Six Perfections Continued and Review of Refuge

A Teaching by Geshe Dakpa Topgyal

Basic understanding necessary for refuge We finished the First Perfection, the perfection of giving, generosity, charity; this includes tonglen, the practice of giving and taking. Today, we will deal with the second of the Six Perfections, ethics. To review the perfection of giving, there are three kinds of giving: material help, protection from fear, and providing dharma teachings.

  1. Material help includes providing food, clothing, medicine, and shelter, whatever material necessities are necessary for survival. We are not looking for material comfort, but life-sustaining necessities.

  2. Giving protection from fear especially deals with beings whose lives are in danger. This can also include emotional comfort and support with a sincere feeling of affection.

  3. Giving dharma teaching includes sincere advice and honest counsel to solve others' emotional problems.

2. Ethics

The second of the Six Perfections is the perfection of ethics or discipline or morality. In Sanskrit, ethics is shila. Those with ethics make a conscious effort to abstain from harmful actions, not only harmful actions toward others, but also actions harmful to oneself.

In general, in Buddhism, there are two types of ethics, formal and informal. Informal ethics are a conscious effort to abstain from the negative actions. You could say these are universal ethics: not killing, not stealing, those things. Whether you are religious or non-religious, a believer or non-believer, you should abstain from the 10 negative actions not only so that your life will be harmonious but so that life in society will be harmonious.

Formal ethics include the vows made by the lay-ordained, by monks and by nuns. There are three types of ethics:

  1. the ethics of abstaining from negative actions,

  2. the ethics of benefiting others,

  3. the ethics of conscious effort to engage in virtuous actions.

The ethics of abstaining from negative actions is made unique by the ethics of benefiting others and the ethics of engaging in virtuous actions. At the beginning of the Lam Rim, we discussed this aspect, that simply abstaining from killing is not enough. Does merely cultivating "not-killing" carry a life-sustaining force? No, and that is important to understand. "Not killing" needs more than that, more conscious effort.

Question: You mean we're all sitting here not killing?

Answer: Yes, besides that, you are doing nothing. When you understand this, then you understand that, to be unique and complete, the ethics of abstaining from negative actions also requires the ethics of benefiting others and the ethics of engaging in virtuous acts. The ethics of engaging in virtuous acts also creates more punja, or merit, which serves as a fertilizer or catalyst for the speed of spiritual growth.

Question: What is the difference between benefiting others and engaging in virtuous acts?

Answer: Engaging in virtuous acts is more than just helping others. It ensures you obtain positive qualities that are enhanced, that don't degenerate.

Question: So the attitude of wanting to help others has more merit than struggling, making yourself help others? There's more merit when you want to engage in virtuous acts than there is when you’re fighting internal obstacles?

Answer: Yes, and you're more skillful in helping others.

Formal Ethics

There are also three kinds of formal ethics: the ethics of individual liberation, bodhisattva ethics, and tantric ethics.

  1. The ethics of individual liberation refers to external ethics. Buddhist teachings is confusing, isn't it; lost of lists. And they’re not shopping lists!

  2. Bodhisattva ethics refers to internal ethics.

  3. Tantric ethics refers to secret ethics.

Within the ethics of individual liberation are eight kinds:

  1. upasika and

  2. upasaka, ethics for the lay-ordained.

  3. ethics for the novice monk,

  4. ethics for the novice nun,

  5. ethics for the fully ordained monk,

  6. ethics for the fully ordained nun,

  7. ethics for the probationary nun; and

  8. ethics for a one-day vow, 24 hours.

The ethics of individual liberation are called external because they are mainly about the negative actions of body and speech. When a negative emotion such as anger arises, you have an emotional feeling that includes an intent to harm others. You know anger is here, and you know a negative action will come, and so you should make a conscious effort to stop the actions resulting from anger. This is external ethics, mainly a conscious effort to stop manifesting anger in speech and body.

Bodhisattva ethics are called internal because the main effort is to prevent or stop the manifestation of negative thoughts. The mental act of dealing with emotions is more difficult. If even the slightest concern about your own well-being arose in a corner of your mind, you would be breaking the bodhisattva precepts.

Question: You can't worry about yourself at all?

Answer: No, no, no interest for yourself. There are 14 root precepts and 46 secondary precepts. You would be violating your bodhisattva vows if

  1. you praised yourself and belittled others,

  2. you are asked to teach and don't,

  3. you are asked for a religious object and don't provide it,

  4. you are given a sincere apology and don't forgive sincerely. Often, we give lip service. We say, "It's okay. But do it again, and I'll kill you." We say, "It's okay; it's okay," and deep down, it's itching. With ordinary beings, no matter how much we try to help them, they will have something to say about us. No matter how you treat him or her, someone is very dissatisfied.

  5. you become disheartened or discouraged. Becoming discouraged could result in your giving up your bodhisattva vows. You say, "Well, forget it. Let's go." That's very dangerous.

  6. You use for your own gain anything dedicated to a sangha member or a temple for higher spiritual purpose.

Question: If you take them and break them, can you take them again?

Answer: Yes, but breaking them is 100 times more serious.

There are also five acts that bring immediate retribution. Between the very action and its result there is no gap. Geshe Phuntsok says to tell you these five, don't be stingy!

  1. killing your own mother,

  2. killing your own father,

  3. killing an arhat,

  4. intending to draw blood from a Buddha statue. This doesn't have to be taken literally. You probably have gotten so upset and angry you’ve had the negative intention of burning a picture of someone. Even though there is no blood in a Buddha statue, we're talking about the same thing. Merely burning the picture gives you satisfaction. It's all about intention; don’t think about whether Buddha donates blood to the Red Cross.

