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Vicāra (T. dpyod pa དཔྱོད་པ་; C. si; J. shi; K. sa 伺) is translated as "discernment", "sustained thinking", etc. In the Pali tradition, it is defined as the continued focus on an object, in the sense of examining it.[1] In the Sanskrit tradition, vicara is defined as a mental factor that scrutinizes finely to discern the specific details.

Vicara is identified as:


Pali tradition

A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma states:

Vicāra, also a jhāna factor, has the characteristic of continued pressure on the object,[2] in the sense of examining it. Its function is sustained application of the associated mental phenomena to the object. It is manifested as the anchoring of those phenomena in the object. The object may be understood to be its proximate cause.[1]

In the context of the jnana factors, A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma states:

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.[3]

The Visuddhimagga ( IV, 88) states:

...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 states:

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]

Sanskrit tradition

The Khenjuk states:

  • Tib. དཔྱོད་པ་ནི་སེམས་པ་དང་ཤེས་རབ་ལ་བརྟེན་ནས་དོན་དེའི་ཁྱད་པར་སོ་སོར་རྟོག་པའི་ཡིད་ཀྱིས་གཞིག་ནས་བཟུང་བ་ཞིབ་པའི་རྣམ་པ་ཅན་ཏེ་བུམ་པ་གསར་པ་མ་གས་པར་འཛིན་པ་ལྟ་བུའོ།
  • Discernment [vicara] is a mind which can distinguish and apprehend the particular characteristics of an object, by means of intention and wisdom. It produced a detailed understanding like distinguishing whether a vase is new or not. (Rigpa Translations)[5]
  • Discernment [vicara] is the action of the mind examining and taking hold of an object, and is capable of distinguishing the attributes of an object by means of apprehension and discrimination. It has a fine form, like distinguishing whether the vase is new or not. (Erik Pema Kunsang)[6]

The Necklace of Clear Understanding explains vitarka together with vicara as follows:

Selectiveness [vitarka] is a rough estimate of the thing under consideration and discursiveness [vicara] is an exact investigation of it.[7]

The Ornament of Abhidharma states:

Investigation (vitarka) and analysis (vicāra) are, respectively, the coarse (audārya) examination of the nature of an object of mind and the fine (sūkṣmata) examination of the attributes of the object. They both function to support the attainment or nonattainment of happiness.[8]

The Abhidharma-samuccaya states:

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.[7]

Alexander Berzin explains:

Subtle discernment (dpyod-pa) is the subsidiary awareness that scrutinizes finely to discern the specific details.[9]

Within meditative absorption

Vicara is the second of the "five factors of meditative absorption (dhyānāṅga)."

Nina van Gorkom states:

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 absorption

Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo describes the mental factors related to the first absorption (jhāna, dhyāna) 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.[10]

Alternate translations

  • sustained application
  • sustained thinking
  • selectiveness
  • discernment
  • subtle discernment
  • subtle discursiveness
  • examining (David Karma Choepel)
  • scrutiny (Gyurme Dorje)
  • analysis (Berzin)
  • fine conceptual understanding (Tony Duff)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, Chapter 2: Compendium of Mental Factors.
  2. "Or: continued stroking of the object (ārammaṇ’ānumajjana)." - Bodhi (p. 391)
  3. Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, Chapter 1: Compendium of Consciousness.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Gorkom (2010), Applied thinking (vitakka) and Sustained thinking (vicara)
  5. RW icon height 18px.png Discernment, Rigpa Shedra Wiki
  6. Mipham Rinpoche 2004, s.v. Discernment.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Yeshe Gyeltsen 1975, s.v. Selectiveness [rtog-pa] and Discursiveness [dpyod-pa].
  8. Chim Jampaiyang 2019, Chapter 8: The Generation of Mental Factors.
  9. StudyBuddhism icon 35px.png Primary Minds and the 51 Mental Factors, StudyBuddhism
  10. Access to insight icon 50px.png Keeping the Breath in Mind, Access to Insight


External links

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