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The Psychological Analysis of Five Aggregates (pañca-khandhas) in Early Buddhism and Their Workplace Application

The Psychological Analysis of Five Aggregates (pañca-khandhas) in Early Buddhism and Their Workplace Application


Dr. Nguyen Quy Hoang, Ph.D. and Researcher
Thailand and Italy


All the teachings of Buddha can be summarized into two points: suffering (dukkha) and the end of suffering (nirodha dukkha). The Buddha introduced the concept of the aggregates (khandhas) in his first sermon in response to the first point of suffering. The five aggregates (pañca-khandhas), including form (rūpa), feeling (vedanā), recognition (sañña), intention (saṅkhāra) and consciousness (viññāṇa) define what a human being (Homo sapiens) is. They create the sense of self (attā) and self-clinging (attā-upādāna), which stands for grasping to a permanent self (attā) with secular desires (taṇhā). They all cause suffering for human beings. The five aggregates themselves are not a source of suffering. They create suffering only when they become objects of clinging.  The clinging process happens in three ways: this is mine (etaṃ mama), this I am (eso’ham asmi), and this is my self (eso me attā). That is the reason five aggregates (pañca-khandhas), including mind (citta) or consciousness (viññāṇa), five clinging aggregates (pañca upādānakkhandhā) and self (attā) always go together.


Buddha taught that ‘life is suffering,’ which nobody can refute, and the aim of Buddhism obviously is to end human suffering. To bring suffering to an end, the nature of each aggregate and their clinging or, in other words, the suffering mechanism, should be understood.


There is no conflict between modern psychology discoveries today and Buddha’s teachings; both aim to understand the human mind and their behavior to eliminate human suffering. They can complement each other; cognitive psychology analyzes five aggregates for understanding human experiences. The five aggregates are also analyzed along with cognitive psychology in this dissertation.


Up to now, only two studies, Mathieu Boisvert (1995) and Sue Halmiton (1991), and one electronic journal article by  Nandini D. Karunamuni  (2015) have discussed the five aggregates but still miss a practical issue, even misleading in some points. The rendered English term ‘no-self’for the Pāli term ‘anattā’ and ‘perception’ for ‘sañña’ have also been confused for Buddhist studies. So, this dissertation aims to fix these issues.


By using the analysis & synthesis and experimental methods, the author of this study proposes two models: the first is ‘the five-aggregate model of liberation’ for spiritual liberation theory, and the second is ‘the five-aggregate model of health’ for increasing the health of employees working in the workplace. Workplaces today face increasing demands and challenges. High stress levels may result in decreasing effectiveness, creativity, efficiency, and employees’ health. The five-aggregate meditation applied in the workplace has not yet been developed in Vietnam.


The author of this dissertation argues that the five - aggregates doctrine can be understood fully if it is explained together with five clinging, self, and not-self concepts. That is the aim of the proposed five-aggregate model of liberation. The life of the historical Siddhartha Gautama, with his enlightenment, is considered good proof for this theoretical model.

Moreover, Buddhism always focuses on practical aspects rather than mere theory, the meditation application in the ‘five-aggregate model of health’ will also be developed by the author of this dissertation. Through testing, it showed good results for enhancing the employee’s health and the tested company benefits as well.


There are five chapters in the thesis. The first chapter mentions the literature review, the theoretical framework, and the limits of the study. The second chapter analyses the five-aggregates, including form, feeling, perception, intention, and consciousness. The third chapter is a study of five-aggregates under the light of cognitive psychology. The fourth chapter discusses the proposed five-aggregate models of liberation. And the last chapter mentions a survey of five-aggregates meditation in the workplace.

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