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The 5 Skandhas, the 6 Realms and NLP

by Jack Elias, CHT

An excerpt from Finding True Magic: Transpersonal Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy/NLP

The 5 Skandhas of Buddhism

In Buddhism, the model for understanding the evolution of the egoic mind’s reactive thinking process is referred to as the five skandhas or “heaps.” They are:

1. Form/Ignorance — The Birth of “I”

“It’s impossible to be separate.”

Initially, there is open space/open mind. Then a blackout (trance) occurs, a disruption, causing identification to arise, e.g. the shock of birth. We wake up perceiving form, not recognizing we make it. We ignore our position as creator. “Ignore-ance” is not stupidity-it is very intelligent, but reactive. The perceiver wants to possess the space, the openness now perceived through trance as form, as possess-able. Since space is space, at the root, this whole endeavor is futile (therefore, suffering is unavoidable). There are 3 aspects of ignorance, simultaneous and inseparable: 1) separateness/birth; 2) a sense of ‘always so’, this is the real state of affairs (positive hallucination) therefore perceiver must maintain it, which brings about the birth of a sense of awkwardness; 3) self-observing ignorance: Perceiver sees the self as “other,” thereby beginning a relationship with an external world.

2. Feeling

“It’s easy to feel separate.”

Perceiver wonders about its relationship to form. Space is not bare space, it’s full of color and energy. Since we’re ignoring the openness of space, these qualities are a tremendous threat to our trance. We are trying to fix, to capture the color and energy of space, to make it solid and manageable. Because such fixation is an illusion, there is a great sense of insecurity about the reality of form. Feeling is a very efficient antidote to that insecurity: it feels real, therefore it is — ignore evidence to the contrary.

3. Perception/Impulse

” . . . and then to believe that you’re separate . . .”

Perception = receiving information, Impulse = responding to information. This is a rudimentary sorting process of perceived forms. After deciding if an object is positive (+), negative (-), or neutral (0), the perceiver reacts accordingly. There are only 3 choices: towards (desire); away from (threat/hatred); or neutral (stupid).

4. Concept

” . . . and then to act on the belief that you’re separate.”

Perceiver categorizes the objects of perception into either positive (+), negative (-), or neutral (0).

Perceiver develops names, rules, and evaluation mechanisms (past/present/future). Perception/Impulse is an auto-reaction to intuitive feeling. But, it’s not a good enough defense of ignorance and insecurity. Intellect is needed to do a good job: the ability to name and categorize. Egoic mind goes beyond mere reaction and becomes more sophisticated. Intellectual speculation arises. Intellect creates I/I am to encompass all the stuff of ego into solid mass, confirming and interpreting self; putting self into logical situations, with natural tendency towards a positive condition to affirm one’s existence (i.e., one’s ignorance).

5. Consciousness

The intuitive intelligence of the 2nd skandha, plus the energy of the 3rd, plus the intellect of the 4th combines to produce thoughts and emotions.

A hallucinatory quality arises as we project our version of reality on to the world. Concepts mix w/impulse energy to create fully developed emotions: mixture of energy and conceptual storyline (vivid trance!).

NOTE: Skandhas 1-4 develop very simply and predictably. The 5th skandha is wild and irregular-creating unpredictable thought patterns (our normal state).

Since the “real world” doesn’t fit our storylines, our stories and energies are constantly thrown into conflict with themselves and worldly events. Confusion! Rambling thought arises in the effort to maintain the validity of the trance, even when we’re alone. Therefore, we’re always alone with ourselves. Reading things into the world, one becomes completely immersed in one’s trance. The power of the hallucination has a life of its own. It is called the Wheel of Life, the Six Realms of Existence.

The 6 Realms of Existence

1. Heaven/God Realm. Full of (conditional) goodness, beauty, and freedom. Pride.

2. Jealous God Realm. Having tasted or imagined heaven, one must defend it (the quivers of fear begin, the intimations of insubstantiality). Jealousy and envy arise.

3. Human Realm. Jealousy makes things get heavier, earthbound. Instead of alternating between jealousy and pride (they’re too intense), one gets a more solid “homey” feeling: ordinary mundane life, satisfying mundane desires.

4. Animal Realm. Pursuing desire makes one get dull, heavier, more stupid, lazy. One would just crawl around and moo or bark, rather than make the effort to enjoy the pleasure of pride or envy.

5. Hungry Ghosts Realm. The heaviness grows oppressive, one remembers the God-realm, and wants to get back there but doesn’t know how. This generates great hunger and thirst that is unquenchable/claustrophobic — and the hunger builds.

6. Hell Realm. The continuing frustration results in loss of faith. Great doubt, hopelessness & violent reactions arise: Hatred for this nightmare and for oneself.


(My eternal gratitude to my teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, for presenting this material in a vivid, loving, and humorous way.)