The Buddhist path, if you put it in a nutshell, is the accumulation of merit and wisdom.
When we talk about milk, what are we referring to? Milk is a liquid made up of various elements, calcium and so on, just like water is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen—H20. Similarly, when we talk about the Buddhist path, we are, for the most part, talking about two elements: the accumulation of merit and the accumulation of wisdom. These two accumulations make the path complete. However, because they are abstract, Buddha taught us the paramitas, which are very practical.
Wisdom is the most important of all the paramitas, because without wisdom, things like good behavior, morality, generosity, and mindfulness could become stained. Without wisdom there is a hierarchy and a sense of righteousness, judgment, preferences, and so forth. Wisdom takes care of that. It’s what makes all phenomena a viable path to enlightenment.
But to get hold of wisdom right from the beginning is difficult for ordinary people. As a step-by-step path, Buddha laid out the paramitas: —generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom. There are reasons that generosity is the first paramita. Generosity is doable, tangible. It is our human nature to give because we harvest happiness by giving to others. The very act of giving intrinsically contains the joy. And if that joy is accompanied by wisdom, it sparks the chain reaction that could create the path to liberation.
This path is for deluded beings. If you are not deluded, there is no need for a path. But path dwellers like us are dependent on the laws of cause and effect. We make mistakes. We have downfalls. We are very much dependent on conditions.
It’s my hope that, through practicing the dharma, we will be free from depending on any conditions. And until then, Khyentse Foundation aspires to be one of the conditions to help path dwellers.
—Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Bodhgaya, 2014
What Are the Paramitas?
The terms paramita and parami (Sanskrit and Pali respectively) mean “perfect” or “perfection.” In Buddhism, the paramitas refer to the perfection or culmination of certain virtues, which purify karma and help us to live an unobstructed life on the path to enlightenment.
The six perfections are also an important part of the bodhisattva path in Mahayana Buddhism. On this path, motivated by great compassion, the aspirant postpones his or her enlightenment in order to benefit all beings.
The Six Paramitas
In Sanskrit, English, and Tibetan transliteration:
- Dāna – generosity – jinpa
- Sila – discipline – tsultrim
- Kṣānti – patience – zopa
- Vīrya – diligence – tsondru
- Dhyāna – meditative concentration – dhyana
- Prajñā – wisdom – sherab
The sixth paramita, wisdom, can be divided into four: skillful means, strength, aspiration prayers, and primordial wisdom, resulting in ten paramitas.