The Bodhisattva’s Five Paths

According to Mahayana texts, there are five paths, or stages, that can be described to explain the spiritual journey. From taking vows, to generating the urge to attain enlightenment to help others, to complete realization, these 5 paths are said to really explain the journey for us.

I’m going to describe them as well as I can. This list is broken up into further, smaller, lists. Lists are a big part of Buddhism.

  1. Accumulation: this stage is based on our first meeting with the teachings. This is where we are putting in the work to learn about the Dharma. We all had to start somewhere. This is where we learn how to relate to the teachings and begin the journey, where we start to work on ourselves. We develop discipline through our meditation practice and we start to examine our passions and attachments. We also start to realize, on the cushion, how much our minds wander.
  2. Unification: This is where the our actions and our minds begin to work together. We get a glimpse of our Buddha Nature. Unification is broken up into five categories. These five categories help us stay on the bodhisattva path. They are: Faith: confidence in the path and steadiness of mind. With faith we are aware that the Dharma is taking us somewhere. Diligence: We are uplifted by our appreciation for the path and we take delight in practice. Understanding: Our actions and experiences are viewed with mindfulness and awareness. Meditation: We cultivate one pointed awareness and develop focus. Our minds become composed. Wisdom: We learn to understand how to really see things and experiences as they are.
  3. Vision: This is where we begin to develop clarity, seeing how the path operates  and how we can engage the path in our lives. This is broken into 7 categories, called the Limbs of Enlightenment. They are: Recollection: Not losing sight of the path, always going forward. Separating: Seeing things as they are. Being able to discriminate between this and that. Diligence: Constantly going forward, never giving up. Joy: Body and mind are working together as a whole and we are taking delight in the practice. Training: The mind is tamed. We develop an ability to feel positive and relaxed. Meditation: We have learned how to cultivate one-pointed attention. Equanimity: We are free from both laziness and excitability. We have a sense of evenness and we are undisturbed.
  4. Meditation: This is where we are moving beyond duality, where we begin to really cut through ignorance to see our true nature underneath. The Noble Eightfold Path is said to be contained within this path, Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
  5. Enlightenment: We have truly manifested the path and awakened. This state is said to be beyond words, so there’s very little to say about it.

The five paths give us useful guidelines and describe our development on the path. The journey is happening and we can see it. These teachings exist to help us on our way. As we travel along the path, we are in a constant process of becoming more awakened. That being said, it’s more like a spiral staircase and sometimes the same problems can emerge over and over.

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project. He also runs the Monday Night Zen Group at the Rime Buddhist Center. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

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