The Six Perfections by H. H. The Dalai Lama

The Six Perfections by H. H. The Dalai Lama

1. Generosity

The first among the six perfections is generosity. Generosity is of three types: giving material aid, giving dharma, and protecting from fear. “Giving dharma” refers to the giving of teachings to other sentient beings out of the pure motivation to benefit them. The phrase does not only refer to high lamas giving teachings seated on high thrones. You should not have the notion that dharma teachings should be preceded by impressive rituals such as the blowing of conch shells and the like. Rather, any instruction given out of compassion and a kind heart by anyone is considered generosity of the dharma.

Giving away one’s own possessions without even the slightest touch of miserliness and without any hope for reward is part of the practice of generosity. It would be very beneficial, if you want to practice generosity, to make offerings to sick patients and also to the monastic universities which have philosophical study programs and which train many young monks for the practice of dharma.

The practice of generosity should be undertaken by giving away what you can afford. You should enhance and develop your thought of generosity to such an extent that eventually you will be able to part with even your own body which you hold most precious, without the slightest trace of apprehension or possessiveness. As in any practice, it is important right from the beginning never to be discouraged, never to think that you will not be able to do it.

Protecting someone from fear or danger is the giving of fearlessness, as is saving people from illness and so forth. The practice of rituals for the purpose of overcoming illness could also justifiably be called the giving of fearlessness. Basically one’s own karmic actions are responsible for one’s harm and suffering. If you have definite indications of being harmed by certain spirits, then — instead of doing rituals — the most effective way to overcome the difficulty is to practice compassion towards the forces that harm you. Such occasions give you new opportunities to practice your compassion, which is far more powerful than performing rituals.

Although we Tibetans talk about the law of cause and effect and the Buddha’s doctrine, when a difficult situation really presses us we often like to blame it on the harm of spirits. It is far better to have fewer superstitions and more faith in the law of causality.

2. Morality

Next is the practice of morality. Lay people should engage in the practice of morality by abstaining from the ten negative actions — if possible, all ten. But if this is not possible, then at least taking the life of others, telling lies, and indulging in sexual misconduct should be avoided; these are very detrimental, not only for the individual but also for the peace and calmness of a community. Divisive talk is very destructive; it causes a lot of conflict and misunderstanding within a community, and between different communities and different people. Therefore, it is a great obstacle to peace and happiness of mind. The same is true of telling lies. Senseless gossip, although not so destructive from one point of view, is seen from another to be very harmful, as it wastes so much of your precious time. You should also avoid harsh speech and covetousness, as well as harmful intent and holding perverted views. “Perverted views” refers to incorrect views that deny the existence of life after death and the law of causality.

Also, as Nagarjuna recommends in his Ratnavali (Precious Garland), it is important to avoid taking alcoholic drinks. In Tibet, because of the lack of relaxation available under the repressive Chinese rule, some people indulge in taking alcohol, which is very injurious. Buddha himself has said that those who regard him as their master should never take an alcoholic drink, even as little as fits on the tip of a blade of grass.

Gambling is also very injurious; it involves all sorts of negative actions like telling lies, being covetous, and using harsh speech. Because many negative actions ensue from gambling, Nagarjuna taught that gambling is very destructive.

The same is true of smoking. Even the modern doctors speak of the destructive effect of smoking on one’s health. Smoking is an addiction; it is not as if we could not survive if we did not smoke. Nor is it like taking tea. Because tea is a key part of our diet, if we are told by the doctor not to drink it, we have to find something as an alternative. But smoking is completely different: we do not need to smoke at all. Because of their misconceptions and the bad habit of smoking, some people even find the smell of tobacco quite nice. Smoking is very bad for the purse, too. Rather than smoke, it would be better to go for a picnic and enjoy a nice lunch or dinner. This is not religious talk —the issue is one of health. It would be better right from the beginning not to indulge in and develop the addiction to tobacco.

