Sankhārā in the context of dependent origination and five aggregates

How does the meaning of sankhārā differ in the second link of dependent origination from the usage as one of the five clinging aggregates? Please give sutta references.

As I understand it, sankhārā in the context of the five aggregates refers to the aspect of the mind that wills and intends, and is that aspect of the mind that reacts to experience. See SN 22.57:

Katame ca, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā? Chayime, bhikkhave, cetanākāyā—rūpasañcetanā … pe … dhamma­sañ­cetanā. Ime vuccanti, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā.

And what, bhikkhus, are volitional formations? There are these six classes of volition: volition regarding forms … volition regarding mental phenomena. This is called volitional formations.

In this context, they are the inclinations that occur before conscious thought arises (although thoughts are sankhārās too, in the general sense of conditioned phenomena). When sankhārās are used in this context, even arahants still have sankhārās. But they would not have sankhārās in the context of dependent origination, which are those sankhārās that are rooted in ignorance and lead to further becoming.

As I understand sankhārā in the context of dependent origination, it refers to those inclinations, views, intentions that are rooted in ignorance and lead ultimately to dukkha. In particular, it is those sankhārās that assume a self in experience. See SN 22.81:

And how, bhikkhus, should one know, how should one see, for the immediate destruction of the taints to occur? Here, bhikkhus, the uninstructed worldling, who is not a seer of the noble ones and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, who is not a seer of superior persons and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, regards form as self. That regarding, bhikkhus, is a formation. That formation—what is its source, what is its origin, from what is it born and produced? When the uninstructed worldling is contacted by a feeling born of ignorance-contact, craving arises: thence that formation is born.

Wanting continued existence, aspiring for a certain rebirth, and various views of self are these kinds of sankhārās. And while these are mental sankhārās, the underlying ignorance there can lead to verbal and bodily sankhārās, leading ultimately to dukkha. See SN 12.2:

And what, bhikkhus, are the volitional formations? There are these three kinds of volitional formations: the bodily volitional formation, the verbal volitional formation, the mental volitional formation. These are called the volitional formations.

As I understand it from my own experience, due to ignorance, one creates ignorance-tainted sankhārās (mental constructions, creating fixed entities out of the flow of experience). One of these sankhārās is consciousness, the creation of a subject that is experiencing things. If there is a subject, there must necessarily be objects (a world) to experience, which is furnished by nama-rupa. Now the duality is established and the scene is set for dukkha to arise.

As you probably know, sankhārā can also be a more general term denoting something that is conditioned or something that conditions.

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Sankhara specifically as applied to the paticcasamuppada:

'In the suttas the word occurs in three major doctrinal contexts. One is in the twelvefold formula of dependent origination (paticca-samuppada), where the sankharas are the second link in the series. They are said to be conditioned by ignorance and to function as a condition for consciousness. Putting together statements from various suttas, we can see that the sankharas are the kammically active volitions responsible for generating rebirth and thus for sustaining the onward movement of samsara, the round of birth and death. In this context sankhara is virtually synonymous with kamma, a word to which it is etymologically akin.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_43.html

with metta

M

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SN 22.81 states the ‘formation’ arises after ignorance-contact rather than before.

This translation appears to be incorrect since the term “volitional” (­_ceta­nā_) does not appear in the Pali, which is:

Katame ca bhikkhave saṅkhārā? Tayome bhikkhave, saṅkhārā: kāyasaṅkhāro vacīsaṅkhāro cittasaṅkhāro. Ime vuccanti bhikkhave, saṅkhārā. SN 12.2

SN 12.25 appears to clearly distinguish between bodily volition (kāya­sañ­ceta­nā­) & the kāyasaṅkhāro (which is defined as ‘in & out breathing’ in MN 44 and MN 118).

SN 12.12 appears to not support your own experience, since it clearly states there is no “who” that cognises, feels, craves or attaches. The “who” or “entity” arises at attachment & becoming according to SN 12.2 rather than at ‘sankhara’, similar to SN 22.81. SN 12.2 seems to state “entities” or “beings” (“satta”) are fully formed at “jati”. SN 23.2 & SN 5.10 may also be helpful here.

Katamā ca bhikkhave, jāti? Yā tesaṃ tesaṃ sattānaṃ (beings) tamhi tamhi sattanikāye (beings) jāti sañjāti okkanti nibbatti abhinibbatti, khandhānaṃ pātubhāvo āyatanānaṃ paṭilābho, ayaṃ vuccati bhikkhave, jāti. SN 12.2

:seedling:

The Pali is here:

Katame ca bhikkhave saṅkhārā? Tayome bhikkhave, saṅkhārā: kāyasaṅkhāro vacīsaṅkhāro cittasaṅkhāro. Ime vuccanti bhikkhave, saṅkhārā. SN 12.2

The terms ‘kāyasaṅkhāro vacīsaṅkhāro cittasaṅkhāro’ are defined in MN 44.

