In fact, according to the (MN 78) Samanamandikii Sutta, the
complete cessation of unwholesome thoughts and
intentions can be achieved by attaining the first jhana.
This points to the contribution that the development
of samatha has to offer in relation to overcoming
unwholesome thoughts. A meditation practice
explicitly recommended forgoing beyond thought is
mindfulness of breathing (Ud. 37).
Vitakka and Jhana
The Dvedhavitakka Sutta (MN 19) indicates that even
though thoughts related to renunciation, non ill-will
and harmlessness are entirely wholesome, yet,
excessive thinking will tire the mind and not lead to
concentration. Hence at some point even wholesome
thoughts need to be left behind in order to steady the
mind and lead it to deeper concentration (MN 19) (M I. 116).
However, though deeper stages of concentration will
lead beyond thoughts, this does not mean that vitakka
has no place at all in the context of early Buddhist
meditation. In fact, reflective types of meditation are
described in the discourses and in later literature.
involving various recollections, anussati. These can
take the Buddha, his teachings or the community as
their object, or else one's own virtue or generosity, or
heavenly beings ( A. III,312).
When I first read this section, I was stunned. He ignores MN 125 in this section, and perhaps the entire encyclopedia entry.
But even just looking at MN 19 and MN 78, there’s enough information there that’s impossible to miss, impossible to ignore.
He cites MN 78, so we know he knows about it, and he’s even translated the MN 78 Chinese parallel in his MA studies.
The crucial part of MN 78 states the 3 skillful thoughts (sankappa/vitakka) don’t cease until second jhana.
That crucial part is incontrovertible evidence that shows V&V does not change in nature before, and during first jhana.
And that is just two sentences away from the part he cited about unwholesome thoughts ceasing in first jhana.
Impossible to miss that. Unless he was grossly negligent.
I was shocked, stunned, and depressed when I read this because the horror dawned on me that a highly regarded academic scholar and meditation monk, vowed to a life of integrity and honesty, was intentionally being deceptive and intellectually dishonest. It’s only because of the technical nature of the topic that most people will not see and understand the deception.
It’s as close as you can come to an outright lie without technically being a lie.
He was either being negligent, incompetent, or intellectually dishonest.
We can rule out the first two, because if it was an honest mistake, you would expect he’d have published an amendment and fixed it.
Perhaps his omission of MN 125 was an honest oversight in this encyclopedia entry, but with his publication of EBMS dated 2017,
With his comparative MN and MA studies, and his attempt to dismiss the validity of those suttas by his dubious theory of possible transmission error, we can safely conclude this is intellectual dishonesty to the highest degree.
2017 B. Analayo’s EBMS Absorption (p. 125)
In sum, to take these two discourses (MN 19 & MN 125 & their Chinese parallels) as canonical support for
assuming that the first absorption is comparable to ordinary
thinking activity is doubtful, as the apparent progression from
such an ordinary state of mind directly to the second absorption,
without ever having experienced the first absorption, could just
be the result of a transmission error
We’re going to come back to his 2017 treatment in just a short while.
First, let’s see what he said about these 3 suttas (and their 3 parallels) between 2009 and 2017.
MN 78 compstudy vol.1 2011
(MN 78: in 2011 B.Analayo knows where 'wholesome thoughts' cease)
MN II 27 With their examination of conduct completed, the two versions turn to thoughts or intentions, whose arising they attribute to perception. According to both versions, unwholesome thoughts or intentions cease with the first jhāna. In relation to the cessation
of wholesome thoughts or intentions, the Majjhima-nikāya account attributes such cessation to the second jhāna, whereas its Madhyama-āgama parallel speaks of the fourth
jhāna instead. (180)
(180) MN 78 at MN II 28,22 and MĀ 179 at T I 721b17. In relation to this difference, it is noteworthy that the
standard description of the jhānas in the Pāli and Chinese discourses presents the removal of initial and
sustained mental application as the decisive precondition for entering the second jhāna. Thus, although
wholesome thoughts and intentions will certainly have ceased with the fourth jhāna, the same already
takes place as soon as the second jhāna has been attained, so that the presentation in MN 78 appears to
be more to the point.
In fact, a closer inspection of the (MN 78) Sama+ama+:ikā-sutta suggests the commentarial
explanation to be unconvincing. According to the exposition given in the discourse itself, the cessation of unwholesome intentions takes place with the first jhāna, and the
cessation of wholesome intentions with the second jhāna.
