Dharma of Numbers: Understanding Lists and Numbers in Buddhism

Buddhism is overflowing with “lists” and “numbers”.  To the new Buddhist, it is not only overwhelming, but confusing!

So what’s the deal with all these numbers and lists?

In the Buddha’s time (and after) in the region he was born (present day India and Nepal), it was believed that the oral word, rather than the written, as the most sanctified way of preserving and presenting religious teachings.  And with the Buddha’s wealth of teachings and concepts (many of which could be very complicated), “lists” were a necessity for those monastics who had to commit it to memory.  It was not until much later (hundreds of years later, in the first century BCE) that monastics even decided to start committing the Buddha’s teachings to the written word.

These lists and numbers are perfect for our modern world.  We have become so time crunched, impatient, and fans of “lists”, that the Buddha is once again ahead of his time.  By having lists and numbers, we have structure to the teachings to help us with remembering them, and applying them to our daily lives and practice.

While this article won’t attempt to cover every single numbered list in Buddhism, I hope you will find it both informative and entertaining!  Note:  This list is not all inclusive, and I plan on updating this article with more when possible.

This article is part of a series on the basics of Buddhism.  Click here to view more.  

Buddhism Cheat Sheet

Before we get into all the “numbers” of Buddhism, here is a nice “cheat sheet” I made up for you with some of the important lists in Buddhism!  Right in the middle, you will find the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path (and if you look closely, you can see the Dharma Wheel).

Click the image to get a high quality PDF you can print out!  If you would like to share on Pinterest or other websites hover over the image it with your mouse for a menu, or if you are on your phone look for the “arrow” icon in the upper right-hand corner to display the share menu.


The Big List of Numbers

The following will provide the lists/numbers grouped by how many “numbers” they have in them.  For example, the “Four Noble Truths” will be in the “4” category.


  • 1 Person: The one person whose birth into the world is for the welfare of many people, known as a Tathagata (Buddha)
  • 1 Mind:  Focused, undisturbed mind, concentrating on a single object.
  • 1 Individual:  You, as an unrealized Buddha.


  • 2 Truths: The definition of the Two Truths varies between the different schools in Buddhism.  However, these generally refer to the teachings (Dharama) and the world we live in.  The absolute/ultimate truth would refer to Dependent Origination, whereas relative/conventional truth would refer to what we know now.
    1. Relative/Conventional Truth (Samvrti), and
    2. Absolute/Ultimate Truth (Paramartha).


  • 3 Refuges (Jewels) / Triple Gem:  All Buddhists take refuge in the Three Jewels which make up the foundation of Buddhist practice and faith.
    1. The Buddha (awakened one),
    2. The Dharma (his teachings), and
    3. The Sangha (monastic community/teachers).
  • Tripitaka (3 baskets) of Buddhist CannonWhen the Buddha’s teachings were first written down hundreds of years after his death, they were literally placed in ‘baskets’.  We refer to these core teachings as the “Pali Canon” as this was the first known recording of the Buddha’s teachings.  Most lay Buddhists refer to the Sutras (basket #1).
    1. Sutras (teachings),
    2. Abhidharma (commentaries on the Sutras), and
    3. Vinaya (laws and precepts).
  • 3 Dharma Seals:  The following is the Three Dharma Seals in the Mahayana tradition.  Dharma Seals are the criteria to be found in any genuine teaching of the Buddha, and can identify any incorrectly attributed scripture.
    1. Impermanence (Anicca),
    2. No-Self (Anatta), and
    3. Nirvana.
  • 3 Bodies (Trikaya): In Mahayana Buddhism, a Buddha can manifest themselves three different ways to help others.
    1. Truth Body (Dharmakaya). Perfect enlightenment and/or Buddha Nature.
    2. Bliss/Reward Body (Sambhogakaya).  When the body feels the “bliss” of enlightenment, and also when a Buddha is used as a devotional object.
    3. The Emanation Body (Nirmanakaya).  Where a Buddha (and even a Bodhisattva) can manifest in countless forms to help liberate suffering beings.
  • 3 Marks of Existence: All beings have these three characteristics, however our ignorance and delusion about them leads us to Dukkha (suffering/dissatisfaction).
    1. Impermanence (Anicca),
    2. No-Self (Anatta), and
    3. Dukkha.
  • 3 Poisons: Also referred to as the 3 Roots of Evil, these are the source of all unskillful actions.
    1. Greed/Attachment (Raga),
    2. Anger (Dvesa), and
    3. Ignorance (Moha).
  • 3 Realms of Existence:  Also referred to as the Desire Realm, Form Realm, and Formless Realm.  These explain our living conditions, mindset, and how we perceives things in the following three realms.
    1. Realm of Five Components (refer to the Five Skandhas),
    2. Real of Living Beings, and
    3. Realm of Environment.
  • 3 Pillars of Zen:  The foundation of Zen Buddhism, and the title of a bestselling book.
    1. Teaching,
    2. Practice, and
    3. Enlightenment.
  • 3-Fold (Higher) Training: Training practice, according to the Buddha, that leads to enlightenment and Nirvana when fully accomplished.
    • Morality,
    • Meditative Concentration, and
    • Wisdom.


  • 4 Noble Truths:  The foundation of Buddhism, and the very first teaching of the Buddha, reveals the truth about our condition, and how to overcome it.
    1. In the cycle of rebirth/existence there is Dukkha (suffering/dissatisfaction),
    2. Causes of Dukkha are due to our attachments and clinging (greed, anger, and ignorance),
    3. Dukkha can cease (Nirvana / Enlightenment), and
    4. The Way to end Dukkha is by following the 8-fold Path.
  • 4 Means of Embracing:  Tools to help us on the Bodhisattva path with saving all sentient beings.
    1. Giving charity,
    2. Kind words,
    3. Altruism/benefiting others, and
    4. Sympathy/Empathy.
  • 4 Attachments These are the types of “clinging”/”fuel” (Upadana) which leads to Dukkha.
    1. Self-Doctrine clinging (Attavadupadana),
    2. Wrong-View clinging (Ditthupadana),
    3. Rites-and-Rituals clinging (Silabbatupadana), and
    4. Sense-Pleasure clinging (Kamupadana).
  • 4 Dharma Seals: All variations of the Dharma Seals were created after the Buddha’s death to reflect true Buddhist teachings.  All must be contained for it to be an authentic teaching.  The 4 Dharma Seals are traditional to Theravada Buddhism, whereas Mahayana Buddhism often uses the 3 Dharma Seals (see prior section).
    1. Impermanence (Anicca),
    2. Dukkha,
    3. Non-Self (Anatta), and
    4. Nirvana.
  • 4 Stages of Enlightenment:  The types of Buddhist practitioners, and their level of enlightenment.
    1. Stream-Enterer (Sotapanna),
    2. Once Returner (Sakadagami),
    3. Non-Returner (Anagami), and
    4. Arahant.
  • 4 Brahama Viharas:  Considered to be the highest emotions.
    1. Metta (Loving-Kindness),
    2. Karuna (Compassion),
    3. Mudita (Joy), and
    4. Upekkha (Equanimity).
  • 4 Frames of Reference (Satipatthana): This is a set of teachings that help the meditator focus their attention, and how. These are part of the 7 sets of qualities conductive to enlightenment.
    1. Focused/Mindful of the body (Kaya)
    2. Focused/Mindful of feelings or sensations (Vedana)
    3. Focused/Mindful of the Mind or Consciousness (Citta)
    4. Focused/Mindful of Dhammas (e.g., “mental objects”)
  • 4 Right Exertions/Efforts (Sammappadhana): This is a set of teachings that are based upon “Right Effort” from the Noble Eightfold Path. These are part of the 7 sets of qualities conductive to enlightenment.
    1. Non-Arising (Anuppadaya)
      1. for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen…
    2. Abandonment (Pahanaya)
      1. for the sake of the abandoning of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen…
    3. Arising (Uppadaya)
      1. for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen…
    4. Maintenace (Thitiya)
      1. for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, and culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen.
  • 4 Bases of Power/Potency (Iddhipada): This is a set of teachings the Buddha says are beneficial to attaining enlightenment. These are part of the 7 sets of qualities conductive to enlightenment.
    1. Desire (i.e., intention, aspiration, purpose, will)
    2. Persistence (i.e., effort, energy)
    3. Intentness (i.e., consciousness, thoughts, mind)
    4. Ingenuity (i.e., analysis, investigation, contemplation)


  • 5 Precepts: Precepts for lay Buddhists to live an ethical life in pursuit of enlightenment.
    1. No Killing,
    2. No Stealing,
    3. No Lying,
    4. No Sexual Misconduct, and
    5. No Intoxication.
  • 5 Realms of Rebirth:  Revealed by the Buddha in the Mahasihanada Sutra as destinations for rebirth.  Contemporary interpretation is that these are analogies for how we exist at any given time in our current world.
    1. Hell,
    2. Animal,
    3. (Hungry) Ghosts,
    4. Humans, and
    5. Celestial Beings (such as Devas)
  • 5 Contemplations/Remembrances:  The Buddha’s recommendations for daily contemplation.
    1. You are subject to aging,
    2. You are subject to illness,
    3. You are subject to death,
    4. You are subject to be separated from all that you love, and
    5. You are the owner of your actions (karma).
  • 5 Skandhas (Aggregates) Temporary, conditioned phenomena, that create the illusion of “self”.
    1. Form/Matter (Rupa),
    2. Feelings/Sensations (Vedana),
    3. Perceptions (Samjna),
    4. Mental Formations/Volition (Samskara), and
    5. Consciousness (Vijnana).
  • 5 Hinderances:  These are the hinderances to meditation where any of them (or a combination) will be impactful.
    1. Sense Desire
    2. Anger
    3. Laziness
    4. Agitation and Worry
    5. Extreme Skepticism
  • 5 Faculties (Indriya) and the 5 Strengths (Bala): This is a set of teachings the Buddha says are beneficial to attaining enlightenment.  I have included both the Faculties and Strengths as one list for convenience only as they both have the same verbiage.  These are part of the 7 sets of qualities conductive to enlightenment.
    1. Faith / Conviction (Saddha)
    2. Energy / Persistence (Viriya)
    3. Mindfulness / Memory (Sati)
    4. Wisdom / Understanding (Panna)
  • 5 Poisons (Panca Klesavisa):  Similar to the 3 Poisons, this list adds two more to it.  This is specific to Mahayana.
    • Ignorance (Moha)
    • Attachment (Raga)
    • Aversion (Dvesha)
    • Pride (Mana)
    • Envy (Irshya)


  • 6 Sense Doors:  Everything we experience comes through these portals.  These senses are experienced as either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
    1. Eye (seeing),
    2. Ear (hearing),
    3. Nose (smelling),
    4. Tongue (tasting),
    5. Body (touching), and
    6. Mind (thoughts).
  • 6 Realms of Existence: Analogies for conditioned existences within samsara (cycle of rebirth) where beings are reborn.
    1. 3 Upper – Heaven, Asura, Human; and
    2. 3 Lower – Animal, Hungry Ghost, Hell
  • 6 Kinds of Temperaments (Carita):  Used as guides in samadhi meditation.
    1. Lustful (raga),
    2. Hateful (Dosa),
    3. Ignorant (Moha),
    4. Devout (Saddha),
    5. Intellectual (Buddhi), and
    6. Discursive (Vitakka).
  • 6 (Mahayana) Perfections (Paramitas):  These are virtues to be practiced by Mahayana Buddhists.  Note:  Theravada Buddhists have 10 Paramjs (refer to the 10’s section below).
    1. Generosity/Charity (Dana),
    2. Morality (Sila),
    3. Patience (Ksanti),
    4. Dilegence (Virya),
    5. Meditative Concentration (Dhyana), and
    6. Insight/Wisdom (Prajna).


  • 7 Factors of Awakening (Bojjhanga): This is a set of teachings the Buddha says are beneficial to attaining enlightenment.  These are part of the 7 sets of qualities conductive to enlightenment.
    1. To be used when experiencing sloth & torpor to regain mindfulness
      1. Joy (Piti)
      2. Investigation (Dhamma Vicaya)
      3. Energy (Viriya)
    2. Balancing Factor
      1. Mindfulness (Sati)
    3. To be used when experiencing restlessness and worry to regain mindfulness
      1. Relaxation (Passaddhi)
      2. Concentration (Samadhi)
      3. Equanimity (Upekkha)


  • Noble 8-Fold Path:  The fourth Noble Truth outlined by the Buddha which provides the practice/path that leads towards awakening and Nirvana.
    1. Right view,
    2. Right thoughts,
    3. Right speech,
    4. Right actions,
    5. Right livelihood,
    6. Right effort,
    7. Right mindfulness, and
    8. Right concentration.
  • 8 Auspicious Symbols:  Used in art and sculpture in Buddhism for meditation and contemplation by individuals.
    1. The Parasol,
    2. Two Golden Fish,
    3. The Conch Shell,
    4. The Lotus,
    5. The Banner of Victory,
    6. The Vase,
    7. The Dharma Wheel (Dharmachakra), and
    8. The Eternal Knot.