Assāsapassāsā kho, āvuso visākha, kāyasaṅkhāro, vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro, saññā ca vedanā ca cittasaṅkhāro”ti.

In-&-out breaths are bodily fabricators. Directed thought & evaluation are verbal fabricators. Perceptions & feelings are mind fabricators.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu provides his explanation in Shape of Suffering, pages 3 to 6, as I understand it from my own experience.

:seedling:

Yañca, bhikkhave, ceteti yañca pakappeti yañca anuseti, ārammaṇametaṃ hoti viññāṇassa ṭhitiyā.

At Savatthī. “Bhikkhus, what one intends, and what one plans, and whatever one has a tendency towards: this becomes a basis for the maintenance of consciousness. When there is a basis there is a support for the establishing of consciousness. When consciousness is established and has come to growth, there is a descent of name-and-form. With name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases. SN12.39

Kāye vā hānanda, sati kāya­sañ­ceta­nā­hetu uppajjati ajjhattaṃ sukhadukkhaṃ. Vācāya vā hānanda, sati vacī­sañ­ceta­nā­hetu uppajjati ajjhattaṃ sukhadukkhaṃ. Mane vā hānanda, sati mano­sañ­ceta­nā­hetu uppajjati ajjhattaṃ sukhadukkhaṃ avijjāpaccayā ca.

Ānanda, when there is the body, because of bodily volition pleasure and pain arise internally; when there is speech, because of verbal volition pleasure and pain arise internally; when there is the mind, because of mental volition pleasure and pain arise internally—and with ignorance as condition. “Either on one’s own initiative, Ānanda one generates that bodily volitional formation conditioned by which pleasure and pain arise internally; or prompted by others one generates that bodily volitional formation conditioned by which pleasure and pain arise internally. Either deliberately, Ānanda, one generates that bodily volitional formation conditioned by which pleasure and pain arise internally; or undeliberately one generates that bodily volitional formation conditioned by which pleasure and pain arise internally. SN12.25

For you perusal.

with metta

Mat

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This intention or inclination supporting consciousness seems to refer to sankhārā in sankhāra paccayā viññānam, does it not?

How are we to reconcile this with sankhārā being defined elsewhere (in the context of DO) with kāyasankhāro being ‘in & out breathing’?

Or could the intention/inclination be referring instead to the intention contained in nāmarūpa? Which also supports consciousness due to the bi-directional link between viññāna and nāmarūpa?

What am I missing?

[quote=“sjayasinghe, post:7, topic:4648”]
12.25 appears to clearly distinguish between bodily volition (kāya­sañ­ceta­nā­) & the kāyasaṅkhāro (which is defined as ‘in & out breathing’ in MN 44 and MN 118).

Or could the intention/inclination be referring instead to the intention contained in nāmarūpa?[/quote]

Yes, at least as I interpret it. For me, the kāyasaṅkhāro is 2nd link of D.O. and kāya­sañ­ceta­nā­ is the 4th link (nama-rupa) and kāya­sañ­ceta­nā­ can also falls within the 8th tanha link (per DN 22 or SN 12.63, which co-join intention & craving).

"Intention for forms… Intention for sounds… Intention for smells… Intention for tastes… Intention for tactile sensations… Intention for ideas…

"Craving for forms… Craving for sounds… Craving for smells… Craving for tastes… Craving for tactile sensations… Craving for ideas…

DN 22

Regards :palm_tree:

DN 22 says “intention in regard to forms is likeable and pleasing—here this craving when it is arising arises, here when settling it settles.” It also contains various other permutations with all the other aggregates (and craving) in place of intention. If you take this to be co-joining intention & craving then you also have to understand the other permutations to be co-joining craving with every other aggregate.

My view is that instead of joining craving and intention, it’s simply indicating craving with respect to intention (the intention itself is likeable and pleasing), and similarly for the other aggregates. This wouldn’t justify them being included in the 8th tanhā link.

Thanks for citing SN 12.25!

Almost a year back, I gave an involved grammatical analysis of the relevant passages in that sutta to establish that the “formations” in Dependant Arising refer to volition -
https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=45&t=26072&start=120#p375865

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My understanding is that Ven Ananda had one correct understanding of the DO (as he was a sotapanna). The Buddha had a far deeper understanding of the DO, as he was a fully enlightened Buddha. I think there is an intermediate understanding of the DO which is also correct:

  1. Simplest version general ignorance (of the dhamma) leads to unwholesome intentions which leads rising of consciousness at a sense base.

