The bodily-formation beyond breathing?

The bodily-formation is regularly defined throughout the suttas as the breath. Would it be correct to say the same aspect of sankhara is responsible for other bodily activities, eg walking? Are there any sources in the suttas that expand the bodily formation to bodily activities beyond the breath? If not, how should the aspect of mind responsible for eg locomotion be better understood or classified?

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There is a cultural difference between the way the breath was viewed in ancient times and the modern:

“In spite of the infinite wealth of knowledge of our forebears, today in the scientific paradigm, the predominant view in the West, our conception of the breath has been stripped of traditional sacred notions and reduced to nothing more than a physiological function.”

—Psychology Everywhere

Although not described in detail in the suttas, the Vism. says the element air’s property is motion and that it literally drives movements of the body by being forced through the veins. This belief in the connection between air and vitality underlies the Buddha’s choice of the breath as the main meditation subject, and explains the expansion to the whole body in the first tetrad of the Anapanasati sutta. The Vism. is wrong about the mechanics, but the breath renews the life force every few minutes and so deserves superior status.

Majhima Nikaya 118 part B indicates the breath body should be conceived and developed as a distinct entity:

“I tell you, monks, that this — the in-&-out breath — is classed as a body among bodies, which is why the monk on that occasion remains focused on the body in & of itself…”

Here the Buddha indicates the breath and its consequent body is a morally safer abode than the alternatives ( also Samyutta Nikaya 54.9).

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This isn’t the only meaning of bodily sankhara in the texts. Ven. Bodhi’s essay A Critical Examination of Nanavira Thera’s A note on Paticcasamuppada is very helpful. You can find this paper in his book Investigating the Dhamma. I’m going to leave here some excerpts that may be helpful:



I’m not sure if the suttas themselves expand on bodily formation beyond the breath, but it seems clear that it doesn’t include only the breath in some contexts (like in dependent origination), or else it would lead to the absurd conclusion that arahats don’t breathe.

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Agreed that there are at least two different ways that this term is used. One is basically volitional formations, or subtle impressions, related to karma. Another is in the sense of several different types of correlates of those, like when calming formations progressively in meditation. I’m not sure if there are others as well, but it would be interesting to compare all the different uses of this term, and what they say about the core concepts. I wish these were spelled out a little clearer in the sutras. It might be interesting to compare with similar ideas in Jainism…

my understanding is that bodily formation / fabrication is just the way the body is composed.

the buddha notes that the breath is counted as a bodily fabrications (it’s part of the body; see SN 41.6), but elsewhere he notes bodily fabrications to include an intentional state of the body:

There is the case where a certain person fabricates an injurious bodily fabrication, fabricates an injurious verbal fabrication, fabricates an injurious mental fabrication. Having fabricated an injurious bodily fabrication, having fabricated an injurious verbal fabrication, having fabricated an injurious mental fabrication, he rearises in an injurious world. AN 4.237

this accords with knowing the body as the body in the satipatthana sutta, as it’s walking, seated, lying down, reaching, stretching, bending, etc. it’s just that in the anapanasati sutta, it’s the breath we’re concerned with.

Unfortunately it is very misleading since has no any support in Suttas, it is just expression of personal views which go against the Suttas.

Bhikkhu Bodhi in commentary to SN 12: 2

(On kayasȧkhāra, vacı̄saṅkhāra, cittasȧkhara)

The latter triad is always introduced in relation to the cessation of perception and feeling and is never brought into connection with dependent origination.

Bhikhu Bodhi in commentary to MN 9: (On kayasȧkhāra, vacı̄saṅkhāra, cittasȧkhara)

In the context of the doctrine of dependent origination, formations (sankhārā) are wholesome and unwholesome volitions, or, in short, kamma. The bodily formation is volition that is expressed through the body, the verbal formation volition that is expressed by speech, and the mental formation volition that remains internal without coming to bodily or verbal expression.

We see here obvious self-contradiction, in one place Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi says on kayasȧkhāra, vacı̄saṅkhāra, cittasȧkhara that the triad is never brought into connection with dependent origination, and when discussing MN 9 which Sutta deals with dependent origination, on the very triad he (without giving the Pali names in his commentary) provides definition of it which contradicts definition of the triad found in the Suttas. It really doesn’t look like a seriously scholarship.

Yes, there are two meanings for sankhara. One is active (volitional formations or intentions), and the other is passive (fabrications or conditioned phenomena). I think this is one of those situations that later tradition is really, really helpful. The suttas don’t explain this difference, but it is probably because this was such an obvious distinction for early Buddhists that they didn’t want to spend time discussing that.

This isn’t a personal view of Bhikkhu Bodhi. He rather draws that from the commentary, which shouldn’t be dismissed easily. The difference between the usage of sankhara is not against the suttas since there is no place they say it has only one single meaning. In fact, there are cases that the passive and active meanings become apparent; for instance, an arahat has overcome ignorance, so if we take sankhara in dependent origination to include the breath, thoughts, perceptions, and feelings, then arahats don’t breathe, don’t think, and don’t have consciousness, so Arahats would be mindless automatons :robot:. Moreover, there are cases it’s clearly passive too, like in DN 17, where sankhara refers to conditioned things in the world:

See, Ananda, how all those sankhara have passed, ceased, altered. So impermanent, Ananda, are sankhara … this is enough for weariness with all sankhara, enough for dispassion, enough for release.

