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It maybe a very confusing question. But I have been contemplating this quite a lot recently.

Ven. Ajahn Chah preached, as the Lord Buddha once said :

One who sees Sankhara and is purged of attachment has happiness. Mind is Sankhara. Body is Sankhara. Sankhara is not us or ours. Thus those who see Sankhara are at peace. They see the mind and body not as 'self' but only as 'Sankhara'. (pg.22, paragraph 3) - Excerpt from 'Being Dharma' By Ven.Ajahn Chah

When I contemplate these deep words, I feel that 'Sankhara' means 'things that are conditioned, impermanent, ever changing and not reliable sources of happiness'.

Wikipedia defines 'Sankhara' as follows:

Saṅkhāra (Pali; Sanskrit saṃskāra) is a term figuring prominently in Buddhism. The word means 'that which has been put together' and 'that which puts together'. In the first (passive) sense, saṅkhāra refers to conditioned phenomena generally but specifically to all mental "dispositions".[1] These are called 'volitional formations' both because they are formed as a result of volition and because they are causes for the arising of future volitional actions.[2] English translations for saṅkhāra in the first sense of the word include 'conditioned things,'[3] 'determinations,'[4] 'fabrications'[5] and 'formations' (or, particularly when referring to mental processes, 'volitional formations').[6] In the second (active) sense of the word, saṅkhāra refers to that faculty of the mind/brain apparatus (sankhara-khandha) that puts together those formations.[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sa%E1%B9%85kh%C4%81ra

But when we think even deeper, if both mind and body are 'sankhara', then who is the 'being' within our minds, who travels through this eternity of existence? This 'being' that some refer simply (and quite wrongly) as an 'Āthma' or in other ways as 'existence'? If 'Āthma' or 'existence' is Sankhara, then how does it endlessly exist? Sure it changes from one existence to another, but it is endlessly existing , which contradicts the nature of 'Sankhara' itself, making 'our existence' immortal.

It is like a man travelling from house to house. The house breaks down, but the man is eternally travelling. Who is this man, and how is he eternally travelling, is he is also 'Sankhara'? Shouldn't he also end at some point or the other? In this analogy, the man is the 'existence', and the house symbolizes our body and mind.

I know this is very confusing material, but I consider this site a realm filled with knowledgeable beings. I would find myself very happy to find any number of meaningful replies.

Thankyou!!!

  • The words "endless", "immortal" and "eternal" do not appear in the web page about Sankhara that you cited. So, you brought those ideas in to your concept. They are yours, not Sankhara's. – user2341 Nov 11 '15 at 1:37
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who is the 'being' within our minds, who travels through this eternity of existence?

'being' is simply a label given to nama-rupa. There's no being within the mind. It's like asking "what is the car within the car? Is it the engine? Wheels? Frame? Seats?". No such thing! 'Car' is simply a label given to a certain arrangement of all that.

Who travels through this eternity of existence?

Nobody! A being traveling through a Samsara is simply used in the metaphoric sense to give teachings at conceptual level. In reality, it's just Paticcasamuppada.

Sankhara paccaya Vinnana - Dependent on Karma consciousness arises

Sure it changes from one existence to another, but it is endlessly existing

What do you mean by 'it' here? Is it Nama, or is it Rupa? A single Rupa unit only lasts for 17 thought moments. The next Rupa arising is not the same as the previous. Nama vanishes even quicker. So what exactly is endlessly existing?

"It existing" here is simply a false view of reality about a Sanna(perception) caused by contact at the sense doors. Ignorance covers up impermanence, so instead of taking Sanna as just Sanna that rises and dies, we take Sanna as something existing.

Remaining questions are based on the above mentioned.

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The Nama and Rupa and there behavior is discuss in this answer. Some times this sankara refer as vinnana.

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The demarcation of Sankara is Nirvana which is not conditioned. Everything else is: beings, world, external, objects, etc. which is conditioned.

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"Who am "I" Nothing but Five Aggregates arising, ceasing away whilst still changing... As Ven. Dankande Dhammarathana Thero aptly says in one of his dhamma books named "Sankhara hara kawara MAMEK da ?

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    Hi and welcome to Buddhism SE:) Could you add some references to your answer and a translation of the words ""Sankhars hara kawara MAMEK da ?". That would increase the quality of your answer. Thank you. – Lanka Nov 10 '15 at 18:53
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The best answer you can get for these questions are in one place. You should learn "Tipitaka" for the most accurate answer.

This book will help (it is free for download).

Comprehensive-Manual-of-Abhidhamma

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But when we think even deeper, if both mind and body are 'sankhara', then who is the 'being' within our minds, who travels through this eternity of existence?

The pali word 'San' means to 'put/add/collect' 'khara' means 'to do'. However, sankhara do not refer to objects, instead sankhara refers to processes.

In the Culavedalla Sutta, three types of 'sankhara' are, rupa (form related) sankhara, vacci (directing and evaluating thought) sankhara, and mano (perception and feelings ) sankhara. In the same sutta above, the example of the form sankhara is given as the in breath and out breath. Thus sankhara denotes processes, and not objects. Therefore to say that the body and mind are sankhara means that the body and mind are processes. We can take an 'instance of those process states', a snapshot, and refer to them as objects, but the body and mind are constantly and continuously changing.

Now into these processes/sankhara you have introduced a 'being'. In the dhamma, when rupa, vedhana, sanna, sankhara, and vinnana (aka the five aggregates) come together that state is called a puggala (a being), but this is a state of flux.

who travels through this eternity of existence?

Now the 'who' is a concept which the dhamma explains is formed by viewing the aggregates either collectively or individually as mine, I, myself. Yet in the absence of these 5, conceptualizing a 'who' is impossible. Thus the concept of the 'who' dependent on 5 changing, inconstant, processes, that arise and pass away. Thus the 'who' too is changing, inconstant, arises and passes away, and a process. Therefore the view, the belief, that there is a permanent, unchanging 'who', an 'I', a 'mine', a 'self' is a false view, a false belief.

It is like a man travelling from house to house. The house breaks down, but the man is eternally travelling.

This view is formed, because of the continuous house making process (gaha kharako). If there comes a point, where the house breaks and a new house is not made, what will happen to this man of yours? Your man is defined as someone who lives in a house, but if there is no house, it is not possible to define or even conceptualize your man. Therefore the house making process and your man were one and the same. Without the house the man is not there, and without the man the house does not arise. So as long as there exists the erroneous view that there is a man separate to the house, the cycle continues.

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That's how consciousness is, one by one the consciousness comes and goes but there is no self or body when you look this closely moment by moment.

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It is like a man traveling from house to house. The house breaks down, but the man is eternally traveling. Who is this man, and how is he eternally traveling, is he is also 'Sankhara'? Shouldn't he also end at some point or the other? In this analogy, the man is the 'existence', and the house symbolizes our body and mind.

There is neither man nor no man. There is neither house nor no house.

And what are the man and the house?

Sankhara.

And why is there a man and a house and how is the man building houses and eternally traveling from house to house?

By volitional activities.

And why there are volitional activities?

You make them because of ignorance.

What ignorance?

One or more of the following:

  • Wrong view that there is 'a being'/'somebody'/'a soul'/'something'/etc. that is endlessly existing, eternally traveling, building houses ...

  • Wrong view that there is a man.

  • Wrong view that there is a house.

  • Wrong view that the man and the house are permanent.

  • Wrong view that happiness is in the impermanent. In the conditioned. Where Sankhara is.

Like the sun rises and sets over and over again, in the same way the man rises, builds his house, thinking, over and over again: "This time I'll make it last in eternity!"

Then, time passes ... old age comes ... the man dies ... the house crashes ... and the man, because of his past volitional activities, inexperienced, unwise, not knowing, ignorant: "This time I'll make it better!" ... travels in eternity ... searching the permanent in the impermanent ... the unconditioned in the conditioned ... over and over again.

In volitional activities, wanting "This time I'll make it better!", Sankhara arises and its entire mess of suffering.

And what is right view in this case?

  • There is no 'being'/'somebody'/'a soul'/'something'/etc. that is endlessly existing.

  • There is neither man nor no man.

  • There is neither house nor no house.

  • The man and the house are impermanent.

  • Happiness is in the permanent. In the unconditioned. Where Sankhara is not.

Like a giant pillar that is unmoved, unshaken, infinitely strong, rooted and eternal, in the same way the man neither rises nor does not rise, stops to build his house, thinking: "".

Then, time does neither pass nor not pass ... old age neither is nor it isn't ... the man neither dies nor not dies .. the house neither crashes nor not crashes ... and the man, because of his past volitional activities, experienced, wise, knowing, enlightened: "" ... is eternity ... neither searching the permanent nor the impermanent ... neither the unconditioned nor the conditioned ...

In the cessation of volitional activities, neither wanting nor not wanting, Sankhara and its entire mess of suffering do not arise.

When ignorance is removed, volitional activities can cease, and that which some teachers refer as The Absolute/God/The Unconditioned/Deathless/etc. is achieved.

The goal was reached. The holy life fulfilled. There's nothing else to be done.

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