  2. Intermediate version: with the eradication of ignorance, the arising of bodily, verbal and mental fabrications cease, resulting in the ceasing of consciousness in an arahanth in arahantha phala. (reverse DO) or, nirodhasamapatti in an non-returner.

  3. A Buddha sees how ignorance gives rise to kammic intensions which gives rise to consciousness in the newborn foetus (Maha-nidana sutta).

I don’t think the DO is just one thing. I think it is a template, a summary and a partially complete descriptions of causal pathways, in our case the one leading to suffering, hence its complexity.

with metta

Mat

Here’s a definition i stumbled upon from SA 61:

“What is the formations aggregate of clinging? That is, there are six classes of intentions. What are the six? That is, there is intention arisen from eye-contact … up to … intention arisen from mind-contact. This is called the formations aggregate of clinging. Again, that formations aggregate of clinging is impermanent, dukkha, and of a nature to change.

If that formations aggregate of clinging is forever given up without a remainder, completely relinquished, ceases, fades away, is appeased, and disappears, and further instances of the formations aggregate of clinging are discontinued, do not arise, do not emerge—then this is reckoned sublime, this is reckoned peaceful, this is reckoned the complete abandoning of all acquisitions, the eradication of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nirvāṇa.

Added the second paragraph there for the sheer beauty of it :smiley:

This sutta is also interesting in how the khandas are defined; six types of feeling, perception and formations in each of these three khandas, which arise from contact with their respective sense-base.

Also, some nice passages at the end about how the level of believing / understanding this teaching leads to the various attainments (starting with faith-follower, ending in arahant) :slight_smile:

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Take a look also at AN 3.23 where the formations are clearly intentions that cause the corresponding rebirth. That pericope is repeated over many suttas.

This pericope uses an important verb to describe the action of creating kamma, ie abhisaṅkharoti. It is framed as “kāyasaṅkhāraṃ abhisaṅkharoti” etc that are the basis for rebirth. Can there be any doubt that this sutta is describing the link between formation and consciousness in Dependant Arising?

In MN 140 and SN 35.146 we find a synonym for abhisaṅkharoti, namely abhisañ­ceta­yati. This is clearly related to the 3 ­sañ­ceta­nā­ in SN 12.25. In that sutta, equivalence is drawn between the 3 sañ­ceta­nā­ and the 3 saṅkhāras that give rise to pain and pleasure.

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The sutta states:

Bhikkhus, there are three kinds of persons found existing in the world. What three?

Thus, all three persons seem to exist in the one world, even though each is ‘reborn’ (‘upapajjati’) in a different world in terms of affliction.

I would personally not categorize this within the ordinary understanding of Dependent Arising, despite there being other suttas similar to this in the D.A. Samyutta.

This is because AN 3.23 is a very brief explanation of arising, i.e., is not explicitly the 12 conditions. Further, the sutta is about “persons” thus rather mundane rather than supramudane. The sutta merely states:

Here, bhikkhus, some person generates… bodily activities… verbal activities… afflictive mental activities. In consequence, he is reborn in a… world. When he is reborn in a… world… contacts touch him. Being touched by… contacts, he feels… feelings…

The sutta sounds very mixed up to me & unauthentic because it is a poor way to express what is being expressed.

For example SN 12.25, is a better brief mundane explanation, when it refers to an outcome of sukhadukkha (happiness or suffering) where as AN 3.23 refers to ‘vedana’. ‘Arahants’ also experience ‘vedana’ but without suffering.

Have you counted all the suttas that use that pericope? Are they all inauthentic? How so?

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OK, to reiterate. Yes, there is great doubt.

In the 12 condition DA, intention is at nama-rupa. Thus intention cannot be at sankhara.

Therefore, AN 3.23 appears to be merely a ‘broad generalisation’ of the relationship between intention & the resultant world (loka). The abhisaṅkharoti is obviously occurring much later in the usual 12 condition D.A process. AN 4.233, which uses the same ‘periscope’, confirms my suspicion, since it is explicitly about kamma.

Bhikkhus, what are dark actions with dark results?

Here, bhikkhus, a certain one puts forth internal troubled bodily activity, internal troubled verbal activity and internal troubled mental activity and is born in a world of troubles, and feels troubled feelings which are only unpleasant like what beings in the hell feel. Bhikkhus, these are dark actions with dark results

Kamma is performed much later in the DA process, as affirmed by SN 14.12, for example.

4. “Bhikkhus, on account of the sensual element arise sensual perceptions. On account of sensual perceptions arise sensual thoughts. On account of sensual thoughts arise sensual interest. On account of sensual interest arise sensual burning. On account of sensual burning is a sensual search. Bhikkhus, in the sensual search the not learned ordinary man, in three instances falls to the wrong method, by body, words and mind.

