The Aggregates of Other Variables and Consciousness

The Components of the Aggregate of Other Affecting Variables

The fourth aggregate, the aggregate of other affecting variables, is the largest collection of items. “Variable” means that it changes, and “affecting” means that it affects our experience. This grouping contains all changing phenomena that are not included in the other aggregates. It’s the aggregate of everything else, where all positive and negative emotions are found and all the various mental factors like attention, concentration and interest. Mental factors contribute to or qualify what we see, hear, and otherwise experience. Also, included here are factors that change from moment to moment but are not forms of physical phenomena or ways of being aware of something – for instance, time, location, change, age and, most importantly, the conventional self, “me.”

Let’s start by looking at some of the major variables that are the big troublemakers. There are various Buddhist texts that give slightly different lists these mental factors, ranging from 48 to 52 of them, and which define some of them slightly differently, but they are mostly the same. Also, bear in mind that there are a lot more mental factors than merely these specified numbers. The ones listed are merely the most prominent ones.

The Five Ever-Functioning Mental Factors

There are five mental factors that accompany every moment. We’ve already discussed two of these: feeling a level of happiness or unhappiness and distinguishing. They constitute their own aggregates, because they are so essential.


The third ever-functioning mental factor is what I translate as an “urge” or “mental impulse,” which, like a locomotive, moves all the other mental factors to engage with an object and our body, speech or mind to engage in an action directed toward or with that object. For example, we move our head to the side and look at something.

According to one of the Buddhist system, these urges are equivalent to karma, so “karmic urges.”  The word “karma” is often used as a very broad statement for everything involved with cause and effect in terms of our behavior. However, more precisely, karma refers to the compelling, seemingly compulsive, urges that bring us into doing, saying or thinking something in conjunction with cognizing that something, and which then have consequences. 

We have urges to do things that are quite innocent, quite neutral: the urge to scratch our head, to look at someone, to telephone somebody, to take a drink of water, etc. The urge moves our mental activity in the direction of an object, in the direction of doing something. For example, there could be an urge to move our foot, or some other way of moving such as dancing. 

We also experience urges that bring us into doing something destructive or constructive. For instance, it could be an urge to say something nasty or to say something kind. It could be an urge to help or to hurt someone. It could also be a very subtle and quite difficult to recognize urge that causes us to start thinking about something – something totally neutral, constructive, or very destructive. And because urges arise out of habit and in accord with circumstances, they add a compulsiveness to our behavior.

When we analyze more deeply, we see that it is not that first an urge or mental impulse arises, and then it brings the rest of the mental factors to an object and an activity directed toward the object. The mental impulse is part of the moment when we cognize an object. Because of that, a mental impulse cannot be stopped or turned back once it arises, as if it had arisen the moment before it cognizes its object. 

For some compulsive behavior, such as taking and eating a fifth cookie during the coffee break, the action has many steps and each moment arises with its own urge. At any point during these steps, we could stop the action from being completed. While our hand is going to that fifth cookie and starting to put it into our mouths, at that point we could break the compulsive sequence and put down that cookie. 

But even before we go to take that cookie, we feel like eating it. This feeling is the mental factor of “intention,” which we’ll discuss shortly. It is between feeling like taking the cookie – in other words, intending to take the cookie –  and experiencing the sequence of urges with which we actually move our hand over to it and stuff it in our mouth  – quickly, before anybody else takes it – that we have the greatest opportunity to not carry out that feeling. From this example, we can start to see the precision that is involved in changing our behavior.

Our karmic potentials ripen not only into our feelings of happiness or unhappiness, but also into what it is that we feel like doing or intend to do. For instance, they can ripen into feeling like eating another cookie and not a piece of fruit, and of course our karmic potentials don’t ripen into the cookies themselves. Then, with an urge, we act out what we feel like doing and, in doing so, we build up more karmic potentials. In an attempt to break this karmic habit, we may think, “I will allow myself to have only five cookies each coffee break.” But this is really weird in that we have this dualism of a separate “me” that’s giving permission to this naughty “me” that would like to eat ten cookies each time.

Try to recognize that there are urges going on in each moment. It’s not so easy to recognize them. They’re quite subtle. The way that we recognize them is from what they do. For instance, we scratch or move our head; therefore, logically, there must be an urge, a mental impulse, that is bringing us into that action. Also, there’s the urge to continue looking at something, to do nothing, to continue sleeping, or the urge that brings along a dream, or the urge that brings on waking up. Each urge or mental impulse is what is bringing us into the cognition and action of the moment. There is the urge to close or open our eyes. 

