saṃkalpa in the Abhidharmakośa

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saṃkalpa in the Abhidharmakośa

Postby tobes » Mon Apr 01, 2013 12:36 am

I find this concept much more explicit in the Theravadan Abhidhamma.

Anyone have a good commentary of the kośa which unpacks it a little?

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Re: saṃkalpa in the Abhidharmakośa

Postby Huifeng » Mon Apr 01, 2013 1:05 am

tobes wrote:I find this concept much more explicit in the Theravadan Abhidhamma.

Anyone have a good commentary of the kośa which unpacks it a little?

:anjali:


Try the Vyakhya.

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Re: saṃkalpa in the Abhidharmakośa

Postby Ayu » Mon Apr 01, 2013 8:46 am

tobes wrote:I find this concept much more explicit in the Theravadan Abhidhamma.

Anyone have a good commentary of the kośa which unpacks it a little?

:anjali:

Do you mean the difference between "willpower / struggle / effort" (Theravada) and "cheerful energy / vigor" (tibetean Buddhism) ?
Because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us
From beginningless time, are suffering,
What can we do with (just) our own happiness?
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Re: saṃkalpa in the Abhidharmakośa

Postby Jnana » Mon Apr 01, 2013 8:57 pm

tobes wrote:I find this concept much more explicit in the Theravadan Abhidhamma.

Anyone have a good commentary of the kośa which unpacks it a little?

I did a quick search through the Vyākhyā and didn't see anything that was directly relevant to your query. However, it's possible that I may have missed something.

But at any rate, I don't think there's much difference between how Theravāda and Sarvāstivāda authors regard saṃkalpa. For example, Ghoṣaka's Amṛtarasa states that samyaksaṃkalpa consists of the three skillful thoughts (kuśalavitarka/kuśalasaṃkalpa): the thought of renunciation (naiṣkramya), of non-ill will/non-aversion (avyāpāda), and non-harming (avihiṃsā). This parallels Pāli suttas such as DN 22 and MN 78.

As for the meaning of saṃkalpa, this is a bit more difficult as it's not included in the standard lists of dharmas given under the saṃskāraskandha. Nevertheless, even in the early canonical sources saṃkalpa seems to be related to vitarka (thought), and this association is made more explicit in the Abhidharma. In The Buddhist Path to Awakening (pp. 193-4), Rupert Gethin offers the following analysis of saṃkalpa:

    The root kḷp means “to be in order,” “to be capable,” “to be suitable.” A saṃkalpa is literally, then, a “conforming,” a “(suitable) arrangement or adaptation.” However, the word is regularly used of a clearly formed thought or idea; it thus conveys the sense of “intention” or “purpose.” One might say, then, that saṃkappa is the gearing of the mind to whatever is its object in a definite and particular way. By the time of the early Abhidhamma texts this is clearly identified with the technical term vitakka.... [T]he association of vitakka and saṃkappa is also present in the Nikāyas, though in a fashion that suggests a rather looser connection. The general idea seems to be, then, that saṃkappa is equivalent to the way in which the mind applies itself to or thinks of various objects. Wrong thought turns towards various objects with thoughts and ideas of desire, hatred, or cruelty; right thought turns towards various objects with thoughts and ideas that are free of desire, friendly and compassionate.

I think that "resolve" is generally an adequate English translation of saṃkalpa in many contexts, allowing one to differentiate between saṃkalpa and other important mental factors such as cetanā (volitional intention) and vitarka (thought).
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Re: saṃkalpa in the Abhidharmakośa

Postby tobes » Mon Apr 01, 2013 11:31 pm

Ayu wrote:
tobes wrote:I find this concept much more explicit in the Theravadan Abhidhamma.

Anyone have a good commentary of the kośa which unpacks it a little?

:anjali:

Do you mean the difference between "willpower / struggle / effort" (Theravada) and "cheerful energy / vigor" (tibetean Buddhism) ?


Not really - vīrya is an important mental factor in both Abhidharma traditions.

I'm trying to explore the distinction between cetanā, which is seemingly often uncontrolled, and a more reflective-purposeful intentionality which I think is best captured by the concept of saṃkalpa.

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Re: saṃkalpa in the Abhidharmakośa

Postby tobes » Mon Apr 01, 2013 11:48 pm

Jnana wrote:
tobes wrote:I find this concept much more explicit in the Theravadan Abhidhamma.

Anyone have a good commentary of the kośa which unpacks it a little?

