Buddhism A–Z
The Six Paramitas, or Transcendent Perfections
Illustration by Ray Fenwick.

The six paramitas, or transcendent perfections, are the foundation of the Mahayana Buddhist path. The six paramitas are generosity, ethical conduct, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom. These virtues are called transcendent because the subject, object, and practice of the perfections are all seen as empty and free of self. The paramitas are practiced by bodhisattvas, those who are totally dedicated to the benefit of others.

These six paramitas are considered essential qualities to cultivate on one’s path to enlightenment, acting as a roadmap for a meaningful and purposeful life. Practitioners develop these virtues by consciously integrating them through formal practice and daily activities.

You don’t have to be perfect to practice the perfections. Because each paramita is the antidote to a particular obstacle — generosity overcomes stinginess, for example — you can practice them now as part of your path.

1. Generosity (Pali, Sanskrit: dana)

Dana is the practice of selfless giving and generosity, without the expectation of anything in return. It involves offering material support, time, energy, or any other resources for the benefit of others. It also includes the offering of loving-kindness, compassion, and wisdom to others.

2. Ethical Conduct (Pali, Sanskrit:sila)

Sila refers to ethical conduct and moral discipline. It involves living in accordance with virtuous principles and refraining from actions that cause harm to oneself and others. Ethical conduct includes observing the Five Precepts and upholding honesty, non-violence, integrity, and compassion.

3. Patience (Pali: knanti; Sanskrit: ksanti)

Ksanti is the practice of patience, forbearance, and endurance. It involves cultivating patience in the face of difficulty, and remaining calm and composed during provocations and conflicts.

4. Diligence (Pali: viriya; Sanskrit: virya)

Virya is the practice of diligence, effort, and perseverance on the spiritual path. It involves exerting energetic effort in cultivating wholesome qualities, overcoming unwholesome habits, and purifying the mind. 

5. Meditation (Pali: jhana; Sanskrit: dhyana)

Dhyana refers to meditative concentration and the development of focused, one-pointed awareness. It involves cultivating a calm, clear, and focused mind through meditation practice. 

The focused mind developed in meditative concentration enables one to see the true nature of reality.

6. Wisdom (Pali, Sanskrit: prajna)

Prajna is the practice of wisdom and discernment. It involves developing insight into the nature of reality and seeing things as they truly are. Wisdom includes the understanding of compassion, impermanence, non-self, and the interconnectedness of all phenomena. It also involves transcending ignorance and delusion to gain insight into the ultimate truth.

There are also variations of the perfections. For example, along with the six listed here, Mahayana Buddhists also consider method (upaya), vow (pranidhana), power (bala), and knowledge (jnana). In Theravada Buddhism, the paramitas are referred to as parami and comprise generosity, ethical conduct, renunciation (nekkhamma), wisdom, diligence, patience, truthfulness (sacca), loving-kindness (metta), and equanimity (upekkha).

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