Aṇguttara Nikāya

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III. Tika Nipāta
V. Cūḷa Vagga

The Book of the Threes

Sutta 47

A-Saṇkhata-Lakkhaṇa Suttaṃ

The Construction of the Characteristics
of the Constructed

Translated from the Pāḷi
Michael M. Olds



Translator's Introduction

First off, sankhata means that which is 'own-made,' or 'constructed,' or 'confounded' or 'fabricated' (Bhk. Thanissaro has it correctly, though it would be preferable to see the 'con' there, and even moreso the personal attribute implied by own-making), not, (in spite of Bhk. Bodhi, Rhys Davids, Woodward, PED et al) 'conditioned.' saṇ = con or with or own; khata = khara = made. That which is constructed is conditioned, but not everything that is conditioned is constructed! To use 'conditioned' for 'sankhata' is to skip over a step. And at another point the distinction is essential. See: Is Nibbāna conditioned?

But the point here is: Is this sutta about the nature of the characteristics or is it about the nature of the constructed?

The interpretation of this sutta depends on one's interpretation of the phrase 'saṇkhatassa saṇkhata-lakkhaṇāni'

Woodward: 'condition-marks of that which is conditioned'.

Bhk. Bodhi notes that the passage is literally (excepting the objection to the use of 'conditioned for constructed) 'contitioned-characteristics of the conditioned' and then translates 'characteristics that define the conditioned' stating that he has done so 'to avoid giving the wrong impression that the characteristics themselves are conditioned or unconditioned.' But these characteristics are saṇkhata that is, constructed' and certainly they are 'conditioned': a characteristic of a thing depends on (is conditioned by) the existence of the thing itself.

These characteristics of existing things are built into, constructed with, the thing itself, are aspects of its nature.

That which comes to be (i.e., that which is made, own-made, constructed, saṇkhataed) is subject to time and has a beginning, middle and end.

Making something become (saṇkhāraing) is the simultaneous making of such characteristics as becoming, aging and alteration. The characteristics themselves are constructed. Turn it upside down: without these characteristics there would be no animate life, it is as essential to the construction of a thing in existence that it have these characteristics as it is to build in strength in the foundation of a house.

An incidental clue here is that the construction is arising, aging and difference while standing which is consistent with the usual ordering of time: past, future, present.

Now then, what is the importance of understanding this as a sutta pointing to the nature of the characteristics of things that are own-made? Precisely the idea that these characteristics are constructed along with own-making and do not accompany that which is not own-made.

If while conjuring some future pleasure one can note that one is also imagining its beginning, aging and alteration while on-going, one has one more tool to abort that conjuration.

That which is own-made has these characteristics.

That which is own-made is, because of these characteristics, inherently painful.

Not all things are own-made.

Who hears by wisdom's knowing?

Los Altos,
Sunday, January 26, 2014 8:00 AM



[1][pts][than][bodh] I Hear Tell:

Once upon a time the Lucky Man, Sāvatthī-town residing.

It was there, then, that one time he said this to the beggars gathered round:


and the beggars responding "Bhante!"
the Bhagava said this:

"By that which is constructed,[1] beggars, there are three characteristics constructed.[2]

What three?

Arising, is by wisdom known,[3]
aging, is by wisdom known,
difference while standing,[4] is by wisdom known.

These, beggars, are the three characteristics constructed by that which is constructed.

By that which is not constructed, beggars, there are three characteristics not constructed.

What three?

No arising, is by wisdom known,
no aging, is by wisdom known,
no difference while standing, is by wisdom known.

These, beggars, are the three characteristics not constructed by that which is not constructed."


[1] Saṇkhata. PED: Sankhata. The property of or 'the being of the nature of' things that are the consequence of Saṇkhāra(ing). Put together. Own-made, or confounded, or constructed.

[2] ~lakkhaṇāni PED: In contrast to nimitta more a substantial attribute or primary characteristic (cp. VbhA 261). Compared with other terms of definition we get the following: rasa essential property, paccupaṭṭhāna recurring phenomenon, padatṭhāna immediate occasion.

[3] Paññāya wise-knowing, wisdom's knowing. PED: "understanding fully, knowing well, realizing, in full recognition, in thorough realization or understanding"

[4] Ṭhitassa aññathattaṃ. 'standing anotherness' difference while existing, alteration while existing. Woodward: 'changeability while it persists'.


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