On Sunday June 28, 2020, Dirk Johnson gave an introductory talk about the Five Skandhas. At 56:46 the video continues with a talk by Arjia Rinpoche about the Heart Sutra. This video will also be posted in the visiting teachers section of the website. Here is a PDF of notes for the talk about the Five Skandhas.

Notes for the 5 Skandhas Talk

  1. The Tripitaka: Sutra, Vinaya, Abhidharma
  2. Abhidharma: “Mind Science”
    1. Long textual history of development, going back to the time of Shakyamuni Buddha (5th-4th Century bce);
    2. The most widely influential Abhidharma text in Tibet is Vasubhandu’s Treasury of Abhidharma (Abhidharmakosakarika), about 600 verses written in Sanskrit in the 4th or 5th Century ce, and Vasubhandu’s own commentary on this root text, the Abhidharmakosabhasyam
      1. Memorized by many Tibetan monks, scholars, and practitioners
      2. The primary text for Abhidharma taught in most monastic colleges.
    3. Another influential text was written at around the same time by Vasubhandu’s older brother Asanga is the Compendium of Higher Teaching (Abhidharmasamuccaya)
      1. Generally considered to be a text of the Yogacara school; 
      2. Tends to be more studied in the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages than in the Sakya and Gelugpa, but is studied by all.
    4. The sourcebook widely used for the study of Vasubhandu’s text is the Ornament of Abhidharma, known in Tibetan as the Chimzö or Great Chimzö, a commentary composed in the 13th or 14th Century c.e. by a Kadam scholar, Chim Jampalyang. 
      1. English translation by Ian James Coghlan (Jampa Ignyen), who trained as a monk at Sera Je
      2. Published by Wisdom Publications, Library of Tibetan Classics Book 23
    5. The skandhas are the first subject of Vasubhandu’s Compendium of Higher Teachings
  3. Why study the Skandhas?
    1. Could just be information, a way to increase your general knowledge about Buddhist concepts;
    2. It will help you when you read Buddhist texts (like the Heart Sutra), because the Skandhas are frequently referred to one way or another;
    3. The Skandhas can function as objects of meditation to illuminate and provide direct knowledge about the nature of reality.
      1. As an example: “The Wheel of Analytical Meditation That Thoroughly Purifies Mental Activity” by Mipham Rinpoche 
      2. Available free at: https://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-masters/mipham/wheel-of-analytical-meditation
  4. What are the Five Skandhas?
    1. Skandhas: Aggregates, Heaps, Collections (Tibetan: Phungpo)
    2. The Elements (dhatu)
    3. The Psycho-Physical Constituents
    4. Name and Form
    5. All knowable conditioned things in the phenomenal world.
  5. Enumeration of the Skandhas:
Sanskrit English Tibetan
rupa Form; Materiality zug
vedana Feeling; Feeling-Tone; Sensation sor wa
samjna Discernment; Perception; Discrimination du she
samskara Mental Formations; Formations; Conceptions; Dispositions; Karmic Formations; Conditioning Factors; Predispositions dub ye
vijnana Consciousness; Empirical Consciousness; Cognition namshe

From the Heart Sutra:

“Also at that time, the bodhisattva mahasattva arya Avalokiteshvara looked upon the very practice of the profound perfection of wisdom and beheld those five aggregates also as empty of inherent nature.”

My Sources:

Abhidharmakosa (Library of Tibetan Classics 23) by Chim Jampalyang translated by Ian James Coghlan

Abhidharmasamuccaya by Traleg Kyabgon

The Inner Science of Buddhist Practice: Vasubandhu’s Summary of the Five Heaps with Commentary by Sthiramati translated by Artemus B. Engle

Gateway to Knowledge by Mipham Rinpoche

Glimpses of Abhidharma by Chogyam Trungpa

The Buddhist Psychology of Awakening by Steven Goodman

Entry on the skandhas from the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism:

“Of these five, only rūpa is material; the remaining four involve mentality and are collectively called “name” (nama), thus the compound “name-and-form” or “mentality-and-materiality” (namarupa). However classified, nowhere among the aggregates is there to be found a self (atman). Yet, through ignorance (avidya or moha), the mind habitually identifies one or another in this collection of the five aggregates with a self. This is the principal wrong view (dristi), called satkayadristi, that gives rise to suffering and continued existence in the cycle of rebirth (samsara).