The pāramitā voice is translated as “completeness” or “perfection”.
The paramitas are as popular in the different Buddhist sects as they are unknown in the suttas. It’s just a word that does not even appear on the suttas. And it is not for less, paramitas are pseudo-devotional practices that are not in themselves neither good nor bad and that, in the best of cases, does not serve for the sole purpose, that is, the extinction of existence, nibbāna.
At most, they serve to achieve merit and try to have a good rebirth or at least one not too tragic. In any case, paramitas attach to existence, so the Buddha does not even name them.
But as religions devotion is highly appreciated, especially to pretend virtue, they introduce them into their usual practices and teach and value them.
In the Theravadin tradition the pāramītas can be found in the stories of Jataka, Apadāna, Buddhavaṃsa, Cariyāpiṭaka and commentaries written to complement the Canon Pāli at a much later time. The original parts of the Piṭaka Sutta (for example, Majjhima Nikāya, Digha Nikāya, Saṃyutta Nikāya and Aṅguttara Nikāya) have no mention of the pāramītas as a category (although they are all mentioned individually throughout them).
Being the Theravada much later than the Mahayana and as we have seen on multiple occasions had times in which he received his strong influence, it is most likely that the pāramītas are a semi-Mahāyāna teaching added to the Scriptures at a later time to appeal to the interests and needs of the lay community and to popularize their religion.
Over time a background story was provided for the development of the Buddha’s multiple life, so the ten perfections were identified as part of the path for the bodhisatta. In the following centuries, the pāramītas were seen as significant for the aspirants to Buddhahood and the Arahantad, so that it was concluded that some of this had to be developed in order to attain Buddhahood.
Theravadines paramitas are 10:
- Dāna: generosity, self-surrender
- Sīla: virtue, morality, proper conduct
- Nekkhamma: resignation
- Paññā: transcendental wisdom, vision
- Viriya: energy, diligence, vigor, effort
- Khanti: patience, tolerance, tolerance, acceptance, resistance
- Sacca: truthfulness, honesty
- Adhiṭṭhāna: determination, resolution
- Mettā: good will, kindness, loving kindness
- Upekkhā: equanimity, serenity
Analyzing them, we see that generosity depends on the object (being generous with the evil one makes you evil) so that in itself it is neither good nor bad.
Regarding Sīla, here taking it as a practice of an ordinary person, it is not ethics but virtue, that is, a form of simulation or hypocrisy. It is the lighting that makes you ethical and who is ethical does not need to appear as virtuous. Ethics is not practiced, it is achieved. Therefore, here Sīla is virtue, therefore, in itself it is even pernicious.
Nekkhamma or renunciation, it is similar, is neither good nor bad in itself.To renounce does not imply more than an external form of virtue, but it does not condition anything. There are renunciants whose resignation has led them to hell.
Pañña or Wisdom is similar to Sīla, it is reached, it does not develop.
Viriya or energy is like generosity or renunciation. It depends on what that energy is applied so that the result is healthy or insane.
Khanti or patience or tolerance, is a virtue that the Buddha did not have, so it is incomprehensible to appear on the list. It effectively serves to design a devotee to use, a devotee who is popular and also manageable.
Sacca or truthfulness we can say that it is a healthy practice and always gives good results. But it does not prepare for Buddhahood since it implies parre-sia directly, regardless of whether Sacca had developed or not.
Adhiṭṭhāna or determination is similar to energy.
The next two are Brahma-Viharas:
Mettā or benevolent love can be part of the path that leads to the entrance into the stream, but there it remains, since its goal is happiness and this is the other side of suffering, so that Mettā is never an end in itself.
Upekkhā is the abode of Brahma par excellence, but as it happens with Pañña it does not develop, it is reached as part of enlightenment.
As we see, these 10 “perfections” serve to draw an apparently holy devotee.But only to pretend. And they fulfill their mission to engage the laity in religion.
The Mahayana tradition reduces them to six:
- Dāna: generosity, self-giving (in Chinese, Korean and Japanese, 布施 波羅蜜, in Tibetan, སྦྱིན་ by sbyin-pa)
- Sīla: virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct (持戒 波羅蜜; ཚུལ་ ཁྲིམས tshul-khrims)
- Kṣānti: patience, tolerance, tolerance, acceptance, perseverance (忍辱 波羅蜜; བཟོད་ z bzod-pa)
- Vīrya: energy, diligence, vigor, effort (精進 波羅蜜; བརྩོན་ rt brtson-‘grus)
- Dhyāna: concentration meditation, jhānas, contemplation (禪定 波羅蜜, བསམ་s bsam-gtan)
- Prajñā: wisdom (般若 波羅蜜; ཤེས་ shes-rab)
Here five of them are repeated, but nevertheless, the jhānas appear as perfections.
The jhānas are necessary to attain buddhahood or arahantado, so at least it fulfills the initial purpose. However, they belong to the Mahayana tradition that does not practice them.
In short, the paramitas are devotional practices to keep the laity entertained and to appear holiness. Except the jhānas, to be free they are useless.