V&V in Sphuṭārthā Abhidharmakośavyākhyā


I’m just trying to summarise my understanding of the crux of disagreement. It’s a lot of words and details, and i’m afraid i’m losing the forest in the midst of the trees.

While it is true that ancient Chinese can be vague and abstruse, which isn’t helped by the seemingly random transliterations from Pali/Sanskrit, old Chinese is also quite precise and concise. In this case, the character for vitakka is pretty unambiguously different when used in jhana vs out of jhana; and this is repeated throughout the Chinese Agama descriptions of the first jhana. So while it might not mean “placing the mind”, it is definitely not thinking or thought.


Sometimes I think that kamma drives us to bring our red buttons next to people who push those red buttons inadvertently. The resulting squawking, howling and crying allows us to find and defuse those red buttons. Although making external amends is important, far more important is the inner search for how those red buttons are wired and how they came to be. Anger grows from craving as its defense. Focusing on remorse is a subtle defense that allows us to skip the crucial step of disarming the craving. Living in remorse we can keep our cravings. So remorse is a distraction. We waste time feeling bad when we should be digging into the dirt to see where the craving wires run to the panic red buttons. When we disarm the craving, the anger doesn’t arise because there’s nothing to defend.



Isn’t Buddhist Hybrid Chinese a subdialect of general literary Middle Chinese, not Old Chinese?

Old Chinese AFAIK would be even harder to decipher.


Two steps forward one step back. Dust yourself off, and keep up the fight. Learn from each time the defilement overcome you, while it’s important to take ownership of what happens. Aim for even a little bit less anger, hopefully there won’t be a next time.


Evidently the Buddha thought otherwise. In the account of the Buddha’s last days, in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (DN 16), we are instructed to proceed in the following way:

4.7. At Bhoganagara the Lord stayed at the Ānanda Shrine. And here he said to the monks: ‘Monks, I will teach you four criteria. Listen, pay close attention, and I will speak.’ ‘Yes, Lord’, replied the monks.
4.8. 'Suppose a monk were to say: ‘Friends, I heard and received this from the Lord’s own lips: this is the Dhamma, this is the discipline, this is the Master’s teaching’, then, monks, you should neither approve nor disapprove his words. Then, without approving or disapproving, his words and expressions should be carefully noted and compared with the Suttas and reviewed in the light of the discipline. If they, on such comparison and review, are found not to conform to the Suttas or the discipline, the conclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is not the word of the Buddha, it has been wrongly understood by this monk’, and the matter is to be rejected. But where on such comparison and review they are found to conform to the Suttas or the discipline, the conclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is the word of the Buddha, it has been rightly understood by this monk.’ This is the first criterion.
4.9. 'Suppose a monk were to say: ‘In such and such a place there is a community with elders and distinguished teachers. I have heard and received this from that community’, then, monks, you should neither approve nor disapprove his words . . . (as verse 4.8). That is the second criterion.
4.10. 'Suppose a monk were to say: ‘In such and such a place there are many elders who are learned, bear9rs of the tradition, who know the Dhamma, the discipline, the code of rules. . .’ (as verse 4.8). This is the third criterion.
4.11. 'Suppose a monk were to say: ‘In such and such a place there is one elder who is learned. . .I have heard and received this from that elder. . .’ (as verse 4.8). But where on such comparison and review they are found to conform to the Suttas and the discipline, then the conclusion must be: ‘Assuredly this is the word of the Buddha, it has been rightly understood by this monk.’

(Translation by M. Walsh, The Long Discourses of the Buddha, p. 255)

So I’ve been wondering what you are looking for on this thread, although this procedure taught by the Buddha is so useless and even wrong for you.

Another says to him: ‘Sir, there is such a self as you say. But that is not when the self attains Nibbāna. How so? Because on account of thinking and pondering, that state is considered gross. But when the self by the subsiding of thinking and pondering enters and abides in the second jhana, with inner tranquillity and oneness of mind, which is free from thinking and pondering and is born of concentration, and accompanied by delight and joy, that is when the self realises the highest Nibbāna here and now.’

