Saturday, July 29, 2006

Five Aggregates

The Buddha taught that five aggregates comprise our being in the here and now. What are these five? Form, Feelings, Perceptions, Formations, and Consciousness.

What is Form? Our body, our physical nature.

What is Feeling? When we experience something, we immediately judge it as a pleasurable feeling, an unpleasant feeling, or a neutral feeling. We see a beautiful person and hence experience a pleasurable feeling. We see what we deem to be an ugly person and hence experience an unpleasant feeling. We see a snake (snakes are scary!), and experience an unpleasant feeling—and it gets even more unpleasant if we're bitten!

What is Perception? The six sense bases, the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind are like doors that directly sense the external (and internal) environment. The pure recognition of the contact between an object and the sense door of the eye, ear, etc., prior to any mental sorting, judging, categorizing, or identifying, is Perception. Note that the mind is a sense door as well.

What are Formations? Thoughts, judgments, emotions, and other "mind-stuff" that arise.

What is Consciousness? The recognition of things perceived by the sense doors.

As an example, a table is in the room. If you look at the table, your eye acts as the primary sense door and allows in the light reflected from the table. From the contact between the object and your eye, you Perceive a visual image. Your Consciousness then identifies (without judgment or further thought or analysis) that the image has a texture, it has a color, it has a shape that seems very much like what it would call "wood table." Now, based on that identification of the object, Feelings might occur that make you think this is an attractive table (pleasant feeling), a replusive table (unpleasant feeling), or just your average ordinary table (neutral feeling). Note, though, that if you were shopping for a table and had been told that the table in the next room was very beautiful and ornate, but once you saw it, it was ordinary, the associated Feeling might be unpleasant rather than neutral. Now, you'll very likely have thoughts about that table, judging its value, its craftmanship, how well its color matches with your painted room, etc. These thoughts are Formations. Your body itself, and your physical eye which was the primary sense door in this example, is Form.

As another example to help explain Consciousness, which tends to be the most difficult of the aggregates to define, note that a camera can Perceive an object, as it can act as a pure sense door, but it cannot recognize the object as having a texture, a color, a temperature, and a shape that we might call "table." Consciousness allows us to identify characteristics of the Perceived objects.

1-Minute Contemplation: What do you think? Is there any more to us than that? One might say that we also have a "soul." But what can we identify as that soul? Where is that soul?

I'm very curious to hear different takes on this, since it can be somewhat disconcerting originally to hear that these 5 things are all that we are made of. The more I meditate on them, the more obvious it becomes through my own experience that the Buddha's teachings on this are true. But I would love to hear others' experiences and, if you perceive (with a small 'p') something else that comprises us, what is it, where is it, and how do you know it's there?


Anonymous said...

It is an interesting paradox: the five aggregates and the Mind. Lord Buddha is supposed to have not identified a ' soul / spirit' in Man but speak mostly about the ' mind.'One should remember that as is found in every religion the written word came into being many centuries after the death of the spiritual master. The religious hierarchy at that time decided that certain teaching were NOT suitable for the general public and removed it from all public records and reserved it for the 'suitable' few.

The question one should ask oneself is: if 'we' are but a composition of the five aggregates, is the individual Mind too composed of the same? If so it is believed then the personality thus formed is temporary and has no continuity after physical death. Then how would you explain' cloning' the continuation of the original personality re-created? Does it contain the five aggregates in the same ratio as the original or will the ratio be different?
If there is no soul/spirit then explain rebirth or re-incarnation that has taken place in many countries where the reborn have recognized people, places, and events with great accuracy.
I personally do not think that Lord Buddha did ever say that there was no soul/spirit, for when the question was put to him He made a gesture by bringing His thumb and forefinger together forming a circle. This meant that the thumb indicating wisdom and the forefinger indicating fortitude was needed to go down this path for it is something that cannot be visually explained to all and sundry but a select few having the necessary wisdom to realize it within themselves. Instead He spoke about the mind and differentiated between a personal and universal mind.It would be akin to teaching a grade two student quantum physics. .....Llewellyn ( )