The Interface of Medieval Mysticism and Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation

Pam Frost informs us of the influence Eastern mysticism has had on the modern Church, thanks largely to high-profile Protestant’s affinity for the teaching of Roman Catholic mystic monks such as Thomas Merton, Basil Pennington, William Menninger and Thomas Keating.  The Desert Fathers, as they are called, embraced the beliefs of Neoplatonism (Frost explains this term), Buddhism and Hinduism. Now many mainline Protestant churches as well as independent, nondenominational, charismatic and Pentecostal churches are promoting Roman Catholic mysticism.  What is the goal of mysticism? According to Frost, the goal is “to alter one’s perception of reality, redefining the self, the world, and the Divine according to mystical intuitions of Universal Consciousness as Ultimate Reality. Thus mysticism serves as the basis for a collective spirituality that transcends religious distinctions and is therefore the force behind the growing interfaith movement in which “Christian” mysticism plays an important role.”

This is anything but Christian, brethren.

We urge you to read Pam Frost’s entire article over at Dr. Peter Jones’ site truthXchange.  We’ve posted a portion of it below….

desert-fathers

Many Evangelicals [are] adopting not only contemplative Catholic spirituality but also Buddhist mysticism (Mindfulness) in an attempt to enrich their Christian experience.

The decades from the 1970s forward have witnessed the increasing popularity of spiritual formation programs within Evangelical circles based on a resurgence of interest in medieval mysticism and its contemplative spiritual techniques. A major factor behind this movement was the softened posture that the Roman Catholic Church assumed toward Evangelical Christianity as a result of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) as it sought rapprochement with Protestants. In corollary response, many Evangelicals began seeking deeper spiritual experiences based on the contemplative techniques of the medieval mystics. But the process didn’t stop there, since the Second Vatican Council also opened doors for Catholics to engage in interreligious dialogue and to begin mining the traditions of other religions for mystical practices that could enhance Catholic spirituality.

It did not take long for Catholic mystics to realize that mystics of other religions were experiencing the very same contemplative states of consciousness attained by the medieval mystics. This realization naturally led to interreligious dialogue and the initial exploration of interspiritual practices, particularly that of Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation, which so closely parallels contemplative “Christian” techniques and experiences, while differing drastically in actual belief. In view of the similarity of experience and the recent assertions of scientific support for the positive health claims of Mindfulness, it is not surprising to find many Evangelicals adopting not only contemplative Catholic spirituality but also Buddhist mysticism (Mindfulness) in an attempt to enrich their Christian experience.

What is mysticism? Our English word is derived from the Greek mysticos, meaning the occult knowledge veiled in mystery that can only be known through subjective experience. Mystics are those who, through contemplative, meditative techniques, attain altered states of consciousness beyond the thinking mind to experience unmediated union with the Divine, the All, the Source, the Universal, the Force, the Energy, or the Void, depending on which tradition one follows. Mystical spirituality awakens supernatural “revelations” of nondual[1] consciousness, giving the impression of transcending the biblical binaries that distinguish Creator from creation, male from female and good from evil, so that all are intuitively joined into One. Hinduism’s yoga traditions call this state the awakening of Shiva’s mystic Third Eye, a so-called state of esoteric enlightenment that destroys the “demon” of distinctions. Thomas Keating and Richard Rohr, contemporary Catholic mystics with large followings among Evangelicals, also refer to the contemplative state of consciousness as the Third Eye because it awakens a way of seeing reality beyond binary distinctions. In Buddhism, this state is called Nirvana, a state of blissful perception that a Unitive Void is the highest reality beyond the illusion of material existence.

Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation can actually refer to two different practices, both of which alter consciousness and change the way we think. One form is practiced as a sitting meditation that focuses concentration on the breath to intensify awareness on the present moment. This form is very similar to the meditation practiced in yoga, which also focuses on the breath as a technique to prepare the body and mind to enter into deeper meditative trance states through single-pointed mental focus. But Mindfulness can also be practiced continually throughout the normal course of the day by experiencing each moment’s activity through the lens of intense, non-judgmental concentration on the point of the present now. Life is thus perceived in sequential progression from one present moment to the next, allowing thoughts to arise without critical evaluation. In this type of meditation, the practitioner becomes a neutral observer of the self, experiencing a continuum of present moments. The mind is thus detached from objective reality and enters a kind of waking trance-like state. Because all moral judgment is suspended toward the attitudes and actions of oneself and others, the mind easily dissociates from normal evaluative response patterns. In other words, Mindfulness changes the interpretive grid through which the mind processes reality.

