The Six Paramitas

The Six Paramitas are a teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. Paramita can be translated as "perfection" or "perfect realization." The Chinese character used for paramita Pmeans "crossing over to the other shore," which is the shore of peace, non-fear, and liberation. The practice of the paramitas can be the practice of our daily lives. We are on the shore of suffering, anger, and depression, and we want to cross over to the shore of wellbeing. To cross over, we have to do something, and that is called paramita. We return to ourselves and practice mindful breathing, looking at our suffering, anger, and depression, and smile. Doing this, we overcome our pain and cross over. We can practice "perfection" every day.

Every time you take one mindful step, you have a chance to go from the land of sorrow to the land of joy. The Pure Land is available right here and now. The Kingdom of God is a seed in us. If we know how to plant that seed in moist soil, it will become a tree, and birds will come and take refuge. Please practice crossing over to the other shore whenever you feel the need. The Buddha said, "Don't just hope for the other shore to come to you. If you want to cross over to the other shore, the shore of safety, well-being, non-fear, and non-anger, you have to swim or row across. You have to make an effort." This effort is the practice of the Six Paramitas.

The Six Paramitas

(1) dana paramita – giving, offering, generosity.

(2) shila paramita – precepts or mindfulness

( 3 ) kshanti paramita – inclusiveness, the
capacity to receive, bear, and transform the pain
inflicted on you by your enemies and also by those
who love you.

( 4 ) virya paramita – diligence, energy,

(5) dhyana paramita – meditation.

( 6 ) prajña paramita – wisdom, insight,

Practicing the Six Paramitas helps us to reach the other shore — the shore of freedom, harmony, and good relationships.

The first practice of crossing over is the perfection of giving, dana paramita. To give means first of all to offer joy, happiness, and love. There is a plant, well-known in Asia — it is a member of the onion family, and it is delicious in soup, fried rice, and omelets — that grows back in less than twenty-four hours every time you cut it. And the more you cut it, the bigger and stronger it grows. This plant represents dana paramita. We don't keep anything for ourselves. We only want to give. When we give, the other person might become happy, but it is certain that we become happy. In many stories of the Buddha's former lives, he practices dana paramita.

The greatest gift we can offer anyone is our true presence. A young boy I know was asked by his father, "What would you like for your birthday?" The boy hesitated. His father was wealthy and could give him anything he wanted. But his father spent so much time making money that he was rarely at home. So the boy said, "Daddy, I want you!" The message was clear. If you love someone, you have to produce your true presence for him or for her. When you give that gift, you receive, at the same time, the gift of joy. Learn how to produce your true presence by practicing meditation. Breathing mindfully, you bring body and mind together. "Darling, I am here for you" is a mantra you can say when you practice this paramita. What else can we give? Our stability. "Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain. Breathing out, I feel solid." The person we love needs us to be solid and stable. We can cultivate our stability by breathing in and out, practicing mindful walking, mindful sitting, and enjoy living deeply in every moment. Solidity is one of the characteristics of nirvana.

What else can we offer? Our freedom. Happiness is not possible unless we are free from afflictions — craving, anger, jealousy, despair, fear, and wrong perceptions. Freedom is one of the characteristics of nirvana. Some kinds of happiness actually destroy our body, our mind, and our relationships. Freedom from craving is an important practice. Look deeply into the nature of what you think will bring you happiness and see whether it is, in fact, causing those you love to suffer. You have to know this if you want to be truly free. Come back to the present moment, and touch the wonders of life that are available. There are so many wholesome things that can make us happy right now, like the beautiful sunrise, the blue sky, the mountains, the rivers, and all the lovely faces around us.

What else can we give? Our freshness. "Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh." You can breathe in and out three times and restore your flowerness right away. What a gift!

What else can we offer? Peace. It is wonderful to sit near someone who is peaceful. We benefit from her peace. "Breathing in, I see myself as still water. Breathing out, I reflect things as they are." We can offer those we love our peace and lucidity. What else can we offer? Space. The person we love needs space in order to be happy. In a flower arrangement, each flower needs space around it in order to radiate its true beauty. A person is like a flower. Without space within and around her, she cannot be happy. We cannot buy these gifts at the market. We have to produce them through our practice. And the more we offer, the more we have. When the person we love is happy, happiness comes back to us right away. We give to her, but we are giving to ourselves at the same time.