DN 1, Brahmajāla Sutta DN I 38
(Translation by M. Walsh, The Long Discourses of the Buddha, p. 86)


I was using the Chinese distinction between modern vs older Chinese, which in Chinese is simply known as 文言文; I’m not familiar with the dialect distinctions you describe, which might be from Western Sinology.

I should perhaps have caveated that there are two versions of older Chinese: the poetic form (which is the oldest version of ancient Chinese) and the old “spoken Chinese” (which nowadays is still treated as 文言文, even if it was “modern” back in the day). You can observe both styles in the Chinese Agamas, with the poetic utterances of the Buddha (amazingly) translated into equally poetic Chinese (which read like some of the classic Tang poetry), while the vernacular spoken parts of the suttas read more like “Romance of Three Kingdoms” (which was in the old spoken Chinese).

There is actually no distinction of dialects in written Chinese: meanings are largely the same across different dialects.


To caveat my response, I am just a searcher who happens to read Chinese, so what I wrote is simply my amateur understanding.

I welcome any corrections from others in the group who are way better qualified than me in Chinese!


I was responding from the POV of Western philology.

You are quite right to point out the usage on my part of “dialect” is wrong how I used it. I meant “specialized Buddhist terminology and readings”.


I play WWF to learn new words. Now I think SC itself is my major new source of vocabulary.



Oh man, why you gotta test me like that :fearful:. Now I need to make sure I wasn’t using the wrong word again :sweat_smile:, like when I said “dialects” as a hasty slang for variations in strata of vocabulary that we find in all sorts of text (legal vs vernacular language, for instance).

I think I was actually thinking about the Westerly academic tradition of historical linguistics moreso than philology.

I think this what I should have said.

Let’s go back to talking about V & V in Sphuṭārthā Abhidharmakośavyākhyā. If we still want to discuss different ways to divide up the Chinese language into historical periods we can start another thread, since the subject matter is interesting and somewhat related to EBTs, being one of the dharma languages they are preserved in.


It seems that Ven. Anālayo also holds the position that V&V in the jhāna context carries a subtler meaning than outside such context.

(I’m not sure if he was doing Chinese Āgama work at the time, and might have more to add now with his research there.)

…the above passages…make it clear that the first jhāna is something far deeper than the type of mental condition in which conceptual thought and reflection take place…

The solution to this conundrum can be found with the help of the Mahācattārīsaka Sutta [MN117], which in a list of near synonyms for right intention includes “application of the mind”, cetaso abhiniropanā, alongside vitakka… This indicates that the range of meaning of vitakka goes beyond conceptual thought as such, convering also the sense of an inclination of the mind. Both nuances of vitakka are in fact closely related to each other, since to reflect or think on something requires an inclination of the mind towards the topic or issue at hand.


I did read B. Analayo’s vitakka pdf, as well as EBMS (early buddhist meditaton) book a while back.

So what do you guys think? Do you agree or disagree with his interpretation of V&V?


I agree that conceptual thought and reflection are superficial, yet it has taken me a while to puzzle out why they must be included and what exactly the link might be with that deeper inquiry mentioned above. Earlier I posted about ¨pouring the mind into a form¨ but retracted that upon considering the experience of speechlessness. Currently my working interpretation of V&V is ¨naming, the summoning of the named, speaking the name, or the consideration of the named¨. The word ¨naming¨ is important to me because it involves the recognition or creation of forms that arise in the context of directed consciousness or ¨application of the mind¨. In this way, ¨naming¨ has a deeper meaning than ¨thought¨. In fact, ¨naming and the consideration of the named¨ for me fits with ¨placing the mind and connecting it¨ as well as ¨application of the mind¨ and also with ¨thoughts and contemplation¨. The use of the word ¨naming¨ is particularly critical to me because when I was speechless, I lost the names but still had the forms.

Let us take an example.

Suppose we have the thought ¨hate¨. This thought is abstract and shallow and this abstraction allows us to do things like math: ¨I hate these people so they must die.¨ See? All very cold. Very shallow.

Now suppose I look at you directly in a quiet room. Just the too of us. I look into your eyes. You look into my eyes.

And I say: ¨I summon your hate¨. This is a very dangerous thing to do. It is immensely powerful and should bring you feeling of terror and dread. It should raise the hackles of hair on your neck. We do not say such words. I am just illustrating a point.

This is the power of ¨naming¨ vs. ¨thought¨.

Let us summon our metta.


Fortunately it’s not that complicated at all. The understanding of ‘vitarka’ and ‘vicāra’ as coarse and subtle mental activity is mainly seen in Sarvāstivādin, Sautrāntika, and other Northern Schools of Abhidharma. Though not essentially divergent from the above understanding, the traditional Abhidhammic definition of ‘vitakka’ and ‘vicāra’ in Theravāda is on somehow different lines. Here the emphasis is rather on the initial application of the mental act of examination (vitakka) and the subsequent continuation of the investigation (vicāra), which results in a closer scrutiny into the object of meditation (see Dhs 10, 7-8; Dhs-a 114-115, 296; Vism 114, 88; Mil 62-63; etc). This is also reflected in the modern rendering of the two terms like ‘applied thought’ and ‘sustained thought’ respectively.

The Theravādin tradition does not, however, ignore the association of ‘vitakka’ with coarseness and of ‘vicāra’ with subtlety. According to Cousins (1992, 147), this application of the distinction between gross and subtle does not appear before the Vimuttimagga and is therefore probably of Sarvāstivādin origin. Noticeably, whereas the Vimuttimagga probably gave it in the form of ‘grossness of mind’ , Buddhaghosa refers simply to ‘grossness’.

To sum up: there is no real disagreement even between the Northern Schools and the Theravādins. As outlined above the prime function of these definitions was to highlight the difference between ‘vitakka’ and ‘vicāra’, and unsurprisingly that has been done in different ways. In my opinion the confusion started to crop up in modern days only, when translators began to render the commentarial definition of the Pāli words ‘vitakka’ and ‘vicāra’ instead of the actual meaning of those words, a malpractice increasingly widespread in modern times. This has opened the door for all kinds of fictional interpretations of the sort we are discussing here on this thread.

It is not my intention to devalue the Chinese translations in any way, but it is actually consensus among scholars that these do not represent exact translations from their Indian originals. Unlike the Tibetan translations, which are accurate word for word translations, the Chinese took much more liberty to interpret the texts they were translating. It was widespread and accepted practice to weave a ‘commentarial gloss’ into the words and sentences so as to clarify the ‘intended meaning’, which makes it sometimes hard to trace the actual idea behind a specific rendering. This has led to different translations of the Chinese words for ‘vitarka’ and ‘vicāra’ into Western languages. Nonetheless in the case of ‘vitarka’ translators opted for reasoning (Bareau), reflection (Meisig), knowledge (Weller) to name only a few. The only time I have seen someone use the translation ‘awareness’ was B. Anālayo in the translation of the parallel of the Bhayabherava Sutta (MN 4) in the Chinese Ekottarika Āgama.


I’m sorry, not with the best of intentions can I see an argument here that justifies his interpretation of ‘vitakka’ and ‘vicāra’ in terms of ‘jhāna’. I also have no idea how the Suttas he cited should support this. The feeble argumentation reveals its motivation. As I see it, there is a group of monks who want to legitimize by all means a Yoga type meditation practice that otherwise has no textual foundations.

In the end, the interpretation of ‘vitakka’ and ‘vicāra’ comes down to the following question: Will I follow the traditions of Sutta and Abhidhamma, or do I want to believe in a reinterpretation invented by a group of Western monks. Some may find this question irrelevant. On closer examination one will realize that this topic is not a minor matter. It will decide on the course of meditative practice and thus on its outcome. As so often in real life it is about making the right decision.


How would you teach me ‘vitakka’ and ‘vicāra’ per the EBTs which I currently cannot read in their native form? Currently my working interpretation based on all I’ve read so far and aligned with my meditation is “naming and contemplation of the named”. However, that is provisional pending more information, hence the question.


Thanks for speaking up @crizna. I hope others will also study this matter closely and carefully, and not just blindly follow what their teachers say.

I’m not opposed to Ajahn Brahm’s meditation system in and of itself. If he wants to promote that, and if it ends up becoming more popular than EBT meditation, so be it. But it needs to be done legitimately. Promote it on its own terms, on its own merits. It’s completely unethical to distort the EBT words and claim the EBT teaches that.


when we’re working with something at a lower level than V&V, there are other terms the Buddha uses. The most basic sense of V&V, is you hear a teaching, memorize it, then “think” about it. That’s the most frequent context for V&V.

vitakka = thinking, vicara = pondering (the topic established by vitakka). It’s the same in jhana as it is in non-jhana. study this carefully, from a search for anu-vitakka and anu-vicara in the pali suttas:

MN 19

mn23 sujato - thinking and considering all day all night

Thinking and considering all night about what you did during the day—Yaṃ kho, bhikkhu, divā kammante ārabbha rattiṃ anuvitakketi anuvicāreti— this is the fuming at night. ayaṃ rattiṃ dhūmāyanā. The work you apply yourself to during the day by body, speech, and mind after thinking about it all night—Yaṃ kho, bhikkhu, rattiṃ anuvitakketvā anuvicāretvā divā kammante payojeti kāyena vācāya ‘manasā’— this is the flaming by day. ayaṃ divā pajjalanā. (2–3.)

mn 105 sujato - there’s already words for placing the mind!
Such an individual engages in pertinent conversation, thinking and considering in line with that. They associate with that kind of person, and they find it satisfying.
Lokāmisādhimuttassa kho, sunakkhatta, purisapuggalassa tappatirūpī ceva kathā saṇṭhāti, tadanudhammañca anuvitakketi, anuvicāreti, tañca purisaṃ bhajati, tena ca vittiṃ āpajjati;
But when talk connected with the imperturbable is going on they don’t want to listen. They don’t lend an ear or apply their minds to understand it. They don’t associate with that kind of person, and they don’t find it satisfying.
āneñjapaṭisaṃyuttāya ca pana kathāya kacchamānāya na sussūsati, na sotaṃ odahati, na aññā cittaṃ upaṭṭhāpeti, na ca taṃ purisaṃ bhajati, na ca tena vittiṃ āpajjati.

sn 46.3

an 3.112 sujato
And how does desire come up for things that stimulate desire and greed in the past, future, or present? Kathañca, bhikkhave, atīte chandarāgaṭṭhāniye dhamme ārabbha chando jāyati? In your heart you think about and consider things that stimulate desire and greed in the past, future, or present. Atīte, bhikkhave, chandarāgaṭṭhāniye dhamme ārabbha cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti. When you do this, desire comes up, Tassa atīte chandarāgaṭṭhāniye dhamme ārabbha cetasā anuvitakkayato anuvicārayato chando jāyati.

an 5.26 sujato accidentally translates V&V correctly here

But the mendicant thinks about and considers the teaching in their heart, examining it with the mind as they learned and memorized it. api ca kho yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti manasānupekkhati. That mendicant feels inspired by the meaning and the teaching in that Dhamma, no matter how they think about and consider it in their heart, examining it with the mind as they learned and memorized it. Yathā yathā, bhikkhave, bhikkhu yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti manasānupekkhati tathā tathā so tasmiṃ dhamme atthapaṭisaṃvedī ca hoti dhammapaṭisaṃvedī ca. Feeling inspired, joy springs up. Tassa atthapaṭisaṃvedino dhammapaṭisaṃvedino pāmojjaṃ jāyati. Being joyful, rapture springs up. Pamuditassa pīti jāyati. When the mind is full of rapture, the body becomes tranquil. Pītimanassa kāyo passambhati. When the body is tranquil, one feels bliss. Passaddhakāyo sukhaṃ vedeti. And when blissful, the mind becomes immersed in samādhi. Sukhino cittaṃ samādhiyati.

