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Vitarka-vicāra refers to two closely related mental factors that are often discussed together. The individual factors are vitarka and vicāra.

These two factors appear together in the following lists of mental factors:

These two factors are also the subject of the "Savitarkasavicārādibhūmi" chapter in the Yogacarabhumi-sastra.

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..."[1]

The Necklace of Clear Understanding states:

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

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.[3]

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.[2]

Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics (Vol 2) states:

Within the twofold categorization of inquiry [vitarka] and analysis [vicāra], inquiry is a mental factor that, in dependence on intention or wisdom, examines any object in only a rough manner; and analysis is a mental factor that, in dependence on intention or wisdom, analyzes its object finely. The Compendium of Knowledge says:
What is inquiry? Based on intention or wisdom, it is a deeply searching mental discourse. It is a coarse aspect of mind. What is analysis? Based on intention or wisdom, it is a finely investigating mental discourse. It is a refined aspect of mind. They both function as a support for pleasant or unpleasant states.
The function of inquiry and analysis is to act as a basis for pleasant or unpleasant states because each of those two include virtuous,nonvirtuous, and neutral instances. Inquiry and analysis on the side of virtue produce pleasing results, so are said to act as a support for pleasant states, whereas inquiry and analysis on the side of nonvirtue produce unpleasing results, so are said to act as a support for unpleasant states.[4]

According to Ulrich Timme Kragh (in the context of the Yogacarabhumi-sastra), "discernment [vitarka] is said to be the cognitive operation that is responsible for ascertaining what is perceived by the senses by initially labeling it with a name, while discursiveness [vicāra] is explained as being the subsequent conceptual operation of deciding whether the perceived sense-object is desirable and what course of action one might want to take in relation to it."[5]


  1. Gorkom (2010), Applied thinking (vitakka) and Sustained thinking (vicara)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Yeshe Gyeltsen 1975, s.v. Selectiveness [rtog-pa] and Discursiveness [dpyod-pa].
  3. Chim Jampaiyang 2019, Chapter 8: The Generation of Mental Factors.
  4. Thupten Jinpa 2020, s.v. Chapter 11. Variable Mental Factors.
  5. Kragh 2013, p. 72.