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Discipline 2: The Fragrance of Shila

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

This transcript is from our 2nd exploration of the paramita of discipline or in Sankrit, shila.

From the outside, these disciplines, - "don't do this, don't do that, don't do this" - might have a whiff of a Sunday school paramita. There's a Sunday school sense of being told off, being told what to do, the Ten Commandments, etc.

But I think inside all of those rules, especially when you add the paramita of wisdom - that emptiness flavour - then what opens up is a sense of relief, a sense of ease. Being generous, for example, gives a lovely fragrance to your life. Life smells sweeter when you choose the path of generosity.

When you relax into this kind of generosity then there isn't 'me and you', or 'me giving this thing to you', but rather a sort of fragrance, an ambience of giving, of letting go, of easefulness.

The same thing happens here with shila. There's a fragrance of connection and kindness and appreciation. So for example, by not sexually abusing people, the opposite of that is intimacy. It is allowing that person to be a subject along with you. They become an enrichment of the world, of your world.

And similarly, when you choose the path of "I'm not going to kill someone". What's the opposite of killing someone? Loving someone. It's, looking after them, caring. And there is a quality in all of these paramitas that leads you away from focusing on yourself. They're all designed to dissolve this idea that there's a self that needs looking after or a self that you have to be kind to.

Because when you think about it, all of these bad behaviours, all of these unskillful, non-virtuous actions, like gossiping or lying, they all come from a sense of having a self that needs to be protected. I need to kill this person to protect myself, or I need to, lie so that nobody thinks badly of me. But if the whole thing is relaxed, (which is why the emptiness quality is so important), we don't take it all so seriously, we don't build up this big story of me and you and the whole thing becomes lighter. It becomes more in this moment, right now, spontaneous.

And in a way that's the kicker with this morality paramita, which sounds terribly Mosaic and grim, but actually, it's all designed to give you a nice day! It's designed to allow you to be in the world with other beings in the most harmonious, elegant, and beauteous way.

And that is ultimately a benefit to you, but also to other people. You're not being a nuisance to yourself or others, as Trungpa says. But more than that, there's an enrichment that comes from discipline. You're not acting from inside this "me", this self-isolating shell that cries "I have to protect myself, I have to look after myself, I have to push other people away".

You're melting that whole structure of Self and Other, so that it's just the Now. There are just beings and energy in a space. And how can we make that as harmonious and wondrous as possible?

So it's not "Oh now I've been a good person, I'll go to heaven." The heaven opens up right here-and-now because you're being with someone and listening and connecting and enriching yourself. The whole Self and Other thing starts to dissolve the more we step into these paramitas. It's not just morality, but it's this dissolving of Self and Other.

Everything points to the last paramita - the one of wisdom and emptiness - because without that softening of self and other then the whole thing just grinds into more selfishness. So it's important to be playful.

And it's about pleasure. The whole Buddhist path is about enjoyment. Finding a way to live in a world with ease and bliss and happiness, not with suffering. These mindfulness trainings, as Thich Nhat Hanh styles them, they're there to pollinate and enrich our lives rather than being some stern telling off if you get them wrong.

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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