The True Nature of Existence —
The Five Aggregates Of Clinging

1 of 2

Qualities of the Dharma
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
The True Nature of Existence
  The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta
  Dependent Arising
  Kamma, Nibbana and Rebirth


The Sangha
The Buddhist Sangha



A path of understanding

On one occasion the Buddha addressed his disciples:

On another occasion he said:

from this one can see that the Buddha's path is a path of understanding. The understanding aimed at is not mere conceptual knowledge or a collection of information. Rather it is an insight into the true nature of our existence. This understanding brings liberation, the release of the mind from all bonds and fetters and issues in the cessation of Dukkha or suffering.

The Buddha offers us the Dhamma as a search light that we can focus on our own experience in order to understand it in correct perspective. To understand our experience or our existence, involves two steps:

  • We have to look into the makeup of our being to see what our existence consists of, we have to take it apart mentally, to see how it works, then put it together again and see how it holds together.
  • We have to examine our experience in order to discover its most pervasive features, the universal characteristics of phenomena.

In this lesson you will study the first of these steps, examining the five aggregates of clinging. In the following lesson you will learn about the universal characteristics of phenomena — impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and egolessness.

The Five Aggregates Of Clinging   

To begin with we must treat our experience analytically, dissecting our being, our own individuality.

What we are — our being or personality — is, the Buddha reveals, a composite of five factors: the five aggregates of clinging. They are called this because they form the basis for clinging. Whatever we cling to can be found amongst the five aggregates.

The individual being is merely a complex unity of the five aggregates.

The Buddha says that the five aggregates have to be fully understood. This is the first Noble Truth, the truth of Dukkha. The five aggregates are our burden, but at the same time they provide us with the  indispensable soil of wisdom. To bring suffering to an end we have to turn our attention around and see into the nature of the aggregates.

To bring suffering to an end we have to see into the nature of the aggregates.

In order to not cling to the aggregates you should be mindful of them at all times. And the tools we use for observing five aggregates of clinging are effort, concentration, mindfulness, and some basic knowledge of the Four Noble Truths and of the impermanent, non-satisfactory and non-self nature of the five aggregates of clinging.  

We will now explore the five aggregates:

The material side of existence
Material form

The mental side of existence
Mental formations

Material form

This includes all the material factors of existence — every type of material phenomena. The most important of these is the body, the physical organism through which one experiences the world. The Buddha groups the aggregate of material form into primary elements and secondary forms:

Four primary elements — earth, water, heat and air
For Buddhists these do not literally refer to the natural  earth, water, fire and air. Rather they symbolize four behavioral properties of matter common to all material phenomena, the properties that every material body exhibits.

All material phenomena possess these four elements to some degree. What distinguishes them is the proportion in which the primary elements are combined.

Secondary forms of matter
There are a number of secondary types of matter, material forms derived from the primary elements:

Five sensory receptors.
The sense faculties, eye, ear, nose, tongue and body.

The first four sense data. 
Colors, sounds, smells and taste are also secondary types of matter. The touch sensation however, is provided by the primary elements themselves.

Life faculty  
The faculty which vitalizes the body and keeps it alive.

Mental base 
Organs and nerve tissues which function as support for consciousness in the thought process.