The human Personality consists of 5 Aggregates or khandhas, namely,


  • Matter Aggregate (rūpa)
  • Consciousness Aggregate, (viññāna)
  • Feeling Aggregate, (vedanā)
  • Perception Aggregate, (saññā)
  • Mental Formations Aggregate, (sankhāra) composed of the remaining 50 mental concomitants or factors.


They are the basic components of a being.


The usual formula for an Aggregate is: "Past, present or future, one’s own or external, gross or subtle, lofty or low, far or near."


These are 11 different distinctions that go to make up an Aggregate. It will be seen that every conceivable kind or constituent is included. All this will be explained later when we are doing Vipassanā Meditation.


The same formula pertains to each of the 5 Aggregates.


Understanding of the 5-khandhas or Aggregates plays a big part in Buddhism. These 5-khandhas, viewed in another way, can be divided into Mind and Matter, or rather, Mentality and Materiality.


Whenever Consciousness arises, there arise also the Feeling Aggregate and the Perception Aggregate and the Mental Formations Aggregate. These are the four Mental Aggregates. The Matter Aggregate is generated simultaneously by the four generators, viz., Karma, Consciousness, Temperature and Nutriment. This makes up the 5 Aggregates.


These 5 Aggregates come from nowhere and go to nowhere. They just arise and disappear. This concept is very important in Buddhist Meditation. The 5 Aggregates are evanescent. They just flash forth and disappear.


One Mind succeeds another; the 5-Aggregates arise and disappear immediately. Consciousness can arise through any of the 6 Doors. The 5-Aggregates that arise from the Eye Door are different in kind to the 5-Aggregates that arise through the Ear-Door, and again are different in kind to the aggregates that arise through the Nose-Door, etc.


The conjunction of the 4 conditions, namely, 1. the mind door, 2. an ideational object, 3. bhavanga, and 4. attention produces Mind-Consciousness. It means that this Mind-Consciousness is a result. Simultaneously there arise the 3 other mental khandhas, namely, Feeling khandha, Perception khandha, and the Mental-Formations khandha. These 4 Aggregates constitute Mentality or nāma.


Along with the 4 khandhas of Mentality arise the thought-produced (citta-produced) materiality, among others, and the result is the 5-khandhas.


It is all automatic. It will be seen that the "I" or self does not enter into the picture at all. However, the Mind-Consciousness, which is the Big Magician, brings in the ideas of "I" and Mine and Myself, and therefore there is attachment to these 5 khandhas.


The Buddha said that the 5-khandhas are harmless and even Arahats have the 5 khandhas. But it is the attachment to them that is deprecated; we will see latter that this attachment constitutes suffering (dukkha).


We have seen how these 5-khandhas arise and how they disappear immediately - arising and cessation, and once again arising and cessation, and so on. They just flash forth when the conditions are fulfilled and immediately disappear; they are evanescent.


To explain the arising of the 5-khandhas, it will be best to quote from the Rev. Nyanatiloka’s Buddhist Dictionary:





"khandha": the 5 ’groups (of existence)’ or ’groups of clinging’ (upādānakkhandha); alternative renderings: aggregates, categories of clinging’s objects. These are the 5 aspects in which the Buddha has summed up all the physical and mental phenomena of existence, and which appear to the ignorant man as his ego, or personality, to wit:


  • the corporeality group (rūpa-kkhandha),
  • the feeling group (vedanā-kkhandha),
  • the perception group (saññā-kkhandha),
  • the mental-formation group (sankhāra-kkhandha),
  • the consciousness-group (viññāna-kkhandha).


"Whatever there exists of corporeal things, whether past, present or future, one’s own or external, gross or subtle, lofty or low, far or near, all that belongs to the corporeality group. Whatever there exists of feeling ... of perception ... of mental formations ... of consciousness ... all that belongs to the consciousness-group" (S. XXII, 48). -


Another division is that into the 2 groups: mind (2-5) and corporeality (1) (nāma-rūpa), whilst in Dhamma Sanganī, the first book of the Abhidhamma, all the phenomena are treated by way of 3 groups: consciousness (5), mental factors (2-4), corporeality (1), in Pāli citta, cetasika, rūpa.


What is called individual existence is in reality nothing but a mere process of those mental and physical phenomena, a process that since time immemorial has been going on, and that also after death will still continue for unthinkably long periods of time. These 5 groups, however, neither singly nor collectively constitute any self-dependent real ego-entity, or personality (attā), nor is there to be found any such entity apart from them. Hence the belief in such an ego-entity or personality, as real in the ultimate sense, proves a mere illusion.


"When all constituent parts are there,
The designation ’cart’ is used;
Just so, where the five groups exist,
Of ’living being’ do we speak." (S. V. 10).


