Paramitas: The Ten Perfections of Mahayana Buddhism

Kannon, the Japanese form of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, depicted in a Japanese temple.
Kannon, the Japanese form of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, depicted in a Japanese temple. © Travelasia / Getty Images

Mahayana Buddhism developed six paramitas or perfections early in its history. Later, the list was fleshed out to include ten perfections. The Six or Ten Perfections are virtues to be cultivated and practiced on the path to realizing enlightenment. To add to the confusion, Theravada Buddhism has its own list of Ten Perfections. They have several items in common, but they are not identical.

Although the Six Perfections are complete in themselves, the additional items in the list of Ten Perfections add the dimension of the bodhisattva path. A bodhisattva is an "enlightenment being" who has bowed to bring all other beings to enlightenment. The bodhisattva is the ideal of practice for all Mahayana Buddhists.

With the additional four "perfections, we see the fruits of wisdom manifested in the world. In some ways this recalls the Oxherding Pictures of Zen Buddhism, which represent stages of enlightenment. Realization of great enlightenment is represented in the eighth and ninth pictures. The tenth shows an enlightened master walking in a marketplace, bestowing blessings. Read on for the complete list of the Mahayana Ten Perfections.

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Dana Paramita: Perfection of Generosity

Perfection of Generosity is about more than just charitable giving. It is generosity as an expression of selflessness and an acknowledgment that we all inter-exist with each other. Without attaching to possessions or to ourselves we live to benefit all beings. 

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Sila Paramita: Perfection of Morality

The Perfection of Morality is not about living according to rules -- although there are Precepts, and they are important -- but living in harmony with others. Sila Paramita also touches on the teachings of karma

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Ksanti Paramita: Perfection of Patience

Ksanti means "unaffected by" or "able to withstand." It could be translated as tolerance, endurance and composure as well as patience or forbearance. It is a patience with ourselves and others and also an ability to bear hardship and misfortune.

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Virya Paramita: Perfection of Energy

The word virya comes from vira, an ancient Indo-Iranian word ancient that means "hero." Virya is about tirelessly and courageously overcoming obstacles and walking the path as far as it goes. 

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Dhyana Paramita: Perfection of Meditation

Meditation in Buddhism is not done for stress relief. It is mental cultivation, preparing the mind to realize wisdom (which is the next perfection).

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Prajna Paramita: Perfection of Wisdom

The original Six Perfections ended with wisdom, which in Mahayana Buddhism is equated with the doctrine of sunyata, or emptiness. Very simply, this is the teaching that all phenomena are without self-essence. And wisdom, the late Robert Aitken Roshi wrote, is "the raison d'être of the Buddha way."

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Upaya Paramita: Perfection of Skillful Means

Very simply, upaya is any teaching or activity that helps others realize enlightenment. Sometimes upaya is spelled upaya-kausalya, which is "skill in means." One skilled in upaya can lead others away from their delusions.

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Pranidhana Paramita: Perfection of Vow

This one is sometimes called Perfection of Aspiration. In particular, it is about dedicating oneself to the bodhisattva path and living the bodhisattva vows. 

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Bala Paramita: Perfection of Spiritual Power

Spiritual power in this sense could refer to supernormal powers, such as an ability to read minds. Or, it could refer to the natural powers awakened by spiritual practice, such as increasing concentration, awareness and patience.

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Jnana Paramita: Perfection of Knowledge

The Perfection of Knowledge is the implementation of wisdom in the phenomenal world. We can think of this as something like the way a physician uses knowledge of medicine to heal people. This Perfection also ties together the previous nine so that they can be put to work to help others.

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Your Citation
O'Brien, Barbara. "Paramitas: The Ten Perfections of Mahayana Buddhism." Learn Religions, Sep. 5, 2021, O'Brien, Barbara. (2021, September 5). Paramitas: The Ten Perfections of Mahayana Buddhism. Retrieved from O'Brien, Barbara. "Paramitas: The Ten Perfections of Mahayana Buddhism." Learn Religions. (accessed June 5, 2023).