An introduction to the Paramis
HOST: Welcome to Dharma If You Dare. Today’s recording comes from Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawaserat`s Facebook livestream series: Enlightenup. In this public talk Doug and Catherine introduced the paramis – six aspects of consciousness that have been taught in the Buddha Dharma for more than 2,000 years and allow practitioners to become their own inner and outer works of art. There are qualities that we can grow to feel internally grounded and to act from a positive wholesome place in our relationships with others. To download a free paramis reference sheet and to access more resources on this topic, visit planetdharma.com/paramis. And now here’s today’s recording.
CREATE YOURSELF AS A PIECE OF ART
Q: Our teacher, Namgyal Rinpoche, said “it’s better to be a work of art than to make a work of art”. While we love art, a work of art is a creative process and it links intuition with skill and imagination. Making a work of art is great.
CS: I worked with a spiritual organization in Japan, basically a Japanese shamanistic organization and they said that the way that humans connect with the divine is through art. That’s our pathway between those two realms and that has always really resonated for me.
Q: It’s a visible product that uses paint or music or movement or it’s something that you see outside and in a form. Becoming a work of art is the same process inside, internally, but you don’t see it, at least not directly. It’s only reflected by some feeling you have about being around that person. So maybe Mother Teresa or Saint Francis or the Dalai Lama or just Joe your carpenter down on the corner, he may be perfecting that work of art inside. So they share the same properties, the same skill and imagination and intuition that you go to create a work of art externally. You also use those same powers, those same principles, to create the work inside, to create yourself as a piece of artwork.
CS: It produces the same kind of inspiration and attraction, a feeling of… maybe empowerment.
Q: So you hope that an external piece of work is beautiful. That it is inspiring, that it enriches your environment. Hopefully, not everything is dystopian anymore, but we certainly have a lot of dystopian art, don’t we? But hopefully, also on the inside. Right? By creating yourself as a piece of art, a work of art, then you have the same feeling that you would for an external piece of art that you enjoy. Maybe you’ve looked around here before you came and you saw a work of art you like. Has anybody seen anything they like? Right. So if you think, “what is it that I like about that piece of art? Is it its balance, harmony, color, vibrancy?” Hopefully, that same feeling is what happens when you produce yourself as a work of art. You have that same feeling on the inside.
THE KEY INGREDIENT IS INTENTIONAL MINDFULNESS
CS: So whereas an artist uses different media like paint or textiles or musical notes, to become a work of art the key ingredient is some kind of mindfulness or awareness, which we like to say is mindfulness of being mindful.
Q: Sometimes we use the term attentive mindfulness or intentional mindfulness. I can be mindful that Alex has got her legs crossed but I may not be mindful of the fact that I’m aware of her legs being crossed. Does that make sense? So where meditation separates from mindfulness is just there. Mindfulness is you’re aware that Chris has a cowboy hat on. But meditating on the fact that he has a cowboy hat on, it contextualizes it, with all of what Chris is. It brings it into a higher resonance, a higher vibrational energy. So when you’re around someone who is a work of art, there are four things that are probably happening for you or if you are in a state of being a work of art, there are four powers that you have that are very effective in terms of all of your life.
CS: And what powers would those be?
Q: One is magnetizing, it is attractiveness. People are attracted to people in good states. It just feels good. It’s also pacifying, not in a negative way, like pacifying the masses with drugs, it’s pacifying in the sense of creating a space of calm. I remember I was in the Bahamas waiting for my teacher to show up for a sailboat trip that never happened, but that’s another story. And so my friends and I basically went down to the local bar every night and shot pool and drank beer with the local Bahamians. And it was a rowdy place, I mean there weren’t any tourists, there was just us and the locals and we’re shooting pool and cigarettes and drinking and playing and having fun. Most of us are in our twenties or late twenties and early thirties. And our teacher finally showed up and we didn’t know he had arrived yet, right. And he walked into the bar and he simply walked from the front door to the back end of the bar, sat down and ordered a coke. And you should have seen the effect in this room, right? He didn’t say hi to anybody in particular. He nodded to us because we knew him, but he didn’t get involved. He just went and sat at the end of the bar and had a coke, and the entire bar straightened up. You`d think the cops had walked in.
CS: Except that it felt good. It didn`t feel like fear.
Q: Everybody all of a sudden got a little bit straighter and a little bit more awake and a little bit calmer but still had fun. But that kind of pacification of the disruptions in your being. The peacefulness. So when you’re around somebody who’s in a good state, you automatically get pacified, in a good sense, right, just by being in their presence.
CS: And then the fourth is that any negativities are destroyed very easily. So it`s destruction as a positive force. So for example, you were saying at dinner, somebody had a kind of petty gripe or commentary and you said, “yeah, but maybe not now”, and it very instantly vanished. No defilements allowed.
Q: So you know when you’re not feeling so hot or you’re not feeling so good, you get picky, you get a bit crabby, you get a bit negative.
CS: Probably, nobody here.
THE POWER OF THE POSITIVE STATE – A BALM
Q: That doesn’t happen. I know that doesn’t happen to any of you, but out there in the world with those other people. The power of the positive state is basically a kind of a balm to the negatives, right, it tends to just wipe them out.
So, I remember once I was really angry at my teacher because, I don’t know, because he had somehow interrupted my ego construct in some fashion, right? And he walked in the room and the whole thing just dissolved because he just looked at me and laughed. And he just smiled and said, “yep well, there you go”. So, why hold it? Can you think of a good reason to hold anger? One good reason – you’ve been done wrong. You’ve been hurt. Anybody has been done wrong?
CS: The only good reason I can think of is to write a really good blues song, about how I’ve been done wrong.
Q: ….my babe. Anyway, being a work of art doesn’t only do that, it also leads you into a state of absorption. So when an artist or a musician or whatever, a dancer, anybody in the field of art, of course it could apply to a craft too, it could be a carpenter or electrician, you could even do it as a chartered accountant or a lawyer. You can be in that state very easily. But what does it take to be a good artist? Passion, vulnerability, being in the moment, practice, all those things are good, but you’re not going to be a good artist if you don’t practice. And what do you have to practice, if you’re an artist? Basics! You`ve got to do art, you`ve got to practice, you`ve got to do it, you`ve got to work it.
TO BE A WORK OF ART YOU HAVE TO WORK IT
So becoming a work of art is no different. If you think you could go out and paint a Rembrandt or Modigliani or my favorite guy, the Russian, Kandinsky, thank you. You want to be a Kandinsky or something, you`ve got to work it, you`ve got to work it. So becoming a work of art is no different. How many people would like to be a work of art? I mean on the inside…beautiful…. and how many people think it should just happen like that? Just me?
But the reality of the matter is you`ve got to work it. And so that’s what this class is about. How do you work it? How do you transform the average ordinary paint-by-numbers kind of mind state into a creative work of art kind of mind state?
THE FIRST TOOL IS MINDFULNESS – A SENSE OF CONNECTION
So we started out with mindfulness as your first tool, right? Your first tool is mindfulness, you`ve got to be aware. But this mindfulness immediately brings you into a sense of connection. So that’s the very first thing that you want to look at when you think about mindfulness is, do you feel connected? Do you feel like you’re with what’s going on? Now if you’re in an emotional state or if your mind is confused or there’s trouble in your life, that’s not going to be there right? You’re going to feel unconnected or disconnected. So we need to build the connection.
CS: Together with a feeling of connection is a feeling of love. That’s basically just a good feeling that doesn’t need to be a love attached to a person or even an object. But it’s just a great feeling of well-being that also comes along with a sense of joy. This is one of my favorite things to do is to describe the nuances between the different positive feelings. Because it’s something that we don’t really give a lot of attention to. We can probably much more easily describe the nuances between different negative feelings like depression or rejection. Or… I can’t think of any other bad feelings, but I know there are some. But we don’t often think about the subtle differences between joy and love and well-being and bliss. And it’s a pretty fun study. You can imagine.
Q: That sense of connection brings us a sense of also being more tolerant because when you’re more connected, when you feel connected, you feel more tolerant.
CS: That’s right.
Q: It’s not that you’re oblivious to people’s problems or faults or difficulties, but you kind of have more empathy for them. You have a little bit more sympathy for what they are going through and how they maybe got there.
