We are more than the aggregates

Consider MN 72.

“But Master Gotama, when a mendicant’s mind is freed like this, where are they reborn?”

“‘They’re reborn’ doesn’t apply, Vaccha.”

“Well then, are they not reborn?”

“‘They’re not reborn’ doesn’t apply, Vaccha.”

“Well then, are they both reborn and not reborn?”

“‘They’re both reborn and not reborn’ doesn’t apply, Vaccha.”

“Well then, are they neither reborn nor not reborn?”

“‘They’re neither reborn nor not reborn’ doesn’t apply, Vaccha.”

If we are solely the aggregates, the Buddha could’ve easily told Vacchagotta that a Realized One is not reborn since “any form, feeling, perception, fabrication, or consciousness by which a Realized One might be described has been cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated, and unable to arise in the future.”

And yet, the Buddha says that ‘a Realized One is not reborn’ doesn’t apply.

To say that we are just the aggregates seems like a contradiction to what the Buddha was saying.

For some time, I was quite perplexed at the Buddha’s rejection of every scenario proposed by Vacchagotta. I didn’t make any sense! Every logical option had been exhausted – it had to be one of the four.

But then it occurred to me that perhaps the Buddha wasn’t engaging in logic at all. In fact, he basically said as much:

… this principle is deep, hard to see, hard to understand, peaceful, sublime, beyond the scope of logic, subtle, comprehensible to the astute.

He goes on to compare the death of a Realized One to a fire going out after consuming all its fuel and says that “a Realized One is freed from reckoning in terms of form, feeling, perceptions, fabrications, and consciousness. They’re deep, immeasurable, and hard to fathom, like the ocean.”

‘Reckoning’ is an interesting word here because if you look up the definition, it means to calculate or estimate, which lines up nicely with the description of a Realized One as “deep, immeasurable, hard to fathom, like the ocean.” So, a Realized One is freed from measurements against the 5 aggregates.

See SN 23.2

Some may be inclined to say that annihilation would also lead to freedom from reckoning in terms of the aggregates because you can’t measure nothing. But allow me to point out that the Buddha compared a Realized One to an actual thing – the ocean. The ocean may be immeasurable, but it is definitely there.

It seems that just as someone would become frustrated in trying to describe something outside “the All”, so too a Realized One cannot be described (and thus logically comprehended).

See SN 35.23

One final point to consider… at the end of this sutta, directly after hearing about the freedom of a Realized One from such limits, Vacchagotta becomes excited. Would annihilation create this kind of joy in a person? Whatever “clicked” for Vacchagotta led to happiness.

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Or, perhaps, we are not the aggregates at all.
These thoughts, feelings, perceptions, are they you, yours, or your ‘self’ ?

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What would we be without the aggregates?

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What is the ‘we’ that is said to be?

Consider a sutta like this
https://suttacentral.net/sn22.93/en/bodhi?reference=none&highlight=false

“the uninstructed worldling … regards form as self, or self as possessing form, or form as in self, or self as in form. That form of his disintegrates and he thereby meets with calamity and disaster. He regards feeling as self … perception as self … volitional formations as self … consciousness as self, or self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in self, or self as in consciousness. That consciousness of his disintegrates and he thereby meets with calamity and disaster.”

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I would say that ‘we’ are pure awareness, absorbed with being. It is precisely this awareness that turns away from “the All” and becomes instead absorbed with the deathless.

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I’m not sure what you mean, particularly “absorbed with being”.
Are you positing a type of fixed entity that can take up various ‘beings’, a bit like clothes, from life to life?

The above seems to be quite complex Pali. The Pali word “upapajjatī” is what is translated as “reborn”. The prefix of “upapajjatī” is “upa”, which means “near” or “close”. What this seems to mean is an unenlightened “rebirth” follows “near” or “close” to the quality of the previous unenlightened kamma. Since the Arahant has ceased/destroyed all kamma, the term “upapajjatī”, including in the negative, seems to not seem to apply to them.

