Paramita of the Month: Discipline

The month of August is finally here. Although the weather of late is almost unseasonably warm, the days are growing shorter, as if to remind us that summer is as fleeting and impermanent as are all other things and experiences. Bearing the ever-changing nature of phenomena in mind, we should get down to the practice of this month’s paramita, discipline. Below are two teachings on disciplne by our precious guru, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, both excerpted from Rebel Buddha. The first excerpt deals with discipline in the context of the Hinayana three trainings of discipline, meditative concentration, and wisdom (prajña); the second excerpt presents discipline within the context of the Mahayana six paramitas. These two teachings are followed by an excerpt from HH Dilgo Khyentse’s The Heart of Compassion:  The Thirty-Seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva. (Many thanks to Donna Allen for transcribing the Rebel Buddha excerpts, and to David McKinney for his transcription of the final passage.) – Eric Flesher, Director of Meditation.

Discipline (p. 73-74)

When we talk about discipline we’re not talking about transforming a bad boy or girl into a good one. It doesn’t mean beating your mind with a stick or whipping it into submission. And it’s not a ploy to deprive your life of excitement or interest. Like the word emotiondiscipline in the Buddhist sense has several meanings that are not apparent in common English usage. First, it carries the meaning of “cooling out.” It’s like being outside in the middle of a hot summer day, and just when you’re feeling really beaten down by the heat, you find some relief in the shade of a tree. You feel so happy to be sitting there in the cool shade, and you start to feel calmer and more peaceful. That’s an example of the result of practicing discipline: relief from the intense distress we can feel from getting caught up in our ordinary, habitual patterns.

Discipline also carries the meaning of ‘taking your own seat’ or ‘standing on our own two feet.’ This means that you don’t always need guidance from someone else like you did when you were a kid. When you were young, of course, you had plenty of authority figures. Your parents, teachers, and school counselors taught you what to do. You learned the rules for how to behave at home, in school, and in public. But once you’re gone through all that, you realize that you’re capable of becoming your own guide, which is a liberating realization. In the same way, on our spiritual path, we reach a point where we’re capable of evaluating our own actions and correcting our own mistakes.

Transcendent Discipline (p. 128)

To practice discipline with the view of awakened heart, the key is to maintain a sense of mindfulness and awareness of your actions and the effects of those actions on others. It’s important to pay special attention to anger and ill will and to stop them in their tracks. When you catch anger right away and hold it with your mindfulness, it’s like rebel buddha intercepting a pass and preventing the other team – your angry thoughts and intentions – from scoring a touchdown. You don’t allow your anger to reach the person you’re mad at or to spill over to innocent bystanders. At the very least, you slow its momentum, which gives you a moment to relax your fixed mind and return to a state of openness. Instead of the fight your could have started, you can inject something different - a sense of humor or a kind word – into the situation. The shift in your outlook brings a sense of relief, not just to you, but to others as well. The practice of generosity is helpful here, because it inspires in you the desire to give happiness and protection for harm. When you refrain from anger, you’re protecting others not just from your anger but also from becoming caught up in their own. In this way, you can practice generosity and discipline at the same time.

Transcendent Discipline

26

If, lacking discipline, one cannot accomplish one’s own good,

It is laughable to think of accomplishing the good of others.

Therefore, to observe discipline

Without samsaric motives is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Discipline is the foundation of all Dharma practice.  It provides the ground upon which all positive qualities can be cultivated.  In the same way that all the oceans and mountains are supported by the underlying mass of the earth, all the practices of the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana are supported by the backbone of discipline.

Discipline in each of these three vehicles is defined by one of the three corresponding levels of vows:  the pratimoksha vows, the bodhisattva precepts, and the Mantrayana samayas.  These three sets of vows should be kept in harmony with one another.

As your practice progresses stage by stage through the three vehicles, the vows of the preceding vehicles are not discarded but rather are transmuted, like iron into gold.  The discipline of the pratimoksha begins when you take the refuge vows and enter the path of Dharma.  A person motivated by a strong determination to be free from samsara will then renounce worldly concerns and keep vows of a lay disciple, the monastic vows of the novice, or the vows of a fully ordained monk or nun.  To this basis, the discipline of the Mahayana adds the bodhicitta, the vow to bring all beings to perfect enlightenment.  Mahayana practitioners therefore keep either lay or monastic vows themselves, adding the wish that all beings might keep perfect discipline in order to be free from samsara’s bonds, and apply the various precepts of the bodhisattva.  Thus infused with the bodhisattva’s motivation, discipline grows greatly in its power.  It culminates in the discipline of the Vajrayana, which is to maintain the samayas, the sacred links between the spiritual master and the disciple–the very life force of the Vajrayana.

Without discipline there is no way to achieve either the temporary happiness of liberation from suffering or the ultimate bliss of enlightenment.  Whatever vows you take–whether the 253 vows of the pratimoksha, the 18 root and branch vows of the bodhisattvas, or the 100,000 samayas of the Vajrayana–they all need to be observed with great care, like that of a farmer doing everything possible to protect his crops against wild animals, thieves, hailstorms, and all other harmful eventualities.

Guard your own discipline, therefore, as carefully as you protect your own eyes.  For discipline, if you can keep it, is the source of bliss; but if you transgress it, it becomes a  source of suffering.

There are three kinds of discipline to be practiced.  The first is to give up all actions that harm either others or yourself.  The second is to undertake positive actions by practicing the six paramitas.  The third is to do everything possible to benefit others in their present and future lives.

Without discipline, you will never even be able to accomplish any of your personal aims, let alone be able to help others.  To keep pure discipline, it helps to spend your time with virtuous friends.  Give up attachments and desire, remember the infallibility of the karmic law of cause and effect, reflect on the miseries of samsara, and follow the precepts of the three types of vows.  It is said that those who keep perfect monastic discipline will not only be widely respected by humans, but celestial beings will take their robes when they die and place them in stupas in their heavenly realms.  As the Buddha said:

In this decadent age, to maintain even one monastic vow for a day brings greater merit than to offer a million buddhas quantities of food, drink, canopies, lamps, and garlands as vast as the number of grains of sand in the Ganges.

Perfect discipline is to keep the vows in a pure way with constant mindfulness, free from conceit or pride.  In essence, discipline is to have a peaceful, self-controlled, and altruistic mind.

Discipline is the foundation of all Dharma practice.  It provides the ground upon which all positive qualities can be cultivated.  In the same way that all the oceans and mountains are supported by the underlying mass of the earth, all the practices of the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana are supported by the backbone of discipline.

As your practice progresses stage by stage through the three vehicles, the vows of the preceding vehicles are not discarded but rather are transmuted, like iron into gold.

Whatever vows you take–they all need to be observed with great care, like that of a farmer doing everything possible to protect his crops against wild animals, thieves, hailstorms, and all other harmful eventualities.

Guard your own discipline, therefore, as carefully as you protect your own eyes.  For discipline, if you can keep it, is the source of bliss; but if you transgress it, it becomes a  source of suffering.

There are three kinds of discipline to be practiced.  The first is to give up all actions that harm either others or yourself.  The second is to undertake positive actions by practicing the six paramitas.  The third is to do everything possible to benefit others in their present and future lives.

Without discipline, you will never even be able to accomplish any of your personal aims, let alone be able to help others.  To keep pure discipline, it helps to spend your time with virtuous friends.  Give up attachments and desire, remember the infallibility of the karmic law of cause and effect, reflect on the miseries of samsara, and follow the precepts of the three types of vows.

As the Buddha said:

“In this decadent age, to maintain even one monastic vow for a day brings greater merit than to offer a million buddhas quantities of food, drink, canopies, lamps, and garlands as vast as the number of grains of sand in the Ganges.”

Perfect discipline is to keep the vows in a pure way with constant mindfulness, free from conceit or pride.

In essence, discipline is to have a peaceful, self-controlled, and altruistic mind.

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