CS: I think too, it’s a feeling of enrichment. We have a kind of well-being to spare so we feel like we can cut other people some slack.
UNDERNEATH OUR EGO OUR STRUCTURES ARE CONNECTED
Q: And it’s also a form of sharing, right? Because no matter what you do, you’re sharing. So the minute you show up, the minute you get out of your bedroom you’re starting to share, right? You’re sharing every minute of every day in some fashion, either quietly in your car or in your office place or in your place of work. You’re sharing the state you’re in. You may not think about it because we tend to think we’re isolated inside our states, that our states don’t connect with others` states. But there’s something called mirror neurons and mirror neurons allow me to empathize or sympathize or intuit what you’re going through or what state you’re in, right? And this is how we know when someone’s in a good state because our mirror neurons are going – tingle tingle tingle, and when they’re in a bad state, our mirror neurons are going – udah, udah, udah! Can you hear them? Yeah. So the sharing is automatic. As human beings we’re like bamboo or mushrooms or what’s the other one?
Q: Underneath our egos, our structures are connected to each other as a species like those other plants. We`re connected. So this is all part of mindfulness.
CS: So, to become a work of art, we need to combine both the interior awareness, the meditation or meditative awareness, together with the action in the world. It really needs to be both. And then there’s a kind of generator, they`re reinforcing one another.
OUT IN THE WORLD OUR TOOL IS THE PARAMIS
Q: So when we work on the interior qualities, we call it meditation, but when we’re in the world we call them paramis. This is a Sanskrit term, which we will talk about. You need a technology, a methodology, ways of working these things in order to bring yourself into a state when you work with other people because that’s where most of us live most of the time, right? It is with other people. When we’re alone, we’re more in a meditative state.
So you work in the meditative state to clear through your own particular illusions about having problems. How many people think they have problems? Yes, you don’t, I’m sorry. You don’t. Your conditioning has problems, your programming has problems, your family structure might have problems, and your relationships might have problems, but you yourself do not have a problem. Because fundamentally if you go looking for the thing that has a problem, you’re not going to find it. What are you going to find? The problem. You won’t find a `you` to have that problem. So we’re going to leave that aside. That’s kind of the meditation-cushion understanding. But, on the other side of the equation is the world. In the action world, we have these other technologies or these other tools that we call the paramis.
CS: So paramis is usually translated into English as the perfections or the virtues and something that’s really important to keep in mind with Buddhism in English is that most of these words were translated by very early Christian monasteries around the turn of the century, the 1900s.
So the words are a little like `yeah, kind of, but not really`. They are virtuous, we`ll get into that, but it’s very different from Judeo Christian… you’re not going to go to hell if you don’t do it right and you’re not going to be a bad person. But if you do do them, you will probably feel better and the people around you will probably feel better. And they’re called perfections, not in the sense of getting a 10 out of 10 in your ice skating routine, but in terms of completing an understanding. So it’s more perfection in the sense of an integrated or holistic understanding.
PERFECTION AS AN INTEGRATED UNDERSTANDING
Q: Everybody has a different smile and each person`s smile is perfect. It’s not like you have the perfect smile. We think perfect, as Catherine was saying, `oh there’s a perfect smile` but each person’s smile is perfect in and of itself. That makes sense, right? So that when we talk about perfection, that’s what we mean. We mean that your state is perfect. You’re in a clear, relaxed, calm, blissful, happy state. And you’re not carrying any problems or hurt or worry or shame or guilt or whatever you do, that comes up with your life when you associate it with the external object. Or you don’t feel bad about yourself because you did or did not accomplish something, because that’s not in the picture at the moment. All that’s in the picture at the moment is that you’re in a calm, clear, relaxed, good state. So that’s what we mean by perfect. It doesn’t mean there isn’t more to learn, doesn’t mean that you’re driving at 150 mph on the Cowboy Highway and getting stopped by the cops, and the cops are going to let you go because you’re perfect. No, they’re going to give you a ticket. Unfortunately, they don’t recognize the wonderful state, and they write it out.
