Author Topic: What are the aggregates?  (Read 2457 times)

Offline vinasp

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What are the aggregates?
« on: April 02, 2010, 06:42:30 pm »
Hi everyone,

 What is said about the 'five aggregates' in the nikaya's of Theravada Buddhism, and how should they be understood? This is not an easy subject to discuss, due to the different interpretations which we find.
 I will begin by giving my description of what I think is the natural first stage in the understanding of the aggregates. The sort of understanding which everyone must start with.

 The Five Aggregates.
 [ panca = five] [ khandha = mass, group, aggregate]

 When we read the discourses (sutta pitaka) we find many places where a set of five things is described - Form, Feeling, Perception, Volitional Formations and Consciousness. Sometimes these are called 'the five aggregates'. If one understands 'form' as body, and the other four as representing 'mind', then these five can be taken as a description of a human being.

 There are passages which appear to confirm such an interpretation. For example, birth is defined at MN 9.26 by a list of things which includes: "manifestation of the aggregates". In a similar way death is defined by a list of things which includes: " dissolution of the aggregates" [ MN 9.22 ].  So the most obvious interpretation is that these five things are just a description of a human being.

 Now, 'nibbana' means 'extinction', just like the extinguishing of a flame. But the Buddha, after his enlightenment, still had a body and a mind, so 'he' was not yet fully extinct. This is why there are two kinds of nibbana, and why the Buddha's death is so important in the 'popular' teachings. The two kinds of nibbana are 'nibbana with residue remaining' and 'nibbana with no residue remaining', and the residue is usually understood as the five aggregates. So on the night of his awakening the Buddha attained nibbana, but it was only nibbana with residue remaining. Only at his death does 'he' attain nibbana with no residue remaining. The term 'parinibbana' means 'complete extinction', so this is used in accounts of the Buddha's death.

 This is the 'popular' understanding. After his awakening the Buddha was not yet fully liberated from 'samsara'. Because to exist in any of the three realms is to be still in samsara. Nibbana is beyond the three realms, and so it can only be attained after death.

 The Five Aggregates of Clinging. [ panc'upadanakkhandha ].
 [ upadana = attachment, clinging, fuel, sustenance].

  This compound is also frequently found and has been translated in many different ways. Let us put aside, for the moment, the question of which translation is correct. There are many passages which speak of clinging to form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness. These are the five aggregates, if there is clinging to them it could be called something like 'five-aggregate-clinging'.

 So, if one understands the five aggregates as the actual body and mind of a human being, then the obvious way to understand 'five-aggregate-clinging' is as a clinging to these five aggregates.

 That completes my description of the obvious way in which the aggregates will, at first, be understood. Later, perhaps, we can look at some of the problems which arise from this simple view. But first I would like to hear what other members think, and I will, of course, be happy to try to answer any questions.

 Best wishes, Vincent.

Offline TongueTied

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #1 on: April 02, 2010, 10:59:07 pm »
I have always been unclear as to what qualifies as "form".  I've gathered that it is the most concrete of all phenomena.  It is the nameless stuff, the raw sensation.  It seems natural to say that matter and the physical world are form.  I'm thinking that anything which can directly cause sensual pleasure or displeasure is form.

I'm guessing that drawing an absolute distinction between form and the mental aggregates is a mistake.  This would imply that the five aggregates are a matter of convention, and that they are only labeled as such because it is easy to work with them divided in this way.  So maybe it's not worthwhile to search for a rigorous classification of form.  But... maybe it is.  I feel lost.   :help:

Offline ABC

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #2 on: April 03, 2010, 12:28:22 am »
They are five aggregates subject to clinging.

The body is a simply example. The body does not cling.

To the contrary, the mind clings to the body.

In fact, the sankhara aggregate when ignorant clings to the other four aggregates.

 :ishift:
Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #3 on: April 03, 2010, 01:24:44 am »
When we read the discourses (sutta pitaka) we find many places where a set of five things is described - Form, Feeling, Perception, Volitional Formations and Consciousness. Sometimes these are called 'the five aggregates'. If one understands 'form' as body, and the other four as representing 'mind', then these five can be taken as a description of a human being.

I think the aggregates might be better understood as an analysis of human experience.  So form includes the body and it's sense organs, but also includes everything external that we can see, hear, touch, taste and smell. 

