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The term Pāramitā or Pāramī (Sanskrit and Pāli respectively)[1] 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 Edit

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

Canonical sourcesEdit

In the Pali Canon's Buddhavamsa[2] 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. Adhiṭṭhāna (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).

HistoricityEdit

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.[3][4] 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.[5] Some scholars even refer to the teachings of the paramitas as a semi-Mahayana[6] 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.[7]

Traditional practiceEdit

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."[8]

Mahayana Buddhism Edit

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. Kṣānti (kshanti) paramita : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance (忍辱波羅蜜, bzod pa)
  4. Vīrya paramita : energy, diligence, vigor, 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.[9]

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

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

Vajrayana Buddhism Edit

According to the perspective of Vajrayana Buddhism, Mahayana practitioners have the choice of two practice paths: the path of perfection (Sanskrit:paramitayana) or the path of tantra (Sanskrit:tantrayana), which is the Vajrayana.

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.[10]

Keown, et. al. (2003) hold that the Six Perfections (Sanskrit: ṣad-pāramitā) comprise the Gyulü.[11]

NotesEdit

  1. Technically, pāramitā is both Sanskrit and Pali (see, for instance, Rhys Davids & Stede, 1921-25, p. 454, entry for "Pāramitā," retrieved 30 Jun 2007); although, the Pali literature makes far greater reference to pāramī. Bodhi (2005) states:
    "The word pāramī derives from parama, 'supreme,' and thus suggests the eminence of the qualities which must be fulfilled by a bodhisattva in the long course of his spiritual development. But the cognate pāramitā, the word preferred by the Mahāyāna texts and also used by Pāli writers, is sometimes explained as pāram + ita, 'gone to the beyond,' thereby indicating the transcendental direction of these qualities." (Velthuis convention lettering replaced with Pali diacrits.)
  2. Buddhavamsa, chapter 2. For an on-line reference to the Buddhavamsa's seminality in the Theravada notion of parami, see Bodhi (2005).
    In terms of other examples in the Pali literature, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 454, entry for "Pāramī," (retrieved 2007-06-24) cites Jataka i.73 and Dhammapada Atthakatha i.84. Bodhi (2005) also mentions Acariya Dhammapala's treatise in the Cariyapitaka-Atthakatha and the Brahmajala Sutta subcommentary (tika).
  3. ‘[The Jatakas] originally did not form part of [the Theravadins] scriptures' Buddhist Sects in India, Nalinaksha Dutt, Motilal Banararsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition, 1978, p. 224’
  4. Regarding the Cariyapitaka, Horner (2000), Cariyapitaka section, p. vi, writes that it is "[c]onsidered to be post-Asokan...."
  5. ‘[the Theravadins’] early literature did not refer to the paramitas.’ Buddhist Sects in India, Nalinaksha Dutt, Motilal Banararsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition, 1978, Dutt, p.228
  6. ‘The incorporation of paramis by the Theravadins in the Jatakas reveals that they were not immune from Mahayanic influence. This happened, of course, at a much later date;’ Buddhist Sects in India, Nalinaksha Dutt, Motilal Banararsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition, 1978, p. 219
  7. ‘It is evident that the Hinayanists, 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 paramitas. This was effected by the production of new literature: the Jatakas and Avadanas.' Buddhist Sects in India, Nalinaksha Dutt, Motilal Banararsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition, 1978, p. 251. The term 'Semi-Mahayana' occurs here as a subtitle.
  8. Bodhi (2005). (Converted the document's original use of the Velthuis convention to Pali diacritics.)
  9. The passage is translated in Bodhi (1978), p. 314.
  10. Ray, Reginald A. (Ed.)(2004). In the Presence of Masters: Wisdom from 30 Contemporary Tibetan Buddhist Teachers. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Shambala. ISBN 1-57062-849-1 (pbk.: alk. paper) p.140.
  11. Keown, Damien (ed.) with Hodge, Stephen; Jones, Charles; Tinti, Paola (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Great Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press. P.270. ISBN 0-19-860560-9

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