The word paramita means ‘perfection’ or ‘completeness’. The Mahayana Buddhist texts contain many references to six paramitas (or perfections) of the character and understanding (here, ‘understanding’ refers to intellect).
The Theravada path seeks a total of ten perfections, including the six found in Mahayana teaching.
What are the Six Perfections (paramitas)?
To gain Buddhahood, a Buddhist must achieve both perfect compassion and perfect understanding. The Six Perfections offer a clear method of practising these perfections. The Six Perfections are:
A Bodhisattva has attained perfect morality, patience, energy, wisdom, meditation and generosity, which together are known as the Six Perfections. A Bodhisattva does not seek enlightenment for themselves, but seeks the end of all other beings’ suffering. They willingly stay on Earth to assist others.
The word in Sanskrit is a combination of ‘bodhi’ (meaning enlightenment) and ‘sattva’ (meaning essence). Therefore, a Bodhisattva is someone whose essence is enlightenment.
Developing the Six Perfections
Each perfection develops a particular aspect of a Buddhist’s character or understanding. The table below sets out what the Six Perfections mean in practice.
Generosity (Dana paramita)
Willingness to give to others what they need, whether that be time, possessions or skills. Willingness to give without regret and with joy, and to give without expectation of reward.
Morality (Sila paramita)
Following the Dhamma (or Dharma) in all aspects, but not without thinking. Working the Dhamma into one’s daily life with intelligence and understanding.
Patience (Ksanti paramita)
Also translated as ‘tolerance’ or ‘endurance’. Being patient with others, enduring hardship and accepting the truth of life’s unsatisfactoriness (or dukkha).
Energy (Virya paramita)
Dedication to attaining Buddhahood.
Meditation (Dhyana paramita)
Meditation is the foundation of wisdom. Inner focus and calm are essential for the deep understanding required for Buddhahood.
Wisdom (Prajna paramita)
Wisdom consists of understanding that all of existence is emptiness (sunyata). This idea is the foundation of all of the paramitas. Wisdom, which means awareness of sunyata, is achieved through the previous five paramitas.