Contemplation of Phenomena in the Aggregates

Bulb

Again a disciple dwells observing phenomena in phenomena in regard to the five aggregates of clinging. And how does a disciple dwell observing phenomena in phenomena in regard to the five aggregates of clinging?

Here a disciple understands: such is form, such is the arising of form, such is the passing away of form; such is feeling, such is the arising of feeling, such is the passing away of feeling; such is perception, such is the arising of perception, such is the passing away of perception; such are formations, such is the arising of formations, such is the passing away of formations; such is consciousness, such is the arising of consciousness, such is the passing away of consciousness, thus he dwells observing phenomena in phenomena internally, or externally, or both internally and externally.

He dwells observing the arising in phenomena, or the passing away in phenomena, or both the arising and passing away in phenomena.

There are phenomena is established in him to the extent necessary for knowledge and mindfulness, and he dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world.

Thus a disciple dwells observing phenomena in phenomena in regard to the five aggregates of clinging.

DN22

Theory

Author: Linmu

Let's start with the basics. Humans have five senses, each stimulated by different phenomena to produce five types of cognition. The eyes are stimulated by color to produce cognition of light and dark, colors; ears by sound to produce cognition of sounds; nose by smell to produce cognition of fragrances and odors; tongue by taste to produce cognition of sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, salty, and savory; body by touch to produce cognition of soft, hard, light, heavy, rough, smooth, cold, hot, pain, and itchiness.

Besides, the mind recalls and thinks about past experiences, which are referred to as "dharmas." Thus, humans have six senses that interact with six phenomena to produce six types of cognition.

Here, we name cognition as consciousness, briefly saying: eyes and color produce eye consciousness, ears and sound produce ear consciousness, nose and smell produce nose consciousness, tongue and taste produce tongue consciousness, body and touch produce body consciousness, and mind and dharmas produce mind consciousness.

There are six important characteristics in the process of consciousness arising:

  1. Each sense only interacts with its corresponding phenomenon to produce consciousness and cannot interact with other phenomena. For example, eyes only interact with color, not with sound, smell, taste, touch, or dharmas; the mind only interacts with dharmas, not with color, sound, smell, taste, or touch. The same applies to other senses, each only interacting with its corresponding phenomenon.

  2. Although we can produce six types of consciousness, only one type arises at a time. Like a tug-of-war, the side with greater force pulls the cloth in the middle towards itself. The phenomenon that attracts the most attention interacts with the corresponding sense to produce the corresponding consciousness.

  3. When consciousness arises, we feel as if "I am perceiving the phenomenon," "the mind or consciousness is perceiving the phenomenon," or "the sense is perceiving the phenomenon."

But in fact, cognition is a new phenomenon produced when the senses are stimulated by phenomena, and it is not about knowing or recognizing anything.

Just like light is a new phenomenon produced when electric current passes through a light bulb, it is not the light seeing the electric current, nor is it the light bulb or anything else seeing the electric current.

Light is just a new phenomenon produced by the light bulb and electric current. When each sense and phenomenon produce cognition, it is accompanied by the arising of feeling, perception, and thought.

If all material qualities of the senses and phenomena are classified into one category and named form, then in the process of the arising of cognition, there are a total of five categories of phenomena: form, feeling, perception, volition, and cognition. These five categories encompass our entire body and mind.

Here, they are traditionally named the five aggregates: the aggregate of form, the aggregate of feeling, the aggregate of perception, the aggregate of volitional formations, and the aggregate of consciousness. The five aggregates arise and then cease immediately. But as long as life is not over and the body and mind are healthy, the five aggregates will continuously regenerate, arising and ceasing, the old ceases and the new arises, until death.

At the moment of death, if the last ceasing consciousness has not exhausted ignorance and attachment, then a new set of five aggregates will be reborn, that is, a new life, thus continuing endlessly in the cycle of rebirth.

Just like having a sore on the body, it hurts when touched, hurts when cold, itches when touched, and itches when hot, often suffering various pains. Only when scratching with the right amount of force during itching can it bring temporary pleasure. The five aggregates accompanied by attachment are like a body with a sore, more suffering than joy.

