The five aggregates of clinging: form, sensations, perceptions, ideas, and consciousness
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Skandhas (Sanskrit) or khandhas (Pāḷi) means "heaps, aggregates, collections, groupings". In Buddhism, it refers to the five aggregates of clinging (Pañcupādānakkhandhā), the five material and mental factors that take part in the rise of craving and clinging. They are also explained as the five factors that constitute and explain a sentient being’s person and personality, but this is a later interpretation in response to sarvastivadin essentialism.
Skandha (स्कन्ध) is a Sanskrit word that means "multitude, quantity, aggregate", generally in the context of body, trunk, stem, empirically observed gross object or anything of bulk verifiable with senses. The term appears in the Vedic literature.
The Pali equivalent word Khandha (sometimes spelled Kkhanda) appears extensively in the Pali canon where, state Rhys Davids and William Stede, it means "bulk of the body, aggregate, heap, material collected into bulk" in one context, "all that is comprised under, groupings" in some contexts, and particularly as "the elements or substrata of sensory existence, sensorial aggregates which condition the appearance of life in any form".[note 1] Paul Williams et al. translate skandha as "heap, aggregate", stating it refers to the explanation of the psychophysical makeup of any being.
Johannes Bronkhorst renders skandha as "aggregates." Damien Keown and Charles Prebish state that skandha is ཕུང་པོ། in Tibetan, and the terms mean "collections or aggregates or bundles."
The Buddha teaches in the Pali Canon the five aggregates as follows:
"form" or "matter"[note 2] (Skt., Pāli रूप rūpa; Tib. གཟུགས། (gzugs); Ch. 色 (sè)): matter, body or "material form" of a being or any existence. Buddhist texts state rupa of any person, sentient being and object to be composed of four basic elements or forces: earth (solidity), water (cohesion), fire (heat) and wind (motion).
"sensation" or "feeling" (Skt., Pāli वेदना vedanā; Tib. ཚོར་བ། (tshor ba); Ch. 受 (shòu)): sensory experience of an object. It is either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.[note 3][note 4]
"perception"[note 5] (Skt. संज्ञा saṃjñā, Pāli सञ्ञा saññā, Tib. འདུ་ཤེས། ('du shes); Ch. 想 (xiǎng)): sensory and mental process that registers, recognizes and labels (for instance, the shape of a tree, color green, emotion of fear).
"mental formations" (Skt. संस्कार saṃskāra, Pāli सङ्खार saṅkhāra, Tib. འདུ་བྱེད། ('du.byed); Ch. 行 (xíng)): "constructing activities", "conditioned things", "volition", "karmic activities"; all types of mental imprints and conditioning triggered by an object.[note 6] Includes any process that makes a person initiate action or act.
"consciousness" (Skt. विज्ञान vijñāna, Pāli विञ्ञाण viññāṇa, Tib. རྣམ་ཤེས། (sna'i rnam par shes pa); Ch. 識 (shí)): "discrimination" or "discernment"[note 7]. Awareness of an object and discrimination of its components and aspects, and is of six types, states Peter Harvey. The Buddhist literature discusses this skandha as,
In the Abhidhamma: a series of rapidly changing interconnected discrete acts of cognizance.[note 10]
In some Mahayana sources: the base that supports all experience.[note 11]
Aggregates of personality
The five aggregates are often interpreted in the later tradition as an explanation of the constituents of person and personality, and "the list of aggregates became extremely important for the later development of the teaching." According to this interpretation, in each skandha – body, sensations, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness – there is emptiness and no substance.
According to Damien Keown and Charles Prebish, skandha in the context of canonical Buddhism asserts that "the notion of a self is unnecessarily superimposed upon five skandha" of a phenomenon or a living being. The skandha doctrine, states Matthew MacKenzie, is a form of anti-realism about everyday reality including persons, and presents an alternative to "substantialist views of the self". It is a Buddhist reductionism of everything perceived, each person and personality as an "aggregate, heap" of composite entities without essence.
