RE: The concept of sankhara's

Tomas Daniel Thomas James Patrick Pilgrim, modified 15 Days ago.

The concept of sankhara's

Posts: 9 Join Date: 1/11/22 Recent Posts
This is my first post so if this belongs in another category I apologize beforehand.

I am curious about the concept of samskara or sankhara and was hoping if someone could explain it to me. It seems to be a word with a lot of different definitions which isn't all that helpful if you want to get a gist conceptual definition. I've seen it translated as: compulsions, formations, addictions, habits, patterns, volitions. I've read that in some forms of Buddhism clearing up all present sankhara's would lead to enlightenment.

I tried to ctrl+f the term in Daniel Ingram's book Core Teachings of the Buddha, but the term 'sankhara' or 'samskara' isn't mentioned on a single page in the book. Even though I had the impression that this term was kinda big in Buddhism? I've never been to any retreats but I have a friend who's been on like 8 Vipassana 10 day retreats, and he's the one that first told me about sankhara's which really spurred my interest in Buddhism suddenly. Up till then I'd only done daily Joe Dispenza meditations for the last 3 months, but those are guided and goal driven, not Vipassana style meditation, which from I gather is about insight through thoughts labeling meditation?

In any case my interpretation of his explanation was: sankhara's are compulsions / addictions, sort of formed through past memory's and emotional imprints / experiences. In a sense they are the unconscious beliefs and thoughts behind the downstream thoughts of your daily life. The underlying optionally trauma driven constructs that govern your life subconsciously and can only be uncovered through meditation so you can see the thoughts behind the thoughts so to speak. Is this the correct interpretation of what sankhara's are? Or at least one valid interpretation among the possible interpretations.

I tried looking up what sankhara's were and I ended up with like 16 different definitions which was just too overwhelming to process, especially when there's a lot of jargon I don't yet understand. Words like dukkha or anatta or anicca are a lot easier to grasp on a gist level but sankhara just isn't.
Dan Latner, modified 15 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

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Relative noob in this company, so please adjust or correct if I'm way off.

One way I imagine sankharas is as dried-up flies caught in the spider web of this consciousness, across the bodymind.

I also like to compare it to modern ideas of how trauma gets embodied and processed. Its kind of like stress doesn't cause you to squeeze your shoulders, stress IS "shoulders squeeze".

One time during plant-assisted "meditation" I remembered an old memory clearly-clearly, felt the feelings, and puked "it out". Maybe that was a sankhara?
Tommy P, modified 15 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

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I've never done ayahuasca myself, but the people I know who did it did seem to be "energetically" lighter after they did it. And my interpretation of their experience was that you finally go through all these unprocessed emotional baggage, and sometimes you literally puke it out. I think I agree with you that those 'things' that you process and deal with and 'puke out' of your system can indeed be termed sankhara's. In the sense of: bodymind constructs that govern your life subconsciously as a consequence of past trauma or emotional experience that are puked out during ayahuasca are an example of sankhara's, but that's only one definition of sankhara's among the other possible ones.
George S, modified 15 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

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Tommy P, modified 15 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

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Ahh that explains it - it's still not easy to explain the term within a few sentences but it's good to know that it is an agreed upon aspect of Buddhism.
​​​​​​​I just don't understand why Daniel wouldn't just call these formations sankhara's.
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Stefan Stefan, modified 15 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

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Your definitions are spot on. Your interpretations are spot on. I'll just flesh it out a little more, if you want. 

Sankharas are the 2nd link in the chain of dependent origination. They have Ignorance as their condition preceding them. "Sankhara" is also translated as "choices", "voiltional formations", "formations". They can take 3 forms: speech, action, thought.  As you can see, they're pretty basic things. When we're ignorant of the 4 Noble truths ([1]that there's dissatisfaction, [2]there's a cause, [3]there's an end to the dissatisfaction, [4] you end it through following the noble eightfold path), our Sankaras run wild. They're called formations, I believe, because they're like clusters or pre-programmed habitual responses to certain stimuli entering through one of the six sense doors, they're like pre-made responses! Think of Pavlov's Dog, eventually the mutt just drooled when hearing the bell; likewise, we just get angry and defensive even when people are sharing their thoughts in a good-natured way. 

Think about this in a very practical way: when I'm stressed and can't remember to be mindful, I'm going to resort to being a grumpy a-hole (because of my previous conditioning where I learned to use anger as a coping mechanism for stress). But when I return with mindfulness (therefore, dispelling ignorance) I can adjust, see that it is dissatisfying being angry, and work to change that patterning with a more creative expression that is wholesome. 

In our meditation practice, we're 1) recognising our patterns; 2) releasing the patterns from taking hold by replacing them with more skillful/wholesome thoughts/behaviour/emotions; 3) relaxing and basking the glow of getting wholesome right there and then; 4) then returning to whatever the object of meditation is. That's how we practically deal with Sankharas. Another way can be through psychotherapy, where a client confronts their maladapted habits towards stress, sadness, etc.. and then works to reflectively change them through rational belief, emotional roleplays, etc...

Does this help? 
Tommy P, modified 15 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

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Super helpful explanation yes!

It turned out that my Vipassana friend only ever went to 'Goenka' style events. Not yet exactly sure about how many styles of Vipassana there are but in any case Goenka seems to be one of them and from what I've gathered from this forum Goenka also has their own version of a definition for sankhara's - to add to the complexity.

I thought I was relatively bad habit free, quit smoking easily, no drug addictions, can quit alcohol easily - but then after that conversation I started writing out how many sankhara's I still had off the top of my head and ended up with like 60! Many small downstream sankhara's but also some big juicy mother concepts like 8 or 9 or so 'big bang primeval' tier sankhara's which have run my life, that I keep experiencing the same cycles over and over again and don't seem to learn from them.

Are cycles, in the sense of: patterns of cyclical behavior, also sankhara's?

For example the cycle of: no gaming for months, reinstalling steam, binge gaming for a few days, uninstalling the game again, uninstalling steam, wait a few months and wash-rinse-repeat. Is that also a sankhara?
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Stefan Stefan, modified 14 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

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Glad I could help.

It's not necessarily the big habits we see all the time. Sankharas can also be the micro-habits that lead to suffering. Such as when we see food we like, we immediately have the Sankhara thought about wanting the food. It happens instantaneously. Almost automatically, we see the food, and boom we're thinking about having it. Crazy, right? It's very amazing being able to see the mind working this way once we become attuned to how it operates. 

That gaming habit is a larger cycle, and Sankharas form the basis of it. The Sankharas are generally thought of as being more momentary. So you really need to catch the mind when these "let's re-install Steam" thoughts happen. What's the trigger? Is it stress, boredom, or just plain old desire for the games themselves? As soon as you cut away the ignorance of the cause, you can start working to end/change it. This is basic 4 Noble Truths in action.

Check out and start to delve a little deeper into the Dependent Origination teachings of the Buddha, Leigh Brasington just wrote a free ebook about it. It's very good. Give it a go, it's really got a practical model to see and end suffering in our lives. 
Tommy P, modified 14 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

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I looked up Leigh Brasington and got his book - he mentions in another YouTube video that the 'commentaries' mention 30 different ways of reaching access concentration, but he only lists 5: anapanasati, body scan, metta, mantra and nada. What are the commentaries that he is referring to and do you perchance know the section that contains the list of 30 forms of meditation that can lead to access concentration?
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Stefan Stefan, modified 14 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

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I mostly stick to early Buddhist thought for my meditation practice so I wouldn't know
Adi Vader, modified 14 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

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Think of Samskaras as constructs that in turn construct our ongoing experience. We gain a lot of samskaras from being alive, from our parents / care givers / friends / society etc.

