April 16, 2022; revised March 8, 2023
Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda explains how the rupakkhandha grows with each sensory experience.
Summary of Rupakkhandha (Form Aggregate)
1. If you have not read the previous three posts on the form aggregate (rupakkhandha), it is a good idea to read them first at “Paṭicca Samuppāda During a Lifetime,” starting with “Khandhā in Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda.” It is critically important to understand the basic ideas.
- As discussed in those three posts, the form aggregate is MOSTLY our mental impressions of forms (rupa) that we experienced in the past, including all previous lives.
- Of course, we can recall only a fraction of past rupa that we experienced. However, the cultivation of jhāna allows one to remember even previous lives. The Buddha could recall anything from his past lives as far as he wanted.
- Recent findings confirm that moment-by-moment records of ALL rupā experienced remain intact. Some people can recall past events in astonishing detail.
Memory Recall – Recent Findings
2. That AMAZING ability first came to light with Jill Price, who contacted a team of scientists in the early 2000s about her ability to recall anything from 1974 onwards. Here is a video of her with Diane Sawyer on an ABC News program in 2008:
- I discussed that video in detail in the post “Where Are Memories “Stored”? – Connection to Pañcakkhandha.”
- Discussions with a few more people with that ability are in “Autobiographical Memory – Preserved in Nāma Loka.”
- Therefore, it is important to realize that — in the strict sense — rupakkhandha includes any rupa that one has ever experienced.
- This fact is a foundation of Buddha Dhamma. It is a fact that RECORDS of ALL past experiences are preserved as “nāmagotta” in viññāṇa dhātu. Thanks to the accounts of Jill Price and others, that fact is now undeniable.
Memories (Nāmagotta) Preserved in Viññāṇa Dhātu
3. The “past component of pañcakkhandha” is preserved as “nāmagotta” in the viññāṇa dhātu. Jill Price and a few other people can recall memories in such detail only because those memories (nāmagotta) have been in the viññāṇa dhātu. See “Where Are Memories Stored? – Viññāṇa Dhātu.”
- 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 (spanning many billions of years) in detail in several suttas. See, for example, “Mahāpadāna Sutta (DN 14).”
- Therefore, it is necessary to include “all past rupa” in the rupakkhandha in a general sense.
- However, when trying to avoid generating “bad saṅkhāra” at the present moment, we DO NOT need to focus on the whole rupakkhandha. We just need to pay attention to the rupa we are experiencing. Such rupā belong to “a much smaller “collection of rupā” or rupakkhandha.” Let us discuss that now.
Rupakkhandha at the Present Moment Is the Most Important
4. Only those rupakkhandha that arise close to the current moment play a direct role in Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda, i.e., play a role in “what happens at the present moment.”
- Even though the “past rupakkhandha” going back to the “beginningless rebirth process” makes up the bulk of the rupakkhandha of a person, most of us cannot even recall most of the “past rupakkhandha” from yesterday.
- That is why the Buddha advised Ven. Ananda to first understand the Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda. We discussed that at the beginning of this series a few posts ago. See “Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda – Bhava and Jāti Within a Lifetime.”
- But that does not imply that those memory records have no value. They do influence our present actions through our saṁsāric habits.
5. The Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda explains the accumulation of kammic energies at the present moment. It is based on rupakkhandha that arises at the present moment. Of course, they arise and go to the past momentarily. So, rupā or rupakkhandha involved in Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda are MOSTLY those that one is experiencing at present and moving to the past as soon as they arise.
- That “present time” could vary from minutes to hours depending on how long one’s mind is focused on an ārammaṇa.
- Note that rupakkhandha is only one of five aggregates (khandhās) associated with an experience.
- Before we start discussing the other four aggregates, it is a good idea to understand the usage of the term “rupakkhandha” in this context.
Why Do We Call Rupa Experienced at a given Moment “Rupakkhandha”?
6. Even over a few seconds, a mind DOES NOT capture the complete impression of a “rupa” in one instant. Instead, such a sight, sound, etc., are captured with MANY “snapshots.” Read #6 through #8 in the post, “Aggregate of Forms – Collection of ‘Mental Impressions’ of Forms.” It could be a good idea to review that first. These concepts are new to most people.
- That is the basis of Buddha saying there is no “person” seeing, hearing, etc. It is just a series of events that happens via Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda. But we need to discuss that in more detail.
- First, let us review some facts about “rupā.” Unfortunately, sometimes people use “rupā” just for “visual objects.” But those are “rupa rupā” or “vaṇṇa rupā.” Here, vaṇṇa (“varna” in Sanskrit) means “color.”
- We see “vaṇṇa rupa” with eyes, “sadda rupa” with ears, “rasa rupa” with tongue, “gandha rupa” with the nose, and “phoṭṭhabba rupa” with touches. We also recall memories with “dhammā” or “dhamma rupa” with the mind. Of course, the mind experiences the other five rupā that come through the eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and body.
- Those six types of rupā make contact with the mind very rapidly and in “packets.” For example, we don’t see or hear continuously. Only one sense faculty makes contact with the mind at one moment, and that contact is of short duration, about one-hundredth of a second!
7. We discussed in the last post how the mind could sort out those different sensory inputs and make a coherent picture of our world. See “Aggregate of Forms – Collection of ‘Mental Impressions’ of Forms.” Let us discuss one more simple example to illustrate this point. It is critical to get this basic idea.
Suppose you are eating an apple and you are alone. Your mind is focused on the apple—still, many sensory inputs other than vision may be involved: touch, taste, smell, and sounds.