The fact ought to be emphasised here that these 5 groups, correctly speaking, merely form an abstract classification by the Buddha, but that they as such, i.e. as just these 5 complete groups, have no real existence, since only single representatives of these groups, mostly variable, can arise with any state of consciousness. For example, with one and the same unit of consciousness only one single kind of feeling, say joy or sorrow, can be associated and never more than one. Similarly, two different perceptions cannot arise at the same moment. Also, of the various kinds of sense-cognition or consciousness, only one can be present at a time, for example, seeing, hearing or inner consciousness, etc. Of the 50 mental formations, however, a smaller or larger number are always associated with every state of consciousness, as we shall see later on.


Some writers on Buddhism who have not understood that the five khandha are just classificatory groupings, have conceived them as compact entities (’heaps’, ’bundles’), while actually, as stated above, the groups never exist as such, i.e. they never occur in a simultaneous totality of all their constituents. Also those single constituents of a group which are present in any given body- and -mind process, are of an evanescent nature, and so also their varying combinations. Feeling, perception and mental formations form merely the various different aspects and functions of those single units of consciousness which, like lightning, flash forth at every moment and immediately there after disappear again for ever. They are to consciousness what redness, softness, sweetness, etc. are to an apple and have as little separate existence as those qualities.


In S. XXII, 56, there is the following short definition of these 5 groups:


"What, o monks, is the corporeality-group? The 4 primary elements (mahā-bhūta or dhātu) and corporeality depending thereon, this is called the corporeality-group.

"What, o monks, is the feeling-group? There are 6 classes of feeling: due to visual impression, to sound impression, to odour impression, to taste impression, to bodily impression, and to mind impression....

"What, o monks, is the perception-group? There are 6 classes of perception: perception of visual objects, of sounds, of odours, of tastes, of bodily impressions, and of mental impressions....

"What, o monks, is the group of mental formations? There are 6 classes of volitional states (cetanā): with regard to visual objects, to sounds, to odours, to tastes, to bodily impressions and to mind objects....

"What, o monks, is the consciousness-group? There are 6 classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, and mind-consciousness."


About the inseparability of the groups it is said:


"Whatever, o brother, there exists of feeling, of perception and of mental formations, these things are associated, not dissociated, and it is impossible to separate one from the other and show their difference. For whatever one feels, one perceives; and whatever one perceives, of this one is conscious" (M. 43).

Further: "Impossible is it for anyone to explain the passing out of one existence and the entering into a new existence, or the growth, increase and development of consciousness independent of corporeality, feeling, perception and mental formations" (S. XII, 53)


Regarding the impersonality (anattā) and emptiness (suññatā) of the 5 groups, it is said in S. XXII, 49:


"Whatever there is of corporeality, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness, whether past, present or future, one’s own or external, gross or subtle, lofty or low, far or near, this one should understand according to reality and true wisdom: ’This does not belong to me, this am I not, this is not my Ego.’"


Further in S. XXII, 95: "Suppose that a man who is not blind were to behold the many bubbles on the Ganges as they are driving along; and he should watch them and carefully examine them. After carefully examining them, however, they will appear to him empty, unreal and unsubstantial. In exactly the same way does the monk behold all the corporeal phenomena ... feelings ... perceptions ... mental formations ... states of consciousness, whether they be of the past, present or future ... far or near. And he watches them and examines them carefully; and after carefully examining them, they appear to him empty, unreal and unsubstantial."


The 5 groups are compared, respectively, to a lump of froth, a bubble, a mirage, a core less plantain stem, and a conjuring trick (S. XXII, 95).

See the Khandha Samyutta (S. XXII); Vis.M. XIV.



Summary of the 5 Groups (Aggregates)

I. Corporeality Group (rūpa-kkhandha)


A. Underived (no-upādā): 4 elements


  1. the solid, or earth-element (pathavī-dhātu)
  2. the liquid, or water-element (āpo-dhātu)
  3. heat, or fire-element (tejo-dhātu)
  4. motion, or wind-element (vāyo-dhātu)


B. Derived (upādā): 24 secondary phenomena


II. Feeling Group (vedanā-kkhandha)


All feelings may, according to their nature, be classified as 5 kinds:


  1. bodily agreeable feeling sukha = kāyikā sukhā vedanā
  2. bodily painful feeling dukkha = kāyikā dukkhā vedanā
  3. mentally agreeable feeling somanassa = cetasikā sukhā vedanā
  4. mentally painful feeling domanassa = cetasikā dukkhā vedanā
  5. indifferent feeling upekkhā = adukkha-m-asukhā vedanā

III. Perception Group (saññā-kkhandha)


All perceptions are divided into 6 classes: perception of form, sound, odour, taste, bodily impression, and mental impression.


