In our culture it is now the norm to hear people say they are spiritual and not religious or they meditate instead of pray. At face value this seems like a fair statement in a secular culture. Let’s dig a little deeper into the above statements to unravel the true meaning behind the words, specifically let’s focus on the difference between prayer and meditation and how these two spiritual practices come from complete opposite worldviews.
I am a big advocate of framing a position first by defining the terms in which we will be discussing, in this case prayer and meditation. There is a wide range of meditation disciplines, for the purpose of this blog I will be using a definition from the Transcendental Meditation Organization (http://www.tm.org/meditation-techniques) and the prayer definition comes from Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry backed by scripture (http://carm.org/dictionary-prayer).
Meditation Definition: The Transcendental Meditation technique allows your mind to settle inward beyond thought to experience the source of thought — pure awareness, also known as transcendental consciousness. This is the most silent and peaceful level of consciousness — your innermost Self. In this state of restful alertness, your brain functions with significantly greater coherence.
Prayer Definition: A privilege and an obligation of the Christian where we communicate with God. It is how we convey our confession (1 John 1:9), requests (1 Tim. 2:1-3), intercessions (James 5:15), thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6) to our holy God. We are commanded to pray (1 Thess. 5:17). Some personal requirements of prayer are a pure heart (Psalm 66:18), belief in Christ (John 14:12-14), and that the prayer be according to God’s will (1 John 5:14). We can pray standing (Neh. 9:5), kneeling (Ezra 9:5), sitting (1 Chron. 17:16-27), bowing (Exodus 34:8), and with lifted hands (1 Tim. 2:8).
Being One Versus Being None
Many individuals say that the world religions are superficially different and fundamentally the same which could not be further from the truth in my opinion. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a respected world religion scholar that would agree with that statement. That is why such statements as I meditate instead of pray or I am spiritual and not religious have a much bigger impact on ones worldview and values than they would think. I am focusing on just one simple example to show the disparity in thinking by illustrating the differences between prayer and meditation. Douglas Groothuis outlines the basis of meditation in the following statement, more specifically its roots and meaning in Eastern religion and philosophy.
Many Eastern religions teach that the source of salvation is found within, and that the fundamental human problem is not sin against a holy God but ignorance of our true condition. These worldviews advocate meditation and “higher forms of consciousness” as a way to discover a secret inner divinity.
The key aspect to Douglas Groothuis’s statement is the focus on salvation and divinity come from within, the self. This becomes a very important point of reference in illustrating the stark difference in worldviews between the individual that prays and the individual that meditates. Although it seems superficial at face value the difference between prayer and meditation is actually the clashing of two completely different worldviews. Most meditation disciplines can be traced back to Eastern religion and are rooted in pantheism which is the idea that all is divine and all are part of a self-created universe which is all encompassing and also God. In essence this puts a focus on “self” and that salvation and enlightenment is something to be achieved within. The individual can take any path to enlightenment due to all paths leading to the same divinity. This is also why almost every form of yoga or meditation is focusing internally or more specifically on the self.
This discipline and mindset differs greatly from the Christian worldview which is deeply rooted in monotheism and the recognition of a sovereign creator that gives ultimate worth to humanity. The basis of the Christian worldview is that we are created by a sovereign creator much like a painting is created by the painter. In contrast, the pantheistic worldview believes the painter and the painting is one in the same or otherwise stated as the painting created itself.
My question to the pantheist is how can the painting define or understand its own worth?
The biblical worldview is completely at odds with the pantheistic concepts driving Eastern meditation. We are not one with an impersonal absolute being that is called “God.” Rather, we are estranged from the true personal God because of our “true moral guilt,” as Francis Schaeffer says.
Prayer then becomes a practice and focus on something great than self, our creator. Prayer becomes the recognition and thanksgiving that intelligent design is the reason for our existence and that a creator loved enough to pour the effort and passion into creating the world and humanity. The very thought of recognizing this is taking the mind away from self and onto something greater than oneself. Prayer is recognizing we received a gift, otherwise known as grace, for no reason or acts or enlightenment. Self cannot and never will be able to create life, thus, self must always stay in its appropriate position of humility.
Christ offers something for nothing: He even offers everything for nothing. C.S. Lewis
Finding Strength Through “Self” or “Grace”
As illustrated above, meditation is rooted in “self” and that we are all part of the divine which ultimately translates to being part of God. When reasoned through the practice of meditation and the pantheistic worldview is ultimately rooted in the individual defining ultimate worth, truth and meaning. In direct contradiction, the basis of prayer and the Christian worldview hangs on two distinct commandments that Christ outlined during his ministry. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind” and “Love you neighbor as yourself.” This is where the absolute is established in the Christian worldview that drives ultimate worth in humanity. These two commandments which all the laws and prophets hang on establish our relationship with our creator and all humanity. Ravis Zacharias states that the creation narrative gives humans intrinsic worth and essential value. You see, there cannot be worth among humanity based on self but only when we recognize and establish that the neighbor next door has the same worth as you do. Furthermore, the belief that a creator cared enough to create the world and humanity illustrates an inherent worth that cannot be established by any other worldview. The Christian worldview is the antitheses of focus on self, it calls the individual to recognize and acknowledge something greater than oneself and to recognize the value of our neighbor on equal terms as self.
How Prayer & Meditation Change Politics & Sociology
In the United States we are living in a time where prayer is banned from our schools and institutions but meditation is widely accepted and instituted in business, school and institutions. These two worldviews and their respective philosophies have also been played out in the modern day political and sociological arenas. The pantheistic worldview that encompasses such thinking and ideology as karma, dharma and reincarnation has led to such oppressive political systems as the Caste system. In the Caste system you do not have the same worth as your neighbor; your worth is based on your Caste which is defined by Karma from another life that we know nothing about. I give a detailed analysis of Karma and the Caste system in my blog Karma: What the Guru’s and New Age Aren’t Telling You About Its Oppressive History and Philosophy.
In comparison, The United States which was founded on a JudeoChristian worldview recognizes individual worth, rights and equality. There is no better description to illustrate this point than our Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The idea of equality is rooted in the creation narrative and Christian worldview. Rights are only as good as the personal responsibility of the individuals involved and why recognizing your neighbor as yourself is crucial in obtaining life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Christianity is the only worldview that is not based on individual works but on the concept of grace which is the basis of where humanity has derived the concept of unalienable rights which I would say is inherent in all of our souls from our creator. Each human being has some basis for what they believe to be their rights even though nothing has been achieved or done for these rights. Grace is the only philosophical or theological explanation for humanities inherent sense of unalienable rights.
The Clash between the Subjective and Objective
The fundamental issue I see between prayer and meditation is that one is rooted in subjectivity and the other in objectivity. In meditation there are no absolutes. In fact, the basis of meditation is to defy absolutes through the subjectivity of a higher form of consciousness. A consciousness that cannot be understood ,defined, or reasoned; thus, who or what is to say what is truth and what is not. This level of subjectivity is exactly why the postmodern movement has adopted the new age and pantheism to illustrate their spirituality. It allows for each individual to define their own reality, rules and definitions. The problem with that level of subjectivity and relativism is that whose reality, rules and definitions supersedes whose? This level of subjectivity and focus on self is unsustainable at its basis and will eventually diminish equality and worth in humanity which has been illustrated in the Caste system in India and in Coummunist regimes in the 20th century.
In contrast, prayer and the Christian worldview is rooted in absolute truth and objectivity. Unlike meditation, there is no undefined or unexplained higher consciousness. The message of the fall, restoration, and redemption through grace is clearly outlined in objective and absolute terms. There is no higher consciousness or new trendy meditation style, instead we are instructed to go somewhere quiet and privately pray to our creator. Truth is and can be that simple, the gospel can be understood by a child but equally as challenging to the greatest minds and scholars in the world.
On My Knees in Prayer: Defending My Christian Worldview
As an individual who adheres to the Christian worldview I do not look to myself for divine intervention, I look to the scriptures and other Christian brothers and sisters to encourage, correct, and, rebuke me so that I do not stray too far off path. I am not nearly objective enough to be divine and left to my own I have no doubt it would lead to either total despair or unrelenting pride. This is something I am unwilling to play with, thus, I will get on my knee’s every day and thank God for his grace and ask for forgiveness where I have fallen short and follow the truths of his word to guide my path. I will never believe in a philosophy, religion or worldview that points back to self as the source of truth. I am not nearly wise enough to take on that responsibility.
Regardless of your worldview I find it important to understand the definitions and meanings behind commonly used statements in our society. There is always deeper meaning behind the words and statements we use and it is those words that come to define us and our actions. I now pass the question onto you – what do you really mean when you say that you are spiritual and not religious or your meditate instead of pray?
As a Christian Apologist I will always defend the Christian worldview but in adhering to the Christian worldview I respect each and every individual regardless of whether they practice prayer or mediation but find it important that we openly debate our differences in culture. Ravi Zachrias stated it best, “respect the individual while engaging the idea, so that we keep people in their equality but ideas in their hierarchy.”