Continuing to try to understand Dependent Origination from my own reading of the suttas as well trying to grok the understanding of other skilled practitioners and I've come across an interesting debate. The second nidana of D.O. is commonly translated as 'volitional factors' or 'choices' as seen by this translation of SN 12.2:
And what are choices? There are three kinds of choices. Choices by way of body, speech, and mind. These are called choices.
However, I've detected that maybe not all skilled practitioners on this forum agree that this is an accurate translation? It has been suggested that the best means of figuring this out - as the Buddha instructed! - is to put it to empirical test in personal meditation practice. Marvelous suggestion and I'm hoping to conduct just such an experiment!
However, I want to nail down the actual disagreement if there is one - I'm still not entirely sure there is - and to figure out how to setup the experiment to reveal the truth.
First, I've seen alternative translations on this site which omit the 'volitional' or 'choices' connotation and use the alternative 'accumulated tendencies' to describe the Saṅkhāra. Is it agreed by Theravada that this is the proper translation? How about by Mahayana?
I've found support for the proposition that not all Saṅkhāra is intentional from SN 12.38:
If you don’t intend or plan, but still have underlying tendencies, this becomes a support for the continuation of consciousness. When this support exists, consciousness becomes established. When consciousness is established and grows, there is rebirth into a new state of existence in the future. When there is rebirth into a new state of existence in the future, future rebirth, old age, and death come to be, as do sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress. That is how this entire mass of suffering originates.
Second, what is the proper translation? ... assuming there is disagreement that 'accumulated tendencies' is the proper translation - even though it omits the connotation of choice. Could it simply be 'actions resulting from ignorance?'
Third, is it proper to think of the labored breathing that comes from the arising of disturbing emotions as Saṅkhāra? It does seem to me to be non-volitional... Is this right?
Fourth, is it an accumulated tendency? Perhaps some Saṅkhāra are accumulated habits that may involve some measure of choice and some are simply non-volitional and have nothing to do with 'accumulation' per se? The labored breathing or change in breathing that comes involuntarily from the arising of disturbing emotions... the fact of it itself does not seem to me to be accumulated? Perhaps the 'accumulation' refers to some aspect of it - the extent or intensity - that could very well be accumulated? Like some people might have a very slight ripple while others - because of accumulated tendencies - might hyperventilate?
Fifth, it's been suggested that when one attains a certain proficiency in meditation the true definition of Saṅkhāra can be seen, but what level of proficiency is necessary to reveal the truth and in what form of meditation? What is the minimum level of competence necessary to verify this and the kind of type of meditation necessary?
Visualizing the experiment... I imagine one must be able to calm the mind to a sufficient degree that one can witness the waves generated when a disturbing emotion arises in much the same way we are easily be able to notice the waves generated when a rock hits a still pond. The waves would be the Saṅkhāra (some action of breath or speech or mind?) and the question would be whether there was choice involved or if any aspect of the wave was a characteristic reinforced through accumulation?
Help or ideas appreciated!