The term 'kaya-sankhara' is defined in MN 44 as the 'in & out breathing'.

The same term is found in step 4 of Anapanasati & in the 2nd nidana of Paticcasamuppada, as follows:

He trains himself, 'I will breathe in calming kāyasaṅkhāraṃ. 'He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming kāyasaṅkhāraṃ.' Anapanasati Sutta


And what are saṅkhārā? These three are saṅkhārā: kāyasaṅkhāro, vacī (verbal) saṅkhāro, citta (mind) saṅkhāro. These are called saṅkhārā. Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta

My questions:

  1. Does 'kaya-sankhara' have the same meaning in both contexts, i.e., in & out breathing?

  2. If not, is there another alternative definition apart from in MN 44?

  3. If not, is it possible for both contexts to have the same meaning?


3 Answers 3

  1. No.

    Saṅkhāra-paṭiccasamuppāda cause viññāṇā-resultant, nāma&rūpa-resultant, saḷāyatanā-resultant, phassa-resultant, and vedanā-resultant.

    Kāya-saṅkhāra is breath, cause of body's living, breath's effect. But breath is an effect, cittaja-rūpa, of paṭiccasamuppāda's elements. Especially for this question, saṅkhāra-paṭiccasamuppāda cause kāya-saṅkhāra, breath, and many other effects.

    In cūḷavedallasutta, MN 44, they talking about (1) concentration meditation then (2) three saṅkhāra than nirodhasamāpatti-attainment and (3) nirodhasamāpatti-rising.

    Because of above 3 contexts, the 3 saṅkhāra must relate with jhāna. And the proper relating saṅkhāra with saṅkhāra in MN 44 is kāya-saṅkhāra that we can found in ānāpānassati-pabba and ariyavasa-sutta. They are effect-saṅkhāra that are ceased by jhāna.

    If breath is saṅkhāra-paticcasamuppāda, arahanta will can't breathe because buddha taught in cessation paṭiccasamuppāda:

    With the fading and cessation of ignorance without a remainder determinations cease.

    But the fact appear in many sutta that arahanta still breath, except arahanta who achieving 4th jhāna, and nirodhasamāpatti. For the example in dutiya –– ariyavasasuttaṃ:

    Bhikkhus, how is the bhikkhu with appeased bodily determinations? Here, bhikkhus, the bhikkhu dispelling pleasantness and unpleasantness and earlier having dispelled pleasure and displeasure, abides in the fourth higher state of the mind. Thus the bhikkhu is with appeased bodily determinations.

    1. The context of many sutta related with ānāpānassati, already described itself:

    He trains himself, 'I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.'

    Alternative translation: He trains himself, 'I will breathe in decreased breathing effort.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out decreased breathing effort.'

    Sāriputta described in paṭisambhidāmagga also:

    What is "I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication, I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication"?

    What is bodily fabrication?

    Long breathing (that is the first element in ānapāna-pabba) relating with body = That long breathing involve with body, cause of body. The practitioner trains to calm=to stop=to cease that bodily fabrication.

    In abhidhamma, vibhaṅga, is the same.

    For more information, see ānāpānakatha in path of purification.

    1. The very important information is: ariyavasasutta that memorized by anuruddha school, ānāpānassatisutta+cūḷavedallasutta that memorized by sāriputta school, and mahāsaṭipaṭṭhānasutta that memorized by ānanda school, relating with each other with out any lacking.


    Because they were arahanta who perfectly ceased every bias, then they recited and memorized tipitaka together, not just read.

  2. No, they are not the same, they are used in very difference contexts.

  • In paticcasummupada, every condition is polluted by ignorance. For example, SN 22.81 refers to contact with ignorance (Avijjā­samphas­sa­jena). Buddha has phassa but not Avijjā­samphas­sa­jena. Buddha has vedana (iti 44) but not Avijjā­samvedana­jena. Buddha has breathing but not Avijjā­samBREATHING­jena. Ignorance does not end immediately but it gradual (SN 36.11). The calming of the sankhara in paticcasammupada & anapanasati is the same. When there is stopping reciting texts like a Brahman and start stream-entry like a Noble Buddhist, there will be right understanding. Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 20:41
  • 1
    I agree with this answer, these are two different contexts, so even though both refer to "bodily-components", the meaning is different.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 20:18

If you would look into the edited previous version, I’ve said that 'kaya-sankhara' have the same meaning in both contexts, but the problem is in the “I” as in “'I will breathe out…” but now I’ve come to understand that there is another meaning to 'kaya-sankhara'.

The Buddha has taught the way to identify a thought based on the basis of kaya, vedana, citta and dhamma. The common meaning given to “kaya” at present is “physical body”. But, when the term “kaya” is closely examined, it becomes evident that the term “kaya” has been used to represent the “action of a thought”.

These are actions of a thought leading to defilements, habits; It comes from “san” + “kära” or actions that involve “san”. All our thoughts, speech, and bodily actions are based on sankhara that arise in the mind. Therefore, it is important to realize that vaci sankhara and kaya sankhara also arise in the mind. Kaya sankhara are in “conscious thoughts” that make our bodies move.

In each section of the Satipatthana Suta we find the phrase “ iti ajjhattam va kaye kayanupassi viharati, bahiddha va kaye kayanupassi viharati...”. In terms of the common translations found in the books, Ajjhatta Kaya and bahiddha Kaya are considered as one’s own body and the bodies of others. Even though a mediator could contemplate one’s own body, attempts to contemplate the bodies of others may lead to problems. That is why we need to be skeptical about the real meaning of this situation.

The Satipatthana Sutta analyses a methodical, gradual approach to bring happiness and make progress steadily for practitioners. The stages such as sabba kaya patisamvedi..., passam bhayam kaya sankharam..., ajjhatta kaya, bahiddha kaya could only be discerned by a calm mind devoid of defilements to some extent. In other words, it is the stage where the in and out breaths have become shallow (rassa stage). The mind reaches “Samadhi” (concentration) at the rassa stage. Ajjhatta and Bahiddha are an analytical vision gained as a result and strength of the Samadhi.

The misunderstanding regarding these terms has resulted from the misinterpretation of the word “kaya”. The Buddha has always emphasized the functional meaning of a word when analyzing the teachings. Therefore, the functional meaning of the term “kaya” is an “action”. In this context, “ajjhatta kaya” is the internal action, meaning the action of the “mind”.

A meditator is supposed to observe whether or not his mind gets distorted as a result of an external stimuli, in terms of the Buddha’s teaching referred to as “ajjhattam va kaye kayanupassi viharati”. To take an example… If a person is teasing you from afar, you could see his attempts to infuriate you with his foolish, insensible actions. You could hear his remarks aimed at disappointing you. Despite these provoking actions, if you could remain indifferent without letting these provoking actions distort your mind, then, your ajjhatta kaya (mind) is not subjected to any change, distortion due to bahiddha kaya (external action). If your mind had any negative impact due to these external actions (bahiddha kaya), you need to understand that you lacked the thoughts of “letting go” which could have prevented the negativities in the mind. You did not let go of the causes responsible for your mental stress. At this stage, you become aware that your mind is still geared towards the four miserable states of existence'' (satara apa). In this circumstance, the meditator realizes that if he were to progress with happiness and contentment, he should not accept and link with any external stimuli, relations. He decides at this moment that what is needed to preserve happiness is to identify each thought without letting them in to distort the mind through further dealings. He needs to sever external sensory links by confining thoughts brought about by the sense faculties to “identify”, “become aware” only.

Now, we know that the root cause for our discomfort, suffering is getting involved, getting hooked up to the external world. With this first-hand knowledge, one is able to deal with any action of the external world, without having any negative impact on the internal world (ajjhatta kaya); without letting any external action shaken the internal world (ajjhatta kaya). This is the Satipatthana teaching known as “ajjhattam va kaye kayanupassi viharati...”.

A meditator who progresses to this stage would comprehend perfectly that suffering is brought about by getting involved in external relations, stimuli. This is a very important stage in the Buddhist teachings involving the Dukkha Sacca (Noble Truth of Suffering and Samudaya Sacca (Noble Truth of Origination of Suffering). This stage brings the understanding that whenever an individual’s mind gets corrupted, distorted and changed to another condition, it is due to an admittance and involvement with a sense – faculty- based object.

Bhavana is the advancement of mind which results from both, the practice of “letting go” and the discipline achieved by “letting go”. The anapana pabba (section on In and Out breathing) leads a practitioner’s mind towards a defilement-free state in three stages referred to as Sila, Samadhi and Panna. This is the stage known as “rassa” where a practitioner experiences shallow breathing during the anapana meditation. This is the composed state of mind known as Samadhi. So, it is clear that the cultivation of Sila and Samadhi is a direct result of subjugation of defilements due to the exercise of “letting go” and the discipline achieved by sustaining the process of “letting go”. Panna is the understanding one gains at this stage. One realizes that one’s achievement is in line with the section “sabba kaya patisamvedi assasikkhamiti sikkhati… in the Satipattana Sutta. Accordingly, one experiences finer in and out breath, tranquility of mental factors (kaya-passaddhi) and tranquility of consciousness (citta-passaddhi), and less tendency for attachment at this stage.

'Kaya-sankhara' is also found in the 2nd nidana of Paticcasamuppada. Paticca samuppada begins with avijja (ignorance). What runs contrary to avijja is vijja (clear knowledge). It is the conduct based on non-attachment. When the conduct is geared based on non-attachment (vijja), formations (sankhara) cease to arise – vijja paccaya visamkara. As the Buddha’s conduct is entirely devoid of any attachment, the Buddha is known as “vijja carana sampanno”. “kathameva bhikkhave sankhara…”; analysing the formations (sankhara) the Buddha classified three types of sankhara, namely , kaya sankhara ( in & out breathing – as defined in the Culavedalla Sutta), vaci sankhara (initial & sustained thought' -vittaka & vicara ) and citta sankhara (perception & feeling). These formations are shrouded in avijja (avijja) and function as a flow of energy associated with attachment which could be comparable to magnetic force.

Formations with high degree of heat energy are known as “apunyabhi sankhara”. Formations with moderate heat energy are known as “punyabhi sankhara” and the formations with lower heat energy are known as “anenjabhi sankara”.

As long as avijja is in existence sankharas are bound to form with resulting attachment. When a mind is cultivated to dispense with avijja, then, sankhara begin to cease. This is the stage where the mind is devoid of intense heat and attachment. This mental state is described in the verse, ” visamkhara gatham cittam , tanha nam khayamajjhaga…”. When sankaharas are present, vinnana (consciousness) takes place, and so on, and so on….


The meaning is exactly the same.

MN 9 says asava & ignorance are the same.

When nama-rupa & consciousness are unaffected by hindrances, it will be discerned the most basic non-verbal non-volitional disturbance is asava disturbing in the in & out breathing (kaya sankhara). When nama-rupa has samadhi, it will calm the kaya-sankhara. But if the asava gives rise to a non-volitional distracting thought or memory, this distracting thought or memory is vaci sankhara (thought) & citta sankhara (perception & feeling).

When nama-rupa has samadhi, it calms the kaya-sankhara; calms the vaci-sankhara & can even calm the citta-sankhara (perception & feeling; nirodha samapatti).

When these sankhara are calmed (samatha), ignorance & asava can be destroyed (vipassana). When ignorance is destroyed by vipassana, Dependent Origination is also destroyed.

The most basic disturbance that can be experienced is non-volitional kaya, vaci & citta sankhara, which are non-volitional vibrations caused by underlying ignorance & asava.

This is the experience of sotapanna & higher noble disciples of the Lord Buddha. Every meditator with samadhi has a duty to confirm & verify whether the above answer is true or false.

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