Theravādan Buddhists believe that when the Buddha recounted his previous lives, he referred to himself as a bodhisatta, a life where he was working on his own enlightenment, inferring that he was unenlightened as a bodhisatta and his goal in mastering the parami was to gain enlightenment.
Mahāyāna Buddhists, unlike the Theravādans, believe anyone can become a bodhisatta,as is recounted in The CollectedWorks of Chögyam Trungpa, Volume Three,52
“The bodhisattva—the renowned ideal ofMahāyāna Buddhism—is not a god or deity but a way of being we can all aspire to . . . Those who take the bodhisattva vow make one simple commitment: to put others first, holding nothing back for themselves . . . It is a statement of willingness to give up one’s own well-being, even one’s own enlightenment, for the sake of others. And a bodhisattva is simply a person who lives in the spirit of that vow, perfecting the qualities known as the six paramitas (perfections)—generosity, discipline, patience, exertion,meditation, and transcendental knowledge—in his effort to liberate beings.”
In our own writing, we use the Theravāda Pali spelling of parami, because Sinxay is a TheravādaJātaka tale, but in theMahāyāna tradition, the parami aremore commonly referredto with the Sanskrit spelling paramitas. The word parami originates from pajama, “supreme,” and implies the importance of mastering these virtues by a bodhisatta in the long course of his spiritual development. The Sanskrit word paramita is often defined as crossing over to the other shore, but can also be translated as “perfection” or “perfect realization.” Through the practice of the six paramitas, Mahāyāna Buddhists believe they cross over from ignorance and delusion to enlightenment.
Within the Theravāda tradition, the six paramitas are expanded to ten perfections, as seen in the Pāli canon’s Buddhavamsa:
Dāna parami : generosity, giving of oneself
Sīla parami : virtue, morality, proper conduct
Nekkhamma parami : renunciation
Paññā parami : transcendental wisdom, insight
Viriya parami : energy, diligence, vigor, effort
Khanti parami : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
Sacca parami : truthfulness, honesty
Adhi hāna (adhitthana) parami : determination, resolution
Mettā parami : loving-kindness
Upekkhā (also spelled upekhā) parami : equanimity, serenity
All ten of the parami are symbolically represented in That Luang, which is both the national symbol of Laos and a symbol of the Buddhist religion. On the Laos national seal appears an image of the main stūpa surrounded by five of the small stūpas seen in the image below.
King Saysetthathirath,who assumed the kingship after the death of his father,King Photisarath in 1547, moved the capital of Lan Xang from Luang Prabang to Vientiane approximately in 1560. Once the palace was established in Vientiane, he rebuilt That Luang, which had fallen into disrepair after being constructed as a Khmer temple. King Saysetthathirath, who considered himself a bodhisatta, added thirty smaller stūpas around the much taller stūpa that were meant to represent the three levels of each of the ten parami,
1. Parami (perfections)
2. Upaparami (superior perfections)
3. Paramatthaparami (supreme perfections).
The photo at the beginning of this post shows the entrance to That Luang, with the larger stūpa in the middle surrounded by the thirty smaller stūpas. Currently near the base of each small stūpa is a flattened plate inscribed with words depicting which parami and level each particular stūpa represents. The photo below shows one of the smaller thirty stūpas with a plate that reads “Viriya Paramatha Parami.” In Pali, this translates to “Energy, the supreme parami,” coincidentally the same parami Sinxay is believed to be perfecting in the story.
In our next post we’ll talk more about the importance of paramis and the role of the boddhisatta.