THE PARAMITAS or Transcendental Virtues
International Theosophical Centre, Naarden-Holland, 19-22 July 2012
The wonderful and inspiring Centre
A Silent Retreat based on The Voice of the Silence by H.P. Blavatsky,
with Trân-Thi- Kim- Diêu and circa 25 partakers.
This GOOD NEWS contribution is based on notes taken by participant Els Rijneker. Revision was done by Kim-Diêu
GENERAL REMARKS ON THE SILENT RETREATS AT THE ITC:
The object of the Retreats is to share time in the peaceful atmosphere of the International Theosophical Centre and to foster a quiet mind, so that right action can begin.
The motto is sharing, intellectually and spiritually.
Participants are asked to stay alert and look at the nature of their own minds: if the psyche is not clear, one cannot think clearly. If emotions arise, they can blur everything. Participants are asked just to look at emotions popping up, not to dramatize them; just go on.
Words and concepts from the Stanza’s, from Buddhist texts, this time from The Voice of the Silence, and Sanskrit words are used. Sometimes a few repetitions are needed, but repeating summaries each time would become boring, and would make the mind dull and lazy.
Each day started in silence with light exercises for the body to stimulate correct breathing. After breakfast Kim Diêu gave a talk. Then there was time for silent reflection, in seated or walking meditations.
In the afternoon there was an exchange of ideas in the meditative enquiries, in the form of dialogue. In dialogue it is important not to ‘discuss’ and stick to opinions. It is not relevant at all to ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’, because then one would no longer have an open mind, with the risk of falling into the trap of fanaticism.
Due to the diversity of participants, no retreat can ever be perfect, because everyone wants things to match with personal desires. Participants were asked to perfect and to apply lessons learnt during this retreat in daily life.
THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE
HPB wrote the Voice of the Silence (Voice) in Fontainebleau, near Paris. It is composed of abstracts of spiritual instructions, set up by Tsongkhapa, a great reformer of Tibetan Buddhism (1357-1419).
In that period not all lamas were that pure; some gave in to magical experiments. Tsongkhapa took guidance then, and lamas had to go into depth by using the zetetic method. They had to follow the rules and study, in order to be accepted as an authentic monk in a monastery. HPB was chosen to present these teachings to the Western world.
The title The Voice of the Silence is of course striking. A materialistic mind would say at his worst: ‘nonsense!’, and at best: ‘oxymorous!’. An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms, for instance: ‘sweet violence’ or ‘sharp dull’.
The Voice of the Silence offers a philosophy of liberation by hinting to the students the awareness that they are in a prison.
How to find this inner silence, how to hear the soundless voice inside?
-hear the drum of your heart beating
-hear the flowing of your blood circulation, as the wind moves and ruffles between the leaves of a tree
-hear the sound of the earth
Then listen to the inner voice, the song of life.
1.KNOWING ABOUT THE TWO PATHS
There are three important prerequisites for spirituality:
-discipline; the right attitude to learn, with an open mind
-discernment; to help the mind to get out of opposites
-going to the essential: no superficiality, do not lose yourself in variety, for instance of meditation techniques; it would be like a tea drinker who would get lost in 400 sorts (or more) of tea.
The road is one, there is one road towards human perfection, to spirituality or the divine.
There are two approaches or ‘Paths’:
1.THE PATH OF THE EYE, the Exoteric Path
This is the eclectic, or horizontal approach of gathering more and more information; endless, because the field of knowledge is boundless. The mind stretches itself endlessly, but cannot really understand. It is an academic approach: who said what and when. It works with objects and is relatively easy to assimilate. The method consists of gathering information, asking questions, getting answers, arguing, etc. This gathering of information was, in the first years of the TS, the method of A.P. Sinnett and A.O. Hume, for their Simla Eclectic Society.
2. THE PATH OF THE HEART, the Esoteric Path
This is the ‘hidden’, or ‘secret’ Path, because the mind cannot understand this clearly.
Master KH explained to Sinnett and Hume that it would be more appropriate for the Simla Eclectic Society to become zetetic; only that would be successful. A search into depth is necessary, beyond the object itself. The method is deep enquiry and dialogue, using abstractions, symbols, paradoxes and oxymorons.
About dialogue: the philosopher Socrates favored truth as the highest value, proposing that it could be discovered through reason and logic in discussion, a dialectic approach. Dialectics is different from debate, wherein the debaters are fiercely committed to their points of view, and mean to win the debate, either by persuading the opponent, proving their argument correct, or proving the opponent's argument incorrect.
The art of the Socratic dialogue is the art of maieutic, the art of giving birth. Socrates took the task of being a kind of midwife for his intellectually ‘pregnant’ partner in the dialogue, helping him to bring forth ideas and truth. The real dialogue is a dynamic exchange, not agreeing or disagreeing, just putting ideas next to another. In the end, both parties disappear in favor of giving birth to a new idea.
Compare this with Nagarjuna (200: Madhyamaka, the concept of the Middle Way) who also used dialectics in order to release fixed frames of thinking, leading the mind to emptiness: the mind is washed away, one sees things as they really are and discovers one’s own Nature, the pure consciousness beyond.
