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This question concerns the proper understanding of AN 3.47:

“Mendicants, conditioned phenomena have these three characteristics. What three? Arising is evident, vanishing is evident, and change while persisting is evident. These are the three characteristics of conditioned phenomena.”

AN 3.47

It might have been suggested in other questions that this sutta is referring only to non-composite sankharas. That is, for composite phenomena - like a chariot - that arising, ceasing, and enduring are not evident.

Is this correct? Can the arising, enduring and ceasing of a chariot not be known because it is composite or made up of parts?

If so, what would be a good example of a non-composite sankhara that this sutta would be applicable to? What non-composite conditioned phenomena can rightfully be said to arise, endure and cease? Does anyone have an example?

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All conditioned phenomena are a result of conditional combination, and all the constituents are still made up of combination and so on. The law of impermanence of all conditional phenomena applies at all levels, from whole to the parts. There is no infinite regress because smallest parts take smallest time to combine and separate.

There is no example of non-composite phenomena except the unconditioned Nibbana. Nibbana is unborn , uncreated , unconditioned, unoriginated and unbecoming. Nibbana is neither permanent nor impermanent.

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  • The infinite regress comment ruins it for me ;)
    – user13375
    Nov 10, 2023 at 21:47
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Yes, I suppose a being is indeed capable of arising, ceasing, and changing, but that's valid within a certain context. If one has realized a more decoupled existence, then it wouldn't make sense to adhere to that type of reality. This is made clear in Nandakovada Sutta via analogy:

"Just as if a skilled butcher or butcher's apprentice, having killed a cow, were to carve it up with a sharp carving knife so that — without damaging the substance of the inner flesh, without damaging the substance of the outer hide — he would cut, sever, & detach only the skin muscles, connective tissues, & attachments in between. Having cut, severed, & detached the outer skin, and then covering the cow again with that very skin, if he were to say that the cow was joined to the skin just as it had been: would he be speaking rightly?"

"No, venerable sir. Why is that? Because if the skilled butcher or butcher's apprentice, having killed a cow, were to ... cut, sever, & detach only the skin muscles, connective tissues, & attachments in between; and ... having covered the cow again with that very skin, then no matter how much he might say that the cow was joined to the skin just as it had been, the cow would still be disjoined from the skin."

"This simile, sisters, I have given to convey a message. The message is this: The substance of the inner flesh stands for the six internal media; the substance of the outer hide, for the six external media. The skin muscles, connective tissues, & attachments in between stand for passion & delight. And the sharp knife stands for noble discernment — the noble discernment that cuts, severs, & detaches the defilements, fetters, & bonds in between.

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  • What an amazing sutta. I take it your answer is that AN 3.47 applies equally for composite phenomena like a chariot and is not referring to so-called "standalone sankhara."
    – user13375
    Nov 10, 2023 at 21:45
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To be honest, I don't think there are any standalone sankhara. The Theravada Abhidhamma does list out fundamental elements, upon which other composite elements are made of. The four great elements (earth, water, fire, air) are one of them. But even then, it doesn't really say that these fundamental elements are standalone entities.

A being and a chariot are conventions. They can arise and cease, but they don't arise and cease as standalone entities.

Nun Vajira said a being is just a convention, so how can it arise and cease? It doesn't really exist as a standalone entity in the first place. Its arising and ceasing also happens in a conventional way.

A convention is an agreed concept.

For e.g. I say that the House of Commons of the United Kingdom arises when it is convened after a general election, and ceases, when it is dissolved for new general elections. So, it arises and ceases. It's a sankhara. But it's not a standalone entity, is it?

The chariot, the being and the House of Commons are all structurally composite conditional phenomena.

However, I see other sankharas like samsara, a river or a stream of consciousness as also temporally composite conditional phenomena. That is to say, you can never step into the exact same river twice. The river is changing from moment to moment, in terms of water molecules, temperature, water current speed etc. And so is samsara.

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  • @blue_ego Nibbana is not composite and not conditioned.
    – ruben2020
    Nov 13, 2023 at 13:00
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Can the arising, enduring and ceasing of a chariot not be known because it is a composite or made up of parts?

Isn't the Ship of Theseus meant as a standard example of that?

I think this is an "identity-view", of the sort described as "a thicket of wrong views".

