Variously translated as ‘formations,’ ‘volitional formations,’ ‘fabrications’ (and more) I render sankhara as ‘programs and patterns.’
Some of these programs are functions, such as metabolism, that are bound up with the life-force (ayu-sankhara); some are carried by the consciousness that is generated from previous lives; and some are formed through this-life interactions.
The most significant programs from the point of view of transmigration are those that weave grasping onto body and mind.
These are three ‘outflows’ -
the out-flow that bonds to sense-input with feelings ranging between delight and aversion;
the outflow of ‘becoming’ that generates the sense of an autonomous self;
and the outflow of ignorance that obscures the truth about samsara.
These outflows are unsatisfying at best and stressful or painful at worst because they keep programming the mind to depend on the changeable qualities of sensory input, and to form an identity on the shaky ground of mental states.
Because of this existential discomfort, the un-Awakened consciousness reacts with habits of greed, aversion and confusion.
The good news is that we aren’t as embedded in samsara as it might seem.
Not every aspect of mind is caught up in outflows. We can ‘know’ the outflows. And it is only the outflows that have to be eliminated.
The action that prepares for and culminates in this cutting off is the noble path, the Eightfold Path that the Buddha taught. Practising this is the kamma that leads to the end of kamma.
The teachings on kamma, on cause and effect, give us a
Path to release.
In brief, when you know how it works, and you have the skills and tools to deconstruct the programs of consciousness, you can stop doing samsara.
In greater detail, the Buddha’s teaching is one of a guide to sustained action in both external and internal domains, in which practice in the external domain - that of effecting a moral and responsive life - sets the guidelines, and encourages the skills, to clarify the inner domain.
Transpersonal causal factors, such as mindfulness, investigation, concentration and equanimity, can then bring around the effect of abolishing the patterning of the outflows.
This practice doesn’t so much extract the person from samsara as switch off the samsaric process for that individual awareness. What remains for that individual can then be summarised as a functioning body and mind for this life span, and an unbiased awareness that doesn’t participate in the dynamic of further birth...
... it’s often the case that
people need help in terms of integrating meditative attention and insight into their ordinary lives.
This is partly because the insight gained in meditation retreats doesn’t arise out of the context of daily life and action, but out of a specialised setting such as a meditation centre.
In these situations, topics such as mindfulness of breathing receive considerable attention, but themes which are not immediately relevant to the solitude and tranquillity of sitting on a retreat don’t receive the attention that they require for a harmonious life.
Interpersonal relationships, when one comes out of a ‘no contact, no talking’ retreat scenario, seem difficult to integrate - yet they form part of everyone’s life. Similarly if we’ve developed meditation in terms of peacefully accepting what is present in our awareness, how do we become decisive regarding choices around livelihood, and having sustainable plans for the future?
Also, can we get guidance in the kind of personal development that encourages us to take responsibility, allows us to accept, share or question authority - and all the rest of what the society needs in terms of mature individuals?
Sadly, it can also be the case that people have valid
‘spiritual’ experiences on a subtle level, yet remain quite
oblivious to their own biases and blind-spots in terms of
actions and personal interactions.
What helps, in meditation and in daily life, is to learn how to sustain and moderate one’s sense of purpose; how to be sensitive and authentic in oneself and in relationship to other people; and how to value and adjust the quality of effort that we apply to our lives.
All this and more comes under the topic of kamma. We therefore need to get very familiar with what is skilful kamma in terms of subtle internal and obvious external changing contexts.
Therefore I stress the centrality of understanding causality as a key to Awakening because it makes practice a whole-life way, rather than a meditation technique.
It underlines the truth that samsara is a habit, not a place. So ‘getting out of samsara’ does not entail indifference to the world, the body or other people. Nor is it about getting hold of a piece of refined psycho-spiritual territory.
It is the abandonment of that negativity, that indifference and that thirst; and that means cultivating and honouring good kamma.
This in turn is the basis for complete liberation from personal dis-ease. The wholeness of the Buddha’s presentation is to me its beauty and depth: Truth, Virtue and Peace can come forth in the same focus.
~ Ajahn Sucitto
An excerpt from the Preface to "Kamma and the End of Kamma", Cittaviveka 2007