“Prayer is talking to god. Meditation is listening.” So says author Simon Chokoisky in a “Psychology Today” article.
Per the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, “prayer” is “the relating of the self or soul to God in trust, penitence, praise, petition, and purpose, either individually or corporately” and “meditation” is “a form of mental prayer.”
Prayer has also been described as worship, asking favors, a form of devotion, an expression of wonder, a cry for help, an homage offering, a petition for sustenance, a calling to mind of God, a conversation with God, the praise of holy beings, etc.
Meditation has also been interpreted as thinking about scripture passages, contemplation, purifying of the mind, concentration, mindfulness, calming of the mind, visualization of deities, focusing on purified mind, observing the mind, etc.
We asked our panel of distinguished religious leaders of the region the following question: How do you differentiate between prayer and meditation? What will be your choice out of prayer and meditation?
Here is what they have to say:
PRAYER ENCOMPASSES ALL
Sherif A. Elfass, Northern Nevada Muslim Community president
According to the definition and benefits of meditation, one can recognize two forms practiced in Islam. The first form of meditation is called “Tafakkur,” which means contemplation. Muslims are highly encouraged to contemplate, think and ponder over every wonder of Allah’s creation in this universe. This type of meditation leads to a worshipful appreciation of Allah Almighty’s creative power. The second form is the prayer. During the prescribed five daily prayers, Muslims disconnect themselves from this world and only think about Allah, reciting His words, the Quran, and thanking Him on His bounties. Meditation is a means to find tranquility, which is achieved through the remembrance of Allah. “Verily, in the Remembrance of Allah hearts do find tranquility” (Quran 13:28). While contemplation is a highly encouraged practice, daily prayers are obligatory upon Muslims. Muslim prayers combine contemplation, gratefulness and remembrance of Allah and thus encompass all meditation forms, actions and benefits.
SURRENDER THE WHEEL
Monique Jacobs, director of faith formation, Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno
There are three major prayer expressions for a Christian: meditation, vocal, and contemplative prayer. They have in common the recollection of the heart. Meditation is a prayerful quest engaging thought, imagination, emotion, and desire – the whole person. The goal is to pay attention to our faith by confronting it with the reality of our life. Vocal prayer has a more particular focus of intention: i.e., petition or thanksgiving. Thus vocal prayer becomes an initial form of contemplative prayer. Contemplation is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus: “I look at him and he looks at me.” Far from being passive, such attentiveness is thoroughly engaging. Communication in this kind of prayer is not speeches; but rather deep, wordless encounters with God. My heart feels more connected to God through mediation. I feel more able to surrender direction/movement to God rather than setting my own course through specific goals or expectations.
DEEP HEARING IS SPIRITUAL LIFE
Matthew T. Fisher, Reno Buddhist Center resident priest
In Buddhism, meditation is the primary religious practice. Petitionary prayer to the Bodhisattvas has always been a secondary practice to feel support on the transcendent path. Through many forms of meditation — sitting, walking, chanting, and visualizations — a Buddhist follows a path toward a state of joy called enlightenment. This is done by transcending the “I-me-my” construct, the source of all our suffering. Dōgen Zenji wrote, “To study the Path is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things”. This is the path to joy, compassion, wisdom, and freedom; a realization of the futility of our self-power and acceptance of other-power. Underlying all meditation is insight – Deep Hearing of the Light – in gratitude to the Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe.
SEARCH, PONDER AND PRAY
Ryan J. Earl, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assistant area public affairs director
We believe that “as soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part” (Bible Dictionary at lds.org, based on Matthew 7:7-11). Jesus Christ and His chosen apostles and prophets provide many examples of the language, form and purposes of prayer (see Matthew 6; 3 Nephi 19:19). Prayer requires work and is a means of receiving great blessings.
We also believe that pondering (which is akin to meditation) in conjunction with prayer and faithful action are keys to understanding and knowing the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (see Doctrine and Covenants, Section 9).
Indeed, the principal invitation of the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, is to read, ponder and pray to know of its truthfulness (see Moroni 10:3-5).
Brian E. Melendez, American Indian spirituality scholar
My great-grandmother Ethel once explained to me the simplicity of prayer. As a 100-year-old Paiute elder explaining life to a young punk, she shared her rendition of prayer being nothing more than a good thought, even more so a memory.
