Vicāra or Vikāra?

Is the Pali vicāra, the same as the Sanskrit vikāra?

विकृ vikṛ [ vi-√ kṛ ]

  • to develop (esp. variously) RV. MBh.
  • to make different , transform , change the shape (or the mind) , cause to alter or change (esp. for the worse) (RV).

Note that in Sanskrit, kṛ has two conjugations. For instance, the present third active singular can be kṛṇoti - or in our case, karoti.

Yathā somyaikena mṛtpiṇḍena sarvaṃ mṛnmayaṃ vijñātam syādvācārambhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ mṛttiketyeva satyam

Just as, my dear, by one clod of clay all that is made of clay becomes known, the modification being only a name arising from speech; while the truth is that it is just clay.
ChUp. 6.1.4


  • modification, manifestation, development, change.

Śamkara, the noted commentator on the Upanishads, suggests that the change is only nominal:

“The Upanishad suggests that all modifications are based on the reality of clay and not that change rests simply on a word, that it is a mere name”.

This seems to be an instance where Buddhism and Upanishadism do not even diverge in their philosophical interpretation of : Thought > Development > Word (Vitakka > Vicāra > Vaca). As defined in SN 41.6:

First one thinks and develops (variously),
then afterwards one breaks into speech.
Vitakketvā vicāretvā pacchā vācaṃ bhindati.

They are two different words. Both of them are found, in identical form and similar meanings, in both Pali and Sanskrit.

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Just a matter of interest, in Sri Lanka we use these two words in the different meanings.
In school, the teacher asks me to Vicara a passage of the book. It meant like a giving the commentary.
My mother refers to some people’s behavior or talk as Vikara.
She meant that to be nonsense.

I have understood that Banthe.
I do have some good dictionaries to work on. But sometimes, (if not always,) I am a little bit (if not totally) stupid.
It is just that I have a hard time understanding what “sustained application of the mind”, or “keeping it connected”, has to do with anything “verbal” .

Could it be possible that the spoken/written transmission has failed somewhere, somehow.

Again, SN 41.6 defines Vitakka-Vicāra as:
“Having first directed one’s thoughts and made an evaluation (?) , one then breaks out into speech. That’s why directed thought & evaluation are verbal fabrications.” (Thanissaro)

The PTS definition of cāra being:
Cāra,[ carati to move about] motion,walking,going, doing,behaviour,action,process.

And Vi denoting either:

  • expansion,spreading out, or
  • disturbance,separation,mixing up (opp.saṁ°); or
  • just the opposite of the verb, as in un-doing, or un-moving; or again as,
  • an intensifier of the verb as in “moving all over”.

I would go either for the first or the last one - that is to say a “thought going expansive”; or a “thought moving all over”. Which have both the underlying meaning of the Sanskrit vikṛ (to develop (esp. variously)).

विचार vicāra [act. विचर् vicar [ vi-√ car ] ] means indeed:

  • to move in different directions , spread , expand , be diffused RV. MBh.

Therefore, I still have a hard time to see what “sustained application of the mind”, or (placing of the mind - vitakka,) and “keeping it connected” - vicāra (SN 21.1), has to do with anything “verbal”.

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Vitakka and vicara are verbal fabrications (vaci sankhara).

Seeing it as something to do with the shifting of mindfulness seems commentarial in nature, and incorrect.

Difficulty adverting to each of the jhana factors in turn (which is incidentally commentarial, and a valid technique) may have lead to this misunderstanding.

With metta

Not to speak about the Chinese translations of 有覺有觀 or 無覺無觀; when it comes to develop concentration, with or without vitakka & vicāra.

Bigenheimer’s “discursive thought” for vicāra, might be the closest translation to both the Pali and the Sanskrit meaning, imnsho.
Discursive as generally disgressive (excursive, rambling), and not just dianoetic (reasoned out).

Therefore, developing concentration without vitakka, but with vicāra, (as at the end of MN 128), would simply mean to stop having new thoughts, and just concentrate on the rambling upon the last one.

I have again, a hard time understanding how, for no contextual reason whatsoever, one can just find the most appropriate translation of a word in one case, and totally mess up in the second.

Exploration” looks perfect to me:

Ascetics have patience and gentleness as their ambition. They explore for wisdom. They’re committed to ethical conduct. They insist on owning nothing. Their ultimate goal is extinguishment.”
“Samaṇā kho, brāhmaṇa, khantisoraccādhippāyā paññūpavicārā sīlādhiṭṭhānā ākiñcaññābhinivesā nibbānapariyosānā”ti.
AN 6.52 (Sujato)

And should be used also in this context:

Having thought (conjectured) first, and explored (disgressed) [upon it] , one then breaks out into a word. That’s why thoughts (vitakke) and explorations [upon them] (vicārā), are verbal fabrications."
Vitakketvā vicāretvā pacchā vācaṃ bhindati, tasmā vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro.
SN 41.6

@Mat, I wish I could like your post; but I have a hard time understanding the last §.
I agree with the previous one though.

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Sorry, for my brevity. Your question allows me to expand though. If we look at metta there’s hardly any real disagreement about what it means, though it can be quite broad in meaning. I think this is because people can generate a feeling of metta without much difficulty, in their meditation and it is pretty similar. However vitakka and vicara in the first jhana is much harder to experience, even for those people who are able to attain the 1st jhana. There’s little consensus on the first jhana, and much less on the vitakka vicara, and not only recently, but historically, by the looks of it. To have first hand experience vitakka and vicara in the first jhana (and not outside it), what is called ‘mastery of the jhana’ becomes essential. Otherwise the 5 jhana factors are intermixed, like the ingredients of a cup of tea. Just like if someone wanted to understand the taste of water in a cup of tea, it would be important to taste only the water. One aspect of mastery of the jhana is the ability to experience each of the five jhana factors, in turn. It also involves entering whenever one wants to, staying a determined length of time and coming out of the jhana when on wants to. When a person has this skill, it is possible to say that vitakka and vicara are ‘initiating thought’ and ‘sustaining thought’ or ‘breaking out into thought’ and ‘discursive thought’.

with metta

As far as metta is concerned, I believe the meaning has been a bit “corrupted” over time. And so was the meaning of vicara.

Intentions are behind these corruptions.
In the case of metta, the corruption has come to be, through the intention to remain secretive.
Originally, philosophically and lexicographically, the origin of metta comes from Mitra. Please see this: (notes at the end). The covenant between all beings does not stop at humans. A true metta is to implore friendship among all beings; in the knowledge of this world and the other - (and in the knowledge of the particular part of the other world concerning humans - viz. the lower gods and the demons).
Without a binding secret, favorising the friendship between the knowers, to the detriment of the unknowers .

Caillat has explained what this world and the other world is all about (summary here); and why there should be a covenant.
Metta is not just to implore the lower gods and the demons that hate human so much; as well as imploring indirectly their subjugated initiated human quislings, for some commiseration - Metta is also to be full of benevolence towards them.

As far as vicara is concerned, there is no hidden secret into that. As I said before, concentrating upon vicara, without vitakka is as easy as abc.
Just focus on the “explorations” (disgressions) upon your last thought.
Then it is much easier to concentrate on both vitakka with vicara.
The harder is to concentrate without both, I presume.

There is in making things cryptic and secretive, an intention that is not really full of metta.

Anyway, who can make one out of a half ?

Oh ! - and people should also know what the quarters are.


This is a great topic, not just for vicaara but both V&V (vitakka & vicara) as well.

I’m completely baffled by Bhante Sujato’s translation for V&V as well.
Even Theravada Abhidhamma vibhanga supports a straightforward understanding of V&V as read in MN 19, MN 20, and an excellent definition in KN Pe. It’s only in Vism., where they deviate from early Theravada Ab., creating an access concentration, redefining jhana and what V&V means in jhana as opposed to access concentration.

KN Pe is a great little summary. Vitakka is a directed thought, and vicara is an exploration of that same directed thought.

I suspect Bhante Sujato is not going to want to address this topic at this time. He has a lot on his plate, and it’s a big topic. but I hope he has it on the back burner to support his translation with EBT evidence at some point in the future. When you consider all the pieces of EBT evidence, the difference between directed and undirected samadhi, how V&V gradually drops out in AN 8.63 and MN 128, how noble silence is not first jhana, but second jhana, then it’s clear V&V means the same thing in first jhana as it does everywhere else (outside of jhana). Early Theravada agrees, and AFAIK also the agamas, representing other EBT schools. If V&V is different in first jhana as Vism. redefines it, then first jhana, not second jhana would be the cutoff point for “noble silence”. How could Vism’s first jhana not be “noble silence”. Imagine a scenario where the Buddha is scolding the monks, “hey you guys in first jhana, your wobbly V&V grabbing on to the visual nimitta is making loud squeaking noises! It’s really annoying! hurry up and get second jhana!”

and if vism. was correct that “vicara = sustained application of mind”, then how could it drop out after first jhana for the higher jhanas and samadhi’s? The mind is still sustained, applied, connected to the meditation object after first jhana. How could it not be? Only vitakka would need dropping out. They might say, “well because ekaggata is there, so vicara is no longer needed.” But then you say, “why is ekaggata said to be in first jhana as well?” It becomes a big convoluted mess trying to make the rest of the EBT fit around this.

