Two Versions of 37 Factors of Enlightenment

April 8, 2016; revised July 1, 2021; July 21, 2021; August 20, 2022

1. In the previous post, we discussed two versions of 37 Factors of Enlightenment (Bodhipakkhiya Dhamma) and two versions of eightfold paths. See, “Why are Tilakkhana not Included in 37 Factors of Enlightenment?” Here, we continue that discussion.

2. Throughout the website, I have tried to make the case that there are three broad categories that people can be divided into :

  • Some have one or more of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi; see “Three Kinds of Diṭṭhi, Eightfold Paths, and Samādhi.”
  • Some others who have been exposed to some form of Buddha Dhamma have removed micchā diṭṭhi and thereby have the mundane (lokiya) version of samma diṭṭhi.
  • Then some have transcendental (lokuttara) Sammā Diṭṭhi, i.e., they comprehend the true nature of the 31 realms (anicca, dukkha, anatta), i.e., that there is hidden suffering in what we perceive to be enjoyment.

3. When one is exposed to Buddha Dhamma, one can understand the need for the wider world view with 31 realms and that living beings are born in all those realms due to their actions (kamma). This leads to getting rid of micchā diṭṭhi; see “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart” and “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?”.

  • When one gets rid of micchā diṭṭhi, one has the mundane samma diṭṭhi: One knows that to avoid future births in the apāyā (four lowest realms), one needs to avoid immoral deeds (akusala kamma) and to cultivate moral deeds.
  • With mundane samma diṭṭhi, one also strives to accumulate kusala by doing puñña kriya or good deeds; this leads to FOUR benefits of āyu (long life), vaṇṇa (healthiness), sukha (mundane happiness), bala (wealth/strength) in future lives. Note that this “bala” is different from the “Pañca Bala;” see “Pañca Indriya and Pañca Bala – Five Faculties and Five Powers.”
  • The “mundane bala” appears in the Dhammapada verse 109:
    niccaṁ vuḍḍhāpacāyino
    cattāro dhammā vaḍḍhanti
    āyu vaṇṇo sukhaṁ balaṁ.”
  • Translation: “For one who always respects and honors those older and more virtuous, four benefits of longevity, beauty, happiness, and wealth/strength will increase.”
  • That enables one to grasp Tilakkhana in future lives if one fails to do so in this life. Normally, those born with tihetuka paṭisandhi will have those qualities in this life. See “Patisandhi Citta – How the Next Life is Determined According to Gati.”

4. Now, let us talk specifically about the mundane 37 Factors of Enlightenment, tied to the mundane samma diṭṭhi. There is no specific order because they are all interrelated. But for convenience, we could use the following guide:

There are four obvious things to do when one knows what is right (moral or kusala) and what is not (immoral or akusala). These are called cattāro sammappadhāna, conventionally translated as Four Supreme Efforts. One exerts to:

  • prevent immoral qualities that have not yet arisen from arising
  • abandon immoral qualities that have arisen
  • maintain and cultivate moral qualities that have arisen
  • initiate moral qualities that have not yet arisen

By the way, these are intimately related to viriya in some other categories in the 37 factors: Cattāro Iddhipada, Pañca Indriya, Pañca Bala, Satta Bojjhaṅga, and the Noble Eightfold Path.

5. One could make much progress (mundane or lokuttara) by focusing on the Cattāro Sammappadhāna. The word sammappadhāna comes from “san” + “ma” + “padhāna.” We have previously discussed “samma” or “san” + “ma” means getting rid of defilements; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansāra (or Saṃsāra)“. In Pāli or Sinhala, “padhāna” or “pradhāna” means dominant or leading. Cattāro is, of course, four.

  • Therefore, Cattāro Sammappadhāna means four key methods for eliminating defilements, i.e., cleansing the mind.
  • If we can get into the habit of following the four guidelines listed in #4, then we will be cleansing our minds with time.

6. Cattāro Satipaṭṭhāna (Four Foundations of Mindfulness) helps one with the four tasks listed in #4 by being vigilant. These are discussed in detail in several posts in the “Maha Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.”

  • One keeps vigilant about committing immoral deeds with the body (Kāyānupassanā) and becomes good at not reacting automatically to feelings (vedanānupassanā) or thoughts (cittānupassanā), and when in doubt about the suitability of a given action one is about to do, compare with what is in the Dhamma (dhammānupassanā).
  • We have not discussed dhammānupassanā in the Maha Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta yet, and we can go to great depths. But we can get a simple idea from what “dhamma” means: Dhamma is what one bears. If one engages in activities that lead to great suffering to another (say, rape or murder), then one has accumulated a “bad Dhamma” that will yield corresponding results (Paṭicca Samuppāda) in future lives in the four lowest realms. Similarly, if one acts with kindness, one grows Dhamma to be born in human or higher realms.
  • Thus one should think about the consequences of bad actions one is about to do and stop such an action. On the other hand, one can be joyful about a good act that one is about to do or has done and acquire many merits that will lead to āyu, vaṇṇa, sukha, Bala, and paññā as discussed in #3 above.

