One of the joys of being stably in one spot as well as amidst a community of buddhist practitioners is the ability to have programs suitable for participants of all ages. In Shelburne we had the first of our planned weekly family gathering today. The theme was ‘Developing Paramī’. We had the chance to contemplate what qualities we think are important for our own happiness and how we might practice them so they get stronger.
The whole topic of Paramī, or Perfections, is derived from the story of the bodhisatta’s quest to become a Buddha. Just setting the intention for something is not enough – we have to consider what is needed for success and do the work.
We got to have a little fun acting the scene out too. Have you ever heard the story?
FAMILY GROUP: THE STORY OF SUMEDHA
NARRATOR: This is something that happened long, long ago, on a planet that was a lot like earth. On that earth in the country of India there was a great city so large and old that everybody thought the city would last forever, so they called it Amaravāti, the Deathless City.
At the edge of this great city there were some patches of forest. This is where meditators and holy people liked to live. One of these meditators was a man named Sumedha. He lived on his own in a little hut in the woods. Every day Sumedha would sit and meditate in the forest, developing his mental power. He had lots of special abilities like the ability to see and hear things far, far away, and the ability to move things with his mind. He was pretty sure he could do anything he wanted to if he put his mind to it.
One day Sumedha was disturbed from his meditation by a lot of people working on the path down the hill from his hut. He went down the hill to chase them away, but when he got there he was surprised by what he found. The people were smiling and happy, and working very diligently to clean the path. They were sweeping and clearing branches and filling in all the potholes with dirt. Some were even chanting while they worked. Sumedha went up to one of them and asked:
SUMEDHA: “What are you doing? Why is everyone cleaning this old path? And why are you all so happy?”
VILLAGER: “Oh great Holy Man, we are happy because this good news has spread: A Buddha named Dīpankara has arisen in the world! He left a rich family to go off and purify his mind, and has attained full enlightenment. He is kind and wise and holy. He teaches all who want to be taught the Dhamma of how to realize enlightenment for themselves in this very life. And – today he is traveling along this very road with a great big sangha of his monks and nuns. We are very honored to have him bless our neighborhood.”
SUMEDHA: “That sounds nice. I want to be a Buddha!”
VILLAGER: “Good sir, I hope you are successful in that! But you should know that it takes a lot of work to be a Buddha. It takes many, many lifetimes of practice to purify ones mind and heart to that great level, so that one can be of benefit to everyone.”
NARRATOR: When Sumedha heard this he looked at the people around him and suddenly he understood why they were so happy. Work! It had been a long time since he had had to work at anything, because his psychic powers were so strong. And he had never worked for anyone but himself. But these people were happily working out of respect and kindness for the coming Buddha.
So Sumedha asked if he could help prepare the path. A villager gave him a broom and he started sweeping. He picked up heavy branches and tossed them out of the way. There were even some acorns which hurt when they were walked on, so he picked them up one by one so no one would hurt their feet.
Even after all this work though, there was one thing that didn’t get done. A big pothole was in the middle of the path and it was filled with muddy water. Anyone who walked through it would get all muddy and dirty. Just then Sumedha saw the Buddha Dīpankara coming down the road, with a long line of monks and nuns walking single file behind him. The Buddha was dressed in bright golden robes and looked so peaceful and bright, it was like he was glowing. He walked very mindfully.
Sumedha didn’t have any time to think or use his psychic powers. He just lay down in the puddle so that the coming Buddha could walk over his back. When Dīpankara Buddha approached he understood what Sumedha was doing, so he walked across the puddle using Sumedha as a bridge!
When the Buddha walked over him, Sumedha had this thought:
SUMEDHA: Now that I see the Buddha I understand what it means to be enlightened. His mind is totally bright and pure of all mean thoughts. If I studied under this Buddha, I bet I could reach that same enlightenment – in one night if I really tried. But I would rather be a Buddha just like him, and make people everywhere happy and teach the dhamma! I will be a bridge so other people can reach the far shore of enlightenment!
NARRATOR: At that time the Buddha Dīpankara knew what Sumedha was thinking, and saw that he was able to work very hard at what he wanted.
DĪPANKARA: This holy man just decided to become a Buddha! And he will be successful. Many lifetimes from now he will be a Buddha named Gotama, and he will teach the Dhamma. He will help many people cross to the far shore.
NARRATOR: When this was said everyone around became very happy. All the villagers and even all the spirit beings like devas celebrated, because a Buddha arising is a very good thing.
All the rest of the sangha walked over Sumedha like a bridge. While he was lying there, Sumedha saw that he had a lot of work to do. He was actually not the nicest person! He was very self-centered, and he could be mean sometimes. He also held on very tightly to the things he loved.
When he thought about this, his mind became a little brighter. He realized that he was being Honest with himself, and Honesty was a good quality. So from that moment he decided he would work hard to always tell the truth, no matter what happened.
With Sacca, or Honesty, as his first quality, Sumedha then thought of a list of ‘Paramī’, or Perfections, that he would have to master in order to be a Buddha. A Paramī is a quality of a pure heart that good people have. There are a few different lists, but in the Theravādā tradition, there are Ten Paramī.
What are three qualities you think are the most important?
Now pick one and come up with a way you would practice this to get better at it.
Here is the list of Ten Paramī. Do any match the ones you picked?
Sacca – Honesty
Dānā – Generosity
Sīla – Virtue
Nekkhamā – Letting Go
Adhiṭṭhana – Determination
Viriya – Energy
Mettā – Goodwill
Karuna – Compassion
Upekkha – Equanimity
Pañña – Wisdom