Previously in Part 1, we learn how it’s either we manage the Five Skandhas or they will manage us. Why? Because it’s all about energy. Every physio- or psychological aspect of us is energy. That’s why the Five Skandhas can be managed, transmuted, and transformed. That’s why things, feelings, perceptions, mental activities, etc., change when we change the way we look at things – Right View. Because then our thinking also changes, followed by more appropriate actions in response.
And I say this from experience as a practitioner of Qi and Pranic Healing receiving direct training from two great masters. With forbearance and patience, we can definitely shape our environment with just our thoughts and good intentions. I also say this as a helping professional who teaches others a very useful skill called Reframe. We learn to be open to an alternative way of seeing what’s happening. In the process we find ourselves no longer the victim but someone who has control over our reactions.
Here in Part 2, we will take a closer look at the Five Skandhas/Aggregates and for that I’ve included below an excerpt from What the Buddha Taught by Dr. Walpola Rahula, a Theravadin scholar monk. You will learn that all the Five Skandhas are connected with our sensory system aka sense faculties – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. And the objects sensed through them – sight, sound, smell, taste, feeling, and thoughts. This gives rise to the different consciousnesses – seeing, hearing/auditory, smelling/olfactory, tasting/gustatory, touching/tactile, and thinking/ideation.
The important question to ask is this: what is a sensory input if not energy, if not impermanent, fleeting, insubstantial, here now and gone the next moment? What is every moment of our experience and existence if not energy in constant flux? If you ponder on this as you read on, you will soon realise you are in truth an alchemist capable of much magic. The Buddha never said as much but hey, there’s a very good reason why so many of his senior disciples were said to possess great psychic power. So much so that his jealous and ill-intentioned cousin, Devadatta, coveted these powers. But that’s a story for another day.
“The first is the Aggregate of Matter (Mpakkhandha). In this term “Aggregate of Matter’ are included the traditional Four Great Elements (cattari mahdbhutani), namely, solidity, fluidity, heat and motion, and also the Derivatives (upadaja-riipa) of the Four Great Elements. In the term ‘Derivatives of Four Great Elements’ are included our five material sense-organs, i.e., the faculties of eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body, and their corresponding objects in the external world, i.e., visible form, sound, odour, taste, and tangible things, and also some thoughts or ideas or conceptions which are in the sphere of mind-objects (dharmdyatana). Thus the whole realm of matter, both internal and external, is included in the Aggregate of Matter.
The second is the Aggregate of Sensations (Vedanakkhandhd). In this group are included all our sensations, pleasant or unpleasant or neutral, experienced through the contact of physical and mental organs with the external world. They are of six kinds: the sensations experienced through the contact of the eye with visible forms, ear with sounds, nose with odour, tongue with taste, body with tangible objects, and mind (which is the sixth faculty in Buddhist Philosophy) with mind-objects or thoughts or ideas. All our physical and mental sensations are included in this group.
A word about what is meant by the term ‘Mind’ (manas) in Buddhist philosophy may be useful here. It should clearly be understood that mind is not spirit as opposed to matter. It should always be remembered that Buddhism does not recognize a spirit opposed to matter, as is accepted by most other systems of philosophies and religions. Mind is only a faculty or organ (indriya) like the eye or the ear. It can be controlled and developed like any other faculty, and the Buddha speaks quite often of the value of controlling and disciplining these six faculties.
The difference between the eye and the mind as faculties is that the former senses the world of colours and visible forms, while the latter senses the world of ideas and thoughts and mental objects. We experience different fields of the world with different senses. We cannot hear colours, but we can see them. Nor can we see sounds, but we can hear them.
Thus with our five physical sense- organs—eye, ear, nose, tongue, body—we experience only the world of visible forms, sounds, odours, tastes and tangible objects. But these represent only a part of the world, not the whole world. What of ideas and thoughts ? They are also a part of the world. But they cannot be sensed, they cannot be conceived by the faculty of the eye, ear, nose, tongue or body. Yet they can be conceived by another faculty, which is mind.
Now ideas and thoughts are not independent of the world experienced by these five physical sense faculties. In fact they depend on, and are conditioned by, physical experiences. Hence a person born blind cannot have ideas of colour, except through the analogy of sounds or some other things experienced through his other faculties. Ideas and thoughts which form a part of the world are thus produced and conditioned by physical experiences and are conceived by the mind. Hence mind (manas) is considered a sense faculty or organ (indriya), like the eye or the ear.
