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

YARVVI = Yet Another Reason Vitakka & Vicara Is...

Vitakka = directed-thoughts, Vicāra=Evaluation (of said Vitakka) Whether you're in the first jhāna, or in an ordinary state of mind, Vitakka is a thought, and Vicāra is pondering/examining/evaluating/scrutinizing said thought.

There is a pernicious misunderstanding perpetrated by late Theravada, late Abhidhamma & Vism., and unfortunately a very common view popular nowadays that Vitakka and Vicara in first jhāna is something entirely different. By doing detailed Pali+English audits, hopefully in my life time we can wipe out this misunderstanding. All the EBT evidence supports the interpretation above. If you trace the EBT passages themselves, and even early Abhidhamma’s Vibhanga definition of V&V, through KN Pe, Vimuttimagga, they consistently support the EBT position above.

It’s only in later Abhidhamma, where they were beholden to their ideas of momentariness that they found it necessary to redefine jhāna, kāya, sukha vedana, V&V in first jhāna, among other things.

Vism. Redefinition of V&V for 4 jhānas

88.So far the factors abandoned by the jhāna have been shown. And now, in order to show the factors associated with it, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought is said. [142] Herein, applied thinking (vitakkana) is applied thought (vitakka); hitting upon, is what is meant.25 It has the characteristic of directing the mind on to an object (mounting the mind on its object). Its function is to strike at and thresh—for the meditator is said, in virtue of it, to have the object struck at by applied thought, threshed by applied thought. It is manifested as the leading of the mind onto an object. Sustained thinking (vicaraṇa) is sustained thought (vicāra); continued sustainment (anusañcaraṇa), is what is meant. It has the characteristic of continued pressure on (occupation with) the object. Its function is to keep conascent [mental] states [occupied] with that. It is manifested as keeping consciousness anchored [on that object].

Wait, I thought Bhante Sujato was on the side of the EBT?

Bhante Sujato's translation of V&V:

Vitakka = placing the mind, Vicāra = keeping the mind connected

B. Sujato’s translation seems to be an elegant and easier to comprehend version of Visuddhimagga’s redefinition of V&V for first jhāna. Note Vism. has created an “access concentration” that doesn’t violate V&V in the sense of “thinking and pondering”. But there is no access concentration in EBT. What gives here? You’ll have to ask Bhante Sujato. I’m an optimist and think that he will at some point review all the mountains of evidence in the EBT and change his translation to something more along the lines of what every other English translator who follows the EBT interpretation. But if doesn’t, hopefully he will at least show the EBT that supports his interpretation, and how he arrived at that conclusion.

If you look a the Abhidhamma Vb definition of V&V, KN Pe, Vimuttimagga (listed in chronological order there), you’ll see the similes and definitions they use for V&V are very consistent with the EBT. It’s only 900 years later in Vism. (500 yr after Vimt.) where they make radical and inappropriate changes. I’ve basically gone through the works listed above with detailed pali/english translation so you can confirm for yourself in pali how the EBT meaning gets corrupted in late Theravada.

KN Pe: Peṭakopadesa (pitaka disclosure): everything interesting it says about jhāna & samādhi

Foolish cow is doomed: V&V (vitakka&vicāra) in Abhidhamma Vibhanga and KN Petako to Vism

mountains of EBT evidence showing V&V = directed-thought and evaluation

How other professional translators translate V&V in various EBT schools

from Pali, Agamas, Tibetan, Sanskrit

AN passages (click hyperlinks)

KN passages (click hyperlinks)

KN Snp 4.7 and wrong concentration of holding the breath “jhana”

KN Snp 5.13 V&V working with 4th jhana and formless attainment

MN passages (click hyperlinks)

