If someone’s goal is the arising of sati that is aware of the characteristics
of realities as they naturally appear in daily life, but if he does not take
into consideration the development of the perfections, he will notice
that time and again he is overcome by akusala kamma. There are more
conditions for the arising of akusala kamma than for the arising of
We cannot know for how long in the future each one of us will have to
develop and accumulate the ten perfections. However, during the
lifespan that we can do so, we should develop each of the perfections as
much as we are able to. The ten perfections have lobha, attachment, as
their opposite and, therefore, we should not forget that we should
develop them not because we expect a result of kusala, but because we
see the danger of each kind of akusala. We should not develop the
perfections because we wish for a result to materialize within the cycle
of birth and death, but because our aim is the eradication of defilements
and eventually to reach the end of the cycle of birth and death. The end
of the cycle can be attained when all defilements have been eradicated
completely. So long as we have defilements there is no end to the cycle
of birth and death. Thus, one should not develop the perfections in the
expectation of a result of kusala in the cycle of birth and death.
Therefore, if a person sees the disadvantage of avarice, he develops
generosity, dåna. If someone sees the disadvantage of the transgression
of morality, síla, he observes síla. He sees that by heedlessness as to
action and speech and by the committing of evil deeds and speech, he
will come to harm. One may not realize that even speech that was
carelessly uttered can harm oneself as well as other people. Therefore, if
a person sees the danger of the transgression of moral conduct, he will
observe morality and will be evermore heedful as to action and speech.
If someone sees the disadvantages of all sense pleasures including those
connected with married life, he will be inclined to renunciation,
nekkhamma. If a person realizes the danger of ignorance and doubt, he
will be inclined to the study of the Dhamma so that he will know and
understand realities as they are, and this is the development of the
perfection of wisdom, paññå. If someone sees the disadvantage of
laziness, he will be inclined to energy, viriya. If a person sees the
disadvantage of impatience, he will develop patience, khanti. If
someone sees the disadvantage of insincerity in action and speech, he
will be inclined to truthfulness, sacca. If someone sees the disadvantage
of indecisiveness, he will be inclined to determination, adiììhåna. If a
person sees the danger of vengefulness, he will be inclined to lovingkindness, mettå. If a person sees the disadvantage of the worldly
conditions, such as gain and loss, praise and blame, he will be inclined
to equanimity, upekkhå.
All these qualities are actually the ten
perfections which should gradually be accumulated and developed.1
Characteristic, Function, Manifestation and Proximate Cause of the
We read in the Paramatthadípaní, the Commentary to the “Basket of
Conduct” Cariyåpiìaka Khuddhaka Nikåya, about the characteristics of
the ten perfections.2
- “Giving (dåna) has the characteristic of relinquishing; its
function is to dispel greed for things that can be given away; its
manifestation is non-attachment, or the achievement of
prosperity and a favourable state of existence; an object that can
be relinquished is its proximate cause.
- Virtue (síla) has the characteristic of composing (sílana,
observing); coordinating (samådhåna) and establishing
(patiììhana) are also mentioned as its characteristic. Its function
is to dispel moral depravity, or its function is blameless conduct;
its manifestation is moral purity; shame and moral dread are its
- Renunciation (nekkhamma) has the characteristic of departing
from sense pleasures and existence; its function is to verify the
unsatisfactoriness they involve; its manifestation is the
withdrawal from them; a sense of spiritual urgency (saóvega)
is its proximate cause.
- Wisdom (paññå) has the characteristic of penetrating the real
specific nature (of dhammas), or the characteristic of sure
penetration, like the penetration of an arrow shot by a skilful
archer; its function is to illuminate the objective field, like a
lamp; its manifestation is non-confusion, like a guide in a forest;
concentration or the four (noble) truths, is its proximate cause [ Concentration of the eightfold Path performs its function while it accompanies
the wisdom of the eightfold Path. The four noble Truths are the object of paññå.]
- Energy has the characteristic of striving; its function is to fortify;
its manifestation is indefatigably; an occasion for the arousing
of energy, or a sense of spiritual urgency, is its proximate cause.
- Patience has the characteristic of acceptance; its function is to
endure the desirable and undesirable; its manifestation is
tolerance or non-opposition; seeing things as they really are is
its proximate cause.
- Truthfulness has the characteristic of non-deceptiveness in
speech; its function is to verify in accordance with fact; its
manifestation is excellence; honesty is its proximate cause.
- Determination has the characteristic of determining upon the
requisites of enlightenment [ Being resolute as to the requisites of enlightenment, and these are the ten
perfections]; its function is to overcome their
opposites; its manifestation is unshakeableness in that task; the
requisites of enlightenment are its proximate cause.
