The Ten Perfections Week 1: Discernment


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LeeInOK's picture

You're welcome. It has been sent.

gilder's picture

Hi Alex --

My email is I'd also appreciate your transcription (and thank you for this gift to all of us!)


LeeInOK's picture

It has been sent.

LeeInOK's picture

Thanks Alex! It has been sent. Improve it if you like.

myers_lloyd's picture

First of all, thanks.

This was sane and practical.

When I hear your teaching about not wishing ill, I realize that it IS possible for me to wish all people genuine good will, even ones who have trounced me. I don't have to be a phony smiler: just feel sorrow for their unskillful and self-harming habits. Wish for them to attain skillful happiness. Well-that's not impossible! Just going that far-as far as I need to go- softens me more generally anyway.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

Yes. It’s useful to spread good will not only with the idea, “May all beings be happy,” but also with the idea, “May all beings learn to be skillful”

Wayne Erwin's picture

Thank you for this teaching. Now it's time for me to put it into practice.

Zoozyq's picture

I have listened to your insights on discernment twice, as there is much wisdom to guide my journey along the path. Oganizing the ten perfections within the five aspects of determination clarifies the path through what has sometimes seemed like a maze of concepts. Your words on developing good will and it's meaning of wishing people well was very helpful to me in being able to focus my awareness in my relationships with others. I am more aware of the toll maintaining ill will takes on my happiness, especially that which arises from apparently justified ill will. The joy and relief that wells up when I let go of ill will is powerful motivation for continuing to develop discernment. The most natural response of the moment is to send good will your way. _/\_

berleymc's picture

Oh yes, justifiable resentment and anger. Or as you said "apparently" justifiable. Those have been tough. It has become easier as I begin to see how I trip (mindless) or allow myself (insanity!) to fall into traps and then extend compassion to myself. Others are as mindless or insane as I am! - it started to feel more natural to extend good will toward others as well. Something started to shift several months ago and I've experienced some of that joy and relief you wrote about. I've also seen the joy and relief of some of those closest to me when I offer compassion rather than harsh judgements. That's been very powerful as well.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

Being willing to admit your own mistakes to yourself—in a good-natured, non-punishing way—allows you to forgive the mistakes of others. Compassion can’t be reserved only for people who are pure, or else we’d have no one for whom we could feel compassion.
It’s also important to make a distinction between ill will—wishing others to suffer—and displeasure, noting that someone’s behavior, yours or someone else’s, has been harmful. When something is harmful, you do what you can to correct it, or at least stop it from happening again. This applies to your own harmful behavior as well as others’. And you can be a lot more effective at this if you can keep ill-will out of the picture.

Alex Kelly's picture

This is exactly what I have found too. One of the aspects of ill-will that really means it gets its hooks in you is the narrative of justification that goes with it. Aside from any other worthy aspects that maintaining good will can have, the most obvious is that ones mind is a in much more stable place and at ease too. As a consequence one is much less likely to act in in way that intentionally causes harm to others. So both oneself and others benefit.

berleymc's picture

Good Morning.
Just coming into the retreat. So pleased to be here.
Thank you for the teaching this morning. I want to take the time to reflect of what's been said and discern how good will or the lack of it is affecting me and those around me, what motivates me and how I might need to change those motivations, and what strategy I need to implement.

The thing that causes me the most suffering is to have the discernment of how I hurt myself and/or others in some way and even know my motivation - but simply allow myself to continue causing the suffering.

linsawt had a great example that I relate to. Healthy vs Unhealthy eating. Although there has been much improvement, I still have some destructive habits around food. This hurts me, this hurts my family when they worry about my health, and potentially hurts others who when with me follow my lead and eat destructively with me. My motivation goes beyond the pleasure of taste and texture - I eat destructively when I feel anxious and fearful. A new revelation for me is that I also eat destructively when I feel especially energetic -- motivation? As I have been able to release anxiety I have fear around my new found freedom.

I am curious to apply discernment to the good will I do or do not extend to others and myself.

Thank you again for this teaching. I look forward to the next one.

Heather's picture

I am so grateful that you shared this because I tend to have destructive habits around food and drink as well. It not only hurts me, it hurts my family. How can I extend compassion, patience, etc. to my family, especially my children, when I suffer in the aftermath - and cause them to suffer? I am thankful to be in this retreat and feel validated - and motivated - to make some real changes.

berleymc's picture

Happy to know that my comment was helpful. I need to committ to the needed changes around food, it's what I say I've done but many of my actions don't demonstrate that. I want to be compassionate with myself and remember that compassion for myself includes holding myself accountable.

earthmother49's picture

yes, yes, yes. I was listening to Ram Dass today, speaking about conscious aging, Not in person, though I wish ;) He was speaking about different levels of being with another, and while reading these posts, I thought of his words and how they apply to being with ourselves. In the first step, we see form: tall, short, male, female,etc. That's how we are with another (or ourselves). Then we move toward further characteristics, achievements, career, accomplishments. In these two stages, we're not dealing with the essence of the person. Deeper presence comes, I think, in silence, practice, and awareness. When we reach the point where we can be compassionate to ourselves when we (in our eyes) fail, touch this awareness gently, then move on with strong intention, To me, this is rather like double discernment - the awareness of what is the right path, then the discernment to either carry on, when the action is imbedded in the right path intention, or forgiving self and carrying on toward the right path. Both involve the discernment of finding the most skillful means of picking oneself up when we stumble over a boulder or pile of gravel and continuing with an upright body - but looking out for the boulders and gravel ahead.

Either way, for me, not getting stuck is what re-connects me to the discernment I need to come back to. Touch gently, look gently, hear gently, and continue.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

Discernment has to be used, not only in seeing the right path, but also motivating yourself to follow it—that’s where suffering is the main teacher—and also in figuring out specific strategies for following it. This often involves using your imagination. When you’re tempted to indulge in unskillful eating—and “eating” here is a good metaphor for any unskillful behavior—try to imagine skillful alternative ways of feeding the mind to get past the fear, anxiety, etc., that have sparked your old habitual reaction. At the same time, imagine that you actually can engage in the skillful alternative. Most addictions are maintained largely through a lack of imagination: you can’t think of the alternative, or you can’t believe yourself capable of following it. Of course, simply imagining on its own won’t make the change happen, but it doesn’t open the way to its being possible.

berleymc's picture

Thank you. This has been helpful. I find that I do have a belief in not being capable of follwing an alternative when it comes to certain unskillfull eating habits. Humbling. Yesterday I slowed down and imagined the ways of getting past fear and anxiety --- which gets me past the craving for certain foods. And put those imaginings into action. I commit to being mindful to imagine daily and follow through with action. The slowing down to imagine rather than concentrating on "don't eat that" has made the difference. Thank you.

bonnie's picture

Good Morning today I listened to this weeks teaching for a second time maybe I listen every day and hear something new. I also have had for the past year a difficult relationship wit my brother, after my mother passed and I was made executrix. He felt slighted and I tried and worked at being understanding and loving to him, we are just coming to a place of being able to be together. I love him ,he is my brother but have had to step way back and let him not use me to vent his anger. I pray that through this practice I can come to a deeper understanding and feel safe around him.
Thank you all and Ajaan Geoff

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

Bonnie: See my response to Alex Kelly, above.

Alex Kelly's picture

A while back a good friend of mine did something which was both inexplicable and quite hurtful. At the time I couldn't understand my friend's reasoning for acting in that way. As a consequence all of a sudden feelings of friendliness and openess just vanished. My mind was gripped with thoughts of animosity and righteous vengence. Having those states grip my mind like that was very unpleasant. However something else quite unexepected happened which transformed those unskilful and obsessive mind states. I think because of the dramatic manner which my mind switched from friendliness to animosity, a question arose in mind, "how is it possible that such a sudden change of mind could come about?". It was this questioning and my reflection on the mental pain of goIng over that hurt, and it's grip on my mind that led me to try to find a way to disband it. The thought that if I continued to harbour feelings of animosity then my mind was not going to be a very nice place to stay. From that point I thought I am not going to let this destroy my happiness, I wouldn't indulge in thoughts of ill-will, as soon as I saw such thoughts coming up I considered the harm it was doing me. Over a period of about a week the unskilful thoughts subsided. When I had to speak with that person then I found the feelings of animosity had decreased. Over time I have found that now I can chat with that person in a friendly way and even praise them for doing well at something. Thoughts of ill-will still occasionally come up but I feel as though they are not in charge of my mind anymore. On reflection it was the act of stepping back and questioning a situation in terms of, "what is skilful, what are the drawbacks of this, and what is for my long term happiness?". That questioning provided an opening to deal with the situation in a better way. The relationship I have with that person isn't the same as it was before. There is tendency for me to somewhat guarded in my speech. I feel that person is more of an acquaintance than a true friend, someone I am am friendly towards but not someone who is close to me. 

