Other than Sankata and Asankata

Is there a third end besides Sankata and Asankata? Is there any sutta reference that mentions there is no third end other than Sankata and Asankata?

1 Like

Well, if there is a third it’s irrelevant:

Katame dve dhammā abhiññeyyā? Dve dhātuyo— saṅkhatā ca dhātu asaṅkhatā ca dhātu. Ime dve dhammā abhiññeyyā.

  • DN 34
1 Like

Thank you very much bhante. I have heard there is a sutta statement saying there is no third end besides sankata and asankata. But I could not find it.

1 Like

There might be. I didn’t look super hard :blush:

1 Like

‘Sankhata’ means constructed, made, prepared, built, or formed. In the early Buddhist context, it refers specifically to the world that is constructed through our choices and craving in the cycle of rebirth. The related term ‘sankhāra’ or verb ‘(abhi)sankharoti,’ refer to volitions or intentions that are expressed in action and propel our consciousness forward into more constructed states of being that are shaped by those intentional activities. The end of ‘building’ worlds, of constructed or formed states, is the cessation of this process of rebirth. This is called ‘asankhata,’ meaning freedom from, the absence of, the end of, or the non-doing of what is ‘sankhata.’ It is simply a negation of that first state — rebirths made from ignorant choices and craving. So it doesn’t really make sense for there to be a “third” option.

Say we have an apple. And we have the option to keep the apple, or remove the apple. The idea of a ‘third’ option is irrelevant here. Trading the apple for an orange would still be ‘removing the apple,’ and adding another thing to it is keeping the apple. Apologies for the crude and imperfect analogy.

The key is that the Buddha’s insight specifically was that all existence is constructed and built up, liable to fall apart. Everything is an apple, and removing the apple is the only other option. The Buddha’s insight is that there is no escape in some kind of un-conditioned existence. Rather, he shifted the emphasis to the ending of the problem as being the solution, not some other solution that is after or beyond the ending of the problem. The end of suffering itself is the happiness.

1 Like

Namo Buddhaya!

There is no third element on that level of abstraction

This two-fold classification includes everything cognized through the allness of everything and that which isn’t.

That which is cognized through the allness of everything is the constructed.

That which is not cognized through the allness of everything is the unconstructed.

The end of the constructed is discerned because there is the unconstructed and not because there is an end to the discernment of the constructed other than the discernment of the unconstructed coming into play.

The reasoning is analogically similar to how one thinks about the change in one’s posture if one disregards the inbetween as being neither nor (eg neither sitting up nor lying down).

For example, one who was walking, now stands when having stopped. If there was no discernment of the standing posture then the stopping would not be possible. The stopping as not-moving here is discerned as the standing posture and not because there is a discernment of a ‘stopping posture’. The stopping is not one of the postures but merely a description of one constructed element in relation to another constructed element.

And so cessation & nibbana are descriptions of the relation between the constructed & unconstructed rather than something apart from the two.

1 Like

It’s actually the best question i’ve seen in almost a decade.

1 Like

AN3.47 says something about sankhata and asankhata. You know that. It does not look like asankhata is simply a negation. It is explained as the opposite in characterof sankhata: No arising is seen, no cessation and no change while it last.

Yes, but does he really teach that…all existence is impermanent, comes with suffering, is liable to end…so…it is better not to exist? (as lifestream)

I do not believe the Buddha was such a nihilistic pessimist. I believe he has also something positive to say.

I believe he found that what is not liable to fall apart. What supports this is SN43 which says the Buddha teaches the Path to the constant, stable, not-desintegrating, the truth…is the truth a mere cessation?? Non-existence?

Also MN115 does not treat asankhata as simply a negation. It says:
There are, Ananda, these two elements: the conditioned element and the unconditioned element.
When he knows and sees these two elements, a bhikkhu can be called skilled in the elements."

Also Ud8.3 is quit convincing that asankhata is not simply a negation of sankhata.

So, for me it is an interpretation that asankhata is simply a negation of sankhata. And I do not feel the sutta’s really support this view, like i tried to illustrate.

I do not think that anything does not fall under seen arising and ceasing and changing And not seen arising, ceasing and changing.

1 Like

You perhaps cannot find a Sutta, but most obviously there is no the third option, there is anankhata dhatu, and to use plural form here is not proper, and all other things are sankhata. It means they co-exist, they are dependent on other things which determine their presence in experience.

So all items in dependent arising are sankhata dhamma. But they are also sankharas, things on which sankhata dhammas depend.

And ignorance in dependent arising can be stated as not knowledge of asankhata dhatu.

It is good to have such perspective, when one reflects on dependent arising.

