What is the best translation for sankhara?

Bhante @sujato translate it as choices.
I do not think Sankhara means choices.

‘Ignorance is a condition for choices. Choices are a condition for consciousness. …


“Sankhara” has various meanings in the suttas, but in the context of dependent origination it is described in terms of volition, or will. So “choice” would seem to be a reasonable translation for “sankhara” as a nidana.

“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."

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Link to BB’s essay.

Sankhara should be translated according to context, of course, assuming one knows what it means that is.

As for its volitional aspect I prefer intention over choice, as the former points to the internal psychological process of forming an intention and the latter ‘choice’ seems to point more to the external options being considered, as I see it.

with metta


It is whatever you choose! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


When you can read into a word (almost) whatever you like, you have a serious transmission problem. As a nidana obviously it depends on which ‘cosmogony’ model you have. As a khandha we have not much at all.

Cognitively I would go with ‘wanting’
Structurally with ‘distinction’

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To me Sankhara means re-birth making activities through your speech body and mind.
It is an action not a choice.


Here’s Bhikkhu Bodhi’s list of uses of Sankhara in the SN, to which I added links to SC for the suttas that he mentions: Sankhara - Dhamma Wheel

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Thank you @mikenz66
What I am saying is if we use the word “choice” against all multiple meanings we can’t make much sense out of it.

You are very right Sir.
Samkhara is confusion. It has also meaning of confusion.
It is confused kamma to do (khara) body (kaya), speech (vaci), and mental (citta) together (sam).
That is not discriminating.
Samkhara is confusion that springs much from ignorance. It is kamma born of commingling body speech and thinking.
This is what Jain litterature tells also.
See first book of Akaranga sutta, or Tattvarth sutra.

When there is no more sankhara (body, speech and thoughts commingling - or khandhas commingling) , there is no more kamma. No more confusion.

See sn12. 51

Since he does not generate or fashion a kamma (by commingling khandhas without discernment), he does not cling to anything in the world. Not clinging, he is not agitated (confused). Not being agitated, he personally attains Nibbāna. He understands: ‘Destroyed is birth, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more for this state of being.’

This is Sir, good meaning of sankhara.
Sankhara is kamma born of commingling.

Commingling is very bad for you Sir. This is why Lord Buddha says you should get rid of commingling, like in sn 36.11. One element after the other, Sir.

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“Choice” does not seem to be used by Bhante @sujato in all of the cases that Bhikkhu Bodhi mentions in his Introduction. He does use it for the aggregates and the dependent origination link.

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I agree, I’ve come to view it as the process of choosing

Is the Buddha defining the action (verb) of the willful making of sankhara or is he describing the noun of a made sankhara? In this passage it appears that he is describing made sankharas, nouns. In other passages it seems that it could easily be both.

The action and the result are mutually dependent. In that case, “choice” doesn’t seem to be the best translation. I can’t put my finger on a better translation but I think it needs to lean towards the side of a noun, a made sankhara due to dependent origination that arises due to the cause of previous links. Remove the cause of sankhara and you don’t have sankhara.

I have struggled a lot with this word “formation” in translations exactly because of the dual meaning in English - it can refer to either “the action of forming or process of being formed”, or “a structure or arrangement of something”, e.g. cloud formations. (It is a noun in either case.)

I have wondered if such an ambiguous term was chosen intentionally, in order to capture (intentional?) ambiguity in the Pali original.


I had assumed the former, since in dependent origination sankharas arise in dependence upon avijjā. I have always found the conditionality of the first 3 nidanas difficult to interpret though.

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This is an interesting sutta where intention (cetana) exists with fabrications (sankhara) in the same sutta. The first paragraph is about the beginning of the DO:

At Savatthi… "There are these four nutriments for the maintenance of beings who have come into being or for the support of those in search of a place to be born. Which four? Physical food, gross or refined; contact as the second, intellectual intention the third, and consciousness the fourth. These are the four nutriments for the maintenance of beings who have come into being or for the support of those in search of a place to be born.

"Where there is passion, delight, & craving for the nutriment of physical food, consciousness lands there and increases. Where consciousness lands and increases, there is the alighting of name-&-form. Where there is the alighting of name-&-form, there is the growth of fabrications. Where there is the growth of fabrications, there is the production of renewed becoming in the future. Where there is the production of renewed becoming in the future, there is future. SN12.64

with metta

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Not going by anything in the suttas nor anything scholarly in the context of Goeknaism “sankhara” would seem to be a conditioned response or reflex.

Sankhara in EBT based Vipassana should be regarded in this manner:

“The individual who has attained internal tranquillity of awareness (cetosamathassa), but not insight into phenomena (adhipaññā dhammavipassanāya) through heightened discernment, should approach an individual who has attained insight into phenomena through heightened discernment and ask him: ‘How should fabrications be regarded (kathaṃnu kho āvuso saṅkhārā daṭṭhabbā?)? How should they be investigated (Kathaṃ saṅkhārā sammasitabbā?)? How should they be seen with insight? (Kathaṃ saṅkhārā vipassitabbāti?)’ The other will answer in line with what he has seen & experienced: ‘Fabrications should be regarded in this way. Fabrications should be investigated in this way. Fabrications should be seen in this way with insight.’ Then eventually he [the first] will become one who has attained both internal tranquillity of awareness & insight into phenomena through heightened discernment. AN 4.94: Concentration (Tranquillity and Insight) (English) - Catukka Nipāta - SuttaCentral

Note: how should they be regarded/viewed, corresponds with Right view
How should they be investigated, corresponds with Yonisomanasikara
How should they be seen with insight, corresponds with Practice according to the Dhamma- elements of factors of stream entry. They also correspond with Ditti visuddhi or purification of view- nama rupa paricceda nana, sammassana nana, tilakkhana. There are three suttas which discuss topic- patamasamadhi sutta, dutiyasamadhisutta and tutiyasamadhisutta in this way.

with metta

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Sorry for the delay in replying:

S as anything:
Sankhara dukkha, Sabbe sankhara -Kaya, vaci, mano sankhara

S as intention:
Sankhara cetana, Kaya, vaci, mano abhisankharonti, puññaṃ opuññaṃ, āṇeñjaṃ s. abhisankharoti

S as some other things:
āyusaṅkhāra, bhavasankhāra, jīvitasaṅkhāra

I can’t really pin it down. And perhaps that’s the point of it- its not meant to be pinned down and is word like ‘thing’. Is there any suttas that show that sankhara means intention (cetana) in the five aggregates?

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But if your choice is conditioned by ignorance… don’t say nobody warned you?