Vitakka as Foot of the world

By Sarah Abbott - a summary of a zoom discussion with Sujin Boriharnwanaket July 2021
Foot of the World


The subject of vitakka came up in several discussions. In a sense door process, apart from the moments of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or touching, all the other cittas need vitakka to lead the citta and other cetasikas to the object experienced. There is no thinking about a concept yet but still vitakka has to arise with each of these cittas to experience the sense object. It seems there is seeing all the time, but it only arises for one moment. Because of vitakka other cittas experience the object through the sense door and then the mind door.

We need to consider more about its characteristic and function. Seeing just sees. it doesn’t disturb anything or anyone because it just arises as vipāka, sees and falls away instantly. However, afterwards vitakka brings more and more experiences. It’s like "the foot of the world ". Saññā (memory) marks and remembers what is experienced and vitakka touches and keeps up the experiencing of the object by the other cittas, not letting go of it. There is more and more thinking about what has been experienced until there are different ideas of people or things, different likes and dislikes.

What is thought about depends on vitakka (or saṅkappa) conditioned by saññā (memory) which remembers what has been experienced. Each word, each reality is very subtle. Without the Buddha’s enlightenment we would have no idea.

There is vitakka now but it’s not known. Even citta now doesn’t appear. Without the development of understanding of different realities appearing as anattā (not self) there can never be sammā saṅkappa (right vitakka) of the Eightfold Path. When the right vitakka develops it leads paññā (right understanding) to understand the object experienced clearly. This is why when discussing the Eightfold Path vitakka or saṇkappa is in the group of paññā, whereas sati, viriya and ekaggata cetasika are in the group of samādhi, and the other 3 factors in the group of sīla.

The Buddha taught about all dhammas in detail, such as how many cetasikas there are and which one is vitakka. We learn why it can’t be phassa (contact) or any other mental factor. Gradually it can be understood what the function of sammā saṇkappa of the path is when it arises with right understanding to penetrate the truth.

We learn all these details to let go of the idea of self and the wrong ideas that something can be done or applied or a method followed. Gradually we learn that there is nothing, no self at all, just different dhammas the way they are conditioned to arise.

Attachment lurks all the time. It hinders by wanting to know or understand. Doubt also is bound to arise until there is firm understanding of dhammas as anattā. At any moment of studying the Teachings there has to be understanding that it’s not “me”, not anyone. This is the purpose of such study now.

Its [main] characteristic is the lifting of consciousness on to the object; having an object, it (vitakka) lifts consciousness up to it. As someone depending on a relative or friend dear to the king ascends the king’s palace, so depending on initial application (vitakka) the mind ascends the object. Therefore it has been said that initial application lifts the mind on to the object.”

Atthasālinī, (The Expositor) 1, Part IV, Ch 1 (Translated by Maung Tin