodhicharyavatara says that even if insects practice with perseverance, they will attain enlightenment. Why? Because they have Buddha nature. It may take a very long time. So if I don’t forsake the bodhisattva’s way of life, why should not someone like myself, who has a precious human life, not achieve enlightenment? I can recognize what is beneficial or not. Since I have that, if I don’t give up bodhicitta, why should I not attain enlightenment? This is ancient wisdom for modern life, relevant then and now. We must purify our negative thoughts and engage our minds in the dharma. So you can memorize this and use it to inspire yourself. The most important sign of success in practice is the state of your mind..
Gross laziness is attachment to the activities of this life, like accumulating wealth or destroying enemies. You need to work to sustain yourself, but you should not be attached to it. We plan and sacrifice the present for the future. Similarly, we should accumulate merit now for our future lives. That is spiritual investment. Gross activities like these are the direct cause of suffering and should be avoided.
Q: How can we remind ourselves of the illusory nature of phenomena in our daily life?
A: Recollect the teachings.
Q: Is there some time when resting is good?
A: Some people work so hard and have no energy for practice. That’s not easy. But others are just going out, sight seeing and wasting their time. That is what I am talking about.
Q: Can’t you be very energetic and still be lazy?
A: Yes, because you can enjoy being energetic. You have to have mindfulness, whatever you do. Then all things can be meditation practice.
Q: I work with families in trouble. A lot of times laziness is a problem, but you can’t tell them that because they get mad at you. Can you suggest a way to tell them?
A: Just tell them to be aware of this, that, and the other thing.
We cultivate bodhicitta because the mind is infinite. To reveal that mind fully and embrace its infinite potential, the only way is to cultivate compassion for beings as vast as space. Exercising that meditation is the primary way to actualize the effulgence of the mind. To overcome the different kinds of mental afflictions, it’s not sufficient to do a short meditation in the morning. We think I have done a hundred thousand prostrations or Vajrasattva mantras, but that is just the start of our journey to enlightenment. Just ask yourself, are you enlightened? If you are that’s enough. If not, it’s not enough. When you finish college are you completely ready to do the job? Three year retreat is like that.
Perseverance has three divisions: perseverance of armor, perseverance of application, and insatiable perseverance. perseverance of armor means making the commitment to practice until you achieve enlightenment. Perseverance of application is excellent applied effort. It’s walking the walk. If you don’t walk what you talk, there’s no use. Insatiable perseverance is the perfection of the first two. The first is having a strong motivation to do retreat. The second, going into retreat. But going into retreat is not enough, you have to continue. The third is not being satisfied with retreat, but continuing practice until enlightenment. First, you must have a pure motivation. Then you put your plan into action. Then you apply the action completely and fully.
The achievement of Buddha is not just in spiritual things. It starts in wanting happiness and avoiding suffering. This is not just a characteristic of spiritual people, It transcends all boundaries and applies to all. Everyone wants happiness, peace, and freedom from suffering. How do we achieve that ultimate peace and happiness? We sacrifice a lot of happiness to gain happiness in our daily lives. This is the reality of all sentient beings. The goal is the same, but the methods differ according to beings’ understanding and mental capacities. So we must determine the cause of suffering and happiness. That is the critical point. Some sacrifice everything to be free of suffering, yet still suffer.
These are the four characteristics of the first division. Your bodhicitta must be continuous. You shouldn’t think, today I don’t want it. Bodhicitta should not be put aside. That’s not perseverance. Always keep bodhicitta in the heart. Bodhicitta is the foundation for all the excellent qualities of enlightenment, so keep it in the heart. One must avoid the ten non-virtues, gather the ten virtues, and practice the six perfections. As a result all will be peace and harmony. Who wouldn’t like that? Who wouldn’t like to be a happy person? Because it is directed to limitless beings, it is called limitless armor. When sentient beings are happy, why shouldn’t you be happy? That’s how bodhisattvas think, they look on all beings with love and compassion. Sometimes we think a piece of rock is precious because it is expensive, but bodhicitta is priceless. We think that the places the Buddha practiced are holy. That’s because of bodhicitta. A place where there was a lot of fighting and killing is haunted, because of the negative emotions. If people practice and achieve enlightenment here, it will be a holy place.
