The Structure of “I”

Reference: Chapter 2 of Book: What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula

What we call a ‘being’, ‘soul’, ‘individual’, or ‘I’, according to Buddhist philosophy, is only a combination of ever-changing physical and mental forces or energies. These forces or energies may be divided into five groups or aggregates, as follows.


(1) Aggregates of Matter (both internal and external)

  • The Four Great Elements of Matter –
    • Solidity, Fluidity, Heat and Motion
  • Derivatives of the Four Great Elements –
      • The six internal faculties connected to material sense-organs
        • Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind
      • The corresponding six objects in the external world
        • Visible form, sound, odor, taste, tangible things and mind-objects (idea or thought)

(2) Aggregate of Sensations (both physical and mental)

  • Pleasant, unpleasant, neutral sensations
    • Experienced through the contact of internal faculties with the external objects
      • PHYSICAL
        • Eye with visible forms
        • Ear with sounds
        • Nose with odor
        • Tongue with taste
        • Body with tangible objects
      • MENTAL
        • Mind with mind-objects or thoughts or idea

(3) Aggregate of Perceptions (both physical and mental)

  • Recognition of physical and mental objects
    • Produced through the contact of internal faculties with the external objects
      • PHYSICAL
        • Visual perception when the eye contacts visible forms
        • Auditory perception when the ear contacts sounds
        • Olfactory perception when the nose contacts odors
        • Gustatory perception when the tongue contacts tastes
        • Tactile perception when the body contacts tangible objects
      • MENTAL
        • Mental perception when the mind contacts mind-objects (ideas and thoughts)

(4) Aggregate of Mental Formations

  • Exertion of volition (will, mental activity)
    • All volitional activities (both good and bad)
      • Attention, Will, Determination, Confidence, Concentration, Wisdom, Energy, Desire, repugnance or hate, Ignorance, Conceit, Idea of self, etc. (52 of them)
    • Karma (having willed, one acts through body, speech and mind)
      • Karmic effects
    • Connected with the six internal faculties and the corresponding six external objects
      • Visual, Auditory, Olfactory, Gustatory, Tactile, Mental

  (5) Aggregate of Consciousness

  • Consciousness is a reaction or response which has
    • One of the six faculties as its basis, and
    • One of the six corresponding external phenomena as its objects
  • Consciousness does not recognize an object
    • It is a sort of awareness of the presence of an object
  • Consciousness should not be taken as ‘spirit’ in opposition to matter.
    • Consciousness arises out of conditions
    • There is no arising of consciousness without conditions
  • Consciousness depends on matter, sensation, perception and mental formations
    •  It cannot exist independently of them.

Note: Sensations and perceptions do not produce karmic effects. It is only the volitional actions of mental formations that can produce karmic effects.


Thus, ‘being’, ‘individual’, or, ‘I’, is only a convenient name or a label given to the combination of these five groups. They are all impermanent, all constantly changing. They are not the same for two consecutive moments. Here A is not equal to A. They are in a flux of momentary arising and disappearing.

One thing disappears, conditioning the appearance of the next in a series of cause and effect. There is no unchanging substance in them. There is nothing behind them that can be called a permanent Self, individuality, or anything that can in reality be called ‘I’. But when these five physical and mental aggregates which are interdependent are working together in combination as a physio-psychological machine, we get the idea of ‘I’. But this is only a false idea of self. There is no other ‘being’ or ‘I’, standing behind these five aggregates.

There is no unmoving mover behind the movement. It is only movement. It is not correct to say that life is moving, but life is movement itself. Life and movement are not two different things. In other words, there is no thinker behind the thought. Thought itself is the thinker. If you move the thought, there is no thinker to be found. Here we cannot fail to notice how this Buddhist view is diametrically opposed to the Cartesian cogito ergo sum: ‘I think, therefore I am.’

This is counter-intuitive, indeed.


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  • vinaire  On May 12, 2012 at 6:46 AM

    It is interesting for me to practice Looking at the mental formations described above, namely,

    Attention, Will, Determination, Confidence, Concentration, Wisdom, Energy, Desire, Repugnance or Hate, Ignorance, Conceit, Idea of self, etc.


  • vinaire  On May 12, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    When we look at a flowing stream, we never step in the same water twice, but we see patterns in that flow that seem to persist. “I” seem to be like that pattern in a flow.

    “I” is dependent on the flow though.


  • Chris Thompson  On May 12, 2012 at 11:05 PM

    Ideas like true and false seem to persist as well. For instance, when you say “. . . we get the idea of ‘I’. But this is only a false idea of self.” I would say that there is no other idea of self and so why would it be a false idea of self? Self as you’ve lain it out IS the self. It does not need to be true or false does it? Or does it?

