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What happens to the five skandhas of a particular person after death?

  1. Do they stay together, and cause birth of a one specific person (which can be called rebirth), or do they separate?

  2. If they separate, do they separate just into 5, or does each aggregate split into smaller parts?

  3. If they separate, do they cause births of many different persons?

I'm interested in answers from many traditions, with references to relevant sources (scriptures, books, articles).

EDIT: I didn't get unambiguous answers to my questions, but what Suminda and Prahlad write seems to suggest that all the aggregates arise and pass all the time, but when we look at them at a higher level, we can conclude that four of the aggregates (sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness) stay together and cause a new birth of one specific person, while the remaining aggregate (rūpa, matter) separates and splits into parts. Can anyone confirm/disconfirm this?

EDIT 2: I was asked to specify what is exactly meant by "overall structure of the aggregates remain intact", when we know that the aggregates arise and pass all the time. What I mean is the continuity of the illusion called "self". I have the illusion that I'm the same person as a moment ago, even though my body, my feelings, etc. have changed. Does this illusion continue after death? According to Buddhist doctrines, is there an illusion of the continuity of consciousness? Of the continuity of feelings? Of the continuity of the body?

I watched Yuttadhammo's video about rebirth and understood that Buddhists believe in perceived continuity of the consciousness after death. Is this a canonical opinion that can be concluded from Buddhist scriptures? How about the continuity of other aggregates?

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1. Do they stay together, and cause birth of a one specific person (which can be called rebirth), or do they separate?

Even when you are alive, the 5 skandhas arise together in every experience. So when you ask "do they stay together", you are asking if the experience stays. No! The experience disappears immediately. There's no staying. The skandhas in this experience are not the same as the skandhas in the next.

2. If they separate, do they separate just into 5, or does each aggregate split into smaller parts?

The 5 skandhas are grouped into 2 categories. Nāma (mental) and Rūpa (physical). Rūpa contains only the 1st skanda and the Nāma contains the remaining 4. Usually only Rūpa can arise independently, e.g.: a log, stone, corpse etc. Nāma always needs to arise in association with Rūpa except in Arupa Brahma Realms. But again, when you ask "if they separate", you are making the assumption that there's something fixed lasting for a certain time period. It doesn't work that way. A single experience can contain a maximum of 17 thought moments. 1 Rūpa unit lasts only for 17 thought moments and there's no example in nature to compare to the time 1 thought moment lasts but to the lifespan of another thought moment.

The mind at the time of death

When a person is about to die the bhavanga is interrupted, vibrates for one moment and passes away. The interruption is caused by an object which presents itself to the mind-door. As a result of this a mind-door-adverting citta arises. This is followed by five javana thought moments which are weak, lack reproductive power, and serve only to determine the nature of rebirth consciousness. The javanas may or may not be followed by two registering thought moments (tadaalambana). After this comes the death consciousness (cuti citta), which is identical in constitution and object to the bhava"nga citta. The cuti citta merely serves the function of signaling the end of life. It is important to appreciate the difference between the cuti citta and the javanas that precede it. The cuti citta is the end of the bhava"nga flow of an existence and does not determine the nature of rebirth. The javanas that occur just before the cuti citta arises form a kammic process and determine the nature of the rebirth consciousness.

3. If they separate, do they cause births of many different persons?

There's no separation. When a person dies, the Nāma doesn't appear in the body anymore. Only Rūpa caused due to reasons other than Nāma continue to appear. There's only one Patisandi citta. So the death of a being does not result in multiple births.

we can conclude that four of the aggregates (sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness) stay together and cause a new birth of one specific person, while the remaining aggregate (rūpa, matter) separates and splits into parts.

Again, there's no staying. They appear together and disappear instantly. Nāma does not go from this life to the next. The first citta of the next life is a result of the Javana cittas that occur just before the cuti citta.

I have the illusion that I'm the same person as a moment ago, even though my body, my feelings, etc. have changed. Does this illusion continue after death?

