Sankhara, Saṅkhāra: 10 definitions


Sankhara means something in Buddhism, Pali, Marathi. If you want to know the exact meaning, history, etymology or English translation of this term then check out the descriptions on this page. Add your comment or reference to a book if you want to contribute to this summary article.

In Buddhism

Theravada (major branch of Buddhism)

Source: Access to Insight: A Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms

Formation, compound, fashioning, fabrication - the forces and factors that fashion things (physical or mental), the process of fashioning, and the fashioned things that result. Sankhara can refer to anything formed or fashioned by conditions, or, more specifically, (as one of the five khandhas) thought formations within the mind.

Source: Journey to Nibbana: Patthana Dhama


Source: Pali Kanon: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines

Sankhāra (“formation”).

Source: Pali Kanon: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines

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.

context information

Theravāda is a major branch of Buddhism having the the Pali canon (tipitaka) as their canonical literature, which includes the vinaya-pitaka (monastic rules), the sutta-pitaka (Buddhist sermons) and the abhidhamma-pitaka (philosophy and psychology).

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General definition (in Buddhism)

Source: Wisdom Library: Buddhism

Sankhara:—Mental formations.

Source: Buddhist Door: GlossarySee Volition or Five Skandhas.Source: Amaravati: Glossary

conditions, i.e. the sum of the properties making up existence.

Source: Access to Insight: Anicca Vata Sankhara

The word sankhara is derived from the prefix sam, meaning "together," joined to the noun kara, "doing, making." Sankharas are thus "co-doings," things that act in concert with other things, or things that are made by a combination of other things. Translators have rendered the word in many different ways: formations, confections, activities, processes, forces, compounds, compositions, fabrications, determinations, synergies, constructions.

Languages of India and abroad

Pali-English dictionary

[«previous next»] — Sankhara in Pali glossary
Source: BuddhaSasana: Concise Pali-English Dictionary

saṅkhāra : (m.) essential condition; a thing conditioned, mental coefficients.

Source: Sutta: The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary

Saṅkhāra, (fr. saṃ+kṛ, not Vedic, but as saṃskāra Epic & Class. Sk. meaning “preparation” and “sacrament, ” also in philosophical literature “former impression, disposition, “ cp. vāsanā) 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 def. translation.—An exhaustive discussion of the term is given by Franke in his Dīgha translation (pp. 307 sq. , esp. 311 sq.); see also the analysis in Cpd. 273—276.—Lit. “preparation, get up”; applied: coefficient (of consciousness as well as of physical life, cp. viññāṇa), constituent, constituent potentiality; (pl.) synergies, cause-combination, as in S. III, 87; discussed, B. Psy. , p. 50 sq. (cp. DhsA. 156, where paraphrased in definition of sa-saṅkhāra with “ussāha, payoga, upāya, paccaya-gahaṇa”); composition, aggregate. 1. Aggregate of the conditions or essential properties for a given process or result — e.g. (i.) the sum of the conditions or properties making up or resulting in life or existence; the essentials or “element” of anything (-°), e.g. āyusaṅkhāra, life-element D. II, 106; S. II, 266; PvA. 210; bhavasaṅkhāra, jīvitasaṅkhāra, D. II, 99, 107. (ii.) Essential conditions, antecedents or synergy (co-ordinated activity), mental coefficients, requisite for act, speech, thought: kāya°, vacī°, citta°, or mano°, described respectively as “respiration, ” “attention and consideration, ” “percepts and feelings, ” “because these are (respectively) bound up with, ” or “precede” those M. I, 301 (cp. 56); S. IV, 293; Kvu 395 (cp. translation 227); Vism. 530 sq.; DhsA. 8; VbhA. 142 sq.—2. One of the five khandhas, or constitutional elements of physical life (see khandha), comprising all the citta-sampayutta-cetasikā dhammā — i.e. the mental concomitants, or adjuncts which come, or tend to come, into consciousness at the uprising of a citta, or unit of cognition Dhs. 1 (cp. M. III, 25). As thus classified, the saṅkhāra’s form the mental factor corresponding to the bodily aggregate or rūpakkhandha, and are in contrast to the three khandhas which represent a single mental function only. But just as kāya stands for both body and action, so do the concrete mental syntheses called saṅkhārā tend to take on the implication of synergies, of purposive intellection, connoted by the term abhisaṅkhāra, q. v.—e.g. M. III, 99, where saṅkhārā are a purposive, aspiring state of mind to induce a specific rebirth; S. II, 82, where puññaṃ, opuñ‹-› ñaṃ, āṇeñjaṃ s. abhisaṅkharoti, is, in D. III, 217 & Vbh. 135, catalogued as the three classes of abhisaṅkhāra; S. II, 39, 360; A. II, 157, where s. is tantamount to sañcetanā; Miln. 61, where s. , as khandha, is replaced by cetanā (purposive conception). Thus, too, the ss. in the Paṭiccasamuppāda formula are considered as the aggregate of mental conditions which, under the law of kamma, bring about the inception of the paṭisandhiviññāṇa, or first stirring of mental life in a newly begun individual. Lists of the psychologically, or logically distinguishable factors making up the composite saṅkhārakkhandha, with constants and variants, are given for each class of citta in Dhs. 62, etc. (N. B. -Read cetanā for vedanā, § 338.) Phassa and cetanā are the two constant factors in the s-kkhandha. These lists may be compared with the later elaboration of the saṅkhāra-elements given at Vism. 462 sq.—3. saṅkhārā (pl.) in popular meaning. In the famous formula (and in many other connections, as e.g. sabbe saṅkhārā) “aniccā vata saṅkhārā uppādavaya-dhammino” (D. II, 157; S. I, 6, 158, 200; II, 193; Th. 1, 1159; J. I, 392, cp. Vism. 527), which is rendered by Mrs. Rh. D. (Brethren, p 385 e.g. ) as “O, transient are our life’s experiences! Their nature ‘tis to rise and pass away, ” we have the use of s. in quite a general & popular sense of “life, physical or material life”; and sabbe saṅkhārā means “everything, all physical and visible life, all creation. ” Taken with caution the term “creation” may be applied as t. t. in the Paṭiccasamuppāda, when we regard avijjā as creating, i.e. producing by spontaneous causality the saṅkhāras, and saṅkhārā as “natura genita atque genitura” (the latter with ref. to the foll. viññāṇa). If we render it by “formations” (cp. Oldenberg’s “Gestaltungen, ” Buddha 71920, p. 254), we imply the mental “constitutional” element as well as the physical, although the latter in customary materialistic popular philosophy is the predominant factor (cp. the discrepancies of “life eternal” and “life is extinct” in one & the same European term). None of the “links” in the Paṭicca-samuppāda meant to the people that which it meant or was supposed to mean in the subtle and schematic philosophy (dhammā duddasā nipuṇā!) of the dogmatists.—Thus saṅkhārā are in the widest sense the “world of phenomena” (cp. below °loka), all things which have been made up by pre-existing causes.—At PvA. 71 we find saṅkhārā in lit. meaning as “things” (preparations) in definition of ye keci (bhogā) “whatever. ” The sabbe s. at S. II, 178 (translation “all the things of this world”) denote all 5 aggregates exhausting all conditioned things; cp. Kvu 226 (translation “things”); Mhvs. IV, 66 (: the material and transitory world); Dh. 154 (vi-saṅkhāragataṃ cittaṃ=mind divested of all material things); DhsA. 304 (translation “kamma activities, ” in connection avijjā-paccaya-s°); Cpd. 211, n. 3.—The definition of saṅkhārā at Vism. 526 (as result of avijjā & cause of viññāṇa in the P. -S.) is: saṅkhataṃ abhisaṅkharontī ti saṅkhārā. Api ca: avijjā-paccayā saṅkhārā saṅkhāra-saddena āgata-saṅkhārā ti duvidhā saṅkhārā; etc. with further def. of the 4 saṅkhāras. ‹-› 4. Var. passages for saṅkhāra in general: D. II, 213; III, 221 sq. , M. II, 223 (imassa dukkha-nidānassa saṅkhāraṃ padahato saṅkhāra-ppadhānā virāgo hoti); S. III, 69 (ekanta-dukkhā saṅkhārā); IV, 216 sq. (saṅkhārāṇaṃ khaya-dhammatā; id. with vaya°, virāga°, nirodha° etc.); Sn. 731 (yaṃ kiñci dukkhaṃ sambhoti sabbaṃ saṅkhāra-paccayā; saṅkhārānaṃ nirodhena n’atthi dukkhassa sambhavo); Vism. 453, 462 sq. (the 51), 529 sq.; DhA. III, 264, 379; VbhA. 134 (4 fold), 149 (3 fold), 192 (āyūhanā); PvA. 41 (bhijjana-dhammā). ‹-› Of passages dealing with the saṅkhāras as aniccā, vayadhammā, anattā, dukkhā etc. the foll. may be mentioned: Vin. I, 13; S. I, 200; III, 24; IV, 216, 259; V, 56, 345; M. III, 64, 108; A. I, 286; II, 150 sq.; III, 83, 143; IV, 13, 100; It. 38; Dh. 277, 383; Ps. I, 37, 132; II, 48; 109 sq.; Nd2 444, 450; also Nd2 p. 259 (s. v. saṅkhārā).

Pali book cover
context information

Pali is the language of the Tipiṭaka, which is the sacred canon of Theravāda Buddhism and contains much of the Buddha’s speech. Closeley related to Sanskrit, both languages are used interchangeably between religions.

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Marathi-English dictionary

Source: DDSA: The Molesworth Marathi and English Dictionary

sāṅkhārā (सांखारा).—m Rubbish and mud &c. as gathered in and blocking up a water-channel. 2 Dregs or sediment.

context information

Marathi is an Indo-European language having over 70 million native speakers people in (predominantly) Maharashtra India. Marathi, like many other Indo-Aryan languages, evolved from early forms of Prakrit, which itself is a subset of Sanskrit, one of the most ancient languages of the world.

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