Pondering 'right thought' defined in MN 117


I have been pondering this sutta. Here is Ajahn @sujato’s translation:

And what is right thought that is noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path ?

Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sammāsaṅkappo ariyo anāsavo lokuttaro maggaṅgo?

It’s the thinking— the placing of the mind, thought, applying, application, implanting of the mind, verbal processes —in one of noble mind and undefiled mind, who possesses the noble path and develops the noble path .

Yo kho, bhikkhave, ariyacittassa anāsavacittassa ariyamaggasamaṅgino ariyamaggaṃ bhāvayato takko vitakko saṅkappo appanā byappanā cetaso abhiniropanā vacīsaṅkhāro—

So we have this list of items:

  • the thinking
  • the placing of the mind,
  • thought,
  • applying,
  • application,
  • implanting of the mind,
  • verbal processes

I find this odd. The items are:

  • an activity
  • an action
  • a noun/process (already covered by no.1)
  • a verb
  • a noun (already covered by no.4)
  • an action
  • a collection of processes.

This seems very odd.

Now my Pāli is very bad, but when I look at the Pāli, I feel as if I see a different rhythm, a different pattern.

  • takko vi+takko saṅkappo

  • appanā by+appanā cetaso

  • abhiniropanā vacīsaṅkhāro—

I see this as:

  • activity A + intensifier (vi) activity A + mental process A
  • activity B + intensifier (vi) activity B + mental process B
  • intensified (abhi) activity C + mental process C.

This seems to have a specific symmetry to it.

So I have set about trying to translate the meaning. I was curious about the meaning of ’ abhiniropanā’. I wonder if perhaps Sujato’s “implanting of the mind” represents this word.

I noticed that the word, indeed even the stem abhinir°, appears nowhere else in the 4 main nikāyas. That is curious in itself, but also practically, this meant I could not gain an understanding of the word from examining it in various contexts. The PED gives:

fixing one’s mind upon, application of the mind

And yet I see no ‘mind’ anywhere in the etymology. Ropanā is from ropeti, meaning ‘to plant’, or figuratively ’ to fix , direct towards’. So I am wondering if the ‘ni’ is directing (generally thought of as ‘downwards’ so far as I understand), and ‘abhi’ meaning to intensify it? So I’m wondering if it could mean something like:
to fix intently upon’, or ‘to greatly fix upon’?

Understandably we may consider that it is usually the mind which is being ‘fixing upon’ an object. However, here, is it not ‘vacīsaṅkhāro’ which is being ‘fixed’? This would fit the symmetry of the lines above, would it not?

So the PED gives this for vacīsaṅkhāro, under the entry for vacī:

antecedent or requisite for speech

I assume this represents Sujato’s ‘verbal processes’.

However, what are these processes? The PED gives this under saṅkhāra

[…] Essential conditions, antecedents or synergy (co-ordinated activity), mental coefficients, requisite for act, speech, thought: kāya°, vacī° , citta°, or mano°, described respectively as “respiration,” " attention and consideration, " “percepts and feelings,” “because these are (respectively) bound up with,” or “precede” those

So then, can we translate vacīsaṅkhāro as attention and consideration? I would rather know more about this technical term, if someone could explain or even give examples?

So rather than:

It’s the thinking— the placing of the mind, thought, applying, application, implanting of the mind, verbal processes

If I take those meanings, does this result become acceptable?

It’s the examining and reexamining (/reflection) of thought [edit: /‘intention’?],
the directing and repeated directing of mind,
the total fixation of ‘attention and consideration’.

I’m sure the terms could be improved (would love help!), but how is the general direction? It shows 3 clear sets, of doing an intensified action, with a specific aspect of mental functioning. I felt as if I was seeing that kind of precision in the Pāli.

Also now I wonder… the dictionary quote I gave above:

[…] Essential conditions, antecedents or synergy (co-ordinated activity), mental coefficients, requisite for act, speech, thought: kāya°, vacī° , citta°, or mano°, described respectively as “respiration,” " attention and consideration, " “percepts and feelings,” “because these are (respectively) bound up with,” or “precede” those

I’m curious what it refers to when it says percepts and feelings. And I wonder if this, since it is connected to citta, may relate to the second of our three sets above. This could help us in our understanding of how these 3 mental functions are covering different territories.

For example, the first is ‘thought’. That is purely cognitive perhaps?
The second, percepts and feelings perhaps? So if this referring to the affective side of the mind, in distinction to the first mentioned cognitive side? And showing us how to train in each - using thought for examination (of dhammas I guess); directing citta such that positive affect is caused (especially through jhāna but ultimately through nibbāna); and then this third one vacīsaṅkhāra which we are to use to ‘fix’, or simply ‘fix’ (on our actions perhaps in pure sīla, or in terms of mindfulness, allowing our mind to be workable and able to be directed). As in, that’s the way that should be used.

B.Sujato definition of sankappo in MN 117, vacī-saṅkhāra in MN 44

I am now also reconsidering ‘thought’ for saṅkappa - was I right in thinking that is the word Sujato used for saṅkappa? How about ‘intention’?

Then we would have these associations:

  • takko - ‘analysis’? like in logic
  • vitakko - could mean ‘thought’ but may it here mean the mental act/function of applying the mind, as it means in jhāna? Not the whole mind - just referring to the ‘initial placing’ function, here associated specifically with:
  • saṅkappo - intention.

If this is the possible, then this does not necessarily include the domain of conceptual thought - one can analytically observe a phenomenon without generating conceptual thought, but rather by remaining in direct awareness of the phenomenon one is observing, perceiving it clearly in its multiplicity. And that would be significant, either way. But does seem specifically cognitive perhaps.

  • appanā - fixing/directing
  • byappanā - very fixing/directing
  • cetaso - mind

Unclear if this aspect involves conceptual thought in this context.

  • abhiniropanā - total fixation
  • vacīsaṅkhāro - ‘attention and consideration’?

I’m wondering if this last one might be the domain of conceptual thought. That is the domain I would assume verbal speech to arise from, depending on what level you’re talking about. And, the reference from the PED above implied this involves feelings, which would negate this current line of thought. But I don’t know… If so, I wonder if we know more detail from other suttas on what this fixation process is? It could be the concentration of the mind which makes thoughts not arise perhaps, or makes them evaporate the moment they arise, due (in part) to high degree of mindfulness and clarity? Or could it be precise deliberate use of the conceptual thought process? Anyone have some clues?


