In researching Dependent Origination as described in SN 12.2 and using a basic Pali language guide (page 18), I found the following about each main Pali word:

jarāmaraṇaṃ singular from maraṇa neuter

jati singular from jāti feminine

bhavo singular from bhava masculine

upādānaṃ singular from upādāna neuter

taṇhā singular from taṇhā feminine

vedanā singular from vedanā feminine

phasso singular from phassa masculine

saḷāyatanaṃ singular from saḷāyatana neuter

nāmarūpaṃ singular from nāmarūpa neuter

viññāṇaṃ singular from viññāṇa neuter

saṅkhārā plural from saṅkhāra masculine

avijjā singular from avijjā feminine

The above seems to correlate with every translation I have read. Note: saḷāyatanaṃ may appear to be translated as plural but it appears singular because it includes 'six'.

For example, all translations say: "What is feeling [singular]?" rather than "What are feelings [plural]?"

And what is feeling? Katamā ca, bhikkhave, vedanā? There are these six classes of feeling. Chayime, bhikkhave, vedanākāyā— Feeling born of contact through the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. cakkhusamphassajā vedanā, sotasamphassajā vedanā, ghānasamphassajā vedanā, jivhāsamphassajā vedanā, kāyasamphassajā vedanā, manosamphassajā vedanā. This is called feeling. Ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, vedanā.

The saṅkhārā condition is described as follows:

And what are saṅkhārā [plural]? Katame ca, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā?

There are three kinds of saṅkhārā. Tayome, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā— body saṅkhāro [singular], speech saṅkhāro [singular] and mind saṅkhāro [singular] kāyasaṅkhāro, vacīsaṅkhāro, cittasaṅkhāro.

Why is the Pali word 'saṅkhārā' in Dependent Origination plural where all other words are singular?

2 Answers 2


Dependent origination is the cycle of the happening event. Each event has only one decision. There are 2 saṅkhāra for each decision: wholesome and unwholesome. Wholesome saṅkhāra gives good resultants. Unwholesome saṅkhāra gives bad resultants. So, viññāna to vedanā which are the resultants of saṅkhāra must be singular, because it's just the resultants of one decision. Jāti and jarāmaraṇaṃ are same. Wholesome karmma-bhavo gives good resultants. Unwholesome karmma-bhavo gives bad resultants. So, jāti and jarāmaraṇaṃ must be singular because of the same reason.

Above explanation explained clearly in abhidhamma vibhaṅga paccayākāravibhaṅga and it's atthakathā. It separates each event to singular as "saṅkhāro". That's why no direct explaination in any atthakathā, included path of purification. However, it's used widely in difference context such as in VN.A. Introduction.

And this is the example of what I wrote "it's used widely":

Kusalattika: kusalā dhammā, akusalā dhammā, abyākatā dhammā.

The "wholesome" triad: wholesome phenomena, unwholesome phenomena, not both phenomena

The Path of Purification detailedly exposited the dependent origination follow to 'the "wholesome" triad':

jarāmaraṇaṃ = not both phenomena

jati = not both phenomena

bhavo = not both phenomena

upādānaṃ = unwholesome phenomena

taṇhā = unwholesome phenomena

vedanā = not both phenomena

phasso = not both phenomena

saḷāyatanaṃ = not both phenomena

nāmarūpaṃ = not both phenomena

viññāṇaṃ = not both phenomena

saṅkhārā = 1. wholesome phenomena, 2. unwholesome phenomena

avijjā = unwholesome phenomena

You can see whether saṅkhārā are separated into 2 events.

Above quote is my own conclusion. To read it, the reader needs to understand in advance of chapter XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, and some part of chapter I, III. Also, it requires Abhidhamma knowledge in advance, as well.

Path of Purification, CH. XVII, THE SOIL OF UNDERSTANDING—CONCLUSION, DEPENDENT ORIGINATION, III. Detailed Exposition page 547-608.

  • I marked this answer down because it is difficult to comprehend. Also, all conditions are unwholesome. Bhavo is unwholesome. Jati is unwholesome. 1st words of Buddha = jati is suffering. Dec 4, 2018 at 20:10
  • If Upatti-Bhavo and Jati are unwholesome, there are no any arahanta, because arahanta must crease all unwholesome phenomena to be arahanta. Arahanta has no unwholesome phenomena, but his current life's suffering still going on until he dies. Another I modified it. I concluded it from the path of purification, as I modified above, so if you don't understand the path of purification, you can ask about it in a new topic.
    – Bonn
    Dec 5, 2018 at 0:45
  • To provide a better answer, i think you need to explain your key point more clearly, in the answer. Please do not add more comments. Thanks Dec 5, 2018 at 0:59
  • 1
    @Dhammadhatu How can I explain hundreds page in this topic? -- even harder in English. I think Bonn is saying that an answer can be found in pages 547-608 of the linked Path -- that's a chapter which explains DO in detail, Chapter XVII -- and that to understand that you need to have understood chapters 14-16 and some part of 1 and 3.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 5, 2018 at 6:11
  • @Dhammadhatu The bit most relevant to your question might start at near the top of page 548, i.e. "Formations" (which, is plural) -- which analyses or lists them (plural) in considerable detail.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 5, 2018 at 6:16

Disappointing there has only been one attempt to answer this question. Often questions are asked about if only one sense organ can operate at the same time therefore I expected some interest in this question.

The impression is each link (except sankhara) allows for the common arising of one type of phenomena in a moment. For example, eye contact being the predominant experience or sensual attachment being the predominant experience or sensual becoming being the predominant experience.

However, with sankhara, the impression is all three sankhara (namely, kaya, vaci & citta sankhara) can arise together, at the same time.

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