Is Meditation Satanic or Scriptural?
“GO WEST, YOUNG MAN, GO WEST” was the advice of Horace Greeley to 18th century America The “Horace Greeleys” of the 1980’s might be heard to rephrase that advice thus: “Go east, young man, go east.”
It began in the 70’s with robed groups of young people chanting and swaying in airports. It continued with a little Indian guru smiling from ear to ear, inviting us to the “science” of Transcendental Meditation. It presently is manifested in the “New Age Rage” popularized, for example, by Shirley MacLaine’s Out On A Limb. The growing interest in reincarnation, “channeling,” “Christ-consciousness,” and a host of other Hindu religious practices parading in Western dress is a manifestation of this eastward tilt in our religious attitudes.
A complete analysis of these phenomena is outside the scope of this article. There is one practice of Eastern religions, however, that touches on a biblical, although neglected, truth. That experience is meditation.
Webster defines meditation as “a solemn reflection on sacred matters as a devotional act.” Meditation is not limited to Eastern religions, however. The words meditate or meditation appear 20 times in the Old and New Testaments; the experience and practice of meditation appear in the Bible much more under the name “communion.” In Psalm 119, the writer says that he meditates in God’s precepts and statutes. Meditation, then, is a biblical practice—a practice that we have all but abandoned in our hectic 20th-century life-style—but which is, nevertheless, a sound, scriptural practice.
When we compare the meaning of meditation in Eastern religions to its meaning in Christianity, we find them to be so dissimilar that they are diametrically opposed on many points. What should be the Christian’s attitude toward the practices of these “meditation” schools? Can he profit from them? I would suggest that the meditation practiced in these various movements is not only unscriptural, but it is also dangerous and deadly, despite glowing testimonies which say otherwise. Let’s look at what is actually taught in these movements and then at what the Scriptures actually teach about meditation.
I call it “Satanic” not to infer that it is some form of Satan worship but because Eastern meditation is another of Satan’s tricks to conceal the truth of God by giving a distorted view of truth. The one source from which all of the meditation schools spring is Hinduism, the religon of India, a religion with no personal god or gods and with no definite theology or defined absolutes of truth, error, right, and wrong. Three movements which create concern are Yoga, Hare Krishna, and Transcendental Meditation.
Many people object strenuously when Yoga is called a religion. They insist that it is simply a set of exercises to improve bodily health. If that is all it is, this author would be the last to oppose Yoga, for I, as much as anyone, need exercise. But Yoga cannot be separated from its religious origin and beliefs.
A few years ago a group of Christian parents were concerned about Yoga being taught in the public school. They asked me to appear with them before the Home and School Association to protest. The parents in attendance that evening were amazed to meet someone who opposed Yoga and thought it inconsistent with Christianity. I quoted from a book by a religion professor at Fordham University entitled The Major Religions of India. The three major religions he listed were Hinduism, Buddhism, and Yoga.
More specifically, Yoga is one of six official main systems of Hindu philosophy. It has been practiced in India for thousands of years. To suggest to an Indian today that Yoga is not a religion would evoke surprise, to say the least. Yoga is an example of the very heart of India’s religious philosophy. Its goal is the achievement of union with the “Supreme Universal Consciousness.” The physical exercises are subsidiary to this purpose—the main method is meditation. Through meditation we become united with the “Cosmic World Consciousness,” which is supposedly within each of us and is the source of peace and love. It is precisely because Yoga exercises cannot be separated from meditation that it is a dangerous compromise for the Christian to be involved in it.
A second form of Satanic meditation that swept over America in the 70’s is the religion of Hare Krishna or, as it is technically called, “Krishna Consciousness.” It is practiced by the robed and shaven young devotees you may have seen on the street corners of many cities. For hours they chant themselves into ecstasy, their eyes lowered and lips curled, their faces expressionless. They chant “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama.” These are names for their god. Former Beatle George Harrison wrote and sang a song entitled “My Sweet Lord” in 1970 that zoomed to the top of the rock music popularity charts. The song describes his search, not for the true God, but for Lord Krishna.
Krishna followers believe they can realize God by chanting these names in order and that they can liberate their souls from the evil influences of their bodies by this discipline. Members not only shave their heads, wear saris, and become vegetarians; they also voluntarily give up sex except for the purpose of having children in marriage.
But again, the key practice is meditation. Through the constant chants of the various names of their god, the Krishna converts eventually go into a trance. They feel that they are liberated from their bodies and are suspended in a state of pure spirit.
Krishna says that man can save himself; Christianity says that man needs outside help. A recent convert to Christianity wrote, “As a Hindu, I endured self-discipline and much study for one purpose—to better myself, to achieve Heaven by my own deeds. Christianity starts with man’s weakness. It asks us to accept our selfishness and sinfulness, then promises a new nature. Christ came to heal the sick, not the well or self-sufficient.” The self-induced hypnotic trance of Hare Krishna is just another example of man’s attempt to achieve salvation by his own efforts.
This third form of Satanic meditation is the most popular and the most dangerous. Someone has said, “Any religion that makes converts out of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Mia Farrow, Donovan, Joe Namath, Merv Griffin, Clint Eastwood, Peggy Lee, and Shirley MacLaine can’t be all bad, can it?” The popularity of its converts has aided its reaching nearly half a million Americans.
