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Vicara (Sanskrit( विचार) and Pali, also vicāra; Tibetan phonetic: chöpa) is a Sanskrit term that is translated as "discernment", "sustained thinking", etc. It is an essential element of dhyana, meditation, both in the Buddhist and the Hindu traditions.
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. In Hinduism, it is part of Patanjali's Samprajatna samadhi, and also well known as atma-vichara or self-inquiry.
Vicara, also Vichāra (Sanskrit: विचार) means "deliberation." Its roots are:
- वि , a prefix to verbs and nouns it expresses;
- चर्, to move, roam, obtain knowledge of.
It is the faculty of discrimination between right and wrong; it is deliberation about cause and effect, and the final analysis.
This Sanskrit word, Vichāra, does not have a corresponding word in English.
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..."
- . . . (b) Singleness of preoccupation (ekaggatarammana): Keep the mind with the breath. Don't let it stray after other concepts or preoccupations. Watch over your thoughts so that they deal only with the breath to the point where the breath becomes comfortable. (The mind becomes one, at rest with the breath.) (c) Evaluation (vicara): Gain a sense of how to let this comfortable breath sensation spread and connect with the other breath sensations in the body. Let these breath sensations spread until they're interconnected all over the body.
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.
Vichāra is reflection and contemplation upon the meaning of Vedantic truths, and leads the individual to true knowledge, it leads to Brahman, the Universal Self. It is also the enquiry into the nature of the Atman, Satya, Ishvara and Brahman.
Aitareya Aranyaka (II.iii.2.5) of the Rig Veda tells us that in man alone is the Atman ('Self') most manifest, for man is best endowed with intelligence and discrimination, and who knowing the higher and the lower worlds aspires to achieve immortality through mental things. Taittiriya Upanishad tells us:-
- यो वेद निहितं गुहाया परमे व्योमन् |
that all should know Brahman as existing in the intellect in which, Shankara explains, are hidden – a) 'knowledge', b) 'the knowable' and c) 'the knower', as also enjoyment and liberation. The relationship between the Individual self and the Universal Self reveals the actual source of thought and action; it reveals Brahman; vichāra (reflection and contemplation) results in disinterest in that which is not the source of anything in this world. Vedanta ( the eternal path) activates vichāra ('inquiry') to increase viveka ('discrimination') to deconstruct vivarta ('false superimposition') to destroy vasanas ('root desires') and thus establish vairagya ('detachment'), become a vidvan ('wise person') and attain vijnana ('self-realization'); these factors combined facilitate in the human aspiration and Divine Dispensation working harmoniously together. Vichāra is Atma-vichāra in Advaita Vedanta, but Samkhya is more concerned with Tattva-vichāra, about the nature of the tattvas.
Vichāra or discriminating reasoning is one of the five Vedanta methods for awakening spiritual consciousness. Contrary to faith, which is concerned primarily with the essence of a thing and not merely with its appearance; reason, which begins with doubt, relies on appearance of things and not on their essential nature. There are three types of reasoning – vada or academic reasoning, jalpa or reasoning in a dogmatic and negative way whether rationally or irrationally, and vitanda or reasoning that seeks only to lay bare defects of or confuse the opponents. In Vedanta, rational reasoning is vichāra that discriminates between the real and the unreal; it dispels prejudices such as irrational doubts, preconceived notions/ideas and personal sentiments to scrutinize the meaning of Truth. Shankara in his commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad explains that Vedantic reasoning reveals the essential meaning of scriptural statement in the context of its goal, proves the logical untenability of all contrary concepts so as to establish the intelligibility of non-dualism and expose the mutually contradictory nature of dualistic views about Reality. The process of Vedantic reasoning is three-fold viz; through shravana , manana and nididhyasana, with the aspirant, endowed with shraddha , reasoning with an open mind.
Vichara, Self-inquiry, also called jnana-vichara or ātma-vichār by devotees of Ramana Maharshi, is the constant attention to the inner awareness of 'I' or 'I am'. It was recommended by Ramana Maharshi as the most efficient and direct way of discovering the unreality of the ‘I'-thought, and then discovering one's identity with its source.
According to David Frawley, "atma-vichara" is the most important practice in the Advaita Vedanta tradition, predating its popularisation by Ramana Maharshi.[web 1] It is part of the eighth limb of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, which describes the various stages of samadhi. Meditation on "I-am-ness" is a subtle object of meditation. It is also described in the Yoga Vasistha, a syncretic work which may date from the 6th or 7th century CE, and shows influences from Yoga, Samkhya, Saiva Siddhanta and Mahayana Buddhism, especially Yogacara.
