Click here for the reflection on Eastern meditation methods in Christian contemplative practice.
Reflection and Discussion
1. What are some of your thoughts and comments on this topic?
2. If you have practiced Eastern forms of meditation, have you found them helpful? Please consider sharing your experiences with other forum members.
Very good page, Phil.
I disagree with a few statements, since I think they hinge more on concepts than upon experience. I believe that theosis and enlightenment are the same thing. They seem different because an Eastern and a Christian use extremely different words to describe what is happening from the point of view of their beliefs, I also believe that they are extremely rare. Wayne Teasdale has excellent points, but I believe that "partially enlightened" is an oxymoron. Zennists call the temporary/partial enlightening experiences satori to distinguish them from Enlightenment. There is an excellent magazine, called "What is Enlightenment?" which holds to the strict Eastern interpretation of enlightenment which is a profound and utter transformation which essentially shatters the ego as a selfish and separate entity, and brings one into a lasting sense of non-duality, oneness, and the presence of the Absolute, whether that is called God, or Nirvana.
As to point two, I have found Vipassana quite helpful. The vipassana I was trained in was an odd variation, and I hated it at first; it concentrated on body scans and being able to sense all the sensations of the body, rather like Eckhart Tolle's method of "sensing the energy body" in The Power of Now. But when I reread The Book of Privy Counseling (the little-known sequel to the Cloud) this year, it struck me that its author had settled essentially on the same method. In his second book, he simply says "be aware THAT you are," not what you are, and then move this awareness into an awareness of God, by being aware that He is your being, so being aware of your being is being aware of Him.
Jon, you may really appreciate this page by Jim & Tyra Arraj: East-West Contemplative Dialogue
I was going to direct you to one or more of the links on this page, re: Enlightenment and Christian Contemplation, but there are TOO many links and they are ALL very good!
Jon, I second the links that johnboy has recommended. Although I agree that there are many similarities between enlightenment and contemplative mystical experiences, there are some significant differences as well. I think the differences in descriptions aren't just semantical; they attest to different experiences--even different kinds of union states.
Here's a quote by Jim Arraj which has relevance to this topic: Whether ultimate reality is personal or impersonal goes to the very heart of the Buddhist-Christian or Hindu-Christian dialogue. Christianity is fundamentally and intrinsically personal. There is certainly a whole nuanced tradition which tries to explain how God is beyond all the names that are applied to God. But in final analysis, God is affirmed as a person, even a communion of persons, and the Incarnation is supremely personal. To imagine that this I-Thou relationship which is so rooted in Christian thought and which is expressed throughout the Christian life of prayer and contemplation must, in some way, yield to a higher impersonal stage is, I fear, to seriously misread both the Christian mystical and theological traditions. Even a John of the Cross who is so insistent on us leaving all things behind will sing in his Spiritual Canticle, as we saw, "Where have you hidden yourself, my Beloved?" In short, while there is a very strong Christian apophatic tradition that cannot be neglected, it is hard to see how the personal nature of Christianity can give way to some impersonal absolute without Christianity losing its identity. Another way of putting it is that a relational love mysticism is at the very center of Christianity.
I pretty much agree with that and so would say that the author of the Cloud, while using statements about awareness and so forth that resonate with vipassana, is also very explicitly focused in his/her work on relational mysticism.
Something for us to consider early on is that it's not necessarily a bad thing that there are these different kinds of mystical experiences. To me, nothing is really lost by affirming this; it's actually a way of recognizing a positive kind of diversity among the world religions. One exciting possibility facing us now is that it's entirely possible that we can come to taste both enlightenment and contemplation (for example) in our own lives, and learn to see how they work "in tandem." Pioneers like Abishiktananda and Bede Griffiths have helped to explore some of thes possibilities, along some of the Catholic zen masters as well. Those of us who've had the kundalini process awakened in the context of Christian spiritual practice are also learning about the similarities and differences between these different kinds of mystical experiences.
My point really wasn't about enlightenment experiences and contemplation, but Enlightenment and Theosis or Divinization. I believe that Enlightenment in the capital E, once-and for all, never goin' back sense-as described by the Buddha in the Dhammapada, may be substantially the same as the Theosis of Jesus (and I know that I'm not on orthodox ground, which says that Jesus experienced Kenosis, not Theosis.) Personally, because of a private revelation, I believe Jesus experienced Theotic Enlightenment at 12.
I didn't mean that different meditative methods gave the same experiences, though I can see I worded that badly. I was talking about the goal, rather than the means. As for differences in numinous experiences, of course you're right, they are different and varied, praise God.
But I do want to talk about the means. After a while of reading a lot of stuff, experimenting with different kinds of meditation, Phil (and everyone else), do you find sometimes more confusion than peace?
Sometimes my contemplation is dquite peaceful, othertimes, so restless, that it's even hard to stick with a single method for more than a few minutes. I might begin with breath prayers, see them flow into centering prayer, then do body scan vipassana, realize how much I'm thinking, and then try to still the mind with mantra, and end up doing some yoga or qigong before going to sleep. It's very frustrating. With so much exposure ot so many methods, how do you really know what's best for you?
Just a quick note before I head out to the airport.
We have a thread set up for theosis but it's not developed yet, Jon. Maybe we can get more into that topic on that thread and leave the focus of this one for Eastern practices--helps, hindrances, etc.?
