By Marcia Montenegro| A voice intones: “Close your eyes…relax…let each muscle relax…let your mind go blank…see yourself as a cloud…floating…getting lighter and lighter…”
Words like these, a form of guided meditation, are heard today in stress reduction workshops, human potential classes and on relaxation tapes. Is this what David means in Ps. 19:14 when he says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord…?” Is meditation just another form of prayer?
There is a clear distinction between Biblical meditation, which means reflection, devotion and contemplation, and which makes use of the mind, and the meditation techniques mentioned above which are often taught without the word “meditation” even being used.
The Hindu Connection:
Meditation as taught and practiced today in the West originates from practices and beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, the goal of meditation is to realize that one’s personal identity is a barrier to the truth that the real self is part of the divine godhead, which is ultimate reality.(1)
The mind in both Hinduism & Buddhism is seen as part of the material body and therefore a barrier to spiritual enlightenment.(2) Meditation is designed to bypass the mind, using special breathing techniques.(3) The ultimate goal is samadhi with no cognition, or absorption into a state of pure consciousness through disengaging the mind and a loss of self-awareness and subject-object awareness (4) : “The mind which for so long stood between us and our true nature has been overcome.” (5)
One of the most common ways this is done is through various forms of yoga, including the popular hatha yoga taught in the West. (6) “Though their means may differ, all yogic paths seek to transcend duality in union” so that one’s “mistaken belief in himself as a separate, unique individual apart from God will be overcome.”(7) Exhaling the breath is “the surrender of our ego” and the move from attachment to “non-attachment.”(8)
This imported meditation is usually packaged as a way to relax or reduce stress. But this was never the purpose of meditation in its Hindu or Buddhist form. Sometimes taught with visualizations and breathing exercises, this “relaxation” exercise has many hidden dangers. The mind often goes into an altered state of consciousness, also known as a light trance or hypnotic state, during the meditation.(9)
The exercises are designed to bring this about. In such a state, rational judgment and discernment is suspended, and the mind is highly suggestible and open to any influences present. In one class the writer attended, a student who fell asleep was reprimanded because he would miss the “spiritual trip” intended by the exercise.
This state of mind is not the same as spontaneous daydreaming, quiet contemplation, or conscious, rational concentration. The euphoria or peace experienced by many at first is short-lived and deceptive. Instructors of these techniques who teach them as a spiritual discipline often warn students that psychic experiences and supernatural encounters are common, some of them frightening, and that the breathing techniques can be dangerous (10). The effect for some people is similar to a drug trip. It is this state of mind during which one is supposed to contact guides from the spirit world.(11)
When another person guides one through a meditation, it is called guided meditation, guided imagery or guided visualization. This writer was first introduced to her spirit guide (called a spiritual master) via a guided meditation exercise. The class was told to repeat this same meditation for future contact with the spirit guide, and that at some point we would be able to contact the guide (or he/she contact us) without needing this process.
The Buddhist Connection:
Buddhist meditation (also called “mindfulness”) taught in this country to Westerners is usually related to Tibetan Buddhism or to Zen Buddhism, an atheistic/agnostic religion. The goal is to empty the mind and become detached from feeling and thought, eventually realizing there is no individual self. (12)
This is also the goal for every waking moment; the meditation (Zen Buddhists usually just call it “sitting”) is practice and preparation for that.(13) In fact, the idea is to have no purpose at all, but just “to be in the moment” throughout life, with no evaluation or attachment. (14) This originates from Buddha’s teaching that desire causes all suffering. (15)
Following one’s breathing during sitting is supposed to make the student realize that “You and I are just swinging doors.” (16) Tibetan Buddhism, being a more esoteric and mystical form of Buddhism, utilizes breath control and visualization to train the mind where it can focus on Sunyata, “the essential emptiness of the phenomenal world,” and reach states where “the sense of experience ceases to exist.” (17)
While this idea is appealing to those who fear they are controlled by emotions and worry, the result of this detachment can be a temporary numbing or false peace. The detachment actually results from disengaging normal thoughts, emotions and desires. Although taught as a way to deal with stress, this mindfulness is but a thinly disguised form of Buddhist meditation.
Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). In the Psalms, we read the outpourings of the heart, both sad and joyful, and are comforted and uplifted by the solace found in God
The Occult Connection:
The late Sybil Leek, a well-known witch and psychic, wrote that a psychic, while concentrating on a crystal during a reading, induces a trance both in the client and in the psychic in order to release “dormant psychic awareness.”(18) Another writer on occult techniques emphasizes the need for centering (another term for meditation and getting in the trance state) and advises that centering “may become more important than the reading itself.”(19)
When it comes to crystal healing, an expert urges the reader to use the crystal to help achieve “an altered state of mind to access information which you otherwise wouldn’t know” and that this altered state is also called a “trance state” which can allow one to “‘see’ the future or past.”(20)
The trance or meditative state is basic to the work of witches, psychics, sorcerers, ritual magicians, (21) channelers, and is used in past life regressions. It is the same state of mind reached with meditation techniques taught today. Some cultures/groups use drugs to reach this state.
Visualization, as a form of meditation, is also called creative visualization or imaging, and has become a consistent teaching in positive thinking/human potential seminars. The term visualization is not being used here in the sense of imagining or visualizing as part of the regular creative process. Using normal visualization to create or to focus concentration for a difficult task is a natural process and differs from using visualization as a technique to manipulate reality or to get into an altered state that bypasses rational thinking.
The technique of guided imagery or guided visualization occurs when someone is leading a person or group through steps of visualization with suggestions or directions on what the person(s) should be visualizing. Often this process is preceded by a series of relaxation/breathing exercises, crucial to going into a mild trance state.
Creative visualization, hereafter abbreviated as C.V., is based on the occultic principle that what exists in thought can be manifested in reality. This is actually a form of sorcery. As said by ritual magician Donald Tyson, “The underlying premise of a magical ritual is that if you represent a circumstance, or act out an event in your mind, it will come to pass in the world.” (22)
In sorcery (also called magick), this is sometimes called “the Law of Similarity.” (23) Underlying this principle are the beliefs that all concepts and objects are alive and that since we are God or Godlike, we are able to create and control with our minds and/or words. (24)
This belief is found in the New Age idea of creating your own reality, as well as in witchcraft and occultic magick.(25) An entity calling himself Seth, who was channeled by writer Jane Roberts, taught that altering beliefs will alter material reality. (26)
Occultists also teach to align one’s self with forces or spirits outside and within in order to manipulate reality, but the basic goals and methods are the same as found in C.V. In other words, C.V. is a teaching ripped straight out of the heart of occultism.
One of the most popular proponents of C.V. since the ’70’s has been Shakti Gawain. According to Gawain, C.V. is “magic” and “involves understanding and aligning yourself with the natural principles that govern the workings of our universe, and learning to use these principles in the most conscious and creative way.” (27)
Affirmations, repeated thoughts which can also be said aloud or written, are supposed to work an inner transformation, and are often related to C.V. techniques. In her bestselling book on C.V., Gawain actually articulates many axioms of sorcery, but she calls them “principles” of C.V.
As in sorcery, C.V. teaches that like attracts like. Thus, good thoughts or even the physical presence of money will attract wealth and power. Bad thoughts will magically attract illness or failure. These principles are as old as the occult, and are the basis of positive thinking techniques, which differ from a positive outlook. These teachings are also found in the popular Word-Faith movement.
We should not substitute techniques for knowing Christ through prayer and reading God’s word. Jesus taught us to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first (Matt. 6:33); not to manipulate reality with our minds in order to become wealthy, healthy, successful, or peaceful. In fact, we are told several times in scripture to be ready to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41; Rom 5:3-5, 8:17; Phil. 3:10; 2 Tim. 1:8; I Pet. 4:13) and to rejoice in it (Rom. 5:3; 1 Pet. 4:13).
What about the mystical experience in meditation where one feels closer to God? There are Christian advocates of a method called “centered prayer” who seem to have been seduced by the glamorous exoticism of Eastern practices. One of these teachers counts himself privileged to have met a Hindu Swami, whom he calls a “spiritual master.”(28)
Quoting Thomas Merton, he encourages the reader to find God, who is dwelling in our “inmost self,” and that our inner self will then know God “through its own divinized subjectivity.”(29) The distinction between man and God becomes blurred, then obliterated, as one enters into a “pure consciousness” with Jesus so that one is no longer conscious of Jesus, but actually experiences a mystical oneness with Him. (30)
The subject/object distinction disappears, a classic goal of Eastern and occult meditative/trance states. There is no Biblical support for these practices; they are blatant imitations of Eastern spiritual techniques and views of merging with God.
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)?
“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear.” – 2 Tim. 4:3
A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen (Lighthouse Trails Publishing Company, 2002).