Giving is a wonderful practice. The Buddha said that when you are angry at someone, if you have tried everything and still feel angry, practice dana paramita. When we are angry, our tendency is to punish the other person. But when we do, there is only an escalation of the suffering. The Buddha proposed that instead, you send her a gift. When you feel angry, you won't want to go out and buy a gift, so take the opportunity now to prepare the gift while you are not angry. Then, when all else fails, go and mail that gift to her, and amazingly, you'll feel better right away. The same is true for nations. For Israel to have peace and security, the Israelis have to find ways to ensure peace and security for the Palestinians. And for the Palestinians to have peace and security, they also have to find ways to ensure peace and security for the Israelis. You get what you offer. Instead of trying to punish the other person, offer him exactly what he needs. The practice of giving can bring you to the shore of well-being very quickly. When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That is the message he is sending. If you are able to see that, offer him what he needs — relief. Happiness and safety are not an individual matter. His happiness and safety are crucial for your happiness and safety. Wholeheartedly wish him happiness and safety, and you will be happy and safe also.

What else can we offer? Understanding. Understanding is the flower of practice. Focus your concentrated attention on one object, look deeply into it, and you'll have insight and understanding. When you offer others your understanding, they will stop suffering right away. The first petal of the flower of the paramitas is dana paramita, the practice of giving. What you give is what you receive, more quickly than the signals sent by satellite. Whether you give your presence, your stability, your freshness, your solidity, your freedom, or your understanding, your gift can work a miracle. Dana paramita is the practice of love.

The second practice is the perfection of the precepts, or mindfulness trainings, shila paramita. The Five Mindfulness Trainings help protect our body, mind, family, and society. The First Mindfulness Training is about protecting the lives of human beings, animals, vegetables, and minerals. To protect other beings is to protect ourselves. The second is to prevent the exploitation by humans of other living beings and of nature. It is also the practice of generosity. The third is to protect children and adults from sexual abuse, to preserve the happiness of individuals and families. Too many families have been broken by sexual misconduct. When you practice the Third Mindfulness Training, you protect yourself and you protect families and couples. You help other people feel safe. The Fourth Mindfulness Training is to practice deep listening and loving speech. The Fifth Mindfulness Training is about mindful consumption.

The practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings is a form of love, and a form of giving. It assures the good health and protection of our family and society. Shila paramita is a great gift that we can make to our society, our family, and to those we love. The most precious gift we can offer our society is to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we protect ourselves and the people we love. When we practice shila paramita, we offer the precious gift of life. Let us look deeply together into the causes of our suffering, individually and collectively. If we do, I am confident we will see that the Five Mindfulness Trainings are the correct medicine for the malaise of our times. Every tradition has the equivalent of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Every time I see someone receive and practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings, I feel so happy — for him, his family, and also for myself— because I know that the Five Mindfulness Trainings are the most concrete way to practice mindfulness. We need a Sangha around us in order to practice them deeply.

The third petal of the flower is inclusiveness, kshanti paramita. Inclusiveness is the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. Kshanti is often translated as patience or forbearance, but I believe "inclusiveness" better conveys the Buddha's teaching. When we practice inclusiveness, we don't have to suffer or forbear, even when we have to embrace suffering and injustice. The other person says or does something that makes us angry. He inflicts on us some kind of injustice. But if our heart is large enough, we don't suffer.

The Buddha offered this wonderful image. If you take a handful of salt and pour it into a small bowl of water, the water in the bowl will be too salty to drink. But if you pour the same amount of salt into a large river, people will still be able to drink the river's water. (Remember, this teaching was offered 2,600 years ago, when it was still possible to drink from rivers!) Because of its immensity, the river has the capacity to receive and transform. The river doesn't suffer at all because of a handful of salt. If your heart is small, one unjust word or act will make you suffer. But if your heart is large, if you have understanding and compassion, that word or deed will not have the power to make you suffer. You will be able to receive, embrace, and transform it in an instant. What counts here is your capacity. To transform your suffering, your heart has to be as big as the ocean. Someone else might suffer. But if a bodhisattva receives the same unkind words, she won't suffer at all. It depends on your way of receiving, embracing, and transforming. If you keep your pain for too long, it is because you have not yet learned the practice of inclusiveness.

When Rahula, the Buddha's son, was eighteen, the Buddha delivered to him a wonderful Dharma talk on how to practice inclusiveness. Shariputra, Rahula's tutor, was there, and he listened and absorbed that teaching, also. Then, twelve years later, Shariputra had the chance to repeat this teaching to the full assembly of monks and nuns. It was the day after the completion of the three month rainy-season retreat, and every monk was getting ready to leave the compound and go off in the ten directions to offer the teachings to others. At that time, one monk reported to the Buddha, "My Lord, this morning as Venerable Shariputra was leaving, I asked him where he was heading, and instead of answering my question, he pushed me to the ground and did not even say, 'I'm sorry.'" The Buddha asked Ananda, "Has Shariputra gone far yet?" and Ananda said, "No, Lord, he left just an hour ago." So the Buddha asked a novice to find Shariputra and invite him to come back. When the novice brought Shariputra back, Ananda summoned all the monks who were still there to gather. Then, the Buddha stepped into the hall and asked Shariputra formally, "Shariputra, is it true that this morning when you were going out of the monastery, a brother of yours wanted to ask you a question and you did not answer him? Is it true that instead you pushed him to the ground and didn't even say you were sorry?" Thereupon, Shariputra answered the Buddha, in front of all his fellow monks and nuns:

"Lord, I remember the discourse you gave twelve years ago to Bhikshu Rahula, when he was eighteen years old. You taught him to contemplate the nature of earth, water, fire, and air in order to nourish and develop the virtues of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Although your teaching was directed to Rahula, I also learned from it, and I have tried to observe and practice that teaching.

"Lord, I have tried to practice like the earth. The earth is wide and open and has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. Whether people toss pure and fragrant substances such as flowers, perfume, or fresh milk upon the earth, or toss unclean and foul-smelling substances like excrement, urine, blood, mucus, and spit upon the earth, the earth receives them all equally, without grasping or aversion. No matter what you throw into the earth, the earth has the power to receive, embrace, and transform it. I try my best to practice like earth, to receive without resisting, complaining, or suffering.

"Lord, I practice mindfulness and loving kindness. A monk who does not practice mindfulness of the body in the body, of the actions of the body in the actions of the body, could knock down a fellow monk and leave him lying there without apologizing. But it is not my way to be rude to a fellow monk, to push him to the ground and walk on without apologizing.

"Lord, I have learned the lesson you offered to Rahula to practice like the water. Whether someone pours a fragrant substance or an unclean substance into the water, the water receives them all equally without grasping or aversion. Water is immense and flowing and has the capacity to receive, contain, transform, and purify all these things. I have tried my best to practice like water. A monk who does not practice mindfulness, who does not practice becoming like water, might push a fellow monk to the ground and go on his way without saying 'I'm sorry.' I am not such a monk.

"My Lord, I have practiced to be more like fire. Fire burns everything, the pure as well as the impure, the beautiful as well as the distasteful, without grasping or aversion. If you throw flowers or silk into it, it burns. If you throw old cloth and other foul-smelling things into it, the fire will accept and burn everything. It does not discriminate. Why? Because fire can receive consume, and burn everything offered to it. I have tried to practice like fire. I am able to burn the things that are negative in order to transform them. A monk who does not practice mindfulness of looking, listening, and contemplating might push a fellow monk to the ground and go on without apologizing. Lord, I am not such a monk.

"Lord, I have tried to practice to be more like air. The air carries all smells, good and bad, without grasping or aversion. The air has the capacity to transform, purify, and release. Lord Buddha, I have contemplated the body in the body, the movement of the body in the movement of the body, the positions of the body in the positions of the body, the feelings in the feelings, and the mind in the mind. A monk who does not practice mindfulness might push a fellow monk to the ground and go on without apologizing. I am not such a monk.

"My Lord, I am like an untouchable child with nothing to wear, with no title or any medal to put on my tattered cloth. I have tried to practice humility, because I know that humility has the power to transform. I have tried to learn every day. A monk who does not practice mindfulness can push a fellow monk to the ground and go on without apologizing. My Lord, I am not such a monk."

Shariputra continued to deliver his "Lion's Roar," but the other monk could stand it no longer, and he bared his right shoulder, knelt down, and begged for forgiveness. "Lord, I have transgressed the Vinaya (rules of monastic discipline). Out of anger and jealousy, I told a lie to discredit my elder brother in the Dharma. I beg the community to allow me to practice Beginning Anew." In front of the Buddha and the whole Sangha, he prostrated three times to Shariputra. When Shariputra saw his brother prostrating, he bowed and said, "I have not been skillful enough, and that is why I have created misunderstanding. I am co-responsible for this, and I beg my brother monk to forgive me." Then he prostrated three times to the other monk, and they reconciled. Ananda asked Shariputra to stay for a cup of tea before starting off on his journey again. To suppress our pain is not the teaching of inclusiveness. We have to receive it, embrace it, and transform it. The only way to do this is to make our heart big. We look deeply in order to understand and forgive. Otherwise we will be caught in anger and hatred, and think that we will feel better only after we punish the other person. Revenge is an unwholesome nutriment. The intention to help others is a wholesome nutriment. To practice kshanti paramita, we need the other paramitas. If our practice of inclusiveness does not bear the marks of understanding, giving, and meditation, we are just trying to suppress our pain and drive it down to the bottom of our consciousness. This is dangerous. That kind of energy will blow up later and destroy ourselves and others. If you practice deep looking, your heart will grow without limits, and you will suffer less.

The first disciple I ordained was a monk named Thich Nhât Tri. Brother Nhât Tri went with Sister Chân Không and me on many missions to rescue flood victims in central Vietnam, and he spent many months in a poor hamlet because I had asked him to. We were setting up the School of Youth for Social Service, and we needed to learn the real situation of the people in the rural areas. We wanted to find ways to apply nonviolence and loving kindness to help poor people improve their standard of living. It was a beautiful movement for social improvement. Eventually, we had 10,000 workers. The communists said our Buddhist movement was pro-American, and the mass media said that we Buddhist monks were disguised communists trying to arrange a communist takeover. We were just trying to be ourselves, not aligned with any warring party. In 1967, Brother Nhât Tri and seven other social workers were kidnapped by a group on the extreme right, and he has not been heard from since then.

One day, Nhât Tri was walking on the streets of Saigon, when an American soldier standing on a military truck spit on his head. Brother Nhât Tri came home and cried and cried. Being a young man, he was tempted to fight back, and so I held him in my arms for half an hour in order to transform that feeling of being deeply hurt. I said, "My child, you were not born to hold a gun. You were born to be a monk, and your power is the power of understanding and love. The American soldier considered you to be his enemy. That was a wrong perception of his. We need 'soldiers' who can go to the front armed only with understanding and love." He stayed on with the School of Youth for Social Service. Then he was kidnapped and probably killed. Thich Nhât Tri is a big brother of the monks and nuns at Plum Village. His handwriting looked almost exactly like mine. And he wrote beautiful songs for buffalo boys to sing in the countryside. How can we wash away that kind of injustice? How can we transform the injustice received by whole nations? Cambodians, Bosnians, Palestinians, Israelis, Tibetans, all of us suffer from injustice and intolerance. Instead of being brothers and sisters to each other, we aim guns at each other. When we are overtaken by anger, we think that the only response is to punish the other person. The fire of anger continues to burn in us, and it continues to burn our brothers and sisters. This is the situation of the world, and it is why deep looking is needed to help us understand that all of us are victims.