Spiny

Offline vinasp

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #4 on: April 03, 2010, 02:13:34 pm »
Hi TongueTied,

 Yes. Rupa means form. Whatever is known through the five senses. But 'rupa' may not be the same thing as 'rupa-khandha'.

 The five aggregates may be a set of categories, or a system of classification. But what is being classified in this way? I think that the intention is to include everything that we can cling to. If this is correct, then it is the 'objects of clinging' that are being classified.

 Best wishes, Vincent.

Offline vinasp

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #5 on: April 03, 2010, 02:16:30 pm »
Hi ABC,

 You say: "... the mind clings to the body."

 In 'ordinary language' we all say things like this. But from a psychological point of view is this really true? Does the mind cling to the actual body or only to a mental-representation of the actual body?

 Best wishes, Vincent.

Offline vinasp

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #6 on: April 03, 2010, 04:02:28 pm »
Hi Spiny,

 Yes, I agree that regarding 'form' as just the body is too narrow. This passage from
 MN 28.27 seems to show that what is seen by the eye is included in the form aggregate

( of clinging?).


" .. But when internally the eye is intact and externally forms come into range, and

there is a corresponding engagement, then there is the appearing of the corresponding

type of consciousness."

"The form of what has thus come into being is gathered under the form

clinging-aggregate. The feeling of what has thus come into being is gathered under the

feeling clinging-aggregate. The perception of what has thus come into being is

gathered under the perception clinging-aggregate. The fabrications of what has thus

come into being are gathered under the fabrication clinging-aggregate. The

consciousness of what has thus come into being is gathered under the consciousness

clinging-aggregate."
Link: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.028.than.html

 Best wishes, Vincent.


Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2010, 03:07:06 am »
The five aggregates may be a set of categories, or a system of classification. But what is being classified in this way? I think that the intention is to include everything that we can cling to. If this is correct, then it is the 'objects of clinging' that are being classified.

As I said, I think the 5 aggregates are Buddha's method for classifying human experience.  Partly I think this is about demonstrating anatta, ie that the aggregates are impermanent and that they arise and cease in dependence on other aggregates.  This leads to the conclusion that attachment / clinging to these aggregates will inevitably lead to suffering, ie the second Noble Truth.

Spiny

Offline vinasp

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #8 on: April 06, 2010, 05:40:54 pm »
Hi Spiny,

The five aggregates may be a set of categories, or a system of classification. But what is being classified in this way? I think that the intention is to include everything that we can cling to. If this is correct, then it is the 'objects of clinging' that are being classified.

As I said, I think the 5 aggregates are Buddha's method for classifying human experience.  Partly I think this is about demonstrating anatta, ie that the aggregates are impermanent and that they arise and cease in dependence on other aggregates.  This leads to the conclusion that attachment / clinging to these aggregates will inevitably lead to suffering, ie the second Noble Truth.

Spiny

 I am interested in other interpretations, but your posts are so short. What do you mean by "classifying"? What do you mean by "experience"?

 I have rejected most interpretations of the aggregates because of passages in the nikayas which speak of the 'cessation' of the aggregates. For me, this means the complete disappearance of the aggregates. This is why I do not regard the aggregates as being 'real'.

 best wishes, Vincent.

Offline ABC

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2010, 02:17:20 am »
In 'ordinary language' we all say things like this. But from a psychological point of view is this really true? Does the mind cling to the actual body or only to a mental-representation of the actual body?
My answer your question is the mind clings to the body.

For example, when the body needs food, it does not really matter if one calls an apple an 'orange' or a melon a 'pear'.

That is why the Buddha said the body is composed of four elements and sustained by edible food.  

My viw is to think the body is a 'mental representation' is delusion.

Mental representations are things that can be changed. But that the body requires food cannot be changed.  

Best wishes


 :listen:
« Last Edit: April 07, 2010, 02:20:46 am by ABC »
Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

Offline ABC

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #10 on: April 07, 2010, 02:19:40 am »
In 'ordinary language'....
Ordinary language means to regard things as "I" and "mine", such as the body is "me".

Dhamma-language is the opposite and is all that is necessary.

My view is to regard the physical as something mental is delusion in Dhamma-language.

The Buddha taught five aggregates rather than one.

To follow your view asserts there is only one aggregate, namely, mental representation aggregate.

 :D
« Last Edit: April 07, 2010, 02:22:22 am by ABC »
Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

Offline ABC

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2010, 02:29:59 am »
What is said about the 'five aggregates' in the nikaya's of Theravada Buddhism, and how should they be understood? This is not an easy subject to discuss, due to the different interpretations which we find.