  • vinaire  On May 13, 2012 at 7:04 AM

    True and false are relative concepts. This essay is simply comparing two different ideas of “self”. One idea says it is permanent, the other idea says it is impermanent.

    Scientology says that thetan (individuality) is immortal. Buddhism doesn’t think so.


  • vinaire  On May 13, 2012 at 9:01 AM

    Theories in Physics, the latest being the theory of Quantum Mechanics, are not the last word. When one really looks at them, their basis is found to be very much in question. Ultimately, it is based on speculation, no matter how consistent it appears within itself.

    To further speculate on CONSCIOUSNESS and MATTER based on the theory of Quantum Mechanics seems to be way out in the left field. The correct approach would be to fully understand the basis of Quantum Mechanics and take it from there.

    This requires the understanding of the mathematics involved. There is no way around it. Otherwise, one is simply having a talk in the parlor.


    • Chris Thompson  On May 13, 2012 at 10:20 AM

      haha -Well, that IS what we are doing, isn’t it? I mean it’s not like us old guys are going to put up a new revelation that goes beyond our parlors. haha

      • vinaire  On May 13, 2012 at 11:18 AM

        Yes, let’s look for what it is.


        • Chris Thompson  On May 13, 2012 at 2:36 PM

          Well, alright. We’ll continue to look… I’ve got some things going on but I need you to crawl inside my head to look at them… I cannot say it yet.

  • vinaire  On May 13, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    Sense faculties may be regarded as subjective; but what is being perceived is objective. So a mental object can be a speculation. Looking at that speculation would be the function of the mind. That may be considered subjective. But recognizing that speculation as speculation would be objective.

    Considering everything ‘mental’ to be subjective is not quite accurate. Mental-objects exist as objective entities.


  • vinaire  On May 14, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    … (Continuous flux)
    …..–> Matter (contact)
    ……….–> Sensation
    ……………–> Perception
    ………………..–> Mental formations
    …………………….–> Consciousness
    …………………………–> Matter (contact)
    ……………………………..–> Sensation
    ………………………………….–> Perception
    ………………………………………… (Continuous flux)

    There is no underlying permanent self (being). This continuous flux is the ‘being’. This continuous flux is dukkha itself.


  • vinaire  On May 14, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    I find the following to be a key statement from the book “What Buddha taught.”

    “There is no unmoving mover behind the movement. It is only movement. It is not correct to say that life is moving, but life is movement itself. Life and movement are not two different things. In other words, there is no thinker behind the thought. Thought itself is the thinker. If you move the thought, there is no thinker to be found. “

    Matter, energy, space and time seems to be different forms of some much finer motion. All the components of self (“I”) may be evolved from that finer motion. This is the direction my mind seems to be going.


    • Chris Thompson  On May 14, 2012 at 12:48 PM

      Where does aware of being aware fit in this model?

      • vinaire  On May 14, 2012 at 1:06 PM

        In my opinion awareness would be consciousness in Buddhist model. Looking and realizing consciousness for what it is would be awareness of awareness.


    • Chris Thompson  On May 14, 2012 at 12:53 PM

      That is correct. Behind the movement is nothing.

  • Brian  On May 29, 2012 at 3:44 AM

    “Life is movement itself”; “Thought itself is the thinker” – This does not ring true to me at all. I find the entire statement to be lacking.

    “Shit happens” is just as satisfying a philosophy as this.

    Consciousness is the screen upon which all existence is seen. That which witnesses the screen. Can it be seen? That which perceives thought, is it thought?

    One is aware of consciousness. Can one be aware of unconsciousness?

    • vinaire  On May 29, 2012 at 9:03 AM

      I don’t find myself aware of being aware. I just find myself to be aware.

      “Aware of being aware” is speculation or figure-figure on Hubbard’s part.


    • vinaire  On May 30, 2012 at 11:00 AM

      From the book “What the Buddha Taught”:

      ”There is another popular question: If there is no Self, no Ātman, who realizes Nirvāna? Before we go on to Nirvāna, let us ask the question: Who thinks now, if there is no Self? We have seen earlier that it is the thought that thinks, that there is no thinker behind the thought. In the same way, it is wisdom (paňňa), realization, that realizes. There is no other self behind the realization. In the discussion of the origin of dukkha we saw that whatever it may be- whether being, or thing, or system- if it is of the nature of arising, it has within itself the nature, the germ, of its cessation, its destruction. Now dukkha, samsāra, the cycle of continuity, is of the nature of arising; it must also be of the nature of cessation. Dukkha arises because of ‘thirst’ (tamhā), and it ceases because of wisdom (paňňa). ‘Thirst’ and wisdom are both within the Five Aggregates, as we saw earlier.”


