"There are, Saariputta, ten qualities issuing in Buddhahood. What are the ten? Giving, Saariputta, is a quality issuing in Buddhahood. Virtue, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, loving-kindness, and equanimity are qualities issuing in Buddhahood."
From the Commentary to the Cariyapitaka
Translated from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi
In its earliest phase, as represented by the four main collections of the Sutta Pi.taka, the focal concern of Buddhism was the attainment of nibbaana by the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path. In these collections the Buddha teaches his doctrine as a direct path to deliverance, and perhaps no feature of the presentation is so striking as the urgency he enjoins on his disciples in bringing their spiritual work to completion by reaching the final goal. Just as a man who discovers his turban to be in flames would immediately seek to extinguish it, so should the earnest disciple strive to extinguish the flames of craving in order to reach the state of security, the consummate peace of nibbaana.
The oldest suttas, however, already mention three types of individuals who attain to the consummate state: a sammaasambuddha or perfectly enlightened Buddha, who realizes the goal without the aid of a teacher and teaches the Dhamma to others, founding a dispensation (saasana); a paccekabuddha or solitary enlightened one, who achieves realization unaided but does not establish a dispensation; and a disciple arahat, who realizes the goal through the instruction of a supreme Buddha and then teaches others according to his inclination and capacity. With the passage of time, quite possibly due to a decline in practice and an increasing rarity of higher attainments, these three types came to be viewed as three alternative ideals toward which a disciple could aspire in the hope of some distant future attainment. All were identical in their realization of nibbaana, but each was seen to stand for a distinct aspect of the enlightened personality and to presuppose a distinct yaana, a "vehicle" or spiritual career, leading to its actualization. For the Theravaada, the more conservative of the ancient schools, the emphasis was always placed on the ideal prescribed in the Paali suttas, the attainment of arahatship by following the instructions of the historical Buddha; the other ideals remained in the background, acknowledged but not especially attended to. Other early schools, such as the Sarvaastivaada and the Mahaasa"nghika, while upholding the primacy of the disciple’s course and the arahat ideal, also gave consideration to the other ideals as possible goals for individuals inclined to pursue them. Thus they came to admit a doctrine of three yaanas or vehicles to deliverance, all valid but steeply graded in difficulty and accessibility.
Within all the early schools, thinkers and poets alike attempted to fill in the background history to the three enlightened persons, composing stories of their past lives in which they prepared the foundations for their future achievements. Since it was the figure of the Buddha, as the founder of the Dispensation, who commanded the greatest awe and veneration, gradually a literature began to emerge depicting the evolution of the bodhisattva or "Buddha-to-be" along the arduous path of his development. In this way the figure of the bodhisattva,0 the aspirant to Buddhahood, came to claim an increasingly prominent place in the popular Buddhist religious life. The culmination of these innovations was the appearance, in about the first century B.C., of the Mahaayaana, the self-styled "Great Vehicle," which proclaimed that of the three vehicles to enlightenment the bodhisattva-vehicle was alone ultimate, the other two being only expedients devised by the Buddha to lead his less competent disciples to perfect Buddhahood, which they held to be the only valid spiritual ideal.
Through its conservative bent and relative insulation from the other schools, the Theravaada managed to resist the metamorphic changes taking place elsewhere in the Buddhist world, preserving the teachings as compiled at the early councils without radical alterations of their doctrinal framework. Nevertheless, in this school as well, from a period even preceding the rise of the Mahaayaana, the figure of the bodhisattva began to make inroads into both its literature and spiritual atmosphere. Two elements in the early teaching seem to have provided the germs for this development. One was the fact that the Buddha had used the word "bodhisattva" to refer to himself in the period preceding his enlightenment, pushing its scope as far back as his existence in the Tusita heaven before his final descent to earth. The second was the recognition of the multiplicity of Buddhas, which showed the Sakyan Gotama to be, not a unique figure in the cosmic genealogy, but only the most recent member of a series of Buddhas each of whom attains enlightenment, founds a dispensation, and liberates a multitude of beings from the bondage of sa.msaaric suffering. The Diigha Nikaaya mentions by name the six most recent predecessors of the Buddha Gotama (D.ii,2), and predicts as well the advent of Metteyya, the Buddha of the future, who will rekindle the lamp of the true Dhamma after it is extinguished in the dark ages that lie ahead (D.iii,76).
