V&V in Sphuṭārthā Abhidharmakośavyākhyā


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.


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.


Sorry, but I find it amusing to read this time and again. On this forum this argument crops up at every turn of a discussion. It usually signifies that its proponent has run out of arguments, so that the only remaining refuge is the allusion to meditative ‘experience’. So for once let’s have a look to what is actually happening here. First of all by this recourse to ‘experience’ it is insinuated that someone who argues on the bases of language or scripture does not have personal experience of meditative states himself, and hence has no access to ‘actual’ knowledge of it. In other words, one lets him appear as a mere ‘theoriser’. Evidently the purpose is to let linguistic or textual arguments appear less important. On the other hand, the proponent is at the same time suggesting that he himself is in possession of such experience, and hence has ‘true’ knowledge of the topic discussed. He is the ‘practitioner’. The ‘practitioners’ lack of argument is in this way compensated by letting the ‘theoriser’ appear as spiritually incompetent. Such tactics are usually employed to silence people, or to prevent the further investigation of a specific topic.

Apart from the obvious absurdity of such stereotyped clichés as ‘practicioner’ and ‘theoriser’ there are several problems involved here. First of all the canonical texts as they have been transmitted have not preserved an unequivocal description of how exactly ‘jhāna’ is attained. In other words there are various contradictory accounts, sometimes in connection with other practices. In our times this has led to a situation in which all kinds of meditation teachers around the world have very different ideas of what ‘jhāna’ constitutes, interpret its practice in widely different ways, and teach it to their followers. In short, what you may consider to be a ‘jhāna’ state of mind, might not be so in the eyes of someone else. This makes this whole argument of personal experience deceptive.

So we are back on square one. We have no other option than to either just believe a ‘guru’, or to analyse the canonical texts and look for guidance along the path we have chosen. Those following a ‘guru’ are rather inclined to project their meditative experiences into the canonical words used to describe ‘jhāna’ states, even at the cost of falsifying the meaning of those words. In the case of the text-analytical approach success is only possible if certain conventions are strictly observed. Words forming a language are such a convention, and consequently we must refrain from bending or manipulating the meaning of words to accommodate personal views or experiences. In other words our meditative experience has to be in line with the ‘conventional’ meaning of the words as they are traditionally used in that language, instead of adapting words and phrases to our personal needs. As soon as we open the door to supposedly ‘hidden’ or fictional meanings we have lost our way already.

..Abiding in Jhana
The mysterious unexplained disappearance of Kāya and Vitakka in the Jhānas by B. Sujato

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


I completely agree with everything you say, with the exception of the assessment regarding ‘vitakka’ and ‘vicāra’. I cannot go into the details here, but only to mention some of the main points. Their position within the ‘jhāna’ formula is not coincidental. Their proper understanding can give us important clues as to how the first ‘jhāna’ was originally attained. Depending on their interpretation the practitioner will determine if or which level of ‘jhāna’ he has achieved. In the case of someone who follows B. Brahmali’s understanding, thought as ‘verbal activity’ of the mind has ceased already in the first ‘jhāna’. If we follow a standard view of the concept as ‘thought in general’, then all ‘activity of thinking’ will cease in the second ‘jhāna’. However if we follow the understanding of the Northern Schools, then only ‘directed thought’ ceases in the second ‘jhāna’, such as inquiry, reflection, reasoning, consideration, evaluation, judgement and the like. But that which Lambert Schmithausen has called ‘perception structuring thought’ may continue to appear on the remaining ‘jhāna’ levels. So I believe this question is of considerable importance for the correct understanding and practice of ‘jhāna’, as this brief formula is our only road map that takes us to its highest level.


I am afraid you missed the point. Clichés do not exist objectively as corresponding to anything in reality, they exist only in our imagination. The absurdity of the cliché relates to the idea that someone who makes a rational argument on the bases of textual studies cannot have meditative experience himself. It is just a matter of fictional categorization. To stick with your example, you regularly say: ‘When you talk about swimming instructions, it is impossible that you can actually swim yourself.’


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.


It looks like a few things got muddled up here. With meaning not ‘ultimate’ meaning is intended. It simply relates to the meaning of a word in a foreign language (Pāli, Sanskrit), as it has been used in texts or by native speakers. With ‘conventional’ I do not mean delusional or superficial. I use the term in its basic meaning of ‘agreed upon usage’. That is the speakers agree upon a certain code of language, i.e. that a specific word refers to a specific thing and not to its opposite or something else.

To illustrate this by means of your example: in reality neither the meaning nor the usage of the word ‘gravity’ changed, as now you do not understand its meaning to be ‘non-gravity’ or ‘pre-gravity’, nor do you use the word that way. What in fact has changed is your understanding of what ‘gravity’ means in reality instead of in imagination. But that to which the word itself refers (i.e. its meaning) remains the same, namely to the law of gravity, independent of being actually observed, experienced or only imagined.

Your last remark is an entirely different story, as it relates to what people believe according to changing conventions on the level of ideas and perceptions. However this is not related in any way to my remarks, which was about ‘agreed usage’ (conventions) of language only.




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.


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.


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?


Could you please come up with real arguments instead of producing yet another cliché. Otherwise any discussion is pointless. After all we are talking here about concrete states of mind which have been described in detail in the Suttas and Abhidhammas of various Early Buddhist Schools, so our arguments should at least refer to those descriptions.

Certainly our understanding of the meaning of words is cognitive (‘experiential’) in nature and hence subjective. But it is based in the first place on a convention (‘agreed usage’) among the speakers to what a word refers. Otherwise language would lose its purpose and communication would be impossible. Is that really so hard to understand?


In this case I would recommend to just develop the threefold training based on the instructions as given in the Suttas and ignore the discussions.