Don’t make the commitment, I will practice for just this many years. That is not the perseverance of armor. You should commit to practice until you attain enlightenment. First you must make the commitment of bodhicitta and then the practices of mahamudra and dzogchen will be effective. Without it, then it will not be so effective, because it lacks the primary cause. A bodhisattva will dwell in hell for thousands of eons just to liberate one sentient being. A bodhisattva is a warrior who strives to eliminate the cause of suffering. Compared to the hell realm the suffering of the human realm is nothing. So how can we not endure it to help sentient beings?
When you wear a tee shirt in the summer, wear the tee shirt of bodhicitta. When you wear a tie, wear the tie of bodhicitta. When you drive, drive the car of bodhicitta. So always wear the armor of bodhicitta. When you rest, rest your mind in bodhicitta. When you practice mahamudra, rest in bodhicitta.
Applied perseverance is of three types. The first is the effort to avoid afflicting emotions. The second is the effort to cultivate virtue. The third is the effort to benefit sentient beings. One should avoid afflictive emotions and all actions influenced by them. They are the root of all suffering. There are many names for them, neurosis, defilements, and so forth. Even though we have a good house and swimming pool we still suffer as long as we have these afflictions. We should look at this and see if it is true. We might reject this idea, but study it to see if it is true or not. If you decide it is true, then you can do something about it. If not, put it aside. Then look inside and purify those habits. If you have strong anger, you should think there is no reason for the anger and then purify it. Then the strength of these habits will slowly become less. Eventually you will no longer give rise to them. Then you will be able to relax and be at peace. At the same time you will have a strong and vigilant mind. That is the sort of experience you can get through dharma practice. If you have that understanding, it’s really precision practice. The Bodhicharyavatara says, “If I find myself amidst a crowd of emotional disturbances, I will subdue them.” When anger arises it tells you to do so many things, but even if you do them, it is not satisfied. We should be enslaved by these emotions? We should be like a lion amidst all the animals of afflictive emotions and think we will not be affected by the them. We should be fearless among them. Then real joy will appear in our mind and we will appreciate the preciousness of the dharma. In the past we took refuge in the afflictive emotions, saying “I will follow you.”
If you are without expectations, you will be able to relax and be happy wherever you are. Dharma is like a big newspaper telling you all the problems of samsara. Dharma tells you all the problems of the world will exist as long as afflictive emotions exist. Milarepa could explain people’s problems clearly, even though he spent all his time meditating in a cave. So what kind of mindfulness should we have when afflictive emotions arise? The Bodhicharyavatara says, “Those who practice should be attentive as a man carrying a jar full of mustard oil would be if threatened that his head will be cut off if he spills a drop.”
This is based on a story of an event during the life of Buddha. A monk was invited to a festival put on by a king. The king asked for the opinion of all the religious practitioners that he had invited. The monk said he hadn’t been seen or heard the festivities and so couldn’t say if he enjoyed the festival or not. The king was angry and asked the monk how could that be. The monk said, tomorrow bring a person condemned to death from your prison and give him a bowl of oil to hold during the festival. If he spills a drop, execute him on the spot, and if not, let him go. The king did this and the king asked the prisoner afterwards if he had enjoyed the festival. The prisoner replied that because of his concentration on his task, he wasn’t aware of the festival. The monk then said that he saw samsara as a prison and all this festival as an illusion. The monk said that he protected his mind with the same concentration that this man held his bowl of oil. The king was struck with admiration and asked to receive the Buddha’s teachings.
Dharma should be practiced with joy and not to make you miserable. We are practicing to liberate all beings, so we should be optimistic and joyful. We have a method to generate the results so we should be joyful and happy. Without a method, optimism is just delusion. “Oh yes, everything is fine.” Without changing our mind, practice is like cleaning the outside of a bowl that is filthy inside.
