Rūpakkhandha and Rūpa Upādānakkhandha

May 1, 2020; revised August 26, 2023 (#2)

Introduction – What Is Rūpupādānakkhandha?

1. In the previous post, “Difference Between Rūpa and Rūpakkhandha,” we discussed the difference between rūpa and rūpakkhandha. 

  • In simple terms, rūpa are the “visuals, sounds, odors, tastes, and touches due to solid bodies.” Note that rūpa is a generic term. It indicates any such rūpa exists anywhere and does not pertain to any given person.
  • On the other hand, rūpakkhandha has one’s “mental impressions” of ALL such rūpa that we have experienced (including in previous lives), experiencing now, and hope to experience in the future. Thus, rūpakkhandha is specific to a given person. Each person has his/her rūpakkhandha.
  • The word rūpa upādānakkhandha or rūpupādānakkhandha comes from a combination of three words: rūpa, upādāna, and khandha. Therefore, rūpa upādānakkhandha is part of rūpakkhandha that we crave (i.e., would like to experience again.)
  • By the way, rūpakkhandha and rūpupādānakkhandha are conventionally translated as “form aggregate” and “clinging form aggregate.”
Meanings of Upādāna and Tanhā

2. Tanhā means “attaching to things in this world” with greed, hate, and ignorance. Most times, taṇhā is incorrectly translated as “craving.”

  •  The word taṇhā comes from “thán” + “hā,” where “thán” rhymes like in “thatch” and means “a place,” and “” means getting attached or fused. That can happen not only with greed but also with anger and ignorance. See “Tanhā – How we Attach via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.” Note that “tan” in taṇhā pronounced like in “thunder.” There are three types of taṇhā. Vibhava taṇhā is removed at the Sōtapanna stage, and kāma taṇhā removed at the Anāgami stage. Bhava taṇhā is eliminated only at the Arahant stage. See, “Kāma Tanhā, Bhava Tanhā, Vibhava Tanhā.”
  • Upādāna (“upa” + “ādāna” where “upa” means “close” and “ādāna” means “pull”) means “pull and keep close.” One tries to pull and keep close to only things that one desires. See “Difference Between Tanhā and Upādāna.” This post will take some time to digest. But it will help one clearly understand both those terms and the difference between them.
  • There are four types of upādāna. Those are diṭṭhupādāna (wrong views,) kāmupādāna (for sensual pleasures,) silabbatupādāna (tendency to follow rituals,) and attavādupādāna (sense of “me” or “mine.”) The first is removed at the Sotapanna stage, second at the Anāgāmi, and third and fourth at the Arahant stage of Nibbāna. Note the combination of words. For example, diṭṭhupādāna is a combination of diṭṭhi and upādāna.
  • Note that silabbatupādāna (tendency to follow rituals) is NOT the same as silabbata parāmāsa (believing that rituals by themselves can be used to attain Nibbāna.) On the other hand, silabbatupādāna is the tendency to use various techniques to attain higher births, sometimes called bhava upādāna. See #16 of “Upādāna Paccayā Bhava – Two Types of Bhava.”
Upādāna – To “Keep Close”

3. Therefore, upādāna means things or memories that we tend to “keep close” (in mind.) Our way of thinking, speaking, and doing things is dictated by different types of upādāna.

  • Therefore, rūpupādānakkhandha means those mental impressions of “visuals, sounds, odors, tastes, and touches due to solid bodies” that we like and would like to experience again. In other words, those are the experiences we desire or crave for. That is a small fraction of one’s rūpakkhandha. A given person has no interest in most of the rūpakkhandha.
  • The Pali word that describes “desire” is icca. Sometimes, the word “iccha” with the emphasis on the last “ca‘” sound is used to mean a “strong desire.” As we will see in a few posts, this connection will help us clarify the First Noble Truth on suffering in another way.
  • As an aside, you may want to refresh your memory on the fact that Pali words are written/pronounced differently compared to “standard English.” See “Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 1.”
Upādāna Is Different from Taṇhā

4. When an arammana (thought object) comes to our mind, we may FIRST instinctively “attach” to it. Then, it is at the upādāna stage that we keep on thinking, speaking, and doing things with the expectations. Those future expectations are either to enjoy something or to avoid things that one does not like.  It is at that second stage that we accumulate new kamma, as explained in “Difference Between Tanhā and Upādāna.” That leads to “bhava” formation, which, in turn, will lead to future rebirth (jāti.)