I told Brother Nhât Tri, "If you were born into a family along the coast of New Jersey or California and if you read the kinds of newspapers and magazine articles that those soldiers read, you would also believe that all Buddhist monks are communists, and you would spit on the head of a monk, too." I told him that American G.I.s were trained to look on all Vietnamese as enemies. They were sent here to kill or be killed. They are victims, just like the Vietnamese soldiers and Vietnamese civilians. The ones who hold the guns and shoot at us, the one who spit at you, they are not the makers of the war. The war makers are in comfortable offices in Beijing, Moscow, and Washington, D.C. It was a wrong policy born of a wrong understanding. When I went to Washington in 1966, I met with Robert McNamara, and what I told him about the nature of war was entirely true. Half a year later, he resigned as Secretary of Defense, and recently he wrote a book and confessed that the war in Vietnam was a terrible mistake. Perhaps I helped plant some seeds of understanding in him.

A wrong perception was responsible for a wrong policy, and a wrong policy was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of American and Vietnamese soldiers, and several million Vietnamese civilians. The people in the countryside could not understand why they had to die like that, why the bombs had to fall on them day and night. I was sleeping in my room close to the Buddha Hall on the School of Youth for Social Service campus when a rocket was fired into that hall. I could have been killed. If you nourish your hatred and your anger, you burn yourself. Understanding is the only way out. If you understand, you will suffer less, and you will know how to get to the root of injustice. The Buddha said that if one arrow strikes you, you'll suffer. But if a second arrow hits you in the same spot, you'll suffer one hundred times more. When you are a victim of injustice, if you get angry, you will suffer one hundred times more. When you have some pain in your body, breathe in and out and say to yourself, "It is only a physical pain." If you imagine that it is cancer and that you will die very soon, your pain will be one hundred times worse. Fear or hatred, born of ignorance, amplifies your pain. Prajña paramita is the savior. If you know how to see things as themselves and not more than that, you can survive.

I love the Vietnamese people, and I tried my best to help them during the war. But I also saw the American boys in Vietnam as victims. I did not look at them with rancor, and I suffered much less. This is the kind of suffering many of us have overcome, and the teaching is born out of that suffering, not from academic studies. I survived for Brother Nhât Tri and for so many others who died in order to bring the message of forgiveness, love, and understanding. I share this so they will not have died in vain.

Please practice deep looking, and you will suffer much less from disease, injustice, or the small pains within you. Deep looking leads to understanding, and understanding always leads to love and acceptance. When your baby is sick, of course you do your best to help him. But you also know that a baby has to be sick a number of times in order to get the immunity he needs. You know that you can survive, too, because you have developed antibodies. Don't worry. "Perfect health" is just an idea. Learn to live in peace with whatever ailments you have. Try to transform them, but don't suffer too much.

During his lifetime, the Buddha suffered too. There were plots to compete with him and even to kill him. One time, when he had a wound in his leg and people tried to help him, he said it was only a small wound, and he did his best to minimize the pain. Another time, five hundred of his monks went off to set up an alternative Sangha, and he took it very much in stride. Finally, the difficulties were overcome.

The Buddha gave very concrete teachings on how to develop inclusiveness — maitri (love), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy), and upeksha (equanimity).

If you practice these Four Immeasurable Minds, you will have a huge heart. Because bodhisattvas have great compassion, they have the capacity of receiving, embracing, and transforming. Because they have great understanding, they don't have to suffer. This is a great gift for the world and for the people we love.

The fourth petal of the flower is virya paramita, the perfection of diligence, energy, or continuous practice. The Buddha said that in the depth of our store consciousness, alayavijñana, there are all kinds of positive and negative seeds — seeds of anger, delusion, and fear, and seeds of understanding, compassion, and forgiveness. Many of these seeds have been transmitted to us by our ancestors. We should learn to recognize every one of these seeds in us in order to practice diligence. If it is a negative seed, the seed of an affliction like anger, fear, jealousy, or discrimination, we should refrain from allowing it to be watered in our daily life. Every time such a seed is watered, it will manifest on the upper level of our consciousness, and we will suffer and make the people we love suffer at the same time. The practice is to refrain from watering the negative seeds in us.

We also recognize the negative seeds in the people we love and try our best not to water them. If we do, they will be very unhappy, and we will be unhappy, also. This is the practice of "selective watering." If you want to be happy, avoid watering your own negative seeds and ask others not to water those seeds in you. Also, avoid watering the negative seeds in others.

