Are khandhas early or late EBT?

To be honest it feels quite natural to me that this concept doesn’t appear in verse. In talking about the Dhamma in an analytical way then it fits, but in poetry it just doesn’t have that emotional appeal (to me at least).

For example in the Atthakavagga (Snp 4.2):

See them flounder over belongings,
Mamāyite passatha phandamāne,
like fish in puddles of a dried-up stream.
Maccheva appodake khīṇasote;
Seeing this, live unselfishly,
Etampi disvā amamo careyya,
forming no attachment to future lives.
Bhavesu āsattimakubbamāno.

It uses images and direct speech. While in using a term like the khandhas, it is too abstract and requires explanation or prior knowledge.

The verse you quote from the Dhp could be a ‘summary verse’ (this term I made up for sake of argument, because there might be different kind of verses), for example ‘there is no misery like the khandhas’ could refer to SN 22.31 where the khandhas are identified as the root of misery.

Of course this is all speculation, but I don’t ‘miss’ the khandhas in verses to be honest.


Yes. But I also think the shift in focus that DN reveals was towards writing legends and stories, which are less likely to bring up basic ideas like the five aggregates. It’s like linear algebra not coming up much in a book about calculus. It’s a foundational concept, but not very relevant to later developments.


SN 22.83: Ānandasutta—Bhikkhu Sujato (

I understand Gil Fronsdal takes that approach with his book, The Buddha before Buddhism: Wisdom from the Early Teachings:
I have not read the book, but recall listening to a talk or two from him about it.

However, Bhante Sujato had some cautions about overplaying this aspect in his seminar series:

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Thanks for the links. I will watch them.

Does anyone know if there are references in verse to anatta or atta in the sense of unchanging atman? I suspect there is not, but I cannot imagine how a search could be performed in a reasonable way to find out.

I’d still be interested in your preliminary understanding, i.e. if the khandas belong to the earliest layer or not, and what you mainly base your understanding on. (@josephzizys @mikenz66 @Danny @cdpatton @Green @prabhath) :pray:

You have set me off on a mission @Gabriel ! I am busy searching for terms on the digital Pali reader and constructing tables and what not, do you will have to give me some time to give my definitive answer. But my preliminary feeling is that it’s somewhat later than the sekkha patipada, which may be somewhat later than atthakavagga, parayanavagga and khaggavisanasutta, so my preliminary strata thesis:

  1. atthakavagga, parayanavagga and khaggavisanasutta
  2. sekkha patipada and jhana
  3. 10 link DO and Salayatana
  4. 12 link DO, 5A, 4NT, 8FNP
  5. Abbhidhamma
  6. Mahayana
  7. Vajravada
  8. Pure Land
  9. Protestant Buddhism
  10. Secular Buddhism

Got a bit tongue in cheek there.

Anyway, I am doing some research as we speak and will almost certainly revise and reconsider what I say above, but definitely no question in my mind that the aggregates are later than the sekkha patipada.


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Hi @Gabriel , thanks. This is all new terrain for me: what are the earliest layers?

But i have done some exploring of Sutta Nipata. I have seen the message is there also: do cut of the desire for name & form (Snp 2.12, Vangissasutta):

“He cut off craving for mind and body in this very life,” (Snp 2.12)

What Snp4.15 says is also consistent with all is said about khandha’s in SN22 and other places:

*One who has no sense of ownership *
in the whole realm of name and form,
does not grieve for that which is not,
they suffer no loss in the world.

If you don’t think of anything
as belonging to yourself or others,
not finding anything to be ‘mine’,
you won’t grieve, thinking ‘I don’t have it’.

So, see body and mind (the nama of mental aspect of: vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana) as not Me and mine. Sutta Nipata says the same.

Maybe the word khandha is not literally used, and maybe they are not listed as a groups of five in Sutta Nipata but those texts are all about khandha’s and craving and grasping khandha’s.

I also belief the Buddha is truthful when he teaches this (from Snp3.12):

“Sights, sounds, tastes, smells,
touches, and thoughts, the lot of them—
they’re likable, desirable, and pleasurable
as long as you can say that they exist.

For all the world with its gods,
this is what they agree is happiness.
And where they cease
is agreed on as suffering for them.

The noble ones have seen as happiness
the ceasing of identity.
This insight by those who see
contradicts the whole world.

What others say is happiness
the noble ones say is suffering.
What others say is suffering
the noble ones know as happiness"

I can relate to this. There is no heavier burden then that because of identity view and perception.
I belief this is true. Real happiness is the abandoment of identiy, i.e. the abandonment of the self-views (this i am, this is mine, this i my self) and the abandoning of the conceit ‘I am’ (asmin mana).
In the end it is very simple. Buddha says; happiness lies in the abandoment of anything that burdens the heart. It cannot be expacted that there can come an end to this burden when mind is still in a personal ego-related sphere, and has grasped the known as Me and mine. Ofcourse that is burden.

