Saṃskāra

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saṃskāra (P. saṅkhāra; T. 'du byed འདུ་བྱེད་; C. xing; J. gyō; K. haeng =行) is translated as "formation," "volitional formation," "conditioning factors," etc. This term has multiple usages within Buddhism.[1][2]

  1. In its most general usage, this term refers to any phenomenon that has been formed, conditioned, or dependently brought into being.[1]
  2. This term is also used to describe the second of the twelve links of dependent origination (pratītya samutpāda)[1]
  3. and also the fourth of the five aggregates.[1]

Etymology

Bhikkhu Bodhi states:

Saṅkhāra is derived from the prefix saṃ (=con), "together," and the verb karoti, "to make." The noun straddles both sides of the active-passive divide. Thus saṅkhāras are both things which put together, construct and compound other things, and the things that are put together, constructed, and compounded.[3]

In the passive sense of the word, this term refers to any phenomenon has been formed, conditioned, or dependently brought into being.[1][2]

"In its more active sense, saṃskāra as latent “formations” left in the mind by actions (karman) refers to that which forms or conditions other things."[2]

The Pali-English Dictionary states:

[Saṅkhāra is] one of the most difficult terms in Buddhist metaphysics, in which the blending of the subjective-objective view of the world and of happening, peculiar to the East, is so complete, that it is almost impossible for Occidental terminology to get at the root of its meaning in a translation. We can only convey an idea of its import by representing several sides of its application, without attempting to give a "word" as a definitive translation.[4]

General usage: conditioned things

In its most general usage, saṃskāra refers to any phenomenon has been formed, conditioned, or dependently brought into being.[1]

The Princeton Dictionary states:

In its more passive usage (see saṃskṛta, P. saṅkhata), saṃskāra refers to anything that has been formed, conditioned, or brought into being. In this early denotation, the term is a designation for all things and persons that have been brought into being dependent on causes and conditions. It is in this sense that the Buddha famously remarked that “all conditioned things (saṃskāra) are impermanent” (anityāḥ sarvasamskārāḥ), the first of the four criteria that “seal” a view as being authentically Buddhist (see caturnimitta).[2]

The Kīrtimukha Translation Group states:

In its most general usage, this term refers to any phenomenon has been formed, conditioned, or dependently brought into being. It is this broad use of the term that is used in the Bhavasaṅkrāntisūtra when King Bimbisāra asserts that “formations are empty”.[1]

In this sense, saṅkhāra refers to "conditioned things" or "dispositions, mental imprint".[5][4][6] All aggregates in the world – physical or mental concomitants, and all phenomena, state early Buddhist texts, are conditioned things.[4] It can refer to any compound form in the universe whether a tree, a cloud, a human being, a thought or a molecule. All these are saṅkhāras, as well as everything that is physical and visible in the phenomenal world are conditioned things, or aggregate of mental conditions.[4] The Buddha taught that all saṅkhāras are impermanent and essenceless.[7][8] These subjective dispositions, states David Kalupahana, "prevented the Buddha from attempting to formulate an ultimately objective view of the world".[5]

Since conditioned things and dispositions are perceptions and do not have real essence, they are not reliable sources of pleasure and they are impermanent.[5] Understanding the significance of this reality is wisdom. This "conditioned things" sense of the word Saṅkhāra appears in Four Noble Truths and in Buddhist theory of dependent origination, that is how ignorance or misconceptions about impermanence and non-self leads to Taṇhā and rebirths.[9] The Samyutta Nikaya II.12.1 presents one such explanation,[9] as do other Pali texts.[10]

According to the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, the last words of the Buddha were: "Disciples, this I declare to you: all conditioned things are subject to disintegration – strive on untiringly for your liberation."[11]

Within the twelve links

The term saṃskāra is also used to describe the second of the twelve links of dependent origination.[1]

Bhikkhu Bodhi states:

