Filed in Theravada

Lighten Your Load

Cleaning out your attic—and your mindAllan Lokos

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We’re going to look at one of the perfection practices known as the paramis (see below). It’s the practice of nekkhamma, which we translate as “renunciation” or “relinquishing.” It means letting go: letting go of material things as well as views, concepts, ideas to which we may have been clinging for years, things that cause us stress, suffering, dukkha.

A simple action that can be helpful in terms of relinquishing is this: on a regular basis—perhaps once or twice a year— choose something to give away. Not some old relic you don’t care about any more, but something you do care about, that has value to you. There’s no need to go overboard by giving away something that will change your lifestyle or will make the kids resent you for the next twenty years. Give away something you like yet are willing to relinquish. During the entire process of selecting and relinquishing, be mindful of your feelings. This can be more challenging than it may at first appear, but it can help us prepare for the day when we must relinquish all that we hold dear.

Now, what about views and concepts? Relinquishing is the ground for practicing “beginner’s mind.” It helps us see things anew, as they really are; to be willing to listen to the thoughts and ideas of others with an open mind. So the relinquishing of thoughts and ideas about which we have been adamant can give us a sense of freedom, joy, and spaciousness. It can feel as if a weight has been taken from our shoulders. However, this also may be easier said than done. We might wonder, “Am I giving up something that I should believe in?” So relinquishing offers an opportunity to look more deeply at our beliefs.

Sometimes we have been holding onto anger or bitterness related to a particular person or event. Something to think about is: What would I have to give up in order to free myself from this bitterness? We might think, “Well, yes, but what he or she did was absolutely unforgivable.” Consider the possibility, and I am only saying consider the possibility, that maybe nothing is unforgivable. Maybe there is a way to find forgiveness even for what we have believed for so long to be unforgivable. Explore this mindfully.

To forgive does not necessarily mean to forget. Sometimes to forget is not wise, but to forgive is wise. And it is at times not easy. It can, in fact, be quite challenging. It will come as no surprise that one of the most difficult people to forgive can be yourself. Yet with patience and gentle determination, it can be done.

Parami (Pali), Paramita (Sanskrit): literally, perfection, or crossing over (to the other shore).

The paramis are practices that can lead one to the perfection of certain virtuous or ennobling qualities. They are practiced as a way of purifying karma and leading the practitioner on a path to enlightenment. In the Theravada tradition, the ten paramis are dana (generosity), sila (morality), nekkhamma (relinquishing), panna (wisdom), viriya (effort), khanti (patience), sacca (truthfulness), adhitthana (determination), metta (lovingkindness), upekkha (equanimity). In the Mahayana there are six paramitas: generosity, morality, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom.

It is interesting to note that the parami of generosity comes first, before the other practices, even morality. Some commentators suggest that the list begins with the easiest practice and becomes progressively more challenging. Another view is that until one sees the interconnected nature of phenomena and has a heart open to the needs of all beings, the other paramis can remain beyond reach. With practice, the virtuous qualities become stronger and support one another. Generosity supports relinquishing, which supports morality, which supports truthfulness, which supports wisdom, which supports equanimity, and so forth.

The paramis are seen as the heart of our true nature but greed, hatred, and delusion cause them to become somewhat blurred. Practicing the paramis is said to help us see in a different, more beneficial way. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said, “These deeds, called the perfections, constitute the essential and comprehensive path to enlightenment, combining method and wisdom.” Thus the paramis are important practices for one who seeks to become an awakened being and to end the cycle of samsara, or cyclic existence. The key point to remember is that the paramis are offered not as philosophy but as practices. To be effective, practices need to be practiced.

For Allan Lokos’s online retreat, click here.

Allan Lokos is the guiding teacher of New York City’s Community Meditation Center and the author of Pocket Peace: Effective Practices for Enlightened Living.

Image: Arahant, Gail Greenfield Randall.

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John Haspel's picture

Sariputta questioned the Buddha one day: "How many qualities are there to be developed in the Dhamma?"

The Buddha responded: "There are ten qualities developed in the Dhamma. What are the ten? Giving, virtue, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, loving-kindness, and equanimity are qualities developed in the Dhamma.”

Giving, or Dana, is the first perfection and incorporates all of the other perfections. In fact, there is an aspect of each paramita in all the other paramitas. These are qualities we all possess and are developed further as the behaviors rooted in greed, aversion and delusion are put aside

I disagree with Mr. Lokos that “beginners mind” is something the Buddha taught to aspire to, but relinquishment or renunciation is the essence of the Buddha’s original teachings. The Buddha described an awakened human being as “unbound” or “released” from clinging to objects, events, views, and ideas rooted in ignorance of The Four Noble Truths. Dana, being mindful of, and expressing, great generosity is the outward expression of freedom from clinging. Developing refined mindfulness through wholehearted engagement with the Eightfold Path develops this quality of mind.

The ten Paramitas can be integrated into Dhamma practice by bringing each paramita to mind directly after shamatha-vipassana meditation and generating the intention to remain mindful of each paramita. This will incline the mind towards thoughts that are in keeping the qualities of these Great Perfections moment to moment. The Paramitas naturally integrate into one's life as Dhamma practice develops.

