April 29, 2016; revised November 22, 2018
1. Pāli is a “phonetic language”: some meanings come from the way words are pronounced, some time grammar rules are by-passed (or Pāli has its own rules, particularly when combining words). This is why people sometimes get into trouble trying to apply grammar rules to Pāli .
- Luckily, most Pāli words have related Sinhala words, so one with a good Sinhala knowledge and the basics of Buddha Dhamma can understand many Pāli terms. This is called “pada nirukthi” or clarifying via using some key phrases and sounds. (But it takes a special knowledge or “patisambidhā ñāna” of a jāti Sōtapanna to glean the meanings of key words like anicca, dukkha, anatta, without anyone’s help).
- The word,”pāramitā” comes from “pireema“, or to fulfill. There are certain conditions that have to be met while one is purifying one’s mind to become a Buddha; actually, the 80 great disciples (mahā sāvaka) of the Buddha also have to fulfill less stringent conditions.
- Attaining magga phala — including Arahantship — do not have such set requirements (at least I have not seen). Yet, those also require cleansing one’s mind over multiple lives. No goals can be achieved without an effort. Even when one wins a lottery, there is a reason (a good kamma vipāka from previous lives).
- See, “Difference between a Wish and a Determination (Paramita)” for a simple explanation of pāramitā.
2. The above paragraphs may give the impression that one “knows” that one is fulfilling pāramitā to be a Buddha or a great disciple. They do not know that they are gradually fulfilling such requirements. It is only when a Bodhisattva reaches a certain stage of progress, he gets told by Buddhas at those times:
- First he gets “aniyata vivarana” meaning he is told by a Buddha that he is likely to become a Buddha in the future, because has acquired “Buddha gathi” through his moral gathi and his drive for finding truth in past lives.
- Then when more “Buddha gathi” are acquired and firmly established with time, a later Buddha may give “niyata vivarana“, i.e., that he will definitely become a Buddha.
- We discussed this in detail in the post, “Animisa Locana Bodhi Poojawa – A Prelude to Acts of Gratitude“.
3. At first it seems that this “niyata vivarana” appears to say that the future can be deterministic. But in most cases, future is not deterministic; one can change one’s future drastically by one’s determined efforts; see, “What is Kamma? – Is Everything Determined by Kamma?“.
- The key lies in one’s gathi (āsava and anusaya are related). It is comparatively easy to remove/change those gathi that one has acquired recently, but the longer one acts according to those gathi, they become deeply-embedded. One gets “niyata vivarana” when one’s Buddha gathi are unshakable, so to speak.
- This is closely related to the fact that when one attains any stage of a magga phala, that is never removed in future rebirths.
4. To give a very simple example, a child who has just memorized, but not grasped the concept of adding, may be able to give the correct answer if that particular addition has been memorized. But a child who has grasped the concept of addition can add any two numbers, and that “knowledge base” cannot be removed from him.
- This is the same thing that happens when one attains the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna, for example. When one grasps the fact that nothing in these 31 realms can be maintained to one’s satisfaction for long times, That “base level of comprehension of the nature of this world” is not going to change ever, even though future lives.
- With that level of understanding, one does not have to consciously think to avoid the drastic immoral actions that make one eligible to be born in the apāyās; thoughts of such actions never come to a Sōtapanna‘s mind.
5. In another example from the Tipitaka, once there was going to be a war between two factions. Bhikkhus asked Ven. Sariputta which side was going to win, and Ven. Sariputta named the winning side.
- But when the war was fought months later, the other side won. The bhikkhus were perplexed; how can a prediction of Ven. Sariputta be wrong? They went and asked the Buddha. The Buddha said that Ven. Sariputta’s prediction was correct based on the conditions at that time. But as unforeseeable factors came into play, the outcome changed.
6. The world is extremely complex, and it is not possible to make predictions most of the time. In fact, this is related to the anicca nature: any sankata can undergo unexpected change, called viparināma.
