So you’ve just found out about meditation, or perhaps one of your friends told you about mindfulness meditation, and you’re wondering if he’s talking about prayer. It’s easy to confuse the two if you’ve never learned the difference.
The difference between prayer and meditation is that prayer is defined as an act of communication with God or other Higher Power, while meditation is training our attention and awareness to tame the mind—a mental gym. Also, prayer is religious, requiring faith, while meditation can be secular.
Okay, that was a short answer, and I know you’re still reading to learn about the details. So let’s take an in-depth look at these two to understand the difference between meditation and prayer clearly.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a mental exercise that aims to silence the mind and involves focus, awareness, and relaxation. Meditation is to our mind what physical activity is to our body. The benefits of meditation are enormous. It reduces stress, anxiety, increases happiness, helps you mature emotionally, and whatnot.
If you’d like to read the benefits of meditation, be sure to read my post on how meditation makes you happy.
Do I have to follow a religion to meditate?
Meditation is a science. It doesn’t require belief in any religion or God or anything like that. You don’t necessarily have to believe in a higher power or a divine source. It’s an art of self-exploration.
Meditation can be traced back to have its roots in Hinduism, the oldest religion of the world. Since it’s the oldest religion, it’s not even a religion. Think about it. There were a bunch of wise people who found multiple techniques of transcending the limits of the intellect, and they gave it away to whoever came to them. That’s it. At that time, there were no religions; just this one way of living that involved different forms of meditation.
We might be digressing here a bit, but hear me out for a second. If you take a look at one of the center texts of the Hindu philosophy, the Bhagwat Geeta, the word “Hindu” is nowhere to be found. The only phrase you’ll come across is “Sanatan Dharma,” which means “The Eternal Law.” What does that tell us? The teachings in the Bhagwat Geeta are for everyone, regardless of their religious belief. The same applies to Buddhism. If you read the Dhammapada, you’ll find that it’s really a philosophy of life.
I hope I was able to convince you that meditation doesn’t belong to any religion, just like other secular sciences.
Okay, but what exactly is the point of meditating?
Great question! To further understand what meditation is about, let’s take a look at one of the most common meditation practices, the breath meditation.
The instructions for breath meditation are simple: You sit cross-legged and pay attention to your breath. There’s no need to breathe in a certain way – that’s a different thing. What you’re trying to do here is train your awareness to stay at a single object. In the beginning, you’ll only be able to concentrate for a few seconds before getting hit by a swarm of thoughts.
However, what happens over time is that you’re able to stay aware of your breath for more extended periods. More precisely, you start to be mindful of thoughts as they arise. Earlier, you used to realize that you’re thinking only after 5 minutes of cursing your ex in the head. But now, you become aware of thoughts as they pop up in the ocean of your consciousness. So instead of drifting away with the thought-patterns, you can simply drop them. They don’t bother you anymore.
I won’t say that I’m a meditation expert – far from it. But I do have a bit of experience doing it. It’s pretty cool when you can just see thoughts and feelings as they arise.
So the next time your boss shouts at you, you’ll be able to see the anger boiling up inside you. The best thing? As soon as you observe it, it starts to fade away. So the point of meditation is to create a gap between external stimulus and response.
What is prayer?
If we trace back the etymology of prayer, we’ll see that it comes from the Latin verb precor, which means to beg or entreat. The Sanskrit word for prayer is Prarthna, which can be broken into ‘pra’ (intensely) + ‘artha’ (to plead). These origins tell us that prayer involves two entities – the one who prays and the one who receives the prayer.
Prayer is a religious practice that tries to connect to the ‘great power’ of the universe. Prayer can be individual as well as collective. It may involve the use of words (chants, songs, etc.), or it may also be silent. Prayers are popular in many religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
Unfortunately, prayers are typically performed with carelessness in today’s time. We pray to God only when something terrible happens to us or when we want something from God. Wanting something from a higher power is saying, “Look, here. You may be divine, but I know more than you. So please get me that job promotion.” However, to talk about the correct way of praying is not the topic of this article, so let’s move on.
What is the objective of prayer?
One of the most common objectives of prayer is to ask for something from God or other Divine power. We can directly appeal to the deity to grant our requests. It can also be used to train our minds to focus on divinity through intellectual contemplation and philosophy.
Prayers are used to intensify the devotee’s love and surrender toward the deity. As the devotion strengthens, prayers may enable the devotee to obtain direct experience of the Divine power to which he or she prays.
What are the benefits of praying?
Prayers can benefit us in many ways if done correctly. Here are some of the benefits of praying with a pure heart:
- It can make us humbler and more compassionate.
- It allows us to get closer to our deity and experience his or her presence in our lives.
- Praying also gives us peace of mind. After a session of singing the lord’s glories and praying, we feel calmer and more serene.
- In tough times, praying can be an excellent way to keep calm. It gives a ray of hope when things aren’t looking so good.
- It also dissolves our ego. When we regularly practice surrendering ourselves, we gradually start to realize that we aren’t so important after all.
So now you know what meditation and prayer are, their benefits, and why we practice them. Let’s sum it up by discussing the similarities and differences between prayer and meditation.
Also check out: 10 Reasons Why You Should Not Meditate
Similarities between meditation and prayer
Prayer and meditation overlap at some points. Both of these practices embrace solitude, spirituality, and silence. Usually, you’d carry them out in a quiet place. They offer a time of reflection, away from the afflictions of the world. So they’re similar in the way that they offer some peaceful time away from whatever may be bothering us.
All the fundamental spiritual precepts are the same in meditation and prayer. For example, both of them require you to be virtuous and sincere in your efforts to pray or meditate.
Both prayer and meditation can be practiced in different ways. There are various types of meditations, such as walking, breathing, watching, Kundalini, etc. On the other hand, you can practice praying by reciting scriptures, journaling, kneeling in front of your idol, and so on.
Differences between meditation and prayer
As you’ve probably noticed, the primary difference between meditation and prayer is they are based on different beliefs or systems.
A prayer typically belongs to one religion or the other. Wikipedia describes prayer as “an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship through deliberate communication.” It is based on the idea that thought can influence reality or change a future outcome in your life.
On the other hand, although meditation is spiritual, it is secular, as we’ve established above. Wikipedia describes meditation as “a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.” In meditation, you’re not concerned with the future. You only try to fix your attention on the present moment.
Prayer allows you to connect with a higher power, the universe, or your deity. In contrast, mindfulness meditation will enable you to communicate with your inner self.
Some people say that prayer is talking to God, while meditation is listening to God. However, that can be misinterpreted because it implies that meditation has something to do with an entity other than oneself. It gives the idea of some kind of religiousness.
So now you know the difference between meditation and prayer. Both have their place in the journey of a spiritual seeker, and they can be used together effectively. Buddhism and Hinduism also hold prayer in high regard, even though these two religions emphasize meditation.
You can’t say that one is better or more efficient than the other. It all depends on what kind of upbringing you’ve had and your spiritual inclination.
I hope this article was helpful to you. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below, and I’ll respond to your query.
Good luck 😊