MN 19, 20 deep dive into the role of V&V in first jhana

pali+english side by side, full suttas for MN 19 + 20 here:
link to ebooks in multiple formats for MN 19, 20, other suttas relevant to V&V in first jhana

First thing you want to notice is that quite often, adjacent suttas are closely related and you should read them together, lest you draw incomplete conclusions from reading a single sutta alone when the adjacent suttas clarify the context.

MN 18 talks about how wrong types of perceptions lead to wrong types of vitakka thinking, and then wrong types of papanca/objectification.

MN 19 talks about how wrong thoughts can be replaced with good thoughts, and then how good thoughts can be attenuated to seamlessly transition into first jhana, where even the good thoughts gradually fade out, resulting in no thoughts in 2nd jhana and above.

MN 20 has five methods to remove both good and bad thoughts, and the first method, is the same one as MN 19. Replacing wrong thoughts with right thoughts, just as a carpenter would use finer pegs to push out and replace coarser pegs.

Now the removal of both good and bad thoughts, not just bad thoughts, would be the condition of second jhana.

The strange thing about MN 20, is it’s missing some key pali terms you would expect to see. The four jhanas are never explicitly mentioned by name, and the good vitakka thoughts that would replace the bad vitakka thoughts, you don’t see the good “vitakka” mentioned.

Instead, you see “samadhi nimitta”. Why is this? What could be the meaning of this?

to be continued…

What is the Pali word for thought?
Only V&V stops in second Jhana not the thoughts.

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MN 19 is more explicit about what happens to V&V in first jhana, compared to

AN 6.73-6.75

where one has to read terse statements carefully and deduce.

In MN 19, if you study the simile of the cowherd carefully in the version before jhana, to the one with jhana, it explains V&V in first jhana very well, and also shows why the VRJ (vism. redefinition of jhana, V&V, and B. Sujato’s V&V redefinition) does not work.

In the first cowherd simile, the cowherd is busy monitoring the cows, poking them, keeping them in bounds, for straying into kings property could result in punishment up to death. This corresponds to right effort and right mindfulness busy guarding sense doors, etc.

In the second cowherd simile corresponding to first jhana:

(simile of cowherd relaxed in jhāna)

seyyathāpi, bhikkhave,
“Just as (in the)
gimhānaṃ pacchime māse
hot-season, (in the) last month,
sabba-sassesu gāmanta-sambhatesu
(when) all-crops (into the) village-(they've been)-stored-up,
gopālako gāvo rakkheyya,
a cowherd {would look after} (his) cows:
tassa rukkha-mūla-gatassa vā
While resting under the shade of a tree or
abbhokāsa-gatassa vā
out in the open,
sati-karaṇīyam-eva hoti — ‘etā VAR gāvo’ti.
he simply keeps himself mindful of ‘those cows.’
evamevaṃ kho, bhikkhave,
In the same way,
sati-karaṇīyam-eva ahosi — ‘ete dhammā’ti.
I simply kept myself mindful of ‘those qualities.’

(code phrase for successful entry into 4 jhānas)

♦ 211. “āraddhaṃ kho pana me, bhikkhave, vīriyaṃ ahosi a-sallīnaṃ,
“aroused indeed in me, monks, vigor was un-flagging,
upaṭṭhitā sati a-sam-muṭṭhā,
established remembering, not-forgetful,
passaddho kāyo a-sāraddho,
Pacified body, un-aroused,
samāhitaṃ cittaṃ ekaggaṃ.
Undistractability-and-lucidity (of) mind, singular.

with viriya calm, kaya-passsadhi (body pacification) easy to do

So the cowherd in first jhana has awareness of the cows, he’s not in a frozen state of consciousness of VRJ (vism. redefinition of jhana), he’s able to discern (pajanati) that he’s in first jhana, that the cows are behaved (defilments supressed), and he can still have thoughts such as, “my cows/defilements are well behaved, may my cows be happy, etc.”

If the cowherd was in Ajahn Brahm first Jhana, basically the same as Vism. VRJ without the underlying Abhidhamma, then his body awareness would be gone. He would not be able hear sounds, feel mosquito bites, or even have the ability to think the thought “may those cows be happy”, or “am I in first jhana?” (nekkhamma abyapada sankappa/vitakka). The cows could get bored, start trampling on the kings property (leading to punishment of death for the cowherd), and the cowherd is frozen and blissed out on Ajahn Brahm’s first jhana wouldn’t realize what happened until he emerged hours later when its too late to stop the cows.

Does that sound anything even remotely like the EBT first jhana in this sutta MN 19?

Summary of what happens to V&V in EBT first jhana

In MN 19, as with everywhere else in the EBT, V&V goes through these stages into first jhana:

  1. right effort and sati removes and prevents unskillful/akusala V&V
  2. right effort and sati allows only skillful V&V
  3. once the mind is predominantly only skillful V&V, attenuate V&V, since too much of even skillful V&V is tiring for both body and mind
  4. kaya-passadhi, body pacification, is what unlocks the piti and sukha and slides you into first jhana

what happens to V&V in B. Sujato’s MN 19

When it gets to the first jhana formula, V&V suddenly become “placing the mind, keeping it connected”, losing the explicit EBT nekkhamma/abyapada sankappo/vitakka possibility of thinking skillful thoughts such as “my right effort has calmed my defilements, may all beings be happy.”

MN 19, of all the EBT suttas dealing with first jhana V&V, is probably the most detailed treatment. It’s unthinkable that the Buddha would suddenly redefine V&V for first jhana and not explain it here. The Chinese Agama parallel sutta, much like MN 125, makes things even more clear about the role of V&V by just completing omitting the first jhana formula and jumping directly to jhanas 2 through 4 to show that first jhana V&V is still thinking those kusala thoughts explicitly stated right before MN 19’s first jhana occurence.

Interesting work Frank.