|Chinese:||伺 (T) / 伺 (S)|
(Wylie: dpyod pa;
|Glossary of Buddhism|
Vicara (Sanskrit and Pali, also vicāra; Tibetan phonetic: chöpa) is a Buddhist term that is translated as "discernment", "sustained thinking", etc. In the Theravada tradition, it is defined as the sustained application of the mind on an object. In the Mahayana tradition, vicara is defined as a mental factor that scrutinizes finely to discern the specific details.
Vicara is identified as:
- One of the six occasional mental factors within the Theravada Abhidharma teachings
- One of the four changeable mental factors within the Mahayana Abhidharma teachings
- One of four or five mental factors present in the first dhyana (Pali: jhana)
- A mental factor that counteracts the hindrance of doubt (vicikicchā) within the five hindrances
- Closely associated with the mental factor vitarka
Bhikkhu Bodhi explains:
- The word vicara usually means examination, but here it signifies the sustained application of the mind on the object. Whereas vitarka is the directing of the mind and its concomitants towards the object, vicara is the continued exercise of the mind on the object. 
The Visuddhimagga ( IV, 88) defines vicara as follows:
- ...Sustained thinking (vicaraṇa) is sustained thought (vicāra); continued sustenance (anusañcaraṇa), is what is meant. It has the characteristic of continued pressure on (occupation with) the object. Its function is to keep conascent (mental) states (occupied) with that. It is manifested as keeping consciousness anchored (on that object).
Nina van Gorkom explains:
- Vicāra is not the same reality as vitakka. Vitakka directs the citta to the object and vicāra keeps the citta occupied with the object, “anchored” on it. However, we should remember that both vitakka and vicāra perform their functions only for the duration of one citta and then fall away immediately, together with the citta. Both the Visuddhimagga and the Atthasālinī use similes in order to explain the difference between vitakka and vicāra. Vitakka is gross and vicāra is more subtle. We read in the Visuddhimagga ( IV, 89): "...Applied thought (vitakka) is the first compact of the mind in the sense that it is both gross and inceptive, like the striking of a bell. Sustained thought (vicāra) is the act of keeping the mind anchored, in the sense that it is subtle with the individual essence of continued pressure, like the ringing of the bell..."
The Abhidharma-samuccaya explains vitarka together with vicara as follows:
- What is selectiveness (vitarka)? It is a mental addressing that takes in everything in the wake of intention (chanda) or appreciative discrimination (prajna). It is a coarse mental operation. What is discursiveness (vicara)? It is a mental addressing which is attentive to one thing at it time in the wake of intention or appreciative discrimination. It is an exact mental operation. It has the function of becoming the basis of happiness or unhappiness.
Herbert Guenther explains:
- Selectiveness [vitarka] is a rough estimate of the thing under consideration and discursiveness [vicara] is an exact investigation of it.
Alexander Berzin explains:
- Subtle discernment (dpyod-pa) is the subsidiary awareness that scrutinizes finely to discern the specific details.
|Table: Jhāna-related factors.|
Vicara is one of four or five mental factors present in the first jhana (Sanskrit: dhyana). Nina van Gorkom explains:
- As regards the jhāna-factor vicāra which is developed in samatha, this keeps the citta “anchored on” the meditation subject and inhibits the hindrance which is doubt. As we have seen, in the case of kāmāvacara cittas, both vitakka and vicāra arise together when they accompany the citta. In the case of jhānacittas however, a distinction has to be made. In the first stage of jhāna both vitakka and vicāra are needed in order to experience the meditation subject with absorption.
In the second stage, vitakka is no longer present, but vicara still is.
- Apte, V.S. (1890; rev. ed. 1957-59), The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary. (Poona: Prasad Prakashan).
- Berzin, Alexander (2006), Mind and Mental Factors: The Fifty-one Types of Subsidiary Awareness
- Bhikkhu Bodhi (2003), A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, Pariyatti Publishing
- Guenther, Herbert V. & Leslie S. Kawamura (1975), Mind in Buddhist Psychology: A Translation of Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan's "The Necklace of Clear Understanding" Dharma Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- Kunsang, Erik Pema (translator) (2004). Gateway to Knowledge, Vol. 1. North Atlantic Books.
- Nina van Gorkom (2010), Cetasikas, Zolag
- Rhys Davids, T.W. & William Stede (eds.) (1921-25), The Pali Text Society’s Pali–English dictionary. (Chipstead: Pali Text Society).
- Mind and Mental Factors: The Fifty-one Types of Subsidiary Awareness
- Ranjung Yeshe wiki entry for dpyod pa
- Definition of vitakka and vicara, Nina van Gorkom
- Definition of vicara, Pali Text Society, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25)