Simple topic to discuss, namely, not to be attached to as "I" and "mine".

Quote
There are passages which appear to confirm such an interpretation. For example, birth is defined at MN 9.26 by a list of things which includes: "manifestation of the aggregates". In a similar way death is defined by a list of things which includes: " dissolution of the aggregates" [ MN 9.22 ].  

Not really. For one asserting 'mental representation', this interpretation is sure stuck in the material realm.

When a person takes birth as say "a mother" or "Mrs Jones", they are manifesting so many aggregrates to form self identity, such as the husband,  house, car, child, love, fear, responsibilities, body, mind, lipstick, jewellery, etc.

All of these things are "aggregates" they regard as "I" and "mine", forming their self-identity or social status.

Quote
"And what may be said to be subject to birth? Spouses & children are subject to birth. Men & women slaves... goats & sheep... fowl & pigs... elephants, cattle, horses, & mares... gold & silver are subject to birth. Subject to birth are these acquisitions, and one who is tied to them, infatuated with them, who has totally fallen for them, being subject to birth, seeks what is likewise subject to birth.

MN 26




 :suit:
 

« Last Edit: April 07, 2010, 02:33:31 am by ABC »
Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

Offline ABC

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2010, 02:39:35 am »
Now, 'nibbana' means 'extinction', just like the extinguishing of a flame. But the Buddha, after his enlightenment, still had a body and a mind, so 'he' was not yet fully extinct. This is why there are two kinds of nibbana, and why the Buddha's death is so important in the 'popular' teachings. The two kinds of nibbana are 'nibbana with residue remaining' and 'nibbana with no residue remaining', and the residue is usually understood as the five aggregates.

This is not the case.

The suttas state the 'residue' is feeling or vedana.

Our problem is we emphasize the Nibbana with feeling because we have learned this Buddhist teaching and thus regard the Nibbana after death (described as "all that is felt & sensed becomes cold right there") as being something usual.

I assert this was not the intention of the Buddha because most people associated Nibbana with death.

In teaching the two kinds of Nibbana, the Buddha was making known there is a Nibbana with feeling because when most people think about what Nibbana is they ordinarily would regard it as a state completely void of sensation.

To end, the residue is not the five aggregrates. The suttas do not state this.

 :bigtears:


« Last Edit: April 07, 2010, 02:41:54 am by ABC »
Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #13 on: April 07, 2010, 02:44:31 am »
Hi Spiny,

The five aggregates may be a set of categories, or a system of classification. But what is being classified in this way? I think that the intention is to include everything that we can cling to. If this is correct, then it is the 'objects of clinging' that are being classified.

As I said, I think the 5 aggregates are Buddha's method for classifying human experience.  Partly I think this is about demonstrating anatta, ie that the aggregates are impermanent and that they arise and cease in dependence on other aggregates.  This leads to the conclusion that attachment / clinging to these aggregates will inevitably lead to suffering, ie the second Noble Truth.

Spiny

 I am interested in other interpretations, but your posts are so short. What do you mean by "classifying"? What do you mean by "experience"?

 I have rejected most interpretations of the aggregates because of passages in the nikayas which speak of the 'cessation' of the aggregates. For me, this means the complete disappearance of the aggregates. This is why I do not regard the aggregates as being 'real'.

 best wishes, Vincent.

Classifying just means putting aspects of experience into particular heaps or groups - though it might be more accurate to say the process of experience.  Experience is everything we see, hear, taste, touch and feel and the activity of our mind in response to these stimuli based on existing tendencies and formations.  So for example eye consciousness arises in dependence on a visual form; then feeling and perception arise in dependence on the formations and eye-consciousness.

I assume that the "cessation of the aggregates" refers to liberation from the cycle of birth and death.  

Spiny

Offline ABC

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Re: What are the aggregates?
« Reply #14 on: April 07, 2010, 02:45:47 am »
This is the 'popular' understanding. After his awakening the Buddha was not yet fully liberated from 'samsara'. Because to exist in any of the three realms is to be still in samsara.

Samsara is the wandering of the mind or defilement.

Quote
Nibbana is beyond the three realms, and so it can only be attained after death.
The suttas state Nibbana is attained here & now.

 
Quote
The Five Aggregates of Clinging.

I recommend the study of one's own mind. The mind clings to the five aggregates. The five aggregates do not cling.

  ;D
Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

 


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