- You are holding the apple, and that sensation comes through kāyadvāra or touch. The taste of apple comes through jivhādvāra or tongue, and you hear the chewing sound (sotadvāra or the ears.) Of course, you see the apple too via cakkhudvāra (eyes). You may also smell the apple coming via ghānadvāra (nose.)
- Of course, the mind puts together all those sensory inputs as “enjoying the apple.” Therefore, the manodvāra is involved too. The other five sensory inputs come to the MIND via those “doors” (dvāra)
- You can experience all of those without any pause. It is an all-inclusive cohesive experience. It FEELS as if you are experiencing all those sensations 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 the previous three posts too.
Where Does the “Experience” Take Place?
8. Think about what happens within those few minutes while you are eating the apple. You see the apple in your hand and feel its texture. You can taste the apple and also smell its aroma. You also hear the chewing sound. Those are the five sensory experiences through the five physical senses.
- While you are doing all that, the brain is processing all that data into a form that can be “understood” by the mind. The brain DOES NOT understand anything; it is just like a computer. This is a critical point that needs to be understood.
- There are separate regions in the brain that process data from those five senses. The brain processes such data into a form that the mind can understand. This is a fully kammic process that scientists will never be able to figure out.
- It is worthwhile to think about what must happen, for example, to ‘see’ that apple.
How do we “see” an apple?
9. Scientists have traced the electrical/chemical signals from the back of the eye (retina) to the visual cortex in the brain. But they have no idea what the visual cortex is doing or how it transforms those electrical/chemical signals into “light” and the “form resembling an apple.”
- That is the “hard problem of consciousness,” in simple terms. Google “hard problem of consciousness,” and you can read about the struggles of scientists and philosophers trying to make a breakthrough.
- That problem arises only because they try to explain consciousness to “arise from matter,” specifically in the brain.
- The Buddha explained that it is the other way around. It is the mind that gives rise to matter. That is a bit complex issue I have discussed briefly in “The Origin of Matter – Suddhāṭṭhaka.” However, it is not prudent to go that deep UNTIL understanding the Idappaccayatā Paṭicca Samuppāda.
- By the way, some scientists and philosophers are beginning to realize that it would be impossible to explain consciousness to ARISE in the brain. The brain only has a secondary role; see “How Do We See? – Role of the Gandhabba” and “Will Quantum Mechanics Be Able to Explain Consciousness?“
10. The point is that after light falls on the back of the eye, light DOES NOT play any role in vision. Then how do we see an image of that apple? How do we see the light? It is dark inside the skull!
- The same is true for the other senses. Scientists have found that sounds create vibrations in the air, and deep inside our ears, there are sensors that detect those vibrations. How can the brain “hear” those sounds? It cannot. The brain itself was formed by kammic energy. Its role is to transform those “vibration signals” into a form that the mind can understand (more precisely, the “seat of the mind” or “hadaya vatthu.”)
- It is a good idea to read the post “How Do We See? – Role of the Gandhabba.” There is no need to get into the details discussed in that post. Don’t forget to read Ref. 4 per #6 in the post. The gandhabba (with the hadaya vatthu) sees, hears, tastes, smells, feels, and thinks! Yet that gandhabba lasts only for the duration of human existence. After that, it could transform into an animal gandhabba, Deva, or even a “hell-being.” There is no ever-lating essence even in that human gandhabba. It is a temporary existence!
“Eating an Apple” Experience Involves Many Types of Rupakkhandha
11. It is utterly useless to read the “word-by-word” translations of suttas. The Buddha explained things that we experience in real life. Even though the world is complex, we can simplify things by looking at the details of sensory experience. It may appear complex at first, but once the basic idea sinks in, it will become much easier.
- Let us summarize our discussion on the experience of eating an apple.
- We experience different types of rupa within those few minutes. They are vaṇṇa rupa, sadda rupa, gandha rupa, rasa rupa, and phoṭṭhabba rupa (n plain English, sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.)
- Even the sight of the apple is not captured in one instant. The picture of the apple comes in “brief snapshots,” each lasting only a billionth of a second. Remember that even though the brain may take one-thousandth of a second to process a “data packet on the vision” the mind (more precisely, hadaya vatthu) processes that in a billionth of a second.
- Thus, “seeing of the apple” is due to a collection of many such “snapshots.” That is a “rupakkhandha” on VISION over a short time.
Rupakkhandha Includes All Types of Rupa
12. However, we also hear the chewing of the apple, the taste, its smell, and the texture of the apple in hand. Thus, five types of rupakkhandha go through the mind in that short time.
- In other words, the relevant rupakkhandha is the aggregate of all those rupakkhandha formed by the five senses.
- The mind can put all of those together and provide a seamless experience of a “person eating an apple” by looking at the overall rupakkhandha accumulated over several minutes.
- But in reality, it is just a collection of many DISCRETE events taking place at a high-speed rate. This is why it is essential to understand the basic concept explained in the video in the post “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.”
- Here is another analogy. In the old days, people made metal chains by connecting many small metal loops by hand. All one does is connect two loops at a time. You see a “chain” only after you connect many such loops and look at the result of that activity.
13. Experiencing a sensory input involves all five aggregates. That is discussed in “Five Aggregates – Experiences of Each Sentient Being.”
- As we will see, the other four khandhās (vēdanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, and viññāṇakkhandha) work the same as the rupakkhandha. That is why we discussed rupakkhandha in detail.