My translation of SN 22.79. Is it OK?

SN 22.79 has a very interesting description of the five aggregates, where it seems to describe the mental aggregates as mental faculties which perform certain functions, namely, it feels, it perceives, it constructs, it cognises or its nature is to feel, its nature is to perceive, its nature is to construct, its nature is to cognise. The various translations use the word “it”.

However, in relation to sankhara aggregate, both Bhikkhu Bodhi & Thanissaro depart from using the word “it”; and use the word “them”; & depart from viewing sankhara aggregate as a function but instead, particularly Bhikkhu Bodhi, appears to cling to one of the multiple sub-categories & translations of sankhara, namely, “volitional formations”.

Bhikkhu Bodhi translates as follows:

And why, bhikkhus, do you call it form (rūpaṃ)? ‘It is deformed (ruppatīti),’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called form. Deformed by what? Deformed by cold, deformed by heat, deformed by hunger, deformed by thirst, deformed by contact with flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun and serpents. ‘It is deformed,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called form.

And why, bhikkhus, do you call it feeling (vedanaṃ)? ‘It feels (vedayatīti),’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called feeling. And what does it feel? It feels pleasure, it feels pain, it feels neither-pain-nor-pleasure. ‘It feels,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called feeling.

And why, bhikkhus, do you call it perception (saññaṃ)? ‘It perceives (sañjānātīti),’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called perception. And what does it perceive? It perceives blue, it perceives yellow, it perceives red, it perceives white. ‘It perceives,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called perception.

And why, bhikkhus, do you call them volitional formations (saṅkhāre)? ‘They construct the conditioned (saṅ­kha­ta­mabhi­saṅ­kha­ron­tīti),’ bhikkhus, therefore they are called volitional formations. And what is the conditioned that they construct? They construct conditioned form as form; they construct conditioned feeling as feeling; they construct conditioned perception as perception; they construct conditioned volitional formations as volitional formations; they construct conditioned consciousness as consciousness. ‘They construct the conditioned,’ bhikkhus, therefore they are called volitional formations.

And why, bhikkhus, do you call it consciousness (viññāṇaṃ)? ‘It cognizes (vijānātīti), ’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called consciousness. And what does it cognize? It cognizes sour, it cognizes bitter, it cognizes pungent, it cognizes sweet, it cognizes sharp, it cognizes mild, it cognizes salty, it cognizes bland. ‘It cognizes,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called consciousness.

Bhikkhu Thanissaro translates:

And why do you call them ‘fabrications’? Because they fabricate fabricated things, thus they are called ‘fabrications.’ What do they fabricate as a fabricated thing? For the sake of form-ness, they fabricate form as a fabricated thing. For the sake of feeling-ness, they fabricate feeling as a fabricated thing. For the sake of perception-hood… For the sake of fabrication-hood… For the sake of consciousness-hood, they fabricate consciousness as a fabricated thing. Because they fabricate fabricated things, they are called fabrications.

Alternately, to make each translation of each aggregate consistent, I propose the following translation of sankhara aggregate:

And why, bhikkhus, do you call it constructing (sankhara)? 'It constructs (­abhi­saṅ­kha­ron­tī) conditioned phenomena (saṅ­kha­ta),’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called constructing. And what is the conditioned phenomena it constructs? It constructs conditioned form as ‘form’; it constructs conditioned feeling as ‘feeling’; it constructs conditioned perception as ‘perception’; it constructs conditioned formations as ‘formations’; it constructs conditioned consciousness as ‘consciousness’.

Is this translation OK?


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Not really. The fourth khandha consistently appears as plural in the Pali (including the passage above); the other khandhas as singular.


Thank you Dhammanando. Could you kindly explain what makes it plural? Regards. :seedling:

Saṅkhataṃ abhisaṅkharontī ti … saṅkhārā ti vuccati.

Plurality is indicated by the -nti ending in the verb and the ending in the noun. If it were singular it would be:

Saṅkhataṃ abhisaṅkharotī ti … saṅkhāro ti vuccati.


OK. Thanks. My intention was not to be an unlearned receiving a free Pali class.

