Prayer and Meditation

By Scott Osterhage

When we say the words "prayer" and "meditation," certain pictures come to mind: for praying, perhaps a person kneeling with closed eyes, bowed head, and folded hands; for meditation, perhaps someone sitting cross-legged with eyes closed, spine straight, and hands turned upwards in their lap. But it is not body positions that we need to concern ourselves with; it is the mentality, our thoughts, and eventually our actions.

We all know our words are imperfect representations of our thoughts. Each person probably has a slightly different conception of the word prayer and would put it into practice in a slightly different manner, and the same for meditation. We all have different notions and comprehensions of the concepts and how they should be applied. Many so-called gurus and church officials may have tried to teach us what these words mean (or rather, what they meant to them) and how we should use them (or rather, how they believe we should use them). Today we have myriad choices when it comes to learning someone else's concept of meditation or prayer, and it can be an expensive endeavor. However, it is only by our own effort, study, and practice that we can instill true learning into our lives.

Lifting our minds to reach higher sources of insight: that is what we do when we pray or meditate. Praying usually implies people petitioning a higher source, while meditating evokes a longing to reach the divine within. Perhaps these are two different ways to reach the same mountaintop. If the divinity some pray to is the source of our divine spark, Father within, or higher self, then is it the same higher source others meditate on? What are we doing when we pray to or meditate on divinity? Are we trying to raise our lower or "animal" self up to the divine self within? Are we trying to become fully human?

In my opinion, if we petition a power outside ourselves to make something happen, selfish or beneficial, then we are petitioning in vain. This is just wishing something would happen. When I was a child, that bike I prayed for never came; not until I worked hard for it did it finally appear. Wishing without acting does not achieve desired ends. We can wish for peace, but if we ourselves are not peaceful then any positive result will be incomplete. H. P. Blavatsky writes:

Our prayers and supplications are vain, unless to potential words we add potent acts, and make the aura which surrounds each one of us so pure and divine that the God within us may act outwardly, or in other words, become as it were an extraneous Potency. Thus have Initiates, Saints and very holy and pure men been enabled to help others as well as themselves in the hour of need, and produce what are foolishly called "miracles," each by the help and with the aid of the God within himself, which he alone has enabled to act on the outward plane.

Even with thought and motive we have to be vigilant. The Bhagavad Gita entreats us to not be attached to the results of our actions. Again, Blavatsky wrote:

Desire no results which are forms of power. Desire only, in your efforts, to reach nearer to the center of life (which is the same in the Universe and in yourself) which makes you careless whether you are strong or weak, learned or unlearned. It is your divinity; it is the divinity we all share. But its existence is not credited by those who look only for money or power or success in material effort.

Selfishness, greed, personal desires, are not things to pray for or meditate on. But some would say that wishing someone well in illness and praying for their speedy recovery is selfless and good. Still, by doing this we impose our will on someone else, however good our intentions. Is it right to impose our own thoughts on others? Is it a form of coercion? What if the disease they have allows them to work out karmic effects of past thoughts and actions? We can be compassionate without the intent to impose our will on others. For me, it is better to see the larger picture and understand that into each life comes more than we can conceive of, the origins of which are often clouded in the mists of time. Blavatsky writes in The Key to Theosophy that self-centered petitions are not prayer at all, but a kind of black magic, and

woe unto those Occultists and Theosophists, who, instead of crushing out the desires of the lower personal ego or physical man, and saying, addressing their Higher Spiritual EGO immersed in Atma-Buddhic [divine] light, "Thy will be done, not mine," etc., send up waves of will-power for selfish or unholy purposes! For this is black magic, abomination, and spiritual sorcery. - p. 68

Meditation, not being petitioning, allows us to focus our thoughts on the selfless source of all, knowing that the great law of karma will adjust all according to the absolute justice of cause and effect. William Q. Judge divides meditation into two sorts: "First is the meditation practiced at a set time, or an occasional one, whether by design or from physiological idiosyncrasy. Second is the meditation of an entire lifetime, that single thread of intention, intentness, and desire running through the years stretching between the cradle and the grave." This second type is the one I am interested in. To imbue your every waking moment with selfless contemplation of the divine, whether doing dishes or performing your life's occupation; knowing that your every decision is informed from the standpoint of love and devotion to the ultimate principles in life - that is working with nature and not judging her or trying to change her path. Judge leaves us with a final thought:

Will and Desire lie at the doors of Meditation and Concentration. If we desire truth with the same intensity that we had formerly wished for success, money, or gratification, we will speedily acquire meditation and possess concentration. If we do all our acts, small and great, every moment, for the sake of the whole human race, as representing the Supreme Self, then every cell and fibre of the body and inner man will be turned in one direction, resulting in perfect concentration. This is expressed in the New Testament in the statement that if the eye is single the whole body will be full of light . . . In one [chapter of the Bhagavad Gita] it is beautifully put as the lighting up in us of the Supreme One, who then becomes visible. Let us meditate on that which is in us as the Highest Self, concentrate upon it, and will to work for it as dwelling in every human heart.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2006; copyright © 2006 Theosophical University Press)

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