Good morning again. Welcome to our series on this Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, the discourse on the establishment of awareness.
There are many ways in which awareness is lost, subsumed, or collapses into our preoccupation with our lives. One area is with all the different aspects of our beingness – who we are. Whatever it is that we can identify, and cling to as me, myself and mine.
This next exercise in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta has to do with five different areas in which we cling – especially clinging to me, myself and mine. One idea with these five areas is if we cling, we are clinging to one of these five areas. The literal meaning of the Pali word for this is "heaps" – big heaps of stuff. It is not a very technical idea. Though, it has become enshrined in Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and has taken on a more technical feeling. The usual translation in English is "aggregates." The Pali word is "khandha." It is five heaps of stuff.
Sometimes modern dharma teachers will say something like: "The Buddha taught there is no self. But there are these five aggregates, these five heaps." The problem with that is that the Buddha never said that. In fact, the Buddha if anything, saw the five aggregates or five heaps as problematic. It was something which was burdensome. The idea is to overcome this burden of the five heaps.
So this next exercise has to do with these five heaps. The way it is described is as "five heaps of clinging." The words "of clinging" are added to it. These are five areas in which we cling – five areas from which we cling. They are the five areas in the world of clinging. We are looking deeply into this area of clinging to these five things, and seeing deeply into its nature in a very particular way – in this exercise in The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness of Awareness.
So I want to give an analogy. Imagine that it is a beautiful, peaceful day. You are out on the beach. Or if you do not live near the ocean, make up someplace big – a big, beautiful meadow or field that goes on for a long while. Imagine a beach – a wide, long, beautiful sandy beach with very clean sand. It has very soft, fine textured sand. To walk barefoot feels so nice and comfortable. Feel the warmth of the sand and the softness of it.
The beach there has a very gradual grade so it is easy to walk on. It may be many hundreds of yards from the water up to wherever the vegetation begins and you can see up the coast for a long ways. It is just an inspiring day with lots of sky, lots of beach and you feel the suchness of the beach. It is just a beach – the suchness of it. It is inspiring. It is nice. You can wander freely – the sense of freedom just wandering aimlessly up and down – close to the water, and away from the water. It just feels so comfortable and so nice. You have such a wonderful day with a picnic at some point. You can turn around and come back – just being at the beach.
You come back a week later thinking you can do the same thing because it was so nice. But now, the local beach authorities have made a decision to give easier access to the beach to everyone. Everyone has an equal ability to just walk the beach. You do not have to worry about people getting in front of you or blocking your way.
They have decided to put fences down the whole length of the beach that are maybe 10 feet wide, or five feet wide. They are making lanes. You have to get a ticket and reserve a spot beforehand. Then you are assigned a lane. There are these 10 foot fences on either side of the lane. People really stay and have their privacy in their lane, because privacy is important.
So you are given your lane, maybe you are in lane 38. You are free to walk straight on that lane, for as long as there is the beach. Everyone is free to walk their lane. This way it is equal. Everyone has equal access, though you can pay a little bit more to be close to the ocean. What you have lost then is a suchness – the vast freedom, just the beach by itself. Now it has been defined and laid out.
It is a kind of ridiculous analogy, but this is what we do to ourselves. We are like a vast open beach, without any definition in the sand, but we make lines in the sand. We define one thing over another. The five lines, these five heaps are the five lines that we make.
Often the first word is called form. Sometimes people say body but form. I prefer the word appearance, physical appearance. Form or physicality, but not our physical physicality, rather, the way it appears to us. The second is the feelings of pleasant and unpleasant. The third is the basic perceptions of sensations that occur. The fourth is the mental world of other mental activities, concepts, ideas, wishes, aspirations, memories. And the fifth is consciousness.
It makes some sense to divide up our experience this way. But the Buddha suggests you do not have to divide them up this way. Once we divide them up this way, we cling to them and hold on to them in particular ways. If we cling to them, it is like making a fence, making a line, making a lane in our experience. We are selecting part of who we are to cling to at the expense of a disconnection with the rest of it.
Some people cling a lot to their body, some people to their comfort and sensuality of pleasant and unpleasant. Some people cling to their perceptions, their sensations, their ideas of things. Some people cling to the whole inner landscape and psychology. They think it is a particular speciality of the psychological, modern world. We are so hypersensitive to the little nuances of what we think, feel, judge and operate psychologically. There is a lot of clinging there. There is also this idea of clinging to consciousness – to awareness itself as being ultimate – as being special. So these are five areas of clinging.
Rather than say that the Buddha taught there is no self, and taught these five aggregates, the Buddha said that there is no need to cling, but these are the five areas in which people cling. These are five areas in which we divide ourselves up, and then get attached to those divisions.
The idea is to be able to let go of the clinging, to allow things to return to the suchness of our experience – the simplicity of the beingness of things that arise and pass, and come and go. In fact, that is the exercise – to see the arising and passing of each of these five heaps. As we see the arising and passing, at some point the sense of the division, the lines, the fences all fall away. We start being able to see the arising and passing of all phenomena, and the suchness of things that occur.
When we are in the pristine simplicity of who we are, we do not make any lines. We do not make any fences and divisions. Everything is allowed to exist in its own naturalness – as it appears. There are sensations in the body. There are pleasant and unpleasant. All these things exist in this wide, broad, peaceful beach. There are no lines. It is just all allowed to exist, without clinging to any of it.
The first of them is appearance. This is the physical appearance of how we are. And so it is not literally what our physical body is – the physicality of it. It is the concepts, ideas, projections, ways of selecting out our physical experience that we get attached to.
For example, the physical appearance of our nose, skin, height, or our size are all these physical ways in which we appear to ourselves and to others. It is not just the way things are. It has something to do with how we select that this is important to judge people by or comment or notice about people, notice about ourselves. There is a tremendous amount of suffering that occurs in the clinging to appearance and to how things appear to us in our bodies.
The Buddha's suggestion is that, instead of focusing, and being caught in the appearance with concern, step back with mindfulness. See that the world of appearance, physical appearance, belongs to the world of things that are inconstant, changing, and moving. One form of clinging to the appearance is to think that our appearances are constant or permanent. This is who I am.
The world of appearance is an interactive world, between our physicality, and the mind's values, perceptions, concepts, and judgments – the selectivity projections that the mind makes. If we pay careful attention, we see that there is a kind of reconstruction of appearance, a reconstruction of what is important. We select what is important and cling to it, judge it, and build up ideas around it. That is what begins to relax and soften.
We begin seeing that appearances – in one way or the other, as we rest back into the appearance of things – is a flow of inconstancy, of arising and passing that goes on. Then the clinging can begin to relax. The prioritization of certain kinds of projections, judgments or commentaries can begin letting go. We can begin experiencing the suchness, the simplicity of being, the beingness. We can be at peace, at ease with how things are with ourselves here.
So the five aggregates, the five heaps will be the topic for this week. Each day I will take one of the heaps and discuss it. Today was appearances. It was a short discussion because it was the introduction to all five.
So thank you, and I wish you well and look forward to being back tomorrow.