The word used for the Path To Arahantship is “paṭipajjati” (“patipanna”) rather than “upapajjatī”. These two words have the same root “pajjati” but have a different prefix “upa” vs “pati”. In other words, when the Path is practised, the word “upapajjatī” does not apply; as it does to ordinary unenlightened kamma, as follows:

These dear beings, however, did good things by way of body, speech, and mind. They never spoke ill of the noble ones; they had right view; and they chose to act out of that right view. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn (upapannā; same word as upapajjatī)in a good place, a heavenly realm.’

MN 4

:dizzy:

Awareness sounds like consciousness. “We” sounds like self-view or sankhara aggregate. :slightly_smiling_face:

It seems the key word above is “dependent”; which seems to be a synonym here for “attachment”. :slightly_smiling_face:

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This is from SN 23.2…

“Sir, they speak of this thing called a ‘sentient being’. How is a sentient being defined?”

“Rādha, when you cling, strongly cling, to desire, greed, relishing, and craving for form, then a being is spoken of. When you cling, strongly cling, to desire, greed, relishing, and craving for feeling … perception … choices … consciousness, then a being is spoken of.

So, if we turn our awareness away from the aggregates, we cease to be spoken of as a being and can’t really be classified at all.

This is from AN 11.10…

Absorbed in this way, the excellent thoroughbred of a man is absorbed dependent neither on earth, liquid, fire, wind, the sphere of the infinitude of space, the sphere of the infinitude of consciousness, the sphere of nothingness, the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, this world, the next world, nor on whatever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, or pondered by the intellect — and yet he is absorbed. And to this excellent thoroughbred of a man, absorbed in this way, the gods, together with Indra, the Brahmas, & Pajapati, pay homage even from afar:

‘Homage to you, O thoroughbred man.
Homage to you, O superlative man —
you of whom we don’t know even what it is
dependent on which
you’re absorbed.’"

I get all of this from Ven. Thanissaro’s book “The Mind like Fire Unbound”.

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Yes, you make some good points, and the arahant is described in this way.

But I don’t see how an unenlightened being, “then a being is spoken of”, that has not fully understood the 4 Noble Truths, dependent origination, cast off all 10 fetters, etc. , is the same being as the arahant.

In other words, I don’t think there is a fixed, solid being that can be said to exist and persist as it moves from an unenlightened to enlightened state.

Could you describe what this turning away from would be like? To where do we then turn?

This description seems to imply something external to the five A. But I don’t understand what that could be, or where could it be found.

So, I like Ven. Thanissaro’s view that the “consciousness-aggregate” refers to a specific kind of consciousness. And he makes a good point: if the consciousness-aggregate was ourself, we would arise with its arising and pass away with its passing away. However, because we can watch it arise and pass away, we can say it is not ourself, just as with the other aggregates.

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This site has a topic on Thanissaro’s unusual ideas. The suttas seem to say about all consciousness:

Any kind of consciousness at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: this is called the aggregate of consciousness.

SN 22.48

:dizzy:

The above is said in MN 148 (here SuttaCentral).

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The only thing that exists outside the 5 aggregates is the 3 poisons. When those are removed only the 5 aggregates remain.

Neither the 3 poisons nor the aggregates is “us”, but delusion from the 3 poisons is the belief in and habituation of an “us” or “me”, “mine”, etc.

When that habituation and view is fully destroyed then you have

Because something (3 poisons) that no longer exists can’t do anything including not reborn or reborn, thus nothing applies.

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You mean greeds etc are something separated therefore lies outside ?

Yes, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to remove it from the 5 aggregates.

Sisters, suppose a skilled butcher or his apprentice were to kill a cow and carve it up with a sharp butcher’s knife. Without damaging the inner mass of flesh and without damaging the outer hide, he would cut, sever, and carve away the inner tendons, sinews, and ligaments with the sharp butcher’s knife. Then having cut, severed, and carved all this away, he would remove the outer hide and cover the cow again with that same hide. Would he be speaking rightly if he were to say: ‘This cow is joined to this hide just as it was before’?”

