YARVVI Chronicles: V&V, discussion is encouraged!

Continuing the discussion from YARVVI Chronicles: V&V, Vitakka = directed-thoughts, Vicāra=Evaluation (of said Vitakka):

Line above contains a perma link to the original essay

I had the original thread closed because the first post will continue to be updated with more links and data periodically summarizing everything. When discussion threads get too long, SCDD caching makes it unwieldy and difficult to see and access the original essay. Continue discussing, here!

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continuing discussion with @mikenz66 regarding MN 125 vs. MN 19 discrepancy

relevant comments to MN 125 are here:

In MN 19, they could have gone either way, taking out first jhana (like MN 125), or leaving it in and it doesn’t make a big difference, because the key point is that how one gets into jhana is from attenuating V&V, to a point where it can coexist with kaya passaddhi (body pacification/tranquility/relaxastion) to allow second jhana to happen.

In practice, the first 3 jhanas are fuzzy and change on you over time, because meditation, cummulative in a lifetime, sublimates the refined energy in our body/mind, so that what used to be strong vibrations and full body orgasms keep getting smoother and smoother, the the transitions between first 3 jhanas start to become super subtle.

So really, the only objective criteria that everyone can agree on and concretely differentiate is rupa vs. arupa, and the breath stopping in 4th jhana. Where perceptions/vedana transition into vitakka & vicara, is kind of fuzzy and not so easy to always say for sure if you’re in undirected (2nd jhana or higher) or “downshifted” into directed samadhi of first jhana with thinking & evaluation.

Now if you understand V&V as VRJ (vism. redefintion of jhana, V&V, etc.), which in practical experience is the same as B.Sujato’s “placing the mind and keeping it connected”, then what I just said in the above paragraph doesn’t make sense (if you plug in B. Sujato’s V&V definition for thinking &evaluation).

Even reading MN 125 where first jhana is skipped, and it goes into second jhana doesn’t make sense (for B.Sujato’s translation).

Why would “keeping the mind connected” drop out between first and second jhana? If the mind is no longer connected, what does that mean?

  1. are you dead?
  2. asleep?
  3. unconscious?
  4. in wrong samadhi? (where S&S is not possible to do)

Interesting point. I think @sujato would be the right person to clearify his reasoning for this translation. No doubt he has a good explanation for the choice.:sunglasses:

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There’s no longer any force or action of the mind to keep it in place: it just stays there because of it’s extreme stillness.

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Hi Frank,

Hi @frankk. The point I was making in the other thread:
YARVVI Chronicles: V&V, Vitakka = directed-thoughts, Vicāra=Evaluation (of said Vitakka)
isn’t actually too different from what you are saying. However one translates it, I think we agree that what the mind is doing in first jhana is more refined than the “thinking about stuff” that it’s doing beforehand.

So there has to be some sort of distinction in the translation, otherwise suttas such as MN19 would not make any sense at all.

As you say, Bhikkhu Bodhi has modified his translations as time passes. Here is his statement from the SN translation:

In MLDB I rendered vitakka and vicāra respectively as “applied thought” and “sustained thought.” In this translation they become “thought” and “examination.” The latter is surely closer to the actual meaning of vicāra. When vitakka is translated as “thought,” however, a word of caution is necessary. In common usage, vitakka corresponds so closely to our “thought” that no other rendering seems feasible; for example, in kāmavitakka, sensual thought, or its opposite, nekkhammavitakka, thought of renunciation. When, however, vitakka and vicāra occur as constituents of the first jhāna, they do not exercise the function of discursive thinking characteristic of ordinary consciousness. Here, rather, vitakka is the mental factor with the function of applying the mind to the object, and vicāra the factor with the function of examining the object nondiscursively in order to anchor the mind in the object.

So with that change, in MN19 we would go from the pre-jhana “thinking and considering” (about specific topics, such as kindness) to the more abstract first jhana “thought and examination” (which does not seem to be thinking about a specific topic, since none are mentioned in the sutta).

Now it is nice if translations preserve some of the aspects of the Pali, but there are many cases where that doesn’t happen (commonly one looses connections between nouns and verbs) so it’s not necessarily a strong argument that one needs to use the same words to translate what are actually different things.

Beyond the translation issue is the issue of “how different is the stuff the mind is doing pre-jhana and during jhana?” That is the more important question, and one that is not easy to answer outside of experience.

[I must say that I don’t understand the logic of splitting topics. It makes it much harder for me to follow, and to reply to posts in the other topic…]

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No volition, thus there is no vicāra into 2nd Jhanā since it has become self sustaining there is no “keeping;” the mind has become fully connected naturally(as it could be said according to @sujato’s translation). Could this be why Ekagatta is in the abhidhamma? No longer any effort. Of course you’re not dead… I was assuming you @frankk were being a bit facetious.

