'Finally, there is the aggregate of mental formation or volition (Samskara). This aggregate may be described as a conditioned response to the object of experience. In this sense, it partakes of the meaning of habit as well. We have spent some time discussing the component of mental formation when we considered the twelve components of dependent origination. You will remember that on that occasion, we described mental formation as the impression created by previous actions, the habit energy stored up from countless former lives. Here, as one of the five aggregates also, the aggregate of mental formation plays a similar role. But it has not only a static value, it also has a dynamic value because just as our reactions are conditioned by former deeds, so are our responses here and now motivated and directed in a particular way by our mental formation or volition. Mental formation or volition therefore has a moral dimension just as perception has a conceptual dimension, and feeling has a emotional dimension. You will notice I use the terms mental formation and volition together. This is because each of these terms represents one half of the meaning of Samskara - mental formation represents the half that comes from the past, and volition represents the half that functions here and now. So mental formation and volition function to determine our responses to the objects of experience and these responses have moral consequences in the sense of wholesome, unwholesome or neutral.
We can now see how the physical and mental factors of experience worked together to produce personal experience. To make this a little clearer, let us take the help of a couple of concrete examples. Let us say after today’s lecture you decide to take a walk in the garden. As you walk in the garden, your eyes come into contact with a visible object. As your attention focuses on that visible object, your consciousness becomes aware of visible object as yet indeterminate. Your aggregate of perception will identify that visible object as, let us say, a snake. Once that happens, you will respond to that visible object with the aggregate of feeling - the feeling of displeasure, or more specifically that of fear. Finally, you will react to that visible object with the aggregate of mental formation or volition, with the intentional action of perhaps running away or perhaps picking up a stone.
In all our daily activities, we can see how all the five aggregates work together to produce personal experience. At this very moment, for instance, there is contact between two elements of the aggregate of form - the sound of my voice and your ears. Your consciousness becomes aware of the sound of my voice. Your aggregate of perception identifies the words that I am speaking. Your aggregate of feeling responds with an emotional response - pleasure, displeasure or indifference. Your aggregate of mental formation or volition responds with a conditioned reaction - sitting in attention, daydreaming or perhaps yawning. We can analyze all our personal experience in terms of the five aggregates.
There is one point that has to be remembered regarding the nature of the five aggregates, and that is that each and all of them are in constant change. The elements that constitute the aggregate of form are impermanent and are in a state of constant change. We discussed this last week - the body grows old, weak, sick and so forth. The things around us are also impermanent and change constantly. Our feelings too are constantly changing. We may respond today to a particular situation with a feeling of pleasure. To-morrow, we may respond to that same situation with the feeling of displeasure. Today we may perceive an object in a particular way. At a later time, under different circumstances, our perception will change. In semi-darkness we perceive a rope to be a snake. The moment the light of the torch falls upon that object, we perceive it to be a rope. So our perceptions like our feelings and like the material objects of our experience are ever changing and impermanent. So too, our mental formations are impermanent and ever-changing. We alter our habits. We can learn to be kind and compassionate. We can acquire the attitudes of renunciation and equanimity and so forth. Consciousness too is impermanent and constantly changing. Consciousness arises dependent upon an object and a sense organ. It cannot exist independently. As we have seen, all the physical and mental factors of our experience like our bodies, the physical objects around us, our minds and our ideas are impermanent and constantly changing. All these aggregates are constantly changing and impermanent. They are processes, not things. They are dynamic, not static.'