By Gerald Readore| Below is a link to Part 1 of an EWTN Women of Grace broadcast on “Exposing the Truth About Mindfulness Meditation” that I happened upon recently. It peaked my interest because I like to study world religions, and had visited a Christian meditation group at a church in my area about a month before, and will relate my experience further down below in the post.
It was interesting to hear that the program participants felt contemplative and centering prayer were also incompatible with a traditional understanding of meditation from a Christian/Biblical perspective. I say “interesting” because contemplative and centering prayer groups seem somewhat common among Catholic and Episcopal churches, and yet these practices were being called into question on a major Catholic broadcast network.
In the city I live in and surrounding area, of the 22 locations listed by the World Community for Christian Meditation website (http://wccm-usa.org/):
- 13 were Catholic Churches
- 6 were Episcopal
- 3 were other
Below is a definition from Wikipedia about Mindfulness meditation:
“Mindfulness meditation involves the process of developing the skill of bringing one’s attention to whatever is happening in the present moment.. bring attention to either the sensations of breathing in the proximity of one’s nostrils or to the movements of the abdomen when breathing in and out.”
Here is further information about mindfulness and its ties to Buddhism from the Wikipedia entry:
“Mindfulness as a modern, Western practice is founded on modern vipassana, and the training of sati, which means “moment to oment awareness of present events”, but also “remembering to be aware of something”. It leads to insight into the true nature of reality, namely the three marks of existence, the impermanence of and the unsatisfactoriness of every conditioned thing that exists, and non-self. With this insight, the practitioner becomes a socalled Sotāpanna, a “stream-enterer”, the first stage on the path to liberation. Vipassana is practiced in tandem with samatha, and also plays a central role in other Buddhist traditions.
According to Paul Williams, referring to Erich Frauwallner, mindfulness provided the way in early Buddhism to liberation, “constantly watching sensory experience in order to prevent the arising of cravings which would power future experience into rebirths.
According to Rhys Davids, the doctrine of mindfulness is “perhaps the most important” after the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.“
vipassana: to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation.
sati: mindfulness or awareness, a spiritual or psychological faculty (indriya) that forms an essential part of Buddhist practice.
three marks of existence: In Buddhism, the three marks of existence are three characteristics of all existence and beings, namely impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness or suffering (dukkha), and non-self (anattā) These three characteristics are mentioned in verses 277, 278 and 279 of the Dhammapada
samatha: the Buddhist practice of calming the mind and its ‘formations’. This is done by practicing single-pointed meditation most commonly through mindfulness of breathing.
Four Noble Truths:
- All existence is suffering (dhukka) which can be translated as suffering, anguish, pain or unsatisfactoriness
- The cause of suffering is craving or desire. We suffer because of our mistaken belief that we are a separate, independent self.
- The cessation of suffering comes with the cessation of craving
- The Eightfold path leads to the end of suffering
- Right Understanding or Perfect Vision
- Right Resolve or Perfect Emotion
- Right Speech or Perfect Speech
- Right Action or Perfect Action
- Right Livelihood or Perfect Livelihood
- Right Effort or Perfect Effort
- Right Mindfulness or Perfect Awareness
- Right Meditation or Perfect Samadhi
We see that mindfulness meditation has its roots in Buddhism and is one of the elements of the Eightfold Path. It is the process of focusing one’s attention on the present with the MAIN OBJECTIVE being INSIGHT INTO THE TRUE NATURE OF REALITY which is the Three Marks of Existence, namely:
- impermanence (anicca),
- unsatisfactoriness or suffering (dukkha), and
- non-self (anattā)
Given this insight, one is on the path to self-liberation. Part of this understanding is the doctrine of anatta or non-self that states there is no unchanging, permanent self, soul or essence in living beings. The mistaken belief that we have a permanent self/soul keeps us embedded in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth or samsara.
Hinduism parts ways with Buddhism by believing that there is a permanent self or soul. Right Mindfulness or Mindfulness meditation along with the other elements on the Eightfold Path are believed to help one eventually achieve nirvana.
I E-mailed two of the leaders of the Christian meditation groups near where I live about what to expect. Their replies are given below:
“We begin with a reading, then move into silence and stillness using an internally-spoken mantra or prayer word/phrase for 20 minutes (we recommend Ma-Ra-Na-Tha), then experience some quiet music before using the rest of our time together in discussion, questions, and community building.”