According to Harvey, the five skandhas give rise to a sense of personality, but are dukkha, impermanent, and without an enduring self or essence.[note 12] Each aggregate is an object of grasping (clinging), at the root of self-identification as "I, me, myself". According to Harvey, realizing the real nature of skandhas, both in terms of impermanence and non-self, is necessary for nirvana.[note 13] This 'emptiness from personality' can be found in descriptions of the enlightened, perfected state of Arhat and Tathagata, where there is no longer any identification with the five skandhas.[note 14]
This 'no essence' view has been a source of sustained questions, major disagreements and commentaries since ancient times, by non-Buddhist Indian religions, as well as within Buddhist traditions. The use of the skandhas concept to explain the self is unique to Buddhism among major Indian religions, and must be seen in the contexts of polemics about the Sarvastivada teachings that "phenomena" or its constituents are real. It contrasts with the premise of Hinduism and Jainism that a living being has an eternal soul or metaphysical self.
David Kalupahana further explains that the individual is considered unreal but the skandha are considered real in some early Buddhist texts, but the skandha too are considered unreal and nonsubstantial in numerous other Buddhist Nikaya and Āgama texts.
Aggregates of experience and grasping
According to Thanissaro, the Buddha never tried to define what a "person" is, though scholars tend to approach the skandhas as a description of the constituents of the person.[note 15] He adds that almost any Buddhist meditation teacher explains it that way, as even Buddhist commentaries from about 1st century CE onwards have done. In Thanissaro's view, this is incorrect, and he suggests that skandha should be viewed as activities, which cause suffering, but whose unwholesome workings can be interrupted.
Rupert Gethin also notes that the five skandhas are not merely "the Buddhist analysis of man," but "five aspects of an individual being's experience of the world [...] encompassing both grasping and all that is grasped."[note 16]
Boisvert states that "many scholars have referred to the five aggregates in their works on Buddhism, [but] none have thoroughly explained their respective functions." According to Boisvert, the five aggregates and dependent origination are closely related, explaining the process which binds us to samsara. Boisvert notes that the pancha-upadanakkhanda does not incorporate all human experience.Vedana may transform into either niramisa or nekkhamma-sita vedana, vedana which is not harmful, or into amisa or gehasita vedana, a "type of sensation [which] may act as an agent bringing about the future arising of craving and aversion." This is determined by sanna. According to Boisvert, "not all sanna belong to the sanna-skandha." The wholesome sanna recognise the three marks of existence (dukkha, anatta, anicca), and do not belong to the sanna-skandha. Unwholesome sanna is not "conducive to insight," and without proper sanna, the "person is likely to generate craving, clinging and becoming." As with sanna, "not all sankhara belong to the sankharaskandha", since not all sankhara produce future effects.
According to Johannes Bronkhorst, the notion that the five aggregates are not self has to be viewed in light of debates about "liberating knowledge," the knowledge of Atman which was deemed liberating by the Vedic traditions. Bronkhorst notes that "knowledge of the self plays no useful role on the Buddha’s path to liberation."[note 17] What is important is not to grasp at the forms, sounds, odors, flavors, objects, and mental properties which are perceived with the six sense organs (these include mind as the sixth sense organ). The insight that the aggregates are not self aids in letting go of this grasping.[note 18]
Miri Albahari also objects to the usual understanding of the skandhas as denoting the absence of any "self." Albahari has argued that the khandhas do not necessarily constitute the entirety of the human experience, and that the Hindu concept of Ātman (eternal soul) is not explicitly negated by Pāli Canon. According to Albani, "anattā is best understood as a practical strategy rather than as a metaphysical doctrine." To Albahari, Nibbāna is an ever-present part of human nature, which is gradually "uncovered" by the cessation of ignorance.
The internal and external sense bases together form the "six sense bases." In this description, found in texts such as Salayatana samyutta, the coming together of an object and a sense-organ results in the arising of the corresponding consciousness.
