- An Introduction to the Five Aggregates
- The Five Aggregates – Of which a Human Being Is Composed (A Table)
An Introduction to the Five Aggregates
The historical Buddha spoke about the Five Aggregates – five components that come together to make an individual. These component parts work together seamlessly and create the sense of a single self, or an “I.” The following is a basic introduction to each of the Five Aggregates:
1. Matter (Pali: rupa)
Rupa refers to matter or form – something material that can be sensed. This includes the five sense organs (or “sense doors”) – eye, ear, nose, tongue, body – and the sense organ or faculty of the mind. It also includes the corresponding objects: visible form, sound, odour, taste, tangible things, as well as thoughts and ideas.
2. Consciousness (Pali: vinnana)
Consciousness (awareness) arises when an object comes in contact with one of the senses – the data neutrally received by one of the senses. In other words, vinnana is a neutral reaction between one of the senses and the corresponding object. For example, aural consciousness arises due to the interaction between the ear and a sound. Mental consciousness arises due to the interaction between the mind and an idea or thought. Vinnana is an awareness but not a recognition; it is not sensation.
3. Perception (Pali: sanna)
Sanna is the mental faculty that recognizes – it is the capacity to conceptualize and recognize things by associating them with other things. For example, we recognize a belt as a belt because we associate it with our previous experience with belts.
Based on our past conditioning and training (through life’s experiences), we place positive, negative, or neutral judgments (evaluations) on our experiences. For example, we use labels such as good/bad, right/wrong, like/dislike, or allowed/disallowed. These perceptions and judgments can occur consciously or sub-consciously – and will lead to sensations that occur inside and outside of the body.
4. Sensation (Pali: vedana)
Vedana is a physical or mental sensation that we experience through contact of one of the six faculties with the external world. In other words, it is the sensation experienced through the contact of the eye with visible form, ear with sound, nose with odour, tongue with taste, body with tangible things, and the mind with ideas or thoughts.
Since vedana is a physical or mental sensation, it can be an experience of pleasure or pain. Pleasure then conditions craving (to acquire something pleasurable) and pain conditions aversion (to avoid something painful).
5. Reaction (Pali: sankhara)
The sensations in the body cause conscious reactions – that is, volitional actions, either good or bad. These mental reactions are associated with karma, because volitional acts create karma. Sankhara also contains latent (dormant, buried, hidden) karma that conditions our attitudes – in the form of biases and prejudices (“I don’t want this”), or interests and attractions (“I want this”).
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Five Aggregates: A Table
THE FIVE AGGREGATES
Five Aggregates of which a Human Being Is Composed
|The Five Aggregates lead to the Buddhist analysis of personal experience or the Buddhist analysis of the personality. The analysis of personal experience follows along two lines: (1) with regard to the body, and (2) with regard to the mind. The concept of ‘self’ is a convenient term for a collection of physical and mental factors, in the same way that the word ‘forest’ is a convenient term for a collection of trees.|
|Body (Pali: rupa)Form||Matter or form refers to material or physical factors. It includes the body, and the material objects that surround us – the earth, trees, buildings, oceans, etc.In relation to the physical body (composed of sub-atomic particles; Pali: kalapa):
|Consciousness(Pali: vinnana)||Cognizing – observing objectively:
|Perception (Pali: sanna)RecognizingDiscrimination||Conceptual dimension: This is the forming of a concept of an idea about a particular object. One has a conceptual element in the sense of introducing a definite, determinate idea about the object of experience, for example: good/bad; nice/not nice; right/wrong.|
|Sensation (Pali: vedana)Feelings||Emotional dimension: When an object is experienced, that experience takes on one of these emotional tones or elements: pleasant (pleasure)/unpleasant (displeasure)/neutral (indifference)|
|Reaction (Pali: sankhara)Mental formation andVolition||Moral dimension: This aggregate may be described as a conditioned response to the object of experience (reacting based on mental conditioning), for example: liking/disliking; attachment/aversion; greed/hatred.
|Source: Based on and adapted from: Buddha Dharma Education Association (1996-2012), “Fundamentals of Buddhism” (a BuddhaNet production). Accessed at http://www.buddhanet.net/funbud14.htm (December 20, 2013)|
|© Alexander Michael Peck, 2013|