Seven cetasikas, the
(sabbacitta-sadharana), arise with every citta. Besides these seven cetasikas
there are six cetasikas, the particulars (pakinnaka), which
accompany cittas of the four jatis but not every citta. Both the "universals"
and the "particulars" are of the same jati as the citta they accompany.
Thus, they can be kusala, akusala, vipaka or kiriya. In addition to the
"universals" and the "particulars" there are also akusala cetasikas which
arise only with akusala cittas and sobhana (beautiful) cetasikas which
arise only with sobhana cittas.
Vitakka, applied thinking or initial thinking, and vicara, sustained thinking
or sustained application, are two cetasikas among the "particulars" (1
See also Dhammasangani 7 and 8.) , We believe that we know what thinking
is, We think of what we have seen, heard, smelt, tasted or experienced
through the bodysense, or we think of ideas and concepts. We build up long
stories of what we experienced and we cling to thinking. In order to know
the realities of vitakka and vicara we should not be misled by the conventional
term 'thinking". Through the study of the Abhidhamma and the commentaries
we can acquire a more precise knowledge of realities .
The Visuddhimagga ( IV,88) defines vitakka as follows:
applied thinking (vitakkama) is applied thought (vitakka); hitting upon,
is what is meant. It has the characteristic of directing the mind onto
an object (mounting the mind on its object). Its function is to strike
at and thresh- for the mediator (2 The Visuddhimagga deals with vitakka
in the section on samatha. The meditator is someone who cultivates samatha.)
is said, in virtue of it, to have the object touched and struck at by applied
thought. It is manifested as the leading of the mind onto an object...
(Book I, Part IV, Chapter I, 114) gives a similar definition. This commentary
uses a simile of someone who wants to "ascend" the king's palace and depends
on a relative or friend dear to the king to achieve this. In the same way
the citta which is accompanied by vitakka depends on the latter in order
to "ascend" to the object, to be directed to the object. Vitakka leads
the citta to the object so that citta can cognize it.
In order to know more about vitakka, we should learn which cittas are accompanied
by vitakka. We may think that vitakka accompanies only cittas arising in
a mind-door process, but this is not so. Vitakka arises in sense-door processes
as well as in mind-door processes. Vitakka accompanies all kamkavacara
cittas (cittas of the sense-sphere), except the dvi-pancavinnanas (the
five pairs which are seeing, hearing, etc.).
We may wonder why vitakka does not arise with the dvi-pancavinnanas. When
seeing arises it performs the function of seeing, it sees visible object
and it does not need vitakka in order to see. The other cittas of the eye-door
process need vitakka in order to experience visible object, they do not
see. The eye-door adverting-consciousness does not see, it adverts to visible
object and it needs vitakka which directs it to visible object. It is the
same with the other cittas of that process. As regards the other sense-door
processes, the dvi-pancavinnanas do not need vitakka in order to experience
the object, but all the other cittas of these processes have to be accompanied
by vitakka. All cittas of the mind-door process are accompanied by vitakka.
Vitakka accompanies not only cittas arising in processes, it also accompanies
cittas which do not arise in processes: the patisandhi-citta (rebirth-consciousness),
the bhavanga-citta (life-continuum) and the cuti-citta (dying-consciousness).
When vitakka accompanies kusala citta, vitakka is also kusala, and when
it accompanies akusala citta it is also akusala. When we are not applying
ourselves to kusala, we act, speak or think with akusala citta and thus
the accompanying vitakka is also akusala. It is not often that we are performing
acts of generosity, that we apply ourselves to sila (good moral conduct)
or to bhavana (mental development). There are many more akusala cittas
in our life than kusala cittas and thus akusala vitakka is bound to arise
very often. When we are attached to a pleasant object there is akusala
vitakka which "touches" that object. Or when there is even a slight feeling
of annoyance when things are not the way we want them to be, there is sure
to be dosa-mula-citta and this is accompanied by akusala vitakka which
performs its function.