According to Bhikkhu Bodhi, the Theravada tradition teaches that the six sense bases accommodate "all the factors of existence", it is "the all", and "apart from which nothing at all exists," and "are empty of a self and of what belongs to the self".[note 19]
The suttas themselves don't describe this as an alternative of the skandhas; it is in the Abhidhamma, striving to "a single all-inclusive system" that the five aggregates and the six sense bases are explicitly connected:
The first five external sense bases (visible form, sound, smell, taste and touch), and the first five internal sense bases (eye, ear, nose, tongue and body) are part of the form aggregate;
The mental sense-object (i.e. mental objects) overlap the first four aggregates (form, feeling, perception and formation);
The mental sense organ (mind) is comparable to the aggregate of consciousness.
Bodhi states the six sense bases is a "vertical" view of human experiences while the aggregates is a "horizontal" (temporal) view. The Theravada Buddhist meditation practice on sense bases is aimed at both removing distorted cognitions such as those influenced by cravings, conceits and opinions, as well as "uprooting all conceivings in all its guises".
Eighteen Dhātus and Four Paramatthas
The eighteen dhātus[note 20] – Six External Bases, Six Internal Bases, and Six Consciousnesses – function through the five aggregates. These dhātus can be arranged into six triads, each triad composed of a sense object, a sense organ, and sense consciousness.[note 21]
The Abhidhamma and post-canonical Pali texts create a meta-scheme for the Sutta Pitaka's conceptions of aggregates, sense bases and dhattus (elements). This meta-scheme is known as the four paramatthas or ultimate realities, three conditioned, one unconditioned:
Material phenomena (rūpa, form)
Mind or Consciousness (Citta)
Mental factors (Cetasikas: the nama-factors sensation, perception and formation)
The Twelve Nidanas is a linear list of twelve elements from the Buddhist teachings which arise depending on the preceding link. While this list may be interpreted as describing the processes which give rise to rebirth, in essence it describes the arising of dukkha as a psychological process, without the involvement of an atman. Scholars regard it to be a later synthesis of several older lists. The first four links may be a mockery of the Vedic-Brahmanic cosmogony, as described in the Hymn of Creation of Veda X, 129 and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. These were integrated with a branched list which describe the conditioning of mental processes, akin to the five skandhas. Eventually, this branched list developed into the standard twelvefold chain as a linear list.
According to Boisvert, "the function of each of the aggregates, in their respective order, can be directly correlated with the
theory of dependent origination - especially with the eight middle links." Four of the five aggregates are explicitly mentioned in the following sequence, yet in a different order than the list of aggregates, which concludes with viññāṇa • vijñāna:
which conditions the precursors (saḷāyatana, phassa • sparśa) to sensations (vedanā)
which in turn condition craving (taṇhā • tṛṣṇā) and clinging (upādāna)
which ultimately lead to the "entire mass of suffering" (kevalassa dukkhakkhandha).[note 22]
The interplay between the five-aggregate model of immediate causation and the twelve-nidana model of requisite conditioning is evident, for instance underlining the seminal role that mental formations have in both the origination and cessation of suffering.[note 23][note 24]
Mindfulness is thought to be applied to four upassanā (domains or bases), "constantly watching sensory experience in order to prevent the arising of cravings which would power future experience into rebirths," which also overlap with the skandhas. The four domains are:
According to Grzegorz Polak, the four upassanā have been misunderstood by the developing Buddhist tradition, including Theravada, to refer to four different foundations. According to Polak, the four upassanā do not refer to four different foundations of which one should be aware, but are an alternate description of the jhanas, describing how the samskharas are tranquilized:
The Mahayana developed out of the traditional schools, introducing new texts and putting other emphases in the teachings, especially sunyata and the Bodhisattva-ideal.
