Bodhipakkhiyā dhammā—wings or no wings?

The so called bodhipakkhiyā dhammā are a set of teachings emphasized by the Buddha as “taught from my direct knowledge”, that are supposed to help that “this spiritual practice may last for a long time”, as for example here (and repeatedly so) in DN 16:

DN16:3.50.1: Then the Buddha went to the assembly hall, where he sat on the seat spread out and addressed the mendicants: “So, mendicants, having carefully memorized those things I have taught you from my direct knowledge, you should cultivate, develop, and make much of them so that this spiritual practice may last for a long time. That would be for the welfare and happiness of the people, for the benefit, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans.

And what are those things I have taught from my direct knowledge? They are: the four kinds of mindfulness meditation, the four right efforts, the four bases of psychic power, the five faculties, the five powers, the seven awakening factors, and the noble eightfold path.

These are the things I have taught from my direct knowledge. Having carefully memorized them, you should cultivate, develop, and make much of them so that this spiritual practice may last for a long time. That would be for the welfare and happiness of the people, for the benefit, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans.”

The title bodhipakkhiyā dhammā was associated to these teaching later on; in the early texts it does occur, but in other contexts. It is translated as “things leading to awakening”, which is a pretty literal translation, but sometimes is also translated as “the wings to awakening”.

As beautiful as this image is, the Pali does actually have no “wings” in it—so where do they come from? I couldn’t find that out so far; does anyone know how the term “wings” became associated to the bodhipakkhiyā dhammā?


The compound is bodhi+pakkha
Pakkha can also mean wing:

a cripple; a lamp person; side; party; faction; side of the body; a flank, a wing; a fortnight. (adjective) adherent; associated with

Dictionary definition here:


Ah, I thought it’s bodhi+pakkhiya. That seems to explain it.


The Sanskrit equivalent pakṣa, which is part of my name, also means wings.


“Nowhere in the Canon does the Buddha list the seven sets of teachings under the name of Wings to Awakening. He mentions the seven sets as a group many times when he is summarizing his main teachings, but there is no firm evidence as to whether he ever actually gave a name to the group. In one passage he applies the term “wings to self-Awakening” to the five faculties [§77]; and in two passages [§§24-25] he makes reference to the seven Wings to Awakening, which may or may not denote the seven sets. Nevertheless, given the fact that the Buddha called the five faculties wings to self-Awakening, and all seven sets are equivalent to the five faculties, the name “Wings to Awakening” for all seven seems appropriate. This was the name that they definitely had in early post-canonical texts, such as the Petakopadesa, and that they have maintained ever since.”—Thanissaro

The five faculties: the faculty of conviction… persistence… mindfulness… concentration… discernment.

indriya-samatta: ‘equilibrium, balance, or harmony of faculties’, relates to the 5 spiritual faculties: faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom (s. indriya 15-19). Of these there are two pairs of faculties, in each of which both faculties should well counter-balance each other, namely: faith and wisdom (saddhā, paññā, q.v.) on the one hand and energy and concentration (viriya, samādhi, q.v.) on the other. For excessive faith with deficient wisdom leads to blind belief, whilst excessive wisdom with deficient faith leads to cunning. In the same way, great energy with weak concentration leads to restlessness, whilst strong concentration with deficient energy leads to indolence. Though for both faculties in each of the 2 pairs a balanced degree of intensity is desirable, mindfulness should be allowed to develop to the highest degree of strength. Cf. Vis.M. III”—Nyanatiloka

In the Samyutta Nikaya the Five Mental Faculties samyutta is placed in a central position in the seven Wings to Awakening, so its function of balancing the two ‘wings’ is clear:"

The Noble Eightfold Path
The Seven Factors for Awakening
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

The Five Mental Faculties

The Four Right Exertions
The Five Strengths
The Four Bases of Power

In the seven factors of awakening mindfulness performs a governing function over two groups of three factors, one active the other passive (SN 46.53). ‘Wings’ indicates both elements must be activated to avoid imbalance and achieve forward propulsion on the path.

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