Now what are these five aggregates? Roughly speaking, our body and mind. In Sanskrit the aggregates are called skandha, which means a heap or bundle or collection. According to associations of karma, form (Rupa in Sanskrit), sensation (Vedana), thinking (Sanjna), impulse (Sanskara), and consciousness (Vijnana), these five collect and integrate to make a body and mind. Our body and mind come out of them In other words, they stand for our individuality, and to awaken to what that individuality is, is illumined vision. When the nature of our individuality is clearly seen by us, that is awakening and that is illumined vision.
First of the aggregates is Rupa, and the sense is solidity, in other words materiality. The whole material world is in Buddhism called Rupa or form Form thus means substance characterized by impenetrability; substances cannot be in the same place at the same time. They mutually obstruct each other and are impenetrable to each other. Our body is material and impenetrable and so it is called the form-body, and this is the technical Buddhist term for the body of flesh.
Second is Vedana—sensation. This can be treated as an operation of the mind, though technically it is not classed under the mental functions. (The next one, Sanjna or thinking, is a mental function. In the Hinayana doctrine there are forty-six such functions of the mind, and of them the strongest are listed separately.) Vedana is represented in Chinese by a character which literally means receiving, and it is the function of the mind by which everything is taken in. The function which takes in the things, whether they be long or short, however they may be, is this Vedana.
Sanjna means thinking, in notions, in ideas. As Sanjna, things that have been taken in are recollected, and this is the function by which there is attachment to them Such is the function called thinking. The strongest factors in deepening illusory attachment are these two, Vedana and Sanjna.
Fourth is Sanskara which has the meaning of construction and changing, but these are used in a technical sense and the general meaning of the Chinese character is action. Here however it is action of the mind, the character having in Buddhism the significance of mental action, with no question of speech or outer activity. This one word takes in the whole condition of the mind.
So construction and changing means from one thought to the next, thought by thought, constructing the varied karma in the wheel of birth-and-death. In the mind we are creating the various karmas and constructing distinctions: ‘I try this’ and ‘I try that’. Such discriminating is the way the mind works, and this is what Sanskara-impulse means. Under it are included the remaining forty-four out of the forty-six mental functions.
Fifth is Vijnana, with the meaning of the consciousness which determines things. It is also called the mind-lord, and as such determines right and wrong, good and bad consciousness, the mind-lord, has the function of determining as right or wrong, good or bad, everything that has been taken in.
Form then is the physical body, and the other four are mental functions and the mind-lord. This body and this mind, one skandha-aggregate and four skandha-aggregates, which by the power of karma have temporarily come together, we call individuality. Now a temporary combination of form and mind, namely the five skandhas of Rupa and the others, is not a definite real entity to be acknowledged as ‘I’. It is something which has only temporary life, and so is nothing actual and real to be taken as I. Yet by the force of beginning-less illusory attachment, attachment from long long ago, it is taken as a definite self. Clinging tenaciously to this is called the condition of the delusion of the five skandhas—it is thinking something to be which is not, considering what has arisen from temporary association of the five aggregates to be somehow a self. This empty fancying is just like creating in a dream the various forms which rejoice and grieve.
Yoka Daishi says: ‘In dream clearly are the six worlds seen.’ When we see a dream clearly there are the six worlds, with their sufferings and joys. While seeing the dream we do not think aside that it is a dream, and so we are pursued and sweat in agony. When we know what the dream really is, there are no six worlds, but while seeing the dream there are for me the opposed sets of good and bad. The five skandhas are all delusion. The five are not something definite and real, but our delusion is that we hold tenaciously to them as being an actual and real self.
For this reason in the old translations the Sanskrit word skandha was translated by a Chinese character which means to conceal by covering. The skandhas are the delusion which covers the true nature, the absolute, and does not reveal it. The form of the absolute is, in a word, no-form. The real form of everything is obviously not in fact any definite form, but by the force of the delusive form of the five aggregates, our absolute no-form appears as a form. The doctrine of the five skandha- aggregates indicates self-delusion.