The third is the Aggregate of Perceptions (Sannakkhandha). Like sensations, perceptions also are of six kinds, in relation to six internal faculties and the corresponding six external objects. Like sensations, they are produced through the contact of our six faculties with the external world. It is the perceptions that recognize objects whether physical or mental.
The fourth is the Aggregate of Mental Form (Samkharak-khanda). In this group are included all volitional activities both good and bad. What is generally known as karma (or kamma) comes under this group. The Buddha’s own definition of karma should be remembered here: ‘O bhikkhus, it is volition (cetana) that I call karma. Having willed, one acts through body, speech and mind.’
Volition is ‘mental construction, mental activity. Its function is to direct the mind in the sphere of good, bad or neutral activities.’ Just like sensations and perceptions, volition is of six kinds, connected with the six internal faculties and the corresponding six objects (both physical and mental) in the external world. Sensations and perceptions are not volitional actions. They do not produce karmic effects.
It is only volitional actions— such as attention (manasikdra), will (chanda), determination (adhimokkha), confidence (saddha), concentration (samadhi), wisdom (pahha), energy (viriya), desire (raga), repugnance or hate (patigha), ignorance (avijja), conceit (mana), idea of self (sakkaya-ditthi) etc. These can produce karmic effects. There are 52 such mental activities which constitute the Aggregate of Mental Formations.
The fifth is the Aggregate of Consciousness (Vinnattakkhandha). Consciousness is a reaction or response which has one of the six faculties (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind) as its basis, and one of the six corresponding external phenomena (visible form, aural, odour, taste, tangible things and mind-objects, i.e., an idea or thought) as its object. For instance, visual consciousness (cakkhu-vinnana) has the eye as its basis and a visible form as lis object.
Mental consciousness (mano-vihhana) has the mind (manas) as its basis and a mental object, i.e., an idea or thought (dhamma) as its object. So consciousness is connected with other faculties. Thus, like sensation, perception and volition, consciousness also is of six kinds, in relation to six internal faculties and object.
It should be clearly understood that consciousness does not recognize an object. It is only a sort of awareness—awareness of the presence of an object. When the eye comes in contact with a colour, for instance blue, visual consciousness arises which simply is awareness of the presence of a colour; but it does not recognize that it is blue.
There is no recognition at this stage. It is percepdon (the third Aggregate discussed above) that recognizes that it is blue. The term ‘visual consciousness’ is a philosophical expression denoting the same idea as is conveyed by the ordinary word ‘seeing’. Seeing does not mean recognizing. So are the other forms of consciousness.
It must be repeated here that according to Buddhist philosophy there is no permanent, unchanging spirit which can be considered ‘Self’, or ‘Soul’, or ‘Ego’, as opposed to matter, and that con- sciousness (vinnana) should not be taken as ‘spirit’ in opposition to matter. This point has to be particularly emphasized, because a wrong notion that consciousness is a sort of Self or Soul that continues as a permanent substance through life, has persisted from the earliest time to the present day.
One of the Buddha’s own disciples, Sati by name, held that the Master taught: ‘It is the same consciousness that transmigrates and wanders about.’ The Buddha asked him what he meant by ‘consciousness’. Sati’s reply is classical: ‘It is that which expresses, which feels, which experiences the results of good and bad deeds here and there’.
“To whomever, you stupid one”, remonstrated the Master, ‘have you heard me expounding the doctrine in this manner ? Haven’t I in many ways explained consciousness as arising out of condi- tions: that there is no arising of consciousness without con- ditions.’
Then the Buddha went on to explain consciousness in detail: ‘Conciousness is named according to whatever con- dition through which it arises: on account of the eye and visible forms arises a consciousness, and it is called visual consciousness; on account of the ear and sounds arises a consciousness, and it is called auditory consciousness; on account of the nose and odours arises a consciousness, and it is called olfactory con- sciousness ; on account of the tongue and tastes arises a conscious- ness, and it is called gustatory consciousness; on account of the body and tangible objects arises a consciousness, and it is called tactile consciousness; on account of the mind and mind-objects (ideas and thoughts) arises a consciousness, and it is called mental consciousness.
Then the Buddha explained it further by an illustration: A fire is named according to the material on account of which it
burns. A fire may burn on account of wood, and it is called wood-fire. It may burn on account of straw, and then it is called straw-
fire. So consciousness is named according to the condition through which it arises.”