The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism : Power / Strength

The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism : Power / Strength

Last Saturday, on Oct 05, 2019, we studied the ninth of The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism — Bala (Spiritual Power / Strength).

We first read an excerpts from the Sandhinirmochana Sutra, which provide the focus of our discussion on “power” as “an aid to the transcendent way of meditation” (Dhyāna, the fifth Paramita). For reference, we shared the full list of the Ten Strengths of the Bodhisattvas and the Thirty-Seven Aids to Enlightenments. We then watched a Dharma video by Venerable Thubten Chodron, who co-authored the book “Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions” with the Dalai Lama. In her talk, she covers part of Chapter 6 of their book on “The 37 Aids to Awakening”, and compared how the Pali and Sanskrit traditions explain the Five Powers, with a special emphasis on “Mindfulness”.

Below is a copy of our handout, the video we shared, questions we discussed, and our homework with extra reading materials. Happy learning!

 

The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism : Power / Strength

RECAP: Pāramitā (Sanskrit) or Parami (Pāli): “Perfection” or “Transcendent”. In Buddhism, the Paramitas refer to the perfection or culmination of certain practices. These practices are cultivated by Bodhisattvas for crossing from sensuous life (Samsara) to Enlightenment (Nirvana).

Power / Strength (Bala):

Bala (Sanskrit & Pali) — Literally, the word means “power, strength, might, vigor, force, validity, force or power of articulation, power of, expertness in” etc.

In Buddhism, the term also carries the meaning of stability: “Immovable stability of dhamma. Unavoidable factor when we practice dhamma.”
SOURCE: “Bala.” Wisdom Library. Wisdomlib.org. 10-04-2019 https://www.wisdomlib.org/definition/bala#buddhism

 From the Sandhinirmochana Sutra* (“Scripture Unlocking the Mysteries”):

The enlightening being Avalokiteshvara also asked the Buddha, “How many things should enlightening beings learn?”
The Buddha replied, “In general, there are six things enlightening beings should learn: consummate giving, discipline, forbearance, diligence, meditation, and insight.”
……
Avalokiteshvara asked, “Why, as you define these things to learn, are there only six?”
The Buddha replied, “For two reasons. One is to benefit sentient beings. The other is to cure afflictions. The first three benefit sentient beings; the latter three cure all afflictions.
……
Avalokiteshvara asked, “Why, as you define the other ways of transcendence, are there only four more?”
The Buddha said, “Because they are aids to the first six ways of transcendence…
……
“If enlightening beings associate with good people, listen to true teaching, and think about it reasonably, and thereby transform inferior will into superior will, and can also attain higher aspiration, this is called the transcendent way of power. By this power, they have the capability of inner mental stability, so I say the transcendent way of power is an aid to the transcendent way of meditation.”

*source: Sandhinirmochana Sutra, translated by Thomas Cleary in Buddhist yoga: a comprehensive course, p.75-78. (ISBN 1-56957-106-6)

 

 

Relevant mentions of “Bala” (Power/strength) in Buddhist teachings:

There are numermous mentions of Bala in various sutras, the Tripiṭaka and Pali Canon. The following list only the ones we can find that seems most relevant in the context of discussing powers / strengths as aids or supports to one’s Bodhisattvas practice.

Ten Strengths of the Bodhisattvas : as defined in the Dharma-saṃgraha (section 75).

The Dharma-samgraha is an extensive glossary of Buddhist terms in Sanskrit. The work is attributed to Nagarguna who lived around the 2nd century A.D.

Click to read the 'Ten Strengths of the Bodhisattvas' from the Dharma-saṃgraha

SOURCE: “Ten Strengths.” Wisdom Library. Wisdomlib.org. 10-04-2019. www.wisdomlib.org/definition/ten-strengths 

 
Five Powers / Five Strengths : as outlined in the Aṭṭhakathā.

“Five Powers” is the the fifth of the seven groups of factors included in the Thirty-Seven Factors of Enlightenment or Thirty-Seven Aids to Enlightenment, as outlined in the Aṭṭhakathā (Pali commentaries on Tipitaka, the Pali Cannon). The “Five Powers”, are often discussed together with the “Five Faculties (or Roots)”, which is the fourth group in the thirty-Seven Factors.

The Five Powers in Buddhism are faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. They are one of the seven sets of “qualities conducive to enlightenment.” They are parallel facets of the five spiritual faculties.

Faith and Wisdom balance each other, as do Energy and Concentration. The Five Faculties are ‘controlling’ faculties because they control or master their opposites. The faculties and powers are two aspects of the same thing.

  • Faith (saddha) – controls doubt
  • Energy/ Effort/ Persistence (viriya) – controls laziness
  • Mindfulness (sati); – controls heedlessness
  • Concentration (samadhi) – controls distraction
  • Wisdom/ Discernment (panna, prajna) – controls ignorance

SOURCE: “Five Strengths.” Wikipedia. /en.wikipedia.org. 10-04-2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Strengths

Click to view full list of the 'Thirty-Seven Factors of Enlightenment'

 

Dharma Video:

The Dharma Talk video shown below is one of a long series that explore the content of the book : Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions – jointly authored by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Venerable Thubten Chodron.
In the book, they map out the convergences and the divergences between the two major strains of Buddhism–the Mahayana traditions of Central and East Asia (the Sanskrit tradition) and the Theravada traditions of South and Southeast Asia (the Pali tradition). The full series of her Dharma talks can be found on the Venerable’s website at: www.thubtenchodron.org/2015/11/buddhist-canons/.

During our session we watched the second half of the talk starting from 0:55:50.

Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions Chapter 6: The 37 Aids to Awakening” by Ven. Thubten Chodron**

SOURCE: www.thubtenchodron.org/2016/11/chapter-6-the-37-aids-to-awakening/

** Venerable Thubten Chodron (德林 — De Lin) was born in Chicago in 1950. In 1977, she received sramanerika (novice) ordination from Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Nepal, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Ven. Chodron travels worldwide to teach the Dharma: North America, Europe, Latin America, Israel, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and former communist countries. Seeing the importance and necessity of a monastery for Westerners training in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, she founded Sravasti Abbey, a Buddhist monastic community north of Spokane, WA and is the abbess there. It is the only Tibetan Buddhist training monastery for Western monks and nuns in America.

 

Discussion:

  1. In the Sandhinirmochana Sutra, the Buddha explicitly pointed out that “transcendent way of power is an aid to the transcendent way of meditation.” Have you ever experienced this in your practice? When your spiritual powers aid your meditation? If so, please share.
  2. POP QUIZ! According to Ven. Thubten Chodron, what is unique about the kind of mindfulness that the Buddha taught?
    hint: the teacher spoke about this at least twice during the talk including once during the Q & A session.
  3. In your opinion, what makes the kind of mindfulness taught by the Buddha POWERFUL as “an aid to the transcendent way of meditation”?

 

Homework:

  1. In the upcoming weeks, pay special attention to the arising of any opposing factors — doubt, laziness, heedlessness, distraction, and ignorance — in your daily practice; and try calling up your Five Powers to control them accordingly. Watch what happens and share your experience with the group!
  2. Click on the “+” sign below to read another description of “five strengths” as recorded in the Vitthara Sutta.
    At first glance they may seem different than the 5 Powers mentioned in the 37 Factors, but are they really that different? Especially after considering what the teacher said in the Dharma video? What are your thoughts?

    Click to read 'Vitthara Sutta : (Strength) in Detail' here
    SOURCE: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.002.than.html