When encountering undesirable phenomena, one suffers from the pain of aversion; when unable to obtain the sought-after happiness, one suffers from the pain of seeking but not obtaining; when what is obtained is lost or changed, one suffers from the pain of separation from loved ones; if one regards the five aggregates as "self," then one suffers the pain of birth, aging, and death when the five aggregates arise, abide, and cease, all of which are constantly accompanied by sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair.

Only when satisfying attachment can one obtain temporary happiness. It is particularly important to note that many people think that attachment produces suffering because this attachment leads to the regeneration of the five aggregates, and because of the regeneration of the five aggregates, there is suffering.

Thus, they believe that the five aggregates are suffering, and therefore direct the way to extinguish suffering towards extinguishing the five aggregates. But in fact, attachment is the direct cause of suffering in the present, not in the future. Whenever there is attachment, there is suffering; whenever there is no attachment, there is no suffering.

If the five aggregates that arise in the present are accompanied by some form of attachment, and the object of attachment is not as desired, then the five aggregates accompanied by this attachment will appear as suffering in the present. If in the next moment, the newly arisen five aggregates do not have this attachment, then there is no such suffering.

For example, if someone loves a person of the opposite sex, seeing them with someone else can cause annoyance. Later, if the heart changes and love is no longer there, then there will be no more annoyance for any behavior of the other party. Therefore, whenever there is love for it, there may be suffering for it; whenever there is no love for it, there will not be suffering for it.

If this point is not clear, one will go in the wrong direction, thinking that to extinguish suffering is to extinguish the five aggregates. But in fact, we do not need to extinguish any of the five aggregates, nor do we need to extinguish any attachment. The five aggregates arise and cease on their own, even if one wishes to keep them, they cannot be kept, let alone the attachment within the five aggregates.

Therefore, there is no need to do anything extra to eliminate them. If this principle is understood, then it can be understood that to extinguish suffering is to prevent the arising of attachment in the five aggregates that are to be reborn. The past five aggregates have already arisen and ceased, love has already arisen and ceased, suffering has already arisen and ceased.

But if there is no attachment to the five aggregates that arise in the remainder of one's life, then the remainder of one's life will not be troubled by birth, aging, sickness, death, resentment, separation from loved ones, unfulfilled desires, etc., leading to sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. This is called "Parinirvana with remainder."

When the five aggregates of this world are extinguished, ignorance has ended, attachment has been severed, and the five aggregates will extinguish like a flame that has run out of fuel, not leading to the rebirth of new aggregates, completely cutting off the root of suffering.

This is called "Parinirvana without remainder." Some might wonder, if the five aggregates are completely extinguished, doesn't that mean annihilation? What is the meaning of such an outcome? In fact, no matter who it is, whether or not one severs attachment, the fact that the five aggregates arise and then disintegrate cannot be stopped, not even for a moment, both now and at the time of death.

Just like a flame is a phenomenon that arises and extinguishes, but because the fuel keeps supplying, the flame keeps arising. If one ignores the fact that the flame is actually constantly disappearing, one might mistakenly believe that the flame is the same throughout, until the fuel is exhausted and it disperses and extinguishes.

If people do not realize that the five aggregates arise and then completely extinguish, followed by the successive generation of new aggregates, they might mistakenly believe that the previous and subsequent aggregates are the same, from birth to death, and even believe that the rebirth is the same entity. And they regard these aggregates as "self," thus fearing their extinction.

But in fact, they are not the same, nor are they "self," and there is no "self" within or outside the aggregates. Therefore, rebirth is just the rebirth of new aggregates, and not being reborn is just not giving rise to new aggregates.

Some might wonder, if there is no "self," then who is without suffering, who is suffering, and who is liberated, attaining Nirvana? The reason for this doubt is also because people do not fully understand that the five aggregates arise and then completely extinguish.

Although one set of aggregates can lead to the arising of another, the previous and subsequent aggregates are completely different and independent phenomena.

