Tuesday, January 18, 2022

what is the role of thinking in breath meditation? why in the suttas Buddha would teach to use vitakka to get to jhana?

From a private conversation, the questioner is in italicized font:

If vitakka means thinking, why in the suttas Buddha would teach to use vitakka to get to jhana? Isn't the whole point of meditation to get away from thinking?


4👑☸j1🌘 First Jhāna

#2 addresses your question pointedly, but you should read the whole introductory section there (should only take a few minutes).

we use desire to end desire, so should you be surprised you use skillful thoughts to remove unskillful thoughts, and then more skillful thoughts to phase itself out to enter 2nd jhana?

Thank you. I read the article. Can you give an example of how you work your mind in a typical anapanasati session and what you classify as vitakka?

(quoting excerpt from)


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, unlike ordinary V&V, must be kusala (skillful) related to Dharma (AN 6.73, AN 6.74, AN 6.75). 1b. The content of the Dhamma vitakka in first jhāna, often is just the meditator mentally reciting the oral instructions of the Dhamma meditation topic they're about to do (SN 46.3). For example, in 31asb🧟‍ body parts, even in non EBT following canonical Abhidhamma and Abhidhamma commentary such as Vimt., one mentally recites the body parts (kesa, loma, ...) while in first jhāna.

Did you already read that section on V&V first jhana and still have that question for me? I think I made it pretty clear, vitakka is mental talk, linguistic discursive thinking, inside and outside of first jhana in my writings. If it's not clear, please explain what is not clear in the article.

Yes, I read the whole article. So I understand that mental talk can be used in a skillful way and potentially induce some degree of 1st jhana. However, how do you apply V&V to single object meditation such as breath? In single object meditation even skillful thinking when it is intentional seems to be distracting. When it happens spontaneously then you just notice and let go. But if any attempt is made to use it intentionallly, it seems counterproductive for jhana. Maybe for pure minds with very wide bandwidth it just flows. But not for troubled minds.

Im trying to understand if in suttas where Buddha teaches anapanasati he talks about V&V in 1st jhana as a natural remnant of mental activity or something that we should actively use.

If it is something that we have to apply intentionally, then vitakka as applied attention makes more sense?

No. Vitakka never means applied attention devoid of discursive, linguistic verbal thoughts. I've done detailed research on this, including looking at every single reference to 'vitakka' in the suttas. 

• explicit: every. single. reference. to vitakka in the suttas

The Buddha has a number of terms to express subverbal applied attention devoid of linguistic verbal thought. When he says vitakka, he definitely means verbal linguistic discursive thought, inside and outside of first jhana. 

It would be completely senseless and confusing for him to ambiguously overload the term 'vitakka' to include subverbal mental activity, just as it would senseless and short sighted for him to redefine body as "not physical body, but a body of mental factors devoid of the physical body." 

Regarding the role of vitakka (verbal thought) in breath meditation and  kaya gata sati, please see my EBpedia summary definitions.

16🌬️😤‍ , APS 16,  APSS 16 = refers to 16 steps of APS (breath meditation)

kāya-gatā-sati 🏃‍: body-immersed-remembering. 

You could think of vitakka as training wheels for those two practices. When done properly the main feature of breath meditation and kayagata, is that the samadhi required for the subverbal mental attention needed to monitor the physical process involved in breathing and kayagata, uses up all your mental and attentional bandwidth, so there's no room for unwanted discursive thoughts. 

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