  • 9 Jhanas/States of Meditative Absorption:  These are altered states of consciousness that are a result of meditative concentration.  They are not to be confused with enlightenment.
    1. Delightful Sensations,
    2. Joy,
    3. Contentment,
    4. Utter Peacefulness,
    5. Infinity of Space,
    6. Infinity of Consciousness,
    7. Nothingness,
    8. Neither Perception nor Non-Perception, and
    9. Cessation.


  • 10 Wholesome Conducts: These levels of conduct and action are grouped into those of the body, speech, and mind.
    1. Body
      1. No Killing,
      2. No Stealing,
      3. No Sexual Misconduct,
    2. Speech
      1. No Lying,
      2. No Duplicity / Divisive or Frivolous Speech,
      3. No Harsh Words / Speech
      4. No Idle Chatter,
    3. Mind
      1. No Greed / Craving or Lusting,
      2. No Anger / Aversion,
      3. No Ignorance / Delusion (“Wrong Views”).
  • 10 Hinderances to Enlightenment (10 Fetters):  This also can be used to reference the “abandoned fetters” of an enlightened person (refer to the 4 stages of enlightenment):
    1. Lower Fetters:
      1. Identity View (Anatman),
      2. Doubt in the Buddha,
      3. Ascetic or Ritual Rules,
      4. Sensual Desire, Ill Will,
    2. Higher Fetters:
      1. Material-rebirth Desire,
      2. Immaterial-Rebirth Desire,
      3. Conceit,
      4. Restlessness, and
      5. Ignorance.
  • 10 [Grand/Great] Precepts: Compared to the 5 precepts, the 10 precepts are a list found in Mahayana (Brahamajala Sutra) in order to further one along the Bodhisattva path and developing enlightenment (Bodhi) mind.
    1. No Killing,
    2. No Stealing,
    3. No Sexual Misconduct,
    4. No Lying,
    5. No Using Intoxicants,
    6. No Gossiping,
    7. Not Praising Oneself,
    8. No Meanness,
    9. No Aggression,
    10. No Slandering the Three Jewels (Triple Gem).
  • 10 Good Deeds or Meritorious Actions: Merit is an important part of Buddhist ethics and karma.  These ten items help an individual create good deeds and/or thoughts as part of their daily lives.
    1. Giving (Dana),
    2. Virtue (Sila),
    3. Mental Development (Bhavana),
    4. Honoring Others (Apacayana),
    5. Offering Service (Veyyavaca),
    6. Dedicating/Transferring Merit to Others (Pattidanamaya),
    7. Rejoycing in Others’ Merit (Pattanumodana),
    8. Listenting to Dharma/Teachings (Dhammassavana),
    9. Instructing Others in the Dharma/Teachings (Dhammadesana), and
    10. Aligning/Straightening/Focusing One’s Own Views With the Dharma/Teachings (Ditthujukamma).
  • 10 Great Disciples of the Buddha: The Buddha’s main disciples that are frequently mentioned in the sutras (scripture).  Depending on the scripture, this list can vary.
    1. Shariputra,
    2. Maudgalyayana,
    3. Mahakasyapa,
    4. Subhuti,
    5. Purna Maitrayani-Putra,
    6. Katyayana,
    7. Anuruddha,
    8. Upali,
    9. Rahula, and
    10. Ananda.
  • 10 Ox-herding/Bull Pictures:  The infamous pictures/panels used in Zen used to explain the path in Buddhist practice.  The ox/bull is an analogy for the mind/self.
    1. Searching for the Ox,
    2. Finding the Footprints of the Ox,
    3. Catching a Glimpse of the Ox,
    4. Catching the Ox,
    5. Taming the Ox,
    6. Riding Home on the Ox,
    7. Transcending the Ox,
    8. Both Ox and Self Transcended,
    9. Reaching the Source, and
    10. Returning to Society.
  • 10 (Theravada) Paramis (Perfections):  These are virtues to be practiced by Theravada Buddhists.
    1. Giving (Dana),
    2. Morality (Sila),
    3. Renunciation (Nekkhamma),
    4. Discerning Wisdom (Panna),
    5. Energy (Virya),
    6. Patience (Khanti),
    7. Truthfulness,
    8. Determination (Adhitthana),
    9. Loving Kindness (Metta), and
    10. Equanimity (Upekkha)
  • 10 Contemplations/Recollections (Anussati):  The Anguttara Nitkaya scripture states that the practice of any of these will lead to Nirvana.  The first six are known as the “Six Recollections”, and are commonly taught in Mahayana.
    1. Buddha
    2. Dharma
    3. Sangha
    4. Generosity
    5. Virtue
    6. Deva Virtues
    7. Death
    8. Body
    9. Breath
    10. Peace
  • 12 Links of Dependent Origination / Rebirth:  Also referred to as Dependent Arising, this list refers to the cause and effect (in relation to a link or chain) that all phenomena experience.  For example, if you have birth, you will have aging, which will result in death.
    1. Ignorance,
    2. Formation,
    3. Consciousness,
    4. Name & Form,
    5. Senses,
    6. Contact,
    7. Feelings/Sensations,
    8. Emotions,
    9. Craving,
    10. Becoming,
    11. Birth, and
    12. Aging & Death


