anusaya v sankhara

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anusaya v sankhara

Postby Ben » Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:07 am

Hi all

I was wondering whether you can help me understand the difference between sankhara(mental formations) and anusaya (latent dispositions).

As the second factor in the formula for depenedent origination, sankharas are the kammically active volitions responsible, in conjunction with ignorance and craving, for generating rebirth and sustaining the forward movement of samsara from one life to the next. Sankhara is synonymous with kamma, to which it is etymologically related, both being derived from karoti. These sankharas are distinguished as threefold by their channel of expression, as bodily, verbal, and mental (II 4, 8-10, etc); they are also divided by ethical quality into the meritorious, demeritorious and imperturbable (II 82, 9-13). To convey the relevent sense of sankhara I have rendered the term 'volitional formations." The word might also have been translated "activities", which makes explicit the connection with kamma, but this rendering would sever the connection with sankhara in contexts other than dependent origination, which it seems desirable to preserve.

(2) As the fourth of the five aggregates, sankhara is defined as the six classes of volitions (cha cetanakaya, III 60, 25-28), that is, volition regarding the six types of sense objects. Hence again I render it volitional formations. But the sankharakhanda has a wider compass than the sankhara of dependent origination series, comprising all instances of volition and not only those that are kammically active. In the Abhidhamma Pitaka and the commentaries, the sankharakhanda further serves as an umbrella category for classifying all mental concomittants of consciousness apart from feeling and perception. It thus includes all wholesome, unwholesome, and variable mental factors mentioned but not formally classified among the aggregates in the Sutta Pitaka
(3) In the widest sense, sankhara comprises all conditioned things, everything arisen from a combination of conditions. In this sense all five aggregates, not just the fourth, are sankharas (see III 132, 22-27), as are all external objects and situations (II 191, 11-17). The term here is taken to be of passive derivation - denoting what is conditioned, constructed, compounded - hence I render it simply as 'formations', without the qualifying adjective. The notion of sankhara serves as the cornerstone of a philosophical vision which sees the entire universe as constituted of conditioned phenomena. What is particularly emphasised about sankharas in this sense is their impermanence. Recognition of their impermanence brings insight into the unreliable nature of all mundane felicity and inspires a sense of urgency directed towards liberation from samsara (see 150:20; 22:96)

-- From the introduction to Bhikkhi Bodhi's translation of the Samyutta Nikaya

On the defilements:
Latent dispositions
Seven latent dispositions: the latent dispositions to (1) sensual lust, (2) attachment to existence, (3) aversion, (4) conceit, (5) wrong views, (6) doubt, (7) ignorance.
From Acariya Anurrudha’s Abhidhammatthasangaha

The latent dispositions (anusaya) are defilements which “lie along with” (anusenti) the mental process to which they belong, rising to the surface as obsessions whenever they meet with suitable conditions. The term ‘latent dispositions’ highlights the fact that the defilements are liable to arise so long as they have not been eradicated by the supramundane paths. Though all defilements are, in a sense, anusayas, the seven mentioned here are the most prominent. Both sensual lust and attachment to existence are modes of greed; the others are each distinct cetasikas. Thus altogether six cetasikas function as anusayas.
From Bhikkhu Bodhi’s edition of A Comprehensive Manual of the Abhidhamma


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Re: anusaya v sankhara

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:27 am

Greetings Ben,

Is it as simple as anusayas being latent defilements (rooted in ignorance), which can be a cause for the arising of sankharas?

Apologies if there was any lack of precision there with the terminology.

Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)

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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7

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Re: anusaya v sankhara

Postby cooran » Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:34 am

hello Ben, all,

I think the term Sankhara is not straightforward in meaning and one needs to be careful when using it:


This term has, according to its context, different shades of meaning, which should be carefully distinguished.

(I) To its most frequent usages (s. foll. 1-4) the general term 'formation' may be applied, with the qualifications required by the context. This term may refer either to the act of 'forming or to the passive state of 'having been formed' or to both.

1. As the 2nd link of the formula of dependent origination, (paticcasamuppāda), sankhāra has the active aspect, 'forming, and signifies karma, i.e. wholesome or unwholesome volitional activity (cetanā) of body (kāya-sankhāra), speech (vacī-sankhāra) or mind (citta- or mano-sankhāra). This definition occurs, e.g. at S.XII.2, 27. For sankhāra in this sense, the word 'karma-formation' has been coined by the author. In other passages, in the same context, sankhāra is defined by reference to

(a) meritorious karma-formations (puññ'ābhisankhāra),
(b) demeritorious k. (apuññ'abhisankhāra),
(c) imperturbable k. (āneñj'ābhisankhāra), e.g. in S.XII.51; D.33.
This threefold division covers karmic activity in all spheres of existence: the meritorious karma-formations extend to the sensuous and the fine-material sphere, the demeritorious ones only to the sensuous sphere, and the 'imperturbable' only to the immaterial sphere.

2. The aforementioned three terms, kāya-, vacī- and citta-sankhāra are sometimes used in quite a different sense, namely as

(1) bodily function, i.e. in-and-out-breathing (e.g. M.10),
(2) verbal function, i.e. thought-conception and discursive thinking,
(3) mental-function, i.e. feeling and perception (e.g. M.44). See nirodhasamāpatti.
3. It also denotes the 4th group of existence (sankhārakkhandha), and includes all 'mental formations' whether they belong to 'karmically forming' consciousness or not. See khandha, Tab.II. and S.XXII.56, 79.

4. It occurs further in the sense of anything formed (sankhata) and conditioned, and includes all things whatever in the world, all phenomena of existence. This meaning applies, e.g. to the well-known passage, "All formations are impermanent... subject to suffering" (sabbe sankhāra aniccā ... dukkhā). In that context, however, s. is subordinate to the still wider and all-embracing term dhamma (thing); for dhamma includes also the Unformed or Unconditioned Element (asankhata-dhātu), i.e. Nibbāna (e.g. in sabbe dhammā anattā, "all things are without a self").

(II) Sankhāra also means sometimes 'volitional effort', e.g. in the formula of the roads to power (iddhi-pāda); in sasankhāra- and asankhāra-parinibbāyī (s. anāgāmī); and in the Abhidhamma terms asankhārika- and sasankhārika-citta, i.e. without effort = spontaneously, and with effort = prompted.

In Western literature, in English as well as in German, sankhāra is sometimes mistranslated by 'subconscious tendencies' or similarly (e.g Prof Beckh: "unterbewußte Bildekräfte," i.e. subconscious formative forces). This misinterpretation derives perhaps from a similar usage in non-Buddhist Sanskrit literature, and is entirely inapplicable to the connotations of the term in Pāli Buddhism, as listed above under I, 1-4. For instance, within the dependent origination, s. is neither subconscious nor a mere tendency, but is a fully conscious and active karmic volition. In the context of the 5 groups of existence (s. above I, 3), a very few of the factors from the group of mental formations (sankhārakkhandha) are also present as concomitants of subconsciousness (s. Tab.I, Tab.II, Tab.III), but are of course not restricted to it, nor are they mere tendencies.

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Re: anusaya v sankhara

Postby Jechbi » Wed Jul 22, 2009 3:27 pm

Hi Ben,
Ben wrote:I was wondering whether you can help me understand the difference between sankhara(mental formations) and anusaya (latent dispositions).

I think you're asking about sankhara in its sense of the fourth aggregate affected by clinging? If so, Retro may be on target with the observation that sankhara in this sense is conditioned by anusaya.

I don't know if the following observation is on-topic in the Abhidhamma forum, but the Vammika Sutta might help put things in perspective. Even after the tortoise is thrown out, the butcher's knife and block still remain, as does the piece of meat.

Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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