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Jun 12th
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Home Teachings The Five Aggregates The Burden of the Five Aggregates - Who Carries the Burden

The Burden of the Five Aggregates - Who Carries the Burden

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Article Index
The Burden of the Five Aggregates
Upadana - Clingings
Carrying the Burden
Who Carries the Burden
Individual and Khanda
Purity of Gifts
Short Summary
Cause of Burden
Craving for Sensual Pleasures
Craving for Existence
Craving for Non-Existence
Throw Down the Burden
All Pages

Who Carries the Burden

Only when a man gets old, when he is unable to move about as he would like to, unable to relish his food as much as he would like to, unable to get sleep as much as he needs it, and unable to satisfy his own desires as much as he wishes, he becomes convinced that the burden of his aggregates is indeed heavy. When he falls sick, his conviction grows and when he and his companions encounter all sorts of trials and tribulations, his realization of the heavy burden becomes clearer.

An arahat has eliminated desire or craving so it is no longer necessary for him to contemplate on the burden. Knowledge about it comes to him naturally. Let me revert to the story of the man very much in love with his wife. At first he thought that his wife was blameless, then he discovered her infidelity and her plot against his life. When he realized this situation, he need not to be warned by others of the dangers that would befall him. In much the same way an arahat needs nobody's warning about the heaviness of the burden he is carrying. He only needs to think about how long he will have to carry it. The load that a porter carries is no doubt very heavy, but he carries it only for a while. As soon as he feels that it will break his back, he at once throws it down and gets relieved. But the burden of our khandha rides on our back throughout our lives, nay, throughout the samsara, rounds of rebirth. It gets off our shoulders only when we attain arahatship having exterminated all defilements in us, and even then only after reaching nibbāna.

Buddha, therefore, said that the heaviest burden is the burden of the five aggregates of clinging .


The Buddha taught,

"O bhikkhus! Who is carrying the burden? He goes by the name of Tissa or Datta, etc. He belongs to the line of Kanhayana or Vacchayana, etc."

It means that the porter is a individual, assuming the name of Tissa or Datta, being a descendent of Kanhayana or Vacchayana family. What the Teacher meant is all beings, including laymen and even ghosts. For they are all carrying the burden of their aggregates. In ordinary parlance, all individuals are carrying the burden, as it has been postulated that the five aggregates are the burden, and the individual is the porter. The question arises as to whether they are distinct from each other or not. Men who believe in self infer that as Buddha recognizes individual, being, and self, individual is one thing and the five aggregates are another.

This inference merely reveals the character of their attachment to self. Buddha's teaching about non-self, is as clear as day light. If Buddha's philosophy is one of self, his teaching will not be different from those that were current at his time, in which there would be no necessity for Buddhism to arise. Outside the relam of Buddhist teaching there was the belief that the five aggregates constitute self. Another belief, however, asserts that the five aggregates are not self, but self exists as a material entity separately elsewhere. Buddhism, however, denies the existence of self irrespective of whether it is separate and distinct from the five aggregates or not. But in accordance with common custom and usage Buddha used the word individual or being.

There were also occasions when he used the grammatical connotations of myself and others to distinguish one from the other. For instance, in the saying, 'atta hi attano nmtho; ko hi paro natho' (I am my own saviour; there is no other who is my saviour), I does not mean the philosophical concept of self, but simply the pronominal "I." There is also another instance of the use of I as a personal pronoun in such a saying as 'attanam eva pathamam patirupe nivesaye' (Let him first establish himself in what is right).

Misconceptions arise following the grammatical connotations; and hence, the wrong views. This is shown in Katha Vatthu and in the Anuradha Sutta in Khandhavagga Samyutta Pali Text.

"Anuradha! What do you think: is body a being?"
"body is not a being, Sir."

"Is feeling a being? Is perception a being? Are volitional activities a being? Is consciousness a being?"
"No, Sir. They are not beings."

This catechism shows that there is none whom we can call an individual or a being whether in relation to his five aggregates or not. In the Sutta, Buddha declared that his teaching is concerned with suffering, and liberation from suffering caused by the five aggregates, and he did not preach the eternal existence of individual, being, or self.


Mara asked: "Who creates beings? Where is the Creator? Where does the creature arise? Where does he vanish?"

To these questions Vajira Thera, the female arahat, replied as followings:-

What, Mara, do you think, is a being? What do you think is wrong view, is it not? What is generally thought a being is but a heap of aggregates in a state of flux.

You cannot find the being in the five aggregates. I shall give you an example. When the wheels, axles and other parts are assembled, the assemblage becomes known by the words, chariot. In the same way when the five constituents of material body, feeling, perception, volitional activities, and consciousness are grouped together, the group comes to be named a being.

Indeed, there is no being but suffering that comes into being, that continues to establish itself as a being and passes away. Nothing but suffering exists; nothing but suffering passes away.


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The Dhammapada

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