SuttaCentral

How should we translate samādhi?


#1

Okay, so here’s your chance to influence the future course of Buddhism. You can determine whether countless people will find the right path and get enlightened, or lose their way and end up in hell. No pressure!

But seriously, translating samādhi is no easy matter, as many discussions on this forum attest. Let’s see if we have a favorite among our readers. I will take this into consideration, but no promises!

  • Concentration
  • Coalescence
  • Stillness
  • Composure
  • Samādhi
  • Convergence
  • Oneness

0 voters


#2

No “Other” option?


#3

We’ve had lots of discussions, and these seem to be the clear winners. I didn’t want to encourage another list of random suggestions! But anyway, feel free to suggest in the comments.


#4

Well, was “consolidation” considered and rejected?

Consolidate (dictionary.com)

  1. to bring together (separate parts) into a single or unified whole; unite; combine: They consolidated their three companies.
  2. to discard the unused or unwanted items of and organize the remaining: She consolidated her home library.
  3. to make solid or firm; solidify; strengthen: to consolidate gains

#5

No, I think that might be a new one! We certainly shouldn’t stop looking, as it seems clear that nothing so far satisfies everyone.


#6

When I was digging at the etymology for samādhi a little while back, I noticed the latin ‘synthesis’ would be equivalent if taken to mean"place together". I don’t like this at all though, sounds scientific/medical and cold.


#7

Will this draw any distinction between pre-jhanic and jhanic samādhi? The former is suggested by cittassa ekaggatā (and its permutations) which does not seem to be exclusive to the jhanas.

This does make some allowance for those deep states free of the hindrances, but which do no fulfill the first seclusion criterion of being “quite secluded from sensual things”.


#8

There are just certain Pali and Sanskrit words that have a breadth and majesty that cannot be touched or approximated by the English language. Samādhi is just one of those words. Dukkha is another, by way of example. I like the idea of using the Pali, and allowing the reader to exercise the chewing and absorbing of the term from their own knowledge and experience, and from the context of the sentence in which it is employed.


#9

You’ll notice that “com-pose” is exactly that: “place together”. It comes from the Latin “to cease, to lay down”, and otherwise has a strange bit of history. In any event, the interplay between these two aspects of the term in particular is why I like it.

:wink:


#10

Synthesis is Greek actually… oops.

‘Composure’ can have an element of dignified or noble posture, also a calm or settled element. However, I think it misses out on the “coming together as one”. This powerful oneness of a usually fragmented mind is better captured by ‘convergence’ imo, though perhaps it misses out on some of the other elements.

I’m kind of agreeing with Anagarika Michael on this point, that especially dukkha and samādhi should be left untranslated. If these translations only appear on the web, then perhaps these Pāḷi words can be left untranslated and a hover-over or link can provide the depth of meaning?


#11

Yes a problem is that, in current English usage, “composure” is not really used to convey that root meaning, but seems to mean nothing more than “settled”, “calm” or “unagitated”.


#12

the feeling of belonging to the majority is so sweet and gratifying

if i’m not mistaken samadhi has no use outside of the specific context of mental cultivation, this i think also has to be the scope of use of any English equivalent claiming adequacy which isn’t contaminated by unrelated connotations, do we have such?


#13

I sitll vote for ‘unification’ (of mind) unless you just use the Pali terms (which is actually my first preference though I know you’re reluctant to do that). I know ‘unification’ is a bit bland but it’s a very easily understood English word and fits, and is at least more specific than ‘stillness’ or ‘composure’ (there are already enough ‘arguments’ over what constitiutes jhana, why complicate it further with a term that applies to states that fall well short of samadhi/ usually used to mean jhana). So if you must translate…

Oh please not ‘oneness’, far too new-agey and conducive to misunderstanding. We know all the reason 'concentration is not good (though it has the benefit of being commonly used, which has it’s pros as well as cons). I think ‘coelescense’ is just not as easily understood and is used in too many other English contexts (so would invite a ‘huh?’ from some). ‘Convergence’ would be my 3rd choice after ‘unification’ (2nd choide) or Samādhi (1st choice)

OK, sorry for the long comment/critique of words. I know there have been many discussions on this so I’ll try to shut up for now :pensive:


#14

I vote for Unification of mind as it has contained within it nuances of one-pointedness, purification, and tranquility, and is free from ‘dryness’ (concentration), lack of one-pointedness (coalesce, stillness), non-specificity (consolidation). Unification also gives a sense that something specific in the form of meditation must be practiced to arrive at this stage, which other words don’t quite do, for me.