CS: So `para` in parami means beyond. And it’s the same as in parapsychology. And `mi` is the root for friendship, like amistad or ami, so it’s beyond friendship, beyond kindness or that connection again.
Q: So it’s actually quite easy in essence to be in a state of perfection from the point of view of how we’re talking about it. All you have to do is drop everything, and you should start with dropping all your hurts and all your identities and all your clingings and all your attachments and all your loves and all your hates and all your friends and all your enemies and all your ambitions and all your goals and all your directions.
OUR NATURAL STATE, A GOOD KIND OF EMPTINESS
CS: This is a really natural state that we’ve all experienced and basically, we enter it when we’re relaxed. So if you think back through your life you have memories of beautiful moments that were just kind of perfect and that’s what this state is. And that’s our connection with what we call shunyata, in Sanskrit. In English, it’s translated as emptiness, which again, is kind of a challenging translation because it’s a good kind of emptiness. It’s just spaciousness. It’s not emotional vacuity. But if you think of those times when you were maybe watching a sunset or what happens a lot in nature. Being in nature helps our ego take a break. Also holding a baby, maybe your first baby, your ego usually takes a break and you just have this amazing feeling of space, which is connection and love, which are naturally present.
Q: So where do you have most of your epiphanies? Typically in nature, and typically when you’re alone. Because you don’t need your ego when you’re in nature and you don’t need your ego when you’re alone. You only need your ego when you’re involved with other people.
CS: Or with babies and animals, because they don`t have egos either.
Q: Especially kitties. Have you ever checked out the Facebook thing with cats? If we want to sell meditations, we just hold up the cat. Then we have 150 people show up. And the reason for that is because your ego is not present. So when it comes to your story and when you’re not in parami, when you’re not in a good state, it’s all about your story, isn`t it? `What am I going to do? What should I do? What about my problems?
CS: `I can’t believe they said that.`
Q: But when you’re in nature there’s no room, there’s no need for all that. You can let it go. Now, maybe you can’t let it go because you’ve had a bad day at work. But in general, since nature has no ego, you don’t need yours. So again, we’re back to meditation because in nature you’re almost immediately in the meditative environment. All you have to deal with is your babbling mind. So this idea of parami isn’t really so much about the meditative side. It’s about when you’re with other people, when you’re engaged with other people, how do you work this perfection?
THE SIX PARAMIS ARE THE QUALITIES WE DEVELOP
CS: There are six perfections and basically, these are the qualities that we develop in order to be able to access this sense of spaciousness at will. You know, you want to be in that sense of spaciousness. `It’s not happening. It’s not happening. Damn!` How do we make it happen? Well, we develop these six qualities. We’re going to list them.
DANA – SUPPORTIVENESS
Q: Dana, which means basically generosity. We’re giving you the Sanskrit first, just so you know, we didn’t make it up last week. So dana is generosity. I like the word supportiveness. How can I support you? How can I support myself? Is it supportive to be in a bad state? Does that support you? So you can be generous to yourself, right, by being in a good state. You can be supportive of someone else. That’s a form of generosity.
CS: These are great challenges because sometimes you know, somebody’s really bugging me and really kind of getting on my back. How can I be generous in this situation? And it’s a challenge. It can be kind of fun that way.
Q: The other thing we should mention about this is that these are not things that you just learn and then you’re done. These are things you`ve got to practice and you`ve got to practice them over and over and over again, like musical scales. And they’re also meant to be meditations, in the sense that it’s not like you’ve got one take on the generosity and you’re done. Is it generous to tell people the truth all the time? Is it generous to lie to people all the time? Is it generous to tell people what they want to hear? Or is it more generous to tell them what will help them be more perfect works of art? What’s generosity? It’s a complicated question. And if you get upset, by the way, you know you’re not being generous. That’s a hard one. `I have a right to be upset by this.` When you’re upset, don’t you figure you have the right to be upset? But are you being generous to yourself by being upset? And are you being generous to them for either their failings as humans or for their effort to help you along with something, and you didn’t like? I mean, it’s a complicated thing. This is why it’s work, this is why you`ve got to practice. And this is why it’s a meditation.