Ignorance or Moha is a cetasika. The cetasikas are the mental factors or concomitants that arise and perish together with consciousness (citta), sharing its object and basis. Cetasikas don't appear independently from the cittas. So there's nothing going from this moment to the next. But that doesn't mean the next citta cannot have an ignorance cetasika.

I watched Yuttadhammo's video about rebirth and understood that Buddhists believe in perceived continuity of the consciousness after death.

Venerable Yuttadhammo is talking about the continuity of experiencing. He's not implying a panchaskanda going from this life to the next or from this moment to the next.

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The arise and pass away moment to moment. At death also it is the same but the contentiousness arises in another body. When you die your form is left behind in case you do have a material form. In Deva worlds you disappear. Your mind passes away and arises in another body. The process continues.

  1. Do they stay together, and cause birth of a one specific person (which can be called rebirth), or do they separate?

No. They arises and passes away moment to moment.

  1. If they separate, do they separate just into 5, or does each aggregate split into smaller parts?

No. They arises and passes away moment to moment.

  1. If they separate, do they cause births of many different persons?

No. They arises and passes away moment to moment.

Rupa / form part is left behind at the time of death. But still the process continues. At on instance there is passing away and then arising but the arising happens in a new body than where the passing away happened at the time of death.

  • Do they stay together, or do they separate? If they split, do they split into 5, or into smaller parts? Do they cause birth of one or several persons? – michau Feb 18 '15 at 13:30
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    When the question is "A or B?", answering "no" doesn't make any sense. I understand that they arise and pass away from moment to moment, but still don't know whether they arise and pass away together, arise and pass away with each skandha doing that independenly of others, or arise and pass away with each skandha splitting into smaller parts. – michau Feb 18 '15 at 14:06
  • @michau "No. They arises and passes away moment to moment." What is meant here is that the sensations themselves arise and pass away from moment to moment, but the overall structure remain intact at a higher level. Consider the analogy of the human body - the cells always keep dying and regenerating, in fact your entire body has completely new cells after seven years. Yet still at a higher level, the physical You stays integrated. Similarly, the five aggregates don't loose their essence at a higher level (otherwise how would they know where to arise and fall again in the next birth?) – Prahlad Yeri Feb 18 '15 at 16:33
  • @Prahlad I don't understand - I'm asking about the moment of death. Are you claiming that after death the body stays integrated? Body is, after all, one of the five aggregates. – michau Feb 18 '15 at 18:09
  • @michau "Are you claiming that after death the body stays integrated?" Not the physical body of course, but the conditioned self (not to be confused with permanent self which has no existence) consisting of aggregates including consciousness, perception, etc. That`s how you carry on your samskaras (impressions) from this birth to the next. – Prahlad Yeri Feb 18 '15 at 22:21
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Wow! I can't believe someone has placed a bounty for a philosophical question. This usually happens only on stackoverflow.com, the computer programming related SE site.

Anyways, since all relevant suttas and Buddhist texts are already quoted and elucidated, I will again try to answer your questions from a more pragmatic view point. From your questions, I gather that you have an intense curiosity to know about the nature and characteristics of your next birth. Instead of asking these questions about aggregates, I suggest you study the life and times of people in known history having had known memories and anecdotes of their past lives. Here are some examples I can offer:

  1. Emperor Ashoka: He was a great ruler in ancient India (~250 B.C.) who adopted Buddhism and the principles of non-violence during his lifetime. Now, it so happens that Gautam Buddha had foretold his rebirth and ascension to Kingship in his past life. This entire incident could be found in Ashokavadana, a Buddhist text recording the history of Emperor Ashoka.

  2. Shanti Devi, a small kid in the 1930s British India who could remember her past life as a house-wife who had a husband and kids.

  3. James Leininger: Another small kid who used to play with nothing but toy airplanes. After James told his father that he had been killed in his plane at Iwo Jima, his father discovered a pilot called James M. Huston Jr. who had died there.

