The Paramitas

Dana   Sila   Ksanti   Virya   Dhyana   Prajna

THEN SAID MAHAMATI: It has been said by the Blessed One that by fulfilling the six Paramitas, Buddhahood is realised. Pray tell us what are the Paramitas, and how are they to be fulfilled?

The Blessed One replied: The Paramitas are ideals of spiritual perfection that are to be the guide of the Bodhisattvas on the path to self-realisation.  (Goddard, Lankavatara Sutra)


Dana Paramita: Ideal Charity


The practice of being in accord with the Dharma is this: the Way, which we [Hindus] call the Dharma, in its essence is pure, and this Dharma is the principle of emptiness in all that is manifested. In it there are no defilements and attachments, no self or not-self. Says the Sutra: “In the Dharma there are no sentient beings because it is free from the impurity of being; in the Dharma there is no self because it is free from the impurity of selfhood.” When the wise understand this truth and believe in it, their lives will be in accord with the Dharma.

As there is in the essence of the Dharma no desire to possess, the wise are ever ready to practise charity (dana) with their body, life, and property, without begrudging or regret. As they understand perfectly the emptiness of the threefold blessing (cakka – giver, gift recipient), they have no partiality or attachment. Only because of their will to cleanse all beings of their impurities do they come among them as of them, but they are not attached to form. Thus through their own practice they benefit others and glorify the truth of enlightenment. As with the perfection of charity, so with the other five perfections. The wise practise the six perfections in order to rid themselves of confused thoughts, and yet there is no consciousness on their part that they are engaged in any meritorious deeds. This is what is meant by being in accord with the Dharma. (The Twofold Entrance)

Awakening of Faith Sutra

“If persons should come to them and ask for something, they should as far as their means allow, supply it ungrudgingly and thus make them happy. If they see people threatened with danger, they should try every means for rescuing them and restore them to a feeling of safety. If people come to them desiring instruction in the Dharma, they should, as far as they are acquainted with it and according to their discretion, deliver discourses upon religious themes. And when they are performing these acts of charity, let them not cherish any desire for fame or advantage, nor covet any earthly reward. Thinking only of the benefits and blessings that are to be mutually shared, let them aspire for the most excellent, the most perfect wisdom.” (Goddard, 1932)

The Diamond Sutra

“Moreover, Subhuti, a Bodhisattva who gives of himself is not to dwell on anything, nor is he to dwell anywhere. When he gives of himself he is not to dwell on that which is seen, nor on that which is heard, smelled, tasted, felt, or thought. For, Subhuti, the Bodhisattva, the great being, is to give of himself in such a way that he does not dwell on the slightest difference between things. And why? Because the accumulation of merit of that Bodhisattva who gives of himself without dwelling anywhere is difficult to measure.”

“What do you think, Subhuti, is it easy to take the measure of space in the east?”
Subhuti said: “Indeed not, Lord.” “Likewise, is it easy to take the measure of space in the south, west, north, below, above—in all of the ten directions?” Subhuti said: “Indeed not, Lord.” The Lord said: “In the same way it is difficult to measure the accumulation of merit of that Bodhisattva who gives of himself without dwelling on anything. That is why those who have set out in the Bodhisattva path are to give of themselves without dwelling on any knowledge of a difference.” (Diamond Sutra)

Comment of Dhyana Master Hsuan Hua (1974)

To have no dwelling is to have no attachment. No attachment is liberation. Therefore, not dwelling, one is liberated, independent, and not blocked or obstructed by anything. Moreover, a Bodhisattva should not dwell anywhere when he practices giving. In other words he should not be attached when he gives. If he is able to free himself from attachment, he has understood that the essence of the threefold blessing (cakka), composed of one who gives, one who receives, and that which is given, is empty. If your act of giving carries with it the thought, “I practice giving and have done many meritorious and virtuous deeds,” or if you are aware of the receiver, or of the goods given, then you have not abandoned the characteristic of giving. You should give and be as if you had not given.


Sila Paramita: Ideal Conduct

Awakening of Faith Sutra (Goddard, 1932)

“Lay members should abstain from all unkindness, stealing, unchastity, lying, duplicity, slander, frivolous talk, covetousness, malice, currying favor, and false teachings. In order to disarm prejudice, disciples should retire from the excitement of the worldly life and, abiding in solitude, should practise those deeds which lead to restraint and contentment. In the case of advanced monks, they have other rules to follow and should feel all the more shame, fear and remorse for any failure to observe the minor precepts. Strictly observing all the precepts given by the Tathagatas, they should endeavor, by their example, to induce all beings to abandon evil and practise the good.”


Kshanti Paramita: Ideal Patience (Kṣānti)

  1. patience towards beings (sattvakṣānti)
  2. patience towards phenomena (dharmakṣānti)

Awakening of Faith Sutra (Goddard, 1932)

“If disciples meet with the ills of life they should not shun them. If they suffer painful experiences, they should not feel afflicted or treated unjustly, but should always rejoice in remembering and contemplating the deep significance of the Dharma.”

Diamond Sutra (Goddard, 1932)

At that time the Lord Buddha addressed Subhuti, saying: “If a good disciple, whether man or woman, devoted to the observance and study of this Scripture, is thereby lightly esteemed or despised, it is because, in a previous life there had been committed some grievous transgression, now followed by its inexorable retribution. But, although in this life lightly esteemed or despised, he bears it patiently; the compensating merit thus acquired will cause the transgression of a former life to be fully expiated, and the patient disciple will be adequately recompensed by his final attainment of supreme spiritual enlightenment.”