  • Brian  On May 29, 2012 at 3:49 AM

    From KHTK12A: TRUTH IS. NIRVĀNA IS. The only thing you can do is to see it, to realize it. There is a path leading to the realization of Nirvāna. But Nirvāna is not the result of this path.[20] You may get to the mountain along a path, but the mountain is not the result, not an effect of the path. You may see a light, but the light is not the result of your eyesight.”
    One cannot reach the understanding of unknowable through logic, or through thinking, or by concluding. One has to look at it for what it is, or it is not., or neither.

    This is much more key statement IMHO.

  • vinaire  On May 30, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    If we look at self as something derived from more basic elements then what is thinking right now is not the self.

    Actually, thinking is in the nature of thought itself. So, it may be said that it is the thought that is thinking.

    Similarly, it is the wisdom that realizes.


    • Chris Thompson  On May 30, 2012 at 12:19 PM

      Your assertion is animist. Maybe there is a view to explore… completely and utterly counterintuitive to standard self. A “universally centered” rather than a “self-centered self.” Said another way, an “un-centered self.”

      • vinaire  On May 30, 2012 at 12:40 PM

        What I stated seems to be the nature of the universe. Both BEINGNESS and AWARENESS spring together when something is manifested. Please see


        I am sure that both BEINGNESS and AWARENESS cease together when something is unmanifested.


        • Chris Thompson  On May 30, 2012 at 12:51 PM

          and is also covered by animism.

        • Chris Thompson  On May 30, 2012 at 12:53 PM

          Your hypotheses seem to rubber-stamp “extra dimensions” as the missing pieces of understanding.

        • Chris Thompson  On May 30, 2012 at 1:09 PM

          “I am sure that both BEINGNESS and AWARENESS cease together when something is unmanifested. .”

          Why sure? You are discounting a lot when you “arrive” at your conclusions. One moment you are describing the absolute uncertainty of it all and the next you are summing up. And another thing, why do you make pronouncements about what is the “nature of the universe” when you are quoting yourself?

          Your ego is getting in the way of my ego. haha

        • vinaire  On May 30, 2012 at 2:20 PM

          I am not looking at ego. What I go by is consistency.


        • vinaire  On May 30, 2012 at 2:22 PM

          Maybe animism is something more consistent with what we are looking at. But I don’t believe in souls.

          I just see that beingness and awareness go hand-in-hand.


  • Rizwan  On September 21, 2013 at 11:14 PM

    Thanks for this clear explanation Vinay, I remember reading this in “What the Buddha taught”.

    With this idea of “self” or “soul”, I am not able to explain some phenomenon that I know is true. If “I” is only the manifestation or apparency caused by the 5 aggregates, I would imagine that the “I” (or the 5 aggregates and their interactions) is located within the body and not outside it. For instance, the sensation of vision is only through eyes in the body and nowhere else. Thus the “I” (though it is a false perception of I, because it doesn’t really exist), must be perceived to be located within the body, not outside the body.

    The phenomenon that I am not able to explain with this is that, sometimes, one is able to see his own body alive, from a viewpoint away from his body. No, it is not using the cameras to trick the mind. It is when the person’s body is lying down with closed eyes, while he looks at his own body with eyes closed from a viewpoint away from his body, and waiting for the body to wake up. And no, it is not hallucination or dream either.

    Here, who was looking at the body from outside the body, if “I” cannot be outside the body? Even if the self is the “weighted average location of mental energies or forces” as explained in The Self and the Soul and one other article I read in your blog, that self should be only located within the body because the six internal faculties are in the body. Even if it could, at times, relocate itself outside the body temporarily, how could it see when the eyes were closed?

    • vinaire  On September 21, 2013 at 11:19 PM

      What is your explanation for it?


      • Rizwan  On September 22, 2013 at 11:32 AM

        I just noticed that, in one of the replies in Is there an absolute will, you mentioned, “A feeling of exteriorization is just that… a feeling in a live body”. My guess is that, that is your explanation to this – which implies that the experience is kind of a dream, a very lucid dream – so lucid that it gives the feeling of reality.

        My explanation – I had an explanation to this which is not consistent with the idea there is no I behind the 5 aggregates. My explanation was simple – there is the permanent indivisible “I” (soul / thetan) that went outside the body and looked at the body.

        Now I am not sure until I prove it to myself beyond doubt.

