Prayer or Meditation – Are they one in the same or different? Simply put, they are both. For example, if you compare Buddhist Meditation with the prayers of Christianity, you can see the similarities and differences between the two. There will always be supporters of both practices who place one or the other on a higher pedestal of importance and argue for the legitimacy of their favored practice. For all underlying purposes however, meditation and prayer cross boundaries in both how they are practiced and why they are practiced.
Prayer or Meditation – Similarities
In looking at similarities, first and foremost, both practices embrace silence, spirituality, and solitude. They are usually carried out in a quiet space and offer a time of reflection and the opportunity to connect with either a higher being, nature, or ones inner self – in essence, mindfulness. The practices both offer a safe haven from the many stresses and distractions of our everyday lives, that elusive moment to just be still. In other words, they allow us to get lost in thought and escape what may be bothering us.
Meditation and prayer can also both be exercised in different manners. Just as there are different ways to meditate – standing, walking, Tai Chi, breathing, gazing, etc. – there are different ways for prayer to be observed – journaling, reciting scripture, giving grace, etc. depending on one’s particular religion.
Prayer and meditation are also both carried out for different purposes. Mediation may be carried out to relieve pain, stress, to improve concentration and the list goes on. A prayer may be given when help is needed or guidance, among others. Why we meditate and why we pray are both directly related to our current circumstances.
Centering prayer, developed by 20th century monk Thomas Keating, interestingly adopts many of the same traits as meditation and is practiced widely in Christianity. Akin to mindfulness, the first step in centering prayer, is opening oneself up to whatever is occurring at that time and then to acknowledge that feeling while repeating a mantra of “Welcome fear, anger, unhappiness.” The prayer encourages the letting go of the particular situation and placing trust in God that it will be taken care of. God is not asked to do anything in particular in this instance. Unlike traditional prayer, it is more akin to meditation in that it is passive practice and simply exists for the moment and not an underlying agenda.
Buddhist author Philip Moffitt compares the two practices nicely by equating Christian prayer with Buddhist intention and Buddhist mindfulness with Christian observance. He doesn’t see any overt differences between the two, simply parallels.
Prayer or Meditation – Differences
The differences between meditation and prayer are rooted more in their technical definitions and the beliefs/systems they are based on.
Prayer is based in a religious context and is defined as “a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.” It is based on the premise that thought can alter reality or influence a future outcome in your life – i.e. you will be healed from an illness. It is focused on a certain end result rather than a current point in time. It is sometimes criticized for its overt focus on confession and Godliness.
Mediation, on the other hand, although spiritual, is secular and is defined as “continued or extended thought; reflection; contemplation” in the here and now. It focuses on being present in the moment rather than on something that could happen in the future. You don’t meditate for a specific result but instead stay open to any possibility.
Regardless of which practice you may choose to carry out, the end result for both is the same – to find a moment of quiet, a moment of reflection, a moment of centering, or a moment of hope and inspiration. It really doesn’t matter whether the practices are the same or different.
To your inner peace – Anna