Puggala (Skt. Pudgala) means an individual as opposed to parisā which means a group of people. When one says aggapuggala, ariya puggala or abhabba puggala, what he means is the senior most person, noble person and incapable person respectively. Gūthabhāṇī puggala, pupphabhāṇī puggala and madhubhāṇī puggala respectively mean a person who says he has seen what he has not seen in a court of Law, a person who says only what he has seen in a court of Law and a person who giving up harsh speech speaks gentle, pleasant and sweet words in such a nice way that directly go to one’s heart.
Different types of persons have been elaborately enumerated and described in the Puggala Paññāṭṭī – one of the seven books of the Abhidhamma piṭaka. Here persons have been enumerated according to their characteristics, achievements and their temperaments. One who has entered the stream which will take him to nibbāna is called a sotāpanna, one who is to be born once in this world and then attain nibbāna is called a sakadāgāmī (once-returner), one who will be born in some other world but not in this world and attain nibbāna there is an anāgāmī (non-returner) and one who has eliminated all his cravings in this very lifetime is called an arhat (or arahant). In other words, an arhat is he who has attained liberation and has come out of the cycle of birth and death.
One is called a samaya vimutta if he is finally emancipated and an asamaya vimutta if not finally emancipated. In the Puggala Paññāṭṭī, persons have been categorized from under one term to under ten terms. It gives a very exhaustive description of different types of persons. But all these different descriptions of persons come under paññatti (conception or designation).
Puggala is not real. It is just a conception, a designation as said above. From the ultimate point of view, a being (satta) does not exist (Sattoti vā purisoti vā puggaloti vā paññattimattameva, paramatthato satto nāma natthi).
In Buddha’s philosophy, there are two truths, one conventional (sammuti sacca) and the other ultimate (paramattha sacca). The Buddha has shown very clearly that a puggala consists of five aggregates, namely rūpa (corporeal group or matter), vedanā (feeling group), saññā (perception group), saṅkhāra (group of mental formations or mental states) and viññāṇa (consciousness group).
Rūpa khandha comprises four underived (no-upādā) elements such as paṭhavī (earth), āpo (water), tejo (fire) and vāyo (air) and twenty-four derived (upādā) or secondary phenomena like the five physical sense organs of seeing (cakkhu), hearing (sota), smelling (ghāṇa), tasting (jihva) and touching (photabba) and four sense objects such as form (rūpa), sound (sadda), odour (gandha) and taste (jihvā), feminity (itthindriya), virility (purisindriya), physical base of mind (hadaya vatthu), physical expression (kāya viññāti), vocal expression (vacī viññāti), physical life (jīvita), space element (ākāsa dhātu), physical agility (rūpassa lahutā), elasticity (mudutā), adaptability (kammaññatā), growth (upacaya), continuity (santati), decay (jarā), impermanence (aniccatā) and nutriment (āhāra).
Vedanā khandha (feeling group) consists of five kinds of feelings such as sukha vedanā, dukkha vedanā, somanassa, domanassa and upekkhā. The first two are physical and the next two are mental.
Perception group consists of six classes of perceptions such as rūpa saññā (form), sadda saññā (sound), gandha saññā (odour), rasa saññā (taste), photabba saññā (touch) and dhamma saññā (mental impression).
Mental formations (saṅkhāra khandha) are fifty in number. Eleven of them are general, twenty-five of them are karmically wholesome (sobhana) and fourteen of them unwholesome.
Conscious group (viññāṇa-kkhandha) consists of cakkhu viññāṇa (eye consciousness), sota viññāṇa (ear consciousness), ghāṇa viññāṇa (nose consciousness), jihvā viññāṇa (tongue consciousness), kāya viññāṇa (body consciousness) and mano viññāṇa (mind consciousness).
So ultimately what is a puggala? It is a combination of all that has been described above. The purpose of analyzing and dividing puggala into separate constituents is to show that there is nothing permanent here. All that is here is constantly changing and is impermanent.
The whole idea in so analyzing a puggala is to show that there is nothing permanent here for one to be attached to. Puggala is just a concept and a designation. Just as different parts of a cart when joined together in a certain way become a cart, in the same way the five aggregates join in a certain way to be called a puggala. In the words of Vajira Bhikkhuni:
“Just as, with an assemblage of parts,
The word ‘chariot’ is used.
So, when the aggregates exist,
There is the convention ‘a being’.”