Paramitas: The Ten Perfections of Mahayana Buddhism

Six Perfections Plus Four

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.

Read More: The Six Perfections of Mahayana Buddhism

Read More: The Ten Perfections of Theravada Buddhism

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.

Here is the complete list of Mahayana Ten Perfections:

01
of 10

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Kannon, or Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva in Japan, depicted in the Asakusa Kannon Temple. © Travelasia / Getty Images

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. 

02
of 10

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

03
of 10

 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.

04
of 10

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. 

05
of 10

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

06
of 10

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."

07
of 10

 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.

08
of 10

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

09
of 10

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.

10
of 10

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.