The second type is the diligent effort to practice virtue. Practice the paramitas without regard for body or life. Practice persistently, with devotion, with unshakable effort, and without turning back. The first is making a constant effort.. It is like the Amazon river flowing to the ocean from the Andes. A bodhisattva never tires of practice. Practice with devotion, which means persevering quickly, with joy and happiness. The example given is an elephant jumping into a lake during the midday sun. Without this sort of joy, Milarepa could not have practiced. He thought of himself as the luckiest person in the world to meet Marpa. Physically it looked like he endured suffering. His sister lamented we are the worst off people in the world. Milarepa replied if I wished I could have worldly happiness, but I practice dharma to benefit sentient beings. Others seeing my condition may lament, but Buddhas seeing my mind will rejoice. So he practiced with that feeling of confidence and joyous effort.
The third type is unshakable effort. The mind should not be shaken by others who harm you. Anger should not arise as a result of their acts, because that would violate the bodhisattva vows. Perseverance should not be shaken by the hardship of suffering. If you cannot endure small sufferings, will you be able to liberate all beings? So sacrifice small happinesses now for the sake of benefit for others later. The fourth type is making effort without turning back. You should not be disturbed by others wild behavior and degenerated views. You shouldn’t despair of helping them. Even flies and mosquitoes will eventually attain Buddhahood. So we should not be affected by bad outer conditions.
The fourth is perseverance without arrogance. You shouldn’t think that others can’t do what you are. Your mind should be gentle, but courageous. You shouldn’t be a doormat. If you become that, one day you will be fully exhausted. Don’t say I’ve been practicing for years, so you should listen to what I say. If pride rises, it should be purified. The last type is diligent effort to benefit sentient beings. This is benefiting beings who have no support.
Insatiable perseverance is not being satisfied until you attain enlightenment. It’s like driving here from far away and not being satisfied just by arriving in Frederick. Samsaric pleasures are like honey on the edge of a razor or like a moth attracted to a flame. So you should never feel you have enough merit, which brings happiness and peace. Shantideva is so beautiful and we should study his verses and memorize them.
Perseverance increases through primordial wisdom. This was explained in generosity. Discriminating awareness expands it. Think you have no attachment to perseverance and expectation of results. Then fully dedicate the merit to all sentient beings. We should have no attachment.
The perfection of perseverance is supported by the pervading emptiness of body, mind, objects, and the one who engages in the practice of emptiness. Wisdom creates the cause for not dwelling in samsara. And compassion creates the cause for not dwelling in a one sided nirvana.
The benefit of perseverance is that you will attain complete enlightenment. All the Buddhas of the three times will attain complete enlightenment through the perfection of perseverance. The conventional result is that when you will have all the joys of existence. The two bodies of a Buddha are attained through perseverance.
Q: How do we distinguish between enduring suffering and being a doormat?
A: We need wisdom to make that distinction. Study the section in Jewel Ornament on the difference between impure and pure generosity.
Q: Whatever happened to Milarepa’s sister?
A: She was enlightened through Milarepa’s help.
Q: Could you say more about the joy in perseverance?
A: it’s like being happy when driving to the beach, or cutting up the food when preparing a meal.
Q: Could you say something about the four thoughts?
A: First, there is impermanence. The five aggregates are impermanent and so are all outside phenomena. This is described in detail in the Jewel Ornament. Next, there is suffering. Think of how much effort we make to have a joyous life. It’s like the waves on an ocean that never stop. Our mind and body constantly cycle though states of suffering. Then, there is causality. Our bodies are the result of causes. Whatever happens is the result of causes. Because of that we have to avoid the cause of suffering and cultivate the cause of happiness. Finally, there is our precious human life. All this understanding depends on our precious human life. It is precious because it has the potential to attain enlightenment.
Q: Why do you restrain the mind that you are trying to make infinite?
A: We restrain negative thoughts because they are obstacles to making the mind infinite. Having loving kindness to all beings instead of just our family expands our minds.
Q: How can I get enlightened just by doing the practices I do?
A: just do what you can, step by step. Always watch your mind and protect it from negative emotions. And go for it.
Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen
Tibetan Meditation Center
June 2, 2006