Aggregates and bundles

This is quite nice; maybe ‘sense experience’ is repetitive, though, given that this is all that can be.

For some reason the primary usage of the Estonian word ‘agregaat’ is for a collection of machines or equipment (working in unison)…but it’s mostly used by people who were around at the advent of machines :stuck_out_tongue:


and the primary use of aggregates for germans is the states of solid ice, fluid, and gasoid


Looking through the Majjhima Nikaya I see khandha in different contexts:

  • mainly as “aggregates affected by clinging” (or grasping etc.)
  • as ‘necessary ingredients’ of being, e.g. when someone dies or gets born (without mention of upādāna) (MN 9, MN 109, MN 141)
  • ‘the three aggregates included by the Noble Eightfold Path’, meaning sila, samadhi, panna (MN 44, MN 77)
  • the ‘aggregate of noble virtue’ for a monk (probably like above as sila) (MN 27, MN 51)

In the Digha Nikaya it’s mostly khandha with upādāna.

In the Anguttara Nikaya we have a very different situation. Here the grand majority is the aggregates as sila, samadhi, panna (sometimes adding ’ the aggregate of liberation of one beyond training, the aggregate of the knowledge and vision of liberation of one beyond training’).

The Samyutta was too much to go through in detail, sorry, but displays all of the above and no additional context as far as I could see.

To translate khandha in a way that covers these contexts needs a general unspecific term. Based on the above I disagree with Gombrich about placing khandha in the context of fire. It is a speculation which he traces back “to a small sutta” and I don’t see how he can back this up substantially.
Like some of you I like to believe that the Buddha spoke in a way that appealed to newcomers as well - which is why I would rule out aggregate. Where khandha stands alone I would personally put in brackets the missing word so that the reader doesn’t ask 'bundles of what?'
To the question of which word to use, I would go very general with ‘cluster’ or ‘group’ (because it etymologically fits as well with the connotations of: heap, lump, bunch.)

All this said I don’t envy the translator :slight_smile: and know that people will always be just more or less happy with a translation…


and there’s one other very important - dukkhakkhandha - a mass of suffering

this time it’s a speculation on MY part, but theoretically the use of khandha could have started specifically to denote constituents of human experience, where its connection wiht fire is plausible, and only later was borrowed to cover other doctrinal areas

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I’m a friend of speculations myself and I’m grateful for the patience of people who put up with it :slight_smile: but there are some plausibility checks (not proofs of course). My question here would be: Would the Buddha have taken an existing term, and start using it with very different implications? It doesn’t make sense to me because I imagine he wouldn’t have wanted to confuse people (rather the opposite). So he for sure would have used khandha/skandha in the common understanding of his time. And from what we can gather it was for sure not an established term related to fire or firewood. You can look up skandha at As summarized here it rather goes in the direction of part, section, etc. There’s just not enough evidence to back up the root context of fire, wood etc. as the normal assumed meaning at the time of the Buddha.

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not to discredit your argument, whos rationale i acknowledge, but to just point out that the Buddha is found to have been doing just that, appropriating terms and concepts, particularly from brahmanical tradition, and loading them with new meanings

one example is the word brahman which in the Buddhist context means arahant, one who is noble not by virtue of birth but by virtue of spiritual attainment

it’s in view of this tendency that abstraction of khandha from mundane context couldn’t have seemed impossible

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My vote is for khandhas. Second choice, aggregates, although it doesn’t sound as cool (but probably more beginner friendly).

In my opinion, I think transliterations are okay for some special and important terms, or those that don’t have a clear translation into English. I tend to keep skandha, dharma, samādhi, dhyāna, nirvāṇa, etc.

In the history of translators into Chinese, Kumarajiva used quite a few transliterated terms, but his prose was otherwise smooth and simple. He varied his phrasings, sometimes just for style, and created translations that were widely appreciated for their literary qualities. His terminology was never a big hurdle.


In reference to the attached picture beneath this quote, thank you, Ajahn, for the hearty laugh! Brilliant! :sweat_smile:
Grasping bundles does sound a touch weird, but I think many people would benefit from simplified translations, in the language of the people. :anjal:

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I much prefer grapsing or grasped over clingling so I’m glad you’re using that. But to be prefectly honest, I laughed out loud seeing ‘bundles’. Not sure why. I completley agree that aggregate is not a great translation, but as @ Aranya mentioned, I’d almost rather see khanda over ‘bundle’. Though I know you want to use simple language and stay away from using Pali words, to me bundles just makes things even more confusing. I don’t think it’s any more understandable (when used in this context of the teachings to someone not familiar with what ‘aggregate’ means (or khanda ) so I’m not sure what the advantage is. Simple language is fine, if and when it helps in terms of more readily getting the meaning but I don’t get that in this case.

