Foolish cow is doomed: V&V (vitakka&vicāra) in Abhidhamma Vibhanga and KN Petako to Vism

I don’t know which text is earlier, KN Pe, or Ab Vb, but here are the interesting things I noticed. Kn Pe seems to agree 100% with a straightforward of EBT first jhana V&V.

What’s interesting is Ab Vb also agrees, but adds a couple of things:

appanā byappanā
fixation, focussing,

But the other items on the Ab Vb list, especially samma sankappo agreees with KN Pe.

So here’s what’s really interesting, in Vism., for the meditation topics that can get you into first jhana, AFAIK none of them take the broader interpretation of their own Abhidhamma definition of V&V! They all are using a kasina based samatha kung fu, fixity and focussing.

Vimt. on the other hand, in their jhana section they follow the KN Pe definition. But since the jhana is under earth kasina, it’s hard to tell if it’s using the full range of V&V there. Certainly under 16 APS (anapana) V&V would evaluate the breath using the non-fixity aspects of vicara.

KN Pe: Peṭakopadesa 7.72, 1st jhāna commentary

KN-Pe is the earliest detailed word commentary on the standard jhāna formula: Peṭakopadesa 7.72
(first paragraph 72. talks about tīṇi akusala-mūlāni (3 unskillful roots) and 5niv (hindrances) removal.
♦ tattha a-lobhassa pāripūriyā nekkhamma-vitakkaṃ vitakketi.
Here, for non-greed fulfillment, renunciation-thoughts (he) thinks.
tattha a-dosassa pāripūriyā abyāpāda-vitakkaṃ vitakketi.
for non-hatred fulfillment, renunciation-thoughts (he) thinks.
tattha a-mohassa pāripūriyā avihiṃsā-vitakkaṃ vitakketi.
for non-delusion fulfillment, renunciation-thoughts (he) thinks.
tattha a-lobhassa pāripūriyā vivitto hoti kāmehi.
“Here, for fulfilling non-passion he is secluded from sensual pleasures.
tattha a-dosassa pāripūriyā
Here, for fulfilling non-aggression and
a-mohassa pāripūriyā ca vivitto hoti pāpakehi akusalehi dhammehi,
fulfilling non-delusion he is secluded from unskillful phenomena.
savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ
And so he enters and remains in the first jhāna,
paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
which includes directed thought and evaluation, as well as joy and pleasure born of seclusion.
♦ vitakkāti tayo vitakkā —
Directed thought: There are three kinds of directed thought, namely
the thought of renunciation,
the thought of non-aversion,
and the thought of harmlessness.
tattha paṭham-ābhinipāto vitakko,
Here, directed thought is the first instance
paṭiladdhassa vicaraṇaṃ vicāro.
while evaluation is the evaluation of what is thereby received.
yathā puriso dūrato purisaṃ passati āgacchantaṃ,
Just as when a man sees someone approaching in the distance
na ca tāva jānāti eso itthīti vā purisoti vā
he does not yet know whether it is a woman or a man,
yadā tu paṭilabhati itthīti vā purisoti vā
but when he has received [the apperception] that “it is a woman” or “it is a man” or
evaṃ vaṇṇoti vā evaṃ saṇṭhānoti vā
that “it is of such color” or that “it is one of such shape,”
ime vitakkayanto uttari upaparikkhanti
then when he has thought this he further scrutinizes,
kiṃ nu kho ayaṃ sīlavā udāhu dussīlo
“How then, is he ethical or unethical,
aḍḍho vā duggatoti vā.
rich or poor?”
evaṃ vicāro
This is examination.
vitakke appeti,
With directed thought he fixes.
vicāro cariyati ca anuvattati ca.
With examination he moves about and turns over [what has been thought].”

Notes of interest:
V&V “fixes” and “turning over” have been reinterpreted in the Vsm.

Abhdhamma Vibhanga 12, V&V in jhānas

first jhāna V&V, (J2 same def)

♦ 565. “savitakkaṃ savicāran”ti
“Accompanied by initial application, accompanied by sustained application” means:
atthi vitakko, atthi vicāro.
There is initial application; there is sustained application.
♦ tattha katamo vitakko?
Therein what is initial application?
yo takko vitakko saṅkappo
That which is mentation, thinking, thought,
appanā byappanā
fixation, focussing,
cetaso abhiniropanā sammāsaṅkappo —
application of the mind, right thought.
ayaṃ vuccati “vitakko”.
This is called initial application.
♦ tattha katamo vicāro?
Therein what is sustained application?
yo cāro vicāro anuvicāro upavicāro
That which is searching, examining, constant examining,
cittassa anusandhanatā anupekkhanatā —
scrutinizing, constant connection of (and) constant inspection by consciousness.
ayaṃ vuccati vicāro.
This is called sustained application.

Notes of interest:
1. sammāsaṅkappo, saṅkappo, seem to be on the same link of the food chain as vitakka, not below or above it.
2. this may be foreshadowing what upekkha does in 3rd and 4th jhana (cittassa anusandhanatā anupekkhanatā —)

Thank you for this discovery!

The forgotten secret of kasina practice is that one has to deal with gross and subtle hindrances, - surely using Vitakka and Vicara. One tracks and evaluates the attitude to kasinas. Anapanasati jhana, being a subtype of air kasina, is attained along the same lines - one keeps track of and evaluates the attitude to incoming and outgoing air, - dealing with the hindrances one discovers.

for comparison, here’s what V&V does in the first jhana of Vism. earth kasina:

vism earth kasina, first jhana

88.So far the factors abandoned by the jhāna have been shown. And now, in order to show the factors associated with it, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought is said. [142] Herein, applied thinking (vitakkana) is applied thought (vitakka); hitting upon, is what is meant.25 It has the characteristic of directing the mind on to an object (mounting the mind on its object). Its function is to strike at and thresh—for the meditator is said, in virtue of it, to have the object struck at by applied thought, threshed by applied thought. It is manifested as the leading of the mind onto an object. Sustained thinking (vicaraṇa) is sustained thought (vicāra); continued sustainment (anusañcaraṇa), is what is meant. It has the characteristic of continued pressure on (occupation with) the object. Its function is to keep conascent [mental] states [occupied] with that. It is manifested as keeping consciousness anchored [on that object].
89.And, though sometimes not separate, applied thought is the first impact of the mind in the sense that it is both gross and inceptive, like the striking of a bell. Sustained thought is the act of keeping the mind anchored, in the sense that it is subtle with the individual essence of continued pressure, like the ringing of the bell. Applied thought intervenes, being the interference of consciousness at the time of first arousing [thought], like a bird’s spreading out its wings when about to soar into the air, and like a bee’s diving towards a lotus when it is minded to follow up the scent of it. The behaviour of sustained thought is quiet, being the near non-interference of consciousness, like the bird’s planing with outspread wings after soaring into the air, and like the bee’s buzzing above the lotus after it has dived towards it.

so the foolish cow simile takes on a very differnet flavor than vimt.

  1. Hence the Blessed One said: “Bhikkhus, suppose there were a foolish stupid mountain cow, …
  1. Therefore he should acquire mastery in the five ways first of all with respect to the first jhāna. Herein,
    these are the five kinds of mastery: mastery in adverting, mastery in attaining, mastery in resolving (steadying the duration), mastery in emerging, and mastery in reviewing. “He adverts to the first jhāna where, when, and for as long as, he wishes; he has no difficulty in adverting; thus it is mastery in adverting. He attains the first jhāna where … he has no difficulty in attaining; thus it is mastery in attaining” (Paṭis I 100), and all the rest should be quoted in detail (XXIII.27).
  1. The explanation of the meaning here is this. When he emerges from the
    first jhāna and first of all adverts to the applied thought, then, next to the
    adverting that arose interrupting the life-continuum, either four or five impulsions impel with that applied thought as their object. Then there are two life-continuum [consciousnesses]. Then there is adverting with the sustained thought as its object and followed by impulsions in the way just stated. When he is able to prolong his conscious process uninterruptedly in this way with the five jhāna factors, then his mastery of adverting is successful. But this mastery is found at its acme of perfection in the Blessed One’s Twin Marvel (Paṭis I 125), or for others on the aforesaid occasions. There is no quicker mastery in adverting than that.

so the cook simile from SN 47.8 also mentioned in this chapter, takes on a very narrow meaning compared to EBT straightforward meaning.

In sharp contrast to Vism. first jhana, Vimuttimagga and EBT, V&V has broad range of functionality and wisdom building potential before, during, after first jhana

In Vimt. (will pull up quotes later) and EBT, first jhana foolish cow (AN 9.34) and skillful cook (SN 47.8) works on purifying wrong thoughts, replacing them with right thoughts (renunciation, non-lust, good will, etc, dukkha), understanding why wrong thoughts happen, finding strategies to remove them, purifing right view and right thought to get into first jhana.

vism. is reduced to samatha kung fu. This is not to denigrate samatha kung fu, that is important and has its place, but for first jhana, the salient and main feature the EBT passages is going after is replacing unskillful wrong thoughts/intentions with right ones connected to the Dhamma, and then attenuating those right thoughts until the volume is turned down enough to satisfy kaya and citta passaddhi and slide you into first jhana. Very different approach.

I spent many years in a VIsm. Jhana training system monastery in asia, so this is a firsthand account, not a theory or hearsay. I’ve seen people spend years just trying to get into first jhana using the Vism. approach of samatha kung fu and protecting their breath nimitta as Vism. recommends for the activity of V&V. The foolish cow is not only foolish under the Vism. model, it’s doomed.


So why is the foolish cow doomed? You can see the evidence yourself, I’ve gone through the important passages with a red marker and highlighter so you can easily confirm.

I’ve uploaded the entire Vimt. sections on 4 jhanas and 4 arupa attainments here:

I made a massive TOC (table of contents) so you can find exactly the suspicious parts to compare easily.

You can compare how Vism.'s use of V&V in first jhāna is quite different than Vimt. They’re both working on earth kasina, and the method is the same, but Vimt. still takes care to mention “separation from lust and hindrances”, the most prominent part of samma sankappo that is active as V&V (vitakka and vicara) in first jhana.

Vism. on the other hand, they segregate the normal “thinking” aspects of V&V to the access concentration portion, and under first jhāna, V&V only takes on the narrow “fixity”.

So this is how this affects the foolish cow. The EBT and vimt. pasture for first jhāna is completely different than the pasture for Vism.!

On the Vism. pasture, they’re trying to anxiously protect a mentally generated visual image of an earth kasina, a photographic memory of a brown/red disk. V&V is striking, threshing, at the disk, trying to “dive into it” to get the redefined Vism. Jhāna.

On the Vimt. pasture, they’re using the same meditation technique, but they still acknowledge that hindrances, thoughts of sensuality, ill will , etc, are part of the job of V&V in first jhana. (applied and sustained thought is translator’s choice of words).

In Vism., V&V becomes reduced to just a pure samatha kung fu training exercise. This is why they had to create “access concentration” , a term not in the EBT. To restore the important functionality of V&V and S&S (sati and sampajano) that they pulled out of EBT jhāna.


Yes, this is essential to attain jhana instead of zoning out.