THE SIX PERFECTIONS. This doctrine teaches us the six kinds of practice that bodhisattvas should follow to attain enlightenment. The Six Perfections are donation(fuse), morality (jikai), forbearance (ninniku), effort (shojin), meditation (zenjo), and wisdom (chie).
A bodhisattva is a person who, unlike the sravaka and pratyekabuddha, wishes not only to extinguish his or her own illusions but to save others, as well. Therefore, the doctrine of the Six Perfections has the salvation of all living beings as its aim.
The practice of donation comes first in this doctrine. There are three kinds of donation: donating material goods, donating the Dharma, and donating fearlessness (the body). The first means to give others money or goods. The second refers to teaching others rightly. And the third means to remove the anxieties or sufferings of others through one's own effort. There is no one who is unable to perform some form of donation. No matter how impoverished one is, one should be able to give alms to those who are worse off or to support a public work with however small a donation, if one has the will to do so. Even if there are those who absolutely cannot afford to do so, they can be useful to others and to society by offering his services. A person who has knowledge or wisdom in some field should be able to teach others or guide them even if they have no money or are physically handicapped. Even a person of humble circumstances can perform donation of the Law. To speak of one's own experiences to others can be one's donation of the Dharma. Even to teach others a recipe or how to knit, for example, can be a way to donate the Dharma.
It is essential that we be useful to others by practicing these three kinds of donation within the limits of our ability. Needless to say, nothing can be better for us than to practice all three. The fact that donation is the first of the practices of the bodhisattva is highly significant.
The practice of morality is the second of the Six Perfections. This teaches us that we cannot truly save others unless we remove our own illusions through the precepts given by the Buddha, and that we should perfect ourselves by living an upright life. However, we must not think that we cannot guide others just because we are not perfect ourselves. We cannot improve ourselves if we shut ourselves off from others in our efforts to live correctly. A major point of morality is to render service to others. The more we do for others, the more we can elevate ourselves, and the more we elevate ourselves, the more we can render service to others. Each reinforces the other.
The third of the Six Perfections is forbearance, a quality that is especially important for people today. Shakyamuni Buddha was endowed with all the virtues and became the Buddha through his constant practice. Although it is a sin against him to emphasize only one of his virtues, the greatest virtue of the Buddha as a man seems to have been his generosity. No matter what biography of Shakyamuni Buddha we read or which of the sutras, we find that nowhere is it recorded that the Buddha ever became angry. However severely he was persecuted and however coldly his disciples turned against him and departed from him, he was always sympathetic and compassionate.
If I were asked to explain with a single phrase the character of Shakyamuni Buddha as a man, I would answer without hesitation, "A person of perfect generosity." Therefore, I think that there is no action that makes Shakyamuni Buddha more sorrowful than when we become angry about something and reproach others or when we blame others for our own wrongs. Above all else, we should refrain from such actions toward each other. Forbearance is, in short, generosity. As we persevere in the practice of the bodhisattvas, we cease to become angry or reproachful toward others, or toward anything in the universe. We are apt to complain about the weather when it rains and to grumble about the dust when we have a spell of fine weather. However, when through forbearance we attain a calm and untroubled mind, we become thankful for both the rain and the sun. Then our minds become free from changes in our circumstances.
When we advance further, we come not only to have no feeling of anger and hatred toward those who hurt, insult, or betray us but even to wish actively to help them. On the other hand, we should not be swayed by flattery or praise of the good we may do but should quietly reflect on our conduct. We should not feel superior to others but should maintain a modest attitude when everything goes smoothly. All these attitudes come from forbearance. This mental state is the highest point of the practice of forbearance. Even though we cannot attain such a state of mind immediately, we can attain an attitude of compassion toward those who cause difficulties for us sooner than we expect. We ought to advance at least to this level. If this kind of forbearance were practiced by people throughout the world, this alone would establish peace and make humankind immeasurably happier.
The fourth of the Six Perfections is effort. This means to proceed straight toward an important target without being distracted by trivial things. We cannot say we are assiduous when our ideas and conduct are impure, even if we devote ourselves to the study and practice of the Buddha's teachings. Even when we devote ourselves to study and practice, we sometimes do not meet with good results or may even obtain adverse effects, or we may be hindered in our religious practice by others. But such matters are like waves rippling on the surface of the ocean; they are only phantoms, which will disappear when the wind dies down. Therefore, once we have determined to practice the bodhisattva way, we should advance single-mindedly toward our destination without turning aside. This is effort.
The fifth of the Six Perfections is meditation, dhyana in Sanskrit and zenjo in Japanese.Zen means "a quiet mind" or "an unbending spirit," and jo indicates the state of having a calm, unagitated mind. It is important for us not only to devote ourselves to the practice of the Buddha's teachings, but also to view things thoroughly with a calm mind and to think them over well. Then we can see the true aspect of all things and discover the right way to cope with them.
The right way of seeing things and the power of discerning the true aspect of all things is wisdom--the last of the Six Perfections. Wisdom is the ability both to discern the differences among all things and to see the truth common to them. In short, wisdom is the ability to realize that anybody can become a buddha. The Buddha's teachings stress that we cannot discern all things in the world correctly until we are completely endowed with the ability to know both distinction and equality.
We cannot save others without having wisdom. Let us suppose that there is an impoverished young man lying by the road. And suppose that we feel pity for him and give him some money without reflecting on the consequences. What if he is mildly addicted to some drug? He will grab the money given to him and use it to buy drugs. In this way he may become seriously, even hopelessly, addicted. If we had handed him over to the police instead of giving him money, he would have been sent to a hospital and could start life over again. This is the kind of error we may commit in performing donation without wisdom. Though this is an extreme case, similar cases on a smaller scale occur all the time. Thus, even though we may do something useful for others or practice good conduct in order to save them, none of our mercy or kindness is effective unless we have true wisdom. Far from being effective, our mercy may have a harmful effect. Therefore wisdom is an absolutely indispensable condition in practicing the bodhisattva way.
Excerpted from Buddhism for Today, published by Kosei Publishing Co.