By reading about these accounts what do you feel? The aggregates (perception, consciousness, formations, sensations and forms) are just momentary, their impermanence is what Buddhism teaches us. Whether they separated after your death doesn't matter (they are constantly flickering anyway). What matters is that your conditioned self (the illusion called I created by the aggregates) will maintain its integrity through all your lives, until you achieve Nirvana. It has to do that, otherwise how will it enjoy (or suffer) the fruits of its past Kamma? - The results of its cravings and aversions of the previous lives?

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Most of this answer is from the Theravada tradition.

This is a good answer from Milindapanha 3.5.5:

The king asked: "Venerable Nagasena, is it so that one does not transmigrate and one is reborn?" "Yes, your majesty, one does not transmigrate and one is reborn." "How, venerable Nagasena, is it that one does not transmigrate and one is reborn? Give me an analogy." "Just as, your majesty, if someone kindled one lamp from another, is it indeed so, your majesty, that the lamp would transmigrate from the other lamp?" "Certainly not, venerable sir." "Indeed just so, your majesty, one does not transmigrate and one is reborn." "Give me another analogy." "Do you remember, your majesty, when you were a boy learning some verse from a teacher?" "Yes, venerable sir." "Your majesty, did this verse transmigrate from the teacher?" "Certainly not, venerable sir." "Indeed just so, your majesty, one does not transmigrate and one is reborn."

And another from Ven. Yuttadhammo's answer:

There isn't in fact any such thing as rebirth, in ultimate reality. Nothing is truly reborn, ever. Every experience that is made up of the five aggregates arises and ceases without remainder. That is true death. Rebirth is a concept used to describe the change between one artificial framework of experiences (e.g. a human life) to another. The ultimate reality is that the mind simply arises and ceases at the last moment of life and then a new mind arises at the first moment of rebirth based on the last one, very similar to as has been occurring throughout one's life, except this time there is no old physical phenomena for it to be based on, so it is based solely on one's final state of mind in the last life.

In other words, all five aggregates pass away completely at death and nothing of it is transmigrated to a new form. The only thing that is transferred is "information" (the flame).

There is something relevant in the Dvedhavitakka Sutta:

"Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking & pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with sensuality, abandoning thinking imbued with renunciation, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with sensuality. ...

In other words, what is transferred on rebirth, is not his sensation, perception, consciousness, thoughts and memories, but rather, the general "inclination of awareness". Quotes below describe that the inclination become the last state of mind at death.

Here's another quote by Ven. Narada Mahathera about the transfer of "information" using the analogy of radio waves picked up by a radio set:

Rebirth takes place immediately, irrespective of the place of birth, just as an electromagnetic wave, projected into space, is immediately reproduced in a receiving radio set. Rebirth of the mental flux is also instantaneous and leaves no room whatever for any intermediate state (antarabhava). Pure Buddhism does not support the belief that a spirit of the deceased person takes lodgement in some temporary state until it finds a suitable place for its "reincarnation."

And another two excellent quotes by V. F. Gunaratna:

It is not life in this existence only that is a process of becoming. The process of becoming continues into the next existence also, because there is a continuity of consciousness. The last consciousness (cuti-citta) in one life is followed by what is known as a re-linking consciousness (patisandhi-viññana) in the next life. The process of one consciousness giving rise to another continues unbroken, the only difference being a change in the place where such consciousness manifests itself. Distance is no bar to the sequence of cause and effect. Life is a process of grasping and becoming, and death is a change of the thing grasped leading to a new becoming. Grasping is a continuous feature where human living is concerned. It is this grasping that leads to becoming.

Also from the same source:

This last thought series is most important since it fashions the nature of his next existence, just as the last thought before going to sleep can become the first thought on awakening. No extraneous or arbitrary power does this for him. He does this for himself unconsciously as it were.

It is the most important act of his life, good or bad, that conditions the last thought moment of a life. The kamma of this action is called garuka kamma or weighty Kamma. In the majority of cases the type of act which men habitually perform and for which they have the strongest liking becomes the last active thought. The ruling thought in life becomes strong at death. This habitual kamma is called acinna kamma.

