Monday, February 21, 2022

Pali and Sanskrit definition of Viveka


'Viveka', Sanskrit dictionary

Primary meaning is ‘discrimination’.

Other meanings: 

(1) true knowledge, 

(2) discretion, 

(3) right judgement, 

(4) the faculty of distinguishing and classifying things according to their real properties’.


Viveka (Sanskrit: विवेक, romanized: viveka) is a Sanskrit and Pali term translated into English as discernment or discrimination.[1] According to Rao and Paranjpe, viveka can be explained more fully as:

Sense of discrimination; wisdom; discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the self and the non-self, between the permanent and the impermanent; discriminative inquiry; right intuitive discrimination; ever present discrimination between the transient and the permanent.[2]: 348 

The Vivekachudamani is an eighth-century Sanskrit poem in dialogue form that addresses the development of viveka. Within the Vedanta tradition, there is also a concept of vichara which is one type of viveka.

From Digital Pāḷi Dictionary

viveka 1

masc. seclusion; solitude; detachment; disengagement. [vi + √vic + *a]

viveka 2

masc. discrimination; understanding; true knowledge. [vi + √vic + *a]

excerpt: Keren Arbel's book on Early Buddhist Meditation on 'viveka'

III Viveka
The Pāli English Dictionary, and consequently most translators, translates viveka as ‘detachment’, ‘separation’ and ‘seclusion’.34 Buddhaghosa explains that viveka means either the disappearance of the hindrances, or that the jhāna factors are secluded from the hindrances.35 However, according to the Sanskrit dictionary, the first meaning of viveka is ‘discrimination’.36 The Sanskrit dictionary further describes viveka as ‘(1) true knowledge, (2) discretion, (3) right judgement, and (4) the faculty of distinguishing and classifying things according to their real properties’. These meanings of the term viveka seem to assist in interpreting this term in the Buddhist context as well, since viveka has no clear definition in the Nikāyas and it seems to be used in different ways. I suggest that the use of vivicca and viveka, in the description of the first jhāna (both from the verb vi + vic), plays with both meanings of the verb; namely, its meaning as discernment and the consequent ‘seclusion’ and letting go. Although there are times that the Buddha changes the meaning of a Sanskrit term completely, sometimes he does not; for example, he retains the meanings of terms such as dukkha, sukha and so on. I believe that the term viveka retained in the Nikāyas also its Sanskrit meaning as ‘discernment’.

This interpretation is supported by a description from SN V 301. In this sutta, the quality of viveka is developed by the practice of the four satipaṭṭhānas. Anuruddha declares that

[i]ndeed friends, when that bhikkhu is developing and cultivating the four establishings of mindfulness, it is impossible that he will give up the training and return to the lower life. For what reason? Because for a long time his mind has slanted, sloped, and inclined towards viveka. 37

Here Anuruddha clearly states that by seeing clearly (anupassati) body, feeling, mind and dhammas (the four focuses of mindfulness) the practitioner develops the quality of viveka. In this context, it seems that viveka is a quality connected to clear seeing, to discernment of the nature of experience.38 We also see here that the jhānas follow the development of the four satipaṭṭhānas and not some practice of onepointed concentration.39 The preceding also indicates that the development of the four satipaṭṭhānas inclines the mind towards discerning 
the true nature of phenomena; discernment that allows the mind to see the disadvantage of sense pleasures and, hence, let go of the desire for them and other unwholesome states (such as clinging and aversion, for example).That is, the cultivation of the four satipaṭṭhānas develops the ability to recognize and discern the mechanism of mind and body for seeing clearly into the nature of the various physical and mental phenomena. I would suggest that this discernment of phenomena (dhammas), and the consequent detachment (vivicca) is indicated by the term viveka, the same viveka from which pīti and sukha of the first jhāna are born.40 Discerning the nature of phenomena enables the mind to change its inclinations; that is, it allows us to let go of our basic unwholesome tendencies and desires, which are based on a mistaken perception of reality. This letting go (vossagga) is the proximate cause for entering the first jhāna.

