Saturday, December 19, 2009

Prayer and Meditation

I saw a sign this afternoon for a meditation workshop.  It looked interesting, and reminded me of all the time I spent meditating back when I was a seeker.

There were so many various techniques for meditation; almost as many as there are for prayer.  And just like with prayer, there are many people who say that the way they do it is the only way.

Of course, there is no "way" to pray, just as there is no "way" to meditate.  It is sort of like the first line in the Tao Te Ching: "The Way that can be spoken is not the constant Way".  Even Jesus, in Matthew 6:9, tells us to "pray like this", or pray in this manner, as opposed to saying that it is the only way to pray.

You see, it has recently occurred to me that we spend a lot of time talking about prayer, but we forget to talk about meditation.  I wonder why that is.

In a famous Pilgrim's Note, meaning that it is not part of official Baha'i doctrine but still good advice, Shoghi Effendi spoke of the five steps of prayer.  Rather than making you hunt for it, here are the steps that he outlined, according to Ruth Moffet:

First Step. - Pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifestations as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of contemplation for a few minutes.

Second Step. - Arrive at a decision and hold this. This decision is usually born during the contemplation. It may seem almost impossible of accomplishment but if it seems to be as answer to a prayer or a way of solving the problem, then immediately take the next step.

Third Step. - Have determination to carry the decision through.  Many fail here. The decision, budding into determination, is blighted and instead becomes a wish or a vague longing. When determination is born, immediately take the next step.

Fourth Step. - Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle or the right book will be given you. Have confidence, and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise from prayer, take at once the
fifth step.

Fifth Step. - Then, he said, lastly, ACT; Act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you.

Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step. Some who meditate arrive at a decision, but fail to hold it.  Few have the determination to carry the decision through, still fewer have the confidence that the right thing will come to their need. But how many remember to act as though it had all been answered? How true are those words - "Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered" and greater than the way it is uttered is the spirit in which it is carried out.
I find it fascinating that prayer and meditation together constitute the first step, and even in that last paragraph he mentions that many do not remain for the meditation part of it.  It underscores the importance of meditation to me.

If that wasn't enough, how often are prayer and meditation closely linked in the Writings?  Hey, even a volume of Baha'u'llah's Writings is called "Prayers and Meditations".
But what is meditation?
There is ample information about prayer, especially in Ruhi Book 1, Unit 2.  They use 'Abdu'l-Baha's definition of "conversation with God".  But how would we define meditation, or describe it to someone?  For me, I think it is that time during the conversation with God when we listen for a response.  After all, a conversation must be two ways, or is it really a conversation?
So how do we listen to God?
As usual, I can't really answer for anyone else, but can only offer my own thoughts and talk about how I do it.

There are times when I will focus on my own body, trying to calm down various parts, usually beginning with the feet and working my way up.  Other times I will work on stilling my thoughts, quieting the persistent inner voice.  Some other times it helps me to focus on a single thing, like a candle flame or the tone of a bell.

You see, it all depends upon my needs at the moment.

When I am praying, I am usually doing one a couple different things: I am praising God for the wonder of His creation, or I am asking God for some bounty or favour or guidance.

In the first case, during my meditations there is usually some insight given that allows me greater wonder at creation, and this makes my life so much richer.

In the second, I am looking for something specific, and the meditation usually provides some answer, although it is usually cryptic and needs time to be understood.

In both of these instances, contemplation is needed in order to better understand the world around me.

But what really motivates me to delve deeper into this issue is that quote from Baha'u'llah, in which He says, "the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time --he cannot both speak and meditate."  And those various techniques that I learned outside the Faith have helped me to learn to be silent.  There are very few groups who are better versed in the art of meditation than the Buddhists, and when you study their techniques in light of Baha'u'llah's teachings, well, it's just light upon light.
Of course, no one explains meditation better than 'Abdu'l-Baha, in Paris Talks, pages 174 - 176.

Among the many gems in that talk are the following:

Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries...This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God. This faculty brings forth from the invisible plane the sciences and arts. Through the meditative faculty inventions are made possible, colossal undertakings are carried out; through it governments can run smoothly. Through this faculty man enters into the very Kingdom of God.
And it is for these reasons, among many others, that I take the time to meditate.

Perhaps I should go to that workshop and see what else I can learn.  Of course, if I do, I'll be silent and just contemplate what they say.

Hmm.  That reminds me of Mark Twain: It is better to remain silent and let people think you a fool than to speak and prove them right.


  1. :-). Tried Sufi meditation? Try reading Dr. Mark Foster's (Ph.D.) online books.He is a Baha'i.= "the Five Kingdoms Model".

  2. Thank you for this! Wonderful. Just the nudge I needed to get me focusing on meditation and prayer again. Loved your candid and down-to-earth suggestions, and also had forgotten about the beautiful simplicity of the 5 Steps until I saw it written out here. In the past, one thing I very much enjoyed (a kind of ritual I got into the habit of) was to sit down quietly each morning, read a section of the Tao Te Ching, reflect and then write down anything that really struck me in my notebook. Best done with a cup of tea at your side :) It would really get me into the "flow"... Also, similarly with a book I picked up once - Krishnamurti's Journal... a very meditative, profound one. I know there are lots of beautiful Baha'i writings to read too, of course! But sometimes it's nice to dip into other sources too :) Cheers again for your blog entry.

  3. would love to hear how you bring yourself to account. I have tried to have conversations about this, but most of the people who talked about bringing themselves to account start bringing up meditation.

  4. I know it's personal, but I would love how you bring yourself to account. Me, I take a somewhat descriptive approach, but others seem to talk about meditation when I bring up bringing oneself to account.