Five paths

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The five paths (Skt. pañcamārga, T. lam lnga ལམ་ལྔ་; C. wuwei; J. goi) are stages in the spiritual path that are identified in the Sanskrit tradition.[1]

The five paths are:

  1. The path of accumulation (saṃbhāra-mārga)
  2. The path of preparation or application (prayoga-mārga)
  3. The path of seeing (darśana-mārga)
  4. The path of meditation (bhāvanā-mārga)
  5. The path of no more learning or consummation (aśaikṣā-mārga)

Distinctions between different vehicles

The Sanskrit Mahayana tradition identifies three vehicles that can be followed as the path to enlightenment: the vehicle of listeners, the pratyekabuddha vehicle, and the bodhisattva vehicle. The first two vehicles, called the lower vehicles, are suitable for beings of lesser capacity, and the bodhisattva vehicle is for those of the highest capacity. Each of the three vehicles can be presented in terms of the five paths.

The key distinctions between the lower vehicles and the bodhisattva vehicle, in terms of the five paths, are:

  • on the lower vehicles (sravaka and pratyekabuddha):
    • the practitioner is motivated by the desire to liberate oneself from cyclic existence (samsara)
    • the endpoint of the path is the realization of selflessness (anātman) and the attainment of arhathood
  • on the bodhisattva vehicle:
    • the practitioner is motivated by the wish to free all sentient beings from from cyclic existence (samsara)
    • the endpoint of the path is the realization of emptiness (sunyata) -- specifically the two-fold emptiness of self and other -- and the attainment of buddhahood

Bodhisattva vehicle

Superior motivation

From the bodhisattva-vehicle point of view, the motivation and the realization of the lower vehicles are inferior because:

  • the sravakas and pratyekabuddhas are motivated to seek liberation for the self alone, which is inferior to the bodhisattva motivation to benefit all beings
  • the realization of the lower vehicles (anatman) is equivalent to the realization of selflessness of person (pudgalanairātmya), which is inferior to the bodhisattva realization of the two-fold emptiness of self and other

Paths and bhumis

When the bodhisattva vehicle is described in the terms of the five paths, this presentation enumerates a set of ten bodhisattva grounds (ten bhumis) that are attained in the later stages of the paths.

  • The first bodhisattva ground (bhumi 1) is traversed on the path of seeing
  • The remaining bodhisattva grounds (bhumi 2-10) are traversed on the path of meditation

Two types of obscurations

The bodhisattva vehicle identifies "two types of obscurations" (āvaraṇa) that must be overcome on the five paths:[2]

  • "emotional obscurations" (kleśā-varaṇa), which are overcome upon attainment of the path of seeing
  • "cognitive obscurations" (jñeyā-varaṇa), which are overcome on the path of meditation

Textual origins

The five paths were first presented in the Sarvastivada Abhidharma texts, and then further developed in Sanskrit Mahayana texts associated with Yogacara school.[1]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. pañcamārga.
  2. Jikdrel Yeshe Dorje 1991, p. 107.


Sources

Further reading

  • Brunnhölzl, Karl (2011), Gone Beyond: The Prajnaparamita Sutras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Kagyu Tradition, Volume One, Snow Lion 
  • Book icoline.svg Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism (Kindle ed.), Oxford University Press , "Chapter 7, Section: The scheme of the five paths"
  • Book icoline.svg Harvey, Peter (2013), An Introduction to Buddhism (Second ed.), Cambridge University Press , "Chapter 11"

External links