5 Skandhas – DC MJ Khandro Rinpoche study group – 11/16/11

Beth Roberts, Facilitator

I found it very useful to go from the description of the Skandhas in “Indestructible Truth” by Reginald Ray.  We start out with a feeling of existing, being a me – my body, my mind.

“These analyses require that we suspend the ordinary division of experience into “self” and “other,” “inside” and “outside,” “body” and “mind,” and observe instead from the perspective of dynamic fields of sensory experience.” – pg. 131, Ways of Enlightenment

If we examine our experience, we find fields of experience, without any need for the existence of a self. The reason we study the categories, like the Skandhas, is to break the hold of the belief that we are unitary.

In other words, what at first appears to be just a list, if we spend time with it, it will simultaneously cool the emotions and shake our up idea of who we are.Ways of enlightenment

Form requires the elements, the sense organs, and their sense consciousnesses.  Takes both sense consciousness and the things (ex. A mala) for form aspect to manifest.  It’s the combination – Causally interdependent of it all.  Form refers to those momentary events we experience as ‘physical.’

Feeling is primitive sensation of positivity (like), negativity (don’t like), or neutrality (don’t care) that attends any experience we have, no matter how fleeting.  Even an amoeba, since it’s a sentient being, it has these.

Perception is when we recognize we recognize what we see, hear, touch, etc.  Slotting whatever we experience with what we have known before. If a rabbit jumps in our path, this skandha kicks in after we are first startled when we recognize “ah, a rabbit”.   To use the example of someone arriving tonight right after opening practice ended, it’s like first there’s a form – a sense of a thing in the door. The 2nd skandha was when the door opening and you were feeling unease at the door opening. This 3rd skandha was recognizing “it’s Lisa!” followed by “She was out there, how did she get in?” and so on.  Or, to use a more ancient example, when there is a smell, you get a feeling of “ew!”  Before you start labeling, “its smells like…”, first you have a feeling about it.

There are lots of teachings on perception, and on pure perception vs. deluded perceptions.

Karmic formations or samskara are all the habitual patterns, concepts, and judgments, all the extra mental baggage we attach to the first 3 Skandhas, and lead us to act in particular ways.  Like when you sit down to thanksgiving dinner, and think “uncle bob will bring that awful boyfriend I brought one year, and then get drunk, etc…”

K-Someone started yelling at me (after I’d been at a 7 day retreat).  I heard the yelling, but had no reaction for a moment. This is crucial to what is purified thorough sitting.  Also interesting, Sharon Salzburg was asked in a teaching she was giving in DC Monday night, “if you are meditating and hear the fire alarm, should you just be with the fire alarm?” “No, you should get out of there!” (laughs)   There is not an automatic “PANIC!” but instead a choice. It is like if someone is yelling at you, the difference is between informed reaction and deluded reaction.

Consciousness is the self-referential field of awareness within which we become conscious of the first four Skandhas. It is like a field surrounded by an electric fence.  When anything possibly helpful or harmful approaches, there is either self-protection or territoriality.  Consciousness mobilizes the other five 5 Skandhas to pull in, push away, or ignore it.  It is based on “what’s in it for me?”

We do offerings to consciousness, and consciousness of consciousness. Saying “you should sit with that, or should do that. Don’t throw that pie at Uncle Bob“ is consciousness of this manifestation.

We see a loaf of bread, and automatically see it as a unitary loaf. But it can be cut into pieces, or made into bread crumbs.  How subtle or gross you want to be depends on how granular you want to get. (laughs)

Abhidharma is a field of study within Buddhism that is the training in wisdom.  Wisdom is developed through observing, categorizing, analyzing and penetrating the true nature of existence.  – Ways of enlightenment

R- Abhidharma provides “maps” of the territory that we need to explore — and one of these “maps” is the skandhas. It provides maps created by those who have penetrated the depth of experience. Abhidharma studies begin by examining dharmas, which in this context is “a knowable object.”

The 5 Skandhas is the first entry into the Abhidharma, which is a vast field. Abhidharma leads to wisdom through the process of inquiry.

“Without dharma analysis, how can there be any means for extinguishing emotionality, this emotionality that causes the world to wander in the great ocean of existence?”  – Ways of Enlightenment, pg. 131

The teachings on the skandhas are intended for those with sharp faculties who mistake mental phenomena for a self, and who enjoy and can work with a brief explanation.

There is a Trungpa Rinpoche piece on-line on the Five Skandhas which covers them in his own unique way of explanation. – (taken from second half of the chapter on “Egolessness” in his classic book “Myth of Freedom” – jtr).

The five Skandhas (are) a set of Buddhist concepts which describe ego a five-step process. The first step or skandha, the birth of ego, is called “form” or basic ignorance. We ignore the open, fluid, and intelligent quality of space.

