The Six Perfections: Transcendent Qualities (with Kabbalistic Associations)
written by Yitzak Ahron [Laughing Priest])
(The following note by Rabbi Diane prefaces this contribution: Last year in the Gadel Hesed class, a number of us spent ten months exploring ways to grow lovingkindness in our lives. We used Rabbi Rami Shapiro's wonderful book The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness as a framework for our class. Rabbi Rami's book lays out many practices, both from within Jewish tradition and from other world wisdom traditions, designed to help us grow our ability to bring more lovingkindness into the world. His grounds his approach in the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Lovingkindness, revealed by YHVH to Moses on Mr. Sinai (Exodus 34:5): Adonai, Adonai, El, Rakhum v'Khanun, Erekh Apayim v'Rav Hesed v'Emet, Notzer Hesed la'Alafim, Nosey Avon va'Fesha v'Khatah v'Nakey--G~d immanent, G~d transcendent, Creator, Compassionate and Gracious, Infinitely Patient, Great in Kindness, Truth Itself, Spreading Out Kindness to Thousands, Lifting Up Willful Sin, Spiteful Sin, Unconsciousness Sin, and Cleansing. In the piece shared below, a member of our larger community, Yitzak Jerry Green, elucidates the correlations between the Buddha's Six Perfections and the Jewish mystical wisdom of Kabbalah. As Rabbi Rami has taught us, we urgently need all the world's wisdom to help us navigate this difficult time. Ta Sh'ma...come and hear... and enjoy!)
This Buddhist “practice” is a “method” for the pursuit of happiness, which is understood to include transcending suffering. The basis of its achievability is that our Buddha nature exists, and will always be. With an authentic teacher, the “method” is understood to be complete and unerring.
The premise lies in “training” the mind/intention(s) in transforming negative emotional states (anger, impatience, pride, ill will, jealousy, derision, fear) that are affecting us, causing “disturbance.” We seek peace, by training the mind to handle negative and harmful states, rather than seeking to control the environment. However, as in Aikido and Kabbalah, constructive self transformation also changes the environment for the better (tikkun olam.)
This method suggests that our minds tend toward investing in one’s own welfare, often “attached” to what one wants or needs. It is “self attached.” The seemingly simple idea that there is self-benefit in benefiting others is considered. Then one “trains” in kind-noble hearted intention. As self-attachment lessens in relation to another’s well being (or all others), one is less disturbed by our own negative emotional states.
Everything can be summarized as engaged in the purpose of love, loving-kindness or compassion. Without this foundation, one may do some good, but the practice will not sustain and nourish. It will become dry and stale.
The Six Perfections: Transcendent Qualities (attributes), with Sefrotic associations, are:
Attribute Sephira Personification Human Body
Generosity Chesed Loving-kindness Right Arm
Discipline/Moral Conduct Din Judgment Left Arm
Patient Forbearance Tiferet Beauty/Harmony Heart Center
Diligence Netzah/Hod Power/Method Hips/Legs
Meditative Concentration Bina Understanding Left Brain
Wisdom Chochmah Wisdom Right Brain
Generosity, the first attribute, is defined as “the mind’s wishing to give.” It is unconnected with the recipient’s benefit or with the results. The attitude of love and compassion precedes all forms of practice, and what is described here in relation to generosity applies to practicing all the attributes. “Practice” begins with a “contrived” attitude (for the purpose of practice), and becomes progressively more sincere.
One is encouraged to “practice” generosity for it’s own sake, not for any purpose – just to practice, as in a training. It’s not to accomplish adding to one’s well being, but it will, even when employed as a practice. One starts by contriving, just to awaken consciousness and intention/kavvanah. It works while one is learning. Eventually one becomes more sincere, and, most likely, better at it. The belief is taught that there is no limit to how far or how much. There’s always more.
“Giving” involves four related ideas in this context. They are worded in the context of questioning the intended receiver. There’s much in this asking. Cultural context may not have included Tibetan values, which cultivate a presumed empathy (understanding of another’s feelings and needs) that we cannot assume to be skilled in. Here are the questions: How might I serve your welfare? How might I relieve suffering? How might I bring you a benefit? How might I bring you more happiness/joy? Thus, giving may mean promoting someone’s welfare, relieving their suffering, bringing them a benefit, or bringing more happiness/joy.
Generosity brings immediate gratification, and promises long-term benefit for the giver, the receiver, and the greater world. It reduces our suffering, because it reduces attachment to our own welfare. As self-attachment lessens, in relation to another’s well being (or all others), we are less disturbed by our own negative emotional states.
Generally, our mind is preoccupied with our own welfare. It is based on the “self”, upon which it is dependent. In coming to realize that the benefit of helping others includes self-benefit, the mind takes time to progress in three stages. In each dimension, actions change after intentions change. Objects of generosity, what to offer, are understood as wealth and other material possessions, protection of others from harm or fear, and dharma, or spiritual practice.
Discipline/Moral Conduct, the second attribute, represents the ethical dimension of the mind that wants to refrain from doing harm, or non-virtuous acts which create risk of harm. Harm is exemplified by injury, killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, gossip and other destructive behavior. Practicing this attribute is made easier by generosity. Kabbalah says that generosity is channeled by discipline/moral conduct, embodied by the sephira Gevurah, or judgment. This is the basis for all the positive qualities.
Patient Forbearance, the third attribute, is about how one deals with adversity, difficulty or pressures. This is an attribute of mind that does not become disturbed. With patience, one forbears. The less suffering, the better. Patient Forbearance is the remedy for anger, which is defined as, “a disturbance of the mind.” Anger causes pain, and is understood as having no redeeming value. It affects others negatively, prevents meditation, compromises sleep, and obscures learning and other forms of practice. Patient Forbearance embodies the sephira Tiferet, because it engenders peace with inner disturbance. Tiferet is balance or harmony between the polarities of Chesed (love) and Din (judgment,) which reflect the Perfections of Generosity and Discipline. Patient Forbearance is there to keep the mind from being disturbed, even by one’s own negative emotions. It gives one the feeling of well-being. It’s attractive to others. It spreads joy to others and projects dependability. It’s short term benefit is that we are not disturbed. In the “middle,” we are spared retaliation and retribution; in the end, no grudge is held. If anger is the greatest evil, Patient Forbearance is the greatest practice.
Diligence, the fourth attribute, is one’s intentional movement forward in a desired direction. Diligence embodies the sephirot Netzach and Hod (right and left hips), one’s strides of endurance and refinement. This attribute is defined as enthusiastic effort for positive actions. Enthusiasm implies joyful and with delight. Diligence brings forth what laziness obscures, and it is understood to manifest in the three forms of armor-like – a resolve to accomplish; devotion or application – the essence of doing; and insatiable diligence – seeking.
Meditative Concentration, the fifth attribute, gives the mind singular focus that is necessary for practice. It makes the mind “usable,” by eliminating “random” distractions. It quiets the mind and body, including negative thought patterns, and develops “contentment.” Mindfulness enquiry asks, “What is my mind doing now?”, and cultivates a “vigilant state,” a balance of effort and relaxation, like a tuned guitar string. Initial practice with a reference point (mantra, candle, image, letter) leads to eventual non-referential meditation. Meditative Concentration embodies the sephirot Bina (understanding) and Chochmah (wisdom). Bina is conceptual, and imparts direction and specificity to our actions. Chochmah lies within/beneath conceptual understanding. Words do not define here. They emerge in a felt, seen, or heard inspiration or intuition.
Wisdom, the sixth attribute, implies non-conceptual awareness or inspiration, coming from the place of not-knowing, beyond words. It is the purpose of meditation training. When awakened, it fuels ordinary conceptual purpose with the sacred.