I’ve been doing a detailed pali/english audit of all the passages in the EBT that I can find on V&V in first jhana especially, and all support the straightforward definition below.

KN Pe: Peṭakopadesa 7.72, 1st jhāna commentary

KN-Pe is the earliest detailed word commentary on the standard jhāna formula: Peṭakopadesa 7.72
(first paragraph 72. talks about tīṇi akusala-mūlāni (3 unskillful roots) and 5niv (hindrances) removal.
♦ tattha a-lobhassa pāripūriyā nekkhamma-vitakkaṃ vitakketi.
Here, for non-greed fulfillment, renunciation-thoughts (he) thinks.
tattha a-dosassa pāripūriyā abyāpāda-vitakkaṃ vitakketi.
for non-hatred fulfillment, renunciation-thoughts (he) thinks.
tattha a-mohassa pāripūriyā avihiṃsā-vitakkaṃ vitakketi.
for non-delusion fulfillment, renunciation-thoughts (he) thinks.
tattha a-lobhassa pāripūriyā vivitto hoti kāmehi.
“Here, for fulfilling non-passion he is secluded from sensual pleasures.
tattha a-dosassa pāripūriyā
Here, for fulfilling non-aggression and
a-mohassa pāripūriyā ca vivitto hoti pāpakehi akusalehi dhammehi,
fulfilling non-delusion he is secluded from unskillful phenomena.
savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ
And so he enters and remains in the first jhāna,
paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
which includes directed thought and evaluation, as well as joy and pleasure born of seclusion.
♦ vitakkāti tayo vitakkā —
Directed thought: There are three kinds of directed thought, namely
the thought of renunciation,
the thought of non-aversion,
and the thought of harmlessness.
tattha paṭham-ābhinipāto vitakko,
Here, directed thought is the first instance
paṭiladdhassa vicaraṇaṃ vicāro.
while evaluation is the evaluation of what is thereby received.
yathā puriso dūrato purisaṃ passati āgacchantaṃ,
Just as when a man sees someone approaching in the distance
na ca tāva jānāti eso itthīti vā purisoti vā
he does not yet know whether it is a woman or a man,
yadā tu paṭilabhati itthīti vā purisoti vā
but when he has received [the apperception] that “it is a woman” or “it is a man” or
evaṃ vaṇṇoti vā evaṃ saṇṭhānoti vā
that “it is of such color” or that “it is one of such shape,”
ime vitakkayanto uttari upaparikkhanti
then when he has thought this he further scrutinizes,
kiṃ nu kho ayaṃ sīlavā udāhu dussīlo
“How then, is he ethical or unethical,
aḍḍho vā duggatoti vā.
rich or poor?”
evaṃ vicāro
This is examination.
vitakke appeti,
With directed thought he fixes.
vicāro cariyati ca anuvattati ca.
With examination he moves about and turns over [what has been thought].”

Notes of interest:
V&V “fixes” and “turning over” have been reinterpreted in the Vsm.

Here is from Jains Agama .

Vitarkah srutam

Vitarka is (scriptural) knowledge.


Vicara is shifting with regard to objects, words and activities.


Thanks for that @Gene.

Vitarkaḥ srutam:

Srutam lemmatizes as acc. sg of स्रुत sruta [pp. √ स्रु sru] = streaming, flowing. (Mn.)

Vitarka is streaming.

Vicara is shifting with regard to objects, words and activities.

संक्रान्ति saṃkrānti var. saṅkrānti [act. saṃkram]

Although there seems to be no pre-Buddhist use of saṅkrānti, it seems that the meaning of that word leans towards: going from one place to another, with some kind of transference.

That would go pretty much with this linguistic approach. The “exploration” of vicāra has some “concretism” attached to it.

Are your “Jain’s Agama” post-Buddhist ?

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vitakka and vicara are just present in the 1st jhana. There is nothing hard to experience them. There is nothing to practice. Instead piti and sukha require a bit of patience to have them developed (by themselves) to the extend that allows entry into jhana 1. Again there is nothing to practice really other than causes and conditions created in daily life (the progressive removal of the DADs) will make piti and sukha appear in and outside meditation.

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What do you consider as the first jhana?

With metta

As described in Leigh Brasington book Right Concentration.