Updated: Jun 17, 2020
English language hardly has any vocabulary for Subtler and Causal Dimensions/planes of existence. Hence, we face this challenge while Translating. Meditation is a doing, Dhyana is not.
First of all, let's understand why so many Sanskrit/Hindi spiritual "terms" cannot be translated into the English language? Why do we have Sanskrit Non-Translatable Terms? The Answer to the above questions is that - English language hardly has any vocabulary for Subtler and Causal Dimensions/planes of existence. Hence, we face this challenge while Translating. Approximate/rough division of the Gross, Subtle and Causal can be as below and it changes when you are looking from different perspectives and for different purposes:
GROSS – This includes Physical Body, Mind, Thoughts, Emotions
SUBTLE – This includes Prana, Pranamaya Kosha, Vigyanmaya Kosha, Anandamaya Kosha and many more
CAUSAL – Atman, Brahman, Adi Shakti or Shakti, Shiva and their many forms Also “Words” are for Physical/Gross dimension and they can be translated. Means a word can have a meaning. But Subtle & Causal dimensions requires Interpretation and have “Terms”. Terms can be interpreted, explained but cannot have direct/one-to-one translation. The “definition” of the English word “Subtle” itself is where the “difficulty, inability” of the English language starts from.
Dhyana does not mean Meditation
Now if you just type "Define Meditation" in Google, it displays the definition as below -
Meditationmɛdɪˈteɪʃ(ə)n/nounThe action or practice of meditating. "a life of meditation" synonyms:contemplation, thought, thinking, musing, pondering, consideration, reflection, prayer, deliberation, study, rumination, cogitation, brooding, mulling over, reverie, brown study, concentration, speculation;rare cerebration"cultivating the presence of God in meditation and prayer"o a written or spoken discourse expressing considered thoughts on a subject.plural noun: meditations"this is not a mythopoetic meditation on manhood, it's a historical study"
Here you can clearly read above that the definition itself says "it's an action" and you can see that all the synonyms are "action", "active verbs" that involves "mental activity". It clearly says that Meditation means "Involvement of Mind, Practice through Mind".
If you search for the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition for Mediation or Meditate, it is given as below -
Definition of meditatemeditate; meditatingintransitive verb
1: to engage in contemplation or reflection - He meditated long and hard before announcing his decision.
2: to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awarenesstransitive verb
1: to focus one's thoughts on: reflect on or ponder over He was meditating his past achievements.
2: to plan or project in the mind: intend, purpose He was meditating revenge.
Here also you can clearly see that it's talking about Mind, Mental exercise, mental involvement, thought-process, focus, concentration and so on. Even none of the synonyms of “Meditation” define the word “Dhyana”.
So, in a nutshell here is why Dhyana does not mean Meditation:
• Because Dhyana cannot be done, it happens to you when you achieve stillness in body & mind through different purification & balance techniques. In other words when Vasanas are removed. Dhyana is like a Calm Ocean, an Ocean without any Waves/Disturbances of Thoughts, Emotions, Vasanas.
• Because Dhyana is not a “doing” or an “action”
• Because by “doing” or by “action” you cannot achieve “stillness”. This stillness is not “non-doing” or “inaction”. In other words, Dhyana is not “non-doing”, “inaction”. Instead, it is the action of the highest level, because it happens in the Subtle most existence of yours and not in Gross/Physical plane of existence.
• Dhyana happens to you, it is a State of your Being, not the State of your Mind or Body. Hence one may be in Dhyana while his/her body may be walking, talking, cooking, cleaning and his/her Mind may or may not have Thoughts. If Thoughts are there, the Being is not affected. In the State of Dhyana, the perception of the world around happens as a Being, neither as a Body nor as a Mind.
• In the State of Dhyana neither there is a “fight” with Mind or Thoughts nor there is any need to “bypass the mind”. All the so-called Meditation Techniques are all about either “suppressing/bypassing/denying the mind” or “involving the mind in different ways”. While to attain the State of Dhyana all this is not necessary.
Cleansing of Vasanas/Sanskaras/Chitta-Vritti through Hatha Yoga, Pranayama and Kriya Yoga sets up the necessary ground for Dhyana to Happen to you. All techniques, practices, sadhana is for removing the hold of Vasanas in you and as a result, Dhyana happens.
In the West, there is a movement going on since last few decades, almost a century you can say; where people are Meditating and they do not even know what is meant by Meditation which is the "wrong" translation for the Sanskrit word Dhyana. Most people will tell you that they “Meditate”, means they do an action of Meditation. And upon looking closely you will realize that there is no “Transformation” in them. There is no “Transcendence” of Life Principles, which are bound to happen to anyone who attains the State of “Dhyana”. As per our Vedas and Agamas, no one taught “Dhyana” to anyone. In other words, Meditation was not taught by a Guru to a Disciple. Either Guru used to give methods/teachings to remove Vasanas/Sanskaras/Chitta-Vritti or Guru used to give SHAKTI to remove Vasanas, so Dhyana can happen to the Disciple and his/her Being can come to the Foreground of his/her own Perception.
So, what these Western Shops of Meditation are teaching? Re-programming the Mind, Brain-Washing, replacing one type of Thoughts with another, or forcefully suppressing the thoughts, emotions, mind and all that is not Dhyana. All these people “sitting cross-legged with eyes closed” are in fact “fighting with thoughts & emotions”. That’s a very torturous and painful way to be. When the body is busy doing something then only Thoughts and Emotions keep wreaking havoc, and now these so-called Meditation Teachers are asking students to bear the nonsense by being still, by sitting closed eyes, that is a sure shot way of making someone run away and feel horrible after few years having a conviction that “they cannot meditate”. Yes, many people run away from Spiritual Practices thinking they are “not fit” for Dhyana. Because their teacher for years taught them Meditation, and Dhyana “never happened” to them.
