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Could someone explain to me how to meditate in order to see how the sankharas can be manipulated and changed so to not feel that the current situation is fixed and a must and helpless. I read somewhere that this was possible and in my personal practice that would be really helpful. From what I have heard there are 3 Sankharas : Kaya,vaci and citta or mano. How do i manipulate them during meditation and in what way do i manipulate them so I can see that there is free will and that I am not helpless could you describe with what particular technique do i manipulate or change a particular sankhara, I really need to understand it so that I can feel that these things are not a must because it seems like a must for me. (especially my feelings seems fixed and like a must)

Perhaps my perceptions are messing things up to so I really want to feel that I have power over my situation by direct seeing that these things are not a must and get be manipulated and changed beacuse now it seems like a must. But I would appreciate all possible advice you could give not just about manipulating feelings during meditation but all other Sankharas or aggregates and the technique used and which sankhara or aggregate is manipulated during that particular technique.

Also 1 more question. Are sankharas volitions (things we do uknowingly that can be stopped with free will) to me its like they have power over me is that ultimate truth, Because from my first question as you saw there was Monk that said that theese things could be manipulated that seems like they are not a must and can with free will and skillful attention,mindfulness be stopped if yes please tell me how and please describe how and what is happening and I will try it. Thank you all.

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Formations (Sankhara)

There are 3 kinds of formations as you identified:

Ayya, how many kinds of formation are there?

Avuso Visākha, there are these 3 kinds of formation

  • bodily formation, kāya,saṅkhāra

  • verbal formation, vacī,saṅkhāra

  • thought formation. citta,saṅkhāra

Cūla Vedalla Sutta

What are they?

But what, ayya, is bodily formation, what is verbal formation, what is thought formation?

Visākha,

  • The in-and-out breaths, are bodily formation.

  • Thinking and pondering are verbal formation.

  • Perception and feeling are thought formation.

Cūla Vedalla Sutta

Why these?

But, ayya,

  • why are the in-and-out-breaths bodily formation;
  • why are thinking and pondering verbal formation;
  • why are perception and feeling thought formation?

The in-and-out-breaths, avuso Visākha—these are states bound up with the body.

  • Therefore, they are bodily formation.

Avuso Visākha, one, having first thought and pondered, then breaks out into speech.

  • Therefore, thinking and pondering are verbal formation.

Perception and feeling—these are mentally-connected states, bound up with the mind.

  • Therefore, perception and feeling are thought formation.

Cūla Vedalla Sutta

Formations are due to volition and cause the arising of future volition. Also, it is volition which is the forerunner for karmic action. Since karma is backed by volition doing karmic action result in formations.

One cannot manipulate the formations as they are not-self. (Dhammapada Verse 279: "All phenomena (dhammas) are without Self"; when one sees this with Insight-wisdom, one becomes weary of dukkha (i.e., the khandhas). This is the Path to Purity) The past store of formations will remain as they are until they give results. Only then will past formations dissolve, will they cease to exist. The timing of karma is not in one's control. This cannot be changed or manipulated, as this is not in one's control.

But one can calm them (this is like stilling a muddy pond: the water becomes clear but the mud remains), prevent them from arising or create new ones to dilute past formations.

Caliming Formations

Calming Bodily Formations

To calm bodily formation or the breath one can use breath meditation. The calming does not happen immediately but when one reacher stage 4 of the breath meditation:

(4) He trains himself thus: ‘Calming the bodily formation (of breath), I will breathe in’;

He trains himself thus: ‘Calming the bodily formation (of breath), I will breathe out’;

Ānâpāna,sati Sutta

Calming Verbal Formations

Verbal formation or thinking and pondering of the mind is calmed by concentration.

What is concentration and how is concentration achieved?

(11) Now, ayya,

what is mental cultivation?

What are the objects of mental cultivation?

What are the requisites of mental cultivation?

What is the cultivation of samadhi?

Avuso Visākha, the one-pointedness of mind (cittassa ek’aggatā)—this is samadhi [mental stillness].

The 4 focuses of mindfulness (sati’paṭṭhāna)—these are the mental signs (nimitta) for samadhi.

The 4 right efforts (samma-p.padhāna)—these are the requisites of samadhi.

These states that are much cultivated, associated with, grown—this is here the cultivation of samadhi.

Cūla Vedalla Sutta

When initial and sustained through stops then thinking and pondering stops. This happens in the 2nd Jhana and beyond. See: Vitakka,vicāra by Piya Tan.

Calming Through Formations

Steps 7 and 8 of Anapanasati deals with calming the mind. The 2nd in the 2nd triad which is Mindfulness of Feelings. One uses the blissful feeling arisen from the breath meditation to do the calming.

