The Five Aggregates

The Five Aggregates - The Process of Personal Experience

Five AggregatesA person’s view of reality is very different to the actual state of reality. Let’s say several people look at the same object. Everyone is likely to have an opinion based on what the item is. These views reflect personal liking or dislike—the object’s actual nature manifest in the many causes and conditions that have come together. At a specific point in space and time, this object appears when causes and conditions change; the object changes or disappears altogether.
From the Buddhist perspective, all phenomena, universally, are transient. They come, and they go. They lack concrete, lasting reality. They are empty of existence. In this way, phenomena have two truths, conventional and absolute. Conventionally an object has an appearance, like a chair or a glass. The object draws on causes and conditions which give it a conventional reality. From an absolute reality point of view, phenomena are empty of existence despite their unmistakable presence. There are two ways of investigating personal experience.
1. Understanding experience in terms of ‘self’ produces a world constructed around the self and evaluations of opposites such as fear/hope, happiness/pain, gain/loss, praise/blame. All of this results in confusion, uncertainty and judgements.
2. Understanding experience as an impersonal flow of the Five Aggregates produces equanimity, even-mindedness and overcomes confusion of opposites.

The Five Aggregates work together as a continuous stream to provide a personal experience. The process is in constant flux, and the components are perpetually changing and are only valid for a brief period.


Form and matter refer to to the material aspects of the natural world. Included are all external and internal constituents. Internal constituents include the mundane body and the physical sense organs of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and mind’s mental sense organ.

Feeling , Sensation

Feeling and sensation refer to the sensory experience of an object. An object presents as either pleasant or unpleasant or neutral. Feeling and sensation subdivide further by the sense faculty through which it originates: feeling which arises by contact with the eye, ear, nose, tongue,
body and mind.


Perception refers to the sensory and mental processes that register, identify and label objects or their attributes. The conceptual dimension of perception adds definition and order. The mind distinguishes qualities and sorts them into patterns. There are six categories: perception of form, sound, smell, taste, touch and ideas.

Mental Formations

Refers to mental awareness that leads to volition engendering in karmic imprints and includes all mental impressions and conditioning triggered by an object. A personal experience needs awareness to occur. Consciousness plus feeling plus perception plus volition turn awareness into an experience.


Consciousness is like the oil in the works. Consciousness brings together the previous four aggregates and carries them into an experience by providing the general mental awareness of an object or a sensation. Consciousness becomes the support for all experiences.

The Process of Consciousness by an Example of Sight


Buddhism Five Aggregates
No Connection

A glass stands next to a person, well within sight. Until there is some mental connection, the glass does not exist in the person’s mind.


Buddhism Five Aggregates
Connection but no Consciousness

The person makes a first, passive mental connection which at this stage is still subconscious.


Buddhism Five Aggregates
Becoming Conscious of Something

The person becomes aware that there is something but has not identified it.


Buddhism Five Aggregates

The person evaluates the object as positive, negative or neutral. 


Buddhism Five Aggregates

The person has identified the object to what it is: a glass of red wine.


Buddhism Five Aggregates

Now the person is ready to take an action; either to take or reject.

The Sequence of Consciousness

1. Form and feeling join to create mental formations.
2. Consciousness connects form and senses and brings awareness.
3. Perception identifies the object and labels it.
4. Mental formations bring back memories as positive or negative.
5. Volition ultimately decides what action to take.

Experience is a Result of the Five Aggregates

The ‘I’ is a function of the Five Aggregates. The seamless continuity of consciousness deceptively conjures an idea of a concrete, permanent ‘self’, similar to a cinematic sequence, gives the impression of movement when a string of changing still pictures presents. Understanding the sequential process of the aggregates helps expose the illusion of the ‘self’. The continuous flow of the Five Aggregates results in the experience of ‘reality’.

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