Aggregates as "alien"

In the Sīlavant Sutta (22.122), the Buddha says the aggregates should be seen as alien, (in addition to being seen as inconstant, stressful, not-self…). Alien seems different than not-self and as not-self is included in the list would be redundant if this is what it’s pointing to.
But then what does “alien” point to? Alien to what? To a witnessing conditional consciousness? But that consciousness is also an aggregate.

2 Likes

That’s a good observation. There are some other suttas with parato in a similar context. These suttas basically have the same text as SN 22.122: SN 22.123, AN 4.124, AN 4.126, AN 9.36, NN 64, MN 74

In two other suttas it appears where we would instead expect anicca: SN 8.4, AN 4.16

Obviously parata is not congruent to anatta. I don’t expect the texts will tell us the exact difference though.

May I suggest to interpret “para” as alien aka not familiar aka not safe?

2 Likes

I would say alien in regards to the knowledge of their true nature - a knowledge that has to be developed. Perhaps that is why mindfulness is described as an ancestral domain away from the five cords of sensual pleasure. What changes is the sheer amount of development that is available; that “opening amidst confinement”; dwelling in that understanding would inevitably imply a degree of freedom of that upadana towards the aggregates, which is not possible when they are regarded as dear; welcomed as mine. With that, the space is simply not available to any useful degree. So, if everything, down to even the offer of mineness is seen as coming not from you, it is easier to take the aggregates as heaped onto the point of view, but not of a choice. In short, it is the attitude of craving and preference that maintains ignorance and keeps things fully bound to the fate of those aggregates. Learning to develop the intention of alien would induce the expectation that something other than taking them up is possible.

Patismabhidhamagga, Treatise on Insight, explains:

dukkha contemplation
khandha’s contemplating as:pain, disease, danger, boil, affliction, dart, calamity, plague, disaster, terror, menace, no protection, no shelter, no refuge.

anicca contemplation:
khandha’s contemplating as: disintegrating, fickle, perishable, unenduring

anatta contemplation:
khandha’s contemplating as: void, alien, not-self, empty, vain

So, according this (internal) commentary the alien-aspect is part of the anatta tilakkhana.
All those ways to contemplate the khandha’s can all be categorized under dukkha, anicca or anatta.

I like to belief ‘alien’ in an very direct way refers to: not me, not mine, not my self.

Not safe, as @ORsEnTURVi suggests, is in this commenatry attributed to the dukkha tilakkhana.

Typical commentary, wants to streamline and bring clarity against the diversity of the suttas. Following it, in case of SN 8.4 and AN 4.16 that would mean: anatta, dukkha, anatta:

See all conditioned phenomena as other, as suffering and not-self.
Saṅkhāre parato passa, dukkhato mā ca attato

Btw, the term tilakkhaṇa itself is commentarial too.

I do not see any inconsistency or problem.

Patisambhidamagga also makes clear that people with different qualities lay different accents.
People with a great wisdom faculty, for example, are in a natural way more sensitive to the anatta- characteristic. They have a more natural feeling fot that. In this way things are explained. I think very nicely. There are also people who are much more sensitive to the dukkha aspect of conditioned existence.There are also people who are more sensitive to anicca.

People which different qualities are sensitive to different aspect of life, anicca, dukkha or anatta. Ofcourse they are related but in someones life there is often also an unique accent. This becomes someones gateway to liberation.

The accent does not always have to be on all three aspect, on anicca, dukkha and anatta, but can also be on dukkha and anatta or even only on one of them. In this sutta’s you refer to the accent is on anatta and dukkha.

Alien as the nature of the gods.(Aliens) Impermanence