(7) He trains himself thus: ‘Knowing the mental formations [mental functions], I will breathe in’;

He trains himself thus: ‘Knowing the mental formations [mental functions], I will breathe out’;

(8) He trains himself thus: ‘Calming the mental formations [mental functions], I will breathe in’;

He trains himself thus: ‘Calming the mental formations [mental functions], I will breathe out’;

Ānâpāna,sati Sutta

Stoping and Preventing Formation

Cessation of Through Formations (and other formations)

Though formations or perception and feeling are stopped by being in Nirodha or Pala Samapatthi. This is the cessation of perception and feeling. Nirodha Samapatthi is achieved after This is achieved in the 8th Jhana. Pala Samapatthi is achieved when one realises Nirvana through the practice of the Noble 8 Fold Path and completing the 3 fold training. See discussion in Cūla Vedalla Sutta.

In Nirodha Samapatthi, bodily and verbal formations would also be already suspended. See Cūla Vedalla Sutta. Also, all past formations will be suspended. Once one comes out of it the part formations will become effective again.

NB: for an enlightened person past formations are effective but new formations do not arise.

Preventing Formation from Arising

Feeling result in craving according to dependent origination. Craving leads to formations. In order to prevent formations arising one has to break the arising of craving at feelings.

The Blessed One said this:

“And what, bhikshus, is dependent arising?

With ignorance as condition, there are volitional formations;

with volitional formations as condition, there is consciousness;

with consciousness as condition, there is name-and-form;

with name-and-form as condition, there are the six sense-bases;

with the six sense-bases as condition, there is contact;

with contact as condition, there is feeling;

with feeling as condition, there is craving;

with craving as condition, there is clinging;

with clinging as condition, there is existence;

with existence as condition, there is birth;

with birth as condition, there arise decay and death,

sorrow, lamentation, physical pain,

mental pain and despair.

Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.

(Paṭicca,samuppada) Vibhanga Sutta

Past conditioning creates input for the dependent origination. How you react creates conditioning now which gives result in the future.

The way not to create new formations at the present moment is:

  • you have to know the feeling
  • know that it is impermanent
  • do not cling onto the feeling

To further elaborate:

  • Know the feeling

i. On seeing a form with the eye,

  • one investigates the form that is the basis for mental joy,
  • one investigates the form that is the basis of mental pain,
  • one investigates the form that is the basis of equanimity.

ii. On hearing a sound with the ear,

  • one investigates the sound that is the basis for mental joy,
  • one investigates the sound that is the basis of mental pain,
  • one investigates the sound that the basis of equanimity.

iii. On smelling a smell with the nose,

  • one investigates the smell that is the basis for mental joy,
  • one investigates the smell that is the basis of mental pain,
  • one investigates the smell that is the basis of equanimity.

iv. On tasting a taste with the tongue,

  • one investigates the taste that is the basis for mental joy,
  • one investigates the taste that is the basis of mental pain,
  • one investigates the taste that is the basis of equanimity.

v. On feeling a touch with the body,

  • one investigates the touch that is the basis for mental joy,
  • one investigates the touch that is the basis of mental pain,
  • one investigates the touch that is the basis of equanimity.

vi. On cognizing a mind-object with the mind,

  • one investigates the mind-object that the basis of mental joy,
  • one investigates the mind-object that is the basis of mental pain,
  • one investigates the mind-object that is the basis of equanimity.

Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta

  • Know that the feels are impermanent so do not cling onto them

If he feels a pleasant feeling,

  • he understands that it is impermanent;
  • he understands that it is not to be clung to;
  • he understands that there is no delight in it.

If he feels a painful feeling,

  • he understands that it is impermanent;
  • he understands that it is not to be clung to;
  • he understands that there is no delight in it.

If he feels a neutral feeling,

  • he understands that it is impermanent;
  • he understands that it is not to be clung to;
  • he understands that there is no delight in it.

If he feels a pleasant feeling, he feels it in a detached manner.

If he feels a painful feeling, he feels it in a detached manner.

If he feels a neutral feeling, he feels it in a detached manner.

Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta

Also, see: Nibbida by Piya Tan

Accumulating Formations

Accumulating Karmicly Positive Formations

You can achieve this by doing positive bodily, verbal and mental action.