MN 125 compstudy vol.2 2011
The two versions continue with the attainment of the four jhānas. While the Majjhima-nikāya discourse directly approaches the second jhāna, without mentioning the first
jhāna,(172) the Madhyama-āgama version takes the first jhāna into account (see above
table 13.4). (173)
In relation to this difference, it strikes an unfamiliar note when the Dantabhūmi-sutta
presents a progression of practice that leads from satipa""hāna meditation directly to
the second jhāna, without prior attainment of the first jhāna. Although satipa""hāna can
serve as a foundation for the development of the jhānas, (174) in itself it does not constitute a form of jhāna practice. Perhaps the occurrence of the word vitakka in the passage
on satipa""hāna without thought has led to a lapse on the part of the reciter(s) of the
discourse, who continued straight away with the calming of vitakka (vitakka-vicārā-
na vūpasamā), mentioned at the outset of the second jhāna formula, thereby unintentionally dropping the first jhāna in between.175
172 MN 125 at MN III 136,26. Notably, Ee also does not mention the fourth jhāna, although the same is
found in Be-MN III 175,25, Ce-MN III 316,20, and Se-MN III 269,20.
173 MĀ 198 at T I 758b25.
174 The foundational role of satipa""hāna for deeper levels of concentration can be seen, e.g., in DN 18 at
DN II 216,12, SN 52:6 at SN V 299,19, and SN 52:11-24 at SN V 303-305.
175 For a similar case cf. above p. 140; cf. also Anālayo 2012d.
MN 19 compstudy vol.1 2011
Becoming concentrated in this way leads in both versions to the attainment of the four
jhānas. While in the Dvedhāvitakka-sutta the attainment of the jhānas is still part of the
future Buddha’s own pre-awakening development,198 in its Madhyama-āgama parallel
the subject of the sentence changes from the Buddha to a monk in general, who by overcoming wholesome thoughts will be able to attain the jhānas.199 Another difference in
relation to the same statement is that the Chinese version proceeds directly from leaving
behind wholesome thoughts to the attainment of the second jhāna, while the Pāli
version includes the first jhāna in its account.200 The Dvedhāvitakka-sutta continues after the four jhānas with the attainment of the three higher knowledges. The Madhyama-
āgama parallel, however, mentions only the third of these, the destruction of the influxes.201
199 MĀ 102 at T I 589c7: 若比丘 ... 得第二禪成就遊 ... 得第四禪成就遊.
200 A similar absence of the first jhāna can be found in MN 125 at MN III 136,27, which proceeds directly
from overcoming thoughts to the second jhāna. In this case, however, the parallel MĀ 198 at T I 758b26
does refer to the first jhāna. Notably, in the case of MN 125 and MĀ 198 as well as in the present case
of MN 19 and MĀ 102, the jhāna treatments are preceded by a reference to leaving behind thinking.
This suggests that the omission of the first jhāna in MN 125 and in MĀ 102 may be a transmission
error that happened during oral recitation, where the circumstance that a leaving behind of “thought”
(vitakka) has just been mentioned may have misled the reciter(s) to continue with the standard formulation of the second jhāna, which mentions such leaving behind of vitakka, thereby unintentionally
omitting to recite the first jhāna; cf. also Anālayo 2012d
MN 19, 78, 125 final score: 🔪 Occam's razor six, Bhikkhu Anālayo zero
There is no way Bhikkhu Anālayo could have forgotten about MN 78 between 2009 and his EBMS book in 2017.
There is also the fact that he translated, from Chinese, the MN 78 parallel,
as well as two different chinese EBT lineage versions for the parallel to MN 10 satipaṭṭhāna.
The (V&V💭) vitakka & vicāra, directed-thought & evaluation controversy is a big deal, and the key suttas are well understood by all sides. Even if he didn't personally make the logical deduction initially that "wholesome thoughts ceasing in second jhāna" means that wholesome thoughts are still operational in first jhāna, someone would have told him.
What he's trying to do here, in his analaysis of MN 19, 78, 125, is reframe the narrative.
First, pretend to forget about MN 78 and its parallel, both of which provide incontrovertible evidence against his position, to make odds appear more favorable.
With the field reduced down to 4 suttas (MN 19, MN 125, and their parallels), he tries to sell us on his narrative fallacy of "perhaps MN 19 and MN 125 omitted first jhāna (V&V💭) because of faulty oral transmission." Most people would probably think it's kind of a 50/50 proposition, a fifty percent chance there was faulty oral transmission.
Recall the conjunction fallacy. Even if we were to play by his dishonest rules reframing the game, and assume there's kind of a 50% chance there was oral transmission error in either EBT lineage, the chance that both of them made a transmission error, by Bayes theorem in conditional probability, is 0.5 multiplied by 0.5, or one out of four chance, 25% chance for his preferred scenario of both sides having a transmission error.
In other words, even in Bhikkhu Anālayo's crooked dice game, there's still a 75% chance one of the lineage was not a transmission error, and the final vote count would favor the EBT position, not Bhikkhu Anālayo's (V&V💭) vitakka & vicāra, directed-thought & evaluation redefinition.
These probabilities here are not to give realistic probabilities, but just to give a very rough idea of how unrealistic and ridiculous his far fetched hypothesis fallacy proposal really is. The moral of the story is that with good story telling skills, the right amount of intellectual dishonesty, a biased agenda, a good narrative fallacy and conjunction fallacy, you can spin a tale that seems plausible. It's how high powered attorneys make the big bucks, how politicians cheat their constiutuents and how organized religion can easily manipulate their followers.
Now if we bring MN 78 and its parallel back into the picture, and even if we indulge in Bhikkhu Anālayo's fantasy of oral transmission error, it's a landslide victory for EBT and a loss for Bhikkhu Anālayo.
In fact even if we play his crooked game and leave out MN 78 and assume transmission error in both lineages, evidence is still in favor of EBT. The EBT interpretation of (V&V💭) vitakka & vicāra, directed-thought & evaluation works whether first jhāna formula is there or not. But the absence of first jhāna makes it an airtight case AGAINST Bhikkhu Anālayo and VRJ (Vism. Re-definition of Jhāna), because they need the first jhāna there for that little bit of wiggle room to try to posit the existence of a different type of (V&V💭) vitakka & vicāra that exists only in first jhāna.
MN 19 but wait, there’s more fallacies
Even if we play his crooked game, and grant his assumptions, there are still many fallacies in his argument. I don’t have time and interest to address them all, but this is an important one.
From his MN 19 and parallel 2011 comments and footnotes, he says one overcomes wholesome thinking and “Chinese version proceeds directly from leaving behind wholesome thoughts to the attainment of the second jhāna,”. That is hideously wrong. Here’s what MN 19 actually says. If you think too intensely or indulge in too much wholesome thinking, it will make your body tired, thereby blocking kāya-passadhi-sambojjhanga (bodily pacification awakening factor), and blocking the samadhi sambojjhanga and first jhana from happening. Between the passage I quote below, and the appearance of first jhana formula, nothing else is said about vitakka. It doesn’t get abandoned, it becomes more calm and gentle.
Rattin-divaṃ cepi naṃ, bhikkhave,
even for a day & night,
(if I should) excessively-think (and) excessively-ponder,
neva tatonidānaṃ bhayaṃ samanupassāmi.
I do not envision any danger that would come from it,
api ca kho me aticiraṃ anu-vitakkayato anu-vicārayato
except that thinking & pondering a long time
would tire the body.
kāye kilante VAR cittaṃ ūhaññeyya.
When the body is tired, the mind is disturbed;
ūhate citte ārā cittaṃ samādhimhāti.
(and a) disturbed mind (is) far (from a) mind (in) undistractable-lucidity.’
(code phrase for “attempt 4 jhānas”)
so kho ahaṃ, bhikkhave,
internally (my) mind
steadied (and) settled,
ekodiṃ karomi VAR
unified (I) made (it),
(I made it) undistractable-&-lucid.
taṃ kissa hetu?
Why is that?
‘mā me cittaṃ ūhaññī’ti VAR.
So that my mind would not be disturbed.
MN 125 is also very explicit, not leaving any wiggle room about what the nature of vitakka is in first jhana. 5Niv (hindrances) already abandoned with S&S in previous stage, first jhana formula omitted, and what appears in the place that first jhana would have occupied is more S&S, with Dhamma vitakka, thoughts connected to dhamma and S&S.
kāmūpasaṃhitaṃ vitakkaṃ vitakkesī’
but don’t think thoughts connected with sensual pleasures
It’s astounding that when the Buddha makes such clear, explicit, concise explanations of the exact nature of V&V in first jhana like this, intellectually dishonest people with a biased agenda will still try to use sophistry and fallacy to read in absurd interpretations.
☸ MN 19, 78, 125 final score: 🔪 Occam's razor six, Bhikkhu Anālayo zero