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The Five Aggregates and “No-Self”


Q&A: What are the five aggregates?

Master Culadasa details the five aggregates and explains how examining them is one method that is used to see if the self that is independent, enduring, and separate can be found.

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Culadasa: So you need to understand the five aggregates and and that's something we've talked about before, but it's such an important part of the investigation of emptiness of self that it's always worth revisit.

Yes for the five aggregate sentence, but I was about to do thank you for asking. So ballet, good intuition. Yeah. They are form feeling perceptions, mental formations and consciousnesses or awarenesses is, or that I would prefer, but it's usually called consciousness. So those are the labels. I can't hear the label.

It doesn't tell you very much. And I'm trying to look inside the box. So foreign now. And a language using ordinary daily terms. He didn't define special words. Like a scientist would make up a new brand new word and say, this is where, every word they used had ordinary, everyday new meaning and Rupa referred to what we would call the material universe.

Physical reality. And as an individual, if we're talking about an individual of course our body is physical. We have these two parts to ourself, but we part again, of our natural intuitive perception of south Zoe consists of a body in the mind. One is physical and one is non-physical it's mental. And rupa accounts for the physical part.

So what you consist of is a physical as a dead body and a mind, and we can subdivide the mind for sake of convenience and the booth, the division that the Buddha used was this, he said, Is conscious of things. And what it is conscious of is perceptions that arise, the mind contains with it, a vast aggregate of mental formation.

Of mental constructs, all the thoughts and ideas, the emotions that are generated in response to various thing all of our beliefs and everything like that. It's a huge category. As a matter of fact, perceptions are also nettle constructs, but they just been separated out to be observed separately.

And then feelings is the other mental is feelings are also trying to mental construct, but what he means by feeling. It can be confusing in English because by feelings we don't need hearing and touch since doesn't mean that it's a matter of fact, that's rude, but when you're getting down there, a feeling is simply the he Don it or a effective quality of an experience, there were hedonic hedonism.

Okay. Or a factor there is simply, there are three kinds of. Pleasant unpleasant and neutral or neither pleasant, but three kinds of feelings. So it's an aggregate without a lot of different parts, but it's a very important aggregate because absolutely every single experience you have sensory or mental or otherwise is accompanied by a feeling of being pleasant, unpleasant, or needed pleasant neurons.

And of course, and the further analysis that the Buddha did, what's called a dependent origin nation. He shows exactly the role that feeling plays and triggering craving, leading to. Making things real in our minds, our cleaning and attachment and our actions. So it is separated out because it plays such a crucial role.

In addition to the material aggregate, that's the body. We have the aggregate of feelings, which actually there are three feet, general types of feelings, but he divides them up into four. And this is very important too, has a lot of relevance to other things that he taught. He distinguished between the pleasant feelings arising.

The bodily census and pleasant feelings in the mind. And likewise pain arising from the bodily senses and nettle pain or sorrow suffering, grief all of these other kinds of things. So really we come up with five at five different feelings. We have physical pain, mental pain. Physical pleasure and mental pleasure and neither pleasant or unpleasant, which can be either real sort of specify.

Okay, now this is what he says, this is what makes you up. So you have to examine it and satisfy yourself because if it's not a complete picture, if there's some part of what you are as an individual, it's not included in this, it's not going to work. And if you don't understand it correctly, it's not going to work.

So you have to understand it well enough to satisfy yourself that indeed this encompasses everything that I've ever experienced as an individual. And if it doesn't, you're going to have to revise it or understand it differently or give up the project entirely. They'll have a beer.

Okay, so let's examine this. What happens is you experienced by means of the physical senses think consciousness. That's one of the aggregates, we'll take a sensation arising as an object, and then. From the mental formations will be created a perception. Okay. So you see something or you hear something, but the something isn't in, what and what you hear is constructed by the mind to account for the visual imprint or for the arbitrary.

So that's the perception. So you haven't experienced or perception, and there are feelings associated with this. There are feelings associated with the initial sensory contact, and there's also feelings associated with the perception. And they're often the same. Something feels good since early. And the idea that the perception of it is also present, but not all.

It can happen. That something feels good sensorially, but because of other associations with it, the perception of it triggers a negative feeling for years, a dislike an unpleasantness. So this also becomes important as you go through, as you recognize. The mental pleasant and the physical pleasant, don't always accompany the same initial event, but they often do they most often do, but they don't always, for instance, sadomasochism sad, for instance, sadomasochism.

