V&V in Sphuṭārthā Abhidharmakośavyākhyā

I cannot see this going anywhere useful and so I will withdraw from this discussion. We have had different views on this issue for several years now and it is inconceivable to me that we will be able to sort this out on a public forum. It is far more likely things will just get further bogged down. We will probably end up wasting precious time that could be spent far more profitably on other things.

I know you are very sincere, both in your practice and in your Dhamma opinions, and I respect you for that. From the little I know of you, you are a goodhearted person who is doing his very best to live Buddhism with integrity. A big sādhu to that!

Your sincere friend in the Dhamma,
Ajahn Brahmali

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@frankk, I hear agonized frustration in your posts at being unheard. Please accept my own personal inquiry and let us just talk as we are, you and I each from our own life experience. I confess to having skimmed your writings on V&V since I, being easily confused, shy away from Nagarjuna subtleties and tend to value the concrete and actionable. :pray:

I will start by confessing that I am of limited mental means and can only encompass thoughts that can be spoken in a single breath. I have known others such as Richard Feynman who could spin entire universes of amazing connected thought. I lack any such gift.

Suppose I came to you and said, Venerable Frank, please teach me V&V so I can utter and know the truth in a single breath. What would you say in a single breath? What I recall you writing is that vittaka is directed thought and viccara is evaluation and contemplation of the implications of that vittakka thought. This I can say in one long breath and is hopefully aligned with what you have written. It also aligns with my own meditative wanderings through DN33 every day.

Just a one breath definition, please! I cannot understand more.

I wish to start afresh. Let us invest clearly in a shared understanding.

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Really? How do you know

Venerable Frank, I ask you a second time to teach me your understanding of the suttas starting with Vitakka and Vicara. This is a genuine request. I have meditated, concentrated, focused, absorbed and immersed in this or that for over five decades. Yet I have only started reading the sutta translations this year. I am trying to align my experiences with the suttas. This is very important to me. And you yourself have brought the words Vitakka and Vicāra into my life.

I have memories of directing and focusing and contemplating this and that from a very young age. I was a good student and slow but had many encouraging teachers. Focusing has always been natural to me and I often would focus on this or that for hours to the detriment of my body. Yes I had to pee. Not now, back to the math problem or whatever. My experience of this was world receding into problem, problem alone, problem solving. Just that. From this and your words I understand vitakka to be “framing the problem” and vicāra to be “solving the problem”. Those are not your words, but my words based on my experience and my gleaning of your words. I am a problem solver by profession.

If we can accept the understanding of V&V as “framing/solving X”, I would then like to understand the four jhānas as you do. I have not till a few months ago, really seen the term jhāna. For me this a new thing. How strange right? To have meditated for five decades without considering jhāna? So I have some experience and many questions.

Please teach me. :pray:

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Thank you Bhante, for taking the time to explain your position and share your diplomatic and friendly energy. I appreciate it.

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Hi Karl,
I wasn’t ignoring your question, I’m just on Frank time, and I don’t check my email and respond to things as frequently or promptly as most modern folks, unless there is a need or emergency.

Please don’t address me as Venerable Frank, I appreciate the sentiment behind it, but ‘Venerable’ should be reserved for those ordained in the Sangha.

I don’t know that a ‘one breath amount of time’ explanation of V&V would be sufficient, but then some people have longer breaths than others. I can recite 31 body parts in pali in one breath.