With metta

Matheesha


#15

Then how are y’all going to translate citta-ekaggata?

It seems to me, since citta-ekaggata is a synonym of samadhi, that the term samadhi doesn’t need to carry the full weight of this semantic realm.

And, most of the words in the poll can be verbed (“samadhi-ing” and “oneness-ing” are just silly), so they seem mostly equivalent on this score.

For those who want samadhi left untranslated, are all of that term’s conjugations to be left untranslated as well?


#16

Reading a translated term, it’s good to have some sense of what the original might be. With translations like “composure,” I don’t get any sense that the original meaning might have been samādhi. Composure is what we regain after being mildly embarrassed.

“Oneness” comes closer to the meaning, but I think “unification” would be even better (save “oneness” for ekaggata). Generally, though, I think that some terms such as dhyāna and samādhi are special enough and central enough that they should be kept untranslated as part of the basic vocabulary of Buddhism.

The Chinese term most often used for translating samādhi has a meaning something like fixity, and is then often translated into English as concentration. I don’t like the term concentration, though, and I think it is missing the principle of the unification of the mind.

When I think concentration, I think of a child burning ants with a magnifying glass. Obviously that sort of concentration implies a duality and a narrowing of the mind, which is very different from a greatly broadened mind, characterized by unity and purity.


#17

It’s often transliterated as well, right? “Fixity” is not that close to the original meaning, so I’m guessing the ancient Chinese found this as hard as we do.

While the origins of the term as such are one thing, as i mentioned to Brahmali earlier, I think the origin of the idea lies within the Upanishadic union of the atman and the brahman. I wonder whether similar ideas were current in China, and if so, what terminology was used?


#18

That’s right, Kumarajiva and that era of translators typically transliterated samādhi as sanmei (三昧), or sometimes as sanmodi (三摩地), or sanmoti (三摩提). They did that because it was to them a very special term that could not be easily translated. Some later translators such as Xuanzang translated the term as ding (定), which means something like fixity.

Of them all, I think sanmei (三昧) was probably the most common way to render samādhi. In general, Kumarajiva’s choices for transliteration and translation were probably more “normal” and mainstream than those of Xuanzang. For example, Xuanzang would typically translate samādhi, but then transliterate pudgala.

Looking a bit further, it appears the use of sanmei (三昧) goes back to the 2nd century, and was first used by the Kushan monk Lokaksema, and some of the other early translators. Later it was used when translating the āgamas, and also for major translations by Buddhabhadra, Kumarajiva, etc.

I don’t know of any such correspondences for samādhi specifically, but often attaining Nirvana or Bodhi was translated into common terms as attaining the Way (i.e. Dao). Cultivating the path (mārga) was cultivating the Dao (Way), and it still comes out that way in Chinese.

Interestingly, the earliest Yogācārabhūmi translation, from the 3rd century, was translated with the title, “Cultivating the Stages of the Way,” so maybe that is a little similar. These all lean toward some transcendental reality, though, so maybe they are more in line with Buddhist theories than the Self type language of Brahmanism.


#19

There is a very interesting discussion of samādhi over at about religion. I would say that in samādhi a jhanic level is achieved in which anatta would be self evident were it not such an oxymoron. [cue laughter]

The above sited article has an interesting conclusion. I loved the fact that Ajahn Chah was given the last word on the subject.


Samadhi and Enlightenment

Most Buddhist meditative traditions do not say that samadhi is the same thing as enlightenment. It is more like opening a door to enlightenment. Some teachers do not believe it to be absolutely necessary, in fact.

The late Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, cautioned his students not to be fixated on samadhi. He once said in a talk, “If you practice zazen to, you know, attain various samadhi, that is a kind of sightseeing practice, you know.”

It might be said that samadhi loosens the grip of projected reality; it shows us that the world we normally perceive isn’t as “real” as we think it is. It also quiets the mind and clarifies mental processes. The Theravadin teacher Ajahn Chah said, “When right samadhi has been developed, wisdom has the chance to arise at all times.”


#20

please make it understandable to all levels of education, both dhammic and academic :slight_smile: