What is the difference between "Khandha" and "Kaya". Are the words related?

The translations for khandha that I've found are "groupings", "aggregates", "heaps".

Also for Kaya I have found that the most used translation is "Body", but the meaning can also be "heap", "collection", "group". There's also an interesting document that says that "kaya" did not originally mean "body" but "sentient being capable of consciousness". The argument proposed by Kuan is in Chapter 4, "4.2.2 Kayagata sati/ kayasati and the individual possessed of consciousness", page 100.



It seems to me that understanding the word Kaya correctly can be very important for practice and right view.


The word "kaya" appears to be used in various ways in the suttas. It can mean:

  1. "Physical body", such as in Kimsuka Sutta & Assutavā Sutta, as follows:

‘City’ is a term for this body made up of the four primary elements, produced by mother and father, built up from rice and porridge, liable to impermanence, to wearing away and erosion, to breaking up and destruction.

‘nagaran’ti kho, bhikkhu, imassetaṃ cātumahābhūtikassa kāyassa adhivacanaṃ mātāpettikasambhavassa odanakummāsūpacayassa aniccucchādanaparimaddanabhedanaviddhaṃsanadhammassa.

Mendicants, when it comes to this body made up of the four primary elements, an uneducated ordinary person might become disillusioned, dispassionate, and freed.

“assutavā, bhikkhave, puthujjano imasmiṃ cātumahābhūtikasmiṃ kāyasmiṃ nibbindeyyapi virajjeyyapi vimucceyyapi

But an uneducated ordinary person would be better off taking this body made up of the four primary elements to be their self, rather than the mind.

Varaṃ, bhikkhave, assutavā puthujjano imaṃ cātumahābhūtikaṃ kāyaṃ attato upagaccheyya, na tveva cittaṃ.

Why is that?

Taṃ kissa hetu?

This body made up of the four primary elements is seen to last for a year, or for two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or a hundred years, or even longer.

Dissatāyaṃ, bhikkhave, cātumahābhūtiko kāyo ekampi vassaṃ tiṭṭhamāno dvepi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno tīṇipi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno cattāripi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno pañcapi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno dasapi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno vīsatipi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno tiṃsampi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno cattārīsampi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno paññāsampi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno vassasatampi tiṭṭhamāno, bhiyyopi tiṭṭhamāno.

  1. "Grouping" of aggregates, such as in MN 44, as follows:

Visākha, the Buddha said that these five grasping aggregates are identity.

“Pañca kho ime, āvuso visākha, upādānakkhandhā sakkāyo vutto bhagavatā,

  1. "Grouping" of similar types of phenomena, such as in DN 15, as follows:

Suppose there were none of the features, attributes, signs, and details by which the categories of mental or physical phenomena are found. Would either linguistic contact or impingement contact still be found?”

“Yehi, ānanda, ākārehi … pe … yehi uddesehi nāmakāyassa ca rūpakāyassa ca paññatti hoti, tesu ākāresu … pe … tesu uddesesu asati api nu kho adhivacanasamphasso vā paṭighasamphasso vā paññāyethā”ti?

  1. "Grouping" of specific types of phenomena, such as in MN 118, as follows:

I tell you, monks, that this — in-&-out breaths — are classed as a body among bodies

Kāyesu kāyaññatarāhaṃ, bhikkhave, evaṃ vadāmi yadidaṃ—assāsapassāsā.

To answer the question asked, as demonstrated in the examples above, it appears a "kaya" ("grouping") is made up of various khandhas or even subsets of one khandha (such as the four elements) but a kaya is not necessarily made up of all five khandhas.

This appears to be the difference between "Khandha" and "Kaya", which also shows the words are not necessarily related.

As for the author Tse-fu Kuan, based in the paragraphs quoted at the bottom below, he appears to be attempting to define the word "kaya" in one way, which appears incorrect.

Also, in the context of Satipatthana, the word "kaya" does not mean "the individual" (as it does in MN 44 cited above), as Tse-fu Kuan appears to propose. Both the Satipatthana & Anapanasati suttas clearly distinguish between kayanupassana, vedanuspassana, cittanupassana & dhammanupassana.

