The Five Skandhas

Shakymuni Buddha’s enlightenment revealed to him that there is no “I”, no constituent “thingness” as “I”, no subjective “person in the control tower” overseeing the landing and taking off of planes “out there” in objective reality. Rather, according to the Buddha’s insight — and which we can reconfirm through our own meditative experience — what we take to be an “I” is actually a kind of temporary, always-changing rotation of five “baskets” or “clumps” of energy that, moving together, loosely influencing each other, constitute our experienced-self. In other words, “form, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness”.

As I often describe the “five skandhas”: The can of soda says “Coca Cola”. It suggests that this Coca Cola is a thing. But the nature of Coca Cola is, on the ingredients label, five “things” that make this soda: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, natural flavors/phosphoric acid, caffeine. These five things are also not fixed states, and in themselves, are rotating and changing. Leave a can of Coke open for a few hours: the gas disappears over time, the flavor becomes flat, the excitement of the drink diminishes. Change.

The same thing with our mind. What we take to be an object is actually best described as a basket or “clump” of affinity that influences other qualities of mind, or is influenced by them.

In this view, Jordan Peterson is much more Buddhist than he would probably like to admit.

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