MN 18 in relation to AN 4.41 and MN 19’s V&V
MN 19 B. sujato trans. V&V incoherent
MN 19 compare B. sujato trans. to Ajahn Chah and B. Gunaratana
MN 19 critique of B. Sujato V&V blog
MN 20 MN 19, 20 deep dive into the role of V&V in first jhana
MN 44 vaci sankhara incoherent
MN 44 even in Vism. vitakka is thinking as vaci-sankhara
MN 78 , its parallel MA 179, YARVVI, corroborates MN 125, wholesome thinking still active in first jhana
MN 111 sariputta in first jhana doing S&S, as in AN 4.41
MN 117 sankappo needs to be consistent with vitakka & vaci sankhara of MN 44
MN 125 see msg 11, elephant not in the room, case of missing first jhana:

SN passages (click hyperlinks)

MA Madhyama Agama passages (click hyperlinks)

MA 102, || tp MN 19, corroborates the missing elephant first jhana from MN 125, MN 78
MA 179, || MN 78, corroborates MN 125, wholesome thinking still active in first jhana

SA Samyukta Agama passages (click hyperlinks)

SA 474: ānanda thinks while in dhyāna/jhāna, || to SN 36.11

V&V from non-EBT text

V&V are defined as vaci-sankhāra, speech fabrications

In other words, they are the thoughts you think to yourself before you speak them out loud.

AN 3.60 V&V “heard”, read by telepathy, psychic power of mind reading
AN 8.30 anuruddha’s mind read by buddha at beginning as “pari vitakka” is coherent unspoken speech, verse at end calls the same thought read as “sankappa”

First Jhāna V&V, overlapping territory with 7sb (awakening factors)


Ajahn Chah says in first jhāna V&V = thinking & evaluation, physical body feels bliss

Evolution of Bhante Gunaratana's Interpretation of Jhāna


I don’t see a large disparity with this translation verse directed thought & evaluation.

As I understand it both translations are saying the same thing just in a different mannor of wording(s), outcome would be same.
My understanding:
You “direct the mind to the breath and into samadhi”(directed thought) or “place the mind into samadhi by observing the breath”(placing the mind)- same thing. You “evaluate the mind; is it staying with the breath into samadhi”(evaluation) or “connect the mind to the breath and maintain it into samadhi” (keeping the mind connected) - same thing.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see a major difference here between these translations and the actual application in pratice. Just preferences of how different translators want to approach this very important/vital aspect of the practice within their own experiences and understanding.

“Directed thought” & “evaluation” do have a coarse sound to them and vitakka & vicāra are far from coarse in this context. So I could definitely understand not agreeing with those translations.


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If you’re going to attack someone’s position at least pay them the respect to represent their views adequately. You have put so much effort into these campaigns; you should know that Bhante Sujato only translates vitakka & vicara as such in the jhana context and not elsewhere.


Some examples:

Vitakkasaṇṭhānasutta. How to Stop Thinking.

But they think sensual, malicious, and cruel thoughts.
So tattha kāmavitakkampi vitakketi byāpādavitakkampi vitakketi vihiṃsāvitakkampi vitakketi.


If you’re going to accuse me of “attacking”, you don’t have to be courteous or respectful if you don’t want to, but at least you might want to quote which part of my article you feel I’m misrepresenting his view, and I’ll be happy to review it and make any necessary qualifications or adjustments. I re-read my first message, and I reference jhānas all over the place, as do the messages I linked to.

As you look at more contexts and various types of examples and meditation subjects other than breath, I believe you will come to a different view.
Gradually I’ll hunt down the specific examples I’ve audited in past messages I’ve posted here over the years and add to the chronicles. But just to address your example:

But you don’t just “keep the mind connected to the breath” (for Vicāra) to the breath meditation and expect to bring it into 1st jhana, or maintain the first jhana or go into higher jhanas. You have to much more than just “keep the mind connected”, namely, you need to “evaluate/ponder/examine” the qualities of the breath assess the current situation and make necessary adjustments. For example, see SN 47.8, the simile of the cook on how he actively evaluates his mental activity in sati practice and make necessary adjustments based on that evaluation.