Because of the mistaken belief that there is something unchanging that runs through from one set of aggregates to another, from birth to death, from this life to the next, people think it is this unchanging thing that suffers and does not suffer. But in fact, there is no such unchanging thing. When the aggregates arise, it is merely the aggregates arising. When the aggregates cease, it is these aggregates completely disappearing.

If there is attachment in the arising aggregates, and the object of attachment is not as desired, then the attachment will transform into the form of suffering, and these aggregates are suffering. Similarly, when suffering arises, it is merely suffering arising. When this suffering ceases, it is this suffering completely disappearing. In this process, there is nothing that bears suffering, nor is there anything that bears the absence of suffering, it is just suffering arising and ceasing.

With attachment, suffering continues to arise and cease; if attachment is continuously reborn, suffering is endless. Without attachment, after the old suffering ceases, new suffering does not arise, which is liberation, Nirvana.

So, is there a way for us to reduce or even stop generating attachment in this life, right now, from this moment, to eliminate doubts and completely cut off the rebirth of suffering?

Bulb

The desire, attachment, inclination, and adherence in these five aggregates of clinging is the origin of suffering. The removal and abandonment of desire and lust in these five aggregates of clinging is the cessation of suffering. Even by this much, friend, a disciple has done much. If, friend, the internal ear... nose... tongue... body... mind is intact, and external phenomena do not come into its field, and there is no appropriate engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding consciousness.

If, friend, the internal mind is intact, and external phenomena come into its field, but there is no appropriate engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding consciousness. However, friend, when the internal mind is intact, and external phenomena come into its field, and there is appropriate engagement, then there is the manifestation of the corresponding consciousness.

The form of such a person goes into the aggregate of form clinging, the feeling goes into the aggregate of feeling clinging, the perception goes into the aggregate of perception clinging, the formations go into the aggregate of formations clinging, and the consciousness goes into the aggregate of consciousness clinging.

He understands thus: Indeed, this is how the collection, gathering, and amalgamation of these five aggregates of clinging occurs. It has been said by the Blessed One: One who sees dependent origination sees the Dhamma; one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent origination.

These five aggregates of clinging are dependently arisen. The desire, attachment, inclination, and adherence in these five aggregates of clinging is the origin of suffering. The removal and abandonment of desire and lust in these five aggregates of clinging is the cessation of suffering. Even by this much, friend, a disciple has done much.

MN28

Discernment of The Five Aggregates and their Characteristics

Author: Linmu

Through the previous analysis, we realize that consciousness arises from our senses and objects. Regardless of the nature of our senses and objects, all we know is limited to consciousness. There is nothing beyond consciousness.

Just like how a movie program is based on light, our usual perceptions, knowledge, living environment, and thoughts are all built upon the foundation of consciousness, specifically the six senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and mind perception.

Previously, we mentioned that the arising of consciousness is the arising of knowledge. Here, we isolate the "knowledge" aspect of consciousness and collectively refer to it as "perception," meaning humans have six perceptions: visual perception, auditory perception, olfactory perception, gustatory perception, tactile perception, and mental perception.

However, perception cannot arise on its own. Whenever perception arises, it is always accompanied by related content, which encompasses all worldly phenomena. Although diverse, these contents can generally be categorized into four types:

The first type is content related to material substances, such as colors, sounds, scents, tastes, textures, temperatures, vibrations, and the senses like sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. These are all either material or created by material, and here, all cognition related to colors and material is collectively referred to as "form."

The second type is psychological phenomena related to sensations, including bodily sensations like pain, itchiness, comfort, inner feelings of joy, sorrow, and neutral feelings. All cognition related to sensations is collectively referred to as "feeling."

The third type is concepts, which are people's intuitive impressions and definitions of known content, such as more or less, big or small. All cognition related to concepts is collectively referred to as "perception."

The fourth type is activities. Mental activities encompass thoughts, memories, emotions, desires, doubts, judgments, plans, decisions, and focus, while physical activities include bodily movements and speech. All cognition with activity is collectively referred to as "formation."