The goal of mysticism, in general, is to alter one’s perception of reality, redefining the self, the world, and the Divine according to mystical intuitions of Universal Consciousness as Ultimate Reality. Thus mysticism serves as the basis for a collective spirituality that transcends religious distinctions and is therefore the force behind the growing interfaith movement in which “Christian” mysticism plays an important role.

This really shouldn’t surprise us, though, since the medieval mystics, who now hold such powerful influence in many Evangelical circles, were themselves heavily influenced by the Oneist religious philosophy of Neoplatonism. Somewhere between the late 5th and early 6th centuries, a man writing under the pseudonym of Dionysius the Areopagite (pretending to be Paul’s Athenian disciple recorded in Acts 17:34) repackaged Plotinus’s pagan philosophy of Neoplatonism in Christian terminology. Revered with near apostolic authority, pseudo-Dionysius (as he is now properly known), introduced Christianized Neoplatonism as a foundational worldview for Catholic mysticism.

But Neoplatonism is anything but Christian. According to Neoplatonism, an impersonal, universal Divine Essence spontaneously overflowed itself, emanating in a progressively downward spiral from the pure spiritual realm, first into cosmic mind (nous), then into universal soul (psyche), until the lowest state, that of material existence, was reached. The universal soul was then fragmented and became trapped in individuated bodily existence as an inner spark of Divinity. So the Fall, according to Neoplatonism, is not man’s moral failure through sin, resulting in separation from God, but the fall of spirit into entrapment within material existence. Thus, meditative and contemplative techniques coupled with ascetic disciplines induce altered states of nondual consciousness devoid of distinctions, in order to experience the soul’s mystical reunion in the Divine Essence. This process is called “transformation,” a kind of spiritual alchemy by which human consciousness is mystically transformed into Divine Consciousness.

What is expressed in Neoplatonism is the ontological unity of everything, meaning that everyone and everything share in the Essence of Divine Being. Meditative techniques are designed to awaken perception of inner Divinity flowing within the stream of Divine Consciousness pulsing throughout the cosmos. It is theorized that if religions could only tap into this stream, the experience would eclipse religious distinctions and serve as a catalyst for interreligious harmony.

Though Neoplatonism is a thoroughly pagan religious philosophy, pseudo-Dionysius successfully infused it into medieval Catholic spirituality through his influential works The Mystical Theology and The Celestial Hierarchy, treatises that were spiritually formative to John Scotus Eriugena, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Jan van Ruusbroec, Johannes Tauler, and a host of other medieval mystics.

But the Christianized Neoplatonism of pseudo-Dionysius is also responsible for the modern revival of interest in contemplative spirituality. In the fourteenth century, an anonymous English monk wrote The Cloud of Unknowing, a book the author credits in its entirety to the teachings of pseudo-Dionysius (whom he calls St. Denis): “Anyone who reads Denis’ book will find confirmed there all that I have been trying to teach in this book from start to finish.”[2] In the early 1970s a dusty copy of The Cloud of Unknowing was discovered by Trappist monk William Menninger in St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. Inspired by The Cloud’s mystical “Christian” allegory, William Menninger, Abbot Thomas Keating, and fellow Trappist M. Basil Pennington developed Centering Prayer as a revival of medieval contemplative spirituality. In his influential book on Centering Prayer, Open Mind, Open Heart, Keating defines contemplative prayer as “a process of interior transformation… [leading to] divine union”[3] during which “[o]ne’s way of seeing reality changes in this process.”[4] What takes place during contemplative meditation is the exchange of worldview from Twoism to Oneism, which Keating describes as “A restructuring of consciousness…which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists.”[5]  Continue reading

Related:

Christians Mystically Encountering God by Marsha West

Check out our White Paper on Roman Catholicism and Contemplative Prayer

 

 

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