Abhidhamma in daily life
Nina Van Gorkom

Chapter 2



The Buddha discovered the truth of all phenomena. He knew the characteristic of each phenomenon by his own experience. Out of compassion he taught other people to see reality in many different ways, so that they would have a deeper understanding of the phenomena in and around themselves. When realities are classified by way of paramattha dhammas (absolute realities), they are classified as: citta, cetasika, rupa, nibbana.

Citta, cetasika and rupa are conditioned realities (sankhara dhammas). They arise because of conditions and fall away again; they are impermanent. One paramattha dhamma, nibbana, is an unconditioned reality (visankhara dhamma); it does not arise and fall away. All four paramattha dhammas are anatta, not self.

Citta, cetasika and rupa which are conditioned realities, can be classified by way of the five khandhas. Khandha means 'group' or 'aggregate'. They are:

1. Rupakkhandha, which are all physical phenomena.
2. Vedanakkhandha, which is feeling (vedana).
3. Sannakkhandha, which is perception (sanna).
4. Sankharakkhandha, comprising fifty cetasikas.
5. Vinnanakkhandha, comprising all cittas.

The fifty-two kinds of cetasika are classified as three khandhas: a cetasika which is feeling (vedana) is classified as one khandha, the vedanakkhandha; a cetasika which is perception (sanna) is classified as one khandha, the sannakkhandha; as regards the other tiny cetasikas, they are classified all together as one khandha, the sankharakkhandha. For example, in sankharakkhandha are included the following cetasikas: 'intention' (cetana), attachment (lobha), aversion (dosa), ignorance (moha), lovingkindness (metta), generosity (alobha) and wisdom (panna). Sankharakkhandha is sometimes translated as 'activities' or ' mental formations'.

As regards citta, all cittas are one khandha: vinnanakkhandha. The Pali terms vinnana, mano and citta are three terms for the same reality: that which has the characteristic of knowing or experiencing something. When citta is classified as khandha the word vinnana is used. Thus, the five khandhas are grouped as one rupakkhandha, and four namakkhandha. Three namakkhandhas are fifty-two cetasikas; the other namakkhandha is eighty-nine or one hundred and twenty-one cittas.

Nibbana is not a khandha; it is void of khandha (in Pali: khandha-vimutti).

The ' Visuddhimagga' (XX,96) explains about the arising and falling away of nama and rupa:

There is no heap or store of unarisen nama-rupa (existing) prior to its arising. When it arises it does not come from any heap or store; and when it ceases. it does not go in any direction. There is nowhere any depositor in the way of a heap or store or hoard of what has ceased. But just as there is no store, prior to its arising, of the sound that arises when a lute is played, nor does it come from any store when it arises, nor does it go in any direction when it ceases, nor does it persist as a store when it has ceased, but on the contrary, not having been, it is brought into being owing to the lute, the lute's neck, and the man's appropriate effort, and having been, it vanishes - - so too all material and immaterial states (rupa and nama), not having been, are brought into being, having been, they vanish.

The khandhas are real; we can experience them. We experience Rupakkhandha when, for example, we feel hardness. It does not stay; it arises and falls away. Not only rupas of the body, but the other physical phenomena are rupakkhandha as well. For example, sound is rupakkhandha; it arises and falls away, it is impermanent.

Vedanakkhandha (feeling) is real; we can experience feelings. Vedanakkhandha comprises all kinds of feeling. Feeling can be classified in different ways. Sometimes feelings are classified as threefold: pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling, neutral feeling.

Sometimes they are classified as fivefold: pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling and indifferent feeling, bodily pleasant feeling, bodily painful feeling.

Bodily feeling is feeling which has body-sense, the rupa which has the capacity to receive bodily impressions, as condition. The feeling itself is nama, but it has rupa (body-sense) as condition. When an object contacts the body-sense, the feeling is either painful or pleasant; there is no indifferent bodily feeling. When the bodily feeling is unpleasant it is akusala vipaka (the result of an unwholesome deed), and when the bodily feeling is pleasant it is kusala vipaka (the result of a wholesome deed).

Since there are many different moments of feeling arising and falling away it is difficult to distinguish them from each other. For instance, we are inclined to confuse bodily pleasant feeling which is vipaka and the pleasant feeling which may arise shortly afterwards together with attachment to that pleasant bodily feeling. Or we may confuse bodily pain and unpleasant feeling which may arise afterwards together with aversion.

