Why Vitakka and Vicara is not mental determinations?

  1. “Venerable sir, what are bodily determinations, what are verbal determinations and what are mental determinations?”

“In and out breathing are bodily determinations, thinking and pondering are verbal determinations and perceptions and feelings are mental determinations”.

Householder Citta agreeing asked a further question.

  1. “Venerable sir, why are in and out breathing bodily determinations, why are reasoning and investigating verbal determinations and why are perceiving and feeling mental determinations?”

“Householder, in and out breathing belongs to the body, are bound with the body, therefore in and out breathing is bodily determination. Householder, prior to speaking, someone reasons and investigates and breaks into words, therefore reasoning and investigating are verbal determinations. Perceiving and feeling is mental and bound with the mind, therefore perceptions and feelings are mental determinations.” .


Okay, well, firstly, “determinations”, a rendering of saṇkhārā favored by Nyanavira and his followers, is incorrect. Here it means “processes, energies”:

Breathing is a physical process. Applying the mind and keeping it connected are verbal processes. Perception and feeling are mental processes.

The idea of a process is that of something unfolding in time. Thus saṇkhārās are regularly used in the context of the conditions that give rise to a new life, especially the ethically potent conditions that we call “choices” aka karma.

Vitakka and vicāra are not things that exist at a point in the mind. This is one of the basic underlying fallacies of the Abhidhamma “mind-moment” theory. “Thoughts” are not made up of lots of little thoughts. They emerge from a complex and evolving web of conditions in the mind.

Vitakka and vicāra are processes that unfold over time, emerging from our experiences and desires, and creating conditions for further thoughts. The Nyanavirists insist on a purely structural interpretation of dependent origination, which is why they use ‘determinations’ for saṇkhārā, even though this context has nothing to do with dependent origination. Doing so, they miss the essential lived reality of the mind.

So I get what you’re asking, and what you imply is quite correct: in one sense—as conditioned mental phenomena—vitakka and vicāra are indeed “mental conditions”. However the context here is specifically the attainment of higher levels of meditation, and it points to the manner and sequence in which various phenomena cease: again, a process evolving over time.

First you apply the mind and keep it connected, then you break into speech. That’s why applying the mind and keeping it connected are verbal processes.


Are anger, fear, Mana etc are Vitakka and Vicara?
To be clear what if a person with reasoning and investigation but no voices coming out of him.

No, these are emotional or other forces in the mind. Of course they will often underlie thoughts, speech, etc.


Anger, fear, Mana etc ceases when Vitakka and Vicara ceases, aren’t they?

No! They remain as anusaya even when they are not currently active.


[quote=“SarathW1, post:1, topic:5511”]
thinking and pondering are verbal determinations
[/quote]I have not read the conversation beneath this OP yet, but when I saw this, it occurred to me that: “Well, that makes sense. We often think in words. Especially when the neutral action of “thinking” is rendered “pondering”, a word which brings to mind the image of the thinker as delivering a discourse in one’s mind for an audience of one.”

I don’t know if that is far too simplistic a reading, but that is what occurred to me.

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What about a newly born child?

[quote=“SarathW1, post:8, topic:5511”]
What about a newly born child?
[/quote]Well, I did say that the responce I gave was perhaps too simplistic.

Forgive me if a speak a bunch of nonsense now, as this is something that just comes to mind, and not something that I have spent a great deal of time mulling over and thinking about. Consider the infant who has yet to grasp command of language, that infant still possesses name-and-form as a process unfolding within it. What then, is name in name-in-form if not also word? What are names but words that are perhaps simply unpronounced by a mouth, real or imagined? Where then lies the different between mental activities or conditionings associated with verbal energies and mental activities associated with or conditioned by name-and-form?

Forgive me if this line of inquiry does not hold up, as I realize that it might well be predicated upon an eccentric (mis)understanding, on my part, of DO as well as the subject matter at hand in the OP. If such is the case, my apologies.

No need to.
This is just a brain storming session.

[quote=“Coemgenu, post:9, topic:5511, full:true”]

With this in mind, perhaps infants ability to perceive words and language is directly related to the ability to “name” forms, which they have regardless of a grasp of any language.

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When Vitakka and Vicara ceases the name and form is still there.