I believe the best way to understand V&V is with examples, from the suttas.

example 1: AN 8.30, 8 great thoughts

here, vitakka would be directed-thought, sati remembering a memorized piece of dhamma, mentally reciting one of the 8 great thoughts. such as, “this Dhamma is for one of few desires…”.

vicara would be pondering, contemplating, evaluating, reflecting on the meaning of that thought (vitakka), the memorized sutta/dhamma recollected by sati.

example 2: AN 8.63
vitakka establishes the meditation topic by picking a topic from the 8 given in this sutta, 4sp + 4bv. So for example, vitakka selects ‘metta’, and mentally recites the metta formula, “metta sahagatena cetasa. ekam disam pharitva viharati.” (with metta infused mind, in one direction he pervades [with that metta energy])

vicara would be reflecting on that memorized sutta passage, its meaning, and carrying it out.

example 3: AN 6.10, recollection of 6 topics, buddha, dhamma, sangha…

this works the same way as the previous 2 examples. vitakka ‘fixes’ on , selects one of the 6 topics, mentally recites verbal words of that topic, then vicara evaluates/ponders the meaning of that.

Check for yourself, the suttas i already cited in the post you quoted from. MN 43, MN 111. Sariputta is doing the speaking, not the Buddha.

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Senior Frankk, thank you for correcting my misunderstanding. I now understand the following:

Sati for me is analogous to “framing and stating a problem”. I know, understand and can recite the math problem (or sutta) for others. This is where I am now with DN33, building sati.

Vitakka as directed thought feels natural, since I can consider “find the third odd number” and “find the third step of the NF8” with the same perspective. A linear direction is indeed happening to thought as I arrive at “5” or “Right Speech”.

However, this linear directing of thought from A to B is a bit incomplete for me. It works for high school math problems (e.g., simplify this equation). But it does not work with problems having multiple solutions (e.g., “design a computer”). To solve such problems, I have had to relinquish direct linear effort. Instead, I need to invite and allow my consciousness to “fill the problem”. When the problem is one with (i.e., filled with) my consciousness, the solution appears, without direction. And yet I would still think of that “filling the problem with awareness” to perhaps be vitakka as you have described. With vitakka, forms arise in consciousness to fit the problem (or sutta). This is where I want to be with DN33, filling it with undirected awareness.

Vicara is pondering, contemplating, evaluating, reflecting on the meaning of that thought (vitakka). Yes. That makes sense as well. Vicara is the bridge to greater open-ended considerations. This too is where I want to be with DN33, with awareness of DN33 connected to the world via contemplation.

If the above is acceptable, do please help me understand how I should understand first jhāna as it fits with all the above.

Thank you for pointing this out.
In line with this I think a careful analysis of the 1st jhana simile (the ball-of-soap) and a clear understanding of what piti & sukha really are (rapture & pleasure of body & mind), will demonstrate that the debate about the two types of jhanas should not exist. i.e. that in jhana the five senses are active as in normal life.
For me this is the most important issue as this will guide the practitioners trying to achieve jhana to be in tune with the body (i.e. experiencing the pleasure of piti & sukha in the body and in the mind) instead of a pure-mind-based-jhana-with-an-insensitive-body.
The Buddha in MN36 says: “why am I afraid of that pleasure (sukha) that has nothing to do with sensual pleasures … ?”. He is taking about a pleasure (as far as I know pleasure has a physical component) that is not due to grasping at external objects to satisfy the five senses but a pleasure that arises without objects. A pleasure that arises on its own accord without us having any direct control when it appears and grows eventually filling up the whole body and mind.

For me the V&V discussion is much less important as it is only about an aspect of what is happening in the mind while one is in the 1st jhana.

Mindfulness directed to the body is one of the most important topic of the EBTs; also the four jhanas were called (after the EBTs), rupa-jhana not citta-jhana or mano-jhana.

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I would like to learn swimming from someone who knows how to swim rather than people who are only discussing swimming instructions because it’s a hobby - however both parties can get it wrong without intending and it’s best if written instructions reflect actual experience.

Whether you are in a jhana decides whether you attain Nibbāna so multiple definitions isn’t helpful.

Predominantly mind but it can be directed to feel the body and the other senses intentionally. How a jhana is determined as compared to a deeper unification is because there is a sudden stepping into a different consciousness. One develops deep unification but jhana is a further development of that deep unification.