7. Then there are Cattāro Iddhipada or the Four Bases of Mental Power; see “The Four Bases of Mental Power (Cattāro Iddhipada).” When someone has a firm goal, one develops Chanda (liking for it), citta (thinking about it always), viriya (making efforts on it), and vīmaṁsā (finding out all relevant information).

  • That completes the “three sets of fours” in the 37 Factors of Enlightenment. Next, there are “two sets of fives.”

8. The Pañca Indriya (Five Mental Faculties) are: saddha (faith based on knowledge), viriya (effort), sati (mindfulness), samādhi (calming of the mind), and paññā (wisdom).

  • These five factors help one move forward on the Dhamma path. It is like a vehicle with two sets of wheels with a driver: Sati is in front and can be compared to the driver; saddha and paññā are the two front wheels, and viriya and samādhi are like the back wheels.
  • All five need to be cultivated together; in particular, those sets need to be balanced: one cannot move forward with saddha without paññā or just by sheer effort (viriya) without feeling the benefits in samādhi.

9. When the Pañca Indriya is cultivated, they grow and become Pañca Bala or the Five Powers.

10. Next is Satta Bojjhaṅga, or the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. 

  • These seven factors are dhammavicaya (which is closely related to vīmaṁsā and paññā), viriya (effort), piti (joy), passaddhi (tranquility), samādhi (one-pointedness), and upekkha (equanimity).
  • Here again, sati should be in front, and the other six are better cultivated in two sets; see “11. Magga Phala and Ariya Jhanas via Cultivation of Satta Bojjhaṅga“.  In that post, the Satta Bojjhaṅga are those for the lokuttara Path, but as I mentioned before, the procedures are the same with deeper meanings.

11. Finally, there is the Ariya Attangika Magga or the Noble Eightfold Path.

  • Of course, it has been discussed in many posts throughout the site. One could enter “Noble Eightfold Path” in the Search box on the top right and get a list of relevant posts.
  • A table in the post “37 Factors of Enlightenment,” shows how many factors in different categories overlap.
  • Therefore, there is no need to try to cultivate each factor. It is much better to concentrate on one category: Cattāro Samppadhana or Cattāro Satipaṭṭhāna are common ones. When further along the Path, one could cultivate Satta Bojjhaṅga. Of course, the Noble Eightfold Path encompasses all.

12. The cultivation of the mundane samma diṭṭhi together with contemplation of “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta” gradually moves one to transcendental (lokuttarasamma diṭṭhi

  • Then one will gradually switch over to the lokuttara 37 Factors of Enlightenment. Like a train smoothly switching railway tracks at a railroad switch, one will move over to the lokuttara track at some point; it happens in one citta vithi, and one may not even realize it for a while. There is no need to worry about which one to be followed. As the meanings of anicca, dukkha, and anatta sink in, one will start seeing the deeper aspects of the 37 Factors of Enlightenment.

13. One will truly comprehend the Four Noble Truths starting from that point. One truly starts grasping the First Noble Truth (Dukkha Sacca) only when comprehending anicca, dukkha, and anatta.

  • Again, this is why the first three Noble Truths are also not listed under the 37 Factors of Enlightenment. In the previous post, we discussed why the Tilakkhana are not included; see, “Why are Tilakkhana not Included in 37 Factors of Enlightenment?“.
  • Comprehension of anicca, dukkha, and anatta, at least to some extent, at the Sotāpaññā stage, helps one grasp the first Noble Truth, i.e., that this world is filled with suffering and that it can be overcome.
  • The lokuttara version of the 37 Factors of Enlightenment — which describes ways to get to Nibbāna or Enlightenment — requires the comprehension of the Tilakkhana and the first three Noble Truths first.
  • Even before grasping anicca, dukkha, and anatta, one can see the dangers of a defiled mind and be motivated to follow the mundane Path with mundane samma diṭṭhi.

14. Therefore, it is better not to think much about which version of the  37 Factors of Enlightenment one follows.

  • The key is to purify one’s mind gradually: “rāgakkhayo Nibbānan, dosakkhayo Nibbānan, Mohakkhayo Nibbānan,” i.e., Nibbāna or Niveema or “cooling down” is achieved by getting rid of greed, hate, and ignorance in steps. Moral behavior helps with the first two, and reading and listening to Dhamma helps with the third.
  • Knowingly or unknowingly, one will be completing the 37 factors with time.
  • It happens with even the mundane Path but accelerates when switching to the lokuttara Path.
  • The “Bhāvanā (Meditation)” section could be useful in following a systematic path. But it is essential to read different posts on varying subjects, starting with the “Moral Living and Fundamentals” section. It could be harder to grasp advanced topics on Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta,” without grasping the fundamentals.


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