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

Awakening of Faith Sutra (Goddard, 1932)

“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.”

Diamond Sutra (BTTS)

“Moreover, Subhuti, as to dharmas, a Bodhisattva should not dwell anywhere when he gives. He should not dwell in forms when he gives, nor should he dwell in that which is heard, smelled, tasted, felt or thought when he gives. Subhuti, a Bodhisattva should give thus: he should not dwell in marks. And why? If a Bodhisattva does not dwell in marks when he gives, his blessings and virtues are immeasurable.”

“Subhuti, what do you think, is space in the east measurable?

“No, World Honored One.”

“Subhuti, is space in the south, west, north, or in the intermediate directions, or above, or below, measurable?”

“No, World Honored One.”

“Subhuti, the blessings and virtue of a Bodhisattva who does not dwell in marks when he gives are just as immeasurable. Subhuti, a Bodhisattva should only dwell in what is taught thus.”

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 Substance of the Three Wheels, 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 abandonded the mark 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. Disciples, in order to disarm prejudice, 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 (Kṣānti) Paramita: Ideal Patience

  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 Scripture; and another disciple, realising that within the meaning and purport of it there can be no abstract 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 illimitable.”

The Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra: (Conze, 1975)

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, p. 139)

Dhyana Paramita: Ideal Meditation

Practice of Dhyana, by Soyen Shaku (1906)

In the Chandradîpa-samâdhi Sûtra, the benefits of dhyâna-practice are enumerated as follows: (1) When a man practises dhyâna according to the regulation, all his senses become calm and serene, and, without knowing it on his part, he begins to enjoy the habit. (2) Loving kindness will take possession of his heart, which, then freeing itself from sinfulness, looks upon all sentient beings as his brothers and sisters. (3) Such poisonous and harassing passions as anger, infatuation, avarice, etc., gradually retire from the field of consciousness. (4) Having a close watch over all the senses, dhyâna guards them against the intrusion of evils. (5) Being pure in heart and serene in disposition, the practiser of dhyâna feels no inordinate appetite in lower passions. (6) The mind being concentrated on higher thoughts, all sorts of temptation and attachment and egotism are kept away. (7) Though he well knows the emptiness of vanity, he does not fall into the snare of nihilism. (8) However entangling the nets of birth and death, he is well aware of the way to deliverance therefrom. (9) Having fathomed the deepest depths of the Dharma, he abides in the wisdom of Buddha. (10) As he is not disturbed by any temptation, he feels like an eagle that, having escaped from imprisonment, freely wings his flight through the air.

*      *      *

Awakening of Faith Sutra (Goddard, 1932):

“The beginner should consider and practise Dhyana in two aspects: as cessation of the mind’s intellectual activities, and as realisation of insight. To bring all mental states that produce vagrant thinking to a stand is called cessation. To adequately understand the transitory and emptiness and egolessness of all things is insight. At first each of them should be practised separately by the beginner, but when, by degrees, he attains facility, and finally attains perfection, the two aspects will naturally blend into one perfect state of mental tranquillity. Those who practise Dhyana should dwell in solitude and, sitting erect, should remain motionless, seeking to quiet the mind. Do not fix the thoughts on any definite thing that you have sensed or discriminated or memorised; all particularisations, all imaginations, all recollections, are to be excluded, because all things are uncreate, devoid of all attributes, ever changing. All thinking is preceded by something which has been awakened by an external stimulus: thus in Dhyana one should seek to abandon all notions connected with an external world. Furthermore, in thinking, something follows which has been elaborated in his own mind: thus he should seek to abandon thinking. Because his attention is distracted by the external world, he is warned to turn to his inner, intuitive consciousness. If the process of mentation begins again, he is warned not to let his mind become attached to anything, because independent of mind, they have no existence. Dhyana is not at all to be confined to sitting erect in meditation; one’s mind should be concentrated at all times, whether sitting, standing, moving, working; one should constantly discipline himself to that end. Gradually entering into the state of Samadhi, he will transcend all hindrances and become strengthened in faith, a faith that will be immovable.”

Diamond Sutra (Goddard, 1932)

The Lord Buddha continued: “Subhuti, the disciples who aspire to supreme spiritual wisdom ought thus to know, to believe in, and to interpret all phenomena. They ought to eliminate from their minds every seeming evidence of concrete objects; they ought to eliminate from their minds even the notions of such things; and become oblivious to every idea connected with them. And why? Because, so long as he cherishes ideas of and concerning an entity, a being, a living being, a personality, his mind is kept in confusion. He must even become oblivious to the idea that there is any one to whom the idea of sentient life can become oblivious. If he were to think within his mind, ‘I must become oblivious to every idea of sentient life,’ he could not be described as being wholly enlightened. And why? Because, within the bounds of reality there is no such thing, no entity, no being, no living being, no personality, nothing whatever that can be discriminated, and therefore, there can be no reality to ideas concerning them, for all these things are merely manifestations of the mind itself.”

Subhuti enquired, saying: “Blessed One, in the ages to come, will sentient beings destined to hear this Dharma, awaken within their minds these essential elements of faith?”

The Lord Buddha replied, smiling: “Subhuti, it cannot be asserted that there are or will be any such things as sentient beings, nor can it be asserted that there will not be. At present there are none, they are merely termed ‘sentient beings.’ And as to any one being saved: how can there be one to find it by seeking, or to know it if it is ever found? One cannot gain self-realisation of Prajna Paramita without transcending the conscious faculty. To fully realise emptiness, egolessness, imagelessness by the use of the discriminating mind is futile. It is only by practising the Dhyana Paramita, by identifying oneself with emptiness and egolessness, that emptiness and egolessness is to be realised. In the exercise of the Dhyana Paramita, unless the mind of the enlightened disciple is free of all phenomena, he is like a person lost in impenetrable darkness, to whom every object is invisible and himself helpless. But an enlightened disciple practising the Paramita with a mind free of every phenomenon, is like unto a person to whom suddenly the power of vision is restored, and he sees every thing as in the meridian glory of the sunlight.”

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.

Bodhidharma (440-534):

Cultivating the paramitas means purifying the six senses by overcoming the six thieves. Casting out the thief of the eye by abandoning the visual world is charity. Keeping out the thief of the ear by not listening to sound is morality. Humbling the thief of the nose by equating smells as neutral is patience. Controlling the thief of the mouth by conquering desires to taste, praise, and explain is devotion. Quelling the thief of the body by remaining unmoved by sensations of touch is meditation. And taming the thief of the mind by not yielding to delusions but practicing wakefulness is wisdom. These six paramitas are vessels. Like boats or rafts, they ferry beings to the other shore: hence they’re called ferries. (Bloodstream Sermon, Red Pine, 1987)


By “being in accord with the Dharma” is meant that the Reason which we call the Dharma in its essence is pure, and that this Reason is the principle of emptiness in all that is manifested; it is above defilements and attachments, and there is no self, no other in it. Says the Sutra: “In the Dharma there are no sentient beings, because it is free from the stain of being; in the Dharma there is no self because it is free from the stain 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, and they never begrudge, they never know what an ill grace means. As they have a perfect understanding of the threefold nature of emptiness [no giver, nothing given, no recipient—Diamond Sutra], they are above partiality and attachment. Only because of their will to cleanse all beings of their stains, they come among them as of them, but they are not attached to form. This is the self-benefiting phase of their lives. They, however, know also how to benefit others, and again how to glorify the truth of enlightenment. As with the virtue of charity, so with the other five virtues. The wise practise the six virtues of perfection in order to get rid of confused thoughts, and yet there is no specific consciousness on their part that they are engaged in any meritorious deeds. This is called being in accord with the Dharma. (“The Twofold Entrance,” Suzuki, 1949)

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.

2 thoughts on “The Paramitas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s