The 5 Aggregates (not part of the 7 sets series!)

The 5 Aggregates are not part of the 7 sets, so I’m not including them in the 7 sets series here on TiltedCandle.  But I won’t come back around to Buddhism for awhile, so, I’m sneaking them in here, so they’ll stand next to the 7 sets series, like a book on the bookshelf.

The 5 Aggregates, or Skandhas, aren’t really necessary in the 7 Sets, because they’re a philosophical scheme and all the sets in the 7 Sets are action-based.

The 5 Aggregates are implied in the 7 Sets by the 4 Frames of Reference.  The 4 Frames of Reference are basically Aggregates 2-5, given in terms of right effort.  “Matter” is omitted, since you can’t think with it.

The 5 Aggregates are:

  1. Form, or Matter
  2. Sensation and Feeling
  3. Perception, Cognition, and Discrimination.  Emotions go here, since they are based on the idea of discriminating between what is and what ought to be.
  4. Impulses, Volition.
  5. Consciousness

I drew you a little picture to show how this works. Consciousness arises out of the contact between consciousness and matter.  Note that when Buddhists talk about “form” they mean “matter,” which is structurally different from Western philosophy.  When Plato talks about “form,” he means a kind of intelligence inherent in nature — when we see something beautiful, Plato says it’s because our souls have contacted the form of beauty by seeing it in the beautiful object of perception.  Not so here.

From the contact between matter and consciousness — a contact in your case called embodiment — there arises sensation and feeling.  From sensation and feeling, there arises perception, cognition, and discrimination:  “Do I like this?” is a way of sorting and responding to sensations.  From this arise impulses and volition.  From all of these things arise consciousness.

All of these are subject to enlightenment.  By looking into them, we see they are empty:  “you” aren’t there.

(If you want to see the figure in black and white, without the color coding, click here.)

So, when the Buddha in the Heart Sutra tells Shariputra,

Avalokitasvara bodhisattva (that’s the practitioner) when practicing deeply the prajna paramita [wisdom of insight] perceives that all five skandhas are empty and is saved from all suffering and distress.

Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form.

That which is form is emptiness; that which is emptiness, form.

The same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

Shariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness. They do not appear or disappear; are not tainted or pure; do not increase or decrease.

Therefore, in emptiness no form, no feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness; no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no colour, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind, no realm of eyes and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.

…this is what he’s talking about.

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