Pancaupadanakkhandha – It is All Mental

January 1, 2016

Rupa and Rupakkhandha are two different things. There are rupa made up of “physical matter ” (suddhashtaka) in the rupa loka. Rupakkhandha consists of each person’s memories, hopes, and desires for some of the rupa in the rupa loka. Since the other four khandha (vedana, sanna, sankhara, vinnana) are all mental anyway, all five are MENTAL.

1. In the previous post, “Pancakkhandha or Five Aggregates – A Misinterpreted Concept“, we discussed a deeper meaning of the panca khandha or the five heaps or the five aggregates that define a given living being. Each person’s panca khandha or the “world” is different from another’s.

  • Of course, in the 31 realms of existence there are  rupa, or material (and energy). But our experiences are all mental (which also has energy). Please read the previous post again if you think rupakkhandha is material. Rupakkhandha consists of our thoughts, memories, perceptions, desires, etc. on rupa that we have experienced, are experiencing now, and hope to experience in the future. We have those “imprints of rupa” in our minds even if we cannot recall all of them.
  • We experience the “material world” only at the “present time”, then it is gone. Especially for seeing (ditta) and hearing (suta), the experience comes and goes. For the other three physical senses (muta), it can be there as long as we are actually experiencing them.
  • For example, when we are eating a meal, the sense contact is there until we finish eating. When we have a headache (an actual dukha vedana) or while getting a massage (an actual sukha vedana), the sense experience is there for a while.
  • But thinking about them (vinnäta) — via the sixth sense, the mind — can be experienced at any time; we can recall a past experience or conjure up an enticing future experience.
  • Ditta, suta, muta, vinnata include everything that we experience. They are re-categorized as rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara, and vinnana or the five heaps.
  • It is not necessary to memorize terms like ditta, suta, muta, vinnata. I am merely naming them to avoid any confusion, since those terms are in the suttas. With time, one will remember.

2. Upadana (“upa” + “ädäna” where “upa” means “close” and “ädäna” means “pull”) means “pull and keep close”. One tries to pull and keep close only things that one really desires: panca upadana khandha or  pancaupadanakkhandha. We can translate the term, pancaupadanakkhandha, as “five clinging aggregates”.

  • Thus out of an infinite variety of “things” one has experienced (not only in this life, but in all of existence countless rebirths) — pancakkhandha –, the “things” that one really have bonding with, and have the desire to “keep close” are panca upadana khandha or pancaupadanakkhandha. Same for the other four khandhas.
  • Thus  pancaupadanakkhandha is what we desire, and is ALL MENTAL too. It is a small fraction of pancakkhandha.

3. First, let us dig a bit deeper into the concept of panca khadha (five heaps) or pancakkhandha. Then one can see connections to other concepts at a deeper level.

  • As we recall, the five heaps include everything that one has experienced (rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara, vinnana) in the past, one is experiencing right now, and one hopes to experience in the future and in each of these three categories, they can be subdivided into other categories like paneeta (likes) and appaneeta (dislikes); see the previous post.
  • Since each person’s experience is unique, one’s pancakkhandha is unique, and is different from that of another living being.

4. A new born baby, does not have much of an experience in this life (other than some while in the womb). But he/she still have an infinite things from the past in those five heaps or aggregates.

  • As the baby grows, its pancakkhandha grows each day, adding to the five heaps not only with what is experienced, but also expectations and desires about the future.
  • We, of course, remember only a fraction of what is in our pancakkhadha even from our present life.  Each day, we experience many things and forget most of it by the next day.

5. However, some of deeper desires and habits and character remain, sometimes even unknown to us, beneath the surface as our gathi and asavas (by the way, those will be reflected in the cetasika that automatically arise with our citta). As that baby grows, depending on its parents, friends, and other environmental factors, some of those (good and bad) gathi resurface and even grow.

  • This is why each person is good at some things. If one has musical talent from the past lives, that child can flourish in an environment that provides suitable conditions. If that baby grows in a family that does not provide “a musical environment”, then that gathi is kept hidden.
  • Similarly, one who had the tendency to like alcohol, may be kept out of that habit in a family environment that looks down upon drinking. We can think about zillion other character features that can be suppressed or brought to surface to flourish depending on the environment.
  • This is why some people, who have not shown any talent for anything for many years, suddenly “take off and thrive” in a new venture. Stated in another way, one may not realize that “one has upadana” for certain things, unless exposed to it.
  • We all have good and bad things that we have “upadana” for. We should stay away from bad ones (forcibly if needed to) and find and cultivate good ones. This is why parent and teachers can play a big role in a child’s future.
  • Eventually, we need to lose “upadana” for everything, but that comes much later in the Path when one has attained the Anagami stage, or at least the Sokadagami stage of Nibbana. First we need to lose “upadana” for the highly immoral activities. At the Sotapanna stage, one realizes the perils of “upadana” for only the worst habits that makes one eligible to be born in the apayas. It is a gradual process.

6. The tendency to recreate past experiences and future desires need to be clearly distinguished from the ABILITY TO RECALL past experiences. The Buddha was able to recall things that happened trillions of years ago, but did not either enjoy them or had a revulsion to them.

  • As we discussed in the section, Äsvada (Mind-Made Pleasures), Ädeenava (Bad Outcomes), Nissarana (Relinquish), käma (or more precisely käma räga) is the tendency to enjoy such mind-made pleasures from the past or future.
  • Each person’s set of panca updana khandha has embedded in them the certain types of things and events they give priority to, i.e., one’s gathi and anusaya. They automatically come out as particular set of cetasika (hate and fearlessness of doing immoral things, for example) in our citta or thoughts.
  • Those käma räga that correspond to gathi in the apayas can lead to rebirth in the apayas.
  • Rüpa räga and arüpa räga are the tendencies to enjoy jhanic pleasures corresponding to rupa and arupa realms.

7. Thus now we can see Nibbana in terms of pancaupadanakkhandha. As one sheds “upadana” for gathi corresponding to the apayas, higher kama loka, and rupa or arupa loka successively, one attains the Sotapanna, Anagami (via Sakadagami stage), and the Arahant stage respectively.

  • As one keeps shedding layers of pancaupadanakkhandha, one proceeds to higher stages of Nibbana, and upon attaining the Arahant stage loses all “upadana” and thus  pancaupadanakkhandha. However, the  pancakkhadha remains, and upon the death all of it will stay in the nama loka as nama gotta.
  • Thus anyone with sufficient abhinna powers can examine those nama gotta.  That is how the Buddha Gotama described the lives of many previous Buddhas, and we learn about them today.

8. Unless one has attained the Sotapanna stage, it is possible for “apaya gathi” to come to the surface (as cetasika  like greed, shamelessness in doing immoral things, etc in our citta or thoughts), especially under extreme conditions. We all have been in the apayas uncountable times, so it is not something to be speculated; we have had those gathi, and it is possible that they can resurface. This is the danger that we need to realize.

  • Even if we manage to avoid such “extreme conditions” in this life because we have been fortunate to be born under good conditions, we have no idea where we will be born in the future. This is why the Buddha said, “..appamadena sampadeta” or “make haste and sort out ‘san‘ or what to do and what not to do”.

9. As we mentioned in the beginning, each one’s pancakkhandha is unique. Each has his/her own feelings, perceptions, mental attributes (good and bad), and vinnana regarding any sense event. We make our decisions accordingly. Our character (gathi) is in pancakkhandha (the way we see and comprehend the world) and even more so in our pancaupadanakkhandha (our desires for the worldly things).

  • And ditthi (our world views) is a critical part of both pancakkhandha and pancaupadanakkhandha. Our decisions depend critically on our ditthi. There are many posts at the site on the importance of ditthi. The first step to Nibbana (the Sotapanna stage) is samma ditthi.
  • Unless one comprehends the true nature of this world of 31 realms (anicca, dukkha, anatta), one cannot attain samma ditthi at least to some extent.

10. When one acts with avijja (due to not comprehending the true nature of the world), one does (abhi) sankhara, and keeps adding to the pancaupadanakkhandha.

  • When we start with the “avijja paccaya sankhara” step, it leads to “upadana paccaya bhava“. Thus according the types of (abhi) sankhara one does, one makes “bonding” or “attaches to” certain types of “bhava” or existence.
  • Paticca samuppada explains how we make bhava according to the level of avijja (as indicated by our gathi, anusaya, etc) that is embedded in our pancaupadanakkhandha.
  • Thus, one’s pancaupadankkhadha has embedded in it the “cravings and desires” of oneself, and where one is destined to have rebirths.

11. Therefore, we can see that no matter how we analyze things, they all converge to the same fundamentals. Before we embark on the journey to safety (Nibbana, or at least the Sotapanna stage), we need to figure out the “lay of the land”.  That is anicca, dukkha, anatta, the nature of this world.

  • Only then that our minds will willingly give up the ditthis or wrong views.
  • Only then that our minds will see the dangers of sense pleasures, starting at the excess levels of käma chanda and vyapada, which could lead to rebirth in the apayas.
  • If you could not grasp everything, that is fine. Come back and read the post again later, especially after reading other relevant posts. Each time you read, you may be able to grasp something that was not unclear. It happens to me all the time. When the minds starts grasping at least partly, it will become much easier.
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