Zen Korner: Meditation vs Prayer
A great question by Taro


Taro says,

Doc, I'm suprised how open minded you are to spiritual leaders from other paths. Its seems unusual for someone from a western Christian background.

Do you practice meditation regularly now?


Will take that as a high compliment my friend.  Yes, I meditate, though with an asterisk.


To me the question as to Christians 'being open to spiritual leaders from other paths' is quite reasonable.  Even if you were to disregard Christianity as you see it on TV (which IMHO is usually a grotesque perversion of the religion), it is still the case that many humble Christians are taught to regard *anything said by non-Christian teachers* as suspect.  Many 'rank-and-file' Christians look at you quizzically if you quote the Dalai Lama.  Even in my own congregation I usually need to explain myself before going much into his teachings.

As I see it, real Christianity is about the search for truth.  So if we stipulate for a moment, for the sake of argument, my own belief that Christ is who He said He was -- and the New Testament therefore a special revelation -- it would still be the case that human beings would deduce much truth through natural logic, as IMHO Buddhists have.  I regard Buddhism as an amplification of an important 20% of the New Testament, as if you took a magnifying glass to its verses on Compassion, Virtuous Thought, Peace of Mind, and a few other key concepts.

Buddhists are in many (maybe most) cases BETTER with these things, this 20% excerpt of Christianity, than Christians are.  Modern brain imaging often studies monks and their ability to activate neurotransmitters through their amazing ability to focus their thoughts on virtuous things -- joy, gratitude, and so on.


The (current) Dalai Lama himself is an atheist and a man whose IQ is at least 150.  He is very friendly and kind towards those of other religions and in fact encourages (say) Christians to continue on their paths as opposed to converting to Buddhism.  I therefore have come to regard Buddhism as the best, and nearly-perfect, man made religion.  Of course from my standpoint the best man-made religion means little if compared to one delivered from God.

MEDITATION is inwardly directed:  when the Dalai Lama "meditates" on gratitude he will CONTEMPLATE the nature of gratitude, how it is generated, what its results are, the difference between gratitude for people vs. gratitude for circumstances, and so on.  His contemplations are incredibly profound, well-centered, and have much to offer any Christian.

PRAYER is upwardly directed:  one thanks God formally for benefits received, presents petititions for His interventions, apologizes for rebellions committed, and so on.  The Christian views PRAYER and BIBLE STUDY as learning from God directly, as opposed to attempting to deduce truth.  Obviously if there is such a thing as Divine instruction available, it is superior to one's own investigation.  You'd rather be taught chess by the world champion, than sit on a desert island with a board and try to teach yourself.


The Western media has attempted to convince Americans that "an open mind" is equivalent to "accepting all statements as equally worthwhile."  The Dalai Lama would utterly reject this absurdity, as would any sabermetrician.  None of us believe that it's "open-minded" to accept the assertion that seven infielders and one outfielder would be a good defensive formation.  In sabermetrics we search for truth as we do in any other science.  Philosophers, including religious teachers, are obligated to adopt this same scientific attitude.

All that said, Christians do meditate along with their prayer and study (Ps. 63:6 "I remember You on my bed; I meditate on You in the night watches.")  Buddhist meditation is the form of spirituality I would pursue if I were ever to conclude there was no Transcendent Creator from Whom to learn (and by Whom to be redeemed).

The Dalai Lama's books, speeches, and teaching are the highest form of purely human thought I'm aware of ... and that's speaking as a Bobby Fischer groupie.  :- )  I never spend an hour in his teachings without becoming wiser for it.  Any Denizen who has yet to read him will be glad he did.





Taro's picture

Fantastically stated Doc.

No longer religious myself, but am willing and prepared to follow the truth wherever it leads and am open to all sources.

Curious what you consider God to be exactly? Have you ever experienced God's presence directly?


"What do you consider God to be exactly?" ... talk about an all-time question .... :- )  Personally I would consider there to be three reasonable ways to answer that question, and personally would exclude those conceptions of God that are based on human 'guessing.'  It's not very enlightened to create a god in our own image or one that serves our own desires.  Zeus is a ridiculous figure and it amazes me that human beings (used to) buy into concepts like that.

Further, C.S. Lewis pointed out that --- > if the New Testament did not contain UNEXPECTED things, then we should immediately be suspicious of it.  "Christianity has that weird twist to it that real things have," like the fact that your dinner table is made of protons and neutrons.


MY conception of God is stated in John 14, when Jesus told Philip "He who has seen Me has seen the Father."  I see God as a Being of perfect truth and love, those two things absolutely rising above all other considerations.   Psalm 85 "Mercy and righteousness have kissed."  God's personality is virtually the same as Jesus of Nazareth's ... according to Jesus of Nazareth.


