Is saṅkhāra related to kamma?

I have read some of this post: Sankhara - Dhamma Wheel

It says that Kamma and Sankhara are related. Goenka seems to use Sankhara in a way had appears to be synonymous with Kamma.

This word is puzzling to me. At times I have thought of it as Mental Formations = anything formed in theind like thoughts.

I see based on the mentioned article that there are several meanings.

I would appreciate some further clarification as this is an important word and concept in the Buddha’s dispensation.



Yes, kamma is a term for saṅkhāra and in the dependent origination it is at this link that choices / activities conditioned by lack of vision and knowledge of the four nouble truths (i.e. avijja) originate in turn the whole mass of suffering the follows thereon.
Both terms are related to karoti:

An important term that connects these dots in EBTs is abhisaṅkhāra and the verb form abhisaṅkharoti:

A beautiful and concise synthesis is found at AN4.233



From the Assutavā Sutta, the conditioning of kamma in a simple verse explained in the remainder of the sutta:

When this exists, that is; due to the arising of this, that arises. When this doesn’t exist, that is not; due to the cessation of this, that ceases.

The Island discusses this as well and explains how the verse connects the two in chapter 3 “This, and That and Other Things”


The roots of the words are the same, and much of the usage is similar. In dependent origination and the five aggregates they are pretty much synonyms.

The difference is that kamma is used in primarily ethical contexts—how to do good and avoid bad. Saṅkhāra, while it has a strong ethical connotation in these contexts, is a more philosophical or existential term. Hence it has a broader meaning: as well as the sense of kamma, it also has a meaning as “conditioned phenomena” or just “condition”.

One way of thinking about the difference is in terms of the kind of teaching. If the teaching is to do good and avoid bad so as to get to a good rebirth, then kamma is used.

If the teaching is to understand that even good acts have consequences that involve suffering, and the only true happiness is escape from rebirth altogether, then saṅkhāra is used.

The usages aren’t always going to be as clear-cut as that, but that’s the general tendency.


Thank you for clearing this up for me.

One more question if you have time. When it says mental formations in some Suttas, does that mean that a sankhara is a thought or concept?

A side but related question on thoughts. Would it be accurate or inaccurate to say that thoughts are mental pictures and words resultant of past kamma?

I can see how contact is a cause of thought for sure, I’m just curious if another cause for thought is past kamma or is it just lack of mindfulness?


Kind of, but not really. In fact, the somewhat clumsy rendering is a result of previous translators’ attempts at philosophical consistency. In principle, a sankhara could have such a broad meaning, and it often does in modern usage; but in practice, in the Suttas it usually means “choice”, “intention”.

Better to say that past kamma influences or contributes to the formation of thoughts in the present. It doesn’t determine them.


saṅkhāra = san + kara where san is the good and bad things we acquire and kara is action thus saṅkhāra is action done with san which either will produce good kamma or bad kamma depending on the san action done.

saṅkhāra has 50 cetasika plus vedana and sanna totalled to 52 with 14 unwholesome and 25 wholesome and 7 universals and 6 particulars.

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So awesomely stated. Simple & clear. Just as Dhamma is intended to be. Thank Venerable sir!

And @amimettalove thanks for asking this question. Even i had this dilemma.


Thank you for that gem. I have often been puzzled at how choice or intention in my life for good or bad has always boomeranged and gone wacko. Always. And in contrast, spontaneous stuff arising out of dispassionate awareness just is, without repercussion. :pray:


:slight_smile: perhaps the RNG random “number” generator of the universe is a Dhamma friend to you in this life, if things going wacko has been to ultimate benefit / liberation. But. I don’t think there’s anything there to get too attached to, except Dhamma!

a little anthropormorphising, but maybe it will give a smile to one needing it at this time.


There is much wisdom in humor. And truth. Given the reality of quantum entanglement, non-local correlations exist. Temporal and spatial locality are merely convenient approximations of reality. This is significant because choice and intention arise out of those approximations. If we look for electrons as localities (particles), we see them. If we chill and step back, we see double-slit interference. The only difference was measurement (choice/intention/volition). Let’s all be at home on the RNG.

Sankhara belongs to Paticcasamuppada–Avijjapaccaya Sankhara. It was part of Lord Buddha’s (Bhagava Buddho) Abhisambodhi. Lord Buddha has explained the meaning to those who can understand it in numerous places.
Kamma has been defined by the Lord Buddha as Cetana–Cetanaham Bhikkhave Kammam Vadami.
Kamma is of three types–by body, by speech, and Manasa–Cetayitva Karoti Kammam Kayena Vacaya Manasa. Of the three, Manasa Kamma is not observable; hence, one cannot talk about it. Other two (body and speech) are observable. Actions can be seen; speech can be heard. Therefore, ordinary human beings (Puthujjana) can understand them.
The two are not related:

Hi, even I wanted more clarification on this. I found following sutta where sankhara is clearly described as kaya, vaci and citta. In my understanding, sankhara can mean by which it exists. So, according to sutta, kaya sankhara is breathing, vaci is vitakka-vicara and citta is sanna and vedana. I hope this helps.

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Yes, there are a number sutras in the EBT’s to this effect. They also correspond to the stages of the meditative attainments, in the order of pacifying (1) verbal formations, (2) bodily formations, and (3) mental formations. In the Nirodha Samapatti, all three types of formations have finally subsided.

Some useful sutras for comparison are SN 36.11, SN 36.15, SN 41.6, SA 474, SA 568, etc.


@llt Wonderful! This is very helpful and inspiring. Metta!