kamma and the pāramīs
In a prison cell lived four men. The first was ignorant and lazy, the second was ignorant and hard working, the third was skilful and lazy, and the fourth was skilful and hard working. Each had the possibility to work and earn a little money.
The lazy ignoramus had a thoroughly miserable existence; he did nothing at all during the day, was terribly bored and never obtained anything more than the bare minimum for his subsistence.
The hard-working ignoramus enjoyed a more comfortable life, because his work allowed him extra food and small treats such as a bottle of wine or magazines.
The skilful lazy person did not have a very pleasant existence. As he did not put any effort in his work, he did not earn the money needed to buy things that would have allowed him to enjoy a better quality of life. However, knowing how to think, he suffered less than the lazy ignoramus, because he knew how to manage his condition better. Thus, he succeeded more easily in being satisfied with little. However, his incorrigible laziness eventually prevented him from thinking properly.
The skilful worker was competent in his work. Knowing how to think properly, he knew how to manage his money wisely. He learnt to content himself with little to save most of the money he earned. He had nothing good to drink or eat, or pleasant readings to offer himself. Nevertheless, after a while, having endured the necessary time, he was able to pay off the bail to get out of prison.
To make the analogy of this story, we can say that:
The prison represents the continual dissatisfaction of existence (dukkha), with its "ups and downs", the cycle of rebirths (saṃsarā).
Ignorance represents ignorance.
Skill represents wisdom.
Laziness represents the lack of motivation to cultivate wholesome actions.
Work represents effort (the effort to develop and maintain what is beneficial, the effort to practice properly).
The money represents the consequence of positive actions, merit (kusala).
The release represents liberation (from any form of dissatisfaction).
Conclusion: To develop merit, it is necessary to perform positive actions, to make efforts of generosity, honesty and concentration.
Nevertheless, if this is done with ignorance, merit will be badly used and, so to speak, "wasted". Thus, it remains profitless. For this merit to be beneficial, it must be cultivated with wisdom, that is, positive actions should be performed with the intention to take care of and develop the dhamma (for one's own progress and that of others).
Comment: More than positive actions, the more profitable actions are simply abstinences from destructive or worthless actions.
This explains why it is essential to understand clearly the actions that we perform and know how we have to carry them out if we wish them to be really profitable.
The prison story also shows us that wisdom is useless without effort, which is indispensable for the development of wisdom. Thus, only the development of pāramīs does allow us to progress on the path to liberation, at whatever level one may be.
If someone benefits from all the elements which allow him (her) to make of his (her) existence a training in the dhamma (birth as human being, in a favourable environment, in a place and time when the teaching of a Buddha (sāsana) is accessible, understanding the value of such a training, urge to embark in it, lack of serious obstacles such as a poor health, etc.), this means that he (she) has already developed numerous pāramīs in the past. If, besides these conditions, someone devotes himself (herself) with ease to "meditation" (training into satipaṭṭhāna), it means that he (she) has developed even more pāramīs. If a person opts for the life of renunciation by joining, in a most natural way, the monastic community (saṃgha), it means that even more pāramīs have been developed. Finally, when our pāramīs reach complete maturity, we cannot but experience nibbāna, the cessation of all suffering.