These two features jointly implied the existence of "germinal Buddhas" or bodhisattvas toiling to perfect themselves through countless lives in order to reach the summit of supreme enlightenment. The trials and triumphs of the being who became our own Buddha were recorded in the Jaataka tales, relating the bodhisattva’s conduct in his previous births. Just when and how the bodhisattva entered upon this course is told in the Buddhava.msa, a late addition to the Sutta Pi.taka, in a story which has become the paradigm for all subsequent developments of the bodhisattva ideal. According to this story, incalculable aeons ago in the far distant past, our bodhisattva (as the ascetic Sumedha) made an aspiration (abhiniihaara) at the feet of the Buddha Diipa"nkara, the twenty-fourth Buddha of antiquity, in which he renounced the right to enter nibbaana then open to him, in order that he might become a Buddha in the future and provide salvation for the host of gods and humans. He then received a prediction from the Buddha confirming his future success, went off into solitude, and reflected on the qualities that had to be perfected to fulfill his goal. These, the ten paaramiis, became the standard constituents of the bodhisattva’s practice, the "requisites of enlightenment" (bodhisambhaara) of our present treatise.
But though the existence of a bodhisattva career was thus acknowledged by the Theravaada, the dominant attitude prevailed among the exponents of the school that this path was reserved only for the very rare and exceptional individual. Since it was not recommended in the oldest authentic records of the Buddha’s teaching, those who professed to follow the Buddha were advised to comply with the instructions contained in these documents and aim at the attainment of nibbaana by the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path. Thus the bulk of literature in the Paali school was devoted to explaining the details of this path and its doctrinal ramifications, while the practice of the paaramiis was treated only in broad and general terms.
As time passed, however, perhaps partly through the influence of the Mahaayaana, the bodhisattva ideal must have come to acquire an increasing appeal for the minds of the Buddhist populace, and the need became felt for a work explaining in a practical manner the factors and phases of the paaramitaa path without deviating from the established doctrinal position of the Theravaada. Works expounding the bodhisattva career abounded in the Mahaayaana schools, since this was their axial concern, but a comparable work was lacking in Theravaada circles. To meet this need, apparently, AAcariya Dhammapaala composed his "Treatise on the Paaramiis," which is found in at least two places in the Paali exegetical literature, in a complete version in the Cariyaapi.taka A.t.thakathaa, and in an abridged version in the .tiikaa or subcommentary to the Brahmajaala Sutta.
The work introduces itself as a treatise composed "for clansmen following the suttas who are zealously engaged in the practice of the vehicle to great enlightenment, in order to improve their skillfulness in accumulating the requisites of enlightenment." Followers of the suttas (suttantikas) are specified probably because those who aspired to follow the bodhisattva course had to work selectively from various suttas to determine the practices appropriate for their aim, as the text itself illustrates in filling out its material. The mention of the "vehicle to great enlightenment" (mahaabodhiyaana) does not indicate the historical Mahaayaana, but signifies rather the greatness of the bodhisattva career by reason of the loftiness of its goal and its capacity to provide for the emancipation of a great number of beings.
The "requisites of enlightenment" are the paaramiis themselves, the main topic of the treatise. The word paaramii derives from parama, "supreme," and thus suggests the eminence of the qualities which must be fulfilled by a bodhisattva in the long course of his spiritual development. But the cognate paaramitaa, the word preferred by the Mahaayaana texts and also used by Paali writers, is sometimes explained as paaram + ita, "gone to the beyond," thereby indicating the transcendental direction of these qualities. The list of paaramiis in the Paali tradition differs somewhat from the more familiar list given in Sanskrit works, which probably antedates the Mahaayaana and provided a ready set of categories for its use. Our author shows that the two lists can be correlated in section xii, and the coincidence of a number of items points to a central core already forming before the two traditions went their separate ways. The six paaramiis of the Sanskrit heritage are: giving, virtue, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom. Later Mahaayaana texts add four more — resolution, skillful means, power, and knowledge — in order to co-ordinate on a one-to-one basis the list of perfections with the account of the ten stages of the bodhisattva’s ascent to Buddhahood. The Paali works, including those composed before the rise of Mahaayaana, give a different though partly overlapping list of ten: giving, virtue, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, loving-kindness, and equanimity. Unlike the Mahaayaana, the Theravaada never developed a theory of stages, though such may be implicit in the grading of the paaramiis into three degrees as basic, intermediate, and ultimate (section xi).
Bodhisatva Samanthabadra ( Borodur Temple)
The treatise draws upon various sources for its material, both Theravaada and Mahaayaana, and thus represents perhaps a unique instance of a classical style Theravaada work consciously borrowing from its northern cousin; in matters of philosophical doctrine, however, the work never deviates from the Theravaada perspective. The set of ten paaramiis itself comes from the Buddhava.msa, as does the discussion of the great aspiration (abhiniihaara) with its eight qualifications. All of this had become part of the standard Theravaada tradition by the time the work was composed and was easily absorbed. Other Paali sources — the suttas, Jaatakas, later canonical works, the Visuddhimagga, etc. — have all contributed to the overall composition of the treatise. The basic methodology of the commentaries is evident in the explication of the ten paaramiis by way of the fourfold defining device of characteristic, function, manifestation, and proximate cause (section v). The heritage of the oral traditions of various teachers in later Paali scholasticism is seen in the various views expressed on the three grades of practice for each paaramii (section xi), on the correlation of the four foundations with the different stages of the bodhisattva’s career (section xii), and on the classification of time required for the completion of the paaramiis (section xiv). Perhaps the influence of another early school, the Sarvaastivaada, lies behind the dyadic treatment of the six paaramiitas (section xii).
The main Mahaayaana work utilized by the author is the Bodhisattvabhuumi, the fifteenth chapter of the Yogaacaarabhuumi, a voluminous text of the Yogaacaara school ascribed to Maitreyanaatha, the teacher of Asanga. The Bodhisattvabhuumi has contributed to the sections on the practice of the paaramiis, particularly the first, on the four shackles to giving, and on the special accomplishments resulting from the paaramiis. The originals, however, have all been divested of their specifically Mahaayaana features to make them fully compatible with the Theravaada perspective. Mahaayaana influence may further be discernible in the emphasis on compassion and skillful means, in the vows to benefit all beings, in the statement that the bodhisattva causes beings "to enter and reach maturity in the three vehicles," etc.
On points of doctrine, as we mentioned, the work remains well within the bounds of Theravaada orthodoxy. Its section on the perfection of wisdom has nothing more in common with the Praj~naapaaramitaa literature than the core of Buddhist doctrine shared by all schools. There is nothing about the identity of nibbaana and sa.msaara, the triple body of the Buddha, the suchness and sameness of all dhammas, mind-only, the provisional nature of the disciple and paccekabuddha vehicles, or any of the other ideas distinctive of the Mahaayaana. Even the mention of emptiness (su~n~nataa) is restricted to the absence of a self or ego-entity and is not carried through to the radical ontology of the Mahaayaana suutras. The discussion of wisdom draws entirely upon the Paali suttas and the Visuddhimagga, only with the stipulation that the bodhisattva must balance wisdom with compassion and skillful means and must postpone his entrance upon the supramundane path until his requisites of enlightenment are fully mature.
It should be noted that in established Theravaada tradition the paaramiis are not regarded as a discipline peculiar to candidates for Buddhahood alone but as practices which must be fulfilled by all aspirants to enlightenment and deliverance, whether as Buddhas, paccekabuddhas, or disciples. What distinguishes the supreme bodhisattva from aspirants in the other two vehicles is the degree to which the paaramiis must be cultivated and the length of time they must be pursued. But the qualities themselves are universal requisites for deliverance, which all must fulfill to at least a minimal degree to merit the fruits of the liberating path.
The present translation has been based on the version in the Cariyaapi.taka A.t.thakathaa, in the Burmese-script Sixth Council edition. This has been abridged in places in deference to the size limits of a Wheel booklet. For a translation of the complete text, the reader is directed to my translation of the Brahmajaala Sutta and its commentaries, The Discourse on the All-Embracing Net of Views (BPS 1978, 1992), Part IV.
— Bhikkhu Bodhi
We now undertake a detailed explanation of the paaramiis for clansmen following the suttas who are zealously engaged in the practice of the vehicle to great enlightenment (mahaabodhiyaana), in order to improve their skillfulness in accumulating the requisites for enlightenment.
This is the schedule of the questions: (i) What are the paaramiis? (ii) In what sense are they called paaramiis? (iii) How many are there? (iv) What is their sequence? (v) What are their characteristics, functions, manifestations, and proximate causes? (vi) What is their condition? (vii) What is their defilement? (viii) What is their cleansing? (ix) What are their opposites? (x) How are they to be practiced? (xi) How are they analyzed? (xii) How are they synthesized? (xiii) By what means are they accomplished? (xiv) How much time is required to accomplish them? (xv) What benefits do they bring? (xvi) What is their fruit? The answers follow.
(i) What are the paaramiis?
The paaramiis are the noble qualities such as giving, etc., accompanied by compassion and skillful means, and untainted by craving, conceit, and views.1
(ii) In what sense are they called "paaramiis"?
The bodhisattvas, the great beings, are supreme (parama), since they are the highest of beings by reason of their distinguished qualities such as giving, virtue, etc. The paaramiis — the activities of giving, etc. — are their character or their conduct. Or else: he excels, thus he is supreme (paratii ti paramo). The bodhisattva is the fulfiller and guardian of the noble qualities such as giving, etc.; that which belongs to the supreme — the character or conduct of the one who is supreme (i.e., of the bodhisattva) — is a paaramii, i.e., the activities of giving, etc.
(iii) How many are there?
In brief there are ten. These have come down in the texts in their specific character. As it is said:
"How many qualities are there, Lord, issuing in Buddhahood?"
"There are, Saariputta, ten qualities issuing in Buddhahood. What are the ten? Giving, Saariputta, is a quality issuing in Buddhahood. Virtue, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, loving-kindness, and equanimity are qualities issuing in Buddhahood."2
But some say there are six. This is said by way of their synthesis, which we will explain below (section xii).
(iv) What is their sequence?
Here "sequence" means sequence of teaching. This sequence is rooted in the order in which the paaramiis are initially undertaken, which in turn is rooted in the order in which they are investigated.3 The quality which is investigated and undertaken at the beginning is taught first. Therein, giving is stated first, for giving assists (the development of) virtue and is easy to practice. Giving accompanied by virtue is abundantly fruitful and beneficial, so virtue is stated immediately after giving. Virtue accompanied by renunciation… renunciation by wisdom… wisdom by energy… energy by patience… patience by truthfulness… truthfulness by determination… determination by loving-kindness… and loving-kindness accompanied by equanimity is abundantly fruitful and beneficial; thus equanimity is stated immediately after loving-kindness. Equanimity is accompanied by compassion and compassion by equanimity. (Someone may ask:) "How can the bodhisattvas, the great compassionate ones, look upon living beings with equanimity?" Some teachers say: "Sometimes they show equanimity toward living beings when it is necessary to do so." But others say: "They do not show equanimity toward living beings (as such), but toward the offensive actions performed by beings."
Another method (of explaining the sequence) may be given:
(1) Giving is stated at the beginning: (a) because it is common to all beings, since even ordinary people practice giving; (b) because it is the least fruitful; and (c) because it is the easiest to practice.
(2) Virtue is stated immediately after giving: (a) because virtue purifies both the donor and the recipient; (b) to show that, while giving benefits others, virtue prevents the affliction of others; (c) in order to state a factor of abstinence immediately after a factor of positive activity; and (d) in order to show the cause for the achievement of a favorable state of future existence right after the cause for the achievement of wealth.4
(3) Renunciation is mentioned immediately after virtue: (a) because renunciation perfects the achievement of virtue; (b) in order to list good conduct of mind immediately after good conduct of body and speech; (c) because meditation (jhaana) succeeds easily for one who has purified his virtue; (d) in order to show that the purification of one’s end (aasaya) through the abandoning of the offensive mental defilements follows the purification of one’s means (payoga) by the abandoning of offensive actions; and (e) to state the abandoning of mental obsessions immediately after the abandoning of bodily and verbal transgressions.5
(4) Wisdom is mentioned immediately after renunciation: (a) because renunciation is perfected and purified by wisdom; (b) to show that there is no wisdom in the absence of meditation (jhaana), since concentration is the proximate cause of wisdom and wisdom the manifestation of concentration; (c) in order to list the causal basis for equanimity immediately after the causal basis for serenity; and (d) to show that skillful means in working for the welfare of others springs from meditation directed to their welfare.
(5) Energy is stated immediately after wisdom: (a) because the function of wisdom is perfected by the arousing of energy; (b) to show the miraculous work the bodhisattva undertakes for the welfare of beings after he has reached reflective acquiescence in their emptiness; (c) to state the causal basis for exertion right after the basis for equanimity; and (d) to state the arousing of energy right after the activity of careful consideration, according to the statement: "The activity of those who have carefully considered brings excellent results."
(6) Patience is mentioned immediately after energy: (a) because patience is perfected by energy, as it is said: "The energetic man, by arousing his energy, overcomes the suffering imposed by beings and formations"; (b) because patience is an adornment of energy, as it is said: "The patience of the energetic man shines with splendor"; (c) in order to state the causal basis for serenity immediately after the basis for exertion, for restlessness due to excessive activity is abandoned through reflective acquiescence in the Dhamma;6 (d) in order to show the perseverance of the man of energy, since one who is patient and free from restlessness perseveres in his work; (e) in order to show the absence of craving for rewards in a bodhisattva diligently engaged in activity for the welfare of others, for there is no craving when he reflects on the Dhamma in accordance with actuality; and (f) to show that the bodhisattva must patiently endure the suffering created by others even when he is working to the utmost for their welfare.
(7) Truthfulness is stated immediately after patience: (a) because the determination to practice patience continues long through truthfulness; (b) having first mentioned the patient endurance of wrongs inflicted by others, to mention next fidelity to one’s word to render them help; (c) in order to show that a bodhisattva who through patience does not vacillate in the face of abuse, through truthful speech does not relinquish (his antagonist); and (d) to show the truthfulness of the knowledge developed through reflective acquiescence in the emptiness of beings.
(8) Determination is stated immediately after truthfulness; (a) because truthfulness is perfected by determination, since abstinence (from falsehood) becomes perfect in one whose determination is unshakeable; (b) having first shown non-deception in speech, to show next unshakeable commitment to one’s word, for a bodhisattva devoted to truth proceeds to fulfill his vows of giving, etc., without wavering; and (c) to show, right after the veracity of knowledge, the complete accumulation of the requisites of enlightenment (bodhisambhaara); for one who knows things as they really are determines upon the requisites of enlightenment and brings them to completion by refusing to vacillate in the face of their opposites.7
(9) Loving-kindness is mentioned immediately after determination: (a) because loving-kindness perfects the determination to undertake activity for the welfare of others; (b) in order to list the work of actually providing for the welfare of others right after stating the determination to do so, for "one determined upon the requisites of enlightenment abides in loving-kindness"; and (c) because the undertaking (of activity for the welfare of others) proceeds imperturbably only when determination is unshakeable.
(10) Equanimity is mentioned immediately after loving-kindness: (a) because equanimity purifies loving-kindness; (b) in order to show the indifference one must maintain toward the wrongs inflicted by others when one is providing for their welfare; (c) having mentioned the development of loving-kindness, to state next the development of the quality which evolves from it; and (d) to show the bodhisattva’s wonderful virtue of remaining impartial even toward those who wish him well.
Thus the sequence of the paaramiis should be understood as explained.
(v) What are their characteristics, functions, manifestations, and proximate causes?
Firstly, all the paaramiis, without exception, have as their characteristic the benefiting of others; as their function, the rendering of help to others, or not vacillating; as their manifestation, the wish for the welfare of others, or Buddhahood; and as their proximate cause, great compassion, or compassion and skillful means.
Taken separately, the perfection of giving is the volition of relinquishing oneself and one’s belongings, accompanied by compassion and skillful means. The perfection of virtue is good conduct of body and speech, accompanied by compassion and skillful means; in denotation, it is the abstinence from what should not be done, the volition to do what should be done, etc. The perfection of renunciation is the act of consciousness which occurs renouncing sense pleasures and existence, preceded by the perception of their inherent unsatisfactoriness and accompanied by compassion and skillful means. The perfection of wisdom is the comprehension of the general and particular characteristics of dhammas, accompanied by compassion and skillful means. The perfection of energy is bodily and mental work for the welfare of others, accompanied by compassion and skillful means. The perfection of patience is the endurance of harm imposed by beings and formations, or the act of consciousness occurring in such a mode, predominated by non-aversion and accompanied by compassion and skillful means. The perfection of truthfulness is non-deceptiveness in speech, analyzed into an abstinence, a volition, etc., accompanied by compassion and skillful means. The perfection of determination is the unshakeable determination to undertake (activity for the good of others), accompanied by compassion and skillful means; or it is the act of consciousness occurring in such a mode. The perfection of loving-kindness is the wish to provide for the welfare and happiness of the world, accompanied by compassion and skillful means; in denotation, it is benevolence. The perfection of equanimity is the attitude of impartiality toward desirable and undesirable beings and formations, dispelling attraction and repulsion, accompanied by compassion and skillful means.
(On the basis of these definitions, the characteristics, etc., may be stated thus:)
(1) Giving has the characteristic of relinquishing; its function is to dispel greed for things that can be given away; its manifestation is non-attachment, or the achievement of prosperity and a favorable state of existence; an object that can be relinquished is its proximate cause.
(2) Virtue has the characteristic of composing (siilana); co-ordinating (samaadhaana) and establishing (pati.t.thaana) are also mentioned as its characteristic. Its function is to dispel moral depravity, or its function is blameless conduct; its manifestation is moral purity; shame and moral dread are its proximate cause.
(3) Renunciation has the characteristic of departing from sense pleasures and existence; its function is to verify their unsatisfactoriness; its manifestation is the withdrawal from them; a sense of spiritual urgency (sa.mvega) is its proximate cause.
(4) Wisdom has the characteristic of penetrating the real specific nature (of phenomena), or the characteristic of sure penetration, like the penetration of an arrow shot by a skillful archer; its function is to illuminate the objective field, like a lamp; its manifestation is non-confusion, like a guide in a forest; concentration, or the Four (Noble) Truths, is its proximate cause.
(5) Energy has the characteristic of striving; its function is to fortify; its manifestation is indefatigability; an occasion for the arousing of energy, or a sense of spiritual urgency, is its proximate cause.
(6) Patience has the characteristic of acceptance; its function is to endure the desirable and undesirable; its manifestation is tolerance or non-opposition; seeing things as they really are is its proximate cause.
(7) Truthfulness has the characteristic of non-deceptiveness in speech; its function is to verify in accordance with fact; its manifestation is excellence; honesty is its proximate cause.
(8) Determination has the characteristic of determining upon the requisites of enlightenment; its function is to overcome their opposites; its manifestation is unshakeableness in that task; the requisites of enlightenment are its proximate cause.
(9) Loving-kindness has the characteristic of promoting the welfare (of living beings); its function is to provide for their welfare, or its function is to remove resentment; its manifestation is kindliness; seeing the agreeable side of beings is its proximate cause.
(10) Equanimity has the characteristic of promoting the aspect of neutrality; its function is to see things impartially; its manifestation is the subsiding of attraction and repulsion: reflection upon the fact that all beings inherit the results of their own kamma is its proximate cause.
And here it should be mentioned that accompaniment by compassion and skillful means is the distinguishing feature of the characteristic of each virtue — e.g., of relinquishing in the case of giving, etc. For the virtues such as giving, etc., which occur in the mental continuities of bodhisattvas are always accompanied by compassion and skillful means. It is this which makes them paaramiis.
Source: The Wheel Publication No. 409/411 (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1978). Transcribed from a file provided by the BPS, with minor revisions in accordance with the ATI style sheet. Pali diacritics are represented using the Velthuis convention.The Wheel Publication No. 409/411 was an excerpt from The Discourse on the All-Embracing Net of Views: The Brahmajaala Sutta and Its Commentaries, copyright © 1978 Bhikkhu Bodhi. Copyright © 1996 Buddhist Publication Society
Access to Insight edition © 2005 For free distribution. This work may be republished, reformatted, reprinted, and redistributed in any medium. It is the author’s wish, however, that any such republication and redistribution be made available to the public on a free and unrestricted basis and that translations and other derivative works be clearly marked as such.