Even though my great-grandmother now sits on a star, she forever reminds me of the three most important parts of any agreement: the prayer to undo what has been done, the prayer to be more than what is, and the prayer to accept what will be. Simply put, the Past, the Present, and the Future … all in one genuine action.
Overall, The Spirit does what it wants, when it wants, under any circumstance. Whether we are sitting silently, or standing in line at Wal-Mart … if it is for us to have a dream, vision, message or moment, it will most definitely happen on their time, not ours.
ElizaBeth Webb Beyer, rabbi, Temple Beth Or and N. Tahoe Hebrew Congregation
There are many ways to communicate with G-d. Tefillah (prayer) is the traditional notion of speaking with G-d from the prayer book or words from the heart. Many have a practice of praying several times a day. Mindfulness and a positive attitude are encouraged by saying blessings every day being grateful for life, food, and praising G-d for everything G-d does.
Our Sages speak about many types of meditation, including hitbonenut (contemplation) and hitbodedut (self-seclusion). Some focus on “emptiness.” Kabbalistic meditative mystical practice may focus on Divine names. Many suggest active meditation which fully engages the mind. Its goal is to prepare the heart and mind, moving the ego aside in order to connect with the Life of the Worlds. According to Rebbe Nachman, many holy people find the only way to achieve lofty spiritual insight is through meditation. Prayer or meditation may be truly heartfelt. Both are necessary.
PRAYER IS BETTER
Stephen R. Karcher, St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church presiding priest
There’s no doubt that meditation is a discipline that improves one’s ability to focus and concentrate. It’s also been medically proven to reduce stress and alleviate some physical ailments. However, those practicing prayer gain these same physical benefits but also profit spiritually. While the aim of meditation includes longevity, happiness, and peace of mind, the peril of such a self-focus is that it can lead to an ever-expanding ego instead of providing a pathway to greater humility and love. This pathway is found in Christian prayer which purposefully seeks salvation and eternal life with God, which is union with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This prayer doesn’t try to achieve “self-realization” or “god-realization”; rather, it pursues the transcendent God who is active within us, and empowers us to unite our will with God’s. So having briefly considered both disciplines, it is clearly more profitable to invest time in prayer.
A SIGN FROM GOD
Bradley S. Corbin, Baha’i teacher
Bahá’u’lláh says there is a sign (from God) in every phenomenon: the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time – he cannot both speak and meditate. This illumination would reveal that the difference between prayer and meditation is prayer is speaking our desire while meditation is listening for the answer. “It is an axiomatic fact that while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind, you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed” (Abdu’l-Baha, “Paris Talks,” p. 174). My first choice would be prayer, for we must quiet and focus our mind to open the dialog with our spirit. Clear focused intent, stating what we are seeking, is the first step.
MEDITATION IS PRAYER
Steve Bond, senior pastor, Summit Christian Church, Sparks
Prayer is communication with God. It includes speaking with God and hearing from God. The Bible reveals that there are many different kinds of prayer including intercession, praise, confession and thanksgiving. All of these forms of prayer are beneficial.
Prayer can also include silent listening or contemplative reflection on a Bible verse or on one of the attributes of God. Other religious traditions refer to this as meditation. But for Christ followers these are simply ways we connect with God through prayer. Thus, meditation for Christians is a contemplative form of prayer.
Unfortunately, today in our fast-paced society meditative prayer is rarely practiced by Christ followers. This is to our detriment. Jesus regularly drew away from the crowds for prayer … undoubtedly including periods of meditative prayer.
We will greatly benefit by following Jesus’ example. Our spiritual lives are enriched by connecting with God through meditative prayer.
Kenneth G. Lucey, UNR philosophy/religion professor
Huston Smith, the 96-year-old author of the classic work “The World’s Religions” is a practitioner of the discipline called Raj Yoga. He is generally considered an individual responsible for popularizing yoga to the west through his television program in the 1950s. The yoga best known in the United States is the primarily physical program called hatha yoga. There are a multitude of different kinds of yoga. By contrast, Raj Yoga is a distinctly psychological kind of yoga practiced by Hindus and Buddhists, and an essential feature of it is meditation. Meditation essentially involves stilling the monkey-chatter of our minds, and its essential purpose is to put the individual into contact with the divine. Prayer, by contrast, essentially involves thought, which meditation strives to supplant. This stillness distinguishes prayer from meditation.
Next week’s topic:
Would you unfriend someone because of their religious views?
Faith Forum is a weekly dialogue on religion produced by religious statesman Rajan Zed. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.