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Discipline 1 - The Paramita of Shila

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

In our ongoing exploration of the six paramitas, we have come to the second which is discipline (shila).


We can think of shila as a straight edge that we don't cross. But it's not a cage. It's a beautification of the human incarnation. We are incarnated in a world, we do have bodies, and we share a world with other beings. And, our strong emotions can lead to harm. This is the insight of the Buddha.

In some sense, we can think about all of these five unskillful actions arising out of, rampant emotions, and incontinent emotions. For example: anger to the point where you want to kill someone, greed where you're willing to ignore the fact that you're stealing from someone, lust, et cetera.


And there's a sort of momentary pleasure in that, of course. "Oh, I'm going to kill you, it's going to feel so good when I kill you." Or, "It's going to be so good when I get that cream cake that I've stolen from you", or whatever it might be. There's a momentary pleasure, but the long-term ramifications for your being-in-the-world are immeasurably complicated.


And it's very difficult to then be in the world in an elegant way because you're so twisted with all the lies you have to tell to cover up the things that you've done and the guilt that you feel. And this just feeds the fire of your mind in this kind of ugly, unpleasant way.


And this is, I think, what Trungpa points to because Trungpa is the one that goes for the aesthetics. He's the one who points out the aesthetic quality of being a bodhisattva, of following this path. The shila guidelines allow you to go, "Ah, if I stay here, this is a beautiful space to exist, to inhabit. It's free from all of those ramifications, free from that cloud of guilt, free from all those knots I have to tie myself in".


It's clear and, simple. You're not bogged down into this great hot swamp of self-justification, dissociation, and angry talking, speaking, and justifying. All of that can die down and then you can just be in the world. And most importantly, you can see everybody else in the world. All the beings, all the humans, all the animals, the natural forms.


This is where it becomes transcendent, this is where it becomes a paramita, it takes us to the other shore, in Thich Nhat Hanh's phrase. Because then we are in a space, like we were with generosity when we were giving away so much, that Self and Other drop away and there's just this beautiful kind of bubbling experience of richness and gifting and connection.


The same happens with all of the paramitas, when we're, not tangled in our drama. Self and Other fall away and we're connected in this amazing web of, interbeing, citing Thich Nhat Hanh's again.


But also we can see other people suffering. This is the key, in a way. When we're not tangled up in our suffering, we're in the cool part, we're in the shade. When we're practising shila then we can see how other people get red hot because they are tangled up in the repercussions of these actions. And so there's a tenderness towards other people and a lack of judgement of other people because they're in the heat.


the word shila against purple back ground

If you have spent your entire life being mean and angry and harsh and hurting people and sexually abusing people and taking drugs, then your sensibility is probably very blunt. Everything is very blunt and savage, and everything in your being is tied up in this massive knot of narcissistic self-justification and exoneration.


And then it's very hard to get to the place where you even can acknowledge other people's existence. So the notion of feeling someone else's pain is far down the path. And for those sorts of people just recognising that it's simply better to not have all that red hot morass of guilt and self-justification is the first step.


And that's where shila, the first step, basic shila, the basic discipline, can help.


This is what, for example, 12 Steps and AA provide. Life has become unmanageable. And so we put in place these sort of prohibitions: I'm not going to drink, I'm not going to do that, I'm going to be honest about my feelings, I'm going to recognize that I've hurt people and repair.


This is the first step and it's a massive step. And it comes before that sense of just relaxing and feeling, "OK, I'm OK. I can touch other people and connect with other people and recognize there is a world beyond my ego". Which is the transcendental quality that we're always looking at.



Please do come along and join us for the Paramita teachings this winter. We meet on Thursday mornings at 8am UK time for the live session, but if you book the session you will automatically get a recording sent to you by email, so you can catch-up at leisure.


The live sessions are part of the Baobab subscription which also gives you access to the video library, and 15% off all live events.


Please do leave your comments on this post below - I love to hear your thoughts on these things!

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