Urges are difficult to recognize. In Dharma studies, we first get a rough understanding and then turn up the dial to get more and more precise. In this case, when we speak about an urge, it is a way of being aware of an object. This is important to remember. We’re talking about ways of being aware of objects. When we’re focusing, for instance, on the sight of our hand, the urge or mental impulse is what is bringing our mind, our mental activity, to the hand and to looking at it. So, the urge is an awareness of our hand. 


Contacting Awareness

Thus far we have explored feeling a level of happiness, distinguishing something, and an urge or mental impulse. The next of the five ever-functioning mental factors is contacting awareness. It is a way of being aware of an object that differentiates an object and contact with it as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. It serves as the foundation for experiencing the object with the feeling of happiness, unhappiness or neutral feeling.

For example, looking at the colored shapes of someone’s body, we distinguish them as constituting the form of a body and of a person, separate from the colored shapes of the wall. The contacting awareness of this object differentiates the sight of this body and this person as pleasant. On this basis, we feel happy, meaning we’d like not to be separated from looking at this person. The karmic urge is what is bringing our minds to this person and seeing them. Further karmic urges will bring our minds to continuing to look at them or to look away.

Let’s try to recognize and identify this contacting awareness as we look at various objects in the room. Notice how all these mental factors are networking together. If we find an object unpleasant, we’d feel unhappy while seeing it, meaning that we would like to be parted from it. Consequently, we would look at something else. As with feeling a level of happiness or unhappiness, the contacting awareness that makes us aware of an object as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral doesn’t have to be dramatic at all.  

Let’s be more precise. When we’re looking at something that we differentiate as unpleasant and are mildly unhappy looking at it, then the urge arises that disconnects our minds from looking at that object. When we look at something we differentiate as pleasant and feel happy while seeing it, we don’t want to be parted from it; therefore, an urge keeps our minds directed at that object. In addition, obviously we’re distinguishing the object from the wall.



The fifth ever-functioning mental factor is paying attention or literally “taking to mind.” This is the mental factor that actually engages the mental activity with an object. The urge or mental impulse is what is bringing the attention and all the other mental factors to the object. It is not that first the urge or mental impulse arises, brings us toward an object and then attention engages with it. The mental impulse and attention are simultaneous.

This attention could be strong or weak, as there’s an entire spectrum of how much attention we pay to an object. For example, we look at the wall and pay very little attention to it. There is an urge drawing us to look at the wall, but there can be hardly any attention and we move on. It starts to get complicated of course, because we don’t pay equal attention to everything in our field of vision. This involves something else; for instance, our interest.

Just to give an amusing example: I stayed at the house of a friend in Wales for about four months. After some time, we went to buy a new shower curtain for the bathroom, and we were trying to decide what would look best. My friend asked me, “What color curtain would go with the bathroom wall?” I confessed that had no idea what color the bathroom wall was. Then my friend asked, “What color are your bedroom walls?” Again, I had no idea because I’d not paid any attention to it. I was not interested whatsoever in the color of the walls, so I had no memory of it. We laughed and laughed.

Some of us who might be very interested in clothing and fashion will pay attention to what people are wearing here today and remember it. Other people who aren’t the slightest bit interested will pay no attention and not remember at all. Attention is how strongly the mind engages with the object. Is it weak or strong, tight or loose? This is not simply about sense perception, but also involves thinking. How much attention do we pay to the amount of random thoughts that go through our heads?

Another dimension is how we pay attention to something. How do we regard it? Do we pay attention to something correctly or incorrectly? For example, do we pay attention to something impermanent as permanent or something impure as pure? 

Again, take a moment to try a notice this mental factor of attention. How much attention are we paying to what we’re seeing or what we’re hearing? Remember we’re seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling physical sensations, and probably thinking, all at the same time. The amount of attention that’s accompanying each of these is obviously different, isn’t it? 


Being Unconscious of Certain Things

In the West, when we speak about being conscious or unconscious of what is going on in our minds, in fact, it’s this factor of attention that we are referring to. For instance, there could be anger associated with speaking with someone that we are totally unconscious of. This unconscious anger or hostility means that there’s no attention to that anger. Even if there is attention to it, do we consider it as pure or impure, clean or unclean? Is it something we regard as perfectly appropriate and, thereby, okay? Or, are we paying attention to this hostility as something that is impure that we would really like to get rid of?

