Generosity, Virtue, Renunciation, Wisdom, Energy, Patience, Truthfulness, Resolve, Lovingkindness, Equanimity
I consider it a great fortune that I discovered the teachings on the Ten Perfections early on in my Buddhist explorations. Even before my sitting practice deepened and developed over time, reflecting on this list of ten qualities gave me a quite vivid picture of what would be asked of me, and what the fruits of those labors might be. I love that each quality is simultaneously something we cultivate for our own discipline and well-being, that then naturally flows outward for the benefit of others.
Para (paramis) is translated as “to cross over” or “go beyond” to the other shore. It’s also related to the word paramam, which means “something of foremost importance” or simply, priorities. I didn’t need to practice for too long before I realized that crossing the strong currents of greed hatred and delusion was not for the faint of heart, and that coming back again and again to the dharma – specifically for me the Ten Perfections – was a steadying guide when life’s waters became turbulent.
If you’ll forgive the mixing of metaphors, I’ve got an analogy for you. In his book A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer writes, “There was a time when farmers on the Great Plains, at the first sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door out to the barn. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own backyards. Today we live in a blizzard of another sort. It swirls around us as economic injustice, ecological ruin, physical and spiritual violence, and their inevitable outcome, war. It swirls within us as fear and frenzy, greed and deceit, and indifference to the suffering of others. We all know stories of people who have wandered off into this madness and been separated from their own souls, losing their moral bearings and even their mortal lives.”
This scene has stayed with me all these years, the notion of intentionally setting up a structure around oneself – ahead of time! – that can be relied on when the inevitable life-blizzards come. The dharma continues to be that structure for me, and the Ten Perfections remains one of the simplest “ropes to the barn” for everyday life. In fact, the Ten Perfections is considered the ideal set of teachings for the householder, the average person like you and me. Beginning with generosity and virtue – the basic foundations of a skillful life – and culminating with lovingkindness and equanimity, the progression is filled with practical and transformative teachings and practices.
Beginning March 9th, I’ll be leading a 10-week interactive course on The Ten Perfections: Bringing Your Practice to Life specifically designed for the average householder. The material is both deep and wide, and so relevant to the times. Please join me – all are welcome!