Author Topic: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?  (Read 4098 times)

Offline KarmaPolice

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"Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« on: March 22, 2010, 10:04:44 am »
The Samannaphala Sutta defines the first jhana as being "accompanied by initial thought and sustained thought[.]" What does this phrase mean? Is it referring to discursive thinking? Or, is it referring to sustained concentration on a meditative object? I haven't been able to figure it out.
Breathing in, we are born
Breathing out, we die
Our life, lasting but the space between them
A mere moment, in an infinite history


Attachment is a choice. The choice to be free of attachment has existed from the moment we first made the choice to be attached. We just get so used to making choices based on attachment that we never realize that we're actually making choices at all.

Offline ABC

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #1 on: March 24, 2010, 03:04:20 am »
In the second jhāna the vitakka and vicāra aspects of first jhāna cease. In the first jhāna these aspects are the movement of the mind onto the object and the holding on to the object respectively. It is easy to see how this could be regarded as the last vestige of intention, the mind intending towards the wholesome object of the first jhāna. In the second jhāna the mind is perfectly concentrated, all movement has been abandoned, and therefore all intention, wholesome and unwholesome, has "ceased without remainder".

 :dharma:
Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

Offline ABC

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #2 on: March 24, 2010, 03:05:02 am »
The “Wobble" (Vitakka and Vicara). All Jhanas are states of unmoving bliss, almost. However, in the First Jhana, there is some movement discernible. I call this movement the "wobble" of First Jhana. One is aware of great bliss, so powerful it has subdued completely the part of the ego that wills and does. In Jhana, one is on automatic pilot, as it were, with no sense of being in control. However, the bliss is so delicious that it can generate a small residue of attachment. The mind, not the doer, instinctively grasps at the bliss. Because the bliss of First Jhana is fuelled by letting go, such involuntary grasping weakens the bliss. Seeing the bliss weaken, the mind automatically lets go of its grasping and the bliss increases in power again. The mind then grasps again, then lets go again.

Such subtle involuntary movement gives rise to the wobble of First Jhana.

This process can be perceived in another way. As the bliss weakens because of the involuntary grasping, it seems as if the mindfulness moves a small distance away from the bliss. Then the mindfulness gets pulled back into the bliss as the mind automatically lets go. This back and forth movement close to the bliss, is a second way of describing the same First Jhana wobble.

This wobble is, in fact, the pair of First Jhana factors called vitakka and vicara. Vicara is the involuntary grasping of bliss vitakka is the automatic movement back into bliss. Some commentators explain the pair, vitakka and vicara as “initial thought" and “sustained thought." While in other contexts this pair can refer to thought, in Jhana they certainly mean something else.

It is impossible that such a gross activity as thinking can exist in such a refined state as Jhana. In fact, thinking ceases a long time prior to Jhana. In Jhana, vitakka and vicar a are both sub-verbal and so don't qualify as thought. Vitakka is the sub-verbal movement of the mind back into bliss. Vicara is the sub-verbal movement of mind that holds onto the bliss. Outside of Jhana, such movements of mind will often generate thought, and sometimes even speech. But in Jhana, vitakka and vicara are too subtle to create any thought. All they are capable of doing is moving mindfulness back onto bliss, and holding mindfulness there. This movement is the wobble of the First Jhana, represented as the pair of First Jhana factors vitakka and vicara.

 :dharma:
Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

Offline ABC

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2010, 03:15:50 am »



 :dharma:
Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

Offline ABC

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2010, 03:25:42 am »



 :dharma:
Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

Offline catmoon

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2010, 02:07:52 pm »
Applied and sustained thought

I've found this view pretty workable: Applied thought is a thought like "I will count the breath". You have the thought once, but the effect persists and persists, even though you are no longer thinking it per se. So thought has been applied to the mind and the mind is carrying it out.

Sustained thought is the actual counting, the "One. Two. Three. Long. Short. Fine. Coarse. Seven. Eight."

If I have it right, then sustained thought is dependent on applied thought.

Another example would be "I will follow the breath" followed by the continuing observations "In out in out thats cold In Out" that sort of thing.

My limited experience of jhana suggests a model in which the first jhana has bliss, applied and sustained thought, the second has bliss and applied thought, the third has just the bliss but it has been transformed somewhat by the absence of thought, and the fourth jhana has neither applied nor sustained thought nor bliss, and is called pleasant abiding.


Sergeant Schultz was onto something.