Yes, that would be somebody who something physically is painful, but experiences push. Yeah, it produces a kind of mental pleasure. Yeah. Many different examples of that thing. Somebody you really don't like comes up behind you and strokes your shoulder in a pleasant way, the sensation. Oh, that felt good.

Not you.

And you can have all kinds of examples in January. Now the consciousness aspect of it is it's it is consciousness of it's consciousness of an OD there. And as a matter of fact, I have spent so many years. Trying to find a way to use language, to adequately convey some of these things.

And there is we treat all of these words vaguely in terms of their meaning. And we had words that seem to mean mostly the same thing. And so I've been hoping to find some way to use words that we already have. Deanna specifically defined way to clarify. Thanks. And I'll share this with you.

Not because you need to adopt it, but because maybe it can help you to see the, to understand the problem. But

I like to use the word awareness to me. Anything that registers on your nervousness? Whether you're conscious of it or not. So you see I've made awareness and consciousness and two different things. So you can have conscious awareness and non-conscious awareness or subconscious awareness. No, you can regard subconscious awareness as something that you could be aware of, or perhaps you can be aware of about your not.

And conscious awareness of course is not only is something registering on your nervous system, but that very elusive element of consciousness is there. So anyway, what is being referred to, and this aggregate of conscious. Are the kind of five kinds of awareness or six kinds of awareness that are associated with the physical senses and with the awareness of mental objects.

And so

the way I find this, and I think that you will find it too, is if I said I consciousness is different from ear consciousness, it's a I don't know if you say. But if I said visual awareness is different from auditory or wearing that, she'd say, yeah, absolutely. And that's why I think awareness captures the essence of what we're talking about here.

A little more clearly, because it said that this aggregated consciousness consists of six distinct kinds of conscious. Consciousness or awareness works. It's if we say six distinct kinds of awareness, depending on which bodily sensors associated with or whether it is awareness of something is rising in mind, like a thought or an emotion.

Okay. So anyway, these are the aggregates. This is what makes you up in this moment in every moment. What is present is sensations that say aggregated form. And one of the things you'll notice here is that we're already leaving behind materiality itself. Because how do you know on material world exists?

Will you base your assumption of a material world on sensory information? And he did the same thing when you're dreaming too ready? You assume the Tiger's there because you see it in your dream. So let's not take a chance of making yet another assumption that just because we see a leg and a hand that we are really made up of body parts instead, let's stick to what we really know for sure.

Through actually an experience. Really. I have sensation. Corresponding to having a leg or a hand or saying things and so forth. Okay. So we have simplified materiality and the bodily aggregate to simply Bose bodily sensations, which give rise to the notion of a world on a body. Okay. So what you consistent?

You have sensations, that's the aggregated form. You have awareness of those sensations out of which arise perceptions, right? You have that vast aggregate of mental formations, which is responsible for those perceptions that have arisen. Memory traces of previous experiences, thoughts, associations, everything else your emotional reaction to us falling on all of that is that's the stuff stored in your mind.

And then associated with each experience you'd have you'd have a feeling pleasant or unpleasant. So this is what's being presented as. This accounts for everything that you are seeing, if you find anything missing from the picture so that this would be your job down is to satisfy yourself that you're, that you can understand why the Buddha would say that these five values gets account for everything that you are as an industry.

Everything that you can ever remember having been and everything that you can reasonably foresee yourself being is going to be some combination arising out of these aggregates. So that's the basis for the exploration. Dan, you have to go and you have to start looking at your sensations at your feeling that your perceptions it's hard to look at mental formations directly.

You only get seated. Rise up has perceptions, but you can certainly you can certainly examine introspectively and tell what kind of mental formations seem to be operating, and the different kinds of awareness. And you look in there for anything that you can either, anything within that, that you could attach the characteristics of the self to, or if you could attach it to the totality.

Really at the outset by saying that all that you are as an individual is these five aggregates is saying that the totality of these is somehow going to account for everything that you have erroneous ascribed to a single per minute separate experience or in. Because if you could account for what you previously ascribed to your intuitive sense of self with less than that, then you would need five aggregates.

You'd only need four. So indeed the totality is necessary to account for everything, but the whole point is that you can't account for everything and you will not find in it, any of the things that you're looking for in. That you expected to find them. The most remarkable part is of course, the two functions of the self, which is the experience, the owner of experiences and the originator of actions.

And that does come as something of a surprise. And I just hard to address.


Automated transcription

So you need to understand the flight aggregate. And Yeah that's something we've talked about before. But it's such an important part of the investigation of of cell. That it's it's always worth revisiting. Could you find those again for us? Yes. For five aggregate sense just what I was about to do Thank you for asking, sir. Yeah. Good intuition. Yeah. They are four feeling, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness or awareness is is word that I would prefer, but it's usually called consciousness.

So those are the labels. Like any other label it doesn't tell you much to time to look inside the box. So form. Now the the buddha spoke in a language using ordinary daily terms. He didn't define special words, you know, like a scientist would make and new brand knew where you can say this is what I mean. Everywhere he used had ordinary everyday knew, meaning. And Ru. Ru referred to what we would call the material universe physical reality. And as an individual, if we're talking about an individual, of course, our body is physical.

We have these two parts to ourself, but we part again of our natural intuitive perception of south says total body in the mind. One is physical, and one is non physical it's mental. And so accounts for the physical part. So What you consist of is a physical aggregate, known body, and a mine and we can sub divide the mind for sake of convenience. And the the division that the buddha used was this. He said the mine is conscious. And what it is conscious of is are are the perceptions that arise. The line contains with it a vast aggregate of mental formations of mental constructs all the thoughts and the ideas, the emotions that are generated in response to various thing.

All of our beliefs and everything like that. That's a huge category. As a matter of fact, perceptions are also meth constructs, but they've just been separated out to be observed separately. And then feelings is the other metal. It's so feelings are also kind to mental construct. What do he mean by feelings? It can be confusing in English because by feelings, we don't need hearing in touch and things, like that mean that matter of fact, that's when you get down to it. Feeling is simply the the...

Hit he on it or effective quality of an experience. You know, the word head on hedonism. Okay. Or affected. Very simply. There are three kinds of feeling, pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral or if neither pleasant. Right? But. Three kinds of feeling. So it's an aggregate without a lot of different parts, but it's a very important aggregate. Because absolutely every single experience you have, sensory or mental or otherwise is a accompanied by a feeling of being pleasant, unpleasant or needed positive unpleasant.

And of course, and the further analysis of the buddha of the... What's called that dependent origin, he shows exactly the role the feeling plays in triggering craving and leading to our making things real in our minds our cleaning attachment and and our actions. So it is separated out because it plays such a crucial rule So in addition to the material aggregate that's the body, we have the aggregate of feelings. Which actually there are three feet general types of feelings, but he divides an fly.

And this is very important too has a lot of relevance to other things he time. He distinguished between the pleasant feelings arising from the bodily senses and pleasant feelings in the mind and likewise pain arising from the bodily senses and metal paint or Sorrow suffering reef all these other kinds of things. So really, we come up with five five different feelings. We have physical pain, metal pain, physical pleasure, natural pleasure. And neither pleasant more unpleasant, which can be either real sort of specify.

Okay. Now this is what... He says this is what makes you up. So you have to examine that and satisfy yourself. Because if it's not a complete picture, if there's some part of what you are as an individual it's not included in this, it's not gonna work. Right? And if you don't understand it correctly, it's not going to work. So you have to understand it well on a to satisfy yourself that indeed dis encompasses everything that I ever experienced as an individual And if it doesn't, you're gonna have to revise it or understand it differently or give a project entirely, and they'll have a beer.

Okay. So less examine this. What happens is you experienced by means of the physical senses, Thanks. Consciousness That's one of the aggregates. We'll take the sensation in arising as an object. And then from the mental formations will be created a perception. Okay. So you see something or you hear something? But the something isn't in what you see in what you hear is constructed by the mine to account for the visual imprint. Or for the auditory prem. So that's the perception. So you have an experience of a perception.

And there are feelings associated with this. There are feelings associated with the initial sensory contact. And there's also feelings associated with the perception. And they're often the same. Something feels good since early and the idea the perception of it is also pleasant. But not always, it can happen that something feels good, but because of other associations with it, the perception of it triggers a negative feeling. Use a dislike and unpleasant. So this also becomes important as you go.

