When we read about or hear the word ‘meditation’, we normally think about the Buddha or Buddhist meditation – and visualise people, including the Buddha and Buddhist monks, in various meditative poses. This image or thought is not inaccurate. Buddhism is built upon a strong practice and tradition of meditation, with images of the Buddha and his disciples meditating sculpted, etched, painted, printed, photographed, etc. on myriad surfaces.
However, if we dive deeper, we shall find that the word ‘meditation’, etymologically, has French and Latin origins, and has nothing at all to do with the Buddha, Buddhism or the practice of meditation – all of which originated from India thousands of years ago. In fact, the practice of meditation has its origins in the Sanskrit word ‘dhyana’ and in the teachings from the Vedas from ancient India going back approximately 3,500 years.
Dhyana stands for focus and is associated with Goddess Saraswati in India who is a metaphor for learning, knowledge, wisdom, art, poetry and music. What dhyana helps us achieve is an uninterrupted train of thought that leads to a heightened awareness of our inner Self where, according to Hinduism, our divinity lies. Dhyana, therefore, is a process of searching for our Self within. It turns our attention inward in Self-discovery.
“Vedic teachings hold that, since the universal divine Self dwells within the heart, the way to experience and recognize divinity is to turn one’s attention inward in a process of contemplative meditation.”
– William Mahony, ‘The Artful Universe: An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination’ [Source: Wikipedia]
Dhyana is an integral part of yoga – the ancient Indian discipline which unites the body, mind and spirit to achieve union with God (or the divine Self) through a philosophy and a set of practices and techniques for living a pure life leading to enlightenment. It could, perhaps, be said that dhyana and yoga together help to raise levels of awareness of body, mind and spirit, and bring harmony within the human consciousness in an attempt to align it with the far-more profound divine consciousness.
This is, of course, a simplistic explanation. There is a great deal more to these words and concepts than what is said here. But, it should come as no surprise that the words dhyana and yoga are closely connected to concepts and practices related to spiritual living. Their purpose is to help us find answers to the question ‘who we are’ by going deep into our hearts.
In essence, dhyana or meditation is meant to fuel change within us and transform our lives. But the process can be long and arduous. Attaining enlightenment through meditation as the Buddha did close to 2,500 years ago may be our goal but, historically speaking, not many have achieved this. Some have found peace and harmony in their lives through the practice of meditation, bringing them happiness from self-discovery and a sense of satisfaction. And countless others have been able to resolve personal problems connected to their bodies, minds and spirit.