In the context of Satipatthana/Anapanasati, the word "kaya" in the 1st tetrad refers three types of kaya, namely: (i) nama-kaya - the mind; (ii) assāsapassāsā-kaya - the breathing; and (iii) rupa-kaya - the physical body.

It follows the 3rd step of Anapanasati is defined as "sabbakāyapaṭisaṃvedī", which means "experiencing all bodies/groups". This means experiencing how the state of mind effects/conditions the breathing; and how, in turn, the state of the breathing effects/conditions the physical body; and how, in turn, the state of the breathing & body effects/conditions the mind.

As for Tse-fu Kuan reference to the Balapandita Sutta (SN 12.19), the "kaya" here never meant a "sentient being capable of consciousness". This is ridiculous because SN 23.2 defines "a being" as "strong attachment". The word "kaya" in SN 12.19 merely refers to the grouping of the five aggregates.

Thus, SN 12.19 says: "there is this kaya (internal five aggregates) and external namarupa (external minds & bodies). Based on these two things, there is sense contact".

Based on Chinese versions Kuan argues that Kayagatasati originally meant not just mindfulness of the body, but had a similar meaning as Satipatthana. He believes that Anapanasati Sutta contains the oldest of the teachings on mindfulness, and Satipatthana Sutta the latest - derived from several older sources.

The analysis shows that kaayagataa sati and the four satipa.t.thaanas are two different ways of formulating the teaching on mindfulness according to different schemes of classification of phenomena.

a further examination of the canonical contexts in which kAyagatA sati and kAyasati occur shows that kAya here refers to an individual that can experience through his senses. KAyagatA sati or kAyasati is mindfulness directed to kAya, the locus of our subjective experience based on the senses. It can transform our subjective experience, and thereby enable us to achieve liberation. It is a general guideline or fundamental principle applied to the path to liberation, and is not restricted to those specific exercises given in different versions of the KAyagatAsati Sutta

All the above discussions lead to the conclusion that kAyagatA sati and the four satipaWWhAnas are two different ways of formulating the teaching on mindfulness according to different schemes of classification of phenomena, which cover the individual and the external world perceived. Both kAyagatA sati and the four satipaWWhAnas concern subject-object interaction, where lies the crux of saSsAra as well as nirvana.

KAyasati and kAyagatA sati are usually rendered as “mindfulness of the body” and “mindfulness concerning the body” respectively. Chapter 4 will show that kAya here refers to the “individual” rather than the “body.”

Chapter 4 will show that kAya here refers to the “individual” rather than the “body.” I will leave the two terms untranslated. This function of sati is elucidated in the Kimsuka Sutta, which follows the Dukkhadhamma Sutta. Here the Buddha makes a simile as follows: A king has a frontier city with six gates. The gatekeeper keeps out strangers and admits acquaintances. The Buddha explains that, in this simile, “the city” is a designation for kAya; “the six gates” stand for the six internal sense bases; “the gatekeeper” represents sati (SN IV 194)

  • Thanks for the thoughtful reply. It is the first time that I read that nama-kaya is comprehended in the first tetrad. There are also references in the suttas about this? Also the fact that we have to look at how the mind conditions the breath... It is Buddhadasa advice, but the sutta seems not to ask this: "They practice breathing in experiencing every kaya/group". Where's the instruction to look at conditionality and interrelation between those kayas? Seems that the instruction only asks to make "experience" and nothing else. Thank you very much. – glucab86 Dec 23 '19 at 13:41
  • The Patisambhidamagga (a commentary in the suttas) explicitly refers to nama-kaya & rupa-kaya at Step 3 of Anapanasati. Buddhadasa only referred to rupa-kaya & breath-kaya at Step 3, which is wrong, because if the Buddha intended this he would have referred to "experiencing the kaya-sankhara" at Step 3. While Buddhadasa correctly translates "sabba kaya" as "all bodies" (rather than the "whole body"), Buddhadasa incorrectly refers to "two bodies" rather than to "three bodies". As I already said, if sabba kaya was about how the breath affects the body the Buddha would have said "kaya sankhara". – Dhammadhatu Dec 23 '19 at 18:50

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