In various suttas like SN 35.204 and AN 4.170, we find that both tranquility (samatha) and insight (vipassana) must be developed in most cases, in order to make progress on the path towards complete liberation.

The swift pair of messengers stands for tranquility (samatha) and insight (vipassana)
SN 35.204

To me, it appears that jhana is needed to overcome the five hindrances ("quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, they enter and remain in the first absorption" - DN 10), without which, insight is not easily achievable.

On the other hand, the vipassana contemplations of the Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10) appear to be using vitakka and vicara. Is this right?

We also read:

Sound is a thorn to the first absorption. Placing the mind and keeping it connected are a thorn to the second absorption. Rapture is a thorn to the third absorption. Breathing is a thorn to the fourth absorption.
AN 10.72

So, it sounds to me like, just the first jhana is sufficient for vipassana, since vitakka and vicara are thorns to the second jhana.

So, putting these together, the vipassana contemplations of MN 10 is best practised after entering and remaining in the first jhana.

Is this right?


3 Answers 3


https://lucid24.org/sted/8aam/8samadhi/vitakka/index.html vitakka is a linguistic, verbal thought. When vitakka drops out in 2nd jhāna and beyond, it's just the lingustic labels, the mental words that drop out. Lucid discerning (sampajāno) doesn't drop out. That's the active element in vipassana and satipatthana. That's why satipatthana formula says "sato ca sampajano", that sampajāno is the paññā wisdom faculty that performs vipassana. And look at the 3rd jhana formula, samapajano is explicitly in there. So if it's in satipatthana formula, and in the jhana formula, it's vipassana ready.

Example of the difference between vitakka and sampajāno. Someone throws a ball at you that's going to hit your head. It's moving slowly, you have time to make mental word commentary as it's happening "hmm, he lobbed a ball that's going to hit me if I don't move."

Second example: someone throws a fast ball at you, you see it, you lucidly discern that, without any time to form mental word commentary, and you just move out of the way. That's sampajāno, vipassana in action. You understood what was going on and reacted in a wise way to avoid getting hit.

Sampajāno, upekkha, do vipassana. And those don't drop out after first jhāna. They're active in 4 jhānas, and first 3 formless attainments.

  • In your comment to the other answer, you also used MN 125 as evidence that satipatthana contemplations would be done in the second, third and fourth jhana? It's interesting why the first jhana was omitted, and that warrants its own question.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Apr 29 at 11:41
  • vitakka is a non negotiable characteristic of first jhāna. If you don't use linguistic verbal thought to enter a samadhi, then you bypass first jhāna and go right to 2nd jhāna or higher (see SN 47.10)
    – frankk
    Commented Apr 30 at 4:53
  • @ruben look at AN 9.36 and MN 111 for a couple of prominent examples of satipatthana, vipassana, operating WHILE one is one four jhānas and first 3 formless attainments.
    – frankk
    Commented Apr 30 at 4:55
  • MN 111 is not about "vipassana". We discussed this before. Refer to this question buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/49698/… Commented Apr 30 at 5:55
  • look up the dictionary what sampajāno is. Same root as pañña. SN 46.3, Abhidhamma vibhanga, all gloss dhamma vicaya sambojhanga as equating with wisdom, using vicāra of first jhāna, vimamsa of 4 iddipada. If that's not vipassana, what do you think is doing vipassana? So AN 4.41 and MN 111 are all using the paññā (wisdom, sampajāno faculty) but somehow isn't doing vipassana? Just go away already and stop polluting forums with your wrong views.
    – frankk
    Commented Apr 30 at 11:26

So, it sounds to me like, just the first jhana is sufficient for vipassana, since vitakka and vicara are thorns to the second jhana.

No Dhyāna (Jhāna) is required for Vipassana. Doing Vipassana without any Samatha is called Sukkha (Dry) Vipassana.

But doing Vipassana with at least first Dhyana is like racing 100m on a bullet train.

That's because, with Samatha concentration, mind is very clear and Vipassana become so easy.

