The Silver Thread: The 3 Perfections
By Dr. Abramsky
Last month I discussed the four afflictive emotions – fear, anger, sadness and grasping – which poison the mind, and are the source of our unhappiness. Buddhism teaches practices to reduce or eliminate such feelings, which are seen as the source of our suffering. Buddhism also uses practices to cultivate positive, grow producing feelings as a type of counter to affliction. We can call these, “the three perfections.” They are:
Love: The Greeks identified three forms of love. Eros: Eros means desire and longing, Eros is the Greek God of love. Eros is sexual and selfish. It is built upon the desire for physical pleasure. It is possessive, and uses another for one’s pleasure.
Philos: Philos is the love expressed for friends or companions. It is the love fostered by shared experiences. While such love is more shared than Eros, it is fickle. Most of our shared experiences are transient and as they change, philos changes with it. As adults, our closest associates are rarely those we had as children. As we progress through the stages of life, our reference groups change, and Philos is fluid, changing with our social movement.
Agape: Agape is modeled on the love God had for his only son, Jesus Christ. And in fact, Jesus then turned this love toward his followers and all mankind. It is the ideal love we should foster for all our fellow beings. This is the highest form of love, as it is essentially selfless. In Agape, we put the other before our self. In our daily life Agape is the idealized relationship toward our children and in our “permanent” intimate adult relationships, such as a marriage.
Compassion: In late childhood children’s brains mature, and they develop the capacity for empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel what another feels. Compassion is the capacity to feel the suffering of others. In Buddhism suffering is an existential state. Regardless of status, money, beauty, or fame, all people suffer. All people experience pain in relationships, disappointments in achievements, physical decay and psychological failure. We can view such failures through the lens of judgment, or through compassion.
Certainly, judgment for one’s acts is necessary. People must be held responsible, controlled and sometimes punished for their actions. But we must never loose track of the suffering, the psychological suffering that is that actor’s constant companion. The Dalai Lama provided a good illustration of this action/judgment position.
The Dalai Lama was asked if he hated the Chinese, who invaded and destroyed his country. The Dalai Lama said that it was easy to hate the Chinese for what they did, but he believes in compassion for all, so he regards the Chinese as a challenge. Can he urge the Chinese to vacate Tibet, while still feeling compassion for them as people?
If fact, we are constantly challenged to maintain a soft and understanding attitude toward those who do things which displease us. But doing so is one of the foundations of happiness.
Gratitude: Gratitude is to be grateful for whatever we have. Objectively, our life offers us both good and bad. Obviously we must accept both. But we can choose to focus most on those things for which we should be grateful.
The fundamental gratitude is simply our joy for the gift of life. With the joy of life as a background, even negative events can be a source of happiness. When we cast our experiences as a learning opportunity, even the negative experiences are seen as a privilege to feel and experience the vagaries of life.
Day to day gratitude is a choice. But we miss those opportunities daily. Do we allow ourselves to savor the act of someone opening the door for us? Do we experience joy when we wake up feeling healthy? Are we happy when we encounter an old friend? Gratitude is that choice to focus on the benefits, small and large, of our present experience. While we must experience and acknowledge suffering, our joy in life depends on our decision to be grateful for that which is before us.
Practicing the three perfections counters the natural suffering of life, and evolves toward the spiritual goal of acceptance and contentment.
Michael Abramsky PHD, ABPP
Michael is a licensed psychologist with 35 years of experience treating adolescents and adults for anxiety, depression and trauma. He is nationally Board Certified in both Clinical and Forensic psychology.. Dr. Abramsky also has a MA in Comparative Religions, and has practiced and taught Buddhist Meditation for 25 years. You may call him at: 248-644-7398