- But some gathi and kamma can become so strong that it becomes virtually impossible to change the outcome. For example, if one kills one’s parent, it is not possible to avoid birth in the apāyās in the very next birth.
- In the same way, when one’s views about this world become clear to some level, and one can truly “see” the dangers of births in the apāyās, or the unfruitfulness of such actions, one’s mind become permanently averse to such actions. That is when one becomes a Sōtapanna.
- Through the next two stages (Sakadāgāmi and Anāgāmi), one’s mind becomes purified to the extent that one will cease to enjoy sense pleasures automatically, and then one will never be born in kāma lōka. At the Arahant stage, one see the dangers of rebirth anywhere in the 31 realms.
7. But all those stages can be attained only if one is taught the correct path by a Noble Person, who has attained one of the four stages of Nibbāna. The special aspect of a Buddha is the ability to figure out that without anybody’s instructions. And the mind of a Buddha is much more pure than that of an Arahant.
- Even when one attains the Arahanthood, some sansāric habits remain. Those are not defilements but just habits in the sense of doing something in a particular way, for example. Many such cases are mentioned in the Tipitaka. One Arahant could not remove the habit of addressing others in an inappropriate manner, even though there was no malice involved. Another Arahant had the habit of jumping over puddles on the road.
- But the mind of a Buddha was perfect. Not even a minor behavioral problem could be detected in a Buddha.
8. This can be compared to removing dirt from a glass of water. One could filer the water and get rid the big pieces of contaminants first. Then one could use better filters to remove even smaller particles. Now there may not be any visible contamination. But for all practical purposes, the water is clean and that can be compared to an Arahant.
- But there may be still some contaminant molecules there that can be uncovered only with a chemical analysis. Perfectly pure water without even a single molecule of a contaminant can be compared to the purity level of a Buddha.
- In fact, another meaning of “pāramitā” is “pereema” or “to filter”. As one keeps filtering out contaminants (defilements) from one’s mind it becomes more and more pure. Filtering to the ultimate level is fulfilling “pāramitā“.
9. A person who eventually become a Buddha starts off as a scientist or a philosopher in today’s terminology. It is started via one of two paths and both need to be fulfilled: “kim sacca gavēsi, kim kusala gavēsi“: investigations of truth and morality.
- Sacca (pronounced “sachcha”) means the truth; “kusala” is of course morals, and “gavēsi” is one who investigates. One starts off with the intention of finding the how the nature works, and also what are morals and the origins of morals.
- Even today, we can assign such labels to many of the scientists and philosophers. Of course only a minute fraction of them will eventually become a Buddha or a great disciple, but that is how one starts.
10. That habit (gathi) of looking into the truth and morals grows through successive lives. Most of them drop off due to external influences, and due to unexpected circumstances. But those few who get to cultivate those gathi keep cultivating them. As I said before, one may not had even heard of a Buddha for many aeons while cultivating such gathi inadvertently. It is just that when one on the right (or even wrong) path, nature starts guiding one: “Dhammō ha vē rakkathi dhammacāri“.
- By the way, one could start as a man or a woman, but the Buddhahood is attained by only a man. This and several other things “that would not happen” are discussed in the “Bahudhātuka Sutta (MN 115)“.
- In our rebirths process, one could change sex. Actually, the sex change can happen even during a lifetime (these days such transgenders are common).
- In the rebirth process, we all have been born a man and a woman innumerable times. If I remember correctly, the Bodhisatva was a woman when she started cultivating pāramitā to becomes Buddha. But at some point (probably after getting niyata vivarana), he had been a male.
- There is a slight difference between male and female. That may not be politically correct to say these days, but that is the reality. One is a man or a woman because one has cultivated the corresponding gati. No matter how many laws are passed, the military is always going to be dominated by men, for example.
11. In the Tipitaka, it says the usual progression of one’s character (gathi) buildup is dāna (giving), seela (moral conduct), bhāvanā (mostly loving kindness towards others), and culminating in paññā (wisdom).
