Thinking about Saṅkhāra and Afflictive Emotion

Saṅkhāra, the Buddha’s word for mental fabrications or dispositions, represents a foundational part of the concept of dependent origination as taught in Buddhism.

In my post today, I’m leading into the area of afflictive thoughts, and the patterns associated with habit forming and repetition. Forgive me if it is a bit of a stretch, or ramble, as I’m still learning the Pali terms for these concepts and am only recently really seeing what my mind tries to do to me.

A couple times recently I’ve had the opportunity to watch habitual thoughts arise in response to conversation, producing afflictive emotions, and it is an interesting thing to watch in real-time and reflect upon.

By afflictive emotions, in this case I’m referring to the feeling of anger based in aversion or ignorance, both of which I suppose I still carry in fairly abundant supply. Watching these feelings rise and tracing them back to their origin is not an easy task, and usually my way of dealing with it is to just avoid the whole mess altogether by refusing to participate in conversations that might bring rise to such feelings. But, face it, sometimes such conversations are unavoidable, and other times, quite frankly, it is good to just face the feelings, and their causes, and learn from them.

The first thing I’m learning for this process of observation is that I do have opinions on a lot of things, even things I can’t even begin to change. Often, even about things that don’t really matter in my daily life. So I’m having to admit to myself that this is true.

Secondly, I’m seeing how they spring from my own misconceptions of things, or from past habits that I don’t really need to embrace, and how I need to let go of them.

So I’m trying to watch my thoughts at this level, seeing if any of them are habitual, or bring rise to negative, unwholesome mind states, and then find out why. Often, I’m a little slow at actually realizing what is happening, but it is something of a discipline — training myself to separate a part of my mind and observe the arising of thought, and passing away of concentration into chaos, and reel it back in.

Do you ever do this? Do you watch the change from a calm, focused mind to an irritated, monkey-mind? Can you see how your habitually created patterns continually create you in their image? If we can watch this happen, we can train ourselves to command it rather than being commanded by it…

Eventually…

I want to be free of habitual thought, of afflictive emotions, and ultimately of ignorance. Perhaps one day we will all be free of these hindrances.

Be well, friends. I will write again soon.

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7 comments

  1. equanimity…is my word today…love to read your thoughts…have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Thank you, and you too!

  2. Karma Rinchen Tashi · · Reply

    Opinions 🙂 Oh yes I have a few too many for a clear head on many days.

  3. I first encountered this idea in detail in the Dalai Lama’s How to See Yourself As You Really Are. I find that I can do it for a while, maintaining the focus necessary to recognize false or habitual thoughts, but after a while, I lose it. It’s just difficult to sustain that level of attention. Those thoughts can be really powerful. I like how you term it: “how your habitually created patterns continually create you in their image.”

    Thank you for reminding me of the practice. It’s something I could really use in my life right now.

    1. The distractions of daily life makes these things very challenging to maintain, indeed, in particular because of how much power habitual thought seems to have over us. I’m glad something I have said has been helpful, 🙂 and Thank you!

  4. Dennis Beyer · · Reply

    I may not always agree with your thoughts my friend, but you always manage to make me take a step back for a minute and rethink something. Not that I disagree with anything in this post of course 🙂

    1. Nothing wrong with that now is there? Ha!

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