On this site, contemplation and meditation mean the same thing — a silent way of being, based in “nonconceptual awareness”, “resting in the moment”, “serene reflection” and similar notions.  Here I am focused on apophatic meditation, which is about “practicing presence” — distinct from kataphatic content-based meditation (such as guided imagery, visualization. or intellectual pondering.)

Unfortunately, these two words are often used in an arbitrary contrast to each other.  Many ancient sources have made a distinction between: (a) nonconceptual presence-based meditation; and (b) deliberate thought-based meditation.  Translators have used the words “meditation” and “contemplation” to render these alternate concepts into modern English; however, there has been no consistency about which is which.

For example, in Christian spirituality “contemplation” is an infused state of oneness, while “meditation” is a deep thoughtfulness.  Meanwhile, among English-speaking Buddhists, “meditation” is based in silent calm abiding, while “contemplation” is deep thoughtfulness.

Regardless of the terminology, however, it is important to understand the underlying philosophical distinction.