You can engage in:

  • Giving (Dāna-maya)
  • Virtue (Sīla-maya)
  • Mental development (Bhāvanā-maya)
  • Honoring others (Apacāyana-maya)
  • Offering service (Veyyāvaca-maya)
  • Dedicating (or transferring) merit to others (Pāli:Pattidāna-maya; Sanskrit: puṇyapariṇāmanā)
  • Rejoicing in others' merit (Pattānumodanā-maya)
  • Listening to teachings (Dhammassavana-maya)
  • Instructing others in the teachings (Dhammadesanā-maya)
  • Straightening one's own views in accordance with the Teachings (Diṭṭhujukamma)

Merit (Buddhism)

Also, the accumulation of more formations with positive karmic potent can dilute past karma. This is like adding more water to an existing amount of salt, i.e., dilutes the taste of salt. See: Loṇa,phala Sutta

Not Accumulating Karmicly Negative Formations

You can achieve this refraining from negative bodily, verbal and mental action.

You can refrain from:

  • In giving up the taking of life, the practitioner will accomplish freedom from vexations;
  • In giving up stealing, the practitioner will find security in life, economically, socially and spiritually;
  • In giving up wrongful (sexual) conduct, the practitioner will find inner peace and peace in the family life;
  • In giving up lying, the practitioner will attain purity of speech and mind;
  • In giving up slander, the practitioner will be protected socially and spiritually;
  • In giving up harsh language, the practitioner's words will be more effective;
  • In giving up frivolous speech, the practitioner will become wise and dignified;
  • In giving up lust, the practitioner finds freedom in life through contentment and simplicity;
  • In giving up hatred, the practitioner will develop kindness and gentleness;
  • In giving up wrong views, the practitioner will not falter in the good and spiritual path.

Merit (Buddhism)

This is only like stopping the adding of salt into a glass of water. A lesser amount of salt means the salty taste is less. The salt one already put in will remain. See: Loṇa,phala Sutta

If this is combined by adding more water like in the example above, while not adding more salt. The salty taste will quickly dilute.

Controlling One's Perceptions Due to Feelings

Regarding perceptions, they also arise due to feeling.

“Bhikshu, as regards the source from which proliferation of conception and perception assails a person: if one were to find nothing there to delight in, nothing there to welcome, nothing to cling to—this is the end of

  • the latent tendency of lust,
  • the latent tendency of aversion,
  • the latent tendency of views,
  • the latent tendency of doubt,
  • the latent tendency of conceit,
  • the latent tendency of desire for existence, and
  • the latent tendency of ignorance.

This is the ending of the taking up of the rod and the sword, quarrels, disputes, mayhem [strife], slandering and lying —here these evil unwholesome states cease without remainder.”

Avuso, dependent on the [eye | ear | nose | tongue | body | mind] and [form | sound | smell | taste | touch | mind-object], [eye | ear | nose | tongue | body | mind]-consciousness arises.

  • The meeting of the three is contact.

  • With contact as condition, there is feeling.

  • What one feels, one perceives.

  • What one perceives, one thinks about.

  • What one thinks about, one mentally proliferates.

From that as source, proliferation of conception and perception assails a person regarding past, future and present [forms | sounds | smells | tastes | touch | mind-objects] cognizable through the [eye | ear | nose | tongue | body | mind].

Madhu,piṇḍika Sutta

For a worldly person perceptions, thoughts, views that arise are subjected to the 4 pervertions (vipallasa), which are:

  • what is impermanent is taken to be permanent;
  • what is painful is taken to be pleasurable;
  • what is not self is taken to be a (or the) self; and
  • what is impure [unattractive or repulsive] is taken to be pure [attractive or beautiful]

One should try to break this train also when feelins arise. The method to deal with preception is also as in the previous part, hence I will not repeat it here.

If

  • perceptions,
  • thoughts, or
  • views

do arise one should straighten them by contemplating:

  • Impermanent as impermanent
  • Painful as painful
  • Not-self as not-self
  • Impure [unattractive or repulsive] as impure

See Vipallasa Sutta

Also, concept proliferation and throughs can be subdude by the 2nd Jhana and beyond.

Summary

To calm bodily formation

  • do 1st triad of the Anapanasati Sutta. Bodily formations are fully suspended in the 4th Jhana as breathing stops.

To calm verbal formation

  • practice 2nd Jhana of above

To calm through the formation

  • do the 2nd triad of the Anapanasati Sutta. Though formations are fully suspended in Nirodha Samapatthi as both feeling and perception are suspended.

To stop the accumulation of formations

  • contemplate feeling are impermanent
  • rid the mind of perversions (vipallasa)
  • Jhana

To make the accumulation of positive karmic formations

  • be moral in bodily, verbal and mental conduct

Not to accumulate of negative karmic formations

  • refrain from negative bodily, verbal and mental conduct
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    Thank you, this is very illuminating – Erik Jul 16 at 9:54
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    You are welcome. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Jul 16 at 9:56
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    I made a few more improvements. See if it is better now. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Jul 16 at 10:02
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    Looks great, thanks again – Erik Jul 16 at 10:32
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    Thank you very much. This will be of great help. When you said "One cannot manipulate the formations as they are not-self". Does it mean that Sanharas cant be changed (by manipulated i mean changed during meditation) by meditation because they are not self, beacuse it seems obvious to me by reading what you wrote from the other things that it was possible to change and manipulate them, sorry if I ask this stupid question but I really want to solve this doubt. – Guest5 Jul 16 at 11:57
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A Mahayana answer here, based on the live chain of enlightened teachers starting from the Buddha, rather than on books. This is what I was taught by a teacher who mastered it in practice and then passed it on.

Sankhara/Samskaras are tendencies to automatically react a certain way (physically, mentally, verbally, emotionally), based on some previous experience.

For example, if you had a painful experience of getting assaulted, beaten up, and humiliated by a group of guys with shaved heads, you may have a fear of shaved heads for the rest of your life. Whenever you see a man with shaved head, you may have an automatic reaction of fear and aversion.

Or, for example, when you were a very young boy, your mom had a certain hair style. And now you are attracted to young women with the same hair style.

I'm oversimplifying on purpose, but you get the idea. This type of subconscious preconception is a Sankhara.

In meditation your goal is to find Sankharas for the issues that bother you. Starting from the most painful ones and then going smaller and smaller. Or, you can do it going from the present time back into the past, one by one. Once you see each, you need to process them and let go. You process them by reviewing. Once you review it and process it, the emotional energy associated with the sankhara will get released, and you will be able to let it go.

Here is how to review them properly. For example, today you met a man and you felt very stressed but did not know why. Go over today's situation. Relive it in your imagination. Then focus on the feeling you feel in or around your body, when you think about the situation. Try to go "inside" that feeling in or near your body. Concentrate on that feeling. The mind will give you a hint by showing you a flash of the "sign" it associates with the feeling. In this example, that sign is a picture of shaved head. You realize that you felt stressed because the man had a shaved head so you felt unsafe. Keep concentrating on the feeling and the sign at the same time, and try to remember how they are connected in the past. In this example you will remember the past assault. Go over the experience of assault and allow all your locked up emotions come out. Now think about the man you met today. Connect the past and the present. In both cases the sign was the same - the shaved head - but situations were different. Look at your mind and try to see directly how these past and present memories and feelings connect in your head. Keep processing it until you can let it go.

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Could someone explain to me how to meditate in order to see how the sankharas can be manipulated and changed so to not feel that the current situation is fixed and a must and helpless.

Buddhist practice primarily uses wisdom but also concentration, particularly when wisdom has developed concentration. "Remembering" to be wise or use wisdom is the meaning of "mindfulness". "Mindfulness" is "remembering". Mindfulness remembers to bring & use wisdom.

From what I have heard there are 3 Sankharas : Kaya, vaci and citta or mano.

"Mano sankhara" is found in more mundane teachings about "kamma" and is possibly an Abhidhamma teaching added at a later time to the Pali suttas. We can ignore this matter for now and say:

  1. Kaya sankhara = in & out breathing

  2. Vaci sankhara = thinking

  3. Citta sankhara = perception & feeling

Note: The word "sankhara" above does not mean "formation", "fabrication" or "condition". It means "fabricator" or "conditioner". For example, thinking is the verbal conditioner (vaci sankhara) because it conditions or fabricates speech. Try to be logical. Try to avoid translations that create confusion.

How do i manipulate them during meditation and in what way do i manipulate them so I can see that there is free will and that I am not helpless could you describe with what particular technique do i manipulate or change a particular sankhara.

Citta sankhara is too subtle to manipulate or control for a newbie. Therefore, you should focus on controlling kaya sankhara & vaci sankhara.

How to control vaci sankhara is described in MN 19 and many other suttas, such as MN 61 & MN 20.

How to control kaya sankhara is described in MN 118.

Perhaps my perceptions are messing things up to so I really want to feel that I have power over my situation by direct seeing that these things are not a must and get be manipulated and changed beacuse now it seems like a must.

The problem is your "views" & "thinking" rather than "perceptions". Generally, for a stable mind, it is moral views (good & bad) that need to be sorted out. Thus, refer to MN 61 & MN 19, as I suggested.

Are sankharas volitions (things we do uknowingly that can be stopped with free will) to me its like they have power over me is that ultimate truth.

The word "sankhara" does not always mean "volitional formations". In certainly contexts, such as 2nd condition of Dependent Origination, sankhara are not "volitional" but are non-volitional; arising spontaneously from ignorance; without our decision or control: so it is best to give up the translation "volitional formations".