Transcendental Meditation is the brainchild of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a bearded guru who came to the West in 1960 to sell his ideas. He reportedly spent two years in a cave in the Himalayan Mountains and emerged with TM. The Maharishi says that the discipline and hard effort of most Eastern religions are a waste of time. There is no need to contort yourself into that lotus position. All you have to do is sit comfortably for 20 minutes twice a day and silently repeat your own special mantra. A mantra is a meaningless little phrase or syllable that is given to you by one of the teachers of TM and is to be kept secret. You simply put your mind in neutral. This process “expands the conscious mind and brings it in contact with the creative intelligence that gives rise to every thought.” In fact, the name of the course is the “Science of Creative Intelligence.”
The big drawing card of Transcendental Meditation is that it requires no change in your life-style. It gives no standards of morality. “You don’t have to believe in anything,” a TM disciple exclaims, “and there is nothing to give up.” While many Eastern religions are largely negative, the Maharishi’s cult definitely is not. There are no taboos at all. TM can help you sin and enjoy it more. It can help you to continue in sin and not feel any guilt about it. No wonder it’s so popular!
What does biblical Christianity say regarding this muddled meditation situation? To begin with, the focus of Eastern meditation is subjective and inward, while the focus of Christian meditation is objective and outward; Eastern meditation starts with man, Christianity starts with “the God who is there” (Francis Schaeffer). Hindu meditation teaches that within the heart of man is the answer to his problems and that through meditation this source is uncovered. The Bible, however, teaches that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). “O Lᴏʀᴅ, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). Engaging in some sort of meditative excavation of the heart and mind will only result in the discovery that “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness” (Mk. 7:20–22). Hindu meditation does not take seriously the awful fact of sin—the real cause of man’s problems. Both Scripture and experience teach that there is sin in the world. Not only is there sin, but man himself is a sinner and thus separated from a holy God. The fact of a holy, personal God is foreign to Eastern religions. Because of sin, there is a breach between God and men. Jesus Christ came to heal that breach by dealing with our sin problem on the cross. When we receive Him as Lord and Savior and forsake our sins, God graciously forgives our sins on the basis of the shed blood of Christ. He then gives us a new nature and a new heart. Eastern meditation doesn’t even mention sin; it never gets to the root of the problem.
Since Hindu meditation doesn’t attack the real problem—sin—it can only give temporary relief. Devotees may feel happier, but that happiness doesn’t last. Perhaps Yoga, Hare Krishna, Transcendental Meditation, and other “New Age” techniques would be better described as big aspirin tablets for the headache of unhappiness. Aspirin usually does a fair job at relieving a headache, but it fails to get at the root of the problem. If you had appendicitis, a broken leg, or an abscessed tooth, aspirin might make you feel happier for a time, but in the long run the “cure” is merely a delusion. You had better see a doctor. You need surgery. The gospel performs radical surgery on our hearts and gives us new ones. The Great Physician, the Lord Jesus Christ, came to heal not only the physically sick but also the spiritually sick. When He performs an operation, the results are lasting, not temporary.
Is there then no place for meditation in the Christian life? Certainly there is. Scriptural meditation, however, differs radically from Hindu meditation in one main aspect Biblical meditation focuses on an object (God, His works, or His Word); Hindu meditation focuses on some subjective force that can’t be described, only experienced.
Scriptural meditation is the conscious reflection of the mind and heart on some great truth, allowing the soul to ponder that truth until it becomes such a part of our being that we act upon it. There are three great truths in Scripture that we are to meditate upon.
First, we are to meditate on God himself: “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips, When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches” (Ps. 63:5–6). That is real worship—pondering and reflecting on the wondrous perfections of God. That experience satisfies a hungry soul and produces praise from the lips. Psalm 104:34 says, “My meditation of him shall be sweet; I will be glad in the Lᴏʀᴅ.” Just to contemplate the attributes of God is a mind-expanding experience. To consider His sovereignty as King of all creation, His holiness as pure light, His love as the ever-bountiful Father, His compassion and loving kindness, His truth, His righteousness, His wisdom, His infinity, His eternity, His unchangeable nature, His goodness—to consider all that He is to His children is the most thrilling experience any child of God can have. It is experiencing what Jesus commanded—loving God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength. Are you looking for peace, serenity, joy, composure? Scripture teaches that these virtues are not found in chanting a meaningless mantra, but are found here—“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee” (Isa. 26:3). The child of God should not be searching for ultimate reality but experiencing the salvation offered in the gospel as he cries out, “I have found Him whom my soul loves.”
Secondly, we are to meditate on God’s works: “I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings” (Ps. 77:12). “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands” (Ps. 143:5). Think on the vastness, the wonder, the beauty of God’s creation. “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained, What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:3–4). “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).
Do not meditate only on God’s work of the old creation but also on the wondrous work of a new creation. Marvel at Calvary—the tremendous debt that was canceled, the awful stain that was cleansed, the terrible disease that was cured. Think of the humiliation of God’s Son, who willingly underwent the shame and suffering of the cross. He “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Never let those facts become old to you.
Thirdly, we are reminded in Scripture to meditate on God’s Word “Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lᴏʀᴅ; and in his law cloth he meditate day and night” (Ps. 1:1–2). God’s prescription for successful living is to meditate on the Bible: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night … for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Josh. 1:8). Reading the Word is one thing—that is, receiving it through the mind. Meditating on the Word read is another thing—that is, receiving it in the heart. The psalmist again promised God,”1 will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways” (Ps. 119:15).
True meditation is not “emptying the mind.” It is simply pondering the truths of God—His person, His works, His Word. It is allowing that truth to mold us and make us, to fit us and form us, to chip us and change us. It is adoring, worshiping, and communing with the God who has found us through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is experiencing the most thrilling thing imaginable—my finite being communicating with the infinite God of the universe who loves me and whispers to my soul,
“Peace, perfect peace.”