Please help with understanding the Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta sutta

I have trouble understanding how vitakka and vicara are used in this sutta: SuttaCentral particularly after hearing that this sutta is used as one of the proofs that thinking does not occur in the first jhana.
If they mean placing the mind and keeping it connected as @sujato translates, does this mean that Mahavira accepted/understood the teaching of the first jhana (and perhaps practiced it?), and that the purpose of his questioning is to negate the possibility that there’s something beyond that?
If Mahavira means thinking by vitakka-vicara (which is the more common meaning, and I believe the assumption made by those that use this sutta to show that no thinking occurs in jhana) then Citta’s answer is that he experiences states where indeed that ceases, but those states are from the second jhana onwards (or inwards), and not the first jhana.
So doesn’t this sutta imply:

  • either that in the first jhana thinking occurs?
  • or that Mahavira is accepting the teaching of the first jhana where vitakka-vicara refer to the wobble of the mind but is negating the existence of higher states?
    Either way I don’t see how this sutta can be used as additional proof that thinking does not occur in the first jhana. Did I understand this correctly or am I missing something?

katamaṃ nu kho paṇītataraṃ—ñāṇaṃ vā saddhā vā”ti?
“Saddhāya kho, gahapati, ñāṇaṃyeva paṇītataran”

Which is better—knowledge or faith?”
“Knowledge is definitely better than faith, householder.”

Form above answer it can be concluded that Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta value knowledge (wisdom) over faith which is a good thing.

Citta gahapati is a Anagāmī lay person, who is appreciated by the buddha, and with his explaination we can clearly see that he had achieved fouth jhāna where he can enter and remain any of first four jhānas.

But after his explaination Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta accuse Citta a lier claiming there is no state of immersion without placing the mind and keeping it connected (avitakko avicāro samādhi).
So it is evident; Nāṭaputta does not believe that there is a state of immersion without placing the mind and keeping it connected (atthi avitakko avicāro samādhi) and in reality there are kind of jhānas. Any jhāna above first jhāna are avitakka avicāra samādhis.

Dutiyajhāna (Second Absorption)

Puna caparaṃ, mahārāja, bhikkhu vitakkavicārānaṃ vūpasamā ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ cetaso ekodibhāvaṃ avitakkaṃ avicāraṃ samādhijaṃ pītisukhaṃ dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. So imameva kāyaṃ samādhijena pītisukhena abhisandeti parisandeti paripūreti parippharati, nāssa kiñci sabbāvato kāyassa samādhijena pītisukhena apphuṭaṃ hoti.

Furthermore, as the placing of the mind and keeping it connected are stilled, a mendicant enters and remains in the second absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of immersion, with internal clarity and confidence, and unified mind, without applying the mind and keeping it connected. In the same way, a mendicant drenches, steeps, fills, and spreads their body with rapture and bliss born of immersion. There’s no part of the body that’s not spread with rapture and bliss born of immersion (DN 2).
Other jhānas also eplained in Sāmaññaphala sutta.


Thank you for these clarifications.
I have came across this sutta because I heard a teaching (not on Youtube unfortunately) according to which Citta’s reply to Mahavira in this sutta can be used to prove that there’s no thinking in the jhanas. However I do not understand this.
So I am looking for the answer to the question whether by avitakkaṃ avicāraṃ Mahavira means 1) without thinking, or else 2) without what Ajahn Brahm calls the wobble.
If it’s 1), doesn’t Citta’s answer imply that thinking does occur in the first jhana and stops in the higher jahnas?
If it’s 2) (as in Sujato’s translation) then I don’t see how Citta’s answer can be used to prove that there’s no thinking in jhanas, since Mahavira’s statement already presupposes this. In this case does it mean that the Jains practiced the first jhana but the argument is on the question whether there are higher jhanas without the ‘wobble’?

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If thinking or wobble means vitakka avicāra, the answer to first question is yes.
Citta’s answer imply that thinking does occur in the first jhana and stops in the higher jahnas.
Then it is true that the sutta can be used to prove that there’s no thinking in the (some) jhanas.
no thinking - absence of vitakka avicāra.


When we work on something, distracted, associative thoughts arise. Consider that “thinking”.

When we are “placing the mind and keeping it connected”, there is intention and awareness along with the simmering bubbling of associative thoughts about what we perceive and do.

From this, I understand that first jhana is the battle against distracted, unskillful thought.


When an unskillful thought arises mind falls down from the first jhāna. This was explained in Vitakkasutta.

I was entering and remaining in the first absorption.
While I was in that meditation, perceptions and attentions accompanied by sensual pleasures beset me.
Then the Buddha came up to me with his psychic power and said, ‘Moggallāna, Moggallāna! Don’t neglect the first absorption, brahmin! Settle your mind in the first absorption; unify your mind and immerse it in the first absorption.’
And so, after some time … I entered and remained in the first absorption (SN 40.1).

There are no unskillful thoughts in first jhāna, when they arise mind cannot be settled in it. Also when there are no unskillful thoughts but with vitakka vicāra mind unifies and adheres on the object (breath, metta, etc).

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Yes to both. That’s at least always how I understood it. Moreover, I don’t think the only possible conclusion is that Mahavira ‘accepts’ the first jhana. We might just as well conclude that the first jhana was shared knowledge of samanas, and that the Buddha was just the first to go higher. Remember also that the term samadhi appears only in the second jhana. So, the ‘discovery of samadhi’ could actually refer to jhana 2-4. Anyhow, just as a possible different reading…


IMHO, first Jhana might be synonymous with “the Zone” experienced spontaneously by many people when extraordinarily focused on mundane daily activities.

The Buddha described entering first Jhana spontaneously when still a child, sitting under the rose apple tree:

Then it occurred to me, ‘I recall sitting in the cool shade of the rose-apple tree while my father the Sakyan was off working. Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, I entered and remained in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. Could that be the path to awakening?’

Stemming from that memory came the realization: ‘That is the path to awakening!’

Now look at the descriptions of “The Zone” here: and here:

“There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other… Sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.”

It’s a beautiful place, being “in the zone”. Everything feels automatic, almost like you don’t have to do any thinking. Work just flows and you feel like a design genius.

So there is thinking, but its subtle, refined, on the level of simply paying attention continually to the experience rather than conceptual thought…
In other words … Vittaka - Vicara.

P.S This is how I see it, others might differ. That’s OK… after all no two views can ever be quite the same, can they? Even my own two eyes don’t see things exactly alike! Take what’s useful, test it out, and construct your own view! :smile:

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