Awakin.org

Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

On Perfection and Priority

--by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Jun 04, 2012)


Determination seems to underlie all the perfections [of the mind]. There are four aspects to determination. You use your discernment to decide what you want to accomplish, to see how it best might be accomplished, and then you stick with it. To stick with it requires truthfulness, which doesn't mean just telling the truth; it means that once you've made up your mind, you really stick with what you've decided to do. You're true to yourself. You're not a traitor to yourself. That's what'll see you through.
 
This is going to involve some renunciation and require that you develop a sense of calm within the renunciation, because there are many possible pleasures in this life. If you try to gather up all of them, you go crazy. Once a year I head up to the Bay Area, where there are still traces of the human potential movement. There's a strong sense up there that you can and should actualize your full potential as a human being by striving for excellence in all areas of your life: becoming physically strong and healthy, mentally sharp, artistically creative, socially enlightened, sexually active, politically active, spiritually advanced. People rarely stop to consider that excellence in one area might actually cancel out or preclude excellence in another. In the back of their minds, there's always the thought, "Well, if I'm not happy, it's because I'm not trying hard enough in every possible direction." That's crazy-making. You've got to focus on what's really worthwhile in life, which means resisting a lot of the currents in our culture, because our culture seems to be all about distraction in all directions — or as someone once put it, "discursive noise." [...]
 
Priority. That's one of the possible meanings of the word parami, which is usually translated as "perfection." Parami is one of those words that nobody really knows why it was chosen or what it means. It doesn't appear in any of the Buddha's own teachings, but was a later development in the tradition. One of the possible meanings of parami is related to parama, which means to be foremost. And the idea of "foremost" can be understood in two ways: One is that you try to become really excellent and foremost in these particular qualities of the mind; and, two, you want to give them top priority, make them foremost in your life. [...]
 
So remember as you meditate, it's not just a matter of following a technique. You have to apply yourself fully. You have to give your whole heart to this. And as you give your whole heart, your heart gains wholeness. When you give questions of the wise heart top priority, the heart does become excellent.
 
--Thanissaro Bhikkhu


Add Your Reflection:

Send me an email when another comment is posted on this passage.
Name: Email:

10 Previous Reflections:

 
On Sep 3, 2012 Swamy Vigyananand wrote:
I think that 'to actualize your full potential as a human being by striving for excellence in all areas of your life: becoming physically strong and healthy, mentally sharp, artistically creative, socially enlightened, sexually active, politically aware (& not to get sucked into spiritual-ritual-superstition) are all really worthwhile in life.
These are also my priorities in life.

Thousands of Bhikkhus wasted millions of man-hours 'scratching rocks in the shape of Buddha, who denounced idolatry! They begged for their food and wasted their life 'applying themselves fully [to the rock!], giving whole heart in wasteful endeavours and also 'following a technique' ('scratching rocks in the shape of Buddha).

I don't want to waste my only life like this. Organized beggary is not my priority.

On Aug 11, 2012 Jamie Chaney wrote:

 My top priority in life is daily meditation.  It's a simple goal to attain and the fruit from attaining it daily is so sweet.  Daily meditation brings inner peace, which in turn yields love for others, while providing energy to be fully present with others and  to perform my daily tasks well(work, social, etc..) and in the spirit of service.   I've chosen to make a strong determination for one year to meditate daily , 2 hours a day, morning and evening.  I made this decision for the benefit of myself and it has become a natural part of my life.  I must admit that it is easier for me since I've also chosen to surround myself with other people with the same goal.  I live with two other men that meditate daily and we also provide space for couchsurfers who meditate to come spend some time with us.  I think that by being of service in this way also gives us residual energy and more of a love to meditate.   Life happ  See full.

 My top priority in life is daily meditation.  It's a simple goal to attain and the fruit from attaining it daily is so sweet.  Daily meditation brings inner peace, which in turn yields love for others, while providing energy to be fully present with others and  to perform my daily tasks well(work, social, etc..) and in the spirit of service.  

I've chosen to make a strong determination for one year to meditate daily , 2 hours a day, morning and evening.  I made this decision for the benefit of myself and it has become a natural part of my life.  I must admit that it is easier for me since I've also chosen to surround myself with other people with the same goal.  I live with two other men that meditate daily and we also provide space for couchsurfers who meditate to come spend some time with us.  I think that by being of service in this way also gives us residual energy and more of a love to meditate.  

