Question: I would like to know the difference between prayer and meditation.Sri Chinmoy: The difference between prayer and meditation is this: prayer is something absolutely intense and upward-soaring, while meditation is wide and vast, expanding itself ultimately into the Infinite. When we pray, we feel a vibration from the sole of our feet to the crown of our head. Our whole being is praying, invoking, calling upwards. Where meditation is concerned, we throw ourselves into a vast expanse, into a sea of Peace, a sea of Delight, into Infinity; or we welcome the Infinite Vast into us.
In prayer, we feel a one-pointed flame rising and soaring upward. The very nature of prayer is to reach God by going up. Our entire existence is going up like a flame. Even if we pray to God for humanity, for the entire world, we will see that by the very nature of prayer, we are going up. Prayer is intense and ardent. It does not usually spread. But meditation does spread; in fact, it is immediate expansion. Meditation, like the wings of a bird, is always spreading, widening into Peace, Light and Delight. The entire universe of Light and Delight we see, feel and grow into when we meditate.
Whenever we pray there is a subtle desire or aspiration for something. We pray to become good, or to have something divine which we do not now have, or to be free from fear, danger, doubt and so on. There is the feeling of being — let us use the term — a divine beggar. We are praying because we need something. Even when we pray for Peace, Light and Bliss, there is still a certain feeling of demand. Sometimes there is a personal feeling of give-and-take and the prayer takes this form: “I am bringing my prayer to You, Lord. I am giving, Lord. So You please do something for me. You please save me, help me, fulfil me.”
But in meditation we do not do that. We just allow ourselves consciously to enter into the effulgence of Light, or we invoke the Universal Light to transform our ignorance into wisdom. The aspirant who has become successful in his meditation, and has been able to enter into the deeper regions of Infinity or Eternity, does not pray the way we pray in churches or synagogues or temples. In his meditation, he enters into the divine consciousness and leaves everything in God’s Hands. Here we see the true surrendering attitude. The seeker feels it is not necessary to ask God for anything, since his divine Father knows exactly what he needs and when to give it to him. He lets God do what is best for him, what will allow him to manifest God in God’s own Way. In the deepest meditation, the seeker just enters into his own infinite aspect. He dives deep into what he already has: an inseparable oneness with his Eternal Father. Then it is his Father’s business to do what is best for him or give him what is best for him.
Now I wish to say something which you Westerners may not like. According to strict Indian philosophy and Yoga, prayer is not on the same level as meditation. It is a lesser form of aspiration than meditation. Some yogis have stated that prayer is just a beginning for sincere seekers who aspire to later enter into deeper meditation.
For the real seeker, I must say that meditation is more important than prayer. But prayer is also of great importance. I will never say that prayer is not needed at all. Prayer is needed, but if one meditates, then it is easier to attain the universal Consciousness or the unlimited Consciousness. When one prays, he most often has a definite objective in mind. But when one meditates, he is encompassing and embracing the entire universe. One has to know what one wants from life. If one wants Infinity, Eternity and Immortality — infinite Peace, Light and Bliss — then meditation will be of greater and more immediate help.