Two Versions of 37 Factors of Enlightenment

April 8, 2016

1. In the previous post, we discussed the fact that there are two versions of 37 Factors of Enlightenment (Bodhipakkhiya Dhamma) as well as two versions of eightfold paths. 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 :

  • Those who have one or more of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi; see, “Three Kinds of Diṭṭhi, Eightfold Paths, and Samādhi“.
  • Those 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 there are those who have transcendental (lokuttara) Sammā Diṭṭhi, i.e., they truly comprehend the true nature of this of 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 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 in order 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 gaining äyusa (long life), vaṇṇa (healthiness) , sukha (mundane happiness), bala (wealth) and , pannä (wisdom) in future lives. That enables one to grasp Tilakkhana in future lives, if one fails to do so in this life. Normally, those who are born with tihetuka patisandhi will have those qualities in this life. I will discuss this in the future post.

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

When one knows what is right (moral or kusala) and what is not (immoral or akusala), there are four obvious things to do. These are called satara Sammāppadhäna, which is 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: Satara Iddhipada, Panca Indriya, Panca Bala, Saptha Bojjhaṅga, and the Noble Eightfold Path.

5. In a way, one could make a whole lot of progress (whether mundane or lokuttara) by focusing on the Satara Sammāppadhäna. The word sammappadhana comes from “san” + “ma” + “padhäna“. 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, “padhäna” or “pradhäna” means dominant or leading. Satara is of course four.

  • Therefore, Satara Sammāppadhäna means four key methods for getting rid of defilements, i.e., for cleansing the mind.
  • If we can get to the habit of following the four guidelines listed in #4, then we will be cleansing our minds with time.

6. Satara 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“.

  • Basically, one keeps vigilant about committing immoral deeds with the body (Kāyānupassanā), and becomes good at not reacting automatically to feelings (vedananupassana) or thoughts (cittanupassana), and when in doubt about the suitability of a given action one is about to do, compare with what is in the Dhamma (dhammanupassana).
  • We have not discussed dhammanupassana 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 to corresponding results (Paṭicca Samuppāda) in future lives in the four lowest realms. Similarly, if one acts with kindness one grows Dhamma suitable 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 much merits that will lead to  ayusa, vaṇṇa , sukha, bala and panna as discussed in #3 above.

7. Then there are Satara Iddhipada or the Four Bases of Mental Power; see, “The Four Bases of Mental Power (Satara Iddhipada)“. When someone has a firm goal, one develops chanda (liking for it), citta (think about it always), viriya (make efforts on it), and vimansa (finds 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 Panca Indriya (Five Mental Faculties) are: saddha (faith based on knowledge), viriya (effort), sati (mindfulness), samadhi (calming of the mind), and panna (wisdom).

  • These five factors helps 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 panna are the two front wheels, and viriya and samadhi are like the back wheels.
  • All five needs to be cultivated together, in particular those sets need to be balanced: one cannot move forward with saddha without panna, or just by sheer effort (viriya) without feeling the benefits in samadhi.

9. When the Panca Indriya are cultivated, they grow and become Panca Bala or the Five Powers.

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

  • These seven factors are: dhammavicaya (which is closely related to vimansa and panna), viriya (effort), piti (joy), passaddhi(tranquility), samadhi (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 Saptha Bojjhaṅga“.  In that post, the Saptha 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 top right and get a list of relevant posts.
  • A table in the post, “37 Factors of Enlightenment” shows how many of the 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: Satara Samppadhana or Satara Satipaṭṭhāna are common ones. When further along the Path, one could cultivate Saptha 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, anatta sink in, one will start seeing the deeper aspects of the 37 Factors of Enlightenment.

13. In fact, one will truly comprehend the Four Noble Truths starting from that point. One truly start grasping the First Noble Truth (Dukkha Sacca), only when one comprehends anicca, dukkha, 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, anatta, at least to some extent, at the Sotāpanna 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, anatta, one can clearly 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 is following.

  • The key is to gradually purify one’s mind: “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 over 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 at the “Moral Living and Fundamentals” section. It could be harder to grasp advanced topics, say, on Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta“, without grasping the fundamentals.


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