It’s very interesting as we start to analyze more and more. Let’s say there is hostility accompanying this moment of our experience, whether we are talking with someone, looking at the wall, or just sitting in our room. That hostility is not necessarily because we’re hostile or angry with the person, the room, or the wall. It could be entirely unrelated, such as an incident that happened at work or something else. Still, there is hostility in this moment that is totally irrelevant. If we can analyze and deconstruct, then we see that our hostility is inappropriate and unrelated. However, we have to be aware and pay attention to it.

With this new level of attentiveness, we change the way in which we are aware of others while talking with them. How do we usually pay attention to others? Often, we pay attention to another person as some sort of generalized object. Instead, we can pay attention to another person and realize that this is a human being who has feelings, just as we do. Then, we add another mental factor called a caring attitude. We care about how our behavior and the way we speak affects another person. In other words, we take cause and effect more seriously. 

Then, we recognize that to speak to someone with hostility, for reasons that have nothing to do with them, is inappropriate and is going to make them feel bad. Therefore, we exercise the ethical discipline of self-control and stop acting in such a way. Based on paying attention and noticing what’s going on, we change the way in which we relate to another. We just do it.

This is why we study and learn to apply the five aggregates. It is to improve the way we live our lives. In this aggregate of other affecting variables, these and many other mental factors are making up this moment of experience of how we are relating to the world around us and to everyone in it. 

This is the general idea about the ever-functioning mental factors. Our remaining time is somewhat short, so let’s briefly introduce some other items that are included in this fourth aggregate.

The Five Ascertaining Mental Factors

In addition to these five ever-functioning mental factors, we also have five ascertaining mental factors. Some texts say that we also have all of these in every moment; however, it depends how we define them. The five ascertaining mental factors enable the mind to cognize an object with certainty about it.


The first is intention, which is the wish to have a desired object, to do something with or to it, or to achieve a desired goal. It is what we were referring to before as “feeling like doing something.” For example, when looking at someone, what is our intention? Do we wish to continue looking at the person, kiss this person, or do we wish to punch the person in the face? What is the intention? There’s always some sort of intention there, even if it’s the intention to do nothing.

In a certain way, this factor also involves interest. We don’t specify interest as a separate mental factor, although obviously it is. The intention to continue looking at someone or to do something with the person is clearly based on finding them of interest or not. This is a very important factor because it is something we can adjust. For instance, when somebody comes and asks us a question, we might at first feel like we’re so busy and can’t be bothered. However, instead of saying no, we increase our interest; after all, there’s a human being and they have a question. Thus, we develop more interest and as a result we pay more attention.


There is also the factor of regard, which refers to regarding an object as having certain good qualities, ranging from none at all to the most marvelous thing in the world; or it could be good qualities ranging from the most unimportant to the most important. Again, interest is involved here as well. 

Of course, this type of regard could be accurate or inaccurate and it is something that we obviously have in each moment, don’t we? It is basically how we value what we’re hearing, looking at, and so on. For example, we hear the sound of the traffic and regard it as having no good qualities at all; it’s just annoying and we could even have anger about it.


The next factor is mindfulness. We often hear about mindfulness meditation, but we need to be very accurate about the definition of mindfulness in our present context. This word “mindfulness” is the same word as to recollect or to remember. It is like mental glue. It is what prevents the mental hold on an object from being lost. When we recollect or remember something, that is what is preventing our hold on the object from being lost. We remember it, hold on and don’t let go of that object. 

Mindfulness, then, is not simply paying attention to what is arising in each moment. When we listen to someone speak, is there mindfulness involved or not? Is there mental glue that is holding on, keeping the attention onto someone’s words so that we can remember them? Or, is there no mindfulness at all and the mental hold is completely loose, so that we can’t possibly remember what was said. 

Mindfulness is the glue that’s keeping our attention on what is being said. The attention could be strong or weak, but that is determined by the glue, the strength or weakness of the mindfulness involved in keeping it on the conversation. 

These ascertaining mental factors, like mindfulness, become crucial when we practice meditation and try to gain concentration. By studying and identifying them, we are able to differentiate these various factors so that we know what to correct when there’s a fault.

Mental Fixation

The next one is mental fixation or concentration. That’s the mental factor of actually staying on the object. How much are we staying fixed on the object of our focus? Is it not at all or is there strong abiding? 