Offline KarmaPolice

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #6 on: March 24, 2010, 10:01:37 pm »
Thank you, ABC, for the detailed explanation. It will take a long time to digest, but it will be well worth it, I imagine.


@Catmoon,

Yeah, that makes sense. After posting this topic, I listened to a dharma talk by Gil Fronsdal, which happened to be on this topic, and he seemed to say the same thing as you. In contrast to the sutta I quoted, however, he used the term "attention" instead of "thought." It makes more sense, in retrospect.
Breathing in, we are born
Breathing out, we die
Our life, lasting but the space between them
A mere moment, in an infinite history


Attachment is a choice. The choice to be free of attachment has existed from the moment we first made the choice to be attached. We just get so used to making choices based on attachment that we never realize that we're actually making choices at all.

Offline ABC

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #7 on: March 25, 2010, 04:16:56 am »
...he used the term "attention" instead of "thought."
It is thought guiding attention, like a hand moving a mirror to the right angle.

It is not attention per se.

Kind regards

 :dharma:

Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

Offline Optimus Prime

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #8 on: March 25, 2010, 05:01:53 am »
Initial and sustained thought do mean vitakka and vicara as ABC pointed out.  So the translators are just using an english translation to describe vitakka and vicara.

Here's an easy way to understand what it means:
1.  Vitakka - the placing of the mind on to the meditation object
2.  Vicara - keeping the mind on the meditation object - making it stick

Offline catmoon

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #9 on: March 25, 2010, 05:56:54 am »
 I agree strongly with the preceding two post. Hm, I must be attached to my view. Nuts.


I can see the usefulness of the "attention" translation, but it will run into problems when applied and sustained attention cease. Think about what that would mean.

I'll go with ABC and stick with "thought" as the best translation. It's not a perfect translation, though. The element of attention must surely be present in "sustained thought" but there are many such elements to consider, like focus, awareness, will and so on. Some of these elements disappear when sustained thought disappears, some don't, some seem very much a part of thought, some don't.

So always remember that thing being translated is not an exact parallel of the English term "thought" as we use it.
Sergeant Schultz was onto something.

Offline aquason

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #10 on: May 05, 2010, 03:08:07 am »
Quote
author=KarmaPolice link=topic=1009.msg11891#msg11891 date=1269277484]
The Samannaphala Sutta defines the first jhana as being "accompanied by initial thought and sustained thought[.]" What does this phrase mean? Is it referring to discursive thinking? Or, is it referring to sustained concentration on a meditative object? I haven't been able to figure it out.


From MLD#44:

Having first directed one's thoughts and sustained thought, one then breaks out into speech. That's why directed thought & evaluation are verbal formation.

Here's a link to a discourse with the same Pali word Vitakka: directed thought, Police, that the monks were guided by from the Buddha.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.019.than.html

Here's another link to a discourse about abandoning distracting directed thought Police.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.020.soma.html


Here is a link to MLD#137 with the summary refering to 18 kinds of mental sustained thought. The Pali quotations of Buddha are very interesting and helpful for some of the nitty gritty details such as vicara: sustained thought

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.137.than.html

Similar section to MLD#137 occurs in this link.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.140.than.html

And again a similar section to MLD#137 and #140 occurs in this link to a discourse of the Buddha, friend police.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.061.than.html
« Last Edit: May 05, 2010, 03:46:07 am by aquason »

Offline ABC

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #11 on: May 05, 2010, 03:19:08 am »
From MLD#44:

Having first directed one's thoughts and sustained thought, one then breaks out into speech. That's why directed thought & evaluation are verbal formation.
Aqua

Could you kindly explain how thought can be a "verbal formation"?

Is not to break out into speech a "verbal formation"?

 :argue:
Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

Offline aquason

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #12 on: May 05, 2010, 03:42:39 am »
From MLD#44:

Having first directed one's thoughts and sustained thought, one then breaks out into speech. That's why directed thought & evaluation are verbal formation.
Aqua

Could you kindly explain how thought can be a "verbal formation"?

Is not to break out into speech a "verbal formation"?

 :argue:

One applies thought and sustains thought and subsequently one breaks out into speech.
First the verbal formation then the breaking out into speech does one do, that is why this is called the verbal formation.

Offline ABC

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #13 on: May 06, 2010, 04:10:54 am »
First the verbal formation then the breaking out into speech does one do, that is why this is called the verbal formation.
Sorry Aquason

Your answer did not make sense to me. Kindly allow me to ask you another question.

