5 aggregates

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In Buddhism the concept is anatta (no-self), but there are the five aggregates:

  1. Matter (rupa)
  2. Consciousness (vinnana)
  3. Feeling (vedana)
  4. Perception and memory (sanna)
  5. Mental formations (sankhara)

(from Samyutta Nikaya 22.48)

There is no permanent entity in any of the five aggregates. The five aggregates exist in the body and mind. They do not exist without the body and the body does not exist without the aggregates.

All of our thoughts are impermanent, our personalities are transitory, feelings, perceptions, and life itself is impermanent. Kamma is the process which conditions our existence. The only way out of the karmic cycle is through the experience of enlightenment.

When we have a body and mind we have the five aggregates and with the five aggregates we have buddha-nature. We have kammic energies, kammic consequences, and a capacity for insight and enlightenment. All animal species and perhaps other living things have this buddha-nature. It is not a thing, it is not a soul, and it is not something that can be grasped.

The age-old, common question to Buddhas and Buddhists is, if there is no soul, who or what is re-born? The karmic energies are said to be a progression or transmission from one being to the next. It is a series that continues, but with no permanent personality. One analogy is that of a candle flame. The fire burns from one candle to the next if you use the flame on one to light another. The fire appears to be the same, but is it? The flame from the one candle, let’s say that it is burning out, lights the new candle just as the flame from the first candle dies out. The flame appears to be continuing its existence, but it is just an appearance. The flame has a new body (the wax of the new candle) and new properties of existence. It appears to be the same flame, but it is not, it is a continuation of the series.

The Ven. Madawela Punnaji has put it in another analogy: that of a television remote control. The remote control unit sends a signal to the television and the channel changes. The signal is like our karmic energies. One thing causes the other. It is cause and effect. The remote control unit or its signal does not “become” the television or the channel.[1]

An excellent explanation the Buddhist arahant Nagasena gave for no-self is the analogy of self to chariot. Nagasena asks if the pole of the chariot is the chariot. Answer, no. Nagasena asks if the axel is the chariot or if the wheels are the chariot. Answer, no. Nagasena asks if the reins are the chariot. To this and further questions about the parts, the answer is no. Nagasena explains that the chariot is not something other than these parts. Yet the parts are not the chariot. Nagasena states that chariot is just a word, it exists, but only in relation to the parts. The concept “chariot” does not have an intrinsic, inherent value or place as something permanent. It is the same with the self. We certainly exist, just as a chariot exists, but it is more in terms of conventional language as opposed to absolute language. (Milindapanha, Khuddaka Nikaya)


  1. David N. Snyder, Ph.D.. "The Complete Book of Buddha's Lists -- Explained". Retrieved on Oct. 17, 2008.