What AN 3.23 & AN 4.233 seem to attempt to express, imo, are better expressed in MN 149, for example, which does not refer to ‘vedana’ but, like SN 12.25, refers to sukkha & dukkha paṭisaṃvedeti:

When one abides inflamed by lust, fettered, infatuated, contemplating gratification, then the five aggregates affected by clinging are built up for oneself in the future; and one’s craving—which brings renewal of being, is accompanied by delight and lust, and delights in this and that—increases. One’s bodily and mn.iii.288 mental troubles increase, one’s bodily and mental torments increase, one’s bodily and mental fevers increase, and one experiences bodily and mental suffering.

While AN 3.23 & AN 4.233 are consistent with SN 35.135, I think the use of ‘vedana’ to indicate suffering & happiness is sloppy.

I have seen, bhikkhus, the hell named ‘Contact’s Sixfold Base.’ There whatever form one sees with the eye is undesirable, never desirable; unlovely, never lovely; disagreeable, never agreeable. Whatever sound one hears with the ear … Whatever odour one smells with the nose … Whatever taste one savours with the tongue … Whatever tactile object one feels with the body … Whatever mental phenomenon one cognizes with the mind is undesirable, never desirable; unlovely, never lovely; disagreeable, never agreeable.

I have seen, bhikkhus, the heaven named ‘Contact’s Sixfold Base.’ There whatever form one sees with the eye is desirable, never undesirable; lovely, never unlovely; agreeable, never disagreeable. Whatever sound one hears with the ear … Whatever odour one smells with the nose … Whatever taste one savours with the tongue … Whatever tactile object one feels with the body … Whatever mental phenomenon one cognizes with the mind is desirable, never undesirable; lovely, never unlovely; agreeable, never disagreeable.

SN 35.135

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May I suggest you look for the pericope commencing with “sabyābajjhaṃ kāyasaṅkhāraṃ abhisaṅkharoti” to see how ubiquitous this is? How can AN 3.23 be a generalisation if that pericope is so extensive?

How odd. Craving is also a formation. That status does nothing to exclude it from the nidana club.

But that is begging the question. It’s not been established that formation and intention and craving are different, so what basis do you have to assert that they are?

I have offered arguments linking formations to intention, principally on the basis of the 2 “generation” verbs. You have not addressed this. If you would be so kind as to address it, this may take the discussion forward.

And while you’re at it, do explain why the arahant does not saṅkhāraṃ abhisaṅkharoti - SN 12.51. Does this mean that the arahant is no longer capable of breathing etc?

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I already did. Please refer to my answer above, where I referred to AN 4.233. I think it is a very sloppy periscope since ‘vedana’ are not explicitly suffering.

Not odd at all. What is “odd” is holding “sankhara” only has one meaning.

The sankhara of DA are the same terminology as in MN 44, which contains an explicit definition. Thus craving is not one of these sankhara.

In fact, craving as a sankhara (mental formation; sankhara khandha) is conditioned (sankhara) by the citta sankhara (perception & feeling). For example, a pleasant feeling & perception of ‘beautiful’ conditions craving. This is why perception & feeling are the citta sankhara (mind conditioner).

An arahant breathes however the breathing of an arahant is no longer affected by ignorance; just as the contact of an arahant (Iti 44) is no longer affected by ignorance in the way the contact of a puthujjana is, as described in SN 22.81, which specifically uses the term ‘ignorant-contact’.

:penguin:

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Does an Arhat stop breathing?
Well! - Meaning !(upload://m2m4pNC0ZATbmdFlCgh3iP8hlOi.gif !(upload://m2m4pNC0ZATbmdFlCgh3iP8hlOi.gif !(upload://m2m4pNC0ZATbmdFlCgh3iP8hlOi.gif overrides.

The pericope in AN 3.23 (no parallel - purely Theravadan,) can also be found only in some purely Theravadan ANs (without parallels), as well as in the dubious MN 57.


:camel:

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Reading the sutta more thoroughly, it seems to support my point of view since SN 12.51 states:

But when a bhikkhu has abandoned ignorance and aroused true knowledge, then, with the fading away of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge, he does not generate a meritorious volitional formation, or a demeritorious volitional formation, or an imperturbable volitional formation. Since he does not generate or fashion volitional formations, he does not cling to anything in the world. Not clinging, he is not agitated. Not being agitated, he personally attains Nibbāna.

Thus, it appears ‘saṅkhāraṃ abhisaṅkharoti’ is clinging at the 9th link rather than the sankhara of the 2nd link.

This would suggest whenever abhisaṅkharoti is mentioned, it is a result of clinging, namely, clinging in the form of diṭṭhupādāna.

Regards :deciduous_tree: