Five Aggregates – Introduction

1. The five aggregates (pancakkhandha; pronounced panchakkandhä) are: rupa (material aspects), sanna (perception), vedana (feelings), sankhara (immoral/unfruitful activities; see, “Avijja paccaya Sankhara“), and vinnana (consciousness). Panca is five and khandha is a heap (in Sinhala, a “khandha” is a hill); thus pancakkhandha is “five heaps”. Sometime it is called pancaskhandha, but that is the Sanskrit name and does not give the clear meaning.

  • Some people believe pancakkhandha means one’s own body since it has a material body and the four mental aspects. But pancakkhandha is another name for “everything in this world of 31 realms”.
  • Everything “in this world” (according to each individual) is included in the five aggregates (pancakkhandha). That is everything that anyone CAN EVER experience. Pancakkhandha encompasses  all material and mental aspects and are  all mental.

2. Each of the five components of pancakkhandha can be categorized in eleven ways: past, present, future, near, far, coarse (olarika), fine (sukuma), internal (ajjatta) , external (bahijja), liked (paneeta), disliked (appaneeta). This is what I mean when I say it is unimaginably huge and includes everything in this world.

  • For example, one component is the rupa skandha (collection of material forms). It is divided into two parts: internal (adhayathmika or ajjatta) and external (bahira or bahijja).  Internal rupa are the five physical senses: eye (cakkhu), ear (sota), nose (ghana), tongue (jivha), and body (kaya). These are actually not the physical eye, ear. etc that we  see, but very fine rupa.
  • When we die all internal rupa (cakkhusota, ghanajivha), and kaya) die too, i.e., they are no longer associated with the dead body. The physical body loses the “vitality” and becomes just a “lifeless log” like a piece of wood. While all other four fine internal rupa are located close to the heart (scientists will not be able to detect them), the kaya rupa is spread all over the body; that is why we can “feel” all over the body (except nails and hair); see, “Ghost in the Machine – Synonym for the Manomaya Kaya?“.
  • All other material “things” or rupas “in this world” belongs to the external rupa category: other people, houses, planets, galaxies, etc, i.e., absolutely everything else.
  • And we need to remember that rupa include ALL material phenomena: vanna (pictures or things we customarily call “rupa“), sadda (sounds), gandha (smells), rasa (taste), and pottabba (touch).

3. Pancaupadanakkhandha (or panca upadanakkhandha) is a VERY SMALL subset of pancakkhandha. Pancaupadanakkhandha includes only those things and concepts in this world that a given person interacts with or has attachments for. This can be visualized easily as follows:

  • If pancakkhandha is a huge wall, a fly landing on the wall makes contact or grasps that wall only with its six legs. Thus for that fly, what it touches with its tiny six feet (the contact area is minuscule)  can be compared to pancaupadanakkhandha; the pancakkhandha is the whole huge wall.
  • Just like the fly is holding onto the wall with its six legs, we are grasping (upadana) this world with our six senses: we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think about only a minuscule amount of things the world offers.
  • Therefore, we are bound to “this huge world” only via a very few things, and that is all we have “give up” or discard in order to attain Nibbana. Please contemplate on this and come back and read this post once-in-a-while. It will sink in as one’s knowledge of Dhamma grows.

4. We experience this outside world by seeing those objects, hearing sounds, smelling ordors, tasting foods, touching objects, and also thinking about not only “physical things”, but also concepts. All that experience is included in the other four aggregates: we sense them (sanna or perception), we feel them (vedana or feelings), we accumulate abhisankhara (kamma) by attaching/rejecting them, and we “know about them” (vinnana or consciousness).

  • Thus it is clear that each of us experiences or grasps only a tiny fraction of pancakkhandha.

5. That is a brief summary of pancaupadanakkhandha, the five aggregates that is clung to. If we do not generate sankhara, then it becomes just pancakkhandha.

  • Please read the above carefully, until you see the difference between pancakkhandha and pancaupadanakkhandha. When an Arahant experiences any external object he/she does not generate any abhisankhara. Thus an Arahant does not have a pancaupadanakkhandha.
  • Normally we just say sankhara in the place of abhisankhara. But it is only abhisankhara that lead to rebirth. Thus an Arahant does sankhara, but not abhisankhara, i.e., there is no “upadana” or “clinging”. This is discussed in the posts on “san” and “sankhara“.
  • But an ordinary person generates  greedy, hateful, or ignorant thoughts and generates (abhi)sankhara when experiencing external objects, and thus has pancaupadanakkandha.
  • Thus, the difference between pancakkhandha and pancaupadanakkandha depends on the (abhi)sankharakkandha.
  • Also, we see that each person has his/her own pancaupadanakkandha, because the sanna, vedana, sankhara, and vinnana (as well as the external and internal rupa) are going to be unique to that person.
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