IV. Group of Mental Formations (sankhāra-kkhandha)


This group comprises 50 mental phenomena, of which 11 are general psychological elements, 25 lofty (sobhana) qualities, 14 karmically unwholesome qualities. Cf. Tab. II, page 0.


V. Consciousness Group (viññāna-kkhandha)


The Suttas divide consciousness, according to the senses, into 6 classes: eye-, ear-, nose-, tongue-, body-, mind-consciousness.

The Abhidhamma and commentaries, however, distinguish, from the karmic or moral viewpoint, 89 classes of consciousness. Cf. Tab. I, in the Visuddhi Magga.

The moral quality of feeling, perception and consciousness is determined by the mental formations.

The 5-Aggregates are also known as 5-Resultant Aggregates as they are the result of past existences. As the functions, like, bathing. dressing, eating, etc. are performed, no results are produced for the future existences. One may experience bodily suffering, but in the case of an Arahat, he has no mental suffering, like worry, anxiety, grief, etc., which cause future existences.


It is unwise reflection or recollection (ayoniso manasikāra) on the 5-Aggregates that bring forth the 5-Clinging or Grasping Aggregates.


The 5-Aggregates are subjective whereas the 5-Clinging Aggregates are objective, being objects of Clinging." This will be clearer as we proceed.


The 5-Resultant Aggregates arise from Consciousness, Mentality-Materiality, 6 Bases, Contact and Feeling. The 5-Clinging Aggregates arise when there are Ignorance, Formations, Craving, Clinging, and Becoming. They cause the 5-Clinging Aggregates, as and when they are made to arise, by unwise thinking, attention, reflection, planning, recollections.


It is due to clinging that the 5-Clinging Aggregates and the corruptions arise. For example, the Mind takes the subjective person as the object of reflection, and remarks are made such as, "What a clever man I am," "I am handsome." There is clinging to the person (materiality & mentality) as "I" at those times. It is something more than the normal or ordinary workings of the mind. It is extra workings of the Mind. The clinging is accompanied by the corruption of conceit.


When the Mind takes the son, for example, as the object of reflection and there is anxiety as to whether he will pass the examination or make good in life, there is clinging to the son as "’mine" and the corruptions of anxiety or worry arises.


These mental actions of reflection, recollection, etc., result in likes, dislikes, fear, worry, anxiety and other corruptions. The mind is disquieted, distressed, disturbed, and we will learn later that this is suffering.


In the Sutta-Nikāyas, called Kindred Sayings, dealing with khandha, in one of the Discourses, it is said that the 5-khandhas become upādāna khandhas when there are āsavas.


āsavas have been translated as Intoxicants, Cankers, Biases.



There are 4 kinds of āsavas, namely.


  1. Kāma-āsava,
  2. Bhava-āsava,
  3. Ditthi-āsava,
  4. Avijjā-āsava.


1. Kāma-āsava is the Intoxicant of Sensuality, the sensual desire, sensual passion, sensual delight, sensual craving, sensual fondness, sensual thirst, sensual fever, sensual rapacity, which is the result of the pleasures of the senses.


2. Bhava-āsava is the Intoxicant of Renewed Existence, the desire, the passion for coming into being, delight in coming into being, craving, fondness for coming into being, the fever, the yearning, the hungering to come into being, which is felt concerning rebirths.


3. Ditthi-āsava is the Intoxicant of speculative opinion, or wrong views. You don’t know you have a wrong view. You have a craving for your view. You think that whatever you do is right. You think, "I know". The tanhā or craving here is based on love of yourself.


4. Avijjā-āsava is the Intoxicant of ignorance, of ignorance of the 4-Noble Truths. You do not

know correctly. You have built a monastery and you are looked up to and you love it; it is a form of tanhā. Avijjā exists always along with tanhā. Avijjā is the cause and tanhā is the effect.


So there is always a streak of tanhā in all the differing forms of āsava.


Tanhā, māna, ditthi, this is the order in which the Pāli expressions are usually known, but it is the last which is eradicated first.


It means that there are 3 Forms or Aspects of Self in Buddhism:


  1. Tanhā (Possessive) Self.
  2. Māna (Conceit) Self.
  3. Ditthi (Wrong View) Self.


All the time, the worldling is running after different objects of sense and the mind-sense. There is seeing, and hearing, and tasting, etc. There arises the idea of "I see", "I hear", "I taste", etc. There is really no "I", but the Mind-Consciousness has bluffed the worldling by injecting the idea of "I".


