Sometime back I gave some podcasts on the skandhas. So, let’s do a little revision.

The first skandha is rupa. Rupa is an appearance that has an effect, an effect upon the observer – oneself. One sees something and one reacts to it. If it’s something you react to, it is rupa for you. Of course, what you are reacting to may not be the true nature of the object, the true nature of the object we call a dharma, but there is something about the object that you react to. It might be a good reaction, it might be a bad reaction: You see an image of your hero or your favourite saint and you have good feelings, or you see an image of your enemy and you have anger or bad feelings.

This reaction is called vedana. This is the second skandha. So, you have a reaction: an attraction to or a repulsion from, you have some response to the object based on the way you see the object and this response triggers you into a pattern of feelings and behaviour, a kind of trance.

This trance is called samjña. This is the ordinary state of consciousness that the ordinary person is in most of the time: bobbing along from one trance to another; and this trance then elaborates, it does things in the mind, it lays down tracks, lays down expectations.

These tracks in the mind are called samskara. Once you have a number of tracks laid out in your mind, then this gives rise to a mentality, which we call vijñana and once you have a mentality, then you are on the look-out for things that will reinforce that mentality, and also, you’re inclined to see things in a particular way that fits that mentality. So, vijñana determines what it is that you see as rupa.

And so, it is a closed circle: rupa gives rise to vedana, which gives rise to samjña, which gives rise to samskara, which determines vijñana. And vijñana then goes out looking for rupas. You can see this for instance, if you have an argument with a friend, perhaps with your spouse – spouses sometimes argue – and the argument can escalate because the people go round this circle. One person does something that the other person objects to, they’ve had a vedana reaction to something that the first person did. Then, they’re into their routine and, well, what do we do? If you’re having a good argument, you throw up things that will be rupas for the other person. Things that will provoke them. We say “like a red rag to a bull”, in the English expression. The red rag is a rupa. You select rupas that will stir the other person up. Now, this can go on and on. Because it’s a closed circle, there is no obvious end to it.

But it is always possible, at any point on this circle to break out of it. Not easy, not what usually happens, but at some point it might happen. At some point you remember that this person that you are having this big fight and argument and spat with, is actually the person you love and ask yourself:  are the things you are arguing over, really so important? And suddenly the whole thing drops away. Suddenly you say: “Oh, I’m so sorry. I don’t know how we got into this, but let me give you a hug, I don’t want to play this anymore.” And suddenly, the whole skandha cycle becomes, as we say, empty. The things that seemed to be so important a minute ago have suddenly ceased to be so. The skandhas have become empty and love reasserts itself. This is the basis of the idea, basic to Buddhism that the skandhas are empty and on that emptiness is built true love, unconditionality and enlightenment.


Thank you very much
Namo Amida Bu


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  • In this podcast Dharmavidya refers to a series of podcasts on the skandhas, that he has given in the past.

    You find the index of transcriptions and translations of podcast series 1-54 and podcast series 55-108 here

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