- Loving-kindness has the characteristic of promoting the welfare
(of living beings); its function is to provide for their welfare, or
its function is to remove resentment; its manifestation is
kindliness; seeing the agreeable side of beings is its proximate
- Equanimity has the characteristic of promoting the aspect of
neutrality [towards beings].
; its function is to see things impartially; its
manifestation is the subsiding of attraction and repulsion;
reflection upon the fact that all beings inherit the results of their
own kamma is its proximate cause.”
Apart from these definitions, many other passages in the Commentary
to the “Basket of Conduct”, Cariyåpiìaka, deal in great detail with the
perfections. To what extent such details should be studied depends on
the ability of each individual to see their value and to investigate
realities. Everybody would like to fulfil all ten perfections, but in order
to do so, one should very gradually develop and accumulate them.
Before we listened to the Dhamma, akusala citta was likely to arise
often, and we did not understand at all how to develop the eightfold
Path. When someone has listened to the Dhamma, he acquires
understanding of the development of paññå and of the eightfold Path.
However, when people have gained already some degree of
understanding, they can notice that sammå-sati, right mindfulness, very
seldom in a day arises and is aware of the characteristics of realities.
Therefore, it is necessary truly to know oneself and to find out the
reason why right mindfulness arises very seldom.
It may be that someone has understood the right way of the
development of paññå that can eradicate the wrong view of self and
realize the four noble Truths. However, what is the reason that right
mindfulness does not develop in accordance with one’s understanding
of the Path? The reason is that everybody has defilements, and this can
be compared to suffering from illness. We are like a sick person who
does not know how to recover and gain strength. We see that the way
we have to travel is extremely far, but when our body is not healthy and
strong we cannot travel all the way through and reach our destination.
The eightfold Path is the long way we have to travel in order to reach
our destination, that is, the realization of the four noble Truths. If we do
not examine and know ourselves, we are likely to be a person who
knows the right Path but who cannot go along it. We are like someone
who does not know the way to gain strength and recover from his
ailments. Therefore, listening to the Dhamma and considering it so that
we gain understanding, can be compared to the situation of a person
who looks for the right medicine to cure his illness. Someone who does
not listen to the Dhamma and does not even know that he is sick, will
not look for medicine to cure his illness. As soon as he finds the
Dhamma and has right understanding of it, he is like a person who has
found the right medicine that cures his illness so that he has sufficient
strength to travel a long way. The dhammas that make the citta healthy
and strong so that one can walk the eightfold Path all the way through
are the ten perfections.
We should carefully consider the perfections so that we have correct
understanding of them, otherwise we shall not be able to develop them.
We may listen to the Dhamma every day, but we should know and
consider why we listen: we should listen with the firm determination
and intention to have right understanding of the Dhamma so that we
can apply it, now and during each life to come. We should know the
right purpose of listening: the development of paññå that can eradicate
defilements. In this way the perfections can begin to develop while we
When we listen, the perfection of determination can develop. We
should know the meaning of the perfection of determination; without
mental strength one cannot fulfil this perfection. Some people who
perform kusala, such as generosity, express their determination by
prayer, but they do not know the meaning of determination. When one
has the firm, unshakeable determination to reach the goal, the
eradication of akusala, determination is a perfection, and this is an
essential condition for the development of paññå.
If we do not study the perfections, we may continue just to listen
without knowing the right purpose of it, and because of this we surely
shall not realize the four noble Truths. We should consider whether the
perfections begin to develop while we listen to the Dhamma. Whenever
we have the firm determination to listen with the right purpose, the
development of paññå, we develop and accumulate all ten perfections
so that they can reach accomplishment.
1 The Jåtakas, the ‘Birth Stories”, deal with all the excellent qualities the Buddha
developed during his former lives, although not exclusively with the ten
perfections. The “Basket of Conduct”, the Cariyåpitaka, Khuddhaka Nikåya
(Minor Anthologies III), describes the perfections and relates how they were
developed. The Commentary to this work, written by Dhammapåla in the sixth
century, explains them more systematically and in detail. They are also
described in an abridged version in the sub commentary (tíka) to the
“Brahmajåla Sutta”, of the “Middle Length Sayings”(I, no. 1). The ten perfections
are also mentioned in the “Chronicle of Buddhas”, Buddhavaósa (Minor
2 For my quotations from the Commentary to the Basket of Conduct and the
definitions and descriptions of the perfections, contained in the last part, the
Miscellaneous Sayings, Pakiùùaka Kathå, I am using the translation of this part
of the Commentary by Ven. Bodhi. This translation is included in “The All embracing Net of Views”, The Brahmajåla Sutta and its commentaries, B.P.S.
Kandy, Sri Lanka.