What are we clinging to? What is our handhold? What we are clinging to is the world itself. In Buddhism the word “world” has a broader connotation than it has in ordinary usage. It refers to all things, to the totality. It does not refer just to human beings, or celestial beings, or gods, or beasts, or the denizens of hell, or demons, or hungry ghosts, or titans, or any particular realm of existence at all. What the word “world” refers to here is the whole lot taken together. To know the world is difficult because certain levels of the world are concealed. Most of us are familiar with only the outermost layer or level, the level of relative truth, the level corresponding to the intellect of the average man. For this reason Buddhism teaches us about the world at various levels.
The Buddha had a method of instruction based on a division of the world into a material or physical aspect and non-material or mental aspect. He further divided up the mental world or mind into four parts. Counting the physical and the mental together makes a total of five components, called by the Buddha the Five Aggregates, which together go to make up the world, in particular living creatures and man himself. In looking at the world we shall concentrate on the world of living creatures, in particular man, because it is man that happens to be the problem. In man these five components are all present together: his physical body is the material aggregate; his mental aspect is divisible into four aggregates, which we shall now describe.
The first of the mental aggregates is feeling (vedana), which is of three kinds, namely pleasure or gratification, displeasure or suffering, and a neutral kind, which is neither pleasure nor displeasure, but which is a kind of feeling nevertheless. Under normal conditions feelings are always present in us. Every day we are filled with feelings. The Buddha, then, pointed out feeling as one of the components which together go to make up the man.
The second component of mind is perception (sanna). This is the process of becoming aware, similar to waking up as opposed to being sound asleep or unconscious, or dead. It refers to memory as well as awareness of sense impressions, covering both the primary sensation resulting from contact with an object by way of eye, ear, nose, tongue, or body, and the recall of previous impressions. Thus one may be directly aware of an object as black or white, long or short, man or beast, and so on, or one may be similarly aware in retrospect by way of memory.
The third mental aggregate is the actively thinking component (sankhara) in an individual-thinking of doing some thing, thinking of saying something, good thought and bad thought, willed thinking, active thinking-this is the third mental aggregate.
The fourth component of mind is consciousness (vinnana). It is the function of knowing the objects perceived by way of eye, ear, nose, tongue and the general body sense, and also by way of the mind itself.