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I have issues with the exact meaning of vitakka/vicara. I'm familiar with the stock translation "initial and sustained application of attention" and the images of vitakka and vicara being like a gong with initial strike vs. resounding and the bee visiting a flower and than buzzing around.

My meditation teacher mentioned that "vitakka and vicara have an aspect of 'fruit'". That makes a lot of sense to me, because otherwise they wouldn't be listed as jhana factors.

So there have to be multiple layers of vitakka and vicara, probably depending on the level of concentration? I didn't find any good references for it, can you help me?

In terms of meditation experience, I always assumed that there is just one v/v. How would you describe the difference between normal consciousness v/v and the improved version of v/v in access concentration or 1st jhana?

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  • there is no "stock" translation and this question contains the idiosyncratic ideas of the Visuddhimagga Commented Apr 25 at 11:09
  • I found a text explaining differences between normal v/v and v/v during 1st jhana in lucid24.org/sted/8aam/8samadhi/vitakka/index.html (shortened): "vitakka & vicāra in 1st Jhāna🌘 is intrinsically the same in 1st jhāna as it is outside of it, with 2 conditions. 1. The content of those thoughts must be kusala, 1b. The content often is just the meditator mentally reciting the oral instructions. 2. The thinking is attenuated." This pretty much corresponds to my experience.
    – fraber
    Commented Apr 26 at 10:36
  • this might or not help, idk
    – blue_ego
    Commented May 11 at 19:47

4 Answers 4

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So there have to be multiple layers of vitakka and vicara, probably depending on the level of concentration?

You are going in right direction. What we call thinking in general is internal chat.. Vaci sankhara. that is not different from speaking. Verbalization of thought is not thought. Lets not use word Attention for Vitakka vicara . because there is mansikara for that. The primodial state of any activity is Intention/cetana. and that is not much different from Vitakka vicara. The same intention then takes a form of verbalization. or action. So vitakka /vicara are actually applied or sustained intention.

In terms of meditation experience, I always assumed that there is just one v/v. How would you describe the difference between normal consciousness v/v and the improved version of v/v in access concentration or 1st jhana?

In the 1st Jhana. You still Keep on focusing and re-focusing on meditation object. and that is vitakka /vicara(applying/sustaining). and sometime you introspect, investigate about meditation object or any dhama or teaching. and thats ok. you are stil in 1st Jhana. As long as that thinking or that vitakk/vicara or that applying/sustaining to dhamma/concept other them meditation object is not colored by defilement like sensuality,aversion or any other unwholesome state.

So 1st Jhana is wholesome vitakka/vicara . or savitakka/savicara. in 2nd Jhana vitakka/vicara is absent. and that means now the intention are subtle/silent/passive or abstract or unapplied. intention remains in background and looses capacity to be active in foreground. mendicant is effortless, choiceless just a witness. and still there is no distraction.

Vitakka/vicara in general is initiating action and sustaining that action. e.g you set intention to walk and you start walking . that is vitakka. Now you keep on walking that is vicara.

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    "in 2nd Jhana vitaka/vicara is absent. and that means now there is no intention, no choice" - this is not exactly correct. The intention or "directionality towards sukha" ("panihita") only disappears in the fourth jhana. There's still intention in the 2nd jhana, it is just a "silent" intention without coarse thinking or mental fabrication.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Apr 26 at 11:27
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    Thanks for correcting. So I should say Intention is present but its more passive /subtle or abstract. Now mendicant is just witnessing.
    – enRaiser
    Commented Apr 26 at 11:32
  • cetana/intention doesn't disappear in 4th jhāna either, nor the first 3 formless attainments. V&V is linguistic, mental words.
    – frankk
    Commented Apr 26 at 11:54
  • you will go mad if you continuously verbalise and call it 1st Jhana.
    – enRaiser
    Commented Apr 26 at 12:53
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In my opinion, your meditation teacher is mistaken. Vitakka and vicara are not the fruits of the concentration they are the instruments.

As explained by Thanissaro Bhikkhu in the link posted in Pycm's answer, or e.g. in this book, vitakka/vicara is what you use to condition your mind into the right shape. It's a coarse tool you use in the first jhana, in fact using this tool is the very essence of the first jhana.

