The Differences between Prayer and Meditation

By George A. Boyd © 2003

Prayer consists of a sequence of steps that provide a sense of communion and communication between the believer and the Divine, as the believer understands the nature of God. These stages of prayer are shown below.

Faith Forming a belief that the Divine is efficacious (has great powers and can offer help through miraculous means) and cares (is a being of kindness, love, compassion, and mercy).
Remembrance Directing your attention to an inner representation of the Divine.
Supplication Asking the Divine to meet a perceived need or answer a question.
Inner Listening or Reception Listening for a verbal response to the prayer or feeling inner comfort in response to your prayer (a sense that the Spirit of the Divine has entered into your nucleus of identity or is communing with your spirit or other inner center). This may become a dialogue where you ask a series of questions or share a variety of concerns and receive responses to each of them.
Thanksgiving and Worship An expression of gratitude and praise to the Divine to thank Him/Her/It/Them for responding to the prayer.
Reception of Grace or Blessings In response to thanksgiving and worship, there is a suffusion of energy into the spirit or other inner center that is perceived to be a blessing and acknowledgement that your thanksgiving and worship has been received.
Grounding Returning your attention to the waking state.
Differences between Meditation and Prayer

Like prayer, meditation focuses attention. It may focus attention in remembrance of the spirit, of an ensouling entity, a nucleus of identity, the goal of spiritual evolution, an inner guide—or like prayer, upon one of the forms or aspects of the Divine.

Meditation may use evocation, asking a question or making a request for information to the spirit, an ensouling entity, a nucleus of identity, an inner form of the unconscious mind (archetype) or to a spiritual guide. It may also engage in listening to and receiving guidance from an entity that is evoked. It may also engage in dialogue with the entity that is evoked.

There is also a grounding stage in meditation. After each meditation, the attention returns to normal waking awareness again.

Prayer requires faith in the aspect or form of the Divine to which you pray, whereas meditation does not require faith. Meditation witnesses, studies, or interacts with whatever is visualized at the focal point of attention.

Meditation does ask for information through inner dialogue methods, process meditation, or inquiry, but does not ask that the object of meditation grant a wish or desire, or intervene on your behalf, or the behalf of another person, institution, or social collective (e.g., a city, country, or nation).

Meditation does not utilize thanksgiving and worship, though it may use chanting to call upon and focus the attention upon one of the forms of the Divine.

Meditation may utilize auric reception, or receiving the Light from a spiritual Master, Initiate or the Divine, which parallels the step of reception of Grace and blessings. But auric reception does not follow upon thanksgiving and worship, and is typically a reception of initiatory impulses.

Reception of these initiatory impulses has been called Initiation, Shaktipat, or Light Immersion.

Initiation expands the potentials of being at all levels, purifying and illumining the inner vehicles of the ensouling entity. This Light Immersion during meditation may also:

  1. convey healing
  2. grant emotional comforting
  3. provide mental guidance or inspiration
  4. give directions for the human will
  5. commune with the spirit and guide it through the Inner Planes
  6. guide the attentional principle through the inner vehicles into union with the ensouling entity
  7. awaken the intuitive wisdom and abilities of the Superconscious Mind
  8. confer Gnosis upon the ensouling entity (identification with the Soul, e.g., to wake up as the Soul).

The reception of Grace and blessings in the prayer sequences usually does not convey initiatory impulses.

Instead, prayer usually focuses on the first four of these elements of a Light Immersion, which may be said to impact the personality or outer life of the individual.

The higher four elements may be said to be Transpersonal (referring to aspects of the Superconscious Mind or inner life of the individual), and are less frequently addressed in the reception of the Grace and blessings sequence of prayer.

Levels of Prayer

The impulse to prayer may arise at different levels of the mind.

Conscious Mind – These take the form of repetition of a written prayer or repeating a prayer after someone leading a prayer. This type of prayer, called role prayer, is typically used in religious groups as part of their worship ceremonies. These prayers may have limited personal relevance.

Subconscious Mind – You pray in this fashion when you cry out from your pain, suffering or grief, and ask the Divine to help you. This is spontaneous, deeply felt and intensely meaningful to you when you pray in this way. It comes from the "gut," the deep emotional core within you.

Metaconscious Mind – This type of prayer is an articulation of personal questions raised in dialogue with the Divine.

  • These may take the form of asking whether certain courses of action are morally correct or whether your understanding of a scripture or point of doctrine is accurate.
  • They may solicit guidance as to what is the best course of action to take in order to solve a problem.
  • They may seek clarification of the meaning of a scripture or life event.
  • They may request forgiveness for perceived moral transgressions.
  • They may inquire about the nature of the world, of God, and the relationship between God and man.

This type of prayer is used to develop a philosophical or theological understanding of God. It arises from the centers of the conscience, intellect, and volition of the Metaconscious Mind.

Superconscious Mind – These types of prayers arise from the spirit as intercessory prayers or the ensouling entity as benedictions of so-called "universal prayers." The spirit typically prays on behalf of other people. The universal prayer or benediction invokes blessings for all living beings (like the universal prayer of the Buddhists: "May all beings everywhere find happiness and release from their suffering").

Efficacy of Prayer

The efficacy of prayer refers to the results of praying (e.g., when you pray, do you get what you ask for?).

Efficacy of prayer may be fruitful, in that the supplicant receives the request.

It may also be fruitless, in that the subject does not receive the request.

Several factors impact the efficacy of prayer:

Getting the Ear of the Divine Rote prayers, invoked with little feeling or meaning, do not touch the Divine as sincere. This is one of the reasons why Conscious Mind prayers are often not as efficacious.
Faith versus Doubt People who cultivate scientific or empirical skepticism may find it difficult to believe in the Divine or in the miraculous power of the Divine. They may abandon prayer and even ridicule it as superstitious or childish. Those who have strong faith in the power of the Divine experience much better efficacy than those who pray but have doubts about the existence of God.
Lack of Focus If the attention is wandering and is not focused upon the Inner Form of the Divine, then parts of the supplication may be lost and your ability to receive the Divine response during the inner listening and reception phase of prayer may be compromised.
Covert Anger at God If you are still feeling resentment at the Divine for not granting one or more of your desires or expectations, it may decrease your desire to pray and may also lower your expectation that your prayer(s) will be granted (effectively undermining your faith). You may also be angry with God for not saving a loved one from death or tragedy. These half-hearted prayers charged with your ambivalence come across as insincere. Here you need to clean up your relationship with your Higher Power to get better results.
Obsessive Prayer Here you pray without ceasing, repeating the same prayer over and over and over, with great intensity and fervor. Obsessive prayer is unnecessary: God heard you the first time. Obsessive prayer is also obnoxious and annoying.
Doubting the Divine Wisdom The Divine Will may often be inscrutable and incomprehensible to you. Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair, doesn’t seem right, doesn’t seem reasonable, doesn’t seem kind or merciful, or doesn’t respect or honor your preferences. Sometimes it may genuinely be for your highest good to not receive the boon for which you pray (you may not be mature or wise enough to use it rightly in the present time in your life). Sometimes you must undergo the pain, suffering, grief and unrequited longing as part of your Pralabdha karma or destiny. God may not lift these things from you, as they are a part of the template of learning upon which your life is founded. These issues may also be retribution in evil deeds in past lives, in which case you must bear the karmic sentence with patience and fortitude.
Spiritual Pride In this scenario, you come to believe that you are righteous, highly spiritually advanced, possessed of great virtue and wisdom, are highly favored and chosen by God and, naturally, God will always attend to you right away and fulfill all of your desires upon demand. This narcissistic approach to God usually does not produce fruit, as pomp and piety do not nurture the humility and sincerity that touch the Merciful Heart of God. The advice of Lord Jesus, to become as a little child – to humble yourself – produces much better results.
Relative Depths of Prayer Prayers from the Subconscious Mind and Superconscious Mind are more direct conduits to the Mercy Seat. Praying from these emotionally poignant centers, from the core of your human pain and from your spirit, often get better results than distant rote prayer and intellectualized theological prayers.
Prayer and Affirmation

The so-called prayer of faith, "believing that having prayed for a boon, you have already received it," is really an aspect of affirmation.

An affirmation is a visualized thought seed that is anchored in the Superconscious Mind. You may see the results of your affirmation (visualization), repeat a phrase to anchor it in the Superconscious Mind (decree, fiat, or affirmation), and feel that it shall be made manifest (faith, expectation).

The Superconscious Mind is creative and manifests the seeds anchored in its Plenum. Part of the efficacy of prayer may be due to the fact that as you invoke the Divine to grant your wish, you also anchor an affirmation in the Superconscious Mind.

The Divine may only have to nurture your seed that you have already planted to allow it to bear fruit. Indeed, the fulfillment of many of your prayers may actually be the fructifying of affirmation seeds that you planted long ago with great fervor and desire.

Affirmation may be a useful adjunct to prayer, as may meditation. We encourage you to learn more about affirmation and other invocational methods in order to enhance your spiritual life.

Those wishing to learn about invocational methods and other forms of meditation may find the Mudrashram® Master Course in Meditation or Accelerated Meditation Program useful. This foundation course will give you a comprehensive introduction to meditation theory and methods, as well as giving you understanding about the process of initiation.