Seeing the five aggregates

How do we see the aggregates in ‘real time’?

Close your eyes and turn the head to a different direction and open them.

Can you sense the split second delay in recognition of what you are looking at? You are watching Sanna arising from phassa.

I am of course referring to using the process of perceiving things, to be mindful of the five aggregates, as they arise.

Dependent on the eye & forms (rupa) there arises consciousness (vinnana) at the eye. The meeting of the three is contact (phassa). With contact as a requisite condition there is feeling (vedana). MN 148.

Contact (phassa) further gives rise to perception (sanna) and fabrications/intentions etc.(sankhara) AN 6.63.

I will post this in instalments. I am open for your thoughts.

With metta


Can you watch sights, sounds, sensations, smells arising and passing away one after the other (without getting caught in the details, ‘only the seen in the seen’) as in ‘bare awareness’?

This is phassa, after vinnana made these sense stimuli conscious.

with metta


Practicing Satipatthana is the way to see five aggregate.

Correct. Does it practically say how to see it?

With metta


We need a teacher to correctly guide them in the right direction.

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MN 43:

“Feeling, perception, & consciousness, friend: Are these qualities conjoined or disjoined? Is it possible, having separated them one from another, to delineate the difference among them?”

“Feeling, perception, & consciousness are conjoined, friend, not disjoined. It is not possible, having separated them one from another, to delineate the difference among them. For what one feels, that one perceives. What one perceives, that one cognizes. Therefore these qualities are conjoined, not disjoined, and it is not possible, having separated them one from another, to delineate the difference among them.”

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Yes I agree.
But you can differentiate them.

I prefer this translation:

Friend, feelings, perceptions and consciousness are associated and not dissociated and it is not possible to differentiate them and show them apart: Friend, the felt is perceived, and the perceived is consciously known. Therefore these things are associated and not dissociated and it is not possible to differentiate them and show them apart.

If you use common sense to understand that the reason it is possible to identify these dhammas as separate entities is that they are experienced and function in a distinct manner.

They are not mixed together so that their distinctness disappears. However they are closely (saṃsaṭṭhā) linked together and arise in one stream of perception starting from the arising of eye and seeing. They are not separate entities like the difference of moving from seeing, to hearing, to smelling etc. It is difficult to explain as it is something to be understood from experiencing.

To use a similie to explain it- when drinking a cup of tea it is hard to differentiate what bit of the flavour is tea, what bit is milk etc. However if someone watched it being made, it would be clearer. If we look at the Anapanasati sutta it is clear how much of the meditation instructions have been left out (anyone who attempts mindfulness of breath will know this). This is the work of the redactors who made the dhamma ready for transmission.

with metta


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This isn’t what I was getting at. Certainly feeling and perception present themselves as distinct aspects of conscious experience, no doubt about that. My experience, however, has been that they present themselves together. In the sense that when you open your eyes you can’t notice the arising of perception as a temporally distinct event from the arising of feeling.

It’s totally possible that my mindfulness just isn’t strong enough to notice the difference you’re describing!

That’s correct.

Its a matter for Samadhi, directed the right way:

The Blessed One said: "Develop concentration, monks.
A concentrated monk discerns in line with what has come into being. And what does he discern in line with what has come into being? The origination & disappearance of form. The origination & disappearance of feeling… perception… fabrications. The origination & disappearance of consciousness. SN22.5

with metta



I do not have this experience either. However, I think, there is no feelings in the fourth Jhana.

Isn’t equanimity in the fourth jhana a feeling?

I believe all the jhanas have feeling except for sanna-vedayita nirodha (cessation of perception and feeling). Can that even be described a jhana?

See MN 44:

“But for a monastic who has emerged from the cessation of perception and feeling, Noble Lady, which things arise first: bodily process, or speech process, or mental process?”

“For a monastic who is emerging from the cessation of perception and feeling, friend Visākha, first mental process arises, then bodily process arises, then speech process arises.”

When emerging from the cessation of perception and feeling, first mental processes arise (cittasankharā). Mental processes here refer to perception and feeling, according to the same sutta. This likely corresponds to the formless attainments.

When the bodily process arises that’s probably 2nd-4th jhana.

Finally when the speech process arises that’s 1st jhana or below.

The way I understand it is perception (Sanna) not feeling (Vedana).
I may be wrong.

There are different kinds of Samadhi: AN4.41.