The other aggregates also end with -ā, for example:

Kiñca, bhikkhave, saññaṃ vadetha? Sañjānātīti kho, bhikkhave, tasmā ‘saññā’ti

Kiñca, bhikkhave, vedanaṃ vadetha? Vedayatīti kho, bhikkhave, tasmā ‘vedanā’ti vuccati

However, the other aggregates all have aṃ, namely, rūpaṃ, vedanaṃ, saññaṃ & viññāṇaṃ. Where as ‘saṅkhāre’ does not.

So abhisaṅkharontī is not necessarily related to saṅkharonta (pr.p. of saṅkharoti) but is a plural of saṅkharonta & saṅkharoti

6th Conjugation (VI)
3rd Person
kar = "to do, make, work”; p. 36
Singular karoti
Plural karonti (they do, make, work)

Pali Verbs

saṅkhata (conditioned; prepared; produced by a cause) is a part particle of saṅkharoti


Is ‘saṅkhāre’ a masculine nominative in the 3rd person? :neutral_face:

Please be gentle. It is my first Pali attempt. :slightly_smiling_face:

essential condition; a thing conditioned, mental coefficients.

Saṅkhāra is a masculine noun. Its nominative singular form is saṅkhāro and its nominative plural form saṅkhārā.

But vedanā and saññā, are feminine nouns. In the singular they take the forms vedanā and saññā; in the plural they may be either vedanā and saññā or vedanāyo and saññāyo. The fact that they are singular here can be seen from the verb endings vedayati and sañjānāti. If they were plural the verbs would be vedayanti and sañjānanti.

In short, the noun ending can signify a number of different things in different instances, depending on the gender of the noun and which inflectional group it belongs to.

Rūpaṃ and viññāṇam are both neuter nouns. They take the singular ending -aṃ in both the nominative singular and accusative singular cases (i.e. both when they are the subject and when they are the object of a verb).

Vedanā and saññā, being feminine nouns, take the ending -aṃ in the singular accusative case only (i.e., only when they are the object of a verb).

Saṅkhāra can take the form saṅkhāraṃ too. This would be accusative singular, i.e., saṅkhāra would be the object of the verb. For example:

Avijjāgato yaṃ, bhikkhave, purisapuggalo puññaṃ ce saṅkhāraṃ abhisaṅkharoti, puññūpagaṃ hoti viññāṇaṃ.

"Bhikkhus, if a person immersed in ignorance generates a meritorious saṅkhāra, consciousness fares on to the meritorious."

I don’t understand what you’re saying here. The verb abhisaṅkharonti is certainly related to the participle saṅkharonta, inasmuch as both are formed from the same root (kṛ) and prefix (saṃ-). Semantically the addition of the further prefix abhi- might introduce some modification of meaning, but not necessarily. But since the verb saṅkharoti (and its participial derivatives) isn’t found in any of the early texts, whether its meaning is the same as or different from that of abhisaṅkharoti isn’t a matter of any great moment.

Saṅkhāre is the accusative plural form of saṅkhāra, a masculine noun. It’s the form used when two or more saṅkhāras are the object of the verb:

Yato kho, āvuso, ariyasāvako saṅkhāre ca pajānāti, saṅkhārasamudayañca pajānāti …

"When, friends, a noble disciple understands saṅkhāras, the origin of saṅkhāras …"


Amazing. Pali nouns. This may be the start of something new. Thank you again for your helpefulness, Dhammanando. Kataññutā :buddha:

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What specific semantic issues are you referring to? How does your translation add clarification or avoid ambiguity?

Thank you DYT. My proposed but erroneous translation did not intend to add very much clarification or avoid ambiguity. However, I suppose it might conform with anatta more. I have always felt the usual translations were incongruous with the text but obviously this was not so.

Kind regards :slightly_smiling_face:

Can saṅkhāra (alone) be a verb? Thanks

It can as a loanword in Thai, but in Pali it’s always a noun.

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OK. Thank again. Keep in mind, I am basically ignorant about grammar, be it English or Pali. 5:30am. Fresh mind. Here goes.

‘Accusative’ is the object of a verb, such as: “Why do you call it sankhare?” :slightly_smiling_face:

Therefore, all ‘what is it’ questions or ‘this is’ statements must be nominative? :neutral_face: Then we must identify the gender. For example:

  1. Katamo ca, bhikkhave, ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo? Magga is masculine, the question is obviously about a singular thing & in 3rd person, the word ‘maggo’ used, therefore it must be nominative.

  2. Pañcimāni bhikkhave, indriyāni. Indriya is neuter. The question is obviously plural & in 3rd person. Therefore, it fits nominative.

OK. :eyeglasses:

There are contexts in the Pali for which I personally would not change my position on therefore (to gain confidence in the Pali of the scholars) I will need to reconcile these positions if saṅkhāra is only a noun. Let me try:

  1. MN 44. Kati panāyye, saṅkhārā. Sankhara is nominative, the noun is masculine & in 3rd person, so I must assume the question is plural because saṅkhārā is used. Since the questioner asks: “How many sankharas are there?”, it must be plural. OK. :slightly_smiling_face:

  2. MN 44. Tayometayo āvuso visākha, saṅkhārā—kāyasaṅkhāro, vacīsaṅkhāro, cittasaṅkhāro. Here, the ‘saṅkhāra’ to me is without doubt a causal agent. Vacīsaṅkhāro causes speech and cittasaṅkhāro (perception & feeling) cause the various defilements of the citta. Therefore, here, the noun saṅkhāra must be ‘nominative’ & ‘plural’ (e.g. what are the ‘painters’ or ‘creators’) ; and the noun ‘saṅkhāro’ must be nominative & singular. These plurals & singulars conform with Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation :slightly_smiling_face: and deems Thanissaro’s translation to be incorrect, which I personally agree with based on my position :slightly_smiling_face:. In short, my translation for ‘saṅkhāro’ is ‘fabricator’ or ‘conditioner’ rather than ‘fabrication’ or ‘condition’. This is a noun (hopefully) & thus not fatal, where the noun denotes a ‘doer’ (noun) rather than ‘doing’ (verb).

  3. SN 38.14. Dukkhadukkhatā, saṅ­khā­ra­duk­khatā, vipari­ṇāma­duk­khatā. I won’t accept saṅ­khā­ra­ here means ‘conditioned things’ (namely, the five aggregates). I believe saṅ­khā­ra­ here refers to ‘conditioning’ or ‘constructing’ (‘papanca’) however, since this would be a ‘verb’, the translation ‘conditioning’ is obviously incorrect. Therefore, I can choose the translation ‘formations’, as in mental formations, similar to the definition in SN 22.79 we originally discussed. In short, my translation here is ‘suffering due to mental formations’.

  4. Similarly, for Dhp203, it is valid to translate: saṅkhāraparamādukhā: mental formations are the supreme suffering.


  1. Dhp154: Visaṅ­khā­ra­gataṃ. For me, vi-saṅ­khā­ra (Nibbana) here is obviously singular. Since it was ‘reached’ or ‘travelled to’ (gataṃ), it is accusative. Therefore, ‘sankhara’ seems to be OK. :slightly_smiling_face:

  2. MN 44. Ariyoariya panāyye, aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo saṅkhato udāhu asaṅkhato”ti?“Ariyo kho, āvuso visākha, aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo saṅkhato”ti. Saṅkhato, which sounds like an adjective (just guessing) is pp. of saṅkharoti, which is verb & therefore is unrelated to sankhara.

  3. Is there an error in the table below for the nominative 3rd person plural, which is “te” rather than “ta”.

Regards :dizzy_face:

visaṅkhāragataṃ cittaṃ

Cittaṃ is the subject of the clause and is therefore is in the nominative case. Visaṅkhāragataṃ is a participial adjective qualifying cittaṃ. It must therefore agree with cittaṃ in gender, number and case, which is to say it must be neuter, singular and nominative.

If your meaning is that when the compound visaṅkhāragataṃ is analysed into its parts, the visaṅkhāra- part should be understood as being in the accusative case, then this is correct. Or at least it appears to be the most plausible of the various ways one might analyse the compound. The visaṅkhāra- is something that is “gone to” and one of the syntactic functions of the accusative case is to indicate movement towards.

The compound as a whole is an example of a dutiya tappurisa-samāsa, or “accusative dependent determinate compound”. In such compounds the first item is always taken to be in the accusative case. For example:

araññagato = araññaṃ gato, gone to the forest.
sukhappatto = sukhaṃ patto, attained happiness.
saccavādi = saccaṃ vādi, speaking the truth.
kumbhakāro = kumbhaṃ kāro; a pot-maker, a potter.
pattagāho = pattaṃ gāho, receiving a bowl.
atthakāmo = atthaṃ kāmo, wishing the welfare of.

That one is an adjective and the other a noun doesn’t mean that they are not related but merely that they belong to different lexical categories. Etymologically they are related, having been constructed from an identical prefix and root.

No, te is correct for the masculine nominative plural of the third person pronoun.

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Thank you. However, you previously posted: “Saṅkhāra is a masculine noun. Its nominative singular form is saṅkhāro and its nominative plural form saṅkhārā”. Therefore I thought the nominative would end in “ā” rather than “e”.

Declension of masculine nouns ending in -a

Nominative case:

The case ending -o is added to the nominal base to form the nominative case singular number.
The case ending -ā is added to the nominal base to form the nominative case plural number.
A noun thus inflected is used as the subject of a sentence.

I couldn’t even work out why ‘kaye’ is not accusative 3rd person masculine plural in: kāye kāyānupassī & jānato kathaṃ passato imasmiñca saviññāṇake kāye so i am starting with Pali Primer.

Or maybe these are 2nd person & instrumental case? :dizzy_face:

Or maybe these are 1st person & accusative? :astonished:

Here are examples of writing in second person in do-it yourself or how-to writing:

To make lemonade, you add the juice of lemons to water and sugar.
You need to prepare a wall before applying primer.
When getting rid of a drain clog, first turn off the water.
To calculate the area of a room, multiply the width by the length.
You should use masking tape to hold a window pane in place before applying glazing compounds.
To add oil to your car engine, unscrew the cap, place a funnel inside, and slowly add the oil.

The chart you posted shows the inflection of pronouns, not of nouns. In your chart te, and tāni are the three genders of the third person plural pronoun: “they”. There is indeed some correspondence between the inflections of pronouns and those of nouns, e.g. tassa (“of him”) and buddhassa (“of the Buddha”) are both genitive and both take the ending -ssa. But not all the inflections are the same and so a student of Pali would be advised to learn them separately.

An -e inflection in a masculine noun like kāya, can indicate either the accusative plural or the locative singular (“in the body”, “with regard to the body”, etc.). In the above example it’s the locative.

Good luck. :eyeglasses:


OK. Thanks.

  1. Declension of masculine nouns ending in -a (contd.)

Locative case:

Case endings -e / -mhi / -smiṃ are added to the nominal base to form the locative singular.

The case ending -esu is added to form the locative plural.

So I should focus on the object (e.g. kaya) as the relevant noun as the 1st, 2nd or 3rd person and be unconcerned with any reference to other nouns (eg. the meditator) in determining the ‘person’?

Actually, starting with You Tube :nauseated_face:

Ahh the beauty of inflected languages :wink:

Don’t get too attached to declension tables. They help most of the time, but some words have non standard inflexion. I spent some time trying to find out what najjā is and where it came from. In the end it turned out to be dat./gen. of nadī (river). You would expect it to be nadiyā, and sometimes it is like that… sometimes not :wink:

If you get tired of primers, there is some great work on cases by O. H. de A. Wijesekera here:

There is also a lot of other texts useful for learning Pali on that page.


Thanks for that. It is good to know some Pali basics however I try to always keep in mind my meditative experience.

It is encouraging to read even Bhikkhu Bodhi changed some of his Satiptthana translations from edition to edition & from Nikaya to Nikaya.

Yesterday I was looking at “kāye kāyānupassī”. I was satisfied “kāye” is singular but I got stuck on whether the “kāyā” is singular or plural? However, I would find it difficult to accept kāyā is singular because in MN 118 it is importantly or crucially taught:

I say that this is a certain body among the bodies, namely, in-breathing and out-breathing.

I tell you, monks, that this — the in-&-out breath — is classed as a body among bodies

Bhikkhus, I say that the in-breaths and the out-breaths are certain bodies among all bodies.

In other words the translation that makes sense to me is: “the bhikkhu dwells as a contemplater of bodies in the body”.


I will look into: Kāyesu kāyaññatarāhaṃ, bhikkhave, evaṃ vadāmi yadidaṃ—assāsapassāsā

Since I have yet to work out how to read compound words, my guess is:

  1. “kāya” is accusative therefore singular.

  2. “Kāyesu” is locative therefore plural.

This matches Thanissaro’s: “I tell you, monks, that this — the in-&-out breath — is classed as a body among bodies”, which I will tenaciously cling to because it satisfies my personal view. :dizzy_face:

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