So, to summarize, every person's habitual thoughts and actions (karma) shapes his "inclination of awareness", that becomes the last state of mind at death, and this is the "information" that gets transferred without carrier, the way flame is transferred from candle to candle, or radio waves are transferred from one radio to another.

According to this source, the above is the Theravada perspective. According to it the Abhidharmakosa tradition states that the non-physical aggregates move together after death. And Tibetan Buddhism discusses "in-between" (antarabhava) states between two lives called bardo.

This question and this question are relevant.

  • Thank you, not everything is clear yet, but we're getting close. What you say doesn't seem to agree with Yuttadhammo's opinion that the moment of death is exactly the same as any other moment of one's consciousness, which suggests much more than transfer of some inclinations. Is your answer based on some particular tradition? – michau Feb 20 '15 at 17:03
  • I tend to be biased towards Theravada, but these info come from various sources. I just updated my answer. The inclinations of a person become the last thought in this life and shapes the initial state of the next life. – ruben2020 Feb 20 '15 at 17:18
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    Added a summary at the end. I think that covers the whole of the ideas. But I hope that it would be possible to get authentic quotes of the Buddha on these. However, generally, the Buddha doesn't prefer us to focus on the details of how the universe works (MN 63), instead preferring to focus on how to escape suffering. – ruben2020 Feb 20 '15 at 17:49
  • Updated from a source that states a difference between different Buddhist traditions. My answer is mostly Theravada. – ruben2020 Feb 21 '15 at 10:43
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All of the aggregates are impermanent including Form, Sensation, Conception, Volition ("mental formations"), and Consciousness (and all its levels, including the storehouse).

To understand the aggregates on a profound, modern level, I highly recommend the "Chapter 5: The Five Aggregates Schema and the Various Levels of Consciousness" from "How to Measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization" by Master Huai-Chin Nan and William Bodri.

I understand that some Buddhists would argue against the following explanation because they have never seen it before but I am providing it nonetheless as a Buddhist idea because it is a theory that tightly relates the 12 nidanas to the 5 aggregates with some Tibetan Buddhist elements.

I would re-recommend the previously mentioned book by Master Nan and his student to master the concepts first and also to understand certain depths that I do not go into for this answer because I do not want to write an essay right now but want to answer your question.

Also, when I mention skandha... skandha = aggregate. They mean the same thing.

And now here is the answer to your question about what happens when you die.

Read it like a story. It's undoubtably the most important story to understand and sorry if I'm light on the details, there are many many interdisciplinary connections to make.

  1. form recedes into sensation: upon death, your coarsest skandha, form, dissolves and you feel the intense sensations of pain and freedom and clarity among myriad of other things as you are dying. You are no longer your flesh. The five elements recede one after another into each other, causing specific feelings, until only wind is left and you feel a "very strong thirst." After coalescing into a chi body and leaving your flesh body you have basically started your journey as a bardo spirit.
  2. sensation recedes into conception: sensation, the intense feelings and judgements still there, you are pushed around by strong feelings until you jump directly into an animal incarnation or ghost incarnation or hell. The recession process HALTS and you go forward through the nidanas and become ignorant and alive again... OR.. (the better option:) if you are able to overpower the overwhelming sensation skandha through equanimity or did not have much poison in the first place!... the aggregate itself dies out and recedes and you progress to...
  3. conception recedes into volition: having overcome the coarsest aggregates, as a bardo spirit, you now experience the conception skandha and see the story of your life, judgments, etc. clearly seeing all your mistakes and praiseworthy actions.
  4. volition recedes into consciousness: eventually if you can go beyond even this and not be tormented, then your next trial will be the volition skandha where you must somehow even defy the inner-most beliefs and ideas about self and life.
  5. pure consciousness, possibility for Tao: supposing one succeeds past that stage, there is now the enormity of the consciousness skandha to transform! Pure consciousness, no flesh (form), no judgment (sensation), no discrimination (conception), and even no laws (volition). Depending on one's level of Awakening, one's level of bhumi (hint: ignorant people stuck in the coarser aggregates, do not make it this far), one can either be very clear or mildly clear during the following process. One still exists as a spirit of some sort beyond all the previous aggregates and gradually there comes before oneself an egg. This is an egg from the alaya consciousness (the last level of consciousness). One looks at this egg and depending on one's affinity, one will either feel attraction, repulsion, or neutrality. (This is a sign of karma and the ever "perfuming" nature of the seeds within the alaya consciousness.) One can also look deep into one egg then dwelling on it, one can see what kind of story one will live if one chooses to enter that egg. If one chooses to not enter this egg, there are (according to Tibetan Buddhism) other eggs that come about. One can then choose that egg. This is tremendously valuable information to know! Most likely we will die without attaining Buddhahood! Perhaps we may get wise learn a bit of Tibetan Buddhist death cultivation to use to choose a good egg.

