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Dharmapravicaya (P. dhammavicaya; T. chos rab tu rnam par 'byed pa ཆོས་རབ་ཏུ་རྣམ་པར་འབྱེད་པ་; C. zefa 擇法) is the ability to discern phenomena, particularly the ability to distinguish between the wholesome and unwholesome states of mind that arise within the process of contemplation.

Dharmapravicaya is the second of the seven factors of enlightenment.

This term is translated as the "discrimination of dharmas," "discrimination of states," "full discernment of phenomena," "analysis of qualities," etc.

Within the seven factors of enlightment

Dharmapravicaya is the second of the seven factors of enlightenment.

Sanskrit tradition

The Khenjuk states:

Full discernment of phenomena is the innate factor. This identity of the discriminating knowledge that perceives the meaning of the truths subdues all conceptual attributes. It resembles the precious elephant in that it cuts through opposing aspects.[1]

Pali tradition

Bhikkhu Bodhi states:

The enlightenment factor dhammavicaya-sambojjhaṅga is said to be nurtured by giving careful attention to pairs of contrasting mental states (among them wholesome and unwholesome states; V 66,18), and thus I render it “the enlightenment factor of discrimination of states.” But since the dhammas investigated can also be the four objective supports of mindfulness (V 331–32), dhammavicaya might have been translated “discrimination of phenomena.”[2]

Bodhi also states:

As mindfulness becomes steady, one learns to discern the object’s features more clearly, and can also distinguish between the wholesome and unwholesome states of mind that arise within the process of contemplation: [this is] the enlightenment factor of discrimination of states (dhammavicaya-sambojjhaṅ̇ga).[3]

Within Pali texts

According to the Samyutta Nikaya, this factor is to be developed by paying continuous careful attention (yoniso manasikāra bahulīkāro) to the following states (dhammā): wholesome and unwholesome (kusalā-akusalā); blameable and blameless (sāvajjā-anavajjā); inferior and superior (hīna-paītā); and, evil and good (kaha-sukka).[4] An alternate explanation in the nikayas is that this factor is aroused by "discriminating that Dhamma with wisdom" (taṃ dhamma paññāya pavicināti).[5]

The Abhidhamma's Dhammasaṅgaṇi even more strongly associates dhamma vicaya with paññā (wisdom) in its enumeraton of wholesome states (kusalā dhammā):

What on that occasion is the faculty of wisdom (paññindriya)?
The wisdom which there is on that occasion is understanding, search, research, searching the Truth....[6]

where "searching the Truth" is C.A.F. Rhys Davids' translation of dhammavicayo.

In later Abhidhamma texts and in post-canonical literature (such as those by Vasubandhu), dhamma vicaya refers to the study of dhamma as physical or mental phenomena that constitute absolute reality (Pali: paramattha; Skt.: paramārtha).[7]

Alternate translations

  • investigation of factors (Princeton Dictionary)
  • investigation of states (Princeton Dictionary)
  • fully discerning phenomena (Erik Pema Kunsang)
  • discrimination of dharmas (Erik Pema Kunsang)
  • extremely precise analysis of phenomena (Erik Pema Kunsang)
  • analysis of qualities (Thanissaro Bhikkhu)[8]
  • discrimination of dhammas (Gethin)[9]
  • discrimination of states (Bhikkhu Bodhi)


  1. Mipham Rinpoche 2002, s.v. Chapter 18, para. 93.
  2. Bodhi 2000a, s.v. Introduction.
  3. Bodhi 2000a, s.v. Part V, Introduction.
  4. SN 46.2 (Bodhi, 2000, p. 1569) and 46.51 (Bodhi, 2000, p. 1598). In a related end note, Bodhi (2000, pp. 1900–1, n. 59) comments:
    An extended example of the opposition between good and bad states is found in MN No. 8, where the Buddha enumerates forty-four pairs of wholesome and unwholesome opposites. The explanation of this enlightenment factor suggests that while 'discrimination of states' may be technically identified with pañña [e.g., in SN 54.13 (see below) or in the Dhammasangani], the initial function of pañña as an enlightenment factor is not to discern the three characteristics, etc., but simply to discriminate between the good and bad mental states that become apparent with the deepening of mindfulness.
  5. SN 54.13 (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 1782-3; Gethin, 1992, p. 147). Gethin (1992, p. 147) remarks: "... [W]hat 'that dhamma' (ta dhamma) refers to is not entirely clear."

    Paññāya is an inflected form of paññā (Pali; Skt.: prajñā) that could be translated in a variety ways. For instance, as reflected here, Bodhi translates it as "with wisdom," while Gethin (1992, p. 147) translates it as "by means of wisdom." (Thanissaro, 1995, translates it as "with discernment," using "discernment" for paññā.) As suggested by Bodhi (2000, pp. 1900-1, n. 59) quoted in the preceding end note, a conventional manner of understanding paññā here is in terms of seeing a dhamma in terms of the three characteristics of impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and not-self (anatta).

  6. Dhs 11 (Rhys Davids, 1900, pp. 17-18).
  7. For instance, Williams (2007, p. 43) writes: "So, in the non-Mahayana Abhidharmakośa Bhāya prajñā is given simply as the discernment of dharmas (dharmapravicaya), those ultimates which mark the terminating point of Abhidharma analysis."
  8. Thanissaro (1996).
  9. Gethin (1992), pp. 146 ff. In regards to his leaving dhamma untranslated, Gethin summarizes (p. 151):
    The point I wish to make, however, is that the usage of the word dhamma (in the plural) remains in the Nikāyas, canonical Abhidhamma, and even to some extent in the commentarial tradition, a somewhat ambiguous and multivalent term. Its precise understanding continues to be elusive and defies rigid or fixed definition. Possibly this is no accident and the texts delight in the very fluidity of the term.
    In the context of dhamma-vicaya, Gethin puts forth the idea (p. 152, also see p. 154):
    In Buddhist thought to take dhamma apart is, I think, to be left with dhammas. Dhamma-vicaya means, then, either the 'discrimination of dhammas' or the 'discernment of dhamma'; to discriminate dhammas is precisely to discern dhamma.
    In a related footnote (p. 152, n. 38), Gethin expresses doubt about translating vicaya as "investigation."


External links

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