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The Five Aggregates

Understanding Theravada Psychology and Soteriology

Mathieu Boisvert

Publication Year: 1995

If Buddhism denies a permanent self, how does it perceive identity? According to Buddhist texts, the entire universe, including the individual, is made up of different phenomena, which Buddhism classifies into different categories: what we conventionally call a “person” can be understood in terms of five aggregates, the sum of which must not be taken for a permanent entity, since beings are nothing but an amalgam of ever-changing phenomena. Although the aggregates are only a “convenient fiction,” the Buddha nevertheless made frequent use of the aggregate scheme when asked to explain the elements at work in the individual.

In this study Mathieu Boisvert presents a detailed analysis of the five aggregates (pañcakkhandhā) and establishes how the Theravāda tradition views their interaction. He clarifies the fundamentals of Buddhist psychology by providing a rigorous examination of the nature and interrelation of each of the aggregates and by establishing, for the first time, how the function of each of these aggregates chains beings to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth — the theory of dependent origination (paticcasamuppāda). Boisvert contends that without a thorough understanding of the five aggregates, we cannot grasp the liberation process at work within the individual, who is, after all, simply an amalgam of the five aggregates.

The Five Aggregates represents an important and original contribution to Buddhist studies and will be of great interest to all scholars and students of Buddhism.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Editions SR


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Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. iii-iv

List of Tables

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p. v

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p. vii

Although most books are attributed to one single author, various individuals and many factors contribute to the development of any manuscript. As the theory of dependent origination suggests, there is no initial cause (or authorship), but merely a succession of inter-dependent events that are responsible for what comes into being. ...

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pp. ix-x

In Buddhist philosophy, the theory of the five aggregates (pañcakkhandhā) of realities, or real occurrences known as "principles" (dhamma), is the analysis of what elsewhere is often called the "problem" of matter and mind. In Buddhism, to separate these would be to produce a dilemma like the familiar one of "body" and "soul" ...


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-14

The following study presents a detailed analysis of each of the five aggregates (pañcakkhandhā); its primary intention is to establish how the Theravāda tradition views their interaction. It therefore attempts to clarify the fundamentals of Buddhist psychology by analyzing one of the earliest classifications ...

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1 The Concept of Khandha

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pp. 15-30

Buddhism differs from other religions in that no room is allotted for an ultimate reality corresponding to the concept of "self." Most Buddhist traditions view the entire universe (and the individual as well) as composed of different, irreducible phenomena (dhamma). Although these phenomena serve as a common ...

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2 The Rūpakkhandha

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pp. 31-50

At first glance, the sutta literature defines the rūpakkhandha—the material aggregate—in a concise and clear manner. "What is this material 'clinging-aggregate'? The four primary elements (mahābhūta') and secondary matter (upādārūpa). The four primary elements consist of earth, water, fire and air."1 ...

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3 The Vedanākkhandha

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pp. 51-76

The whole of the rūpakkhandha, as we saw in the previous chapter, is contained by "the six sense-organs" (saḷāyatana) and contact (phassa). According to the formula of the paṭiccasamuppāda, phassa is a necessary condition for the arising of vedanā (sensation). The principal difference between contact and vedanā...

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4 The Saññākkhandha

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pp. 77-90

As we saw in the previous chapter, vedanā is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the arising of craving (taṇhā). Craving depends not only on the occurrence of sensation, but also on the occurrence of a particular type of saññā. My aim in this chapter is twofold: first, to circumscribe the meaning of ...

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5 The Saṅkhārakkhandha

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pp. 91-112

My purpose in this chapter is, primarily, to uncover the basic meaning that links the various contexts in which the term appears; and, secondarily, to arrive at a precise interpretation of saṅkhārakkhandha and its function with respect to the theory of dependent origination. I will not attempt to find one English ...

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6 The Viññāṇakkhandha

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pp. 113-126

In the traditional enumeration of the aggregates, viññāṇa is fifth and is commonly translated as "consciousness." As with the previous four aggregates, six kinds of viññāṇa exist, with each designation dependent upon the sense organ through which the faculty performs its function.1 Therefore, we find viññāṇa associated ...

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7 Interrelation of the Aggregates

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pp. 127-146

In the previous chapters we discussed each of the five aggregates separately, without attempting to establish a detailed correlation between them. However, simply understanding the purport of these aggregates gives us merely a superficial insight into Buddhist psychology. The knowledge that rūpa is equated with ...

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pp. 147-150

Although many scholars have referred to the five aggregates in their works on Buddhism, none have thoroughly explained their respective functions. By clarifying the importance of this previously untreated subject, this study has circumscribed the meaning and the role of each of the five aggregates and has established ...


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pp. 151-154


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pp. 155-162


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pp. 163-166

E-ISBN-13: 9780889208780
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889202573
Print-ISBN-10: 0889202575

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 1995

Series Title: Editions SR
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OCLC Number: 180704499
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Five Aggregates

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Subject Headings

  • Theravāda Buddhism -- Doctrines.
  • Salvation (Buddhism).
  • Theravāda Buddhism -- Psychology.
  • Skandhas.
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