The Prajnaparamita-teachings developed from the first century BCE onward. It emphasises the "emptiness" of everything that exists. This means that there are no eternally existing "essences", since everything is dependently originated. The skandhas too are dependently originated, and lack any substantial existence. According to Red Pine, the Prajnaparamita texts are a historical reaction to some early Buddhist Abhidhammas. Specifically, it is a response to Sarvastivada teachings that "phenomena" or its constituents are real. The prajnaparamita notion of "emptiness" is also consistent with the Theravada Abhidhamma.[further explanation needed]
This is formulated in the Heart Sutra. The Sanskrit version of the "Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra" ("Heart Sutra"), which may have been composed in China from Sanskrit texts, and later back-translated into Sanskrit,[note 25] states that the five skandhas are empty of self-existence,[note 26][note 27][note 28] and famously states "form is emptiness, emptiness is form The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness."
The Yogacara-school further analysed the workings of the mind, elaborated on the concept of nama-rupa and the five skandhas, and developed the notion of the Eight Consciousnesses.
Sunyata, in Chinese texts, is "wu", nothingness. In these texts, the relation between absolute and relative was a central topic in understanding the Buddhist teachings. The aggregates convey the relative (or conventional) experience of the world by an individual, although Absolute truth is realized through them. Commenting on the Heart Sutra, D.T. Suzuki notes:
When the sutra says that the five Skandhas have the character of emptiness [...], the sense is: no limiting qualities are to be attributed to the Absolute; while it is immanent in all concrete and particular objects, it is not in itself definable.
The Tathāgatagarbha Sutras, treating the idea of the Buddha-nature, developed in India but played a prominent role in China. The tathagatagarbha-sutras, on occasion, speak of the ineffable skandhas of the Buddha (beyond the nature of worldly skandhas and beyond worldly understanding). In the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra the Buddha tells of how the Buddha's skandhas are in fact eternal and unchanging. The Buddha's skandhas are said to be incomprehensible to unawakened vision.
Referring to mahamudra teachings, Chogyam Trungpa identifies the form aggregate as the "solidification" of ignorance (Pali, avijjā; Skt., avidyā), allowing one to have the illusion of "possessing" ever dynamic and spacious wisdom (Pali, vijjā; Skt. vidyā), and thus being the basis for the creation of a dualistic relationship between "self" and "other."[note 29]
According to Trungpa Rinpoche, the five skandhas are "a set of Buddhist concepts which describe experience as a five-step process" and that "the whole development of the five skandhas...is an attempt on our part to shield ourselves from the truth of our insubstantiality," while "the practice of meditation is to see the transparency of this shield."
Trungpa Rinpoche writes (2001, p. 38):
[S]ome of the details of tantric iconography are developed from abhidharma [that is, in this context, detailed analysis of the aggregates]. Different colors and feelings of this particular consciousness, that particular emotion, are manifested in a particular deity wearing such-and-such a costume, of certain particular colors, holding certain particular sceptres in his hand. Those details are very closely connected with the individualities of particular psychological processes.
^According to Dalai Lama, skandha means "heap, group, collection or aggregate".
^In Rawson (1991: p.11), the first skandha is defined as: "name and form (Sanskrit nāma-rūpa, Tibetan gzugs)...". In the Pali literature, nāma-rūpa traditionally refers to the first four aggregates, as opposed to the fifth aggregate, consciousness.
^The Pali canon universally identifies that vedana involves the sensing or feeling of something as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral (see, for instance, SN 22). When contemporary authors elaborate on vedana, they define it similarly (see, for instance, Nhat Hanh, 1999, p. 178; Trungpa, 2001, p. 21; and, Trungpa, 2002, p. 126). The one exception is in Trungpa (1976), pp. 20-23, where he states that the "strategies or impluses" of "indifference, passion and aggression" are "part of the third stage [aggregate]," "guided by perception." (This section of Trungpa, 1976, is anthologized in Trungpa, 1999, pp. 55-58.)
^Generally, vedanā is considered to not include "emotions." For example, Bodhi (2000a), p. 80, writes: "The Pali word vedanā does not signify emotion (which appears to be a complex phenomenon involving a variety of concomitant mental factors), but the bare affective quality of an experience, which may be either pleasant, painful or neutral." Perhaps somewhat similarly, Trungpa (1999), p.58, writes: "Consciousness [the fifth aggregate] consists of emotions and irregular thought patterns...."