These ten perfections are all aspects of the Eightfold Path and when developed free the mind from greed, aversion and further deluded thinking. When fully developed, the mind remains at peace and unmoved from the impermanence of phenomenal life.

John Haspel

trailpaloma's picture

I am so grateful for these words clearly spoken. I am only halfway through the 2010 retreat, and these skillful practices have made a huge impact in my relationship with my son. The day after listening to "the wisdom of pausing" I used those very words suggested. What a powerful tool. Thank you sir. _/\_

isafakir's picture

when i don't get angry at something BAD, like being lied at to get my money, or being exploited or cheated, or if if i don't get angry at someone hurting someone else, i feel worthless useless and bad myself. i feel i have failed. i see the dalai lama doesn't need anger to act in the right way. but i have also seen roshis who just smile through dishonesty and deceit. one roshi i worked for sold goods with false claims. lied for profit. or yasutani hakuun who killed people by lying about racism and buddhism. i never want not to care. if my being "happy" means i won't help others i don't want to be copacetic about poverty hunger injustice. the koan of the monk who was a fox says to me that you aren't free to ignore other's suffering.

firefly's picture

"Generally speaking, if a human being never shows anger, then I think something's wrong. He's not right in the brain." -the Dalai Lama

It's what you do with that anger, I believe.

isafakir's picture

i didn't understand one point. if something is factually true, such as evolutionary theory or the price of yogurt today, why should i relinquish it. if something isn't true, i've already relinquished it. i might relinquish what kinds of ideas. i know there are ideas i've collected over the decades which aren't true but when i see i'm wrong i am embarrassed i didn't know better. no matter how firmly i believed something if it proves wrong i relinquish it.

the other thing i have difficulty with is forgiving someone while they are still actively doing things to hurt harm and make the lives awful of others. it's really hard to forgive while still bleeding. Jesus i am not even though that's my name.

mchojnicki33's picture

Reading your retreat on the practice of nekkhamma makes me wonder "why does one (myself included) hold onto negative feelings such as anger or bitterness towards another person or event SO strongly when we rationally know it's "killing" us inside?" I'm reminded of the saying that holding resentment towards someone "is like drinking the poison and then waiting for the other person to die."

It seems to me that quite often I hold onto negative emotions and thoughts more tightly and dearly than the positive ones. Why do you think that is? I would think that you'd want to get rid of those feelings as quickly as possible.

Thank you for your writings on the Parami. You have helped me to understand them much more clearly. I look forward to future retreats.


reval's picture

We are constantly dealing with our own delusion. We may "know better" are one level but on another we are simply not awake. We cling to our views and judgments of others and don't seem to mind suffering in the process. Of course, habit energy is a factor as well and it is powerful.
So we sit down again with gentle, but firm, resolve and slowly we make progress.

mchojnicki33's picture

Unfortunately, I often feel that it is our own delusions that are dealing with us instead of visa versa.
I find that our expectations (and holding onto them long after they materialize) can often cause us the most pain and damage to ourselves and the ones who are dear to us. My primary mantra these days (I have many "crutches" that I use) is "no expectations, no disappointments." It's a tough mantra follow battling with one's Ego (with a capital 'E').


reval's picture


Thank you for sharing so openly.
Relinquishing shame is indeed difficult. I think what we can do is live in this moment as the person we want to be; a person of lovingkindness, compassion, and wisdom. Slowly we can release what we no longer need.

I wish you joy and metta.

Delma's picture

What I've recently discovered is that at the center of unforgiving, holding on to anger and bitterness, is shame. It's difficult to forgive someone when my life-long clinging to shame is triggered. How can I forgive someone for reminding me, through some life-long traumatic belief that may have originated in childhood, that I'm shameful? Relinquishing shame is very difficult. So the practice can center on opening the heart to forgiving and loving-kindness of self before forgiving other can follow.

khickey's picture

You may have already heard or listened to some of her talks but the researcher Dr. Brene Brown has some wonderful talks on vulnerability and shame. It is so difficult to relinquish shame, and you are not alone in that difficulty.
Much Metta to you

faye_byrem's picture

I recently finished listening to this series of talks, and am going to listen again and take notes this time. It was one of the most effective series (second only to the 46 dharma talks by Joseph Goldstein on the Satipatthana) that I've ever heard.

Concise and profound in the presentation, the different talks (I believe there were 7 talks) held such solid and universal truth, it's hard to imagine that anyone could not gain deep insight for everyday living in a chaotic world.

Simple, yet profound in their implications for our lives.

Thank you so very much, Allan, for this incredible series!

Ruby Faye Byrem

tlucas33's picture

Could you tell me where I can get those talks please? Thank you.

reval's picture

Click on Retreats at the top of the Home page and scroll to previous retreats ot find the one by Allan Lokos.

tlucas33's picture

Thank you! Found it. Another there any way we can save these as an MP3 file so that we can listen to them in the car or elsewhere? Thank you again.

reval's picture


Thank you. I'm so glad that you found the retreat of benefit.