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Hmm. Personal views and experience are individual, yes. I drop a stone. It falls. That is my experience. If you share that experience, we can talk about dropping stones and how fast they drop. This is physics. When I learned physics, I did not believe the guru who said that two objects of different weight fall at the same speed. After I tried it myself, I agreed with the guru. In this very simple way, my conventional meaning of the word “gravity” changed in understanding and usage. If you will, it was “straightened” by the guru.

I treat Buddhism just like physics. I listen to teachings here, and verify them myself against experience or practice. Invariably, just as with physics, I find my vocabulary and experience are changed and informed. For example, currently Senior Frankk is adjusting my vocabulary.

If we refrain from bending convention we risk embracing ignorance. Because the world was flat, and now it isn’t. That was a convention changed. And changed by idiosyncratic individuals from personal experience.

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sati is memory/remembering/remembrance.
smrti is sanksrit version of sati.

Here’s a mnemonic device I made up to help remember what sati does in EBT.

SMRTI = You (S)uppose to (M)emorize and ®ecollect (T)errific (I)deas.
SATI = You (S)uppose to (A)ctualize (T)errific (I)deas

vitakka on its own (without vicara) I suppose can do a fair amount of ‘evaluation/pondering’ on its own. I’ve haven’t researched that in the EBT.

If you remember that ‘cara’ is the basic word component used for walking, exploring, wandering, walking meditation, then you’ll remember that vitakka fixes on a topic, and vicara explores it (rather than starting a new line of thought completely independent of the original vitakka).

I suppose V&V can be subverbal or nonverbal type of thinking, if that’s what you’re describing with problem solving in your example. But in EBT jhana, there’s already terminology for that, S&S (sati and sampajano), also manasi karoti (attention) to sañña (perceptions). That kind of cognitive power and ability to discern survives past first jhana. So in a sense V&V is an energetically inefficient version of S&S. In EBT 4 jhanas, it’s not a frozen state where cetana and willpower is disabled as Ajahn Brahm and VRJ state. If you’ve slipped into a frozen state like that, you’re not in 4 jhanas anymore.

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Oh. We should talk about this some more please because I’m still thinking that exploration of a topic within that topic to be vitakka. When I solve the “build a computer” problem in class, it is an academic exercise, the building of a form to fit the homework problem. It has no connection with the rest of the universe. It is isolated. It is very very complicated just like DN33 is very very complicated. Even when I completely memorize DN33, I will need to explore it within itself, independent of the universe. Musicians are told that memorizing a piece is just the start. After memorization (sati) there is endless practice to play the piece from memory. That playing (vitakka) is still within the piece, bounded by the piece and our fingers playing the instrument. We are “filling the piece of music with our 6 sense consciousness”. This to me is vitakka and it is non-linear. We immerse ourselves in the playing of the piece of music. It is non-linear because that immersion involves all six senses and is focused but not directed in any particular direction.

I would stil like to call the above sati+vitakka but not vicāra, because even after memorizing and playing a piece of music, there is one crucial next step. That next step is interpretation. The interpretation of a memorized music piece connects our playing to the larger universe. The playing has become effortless because vitakka has made it effortless. However, effortlessness is not enough.

Effortlessness is not enough because when Amy/Raveena/Aditi speak the suttas effortlessly, it does not touch us. But when a human gives a Dhamma talk, it touches us. Therefore it is interpretation that touches peoples hearts. This interpretation of the memorized piece requires the contemplation you’ve mentioned for vicāra, so it feels natural to me to think of vicāra as connecting vitakka to the universe.

Does this work for you as well? I think we need to reach a shared understanding before proceeding to jhanas.

Pīti is one of the seven factors of awakening while vitaka & vicara are not. This is why I say that clear comprehension of pīti is more important.

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Considering the rest of my answer hasn’t been read properly. Only people who haven’t experienced jhana and examined it are vying for ‘lighter’ interpretations.

The meaning cannot be pinned down by understanding the word. It’s experiential.

