The Paramitas IV: Meditation and Wisdom
This will be my last post on the paramitas or “gone beyonds.” As I mentioned in a previous piece, “gone beyond” refers to their uniqueness as spiritual practices. We are encouraged to practice them by going beyond the conventional meaning of each to include its opposite.
The final two paramitas are meditation and wisdom. The key practice within the Zen tradition is meditation, which is what the word “Zen” originally means and a serious Zen practitioner makes meditation their core spiritual practice, as I have done for most of my adult life. But meditation, like the other paramitas, is only of real value if it includes its opposite, “no meditation.” What’s the deal here? The deal is that if we do meditation as a means to an end, our energy is always going to be somewhat split. Instead of being where we are, we will always be focused on trying to change ourselves. Yet, genuine transformation can only take place when we completely embrace what is. This radical acceptance allows us to equally value the opposites of meditation and no meditation. As we do this, we begin to replace experience our fixations on specific thoughts and/or emotions and instead enter a world of infinite possibility.
The final paramita is wisdom, prajna in Sanskrit from the root “pra” “before” and “jna” “knowledge.” From a Christian perspective, we have all eaten the apple of “the knowledge of good and evil” as Eve did. By eating this forbidden fruit she lost her innocence and became a sinner. This loss of innocence is somewhat parallel to the Buddhist concept of avidya or original ignorance. The first link in the chain of “dependent co-arising” shows a grandmother who has lost her original vision of her indivisibility from all of life and lives not in sin but in avidya- meaning, “ignorance” or “lack of vision” in Sanskrit. Since she has lost her vision, she is afraid, isolated, and lonely, and attempts to control the world around her. Alas, this is doomed to failure, as she tries to get others to affirm her and admire her. But the wisdom which she is seeking, needs to include its opposite “no wisdom” which can only be manifested when she stops dividing things up. This wisdom is sometimes called resting on “don’t know.”
Dizang asked his student Fayan, “Where are you going?”
Fayan said, “I am wandering aimlessly.”
“What do you think of wandering?” said the teacher
“I don’t know,” Said Fayan.
“Not knowing is most intimate,” said the teacher.
If we can learn to rest in “don’t know” our life starts to work, as we not longer feel cut off from others or the world around us. Instead of trying to self-consciously focus on being generous, moral, patient, or wise, we don’t know and we don’t need to know. And it is possible to sink so deeply into don’t know, that we can JUST BE. Instead of worrying about being a sinner or about our identity we begin to feel supported by all life.
To move from avidya to vidya we need to penetrating the levels of attention that overlay our natural ability to see clearly. When we do this, we no longer spend most of our time squandering our attention on, 1. Ideas, images, memories, and evaluations. 2. Instinctual urges that we’re unaware of, and 3. Moods, which are more subtle and long lasting.
Through our bare awareness process gradually we become familiar with these layers and the feeling-tones that they arouse in the body. As the mind slows down, clarity arises, and the mind naturally frees itself. When this happens we clearly see that generosity-stinginess, morality-immorality, patience-impatience, effort-no effort, and meditation—no meditation are undivided from each other and we begin to deeply enjoy our lives.
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Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher