Pāramitā (Pāli; Sanskrit; Devanagari: पारमिता) or pāramī (Pāli) is "perfection" or "completeness." In Buddhism, the pāramitās 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.
Paramita: Refers to the six practices, the perfection of which ferries one beyond the sea of suffering and mortality to Nirvana.
The six Paramitas are the following:
- (1) Dana, charity or giving, including the bestowing of truth on others;
- (2) Sila, keeping the discipline;
- (3) Ksanti, patience under suffering and insult;
- (4) Virya, zeal and progress;
- (5) Dhyana, meditation or contemplation;
- (6) Prajna, wisdom, the power to discern reality or truth.
It is the perfection of the last one -- Prajna -- that ferries sentient beings across the ocean of Samsara (the sea of incarnate life) to the shores of Nirvana.
Scholar Donald Lopez 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”).
Theravāda Buddhism's teachings on the pāramitās can be found in late canonical Books and post-canonical commentaries.
In the Pāli Canon's Buddhavaṃsa the Ten Perfections (dasa pāramiyo) are (original terms in Pāli):
- Dāna pāramī : Generosity, giving of oneself
- Sīla pāramī : virtue, morality, proper conduct
- Nekkhamma pāramī : renunciation
- Paññā pāramī : transcendental Wisdom, insight
- Viriya (also spelled vīriya) pāramī : energy, diligence, vigour, effort
- Khanti pāramī : Patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
- Sacca pāramī : truthfulness, honesty
- Adhiṭṭhāna (Adhitthana) pāramī : determination, resolution
- Mettā pāramī : Loving-kindness
- Upekkhā (also spelled upekhā) pāramī : Equanimity, serenity
Two of the above virtues, Metta and Upekkha also comprise two of the Four immeasurables (Brahmavihāra).
The Theravādin teachings on pāramitās can be found in canonical Books (Jātaka, Apadāna, Buddhavaṃsa, Cariyāpiṭaka) and post-canonical commentaries which were written to supplement the Pāli Canon at a later time, and thus they are not an original part of the Theravādin teachings.
The oldest parts of the Sutta Piṭaka (for example, Majjhima Nikāya,Digha Nikāya, Saṃyutta Nikāya and the Aṅguttara Nikāya) do not have any mention of the pāramitās as a category (though they are all mentioned individually).
Some scholars even refer to the teachings of the pāramitās as a semi-Mahāyāna 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. 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 is closer to the ideals of the ascetic tradition of the śramaṇa in Buddhism.
Bodhi (2005) 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. 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.
In Mahāyāna Buddhism, the Prajñapāramitā Sūtras, the Lotus Sutra (Skt., Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra), and a large number of other texts, list the six perfections as (original terms in Sanskrit):
- Dāna pāramitā: Generosity, giving of oneself (布施波羅蜜; in Wylie Tibetan, sbyin-pa)
- Śīla pāramitā : virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct (持戒波羅蜜; tshul-khrims)
- Kṣānti (Kshanti) pāramitā : Patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance (忍辱波羅蜜, bzod-pa)
- Vīrya pāramitā : energy, diligence, vigor, effort (精進波羅蜜, brtson-’grus)
- Dhyāna pāramitā : one-pointed Concentration, contemplation (禪定波羅蜜, bsam-gtan)
- Prajñā pāramitā : Wisdom, insight (智慧波羅蜜, shes-rab)
Note that this list is also mentioned by the Theravāda commentator Dhammapala, who says it is equivalent to the above list of ten.
In the Ten Stages (Daśabhūmika Sutra), four more pāramitās are listed:
- 7. Upāya pāramitā: skillful means
- 8. Praṇidhāna pāramitā: vow, resolution, aspiration, determination
- 9. Bala pāramitā: spiritual Power
- 10. Jñāna pāramitā: Knowledge
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 gyulü is said to be endowed with the six perfections (Sanskrit: ṣad-pāramitā)