Thinking and Pondering are not only about the breath and samadhi but any kind of thoughts.
For example Sariputta (MN111) while in the 1st jhana: " And he distinguished the phenomena in the first absorption one by one: placing and keeping and rapture and bliss and unification of mind; contact, feeling, perception, intention, mind, enthusiasm, decision, energy, mindfulness, equanimity, and attention. He knew those phenomena as they arose, as they remained, and as they went away. He understood: ‘So it seems that these phenomena, not having been, come to be; and having come to be, they flit away.’ And he meditated without attraction or repulsion for those phenomena; independent, untied, liberated, detached, his mind free of limits. He understood: ‘There is an escape beyond.’ And by repeated practice he knew for sure that there is."

I’m well aware that Bhante Sujato translates V&V in perfectly reasonable ways comparable to “thinking and pondering” outside of the first jhana context. What you want to look at, rather than MN 20, are suttas similar to MN 19, where he changes abruptly his V&V of:

‘This thought of renunciation has arisen in me. ‘uppanno kho me ayaṃ nekkhammavitakko. …
a thought of kindness arose. uppajjati avihiṃsāvitakko. …

to first jhana’s:

Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, I entered and remained in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while {vitakka and vicara} placing the mind and keeping it connected.

The whole point of MN 19 is to give a detailed step by step meditation guide of how one starts off with wrong V&V, replaces it with skillful V&V, and then attenuates the skillful V&V to ease into first jhana. If the Buddha had wanted V&V to mean something different for first jhana (compared to pre-first jhana), of all suttas, this is the place to explain himself, and express that V&V changes meaning as it enters first jhana. But since he doesn’t do that, we have to assume V&V still means the same as it did right before first jhana.

That Bhante Sujato inconsistently renders V&V in MN 19, abruptly changing it from “thoughts” to “placing the mind”, shows the logical flaw. You have to translate V&V consistently through this entire sutta. Or else the Buddha is being extraordinarily negligent and he expects us to just guess V&V changes meaning for the first jhana based on his instructions? The listener in Pali hearing the discourse is going to hear “vitakka & vicara” all the way through the entire discourse, the listener in English should get the same experience.

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How many people here would posit thinking as a characteristic of samādhi? I guess if Frank or anyone else, would answer yes then VV as thinking and pondering or applied and connected thought or whatever words you want to use wouldn’t be problematic, but it struck me as being a bit of a paradox…samādhi is the end of thought/papañca so how can VV be translated as thought (in the context of Samma sammādhi thst is)

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Bhante, do you understand samma samādhi as the fourth jhāna or any one of the four jhanas?

If it can be any of the four jhanas, then I suppose it depends on how one interpret vitakka and vicara:

  • if understood as normal thinking and pondering, then there is thinking in the first jhāna: i.e. thinking in samma samādhi.
  • if understood as something else (such as in the case of Bhante Sujato and Ajahn Brahm if I understood well), then thinking is impossible even in the first jhāna.

What about the fact that noble silence is achieved by the second jhāna? Doesn’t it tend to indicate that thinking is present in the first jhāna? Or else what would be noble silence?

Could you indicate some references for this?

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Hi yasoaj, the point i was making I guess is a conceptual one, i.e what do you think samādhi is as an experiential rather than theoretical thing? Of the top of my head I would define it as a state of non proliferation, unity (ekagga/ekagatta/ekodibhava) being self absorbed (atta jhāyi?), self contained (atta gutta) and also has a characteristic of being predominately a ‘vedana bhava’ emotional state rather than thought based. I mean you can observe thought with samādhi but the problem is you can’t transcend it. I don’t think it’s possible to use the canon as the only reference to get a clear picture of what exactly samādhi is and isn’t in this respect as people like frank will always ask what is the sutta reference (smile) all I can say is from my experience the obstacles to samādhi always arise via thought and or perception, so am I the only one who experiences this? If yes then I can understand how people (like Frank!?smile) think of VV to mean thought…(in the context of samādhi/jhāna that is). I guess it raises another interesting question is using theory (all the time?Frank?smile) as a/the reference point for EVERYTHING you experience in meditation a good idea? Isn’t experience the best teacher?, isn’t Dhamma reality/experience…?

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Well, I’m not Pali scholar, but the constructs are not actually identical.

