river of being

Thich Nhat Hanh has one of the most beautiful explanations of emptiness (shunyata). He describes the Five Skandhas or Aggregates as rivers that flow in us.  Each contains the other four and every cell is a drop of water in that river.  A feeling in one skandha (for example pain from a headache) can be linked to any of the others (perceptions, interpretations, or becoming aware of the physical pain itself).

Look deeply into the five rivers of yourself and see how each river contains the other four.  Look at the river of form.  In the beginning you may think that form is just physical and not mental.  But every cell in your body contains all aspects of yourself….  Each aggregate contains all the other aggregates.  Each feeling contains all perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.  Looking into one feeling, you can discover everything.  Look in the light of interbeing and you will see the all in the one and the one in the all.  Don’t think that form exists outside of feelings or that feelings exist outside of form.

from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh

More important, we become confused by associating the suffering we feel with the arising of any one or all of the aggregates.  It’s so easy to blame my miserable mood on the pain in my back from the herniated discs.  It’s convenient to rant at the driver who cut me off when I’m actually feeling disregarded by the actions of another.  I still struggle with the reality that the aggregates – or my sensory interaction with my environment – is only what it is.  Some how it always seems the cause of my suffering.  And, of course, thinking it is the cause, I attempt to eradicate the senses rather than taking a more generous stance to them – and deal with the real source of my misery.

It is not the Five Aggregates that make us suffer, but the way we relate to them.  When we observe the impermanent, nonself, and interdependent nature of all that is, we will not feel aversion for life.  In fact, this knowing will help us see the preciousness of all life….  The root of our suffering is not the aggregates but our grasping.

Thank you for practicing,


2 thoughts on “river of being

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.