The term p?ramit?, commonly translated as "perfection," has two etymologies. The first derives it from the word parama, meaning "highest", "most distant", and hence "chief", "primary", "most excellent". Hence, the substantive can be rendered "excellence" or "perfection". This reading is supported by the Madhy?ntavibh?ga (V.4), where the twelve excellences (parama) are associated with the ten perfections (p?ramit?).
A more creative yet widely reported etymology divides p?ramit? into p?ra and mita, with p?ra meaning "beyond", "the further bank, shore or boundary," and mita, meaning "that which has arrived," or ita meaning "that which goes." P?ramit?, then means "that which has gone beyond," "that which goes beyond," or "transcendent." This reading is reflected in the Tibetan translation pha rol tu phyin pa ("gone to the other side").
Some scholars even refer to the teachings of the p?ram?s as a semi-Mah?y?na teaching added to the scriptures at a later time in order to appeal to the interests and needs of the lay community and to popularize their religion. However, these views rely on the early scholarly presumption of Mah?y?na originating with religious devotion and appeal to laity. More recently, scholars have started to open up early Mah?y?na literature, which is very ascetic and expounds the ideal of the monk's life in the forest. Therefore, the practice of the p?ramit?s in Mah?y?na Buddhism may have been close to the ideals of the ascetic tradition of the ?rama?a.
Bodhi (2005) maintains that, in the earliest Buddhist texts (which he identifies as the first four nik?yas), those seeking the extinction of suffering (nibbana) pursued the noble eightfold path. As time went on, a backstory was provided for the multi-life development of the Buddha; as a result, the ten perfections were identified as part of the path for the bodhisattva (P?li: bodhisatta). Over subsequent centuries, the p?ram?s were seen as being significant for aspirants to both Buddhahood and arahantship. Bodhi (2005) summarizes:
in established Therav?da tradition the p?ram?s are not regarded as a discipline peculiar to candidates for Buddhahood alone but as practices which must be fulfilled by all aspirants to enlightenment and deliverance, whether as Buddhas, paccekabuddhas, or disciples. What distinguishes the supreme bodhisattva from aspirants in the other two vehicles is the degree to which the p?ram?s must be cultivated and the length of time they must be pursued. But the qualities themselves are universal requisites for deliverance, which all must fulfill to at least a minimal degree to merit the fruits of the liberating path.
The Mah?ratnaka S?tra (? , the Sutra of the Heap of Jewels) also includes these additional four p?ramit?s with number 8 and 9 switched.
According to the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism, Mah?y?na practitioners have the choice of two practice paths: the path of perfection (Sanskrit: p?ramit?y?na) or the path of tantra (Sanskrit: tantray?na), which is the Vajray?na.
When we say that paramita means "transcendent action," we mean it in the sense that actions or attitude are performed in a non-egocentric manner. "Transcendental" does not refer to some external reality, but rather to the way in which we conduct our lives and perceive the world - either in an egocentric or a non-egocentric way. The six paramitas are concerned with the effort to step out of the egocentric mentality.
The first four perfections are skillful means practice while the last two are wisdom practice. These contain all the methods and skills required for eliminating delusion and fulfilling other's needs. Also, leading from happy to happier states.
^"[Prose portions of the J?takas] originally did not form part of [the Therav?dins] scriptures": Nalinaksha Dutt (1978) Buddhist Sects in India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition: 224
^Regarding the Cariy?pi?aka, Horner (2000), Cariy?pi?aka section, p. vi, writes that it is "[c]onsidered to be post-Asokan...."
^"[the Therav?dins'] early literature did not refer to the p?ramit?s." Nalinaksha Dutt (1978) Buddhist Sects in India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition: 228
^"The incorporation of p?ramis by the Therav?dins in the J?takas reveals that they were not immune from Mah?y?nic influence. This happened, of course, at a much later date[.]" Nalinaksha Dutt (1978) Buddhist Sects in India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition: 219
^"It is evident that the Hinay?nists, either to popularize their religion or to interest the laity more in it, incorporated in their doctrines the conception of Bodhisattva and the practice of p?ramit?s. This was effected by the production of new literature: the J?takas and Avad?nas." Nalinaksha Dutt (1978) Buddhist Sects in India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition: 251. The term "Semi-Mah?y?na" occurs here as a subtitle.
^"As scholars have moved away from this limited corpus, and have begun to explore a wider range of Mah?y?na sutras, they have stumbled on, and have started to open up, a literature that is often stridently ascetic and heavily engaged in reinventing the forest ideal, an individualistic, antisocial, ascetic ideal that is encapsulated in the apparently resurrected image of "wandering alone like a rhinoceros." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004): p. 494