Limitation of the notion of 5 aggregates in the eyes of modern perspectives!

I find that the notion of 5 aggregates in explaining the Functioning of our minds and body is quite limited . If we were to understand it from the standpoint of modern terminologies , then some may find it not compatible ! The Interpretation of vedana / sanna / vinnana / sankhara may varies according to different people .
For example , the meaning of sankhara in 5 aggregates and in dependent origination were not same . The interpretation of avijja / ignorant also can be confusing ! Some interpret it as insentience ! There weren’t any standardization of the terms .

Even after parinibbana of the Buddha , there were many translations or commentaries that varies considerably .

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This is a common limitation in any teaching method.
Just imagine a medical student trying to learn the functioning of the body.
When you learn about the heart it does not mean that heart operates without the lungs.
Most of Buddhas teaching is aim (objective) to teach you the not self-nature of our existence.
You need to know the five aggregates just enough to comprehend the not self-nature.

Unfortunately the meaning and interpretation is quite different from people to people .

No surprise there. Until one’s attained enlightenment, we’re all more or less blind men trying to describe an elephant. As such, the Five Aggregates are quite sufficient in describing the operation of mind and body. It’s just that our own limited understanding that makes them seems limited.

Bear in mind , people with Mandarin or other as their first language may find it difficult to grasp in English, not mentioning Pali .

English speakers who read the translated version in English would have to put in as much time and effort to understand what they really say just like Chinese, Japanese, French who read their own language translation versions. Example, the English word Five “Aggregates” doesn’t give any clarity advantage to English readers than its Chinese version “Nu Yun”. Serious Buddhist students regardless of nationalities will have to put in the same amount of time and effort to make progress on the Path. Well, if you were Sudanese then you’d probably need to spend more resource due to limited suttas translations to its language. But if you’re Chinese, there shouldn’t be any excuse here for there’re already tons of suttas translations into Chinese.

五阴/五蕴 Wu yun

You are assuming from your standpoint , I don’t know whether you know any Mandarin or not . If you do read Mandarin , maybe you will know how some translations were very misleading !
If those whom can read Chinese / Mandarin find no problem / no trouble in understanding the dhamma , then there will be no need for the Chinese scholar nowadays going to re-translate it from Pali to Chinese !
You seems to be accusing people of making excuses or anything / attacking people instead , whereby , people only want to learn and understand more.
Your way of approaching to people is hostile , full of confrontations , you can questions me or other people , but, if you are being unfriendly all the time , then there is no need to continue our conversation !

Are you saying the author who tranlated the Pali Nikayas to Chinese doesn’t know what s/he’s doing? I don’t speak Mandarin, but you’re gonna have to provide evidences to back up your claim about those “misleading translations”

Baseless accusations and bunch of nonsense. But that seems to be your usual style so no surprise here.

@James and @santa100 it’s too easy to assume things about others. Regardless of what you think someone else’s motives are, try and speak in a friendly manner.

I think James is asking about the possible difficulties in understanding the meaning of the 5 aggregates. Is that right James? It’s a nice area to explore. Let’s try and stick to the topic.

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Yes, Kay. For example , because in Chinese sanna / perception is 想, which means " thinking " , now , I look at dictionary , perception which is process of being aware of something , and thinking is a process of reasoning , both are not Same ! This is only one instance . So, for Chinese readers this is confusing . I am not saying the authors anything ,
I am pointing out the fact here !
With regards to modern terminologies ,
Example of words applied such as (avijja / ignorant) , “insentience” by another bhante , causing confusion also .
So, from today view point , terms used long ago were more simplified in a sense , comparing it , not really compatible in many instances . That’s what I meant of limitation in the OP’s. The most important thing here is I hope from discussion with others , I will clear away many confusions , uncertainty and find a better application of words and characters whether in Chinese or English if I were to explain dhamma to others , especially , when express it to my friends and relatives with regards to the Dhamma ! As lucid as possible .

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Hi @anon29387788 Kay, I also simply pointed out the fact that there’s no shortage of Chinese translations for the Pali Nikayas. Matter of fact, I think Chinese speaking folks have even better advantage than others 'cuz they have their own Chinese Agamas for references and comparative study! Perception/Sanna are mentioned in AN 4.49, AN 6.63, SN 27.6, and many other suttas, in English and in Chinese, in Pali Nikayas and Chinese Agamas. So there’s no basis for the claim in the OP’s title, which says: “Limitation of the notion of 5 aggregates in the eyes of modern perspectives!”. Bottomline is whether reading in English or Chinese or Pali or whatever language, perception/sanna carries different meanings in different context (see Ven. Nyanatiloka’s Dictionary )

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@James and @santa100 …that’s all fine :slight_smile: Just try and view each other’s comments as coming from a good place, give each other the benefit of the doubt. It’s okay to disagree, but try and do so with courtesy. We’re all coming from different places/conditioning, we’re not necessarily going to understand each others’ perspectives; but we can always be friendly. You’ve both got something to offer and if you reach an impasse, just let it be.

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Thanks Kay , very nice of you !
Sharing with you a Chinese saying ,
Meaning is :
with emptiness eyeing
the four seas .


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I follow @James’s argument. In the current form of the suttas there are explanations missing in the description of the khandhas, as well as other key terms of the teaching. Del Toso wrote an excellent paper about sanna, and he needed to put a lot of philological work to come to see it as ‘recognition’ rather than ‘perception’. (ññā_in_the_Perceptual_Process_According_to_the_Suttapiṭaka_An_Appraisal)

I can’t follow the argument of ‘you’ll understand when you’re an arahant’. I would argue that the dhamma has as a target group anyone but the arahant. It’s us practitioners who need a crystal clear understanding of the teaching on a conceptional level.

My interpretation is that either

  • terms like the khandhas were self-explaining at the time of the Buddha because they were used in every day language
  • or that many explanations-around-the-khandhas were not available at the time of the canonization, so that they are simply missing

And I clearly prefer the second because even at the Buddha’s time some terms were very philosophical. Brahmins might have understood them, but not the shepard. There was a big need for explanation even back then.


Hmm, If this is so, it involves memory . Therefore , the whole processes takes more than what it seems . Comparing the four elements with quantum physics and dark matter etc found today by modern science is a similar situation .

That is exactly Del Toso’s point, that sanna involves memory, and he shows how he came to understand that through the EBT. One doesn’t have to follow his conclusions at every point. But at least he demonstrates how little the term is explicitly explained in the suttas, that one has to carefully fish for the meanings.