Ramana taught that the 'I'-thought will disappear and only "I-I"[web 2] or Self-awareness remains. This results in an "effortless awareness of being", and by staying with it[web 3] this "I-I" gradually destroys the vasanas "which cause the 'I'-thought to rise," and finally the 'I'-thought never rises again, which is Self-realization or liberation.
|First jhāna||Second jhana||Third jhana||Fourth jhana|
|Kāma / Akusala dhamma
(sensuality / unskillful qualities)
|Does not occur||Does not occur||Does not occur|
|stilled||Does not occur||Does not occur|
(along with distress)
|Does not occur|
(along with pain)
(pure, mindful equanimity)
|Does not occur||internal confidence;
no pleasure or pain
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.
Samprajnata Samadhi, also called savikalpa samadhi and Sabija Samadhi,[web 4][note 1] is meditation with support of an object.[web 5][note 2] Samprajata samadhi is associated with deliberation, reflection, bliss, and I-am-ness.[note 3] Deliberation and reflection form the basis of the various types of samapatti:
- Savitarka, "deliberative":[note 4] The citta is concentrated upon a gross object of meditation,[web 5] an object with a manifest appearance that is perceptible to our senses, such as a flame of a lamp, the tip of the nose, or the image of a deity. Conceptualization (vikalpa) still takes place, in the form of perception, the word and the knowledge of the object of meditation. When the deliberation is ended this is called nirvitaka samadhi.[note 5]
- Savichara, "reflective": the citta is concentrated upon a subtle object of meditation,[web 5] which is not percpetible to the senses, but arrived at through interference, such as the senses, the process of cognition, the mind, the I-am-ness,[note 6] the chakras, the inner-breath (prana), the nadis, the intellect (buddhi). The stilling of reflection is called nirvichara samapatti.[note 7]
- The seeds or samskaras are not destroyed.[web 4]
- According to Jianxin Li Samprajnata Samadhi may be compared to the rupa jhanas of Buddhism. This interpretation may conflict with Gombrich and Wynne, according to whom the first and second jhana represent concentration, whereas the third and fourth jhana combine concentration with mindfulness. According to Eddie Crangle, the first jhana resembles Patnajali's Samprajnata Samadhi, which both share the application of vitarka and vicara.
- Yoga Sutra 1.17: "Objective samadhi (samprajnata) is associated with deliberation, reflection, bliss, and I-am-ness (asmita).
- Yoga Sutra 1.42: "Deliberative (savitarka) samapatti is that samadhi in which words, objects, and knowledge are commingled through conceptualization."
- Yoga Sutra 1.43: "When memory is purified, the mind appears to be emptied of its own nature and only the object shines forth. This is superdeliberative (nirvitaka) samapatti."
- Following Yoga Sutra 1.17, meditation on the sense of "I-am-ness" is also grouped, in other descriptions, as "sasmita samapatti"
- Yoga Sutra 1.44: "In this way, reflective (savichara) and super-reflective (nirvichara) samapatti, which are based on subtle objects, are also explained."
- Bhikkhu Bodhi (2003), pp. 56-57
- Guenther (1975), Kindle Locations 1030-1033.
- Kunsang (2004), p. 30.
- V.S.Apte. the Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Digital Dictionaries Of South Asia. p. 1422.
- Rishi Kumar Mishra. Before the Beginning and after the End. Rupa Publications. p. 421.
- Gorkom (2010), Definition of vitakka
- "Keeping the Breath in Mind: and Lessons in Samadhi", by Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo (Phra Suddhidhammaransi Gambhiramedhacariya), translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/lee/inmind.html .
- Berzin (2006)
- Swami Chinmayananda. Vedanta, the Science of Life. Chinmaya Mission. pp. 494, 710.
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- Nectar#11: The Pearl of Great Price. Sarada. p. 1.
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- Sadhu Om 2005, p. 136.
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- Chapple 1984, p. xii.
- "Self-enquiry". Retrieved 29 December 2012.
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- "Suttantapiñake Aïguttaranikàyo § 188.8.131.52". MettaNet-Lanka (in Pali). Archived from the original on 2007-11-05. Retrieved 2007-06-06.
- Bhikku, Thanissaro (1997). "Samadhanga Sutta: The Factors of Concentration (AN 5.28)". Access to Insight. Retrieved 2007-06-06.
- Jianxin Li & year unknown.
- Wynne 2007, p. 106; 140, note 58.
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- Maehle 2007, p. 156.
- Whicher 1998, p. 254.
- Maehle 2007, p. 179.
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