Life happens everyday and sometimes it's important to be flexible.  If I can't meditate for a solid hour, I break it up into intervals when I can.  If I am falling asleep because I"ve worked hard or ate too late at night, I just do my best.  Sometimes it's sleepitation and that's okay too.  The most important thing is to not be hard on yourself.  I love myself and understand that I am human and bound for imperfection on a daily basis, and understanding this brings peace.

I was an addict to drugs and alcohol and I found that meditation brought me out of these cravings.  However, because of the neurological pathways I've created from using drugs/alcohol so many times, the cravings were still there.  I noticed that when I meditated twice a day, I gained enough equanimity to make it through the day, day by day, without giving in to cravings.  When I compromise my priority and didn't meditate, the cravings would return.  After compromising once, it became easy to compromise again and again until I wasn't meditating at all.  

I started drinking again.  Thankfully, because of my experiences with meditation in the past, I understood what I needed to do, which was go to the meditation center and sit a 10 day course in vipassana meditation.  After I did this, I decided to volunteer at the center and serve others that were meditating for about 25 days.  I built strength and gained an unstoppable momentum ( unstoppable if I continued to meditate at home).   I came home with a strong determination that I would meditate daily for 2 hours.  I also organized my personal life around this goal and serving my community.  I've maintained this goal and I find wholeness and a peace so deep that I have to share with others.  

In service and compassion,

Jamie Chaney


Hide full comment.

On Jun 8, 2012 shilpa vindrani wrote:
 Top priority in life should be in the happiness of those who loves you the most and who truely needs you...

On Jun 5, 2012 Marli wrote:
it's interesting that the word PARAMI means FOR ME in Portuguese (my language). So, focus in your heart and what matters for your own heart. 

On Jun 5, 2012 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
 Mt priorities have been changing as I have been going through varied developmental tasks in my life. For the last two years the topmost priority in my life is to take care of my wife who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. I know fully well that my equally important priority is to keep myself well as a care taker for taking care of my wife. I do not see and experience these two priorities as opposite of each other. In fact, they go hand in hand, they flow into each other. It is expereincing oneness in apparently different  "twoness" or" manyness". When I am fully present and attentive in doing what I do lovingly, my action is parama, excellent. It is an inner state  in which the doer, the deed and the doing become one. Then sitting by the river, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself. Namaste.

Jagdish P Dave

On Jun 3, 2012 David Doane wrote:
 I would like for my top priority in life to be happiness, but I think the truth is that my top priority is some combination that involves doing what seems right for me and for others while making an income and maintaining a home and staying close to my family and having some fun.  I stay determined to cultivate that priority probably by my upbringing plus my development over the years.  Some parts of that priority deliver wholeness, and some deliver completion of my duties which don't always take me toward wholeness.  One or my important priorities is to be open to the possibilities of life and avoid rigidity, and that doesn't take determination, it takes allowing me to use some time being that way, and that does deliver wholeness.  Writing this reflection is an experience in following my priorities, it is a moderate challenge, and for me is enhancing   wholeness.

On Jun 1, 2012 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:

 Thank you for the opportunity to respond. This is an experiment. I thought I would answer the suggested questions before I read the article and then respond again after a read the article.  My top priority in life is to be nobody, going nowhere.  I do not see a way to wholeness.  I see wholeness as the way.  Not being a separate person seems to include more wholeness.  I have difficulty avoiding rigidity and I don't know how I will do it.  When I'm a separate me, I am rigid.  Meditation and reading about Zen Buddhism has helped me want to be no one, going nowhere.  The problem is that I still am a separate me who does that wanting.  Perhaps if I accept that wanting in a compassionate manner, I will be more whole.  My response after reading is similar to my response before the reading. Not knowing this or that seems to be helpful to me. Being in the present helps me stick with "it" since there is nothing but the p  See full.

 Thank you for the opportunity to respond. This is an experiment. I thought I would answer the suggested questions before I read the article and then respond again after a read the article.  My top priority in life is to be nobody, going nowhere.  I do not see a way to wholeness.  I see wholeness as the way.  Not being a separate person seems to include more wholeness.  I have difficulty avoiding rigidity and I don't know how I will do it.  When I'm a separate me, I am rigid.  Meditation and reading about Zen Buddhism has helped me want to be no one, going nowhere.  The problem is that I still am a separate me who does that wanting.  Perhaps if I accept that wanting in a compassionate manner, I will be more whole.  My response after reading is similar to my response before the reading. Not knowing this or that seems to be helpful to me. Being in the present helps me stick with "it" since there is nothing but the present. Warm and kind regards to everyone.

 
 
 

Hide full comment.