--When I say "recede" the entire aggregate does not completely recede but gets deactivated--only to get further activated after the new seed for a new life is chosen (from the alaya). Sequentially, through the 12 steps of causation, a new birth happens as well as the a new forging of a seeming personality, ego, and a life.

--Towards the later stages of recession, past the sensation aggregate, I suspect that the phenomenon whereby Tibetan Buddhists say that even those that were not so successful in their meditation can take the opportunity of Clear Light phenomenon to jump directly into Awakening! This is possible because the body and mind is an obstacle to Awakening and when thus cleared the opportunity to reach initial Awakening (of interdependent origination and non-self/Oneness) is easier. Remember to take advantage of this certain opportunity after you die.

--Please do not share this information with non-Buddhists. The above writing are Tibetan ideas and conveying such information to non-Buddhists or anyone that it would cause excessive alarm or repugnance can certainly cause them reincarnative harm (according to what I was taught).

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    You do realise that there are quite a few non-Buddhists reading this site, don't you? Not to mention everyone who may come here through a Google search. – michau Feb 21 '15 at 15:19
  • They visit of their own curiousity which is great. Not by forceful sharing. I only mention because although this information I have provided is extremely valuable, any dharma can have bad effects if shared with someone not ready for it. – Ahmed Feb 21 '15 at 23:01
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"What happens to the five skandhas of a particular person after death?"

As far as I understand the doctrine (since I can't remember my deaths, so far): they cease. Then, new skhandhas appear, conditioned or causally related by the previous ones (no different answer than all the others here, i guess).

"Do they stay together, and cause birth of a one specific person (which can be called rebirth), or do they separate?"

The above seems to suggest skandhas are objects or structures. I think it's troublesome, for example, to understand sañña as a structure, existing or tied to the other four skandhas (which also exists somehow?); in other words, I don't see a sañña structure that "perceives perceptions". This also seems to lead to an Eternalist view.

What the suttas say is that:

Dependent on the eye and forms eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition there is feeling. What one feels, that one perceives.

-- Madhupindika Sutta (Ñānamoli/Bodhi trans), MN 18

Thus, for example, when there is "perception of blue" there is sañña (this is sañña). When there is pleasant feeling, there is vedanā. The pleasant experience itself is vedanā. Observing that feeling cease, is observing vedanā cease.

So, in this perspective, we experience all those "things", moment after moment. They are in the domain of our reality. In our individuality, these experiences are very inter-related and we refer to them to describe ourselves and understand our process of becoming. Through the skhandha point of view, we are taught how to distinguish each discrete real experience and understand it, its kind and its role in that overall process.

Now the pleasant feeling subsides. Right after, to say vedanā is still "there", when it's not, is imagining something else "behind" and declaring it's name is "vedanā".

"If they separate, do they cause births of many different persons?"

