This week we discussed the sixth Paramita, Prajna, which translates as the wisdom to deeply understand the nature of all things. Tesshin mentioned that in Zen Jhana (concentration) and Prajna (wisdom) are deeply interrelated. This should come as no surprise as the very center of our practice is Zazen which develops the mind for deep concentration. When we are in deep concentration the state of Prajna is naturally present.
Tesshin went on to reinforce the fact that all of the paramitas work as a single unity. For instance, when practicing Dana with Prajna is one really being generous? If one truly realizes the true nature of reality, then there is really nothing to give and no one to receive. What is really happening is simply the skillful actions of life. We need the paramita of Dana to guide us because we are not totally realized and thus our unskillful mental states interfere with what should be a natural action. It is the same with the paramita of ethics. In the beginning we “think” a lot about the rules and break down our behavior into good and bad. However, in a state a Prajna, it is understood that all of these rules, regulations, principles are simple discriminations that the mind plays with. Ethics in a state of Prajna is understood to flow from the pure nature of reality. Ideally, we must do the things we do because of our deep abiding nature.
Tesshin then asked why do we discuss and study the paramitas if the words are nothing more than delusions distracting us from the absolute “suchness” of our existence. Here Tesshin was clear – the paramitas are the path of the bodhisattvas. However, remember that a bodhisattva is not the buddha. The state of Buddhahood is pure Prajna. The state of the bodhisattva is being in this world – we are on the bodhisattva path so we live in the world of samsara – thus the paramitas serve as a tool for our aspiration towards pure awakening.
All mystical traditions have the concept of Jhana and Prajna. These are commonly called “spiritual states.” Many of these traditions have elaborate rituals to enter and maintain this state, however if we look deeply, they all teach to bring the mind into the present and to eliminate distractions. For Zen, we have Zazen which places emphasis on something we all do – breathe. This stress on the breath connects us with all the Buddhas and Patriarchs throughout space and time. Everyone breathes, so everyone can generate Jhana and Prajna.
Tesshin wrapped up by reminding us that the goal of the major Zen schools (Soto and Rinzai) is to strip away the complexity of the spiritual path into the crucible of mental clarity. In Soto we practice “just sitting.” Here the challenge is to see if we can exist in absolute reality right here and right now on this very cushion. In Rinzai, we are mandated to solve a puzzle with no solution. We use every mental faculty at our disposal in a futile attempt to solve. At some point, the mind melts down and all that is left is pure existence. Different approaches lead to the same outcome Prajna.