Five Aggregates – Experiences of Each Sentient Being

April 24, 2022; revised April 25, 2022; August 2, 2022

Five aggregates (pañcakkhandhā) are the accumulation of one’s experiences and expectations for the future. Not only a human but any sentient being has its pañcakkhandhā.

Accumulation of Rupakkhandha (Form Aggregate) With Each Sensory Experience

1. We discussed how one’s rupakkhandha grows with each sensory experience in several previous posts,

  • A sensory experience occurs when an external rupa comes into contact with an internal rupa, i.e., when an ārammaṇa (vaṇṇa rupa, sadda rupa, gandha rupa, rasa rupa, phoṭṭhabba rupa, or a dhamma rupa)  comes to the mind either via the “five physical doors” or directly (dhamma rupa).
  • Thus during the waking hours, one’s rupakkhandha (form aggregate) grows and is added to the existing rupakkhandha (collection of rupa that one has ever experienced.)
  • We need to discuss how all five aggregates (pañcakkhandha) grow simultaneously.
Each Sensory Contact Also Gives Rise to the Four Mental Aggregates

2. The easiest way to look at that is as follows. One of the six types of vipāka viññāṇa (cakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivhā, kāya, mano viññāṇa) arises with each such sensory experience.

  • That vipāka viññāṇa includes vedanā, saññā, and thus mano saṅkhāra AUTOMATICALLY. Note that mano saṅkhāra is “vedanā and saññā” (see Ref. 1). At this initial stage, there will be no vaci or kāya saṅkhāra.
  • Therefore, all five aggregates grow with EACH sensory experience.

3. We take the next step and see how the aggregates of feelings, perceptions, “mental formations,” and “consciousness” arise. As we have discussed, it is better to use the Pali terms of vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, and viññāṇakkhandha instead of those English terms.

Example – Visual Sensory Contact

4. A cakkhu viññāṇa gets added to viññāṇakkhandha simultaneously with the addition of a “mental impression of a rupa” to rupakkhandha.

  • Simultaneously, that cakkhu viññāṇa not only with an impression of the rupa but is accompanied by vedanā, saññā, and saṅkhāra as well, and additions to rupakkhandha, vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, and saṅkhārakkhandha take place simultaneously.
  • Think carefully about that. With each sensory input (ārammaṇa), ALL FIVE AGGREGATES grow.
All Five Khandhās Arise Together

5. We based our discussion in the previous two posts on rupakkhandha on the “Khandha Sutta (SN 22. 48).”

  • The same sutta describes the other four khandhās in the same way as the rupakkhandha, as we can expect.
  • Thus, for example, vedanākkhandha is: “Any kind of vedanāpast, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: all of them belong to the aggregate of feelings or vedanākkhandha.”
  • After that, the Buddha concludes, “Ime vuccanti, bhikkhave, pañcakkhandhā” or “Bhikkhus, Those are the five aggregates.”
We Recall Not Just Form Aggregate but All Five Aggregates

6. Therefore, as soon as an ārammaṇa goes through the mind, a record of the associated rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa is added to the five aggregates (pañcakkhandha.)

  • Thus, when we recall a past event, we remember the rupa and the mental aspects associated with that event, i.e., the pañcakkhandha related to that event. The “past component” of the pañcakkhandha also goes by nāmagotta.
  • The “past component of pañcakkhandha” is preserved as “nāmagotta” in the viññāṇa dhatu.
  • For example, when you recall a tasty meal last week, you identify the type of food and the taste. You had “good feelings” about the meal, which is vedanā.
Memories (Nāmagotta) Preserved in Viññāṇa Dhatu

7. Even though most of us cannot, few people can recall past events from this life in astonishing DETAIL.

  • Jill Price and a few other people can recall memories in such detail only because those memories (nāmagotta) have been in the viññāṇa dhatu. See “Where Are Memories Stored? – Viññāṇa Dhātu.”
  •  With advances in science and access to experiences by people worldwide, evidence keeps accumulating for Buddha Dhamma. Another related study is on Near-Death-Experiences (NDE) conducted by heart surgeons. See “Near-Death Experiences (NDE): Brain Is Not the Mind.”
  • In the same way, some children can recall memories from their recent past lives. See “Evidence for Rebirth.” Some yogis can remember many past lives. A Buddha can recall any past life as he wishes. For example, Buddha Gotama described the lives of several previous Buddhas in detail in several suttas. See, for example, “Mahāpadāna Sutta (DN 14).”
  • None of those accounts can be explained by the proposal saying “consciousness and memories” arise in the brain. A brain has NO DIRECT CONNECTION to past lives.

8. In #7 above, I stated, “A brain has NO CONNECTION to the past lives.” The brain can’t contain such memories intrinsically, i.e., those memories obviously cannot be “stored in the brain.” However, the brain DOES play a role in memory recall; see “Brain – Interface between Mind and Body.”

