On āyusaṅkhāra and jīvitasaṅkhāra

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Oh, okay. Yes, this is pretty much the bhavataṇhā that the Buddha spoke of.


I’d say it’s more than just that in Schopenhauer’ s thought. But yes, he examined what we would call bhava from different interesting angles. Interestingly he was very interested in Buddhism and spoke very highly of it! He would have been very curious about an essay such as this you wrote here!


This would seem to be determined by kamma (as well), among other things like genetics, disease, etc. Intention to limit ones lifespan maybe possible. We hear of old couples where one partner dies soon after the other one does, maybe doing this unconsciously.

Bhanthe Sujato’s simile here of the life support system was a good one. The engine has been stopped but the momentum still keeps the boat going, but not very long, the way I see it. I suspect this is a very rare occurrence, that someone is able to kill of (literally) their ‘determination’ to live. It’s more in line with an intention that lasts (literally) a lifetime! This has more in common with a well developed second step of the N8FP- Right intention or determination (adhitthana?) that would last a lifetime too, if not more.

with metta


Not necessarily, bhante. There are known cases when people stopped “willing to live” for real, not like those thinking of or performing suicide. Examples: and old man, who dies shortly after his wife died, because he has nothing left in this life (otherwise his health was okay for his age); or a person who loses everything and just really stops wanting to live, and dies without any suicide attempts, gradually “fading”, otherwise being healthy initially.
It’s just that perhaps the perceived will to live and real will to live are different things. Like with certain physical powers: an athlete might think he really wants to lift that weight, but can versus an ordinary man that lifts a car with bare hands to get his child from under it. Normally these “real” wills are shielded from the working consciousness. Considering the level at which our nervous system controls bodily processes, I do not see any physiological restrictions to “willfully” stop the life in the body, without inflicting any external harm to it, if you have a mind trained as much as Buddha had.


That’s why I said “might”.


So it seems you are suggesting there are two things going on: the giving up of the will to live and the cutting off of life. Is this right?

The context in DN 16 is that the Buddha decides not to prolong his life using the iddhipādas. To me this seems to refer solely to the giving up the will to live. No additional cutting off of life seems to be required.

Sorry to bother you with this, but it seems important to me. What you are suggesting is almost tantamount to suicide, which is an interesting possibility. I am wondering, however, whether the expression “giving up the life force” might just be an indirect way of saying giving up the will to live.


I’m noticing that the terms in question could be read either way, and trying to determine which is the correct reading. Since the unambiguous passages mean “life force”, it would take a strong contextual reason to adopt another reading in an ambiguous context. Since there doesn’t seem to be such a reason, I conclude that the terms always mean “life force”.

It’s not an additional cutting off: if my reasoning is correct, it is simply that the words mean “cut off the life force”, not “cut off the will to live”.

I avoided making inferences about the philosophical and ethical implications, as I wanted to clarify the terms first. Nevertheless, I think that implication could be there no matter how the term is interpreted. But it is of course a special case.

It might, but I see no contextual reason for it.


Yes, although the “relinquishing of the life force” obviously implies the giving up of the will to live, whereas the reverse may or may not be true, depending on what "life force " refers to.

The problem I have with “relinquishing the life force” is that it seems semi-mystical. I tend to prefer a non-mystical interpretation if this is at all possible.

It seems to me that “(semi-)mysticism” often is a result of later interpolation or interpretation, and I am wondering if this might not be the case here too. The words āyusaṅkhāra and jīvitasaṅkhāra are rare and as such it is not clear if we should expect them to bear a standard meaning. In other words, rare words are more likely to be used idiomatically according to time and place, including different meanings depending on the time period the word was used. So for example, it is quite possible these words will not be used in exactly the same way in the Milinda as compared to the suttas. Indeed, it is quite possible these words are not used consistently within the suttas themselves, since the few suttas in which they occur seem to be relatively late (DN 16, MN 43, etc.).

You mention in your little essay that there may be a distinction in meaning between the plural and the singular of jīvitasaṅkhāra, but you then dismiss this, in part, it seems, on the basis that this distinction does not exist for āyusaṅkhāra. This argument is based on the usage of āyusaṅkhāra in the Milinda. If we disregard this late usage, however, then the same possible distinction in meaning between the plural and the singular also applies to āyusaṅkhāra. On the basis of this, it could then be that the plural form (of both jīvitasaṅkhāra and āyusaṅkhāra) refers to “life forces”, referring to some semi-mystical forces, where as the singular refers more directly to “the will to live”. The difference between the two is not as great as it may seem when we take into account the fact that the former must include the latter. That is, you cannot “give up the life force” without also “giving up the will to live”.

In the end I don’t know. But it seems to me that this is not quite cut and dried.


I would agree that this has little to do with ‘prana’, chi etc. but more a mental fabrication (sankhara or abhisankhara) and the ‘will to live’ maybe suitable, though giving up the ‘will to live’ also sounds a little off. I also think giving up the life force can be take literally or idiomatically- it would be preferable if everyone automatically did the latter, as it sounds more positive, but that is not guaranteed. Maybe a slight variation like ‘letting-go of the will to live’ might make it less negative and more in line with spirit it was intended in the original texts. However the best option should be determined, and bearing in mind that it is an important but not the most important word and rather rare one at that.

with metta


I agree with all you say, I too don’t think it’s cut and dried. But I still think my reading is the simplest interpretation of the evidence. “Life force” doesn’t have to have a mystical meaning, it could just be read biologically. In fact it’s probably just an ordinary language term, without implying any specific theory, whether metaphysical or biological.


Bhante, I just thought of the following and was not sure whether to post it or not. It may sound ridiculous, if it is the case just ignore it.
I think ayusankhara is just a term coined after the fact. For example, when we say man, woman or child etc we use conventional labels to refer to sankhara because there is no such thing as man, woman or child in reality. Similarly, in the case of ayu too, it is a term coined after the fact to refer to the Buddha’s intention to let go of the process of sankhara. According to dependent origination, it is the intention which keeps the bodily, verbal and mental sankhara going indefinitely. The Buddha, due to his penetration of ignorance decided at will to stop the continuity of sankhara. Therefore, there is no giving up of will to live which in mundane terms can be interpreted as committing suicide. Because in the final analysis even that will is dependently arisen. I think what is required is to understand sankhara in relation to DO and just stop that continuity with intention.

If this makes any sense please offer your thoughts.
With Metta



“This body must lose three things before it lies forsaken, tossed aside like an insentient log: vitality, warmth, and consciousness.”

“Yadā kho, āvuso, imaṃ kāyaṃ tayo dhammā jahanti—āyu usmā ca viññāṇaṃ; athāyaṃ kāyo ujjhito avakkhitto seti, yathā kaṭṭhaṃ acetanan”ti.

Just my humble opinion:

āyusaṅkhāra simply refer to the natural process of growing up then growing old and dying( Jarāmarana)

Again from MN43

Suppose there was an oil lamp burning. The light appears dependent on the flame, and the flame appears dependent on the light.
In the same way, life depends on warmth to continue, and warmth depends on life to continue.”

Seyyathāpi, āvuso, telappadīpassa jhāyato acciṃ paṭicca ābhā paññāyati, ābhaṃ paṭicca acci paññāyati;
evameva kho, āvuso, āyu usmaṃ paṭicca tiṭṭhati, usmā āyuṃ paṭicca tiṭṭhatī”ti.

In a modern sense usmā(heat) might be thought of as the process of metabolism.

My belief is the buddha has mastery over all jīvitasaṅkhāras.

“What is sovereignty in the world?
“Mastery is sovereignty in the world;

Kiṃsu issariyaṃ loke
Vaso issariyaṃ loke

“relinquished the āyusaṅkhāra” , might simply mean he relinquished control or management of āyusaṅkhāra and simply let it take it’s natural cause.