The best dictionary definition for V&V (vitakka & vicāra)

V&V = directed-thought & evaluation

Vitakka is directed thought. Vicara is the evaluation of that very same directed thought, not a separate train of thought.

V&V isn’t a wild excursion of jumping from one random thought to another random, disconnected thought.

Vicara explores, inspects, discriminates, evaluates, ponders, scrutinizes, discerns, considers the very same thought initially fixed upon by vitakka.

Vitakka decides on a topic, then gives it to vicara to analyze it further.

KN Pe on their commentary of V&V in first jhana, does the best job I’ve seen in defining and explaining it in a way that can survive time, history, and the shennanigans and accidents that can corrupt the text. They do it by using fantastic similes. They really nailed it, and I can’t do better than they did. All I did was restate what they already said in a slightly different way. But what I can do is point out the EBT source that probably inspired their similes and strengthens their case as the authoritative and correct definition for V&V.

simile of man seeing person approaching

Example: 1. A man sees (passati) a person in the distance approaching. 2. The person approaching has distinguishable characteristics (sañña), such as being male or female, their color, shape. 3. Vitakka is the initial fixing on that line of thinking. 4. The man then considers further (vicara), "is that approaching person virtuous (sila) or non-virtuous? Rich or poor?"

What’s striking about the simile is that it’s not just a simile, that is literally what sati and dhamma-vicaya sambojjhanga do, as the entry point of the 7sb (awakening factors).

  • note = sati-sambojjhanga same as sati, satipatthana, samma sati

    SN 46.3 Sīla-sutta: Virtue
    (implied: pamojja and pīti would result from contact with inspiring monks)
    (1. Sati: taṃ Dhammaṃ anus-sarati anu-vitakketi)
    (2. Dhamma-vicaya: taṃ dhammaṃ paññāya, pa-vicinati pa-vicarati pari-vīmaṃsam-āpajjati )
    (3. Vīriya: āraddhaṃ hoti vīriyaṃ a-sallīnaṃ.)
    (4. Pīti: Āraddha-vīriyassa uppajjati pīti nir-āmisā,)
    (5. Passaddhi: Pīti-man-assa, kāyo-pi passambhati, cittam-pi passambhati )
    (6. Samādhi: Passaddha-kāyassa sukhino, cittaṃ samādhiyati.)
    (7. Upekkha: sādhukaṃ ajjh-upekkhitā hoti)

Sati, right remembrance, picks a topic (vitakka) to explore (vicara), by “remembering”/recollecting a Dhamma topic. In first jhana, Vitakka, performs this task, and as you can see in SN 46.3, the word “anu-vitakketi” is right there.

The next step in 7sb, dhamma-vicaya, explores the topic remembered by sati (overlapping and sharing duties with vicara for first jhana). In fact the exact word “pa-vicarati” is used in SN 46.3. And in SN 46.2, it describes the duty of dhamma-vicaya as analayzing the topic recollected by sati and discerning whether that Dhamma is wholesome or unwholesome, blameable or blameless, etc. In the KN Pe simile, the man is scrutizing whether the approaching person has virtue (sila) or is not-virtuous. What a perfect simile directly referencing the 7sb suttas!

  • For second jhana and higher, “paññāya, vimamsa, pajanati” would do the work of dhamma-vicaya instead of first jhana’s vicara.

The exploration (vicara) of that Dhamma organically leads to rapture, pacification, deepening of the jhanas. As opposed to artificially cultivating samatha by staring at kasinas, for example.

"simile" of person reciting and reflecting

In another noteworthy simile the KN Pe uses, simile of reciting is literally like SN 36.11 voice-speaking (vaca) dropping out of first jhana, leaving vaci-sankhara, i.e. v&v remains!

yathā paliko tuṇhiko sajjhāyaṃ karoti evaṃ vitakko,
583. just-as (a) reciter silently recites, such (is) directed-thoughts,
yathā taṃyeva anupassati evaṃ vicāro.
just-as that-recitation (he) contemplates, such (is) evaluation.

Compare to gradual cessations in SN 36.11 with vocalized-speech ceasing in first jhana. Dropping out in second jhana are V&V, thoughts-&-evaluation, equivalent to the un-vocalized-speech ceasing in first jhana.

