Is chanting a prayer or a meditation?
Answer Summary: It is both because it enables us to fulfill the purpose of prayer, speaking to God, and the purpose of meditation, listening to God.
How chanting is the best prayer
Prayer is a universal practice by which people all over the world and through the ages have connected with God. By praying, they speak their heart to God and seek his blessings for solving their problems and fulfilling their desires.
Vedic wisdom reveals God in his highest manifestation to be Krishna. He loves us so much that he is forever present in our heart, as the Bhagavad-gita (15.15) indicates. When we pray to him, even if he can’t see him, he hears our every word.
Among various kinds of prayers, Vedic wisdom deems as highest those prayers which seek not Krishna’s blessings, but Krishna himself. These are the prayers that express longing for pure love, love that is untainted by desire for any personal gain. The chanting of the holy names is the epitome of such prayers. It bypasses all formalities of invocation and distills the prayer to its essence – the heart’s call for the beloved Lord through the utterance of his names.
Srila Prabhupada illumines the mood that animates such chanting: “Please engage me in your service.” Love spontaneously expresses itself through service to the beloved. Mothers who love their babies naturally express that love by serving their infants tirelessly. Similarly, devotees who love Krishna long to serve him and give vent to that longing through chanting.
For those of us who don’t yet have that love, serving Krishna requires an inner resolute determination that is not easy to acquire. Chanting with its implicit request to Krishna to engage us in his service enables us to ask him for that missing determination.
Thus, chanting as a prayer is simultaneously lofty and earthy: lofty because it expresses the pinnacle of selfless love for exalted devotees, and earthy because it expresses our urgent spiritual need at our present conditioned level. That’s why it is considered the best prayer.
How chanting is the best meditation
Meditation essentially involves calming and silencing ourselves so that we can tune out the rustle-bustle of the world and tune in to life’s subtler, deeper realities, for example, nature’s serenity. The subtlest and deepest of all such realities is Krishna. He is our greatest well-wisher, wisest mentor and closest friend. And he resides at the very center of our being. The purpose and perfection of the inner journey of meditation is to connect with him.
Chanting provides divine sound as the swiftest and easiest expressway for this inner journey. Because activity is more natural for us than inactivity, the verbal activity of uttering the holy names is easier than silent meditation. The names of Krishna are non-different from him, as the Padma Purana asserts. Even if we don’t presently realize that non-difference, hearing his names attentively enables us to quickly become tuned to his presence. As we connect with him better, the more we relish his comforting grace, hear his guiding voice and gain strength for doing his auspicious will. By thus tuning us in to life’s supreme reality, chanting fulfills the ultimate purpose of meditation.
To conclude, by simultaneously enabling us to speak to Krishna and also to hear him speak, chanting functions as the best prayer and the best meditation.