In my last post I mentioned the five aggregates, so here is a brief description of each aggregate. The aggregates are form, feeling, conception, mental formation and consciousness.
Form, or matter, corresponds to physical factors and not only includes our own bodies, but also the material objects that surround us. Form also includes the five physical sense organs and their corresponding physical objects. The five physical sense organs are eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. Their corresponding objects are visible form, sound, smell, taste and touch.
Feeling is the second aggregate and it can be divided into three different types of experience, namely pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
There are six kinds of experience, five physical and one mental. The experiences happen when your eye contacts with a visible form, your ear with sound, your nose with smell, your tongue with taste and your body with any other tangible object. These are the five physical experiences. The mental experience is when your mind is in contact with mental objects, such as ideas and thoughts.
Our feelings are extremely important as, in the end, they determine what we experience. We all want good feelings and try to avoid bad feelings. However, because we cling desperately to happy times, we become sad and disillusioned when they end.
The third aggregate is conception, and this is where we attach a name to an experience. Here, we formulate a conception of an idea about the object we perceive. The purpose of this aggregate is to analyse and investigate. When we come into contact with an object, our conception aggregate categorises it by shape, colour, motion, location, sex and other such categories. These arise as concepts which we are either born with or have added. Concepts can come from parents, school, society, friends and other social groups. Everything we have learnt or are learning, including in this blog, form our concepts.
The fourth aggregate is mental formation. It is the impression created by previous actions. This aggregate starts in the mind and is then reflected in our body and speech. That means whatever action we do in this life is part of this aggregate.
Maybe a better way to call this aggregate is mental formation and volition. Volition is the capability of conscious choice, decision and intention. So, the mental formation stems from our past, and volition, from the present moment. Both function together to determine our response to an object of experience. These responses have moral consequences in the sense of skilful, unskilful and neutral acts.
The final aggregate is consciousness, which is very powerful. From this stem the third and fourth aggregates. It is mere awareness of an object. When the eyes and a visible object come into contact, the eye consciousness will become associated with that object and visual consciousness will arise. It is the same with all the six consciousnesses.
It should be noted that consciousness is not personal experience, but merely awareness of an object. Personal experiences are produced through the functioning of the feeling aggregate, the conception aggregate and the mental formation aggregate. These three turn mere awareness into a personal experience.
So, let’s put this all together. Your eyes see the form. Your consciousness becomes aware of it. Your conception identifies it. A pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feeling arises. Your mental formation makes you respond to it with a conditioned reaction, stemming from your past.
In the Khandha Sutra Buddha called them the five clinging aggregates, and this is where the problem comes for us. We cling to these aggregates as though they are the self – a solid and permanent you. However, Buddha taught non-self. When these five aggregates come together we experience the world, but when they disperse we stop experiencing the world. He also taught us that there is absolutely no experience other than these five aggregates. These aggregates are ever-changing and so there really isn’t anything solid for us to cling to. When we try to cling to them as a permanent self we suffer, and this is what Buddha was pointing out in the first noble truth.