The Six Paramitas

FacebookTwitterGoogle+EmailGoogle GmailEvernoteShare

Lectures on Basic Study Materials (10)
from Dai-Byakuho, issue no. 374

The Six Paramitas
The Bodhisattva Practices of Compassion and Wisdom

What are the Six Paramitas?
The Six Paramitas, called “six crossings” or Rokudo in Chinese, are the
six kinds of virtuous practice required in Shakyamuni’s Mahayana
teachings for the attainment of enlightenment of those in the world
of Bodhisattva. These practices include: Fuse, or making offerings;
Jikai, or keeping the precepts; Ninniku, or enduring insult and
persecution without anger; Shojin, or ceaseless effort; Zenjo, or focus,
control of mind, and; Chie, or wisdom.
The word “paramita” transliterates into Japanese as haramitsu, but
comes from Sanskrit, and means “perfection” or “accomplished”. Also
translated as “reaching the other shore”, the six paramitas are known
as the practices by which “to escape this shore of delusion and reach
the other shore of enlightenment”.

Merits of the Six Paramitas
Depending on people’s capacity to understand, Shakyamuni
expounded the Four Noble Truths for people of Learning, the Twelve-
linked Chain of Causation for people of Realization, and the Six
Paramitas for people in the world of Bodhisattva. While the Four
Noble Truths and Twelve-linked Chain of Causation were practices
through which people of the two vehicles of Learning and Realization
could attain Hinayana enlightenment, the Six Paramitas were
indicated as the Bodhisattva practice that aimed for Mahayana
Whereas the Hinayana training sought only the practitioner’s own
salvation, the Six Paramitas, and especially the two practices of
making offerings and enduring insult and persecution without anger,
stressed the Mahayana spirit of the compassion to bring
emancipation to others, as well as to oneself. Further, the provisional
Mahayana Hannya Sutra explains that, of the Six Paramitas, the
paramita of wisdom expressly serves to support and guide the other
five paramitas. We can thus recognize the Six Paramitas’ merit as a
Mahayana Bodhisattva practice, because they adhere to a spirit of
compassion and wisdom.

Explanation of the Six Paramitas
There is also a Hinayana Bodhisattva practice of the Six Paramitas,
but we will give an explanation based on the Mahayana Bodhisattva
practice here.

The Paramita of Making Offerings (Fuse)
Fuse are acts of offering to others, and include the following: Zaise
(material offerings), Hose (offerings of Buddhist canon), Muise (the
taking away of fear), and Shinse (offering through self-sacrifice).
Material offerings include the giving of such physical wealth as
money and property, while offerings of Buddhist canon are the
giving of explanations on the Buddha’s teachings. The taking away of
fear refers to the allaying of another’s rears and giving peace of
mind, and offerings through self-sacrifice imply service to others
without counting the cost to oneself. Although Bodhisattvas in
Mahayana Buddhism practiced the making of such offerings,
Shakyamuni teaches that such practice must not be carried out with
hearts that are attached to the act of giving. Bodhisattvas are taught
to be attached to neither the giver, the receiver nor the object given,
because originally, all three existences are viewed as inseparable or
non-substantial. This teaching is known as “Offering of the Pure
Three-fold Wheel” (tranquil emptiness) Bodhisattvas accomplish this
merciful practice of Fuse with the wisdom of non-attachment.

The Paramita of Keeping the Precepts (Jikai)
Keeping the precepts means to obey established rules to the letter of
the law, and further indicates a voluntary decision to observe the
precepts. The various groups of precepts included either five or eight
precepts for lay people, two hundred and fifty precepts for priests,
and three hundred and fifty precepts for nuns. Although these
precepts were used mainly in Hinayana Buddhism, the paramita of
keeping the precepts expounds Bodhisattva precepts that are based
on the Mahayana spirit of compassion. There are also three kinds of
conduct, included within these Bodhisattva precepts, which
incorporate the staving off evil. They are called either the “Three
Comprehensive Precepts” or the “Three Pure Precepts”, and include
refraining from evil, doing good and having compassion. Within the
“Three Pure Precepts”, there is a special feature „ a spirit of benefit
both for oneself and for others. Incorporated within this spirit is the
idea that if one looks up, he endlessly pursues enlightenment, and if
he looks down, there are countless living beings to be saved.

The Paramita of Enduring Insult and Persecution Without Anger
Enduring insult and persecution without anger means to patiently
tolerate all sorts of contempt and oppression while causing
compassion to well up in one’s own heart. There are two kinds of
endurance, mental (shonin) and physical (honin). Examples of mental
endurance include not becoming arrogant when praised, or filled
with anger or hatred when oppressed. Physical endurance includes
not being disturbed by such discomforts as cold, heat, hunger or
illness. This paramita of endurance expounds that through
enlightened wisdom, one can give up attachments to views of the
substantiality of a self, or of any other physical object, and come to
the knowledge that all existence is non-substantial.

The Paramita of Ceaseless Effort (Shojin)
The words “ceaseless effort” may be used in everyday language, but
in this context, they refer to untiring practice on the Buddhist path,
and have both physical and mental implications. This two-front
effort entails physical and mental devotion to, as well as relentless
perseverance in, one’s practice of the other five paramitas. In short,
while physical endurance refers to the making of offerings and the
keeping of the precepts, mental endurance connotes devotion to the
practices of endurance, ceaseless effort and wisdom. Ceaseless effort
that is not guided by wisdom is blind effort, and is not the true effort
contained in this paramita.

The Paramita of Focus of the Mind (Zenjo)
Focus of the mind, as it is called, is the practice through which the
mind becomes tranquilly unified and the truth is perceived. Through
the practice of focusing the mind, mental and physical vacillations
are eliminated and composure is achieved.
There were originally three types of virtuous discipline that a
student of Buddhism was supposed to study. These are known as the
“Three Types of Study” and include precepts, meditation and wisdom.
The second, meditation, is equivalent to focus of the mind. Because
Shakyamuni gave up both pleasure and asceticism, and attained
enlightenment through his deepening of correct meditation, it can be
said that originally, wisdom and meditation are inseparable.
Buddhism warns that meditation separate from wisdom is heretical.

The Paramita of Wisdom (Chie)
The Hannya Sutra clarifies the importance of the paramita of
wisdom, illuminates the fact that the true nature of all things is non-
substantial and therefore equal, and gives various insights that
perfect the wisdom of that enlightenment Mahayana Bodhisattvas
gain wisdom about the non-substantiality of all things through
enlightenment. That wisdom is a wisdom of equality, which dismisses
all kinds of distinctions and discriminations, and discerns that all
things that exist are equal. But there is no tranquillity of life for a
Mahayana Bodhisattva if his wisdom is based merely on that wisdom
of equality. In short, although deep-seated delusions about general
reality are wiped away through wisdom based on non-substantiality,
turning one’s eyes once again to the real world through compassion
leads to true discriminatory wisdom. Thus, a true practice of the six
paramitas can only be effected in the real world when wisdom about
equality and discriminatory wisdom are gained proportionately.

The Lotus Sutra and the Six Paramitas
In this way, Mahayana Bodhisattvas can gain Mahayana
enlightenment by practicing the compassion and wisdom-lined six
paramitas. The Hannya Sutra explains that the wisdom concerning
the non-substantiality of all existence is the important function
served by the six paramitas, but when compared to the Lotus Sutra’s
harmoniously unified and fully endowed Buddha wisdom of the
Middle Way, the wisdom of the six paramitas is partial and therefore
inferior. For that reason, the Lotus Sutra points out that it is the
Lotus Sutra itself, and not the provisional Mahayana teaching of the
six paramitas, that is the perfect teaching for attaining Buddhahood.
The Lotus Sutra further shows that the Bodhisattva practice based on
the Lotus Sutra is the true Buddhist Path.
The Muryogi Sutra states: “[If you embrace this sutra,] you will
naturally receive the benefits of the six paramitas without having to
practice them.” This passage explains that the practice and benefit of
the six paramitas is contained within the Lotus Sutra. In “The True
Object of Worship”, the Daishonin further states:
Shakyamuni’s practices and the virtues he consequently attained are
all contained within the single phrase, Myoho-Renge-Kyo. If we
believe in that phrase, we shall naturally be granted the same
benefits as he was. (M.W., Vol. I, p. 64)
By embracing the Gohonzon, the seed of Buddhahood hidden in the
depths of the Lotus Sutra, we in the Latter Day of the Law can
naturally attain the benefits of having practiced the six paramitas, as
well as the great fortune of Buddhahood.

©1995 Nichiren Shoshu Monthly