^Some translate this term as perception although this is typically the translation of pratyakṣa meaning the apprehension of sensibilia and not any subsequent judgement concerning them. The English word conception is more accurate, although this implies less a process and more the static end result (the mental state of holding a concept)), hence discrimination is preferred.
^The Theravada Abhidhamma divides saṅkhāra into fifty mental factors (Bodhi, 2000a, p. 26). Trungpa (2001), pp. 47ff, following the Sarvastivada Abhidharma studied in Mahayana Buddhism, states that there are fifty-one "general types" of samskara.
^Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind. Curzon Press 1995, page 143-146.
^In commenting on the use of "consciousness" in SN 22.3 , Bodhi (2000b), pp. 1046-7, n. 18, states: "The passage confirms the privileged status of consciousness among the five aggregates. While all the aggregates are conditioned phenomena marked by the three characteristics, consciousness serves as the connecting thread of personal continuity through the sequence of rebirths.... The other four aggregates serve as the 'stations for consciousness' (vinnanatthitiyo: see [SN] 22:53-54). Even consciousness, however, is not a self-identical entity but a sequence of dependently arisen occasions of cognizing; see MN I 256-60."
^Harvey writes, "This is in contrast to saññā, which knows by grouping things together, labeling them. This contrast can be seen in terms of the typical objects of these states: colours for saññā (S.III.87), but tastes (S.III.87) or feelings (M.I.292) for viññāṇa. While colours usually be immediately identified, tastes and feelings often need careful consideration to properly identify them: discernment and analysis are needed."
^This conception of consciousness is found in the Theravada Abhidhamma (Bodhi, 2000a, p. 29).
^While not necessarily contradicted by the Nikayas, this is a particularly Mahayana statement. For instance, Nhat Hanh (1999, pp. 180-1) states: "Consciousness here means store consciousness, which is at the base of everything we are, the ground of all of our mental formations." Similarly, Trungpa (2001, pp. 73-4) states that consciousness "is the finally developed state of being that contains all the previous elements.... [C]onsciousness constitutes an immediately available source of occupation for the momentum of the skandhas to feed on."
^* Dukkha: The first Noble Truth states that "in brief, the five bundles of grasping-fuel (upadana-skandha) are painful [dukkha]." The five aggregates trigger suffering, pain or unsatisfactoriness. Everything that makes a person is a factor of dukkha, and these in Buddhist thought are not a source of pleasure but of sorrow. Nirvana requires transcendence from all five skandhas and the sense objects. * Impermanent: they come into being and dissolve. * Anatta: each of the skandhas lacks a self and substantiality. The aggregates are appearances which don't have an essence either separately or together, all that is perceived as an aggregate or a whole has no real existence. This is the "non-self" (anatta) doctrine, and it holds that a belief in self is a source of Dukkha (suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness). The explicit denial of substantiality or essence in any of the five skandha appears in the early Buddhist texts: "All form is comparable to foam; all feelings to bubbles; all sensations are mirage-like; dispositions are like the plantain trunk; consciousness is but an illusion: so did the Buddha illustrate [the nature of the aggregates]."
^The initial part of the Buddhist practice is purification of each of the above "five aggregates" through meditation, study, ritual and living by virtues, particularly abstaining from mental intoxicants. Ultimately, the practice shifts to considering these as naive, then transcending them to reach the state of realization that there is neither person nor self within, or in any other being, states Harvey, where everyone and everything is without self or substantiality and is a "cluster of changing physical and mental processes".
^The physical, the personality factors (skandhas), and any sense of Self or I are a burden which the enlightened individual has dropped, thus becoming a "man of nothing", not clinging to anything internal or external. The perfect state of enlightenment is one without any personality, no "I am" conceit, no physical identification, no intellectual identification, no identification in direct or indirects terms related to any of the five skandhas, because "a tathagata has abandoned the personality factors". No one can find him because he has no "I", self or identity, while his citta expands to infinity; he is beyond the reach of the unenlightened human beings, as well as the army of the Mara (demon of death in Buddhism).
