V 11-38 The Five Aggregates are Empty (Part 1) 五蕴皆空（一）
Disclaimer: The translations are not official nor endorsed by 2OR, so please just treat it as a ‘fan-based’ translation. The Buddha-Dharma is profound. No matter how you convey it, it won’t be completely perfect. Because the Buddha-Dharma is an experience, it’s an awakening 【佛法深奥无比，怎么写，都不会是究竟圆满。佛法是一种悟】. Please enjoy, and I hope it serves as a good filler until the official English version comes out.
In this chapter, we will talk about the ‘five aggregates’. In the ‘Heart Sutra’, we regularly recite the words ‘the five aggregates are empty’, but some people don’t understand what it is, so we shall explain it. The five aggregates refer to the aggregate of form, feeling, perception, mental formation and consciousness. The Bodhisattvas want to teach us that we must perceive them as empty. What does the term ‘aggregate’ here mean? It is an assembly point for a type of phenomenon. For example, for the aggregate of form, because we have seen too many things, it is all collected into an aggregate of form. The aggregate form is things you see visually, like the colours and the look of a house, and the things you see mentally like what you can gain from something. Among the five aggregates, other than the aggregate of form which exists in a material form, the other four aggregates only exist in the mental place or within our mind. They are all invisible and mental phenomena.
First, we discuss the aggregate of form. What is it? It is the world of forms. What you see in this world exists in forms, and it’s something that you can sense. When you sit on a chair, you can sense it. You can see the houses, clouds and the shops etc. because it has a physical form. All forms are composed of the elements earth, water, fire and wind. The earth can disintegrate, the water can run off, fire will gradually extinguish, and the wind will blow away. In fact, the human body is also composed of the elements earth, water, fire and wind. Our bones represent earth, our blood represents water, our meridians represent fire, and our sense of temperature represent wind. These possess a form, so it is classified within the aggregate for form. When people die, their composition of earth, water, fire and wind also disappears.
The second is the aggregate of feeling. What is it? It is your feeling of something mentally. It is also the most important because it forms your perception of joy and suffering of something. Some people perceive a joyous event as something bitter, while some people perceive a painful effect as joyous. For example, women feel pain when they’re giving birth, but they’re actually happy about it. Many people are wealthy, and they should be happy about it, but they are actually bitter about it because they experience a lot of stress and sleepless nights that come from some of their business ventures. So are they enjoying their wealth or suffering from it?
One’s feeling or perception of joy or suffering of something is dependent on one’s tendency to be optimistic or pessimistic. Many people can’t think through things clearly and see others as being hateful. That’s because their mind has already accepted the elements of hate, jealousy and disdain. When your mind feels uncomfortable, it means you’ve already hurt your mind due to the negative energy that you’re developing.
Next, we discuss the aggregate of perception. It is the attitude that somebody takes when they are thinking about something. When somebody daydreams about something they are happy about, it can reflect on their smile. The aggregate of perception is boundless in the realms of wisdom and one’s spirit. In reality, the aggregate of perception develops from one’s thoughts and mental actions. When you are thinking about something, isn’t it a mental action? That’s because your mind has moved. When it does, it will contribute to this aggregate. In reality, the feeling of love and hate, and the idea of good and evil, are all developed from your thoughts. When you detest somebody badly, it is driven by your thoughts. For example, you hate a guy, and then somebody said to you, “Did you know that he is secretly donating blood to you?” You would immediately change your perception of that guy. “Oh, he is so kind.” In reality, your love and hate all develop from your thoughts. That’s why the aggregate of perception is very complicated. It also very easily turns you into a kind person or an evil person. If you perceive others as kind-hearted, then you will become kind-hearted. But if you perceive others as evil, then you will become an evil person.
The fourth aggregate is the aggregate of mental formation. Everybody knows that consciousness is very important. In reality, the mental formation of awareness is conditioned by one’s karmic affinities, causes and consequences. For example, some children dislike eating broccoli from when they were born. They never ate it before, but when they look at its appearance, they don’t want to eat it. If the mother said, “Isn’t it weird that he doesn’t like eating broccoli?” Then it may condition the child’s consciousness so that he won’t want to eat it in the future. In reality, it is conditioning. For example, when we were little, we don’t know what’s considered indecent. If you teach children what acts are considered indecent, then they won’t do it. If instead, while they are still little, you said, “What’s indecent about it? It doesn’t matter if you steal; there are plenty of people who steals.” If you condition their consciousness like so when they are still young, then they would never feel that stealing is something indecent. Mental formation of awareness is controlled by one’s karmic affinities, causes and consequences; that’s why it’s very important.
Why is one’s awareness related to one’s karmic affinities? If you were born in an honest family, where your parents are not greedy for anything and doesn’t harm others to satisfy their desires, then you might be a decent child. You possess this affinity, so you won’t commit crimes when you’re older. Your awareness is very pure and kind-hearted; you might remain kind for the rest of your life. That’s why one’s awareness is related to one’s karmic affinities. If you were born in an impoverished family where your parents constantly steal to live, then you would mentally form an awareness that since your parents do it, then it’s normal that you do it too. So your awareness is developed and led by the karmic affinities around you. Why do many artists take drugs? It’s because they have bad friends. Since their friends take drugs, they also take them.
Next is the aggregate of consciousness. What is it? It’s your conscious actions and behaviour that forms wholesome and unwholesome karmic causes and consequences. If you suddenly consciously develop a thought, regardless of whether it has caused a mental action or a physical action, it will form a kind of karma that corresponds with that thought. In reality, the aggregate of consciousness is controlled by the aggregate of mental formation and the aggregate of perception.
Master just explained about the five aggregates. So, in the ‘Heart Sutra’, why does it expound that the five aggregates are empty? To make them empty is not easy. Two thousand five hundred years ago, when Gautama Buddha as Prince Siddhartha was still alive and teaching his disciples, he said to them, “First, I will not teach you about the emptiness of cessation. You must observe the birth and cessation of your five aggregates. For example, if you saw something, like a person you find hateful, and that person has left, then that hate is ceased in the end.” Isn’t that right? You developed hate towards a person, but as time goes on, you might forget about that person, so it has ceased. That’s birth and cessation. For example, you just thought of something like, “Wouldn’t it be great if I can get it?” The more you think about it, the happier you become. After developing this imagination, you start to do things to see if you could get it. But after a few days, and then a few months, and what you did was unfruitful, then you no longer think about it. Then your aggregate of perception has ceased.
“I really want to beat him up, but I don’t have the chance yet.” Then after one year or two years pass, this aggregate of consciousness ceases. As long as something is born, one day, it will cease. Why did Gautama Buddha instruct his disciples to observe the birth and cessation of their five aggregates? In reality, he wants to use this method to teach us that the five aggregates are not long-lasting. He was very wise; he told his disciples to look themselves. Master tells you, the pot of flowers in front of you might look beautiful now. But in a week’s time, where does it end up? From its birth and up to its bloom, it will then gradually wither and then thrown away. Its existence has ended, so it has ceased. Gautama Buddha wants to enlighten us on the fact that all imagination is fake. All of your thoughts are fake. Everything you see (the aggregate of thoughts) is fake. Your awareness is fake. Everything is fake. Isn’t that right?
When we were young and discussing a certain classmate, everybody would say how great that person was. That person saved them in tight situations, or when you did something wrong at school, and the teacher shouts, “Who did it? Stand up right now.” At the time, you didn’t dare to stand up, but that classmate courageously stood up and took the responsibility instead, “Teacher, I did it,” and then that classmate was punished to stand for the remainder of the class or reported to their parents. At the time, you might have been deeply moved by that classmate and felt that you would never forget about the person. Isn’t that the birth of an aggregate of perception? You were consciously grateful towards the classmate, but now, do you still remember it? Do you still remember the classmates who had helped you or had treated you well? You were moved then. Do you still have the same feelings now?
Gautama Buddha wants to tell you that all consciousness is fake. Why does many people’s marriage break apart? It’s because when the man married, he thought to himself that his wife treats him so well, so he must treat her better for the rest of his life. No matter what happens, he won’t change. But ultimately, he did. Now you understand? Gautama Buddha was very wise when he propagated the Dharma. He said, “Look, what is the end of the form, feeling, perception, mental formation and consciousness? It’s birth and cessation. Birth is the start; what is the end? Gautama Buddha wants you to see through to the bottom of it all. What do everything in the Human Realm and your imaginations bring you? Cessation. Everything is born and then finally disappears.