The Paramita of Skillful Conduct

By Khentin Tai Situ Rinpoche
This also has three main aspects: to refrain from negative actions, to accumulate what is positive and to help others. To refrain from negative actions means not to do that which hurts others and that which is selfish. In general, the harmful things are those discussed under the ten non-virtues: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, slander, harsh speech, useless speech, covetousness, ill-will and misguided belief. However, if the motivation is pure then the first seven (the non-mental ones) are permissible. Since motivation is the critical factor and is mental then obviously the last three non-virtues can never be permissible. If motivation is impure then one can never be a pure Bodhisattva. To be pure, skilful, moral or proper in our conduct then we must study and learn which things are negative by training under the guidance of someone who really knows what they are and who has experience of their significance.

From amongst all the negative things we discover, we then select those we are certain of avoiding and undertake vows or commitments concerning them. For example, if we are able to stop killing then we take a vow never to kill. If we can avoid killing and stealing then we take a vow never to do either. Having made commitments never to do those of the non-virtues about which we have confidence, we set about reducing our weaknesses regarding the others and gradually try to achieve freedom from them all.

The second aspect, accumulation of what is positive, can be applied to anything. It is said in the Buddhist teaching that there is nothing which could not be the Bodhisattva's practice. There can be as many practices as there are phenomena and any of these, positive or negative, could present an opportunity which the Bodhisattva could turn into benefit for beings. Whatever is beneficial should be practiced according to the guidelines of the six paramitas. To enact these positive accumulations there must be a readiness to act - this readiness is in itself a positive accumulation.

The Mahayana methods are very simple and very skilful. If, for example, we have desire then it may not be necessary to have to exert a great effort in order to stop it. First we understand it, then we develop an understanding, an appreciation, of contentment. Decrease of desire and increase of satisfaction will occur simultaneously with our understanding of satisfaction. The one effort of understanding acts on all three fronts at once - there is no need to work on decreasing desire, increasing satisfaction and developing understanding separately. In this way all kinds of skilful wisdom can be developed and put into practice: diligence is the antidote for laziness, wisdom is the antidote for ignorance, meditation is the antidote for mental complexity, generosity is the antidote for meanness and so on. Mahayana Buddhism explains all these practices and one starts by applying the easiest for oneself and develops until one can do all that needs to be done.

The third aspect of skilful action is to benefit others. To really benefit them purely and properly, we have to achieve a certain level of realization so that our altruistic activity is never mistaken. We can, however, begin to benefit others even if we do not have such realization as long as we have the full conviction of pure motivation. Then we follow four basic guidelines:

  • To provide others with whatever they need, to help them and to fulfil their wishes, provided that what we do will not harm them or others.
  • To say that which others expect to hear according to their wishes, provided that what we say does not harm them. This means to speak nicely, not harshly, but if it is necessary to use hard words for their benefit and we are certain that this will be useful then we have to use them.
  • If we can in any way give others a glimpse of the truth, even the smallest glimpse, then we must do it.
  • Regardless of the level of our spiritual development and no matter whether we actually need to or not, we should act in accordance with accepted norms and customs.
Ultimately our ability to help others is limited until we have understanding and wisdom (and confidence in these). It is also limited until we reach the point where we are sure that our activity, whatever the situation, will not be impaired by disappointment or obscured by pride. Nevertheless, we start from whatever level we have obtained and help others in whatever limited way we can, according to our understanding.
Reference: Way to Go by Khentin Tai Situpa
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