Abhidhamma does not say that the thoughts are made up of lots of little thoughts. But it is a separate discussion.
Just for the record Vitakka and Vicara is a particular mental faculty which does not exist in every Citta.

The particular mental factors. Six mental factors are called particulars for, unlike the universals, they need not exist in every citta. The six are:
1.Initial application (vitakka), which applies the other mental factors to the object when attention has brought it into range.
2.Continued application (vicaara), which makes the mental factors dwell on the object.
Back to the topic.

from MN 44:

katamo panāyye, kāyasaṅkhāro, katamo vacīsaṅkhāro, katamo cittasaṅkhāro”ti?

:diamonds: “assāsapassāsā kho, āvuso visākha, kāyasaṅkhāro, vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro, saññā ca vedanā ca cittasaṅkhāro”ti.

:diamonds: “kasmā panāyye, assāsapassāsā kāyasaṅkhāro, kasmā vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro, kasmā saññā ca vedanā ca cittasaṅkhāro”ti?

:diamonds: “assāsapassāsā kho, āvuso visākha, kāyikā ete dhammā kāyappaṭibaddhā, tasmā assāsapassāsā kāyasaṅkhāro. pubbe kho, āvuso visākha, vitakketvā vicāretvā pacchā vācaṃ bhindati, tasmā vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro. saññā ca vedanā ca cetasikā ete dhammā cittappaṭibaddhā, tasmā saññā ca vedanā ca cittasaṅkhāro”ti.

b.bodhi trans.

“But, lady, what is the bodily formation? What is the verbal formation? What is the mental formation?”

“In-breathing and out-breathing, friend Visākha, are the bodily formation; applied thought and sustained thought are the verbal formation; perception and feeling are the mental formation.”465 “”

15.“But, lady, why are in-breathing and out-breathing the bodily formation? Why are applied thought and sustained thought the verbal formation? Why are perception and feeling the mental formation?”

“Friend Visākha, in-breathing and out-breathing are bodily, these are states bound up with the body; that is why in-breathing and out-breathing are the bodily formation. 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. Perception and feeling are mental, these are states bound up with the mind; that is why perception and feeling are the mental formation.”466

Question for Bhante @Sujato on the bolded part. “Applied thought and sustained thought”, or Bhante’s translation of “apply the mind and keep it connected” doesn’t make sense to me in this context. Before I open my mouth to speak, first I “think and ponder”, or I “think and evaluate.” I don’t close my eyes, apply my mind and connect it to a white light nimitta and suddenly words spontaneously pop out of my mouth.

So the question is, in this case, isn’t vitakka and vicara more accurately translated as “thinking and evaluation”?

Well, the problem is that the meaning slips somewhat ambiguously between the two senses. There’s a good reason for this, as we are dealing with an evolution of consciousness, so the mental qualities manifest in more subtle ways as consciousness grows more subtle. But it makes drawing the linguistic boundaries difficult. In short, taken by itself i would agree with you, but in context it may be better as is. Having said which, i am not completely happy with this; in fact I spent half of yesterday researching this point.


Good point Bhante, I never thought it in this line of thinking.
First the consciousness, then the body then the speech.
The interesting thing is we can suspend all above three in stages.
The question comes what is before consciousness.

If that is the case, then is it not arguable that this choice makes the teaching overall confusing? Because if the meaning slips seamlessly between the two senses all over the canon and then at times it is only one of the senses that is intended while it is the contrary of the other sense that is also intended at the same time, it seems to me quite confusing.

I know the answer to this is that the Buddha had no other choice. But I beg to differ, as there are words for “applying the mind and keeping it connected”. Here are a few examples:

DN 2: “so evaṃ samāhite citte parisuddhe pariyodāte anaṅgaṇe vigatūpakkilese mudubhūte kammaniye ṭhite āneñjappatte ñāṇadassanāya cittaṃ abhinīharati abhininnāmeti."

“With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines his mind to knowledge and vision.”

SN 47.10:

“bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ. tassa kāye kāyānupassino viharato kāyārammaṇo vā uppajjati kāyasmiṃ pariḷāho, cetaso vā līnattaṃ, bahiddhā vā cittaṃ vikkhipati. tenānanda, bhikkhunā kismiñcideva pasādanīye nimitte cittaṃ paṇidahitabbaṃ. tassa kismiñcideva pasādanīye nimitte cittaṃ paṇidahato pāmojjaṃ jāyati.”

“a monk abides contemplating body as body — ardent, fully aware, mindful — leading away the unhappiness that comes from wanting the things of the world. And for one who is abiding contemplating body as body, a bodily object arises, or bodily distress, or mental sluggishness, that scatters his mind outward. Then the monk should direct his mind to some satisfactory image. When the mind is directed to some satisfactory image, happiness is born.”

Personally, I feel that the functions of applying the mind / keeping it connected to the meditation object and thinking/investigating before breaking into speech are quitedifferent, and I have a hard time seeing how the former (which is connected to only one object, like trying to keep only one activity) would be a refined form of the latter (which is connected to a great variety of objects, often at the same time, like synthesizing a larger number of simultaneous activities).

I think it could be interesting to compare brain activity between times when one meditates and times when one thinks, to see whether the task of meditating can be considered as a sub-task of thinking (just as applying the mind/keeping it connected is considered by some as a subset/ refined version of thinking/pondering).

I have made a very shallow research, and it is quite clear that a “non-thinking” task activates areas of the brain which are not activated during “thinking” tasks: see the chart on page 4/5 which I reproduce here:

Here is additional information:

In these experiments, subjects lay down in a neuroimaging device and were assigned tasks designed to encourage or discourage thinking. For instance, subjects were asked to recall images or engage in linguistic activity, and were also requested to stop thinking for 20 sec. In order to verify our previous results, we used the same tasks in this study.

Our test protocol asked subjects to picture images of (1) Kiyomizu Temple and (2) the Diet Building, (3) to recall the Chinese zodiac, (4) to recall a conversation they had earlier in the day, and (5) and (6) to not think at all (Table 1). We asked subjects to go through this series of tasks twice.
Tasks 1 and 2 stimulated subjects’ thinking by encouraging their recall of a familiar place, while Tasks 3 and 4 tested their ability to recall words. The final tasks (5 and 6) were intended to examine subjects’ capability to suspend their thinking. Our goal was to determine whether we could detect differences in brain activity between Tasks 1−4 and Tasks 5−6.

I don’t take this to be the last word on the issue of course (all the more that subjects are merely asked to not think, which is not the same as meditating), but I think the issue is worth investigating.


I do not think so.
This categorisation is only an aid for learning and teaching.
In practice, Nama and Rupa body work as one unit and not separable even though you can identify them separately.

This kind of thing happens in language literally all the time. It is not a bug, or even a feature: it is the fundamental mechanism that makes language possible. All higher meaning in language is based on more concrete forms of knowing, which become abstracted via a process of metaphor. The problem for a translator is that “words” map in fuzzy and blotchy ways on to each other, so you’re constantly dealing with these issues, and trying to find an elegant solution for them.

This is true, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t synonyms. Again, this happens all the time.

These terms have been mistranslated, and rather than “directed” have the sense of “extended”. For abhininnameti, see my earlier remarks. For abhiniharati, see the basic dictionary sense of nīharati, “takes out; drives away; stretches out”.

Yes, here the meaning of “directed” or “applied” is clear. Not quite the same, but interesting nonetheless, is AN 7.49, where we find the verb anusandahati. This is the verb form of anusandhanatā, which is given in the Dhammasangani and Vibhanga as a synonym of vicāra.

Have you ever used a meditation word? To me the process from one to the other is obvious.


Are there other examples of such a choice in Pali?
Given that the Buddha seems to have foreseen and addressed much of the confusion that might otherwise have arisen from his teaching by clearly defining the words he used, how come he did not foresee nor address this problematic source of confusion that has had people arguing about it at least for decades and probably for millenias?
All the more that in such suttas that deal with samadhi and jhana the word vitakka is used just a few sentences earlier unequivocally in the sense of thought/thinking. If someone wanted to confuse people on purpose he couldn’t have done better. Either that, it seems to me, or people created the confusion by themselves later on.

[quote=“sujato, post:19, topic:5511”]silence:
there are words for “applying the mind and keeping it connected”

Sujato: This is true, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t synonyms. Again, this happens all the time.

Ok but my point is that then the answer to the question “If vitakka does not mean thinking, then why did the Buddha use such a misleading word?” cannot be “it was the best he had”. And so far as I am concerned, the question remains.