We also try to recognize the positive seeds that are in us and to live our daily life in a way that we can touch them and help them manifest on the upper level of our consciousness, manovijñana. Every time they manifest and stay on the upper level of our consciousness for a while, they grow stronger. If the positive seeds in us grow stronger day and night, we will be happy and we will make the people we love happy. Recognize the positive seeds in the person you love, water those seeds, and he will become much happier. In Plum Village, we practice "flower watering," recognizing the best seeds in others and watering them. Whenever you have time, please water the seeds that need to be watered. It is a wonderful and very pleasant practice of diligence, and it brings immediate results.

Imagine a circle divided in two. Below is the store consciousness and above is mind consciousness. All mental formations lie deep down in our store consciousness. Every seed in our store consciousness can be touched and manifests itself on the upper level, namely our mind consciousness. Continued practice means trying our best not to allow the negative seeds in our store consciousness to be touched in our daily life, not to give them a chance to manifest themselves. The seeds of anger, discrimination, despair, jealousy, and craving are all there. We do what we can to prevent them from coming up. We tell the people we live with, "If you truly love me, don't water these seeds in me. It is not good for my health or yours." We have to recognize the kinds of seeds not to be watered. If it happens that a negative seed, the seed of an affliction, is watered and manifests itself, we do everything in our power to embrace it with our mindfulness and help it return to where it came from. The longer such seeds stay in our mind consciousness, the stronger they become.

The Buddha suggested a practice called "changing the peg." When a peg of wood is not the right size or is rotting or in disrepair, a carpenter will replace it by putting another peg on exactly the same spot and driving the new peg into the old one. If you have a mental formation arising that you consider to be unwholesome, one way to practice is to invite another mental formation to replace it. Many seeds in your store consciousness are wholesome and beautiful. Just breathe in  and out and invite one of them to come up, and the other seed will go down. This is called "changing the peg." The third practice is to touch as many positive seeds in your store consciousness as you can so that they will manifest in your mind consciousness. On a television set, if you want a certain program, you push the button to bring you that program. Invite only pleasant seeds to come up and sit in the living room of your consciousness. Never invite a guest who brings you sorrow and affliction. And tell your friends, "If you love me, please water the wholesome seeds in me every day." One wonderful seed is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the Buddha in us. Use every opportunity to touch that seed and help it to manifest on the upper level of your consciousness.

The fourth practice is to keep a wholesome seed as long as possible once it has manifested. If mindfulness is maintained for fifteen minutes, the seed of mindfulness will be strengthened, and the next time you need the energy of mindfulness, it will be easier to bring up. It is very important to help the seeds of mindfulness, forgiveness, and compassion to grow, and the way to do this is to help them be present in your mind consciousness as long as possible. This is called transformation at the base — ashraya paravritti. This is the true meaning of virya paramita, the perfection of diligence.

The fifth crossing-over is dhyana paramita, the perfection of meditation. Dhyana is pronounced zen in Japanese, chan in Chinese, thien in Vietnamese, and son in Korean. Dhyana, or meditation, consists of two aspects. The first is stopping (shamatha). We run our whole life chasing after one idea of happiness or another. Stopping is to stop our running, our forgetfulness, our being caught in the past or the future. We come home to the present moment, where life is available. The present moment contains every moment. Here we can touch our ancestors, our children, and their children, even if they have not been born yet. Shamatha is the practice of calming our body and emotions through the practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking, and mindful sitting. Shamatha is also the practice of concentrating, so we can live deeply each moment of our life and touch the deepest level of our being.

The second aspect of meditation is looking deeply (vipashyana) to see the true nature of things. You look into the person you love and find out what kinds of suffering or difficulty she has within herself and what aspirations she holds. Understanding is a great gift, but your daily life conducted in mindfulness is also a great gift. Doing everything mindfully is the practice of meditation, as mindfulness always nourishes concentration and understanding.

The sixth petal of the flower is prajña paramita, the perfection of understanding. This is the highest kind of understanding, free from all knowledge, concepts, ideas, and views. Prajña is the substance of Buddhahood in us. It is the kind of understanding that has the power to carry us to the other shore of freedom, emancipation, and peace. In Mahayana Buddhism, prajña paramita is described as the Mother of All Buddhas.

Everything that is good, beautiful, and true is born from our mother, prajña paramita. She is in us; we only need to touch her to help her manifest herself. Right View is prajña paramita. There is a large literature on prajña paramita, and the Heart Sutra is one of the shorter discourses in that collection. The Diamond Sutra and the Ashtasahasrika Prajñaparamita (Discourse in 8,000 Verses) are among the earliest discourses in that collection. Prajña paramita is the wisdom of nondiscrimination.

If you look deeply into the person you love, you'll be able to understand her suffering, her difficulties, and also her deepest aspirations. And out of that understanding, real love will be possible. When someone is able to understand us, we feel very happy. If we can offer understanding to someone, that is true love. The one who receives our understanding will bloom like a flower, and we will be rewarded at the same time. Understanding is the fruit of the practice. Looking deeply means to be there, to be mindful, to be concentrated. Looking deeply into any object, understanding will flower. The teaching of the Buddha is to help us understand reality deeply.

Let us look at a wave on the surface of the ocean. A wave is a wave. It has a beginning and an end. It might be high or low, more or less beautiful than other waves. But a wave is, at the same time, water. Water is the ground of being of the wave. It is important that a wave knows that she is water, and not just a wave. We, too, live our life as an individual. We believe that we have a beginning and an end, that we are separate from other living beings. That is why the Buddha advised us to look more deeply in order to touch the ground of our being, which is nirvana. Everything bears deeply the nature of nirvana. Everything has been "nirvanized." That is the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. We look deeply, and we touch the suchness of reality. Looking deeply into a pebble, flower, or our own joy, peace, sorrow, or fear, we touch the ultimate dimension of our being, and that dimension will reveal to us that the ground of our being has the nature of no-birth and no-death.

We don't have to attain nirvana, because we ourselves are always dwelling in nirvana. The wave does not have to look for water. It already is water. We are one with the ground of our being. Once the wave realizes that she is water, all her fear vanishes. Once we touch the ground of our being, once we touch God or nirvana, we also receive the gift of non-fear. Non-fear is the basis of true happiness. The greatest gift we can offer others is our non-fear. Living deeply every moment of our life, touching the deepest level of our being, this is the practice of prajña paramita. Prajña paramita is crossing over by understanding, by insight.

Perfect understanding is present in all the other perfections. Perfect understanding is like a container. If the container is not baked well in the kiln, there will be cracks, and the liquid in it will flow out. Prajña paramita is the mother of all the paramitas, the Mother of All Buddhas. Prajña paramita is like the wings of the bird that can carry it anywhere. Without Right Understanding, none of the other paramitas can go very far.

These are the practices of the Six Paramitas offered by the Buddha. Each of the six contains the other five. Understanding is giving, meditation is giving, continued practice is giving, inclusiveness is giving, and mindfulness training is giving. If you practice giving deeply, you are also practicing understanding, meditation, and so on. In the same light, we see that giving is mindfulness training, understanding is mindfulness training, meditation is mindfulness training, continued practice is mindfulness training, and inclusiveness is mindfulness training. If you practice one paramita deeply, you practice all six. When there is understanding and insight, meditation will be true meditation, continued practice will be true continued practice, inclusiveness will be true inclusiveness, mindfulness training will be true mindfulness training, and giving will be true giving. Understanding increases the quality of the other five practices.

Look into your situation and see how rich you are inside. See that what you have in the present moment is a gift. Without waiting any longer, begin to practice right away. The moment you begin to practice, you'll feel happy right away. The Dharma is not a matter of time. Come and see for yourself. The Dharma can transform your life.

When you are caught in your sorrow, your suffering, your depression, your anger, or your fear, don't stay on the shore of suffering. Step over to the shore of freedom, non-fear, and non-anger. Just practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, and deep looking, and you will step onto the shore of freedom and well-being. You don't have to practice five, ten, or twenty years to be able to cross over to the other shore. You can do it right now.

From "Heart of the Buddha's Teachings"
by Thich Nhat Hanh