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Understanding the Differences Between Meditation and Contemplation

Most people, including myself, have been confused about the differences between Meditation and contemplation. Additionally, there are crossovers. Let's start with definitions and the Encyclopedia:




  • Christian Contemplation is a form of prayer or Meditation in which a person seeks a direct experience of the divine. It is often a prayer or Meditation on God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

  • Meditation is generally the focusing of one's mind for some time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes. It is also a relaxation method and has many health benefits.




  • Christian contemplation, from contemplatio (Latin; Greek θεωρία, theoria), refers to several Christian practices which aim at looking at, gazing at, or being one with God or the Divine. 

  • Buddhist Meditation is the Practice of Meditation in Buddhism. The closest words for Meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism are bhāvanā ("mental development") and jhāna/dhyāna (mental training resulting in a calm and luminous mind).


What can be the crossovers?


  • Becoming Calm and Relaxed

  • Focused Attention and Clarity

  • Self-awareness

  • Spiritual Connection

  • Peripheral Awareness or Mindfulness

  • Religious or Spiritual Growth


What are the differences?


  • Mediation, in general, can be practiced in different ways and for many purposes. 

  • Within Buddhist Meditation, Buddhist Schools can have different goals and objectives.

  • Christian Contemplation is centered around deepening one's relationship with God.

  • Contemplation in General, aims to gain insight, self-awareness, or understanding through focused thought and introspection rather than explicitly seeking a connection with a divine entity.

Contemplation and Meditation are all practices that involve directing one's focus inward to achieve a heightened state of self-awareness, spiritual connection, or mental clarity. However, some broad differences between these practices are primarily related to their objectives, techniques, and cultural or religious contexts.

Christian Contemplation

This practice is rooted explicitly in the Christian faith and is centered around deepening one's relationship with God. Christian contemplation involves turning inward, engaging in prayer, Meditation, and reflection, with the ultimate goal of attuning oneself to God's voice and guidance. Practitioners often use scripture, prayers, or spiritual phrases as anchors for their focus, seeking to open themselves up to the presence of God and experience divine wisdom and love.

Contemplation in General

Contemplation, as a broader concept, refers to any practice that involves deep, reflective thought or introspection. While it can be spiritual in nature, contemplation is not necessarily tied to any specific religious tradition. It is a more universal practice that individuals of diverse backgrounds and belief systems can utilize. The primary objective of contemplation is to gain insight, self-awareness, or understanding through focused thought and introspection rather than explicitly seeking a connection with a divine entity.

Meditation in General

Meditation is a practice that involves training the mind to achieve a heightened state of awareness, focus, or mental clarity. Although Meditation is often associated with Eastern spiritual traditions such as Buddhism or Hinduism, it has transcended these origins. People of various cultural and religious backgrounds now practice it. Meditation techniques vary, but they typically involve focusing on the breath, a mantra, or an object to cultivate Mindfulness, concentration, or relaxation. The goals of Meditation can range from reducing stress and anxiety to fostering spiritual growth and self-realization.

In summary, while Christian contemplation, contemplation in general, and meditation in general share some similarities in terms of turning one's focus inward, they differ in terms of their objectives, techniques, and cultural or religious contexts. Christian contemplation aims explicitly to deepen one's connection with God. In contrast, contemplation more broadly focuses on introspection and insight, and Meditation seeks to cultivate a heightened state of awareness or mental clarity.


Schools of Buddhist Meditation


  • Dhammakaya Meditation

  • Vipassana Meditation

  • Samatha Meditation

  • Anapanasati Meditation

  • Taoist Meditation

  • Zen Meditation

The meditation methods best known in the West are Anapanasati, Vipassana, and Zen.


  • Anapanasati is "mindfulness of breathing."  Anapana refers to inhalation and exhalation, and Sati means Mindfulness. It is a form of Buddhist Meditation initially taught by Gautama Buddha in several suttas, including the Ānāpānasati Sutta.

  • Zen Meditation, also known as Zazen, is a meditation technique rooted in Buddhist psychology. The essence of Zen Buddhism is achieving enlightenment by seeing one's original mind or original nature directly, without the intervention of the intellect.

  • Thus, in mediation, one primarily focuses Attention on the sensations of the breath and is Mindful or peripherally aware. The primary goals are to develop a calm and luminous mind and achieve Awakening or enlightenment.


Key Meditation Terms

  • Vipassana (Special Insights)

  • Samadhi (Stable Attention)

  • Sati (Mindfulness)

  • Samatha (Attention, Mindfulness, Tranquility, and Equanimity) 

  • Note: Samadhi and Sati lead to Samatha. Awakening is the result of Samatha and Vipassana.



Most Schools of Buddhist Meditation have many stages towards the goal of Awakening, on average, about ten. However, I have found that these traditional stages are only appropriate if you are training under the guidance of a qualified Master.


The stages can become complicated without competent advice. Whether or not you intend to train under a Master, I suggest the book by John Yates. Culadasa (John Yates Ph.D.) The Mind Illuminated (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2015)

What is Contemplation?


Etymology Insights into Contemplation

Christian Contemplation Introduction

The Contemplative Process

The Differences between Meditation and Contemplation


Practicing Contemplation

The Practice of Christian Contemplation

Ongoing Steps to Learning Contemplation

Ignatian Contemplation

Lectio Divina

Biblical Contemplation

The Catholic Rosary Contemplation

History of The Rosary

The Anglican Contemplation

Christian Contemplation Resources


Insights from Saints who Practiced Contemplation

Thomas Merton’s Life and Practices

Thomas Keating on Contemplation

Saint Pope John Paul II


Challenges to Contemplation

Discernment for the Contemplative

Purification for the Contemplative

The Purgative Way

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