The aggregates of clinging to dukkha or is it still “everything that is formed is dukkha”?

Why did the Buddha say in 4NT that suffering is the 5 aggregates of clinging, and not all formed things (those that arise / cease), regardless of whether there is clinging to them or not?

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The 4 NT’s say that clinging is the cause of suffering, there can be aggregates without clinging. The answer to the question is it’s because the Buddhist view is human-centred rather than the materialist focus on external objects. In the Satipatthana sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 10) which is the core of practice, the instruction to the beginner is to become familiar with the internal (aggregates) and external (sense objects) and then relate one to the other. In general the Buddhist view reduces everything to its simplest, as opposed to the materialist focus on multiplicity. This reduction is achieved through a division between the conditioned and unconditioned (nibbana).

Your answer doesn’t answer my question. Indeed, in addition to the fact that the Buddha said “aggregates that are subject to clinging are the essence of suffering,” he also said in another place that all formed things are the essence of suffering. Why didn’t Buddha say in the 4 Noble Truths that simply all aggregates are suffering?

The five aggregates, when clung to are suffering.
It is the clinging to them, the taking them up as I, me, mine, that is the problem.

An arahant clings to nothing in the world.

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Sabbe sankhara dukkha, don’t forget

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Thank you, I had not forgotten.

Sankharas are produced by a confused, unenlightened mind. Hence, they are dukkha.

The arahant no longer produces sankharas.

There is a close relationship between upādāna, sankhara, and kamma.

Because its the clinging (picking up and putting down) that is the problem:

Having completely understood perception and having crossed the flood,
Saññaṁ pariññā vitareyya oghaṁ,
the sage, not clinging to possessions,
Pariggahesu muni nopalitto;
with dart plucked out, living diligently,
Abbūḷhasallo caramappamatto,
does not long for this world or the next.
Nāsīsatī lokamimaṁ parañcāti.

So “posessions” “aggregates” what is “seen, heard and thought”, “phenomena” that which “is born and dies” are all just different ways of pointing out what shouldnt be clung to, “picked up amd put down”.

And without appeal to perceptions, consciousnesses, bodies, what is seen, heard and thought;

The cleansed one has no formulated view
Dhonassa hi natthi kuhiñci loke,
at all in the world about the different realms.
Pakappitā diṭṭhi bhavābhavesu;
Having given up illusion and conceit,
Māyañca mānañca pahāya dhono,
by what path would they go? They are not involved.
Sa kena gaccheyya anūpayo so.

Hence they “live and die” (from our benighted perspective) free from those things: living, dying, bodies, perceptions, thoughts, what is seen, heard or felt, etc.

And therefore:

“Once you’ve expelled relishing and dogmatism,”
“Yaṁ kiñci sampajānāsi,
replied the Buddha,
(mettagūti bhagavā)
“regarding everything you are aware of—
Uddhaṁ adho tiriyañcāpi majjhe;
above, below, all round, between—
Etesu nandiñca nivesanañca,
having uprooted consciousness, don’t continue in existence.
Panujja viññāṇaṁ bhave na tiṭṭhe.

A mendicant who wanders meditating like this,
Evaṁvihārī sato appamatto,
diligent and mindful, calling nothing their own,
Bhikkhu caraṁ hitvā mamāyitāni;
would, being wise, give up the suffering
Jātiṁ jaraṁ sokapariddavañca,
of rebirth, old age, sorrow and lamenting right here.”

These passages are amongst the earliest and most venerated texts in buddhism, they use a direct language to make a sophisticated philosophical argument in a very terse form.

Nothing i have read in those collections I have read in thier entierity (DN by Walshe, MN by Nanamoli, SN by Bodhi and of course plentiful samplings of Thanissaro, our own meritorious Bhante and others online) would lead me to think that there could be anything in aggregates theory, depedent arising stuff, the abayakata, 4NT 8NP etc that contradicts the basic arguments here.

No, my friend, you cling to the consonance of words. Sankhara of the second link of paticca-saumuppada and sankhara like all conditioned dharmas are two different concepts. This famous formula: “Everything conditioned is impermanent, everything conditioned is passive, all phenomena are impersonal” - it says about all constructed dhammas. This is what is said here about the impermanence of sankharas. Are you saying that the Buddha emphasized the impermanence of will-formers alone? Where did the form, feeling, perception, consciousness go then?! Aren’t they equally impermanent? If you don’t like this phrase, then take any other one - in the Anatalakkhana Sutta, the Buddha asks: is that which is impermanent (that is, sankhata-dharmas, defined as everything that arises, changes, ceases, that is, sankharas) - suffering or happiness ? - the answer is suffering. That is, sankharas should be understood in a broad sense as everything formed.