Mental fixation is different from the glue or mindfulness, although they’re very similar. The glue is keeping us from losing attention on an object; while mental fixating is the mental factor that keeps the attention on the object. They’re not so easy to differentiate from each other. 

For example, we look at the colored shapes of someone’s body. In that moment, the urge is what is moving our attention and all the other accompanying mental factors to this form. The attention is what engages with the object. The fixating or concentration is what makes the attention stay. The glue, mindfulness, prevents it from leaving. Of course, this process interacts and networks with the interest that we have in this object, as well as the intention to look at it and maybe say something to the person. Additionally, we distinguish the form of this person from the wall and from that of other people. With the contacting awareness, we find this object pleasant and the feeling is happiness – meaning we don’t want to be separated from this object. We regard this person as having nice qualities; it’s a nice person. This all networks together.

Discriminating Awareness

The fifth factor in this group is called discriminating awareness, which is also translated as wisdom; however, the term “wisdom” is both vague and misleading, because our discrimination could be correct or incorrect. 

Discriminating awareness is the ascertainment that helps us to take hold of an object with certainty, differentiating the strong points of an object from the weak points. Further, it differentiates the good qualities from the faults, and determines whether something’s correct or incorrect, or constructive or destructive. Discriminating awareness adds certainty to our distinguishing and taking hold of an object. For example, we look at a person and discriminate that this is our friend and not an enemy. We can discriminate one name from another name with a certain amount of conviction and certainty.

Additional Components of Other Affecting Variables

Within this fourth aggregate, we also have several more groups of mental factors, relating to what we would call in the West “emotions.” However, this group also includes items that we probably wouldn’t call an emotion. It’s actually difficult to find a general term for all of them. Regardless, first there’s a group of constructive ones; we’ll just introduce a few of the noteworthy ones. 

Belief in Fact

The first of these constructive mental factors is the belief in a fact to be true, often translated as “faith.” That’s a misleading translation because faith could be in something that is either true or not true. With this mental factor, we’re talking about believing as true only facts that are actually true, not believing that falsehoods are true. For example, I believe that this person is Gabi, which is correct. If I believe her to be Maria, this would be a false discrimination and not this first constructive mental factor. 

Moral Self-Dignity and Care for How Our Actions Reflect on Others

Two further constructive mental factors are moral self-dignity and care for how our actions reflect on others. With a sense of moral self-dignity, we don’t act terribly. We have a sense of self-worth. Without that, then we go around like a hoodlum and do all sorts of mischievous things.

There is also care for how our actions reflect on others. We don’t act terribly because of what people will think of our family, nationality or religion. For instance, we think, how does it reflect on Buddhists if we act in a certain way? For example, perhaps people will think badly of all Buddhists if we get completely drunk and act out.  

These two mental factors, moral self-dignity and care for how our actions reflect on others, are the basis for ethics in Buddhism. In the West, we often think being considerate of how our actions will affect other persons is the basis for ethics. However, from a Buddhist perspective, this criterion is not always reliable because, actually, we have no idea how our actions will affect others. 

For instance, in India, people have loudspeakers to blast music to the entire village. The intention is to make everyone happy, and they assume that to play this loud music will be uplifting. They expect everybody to like it; whereas, as a Westerner, we may not like it at all. It’s an amusing example of there being no certainty to how anything is going to affect others; therefore, just being considerate isn’t a reliable basis for ethics. Again, this is because there’s no certainty to the outcomes or effects of our behavior on others. However, consideration of how our own behavior will actually affect ourselves is something else entirely. 

We also have constructive items like detachment, not clinging to someone or something. We have imperturbability in which nothing is going to make us angry. We also have a lack of naivety and perseverance. With perseverance, we continue putting effort into something positive and we enjoy it.

There are many constructive emotions that are not included in the standard list, but of course Buddhism discusses them too. Just because it’s not on the list, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Very basic things like love, compassion and patience, for example, aren’t on this list of constructive emotions.

Root Disturbing Emotions and Attitudes 

As for the destructive side, there is a group of six mental factors called “root disturbing emotions and attitudes.” They’re roots in the sense that auxiliary ones grow from them. For example, anger is a root for the auxiliary disturbing emotions of hatred and resentment.

The first of these, longing desire, is based on exaggerating the good qualities of something. There are several possibilities: for instance, if we don’t have something, with longing desire, we just have to have it. If we do have something, we don’t want to let go. This is attachment. And even if we have a certain amount of something, with greed we want more.