When there is bodily pain, the painful feeling is vipaka, it accompanies the vipakacitta which experiences the object impinging on the body-sense. Unpleasant (mental) feeling may arise afterwards; it is not vipaka, but accompanies the akusala citta. It arises because of our accumulated dosa (aversion). Though 'bodily' feeling and 'mental' feeling are both nama, they are entirely different kinds of feelings, arising because of different conditions. When there are no more conditions for dosa there can still be bodily painful feeling, but there is no longer (mental) unpleasant feeling. The arahat may still have akusala vipaka as long as his life is not terminated yet, but he has no aversion.

We read in the 'Kindred Sayings' (I, Sagatha-vagga, the Marasuttas, Ch. II, par. 3, The Splinter):

Thus have I heard: The Exalted One was once staying at Rajagaha, in the Maddakucchi, at the Deer-preserve. Now at that time his foot was injured by a splinter. Sorely indeed did the Exalted One feel it, grievous the pains he suffered in the body, keen and sharp, acute, distressing and unwelcome. He truly bore them, mindful and deliberate, nor was he cast down....

Feelings are sixfold when they are classified by way of the six doors: there is feeling which arises through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body-sense and the mind. All these feelings are different; they arise because of different conditions. Feeling arises and falls away together with the citta it accompanies and thus at each moment feeling is different.

We read in the 'Kindred Sayings' (IV, Salayatana-vagga, Part II, Kindred Sayings about Feeling, par. 8, Sickness II) that the Buddha said to the monks:

... Monks, a monk should meet his end collected and composed. This is our instruction to you.

...Now, monks, as that monk dwells collected, composed, earnest, ardent, strenuous, there arises in him feeling that is pleasant, and he thus understands: 'There is arisen in me this pleasant feeling. Now that is owing to something, not without cause. It is owing to this contact. Now this contact is impermanent, compounded, arisen owing to something. Owing to this impermanent contact which has so arisen, this pleasant feeling has arisen : How can that be permanent?' Thus he dwells contemplating the impermanence in contact and pleasant feeling, contemplating their transience, their waning, their ceasing, the giving of them up. Thus as he dwells contemplating their impermanence.. the lurking tendency to lust for contact and pleasant feeling is abandoned in him.

So also as regards contact and painful and neutral feeling....

There are still many more ways of classifying feelings. If we know about different ways of classifying feelings it will help us to realize that feeling is only a mental phenomenon which arises because of conditions. We are inclined to cling to the feeling which has fallen away instead of being aware of the reality of the present moment as it appears through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body-sense or mind. In the passage of the 'Visuddhimagga' which was quoted above (XX, 96) nama and rupa are compared to the sound of a lute which does not come from any 'store' when it arises, nor goes in any direction when it ceases, nor persists as a 'store' when it has ceased. However, we cling so much to feelings that we do not realize that the feeling which has fallen away does not exist any more, that it has ceased completely. Vedanakkhandha (feeling) is impermanent.

Sannakkhandha (perception) is real; it can be experienced whenever we remember something. There is sanna with every moment of citta. Each citta which arises experiences an object and sanna which arises with the citta remembers and 'marks' that object so that it can be recognized. Even when there is a moment that one does not recognize something citta still experiences an object at that moment and sanna which arises with the citta 'marks' that object. Sanna arises and falls away with the citta; sanna is impermanent. As long as we do not see sanna as it really is: only a mental phenomenon which falls away as soon as it has arisen, we will take sanna for self.

Sankharakkhandha (the fifty cetasikas which are not vedana or sanna) is real; it can be experienced. When there are beautiful mental factors (sobhana cetasikas) such as generosity and compassion, or when there are unwholesome mental factors such as anger and stinginess, we can experience sankharakkhandha. All these phenomena arise and fall away: sankharakkhandha is impermanent.

Vinnanakkhandha (citta) is real; we can experience it when there is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, receiving impressions through the body-sense or thinking. Vinnanakkhandha arises and falls away; it is impermanent. All sankhara dhammas (conditioned phenomenal), that is, the five khandhas, are impermanent.

Sometimes the khandhas are called the 'groups of grasping' (in Pali: upadanakkhandha). The upadanakkhandhas are the khandhas which are the objects of clinging. Those who are not arahats still cling to the khandhas. We take the body for self; thus we cling to rupakkhandha. We take mentality for self; thus we cling to vedanakkhandha, to sannakkhandha, to sankharakkhandha and to vinnanakkhandha. If we cling to the khandhas and if we do not see them as they are, we will have sorrow. As long as the khandhas are still 'objects of clinging' (upadanakkhandha) for us, we are like people afflicted by sickness.