I did a quick search through the Vyākhyā and didn't see anything that was directly relevant to your query. However, it's possible that I may have missed something.

But at any rate, I don't think there's much difference between how Theravāda and Sarvāstivāda authors regard saṃkalpa. For example, Ghoṣaka's Amṛtarasa states that samyaksaṃkalpa consists of the three skillful thoughts (kuśalavitarka/kuśalasaṃkalpa): the thought of renunciation (naiṣkramya), of non-ill will/non-aversion (avyāpāda), and non-harming (avihiṃsā). This parallels Pāli suttas such as DN 22 and MN 78.

As for the meaning of saṃkalpa, this is a bit more difficult as it's not included in the standard lists of dharmas given under the saṃskāraskandha. Nevertheless, even in the early canonical sources saṃkalpa seems to be related to vitarka (thought), and this association is made more explicit in the Abhidharma. In The Buddhist Path to Awakening (pp. 193-4), Rupert Gethin offers the following analysis of saṃkalpa:

    The root kḷp means “to be in order,” “to be capable,” “to be suitable.” A saṃkalpa is literally, then, a “conforming,” a “(suitable) arrangement or adaptation.” However, the word is regularly used of a clearly formed thought or idea; it thus conveys the sense of “intention” or “purpose.” One might say, then, that saṃkappa is the gearing of the mind to whatever is its object in a definite and particular way. By the time of the early Abhidhamma texts this is clearly identified with the technical term vitakka.... [T]he association of vitakka and saṃkappa is also present in the Nikāyas, though in a fashion that suggests a rather looser connection. The general idea seems to be, then, that saṃkappa is equivalent to the way in which the mind applies itself to or thinks of various objects. Wrong thought turns towards various objects with thoughts and ideas of desire, hatred, or cruelty; right thought turns towards various objects with thoughts and ideas that are free of desire, friendly and compassionate.

I think that "resolve" is generally an adequate English translation of saṃkalpa in many contexts, allowing one to differentiate between saṃkalpa and other important mental factors such as cetanā (volitional intention) and vitarka (thought).


Thanks Jnana. This is quite helpful. I suppose I have found it a little odd that saṃkalpa is not included as a mental factor. The natural conclusion which follows from that would be that it simply implies the combination of various mental factors - but I find it really strange that it is barely mentioned in the Kośa, considering its centrality. i.e. how important right intention is in the context of the path, and in the context of karma theory etc.

It seems to me that in the Nikāyas cetanā is usually problematised because it is really the thing driving the whole conditioned process - but might it be the case that cetanā is also an adequate way of accounting for wholesome trajectories? i.e. saṃkalpa is basically a synonym for a wholesome cetanā?

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Re: saṃkalpa in the Abhidharmakośa

Postby Jnana » Tue Apr 02, 2013 1:51 am

tobes wrote:I suppose I have found it a little odd that saṃkalpa is not included as a mental factor. The natural conclusion which follows from that would be that it simply implies the combination of various mental factors - but I find it really strange that it is barely mentioned in the Kośa, considering its centrality. i.e. how important right intention is in the context of the path, and in the context of karma theory etc.

Yeah, even in the Āgamas/Nikāyas samyaksaṃkalpa is one of the least developed members of the noble eightfold path.

tobes wrote:It seems to me that in the Nikāyas cetanā is usually problematised because it is really the thing driving the whole conditioned process - but might it be the case that cetanā is also an adequate way of accounting for wholesome trajectories? i.e. saṃkalpa is basically a synonym for a wholesome cetanā?

Samyaksaṃkalpa would relate to wholesome cetanā. There is also wrong saṃkalpa (cf. MN 117) which would be unwholesome.

As for synonyms, the ābhidharmikas seem to prefer vitarka as a synonym of saṃkalpa (this is also explicit in MN 117, which in terms of historical criticism is now generally considered to display ābhidharmika influences). However, in the context of karma the Abhidharmakośabhāsya (Ch. 4) mentions the terms saṃkalpacetanā and kriyācetanā as two types of cetanā. The Pruden/La Vallée-Poussin/Xuanzang translation:

    There are two types of volition. First, the initial or preparatory stage, wherein one produces a volition which is pure volition, "I must do such and such an action": this is what the Scripture calls cetanākarman, action which is volition. Then, after this stage of pure volition, one produces a volition of action, the volition of doing an action in conformity with what has been previously willed, to move the body or to emit a voice: this is what the Scripture calls cetayitvā karman, action after having been willed, or willed action.