Longing desire is a disturbing emotion, meaning that when we experience it, we lose peace of mind and self-control. We say and do things that we ordinarily wouldn’t. With longing desire, we exaggerate the good qualities and think that this thing we must have is going to make us happy. We have no peace of mind or contentment.

 With the next of these root disturbing emotions, anger, we exaggerate the negative qualities of something and, because of that, we have to get rid of it. With both of these emotions, we might even invent good qualities or add negative, bad qualities that don’t exist.

We also have unawareness. This is the real troublemaker, this confusion that’s ever-present. We have this unawareness and not knowing of either behavioral cause and effect or the nature of reality. More precisely, it’s defined as a murky-mindedness, meaning a heaviness of body and mind; it’s murky as if heavy with clouds. In the West, we refer to this as a feeling, a feeling of murky-mindedness in that we just don’t know what’s going on. We are unaware of the effect of our behavior on ourselves and on others, and how anything actually exists. We’re not talking about not knowing somebody’s name or telephone number, which can be a broader constant occurrence. With murky-mindedness, we are really quite confused. The mind isn’t light and clear. There’s a heavy weighted murkiness in that we don’t really know what’s going to be the effect of anything we say or do. We don’t really know how we exist or how everything and everyone around us exists. Basically, we don’t know what’s going on in life. 

An analogy for murky-mindedness is that it’s like walking around with a paper bag over our heads. We really can’t see anything clearly at all. All the other people we interact with have paper bags over their heads as well. It seems really hopeless, doesn’t it? It would make a good cartoon. However, the reason that we try so hard to have clarity and see what is going on is because the nature of the mind is not that it has a paper bag over it. 

Naivety is a subcategory of this unawareness. Naivety is the unawareness that accompanies destructive behavior. We’re really naive about how saying this or that will hurt someone or not hurt them.

Next, we have arrogance. We’re puffed-up about “me” or about some quality such as our money, wealth, good looks, youth, and so on.

Another disturbing emotion is indecisive wavering. Should we wear a blue shirt or a yellow one? What shall we eat? This sounds relatively innocent, but because we’re indecisive and wavering, it can also be very disturbing. We can be indecisive about what to do next, how to handle a huge problem, should we say this or should we say that? It cripples us, doesn’t it?

All of these are disturbing emotions that make us lose peace of mind and self-control. Remember, these constructive and destructives items would accompany our seeing someone, paying attention, and all the other mental factors previously mentioned.

We also have deluded attitudes, meaning that they’re incorrect. There are five of these. For instance, although all the aggregates and the items that make them up are changing all the time, we latch onto one of the items and identify with it as “me” or “mine.” We think, “That’s me.” If it is our youth, for example, as we age, even at sixty, we always think of ourselves as a person that other people are going to find young, sexy and attractive. It’s absolutely absurd, isn’t it? But we have this deluded attitude of how we regard ourselves. “My youth will last forever.” 

Further Items Included in the Aggregate of Other Affecting Variables

There is also a long list of auxiliary disturbing emotions that come from these root ones: hatred, resentment, jealousy, miserliness and so on. There is pretension, pretending to have qualities we don’t have, and concealment of shortcomings when we hide our faults. There is laziness and mental wandering; in fact, there’s a very long, rather discouraging list. But the more of these that we know about, the more we can identify in this moment of our experience: We can identify the components as we attempt to deconstruct things. For example, perhaps we don’t feel like speaking to or seeing someone at all. That wish not to see a person basically means that there’s no interest. However, what’s accompanying it? Is it laziness or hostility? What is it? We try to recognize the mental factors that are accompanying this moment. 

Of course, in addition, underlying it all is confusion about how we exist and the effect of our behavior on that person if we don’t see or speak to them. Maybe the other person will be very happy that we don’t speak to them, or maybe not. As mentioned, we don’t actually know the effect of our behavior on others; therefore, our unawareness is specifically about the effect of our own behavior on ourselves. In fact, this is the only thing that is certain. It’s definite that by avoiding speaking with this person will reinforce a habit of not dealing with things that are difficult. The confusion that we have is about how the way we act affects our future experiences.

As an example, there’s a mosquito in the room and we kill it. How is it going to affect our future behavior? We are reinforcing the habit of killing anything that we don’t like or find annoying. We have a violent reaction, not a peaceful solution. How we behave reinforces all sorts of habits in us. That’s why we want to build up new better habits.

