Overview of the Six Perfections: Six Paramitas
Dr. Alexander Berzin
The six far-reaching attitudes are states of mind that lead the way to liberation and enlightenment. As antidotes to some of our biggest mental obstacles – anger, greed, jealousy, laziness and so on – the six attitudes work together, enabling us to deal with everything that life throws at us. By developing these attitudes, we can slowly but certainly realize our full potential, bringing the highest benefit to ourselves and others.
Buddha indicated six important mental states that we need to develop if we want to reach any of our positive goals in life. They’re usually translated as “perfections,” since by perfecting them fully as the Buddhas have, we too can attain liberation and enlightenment. I prefer to call them “far-reaching attitudes” in accord with their Sanskrit name, paramita, because with them we can reach the far shore of the ocean of our problems.
We don’t just keep these six mental states as a nice looking list. Rather, they are states of mind that we need to blend together and use as we go about our daily life. In line with the three levels of motivation found in the lam-rim (graded path), developing them in our lives now brings us enormous benefits:
They enable us to avoid and solve problems. They help us to rid ourselves of disturbing emotions and mental states. They empower us to be of best help to others. When we’re training to develop these positive attitudes, we need to keep in mind one or more of these goals. This gives us a strong incentive to keep on working to strengthen them further.
Generosity is the willingness to give to others whatever is needed. Its benefits are:
It gives us a sense of self-worth that we have something to contribute to others, helping us to avoid or get out of the problems of low self-esteem and depression. It helps to overcome attachment, miserliness and stinginess, which are unhappy states of mind that bring recurring problems. It helps others who are in need. 2. Ethical Self-Discipline Ethical self-discipline is where we refrain from destructive behavior, by realizing its disadvantages. Its benefits are:
It enables us to avoid all of the problems that arise from acting, speaking and thinking harmfully. It creates a basis of trust with others, which is the foundation for true friendship. It helps us to overcome our compulsive negative behavior and develop self-control, leading to a calmer, more stable mind. It prevents us from hurting others.
It enables us to avoid making an ugly scene when things go wrong, or when we or others make mistakes. It helps us to overcome anger, impatience and intolerance, which are disturbing states of mind. We’re able to keep calm in the face of difficulties. It allows us to help others better, because we don’t get angry with them when they don’t follow our advice, make mistakes, act or speak irrationally, or give us a hard time.
It gives us the strength to finish what we’ve started, without getting discouraged. It helps us to overcome feelings of inadequacy and the laziness of procrastination, where we distract ourselves with trivial things. It enables success in accomplishing the most difficult tasks, and stops us from giving up on those who are hardest to help. 5. Mental Stability (Concentration) Mental stability (concentration) is a state of mind totally free from mental wandering, dullness and emotional upset. Its benefits are:
It enables us to stay focused on whatever we’re doing, so we can avoid mistakes and accidents. It helps us to overcome stress and anxiety, and being over-excited, spaced-out, or emotionally agitated. It allows us to focus on what others are saying and how they’re behaving, so we can see better how to help them. 6. Discriminating Awareness (Wisdom) Discriminating awareness (wisdom) is the state of mind that differentiates correctly and with certainty between what is appropriate and inappropriate, and what is correct and incorrect. Its benefits are:
It allows us to see clearly and correctly what to do and how to behave in any particular situation, stopping us from doing something we’ll later regret. It helps us to overcome indecision and confusion. It enables us to evaluate the situations of others accurately, so we know what to say and do that will be of most benefit.