Can meditation become a part of spiritual life for theistic believers as important as prayer?
Catholic theology defined once what is the best activity you can do. It is the contemplative prayer. It´s because the best part of you (your mind) is dealing with the best existing reality – God.
As it uses to be, the most valuable things are the simplest. In spite of their simplicity, the deeper you recognize them, the wiser you find them. Like are the two most common pillars of spiritual life, which lead to the most precious contemplative state: Prayer and meditation. Many wise words were written concerning the topic of prayer which definition is quite simple – the dialogue with God. Similarly, to define meditation is easy – it is concentration of mind.
Meditation has become very popular, its benefit is stressed for various effects, like is health, harmony and defence against stress. Yet the main purpose of Eastern meditation traditions that uses to be forgotten is spiritual; seeking Ultimate Reality and, especially in Mahayana tradition, unification with it. The other profits are just by-products. Thinking that meditation is good only for health or like antidote to stress is like to claim that historical church was build in order to become valuable architectonical relic.
Meditation has always been part of wider spiritual life. But in contrast to prayer, which is integral religious practice of theistic religions, meditation is not inseparable from its Eastern non-theistic spiritual background. Does it mean that it is easy aplicable for Christians, Jews or Moslems? And which role could meditation play there? Can meditation become a part of spiritual life for theistic believers as important as prayer? What will happen if you debase it from its Eastern roots?
In my opinion, instead of Eastern-Western (or theistic and non-theistic) differentiation of spiritualities you can use another one; ascending and descending. In descending (or from up to down) spirituality the faith in metaphysical concepts like God, moral ideal, doctrine are prime and human effort to reach out for them follows.
Meditation praxis support the second spirituality – from down up. Although such a kind of spirituality becomes more and more popular in Christianity, in Buddhism it is a basic principle that a follower should base his religion on his personal understanding and experience, and not on faith or on the authority of scripture alone. So your spirituality sources from your immediate experience, your problems, your emotions, feelings, sensations. You develope your awareness to what you feel. Meditation helps you to work with it, to see every emotion as a valuable signal of your soul, every pain as a unappreciable information that your soul something needs that there is something ill in you. Thus, you start your spirituality from place you know best and where you are home.
Meditation has its stages. In the beginning of this journey there is cultivation of awareness or attention. After you´ve developed your concentration you are taught to become able to be detached from your emotions, to embrace and assimilate every experience that presents itself, to thankfully accept everything in your life. It´s the second stage.
Thanksgiving prayers remind us of this receptive awareness in meditation praxis - an attitude of gratitude towards life. Moreover, Christian theologists themselves stress priority of pedagogical goals of prayer for cultivation our attitudes, like is gratitude and dependency on God. They claim that God does not need our prayers but we need to pray so we realize that we receive everything from Him.
On top of your meditation path – if you are spiritual seeker - you can use your new faculty of penetrating insight to reflect upon the mystery of God and his creation. Eventually, there is a direct experience of God.
Also prayer has its stages and on its top there is a contemplative prayer. If you are aiming towards this stage, oral prayer is preparatory step as well as following “prayer of silence” in which you just stand before God in silence because you feel already bored of previous using all pious words and other prayer aids.
And what is it, in fact, what Christians call “contemplation”? The description of great Christian saint Augustine, who explained that the way to attain union with God is through contemplation, lets us know that the greatest spiritual experiences of Christian mystics and perhaps also of other religious teachers were achieved in moments of deep meditation – though they might have called it something else:
Contemplation itself entails ´recollection´ and ´introversion´. Recollection is concentrating the mind, banishing all imges, thoughts, and sense perception.
Having emptied the mind of all distractions, introversion can begin. Introversion concetrates the mind on its own deepest part in what is seen as the final step before the soul finds God. “
(Daniel Goleman, The Meditative Mind, Jeremy P Tarcher, Los Angeles, 1977, pp 57-8)
The goal in the highest stages of meditation – and in fact in all meditation journey - is virtually the same like for prayer: To reach out for God. You should just exchange the word “Ultimate Reality” or “Supreme Truth” used by Buddhists for “God”.
Prayer represents sooner descending spirituality, however, comparing aims of prayer and meditation, the similarities become more and more obvious. While superficially there may be many differences between meditation and prayer, at the highest level in their approaches to the Supreme Reality they are surprisingly similar.
Meditation and prayer thus can be used for the same ultimate goal. Although oral prayer is necessary mainly for developing personal relationship with God, meditation can become an important help for theistic believers in cultivation their spiritual lives in all levels.