Pancha-Khanda: The way to analyze personal experience

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Lord Buddha propounded a process for the analysis of personal experience and called it “Pancha-Khanda or Pancha-Skandha”. The process shows how a person gets experience and how the five aggregates, which make this process, work together to produce personal experience.

The “Five Aggregates or Skandhas” that make personal experience are:

  1. Rupa: In general, it means form, body, and physical existence. The form includes the five physical sense organs and the corresponding physical objects of the sense organs. These are the eyes and visible objects, the ears and sound, the nose and smell, the skin and tangible objects, and the nose and taste.
  2. Vedana: This aggregate means sensation. It is the aggregate of feelings arising out of the contact with the different objects of the senses and is of three kinds –
    • Pleasant
    • Unpleasant
    • Indifferent. When an object is experienced, it takes emotional tones of pleasure, displeasure, or indifference.
  3. Sanna: This is the aggregate of perception and it is this perception that turns an indefinite experience into a recognized and an identified experience.
  4. Sankharas: This aggregate is defined as a conditioned response to the object of experience. Also known as a mental formation, it partakes the meaning of habit too. This has both static and dynamic values.
  5. Vinnana: This is the last aggregate of the process and in general known as conscious awareness. Consciousness is the most important element in the production of experience because the co-presence of sense organs, objects of sense organs with consciousness results in the production of personal experience.

The first aggregate is the physical factor while the rest four are the mental factors. These are not permanent and are changing constantly for example, a person reacts today to a particular situation with pleasure but tomorrow he may not react to the same situation with pleasure. The following example will make the whole process clear to the reader.

Suppose a woman goes on a wild safari. She explores the forest and her eyes come into contact with a visible object (Rupa). She focuses her attention on that object (Vedanna) and her consciousness gets aware of it as well but the object is not determined yet. Her aggregate of perception (Sanna) will then determine that it is, say, a tiger. After that, she will respond to that object with the aggregate feeling of displeasure or fear. She will react to the object with the aggregate of mental formation (Sankharas) followed by the action of running away or picking up a stone or anything else (Vinnana). In this way, the process of Panch-Khanda gets completed.

Mahatma Buddha stresses that the utility of the Five Aggregates is to make people understand them in terms of impersonal processes and through this understanding, they can get rid of the idea of the self and can overcome hope and fear.

“They can regard happiness and pain, praise and blame, and all the rest wit equanimity, with even-mindedness, and thus will then no longer be subject to the imbalance of alternating between hope and fear”.

Lord Buddha

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