1 Like

sometimes, Pannatti is mentioned as the third end. Thats why the problem arose.

thank you very much for all of you. Finally I found it in SuttaCentral. Kv 1.1 Puggalakatha.
Theravādin: But was it not said by the Exalted One:

“There are, bhikkhus, these two irreducible categories—what are the two? The irreducible category of the conditioned, the irreducible category of the unconditioned. These are the two”?

Is the Suttanta thus?

Puggalavādin: Yes.

Theravādin: Hence it is surely wrong to say that apart from the conditioned and the unconditioned, there is another, a third alternative.

1 Like

Logic dictates that a pairs of terms, in which one asserts the absence of the other, always form a dualism. Aristotle called this the law of the excluded middle. P and not-P (¬P) logically describe all the possibilities. There is no “third alternative” to P and ¬P. And as Buddhists pointed out, this means that “both P and ¬P” and “neither P nor ¬P” are not alternative possibilities either.

While in modern logics we can play around with this—fuzzy logic allows states such as 0.5 P and 0.5 ¬P—such ideas were not present in pre-modern India, so we don’t have to consider them in trying to understand Pāli.

I think of it like this:

A saṅkhata dhamma is a phenomenon that arises in dependence on the presence of some condition.

An asaṅkhata dhamma is one that occurs when all conditions for experience are absence. In Pāli there is only one of these, i.e. nibbāna. Some other Buddhists thought that space was an asaṅkhata dhamma also.

I agree with the Pāli-wallahs that it only makes sense to speak of one asaṅkhata dhamma. We cannot experience space in the abstract and in nibbāna all sense of location, extension, and orientation in space is absent.

The principle way of cultivating the asaṅkhata dhamma is by amanasikāra or “inattention [to sensory experience].” Prajñāpāramitā Buddhism (which is probably as old as Pāli Buddhism) uses the term anupalambhayoga “the practice of nonapprehension”.

If attention is a necessary condition for having an experience, then by withdrawing attention from the sensorium using the self-hypnotic techniques of meditation, one prevents experience from arising. Taken to the extreme, by withdrawing all attention from experience, we stop having experiences for a period of time.

If there is some kind of experience happening in your mind, then all of that is saṅkhata. And that’s just experience. And, in the seen only the seen. Compared to nibbāṇa (the absence of sensory experience), sensory experience is not very interesting (apparently).

If by contrast there is no experience of any kind, then that is asaṅkhata. And afterwards you cannot say anything at all about the absence of experience. All we can do is talk about the consequences of undergoing cessation and the prolonged absence of sensory experience.

Buddhist soteriology is ultimately based on the possibility of an asaṅkhata dhamma and in practice on the attainment of that state of absence of sensory experience. In this case, Buddhist doctrine conforms to the dictates of logic.

It’s worth adding that Buddhists have always dabbled in the more interesting saṅkhata states—e.g. bliss, rapture, oceanic boundary loss, etc—and that in practice these states are also important to Buddhism. However, such states can easily be misinterpreted from a Buddhist point of view.

1 Like

But it is distinguished from sankhata as not seen arising, ceasing and changing in the meantime.
I think it is better to say, like buddhist do, it reveals in stead of it arises in dependence.?

I am also a Buddhist saying things.

But yes, an asaṅkhata dhamma doesn’t “arise” as an experience might arise. It’s the state in which no experiences are arising or ceases. It is not that being in that state, something else has arisen, it’s that experience has ceased.

One might also say that all people experience the same thing when they experience asaṅkhata dhamma, which is nothing.

The asaṅkhata dhamma is simply the state that occurs when no other states are occuring. A kind of default state of awareness without content: which is why neuroscientists are interested in it nowadays.

Namo Buddhaya!

As i see it,

You are contradicting your own logic

The semantic target of the term ‘nothing’ is neither P nor ¬P or something apart from the two, rather it is the symbolized negation ¬ that there is in describing the two possibilities.

The logic is

If P then not ¬P
If ¬P then not P

The only way to weave the concept of ‘nothing’ into this is if one was to make a statement

If P then nothing of ¬P
If ¬P then nothing of P

But it is a fallacy to derive

‘If not P then nothing’ as in ‘¬P is not true’

Because that negates ¬P as a possibily and ‘nothing’ was never a possibility in the first place.

One cannot derive


Because ‘¬’ by itself is not a possibility but a description, as in distinguishing mark, of the relation between the two possibilities.


P is something
¬P is something else

Rather than

P is something
¬P is nothing

It’s an easy mistake to make because there are many permutations of correct expression where one would only want to talk about the negation of P without mentioning ¬P being a possibility.

For example one would say ‘buddha attained parinibbana long time ago’

This negates the constructed in the constructed in describing the constructed world wherein negation occured.

This is why you were inclined to say that asankhata arises in the first place.

However the statement ‘buddha attained parinibbana long time ago’ has no term directly referencing the unconstructed.

The term Parinibbana, a final extinguishment, doesn’t have the same semantic target as asankhata but it is implied, lest one got the meaning wrong, that the parinibbana of the sankhata would not be possible if the asankhata wasn’t a possibility.

Therefore parinibbana is neither the constructed, nor the unconstructed, nor something apart from the two possibilities, rather it is the negation that there is.

This mistake leads to thinking how an atheist would think about death of the arahants, ‘nothing left of what was, the world goes on’.

Because these people also do not include ¬P as a possibility and to them the expression ‘¬P = nothing’ is also agreeable because to them there is only one element

The constructed and whatever negated is also something constructed in the aggregate of constructed things.

For both of these people, there being only one fold classification of everything, they conceive of no alternative to the constructed, and so they conceive of nothing in it’s place.
Therefore they can only conceive of a negation of something constructed in the aggregate of the constructed things, and it cannot be that they would rightly conceive of the asankhata whilst being locked into that fallacy.

This is the exact reasoning manifest as is here

P is something
¬P is nothing

Yes! It was not meant to say otherwise. Sorry for the bad formulating.

I cannot comment on what you say but thanks.

I can add that the eternalist also operates with a single-fold classification but he ends up asserting that

The constructed is something
The unconstructed is something

And it will follow that

The unconstructed is actually constructed but is just called otherwise after having become pleasant & eternal.

He might say it is like i showed before

The constructed is something
The unconstructed is something else

But if one interrogates him, it will reveal that he is just delineating a difference in one same something which stops changing, rather than positing a possible alternative to that, for he lacks a two-fold classification of everything.

To sum up these last two posts

There are two elements

P and ¬P

The annihilationist asserts that


The eternalist asserts that


And both assert that there is only one true element being described both in terms of P and ¬P.

  • The eternalist thinks it is the mind wherein the world exists
  • The annihilationist thinks it is the world wherein the mind exists
  • The eternalist thinks that the world & everything in it does not really exist, exactly like one would say that about the content of a dream.
  • The annihaltionist, on the other side, thinks that the world & everything in it does really exists, exactly opposite unlike a dream.
  • The eternalist thinks that ¬/extinguishment/cessation also does not really exist
  • The annihaltionist thinks that the ¬/extinguishment/cessation also does really exist
  • The eternalist thinks that after nibbana there is something further to the mind but not the world.
  • The annihilationist thinks that after nibbana there is something further to the world but not the mind.

I hope it clears things up for somebody

It’s not my logic. It’s Aristotle’s logic. The law of the excluded middle—P ∨ ¬P —is not a proposition. It is an axiom. You cannot do conventional logic without it. The axiom cannot be proved or disproved.

As I said, a- is not always a straightforward negation. I read asaṅkhata as a bahuvrīhi indicating an “absence of saṅkhata”, not a new independent category of “nothing”. One cannot define “nothing” as an entity because that would be a contradiction. And I also respect Aristotle’s law of noncontradiction.

I defined my terms this way:

If you are experiencing something (P) then you are not experiencing nothing (¬P).
If you are experiencing nothing (¬P), then you are not experiencing something (P).

In logic notation this would be:

If P then ¬(¬P).
If ¬P then ¬(P)

And this boils down to the valid statement: P ∨ ¬P

And P ∨ ¬P is simply a restatement of the law of excluded middle.

I don’t have to invent a special concept of “nothing”. Because I have already defined P is all possible experiences (= saṃsāra, duḥkha), and ¬P as the absence of all possible experiences (= nirvāṇa, śūnyatā).

Please note the epistemic character of my argument. I make no claim that we can infer from the fact that experience can cease, that something exists or doesn’t exist. The argument is not about metaphysics at all; it’s about experiences and especially about the cessation of experience.

Thus my approach is generally consistent with early Buddhist and Prajñāpāramitā literature; as well as being consistent with Aristotelian logic, and, as far as I am able to discern, consistent with reality.

1 Like

For my part, I am not referencing metaphysical terms like “existence” or “non-existence” at all. I don’t think these terms are even applicable to this discussion. As I understand it, the topic concerns epistemology, not metaphysics.

The problem seems to be that you are treating saṅkhata as a standalone abstract concept. You have lost sight of the fact that saṅkhata is an adjective. Strictly speaking, it is a past participle being used adjectivally but it amounts to the same thing. You want to treat saṅkhata as a noun. This is incoherent both grammatically and philosophically. This is why it’s useful to learn Pāli, eh?

Saṅkhata is a quality; it is not an entity. And in Buddhism this is a quality of dhammas; where “a dhamma” refers to the objects of the manas or mind-sense.

1 Like