Nicholas C. Weeks – USA
There is an old saying which reveals a good motive for living nobly: “When one receives a drop of kindness, one should repay it with a bubbling spring.” H.P. Blavatsky's Guru mentioned the “debt of gratitude” as being “sacred.” Feeling grateful is nice, but is not really adequate. Especially since we are all a Unity and of One Life. We must not block circulation of the harmonious forces of compassion, sympathy and friendliness. “Ingratitude is a crime in Occultism.” (1)
Duty is that which is due to Humanity,... especially that which we owe to all those who are poorer and more helpless than we are ourselves. This is a debt which, if left unpaid during life, leaves us spiritually insolvent and moral bankrupts in our next incarnation. Theosophy is the quintessence of duty. (2)
Blavatsky was not explicit about why we owe this debt, but I suspect it was because of our indifferent attitude to the past drops of kindness that we accepted gladly, but did nothing to keep the kindness flowing freely. Our sacred duty is to repay the showers of kindness we have received, over many lifetimes, from the Buddhas, Masters, gods, parents and the rest of humanity. This divine duty will move us to tap our own bubbling spring of virtues. These will flow forth from our “fountainhead of utter wisdom,” as G. de Purucker called it.
If we truly wish to work like the two Bodhisattvas (3) who help Amitabha Buddha, as The Voice of the Silence mentions, then we need to recall the advice of Nagarjuna Bodhisattva about the three selfless bodhicitta resolutions that will certainly lead one to become a Bodhisattva, who will always benefit all beings:
Where the Buddha has instructed one, in a past life or vision, to generate this resolve;
Where one generates resolve in order to protect the Dharma;
Or where one generates resolve on account of pity for suffering beings;
Those possessed of at least one of the three motivations of this sort, will definitely find success. (4)
Bodhicitta resolve or aspiration alone is good, but practicing bodhicitta with the paramitas or perfections of virtue, is better. Bodhicitta means Wise Mind and refers to the aspiration to become someone who works for the spiritual progress of all beings, far into the future.
For more effectiveness, bodhicitta vows are strengthened by taking refuge in the Triple Jewel of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Dharma is Buddha's teaching and Sangha means his Bodhisattva disciples.
When Franz Hartmann formally took refuge, (as Blavatsky and Olcott did a few years earlier), Blavatsky's Guru wrote him a note in 1884 saying:
Above all, try to find yourself, and the path of knowledge will open itself before you, and this so much the easier as you have made a contact with the Light-ray of the Blessed One, [Buddha], whose name you have now taken as your spiritual lode-star... Receive in advance my blessings and thanks. (5)
Blavatsky gives a deeper meaning to the Three Jewels in her Theosophical Glossary:
The words “Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,” ought to be pronounced as in the days of Gautama, the Lord Buddha, namely “Bodhi, Dharma and Sangha” and interpreted to mean ‘Wisdom, its laws and priests’, the latter in the sense of “spiritual exponents”, or Adepts. (6)
This goal of becoming a Bodhisattva is worthy of any sacrifice, as a sutra tells us:
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara asked the Buddha, “Why do you say the birth of bodhisattvas is the most excellent among living beings?” The Buddha replied, “There are four reasons. 1-Because that birth is constructed on ultimately pure foundations of good. 2-Because it is chosen intentionally, with conscious discernment. 3-Because it is based on compassion, to liberate sentient beings. 4-Because one can purify oneself and therefore remove the defilements of others.”
Avalokiteshvara also asked the Buddha, “Why do you say bodhisattvas carry out far-reaching vows, marvelous vows, excellent vows?” The Buddha replied, “For four reasons: 1-bodhisattvas do know the bliss of nirvana very well and can quickly realize it, 2-yet they relinquish immediate experience of the state of bliss and 3-arouse a mind of great aspiration to benefit living beings, without a personal object or expectation, and 4-therefore they remain in the midst of many kinds of suffering over a long time. That is why I say that bodhisattvas carry out far-reaching, marvelous, excellent vows.” (7)
Before focusing on any golden paramita keys to the portals that open into higher realms of consciousness, let us recall some more fundamentals of this Path. The Mahatma Letters mention the basic methods, of which these three are the most important:
Chastity of thought, word, and deed; government of the animal passions and impulses; and utter unselfishness of intention. (8)
Without this needed preliminary purification, the practice of the paramitas will be feeble and fruitless. It may even lead to hypocrisy. The refinement of our three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity or attraction, repulsion and stagnation is fulfilled by using three principles. One of those rare supreme Adepts, Je Tsongkhapa, taught them as Renunciation of greed and animal passions; and secondly, utter unselfish compassionate Bodhicitta, that replaces anger and irritation. The third principle is vast Wisdom, instead of our normal foolishness. (9)
One can see how the first two perfections of Giving and Virtue help to remove low desire and animal passions. Then, unruffled Patience, redeems anger, hate and irritability. The last two paramitas transmute our stupid, foolish minds into stable Meditation and great Wisdom. Energy empowers all the others. Blavatsky's unique, central paramita of vairagya or non-attachment to illusion pervades all the others. As Buddha taught, vairagya or “nonattachment is the best of all things” (10). Vairagya here means Truth or Nirvana.
The last four paramitas of the ten assist the six. One traditional way of connecting the last four perfections to the first six, is as follows: The 7th paramita of Skillful Means assists Giving, Virtue and Patience in making virtuous karma. The 8th perfection of Vows or Aspirations strengthens Energy. The 9th paramita of Power greatly deepens Meditation, and the 10th perfection of jnana or Knowledge expands prajna or Wisdom.
Blavatsky speaks of the paramita path as “thorny” and “uphill all the way.” The Paramita heights are crossed by a path still steeper than that of Dhyana or meditation. For the paramitas require altruistic action on the ordinary plane of life as well as virtuous action in the deeper realms of meditation. So here is some encouragement from a Mahayana sutra aimed at ordinary lay persons:
It is easy for those who have renounced family life and become monastics to activate bodhicitta. Yet, if one who lives as a lay person activates the bodhi mind and seeks to tread the bodhisattva path, that is truly inconceivable. Why? Because lay people are so entangled with many adverse causes and conditions. When any lay person activates bodhicitta, devas from every one of the heavens are all greatly surprised and pleased. Then they say to each other, “Now we have a future Buddha, a teacher of devas and humans.” (11)
Another sutra says that a single repetition of the six syllable mantra Om Mani Padme Hum “completes” all six perfections. This completion means the seed of Buddhahood is well and sincerely planted in the fertile soil of bodhisattva vows and practices, thus assuring the future flowering as a Tathagata.
Nagarjuna Bodhisattva taught that there are three essential elements for the Mahayana path: 1- Compassion for the suffering of all beings; 2-he altruistic bodhicitta resolve to fully unfold the buddha nature in ourselves and help all beings to do the same; and 3-wisdom that is all inclusive.
The bodhicitta vow or intent, by itself, is a powerful blessing to ourselves and others. It must be deeply held and never allowed to weaken. These two elements of compassion and bodhicitta may be the work of several lifetimes. However, as Kamalashila Bodhisattva reminds us; motive alone is not enough. We must discipline ourselves in order to help others do likewise. Without our presence or words radiating the subtle yet real, higher energies that result from self-discipline, people are less likely to be reached. Practicing the paramitas is also necessary for attaining any of the ten grounds or stages of Bodhisattvas. Je Tsongkhapa also agrees that the training methods to achieve Buddhahood are just those of the paramitas.
These ten golden keys are all that is needed to open any portal to higher planes or “spheres of being” as Purucker called these worlds. Mahayana Buddhism calls these portals Dharma Gateways into such exalted states and realms. Thus our “thorny way” leads to a surrounding world we will be a part of, as well as having a consciousness transformed by wisdom.
This essential training is basically twofold; the method of accruing virtuous karma or merit from the first five - Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Energy, Meditation and secondly, gaining Wisdom. The last four of the ten assist the first six. The karmic merit from practicing eight of these perfections is aimed at attracting or unfolding higher forces that match or resonate with the higher parts of this globe or higher globes. These more sacred energies will permit us to visit, and eventually reside in, these finer forms and realms, as well as inspire other beings to tread the Buddha Way. The other two paramitas, Prajna or Wisdom and Knowledge, the tenth one, will unfold the perfect Buddha mind.
The causes and conditions associated with the stages of bodhisattva practice are endless. The paramitas are actually many more than ten. One sutra, the Lalitavistara, lists 108 perfections. But these ten perfections, (or just the six) are all that are required to ascend through the ten bodhisattva levels leading up to Buddhahood. Each one of the ten bodhisattva stages does include all of the paramitas. But the first stage focuses on the first paramita of giving, the second ground emphasizes ethics, and so forth through the rest.
HP Blavatsky says in the Voice of the Silence that the perfections are only keys to the Seven Portals, but are not the Portals themselves. This may only mean that initially the practice of the paramitas is weak from our lack of Great Compassion. While we do possess these golden paramita keys, we lack the power, purity and skill to use them. Only later, after much practice, will they function as vowed keys of compassion, which open the locks to the Portals. As Nagarjuna says: “From compassion all aims are achieved.” (12) Great compassion is the panacea.
As G. de Purucker sums up:
We follow the age-old precepts of the Masters of wisdom and compassion, as they have been handed down to us from immemorial time: live nobly, think nobly, feel nobly, do your duty to all at all times and in all places, and by all men. In addition, if you wish to undertake another aspect of the chela training, one which is the invariable practice in our own School, then follow the teaching of the ten paramitas of Buddhism, which are always followed in the true schools of esoteric training, and which we attempt to follow. The paramitas are ten, and the ten are for those who intend to devote all their life to that resigning of the lower self to the higher, in service to the world. There, in these rules, is the whole path of achievement. (13)
A Few Sources on the Paramitas:
Nagarjuna on the Six Perfections, Kalavinka Press
The Six Perfections, Tadeusz Skorupski (based on Lamotte's Nagarjuna text)
Bodhicaryavatara by Shantideva (many translations)
Buddhist Yoga, ch. 7 (Samdhinirmocana Sutra) tr by Thomas Cleary
The Scripture on the Explication of Underlying Meaning, ch 7 (Samdhinirmocana Sutra) tr by
John P. Keenan
The Sutra on Upasaka Precepts, ch. 18-19; 23; 25-28, tr by Bhikshuni Heng-ching
Great Treatise on Stages of the Path vol. 2 (Lamrim Chenmo), Snow Lion
Jewel Ornament by Gampopa, ch. 11-17 & 19 (several translations)
From the Southern Tradition: A Treatise on the Paramis by Dhammapala, Buddhist Publication Society
1 Blavatsky Collected Writings 12:593
2 Key to Theosophy 229
3 Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani.
4 Based on On Generating the Resolve to Become a Buddha, 31, Kalavinka Press
5 CW 8:446
7 Based on Buddhist Yoga 75 (Samdhinirmocana Sutra) tr by Thomas Cleary
8 Page 113 2nd ed. or 73 chronological
9 See Three Principles of the Path by Tsongkhapa (many versions)
10 Dhammapada verse 273
11 Based on a Sutra of the Upasaka Precepts in the book Bodhisattva Precepts, 127, tr by Rulu
12 Ratnavali verse 438
13 Based on Dialogues of G. de Purucker, vol 3, last page