The last set of mental factors included in the aggregate of other affecting variables is the group of changeable factors. These are mental factors that can be constructive or destructive, depending on the situation. For example, regret – if we regret doing something negative, that’s a constructive attitude. If we regret doing something positive such as making a donation to this or that constructive cause, it would be destructive.

Lastly in this aggregate are the nonstatic factors that are neither forms of physical phenomena nor ways of being aware of something. These include age and the collections of syllables that constitute words. But most significantly, they include the conventional “me,” the self that actually does conventionally exist. These items are so-called “imputation phenomena” – phenomena that only exist and can only be known on the basis of other items in the aggregates. Age only exists in terms of our body and can only be known in terms of our body. Similarly, our self, “me,” can only exist and be known in terms of the five aggregates that make up each moment of our existence.

It is in this fourth aggregate of other affecting variables, the aggregate of everything else, that we want to remove the real troublemaker, this unawareness. We want to strengthen discriminating awareness, to be able to discriminate between what’s correct and what’s incorrect, especially about the self. We want to accurately discriminate voidness and the belief that things don’t exist in the way that they appear in our confused minds.

The Aggregate of Consciousness

In the order of these aggregates, the fifth aggregate, that of primary consciousness, is the most subtle and most difficult to recognize. It is not an exact translation, the word “consciousness,” but it is the word that is commonly used. In the West, we speak of only one type of consciousness pervading everything, but in Buddhism, depending on the system, we differentiate six types of primary consciousness: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mental consciousness.

These are known as primary consciousnesses. This means that when they’re aware of an object, they’re only aware of the essential nature of that object and nothing more. The essential nature of an object is basically what type of thing it is, in the most general way. Is it a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, a physical sensation, or an object of the mind? That’s all that primary consciousness is aware of. Like with a radio or television, our minds can be operating on the visual channel, the sound channel, the smell channel and so forth. Our minds can actually play on several channels at once, with what is appearing on each channel being different.

We’re not talking about identifying a sight or sound mentally. For instance, when we look at something, we’re looking at colored shapes. Visual consciousness is merely aware of a sight as being a sight. It is aware of it as being visual information. That’s all that the primary consciousness does. All the mental factors that are aware of good qualities and bad qualities, and which add interest, attention, discrimination of what things are or aren’t, feeling happy or unhappy, etc. – all of these accompany the primary consciousness of a sight.

If we want to examine this from a Western point of view, we have information coming in, but how are we sorting and dealing with it? Are we dealing with it as visual, audio, or olfactory information? It’s the primary consciousness that is aware of it as one or another type of information. It’s very subtle, the most subtle of the aggregates.

The image of a computer comes to mind. When we digitize sounds and images, we need to be able to differentiate some of the digitized zeros and ones in the coding as visual information and others as audio information. How a computer does that is quite another topic; however, from a Western point of view, all the information coming into our minds are electric impulses. How are we able to differentiate the electric impulses that are called a sight from those that are called a sound? According to the Buddhist analysis, we do that with the most basic type of awareness of this information, primary consciousness. It’s a way of being aware of something as visual information, audio information, and so on. 

All the other mental factors accompany this level of awareness. For example, we’re aware of something as visual information, a sight, and the mental factors that accompany it can be interest, attention, feeling happy, and all these other things.


This has been a basic introduction to the five aggregates factors, a classification scheme of all the components changing moment to moment that make up our everyday experience. If we want to eliminate the problems and suffering in our experience, we need to be able to deconstruct each moment, particularly moments of difficulty, and understand what is actually going on so that we can, in a sense, repair things.

The more that we study and learn about all the components, the more precisely we can deconstruct what we are experiencing. It is a very helpful method. What we particularly want to get rid of is our confusion about “me” and how that “me” actually exists. 

There is a “me,” what’s called the conventional “me.” This is in this fourth aggregate, the aggregate of other affecting variables. This “me” is something that is neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something, it changes all the time and it can neither exist nor be cognized independently of the aggregates as its basis. But we are confused about how it exists. Because of this confusion, our minds make that “me” appear as if it were some solid thing separate from our body and mind, which sits inside and controls them. However, this is incorrect and does not correspond to reality. 

Basically, with unawareness, we don't know, or we understand how the “me” exists in an incorrect and reversed way. This unawareness brings on our suffering and unhappiness, which are included in the aggregate of feeling a level of happiness. 

Nonetheless, in the fourth aggregate we also have discriminating awareness. It is with discriminating awareness focused on voidness, that we can eliminate unawareness and thus get rid of suffering forever.