        • vinaire  On September 22, 2013 at 5:07 PM

          I have written about my thoughts on exteriorization in the following essay. Take a look at it and then discuss.

          My Thoughts on OT Level I


        • Rizwan  On September 27, 2013 at 11:16 PM

          Vinay, In “My Thoughts on OT Level I”, you say: It is obvious that the being or thetan is not something material that moves out of the body. So, exteriorization must be the freeing of some consideration attached or fixed with respect to the body.

          Yes, thetan is not something material that moves out of the body. This was my understanding : Thetan is not made of anything, any material we can find in physical universe; yet it can assume a viewpoint in physical universe. And my understanding was that when it can assume a viewpoint away from his body, it is exteriorization. When you say that exteriorization is freeing of some fixed consideration with respect to the body, it sounds like that is the cause for thetan to be able to relocate away from his body. So I think both the ideas are in agreement.

          However, the new idea that thetan is nothing behind the 5 aggregates, makes me ask the question to myself, “what, if anything, relocates the viewpoint to experience exteriorization?” “I”, though does not exist, is a perceived “center of consciousness” as per our new understanding. Can that “Center of Consciousness” relocate out of the body? I think not, mainly because “Center of Consciousness” is a perceived illusion to begin with. With these thoughts, I take back what I concluded in the previous paragraph, that the two ideas are in agreement. They are not in agreement. Regardless, I agree with the idea that some fixed considerations about the body must be overcome to experience “exteriorization”.

          Let me agree for a moment that exteriorization is just the release of fixed considerations about the body. How do we explain some phenomenon such as some people getting out of the body and seeing things in physical universe outside the room where the body is, and someone like Edgar Cayce who “sleeps” and perceives the future and talks about it.

          If I fall back to the idea that something moves out of the body that causes the experience of exteriorization, then, in order to be consistent, I also need to fall back to the idea that something exists behind the 5 aggregates.

          I am having another new thought, whihc I will post in my next comment.

        • vinaire  On September 28, 2013 at 5:14 AM

          Yes… continue looking!


        • Rizwan  On September 29, 2013 at 11:02 PM

          When I first learnt about “thetan”, the idea I understood is that thetan is not part of MEST universe. It is the ability to create MEST, but not part of MEST. I don’t remember references where I got this understanding from. I remember analyzing this as follows: If thetan is not part of MEST, it does not exist anywhere in this physical universe – which implies that it does not exist in the 3 dimensional space that we know. Therefore, it might exist in other dimension that we are not normally aware of.

          Many people believe that time is the 4th dimension. I don’t think so. I think that since it is difficult to imagine 4th dimension right in space, many have a tendency to consider time as the 4th dimension. It is possible that there is 4th dimension and we have difficulty imagining it since we have no idea of it, just as beings in a hypothetical 2 dimensional world could have no idea of what a 3 dimensional world is: Dr Quantum – Flatlad.

          So I imagined thetan to be in a 4th dimension that we can’t imagine. Theories of buddhism not considering 4th dimension anywhere (or not that I know of) could probably be why it concludes that there is nothing behind the 5 aggregates. And it does not consider 4th dimension because it is beyond our imagination. So my guess is what if this thing behind the aggregates does exist, but in the 4th dimension.

          You have probably noticed that I am trying to make sense of both the theories of buddhism and phenomenon that I can’t explain to myself only with buddhist theories.

        • vinaire  On September 30, 2013 at 4:42 AM

          Well, I have tried to explain it here. Let me have your feedback on this.


  • vinaire  On September 28, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    Viewpoint is a consideration, isn’t it? A consideration can be pictorial. When a consideration blows off, maybe a more basic consideration takes its place.

    You have a consideration about the ‘thetan’, don’t you? Is that consideration pictorial? What kind of consideration is it?

    So, what consideration do you have about the viewpoint? Do you picture it as a point in space? Take a good look at it.

    The basic confusion seems to be about space. We take it for granted. What is this thing called space?

    So what is this phenomenon of some people getting out of the body and seeing things in physical universe outside the room where the body is? Couldn’t that be a pictorial consideration? And what is this phenomenon of someone like Edgar Cayce who “sleeps” and perceives the future and talks about it? Can’t they be considerations too?

    Consideration is anything that one considers.


    • Rizwan  On September 29, 2013 at 10:43 PM

      If they are just considerations, how can the seen future come true, and the seen scene outside the room be what is physical reality.

      • Chris Thompson  On September 30, 2013 at 12:11 AM

        Rizwan, maybe give an example?

