Six Perfections

This doctrine teaches us the six kinds of practice that bodhisattvas should follow to attain enlightenment. A bodhisattva is a person who, wishes not only to extinguish his own illusions but to save others as well. Therefore, the doctrine of the “Six Perfections” has the salvation of all living beings as its goal. The Six Perfections are:

  1. Donation
  2. Morality (Keeping the Precepts)
  3. Perseverance
  4. Assiduity
  5. Meditation
  6. Wisdom

The practice of Donation comes first in this doctrine. There are three kinds of Donation: donating material goods, donating the Law, and donating fearlessness (the body). The first means to give others money or goods. The second refers to teaching others correctly. The third means to remove the anxieties or sufferings of others through one’s own effort. Everyone can do some form of donation. A person who is physical disabled that has knowledge or wisdom in some field should be able to teach others or guide them. Someone who cannot afford to do so, can be useful to others and to society by offering his services. No matter how impoverished one is, they should be able to give money or to support a public work with however small a donation. To speak of his own experiences to others can be a donation of the Law. A person of humble circumstances can perform donation of the Law by teaching others how to knit for example. It is essential that we be useful to others by practicing these three kinds of donation within the limits of our ability

The practice of Keeping the Precepts (Morality) is the second of the Six Perfections. This teaches us that we cannot truly help others unless we ourselves are living an upright life according to the precepts given by the Buddha. We must not think that we cannot guide others just because we are not perfect ourselves. A major point of Keeping the Precepts is to render service to others. The more we do for others, the more we can elevate ourselves, and the more we elevate ourselves, the more we can render service to others. Each reinforces the other.

The third of the Six Perfections is Perseverance (Patience enduring hardship).  A quality that is especially important for people today. Shakyamuni Buddha was endowed with all the virtues and became the Buddha through constant practice. Although it is a sin against him to emphasize only one of his virtues, the greatest virtue of the Buddha as a man seems to have been his generosity. No matter what biography of Shakyamuni Buddha, which of the sutras we read, we find that nowhere is it recorded that the Buddha ever became angry. However severely they persecuted him and however coldly his disciples turned against him and departed from him, he was always sympathetic and compassionate.

If I were to explain with a single phrase the character of Shakyamuni Buddha as a man, I would answer without hesitation, “A person of perfect generosity.” Perseverance is, in short, generosity. As we persevere in the practice of the bodhisattvas, we cease to become angry or reproachful toward others, or toward anything in the universe. We are apt to complain about the weather when it rains and to grumble about the dust when we have a spell of fine weather. However, when through Perseverance we attain a calm and untroubled mind, we become thankful for both the rain and the sun. Then our minds become free from changes in our circumstances.

When we advance farther, we come not only to have no feelings of anger and hatred toward those who hurt, insult, or betray us but even to wish actively to help them. On the other hand, flattery or praise for the good should not sway us we from what we may do, but should quietly reflect on our conduct. We should not feel superior to others, but should maintain a modest attitude when everything goes smoothly. All these attitudes come from perseverance. Though we cannot attain such a state of mind immediately, we can attain an attitude of compassion toward those who cause difficulties for us sooner than we expect. We ought to advance at least to this level. If people throughout the world practiced this kind of perseverance, this alone would establish peace and make humanity immeasurably happily.

The fourth of these Six Perfections is Assiduity. This means to go straight toward an important target without being distracted by trivial things. We cannot say we are assiduous when our ideas and conduct are impure, even if we devote ourselves to the study and practice of the Buddha’s teachings. When we devote ourselves to study and practice, we sometimes do not meet with good results or may even obtain adverse effects, or others may hinder us in our spiritual practice. However, such matters are like waves rippling on the surface of the ocean; they are only phantoms, which will disappear when the wind dies down. Therefore, once we have decided to practice the bodhisattva-way, we should advance single-mindedly toward our destination without turning aside. This is Assiduity.

The fifth of the Six Perfections is Meditation (Concentration). It is important for us to devote ourselves to the practice of the Buddha’s teachings. Also, to view things thoroughly with a calm mind and to think them over. Only then we can see the true aspect of all things and discover the right way to cope with them.

The right way of seeing things and the power of discerning the true aspect of all things is Wisdom, the last of the Six Perfections. We cannot save others without having Wisdom. Thus, though we may do something useful for others or practice good conduct to help them, none of our mercy or kindness is effective unless we have true Wisdom. Far from being effective, our mercy may have a harmful effect. Therefore, Wisdom is an absolutely indispensable condition in practicing the bodhisattva-way.

l. DONATION – Makes a miserly one raise the mind of Donation to serve sincerely the community and other people.
2. KEEPING THE PRECEPTS – Makes an arrogant one raise the mind of Keeping the Precepts to remove the mind of arrogance and to admonish and discipline oneself.
3. PERSEVERANCE – Makes an irritable one raise the mind of Perseverance to remove anger and to endure.
4. ASSIDUITY – Makes an idle one raise the mind of Assiduity to endeavor constantly.
5. MEDITATION – Makes a distracted one raise the mind of Meditation to calm one’s mind and not be agitated.
6. WISDOM – Makes an ignorant one raise the mind of Wisdom to remove prejudice and evil thinking through correct judgment.