(there’s a pun in there somewhere)
Frank quotes crizna’s citation of a passage in the Sphuṭārthā Abhidharmakośavyākhyā that offers the following –
From that, the assertion is made :
I will assume that nobody here doubts the problem that polysemy poses for Pali philology, and that meaning is furnished by context. If that is in doubt, we can examine polysemy in the amazing range of meanings furnished by the word saññā.
What exactly do the texts actually say about vitakka?
There’s no doubting that in the texts, vitakka spans quite a range of phenomena, eg –
Dhammic thoughts such as –
Vitakkentā ca kho tumhe, bhikkhave, ‘idaṃ dukkhan’ti vitakkeyyātha
Ruminative thoughts or perhaps self-reflection –
Pavivekārāmo, bhikkhave, tathāgato pavivekarato. Tamenaṃ, bhikkhave, tathāgataṃpavivekārāmaṃ pavivekarataṃ eseva vitakko bahulaṃ samudācarati: ‘yaṃ akusalaṃ taṃpahīnan’ti.
Other than these types of mental activity, what else do vitakka and its verb vitakketi connote? If one searches for both words on SC, one will get many hits explicitly identifying vitakka with 6 very specific kinds of vitakka, ie the unwholesome vitakkas of kāmavitakka, vyāpādavitakka and vihiṃsāvitakka versus their wholesome counterparts nekkhammavitakka, avyāpādavitakka and avihiṃsāvitakka.
Someone working with the SC Pali look-up and the cursor will simply get eg “thought concerned with pleasures of the senses; a lustful thought (see kāma )” for kāmavitakka. What exactly is the “thought” here? And this is where these dictionaries occasionally fail us. “Thought” is so vague as to border on the meaningless in this case.
One way to clarify the meaning of these types of vitakka is to look at what the context could have intended. One can find this in the several mentions of vitakka being predicated as akusala (unwholesome). A lengthier predication occurs with pāpakā akusalā vitakkā (evil and unwholesome vitakkas). The Chinese parallels have this as 惡不善覺(eg SA 235). It should not surprise anyone that the sense carried almost exclusively by pāpaka and akusala is that of bad kamma. And what is kamma if not intention : AN 6.63?
I’m fortified in my identification of vitakka with intention, by how the term is synonymous with saṅkappa.
We have the term vitakkapathe (pathways of vitakka) in AN 4.35. This pathway allows one to have complete mastery over one’s vitakka and one’s saṅkappa -
So yaṃ vitakkaṃ ākaṅkhati vitakketuṃ taṃ vitakkaṃ vitakketi, yaṃ vitakkaṃ nākaṅkhativitakketuṃ na taṃ vitakkaṃ vitakketi. yaṃ saṅkappaṃ ākaṅkhati saṅkappetuṃ taṃ saṅkappaṃ saṅkappeti, yaṃ saṅkappaṃnākaṅkhati saṅkappetuṃ na taṃ saṅkappaṃ saṅkappeti. Iti cetovasippatto hoti vitakkapathe.
It’s a very regular feature in Pali that texts duplicate passages using synonyms.
The term is expanded as vitakkapariyāyapathesu in MN 20 (courses and pathways of vitakka) in the context of the 5 masteries over pāpakā akusalā vitakkā, leading ultimately to samādhi.
Another device used to insure the texts against loss is to populate a sentence with synonyms, eg –
Paṇītaṃ, kaccāna, dhātuṃ paṭicca uppajjati paṇītā saññā, paṇītā diṭṭhi, paṇīto vitakko, paṇītācetanā, paṇītā patthanā, paṇīto paṇidhi , paṇīto puggalo, paṇītā vācā
A superior element gives rise to superior perceptions, superior views, superior thoughts, superior intentions, superior aims, superior wishes , a superior person, and superior speech.
Across the textual traditions, we see a very liberal and free equivalence of vitakka and saṅkappa eg –
惡不善覺 : SA 235
= pāpakā akusalā dhammāsarasaṅkappā : SN 35.151
覺 being the SA’s term for vitarka.
pāpake akusale vitakke vitakketi,seyyathidaṃ kāmavitakkaṃ, byāpādavitakkaṃ, vihiṃsāvitakkaṃ.: SN 9.11
= 起不正思惟: SA 1334
思 being the SA’s term for saṃkalpa.
A sutra that’s roughly equivalent to the MN 117 model even does us the favour of defining samma saṅkappa with the word vitakka -
何等為正志有世、俗，有漏、有取，向於善趣？謂正志出要覺、無恚覺、不害覺，是名正志世、俗，有漏、有取，向於善 趣 : SA 785
Within the Pali tradition, MN 19 and MN 20 stand out in contextualizing vitakka as mental kamma. MN 20 especially proposes -
itipime vitakkā dukkhavipākā
which is very standard language for kamma and its results.
Yet, one could still argue and insist that vitakka in jhana must have a special meaning not associated with saṅkappa. MN 77 should lay to rest such scruples – akusalā saṅkappā cease without remainder in the 1st Jhana, while kusalā saṅkappā cease without remainder in the 2nd Jhana. And what ceases in the 2nd Jhana in the standard pericope but vitakkavicāra?
So, where does the pun in the title come in?
It seems that in the meditation context of vitakka, there is a very specific mental activity tucked away in SN 47.10 that has been completely forgotten by the exegetical text cited.
A meditator sitting down to the 4 establishments of mindfulness may suddenly be overwhelmed by hindrances. The suggested remedy –
Tenānanda, bhikkhunā kismiñcideva pasādanīye nimitte cittaṃ paṇidahitabbaṃ.
That bhikkhu should then direct his mind towards some inspiring sign
The verb in question is paṇidahati (directs), in the future passive participle paṇidahitabbaṃ. Let’s first get a non-meditation context for the operation of this verb and its non-finite forms.
In a tempora-spatial context, we have –
ekāyanenamaggena tameva aṅgārakāsuṃ paṇidhāya
came by a path going in one way only and directed to that same charcoal pit
This absolutive of paṇidahati has a very clear sense of spatial direction.
The absolutive pops up again in Iti 70 under “micchā manaṃ paṇidhāya” (wrongly directed mind).
In the same context of kamma, directing the mind is mentioned in SN 1.75 under –
Vācaṃ manañca paṇidhāyasammā,
Kāyena pāpāni akubbamāno;
Having directed speech and mind rightly,
Doing no evil deeds with the body,
Yamariyagarahī nirayaṃ upeti,
Vācaṃ manañca paṇidhāya pāpakan”ti.
a slanderer of noble ones goes to hell
having aimed bad words and thoughts at them
The absolutive also appears in a cosmological context –
aññataraṃ devanikāyaṃ paṇidhāya brahmacariyaṃ carati
he lives the holy life directed towards some heavenly company
Another cosmological context with Mr Citta -
paṇidhehi, gahapati, anāgatamaddhānaṃ rājā assaṃ cakkavattī”ti.
Householder, make a wish to become a wheel-turning monarch in the future!
The absolutive acquires fuller meaning when we see what it is contrasted against in this passage –
aññataraṃ devanikāyaṃ paṇidhāya brahmacariyaṃ carati: ‘imināhaṃ sīlena vā vatena vā tapenavā brahmacariyena vā devo vā bhavissāmi devaññataro vā’ti.
Yo so, bhikkhave, bhikkhu aññataraṃ devanikāyaṃ paṇidhāya brahmacariyaṃ carati: ‘imināhaṃsīlena vā vatena vā tapena vā brahmacariyena vā devo vā bhavissāmi devaññataro vā’ti, tassacittaṃ na namati ātappāya anuyogāya sātaccāya padhānāya.
Directing the mind towards rebirth makes the mind unable to incline/bend (namati) towards striving etc. This suggests to me that both verbs are pulling against each other in opposite directions, thereby making them functionally equivalent, and depending on context, they can operate as synonyms.
An important point to note from MN 19 is how the mind “inclines” (namati) towards wholesomeness if the wholesome vitakkas are frequently “thought”. You can do a quick check on where namati pops up – do those contexts necessitate a conscious/deliberate intention to “incline” the mind one way or another? The texts describe the mind inclining, not a person inclining the mind.
The participle paṇihita (directed) also shows up in the context of kamma –
Micchāpaṇihitaṃ kho, mahāli, cittaṃ hetu, micchāpaṇihitaṃ cittaṃ paccayo pāpassa kammassakiriyāya pāpassa kammassa pavattiyāti.
A wrongly directed mind is a cause and condition for the doing of bad kamma, for the occurrence of bad kamma.
Coming back to paṇidahati, we see this in the context of future goals, eg MN 133 -
appaṭiladdhassa paṭilābhāya cittaṃ paṇidahati, cetaso paṇidhānapaccayātadabhinandati, tadabhinandanto anāgataṃ paṭikaṅkhati
Because the mind is set on obtaining what has not yet been obtained, one delights in that that and one hopes for the future.
The Chinese MA 165 has 願 = praṇidhi (Skt) = paṇidhi (Pali) = resolution.
I would mention here that Monier-Williams offers “directed towards, fixed upon (loc.) Hariv. Bhartṛ. BhP.” as one of the meanings of the participle praṇihita = paṇihita (Pali).
One could count cetopaṇidhi (eg AN 8.35) as belonging to the same functional characteristics of this “directing”. What functional characteristics can we see from the usage of paṇidahati in the arena of the mind? It has obviously acquired the “directional” aspect from the spatial context of MN 12, but more importantly, practically the majority, if not all, of its occurrences in the context of mind and rebirth is about the direction of kamma, good or bad.
Why have I spent so much time on the verb paṇidahati and its various forms? Because, understanding this flavor of paṇidahati enables us to understand the meditation instruction given in SN 47.10. To recap, when hindrances overwhelms someone developing satipaṭṭhāna, the Buddha recommends –
That bhikkhu should then direct (paṇidahati) his mind towards some inspiring sign.
The sutta itself does not explicitly how one directs the mind towards an inspiring nimitta. However, if you read a little further, the text describes what happens when –
yassa khvāhaṃ atthāya cittaṃ paṇidahiṃ, so me attho abhinipphanno
The purpose for the sake of which I directed my mind has been achieved
Notice how the sutta describes the ending of the directed meditation –
So paṭisaṃharati ceva na ca vitakketi na ca vicāreti.
‘Avitakkomhi avicāro, ajjhattaṃ satimā sukhamasmī’ti pajānāti.
So he withdraws the mind and does not vitakketi or vicāreti. He understands: ‘Without vitakka and vicāra, internally mindful, I am happy.’
The directed meditation ends with the ending of vitakka and vicāra. To me, this clearly points to vitakka-vicāra as being what directs the mind, given that the negation of vacīsaṅkhāra coincides with the ending of the directional meditation. The vacīsaṅkhāra is directing the mind, and what better way to describe it than initial and sustained application? (well, maybe not application per se, but something better aligned to “directing” such as steering and holding the course?)
Up to this point, I have not cited MN 117, but with the evidence laid out above, is it any surprise that MN 117 defines world-transcending Right Intention as –
takko vitakko saṅkappo appanā byappanā cetaso abhiniropanā vacīsaṅkhāro
thinking, thought, intention, mental absorption, mental fixity, directing of mind, verbal formation
So, we have a much later exegesis that describes vitakka-vicāra as “manojalpa” versus what the sutta itself describes these to be the dhamma(s) that enables one to direct the mind to an inspiring sign. The former is an insight reading, the latter is a samatha reading. How far apart can these 2 propositions be? How did the Northern tradition lose the direction re vitakka?
Take a look at SA 615 and try to look for the “directing” verb…