Adding the previous "perception," we can categorize the known world into five types, namely form, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness. These five types of cognition all belong to the realm of consciousness, intangible, impermanent, ceaseless, silent, like darkness or shadows, hence named the "five aggregates" - form aggregate, feeling aggregate, perception aggregate, formation aggregate, and consciousness aggregate.

The five aggregates are not independent of each other. For example, when people perceive colors, corresponding sensations arise simultaneously, and defining colors and sensations involves concepts, indicating the presence of thought. Therefore, the five aggregates are interdependent, multifaceted, just like how light and heat exist simultaneously when the sun rises.

Now, let's analyze the characteristics of the five aggregates.

We know that fire, sound, light, and tree shadows are immediate new phenomena produced by various conditions. We call these phenomena with this characteristic "conditioned arising."

These phenomena lack substance, cannot stay, be preserved, moved, or taken away independently. We call this characteristic "impermanence."

Their arising is based on consuming conditions. They arise and pass away in the present moment of consumption. To sustain these phenomena, new conditions must be continuously supplied. Once new conditions are not met, these phenomena cease to arise.

For example, flames are based on consuming fuel and oxygen. To keep the flame burning, fuel and oxygen must be continuously supplied. If the combustion or oxygen supply is insufficient, the fire will extinguish. We call this characteristic "conditioned."

Because they arise and disappear immediately, new phenomena arise due to new conditions, even though they may seem unchanged. They are constantly arising and ceasing, and the phenomena from one moment to the next are not the same. We call this characteristic "change."

As they are immediate phenomena produced by various conditions, arising and disappearing immediately, they cannot be controlled or dominated by themselves or other phenomena, nor can they control or dominate other phenomena. We call this characteristic "non-self."

Therefore, fire, sound, light, tree shadows, and the five aggregates are all phenomena of conditioned arising, impermanence, conditioned, change, and non-self.

The five aggregates are also such phenomena. For example, colors are produced by light hitting objects and reflecting or by the light source itself; they have no substance, cannot stay, be preserved, moved, or taken away independently; they need continuous conditions to be maintained; colors are essentially light waves, ever-changing, and lack autonomy, unable to control or be controlled by other phenomena. Therefore, color is originated from conditions, impermanent, constructed, mutable, and ownerless.

Likewise, the other aggregates of form, sensation, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness are also originated from conditions, impermanent, constructed, mutable, and ownerless.

Primitive people were ignorant of the true nature of fire, believing that fire had substance, was permanent, had agency, could perceive and know, and could dominate all things. Therefore, they regarded fire as divine or alive. However, modern people, understanding that fire is originated from conditions, impermanent, constructed, mutable, and ownerless, do not consider fire as divine or alive.

Similarly, if people are ignorant of the five aggregates, they may perceive them as having substance, being permanent, having life, agency, knowing and perceiving, acting and doing, being able to control and dominate themselves or others, and being controlled or dominated by others. This could lead them to regard the five aggregates as divine, others, or the self. Consequently, attachment and aversion arise, leading to suffering such as love, hatred, emotions, and conflicts.

If people can truly understand the five aggregates as originated from conditions, impermanent, constructed, mutable, and ownerless, regardless of past, present, future, internal, external, coarse, fine, beautiful, ugly, near, or far, they will not regard the five aggregates as divine, others, or the self. Therefore, they will not cling to the five aggregates. Not clinging to the five aggregates means not clinging to anything in the world. Without clinging, there is no dependence. Without dependence, there is self-aware liberation and nirvana.


The Tathagata explains that to attain liberation, one has to fully understand clinging, its origin, and its cessation. He covers the four different types of clinging:



A desciple should develop concentration in order to truly understand the origin and ending of the five aggregates:



Consciousness stands dependent on the other four aggregates, and this attachment is what fuels the cycle of rebirth:



On a sabbath day with the Sangha at Sāvatthi, the Tathagata answers a series of ten questions on the aggregates: