When prayer is done in its purest form, it is the exact same thing as meditation. There are many forms of meditation, and just as many forms of prayer, so that’s where it can be difficult to see how they’re similar.
I was raised Christian by a family of pastors, so I’ve had a “relationship with God” ever since I was little. I have studied and experimented with many forms of prayer and meditation.
When I experience the presence of God, it is the same experience as when I meditate. Both have a quality of infinite awareness, where my sense of self, space, and time dissolve, and where transcendent love and peace abide.
This is confirmed by several areas of scholarship, including perennial philosophy and neurotheology.
This fact can also be confirmed by a simple experiment you can perform yourself: When you pray and experience God, what do you feel? Likely a sense of infinite joy, love, and peace – The fruits of the spirit.
Now meditate on infinite love on its own, and compare the sensation. Basically the same, right? It doesn’t matter if we meditate on God and experience infinite love, or meditate on infinite love and experience God, they are both the same experience. That’s how meditation and prayer are the same.
Different Explanations for the Same Experience
I’ve had the joy and privilege of studying many teachers in many different spiritual traditions, for example: Rupert Spira in the Hindu tradition, Thomas Keating in the Christian tradition, as well as Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh and Jack Kornfield in the Buddhist tradition. Wayne Teasdale and Carl McColman also have excellent books that explain the commonalities between traditions.
When you look at these traditions side-by-side, it does not take long to notice the similarities. In the Christian tradition, the presence of God is described as infinite love and peace. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, it is described as boundless awareness, infinite presence, universal nature, Source, and more.
Types of Meditation and Prayer
It is important to understand the differences and similarities of meditation and prayer. For instance, much of prayer in the Christian tradition is petitionary in nature – meaning you’re usually asking God for something.
But, when you “be still and know that I am God”, rest in the “peace that surpasses all understanding”, and abide in God, that is a different, more pure form of prayer.
“Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation.”Fr. Thomas Keating
This form of prayer is called contemplative prayer. It is the contemplative, mystical dimension of the gospel. And in my opinion, it is the most pure form of prayer, as it creates direct experience of God (the definition of mysticism). Without direct experience of God, the Christian faith is useless.
When you know about this method of direct experience, that is when you start to see the dramatic similarities between all religions and traditions. Hindu Vedanta spirituality is even called the Direct Path.
Perennial Philosophy and the Common Thread Among Religions
All of these practices attain what’s called nondual awareness. This state is deeper than just focusing on the breath in Buddhist meditation, or asking God for something in petitionary prayer.
The end goal of all meditation and prayer is to move beyond these requests, objects, focuses, and attachments, and rest in pure awareness. This awareness has no inside or outside, no boundary between self and the universe, or self and others. Our awareness literally lacks duality, so it becomes nondual awareness. This state of infinite peace is described by all spiritual traditions.
This state has also been measured and studied in the field of Neurotheology, spearheaded by Dr. Andrew Newberg. Research in this area has studied Buddhist monks, Carmelite Nuns, Jewish Rabbis, and more, and have found that all of them attain the same transcendent state, where our sense of self, space, and time dissolve.
For the longest time I thought my experience or relationship with God is what made my faith unique (the only way to God). Through the research mentioned, I found out I was very wrong.
Growing up in the church, I would hear testimonies of people and how their lives were transformed by Jesus and God. I thought that was one of the main reasons that Jesus was the only way to God. When I “rededicated my life to Jesus” after hitting rock bottom, I wanted to understand the math of my spiritual experience. I knew that I had started to transform, but how exactly? Was orthodox theology an adequate explanation?
But I found that all spiritual traditions can create similar spiritual transformation. That’s not a jab at Jesus or Christianity. I affirm that tradition, but I also affirm the power of all traditions in creating human change.
“All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not.”Richard Rohr
Turns out that the ingredients of my spiritual transformation, were the same ingredients in all spiritual traditions:
- Letting go of self, ego and attachments
- Transcending into pure awareness (aka the presence of God)
The same ingredients are practiced in the purest forms of meditation and prayer. Practicing this letting go and transcending leads to what different traditions call enlightenment, nirvana, or salvation.
In my opinion, the perennial philosophy I’m sharing here is both humanity’s greatest truth, and humanity’s greatest wisdom. The fact that prayer and meditation are actually the same at their core, is a truth that is potentially world-changing. Religious bigotry and religious conflict could decrease, if humanity would understand how inclusive and universal the truth actually is.
This is also humanity’s greatest wisdom, because research has shown that meditation could be the single greatest driver of human effectiveness on the planet. It certainly changed my life. It is because we haven’t learned to access Source consciousness (the presence of God), that we are not truly fruitful (loving, kind, peaceable, and wise).
But through meditation and prayer, we can become more effective as humans, and change the trajectory of the human race toward peace.