AN 5.73, 74 oral tradition
Furthermore, a mendicant thinks about and considers the teaching in their heart, examining it with the mind as they learned and memorized it.
Puna caparaṃ, bhikkhu, bhikkhu yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti manasānupekkhati.

an 5.155 oral tradition
Furthermore, the mendicants don’t think about and consider the teaching in their hearts, examining it with their minds as they learned and memorized it. Puna caparaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhū yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ na cetasā anuvitakkenti anuvicārenti manasānupekkhanti. This is the fifth thing that leads to the decline and disappearance of the true teaching. Ayaṃ, bhikkhave, pañcamo dhammo saddhammassa sammosāya antaradhānāya saṃvattati.

an 6.51 oral
“Reverend Sāriputta, take a mendicant who memorizes the teaching—“Idhāvuso sāriputta, bhikkhu dhammaṃ pariyāpuṇāti— statements, songs, discussions, verses, inspired sayings, legends, stories of past lives, amazing stories, and analyses. suttaṃ geyyaṃ veyyākaraṇaṃ gāthaṃ udānaṃ itivuttakaṃ jātakaṃ abbhutadhammaṃ vedallaṃ. Then, just as they learned and memorized it, they teach others in detail, make them recite in detail, practice reciting in detail, and think about and consider the teaching in their heart, examining it with the mind. So yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ vitthārena paresaṃ deseti, yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ vitthārena paresaṃ vāceti, yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ vitthārena sajjhāyaṃ karoti, yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti manasānupekkhati.

6.56 VVU phagguna uses V&V to attain arahantship
At the time of death they don’t get to see the Realized One, or to see a Realized One’s disciple. So tamhi samaye maraṇakāle na heva kho labhati tathāgataṃ dassanāya, napi tathāgatasāvakaṃ labhati dassanāya; But they think about and consider the teaching in their heart, examining it with the mind as they learned and memorized it. api ca kho yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti manasānupekkhati. As they do so their mind is freed from the five lower fetters. Tassa yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakkayato anuvicārayato manasānupekkhato pañcahi orambhāgiyehi saṃyojanehi cittaṃ vimuccati.

7.61 VVU moggallana drowsy strategy
But what if that doesn’t work? Then think about and consider the teaching as you’ve learned and memorized it, examining it with your mind. No ce te evaṃ viharato taṃ middhaṃ pahīyetha, tato tvaṃ, moggallāna, yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakkeyyāsi anuvicāreyyāsi, manasā anupekkheyyāsi.

DN 33, 34
yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti manasānupekkhati


This is so imprecise as to be unusable. The suttas distinguish between sights and thoughts.

Suppose I show a picture of a mountain to someone, have them close their eyes and ask them “what are you thinking about?”. Surely they will say “mountain” and see the sight of a mountain in their mind’s eye. That is what they are thinking about. A sight.

So we cannot simply translate vitakka as thinking. It is too vague.

On the other hand, “naming” is very precise. It involves a name, a form, and an association. The name is bound to the form. We can think with the names (symbolic thought) or we can think with the forms. The term vitakka only makes sense to me as a precise term by translating it to “naming and recollection of the named”. And correspondingly, vicara as “contemplation of the named”. This is what I do for a living. I name forms that create and understand names and forms.


I don’t think you read the sutta passages in the message.

especially AN 5.26.
Wheter inside or outside jhana, the context is one hears a teaching, learns ,then VITAKKA “Thinks” about it. The complexity of the object we’re working with, dhamma/teaching, means we’re using a higher order function of ‘thinking’, not placing the mind, naming objects, associating it with objects, etc. There is pre-existing pali vocabulary to do those more primitive functions. The Buddha does not need to redefine V&V, it would be redundant.

Read those passages carefully with that in mind.

edit, addition to your additional post:
Your field requires a more detailed and specific precision. Hearing a teaching, thinking about a teaching, is not that context where you need to deal with a lower granularity of detail. In second jhana and beyond, THAT is when you work with more primitive mental functions, and vocabulary exists for that.