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Pāramitā (Sanskrit, Pali: पारमिता) or pāramī (Pāli: पारमी), is a Buddhist term often translated as "perfection". It is described in Buddhist commentaries as a noble character quality generally associated with enlightened beings. Pāramī and pāramitā are both terms in Pali but Pali literature makes greater reference to pāramī, while Mahayana texts generally use the Sanskrit pāramitā.
Donald S. Lopez, Jr. describes the etymology of the term:
The term pāramitā, commonly translated as "perfection," has two etymologies. The first derives it from the word parama, meaning "highest", "most distant", and hence "chief", "primary", "most excellent". Hence, the substantive can be rendered "excellence" or "perfection". This reading is supported by the Madhyāntavibhāga (V.4), where the twelve excellences (parama) are associated with the ten perfections (pāramitā). A more creative yet widely reported etymology divides pāramitā into pāra and mita, with pāra meaning "beyond", "the further bank, shore or boundary," and mita, meaning "that which has arrived," or ita meaning "that which goes." Pāramitā, then means "that which has gone beyond," "that which goes beyond," or "transcendent." This reading is reflected in the Tibetan translation pha rol tu phyin pa ("gone to the other side").
Theravada teachings on the pāramīs can be found in late canonical books and post-canonical commentaries. Theravada commentator Dhammapala describes them as noble qualities usually associated with bodhisattas. American scholar-monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu describes them as perfections (paramī) of character necessary to achieve enlightenment as one of the three enlightened beings, a samma sambuddha, a pacceka-buddha, or an arahant.
- Dāna pāramī: generosity, giving of oneself
- Sīla pāramī: virtue, morality, proper conduct
- Nekkhamma pāramī: renunciation
- Paññā pāramī: wisdom, discernment
- Viriya pāramī: energy, diligence, vigour, effort
- Khanti pāramī: patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
- Sacca pāramī: truthfulness, honesty
- Adhiṭṭhāna pāramī: determination, resolution
- Mettā pāramī: goodwill, friendliness, loving-kindness
- Upekkhā pāramī: equanimity, serenity
The Theravāda teachings on the pāramīs can be found in canonical books (Jataka tales, Apadāna, Buddhavamsa, Cariyāpiṭaka) and post-canonical commentaries written to supplement the Pāli Canon that therefore might not be an original part of the Theravāda teachings. The oldest parts of the Sutta Piṭaka (for example, Majjhima Nikāya, Digha Nikāya, Saṃyutta Nikāya and the Aṅguttara Nikāya) do not mention the pāramīs as a category (though they are all mentioned individually).
Some scholars refer to the pāramīs as a semi-Mahāyāna teaching 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. However, these views rely on the early scholarly presumption of Mahāyāna originating with religious devotion and appeal to laity. More recently, scholars have started to open up early Mahāyāna literature, which is very ascetic and expounds the ideal of the monk's life in the forest. Therefore, the practice of the pāramitās in Mahāyāna Buddhism may have been close to the ideals of the ascetic tradition of the śramaṇa.
Bhikkhu Bodhi maintains that in the earliest Buddhist texts (which he identifies as the first four nikāyas), those seeking the extinction of suffering (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 bodhisattva (Pāli: bodhisatta). Over subsequent centuries, the pāramīs were seen as being significant for aspirants to both Buddhahood and arahantship. Bhikkhu Bodhi summarizes:
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.
The Mahāvibhāṣā also mentions the system of six pāramitās, arguing that patience (Kṣānti) is classified as a kind of discipline and that meditation (Dhyāna) is to be seen as a mode of wisdom (prajñā).
Religious studies scholar Dale S. Wright states that Mahāyāna texts refer to the pāramitās as "bases of training" for those looking to achieve enlightenment. Wright describes the Buddhist pāramitās as a set of character ideals that guide self-cultivation and provide a concrete image of the Buddhist ideal.
- Dāna pāramitā (दान पारमिता): generosity, giving of oneself (in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, 布施波羅蜜; in Tibetan, སྦྱིན་པ sbyin-pa)
- Śīla pāramitā (शील पारमिता): virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct (持戒波羅蜜; ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས tshul-khrims)
- Kṣānti pāramitā (क्षान्ति पारमिता): patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance (忍辱波羅蜜; བཟོད་པ bzod-pa)
- Vīrya pāramitā (वीर्य पारमिता): energy, diligence, vigour, effort (精進波羅蜜; བརྩོན་འགྲུས brtson-’grus)
- Dhyāna pāramitā (ध्यान पारमिता): one-pointed concentration, contemplation (禪定波羅蜜, བསམ་གཏན bsam-gtan)
- Prajñā pāramitā (प्रज्ञा पारमिता): wisdom, insight (般若波羅蜜; ཤེས་རབ shes-rab)
This list is also mentioned by the Theravāda commentator Dhammapala, who describes it as a categorization of the same ten perfections of Theravada Buddhism. According to Dhammapala, Sacca is classified as both Śīla and Prajñā, Mettā and Upekkhā are classified as Dhyāna, and Adhiṭṭhāna falls under all six. Bhikkhu Bodhi states that the correlations between the two sets shows there was a shared core before the Theravada and Mahayana schools split.
In the Ten Stages Sutra, four more pāramitās are listed:
- 7. Upāya pāramitā (उपाय पारमिता): skillful means (方便波羅蜜）
- 8. Praṇidhāna pāramitā (प्राणिधान पारमिता): vow, resolution, aspiration, determination (願波羅蜜）
- 9. Bala pāramitā (बल पारमिता): spiritual power (力波羅蜜）
- 10. Jñāna pāramitā (ज्ञान पारमिता): knowledge (智波羅蜜）
The Mahāratnakūṭa Sūtra (महारत्नकूट सूत्र, the Sutra of the Heap of Jewels) also includes these additional four pāramitās, with the order of numbers 8 and 9 switched.
According to the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism, Mahāyāna practitioners have the choice of two practice paths: the path of perfection (Sanskrit: pāramitāyāna) or the path of tantra (Sanskrit: tantrayāna), which is the Vajrayāna.
Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche renders "pāramitā" 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.
The initial four perfections involve skillful means practice, while the last two pertain to wisdom practice. Together, they encompass all the necessary methods and skills to dispel delusion and meet the needs of others, and to rise from states of contentment to even greater happiness.
- Anupubbikathā – Buddhist term
- Bodhipakkhiyādhammā – Spiritual qualities conducive to Buddhist cultivation
- Buddhist paths to liberation – Theology of Buddhism: descriptions of the spiritual path
- Gradual Training
- Pañca-Parameṣṭhi – Hierarchy of religious authorities
- Threefold Training – Buddhist practices for higher virtue, mind, and wisdom
- www.wisdomlib.org (2008-06-01). "Paramita, Pāramitā, Pāramita: 12 definitions". www.wisdomlib.org. Archived from the original on 2020-01-28. Retrieved 2020-01-28.
- "A Treatise on the Paramis: From the Commentary to the Cariyapitaka". www.accesstoinsight.org. Archived from the original on 2018-10-11. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
- Lopez 1988, p. 21.
- Dhammapala, Acariya. (1996). A treatise on the Paramis : from the commentary to the Cariyapitaka (PDF). Bodhi, Bhikkhu. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. p. 1. ISBN 955-24-0146-1. OCLC 40888949. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-06-22. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
- "The Ten Perfections: A Study Guide". www.accesstoinsight.org. Archived from the original on 2019-05-02. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
- Dhammapala, Acariya. (1996). A treatise on the Paramis : from the commentary to the Cariyapitaka (PDF). Translated by Bodhi, Bhikkhu. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. pp. 2–5. ISBN 955-24-0146-1. OCLC 40888949. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-06-22. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
- "[Prose portions of the Jātakas] originally did not form part of [the Theravādins] scriptures": Nalinaksha Dutt (1978) Buddhist Sects in India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition: 224
- Regarding the Cariyāpiṭaka, Horner (2000), Cariyāpiṭaka section, p. vi, writes that it is "[c]onsidered to be post-Asokan...."
- "[the Theravādins’] early literature did not refer to the pāramitās." Nalinaksha Dutt (1978) Buddhist Sects in India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition: 228
- "The incorporation of pāramis by the Theravādins in the Jātakas reveals that they were not immune from Mahāyānic influence. This happened, of course, at a much later date[.]" Nalinaksha Dutt (1978) Buddhist Sects in India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition: 219
- "It is evident that the Hinayānists, either to popularize their religion or to interest the laity more in it, incorporated in their doctrines the conception of Bodhisattva and the practice of pāramitās. This was effected by the production of new literature: the Jātakas and Avadānas." Nalinaksha Dutt (1978) Buddhist Sects in India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition: 251. The term "Semi-Mahāyāna" occurs here as a subtitle.
- "As scholars have moved away from this limited corpus, and have begun to explore a wider range of Mahāyāna sutras, they have stumbled on, and have started to open up, a literature that is often stridently ascetic and heavily engaged in reinventing the forest ideal, an individualistic, antisocial, ascetic ideal that is encapsulated in the apparently resurrected image of "wandering alone like a rhinoceros." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004): p. 494
- Bodhi (2005). Archived 2007-08-25 at the Wayback Machine (Converted the document's original use of the Velthuis convention to Pāli diacritics.)
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- Wright, Dale Stuart (2009). The Six Perfections: Buddhism and the Cultivation of Character. Oxford University Press. pp. contents. ISBN 978-0-19-538201-3. Archived from the original on 2021-06-24. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (2007-12-01). The Discourse on the All-embracing Net of Views: The Brahmajāla Sutta and Its Commentaries. Buddhist Publication Society. p. 300. ISBN 978-955-24-0052-0. Archived from the original on 2021-06-24. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (2007-12-01). The Discourse on the All-embracing Net of Views: The Brahmajāla Sutta and Its Commentaries. Buddhist Publication Society. p. 44. ISBN 978-955-24-0052-0. Archived from the original on 2021-06-24. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
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- Apte, Vaman Shivaram (1957–59). Revised and enlarged edition of Prin. V. S. Apte's The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Poona: Prasad Prakashan.
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (1978). The All-Embracing Net of Views. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society.
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- Lopez, Donald S. Jr. (1988). The Heart Sutra Explained: Indian and Tibetan Commentaries. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-88706-589-7.
- Rhys Davids, T.W. & William Stede (eds.) (1921-5). The Pali Text Society’s Pali–English Dictionary. Chipstead: Pali Text Society.
- Renunciation by T. Prince, a free distribution article on the Buddhist conception of renunciation
- Lama Zopa Rinpoche's view of the Six Perfections
- A Zen view of the Six Perfections
- Six paramitas, Chinese Buddhist website
- Theravada Buddhist Dhamma Talk Album: "Ten Parami (Suc 06)", By Ajahn Sucitto
- What are the paramitas? Buddhism for Beginners