Article by BHIKKHU BODHI on e-buddhism.com
“In the context of the fourth foundation of mindfulness, the multivalent word dhamma (here intended in the plural) has two interconnected meanings, as the account in the sutta shows. One meaning is cetasikas, the mental factors, which are now attended to in their own right apart from their role as colouring the state of mind, as was done in the previous contemplation. The other meaning is the elements of actuality, the ultimate constituents of experience as structured in the Buddha’s teaching.To convey both senses we render dhamma as “phenomena,” for lack of a better alternative. But when we do so this should not be taken to imply the existence of some noumenon or substance behind the phenomena.The point of the Buddha’s teaching of anatta, egolessness, is that the basic constituents of actuality are bare phenomena (suddha-dhamma) occurring without any noumenal support.
The sutta section on the contemplation of phenomena is divided into five sub-sections, each devoted to a different set of phenomena: the five hindrances, the five aggregates, the six inner and outer sense bases, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the Four Noble Truths. Among these, the five hindrances and the seven enlightenment factors are dhamma in the narrower sense of mental factors, the others are dhamma in the broader sense of constituents of actuality. (In the third section, however, on the sense bases, there is a reference to the fetters that arise through the senses; these can also be included among the mental factors.) In the present chapter we shall deal briefly only with the two groups that may be regarded as dhamma in the sense of mental factors. We already touched on both of these in relation to right effort (Chapter V); now we shall consider them in specific connection with the practice of right mindfulness. We shall discuss the other types of dhamma — the five aggregates and the six senses — in the final chapter, in relation to the development of wisdom.