“Subhuti, in aspiring to supreme spiritual wisdom, the mind ought to be insensible to every sensuous influence, and be independent of everything pertaining to form, sound, odour, taste, touch, or discrimination. There ought to be cultivated a condition of complete independence of mind, because if the mind is depending upon any external thing, it is cherishing a delusion. In reality, there is nothing external to the mind: even the whole realm of sentient life is ephemeral and illusory. Therefore, in the exercise of this Paramita, the mind of an enlightened disciple ought to be unperturbed by any form of phenomena.”

The Lord Buddha addressed Subhuti, saying: “If an enlightened disciple in the exercise of this Paramita is patient in the face of external difficulties and steadily studies and observes this Doctrine; and another disciple, realising that within the meaning and purport of it there can be no individual existence—no suffering, no one to suffer, no one to attain supreme spiritual enlightenment—and yet patiently accepts it and continues to perfect himself in its virtue, this disciple will have a cumulative merit greater than the former. And why? Because, he is unaffected by any consideration of merit or reward.”

Subhuti enquired of the Lord Buddha: “In what respect are enlightened disciples unaffected by merit or reward?”

The Lord Buddha replied: “Enlightened disciples, having patiently accepted the truth of egolessness do not aspire for supreme enlightenment in any spirit of covetousness or acquisitiveness; they never think of merit and its commensurate reward. But the Tathagata, because of his perfect wisdom, knows of their patience and knows that for them there is reserved a cumulative merit that is immeasurable and unlimited.”

Jacob, foremost disciple of Yeshua

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2, New King James)

The Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra

Furthermore, a Bodhisattva stands firm in the perfection of patience. He instigates, exhorts, introduces beings to patience, in the following way: On account of his first production of the thought of enlightenment he puts on the armour thus: “If all beings were to hit me with sticks, clods, fists, or swords, not even one single thought of rage should be produced in me; and also should I introduce all beings to such patience!”

Just as if a clever magician or magician’s apprentice were to conjure up a great crowd of people: if they all hit him with sticks, clods, fists, or swords, nevertheless, he would produce towards them not even a single thought of rage; and if he were to introduce these magically created beings to such patience, no being at all would have been introduced to it, however many he had introduced to it. The same is true of the Bodhisattva. And why? For such is the true nature of dharma that in fact they are illusory. (Conze, 1975, p. 139)


The sage has patience with things and does not have patience with himself and with him there is no grasping and rejecting, disliking or liking. The stupid one has patience with himself and does not have patience with things, and with him there is grasping and rejecting, disliking and liking. If you can empty your mind, be unhurried and free and completely forget the world, this is having patience with things and going along with the times, which is easy. Opposing, resisting and changing things is difficult. If something wills to come, let it come and do not resist it; if it wills to depart, let it go and do not chase after it. Whatever you have done is past and not to be regretted. That which you have not yet done (or that which has not yet happened) is to be let go of and not to be thought of. This is to be a practitioner of the Way. Having patience, one leaves the world to its own devices, and gain and loss do not arise from the self. If you have patience and do not oppose, if you let go and do not resist, where and when will you not roam in the remote? (Bodhidharma’s Method for Quieting the Mind)


Dhyana Paramita: Ideal Meditation

The Lord Buddha said:

Not by means of visible form,
Not by audible sound,
Is Buddha to be perceived;
Only in the solitude and purity of Dhyana
Is one to realise the blessedness of Buddha.


Even though the mind has entered delusion, do not push delusion away. Instead, when something arises from the mind, rely on the Dharma to gaze at the place from which it arises. If the mind discriminates, rely on the Dharma to gaze at the place of the discrimination. Whether greed, anger or ignorance arise, rely on the Dharma to gaze at the place from which they arise. To see that there is no place from which these can arise is to cultivate the Way. If there is anything arising from the mind, then investigate it, and relying on the Dharma, clean house! (Bodhidharma’s Method for Quieting the Mind)


When practicing with the satipatthana, it is important to remember that our task is just to contemplate these things. In mindfulness practice we observe; attachment and aversion (thoughts and feelings) will go away if we bring them up into awareness. We observe our judgments of good and bad, right and wrong and let go of them. Judgment only leads to suffering. The objective is to observe with equanimity and detachment. (The Four Foundations of Mindfulness)

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Analayo (2004). Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization. Cambridge, UK: Windhorse Publications.

The Buddhist Text Translation Society (1974). The Diamond Sutra: A General Explanation of the Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra. San Francisco: Sino-American Buddhist Association, Inc. (Diamond-Sutra-BTTS)

Conze, Edward. (1975). Buddhist Wisdom Books : Containing the Diamond Sūtra and the Heart Sūtra. 2nd Ed. London : George Allen & Unwin. First Ed. 1957. (Diamond-Sutra-Conze)

Conze, Edward (1975). The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom. University of California Press. (download)

Goddard, Dwight (1932). A Buddhist Bible (First Edition). (

Suzuki, D. T. (1949). Essays in Zen Buddhism (First Series). New York: Grove Press.

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