  • 22 Faculties:  Based on the Visuddhimagga scripture, these 22 faculties along with the five aggregates, the sense bases, Four Noble Truths, and dependent origination constitute the foundation or “soil” of wisdom (prajna).
    1. Eye,
    2. Ear,
    3. Nose,
    4. Tongue,
    5. Body,
    6. Femininity,
    7. Masculinity,
    8. Vitality,
    9. Mind,
    10. Happiness,
    11. Pain,
    12. Pleasure,
    13. Displeasure,
    14. Equanimity,
    15. Confidence,
    16. Effort,
    17. Mindfulness,
    18. Concentration,
    19. Wisdom,
    20. Thought of “I Will Realize the Unknown”,
    21. Highest Realization, and
    22. The Faculty of the Person Who Has Fully Realized.


  • 52 Mental Formations/Factors/States (Skandhas):  These are factors that can “color” the mind, and affect how it “functions”.  The correlation is often described as your mind being the screen in a movie theatre, and the mental formations being the pictures (through light) being cast upon it.  There are variations of this list (to include less), however these are the Theravada tradition (Abhidhammattha-sangaha).
    1. Contact
    2. Feeling
    3. Perception
    4. Volition
    5. Concentration of mind
    6. Psychic life
    7. Attention
    8. Initial application
    9. Sustained application
    10. Effort
    11. Pleasurable interest
    12. Desire to do
    13. Deciding
    14. Greed
    15. Hate
    16. Dullness
    17. Error
    18. Conceit
    19. Envy
    20. Selfishness
    21. Worry
    22. Shamelessness
    23. Recklessness
    24. Distraction
    25. Sloth
    26. Torpor
    27. Perplexity
    28. Disinterestedness
    29. Amity
    30. Reason
    31. Faith
    32. Mindfulness
    33. Modesty
    34. Discretion
    35. Balance of mind
    36. Composure of mental properties
    37. Composure of mind
    38. Buoyancy of mental properties
    39. Buoyancy of mind
    40. Pliancy of mental properties
    41. Pliancy of mind
    42. Adaptability of mental properties
    43. Adaptability of mind
    44. Proficiency of mental properties
    45. Proficiency of mind
    46. Rectitude of mental properties
    47. Rectitude of mind
    48. Right speech
    49. Right action
    50. Right livelihood
    51. Pity
    52. Appreciation


  • 108:  Most Buddhist Mala’s (meditation/chanting beads) are made up of 108 beads plus the bead head.  There are many explanations why “108”, such as 108 earthly temptations, 108 feelings, 108 statements of negation, etc.

Article Notes


Thank you for reading! Please follow me to learn more about Buddhism.

My Top Recommended Books