Bodhisattva Path: 6 Paramitas


When we think about the Mahayana path to perfection and awakening of Bodhichitta we think about 6 Paramitas and 4 Immeasurables. Paramita means “transcendent perfection” in Sanskrit. And what we have to transcend here?! We should transcend the mental attachments to subject, object and actions. Six Paramitas describe the perfect qualities and practices of enlightened Bodhisattva who is practicing only to bring the utmost benefit to all sentient beings in the ocean of sufferings. If one has received an initiation in Bodhisattva vows in presence of Lama it is usually easy to keep them up without much thinking about it. But it is important to know how to put those qualities in action. And here six paramitas are our guiding lines. They are mentioned in Prajñapāramitā Sūtras, the Lotus Sutra (Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra) and many other texts.

The six paramitas in Tibetan and Sanskrit are:

(1) sbyin-pa (dana, “generosity”),
(2) tshul-khrims (shila, “ethics”),
(3) bzod-pa (kshanti, “forbearance, acceptance, patience, forgiveness”),
(4) brtsong-’grus (virya, “joyful endeavour, diligence, zeal”),
(5) bsam-gtan (dyana, “meditative concentration”), and
(6) shes-rab (prajna, “discriminating wisdom-awareness, insight”).

Practice of six paramitas means to realize our true Buddha nature, eternal happiness and joy and freedom from suffering and share all those qualities and merits with all sentient beings.

The ultimate purpose of practice of six paramitas is to eliminate two types of self-attachment, to cut off the two types of death, and to transcend the ocean of suffering.

The first of two types of self-attachment is identification with notions of self or our body, from attachment to 5 skandhas. Elimination of this kind of self-attachment means transcending our illusions about the world.

And the second type of self-attachment – aversion to the afflictions and sufferings of worldly existence. Elimination of this type of self-attachment means transcending our aversion to the phenomenal world, and no longer fearing the cycle of birth and death.

The two types of death are firstly, the physical death that ordinary people experience as they migrate through samsara (the cycle of birth and death).

The second type of death consists of the stages of transformation on the bodhisattva path. There are ten such stages or bhumis, that a bodhisattva traverses on the way to Buddhahood, namely: the joyous, the stainless, the radiant, the brilliant, the hard to conquer, the realized, the reaching far, the unshakable, the good intelligence, and the cloud of Dharma.

On the Bodhisattva path one engages in the six paramitas. Each paramita consists of lesser, intermediate, and advanced stages, making 18 in all. By accomplishing each stage, a higher level of the five paths of a bodhisattva is accomplished.

The five paths a bodhisattva practices before reaching the highest stage of perfection are: (1) the path of accumulation, (2) the path of practice or unification, (3) the path of seeing, (4) the path of meditation, and (5) the path of no more learning (tshogs-lam, sbyor-lam, mthong-lam, sgo-lam, and mi-slob-pa’i-lam).

When the ultimate degree of the first path has been realized, it becomes the relative degree of the second path of practice. And when the ultimate degree of the second path has been realized, it becomes the relative degree of the third path of practice, and so on. A bodhisattva reaches the first ground of accomplishment, called bhumi in Sanskrit, when he or she realizes the third path.

Bodhisattvas experience samsara, but their death is not the ordinary physical death mentioned above. It is rather, the death of progressively subtler layers of attachment that are shed as great bodhisattvas progress through the bhumis, transforming their own merit and virtue, and finally attaining the dharmakaya, the body of reality, perfect Buddhahood. The tenth and last stage is the complete fulfilment of all practices and realizations; thereafter transformation death will not recur. In accordance with the ten bhumis, bodhisattvas practice the Ten Paramitas. Thus, when one recognizes Buddha mind, the altruistic mind of benefiting others, he benefits himself as well.

A great bodhisattva who has realized the tenth bhumi does not conceptualise the three spheres of subject, object, and actions anymore because he or she has perfectly realized transcendent, ultimate truth, “just as it is.” The non-dual wisdom that a great bodhisattva has realized is vajra-like samadhi, rdo-rje-lta-bu’i-ting-nge-‘dzin – non-obscured, indestructible, timeless, primordial wisdom (ye-shes) that is perfect fulfilment or Buddhahood.

First Paramita - Generosity