Cleaning out your attic—and your mind
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.