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Translations of
English sustained application
sustained thinking
subtle discernment
Pali vicāra
Sanskrit vicara, vicāra
Chinese 伺 (T) / 伺 (S)
(RR: sa)
Tibetan དཔྱོད་པ།
(Wylie: dpyod pa;
THL: chöpa

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.[1] In the Mahayana tradition, vicara is defined as a mental factor that scrutinizes finely to discern the specific details.[2][3]

Vicara is identified as:



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. [1]

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).[4]

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..."[4]


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.[2]

Herbert Guenther explains:

Selectiveness [vitarka] is a rough estimate of the thing under consideration and discursiveness [vicara] is an exact investigation of it.[2]

Alexander Berzin explains:

Subtle discernment (dpyod-pa) is the subsidiary awareness that scrutinizes finely to discern the specific details.[5]

Within meditation

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.[4]

In the second stage, vitakka is no longer present, but vicara still is.[4]

Five factors related to the first jhana -- medition on the breath

Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo describes the mental factors related to the first jhana within the contexts of meditation on the breath.

To think of the breath is termed vitakka, directed thought. To adjust the breath and let it spread is called vicara, evaluation. When all aspects of the breath flow freely throughout the body, you feel full and refreshed in body and mind: This is piti, rapture. When body and mind are both at rest, you feel serene and at ease: This is sukha, pleasure. And once you feel pleasure, the mind is bound to stay snug with a single preoccupation and not go straying after any others: This is ekaggatarammana, singleness of preoccupation. These five factors form the beginning stage of Right Concentration.[6]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bhikkhu Bodhi (2003), pp. 56-57 [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Guenther (1975), Kindle Locations 1030-1033.
  3. Kunsang (2004), p. 30.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Gorkom (2010), Applied thinking (vitakka) and Sustained thinking (vicara)
  5. StudyBuddhism icon 35px.png StudyBuddhism, Primary Minds and the 51 Mental Factors
  6. Access to insight icon 50px.png Keeping the Breath in Mind, Access to Insight


  • Apte, V.S. (1890; rev. ed. 1957-59), The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary. (Poona: Prasad Prakashan).
  • StudyBuddhism icon 35px.png StudyBuddhism, Primary Minds and the 51 Mental Factors
  • 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), Abhidhamma Vipassana icon.png Cetasikas by Nina van Gorkom
  • Rhys Davids, T.W. & William Stede (eds.) (1921-25), The Pali Text Society’s Pali–English dictionary. (Chipstead: Pali Text Society).

External links

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