I’m not a Pāli expert (yet!) but I really appreciate your structure of “examining and reexamining… directing and redirecting… fixation”

Some thoughts are passive mental events: karmic results of previous events. Some thinking is more active, obsessive: generating new karma. Your translation really helps me to articulate the difference. Thanks :smile:


Glad you appreciate it! Best wait until it is checked by those more knowledgable than me though :slight_smile:

Also considering this list of activities, the intensity seems to step up each time. Not only within the first set and the second set themselves, but also from the first through third.

Domain 1: saṅkappo
The initial analysis ( takko), perhaps like the approach, having a gross analysis of the object. Then vitakko, a more specific application of the mind onto the object.

Domain 2: cetaso
The mind becomes fixed, ‘totally planted’ ( byappanā)we could say perhaps, from the etymology.

Domain 3: vacīsaṅkhāro
abhiniropanā - total fixation

I am still unclear on the extensive meaning of vacīsaṅkhāro, so I don’t know if this progression fits with the progression of mental aspects. But I found this progression of apparent increasing ‘fixedness’ interesting. Especially in the context of this passage is specifically sammā samādhi. Here is the start of the section:

“Mendicants, I will teach you noble right immersion with its vital conditions and its prerequisites.
“ariyaṃ vo, bhikkhave, sammāsamādhiṃ desessāmi saupanisaṃ saparikkhāraṃ.

This is further reason why I would consider the jhāna meaning of vitakka.

It seems to me that the ‘right view that is accompanied by defilements’ might be the conceptual right view specifically, believing in the correct doctrine, as it seems to explain in the sutta. Whereas this ‘right view that is noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path’ may represent a right view that is not utilizing conceptual thought at all, possibly. This may represent the correct cognitive stance we are meant to take - and by this I am referring to the two aspects of our mind, those being the cognitive (includes all language, maths, perception of a timeline, and other high level activities associated with the prefrontal cortex); and the affective (all feelings, including emotions both positive and negative such as mettā and so on). This would be associated with the ‘insight’ side of the ‘samādhi vs. paññā’ pair. Again, this wisdom aspect used in association with jhāna practice is so far as I understand a non-conceptual cognitive functioning, which is contrasted in the suttas with the affective side.


It’s nice to see you back on the forum Senryu. I’m going to move this thread to the Discussion category as you’re not asking for help with a specific question.


I also now notice that upadhivepakk° occurs in no other sutta in the canon. This makes me wonder about the meaning - @sujato gave ‘ripens in attachment’. See:

There is right view that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment.
atthi, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi sāsavā puññabhāgiyā upadhivepakkā;

Looking at the word, the PED doesn’t have an entry, but gives:

[fr. upa + dhā, cp. upadahati & BSk. upadhi Divy 50, 224, 534] 1. putting down or under, foundation, basis, ground, substratum (of rebirth)


(nt.) [fr. vipakka] ripening, ripeness, maturity. — (adj.) yielding fruit, resulting in (–°)

Could it possibly mean something like ‘yielding a foundation’?

By this I mean, the lesser of the two ‘right views’, which is a conceptual understanding of the teachings, results in you having a good foundation. But of course it is not enough - the higher right view is directly seeing things as they are, as I am suggesting might be explained in the higher section.

The term is applies to further sets in the sutta. For example:

And what is right thought that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment?
Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sammāsaṅkappo sāsavo puññabhāgiyo upadhivepakko?

Thoughts of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness.
Nekkhammasaṅkappo, abyāpādasaṅkappo, avihiṃsāsaṅkappo:

Now I have mentioned above that I wonder if it might not be thought, but rather possibly non-conceptual intention (which would generally be excluded by the term ‘thought’), but either way, how can we consider thoughts or the embodied feeling/intention of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness, to result in ‘attachment’?

However, it would make sense for all sets if the lower of the ‘right view’, ‘right intention’ etc. were a good thing with a good result. This surely is how Buddhism views correct understanding of doctrine, and cultivation of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness, right? We don’t generally say those result in attachment!

But they do indeed serve as a good foundation! Not enough for enlightenment, no. But perhaps even a requirement for the higher practices.

What do you think?


I was curious whether there’s any good Chinese parallels that might help with some of these singleton pali terms, so I looked them up. It’s a little complicated, though, because in the Madhyama and Samyukta Agamas there are three sutras that correspond to MN 117: MA 189, and SA 784 & 785. SA 785 gives us the same dual definition of the eight factors of the path, and it reads a little differently. However, it does give these qualifiers for the worldly and noble path like the Pali does:

What is right view? There are two kinds of right view. There is right view which is worldly, conventional, contaminated (asava), with clinging, and that leads to a good destiny. There’s (also) right view that is noble, supermundane, uncontaminated (anasava), without clinging, the right end of suffering, and which leads to the limit of suffering (~ nibbana).

So, it’s probably not a bad reading to take the mundane path as involving attachment. It’s just that you’re attached to good things, so it leads to further good rebirths. The noble path, by contrast, leads to nibbana.

Another interesting thing about the definitions of the eight factors in the noble path is that they are all predicated on the four noble truths. For example, the mundane and noble definitions of right intention are:

What is the right intention that’s worldly, conventional, contaminated, with clinging, and leads to a good rebirth? That right intention is thinking of the escape, thinking without anger, and thinking that’s harmless. This is called right intention …

What is right intention that’s noble, supermundane, uncontaminated, not clinging, the right end of suffering, and leads to the limit of suffering? A noble disciple considers suffering and he considers its arising, cessation, and the path. The mental factors of his thinking are uncontaminated, he discerns and decides his own understanding, and he weighs and establishes his thinking. This is called right intention …

The definition of the noble right intention seems to describe a process of arriving at intentions that are well thought out. The Pali seems more like a list of related synonyms.


Thanks for all the info!

Could you elaborate on the Chinese being represented here by the English word ‘thinking’? (And maybe even its Indic origin?) Can you explain whether it is indeed specifically referring to a conceptual process, as implied by that choice of English?

This retains the symmetry more than @sujato’s translation so far as I understood the symmetry, which is interesting. Also, as it happens probably when you were writing your comment, I was looking up parallels and found that Anālayo has written about this sutta, and he also noticed the rarity of the two words I pointed out above, and connects those terms to abdhidhamma. And he also noticed the problem of defining the lower right view etc. as resulting in attachment!

He writes:

Moreover, the treatment of the path-factors from a supramundane viewpoint in the Mahcattrsaka-sutta qualifies the mundane wholesome path-factors as “with influx” and as “ripening in attachment”.

The conclusion he seems to come to is that it’s therefore later material. However I am still interested if my own speculations before I read that, might hold any ground? The meanings could even have changed between that time and later abhidhamma, perhaps even abhidhamma trying to make sense of these rare terms that were preserved (and maybe straying from the original meaning) - though of course also it could simply be that this is indeed later material. However if that is the case, why would they make it seem so contradictory that even I noticed a problem with this passage?

So then I wonder about the positive meaning I have proposed for upadhivepakkā. Though I’m totally open to scrapping that idea if anyone has knowledge to dismiss it!

Anyway, in terms of establishing the age of this passage, @cdpatton do you know which Indian school this was translated from?


Also Anālayo seems to attribute this classing right view and right intention into lower and higher, to the Pāli only, for parallels of this sutta, unless I misunderstood. He lists what is unique to each version, including:

Division of the right path-factors into two types and addition
of a supramundane path-factor to the descriptions of right
view, right intention, right speech, right action and right live-
lihood in the case of the Pli version.

So the parallel you found is interesting… could it be a translation of the Pāli? If not, maybe it is pre-sectarian then?


Yeah, these passages have a few different Chinese terms that can mean different things, which I’ve rendered contextually. It’s difficult to be precise without the original sometimes because terms are used in multiple ways by different translators.

First, I render 志 as intention because it’s basic meaning in Chinese is to have an aim or determination.

覺 can mean alot of things in different texts. It can mean awake, awareness, cognition, and understanding. Here, it seems to just mean thinking in general, given the context. I.e., it’s probably translating vitarka/vitakka.

We also get 思惟 and 意 in the other definition. 思惟 seems to translate maniskara in other passages of the Samyukta, but it could be cetana or samkalpa.

意 is cognition or intention. It translates manas and mati quite often. I take 意解 as a compound that means something like understanding. And I decided to translate 立意 as simply “to establish thinking,” but it could be more specific like intention or planning.

I believe the Samyukta has been shown to match fragments of the Sarvastivada Agama closely, especially after Yinshun reordered it.

Yeah, I think the existence of a Madhyama sutra that’s parallel to MN 117 might have thrown him off. It’s only the Samyukta sutra that parallels the Pali in terms of having a worldly and a noble version of the path. MA 189 just has the standard definition. I caught wind of it when I was reading Choong Mun-Keat’s summary of SA.

The fact that the two sutras are presented a little differently but have the same meaning would indicate to me that this is probably a pre-sectarian teaching that then turned into two or more variants. Certainly not just a Pali sutta.


No. The PED doesn’t offer this as a translation of the word vacīsaṅkhāra, but rather as a description of how the suttas define it, i.e. as comprising vitakka and vicāra. And so if one used “attention and consideration” as a translation, it would lead to the absurdity:

Katamo vacīsaṅkhāro?
Vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro.

“What are attention and consideration?”
“Attention and consideration are attention and consideration.”

As opposed to:

“What is the verbal formation?”
“Applied thought and sustained thought are the verbal formation.”
(Bhikkhu Bodhi)

“What is speech process?”
“Thinking and reflection is speech process.”
(Ven. Ānandajoti)

“What’s the verbal process?”
“Placing the mind and keeping it connected are verbal processes.”
(Bhante Sujāto)

“What is activity of speech?”
“Initial thought and discursive thought is activity of speech.”
(I.B. Horner)



How about 志 as aspiration , to aspire .

I would prefer 思惟 as contemplation , deep reflection .


I would have thought they are used as synonyms. Fingers pointing at a certain “meaning” which a wise person might penetrate or discern.


These are both natural readings of the Chinese. The trouble is that I’d like to get closer to the original, too, and so I take into account the terms in Pali passages that are nearly identical since there’s no Indic available for most of the Samyukta. I end up splitting the difference sometimes.

For 思惟, I’ve seen more than one passage that has 正思惟 in the place for yoniśo-manasikāra, which is something like “proper attention” in many Pali translations. I’ve rendered it “rightly consider” to give the Chinese reading some weight. It seems closer to contemplation than attention. An example is SA 1.5, which has another term for contemplation (觀) used alongside 正思惟.

So, that’s a little example of how we end up having to build a glossary for individual translators or texts in Chinese translations. Like modern English translations, the terms used vary from one translator to the next, and there were long term trends as translation choices were popular for a while and then discarded.


Hi everyone! Sorry I’ve taken a long time to reply, I’ve been quite busy and tis kind of stuff takes me hours to get into!

Thanks @Gillian, nice to see you too! I love this forum :slight_smile:

Cool. Also my (albeit uneducated) opinion thus far.

Anālayo does mention this - sorry I should have finished reading his writing on this before I made my previous comment - I’ve been quite busy. I could not see which number sutta he was quoting but he entitles it ‘Discourse on Right and Wrong’. He also mentions:

a version of one of these Samyukta-agama discourses is also found in Samathadeva’s compendium of discourse quotations in the Abhidharmakosabhasya, [81] and this version has the exposition of supramundane factors.

Regarding the origin of the SĀ texts, he writes:

It is noteworthy that these Samyukta-agama discourses with high probability stem from the Mulasarvastivada tradition, like the Tibetan parallel to the Mahacattarisaka-sutta, which was translated several centuries after the Samyukta-agama was rendered into Chinese.

So far as I understand what he’s saying, the main (only?) reason he’s saying he thinks this twofold presentation of right view, and the others, are not early material but rather early abhidhammic material, is because of the unusual terms which I had also noticed above.

Sounds a fair possibility, but I am not convinced. See what he says here - he notes the parts that are the same or similar, and then notices the differences which I will quote, and sorry I will now skip correcting the OCR:

Unlike the Mahcattrsaka-sutta, the Sayukta-gama discourses only take up right path-factors in their worldly and supramundane manifestations, without covering wrong manifestations of the path-factors. The Sayukta-gama discourses also do not take up the role of right view, right effort and right mindfulness in relation to each path-factor. These differences are of such magnitude as to make it safe to conclude that these Sayukta-gama discourses are not parallels to the Mahcattrsaka-sutta. [bold added]

OK so if they are not parallels, then what can we conclude? That there was abhidhamma material composed by the Sthavira before the Theravada and Sarvastivada split from each other? And that they then composed different suttas based on that earlier shared material?

That doesn’t sound too implausible I guess. But is it not also possible that that original material that they shared, was a genuine sutta? Which was preserved differently in the different traditions? For example, do we see this kind of difference between suttas where we have a chunk of text like this that we do easily believe is EBT material? If so, then why not with this one?

I would think that to address this question, one important task could be to consider these two words which are in no other suttas.

