Pancupādānakkhandha – It is All Mental

January 1, 2016; revised November 2, 2017, June 28, 2019

Rūpa and Rūpakkhandha are two different things. There are rūpa made up of “physical matter ” (suddhashtaka) in the rūpa lōka. Rūpakkhandha consists of each person’s memories, hopes, and desires for some of the rūpa in the rūpa lōka. Since the other four khandha (vēdanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāna) 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  rūpa, 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. Rūpakkhandha consists of our thoughts, memories, perceptions, desires, etc. on rūpa that we have experienced, are experiencing now, and hope to experience in the future. We have those “imprints of rūpa” in our minds even if we cannot recall all of them.
  • We experience the “material world” only at the “present time” (in a citta vithi), then it is gone. We actually experience not a single citta — or even a single citta vithi — but the overall effect of many citta vithi that run in the blink of an eye.

2. This “overall experience of seeing” within a short time is what we actually call seeing (ditta). Same for hearing (suta). 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 vēdanā) or while getting a massage (an actual sukha vēdanā), the sense experience is there for a while.
  • But thinking about them (viññāta) — 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, viññāta include everything that we experience and we can recall them back later. They are re-categorized as rūpa, vēdanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāna or the five heaps or aggregates.
  • It is not necessary to memorize terms like ditta, suta, muta, viññāta. I am merely naming them to avoid any confusion, since those terms are in the suttā. With time, one will remember.

3. Upādāna (“upa” + “ādāna” where “upa” means “close” and “ādāna” means “pull”) means “pull and keep close”. One tries to pull and keep close only things that one really desires: panca upādāna khandha or  pancupādānakkhandha. We can translate the term, pancupādānakkhandha, as “five clinging aggregates”.

  • Thus out of an infinite variety of “things (material and mental)” one has experienced (not only in this life, but in all of existence countless rebirths) — pancakkhandha –, those that one really have bonding with, and have the desire to “keep close” are panca upādāna khandha or pancupādānakkhandha. It is important to realize that “rupakkhandha” is mental too; see, “Difference Between Rupa and Rupakkhandha“.
  • Thus  pancupādānakkhandha is what we desire, and is ALL MENTAL too. It is a small fraction of pancakkhandha.

4. 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 (rūpa, vēdanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāna) 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. That is because even if the external rūpa are the same, the mental impressions are different.

5. 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.

6. However, some of deeper desires and habits and character remain, sometimes even unknown to us, beneath the surface as our gati and āsavas (by the way, those will be reflected in the cētasika 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) gati 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 gati 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 upādāna” for certain things, unless exposed to it.
  • We all have good and bad things that we have “upādāna” 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 “upādāna” for everything, but that comes much later in the Path when one has attained the Anāgāmi stage, or at least the Sakadāgāmi stage of Nibbāna. First we need to lose “upādāna” for the highly immoral activities. At the Sōtapanna stage, one realizes the perils of “upādāna” for only the worst habits that makes one eligible to be born in the apāyā. It is a gradual process.

7. 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, “Assāda, Ādīnava, Nissarana“, kāma (or more precisely kāma rāga) 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 gati and anusaya. They automatically come out as particular set of cētasika (hate and fearlessness of doing immoral things, for example) in our citta or thoughts.
  • Those kāma rāga that correspond to gati in the apāyā can lead to rebirth in the apāyā.
  • Rūpa rāga and arūpa rāga are the tendencies to enjoy jhānic pleasures corresponding to rūpa and arūpa realms.

8. Thus now we can see Nibbāna in terms of pancupādānakkhandha. As one sheds “upādāna” for gati corresponding to the apāyā, higher kāma lōka, and rūpa or arūpa lōka successively, one attains the Sōtapanna, Anāgāmi (via Sakadāgāmi stage), and the Arahant stage respectively.

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

9. Unless one has attained the Sōtapanna stage, it is possible for “apāya gati” to come to the surface (as cētasika  like greed, shamelessness in doing immoral things, etc in our citta or thoughts), especially under extreme conditions. We all have been in the apāyā uncountable times, so it is not something to be speculated; we have had those gati, 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”.

10. 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 viññāna regarding any sense event. We make our decisions accordingly. Our character (gati) is in pancakkhandha (the way we see and comprehend the world) and even more so in our pancupādānakkhandha (our desires for the worldly things).

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

11. When one acts with avijjā (due to not comprehending the true nature of the world), one does (abhi) saṅkhāra, and keeps adding to the pancupādānakkhandha.

  • When we start with the “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” step, it leads to “upādāna paccayā bhava“. Thus according the types of (abhi) saṅkhāra one does, one makes “bonding” or “attaches to” certain types of “bhava” or existence.
  • Paṭicca Samuppāda explains how we make bhava according to the level of avijjā (as indicated by our gati, anusaya, etc) that is embedded in our pancupādānakkhandha.
  • Thus, one’s pancaupadankkhadha has embedded in it the “cravings and desires” of oneself, and where one is destined to have rebirths.

12. 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 (Nibbāna, or at least the Sōtapanna 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 diṭṭhis or wrong views.
  • Only then that our minds will see the dangers of sense pleasures, starting at the excess levels of kāma chanda and vyapada, which could lead to rebirth in the apāyā.
  • 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.

13. It is very important to see the difference between the “physical world” which is made of “satara mahā bhuta” and the pancakkhandha which is all mental.

  • The physical world out there is the same for all of us. But our mental impressions of it (pancakkhandha) are different for each of us. It is easy to see that our feelings, perceptions, and saṅkhāra that we create upon seeing the same person are different.
  • Our pancupādanakkhandha, or the fraction of the pancakkhandha that we have attachment for, is even more personal, unique for each person.
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