Definitions

pranidhana

Pāramitā

The term Pāramitā or Pāramī (Sanskrit and Pāli respectively) means "Perfect" or "Perfection". In Buddhism, the Paramitas refer to the perfection or culmination of certain virtues. In Buddhism, these virtues are cultivated as a way of purification, purifying karma and helping the aspirant to live an unobstructed life, while reaching the goal of Enlightenment.

Theravada Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism's teachings on the paramitas can be found in late canonical books and post-canonical commentaries.

Canonical sources

In the Pali Canon's Buddhavamsa the Ten Perfections (dasa pāramiyo) are (original terms in Pali):

  1. Dāna parami : generosity, giving of oneself
  2. Sīla parami : virtue, morality, proper conduct
  3. Nekkhamma parami : renunciation
  4. Paññā parami : transcendental wisdom, insight
  5. Viriya (also spelt vīriya) parami : energy, diligence, vigour, effort
  6. Khanti parami : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
  7. Sacca parami : truthfulness, honesty
  8. (adhitthana) parami : determination, resolution
  9. Mettā parami : loving-kindness
  10. Upekkhā (also spelt upekhā) parami : equanimity, serenity

Two of the above virtues, Metta and Upekkha, also comprise two of the Four Immeasurables (Brahmavihara).

Historicity

The Theravadin teachings on paramitas can be found in canonical books (Jataka, Apadana, Buddhavamsa, Cariyapitaka) and post-canonical commentaries which were added to the Pali Canon at a later time, and thus they are not an original part of the Theravadin teachings. The oldest parts of the Sutta Pitaka (for example, Majjhima Nikaya, Digha Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya and the Anguttara Nikaya) do not have any mention of the paramitas. Some scholars even refer to the teachings of the paramitas as a semi-Mahayana teaching which was added to the scriptures at a later time, in order to appeal to the interests and needs of the lay community, and to popularize their religion.

Traditional practice

Bodhi (2005) maintains that, in the earliest Buddhist texts (which he identifies as the first four nikayas), those seeking suffering's extinction (nibbana) pursued the Noble Eightfold Path. As time went on, a backstory was provided for the multi-life development of the Buddha; as a result, the ten perfections were identified as part of the path for the Buddha-to-be (Pali: bodhisatta; Sanskrit: bodhisattva). Over subsequent centuries, the paramis were seen as being significant to both aspirants of Buddhahood and of arahantship. Thus, Bodhi (2005) summarizes:

"It should be noted that in established Theravāda tradition the pāramīs are not regarded as a discipline peculiar to candidates for Buddhahood alone but as practices which must be fulfilled by all aspirants to enlightenment and deliverance, whether as Buddhas, paccekabuddhas, or disciples. What distinguishes the supreme bodhisattva from aspirants in the other two vehicles is the degree to which the pāramīs must be cultivated and the length of time they must be pursued. But the qualities themselves are universal requisites for deliverance, which all must fulfill to at least a minimal degree to merit the fruits of the liberating path.

Mahayana Buddhism

In Mahayana Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapundarika), lists the Six Perfections as (original terms in Sanskrit):

  1. Dāna paramita: generosity, giving of oneself (in Chinese, 布施波羅蜜; in Wylie Tibetan, sbyin pa)
  2. Śīla paramita : virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct (持戒波羅蜜; tshul khrims)
  3. (kshanti) paramita : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance (忍辱波羅蜜, bzod pa)
  4. Vīrya paramita : energy, diligence, vigour, effort (精進波羅蜜, brtson ’grus)
  5. Dhyāna paramita : one-pointed concentration, contemplation (禪定波羅蜜, bsam gtan)
  6. Prajñā paramita : wisdom, insight (智慧波羅蜜, shes rab)

Note that this list is also mentioned by the Theravada commentator Dhammapala, who says it is equivalent to the above list of ten.

In the Ten Stages (Dasabhumika) Sutra, four more Paramitas are listed:

7. Upāya paramita: skillful means
8. (pranidhana) paramita: vow, resolution, aspiration, determination
9. Bala paramita: spiritual power
10. Jñāna paramita: knowledge

Vajrayana Buddhism

Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche renders "paramita" into English as "transcendent action" and then frames and qualifies it:
When we say that paramita means "transcendent action," we mean it in the sense that actions or attitude are performed in a non-egocentric manner. "Transcendental" does not refer to some external reality, but rather to the way in which we conduct our lives and perceive the world - either in an egocentric or a non-egocentric way. The six paramitas are concerned with the effort to step out of the egocentric mentality.

Keown, et. al. (2003) hold that the Six Perfections (Sanskrit: ṣad-pāramitā) comprise the Gyulü.

Notes

Sources

  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu (1978). The All-Embracing Net of Views. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society.
  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu (ed.) (1978, 2005). A Treatise on the Paramis: From the Commentary to the Cariyapitaka by Acariya Dhammapala (The Wheel, No. 409/411). Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved 30 Jun 2007 from "Access to Insight" at http://accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel409.html.
  • Horner, I.B. (trans.) (1975; reprinted 2000). The Minor Anthologies of the Pali Canon (Part III): 'Chronicle of Buddhas' (Buddhavamsa) and 'Basket of Conduct' (Cariyapitaka). Oxford: Pali Text Society. ISBN 0-86013-072-X.
  • Rhys Davids, T.W. & William Stede (eds.) (1921-5). The Pali Text Society’s Pali–English Dictionary. Chipstead: Pali Text Society. A general on-line search engine for the PED is available at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/pali/.

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