Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mahāyāna Perfectionism?

It is perhaps undeniable that the theories and practices of Mahāyāna Buddhism center around the so-called six or ten perfections (pāramitā: pha rol tu phyin pa) and hence I am wondering if the philosophy of the Pāramitāyāna or Pāramitānaya can be called “Mahāyāna Perfectionism.” We are told that in psychology, Perfectionism “is a personality disposition characterized by a striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.” In the Mahāyānic context, Perfectionism may be defined as “a religio-philosophical system characterized by the assumption that the best means of exploiting the best within oneself and others is to become a fully awakened being (i.e. a buddha) and the only means for doing so is by perfecting the so-called six perfections (i.e. the perfection of generosity or giving, of ethical-spiritual self-discipline, of the psychological and intellectual capacity to confront the state of affairs or reality, of diligence, of concentration, and of insight).

Dayal 1932 still remains a good source for the study of pāramitās.


  1. Short notice: So it (paramitayana) should orientate a seeker from seeking reality to the functioning of reality; through seeking what exists we discover sunyata, through asking how it functions we validate upaya; through the union of prajna and upaya we strive in ethics. To fully understand buddhahood we cultivate bodhicitta. In this manner we are inclined to "Mahayana Perfectionism". If "perfectionism" from the psychological side can be supported with the soteriological aim to expand one´s awareness until infinite buddha-awareness (hence fully understanding buddhahood) the term could work quite well...; if "perfectionism" means to become a buddha (a fully awakened being) we will get into trouble about how salvific buddha-action could be explained, since for becoming able to maintain this ideal we need bodhisattvic cognition (Candrakirti´s Madhyamakavatara, especially introduction-chapter with confirming final chapter in relation to Nagarjuna´s Madhyamakakarika 18:12 (!); again also Candrakirti´s Trisaranasaptati is highly stimulating...); mikael.

  2. Dear M, this is really a very late reply. Thank you for your short notice. Yes, I think “Mahāyāna Perfectionism” will have to center around six or ten pāramitās, all of which can be somehow subsumed under prajñā (of mainly śūnyatā) and upāya, which can further be crystalized (at least according to later strata of sources) to bodhicitta. It seems bodhicitta is conceived of as the pivotal point which allows a bodhisattva to balance between saṃsāra and nirvāṇa (= apratiṣṭhānanirvāṇa). For a study of bodhicitta, one may see Wangchuk 2007. The goal of “Mahāyāna Perfectionism” will have to be the attainment of Buddhahood, otherwise the term mahāyāna itself will be rendered redundant. But the question regarding how a buddha is supposed to act in the world will be answered differently by different systems and sources. For a study on this topic, see Almogi 2009. Best wishes, D.