^Adrian Snodgrass (1984) asserts that the term literally means "heap", and the concept refers to the teaching accepted by all Buddhist schools that "the personality is an aggregate of five constituent parts," referring back to older publications from the 1930s to the 1950s.
^Gethin: "To explain the khandhas as the Buddhist analysis of man, as has been the tendency of contemporary scholars, may not be incorrect as far as it goes, yet it is to fix upon one facet of the treatment of the khandhas at the expense of others. Thus A. B. Keith could write, “By a division which ... has certainly no merit, logical or psychological, the individual is divided into five aggregates or groups.” However, the five khandhas, as treated in the nikāyas and early abhidhamma, do not exactly take on the character of a formal theory of the nature of man. The concern is not so much the presentation of an analysis of man as object, but rather the understanding of the nature of conditioned existence from the point of view of the experiencing subject. Thus at the most general level rūpa, vedanā, sañña, and are presented as five aspects of an individual being's experience of the world; each khandha is seen as representing a complex class of phenomena that is continuously arising and falling away in response to processes of consciousness based on the six spheres of sense. They thus become the five upādānakkhandhas, encompassing both grasping and all that is grasped."
^Bronkhorst: "The aim of the teaching of the Buddha is evidently not to discover the real self. On the contrary, the preoccupation with the true nature of the self has to be given up. Only then one is ready to follow the path shown by the Buddha. Seen from this practical point of view, the question as to the existence of the self is of minor importance. The main thing is that knowledge of the self plays no useful role on the Buddha’s path to liberation. In view of the fact that certain non-Buddhist currents asserted a permanent self not subject to change because only knowledge of such a self could be useful to the attainment of liberation, it is probably justified to assume that the Buddha did not accept the existence of such a self."
^Bronkhorst: "Acquiring the insight that the various components of the person are not the self causes a wise and noble listener to turn away from material form, and so on; as a result he becomes free from desire and attains liberation."
^According to Bikkhu Bodhi, the Maha-punnama Sutta, also called The Great Full-moon Night Discourse, describes the impermanence of the aggregates to assert that there is no self, and the right discernment is, "this is not mine, this is not my self, this is not what I am". From Maha-punnama Sutta
[Buddha:] "It's possible that a senseless person — immersed in ignorance, overcome with craving — might think that he could outsmart the Teacher's message in this way: 'So — form is not-self, feeling is not-self, perception is not-self, fabrications are not-self, consciousness is not-self. Then what self will be touched by the actions done by what is not-self?' Now, monks, haven't I trained you in counter-questioning with regard to this & that topic here & there? What do you think — Is form constant or inconstant?" "Inconstant, lord." "And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?" "Stressful, lord." "And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: 'This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am'?"
[Monks:] "No, lord."
"... Is feeling constant or inconstant?" "Inconstant, lord."...
"... Is perception constant or inconstant?" "Inconstant, lord."...
"... Are fabrications constant or inconstant?" "Inconstant, lord."...
"What do you think, monks — Is consciousness constant or inconstant?" "Inconstant, lord." "And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?" "Stressful, lord." "And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: 'This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am'?"
"Thus, monks, any form whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every form is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: 'This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.'
– Majjhima Nikaya iii 15, Translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
^The Pāli word dhātu is used in multiple contexts in the Pāli canon: For instance, Bodhi (2000b), pp. 527-8, identifies four different ways that dhātu is used including in terms of the "eighteen elements" and in terms of "the four primary elements" (catudhātu).
The first five sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body) are derivates of form.
The sixth sense organ (mind) is part of consciousness.
The first five sense objects (visible forms, sound, smell, taste, touch) are also derivatives of form.
The sixth sense object (mental object) includes form, feeling, perception and mental formations.
The six sense consciousnesses are the basis for consciousness.
