The Buddha said “In whatever way [we] conceive, the truth is ever other than that.” Does that shake you up? Remember that more often than not, we’re in a state of delusion. We don’t see things as they truly are, but through the lens of habits acquired over a lifetime. In response to painful reaction, we form views of ourselves and others as a way to steady ourselves through uncontrollable change. Those views are the function of the aggregate of Volition and Mental Formation—conditioned response to sense experience, turning impersonal awareness into personal experience. Volition responds here and now. It has a moral dimension, just as Perception has a conceptual dimension and Feeling, an emotive dimension.
The mind generates thoughts often based on habit impressions created by past perceptions and previous actions—mental states or factors such as the hindrances, enlightenment factors, calm, joy, greed, aversion, images, fabrications of the mind, etc. For example, your eyes come into contact with a visible object. Consciousness becomes aware of seeing something, as yet indeterminate. Your Perception identifies that visible object as a dog. The Feeling of pleasure or displeasure arises and then Volition and Mental Formation—perhaps delight, or the intent to run or thinking about harming the dog—conditioned on your past experience with dogs.
Mental Formation and Volition work together to determine our responses to experience, and these responses have moral consequences of wholesome, unwholesome, or neutral effects. Can you catch the fact of the mental formation and volition right after consciousness, perception and feeling?