Vitakka vicāra (Jhana-factors)

This is the part that is quite puzzling. How do you arrive at this conclusion based on the pericope? I do not disagree with you that intention is required for the transitioning. But your original proposition was -

At least the intention to move to the second Jhāna by whatever technic required

in response to my query of what intention there is in the First Jhana. Presumably, you are saying that the pericopes demonstrate that intention is required for the transition. That I do not disagree. But how did you surmise that the pericopes also say that intention is required within a jhana in order to move to the next jhana?

Thanks for your time.

Of course it is within jhana that moving to another jhana occurs.
I found it impossible to interpret the pericope as implying that one has to completly go out of the jhana one is in in order to go to another jhana by restarting from before jhana 1 and also that in jhana there is no possible intention.
I just take two aspects from AN5.28:

  1. After having entered the 1st jhana the bhikkhu “makes piti and sukha born of seclusion drench, steep, fill, and pervade his body”. I believe “body” is the physical body, but even if you don’t agree on this point, the activities of drenching, steeping, etc. imply an active mind including intention.
  2. To enter the 3rd jhana the bhikkhu dwells “mindful and clearly comprehending, he experiences sukha with the body”. These describe an active mind to me not one onepointedly stuck.
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Re 1, why do you interpret the formula as entailing contemporaneity of the "upasampajja viharati " (enters and dwells) with the permeation of the “body” with zest and pleasure? Does this mean you reject the grammars when they explain that the former is a durative periphrasis? That “dwells” is an auxiliary verb to the governing verb “having entered” and they are essentially talking about the experience being longish? If you do reject this, are you demanding that wherever this periphrasis occurs, the next sentence is contemporaneous to the periphrasis. That seems impossible in eg this pericope -

Furthermore, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, he enters & remains in the cessation of feeling & perception. Seeing with discernment, his fermentations were totally ended.

Surely you accept that it is impossible to see anything in Cessation, when perception is absent?

Re 2, what part of the pericope implies an active mind? Would a person feeling absorbed in pleasure imply an active mind? Or are you reading mindfulness and clear awareness as signs of such activity? Could you define “active” without getting the sati enlightenment factor confused with another enlightenment factor that is active?

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I don’t read pali. I took the AN5.28 words from Bhikkhu Bodhi text. I only took a small component to illustrate my point. The whole AN5.28 describes so vividly what’s happening and what to do in jhana practice, I don’t see how else these can be interpreted.

I sincerely wish you that your practice gives you the answer to how jhanas work.


Perhaps the answer might be found in Frank’s thread on the meaning of kaaya in the jhana formulae. It’s vital not to criticise a traditional understanding vide a translation. To a reader who accepts the rules and effects of Pali grammar and idiom, the formula you allude to does not even faintly suggest contemporaneity of the 2 sentences.

If you are looking for a sutta that suggests such a contemporaneity, look for my old post on the “instrumental of time”. This is a readily available idiom and its absence from the normal jhana pericopes clearly excludes the intention to introduce contemporaneity into the reading.

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Link for posterity

And for the record, a strict requiring of this “instrumental of time” (eg imina viharena) for contemporaneity would have us take AN 5.28’s bhāvana, defined as “parisandeti et. al.”, as taking place outside of first jhana proper. Ie “Being one having attained” first jhana, he grows the fruit of that jhana non-contemporaneous with the attainment of that jhana. This clarifies for me the notion I’ve picked up from somewhere of teachers referring to “insight after jhana” which I can’t unfortunately cite at the moment.

Here, of course, we’d want to scrutinize just how necessary this “instrumental of time” is but perhaps after I deliver on that analysis of “parisandeti et. al.” to appraise, at the least, just how active AN 5.28’s bhāvana is. There’s certainly a glaring inconsistency in taking it as overly active since our candidates for this activity, vitakkavicāra, goes away already just in second jhana.

I think here, even if we want to assume contemporaneity, we’d have to ask, if vitakkavicāra is not what is spreading that pītisukha around, just what the heck is it doing in first jhana? Or conversely, if vitakkavicāra is what is spreading that pītisukha around, what spreads it around in the second of AN 5.28’s fivefold bhāvanas where second jhana is absent of it?

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All very good questions and observations.

Shall I let you in on the sutta that knowledge arises after, and not during, a jhana? Nah! I’ll save it for the finale! :smiling_imp:

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I’m actually a little surprised that you might say so. Here, slightly tangentially I’d point to the six-sensory enumerations of -vitakkas and -vicāras to be found in the extended Dhammānupassanā section of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta and in AN 7.385 - AN 7.480. Clearly there’s plenty for vitakkavicāra to do outside of “breaking into verbal chatter” (MN 44).

