East West Wisdoms

Interweaving Spirituality and Therapeutic Healing

East West Wisdoms

Meditation - The Fifth Parami

Posted on Wednesday, June 24th, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Today I am nearing the end of my reflections on the  six Buddhist Parami, often translated as the Six Perfections - the shortlist  favoured in the Mahayana scriptures. I will consider the larger list of ten Parami - or Paramita - at a later time. In my last entry, I contemplated Viriya, also translated as Energy or Effort. The last in the list will be wisdom.

So finally we've come to Dhyāna, Sanskrit for 'meditation'. One of the 'sticky' teachings of my root guru, the Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche, was that we were unlikely to be able to enter fully and mindfully into meditation before we had developed the four previously listed perfections of generosity, morality, patience and energy/effort. My experience over the past twenty five or so years, backs up this idea. As I have become more generous; more patient with myself and with others; more aware of what constitutes wholesome action and wholesome relationship; and as my effort and energy has become steadier, the ability to move into a calm, mindful state in formal meditation has become more consistent. There's still plenty of room to develop all these qualities but there is more interest, confidence and ease in how I meditate these days.


On the other hand, I hesitate to calculate just how many times over the years I have felt that I am "going back to the beginning" in my meditation practice. This even applied to starting off on the three-month retreat that Alan and I undertook during 2008 in our teacher's house in Canada. We were referred to as "the meditators" with her supporting us in every way, including doing all our shopping for us - so that we could 'retreat' from worldly affairs. It is interesting now to reflect on how I watched the mind settling down and gaining clarity over the weeks, and then months, as I filled my days with meditation, walking, Ch'i Kung and Tai Chi. While calm and clarity became more common, and achieved more rapidly as time went on, my pattern included days of dullness, mental agitation and doubt that usually followed experiences of insight and/or deep absorption, otherwise referred to as jhana.

To be technical for a moment, dhyana (meditation) is broadly translated as 'contemplation' and 'one pointed concentration' and the related Sanskrit term 'Samadhi' is often used in its place. I don't want to get into a scholarly discussion of fine differences between these terms and neither am I going to review the broad range of meditative techniques that can be used to calm the mind and promote the development of wisdom. Suffice it to say, that dhyana tends to be linked, especially in the Theravadan tradition, with what Buddha described as the eight progressive states of absorption meditation or jhāna.

I like the description of samadhi given in Wikepedia when I looked today. Here it is:

In Buddhism, samadhi is traditionally developed by contemplating one of 40 different objects, such as mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) and loving kindness (metta).

Upon development of samadhi, one's mind becomes purified of defilements, calm, tranquil, and luminous. Once the meditator achieves a strong and powerful concentration, his [her] mind is ready to penetrate and see into the ultimate nature of reality, eventually obtaining release from all suffering.

Uses of samādhi

In the Anguttara Nikaya, [a Theravadan Buddhist scripture], the Buddha identifies four types of concentration development, each with a different goal:

1.a pleasant abiding in this current life - achieved through concentrative development of the four jhanas

2.knowledge and the divine eye - achieved by concentration on light

3.mindfulness and clear comprehension - achieved through concentrative mindfulness of the rise and fall of feelings, perceptions and thoughts

4.the destruction of the taints - achieved through concentrative mindfulness of the rise and fall of the Five Aggregates.

Reading this description of samadhi and the reference above to dhyana, absorption meditation and the jhanas, the overlapping meanings are evident.

Returning briefly to my own experience of meditation, my training has been largely in the Mahayana (similar to the Dalai Lama) and Vajrayana traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. While calm abiding and Vipassana - insight through mindfulness - are common practices in all the traditions, meditations on the Four Divine Abidings (loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity) and a vast range of creative visualisations and associated mantras play an important part in Mahayana and Vajrayana meditations. These still involve contemplation and and concentration but include sound, colour, symbol and devotion, using (amongst a big repertoire of methods)  the process of creation and dissolution  as a means to gain understanding of relative and absolute 'truth'; form and emptiness. Much, much more to be said about this at some later date!

And so, I think these few words are enough for now. A quick glimpse will have to suffice! If you would like to comment on your experience of meditation - from any perspective - that would be great. I hope there will be ongoing dialogue on this website on meditative experiences and fruits, such as insights into the nature of mind and the process of creation and dissolution as we cycle through Samsara ....

Please add your thoughts and what you would like to see on East West Wisdoms in the Comments Box below.

Warm wishes,


3 responses to “Meditation - The Fifth Parami”

  1. Jay says:

    I 'got' compassion recently after a three day vipassana sit. Realized it. Can't be peaceful without compassion so get a bit for your own good!

    Someone who practices inner awareness and equanimity (vipassana meaning) is bound to become peaceful and compassionate.


  2. Jacqui says:

    Zoe, I like the way you distinguish your experience of 'energy' and 'effort', noting where they overlap and where they deviate. When you describe how energy and effort feed each other, I think this description fits with my observation on how energy (viriya) is both a cause and result.
    As I have already mentioned, insight releases energy; creative fulfillment releases energy and, in general, one is very aware of a flow of energy when one is feeling satisfied with what is occurring right now - as you describe when you speak of how 'beingness' is absorption in the experience of energy. While we are both in agreement that effort is often required to promote activity, or absorption, that in turn releases energy, I like the point you make about how fragmented, unfocussed, attention (rushing about, in body or in mind) may well involve the expenditure of effort and energy but will not produce an experience of energy that revitalises and fits with what we are referring to as viriya (energy arising). Instead, the effort made results in feeling drained of energy!

  3. Zoe says:

    I would like to comment on energy, the forth parami, which has inspired me to write. I notice that in my life and in fact in everything I do, the quality and clarity of my energy and intension (my efforts) seems to be in direct correlation to the quality of my state of being. When I am rushed, over committed, fragmenting my energy in a miriad of directions, well, my mind is doing the same! When my intensions are clear, refined and wholesome, my state of being naturally follows. Being someone who has always enjoyed the play of endeavour, drive and creativity, self motivation is often not something I grapple with. Refined focus and simplicity are instead things I need to learn more about. Effort is something I willingly donate, enthusiastically pursuing my dreams and passions with gusto and drive, Energy on the other hand is something that requires more refining and subtlety for me in my pursuits. What is the QUALITY of my energy and efforts? Do I allow the fruit of my energy to flow effortlessly, or do I push? When is it time to engage 'effort' and when is it time to enjoy the purity of 'energy'. They are one and the same, but to me they are also different. My effort creates my energy, and my energy naturally influences my efforts (actions) as a direct result of my energy. Both feed each other in the creation of a calm state of mind for myself. I find when I am overly involved in action (or efforts) I do not enjoy the fruits of my labour, in the form of the pure energy I receive. I need to take space to cultivate and experience the pure energy that has been generated. Likewise when I am overly absorbed in the experience of energy...beingness... I am naturally inspired into new efforts. From silence comes movement. The beautiful flow of the two seems to take me naturally to the fifth parami - meditation. Anyway, enough of a muse for now. Thankyou for the interesting ideas to contemplate on.

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