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I don’t quite understand your example. And I suspect even if I understand your example, the EBT would not supply a satisfactory answer that you’re looking for, because as I explained in the previous post there’s a number of terms/concepts that are subverbal/nonverbal, that survive past first jhana.

For example, we all know how to walk, as human bipeds practicing it regularly so often. We could be aware of our walking, as we walk, without V&V, since we’re already well trained and just executing off of muscle memory.

The more specific example relevant for the most frequent context, is for example reciting a memorized sutta. One can easily verify for themself, it’s possible to recite the memorized sutta without paying attention to its meaning, only being aware to the extent of keeping track of the fidelity of the recitation (compared to memory of it), such as knowing you didn’t make a mistake. So that’ the bare minimum of ‘vitakka’, the verbal words, the label attached to the meaning of the sutta that we’re not paying attention to at all. If we’re reflecting on the meaning as we’re reciting, and this one should verify for themself, this is possible to do. ‘vicara’ reflects/ponders meaning of the thought/vi-takka.

takka (notice resemblance of that word to ‘think’), in EBT usually means a specific type of thinking, logical reasoning.

My research was primarily looking at every instance of V&V within first jhana that I could find in the EBT, and comparing to what V&V was doing right before first jhana. What I saw was that V&V did not change in fundamental nature. And even in Vism., which is late Theravada with corrupted VRJ (vism. redefinition of jhana), even in there, vitakka still has to retain the meaning of mental talk, verbal, words strung together with a label, mental recitation. The Vism. explanation makes that explicit and clear, that vicara in VRJ is acting on mental words “earth kasina, earth kasina” for example.

SN 21.1 (thanissaro trans.)

Look at how “pari-vitakko” is used here (train of thought):
Moggallana 's pari-vitakka is the mental label composed of words, “what is noble silence?”
And vicara would be the examination in meaning of the followup vitakka (memorized second jhana formula mentally recited).

STED ariyo vā tuṇhī-bhāvo

SN 21.1 (V&V could not be visual nimitta here, clearly thinking and evaluation)

♦ āyasmā mahāmoggallāno etadavoca —
Ven. Mahā Moggallāna said,
“idha mayhaṃ, āvuso, rahogatassa paṭisallīnassa
"Friends, once as I was withdrawn in seclusion,
evaṃ cetaso parivitakko udapādi —
this train of thought arose to my awareness,
‘ariyo tuṇhībhāvo, ariyo tuṇhībhāvoti vuccati.
'"Noble silence, noble silence," it is said.
katamo nu kho ariyo tuṇhībhāvo’ti?
But what is noble silence?'
tassa mayhaṃ āvuso, etadahosi —
Then the thought occurred to me,

(STED second jhāna = noble silence)

‘idha bhikkhu vitakkavicārānaṃ vūpasamā
'There is the case where a monk, with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations,
ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ
[1] enters & remains in the second jhāna:
cetaso ekodibhāvaṃ
rapture & pleasure born of concentration,
avitakkaṃ avicāraṃ
unification of awareness
samādhijaṃ pītisukhaṃ
free from directed thought & evaluation —
dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
internal assurance.
ayaṃ vuccati ariyo tuṇhībhāvo’ti.
This is called noble silence.'

compare to B. Sujato translation, vitakka suddenly changes meaning and becomes incoherent

Venerable Mahāmoggallāna said this: Āyasmā mahāmoggallāno etadavoca: “Just now, reverends, as I was in private retreat this thought came to mind: “idha mayhaṃ, āvuso, rahogatassa paṭisallīnassa evaṃ cetaso parivitakko udapādi: ‘They speak of this thing called “noble silence”. ‘ariyo tuṇhībhāvo, ariyo tuṇhībhāvoti vuccati. What then is this noble silence?’ Katamo nu kho ariyo tuṇhībhāvo’ti? It occurred to me: Tassa mayhaṃ āvuso, etadahosi: ‘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 placing the mind and keeping it connected.