With our eyes closed when we hear sounds there comes a sense of left, right, up and down accompanying the sound. This sense of direction and 3 D space is constructed by a samskara that we gained in infanthood. We cannot 'see' this samskara, we can only see its results and thus intuit its presence unless we develop the ability to 'see' it in a sense.

Similarly on the playground we learn, do not let a bully walk away without bloddying his nose, else tomorrow he may come back with his friends. This is a samskara. The ability to recognize 'playground' is a samskara, the ability to recognize 'bully is also a samskara, the ability to recognize 'friend' is also a samskara.

All of our ongoing experience is created based on experiences we have gathered throughout our lives.

Jointly all of these constructs are required to navigate in the world of objects - physical and relationship based.

​​​​​​​Hope this helps. 
Tommy P, modified 7 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

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I have some additional questions regarding sankhara's.

I will give an example. Lately in the last 3 weeks 4 different connections have flaked on me. In the sense that they last minute canceld the appointment we had. Two of them have canceled multiple appointments in the past 3 weeks. In response, I have generated a narrative (sankhara?) of lamenting the millenial generation for their flakiness feeding some misanthropy of (millenials) being like these blind molerats only able to chase things in their own interest, completely incapable of keeping any appointment if their whims come up. The excuses used were things like 'I had a meeting with my psychologist and it was very heavy' or 'I slept bad yesterday so imma cancel'. Yes but you could have taken that into account when you made the plan, because meanwhile I have made space in my calendar (thereby sacrificing all other possible appointments I could have made).. just don't plan appointments when you can reasonably know you will be subjected to whims. Anyway this spiel is besides the point.

Would this paragraph of text constitute an example of a sankhara? In the sense I am constructing a narrative, taking an arbitrary selection out of the totality of reality, and pouring it into a construct (sankhara) pretending and attaching to it, thereby causing suffering (dukkha) as a consequence of this arbitrary narrative. I could just as well focus on the gratefulness for even having connections to begin with for example - but that too: that positive grateful narrative, would also be a sankhara correct?

Some additional questions
- Are all beliefs sankhara's? A belief defined as a 'construct' of thoughts that you identify with the (atman) self.
- Are words and language sankhara's? In the Wittgesteinian sense of: symbolic but not direct reality. Therefore the entire word based reality is virtual and illusory, are these words sankhara's?
George S, modified 7 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

Posts: 2204 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Yes - everything is a sankhara! Probably not very helpful though ...

For this kind of interpersonal issue, maybe something like Transactional Analysis might be more helpful:

https://neilkakkar.com/games-people-play-blogpost.html

Eric Berne - Games People Play

Do any of those "games" resonate with this situation?
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Dream Walker, modified 6 Days ago.

RE: The concept of sankhara's

Posts: 1399 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Tommy P
I am curious about the concept of samskara or sankhara and was hoping if someone could explain it to me.
I'll try. Wrote about it in a past post but could not find it.

It seems to be a word with a lot of different definitions which isn't all that helpful if you want to get a gist conceptual definition.
Ya, others translations are crappy as hell. Mine is probable wrong too but at least its from direct experience.

I've seen it translated as: compulsions, formations, addictions, habits, patterns, volitions. I've read that in some forms of Buddhism clearing up all present sankhara's would lead to enlightenment.

Read this ---->
https://www.wired.com/2012/02/ff-forgettingpill/

So when you are in EQ, sometimes emotional charged memories will pop up and because you so damn EQ the emotional part of the memory will get cleaved from the rest of the memory. The memory will be forever changed as it gets "put back". Less problem. I experienced this quite a bit for a while. Just old silly things that would pop up and then get cleaned of the "trauma" or emotional aspect. Like getting pushed off the swingset in elementary school.
I could be completely wrong, but at least it's a first hand account that matched up with Goenka stuff and the forget me pill stuff. Interesting how memories get remodified each time we bring them up and then let them go.
Good luck
~D

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