The version of this text I read is the abridged booklet available in the Buddhist Publication Society Wheel format (pictured at left). The complete text can be found in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s The Discourse on the All Embracing Net of Views.
This is a wonderful, very dense little primer on the paramis (Sanksrit paramitas), the critical moral requisites for a Buddhist practitioner and the modus operandi par excellence of any would-be bodhisattva. What the author, Acariya Dhammapala, has done is to create a perfect fusion of Theravada thought with Mahayana attitude. In fact, in all my Buddhist reading, I don’t think I’ve come across any work so perfectly “hybrid” in a way that captured the best of what are often thought to be conflicting and/or competing traditions.
The booklet includes a brief but informative introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Several takeaways here:
- the “three vehicles” (or, more accurately, “careers”) of the arahant, pacekkhabuddha, and buddha are all present in the earliest texts, though of course arahants were not looked down on as they were in the later Mahayana scriptures;
- there are ten perfections in the earlier canon as opposed to the six better known later on (which was again expanded into ten in the Avatamsaka Sutra and other texts);
- the author’s manner of commenting upon and discussing the paramis shows he is straight out of the Theravadan commentarial tradition.
As for the text proper: if you are interested in learning about the conception of the bodhisattva, you have come to the right place. This little treatise captures the flavor, the heroism, the challenge, not to mention the profound lifestyle shift this “project” requires. Here’s the “schedule of questions” Dhammapala covers:
(1) What are the paramis? This is just a brief definition.
(2) In what sense are they paramis? He gives four examples of how they are paramis.
(3) How many are there? Answer: 10.
(4) What is their sequence? Here he lists and defines them.
(5) What are their characteristics, functions, manifestations, and proximate causes? Further description, definition, etc.
(6) What is their condition? One of the meatier sections of the work, this defines what gives rise to the paramis, and what impedes them.
(7) What is their defilement? That is, what hinders their development? Answer: discriminating thoughts.
(8) What is their cleansing? Removal of the three poisons.
(9) What are their opposites? Unwholesome qualities.
(10) How are they to be practiced? This is what you’ve been waiting for! This section, which is really heavy-duty inspiring and exhorting, comprises about one third of the text proper, and should cause you to get out of bed earlier and start thinking how to change your habits.
(11) How are they analyzed? and (12) How are they synthesized? Some uniquely Theravadan commentator dicing and slicing. I didn’t find this section particularly helpful.
(13) By what means are they accomplished? Another level of analysis, but this one is both insightful and inspiring.
(14) How much time is required to accomplish them? If you’re good, only four incalculables and 100,000 great aeons. If your slow-witted, well, much longer!
(15) What benefits do they bring? Basically, this section will let you known whether or not you really are (per the textual tradition) on the path of the bodhisattva, or are just a wannabe.
(16) What is their fruit? Briefly, “the state of perfect Buddhahood.”
Anyway, I highly recommend this little text. It is much “heavier” than its number of pages indicates, and I plan to follow up with some essays further examining its contents and asking just how its recommendations can be put into practice.