On Reddit / Buddhism there was a discussion of Vicara and Vittaca in which one answer in the discussion sounded right to me. But immediately a red light went off in my mind which said “when you think you understand something you have probably gone wrong!”
So I am asking you to look at one question and one answer and weigh in.
is vicāra the same as papañca, sort of?
If Papanca is a movie film is Vicara the first frame?
Here is a practice-based conjecture.
Vicara is roughly free association confined within a domain set up by a topic. It includes both thinking and value judgements. It can be skilful, as it is can be a jhana factor. It can also be used in mundane contexts, like writing a paper in school. You need to free associate to come up with ideas, but you do it within a certain range defined by the topic. So it’s doing work, getting somewhere.
Papanca is roughly free association in the mode of monkey mind. It’s based on self-view and doesn’t stay within the domain of a topic in a disciplined way, but is generating new topics and jumping into their worlds. Instead of getting anywhere it’s more like Brownian motion. It’s guided by cravings and is part of the activity of clinging. It’s unskilful from the point of view of seeking liberation, and is our usual human mode.
This is interesting. It is the distinction between topical mental wandering and emotional motor function by impulse mental wandering. One is a kind of mindfulness and the other is coming off the spool.
PS: I have Nyanatiloka Thera’s Buddhist Dictionary for the Control definitions. Page 211.
Papanca does have a purpose, it serves the primal drives of desire and anger which support survival needs. Samsara has a momentum, that’s why practice including equanimity always has the agenda of right effort and is committed to seeking refuge, it does not result from the mere recital of a formula.
“And who is the individual who goes against the flow? There is the case where an individual doesn’t indulge in sensual passions and doesn’t do evil deeds. Even though it may be with pain, even though it may be with sorrow, even though he may be crying, his face in tears, he lives the holy life that is perfect & pure. This is called the individual who goes against the flow.”
is referenced as the neurological basis for the “self”, remembrances, speculations, stories, and emotional states. Sounds like papanca to me.
Different aggregations of grey matters light up in fMRIs when attention choosing, goal-directed activity is performed. Im sure Dhamma savvy neuroscientists could draw arrows from Vitakka and Vicarra to a few of them.
Sanskrit Prapañca (spelled as papañca in pāli) = pra+pañca (literally “from the five”).
“The five” here are the five elements fire, air, water, earth & ether. Everything materially observable in the phenomenal world is constituted by the five elements (or are said to contain their properties). This is something akin to the periodic table of elements used in chemistry where everything that is observable is derived from (and has properties originating from or associated with) the core elements.
So prapañca literally refers to the phenomenal world (and all sorts of things contained in it - all believed to originate from the five core elements). It is also used in the sense of being manifold, and in the sense of objective reality as a whole. Prapañca is contrasted with the self (ātman) in Vedānta, and it is contrasted with nirvāṇa in early-Buddhism.
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