six paramitas
By Daniel Scharpenburg

The teaching of the Six Paramitas was created early in the history of Mahayana Buddhism.

Paramita is usually translated as “perfection” and that’s how I’m going to translate it. It doesn’t mean we do any of this perfectly (obviously) it just means that cultivating these virtues is very important. Later, four more were added to the list, making the total 10. These are virtues for us to practice in our spiritual journey.

The teaching of the Six Perfections can be found in a lot of places; the teaching of all 10 is a little more esoteric.

The Six Perfections are considered a complete road map to Awakening, but the additional items help us a little more in bringing us to the Bodhisattva path to Awakening, rather than the standard path. I’m going through them one by one. I think all of these virtues are important and deserve a lot of attention. I may at some point go into these in more detail. To me this list is the most fundamental spiritual teaching.

1. Dana Paramita: The Perfection of Generosity

The Perfection of Generosity is about more than simply giving things. It’s an expression of non-attachment to possessions, but it also represents other forms of giving, such as giving our time to others, helping them with difficult tasks, or just listening when someone needs to be heard.

2. Sila Paramita: The Perfection of Virtue

The Perfection of Virtue is not necessarily about living according to rules. We have plenty of rules in Buddhism. Living by rules is important, but more important, in this context, is the idea of living in harmony with others. We should strive to bring harmony to all of our relationships, whether personal or professional. If we set an example of virtue we can make the world a better place.

3. Ksanti Paramita: The Perfection of Patience

The Perfection of Patience represents not only patience with ourselves and others, but also tolerance and endurance. It represents our ability to “weather the storm”, to bear hardship without letting it get us down and, especially, to avoid lashing out at others because of our personal difficulties.

4. Virya Paramita: The Perfection of Diligence

The Perfection of Diligence is about tirelessly overcoming obstacles, walking the path even when it’s difficult and it would be simple to give up. Without diligence we might not have the determination necessary to continue to walk the path when things get difficult.

5. Dhyana Paramita: The Perfection of Concentration

The Perfection of Concentration represents those practices that are dedicated to helping us improve our ability to focus and concentrate. These include several meditation and mindfulness practices. We are cultivating our mental stability and our ability to contemplate things clearly without getting held back by distractions or preconceptions. We are training our minds so we can have focus, composure, and tranquility.

6. Prajna Paramita: The Perfection of Wisdom

The Perfection of Wisdom represents transcendental wisdom and insight. This is an understanding beyond words and concepts. This is the intuitive understanding of emptiness and the interconnectedness of all things, that transcends the ego, or small self, and is able to engage with the true self, the higher self. This is our intuition, our innate awareness that we are one with everything, that nothing is separate from us and nothing can be left out. When we act with this in mind, then we are dwelling in Enlightenment.

I’ll repeat, the first six are considered a complete map to Enlightenment. These additional four can be thought of a supplemental material.

7. Upaya Paramita: The Perfection of Skillful Means

The Perfection of Skillful Means represents teachings, activities, and tools that are used to help bring others to Awakening; one who is well versed in this is good at bringing wisdom to others and spreading the Dharma. This can be teaching others how to meditate, or leading chants, or just talking about the philosophy behind the journey to Enlightenment. This also can represent simply setting a good example for the way someone on the path should live.

8. Pranidhana Paramita: The Perfection of Vows

The Perfection of Vows represents dedicating ourselves to the Bodhisattva Path by taking vows and adhering to them. The Bodhisattva Vows are taken formally by those on the Bodhisattva path. They represent an expression of Bodhicitta, the desire to attain Enlightenment with the intent of helping others. There’s a short version of the Vows that is sometimes chanted at Zen temples. It goes like this:

Beings are numberless, I vow to save them
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them
Buddha’s way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.

9. Bala Paramita: The Perfection of Powers

The Perfection of Powers represents those natural abilities we gain as a result of our spiritual journey, such as increased concentration, awareness, patience, and compassion.

10. Jnana Paramita: The Perfection of Knowledge

The Perfection of Knowledge is the implementation of the wisdom we have gained on the path; the culmination of the path, where we integrate the teachings into our lives and use them in all of our actions and relationships. The Perfection of Wisdom represents our intuitive understanding of the nature of ourselves and reality. The Perfection of Knowledge represents bringing that understanding into our lives.

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Editor: Alicia Wozniak