The Five Aggregates Of Clinging - By Bhikkhu Bodhi

The two steps aforesaid treats our experience analytically. We have to dissect the being, our own individuality. The Buddha reveals that what we are, our being or personality, is a composite of five factors which are called the five aggregates of clinging. They are called the five aggregates of clinging because they form the basis for clinging. Whatever we cling to can be found amongst the five aggregates. These five function together as the instrument for our experience of the world. We cling to them as instruments of our experience in this life, and when they break up at death, due to that same clinging - the desire for enjoyment and for existence - a new set of aggregates, a new life arises to continue our experience in another existence. Thus we build up one set of aggregates after another, life after life, and in that way we accumulate Dukkha, the suffering, in the round of samsara.

The Buddha says that the five agregates 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.

The five aggregates are:

These five aggregates exhaust our psychophysical existence. Any event, any occurrence, any element in the mind-body process can be put into one of these five aggregates. There is nothing in this whole experiential process that lies outside them.

All these four mental aggregates always exist together; they all depend upon one another. Whenever there is any experience of an object, at that moment there is present, simultaneously, a feeling, a perception, a cluster of mental formations and consciousness, the light of awareness.

Whatever we identify ourselves with, whatever we take to be 'I', or 'my self' can be found within these five agggregates. Therefore if we care to understand ourselves, what we have to understand is the five aggregates. To fully understand the five aggregates means to see them as they really are, and this means to see them in terms of the three characteristics of existence, that is, impermanence, unsatisfactoriness or suffering, and selflessness or non-self.