So without knowing anything about the word except what I could attempt from etymology, and also being very ignorant of the topic (so this might be a silly idea?) but using logic I can think of two possibilities to explain these two words on the hypothetical assumption that the text is in fact early.

  1. These words were inserted into the text at a later time, but before the Sarvastivadins split off.

  2. Rather than simply being added, they could have replaced other terms. Possibly even uncommon terms which were not well understood, and replaced with similar looking ones taken from later tradition.

  3. These words could have been original to the early text, but unique to the cannon - well the Theravada one anyway, who knows about the Sarvastivada one? But may not have had the same meaning as they came to have in later tradition. It’s even possible that they were adopted by later tradition based on a misunderstanding, such as happened with bodhisatta taking on such a clear and important meaning in Mahayana, though a totally different meaning than it had in the EBTs.

So for now I will refrain from assuming that this is not a genuine EBT. Let’s examine the material directly.

Interesting. That’s the word from ‘Right Intention’, right? Wiktionary says:

From ( *OC tjɯ , “to go; to proceed”) + endopassivesuffix *-s , literally “what is being proceeded to”

And for the definition gives:

  1. will; determination; aspiration; ambition

So it would seem that the ancient translators agree with the flavour of Anālayo’s translation, ‘right intention’. Which is I think the usual translation. I am not sure if I might have discussed or seen discussion about this with @sujato - I seem to remember I may have - so there may be information I’m forgetting, but it would seem that not many are agreeing with @sujato’s choice of ‘right thought’.

The two are very different. You can have intentions without having conceptual thought. Thought and intention are two quite different categories, so while they often overlap, I am wondering if using ‘thought’ gives us a misunderstanding of what the Buddha was talking about. So I find it interesting that the Āgama translators believed he was talking about intention.

Is it not rather translating sankappa? I will go into that below.
OK so we have

right intention is thinking of the escape, thinking without anger, and thinking that’s harmless. This is called right intention …



From Proto-Sino-Tibetan *kruk (“rouse; awaken; disturb”). Cognate with ( *OC ɡruːɡ , “to learn; to study”), ( *OC kruːʔ , “to disturb”), Tibetan དཀྲོག (dkrog, “to agitate; to rouse”).



  1. † to wake up from sleep quotations ▼
  2. to become aware; to dawn on; to awaken to

/ jué xǐng ― to come to realize

/ jué ― great awakening

  1. to feel; to think

/ jué ― to feel that; to think that

  1. sense; sensation; feeling

To me this looks like it can very easily refer to a non-conceptual process. And this conforms to what you have reported also.

Presumably the Indic of this is:

…sammāsaṅkappo(謂正志)… Nekkhammasaṅkappo (出要覺), abyāpādasaṅkappo (無恚覺), avihiṃsāsaṅkappo (不害覺)…

So if I am understanding this right (I cannot read Chinese), they have chosen to use two different terms ( and ) to represent the Indic saṅkappa. Neither of which imply this has to be a conceptual phenomenon. I personally find this potentially significant, since that is in apparent conformity to the Pāli, but in opposition to @sujato’s translation of sammāsaṅkappo (though in accordance with Anālayo’s and Bodhi’s (I think most people’s) ‘right intention’), and in opposition to both @sujato’s and Anālayo’s translation of nekkhammasaṅkappo/出要覺, abyāpādasaṅkappo/無恚覺, and avihiṃsāsaṅkappo/不害覺, for which they both use ‘thoughts of’.

Now, I say ‘in opposition to’ not because this idea of ‘thought’ is necessarily negated by the Pāli and Chinese. But rather because the English ‘thought’ negates the lack of negation that this is not thought, in Chinese and Pāli. Or to clear up that triple negative - the Chinese and Pāli keep it totally open (so far as I can see) that this may be a non-conceptual process, whether in part or in whole. That is apparently not preserved in translation using ‘thought’, and therefore may be leading us down the wrong alley.

Looking at the Chinese and baring in mind what you and Wiktionary have reported about these characters, could these be reasonable translations for example?

right intention is feeling of renunciation, the feeling of good will, and the feeling of harmlessness. This is called right intention …


right intention is dawning of renunciation, the dawning of good will, and the dawning of harmlessness. This is called right intention …

And as for the Pāli, I do not see why in sammāsaṅkappo, ‘intention’ would be chosen but then ‘thought’ in nekkhammasaṅkappo etc. Instead of ‘thoughts of…’, why not:

Intention of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness.

Nekkhammasaṅkappo, abyāpādasaṅkappo, avihiṃsāsaṅkappo

Both the Chinese and Pāli seem so far as I can see to agree in presenting this in a way which is not specifically conceptual, as using the English ‘thought’ would have us believe. A feeling-type intention is categorically different from a thought-based intention. And if we want to understand how the Buddha was differentiating between his treatment of the cognitive vs. the affective sides of our mind, then these details may be significant. In this case to give the translation that he was specifying thought could be wrong.

I also appreciate that most people have no interest in the distinction between the cognitive and affective. However I have a sense that this can reveal a lot of interesting things about the way the Buddha was working with the mind.

Thanissaro’s seems to also make more sense in light of the Pāli and Chinese - the same basic flavour of intention, and the absence of specifying it to be a thinking process:

Being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill will, on harmlessness: This is called right resolve.


Yes I feel this is again the same flavour as the above ‘intention’ and ‘resolve’ - all of them do not limit this process to being conceptual, as ‘thought’ does.

I’d like to go back to the supramundane right intention. Anālayo from SĀ gives:

"What is right intention that is noble, supramundane, without influxes, without grasping, that rightly eradicates dukkha and turns towards the transcendence of dukkha? This is reckoned to be [when] a noble disciple gives attention to dukkha as dukkha, gives attention to its arising … to its cessation … and to the path as path, [with a mind that] in the absence of influxes gives attention that is conjoined to mental states [by way of] discrimination, self-determination, understanding, repeated inclination and resolution – this is called right intention that is noble

I think the part in bold is the part relating to our Pāli:

takko vitakko saṅkappo
appanā byappanā cetaso
abhiniropanā vacīsaṅkhāro

Interestingly I see no suggestion in Anālayo’s translation (in bold) that this is a conceptual process. @cdpatton can you offer us an insight into the Chinese behind that part? And details of the nature of the affective vs. conceptual connotations of the words?

Also Anālayo’s translation of the Chinese seems to me to be much closer to my translation of the Pāli than @sujato’s version. Would you say that supports my view on this passage? Perhaps the Chinese will aid us in answering that.

