Introduction - The characteristics of the ten perfections

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, dana. 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, panna. 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, aditthana. If a person sees the danger of vengefulness, he will be inclined to lovingkindness, metta. If a person sees the disadvantage of the worldly conditions, such as gain and loss, praise and blame, he will be inclined to equanimity, upekkha. All these qualities are actually the ten perfections which should gradually be accumulated and developed.
We read in the Paramatthadípaní, the Commentary to the “Basket of Conduct” Cariyapitaka Khuddhaka Nikaya, about the characteristics of the ten perfections.
1. “Giving (dana) 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.
2. Virtue (síla) has the characteristic of composing (sílana, observing); coordinating (samadhana) and establishing (patitthana) 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 proximate cause.
3. 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 (sanvega) is its proximate cause.
4. Wisdom (panna) 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
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Determination has the characteristic of determining upon the requisites of enlightenment; its function is to overcome their opposites; its manifestation is unshakeableness in that task; the requisites of enlightenment are its proximate cause.

9. 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 cause.

10. Equanimity has the characteristic of promoting the aspect of neutrality; 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”, Cariyapitaka, 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.

Topic 276