In April of 2019, members of Le Refuge, a Buddhist group located near Marseilles, invited me to lead a ten-day retreat on the topic of the ten perfections (pāramī): giving, virtue, renunciation, discernment, persistence, endurance, truth, determination, goodwill, and equanimity. In February of this year, members of Sociedade Vipassanā de Meditação of Brasília asked me to lead a ten-day retreat on the same topic.

The perfections are a set of qualities traditionally associated with the path of the bodhisatta—the Buddha-to-be—in his quest for the timeless happiness of awakening through the course of many lifetimes. Because these perfections are drawn from the Jātaka tales, stories of the Buddha’s previous lives, and because the bodhisatta is often portrayed as a layperson in those tales, the perfections provide an excellent framework for understanding how to give meaningful and satisfying purpose to everyday lay life. They show how to approach duties, responsibilities, and challenges in a way that’s conducive both to genuine goodness and to genuine happiness. As they develop, they foster qualities both of a good mind—wise in understanding cause and effect—and a good heart: purposeful, well-intentioned, and strong.

The talks of each retreat were presented in two series: a series of talks on the ten perfections, primarily in the evenings, plus a series of morning talks, largely on practical issues arising in meditation and topics related to the practical application of the perfections. Every afternoon, there was a period for questions and answers concerning issues arising from the talks and from the retreatants’ experiences in meditation.

The present book is based on the talks from both retreats. In some cases, I have used transcripts of the talks from the French retreat; in others, transcripts from the Brazilian retreat; and in still others, an amalgam of the two. I have also included some of the questions and answers from the Q&A periods from both retreats, placed immediately after the talks to which they seem most clearly related. The talks, questions, and answers have been edited and expanded so as to make their coverage of the main topics of the retreats more complete than I was able to manage on the spot.

The talks draw on suttas, or discourses, from the Pāli Canon and on the writings and talks of the ajaans, or teachers, of the Thai forest tradition, in which I was trained. For people unfamiliar with the Canon, I have added passages from the discourses at the back of the book to flesh out some of the points made in the talks. These are followed by a glossary of Pāli terms.

For people unfamiliar with the Thai forest tradition, you should know that it is a meditation tradition founded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century by Ajaan Sao Kantasīlo and Ajaan Mun Bhūridatto. The ajaans mentioned in the talks trained under Ajaan Mun. Of these, Ajaan Fuang Jotiko and Ajaan Suwat Suvaco were my teachers. Ajaan Fuang, although he spent some time training directly under Ajaan Mun, spent more time training under one of Ajaan Mun’s students, Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo.

Many people have helped with the preparation of this book. In particular, I would like to thank the people of Le Refuge and the Sociedade Vipassanā de Meditação who made the retreats possible; my interpreters, Khamaṇo Bhikkhu (Than Lionel) in France and Katatto Bhikkhu (Than Saulo) in Brazil; Philippe and Watthani Cortey-Dumont, who hosted my entire stay in France; and members of the Karuṇā Group, who hosted my stay in and around Brasília. Here at Metta, the monks at the monastery helped in preparing the manuscript, as did Addie Onsanit, Christopher James, Virginia Lawrence, Anita Basu, Irfan Pirbhai, and Isabella Trauttmansdorff. Any mistakes in the book, of course, are my own responsibility.

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

(Geoffrey DeGraff)

Metta Forest Monastery

August, 2020