There is another person with whom I've not been able to find a good basis to interact with. The relationship has gone through periods of bitterness which always seem to be simmering just under the surface. Its kind of like living with a snake. I am always on my guard in case they should bite! Unfortunately we seem to rub each other the wrong way, which has usually meant periodic verbal tussels. I am still working on this one but so far I haven't been able to find a good standpoint. 

Thank you to Ajaan Geoff for giving these these teachings at Tricycle.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

You're welcome. It might be useful in these cases to think of the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness means that you plan to do no harm to someone else who has wronged you. (In Thai, the word for forgiveness, aphai, means that you pose no danger to the other person.) Reconciliation is a reestablishing of a friendship that has been harmed by the other person's action. Forgiveness can be a one-way street: i.e., you can freely give it to others regardless of whether you want to or can resume the friendship on the old footing. Reconciliation, though, has to be a two-way street. Both sides have to see the value of the friendship, and the need to restore it. They sit down and go over what went wrong; the wrongdoer(s) has/have to apologize and promise not to repeat the mistake again, and the other side has to feel that the apology is sincere. Forgiveness is possible in any situation--after all, it means that you're not going to keep wounding yourself with thoughts of revenge--but reconciliation may not always be possible. If you want it, but the other person doesn't, you simply have to wait and see if the time will ever be right. In the mean time, you have to stay guarded, for the proper healing of reconciliation hasn't yet taken place. (For more on this topic, see my article, "Reconciliation, Right & Wrong," on Access to Insight.)

drstevejohnston's picture

Thank you for this explanation. I work with graduate students who are working towards their doctorates in clinical psychology, teaching clinical hypnosis methodologies and I have noticed how much they (myself included) often struggle with the hypnosis protocols on forgiveness. Your explanation here, as well as your teaching this week, is opening my heart and mind in new ways with respect to going deeper in the exploration of what forgiveness truly means to the one who is choosing to forgive while learning to let go of the expectations and cravings that the other party will automatically feel and act similarly.


Tharpa Pema's picture

Dear Alex:

I find your way of describing how you work with your mind within your relationships very helpful. Thank you for your clarity.

With maitri. Linda

gammas2000's picture

I agree fully with Linda - a great description- very helpful. with metta Peace

theresa's picture

Thank you so much for this teaching!

Been having great difficulty with a family member and now can send good will and feel the mutual benefit of sending good will instead of suffering with what has been said and what has been done.

Whenever the negative memories pop up and I can make the most of the choice to offer good will , to wish well. Not wanting to evoke any more harm.

So in using and honoring discernment with goodwill , right here and now , I have come to a level of more happiness less suffering.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

Good will is always good for the person who extends it, and sometimes other people pick up on it, too. It's like a radio station: The radio waves keep going out, and any radios tuned to the right frequency will receive the message. I always find it best to begin and end a meditation session with good will. As a first step in the session, the good will helps to clear the mind. At the end of the session, the mind is more concentrated , and the good will seems to have more power that can carry out into the world.

earthmother49's picture

discernment is something I have been paying more attention to lately. I notice when my practice needs to open up, become more flexible, so I can include all the information that impacts my choices. Ongoing, yes. Discernment has also become, for me, a way to be more gentle with myself, more gentle with all I notice. I'm able to move away, slowly, from so much self-judgment and blame. I fall, I stand, I crawl, I walk.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

