AN 4.41, MN 18, AN 8.63, yet another important reason why vitakka & vicāra in jhāna is not "placing the mind and keeping it connected"

First note that S&S (sati and sampajano) and upekkha, equanimous-observation, have vipassana capability and are explicitly stated in the standard 3rd and 4th jhana formula.

What is S&S able to do in 3rd and 4th jhāna?

AN 4.41 third of four exercises, for sati and sampajaññāya

Katamā ca, bhikkhave, samādhi-bhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā
{and} what, *********, concentration-development, when developed (and) pursued,
Sati-sampajañ-ñāya saṃvattati?
(to) mindfulness-(and)-clear-comprehension (it) leads?
Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno
Here, monks, a-monk:
viditā vedanā uppajjanti,
known (are) feelings (as they) arise,
viditā upaṭṭhahanti,
known (as they are) attended-upon,
viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti.
known (as they) go to} disappear.
viditā saññā uppajjanti,
known (are) perceptions (as they) arise,
viditā upaṭṭhahanti,
known (as they are) attended-upon,
viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti.
known (as they) go to} disappear.
viditā vitakkā uppajjanti,
known (are) thoughts (as they) arise,
viditā upaṭṭhahanti,
known (as they are) attended-upon,
viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti.
known (as they) go to} disappear.
Ayaṃ, bhikkhave, samādhi-bhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā
This, *********, concentration-development, when developed (and) pursued,
Sati-sampajañ-ñāya saṃvattati.
mindfulness-(and)-clear-comprehension (it) leads-to.

If you’re in a frozen meditative state where you’re not able to do the above (AN 4.41), then you’re not in any of the 4 jhanas.

MN 18 what he feels, he perceives, thinks (compare to AN 4.41)

Cakkhuñcāvuso, paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ,
Eye consciousness arises dependent on the eye and sights.
tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso,
The meeting of the three is contact.
phassapaccayā vedanā,
Contact is a condition for feeling.
yaṃ vedeti taṃ sañjānāti,
What you feel, you perceive.
yaṃ sañjānāti taṃ vitakketi,
What you perceive, you think about.
yaṃ vitakketi taṃ papañceti,
What you think about, you proliferate.
yaṃ papañceti tato-nidānaṃ
What you proliferate about is the source from which
purisaṃ papañca-saññā-saṅkhā samudācaranti atītānāgatapaccuppannesu cakkhuviññeyyesu rūpesu.
a person is beset by concepts of identity that emerge from the proliferation of perceptions. This occurs with respect to sights known by the eye in the past, future, and present.
Sotañcāvuso, paṭicca sadde ca uppajjati sotaviññāṇaṃ … pe …
Ear consciousness arises dependent on the ear and sounds. … N

Note the order: feeling, perception, thinking, proliferation. Both AN 4.41 and MN 18 follow that progression of increasing complexity. So if V&V (vitakka & vicara) were to mean "placing the mind and keeping it connected in 3rd jhāna, it just doesn't make sense for these two suttas.

Vicāra clearly means evaluating/considering/pondering/exploring the current vitakka-thought, and that vicara falls between thinking and proliferation in the hierarchy of complexity of phenomena.

AN 8.63, with the 3 way of samadhi scheme (equivalent to 4 jhanas) where V&V drops out gradually, makes perfect sense when V&V = thinking and evaluating said thought, such as the 3 types of samma sankappo (thoughts of nekkhamma, abyapada, avihimsa, good will, kindness, etc).

Translating V&V as “placing the mind and keeping it connected” in the 4 jhana context, would be like translating vāca (speech) as “issuing sound waves and connecting them to ear drums”. It is not untrue, and it can work in the translations, but it totally misses the point.


I agree. Well explained. This is of course inline with Ṭhanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation and I have always been partial to it’s reading and found it more correct from my own practice.

Would like to hear what others think and their reasoning with why it isn’t a correct translation. I like it, but I’m not rigid either.

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V&V as well as piti and sukha are listed as jhanas factors experienced within the 1st jhana.
Placing the mind is an activity that occurs before entering jhana; there is no need to place the mind again and again while in jhana. So V&V cannot mean anything other than the usual thinking and pondering.


I’m totally in favor of diversity in interpretations, so long as they show the EBT evidence for or against, and how they interpreted that evidence to arrive at that conclusion.

Some of the Thai forest masters for example, where Vism. redefinition of jhana seemed like part of their everyday vocabulary, at least they had some interesting twists that showed they were trying to make it compatible with EBT. For example, Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo in one of his books, he equates EBT first jhana, with Vism. upacara samadhi/access concentration. IMO it won’t work completely, but at least it makes some kind of sense and works way better than other interpretations.

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What does the Vsm. Say about jhana.