Pāramitā (Sanskrit, Pali) or pāramī (Pāli), is a Buddhist term often translated as "perfection". It is described in Buddhist commentaries as noble character qualities generally associated with enlightened beings. Pāramī and pāramitā are both terms in Pali but Pali literature makes greater reference to pāramī, while Mahayana texts generally utilize the Sanskrit pāramitā.
The term pāramitā, commonly translated as "perfection," has two etymologies. The first derives it from the word parama, meaning "highest", "most distant", and hence "chief", "primary", "most excellent". Hence, the substantive can be rendered "excellence" or "perfection". This reading is supported by the Madhyāntavibhāga (V.4), where the twelve excellences (parama) are associated with the ten perfections (pāramitā).
A more creative yet widely reported etymology divides pāramitā into pāra and mita, with pāra meaning "beyond", "the further bank, shore or boundary," and mita, meaning "that which has arrived," or ita meaning "that which goes." Pāramitā, then means "that which has gone beyond," "that which goes beyond," or "transcendent." This reading is reflected in the Tibetan translation pha rol tu phyin pa ("gone to the other side").
Some scholars even refer to the teachings of the pāramīs as a semi-Mahāyāna teaching added to the scriptures at a later time in order to appeal to the interests and needs of the lay community and to popularize their religion. However, these views rely on the early scholarly presumption of Mahāyāna originating with religious devotion and appeal to laity. More recently, scholars have started to open up early Mahāyāna literature, which is very ascetic and expounds the ideal of the monk's life in the forest. Therefore, the practice of the pāramitās in Mahāyāna Buddhism may have been close to the ideals of the ascetic tradition of the śramaṇa.
in established Theravāda tradition the pāramīs are not regarded as a discipline peculiar to candidates for Buddhahood alone but as practices which must be fulfilled by all aspirants to enlightenment and deliverance, whether as Buddhas, paccekabuddhas, or disciples. What distinguishes the supreme bodhisattva from aspirants in the other two vehicles is the degree to which the pāramīs must be cultivated and the length of time they must be pursued. But the qualities themselves are universal requisites for deliverance, which all must fulfill to at least a minimal degree to merit the fruits of the liberating path.
Religious studies scholar Dale S. Wright states that Mahāyāna texts refer to the pāramitās as "bases of training" for those looking to achieve enlightenment. Wright describes the Buddhist pāramitās as a set of character ideals that guide self-cultivation and provide a concrete image of the Buddhist ideal.
This list is also mentioned by the Theravāda commentator Dhammapala, who describes it as a categorization of the same ten perfections of Theravada Buddhism. According to Dhammapala, Sacca is classified as both Śīla and Prajñā, Mettā and Upekkhā are classified as Dhyāna, and Adhiṭṭhāna falls under all six. Bhikkhu Bodhi states that the correlations between the two sets shows there was a shared core before the Theravada and Mahayana schools split.
The Mahāratnakūṭa Sūtra (महारत्नकूट सूत्र, the Sutra of the Heap of Jewels) also includes these additional four pāramitās with number 8 and 9 switched.
According to the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism, Mahāyāna practitioners have the choice of two practice paths: the path of perfection (Sanskrit: pāramitāyāna) or the path of tantra (Sanskrit: tantrayāna), which is the Vajrayāna.
When we say that paramita means "transcendent action," we mean it in the sense that actions or attitude are performed in a non-egocentric manner. "Transcendental" does not refer to some external reality, but rather to the way in which we conduct our lives and perceive the world – either in an egocentric or a non-egocentric way. The six paramitas are concerned with the effort to step out of the egocentric mentality.
The first four perfections are skillful means practice while the last two are wisdom practice. These contain all the methods and skills required for eliminating delusion and fulfilling other's needs. Also, leading from happy to happier states.
^"[Prose portions of the Jātakas] originally did not form part of [the Theravādins] scriptures": Nalinaksha Dutt (1978) Buddhist Sects in India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition: 224
^Regarding the Cariyāpiṭaka, Horner (2000), Cariyāpiṭaka section, p. vi, writes that it is "[c]onsidered to be post-Asokan...."
^"[the Theravādins’] early literature did not refer to the pāramitās." Nalinaksha Dutt (1978) Buddhist Sects in India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition: 228
^"The incorporation of pāramis by the Theravādins in the Jātakas reveals that they were not immune from Mahāyānic influence. This happened, of course, at a much later date[.]" Nalinaksha Dutt (1978) Buddhist Sects in India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition: 219
^"It is evident that the Hinayānists, either to popularize their religion or to interest the laity more in it, incorporated in their doctrines the conception of Bodhisattva and the practice of pāramitās. This was effected by the production of new literature: the Jātakas and Avadānas." Nalinaksha Dutt (1978) Buddhist Sects in India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition: 251. The term "Semi-Mahāyāna" occurs here as a subtitle.
^"As scholars have moved away from this limited corpus, and have begun to explore a wider range of Mahāyāna sutras, they have stumbled on, and have started to open up, a literature that is often stridently ascetic and heavily engaged in reinventing the forest ideal, an individualistic, antisocial, ascetic ideal that is encapsulated in the apparently resurrected image of "wandering alone like a rhinoceros." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004): p. 494