The Five Aggregates (五蕴)

The five aggregates is known as 'pancaskandha' in Sanskrit and these five aggregates refer to:

Rupa: Matter/form (色)
Vindana: Sensation/feeling (受)
Sanjna: Perception (想)
Samskara: Volitional activities (行)
Vijnana: Consciousness (识)

Basically the five aggregates is Buddhist specific but this concept is adapted and enhanced by Thai medicine over the years of field experiences. In Thai medicine, the concept of five aggregates is used to explain human physiological and psychological behaviors in addition to the Buddhist 'cause and effect' (因缘), selflessness (无我) and impermanent (无常) related theories.

These five aggregates pertaining to Thai medicine refers to:

A. Matter/form (色): The form refers to a total of 24 types of matters: 

Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, colors, voice, fragrance, smells, male and female specific characteristics, life source, the conscious and subconscious mind, the body pertaining to heart and air, the speech pertaining to heart and earth, space (joints), agility, flexibility of body, functionalities of body parts, initial conditions of organs in womb (baby), growing conditions (adult), aging conditions (old folks), impermanent of matters and food consumption.

Matter or form refers to the external apprehension of human body structures and vitality. Differences in a person's gender and physique is first born and developed in later years. At the same time it is due to male or female hormones that has subsequently developed into man or woman according to his/her parents' special characteristics.

The formation of a matter is influenced by 3 aspects:

1. Mind (心): The 'mind' refers to the product of a special law in such a way that when and egg and sperm is united, the 'mind' enters the fetus causing the subsequent development of our body parts. As a fetus grows, one's consciousness also develops simultaneously.

2. Food: What we eat affects our growth naturally.

3. Timing (时): Doing right thing and eating right food in accordance to seasons of the year enables a healthier body.

B. Perception (想)

Perception refers to the reactions, understanding, judgement and memory of a person specifically referring to the below 4 aspects:

1. The ability to perceive the cycle of life: growing, aging, falling sick and die.

2. The ability to understand the complete human structure and capabilities of each body parts.

3. The ability to perceive dangers in the environment and hence self protection.

4. The ability to feel the working conditions of own body parts.

There are 8 types of perceptions:

eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, acceptance, judgement, hidden (sub-conscious) and 21 types of organs (two eyes, two ears etc.)

The perception is the most important of all of the five aggregates. 

Our perception stems from five senses: eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body; and forms the perceptions against colors, voice, fragrance, smells and touch. These perceptions then transformed to our mind and deduce from there, thoughts are produced and finally forms a 'decision' that subsequently stored as our 'hidden mind' (藏识).

This 'hidden mind' is the ultimate stage of our perception and the activeness or passiveness of our mind directly influences the functions of our human body.

So, a healthy mind controls the proper functions of our body parts including the nutrition intake, enhances metabolism and energizes the central nervous system.

On the contrary, if one's mind is not healthy; then his/her body systems will not function correctly and resulting in sicknesses.

C. Feeling (受)

Feeling refers to the reaction and endurance of a person against external simulations, subsequent changes on his/her body and emotions. The external stimulations can be hot, cold, itchy, pains, numb, happy, sad and etc.
Since feeling arises from external stimulation to human body, it creates physical or emotional experiences and over a length of time; continuous suppression or excited or a sudden severe stimulation of our body and emotions will cause sicknesses.

D. Consciousness (意识)

Consciousness refers to our imagination, thinking and desires. It has the characteristics of remembering, storing, renew, relating, increasing or decreasing. Our ability to distinguish various colors, listen to voices, distinguishing scents, comfort or discomfort all arises from our consciousness.

When the four elemental forces in our body is strong, then we will be sharp and conscious; our reactions would be fast with vivid imaginations. We will look intelligent and positive by outside world.

On the other hand, if we are consistently troubled by thoughts and that we are easily annoyed and difficult to have proper rest, then we will look slow and confused by others.

E. Activities (行)

Activities refer to the growing stage until the dying stage of 32 types of our body parts: hairs, bones, finger nails, teeth and etc.

Basically, the Thai medicine make use of Buddhist's world view where:

"The earth is the bone and flesh, water is the blood, fire is the warm breath, wind is the breathing and consciousness is the various mental activities."

In addition, Thai medicine believes that the five aggregates are formed under the influences of the four elements; and this is the general philosophy adopted. So, picking up from there, the five aggregates is the combine product of our human 'body' and 'mind'.

Following, we shall explore the relationship between the 4 elements and the 5 aggregates...