C.S. Lewis' conception of God in the first half of Mere Christianity is that of --- > a transcendent Intelligence whose nature and Personality matches our inborn conscience and the things we observe in nature.  For example, when I cheat on my taxes* my conscience does not seem to care how much of a bind I was in; my conscience accuses me regardless of any excuse I present to it.

On the other hand, any mother's reaction to a child also reveals the depth of love we're speaking about, and a gorgeous beach in the South Pacific reveals God's sense of beauty and poetry. 

For me this would be the "next level down" in terms of reasonable conceptions of God.


The last level, the most primitive IMHO, would be Einstein's:

"We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library, whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different languages (the laws of physics, chemistry, math and so forth - Jeff).  The child knows that someone must have written those books.  He does not know who or how.  He does not understand the languages in which they are written.  The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order (the intelligent design of the universe - Jeff), which he does not comprehend but only dimly suspects."

IMHO Einstein overlooked the things that Lewis deduced, and so conceived of God as a transcendent Intelligence far beyond our comprehension, but (oddly) unconcerned with the welfare of the men He had created.  But of course this is one of history's most astounding examples of humility, for Albert Einstein (!!) to assert himself an idiot in the face of trying to decipher the universe's design.


Hope that answers your question respectfully.  And since you bring up the point about having once been religious and now "being open to all sources" I would encourage you some time to read prayerfully through the books of Matthew and John and let me know your reaction to Christ.

In any case thanks for the stimulating discussion!  :- )

Taro's picture

Matthew & John. I will re-read that. Thank you Doc for the explanation. Also this quote :

"personally would exclude those conceptions of God that are based on human 'guessing.'  It's not very enlightened to create a god in our own image or one that serves our own desires."


Often got funny looks as a youngster, when prompted to describe my mental processes/state of awareness during prayer, because I would say that prayer, for me, was simply a form of meditation.  Still do get funny looks from people on that one, but it led to an early 'exploding lightbulb' moment for me when, finally after a few years of receiving incredulous looks from my reply, I said, "Yeah, it's my time to meditate, to think on things more deeply than I'm normally able, and to contemplate truths great and small in the quiet corners of my mind.  What are you doing when you pray???"


"... and know that I am God" ... :- )  In a couple of sentences there Caleb you make it clear that you've had deep spiritual experiences.  Great thoughts!

Taro's picture

Awesome Jonez. Just started meditating a few months ago but I've always felt drawn to it for as long as I can remember.

It seems to me there are many similarities between meditation/prayer, and the differences are subtle.


Excerpted from Mark 12:30, Matthew 22:37.  As a part of loving God, it includes your mind.  As such, an exercise in the search for truth should not be blind to the discoveries of natural laws which, as it so happens, forms a basis for God telling us that natural laws give us enough evidence so as to be without excuse when rejecting him.  It's why I did not check my brains in at the entry door of the church - and it's why Jeff is one of the most authentic Christians I have ever had the priviledge of meeting.

The grotesque vision of christianity (small c on purpose for this point) is the one that the world seems to either hunger for or detest.  It is that of the pastor with the $10M mansion filling arenas and promising prosperity in x number of steps (but don't forget to buy my books, trinkets, and trade your offerings for a prayer towel).  This is complete disengagement of the mind and does more to push away the truth seeker from faith than anything.  You'd sooner find the real Christ through the Dalai Lama than through that.

Said all that to say this:  meditation to me is exactly the way Jeff describes it above.  It is contemplative - it helps me relax when focused inward.  At least for a time.  But.....since the focus is inward, and honest assessment always leads to recognize my own selfish flaws, the relaxation goes away because I know I need forgiveness and redemption.  So prayer becomes a natural next step.  Realizing that I need God is a constant thing.  When I ignore that, all the meditation in the world won't soften a heart that hardens over time when I ignore truth.  So for me, one doesn't work without the other.  Actually prayer works without meditation (for me), but meditation doesn't ultimately help me without the prayer part.

To the original point that Taro brought up in discussion and Doc expands on in this post:  you may find that there are many more Christians, even fundamental leaning types like me, who are open to things that you might not expect.  The natural laws in philosophy led me to explore Christ and his claims.  Although the saving knowledge and acceptance don't come from there, the acknowledgement of how the world works, especially in a philosophical context was the path that led me to that door.


/cosign all of that and then some.  And back atcha on the compliment :- )

"There are fundamentalist Christians who are open to things you might not expect" - in my experience about 30%, 40% of them, no small number (though I worship within one of the most "Constitutional" groups around).  Those Christians who are both open-hearted, and reverential towards the text, are my most delightful friends.  Am SO thankful to meet any person truly interested in give-and-take of ideas, in being willing to change their positions as information is gathered.

Taro's picture

Thank you Russ. Never realized so many of you were deeply spiritual. Now that I know, I wonder why I ever thought otherwise. :-)

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