What is the difference between prayer and meditation?
The Guide: Many people are not quite clear about it. It is always a matter of agreeing upon the meaning of terms. I should like to make the following distinction: prayer is a preliminary step to meditation.
Prayer is a matter of thinking, meditation is prayer with feeling; it engages the soul forces as compared to the thinking forces. To get to the second and further step, you need a certain discipline and concentration, which you learn through prayer. Most people are not used to being spiritually and mentally active, yet one cannot enter into meditation unless one has first learned the preliminary state of concentration.
Even in the form of meditation we find the masculine and the feminine principles. The one is intellectually active and involved with thought, therefore masculine; the other is emotional and flowing, therefore feminine. Both of them are important.
In a particular developmental phase, one of them can be emphasized, and in the next one, the other, until balancing and fusion can take place even in this. The kind of meditation that should be mostly cultivated is always the one which you find more difficult, because this indicates that the quality to be cultivated is lacking for the ultimate merging.
Another spirit once told me that it is good to have a very long prayer and meditation. After some years, this became very much a habit. Some time ago, when I asked you about it, you said that this may not be good because there is a rigidity and a habit in such prayer, and that we should try to unlearn what we did at that time. I was wondering why was it that we were told by a supposedly developed spirit to fall into this habit-pattern?
The Guide: When a person first comes to a spiritual path of development and is not used to prayer or concentration at all, such meditation is a good discipline. It is favorable to learn concentration through prayer and meditation, since your thoughts go through a certain cleansing process and you build a certain consciousness. You learn to cultivate unselfish thoughts. Your thoughts are elevated in prayer, thus clearing the way for a later stage of your development. So the power to concentrate can be combined with cultivating constructive and unselfish thoughts, as in prayer.
Certainly, concentration could be learned in connection with any subject, but it is better to learn it in this way than in mundane matters. So you see, both the cleansing of the thought process, as it happens in prayer, and concentration are necessary on this Path. Both could be learned separately, but it is just as well to combine them. Once the discipline is learned, one has to guard against the routine of prayer, which makes it rigid and devoid of aliveness.
Different activities and attitudes apply to different phases of one’s development. Once you have reached a certain point, it would be harmful, in many respects, to remain in a rigid routine. If your prayer does not vibrate any more, it is better to have short prayers that change according to your needs at any stage of your present development, also paying attention to your present difficulties and inner obstacles.
The power of concentration you have learned can then be used for the purpose of self-finding in all the work you do on this Path. That is much more productive than rattling off in one’s mind the same thing over and over again. Children in first grade learn something different than what they learn later.