^>Put another way, it is through the five skandhas that clinging occurs. See, for instance, the Samadhi Sutta (SN 22:5) (Thanissaro, 2006b).
^The apparent distinctions between the nidana model and the khandha model are reduced when, instead of using the twelve-nidana model of the Samyutta Nikaya, chapter 12 (e.g., Thanissaro, 1997d), one compares the nine-nidana model of the Maha-nidana Sutta (DN 15) (Thanissaro, 1997a) where consciousness conditions name-and-form and name-and-form conditions consciousness.
^Bodhi (2000b, pp. 839-840) writes: "Whereas the teaching on dependent origination is intended to disclose the dynamic pattern running through everyday experience that propels the round of rebirth and death forward from life to life, the teaching on the five aggregates concentrates on experience in its lived immediacy in the continuum from birth to death." Perhaps in a similar vein, Bodhi (2000b, pp. 762-3, n. 132) notes elsewhere that, according to the Samyutta Nikaya's subcommentary: "There are two kinds of origin, momentary origin (khanika-samudaya) and origin through conditions (paccaya-samudaya). A bhikkhu who sees one sees the other."
^According to Nattier (1992), the Heart Sutra was originally composed in Chinese and later back-translated into Sanskrit. Thereafter, it became popular in India and later Tibet. Elements in this translation are not present in Chinese versions of this sutra.
^See also Nhat Hanh (1988), p. 1, and Suzuki (1960), p. 26. Nhat Hanh (1988) adds to this first verse the sentence: "After this penetration, he overcame all pain." Suzuki (1960), p. 29, notes that this additional sentence is unique to Hsuan-chuang's translation and is omitted in other versions of the Heart Sutra.
^In the Theravada canon, the English word "self-existence" is a translation of the Sanskrit word svabhava. "Svabhava" has also been translated as "self-nature" (Suzuki, 1960, p. 26), "separate self" (Nhat Hanh, 1988, p. 16) and "self-existence" (Red Pine, 2004, p. 67). Note that Chinese versions of the Heart Sutra do not contain the notion of svabhava. When "emptiness of self" is mentioned, the English word "self" is a translation of the Pali word "atta" (Sanskrit, "atman").
^Regarding the term sabhāva (Pali; Skt: svabhāva) in the Pali Canon, Gal (2003), p. 7, writes: "To judge from the suttas, the term sabhāva was never employed by the Buddha and it is rare in the Pali Canon in general. Only in the post-canonical period does it become a standard concept, when it is extensively used in the commentarial descriptions of the dhammas [conditioned mental and physical processes] and in the sub-commentarial exegesis. The term sabhāva, though, does occur on various occasions in five canonical or para-canonical texts: the Paṭisambhidāmagga, the Peṭakopadesa, the Nettippakaraṇa, the Milindapañha and the Buddhavaṃsa." Gal (p. 10) speculates that the use of the term sabhāva in the Paṭisambhidāmagga might be the earliest occurrence in Pali literature and quotes (p. 7, esply. n. 28) from this text (Paṭis. II 178) the application of the phrase sabhāvena suññaṃ (Pali for "empty of sabhāva") to each of the aggregates — at least superficially similar to an application of svabhāva in the Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra ("Heart Sutra") cited in this article.
^This type of analysis of the aggregates (where ignorance conditions the five aggregates) might be akin to that described by the Twelve Nidanas.
^Rupert Gethin (16 July 1998). The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford University Press. pp. 140–149, 238–239. ISBN978-0-19-289223-2., Quote: We have seen how Buddhist thought criticizes the concept of an unchanging self as incoherent; however, both ancient and modern critics have argued that to do away with the self in the manner of Buddhist thought in fact creates insurmountable philosophical and moral problems. (...) We have seen how Buddhist thought breaks down an individual into five classes of physical and mental events known as skandhas or aggregates".
Buddhaghosa, Bhadantācariya (trans. from Pāli by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli) (1999). The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga. Seattle, WA: BPS Pariyatti Editions. ISBN1-928706-00-2.
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