Continuing the discussion from YARVVI Chronicles: V&V, Vitakka = directed-thoughts, Vicāra=Evaluation (of said Vitakka):

I stand by this comment.

Yeah. I don’t get the point. The discussion is all disjointed. Blah…

Sorry about that, but I explained the reasons in the first post of this thread. When I saw that the original thread looked like it might blow up into another huge discussion (Note I posted it as an essay, not a “discussion”), then to preserve the usability of the thread as a re-usable and frequently accessed reference, I requested that it be closed. If you’ve participated in other jhana related thread on SCDD, you know what it’s like when the threads get long and cached, it’s really unwieldy to access specific posts.

On MN 19, I agree with you that it’s best to let one’s meditative experience determine exactly what one can get away with on the other side of second jhana. That is, once we have a competent second jhana, then explore exactly how far you can take discursive thinking in first jhana while still having a sense of continuity. As a simile, if second jhana were driving 60mph on a smooth paved road, first jhana might be like downshifting into first jhana, going off road in bumpy wilderness terrain, going maybe 10-15mph continuously, without stopping.

I can go much more in depth on MN 19, but it would help if you first share your thoughts on the elephant in the room, MN 125, so I can gauge what approach to take.

B.Sujato explaining how vicāra’s “keeping the mind connected” dropping out after first jhana:

Then why would moggallana, one of the mightiest masters of samadhi, need to do this in first and second jhana: SN 40.1, 40.2, b.bodhi trans:

“Then, friends, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered and dwelt in the first jhāna…. While I dwelt therein perception and attention accompanied by sensuality assailed me.277 “”

6“Then, friends, the Blessed One came to me by means of spiritual power and said this: ‘Moggallāna, Moggallāna, do not be negligent, brahmin, regarding the first jhāna. Steady your mind in the first jhāna, unify your mind in the first jhāna, concentrate your mind in the first jhāna.’ Then, friends, on a later occasion, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered and dwelt in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion.

  1. The Second Jhāna

1… “Here, friends, while I was alone in seclusion, a reflection arose in my mind thus: ‘It is said, “the second jhāna, the second jhāna.” What now is the second jhāna?’279 “”

2“Then, friends, it occurred to me: ‘Here, [264] with the subsiding of thought and examination, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the second jhāna, which has internal confidence and unification of mind, is without thought and examination, and has rapture and happiness born of concentration. This is called the second jhāna.’

3“Then, friends, with the subsiding of thought and examination, I entered and dwelt in the second jhāna…. While I dwelt therein perception and attention accompanied by thought and examination assailed me.

Not only does he need to “keep the mind connected” (b.sujato’s vicara), he needs to “place the mind” (b.sujato’s vitakka) again to deal with any hindrance that can disturb and affect the quality of each jhana.

But if we understand V&V as thought & examination, then no logical problem here.

One of the key problems with B.Sujato’s V&V (placing the mind, keeping it connected) is it’s too raw and low level of a function, too necessary for mental functioning, and can’t drop out after first jhana. It’s operating at the same level as paying attention to perceptions (sañña, manasi karoti). Just as perceptions and attention, viriya/energy are needed in all four jhanas and don’t drop out after the first jhana, B.Sujato’s V&V (placing the mind, keeping it connected) can not drop out.

AN 8.63, with 3 types of samadhi even dropping out V&V more gradually prior to second jhana, the suttas that mention the difference between directed (with V&V) and undirected (no V&V) samadhi, and the 7sb (awakening factor) suttas, are all different ways about how to get into the four jhanas. V&V needs to be coherent and work in all of those situations. With B. Sujato’s V&V translation, the pieces don’t fit together, just as in Vism. VRJ (redefined jhana), 4sp, 4jhana, 7sb, directed and undirected samadhi, don’t fit together and cohere. Once the integrity of V&V is violated, then it’s like turning the other models (4sp, 7sb, 3 ways of samadhi, 4ip-iddhipada, etc) into vestigial organs. Like man breasts that don’t produce milk. You want the babies to survive and grow up healthy. All the nipples (I’m thinking of something like a dog here with many pups nursing) need to work, not just one nipple for the cryptic reimagined jhana formula.

from Ven. Thanissaro:

agga is a meeting place

The second cluster of meanings for agga centers on the idea of “meeting place.” A hall where monks gather for the uposatha, for example, is called an uposath’agga. The spot where they gather for their meals is called a bhatt’agga.
Given that the object of concentration is said to be a dwelling (vihāra), and that a person enters and dwells (viharati) in the levels of jhāna, this second cluster of meanings may be the more relevant one here. A mind with a single agga, in this case, would simply be a mind gathered around one object, and need not be reduced to a single point.
B. An even more telling way to determine the meanings of ek’agga and ek’aggatā is, instead of dividing these words into their roots, to look at the ways in which the Canon uses them to describe minds.
1. Two passages, one from the Vinaya and one from a sutta, show what ek’agga means in the everyday context of listening to the Dhamma.

Mv.II.3.4 “We listen with an ek’agga mind, an unscattered...

In Mv.II.3.4, the phrase, “we pay attention,” in the instructions for how to listen to the Pāṭimokkha, is defined as: “We listen with an ek’agga mind, an unscattered mind, an undistracted mind.” Even if ek’agga were translated as “one-pointed” here, the “point” is obviously not so restricted as to make the ears fall silent. Otherwise, we would not be able to hear the Pāṭimokkha at all. And the fact that the mind is ek’agga doesn’t mean that we can’t also hear other sounds aside from the Pāṭimokkha. It’s just that those sounds don’t make the mind lose its focus on a single theme.

AN 5:151 with ek'agga mind one can listen and think

In AN 5:151, the Buddha lists five qualities that enable one, when listening to the true Dhamma, to “alight on assuredness, on the rightness of skillful qualities.” The five qualities are:
“One doesn’t hold the talk in contempt.
“One doesn’t hold the speaker in contempt.
“One doesn’t hold oneself in contempt.
“One listens to the Dhamma with an unscattered mind, an ek’agga mind.
“One attends appropriately.”
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Because appropriate attention means to contemplate experiences in terms of the four noble truths (see MN 2), this passage shows that when the mind is ek’agga, it’s not only able to hear. It can also think at the same time. If it couldn’t hear or think, it couldn’t make sense of the Dhamma talk. So again, even if we translate ek’agga as “one-pointed,” the one-pointed mind is not so pointy that it cannot think or hear sounds. This would defeat the purpose of listening to the Dhamma and would get in the way of “alighting on assuredness.”

(end of Ven. T excerpt, back to Frank commenting:)

note that ekodi-bhava and ekaggata don't appear in first jhana!

vivicc’eva kāmehi
Quite-withdrawn (from) sensuality,
vivicca a-kusalehi dhammehi
withdrawn (from) un-skillful Dhamma [teachings & qualities],
sa-vitakkaṃ sa-vicāraṃ
With-directed-thought, with-evaluation,
vivekajaṃ pīti-sukhaṃ
withdrawal-born rapture-&pleasure,
paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
first Jhāna (he) enters, dwells.

they make their grand entrance in second jhana


Vitakka-vicārānaṃ vūpasamā
(with) directed-thoughts-(and)-evaluation subsiding,
ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ
internal assurance,
cetaso ekodi-bhāvaṃ
mind has-become-singular,
a-vitakkaṃ a-vicāraṃ
No-directed-Thought, no-evaluation,
samādhi-jaṃ pīti-sukhaṃ
undistractable-lucidity—born rapture-&pleasure,
dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
second Jhāna (he) enters, dwells.

In practice, I’ve found that really the only variables you can control when you try to get into the deepest jhana you’re capable of, is relaxing the body, relaxing the mind (kaya-passadhi, citta-passaddhi = passadhi sambojjahnga, pacification-awakening-factor).

That all, just deeply relax, don’t think, but be alert and don’t fall asleep. Once you practiced a lot, and know how to do it, it’s instant on second jhana. It doesn’t mean you’ll be hit with orgasmic bliss, but your body will feel an internal force that pervades everywhere instantly, like a balloon inflating. If you still have some subtle thoughts, wispy thought lingering, you’ll still feel maybe 60-90% of the force of second jhana. First jhana is fuzzy, there’s no objective way to quantitatively say exactly where first jhana borders non-jhana.

The reason I’m so passionate about getting the definition of V&V correct, having practiced for 10 years following a VRJ system (vism. redefinition of jhana), and several decades practicing Ajahn Lee’s (and V.Thanissaro method), if you get the wrong ideas about V&V, it can really hurt your self confidence and ability to get first jhana.

Anyone can get a moment of first jhana. If you can sleep, you can do kaya-passaddhi (body pacification). If you can laugh at a joke, have a deep inner smile in appreciation of an inspiring Dhamma talk, get goose bumps and electric currents of thrill and pleasure from listening to mozart, a great Dhamma talk, you are wired and capable of getting a moment of first jhana.

But if you believe in VRJ’s redefined jhana system, where V&V has been repurposed into a samatha kung fu exercise, generating a visual nimitta and keeping the mind glued to the nimitta, and you think that even the subtlest thought of “am I in jhana” means you’re not in jhana, this is going be a totally unnecessary hindrance and obstable for most people. Jhana is hard enough as it is, that last thing you need is a nagging worry that the mind has to be absolutely free of any subtle thought to qualify as first jhana. That worry is just going to cause more physical and mental tension that blocks first jhana. I’ve seen too many people who can do first jhana give up, thinking they don’t have parami or capacity to do it.

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Please Frank explain why this sutta is like an elephant in a room.