With the zetetic method, the mind will learn to move, by using symbols, oxymorons and paradoxes. A zetetic task for instance could be to find out why excellence in techniques does not make an artist. After the horizontal line of the eclectic method, we now see the vertical line of the zetetic approach: the two movements of approach form a cross.
We could say that the aim of the TS is to build up the mind (Path of the Eye, having a clear mind) and then to go beyond (Path of the Heart, the endeavor to go beyond, to understand, to see things as they are).
In no way should TS members become preachers of The Secret Doctrine, thereby replacing the bible. The TS should invite people to go beyond; this takes courage and great effort, endeavor.
2.REFLECTING UPON THE SIX PARAMITAS (VIRTUES) AND THEIR TRANSCENDENCE
The materialistic philosophers Hegel, Marx and Engels never reached spirituality. Kant said: We cannot reach the Divine. Master Eckhardt said: God is beyond the human mind. For both God, the Divine is not attainable for humans.
A virtue is the beautiful side of one’s character, linked with the universal moral of ethics. This has nothing to do with the social morals of our society, dividing things into ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
The root of the word ‘virtue’ is ‘vir’, meaning: 1. man / manas / mind, and 2. strength, both physical, and moral, the strength to go beyond. Virtues are means of crossing the ocean of becoming, because everything in existence is meant to change (Sufi:) from mineral, to plant, to animal to a human being, all being part of this ocean of consciousness.
As everyone wants security, suffering arises from this process of becoming. We all want a roof over our heads, we want to be loved and appreciated, but that which is legitimate should not be a must. Possessions and status can become a burden. A human being should:
1. Reflect upon: what is life; what have I done so far for myself and for the world?
2. Drop prejudices, one needs not to be rich or poor to be spiritual; one does not have to suffer to learn new things.
3. Then reflect upon:
-How virtuous would we be if we were invisible to the eyes of others (the Myth of Gygès, from Plato’s Republic).
-Do we have an aim, practicing virtues?
In fact the Divine is everywhere, immanently present. And yet, we need to go beyond to reach it: transcendence. The going beyond, to the other shore (gate gate paragate parasamgate boddhi svaha, Diamond Sutra) is a periodical movement: there is shore after shore, veil after veil, because consciousness is boundless.
There are three questions that have been answered:
-Are virtues motiveless? Each one has to find an answer for himself
-Is the Divine transcendent or immanent? It is both transcendent and immanent
-Are virtues means to reach the Divine? Yes, through the paramitas)
Paramitas are transcendental virtues, also mentioned in The Vivekachudamani and in At the Feet of the Master (the cardinal virtues of satshampatti).
3.EXPLORING THE SEVEN PORTALS; PRAJNA (WISDOM) AS THE CROWN OF THE SIX
The seven portals are the virtues (paramitas) that transport those who practice them towards the edge of spiritual realization.
1. DANA: generosity, the act of giving. First money for the poor; then the surplus of your income; then time to serve; finally the giving away of yourself, and you cannot give half of yourself in this life and the other half in the next life. Abstain from the idea of being separate from others and give yourself wholeheartedly, without second thoughts.
2. SHILA: the basis to provide harmony in the community; discipline, the rules of those who want to learn.
Now (here) learning to practice silence: do not let thoughts pop up all the time, stop wanting to share them immediately; learn to meditate.
Shila starts in the mind: be silent and watchful. The more one appreciates freedom, the more one has to deal with discipline. Freedom is a myth, because there is no freedom without commitment: one needs to work for something higher. Love is freedom, not to be bound to a person. Be aware of your prejudices. Freedom is liberation from doubt.
One cannot learn without discipline. Investigate, don’t exaggerate. Consciousness is opening. A silent retreat is a way of discovering. Do say things elegantly and stay silent. Stay with the facts; gossip will disappear.
Please keep in mind the 5 precepts:
-do not take life (lessons on non-cruelty)
-do not take what is not given
-do not indulge in sexual misconduct
-do not distort truth, do not make false speech
-do not take in substances that disturb the mind, such as intoxicants, and alcohol which actually alter your state of consciousness.
3. KSHANTI: peace, patience, quietness of mind, equanimity. This means that there is no liking and disliking, no reaction, because that turns the mind into conflict. The MH’s say that truth can only reflect on the surface of an unruffled mind.
4. VIRAGA: Indifference to things in life, likes and dislikes. One can feel things but one is not bound to them, although it is sometimes difficult to be indifferent to dirt…. It is about moral forces. The practice of viraga will release people from suffering. HPB hinted that one should not define oneself as stuck in a situation; one should not be a prisoner of one’s own thinking. HPB explained that the feeling of hate (on the lower level) is much stronger than the feeling of love. By the way, gossip is a big impediment, a form of cruelty and hate that adds to the hatred of the world, the big invisible reservoir, the akasic records. As soon as you are out of the lower level, hate is over.