  • The mana indriya in the brain can extract memories from the viññāṇa dhatu. If a specific brain region is damaged, the brain will lose the ability to recall such memories. Just as sights come in through the physical eyes, memories come through the “mana indriya” in the brain.
  • I have discussed that in “Patient H.M. – Different Roles of Brain in Memory” and a few other related posts. From the account of patient H.M., we can deduce that “mana indriyacould be related to THE hippocampus in the brain. He lost the ability to recall memories after the removal of the hippocampus.
Each Sentient Being Generates Pañcakkhandha 

9. Any sentient being (living in the 31 realms) continually adds to its pañcakkhandha via each sensory experience. Even the smallest living creature generates pañcakkhandha.

  • Of course, most animals do not have brains. They have different mechanisms for memory recall. They can recall mostly just their life experiences in their current life. For example, they know where they found food in the past, which areas to avoid because of dangers, etc.
  • Our large brains (in particular the neocortex of the brain) make humans unique. The neocortex “slows down” the arising of citta vithi. It takes time to process sensory data, as we discussed in “Seeing Is a Series of ‘Snapshots.'”  That gives us time to make decisions and not just “go with the flow.” That makes humans unique to have “free will.”
  • Even though some other mammals also have the neocortex, those are smaller. They all take action impulsively. Even some of us who have not cultivated mindfulness tend to act impulsively “without thinking through (about consequences of such actions).”
We Attach to Pañcakkhandha, Not Just to Rupakkhandha

10. As discussed above, when we recall past events, we remember the corresponding rupa and the associated mental aspects. Then we attach to such rupā that provided either joyful or hateful experiences.

  • In other words, our recollections (and attachments) involve all five aggregates (pañcakkhandha) associated with that event, not only the form aggregate (rupakkhandha.)
    Attachment to rupa cannot be dissociated from those mental aspects arising from the sensory contacts due to external rupa.
    That is why “pañca upādāna khandhā” give rise to dukkha, not just the “rupa upādāna khandha.”
  • In the previous posts, we noted that rupupādānakkhandha (rupa upādāna khandha) is only a tiny fraction of rupakkhandha. Thus, it is also clear that pañcupādānakkhandha (pañca upādāna khandha) is only a small fraction of pañcakkhandha!
  • Attachment to pañcakkhandha (i.e., pañcupādānakkhandha) is the root cause of future suffering.
  • We have previously discussed that in other posts; see, for example, “Loka Sutta – Origin and Cessation of the World.” However, we will briefly discuss that here.
We Attach at the Present Moment!

11. We create kammic energies to power up future rebirths at the present moment when we attach to an ārammaṇa. We attach via greed, anger, and ignorance. Ignorance of the Noble Truths prevents one from thinking about the CONSEQUENCES of one’s actions/speech/thoughts at a given moment.

  • That is what the Buddha explained to Ven. Ananda in the “Mahānidāna Sutta (DN 15).
  • That is the Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda that we have been discussing in the current series of posts: “Paṭicca Samuppāda During a Lifetime.”
  • In this post series, we are connecting to the pañcakkhandha (five aggregates), which has been mistranslated or not adequately explained in most English texts.
Analysis of Deep Suttas Requires This Understanding

12. We incorrectly think that we see a “full figure of a person with one glance” or “a whole statement made by such person,” etc.

  • However, those are just “collections” or “khandhas” of very brief “snapshots” put together by the mind (viññāṇa.) It is only a “magic show,” as the Buddha explained.
  • That is what the Buddha explained to Bāhiya in the “Bāhiya Sutta (Ud 1.10)” with the verse, “diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṁ bhavissati, sute sutamattaṁ bhavissati,..” Seeing is just like taking a series of snapshots. What we PERCEIVE as a person walking is a series of such snapshots “made into a movie” by the mind. The same holds for hearing, tasting, etc. That is why it is critically important to understand the current series of posts:Paṭicca Samuppāda During a Lifetime.” Don’t forget to watch the youtube movie in the post “Seeing Is a Series of ‘Snapshots’” and understand the basic idea.
  • There are a series of Bhaddekaratta Suttas (MN 131 through MN 134) based on the same basic but deep concept. See, for example, the first one, “Bhaddekaratta Sutta (MN 131).” The English translation there is completely off. It has nothing to do with “One Fine Night,” which is the title of the English translation!

1. In the  Cūḷa­ve­dalla Sutta (MN 44) on the types of saṅkhāra generated: “Assāsapassāsā kho, āvuso visākha, kāyikā ete dhammā kāyap­paṭi­baddhā, tasmā assāsapassāsā kāyasaṅkhāro. Pubbe kho, āvuso visākha, vitakketvā vicāretvā pacchā vācaṃ bhindati, tasmā vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro. Saññā ca vedanā ca cetasikā ete dhammā cittap­paṭi­baddhā, tasmā saññā ca vedanā ca cittāaṅkhāro”ti.
– Assāsa passāsā (breathing in and out) is associated with the body (movements). Thus, assāsa passāsa is kāya saṅkhāra.
– Vitakka/vicāra 
arise before speech “breaks out.” Therefore, vitakka/vicāra are vacī saṅkhāra.
– Saññā 
and vedanā are associated with any citta. Thus, saññā and vedanā are citta (mano) saṅkhāra. 

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