The Six Paramitas (Perfections)
Mahayana Buddhism (the dominant form of Buddhism) initially developed six paramitas or perfections early on in its history. The Perfections are virtues to be cultivated and practiced on the path to realizing enlightenment. The list was later expanded to include another four.
The following is the list of the initial Six Paramitas with brief introductions for each, along with links to recordings by Vanessa Zuisei Goddard, Dharma Holder at Zen Mountain Monastery.
1. Perfection of Generosity
Giving is an essential aspect of Buddhism. Giving encompasses both providing material help to those in need and giving spiritual guidance to those who seek it and loving kindness to all. Two important points:
- One’s motivation for giving to others is at least as important as what is given. When we give to others, we give without expectation of reward. We practice giving to release greed and self-clinging.
- There is no giving without receiving, and no givers without receivers. Therefore, giving and receiving arise together; one is not possible without the other. We give without attaching to either the gift or the recipient.
2. Perfection of Morality
Common definitions of morality relate to distinguishing between right and wrong, good and bad behavior according to a list of restrictive rules designed by some external authority.
In contrast, Buddhist morality is personal expression based in virtue and ethical conduct, wisdom, compassion, balance and harmony. This view of morality is proactive and may be viewed as a combination of three efforts:
- Renouncing and giving up behaviors that are not conducive to cultivating a healthy spirit (see The Five Hindrances)
- Practicing morality as a virtue through mindfulness and meditation
- Demonstrating compassion for others
Morality is strongly linked to karma. Karma at its most basic is the Law of Cause & Effect. The many choices we make and the actions we take accumulate into who we are and how we live.
3. Perfection of Patience
The scope of patience, within the Paramitas, also includes tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, and endurance. This expanded view of patience requires being able to:
- Accept the truth of our reality, as described in The First Four Noble Truths, that life is stressful, difficult and temporary
- Endure personal hardship in a constructive way, even when hardship includes pain and loss
- Grow patience with others, by coming to terms with and purifying ourselves of greed, hate and ignorance (The Three Poisons)
4. Perfection of Energy
This Paramita is about cultivating the courage and the will to do whatever is necessary to walk the Eight-fold Path to enlightenment. This includes commitment to effort, creation of positive energy (both mental and physical) and “trusting the process” of spiritual training that is grounded in the desire to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all.
5. Perfection of Meditation
Buddhism is a spiritual path and philosophy based on practice and cultivation. Zazen, the practice of meditation, is focused on cultivating:
- tranquility and peacefulness, to achieve suppleness of mind to improve concentration, focus and inner tranquility
- the qualities and attitudes expressed in the other Perfections
- compassion and love for all sentient beings
6. Perfection of Wisdom
The Perfection of Wisdom contains all other Perfections. It additionally includes the insight that the Path is the process of recognizing the essential nonexistence of the self, while helping other sentient beings to recognize this as well, thus relieving misfortune and pain.