KN Snp 5.14, YARVVI, look at what vitakka and vicāra does

Try plugging in “placing the mind & keeping it connected” for V&V in this sutta and see how well it works. Hint: it completely fails.

Some key background points. In KN Snp 5, the 16 ascetics featured in the chapter, prior to meeting the Buddha are explicitly described as jhana meditators. From several of the suttas in this chapter, based on the questions they ask, we can see their jhana also includes formless attainments. In this sutta, we can see he’s asking about how to use the formless attainment to attain nirvana.

upekkhā-sati-saṃsuddhaṃ: That’s almost an exact wording of fourth jhāna’s “upekkha-sati-pari-suddhim”.

dhamma-takka-purejavaṃ: This would probably correspond with what upekkha, equanimous-observation, is doing in the 4th jhana, the penetrating insight that leads to nirvana.

viññāṇaṃ uparujjhatī”ti. : brings consciousness, to a halt. In other words, no more rebirth, the viññana will no longer bind with nāma-rūpa through ignorant craving and clinging.

In KN Sn (Sutta Nipāta), the four jhanas are never mentioned as a group, the Buddha always just talks about “jhana”, but maybe a couple of times such as in this one he uses a term that is most likely fourth jhana.

Also note that, contrary to what Ajahn Brahm and some other teachers have claimed, the Buddha didn’t invent the jhanas, since these 16 ascetics were already doing it prior ot meeting him. We could say the Buddha figured how the jhanas could be used to realize Nirvana. But clearly the jhanas, the 4 jhanas are not an exclusive Buddhist practice that are so exalted and can only lead to nirvana, and were exclusively discovered by the Buddha. The Buddha used the word jhana to refer to different meditation practices, some even wrong practices that led far away from liberation. The point is, from the EBT, we can see that this narrative Bhante Sujato and Ajahn Brahm often talk about where the jhanas are such an exalted and refined state, and therefore every conventional word in the jhana formula has to be understood differently, such as vitakka and vicara being “placing the mind” and “keeping it connected”. That just doesn’t hold up when you survey how the word ‘jhana’, vitakka, vicara, is used everywhere in the suttas. It doesn’t suddenly change meaning in the jhana formulas.

Look at the right effort formula for example, like the 4 jhanas formula, also in the noble eightfold path. The wording is simple, the meaning plain and clear, with no secret esoteric dimensions that need religious elite to tell us, “no in this context it doesn’t mean the ordinary sense, there’s a special refined definition for this case.” Likewise, we should assume the Buddha is also using plain simple language to convey the conventional meaning of the words used in the 4 jhanas, consistent with the usage of same words elsewhere in the EBT.

KN Sn 5.13 thinking and reflecting on world being bound by desire

5. pārāyanavaggo, 13. udayamāṇavapucchā n (KN 5.68)
(trans. Than. with formatting and punctuation change to match pali)
♦ 1111.
♦ “jhāyiṃ virajamāsīnaṃ,
(To the one in) jhana, seated dustless, passionless,
(iccāyasmā udayo) katakiccaṃ anāsavaṃ.
his task done, effluent-free,
♦ pāraguṃ sabbadhammānaṃ,
gone to the beyond, of all phenomena,"
atthi pañhena āgamaṃ.
I've come with a question.
♦ aññāvimokkhaṃ pabrūhi,
Tell me the gnosis of emancipation,
avijjāya pabhedanaṃ”.
the breaking open, of ignorance."
♦ 1112.
[The Buddha:]
♦ “pahānaṃ kāmacchandānaṃ,
The abandoning, both of sensual desires,
(udayāti bhagavā) domanassāna cūbhayaṃ.
& of unhappiness,
♦ thinassa ca panūdanaṃ,
the dispelling of sloth,
kukkuccānaṃ nivāraṇaṃ.
the warding off of anxieties,

(probably a description of 4th jhāna)

♦ “upekkhā-sati-saṃsuddhaṃ,
equanimity-&-mindfulness purified,
with inspection of mental qualities, swift in the forefront:"
♦ aññāvimokkhaṃ pabrūmi,
That I call the gnosis of emancipation,
avijjāya pabhedanaṃ”.
the breaking open, of ignorance.
♦ 1114.
♦ “kiṃsu saṃyojano loko,
With what, is the world fettered?"