We read in the 'Kindred Sayings' (III, Khandha-vagga, the First Fifty, par. I, Nakulapitar) that the housefather Nakulapitar, who was an old, sick man, came to see the Buddha at Crocodile Haunt in the Deerpark. The Buddha said to him that he should train himself thus: 'Though my body is sick, my mind shall not be sick. ' Later on Sariputta gave him a further explanation of the Buddha's words:

Herein, housefather, the untaught many-folk... who are unskilled in the worthy doctrine, untrained in the worthy doctrine - - these regard body as the self, they regard the self as having body, body as being in the self, the self as being in the body. 'I am the body', they say, 'body is mine', and are possessed by this idea; and so, possessed by this idea, when body alters and changes, owing to the unstable and changeful nature of the body, then sorrow and grief, woe, lamentation and despair arise in them. They regard feeling (vedana) as the self... They regard perception (sanna) as the self... They regard the activities (sankharakkhandha) as the self... They regard consciousness (vinana) as the self... That, housefather, is how body is sick and mind is sick too.

And how is body sick, but mind not sick? Herein, housefather, the well taught ariyan disciple... regards not body as the self... He regards not feeling (vedana) as the self... He regards not perception (sanna) as the self... He regards not the activities (sankharakkhandha) as the self... He regards not consciousness (vinnana) as the self... As he is not so possessed, when consciousness alters and changes owing to the unstable and changeful nature of consciousness, sorrow and grief, woe, lamentation and despair do not arise in him. Thus, housefather, body is sick, but mind is not sick.

As long as we are still clinging to the khandhas we are like sick people, but we can be cured of our sickness if we see the khandhas as they are. The khandhas are impermanent and thus they are dukkha (unsatisfactory). We read in the 'Kindred Savings' (III, Khandha-vagga, Last Fifty, par. 104, Suffering) that the Buddha taught the 'Four Noble Truths' to the monks. He said:

Monks, I will teach You dukkha, the arising of dukkha, the ceasing of dukkha, the way leading to the ceasing of dukkha. Do you listen to it. (In the English translation 'dukkha' is sometimes translated as 'suffering', sometimes as 'ill'. Here the English text has the word 'suffering'.)

And what, monks, is dukkha? It is to be called the five khandhas of grasping. What five? The rupakkhandha of grasping, the vedanakkhandha of grasping, the sannakkhandha of grasping, the sankharakkhandha of grasping, the vinnanakkhandha of grasping. This, monks, is called dukkha.

And what, monks, is the arising of dukkha? It is that craving... that leads downward to rebirth... the craving for feeling, for rebirth, for no rebirth... This, monks, is called the arising of dukkha.

And what, monks, is the ceasing of dukkha? It is the utter passionless ceasing, the giving up, the abandonment of, the release from, the freedom from attachment to that craving...

This, monks, is called the ceasing of dukkha. And what, monks, is the way going to the ceasing of dukkha?

It is this Ariyan Eightfold Path... This, monks, is the way going to the ceasing of dukkha.

As long as there is still clinging to the khandhas there will be the arising of the khandhas in rebirth, and this means sorrow. If we develop the Eightfold Path we will learn to see what the khandhas really are. Then we are on the way leading to the ceasing of dukkha, which means: no more birth, old age, sickness and death.
Those who have attained the last stage of enlightenment, the stage of the arahat, will be, after their life-span is over, free from the khandhas.



1. Which paramattha dhammas are nama?
2. Which paramattha dhammas are sankhara dhammas (conditioned realities)?
3. Which paramattha dhamma is visankhara dhamma (unconditioned reality)?
4. Which sankhara dhammas (conditioned realities) are nama?
5. Are all cetasikas sankharakkhandha?
6. Is vedana cetasika (feeling) a khandha?
7. Is sanna cetasika (perception) a khandha?
8. Is bodily painful feeling vipaka?
9. Is mental unpleasant feeling vipaka?
10. Which khandhas are nama?
11. Is seeing-consciousness a khandha?
12. Is the concept 'human being' a khandha?
13. Is sound a khandha?
14. Which paramattha dhammas are khandhas?


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