Five Aggregates – Introduction

Revised October 20, 2018

1. The five aggregates (pancakkhandha; pronounced panchakkandha) are: rūpa (material aspects), saññā (perception), vēdanā (feelings), saṅkhāra (immoral/unfruitful activities; see, “Avijja paccayā Saṅkhāra“), and viññāna (loosely translated as consciousness). Panca is five and khandha is a heap (in Sinhala, a “kanda” 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. That is WRONG. Even the pancakkhandha is MENTAL; it has mental impressions of rupa (matter) that are in the world. Therefore, all five aggregates are MENTAL.
  • One’s IMPRESSION of 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.
  • You may want to first read the post, “Difference Between Rupa and Rupakkhandha” to get the basic idea explained in a simple way.

2. Each of the five components of pancakkhandha can be categorized in eleven ways; see, Khandha sutta (SN 22.48): past, present, future, near, far, coarse (olarika), fine (sukuma), internal (ajjhatta) , external (bahiddha), liked (paneeta), disliked (appaneeta). An acceptable English translation of the Khandha sutta is available online: Khandha Sutta: Aggregates.

  • This is what I mean when I say it is unimaginably huge and includes everything in this world.
  • For example, one component is the rūpa khandha (collection of material forms). It is divided into two parts: internal (adhayathmika or ajjhatta) and external (bahira or bahiddha).  Internal rūpa are the five physical senses: eye (cakkhu), ear (sōta), nose (ghāna), tongue (jivhā), and body (kāya). These are actually not the physical eye, ear. etc that we  see, but very fine rūpa.
  • When we die all internal rūpa (cakkhusōta, ghānajivhā), and kāya) 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 rūpa are located close to the heart (scientists will not be able to detect them), the kāya rūpa 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 rūpa category: other people, houses, planets, galaxies, etc, i.e., absolutely everything else.
  • And we need to remember that rūpa include ALL material phenomena: vaṇṇa (pictures or things we customarily call “rūpa“), sadda (sounds), gandha (smells), rasa (taste), and pottabba (touch).
  1. Pancaupādānakkhandha (or panca upādānakkhandha) is a VERY SMALL subset of pancakkhandha. Pancaupādānakkhandha 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 pancaupādānakkhandha; the pancakkhandha is the whole huge wall.
  • Just like the fly is holding onto the wall with its six legs, we are grasping (upādāna) 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 Nibbāna. 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 (saññā or perception), we feel them (vēdanā or feelings), we accumulate abhisaṅkhāra (kamma) by attaching/rejecting them, and we “know about them” (viññāna 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 pancaupādānakkhandha, the five aggregates that is clung to. If we do not generate saṅkhāra, then it becomes just pancakkhandha.

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