        • Rizwan  On September 30, 2013 at 9:41 PM

          Chris, an example is someone exteriorizes with full perception, moves out of the room, looks at the physical environment outside, then interiorizes back, walks out of the room with the body, and observes the physical environment outside and verifies that it is exactly the same as what was observed while out of the body. By the way, this is not my experience.

        • Chris Thompson  On October 1, 2013 at 12:00 PM

          Yes, these are the stories that we are told. I am not sure I quite believe them. There are phenomena akin to this which I have experienced but further personal experience makes me think it does not occur quite like these stories lay it out.

          Possibly you have a similar experience that we commonly describe as “extra-sensory?” Maybe we could discuss that? The consideration of “I” is fascinating to explore.

        • vinaire  On October 1, 2013 at 4:47 AM

          So, this is just one of the speculation type considerations. We don’t really know what is going on here. The idea of a “immortal” thetan is a conjecture.

          We need the scientific method to be applied to this subjective experience. This kind of subjective experience seems to be quite common.

          My approach is to keep on resolving inconsistencies with mindfulness and see what remains.


      • vinaire  On September 30, 2013 at 4:27 AM

        Future is a consideration. Truth is a consideration. Physical reality is a consideration. How do they sometimes go together needs to be investigated.

        I have been studying the concatenation of discoveries in science at the end of 19th and beginning of 20th century. That has been a fascinating period. I somehow believe that a similar scenario is going to break lose with mental technology as well.

        Whatever one says about the flaws of Scientology. It has been a fascinating start of a new paradigm in the field of mental technology. We have hardly scratched the surface of mental technology. There is much scratching to be done.


  • vinaire  On September 28, 2013 at 9:18 AM

    Considerations can be the ultimate fractal… considerations within considerations within considerations…


    • Chris Thompson  On September 29, 2013 at 7:33 AM

      A fractal is basically a coordinate in the complex plane. How that coordinate is arrived at is what I have been paying attention to.

      Fractal points in the complex plane are arrived at through a simple formula which plugs in the “previous” coordinate point. Then this process repeats, while the precise input itself does not. This repeating is what is referred to as iteration, and not re-iteration.

      There is a repetition occurring, however, this is different from re-iteration which basically means to repeat what was said or happened before. For the purpose of my comment, reiteration would result simply in producing the same coordinate point over and over again. The difference is important. When we think of “Russian nesting dolls,” we are sort of going in the right direction, almost but not quite. To use the Mandelbrot Set as a metaphor for life, we are demonstrating not only the recursive and self similarity that we see in Nature, but also importantly, the continuity.

      There becomes in my mind a consistency to this like no other. I do not know nor perceive the precise fractal formula underlying the resulting iterations. This inability is similar to not seeing the underlying HTML producing the effects to the page that I am writing right now. This is a model for the way I am seeing reality at this point.

  • vinaire  On September 28, 2013 at 12:50 PM

    A thetan is a “center of considerations”. Body thetans are inconsistencies floating around in that bunch of considerations.


    • Chris Thompson  On September 29, 2013 at 7:50 AM

      Possibly the “i” or thetan or ego or center of considerations is arrived at in some way fractally and comprises a related set of coordinates, in the way that a Julia or Mandelbrot sets are related sets of coordinates, in the dimensional matrix of spacetime. Possibly a consideration is such a set or related coordinates comprising the particular shape of such considerations?

      • vinaire  On September 29, 2013 at 9:48 AM

        Now, to work that out would be interesting!


        • Chris Thompson  On September 29, 2013 at 11:24 AM

          Working with HTML helped me see that there can be a very real yet unseen underpinning which controls what I see as reality without letting me see the underpinning. This is also driving my curmudgeonous comments toward when you write “see things as they are, not as they seem to be.” Not as a criticism of your words but to demonstrate my suspicious nature toward my own perception.

        • Chris Thompson  On September 29, 2013 at 11:27 AM

          HTML and curmudgeon

        • vinaire  On September 29, 2013 at 12:24 PM

          So, now you are seeing beyond what seems to be, at how things are. Good job. 🙂


  • vinaire  On September 28, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    In my understanding, rituals are nothing in themselves. Rituals are there simply to flush out inconsistencies, which may then be resolved by looking at them closely with mindfulness. Unfortunately, rituals get interpreted and observed in a literal manner by those with shallow understanding.

    Abstract concepts are usually made concrete when their abstraction (as in mathematics) is difficult to understand. Theta is a symbol for unknown in an algebraic equation. It was turned into a more “concrete” concept of THETAN by Hubbard.

    I see thetan as the perceived “center of considerations” similar to the perceived “center of mass” in physics. . Body thetans are most probably like inconsistencies floating around in that soup of considerations.


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