Normally, if someone is doing Vipassana with first Dhyana or higher, it will not take long to reach Nirvana. (at most 7 days.).

  • This is an English language forum however i guess Pali and Sanskrit words are acceptable. It is probably best to avoid using Sri Lankan or Thai or Burmese sounding words. Commented Apr 30 at 0:48

To me, it appears to overcome the five hindrances is needed for jhana. The sutta say:

  • quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, they enter and remain in the first absorption

The suttas do not say:

  • they enter and remain in the first absorption, thus become quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities.

Sutta such as MN 38 literally say the mind is purified from the five hindrances prior to jhana.

The vipassana contemplations of the Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10) are fake dhamma; composed by intellectuals; similar to how the Abhidhamma about fleeting mind moments at 1/billionth of a second was concocted by intellectuals. While in true Satipatthana there is obviously vipassana regarding the not-self, unsatisfactory & impermanent nature of body, feelings & mind; this vipassana is not a constant "flashing" or arising & passing of momentary objects (unless step 13 of Anapanasati is reached).

"Vipassana" itself literally means "clear seeing" therefore it cannot be vitakka & vicara because "seeing" is not "thinking".

Vitakka & vicara in the 1st jhana do not refer to ordinary thinking. They refer to the mind very subtly moving towards & exploring the other factors of jhana. Ajahn Buddhadasa and later Ajahn Brahm have explained this. There is no ordinary thinking in the 1st jhana. There are no habitual jhana preachers on the internet who have actually attained any jhana. MN 19 clearly literally says the Buddha made the mind quiet well before the 1st jhana.

Sujato's translations appear to contradict his previous writings, such as Why vitakka doesn’t mean ‘thinking’ in jhana. Vitakka & vicara in the 1st jhana do not mean placing the mind & keeping it connected. Here, in Sujato's sutta translations for kindergarten students, Sujato is also contradicting his own teacher Ajahn Brahm and has adopted a translation that is Visuddhimagga and thus not Early Buddhism.

In summary, apart from seeing clearly the impermanent subtle changing intensity vibrations of rapture, the primary vipassana occuring in the 1st jhana are:

  1. seeing clearly the disturbing/unsatisfactory nature of rapture; how rapture is inferior to the peace/stillness of letting go

  2. seeing the not-self/alien nature of rapture & jhana.

  3. seeing the emptiness of self because self-view has dissolved.

In summary, the type of rapid arising & passing described in MN 10 is not occuring in the 1st jhana or any jhana because all jhanas are "ekaggata".

  • downvoted because you and your teachers don't understand how vitakka works in first jhāna. Look at MN 125 for example. first jhāna formula omitted, and replaced with an extra satipatthana that does linguistic thinking (samma sankappo), but free of 5 hindrances.
    – frankk
    Commented Apr 29 at 10:14
  • ... for not understanding that Brahm., Vism., Sujato interpret vitakka the same way.
    – frankk
    Commented Apr 29 at 10:17
  • Brahm says vitakka & vicara is the "jhana wobble", which is an impurity of concentration. Sujato says vicara is "keeping the mind connected", which appears to be contributor to concentration. Thus Brahm & Sujato appear to obviously have different views about vitakka & vicara. Please try to avoid posting unsubstantiated comments. Thanks Commented Apr 30 at 0:56
  • Ajahn Brahm says: The “Wobble” (Vitakka and Vicára). All jhanas are states of unmoving bliss, almost. However, in the first jhana, there is some movement discernible. I call this movement the “wobble” of first jhana. The mind then grasps again,then lets go again. Such subtle involuntary movement gives rise to the wobble of first jhana. Commented Apr 30 at 1:22
  • Ajahn Brahm says: Some commentators explain the pair, vitakka and vicára as “initial thought” and “sustained thought.” While in other contexts this pair can refer to thought, in jhana they certainly mean something else. It is impossible that such a gross activity as thinking can exist in such a refined state as jhana. In fact, thinking ceases a long time prior to jhana. Commented Apr 30 at 1:25

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