Beneficial Practice

The wise who live in this world often perform beneficial deeds.

To come to understand yourself is the most beneficial deed of all.

— Dharmapada

The Wise Who Live in This World

This Saha world is built out of the interplay of paired opposites, and thus, it appears to us to be made of halves; half dark, half light, half good, half bad, half wise and half ignorant.

A person who is wise will do his best to bring happiness to those around him. He will work to infuse positive energy into his world and he will be a source of higher awareness whenever he can. In contrast, an ignorant person always wants to do the opposite; he is negative, mean spirited and quick to take delight when things go wrong. Rather than help others, he always wants to hinder them and drag them down to his own low level.

Most people are mixtures of the kinds of energies described above. Once this is understood, one naturally will begin to want to be wiser rather than more ignorant. The greatest wisdom in Buddhism is Prajna wisdom: the wisdom that understands the underlying emptiness of all phenomena, while at the same time understands the need for compassion. One who possesses Prajna wisdom is able to overcome all difficulties. Prajna wisdom leads quickly to enlightenment because it cannot be mired in samsaric duality or in attachment to any illusion.

Often Perform Beneficial Deeds

How is one to attain Prajna wisdom? The Buddhist sutras tell us there are two basic ways:

  1. The first way is the way of the “Three Studies.” These are the study of the precepts of Buddhism, the study of meditation and the study of the principles of Buddhism.

  2. The second way is the way of regularly listening to the Dharma. It is very important to listen often to the Dharma. If someone near you is going to speak on the Dharma, by all means go and listen. Take time to discuss the Dharma with your friends. Think about it, read books about it, study the sutras. Our whole purpose for studying Buddhism is to grow toward higher awareness. Studying the Dharma will result in personal growth. This is why it is so important to keep studying; as we learn and grow, our comprehension of the Dharma actually will change. The Dharma never is the same to the same person at different times because the same person at different times never is the same. One of the most beautiful things about the Dharma is its capacity to yield higher and higher interpretations as our studies progress.

If we are actively reaching out to others and daily reflecting on the Dharma, we can be sure that we are often “performing beneficial deeds,” deeds which benefit both us and others at the same time.

To Come to Understand Yourself

Since the entire cosmos is contained in mind, understanding the mind is the ultimate goal of all truth seekers. Constant effort must be applied to the task. This means that we practice Buddhism all day long every day, wherever we are. This is Humanistic Buddhism. Our minds are stimulated and challenged by other people more than by anything else. Once we recognize this, we will realize that to practice Buddhism apart from other people is to turn away from the very essence of ourselves and of Buddhism. Buddhism is a religion founded on human nature. You will come to understand yourself, ultimately, only through your interactions with other people.

The most basic kinds of wisdom are called the Wisdom Gates. The first Wisdom Gate is the gate that leads to enlightenment of the self. The second Wisdom Gate is the gate that leads to compassion for all other sentient beings.

The wisdom of a Buddha can be described as being perfect, being pure, knowing all things, having limitless compassion and perfect skill to teach others.

The Yogacarabhumi Sastra says, “Perfect wisdom (sarvajna) is never obstructed by anything in any realm, by any event or phenomena, by any thing, or by any time.”

To achieve enlightenment in the bodhi mind, a bodhisattva must practice the Six Paramitas. Among them is the prajna paramita, or the Paramita of Great Wisdom. This paramita is sometimes called “the Mother of all Buddhas” because it is essential to the practice of Buddhism.

Prajna wisdom is of two kinds: common wisdom that is available to all Buddhists and uncommon wisdom that is only realized by the bodhisattva. Uncommon wisdom is the understanding that Buddhism cannot ultimately be practiced for the self alone; it must be shared with others.

Another way of understanding Prajna wisdom is to understand that it is comprised of “the wisdom of this world” and “the wisdom that transcends this world.” The life of the bodhisattva is based on transcendental wisdom and goals, and it is fully informed by both of them. At the same time, however, the bodhisattva does not abandon this world. He lives in it fully and gives the best of himself at all times.

The Most Beneficial Deed of All

To fully achieve prajna wisdom means to realize that the universe is bigger than you are. It is bigger than you and it is you. It is in your head and it transcends everything in your head. Prajna wisdom pervades the entire expanse. There is nothing that escapes its concern or is beneath its concern. There is nothing that is not an intimate part of it. When a practitioner realizes this simple yet overwhelming truth, he immediately will begin to bring enormous benefit to all other sentient beings in the universe. Ships in the sea rise together. Birds learn the air by watching other birds.

The Buddha said: To be generous without the Paramita of Great Wisdom will not help anyone cross to the other shore. If you want to cross to the other shore, you must base your generosity on the Paramita of Great Wisdom. And all of the other Paramitas are the same: diligence, patience, progress, contemplation; all of them must be based on the Paramita of Great Wisdom.

Why is this so? This is so because the Paramita of Great Wisdom alone sees the fundamental equality of all things.

— Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra