About 'sankhara' in Dependent Origination as found in SN 12.2 of the Pali suttas, Bhikkhu Analayo said the following:

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Bhikkhu Thanissaro said the following:

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Which is right and why? Bhikkhu Analayo or Bhikkhu Thanissaro?

  • I like how Sankara has explained in Abhidhamma it is very easy to understand and eliminate all these other issues. In summary, there are three types of Kamma (present wholesome and unwholesome actions), vipaka (the result of wholesome and unwholesome actions) and Kiriya (neither wholesome nor unwholesome actions of Arahants)…
    – SarathW
    Jan 24, 2019 at 10:35
  • Is anyone observing and mindful of dependant origination without creating sankhara. What is the purpose of comparing these monks? Can we find out the answers without only these 2 options? From our own experience? Aug 7, 2019 at 15:01
  • where is B. Analayo's quote coming from (reference), and where is he trying to go with that? If he continues that line of reasoning, then his 12ps is broken for many other links as well.
    – frankk
    Aug 9, 2019 at 9:27
  • After reading all of the above, — analysis paralysis. Meaningless speculation like debating whether you walk around a squirrel clinging to a tree trunk as you circumambulate the tree and the squirrel adjusts for your movements. It was a silly and meaningless discussion with no practical consequences. How do each of us concoct our own sankhara anyway?
    – Ed lowrie
    Dec 9, 2022 at 19:20

3 Answers 3


Ajahn Thanissaro’s description is accurate. The 3 sankharas in MN44 is the same as SN12.2.

Arahant’s sankhara is NOT conditioned by ignorance. Arahant’s sankhara arises and ceases with knowledge. Feeling still arises and ceases in an Arahant, but it’s not conditioned by ignorance, which is why it doesn’t lead to craving. Contact conditions feeling. So long as the Arahant is still alive, there will be contact impinges on the 6 sense bases, and feeling will arise. As stated in SN12.51, the Arahant feels a feeling detached. Please note that the “sankhara” that Arahant does not generate (as stated in SN12.51) is kamma, and not the sankharas in MN44/SN12.2.

There are 2 sets of sankhara used in the Nikayas. First set is used in dependent origination discourses (MN44, SN12.2). Second set is used in kamma-vipaka discourses (SN12.51).

The dependent origination essay below discusses sankhara in more detail (including the above 2 sets of sankhara). It’s very concise and informative.



I'm with Thanissaro on this one even though most of the time I find Thanissaro's interpretations uninsightful but here he hits the mark. In context of DO, sankharas are those phenomena Thanissaro describes (namely, breathing in & out and subtle thoughts, perceptions & feelings) which are stirred up, affected or tainted by accumulated tendencies.

In the Pali suttas, "accumulated tendencies" are called "anusaya". When these "anusaya" flow out of the mind, they are called "asava". MN 9 includes "asava" within the 1st condition of ignorance, as follows:

From the origination of fermentation comes the origination of ignorance... From the origination of ignorance comes the origination of fermentation.

MN 9

Thus, AN 7.11 includes "ignorance" as an "accumulated" or "underlying tendency", as follows:

Mendicants, there are these seven underlying tendencies. What seven? The underlying tendencies of sensual desire, repulsion, views, doubt, conceit, desire for becoming and ignorance.

AN 7.11

It follows I think Thanissaro is correct here, when he says the breathing in & out and subtle thoughts, perceptions & feelings get stirred up or created by ignorance-asava.

Also, since the very 1st arising of "intention" in mentioned in Dependent Origination at the "nama-rupa" condition (and then later at the "craving" condition), its seems Analayo is again incorrect in his viewpoints.

  • 3
    What about the following quote from SN 12.39?: “Bhikkhus, what one intends, and what one plans, and whatever one has a tendency towards: this becomes a basis for the maintenance of consciousness. When there is a basis, there is a support for the establishing of consciousness. When consciousness is established and has come to growth, there is a descent of name-and-form" It puts intention before consciousness. Not at name-and-form.
    – ruben2020
    Jan 25, 2019 at 14:29
  • This comment appears irrelevant since SN 12.39 appears to refer to how what one intends & what one plans (in the near past) creates what one has a tendency towards. As I posted, the tendencies form part of ignorance. One of the asava is (past) becoming (bhava). Please do not make any further comments about what appear to be views of a willful self that spins dependent origination. If you read MN 19, it will be read how sankharas arise without volition, just as hindrances obviously arise in your meditation beyond your control. If you wish to discuss SN 12.39, I suggest to start a new question. Jan 26, 2019 at 1:35
  • I also suggest to read the suttas about "old kamma". These suttas say "old kamma" is something previously intended, which is to be "felt" in the present. "New kamma" is when the old kamma is not merely "felt" but reacted to with craving, causing the arising of "new kamma". In SN 12.39, what one intends & plans is "old kamma". The dependent arising is "new kamma". I also suggest reading AN 3.76, which similar to SN 12.39, uses the word "establishment" (patiṭṭhā & patiṭṭhitaṃ), which refer to "becoming". Thus it seems what is planned and intended refers to past becoming, which creates tendencies Jan 26, 2019 at 1:49
  • Also, SN 12.39 shows dependent origination is not about reincarnation since it refers to "descent (avakkanti) of name-and-form" (rather than descent of consciousness). This shows Analayo is probably wrong, again. "Avakkanti" merely means "development" rather than descending from space into a womb. How nama-rupa develop is explained in MN 149: "For him ... His bodily disturbances & mental disturbances grow. His bodily torments & mental torments grow. His bodily distresses & mental distresses grow. He is sensitive both to bodily stress & mental stress.". Jan 26, 2019 at 1:51
  • 1
    Answering your own questions is frowned upon here, you know.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Jan 27, 2019 at 14:15

Yes so there are several positions. Instead of the 2 exposed above, you can create position3 below:

position 1 :

  • samsara = all sankharas are here + each sankharas is linked to karma of actions
  • nibanna = nirodha of any sankhara + nirodha of any karma
  • parinibanna = same as nibanna + lack of heat element?

but then people say ''obliviously arhants breath, so kayasankhara is still here, but since arhants have destroyed karma, and karma is tied with sankharas, those sankharas remaining in an arhants were never linked to karma in the first place

position2 :

  • samsara = all sankharas are here + only the sankharas which are not cittasankhara, kayasankhara, vacisankhara are tied to karma
  • nibanna = cessation of each sankhara tied to karma
  • parinibanna = cessation of any remaining sankhara+zero karma

one problem with that is that with the path of ''jhanas only'', meaning going up to ''cessation of perception and feelings'' because the disciple does not do vipassana while the citta is in right samadhi, it is indeed the cessation of ''perception and feelings'' which destroys any link between karma and the sankhara found in an arhant. SO it is weird to say that cittasankharas are not linked to karma ever. THe people who invented position 2 do not say how the cittasankhara which are never linked to karma in the first place (compared to position1) manage to kill any future karma of any action.

It is like the famous problem of ''mind-body'' created by the intellectual christians: if cittasankhara, kayasankhara, vacisankhara never relate to karma, then how does their cessation manage to kill karma and rebirth?

position3 :

  • samsara = all sankharas are here + each sankharas is linked to karma of actions
  • nibanna = cessation of each sankhara tied to karma. However, the cittasankhara, kayasankhara, vacisankhara are still here, but no longer tied to karma. Perhaps it is even those 3 sankharas which are subject to the ''past karma''
  • parinibanna = cessation of any sankharas + zero karma

Said like that, Position 2 is the weakest.

  • if time is taken to watch breathing, it can be observed how ignorant outflows (asava) stir up the breathing. In other words, when the suttas describe Nibbana, they refer to the "samatho" (calming) of sankhara rather than the destruction of sankhara. "Nirodha" does not literally mean "cessation". In other words, i mostly have no idea about what you have posted because you seem to speaking another language when your write "cessation" , "sankhara", "kamma", etc, attributing one meaning to these multi-faceted words. Feb 12, 2019 at 6:46
  • in other words, if sankhara ends for Nibbana, consciousness must also end; therefore an arahant is unconsciousness. Feb 12, 2019 at 9:34

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