By "conventional" I think those are the things created by human conventions, that are all imaginary.

By "conditioned" I think those are things that came from another thing or things.

Do these terms have the same meaning in the Buddha's teaching?

3 Answers 3


Convention doesn't mean imaginary. It simply means that it is defined that way by consensus.

For e.g. an assemblage of parts like wheel, axle etc. is called a chariot. An assemblage of bun, patty, lettuce, tomatoes etc. is called a burger. If all parts are separated, then the object in question stops existing conventionally.

Another example is a fist or a lap. When you move your fingers and hand in a certain position, it forms a fist conventionally. When you sit down and move your legs into a certain position, it forms a lap conventionally.

In the suttas, a being (satta) is by defined by convention to be an assemblage of the five aggregates (form, feeling, perception, consciousness, mental formations) in SN 5.10. A being (satta) is also defined by convention to be existing when there's clinging to the idea of a self in SN 23.2. Combining these two, a being (satta) is defined by convention as existing when a mind-body system clings to the idea of a self.

A person (puggala) is defined based on a background story, like "this venerable one of such a name and clan" (SN 22.22).

Another use of conventions is in speech. Although arahants no longer have conceit and self-view, they may still use personal pronouns in speech like "I" and "we", just because it's the convention (SN 1.25).

Sankhara refers to conditioned and compounded phenomena.

Conditioned means that something that came about because of something else. For e.g. a house was built on a plot of land, because somebody decided to build it, due to some reason. Another example is, there are clouds in the sky because water that evaporated condensed to become clouds. Another example is, someone became angry because another person criticized their looks. The first person associates his form with his self, hence took offense at the criticism.

In terms of a being , how a being came to be the way they are, physically and mentally, can be traced back to conditions in the past.

All physical and mental phenomena, except Nirvana, are conditioned, according to Theravada. Even space and time are conditioned, as evidenced by the Theory of General Relativity.

Compounded phenomena is like a being being an assemblage of the five aggregates. But when this assemblage is labelled "being" (satta), that label is a convention.

In Mahayana, Nirvana is also considered to be semantically conditioned, although not structurally conditioned. Here, if dukkha (suffering) was never defined, then Nirvana would never be defined. Or darkness defined relative to light. That's what is meant by semantic conditioning. This is not found in Theravada. In Theravada, those are just conventions.

So, convention and conditioned phenomena are categorically different. They describe different things like how height and weight are two different things.

  • i found the following to be questionable: "In the suttas, a person is by defined by convention to be an assemblage of the five aggregates (form, feeling, perception, consciousness, mental formations) in SN 5.10." Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 3:46
  • @DhammaDhatu Thanks. I confused between being (satta) and person (puggala).
    – ruben2020
    Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 4:19
  • well, imo, convention is unrelated to the five aggregates. convention means to regard "people" as "beings" Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 6:35

I think "conditioned" means that things exist or not depending on certain conditions, for example:

  • Sometimes it rains and sometimes it doesn't, depending on atmospheric conditions.
  • Sometimes a body is alive or sometimes it isn't, depending on all the conditions that are essential for life

Anything conditioned is impermanent -- ceases when its conditions no longer exist.

Virtually everything is conditioned.

"Conventional" is I think closely related to language. It's something we learn as infants -- mother will point toward something and say, "Look, that's a cow!" -- after which we know that that type of thing, perhaps that aggregate of sense-impressions in that kind of environment, is "conventionally" called "a cow".


  • I wouldn't call that "imaginary" exactly but it is kind of artificial, i.e. man-made.
  • I think it's probably subjective too, with a child's view of a cow being different from a farmer's or a calf's
  • Something may be imaginary, e.g. the word "unicorn" doesn't prove that a unicorn "really" exists
  • There are different ways to describe something (e.g. "a chariot" or "an assembly of wheels, yoke, etc.")
  • The things which language describes are usually conditioned and impermanent assemblies -- or perhaps they're abstractions (e.g. "virtue") rather than concrete nouns

... but even so humans learn to use their language in a conventional way for communication.

I think there can be a problem with language though, that some people mistake language for reality. They describe something in a certain way, for example,

"He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me."

... and then mistake that for a certain reality, and suffer accordingly.

I was taught in secondary school, incidentally, something like that the modern "scientific method" or "philosophy of science" is to do with finding and refining useful descriptions of observations -- some descriptions being more useful, or different (even contradictory) descriptions being useful.



common consent, general opinion, convention, that which is generally accepted; as ˚-conventional,

'Convention' appears to mean worldly names/labels for people that imply 'self'. For example:

Why now do you assume 'a being' (satto)? Mara, have you grasped a view (diṭṭhigataṁ)? This is a heap of sheer constructions: Here no being (satta) is found. Just as, with an assemblage of parts, The word 'chariot' is used, So, when the aggregates are present, There's the convention (sammuti) 'a being' (satto).

SN 5.10 (Bhikku Bodhi translation)

In human bodies in themselves, nothing distinctive can be found. Distinction (vokāra) among human beings is purely verbal designation (samaññāya pavuccati). Who makes a living among men, by agriculture, you show know is called a farmer. He is not a Brahmin. Who makes a living among men, by varied crafts, you show know is called a craftsman. He is not a Brahmin. For name and clan are assigned (pakappitaṁ) as designations (saṁaññā) in the world, originating in conventions (sammuccā), they are assigned (pakappitaṁ) here and there. For men are farmers by their acts; and by their acts are craftsmen too. So that is how the wise truly see, seers of Dependent Origination, skilled in action and its results.

MN 98 (Bhikkhu Bodhi translation)

When a mendicant is perfected, proficient, with defilements ended, bearing the final body: they would say, ‘I speak’ and also ‘they speak to me’. Skillful, understanding the world’s conventions (loke samaññaṁ), they’d use these terms as no more than expressions.

SN 1.25 (Bhikkhu Sujato translation)

Where as 'conditioned things' ('sankhara') are rarely spoken about by the world of ordinary people but are fully understood by the enlightened.

For example, the five aggregates are 'conditioned things' but not 'conventions'. The unenlightened do not discern the five aggregates clearly or even at all, let alone how they are conditioned things.

For example, in DN 16, when the Buddha passed away, the unenlightened experienced suffering because they regarded the Buddha as 'The Buddha' or 'The Blessed One'. For the unenlightened, here, the Buddha was a 'self' or 'person'. But the enlightened did not suffer because they regarded The Buddha as a conditioned thing, as follows:

When the Buddha passed away, some of the monks, with arms raised, falling down like their feet were chopped off, rolling back and forth, lamented: “Too soon the Blessed One has become fully extinguished! Too soon the Holy One has become fully extinguished! Too soon the Seer has vanished from the world!”But the monks who were without passion endured, mindful and clearly comprehending, reflecting: “Conditioned phenomena (saṅkhārā) are impermanent (aniccā). How could it possibly be otherwise?”

DN 16

In summary, the words 'conditioned' & 'convention' are not synonymous in Pali Buddhism (but appear to be possibly synonymous for the Mahayana).

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