Overstressed Americans are increasingly turning to various forms of Eastern meditation, particularly yoga, in search of relaxation and spirituality. Underlying these meditative practices, however, is a worldview in conflict with biblical spirituality—though many Christians are (unwisely) practicing yoga.
Many Eastern religions teach that the source of salvation is found within, and that the fundamental human problem is not sin against a holy God but ignorance of our true condition. These worldviews advocate meditation and "higher forms of consciousness" as a way to discover a secret inner divinity.
Yoga, deeply rooted in Hinduism, essentially means to be "yoked" with the divine. Yogic postures, breathing, and chanting were originally designed not to bring better physical health and well-being (Western marketing to the contrary), but a sense of oneness with Brahman—the Hindu word for the absolute being that pervades all things. This is pantheism (all is divine), not Christianity.
Transcendental Meditation is a veiled form of Hindu yoga, though it claims to be a religiously neutral method of relaxation and rejuvenation. Initiates to TM receive a mantra (Hindu holy word) to repeat while sitting in yogic postures and engaging in yogic breathing. The goal is to find God within their own beings, since God (Brahman) and the self (Atman) are really one.
Differences in various forms of Eastern meditation aside, they all aim at a supposedly "higher" or "altered" state of consciousness. Meditation guides claim that normal consciousness obscures sacred realities. Therefore, meditation is practiced in order to suspend rational patterns of thought.
This helps explain why so many Eastern mystics claim that divine realities are utterly beyond words, thought, and personality. In order to find "enlightenment," one must extinguish one's critical capacities—something the Bible never calls us to do (Rom. 12:1-2). In fact, suspending our critical capacities through meditation opens the soul to deception and even to spiritual bondage.
The biblical worldview is completely at odds with the pantheistic concepts driving Eastern meditation. We are not one with an impersonal absolute being that is called "God." Rather, we are estranged from the true personal God because of our "true moral guilt," as Francis Schaeffer says.
No amount of chanting, breathing, visualizing, or physical contortions will melt away the sin that separates us from the Lord of the cosmos—however "peaceful" these practices may feel. Moreover, Paul warns that "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). "Pleasant" experiences may be portals to peril. Even yoga teachers warn that yoga may open one up to spiritual and physical maladies.
The answer to our plight is not found in some "higher level of consciousness" (really a deceptive state of mind), but in placing our faith in the unmatched achievements of Jesus Christ on our behalf. If it were possible to find enlightenment within, God would not have sent "his one and only Son" (John 3:16) to die on the Cross for our sins in order to give us new life and hope for eternity through Christ's resurrection. We cannot raise ourselves from the dead.
The biblical concept of prayer assumes that rational and meaningful communication between God and humans is possible. There is no summons to suspend rational judgment even when prayer through the Holy Spirit is "with groans that words cannot express" (Rom. 8:26). Nor should we repeat words meaninglessly to induce a trance (Matt. 6:7).
In the Bible, meditation always means pondering God's revealed truths and reflecting on how they pertain to us. David revels in the richness of God's law throughout Psalm 119. He encourages us to meditate on it: "I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word" (Ps. 119:15-16). Since all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), all of it is profitable for meditation in the biblical sense.
Question from Michael Collins, Poolesville, Maryland
Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of several books, including Unmasking the New Age and Confronting the New Age.
A ready-to-download Bible Study on this article is available at ChristianBibleStudies.com. These unique Bible studies use articles from current issues of Christianity Today and other magazines to prompt thought-provoking discussions in adult Sunday school classes or small groups.
Other Christianity Today articles on yoga and meditation include:
The Higher Self Gets Down to Business | An old movement appears anew—in the corporate world. (Jan. 24, 2003)
Prosperity Consciousness | How the higher self gets into business. (Jan. 24, 2003)
Utopia or Kingdom Come? | Discerning wheat from chaff in the new business spirituality. (Jan. 24, 2003)
Weighed Down by Karmic Debt | Aspects of Tibetan spirituality should give Christians pause. (June 8, 2001)
Buddhism's Guru | The Dalai Lama, a spiritual hero to millions, works to liberate Tibet, calls on spirits, and believes Jesus lived previous lives. (June 8, 2001)
Basic Buddhism | What the Dalai Lama and his followers believe about God, Buddha, and other teachings. (June 8, 2001)
Blood and Tears in Tibet | The Dalai Lama says he appreciates Christian attempts to address persecution in his homeland. (June 8, 2001)
Inside CT: Straight Outta Dharamsala | Behind James A. Beverley's report on the Dalai Lama (June 8, 2001)
Field of TM Dreams | Fairfield, Iowa, of all places, is now a major world center for Transcendental Meditation, and local Christians are figuring out how best to evangelize Maharishi's devotees. (Jan. 12, 2001)
Mere Transcendental Meditation | The basic concepts of neo-Vedanta philosophy. (Jan. 12, 2001)
Sometimes It Takes a Miracle | Jim Sieber found Christ more sufficient than self-realization. (Jan. 12, 2001)
Our sister publications have more articles on yoga and New Age religion:
Is Yoga Really So Bad? | The truth behind this exercise sensation (Today's Christian Woman, September/October 2001)
Escape from the Spirit Guides | How one woman's quest led to the dark side of the New Age, where she encountered spirits that wouldn't let her leave (Today's Christian, July/August 1997)
Beliefnet has an article about Christians trying to bring yoga into a Christian context.
Earlier Good Question columns include:
Are some people lost "just a little bit" in the same way that others are saved "only as through fire"?
How can I reconcile my belief in the inerrancy of Scripture with comments in Bible translations that state that a particular verse is not 'in better manuscripts'?
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