And especially in AN 5.26 and understanding how the oral tradition works.

Late Theravada sterilizes 7sb

This is probably why in later Theravada you never hear anyone talking about 7sb and how to practice it. Instead they have a preferred system with samatha segregated as something you should do separately from vipassana. To that end, they emphasize "5 jhana factors", which in the EBT the Buddha never talks about, it's only mentioned 2 or 3 times by Sariputta, often a signal of later Abhidhamma recension. 7sb in later theravada seems to be mischaracterized as not something you practice every moment, but something only ariya possess after their awakening. A careful reading of the EBT reveals the opposite case. Right out of the gate 7sb is something you practice all the time, not a reward that awaits you only after you attain Nirvana. Why would the Buddha bother composing so many suttas detailing practical details if it were only some decorative badges to be awarded after the journey has concluded? That would be the opposite of pragmatic, a waste of time.

The other similes are worth studying as well, unforunately they have textual corruption, from the source palm leaf writing being scrambled or mistranscribed, so there is less confidence in the results.

making robust dictionary entry

KN Pe V&V defintion is a wonderful example of how to make a dictionary entry that can stand the test of time. Use excellent similes, and redundancy. Having a list of snyonyms with no context or examples only leaves you in doubt and reliant on previous dictionary definitions which may be inaccurate. But put in several carefully crafted similes and examples, like the "skin flesh bones" in Theravada commentary for AN 5.28, and you can prevent future generations from distorting mirespresenting the genuine definitions.

Your opinion on the avitakka vicāra samādhi?

You mean the 2nd of the 3 ways of samadhi in AN 8.63?

the 3 ways are:

  1. with V&V
  2. without vitakka, some some vicara
  3. no V&V (second jhana and higher)

#2 means that you’ve already nailed down a meditation topic, you don’t switch among different Dhamma topics as in #1. You’ve chosen a single topic, and you’re sticking to evaluating just that topic. For example, a typical meditator might be switching between these 3 topics in first jhana:
a) metta
b) 16 aps (anapana)
c) the 5 methods of removing distracting thoughts from MN 20

avitakka with some vicara samadhi, is a more refined first jhana where you’ve committed to just 16APS and no metta, for example, and only have vicara related to that chosen topic, 16aps. Such as, “breath feels comfortable, hot, vibrating, electrical, etc.”.

Now compare that with B. Sujato’s translation of AN 8.63 and see if you can make sense of it. AN 8.63 has 8 meditation topics, 4sp, and 4bv.

so first jhāna and a half (jhāna 1.5) as it were

1 Like

Have you weighed in your opinion here somewhere on here of where you stand on the issue of where in ānāpānasati jhāna happens?

In Tibetan/mahayana, they have a 9 or 10 gradual step samadhi training system, and instead of V&V being set up into 3 stages, 7 or 8 of those 10 steps are for showing how gradually the mind can be trained to stay with the meditation subject and how quickly it can recognize it’s distracted and return.

That’s very sensible, very gradual.

The VRJ redefinition of jhana doesn’t even need 4 jhanas, it just needs one jhana of “appana samadhi”. That’s the opposite of gradual step by step training. It’s like teaching people how to swim by just throwing them into the deep end and saying, “start flapping your arms and legs”.

B. Sujato’s V&V is essentially the same as VRJ.

It can happen in several of the 16 steps, or a combination of several steps. In SN 36.11, you’ll see some key words that appear in the standard jhana formula, and in 16 APS formula.

passadhi = pacification (SN 36.11 describes 9 cessations = 9 pacifications…)
passadhi appears in 16aps steps 4, step 8
nirodha appears as step 15.

step 4 of 16aps, passambhayam kaya-sankharam, pacification of bodily-fabrications, can be taken as gradual pacification, such as any of the first 4 gradual pacifications, doesn’t just have to be the 4th one of the breathing stops, as Vism. interprets it.

step 8 of 16aps, pacification of mental fabrications, can be any of the 9 pacifications in SN 36.11, culminating in teh 9th one of perception and feeling cessation samadhi attainment.

(9 gradual nirodho/cessations)

atha kho pana, bhikkhu, mayā
“And I have also {taught}
anu-pubba-saṅkhārānaṃ nirodho akkhāto.
step-by-step-fabrications' cessation.
1. paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa
1. (with) first jhāna attained,
vācā niruddhā hoti.
vocalization-of-speech has ceased.
2. dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa
2. (with) second jhāna attained,
vitakka-vicārā niruddhā honti.
directed-thought-&-evaluation has ceased.
3. tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa
3. (with) third jhāna attained,
pīti niruddhā hoti.
rapture has ceased.
4. catutthaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa
4. (with) fourth jhāna attained,
assāsa-passāsā niruddhā honti.
in-breath-out-breath has ceased.
5. ākāsā-nañc-āyatanaṃ samāpannassa
5. (with) space-infinitude-dimension attained,
rūpa-saññā niruddhā hoti.
forms-perception has ceased.
6. viññāṇa-ñc-āyatanaṃ samāpannassa
6. (with) consciousness-infinitude-dimension attained,
ākāsā-nañc-āyatana-saññā niruddhā hoti.
space-infinitude-dimension-perception has ceased.
7. ākiñca-ññ-āyatanaṃ samāpannassa
7. (with) nothingness-dimension attained,
viññāṇa-ñc-āyatana-saññā niruddhā hoti.
consciousness-infinitude-dimension-perception has ceased.
8. neva-saññā-n-ā-saññ-āyatanaṃ samāpannassa
8. (with) neither-perception-nor-non-perception attained,
ākiñca-ññ-āyatana-saññā niruddhā hoti.
nothingness-dimension-perception has ceased.
9. saññā-vedayita-nirodhaṃ samāpannassa
9 (with) perception-&-feeling-cessation attained,
saññā ca vedanā ca niruddhā honti.
perception & feeling have ceased.
khīṇ-āsavassa bhikkhuno
(having) killed-the-asinine-inclinations, a monk’s
rāgo niruddho hoti,
passion has ceased,
doso niruddho hoti,
aversion has ceased,
moho niruddho hoti.
delusion has ceased.

(9 gradual vūpasama/stillings, same as nirodho list)

atha kho, bhikkhu, mayā anupubbasaṅkhārānaṃ vūpasamo akkhāto. paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa vācā vūpasantā hoti. dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa vitakkavicārā vūpasantā honti ... pe ... saññāvedayitanirodhaṃ samāpannassa saññā ca vedanā ca vūpasantā honti. khīṇāsavassa bhikkhuno rāgo vūpasanto hoti, doso vūpasanto hoti, moho vūpasanto hoti.
“Then, monk, I have also taught the step-by-step stilling of fabrications. When one has attained the first jhāna, speech has been stilled. When one has attained the second jhāna, directed thought & evaluation have been stilled. When one has attained the third jhāna, rapture has been stilled. When one has attained the fourth jhāna, in-and-out breathing has been stilled. When one has attained the dimension of the infinitude of space, the perception of forms has been stilled. When one has attained the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of space has been stilled. When one has attained the dimension of nothingness, the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness has been stilled. When one has attained the dimension of neither-perception nor non-perception, the perception of the dimension of nothingness has been stilled. When one has attained the cessation of perception & feeling, perception & feeling have been stilled. When a monk’s effluents have ended, passion has been stilled, aversion has been stilled, delusion has been stilled.

(9 gradual passaddhi/pacifications, same as nirodho list)

chayimā, bhikkhu, passaddhiyo. paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa vācā paṭippassaddhā hoti. dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa vitakkavicārā paṭippassaddhā honti. tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa pīti paṭippassaddhā hoti. catutthaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa assāsapassāsā paṭippassaddhā honti. saññāvedayitanirodhaṃ samāpannassa saññā ca vedanā ca paṭippassaddhā honti. khīṇāsavassa bhikkhuno rāgo paṭippassaddho hoti, doso paṭippassaddho hoti, moho paṭippassaddho hotī”ti.
“There are these six calmings. When one has attained the first jhāna, speech has been calmed. When one has attained the second jhāna, directed thought & evaluation have been calmed. When one has attained the third jhāna, rapture has been calmed. When one has attained the fourth jhāna, in-and-out breathing has been calmed. When one has attained the cessation of perception & feeling, perception & feeling have been calmed. When a monk’s effluents have ended, passion has been calmed, aversion has been calmed, delusion has been calmed.”