“Heaps,” “Aggregates,” Skandhas

“Each plane of our being: mental, vital, physical – has its own consciousness, separated though interconnected and interacting; but to outer mind and sense, in our waking experience, that are all confused together.” From Integral Healing by Sri Aurobindo  posted January 31, 2016 by Bonnie Orgyen


Fundamental truths are fundamental. As such, they cycle ’round through the ages. This is the source of the term Ageless Wisdom. The wisdom and its principles of fundamental reality, how we can access it, live from it, and create a shared harmonious existence with all Life have been taught and told forever.

Bonnie Orgyen posted this excerpt from Sri Aurobindo in January of this year. Aurobindo lived through much of the 1900’s and was a superb teacher of the range of consciousness. His choice of words found resonance with both a western and eastern audience, and still do. But, this aspect of his teaching is not new. It is something that has been said in a variety of ways, all similar because of the subject, yet offered freshly over millennia by many teachers.

033a5240dbf9b20be70ccf00de4f2575For example, Sri Yuketeswar, Ramakrishna,or Osho all from India, like Aurobindo, have pointed their students to the inner work of dismantling the personal ego through taking apart its sense of self. It is well deconstructed through un-associating the mental, emotional, physical, chakric or energetic, and pneumenal or spiritual natures one from the others. In so doing, one realizes that each has its own needs and form of consciousness or life essence but also that oneself is not them, not these parts.

In Buddhism, this is called the teaching on the Skandhas or “heaps” or “aggregates.” Shakyamuni Buddha taught this for decades during his life. It is a core teaching in Buddhism, in other words, it is a necessary practice because it is extremely effective. Anyone that actually investigates the component aspects of oneself will discover that they have needs unto themselves, that they are lives – devas and little beings – within us, and that the practitioner is not these components nor their aggregation as a whole.

I believe that Patanjali pre-dates Buddha Shakyamuni, and that Buddha simplified Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. But, as Ageless Wisdom is truly ageless, Patanjali – who was either an immortal or was an avatar who came in both the Lemurian as well as the Atlantean root races – gave the teaching on the “heaps” or “aggregates long before Shakyamuni.” Skandha is a Sanskrit word meaning heap or pile, and in this case refers to the heaps of concepts or formulations of thoughts or sensations and the sense that experience the sensations, etc.

horusthothgreyAnd, in the cyclic arising of Ageless Wisdom and then its re-wording or cultural integration into a time in history, a place on Earth, and a tradition that will absorb it, we must also look at Ancient Egypt. What if one layer of meaning behind its animal headed deities is a teaching on the skandhas? I think this is likely, just as other layers of meaning, teaching, and instruction are equally present in these images and their teaching.

I am one of several friends that are in a multi-year-running intimate Buddhist book discussion group. The current book is Glimpses of Abhidharma by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It also is taking up the subject that Bonnie’s post from Aurobindo was about. I offered two points that might be of value:
a) The process of dis-identifying with or de-constructing the sense of ego-based self is a slow one. It has phases and each must be experienced. None can be jumped over. Enthusiasm to engage the process quickly gives way to frustration and a sense of hopelessness. These give way to the projection that one will be left null and void, and that nature, beauty, taste, smell, and existence itself will be denuded. All of these are – in fact – the personal ego’s attempt to thwart the process because the ego is actually the only “thing” that will be denuded, and it knows that. With steafastness and some mentoring, all of this gives way to beauty that is simply beautiful, peace that is perfectly peaceful, pain in the body that is simply pain, cells that are lives honored and valued equally to the sky, the sun, the grass, the food that feeds the cells. Pain gets managed as wisely as possible, lawns get cut, skies are enjoyed, life ensues. But, the feed-back loop of beauty because “I like it”, or pain experienced as “I’m in pain,” or the lawn mowing being “a bother and no time for it,” these are no longer present.

b) The purpose of a process as this and its ageless teaching is liberation. If we fight for the limitations that we experience as aspects of self-made identity, we will keep them. This disallows the possibility of experiencing liberation in this moment as it is.

About Donna Mitchell-Moniak

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