Perfections: Six or Ten?

All the important doctrinal “lists” in Buddhism are remarkably consistent across schools, traditions, centuries — all except the Perfections, that is. I have yet to read a compelling history of the perfections and how they came to be divergent. Does anyone have the story to share? Thanks! :pray:


This is so strange. I can find the list in Wikipedia but not using

Per Wikipedia:

The oldest parts of the Sutta Piṭaka (for example, Majjhima Nikāya, Digha Nikāya, Saṃyutta Nikāya and the Aṅguttara Nikāya) do not have any mention of the pāramīs as a category (though they are all mentioned individually).[4]

Yeah, it’s not an Early Buddhist Teaching. I was wondering how it evolved.

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It happened when Theravada commentaries were flirting with Mahayana. :joy:

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Off the top of my head, I think it began with the tri-yana theories in Abhidharma Buddhism. The Mahayana was a later step in development with people taking up the bodhisattva-yana as the one people ought to practice. The basic bodhisattva practice concepts were developed before that.



I don’t know what the current state of scholarship is, but I think a lot depends on how early is the canonical redaction of the Jatakas. The idea of something like a boddhisattva path occurs pretty naturally to a person steeped in the worldview of the Jatakas. There is also a traditional association of the ten paramis with the last ten “great” birth stories. Rather than look at these developments in a simple linear way: Theravāda —-> Mahāyāna ——> incorporation back into Theravāda, it might be better to see a manifold and complex development of the “popular” moral and artistic traditions of Buddhism as it spread throughout Asia.


Yes, this is my basic impression looking at Chinese texts. The Avadanas and Jatakas seem to be the incubator for bodhisattva theory. It began with theories about the Buddha himself, and then became generalized. It was a class of literature before it was made into a sectarian issue.

Once the ideas began to get some currency, they were formalized in Abhidharma theories and included in Agamas, but I think it starts in the Jatakas and Avadanas. Just an impression, though; there are probably more scholarly studies on the topic.


In Sri Lanka there are many bodhisattva statues including statues of Metteya.

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I have heard narratives of the triyāna as particularly a Yogacāra framework developed by them, as well as the trikāya (i.e. Ven Maitreyanātha being the first to write about the saṃbhogakāya Buddha, etc.).

Notice how the Yogacāra style of triyāna has śrāvaka, bodhisattva, and vajra/mantra yānāni but other schemata of the vehicles of the Buddhadharma, such as the earlier vehicular schema of the Lotus Sūtra for instance, have Dvayānikāḥ/二乘之人 in contradistinction to Mahāyānikāḥ or even so-called Ekayānikāḥ. So there’s also different vehicular schemata for different purposes.

This is an interesting point that no one ever seems to get the irony of. Bodhisattvayāna first put the śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha yānāni together on the same level of provisionality, devaluing them both alike as paths leading to the true path, then mantrayāna goes and does the same thing with the bodhisattva and śrāvaka yānāni, considering them both equivalent (i.e. “common teaching” vs secret teaching) and devaluing the both of them in the process, seemingly forgetting about *pratyayasaṁbodhiyāna (緣覺乘 T262.5c14) of the former classification system. Is it no longer important enough for a slot of it’s own in the hierarchy? Now Mahāyāna is a mere provisional path like supposed Hīnayāna?

What goes around comes around, one supposes.