Sankhara in SN 22.79

Dear all,

In SN 22.79 we found definition of each aggregate (khandha), among of them there is definition of sankhara:

“And why, bhikkhus, do you call them volitional formations? ‘They construct the conditioned,’ 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.

While all other aggregates are defined roughly the same as other suttas definition of five agregates (e.g. SN 22.56), the sankhara definition here is denoting to sankhara as conditioned phenomena, i.e all the five aggregates, including sankhara as aggregrate. It seems this definition is out of context for sankhara as one of the aggregates, it should be defined as six classes of volition as in SN 22.56 or something like that.

Why SN 22.79 defined sankhara as conditioned phenomena, but not as volitional formation as it should be? Is it a possiblity of expansion of sankhara definition as aggregate to cover all mental factors excluding feeling and perception (as in Abhidhamma definition of sankharakhandha)?

Thank you


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Hmmm no response… Maybe this is not a spesific question with a spesific anwer so I moved it to general discussion category :slight_smile:

The Pali says -

kho, bhikkhave, tasmā ‘saṅkhārā’ti vuccati.

The focus is on the verb abhisaṅkharoti (fashions/creates/generates). This articulates the function of volition as the maker of “conditioned states”.


@Sylvester @seniya

What’s the significance of the ending -attāya? Ṭhānissaro seems to take this as a suffix -ness or -hood. But other translations I know seems to ignore it altogether.

Sorry, I don’t have knowledge in Pali :slight_smile:

Hi Piotr

Take a quick look first at fn 113 to this sutta in BB’s translation. There he translates the Comy explanation. I’m not I agree with that translation of the Comy, as it does not quite sit neatly with the Comy explanation for a similar construct itthattaaya in DN 15.

It’s permissible to translate ruupattaaya as Ven T has done, this being the dative sg of ruupatta, the abstract noun “formness”. I agree that this is a dative of purpose, giving “for the sake of”.

But should it be “for the sake of formness”? The Comy suggests that it means ruupabhaavaaya = “for the sake of form coming to be”.

This makes sense in light of itthattaaya in DN 15, which the Comy explains as itthambhaavaaya.

Sorry, typed on phone.


Just to note that the parallel at SA 46 appears to have a similar content in this regard.

I’m not quite sure that I see why it is problematic. The point of the definition is to make clear that among the aggregates, it is sankhara i.e. ethically potent choices, that are the productive or creative element, forming the other aggregates into their shape. It is of course an awkward translation situation, having to straddle these disparate meanings, but I don’t think that is your problem here.

I rendered the passage like this, and on checking, I’m quite happy with it:

And why do you call them choices? Choices produce conditioned phenomena; that’s why they’re called ‘choices’. And what are the conditioned phenomena that they produce? Form is a conditioned phenomenon; choices are what make it into form. Feeling is a conditioned phenomenon; choices are what make it into feeling. Perception is a conditioned phenomenon; choices are what make it into perception. Choices are conditioned phenomena; choices are what make them into choices. Consciousness is a conditioned phenomenon; choices are what make it into consciousness. Choices produce conditioned phenomena; that’s why they’re called ‘choices’.

It is indeed the abstractive ending. But it’s an idiomatic usage and there’s no need to represent it in the translation. It’s simply used in such cases to refer to something being made what it is, or being formed into such a state.


I took this sutta to mean something somewhat different- that is that sankhara might mean any relatively high level mental fabrication (compared to vedana and sanna that is), that could be misperceived as part of a self. So
rupa-sankhara -mental images
vedana-sankhara - enjoyable fantasy feelings or past memory of such feelings
sanna-sankhara - identification of past memories
sankhara-sankhara: past intentions remembered
consciousness-sankhara: remembering past awareness

Deeper interpretation could mean intention giving rise to such things, or even kamma giving rise to the five aggregates in the next life I suppose.

with metta

Bhante, how do you get “itchy” from the sutta title, Khajjanīya? B.Bodhi has “devoured”. The dictionary shows “to be eaten”.

The 9 cemetary contemplations I chant every day, the 2nd one:
"kakehi va khajjamanam, / crows devour (the corpse)
kulalehi va khajjamanam, / hawks devour it
vultures devour it,
dogs devour it,
jackals devour it,
worms and bugs devour it.

Yeah, I also wondered that when I saw the translation! Luckily, I made a note so I can remember why I did it:

Khajja is from the root to eat. But it also has the idiomatic meaning “to itch”. The English word “itch” is likewise derived from “eat”. In this case, I’m not clear on what it means to say these things “devour” you. The comm explains it as “itch” (see BB’s note) and for once I’m inclined to agree with them. At least it gives a straightforward meaning. It’s parallel with “tormented”.


B.Sujato’s translation from SN 22.79, “itch” instead of “devour”:

A noble disciple reflects on this: Tatra, bhikkhave, sutavā ariyasāvako iti paṭisañcikkhati: ‘Currently I’m itched by form. ‘ahaṃ kho etarahi rūpena khajjāmi. In the past I was also itched by form just like now. Atītampāhaṃ addhānaṃ evameva rūpena khajjiṃ, seyyathāpi etarahi paccuppannena rūpena khajjāmi. If I were to look forward to enjoying form in the future, I’d be itched by form in the future just as I am today.’ Ahañceva kho pana anāgataṃ rūpaṃ abhinandeyyaṃ, anāgatampāhaṃ addhānaṃ evameva rūpena khajjeyyaṃ, seyyathāpi etarahi paccuppannena rūpena khajjāmī’ti. Reflecting like this they don’t worry about past form, So iti paṭisaṅkhāya atītasmiṃ rūpasmiṃ anapekkho hoti; they don’t look forward to enjoying future form, anāgataṃ rūpaṃ nābhinandati; and they practice for the disillusionment, fading away, and cessation of present form.

Does “itch” have an international meaning that Americans don’t understand? IMO “itch” is too understated for the context. An infinite round of rebirths in samsara oppressed by the 5 khandhas is an unbearable burden, tormenting at the least, it figuratively is like being devoured. “itching” just feels too trivial, like it could be worthwhile to still continue revolving in samsara if the only price was itchiness.

A song from the 80’s goes something like this: “whoah here she comes, she’s a man-eater, watch out boys she’ll chew you up.” I think the figurative meaning of “devour” and “eating” is a pretty universally understood simile and timeless.

That said, I’m not trying to change your mind Bhante. I don’t think “itchiness” is wrong, and I do think it’s great to have some different translations out there to provoke our mind, as that sometimes leads to new revelations.

But I do have a question, from the perspective of translators from pali to other languages, who consult your english trans. as a reference. The same word khajjati, you translate the same as Bodhi. in AN 6.29, with “devour” instead of “itchy”.

Or suppose they were to see a corpse thrown in a charnel ground being devoured by crows, hawks, vultures, herons, dogs, tigers, leopards, jackals, and many kinds of little creatures. Seyyathāpi vā pana passeyya sarīraṃ sīvathikāya chaṭṭitaṃ kākehi vā khajjamānaṃ kulalehi vā khajjamānaṃ gijjhehi vā khajjamānaṃ sunakhehi vā khajjamānaṃ siṅgālehi vā khajjamānaṃ vividhehi vā pāṇakajātehi khajjamānaṃ.

Would it be better to stick with either “itchy” or “devour” in as many contexts as possible as long as the meaning is clear? Thanissaro threw me off many times, for example, with “samadhi” when he chose different english translations for that same word to try to capture fine nuances in different contexts, whereas Bodhi stuck with conjugations of “concentration” in every instance I can recall.