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Six Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism

By Gaurav Manandhar at
Six Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism
Paramitas is generally translated as perfection or completeness.

Paramitas is generally translated as “perfection or completeness”. In Buddhism, there are certain virtues such as purification of karma and helping sentient beings while trying to attain the final goal of Buddhism, Enlightenment. The perfection of these virtues can be known as Paramitas of Buddhism. According to Buddhist texts and scriptures, Mahayana Buddhism has developed six paramitas or perfections while Theravada Buddhism has developed ten paramitas or perfections.

Various sutras in Mahayana Buddhism such as the Lotus sutra, the Prajnaparamita sutras and other various texts mentioned and listed six paramitas or perfections. They are:

Perfection of Generosity: Dana Paramitas

Giving is a practice to release oneself from greed and self-clinging. And giving with the pure generosity is known as Dana Paramitas or Perfection of Generosity. According to the list of perfection, in various sutras of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, Perfection of Generosity always comes first. The perfection of Generosity is more than just giving or charity. The practice of giving and receiving as an expression of selflessness and existence between each other is the true meaning of Dana Paramitas.

Perfection of Morality: Sila Paramitas

The perfection of ethical conduct and morality is known as Sila Paramitas. In Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, Sila Paramitas always comes second. In Noble Eightfold Path, right speech, right action, and right livelihood can be categorized in morality or ethical conduct. The perfection of right speech, right action, and right livelihood holds the true meaning of Sila Paramitas. Although there are countless precepts in Buddhism, the Sila Paramitas truly teach is about living in harmony with each other without hurting each other and not living according to rules. In Buddhism, understanding the true meaning of Karma is always related to the Perfection of Morality. What Karma is good and what is not helps you to truly understand the meaning of morality.

Perfection of Patience: Ksanti Paramitas

The term Ksanti also means patience. Cultivating the patience is taught to Buddhist monks upon learning the third paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism. The Perfection of Patience is also the sixth paramitas in Theravada Buddhism. Being able to withstand, and cultivating patience, tolerance and endurance is what Ksanti Paramitas taught. According to some Mahayana sutras, Ksanti can be described in three perspective such as enduring hardship, patience with others and acceptance of truth.

  • Enduring Hardship – learning to remain strong and being able to withstand the despair of losing someone or feeling pain
  • Patience with others – Handling the mistreatment from other or how to deal with an anger against someone
  • Accepting the truth – Accepting the truth about ourselves like we are selfish, we are the cause of our own misfortune and accepting the outcomes of our action.

Perfection of Energy: Virya Paramitas

The Perfection of Energy or Virya paramitas is the fourth paramitas of traditional six paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism and the fifth paramitas of Theravada Buddhism. The term Virya has different meanings like a hero, or the power of great warriors to win over enemies or it also refers to physical as well as mental energy. Taking care of own health is a part of developing the physical energy. Developing the mental energy is the bigger challenge. Chanting and meditation can be the traditional method to develop own mental energy. But the Perfection of Energy also includes three components in order to develop the mental energy.

  • Developing Character and courage – development of character as well as cultivating the courage, confidence, trust and conviction to develop the will to walk the path as far as it goes and for as long as it takes.
  • Developing through spiritual training – learning the rituals and Buddhist teachings and also taking one’s practice in hand and not depending on the teacher of Sangha and their teachings
  • By benefiting others – to perform the practice of action for the sole purpose of benefiting others like attaining Nirvana for the benefits of all sentient beings.

Perfection of Meditation: Dhyana Paramitas

Meditation is one of the central Buddhist practices and the fifth Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism is the Perfection of Meditation. The practice of meditation can be taken as the means to relieve oneself from stress and various behavioral disorders. According to Buddhist sense, meditation can be taken as a discipline rather than a treatment. Broadly speaking, the schools of Buddhism teach basically two forms of meditation.

  • Samatha – the practice of Samatha usually focuses on the breath and focuses on the releasing of the breath to make a mind calm and quiet.
  • Vipassana – Vipassana means insight and the practice of meditating to approach one’s insight.

Perfection of Wisdom: Prajna Paramitas

The last paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism and also one of the famous paramitas is Prajna Paramitas or the Perfection of Wisdom. The Perfection of Wisdom mainly focuses on emptiness or “Sunyata”. Actually Sunyata or emptiness is located at the heart of all Mahayana Buddhist teachings. According the various sutras of Mahayana Buddhist teachings, wisdom is believed to contain all five other perfections.

According to some modern Mahayana Buddhist teachings, the sutras, and other Buddhist texts also mentioned other four paramitas making the ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism. But it is different than that of the Paramitas of Theravada Buddhism. The other four Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism are as follows:

  1. Upaya Paramitas – Perfection of Skillful means
  2. Pranidhana Paramitas – Perfection of Vow
  3. Bala Paramitas - Perfection of Spiritual Power
  4. Jnana Paramitas – Perfection of Knowledge