During shuso hossen, the ceremony of transition when a junior student becomes a senior, there is a moment when the student confronts the sangha in an exchange where they will have a chance to respond to people’s questions, aiming to shed a bit of clarity. Just before the exchanges begin, they hold a staff in their hands, extending and elevating it towards the audience, filling the hall and recognizing the infinite potential available within this moment. They move away from some fixed position or fixed agenda. The staff becomes the vastness of their life, of what it is that they are making available to others. Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva doing deep prajna paramita, arrives and is able to extend her ten thousand hands, and offer her ten thousand upaya.
Upaya rests on prajna. It arises within prajna. Prajna, nondual wisdom, seeing the true nature of the staff, finds expression in skillfulness. Skillfulness about what? About reality. It’s skillfulness about bringing forth and helping ourselves and others to realize what is real—impermanence, selflessness, and karma. Skillfulness about waking up. Skillfulness in self-study, in learning to be creative, to discern what is helpful to you, and to the degree to which you are mastering that, becoming intimate with that, being able to recognize what is helpful to others, not through some agenda or expectation or strategic thinking, but through a deep appreciation that wisdom is in the cracks of your agenda.
Skillfulness makes sense only within the nature of prajna, within the nature of emptiness, which is a negative void, hence a positive thing. Infinite fullness, infinite possibility. It’s not ten thousand arms; it’s the infinity of arms, of details, of possibilities, within the truth of impermanence, selflessness and causality. The seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth paramitas are connected formally with the shift that happens in the path of the bodhisattva to deliberately start helping others. The paramitas describe how it is that a teacher matures, upaya being that pivot point within a deliberate dedication to help others—dedication that only makes sense when you realize prajna.