Skandha Buddhism


Skandha (Sanskrit: स्कन्ध; Pāli: खन्ध, khandha; German: Anhäufung, Ansammlung, Aggregat) is a key concept in Buddhist teachings. The doctrine of the five skandhas complements the doctrine of the Three Attributes of Existence and serves to understand the path of enlightenment.

Accordingly, human existence can be described in terms of five factors. These are the sensations of the material body with its sense organs, the feelings, the perception, the mental formations and finally the consciousness. The "attachment to the five aggregates" (Sanskrit Pañcaupādānaskandhāḥ) is seen in Buddhism as the cause of dukkha (suffering).

In addition, there is a connection with the doctrine of anatta (non-self). This states that beyond the five skandhas, which are subject to constant change, there is no permanent and unchanging self.

Already in one of his first discourses, in the "Discourse on the Characteristics of the Non-Soul" (SN 22.59), the Buddha explained that no component of a person has the characteristics of a fixed soul. The Buddhist conception of man differs in this respect from the body-soul dualism according to Western understanding.

The individual Skandhas

The human personality can be completely defined by the following five factors of existence:

Corporeality group (skt./p. rūpa).

The material body, including the six sense organs of Buddhist philosophy: eye, ear, nose, tongue, sense of touch and organ of thought. It consists of the four basic elements (solid, liquid, heat and movement) and further of the physicalities dependent on the four basic elements (upadaya-rupa). This group contains the whole inner as well as outer area of the matter together with the existence group physicality.

Group of feelings (skt./p. vedanā)

All our three sensations, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, which we experience through contact of the physical and mental organs with the external world, belong to the second group of existence. They are the first, more passive and instinctive reaction.

They arise in six ways through contact of the eye with the visible forms, the ear with the sounds, the nose with the smell, the tongue with the taste, the body with the organs of touch, the mind with the mind-objects or thoughts or ideas (according to Buddhist philosophy, the sixth organ of contact). All our physical and mental sensations are included in this group.

Perception group (skt. samjñā, p. saññā).

Perceptions and identifications of external objects in the mind of the observer, which humans take in and distinguish as colors, sounds, smells, and images. They are more complex and active than sensations.

Like feelings, they are produced by the contact of our six senses with the external world. It is perception that recognizes things, becomes aware of them, whether they are physical or mental.

Mind Formation Group (skt. samskāra, p. samkara also: sankhāra)

All wholesome and unwholesome (good and bad) will activities are included here. Interests, will impulses, desires and intentions of action. Man reacts and interprets the perceptions.

This fourth group is of outstanding importance for the future existence, because here ideas, desires and longings arise, which influence the actions and with their fulfillment new karma is accumulated.

Buddha defines karma as wanting (cetana): "Wanting, monks, is what I call karma." Having willed, one acts through body, speech, and mind. Wanting is mental building, mental activity. Its function is to guide the mind into realms of good action, neutral action, and bad action.

As with the feelings group and the perceptions group, there are six types of "will" associated with the six inner faculties and the corresponding six objects (physical & mental) in the outer world.

Feelings and perceptions are not will activities and have no karmic consequences. Only will activities such as attention, determination, confidence, concentration or collection, wisdom, drive, desire, reluctance or hatred, ignorance, conceit, personality beliefs, etc. can have karmic effects.

Consciousness group (skt. vijñāna, p. viññāna).

Consciousness arises from the awareness of the samskaras. It is the sum of the four first factors of existence. A "self" arises in which the external world is not grasped, but which allows the external world to arise within it ("projects").

Consciousness is a reaction or response that has one of the six faculties (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind) as its basis and one of the corresponding external phenomena (visible form, sound, smell, taste, objects of touch and objects of mind i.e. an idea or thought) as its object.

Vision consciousness has the eye as its basis and a visible form as its object. Thought consciousness has the mind as its basis and a mind object, i.e., an idea or thought, as its object.

Consciousness is therefore connected with other faculties. Thus, as with feeling, perception, and volition, there are six kinds of consciousness, corresponding to the six internal faculties and the six external objects.


The concept of mind formation is extremely complex and includes: Will acts and impulses, perceptual acts and modes, feelings and sensations, behaviors and attitudes, and viewpoints (attitudes, self-images).

These five factors are changing and, for the most part, uncontrollable by the untrained person, rapidly transient and interdependent, so that the person is also subject to their changes. He is a constantly changing process and not a permanent substance.

Thus, man also has no immortal soul and no personality that determines his actions and thinking, that is, no "I". Buddha was absolutely convinced of the transitoriness of man. Only the karma accumulated in the previous life is reborn. After rebirth, the five factors of existence change completely again due to a different environment.

This doctrine is closely related to the doctrine of suffering ("Dukkha"). Only when the "I" is recognized as free of permanent substance ("Anatta"), can one lose ego addiction and find liberation from life and thus from suffering.

According to Buddhist teachings, it is therefore necessary to give up attachment to a permanent ego or belief in a permanent self, because this leads to greed, hatred and delusion. In this way, the momentary karma can be dissolved, which prevents the experience of nirvana.


When examining these components of which we are composed according to the Buddha's teaching, we can see that there is no "I" and no fixed self to be discovered in them.

Often the simile of a chariot is used here, which is only a certain composition of individual parts, "chariot" is only a name, if one goes into its depth (its individual parts), it is no longer present.

Special contemplations and meditations with the five skandhas promote these realizations. Usually, however, we think of ourselves as a solid entity, which the Buddha described as the main obstacle on the path to enlightenment. In this illusory assumption of a fixed "I" is the cause of all suffering.

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