(vicāra has wisdom building potential here)

kiṃsu tassa vicāraṇaṃ.
With what, is it examined?"
♦ kissassa vippahānena,
Through the abandoning of what
nibbānaṃ iti vuccati”.
is there said to be, Unbinding?"
♦ 1115.
[The Buddha:]
♦ “nandi-saṃyojano loko,
With delight, the world's fettered."

(both vitakka and vicāra have wisdom building potential here)

vitakkassa vicāraṇaṃ.
With directed thought, it's examined."
♦ taṇhāya vippahānena,
Through the abandoning of craving,
nibbānaṃ iti vuccati”.
is there said to be, Unbinding."
♦ 1116.
♦ “kathaṃ satassa carato,
Living mindful in what way
viññāṇaṃ uparujjhati.
does one bring consciousness, to a halt?"
♦ bhagavantaṃ puṭṭhumāgamma,
We've come questioning, to the Blessed One."
taṃ suṇoma vaco tava”.
Let us hear your words.
♦ 1117.
[The Buddha:]
♦ “ajjhattañca bahiddhā ca,
Not relishing feeling,
vedanaṃ nābhinandato.
inside or out:"
♦ evaṃ satassa carato,
One living mindful in this way
viññāṇaṃ uparujjhatī”ti.
brings consciousness, to a halt.
♦ udayamāṇavapucchā terasamā niṭṭhitā.
(end of sutta)
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examples of jhana/meditation as wrong concentration:

MN 36 austerity of holding the breath “jhāna”
wrong jhāna, paj-jhāyanti nij-jhāyanti avaj-jhāyanti
    AN 6.46 dhamma teachers disparaging meditation experts
    AN 11.9 simile of horse who only thinks about eating
    KN Snp 4.7 wrong jhāna has sankappa (thinking)
    MN 108 praisworthy jhāna and un-worthy
    MN 50 insult monk’s jhāna by comparing to animals hunting

Here, these ascetic jhanas are likely qualitatively same as 4 jhanas and formless attainments in raw capability

    KN Snp 5.0 vatthu-gāthā (prologue-verses)

KN Snp 5.0 vatthu-gāthā (prologue-verses)

♦ 5. pārāyana-vaggo
♦ 1014.
♦ bhadrāvudho udayo ca,
Bhadrāvudha & Udaya,
posālo cāpi brāhmaṇo.
Posāla the brahman,
♦ mogharājā ca medhāvī,
Mogharāja the intelligent,
piṅgiyo ca mahāisi.
and Piṅgiya the great seer—
♦ 1015.
♦ paccekagaṇino sabbe,
all          with their own groups,
sabbalokassa vissutā.
famed in          all
♦ jhāyī jhānaratā dhīrā,
the world,
endowed          with jhāna,
delighting          in jhāna,
perfume          with perfumes3
from previous lives,

Oh dear. I cannot find the discourse using SuttaCentral search. :cry:

Sutta central numbering in KN Snp is offset by one compared to the Thai canon Thanissaro translated from. And suttcentral uses “Snp”, not “Sn”.


Thank you. This was a new sutta for me. This sutta appears to elaborate on the conclusion of MN1 (i.e., delight/relishing is the root of suffering)

Without rejoicing over feeling on the inside or outside—
for he who lives mindfully in this way, consciousness ceases

In particular, I’ve often wondered about the constraint of worry about wrong-doing. and this sutta clearly states:

“The world is fettered by enjoyment, Udaya,” said the Gracious One,
“it roams about through reflections.

In other words, the constraints of worry arise out of our delights. I had sometimes wondered if that might be the case and it appears to be so. :open_mouth:


It’s interesting that the section Karl quotes is translated rather differently by Thanissaro and Ananajoti, Mills, and Bodhi.

Thanissaro: Sn 5:13  Udaya’s Questions

With delight the world’s fettered.
With directed thought it’s examined.

Ananajoti: SuttaCentral

“The world is fettered by enjoyment, Udaya,” [said the Gracious One],
“it roams about through reflections.


Enjoyment: the fetter of the world,
while thinking, the world’s wandering


  1. “The world is fettered by delight;
    thought is its means of traveling about.

My Pali is not up to adjudicating this, but it seem to me from the various translations (even Thanissaro’s), and the context , that this is not about jhana, it’s about thinking as a problem.


Wow! Thanks for doing the research. After absorbing all that, my own takeaway is

The world, fettered by delight, chases shiny reflections.

But don’t quote me. :speak_no_evil:

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I don’t think Ven. T’s translation places a different spin on V&V than the other translations you compared to. The questioner is asking how the loke/world is examined/vicāra.

If there is a mistake in associating V&V from that passage with vipassana/insight, that would be my own interpretation, I’m not sure what Ven. T’s is, but because he’s translating it with the same terms as he does for first jhana V&V, I can see that’s why people would think that.

In any case, it is unambiguous that the exploring/examining of the world (loke) is at least one of the meaning of V&V in that passage. But the fact that 4th jhana, 5 hindrances, and dhamma-takka (takka is even more discursive and coarse than vitakka) are all alluded to, and the original questioner is asking the Buddha, “seated in jhana”, the way to nirvana, I think it’s pretty clear V&V is also alluding to the possibility of first jhana V&V (see AN 9.36) for attaining nirvana while IN first jhana.

And how the buddha answers the question, it seems clear the questioner can not only do four jhanas prior to meeting him, but also formless attainments (vinnana-anta-ayatanam).

So while wrong thinking such as thoughts of lust, hatred, etc, can bind us to the world, by replacing the wrong thoughts with right thoughts of nekkhamma, renunciation, good will, etc, plays a key role in liberation. And first jhana acknowledges this.

I dug up this passage just for you Mike :slight_smile:

You still think V&V in Snp 5.14 is a bad thing to get rid of along with tanha? Or as it often is the case with terse verse in poetry, multiple meanings are intended?

Also see rohittasa sutta, AN 4.45. Without fully understanding and exploring loke, an end to dukkha can not happen. And how is one going to fully explore the landscape of loke without vitakka and vicara? When samadhi deepens, you could say V&V is replaced with a subtler equivalent in S&S, upekkha, maybe dhamma-vicaya-sambojjhanga and vimamsa of 4ip, but V&V in first jhana would be the natural lead into that.

Hi Frank, Thanks for the reply. I think it’s up to you to demonstrate that the passage is about jhana. It’s certainly not obvious to me that it is. Ven Thanissaro’s translation happens to use the same expression he uses for what the mind does in jhana. The other three translations do not.

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Well, that’s part of the problem with your argument. It doesn’t say that the questioner is in jhana, or knows how to attain it. Clearly the questioner is not the one with

his task done, effluent-free, gone to the beyond of all phenomena—

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Seriously? The name of the sutta Snp 5.14 is “udaya”, the name of the questioner. The prologue to the parayana chapter (the way to the beyond, i.e. nirvana), says about all 16 ascetics in that chapter, which I had already posted in the very next message, msg 2 in the thread, AFAIK posted about the same time as the OP.

But even disregarding this information for the moment, why would the Buddha bother talking about this subject if the questioner was not even in the realm of being able to do jhanas and/or formless attainments? And when the Buddha uses all these terms that are almost exactly, but just slightly different than 4 jhana and 7sb factors, like “upekkha sati su-suddhim”, “dhamma-takka”, etc., are they just vestigial organs that can’t do what an “official 4th jhana” does?

It’s good that you’re critically examining and questioning some of these points, but it kind of feels like you’re giving weight to a few things while disregarding the entire collection of evidence and how it all fits together (still no comment from you on MN 125 for example).

Yes, They are said to have attainments (the Commentary mention but I simply don’t understand that part of the sutta the way you do, given the various translations. Thanissaro’s translation is vaguely suggestive of your interpretation, but the others are not. As I said, I don’t have the expertise to analyse the pros and cons of these various translations.

You probably are not interested in the Commentary, but some might find Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of the verses and Commentary helpful:

1108. “By what is the world fettered?
What is its means of traveling about?
By the abandoning of what
is ‘nibbāna’ spoken of?”

1108 - Commentary: Having heard nibbāna referred to by the expression “the breaking up of ignorance,” he spoke the next verse, “By what is the world fettered?” asking: “By the abandoning of what is ‘nibbāna21’ spoken of?”

1109. “The world is fettered by delight;
thought is its means of traveling about.
It is by the abandoning of craving
that ‘nibbāna’ is spoken of.”

1109 - Commentary: Then, explaining the matter to him, the Blessed One spoke the verse “The world is fettered by delight.” Here, thought is sensual thought and so forth.

Nidd II 145. The world is fettered by delight: It is craving that is called delight. Any lust, passion . . . covetousness, greed as an unwholesome root, this is called delight. The world is yoked by this delight, bound by it, attached to it, conjoined with it, stuck to it, fastened to it, impeded by it, thus the world is fettered by delight. Thought: Nine kinds of thoughts: sensual thought . . . [as at p. 1277, Nidd II 112] . . . thought of not being despised. These nine kinds of thought are the world’s means of traveling about, of examining, of pondering. By means of these nine kinds of thought, the world travels about, examines, ponders.

As for your overall theme, I think we agree that what the mind does in jhana is more refined than before jhana (the Pali is not identical, though I’m not not sure ). Exactly how large the difference is, and how to translate them is a matter of experience and choice respectively, so I have little to add.

MN 125 is interesting, in omitting the second jhana, but I’m not sure how much weight to put on that. Is it missing in the Chinese parallel?

I’m not against Theravada cmy, especially when they support a straightforward EBT reading. If you look at the sutta right after Snp 5.13, KN Snp 5.14 Posala is asking a very specific question about a formless attainment:

♦ 1119.
♦ “vi-bhūta—rūpa-saññissa,
(regarding one) devoid--(of)-form-perceptions,
(who has) entire-body-abandoned,
♦ ajjhattañ-ca bahiddhā ca,
Internally-and externally **,
natthi kiñcīti passato.
“There (is) nothing”: [that is what] (he) sees.
♦ ñāṇaṃ sakk-ānu-pucchāmi,
(for) Knowledge (of this), I ask the-Sakyan:
kathaṃ neyyo tathā-vidho”.
How (is he to be) led further-on?

But just like how 5.13 uses just slightly different words from the standard formulas of 4 jhanas, 5.14 uses just slightly off the standard formula for formless attainment.

And there is still the issue of “dhamma takka”. Since takka is a coarser type of thinking than vitakka, and it clearly has a vipassasna type of role here. “Lamps” are frequently used in verses. So you have to look at the pali word location, and often that word (V&V here) might be modifying neighboring lines, not just the line it’s attached to. I’m not saying the cmy is wrong here, but I do think it’s not a coincidence the Buddha is using key words from the 4 jhanas and implying they play a vipassana role.

You sure you want to go there, and talk Chinese parallels? I’m going to hold off on that for now, that involves a lot of suttas. From what I remember reading Ven. Analayo’s MA studies, the MN 125 parallel in MA included first jhana, but there is another sutta in MA where they left out first jhana, whereas MN included first jhana.

I’m going to do a deep dive on MN 19 and MN 20 soon, and show how leaving in first jhana doesn’t adversely affect the position of V&V being thinking & evaluation. But leaving out first jhana, bolsters the case considerably, removing any ambiguity and wiggle room for other interpretations.

That the theravada clearly makes that position in MN 125, and KN Pe first jhana commentary maintains it unambiguously with crystal clear similes, Vimt., even Abhidhamma vibhanga all consistently support that, means you can’t dismiss MN 125 as an anomaly. It’s only in late Abhidhamma/Vism. where they create the access concentration different from first jhana that they smuggle in the “placing the mind and keeping it connected” in first jhana by redefining jhana and V&V differently than how EBT, KN Pe, Vimt, Ab Vb understands V&V.

In the Chinese parallels, there are multiple instances, from more EBT schools than just the Sarvastivada, that support the MN 125 idea where you don’t leave 4sp to enter first jhana, where V&V acts as “thinking & evaluation”.