Dangers of Eastern Meditation & Their Christian Hybrids

I am a Chinese who grew up in a traditional Taoist-Buddhist family. At the age of eighteen, I started to practice Zen Buddhist meditation and continued to do so for twenty years until my conversion to Christianity. Coming from an Asian background, I have been amazed to observe how Eastern meditation has garnered such a gigantic interest in the West. It’s now modern and social and holds center stage in the transformational health movement.

Many celebrities practice and promote transcendental meditation or yoga. Sports coaches and superstars use it. Even evolutionist scientists meditate to activate what they believe is their inborn pre-wired neural network, the “god-consciousness”, and atheists meditate to tune into their spiritual “true self”. International Yoga Day, now in its fourth year, is supported by the United Nations.[1]

A common characteristic among meditators in the East has been being reclusive and anti-social. Their philosophy was to renunciate the world. How did a practice associated with such a dominant solitary stance become accepted by the masses in the West?

Meditation explained

Meditation takes on almost an infinity of forms, depending on whether it is Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, with their myriads of schools, or is more akin to yoga, New Age meditation or its secular version, mindfulness. At the risk of oversimplifying, these meditation techniques tend to hold some characteristics in common:

1.      Looking inward. The meditator tries to get in touch with the superior consciousness within or the soul.

2.      A physical ritual. Along with the spiritual side, the meditator assumes certain body positions and/or performs breathing techniques.

3.      Emptying the mind. The goal of meditation is to achieve serenity and mental stillness by escaping conscious thinking.

4.      Use of mantras. In many types of meditation, repetitive phrases are used to achieve the meditative state.

Many people report that meditation brings them into an incredibly peaceful state of mind. Scientists have dutifully investigated. When leading researcher Dr. Andrew Newberg scanned the brains of nuns and Buddhists undergoing mystical experiences, they reported feelings of timelessness, spacelessness and self-transcendence. Newberg believes a cause of these feelings is reduced activity in their parietal lobes, the orientation area of the brain responsible for perceiving three-dimensional objects in space. A meditator may experience a sense of oneness with all living things because the reduced activity blurs the perceived lines between the meditator and other objects.[2]

Other brain research reveals additional factors which lead meditators to reduced activity of the parietal lobe and into increasingly deeper meditation: 1. More sleep waves (alpha and theta) in the brain, triggering the relaxation response, inattention and tranquility, as opposed to alert fast beta waves; 2. More endogenous dopamine in the brain, hence addiction to meditation; 3. A calmed amygdala, hence bliss; 4. Reduced cerebral blood flow to frontal cortex, hence sleep-like relaxation.

Down the garden path

The common objective of meditative practices is to achieve “silence” and “nothingness”. Exclusive focus on mantras, prolonged staring at the flame of a candle, a spot of light, etc. starves the brain depriving it of all thoughts with the result that the frontal lobe becomes void of all information and is taken “offline”. This deactivates also the parietal lobe and the meditator achieves a feeling of transcendence, what the East calls Nirvana, “Buddhahood”, liberation, oneness or unitive consciousness.

But there is more to it. Columbia University reports that in successful hypnosis, subjects have their anterior cingulate cortex (the seat of their will) and lateral frontal cortex (the center of reality perception) decoupled.[3] Both “will” and “reality” reside in the frontal lobe, which when taken “offline” in meditation opens the meditator to receive suggestions hypnotically. Hence, some scientists say that meditation is self-hypnosis. This is when the mind in a moment of enlightenment accepts the suggestion of its oneness, of being one with the universe and with God.

According to Dr. Newberg, it is due to the deactivation of the parietal lobe that meditators “experience” their oneness as God. Does this smack of pantheism? In Greek, pan means "all" and theos means "god." Pantheismclaims that the universe as a whole is God and, conversely, that there is no God but the combined substance, forces and laws of the existing universe. By seeking oneness with God or the divine soul in one’s self, meditators perpetuate the age-old pantheistic deception.

Christianized Eastern meditation[4]

Today, unfortunately, Christians from many denominations use hybrids of Eastern meditation. The instructions are often very similar to those given in Eastern meditation: sit comfortably, use your breathing in the prayer ritual, repeat a sacred word, clear your mind, do not judge any thoughts that come. It is meant to be a way to come into God’s “presence” through that which is presumed as already within and often misunderstood as the image of God or the immortal soul. The argument is made that everyone has a higher spiritual self, often regarded as divine. Christianized Eastern meditation seeks, by silencing the mind of all distractions, to experience God by coming in touch with the divine within. 

In his 2015 address to the US Congress, the first by a bishop of Rome, Pope Francis promoted the “contemplative style of Thomas Merton”[5], a 20thcentury American Cistercian monk. Merton’s ideas have been developed into spiritual techniques such as contemplative prayer and meditation and are used by Christians the world over, hungry to feel more deeply God’s presence.

Merton explored the spiritual exercises of the Desert Fathers and on their basis entered into dialogue with Zen Buddhism. He came to accept views so close as to be hard to be distinguished from Buddhism. In Merton’s words: “The distinction between Creator and creature does not alter the fact that there is also a basic unity within ourselves at the summit of our being where we are ‘one with God’.”[6] Speaking of God, he states that the goal of spirituality is “the purification and expansion of the moral and religious consciousness until it reaches a state of superconscious or metaconscious realization in which subject [man] and object [God] become one”.[7]

Is this not the pantheism of Eastern origins? On the other hand, the Bible says that our natural heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). There is nothing divine in us. Our only hope of attaining to the divine nature is through God’s gift and promise of being purified from sin by the blood of Jesus (2 Peter 1:4; Ephesians 2:13). But the allure of getting in touch with the divine within does ring a bell, a very ancient one.

A tale of two trees and one serpent

Growing up, the central feature in our Taoist home was the family altar of my father’s deceased ancestors, whose souls were venerated with daily offerings of incense and food. Our belief in a deathless soul with attributes of divinity was the basis for meditation to discover the “divine” within.

The presumption of an immortal divine soul has become a common denominator of religions across ages, geography, language, sectarian and dogmatic barriers. It has swept past the after-effects of the Fall, ignoring that humanity is now tainted with a fallen nature and maintaining that it is still somehow divine. Consequently, just like in the Yin and Yang of Taoism, opposing spiritual contradictions are brought together, as if they belong together without differentiation: fallen as unfallen, life as deathless, man as God, good as evil. All these were seductively offered by the serpent to Eve in Eden.

God could not have given Adam and Eve a simpler warning than not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He warned that if they ate from its fruit, they would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The serpent’s lie to Adam and Eve was that God was keeping something good from them, that in eating of the fruit of tree, not only would they “not surely die”, but their“eyes shall be opened, and you shall be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4). In one breath, the serpent offered a seductive new enlightened consciousness, that it was needless to differentiate between the trees, God and the serpent, God and man, life and death and good and evil.

The utterance that man possessed a divine immortal soul was not made by God, but by the serpent. The Bible states of God that He “only has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16). The serpent’s lies were exposed forcibly to Adam and Eve when they became aware of their mortality after they ate of the forbidden fruit. They were kept from the tree of life and thus became mortal (Genesis 3:24). Eternal life will not be available to humanity again until the new heaven and earth when the tree of life will be accessible once more. (Revelation 22:2).

The foundation of Satan’s deception was laid in Eden: the promise of being God. Yet, instead of attaining to divinity, through her conversation with the serpent medium, Eve just had the first-ever spiritualistic experience. Eastern meditation and their Christianized versions are the methods by which people seek the “immortal divine”. Yet at their core, these are nothing else than spiritualistic practices, the serpent’s lies parading as experiential “truth”.

Revelation, the last book of the Bible, in the context of end-time events, describes “three unclean spirits like frogs”and explains that “they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (Revelation 16:13-14). In other words, spiritualism in its various guises, even in its “Christianized” ones, will play a decided role in uniting people in a coalition against God.

 In the words of India’s Prime Minister, “Yoga has become one of the most powerful unifying forces in the world”. “Yoga unites individuals, families, societies, countries and the world and it unites the entire humanity.” Could it be that Eastern meditation, as a powerful manifestation of pantheistic spiritualism, is today leading people and religions back to the ancient tree of knowledge of good and evil in order to unite them tomorrow under the apocalyptic war banner against God?

Resources for further research:

To receive information on many other pantheistic forms of alternative medicine and practices, such as acupuncture, reiki, reflexology, martial arts, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, join the Health and Spirituality Research Network by sending your name to healthandspirituality@yahoo.com. For more information, visit http://www.meditation-mindyourbrain.com/438305773

[1] http://www.un.org/en/events/yogaday/
[2] www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/what-happens-to-brains-during-spiritual-experiences/361882/

[3] http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/05/07/neural_pathways.html

[4] To find out about authentic biblical meditation, see the accompanying article.

[5] w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/september/documents/papa-francesco_20150924_usa-us-congress.html

[6] T. Merton, Zen and the birds of appetite. New Directions, New York, p. 11-12.

[7] Ibid., p. 79.