The perfections are the virtues that are fully developed by a bodhisattva (Buddha-in-training) to become a Buddha. All Buddhist traditions acknowledge that the perfections are practiced through multiple lifetimes extending over aeons of time for the purpose of achieving full buddhahood for the welfare of beings. The lists of perfections varied according to the genre of literature in which they appeared. The practices that constitute the varied lists of perfections and how the perfections are conceived differ not only between groups but also between scholarly authors. The pāramitās appear in Buddhist literature as a group of perfections in varying lists, but the lists are notoriously unfixed, with six and ten perfections being the most common amount. The Theravada tradition recognizes ten, although only eight perfections are listed in the Buddhāpadāna and seven in the Cariyāpiṭaka (Horner 1975, cited under Editions and Translations). The ten perfections in the Theravada tradition are (1) generosity (dāna), (2) morality (sīla), (3) renunciation (nekhamma), (4) insight (pañña), (5) energy (viriya), (6) patience (khanti), (7) truthfulness (sacca), (8) resolution (adhiṭṭhāna), (9) loving-kindness (metta), and (10) equanimity (upekkhā). A set of six perfections became common among some genres of mainstream Buddhist literature and developed into a standard list in a number of Mahayana sutras. The six are (1) generosity (dāna), (2) morality (śīla), (3) patience (kṣānti), (4) vigor (vīrya), (5) concentration (dhyāna), and (6) wisdom (prajñā). This list was expanded to complement the ten stages (bhūmi) traversed by a bodhisattva in the course leading to full buddhahood. The additional perfections are (7) skill-in-means (upāya-kauśalya), (8) resolution (praṇidhāna), (9) strength (bala), and (10) knowledge (jñāna). The manner in which the perfections have been understood in different Buddhist cultures, such as in Tibet or Southeast Asia, is dependent on the Buddhist literature that is accessible or acceptable to the particular culture and the interpretive attention given to that literature.
A number of introductory studies on the perfections have been published in the last few decades. The recent reprint of Dayal 2004, though outdated, still remains the most thorough overview of the perfections in Buddhist Sanskrit literature. Aitken 1994 presents the six perfections from a modern Zen Buddhist perspective. Boorstein 2002 offers a modern guide for Westerners to practice the ten perfections. Nāgārjuna 2002 presents an English translation selected from the classic French work of Lamotte on the six perfections. Wright 2009 provides an overview of the six perfections in relation to the cultivation of moral character. Dalai Lama XVI 2001 and Geshe Sonam Rinchen 1998 provide an overview of the perfections from a traditional Tibetan Buddhist perspective. Xingyun 2008 illustrates the perfections from Buddhist stories preserved in Chinese.
Aitken, Robert. The Practice of Perfection: The Pāramitās from a Zen Buddhist Perspective. New York: Pantheon, 1994.
A presentation of ten perfections from a normative and modern perspective based on Zen Buddhism.
Boorstein, Sylvia. Pay Attention, for Goodness’ Sakes: Practicing the Perfections of the Heart—the Buddhist Path of Kindness. New York: Ballantine, 2002.
A guide for modern Westerners on the practice of the ten perfections.
Dalai Lama XIV. Buddhist Teaching: The Six Perfections. VHS. Bountiful, UT: Utah Tibet Foundation, 2001.
Lectures by the present Dalai Lama on the practice of the six perfections.
Dayal, Har. The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature. Delhi, 2004: Motilal Banarsidass.
Originally published in 1932, although often considered outdated, this publication contains the most thorough discussion of the perfections (pp. 165–269) in Buddhist Sanskrit literature.
Geshe Sonam Rinchen. The Six Perfections: An Oral Teaching. Translated and edited by Ruth Sonam. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1998.
Teachings on how to practice the six perfections by a modern Tibetan teacher from the Geluk tradition.
Nāgārjuna. The Six Perfections: An Abridged Version of E. Lamotte’s French Translation of Nāgārjuna’s Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra, Chapters XVI–XXX. Edited by Tadeusz Skorupski. Buddhica Britannica 9. Tring, UK: Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2002.
A presentation and English translation of the section on the six perfections from the Dazhidu lun, attributed to Nāgārjuna from Étienne Lamotte’s French translation.
Xingyun. Traveling to the Other Shore: Buddha’s Stories on the Six Perfections. Edited by Tom Manzo, and Shujan Cheng. Hacienda Heights, CA: Buddha’s Light, 2008.
Selected stories attributed to the Buddha translated from Chinese, illustrating the practice of the six perfections.
Wright, Dale Stuart. The Six Perfections: Buddhism and the Cultivation of Character. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
A guidebook on cultivating the six perfections within a modern context based on Mahayana Buddhist texts.
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