Aggregate of Forms – Collection of “Mental Impressions” of Forms

April 10, 2022

The aggregate of forms (rupakkhandha) is not a collection of forms or rupa. It includes mental impressions of the rupa that one has experienced. Here we discuss how that accumulation of “mental impressions of rupa” occurs.

Rupa and Rupakkhandha

1. Rupā (normally translated as “forms”) are those in the external world: visuals of people, trees, etc., sounds, tastes, odors, and other objects that we touch. Rupā (plural of rupa) are made of the four great elements: pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo.

  • On the other hand, rupakkhandha (normally translated as the “aggregate of forms”) consists of a person’s MENTAL IMPRESSIONS of such rupa. In a day, we see, hear, taste, smell and touch many things, and ALL those impressions are added to a person’s rupakkhandha each second.
  • These days, only a handful of people understand that. It is very important to understand what rupakkhandha is.
  • I have set the background with two previous posts referred to below. You may want to read them as needed.
Rupakkhandha Grows With Each Ārammaṇa

2. The concept of rupakkhandha (form aggregate) is easily explained with an example. It starts with an ārammaṇa coming to the mind via one of the six senses.

  • As we discussed in recent posts, the mind can stay on ONLY ONE ārammaṇa at any given time. However, the mind can quickly jump back and forth among all six senses.
  • How quickly the mind can jump among different senses is limited ONLY by how fast the brain can process information coming through the five physical senses (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and body).
  • In the posts, “Seeing Is a Series of ‘Snapshots’” and “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy” we discussed some examples. Let us further clarify what happens in terms of a series of “snapshots” the mind receives RANDOMLY from the six senses. The following is the example in #5 of the post “Seeing Is a Series of ‘Snapshots.’” We can further simplify by focusing on just three ārammaṇa.
Example of Accumulation of Rupakkhandha

3. Suppose you are having a meal with a friend. Let us see how many citta vithi run through your mind within a few minutes due to different ārammaṇa.

  • Your friend is talking, and you are listening. That is an ārammaṇa coming through sotadvāra or the ears. You see him too, and that ārammaṇa comes through cakkhudvāra (eyes). You take a bite and taste the food (jivhādvāra or tongue).
  • You can experience all of those without any pause. It FEELS as if you are experiencing all three simultaneously. But that is only an illusion arising from the fact that the mind is THE FASTEST entity in this world. We discussed that in those two posts.
  • As you can see, the mind can switch very fast among all discrete data sets from all ārammaṇa coming in rapidly!
It takes Four Citta Vitthi to Process One “Data Set” from One Ārammaṇa

4. As we have discussed, the mind receives ONLY ONE snapshot (let us call it a “data set”) at one moment through sotadvāra, cakkhudvāra, or jivhādvāra, in the above example. The brain may process those sensory signals (“data sets”) in parallel. But when they come to the mind, the mind processes only one “data set” at a time. But since the mind is unimaginably fast, it appears that the mind processes them simultaneously.

  • In our example of #3 above, let us say the mind (more correctly, the seat of the mind or hadaya vatthu) processes them in the following sequence: sotadvāra, cakkhudvāra, jivhādvāra. Each one involves a citta vithi (with 17 cittā.)
  • We also need to keep in mind that each of them is fully absorbed by the mind with three more manōdvāra citta vithi. I mentioned that in #1 of the post, “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.”
  • Therefore, citta vithi go through the mind in the following order: 1 sotadvāra/3 manōdvāra, 1 cakkhudvāra/3 manōdvāra, 1 jivhādvāra/3 manōdvāra.
  • With the brain sending more “data sets,” many such citta vithi keep flowing through the mind.
Hundreds of “Data Sets” Processed by the Mind in a Second

5. To keep it simple, let us assume that no other ārammaṇa comes to mind for several minutes. Furthermore, let us assume that subsequent citta vithi flow through the mind in the same order. Thus, we have 1 sotadvāra/3 manōdvāra, 1 cakkhudvāra/3 manōdvāra, 1 jivhādvāra/3 manōdvāra, 1 sotadvāra/3 manōdvāra,1 cakkhudvāra/3 manōdvāra, 1 jivhādvāra/3 manōdvāra,

  • The series in bold is the second series of citta vithi. In the second post mentioned above (see #11), we estimated that the brain can process about 100 data packets on vision per second. Each of those will trigger 1 cakkhudvāra/3 manōdvāra citta vithi. 
  • Therefore, in a second, roughly 300 of the following set will go through the mind: 1 sotadvāra/3 manōdvāra,1 cakkhudvāra/3 manōdvāra, 1 jivhādvāra/3 manōdvāra.
Mind Can Sort Out “Data Sets” from Different Senses

6.  In other words, the mind will get a “sound bite” of your friend’s words (possibly one word) followed by a “snapshot” of your friend. That is immediately followed by a bit of taste of the food. It is critical to think through exactly what takes place.

  • The point is that the mind can handle ONLY ONE sensory input at a time. The brain keeps sending 100 packets of “data” (per second) on each of the three senses involved in our example: sound, taste, and vision. The mind is much faster than the brain and it processes all of them without any problem.
  • But the intriguing thing is that the mind DOES NOT receive “data” continuously from one sense. Rather it gets bits of data on sound, vision, and taste. Then that sequence is repeated. Thus here is the sequence of “bits of data” that comes to the mind: sound/vision/taste, sound/vision/tastesound/vision/taste,…

7. But the mind has the amazing ability to sort out and connect data from each sense faculty separately. 

  • Thus, in the above example, the mind will have formed THREE separate chains of data: sound, sound, sound,…
  • vision, vision, vision,…taste, taste, taste,
  • In other words, the mind is capable of putting the “bits of data” on sound coming at different times together as one series and thus understanding the meaning of your friend’s words. For example, it may hear the friend say “my dad,” “came to,” “see me,” and “yesterday.” But they did not come in one after the other. Adjacent sets of words were separated by bits of data on vision and taste. But the mind could put it all together as “my dad came to see me yesterday.”

