by Mitra Mark Power
Thank you, Nalandabodhi Canada, for permission to repost the monthly selection from your new Paramita of the Month series of email posts, featuring inspiring teachings by our beloved Mitras. The second installment in the series focuses on the paramita of discipline, with Mitra Mark Power. Enjoy!
“If you wanna be free,
Enjoy the freedom now!”
Freedom is what we long for — we want to be content. Every person that we know; every little fly we are irritated by; every little slug eating its way through our garden seeks freedom: from limitation, fear, and so many ways of being in pain. When we recognize this we begin to experience connection to every living thing, and that relationship starts to work on us. These countless interdependent connections make us a little uncomfortable – perhaps we fear they’ll overwhelm us. Until we awaken our hearts.
Awakening a heart of kindness and compassion happens in this moment. “Enjoy the freedom now!” Not once and for all, of course, but on a path of many moments; many decisions – each one like a light switch for freedom. And, just like the light switch in the hall at home, we have to remember to turn it on. When we do, we enjoy the confidence that comes from clearly seeing the way forward. We know the other side of this analogy, not remembering to flip the switch and stumbling painfully through the confusions of the dark! The essence of discipline is remembering to flip the switch, not just mechanically, but motivated by the experience of goodness that points to even greater freedom — there is trust.
So, how do we begin? In the chapter on the Paramita of Discipline (translated by Herbert Guenther as The Perfection of Ethics and Manners) In the “Jewel Ornament of Liberation” by Lord Gampopa, Gampopa refers to an instruction from a Mahayana commentary,
“Relying on and abiding in the ethics of a Bodhisattva, one strives to find satisfaction solely in listening to, pondering over and making a living experience of the Dharma . . . .”
This quote provides a strong clue for how to move forward “. . . one strives to find satisfaction solely in . . . .” If we understand satisfaction as an expression of freedom then the instruction is straightforward: we seek freedom in the activities of hearing, contemplating and “making a living experience of the Dharma.” And, making a living experience means making it our own — a personal experience. To do this we need support; we need trust in our own ability, our own resources.
The poet, David Whyte, in his poem, Start Close In, encourages,
“Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
heroics, be humble
start close in,
for your own.”
He says “. . . don’t follow someone else’s heroics . . .” Does this mean we slip back into patterns of individualism and selfishness? No, of course not. We follow the example of great teachers and make it personal. Rather than trying to become The Buddha, we commit ourselves to becoming A Buddha — awake!
An important step in this process is learning to accept who we are. There is something liberating about finally accepting our unique personal expression of the path. Instead of spending more time and energy comparing ourselves to others, feeling lesser or greater than our sangha sisters and brothers — what a relief when we can let that go!
“. . . take a small step
you can call your own
heroics . . .”
Surprisingly, compassion for others grows in proportion to our self-acceptance.
It may seem contradictory to talk about self-acceptance in the context of the Mahayana teachings which emphasize the emptiness of self. However, practically speaking, until we’ve learned to fully accept who we are, we put a lot of energy into trying to be different. This resistance clouds our vision, and impedes our experience of genuine compassion and freedom. Self-acceptance is a product of seeing clearly — recognizing that the labels we apply to ourselves don’t so much describe us as limit us. When these limiting ideas begin to give way we have more humor and are more accommodating with ourselves and others.
The practice of Discipline becomes wholehearted when we develop a habit of appreciation — appreciating the many facets of freedom that shine as we make “a living experience of the Dharma.” A common idea about discipline is that it’s all about saying “No!”, but what makes discipline equally transformative is saying “Yes!” to the liberating message of freedom. This Yes is the pith instruction of Rinpoche’s words “Enjoy the freedom now!” It is not without edge or difficulty, but when infused with appreciation we find a reason to begin again in each moment. With appreciation we can learn from our failures, and with appreciation we can let go of our need to be special. We enjoy a small taste of being free from hope and fear.
The context of our practice of discipline is of course wherever we find ourselves — on the bus, in the kitchen, in this world or other realms. The way we bring it into naturalness so that it becomes a reliable support is to apply it to the movements of body, speech and mind. In our curricula we have wonderful resources instructing us in what to cultivate and what will make us ill with respect to body, speech and mind. An important aspect of discipline is referring back to these materials, returning to them with a mind of appreciation and curiosity, and making it personal. Pick one of the 10 virtuous actions of body, speech and mind and focus on that for one day; the next day move on to another of the 10. In the course of one month you’ll have three experiences of each of the 10. Each time you can reflect on what you learned (it might be that you forgot – no problem, you’ve got two more tries this month). Try a written reflection and see how that differs from the experience of contemplation. Ask yourself, “How is the practice of the paramita of discipline alive for me?” Make it personal and immediate; “take a small step you can call your own.”
“Experience the primordial freedom NOW!”