As the second factor in the formula of dependent origination, saṅkhāras are the kammically active volitions responsible, in conjunction with ignorance and craving, for generating rebirth and sustaining the forward movement of saṃsāra from one life to the next. Saṅkhārā is synonymous with kamma, to which it is etymologically related, both being derived from karoti. These saṅkhāras 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 relevant sense of saṅkhārā here I render 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 saṅkhārāin contexts other than dependent origination, which it seems desirable to preserve.[3]

Samskara-skandha (sankhara-khandha)

 The Five Aggregates (pañca khandha)
according to the Pali Canon.
 
 
form (rūpa)
  4 elements
(mahābhūta)
 
 
   
    contact
(phassa)
    
 
consciousness
(viññāna)

 
 
 
 
 


 
 
 
  mental factors (cetasika)  
 
feeling
(vedanā)

 
 
 
perception
(sañña)

 
 
 
formation
(saṅkhāra)

 
 
 
 
 Source: MN 109 (Thanissaro, 2001)  |  diagram details

In the second (active) sense, saṅkhāra (or saṅkhāra-khandha) refers to the form-creating faculty of mind. It is part of the doctrine of conditioned arising or dependent origination (paṭiccasamuppāda).[12][13] In this sense, the term Sankhara is karmically active volition or intention, which generates rebirth and influences the realm of rebirth.[12] Sankhara herein is synonymous with karma, and includes actions of the body, speech and mind.[12][14]

The saṅkhāra-khandha states that living beings are reborn (bhava, become) by means of actions of body and speech (kamma).[15] The Buddha stated that all volitional constructs are conditioned by ignorance (avijja) of impermanence and non-self.[16][17] It is this ignorance that leads to the origination of the sankharas and ultimately causes human suffering (dukkha).[18] The cessation of all such sankharas (sabba-saṅkhāra-nirodha) is synonymous with Enlightenment (bodhi), the attainment of nirvana. The end of conditioned arising or dependent origination in the karmic sense (Sankharas), yields the unconditioned phenomenon of nirvana.[19]

As the ignorance conditions the volitional formations, these formations condition, in turn, the consciousness (viññāna). The Buddha elaborated:

'What one intends, what one arranges, and what one obsesses about: This is a support for the stationing of consciousness. There being a support, there is a landing [or: an establishing] of consciousness. When that consciousness lands and grows, there is the production of renewed becoming in the future. When there is the production of renewed becoming in the future, there is future birth, aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. Such is the origination of this entire mass of suffering & stress.'[20]

Mental factors

Mental factors (Skt. caitasika) are formations (saṃskāra) concurrent with mind (citta).[21][22][23] They can be described as aspects of the mind that apprehend the quality of an object, and that have the ability to color the mind.[24]

Formations not concurrent with mind

The Sanskrit Abhidharma tradition identifies formations not concurrent with mind as formations that are neither mind nor matter. Unlike the mental factors, these formations are non-concurrent with mind; they do not arise from the mind or with the mind.

Alternate translations for "saṃskāra"

