37 Factors of Bodhi, mindfulness, and samadhi

I was digging out some of my old notes recently, and came upon a section in which I had been putting up some of the various frameworks from the 37 Factors of Bodhi, side-by-side for comparison.

Along with these, I have also put the 5 steps to samadhi, which is sort of an unnamed framework that is embedded within many sutras of the EBT’s, but which is never formalized with its own name.

Notice the common themes, and especially the common framework of mindfulness leading to samadhi. That relationship really just leaps out across these all. For those thinking that the 5 steps to samadhi does not contain this pattern, though, think again… The sutras themselves always include some mindfulness or mental purity being cultivated that leads up to the first step.

Mindfulness here is generally defined as the Four Bases of Mindfulness, which go from coarse to subtle, and which are also among the 37 Factors. The other major form of mindfulness present in the SA is anapana, which is described in terms of one way to practice the Four Bases of Mindfulness.


In Theravada the interest is in the causal sequence of these, all of which are based as a precondition on the causal agent of morality, whose effect is samadhi. They are divided into two, "the first type consists of the four frames of reference, the four right exertions, and the four bases of power. Each of these sets focuses on a single factor in the “concentration aggregate” [§105] of the noble eightfold path: the frames of reference on mindfulness, the right exertions on effort, and the bases of power on concentration.
The sets included in the second type are the five faculties, the five strengths, the seven factors for Awakening, and the noble eightfold path.
Comparing the sets in the second type with one another, however, we find a certain complexity in their feedback loops. In terms of their most important factors, we see that the faculties and strengths depict the causal sequence as:

effort » mindfulness » concentration » discernment;
the factors for Awakening give it as:
mindfulness » discernment » effort » concentration;
and the noble eightfold path:
discernment » effort » mindfulness » concentration." (Thanissaro)

  1. The Four Frames of Reference (§§26-48)
  2. The Four Right Exertions (§§49-62)
  3. The Four Bases of Power (§§63-68)
  4. The Five Faculties (§§69-89)
  5. The Five Strengths (§§90-91)
  6. The Seven Factors for Awakening (§§92-100)
  7. The Noble Eightfold Path (§§101-114)