And then it gets much more incoherent,

as perception and attention occurring while moggallana is in second jhana, are operating on B.sujato’s V&V of “mind not placed and not connected”, like a snake trying to swallow it self by eating its own tail.

But for me coming new to the suttas this year I see ongoing disagreement and nitpicking in discourse. How should I proceed? This is quite bewildering. I have my own decades of personal meditation experience and insight that I am trying to match up to the suttas and here I see unending arguments that span years of discourse. It seems eeriely like the Jain squabbling mentioned in DN33. Our conventions are broken. The only way I can see to fix them is by sharing experiences. I see a rock. You see a rock. Etc.

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Imagine being on the edge of a thousand foot cliff on a ledge one-foot wide. Some cliffs in Yosemite are three-thousand feet high or more. Here is such a ledge.

Can we really here just walk mindlessly? Well-trained and just executing off muscle memory is insufficient. All of us play at walking on a six-inch curb. But a one-foot ledge on a cliff?

To survive, we need to be all here, thoughts, eye, nose, ear, tongue, body, walking on that ledge one-foot wide. Any, absolutely any, distraction is death. I think this is how we should walk every day. Not afraid, just walking. This is also how I would walk with DN33. I should be able to walk DN33 on that ledge, thinking, “All beings are sustained by conditions”. Because in that walking, I would indeed be sustained by conditions.

I am realizing this is much deeper than I thought. Thank you for taking the time to explain.

Yes. I agree that one can recite unaware…like a zombie. That is practicing to be a zombie.

But when I recite/listen/practice the sutta, I am at a particular place on my walking meditation when I hear the birds, smell the trees, feel the road, see the leaves, think the sutta, taste the toothpaste. All these become my experience of the sutta and its recitation. In the beginning the senses are sharp, at the end they attenuate to keeping me alive and away from cars, etc.) but they are always “in DN33”. This is exactly the same for me sitting zazen counting breaths. The thought is “42 innnn”, the sight is my closed eyelids, etc. Where exactly should does vitakka relate to this experience? It has to be one of:

  • the tiny inconsequential thought “42 in”
  • the whole experience linked to “42 in”
  • something completely other and I have misunderstood V&V.

Of these three possibilities, the second matches my experience best and is the experience that allows me to agree with you that there is thought (i.e., “42”) and with Bhante Sujato (“placing the mind”). Like you, I don’t agree with “placing the mind”, but I disagree for different reasons.

I would just rather say that in vitakka, my world became “42” or “DN33”.

And I would distinguish that from vicara, because for me, the isolated experience of vitakka is useless unless connected with the world. And I would connect it with the meditation, “42 to all sentient beings, above, below, to the north, south, east and west”. As with DN33. That connection for me would be vicara.

I would rather just say that with vitakka, we pour ourselves into the subject of meditation.
I would rather just say that with vicara, we connect our understanding with the world.
I would rather just say “pour awareness into and connect it” for V&V.
This is the meditative experience I would like to share.

Is that personal experience V&V or jhana or something else?

It seems to me that there are five major types of discussion that take place here on D&D

    • those among IT nerds on how to develop the features of Sutta Central :pray: Sadhu!
    • those between professional translators on difficult/subtle points of translation in the EBTs :pray: Sadhu!
    • those been interested parties who want to investigate their own and each others understandings of specific points in the EBTS :pray: May these help increase your understandings and support your practice!
    • questions asked to the experts by beginner learners of Pali :pray: Thank you for answering!
    • those that seek to relate contents of the EBTs to our individual lives and meditation practices :pray: Thank you!

After a little time reading generally in the forum, it becomes easier to select and contribute to the threads that are relevant to oneself. (For me it is 4&5.)

@karl_lew: last night I happened to be reading chapter 4 of Kittisaro & Thanissara’s Listening to the Heart. It contains a description of the Five Jhana Factors that explains how V&V fits into a regular mediation practice that I think might interest you. :slight_smile:

(Tho it doesn’t address the issues of translation and interpretation that are being debated in this and related threads on D&D.)

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