To recap, @sujato had for that:

the placing of the mind, thought, applying, application, implanting of the mind, verbal processes

And I’ve been wondering if this could be closer:

It’s the examining and reexamining (/reflection) of intention,
the directing and repeated directing of mind,
the total fixation of vacīsaṅkhāro.

I’ll save vacīsaṅkhāro for the next comment.

Now back to that peculiar line:

And what is right thought that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment ?
Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sammāsaṅkappo sāsavo puññabhāgiyo upadhivepakko?

Regarding ‘has the attributes of good deeds’, PED gives:


(adj.) (–°) [fr. bhāga, cp. bhāgin] connected with, conducive to, procuring

Does the grammar allow for ‘is conducive to good deeds’?

Which I wondered if it could mean:

And what is right intention that is accompanied by defilements, is conducive to (i.e. leads to) good deeds, and yields a foundation ?

Now I realise that this is possibly foolish speculation. But the Chinese parallel might bare some light - there is an anomaly.

Look at the rhythm of the Pāli - I mean, the structure. We have three items:

  1. sāsavo
  2. puññabhāgiyo
  3. upadhivepakko

@sujato has these as:

  1. negative
  2. positive
  3. negative

That’s partly what drew my attention to it. It’s not seeming to be a logical order. With two negatives and a positive I would expect either -,-,+ or +,-,-

Bodhi translates it as:

affected by taints, partaking of merit, ripening in the acquisitions

Thus apparently:

  1. negative
  2. positive
  3. positive (though ‘acquisitions’ is rather ambiguous)

Does anyone know what exactly Bodhi means by ‘the acquisitions’?

Notice these are compared to the supramundane:

And there is right view that is noble, undefiled, transcendent, a factor of the path.
atthi, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi ariyā anāsavā lokuttarā maggaṅgā.

  1. positive
  2. positive
  3. positive
  4. positive

The Chinese (Anālayo’s translation):
"What is right intention? Right intention is of two types: There is right intention that is mundane, with influxes, with grasping, [that turns] towards [rebirth in] a good destination;

  1. negative
  2. negative (1- sāsavo)
  3. negative (3- upadhivepakko?)
  4. positive (presumably from 2- puññabhāgiyo)

and there is right intention that is noble, supramundane, without influxes, without grasping, that rightly eradicates dukkha and turns towards the transcendence of dukkha.

  1. positive (1 - ariyo)
  2. positive (3 - lokuttaro)
  3. positive (2 - anāsavo)
  4. positive
  5. positive
  6. positive

I include what I presume the Indic equivalents are, giving the number in which they occur in the Pāli. Perhaps 5 and 6 of the last set, ‘rightly eradicates dukkha and turns towards the transcendence of dukkha’, both derive from ‘maggaṅgo’.

Now, what is the Chinese behind ‘with grasping’ in this passage? Is that, along with item 4 in the second list - ‘without grasping’, merely an addition that was not present in the Pāli at all? Or is it an actual translation of upadhivepakko? If the latter, can anyone shed more light on the Chinese representing that?

Also, if it does represent upadhivepakko, then it may be interesting that they have a different order than the Pāli. Since this Chinese list is more extensive (4 and 6 items vs. the Pāli’s 3 and 4), and since they have apparently gone to the trouble of providing complimentary opposites for ‘supramundane’ and for ‘with grasping’. This makes me suspect the Pāli is in an older condition.

That therefore makes me trust the Pāli ordering more. Which makes me curious that the Chinese seem to follow my own logic, that you should not have a sequence -, +, -. If it is upadhivepakko that they took to mean something negative, ‘with grasping’, they seem to have gone to the trouble of rearranging the order to fix this sequence problem, creating their sequence -, -, -, +. As I detailed above. I would expect some people to want to make that change since they would have experienced the same disharmony as I did with the illogical sequence -,+,- which was so jarring to me that it led me into days of examining this sutta :laughing:).

If that were the case, this could give even more validation to the idea that upadhivepakko was not originally a negative word, but later was taken to be so, thus making the Sarvastivadins re-order this part.

However, perhaps their ‘with grasping’ is unrelated to upadhivepakko - for this we need to know what the Chinese characters are :pray:

And just to say, my offer of ‘ yielding a foundation ’ was a rather wild guess from looking at the etymology, but can anyone else come up with reasoning for any other or better positive meaning? Or any reason why it cannot be positive, from the EBT perspective? (Tricky since this is the only instance of the term in the suttas). Or any reason why it could not mean upadhi in the sense of a foundation, i.e. that this mundane view is the basis for supramundane view? That is to say, mundane right view is the necessary first step - learning the Buddha’s teachings, and on that basis, you then progress to supramundane right view. Same with right intention etc.

Anālayo notices this problem with upadhivepakko. But he doesn’t seem to question the meaning of the word! To me it seems strange not to question it, seeing as it occurs nowhere else in the suttas and not even in the vinaya, abhidhamma or Visuddhimagga so far as see using the Pāli Reader. So I hope we can consider it here! Here’s Anālayo:

Moreover, the treatment of the path-factors from a supramundane viewpoint in the Mahcattrsaka-sutta qualifies the mundane wholesome path-factors as “with influx” and as “ripening in attachment”. 8 Yet, the definitions given in the Mahcattrsakasutta for the path-factors of mundane right intention, [61] right speech, right action and right livelihood recur in other discourses as part of the standard definition of the noble eightfold path that leads to the eradication of dukkha. 9 Thus, what according to other discourses leads to the eradication of dukkha, in the Mahcattrsaka-sutta is presented as something that ripens in attachment and is associated with the influxes.

If I’m making a silly mistake here, please someone tell me. But from my position this term being positive would solve a lot of problems, and seems in accord with the etymology and with every use of the term (which are all in this sutta it would seem).

It took me a long time to write this so I will save the next bit for my next comment, which might take some time to compose.


Ah I see. Many thanks @Dhammanando! I did not realise it was vitakka and vicāra they were referring to there, wow so many different ways people chose to translate those!

So, we know that it is something which precedes speech. And if we for a moment disregard all of those translation except for @sujato’s, then that alone does not tell us whether it is wholly or partly or not at all conceptual. It merely defined them as vitakka and vicāra.

In the context of jhāna, I take vitakka as ’ initial mental application ’ and vicāra as ’ sustained mental application ’, as is supported by the Chinese, such as in MĀ 72 where, in the context of jhāna, they are translating vitakka with 覺 ( awareness/realising ), and vicāra with 觀 ( contemplation ). This seems also in good harmony potentially, with @sujato’s choice, though the flavour is a little different.