Again, that seems to imply that each skandha is an object or individual self on its own. Somewhat related:

Karel Werner (1988) has sought to develop an alternative explanation of how character-continuity is conserved. He takes early Buddhist terms such as vinnana (discernment) and citta as referring, in certain instances, to a "personality structure" with changing contents, but an ongoing identity (p.89). He sees this, in turn, as similar to the Vedic idea of tanū, the "likeness" which when 'filled' with phenomenal elements is a person's 'character', but which momentarily exists without content after death (pp. 78-9). Such an "empty structure" is not an unchanging entity but a "structural continuum which registers and preserves ... the imprints of past experiences, volitions and capabilities" (p.79). The "personality structure" of such a model, though, seems indistinguishable from the 'person' of the Personalists (Pudgalavāda), which has already been shown to lack any foundation in the 'early Sutta' world-view (Paras.l.36-42).

-- Peter Harvey, The Selfless Mind, pg 73

Now, to use Sue Hamilton's words:

[the Buddha teaches] that the analysis of the human being into five khandhas is not an analysis of what the human being consists of, but of those processes and events with which one is constituted.

-- Identity And Experience: The Constitution of the Human Being According to Early Buddhism

"EDIT: I didn't get unambiguous answers to my questions, but what Suminda and Prahlad write seems to suggest that all the aggregates arise and pass all the time"

we are all in agreement, it seems.

"but when we look at them at a higher level, we can conclude that four of the aggregates (sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness) stay together and cause a new birth of one specific person, while the remaining aggregate (rūpa, matter) separates and splits into parts. Can anyone confirm/disconfirm this?"

You seem to have imagined another set of aggregates that do not arise and pass away, but whose parts are permanent and tied together. And you seem to be imagining them existing in this "higher level".

I don't think there is a "higher level" where these imagined 5 aggregates can be actually observed outside imagination. There is no vedanā without an actual feeling. There is also no "same body" persisting through time.

"EDIT 2: I was asked to specify what is exactly meant by "overall structure of the aggregates remain intact", when we know that the aggregates arise and pass all the time. What I mean is the continuity of the illusion called "self". I have the illusion that I'm the same person as a moment ago, even though my body, my feelings, etc. have changed. Does this illusion continue after death?"

I'm not sure I understand. Considering "self" to be what is understood in Buddhism (permanent, eternal, dukkha-free, etc):

  • Do you mean to ask if you will still believe in a self after death? I don't know.

  • Or do you mean to ask if sentient beings, after death, are still led to believe in self? According to Buddhism, likely, yes.

  • Or do you mean to ask if, after death, it will be obvious that the self is an illusion? According to Buddhism, not necessarily.

"According to Buddhist doctrines, is there an illusion of the continuity of consciousness? Of the continuity of feelings? Of the continuity of the body?"

Buddhism acknowledges that people hold to the above beliefs. That is, that people end up believing that consciousness, feelings, body, etc. are permanent. And the Buddha declared these beliefs as misleading.

"I watched Yuttadhammo's video about rebirth and understood that Buddhists believe in perceived continuity of the consciousness after death. Is this a canonical opinion that can be concluded from Buddhist scriptures? How about the continuity of other aggregates?"

I don't know which video you watched, but I would be surprised to know that Yuttadhammo claimed that consciousness (viññāṇa) transmigrates. There is a sutta about a bhikku named Sāti who was debunked by the Buddha for declaring this:

Now on that occasion this pernicious viewpoint had arisen in a bhikkhu named Sāti, son of a fisherman, thus: "As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through the round of rebirths, not another."

[...]

[the Blessed One said to him] "Misguided man, to whom have you ever known me to teach the Dhamma in that way? Misguided man, have I not stated in many ways consciousness to be dependently arisen, since without a condition there is no origination of consciousness?

-- Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta (Ñānamoli/Bodhi trans), MN 38

Perhaps in said video, he could have talked about "stream of consciousness", which is not the same thing: in one sutta (and apparently nowhere else?) the respective term, "viññāṇa-sota", appears:

[...] he comes to know the unbroken stream of human consciousness as established both in this world and in the next.

[...] he comes to know the unbroken stream of human consciousness that is not established either in this world or in the next [n: Arahants].

