One of the meanings of 行 is saṃskāra, 'formations', one of the five Buddhist skandhas. What is the pronunciation of 行 in this meaning?

The question is motivated by Kroll's Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese specifically giving the reading to be haengH > xìng, putting it separately from the usual haeng > xíng.

But what is the source of that? All general dictionaries I could consult, as dense as the Hanyu Da Zidian, do not contain the saṃskāra meaning, so they cannot be used to check it. On the other hand, all specifically Buddhist sources I found agree with the usual xíng:

  • The Digital Dictionary of Buddhism (http://www.buddhism-dict.net) knows only xíng for all meanings of 行;

  • The venerable Glossary of Kumārajīva's Translation Of The Lotus Sutra by Karashima Seishi, who I think can be fully trusted as an expert, has only xíng specifically for saṃskāra meaning;

  • Of lesser value, but still notable, is the fact that the 一切經音義 does not to have a pronunciation of 行 given anywhere, thus expecting the readers to use the most ordinary reading;

  • The pinyin spellings of the Heart Sutra that I could find have xíng in the phrase 受想行識亦復如是 which definitely refers to the saṃskāras.

Is there a difference in reading, after all?

  • The 行 of 諸行無常 seems to be for this meaning. How is this four-character sequence pronounced in Chinese?
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Mar 31 at 23:30

1 Answer 1


I would say 行 xíng = 生死

行: 流通,传递: circulate, circle

2 / 生死或生死陰 ‘生死’, literally meaning birth and death, or samsara in the sense of painful worldly existence, was a general term to render the word samskara in the early Buddhist literature before Kumarajiva. It occurs almost as frequently as‘行’, however it is used most often in a collective numeration of five aggregates: 色、痛痒、思想、生死、識(註16). When used individually, it may appear accompanied by ‘陰’, ‘生死陰’ understood as 'samskaraskandha' [ T.15, 164c, etc. ] and differentiated from samsara as such.

However this differentiation is usually completely obliterated in the early period. It is also frequently used together with‘行’, in the sense of involvement in worldly existence as opposed to liberation(註17), or blind wandering in Samsara as opposed to truth(註18). Since the samskaras are said to arise in virtue of three factors: karma, desire and ignorance [T.2, 88b] ,the translation of samskara by samsara is philosophically impeccable.

It clarifies its function as the architect of other four skandhas, but it fails to translate many particular usages of samskara in Pali, such as preparations of. body, speech and mind (kaya, vaci, manosankhara), or preperation of life, or of age [ jivitasankhara, ayusankhara ] etc., where always other words had to be used. 身、口、意行作…T. 15, 175b].

As the translation of samskara as‘行’ is used in juxtaposition with the description of Nirvana as unmoved (acala) , or constant [[[dhuva]]), so its translation as ‘生死’, brings to light its unborn [[[ajata]]) and deathless acuta, amara nature.

This contrast is often used by the commentators as for example Xi Chao for whom samskara as‘生死’, seems to signify the process of arising and passing of [a defiled] mind. (註19) The commentator of 'Shi er yin jing [ dvadasanidanasutra ] identifies samskara 生 死 with the root defilement of anger or dislike, lust with ignorance and consciousness with not knowing or essential unclarity(註20).

These three (consciousness, samskara and ignorance) are here undistinguishable, as in many other places in the early Buddhist literature. In accordance with the old sramana tradition, describing the mind as Samsara [[[cittam eva samsara]]), the mind is said to arise due to one's ignorance about samskaras and has to be stopped by the practitioner.

(註21) Thus the translation of samskara as samsara in early Chinese Buddhist literature brings to light the accumulative function of samskaras as forces or factors creating the universe in terms of proliferation of mind. This rendering is intended to include all five aggregates of existence and is also often used in this sense(註22).

It is not surprising that a question crops out in this connection in the Mahavibhasa [T.27, 384c] ; why the samskara is not called the aggregate of self [我蘊] , which is answered by saying, because the pudgala is not the real characteristic of all samskaras.

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