Now, while the overall manner in which the Theravada teachers explain v/v is generally in the right vicinity, in my opinion they miss an important aspect: in the original Buddha's teaching, the meditator uses vitakka/vicara to generate joy by comparing one's lifestyle, morals, and mind-qualities with the lifestyles, morals and mind-qualities of the worldly people (on one hand) and with the ideal lifestyle/ morals/qualities (on the other hand). This is the key point!

I’m fortunate, so very fortunate! Among people with hearts full of the stain of stinginess I live at home rid of stinginess, freely generous, open-handed, loving to let go, committed to charity, loving to give and to share. (AN 11.13)

There are many, many references to this hidden around the Pali Canon. How good morals lead to no regrets and no regrets lead to concentration. How one should recall one's good morals (the practice of Silanussati, Caganussati, Devatanussati, AN 11.11, AN 11.12, AN 11.13). How one should gladden and pacify the mind. How the role of the metta meditation is to overcome one's jealousy towards the world. How the first jhana is similar to washing one's mind with soap and water. How conceit (generated in the first jhana) is one of the last three fetters to go away. How a mental fabrication is used to push out a negative mindstate similar to how a woodworker uses a wedge to drive out another wedge. How one should use an "inspiring theme". And so on.

Not to mention Tibetan Vajrayana's "generation-stage meditation" - an exaggerated descendant of the first jhana by means of Devatanussati.

If you take that entire body of clues and connect the dots, it's clear that the method of the first jhana is what we would now call Autosuggestions, using directed thought and evaluation as an instrument of Emotional Intelligence.

For example here's a detailed account in Visuddhimagga of Caganussati/Silanussati practice leading to generation of joy as a factor of jhana:

As long as he recollects his own charity (or "his own moral virtues") and so on, in this way, then as stated in the Anussati Mahanama Sutta, "…at that time, his mind is not obsessed by greed, or by hate, or by delusion." Indeed, at that time, his mind has become straight, taking charity (or "moral virtue") as his object. So when he has suppressed the mental hindrances, by preventing obsession by greed, etc, and his mind is straight (uju) before the meditation subject, then his initial application and sustained application occur with an inclination towards charity (or "the moral virtue"). As he continues to exercise initial application and sustained application on the charity (or, "on the moral virtue"), zest (pīti) arises in him. With a zestful mind, with the zest as a basis [proximate cause], his bodily and mental disturbances gain tranquillity (passaddhi). When the disturbances have been tranquillized, bodily and mental joy (sukha) arise in him. Being joyful, his mind, taking the charity (or "moral virtue") as object, becomes concentrated (samādhiyati), and so the dhyana factors eventually arise in a single thought-moment.

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  • Right, not "the fruit". Maybe we could turn the question around: How can a beginner diagnose that the v/v jhanangas have appeared in their meditation?
    – fraber
    Commented Apr 26 at 10:44
  • it is when you can convince yourself that you are an awesome Buddhist and thus bring yourself into good mood.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Apr 26 at 11:32
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Read The Factors of the First Jhana : by Henepola Gunaratana for better understanding.


Part 1) : Meaning

They have different meanings.

In Buddhism, vitarka , "applied thought,inquiry" and vicāra , "investigating" what has been focused on by vitakka, are qualities or elements of the first dhyāna or jhāna.

Vitarka is what put the mind to the thought/object. Vicāra is the investigating of the object.

Reference 1

Reference 2


The Factors of the First Jhana : by Henepola Gunaratana

All 5 properties of 1st Dhayana act as below.

What is 1st Dhayana?

1st Dhayana is when meditating person have absolute concentration on focus object.

What it means to have absolute concentration?

  • Vitakka - mind should focus the focus object very fast (after reaching 1st Dhayana ; when trying (with little effort), mind just get focus very quickly)

  • Vicara - mind just start to explore the focus object, very throughly, very quickly

  • Pīti - happiness arise from Dhayana object

  • Sukha - feeling good from Dhayana object

  • Ekaggata - absolute concentration on Dhayana object / not going outside of the focus object, unless willingly, by mindful decision


Part 2) : How

How is vitakka / vicara a "fruit" of concentration?

Vitakka, Vicara ect, all 5 are present in even normal mind. But when Dhayana get developed, these 5 get very prominent and other things get slowly dissipated.

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In the second & subsequent jhanas, vitakka & vicara disappear. In other words, vitakka & vicara are not "fruits" of concentration but, instead, imperfections of mind tainting concentration.

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