Sankhara aggregate

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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faraway
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by faraway » Wed Jun 11, 2014 9:49 am

About explanation of sankhara by bhante nanavira as determination or determinant (something that something else depends on), how does it explain in term of sankhara-khandha in five aggregates?

So in five aggregates, what is something (A) and what is something else that depends on the A?
Last edited by faraway on Wed Jun 11, 2014 3:57 pm, edited 3 times in total.

vinasp
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by vinasp » Wed Jun 11, 2014 1:44 pm

Hi everyone,

I cannot read Pali, but my understanding, so far, is that the word 'sankhara' or variations of it, can mean both the mental activity which makes 'something', and the 'thing' which is being made.

Bhikkhu Bodhi explains:

"Sankhara is derived from the prefix 'sam' (= con), 'together'. and the verb
'karoti', 'to make.' The noun straddles both sides of the active-passive divide. Thus sankharas are both things which put together, construct, and compound other things, AND the things that are put together, constructed, and compounded." [TCDB, introduction page 45.]

In his translations Bhikkhu Bodhi uses 'volitional formations construct' for the active side, and 'conditioned (something)' for the passive side. So if something is said to be 'conditioned', it means constructed.

But the thing which is constructed may be a sankhara in the active sense or only in the passive sense.

It seems that volitional formations (sankharas) can make two sorts of things:

1. More volitional formations, things which are volitional, such as contact, volition, views, perhaps craving and clinging. These are capable of making other things so they are classified in sankhara khandha.

2. Things which are not themselves volitional, or not seen as volitional, such as 'form', 'feeling', 'perception', and 'consciousness,' these are not capable of making other things, although other things can be made if they are present.

Regards, Vincent.

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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by vinasp » Wed Jun 11, 2014 3:44 pm

Hi Spiny,

Spiny said:-"I think this needs some unpacking. The "active constructive forces instigated by volition" sounds descriptive of the function of the sankhara aggregate - is that what he means?"

I am not sure. He may be speaking of sankharas in a more fundamental sense, as the mental activities which are constructing all five aggregates. If so, then these activities would be outside of the aggregates as such.

Or, the relationship could be a temporal one. The volitional formations in the present set of five aggregates are constructing the next set of five aggregates.

Regards, Vincent.

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daverupa
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by daverupa » Wed Jun 11, 2014 5:20 pm

Sankhara is basically willfulness: most volitions are dark, bright, or mixed, and these are to be understood and gone beyond, but the neither-sort volitions are those that lead on to nibbana, and these are fully encompassed by the integrous & ennobling eightfold Path, thus.

For an arahant, there will then be volitions such as going on almsround, shaving, and so forth, but these will be without upadana. Even when teaching, whether all, some, or none of the audience is paying attention, the arahant remains unruffled and unattached.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by vinasp » Wed Jun 11, 2014 5:26 pm

Hi everyone,

It seems, to me, that Bhikku Bodhi's understanding of sankharas is completely incompatible with Ven. Nanavira's interpretation.

My own position, at present, is much closer to that of Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but Nanavira does not explain what sankharas actually are. He makes the problem disappear by conflating sankharas with Dependent Origination. If sankharas are 'things which something else depends on,' then each item in DO can be seen as a sankhara for the next item.

But this dependency relation is already clearly explained in the teachings, without needing to call each item a sankhara. Doing such does not explain what a sankhara is, it conceals what a sankhara is.

[It may, of course, be true, that when sankhara is correctly understood then EVERY item in DO is a sankhara in itself, in the active or passive sense or both.]

Sorry to let the cat out among the pigeons!

No comments yet on Sue Hamilton's interpretation, which I have started to look at, but it may be different from the other two.

Regards, Vincent.

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daverupa
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by daverupa » Wed Jun 11, 2014 5:41 pm

Here is the Sutta about teaching, which I just mentioned. It points out also the lack of upadana with respect to feelings: whether satisfied or not satisfied with the attentiveness of the audience, the Buddha is never dissatisfied, but instead remains untroubled/equanimous, mindful, and alert.

(The possibility of a lack of satisfaction alongside there being no concomitant dissatisfaction is a noteworthy distinction.)

Noting who is and who isn't listening is of course sanna, as well as parsing pedagogy and content and so forth (in fact, sanna with upadana is reflected in the disagreement between the two monks, one who said the Buddha spoke of two feelings and one who said the Buddha spoke of three feelings.)

So Sankhara isn't a thing, it's the willful/"doing-it" aspect of experience that facilitates upadana, or facilitates nibbana, or is free of upadana altogether. For example, here are various examples of ways to frame up sankhara when making offerings.

And, of course, there's consciousness of all this, rising-&-falling right along with the rest, as well as the body to which consciousness-of is bound.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by Sam Vara » Wed Jun 11, 2014 8:13 pm

faraway wrote:About explanation of sankhara by bhante nanavira as determination or determinant (something that something else depends on), how does it explain in term of sankhara-khandha in five aggregates?

So in five aggregates, what is something (A) and what is something else that depends on the A?
The same thing can be seen as a sankhara or not, depending on whether it is taken to be the determinant of something else.

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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by Sam Vara » Wed Jun 11, 2014 8:50 pm

vinasp wrote:Hi everyone,

It seems, to me, that Bhikku Bodhi's understanding of sankharas is completely incompatible with Ven. Nanavira's interpretation.

My own position, at present, is much closer to that of Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but Nanavira does not explain what sankharas actually are. He makes the problem disappear by conflating sankharas with Dependent Origination. If sankharas are 'things which something else depends on,' then each item in DO can be seen as a sankhara for the next item.

But this dependency relation is already clearly explained in the teachings, without needing to call each item a sankhara. Doing such does not explain what a sankhara is, it conceals what a sankhara is.

[It may, of course, be true, that when sankhara is correctly understood then EVERY item in DO is a sankhara in itself, in the active or passive sense or both.]

Sorry to let the cat out among the pigeons!

No comments yet on Sue Hamilton's interpretation, which I have started to look at, but it may be different from the other two.

Regards, Vincent.
I think Nanavira's notion is formal, in the sense that sankharas are an aspect of our experience (i.e. its conditioned and impermanent nature) rather than a set of things among other things. He would probably have said that there is only a "problem" when they are taken to be things or items in a linear dependency. I think he would agree that every item in DO is indeed sankhata (conditioned), and that although cetana can be a type of sankhara, the meaning is broader than the traditional interpretation which treats it as kamma.

He is for example, interested in the Culavedalla Sutta's definition in terms of kaya-, vaci-, and cittasankharas. These cannot be cetana, and he does not seem to consider the more common (e.g. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ajahn Sucitto) idea that the same term can mean either the determining process or the determined product according to context. I feel a bit uneasy with Nanavira's interpretation for the same reasons as you do, but am also made uneasy by the lack of consistency in the more common interpretation. When does it mean "constructive activity", and when "construction"? Is it whichever interpretation makes more sense to us at the time? I find Nanavira intriguing because (more than other commentators) I seem to be able to get his meaning only when I am in the right frame of mind. At other times, though...

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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by SarathW » Wed Jun 11, 2014 9:21 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:I thought it might be useful to have a discussion about the sankhara aggregate. How is it described, what activities does it include, how does it function, and how does it relate to the other aggregates?
Sankhara is a word with wiider meaning and should be interpreted according to it's own purpose.
Some of you have already discuss these matters and this is how I summarise them.

A)Sankhara could be internal (Five aggregate) or external (The saying "all Sankhara subject to change")
b)Sankhara can be related to pasrt,present and future as explained in DO.
c)Sankhara can be divided into different levels = transgression, manifestation and latent
d) The term Kamma also used to give the meaning of Sankhara. So all volitional activities could be Sankhara.
e)Nibbana is not Sankhara as it is not created and unmade.
f)........?
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

pegembara
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by pegembara » Thu Jun 12, 2014 5:48 am

The single word "sankhara" can mean "conditioner," the cause that conditions; it can mean "condition," the result of the action of conditioning; and it can mean "'conditioning," the activity or process of conditioning. We use the same word for the subject of the conditioning, "the concocter," as well as the object, "the concoction." We even use it for the activity, "the concocting," itself.

In step three - "experiencing all bodies," experiencing both the breath and this flesh-body - each of these three meanings is practiced. First, we contemplate the flesh-body as the thing conditioned by the breath. Then, we see the breath as the conditioner of the flesh-body. Lastly, we observe the activity of conditioning that always exists simultaneously between the two of them. Thus, in the practice of step three we see the conditioner, the condition, and the action of conditioning. This conditioning of the body is the physical level of sankhara.

... that the feelings (e.g., piti and sukha) are mind-conditioners. When piti conditions it, the citta is coarse and its thoughts are coarse, both the mind and the thoughts are coarse. When sukha conditions or supports it, the citta is subtle and tranquil, and its thoughts are subtle and tranquil. Both feelings condition the mind, but from different angles. The vedana are conditioners of the citta, thus they get the name "mind-conditioner (citta-sankhara)." Buddhadasa

http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books3/Bhikk ... athing.htm


"In-&-out breaths are bodily fabrications. Directed thought & evaluation are verbal fabrications. Perceptions & feelings are mental fabrications." Dhammadina
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Sankhara is construction/constructed/constructing or fabrications/fabricated/fabricating. The world/loka is a fabrication. All fabrications are anicca/dukkha/anatta. They can be deconstructed. Self can be deconstructed into the 5 aggregates until its true nature is seen - http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .nymo.html
Why now do you assume 'a being'?
Mara, have you grasped a view?
This is a heap of sheer constructions:
Here no being is found.

Just as, with an assemblage of parts,
The word 'chariot' is used,
So, when the aggregates are present,
There's the convention 'a being.'

Vajira
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .bodh.html
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by Dinsdale » Thu Jun 12, 2014 8:34 am

pegembara wrote:
The single word "sankhara" can mean "conditioner," the cause that conditions; it can mean "condition," the result of the action of conditioning; and it can mean "'conditioning," the activity or process of conditioning. We use the same word for the subject of the conditioning, "the concocter," as well as the object, "the concoction." We even use it for the activity, "the concocting," itself.
http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books3/Bhikk ... athing.htm
OK, but how exactly does this relate to the sankhara aggregate - which meaning(s) apply? Perhaps all of them, but what's the primary meaning - I'd guess the activity of conditioning.
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Dinsdale
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by Dinsdale » Thu Jun 12, 2014 8:41 am

Are there any suttas which specifically describe the sankhara aggregate? I can't recall any.
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by Dinsdale » Thu Jun 12, 2014 8:53 am

vinasp wrote: He may be speaking of sankharas in a more fundamental sense, as the mental activities which are constructing all five aggregates. If so, then these activities would be outside of the aggregates as such.
But as previously observed, consciousness, perception and feeling seem to be described in the suttas as basic, simple functions. So given that the aggregates are inclusive of all experience, then presumably the mental activity of constructing would be a function of sankhara aggregate?

It might be significant that in the suttas consciousness, perception and feeling are described as inseparable. Does this imply that the activity of the sankhara aggregate is separable, another level of experience?
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Dinsdale
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by Dinsdale » Thu Jun 12, 2014 9:00 am

daverupa wrote: So Sankhara isn't a thing, it's the willful/"doing-it" aspect of experience that facilitates upadana, or facilitates nibbana, or is free of upadana altogether.
And, of course, there's consciousness of all this, rising-&-falling right along with the rest, as well as the body to which consciousness-of is bound.
I think it's helpful to view the aggregates generally as activities or processes. So could the sankhara aggregate be seen as the activity of decision making?
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faraway
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Post by faraway » Thu Jun 12, 2014 1:12 pm

This is the sutta which explain each of five aggregates:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Here is the explanation of sankhara-khandha:
"And what are fabrications? These six classes of intention — intention with regard to form, intention with regard to sound, intention with regard to smell, intention with regard to taste, intention with regard to tactile sensation, intention with regard to ideas: these are called fabrications."
I was a bit doubtful whether the translation of "intention" is correct or not, but the pali text indeed proves it is correct:
Katame ca bhikkhave, saṅkhārā:

Chayime bhikkhave cetanākāyā: rūpasañcetanā saddasañcetanā gandhasañcetanā rasasañcetanā phoṭṭhabbasañcetanā dhammasañcetanā. Ime vuccanti bhikkhave saṅkhārā.
cetana = intention

I guess this is where the "mental volition" meaning for sankhara come from.
Last edited by faraway on Thu Jun 12, 2014 2:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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