It would seem you have a very detailed idea about this. Perhaps you are only asking these questions in a rhetorical manner?

Best wishes!

Yamaka and Vajira Sutta contradicts. In these two suttas, the cessation of arahant’s aggregates (which are WITHOUT clinging) is especially discussed and it is said that only SUFFERING ceases. As you understand, clinging is no longer there, but suffering still exists and it stops.

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I have no main idea how to resolve this contradiction. I see a basic contradiction here. Especially considering that the Theravada tradition removes the supramundane consciousness of path and fruition, lokuttara citta with its cetasikas, from the truth of suffering.

You will not be able to resolve the contradiction by using one text and ignoring the other.

Sure but i think that SN is a sectarian document on its face and that a broader reading of the Samyukta material shows that the fictionalist position was a proto-therevadin editorial policy in SN.

The bulk of the material, in prose and verse, is of one voice on the “fundemental argument”.

The sutta of turning the wheel of dharma is also placed in sanyuta.

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I’m afraid I’m unable to follow your argument, and not sure which texts you are referring to.

Your questions do remind me of some verses of the Arahant chapter of the Dhammapada, where they are compared to birds in the sky, with a track hard to find. (gati tesam durannayā).

I hope this is of help.

Yes and in the chinese it is preceded by an identical sutta sans the 5 as audience and simply addresses to monks, it features “modes” and whatnot not found in much of the early material, etc

The word you translate as “aggregates of clinging” is upadanakkhandha, but in this compound the relationship between khandha and upadana is varied:

(I’m not sure if I agree with the hand analogy, but that’s not what matters here.)

As I see it, the final point applies to upadanakkhandha in the noble truth of suffering. It doesn’t mean “grasping the aggregates is suffering” but “the aggregates, which were taken up (upadana) [at the start of life], are suffering”.

The khandhas are still there for the enlightened and still are suffering. Suffering only stops at parinibbana. There are a number of suttas that use the term upadanakkhandha with reference to the enlightened ones, even. (Sorry I don’t have the references at the moment.)

There are also plenty of suttas that say, for example, “feeling is suffering” regardless of clinging/grasping, and you will be hard-pressed to find ones that directly say (just) "clinging is suffering.


Thank you for this excellent point, Bhante.
The aggregates can be ‘put down’, seen as not I, me, mine, but until parinibbana they still cause suffering.
But at this point the production of kamma has stopped.

For upadanakkhandha perhaps we can say, the aggregates that have been taken up/grasped and caused this further existence.

We can certainly see the Buddha suffering due to ‘his’ aggregates at the end of his life in the Mahaparinibbana sutta.


Is there any indication in the Pali language or text for the second reading you propose?

And what are the five grasping aggregates?

Any kind of form at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near, which is accompanied by defilements and is prone to being grasped: this is called the aggregate of form connected with grasping.

Any kind of feeling at all …

Any kind of perception at all …

Any kind of choices at all …

Any kind of consciousness at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near, which is accompanied by defilements and is prone to being grasped: this is called the aggregate of consciousness connected with grasping.
SN 22.48
Speaks of aggregates stained or accompanied by stains of the mind.

I know one sutta that indirectly confirms it - the Silavanta Sutta says that an arahant contemplates upadana-khandhas. If he contemplates something other than his own, it would be strange, because the sutta is structured in such a way that the same practice is repeated for all levels of arya. But why then does the Buddha divide the aggregates into those with upadana and those without upadana? It would be good to see more examples.

That’s right, you can also find suttas where aggregates without adding the word “grasping” are described as suffering, for example SN 22.19, SN 22.50. But this is precisely where the basic contradiction lies. Why does the truth about dukkha include the aggregates of clinging, although in other suttas all aggregates are suffering? From the definition in the sutta, the aggregates of clinging are those that are accompanied by defilements of the mind. (I quoted the quote in a previous post).

Since it is the taking up of the aggregates that has continued the existence of a being, and this existence is considered dukkha, it seems referring to them without the qualifier ‘upadana’ is a type of shorthand.

As Ven. Sunyo has pointed out, even for the arahant the aggregates (in their last incarnation) are suffering.
They were ‘taken up’ in the prior existence, but will no longer continue, extinguished.