What is usually rendered simply and homogeneously as meditate / meditation in English translations is in fact found in different forms in Pali.
Let’s see how what is translated into English as meditation (noun), meditative training (noun) & meditate (verb) is found in the original in Pali.
Atha kho āyasmā mahācundo sāyanhasamayaṃ paṭisallānā vuṭṭhito yena bhagavā tenupasaṅkami
Then, when it was evening, the venerable Mahā Cunda rose from meditation and went to the Blessed One.
paṭisallānā is the term here, and it would be more accurately framed as seclusion. The translator is correctly assuming that Maha Cunda’s seclusion was not for a nap but for a meditation session!
(…) ādimeva nu kho, bhante, bhikkhuno manasikaroto evametāsaṃ diṭṭhīnaṃ pahānaṃ hoti, evametāsaṃ diṭṭhīnaṃ paṭinissaggo hotī”ti?
(…) Now does the abandoning and relinquishing of those views come about in a bhikkhu who is attending only to the beginning of his meditative training?
manasikaroti seems to be the term here, and it would be more accurately framed as focusing of the mind, taking to the heart, reflection, ponderation, meditation!
Note that this term is used in the suttas in sentences like saññan manasikaroti = ponder over the idea of impermanence and is synonym for pajānāti, which is the verb from which the word ñana (insight) is derived from. The translator here associated the mind training of a bhikkhu with this practice of religious contemplation, ergo meditation.
There are these roots of trees, these empty huts. Meditate, Cunda, do not delay or else you will regret it later. This is our instruction to you.”
Etāni, cunda, rukkhamūlāni, etāni suññāgārāni, jhāyatha, cunda, mā pamādattha, mā pacchāvippaṭisārino ahuvattha—ayaṃ kho amhākaṃ anusāsanī”ti.
***jhāyati*** seems to be the term here, and it would be more accurately as absorb, consume, do jhanas - PTS Pali-English dictionary says this is the Pali rendering for two distinct Sanskrit terms: dhyāyati (shine, perceive) and kṣāyati (burn, consume). This is the verb from which the very well known word jhāna / dhyāna (meditative absorption) is derived from.
Well, it seems the Suttas are telling us of a Master who made use of a very rich vocabulary to inspire his disciples to engage in a varied range of mental behaviours, practices and habits.
What we usually read in English translations as a single instruction or urge to meditate in the Pali original points to things that range from simple pondering, bearing in mind, to comprehensive reflection, and of course to the pursuit (or allowing for) the attainment of mental absorptions - jhāna - as the synonym for samma-samadhi.
Hence, the intention of this post is to:
1. explore further and discuss what are the different ways the concept of meditation is conveyed in the suttas / sutras;
2. and, most importantly, discuss how helpful it may be to be able to qualify and differentiate the practical aspects of the different terms found in the suttas / sutras.
Additionally, it would be great to confirm whether the Chinese translations kept some of this rich vocabulary or ended up constrained to using a single concept to render so many different practical aspects of the samadhi and pañña elements of the Path, as in the case of contemporary translations.