There are three kinds of akusala vitakka which are mentioned in
particular in the suttas. They are:
thought of sense-pleasures (kama-vitakka)
thought of malevolence (vyapada-vitakka)
thought of harming (vihimsa-vitakka )
We read in the "Discourse
on the Twofold Thought" (Middle Length sayings I, 19) that the Buddha,
while he was still a Bodhisatta, considered both akusala vitakka and kusala
vitakka. We read that when the thought of sense-pleasures arose, he comprehended
thought of sense-pleasures has arisen in me. but it conduces to self-hurt
and it conduces to the hurt of others and it conduces to the hurt of both,
it is destructive of intuitive wisdom, associated with distress, not conducive
to nibbana." But while I was reflecting, "It conduces to self-hurt", it
subsided: and while I was reflecting, ''It conduces to the hurt of others",
it subsided: and while I was reflecting. "It is destructive of intuitive
wisdom, it is associated with distress, it is not conducive to nibbana",
it subsided. So I, monks, kept on getting rid of the thought of sense-pleasures
as it constantly arose, I kept on driving it out, I kept on making an end
of it... "
The same is said about
the thought of malevolence and the thought of harming. We then read:
according to whatever a monk ponders and reflects on much, his mind in
consequence gets a bias that way. Monks, if a monk ponder and reflect much
on thought of sense-pleasures he ejects thought of renunciation; if he
makes much of the thought of sense-pleasures, his mind inclines to the
thought of sense-pleasures. Monks, if a monk ponder and reflect much on
the thought of malevolence... he ejects the thought of non-malevolence..,
his mind inclines to the thought of malevolence. Monks, if a monk ponder
and reflect much on the thought of harming, he ejects the thought of non-harming;
if he makes much of the thought of harming, his mind inclines to the thought
It is useful to know on
what we reflect most of the time. We have a bias towards akusala, since
we have accumulated so much akusala. We are more inclined to unwholesome
thoughts and therefore it is difficult to have wholesome thoughts. When
there is a pleasant object the thought of sense-pleasures arises almost
immediately. When there is an unpleasant object there is bound to be a
thought of annoyance or malice, or there can even be a thought of harming.
when someone else receives praise and honour, we may be inclined to jealousy
and then there is akusala vitakka accompanying the dosa-mula-citta with
jealousy. It is difficult to cultivate kusala vitakka but the Buddha showed
that it can be done. Further on in the sutta we read about three kinds
of kusala vitakka which are the opposites of the three kinds of akusala
vitakka. They are :
of renunciation (nekkhamma)
The bodhisatta realized
that these lead neither to self-hurt, nor to the hurt of others, nor to
the hurt of both, but that they are for "growth in intuitive wisdom", that
they are "not associated with distress", "conducive to nibbana ". We read
about kusala vitakka:
the thought of non-malevolence
the thought of non-harming
if a monk ponder and reflect much on the thought of renunciation he ejects
the thought of sense-pleasures: if he makes much of the thought of renunciation,
his mind inclines to the thought of renunciation. Monks, if a monk ponder
and reflect much on the thought of non-malevolence he ejects the thought
of malevolence... Monks, if a monk ponder and reflect much on the thought
of non-harming, he ejects the thought of harming; if he makes much of the
thought of non-harming his mind inclines to the thought of non-harming...
One may wonder whether
nekkhamma, renunciation, is the same as retirement from worldly life and
whether it therefore pertains in particular to monks. Although a monk's
life should be a life of contentment with little, he may not be cultivating
nekkhamma. Whoever has not eradicated attachment to sense objects has stiff
conditions for "thought of sense-pleasures", no matter whether he is a
monk or a layman, When a monk receives delicious almsfood, is attachment
not likely to arise?
There are many degrees of nekkhamma and not only monks should cultivate
it, but laypeople as well. Actually, all kusala dhamma are nekkhamma
(1 Vibhanga, Book of Analysis, 3, Analysis of the Elements, 182.), when
we perform dana, observe sila or apply ourselves to mental development,
we are at such moments not absorbed in sense-pleasures, there is renunciation.
We can experience that when there is loving kindness or compassion we do
not think of ourselves; thus, there is a degree of detachment. If we see
the disadvantages of being selfish, of thinking of our own pleasure and
comfort, there are more conditions for being attentive to others, Detachment
from the concept of self is still a higher degree of renunciation which
can be achieved through the development of right understanding of realities.
Both monks and laypeople should cultivate this kind of renunciation, when
the concept of self has been eradicated, stinginess has been eradicated
as well, and thus, there are more conditions for generosity. Moreover,
sila will be purer, there will be no more conditions for transgressing
the five precepts.
Vicara can be translated as sustained thinking, discursive thinking or
sustained application. We read in the Visuddhimagga (IV,88) the following
thinking (vicarana) is sustained thought (vicara); continued sustenance
(anusancarana), 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).
The Atthasalini (Book
One, Part IV, Chapter I, 114) defines vicara; in a similar way.
Vicara is not the same reality as vitakka, Vitakka directs the citta to
the object and vicara keeps the citta occupied with the object, "anchored"
on it. However, we should remember that both vitakka and vicara perform
their functions only for the duration of one citta and then fall away immediately,
together with the citta. Both the Visuddhimagga and the Atthasalini
use similes in order to explain the difference between vitakka and vicara,
Vitakka is gross and vicara is more subtle. We read in the Visuddhimagga
( IV, 89) :
thought (Vitakka) is the first compact of the mind in the sense that it
is both gross and inceptive, like the striking of a bell. Sustained thought
(vicara) is the act of keeping the mind anchored, in the sense that it
is subtle with the individual essence of continued pressure, like the ringing
of the bell..
