The epic myth of Sinxay is in fact most often considered to be a Jataka tale, a story of one of the Buddha’s former countless lives, with Sinxay considered to be a Bodhisatta (Theravadan spelling) who would eventually be reborn as the Buddha. 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 enlightenment, inferring that he was unenlightened as a bodhisatta and his goal in mastering the paramis was to gain enlightenment. Mahāyāna Buddhists, unlike the Theravādans, believe anyone can become a Bodhisattva by taking the Bodhisattva vow.
In our own writing we use the Theravāda Pali spelling of parami since Sinxay is a Theravāda Jataka tale, but in the Mahāyāna tradition the paramis are referred to as paramitas, the Sanskrit spelling which they are more commonly known by. The word pāramī originates from parama, ‘supreme,’ and implies the importance of mastering these virtues by a bodhisattva 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, Mahayana Buddhists believe they cross over from ignorance and delusion to enlightenment. The six paramitas are generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation and wisdom.
Within the Theravāda tradition the six paramitas are expanded to ten as seen in the Pāli canon’s Buddhavaṃsa:
Dāna pāramī : generosity, giving of oneself
Sīla pāramī : virtue, morality, proper conduct
Nekkhamma pāramī : renunciation
Paññā pāramī : transcendental wisdom, insight
Viriya pāramī : energy, diligence, vigor, effort
Khanti pāramī : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
Sacca pāramī : truthfulness, honesty
Adhiṭṭhāna (adhitthana) pāramī : determination, resolution
Mettā pāramī : loving-kindness
Upekkhā (also spelled upekhā) pāramī : equanimity, serenity
We will talk more about the paramis in future posts, especially about Viriya parami, the parami we, and most Lao and Isan Buddhists believe that Sinxay was working on in the story. But for this post we wanted to illustrate the importance of the ten paramis by including a couple of photos of That Luang, the National Symbol of Laos where all ten of the paramis are symbolically represented in the 30 smaller stupas surrounding the main stupa in the middle.
King Saysetthathirath, who considered himself a Bodhisattva, built That Luang sometime around 1560 and added thirty smaller stupas around the much taller stupa that were meant to represent the three levels of each of the ten paramis, 1. Parami (perfections) 2. Upaparami (superior perfections) and 3. Paramatthaparami (supreme perfections). Currently at the base of each small stupa is a flattened plate of gold inscribed with words depicting which parami and level the particular stupa represents.
In the photo at the top of this post you can see the featured photo was taken of That Luang at sunset showing the rows of the smaller stupas surrounding the main stupa. At the end of the post is a photo taken on the second level showing one of the smaller stupas with a plate that reads “Viriya Paramatha Parami” written in Pali, which when translated into English reads as “Energy, the supreme parami.”