The six liberating actions are a motivational teaching for direct use in one’s life. As is generally known, Buddhism has a very practical aim and its view is exceedingly clear. No one gets enlightened from only hearing teachings. Lasting results come from real experiences and the changes they bring about. Because this is so important, Buddha gave much practical advice, which should never be seen as commandments but as help from a friend. Being neither a creator nor a judging god, he wants no followers nor students who are a flock of sheep. Instead he wants colleagues – mature people sharing his enlightenment and the massive responsibility it entails are his real goal.
For those who mainly think of themselves, his advice is contained in the Noble Eightfold Path. Starting with a useful lifestyle, it culminates in proper concentration. Whoever has reached the level of compassion and insight, and wishes to be useful to others, finds the Six Paramitas or Six Liberating Actions more useful. ‘Ita’ means ‘gone’ and ‘Param’ means ‘beyond’. The paramitas develop love which takes one beyond the personal. It is the view which sets one free, the deep insight that seer, things seen, and the act of seeing are interdependent and one, that subject, object and action cannot be separated. The Paramitas liberate not because bad pictures in the mirror of one’s mind are replaced with good ones, but because the confident states the latter produce allow one to go behind the good and the bad and recognize the mirror itself; shining, perfect and more fantastic than anything that it may reflect. The actions are liberating because they bring a recognition of the ultimate nature of mind. If one only fills the mind with good impressions, that would of course bring future happiness, but it would not go beyond the conditioned. With the view of the oneness of subject, object and action, whatever is undertaken for the benefit of others will bring the doer timeless benefit.
The First Liberating Action: Generosity.
Generosity opens up every situation. The world is full of spontaneous richness, but no matter how good the music is, there is no party if no one dances. If no one shares anything of themselves, nothing meaningful will happen. That is why generosity is so important. At Buddha’s time, people were much less complicated than today. They also did not have amazing machines working for them. At that time, generosity was a question of helping others survive, of assuring that they had enough to eat. This meant the act was often focused on material things. Today, in the free and non-overpopulated part of the world, this is not the case; one usually dies from too much fat around the heart. Due to a lack of clear thinking, people develop inner problems as the outer ones diminish, and start to feel lonely and insecure. Instead of worrying about necessities, they develop complicated inner lives and many have never tasted the joy of their physical freedom.
Thus in the Western world and parts of Asia, where material things are abundant – generosity refers mostly to the emotional. It means sharing one’s power, joy and love with others, from the beyond- personal levels from where there is no falling down. If one meditates well and taps into the unconditioned states of mind, there is no end to the good that one may pass on to others. Sharing one’s ultimate certainty is the finest gift of all – giving beings one’s warmth – and though one cannot take one’s car or fame past the grave, not everything is lost at death. The qualities developed during former lives are easily re-gained in later ones and there is no richness that is passed more directly from one existence to another than joyful energy. Squeezing the juice out of life pays, and a few more mantras or prostrations, some more love for one’s partner than usual, not only bring power here and now, but speed up enlightenment.
As already mentioned, the finest and only lasting richness one may bring beings is an insight into their unconditioned nature. But how to do that?
How does one show others their innate perfection? The best mirror is Buddha’s teachings and this is why no activity is more beneficial than the making of meditation centers. The practical wisdom they disseminate acquaints many with the clear light of their consciousness and the seeds thus planted will grow over all future lives until enlightenment. Though many socially minded people claim that such teachings are a luxury and that first one should give people something to eat, this is not true. There is ample space for both. When the mind functions well, the stomach will digest the food better and maybe then one can understand the reasons for having less children. In any case, the body will disappear while the mind continues on.
The Second Paramita: A life that is aware, meaningful and useful to others.
As terms like morality and ethics are employed by governing classes to control those below, many prefer not to use them. People are consciously intimidated by this, and often think, “If the state doesn’t get you in this life, the church will get you afterwards.” Even when only advice is given, as in the case of the Buddha, and the full development of beings is the only goal, one has to choose words which instruct clearly, without employing fear. The best definition of the second liberating action is probably living meaningfully and for the benefit of others.
So what does this mean? How can one encompass the countless actions, words and thoughts during just one single day? Buddha, seeing everything from the state of timeless wisdom, had a few unique ideas. Because people have ten fingers for counting and then remembering, he gave ten pieces of advice concerning what is useful and what is not. Encompassing body, speech and mind, they become meaningful also to independent people when one recognizes that Buddha is not a boss, but a friend wishing one happiness. He wants everybody to share the blissful clear light of mind; the knower of past, present and future. Understanding that everybody is a Buddha who has not realized it yet, and recognizing the outer world to be a pure land, all experience becomes the expression of highest wisdom simply because it can happen. How else could the Buddha act? He never teaches by dogma or from above but shares his wisdom with beings whom he knows to be his equals in essence.
Due to the good Karma of those surrounding him, Buddha tought for a full 45 years and died with a smile. He taught many extraordinary students. The questions they asked him were on the level of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato; the best minds of an amazing generation came to test him with the complete range of their philosophical tools and found not only convincing words, but Buddha’s power was so skillful that it changed them in lasting ways. Beyond perfecting their logical abilities, he influenced their whole mind. Introducing them to the timeless experiencer behind the experiences, there was no space left for doubt.
On the levels of body, speech and mind, it is not difficult to understand what is useful to avoid. When people have problems with the police, usually they have caused some trouble with their body. Killing, stealing, or harming others sexually are the main points here. When they are lonely, usually they say things which disturb others. They usually lie with the intent to harm others, spread gossip, split friends or confuse people. If somebody is unhappy, one will develop a tendency to dislike others, feel envy and permit states of confusion to drag on.
The opposite are ten positive actions of body, speech and mind which only bring happiness. They make one powerful and useful to others. Here the Buddha advises using one’s body as a tool to protect beings, to give them love and whatever else they need. Whoever has success with others now, has developed that potential during earlier lives, so the quicker one starts, the better.
One’s speech may touch many more beings with the means of communication today. Kind words previously spoken, create pleasant experiences now and strengthen good karma. If people listen, speak kindly and receive clear information, then again, in this life they will see benefit in telling the truth whenever possible, avoid telling lies to harm others, show people how things work in the world, and bring them calm.
And finally, what to do with one’s mind? Good wishes, joy in the good that others do and clear thinking is the way to go. These qualities brought us the mental happiness we enjoy today and making a habit of them insures happiness until enlightenment. The mind is most important of all. Thoughts today become words tomorrow and actions the day after. Every moment here and now is important. If one watches the mind, nothing can stop one’s progress.
The Third Paramita: How not to lose future happiness through anger.
When one is accumulating spiritual richness through generosity and directing it with the right understanding, the third quality needed on one’s way is patience; not to lose the good energy at work for others and oneself.
How may one lose it? Through anger. Anger is the only luxury mind cannot afford. Good impressions gathered over lifetimes – mind’s capital and the only source of lasting happiness – may be burnt in no time through fits of hot or cold rage. Buddha said that avoiding anger is the most difficult and most beautiful robe one can wear, and he gave many means to obtain that goal. One which is very useful today is experiencing a situation as a series of separate events to which one reacts without any evaluation. This “salami tactic” or “strobe light-view” is very effective when reacting to a physical danger. Also other methods like feeling empathy with whomever creates bad Karma, knowing it will return to them, and being aware of the impermanent and conditioned nature of every experience, and imagining how deluded people must be to cause such trouble are beneficial approaches. Reacting to whatever appears without anger will set free the timeless wisdom of body, speech, and mind and one’s reactions will be right. On the highest level of practice called the Diamond Way, one lets unwanted emotions float on a carpet of mantras, letting them fall away without causing any bad habits. One may also let the thief “come to an empty house” by simply being aware of the feeling while doing nothing unusual. When it has visited a few times without receiving any energy, it will come less frequently and then stay away. Whoever can be aware as anger appears, plays around and then disappears, will discover a radiant state of mind, showing all things clearly like a mirror.
In any case, it is wise to avoid anger as well as one can. And when it bites, to let it go quickly. The decision to stop anger and remove it whenever it appears is the support for the “inner” or Bodhisattva vow. Force is useful to protect and teach, but the feeling of anger is always difficult and causes most of the suffering in the world today. The Buddhist protectors removing harm, or Tilopa and Marpa polishing off their students in record time fall under the category of forceful action. Probably no teacher could survive without having to resort to it.
Meditation centers need this view for a balanced policy for their visitors. If people appear drunk, on drugs, unwashed or behave badly, one should make them leave quickly. They disturb others, plus the next day they will not remember what they have learned. The function of a Buddhist center, and especially of the Karma Kagyu lineage, is to offer a spiritual way to those who are too critical and independent for anything else; there are enough churches and places for people searching for help. Not everybody brings the necessary conditions for entering the Buddhist practice, however. To practice the Diamond Way one needs a foundation of being at least behaved, able to not take things personally and to think of others.
The Fourth Paramita: Joyful energy insuring our growth.
Next follows joyful energy. Without that, life has no “zap” and one will get older but not wiser. It is a point where one should be conscious and keep feeding body, speech and mind the impressions which give an appetite for further conquest and joy. As most have a strong tendency towards inertia and the status quo, one should make sure to stay alive from the inside out, which actually happens best through the pure view of the Diamond Way. Knowing that all beings are Buddhas just waiting to be shown their richness and that all existence is the free play of enlightened space: What would be more inspiring than making all that come true? There is an immense joy inherent in constant growth, in never allowing anything to become stale or used. Real development lies beyond the comfort zone and it pays well to demand little from others and much from oneself.
The Fifth Paramita: Meditation which makes life meaningful.
The former four points should be evident to everybody. Whoever wants to give life power and meaning has to invoke others. This happens best through generosity with body, speech and mind. One needs to direct the energy thus arising through skillful thoughts, words and actions and then to avoid the anger which destroys all good seeds one may have planted. Also energy gives that extra push which opens new dimensions.
But why meditation? Because one cannot willfully keep the states so joyfully reached at times.
Unwanted emotions often lurk in dark corners of beings’ consciousness and may bring them to do, say or experience things they would rather have avoided. Here, the pacifying meditation of calming and holding the mind gives the necessary distance to choose taking roles in life’s comedies and avoiding it’s tragedies.
The Sixth Paramita: Wisdom – Recognizing the true nature of mind.
So far, the five actions mentioned have mainly been kind deeds which fill mind with good impressions and thus produce conditioned happiness. In themselves, they go no further than that. What makes them liberating or “gone beyond” paramitas is the sixth point, the enlightening wisdom which the Buddha supplies. In it’s fullness it means the understanding of the sixteen levels of “emptiness” or interdependent origination of all phenomena, outer and inner, which is the subject of many weighty books. In a short few words it may be expressed as the understanding that doing good is natural. Because subject, object and action are all parts of the same totality, what else could one do? They condition one another and share the same space while no lasting ego, self or essence can be found either in them or elsewhere. This insight makes one realize how all beings wish for happiness and one will act to bring them benefit in the long run.
Kagyu Life International, No.3, 1995