On May 22, 2012 David Doane wrote:

 As I read this piece, I recalled Barry Stevens' saying that happiness is allowing the happenings to happen.  That definition applies to the kind of perfection that I most value, though I only live a small portion of the time.  There are at least two kinds of perfection.  There is the kind of perfection that comes from practicing a skill to the point of doing it perfectly, and that takes determination, stick-to-itiveness, striving, being goal directed.  There is also the kind of perfection that comes from allowing me to be, being present, goallessly allowing what's happening within me and probably without me to happen.  That second kind of perfection is of most value to me these days, and is top priority in my thinking, although I have spent and still spend more time doing the first kind of perfection.  I stay determined to cultivate that priority by reminding myself how important it is, and I cultivate that priority by spending minutes here a  See full.

 As I read this piece, I recalled Barry Stevens' saying that happiness is allowing the happenings to happen.  That definition applies to the kind of perfection that I most value, though I only live a small portion of the time.  There are at least two kinds of perfection.  There is the kind of perfection that comes from practicing a skill to the point of doing it perfectly, and that takes determination, stick-to-itiveness, striving, being goal directed.  There is also the kind of perfection that comes from allowing me to be, being present, goallessly allowing what's happening within me and probably without me to happen.  That second kind of perfection is of most value to me these days, and is top priority in my thinking, although I have spent and still spend more time doing the first kind of perfection.  I stay determined to cultivate that priority by reminding myself how important it is, and I cultivate that priority by spending minutes here and there allowing the happenings to happen. 

Hide full comment.

On May 21, 2012 Chris wrote:

I believe that perfection and priority are both distractions and divisive qualities/judgements of a fractured thought process.  They both come from the mindset of imperfection and weakness.  I much prefer to value my mind as a fully functioning miracle that has the potential of revealing to me the peace, joy and love of life when I stop, observe and listen to the stillness of the presence that is constantly around me.  We no longer are willing to allow ourselves the freedom to experience this gift.  Instead we are constantly caught up in striving, organizing, competing and imagining that we are in control of the world around us....what a waste.  We never arrive, we never achieve perfection and our priorities are constantly updated in a frenzy to become acceptable..I am saddened when I see&  See full.

I believe that perfection and priority are both distractions and divisive qualities/judgements of a fractured thought process.  They both come from the mindset of imperfection and weakness.  I much prefer to value my mind as a fully functioning miracle that has the potential of revealing to me the peace, joy and love of life when I stop, observe and listen to the stillness of the presence that is constantly around me.  We no longer are willing to allow ourselves the freedom to experience this gift.  Instead we are constantly caught up in striving, organizing, competing and imagining that we are in control of the world around us....what a waste.  We never arrive, we never achieve perfection and our priorities are constantly updated in a frenzy to become acceptable..I am saddened when I see so many spiritually deprived people struggling for more in this ego driven world.   

Hide full comment.

On May 19, 2012 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:

 Most often I agree with Thannisaro, but today I disagree, surprisingly, with his "now" which he seems to want to remain the same even when a new "now" appears. I have never been perfect in anything nor do I expect I ever will be.   This lack of striving for perfection helps me be good at times. Paradoxically, for me, I am most perfect when I don't strive for perfection.  My not striving tends to permit me to be more peaceful than when I  unpeacefully strive.  I imagine it is possible to strive peacefully however. Also paradoxically, I do believe that it takes great effort to live effortlessly. I would rather use the word "intention" than determination.  If I intend to stay in the present and notice when I am not, I can more easily move to the present.   William Penn's idea, which I have great admiration for even though I don't practice it often, is: "I will pass this way but once, any good, the  See full.

 Most often I agree with Thannisaro, but today I disagree, surprisingly, with his "now" which he seems to want to remain the same even when a new "now" appears. I have never been perfect in anything nor do I expect I ever will be.   This lack of striving for perfection helps me be good at times. Paradoxically, for me, I am most perfect when I don't strive for perfection.  My not striving tends to permit me to be more peaceful than when I  unpeacefully strive.  I imagine it is possible to strive peacefully however. Also paradoxically, I do believe that it takes great effort to live effortlessly. I would rather use the word "intention" than determination.  If I intend to stay in the present and notice when I am not, I can more easily move to the present.   William Penn's idea, which I have great admiration for even though I don't practice it often, is: "I will pass this way but once, any good, therefore, that I may do, or any kindness that I may show to any human being, let me do it now.  Let me not defer nor neglected for shall not pass this way again." I interpret "passing by this way but once" as one of the series of "nows."  Francis of Assisi had a great idea when he said it is better to console, rather than seeking to be consoled.  Thanks for the opportunity to respond.  Woman kind regards to everyone.

Hide full comment.