The Six Perfections

National Headquarters  |  February 22, 2019
Photo Credit: Peter Lin

In Buddhism, the Six Perfections (Sanskrit: pāramitās), also called the Six Paramitas, are guides for practice along the path of spiritual cultivation. They are:

  1. Generosity / Giving (Sanskrit: dāna)
  2. Precepts / Morality (Sanskrit: śilā)
  3. Forbearance / Endurance (Sanskrit: kṣānti)
  4. Diligence (Sanskrit: viriya)
  5. Samadhi / Meditative Concentration (Sanskrit: dhyāna)
  6. Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā)

Dharma Master Cheng Yen often points out that the journey to Buddhahood is extremely long and challenging.

During this time, we’re bound to encounter obstacles, such as criticisms and inner struggles, which test our faith in cultivation. We might become exhausted and feel discouraged, yet we must learn to practice over eons of time without growing tired of cultivation. The Six Paramitas allow us to overcome these obstacles.

The First Paramita involves generosity and giving, yet as the Buddha taught, “You don’t need to be rich to give. Giving doesn’t require money. Even in poverty, with no material possessions to your name, you can still give.” Beyond material goods, we can offer our strength or other capacities, our time and effort, our love and care, as well as respect and kindness. Master Cheng Yen further reminds us that we should give without seeking anything in return, as such genuine generosity purifies our heart, makes us spiritually rich, and helps us feel at peace and at ease.

The Second Paramita addresses moral discipline through upholding Buddhist Precepts.

The precepts are the teachings for wholesome conduct which Shakyamuni Buddha offered based on his insight into universal truths.

Traditionally there are five: Do not kill; Do not steal; Do not commit sexual misconduct; Do not lie; Do not drink alcohol. However, Tzu Chi members follow Ten Tzu Chi Buddhist Precepts, as Master Cheng Yen added five in response to the circumstances of modern society. The precepts are vital guides along the path, as Master Cheng Yen explains:

The precepts outline the right path and in so doing, they protect us by helping to keep us away from wrongdoing. As we work in the world, our hearts can very easily become tainted. The precepts guide us to cultivate purity of heart and mind. It is this inner purity that enables us to touch an inner state that is very tranquil and pure.

The Third Paramita concerns forbearance, or endurance, which can help us accept any situation, including encounters with difficult people and criticism. Master Cheng Yen emphasizes the central importance of this paramita among the six:

In our cultivation, the Buddha gave us the Six Paramitas to practice and they are tools that will enable us to safely ride over the tumultuous waves of our afflictions. But if we haven’t developed patient endurance, it will actually be hard to practice the other paramitas. To truly practice giving and moral discipline, we’ll need the capacity to endure challenging conditions. To be diligent and have meditative concentration and wisdom, we’ll also need the stabilizing force that patient endurance provides.

The Fourth Paramita of diligence is also central, as it allows us to remain steadfast on the path of spiritual cultivation, and in the case of Tzu Chi, the Bodhisattva Path as well.

In our cultivation, the Buddha gave us the Six Paramitas to practice and they are tools that will enable us to safely ride over the tumultuous waves of our afflictions. But if we haven’t developed patient endurance, it will actually be hard to practice the other paramitas. To truly practice giving and moral discipline, we’ll need the capacity to endure challenging conditions. To be diligent and have meditative concentration and wisdom, we’ll also need the stabilizing force that patient endurance provides.

The Fifth Paramita pertains to developing Samadhi, or meditative concentration, and involves training ourselves to be truly mindful of our thoughts and actions, always discerning right from wrong.

If we haven’t developed Samadhi or a kind of [unshakeable quality] of mind and purpose … our minds will easily be affected by the conditions around us. Because our minds are constantly reacting, our wisdom can’t arise. Only with Samadhi and by developing the capacity to not be perturbed by circumstances can we develop wisdom and insight [the sixth paramita].

The Sixth Paramita refers to the cultivation of wisdom:

With wisdom, we’ll be able to think things through clearly and know what should be done. We won’t be consumed by fear, but will be able to do what’s best for the situation.

The road to enlightenment is long and arduous and Master Cheng Yen repeatedly counsels us to practice respectfully and diligently without interruption: That’s the attitude to embrace with regard to the Six Paramitas and spiritual cultivation.

Only through such practice can we attain an inner state of great purity and silent tranquility, with vows vast as the endless void—vows that we hold on to, unwaveringly, for countless eons of time. 

Edited excerpts of Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s talks and conversations in Chinese, as compiled into English by the Jing Si Abode English Editorial Team, appear in italics.

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