The sutta also states perception & feeling are the mental formation (citta sankhara).

This seems a little strange because the Buddha did not say perception & feeling are karma.

The body can perform karma, speech can perform karma & the mind can perform karma but perception & feeling cannot perform karma nor are they karma.

For example, intention is karma, craving is karma but not perception & feeling.

Also, feeling is an aggregate unto itself & perception is an aggegate unto itself. Also, citta or sankhara khanda is an aggregate unto itself. For example, in satipatthana, vedananupassana and cittanupassana are two distinct things, described as follows:

Quote
"And how does a monk remain focused on feelings (vedana) in & of themselves? There is the case where a monk, when feeling a painful feeling, discerns that he is feeling a painful feeling. When feeling a pleasant feeling, he discerns that he is feeling a pleasant feeling. When feeling a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he discerns that he is feeling a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling.

"And how does a monk remain focused on the mind (citta) in & of itself? There is the case where a monk, when the mind has passion, discerns that the mind has passion. When the mind is without passion, he discerns that the mind is without passion. When the mind has aversion, he discerns that the mind has aversion. When the mind is without aversion, he discerns that the mind is without aversion. When the mind has delusion, he discerns that the mind has delusion. When the mind is without delusion, he discerns that the mind is without delusion.


My question.

In the above & following quotes, which do you regard as the mental formation? Perception & feeling or passion, aversion & delusion? Perception & feeling or the thinking & complication? Perception & feeling or the delight, clinging & infatuation?


  :book2:

Quote
"Dependent on eye & forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a requisite condition, there is feeling. What one feels, one perceives (labels in the mind). What one perceives, one thinks about. What one thinks about, one complicates. Based on what a person complicates, the perceptions & categories of complication assail him/her with regard to past, present, & future forms cognizable via the eye.

The Blessed One said: "Not knowing, not seeing the eye as it actually is present; not knowing, not seeing forms... consciousness at the eye... contact at the eye as they actually are present; not knowing, not seeing whatever arises conditioned through contact at the eye — experienced as pleasure, pain, or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — as it actually is present, one is infatuated with the eye... forms... consciousness at the eye... contact at the eye... whatever arises conditioned by contact at the eye and is experienced as pleasure, pain, or neither-pleasure-nor-pain.

"For him — infatuated, attached, confused, not remaining focused on their drawbacks — the five clinging-aggregates head toward future accumulation. The craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now this & now that — grows within him. His bodily disturbances & mental disturbances grow. His bodily torments & mental torments grow. His bodily distresses & mental distresses grow. He is sensitive both to bodily stress & mental stress.

“On seeing a form with the eye, he lusts after it if it is pleasing; he dislikes it if it is unpleasing. He abides with mindfulness of the body unestablished, with a limited mind, and he does not understand as it actually is the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom wherein those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. Engaged as he is in favoring and opposing, whatever he feels he feels - whether pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant - he delights in that feeling, welcomes it, and remains holding to it. As he does so, delight arises in him. Now delight in feelings is clinging. With his clinging as condition, being [comes to be]; with being as condition, birth; with birth as condition ageing and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.


  :book2:

« Last Edit: May 06, 2010, 04:15:57 am by ABC »
Therefore, Ananda, engage with me friends and not as opponents. That will be for your long-term well-being & happiness - MN 122

Offline TongueTied

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Re: "Initial thought" and "sustained thought"?
« Reply #14 on: May 06, 2010, 02:42:14 pm »
For the benefit of KarmaPolice, in case he is still following:

I have found that "initial thought" is the willed intention to point the mind here or there, and "sustained thought" is the willed pressure that is held on the mind to keep the attention somewhere.  As my mind gets more absorbed, I notice a shift of perspective where my focus opens up a little and the jhana object acts like a vacuum that takes over all the work of concentration.  The concentration becomes much stronger, and it can even be a turbulent and painful transition of the mind is not still enough.

On a side note, there are differing opinions on what qualifies as jhana.  Absorption can be soft or hard, internal or external.  Many people only consider hard, internal absorption to be jhana.  But it is very possible to enter looser states of absorption that have all the salient aspects of hard jhana, just to a lesser degree, and less pure.  For example, Ajahn Brahm says that if one is able to ask the question, "Is this jhana?", then it is not jhana.  This is an extreme statement and one that I think is rather silly.  It is possible to have verbal thoughts pop up even in reasonably stable 4th jhana.

 


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