8. In the same way, it may get the taste of a bit of meat in one packet, and a bit of cheese in another, with data on vision and sound coming in between. But the mind combines all that to give YOU the pizza taste.

  • Same for vision. The mind combined many “snapshots” of your friend in several seconds and see him taking and eating. That part of the vision is the same as projecting static pictures in a movie we discussed in those two previous posts.
  • All sensory data from the three senses got incorporated into the rupakkhandha in the above example.
What Is in the Aggregate of Forms (Rupakkhandha)?

9. The five types of aggregates (khandhas) are explained in the “Khandha Sutta (SN 22. 48).” There, the rupakkhandha (form aggregate) is, “Yaṁ kiñci, bhikkhave, rūpaṁ atītānāgatapaccuppannaṁ ajjhattaṁ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṁ vā sukhumaṁ vā hīnaṁ vā paṇītaṁ vā yaṁ dūre santike vā, ayaṁ vuccati rūpakkhandho.”

Translated: “Any kind of rupapast, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: all of them belong to the aggregate of form or rupakkhandha.”

  • The key point here has not been explained in current English translations. All rupā that belong to rupakkhandha are the “mental impressions” of external rupā. In other words, they are NOT made of pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo, or suddhāṭṭhaka.
  • But, of course, those “mental impressions” arose DUE TO external rupa made of pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo, or suddhāṭṭhaka.

10. One easy way to see that is to see that the Buddha included all past rupa in rupakkhandha. Any rupa one sees, hears, tastes, smells, touches, or “thinks about” is included. Since our past goes back to infinite time, a VAST MAJORITY of rupa in the rupakkhandha are such past rupa.

  • For example, suppose YOU saw a tree yesterday. The “mental impression” of that tree is in YOUR rupakkhandha. You can recall how it looked if you took a good look at it. Even if that tree was cut down just after you looked at it, that mental impression is still there. It is in YOUR rupakkhandha.
  • However, since I did not see that tree, MY rupakkhandha does not have an impression of that tree.
  • Each person has their rupakkhandha.
Present (Paccuppanna) Rupa Are Just a Fraction!

11. As we discussed, the present (paccuppanna) moment lasts only a split second. If we say the word “kaya” by the time “ya” sound comes, the “ka” sound has gone to the past.

  • Thus each rupa experienced in a fraction of a second immediately goes becomes a “past rupa.” The “present moment” is gone in a flash! 
  • Future (anāgata) rupa are mental impressions of rupa that one hopes to experience in the future.
  • The other types of rupa are sub-categories of the past, present, and future rupa. Internal (ajjhatta) rūpa are those that are part of oneself: all body parts, including the ones inside the body. External (bahiddharūpa are, of course, anything outside of one’s body. Coarse (olārikarūpa are what we call “solid matter,” and fine/subtle (sukhumarūpa are “energy” (heat, sound, dhammā, etc.)
  • As we can see, rupakkhandha grows immensely even in a day. But we attach to only a tiny fraction of itThat fraction is rūpupādānakkhandha (commonly translated as “aggregate of form connected with grasping.”
What is in the Rūpupādānakkhandha (“Aggregate of Forms Grasped”)?

12. Rūpupādānakkhandha (rupa + upādāna + khandha) is the collection of forms that “one is attached to” or “one has grasped”; The Buddha stated that in the same Khandha Sutta that defined rupakkhandha in #9 above; see Ref. 1.

  • As we have seen, rūpakkhandha includes ALL rupa we have ever experienced. That is huge! infinite!
  • We don’t even remember most of our past rupa. We are attached to only a tiny fraction of rupa in our rupakkhandha. Those are mostly from this life. However, attachment to those has been influenced by rupa experienced in past lives.

13. For example, person X may have “fallen in love” with an attractive person he saw yesterday. It is possible that out of all persons/things X saw yesterday, only that visual rupa got “added” to his rūpupādānakkhandha.

  • X may have heard many sounds yesterday. Out of those, he may NOT have added any “sound rupa” to his rūpupādānakkhandha even though many “sound rupa” would have been added to his rupakkhandha.
  • Just think about such examples to clarify the difference between rūpakkhandha and rūpupādānakkhandha.
  • Remember that rupa are six types: They include Rupa rupa (or vaṇṇa rupa) that one sees. Similarly, sadda rupa, gandha rupa, rasa rupa, phoṭṭhabba rupa, and dhamma rupa (dhammā) are sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and memories.

1. In the “Khandha Sutta (SN 22. 48)”  rūpupādānakkhandha is, “Yaṁ kiñci, bhikkhave, rūpaṁ atītānāgatapaccuppannaṁ …pe… yaṁ dūre santike vā sāsavaṁ upādāniyaṁ, ayaṁ vuccati rūpupādānakkhandho.”

Translated: “Any kind of form—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near, which leads to āsava (craving) and upādāna (the mind cannot let go of) is called the rūpupādānakkhandha (“aggregate of form connected with grasping.”)

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