Despite the fact, that both meditation and prayer are the methods of obtaining the religious experience. However, those are not the same despite the fact that many scholars and mystics claim that meditation and prayer are of the same matter.
The word "Meditation" (Meditatio) is of a Latin origin. It didn`t come from pagan religions, but from the Christian West. It correlates with the verb "meditor" or "to meditate", ponder and means the deep concentration associated with a detachment from external objects and individual inner experiences. The Christian West gave it two meanings. On the one hand, it means the focusing on the philosophical study of any intellectual matters; on the other hand, it is used in religious significance reflecting the mental concentration on the religious subjects. In 2006, the Deane H. Walsh and Roger Shaphiro described meditation this way: "Meditation refers practices that focus on training attention in order to bring mental processes under control" The similar definition gave B.R. Cahn and J. Polich: "Meditation is used to describe practices that regulate the body and mind, thereby affecting mental events." (Ludden) However, all of the meanings of meditation (religious and philosophical) highlight a certain human initiative or the direction of mind and concentration of the soul that doesn`t require any response from the God, not mentioning a dialogue with him that is always been carried out by prayer.
The initial stage of any religious experience is the focusing on religious subjects; moreover, for any religion it is obvious that a person must focus on the object of his worship and to sacrifice for the sake of something temporary. However, this concentration of Christianity can only be a preparatory stage of the spiritual life and not replace it on the merits. Christianity is built on the mutual communication with God and the appeal of the human mind to God is not a self-sufficient sense, as a Christian ascetic waits for a divine reply and only after that he recognizes his spiritual life filled with real content. The responses vary from events under certain circumstances to the action of the Holy Spirit, without which it`s impossible to be a Christian. In any case, such experience of personal communication with God was always called a prayer.
Religions are also various in their attitude to the prayer: a prayer may be sometimes done by the strict rules and in a certain place; however, there are also the examples of a prayer said everywhere by everyone in a different manner: with eyes closed and open, in a certain pose, with a certain gesture or position of hands, etc. Moreover, everyone is aware of an intercessory prayer; however, not everyone has met this term. It means that a prayer is said in a benefit for another person. It is mostly referred to "either a silent or verbal request is made to God, which the petitioner believes can effect change in another person's life" (Hodge). Furthermore, such prayers are proved to endow the people with "significant improvement compared to those who received standard treatment devoid of prayer in 7 of the 17 studies." (Hodge) Although, these methods are still considered doubtful in curing the people, as they currently can`t replace the medical treatment.
Not all religions provide a person with a living communication with God; moreover, this trend is widely spread in pagan religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Therefore, in these religions there is no place for a Christian prayer, as a religious experience is best described through the concept of meditation. Moreover, it`s confined to the actions of the human mind and not of synergy between God and man. In these religions, a person evolves and develops himself using his own efforts in accordance with the ideas of his religion; furthermore, he achieves his highest criterion of spiritual life that is sometimes of a higher level than with a living communication with God. Sometimes these religions (Hinduism, for example,) have their concept of impersonal reality or of material idols, communication with which is doubtful and unlikely. On this basis, a person should only strive focusing on his inner life and mental actions, as he has no access to live communication with God. The highest ideal of Hinduism and Buddhism is a living union with God with the highest achievement of disappearance of all desires; moreover, a person achieves his state of indifference to reality, a feeling of satisfaction and self-sufficiency. It is possible only by the human efforts alone; therefore, it is necessary to describe this experience only through a concept of meditation.
The Supreme Master Ching Hai summarizes the whole concept of prayer and a meditation and the importance of both of them, saying, "We always pray, and God has no chance to tell us. So the prayer is the talking, and meditation is the listening." (The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association) She tells that this concept is actual for any religion, as it doesn`t matter whether you are a Christian, a Muslim or a Buddhist. In her speeches, she says that every person should seek his own inner Truth and the key of this search is the practicing of meditation. "Meditation is the time of quiet listening. That's all it is, and God will come." (The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association)
However, meditation and prayer are combined in Islam with Sufi practice. Islamic Mystics-Sufis uses their physical techniques for self-improvement. Those techniques include dancing, physical movements like systematic head swings, and long-lasting collective prayers with musical pronunciations and other psycho-physiological conditions leading a change in human consciousness; however, they are not representing a living connection with God. Using Sufi Meditation, the mediums separate themselves from the current unfair world. "Only by cutting ourselves off from the unending onslaught of the senses, can we hope to escape from its tyranny and oppression." (Sufi Meditation Center) They recognize that they must do what their God commands them to do, and they are falsely assured that they will get their benefits in their afterlife. However, they know that they will get nothing after death, no trophy for completing the assignments of the God. They know that the only result they get will be their eternal loneliness. The say, "If we want greater rewards than that we must look farther and work harder." (Sufi Meditation Center) They divide their meditation into two methods: the concept of sight and seeking for a spiritual guide. The first form of sight is confined, and it tells a medium how to behave, as it represents the functions of his physical world and space. It`s limited because of the physiological limits of the human body; however, another form of sight is free and represents a spiritual space of a medium, it`s limitless but hard to master. The method of seeking a spiritual guide is the same of the Christian contemplative prayer, as it`s more advanced technique of visualizing a spiritual Mentor that you can communicate with and study.
Summarizing the written above, it must be said that a prayer and meditation have their similarities and differences; however, they can`t exist without each other if a person wants to obtain a true religious experience. Every religion has its basis in a continuous communication of a person with God, and it doesn`t matter if he prays or meditates to gain a better experience and to find his God, as it`s everything up to the efforts of a person; however, it must take many efforts of a human to be closer to God, and he or she must be aware of that.
Hodge, David R. A systematic review of the Empirical Literature on Intercessory Prayer. 10 02 2009. http://www.sagepub.com/vaughnstudy/articles/intervention/Hodge.pdf.
Ludden, Ken. Mystic Apprentice, Volume 3: Meditative Skills. Lulu, 2010.
Sufi Meditation Center. A Path To Divine Healing. n.d. http://www.sufimeditationcenter.com/WhatisSufimeditation.html. 23 03 2014.
The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association. Pray and Meditation. 2009. http://www.godsdirectcontact.com/relatedtopics/prayandmeditation.html. 22 03 2014.