Christian prayer is much more than Eastern meditation

posted in: Prayer and Virtue | 18
File:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Prayer (1865) (cropped).jpg
The Prayer by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

A few years ago at Mass in another diocese, the priest began a homily on the importance of daily prayer. I was elated. We hear this far too seldom from the pulpit. My elation soon turned to disappointment, however. He talked about being aware of the world around you, and your own thoughts and feelings. Shockingly, he didn’t mention God at all! I realized the priest (apparently without knowing it) was not really advocating prayer, but a Buddhist-inspired form of meditation.

Both Christians and Buddhists use the term “meditation,” so it’s no wonder sincere people confuse the practices of the separate religions. But they are quite different.

Christian meditation centers on Christ

In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II noted that Buddhists seek to free themselves from the world, while Christians seek freedom from sin, through God’s grace, in order to be united with Him. Eastern meditation might relieve stress, but it cannot save souls.

Doctor of Prayer St. Teresa of Avila gives us further insight, when she writes in the 1st chapter of Interior Castle.

“If a person neither considers to Whom he is addressing himself, what he asks, nor what he is who ventures to speak to God, although his lips may utter many words, I do not call it prayer.”  In other words, true prayer recognizes how small and sinful we are and how great God is, and addresses itself towards Him. Eastern forms of meditation are not addressed to anyone.  The question of God’s existence and character doesn’t come into play.

Prayer’s purpose is union with God

Christian prayer is communication with God. The conversation we have in prayer goes both ways. In fact, God’s action during prayer is more important than our words, thoughts, or feelings.  Prayer is a search for God, who promises, “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you” (Jeremiah 29:13-14). As the Song of Songs envisions it, prayer is the Beloved seeking the One who loves her. This seeking (and finding!) is the purpose of our lives. You and I were made for intimate union with God. God is love, and He invites us to share in the very love that unites the Holy Trinity. The means to this union is prayer.

Union with God unfolds in stages. When we first start praying, we have to work hard to focus on God, to meditate on (that is, ponder) His goodness, and to worship Him. Faithfulness to prayer and to God’s will opens the door to the gift of contemplation, when God secretly transforms us and draws us closer to Himself. The early stages of prayer are concerned with seeking, the later stages with finding.

Non-Christian meditation aims too low. It cannot fulfill our longing for eternal love. Do not be afraid to lift your sights higher. Do not be afraid to seek the face of God in prayer!

Connie Rossini

Share with us: How have you or others around you misunderstood the purpose of Christian prayer? What insights from your own growth in prayer can you share?

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18 Responses

  1. Marcy K.

    I learned to be really careful of so-called “Centering Prayer” which really comes from Eastern types of prayer. Many in the Church have in recent years tried to clean it up a bit from what it was for awhile, a form of Transcendental Meditation which is not Christian. Eastern prayer is trying to have you empty yourself, not get closer to God. A lot is about suffering. Christian prayer embraces suffering that happens to you and it is redemptive and brings you closer to the Lord who helps you handle bad times. Eastern prayer has you empty yourself so that you don’t feel suffering because you wipe out feeling. Christian prayer is all about love – giving and receiving, with your creator and your fellow man. Eastern prayer is not about love or relationship, or even God.

    Many websites today, if you look up Contemplative prayer, are really still selling Centering Prayer which is more technique instead of a gift from God that only happens after some time with a deep prayer life. I’m talking about Infused Contemplation. Ignatian Contemplation, which is using your imagination to put yourself in bible scene is also a great Christian form of prayer. Trying to blank your mind with mantras etc. is not getting closer to God and fostering a relationship with your creator who loves you. Also try Lectio Divina, a slow reading of scripture or another serious Christian spiritual book, taking the time to absorb and think through the passage and sit in quiet for a few minutes and is another excellent Christian form of prayer.

    The best sources for prayer advice is anything by Fr. Thomas Dubay or St. Teresa of Avila. The Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction website is a great resource for authentically Catholic (Christian) prayer: and it has helped me a lot.

    • Connie Rossini

      Marcy, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree with everything you said. I find there is a lot of confusion over not only meditation, but contemplation. You’re right: real contemplation in the Christian sense is infused by God. You can’t decide to sit down and contemplate whenever you want, and certainly not by using a mantra. Contemplation is not an altered state of consciousnesses.

      I’ve blogged a lot about contemplation, Christian meditation, and some books to help people with that. I hope you take a look around at some of my other posts.

  2. oarubio

    It’s so important that you made these differences clear. Another area of my concern is those who refer to “Mother Earth” as a type of goddess. Yes, we must be good stewards of the earthly blessings given to us by God. The thanks and respect goes to Him, not to a pagan rendition.

    • Connie Rossini

      Yes, there’s a big difference between responsibly caring for the earth and worshiping it as a goddess! Thanks for your comment.

  3. Nancy

    Connie, I thank God for your gift of making this very clear. Is it okay if I link to this post on my blog(s?) in the future ? I don’t know when, but I’d love to share your words. And having just learned to “pin,” (“saints and angels and pins, O my!”), I hope it’s fine with you that I put a link to it on my Pinterest Lectio board… like, now! Again, I thank God for your clarity. And I thank you for doing so much through this blog.

    • Connie Rossini

      Sure, Nancy. Just make sure you give me a byline and link back to my blog (as I’m sure you would anyway). Ha, ha, I’ve noticed all your activity on Pinterest. I just started on there recently too, after Jenny from Suscipio pinned some of my photos. Either a great time-waster, or a great evangelization tool, depending on how you use it. Thanks for your kind words. Non nobis, domine…

      • Nancy

        Thanks, Connie. And I’ve decided Pinterest, for me, is both. I “learned” by pinning and pinning, so then I almost cancelled my account, and then my friend “Joy” said we could turn it into a cloistered heart space. Hmmm….

  4. mahndisa

    This blog is very nice, but I disagree with the notion that Buddhists try to free themselves of the world. The whole process of dissolving self into the great emptiness is actually very similar to St. Teresa of Avila in the seventh mansion transforming union with God. The vocabularies are different but the effect on consciousness is the same. Unless you have done Buddhic meditation then why criticize something you don’t understand? The vocabulary translations into English do not give it the purest sense and nuance of meaning. What we as Christians call God some Buddhists call the Great Void or Emptiness not because God doesn’t exist but because ones ego is totally destroyed/absorbed in the process of that type of meditation, this is the essence of contemplation I thought; to be in transforming union with God to DENY SELF and merge with the Lord. Anyway the point is that the mystical states have a lot more in common than you may realize. If you read the Dhammapada you’d see that the first Buddha and Christ said many of the same things that are important for ethical and moral praxis. I stay continuously yoked to Christ and believe that his consciousness is the highest state for human advancement but this does not mean that people from other faith paths don’t have wisdom that we could benefit from. Bless you.

    • Connie Rossini

      Thanks for your comment. You’re right that I have never tried Buddhist meditation, just as I have not tried practices of other religions that conflict with my Catholic faith. I do not have to try them myself to know that they are not compatible with Christianity. Recent popes have spoken on this repeatedly. As a side note, I spent time as a missionary in Japan, so Buddhism is not totally foreign to me. I knew Catholic priests who practiced and promoted Zen meditation. But they were wrong to do so.

      When I posted this on my group blog, another reader who is a Buddhist agreed with the distinctions I made. See the second Anonymous comment here:

      I might ask if you have studied Teresa of Avila in depth? I spent about 20 years as a Secular Carmelite. Contemplation for Carmelites is completely different from what you are speaking about. To deny ourselves in the sense Teresa (and Jesus Himself) speaks of, does not mean to “merge with the Lord.” We never lose our identity. We are always someone other than God. Our union with God is akin to a spousal union (thus the term “spiritual marriage”), not a destruction of the ego. In God, even the Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit remain distinct.

      Jesus is central to Teresa’s spirituality. There is nothing of “the Great Void” in her teaching. As I said in my post, Christian prayer is a conversation. Christian contemplation is supernatural. It only comes about through God’s action. We cannot achieve it by any method of our own. It is a gift. Here is a fuller explanation:

      Christ’s consciousness is not “the highest state of human advancement.” Such a concept is totally foreign to the Gospel. He claimed to be God, not an advanced human being. He never told His disciples they could be exactly the same as Himself. Christianity is not primarily about ethics or morals, but about a relationship with God, who loved us into being.

      Fr. Thomas Dubay’s book Fire Within also explains some of this.

      I have great respect for sincere Buddhists, especially those who have grown up in Asian countries. However, theirs is a different religion than ours.

      God bless.

  5. mommacita

    Thank you for your insight in to this. What about a prayer that just says “Jesus be born in me.” over and over again?

    • Connie Rossini

      Good question! It depends on how you are using the words. If you are attempting to calm your thoughts or reach a deeper/higher level of consciousness, that is not prayer, no matter what words you use. The purpose of Christian prayer is intimate union with God in Christ. Your words should really be directed towards Him, an expression of your desire for this union, not a tool for a meditative state like you can find in Zen or TM. Here is an excellent post on the difference between eastern (non-Christian) meditation and the Jesus Prayer

      • mommacita

        Thank you. I think the person I was speaking to wants to have Jesus really be born in her, so it is not meditative but a true prayer. I will check out the link. Thanks again for your work.

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