5. VIRYA: (vir- man / strength) strength and courage, a man must be capable of getting out of everything, solely by his capacity of thinking. Virya will help the spiritual soul on its pilgrimage. Virya also means working for the help of humanity. Highly evolved souls keep on working, do not go to devachan (or have vacation…). Blaise Pascal said that committing suicide is the individual confirming his incapacity to encounter God or the Divine.
6. DHYANA: central point in the process of meditation. The whole process is Samyama, the core is Dhyana, Dzyan, Zen.
Dharana is tha state of mind when one sits, concentrates, focuses on breathing
Dhyana is the state of mind when all flows smoothly and constantly to the subject of meditation as a flow of oil from one container to another, according to I.K; Taimni’s image and words. The mind is a current flowing into the ocean of consciousness. Meditation is like the plunging of the bucket (of the mind) into the ocean of consciousness, refreshing the mind with the water of the ocean so that the water contained in the bucket is never the same after that. In martial arts you can see that control over the body leads to control of the mind, and vice-versa. You can observe that during walking meditation: as soon as the mind takes over you walk more quickly.
The first six paramitas - when practiced correctly – lead to the seventh portal:
7. PRAJNA: the understanding of the quintessence of knowledge. Practice, learn, understand. Now the mind is no longer thinking in opposites / arguments, but immediately sees things as they are. A quiet mind can understand abstract notions. The effect is that life on earth then stops being a battlefield; there is no fear of death; no reincarnation, but rebirth.
The practice of all paramitas is dana, an act of giving. There is no specific order to follow. All are important, depending on the situation. You yourself feelwhat is right to do. The most important thing is: don’t think in opposites: I am right / this is wrong. It is not quantifiable. Just BE AWARE, that is the practice. If there are no results:
1. The method is wrong or 2. Your focus is not right.
4.ENQUIRING INTO THE THINKING PRINCIPLE (MANAS) AND THE DIAMOND - SOUL – PERSPECTIVES
A diamond is the most beautiful, the hardest and the clearest stone. It can cut all other stones. It stands for the Mind that can cut the mind. It can cut away everything that is not necessary.
In the Platform Sutra the sixth Patriarch addressed everyone as ‘learned audience’: You don’t know that you are all learned. Be aware of your value. You have the help of invisible beings.
Consciousness can be there without a gross form. Be aware of your own nature: you are not your personal self, you are just awareness, which, according to Krishnamurti, is intelligence in action.
Read and ponder; use the gift humankind received from the consciousness of the Manassaputra’s, after millions of years of evolution of forms: manas, the thinking principle. We need to pay back by using this gift.
Man is carrying this quintessence of manas which makes him able to learn, distilling knowledge to wisdom. We must make use of this potential of thinking, and ponder on the paramitas.
One day we will be called to participate with these forces of the universe.
REMARKS FROM MEDITATIVE ENQUIRIES
Time and eternity: Yes, for the spiritual path it is essential to understand the concept of time. We are a product of time; it is all about change.
A seed is the cause; the tree is the effect. Time is the succession of instances, necessary for the seed to become a tree. Imagine a string; take a portion: here is the past, here is is the future. Time is no continuity, it is made of instants. It is our mind that makes a succession of images, a film, the illusion of movements.
A Buddhist will speak of the duration of instants.
Move with the stream: eternity can just be seen in the now.
The movement is the eternity.
The now is eternity in the movement.
There are three sorts of time:
-chronological time: the movement of galaxies; relative, depending upon your place in the universe. Space in manifestation has time.
-psychological time: something takes ages if you dislike it. This sort of time is even more relative, depending on your personal circumstances.
-the time you allocate to yourself: Mind is inviting time for its own use. Never procrastinate and do things at the last moment.
The truth is that there is no time, but in this manifested world there is cause and effect. The phenomenal world depends on time. Man (manas) can surmount it; he can discover its true nature; it is timeless.
Space is not a thing. In absolute terms it is by itself, with all characteristics of the self. Space is always there, the immutable. Time only starts with manifestation.
Some complements of REMARKS
Recommended films: The Matrix Trilogy; The Big Blue or Le Grand Bleu (about the life of Jacques Mallols, the diver in apnea).
Recommended glossary: Judith Tyberg, Sanskrit Keys to the Wisdom- Religion (Point Loma)
The grandeur of Buddhism is that there is just responsibility in the four great vows:
1. to serve all humanity to help people cross to the other shore (the vow to liberate innumerable sentient beings)
2. to end all suffering (the vow to cut off endless sorrows)
3. to study all numberless methods (the vow to learn limitless methods)
4. to realize the supreme doctrine of the Buddha (the vow to attain Buddhahood)
The Buddha is a completely realized being, not living in the physical world, as Gautama Buddha who now lives in a “body” of consciousness.
His message is: The earth is my witness. Now go, and realize yourself.
H.P. Blavatsky said: “If you are helping the other, you are helping yourself.”
If you are helping yourself you are helping the other.
So, you are helping the community by endeavoring to understand.
J. Krishnamurti: If you change, the whole world changes.