Look for the missing first jhana in that sutta MN 125:

MN 125 gradual training of wild elephant, Pali+Eng, B.Sujato trans

(Buddha is like the wild elephant trainer)
(renounce, shave head, work on sīla)
(guard sense doors)
(moderation in eating)
(wakefulness)
(S&S: sati & sampajāno)
(5niv hindrance removal)
(4sp satipatthana nonstop, like elephant tethered to post)
(do 4sp with no kāma-vitakka/thoughts of sensuality)
(skip first jhāna, go directly to 2nd jhāna, since first jhāna can have thoughts connected to Dhamma)
(imperturbability/āneñjappatte, the dynamic form of 4th jhāna)
(#4 of 6: higher knowledge of reviewing past lives)

First note, you don’t leave 4sp (satipatthana, samma sati) to enter the jhanas. S&S (sati & sampajano) is explicitly state as factors in 3rd jhana, and 4th with upekkha. You can’t be in a frozen state where the “will” disappears and have S&S perform their duties.

Now look at carefully how V&V are used in this section where the first jhana is missing, in Bhante Sujato’s translation. V&V are clearly thoughts & evaluation right before jhana, and when it gets to second jhana, it becomes (b.sujato trans.)“placing the mind and keeping it connected”. You got to keep the translation of V&V consistent here, it just doesn’t make sense the way it reads now.

In the section right before jhana it says, “don’t think thoughts connected with sensual desire”, and then the sutta deliberately omits first jhana and jumps to second jhana. This means that the V&V (thoughts and evaluation) are “thoughts not connected with sensual desire.” In other words, the V&V in first jhana, you have thoughts about Dhamma, whatever the 4sp meditation topic you’ve chosen happens to be. (not “placing the mind and keeping it connected” as B.Sujato renders in 1st and 2nd jhana).

And this is why you just hear deafening silence in response when I talk about the elephant in the room. There are a few other places in the suttas like this. And if you look at the EBT time line:

480 BCE: Birth of the Buddha
400 BCE: Pari-nibbāna of the Buddha
350 BCE: AN 5.50/EA 32.7
237 BCE: KN Ps = Paṭi-sambhidā-magga
200 BCE: Abhidhamma is not EBT
101 BCE(?) KN Pe = Peṭakopadesa
100 BCE KN Mil = Milinda Pañha
1 CE Vimt. = Vimutti-magga
500 CE Vism = Visuddhi-magga

In Theravada, you see from the pali+english audits I posted in SCDD for KN Pe, Vimt., they retain the proper interpretation of V&V in first jhana as thinking & evaluation. Even early Abhidhamma agrees with straightforward V&V = thinking. But then in Vism. in VRJ (redefined jhana), they are forced to deal with the contradiction in V&V, so they get around the problem by creating “access concentration” for pre jhana, and then the redefine, creating a different V&V for first jhana.

Bhante Sujato follows the Vism. V&V definition in first jhana, but with no “access concentration” in EBT, it gets into these incongruent and flat out nonsensical situations like MN 125.

To the people who’ve studied the EBT carefully, this is obvious to them. But for most people, pali is a barrier, and then they just end up trusting their teachers, not having the means to verify their claims. So hopefully these detailed pali/english passage audits I’m publicizing will allow non-pali readers to see the truth.

I believe Bhante Sujato is reasonable, and if enough people voice their concerns, he would consider rendering V&V differently. But if no one speaks up, he’s going to assume everyone is fine with it.

(do 4sp with no kāma-vitakka/thoughts of sensuality)

Tamenaṃ tathāgato uttariṃ vineti: ‘ehi tvaṃ, bhikkhu, kāye kāyānupassī viharāhi, mā ca kāmūpasaṃhitaṃ vitakkaṃ vitakkesi. Vedanāsu … citte … dhammesu dhammānupassī viharāhi, mā ca kāmūpasaṃhitaṃ vitakkaṃ vitakkesī’ti.
Then the Realized One guides them further: ‘Come, mendicant, meditate observing an aspect of the body, but don’t think thoughts connected with sensual pleasures. Meditate observing an aspect of feelings … mind … principles, but don’t think thoughts connected with sensual pleasures.’

(skip first jhāna, go directly to 2nd jhāna, since first jhāna can have thoughts connected to Dhamma)

So vitakkavicārānaṃ vūpasamā ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ cetaso ekodibhāvaṃ avitakkaṃ avicāraṃ samādhijaṃ pītisukhaṃ dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ … tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ … catutthaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.
As the placing of the mind and keeping it connected are stilled, they enter and remain in the second absorption … third absorption … fourth absorption.

As with all mental states jhana isn’t a single intensity state. Its on a spectrum from least purified (and therefore falling out of) to the most purified (with potential to go into the next jhana).

As an aside, temporarily stopping the breath is only found in a well purified fourth jhana.