3. Patience

There are different types of patience: the patience of being indifferent to the harm inflicted by others, the patience of voluntarily accepting hardship, and the patience developed through reasoned conviction in the dharma. Practitioners of dharma should have these types of patience — they should be able to endure hardship — but adopting such patience does not mean that they should not take precautions for their health.

When you have a sickness, right from the beginning it is better to treat it by going to doctors and taking medicine. It is no good leaving matters to the last moment, which is, in part, a habit of Tibetans. Because in Tibet there were very few doctors, when someone became sick, people would advise the person to take more food and have a good rest. This is inadequate advice. It is more important to look into the causes of the illness and apply corrective measures. Taking care of your health is very important.

At the same time, meditators and students should have the patience which can voluntarily accept hardship; without such patience they will never be successful in their studies. Gungthang Jampeyang said:

Should you wish to be learned in the ways of avoiding delusions and attaining liberation,
And achieve the glory of an eloquent scholar confident amidst any assembly,
Accept with patience the hardships involved. For the leisurely lifestyle of the present,
Totally attached to the pleasures of delicacies, drinks and excessive sleep,
Will get you nowhere.

Similarly, the patience of being indifferent to harm inflicted by others is especially important, because Buddha’s doctrine is rooted in compassion. Therefore, you should be able to forbear and endure the harm inflicted by others. Buddha said that those who retaliate against harm inflicted by others are not his followers. You should also view all the harm that you face and that is inflicted by others — as well as the adverse circumstances that you experience — as a manifestation and ripening of your own negative actions. Doing this will enable you to endure the suffering with greater patience. When facing difficulties such as illnesses and adverse circumstances, it is very important to reflect on the law of causality, and conclude that these are the consequences of your own doings in the past.

This conclusion will protect you from having all sorts of superstitions or unnecessary mental anxieties, but this does not mean that you should not work toward the relief of the problems.

Some people misunderstand the concept of karma. They take the Buddha’s doctrine of the law of causality to mean that all is predetermined, that there is nothing that the individual can do. This is a total misunderstanding. The very term karma or action is a term of active force, which indicates that future events are within your own hands. Since action is a phenomenon that is committed by a person, a living being, it is within your own hands whether or not you engage in actions.

There are differing techniques for various types of practitioners. For some it is effective, when facing adverse circumstances, to reflect that these are due to the nature of suffering and are the natural consequences of being in the cycle of existence. Others could view adverse circumstances as the ripening of their own negative actions and could wish that by the experience of these sufferings all other sentient beings will never undergo such experiences in the future.

4. Joyous Effort

If one has the faculty of joyous effort, one will be able to accomplish the task that one has originally set out to do. Therefore, this faculty is very important for a spiritual practitioner. Generally speaking, there are three types of joyous effort: (1) armor-like joyous effort; (2) joyous effort in gathering virtues; and (3) joyous effort in working for others. The main obstacles to the development of these efforts are the different levels of laziness — primarily the laziness of procrastination, and the lazinesses stemming from indolence and from a sense of inferiority.

5. Concentration

Since the practices of concentration and wisdom are treated in separate chapters, only a brief explanation of these is given here.

Generally speaking, concentration refers to a faculty of single-pointedness of the mind that serves as a powerful basis for any given meditation. It is of two types, based on differing functions: mundane and super-mundane concentrations.

6. Wisdom

Wisdom refers to an analytic faculty of the mind that allows a probing into the deeper nature of things. Broadly speaking, it is of two kinds: the wisdom examining the ultimate nature of phenomena, and the wisdom examining the conventional or relative nature of phenomena.


The four ripening factors refer to the four principal factors that bodhisattvas employ in attracting disciples and enhancing their spiritual potentials. These are: (1) giving material aid; (2) speaking eloquently; (3) always giving the right counsel; and (4) setting an example by living the principles taught. It is through these skillful means that the compassionate bodhisattvas work for the welfare of all other beings.

Except from: The Path to Bliss by H. H. the Dalai Lama.