Some are focused in specific manner so that it is possible to see deeper into the different aspects of experience.

SN 35.99 describes seeing impermanence (anicca).

with metta


So moving on from mindfulness of sounds, sights, sensations, smells etc. it becomes possible to focus intensely on the shift from say a sight to a sound. That is, to focus intensely on the what happens after the end of the sight and before the beginning of the sound. If someone keeps focusing only on this bit of the experience, they will see that a movement of attention is felt in that gap. They see that with each new stimuli a jump in attention precedes it. If the stimuli, as above, was identified as phassa, this shifting attention must be vinnana.

So with deepening Samadhi we are getting to see increasingly earlier steps in the process of perception. The factors that we are seeing are functionally and sequentially in line with the Dhamma.

They are also impermanent and not-Self, being not controlled by ‘me’.

with metta


[hi, very new here! It’s been awesome to read this thread in particular :slight_smile: Hopefully it’s alright to respond after so much time has lapsed.]

One of my teachers described experiencing the 5 aggregates in a practical (and therefore oversimplified, I’m sure) way and I’m curious to see what others may think of this breakdown. It was described as layers of experience existing, as a comment above put it, in the same temporal context - form being sensory experience; feeling-tone being is this pleasant/unpleasant/neutral; perception being the initial reactive level conceptualization of what’s being perceived (e.g. you look at a on and your mind matches it to memory of a pen if you have prior knowledge, and if no prior knowledge maybe just “blue stick” or whatever.); Volitional formation being the stories we create about alllll the above as well as the last aggregate; consciousness arises as the conceptualization of the self itself - my teacher distinguished the ego aggregate around the self vs ego aggregating around the other categories, which was interesting to me. There is identification with different aspects of our experience including but not exclusively referring to the relatively more direct (concrete maybe?) concept of the self.

In my musings on this I’ve been thinking about cycles of… life I guess?? in conjunction with this new concept of categories of aspects of experience. One could look at a single layer, or an aspect that perhaps spans many layers like you open your eyes and notice each layer in turn of whatever your perception first focused on.

My teacher also has made sure to speak of the difference between direct knowing and conceptual knowing, so I should note that I’m still working out how to sit with it all directly. Don’t mistake the finger pointing at the Moon for the moon itself and all that.

Your understanding is commendable. Just imagine an old style picture film reel, with its many still frames. When they are turning quickly, it looks like a seamless flow of a picture film. However this seamless flow is an illusion, created in the eye and more specifically the brain. Individual picture frames are taken and converted into a flowing experience. So the individual is fooled into thinking the reality of it, is flowing, when it isn’t. When the film reel is slowed down it becomes possible to see each individual picture frame. Then there is a incremental and sudden transition- it isn’t smooth anymore. Each individual picture frame is seen for what it is- just a still image.

Reality is similarly concocted in our brains- ‘snapshot’ by ‘snapshot’. One could call this a unit of experience. Each of these units might form one of the aggregates- a sight (rupa), a sound (rupa), a sensation (rupa), a feeling (vedana), perception (sanna) etc. Because this happens incredibly quickly it feels like we are in a flow of experience. However if with the development of samadhi, and especially jhana, we slow it down and see it broken down into each ‘unit’ (‘dhammas’)of experience, we being to see the discontinuous and illusory nature of reality. The world as we know it is then seen in real-time as fractured compilation of experiences, each arising one after the next, due to chains of cause and effect. Each cause specifically give rise to certain effects (idapaccayata) and only one at a time is experienced.

Looking at normal experience from a theoretical point of view of the five aggregates, it would be tempting to analyse it as ‘layers of experience’. However we know from the suttas (see above) the aggregates arise sequentially, not at the same time. Because it happens so quickly the sequence blurs into one continuous experience and all factors are felt to be present at the same time. It is like interrupted road markings merging into a solid line when going fast. Consciousness arises early in the process of experiencing and not at the end. When using samatha only the knower would be seen observing after the observation has ended. In Vipassana this illusion is dismantled. There is no one watching, but rather a process of perceiving is experienced … without the need or indeed the existence of someone watching. However it is difficult to do this very subtle work, with the five hindrances obstructing ones ability to do Vipassana. Morality (Sila) is very important and wholesome habits need to be present before one’s realiy is deconstructed like this, as the illusory ‘coventional’ reality is a requirement for sila.

with metta

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Thank you!