  5. causing a division among sangha members.

Of course the action itself is negative, but here the main emphasis is on not allowing negative thoughts and actions to arise in the mind. Even the thought of harming would be breaking a vow; therefore, the ethics are called internal. Then there are tantric ethics, which are called secret ethics.

Question: I guess you aren't going to tell us them, then.

Answer: There are 18 root precepts. Many are difficult, very difficult. One prohibits criticizing or despising a woman, whether you have a valid reason or not. To do so is to break a vow. Another is criticizing one's tantric master, whether there is a valid reason or not. A third is knowingly doing anything you're not supposed to do. You think, "Who cares." You are willful. A fourth is criticizing relatives. Oh, big problem. A fifth is giving up compassionate feelings toward others. In the second year of Lam Rim, we will talk about these.

One person can take vows for all three: individual liberation, bodhisattva and tantric. The tantric are more serious than the bodhisattva, and the bodhisattva are more serious than the individual. If you have taken all the vows, and a situation appears where you are in danger of breaking a precept – there is no other choice – it is wise to choose to break an individual precept, not a bodhisattva precept.

Question: How could you break an external precept without breaking an internal one, too?

Answer: Out of compassion, you might kill someone and break the first precept. If you killed out of anger, you would break both. Only the individual knows his intentions; others cannot make judgments. We really don't know what's going on, unless we can read someone's mind. Judging without knowing another's mind is dangerous. Buddha said, "Apart from myself, and others who are like me," no one should judge others. Judging others is, itself, self-destructive. You can see that ethics mainly improves the quality of our action and behavior.

3. Patience

The third of the Six Perfections is the perfection of patience or tolerance. Patience is a quality of mind that allows us to remain calm in the face of others, calm in the face of hostility, calm in the face of unpleasantness. In general, patience is a quality of mind that allows us to remain calm in the face of problems. Patience is not only positive itself, but often remaining calm becomes the solution to the problem. In general, we do the opposite. As a solution, we get angry.

The advantage of patience

Patience has many advantages, many positive qualities, many spiritual benefits. Patience enhances spiritual quality. Patience protects merit. Patience solves the problem. Patience creates inner beauty. The opposite of patience is impatience or anger. Anger creates ugliness. When we get angry, something changes, more than u-g-l-y. Even the surroundings change, as if they have mold or stink. Anger brings more than an unpleasant appearance. Anger destroys merit. Anger stops positive qualities from growing. Anger causes spiritual and psychic blockage. Prana arises and blows the blood so it is fast and irregular and damages the nervous system; there is a negative impact on quality of mind. An angry person loses mindfulness and conscientiousness, loses positive and negative differentiation. An angry person is intoxicated by anger and doesn't know what he is saying or doing.

Shantideva has said there is no greater evil than anger and no greater benefit than patience. In general, we know anger is not good because after anger, when we return to ourselves, we feel regret, guilt and some form of uneasiness or self-concern.

There are three types of patience:

  1. the patience of not-retaliating,

  2. the patience of voluntarily accepting problems. Sometimes I see at the grocery store someone whose credit card is not working. The people behind get restless and agitated. Sometimes it's fun to watch these things. When you know what is happening, it's almost like watching a movie. In such a situation, it's better to listen to the free music and enjoy the free air-conditioning.

  3. the patience of persistence.

It's helpful to think about Shantideva. He advised, if there's something to do about it, go do it. If there's nothing you can do about it, being concerned won't help. When there's something to do, there’s no need to worry, you can do it. If there's something fixable, there's no need to worry; fix it. If the problem is not fixable, there’s no need to worry because worrying wont help you.

Question: Sometimes you try to fix something by trial and error.

Answer: Shantideva says don't try to fix something that is not broken. Shantideva's teachings are all about perception. We falsely perceive something as wrong or broken; it's all in our mind.

On the third benefit of patience: When we practice, we say meditation has this benefit, that benefit. We become attracted to the positive benefits, and we try to meditate. If we don’t have healthy patience, we will give up. That is impatience, expecting immediate results. Immediate results will never come. Yes, this is perseverance.

As long as you experience delight in meditation, be satisfied with that pleasure or delight without expecting ultimate results in a short period of time. In general, accepting problems is the main type of patience. When you voluntarily accept problems, even if there is no cure, the problem won’t disturb your mind as much. If there's no solution and you worry, a problem becomes a double problem, the real problem plus agitation.

Shantideva explained the reason for us to have the patience of voluntarily accepting problems. As ordinary human beings in the ordinary physical world the causes of happiness are few in number and the conditions of unhappiness are many in number. Sometimes, the causes and conditions of happiness turn into the causes and conditions of unhappiness. So we need the patience of voluntarily accepting problems because knowing they are part of existence brings easiness into our mind even though there is no cure for the physical world.

On perseverance, whatever you do, be consistent. Be satisfied with what you experience, rather than look for ultimate results overnight. There’s no Federal Express in dharma practice, no overnight delivery. Buddha has said all our own problems are our own imperfections, our own mistakes.

Question: In the same way, is our inability to see perfection in Buddha our own inability to see perfection?

Answer: Yes, this happens in our society. If you listen to two people, each will tell a completely different story. The first person will see the problems within himself as residing in the second person. And the second person will see the problems within herself as residing in the first person. Then it becomes unfixable.

Notes from a teaching by Geshe Dakpa Topgyal in Columbia, South Carolina, August 9, 2002.