We want to maintain some solidity but the only material available with which to work is space, the absence of ego, so we try to solidify or freeze that experience of space.

 “Suppose I find that there is no solid me? That possibility scares me. I don’t want to go into that.” …One must constantly try to prove that one does exist by feeling one’s projections as a solid thing. Feeling the solidity of something seemingly outside you reassures you that you are a solid entity as well. This is the second skandha, “feeling.”

The key point seems to be there is a fear of not being confirmed by our projections. Feeling solidity of something seemingly outside you confirms the solidity of yourself.

In the third stage, ego develops three strategies or impulses with which to relate to its projections: indifference, passion and aggression. These impulses are guided by perception. Perception, in this case, is the self-conscious feeling that you must officially report back to central headquarters what is happening in any given moment. Then you can manipulate each situation by organizing another strategy. – Trungpa Rinpoche

R- Usually, we do not grasp if we feel rich enough. It is very important how you relate to those projections.

LF-Conceptual map starts with the Skandhas, and then gets to karma and the 12 nidanas, which look at the stages of a person’s life, and how karma relates. Karma is all about that action. If we build from pure perception, on a very basic level, then we can make choices that are fruitional karma vs. planting the seeds of further destructive karma.   It Also means we are not in a position to judge.  Are we gaining merit? Are we learning from our mistakes?   But we shouldn’t think “I don’t have pure perception, I shouldn’t act at all.” What we practice for is to remove that….we can make choices, if we apply wisdom.

LS- Sometimes I have to do interventions at work. The thinking “I am right, I am going to win” is a very strong.  Instead, there is an experience of what Pema Chodron calls “cool anger” without the rage. “What is of the most benefit?” The actions may look exactly the same, but the mentality is different.

Some of the #OWS think they are acting to help.  All movements are.

LD – This is why there is a vinaya, the ethical rules. Before we give rise to wisdom, there are suggestions coming down from Buddha himself on appropriate ways to act, since we do have to act in this world.  He explained them, and further masters expanded on them, as a way to keep us out of trouble.  It seems like a lot of people come to the dharma and think, “That stuff is only for monastics, I don’t need to pay attention to it.” When it’s actually a key part of the path.  There are the Pratimoksha vows for non-monastics for everyone.

R- A child needs to learn manners.  We humans need to have some common manners, and then as an adult, you can pick and choose.  Vinaya is kind of like manners.  As an ‘adult’, you explore the Skandhas.

L- Another support is taking refuge, and emulating your teachers’ behavior, and how the Buddha acted.  Take refuge in and emulate that, and there is abandoning of your heathen ways (laughs).

R – Any dog has no language or back story. It has memory, but no story.  If someone once hit a dog coming from a certain angle, he will remember and be wary if someone else approaches from there. But if they then start petting the dog, he will be totally happy and just enjoying the petting, where we would still be thinking about that time someone hit us.  We hold onto grudges.

We cannot establish ego properly without intellect, without the ability to conceptualize and name. Since we have so many things happening, we begin to categorize them, putting them into certain pigeon-holes, naming them. We make it official, so to speak. So “intellect” or “concept” is the next stage of ego, the fourth skandha.

Consciousness consists of emotions and irregular thought patterns, all of which taken together form the different fantasy worlds with which we occupy ourselves. These fantasy worlds are referred to in the scriptures as the “six realms”. The emotions are the highlights of ego, the generals of ego’s army; subconscious thought, day-dreams and other thoughts connect one highlight to another. So thoughts form ego’s army and are constantly in motion, constantly busy.

The whole development of the five skandhas–ignorance/form, feeling, impulse/perception, concept and consciousness–is an attempt on our part to shield ourselves from the truth of our insubstantiality. – Trungpa Rinpoche

“Thoughts form ego’s army.” Wow.

LS – Are we hard-wired to fear emptiness, the void?  Why?

LD- By how our society is set up, it seems people fear ‘the void’ because it would be really fucking boring, which is terrifying. (laughs)

R -Maybe it’s ego. It’s like a parasite that feeds itself, but can also be fed love.

K – Taoists believe, and teach methods, as does the Vajrayana, for dissolving the ‘hardwired’ embedded solidity.

LF – We all recall a time we were practicing and lost any sense of individual self. The self dissolved, and then we come back. What do we bring back?  I felt a few meditative experience of absence of self – different if sitting at home shrine vs. sitting with 140 people at Lotus Garden, and being told where to go, etc. always get up.

If you are feeling freaked out about the ‘watcher’ thing, Ken Wilbur frequently writes about it.

Practice of meditation is to see the transparency of the shield.  Need to take the wall down brick by brick – starts with emotions and thoughts, particularly with the thought process.

Breaking down the five Skandhas is a long process.

Also, Toni Packard has written a bit about how to work with thought processing.


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Filed under DC Khandro Rinpoche study group, Dharma teachings

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