- Basic Buddhism
- A Modern Introduction to the
- by Dr Victor A. Gunasekara
- CHAPTER 7
- The Buddhist Attitude to
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).
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
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.