Zen Wisdom 203



The diverse uses of the word "consciousness" in Buddhist philosophy tends to confuse me. Buddhism speaks of consciousness as one of the five skandhas; there are also the sixth, seventh and eighth consciousnesses. Can Shih-fu clear up some of my confusion?

The five skandhas also seem bewildering. They are a fundamental teaching of Buddhism, yet I still have problems distinguishing between sensation, perception, volition and consciousness.


I will answer both parts of your question at the same time since they are related. The five skandhas ─ form, sensation, perception, volition and consciousness ─ are among the most fundamental of the Buddha's teachings. In essence, one can say that the five skandhas make sentient beings what they are. Without the five skandhas, there would be no way to sense and interact with the environment. In fact, there would be neither beings nor environment.