I definitely think what you said earlier about it not being a bad idea to keep some technical language (in some cases) would apply here. Otherwise I think you risk your translation not being easily understandable for someone who is familar with some of the basics of Buddhism, but who doesn’t necesssarily know Pali.

Also, I actually relate to your picture of rocks–different materials glommed together and called/taken (up) as an actual thing :slight_smile: So I vote for sticking with aggregate (albeit not great) unless an even better alternative works. When you see something as/call something a rock, it’s an aggreagate of ‘stuff’ glommed together, not a bundle of rocks. And isn’t bundle used already for another Pali word (kalāpa)? And while groups or subsets (or just sets) have essentially the same meaning as ‘bundle’ (and really a bit different than aggreagate), I would prefer these over ‘bundle’.


I really protest the use transliteration and uncommon words!

Good teachers never use a bunch of words you don’t understand; if they have to introduce a new term, they give everyone a large heads up and explain the new term, often using analogy or simile.

Really good explainers don’t need fancy language to get their points across.

It makes it sound like the Buddha isn’t willing to give it to you straight, or worse, that he isn’t really that good at explaining things. (Or even worse, that he’s just another hoity-toity intellectual trying to dazzle you with his book-learning)

Edit: Though of course, translation is no easy task, I don’t mean to talk down on all the good work that’s been done.

From my own experience in tutoring math, evocative language is what makes people remember things - if you can explain something in a way that makes someone laugh they’re sure to remember it. This must have been important in an oral tradition.

I hope I don’t come across as harsh in this post, I mean this in a lighthearted way! Here’s some smilies to soften the post :slight_smile: :smiley: :grin:


Yes of course. This is the realm of lost echoes and disowned possibilities.

In English, to talk about a fire “grasping” (upādiyati) its fuel or faggot or bundle [which I rightly or wrongly understand to be the context of upādāna in this case] is unidiomatic. Like @Erik_ODonnell mentioned, verbs which would collocate better would include “consume”, “burn in dependence on” or even just “burn”. An alternative to a fuel-heap would be a “burn-pile”: a word in common use which gives 14,700,000 results on Google. Good luck with naming the co-evolving incendiary mass!


Five gripholds of clinging.

I just want to ask what it means when you say, “āhāra… in etymology… is exactly parallel with upādāna.” I know that they are parallels in DO in the suttas, but what is the etymological relationship between the two? Thanks.

Perhaps etymology is the wrong word, but in the root meanings. They both have stems meaning “pick up, take, carry”. Thus you could literally render them as “uptake, intake”, etc.

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Ah, yes! I never saw it (root meaning parallelism) that way. I knew the respective meanings; I noticed the paralleling in usage; but this went right past me! Thank you.

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As a native english speaker, when I first learned “aggregate” in Buddhism I didn’t know what the heck that meant. Even after studying it for quite a while I still didn’t get it. khanda is a specialized religious term, so no matter WHAT you use as an english translation, it’s going to be difficult and take a lot of time to understand. I can really appreciate what B.Sujato is trying to accomplish by using “bundle”, and I cast my vote in support. I’m definitely not a fan of using 50 cent words that make me have to interrupt the flow of reading a sutta, run for the dictionary. Yes, I had to look up “aggregate” the first time I encountered it. And then you feel frustrated that after learning the definition it doesn’t help you in understanding what it means in the Buddhist usage. So might as well use a less intimidating term as a translation.

“bundle” in the context of rebirth also makes me think of the english colloquialism “bundle of joy” referring to a newborn baby, which is pretty funny. how inverted human perceptions are. bundles of dukkha is seen as a bundle of joy.

However, bundle doesn’t capture the active “verb” sense of the 5 khandhas. 4 out of the 5 khandhas are clearly activities we do, not objects or nouns, and even rupa-khandha in some sutta passages seems to have a “verb” aspect.
But if “fuel” is a noun, then I guess there’s no harm following the Buddha’s precedent.


I think daverupta s suggestion of “set” instead of bundles is excellent

“Collection” - Collections" would do the job.

“Elements” and “components” others worth pondering?

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