-- Sampasādanīya Sutta (Walshe trans), DN 28

In the notes, we read:

viññāṇa-sota: a rare expression which seems to equate with bhavanga, the (mainly) commentarial term for the 'life-continuum' (Nānamoli). [...]

Another sutta that refers to the role of consciousness in the process of rebirth is:

"Thus kamma is the field, consciousness the seed, and craving the moisture. The consciousness of living beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving is established in a [lower/middling/superior] realm. Thus there is the production of renewed becoming in the future."

-- Bhava Sutta, AN 3.76

In general, I understand there is no consensus as to how the process of rebirth happens in detail and later schools seemed to have developed their own theories. A supposedly less polemic link of births is kamma:

"Student, beings are owners of their actions, heirs of their actions, they originate from their actions, are bound to their actions, have their actions as their refuge.

-- Cūlakammavibhanga Sutta (Ñānamoli/Bodhi trans), MN 135

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It might be a good idea to first see what the Buddha said about the aggregates. For example, about feeling:

This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "There are these three feelings. Which three? A feeling of pleasure, a feeling of pain, a feeling of neither pleasure nor pain. These are the three feelings. ~~ Iti 52 ~~

Now, imagine a minute ago, you just ate a sweet mango and experienced a very pleasant feeling. Then a minute later, you trip and fall flat on the hard wood floor and experience a very painful feeling. Now ask yourself, does the feeling a minute ago still "stay together" with the rest of the aggregates now?

Similarly, about perception:

There are these six kinds of perception: the perception of form, the perception of sound, the perception of aroma, the perception of flavor, the perception of tactile sensation, the perception of ideas. ~~ AN 6.63 ~~

Now, imagine a minute ago, you saw someone and recognized that she was a good old friend of yours. Then a minute later, you hear a loud boom and recognize 2 cars crash into each other in a terrible accident. Now ask yourself, doe the perception a minute ago still "stay together" with the rest of the aggregates now?

Similarly, for the rest of the aggregates... if one's aggregates don't even "stay together" from moment to moment, how do you expect them to stay together from life to life?

The last and probably the most important sutta reference to address your query on the aggregates' "togetherness". The root cause to this query is because there's an assumption that they're somehow "bound" to a concrete and immutable self. Here is what the Buddha said:

Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?" — "Painful, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? — "No, venerable sir."

"Is feeling permanent or impermanent?...

"Is perception permanent or impermanent?...

"Are determinations permanent or impermanent?...

"Is consciousness permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable sir." — "Now is what is impermanent pleasant or painful?" — "Painful, venerable sir." — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? — "No, venerable sir. ~~ SN 22.59 ~~

  • Let me quote Prahlad: "What is meant here is that the sensations themselves arise and pass away from moment to moment, but the overall structure remain intact at a higher level". Does the overall structure of the 5 aggregates remain intact at a higher level when a person dies? Can you answer the question I posted after the edit? – michau Feb 20 '15 at 15:21
  • I have provided the exact definitions of the five aggregates from the suttas. I also provided the logical conclusion based on those definitions. Now you'll need to provide the exact definition of the "overall structure" of them from the suttas before we can come up with any logical conclusion based on that definition. – santa100 Feb 20 '15 at 15:43
  • I edited the question to clarify it. – michau Feb 20 '15 at 17:05
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I would think that all processes related to the senses will fade in the dying being, i.e. stop arising, as vitality is ebbing. Only Karma formations aggregate (Sankhara) will remain, along with the consciousness that is conditioned by it, the mind-object consciousness, in a very muted form, enough to be the seed for a new life.These are what reappear in another womb, as the bases for new life, the formations ensuring Karma continuity, and mind-object consciousness ensuring life-force. Once the new life starts to develop sense bases, then other skandhas develop in the new being and grow. Actions performed by the new being add to the formations aggregate, which thus records all actions from the past and present.

Remember that the Buddha did not point to the top of the mountain and parse the topography, but instead pointed to the base of the mountain and taught people how to climb it. Detailed breakup of the processes does not conduce to liberation, only intellectual play.

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