Time to turn our attention to a new subject, or a different way of approaching the central subject.
In most forms of Buddhism, there is a list called “the perfections” or paramis (or paramitas). Sometimes there are six, sometimes ten and sometimes twelve, but they are all essentially about the same thing – qualities that the Buddha had to develop before awakening. There is no single scripture that lays the perfections out tidily, but these qualities create a list of themes that suffuse the Buddha’s teachings.
There are early folk tales, called Jataka tales, that describe (theoretical) earlier lives of the Buddha when he took the form of an animal or human and had an adventure that illustrated a particular quality.
As formulated in the ten perfections, they are:
1. Generosity (dana)
2. Virtue or moral behavior (sila)
3. Renunciation (nekkhamma)
4. Discernment or penetrating wisdom (panna)
5. Persistence or energy (viriya)
6. Patient endurance (khanti)
7. Truthfulness (sacca)
8. Determination (adhitthana)
9. Good will (metta), and
10. Equanimity (upekkha).
From a Study Guide to the Perfections by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/study/perfections.html):
For people in the modern world who are wrestling with the issue of how to practice the Dhamma in daily life, the perfections provide a useful framework for developing a fruitful attitude toward daily activities so that any activity or relationship undertaken wisely with the primary purpose of developing the perfections in a balanced way becomes part of the practice.
The perfections also provide one of the few reliable ways of measuring the accomplishments of one’s life. “Accomplishments” in the realm of work and relationships have a way of turning into dust, but perfections of the character, once developed, are dependable and lasting, carrying one over and beyond the vicissitudes of daily living. Thus they deserve to take high priority in the way we plan our lives. These two facts are reflected in the two etymologies offered for the word perfection (paramī): They carry one across to the further shore (paraṃ); and they are of foremost (parama) importance in formulating the purpose of one’s life.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu states succinctly the reasons I consider the perfections (or shall we call them paramis?) worthy of attention. All of them point us in the right (wholesome) direction, and all of them can be continuously refined. Pretty much any activity we do in a day could become a practice if we checked our attitude while doing it. We can choose any of the qualities to focus on, and if we attend to its development persistently, progress will be visible. It will also, as a side-effect, develop the other paramis automatically.
As Thanissaro Bhikkhu states later in the study guide:
…each of the perfections, when properly practiced, includes all ten.
Next time: the parami of generosity.