In his Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma (p. 490), Ven. Dhammajoti comments on these two types of cetanā as follows:

    The ancient Dārṣṭāntika as well as the Sautrāntika deny the ontological status of both the informative and non-informative karma-s. All karma-s are none other than volition: The sūtra reference to cetanā and cetayitvā karma-s corresponds to two types of volition. First, at the preparatory stage, the volition of intention (samkalpa-cetana) arises. Next, a volition of action (kriyā-cetanā) arises, moving the body or emitting a speech — bodily or vocal action.
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Re: saṃkalpa in the Abhidharmakośa

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Apr 02, 2013 8:25 am

There might also be something to be gained from reflection on a rather ironic old saying:

the road to hell is paved with good intentions


I interpret this to mean that 'good intentions' are often not acted upon, so this saying reflects the gap that one can often observe between 'good intentions' and what we actually end up doing, which often is not actually so good after all. I often used to think this especially applies to things like New Year's resolutions, intentions to quit smoking, and so on. In some ways intentions of that kind can be a bit of a smokescreen which you use to rationalize what you actually do. ('Well, all along I had intended to _______' .)

Perhaps there is a difference between an 'intention' in the sense of 'a formulated plan or idea' as opposed to intention as a 'spontaneous expression of volition'. So to 'act with good intention' is not necessarily the same as to 'have a good intention', because you can have a good intention without carrying it out, whereas a good intentional action contains both the intention and the act.
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas
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Re: saṃkalpa in the Abhidharmakośa

Postby Jnana » Tue Apr 02, 2013 10:18 pm

jeeprs wrote:I interpret this to mean that 'good intentions' are often not acted upon, so this saying reflects the gap that one can often observe between 'good intentions' and what we actually end up doing, which often is not actually so good after all. I often used to think this especially applies to things like New Year's resolutions, intentions to quit smoking, and so on. In some ways intentions of that kind can be a bit of a smokescreen which you use to rationalize what you actually do. ('Well, all along I had intended to _______' .)

Perhaps there is a difference between an 'intention' in the sense of 'a formulated plan or idea' as opposed to intention as a 'spontaneous expression of volition'. So to 'act with good intention' is not necessarily the same as to 'have a good intention', because you can have a good intention without carrying it out, whereas a good intentional action contains both the intention and the act.

This is why the ethical conduct (śīla) of maintaining precepts, the development of meditative composure (samādhi), etc., are supports for restraint (saṃvara).

According to the ābhidharmikas, volitional intention (cetanā) is a mental factor that accompanies every moment of consciousness. It's the mental action (karma) which causes either skillful (kuśala), unskillful (akuśala), or indeterminate (avyākṛta) actions. And skillful and unskillful actions always have results which occur either in this life, the next life, or in a future life.
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Re: saṃkalpa in the Abhidharmakośa

Postby tobes » Tue Apr 02, 2013 11:22 pm

Jnana wrote:
jeeprs wrote:I interpret this to mean that 'good intentions' are often not acted upon, so this saying reflects the gap that one can often observe between 'good intentions' and what we actually end up doing, which often is not actually so good after all. I often used to think this especially applies to things like New Year's resolutions, intentions to quit smoking, and so on. In some ways intentions of that kind can be a bit of a smokescreen which you use to rationalize what you actually do. ('Well, all along I had intended to _______' .)

Perhaps there is a difference between an 'intention' in the sense of 'a formulated plan or idea' as opposed to intention as a 'spontaneous expression of volition'. So to 'act with good intention' is not necessarily the same as to 'have a good intention', because you can have a good intention without carrying it out, whereas a good intentional action contains both the intention and the act.

This is why the ethical conduct (śīla) of maintaining precepts, the development of meditative composure (samādhi), etc., are supports for restraint (saṃvara).

According to the ābhidharmikas, volitional intention (cetanā) is a mental factor that accompanies every moment of consciousness. It's the mental action (karma) which causes either skillful (kuśala), unskillful (akuśala), or indeterminate (avyākṛta) actions. And skillful and unskillful actions always have results which occur either in this life, the next life, or in a future life.


Yes, I think that's an important point - and very relevant to the discussion all three of us were having about ethics a few weeks ago.

To act ethically in Buddhism really requires a tremendous amount of development; it clearly implies a lot of meditative training.

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