“Sit down. Sit still with your back straight. Close your eyes lightly. Then interiorly, silently begin to recite a single word – a prayer word or mantra. We recommend the ancient Christian prayer-word “Maranatha”. Say it as four equal syllables. Breathe normally and give your full attention to the word as you say it, silently, gently, faithfully and – above all – simply. Start with 20 minutes and work your way to a half hour.”
The comment about being still and repeating a mantra or prayer word such as “Marantha” are common to both. They both also recommended saying it as four syllables with one saying “give your full attention to the word as you say it.”
mantra: a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation; sacred utterance believed to have spiritual power
This made me think of Hinduism and the mantra “Om” or “Aum”. In “A Survey of Hinduism” by Klaus Klostermaier he says:
“The most famous powerful and most mysterious of all mantras is OM (AUM) also called (pravana), the primeval mantra…A mantra need not have an intelligible word meaning; it is the sound equivalent of reality and at the same time the medium by which this otherwise transcendent reality is reached. OM is not a concept of something but it is the Sabda-brahman, the Supreme Being in the form of sound…OM—this syllable is the whole world. It’s further explanation is: the past, the present, and the future—everything is just the word OM…OM is the atman (self).”
I have read that “AUM” is the unstruck sound that resonates throughout the universe, is pronounced as three syllables A-U-M, and being a mantra is meant to aid in concentration. This sounds very similar to the four syllable word “Ma-Ra-Na-Tha” suggested to be used in the Christian contemplative prayer groups. However, I don’t believe they would say that the word “Maranatha” has any spiritual power.
Instead of repeating the word “Maranatha” I recited the 23rd Psalm because this seems more in line with what Scripture says in the way of meditation. It’s not an emptying of your mind to focus on the present or your breathing, but to focus on the Scripture or Word of God. It is not meant to come to the realization of non-self, but to draw your “self“, that is created in the image of God, closer to oneness with the Creator God of the Bible.
Instead, his delight is in the LORD’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.
(Psalm 1:2, HCSB)
I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways. (Psalm 119:15, HCSB)
The Contemplative prayer group started off with a woman striking a small bronze bowl three times, followed by a reading from a set curriculum. We then silently “meditated” or stilled and focused our mind for about 20 minutes. An older gentleman was sitting across from me on a cushion on the floor with his legs crossed. Another woman and I were sitting upright on a couch.
The room was fairly dark with light coming through an open window, and there was an electronic candle on the table. It did have a kind of “Eastern” vibe or feeling to it. Afterwards I chatted with the gentleman for a little bit, and he mentioned a priest who lived in Japan who had syncretized Buddhist teaching with Catholicism.
The gentleman didn’t seem to have an issue with this even though they contradict on certain beliefs such that both can’t be true, and have a totally different worldview and “end game” they are trying to reach. It was an interesting experience, but will I go again? No.
*The following is a quote taken from another article featured on this website that is an ex-new-agers critique of meditation and how it contrasts with Scripture*:
“The Bible does not teach or give examples of mystical experiences to draw near to God. We cannot bring ourselves closer to God through a technique or fantasized trip but are brought near God through Christ (Jn. 16:24, Eph. 2:13, I Tim. 2:5).
When we are exhorted to meditate on God’s word, it means to ponder, to deeply reflect, to contemplate the meaning. The word translated as “meditation” in several verses in Psalms means to meditate in the sense of reflecting upon. In fact, the New Living Translation uses the word “thought” for meditation in several of these passages, such as in Ps. 19:14:
“May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you.” We are to seek to understand God’s word with our minds, not to empty the mind, or to bypass the mind for a merging with God. We are distinct from God in our being; we cannot merge with God nor take on his eternal divine essence as our own.
Meditation techniques as discussed here can lead us to substitute Bible reading, prayerful communication with God, and conscious reflection with dubious subjective experiences taught by men and not by the Bible. God’s word and prayer are our stress reducers, not an artificial method that manipulates our minds or feeds our desire for a beautiful experience. Should we be seeking a peaceful experience or the true abiding peace we find in Christ (John 16:33; Eph. 2:14)?”
This article was originally featured on Eternal Perspectives and was republished with permission.