Is there also a positive saṅkhāra?

Of course saṅkhāra is usually a khandha, part of the DO etc. and thus ultimately something to dis-identify from (regardless from what it precisely means). But do we have (maybe more ‘mundane’) sutta contexts where a positive saṅkhāra is helpful, e.g. as a preparation or for daily life?


Mā, bhikkhave, puññānaṃ bhāyittha. Sukhassetaṃ, bhikkhave, adhivacanaṃ yadidaṃ puññāni.
Mendicants, don’t fear good deeds. For ‘good deeds’ is a term for happiness (AN 7.62).

Deeds are also saṅkhāras according to DN33.
Tayo saṅkhārā – puññābhisaṅkhāro, apuññābhisaṅkhāro , āneñjābhisaṅkhāro (DN 33).


The sutta doesn’t contain a reference to sankhara - could you describe what you had in mind?

This goes back to SN 12.51 - at least this is the only sutta which features the three sankharas. It’s too rare for me to consider it a probable old teaching. But it shows a possible interpretation of sankhara as something like (mental?) kamma:

If an ignorant individual makes a good choice, their consciousness enters a good realm.
Avijjāgato yaṃ, bhikkhave, purisapuggalo puññañce saṅkhāraṃ abhisaṅkharoti, puññūpagaṃ hoti viññāṇaṃ.

Although sankhara in dependent arising is basically a synonym for kamma, I think you are right that positive mentions are hard to find. I think kamma points more at the ethical aspect (hence good and bad kamma), while sankhara points to the fact that all kamma, good or bad, creates rebirth. Therefore all sankhara is bad in a sense.

However, there are some passages where sankhara is “good”. E.g. MN57:

And what, Puṇṇa, is bright action with bright result? Here someone generates an unafflictive bodily formation, an unafflictive verbal formation, an unafflictive mental formation.

Or SN12.51, as mentioned:

if a person immersed in ignorance generates a meritorious volitional formation, consciousness fares on to the meritorious;

(translations by Bodhi/Nyanamoli)

There are probably more texts like these, but they’ll be rare, much rarer than mentions of good kamma.


Thanks, MN 57 is a good example for a kamma-like sankhara that can be good, bad, or both. The same categories appear in AN 3.23 and 4.233-238 and add some details.

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Well, we can choose to have faith in the Triple Gem. That seems like a positive saṅkhārā, a good choice.

MN35:10.7: In the same way, an individual’s self is form. Grounded on form they make good and bad choices. An individual’s self is feeling … perception … choices … consciousness. Grounded on consciousness they make good and bad choices.”

And that good choice may eventually lead to the end of saṅkhārā, the end of ignorance, the end of the spiritual path and the end of living with wishes.

SN12.51:9.5: Anabhisaṅkharonto anabhisañcetayanto na kiñci loke upādiyati;
SN12.51:9.5: Not choosing or intending, they don’t grasp at anything in the world.