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Internet-icon.svg 'du byed, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. saṃskāra.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bodhi 2000, Introduction.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Thomas William Rhys Davids; William Stede (1921). Pali-English Dictionary. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 664–665. ISBN 978-81-208-1144-7. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 David J. Kalupahana (1992). A History of Buddhist Philosophy: Continuities and Discontinuities. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 71–72. ISBN 978-0-8248-1402-1. 
  6. Harold Coward (1990). Derrida and Indian Philosophy. State University of New York Press. pp. 161–162. ISBN 978-0-7914-0500-0. 
  7. Jonathan Walters (2015). Donald S. Lopez Jr., ed. Buddhism in Practice: (Abridged Edition). Princeton University Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-1-4008-8007-2. 
  8. N. Ross Reat; Edmund F. Perry (1991). A World Theology: The Central Spiritual Reality of Humankind. Cambridge University Press. pp. 120–121. ISBN 978-0-521-33159-3. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Paul Williams; Anthony Tribe; Alexander Wynne (2002). Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition. Routledge. pp. 65–67. ISBN 978-1-134-62324-2. 
  10. John Clifford Holt (1995). Discipline: The Canonical Buddhism of the Vinayapiṭaka. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 8–11. ISBN 978-81-208-1051-8. 
  11. Pali: handa'dāni bhikkhave āmantayāmi vo, vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā ti.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Bhikkhu Bodhi (2005). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Simon & Schuster. pp. 45–47. ISBN 978-0-86171-973-0. 
  13. William S Waldron (2003). The Buddhist Unconscious: The Alaya-vijñana in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought. Routledge. pp. 19–23. ISBN 978-1-134-42886-1. 
  14. William S Waldron (2003). The Buddhist Unconscious: The Alaya-vijñana in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought. Routledge. pp. 16–18. ISBN 978-1-134-42886-1. 
  15. See, for instance, SN 12.2 (Thanissaro, 1997b), where the Buddha states: 'And what are fabrications? These three are fabrications: bodily fabrications, verbal fabrications, mental fabrications. These are called fabrications.'
  16. William S Waldron (2003). The Buddhist Unconscious: The Alaya-vijñana in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought. Routledge. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-134-42886-1. 
  17. Mathieu Boisvert (1995). The Five Aggregates: Understanding Theravada Psychology and Soteriology. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. 93–98. ISBN 978-0-88920-257-3. 
  18. William S Waldron (2003). The Buddhist Unconscious: The Alaya-vijñana in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought. Routledge. pp. 190–191 notes 2–5, Chapter 1. ISBN 978-1-134-42886-1. 
  19. William S Waldron (2003). The Buddhist Unconscious: The Alaya-vijñana in the Context of Indian Buddhist Thought. Routledge. p. 102. ISBN 978-1-134-42886-1. 
  20. SN 12.38 (Thanissaro, 1995).
  21. Guenther (1975), Kindle Location 321.
  22. Kunsang (2004), p. 23.
  23. Geshe Tashi Tsering (2006), Kindle Location 456.
  24. Geshe Tashi Tsering (2006), Kindle Location 564-568.
  25. Leigh Brasington
  26. See Piyadassi (1999). This is also suggested, for instance, by Bodhi (2000), p. 46, who in writing about one sense of saṅkhāra states: "In the widest sense, saṅkhāra comprises all conditioned things, everything arisen from a combination of conditions."
  27. See Piyadassi (1999). This is also suggested, for instance, by Bodhi (2000), p. 46, who in writing about one sense of saṅkhāra states: 'In the widest sense, saṅkhāra comprises all conditioned things, everything arisen from a combination of conditions.'
  28. According to Bodhi (2000), p. 44, 'determinations' was used by Ven. Ñāṇamoli in his Majjhima Nikaya manuscripts that ultimately were edited by Bodhi. (In the published volume, Bodhi changed Ñāṇamoli's word choice to "formations.")
  29. According to Nanavira Thera 'the word sankhāra, in all contexts, means 'something that something else depends on', that is to say a determination (determinant).' (Notes on Dhamma: Sankhāra)
  30. See, for instance, Thanissaro (1997b).
  31. See the extended discussion at Bodhi (2000), pp. 44-47. Other translations considered by but ultimately rejected by Bodhi include "constructions" (p. 45) and "activities" (p. 45, especially to highlight the karmic aspect of saṅkhāra).
  32. Milinda's questions. Sacred books of the Buddhists;. I.B. Horner (trans.). London: Luzac. 1963. 
  33. Ñāṇānanda, Katukurunde, 1988-1991, The Mind Stilled: 33 Lectures on Nibbāna, online at http://www.seeingthroughthenet.net. Bhikkhu Ñāṇānanda also notes, "in the ancient Indian society, one of the primary senses of the word saṅkhāra was the make-up done by actors and actresses" (http://www.seeingthroughthenet.net/files/eng/books/ms/nibbana_the_mind_stilled_I.pdf, p. 109).
  34. See the extended discussion at Bodhi (2000), pp. 44-47. Other translations considered by but ultimately rejected by Bodhi include 'constructions' (p. 45) and 'activities' (p. 45, especially to highlight the kammic aspect of saṅkhāra).


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