Bhikkhu Bodhi wasn’t saying that the words kayasȧkhāra, vacı̄saṅkhāra, and cittasȧkhara never appear connected with dependent origination. Instead, he meant that the meaning of the triad as breath, directed thought and evaluation, and perceptions&feelings isn’t ever connected with dependent origination. Read the first picture I linked in my post to see a longer, but incomplete, version of Venerable’s explanation.

We’re talking about Venerable Bodhi—are you really saying his writing isn’t serious scholarship?

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Unfortunately, it is exactly what he said in his translation to Samytta Nikaya, let me repeat:

Bhikkhu Bodhi in commentary to SN 12: 2

(On kayasȧkhāra, vacı̄saṅkhāra, cittasȧkhara)

The latter triad is always introduced in relation to the cessation of perception and feeling and is never brought into connection with dependent origination.

Shall I provide you exactly the page where you can see for yourself these words?

Of course it is your right as well that of Bhikkhu Boddhi to believe what you like, commentaries, Abhidhamma… I only say that such believe in the case of sankharas goes against Suttas.

I even do not mantion a false assumption that there is no connection between the cessation of perception and feeling and dependent arising.

These who put Suttas as their first authority are ready to addjust their ideas to Suttas.

So for example, one comes to M9 and see these sankharas which appear also in the context of atainment of cessation. What does it mean? It means that there is a vital connection between depended arising and cessation of sankharas.

My only authority are Suttas, if I agree with Ven Nanavira it is because I don’t see any contradictions with the Suttas in his writings. I am very grateful to Ven Bodhi for his translations, but he is just a monk like other monks, and in this particular case where he not only contradicts Suttas but his own statement done somhere else I can without any hesitation* repeat: it doesn’t look like a serious scholarship.

  • I treated this Sutta very seriously:

Maimed (1)
“Bhikkhus, possessing four qualities, the foolish, incompetent, bad person maintains himself in a maimed and injured condition; he is blameworthy [3] and subject to reproach by the wise; and he generates much demerit. What four?

(1) “Without investigating and scrutinizing, he speaks praise of one who deserves dispraise.
(2) Without investigating and scrutinizing, he speaks dispraise of one who deserves praise.
(3) Without investigating and scrutinizing, he believes a matter that merits suspicion.
(4) Without investigating and scrutinizing, he is suspicious about a matter that merits belief.

Possessing these four qualities, the foolish, incompetent, bad person maintains himself in a maimed and injured condition; he is blameworthy and subject to reproach by the wise; and he generates much demerit.

“Bhikkhus, possessing four qualities, the wise, competent, good person preserves himself unmaimed and uninjured; he is blameless and beyond reproach by the wise; and he generates much merit. What four?
(1) “Having investigated and scrutinized, he speaks dispraise of one who deserves dispraise.
(2) Having investigated and scrutinized, he speaks praise of one who deserves praise.
(3) Having investigated and scrutinized, he is suspicious about a matter that merits suspicion.
(4) Having investigated and scrutinized, he believes a matter that merits belief.
Possessing these four qualities, the wise, competent, good person preserves himself unmaimed and uninjured; he is blameless and beyond reproach by the wise; and he generates much merit.”

He who praises one deserving blame,
or blames one deserving praise,
casts with his mouth an unlucky throw
by which he finds no happiness.624
Slight is the unlucky throw at dice
that results in the loss of one’s wealth,
[the loss] of all, oneself included;
much worse is this unlucky throw
of harboring hate against the fortunate ones.625
For a hundred thousand and thirty-six
nirabbudas, plus five abbudas, [4]
the slanderer of noble ones goes to hell,
having defamed them with evil speech and mind.626

In this case, we got a divergence in terms of principles. I don’t think that the suttas are exclusive to achieve a complete understanding of the teachings of the Buddha; that’s exactly why every single early Buddhist school developed their Abhidhamma and commentaries.

I think there’s a difference between going against in the sense of contradicting the suttas and adding something to the suttas. I totally agree that the way that Bhikkhu Bodhi explained sankharas is not present in the suttas. However, this interpretation is not contradictory to the suttas; rather, it’s complementary. This is an important difference since there’s no reason for us to think that the suttas contain the whole Buddha’s teachings. As an example of contradiction, if the commentaries were to defend an eternal consciousness existing in Nibbana, then this would be a contradiction since the suttas say over and over again that consciousness ceases without remaining in Arahatship.

But anyways, as I said initially, this is a divergence in terms of principles, so it’s fine. I agree in disagreeing.

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No doubt about a divergence in terms of principles regards the standard upon we base our understanding of Dhamma. This points out importance of faith,

“A bhikkhu who possesses understanding founds his faith in accordance with that understanding” (SN 48:45), to which words may be added also those of the venerable Sāriputta: “There are two conditions for the arising of right view: another’s speech and reasoned attention” (MN 43). From this it emerges that an ordinary man has need of a germ of “mother wit” in order to know where to place his faith and a germ of unsquandered faith in order to believe he can develop his understanding. That is the starting position.

Nanamoli Thera

So we simply believe in different things. I do believe we are both interested in immortality now and here, which of course cannot be realised without seeing now and here death as impermanent, determined and dependently arisen on present condition. I fail to understand how this can be done with the help of Bhikkhu Bodhi and Abhidhamma and perhaps you can say the same about Ven Nanamoli Thera.

Metta

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