Gail Sher Dharma Talks

Gail Sher • Dharma Talks

Zen and the Six Heroic Practices of Bodhisattvas

Zen and the Six Heroic Practices of Bodhisattvas

In the ninth chapter of the Samdhinirmocana Sutra, the great being, Avalokitesvara is in conversation with the buddha. Avalokitesvara, the embodiment of limitless compassion, asks, “What are the basic types of training for the bodhisattiva?” The buddha answers: There are six: giving, ethical discipline, patience, heroic effort, concentration and wisdom. All the innumerable kinds of training included in these six are called paramitas, which means “going beyond.” These six kinds of practices go beyond themselves and in their fullness constantly transcend themselves. Therefore they are called transcendent practices or perfections.

First Talk: The Six Paramitas

Who engages in the perfections? It is said that those who are a suitable basis for these practices have awakened their “Mahayana disposition”—that is, they have great compassion and deep appreciation and fortitude for the Mahayana Dharma. The Mahayana disposition is awakened before a practitioner generates bodhicitta and enters the bodhisattva path. Probably you wouldn’t be listening to these talks if you didn’t have the Mahayana disposition.

Date/Time: May 7, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Second Talk: The Perfection of Generosity

In the training of generosity we focus on offering our life and practice as a gift. As our practice develops we come to understanding that every arising and ceasing is a gift. But if you have a hard time giving, or opening your heart, you can always start with opening your heart to yourself not opening your heart. When we are generous we become fully grounded, starting with ourselves, in the way things really are.

Date/Time: May 14, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Third Talk: The Perfection of Ethical Discipline

Actually, the shila paramita is thought of as a way of plowing one’s self, making one’s self available to one’s own field, whatever one is doing. We carefully make some tea, pour it into our cup without spilling it, drink it mindfully, and then finish up, leaving no tracks. It has the feel of being “proper,” where “proper” means “in accordance with the laws of nature.”

Date/Time: May 21, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Fourth Talk: The Perfection of Patience

One analogy for patience is the ocean: whatever happens, the ocean cannot be disturbed. It remains the same all the time. Another analogy is that we are willing to wait for the harmoniousness of a situation to arise by not correcting the disharmony. It is like waiting for good weather to happen. Picture yourself staring out the window on a rainy day. That’s patience on a feeling level.

Date/Time: May 28, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Fifth Talk: The Perfection of Heroic Effort

There is delight in our work, large-scale, fearless, single-minded zeal.

Date/Time: June 4, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Sixth Talk: Introduction to the JATAKA TALE

After his Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, Gotama Buddha was able to remember all his previous lifetimes. During the forty years the Buddha taught, he frequently referred to experiences in those earlier lives and he told stories from them to illustrate various points of Dharma and to encourage his followers to practice diligently. In these stories, called Jatakas, the Bodhisatta is seen cultivating the Six Perfections or Paramitas. These are the qualities which must be fulfilled by every Bodhisatva in the course of his spiritual development.

Date/Time: June 11, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Seventh Talk: The Perfection of Concentration

In the Lotus Sutra the Buddha says, “I am always thinking.” The Buddha is thinking, “How may I lead all living beings to enter the Unexcelled Path and quickly to perfect the Buddha-body.” This discursive thought is always present in Buddha’s deep tranquility without disturbing it. Buddhas may think, “May all beings be happy,” and “May all beings quickly enter the buddha way,” but they don’t grasp those thoughts. Instead they offer them as gifts.

Date/Time: June 18, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes

Eighth Talk: The Perfection of Wisdom

Each person practicing zazen, truly forgetting his self and settling into his position, working at eliminating delusion, will surely succeed. (from The Heart Sutra)

Date/Time: June 25, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Duration: 60 minutes