Good will for all includes good will for yourself--and maybe even a little good will for your inner critic. It may be misbehaving right now, getting out of line, but there are times when it might have some useful things to say. If you treat it well, it will eventually respond in kind.

patw's picture

Three months or so ago I discovered that sending goodwill to a me, with a name that fit better than my given name, was far more satisfying and opened my heart far more than I had experienced previously...may "Sparks" have happiness and its causes, look at Sparks all filled with the ancient warmth and light from the sun...may Sparks be Free...worked. Now your suggestion that I might send some good will to that inner critic as well, really resonates. Thank you!

acozzi's picture

I find that for me the most difficult part discernment is a matter of proportion opposed to discrete differential. I mean after all the Buddha found enlightenment in the middle, the place where neither deprivation nor indulgence exists. I like to say to myself that Buddhism is not “idiot proof”, meaning that it does not speak in absolutes or commandments, it points us in a direction. So much is up to us to use upaya to figure out not only what will bring a result of happiness but what amount of something will bring that result. Very often a small amount of something can be life enhancing while a larger amount may be destructive. And then other times something even in the smallest amount will cause suffering for oneself and/or others. I don’t think there is a clear line where these things can be separated that will apply to all in all situations. This is where our individual practice must guide us.

LeeInOK's picture

Word of the day for me
upaya = Expedient Means?
upaya-kaushalya means roughly "skill in means". Upaya-kaushalya is a concept which emphasizes that practitioners may use their own specific methods or techniques in order to cease suffering and introduce others to the dharma. (From wikipedia)

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

Except in a few major cases, like the precepts, the purpose of making distinctions is not to draw clear lines that will apply to everybody. It's to remind you that there may me more dimensions to a situation than you might have imagined, and that even skillful principles have their limitations and need to be brought into balance with other skillful principles. As in the example of the distinction between good will and friendship: On its own, the idea of universal good will might make you think that you have to have wonderful intimate friendships with everybody. When the distinction is introduced, it reminds you that you have to find balance, and treasure the few true friendships that give meaning to your life.

LeeInOK's picture

Exercise 1:
A) Is there anybody out there that you have trouble feeling goodwill for?
B) Why?
C) Can you induce a genuine feeling of goodwill for that person?
My responses -
A) LOL - a flood of easy targets emerged - must I start with my "worst enemy?" - further pondering brought the primary target into sight - myself.
B) Kamma (or karma if you prefer). Of all those "troublesome anybodies" that flooded my consciousness - none of them truly have the potential to affect my wellbeing. My "troubles" have really only one source. Before there is any "metta" to share with others - there must be metta for my "self". I am my worst problem - not them!
C) Thank goodness for re-birth - it may take aons! Seriously - it is an ongoing journey and a gradual training. What I call "cushion time" is required. I'm glad there is at least a week's time to work this one out.

threefold.lotus's picture

A. Yes actually many times myself ! I know that seems a bit strange but it must not be so rare as the Metta meditation begins with self.

B. Well a long story made short is that I tend to compare myself to ideals of others and fall short. It brings up feelings of self loathing and I feel like the "odd man out".

C. Yes, I have, I can, and I will. I try to begin by wishing myself safety and protection. Peace and happiness. Strength and Health. Then ease of well being. Most importantly I wish myself to accept all the conditions of the world. The two most important things I am beginning to learn is to let go and accept. To act in line with the Dhamma. To have faith.

earthmother49's picture

ah, my friend - so familiar to me. when I would be on the cushion in the midst of a more "structured" meditation, I would arrive at the point of "think of an enemy, or person you have difficulty with." Lucky me, I would think - there are not many in my life. Then, off the cushion, I would become aware, moment after moment after moment, of the way I treated myself. Ah.

I have taken a few baby steps into more skillful practice and life by now. I'm aware of the "self" I have criticized. I see how often words and feelings and thoughts tumble back into the strong ego-clinging I have to all the dissatisfaction I have with this non-solid thing called the body (and all that goes with it!).One of my intentions these days is to touch these points of awareness with a gentle gaze, a gentle understanding, and allow the ego of self to dissolve just a tad. I'm curious about what arises during this retreat, and am grateful for it all.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

Please see my message to earthmother49, below.

LeeInOK's picture

SN 3.4 Piya Sutta... those who engage in good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, & good mental conduct are dear to themselves. Even though they may say, 'We aren't dear to ourselves,' still they are dear to themselves. Why is that? Of their own accord, they act toward themselves as a dear one would act toward a dear one; thus they are dear to themselves."

gilder's picture

Discernment is such an important place to begin. It's often hard to know when to not 'entangle,' and balance goodwill w/ equanimity. I hadn't thought of the two as counter-balances for going overboard...

mlemon's picture

I agree that this is helpful to start with discernment and I'm imagining that it will be helpful to return to this talk again later. It's difficult for me to remember that I can't and don't need to help everyone. But I can wish for goodwill for all of us, including myself.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

In Thailand that have a phrase, "Good will has pulled you down a well." In other words, you see people who have fallen into a well and you try to pull them out, but instead they pull you in. This is where equanimity has to come in: There are some people you can help, and others you can't. If you get worked up about the ones you can't help, you waste the energy that could have gone to helping those you can. So you try to develop an attitude of good will for all, while at the same time learning from experience where to develop equanimity so that your good will doesn't cause you to suffer.

Reinand Ortiz Feliciano's picture

It's wonderful how some things in life can be easily understood and have such a profound effect. Discerning between easy, pleasurable with bad or negative results or not-pleasurable with good or positive results seems easy to understand, yet putting these words into action or practice is what really has the profound effect!'s picture

Putting it into action is where we fall off course and that is where I fumble - especially with ice cream:-) No really, when something is pleasurable and I want it and it has harmful effects (I have diabetes) I find I can not discern at that moment - even if I am fully conscious of what I am doing, I still decide to have the ice cream (or what ever other substance harms me). Ongoing journey...

Dagmargoretzki's picture

I appreciate your comment! Like you I have diabetes - (type 1) and struggle at times with not so much the inability to discern, as the resistance to act on my clear discernment. -- In this ongoing process the memory of suffering helps me to choose more "skillful" means. -- The direct experience of cause and effect more often than not enables me to let go of my "knee-jerk" grasping of momentary wanting -- (and its resulting resistance to my discernment). So for me, suffering as teacher, if you will, helps me to habituate skillful means -- to act upon that which will avoid suffering. And still -- of course, it is an ongoing journey...

ravasb's picture

Thank you for sharing that. I am in the same situation. It is like I am just watching myself harm myself. A long way to integration.

Heather's picture

I hear you, I am struggling with engaging in activities that seem pleasurable at the moment, then I realize the harm...especially when I use food (or drink) to escape reality because I find circumstances difficult to deal with...what I really need to do is reframe my reality so that I do not subject myself to needless suffering. For me, discernment must supersede impulse. I am motivated, now I need develop the strategy.

earthmother49's picture

to me, the important part is noticing yet not getting stuck in condemning myself for the ice cream or bread or glass of wine. I know that life's journey is long, and maybe I will be at the spot of noticing just before or just after for a long time.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's picture

It might be useful in cases like this to do a preemptive strike. In other words, at the end of a meditation, think about the temptations you're probably going to encounter in the course of the day, and how you might reason with yourself--or provide yourself with alternative, more skillful pleasures--so that you don't give in to the temptation again. That desire for ice cream shouldn't be much of a surprise by this time, right? And you probably know the rationales that finally get you to go for the ice cream. So why not think up a few counter-arguments ahead of time?

At the same time, it's useful to have some alternative pleasures at hand. One method that has worked for me is this: When there's a strong desire to do something unskillful, notice how the desire actually manifests itself in the form of patterns of tension in the body: maybe in the backs of the hands, in the chest, whatever. Then breathe comfortably for a bit and think of yourself breathing through the tension and dissolving it with good breath energy. This can deprive the desire of a lot of its power.

LeeInOK's picture

Ongoing journey ... a gradual training ... rolling over ... crawling ... baby steps ... walking ... running ...
Many stumbles are a part of the Path ...

LeeInOK's picture