KN Iti 38 is a great example of viveka as 'discernment'.

(link to sutta in pali + eng) ● KN Iti 38 Vitakka: thoughts
(brief synopsis)
Two thoughts occur to the Buddha. 1) Thoughts of safety, based on non ill will, may all creatures not be harmed. 2) thoughts on seclusion-&-discernment such as 'what is skillful?', 'what should be abandoned?'

relevant part: (modified sujato trans.)
Pavivekārāmā, bhikkhave, viharatha pavivekaratā.
You too should relish seclusion and delight in it,
Tesaṁ vo, bhikkhave, tumhākaṁ pavivekārāmānaṁ viharataṁ pavivekaratānaṁ eseva vitakko bahulaṁ samudācarissati:
then this thought will often occur to you:
‘kiṁ akusalaṁ, kiṁ appahīnaṁ, kiṁ pajahāmā’”ti.
‘What is unskillful? What is not given up? What should I give up?’”

Etamatthaṁ bhagavā avoca. Tatthetaṁ iti vuccati:
That is what the Buddha said. On this it is said:

Sujato translated viveka there as 'seclusion', and it does makes sense.
However, discrimination and discernment makes even more sense. 
Think about it.
If you were relishing viveka (as seclusion) by going to a nice, peaceful nature spot, 
 what kind of thoughts are you likely to have immediately?
"Wow, being alone in this beautiful place is nice. Peaceful. Inspiring. Relaxing."

Whereas if you were relishing viveka (as mental discernment, sharply discriminating mind), what would be the natural thoughts that occur to you? 
Exactly what KN Iti 38 says:
‘What is unskillful? 
What is not given up? 
What should I give up?’”

And if you followed up on those thoughts, then that would tend to lead to seclusion (from unskillful Dharmas, unskillful thoughts, etc.).

But if you had started with viveka as seclusion (rather than discernment), that does not naturally lead to, "Hmm.., let me investigate the nature of kusala and akusala and what should be abandoned."


Forum discussion 

Re: Keren Arbel Jhana

Post by waryoffolly » 

piti wrote: Mon Dec 20, 2021 9:06 amJust to point out, that in a later book, Analayo actually accepts Arbel interpretation of viveka in the first jhana, but interestingly, in this book, he does not cite Arbel as the one who suggested it in the first place… Here is what he wrote:
“A secondary meaning of the term viveka, recognized in some dictionaries, is discrimination (Anālayo 2017a: 128). Although in its general use in the Pāli discourses the sense of seclusion is clearly the prominent one, this secondary meaning also has practical relevance. Once the mind is secluded from hindrances and distractions, we become able to discern the true nature of existence, in particular its nature of being subject to impermanence. This insight had in fact already become comprehensive with the previous three satipaṭṭhānas. Seeing the changing nature of all aspects of experience naturally leads on to cultivating dispassion, to a gradual fading away of craving and attachments.”

From Satipatthana Meditation: A Practice Guide

Link to Google Books
Thanks for this quote. I think Ven Analayo here is basically saying "even though viveka almost always means seclusion in the suttas, reading it as discrimination has some practical utility". So the point remains that viveka almost always means seclusion. I wouldn't call that 'accepting' Arbel's position that viveka in the jhana formula means discrimination, but instead recognizing that interpreting it that way, even if not technically correct, is still useful. I don't see any change in Ven Analayo's position-just some added nuance based on practical concerns.

For me the main problem I have with her arguing for viveka' as discrimination in the jhana formula is that it undercuts trust in her other arguments. This point is very clear in the suttas, and just quoting a dictionary definition and providing a single dubious (in the sense that it can be easily interpreted either way) sutta quote is very weak evidence.

But as I mentioned before I like her general ideas about the nature jhana; it's just that some of the arguments, like this one, seem very weak to me. Although maybe I'm just too critical :tongue:.

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