RE: Capitalization

Sorry, I’ll try to use more captitalization in the future. It was a conscious decision to economize my time. Death as always, is lurking around the corner. I complained to Bhante Sujato that the pali texts, not using captilalization, punctuation, compound word delimiters, made it hard as hell to read. He said with practice, you get used to it. I’ve practiced, and I’m not used it. It still bites.


Reminds me of when I once excitedly thought I could try to “decode” some Burmese or Thai Buddhist stone inscriptions from some image and realizing that it really is no simple task at all what with the stylizations/cursive being unrecognizable from the “decoder ring” I had available to me.

But yeah, if you’ve got an older mobile that’s not autocapitalizing for you, I can certainly understand not wanting to wait for the capital letter to pop up or pressing that shift key every time you want to start a new sentence. For what it’s worth though, I appreciate your taking the time for it here, thank you. :slight_smile:

I’d be completely fine with scrutinizing the contemporaneity issue isolated from such a sutta and appraising it from whatever resultant standpoint afterwards. :innocent:

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Truth be told, I’m actually amenable to allowing the contemporaneity reading. What is probably going to be more useful is to look at the similes for clues as to whether the pervasion etc are “intentional” where the mind is actively and knowingly engaged in it. Take a look at the simile for the Third Jhana.

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I managed to work up the acuity to plow through the similes in pali and tabulated them following a scheme that I think is consistent with the grammar as far as I can tell.

From my very basic grasp of the grammar it seems that strictly speaking the text of the third simile doesn’t have an “action proper” (or “patient proper”). Seems like just a long list of “adjectives” given the agreement in declensions with the “words that look like verbs”. Ie:

uppalāni vā padumāni vā puṇḍarīkāni vā udake jātāni udake saṃvaḍḍhāni udakānuggatāni anto nimuggaposīni. Tāni yāva caggā yāva ca mūlā sītena vārinā abhisannāni parisannāni paripūrāni paripphuṭāni;

(I’m still due for some grammar reading as you can see)

In the table I opted to treat it instead like a patient without an agent for the sake of readability…

Also another table this one breaking down the jhāna pericopes proper:

Perhaps fresher eyes might make something out of all this :sleepy:

Happy Chinese New Year in the meantime!


(responding to my earlier post stating vitakka and vicara of the cook sutta SN 47.8 can be discursive mental talk)

I did specifically say, for first jhana, for the stage prior to first jhana, and for stabilizing first jhana (to bring it from lower to higher quality).

The cook simile is of course applicable to higher jhanas as well, in which case vitakka and vicara are absent.

Why would we want to automatically reach for the most restrictive possible definition of first jhana vitakka vicara?

The prime characteristic of first jhana is that you’ve replaced unwholesome and unskillful thinking connected with 5 sensuality-cords and 5 hindrances with skillful thinking that directly is related to dhamma, to concentration and liberation. That’s the stage prior to first jhana, and it overlaps with 4sp (satipatthana). It becomes first jhana once you’ve attenuated thinking to the point your anatomical body is calm (passadhi-sambojjhanga fulfilled), that the surge of pitisukha juice can explode through your body in spurts. The thinking/mental talk, present as small micro bursts of vitakka vicara, is what makes the first jhana pitisukha spiky and uneven.

That vitakka and vicara, that I’m giving the leeway to call mental chatter, can exist to the extent you can maintain the physical surge of piti sukha juice exploding through your body. If the surge is gone, then either vitakka vicara had become too excessive, or passadhi-sambojjhanga had slacked off.

Here’s an EBT-OR explanation to explain the meaning of vaacaa/speech ceasing in first jhana. For example, I can use vitakka and vicara to slowly mentally recite this pali in my mind for metta bhavana : "metta sahagatena cetasa, vipullena, mahag-gatena, appamanena, averena…"
If I mentally recite it too fast, or if my memory of it is weak, pitisukha dies off. But once I have it memorized by heart, I barely even have to think, I can mentally recite it and maintain a fair semblance of a good quality first jhana. But if I try to vocally recite the same verse, piti sukha dies off.

How would vaca/speech cease in vism. and ajahn brahm’s jhana? You can’t think, you can’t hear sounds, your body disappeared, you can’t speak, you don’t have any sense of time. So why would the Buddha even need to say speech ceased in first jhana if first jhana was such an impenetrable shell? If he says speech stopped, then it must mean the possibility of speech has some proximity or directly ability to actualize.

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I’m amazed about the subtlety we can apply to the pericopes. If I may add a few problems that in my mind limit how much we can get out of the jhana-formula.

As you know we have basically the same pericope, no matter if the Buddha, an ariya, or a student goes through the jhanas. This must be due to copy&paste, not because of the nature of the jhana movement. It is simply unbelievable that when the Buddha went through the jhanas, say during his retreats, and when gifted students on their path achieve jhana, that this would be exactly the same process. The swiftness and directness, the precision and duration of intention-impulses to bring the citta to specific levels must depend on mastery and realization. Alas, the texts can’t deliver these details. Single suttas, like ‘the lost cow on the way to the 2nd jhana’, or AN 11.16 ‘This first jhāna is constructed and produced by volition’ give us hints - but as the old argument goes: three voices cannot be taken to speak for everyone in the crowd.

lack of variation
The lack of variation is to me a serious limitation of the texts. The Buddha spoke for 40 years about meditation and jhanas - and we have one pericope. I’m glad for the pamujja-series at least for an alternative. I guess all practitioners with some experience came across different teachers. A teacher who is not able to reflect from different perspectives, give spontaneous similes, comparisons, encouragements etc. is not teaching but merely repeating him/herself. To deduct from our pericope that the Buddha just repeated the same thing would belittle his rank as a teacher. So our pericope, is it the true version? or edited? or selected & pasted? It’s probably old, but I don’t think we can say much more than that.

For us practitioners the question of intention and its relation to vitakka-vicara is of practical importance. But Dhamma-talk often abstracts from the intentions and struggles of the students and is instead admirably matter-of-fact. How much do I need to want to enter the 1st or 2nd jhana? Does the impulse occur before entering, while being in it, or at the end of it? it doesn’t matter to this particular text - the purpose of the pericope is not prescriptive but _de_scriptive. If you don’t bring vitakka-vicara to a halt, there is no entering into the 2nd jhana. And the text doesn’t care how you do it or when you intend it. Probably there are many roads to mastery, and then dhamma and its unconscious take over anyway. No viveka, no 1st jhana. No vūpasama, no 2nd jhana. I’m afraid the pericope doesn’t tell us much more than that.

I’m probably too far on the side of simplification now, but I think it’s important that while we can and should develop ebt-based hypotheses (and especially: rule out what is not ebt-based) we can’t be too obstinate about finding out the ‘truth’ of some pericopes.


I came across an interesting passage in MN 44 and SN 41.6 that I think Bh Bodhi mistranslated. While in its tone it’s abhidhammic it nonetheless contains a nice formula. We find it at ‘the three kinds of sankhara’…

Pubbe kho, āvuso visākha, vitakketvā vicāretvā pacchā vācaṃ bhindati, tasmā vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro.

Bh. Bodhi translates:
First one applies thought and sustains thought, and subsequently one breaks out into speech; that is why applied thought and sustained thought are the verbal formation.

This translation implies that vitakkavicārā are part of normal speech processes - a view we can hardly confirm through other suttas.

The interesting expression is 'vācaṃ bhindati’. The dictionary explains this expression under vācā

1 to modify the speech or expression
2 to use a word, so say something… i.e. to break silence?

Though the references are rare. Usually we find bhindati (lit. ‘destroys’ or ‘splits’) with avijjaṃ bhindati where it surely means ‘destroys ignorance’. So a literal translation should be in my view

Pubbe…vitakketvā vicāretvā… pacchā… vācaṃ bhindati…
Formerly having vitakka-ed & vicāra-ed, afterwards speech he destroys

This is I think the correct interpretation: Rather than vitakkavicārā ‘being’ vacīsaṅkhāra, it is fundamentally connected to it, because once we take it away (moving from 1st to 2nd jhana) speech (or rather the monologuing process with which we repeatedly bring up the vitakka-sati) is destroyed.

Edit: just checked Bh. Analayo’s comparison of MN 44. The three sankhara are missing in the Chinese parallel. They do appear in the Tibetian parallel ‘similarly’, but Analayo doesn’t elaborate on how the vācaṃ bhindati is rendered in Tibetian…

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It’s a very interesting and significant angle, and I appreciate the presentation. I would however yield to translations before studying up on Prof. Wijesekara’s Syntax of the Cases.

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Hey Gabriel,

Very legitimate concerns, I’d agree. And I’d readily admit that any source of optimism in the face of these problems comes from pie-in-the-sky ruminations of unexplored avenues in information technology that can be applied to this domain. I find it very easy to imagine in the near future that a lot of the drudgery in philology for scholars that might be a source of a sense of futility will be eliminated through meticulous automation (ie engendering less confusion for pedestrians like myself relying on their work).


