Vitakka vicāra (Jhana-factors)

here’s b.bodhi’s translation of standard formula for “infinity of space”

Here, with the complete surmounting of perceptions of forms, with the passing away of perceptions of sensory impingement, with non-attention to perceptions of diversity, [perceiving] ‘space is infinite,’ a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the base of the infinity of space.

if the buddha wanted to make it clear that the body and sounds disappear in first jhana, he could phrased it more similarly to the above and preempt any jhana controversies.

i am interested to read what you wrote about rupa. can you provide me a link to a specific post?

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He did, in DN 9, when He spoke of the perception of kāmā ceasing in the First Jhana.

Sorry if I’m slothful and not hunt down those posts on DW. You can do some investigation here by looking at some Pali suttas on name-&-form and compare their definition to the Sarvastivadin definition as name = the 4 immaterial aggregates of consciousness, feeling, perception and volition. Offhand, I can recall SA 298 -


That’s why I would not rely on the Vimuttimagga, it being informed by Abhidhamma instead of suttanta.


from CPD

kāma, m. [ts., cf. BHSD, SWTF, Encyclop. of Bud-
dhism VI, 1 1996 s.v.; Hôb. s.v. ai], 1. (mostly in sg.)
wish, desire, pleasure; 2. (in pl.) the objects of sensual
pleasure viz. rūpa, sadda, gandha, rasa, phoṭṭhabba,
cf. kāmaguṇa

you have to ask Ven. Thanissaro, but my guess is that by using “sensuality” rather than 5 objects of sense pleasure, it keeps it more doctrinally bullet proof. consider the suttas where buddha is conversing with brahmans and ascetics of outside traditions. when they explain what it means to be liberated in their tradition, the buddha responds with answers such as, “in that case a new born baby… a blind and deaf person… would be liberated.”

translating with “sensuality” instead of “objects of 5 sense organs” keeps a clear distinction between buddhism and outsider beliefs.

how do you translate the first two lines of first jhana formula? “vivveva kamehi…”. Ven. Sujato, Thanissaro, B.Bodhi all use “sensual pleasures.”

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Hi frankk,

I don’t think this:

is the point here. My understanding of the deep version of jhana is that the seclusion from sense stimuli is not the result of “shutting the eyes and ears and ignoring stimuli”, etc, but that the unification/convergence/etc of mind in the jhana state is such that there is simply no room for the sense stimuli to register anymore.


[quote=“mikenz66, post:88, topic:2589”]
seclusion from sense stimuli is not the result of “shutting the eyes and ears and ignoring stimuli”, etc, but that the unification/convergence/etc of mind in the jhana state is such that there is simply no room for the sense stimuli to register anymore.[/quote]

My understanding is the term ‘seclusion’ refers to seclusion from unwholesome qualities, namely, the five hindrances.


While I tend to agree, there is certainly a lot of talk of “shallow versions of jhana” (apparently mislabelled as “sutta jhana”). See the thread I linked to and this one:

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Hey all,

Thought I’d somewhat tangentially post a slightly more readable version of the CPD entry in question that I’d been tweaking for myself the last few days while following the discussion closely.

CPD_kā (14.7 KB)

(In fact, I wonder whether we can just go ahead and integrate the entire dictionary somehow into SC…)


Also, if I may add, the Ajahn appears to be following a definition of sensuality that aligns with the one on where it’s listed as a mass noun without plural form.


I gave you a reference to a thread where this was discussed extensively. This website gives links to the writings of a number of different teachers. I’m not defending any of these teachers, I’m simply providing the information.

But whose doctrine? EBT? Abhidhamma? Or Ajahn Lee and Ajahn Fuang’s dispensation?

Now, presumably, you are thinking of doctrinal consistency with MN 64 (or MN 152?), when you reasoned -

If so, how is that sutta’s discussion of the infant’s anusayas relevant to the issue of the meaning of the seclusion from the kāmā ?

On the issue of doctrinal consistency, I still have not seen your rejoinder on the doctrinal inconsistency posed by Ven T’s translation of _kāmesu ­chanda­rāga_­ in MN 13 as meaning “desire-passion for sensuality”. I would be very keen to hear from you on this.

Might you be able to point me to the EBT evidence for what “outsider beliefs” you mean here?

vivicceva = vivicca+eva, where vivicca = having separated (absolutive of viviccati), and eva is emphatic
kāmehi = ablative of kāmā

In full - “Having been quite separated from sensual things”.

Of course, since I’m not as compassionate as Bhante Sujato, and I translate only for myself, you can rightly cringe at my Buddhist Hybrid English.

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Clearly some people, on this forum, and elsewhere, have a view that the description of jhana in the suttas is not so absorbed as to prevent hearing, and so on. Others, such as Sylvester, Bhante Sujato, etc, disagree. Since I’m not an expert, I appreciate hearing the detailed reasoning behind these different views.

Obviously you know all this, and so I’m not sure what you are trying to achieve by addressing questions about these various views at me, or making disparaging comments about some of those people.

I’d like to remind everyone that this forum is not for honing your skills in debate, whether of the civilised or uncivilised variety. It is not for point scoring of any form.

You are not getting any value, currency or any gain or indeed any points for your debate team. There is no recognition given based on a judgement about whether or not you’ve “refuted” someone.

If anything you lose value in the form of respect and an audience to read what you’ve written, if your tone or content is even remotely offensive. This is a factual statement based on comments provided by other users.

Going over this thread, I can understand why @mikenz66 has made this comment.

I’m not so much interested in who started this, or on what forum. But I would ask you both, @mikenz66 and @Deeele to use each other’s presence on this forum as an explicit reminder from the Buddha about his teaching on the Similie of the Saw.

@Deeele many of us value “straight talking” and a sort of style of speech that is “true to oneself”. This is perhaps how I could characterise your speech. But please remember the Buddha also talked about how speech has to be, among other things, beneficial and pleasing to the ear. Your comments are valued, but so is everyone else’s, sometimes we need to know when to let someone else’s comments just be.

We can hear all the persuasive arguements in the world, but at the end of the day, we view and perceive according to our conditioning. So let’s just focus on respect for the person by offering up a counter argument that may or may not be strong enough to provide some ‘counter conditioning’ and then just leaving it at that.


[quote=“Kay, post:98, topic:2589”]
You are not getting any value, currency or any gain or indeed any points for your debate team. There is no recognition given based on a judgement about whether or not you’ve “refuted” someone.[/quote]
Just to back this up with some science, in research on performance and innovation in groups, studies have shown that genuine dissent in groups cause the groups to preform better.

Even if you aren’t swayed by someone’s arguments, being confronted with an opposing view is actually a win for you, because it causes you to critically examine your own beliefs, giving you a better understanding of them.

BUT, there has to be a culture of respect for people sharing opposing views. A skillful means here might be - instead of seeing an opposing opinion as something to be refuted - see it as win for your own understanding. Science shows that even if that opposing view turns out to be “wrong”, you still gain understanding by allowing your mind to take that opposing view seriously.

Tl; dr: Science show that respecting those who disagree with you makes you smarter :slight_smile:

P.S. Only genuine dissent will make you smarter. So when you come accross someone who genuinely thinks differently than you, that is a huge win for both if you can debate each other with mutual respect.


Hi @Erik_ODonnell

Thanks so much for this. If it’s possible could you post some links or references for this research. It sounds very interesting and worthy of further investigation!

With metta

In my post I’m paraphrasing Adam Grant in his article called “How to build a culture of originality” in the Harvard business review.

I’m actually in the midst of writing a paper on organizational culture and its effect on the organization’s ability to innovate (graduate studies).

The main points relevant to suttacentral is basically that culture has real strong effects on the sort of knowledge/results a community can produce. So we all have a stake in the culture we create here through our actions and interactions :slight_smile:

It’s actually quite amazing how dissent and disagreement is a good thing if the foundation is mutual respect. It’s like you always win if you have a skillful intention at heart.

Edit: Relating this to the Dhamma: (AN 5.21)

“(1) Bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu is irreverent and undeferential, and his behavior is uncongenial to his fellow monks, it is impossible for him to fulfill the factor of proper conduct. (2) Without fulfilling the factor of proper conduct, it is impossible for him to fulfill the factor of a trainee. (3) Without fulfilling the factor of a trainee, it is impossible for him to fulfill virtuous behavior. (4) Without fulfilling virtuous behavior, it is impossible for him to fulfill right view. (5) Without fulfilling right view, it is impossible for him to fulfill right concentration.

“(1) But, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu is reverential and deferential, and his behavior is congenial to his fellow monks, it is possible for him to fulfill the duty of proper conduct. (2) Having fulfilled the duty of proper conduct, it is possible for him to fulfill the duty of a trainee. (3) Having fulfilled the duty of a trainee, it is possible for him to fulfill virtuous behavior. (4) Having fulfilled virtuous behavior, it is possible for him to fulfill right view. (5) Having fulfilled right view, it is possible for him to fulfill right concentration.”

Basically, the way I see it, how we treat each other can make or break whether we can attain to stream-winning or not. So it’s really important from a Dhamma angle too! :slight_smile:


i’ll take a look at MN 13, but first could you spell out for me what i should be looking for? remember i’m not a pali expert. i’m not an expert on EBT either. i’ve only read Ajahns’ Brahmali and Sujato’s paper on the subject once.

thanks for sharing that, i’m only interested to know how you understand jhana with regard to vitakka, vicara, body and sound disappearance, not on how pretty the english translation is. my translations are totally guerrilla, and definitely mistake ridden from not being a pali expert.

outsider brahmans and ascetics who conversed with the buddha and their ideas of hindrances and liberation fell short of the buddha’s.

how do you understand kāma-āsavas? the objects of 5 sensory organs wouldn’t make sense here.

Hi Frank

It’s this point I had raised earlier -

Bearing in mind that the wanderers were enquiring on the Buddha’s dispensation regarding various subjects, viz kāmā (plural), forms, and feelings, it is clear to me that the kāmānaṃ (ablative plural of kāma) and kāmesu above (locative plural of kāma) would be on the same subject of the plural kāmā.

To reiterate, in the EBT universe, chanda­rāga is directed towards the external sense bases. It is only in Ven T’s translation that we find this bizarre chanda­rāga for sensual desires. You really need to ask - why is he translating a plural noun (sensual objects) into the singular (sensuality)? Pls forgive me if I am too lazy to trawl through his essays on ATI to locate his statement that kāmā/sensuality = sensual desires.

Thanks for this, but I was really asking about their beliefs, insofar as such beliefs inform this discussion on what kāmā means.

Most definitely! In this case, the first member of the compound kāmāsava would be kāma (sensual desire) and not kāmā (sensual stuff). It would not be very different from the parsing of kāmasaṅkappa, where the first member is also the singular kāma and not the plural kāmā. This is the difficulty with the parsing of such tappurisa and kammadhāraya compounds, since the first member is in a stem form, showing no inflection for case or number.

Post script - I think Ven T painted himself into a corner with his reading of kāmā as sensuality = sensual desires, which he had to correct in his translation of a section in AN 6.63. The passage in question is -

Saṅkapparāgo purisassa kāmo (nominative singular of kāma) ,
Nete kāmā (nominative plural of kāma) yāni citrāni loke;
Saṅkapparāgo purisassa kāmo,
Tiṭṭhanti citrāni tatheva loke;
Athettha dhīrā vinayanti chandanti.

He’s forced to acknowledge that kāmā actually means “sensual pleasures”, when he translates -

The passion for his resolves is a man’s sensuality,
not the beautiful sensual pleasures
found in the world.
The passion for his resolves is a man’s sensuality.

The beauties remain as they are in the world,
while the wise, in this regard,
subdue their desire.

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thanks for the grammar breakdown on that passage Sylvester, on my own i’d have no idea how to break them up when they’re in compounds.

what’s the bigger point you’re trying to get at regarding Ven. Thanissaro, first jhana and body and sound disappearing? it seems like you’re implying he had an agenda to promote his understanding of first jhana over ajahn brahm by deliberating translating kāma a certain way.

i like your translation, and i don’t have a problem with using it myself, but it doesn’t change my understanding of first jhana. the key word that pops out is still “sensual”. it doesn’t make me think of going into an imperturbable samadhi where sounds and all perceptions of body disappear.

what do you think of chansik’s post earlier where oxford dictionary allows for “sensuality” to be plural?

Re Ven Thanissaro’s translation of kāmā , I am forgiving enough to overlook it as an honest mistake, albeit repeated in every one of the First Jhana pericopes.

But, when it’s repeated elsewhere (eg MN 13), my forensic suspicions are aroused.

Not just kāmā, but the discussion on AN 9.36 should make it clear that something is going on with his translations that expunge the prima facie absorption model that is in that text.

Then, we have his translation of AN 9.35 which I trust you have audited against the Pali. Why would he have translated it in a fashion that denies the absorption character of that sutta’s description of the 8 attainments?

Why, in some of his translations of the nexus between the Fourth Jhana and supernormal powers, does he render the locative absolute as if it were made up of present participles, when the Pali has past participles (ie the psychic powers are performed after the concentration episode)?

Not to mention his translation of DN 9, which he limits the effects of thinking to the attainment of Nothingness, when the Pali clearly has “these perceptions” in the plural? Why did he translate that as "this perception " in the singular?

I think it is not for me to justify my suspicions but for the translator to explain why such things happened.

As for the mass noun thing, any example from Pali or other MIA languages? Bearing in mind that mass nouns in English are in the singular, how is that relevant to the Pali plural noun kāmā?


Hi Sylvester, (and @frankk)

Maybe I can clarify my comment:

What I mean to say is that the Ajahn’s rendering of kāmā as sensuality (ie in English) can reflect the plurality of the original term if we take the English word sensuality to be a mass noun for which a plural form isn’t valid. Whether there are instances of mass nouns in Pali or in MIA languages wouldn’t be pertinent here (though certainly of some interest in terms of how that would work). Perhaps this bit from Wikipedia says it better:

Given that different languages have different grammatical features, the actual test for which nouns are mass nouns may vary between languages.

So in English, in referring to Alice’s sensuality and Bob’s sensuality together, would have us say “their sensuality” instead of “their sensualities”. (Actually, this probably isn’t the best example—“Wikipedia: Some mass nouns can be used in English in the plural to mean ‘more than one instance (or example) of a certain sort of entity’” and other dictionaries allow for this—but I hope the point is a bit more clear).

In either case, I’ve been enjoying the eloquence with which you talk about these grammatical nuances and have been eagerly following along on most of the references you’ve included above.

If I might take the opportunity to question one thing that I find to be unresolved here—and it seems to be a rather important point with regards to the line of argument that hinges on the lexical analysis of kāmā for establishing ‘sensory deprivation’ in first jhāna (that is to say, your point about na sasaṅ­khā­ra­nig­gay­ha­vārita­gata and others notwithstanding). Namely, may I ask you to clarify your position on the distinction between kāmā and kāmaguṇā?

More pointedly, are we to understand that your position is that kāmā is a proper superset of kāmaguṇā?

Because judging from the CPD entries for the two, it would appear that the editors take them to be synonymous (under kāmaguṇa they have: “i.e. the five objects of sensual pleasure viz. rūpa, sadda, gandha, rasa, poṭṭhabba”), but you say here:

Can I presume that you’re referring to this bit here?:

Taṃ kiṃ maññasi, māgaṇḍiya, api nu so devaputto nandane vane accha­rā­saṅgha­pari­vuto dibbehi pañcahi kāmaguṇehi samappito samaṅgībhūto paricārayamāno amussa gahapatissa vā gaha­pati­puttassa vā piheyya, mānusakānaṃ vā pañcannaṃ kāmaguṇānaṃ mānusakehi vā kāmehi āvaṭṭeyyā”ti?

What do you think, Māgandiya? Would that young god surrounded by the group of nymphs in the Nandana Grove, enjoying himself, provided and endowed with the five cords of divine sensual pleasure, envy the householder or the householder’s son for the five cords of human sensual pleasure or would he be enticed by human sensual pleasures?”

Also, you say that the prose and verse in AN 6.63 are somehow in conflict:

Would you mind spelling out how the verse delineates kāmā from kāmaguṇā in the way you parenthesize or otherwise belabouring your point here?

Strictly speaking, in the first place, I’m not even sure what you mean when you say that the prose in AN 6.63 uses kāmā to mean sensual desires, unless you’re referring to the bit about “kāmānaṃ vemattatā”.

Thanks in advance,



I’d also like to offer that if we take the Ajahn’s rendering, sensuality, to be synonymous with (sensual-)enjoyment (again, as offered in the Oxford entry), kāmesu chandarāgavinayo becomes a bit more tractable: eg “subduing of desire-passion in sensual enjoyment”. That is to say that whatever ravenous quality is present when one, say, binges or otherwise feasts on one’s favourite food, that is what should be subdued in order to escape from the endangering enjoyment of sensual things like that.

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