November 13, 2013

Meditation vs. Contemplation. ~ Michael Hetherington

After 20 years of practicing sitting meditation every morning and every night, my teacher stood up and said, “Contemplation is a more effective path than meditation.”

This statement perplexed me for some time. After all those years of such a committed practice and personally experiencing the benefits of meditation, how could he disregard meditation so easily?

So, putting my perplexities aside, I gave it a go. I let my meditation practice waiver, and instead put more focus onto contemplation, mainly via the Sutras of Patanjaliand through quotes and kōan’s from the zen Buddhist tradition.

What I have discovered is that, indeed, contemplation is a powerful practice. However, what I also realized is that it does require some groundwork to be in place for it to be truly effective.

Contemplation is the practice of simply holding something in mind, within one’s awareness, for some time—allowing various truths or realizations to reveal themselves of their own accord. The main benefit of contemplation is that one can practice it anytime, anywhere, and carry on with their daily business without interruption.

Contemplation is often confused with intellectualization.

Intellectualization is more of a trying to work it out  and think thoughts and ideas through, type of approach—using the workings of the mind to follow ideas into more ideas.

Intellectualism uses reason and logic as tools to come up with a conclusion, whereas contemplation does not use reason or logic and simply uses space, time, and attention for its conclusions to be revealed.


Meditation (in the formal sense) involves sitting down in a still and silent state, usually utilizing concentration on a singular point and other observation techniques.

What soon becomes evident in mediation practice is that it is not easy, and often requires great amounts of discipline and persistence. The practice of formal mediation also requires the practitioner to disconnect with the activities of daily life and, as such, meditation cannot always be practiced anytime, anywhere, therefore adding more requirements of discipline for practice to occur.

To someone who is interested in the path of spirituality, truth and understanding, contemplation looks the more attractive and potentially easier choice, right? All you have to do is read a quote, hold it in mind for an hour, day or week and…voilà, you may or may not get something from it.

However, contemplation is not always so easy, and to make contemplation deeply effective, some groundwork needs to be in place.

And guess where the groundwork comes from?


Meditation practice cultivates ones ability to concentrate and it opens up the space within the body and mind creating the ideal conditions for contemplation.

When meditation cultivates the space within the body and mind, this space becomes like a fertile land ready for seeds of contemplation to be planted. Once the seeds of contemplation are planted in this fertile land, concentration is required to look after the seed, and to water it day in, and day out, so that it has the best chances of survival to grow big and healthy.

Without the sense of space within, the field is not ready for the seed of contemplation, and without concentration one cannot look after the seed long enough for it to grow.

Therefore, I feel that meditation is a necessary preliminary practice for deep and effective contemplation to take place.

There has to be hard work done initially to break down the energies of the mind and to generate some space inside in order to develop greater abilities in concentration.

After we have become fertile through meditation, contemplation is potentially a more effective method.

My teacher expressed those words, yet it’s through his actions that I have come to see that maybe what he was also saying is that contemplation is more effective after meditation.

So, meditate if you want to contemplate.


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Assistant Editor: Kathryn Ashworth/Editor: Bryonie Wise

{Photos: courtesy of Flickr}


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