So how about in this context? Let’s consider vicāra, which Bodhi has as ‘sustained thought’, and Horner as ‘discursive thought’ (the other two translations you gave were not specifically conceptual). I wondered that these words might give us a wider context for words perhaps connected to vicāra. From the PED, I have highlighted meanings that could be in conformity to vicāra have in the context of jhāna:


[vi+cāra] investigation, examination, consideration, deliberation .


(adj.) [fr. vicāreti] 1. looking after something; watching J I.364 (ghara°). – 2. investigating ;


(f.) & a° (nt.) [fr. vicāreti] 1. investigation , search, attention Sn 1108, 1109 (f. & nt.); J III.73 (°paññā). – 2. arranging, planning, looking after ;


[Caus. of vicarati] 1. to make go round, to pass round, to distribute PvA 272 (salākaṃ). – 2. to think (over) S V.156 (vitakketi+). – 3. to investigate, examine , test J II.413; III.258; VvA 336 (a° to omit examining). – 4. to plan, consider , construct J II.404; VI.333. – 5. to go about (some business), to look after, administer ,


[pp. of vicarati] occupied by (–°), haunted, frequented

All of these seem to me easily connected to that meaning in jhāna, where vicāra is that function which keeps the mind ‘placed’. And so I am not surprised that this is associated with ‘intention’. Similarly, we could think that our minds use this function casually also before making speech, as a part of the fundamental steps of intention, in directing the mind and settling on an intention. So this may not necessarily refer to the specifically conceptual process, which may be viewed as an aspect of this, or could even be viewed as a higher order process, which occurs after this motion has been established. Either way, does anyone have any objection in concluding that the Pāli is not necessarily being thought-process-specific here?

I acknowledge that the root, vacī, means speech. But is it possible that that meaning was left behind in the technical sphere of Buddhist terminology? This is theoretically possible, as a pre-speech process that is not necessarily conceptual, but now we see the ‘speech’ part of the word and assume it has a more literal meaning, just as we may see ‘vitakka’ in the jhāna context and assume it actually means thought, which seems to be refuted by the Chinese and jhāna teachers.

Also does this not also open the possibility that if vacīsaṅkhāra = vitakka vicāra, this could even be referring to jhāna practice itself? It’s asking us to ‘totally fix/fixate’ (abhiniropanā) vacīsaṅkhāra - doesn’t that sound like jhāna training? Or at least that it does not necessarily exclude jhāna training, perhaps. And it could be regarded as actually stopping conceptual thought. If that is the domain of conceptual thought, then ‘totally fixing/fixating’ (abhiniropanā) it might be to cease any discursive thought (seems likely), and possibly even cease all thought, as one can do even while not in jhāna, and then even while vitakka and vicāra are still present up to 1st jhāna.

In fact let’s take a look at the definition in MN 44:

First you place the mind and keep it connected, then you break into speech. That’s why placing the mind and keeping it connected are verbal processes.
Pubbe kho, āvuso visākha, vitakketvā vicāretvā pacchā vācaṃ bhindati, tasmā vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro.

I think most often, people do not have conceptual thought before they speak. It depends on the conversation - if you being very careful and considered, or suffer from anxiety, then perhaps. But most people ‘just speak’, without actually planning their words. However, on the fine resolution level, that speech is preceded by subtle, non-verbal mental intentions. And by non-verbal I mean not even mental words. To give you some more extreme examples to make it clearer, if someone jumps out at you, you may shout out some expletive, without having made any concepts before that speech. But it is common that feelings without concept precede speech. So this may be or include non-conceptual motions of the mind.

Looking again at MN 44,

  1. Breathing is a physical process .
  2. Placing the mind and keeping it connected are verbal processes.
  3. Perception and feeling are mental processes.

“Assāsapassāsā kho, āvuso visākha, kāyasaṅkhāro, vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro, saññā ca vedanā ca cittasaṅkhāro”ti.

Or I offer perhaps, my changes in bold:

  1. Breathing is a physical process.
  2. Initial mental application and sustained mental application are cognitive processes.
  3. Perception and feeling are heart processes.”

I do not offer this as a concrete translation, but let me explain. The difference between the last two sets is that the last pair are more automatic. You can direct your mind towards certain objects in order to generate certain perceptions and feelings, but they are basically ‘things which arise’ in response to the environment (whether externally or internally). Whereas vacīsaṅkhāra is an active function. And this seems to me to be cognitive, whether it is taken in the non-conceptual way or the conceptual way of thoughts, or indeed both.

Further on in the sutta, we have this:

“But ma’am, which cease first for a mendicant who is entering the cessation of perception and feeling : physical, verbal, or mental processes?”

“Saññāvedayitanirodhaṃ samāpajjantassa panāyye, bhikkhuno katame dhammā paṭhamaṃ nirujjhanti—yadi vā kāyasaṅkhāro, yadi vā vacīsaṅkhāro, yadi vā cittasaṅkhāro”ti?

Verbal processes cease first, then physical, then mental .” “Saññāvedayitanirodhaṃ samāpajjantassa kho, āvuso visākha, bhikkhuno paṭhamaṃ nirujjhati vacīsaṅkhāro, tato kāyasaṅkhāro, tato cittasaṅkhāro”ti.

Again this makes it seem like this can be referring to subtle levels of the mind, not merely gross conceptual thought. When we are talking about the level at which bodily processes cease, this sounds and going into this formless absorption, this is a deeply tranquil state. It makes sense that the mental functioning that shuts down just before that, could be the type of subtle mental functioning designated vitakka and vicāra, such as in jhāna.

This is also supported by what we see later after emerging:

“But ma’am, when a mendicant has emerged from the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling, how many kinds of contact do they experience?”
“Saññāvedayitanirodhasamāpattiyā vuṭṭhitaṃ panāyye, bhikkhuṃ kati phassā phusantī”ti?

“They experience three kinds of contact: emptiness, signless, and undirected contacts.”
“Saññāvedayitanirodhasamāpattiyā vuṭṭhitaṃ kho, āvuso visākha, bhikkhuṃ tayo phassā phusanti—suññato phasso, animitto phasso, appaṇihito phasso”ti.

Basically it could be saying that there are 3 categories of processes which do not all cease at once when going into this formless absorption. First the active cognitive processes of initial mental application and sustained mental application shut down; then the physical processes (or at least the breathing process) shuts down; then the recognition and feeling processes shut down.

