Don't let the gloves intimidate you; the gloves are off.

[Home]  [Sutta Indexes]  [Glossology]  [Site Sub-Sections]


 [Give Ear]

Vitakka and Vicara


The word for Vicara has been found! No one can deny this! It is 'Reverie' ('Revery'). The fact, state, or condition of being lost in thought or engaged in musing (Oxford Shorter). From Middle French rever, to wander as in delirium, related to French réver, to dream. More commonly known in English as 'day-dreaming'. Thanks to:

A certin amount of dreaming is good, like a narcotic in discreet doses. It lulls to sleep the fevers of the mind at labor, which are sometimes severe, and produces in the spirit a soft and fresh vapor which corrects the over-harsh contours of pure thought, fills in gaps here and there, binds together and rounds off the angles of the ideas. But too much dreming sinks and drowns. Woe to the brain-worker who allows himself to fall entirely from thought into revery! He thinks that he can re-ascend with equal ease, and he tells himself that, after all, it is the same thing. Error!
Thought is the toil of the intelligence, revery is the volupuousness. To replace thought with revery is to confound a poison with a food.

— Les Misérables, Volume II, by Vicor Hugo, translated by Isabel F. Hapgood

The only problem with this word is it is often narrowly understood as meaning exclusively a sentimental wishy-washy state of mind. The word includes this but is not exclusive to that meaning. There is exalted reverie. Without outside influence predominantly from the commentary and secondarily from intelectual speculation, all it takes to see the reasonablness of this translation is to sit down to meditate for an hour. There it will be seen that to 'think about' a specific subject requires effort. This is 'vitakka'. This is modern psychology's 'effortful thinking' as opposed to 'intuitive thoughts' which arise without effort (and usually are, but should never be taken for infallable) which is not accounted for in the 'vitakka/vicara' classification of thought.

There can be Vitakka with Vicara, Vitakka without Vicara, and Vicara without Vitakka, and awareness without either.

What happens when an effortful train of thought runs out of threads (exhosts the energy which initiated it; has run the limits of it's scope) is daydreaming. As common experience shows, one can apparently enter daydreaming directly but this will be seen to be the result of effortful thinking which has been going on with minimal awareness. Daydreams take off from what one has been thinking. Daydreaming requires only paying attention. When effortful thinking has lead to the 'yoni,' 'womb' or taproot of some issue which arouses a high degree of interest the result is a daydreaming of a higher order: the cruising over, or 'cara', 'carring-on' of the thought in the form of the various implications of perception from that recovered perspective.

This I believe is the intended meaning of the commentarial description of 'vitakka and vicara' translated, 'initial thought and sustained thought' which was interpreted (originally by the PTS translators) on the one hand in too exclusively rigorous (idealized) a fashion and which, on the other hand, must be understood to have both a lax and a rigorous aspect. When daydreaming is of the higher sort it has the appearance of being self sustained, but this is more in the nature of coasting down-hill on a bicycle. It reaches a limit and to be sustained must be fueled with further effortful thinking or the arising of intuitive thought. The trick at this point, to enter the second jhana, is to bring one's self to conscious awareness of the fact that thinking, of either form, however thrilling, is transient, does at least require the effort of attention, and is interfering with the pacification of the body and heart, and to let it go.




See: SN 4.40.1
Discussion of SN 4.40.1
SN 4.40 (the entire Samyutta)

Copyright Statement