(above is a direct link to B. sujato’s MN 19. you should adjust settings to show both pali+english so you can see vitakka and vicara clearly)
This is probably the most detailed sutta in the sutta pitaka that describes how V&V decreases in frequency as one gets closer and then enters first jhāna.
It looks like except for the first jhana formula, where B. Sujato maintains consistency with how he translates V&V everywhere else as “placing the mind and keeping it connected”, all the other instances of V&V (vitakka & vicara) in MN 19 are translated as “thoughts and consideration”.
Whatever a mendicant frequently thinks about and considers becomes their heart’s inclination. Yaññadeva, bhikkhave, bhikkhu bahulam-anu-vitakketi anu-vicāreti, tathā tathā nati hoti cetaso. 11.2If they often think about and consider thoughts of renunciation, they’ve given up sensual thought to cultivate the thought of renunciation. Their mind inclines to thoughts of renunciation. Nekkhamma-vitakkañce, bhikkhave, bhikkhu bahulam-anu-vitakketi anu-vicāreti, pahāsi kāma-vitakkaṃ, nekkhamma-vitakkaṃ bahulamakāsi, tassaṃ taṃ nekkhamma-vitakkāya cittaṃ namati.
Needless to say this translation inconsistency of V&V is very mysterious and jarring. This is the one sutta I’m aware of whose sole purpose is to explain what happens to V&V as it transitions from ordinary speech fabrications, the type of thoughts and considering one would think before they say it out loud in ordinary everyday activity, compared to the type of V&V that occurs in first jhana.
Surely if V&V were to change meaning, as Bhante Sujato asserts, this is the sutta where the Buddha should explain exactly why and how V&V changes.
If we follow the straightforward interpretation and translate consistently V&V in the entire sutta MN 19, as “thoughts and consideration”, including first jhana, then it makes perfect sense. It’s the frequency of thoughts that decrease, enough to allow an energetic shift in the body to consolidate, pacify, give rise to piti sukha, yet there still remains a low frequency of thoughts and consideration, so that one does not feel the exponentially stronger energetic piti sukha of second jhana devoid of V&V.
Ajahn Lee, Ajahn Chah (who is Ajahn Brahm’s teacher) follow the consistent straightforward interpretation of V&V = thoughts & consideration in first jhana, as a speech fabrication, as the 3 types of thoughts one thinks in right intention (sankappo). Even early Theravada and Abhidhamma follows this interpretation.
It’s only in Vism. VRJ (vism. redefinition of jhana), Ajahn Brahm, and Bhante Sujato that I’m aware of that interpret V&V in first jhana differently.
In this sutta MN 19, the inconsistency in translation of V&V is problematic. Imagine you’re listening to the Buddha giving the discourse in pali. As you listen, you’re going to interpret V&V the same way consistently throughout the whole discourse. If the meaning of V&V changed when it got to First jhana, the Buddha would have to explain it. Otherwise, there’s a discontinuity. V&V needs to maintain the same meaning everywhere in this sutta to be coherent. Or else, there has to be an established precedent elsewhere in the suttas where V&V in first jhana has a specialized definition. AFAIK that doesn’t exist. If it did, surely Vism. would have pointed it out already, or Bhante Sujato.