Misinformed on yoga meditation
This refers to your report on the statement of Msgr. Jay Bandojo that the practice of yoga meditation opens a person to demonic possession (Front Page, 11/1/14). I am afraid that with his best intentions, he is perhaps misinformed about yoga meditation, a spiritual practice that is essentially similar to Christian mystical or contemplative practice.
He states: “When you practice yoga, you are told to ‘empty your mind’ while saying [the mantra] ‘om,’ so you can feel relaxed. But when you empty yourself, you’re opening yourself to possession. You have to be careful because demons might take advantage of [this] empty [vessel of your soul] and possess it.”
Let me address the two points he raised:
1. Emptying the mind. We must not confuse the “active awareness” of spiritual meditation with the “mental passivity” of mediumistic practices. The latter opens one up to influences from the astral world, but classical meditation does the very opposite because awareness prevents any kind of unwanted intrusion.
The passivity of mediums lacks the awareness of meditational practice. Mediumistic practices include those that are done by spiritistas, where they allow themselves to become instruments of invisible entities they don’t even know. I agree that one should avoid these practices, as well the use of Ouija board or “spirit of the glass.”
Meditation, whether Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or yoga, is a very different thing altogether. Not only does it prevent any kind of spirit possession but it also allows one to be aware of extraneous, unwanted thoughts so that one comes to a state of complete equanimity while remaining aware (and not in a trance). It needs prior preparations (ethical and psychological), and consists of stages, particularly concentration, meditation and the loss of ego-sense (called Samadhi in yoga). In the concentration stage, meditation makes use of mental activity that trains the mind to focus on a chosen object or sound.
Emptying the mind is an essential part of all mystical practice, whether Christian, yogic or other approaches. It means letting go not only of emotions, memories, visualizations, or imagination, but also of all thoughts, gross or subtle. St. Teresa of Avila referred to this as the “prayer of quiet” in her classic work “Interior Castle.” She wrote: “In the prayer of quiet, … the mind ceases to act.” It is preceded by “prayer of recollection” or “prayer of simplicity,” characterized by awareness.
Another classic Catholic work, “The Cloud of Unknowing,” emphasizes the importance of the cessation of all thoughts and imaging: “Dismiss every clever or subtle thought no matter how holy or valuable… Firmly reject all clear ideas however pious or delightful.” Even the Old Testament affirms: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali defines yoga as “the cessation of the modifications of the mind-stuff”—that is, the cessation of all mental activity.
It is only in such an undisturbed state that the consciousness can rise up to the spiritual, contemplative state of the mystic, the highest stage of which is the union with God or Reality or the Absolute.
Yoga teaches such a pathway, as does Christian mystical practice.
2. Mantras. The use of word-anchors (whether a mantra, a name, or counting numbers) is a universal practice that is also found in Christianity. The purpose of the word or number is for the mind to be focused on one thing and not allow it to stray. This is a temporary stage because it is a stage of mental discipline before one goes into pure awareness without thought. In Christianity, the mantra or word used may be “God,” or “love,” or “Jesus.” For Zen Buddhists, it may be “mu.” For yoga it may be “om” or “hangsou.” The English Benedictine priest John Main (1926-1982) recommends the use of the mantra “maranatha” during meditation; it is today one of the more popular meditation practices in Catholicism. The mystical classic “The Cloud of Unknowing” recommends a simple word like “God” or “love.”
Thus, to say that “emptying the mind” will lead to demonic possession is to fail to understand the difference between spiritual meditation and passive mediumship, which are polar opposites.
I hope we will all understand the universality of mystical or spiritual practices regardless of one’s sectarian background. This brings about tolerance and understanding instead of prejudice against people of other religions or belief systems. Externally, religions seem to differ widely, but on the deeper, mystical level, they are essentially the same.
—VICENTE R. HAO CHIN JR.,
former president, Theosophical Society in the Philippines,
1 Iba Street, Quezon City
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