More specifically though, I tend to think that there really is an unambiguous and coherent model buried in these texts that all contemporaneous disciples internalized, to which the editorial uniformity can be ascribed.

lack of variation

And again from some uniform framework of the jhanas depicted in the repeated pericopes, I imagine variation in the case of jhanas comes from say the fairly dry and repetitive first of two Jhāna Saṁyuttas (SN 34) that doesn’t get a lot attention I think.

Eg: here are some messy and cryptic notes I've made earlier on it as overview

jhana samyutta
cow = no+no
ghee = yes+yes
abc vs bcd
ab, ac, bc
bc, bd, cd

concentration samādhi

attainment samāpatti (MN 44)
maintenance ṭhiti (DN 2)
emergence vuṭṭhāna (MN 44)

preparing kallita
foundation ārammaṇa (SN 47.10)

range gocara (MN 43)
directing abhinīhāra (DN 2)

thorough sakkacca
continuous sātacca
appropriate sappāya


Generally speaking, you’re right. Dwelling on the descriptive has limitations of course. But such is the medium we’re afforded here I think. As Bhante Sujato points out elsewhere regarding a more practice-oriented section of this precious forum, “discussion of the descriptive” is not as onerous I think.

More specifically regarding the jhana pericope, though, and particularly from AN 5.28 as Mr. Bernay is apt to point out above, I get the sense actually that just the simile portion of the pericope actually is prescriptive in contrast to a descriptiveness of the portion prior that is more widely attested.

Aside from that though, I think part of the problem here is attributable to the nascency of the science in this domain. Again, but more pie-in-the-sky, I like to imagine some day that neural correlates to portions of some coherent & unambiguous model derived from the texts might pave the way.

Eg fun fact: There’s a study from some institution in Mexico that discovered EEG correlates to 'ASMR’s just a couple years ago or so—basically in the ‘Mu’ spectrum (7.5-12.5 Hz). What I think is particularly interesting here is that starting just from earlier this decade consumer EEG devices have become quite affordable.

But yes, veritably bakery-in-the-sky stuff.

And in the meantime, I personally take the discussions here as an opportunity mostly for studying the language in a way that’s immediately meaningful to me. Though Frank’s more…experimental comments above tempt a response…


Thanks for the link! Could you say again what you’re specifically referring to? vācaṃ as the direct object of bhindati?

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No problem. The publishers be blessed.

Yeah…I agree :slight_smile:

My first instinct would be to jump to section 47, the Adverbial Accusative…but beyond that, I’d want to buckle down for it.

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Thank you for sharing a slice of your practice here. I won’t be able to do your comment justice anytime soon so I’ll just try and capitulate my thoughts on the matter textually speaking.

To the present theme, which I think centres around what I’ll refer to as “Occam’s Jhana III: Volition and Talking in Jhana”, I think Gabriel’s analysis above touches on an important consideration: what is vitakkavicāra’s relationship to vacīsaṅkhāra, precisely?

And stepping back a bit here’s a quick lay of the land off the top of my head based on translations we have sans inter-corpus and grammatical/philological analysis:

  1. First, we have mano, kāya, vacī: three avijja-conditioned saṅkhāras (SN 12.2), with three respective cetanas (SN 12.25).
  2. But then there are six sensory cetanas (SN 22.56), each with vitakkavicāras (AN 7), in which we find mano and kāya but not vacī.
  3. And then we have it that mano experiences the other five sensory domains (MN 43), including kāya.
  4. And for vacī, all we have is that vitakkavicāra “break into”* it (MN 44).
  5. And finally cetana is part of nāmarūpa (SN 12.2), which I presume is what the nāmakāya and the rūpakāya (DN 15) are “made up of”.

I’d want to look for an accounting of atleast all these pieces somehow in any cogent model.

Miscellaneous notes:

I’d admit that it’s a question to which I have no answer at the top of my head.

I presume you mean “…second jhana if first jhana…”. And you’re relying of course on a direct equation of vitakkavicāra with vacīsaṅkhāra.

Edit: @frankk Thank you for the reference and clarification.

I’d urge that we not risk misrepresenting what the Ajahn does or does not teach. I believe the prescriptive portion of his book is readily available here. I’d invite you to cite anything you disagree with there in regards to “Occam’s Jhana III”.

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I meant exactly what I said, Speech/vaca ceases in first jhana. Here’s the exact words of the Buddha.
SN 36.11 rahogata discourse

atha kho pana, bhikkhu,
mayā anupubba-saṅkhārānaṃ nirodho akkhāto.
paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa vācā niruddhā hoti.
dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa vitakkavicārā niruddhā honti.

