The Thirty-Seven Factors of Enlightenment and The Five Phases, Paths or Stages

I realize refuge in the true state of affairs
the radical inclusivity of life unfolding in all it’s fullness,
the vast ungraspable suchness that is this living world/universe.
This is ever fresh buddha in action.

I recognize, celebrate and cultivate
the paths, teachings and encouragements
that support our realizing the true state of affairs.
This is dharma put to good use.

Releasing into a profound sense of being and belonging
with the entire community of life and living, I am home.
This is the knowing of true sangha, the fruition of all refuge practice.

Gradually, buddha, dharma and sangha merge and mingle
until each one contains and reveals the other two.
This is a wondrous three-in-one refuge.
It’s where we belong.

A Life-Journey of Maturing Humanness

Every multi-celled creature exists as a matrix of dynamic relationships. We are conceived in relationship, born into relationship and grow through relationship. Relationship is everywhere we look. What I do – the doing that is I – ripples through the tissues, organs and cells of my body and ripples through the living world around me. As I live, all that comprises my environment shifts and dances responding to my exuberance. As the world around me reverberates its ineffable functioning, I respond with chemical shifts and riffs of thinking, feeling and remembrance. These linkings are seamless. Intimate relationship is all that is, and the eternally present structure of dancing organism and dancing environment, drifts in the space and time of knowing, tracing the stories of evolving life, a planetary community growing into sentience, coming to know the universe. This awakening, this dawning capacity for lived understanding, which is me and you and all of us together in the very midst of being the beings that we are, reveals itself in flavors and modes, in factors and pathways – life-lines of the ungraspable – symbiosing now as blessing and wonderment. In Buddhism the shared human experiences of these flavors and modes have been examined and named. They are called bojjhanga and magga. We might think of them as factors of awakening and paths of maturing into fullness.

This article contains a general outline of the process of awakening or what we might think of as a life-journey of maturing humanness, expressed using the concepts of Buddhism. In the Theravadin Tradition, this way of living is described in terms of cultivating the ‘Thirty-seven Factors of Enlightenment’. In the historically more recent traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, these 37 are elaborated and clarified by associating them with five ‘phases’, ‘paths’ or ‘stages’ while at the same time relating them to the view and practices of Prajñāpāramittā. Generally, without extensive explanation and direct personal experience, these lists of terms and categories will not be particularly informative, but for someone deeply engaged in the lifelong adventure of awakening-in-action, they can be both inspiring and reassuring; especially when we begin to discern patterns in our unfolding realization that parallel the paths and realizations of great bodhisattva-yogis of the past. In this way we begin to feel part of, and at home in, a venerable community of contemplative scientists and practitioners of natural awakening – this magnificent life unfolding that we are.

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