I do know what you mean about reading contributing to confusion, which is why I find it best to take some of this in small doses. There were some years when trying to understand how these experiences were alike, different, etc. occupied a great deal of my attention, but I've come to an understanding since which has settled peacefully. More on that as we go along.
1. What are some of your thoughts and comments on this topic?
We in the Christian community have much to learn from our Eastern friends who have had much longer experience in contemplation that we have had.
I find it curious that so little is said in the Christian Scriptures about contemplation and meditation, although I tend to believe that much of Jesus' own prayer life did consist of contemplative prayer. The Gospels seem to reveal him more as an apostolic contemplative.
OTOH, there have been a few scholars who have suggested that Jesus had knowledge of or access to some of the meditative traditions of the Indian sub-continent and other Asian countries where Buddhism had been influential about the same time that the Hebrew prophets were active in the 8th to 6th centuries BCE. Karen Armstrong in her recent book, *Buddha*, gives an excellent overview of what has been called "the Axial Age" when eastern and western Asia were replete with religious innovations.
2. If you have practiced Eastern forms of meditation, have you found them helpful?
Yes, for about two years now I have practiced that form of Christian Meditation which John Main pioneered. I have found it quite helpful in developing my contemplative experience. I do find one major diffculty: I often fall asleep when I spend the recommended 30 minutes repeating the mantra *maranatha* which Main introduced.
I still couple this with my daily following of the lectionary on *Daily Spiritual Seed.* Being retired and having time to do this makes my practice somewhat different than what others may have time to do. The combination almost invariably
leads me to a clarification of the day's priorities. What is more, I don't in the least mind the few extra minutes of rest!
Along with what you refer to as "be here now," I've found simple Buddhist mindfulness training to be grounding, especially when more affective/contemplative experiences lead to kundalini arousal and the uncorking of archetypal forces. While surrendering to God as love itself grounds one through devotion, there is something important for me in just being present inwardly and outwardly without making subtle attempts to grasp a particular experience. Gentle inward attention to physical sensation arising out of existential crisis might also be helpful in dealing with the passive and active night of the senses.
I know what you're talking about, w.c. I have a few links to pages on mindfulness on the page with this lesson. There's an area where we have a lot to learn from the Buddhists.
Maybe you'll consider saying something about focusing at some point. This thread is as good as any, I think.
Good to see you here.
Wondering if you could give me an example
of an impersonal mystical experience the you
have mentioned here. I understand better with
example than anything else. If this is discussed
elsewhere please point me to the discussion.
"It�s not so much that the fruits of concentrative methods are bad; except for this diminishment of a sense of affectivity and volitionality, they aren�t. They do help calm the mind, increase one�s energy and sense of peace, and expand one�s awareness. Ultimately, I think they lead to a kind of impersonal mystical experience known in the East as �cosmic consciousness� or �enlightenment.� "
Hi Ajoy. Are you familiar with "cosmic consciousness" or "enlightenment"? These are impersonal in the sense that they seem to be less about a relational engagement with the divine than an opening of the human spirit itself to its connections with the cosmos. God is in those experiences, to be sure, but in a hidden kind of way, rather than as relational partner.
Yes, I am familiar with the words enlightenmnet and cosmic consciousness.
It's been my experience that each sect within the eastern religions tend to
have their own understanding of what this is and how it is experienced. So
it's been confusing. How you have expressed them has been helpful, thankyou.
There has been mentioned the possible long term affects to ones Christian process
when one had been mentored by an Eastern teacher. I was a practitioner of
Centering Prayer for years,. Then I got to a place where i wished to go deeper
and started a relationship with a mentor of a different Christian contemplative practice.
After some time I had an experience. It was of a great love within my heart. There was an entering of a great darkness. At first it seemed empty
but then realized it was full of everything. Full of life.This great love I
experienced as coming from G*d but no relationship with Jesus. From that time on
my experiences seemed to change. Mostly of entering altered states of
consciousness that were not considered part of the Christian path. To both
the confusion of myself and my mentor. I was told this would not be tolerated.
As if I could stop them!
At this point i turned to the Eastern religions for some assistance in what
was occuring. Only in the past few days it occurred to me that this Christian
mentor had experienced enlightenment within an Eastern Religion before coming back to Christianity.
And I now question that the energies (for lack of other expression) of my mentors Enlightenment background may have affected my process. Opening me up to the non personal experiences that I had not experienced before.
So it would seem like this might fit into what you are describing as
Christians experiencing both an intimate relationship with Jesus and
Enlightened. Given what I have experienced I would say that what you are
suggesting is possible. However,both mentors and those who seek their
mentoring need to be aware of how the mentors backgrounds may affect who they mentor.
Ajoy, it may well be that your mentor's experience influenced your own in hidden ways. That would be hard to know for sure, however. As you mention practicing centering prayer for years, it could be that CP influenced the emergence of the kinds of altered states you mention, and even an impersonal sense of God's presence. That wouldn't be uncommon for apophatic practice, even in the Christian tradition.
What one needs to be clear about is where one stands in terms of religious faith. What are your core beliefs? How do these influence your practice and lifestyle? Faith transcends experience and ultimately influences the way we hold and integrate our experiences.
Thanks for your sharing.
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