If so, what would be a good example of a non-composite sankhara that this sutta would be applicable to?

Again, "a ship" -- for example -- has a launch date (a beginning), and an end (a date when it is finally no longer usable/recognisable as a ship).

This is more a functional view e.g., "it's recognised as a 'ship' while it's able to carry passengers etc".

Incidentally, as mentioned in the OP, this latter view more-or-less views the ship as a non-composite simple phenomenon -- which can either be used as a ship or it can't -- conversely the "Ship of Theseus" is a view which focuses on its composite composition.

Nevertheless the ship stops being (recognised as and functioning as) "a ship" when it decomposes.

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  • Isn't the Ship of Theseus and the examination thereof closely analogous to what the Buddha teaches his students to do over and over again to look and see if the self can be found in the aggregates in order to gain complete confidence and certainty that the self cannot be found in the aggregates?
    – user13375
    Nov 10, 2023 at 19:43
  • Surely when the pile of conditions are present the arising of 'a chariot' is known, right?
    – user13375
    Nov 10, 2023 at 19:45
  • If so, then it would seem to follow that when the pile of conditions are present the arising of 'a being' is known, right? And similarly when the pile of conditions are present the arising of 'samsara' is known, right?
    – user13375
    Nov 10, 2023 at 19:46
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There are basic elements (dhatu), when only visible to the ordinary human eye, such as earth & space, the give the impression of being non-composite. For example, a grain of sand on a massive sand dune in the Sahara desert. It may not be obvious how the arising of this grain of sand occurred. This grain of sand may have an impression of permanence. But the grain of sand of obviously a sankhata (conditioned thing). The internet says:

The Sahara Desert formed around 7 million years ago, as a great dust bowl sitting where the Tethys sea once soaked. This huge body of water separated the two supercontinents, Laurasia and Gondwana, resulting from the cleaving of Pangea by tectonic forces.

Similar, the element of space may appear to be a non-composite phenomena. But, in realty, the element of space is conditioned by the absence of the element of form or water in that space. About the element of space, MN 62 says:

And what is the space element? The space element may be interior or exterior. And what is the interior space element? Anything that’s space, spacious, and appropriated that’s internal, pertaining to an individual. This includes: the ear canals, nostrils, and mouth; and the space for swallowing what is eaten and drunk, the space where it stays, and the space for excreting it from the nether regions. This is called the interior space element. The interior space element and the exterior space element are just the space element. This should be truly seen with right understanding like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’ When you truly see with right understanding, you reject the space element, detaching the mind from the space element.

MN 62

For example, if the nostrils are blocked with mucus, the element of space reduces or disappears.

As for 'conventions' - like 'a chariot' - they also are characterized by arising, ceasing and enduring because they are thoughts. In SN 22.59, the Buddha says any type of sankhara aggregate is impermanent. MN 148 literally says 'mind-objects' have been discerned to arise & vanish (dhammānaṁ uppādopi vayopi paññāyati).

If we still remain with doubt about this, the convention of 'a being' in SN 5.10 is exactly the same as 'jati' in Dependent Origination. 'Jati' is the coming forth & production of conventions of 'beings within a class of beings'. About 'jati', SN 12.20 & SN 22.81 say:

Birth is impermanent, conditioned (sankhata), dependently arisen, subject to destruction, vanishing, fading away, and cessation.

SN 12.20

Assumes form to be the self. That assumption is a fabrication. Now what is the cause, what is the origination, what is the birth, what is the coming-into-existence of that fabrication? To an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person, touched by that which is felt born of contact with ignorance, craving arises. That fabrication is born of that. And that fabrication is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen. That craving... That feeling... That contact... That ignorance is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen.

SN 22.81

The idea 'conventions' are not subject to the characteristics of conditioned things appears found in the mass-market commentary Abhidhammattha Sangaha & is wrong.

As Nibbàna is eternal it does not belong to the past, present, or future. It is timeless. So is pannatti, independent of time.

Page 217

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  • I take it your answer is that AN 3.47 applies equally for composite phenomena like a chariot and is not referring to so-called "standalone sankhara."
    – user13375
    Nov 10, 2023 at 21:47
  • what is a standalone sankhara? Nov 11, 2023 at 2:53
  • That’s a good question!
    – user13375
    Nov 11, 2023 at 12:55

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