So, this Meditation seems to be something Western, because in India Dhyana wasn’t taught directly. Dhyana cannot be taught directly. Yes, preparation can be done, the ground can be set up to allow it to happen by itself. The Guru as a Being can directly Transmit Dhyana to the Being that Disciple is if the Disciple is ready, but it can’t be Taught. Transmission through Shakti can happen. All the States of Being can be Transmitted by the Gurus to Disciples, but they cannot be “taught” Mentally/Psychologically, because Being is beyond Psychology. People say Meditation came to West from India. No, it did not. It stayed there only as Dhyana. Dhyana was and is a Sanskrit Non-Translatable, hence it never came to West and it did happen to people in the west, but to a very small number of people in comparison to the number it was being taught to.
In the West a Yoga & Meditation Teacher/Guru may ask the Student – Are you Meditating? Instead of asking – Are you “Being Meditative?”. See the first question is a Verb/an Action, which applies to Body, Mind and Physical/Gross Reality. While second is “beyond” the gross reality. Can a student be asked, “Are you doing Dhyana?” Dhyana and Doing cannot be used together in one sentence like this. Yes, one can be asked if “they are in Dhyana” because Dhyana is the State of Being. Just see how the answers to these questions actually change the “future course of action/Sadhana” for the Student, because if it’s about Meditation then different techniques will be suggested to “do Meditation” by the Teacher, while if it is about Dhyana, then no technique will be suggested for Dhyana itself, instead techniques for Purifying and Balancing of Body, Mind, Panchakoshas, Vasanas/Chitta-Vritti removal will be given by the Guru.
Dhyana is the “first” state of Being and subsequent States are different types of Samadhis.
Yes, once Dhyana starts happening to you, means your Being starts coming into your own perception, then it doesn't matter which pose you are sitting or what you are doing, you will still stay in Dhyana. So Dhyana is when the first time you perceive something that is beyond your body, mind & emotions. And it's a very peaceful, calm state as a Being and then you can either sit or do whatever to "deepen your roots" into Dhyana. You can sit and do it, or you can be on your head and do it. In other words, physical body, mind, emotions have "no hold, no control" on the State of Being that happens to you. Dhyana leads to Samadhi.
If you see the 8 steps of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras then you will see that Dhyana is a precursor to Samadhi. In other words, Dhyana (Which people wrongly translate as Meditation) leads you to Samadhi. In the State of Dhyana the hold of Body, Mind, Emotions on the “Being” that you are goes so low, is so minimal that you the Being starts coming more into your own Perception. Means more the Being is perceived, lesser the body/mind/Vasanas are experienced. The more you Perceive your own Being, the greater the distance and lesser the attachment and hold from Body, Mind & Emotions. While normally everyone is so attached to their body, mind, emotions only, because they “cannot” perceive their own Being. So Dhyana/Meditation is a State of Being where you Perceive your Being and as a result Mind becomes Calm, peaceful, Body becomes restful, still. The more the State of Dhyana happens to you, the more you are closer to different types of Samadhis. When you are in Dhyana/Meditation you are strengthening the perception of the Being that you are. Dhyana is about “Being”, not about Body, Mind, Emotions which are bundled as Vasanas & Karma. The more you remove Vasanas through Kriya Yoga, Pranayama, Self-Enquiry, Tantra and other techniques, the more you become Stable in the State of Dhyana. When someone is rooted properly into Dhyana means when the state of Dhyana is 24 by 7 for a long period of time with Full Intensity then Samadhis starts happening. Ultimately the Nirvikalpa Samadhi means Enlightenment happens.
Now, you may wonder why many Gurus, Spiritual Teachers, even Indian Spiritual Teachers just use the word "Meditation" and do not stick to the Term Dhyana? There could be several reasons:
They themselves have not looked for the "definition of Meditation" to understand the subtle difference. They may not have been rooted in Dhyana themselves, may not have strong perception as Being. They may not have realized that English and many other languages do not have vocabulary for Subtle and Causal planes of Existence.
It may be just convenient to keep on using the wrongly translated word, without realizing the fact that in the English language this term is a Verb, hence many Westerners may get confused.
An understanding that says "it's hard for the Westerners or other language speakers to remember, understand, pronounce the Sanskrit/Hindi words". But how can you justify "wrong translation"? Would it be OK, acceptable if I start calling "Reading as Walking"? Where Reading requires Eyes and Mind, while Walking requires almost all the senses and Mind, specially when eyes are missing.
It's difficult to stop, think and make correction and cause a paradigm shift.
On the name of convenience we have accepted many things which are incorrect fundamentally. Hence we must stop, think and make correction as we go before it's too late.
The most important thing to understand here that, it is not about which language is being used, it's not the fight between two languages, and it's not about the "words" either, it's about "the meaning, the concept" which cannot be conveyed through wrong translation to those who do not have direct experience, embodied wisdom of Meditation/Dhyana yet. Those who are Meditative, who are Dhyani, it doesn't matter for them, because they have grasped the real meaning, the concept of it.
The correct meaning and translation of the words like "Bike & Biking" matter to those who are reading them and trying to understand, not to those who are Bikers and have experienced Biking.
So for those people who are new and are being introduced to themselves through the path of Yoga, the correct meaning, translation of these words matter a lot. Hence we should stick to the word "Dhyana" until & unless English language authorities, dictionaries change the definition/meaning of the word Meditation, or come up with another equivalent Term.