Sisters, I have given this simile in order to convey a meaning. This is the meaning: ‘The inner mass of flesh’ is a term for the six internal bases. ‘The outer hide’ is a term for the six external bases. ‘The inner tendons, sinews, and ligaments’ is a term for delight and lust. ‘The sharp butcher’s knife’ is a term for noble wisdom—the noble wisdom that cuts, severs, and carves away the inner defilements, fetters, and bonds.

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Personally, I think the key to understanding this passage is in the one that precedes it:

“Does Master Gotama have any position at all?”
“A ‘position,’ Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: ‘Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is perception…such are fabrications…such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.’ Because of this, I say, a Tathagata—with the ending, fading away, cessation, renunciation, & relinquishment of all construings, all excogitations, all I-making & mine-making & obsessions with conceit—is, through lack of clinging/sustenance, released.”

When one lets go of the five aggregates, that one also lets go of all “reckonings”, thoughts, views, which all belong in the realm of the five aggregates, aka conditioned experience. Once one let’s go of the conditioned, which includes within it all views, one experiences the unconditioned, release, nibbana.

None of these apply, because the one freed no longer identifies with the conditioned. Views, positions, Ideas, thoughts, etc, all belong in the conditioned. That is why he is beyond logic, immeasurable, etc.

This sutta, IMO at least, is not saying there is a self outside the aggregates, nor that there isn’t a self outside the aggregates. Because either position is a view, and views belong in the conditioned, and the Tathagata has left the conditioned behind. He is released.

I hope that made sense.

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So, please clarify something. In SN 22.48 the Buddha describes first the five aggregates, then the five grasping aggregates.

I’m understanding that by first covering each aggregate as what they are without grasping, they are simply the five aggregates:

Any kind of form at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: this is called the aggregate of form.

Next, he defines each of the five grasping aggregates, the same basic aggregates but accompanied by defilements and the inclination to being grasped:

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.

So I’m thinking that, if one has removed defilements and the grasping, what is left are the basic functions of being alive and interacting with the world, those five aggregates that are a lump of foam, bubbles of raindrops, mirages, leaves of a plantain tree, a magic trick (SN 22.95). And, when the body breaks up at death, there are no defilements or grasping to either be reborn, not be reborn, both or neither.

Is this a fair assessment?

From AN 9.36…

The first absorption is a basis for ending the defilements.’ That’s what I said, but why did I say it? Take a mendicant who, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption. They contemplate the phenomena there—included in form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness—as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as a boil, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self. They turn their mind away from those things, and apply it to the deathless: ‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’

My understanding is that consciousness arises from contact between a sensory organ and its sense object. There are therefore six kinds of consciousness:

‘The six classes of consciousness should be understood.’ That’s what I said, but why did I say it? Eye consciousness arises dependent on the eye and sights. Ear consciousness arises dependent on the ear and sounds. Nose consciousness arises dependent on the nose and smells. Tongue consciousness arises dependent on the tongue and tastes. Body consciousness arises dependent on the body and touches. Mind consciousness arises dependent on the mind and thoughts. ‘The six classes of consciousness should be understood.’ That’s what I said, and this is why I said it.

“Mind-consciousness” is what a lot of us think of as simple awareness. But this kind of consciousness depends on contact with mental objects, and it is possible to be aware without contact with mental objects.

From AN 9.36…

They contemplate the phenomena there—included in feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness—as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as a boil, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self. They turn their mind away from those things, and apply it to the deathless: ‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’

Again, if the consciousness aggregate were simple awareness, we would never know if we had reached Nibbana since that aggregate is inconsistent. We could become aware of Nibbana, sure, but then our consciousness would change or fall away and we could never say that Nibbana was stable or deathless. How could we confirm that?

Furthermore, consider AN 10.81…

“Bāhuna, the Realized One has escaped from ten things, so that he lives unattached, liberated, his mind free of limits. What ten? Form … feeling … perception … choices … consciousness … rebirth … old age … death … suffering … defilements … Suppose there was a blue water lily, or a pink or white lotus. Though it sprouted and grew in the water, it would rise up above the water and stand with no water clinging to it. In the same way, the Realized One has escaped from ten things, so that he lives unattached, liberated, his mind free of limits.

How can one be free from consciousness AND know that they are free from it?

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