Thursday, September 16, 2010

Comparison of the 5 Aggregates with Conceptions of Self and Identity by Baumeister Buddhism Skandha
The Sanskrit word skandha means "heap" or "aggregate." The Buddha taught that an individual is a combination of five aggregates of existence, called the Five Skandhas. These are:

1. Form
2. Sensation
3. Perception
4. Mental formations
5. Consciousness
Various schools of Buddhism do not interpret the skandhas in exactly the same way. Generally, the first skandha is our physical form. The second is made up of our feelings, emotional and physical, and our senses -- seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling.

The third skandha, perception, takes in most of what we call thinking -- conceptualization, cognition, reasoning. This also includes the recognition that occurs when an organ comes into contact with an object. Perception can be thought of as "that which identifies." The object perceived may be a physical object or a mental one, such as an idea.

The fourth skandha, mental formations, includes habits, prejudices and predispositions. Our volition, or willfulness, also is part of the fourth skandha, as are attention, faith, conscientiousness, pride, desire, vindictiveness, and many other mental states both virtuous and not virtuous. The causes and effects of karma are especially important to the fourth skandha.

The fifth skandha, consciousness, is awareness of or sensitivity to an object, but without conceptualization. Once there is awareness, the third skandha might recognize the object and assign a concept-value to it, and the fourth skandha might react with desire or revulsion or some other mental formation. The fifth skandha is explained in some schools as base that ties the experience of life together.

The Buddha taught that our egos, personalities and the sense that the "self" is something distinctive and permanent enclosed within our bodies, are just illusory effects of the skandhas.


O'Brien, B. (n.d.). Skandha. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from Buddhism:

TThe article Skandha strongly parallels the Baumeister’s Taxonomy of the Self.
The Form, Sensation and Consciousness can be classified as the Natural Self. The definition of the Natural self in Conceptions of Self and Identity by Baumeister includes “the body”, “the little window of consciousness called the 'knower' ” and “sensations” (Baumeister, 1993). This definition includes and embodies what Buddhism defines as the form as the physical body, the Sensations or feelings and the consciousness as the awareness factor, which is the called the 'knower' (O'Brien).
This is re-enforced by the description of consciousness in Buddhism as the basis for perceptions and mental formations to arise. Parallel to this is the use of the term universal (Baumeister, 1993) to describe the Natural self by Baumeister. One point to note here is that Baumeister integrates sensations into consciousness and consciousness with body inside the Natural Self, whereas Buddhism reclassifies them into three. Despite the differences in numbering, they both agree on the Universal self, which is natural, and supports the notion that the Natural Self is indeed universal.
For Perception, the definition from Buddhism is “that which identifies”. It is the one doing the “conceptualization, cognition” (O'Brien). This is clearly the Conceptual Self from Baumeister which is the self as a construct. The difference here is that Buddhism attributes Perception as one of the 5 aggregates of the thing we call self whereas Baumeister seems to take it for granted and is more interested in the construct itself, namely the “self concept” and “identity” (Baumeister, 1993). In Buddhism, we see that the concept of Perception is a superset of Baumeister's Conceptual self, one is the creator, and the other is the creation.
Mental formations in Buddhism refer to the identity in the conceptual self and also the action self. “Habits, prejudice and predispositions” (O'Brien) of mental formations are most likely seen by Baumeister as “structure of values and priorities” (Baumeister, 1993) in the identity of the conceptual self. Whereas the “volition and willfulness” (O'Brien) of mental formations is the “actor and the wanter” (Baumeister, 1993) in the action self. Thus it is seen that Buddhism regards mental formations as the rest of the mind other than the sensations, perception and consciousness. Thus it is not so surprising that we find the identity in mental formations along with the action self. The separations of self concept and identity in the classification by Buddhism seems to imply that the self concept is just a construct that can change with time and with person and also possibly not necessary, so it is not explicitly stated, just the function that constructs, namely perception is named, whereas Buddhism would regard identity, or the habits and prejudice more solid and empirical than self concept.
As the two articles contains very similar parts of the self that both using different classification managed to compartmentalise them, it is worth noting that the Buddha can be considered as a superb Psychologist whose findings 2500 years ago are being rediscovered by modern psychology in the last 100 years.


Baumeister, R. F. (1993). Conceptions of Self and Identity. In Fifty Years of Personality Psychology (pp. 177-186). New York: Plenum Press.

O'Brien, B. (n.d.). Skandha. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from Buddhism:

No comments: