Buddhists/Vicara vs Ekagatta
QUESTION: Dear Bhikkhu
What is the difference between vicara and ekagatta? The former is explained as the sustaining of a thought on an object of meditation, whereas the latter is the one-pointedness of the mind, especially when on an object. Yet, one can persist in a jhana when the other is absent. I feel I don't quite understand the difference.
Thanks for the help!
A Buddhist Layman
ANSWER: Dear Buddhist Layman,
Thank you for the opportunity to answer your question.
Vicara is the sustained discernment on a topic.
This is not sustaining a thought on an object of meditation. Just sustaining a thought is not discernment. That is no different than chanting a mantra. No true knowledge is gained. The purpose of discernment meditation (vipassana - Vicara) is for the contemplation of a topic in order to gain new knowledge and understanding.
For example, one can try to understand the nature of their behavior. Why they are a certain way. In the case where someone is greedy, they can meditate and try to find out why they have this inherent greed within. This is Vicara. That person is ONLY thinking about why they are greedy. They are not thinking of other things, or changing topics. They are focused and discerning on a specific topic. This is their insight meditation.
As for Ekagatta, this just means relentless pursuing of something. For example, Sariputta was ekagatta in wisdom. This is something he pursued. He pursued it for many lives. Some other people pursued joy or happiness or even wealth. Ekagatta is not restricted to good things. It can be applied to anything. Therefore, Ekagatta just means single-pointed mindness.
Vicara can have Ekagatta, but does not need it. Ekagatta does not necessarily end in Vicara.
The identifying nature of Vicara is contemplating and discernment on a topic, that is - thinking and discerning for information. Ekagatta is just single-minded determination in one thing.
They can be related, but one is not restricted to the other.
I hope I have answered your questions.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thank you, Bhikkhu.
I have some more questions: (1) Does the object of meditation remain in the mind when the practitioner is in the third and fourth jhanas? (2) How does the experience of jhana differ in light of the fact that vicara is absent in these stages of jhana? (3) In the Sama˝˝aphala Sutta, Buddha discusses using the fourth jhana as a means of directing the mind to the ending of the mental fermentations, or āsava. I assume (possibly erroneously) that this refers to beginning vipassana meditation while sustaining the fourth jhana. How does this work?
I cannot speak upon the Jhanas, as that is not the focus or interest of my practice. Therefore, I am not qualified to answer questions about the Jhanas.
I do however, understand how to direct the mind to the ending of asava.
Samatha Meditation and Jhanas are not tools to destroy Asava. They are merely tools to calm the mind. The only tool that can destroy Asava is Vipassana. (note I did not say Vipassana meditation).
When the mind is ready (whether it be in a Jhana, after a Jhana, or just merely ready to tackle a problem), the mind sets up a topic or question that needs to be answered. At that point, the mind starts to find logic, reason and truths to either back up it's thoughts or to disprove them. All thoughts should be rooted firmly in personal experience as to avoid guessing or fictional data.
All the information is then filtered in the mind to formulate or postulate a new understanding. At this point, the mind is performing Vipassana. New information is gathered using the Sanna (memory), constructed using Sankhara (volitional formation), qualified for feeling (using Vedana), based in form (Rupa), all the while be aware (Vinnanam).
When the mind achieves this quality of thought, it is considered to be practicing Vipassana.
Without contemplation or uncovering truths or new understanding to replace the fallacious old information, Vipassana cannot be obtained.
I am sorry I could not answer your questions about Jhanas. I hope I have answered your questions about Vippasana. However, I fully understand if my answer is not sufficient since you seem to be looking for answers about Jhanas. I would recommend some of the other experts on this site, hopefully they would have achieved some of these Jhanas and can be better suited to speak on them.