Definition - What does Vitarka mean?
Vitarka is the name given in Buddhism to one of five factors that together lead to the meditative state of pathama jhana. It refers to the aspect of conceiving mentally, and is sometimes translated as “applied thought” or attention.
Its name comes from the Sanskrit root words vi, which is a prefix to verbs and nouns it expresses and tarka which means “reasoning” or “inquiry."
The term vitarka may refer to mental activities that occur in normal consciousness as well as the deliberate application of thought in the first stage of meditation.
Yogapedia explains Vitarka
Vitarka can be considered an intermediate step in meditation. In order to move onto higher levels of meditation, the practitioner must give up an aspect of their attachment to each factor.
In pathama jhana, the yogi focuses on a physical or mental object, and begins with vitarka, by thinking about or conceiving the object mentally, before moving through other stages in order to achieve a single-minded concentration.
The other four factors of pathama jhana which come after vitarka are:
Vichara (sustaining the mental focus)
Priti (meditative joy)
Sukha (meditative happiness)
Ekagrata (single-minded concentration)
It is said that once vitarka and vichara are mastered, the mind of the practitioner will be stilled.