Note that affect is limited to the third category only. Though I would not necessarily assume saññā to exclude the cognitive. I’m not sure where saññā lies in the cognitive/affect split. But, if saññā is the kind of recognition that is so common even to reptiles let alone mammals, then this may not be a pre-frontal cortex activity. Hmm… which one do we think it’s more connected to? Recognition is a kind of feeling in a way. Think of when a dog recognises a loved one - or an enemy for that matter! So it certainly triggers affect. And does not have to trigger thought. But I don’t know what the neuroscientific view would be on this one. Anyway it seems to be laying out these three sets of processes which directly relate to a highly refined state.

So provisionally I will refrain from making the translation thought-based in meaning, by using some Pāli:

  1. takko vi+ takko saṅkappo
  2. appanā by+ appanā cetaso
  3. abhiniropanā vacīsaṅkhāro—


  1. It’s the examining and reexamining (/reflection) of intention,
  2. the directing and repeated directing of mind,
  3. the total fixation of <mental process defined as comprising vitakka and vicāra>.

What is the Chinese equivalent for abhiniropanā in the passage? @cdpatton?

For the time being, returning to the Chinese:

With the above considered, how well do you think my provisional English conforms to the Chinese?

[Jhana] Simile of Bath Powder & Losing Sense of Body

Why would 覺 translate sankappa when 志 is clearly translating that term? I guess it’s possible, but seems unlikely to me. The translator would have continued using 志.

Looking these terms up, I see that Hirakawa says 出要覺 = naiṣkramya-vitarka, so my translation may be off a bit. It may be something more like renunciation than the escape (from rebirth/suffering).

Thinking here equals vitarka, which is quite conceptual. 覺 and 觀 were the early translations of the pair vitarka & vicāra. Later translators discarded them for more specific Chinese terms (尋 and 伺) precisely because “thinking” is a less common reading of 覺, and 觀 also translates vipaśyanā and other related words, so it was confusing.

No, it’s not a translation of upadhivepakko. It’s a simple negation of a verb that means clinging or attachment. There’s nothing corresponding to vepakko in the Chinese.

The Chinese verb is 取, which can translate many things. It’s basic meaning is to take something, and often is concrete, like taking someone’s money or a tool in hand. In Buddhist translation, though, it’s sometimes used for holding on or attaching to something. An example is 不取戒, “not clinging to precepts.”

I think the Pali and Chinese passages aren’t completely parallel. The Samyuta Agama is adding a result to the end of the qualifiers (one is birth in heaven, the other is Nirvana) which is missing from the Pali. The Pali adds vepakko to the verb for attachment instead.

Perhaps it wasn’t originally a single word, but at some point upadhi and vepakko were fused into a single term. It would explain why it appears to be unique in the lexicon. It’s a corruption of an older reading.


Well, if you look at the terms in the parallel Pāli passage, do you see any alternative?


Which you had as:

right intention is thinking of the escape, thinking without anger, and thinking that’s harmless. This is called right intention …

Paralleling the Pāli - I will highlight that which I believe is parallel:

And what is right [intention] that is accompanied by defilements, has the attributes of good deeds, and ripens in attachment?

Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sammāsaṅkappo sāsavo puññabhāgiyo upadhivepakko?

[Intention] of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness.
Nekkhammasaṅkappo, abyāpādasaṅkappo, avihiṃsāsaṅkappo

Also, consider that different translators are taking this word differently, such as thought vs. intention/resolve. These Chinese terms do not necessarily represent this same duality, but it may be due to the different flavours of sankappa which it takes on in different compounds, and how that relates to the separately evolved different nuances of Chinese compounds.

Thus I concluded, as I mentioned:

…sammāsaṅkappo(謂正志)… Nekkhammasaṅkappo (出要覺), abyāpādasaṅkappo (無恚覺), avihiṃsāsaṅkappo (不害覺)…

That conforms to what I propose directly above also.

I am challenging how conceptual the Indic vitakka and vicāra necessarily are. I am not saying they necessarily exclude the conceptual. But, as you can see, I have been speculating that they may not necessarily be referring to conceptual processes here (which are quite gross as far as these processes go). What do you think of my reasoning?

Ah, very interesting! Rather than focusing on the vepakka part of the compound, could this Chinese term be referring to the negative meaning of upadhi? If so, then it could be that they took upadhivepakko the same way as @sujato has taken it, referring to this negative meaning which he Englishes as ‘attachment’ rather than foundation/basis. But, since it is unique to the canon, perhaps they treated it as having the same meaning as this standard term 取?

And here if it is contrasted by it’s absence in the higher form, we might assume it has this negative meaning like you say, ‘clinging’ (though interesting that your other examples suggest also the possibility of ‘foundation’ type meaning perhaps, as you say “attaching to something”.

But supposing that this is the case and they replaced it with a standard term of negative meaning, this does not mean that this was necessarily the original meaning. They could have made the same move that the Pāli tradition could have made, of not understanding this rare word, taking it to be negative, and then in later re-ordering it as I mentioned, to make the logical negative/positive sequence proper.

However if you have reason to believe that 取 cannot here be representing upadhivepakko, then if we can establish that, we can exclude this particular line of reasoning.

Yes. But the parts which I highlighted above seem to be parallel. As I noted, seems so added factors in the Chinese. And then how the 3 of the first factors of the 8fold path interact, in the Pāli.

I am willing to consider that. But I’d like to know more before discounting the possibility that taken as, in your words ‘clinging or attachment’, represents upadhivepakko taken as ‘ripens in attachment’ (Sujato). Don’t forget they are in a parallel sentence.

Let’s see a comparison. Chinese, with Pāli items and order in brakets:
There is right intention that is mundane, with influxes, with grasping, [that turns] towards [rebirth in] a good destination ;

  • Title, both concerning the lower form of ‘right intention’.
  1. negative (‘mundane’ - absent but the opposite is present in the opposing section, in both Pāli and Chinese)
  2. negative (1- sāsavo)
  3. negative (3- upadhivepakko? Both refer to ‘attachment’ at least in later tradition )
  4. positive (2- puññabhāgiyo? I don’t know the Chinese behind this, is it 向於善趣? Since puñña is intimately associated with ‘rebirth in good destination’, I assume the Chinese behind this term is the equivalent of puññabhāgiyo).

We might even ask given this extremely parallel context, what the chances are that they are not equivalent! I’m not saying I have an answer, but the question seems valid.

I am not sure that would make any difference. If I cut the string down even just to upadhi ve°, it occurs nowhere in the entire canon nor even the Vissudhimagga nor abdhidhamma. So whether considered a compound or not, it would be unique to this sutta.


