As one looks through the literature, it is evident that there is no lack of discussion on the topics of meditation and prayer. What is apparent is that meditation seems to be addressed more scientifically. In contrast, prayer and its nature carry a degree of intimacy and personalization, which differs from person to person.
The differences between meditation and prayer turn on a single aspect. Whereas meditation has one concentrating on yourself and achieving an inner calm, prayer has the individual turning to One beyond self, larger and more powerful than the person engaged in the act of prayer. Proponents of meditation refer to it as being ‘akin to prayer,’ practiced by millions worldwide. There is no claim then that meditation is prayer. Meditation is presented as bringing the mind to a state that controls actions of the body, enabling it to, for example, withstand high degrees of pain and being able to control physical objects. For those who meditate, the abilities and feats that are achieved are attributed only to the individual. As ‘meditative calm’ is reached and the mind gains control over the physical, the person receives accolades and admiration for the outcome of their strength through mediation.
Definitions for prayer are as varied as the persons who practice it. However the method used in prayer is one of the major factors that distinguish it from meditation. Whereas meditation carries with it some distinctive steps or stages that carry it to completion, prayer is posited as “…communication…we talk with God, not just to Him”. God, in turn, talks back to the individual. This communication is a highly individual and personal interaction. For many persons, prayer will not involve a step-by-step progression but rather a condition of submission of self. There may be no looking for any physical prowess on the part of the supplicant, no mind-boggling feats as what attends meditators. What prayer does for the person, is to facilitate a revelation of God’s supernatural power, not theirs. Advocates of prayer will share similarities in some of the outcomes of their prayer experiences, yet the uniqueness of each encounter with God remains a constant characteristic. No two persons would seem to have identical approaches, motives, or conditions as they communicate through prayer.
Meditation versus Prayer: Major Distinctions
- Meditation is largely driven by a need for self-actualization, whereas prayer is motivated by the desire to know God better or to submit to a Sovereign being.
- A prevailing aim of mediation is to discover untapped strengths and potential within an individual, while prayer is engaged in as a recognition that strength (physical, etc.) and potential are given to us through a supernatural person.
- Prayer seems to involve an intrinsic trust in Someone other than self. It requires a trust that cannot be readily explained except that the one who prays recognizes, through faith, that something is taking place in the interaction and communication that quiets apprehension and gives reassurance
- Meditation has traits of a mechanical progression. Within the meditation experience, there may be repetitive actions, chants, breathing exercises, and a range of other actions that are uncalled for in prayer. This distinction is worthy of note as it enables those who pray to have the assurance that it can take place anywhere, at any time, requiring no specific apparatus or atmosphere.
Overall, one recognizes that the method and purposes for prayer and mediation are very distinct, and while both may be associated with worship, they are very different practices.