Try our new website New materials, revised articles, guided meditations, new design

The Berzin Archives

The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

Switch to the Text Version of this page. Jump to main navigation.

Overview of the Six Far-Reaching Attitudes (Six Perfections)

Alexander Berzin
Riga, Latvia, July 2004

Session Two: Far-Reaching Generosity

Alexander Berzin
Riga, Latvia, July 2004

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:23 hours)

The Difference between Discriminating Awareness and Deep Awareness

There was a question during the break about these different words that are translated as wisdom. I make a difference in translation between two Tibetan words – they’re also different in Sanskrit – which often are both translated with wisdom (and then you lose the difference between the two). So one is called discriminating awareness; that’s sherab (shes-rab) in Tibetan, or prajna [in Sanskrit]. And the other is called deep awareness; that’s yeshey (ye-shes) in Tibetan, or jnana in Sanskrit. These are very different. So I’ll explain the difference.

Although there are many different usages of each of these words, if we try to be a little bit more clear about it, discriminating awareness is… the definition is it adds certainty to discernment [sic! distinguishing]. Discernment [distinguishing] – that’s often translated as recognition – is to discern [distinguish] that something is this and not that. So this adds absolute certainty to that. So it’s discriminating between what’s constructive, what’s destructive; what’s helpful, what’s not helpful; what’s appropriate, what’s inappropriate; what is accurate and what’s not accurate (in terms of what’s reality and not reality). So usually it is associated with voidness. It is the understanding of voidness that discriminates that things don’t exist in these impossible ways; they exist in the way that is actually possible. That’s discriminating awareness.

So even a worm has this. A worm can discriminate – be very sure – food, not food. A cow can discriminate between the open door of the barn and the wall of the barn and not smack into the wall. So to call this wisdom is not the greatest here.

So if we speak in terms of voidness, then discriminating awareness is of just the deepest truth of things, of voidness.

Deep awareness is the – this other term – this is awareness of the two truths, either the two truths together or the two truths in the context of each other. But also deep awareness is part of Buddha-nature, something which is very deep and everybody has, so it’s referring to the mirror-like (me-long lta-bu’i ye-shes) (the ability to take in information), the equalizing (mnyam-nyid ye-shes) (to see the patterns, to put things together), individualizing (sor-rtog ye-shes) (to be aware of the individuality of this or that), and so on.

So in terms of these Buddha-nature aspects, the worm has it as well. So, again, calling it wisdom is a little bit uncomfortable.

This term deep awareness can be used slightly differently in the different Tibetan traditions. But in any case, it’s not the same as discriminating awareness. In Gelug, also it’s used for what an arya (’phags-pa) has – somebody who has nonconceptual cognition of voidness – as an additional meaning of the word.

Assigning the Far-Reaching Attitudes to the Two Networks (continued)

So anyway, as I said, this general classification of the six far-reaching attitudes into the two or three networks is… it’s not really helpful to just think, “Well, it’s just an intellectual scheme. It doesn’t mean anything,” but we can see that, “Well, what is going to transform into having all these forms and so on that we can really help others as a Buddha?” Be generous in really, particularly, helping others. We need the discipline to help and not to hurt others. And to be patient, that we’re not going to get frustrated in trying to help others, because it’s not always easy, and we’ll be patient with our own problems and shortcomings as we’re trying to help others – work on them, of course, in ourselves, but not give up. So this combination is what’s going to transform into having all the forms and abilities of a Buddha to help others.

And what would transform into the mind of a Buddha? Well, we need to have of course the discriminating awareness. We need to have mental stability, which means not just concentration, but not going up and down with moods and disturbing emotions and so on. And we need to have the patience of not getting frustrated at the difficulties in practicing the Dharma, particularly in terms of meditating and trying to gain this so-called wisdom. So this is what’s going to transform into having the mind of a Buddha.

And the joyful perseverance we need for both. If we speak in a very general way: we need to stick with it, not give up, and to actually take joy in both helping others and in meditating. So they contribute to both: In helping others, that’s building up this positive force – if we speak in very, very general terms – and building up this deep awareness by meditating. Obviously we both help and we meditate in both, building up positive force and the deep awareness. I’m just making a general point here so it’s easier to understand.

No matter what we’re doing, we need to stick with it, not give up. That’s this perseverance. And take joy in doing it, not, “Ugh, this is horrible. I hate doing it but I’ll do it anyway, because I feel obligated or I would feel guilty if I didn’t do it.” Enjoy it. “I love meditating. I love helping other people. It gives me great joy.” “I love translating. It gives me great pleasure. Nothing makes me happier.”

I forget the exact quotation but Shantideva was saying something like: “A bodhisattva is somebody who isn’t happy unless they’re actually doing something to benefit others, to help others.” If you take joy in your work, then you’re going to be unhappy if you’re not. And we’re not talking about being a workaholic in an office, but we’re talking about helping others. Unless we’re actually doing something that’s a benefit for others, we don’t feel… we’re not really happy. “I always want to do something to help others. That’s what gives the most joy in life.” That’s what we’re talking about here with joyful perseverance. So it doesn’t matter what we’re doing to help others – taking care of our kids, working in some business that is oriented to helping others in some way or another, teaching the Dharma. It doesn’t matter. We do whatever we’re capable of doing.

Now, Prasangika… When I mean Prasangika, this is the Gelug tradition of Prasangika. Tsongkhapa was an unbelievable revolutionary, incredibly courageous, and he examined very, very deeply the Indian texts and he realized that the Prasangika texts actually had some quite specific explanations. And so there’s the Prasangika system according to Gelug. The earlier systems – Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu – have a different understanding of the Prasangika position. According to Gelug Prasangika… here Tsongkhapa is presenting another way of classifying these six far-reaching attitudes. (I mention this because people come here from both a Kagyu Center and a Gelugpa Center, Drigung Kagyu.) Here Tsongkhapa differentiates it according to the two truths. And so the far-reaching discriminating awareness, which is not… we’re not talking about the discriminating awareness of what’s constructive and destructive in terms of karma, but just in terms of the deepest truth, the voidness. That’s what contributes to the network of deep awareness, to the mind of a Buddha. And all the others, including discriminating awareness of what’s helpful and what’s harmful, contribute to the network of positive force, for the Form Bodies of a Buddha. So it’s just another way of classifying here, according to the two truths. Because you’ll hear the two different explanations, and both of them are very helpful actually.

Far-Reaching Generosity

So now let’s look at the six far-reaching attitudes themselves. And the first of these is generosity. Generosity is defined as the willingness to give. It’s an attitude, a state of mind. Shantideva wrote: “If the perfection of generosity means eliminating the poverty of the entire universe, then Buddha didn’t perfect generosity, because people are still poor.” So the perfection of generosity is the complete willingness to give absolutely everything.

And generosity doesn’t mean that we ourselves have to become poor, having given away absolutely everything that we have. We’re not talking about poverty as some virtue, that you might have in other religions. It means the willingness to give without hesitation, without obstacles – if it’s appropriate to give. We have to use discrimination. You don’t give a gun to somebody to go out and shoot: “Oh, I’m being generous. Here’s the gun.” “Here’s money to go buy a gun.” “Here’s money to go buy drugs.”

And so even if we’re extremely poor and we have nothing, we can still have the willingness to give. Otherwise, poor people can’t develop generosity. That’s why when we see a beautiful sunset, be generous: “May everybody enjoy this beautiful sunset. May everybody enjoy this beautiful scenery. May everybody enjoy the beautiful weather.” Be generous with things that we don’t own as well as things that do belong to us. And it’s the opposite of miserliness; miserliness is: “I don’t want to share it, anything, with anybody else. I want to keep it for myself. If I give to somebody else, there won’t be enough for me.”

But of course we have to be careful not to become a fanatic here. Because also if we’re working to help others, we need to eat, we need to sleep – we need these types of things. So we’re talking here more about sharing. You can’t give everything, to the point where you starve to death. Obviously when we’re super, super advanced bodhisattvas, that’s something else, but we’re not. As a super advanced bodhisattva we can sacrifice our lives to help others, but not at our own stage. We can aspire for that. But when we’re not ready to do that, then we just usually develop a very negative mind when doing that, so this is not the most beneficial. We’re not ready. Like the example of Buddha in a previous life feeding his body to a hungry tigress. We’re not ready to do that.

But we need to be willing to, on our level, to give, be willing to give, our body to others. Well, that would be – like, for instance, to help them do difficult work, to use our bodies to help others, not be afraid to get our hands dirty, these type of things. Or when it’s dangerous to save somebody, to actually do that. And of course giving our possessions if they’re needed and can be helpful to somebody, and sharing as well what’s called the roots of virtue (dge-ba’i rtsa-ba), which basically means the positive potentials of the positive force that we have built up. In other words, just an example… Well, let me use an example from my own life: If as a result of positive force from previous lifetimes, I have made so many connections around the world and with the great Dharma teachers and great masters in India, and so on – sharing that with other people, not just keeping it to myself. If there’s somebody appropriate, making the introduction, using the potential that I’ve built up to be able to benefit others, not just keeping it for myself. “May all the hard work that I’ve put into my education and my study in India, may other people benefit from that.” That’s what we’re talking about. Open the doors for others.

The Generosity of Giving Material Aid

Now, there are either three or four different types of generosity. We have first of all the generosity of giving material aid. So this means giving possessions, things that we have, whether it’s food, clothing, whatever – money – whatever we have. But again – I mean, we will get to this – giving when it’s appropriate. And we can also give things that we don’t own as well, which sort of are public. It doesn’t mean we go out and steal. We’re talking about giving public things, like cleaning up the environment so that other people can enjoy it. That’s a gift to others. And as I was mentioning, “May everybody be able to enjoy the weather, the beautiful weather,” and so on.

And we shouldn’t think here just in terms of actual physical things; we also (as I said in terms of giving our body) give our work, give our time, give our interest, these type of things, give some energy, some encouragement, all these sort of things. It’s being generous.

The Generosity of Giving Dharma

Then the second one is giving Dharma, generosity of giving Dharma. That isn’t referring only to teaching, or translating or transcribing teachings, or making books available, or making stupas, and all of that. That’s one aspect of it. Making Dharma centers, these type of things, working in them. But also it entails answering people’s questions, giving them information when they need information. All sorts of things like this.

And also what we have from the Sakya tradition, which is called the offerings of samadhi (or concentration), and this is referring to offering or giving others all different aspects of our practice, our Dharma practice. So everything that we’ve read or studied – we offer that to others, we use that to help others. And all the knowledge we’ve gained – we offer that to them, we use that. And the conviction in the Dharma, and all these sort of things. We use our concentration. There’s a whole list of them. These would come into this category of the generosity of giving Dharma, giving our practice.

The Generosity of Giving Protection from Fear

Then the third type is generosity of giving protection from fear. This can refer to, of course, saving the lives of others, animals that are about to be slaughtered, or things that are locked up in cages – whether birds or humans or whatever – and saving drowning flies from the swimming pool, this type of stuff. And saving animals and so on from the – it doesn’t need to be from death specifically, being slaughtered, but to protect them from the cold or from the severe heat. If there’s a beetle in our house, we don’t just throw it out of the window, five stories down, because “Well, it doesn’t hurt them if they land like that.” If we don’t want it in our house, take it outside; don’t just throw it out the window, or flush it down the toilet, wishing it good luck.

Also we would include here comforting others when they’re very frightened, whether it’s our children, whether it’s… somebody’s being hunted or an animal is being hunted. Try to protect it. A fly is caught in a spider web; if we see that, try to take it out. That’s a difficult one, because then we could say, “Aren’t we being cruel to the spider?” But I doubt that we’re going to stand there 24 hours a day and watch the spider so it doesn’t eat anything. So when we have the opportunity to save these creatures, that’s good. We don’t have to be the policeman over the spider. If the cat is torturing the mouse that it found, take the mouse away, save it.

This gets into a very difficult issue, which is that of euthanasia, particularly with animals. The cat or the dog is really suffering and do we put it to sleep or not? Or give it to somebody else: usually we don’t put it to sleep ourselves. That’s not an easy issue by any means. From one point of view, if the animal – or a human being, for that matter – if we interrupt the natural process of death and experiencing the suffering and so on, we interrupt the ripening of certain negative karma in suffering. And if we’ve interrupted that – well, that being in some future life is still going to have to experience that type of suffering. So from one point of view, that is not so wise. But from another point of view, if we can somehow minimize the pain that they have, give somebody with cancer painkillers and stuff like that, then that seems more appropriate. But it’s a very, very difficult issue.

Because also His Holiness, in response to things like this… Because you get these issues of somebody who is kept alive on machines; they’re basically dead. Or, I think, unbelievable – spend a million dollars to save a premature baby. His Holiness says that, again, if there are unlimited resources, that’s one thing; but if there are limited resources, then you don’t spend a million dollars on keeping somebody alive who’s basically brain-dead and you don’t have enough money to treat people who could recover. So a lot depends on circumstances. The same issues with abortion and so on.

Because we have to avoid the absurd extreme here. If we take to an extreme that: “Well, the animal has to experience its suffering in order to burn off the negative karma that’s ripening here” – we take that to its absurd conclusion, to an extreme – that would mean we would never give medicine to anybody. “Well, they have to live out the suffering consequences of their negative karma of being sick.” And so, obviously that’s not the meaning here, not the meaning at all, because we also give medicine and we also try to help others to get better, and if they have the karma to get over the sickness, then by giving the medicine and so on, they will overcome it. So of course we do that.

But in the case of somebody who’s brain-dead and there’s absolutely nothing that… there’s no possibility that they’re going to get better, that’s a different situation. Now, in terms of abortion: If, for whatever reason, somebody actually does have an abortion, then what can be very helpful is something that a Japanese Zen priest in America does. I’m not quite sure where she got this from, whether it was traditionally done in Japan or not, but what she does, which was extremely helpful, is that she encourages the parents (or just the woman if the father isn’t around) to give a name to the fetus who was aborted, and this was a living being – acknowledge that – with a name, and have a ritual and a funeral honoring this person that for whatever reason they didn’t develop, and regret, and many, many prayers for a wonderful rebirth in a situation that will be very conducive. And so, in this way, developing a very positive attitude toward the fetus that was aborted. And this seems to be extremely helpful, particularly for the women who are involved – the men as well, but particularly the women – since that can, having an abortion, later on can lead to a lot of mental problems and guilt.

The Generosity of Giving Our Equanimity to Others

In tantra, the generosity of giving protection from fear has a further interpretation, which is referring to giving our equanimity to others. In others words: others have nothing to fear from us, because we’re not going to cling to them with attachment, or reject them with anger and hostility, or ignore them with naivety, but we’ll be open to everybody. So they have nothing to fear from us, that we’ll cling to them, reject them, or ignore them. Very wonderful. Great gift.

The Generosity of Giving Love

And tantra also speaks of a fourth kind of generosity, which is the giving of love. And the giving of love is not going around hugging everybody, but it’s referring to giving everybody our wish for them to be happy – the definition of love – the wish to be happy and [have] the causes for happiness.


Anyway, perhaps that’s enough. In some other systems, there are other ways of dividing and discussing this generosity, but perhaps that’s a bit too much, to go into all the details. But one should just be aware that in different Tibetan traditions there’s going to… and different authors are going to make slightly different divisions, different classification schemes. They’re all helpful, actually.

Just as an example: In Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation, he divides giving material things into inner things and outer things. So inner things, referring to our body, time, etc., and energy. And outer things, referring to material objects and so on.

Giving our family to others. What does that mean? Inviting them for Christmas to our house so they can enjoy the family warmth. This type of thing. It’s very nice. When there’s a stranger or foreigner in our city who could be very lonely during holidays and miss their family, we share our family with them. Very nice.

So why don’t we end here for our morning session? And so we end with a dedication. Whatever positive force or energy has come from this, may it act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.