Several more similes are
used in order to explain the difference between vitakka and vicara. Vitakka
is like the bird's spreading out its wings when about to soar into the
air, and vicara is quiet, like the bird's planing with outspread wings.
When we read this simile we may think that vitakka has to come first and
that then vicara follows. However, this simile is used in order to show
that vitakka and vicara have different characteristics.
Another simile the Visuddhimagga and the Atthasalini use
is the following: vitakka is like the bee's diving towards a lotus and
vicara is like the bee's gyrating around the lotus after it has dived towards
Like vitakka, vicara arises with all kamavacara cittas, cittas of the sense-sphere,
except the dvi-pancavinnanas (the sense-cognitions of seeing, hearing,
etc). When seeing-consciousness, for example, arises, it does not need
vitakka nor does it need vicara, because seeing-consciousness just sees.
The other cittas of the eye-door process need vitakka which directs them
to visible object and they need vicara which keeps them occupied with visible
object. It is the same in the case of the other sense-door processes. Vitakka
and vicara arise in sense-door processes as well as in mind-door processes,
and they also accompany cittas which do not arise in processes (1 For details
about the cittas accompanied by vitakka and vicaca, see Appendix 3.).
Vitakka and vicara are conditioned dhammas, sankhara dhammas, which arise
and fall away together with the citta they accompany. They perform their
functions only during an extremely short moment, namely the duration of
one citta. Their object can be a pararmattha dhamma or a concept. We may
wonder how vitakka and vicara perform their functions while we are engaged
with the thinking of "stories". It seems that thinking can last for a while,
but in reality there are many cittas accompanied by vitakka and vicara
and other cetasikas, which arise and fall away, succeeding one another.
It is because of sanna, remembrance, that we can remember the previous
thought and that there can be connection of different thoughts.
Both vitakka and vicara are jhana-factors which can
be developed in samatha, tranquil meditation. The jhana-factors are sobhana
(beautiful) cetasikas which are developed in order to inhibit the 'hindrances',
defilements which obstruct the attainment of jhana, absorption. Vitakka
which is developed in samatha "thinks" of the meditation subject and it
inhibits the hindrances which are sloth and torpor (thina
and middha). The Visuddhimagga states in the definition of vitakka
"... for the
meditator is said, in virtue of it, to hove the abject struck at by applied
thought, threshed by applied thought..."
Thus, in samatha vitakka
"touches" the meditation subject again and again until calm has developed
to the degree that jhana can be attained.
As regards the jhana-factor vicara which is developed in samatha this keeps
the citta "anchored on" the meditation subject and inhibits the hindrance
which is doubt. As we have seen, in the case of kamavacara cittas,
both vitakka and vicara arise together when they accompany the citta. In
the case of jhanacittas however a distinction has to be made. In the first
stage of jhana both vitakka and vicara are needed in order to experience
the meditation subject with absorption. Thus, both vitakka and vicara accompany
the rupavacara kusala citta, the rupavacara vitakacitta and the rupavacara
kiriyacitta of the first stage of jhana (1 Abhidhamma in Daily, Chapter
22. The rupavacara vipakacitta is the result of the rupavacara kusala citta.
The rupavacara kiriyacitta is the citta of the arahat who attains jhana.).
In the second stage of jhana one has acquired more skill in jhana and vitakka
is no longer needed in order to experience the meditation subject with
absorption. At that stage vitakka has been abandoned, but vicara still
arises. In the subsequent stage of jhana, which is more tranquil and more
refined, also vicara has been abandoned; it is no longer needed in order
to experience the mediation subject with absorption. Some people have abandoned
both vitakka and vicara in the second stage of jhana and thus for them
there are only four stages of rupa-jhana instead of five. That is why the
stages of jhana can be counted in accordance with the four-fold system
or the five-fold system.
When we consider the jhana-factors vitakka and vicara we may be able to
understand that vitakka is more gross than vicara. Vitakka is needed in
the first stage of jhana but it is abandoned in. the second stage of jhana
which is more tranquil and more refined. Vicara which is more subtle than
vitakka still accompanies the jhanacitta of the second stage of jhana.
The person who has accumulated conditions to attain jhana must be able
to distinguish between different jhana-factors such as vitakka and vicara
and this is most intricate. This shows us how difficult it is to develop
calm to the degree of jhana.
The more we study the realities which are taught in the Abhidhamma, the
more we see that there are many different phenomena which each have their
own characteristic. They appear one at a time, but when we try to name
them there is thinking of a concept instead of mindfulness of a characteristic.
