Difference Between Rupa and Rupakkhandha

October 20, 2018

1. Difference Between rūpa and rūpakkhandha is very important to understand. By translating rūpakkhandha as “form aggregate” gives the wrong impression that it is a collection of “solid objects”. Instead of memorizing Pāli words (or trying to find equivalent English words, which is impossible in many cases), we need to understand what is meant by such Pāli words and just use the Pāli words when there is ambiguity. Rūpakkhandha is all MENTAL.

  • In modern day terms, rūpa are either “matter” (human bodies, trees, houses, etc) OR “energy” (sound, heat, etc). With the Einstein’s formula of E = mc^2, modern science acknowledged that matter and energy are intrinsically the same.
  • In terms of Buddha Dhamma, all those rūpa are made of suddhāshtaka, the “smallest unit of rūpa“. What is normally called “matter” like our bodies, as well as what is normally called “energy” (like sound, heat), are ALL made of suddhāshtaka. A suddhāshtaka is unimaginably small, billions of times smaller than an electron in modern science.

2. It also helps to understand what is meant by a “khandha“. In Pāli (and Sinhala) it means a “heap” or “pile”. In Sinhala, a hill or a “pile of things” is called a “kanda” (කන්ද). So, aggregate is not a bad translation for khandha (ඛන්ධ in Sinhala for the Pāli word).

  • A heap or an aggregate of rūpa is a rūpa khandha. It rhymes as, “rūpakkhandha“. We have seen this in kind of combination of words (sandhi) in Pāli terms like Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta which is shortened for Dhamma Cakka Pavattana Sutta.
  • Another example is dhammassavana shortened for “dhamma savana” or “listening to dhamma (discourse)”.

3. On the other hand, rūpakkhandha is all mental. The Khandha sutta (SN 22.48) (among many other suttas) summarizes what is included in the rūpakkhandha: “Yaṃ kiñci, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ atītā­nāgata­pac­cup­pan­naṃ (My comment: atita, anāgata, pacuppanna) ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā yaṃ dūre santike vā, ayaṃ vuccati rūpakkhandho. “

Translated: “Whatever kind of rūpa, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, disliked or liked, far or near: this is called the rūpakkhandha”.

  • Eleven types of rūpa (mental impressions) are in the rūpakkhandha: past (atita), present (pacuppanna), future (anāgata), internal (ajjhatta), external (bahiddha), coarse (olārika), fine (sukuma), dislikes (hīna), likes (panita), far (dūre), near (santike).
  • Other four kandhas or aggregates (vēdanā, saññā, sankhāra, and viññāna) have the same 11 categories.
  • An acceptable English translation of the Khandha sutta is available online: Khandha Sutta: Aggregates.

4. Let us discuss them a bit more detail to see that these rūpakkhandha are “mental impressions” of rūpa, and not the rūpa that are out there.

  • Those rūpa that one has seen in the past is one’s atita rūpa, including anything that one ever saw (including in previous births).
  • Any rūpa about the future or an anāgata rūpa (for example, a sketch of the type of house one is thinking about building) can change with time. That does not even involve a real rūpa.
  • Any rūpa that one is seeing at present time (pacuppanna rūpa) goes to the category of atita rūpa in a split second.

5. Internal (ajjhatta) rūpa are those that are part of oneself: all body parts, including the ones inside the body. External (bahiddha) rūpa are of course anything outside of one’s body. Coarse (olārika) rūpa are what we call “solid matter”, and fine (sukuma) rūpa are “energy” (heat, sound, etc).

  • There are rūpa that one dislikes (hīna) and there are others that one likes (panita).
  • Some rūpa could be located far (dūre) and some could be located near (santike).
  • Therefore, we see that there could be some overlaps between these categories.
  • Many of these in the rūpakkhandha we have actually not even seen. For example, we have a mental impression of our heart, but we have not seen our own heart. We may not have seen some landmarks like Chinese great wall, but only pictures of them. Yet, we do have mental impressions of those.

6. Now we can see the main difference between rūpa and rūpakkhandha.

  • A rūpa is either a solid object that one sees with one ‘s eyes or touches with one’s body (a person, a person’s body or a body part, a tree, a planet, star, etc) OR another form of sense input that we get through the other three sense doors (smells, tastes, or sounds).
  • rūpakkhandha are MENTAL IMPRESSIONS of those external rūpa. They are NOT tangible or have any energy in them. One’s rūpakkhandha is INFINITE, meaning that it has records of ALL one has seen in ALL past lives going back and back in time without “an actual beginning”.
  • This is why those with iddhi (super normal) powers can recall events that took place billions of years ago. The Buddha of course recalled how he received first “niyata vivarana” or confirmation that he will become a Buddha trillions of years ago, from Buddha Deepankara.

7. Let us take another example to visualize this difference between actual rūpa and rūpakkhandha.

  • I will take, as an example, the twin towers in New York that were destroyed in the 2001 terrorist attack.
  • If one had seen those twin towers in New York, one can still recall them in one’s mind. Those physical structures are not there anymore, but they are in one’s rūpakkhandha!
  • But the actual rūpa that were there in New York are no longer there.

8. Since we have seen very different things in our lives (and in past lives), our rūpakkhandha are very different. Each has his/her own rūpakkhandha.

  • In fact, we can see that each has his/her own vēdanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, sankhārakkhandha, and viññānakkhandha.
  • All of them can be analyzed the same way. But all those (unlike some rūpa of solid matter) exist only while being experienced.

9. Without those mental impressions (pancakkhadha), we will not be able to live our lives.

  • For example, we have seen, smelled, touched, and tasted apples in the past (we have also heard the sound that can be heard when one bites into an apple. They are all in our pancakkhandha, and our minds automatically use those past records to identify an apple INSTANTLY.
  • We discussed this recently in the post, “The Amazing Mind – Critical Role of Nāmagotta (Memories)“.
  • All those concepts that we have discussed fit in well in this jigsaw puzzle of the workings of the mind. It is very complex, but once one understands the basics it becomes much easier.

10. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with recalling past events. The problem arises when we get attached to them, and start re-creating those events in our minds and enjoy them.

  • Kamma (which lead to kamma vipāka) are created three ways: manō kamma, vaci kamma, and kāya kamma. These are actually done via manō sankhara, vaci sankhara, and kāya sankhara.
  • Mano kamma (our spontaneous thoughts) arise automatically according to our gati.
  • Vaci kamma (“talking to ourselves” and speech) arise due to conscious thoughts.
  • kāya kamma (thoughts that lead to bodily actions) arise also due to conscious thoughts and have the highest javana power; see, “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power“.
  • May people think “talking to ourselves” or “day dreaming” is not bad because we don’t actually physically do anything. Even though they are less potent than kāya kamma, vaci kamma can add up and lead to strong kamma vipāka.

11. When we “day dream”, we mostly recall a past event that we enjoyed and re-experience that again and again. Also, one could make up a “future event” that one would LIKE TO experience and that also becomes a part of pancakkhandha (this is the “anāgata” component in #3 above).

  • Then one keeps generating more and more vaci sankhara on that event; see, “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra“. Of course, if we get “really into it”, we may do kāya sankhara too.
  • That is called “pancaupādānakkhandha” (panca upādāna khandha). In other words, one is now “pulling that event back, close to one’s mind” and consciously generating more vaci (and possibly kāya) sankhara.
  • This is why “upādāna” is such an important step in a paticca samuppada cycle. The two steps of “tanhā paccayā upādāna” and “upādāna paccayā bhava” really involves many , many paticca samuppada cycles running inside them.
  • We will discuss this in detail in the next post.
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