I totally agree with the Buddha’s analyses that real happiness comes from uprooting all that burdens. But this does not have to be understood, perse, as the end of rebirth, because this all refers to loosing the burden in this very life, and experiencing the relaxation of missing the burden of me and mine-making in this very life.

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I think @Green gives great examples of how “Acchecchi taṇhaṁ idha nāmarūpe, Vari" is almost certainly an earlier form of upādānakkhandha, that is upādānakkhandha evolves from the simpler but similar concept of namarupa,

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what is sekkha patipada?

Hi @josephzizys,

I have always learned that SN56.11 was first teaching. Is this not true?

I would say it depends on what you mean @Green . If you mean that the words in the sutta where the very words that the buddha spoke on that occasion then I would say with 99 percent certainty that it is NOT TRUE. The Sutta as it stands is full of complex exegetical formulas like the modes and aspects, refers to late technical terminology that rarely appears in the early poetry or the early parts of DN, uses “noble” before truths etc. In short I would say it reached the form it did at least a hundred years after the death of the Buddha maybe more.

If you mean does the sutta represent a true occurrence whereby the Buddha taught the middle way to the group of five in the deer park at Isipatana, and that what the Buddha taught was, well, Buddhism, then yes, I think it IS TRUE.

Perhaps the REAL TRUTH is somewhere in the middle :slight_smile:

Oke thanks @josephzizys . It is all new for me, even that there exist a late technical terminology.

The separation of pañcupādānakkhandhā into nāma-rūpa (and the corresponding categorisation of viññāṇa as nāma) is a commentarial development, and does not find support in EBTs. It is derived from the ‘ghost in the machine’ interpretation found in the later Abhidhamma.

I consider pañcupādānakkhandhā, saḷāyatana, and nāma-rūpa saha viññāṇa complimentary analyses of experience that can each stand on its own, and each a mode of contemplation that can give rise to liberating insight.


@Gabriel I’m afraid I took it for granted that khandhas belong to the earliest layer (i.e., taught by the historical Buddha), and now that the question has been raised, yet to find compelling evidence to think otherwise.

As mentioned in my previous comment, I consider khandhas to be one of three ‘models’ that complement each other, and each of which can offer a complete view of the Buddha’s soteriology independently.

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I find it interesting to ask myself questions I haven’t raised before. And when I looked at the distribution, especially the AN and parts of the SN, I found it unexpected. I understand that the mere distribution is not enough evidence for you though.

So I assume you consider SN 12.2 and MN 9 later additions then? (Me too btw)


I think namarupa refers also here in Sutta Nipata to the physical and mental aspect of what we call our existence: body, feeling, perception/memory, will, consciousness.

Snp2.12 translation Sujato

“He cut off craving for mind and body in this very life,”
“Acchecchi taṇhaṁ idha nāmarūpe, Variant: Acchecchi → achejji (mr)
said the Buddha, (iti bhagavā) “
The river of darkness that had long lain within him.
Kaṇhassa sotaṁ dīgharattānusayitaṁ; Variant: Kaṇhassa → taṇhāya (mr) *
He has entirely crossed over birth and death.”* Atāri jātiṁ maraṇaṁ asesaṁ”,
So declared the Blessed One, the leader of the five.

Fausboll translates this verse:
13. Bhagavat: ‘He cut off the desire for name and form in this world,’–so said Bhagavat,–‘Kanha’s (i.e. Mâra’s) stream, adhered to for a long time, he crossed completely birth and death,’ so said Bhagavat, the best of the five (Brâhmanas, pañkavaggiyâ). (354)

Do you think namarupa refers here to something else then the five khandha’s, and why?

Yes, I find the question and this discussion interesting and useful :slight_smile:

I don’t read these texts to imply that pañcupādānakkhandhā are equal to nāma-rūpa: would it be possible to specify the relevant sections so that I could have a closer look?

Neither here no anywhere else do I read nāma-rūpa as the khandhas; as I understand, the EBTs are consistent in presenting nāma-rūpa (which I always read as ‘name-and-form’) as the counterpart to viññāṇa, and together they represent the fundamental structure of experience: if consciousness is the presence of phenomena, name-and-form is the content. Neither can stand on its own: just as there is no mere presence/consciousness, so can’t things be said to exist without cognition.

As for this particular text (Snp 2.12), I take ‘cutting off desire for name-and-form’ as yet another way of referring to Nibbāna, just like bhava-nirodha, viññāṇa-nirodha etc. Referring to the extinguishment of one element in such instances do not mean that the other elements remain (i.e., singling out viññāṇa-nirodha does not imply that its counterpart nāma-rūpa is somehow not nirodha).


I made this observation about the AN in a response to the post about the theory that the DN is the earliest Nikaya. I propose that it’s part because the AN is geared to more beginner/lay practice (while the aggregates are more advanced), and also because of the tendency (observed by Bhikkhu Bodhi) of the AN not to repeat much that is also in the SN.

EDIT: maybe I should clarify that latter point a bit — the AN especially doesn’t cover the stuff in the middle 3 sections of the SN.