Sankhara aggregate

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Sankhara aggregate

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Jun 10, 2014 9:45 am

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?
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby Mkoll » Tue Jun 10, 2014 9:47 am

This essay by Ven. Bodhi is very informative: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_43.html
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:06 am

Mkoll wrote:This essay by Ven. Bodhi is very informative: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_43.html


Thanks. This seems to be the relevant section:

In the later Pali literature the sankhara-khandha becomes an umbrella category for all the factors of mind except feeling and perception, which are assigned to aggregates of their own. Thus the sankhara-khandha comes to include such ethically variable factors as contact, attention, thought, and energy; such wholesome factors as generosity, kindness, and wisdom; and such unwholesome factors as greed, hatred, and delusion. Since all these factors arise in conjunction with volition and participate in volitional activity, the early Buddhist teachers decided that the most fitting place to assign them is the aggregate of volitional formations.
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby daverupa » Tue Jun 10, 2014 10:10 am

http://ahandfulofleaves.files.wordpress ... n_1996.pdf

Identity and Experience, by Sue Hamilton

Starts on page 66.
    "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

Postby vinasp » Tue Jun 10, 2014 2:43 pm

Hi Spiny,

On sankhara's I found this passage:

"And why, bhikkhus, do you call them volitional formations? (sankhara)
'They construct the conditioned,' bhikkhus, therefore they are called volitional formations. And what is the conditioned that they construct?
They construct conditioned form as form, they construct conditioned feeling
as feeling, they construct conditioned perception as perception, they construct
conditioned volitional formations as volitional formations, they construct
conditioned consciousness as consciousness. 'They construct the conditioned,'
bhikkhus, therefore they are called volitional formations."
[BB, TCDB, part of SN 22.79]

This is not easy to understand.

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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby vinasp » Tue Jun 10, 2014 3:52 pm

Hi everyone,

The essay by Bhikkhu Bodhi is excellent, but may I also recommend the section
'sankhara' in the General Introduction at the start of his 'The Connected
Discourses of the Buddha.'

"In Pali we can clearly see the connection: the sankharas, the active
constructive forces instigated by volition, create and shape conditioned
reality, especially the conditioned factors classified into the five
aggregates and the six internal sense bases; and this conditioned reality
itself consists of sankharas in the passive sense, called in the commentaries
sankhata-sankhara." [page 47]

Regards, Vincent.
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby Sam Vara » Tue Jun 10, 2014 7:37 pm

Let us now turn to the beginning of the paticcasamuppāda formulation and consider the word sankhāra. The passage from the Cūlavedallasutta quoted in §5 evidently uses sankhāra to mean a thing from which some other thing is inseparable—in other words, a necessary condition. This definition is perfectly simple and quite general, and we shall find that it is all that we need. (If a sankhāra is something upon which something else depends, we can say that the 'something else' is determined by the first thing, i.e. by the sankhāra, which is therefore a 'determination' or a 'determinant'. It will be convenient to use the word determination when we need to translate sankhāra.)


Nanavira, http://www.nanavira.org/notes-on-dhamma/paticcasamuppada

There is also a very nice little section in Ajahn Sucitto's Kamma and the end of Kamma, in the first chapter.
http://forestsanghapublications.org/ass ... ucitto.pdf
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby vesak2014 » Wed Jun 11, 2014 1:22 am

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?

SN 12.2 Vibhaṅgasutta:
"Katame ca, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā? Tayome, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā– kāyasaṅkhāro, vacīsaṅkhāro, cittasaṅkhāro. Ime vuccanti, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā."
"And what are fabrications? These three are fabrications: bodily fabrications, verbal fabrications, mental fabrications. These are called fabrications."


There is also sutta which describes saṅkhāra as cetanākāyā (cetanā = intention) :
SN 22.57 Sattatthana Sutta:
"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. From the origination of contact comes the origination of fabrications. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of fabrications. And just this noble eightfold path is the path of practice leading to the cessation of fabrications... The fact that pleasure & happiness arises in dependence on fabrications: that is the allure of fabrications. The fact that fabrications are inconstant, stressful, subject to change: that is the drawback of fabrications. The subduing of desire & passion for fabrications, the abandoning of desire & passion for fabrications: that is the escape from fabrications...


:anjali:
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby vinasp » Wed Jun 11, 2014 1:52 am

Hi everyone,

There is also an interesting passage in SN 22.81 - Parileyya.

"Here, bhikkhus, the uninstructed worldling .....regards form as self. That regarding, bhikkhus, is a formation.[133] 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.
Thus, bhikkhus, that formation is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen; that craving is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen; that feeling is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen; that contact is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen; that ignorance is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen.
When one knows and sees this, bhikkhus, the immediate destruction of the taints occurs."

My comments:

1. Although 'regarding' is used in this passage, many views are described later using exactly the same words.

2. Later, it says: "... that eternalist view is a formation ...", so we can say that views are formations (sankharas).

3. Views are not normally seen as impermanent - quite the opposite! Here it means: capable of ceasing, vanishing.

4. The view, and the craving, feeling, contact and ignorance, are all said to be impermanent - capable of ceasing.

5. All these are also said to be 'conditioned', Bhikkhu Bodhis term for whatever is made by the constructive activity which is a sankhara.

6. All these are also said to be 'dependently arisen', part of the chain of items in Dependent Origination.

7. The chain seems to be: six-bases, contact, feeling, craving, clinging?
View-clinging is one of four kinds of clinging.

8. The constructive activity and what it makes are, I think, just two aspects of the same thing. So do sankharas depend on sankharas? Yes, some things can only be made if something else is already being made.

9. In the later (abhidhamma) list of fifty items in the sankhara khandha,
contact, volition and views are included, feeling, craving and clinging are not found, (greed, lobha, is included and may substitute for craving and clinging).

Regards, Vincent.
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jun 11, 2014 3:33 am

Greetings,

Sam Vara wrote:
Let us now turn to the beginning of the paticcasamuppāda formulation and consider the word sankhāra. The passage from the Cūlavedallasutta quoted in §5 evidently uses sankhāra to mean a thing from which some other thing is inseparable—in other words, a necessary condition. This definition is perfectly simple and quite general, and we shall find that it is all that we need. (If a sankhāra is something upon which something else depends, we can say that the 'something else' is determined by the first thing, i.e. by the sankhāra, which is therefore a 'determination' or a 'determinant'. It will be convenient to use the word determination when we need to translate sankhāra.)


Nanavira, http://www.nanavira.org/notes-on-dhamma/paticcasamuppada

I find this explanation adequate. It also provides useful context to the Pali notion of sankhata-dhammas (formed/conditioned dhammas)... they are not just formed, but exist only in dependence upon necessary conditions. Paticcasamuppada shows that the condition that underpins all sankhata-dhammas is avijja.

If pressed on why then there are five aggregates, this merely represents that these are the classifications upon which conditioned experience may be delineated. Delineating an experience under one aggregate, does not mean it could not have alternatively been delineated under another. Any attempt at trying to create mutual exclusive boundaries between the five leads to needless complication and artificiality.

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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: Sankhara aggregate

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed Jun 11, 2014 8:12 am

retrofuturist wrote:Delineating an experience under one aggregate, does not mean it could not have alternatively been delineated under another.


In that case why is the 5-fold classification of the aggregates repeatedly used in the suttas? Are you saying it's an arbitrary classification? Are you saying that attempts at classification are pointless, and if so, how does one try to analyse experience?

But anyway, returning to the OP, what do you think the sankhara aggregate represents?
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed Jun 11, 2014 8:18 am



Thanks, but that looks very technical. Could you say briefly how Nanavira views the sankhara aggregate?
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed Jun 11, 2014 8:28 am

daverupa wrote:Identity and Experience, by Sue Hamilton
Starts on page 66.


Thanks - I think I read this some years ago.
I found this bit interesting:

Similarly, the analysis into skandhas shows that a human being can function without the involvement
of the samkhirakkhandha, without volitions in the sense that is intended here.
......The feeling can be agreeable, disagreeable or neutral, but the samkhiirakkhandha is only involved if there is
a concomitant volition concerning the feeling: if it is an agreeable feeling, a
concomitant volition might be to desire it; if it is a disagreeable feeling, one
might be revolted by it. In practice, the feelings of an unenlightened
individual usually are accompanied by volitions, and this is illustrated by
the fact that in the paticcasamuppiida formula feelings are said to be the con-
dition for the arising of craving (tayhi). But one can, and ultimately should,
experience feelings without any concomitant volitions: an arahant is able to
experience pleasant and unpleasant feelings while remaining entirely
detached from them.
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed Jun 11, 2014 8:40 am

vinasp wrote: "In Pali we can clearly see the connection: the sankharas, the active
constructive forces instigated by volition, create and shape conditioned
reality, especially the conditioned factors classified into the five
aggregates and the six internal sense bases; and this conditioned reality
itself consists of sankharas in the passive sense, called in the commentaries
sankhata-sankhara." [page 47]


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?
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby Sam Vara » Wed Jun 11, 2014 8:53 am

Spiny Norman wrote:


Thanks, but that looks very technical. Could you say briefly how Nanavira views the sankhara aggregate?


Retro has beaten me to it, but I think Nanavira is explaining how the term means "necessary condition" for the arising of a phenomenon; its determinant, or what is required for us to experience it as we do. This does not mean that sankharas are one of five different "essences" or substances which objectively exist out there in reality. It makes more sense to see them as a way of looking at our experience; a reminder that our experience is conditioned and dependently arisen.

I found this hard to accept when I first read Nanavira, but I tried reading this meaning into every use of the term "sankhara" in the suttas, and it became an increasingly settled and intriguing way of seeing it.
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby 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?
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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby 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

Postby 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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Re: Sankhara aggregate

Postby 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

Postby 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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