As ditthi has to be eradicated first, before one becomes a Sotāpanna, let us deal with it first. It is Wrong View or Wrong belief.


When you meet a person, how do you recognise him, or distinguish him from others? By his exterior form, by his exterior body. Others recognise you similarly.


We know that only ultimates are realities and all the rest are conventional concepts and terms. If this form or body is taken as "I" or Self, it is wrong view regarding what is not an ultimate reality, and such a wrong view is called micca-ditthi.


Sakkāya-ditthi is wrong view regarding an ultimate, constituent of oneself. We cannot see an ultimate with the naked eye, but know it with the inner eye. Take, for instance, the ultimates behind the 5-Aggregates which are composites and therefore conventional terms. These ultimates may be rightly viewed by you as mere ultimates, but if you wrongly view these ultimates as self, it is sakkāya-ditthi.


The human body exists. This statement is on a par with the statement that water exists. It is a conventional term; it is paññatti.


Water is not an ultimate reality and the human body is not an ultimate reality. The human body is composed of atoms and cells.


The Buddha was at pains to point out that the human body is not an ultimate and that there are 32 constituent parts of the body, so that the worlding will know that a human body was a composite, just as a "chariot" was a composite.


And again, none of the 32 constituent parts is an ultimate.


The human being is not "I" or mine. It is a perversion of thinking that the human body is "I" or mine or Myself.


The "I" is a mental concept. There is no physical basis for the concept of "I". It is also a perversion.


We know that the mental part or nāma consists of the 4 Mental Aggregates, namely viññāna, vedanā, saññā and sankhāra. Where is the "I"? It is the work of Mind-consciousness, the Big Magician to inject the idea of an "I". It’s just a perversion. The Buddha asks us not to be bluffed by the Big Magician.


Life consists of natural processes that function by themselves and we should not put an attā (Self) to it. We have been stressing the fact that it is not my "I", but that it is the Mind that is the controller of everything. The Mind motivates everything.


The Buddha’s Teaching is the Middle Way. It says that Eternity Belief and Annihilation Belief are wrong.


Eternity Belief (sassatha ditthi) is the existence of a persisting Ego-Entity or Individuality existing independently of physical and mental processes that constitutes life, and continuing ever after death.


Annihilation Belief is the belief in the existence of an Ego-Entity or Personality which is annihilated at death.


The Buddha, however, teaches that the Personality or Ego is but a conventional designation (vohāra-sacca), whilst in the ultimate sense (paramattha-sacca) there is only this consuming process of physical and mental phenomena which continually arise and disappear immediately.


The Buddha has dissected the Body and Mind into its constituent parts, namely the 5-Aggregates, i.e., the Matter Aggregate, and the Mind having four Aggregates, namely, viññāna, vedanā, saññā and sankhāra, and nothing more. There is no soul whatever.


The Conceit Self is eradicated only when one becomes an Arahat. Conceit is of many kinds and forms and some are enumerated thus: conceit of accomplishment, of appearance, of bearing, of birth, of bodily perfection, of bodily proportion, being not despised, of dexterity, erudition, gain, having adherents, health, being honoured, intelligence, of kinsmen, being an acknowledged authority, being moral, of prominence, popularity, being respected, tall, wealth, youth, etc. Also the ideas "I am better", "I am equal".


The tanhā or Possessive or Craving Self is similarly eradicated only on becoming an Arahat.


Craving is the cause of suffering, as will be explained in the exposition of the 4-Noble Truths, and craving is the cause of continuing the cycle of rebirths.


Craving is of 3 Kinds:


  1. craving for sense pleasures (kāma-tanhā),
  2. craving for existence (bhava-tanhā)
  3. craving for self-annihilition (vibhava-tanhā).


Craving is of many forms, and is very cunning. There is craving when there does not seem to be any that is apparent. It is quite a job to drive out this Craving.


Practically the most important Teaching of the Buddha is that there is no Self. If you believe in a Self you will act in one way, but if you believe there is no Self, you will act in another way.

It is with Wisdom that you come to know that there is no Self that there is no attā. The teaching of tanhā, māna, ditthi, the Teaching of the 4-Noble Truths of Suffering, the Teaching of anicca, dukkha, anattā, in fact the whole of the Abhidhamma is calculated to make you know that there is no Self, that there is no attā, namely, everything is anattā.


Say, you own a piece of of land. If you think that you will find petroleum or gems in your land, you will dig. If you have not found it yet, on your deathbed, you will ask your children to go on digging.


But if you are sure in your lifetime that there is no petroleum or gems in your land, you will not follow the useless task of digging your land.


Similarly, if you are sure that there is no attā or self within your body, you will avoid certain acts which you are sure is a waste of time.

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