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The Five Aggregates

Now that we have defined suffering as dukkha, what are the varieties of dukkha? We developed the structure of holding or clinging, so now we need a sufficiently detailed understanding of what is held or clung to—what is considered ‘I’ and ‘mine’. The Buddha teaches that there can only be holding or clinging to one or more of five things he designates as the five khanda. We can render khanda as aggregates; other suitable translations would be group, mass or totality. The five aggregates (khanda) are:

  • Matter or form (rūpa)
  • Feeling (vedanā)
  • Perception (saññā)
  • Determinations (saṅkharā)
  • Consciousness (viññāṇa)

These five are the “things to be held” or clung to (upādanīyā dhammā).

In the case of the puthujjana, his reflexive experience is fundamentally one of clinging. Thus his aggregates are with clinging (sa-upādāna). For example when he is experiencing feeling (vedanā), that feeling would be in combination with the consideration that the feeling is ‘for me’; similarly with the other four aggregates. As long as his reflexive experience is fundamentally one of holding or clinging, any experience that includes the reflexive component is a case of the five aggregates with clinging, and therefore of the five clinging-aggregates (pañcupādānakkhandhā). Thus the experience of the puthujjana is always a case of the five clinging-aggregates. His entire ‘being’ is comprised of these five clinging-aggregates. His ‘world’, or opportunity set of possibilities of consciousness, experience and action, is bounded by the totality of the five clinging-aggregates.

We also see that in the experience of a living being, none of these aggregates can exist by itself, separated from the others. They are inseparable, and the Venerable Sāriputta says:

Friend, that which is feeling, that which is perception, that which is consciousness—these things are associated, not dissociated, and it is impossible to separate them from one another or show a distinction between them. For, friend, what one feels, that he perceives; what one perceives, that he cognizes.” — Mahāvedalla Sutta (Majjhima-Nikāya 43.1)

The Buddha also taught:

Monks, were one to declare thus: ‘I will show the coming or the going, the disappearance or the appearance, the growth or the increase, or the abundance of consciousness apart from matter, apart from feeling, apart from perceptions, apart from determinations’—that situation is impossible.” — Upaya Sutta (Saṃyutta-Nikāya 22.53)

We have to treat each of these aggregates separately to gain an understanding of them, though of course they are inseparable in actual experience. It also becomes clear that the problem of suffering and its cessation must lie in these categories called the five clinging-aggregates. Experience of whatever kind is within these five, confined to these five.

Clinging ← Prev | Next → The Consciousness-Aggregate

  1. peaceandwisdom2013 permalink

    I have a question regarding Anapanasati and the five-clinging aggregates. So, it is through concentration that one may actually see the arising, sustenance, and falling of the aggregates? Thus, by seeing as it actually is, and practicing for disenchantment, dispassion, and cessation, one is released through non-clinging? Honestly, without actually practicing this, none of this makes sense! I think I know what to do, but….

    • “Honestly, without actually practicing this, none of this makes sense! I think I know what to do, but…”

      LOL, exactly. Once you become established in jhāna, you can directly see all these things. Then there’s no need for complex theoretical questions.

      • peaceandwisdom2013 permalink

        Yes, my mind is constantly asking questions and thinking of possibilities, but without seeing and doing and verifying, I just get a headache!

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