  • What I mentioned above are four steps in Paṭicca Samuppāda: “vedana paccayā taṇhā,” “taṇhā paccayā upādāna,” “upādāna paccayā bhava,” and “bhava paccayā jāti.” See details at “Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
  • It is critical to realize that those things that we do to acquire new kamma are done with saṅkhāra. Furthermore, we do saṅkhāra both at “avijja paccayā saṅkhāra” AND “taṇhā paccayā upādāna.” That is discussed in detail with the help of a graphic in the post, “Difference Between Tanhā and Upādāna.”
  • Most Paṭicca Samuppāda cycles start NOT with “avijja paccayā saṅkhāra,” but with “taṇhā paccayā upādāna,” as explained in that post.
What We Normally Call “Form” Is Also in Rūpakkhandha

5. We normally assign the word “form” or “rūpa” to things we see, including our bodies as well as all external objects and living beings. As I explained above, sounds, odors, tastes, and body touches also arise from “rūpa.” As we discussed in #7 of the previous post, “Difference Between Rūpa and Rūpakkhandha,” the 11 types of rūpa included in the rūpakkhandha include paccuppanna rūpa or any rūpa that is being experienced at any given moment.

  • One important rūpa that one experiences most of the day is one’s own body (ajjhatta rūpa.)
  • Therefore, one’s physical body (more correctly, mental impression of it) is part of rūpakkhandha. 
  • Even though we perceive that these are existing “things,” they have momentary existence in a deeper sense. I will give a quick example. A fly lives only a few days (let us say six days.) That fly would age and die in six days. If we see that fly in three days, it would have aged, and its body would be different from that we saw six days ago. When we keep reducing the “time interval,” we realize that even a moment later, it is not the same fly.
  • The same argument holds for our bodies, too. It changes over our lifetime, and that is the cumulative effect of momentary changes. That is why the Buddha said that you could not touch the same person twice! (If anyone remembers the sutta, please let me know: [email protected].)
  • As we will see in future posts, “dhammā” experienced by the mind is also a form of rūpa in Buddha Dhamma. That last category is “anidassanaṃ, appaṭighaṃ” or “cannot be seen or touched.”
We Do Not Attach to “Physical Objects” but to Our “Mental Impressions” or “Rūpakkhandha

6. A given object, whether it is inert or living, is NOT the CAUSE for attachment (taṇhā and upādāna.) Rather, it is the “way that we perceive that object,” based on our gati, that we attach.

  • Think about a person that you don’t like. As you know, there are many other people, including his/her spouse, children, friends, etc., who may like that person. The reason that you don’t like that person is based on your gati. By the way, both you and that person may be considered “good citizens” by most other neutral observers.
  • Suppose a guest coming to dinner brings a bottle of alcohol (say, whiskey.) The husband may be happy to see it, but the wife (who may be trying to discourage the husband from having too many drinks) could be irritated.  Now, if the guest brought a video game for their child, the child would be delighted. But both parents may become somewhat unhappy, thinking that the child may spend too much time playing video games.
  • These are the things that we need to contemplate while doing insight mediation (Vipassanā.) That is the best way to understand key concepts in Buddha Dhamma, like Paṭicca Samuppāda. We need to apply what we learn in practical situations.
  • Therefore, it is not an external rūpa that makes us attach (taṇhā.) It is our gati (which are related to our anusaya) that make us attach to CERTAIN TYPES of rūpa. The following example illustrates how the same rūpa may or may not lead to taṇhā even in a given person.
Rūpakkhandha to Rūpa Upādānakkhandha – Instant Change

7. The following is said to have happened many years ago in Sri Lanka. A mother had to go overseas when her son was less than a year old. She had been overseas for many years and came back. She had not even seen any pictures of the boy, who was now a teenager.

  • When she came home, she learned that the boy was visiting a neighbor, and she started walking there. On the way, a teenager playing with some friends on the road bumped into her. She became irritated and admonished the boy.
  • But then another person on the street said, “Don’t you recognize your son? Well. How can you? You have been away all this time”.  Hearing that, she asked, “Oh, is that my son?” and immediately ran back to hug him.
  • He was “just another teenager” until she came to know that he was her son. But the moment she realized that it was her son, the whole situation changed. His figure was not another “rūpa” in her “rūpakkhandha.” Now, he became a part of her rūpa upādānakkhandha or rūpupādānakkhandha.

8. I hope you can get further clarification on the difference between “rūpa,” “rūpakkhandha,” and “rūpupādānakkhandha” from the above discussion. You may want to review the previous two posts as well: “Five Aggregates – Introduction” and “Difference Between Rūpa and Rūpakkhandha,”

  • Just like the concept of anicca, this again is a fundamental concept to understand, so please try to read through slowly at a quiet time and grasp the concepts. As the Buddha said, “At the end, what matters is understanding a concept, not memorizing words.”
  • When I first grasped this concept, it was like turning the lights on in a previously dark area that I did not even know existed! That is a good example of what the Buddha meant by “alōkō udapādi. “
  • We need to realize that rūpakkhandha does not arise by itself. All five khandha or aggregates rise together.
  • Each person has his/her rūpakkhandha or how he/she perceives the material rūpa in the world. That rūpakkhandha has associated with it the other four khandhā (vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa) and thus comprise the pañcakkhandha. And pañca upādānakkhandha, or what one has cravings for, is a small part of that.
  • We will discuss that in the next post.
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