And if we took the before-and-after-jhana passages in MN 19:

Still, thinking and considering for too long would tire my body.
Api ca kho me aticiraṃ anuvitakkayato anuvicārayato kāyo kilameyya.


Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, I entered and remained in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected.
So kho ahaṃ, bhikkhave, vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja vihāsiṃ.

It would seem rather contradictory if it were rendered:

Still, thinking and considering for too long would tire my body.

Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, I entered and remained in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while thinking and considering.

Bhikkhu Bodhi renders these as:

…But with excessive thinking and pondering I might tire my body…

“Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion.

So there is a distinction.


I’ve previously thought a bit about this question (gave my basic take on this here earlier this year). The problem with figuring out some such questions is that there are only very few core references to jhana in the suttas. Plus later commentaries don’t seem to take a consistent track.

Without SN 36.11 I suspect the argument that ordinary verbal thoughts can occur in first jhana would actually be a tenable one (going with the more obvious translations of V&V and based on the often occurring distinction of first jhana being connected with rapture&pleasure born of seclusion as opposed to born of unification for the others). However, the existence of SN 36.11 and its reference to the cessation of speech in the first jhana IMO cannot be ignored and this does necessitate some circle squaring.

IMO MN 44 (the series of questions to Visakha) and its discussion of the verbal, bodily and mental formations does indicate one possible viable way of doing this. One viewpoint of jhana is as the successive stilling of the verbal, bodily and mental formations. MN 44 equates the verbal formation with V&V. The verbal formation seems to be quietening in 1st jhana with the cessation of speech, but it’s not until the 2nd jhana, which is described as “noble silence” in several places, when actually V&V ceases. I also speculated in my older linked post that something similar happens for the bodily formation at 4th jhana and 1st immaterial jhana (quietened at 4th but the associated formation only truly ceasing at the 1st immaterial jhana) and similarly later on for the mental formation.

An interesting quote from MN 44 is:

"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.

I think that indicates how closely linked V&V is to speech (sitting just beneath its surface).

Someone once, in a non-Buddhist context, gave me the following interesting definition: “Words are symbols of images of experience” and “thus twice removed from reality”.

I think there’s a lot to that. From that perspective, thought has two levels. There’s the third-hand case of words/symbols (whether spoken or mentally expressed). Then underlying that is the image (not necessarily visual I guess) which is still nonetheless second-hand. Then, apart from both of these, there’s the direct original experience/reality that the thought was representing (second- or third-hand).

My attempt to square the circle is that the word-based/symbolic third-hand level quietens in 1st jhana, which may be why actual sounds are described as a thorn to the first jhana in AN 10.72 (perhaps hearing words and speech can threaten to re-activate this level?). However, the second-hand “image” level of thought may still be there (and renunciation, non-aversion and harmlessness be still subject to less coarse thought and examination). Finally, even this V&V quietens in the second jhana and just experience (without thought) becomes the focus (so V&V, having just being suppressed, is still described as a thorn to second jhana).

My squaring of the circle would be to divide thought up into a coarse speech/symbol-based level and a finer V&V level, which may have this thought and examination, with the verbal formation really only ceasing and “noble silence” reached in the 2nd jhana when both have quieted. My theory anyway (though I’ll defer to other people’s probably far far more extensive actual experience! :slight_smile: ).

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see msg. 13 here: Bodhi translated MN first, then SN,AN. In footnotes he explained in MN he followed commentary VRJ (vism. redefinition of jhana), after after MN, you’ll see he decided VRJ was wrong and he started translating first jhana V&V as “thinking and pondering” (or something very similar).

The role of vitakka and vicara in the 1st jhana

I will do a deep dive into MN 125 and add to the MN 19 thread to address your other points later, in a different thread. I’m going to ask the moderators to close this thread so it doesn’t get long and unwieldy, making it hard to read the first post where I’ll be editing and adding more links.

Totally agree with this. :grin: But I also wouldn’t argue that Sujato is totally wrong either. He would need to give his reasons himself.

Closed at the request of the OP.