Sometimes a reality which thinks may appear and then we may doubt whether
it is vitakka or vicara. It is useless to try to find out which reality
appears because at such a moment there is no awareness. Thinking has a
characteristic which can be realized when it appears and then there is
no need to name it vitakka or vicara.
There is another aspect of vitakka I want to mention. Vitakka is one of
the factors of the eightfold Path and as such it is called: samma-sankappa,
right thinking. Samma-sankappa has to arise together with samma-ditthi,
right understanding, in order to be a factor of the eightfold Path (1 The
factors of the eightfold Path are: right understanding (see chapter 34),
right thinking, right speech, right action and right livelihood (for the
last three see Chapter 32), right effort see (Chapter 10). right mindfulness
(see chapter 26) and right concentration (see Chapter 61). These factors
perform each their specific function so that the goal can ce attained:
the eradication of defilements. The reader will also come across the term
insight or vipassana and satipatthana. The development of vipassana, the
development of satipatthana or the development of the eightfold Path, it
all amounts to the development of right understanding of nama and rupa,
of ultimate realities. When a realities appears through one of the six
doors there can be a moment of investigation of its characteristic: it
can be seen as a nama or a rupa, not a person, not a thing. That is the
beginning of understanding of its true nature of non-self. At such a moment
there is also mindfulness, non-forgetfulness of the reality appearing at
the present moment.). When there is right understanding of a nama or rupa
which appears, there are both vitakka and vicara accompanying the citta,
but vicara is not a factor of the eightfold Path. Samma-sankappa has its
specific function as path-factor. Samma-sankappa "touches" the nama or
rupa which appears so that samma-ditthi can investigate its characteristic
in order to understand it as it is. Thus, samma-ditthi needs the assistance
of samma-sankappa in order to develop. In the beginning, when panna has
not been developed, there cannot yet be clear understanding of the difference
between the characteristic of nama and of rupa. When, for example, sound
appears, there is also hearing, the reality which experiences sound, but
it is difficult to know the difference between the characteristic of sound
and the characteristic of hearing, between rupa and nama. Only one reality
at a time can be object of mindfulness and when they seem to "appear" together
it is evident that there is not right mindfulness. only when there is right
mindfulness of one reality at a time right understanding can develop. At
that moment samma-sankappa performs its function of "touching" the object
When there is samma-sankappa there is no akusala vitakka, wrong thinking;
there is no "thought of sense-pleasures", no "thought of malice ", no "
thought of harming". When the eightfold Path is being developed the four
noble Truths will be known and "unprofitable thoughts" will eventually
be eradicated. We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (V, Maha-vagga, Book XII,
Chapter I,@7, thoughts) that the Buddha, while he was at Savatthi, said
to the monks:
not evil. unprofitable thoughts, such as: thoughts of lust, thoughts of
hatred, thoughts of delusion. Why do I say so?
The "thinking" referred
to in this sutta is not thinking about the four noble Truths. It refers
to the direct realization of the four noble Truths which are: dukkha, which
is suffering, its origin which is craving, its cessation, which is nibbana,
and the way leading to its cessation, which is the eightfold Path. When
there is right mindfulness of a reality which appears, samma-sankappa "touches"
it and then panna can investigate its characteristic in order to know it
as it is. This is the way to eventually realize the four noble Truths.
At the moment of enlightenment the four noble Truths are penetrated. When
the citta is lokuttara citta, samma-sankappa is also lokuttara. It "touches"
monks. these thoughts are not concerned with profit, they are not the rudiments
of the holy life, they conduce not to revulsion, to dispassion, to cessation,
to tranquillity, to full understanding, to the perfect wisdom, they conduce
not to nibbana. '
you do think monks, you should think thus: This is dukkha. This is the
arising of dukkha. This is the ceasing of dukkha. This is the practice
that leads to the ceasing of dukkha. Why do I say this?
monks, these thoughts are concerned with profit, they are rudiments of
the holy life... they conduce to nibbana. .
an effort must be made to realize: This is dukkha. This is the arising
of dukkha. This is the ceasing of dukkha. This is the practice that leads
to the ceasing of dukkha.
I Through how many
doors can vitakka and vicara experience an object?
II Can vitakka and
vicara think of paramattha dhammas?
III what is the difference
between vitakka and vicara?
IV Do vitakka and
vicara always arise together?
V Can vitakka and
vicara arise in a sense-door process?
VI which types of
kamavacara cittas (cittas of the sense-sphere) are not accompanied by vitakka
VII In which stages
of jhana does vitakka arise?
VIII Why is vitakka
abandoned in the higher stages of jhana?
IX In which stages
of jhana does vicara arise? .
X Both vitakka and
vicara accompany the citta which is mindful of nama and rupa. Are both
vitakka and vicara factors of the eightfold Path?