From Craving to Liberation, From Grasping to Emptiness: Excursions into the ThoughtWorld of the Pali Discourses by Bhikkhu Analayo, Chapter 10, Volitional Formations/Sankhara, pages 104 - 117
Sections to be read outloud:
First two paragraphs of 10.1 beginning on page 105
The last two paragraphs on page 107
First five paragraphs of 10.2 beginning on page 109
The last full paragraph on p. 111 through the end of the first full paragraph p. 112
Most importantly, the Buddhist concept sankhara or volitional formations points to this aspect of the mind that constructs or fabricates meaning and the volition that flows out of it. As Venerable Analayo reminds us early in this chapter, in the most general usage the concept sankhara refers to all that is conditioned in the present moment. This concept is also used as a catch all term to refer to all aspects of the mind other than feeling, perception and consciousness.
In terms of suffering and the end of suffering, we have been taught that everything rests on the tip of motivation. More specifically in the tradition, sankharas are the building blocks of the dynamic and natural movement of intention or volition in the mind. Because of habit, the mind wants to personalize this activity. Section 10.2 describes the role of sankhara in the conditioned/lawful arising of dukkha. Venerable Analayo explains that sankharas represent the karmically active force responsible for continued existence. In terms of our practice, it is probably better to think of this as a moment by moment movement, as opposed to lifetime to lifetime. When the mind delights in its own formations (sankharas), it misperceives them. It takes what is essentially an impersonal conditional unfolding of the mind and imputes a permanent self, a me. Just this is the ground for all attachment and suffering.
This month, let’s consider the role of volitional mental constructions in how the mind perpetuates the stress arising out of wrong/self view. Let’s resolve to be more and more interested in the creative and fabricating activities of the mind. Notice how challenging it is to see and feel any motivation without being seduced by the personal sense, “I want to do this”, “I need that”, “This is important to me”. Remember, the practice is not necessarily countering one motivation with another. It is about recognizing these mental formations, volitional formations, for what they are, impersonal movements of mind in other words, not self. With wise attention, is it possible to see sankharas as simply impersonal, conditional, and impermanent movements of mind. Notice the sense of release that arises when seen in this way? And then, notice what arises when the mind delights in (gets attached to) sankharas?