- While these main ones are being cultivated, there are others that simultaneously cultivate, and there are actually ten of them called dasa pāramitā. The others are: viriya (effort), khanti (patience), adhitthāna (determination), metta (loving kindness), nekkhamma (renunciation), and upekkhā (equanimity).
- The process has been analyzed in great detail. For example, each of those ten grow into higher stages: upa pāramitā (middle) and paramatta pāramitā (ultimate). As one keeps making progress through successive lives, such gathi get amplified and one makes advances to those higher stages.
- As we saw in the previous post, “Animisa Locana Bodhi Poojawa – A Prelude to Acts of Gratitude“, it takes an unimaginably long time to purify the mind and get to the perfect mind of a Buddha.
12. As an example, let us consider the dāna pāramitā. Here one starts with mundane giving (dāna), i.e., giving to the needy, to animals, to elders and yogis, etc.
- Then one advances to the abhaya dāna. Here one comprehends the fact that each and every sentient being values one’s life the most, and thus does everything possible to save lives. It has even a deeper meaning too: abhaya means remove “bhaya” or fright. Thus the metta pāramitā grows simultaneously too. Most categories are inter-related, and grow together.
- The highest is dhamma dāna. It of course starts with teaching morals to others, and living an exemplary life. It is when one becomes a Buddha, that one start teaching the Buddha Dhamma (the way to eliminate bhava or “bhava udda” and to attain Nibbāna).
13. As I said before, such instructions about dasa pāramitā are not known to the world for even through aeons. There are many mahā kalpās where not a single Buddha is born. Thus it is not like following a set instructions. Those qualities grow as one’s sansāric gathi without even realizing that one is fulfilling such requirements.
- Even today, we can see many people, regardless of their religions or cultures, engage in such activities. Many of today’s scientists, teachers, physicians, philanthropists, etc. could be in such early stages.
- Thus we should always respect and honor those who live such exemplary lives regardless of their religions or cultures or any other categorization. One is considered “suitable for paying respects” only based on one’s actions.
14. It is informative to see why there are special categories of five Buddhas, seven Buddhas, 24 Buddhas, and 28 Buddhas in Buddhist literature. All these Buddhas are named and discussed in the following Wikipedia article:
- After striving for a long time as discussed in #3 above, our Bodhisattva first obtained “niyata vivarana” that he will definitely become a Buddha in the future, from Buddha Dipankara, who was the 24th Buddha preceding Buddha Gotama. A Bodhisattva customarily obtains “niyata vivarana” from 24 Buddhas before attaining the Buddhahood. The last Buddha that our Bodhisattva obtained “niyata vivarana” was from Buddha Kassapa.
- Before obtaining “niyata vivarana“, our Bodhisattva obtained “aniyata vivarana” or “not confirmed, but very likely” from three Buddhas named Tannankara, Medhankara, and Saranankara. As the Bodhisattva kept fulfilling the requirements, they were first fulfilled during the time of Buddha Deepankara, as mentioned above.
- The special aspect of the seven Buddhas is that those were the most recent Buddhas. There have been four Buddhas (Kakusanda, Konagama, Kassapa, Gotama) in this mahā kalpa, and there were 30 mahā kalpas prior to that which did not have even a single Buddha. In the mahā kalpa before that there were 2 Buddhas (Siki and Vessabhu); Prior to that there was only a single Buddha in the mahā kalpa that was 91 mahā kalpa earlier. So, there have been only 7 Buddhas within the past 91 mahā kalpas, and the timeline are discussed in the “Mahapadana Sutta (DN 14)“.
- The present mahā kalpa is a very special one, having the maximum number (five) of Buddhas in a given mahā kalpa. We have had four Buddhas so far, and there is going to be one more, Buddha Maithreya, before this mahā kalpa comes to an end.
15. Finally, pāramitā are also associated with one striving to become one of the 80 disciples of a future Buddha.
- Furthermore, one striving to attain the Arahanthood (or Nibbāna) is also fulfilling pāramitā.