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The Five Aggregates:

The Five Aggregates

According to Buddhist dogma, a human being is composed of Five Aggregates (Skandhas - Sanskrit) (Khandhas – Pali).

The Five Aggregates of craving and clinging are:






  • Physical Form (Rupa)
  • Feelings (Vedana)
  • Perception (Samjna)
  • Mental Formation (Sankhara)
  • Consciousness (Vijnana)

Impermanence is an important part of the Five Aggregates. They like everything else are impermanent. Allowing ourselves to cling to, and become attached to them will only bring us suffering. (Dukkha)

The First Aggregate is Physical Form (Rupa):
Rupa refers to not only our body, and the five physical senses, but physical objects around us as well.

Buddhist teachings tell us that the rupa of every person, animal, or object is composed of the four basic elements, earth, water, fire, and wind.

No physical form will exist forever. We will all grow old, frail, and die. No matter how attractive and healthy we are in our youth, none of us will retain the same vigor, and appearance as time takes its toll on us.

That is not to say you should not take care of yourself, and feed your body healthy foods, but do not become attached to your physical form. Your physical form is impermanent.

All objects are Rupa. Anything that has mass, and occupies space is Rupa.




The Second Aggregate is Feelings (Vedana), also known as sensations:
Vedana is both physical, and mental sensations that we experience through our six senses which are, sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and thoughts / ideas. (Citta – the mind is another important sense organ in Buddhism)

Vedana is not the same as emotion which is a stronger internal response to external stimuli, and our own thoughts and imagination as well. Feelings and sensations are our interpretation of our experiences.

When we eat a meal that was delicious our interpretation of it was a pleasant one, whereas a less then tasty meal will leave us with an unpleasant sensation.

We will make the determination whether we find something desirable or not based upon input from our six senses.

Vedana, our feelings about our experiences are either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.

The Third Aggregate is Perception (Samjna):
Samjna translated as perception, or cognition which allows us to perceive an object, and then assign a label or description to it so that it will be recognized again the next time that it is perceived.

Samjna is the grasping of unique distinguishing attributes of objects, and retaining them in our memory so we can not only identify them again but differentiate them from others.

For example our perception allows us to see different colors, and identify them when we see them again. It allows us to recognize the same color when we see it again in a different object.

We will perceive trees, and recognize another as being a tree even if it is of a different species based on our description of what a tree is.

Samjna allows us to identify different animals. That is a giraffe, that is an elephant, that is a dog, a German Shepard to be exact.

Samjna is to know by association, objects, sounds, smells, tastes (sweet vs. sour), and even our emotions based on their distinguishing characteristics that we have noted before.




The Fourth Aggregate is Mental Formation (Sankhara)
Our mental formations and beliefs supersede all physical stimuli. It is our mental formations that precede our actions, and are responsible for our karma. Our actions set into motions by our intentions create our karma.

Quantum physics tells us that all things are composed of energy. That which we perceive as solid matter actually contains more empty space than solid matter. We also know that our thoughts influence our experiences and become reality.

Anything created from another occurrence is a formation. Rain is a formation of clouds. The clouds are a formation of evaporated water. We are a formation of our parents, they are a formation of their parents before them.

Think about the events set in motion that lead to your existence here in the present. Did anything that happened 10,000 years ago have any effect on your life, or the existence of those around you.

Take all the time you need to contemplate this… We create our own mental formations based upon our perceptions of perceived reality. We are the byproduct of events set in motion long before we were born.

If we delve deeply into karma, and reincarnation, we will find that we ourselves are responsible for our own existence, and our own circumstances based upon our actions in a past life.

These experiences are responsible for creating our mental formations.

The Fifth Aggregate is Consciousness (Vijnana):

Vijnana is the voice inside your head that is never silent. I know what you are thinking my friend, “What voice? I don’t hear any voice.” That is the voice of your consciousness.

Vijnana is the awareness of your existence. I think therefore I am. ~Descartes

Vijnana is the merging together of the first for Aggregates to create the person reading this now.

You have a Rupa, allowing to experience the other Aggregates.

Vedana allows you to experience the world around you through your six senses, and determines what you think of it.

Samjna allows you to identify, and assign a label to all that you encounter in your experiences.

Sankhara is responsible for your thoughts, which in turn create your actions.

Vijnana, your consciousness, brings them all together to create… You.

The five aggregates are inter-dependent on each other. In order for one to exist they must all exist. There is one missing piece in all of this, which is emotions.

Emotions are not clearly defined by any of the Aggregates, but they are clearly a part of the makeup of us all.

We Homo-sapiens will experience a multitude of emotions everyday based on our perception of external stimuli. We allow our emotions to control our thinking and our actions.

These emotions are often fleeing as we allow ourselves to become angry over innocuous occurrences that dissipate just as quickly as they arise.

Feelings of sadness disappear with time, even love is impermanent, and will cease to have a hold on us given enough time to let those feelings dissipate as well.

The enlightened ones among us have risen above emotional reactions to situations around them, and interactions with others. They understand the Law of Impermanence, and do not allow emotions to guide their thinking.

The Five Aggregates are impermanent. We must understand this, or we will cling to them. Our clinging to them will only bring us suffering.

Let go of your attachments to the Five Aggregates, and Embrace Nirvana




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Recommended Reading:

The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

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