The word khandha is the Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit skandha, and their meanings are identical. Like many Pali (and Sanskrit) words, khandha has both a simple and a technical meaning, and both usages are found in the texts. The simple, or root, meaning of khandha as given in the Pali-English Dictionary is "mass, bulk, (gross) substance." This usage is used in the canon to refer to the bulk of an elephant, for instance. The word is also used specifically for a man's shoulders or back, and also for the trunk of a tree.
Used in a more technical sense, khandha refers to various aggregated collections. There is the phrase dukkhakhandha, "this whole mass of suffering," referring to samsaric existence. The principal technical usage of khandha, however, is in reference to the five khandhas as constituents of psychophysical existence. Sentient beings such as humans, animals, and devas are said to be composed of five khandhas—one physical and four mental. This is a formula often repeated in the suttas and may be considered as the most basic Buddhist analysis of what constitutes a conscious being.