If you read MN 19, as I recommended, you will understand how there is unwise thinking arising without free will (called "sankhara" in Dependent Origination) and there is also wise thinking (called "paṭisañcikkhato") that is used to stop the unwise thinking . MN 19 is the most important sutta about controlling vaci sankhara or ignorant thinking.

In summary, instead of being concerned with the term "volitional formations", please focus on two terms, namely: (i) unwise thinking; and (ii) wise thinking.

Like the Buddha-To-Be, you must use wise thinking to conquer unwise thinking.

Because from my first question as you saw there was Monk that said that these things could be manipulated that seems like they are not a must and can with free will and skillful attention,mindfulness be stopped if yes please tell me how and please describe how and what is happening and I will try it. Thank you all.

Your questions are answered in MN 19. Read MN 19 carefully and practise the teaching until you can emulate the Buddha-To-Be and walk in his noble footsteps.

Also, try to control your breathing (kaya sankhara), to help you calm down. At the very least, for a short time, practise some deliberate long breathing, including counting breaths. While this is not true Anapanasati, it can still help control the mind, body & impulses ("asava").

However, the most important practise is controlling the vaci sankhara using the methods in MN 19, MN 61, MN 20, etc. Use wise thinking to conquer unwise thinking.

Once you can control your thoughts so your thoughts are only moral wholesome non-harmful thoughts, then you can practise Anapanasati in the proper more refined way & attain stream-entry.

  • Thank you for your answer Dhammadhatu. Could you please also provide me with the Sutta that talks about controling citta sankhara. – Guest5 Jul 16 at 12:32
  • Just to continue on what you wrote Dhammadhatu So does it mean that it is wrong to say even in 2nd condition of dependent origination that sankhara is volitional action which we do based on free will because take for instance something that we say or a thought that we have, was it said or thought of with free will or was it out of our control, or is it instead as I thought automatic arising wihout our decision or control, but is it possible to by working on ignorance to eliminate these automatic sankharas, Once again thank you for your post it helps. I am a big mess but I feel hope now, – Guest5 Jul 16 at 14:25
  • If it is possible to stop sankharas with eradicating ignorance does it show that ultimately the sankharas were volitional if there is a possibility of eradicating them, Maybe from our point of view when we have no knowledge of ignorance it is a must even though ultimately if we had known reality it would not be a must anymore, am I right about this Dhammadhatu. – Guest5 Jul 16 at 14:28
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Householder, interested,

It wouldn't work to see through the mind and it's aspects if one has not penetrated form, has left home.

So total not recommended if in a householder stand, as mind khandhas are much to quick and yet not able to distinguished them from form.

Good to focus on generosity while mindful observing whats coming up, virtue and the six primarily anussatis, and if good also to do Anapanna and of course reflection on death and decay.

On a further stage focus on the senses and their objects, to learn about nama rupa.

Thats sankharas good to hold on in this way. Otherwise to much danger to develope householder-equanimity and gain to be cut off easy and very long long time.

Once firm in virtue and holding on eight precepts and more, it's time that meditation makes sense and wouldn't harm.

Focus on all 10 kinds of merits will bring one toward path.

(Note: this is not given for exchange, stacks, trade or entertainment but as a means for liberation from this wheel.)

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I knew someone, who for long while was continually unhappy, about several events which were long past, events from many years earlier. As it says, in the Dhammapada,

  1. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

  2. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.

  3. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

I didn't understand -- I tried to tell he she'd be happier if she didn't think that way, didn't "hold" that kind of grudge.

She did try (non-Buddhist) therapy or counselling, for post-traumatic stress, she said the most helpful of that was some advice that might be similar to Dhammadhatu's answer now -- to maybe "breathe long" and pay attention to the present, that's as an alternative to reliving the past as a "panic attack".

It's not easy though.

I'd like to add that perhaps it isn't only a matter of meditation.

Buddhism also recommends -- or perhaps, initially recommends -- that you do good, that you have good friends, disengage from hostile relationships. Maybe that's not a matter of "controlling" sankharas, but of replacing harmful ones (including "learned helplessness"), substituting something else.

You wrote in comment, "its not possible to change the store of your past formations means you cant change them but you can stop them" -- and maybe so but I'm not sure that's quite right. Even if it isn't possible to change the past, I think t's axiomatic that our present choices and intentions affect the future, for good or ill.

Aiming for "stopping" isn't wrong, but perhaps that's a later stage of the practice.

This sutta suggests it starts with aiming for a state where you don't regret, don't feel remorse -- which might be the kind of thing that Samana Johann's answer is suggesting.

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