The Steps on the Journey to Enlightenment: Accomplishing the Perfections – By Venerable S. Upali (or Upali Sramon)

The journey to the perfect enlightenment, as explained in Buddhism, requires the practice of certain ethical principles at the very outset. These are grouped into various categories for the common people, the minimum number containing five principles, known as pañcasīla-s with which most Buddhists are familiar. On special occasions, for example on the full-moon days, those who wish can practice the higher mode of eight principles aṭṭhasīla-s, with an additional three to the group of five. The universal applicability of these principles is reflected in the fact that they are incorporated into Indian constitution and the principles of human rights, although phrased in different terms. The conflicts that reign in our universe are in one way or the other can be explained as violation of one or more these principles. Therefore they are universal principles for the good of humanity; emphasized, but, not particularly for the Buddhists. However, in our quest for further intellectual advancement, moral purity, and spiritual perfection they are not enough. We need to execute higher virtues and mental training in order to upgrade and purify our spiritual consciousness. Only then the attainment of enlightenment would be certified. The state of enlightenment is established on three pillars known as – the pillar of morality (sīla), mindfulness, concentration (samādhi) and wisdom (paññā). Studying the Buddha’s explanations about each of them Buddhist scholars attempted to enumerate the entire virtues practiced by a Bodhisatta to attain enlightenment. These factors of perfections are to be executed by practicing a broader categorization of principles known as pāramī orpāramitā which literally means perfections. Here, I hope to present these perfections, in a series of essays with brief exegesis. This will help us recognize the steps to our enlightenment and will make the exercise easier.
Etymological Explanations of the Term
As is the case with most technical Buddhist terms in Pāli or Sanskrit, the meaning of the wordspāramī or pāramitā is not fully conveyed by the common English rendering ‘perfection’. Therefore, the general practice adopted by scholars is to give an etymological explanation of the words. The words pāramī and pāramitā have two etymological explanations.
1.     pāramī is formed from the adjectival word parama. The adjective is used to qualify a word which is excellent in its qualities. Thus if it is added to sundara, which means beautiful, the meaning would be something beautiful in the superlative sense. When used as a generic term for the ten perfections, pāramī- implies the sense that the factors included therein should be practiced with extreme care and to the greatest capacity.
2.     pāramitā is a combination of two words: pāraṃ + itā. The first item means the opposite side of something, especially river. Here, the other shore refers to nibbāna, which stands opposed to the conditioned cycle of births and deaths – saṃsāraitā is a past participle, formed from the verbal root √i (to go), and simply means gone. Thus pāramitāliterally means someone ‘gone to the other shore’; here actually the factors that help us to do that.
These etymological explanations help us grasp the functional aspect of the perfections, which I shall give below.
The Ten Perfections
Here I give the traditional list of ten perfections in Pāli and popular English renderings:
(1)   Perfection in giving (or liberality; dānapāramī), (2) morality (sīla), (3) renunciation (nekkhamma), (4) wisdom (paññā), (5) energy (viriya), (6) patience (or forbearance;khanti), (7) truthfulness (sacca), (8) resolution (adhiṭṭhāna), (9) loving-kindness (mettā) (10) equanimity (upekkhā).
Based on dedication and intensity of performance each of these ten is classified into three classes or grades. If we take the example of the first one, viz. dāna or liberality the three levels or grades can be recognized as, firstly simply giving material things without deep realization of its importance or significance as we give things to beggars; secondly, giving things or bodily parts with deeper realization and dedication forfeiting one’s interests to some extant; thirdly, one becomes totally selfless and may be so devoted to serving humanity that he is ready to all the possessions, bodily limbs, or even own life for the protection or benefit of others. in this way all the ten are explained.
Conclusion: Uniqueness of Buddhism
Here, it is observable at a glance that some of these qualities are common to other religious systems or might have been practiced by us from our own realizations without any textual backing. However, it is the emphasis on their collective function analyzed in different levels, based on performance and outcomes that make them unique to Buddhism. In my future articles I hope to present each of them as they appear in the early Buddhist literature.
[First published in: