T. A. McMahon
The Berean Call
The New Age Movement seems to have faded away since it came on the scene quite vigorously in the 1970s. Actually, it hasn’t faded away but has “faded into the woodwork.” Many of its teachings and practices have become so accepted in Western society that they’re commonplace, seemingly far removed from their Eastern mystical roots. Terms like karma, yoga, meditation, guru, mantra, etc., have become part of our everyday language, without any hint of their religious origins and connections for most people. Additionally, a number of programs have arisen that deceptively promote Eastern meditation as non-religious science by calling it mindfulness.
Yet there are some who are sounding the alarm that potential danger lies hidden in the spiritual foundations of meditation. They recognize that the faith of Christians who participate in these practices is being undermined. Gaylene Goodroad, researcher and writer for Herescope, quotes former mystic Christine Pack regarding her first meditation experience: “In the space of 20 minutes (because that’s all the time it takes to do a meditation), my worldview shifted dramatically…the Christianity of the Bible was no longer a valid spiritual path for me. Why? Because Christianity is the only religion with such unbending and exclusive truth claims. (‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life….no one comes to the Father but through Me.’— John:14:6)…. And meditation counters this claim by generating an experience in which a person feels a profound sense of interconnectedness and oneness with ‘all’ that feels completely counter to the exclusive truth claims of Christianity. It feels like you have just had an encounter with God, that you have been in the presence of the Divine…only, you haven’t. Let’s look at the logical conclusions that practicing mystics must come to if they are staying true to their belief system: If I can experience God through meditation, if I can ‘cross the divide’ through my own efforts, then the Cross of Calvary has no meaning. And Jesus was a liar when He said that He was the only way to God. And the Bible was wrong where it says that without Christ we are dead in our sins and trespasses (no ‘divine inner spark’ already living within each person).”1
The experience of “oneness with ‘all’” doesn’t necessarily happen to everyone who meditates, but the potential is there for everyone who practices it, no matter the goal of the practitioner—whether seeking spiritual enlightenment or simply relief from stress. That latter point, including being more productive in one’s job, school, or family environment, is what is being heralded by the promoters and publishers. Noted Hollywood director David Lynch, a disciple of Transcendental Meditation’s (TM) founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, started the Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. Yet while denying its religious roots and basis, he declares, “If you don’t already meditate, take my advice: Start. It will be the best decision you ever make.”2 Another meditation foundation that is being eagerly received by educators is MindUP. It has Buddhist roots, whereas TM’s source is Hinduism—although that information is often hidden by their promoters.
MindUP’s mindfulness meditation claims to train the brains of both adults and children to develop the “social and emotional skills to reduce stress and anxiety for healthier, happy lives,” with no religious attachments. That’s quite attractive to Americans, a society given to self-helps and whatever else may seem to solve their problems. Yet the rush to solutions in the US is nearly always based upon a zeal without knowledge. That would account for the overwhelming growth of another “mind-adjusting” business—psychotherapy, the pseudoscience that has created far more problems than it has solved while becoming a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Should American consumers be concerned about the increasing number of meditation offerings? Have any warning labels or caveat emptor (buyer beware) caution signs been attached to TM or MindUP by their promoters? Not even in the small print. Is that because, as they say in the sports world, “No harm, no foul”? Hardly, as a growing number of concerns of late are being reported, such as this article in The Washington Post titled: “Meditation and mindfulness aren’t as good for you as you think: There are negative side effects that no one ever talks about.” Here are some excerpts: “Mindfulness is a technique extracted from Buddhism in which one tries to notice present thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment….What was once a tool for spiritual exploration has been turned into a panacea for the modern age—a cure-all for common human problems, from stress to anxiety to depression. By taking this ‘natural pill’ every day, we open ourselves up to the potential for myriad benefits and no ill effects, unlike synthetic pills, such as antidepressants, with their potential for negative side effects….Mindfulness has been sold to us, and we are buying it.…After examining the literature from the last 45 years on the science of meditation, we realized with astonishment that we are no closer to finding out how meditation works or who benefits the most or the least from it.”3 So much for the “science” of meditation!
It’s interesting that this report by a secular newspaper states simply and clearly what TM and mindfulness meditation programs have lied about from their introduction: “Mindfulness has been separated from its roots, stripped of its ethical and spiritual connotations and sold to us as a therapeutic tool. While this may not deny its power as a technique to change our state of consciousness and with implications for mental health, it arguably limits its ‘naturalness,’ as well as its potential—at least as originally intended.” The secular article concludes with this: “So if you go into it [the practice of mindfulness meditation]—as with taking any other kind of pill – keep your eyes open. Don’t consume mindfulness blindly.”4
The undisclosed “negative side effects” run the gamut from continuing depression to demonization to suicide. The Atlantic printed an article titled “The Dark Knight of the Soul: For some, meditation has become more curse than cure.” Dr. Willoughby Britton oversees a retreat center that ministers to meditators who are there not to restore themselves with meditation—they’re recovering from it: “I started having thoughts like, Let me take over you , combined with confusion and tons of terror,” says David, a polite, articulate 27-year-old who arrived at Britton’s Cheetah House in 2013. “I had a vision of death with a scythe and a hood, and the thought, Kill yourself, over and over again.” Another young man being treated is “Michael, 25, a certified yoga teacher [who] made his way to Cheetah House. He explains that during the course of his meditation practice his ‘body stopped digesting food. I had no idea what was happening.’ For three years he believed he was ‘permanently ruined’ by meditation.”5
Dr. Britton is an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Brown University Medical School. The Atlantic article continues: “She receives regular phone calls, emails, and letters from people around the world in various states of impairment. Most of them worry that no one will believe—let alone understand—their stories of meditation-induced affliction. Her investigation of this phenomenon, called ‘The Dark Night Project,’ is an effort to document, analyze, and publicize accounts of the adverse effects of contemplative practices.”6 In America: The Sorcerer’s New Apprentice, Dave Hunt and I attempted to inform the Body of Christ of our concerns about the spiritual and physical dangers of Eastern mystical techniques and practices that many Christians were being attracted to and seduced by, believing they were simply engaging in physical and mental exercises that would improve their minds and bodies. Few seemed to be listening as we explained that Eastern meditation leads to the same kind of altered state of consciousness as psychedelic drugs, even though meditation and other related mind-altering techniques (repeated mantras, visualization, sensory deprivation, yoga asanas, etc.) were being touted as a “natural” approach without the side effects of drugs. In that 1988 book, we noted some of the New Age organizations that have faced up to the claimed “nonexistent,” yet real, horrendous side effects, such as the Spiritual Emergency Network, which maintained a hotline and referral treatment service for those whose lives had been spiritually and physically wrecked. The Spiritual Emergency Network continues today although with the adjusted new title: “The Spiritual Emergence Network.”
Even among those who are acknowledging the present and potential damage of mystical practices, there seems to be a type of bondage involved. Dr. Britton, for all of her great concerns, candidly admitted, “There are parts of me that just want meditation to be all good. I find myself in denial sometimes, where I just want to forget all that I’ve learned and go back to being happy about mindfulness and promoting it, but then I…meet someone who’s in distress, and I see the devastation in their eyes, and I can’t deny that this is happening.”
Tragically, there are many in the church, whether Christians in name only or true believers, who are ignorant of, oblivious to, or in denial regarding the dangers of New Age/Eastern mystical beliefs and practices. Dave Hunt, in his 2006 book Yoga and the Body of Christ, reported that “Astonishingly, there are about 586,000 references on ‘Google Search’ under the heading ‘Yoga for Christians.’” Today that same search brings up more than a million resources. Anyone concerned?
Let’s review some undeniable facts. New Age mysticism is a latter-day re-establishment and reworking of Eastern mysticism for the West. At the heart of it all is the view of God as an impersonal spiritual Energy or Force that can be manipulated by the mind of man, a concept that rejects the personal Creator God who reveals Himself in Scripture through His Holy Spirit. The way to connect with the “God” of Eastern mysticism is through experiencing an altered state of consciousness via mind-altering methods such as drugs, meditation, visualization, yoga positions, repetitious chanting, sensory deprivation (Sufi whirling, Indian sweat lodge experiences, isolation cells, etc.). All of these are forms of sorcery, a term found in Scripture (in the Greek, pharmakeia, translated as magic, sorcery, enchantment), and a practice condemned therein. Writers for major secular newspapers and magazines have recognized the fact that the meditation promoted by organizations (e.g., MindUP, TM) that declare it to be scientific with no religious connection, as well as beneficial with no side effects, are misguided if not fraudulent.
If the secular press can discern the harmful errors contrary to the claims of the meditation businesses, where is the discernment among Christians? The criticism that they seem to be climbing aboard the Titanic even though it’s lurching is sadly true. Consider Rick Warren, who is arguably the most recognized and influential evangelical pastor today. Hoping to help those among his church members who struggled with weight loss, he introduced The Daniel Plan. As part of that plan, he turned himself and his flock over to the guidance of three medical doctors, all of whom promote mystical meditation: Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Daniel Amen, and Dr. Mark Hyman. Dr. Oz is a Sufi mystic, the national spokesman for TM, and a devotee of New Ager Oprah Winfrey. Dr. Amen is a psychiatrist who teaches the Japanese spiritual-energy practice of Reiki. Dr. Hyman teaches Buddhist meditation. Furthermore, on his RWToolbox Twitter page Warren directs followers in the contemplative meditation practice of “centering prayer”: “Choose a simple word, phrase, or verse from Scripture….Take time to become quiet….Let them [your thoughts] go….Be with Jesus. Listen. Be still.” Warren is hardly alone in Christianity’s slide into Eastern mysticism.
Evangelical conferences for youth have started their days with yoga. A writer for Christianity Today says “Yes to Yoga.” She claims, “The three hours a week I spend doing yoga not only make me more flexible, tone my muscles, and relax me. They also draw me closer to Christ. They are my bodily-kinetic prayer.”7 Can yoga have some physical value? Yes. But at what cost? Smoking also has some value in that it calms and relaxes the smoker. However, unlike yoga meditation, it carries a warning label regarding its potentially deadly consequences.
Amazingly, there is a network of Christians who practice different forms of yoga, such as Jesus Yoga, Yahweh Yoga, Holy Yoga and Kid’s Holy Yoga, Praise Moves, Yogafaith, and Christoga. They have a website that speaks for all regarding its purpose: “We are drawn together through our individual and collective experience that yoga and meditation deepens our Christian faith….We simply feel called to share our experiences with the hope they’ll draw others to deepen their faith through embodied contemplative practices” (See www.christianspracticingyoga.com/). The Christian Yoga Magazine website declares that it is a resource “for people of all religious traditions to explore how they can integrate Eastern physical and spiritual practices—such as yoga, meditation and Tai Chi—into their daily lives while remaining true to their deepest spiritual beliefs” (See www.christianyogamagazine.com/about/).
There’s little doubt that many of the proponents of Christian yoga are sincere people who just want to make Christianity and yoga compatible. It seems obvious that this would be inexcusable, but given the present state of Christianity—which seems to welcome, with arms wide open (despite glaring contradictions), any additions or modifications—we find it happening with increasing frequency. This is experiential ecumenism, part of the process at work in the development of the religion of the Antichrist. Furthermore, it’s a fulfillment of prophecy, along with an encouragement to press on: “Remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts…sensual, having not the Spirit. But ye…building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 17-23).
The only faith that can be deepened in truth is biblical faith, which is diametrically opposed to the teachings and practices of Eastern mysticism and its Westernized stepchild. TBC
- Christine Pack, “What Is Mysticism?”, www.solasisters.com/2011/03/what-is-mysticism.html, cited in Gaylene Goodroad, “Eastern Meditation as the Universal Cure-All,” www.herescope.blogspot.com , November 23, 2015.
- Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm, www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/06/05/meditation-and-mindf….
- Tomas Rocha, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/the-dark-knight-of-the-souls/….
- Agnieszka Tennant, www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/mayweb-only/42.0b.html.