As you recognize that the mental pleasant and the physical present don't always accompany the same initial adapted. They often do they most often do, but they don't always for instance mercy. For instant. Well, yes. That was somebody who something physically is painful, but experiences but it produces a kind of metal pleasure. Yeah. And many different examples of that thing. Somebody really don't like comes up behind you and strokes your shoulder in a pleasant way. The sensation. Felt good. Not you.

No I don't even have a all kinds of example anyway. So now the the consciousness aspect of it, is, it's... It is consciousness of. It's consciousness out of an object. And as a matter of fact, you know, I I have spent so many the years trying to find a way to use language to adequately convey some of these things and there is we treat We treat all these words kind of vaguely in terms of their meaning, and we had words that seem to may mean, mostly the same thing. And so I've been hoping to find some way to use words that we already have.

In a specifically defined way to clarify a flight thanks. I'll share this with you not because you need to adopt it. But because maybe it can help you to to see the to understand the problem. But I like to use the word awareness to me anything that registers on your nervous system? Whether you're conscious of it or not. So you see i've made awareness in consciousness in two different things. So you can have conscious awareness. And non conscious awareness or sub subconscious awareness. You know, you can regard subconscious awareness or something they you could be aware of.

Perhaps you can be aware of but you're not. Right? And conscious awareness, of course is is not only is something registering on your nervous system, but that very elusive element of consciousness is there. So anyway, what is being referred to in this aggregate of consciousness? Are the kind by kinds of awareness or six kinds of awareness that are associated with the physical census. And with the awareness of mental objects. And so The way I find this, and I think that you will find it too is if I said eye consciousness is different here consciousness at saying.

Well, I don't know if he say so. But if I said visual awareness is different from auditory wearing us. You say, yeah. Absolutely. Right? And that's why I think awareness, captures the essence of what we're talking about here a little more clearly. Because it said that this aggregate consciousness and consists of six distinct kinds of consciousness. Consciousness are but awareness works. It's if we say six to same kinds of awareness, depending on which bodily since associated with or whether it is awareness of something that's rising in mind might have father emotion.

Okay? So anyway, these are... Yeah. This is what makes you up. In this moment in every moment. What is present is sensations. That's the aggregate of form. And one of things you'll notice here is that we're already leaving behind materiality itself. Because how do you know a material world exists? Well, you based your assumption of a material world on sensory information. And you do the same thing when you're dreaming too. K? You assume the tigers there because you see it in your dream. So let's not take a chance of making yet another assumption.

But just because we see a leg in a hand that we really made up body parts. Can bad, let's stick to what we really know for sure directly experiential really. I have sensations corresponding having a lag of hand or saying things and so forth it. Okay? So we have simplified materiality and the bodily aggregate to simply those bodily sensations. Which give rise to the notion of of the world antibody. Okay. So what you consist, You have sensations. That's the aggregate form. You have awareness of those sensations out of which arise perceptions.

Right? You have that vast aggregate of mental formations, which is responsible for those perceptions that have arise. Memory traces of previous experiences, you know, thoughts, associations, everything else. Your emotional reaction to us going on all of that is that's the stuff of story in in your mind. And then associated with each experience, you have... You have a feeling. Pleasant. So this is what's being presented as This accounts for everything that you are, see if you find anything missing from the picture.

So that this would be your job down is to satisfy yourself that you're that you can understand why why the buddha? Would say that these five value gets account for everything that you are as an individual. Everything that you can ever remember having done and everything that you can reasonably foresee yourself thing is going to be some combination arising out of these aggregate right. Mh. So that's that's the basis for the explanation. Then you have to go and you have to start looking. At your sensations, that's your feeling, that's your perceptions.

It's hard to look at mental formations directly you only get see the ones that rise up as perceptions. But you can certainly you can certainly examine intros and tell what kind of mental formations aimed to be operating, you know and the different kinds of awareness. And you look in there for anything that you can eat... Either anything was in that, but you could attach the characteristics of the yourself too. Or if you could attach it to the totality. Now really at the outset by saying that all that you are as an individual is these five aggregates is saying that the totality of these is somehow going to account for everything that you'd have erroneous as to a single permanent separate experience or end endure.

Because if you could... If you could account for what you previously previously as to your intuitive sense of self with less than that, then you would need five aggregate should only need four it. So indeed, the totality is necessary to account for everything. But the whole point is that you can account for everything, and you will not find in it, any of the things that you're looking for in the form that that you expect to find them. The most remarkable part is, of course, the two functions of the self which is the the owner of experiences and the origin of actions.

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