Pāramitā (Perfection) | Definition

Pāramitā (Perfection) | Definition

Pāramitā (Pāli, pāramī; Tibetan, pha rol tu phyin pa; Chinese, boluomi) refers to the spiritual practice accomplished by a Bodhisattva.

The term has been interpreted variously as meaning, for example, “perfection,” “to reach the other shore,” or “to cross over.” In Japanese Buddhism the term has been used to indicate the spring and autumn equinox.

The literal meaning of the Tibetan pha rol tu phyin pa is “to reach the other shore,” a meaning with which the Chinese translation dao bian agrees.

Traditionally, the term Pāramitā comprises 4 groups:

a) the group of 6 Pāramitās;

b) the group of 10 Pāramitās;

c) the group of 4 Pāramitās;

d) the perfections of esoteric Buddhism.

However, the constituents of each grouping differ according to the Sūtra or Śāstra in which they are discussed.

The understanding of Pāramitā in the sense of “to reach the other shore” suggests that one goes from the ordinary world of Saṁsāra (this shore) to the realm of Nirvāṇa (the other shore).

Depending on the text, this formula may mean, for example, that a Buddha is one who has reached the other shore already, while an ordinary being is one who has not yet reached the other shore (Maitreyaparipṛccha-Sūtra).

Reaching the other shore” may mean that, in accordance with one’s practice, one attains the final Goal with nothing remaining, or that one reaches reality-as-it-is (just as all streams finally return to the ocean), or that one attains the incomparable fruition (of awakening).

The group of 6 Pāramitās includes:

1. Dāna (Giving),
2. Śīla (ethical behavior),
3. Kṣānti (patience),
4. Vīrya (endeavor or effort),
5. Dhyāna (contemplation or meditation), and
6. Prajña (Wisdom).

Dāna means to give an ordinary gift, to give the gift of the dharma, or to give the gift of mental peace and tranquility to another.

Śīla means to honor and practice proper ethical behavior.
Kṣānti means to endure hardship.

Vīrya means to strengthen one’s mind and body and to practice continuously the other five perfections.

Dhyāna means to focus one’s mind and make it firm and stable.
Prajña means to awaken to the defining characteristics of existence.

Of these, the 1-5 can be understood to describe the practices manifested in a Bodhisattva’s activities of Karuṇā (Compassion) and the last a Bodhisattva’s Wisdom. Because Prajña is so foundational to the other 5 perfections, it is referred to as the “Mother of all Buddhas.”

When 4 more perfections—

7. Upāya (appropriate action),
8. Praṇidhāna (vow),
9. Bala (strength), and
10. Jñāna (understanding)

—are added to the former 6, the grouping of 10 Pāramitās is established.

Upāya means that a Bodhisattva assists Sentient Beings by means of utilizing his expertise (Upāya-kauśalya).

Praṇidhāna means that having become awakened a Bodhisattva makes the highest vow to save all sentient beings from the round of Saṁsāra.

Bala refers to the power to guide sentient beings to proper spiritual practices.

Jñāna refers to the attainment of peace that comes with awakening and the instruction of sentient beings to attain the all-inclusive wisdom.

Along with perfecting one’s self, these 10 perfections serve the purpose of benefiting all sentient beings. These comprise the Bodhisattva’s spiritual practices completed on each of the 10 stages of the Daśabhūmika-sūtra.

The group of 4 Pāramitās refers to an explanation of the perfections found in the Śūraṅgama (Samādhi)-sūtra and includes

1. Permanent perfection— a perfection that is completely everlasting;
2. Bliss perfection—a perfection that is completely peaceful;
3. Material perfection - a perfection that has the nature of being completely substantive; and
4. Pure perfection— a perfection that has the nature of being wholesome.

These four can be understood to comprise the 4 virtues of one who has attained Nirvāṇa (the extinction of the cause of suffering).

The perfections of esoteric Buddhism are focused on Vairocana Buddha who is located at the center of the Vajra-dhātu-maṇḍala:

These postulate:

a) Vajra- Pāramitā (diamond scepter perfection) in the East,
b) Rātna-Pāramitā (jewel perfection) in the South,
c) Dharma-Pāramitā (doctrine perfection) in the West, and
d) Kāma-Pāramitā (desire perfection) in the North.

Aside from these, Theravāda Buddhism, in texts such as Cariya-piṭaka, Buddhavaṁsa, and Dhamma-padaṭṭha-kathā, postulates the following 10 perfections:

1. Dāna (charity), 2. Śīla (ethical behavior),
3. nekkhamma (liberation), 4. paññā (wisdom),
5. viriya (endeavor or effort), 6. Khānti (patience),
7. Sacca (truth), 8. Adhiṭṭhāna (resolve),
9. Mettā (loving kindness), and 10. Upekkhā (equanimity).