My approximate english translation of the first and second jhana lines.

(for) first jhana attainment, speech {has} ceased.
(for) second jhana attainment, thoughts (and) evaluation {have} ceased.

In Vimt. (vimuttimagga), Arahant Upatissa’s comments on that sutta passage is very similar to how I described in my meditation experience. That the physical act of moving the vocal cords of your anatomical body made up of four elements, will knock you out of first jhana.

I’ve read Ajahn B’s “Meditation, bliss, beyond” more than a few times, and many more times the specific passages on how he interprets jhana and 16 APS (anapanassati). I’ve spent about 10 years practicing in a hard core Burmese Vism. Jhana system meditating 5-10 hours a day consecutively for months at a time, primarily using the Vism. interpretation of 16 APS, and more than 10 years practicing Ajahn Lee and Thanissaro’s system of 16 APS and Jhana. I’ve spent over 10 years carefully scrutinizing the relevant EBT passages in 16 APS and jhana.

On the contrary, I’d urge anyone who has either studied the EBT carefully and/or have extensive practice in meditation to ask Ajahn Brahm to justify his interpretation of jhana and 16 APS which requires a strained reading of the EBT passages to support it, compared to the straightforward EBT reading taught by Ajahn Lee, Ven. Thanissaro, and Arahant Upatissa’s 16 APS in vimt, with lots of supporting evidence from the EBT agama world as well.

Here’s a prime example. In A.Brahm’s “Meditation, Bliss, Beyond”, read the section that talks about the 4 jhana similes in AN 5.28. You’ll notice the pink elephant in the room, namely, what does the word kaaya mean, it’s used so repeatedly in that sutta? The only explanation A.Brahm offers is a brief sentence, something like, “at least that’s how I understand the similes (not involving anatomical body)”.

When I asked Ajahn Brahmali recently about the same passage with 4 jhana similes, and pointed how the massively high body count “kaaya” in that sutta, his only response was (paraphrasing from memory), “kaaya in the pali suttas means a heap or collection of things.” What I know about human nature is you’re not going to hold anything back if you have good evidence to share that supports your case. I didn’t see good evidence in “meditation, bliss, beyond”, and Ajahn Brahmali’s recent response to me tells me there’s probably no new [scriptural EBT] evidence that’s turned up since A.Brahm’s book was published.

I spent a fair amount of time auditing Ven. Thanissaro’s interpretation of jhana and 16 APS as well. By letters, phone calls, and face to face talks sometimes. While I don’t agree completely with 100% of all of his interpretations on not just samadhi but Dhamma has a whole, whatever passage I audited, I could see his conclusions came from a careful, straightforward reading of the text, regardless of whether I agreed with him on that point or not.

With Ajahn Brahm’s interpretation of Jhana and 16 APS, there’s a consistent pattern of cherry picking to justify an interpretation, that is, taking a quote out of its original context and trying to retrofit it in a different incongruent context that fits awkwardly. Two prime examples of this: step 3 of 16APS, “sabba kaaya patisamvedi…”. The “whole body of breath” quote he uses to justify his interpretation, that “kaaya” means “whole body of breath (not anatomical body)”. If you carefully study the “whole body of breath” quote in its original context, it’s part of a series of 4 descriptions to show how the corresponding 4 tetrads of 16 APS are exactly the same 4 tetrads of 4sp (satipatthana). I won’t go into detail on that here, but I can if there’s a need.

Now here’s the thing. It’s one thing if you want to say, the body of breath is a type of anatomical body, and I want to practice 16 APS by ignoring the other parts of the body and focusing only on the breath. Go ahead, knock yourself out, there’s nothing wrong with that. To be precise, you’re taking a position of, “I think this is the most effective way to practice 16 APS, among the many ways it can be done which involve an anatomical body.”

But Ajahn Brahm, and vism. , is taking a much stronger position. They’re saying in step 3, the kaaya/body, is ONLY a breath body that excludes the anatomical body. This is tantamount to saying Arahant Upatissa in Vimt., and Ajahn Lee (a fellow Thai forest meditation master in the Ajahn Mun lineage), Ven. Thanissaro, the EBT lineages in the agama world, are teaching 16 APS and Jhana incorrectly.

Which is fine, if you can prove it. Where’s the proof? Let’s see it. I don’t care about who’s right, who’s wrong, I’m only interested in truth. Show me truth, and I’ll follow. Show me strained arguments, I will rightly question it.