SILA – INTEGRITY
CS: Okay, the second one up is sila, sometimes translated as ethics. Again, it’s tricky because we come loaded with these Judeo Christian interpretations already. And ethics is not inaccurate but it’s different from what we normally think of as ethics. What it really translates to is coolness. So think of sila as being unruffled. If your conscience is clear, somebody can say, `you did this, you did this`, but if your conscience is clear, you take it in stride. So that’s like sila.
Q: I like the word integrity for ethics. Integrity doesn’t mean you’re good. Integrity doesn’t mean you’re bad. Integrity means you’re consistent with your behavior, when you’re in a good state and a bad state. If your behavior and your state are consistent, whether you’re happy or sad then your behavior probably has integrity. Anyway, these are ways of looking.
KSANTI – PATIENCE
The next one up is ksanti, translated typically as patience.
CS: I used to think patience was just for slow people. I really did think that. Patience is really about understanding that things have their own time and being able to accept that.
Q: Have you ever waited under an apple tree for the apple to ripen? Just sitting there waiting for the apple, and tapping your foot. Like waiting in a traffic jam, just waiting for the cars to move. We’ll move on to the fourth one.
CS: Viria, which is energy, not the kind that comes from a coffee shop or a Redbull or a pill. The universe doesn’t run out of energy. And so the human organism doesn’t necessarily need to either.
Q: Ever come home from work and maybe you’re doing a course. Maybe you don’t do this anymore because you’re all now older. But maybe you came home from work and you needed to upgrade your credentials. So you try to study accounting 101 to get a promotion. You come home from work after a hard day. What do you think? Ready to study accounting after eight hours at work? And then your friend calls up and says, `hey, you want to go to the bar and go dancing?` `Oh, yes!` What changes between those two? One you’re too tired for and the other you’re ready for. So what’s the flip upon which that switch works? Interest. So another word for energy is interest. When you’re interested you have energy. When you’re not interested, you don’t, and you can’t manufacture it. So the number one principle of the teaching, once we get your attention, is to find out what interests you and then sell it to you. We’re giving you all the formulas, right?
The Buddha did it all the time. The Buddha gave meditations according to people’s interests. A farmer, he gave a meditation on the plowed field – just meditate on the plowed field. And that guy became awakened just meditating on his plowed field.
CS: Something you’re already interested in.
DJANA – ABSORPTION
The next parami is djana, which is meditation, also absorption.
That is when you get into a meditative state, doing something. It might be playing music or dancing or it might be at your computer.
Q: And that’s why it’s connected to interest because it’s really hard to get absorbed in something if you’re not interested in it. If you don’t have the energy for it. If you don’t have the patience to let it find you, as it were. If you don’t have the generosity to give yourself the time and energy to do it. So this is another word for connectedness. Feeling connected. We did that earlier with mindfulness. Do I feel connected with what I’m doing? Then you probably find you can be in great states of absorption. But if you’re not, it’s hard to do.
PRAJNA – WISDOM
CS: And the last parami is prajna or wisdom, and that’s basically all of the previous five. If we have all the previous five, the result is wisdom. It also speaks to the connection between mind, body, and spirit.
Q: It’s kind of an integrated wholeness because when you’re in a state of an integrated wholeness you’re manifesting the right action at the right time, right in quotation marks. Right action at the right time for the right reasons with the right people. And then people go, `oh, you’re so wise.` But it’s not that you’re wise, like you studied some stupid book that nobody ever else read, so you’re wise. It’s more that you’re connected with what you’re doing and who you’re with in a way that speaks to wholeness, right? That’s what wisdom is, in essence.
HOST: We hope you enjoyed this episode. Please rate and review Dharma If You Dare on Apple podcasts to help more people find and benefit from these teachings. And don’t forget to subscribe to get episodes and bonus content sent directly to your device.
Today’s episode was taken from an introductory public talk on the topic of the paramis. Doug and Catherine teach a long weekend retreat called Becoming a Work of Art at our beautiful Clear Sky Center in the British Columbia Rockies. If you are looking to take a deeper dive into this material, this is a wonderful place to start. For more information, visit planetdharma.com/paramis. And as always, you can learn more about Planet Dharma offerings at planetdharma.com/podcast. See you next time, and may all our efforts benefit all beings.