Elements of Existence

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Elements of existence are called khandha in Pāli and skandha in Sanskrit. According to the teachings of the Buddha, all beings are composite, made of parts that are subject to change in time, and therefore impermanent, lacking eternal individuality or soul, and subject to pain. The cause of pain lies in desire, particularly in desire of permanence. The desire of rebirth (bhāva ) gnaws the believer in the permanence of life and soul (sessatavādin ), as the desire of annihilation (vibhāva ) consumes the nihilist (ucchedavādin ) convinced that death ends all. Desire is extinguished primarily by the right knowledge of the Truths concerning pain in human existence, impermanence, and inexistence of soul. The doctrine of impermanence is basic in Buddhist philosophy, in which becoming takes the place of being. The refutation of the existence of soul is the main theme of the Kathāvatthu, an extensive collection of controversial topics attributed to Tissa, the son of Moggāli, and comprised in the Abhidhammapiaka. To the metaphysical self, Buddhism opposes the transient and metabolic psychic self. Psychophysical life starts with the union of five elements (Pāli, Pañcakhandha ), one corporeal and the others incorporeal: (1) form or body (rūpa ); (2) sensation (vedanā ) arising from the exercise of the six sensessight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and mindupon sense objects; (3) perception (Pāli, saññā ; Sanskrit sañjñā ) resulting in the cognition of and reflection upon sensation; (4) disposition (Pāli, sankhārā ; Sanskrit, samskāra ), including propensity, leaning, proclivity, drive, and passion; (5) consciousness, or conscious thought (Pāli, viññāna ; Sanskrit vijñāna ), arising from the interplay of the other psychic components. The individual as a unit of the empirical world consists of an ever-changing combination of the five elements, which consequently keeps him in a state of constant flux. The process whereby life continues in a sequence of dependent origination is sustained by the chain of causation.

Bibliography: r. s. copleston, Buddhism Primitive and Present in Magadha and Ceylon (2d ed. New York 1908). c. n. e. eliot, Hinduism and Buddhism, 3 v. (London 1921) v.1; Japanese Buddhism (repr. New York 1959). k. j. saunders, Epochs in Buddhist History (Chicago 1924). w. t. de bary et al., comps., Sources of Indian Tradition (Records of Civilization 56; New York 1958).

[a. s. rosso]