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Basic Buddhism
A Modern Introduction to the Buddha's Teaching
by Dr Victor A. Gunasekara

The Buddhist Attitude to Man

In considering the Buddhist view of man we are essentially looking at the psychological postulates of Buddhism which has sometimes been described as a psychological system. Given the meaning normally attached to Psychology this is too narrow a description of psychology. Buddhism deals with many other matters which are not normally included in psychology.

But there is a psychological dimension to Buddhism. This is because of the great concern which Buddhism has with the mind and with the training of the mind. In this sense Buddhism is unique amongst the world religions. The first stanza of the well-known book of Buddhist aphorisms the Dhammapada sums up very well the primacy that Buddhism gives to the mind:


monopubbagamâ dhammâ manosehâ manomayâ
manasâ ce paduhena bhâsati vâ karoti vâ
Tato na dukkhamanvet cakka va vahato pada

Mind is the forerunner of all states, mind-based and mind-made are they

If one speaks or acts with an evil mind

Suffering results, just as the wagon wheel follows the ox drawing it Similarly good thoughts lead to good actions.

Most religious systems decompose the individual into a body and a soul. In this division the body includes what Buddhists (and modern psychologists) would regard as the mind. Very often in this scheme the mind is located in the heart. There is no location given for the soul. It is in fact a mysterious entity created by God. While the physical body perishes at death the soul goes either to Heaven or to Hell where it is reunited with a body (perhaps similar to the old one) and continues its existence as one of sensuous conform or of torment depending on the destination.

The Buddha dispensed with this scheme which was similar to the system advocated in the old Vedas(22) . Instead the Buddha identified five constituents of the empirical person, the first of which (rűpa) was physical and the last four (collectively called nâma) were mind components. These five components have been called Groups of existence or Five Aggregates (pańcakkhandâ). These are:

1. Corporeality (rűpa). This is the physical basis of existence. The five sense organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue and body) are especially important in generating the various signals which are processed by the mind (which is also recognised as an organ in is own right).

2. Feeling (vedanâ). Feelings are a by-product of the contact between the organs of the physical body and the external world. They are classified in various ways - wholesome and unwholesome, gross and subtle, painful and pailful, etc.

3. Perception (sańńâ). This is how the mind processes the feelings that its sense organs transmit. No two individuals have the same perception of the same feelings they may experience.

4. Formations (sankhârâ). The formations are the deliberative acts of the individuals. it is often referred to as karmic formations.

5. Consciousness (vińńâna). This is the condition of being aware of the environment in which the individual exists.

While corporeality is readily understood the other four components are more subtle. Three of these, viz. feeling, perception and consciousness, are known to modern psychological science, and the Buddhist interpretation does not differ substantially from the scientific one. But the concept of "formations" is not known to modern psychology. At the same time there is nothing in conventional psychology that denies its existence. Here the Buddhist view transcends that of the conventional analysis of mental components.


Updated: 1-2-2001

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