The Five Aggregates
From the murals of Shechen Monastery. Used with permission of Rabjam Rinpoche.
Brief Analysis of the Five Aggregates
by Gyalse Shenpen Thaye
1. Five Aggregates
Form is defined as that which is formable. Sensation is defined as that which is felt in experience. Perception is defined as the apprehension of attributes in objects. Conditioning factors are defined as compound processes. Consciousness is defined as that which cognizes objects.
Visual form, which is perceived through visual cognition, is divided into two: the visual form of shapes and the visual form of colours. The first of these is further divided into long and narrow, tall and short, square and round, and even and uneven—eight in total. The second, the visual form of colours, can be divided into primary colours and secondary tones. The four primary colours are blue, yellow, white and red; and the eight secondary tones are cloudy, smoky, dusty, misty, light, dark, sunlit and shaded. There are thus twenty subdivisions in total.
Sounds, which are heard by means of auditory cognition, are subdivided as follows: there are both organic and inorganic sounds, and for each of these there are sounds that convey meaning and those that do not, giving four subdivisions. Since all these can be further divided into pleasant and unpleasant, there are eight subdivisions in total.
Smells, which are detected by means of olfactory cognition, are of two kinds: pleasant and unpleasant. Since they may be further divided either into uniform and diverse or natural and artificial, there are four subdivisions.
Tastes, which are experienced by means of gustatory cognition, are of six types: sweet, sour, bitter, astringent, spicy and salty.
Tangible sensations, which are experienced by means of bodily cognition, include the four [elemental sensations] of earth, water, fire and air. In addition, there are sensations of lightness and heaviness, hunger and thirst, softness and roughness, as well as coldness. There are thus eleven subdivisions in all.
The five sensory faculties are subdivided according to whether they are [operative and] supportive of cognition or [inactive and merely] simulative.
There are thus five types of sensory object, five faculties and imperceptible forms, to give a total of eleven types of resultant form.
These are the divisions of the form aggregate.
The aggregate of sensations can be divided into the three of pleasant, painful and neutral, or six types related to the senses. Combining these gives a total of eighteen. If they are then further divided according to whether they function as a discard or an antidote, there are thirty-six. Further categorising them according to the three times gives a total of 108.
The aggregate of perceptions is divided into the three of vast perception, limited perception and intermediate perception. There is also a division into two: identificatory and non-identificatory perception. In addition, there are the six types related to the senses.
1.4. Conditioning Factors
The aggregate of conditioning factors includes the fifty-one types of mental function with the exception of sensation and perception, thus forty-nine in all. There are five ever-present functions, five object-determining functions, eleven virtues, six primary afflictions, twenty subsidiary afflictions, and four variable functions. As for the five ever-present functions, it is said:
Sensation, perception, attention, contact and engagement—
These are the five ever-present functions.
Intention, interest, presence, concentration and discernment—
These are the five object-determining functions.
Faith, conscientiousness, pliancy,
Equanimity, conscience, propriety,
Non-attachment, non-aggression, non-confusion,
And enthusiastic diligence are the eleven virtues.
Desire, anger, pride,
Ignorance, doubt and mistaken beliefs
Are the six primary afflictions.
Rage, resentment, denial, spite,
Envy, stinginess, deceit, pretence, self-infatuation,
Violence, lack of conscience, lack of propriety,
Dullness, agitation, lack of faith,
Laziness, carelessness, absent-mindedness ,
Distraction and inattentiveness
Are the twenty subsidiary afflictions.
Sleep, regret, cognizance and scrutiny are the four variables.
The aggregate of consciousness consists of the eight or six forms of consciousness.
These are the five aggregates.
2. Twelve Sources
The six from the eye source to the mind source and the six from the visible form source to the mental objects source comprise the twelve sources.
3. Eighteen Elements
The six from the element of the eye to the element of the mind, the six from the element of visual form to the element of mental objects, and the six from the element of visual consciousness to the element of mental consciousness comprise the eighteen elements.
All of the above comprises the conditioned. The three unconditioned dharmas are analytical cessation, non-analytical cessation and uncompounded space. These can also be included within the element of mental objects.
These are the basic phenomena that must be understood or the phenomena of saṃsāra.
| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2019.
Tibetan corrected from rjes nges to brjed ngas ↩