Dharma classification to 5 aggregates: skandha


1. Beneficial, Unbeneficial and Neutral Dharmas

The distinction of dharmas into Beneficial, Unbeneficial and Neutral (kuśala, akuśala and avyākṛta) observes dharmas from the point of view of theory of Salvation.

Some dharmas, for example, what I described in my previous post, Without Anxiety (anāśrava) are Beneficial, i.e. they are helping to reach the Salvation.

Others in turn are Unbeneficial, which slow down the process of Liberation: those are elements of anxiety that retain a personality in the cyclic existence.

Finally, the 3rd group doesn’t determine the process of gradual movement towards Enlightenment in any way, but are Neutral.

It would not be correct to talk here about distinction to good or bad elements, because we are not talking about the meaning of elements in the moral sense.

Of course, the final religious goal in Buddhism, like in many other religions, is closely related to the ethical questions. However to determine the value of elements of being, Buddhism is guided by the ideal of Liberation.

2. 3 types of psychological dharma classifications

Answering the question - why Buddha, speaking on the objects of enquiry, observed them in 3 ways, i.e. divided them in:

  1. Aggregates (Skandha),
  2. Bases (of Consciousness)
  3. Classes (dhātu) of elements,

- Vasubandhu in AK1; 20 says:

Living beings use to have delusions of 3 kinds:

Some are in illusions in regards to psychic phenomena, viewing it as an Ātman, I, others – in regards to matter, and 3rd group – in regards to matter and consciousness together.

Also there are beings with 3 kinds of abilities: large, medium and small.

Dispositions are alike: some beings can comprehend faster short teachings, some need medium, and some need long teachings.

Three methods of dharma explanations are intended for these 3 kinds of students.

In that way each of the 3 dharma classifications have a different turn from the viewpoint of psychological analysis. But each of them contain all the same 75 (or according to some tradition 100) types of dharmas.

3. 5 Aggregates (Skandha)

According to classification of dharmas to 5 groups or aggregates, traditionally they are listed in the following order:

  1. Forms (or matter)(rūpa) - all external and internal matter is included here; according to philosophical definition the matter is what has a form and colour
  2. Feelings (or senses)(vedanā)
  3. Notions or conceptions (saṁjñā)
  4. Factors of Formation (saṁskāra) - "impulses", "volition", or "compositional factors"; encompasses all types of mental habits, thoughts, ideas, opinions, prejudices, compulsions, and decisions triggered by an object.
  5. Consciousness (Vijñāna) – without any content.

Skandha can be literary translated as "heap".

Vasubandhu explains the notion group (skandha) referring to a Buddhist Sūtra:

All matter – past, present and future, inner and external, rough and smooth, low and high, near and far – all of that together is called a group of matter (AK1; 20).

In a similar way also all other groups are formed.

Additionally Vasubandhu points out other characteristics of dharmas gathered in the groups:

The Low dharmas are those contaminated with inflow of affections, the High dharmas are without an inflow of affections.

The Far are dharmas of past and future, the Near – dharmas of the present.

Likewise are separated the gross and subtle dharmas, the ones perceived by 5 senses and others perceived by Mind. For this reason in 2 separate groups are physical sensations and notions divided.

For instance, feelings of liking, aversion and neutral are analysed separately from phenomena in relation to which they are experienced.

Also we have to remember that in none group are not included so called unsubordinated to existence or unconditioned dharmas,

since they doesn’t correspond to the meaning of the notion of a group, which asserts a group is a heap or gathering of dharmas of the past, present and future.

For this reason the Unconditioned Dharmas (asaṁskṛta dharmas) cannot be combined in a group (skandha): They doesn’t manifest themselves and doesn’t disappear, giving no matter to gather in a group.

The ordering of groups is determined according to the grossness and psychic activity of dharmas:

- beginning with a matter, which has   impermeability and is considered the most gross, to the group of Consciousness that includes the most subtle dharmas.

From the viewpoint of Buddhist psychology important to note that in groups (skandha) is dived not just a separate moment in the flow of consciousness, but all complicity of dharmas included in a structure of particular personality. Including the ones which have been manifested in the past and which can manifest them at some point in the future.

The definitions to 5 skandha in Abhidharmakośa by Vasubandhu are:

1.Rūpa Skandha:

  1. 5 sense organs,
  2. 5 sense objects
  3. avijñāpti:

The 5 sense organs are the subtle materiality of the eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. (K9)

The 5 sense objects are defined as follows: (K10)

Visible matter is colour and form, or 20-fold:

4 primary colours (blue, red, yellow, white),
8 more colours (cloud, smoke, dust, mist, shade, glare, glow, darkness), and
8 forms (long, short, square, round, high, low, even, uneven).

The Sautrāntika only admit colour, not shape or form, as a dharma.

Sound is 8-fold: caused by (1) animate or (2) inanimate beings, (3) articulate speech and (4) non-articulate sound, and in all 4 cases, either agreeable or disagreeable.

Taste is 6-fold: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent.

Smell is 4-fold: good and bad odours that are either excessive or non-excessive.

Tangibles are 11 fold: 4 primary elements (earth/solidity, water/humidity, fire/heat, wind/motion), softness, hardness, weight, lightness, cold, hunger, thirst.

Avijñāpti: That serial continuity - pure or impure - which exists even in one whose thought is distracted or who is without thought, and which is dependent on the Great Elements, is called the non-informative (avijñāpti) [matter]. (K11)

2.Vedana Skandha:

The aggregate of feeling (vedanā-skandha) comprises 3 types of affects:

  1. pleasure (sukha),
  2. suffering (duḥkha),
  3. and neither-suffering-nor-pleasure (a-duḥkha-sukha).

Again, that [aggregate] can be divided into 6 groups of feeling (vedanā-kāya):

- from feeling born of eye-contact through feeling born of mind-contact. (K14)

3.Samjna Skandha:

This is the aggregate of ideas, namely the apprehension (grahana) of „marks‟ (nimitta) such as blue or yellow, long or short, female or male, friend or enemy, and so on. (K14)

(grahana: grasping, determining)

4.Samskara Skandha:

Saṁskāra-skandha are the saṁskāras different from the other 4 skandhas (K15)

5.Vijñāna Skandha:

Consciousness is the impression relative to each object.

The division of dharmas into 5 aggregates (skandha) is used in Buddhist philosophical literature, but not too often, because it is not detailed enough to describe properly more complicated psychological analyses.

Often are used dharma classifications to 18 classes of elements (dhātu) or 12 bases of consciousness (āyatana).