That ambiguity is reflected in Chinese translation as well. Sometimes samkalpa is 志, sometimes 思惟 (which means thinking or considering), and there are a few other less common renderings. It reflects that same conflict between the readings as intention vs. thought that we see today.

Both the Madhyama Agama and Samyukta Agama translators chose 志. The problem here is that I doubt that we’d see the same word in the original translated as both 志 and 覺 in the same passage. I assume 覺 is vitarka and the Samyukta passage is interpreting it with these objects of thought (renunciation, non-anger, and harmlessness). It’s the sort of variation that I often see when comparing parallel texts. It could be either, but it’s strange to me to see the same word translated differently in the same passage, especially when it’s being defined. But, I’ve seen stranger things before. Nothing is impossible when we don’t have the original.

Hmm. Well, my understanding is that vitarka and vicara are gradually ended to reach non-conceptual states of mind. I’ve seen later texts discuss states of mind with both, with only vicara, and then with neither. So, I’ve always assumed they represent mental reasoning that’s internally verbal, like when reasoning out a problem without talking to someone else.

Textual corruptions usually involve either insertions (such as repetitions) or deletions. Something may have been between upadhi and vepakko originally, then it was lost, and later redactors combined them into a term since vepakko by itself made no sense. Looking at the Pali again, though, I admit it looks like the Chinese is more elaborate and less parallel than I was thinking when I wrote that comment.

Well, the Chinese seems interpretive if the original read like the Pali. I translated it with a pronoun (“he”) and turned it into a series of verb phrases because it looks more meaningful than a list of mental synonyms. It has three sections:


The first phrase looks like a complex noun: mental factors 心法 that are related 相應 to uncontaminated 無漏 thinking 思惟.

The second clause is two verbs and a noun: discerning 分別, deciding for oneself 自決, and mental understanding 意解.

The third one is literally: weighing/calculating 計數 and establishing intent or thinking 立意.

立意 would be the closest term I can see to abhiniropanā.


Well, my first thought is that we may consider these compounds, not words. My second thought is that, is translating into Chinese so simple as merely replacing the words or even parts of compounds and getting a good result? I was under the impression that characters can take on fairly different shades of meanings when put in combination with other different characters, so that I was assuming that sometimes simply replacing a term part by part might end up with something with a quite different meaning.

Taking this idea to this specific example, is there such a term in Chinese as 無恚志, and 出要志? If there are, and if in ancient Chinese that would still accurately convey the meaning abyāpādasaṅkappo and nekkhammasaṅkappo respectively, then this should establish my line of reasoning on this point as being invalid. However, if that is not the case, then is there any reason why to still consider this hypothesis invalid?

While not skipping the above step of checking this idea, let us now consider this angle. Do you have any evidence for any equivalent Indic term? I suppose it might be something like abyāpādavitakko and nekkhammavitakko?

Oh, so as I am writing this, I just checked on that. In fact we do! For example searching abyāpādavitakko, it occurs at least once in every nikāya. In which case I think you may be right. Can you just confirm, is 覺 very often found to represent vitakka compared to Indic parallels? If so, I think your idea sounds most likely. See MN 19:

‘Why don’t I meditate by continually dividing my thoughts into two classes?’
‘yannūnāhaṃ dvidhā katvā dvidhā katvā vitakke vihareyyan’ti.
So I assigned sensual, malicious, and cruel thoughts
So kho ahaṃ, bhikkhave, yo cāyaṃ kāmavitakko yo ca byāpādavitakko yo ca vihiṃsāvitakko—

to one class.
imaṃ ekaṃ bhāgamakāsiṃ;

And I assigned thoughts of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness
yo cāyaṃ nekkhammavitakko yo ca abyāpādavitakko yo ca avihiṃsāvitakko

to the second class.
imaṃ dutiyaṃ bhāgamakāsiṃ.

Interestingly the string even cut back to abyāpādavitakk° occurs in
1 DN text,
2 MN texts,
1 SN text,
6 AN texts,
5 KN texts,
but not in the vinaya, abhidhamma, Visuddhimagga, AbhiS, or Gram.

2 DN texts,
4 MN texts,
2 SN texts,
0 AN texts,
3 KN texts,
1 (2?) Abdhidhamma texts
1 in Gram (I don’t actually know what ‘Gram’ is but it’s on the Pāli Reader)
0 in the vinaya, Visuddhimagga, AbhiS.

Interesting to see abyāpādavitakk° dominating in the AN. I don’t know what we can draw from that. And I wonder about the parallels in Chinese, and how they match up on Nekkhammasaṅkappo (出要志), abyāpādasaṅkappo (無恚志), avihiṃsāsaṅkappo (不害志) vs. Nekkhammavitakko (出要覺), abyāpādavitakko (無恚覺), avihiṃsāvitakko (不害覺).

It seems like an easy thing to flip from one to the other in a long line of transmission. And I’m not sure how we would guess whether it was the Pāli or the Chinese source, or even the Chinese translators/editors, who made the flip. Hard to know which would have been the original. Unless you have any ideas?

So then if it is nekkhammavitakko etc., would this make it clear that it is in surely conceptual thought here? That would be my impression in this particular sentence, looking at the example I gave of those Pāli terms in the sutta above. What about you?

Yes. But I am wondering if that gradual process finishes later than the conceptual process finishes. I.e. the thinking aspect of vitakka could stop, but that more fundamental directioning of the mind is still there, such as you use in jhāna, even though devoid of thought.

There’s a text which I think is early, and which has Chinese parallel, which gives the jhāna scheme as threefold. That gives the cessation of vitakka and vicāra as happening sequentially. I did not see any implication that there were any conceptual processes happening through those stages - it seems an already highly concentrated and focused state. I made a chart so you can see how the different jhāna schemes relate to each other by colour coding:

I had a little search and found one reference the reliability of which I cannot speak for, referencing 立意 as a possible translation of āśaya. I don’t know if that’s useful information since it gave 16 different Chinese terms for that one word āśaya! Maybe it’s nothing to do with this, I don’t know. But the Pāli āsaya can mean:

inclination, intention, will, hope” (PED).

It also mentions:

Cp. also BSk. āśayataḥ intentionally, in earnest Divy 281; Av. Ś II.161

That all conforms with your:

So whether or not the Chinese comes directly from abhiniropanā, or some related term, it seems the message of the passage is there in both. And so far it seems that this does not have to be taken to be specifically the conceptual workings of the mind in Pāli nor Chinese, if this non-thought specific ‘intent’ option is a sturdy one for the Chinese. What do you think, as a possibility?

If so then I think ‘thought’ may be misleading.