The six perfections (paramitas) in Buddhism are considered “invaluable qualities” that develop during a Buddhist practice. The literal translation of “paramita” is “gone to the other shore,” a reference to the transcendence of delusion and reconnection with Buddha mind as reality. While the six perfections are part of the Enlightened state, they can also be cultivated by those on the path. The following is an overview of the six perfections:
Giving without selfishness is the first perfection. It applies to the gifting of material items to those in need as well as giving intangible things like protection and understanding. True generosity is motivated by a loving intent; if the motive is anything other than love and a pure motive to help, the gift can actually have a harmful effect. There should be no other agenda than to uplift, protect, help or comfort someone.
This perfection refers to refraining from negative acts, gravitating toward what is positive, and assisting others as needed. Again, one’s motivation is key; if someone has a motive in their heart to harm someone, even an act that looks positive on the surface could have a harmful effect. Some harmful acts and behaviors can feel compulsive or addictive, such as gossiping, being competitive or wishing someone ill will. In these cases, the bodhisattva is encouraged to make a vow, set an intention and work on making a change. In some cases, discipline will be required to live ethically. The intention to live ethically is the first step.
Patience can manifest in a number of ways, including refraining from hurting those who have hurt you, managing any suffering you must endure with dignity until it passes, and also being patient with your own path to Enlightenment. Having patience with those who do wrong is easier when we can realize most people are doing the best they can; we all have been conditioned in specific ways that can lead to behaviors that feel almost involuntary at times. Holding the intention for healing, wisdom and the highest good for yourself and others can be a component of skillful patience. You should also have patience with yourself in your quest to cultivate more patience.
4. Joyful Endeavor
This perfection refers to having enthusiasm and perseverance in both living the other perfections and in pursuing the ultimate truth in life – Enlightenment. This diligence should be as joyful and sincere as possible, with a motive to be the best human being you can be. Joyful endeavor can assist you in reducing your own suffering as well as the suffering of others.
The ability to concentrate and “be the watcher” of thoughts, emotions and mind chatter is the fifth perfection. Managing negative emotions and transcending them is then possible. Mastery of meditation allows the practitioner to see and know the difference between mind activity and one’s clear, radiant true nature and not be swept away by the mind. A fixation on a separate self eases and one can realize the inherent “emptiness” of all things; all forms only have the meaning we give them. From here, loving kindness and compassion for all beings can be cultivated and increased through meditation.
Wisdom and discernment can come from receiving education or instruction, having realizations on your own, or during meditation. This perfection is more cerebral than the others, but its cultivation is part of a well-rounded life.